House of Lords Library

Causes of Poverty in the United Kingdom

Published Thursday, July 7, 2016

This House of Lords Library briefing has been prepared ahead of a debate that is scheduled to take place in the House on 14 July 2016 on the following motion: “[...] that this House takes note of the case for tackling the causes of poverty in the United Kingdom”.

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Identifying and dealing with the causes of poverty is a highly complex issue which is open to interpretation, which in turn influences suggested approaches to tackling the causes of poverty. This briefing therefore necessarily considers the lack of a universally agreed definition of poverty and the resulting different measures conventionally used to gauge poverty rates; summarises government policy in recent years in relation to the causes of poverty; and presents statistics on poverty rates in the United Kingdom. It does not provide an overview of possible policy solutions, but points to relevant further reading on this subject.

In May 2016, the Office for National Statistics published a release on the subject of persistent poverty in the UK and EU. The release set out the following main points: 

  • In 2014, 6.5 percent of the UK population were in persistent poverty, equivalent to approximately 3.9 million people. Persistent poverty is defined as experiencing relative low income in the current year, as well as at least 2 out of the 3 preceding years. 
  • Based on the latest data, the UK has the third-lowest persistent poverty rate in the EU, but the overall poverty rate for 2014, at 16.8 percent, was the twelfth highest. 
  • The persistent poverty rate for women was 1.5 percentage points higher than for men in 2014 in the UK.
  • Single-person households were more likely to experience persistent poverty than households with 2 adults. 
  • Between 2011 and 2014, almost a third (32.5 percent) of the UK population experienced poverty at least once. 
  • 43 percent of people who left education without any formal qualifications experienced poverty at least once between 2011 and 2014, twice the percentage of those with a degree or higher.

Lords Library notes LLN-2016-0036

Author: Thomas Brown

Topic: Incomes and poverty

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