14m Britons were at risk of poverty in 2011: new ONS data shows

The number of people in the UK who say they are unable to meet unexpected financial expenses rose to 36.6% in 2011. See the latest analysis on poverty and social exclusion by the ONS
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The proportion of the UK population at risk of poverty has decreased slightly, from 17.1% in 2010 to 16.2% in 2011. Taken alone however, this figure could be misleading. A fall in real-terms median income has meant that the poverty threshold has changed, and with it, the proportion of Britons defined as being at risk of poverty.

A release today from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also includes social exclusion, a broader measure which combines several different dimensions of poverty. On this measure, Brits fare worse, with 22.7% of the UK population (equivalent to 14 million people) considered at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2011. Heather Stewart writes today:

Almost 30% of people in the UK are unable to afford even a week’s annual holiday, up from less than a quarter before the financial crisis, according to a new analysis by the Office for National Statistics which reveals the day-to-day struggle facing many families in post-recession Britain.

Also included is the percentage of people in the UK who say they are unable to meet unexpected financial expenses. Here again there has been a significant rise from 26.6% in 2007 to 36.6% in 2011.

‘Unexpected financial expenses’ is one of a list of nine items used by the ONS to measure severe material deprivation. This is recorded where people are unable to afford at least four of the following items:

1. To pay their rent, mortgage, utility bills or loan repayments,
2. To keep their home adequately warm,
3. To face unexpected financial expenses,
4. To eat meat or protein regularly,
5. To go on holiday for a week once a year,
6. A television set,
7. A washing machine,
8. A car,
9. A telephone.

Though the overall rate of severe material deprivation has changed little since 2005, there have been considerable changes for certain items on the list. In particular, the proportion of people reporting that they can not afford to go on holiday for a week once a year has risen steadily since 2007 from 21.4% to 29.7% last year.

Despite this, big changes in Europe mean that the gap between the UK and the EU is narrowing. Rises in the proportion of people at risk of poverty (particularly in Spain and Italy) mean that for the first time since comparable data has been made available, the EU average has overtaken the UK.

At-risk-of poverty rates vary greatly within the EU, from the Czech Republic’s low rate of 9.8% to Bulgaria, where 22.3% of the population are at risk of poverty. In 2011, the UK was ranked 13th of the 26 countries for which data on poverty and social exclusion was available.

To find out more about the risk of poverty in the UK, read our article when this data was last released in June which includes an interactive visualisation as well as a video about the numbers. What can you do with this data?

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