Today the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) is publishing its new measurement of poverty for the UK. This is significant because there is currently no official measurement of poverty for Britain and no agreed targets to reduce poverty. We all want to live in a society where we protect each other from harm andeveryone is able to meet their needs and improve their prospects. If we do not measure and understand who is in poverty, and why, then how can we deliver policies that reduce poverty effectively and focus on the most disadvantaged in our society?

That is why we established the SMC in 2016 as an independent commission, with the sole aim of developing new measures of poverty for the UK. We were clear from the start that we also needed to build a broad consensus around poverty measurement if we were to deliver concrete action and real progress in the fight against poverty. We have brought together poverty experts and thinkers from the left and right and after two and a half years of debate and rigorous analysis, we have united views and experiences of fifteen commissioners, and numerous data and analytical experts to produce a new metric.

For the first time, as well as looking at incomes, the new metric accounts for a range of inescapable costs that reduce people’s spending power, and the positive impact of people’s liquid assets on alleviating immediate poverty. These inescapable costs include childcare and the extra costs of living with a disability; rent or mortgage payments, which help to lock people in poverty.  The measure also includes liquid assets such as savings, stocks and shares, which can help to prevent people being swept into poverty when their income drops or they have unexpected expenses. The metric reflects accurately the realities and experience of living in poverty; and importantly it shows who is poor in Britain today.

There are many new findings in the report ( and we wanted to highlight four big things that struck us personally.

First, the report highlights groups of people in Britain that have previously been under-represented in official measures of poverty. The headline numbers are that 14.2 million people in the UK are living in poverty, comprising 8.4 million working-age adults, 4.5 million children and 1.4 million pensioners. Our metric calculates that nearly half of the 14.2 million people in poverty, live in families with a disabled person – that’s 6.9 million people equal to 48.3% of those in poverty.

The true costs of living with a disability have been overlooked for too long, and the new metric takes account of the  inescapable costs of disability, accounting for them alongside the value of disability benefits, to reflect the lived experience and costs of a disability.

Second, it shows families struggling to make ends meet when the inescapable costs of childcare and housing are included which can hit a family’s cash flow hard. Those families who lack a financial buffer to fall back on and have no liquid assets, are much more likely to be trapped in poverty. When previous measures focused on incomes only they did not adequately consider the impact that a lack of financial resilience, and high essential costs have on families’ lives. The Commission’s metric ends that oversight by developing a clear methodology that includes real costs, and therefore calculates net income.

This is common sense, and our research with the public demonstrates strong support for including these factors when considering poverty. In a survey of 1,675 representative UK adults, commissioned by the SMC and carried out by YouGov plc in August 2018, 84% of those with an opinion said that extra costs of disability should be included; 69% said that rent and mortgage costs should be included; 68% that childcare costs be included; and 68% that we should account for savings. Furthermore, 76% agreed that being disabled or having a mental or physical health condition makes a person’s experience of poverty worse. Whilst it is common sense, this is the first time that all these factors have been brought together into a coherent framework for understanding poverty.

Third, there are 7.7 million people living in persistent poverty which equates to more than half of those in poverty (58.2%). These people have spent all or most of the last four years (and more) in poverty. Persistence rates are particularly high for children and working-age adults who have resources far below the poverty line, live in workless families and families with a disabled person. We know that long periods in poverty can be particularly damaging to people’s lives and prospects. This is a significant concern and challenge.

Fourth, there is good news too; far fewer pensioners are living in poverty than previously thought, with a significant fall in pensioner poverty over the last 15 years. Poverty rates amongst pension-age adults have nearly halved since 2001, and have fallen to one in ten, a drop from 17% of the total population in poverty in 2001 to 11% in 2017. This is a tribute to all the hard work done to improve the lives of pensioners over the last two decades and shows that concerted policy action makes a big difference.

Many at this point will ask: what about the triple lock for pensioners, the generational balance of support and the level of investment in the welfare state? What is the balance between work as a way out of poverty and the support provided by social security and other public services? There will be many days to discuss and resolve these issues, but this is not that day. Today we are launching new measures that will hold those conversations and discussions to account. We want to put poverty at the heart of government policy-making and ensure that future decisions are made that tackle the long-term interest of those in poverty.

Of course, views on policy priorities will differ across the political spectrum. The most important thing now is that, as a country, we have a better understanding of the extent and nature of poverty, which we can all agree on. We truly believe that the Commission’s approach provides that understanding. We call on people and organisations across, and outside of, the political spectrum to support this work so that we can all move on and put our energy into loosening the grip of poverty across our country.

Baroness Stroud is chair of the Social Metrics Commission and CEO of  Legatum Institute

Campbell Robb is CEO at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation