Social Metrics Commission publishes new report on poverty in the UK

By agency reporter
July 29, 2019

A new report published today (29 July 2019) by the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) highlights the scale of the challenge when it comes to tackling poverty across the UK. The report reveals that 4.5 million people are more than 50 per cent below the poverty line, and 7 million people are living in persistent poverty.

The SMC’s 2019 report is an update on its 2018 publication proposing a new measure of poverty for the country, and follows the Government’s announcement that it would develop experimental national statistics based on the approach. The new report provides a detailed overview of the extent and nature of poverty in the UK today and original analysis that shows how this has changed since 2000/01.

It shows that, despite fluctuations, overall rates of poverty have changed relatively little since the millennium. The current rate of poverty is 22 per cent, which is the same as last year and only slightly lower than the 24 per cent seen in 2000/01. However, this trend hides significant changes in rates of poverty among different groups. Poverty rates amongst pension-age adults fell steadily from 19 per cent in 2000/01 to 9 per cent in 2014/15 but have since risen slightly to 11 per cent. Similarly, poverty rates among children dropped from 36 per cent in 2000/01 to 31 per cent in 2014/15, but have now risen slightly to 34 per cent.

The key findings from the 2019 report are:

  • Overall poverty: There are 14.3 million people in poverty in the UK. This includes 8.3 million working-age adults; 4.6 million children; and 1.3 million pension-age adults.
  • Depth of poverty: On average, those in poverty have moved closer to the poverty line now than would have been the case in 2000/01. However, a third (31 per cent) of people in poverty – 4.5 million people – are more than 50 per cent below the poverty line, and this proportion has not changed since the millennium.
  • Persistent poverty: Just under half (49 per cent) of those in poverty are in persistent poverty, meaning they are in poverty now and have also been in poverty for at least two of the previous three years. This totals 7 million people, including 2.3 million children, 1.2 million people living in lone-parent families, and 1.8 million of those living in workless households.
  • Depth and persistence of poverty: Poverty persistence is particularly high for those in deep levels of poverty. Three fifths (59 per cent) of those living more than 50 per cent below the poverty line are also in persistent poverty, compared to just over a third (36 per cent) of those living within 5 per cent of the poverty line.

Analysis also shows that:

  • Nearly half (48 per cent) of people in poverty – totalling 6.8 million people – live in a family where someone is disabled.
  • The poverty rate for people living in families where all adults work full time is just 10 per cent, compared to 58 per cent where all adults work part time and 70 per cent in workless families.
  • Poverty rates amongst families from ethnic minorities are particularly high. Nearly half (46 per cent) of people in families with a Black head of household and 37 per cent of people in families with an Asian head of household are in poverty, compared to 19 per cent of people in a family with a White head of household. However, 76 per cent of those in poverty live in families with a head of household who is White.
  • Poverty rates vary across the UK. Compared to the UK average of 22 per cent, poverty rates are higher in Wales (24 per cent) and London (28 per cent) and lower in the South East (18 per cent) and Scotland and Northern Ireland (both 20 per cent).

The SMC’s Lived Experience Indicators show that:

  • One in five (18 per cent) people in poverty live in a family where no one has any formal qualifications. This compares to 9 per cent of those not in poverty.
  • One in ten (8 per cent) people in poverty rarely or never feel close to others, compared to 4 per cent of those not in poverty.
  • One in five (21 per cent) people in poverty live in families where adults believe that people in their neighbourhood cannot be trusted. This compares to just 9 per cent of people not in poverty.
  • Over two thirds (69 per cent) of people in poverty live in families where no adult saves, compared to 38 per cent of those in families not in poverty.
  • As the UK’s employment rate has increased, the proportion of working-age adults in poverty who are workless has fallen by nine percentage points since 2000/01 to 52 per cent.
  • Since 2000/01 people in poverty are six percentage points less likely to be in a lone-parent family and three percentage points less likely to be a single pensioner. They are four percentage points more likely to be a single adult.

Philippa Stroud, Chair of the SMC and CEO of the Legatum Institute, said: “I established the Social Metrics Commission in 2016 because I believed we needed a better understanding of poverty in the UK and a robust evidence base for policymakers to use to make decisions about how to tackle it. For too many years there has been a divisive debate about how to measure poverty, which has distracted focus from the action needed to drive better outcomes for the most disadvantaged people in society.

“It is concerning that overall poverty has remained at almost the same level since the early 2000s, under Governments of all colours. But it is also clear that beneath the surface there are significant differences in the experience of poverty among different groups of people. Decisions made by policymakers can have a significant impact on who is in poverty and how deep and persistent that poverty is. These new findings highlight the urgent need for a more united and concerted approach.

“The Commission brings together perspectives from the right and left, and all of us are committed to establishing a consensus on poverty measurement. I call on people and organisations from across the political spectrum to support this new approach so that we can all put our energy into creating the policies and solutions that build pathways out of poverty.”

Commenting on the report,  Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “No matter how you measure it, child poverty is rising and it should be an urgent priority for the new Prime Minister. Without action, it will continue to rise. This is one area where what governments do – and don’t do – makes a difference. Great progress on child poverty had been made but by cutting £40bn a year from our work-and-pensions budget through cuts and freezes to tax credits and benefits, the government has put progress into reverse.

"As it reaches more families, the two child limit will increase poverty in larger families, compounding the SMC’s findings. By reinvesting in benefits for children - including removing the poverty-producing two child limit and benefit cap, restoring and uprating child benefit and the child element in universal credit and reinstating the higher payment for the first child in universal credit - we can lift 700,000 children out of poverty and increase family income by an average of £1,000 per year. Investing in children is an important first step for a government that wants to reunite the country.”

* Read Measuring Poverty 2019 here

* Social Metrics Commission https://socialmetricscommission.org.uk/


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