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2 July 2008 PR 08/98

Minimum living standards: public consultation shows what people find acceptable

A report written by experts from Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP) and York University has revealed what the public believe people need to earn to have an acceptable standard of living today.

According to members of the public, a single person in Britain today needs to earn at least £13,400 a year before tax to afford a basic but acceptable standard of living. This ‘minimum income standard’, based on the extensive deliberations of ordinary people supported by experts, shows the cost of covering basic goods and services for different household types.

A minimum income standard for Britain: What people think – which has been co-written by CRSP and the University of York, and was published today (2 July) by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – captures the consensus reached among ordinary people (on a range of incomes) about what they feel is needed to achieve an acceptable standard of living today. Thirty-nine groups from different kinds of household (such as families with children, pensioners and single people) had detailed discussions about the necessary elements of a household budget by family type. Experts looked at these budgets to ensure that they provided an adequate diet and met basic needs like keeping a home warm.

Participants in this study were clear that a minimum living standard should provide for more than mere survival. One older woman taking part in the research summed up this view: “Food and shelter keeps you alive, it doesn’t make you live,” she said. Findings from this extensive consultation with members of the public showed that:

Julia Unwin, Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “This research is designed to encourage debate, and to start building a public consensus about what level of income no-one should have to live below. Of course, everyone has their own views about what items in a family budget are ‘essential’. But this is the best effort to date to enable ordinary people to discuss and agree what all households should be able to afford.

“Naturally, people’s circumstances and preferences vary, and this research does not dictate how people should spend their money. But it does start to pin down how much people think is needed to be able to afford basic opportunities and choices that allow proper participation in society.”

Noel Smith from the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University said: “This study has allowed us to engage in detailed and productive discussions with people from all walks of life about what anyone should be able to afford. These groups have taken their task very seriously, in lively and thoughtful discussions about all aspects of a household’s spending. This is not about what ordinary people would like to have, but about what they consider to be basic needs.”

Professor Alan France, Director of CRSP adds: “Historically poverty measures and assessments have been rather arbitrary and while they have their value in monitoring trends they leave much unanswered. This research, which is based on strong empirical evidence, shows that almost everyone living below the official poverty line is short of what people perceive to be adequate minimum standards. This work offers us ways into re-thinking important questions that affect us all.”

– Ends –

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Notes for editors:

  1. 1. The full report, A minimum income standard for Britain: What people think – by (from Loughborough) Sue Middleton, Abigail Davis and Noel Smith, and (from York) Jonathan Bradshaw, Nina Oldfield, Linda Cusworth and Julie Williams – is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and is available for free download at www.jrf.org.uk. More information is available at www.minimumincomestandard.org

  2. The whole consultation process with members of the public was based on the following definition which was agreed by an initial set of groups: “A minimum standard of living in Britain today includes, but is more than just, food, clothes and shelter. It is about having what you need in order to have the opportunities and choices necessary to participate in society.”

  3. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is one of the largest social policy research and development charities in the UK. It supports a research and development programme that seeks to understand the causes of social difficulties and explore ways of overcoming them.

  4. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

    It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

    Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

    In the 2007 National Student Survey, the University was voted fourth in the UK, with 23 out of 29 of Loughborough’s subject areas being ranked in the top ten for overall satisfaction. Loughborough is also ranked in the top fifteen of UK universities in national league tables. It was named winner of the 2006 and 2007 Times Higher award for the UK’s Best Student Experience and winner of the 2007 award for Outstanding Support for Overseas Students. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other university.

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