Foreign-born people and poverty in the UK
Author: Ceri Hughes and Peter Kenway, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Date: 31 October 2016
Type of case study: Research
About the research
This research was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) to find out about the experience of poverty for people who have moved to the UK. Carried out by Ceri Hughes and Dr Peter Kenway from the New Policy Institute and published in July 2016, this research used the Family Resources Survey to analyse migrants' experiences of poverty and to compare them with the experiences of UK-born people.
Public understanding about the people who migrate to the UK is often reported solely in terms of the number of people coming in and out of the country and the impact this has on resources and public services. Although the plight of vulnerable asylum seekers arriving in the UK receives more attention, little research has been carried out on the poverty levels of the overall migrant population of the UK. This research was commissioned to give a broader view on poverty and to help inform policy decisions on poverty in the UK.
The research found that there were on average 7.7 million foreign-born people living in the UK between 2011 and 2014, with the vast majority of them being adults. Those moving to the UK tended to be young adults, who arrived between the ages of 16 and 30, and most of the foreign-born population were of working age. Whilst the poverty rate for the UK-born population is 19%, the poverty rate for the foreign-born population was much higher at 32%.
The report authors suggest several possible reasons for this difference in poverty levels, including the following:
This research analyses data collected between 2011/12 and 2013/14 by the Family Resources Survey, a continuous survey that was launched in 1992 to meet the information requirements for the Department for Work and Pensions. The study also uses the Households Below Average Income (HBAI) data series derived from the Family Resources Survey which charts household disposable incomes, after adjusting for the household size and composition, as a measure for material living standards. More precisely, it is a measure for the level of consumption of goods and services that people could attain given the disposable income of the household in which they live. In order to allow comparisons of the living standards of different types of households, income is adjusted to take into account variations in the size and composition of the households in a process known as equivalisation. A key assumption made in HBAI is that all individuals in the household benefit equally from the combined income of the household. This enables the total equivalised income of the household to be used as a proxy for the standard of living of each household member.
Findings for policy:
The report shows that, on average over the three year period to 2013/14:
The report particularly highlights two groups that policy intervention could help, children of foreign-born parents, who have a poverty rate of almost double that of children who have UK-born parents, and migrants who stay in the UK for several decades. The difference in living standards between UK-born people and long-term migrants to the UK suggests that even though they have been resident in the UK for many years, this group are still facing barriers to accessing the support and opportunities that UK-born people view as normal.
The research informed JRF’s comprehensive report, UK poverty: Causes, costs and solutions, which presents the evidence for JRF's strategy to solve UK poverty.
Read the report: