Official statistics tend to rely on a headcount approach to poverty measurement, distinguishing ‘the poor’ from the ‘non-poor’ on the basis of an anchored threshold. Invariably, this does little to engage with the gradations of material hardship affecting those living, to varying degrees, below the poverty line. In response, this paper interrogates an apparent flatlining in UK poverty to establish the changing profile of poverty, as well as those most affected by it. Drawing on the Family Resources survey, this paper reveals an increasing depth of poverty in the UK since 2010, with bifurcation observable in the living standards of different percentile groups below the poverty line. In addition, this paper demonstrates substantial compositional changes in the socio-demographic profile of (deep) poverty. Since 2010, the likelihood of falling into deep poverty has increased for women, children, larger families, Black people and those in full-time work. Within the context of COVID-19, I argue there is a need to re-think how we currently conceptualise poverty by better attending to internal heterogeneity within the broader analytical and methodological category of ‘the poor’. Doing so raises pressing questions about the prevailing modes of poverty measurement that tend to frame and delimit the social scientific analysis of poverty, as well as the policies deemed appropriate in tackling it.
How have changes to the benefits system affected low-income families over the last decade and what does this mean for their exposure to the economic fallout of COVID-19? What has happened to depth of poverty, particularly for the poorest BAME children? And what reform agenda does this set for social security beyond the pandemic?