Food banks, universal credit delays, the sudden popularity of the “just about managing” moniker.
All the evidence suggests that Britain has a problem with poverty — and yet there is no agreed way to measure it.
But a new report by the Social Metrics Commission (SMC), compiled after two-and-a-half years of research, has attempted to create a new consensus.
It takes into account “inescapable costs” like childcare and the impact of disability — and, for the first time, includes rough sleepers and people living in overcrowded housing.
The report argues that poverty is not necessarily soley defined by your income — the common thread in previous unofficial measurements — and affects more people than previously thought, including 4.5 million children.
"Currently there is no agreed government measure of #poverty, the @SocMetricsComm mission is to provide a new consensus that enables action in the UK."#NewPovertyMeasurehttps://t.co/HUecZx6r63pic.twitter.com/IFi99ntCuA— Social Metrics Comm. (@SocMetricsComm) September 17, 2018
Basically, if you don’t know how to define poverty, how can you work to reduce it?
The SMC’s proposals broaden previous perspectives of poverty to incorporate a wider range of concerns. It aims to examine all assets — not just income — so that savings can help determine where you sit on the poverty line. It also considers costs like rent, mortgage repayments, and child care costs to include groups traditionally excluded from the census, and housing assessments so that homelessness now officially pivots into poverty data.
In 2010, the Child Poverty Act established a nationwide measurement of poverty, and included specific targets to alleviate it. Although Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland retained the definitions, the targets were abolished in England in 2015.
THREAD: Number of people in the U.K. in #poverty:— Social Metrics Comm. (@SocMetricsComm) September 17, 2018
Working-age adults: 8.4 million
Children: 4.5 million
Pensioners: 1.4 million
Total: 14.2 million people#NewPovertyMeasure#UKPovertyMeasurepic.twitter.com/2PCs4mHBwp
The revised measurements reveal fresh statistics that cast a new light on Britain’s poverty problem:
- 14.2 million people in the UK population are in poverty.
- That includes 4.5 million children, 8.4 million working-age adults, and 1.4 million pension-age adults.
- 7.7 million people live in persistent poverty.
- Almost half (6.9 million) of those trapped in poverty are living in families with a person with disabilities.
There’s also a finely struck balance between those who are less than 10% above the poverty line (2.5 million people), and those less than 10% below it (2.3 million people). The report concludes that even the smallest of changes could push these people in the opposite direction.
Previously, “relative poverty” was unofficially described as living on less than 60% of the whole country’s median average household income — the metrics used by Tony Blair’s New Labour while in power from 1997 to 2010. When the Conservatives entered into a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, the definition shifted to include unemployment, family circumstances, and substance abuse, reports the Independent.
So how you measured poverty differed depending on where you stood on the political spectrum.
However, the SMC is an independent commission, describing itself as “rigorously nonpartisan” — and hopes that the new measurement will provide a consensus that all parties can agree on.
“The need for an independent commission was clear," said Baroness Philippa Stroud, SMC founder. "For too long it has been possible to have a debate about the measurement of poverty.”
“Now I call on people and organisations across, and outside of, the political spectrum to support this new measure of poverty so that we can all put our energy into creating the policies and solutions that build pathways out of poverty,” she added.
"Measuring poverty is complex, and this report offers further insight into that complexity and the additional measures that can be taken into consideration,” said a spokesperson from the UK government. "This government is committed to making a positive difference to the outcomes for poor and disadvantaged families and children."