A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has shed light on the increasing difficulty of escaping poverty in the United Kingdom over the past two decades.
According to the UK Poverty Report for 2024, the JRF reveals that 6 million of the poorest individuals, classified as living in very deep poverty, would need their incomes more than doubled on average to escape hardship.
The report’s analysis indicates that the average person in poverty had an income 29 percent below the poverty line in 2021-22, up from a 23 percent gap in the mid-1990s.
The poverty line is defined as living in a household with income below 60 percent of the median after housing costs.
Numbers living deep beneath the poverty line increasing
For the poorest households in very deep poverty, the average income was 59 percent below the poverty line, with this gap increasing by approximately two-thirds over the past 25 years. Very deep poverty is defined as living in a household with income less than 40 percent of the median after housing costs.
A stark illustration in the report reveals that, for a couple with two children under 14, the poverty line is defined as £21,900, while income below £14,600 is considered very deep poverty.
The study indicates that the number of people in very deep poverty has risen from approximately 4.5 million in the mid-1990s to about 6 million in 2021-22. This increase has necessitated an additional £12,800 on average for individuals to reach the poverty line.
Regarded as one of the most authoritative studies on poverty in Britain, the report highlights that poverty has increased in the latest government data, returning close to pre-pandemic levels. The study sounds the alarm amid the ongoing cost of living crisis, revealing that more than one in five people (22%) in the UK were in poverty in 2021-22.
How has the UK got here?
Amidst the broader historical trends since the 1970s, the report indicates that poverty rates grew rapidly under Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s and remained stubbornly high since the mid-1990s. Poverty fell during the first half of Tony Blair’s Labour administration but started to rise after 2005.
The JRF emphasised that poverty has scarcely moved since the Conservatives regained power in 2010, with every year’s poverty rate since then hovering between 20 percent and 22 percent.
In response to the report, Paul Kissack, the Chief Executive of the JRF, remarked, “Over the last two decades, we have seen poverty deepen, with more and more families falling further and further below the poverty line.”
The government, however, contends that it is supporting families with the cost of living, highlighting a decline in absolute poverty since 2010. A government spokesperson stated, “Children are five times less likely to experience poverty living in a household where all adults work, compared to those in workless households.”
Despite these claims, the JRF report underscores the urgency for substantial and effective measures to address the deepening crisis of poverty in the UK.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.