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How many poor?

As the government prepares to overhaul Britain's welfare system, Steven Webb, the Liberal Democrats' spokesman on social security, examines how much we really know about poverty. How do we measure it? Do we define it in absolute or relative terms? Can one household in four really be labelled poor?

By Stephen Webb   November 1997

Poverty has been described by the government as the biggest problem facing Britain. A few years ago, a social security minister declared that poverty no longer existed here. Who is right? What do we actually know about the numbers and the types of people on the edges of society?

The closest thing we get to an official set of poverty statistics is the annual Households Below Average Income (HBAI) series produced by the Department of Social Security (DSS). There is no reference to poverty either in the title of the series or in the content of the report. These…

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