“There are 1.7 million fewer people in poverty than in 2010, including hundreds of thousands of children.”

That was the claim from Rishi Sunak this week.

And other Conservative ministers keep making similar claims – but it’s missing key context.

FactCheck takes a look.

Has poverty fallen since 2010?

There are various ways to measure poverty.

Rishi Sunak and his colleagues are talking about changes to the number of people living in “absolute poverty after housing costs”.

Absolute poverty is calculated by taking a base year – statisticians usually use the financial year 2010/11 – and comparing people against the median average income as it was then.

Anyone in any year who has an income lower than 60 per cent of the 2010/11 median income is officially in absolute poverty.

Sometimes statisticians take account of housing costs, like rent or mortgage interest, when calculating a person’s income. In that case, their housing costs are deducted from their income as part of the calculation, giving us a measure of “absolute poverty after housing costs”.

The number of people in that category fell from 13.1 million in 2009/10 to 11.4 million in 2021/22.

That means it’s correct to say that 1.7 million fewer people live in this type of poverty today than they did at the start of the 2010s.

However, there are other ways to track poverty in the UK.

Relative poverty refers to people living in households with income below 60 per cent of that year’s median income (as opposed to comparing against the average in 2010/11).

And if we compare the number of people in relative poverty after housing costs over the same time period (from 2009/10 to 2021/22), it’s actually risen by 900,000 from 13.5 million.

So absolute poverty has fallen since 2010, but relative poverty is up. Is either measure better than the other?

Peter Matejic, chief analyst at the charity Joseph Roundtree Foundation – which uses relative poverty after housing costs as its main measure – told FactCheck: “There is no single best measure of poverty. It is a complex problem that needs a range of measures telling us different things.

“However, in normal times, absolute poverty is not as good a poverty measure as relative poverty. This is because the poverty line is fixed to an earlier year, which becomes less meaningful as a measure over time.

“Absolute poverty levels tend to decrease simply due to economic growth and average living standards going up over time.”

FactCheck verdict

Prime minister Rishi Sunak said that “there are 1.7 million fewer people in poverty than in 2010”.

This figure is correct, but it only relates to those in absolute poverty.

There is another measure to consider: relative poverty.

So while absolute poverty has dropped since 2010, relative poverty actually has increased by 900,000 in that same time frame.

There’s no single best measure of poverty, though experts note that as we get further away from the baseline year used to calculate absolute poverty (usually 2010/11), it becomes less meaningful.

The Department for Work and Pensions were approached for comment.

(Image Credit: Andy Rain/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock).