More than one in 10 people in the UK live in “persistent poverty”, according to a report that takes a fresh look at the way financial hardship is measured.
A major study by the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) found that 7.7 million people, 12.1% of the UK population, have spent all or most of the last four years or more in poverty.
“Given that we know that long periods in poverty can be particularly damaging to people’s lives and prospects, this is a significant concern,” the report stated.
In total, 14.2 million people in the UK were found to be in poverty under the new measure – 8.4 million working-age adults, 4.5 million children and 1.4 million people of pension age.
Of those, nearly half – 6.9 million are living in families with a disabled person, the research suggests.
Meanwhile, 2.5 million UK residents are at risk of falling into poverty, the report reveals.
The SMC, which describes itself as an independent, non-partisan organisation, was brought together to develop what it says is a new approach to poverty measurement that “better reflects the nature and experiences of poverty that different families in the UK have”.
The body said its work over the last two-and-a-half years has given rise to a new measure which makes “significant changes to our understanding of who is in poverty”.
The commission’s new measure accounts for the negative impact on people’s weekly income of “inescapable” costs such as childcare and the impact that disability has on people’s needs; and includes the positive impacts of being able to access liquid assets such as savings.
Children found to be in poverty under the new measure
It also takes the first steps to including groups of people previously omitted from poverty statistics, like those living on the streets or in overcrowded housing, SMC chair Baroness Stroud said.
Under the new measure, the majority (68%) of people living in workless families are in poverty, the report outlines. This compares to 9% for people living in families where all adults work full time.
There are 2.5 million people in the UK who are less than 10% above the poverty line, meaning that relatively small changes in their circumstances could mean they fall below it, the commission found.
The report also revealed “some areas of good news” with far fewer pensioners living in poverty than previously thought following a “significant fall” in pensioner poverty over the last 15 years.
Poverty rates were found to vary significantly across the UK. Rates in Scotland are lower than in other UK countries, while Welsh poverty rates are typically higher than in other countries, and England has the highest child poverty rate, the report stated.
Overall poverty rates in Scotland are nearly three percentage points lower than the UK overall (19.2% compared to 22%), but Scotland was still found to have some groups experiencing high rates of poverty.
The SNP has called on the UK Government to take “urgent action” at the Budget to tackle poverty following the report’s findings.
And the Scottish Government’s Communities Secretary, Aileen Campbell, said: “As the Commission makes clear, much UK Government political debate in the past decade has focused on the measurement of poverty rather than the action needed to drive better outcomes.
“The reverse is the case for the Scottish Government where we have moved past measurement to action, particularly through ambitious child poverty targets and our first tackling child poverty delivery plan.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “Measuring poverty is complex, and this report offers further insight into that complexity and the additional measures that can be taken into consideration.
“This Government is committed to making a positive difference to the outcomes for poor and disadvantaged families and children.
“Through our welfare reforms we are providing personalised support, helping people overcome their specific barriers and allowing them to progress into work and then progress in work – as we know this still remains the best route out of poverty.
“Running parallel with that support, we continue to spend £90 billion a year on working age benefits to provide a safety net for those who need it when they need it, and we will be spending £54 billion this year, more than ever before, to support disabled people and those with health conditions.”