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How many people are in poverty in the UK?

The easy answer is to say around 22% of the population, roughly 14 million people. The long answer starts with the sentence ‘it depends on how you define and measure poverty’, in which case you get various different statistics on the poverty rate.

Statistics on poverty in the UK

According to the Social Metrics Foundation, which seems to be endorsed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation….

  • 22% of the UK population are in poverty, equivalent to 14.2 million people: 8.4 million working-age adults; 4.5 million children; and 1.4 million pension age adults. Source: The Social Metrics Foundation, 2018.
  • 1% of the total UK population (7. 7 million people) live in persistent poverty. Source: The Social Metrics Foundation, 2018.

This definition of poverty is broader than any previous definition because:

  • It takes account of all material resources not just incomes. For instance, this means including an assessment of the available assets that families have; •
  • It takes into accounts the inescapable costs that some families face, which make them more likely than others to experience poverty, such as the extra costs of disability, and costs of childcare and rental and mortgage costs; •
  • It automatically defines anyone who is ‘sleeping rough’ as being in poverty.

However, it also sets the relative poverty line at 55% of median income rather than 60^ of median income (as the government has done for many years), seemingly because to keep it at 60% while making all of the other changes above would put too many people in poverty?!? See page 63 of the report for more details:

poverty rate UK 2018.png

 

According to the Government’s own data:

  • 16% of UK households were in relative low income households (before housing costs)
  • 22% of UK households were in relative low income households (after housing costs).

Relative low income households have an income of less than 60% of median household income (equivalised), which is equivalent to £296 per week (or approximately £1000 per month). Source: Households Below Average Income, published March 2018.

Households in poverty UK.png

7.3% of the UK population (4.6 million people) are in persistent poverty. This study defines ‘persistent poverty as being in a relative low income household (using the BHAI definition of this) consistently for 3 years. Source: Persistent Poverty in the UK and the EU: 2015.

Which of these is the most valid measurement of poverty?

You’ll notice that there’s some different between these figures, especially between the Social Metric Commissions’ persistent poverty rate and the ONS’ poverty rate – 12% compared to 7%, so it really matters which of these is the most valid!

Given that the Social Metrics Commission’s definition was agreed by a large panel of people, which included government representation, I’m going to say the SMC’s definition/ measurement is the most valid.

Whatever measurement you use, poverty statistics are a terrific example of how statistics are socially constructed.

 

 

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