A Scottish Government Official Statistics publication

Published on 25 March 2021

This publication presents estimates of the proportion of people, children, working-age adults and pensioners living in persistent poverty in Scotland and in the other countries in the UK. The estimates are used to monitor progress in reducing poverty.

The latest persistent poverty estimates relate to the period between January 2015 and December 2019, before the first UK-wide lockdown due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Therefore, these statistics do not yet tell us anything about the impact of the pandemic on persistent poverty.

Key points

The statistics in this report provide information on persistent poverty in Scotland. They are taken from the Understanding Society survey and so, as is true for all statistics derived from survey data, the statistics are subject to a degree of uncertainty. This means that implied changes over the years and between UK countries may not be statistically significant and instead be within a given error range. More information can be found in the Methodology section.

Some estimates from previous years have been improved and will therefore differ between publications. The latest publication provides the most accurate estimates.

In Scotland, between 2015 and 2019, 12% of people were in persistent poverty after housing costs. Broken down by age group, this means:

  • 16% of children were in persistent poverty after housing costs. Children have consistently had a higher risk of living in persistent poverty after housing costs than working-age adults and pensioners.
  • 11% of working-age adults were in persistent poverty after housing costs.
  • 12% of pensioners were in persistent poverty after housing costs.

Scotland compared to other UK countries between 2015 and 2019:

  • When looking at the overall population, Scotland had levels of persistent poverty after housing costs similar to Wales (both 12%) and England (13%), and slightly higher than Northern Ireland (9%).
  • The persistent child poverty rates after housing costs in Scotland (16%) and Wales (15%) were slightly higher than in Northern Ireland (12%), and slightly lower than in England (19%).
  • Persistent poverty rates for working-age adults were similar (between 9% and 12%) in all countries.
  • Persistent pensioner poverty levels after housing costs in Scotland (12%) were similar compared to England and Wales (both 11%) and higher than in Northern Ireland (6%).

What you need to know

Poverty can be measured in a number of different ways, each of which can tell us something different about poverty. One of the most common measures is relative (income) poverty which identifies people living in households with an equivalised income below 60% of the UK median household income. It therefore measures whether those in the lowest income households are keeping pace with the growth of incomes in the economy as a whole. Statistics on relative poverty in Scotland can be found in the Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland report.

Persistent poverty identifies individuals who live in relative poverty for three or more of the last four years.

It therefore identifies people who have been living in poverty for a significant period of time, which is more damaging than brief periods spent with a low income. The impacts can affect an individual throughout their lifetime.

This publication presents persistent poverty estimates for five overlapping periods from 2010-2014 to 2015-2019. More information can be found in the Methodology section.

Data source and methodology

The estimates in this report come from the Understanding Society survey, a longitudinal survey with longitudinal information about over 2,300 individuals in Scotland in 2018-2019. The survey is conducted by the University of Essex, and persistent poverty estimates are calculated by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) for the annual Income Dynamics publication. Information on the method used to calculate persistent poverty estimates can be found in the Methodology section, and in more detail on the UK government webpages.

Surveys gather information from a sample rather than from the whole population. Results from sample surveys are always estimates, not precise figures. This means that they are subject to a margin of error which can affect how changes in the numbers should be interpreted, especially in the short-term. Year-on-year movements should be treated with caution. We are unable to calculate sampling uncertainties for these statistics, but please note that small changes are unlikely to be statistically significant.

Revisions to the statistics

Work is ongoing to improve the income estimates and impute missing data, and therefore the estimates presented here will continue to be subject to routine revisions, as with figures based on longitudinal data in general.

The statistics presented below are subject to a degree of uncertainty. This means that implied changes over the years and between countries may not be statistically significant and instead be within a given error range. More information can be found in the Methodology section.

Persistent poverty

Someone is in persistent poverty if they have been in poverty for three or more of the last four years. This measure is important because the longer someone is in poverty, the more it impacts on their health, well-being, and overall life chances.

Poverty estimates in this publication are derived by looking at household income before housing costs are paid for (BHC) and after housing costs are paid for (AHC). In Scotland, after-housing-costs poverty indicators are more commonly used.

All individuals

  • Between 2015 and 2019, 12% of people in Scotland were in persistent poverty after housing costs, the same as in the previous period (2014-2018).
  • Scotland had levels of persistent poverty after housing costs that were similar to Wales (both 12%) and England (13%), and slightly higher than Northern Ireland (9%).

After housing costs

Figure 1: Proportion of people in persistent poverty after housing costs by UK country

Before housing costs

Figure 2: Proportion of people in persistent poverty before housing costs by UK country

Tables

Table 1: Proportion of people in persistent poverty after housing costs
Period Scotland England Wales Northern Ireland UK
2010-2014 10% 13% 14% 11% 13%
2011-2015 10% 13% 13% 11% 13%
2012-2016 10% 13% 13% 11% 13%
2013-2017 11% 14% 13% 10% 13%
2014-2018 12% 13% 13% 11% 13%
2015-2019 12% 13% 12% 9% 13%
Source: Understanding Society Survey
Table 2: Proportion of people in persistent poverty before housing costs
Period Scotland England Wales Northern Ireland UK
2010-2014 7% 9% 10% 9% 9%
2011-2015 7% 9% 11% 9% 9%
2012-2016 8% 9% 10% 9% 9%
2013-2017 8% 9% 11% 9% 9%
2014-2018 9% 9% 11% 10% 9%
2015-2019 9% 9% 10% 8% 9%
Source: Understanding Society Survey

Children

  • 16% of children in Scotland were in persistent poverty after housing costs in 2015-2019, compared to 15% in the previous period.
  • Children have consistently had the highest risk of living in persistent poverty when comparing with working-age adults and pensioners, both before and after housing costs.
  • The persistent child poverty rate after housing costs in Scotland (16% in 2015-2019) and Wales (15%) was slightly higher than in Northern Ireland (12%), and slightly lower than in England (19%).

After housing costs

Figure 3: Proportion of children in persistent poverty after housing costs by UK country

Before housing costs

Figure 4: Proportion of children in persistent poverty before housing costs by UK country

Tables

Table 3: Proportion of children in persistent poverty after housing costs
Period Scotland England Wales Northern Ireland UK
2010-2014 14% 18% 21% 16% 18%
2011-2015 14% 18% 22% 16% 18%
2012-2016 13% 19% 20% 17% 19%
2013-2017 16% 20% 20% 14% 19%
2014-2018 15% 19% 19% 16% 19%
2015-2019 16% 19% 15% 12% 19%
Source: Understanding Society Survey
Table 4: Proportion of children in persistent poverty before housing costs
Period Scotland England Wales Northern Ireland UK
2010-2014 9% 11% 14% 11% 11%
2011-2015 8% 11% 15% 10% 11%
2012-2016 9% 11% 14% 12% 11%
2013-2017 8% 12% 15% 10% 12%
2014-2018 10% 12% 16% 12% 12%
2015-2019 9% 12% 11% 10% 12%
Source: Understanding Society Survey

Working-age adults

  • Between 2015 and 2019, 11% of working-age adults in Scotland were in persistent poverty after housing costs, unchanged from the previous period.
  • Persistent poverty rates for working-age adults were similar (between 9% and 12%) in all countries.

After housing costs

Figure 5: Proportion of working-age adults in persistent poverty after housing costs by UK country

Before housing costs

Figure 6: Proportion of working-age adults in persistent poverty before housing costs by UK country

Tables

Table 5: Proportion of working-age adults in persistent poverty after housing costs
Period Scotland England Wales Northern Ireland UK
2010-2014 9% 12% 13% 10% 12%
2011-2015 9% 12% 12% 10% 11%
2012-2016 9% 12% 11% 10% 12%
2013-2017 10% 12% 11% 10% 12%
2014-2018 11% 12% 12% 10% 11%
2015-2019 11% 11% 12% 9% 11%
Source: Understanding Society Survey
Table 6: Proportion of working-age adults in persistent poverty before housing costs
Period Scotland England Wales Northern Ireland UK
2010-2014 6% 7% 9% 7% 7%
2011-2015 6% 7% 9% 7% 7%
2012-2016 6% 7% 9% 7% 7%
2013-2017 6% 7% 9% 9% 7%
2014-2018 8% 7% 9% 9% 7%
2015-2019 8% 7% 9% 8% 8%
Source: Understanding Society Survey

Pensioners

  • Between 2015 and 2019, 12% of pensioners in Scotland were in persistent poverty after housing costs, unchanged from the previous period.
  • For most groups of the population, the persistent poverty rate after housing costs is greater or the same than that before housing costs. For pensioners, however, the opposite is often true, or the rates are very similar. The majority of pensioners own their own home and so have lower housing costs.
  • Between 2015 and 2019, persistent pensioner poverty levels after housing costs in Scotland (12%) were similar compared to England and Wales (both 11%) and higher than in Northern Ireland (6%).

After housing costs

Figure 7: Proportion of pensioners in persistent poverty after housing costs by UK country

Before housing costs

Figure 8: Proportion of pensioners in persistent poverty before housing costs by UK country

Tables

Table 7: Proportion of pensioners in persistent poverty after housing costs
Period Scotland England Wales Northern Ireland UK
2010-2014 8% 11% 8% 8% 10%
2011-2015 9% 11% 9% 8% 11%
2012-2016 10% 11% 9% 8% 10%
2013-2017 10% 11% 10% 6% 11%
2014-2018 12% 11% 10% 5% 11%
2015-2019 12% 11% 11% 6% 11%
Source: Understanding Society Survey
Table 8: Proportion of pensioners in persistent poverty before housing costs
Period Scotland England Wales Northern Ireland UK
2010-2014 9% 13% 9% 14% 12%
2011-2015 10% 12% 10% 11% 12%
2012-2016 11% 11% 10% 9% 11%
2013-2017 11% 12% 11% 9% 11%
2014-2018 13% 11% 12% 9% 11%
2015-2019 12% 12% 11% 9% 12%
Source: Understanding Society Survey

Methodology

This section provides key information on the methodology used to produce persistent poverty statistics. A more detailed methodological paper is available from the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) website.

Data source

The estimates in this publication are derived from the Understanding Society survey. Understanding Society is a large scale longitudinal survey that captures information about people’s social and economic circumstances, attitudes, behaviours and health. Being longitudinal, the same individuals are interviewed each year allowing identification of those who have been in poverty over a number of years rather than just at a single point in time.

Comparison with other sources

Poverty estimates presented in the Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland report come from a different source – DWP’s Households Below Average Income dataset which is produced from the Family Resources Survey (FRS). This is the best source of household income data available in the UK. However, it does not track individuals or households over time and so cannot be used to calculate persistent poverty rates.

The FRS and Understanding Society use different income definitions and cover different time periods, and so figures which come from the two surveys are not comparable with each other. It should also be noted that an individual can be in persistent poverty without being in relative poverty in the most recent year (if they were in relative poverty in the three previous years), and so those in persistent poverty are not simply a sub-group of those in relative poverty.

Housing costs

This publication presents analyses on two bases: before housing costs (BHC) and after housing costs (AHC). This is to take into account variations in housing costs.

Time periods

This publication presents persistent poverty rates for six overlapping periods:

  • 2010-2011 to 2013-2014 (2010-2014)
  • 2011-2012 to 2014-2015 (2011-2015)
  • 2012-2013 to 2015-2016 (2012-2016)
  • 2013-2014 to 2016-2017 (2013-2017)
  • 2014-2015 to 2017-2018 (2014-2018)
  • 2015-2016 to 2018-2019 (2015-2019)

Persistent poverty statistics are based on tracking an individual over a four-year period. Each set of results are therefore based on four waves of the Understanding Society survey. This publication presents persistent poverty statistics based on waves 2-5, waves 3-6, waves 4-7, waves 5-8, waves 6-9, and waves 7-10. Each wave of interviews is conducted over a two-year period as shown in the table below.

An individual is in persistent poverty if they are in relative poverty for at least three years in any four-year period. This means that the same individual can be in persistent poverty in all, any or none of the time periods covered in this publication.

Table 9: Data collection years covered in each persistent poverty reporting period
Wave Start year End year In 2010-2014 statistics? In 2011-2015 statistics? In 2012-2016 statistics? In 2013-2017 statistics? In 2014-2018 statistics? In 2015-2019 statistics?
1 2009 2010 no no no no no no
2 2010 2011 yes no no no no no
3 2011 2012 yes yes no no no no
4 2012 2013 yes yes yes no no no
5 2013 2014 yes yes yes yes no no
6 2014 2015 no yes yes yes yes no
7 2015 2016 no no yes yes yes yes
8 2016 2017 no no no yes yes yes
9 2017 2018 no no no no yes yes
10 2018 2019 no no no no no yes

There are known issues with the income information in the first Understanding Society wave covering 2009-2010. See Paul Fisher’s paper Does repeated measurement improve income data quality? (ISER Working Paper Series, 2016-11) for details of why income data on the first wave of Understanding Society are not comparable with subsequent waves and are likely to be of lower quality. The first wave has therefore been excluded from any analysis presented in this publication.

Population coverage

Understanding Society is a survey of private households (although it does collect information from households about their children if a child has moved into an institution). This means that people who were in residential institutions, such as nursing homes, barracks, prisons or university halls of residence at the start of the survey are excluded from the scope of the analysis presented here.

Reliability of estimates

The figures are estimates based on sample surveys and are therefore subject to sampling variation. Caution should be exercised in the interpretation of small year-on-year fluctuations.

As with most longitudinal surveys, attrition reduces the Understanding Society sample size over time. As well as attrition reducing the sample size, we have missing data for many of the variables we are using in the analysis. We exclude individuals with missing data from relevant analysis, but include individuals whenever we can. Weights have been applied which adjust for unequal selection probabilities, differential non-response, and potential sampling error.

Some estimates from previous years have been improved and will therefore differ between publications. The latest publication provides the most accurate estimates.

Sample sizes

Table 10: Sample sizes for Scotland
Period People Children Working-age adults Pensioners
2010-2014 3,943 973 2,175 795
2011-2015 3,392 792 1,876 724
2012-2016 3,037 687 1,667 683
2013-2017 2,765 616 1,495 654
2014-2018 2,516 528 1,367 621
2015-2019 2,355 474 1,290 591
Source: Understanding Society Survey

Age groups

Whether an individual is counted as a child, working-age adult or pensioner is determined by their age during the first survey period. So, for example, an individual aged 15 in 2011 and aged 19 in 2015 will be counted as a child for the 2011-15 period.

Definitions

Measures of income

The income used to determine persistent poverty in this publication includes:

  • Labour income – usual pay and self-employment earnings. Includes income from second jobs.
  • Miscellaneous income – educational grants, payments from family members and any other regular payment
  • Private benefit income – includes trade union/friendly society payments, maintenance or alimony and sickness or accident insurance
  • Investment income – private pensions/annuities, rents received, income from savings and investments
  • Pension income – occupational pensions income
  • State support – tax credits and all state benefits including State Pension

Income is net of the following items:

  • income tax payments;
  • National Insurance contributions;
  • domestic rates / council tax;

Income is adjusted for household size and composition by means of equivalence scales, which reflect the extent to which households of different size and composition require a different level of income to achieve the same standard of living. This adjusted income is referred to as equivalised income (see definition below for more information on equivalisation).

Income after housing costs (AHC) is derived by deducting a measure of housing costs derived from mortgage and rents from the above income measure.

Equivalisation

Equivalisation is the process by which household income is adjusted to make it comparable across households of different size and composition. This reflects the fact that a bigger household requires more money than a smaller one to achieve the same standard of living. Further information on equivalisation can be found on the Scottish Government poverty methodology webpages

Find more information

Further analysis

The headline poverty and income inequality statistics can be found in the latest Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland report. Further analysis published throughout the year are available on the Scottish Government poverty analysis website

Additional analysis themes are based on the needs of users. If you have any suggestions for future analysis please contact us.

UK Government websites

Official Statistics

Official and National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. Both undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs and are produced free from any political interference.

Access source data

The data collected for this statistical bulletin cannot be made available by Scottish Government for further analysis, as the Scottish Government is not the data controller. However, the data controller (the University of Essex, Institute for Social and Economic Research) are making the data available through the UK Data Service.

Contact

For enquiries about this publication please contact the lead statistician.

Maike Waldmann
Communities Analysis Division

Adress

The Scottish Government
Communities Analysis Division
Area 2H North
Victoria Quay
Edinburgh EH6 6QQ

Phone

0131 244 5851

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