Colin's Journal

Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

December 12th, 2002

Poverty in the UK

A short series of slides from the BBC on poverty in the UK. The most interesting to me was slide 3 which shows the percentage of those receiving means tested benefits as a break down by category. The vast majority are composed of pensioners (46%) and the sick and disabled (29%). Lone parents come in at 19% with the unemployed coming in at 3%.

Those that can reasonably be expected to eventually get out of poverty through employment (the unemployed) make up a tiny percentage of those receiving benefits, compared with those that can not reasonably be expected to work out of poverty. A few things come to mind:

  1. Is the measure of poverty reasonable?
  2. What is the comparative break-down of those deemed below the poverty line?

On the first point I’m not sure the measure used here is reasonable. Saying that anyone with less than 60% of the median wage is in poverty seems highly artificial. If the cost of living went down, and the median wage went up, the numbers would show an increase in the level of poverty. Admittedly if you do not use a arbitrary measure such as this you then have to make a judgement as to how much money is required to be deemed ‘above the poverty line’. Any such judgement is going to be difficult to make, but it could result in significantly more or less people being regarded as living in poverty and so change the proportions of those affected.

The second point is one of concern – what if those that are receiving means tested benefits are not those in poverty? For example there could be large numbers of people from any of these groups that do not receive means tested benefits and yet are classed as being below the poverty line. There’s no figures given by the BBC that answer that question, but if you find the original report you can see that they do not correspond in the slightest. The report quotes that “Just 4 per cent of households where all adults are working have low incomes, and 19 per cent of households where one of the couple is in full-time work but the other is now working. In contrast, three-quarters of households where all the adults are unemployed have incomes below the low income threshold”.

In fact the more you read through the report the more it becomes clear that the absolute levels and figures quoted are not that important (too many arbitrary assumptions), rather it’s the change in the figures over time that can tell you things.

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