Press Releases

January 2006: New study reveals true levels of poverty in Britain

A quarter of British adults are poor and one third of children are forced to go without at least one of the things they need, such as three meals a day, toys, out of school activities or adequate clothing, according to the most comprehensive survey of poverty and social exclusion ever undertaken. Launched at the House of Lords today, Poverty and social exclusion in Britain: The Millennium survey shows that 3 million adults and 400,000 children are not properly fed by today’s standards.

The book reports on the largest and most rigorous investigation of poverty and social exclusion and shows that at the turn of the millennium, there were more people living in or on the margins of poverty than at any other time in British history.

These shocking findings illustrate the scale of the task faced by the Labour Government, which made a commitment in 1999 to abolish child poverty within a generation.

Christina Pantazis, Head of the Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice at Bristol University and co-editor of the book said: “If the Government is to succeed with its objectives, then reliable and valid research on poverty and social exclusion, as well as more exact measures of trends and causes, is needed. Unfortunately, in the last 30 years, there has been only limited research of this type which is why this book is so important.” The survey results show:

The report also provides unparalleled detail about the extent of social exclusion experienced by the British population:

The survey highlights important policy implications, and establishes that the policies pursued by Conservative and Labour Governments since 1979 have resulted in a major redistribution of resources from the poor to the rich, increasing inequalities in both income and health outcomes.

Ruth Levitas, co-editor and Professor of Sociology at Bristol University said: “Not only child poverty and pensioner poverty, but the poverty of working age adults, needs to be at the centre of policy concerns. At the moment the policy focus is almost entirely on pushing people into paid work in the expectation that this will overcome poverty and social exclusion. The Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey demonstrates that this not the case, with many of those in paid work not earning enough to lift them out of poverty.

She continues: “The policy of ‘making work pay’ is in fact a policy of less eligibility - i.e. deliberately ensuring that those who are outside the labour market are worse off than those in paid work. This is the primary cause of poverty and social exclusion in Britain, and the only solution is an increase in cash benefits and improved universal public services, free at the point of use.”

According to David Gordon, co-editor and Professor of Social Justice at Bristol University: “The only way to end poverty within a generation would be to embark on a serious policy of redistribution. At the beginning of the 21st century, the UK is one of the most unequal societies in Europe. In order to reduce poverty and social exclusion the Government needs to reverse this redistribution to the rich, and, at a minimum, return to the levels of inequality in income and power that existed in the mid-1970s. This would see poverty and social exclusion reduced by at least half.”

Peter Townsend, contributor to the book and Professor of International Social Policy at the London School of Economics said; “This book shows the importance of establishing the link between anti-poverty policies in Britain and those internationally.”

Notes to editors:

1. The Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) Survey was designed by senior academics from the Universities of Bristol, Loughborough, and York, carried out in 1999 by the Office for National Statistics, and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The chapters have been written by 16 academics from eight universities who are the leading experts in their fields.

2. Poverty and social exclusion in Britain: The millennium survey edited by Christina Pantazis, David Gordon and Ruth Levitas is published by The Policy Press. It is available to buy from or from Marston Book Services, PO Box 269, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4YN (01235 465500) price £24.99 plus £2.75 p&p.

3. Christina Pantazis is Head of the Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice in the School for Policy Studies, David Gordon is Professor of Social Justice and Director of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research and Ruth Levitas is Professor of Sociology and Head of Department, all at the University of Bristol, UK.

4. The book will be launched at a meeting in the House of Lords on Tuesday 24th January 2006 from 12.00 – 1.00 pm in Room 4B, Main Committee Room Floor, House of Lords, Westminster, London.

5. Poverty and social exclusion in Britain: The millennium survey is part of the Studies in poverty and social exclusion series, published by The Policy Press. For more information on other titles in the series, visit the website at

For further information, please contact:

Christina Pantazis: 0117 9546766 /
Ruth Levitas: 0117 9288216 or 0117 9287506 /
David Gordon: 0117 9546761 /
Peter Townsend: 0207 9556632 /
Jacqueline Lawless at The Policy Press: 0117 3314097 /

Back to Top

August 2004: What is the greatest source of social injustice in Britain today — Income inequality or discrimination based on gender or ethnic difference?

Should the aim of public policy be to end poverty or to reduce inequality? What is the greatest source of social injustice in Britain today – income inequality or discrimination based on gender or ethnic differences? What are the limits to the government's responsibility for creating a socially just society?

These are amongst the questions to be addressed in a series of seminars bringing researchers and theorists together with policy makers in the run up to the next general election.

A consortium of six universities and the 'think tank', Institute for Public Policy Research, have been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council to organise the seminar series. Starting in the new year, the seminars will be held in different parts of the country (London, Bristol, Glasow and York) and the series will end with a major conference in London early in 2006.

Professor Robina Goodlad, director of the Scottish Centre for Research on Social Justice, said: "The term 'social justice' is used rhetorically as a policy aspiration on which everyone agrees. But in taking it for granted, we neglect the need to develop a clear conception of the meaning of social justice. This is needed so that policies can be evaluated from a social justice perspective. The series will assist in filling a gap by providing sustained attention to the concept and to the tensions and challenges that arise from adopting social justice as a policy aspiration."

Mike Findlay

Issued: 03 August 2004 by the University of Glasgow

Back to Top

October 2003: New study shows over one billion children severely deprived in the developing world

→ Child Poverty in the Developing World press release by the Policy Press [PDF, 0.07MB]

Back to Top

September 2002: World Bank and IMF policies are increasing world poverty and must be changed, says new study by leading academics

Policies pursued by the World Bank, IMF and other international institutions are demonstrably wrong and must be changed if targets to reduce world poverty are to be met, finds a major new study published today.

World poverty: New policies to defeat an old enemy shows how policies pursued by the World Bank, IMF, World Trade Organisation and national governments - particularly of the G8 nations - have not only failed to reduce poverty but have exacerbated the problem. It also puts forward a radical Manifesto for international action against poverty - an 18 point plan to be adopted by governments internationally to meet targets set by the United Nations and at the 2002 World Summit.

Co-editor of the study, Peter Townsend, Professor of International Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science said:

"Despite decades of national and international policy making, mass poverty persists and is set to increase. Policies that are more directly effective have to be devised for rich and poor countries alike. Economic growth without redistribution - the central assumption of World Bank strategy - is found not to reduce poverty. A new international strategy must be devised."

Policies that meet with particular criticism include:

1) Policies designed to bring about economic growth without redistribution.
The World Bank, IMF and many national governments continue to pursue policies that rest on the assumption that if the GDP of a country increases, the poor will be lifted out of poverty. In fact, policies based on this assumption are simply giving rise to growing and dramatic inequalities both within and between countries.

2) Policies based on a belief that conditional (or targeted) forms of welfare are more effective in tackling poverty than universal welfare.
This includes policies such as means-testing for benefits and 'workfare policies', i.e. benefit conditional upon participation in work, favoured by countries like the USA and Britain. Means-tested benefits in particular are found not always to reach those in need, to be costly and complex to administer, and to generate social divisions. The IMF's efforts to force developing countries to move from universal welfare programmes to targeted ones (by lending money on condition that recipient governments cut public spending) has resulted, by their own admission, in devastating social and economic consequences for the countries involved.

3) World trade policies, particularly terms of trade between rich and poor countries.
Developing countries who export to markets in the richest countries face tariff barriers in the reverse direction. This costs them $100 billion per year - twice as much as they receive in aid. The World Trade Organisation and powerful Transnational Corporations are accused of operating unfair policies, which result in a concentration of wealth in developed countries and in the accounts of global business giants. Fifty one of the world's largest economies are now corporations.

4) Policies that rely on the World Bank's $1-a-day threshold as a measurement of poverty.
This threshold is found to be arbitrary, based on out of date information and ineffective as a means of comparing poverty across countries. In particular, it does not help when assessing relative poverty between countries and does not allow for analysis of other factors which may give rise to a poor standard of living. For example, access to basic services such as water, sanitation, health and education is not taken into account. World Bank figures therefore underestimate the number of poor in the world.

The study's Manifesto for international action against poverty2 puts forward an alternative strategy for tackling poverty worldwide. In particular, it argues for increased redistribution of wealth, a system of international universal welfare, and giving legal force to human rights declarations on entitlements to social security and an adequate standard of living.

Policy recommendations include:

1. All developed countries to commit to 1% GDP overseas development assistance - to be introduced first by the EU and subsequently extended to all OECD countries. This is affordable and would have a major impact on poverty in developing countries;

2. Introduce an international financial transactions tax to be administered by the UN - payable on all currency exchanges at banks and currency exchange offices. Half of the gross revenue would be administered by the UN to subsidise the establishment of child benefit in developing countries;

3. Introduce or strengthen the legal right to child benefit - provision to be made for every child of a monthly cash benefit, or the equivalent in value of goods and services, which is adequate to surmount material and social deprivation;

4. Introduce and develop schemes to fulfill a fundamental and legal right to social security - involving legislation that defines minimum adequate benefit and minimum adequate wages in all countries;

5. Establish, in practice, the universal human right of access to basic social services such as sanitation, water, healthcare and education

Co-editor, David Gordon, Director of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research said:

"Ending poverty is largely a matter of lack of political will. It is not a problem of lack of money or scientific knowledge of how to eradicate poverty. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has estimated the cost of providing basic health and nutrition for every person in the world at $13 billion per year for 10 years. This seems like a large figure, but, to put it in perspective, in 2000 the US population spent $11.6 billion on dog and cat food."

For further information, please contact:

Peter Townsend, Professor of International Social Policy and Acting Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, London School of Economics: +44 (0) 20 7955 6632 (work) or 07740 779 9492 (mobile)
Professor David Gordon, Director, Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research, University of Bristol: +44 (0) 117 954 6761 (work) or +44 (0)117 9240344 (home)

For further information and a review copy, please contact:

Helen Bolton at The Policy Press: 0117 954 6802 / /

Back to Top

June 2001: Things did not get better for Labour voters

Statistics on death rates show inequalities in health and income have risen in Britain in the late 1990s - Labour voters have benefited least from the policies of the Labour government they elected in 1997.

A report published in the British Medical Journal on 1st June 2001 by researchers from the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research looks at whose voters have benefited from the policies of New Labour ( The authors (Danny Dorling, George Davey Smith and Mary Shaw) looked at patterns in premature mortality (defined as deaths under the age of 65) for parliamentary constituencies according to the percentage of people who voted Labour in the 1997 general election.Their results show that in absolute terms life chances got better for most areas, but improvement was less for those areas with a higher percentage of Labour voting. In relative terms, things got worse for people in constituencies where a high proportion of people voted Labour in 1997, while things got better for people in constituencies where people generally voted Conservative.

Further information on this research is provided in a short report by the authors released on 1st June by the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research. The report is available electronically here:

→ Report [PDF, 94KB]

In their report the authors show that the health gap has continued to widen under New Labour, despite government rhetoric regarding their commitment to tackling such inequalities. Geographical inequalities in health are now the widest ever recorded. Income inequalities have risen since 1997; Britain is now a more unequal society than under the Conservative government of John Major. Professor George Davey Smith of the University of Bristol says:

“The last New Labour government have been an excellent administration as far as Tory voters are concerned. For people who live in poorer areas - which are the ones New Labour depends on for electing its Members of Parliament and Government Ministers - the hope must be that the Labour government which in all likelihood will be elected on June 7th is as concerned for the well-being of its supporters as it is for Tory party supporters”.

The authors argue that much more needs to be done to tackle inequalities, and this needs to be done at a far greater pace if inequalities are to be narrowed in the foreseeable future. Professor Dorling said:

“If the government stick to their current policies then health inequalities are likely to continue to widen in Britain. The same can be said for many other forms of inequality - for instance inequalities between families in terms of income, job prospects, education or housing opportunities. Under Labour things have become better on average but at the same time they have become more unfair. Things could become both better and fairer - but this would take a sea-change in policy to achieve.”

Dr Shaw said:

“The government has pledged to eradicate child poverty by 2020. This is a crucial target, which if achieved will have a profound influence on health inequalities, both now and in the future. But to achieve this goal will require substantial policy commitment, fundamentally this is only realistically achievable through increasing income tax for those on higher incomes, a reasonable level national minimum wage and redistribution through increased universal child benefits for all children.”

Back to Top

March 2001: Five million people in Britain live in absolute poverty, finds new study

In a major new study published today, dramatic and increasing levels of absolute poverty have been found to exist in Britain and across Europe, particularly in the former Soviet Union. Such poverty has previously been thought by many experts to be found only in developing countries.

The study, Breadline Europe, is the first to scientifically measure poverty in Europe using the framework provided by the United Nations at the 1995 World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen. At this Summit, absolute poverty was defined as: "a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on social services."

David Gordon, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bristol and co-editor of the study says: "Absolute poverty is not supposed to exist in a country like Britain. But on the basis of the definition agreed by 117 governments at the World Summit in 1995, 9% of the British population have reported their income a lot below that needed each week to keep their household out of absolute poverty. That represents more than 5 million people. And a further 8% said their income was a little below."

In Britain, the highest rates of absolute poverty were found among lone parents. More than two-fifths (41%) with one child said they had incomes below the standard of £163 per week believed to be necessary. More than half lone parents with two or more children had incomes below the income regarded as necessary. The income each week said by single pensioners in the Britain to be enough to surmount absolute poverty was £106. As many as 25% had incomes a lot or a little below this figure. Households with two adults and one child in Britain put the figure at £205. 15% had less than this amount.

The British data presented in the study shows that incomes needed to avoid absolute and overall poverty are significantly higher than current welfare benefit rates in Britain. Peter Townsend, Professor of International Social Policy, London School of Economics and co-editor of the study, says: "The UK has become the special case of Europe. Some observers believe that, under successive governments, the country has been going so far down the road of residualising welfare that it has become detached from most of the other European states, and is following lamely in the wake of the US."

The study also shows that dramatic increases in extreme forms of poverty in the last 10 years have occurred in Eastern Europe (particularly Hungary (17% of households) and Poland (18% of households) and the former Soviet Union.

Simon Clarke, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick and contributor to the study, shows that the official poverty figures, which currently report that about one-third of the Russian population is in poverty, massively underestimate the incidence of poverty in Russia. Thus, in the wake of the August 1998 crisis, independent survey data showed that over 60% of individuals were in poverty, and over a quarter (25%) were in extreme poverty, with incomes of less than half that required to acquire their basic means of subsistence. This compares to a poverty rate of about 11% at the beginning of reform in 1992.

The findings of this study raise serious questions about the efficacy of national and international policies to reduce poverty. As well as national government policies, World Bank and IMF policies are criticised, particularly in the light of the evidence of their spectacular failure to reduce poverty and inequality in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Breadline Europe: The measurement of poverty edited by David Gordon and Peter Townsend

Back to Top

September 2000: Major new poverty survey finds two million children without ‘necessities of life’

Two million children in Britain – more than one in six - are experiencing multiple deprivation and poverty. Not only are their family incomes low, but they also go without two or more items that today’s parents regard as ‘necessities’, such as adequate clothing, three meals a day, toys, and out of school activities.

This new evidence concerning deprivation among adults and children emerges from the results of a major national survey of poverty and social exclusion supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Carried out by the Office for National Statistics and analysed by researchers from four universities, the survey is the most comprehensive and rigorous of its type ever conducted.

Interviews with a nationally-representative sample of adults were used to draw up a checklist of household items and activities that a majority of people consider to be necessities that everyone should be ‘able to afford and which they should not have to do without’. A second survey was then conducted to discover how many individuals lacked these ‘necessities of life’ and gather other information on income and social exclusion. The study found that:

Looking at children’s lives in the light of a list of items that parents had identified as necessities, the study also found that:

Poverty rates among children were highest in homes:

Sue Middleton, part of a team at Loughborough University that analysed the survey data on children, said:

“This evidence is vitally important at a time when government is seeking to abolish childhood poverty within a generation. Some British children are going without items which are widely accepted as being vital to the health and development of children”

The researchers found that 26 per cent of the population lacked two or more items and had low incomes. This definition of poverty applied to 71 per cent of unemployed people and 61 per cent of long-term sick and disabled people who lived in households where no one was in paid work. The rate for lone parents with one child was 62 per cent.

Dr David Gordon of the University of Bristol, co-author of the report, said:

“Lack of paid work is an important factor in causing poverty. But even if full employment is achieved, social exclusion will not disappear. Low-earning families will still need adequate child benefits and pensioners, disabled people and others unable to work will still need minimally adequate support from the state to meet their needs. High quality, affordable services will also be needed if the Government’s goals for eliminating poverty and social exclusion are to achieved.”

Poverty over time The survey methods allowed the researchers to compare their findings with results from two earlier ‘Breadline Britain’ surveys that used similar methods: taking account of low income and multiple deprivation of socially-defined ‘necessities’. This showed that between 1983 and 1990 the number of households living in poverty grew from 14 per cent to 21 per cent. The equivalent proportion in 1999 was higher still at more than 24 per cent. However, the number of households defined as living in chronic, long-term poverty fell from 4 per cent to 2.5 per cent.

Prof. Jonathan Bradshaw of the University of York, co-author of the report, said:

“Britain now stands at a crossroads in terms of adopting effective measures to stop and reverse the damaging structural trends that have increased poverty and social exclusion in the past 20 years. High rates of social deprivation have the effects of worsening health, education, and job skills, as well as relationships within families, between ethnic groups and across society as a whole. If Britain is to become an inclusive society in which everybody has a stake and is able to participate then the most important task facing government is the ending of poverty and social exclusion.”

Back to Top

February 2000: Government policies to tackle poverty will fail, says new report

Despite promising to make Britain a more equal society by extending opportunities and tackling poverty and injustice, New Labour’s policies will leave the growing divide between the poor and the rich untouched, claims a new book launched at the weekend.

Tackling Inequalities: where are we now and what can be done?, edited by Christina Pantazis and David Gordon from the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol, suggests that New Labour’s policies tackling poverty and inequality will fail. In particular, the numerous area-based anti-poverty policies (e.g. Employment Action Zones, Health Action Zones, Education Action Zones) currently pursued are unlikely to have any significant or long-lasting effect, since many of the lessons from the past have been ignored.

The book brings together contributions from leading experts to chart the extent of social inequalities inherited by New Labour. It also provides for the first time a critical assessment of the government’s record to date of tackling poverty and inequality in employment, health, education, housing, crime, income, wealth and standard of living.

Employment Inequalities
The New Deal will be badly undermined because of the lack of jobs in many cities: a shortage of employment opportunities, not poor skills or motivation, is the reason for the high levels of unemployment. Over the last decade and a half, Britain’s cities have lost half a million jobs (5% of their 1981 total) while the rest of the country has gained more than 3 times as many (1.7 million, or 15% of their total 1981 total). One of the main effects of this has been a big reduction in economic participation and hidden unemployment. Some estimates suggest that the real rate of unemployment in several cities is 30%

Health Inequalities
Since Frank Dobson became MP for Holborn and St. Pancras in 1979 at least 1500 more of his constituents have died prematurely than in the average constituency in Britain. The level of inequality has been widening since Labour came to power in 1997. The health gap between the poorest and richest is now the widest since the records began and is continuing to increase. Children from the poorest areas are twice as likely to die as those in the richest areas and the poorest adults are three times as likely to die young. The widening health gap has been caused by the growth of poverty, which affects people’s health throughout their lives. The Health Action Zones are unlikely to have any long-lasting effect on reducing health inequalities since money has been allocated to the areas that put in the best competitive tender rather than to the areas with greatest need.

The small number of less-than-generously funded Education Action Zones are unlikely to have much effect on standards or educational inequalities. In fact, the Education Action Zones may even increase educational inequalities. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to tell because the data required to monitor educational inequalities are not collected.

Housing inequalities
The government’s New Deal for communities targeted at the worst housing estates will fail to tackle the huge problems in many cities where conditions in the private rented sector are far worse. The British housing stock has been neglected for so long due to government inaction that £26 billion is currently needed for urgent repairs alone. It is a fallacy to believe that the most effective way of helping deprived people is to target poor areas. No amount of improvement in housing management will be effective without policies that help to improve the services and income levels of the poorest people.

Crime Inequalities
The New Deal for Communities, which aims to tackle crime and fear of crime on the worst housing estates, will only have a limited impact on overall crime levels. Some poor areas do have exceptionally high levels of crime but so do some better-off areas. Furthermore, the risks of crime are greater for better-off individuals because they have more property and property of greater value. However, poor people are more likely to fear crime. The British Crime Survey shows that nearly two thirds of the poorest people living in the most ‘deprived’ areas feel unsafe when alone on the streets. The poorest are also more likely to worry about losing their job, having financial debts and falling ill.

Income Inequalities
The latest available statistics show that there are now more people in the UK below the European Union’s poverty threshold than in any other European country. Britain leads Europe in poverty and inequality, particularly child poverty. The gap between the rich and poor in terms of both income and wealth is now wider than at any time since the Second World War. The 1999 Finance Bill did nothing to reverse this growing inequality. Amongst those families in the poorest 10% of the population, 1% gained money, 1% lost money and 98% saw no change in their income as a result of Gordon Brown’s policies. Tackling Inequalities: where are we now and what can be done? suggests that the government must step up its action in its fight against poverty and inequality by pursuing policies that will redistribute wealth and income in favour of poorer people. Only then will improvements in the employment, education, health, and housing circumstances of poorer people be ensured and fear of crime reduced. Co-editor Christina Pantazis said: “Labour was elected on a mandate by the British people to tackle poverty and make Britain a more equal society. Instead New Labour has failed its traditional voters by shying away from policies which would have a real impact on poverty and inequality.“ David Gordon, co-editor of the book also said: “During the 1980s and 1990s, successive Conservative governments actively pursued a range of policies which effectively took money from the poor and gave to the rich – reversing the 500 year trend towards greater income inequality. Given the scale of the problem, New Labour should make a clear commitment to ending income and wealth inequalities through redistributive measures including increases in benefits. The recent statement on behalf of the government, by Baroness Hollis, that increases in benefits do not reduce poverty is simply untrue.”

Tackling Inequalities: where are we now and what can be done? Edited by Christina Pantazis and David Gordon was launched on the 29th of February 2000 at the annual conference of the Radical Statistics Group, held in Bradford.

Back to Top

Consultation Responses

→ Response to the Fuel Poverty Consultation by Dave Gordon, July 2004 [DOC, 74KB]

→ Response to the Government Green Paper on Welfare Reform by Pauline Heslop [DOC, 37KB]

→ Response to the Government Green Paper on Welfare Reform by Dave Gordon and Peter Townsend [DOC, 115KB]

→ Response to Measuring Child Poverty Consultation by Dave Gordon
[DOC, 37KB]

→ Response to the Preliminary Conclusions of the Measuring Child Poverty Consultation by the Zachhaeus Trust, June 2003 [DOC, 94KB]

Back to Top

Press Releases
> January 2006
> August 2004
> October 2003
> September 2002
> June 2001
> March 2001
> September 2000
> February 2000

Consultation Responses
> Consultation Responses