More than 14m people in UK living in poverty, major report finds

An extra 2.5 million people are just above the poverty line, meaning relatively small changes could mean they fall below it

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Monday 17 September 2018 11:25 BST
Research by the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) shows that nearly half of this cohort - 6.9 million - were living in families with a disabled person, while 4.5 million were children
Research by the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) shows that nearly half of this cohort - 6.9 million - were living in families with a disabled person, while 4.5 million were children

More than 14 million people are living in poverty in the UK, according to a major report proposing a new measure of financial hardship which considers the impact of “inescapable” costs such as childcare and disability.

The research by the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) found that 14.2 million people were living in poverty under the new measure, of which 4.5 million were children and 1.4 million were people of pension age.

Of that total figure, 7.7 million people were found to be living in “persistent poverty”, meaning they had spent all or most of the last four years or more in poverty, while 6.9 million were living in families with a disabled person.

The figure in the report marks a rise on findings by the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) last year which showed 14 million people in the UK were in poverty.

The SMC said its work over the last two and a half years has given rise to a new measure which makes “significant changes to our understanding of who is in poverty”.

The new measure accounts for the negative impact on people's weekly income of “inescapable” costs such as childcare and the impact that disability has on people's needs, and includes the positive impacts of being able to access liquid assets such as savings.

It also takes the first steps to including groups of people previously omitted from poverty statistics, like those living on the streets or in overcrowded housing, SMC chair Baroness Stroud said.

The report finds that the majority (68 per cent) of people living in workless families are in poverty, compared to 9 per cent for people living in families where all adults work full time.

There are 2.5 million people in the UK who are less than 10 per cent above the poverty line, meaning that relatively small changes in their circumstances could mean they fall below it, the commission found.

Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s shoadow work and pensions secretary, said: “The government’s strategy to tackle poverty consists of trying to mask the deep cuts it has made to social security by disputing the numbers of people in poverty.

“The new measure importantly shows the impact of debt, housing and child care costs, and the extra costs that disabled people face. The extent of poverty it reveals among disabled people and their families is a major concern given the severe cuts to support to them in Universal Credit."

Sam Royston, director of policy and research at the Children’s Society, said it was “extremely worrying” that nearly a third of children – around 4.5 million – were living in poverty according to the proposed new measure.

“This important report rightly suggests that inescapable costs like childcare, housing and support for children with a disability should be taken into account when measuring poverty,” he said.

“When these are considered children sadly make up a greater proportion of those in poverty than previously recognised and they can contribute to situations in which families are left struggling to make ends meet and facing impossible choices between essentials like eating and heating.”

The report also revealed “some areas of good news” with far fewer pensioners living in poverty than previously thought following a “significant fall” in pensioner poverty over the last 15 years.

Philippa Stroud, chair of the SMC, said: “For too long it has been possible to have a debate about the measurement of poverty.

“I call on people and organisations across, and outside of, the political spectrum to support this new measure of poverty so that we can all put our energy into creating the policies and solutions that build pathways out of poverty.”

A UK government spokeswoman said: “Measuring poverty is complex, and this report offers further insight into that complexity and the additional measures that can be taken into consideration.

”This government is committed to making a positive difference to the outcomes for poor and disadvantaged families and children.

“Through our welfare reforms we are providing personalised support, helping people overcome their specific barriers and allowing them to progress into work and then progress in work - as we know this still remains the best route out of poverty.

”Running parallel with that support, we continue to spend £90bn a year on working age benefits to provide a safety net for those who need it when they need it, and we will be spending £54bn this year, more than ever before, to support disabled people and those with health conditions.“

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