The latest research from the Nuffield Foundation has found that 31% of children in the United Kingdom are living in relative poverty in 2021.
The percentage rises to 36% for children under five years old.
The rates of child poverty have been increasing on average for the last five years.
Child Poverty and Ethnicity
There are some large differences by ethnic group, with Bangladeshi Households having the highest child poverty rates, more than twice the national average, and Indian families having the lowest.
Family type and Child Poverty
It’s probably no surprise that single parent families have the highest rates of child poverty, with child poverty rates of 60%.
Defining and Measuring Relative Poverty
The Nuffield Foundation collects its data on poverty from the Households Below Average Income statistics, which define relative poverty as household income below 60% of median income after housing costs.
The relative poverty figures are then adjusted for family size, which gives us the following amounts of income per week in 2021:
£248 or less a week for a lone parent with one child.
£305 or less a week for a lone parent with two children.
£342 or less a week for a couple with one child.
£399 or less a week for a couple with two children.
A recent study from the Social Mobility Commission found that only 18% Senior Civil Servants are from lower social class backgrounds, what we might traditionally call ‘working class’ backgrounds’, and this is down from 19% in 1967!
The majority of senior civil servants are from privileged, higher social economic backgrounds, many having benefited from an independent (private school) education.
The proportion of employees from low social economic backgrounds varies a lot according to role, region and department.
For example, 40% of those those working in operational roles, delivering services are from lower SEBs compared to just 19% working in policy (policy jobs tend to be more prestigious).
And only 12% of people working in the Treasury are from low SEBs compared to 45% working in ‘work and pensions’.
And 22% of of London based civil servants come from low SEBs compared to 48% working in the North East.
The report is based on a survey of 300 00 civil servants so is very representative and 100 hour long interviews to explore why there is such a class divide in the senior ranks.
Why are the working classes underrepresented in the senior civil service?
The title of report points to an explanation – it is called ‘Navigating the labyrinth’ for a reason.
The authors put it down to a number of ‘hidden rules’ surrounding career progression in the civil service which create cumulative barriers that make it more difficult for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to make it into the Civil Service.
For example, there are some roles within the civil service that act as career accelerators but getting into these roles depends on who you know, such as having access to already senior staff and ministers, and those from lower SEBs lack this kind of in-house social capital.
There are also dominant behavioural codes within the senior civil service, which those from higher SEBs are more familiar with, they come naturally to them, one aspect of this is ‘studied neutrality’
The report describes Studied neutrality as having three key dimensions:
a received pronunciation (RP) accent and style of speech
emotionally detachment and an understated self-presentation
prizing the display of in-depth knowledge for its own sake (and not directly related to work).
On the later point, some of the lower SEB interviewees in the study mentioned that there is a lot of talking in Latin, which many senior staff would break into sometimes during meetings, far from necessary from doing the job!
A final factor is that those from SEB backgrounds are more likely to specialise in a particular career path, which isn’t necessary for career progression.
Does the class divide in the senior civil service matter?
According to those in the senior service, no it doesn’t, because they see themselves as ‘neutral advisors’.
However, from a more Marxist point of view clearly it does! Just from a social justice perspective we have here a classic example of cultural capital blocking those from lower social backgrounds progressing to more senior positions, and those with cultural capital (from higher economic backgrounds) having an advantage.
And, despite claims to neutrality it’s unlikely that those from privileged backgrounds are going to advise on policies which promote more social justice and greater social mobility as that would be undermining the advantage they and their children have with the status quo!
While social class and income levels are not the same thing, I’ve had to use Income as a ‘proxy’ for social class given that the research tends to look at family variation by income rather than class more generally.
Middle class couples are more likely to get married than working class couples
According to The Spectator there is a social class ‘marriage gap’ – those in the top class (professional/ managerial) are 48% more likely to get married than those in the bottom social class (cleaners).
Poor teens are much more likely to get pregnant and have babies than rich teens
According to The Poverty Site, teenage motherhood is eight times as common amongst those from manual social background as for those from managerial and professional backgrounds.
Also, the underage conception rate is highest in the North East of England. Its rate of 11 per 1,000 girls aged 13 to 15 compares to 6 per 1,000 in the region with the lowest rate.
Professional women have babies later than ‘working class’ women’
According to ONS research from 2014 (yes, even in 2020 you have to go back this far to find it), professional women tend to have babies later than ‘working class’ women.
Only 3% of births to women under 30s are to women in higher managerial or professional classifications, but this figure rises to 14% for women over 40.
NB – the above doesn’t factor in how many women are in each category of social class, I include that table below…
So it’s difficult to tell from the above! But it does seem that the higher up the social class scale you go, the later in life women have babies!
Previous research from the Uni of Southampton found that half of women born in 1958 who obtained no educational qualifications had a child by the age of 22, while for those with degrees the age was 32.
This means that the term ‘generation’ could actually mean different things to different classes.
Variations in ‘Life Paths’ by Social Class (American focus)
Research published in 2017 by Opportunity America shows considerable variation in marriage and divorce rates, and ‘life paths’ by social class.
The research divides ‘social classes’ by ‘poor’ ‘working class’ and ‘middle class’ and shows that:
56% of people aged between 18-55% in the Middle and Upper classes were currently married, compared to only 26% of those who were ‘poor’.
Despite having lower marriage rates, the ‘poor’ also had higher divorce rates: 46% of ‘poor’ 18-55 year olds had ‘ever been divorced’ compared to only 30% of middle-upper classes.
The fertility rates also vary, being 2.4 and 1.7 respectively for the above two groups.
The Life Paths also vary, as below:
NB I quite like the above chart, it’s go a hint of the personal life perspective, life-course analysis about it!
Questions to consider
The final piece of research is from America, to what extent would you expect to find similar variations in family life by social class in the UK?
Give the lack of contemporary data, how might you track the relationship between social class and family life more accurately?
Thoughts and comments
There is only limited data available on the relationship between social class and family life – so much so that you often have to go back almost a decade to find the latest research. It’s very much a gap in official statistics!
Using ‘Income’ data rather than class data is a limitation of the research, the same limitation as when using Free School Meal data as a proxy for social class in the differential educational achievement debate.
Sometimes it is even impossible to find data on the relationship between income and family life – for example, there are no official statistics collected on the relationship between income and divorce, according to this response to a question from the ONS.
The relationship between social class and educational achievement is one of the main topics within the sociology of education at A level.
The problem is, the government does not routinely collect statistics on the relationship between social class and educational achievement!
Instead, we have to reply on statistics which look at the relationship between household income and educational achievement, rather than the relationship between social class and educational achievement.
Household income is related to social class, but income alone does not tell us exactly which social class someone is from. Some parents might work in traditionally ‘working-class’ jobs which could be very well paid, such as the building trades; while other parents might be earning a limited amount of money working part-time in traditionally middle-class jobs – as private music teachers for example.
Also, income does not necessarily tell us about the cultural aspects of class – how well educated parents are or how much social and cultural capital they have, for example.
Thus you must remember that household income indicators are only proxies for social class, they may not show us precisely what a child’s social class background is.
Two sources we might use to to examine the relationship between social class and educational achievement are:
Free School Meal (FSM) achievement rates compare to non FSM achievement rates
Data on independent school results compared to government schools results.
The Achievement of Pupils Eligible for Free School Meals
Three is a 13.7% achievement gap in the ‘attainment 8’ scores of pupils eligible for Free School Meals compared to non-FSM pupils
In 2019 parents in households with a gross annual income of no more than £16190 were entitled to claim for Free School Meals. (Source).
This means that approximately the poorest 1/6th of households are eligible, so the above statistics are comparing the results of children from the poorest 1/6th of households with the richest 5/6ths all lumped into one.
One limitation with the above statistics is that if you were to stretch this comparison out and compare the poorest 1/6th with the next poorest 1/6th and so on up to the riches 1/6th, you would probably see much starker differences.
Independent School Results Compared to State Schools
If we look at the top 10 independent school results compared to the top 10 state schools, we see quite a difference in results.
In order to be able to pay the fees to get your children into an independent school, you have to be comfortably in the top 10% of households. There are a few scholarships for pupils from poorer households, but not in significant numbers!
Top 10 independent schools
Top 10 state schools
You can see a clear 8-9% difference in achievement in favour of the fee-paying independent schools.
One advantage of the above stats is that it’s much more likely that you’re seeing the solidly upper middle class in these schools, rather than this just being about income.
However, we are only talking about the the top 5-10% of the social class scale, we are not able to make social class comparisons more broadly.
If we use the above data, we can see there is a drastic difference in the achievement rates at the very top and the very bottom of the household income scales.
IF we think household income is a valid indicator of social class, we can also say there are huge social class differences in educational achievement based on the above statistics.
However, we don’t have systematic, annual data on the relationship between the vast majority of middle income households and educational achievement.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that “families are classified as materially deprived if they feel they cannot afford a certain number of items or activities, with greater weight assigned to items that most families already have.”
According to the IFS, between 8-15% of households are suffering from material deprivation, depending on what threshold you use. (If you want to know how the thresholds are worked, out click on the link above!).
In order to figure out how many households are suffering material deprivation, households are asked whether they can afford a number of items, such as the ones below. The more items a family can’t afford, and the higher up the list they appear in the chart below, the more likely a family is to be classified as ‘materially deprived’.
You can see that there is a downward trend in material deprivation between 2010-11 (careful, the chart above is over a longer time scale!)
The above study focuses on the trends in material deprivation as well as trends in both absolute and relative poverty. All three indicators are different ways of measuring poverty.
*A fuller definition of material deprivation is provided by the The OECD which defines Material deprivation as ‘the inability for individuals or households to afford those consumption goods and activities that are typical in a society at a given point in time, irrespective of people’s preferences with respect to these items.’ It’s work noting at this point that this is a relative rather than an absolute measurement of poverty.
I wrote this back in 2015, it’s my old version that I didn’t want to delete! It shows you some different, historical definitions/ measurement of material deprivation
The government’s material deprivation rate measures the proportion of the population that cannot afford at least four of the following items:
To pay their rent, mortgage, utility bills or loan repayments,
To keep their home adequately warm,
To face unexpected financial expenses,
To eat meat or protein regularly,
To go on holiday for a week once a year,
A television set,
A washing machine,
As can be seen from the statistics below, the number of people suffering from ‘severe’ material deprivation has remained stable in recent years, but the numbers of people struggling to pay for holidays and meet emergency expenses has increased.
Local Councils in London are increasingly resorting to moving poor homeless families out of London, because they can’t afford to meet their housing needs within London. In most cases they’re being moved to Kent and Essex, but in sometimes moves are made much further afield:
What the map above shows is the literal relocation of the poor – shifting poverty out of London and into poorer parts of the country. It’s the real life version of what happened at the end of ‘People Just do Nothing’.
The main cause: the high price of housing in the capital, fuelled by 30 years of cheap mortgages and foreign speculative investment on property in London.
The negative consequences for the poor
At the very least these families are being removed from all of their local social connections and having their children’s schooling disrupted, but in some cases they suffer much worse: cramped housing conditions and being housed in the same block of flats as ex criminals, as the recent case study of Terminus House suggests….
Various London councils have housed hundreds of poor recently-made homeless Londoners at Terminus House in Harlow, Essex, several miles outside of London.
The building is a 1960s 14 story, former office block converted into flats and run by the private company Caridon Property since April 2018.
The problem is that the complex is also home to several ex-offenders, including at least 25 people recently released from prison, and it’s something of a crime hot-spot, with high levels of anti-social behaviour, burglary and criminal damage.
Police figures show that in the first 10 months after people moved in, crime within Terminus House itself rose by 45%, and within by 20% within a 500m radius of the property.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This strikes me as a great example of how the poor in London are the victims of local council policies (not defined as illegal of course) – they get moved out from their local areas, and then are more likely to become the victims of crime. It illustrates perfectly how the poor are more likely to be victims of social injustice and crime than the rich!
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.
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:
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.
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.
Young adults have become increasingly dependent on financial support from their parents to finance their first house purchases.
Those without access to parental support (i.e. those with poorer parents) are less likely to be able to get on the property ladder.
This is according to the latest research from the Resolution Foundation with examines the impact on parental wealth on home ownership, exploring the relationship between parental support and the ability of young adults today to purchase their first property.
Some of the key findings of the report were as follows:
The children of wealthier parents are much more likely to become homeowners themselves: from the mid 2000s, children with parents with property wealth were three times as likely to become homeowners as those without property wealth.
The children of wealthier parents become homeowners at an earlier age than those of less wealthy parents.
The report also found that:
This relationship continues to hold even once someone’s salary, their education, where they live and whether they are in a couple or not are all taken into account.
The relationship between parental wealth and their children’s homeownership has risen over time.
The significance of these statistics:
This is bleak reading for anyone interested in economic equality, because this trend suggests that what’s occurring here is the reproduction of class inequality.
The findings of this report will probably come as no surprise to anyone, it just seems to be confirming what is really damn obvious!
This report is probably a good example of a document that’s been produced because of a value-agenda (so the choice of topic is not value free!) and yet the research is probably ‘objective’ in the sense that it’s difficult to bias these figures…. finances tend to be ‘hard statistics’ and it’s difficult for researchers to skew them, even if they want a certain outcome!
The relationship between social class and religion is not straightforward: the middle classes are, in general, more likely to attend church, but they are also less likely to believe in God and more likely to be atheists and join both world affirming and world rejecting NRMs.
The working classes are less likely to attend church, yet more likely to believe in God than the middle classes. There are also certain denominations and even sects which might appeal specifically to the working classes: such as Methodism, for example.
Church attendance and social class
The ‘middle classes’ have higher rates of church attendance than the ‘working classes’
A 2015 YouGov survey of 7000 adults found that 62% of regular church goers were middle class and 38% working class.
The same 2015 survey found that twice as many married working class men had never attended church compared to middle class men (17% compared to 9%).
Voas and Watt (2014) conducted research on behalf of the Church of England and made three observations not directly about social class, but relevant to it. Firstly, church attendance is higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. Secondly, church attendance is higher in the South of England compared to the North. Thirdly, they noted growth in church attendance in areas which had high performing church primary and secondary schools. All of these indicators suggest higher church attendance in middle class compared to working class areas.
Ashworth and Farthing (2007) found that, for both sexes, those in middle class jobs had above average levels of church attendance. Conversely, those in skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled working class jobs had below average church attendance. Welfare recipients had the lowest levels of church attendance.
Religious belief and social class
A 2016 YouGov Survey revealed that 48% of those in social grades ABC1 described themselves as ‘Atheist’ compared to 42% of those in social grades C2ED.
A 2013 review of >60 research studies on the relationship between IQ and religiosity found that people with higher IQs are more likely to be atheists. (High IQs are correlated with higher levels of education and higher social class).
Lawes (2009) found that ‘lifelong theists’ disproportionately come from unskilled and semi-skilled manual backgrounds, and were less likely to have academic qualifications. Conversely, lifelong atheists disproportionately come from higher professional and managerial backgrounds, and are more likely to have experienced higher education.
NB – It’s worth noting how this contradicts what’s above in terms of church attendance
Social class, religion and deprivation
There is some evidence that those suffering deprivation (the lower social classes) are more likely to turn to religion…..
Churches in deprived inner city areas tend to have higher rates of attendance.
Methodist, Pentacostal and Baptist denominations tend to be more working class.
Catholic Churches are more likely to attract Irish, Polish and African immigrants who have typically experienced higher levels of deprivation.
New Religious Movements and social class
As a general rule, the middle classes are more attracted to both World Affirming NRMs (and the New Age Movement), and World Rejecting NRMs, at least according to Eileen Barker’s classic study of ‘The Moonies’.
Problems with identifying the relationship between religion and social class
Andrew Mckinnon notes that there has been a ‘dearth’ of research on the relationship between religion and social class, meaning there is something of a data gap.
Because of the above, we are often stuck with relying on indicators which might not actually measure social class.
Even if the data suggests that church attendance and belief are higher among the middle classes, this doesn’t necessarily mean the middle classes are actually more religious. They may just be attending church to keep up appearances or to get their children into the local church school (which tend to have high academic performance); or they may feel under more social pressure to state they are religious than the working classes
Chapman et al, as well as the good ole’ t’internet.
While there’s a lovely ethnic and gender diversity shine on this year’s Great British Bake Off pie, the social class balance is just way off!
I’ve done a rough analysis of this year’s 2018 Bake Off contestants by social class background and compared these to the percentages of people working in different social class occupations (1) and found the following differences:
There’s a very strong upper middle class skew, and a corresponding under-representation of especially the traditional working class.
Class 1 – Managers, directors, senior officials – COUNT 3
Antony the ‘Bollywood’ Banker,
Briony the stay at home mum
Dan the stay at home dad.
My logic for including the two stay at home parents in class one is as follows: only the very wealthiest of parents can afford to have one of them staying at home permanently, and given that class 2 (see below) is already well over-represented it follows that the most likely class fit for these two is in class one. NB – this isn’t necessarily the case, just my best estimate in the absence of any data on what Briony’s and Dan’s partners do.
Class 2 – Professional occupations – COUNT 6
Imelda, the Former teacher, now countryside recreation officer
Kim-Joy, the Mental health worker
Luke, the Civil Servant
Manon, the Software Project Manager
Rahul, the Nuclear scientist
Ruby, the Project Manager
Classes 3-5 – count 0
Associate professional, technical profession (class 3), administrative and secretarial (class 4) and skilled trades (class 5) have zero representation on Bake Off this year.
Class 6: caring and leisure – COUNT 1
Class 7 – sales and customer service – COUNT 1
Class 8 – Plant and machine operatives – COUNT 0
No representation from the ‘traditional’ working class at all. I guess custard creams are off this year’s Bake Off menu!
Class 9 – elementary occupations – COUNT 1
Finally…. Blood courier Jon represents those working in class nine.
Jon also represents all of Wales too. Quite a burden!
A few observations on the problems of social class analysis…
I had to limit myself to categorizing the contests by occupation, as this is the only valid, ‘objective’ data I’ve got about their class background. I would have like to have used the more up to date ‘New British Class Survey‘ (scroll down for details), but I can’t tell how much cultural capital etc. each contestant has got just from watching them of the T.V.
I might have mis-categorized a couple of the contestants: especially the two who don’t work, but even so, there’s still a middle class bias!
Does this poor representation of the lower social classes matter? I mean, we all know that ‘trophy baking’ is a middle class affair, so maybe this sample of bakers actually does represent those who ‘trophy bake’ – i.e. those who can actually afford to spend that much time and money on baking?
Or should Channel 4 be trying a bit harder to find a machine operator to get their ass on Bake-Off?
Sources/ Find out More…
U.K. population social class breakdown based on Office for National Statistics: Employment by Occupation, April 2017 figures.
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