Some believe poverty is the result of the choices people make in their lives. However, the evidence to support behavioural explanations of poverty is limited at best.

Drugs and alcohol dependency

  • Drug and alcohol misuse is often given as a reason why people live in poverty.
  • While it is sensible to assume that people who do misuse drugs and alcohol find it challenging to function in the workplace and other areas of life, the statistics show that such behaviour is far from typical for low income families.
  • A 2008 Government study estimated that 6.6 per cent of the total number of benefit claimants in England were problem drug users.1
  • While drug misuse may prove to be a key reason this group of people finds it hard to escape poverty, it clearly has no explanatory power for the other 93.4 per cent of claimants.

Family breakdown

  • It is true to say that lone parents are at a higher risk of living in poverty than average but family breakdown again provides an inadequate explanation of poverty in the UK.
  • In 2009/10, HBAI shows that 63 per cent of children in poverty lived in families with two parents.
  • A recent study has also shown that marriage does not offer a solution to poverty. Instead, factors such as the lack of affordable childcare and flexible jobs offer more plausible reasons why many lone parent families struggle to make ends meet.

Benefit dependency

  • Some claim that the UK benefits system has created a culture of dependency and as a result, claimants are reluctant to help themselves by looking for work.
  • In fact, the inadequacy of benefits tells us much about the financial incentives that claimants have to look for work.
  • Data also shows that many claimants rely on benefits for only short periods of time. For example, 67 per cent of Jobseekers Allowance claimants find work within 6 months while a further 22 per cent are no longer claiming benefits after 12 months.2
  • Recent Department for Work and Pensions focus group research offers an interesting insight into job-seeking behaviour of a sample of claimants.3 It showed that while 22 per cent of the group were not actively looking for work, half of these dedicated their energies instead to their families, a statistic that speaks to other types of important work that claimants may undertake but which has no monetary value.
  • 1. G Hay and L Bauld, Population Estimates of Problematic Drug Users in England Who Access DWP Benefits: A Feasibility Study, DWP Working Paper No 46 2008
  • 2. See ONS wesbite for up to date claimant count figures
  • 3. DWP, Beliefs About Work: An Attitutidinal Segmentation of Out-of-work People in Great Britain, Research Report 1, DWP Customer Insight Team 2011