• All ethnic minority groups experience greater rates of poverty compared to white people. Most notably, people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnicity have a poverty rate that is twice as high (46% and 53%, respectively) as that experienced by white people (19%). 
  • Disabled people are 5 percentage points more likely to be in poverty than non-disabled people (26% compared with 21%). 
  • 43% of single-parent households live in poverty, compared with 13% of couples without children.

This chart shows the proportion of people living in poverty in the UK in 2018/19 and is broken down by different characteristics: ethnicity, disability and family composition. Poverty is defined as an individual living in a household with a net household income below 60% of the median in that year, once adjusted for household size and housing costs. 

Poverty can affect health when financial resources are insufficient to meet basic living needs, such as adequate heating for the home, appropriate clothing or adequate nutrition. 


Every ethnic minority group has a higher poverty prevalence than people of white ethnicity (21%), although there are high levels of variation. 

  • The poverty rate for people of Indian ethnicity is 24%.  
  • The poverty rate for people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnicity is twice as high as the rate for people of white ethnicity (46% and 53%, respectively). 
  • The poverty rate for people of black ethnicity is 42%. 

This variation largely reflects differences in employment, earnings and housing tenure. For example, the employment rate for people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin is around 20 percentage points lower than the average, hourly pay is lower and owner occupation rates (with lower housing costs) are lower. The poverty rate for most ethnic minority groups increases markedly when accounting for housing costs. 

These outcomes reflect a variety of factors, including possible discrimination in employment and services. For migrants, the nature of migration (for example, whether migration was through channels that make employment harder, such as asylum) and how recently they arrived in the UK, can be a factor. Environmental factors also play a role, such as the quality of education in different geographical areas. 


The poverty rate for disabled people is 26%, compared with 21% for non-disabled people. Within this measure there will be significant variation in poverty, partly related to the type of disability and the economic status of other household members.  

The standard measure of poverty potentially understates the extent of poverty for many disabled people. This is because their income can be overstated, due to the income from benefits awarded to cover the additional costs of disability, such as special equipment or higher heating bills, being included in the income measure. The costs such support is designed to meet are not accounted for.  

The poverty rate for people living in a family with a disabled person, once benefits awarded to account for the additional cost of disability are removed from income, is 30% compared to 19% for people in a family without a disabled person.

Household composition 

Poverty rates vary for different family types:

  • the poverty rate for single parents is 43%
  • the poverty rate for couples without children is 13%. 

These differences reflect several key dynamics. The first is that households with children tend to have higher poverty rates because these households are larger relative to potential income. The second is that housing costs for a couple can be similar to those of single people, but income can be double.

These differences in exposure to poverty will also contribute to inequalities in health outcomes. These outcomes are not inevitable and can be addressed with the right policy action.

  • Poverty is defined as an individual living in a household with a net household income below 60% of the median in that year. 
  • Income is adjusted for household size to reflect economies of scale, for example, a household of four needs more income for the same standard of living as a household of one, but not four times as much. 
  • Housing costs are deducted from income, to reflect that people with lower incomes in particular have less choice about their cost of housing, relative to their income. 
  • Disability is defined as reporting any physical or mental health condition(s) or illness(es) that lasts or is expected to last 12 months or more, and that limits the ability to carry out day-to-day activities either a little or a lot.

Source: Department for Work and Pensions, Households below average income, 2020

Related analysis


Map of child poverty


Child poverty rates are highest in London, urban areas in the north of England, the South Wales...


Trends in persistent poverty


The incidence of persistent poverty has remained broadly unchanged since 2010–14, but had been...

Related long read

Long read

Living in poverty was bad for your health long before COVID-19

25 July 2020

About 16 mins to read

Long read

COVID-19 has thrown inequalities in health and society into sharper focus. Adam Tinson explores the...

Explore the topics

Health inequalities

Money and resources





Neighbourhoods and surroundings

Coming soon

Family, friends and community

Coming soon

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

Data, insights and analysis exploring how the circumstances in which we live shape our health