28 Mar 2013

Stark findings about poverty in the UK revealed in Open University collaborative report



Findings of a new report into poverty and social exclusion make grim reading of the extent of deprivation and financial difficulties faced by people in the UK.

The Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) Project published its first report The Impoverishment of the UK, produced in collaboration with The Open University (OU) and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and is one of the largest and most authoritative studies of poverty and deprivation ever conducted in the UK.

The first results from this study will be broadcast on ITV at 7.30pm this evening in a special Tonight programme called Breadline Britain.

Some of the findings are:

• Over 30 million people (almost half the population) are suffering some degree of financial insecurity.
• Almost 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions.
• Roughly 14 million cannot afford one or more essential household goods.
• Around 4 million children and adults are not properly fed by today’s standards.
• Around 1.5 million children live in households that cannot afford to heat their home.

The PSE approach – now adopted by the UK Government and by a growing number of rich and developing countries - identifies people falling below a publicly-determined minimum standard of living. This method of measuring poverty was pioneered in 1983 and repeated in studies in 1990, 1999, 2002/03 and 2012. The project thus provides detailed, robust and definitive trends over 30 years.

Joanna Mack, Learning and Teaching producer at the OU, devised this new way of measuring poverty in 1983, together with Stewart Lansley, senior project officer at the OU. Joanna was the Principal Investigator on the 1983 and 1990 research studies and she is one of the lead investigators for the current research. The OU developed The Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK website, which is an integral part of the overall project and which provides a major resource on poverty and social exclusion, used extensively.

Joanna said: “Levels of deprivation today are worse in a number of vital areas – from basic housing to key social activities - than at any point in the past thirty years. These trends are a deeply shocking indictment of 30 years of economic and social policy and reflect a rapid growth in inequality. This has meant that, though the economy has doubled in size during this period, those at the bottom have been increasingly left behind.”

Professor David Gordon of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research in Bristol and head of the project said: “The results present a remarkably bleak portrait of life in the UK today and the shrinking opportunities faced by the bottom third of UK society. About one third of people in the UK suffer significant difficulties and about a quarter have an unacceptably low standard of living’ said ‘ Moreover this bleak situation will get worse as benefit levels fall in real term, real wages continue to decline and living standards are further squeezed.”

Today 33% of the UK population suffers from multiple deprivation by the standards set by the public. It was 14 % in 1983.
For a significant and growing proportion of the population, living conditions and opportunities have been going backwards. Housing and heating conditions, in particular, have deteriorated rapidly.

There is widespread public agreement on what constitutes a minimally acceptable diet. Over 90% agree that, for children, this means: three meals a day; fresh fruit and vegetables; and meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent at least once a day.

• Yet well over half a million children live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly.

The study found that, in households where children go without one or more of these basic food necessities:

• In 93% at least one adult skimp on their own food ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ to ensure others have enough to eat.

Significant proportions of the population find it difficult to cope on their current incomes:

• One in four adults have incomes below what they consider is needed to avoid poverty
• More than one in five have had to borrow in the last year to pay for day to day needs
• One in three can’t afford to save
• One in four can’t afford to replace or repair broken electrical goods (12% in 1999).

To download the full report click here:

For further information contact:
David Gordon:
Joanna Mack:

Notes to Editors

• 20% of OU students come from the 25% most disadvantaged communities in the country
• The Open University has invested over £4 million to communicate the new loans system to mature and poorer prospective students.

The PSE: UK research was financed by the Economic and Social Research Council for £3,798,315, more details here:

It is a major collaboration between the University of Bristol, Heriot-Watt University, The Open University, Queen's University Belfast, University of Glasgow and the University of York working with the NatCen and NISRA.

The full Living Standards questionnaire can be downloaded from the PSE website:

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