Nearly 1/3 of people in the UK are in poverty … but what does this mean, exactly? People on our training workshops are often very keen to understand this, so we spend a good chunk of time on it. Here is a much more superficial summary.
The “Poverty Line”
The official government-approved UK “Poverty Line” is actually quite a complex thing, but in brief: you’re counted as being “poor” if your income falls below a proportion of the national average (more specifically: 60% of median) after housing costs. Rents and house values vary across the UK: if you and I earn the same but my rent is double yours, I’m left in a far worse position, hence after housing costs (AHC) being the relevant measure. That said, the ONS, the DWP and other official sources often publish poverty rates measured before housing costs are deducted. (Why might they do that?) Whether AHC or BHC, stating where my income sits in relation to an ever-changing average doesn’t explain whether or not I can afford life’s essentials. As a measure of poverty, I prefer a method that asks whether people can afford a basic standard of living or not.
The Minimum Income Standard
Imagine a figurative “basket” of essential goods and services that you need for a basic standard of living. Every two years, focus groups of UK residents decide what should go in the basket – food; heating; clothing; books; a modest birthday party? A mobile phone? A microwave? This work has been funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for decades, and seeing things slide from the “luxury” category into the “essential” space provides a fascinating window on how society and expectations of modern life change. “Necessities” are not just based on preferences within the home, but on changes in the world outside. When buses were plentiful and affordable, nobody considered a car “essential”, but now it is agreed that if you have children, you can’t meet their transport needs without one. (And if you can’t afford one, you can’t meet their transport needs.) MIS is not the officially recognised measure of poverty in the UK but it is more relevant in many ways than the “60% of median” measure outlined above. Researchers note that most household types need 75% of median income to afford their full basket. To delve further into the implications of this, enrol on a “Making Sense of Poverty” workshop!