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Discussion and analysis of the number of people in a household where income is less than 60% of the UK median.

First published:
22 March 2018
Last updated:

Latest release

What is relative income poverty?

We define a person to be living in relative income poverty if he or she is living in a household where the total household income from all sources is less than 60 per cent of the average UK household income (as given by the median).

This means that relative income poverty is a measure of income inequality, not a direct measure of living standards.

For more information on what relative income poverty means, please see our 'What is relative income poverty?' presentation.

The data we have for relative income poverty comes from the Households Below Average Income (HBAI) report published by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

The headline figure for Wales from this report is the percentage of all individuals in Wales who were living in relative income poverty – this is a national indicator which means it is used to measure progress being made in Wales towards the achievement of the 7 well-being goals.

This indicator is associated with a national milestone: Reduce the poverty gap between people in Wales with certain key and protected characteristics (which mean they are most likely to be in poverty) and those without those characteristics by 2035. Commit to setting a stretching target for 2050.

This data uses equivalised disposable household income.

This data is available from the financial year 1994-95, for UK countries and regions of England by different age groups (all individuals, children, working-age adults and pensioners).

We also carry out extra analysis (StatsWales) to consider economic, family, ethnicity and disability characteristics.

What to keep in mind when interpreting these statistics

Impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic analysis of the HBAI data below UK level is not recommended using the FYE 2021 data as the combination of smaller sample sizes and additional bias means it is not possible to make meaningful statistical assessments of trends and changes in FYE 2021 compared to the pre-coronavirus level.

Data points that span FYE 2021 period do not include the FYE 2021 survey data in calculations, as it is judged to be of low quality. This means that some real changes that happened to incomes, such as the furlough scheme or the temporary increase of Universal Credit are only partially captured in the time series.

Data collected for FYE 2022 was also affected by the coronavirus pandemic however following extensive analysis the DWP are content that levels of bias in the data resulting from the mode change are lower than for FYE 2021 and have less influence on the statistics. We judge the FYE 2022 HBAI data quality to be robust however caution is advised when making comparisons with previous years and interpreting larger changes.

While FRS fieldwork operations were not identical to pre-pandemic in FYE 2023, they gradually returned throughout the year to something much closer to that than the period spanning the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, when telephone interviewing only was used. The mode of interview for the FRS during FYE 2023 returned to face-to-face by default, with telephone used as an alternative by 28% of sampled households (across the UK).

Small sample

These figures are based on results from the Family Resources Survey (FRS) which samples around 900 households in Wales every year. This is quite a small sample and that is why three or more years of data are rolled together to give multi year moving averages. For example, a three-year average is an average of the latest year and the previous two years. This way any unreliability in the single-year estimates is reduced, but it is not eliminated.

Many factors drive change

Movements in these figures are driven by changes in the wider economy, the labour market, the tax/ benefit system and the relative effects of these changes on different groups. Therefore, as there are a large number of complex and interacting factors it is difficult to assess exactly which changes have driven movements in these figures or to predict how things may change in future.

Different costs of living

The use of the UK median in the relative income poverty measure, allows us to compare Wales to other similar UK regions. However, as the cost of living in Wales tends to be below what it is in other areas of the UK, the figures for Wales may suggest the standard of living in Wales is lower than it actually is.  

No statistical significance

None of the changes over time in the headline relative income poverty figures are statistically significant. We advise caution when looking at year on year changes, with longer term trends often giving a clearer picture.

Also, when comparing relative income poverty estimates of different groups of people, bear in mind the likely wide confidence intervals due to small sample sizes. We are working on methodology to allow us to estimate these confidence intervals in future.

Rounded data

All figures shown are rounded to the nearest 10 thousand individuals or whole percentage point.