New measure records more than 14 million people living in poverty in the UK

21 September 2018

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MORE than 14 million people, including 4.5 million children, live in poverty in the UK, according to a new measure designed to track its rate.

More than half of that number — 58.2 per cent — live in what the analysis calls “persistent poverty”, where people are in poverty now, and have been for at least two out of the past three years.

The new measure, launched on Monday, was created by the Social Metrics Commission (SMC), a cross-party independent body founded in 2016 to find a new way of calculating the level of poverty in the UK.

People with a disability are much more likely to be in poverty, the research shows, and 48.3 per cent of people in poverty live with someone who is disabled.

As well as the level of income, the measure incorporates the “inescapable costs” that people face, which include “rent or mortgage payments, child care, and the extra costs of disability”. The SMC says that it “reflects more accurately the realities and experiences of living in poverty than previous measures”.

Fewer pensioners are in poverty than previously thought, the research shows. “Poverty rates amongst pension-age adults have also nearly halved since 2001,” the SMC report A New Measure of Poverty for the UK says: the figures have fallen from 20.8 per cent to 11.4 per cent.

There are 2.8 million people who are less than ten per cent below the poverty line, meaning that a small change in circumstances could take them above it; conversely, there are 2.5 million people who are less than ten per cent above the poverty line, meaning that they are in danger of dropping below it.

Baroness Philippa Stroud, the chair and founder of SMC and the CEO of the Legatum Institute, writes in the report’s executive summary: “We want to put poverty at the heart of government policy-making and ensure that the decisions that are made are genuinely made with the long-term interest of those in poverty in mind. . .

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“I call on people and organisations across, and outside of, the political spectrum to support this work so that we can all move on and put all our energy into creating pathways out of poverty.”

Helen Barnard, the head of analysis at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and a commissioner on the SMC, said: “For too long we have been stuck in debates about how to measure poverty. Working as part of the Social Metrics Commission has shown how much we share. We all want to live in a society where people have the resources to meet their needs, and to open up opportunities for people to build a better life.

“We call on the Government, the Office for National Statistics, and all of those working to solve poverty to support this new measure of poverty, and concentrate now on taking action to loosen the grip of poverty on people’s lives.”

The Children’s Society’s director of policy and research, Sam Royston, said: “It is extremely worrying that nearly a third of children — around 4.5 million — are living in poverty according to this proposed new measure. This important report rightly suggests that inescapable costs like child care, housing, and support for children with a disability should be taken into account when measuring poverty.

“When these are considered, children sadly make up a greater proportion of those in poverty than previously recognised, and they can contribute to situations in which families are left struggling to make ends meet and facing impossible choices between essentials like eating and heating.”

A spokesman for Church Action on Poverty said on Monday: “The new measurement simply confirms what we — and churches working in our poorest communities — already know.

“Too many people have been swept into poverty in the UK today. They are trapped there by powerful forces like poor pay, insecure work, and the rising cost of living. Every one of those people is made in the image of God, and has unique value. Poverty restricts their opportunities and denies them the chance to live life in all its fullness.

”It is good news that we now have a better understanding of the extent and nature of poverty which we can all agree on. We hope it will encourage more of our churches to put their energy into loosening the grip of poverty by speaking out for a just and compassionate society.”

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