Under embargo until: 22.00hrs 1 July 2008
Minimum living standards: public consultation shows what people find acceptable
According to members of the public, a single person in Britain today needs to earn at least £13,400 a year before tax to afford a basic but acceptable standard of living. This “minimum income standard”, based on the extensive deliberations of ordinary people supported by experts, shows the cost of covering basic goods and services for different household types.
A minimum income standard for Britain: What people think, published today (1 July), by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, captures the consensus reached among ordinary people (on a range of incomes) about what they feel is needed to achieve an acceptable standard of living today. Thirty-nine groups from different kinds of household (such as families with children, pensioners and single people) had detailed discussions about the necessary elements of a household budget for each family type. Experts looked at these budgets to ensure that they provided an adequate diet and met basic needs like keeping a home warm.
Participants in this study were clear that a minimum living standard should provide for more than mere survival. One older woman taking part in the research summed up this view: “Food and shelter keeps you alive, it doesn’t make you live.” Findings from this extensive consultation with members of the public showed that:
- A single person without children needs to spend £158 a week, and a couple with two children £370 a week, not including rent or mortgage.
- To afford this budget on top of rent on a modest council home, the single person would need to earn £13,400 a year before tax and the couple with two children £26,800.
- For families with no adult working, state benefits provide for less than half the minimum budget for single people and around two-thirds for those with children. The basic state pension provides a retired couple with about three-quarters of the minimum, but if they claim the means-tested Pension Credit their income is topped up to just above the minimum income standard.
- The minimum income is above the official “poverty line” of 60% median income, for nearly all household groups. This shows that almost everybody classified as being in poverty has income too low to pay for a standard of living regarded as “adequate” by all members of the public who took part in this research.
Julia Unwin, Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “This research is designed to encourage debate, and to start building a public consensus about what level of income no-one should have to live below. Of course, everyone has their own views about what items in a family budget are ‘essential’. But this is the best effort to date to enable ordinary people to discuss and agree what all households should be able to afford.
“Naturally, people’s circumstances and preferences vary, and this research does not dictate how people should spend their money. But it does start to pin down how much people think is needed to be able to afford basic opportunities and choices that allow proper participation in society.”
Co-author Jonathan Bradshaw, Professor of Social Policy at the University of York, said: “Until now, poverty assessments have been largely based on rather arbitrary measures of relative income, which are helpful for monitoring trends but leave unanswered the question of how much income is enough. Based on these public assessments, almost everyone defined as living below the official poverty line falls short of what people judge to be adequate for their fellow citizens – sometimes by quite a long way.”
Co-author Noel Smith, from the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, said: “This study has allowed us to engage in detailed and productive discussions with people from all walks of life about what anyone should be able to afford. These groups have taken their task very seriously, in lively and thoughtful discussions about all aspects of a household’s spending. This is not about what ordinary people would like to have, but about what they consider to be basic needs.”
Notes to Editors:
- The full report, A minimum income standard for Britain: What people think, by Jonathan Bradshaw, Sue Middleton, Abigail Davis, Nina Oldfield, Noel Smith, Linda Cusworth and Julie Williams is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. More information is available at www.minimumincomestandard.org
- The whole consultation process with members of the public was based on the following definition which was agreed by an initial set of groups: “A minimum standard of living in Britain today includes, but is more than just, food, clothes and shelter. It is about having what you need in order to have the opportunities and choices necessary to participate in society.”
- The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is one of the largest social policy research and development charities in the UK. It supports a research and development programme that seeks to understand the causes of social difficulties and explore ways of overcoming them.
Issued by Nasreen Memon, JRF Head of Media: 01904 615 919 / 020 7278 9665