The UK will not meet its own commitment to halve poverty by 2030, projections show, as progress stalls and current economic conditions are more likely to lead to an increase in the number of people living in poverty.
In an appearance at the UN General Assembly in New York last week, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden called on more nations to commit to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to reduce poverty and inequality and improve health and the environment globally. They were adopted in 2015 and commit every governmental signatory to a number of targets and indicators, including cutting the number of people living in poverty by more than half, according to national measures, by 2030.
Eight years on, Resolution Foundation’s Half Time report charts the UK’s progress against the target, projecting that small declines in the number of people living in poverty between 2015 and 2021 will be overturned, anticipating increasing numbers of people in poverty as 2030 approaches.
While poverty fell from 20 per cent to 17 per cent between 2015 and 2021, per government data, much of this is attributed to temporary financial support to help households through the Covid-19 pandemic. For the past two years, the number of people in poverty has risen and Resolution Foundation expects this to continue to 2030. This would mean an eight per cent reduction in poverty – some way off the 50 per cent goal.
Their projections for the numbers of children experiencing poverty are worse still, with the 2030 level projected to be higher than in 2015. When the target was announced, 27 per cent of children were identified as living in poverty. A slight rise between 2021-23 is expected to worsen and reach as high as 28 per cent in seven years’ time.
The SDGs recognise that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality and tackle the climate crisis. Following the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), they were intended as an urgent call for action by all countries, in a global partnership.
High-income countries including the UK committed to work in partnership with low and middle-income countries to support them to meet the SDGs, alongside meeting these goals themselves.
Poverty is a major driver of health inequalities. People living in the most disadvantaged parts of the UK are far less likely to have access to key building blocks of health including affordable, safe and good quality homes, adequate and healthy food and a decent income. Health inequalities are rising in Britain while life expectancy is falling, fastest in the most disadvantaged communities. This is, in part, because wages have not kept pace with inflation while the price of essentials has sharply increased. Living standards in the UK have fallen behind other European and North American countries too, and figures from Equality Trust show that the UK also has far greater income inequality than its peers.
Resolution Foundation attributes their outlook to the energy shock that led to higher bill prices, the reduction in welfare – including the two-child limit and frozen housing support – increased housing costs and growing food insecurity. They call for major policy changes in these areas to reverse current trends.
The government measurement of the poverty line is noteworthy because it is fixed against median income from 2010-11 and adjusted for inflation. Updating this to reflect relative poverty in 2015, for example, and setting the line relative to current median income, would likely mean far more people deemed to be living in poverty. This would arguably be a better reflection of the state of the nation but would leave the government even further behind their SDG target. Under this more accurate metric, halving poverty would mean narrowing inequalities to levels last seen before 1970. Even against the more favourable 2010-11 benchmark, however, the government has fallen behind.
Resolution Foundation states that although the task of halving poverty is challenging, it is not impossible, even with the limited progress the UK has made. Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy and Scotland’s goal of reaching 5 per cent child poverty by 2030 are cited as positive examples of strategies that could be implemented in the next parliament that would bring the UK nearer to its goal.