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Relative poverty in Great Britain and the United States, 1979–2017

Journal article

This paper examines the major changes to the face of poverty in Great Britain over the past few decades, assessing the role of policy, and compares and contrasts this with the patterns seen in the United States, using harmonised household survey data. There are various commonalities between the countries, including a shift in the composition of those in poverty towards working‐age households without children, who have not been the focus of policy attention. There are also big differences, with a steadily increasing share of poverty in Great Britain – but a stable share in the United States – found in households with an adult in paid work. This perhaps explains why the anti‐poverty focus in Great Britain is now squarely on the plight of working households, while in the United States it is focused on labour force participation among the low skilled – even though, as we show, the United States has, for decades, been accustomed to in‐work poverty comprising a significantly higher proportion of overall poverty than in Great Britain.

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IFS Working Paper W10/23
Current and future governments are committed to reducing the rate of relative income child poverty in the UK to 10% by 2020-21. This paper looks in detail at the progress made towards this goal under the previous Labour administrations.
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Journal article
We document that households in the UK with extremely low measured income tend to spend much more than those with merely moderately low income. This phenomenon is evident throughout three decades worth of microdata and across different employment states, levels of education and marital statuses.