Number of people who can’t afford an emergency rises

The percentage of people in the UK who say they would be unable to meet an unexpected, but necessary financial expense has markedly increased since the start of the economic downturn, according to a report by the Office for National Statistics.

The Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK and EU, 2005-2011 report says overall levels of severe material deprivation have changed little in the last few years, but the percentage of those who wouldn’t be able to afford an emergency is up from 26.6% in 2007 to 36.6% in 2011.

There have also been substantial increases in the percentage of people who are unable to afford other items, says the report. For example, 29.7% of people in 2011 said they were unable to afford an annual holiday, up from 21.4% in 2007.

In 2011, 22.7% of the UK population were considered to be at the risk of poverty or social exclusion, equivalent to 14.0 million people. This is lower than the European Union average of 24.2% which leaves the UK with the 13th highest rate in a league table where countries such as Bulgaria and Romania have the greatest risk of poverty or social exclusion and, at the other end of the scale, the Czech Republic, Netherlands and Sweden have the least risk.

People are considered at risk of poverty or social exclusion if they experience at least one of three conditions: risk of poverty, meaning having a household income below the poverty threshold; severe material deprivation; and living in a household with low work intensity i.e. working less than 20% of their total potential during the year.

The UK’s at-risk-of-poverty rate was 16.2%, continuing the trend which has seen it fall from 18.7% in 2008. However, this fall can be at least partly explained by a reduction in the poverty threshold, caused by the median disposable income in the UK falling almost £200 in cash terms over this period to £14,873, says the ONS.

The report also shows that, in the UK, more than 1 in 9 (11.5%) people under the age of 60 lived in households with low work intensity in 2011. This is a fall from 13.1% the previous year, but the UK’s low work intensity rate remains one of the highest in the EU.

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