Skip to main content

A new measure of poverty for the UK

The final report of the Social Metrics Commission

While various measures of income inequality and poverty exist, the UK no longer has an official measure of poverty for children, adults or pensioners. This leaves a situation where policymakers and politicians are less able to track progress and it is more difficult to hold them to account for effectively tackling the causes of poverty or improving the lives of those in poverty.

The Social Metrics Commission was brought together to develop a new approach to poverty measurement that both better reflects the nature and experiences of poverty that different families in the UK have, and can be used to build a consensus around poverty measurement and action in the UK.

The Commission is a rigorously non-partisan organisation. Its membership is drawn from top UK poverty thinkers from different political and professional backgrounds, alongside data and analytics experts and those with experience of working with and supporting people living in poverty. This report summarises the work that the Commission has undertaken over the last two and a half years.

It presents a detailed articulation of how the approach to poverty measurement can be improved in the UK and elsewhere. The Commission’s new measure:

• Takes account of all material resources, not just incomes. For instance, this means including an assessment of the available assets that families have;

• Accounts for the inescapable costs that some families face, which make them more likely than others to experience poverty. These include, the extra costs of disability, and costs of childcare and rental and mortgage costs;

• Broadens the approach of poverty measurement to include an assessment of housing adequacy.

For example, by regarding those sleeping rough as being in poverty; and

• Positions the measure of poverty within a wider measurement framework, which allows us to understand more about the nature of poverty in the UK.

Following this, the report summarises the most comprehensive implementation of this framework that is possible with existing data and research in the UK. Summary results and findings are then presented.

What next?

Measuring poverty is essential if action is going to be taken to improve the lives of those currently in poverty in the UK or who, without action, would otherwise be in poverty in future. The Commission would like to see the measurement of poverty, including by Government, the ONS, policy makers and those researching and working with people in poverty, adopt the approach outlined in this report. The Commission will do all it can to support this, including by publishing technical papers on the methodology and making available the programming code that underpins the measure to enable straightforward replication by other analysts.

The Commission’s work is only the start of what needs to happen. The Commission hopes that its work will stimulate much needed further research and improvement in UK survey and administrative data. This would allow for a full practical implementation of the Commission’s full measurement framework.