1. Main facts and figures

  • between 2012 and 2016, people living in White households had the lowest rates of persistent low income out of all ethnic groups, both before and after housing costs were taken into account – persistent low income is defined as having 60% or less of the median (average) UK income in at least 3 out of 4 years
  • the highest rates of persistent low income were found among people living in Asian and Black households
  • in 2015 to 2016, the median (average) UK income for a couple with no children was £27,000 before housing costs like rent and mortgages were paid, and £23,000 after housing costs were paid
Things you need to know

Understanding Society is a ‘sample survey’. It collects information from a random sample of the population to make generalisations (reach 'findings') about the total population.

As with all surveys, the estimates from Understanding Society are subject to a degree of uncertainty as they are based on a sample of the population. The degree of uncertainty is greater when the number of respondents is small, so it will be highest for ethnic minority groups.

When analysing this data by age groups, the sample sizes become smaller and this makes some estimates unreliable (for example, pensioners living in households in the Mixed or Other ethnic groups). Where data is withheld because of small sample sizes, this is shown in the charts and tables.

Use caution when interpreting differences between groups, especially for small sub-groups like a specific ethnic group and age group combination.

Confidence intervals for the estimates presented are not available, so any changes seen in the data can’t be shown to be statistically significant. Confidence intervals allow changes or differences in data to be checked to see if they’re reliable. Differences are statistically significant if the results for the 2 groups or time periods being compared are within entirely different ranges.

Data for people living in households with unknown ethnicity isn’t shown separately. However, people living in households with unknown ethnicity are included in the estimates for all households (shown as ‘All’ in charts and tables).

Download the data for:

  • figures for the periods 2010 to 2014, and 2011 to 2015
  • persistent low income estimates based on 70% of median income (rather than 60% of median income)
What the data measures

This data shows the percentage of individuals living in households which have ‘persistent low income’.

Households are classed as being in low income if they live on less than 60% of the UK’s median income. Persistent low income means the household has had low income for at least 3 out of 4 years.

A household is one person or a group of people (not necessarily related) who have the accommodation as their only or main residence. If it is a group, they must share cooking facilities and also share a living room, sitting room or dining area.

Some households contain people from different ethnic backgrounds. In these cases, the ethnic background of the ‘household reference person’ is used to define the ethnic background of everyone in the household. The household reference person is usually the member of the household with the highest income.

Two types of median income are used in this measure:

  • median income before housing costs (BHC) are paid – this was £27,000 in 2015 to 2016
  • median income after housing costs (AHC) are paid – this was £23,000 in 2015 to 2016

This data shows individuals living in households that are in persistent low income both before and after housing costs have been paid.

Presenting estimates before and after housing costs shows how the cost of housing has a greater or lesser impact on different groups. For example, pensioners, who may have paid off their mortgages, tend to spend a smaller proportion of their income on housing than people of working age, and they are therefore less likely to be in persistent low income after housing costs have been deducted. Over 70 per cent of pensioners in the Understanding Society survey in 2012 to 2016 had paid off their mortgages.

Income measured before housing costs includes any state benefits households receive to pay for housing.

Household incomes are adjusted (or ‘equivalised’) to take into account the number of adults and children who live there.

This data comes from the Department for Work and Pensions’ analysis of the Understanding Society survey run by the University of Essex.

The ethnic categories used in this data

For this data, the number of people from specific ethnic categories surveyed (the ‘sample size’) was too small to draw any firm conclusions. Therefore, the data is broken down into the following 5 broad groups:

  • Asian
  • Black
  • Mixed
  • White
  • Other

In addition, the White ethnic group is broken down into 2 separate groups:

  • White British
  • White Other

2. By ethnicity (before housing costs)

Percentage of individuals living in households in persistent low income before housing costs are paid, by the ethnicity of the head of the household
Ethnicity % No. of respondents
All 9 36,461
Asian 20 3,087
Black 20 1,265
Mixed 9 407
White 8 29,799
White British 8 28,130
White other 8 1,669
Other 20 226

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • 20% of people living in Asian and Black households lived in persistent low income, the highest percentages out of all ethnic groups – persistent low income is defined as earning less than 60% of the UK median income before housing costs in at least 3 out of 4 years
  • 8% of people living in White households lived in persistent low income, the lowest percentage out of all ethnic groups
  • sample sizes for the Mixed and Other ethnic groups were too small to draw reliable conclusions about the results for these groups

3. By ethnicity and age group (before housing costs)

Percentage of individuals living in households in persistent low income before housing costs are paid, by ethnicity and age group
All Children Working-age adults Pensioners
Ethnicity % No. of respondents % No. of respondents % No. of respondents % No. of respondents
All 9 36,461 11 8,929 8 20,031 10 7,487
Asian 20 3,087 28 1,145 16 1,753 16 186
Black 20 1,265 26 456 17 689 13 118
Mixed 9 407 7 137 11 236 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 34
White 8 29,799 9 6,701 7 16,198 10 6,894
White British 8 28,130 9 6,268 7 15,262 10 6,594
White other 8 1,669 10 433 6 936 13 300
Other 20 226 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 81 16 123 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 22

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • children living in Asian (28%) and Black households (26%) were more likely to live in persistent low income before housing costs were paid than children living in White households (9%)
  • 6% of working age adults living in White Other households lived in persistent low income before housing costs were paid, while 7% of those living in White British households did so – these were the lowest percentages out of all ethnic groups where data was available for working age adults
  • 16% of pensioners living in Asian households lived in persistent low income before housing costs were paid, the highest percentage out of all ethnic groups where data was available for pensioners
  • sample sizes for the Mixed and Other ethnic groups were too small to draw reliable conclusions about the results for these groups

4. By ethnicity and age group (after housing costs)

Percentage of individuals living in households in persistent low income after housing costs are paid, by ethnicity and age group
All Children Working-age adults Pensioners
Ethnicity % No. of respondents % No. of respondents % No. of respondents % No. of respondents
All 12 31,307 17 7,450 11 16,925 7 6,922
Asian 27 2,396 35 886 23 1,340 13 167
Black 29 934 38 345 24 499 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 89
Mixed 20 325 22 106 22 190 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 29
White 11 26,124 15 5,741 10 13,966 7 6,411
White British 11 24,641 15 5,354 10 13,145 7 6,136
White other 13 1,483 16 387 13 821 11 275
Other 24 192 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 69 24 107 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 16

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • overall, 12% of individuals were classed as living in households in persistent low income after housing costs were paid, compared with 9% before housing costs
  • 29% of people living in Black households lived in persistent low income (the highest percentage out of all ethnic groups), compared with 11% of people living in White households (the lowest percentage)
  • among children, those living in Black (38%) and Asian households (35%) were most likely of all ethnic groups to live in persistent low income after housing costs were paid
  • similarly, among working age adults, those living in Black (24%) and Asian households (23%) were most likely of all ethnic groups to live in persistent low income
  • 13% of pensioners living in Asian households lived in persistent low income after housing costs were paid, the highest percentage out of all ethnic groups where data was available

5. Entering persistent low income

Percentage of individuals entering persistent low income before housing costs were paid, by ethnicity
Ethnicity % No. of respondents
All 5 106,684
Asian 9 7,352
Black 8 3,499
Mixed 5 1,244
White 5 88,642
White British 5 83,568
White other 6 5,074
Other 11 598

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • people most likely to enter into persistent low income lived in households in the Other ethnic group (11%), followed by Asian (9%), Black (8%) and White households (5%)

6. Leaving persistent low income

Percentage of individuals previously in persistent low income who went above the low income threshold (before housing costs were paid), by ethnicity
Ethnicity % No. of respondents
All 34 20,118
Asian 28 3,767
Black 31 1,115
Mixed 32 280
White 35 13,837
White British 35 12,975
White other 39 862
Other 27 246

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • of those individuals who had been in persistent low income in the previous year, 35% of those living in White households went above the low income threshold, therefore leaving persistent low income – this was the highest percentage out of all ethnic groups, followed by 31% of people in Black households and 28% of those in Asian households

7. Methodology

These statistics are derived from the Understanding Society survey waves 2-7, 2010 to 2016.

Understanding Society is a UK household longitudinal study in which respondents in households are visited each year to collect information on changes to their household and individual circumstances. Interviews are typically carried out in respondents’ homes by trained interviewers. Household members aged 16 years or older are interviewed and the same individuals are re-interviewed in successive years to see how things have changed. Individuals become eligible for a full interview once they reach the age of 16 years.

Household incomes are adjusted (or ‘equivalised’) during the statistical calculation to take into account the number of adults and children who live there. Equivalisation adjusts incomes for household size and composition, taking an adult couple with no children as the reference point. After equivalisation has been applied, households with the same equivalised income can be said to have a comparable standard of living.

Weights have been applied which take the combined population subsamples, adjusting for unequal selection probabilities, differential non-response, and potential sampling error.

Estimates are subject to sampling error and remaining non-sampling bias.

Surveys gather information from a sample rather than from the whole population. The selection of the sample for the Understanding Society study is designed to be representative of the whole population, but there are limitations to this accuracy, due to, for example, time and cost constraints. Thus, results from a sample survey are always estimates, not precise figures. This means that they are subject to a margin of error which can affect how changes in the numbers should be interpreted, especially in the short-term. Year-on-year movements should be treated with caution.

The data on income before housing costs is of better quality than that on income after housing costs, as fewer cases were available for analysis after housing costs. The University of Essex, which publishes the Understanding Society survey, plans to improve housing costs information for the next publication.

Suppression rules and disclosure control

Any values based on fewer than 100 responses have been suppressed to preserve confidentiality.

Rounding

Percentages are given to the nearest whole number.

Related publications

Households below average income (HBAI) statistics Income Dynamics Statistics

Quality and methodology information

8. Data sources

Source

Type of data

Survey data

Type of statistic

Experimental statistics

Publisher

Department for Work and Pensions

Publication frequency

Yearly

Purpose of data source

The Income Dynamics statistics are designed to report on income movements and the persistence of low income for various population groups.

Reporting on these issues is required under UK law and the Income Dynamics statistics are intended to supplement the Households Below Average Income (HBAI) statistics. The analysis of the Income Dynamics data allows the tracking of changes in income over time for different population groups.

9. Download the data

Persistent low income - Spreadsheet (csv) 56 KB

This file contains the following variables: Measure, Time, Time_type, Ethnicity of household reference person, Ethnicity_type, Age_bracket, Value, Denominator.

Entry and exit rates - Spreadsheet (csv) 13 KB

This file contains the following variables: Measure, Time, Time_type, Ethnicity of household reference person, Ethnicity_type, Geography, Geography_type, Gender, Gender_type, Age Bracket, Age Bracket Type, Value, Denominator.