How are the data underpinning research and policy around poverty? (summer 2023)

Profile photo of James LockwoodIn this post we highlight some of the ways data in the UK Data Service collection is being used in research, reports and articles we’ve seen over the summer. 

It often feels like a day doesn’t pass without headlines around the cost of living, inflation rates and the difficulties many people are having to afford the basic necessities of life. Many of those most impacted by the turbulence we’ve all experienced over the past couple of years are those already struggling near or below the poverty line. This makes understanding poverty and finding ways to reduce it more important than ever.

Researchers, charities, politicians and many others rely on data to focus and underpin their efforts. The UK Data Service is in a unique position to make large amounts of high quality social, economic and population data available which can support people working in this area.

During 2023 and 2024, we will be drawing together, making connections and sharing examples of how the data in our collection is underpinning these efforts to make a difference. As part of this work we want to highlight the impact some of the data available via the UK Data Service is having in research, policy and public conversations around the areas of poverty, deprivation and the cost-of-living crisis. To do this we’ve pulled together some of research, reports and articles we’ve noted over the summer that make use of data available in the collection.

Labour Force Survey

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is one dataset that lends itself to use in analysis of wealth, poverty and related topics. It captures information on a quarterly basis from a representative sample and asks questions on a wide range of topics including employment status, health and education. In June, the UK Data Service hosted the Family Finance User Conference which included a presentation on how the LFS will be changing over the coming year. You can find the recordings of all of the presentations on the conference home page.

In July, the Benefit changes & Larger Families study recently released a report on the benefit cap and two-child limit and how it impacts larger families. This report utilised LFS data alongside data from the Family Resources Survey (FRS) and Understanding Society. The Work Foundation, based in Lancaster University, also used LFS data to highlight the Disability Gap and how insecure work can have negative impacts on people with disabilities.

With inflation still at high levels, and with national strikes taking place in many sectors over the past months, the topic of pay rises is a hot one. Data made available through the Service is being used in these debates, with The Progressive Policy Thinktank releasing a report stating that public sector employees could receive a 10% pay rise without it significantly impacting inflation. They utilised LFS data to demonstrate this in their research. This work is interesting in light of a report on GMB union research that also used LFS data to show claims by public sector workers in the Yorkshire and Humber region for Universal Credit rose by 220% between late 2019 and 2022.

Households Below Average Income

One of the most significant datasets for measuring poverty and deprivation in the UK is Households Below Average Income (HBAI) produced by the Department of Work and Pensions on an annual basis. The Joseph Roundtree Foundation (JRF), Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and researchers from the Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP) all made use of this dataset in work published over the summer.  JRF reported on the cost of debt for low-income households in the current cost-of-living crisis, whilst the study from the CRSP focussed on how the number of children in poverty is on the rise in working households.

The IFS have released several briefings and reports in the past few months that look at various aspects of poverty, the cost-of-living and deprivation. In their publication on Poverty they look at recent trends in poverty and government policies that tackle the issue, in this they use not just HBAI data but also the Living Costs and Food Survey. In their Living Standards and inequality report they examine trends in living standards with a focus on the impact of COVID-19. In this report they make use of many datasets which are available through the UK Data Service including the Annual Population Survey, English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, Family Expenditure Survey and FRS. Other reports from IFS made use of English Housing Survey and Family Expenditure Survey data to investigate housing quality and affordability for lower-income households and the FRS to look at how interest rate increases will affect people’s disposable income.

Wealth and Assets Survey

The Wealth and Assets Survey (WAS) is another dataset which gives insight into poverty in the UK. WAS has fed into work from the IFS on the characteristics and consequences of families with low levels of financial wealth as well as shedding light on the rising wealth gap in the UK. Data from this survey was also used as a comparison for a study looking into the Sunday Times Rich List to highlight wealth inequality and showing how the wealthiest people in the UK are continuing to get wealthier.

Understanding Society

The Understanding Society dataset can also give insights into wealth inequalities and poverty. A study from the London School of Economics found large ethnic differences in wealth at all levels of net worth, whilst one from the University of Milan investigated how community material deprivation is related to associational membership amongst neighbourhood residents.

Other data sets

Other datasets such as the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, released every quarter, helped show the impact the cost-of-living crises is having, with one in 20 adults running out of food and not being able to afford more during February to May 2023. The National Survey for Wales showed that more people were buying second-hand goods as cost-of-living crisis continues.

Poverty, housing and homelessness

Another impact theme that we are focussing on is Housing and homelessness in data. Whilst a stand alone piece of work, and a significant topic and issue in its own right, there is a clear overlap between the two themes (as well as with the third, Mental health in data). Studies and opinion pieces looking at the knock-on affects of people’s wealth and retirement decisions, the potential benefits of improving England’s poorest quality houses, the need for more social rent housing and the difficulties first-time buyers are facing all made use of English Housing Survey data.


As we continue to develop our Poverty in data work we will look to highlight important work and developments in the area that use data made available via the UK Data Service. You can head to our poverty in data homepage to keep track of this work. If you are someone working in this area or using data to underpin work and research, we would love to hear from you and to highlight your work, you can email us or message us on social media.

About the author

James Lockwood is Research Impact and Engagement Manager at the UK Data Service.

You can find more about the UK Data Service training and events on our website.

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