Facts and figures about poverty

Share this page

Everyone who campaigns against poverty needs to know the true state of affairs. Facts and statistics may not always persuade people who don't believe in a generous welfare state, but campaigners who aren't confident that the truth is on their side will be less persuasive. On this page we look at the main definition of poverty used in the UK, we ask how many people in this country are poor and look at some of the problems related to child poverty.

Defining poverty

Some countries (such as the USA) have an official poverty threshold. For many years the UK did not, and we still do not have a comprehensive threshold, but we do have an official definition of child poverty, in the Child Poverty Act. This sets the government four targets based on the proportion of children living in:

  • Relative low income - living in a household with less than 60 per cent of the median national income for that sort of family.
  • Combined low income and material deprivation.
  • Absolute low income (whether the poorest families are seeing their income rise in real terms).
  • Persistent poverty (length of time in poverty).

The first of these measures is the headline figure is quoted most frequently, so we have some reason to say for all groups that they are poor if they live in a family with an income below sixty per cent of the median (not just children.)

How many people are poor?

Using this threshold, in 2009/10 there were 13.5 million people in poverty in this country, about 22 per cent of the population. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the New Poverty Institute have created a very good Poverty Site, with information about how the numbers in poverty have changed over time, poverty in the nations of the UK, different dimensions of poverty and how poverty impacts on people's lives.

The main source of official figures on poverty is an annual report called Households Below Average Income. This includes figures on the distribution of income, on poverty for the whole population, children, people of working age, people over retirement age, different types of family, whether or not people have jobs, gender, disability, ethnicity and geography. In 2009/10:

  • 22 per cent of people were poor
  • In Inner London the figure was 32 per cent
  • 29 per cent of children were poor, compared with
    • 22 per cent of adult women and
    • 21 per cent of adult men.
  • 20 per cent of people living in a household headed by someone whose ethnicity was listed as 'white', were poor, compared with
    • 30 per cent of people living in a family headed by a person whose ethnicity was listed as 'Indian',
    • 33 per cent of people living in a family headed by a person whose ethnicity was listed as 'Black Caribbean',
    • 46 per cent of people living in a family headed by a person whose ethnicity was listed as 'Black Non-Caribbean' and
    • 56 per cent of people living in a family headed by a person whose ethnicity was listed as 'Pakistani and Bangladeshi'.
  • 12 per cent of couples with no children were poor, compared with
    • 28 per cent of single people with no children,
    • 23 per cent of couples with children and
    • 46 per cent of lone parents.

Child Poverty

According to the campaign to End Child Poverty, four million children - one in three - live in poverty. In some local authorities the figure is much higher: more than one in three children in Leicester, Liverpool, Middlesborough, Nottingham, Manchester and nearly everywhere in inner London. Over half the children in Tower Hamlets are poor. End Child Poverty has produced a map of child poverty in the UK that shows where child poverty is concentrated - and that these are the local authorities that have suffered the worst cuts in funding from central government.

The TUC believes there is an 'Iron Triangle' connecting insecure and vulnerable work, women's poverty and child poverty. Children are disproportionately likely to be poor:

Proportion of whole population

Proportion of poor




Adult women



Adult men



A majority of poor children live in families where at least one of the adults has a job. Working women are far more likely than men to be in low paid jobs and women are also far more likely to work in poorly paid part-time jobs - more than three quarters of part-time workers are women. Another essential link between low pay, women's poverty and child poverty is the employment discrimination that many mothers face. Mothers in Britain are far more likely to be poor than anywhere else in Europe and from the moment they conceive a child women face immediate financial penalties - thousands lose their jobs and many more face disadvantage and reduced opportunities in the workplace. After having a child, many mothers become trapped in part-time, low-paid and low status work. They are more likely to be in insecure jobs as temporary or home workers, where they have fewer employment rights.

This means that fighting child poverty, fighting women's poverty and fighting in-work poverty are inter-linked and the TUC support the End Child Poverty campaign for 'jobs you can raise a family on.'

The median is the middle point in the income distribution, with the same number of people above and below.

These figures are 'after housing costs' - based on how much the family has to live on after their rent or mortgage and Housing Benefit are taken into account. This is the measure used by most anti-poverty organisations. The Government's child poverty target calculates this figure on a 'before housing costs' basis. Calculated in this way, there are 10.4 million poor people and they make up 17 per cent of the population.

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Share this Page