Adequate standard of living and poverty – UK Government assessment
Although rates of relative poverty have remained static for working-age adults, the number of children living in relative poverty and rates of in-work poverty have increased in recent years. Changes to the welfare system have had a significant negative impact on the poorest people and have disproportionately affected those with certain protected characteristics. The UK Government has taken significant temporary measures to protect income and jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is likely to have a significant impact on poverty and socio-economic rights, though the full impact is yet to be understood.
- There are 14.5 million people in the UK in relative poverty and 11.7 million people in absolute poverty after housing costs, representing a fifth of the population.
- There has been a rise in the proportion of people in in-work poverty since 2012–13. Working poverty among families with three or more children has reached 42%, partly due to the rising cost of housing and childcare. More than a million children of frontline workers now live in poverty, with regional disparities.
- Poverty disproportionately affects some ethnic minorities, with 55% of Bangladeshi and 47% of Pakistani individuals living in poverty compared with 19% of White individuals, who have the lowest poverty rates of all ethnic groups.
- Relative child poverty has increased since 2010, and is currently at 31%.
- The impact of regressive changes to social security since 2010 is becoming evident in poverty data, including the impact of the two-child limit on benefit support on child poverty. Such changes have potentially contributed to an additional 683,000 children living in relative poverty between 2010–11 and 2019–20.
- There was a 142% increase in the number of emergency food supplies provided by Trussell Trust food banks across England between 2015–16 and 2020–21.
- Between 2017–18 and 2020–21 the percentage of children eligible for free school meals rose from 14% to 20%, reaching 26% in North East England.
- There have been reports of an increase in the number of refugees and asylum seekers facing poverty, and people and households with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) face high levels of homelessness and destitution.
- In May 2020, the High Court ruled that, in the case of a parent of a British child seeking leave to remain in the UK, the NRPF immigration condition breached the Human Rights Act 1998, which bans inhuman and degrading treatment. In April 2021, the High Court ruled that the UK Government’s NRPF condition was unlawful in denying migrants’ children access to benefits.
- The pandemic has disproportionately affected people already facing lower living standards.
- The number of Universal Credit claimants increased from three million in March 2020 to six million in April 2021 and the lack of a corresponding uplift to ‘legacy benefits’ (which existed previously) alongside the uplift for Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit left some disabled claimants unable to meet the additional costs of the pandemic.
- The UK Government’s decision to end the temporary uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit in 2021 is expected to push 500,000 people into poverty, with the poorest households facing a 7% reduction in income, and might breach international human rights standards.
- The House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee reported in July 2021 that the UK Government’s levelling up strategy lacked definition and clarity.
Read more about the UK and Welsh Governments’ actions on adequate standard of living and poverty.