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  • Writer's pictureDavid Marlow

What does the evidence say about poverty in the UK?

Updated: Apr 26

For the final LEDC Espresso shot episode of April 2024, David and Mike discuss the March 2024 Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) publication of Households Below Average Income (HBAI) statistics (often referred to as ‘poverty statistics’) and what they tell us about the state of poverty and inequality in the UK today.

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What do the HBAI statistics tell us?

The DWP statistics provide time series datasets from 1995-2023 for average incomes, income inequality, and the number and percentage of people living in low-income households. March’s datasets are stark in their own right. There are 14 million individuals – including 4 million children – in relative poverty and these numbers have risen by around one million and 700,000 respectively in the period since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of the late noughties.

The figures also evidence a broader narrative of rising inequalities over the time series. Both the austerity response to the GFC, and the post-COVID, post-Brexit responses of the early 2020’s have increased inequality – echoing themes that have been explored in greater detail in many LEDC episodes – notably the Danny Dorling episode last July and the current Philip McCann episode.

Which policies could address trends in poverty in the UK?

David and Mike discussed four national areas of policy that might be deployed to address poverty.

Benefits and labour market reforms that directly provide more cash to low-income households would suggest rises in universal credit and minimum wages across the board. Child poverty strategies might include abandoning the two-child benefit cap and also addressing childcare costs and availability. Affordable Homes policies are needed to address housing-related poverty. Alongside universal policies, revisiting intensive assistance (akin to troubled families or perhaps Surestart for children) for those in most acute need should be in the policy mix.

Self-evidently these approaches are highly dependent on financial context, and the housing issues are part of wider housing market and planning reform agendas.

The LED and placemaking ‘big questions’

For LEDC listeners, the enduring fundamental challenges are how to deliver high economic growth and development alongside reducing inequalities, and whether place-based powers and resources can deliver outcomes that amplify national measures and enhance national policy goals significantly.

It wouldn’t be LEDC if we didn’t believe that empowered regional and local leadership teams can meet these challenges, and are indeed critical to delivering these national agendas in a meaningful way. The increasing profile of ‘inclusive growth’ alongside environmental sustainability is a testament to this.

With an impending general election where addressing poverty and inequality will be even higher up in political manifestos and debates than hitherto, LED and placemaking policy and decision-makers need to have well-founded responses to these questions.

In this ‘Espresso Shot’ we reassert the arguments of recent LEDC episodes. Nationally, we need to move back towards the Northern European and Scandinavian outcomes from our outlier positioning with OECD comparators. Doing this well requires enhanced devolution regionally and locally. Revisiting system-change models like ‘Total Place’ need to be integral to that process.

If that’s LEDC's short, sharp response to the poverty statistics, what is yours? LEDC listeners, in all of our respective positions, have roles to play in informing the impending political and policy debates.


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