Impact of poverty on relationships

People with lower incomes are at more risk of social isolation and of strained relationships within families than those on higher incomes.

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The proportion of working adults who say they have no or only one close friend is higher for those in lower income groups than for better-off groups. In 2017–18 about 11% of working-age adults in the poorest fifth of the population said they had either no or only one close friend, compared with 5% of working-age adults in the richest fifth. The proportion of people reporting that they have only one or no close friends fell in the poorest fifth of the population between 2014–15 and 2017–18 but remained largely unchanged in the richest fifth of the population.

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Social isolation is reported more frequently by pensioners than working-age adults. Fourteen per cent of all pensioners say they have no or only one close friend compared with 8% of working-age adults.

The link between social isolation and income also appears to be stronger among pensioners than working-age adults. One in seven pensioners in the poorest fifth of the population have no or only one close friend, compared with 5% of those in the richest fifth. However, between 2014–15 and 2017–18 the proportion reporting having no or only one close friend has fallen in all income groups.

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There are some links between income and the relationships between parents and children. Measuring the nature and quality of relationships between children and parents is complex. Here, the analysis focuses on situations where children aged between 10 and 15 report that they quarrel with at least one parent more than once a week, and hardly ever discuss important issues with either parent. This is defined as a poor relationship between the child and parent.  

The proportion of children reporting that they have a poor relationship with their parents is somewhat higher for those in the poorest fifth of the population (7%), compared to other income groups (4%-6%).

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In 2015–16, 8% of parents living in coupes reported relationship distress. This rate is much higher for those in in the richest fifth (3%). The gap between different income groups has reduced since 2011–12.

‘Relationship distress’ is a concept developed by the charity Relate and used by the Department for Work and Pensions in its Improving Lives report. A couple family is defined as experiencing relationship distress if they say that most or all of the time they consider divorce, regret living together, quarrel, or get on each other’s nerves when asked about their relationship with their partner.