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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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 two years, there has been a slight increase, to 19% in 2014/17.

Poverty rose slightly at the very end of the 1990s and the 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.

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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, to having the joint lowest rate alongside Scotland.

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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 1994/95-1996/97 (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 2014/15 - 2016/17 the rate in Scotland was 24% while in England it was 30%. In Northern Ireland there has been a slight decline from 27% to 26% 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.

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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 14% in 2010/13: by 2014/17, it had risen to 20%.

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Poverty rates for disabled people in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have either remained relatively stagnant, or increased between 2003/04 - 2005/06 and 2013/14 - 2015/16. However, this has not always been the case. From 2003/04 - 2005/06 to 2009/10 - 2011/12 poverty rates for disabled people across all the UK nations decreased. After this period, Wales saw the greatest rise in disabled people's poverty rate, seeing an increase from 27% to 39%.

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 30%, and Northern Ireland's from 31% to 33%.