Poverty can be defined and measured in various ways. The most commonly used approach is relative income poverty. Each household’s income, adjusted for family size, is compared to median income. (The median is the ‘middle’ income: half the population have more than the median and half have less.) Those with less than 60 per cent of median income are classified as poor. This ‘poverty line’ is the agreed international measure used throughout the European Union.

By this measure, in 2007–08:

  • 23 per cent of the UK population was in poverty – 13.5 million people;
  • 31 per cent of children were in families in poverty – 4 million children;
  • 18 per cent of pensioners were in poverty – 2 million people.

In 2007–08, a couple without children was considered to be poor if their weekly income after rent or mortgage was less than £199. The weekly poverty line for a couple with two children was £322 and for a single pensioner, £115.


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