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More hardship and more demand for services: BASW looks at the real findings from IFS report

The Institute of Fiscal Studies’ (IFS) latest research into living standards highlighted many worrying trends, but some media reports suggesting it proved inequality has narrowed are missing the point, says BASW.

The IFS report showed declines in income of the middle and top earning sectors of society since the recession of 2007-08, and that London remains the most unequal region in Great Britain, despite a fall in inequality in the capital.

However, the notion that overall inequality may be reducing is wrong.

“This perception is based on high earners seeing bigger reductions in earnings over the poorest, but this provides no solace to working families whose net income is falling further behind inflation and other rising costs,” says BASW CEO Dr Ruth Allen.

While household income overall has stagnated, younger people are experiencing a particularly raw deal with incomes in real terms declining 12% for 22-30-year olds between 07/08 and 15/16.

The report also shows that earnings are more volatile in many households as job insecurity has increased, in no small part due to the rise of the ‘gig economy’. More variability in income means fewer households showing up in the persistent poverty category which is based on consecutive years of low income.  

But more people living with unpredictable income and dipping in and out of poverty does not point to a recovering economy, nor to a society resolving its poverty problems.

For social work, this picture is a backdrop to higher demands for services.

More individuals and families are experiencing material hardship and uncertainty and need social work support. Like other public sector workers, social workers themselves are also facing a 1% pay cap and starting salaries in particular have fallen behind inflation and living costs.

“Facing more material hardship at home while managing increasing demands at work is leading to recent reports of an increased intention by social workers and other professionals to leave the public sector,” says Allen.

At BASW, we are increasingly concerned about how we develop and sustain the next generation of experienced social workers, which is vital to tackle escalating social problems and to support healthier families and communities.

Continued austerity measures are increasing the divides, not narrowing them.