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Largest study into poverty reveals extent of deprivation in the UK

Press release issued: 28 March 2013

Today 33 per cent of the UK population suffers from multiple deprivation — it was 14 per cent in 1983, and over 30 million people (almost half the population) are suffering some degree of financial insecurity. These are just some of the stark findings from the largest and most authoritative study of poverty and deprivation ever conducted in the UK.

Today 33 per cent of the UK population suffers from multiple deprivation — it was 14 per cent in 1983, and over 30 million people (almost half the population) are suffering some degree of financial insecurity. These are just some of the stark findings from the largest and most authoritative study of poverty and deprivation ever conducted in the UK.

The Poverty and Social Exclusion [PSE] project, led by academics at the University of Bristol and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council [ESRC], publishes its first report ‘The Impoverishment of the UK’ today [28 Mar]. The study aims to help to find solutions to tackle the problems of poverty and deprivation.

The PSE approach — now adopted by the UK Government and by a growing number of rich and developing countries — identifies people falling below a publicly-determined minimum standard of living. This method of measuring poverty was pioneered in 1983 and repeated in studies in 1990, 1999, 2002/03 and 2012. The project provides detailed, robust and definitive trends over 30 years. 

Key findings from the PSE ‘The Impoverishment of the UK’ report reveal:

  • Over 30 million people (almost half the population) are suffering some degree of financial insecurity;
  • Almost 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions;
  • Roughly 14 million cannot afford one or more essential household goods;
  • Almost 12 million people are too poor to engage in common social activities considered necessary by the majority of the population;
  • About 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing;
  • Around 4 million children and adults are not properly fed by today’s standards;
  • Almost 4 million children go without at least two of the things they need;
  • Around 2.5 million children live in homes that are damp;
  • Around 1.5 million children live in households that cannot afford to heat their home.

Professor David Gordon of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol and head of the project said: “The results present a remarkably bleak portrait of life in the UK today and the shrinking opportunities faced by the bottom third of UK society.  About one third of people in the UK suffer significant difficulties and about a quarter have an unacceptably low standard of living.

“Moreover, this bleak situation will get worse as benefit levels fall in real term, real wages continue to decline and living standards are further squeezed.”

The study has found that a significant and growing proportion of the population, living conditions and opportunities have been going backwards. Housing and heating conditions, in particular, have deteriorated rapidly. The study reveals that:

  • One in three people could not afford to adequately heat their homes last winter and 29 per cent had to turn the heating down or off or only heat part of their homes The number of households unable to heat the living areas of their homes is at a record high – now nine per cent compared to three per cent in the 1990s and five per cent in 1983;
  • Overcrowding is as high as it was in 1983: today nine per cent of households cannot afford enough bedrooms for every child aged ten or over of a different sex to have their own bedroom (back up from three per cent in 1999);
  • The number of households unable to afford damp-free homes has also risen since 1983 – from six per cent to ten per cent;
  • One in five households can’t keep their home in an adequate state of decoration – up from 15 per cent in the 1990s;
  • Overall, across all these aspects of housing, around 13 million people (aged 16 and over) in Britain cannot afford adequate housing conditions, up from 9.5 million in 1999.

Increasing numbers of children also lack items considered essential for a stimulating environment and for social participation and development.

  • The proportion of school age children unable to go on school trips at least once a term has risen from 2 per cent in 1999 to 8 per cent today.

There is widespread public agreement on what constitutes a minimally acceptable diet. Over 90 per cent agree that, for children, this means: three meals a day; fresh fruit and vegetables; and meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent at least once a day.

  • Yet well over half a million children live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly.

The research shows that, in households where children go without one or more of these basic food necessities:

  • In 93 per cent at least one adult skimp on their own food ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ to ensure others have enough to eat.

Professor David Gordon added: “It is not as a result of negligence but due to a lack of money that so many children are going without adequate food.”

In the study overall, more than one in four adults (28 per cent) have skimped on their own food in the past year so that others in the household may eat.

Significant proportions of the population find it difficult to cope on their current incomes:

  • One in four adults have incomes below what they consider is needed to avoid poverty;
  • More than one in five have had to borrow in the last year to pay for day to day needs;
  • One in three can’t afford to save;
  • One in four can’t afford to replace or repair broken electrical goods (12 per cent in 1999).

Overall, the findings show that people feel poorer:

  • More than one in three adults today say they genuinely feel poor some or all of the time compared to 27 per cent in 1999.

Joanna Mack from The Open University, who, with Stewart Lansley, devised the study method in 1983, said: “Levels of deprivation today are worse in a number of vital areas – from basic housing to key social activities - than at any point in the past thirty years.

“These trends are a deeply shocking indictment of 30 years of economic and social policy and reflect a rapid growth in inequality. This has meant that, though the economy has doubled in size during this period, those at the bottom have been increasingly left behind.”

 

Further information

SPECIAL BROADCAST - ITV TONIGHT [28 March]

The first results from this study will be broadcast on ITV at 7.30pm on Thursday 28 March in a special Tonight programme on ‘Breadline Britain’.

SURVEY DETAILS

The PSE study is based on two surveys conducted in 2012. The ‘Necessities of Life’ survey was carried out between May and June 2012 and is based on a sample of 1,447 adults aged 16 or over in the Britain and 1,015 in Northern Ireland. The living standards survey interviewed 5,193 households (4,205 in Britain and 988 in Northern Ireland) comprising 12,097 people (9,786 in Britain and 2,311 in Northern Ireland).

The full Living Standards questionnaire can be downloaded from the PSE website: www.poverty.ac.uk.

The PSE: UK research was financed by the Economic and Social Research Council. It is a major collaboration between the University of Bristol, Heriot-Watt University, The Open University, Queen's University Belfast, University of Glasgow and the University of York working with the NatCen and NISRA.