Creating new poverty measures for the UK

We’re pleased to have worked with the Social Metrics Commission to develop a case study exploring their recently-developed poverty measure and the impact it is already having.

Currently, the UK has no official measures of poverty. Consequently, it is difficult to track policies, programmes and activities designed to reduce poverty and its causes, and efforts to improve the lives of those living in poverty.

The Social Metrics Commission was founded in 2016 to develop a new approach to poverty measurement for the UK, with the aim of developing metrics to better reflect the nature and experiences of poverty that different families in the UK have. Metrics which could be used to build a consensus around poverty measurement and action in the UK.

The commission published its first report in September 2018. The report was the first time this framework had been used to present a detailed picture of the nature of poverty in the UK. The commission used data from the Family Resources Survey, Households Below Average Income and Understanding Society to create the measure. The Commission’s findings suggested that the number of people in poverty in the UK was the same as previously thought. However, within this overall population, the Commission’s results suggested significant changes to the groups identified as being in poverty and also shed greater light on the depth, persistence, and Lived Experiences of poverty.

Birmingham city centre from above

Image: Birmingham city centre from above. Photo by Anthony Gilbert on Unsplash


The Commission has since published two annual reports, in July 2019 and July 2020, which included the latest available data as well as methodological updates. In December 2019, the Commission also published a report laying out a framework for how more accurate equivalisation scales could be developed. Most recently, in August 2020, they released a report detailing the likely scale and nature of poverty impacts coming from the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK.

In a post for the Data Impact blog earlier this year, the Commission shared how and why it had released the code underpinning the new poverty measure, so that can anyone can access it and build on their research.


The UK Government has committed to developing Experimental Statistics based on the measurement framework, and the Commission has supported the Department for Work and Pensions in developing these statistics. The Commission considers that these Experimental Statistics will be a major step towards their goal of developing official poverty statistics for the UK, which could then be used to guide policy development and action.

Case study

Matthew Oakley and Emily Harris of the Social Metrics Commission have kindly worked with us to develop a case study to elaborate on their research, findings and impact and reach.



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