Six million of the poorest people, those defined a living in deep poverty, would need more than double their incomes to move out of hardship, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation announced in its UK poverty report for 2024.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said levels of hardship had deepened for millions of people across the country since the mid-1990s, having been compounded by years of “political failure” to tackle poverty.
The charity, whose stated aim is to "inspire action and change that will create a prosperous UK without poverty" called on political leaders to tell voters what they planned to do before this year’s general election to turn the tide, finding that it was 20 years and six prime ministers (some longer than lived than others – Liz Truss we are looking at you) since there was last a sustained fall in poverty.
The analysis of JRF, founded by the same man who gave the world the Chocolate company responsible for Kit Kats, Quality Street and After Eights amongst others, showed the average person in poverty had an income 29% below the poverty line on the latest official figures for 2021-22, up from a gap of 23% in the mid-1990s. People are defined to be under the poverty line if they live in a household with income below 60% of the median (after housing costs) for that year.
For the poorest households – those living in very deep poverty – the average income was 59% below the poverty line, with this gap increasing by about two-thirds over the past 25 years. People in very deep poverty are defined as living in a household with income of less than 40% of the median after-housing costs. For a couple with two children, both under 14, the poverty line is defined as £21,900, while income below £14,600 is defined as very deep poverty.
It said the number of people in very deep poverty had increased from about 4.5 million in the mid-1990s, when it would require about £7,700 for the average person to reach the poverty line, to the aforementioned 6 million in 2021-22, when it would take an extra £12,800 to reach the breadline.
The charity’s report, which they hope will act as a clarion call as the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, said 22% in the UK were in poverty in 2021-22 as energy bills and the price of basic essentials skyrocketed. This percentage would result in 14.4 million people in total, including 4.2 million children and 2.1 million pensioners.
Paul Kissack, the chief executive of the JRF, said: “Over the last two decades, we have seen poverty deepen, with more and more families falling further and further below the poverty line. Little wonder that the visceral signs of hardship and destitution are all around us – from rocketing use of food banks to growing numbers of homeless families. This is social failure at scale. It is a story of both moral and fiscal irresponsibility – an affront to the dignity of those living in hardship, while driving up pressures on public services like the NHS. It’s a story which can – and must – change. Governments are not powerless to act, as we have seen throughout our history.”
In a right of reply, a government spokesperson said, “Children are five times less likely to experience poverty living in a household where all adults work, compared to those in workless households [which is] why we are investing billions breaking down barriers to work and supporting over 1 million low-income earners through our in-work progression offer – all while cutting taxes and curbing inflation so hard-working people have more money in their pocket.”
The spokesperson also added absolute poverty had fallen since 2010. Absolute poverty is a tougher measure than the headline figure used by the JRF, which is defined as living in a household with income below 60% of the median in 2010-11, adjusted for inflation.