• 32% of people in the lowest income category (poorest) report less than good health. In the fifth decile of income distribution this figure is 25% and at the top decile of income distribution (richest) the figure is 11%.
  • Income improvements are associated with health improvements across the income distribution.

This chart shows adults aged 55 years and under by their self-rated health, grouped into 10 equal-sized bands (deciles) based on their household income for the UK in 2018/19.

Money and resources can affect health in a number of ways. Individuals require a certain level of income to be able to afford the basics for a healthy life. Beyond a basic level of income stresses still exist and these can eventually harm physical health.

The chart shows that more than 10% of adults in the lowest income decile (the poorest) report having ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ health, compared with 7% in the middle two deciles and around 1% in the highest decile (richest). Including data for ‘fair’ health (the category below ‘good’ health), 33% of the bottom decile report less than good health, compared with 23% in the middle deciles and 11% in the top decile.

In general, movement up the income distribution corresponds to improvements in health. This suggests poorer health is not confined to people who are experiencing poverty. There is a health improvement associated with being in the top decile, and not just for those above the bottom two deciles (broadly corresponding to poverty).

Although poor self-rated health is most prominent in the lower parts of the income distribution, health inequalities extend across the distribution. This suggests the need for a policy response that is universal, but can be applied with increased intensity in groups with the greatest need (proportionate universalism).

  • Self-rated health is a measure of health on a five-point scale from ‘very good’ to ‘very bad’. Other options include ‘good’, ‘fair’ and ‘bad’.
  • The income deciles are based on equivalised income (adjusted for household size) after housing costs have been deducted from income.

Source: Department for Work and Pensions, Family Resources Survey: financial year 2017/18, 2019. Department for Work and Pensions, Households below average income: 1994/95 to 2018/19

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This is part of Evidence hub: What drives health inequalities?

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