• 22% of the UK population live in poverty and this is equivalent to 14.5 million people. 
  • Poverty rates for children, working-age adults and pensioners have plateaued in the UK since 2015/16. 
  • For working-age adults and children these trends largely reflect the offsetting effect of social security cuts reducing incomes and higher employment increasing incomes.

The chart shows the proportion of people living in poverty in the UK for each year from 1994/95 to 2018/19 – the latest year for which data is available. Data is separated by all people, children, working-age adults and pensioners. Poverty is defined as an individual living in a household with an income, adjusted for household size, of less than 60% of the median income, after 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. 

A total of 22% – or around 14 million people – live in poverty, a figure that has remained reasonably stable since the mid-2000s and lower than the 24–25% experienced during the 1990s.  

The relative stability of the overall (all people) measure hides considerable variation between age groups: 

  • The child poverty rate fell from 34% to 28% between 1998/99–2004/05 and has been considered to be as a result of social policy success, such as Child Tax Credit. The child poverty rate has remained at around 30% since 2005/06 with a fall in 2010/11, largely due to median income falling after the financial crisis. Before the pandemic child poverty was forecast to rise, driven by the phasing in of the policy of limiting some social security payments to two children.  
  • The working-age poverty rate is the same as it was a decade ago at 21%.  
  • The pensioner poverty rate more than halved between the late 1990s and its low point in 2012/13, although it has since crept up to 16%. The reduction in pensioner poverty up until 2012/13 has been partly due to the introduction of more generous financial support in the form of Pension Credit. 

Within each group there has been compositional shifts in the population in poverty. For those of working age and with children, this includes the growth of in-work poverty (people in work and still in poverty) and a shift towards more families privately renting (where housing costs are higher). There have been similar shifts for working-age adults including the growth of in-work poverty and a shift in average housing tenure. 

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.

Poverty trends highlight the important role that policy can play. A sustained effort to reduce pensioner and child poverty in the late 1990s and 2000s was effective. Little change in poverty rates in recent years shows the limits of an approach that relies on employment growth alone to support incomes and replace income lost due to social security cuts. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of a strong safety net to support incomes.

  • 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. 
  • Pensioner households are defined as those headed by a person aged 65 years or older. 
  • Northern Ireland data is only included in the survey from 2002/03 onwards.

Source: Department for Work and Pensions, Households below average income: 1994/95 to 2018/19, 2020

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