United Kingdom

Children in low-income households

Key points

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Graph 1: Over time (numbers)

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Graph 2: Over time (proportions)

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Graph 3: By family type

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Graph 4: By region

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Graph 5: By family work status (risks)

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Graph 6: By family work status (numbers)

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Graph 7: By family work status (shares)

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Why this indicator was originally chosen

Even including those households where the adults are in paid work, income in households with children is on average lower than in households without.  A higher proportion of children are below low-income thresholds than children.

As well as the total number of children in households with low incomes, this indicator also compares the proportion of children in low-income households to the proportion of adults in this situation, showing the excess of children in relation to adults.

In low-income households, food represents by far the largest proportion of spending on children.  For example, in households on Income Support, two thirds of the allowance for children is for food, but average spending by parents on their children is very much higher (about 1 times) than these allowances.  In these households it is the parents, especially mothers, who make the sacrifice, including going without food, new clothes and shoes, and holidays, in order to ensure that their children do not go without on a daily basis. Middleton, S, Ashworth, K and Braithwaite, I, Small fortunes: spending on children, childhood poverty and parental sacrifice, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1998, pages 67 to 68.  But even where parents do make sacrifices, more than 10% of children have still been defined as 'poor' on the basis of lacking three or more 'necessities', and over 3% were defined as 'severely poor' on the basis of going without five or more 'necessities'. Middleton, S, Ashworth, K and Braithwaite, I, Small fortunes: spending on children, childhood poverty and parental sacrifice, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1998, pages 67 to 68.  Items identified in this context included a warm coat, properly fitted shoes, three meals a day and money to allow a child to participate in a school trip.  These circumstances clearly constitute exclusion from the customary consumption activities of a family with children, and imply considerable deprivation across the whole household.

A considerable amount of what is spent on children, 10% on average, is provided by other people, mainly grandparents and other relatives but also friends.  The broad family context in which children grow up is clearly important with respect to their economic circumstances as well as their social stability.  Children at the greatest risk of poverty are those in lone parent households, in part because of the smaller extended family network in operation.

A final area which could have been the subject of a key indicator if the data were available concerns child employment.  Child employment remains a largely hidden area, overseen by fragmented legislation, with no nationally collected statistics.  Yet recent research has suggested that up to 2 million school children between the ages of 10 and16 years have part-time jobs during the school term and that children often work illegally. O'Donnell, C and White, L, Invisible hands: a study of child employment in North Tyneside, Low Pay Unit, 1998.  One in ten children in one survey were the only member of their household in employment, with many other children subsidising their household income. O'Donnell, C and White, L, Invisible hands: a study of child employment in North Tyneside, Low Pay Unit, 1998.  Child employment poses serious health and safety risks for children, with high rates of accidents and injuries suffered by young workers.  School performance is likely to be adversely affected through feeling tired - or playing truant in order to engage in paid work. Heptinstall, E, Jewitt, K and Sherriff, C, Young workers and their accidents, Child Accident Prevention Trust, 1997.

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Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the number of children living in low-income households, both before and after deducting housing costs.  It also shows four Government targets:

The second graph shows the proportion of children living in low income after deducting housing costs. The bar is split to show the extent to which children are at a higher risk than adults of being in households below that threshold.

The risks are very different for lone parents and couples with children.  To illustrate this, the third graph shows the risks of being in low income by family type.  Note that the phrase 'without children' means 'without dependent children'.

The fourth graph shows the risk of children being in low-income households by region.

The fifth graph shows the risk of a child being in a low-income household, with the data shown separately for the following family work statuses: all working (single or couple, with one in full-time work and the other - if applicable - in full-time or part-time work); part working (couples where one is working and the other is not plus singles or couples where no one is working full-time but one or more are working part-time); workless - unemployed (head or spouse unemployed) and workless - economically inactive (includes long-term sick/disabled and lone parents).

The sixth graph shows, over time, the number of children who are in low-income households, with the data shown separately for families where someone is in paid work and for workless families. 

The seventh graph shows, for the latest year, a breakdown of the children who were in low-income households by family type (couple or lone parent) and work status (workless or someone in paid work).

The data source for all the graphs is Households Below Average Income, based on the Family Resources Survey (FRS).  A child is defined as an individual who is either under 16 or is an unmarried 16- to 18-year-old on a course up to and including A level standard (or Highers in Scotland).  For 2002/03 onwards, the data relates to the United Kingdom whilst the data for earlier years is for Great Britain (FRS did not cover Northern Ireland until 2002/03).  The two exceptions to this are the first and sixth graphs, both of which show numbers over time: the data in the first graph prior to 2002/03 has been scaled up to put it onto a comparable United Kingdom basis to that for later years whilst the data in the sixth graph is for Great Britain throughout.  Income is disposable household income after deducting housing costs and the low-income threshold is the same as that used elsewhere, namely 60% of contemporary median household income.  All the data is equivalised (adjusted) to account for differences in household size and composition.  The self-employed are included in the statistics.  Note that in 2007 DWP made some technical changes to how it adjusted household income for household composition (including retrospective changes) and, as a result, the data is slightly different than previously published figures.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: high.  The FRS is a well-established annual government survey, designed to be representative of the population as a whole.

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External links

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Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

Overall aim:  Halve the number of children in poverty by 2010-11, on the way to eradicating child poverty by 2020.

Lead department

HM Treasury.

Official national targets

Reduce by a half the number of children living in relative low-income by 2010/11.

Other indicators of progress

Number of children in absolute low-income households.

Number of children in relative low-income households and in material deprivation.

Previous 2004 targets

Halve the number of children in relative low-income households between 1998/99 and 2010/11, on the way to eradicating child poverty by 2020, including:

The numbers

Graph 1

Year After deducting housing costs Before deducting housing costs
1994/95 4.2M 3.3M
1995/96 4.3M 3.1M
1996/97 4.5M 3.5M
1997/98 4.4M 3.5M
1998/99 4.4M 3.4M
1999/00 4.3M 3.4M
2000/01 4.1M 3.0M
2001/02 4.0M 3.0M
2002/03 3.9M 2.9M
2003/04 3.7M 2.9M
2004/05 3.6M 2.7M
2005/063.8M 2.8M
2006/073.9M 2.9M
2007/084.0M 2.9M
2008/093.9M 2.8M

Graph 2

Year Millions in low-income households Proportions in low-income households
The rate for the overall population Additional to the rate for the overall population The rate for the overall population Additional to the rate for the overall population
1994/95 3.2M 1.1M 24% 8%
1995/96 3.2M 1.1M 24% 9%
1996/97 3.3M 1.2M 25% 9%
1997/98 3.2M 1.2M 24% 9%
1998/99 3.2M 1.2M 24% 10%
1999/00 3.1M 1.1M 24% 9%
2000/01 3.0M 1.0M 23% 8%
2001/02 2.9M 1.0M 24% 8%
2002/03 2.9M 1.0M 22% 7%
2003/04 2.8M 0.9M 21% 7%
2004/05 2.6M 1.0M 21% 8%
2005/062.8M 1.0M 22% 8%
2006/072.9M 1.1M 22% 8%
2007/082.9M 1.1M 22% 9%
2008/092.8M 1.0M 22% 8%

Graph 3

In working-age singles with dependent children 50%
In working-age couples with dependent children 23%
Working-age singles without dependent children 25%
Working-age couples without dependent children 12%
Single pensioners 20%
Pensioner couples 16%

Graph 4

East 26%
East Midlands 30%
inner London 44%
outer London37%
North East 34%
North West 33%
Northern Ireland26%
Scotland 25%
South East 26%
South West 26%
Wales 31%
West Midlands 36%
Yorkshire and The Humber 31%

Graph 5

Family work status 1996/97 to 1998/991997/98 to 1999/00 2006/07 to 2008/09
In all-working families5% 6% 7%
In part-working families36% 37% 35%
In workless families - unemployed 91% 90% 90%
In workless families - economically inactive81% 82% 74%

Graph 6

Year Millions
In working families In workless families
1994/951.7M 2.4M
1995/961.7M 2.5M
1996/971.9M 2.4M
1997/982.0M 2.3M
1998/992.1M 2.2M
1999/002.0M 2.2M
2000/011.9M 2.0M
2001/021.9M 2.0M
2002/031.9M 1.9M
2003/041.7M 1.9M
2004/051.8M 1.8M
2005/061.9M 1.7M
2006/072.1M 1.7M
2007/082.1M 1.7M
2008/092.1M 1.6M

Graph 7

In couple families with work 48%
In lone parent families with work 10%
In couple families without work 13%
In lone parent families without work 29%

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