January 2006 PSE book press release

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:
- Roughly 9 million people in Britain cannot afford adequate housing. For example, their home is unheated, damp or they cannot afford to keep it in a decent state of decoration
- About 10.5 million adults cannot afford one or more essential household goods, like carpets for living areas, a telephone or to repair electrical goods or furniture when they break or wear out
- About 5 million adults and three quarters of a million children go without essential clothing, such as a warm waterproof coat or new, properly fitted children’s shoes, because of lack of money
- Over 12 million people suffer from financial insecurity. They cannot afford to save, insure their house contents or spend money on themselves

The report also provides unparalleled detail about the extent of social exclusion experienced by the British population:
- Almost 10 million adults and 1 million children are too poor to be able to engage in common social activities such as visiting friends and family, having celebrations on special occasions or attending weddings and funerals
- Nine per cent of the population has no family member outside the household who they see or speak to at least weekly. Just over 1%, or more than half a million people, have neither a friend nor a family member with whom they are in contact at least weekly
- Nine per cent perceive themselves as unlikely to have much emotional or practical support available in times of need
- 18% of the population has no civic engagement at all, and that rises to 30% if voting is excluded

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 www.policypress.org.uk 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 www.policypress.org.uk

Contact information
For further information, please contact:

Christina Pantazis Tel: 0117 9546766 e-mail C.Pantazis@bristol.ac.uk
Ruth Levitas Tel: 0117 9288216 or 0117 9287506 e-mail Ruth.Levitas@bristol.ac.uk
David Gordon Tel: 0117 9546761 e-mail Dave.Gordon@bristol.ac.uk
Peter Townsend Tel: 0207 9556632 e-mail P.Townsend@lse.ac.uk

Jacqueline Lawless at The Policy Press on Tel: 0117 3314097 or email Jacqueline.lawless@bristol.ac.uk

Read book description



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:

  • Around 9.5 million people cannot afford to keep their homes adequately heated, free from damp or in a decent states of decoration - the housing conditions that most people regard as ‘adequate’.

  • Some 8 million people cannot afford one or more essential household goods such as a fridge, a telephone or carpets for the living areas in their homes.

  • Around 4 million people are not fed properly by today’s standards. For example, they do not have enough money to afford fresh fruit and vegetables, or two meals a day.

  • Some 6.5 million adults go without essential clothing - such as a warm, waterproof coat - because of lack of money.

  • About 10 million adults cannot afford regular savings of £10 a month or more ‘for a rainy day or retirement’.

  • Almost 7.5 million people are too poor to engage in social activities considered necessary like visiting friends and family, attending weddings and funerals or having celebrations on special occasions.


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

  • More than two million children (18 per cent) are going without two or more necessities. About 4 million (34 per cent) are without at least one essential item, such as adequate clothing, a healthy diet, items to help their educational development, an annual week’s holiday away from home, or social activities.

  • Although almost every parent interviewed agreed that new, properly-fitted shoes, a warm, waterproof coat and daily fresh fruit and vegetables were essential for children, the survey showed that one in 50 children went without them.

  • Poverty rates among children were highest in homes: where no adult had any work at all or worked only part-time; in lone-parent households; in large families; in households where someone was chronically sick or disabled and in families of non-white ethnic origin.


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.”

Note to Editors

Poverty and social exclusion in Britain by David Gordon, Laura Adelman, Karl Ashworth, Jonathan Bradshaw, Ruth Levitas, Sue Middleton, Christina Pantazis, Demi Patsios, Sarah Payne, Peter Townsend and Julie Williams is published for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by York Publishing Services, 64 Hallfield Road, Layerthorpe, York YO31 7ZQ (01904 430033) price £15.95 plus £2 p&p. A summary of findings is available, free of charge, from JRF, The Homestead, 40 Water End, York YO30 6WP or from www.jrf.org.uk.

For further information, contact:

Jonathan Bradshaw
David Gordon
Peter Townsend
Sue Middleton

Issued by David Utting, JRF Head of Media Relations

Maintained by: Eldin Fahmy
Last updated: 06/03/02