Absolute and relative poverty

A boarded up housing estate with piles of dumped rubbish

Absolute poverty refers to a level of poverty where people struggle to meet daily needs, such as food, shelter, sanitation and healthcare.

In the UK, according to Department for Work and Pensions statistics for 2011-2012, 300,000 children were living in absolute poverty. This is far fewer than children in developing countries.

In the UK, poverty is more often defined as relative rather than absolute. Those people who are described as living in poverty have (in the main) the basics such as an adequate diet or somewhere to live.

What these people lack is sufficient income to be able to participate fully in society. People in poverty are said to be ‘socially excluded’.

Official Poverty

There is no one single definition of poverty. Most official definitions use relative income to measure the extent of poverty.

The key UK government measures take 60 per cent of median income as the poverty line. A family earning less than 60% of the median household income is said to be in relative poverty.

In the 2011-12 period, the amount of earnings before a household (adjusted for family size and after housing costs deducted) was said to be in poverty was:

  • £128 a week for a single adult
  • £172 for a single parent with one child
  • £220 for a couple with no children
  • £357 for a couple with two children (Source: Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion Report 2013).