UK child poverty gaps increasing again

Post date: 
28 May 2018

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There has always been a debate in the world of poverty measurement about whether we should be more concerned about poverty rates (the proportion below a poverty threshold) or poverty gaps (how far people in poverty are below the poverty threshold). Is it better for a country to have many children a little way below the poverty threshold or few children below the poverty threshold, but a long way below it?

The UK has tended in the past to have comparatively high poverty rates but comparatively low poverty gaps. This has been thanks to a fairly comprehensive but quite low minimum income scheme. But since the recession our minimum income scheme has been undermined by benefit caps, the two child limit, the bedroom tax, local rent limits, real-terms cuts to benefit levels, the failure to uprate child tax credits and child benefits, the localisation of council tax benefit and sanctions.

The most recent Households Below Average Income (HBAI) government statistics for 2016-17 show an increase in child poverty rates (after housing costs). However the HBAI series have never included poverty gap data: for households below the poverty line, the average of how far their incomes are from the poverty threshold.

But poverty gaps are important, because they tell us about likely levels of hardship for those living below the poverty line. Poverty rates may be falling when poverty gaps are rising and vice versa. We have looked at trends in the poverty gaps for families with children from 2007/8 to 2016/17.