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DWP data reveals: women and children continue to be worst affected by poverty

According to the DWP figures, 100,000 more children are now living in poverty than in 2016/17, while women are more likely to live in poverty than men

100,000 more children are now living in poverty than in 2016/17, according to the DWP figures on ‘Households Below Average Income’ published yesterday. The figures show that women continue to be more likely to live in poverty* than men (20% compared to 18%).

Single women are at highest risk of poverty:

  • The proportion of single women living in poverty has stalled for three years at 25%, while the figure for poor single men has decreased to 23% (from 26% in 2016/17).


  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of single female pensioners are poor, the highest figure in 15 years.


  • 45% of single parents – the vast majority (90%) of which are women – are living in poverty. Almost half of children living with a single parent (47%) are now in poverty.


Children’s poverty rates are worryingly high. 30% of children are currently living in low-income households, the highest percentage since the financial crisis in 2007/08 and the same proportion since 2015/16. In absolute numbers, 100,000 more children are now living in poverty than in 2016/17. At a time of record-high employment, this is a very worrying trend.

In-work poverty is a key dimension of the current income situation for many households in the country. In fact, 69% of children in poverty are living in households where at least one adult is in paid work. 56% of adults are living in paid-employment households.

Households with disabled people are significantly more likely to be in poverty than households where no one is has a disability – a quarter compared to a fifth of household members are in poverty respectively. Families with disabled children are even more likely to be poor, with 29% of households with children with disabilities currently in poverty.

These figures, concerning as they are, are likely to be underestimates. For its low-income calculations, the DWP doesn’t include the extra costs people with disabilities face, although it does count disability-related benefits in the household income. This is likely to overestimate the disposable income of families with disabled persons and underestimate poverty.

Our report ‘The Female Face of Poverty’ explores how caring responsibilities and gender norms play a role in women’s lower earnings from paid employment, and how an insufficient welfare safety net and a decade of austerity have left many women poorer.

We have long called for DWP and the ONS to collect and publish data on income at the individual level, as well as at the household level, for a more accurate picture of poverty in the UK. Although income is pooled and shared within families, we know that it’s sometimes not shared equally among all family members, either due to differences in financial power within couples or due to cases of financial abuse. Because these cases tend to affect in their vast majority women, and women on average earn less than men, there will be women within higher-income households effectively living in poverty.


*For ‘poverty’ we use the DWP figures for households below 60 per cent of contemporary median household income after housing costs, as part of their HBAI statistics series.

Dr Sara Reis is research and policy officer at the Women’s Budget Group

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