United Kingdom

Lacking consumer durables

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • One in six low-income households lack either a freezer or a washing machine.  This compares with one in twenty of those on average incomes.  It also compares with one in three low-income households a decade ago.
  • For all consumer durables, the proportion of low-income households who are lacking them is much lower than a decade ago but still higher than for those on average incomes.
  • Although the proportions have fallen substantially over the last decade, more than half of households in the poorest fifth still lack a PC, as do a fifth of households on average incomes.  Internet access at home follows a similar pattern: 60% of households in the poorest fifth lack such access, as do 30% of households on average incomes.  In other words, lack of Internet access is twice as common in the poorest fifth compared with those on average incomes.
  • In addition to income, age is clearly also a factor affecting Internet access: whilst ‘only’ 20% of households where the head of the household is aged under 50 lack such access, this rises to 75% for those aged 70 and over.  Combining income and age: the vast majority (85%) of households aged 70 and over in the poorest fifth lack Internet access.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

This indicator examines how low income relates to a lack of essential consumer durables, and how this relationship is changing over time.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows, for each year, the proportion of people who lacked either freezers or washing machines, with the data shown separately for people in the poorest fifth of the population and for people on average incomes.  These two items have been selected from a longer list of durables as they are both items which are considered to be necessities in contemporary society but for which a substantial proportion of households lacked them a decade ago.

The second graph shows, for the latest year, the proportion of people who lack selected consumer durables, with the data again shown separately for people in the poorest fifth of the population and for people on average incomes.  For comparison purposes, the equivalent data for a decade ago is also shown for the poorest fifth of the population.

The durables shown in the second graph are PCs, VCRs, microwaves, washing machines, freezers and colour televisions.  The reason that PCs, VCRs and microwaves are not shown in the first graph is that less than half of the population view them as necessities in contemporary society.  The reason that colour televisions are not shown in the first graph is that, even a decade ago, only a small minority of households (less than 5%) lacked one.

The data source for the first two graphs is the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) and the data relates to the United Kingdom.  Income is gross household income, but these incomes are not equivalised (adjusted) to account for differences in household size and composition.

Of the items shown in the second graph, the item which is most commonly lacking – both overall and for the poorest fifth – is PCs.  In this context, the third graph shows how the proportion of households without an Internet connection varies by both household income and age.

The data source for the third graph is the Living Costs and Food Survey (LCFS) and the data relates to the United Kingdom.  The ages used are those of the ‘household reference person’ (the person with the highest income in the household 1)  The age groups of ‘under 50′ and ’70 or over’ have been chosen as Internet usage starts to decrease from the age of 50 onwards.  Note that the allocation of households to income quintiles uses gross (before tax) ‘equivalised household income’, which means that the gross household incomes have been adjusted to put them on a like-for-like basis given the size and composition of the households.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: limited.  Although BHPS is a smaller survey than FRS, the relatively smooth trends in the data over time indicate that the specific results shown are reliable.  The choice of consumer durables in the analysis is, however, largely driven by the data availability and is both somewhat arbitrary and rather limited.

External links

See the Family Budget Unit site.

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:

  • reducing the proportion of children in workless households by 5% between spring 2005 and spring 2008; and
  • increasing the proportion of parents with care on Income Support and income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance who receive maintenance for their children by 65% by March 2008.

The numbers

Graph 1

Income quintiles
Year Poorest fifth Middle fifth
1993/94 50% 14%
1994/95 45% 14%
1995/96 46% 13%
1996/97 no data no data
1997/98 39% 11%
1998/99 36% 11%
1999/00 35% 11%
2000/01 30% 10%
2001/02 29% 9%
2002/03 28% 7%
2003/04 25% 6%
2004/05 23% 7%
2005/0620% 6%
2006/0720% 7%
2007/0819% 5%
2008/0917% 5%

Graph 2

Item Poorest fifth in 1998/99Poorest fifth in 2008/09Middle fifth in 2008/09
PC 90% 60% 20%
VCR 46% 18% 4%
Microwave 41% 15% 7%
Washing machine 27% 13% 3%
Freezer 22% 9% 4%
Colour television 6% 3% 1%

Graph 3

 Age of Household Reference Person
Household income quintileUnder 5050 to 6970 or over
All ages
Poorest fifth45% 63% 86% 62%
2nd25% 44% 79% 50%
3rd18% 29% 64% 30%
4th13% 16% 44% 17%
Richest fifth7% 9% 38% 9%
All incomes20% 31% 74% 34%

1. More specifically, the household reference person is the householder, i.e. the person who: a) owns the household accommodation, or b) is legally responsible for the rent of the accommodation, or c) has the household accommodation as an emolument or perquisite, or d) has the household accommodation by virtue of some relationship to the owner who is not a member of the household.  If there are joint householders the household reference person will be the one with the highest income.  If their income is the same, then the eldest householder is taken.