Poverty levels and trends in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

Despite the steady decrease over time of child poverty, pensioner poverty and poverty rates for disabled people in the four parts of the UK, the recent trend in most parts of the UK is that these poverty rates have started increasing.

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Link to source: Households Below Average Income

Across the four parts of the UK, Wales has consistently had the highest poverty, only slightly lower than that of London and similar to the North East of England. Scotland has generally had the lowest poverty over the last 10 years but has seen a slightly different pattern to the rest of the UK. From 1994/97 to 2008/11, the proportion of the Scottish population living in poverty decreased from 23% to a low of 18% which is lower than for England, Wales and Northern Ireland over the entire time period. In the last year, there has been a slight increase, to 19% in 2013/16.

Poverty rose slightly at the very end of the 1990s and then data is only available for Northern Ireland since 2003/4, when Northern Ireland had a slightly lower rate of poverty than Wales, Scotland and England. By 2013/16, poverty in Northern Ireland was higher than in Scotland but lower than England and Wales.

Link to source: Households Below Average Income

Across the four parts of the UK, Wales has consistently had the highest working-age poverty rate apart from 2008/09 to 2010/11 when the rate dropped slightly below England’s. Scotland has generally had the lowest poverty apart from 2009 to 2011 when Northern Ireland’s rate was lower. Data is only available for Northern Ireland since 2003/4. Since then it has gone from having the lowest rate of working-age poverty to almost having the same rate as England.

Link to source: Households Below Average Income

Wales has generally had the highest child poverty rate over time and Scotland has had the lowest. Child poverty rates are now lower in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland compared to 1994/95-1996/97 (2000/01-2003/04 in Northern Ireland). The child poverty rate has however dropped much further in Scotland during the last 20 years compared to England or Wales. For instance, in 1994/95-1996/97 Scotland had a similar child poverty rate to England but in 2013/14-2015/16 the rate in Scotland was 23% while in England it was 29%. In Northern Ireland there has been a slight decline from 27% to just over 25% in the child poverty rate over the period for which data was available. Since 2010/11-2012/13 child poverty has been increasing in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Link to source: Households Below Average Income

In the 1990s through to 2005/06, poverty among pensioners fell  across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The poverty rate in the 1990s was highest in Scotland and lowest in Wales, but all three of England, Scotland and Wales saw large falls in the poverty rate at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s.

However, in the latter part of the 2000s, the picture began to diverge to some degree.  Scottish pensioners began to experience slightly lower poverty rates than the other parts of the UK and, from 2010/11, Welsh pensioners began to see significant increases in poverty rates. In Wales, the pensioner poverty rate stood at 12% in 2010/11: by 2015/16, it had risen to 21%.

Link to source: Households Below Average Income

Poverty rates for disabled people in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were on a downward trend between 2003/04-2005/06 and 2009/10-2011/12. This trend has since reversed and poverty rates for disabled people are now higher than in 2003/04-2005/06 for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

During the period 2003/04-2005/06 and 2013/14-2015/16, Wales had the highest poverty rate for disabled people by a large margin over England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with the gap growing over time. For instance, the gap compared to England has grown from 5% in 2003/04-2005/06 to 8% in 2013/14-2015/16.

The rates of poverty for disabled people have been similar for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland with the difference in rates between them typically being less than 2 percentage points.