More Than Four Million People Are Living More Than 50% Below Official Poverty Line

There are 14.3 million people in poverty in the UK, the Social Metrics Commission found.

More than 4 million people in the UK are living more than 50% below the official poverty line, while seven million have been trapped in poverty for at least two of the previous three years, research shows.

The startling figures, from an independent study from the Social Metrics Commission, have been called “unacceptable” by a leading think tank.

The commission urged the new prime minister, Boris Johnson, to take urgent action to tackle growing poverty after finding there are 14.3 million people in poverty in the UK, made up of 8.3 million working-age adults; 4.6 million children; and 1.3 million pension-age adults.

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 found rising levels of hardship in recent years among children, larger families, lone parent households and pensioners.

Researchers also looked at deep levels of poverty and persistent 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 of people in poverty – 4.5 million people – are more than 50% below the breadline line, and this proportion has not changed since the millennium.

Just under half 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.

Poverty persistence is particularly high for those in deep levels of poverty. Nearly 60% of those living more than 50% below the poverty line are also in persistent poverty, compared to just over a third of those living within 5% of the poverty line.

Responding to the report, Helen Barnard, deputy director of policy & partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and a commissioner of the Social Metrics Commission, said the figures were “unacceptable”.

“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.”

The commission’s report found nearly half of people living below the breadline – totalling 6.8 million people – live in a family where someone is disabled, confirming it is one of the strongest predictors of being in poverty.

Work is no longer a guarantee of protection against poverty, the study found. At the millennium 54% of children in poverty lived in a family where an adult worked. That rose to 73% in 2017-18.

Even in families where all adults work full time, one in six children are in poverty.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group highlighted how government policy such as the two-child benefit limit introduced in 2017, was having a direct impact on children living in poverty.

She said: “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.”

The commission, which is made up of experts from across the political spectrum, and includes representatives from various organisations and think tanks including the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, was set up Philippa Stroud, a Conservative peer, in 2016 to develop a new way of measuring poverty.

Stroud, who is the commission’s chair, said its purpose is to provide “a robust evidence base” for policymakers to use to make decisions about how to tackle poverty.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

A government spokesperson said: “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this government. We want to build on our progress to ensure every family can thrive. That’s why we’ve raised the personal allowance to take 1.74 million of the lowest paid out of income tax altogether and increased the National Living Wage to provide the biggest pay rise for low paid workers in 20 years, while we continue to spend £95 billion a year on working-age welfare.

“Work offers the best route out of poverty and we’ve got record numbers in employment. Universal Credit allows those most in need to receive personalised support into employment.”


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