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UK Poverty 2020-21

Evidence type: Review i


The report was published in January 2021, at which time the world was still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. It looks at poverty, which can be defined in many ways, but for the purposes of the report is defined as relative poverty after housing costs, i.e. where someone’s household income is below 60% of the middle household’s income, adjusted for family size and composition. The report aims to look at the impact of the pandemic on poverty in the UK, in order to understand how those already living in poverty, and those who have fallen into poverty, have fared since the start of the pandemic.

The study

This is the 2020/21 edition of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s (JRF) annual report on the nature and scale of poverty across the UK and how it affects people. It conducts analysis based on a variety of data sources and reports published since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, as well as the latest poverty data collected before the coronavirus outbreak, together with insights from members of JRF’s Grassroots Poverty Action Group, who have direct experience of living on a low income. It examines overall changes to poverty, with sections looking at the impact of work, the social security system and housing. The JRF is an independent social change organisation working to solve UK poverty.

Key findings

Key findings include the following:

Before coronavirus, 14.5 million people in the UK were caught up in poverty. Child poverty and in-work poverty had been on the rise for several years and some groups were disproportionately likely to be pulled into poverty. Many of those groups have also borne the brunt of the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. These include:

  • Part-time and low-paid workers
  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic households
  • Lone parents – mostly women, many of whom work in hard-hit
  • Private renters, who have higher housing costs, and social renters, who tend to have lower incomes
  • Areas of the UK where there were already higher levels of unemployment, poverty and deprivation

The authors state that they cannot be sure what happened to overall poverty levels in the first phase of the coronavirus outbreak, when the furlough scheme and temporary benefit uplift were both in place, but that it is clear that poverty will increase if this government support is removed from April 2021, as the UK faces much higher unemployment than pre-coronavirus, as well as the continuing uncertain impact of the end of the Brexit transition period.

Points to consider

  • Methodological strengths/weaknesses: There are few methodological details given in this report, so it is hard to judge the strengths and limitations.
    • The report refers to ‘The latest poverty data, which covers April 2018 to March 2019. However it isn’t made clear anywhere what the source of that data is.
    • Throughout the report there are references to ‘data shows’ without a clear link or a reference to where that data came from. However, other mentions of specific statistics or data points are more clearly referenced.
    • In places the report refers to ‘JRF analysis’ of data, but without giving any further details.
    • The authors state that their approach to each section in the report is ‘to start by giving a basic update of what the 2018/19 data tells us.’ They go on to say that in order to bring the analysis up to date, they will be using ‘lots of different datasets’ and that these will vary by quality.
    • The only information given about the qualitative insight element of this report was that JRF worked alongside a diverse group of people with direct experience of living on a low income who shared experiences of the effect that COVID-19 was having on low-income households and communities ‘as it happened’ over five sessions.
    • The references given are all to recent publications, either from JRF or other organisations dealing with poverty such as the Resolution Foundation, or from other reputable sources such as the Office of National Statistics. However there are no details given of how the sources were chosen and if any were excluded.
  • Generalisability/ transferability: Specific to the UK and government interventions in the UK.
  • Relevance: Topical and relevant, dealing with the impact of coronavirus on poverty in the UK.
    • This report is applicable to anyone with an interest in the impact of coronavirus on living standards, such government, support agencies, policy makers, policy implementers, regulators or educators.
    • The report is aimed at influencing government and policy makers, but anyone involved in working with low-income households in the UK would find this report useful as a source of recent statistics about poverty.

Key info

Client group
Year of publication
United Kingdom
Contact information

Evidence and Impact team at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

The Homestead, 40 Water End, York YO30 6WP

Joseph Rowntree Foundation