14.3 million Brits in poverty

A new report shows the scale and depth of poverty in Britain today

29th July 2019

There are 14.3 million people in poverty in the UK, including 4.6 million children, according to a new independent report from the Social Metrics Commission.

Of them, 4.5 million people are more than 50% below the poverty line, and seven million who are now in poverty have been for at least two of the last three years, referred to as being in persistent poverty. Of those in persistent poverty, more than two million are children.

The report, out today, shows the challenge that faces the new Prime Minister when it comes to poverty in Britain, an issue which the previous administration never truly acknowledged the scale of. By measuring and analysing the levels of poverty in Britain over the last 19 years, the report gives a nuanced view of a highly complex issue.

The report shows which groups within society are most likely to be affected by poverty, with almost half of all people in poverty living in a family where someone is disabled, totalling 6.8 million people. Further, 46% of people in families with a black head of household live in poverty, as do 37% of those with an Asian head of household.

People in poverty are also twice as likely to “rarely or never feel close to others”, according to the report, and one in five people in poverty live in families where adults believe people in their neighbourhood cannot be trusted.

The Social Metrics Commission brings together experts from across the political spectrum to provide a reliable and non-partisan measure of poverty in Britain. It was set up in 2016 and last year, following the commission’s first report, the government announced it would look to develop new statistics using its approach.

Philippa Stroud, chair of the Social Metrics Commission and CEO of think tank the Legatum Institute, established the commission because she saw a need to better understand poverty in the UK, so as to better enable policymakers 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,” said Stroud.

It is concerning that overall poverty has remained at almost the same level since the early 2000s, under Governments of all colours

The Social Metrics Commission’s report builds on earlier proposals to introduce a new measure of poverty in the UK. Beyond measuring the extent of poverty in the UK today, the report provides a detailed analysis of the scale and nature of poverty in the UK, as well as how this changed since 2000/01.

The report shows that in the first 10-15 years after the millennium some progress was made in tackling poverty in the UK, with poverty rates declining steadily in several key areas. However, since 2015, a new downward trend has emerged across a number of metrics, including poverty among pensioners and children, meaning that overall the scale and extent of poverty in Britain has changed little since 2000.

“It is concerning that overall poverty has remained at almost the same level since the early 2000s, under Governments of all colours,” said Stroud. “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.”

UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston visited the UK to produce a report on poverty last year using the Social Metrics Commission’s data 📸 Bassam Khawaja 2018

Helen Barnard is deputy director of policy and partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and a commissioner of the Social Metrics Commission. Commenting on the report, she said: “We all want to live in communities free from the grip of poverty.

“It is unacceptable that our new poverty measure shows that four and a half million people have been pulled into deep levels of poverty, while seven million are trapped in a persistent struggle to make ends meet. We need our new Prime Minister to get to work immediately on a bold plan to boost living standards and support our towns and cities in building a more hopeful economic future.

“We know that low-income voters are restless to see action and are turning out at the ballot box in greater numbers. The party that brings forward policies to unlock opportunities, boost skills and invest in affordable homes to help this group will stand the best chance of earning their support.”

29th July 2019