The absolute and relative poverty measures tell similar stories but the material deprivation measure suggests a different trend. Moreover, the difference in deprivation by family types with similar incomes is striking.

In the most recent year for which data is available, 2013/14, 21.6 per cent of people lived in households with incomes below the 2010/11 median (adjusted for inflation), and 21 per cent lived in households below the 2013/14 median. This difference is smaller than the previous year, but neither difference was statistically significant.

When incomes are rising, we would expect a greater divergence between a contemporary measure and a fixed measure. The fact that poverty under the fixed measure was not much higher than the contemporary measure in the years before 2010/11 tells us that incomes grew little up to that point. That poverty is not now lower under the fixed measure tells us incomes have grown little since.

The first graph also shows the level of material deprivation – the proportion of the population who cannot afford three or more of nine everyday items such as a washing machine, car or healthy meal. The break in the series in 2012 makes this slightly difficult to interpret, but it is clear that the proportion of people who are materially deprived (using this threshold) is lower than the proportion in low-income households. In 2013, 17.4 per cent of people were below this threshold.

Levels of material deprivation vary between family types, even among those in low-income households. Pensioner families seem to have particularly low levels of material deprivation. The majority of both single and couple pensioners in low-income households do not lack any everyday items for reasons of cost. By way of comparison, among working-age couples without children, the family type with the next lowest level of material deprivation, two-thirds of people cannot afford at least one item.

The low level of pensioner deprivation could be due to two things. First, pensioner households are less likely than working-age households to have a very low income. So among the low-income group we consider here, their incomes will be slightly higher than the average. The other reason is attitudinal. Older people tend to think they need less than working-age families and the Minimum Income Standard research bears this out. So in response to a question about why they lack an item, they may be more likely to say this is because they do not want or need it than because they cannot afford it.

Indicator: 2A

Indicator: 2B

about the indicator

The first graph shows three measures of poverty – the fixed threshold, the relative threshold and a measure of material deprivation. The first two measures are those previously included in the Child Poverty Act of 2010, although used here to measure poverty at the whole population level. The material deprivation measure comes from a different source, the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC).

The second graph looks more closely at this third measure, and how it varies across family types. It is based on a set of questions regarding items that families might lack because they cannot afford them.

Reliability rating: medium. The datasets are large enough to give answers we can be reasonably comfortable with, but the material deprivation measure has changed in recent years, meaning the series is not continuous.

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