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CASE News:
Review of UK Material Deprivation Measures – published by the Department for Work and Pensions

Published/Broadcast 21 March 2024

Material deprivation is one of the official measures of poverty in the UK.  In contrast to income-based measures which assess poverty risks based on whether or not household income is below a pre-determined poverty line, material deprivation measures take a more direct approach.  These measures use self-reported information on whether or not individuals can afford a selection of everyday items and activities which are deemed to be necessities.  Necessities are household and individual items or social activities which are considered to be necessary for a minimum acceptable standard of living in contemporary society.  

Changes in norms and average living standards mean that the items and activities which are considered to be necessary for a minimum acceptable standard of living also change over time.  For example, while most people are likely to consider that a reliable means of connecting to the internet at home is necessary today, this would not have been the case 20 or 30 years ago.  This means that necessities included in material deprivation measures need to be reviewed periodically.  

In December 2021 the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) commissioned the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at the LSE to conduct a review of the UK material deprivation measures.  The Review included assessing the need to update the necessities included in the UK measures for children, working age adults and pensioners and determining which items should be included in revised material deprivation measures.

To do this we conducted a literature review and qualitative research with a cross-section of people from across the UK.  This informed a set of test items which were included in the UK Family Resource Survey.  Analysis of these test items informed a set of recommendations on how the measures should be revised to reflect current perceptions on which items and activities are deemed to be necessary for a minimum acceptable standard of living in the UK today.  This information was combined with results from a series of statistical tests to identify the optimum combination of items and activities for children, working age adults and pensioners.

The Review recommended revising the UK material deprivation measures for children, working age adults and pensioners, along with improvements and standardisation in the methodology used to collect information on material deprivation in the Family Resources Survey.  Based on these recommended changes and before new estimates of material deprivation are published in Spring 2025, DWP will need to determine optimum poverty threshold(s), and whether or not to take on board recommendations made in the Review in relation to different approaches used to determine who is materially deprived, which headline series to publish in the Households Below Average Income (HBAI) series and whether to conduct, or commission, further research on a whole population material deprivation measure.

Items and activities in the revised material deprivation measures for working-age adults, children and pensioners are shown in the table below.

Table showing items and activities in the revised material deprivation measures for working-age adults, children and pensioners

The Review of UK Material Deprivation Measures was led by Abigail McKnight, Director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) and Associate Professorial Research Fellow at the LSE, working in collaboration with CASE colleagues Irene Bucelli, Tania Burchardt and Eleni Karagiannaki. The Review summary and full report have been published by the Department for Work and Pensions and are available at the government website