Families need £36,800 to live acceptably, study says

Family of four Researchers questioned 21 focus groups to find the income standard

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A couple with two children now need to earn £36,800 a year to have a "socially acceptable" standard of living, an anti-poverty charity says.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said its annual minimum income study suggests families must earn a third more than in 2008, to live within social norms.

But the report has been dismissed as "mostly rubbish" by the head of think tank the Adam Smith Institute (ASI).

The government said it was committed to helping the UK's "most vulnerable".

The minimum income standard (MIS) study - commissioned by the charity from the social policy research unit at Loughborough University - suggests a rising number of UK people live below what the public believes is an acceptable standard of living.

This MIS standard includes earning enough to eat a balanced diet, run a car and heat the home.

Researchers questioned 21 focus groups made up of working families, pensioners and single people of working age on a range of incomes.

A couple with two children were said to need to earn a minimum of £18,400 a year each before tax; single people £16,400 a year, while the figure for lone parent with one child is £23,900 and a pensioner couple £12,000 each.

The study said families are being hit hard by a "dangerous cocktail" of rising costs and cuts in three main areas:

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If, instead of thinking about the breadline, we consider what level of income is needed for an acceptable standard of living, the debate changes”

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  • Childcare: Minimum costs have risen by nearly a third since 2008
  • Travel: Bus fares have doubled since the late 1990s which when combined with cuts to public transport, means families with children now deem a car as an essential item
  • Benefit cuts: Earning requirements have increased substantially, cancelling out the benefit of higher income tax thresholds

JRF chief executive Julia Unwin said families faced a "monumental task" to earn enough to get by.

"Parents facing low wages and pressure on their working time have little prospect of finding the extra money they need to meet growing household expenses.

"Many working people face the risk of sliding into poverty. It illustrates how anti-poverty measures are needed to address not just people's incomes but also the costs that they face."

The research also states that the level of Universal Credit - the government's new benefits system being brought in January 2013 - will strongly influence the ability of households to reach MIS.

'Silly question'

Both the results and methodology of the study have been questioned by Dr Eamonn Butler, director of the think tank ASI, who said the report was "mostly rubbish".

What makes up the MIS?

Minimum weekly spend on some "socially acceptable" life essentials includes:

Household goods and services: Childcare: £147.85, beds and bedding: £3.29, garden equipment: £0.66

Food and drink: Meat £18.08, vegetables: £11.27, snacks: £3.65

Social and cultural: Parent social activities: £30.00, UK holiday: £18.52, birthday gifts: £8.42

Transport: Car: £60.25, public transport: £12.38, Cycling: £1.40

Based on a couple with two young children with a weekly income of £685

"If you ask a silly question you get a silly answer and I think this is a very silly answer.

"The idea that one needs a laptop, a DVD player, a microwave, a blender and a roof rack on your car and so on, and indeed a car in the first place when most of us live in cities and public transport has not actually changed very much in the last five years are very strange answers."

Dr Butler added that the study risks arousing people's expectations around welfare payments when "most of the public (75%) think benefits are too high".

But the study was defended by its co-author Donald Hirsch, who said the research was "significant" and "hugely robust".

"In terms of reliability... we have held over 100 groups over a period. Each group is checking back on what other groups say.

"It is not just one person at the ASI's opinion, it is groups of people coming to agreement... and then confirming it with subsequent groups," he added.

The government said it was forced to make "tough choices to repair the country's finances".

A spokesperson added: "It is vital that we give young children the best start in life and that is why we are rolling out free early education, backed by more than £1bn, to help children and their parents.

"We recognise that child care costs are an issue and that is why the prime minister launched a commission into this matter which will report back in the autumn.

"We are also introducing Universal Credit from 2013, which will simplify the system and ensure that work pays."

What is the minimum income standard?

Single working-age person Pensioner couple Couple, two children Lone parent, one child

Source: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Weekly budget (excluding rent/childcare)





% increase since 2008





% of median income





% of budget* provided by Income Support/Pension Credit






Weekly budget (including rent and childcare)





Annual earnings required





Hourly wage requirement





* Excluding council tax ** If both members of couple work full time


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  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    B*m, me and partner wanted children and only take home 33k. Maybe we'll be able to scrape it without the bicycle, holiday, social activities and meat? I'm sure the kids won't mind lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    Over £700 pw sounds like a lot of money to me me. I think it depends on where you live and how you expect to live. I grew up in a family of six, on an army corporals wages. I don't think I ever felt very poverty stricken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    Why is everyone concerned about whether or not £x is enough to get by on? It depends completely on your circumstances. (and I don't mean Sky TV). I mean your mortgage based on the price of a house when you bought it. (Or did you inherit yours?) How much you spend on fuel going to work. Price changes due to demographics. Child maintenance. Disposable income would be a more useful figure to debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    That's why we have plenty of families in this country who don't work and have five kids.

    They wouldn't get out of bed for £36,000, and they don't, well not till lunchtime anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.


    ".......Also, children are not accessories or consumer goods to be 'afforded'; they are the next generation who will grow up to, one way or the other, take care of us when we are old......"


    Interesting though how those that can least afford to bring up children often seem to also have the least trouble in breeding!

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    I also find it strange when people comment on things like computers or mobile phones as luxuries when they are more or less essential for aiding finding a job or individual learning and education. People who speak out against them are people who are angry that the 'poor' are too similar to them. Why would you want to compromise someone else's standard of living just to please yourself?

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    "but the govt won't do this because the rich bankroll their party funds."

    Both Tory & Labour? I'm glad we agree its the tax system thats wrong. That is another topic (far beyond this current 1 I suspect for the mods), I'm happy to agree (if you wish) the rich as everyone pays as little tax as possible & that loopholes need removed.

    Self interest, we all do it to a degree

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    464.Carthago delenda est

    Then let that be a lesson to you: if you're going to disagree, then disagree. But if you're going to do it with a vague, throwaway one-liner based on whatever your narrow definition of the overall debate is, you won't get much in return, bud.

    Same goes for the somewhat lame attempt at sarcasm. :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    The report has some pretty funny ideas about what's essential and doesn't seem to believe in buying good secondhand stuff if you don't have too much money.

    Income inequality certainly exists and some (bankers, footballers etc) earn way more than is reasonable. This report though is just another politically slanted attempt at making people feel disgruntled with their lives and "victimised"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    ...it is HMRC who decide what is and isn't legal - tax avoidance is perfectly legal and is written in statute. If we were all wealthy enough for an accountant, hands up who wouldn't? I'm damned sure I would!

    I agree, but there is a difference between avoidance and evasion, and it was evasion I was talking about, which IMO is grossly immoral if not entirely illegal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    Maybe if we limited bonus payments to £36,800, which according to some, is luxury living, then maybe we wouldn't complain about Bob Diamond et al

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    I went to the JRF website and have their info breakdown. After 5 mins tweak to the figures I got them to £26K/yr. Some of the values they use IMHO are high & I am sure I could get another £2K off with a bit more time. As the "ideal" couple on 1 wage we earn much less than £36.8K & we still have an acceptable lifestyle. It would be nice to see regional variations in the figures.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    @218 Inqa & @219 PatBenatar
    That was what I was trying to say but had limited characters?!
    I had my children when earning £45K but now earn £12K due to redundancy and youngest son being autistic so can only work close to home :(
    Still only another 10 years til they can leave home?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    So many of the comments here seem to reflect a two-parent family living in areas in which everything they need is available to them without too much hassle - and a fair few seem to have one family member at home. You cannot only rely on your experience and anecdotal evidence when it comes to catering to the lowest common denominator of income. The way you live is not representative of anyone else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.


    If your housing costs are taken care of (e.g. your mortgage is paid off), you can get by on about £3000-£4000 a year. Okay it won't be a great life, but you can get by.

    Rubbish .My council tax -£160 a month (doubled under Labour) Gas £60. Water £40. So that takes care of about £3k. Now what else do I need ooh yes. food and electricity (without moving from the house)

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    "449. ghostofjj: Not surprised to see the usual "try living in London" types on here. If you need to you can find somewhere a little further out for £70/w and commute."


  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    threads like this rile me cos to many of us this isnt a reality.
    1 i would very much like to earn 37k
    2 we live within our means
    3 we prioritise our expenditure
    4 yes we get some help from wftc, not much but it helps, morally i dont like claiming but it is needed
    5 our car is 10 yr old, i dont need a new one
    6 as always the stats given are not a fair view of actual earnings

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    Bob Diamond is OK then! (For this year anyway).

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    I wish the smug, the selfish and the moronic would read the articles on HYS properly.

    Also, children are not accessories or consumer goods to be 'afforded'; they are the next generation who will grow up to, one way or the other, take care of us when we are old; perhaps those who object to people having children are going to do the decent thing and get out before they require the services of youth

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    So they need to earn £36,800 a year to have a "socially acceptable" standard of living...
    What does that mean? I guess.....
    1. Two holidays a year
    2. Two cars with a more when the kids get 17
    3. Large screen TV, mobile phones
    4. Regular meals out and takeaways

    How lucky I am to just be a pensioner on the state pension!


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