From the period of austerity that followed the 2008 financial crash and subsequent government economies, through to the present cost of living crisis, many outward signs of poverty have been widely documented. Earnings have stagnated, many benefits have been cut in real terms and latterly prices have shot up. Many more people struggle to afford the basics, and food banks have emerged as a major pillar of support, with three million parcels a year now being given out by the Trussell Trust. 

Yet official figures seem to show a mixed picture of poverty rates. As set out below, the “relative poverty” rate barely changed overall between 2010/11 and 2022/23, although for children it increased by nearly three percentage points. Measured against a poverty line that is fixed in real terms rather than varying with median income (labelled “absolute” poverty), the overall rate fell by about three percentage points, over the same period, and for children by two percentage points

Key highlights

  • Relative poverty is high by historic standards, having risen sharply in the 1980s and early 1990s, fallen by a smaller amount from 1995 to 2010, levelled off in the 2010s and is now rising again in the 2020s, most markedly for children.
  • Trends in relative poverty are taking place in a changing overall economic context. Median incomes were growing by over 2% a year in the 1980s and 1990s but recently have not grown at all.
  • “Absolute” poverty has previously gone down sharply as a result of a general rise in incomes. It has reduced by much less since 2010 than in the previous 12 years.
  • Since 2019, while incomes and poverty rates have not changed much, growing destitution, material deprivation and food insecurity suggest that life has become a lot tougher for people below the poverty line.

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