Tonight: The Rise of the Working Poor

Britain’s economic outlook is looking brighter than it has been for years but despite the good news, poverty figures suggest a record number of ordinary working families are struggling to pay the bills and make ends meet. They are known as the ‘Working Poor’.

A couple of years ago this phrase wasn’t widely used….but recently it’s become more widespread.

Latest figures by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation show there are now more working families living in poverty in the UK, than those that don’t work.

So how is poverty calculated? If the total amount a household brings in is less than 60% of the median income for all UK households then that would be counted as being in poverty. The figure is adjusted according to the size of the family, so currently for 2 adults and 2 children an income of less than £392 a week would be classed as poor.

Woman plays with 2 children on the sofa
Rochelle's zero-hours contract means her income is unreliable Credit: ITV / Tonight

On he Tonight programme - The Rise of the Working Poor, at 7.30pm on ITV - we speak to one family from Newcastle who know exactly what its like to live on the breadline. Rochelle and Pietro Monte organise their work around childcare for their 3 children and that often means sacrificing time together as a whole family. They feel that however hard they work, it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Rochelle is a carer on a zero hours contract which means her hours are never guaranteed. Her unpredictable hours mean that some weeks their earnings fall below the poverty line for a family of 5.

And they are not the only ones who are feeling the squeeze. We also meet Elle and Matt Gore from Sheffield who are a middle income family. They don’t fall below the official poverty line, but are typical of a growing number of people holding down good jobs, yet struggling to get by.

Family reading a book on the sofa
Elle and Matt Gore with their 3 children Credit: ITV / Tonight

The Gore's wanted a brother or sister for their daughter Bethany and worked out they could afford it, but what they didn’t bank on was having twins!

Now with one salary eaten up by childcare and the other covering the mortgage and bills, it leaves just £100 a month for food and essentials. With one parent a Primary School Teacher and the other a Retail Manager their precarious situation sometimes makes them question whether it's worth going to work at all.

A combination of low wages and the rising cost of living has really taken its toll and most families in Britain have seen the cost of their grocery bills escalate with the essential items taking a hit.

Food banks are reporting a large increase in the number of people who can't afford to feed themselves or their families and need help. Tonight visited one of a number run by the City Mission in Southampton which estimates that 30% of the people coming through their doors have a job and are in work.

Food bank
A food bank in Southampton Credit: ITV / Tonight

The programme also looks at the issue of the living wage, a figure set annually which is based on research from focus groups to establish what income a person needs to live an acceptable quality of life.

Currently it's £7.65 an hour and slightly higher for those in London at £8.80. So far only a fraction of businesses in the UK have officially signed up to the living wage and many feel they can't afford to pay it to staff without putting jobs or their business at risk.

We meet Terry Clements from East London who since getting his current job as a maintenance worker and being paid the living wage has enjoyed a much better quality of life.

Maintenance man seen from inside van
Terry Clements has benefitted since he started earning the living wage Credit: ITV / Tonight

Tonight reporter Aasmah Mir examines how millions of hardworking families are feeling the pinch and speaks to those who are trying to make a difference. She talks to the founder of the Big Issue about his response to the rising number of people who are working and struggling to get by and asks the Government what more can be done to help ‘The Working Poor’?

Tonight: The Rise of the Working Poor is on ITV at 7.30pm