Netflix account and a laptop for schoolwork are now essential requirements for homes according to new research into minimum living standards

  • Access to technology to allow people to meet practical, educational and leisure needs online has become a fundamental requirement for a minimum acceptable living standard in the UK
  • Members of the public consider access to Netflix and being able to work online on a laptop as part of the minimum requirements of daily life
  • Over a quarter of people in the UK have too little income to reach a minimum standard of living as defined by the public. This requires earnings of at least £19,200 a year for a single person, or £18,700 each for parents of two young children
  • New research updating what needs to be spent on household essentials in 2020 emphasises the need for up-to-date communication technology, which became particularly crucial under lockdown
  • Covid-19 crisis sees doubling of numbers having to rely on Universal Credit, because of job loss and cuts in working hours
  • Increases in benefit rates introduced during the crisis, if made permanent, would have the potential to reduce the numbers on inadequate income

People now consider access to Netflix and other basic technology such as laptops as fundamental requirements for a minimum acceptable standard of life in the UK.

New research from Loughborough University – carried out before the coronavirus lockdown – shows that members of the public consider a good internet connection, a laptop and subscriptions to various online services as important for allowing families to participate in society.

The report, published today (JULY 8), sets out the Minimum Standard Income (MIS) – a basket of goods which includes food, clothing, entertainment, transport and other living costs, which members of the public believe families should be able to afford in order to reach a minimum acceptable standard of living in 2020.

To reach the MIS level, a single person needs to earn at least £19,200 a year, while a couple with two children relying on tax credits each need to earn £18,700.

However, about 19 million people in the UK (one-in-four) have too little to reach this threshold.

Project leader Abigail Davis said: “Our research shows that, even before the coronavirus lockdown, parents emphasised the need for connectivity and the importance of being able to support children’s educational needs within the home.

“This year, for example, a one device subscription to Netflix and an Xbox Live account were added, reflecting the ways in which every day recreational and communication needs require online services.

“Parents in our research said that being able to play games and interact with their friends using consoles had become an everyday part of social interaction for children.

“Families unable to access adequate technological resources are likely to be at an increasing disadvantage under current circumstances.

“For example, online interaction with a school is likely to be difficult using a mobile phone rather than a laptop, particularly on a contract with relatively low data download limits”

While it is not yet possible to estimate how many people have been brought below the Minimum Income Standard as a result of the pandemic, millions have seen a substantial reduction in their incomes, with the number relying on Universal Credit for help doubling to over five million since February this year.

The Government has increased support through the benefits system, giving stronger backup to those on low or no earnings than previously, and introducing meal vouchers for the summer holidays.

The report authors suggest that while more people are presently suffering from income reductions, in the longer term the improvements in Government support could help reduce the numbers with inadequate incomes, if the COVID-related increases were made permanent.

Professor Donald Hirsch, one of the report’s co-authors, said: “This crisis has shone a spotlight on the struggle faced by people receiving state benefits, tax credits and Universal Credit, which have fallen in real terms in recent years.

“More people are now relying on this help, and at the start of the crisis, the Chancellor pledged to strengthen the safety net.

“The resulting increases to Universal Credit and tax credits, alongside a rising minimum wage, means that people who can get work are less likely than previously to have inadequate incomes.

“For example, a couple with two young children receiving Universal Credit can almost reach the Minimum Income Standard if one parent works full time and one part-time on the National Living Wage (the minimum wage for over-25s), whereas without the additional Universal Credit they would be £20 a week short. This is the first time that it has been possible to reach MIS with this working pattern.

“The Government has said that the additional help will be temporary. Yet by acknowledging the need to strengthen the safety net, it has implicitly recognised that benefit levels are inadequate.

“As clear evidence of family needs has emerged during the crisis, there is now a case for making it permanent: these needs will not go away when the pandemic ends.

“This is an opportunity to start to reverse a decade of austerity, making it possible for more working families to reach a decent living standard.

“The alternative is to return to benefit levels that have been shown to be inadequate, so that those who fall on hard times feel abandoned or excluded.”

Since 2008, the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) has shown how much households need for a minimum socially acceptable standard of living, as specified by members of the public in ongoing research.

The latest research was completed in March 2020, just before lockdown.

Future studies will investigate the extent to which the pandemic has changed what people consider the minimum required to meet material needs and participate in society.

To read the full report, visit the Joseph Rowntree Foundation website, here.


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 20/120

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2020 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 4th in the Guardian University League Table 2020, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 6th in The UK Complete University Guide 2021.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.