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Money and resources
Poverty | Income | Debt

Key stats

6%
of households where all adults work are in persistent poverty, after housing costs have been taken into account.
31%
of people on the lowest incomes say they are not in good health, compared to 12% of people on the highest incomes.
14 million
people in the UK live in poverty, equivalent to around 22% of the population.

Why money and resources matter for health

There is a strong relationship between money and resources (such as income or wealth) and health. A good income allows us to obtain resources that are necessary for our survival and wellbeing, while at the same time avoiding the stress of managing life without enough money. Income can affect almost all areas of life – not only its material aspects, but also our social lives, both of which can have an effect on our health.

Explore the different ways in which money and resources can affect health:

Financial or economic strain can be linked to income or debt, and generally refers to financial pressure, usually due to inadequate financial resources. This may include struggling to cope with debt or being unable to meet day-to-day living costs. This financial strain can be a source of stress and can eventually harm physical and mental health.

Research shows that people in financial hardship are at greater risk of mental health problems, such as anxiety, stress and depression. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that financial problems cause these mental health issues, rather than being the result of those.

At the same time, financial strain can have an impact on our physical health, either through its effect on our behaviour, guiding us to act in ways that may not be beneficial to our health but also directly affecting our health, including conditions such as hypertension, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and back pain, which can affect anything from our quality of life to our ability to work. 

Poverty – defined as having inadequate resources to meet basic human needs – is associated with worse health. In childhood, poverty is associated with worse outcomes in infant mortality, low birth weight, obesity, asthma, tooth decay and accidental death. It is also associated with worse health in adulthood, such as premature mortality, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Not having enough income to sustain a basic standard of living affects health in several ways, including being unable to heat one's own home or access healthy foods. Other factors linked to poverty that can directly harm health include staying in low-quality housing and the lack of opportunity to participate fully in society.

The stress of living on a low income can also eventually affect someone’s health, as highlighted in the section on financial strain as a source of stress.

Poverty can also affect health through relative deprivation, which is the stress associated with lacking the goods, services and status of mainstream society. This can affect health, even if someone meets a basic standard of living, by acting as a chronic source of stress that eventually has physiological effects.

Research suggests that any exposure to poverty in childhood is associated with worse health, while persistent poverty is even more detrimental. 

Explore trends and inequalities in poverty and persistent poverty.

People with a low income are more likely on average to engage in unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, high alcohol consumption, inactivity, high calorie intake and not taking advantage of preventive health services. There is evidence that unhealthy behaviours compound the relationship between stress and ill health, and the range of stressors associated with low income may encourage people to drink, smoke or reduce exercise to cope with these pressures.

There is also a link between the perceived permanence of income and healthier behaviours. Adopting healthier behaviours relies on someone having a perceived sustained improvement in prospects – a short-lived income boost is not enough. The financial cost of some activities or goods is also a recurrent barrier to healthier behaviours.

Explore subtopics within Money and resources
Poverty
Poverty is a risk to health, with persistent poverty more strongly associated with worse health than shorter exposures.
Income
There is a well-established link between income and variations in health, with people on lower incomes more likely to have poor health.
Debt
There is a strong link between debt and health, with people in problem debt more likely to have worse health.

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Health inequalities

Money and resources
Poverty | Income | Debt

Work
Quality | Unemployment | Security

Housing
Affordability | Quality | Stability | Security

Transport
Active travel | Social exclusion | Trends

Family, friends and community
Personal relationships | Community cohesion

Our surroundings
Pollution | Green space | Safety | Amenities

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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
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