Big Issue Vendor

The way we determine poverty needs an urgent shake-up, report finds

The Social Metrics Commission says new poverty measures need to take account of all available assets, such as savings, instead of just a family’s income
Man in Portobello Road reading a poster on a shop grid describing the wealth divide in London, ironic as parts of Portobello Road a relatively poor and are very close to Notting Hill which is the exact opposite

Inescapable living costs compounded by childcare, housing and disabilities have been slammed by policy development charity the Social Metrics Commission (SMC), which this week published a report advising poverty measures in Britain need to be urgently adjusted.

The group also advised that the new measures take account of all available assets, such as savings, instead of just a family’s income.

In a new report, SMC set out findings intended to shape the development of policy to tackle UK poverty.

The UK government does not currently have an official way of measuring poverty after the Conservative government abolished the existing child poverty indicator in 2015 (though it was retained in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). It compared family incomes to those in the rest of the country as well as to salaries from earlier in the decade.

The SMC says the lack of best practice guidelines renders policymakers and politicians “less able to track progress” making them “more difficult to hold them to account for effectively tackling the causes of poverty”.

Almost three quarters of people whose families don’t work were found to be living in poverty, while that figure was nine per cent for families featuring adults working full-time.

The study, which was conducted over two and a half years, paints a more detailed picture of people’s housing circumstances, with particular consideration given to homelessness and overcrowding (which were not included in the formerly standard poverty indicator). It was also found that fewer people in pension-age families are in poverty than previously thought.

It is hoped that the research will position the measure of poverty “within a wider measurement framework” which should promote greater understanding about the nature of hardship in the UK.

The findings showed that previous measures misrepresented the lived experiences of families near the poverty line when economic shock impacted the economy.

A UK government spokesperson said: “Measuring poverty is complex, and this report offers further insight into that complexity and the additional measures that can be taken into consideration.

“This government is committed to making a positive difference to the outcomes for poor and disadvantaged families and children.

The study showed that 2.5 million people in the UK are less than 10 per cent above the poverty line, meaning they are vulnerable to small changes in circumstances which could shake the economy or knock them below that line.

Sam Royston, director of policy and research at The Children’s Society, said: “It is extremely worrying that nearly a third of children – around 4.5m – are living in poverty according to this proposed new measure.

“This important report rightly suggests that inescapable costs like childcare, housing and support for children with a disability should be taken into account when measuring poverty.”

Image: iStock