The Church of England has said it is 'deeply concerned' by stark new analysis showing that thousands of children and older people have been plunged into poverty in the past four years, and warned that 'worse is to come'.
The Church's comments come as research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found almost 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners in the UK were living in poverty last year compared with 2012-13, in the first sustained increases in child and pensioner poverty for 20 years.
Responding on behalf of the Church, the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler said: 'I am deeply concerned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's latest findings, showing a rise in poverty over the past five years, and the negative impact this has on people's health and relationships.
'The very high rates of poverty among single parent families (46 per cent) and larger families (39 per cent) are especially worrying, knowing that worse is to come with the continuing freeze in benefits and the introduction of the two-child limit.
'It was encouraging to hear of the Government's amendments to Universal Credit in the recent budget, which are a step in the right direction. But it is now clear that much more will need to be done to achieve the policy's aims to make work pay and reduce poverty.'
The foundation's UK Poverty 2017 found a gradual increase in poverty rates over the past four years, reversing a trend of falling numbers since the mid-1990s. The group urged the government to unfreeze benefits, increase training for adult workers and to embark on a more ambitious house-building programme to provide affordable homes for struggling families.
Frances O'Grady, the general secretary of the TUC who last month delivered a speech to the Vatican, seized on the report to call for the minimum wage to rise to £10 an hour and for the government to remove the cap on salaries in the public sector. 'Working people are not getting a fair deal from the economy, with real wages still worth less than a decade ago,' she said.
Poverty rates increased to 16 per cent for pensioners and 30 per cent for children last year, while the charity also found that as many as one in five people across the UK may be in poverty, defined as being when someone earns less than 60 per cent of median earnings, adjusted for size and type of household.
The JRF chief executive, Campbell Robb, said: 'These worrying figures suggest that we are at a turning point in our fight against poverty. Political choices, wage stagnation and economic uncertainty mean that hundreds of thousands more people are now struggling to make ends meet.'
The new research came as it emerged that all four members of the board of the government's social mobility commission have stood down in protest at the lack of progress towards a 'fairer Britain'.
Alan Milburn, the former Labour minister who chairs the commission, said he had 'little hope' that the current government could make the 'necessary' progress, adding that the government was too focused on Brexit to deal properly with the issue.
In his resignation letter to Theresa May, published in The Observer, Milburn said he did not doubt her 'personal belief' in social justice, but added that he saw 'little evidence of that being translated into meaningful action'.