Poverty is longstanding and deeply entrenched in the UK with a profound effect on individuals and communities. It affects millions of people, including nearly 1 in 3 children (1). The rising cost-of-living has exacerbated the situation, with more households being pushed into poverty, and poverty becoming deeper for those already affected (2). Vulnerable households are struggling to afford even the essentials – paying housing costs, eating, heating their home and even medicines (3).
Poverty affects the population unevenly. Ethnic minorities, disabled people, lone-parent or larger families, refugees and those leaving care or institutions are some of the groups more likely to be affected. In-work poverty is also high, with 3 in 4 children who grow up in poverty living in a household where at least one person is working (4).
Poverty has substantial, wide-ranging impacts on health. It is the major driver of health inequities, significantly increasing the risk of mental and physical health problems, as well as premature ill-health and death. For children the impact is especially severe, with poverty affecting cognitive and emotional development, reducing educational attainment, and increasing the risk of poverty in adulthood (5). The burden of avoidable ill-health from poverty has a significant negative impact on an already-stretched NHS and other public services, as well as the wider economy (6).
We now face a public health emergency due to poverty, which will have a devastating long-term impact on a generation of children. We need to lift people out of poverty and, crucially, prevent children being born in poverty.
FPH policy recommendations
The solutions to addressing the UK‘s entrenched poverty are complex. It will require short, medium, and long-term thinking across society, with the UK Government having a key role (7). We recommend:
- The urgent development and implementation of a strategy to reduce poverty across the UK.
- Ensuring all households have sufficient income for good health through:
- Providing an “essentials guarantee” so that, at a minimum, universal credit is enough for people to afford the basics needed to live.
- Introducing a requirement for employers to pay the Real Living Wage.
- A strategy to provide more affordable, quality and secure housing as well as ensuring the local housing allowance is sufficient to meet rental costs.
- Widening access to high-quality free school meals to reduce child hunger and reduce household financial pressures.
- Addressing other key household costs including the affordability of and access to childcare.
- To address fuel poverty, we support Government intervention to keep household energy bills affordable. This should include a programme of household energy efficiency improvements aligned with Net Zero targets, with specific support for low-income households amid the wider context of an urgent, just transition to a green economy.
1) Households Below Average Income, Statistics on the number and percentage of people living in low income households for financial years 1994/95 to 2020/21, Table 1.4b. Department for Work and Pensions, 2022
2) Households Below Average Income, Statistics on the number and percentage of people living in low income households for financial years 1994/95 to 2019/20, Table 4.3db. Department for Work and Pensions, 2021
3) A Corlett & L Try, In at the deep end: The living standards crisis facing the new Prime Minister | The Living Standards Outlook 2022 – Summer Update, Resolution Foundation, September 2022