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Commission measures poverty plague affecting 14.3 million people

Words: Huw Morris
Poverty gap / iStock-911770890

Around 4.5 million are trapped in “deep poverty” with incomes of at least 50 per cent below the official breadline, according to an independent study.

A total of 7 million people, including 2.3 million children, are also plagued by “persistent poverty”, according to the Social Metrics Commission. These people have lived in poverty for at least two of the previous three years.

The commission, launched in 2016 to develop new ways of measuring poverty, found that of 14.3 million people in the UK live in poverty, including 8.3 million working-age adults, 4.6 million children and 1.3 million pensioners.

The 4.5 million in deep poverty represent a third of all those on the breadline, and 7% of the population. This means a couple with two children would have an income of less than £211 a week after housing costs, and a single parent with one child would be on less than £101.50 a week.

The commission found that disability is one of the strongest predictors of poverty, with nearly half of all those below the breadline living in a household where someone is disabled.

It also showed that work is no longer a guarantee of protection against poverty.  At the millennium 54 per cent of children in poverty lived in a family where an adult worked but this had risen to 73 per cent in 2017-18. In families where all adults work full time, one in six children are in poverty.

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.

Compared to the UK average of 22 per cent, poverty rates are higher in London at 28 per cent and Wales at 24 per cent but lower in Scotland and Northern Ireland, both with 20 per cent and 18 per cent in the South East.

“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 commission chair Philippa Stroud. “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.”

Image credit | iStock