7 million people in the UK are ‘living in persistent poverty’, report says

A damning new report published today by the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) reveals the shocking levels of poverty that continues to blight towns and cities across the UK.

The report reveals that 4.5 million people are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 7 million people are living in persistent poverty.

The analysis also reveals that nearly half (48%) of people in poverty – totalling 6.8 million people – live in a family where someone is disabled.


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.

A Trussell Trust foodbank. Photo credit: Newfrontiers via photopin cc

It 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%, which is the same as last year and only slightly lower than the 24% 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% in 2000/01 to 9% in 2014/15 but have since risen slightly to 11%.

Meanwhile, poverty rates among children dropped from 36% in 2000/01 to 31% in 2014/15, but have since increased to 34%

Overall, there are currently 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.

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%) of people in poverty – 4.5 million people – are more than 50% below the poverty line, and this proportion has not changed since the millennium.

Just under half (49%) 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. Three fifths (59%) of those living more than 50% below the poverty line are also in persistent poverty, compared to just over a third (36%) of those living within 5% of the poverty line.

Council housing dwarfed by London’s financial district. Photo: Oxfam.

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.”


Disclaimer: This article is based on an official press release from the Social Metrics Commission.


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