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 trend in most parts of the UK is that these poverty rates have started increasing, with the exception of Northern Ireland which has seen its poverty rate drop in recent years.

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Across the four parts of the UK, Wales has consistently had the highest poverty. 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 2009/12, the proportion of the Scottish population living in poverty decreased from 23% to a low of 18% which is lower than for England and Wales over the entire time period. Over the past five years, there has been a slight increase, to 19% in 2016/19.

Data is only available for Northern Ireland since 2002/05, when Northern Ireland had a slightly lower rate of poverty than Wales, Scotland and England. By 2003/06, poverty in Northern Ireland was higher than in Scotland but lower than England and Wales. It has since fallen from 21% in 2012/15 to 19% in 2016/19 and Northern Ireland now has the joint lowest poverty rate of all UK nations.

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Across the four parts of the UK, Wales has consistently had the highest working-age poverty rate apart from 2007/10 to 2008/11 when the rate dropped slight to be level with England. Scotland had the lowest poverty rate from 2008/11 to 2013/16. Data is only available for Northern Ireland since 2002/04. Since then it has gone from having the lowest rate of working-age poverty to almost having the same rate as England in 2012/15. It has since fallen to 18% and is the lowest poverty rate.

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Wales has generally had the highest child poverty rate over time and Scotland has had the lowest, although the latest data shows that England now has the highest rate. Child poverty rates are now lower in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland compared to 1994/97 (2002/04 in Northern Ireland). The child poverty rate has however dropped much further in Scotland during the last 20 years compared to England. For instance, in 1994/97 Scotland had a similar child poverty rate to England but in 2016/19 the rate in Scotland was 24% while in England it was 31%. In Northern Ireland there has been a decline from 26% to 25% in the child poverty rate over the period for which data was available. Since 2010/13 child poverty has been increasing in England and Scotland but has fallen in Wales.

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The poverty rate for pensioners in the 1990s was highest in Scotland and lowest in Wales, but 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 2010/13, Welsh pensioners began to see significant increases in poverty rates. In Wales, the pensioner poverty rate stood at 14% in 2010/13: by 2016/19, it had risen to 19%. Poverty rates fell in Northern Ireland from 20% in 2006/09 to 12% in 2016/19.

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From 2003/06 to 2009/12 poverty rates for disabled people across all the UK nations decreased slightly. After this period poverty rates began to increase. Wales saw the greatest rise in disabled people's poverty rate, seeing an increase from 28% to 40% in 2013/16. This has since dropped slightly to 36%. The other UK nations' disabled people poverty rates increases were not as large but still of note. England's rose from 25% to 31%, Scotland's from 24% to 32%. Northern Ireland’s poverty rate has fell since 2012/15 from 35% to 30%.