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Key points

  • People in poverty are more likely to be in ‘less than good’ health (fair, poor or very poor) at all ages below 65 than people who are not in poverty. 
  • The difference in the share of those who report their health as less than good is largest for those aged 45-54 years (19 percentage points).

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.

The chart shows the proportion of people who report their health as less than good (on a scale of ‘very good’, ‘good’, ‘fair’, ‘bad’ and ‘very bad’) by age and whether they live in poverty. Poverty is defined as someone living in a household where net household income is below 60% of that year’s median, after adjusting for household size and housing costs.

The proportion of people in poverty whose health is ‘less than good’ is higher at all ages than for people who are not in poverty, revealing a clear gap:

  • At age 16–24 years, the difference is 10 percentage points. At 25–34 years, it is 15 percentage points, and the same at ages 3515 percentage points for those aged 35–44 years. The gap is 19 percentage points for people aged 45–54 years. 
  • The gap widens until ages 55–64 years, when it starts to reduce (to 15 percentage points) as poor health increases overall. At age 65 and over, the gap is 1 percentage point,  the increased prevalence of poor health in the older population and the age band of 65 years and older spanning a wider age range. There is also a gap between people in – or not in – poverty reporting ‘very bad’ or ‘bad’ health: around 9 percentage points for people aged 45–54 years.

This gap remains even if we only look at people in work, which means the effect is not just a result of people with poor health being in poverty because their health prevents them from working.

People in poverty are more likely to be in poorer health. Poverty rates in the UK are not improving, and therefore there is a significant need and challenge to reduce poverty and the subsequent negative implications for health.

  • Poverty is defined as someone living in a household with a net household income below 60% of that year’s median.
  • 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 fewer options for meeting their housing costs, relative to their income.
  • Self-rated health is measured on a five-point scale from ‘very good’ to ‘very bad’. Other options include ‘good’, ‘fair’ and ‘bad’.

Source: Department for Work and Pensions, Households Below Average Income and the Family Resources Survey

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

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