19.3 million people had disposable income of below 60% of national median in at least one year between 2010 and 2013
Almost a third of the UK population experienced income poverty in at least one year between 2010 and 2013, official data shows.
The figures, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Wednesday, show that approximately 19.3 million people had a disposable income of below 60% of the national median at some point during the four-year period.
The proportion of the UK population who experienced income poverty was higher than that across the EU as a whole, where the figure was a quarter.
Chris Mould, chairman of trustees at the anti-poverty charity Trussell Trust, said: “The differences between the UK and the EU average go some way to explaining the phenomenon our food bank network has experienced and to validate our claim that short-term interventions are valid and truly help people in poverty.”
The UK fared better than the EU average when it came to persistent poverty, defined as being in income poverty both in the current year and at least two of the three preceding years.
The proportion of people in persistent income poverty in the UK in 2013 was 7.8%, equivalent to 4.6 million people, compared with 9.6% in the EU as a whole.
The ONS said: “Although this means that poverty persists only for a relatively small minority, with the burden of poverty being shared among a larger section of the population, evidence suggests that those who have already been in poverty are more likely to experience poverty again in the future than those who have never been in poverty.”
The ONS found that over the period 2009-12 the UK had the highest exit rate out of poverty but also one of the highest entry rates.
The coalition government, which entered power in May 2010, has been accused of contributing to poverty by targeting those struggling to get by with its austerity programme.
The level of persistent poverty in 2009, the last full calendar year of the Labour administration that preceded the coalition, was 8%, and in 2010 it was 7.4%.
The UK had one of the lowest persistent poverty rates in the EU in 2013 but its overall poverty rate in the same year was the 13th highest out of the 28 member states.
Almost 40% of people aged 65 years and over in the UK experienced poverty at least once between 2010 and 2013, compared to 30% of those under 65. Three out of five of those living in single-parent households experienced poverty.
Rachael Orr, head of Oxfam’s UK poverty programme, said: “This is a stark reminder that millions of people have been pushed into poverty by the economic crisis while those at the top have continued to prosper.
“These figures show that for many people, poverty is not a permanent state but rather a constant threat. We know from the experience of people we work with that one misfortune can push them below the breadline, forced to rely on friends, family or food banks to make ends meet. This is why we need a strong and responsive welfare system, alongside a clear route out of poverty.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “The truth is, the percentage of people in the UK in relative poverty is at its lowest since the mid 80s. Today’s figures show persistent poverty is consistently lower than the European average and we have the highest number of people leaving short-term poverty than the rest of Europe.”