Poverty in Perspective: a typology of poverty in Scotland

Sets out 13 different ‘types’ of poverty across three life stages: families with children, working age households without children, and pensioner households.


This study has used data from the Scottish Household Survey to identify a number of 'types of poverty' amongst the low income population in Scotland. Households in all poverty types have low income - by definition - but each poverty type represents a different experience of poverty. The findings provide evidence that living on low income is not the same experience for all poor households.

Our research identified thirteen different types of poverty, across three pre-determined life stages (families with children, working age without children, older age). Each poverty type that we have identified captures a different experience of poverty, whether that be through the impacts of having low income or the reasons for being poor. This could vary from the 'workless families' - income poor families with children who are out of work and have little resources; to the 'working home owners' - again, income poor families with children, but who are older and much more likely to be in work, and consequently have fewer explicit markers of poverty. This comparison alone shows two very different groups of low income families with children, for whom policy implications would be quite different.

Having a more nuanced description of households in poverty can be helpful to policymakers and practitioners who wish to develop a multi-faceted approach to poverty alleviation. Observing the lived experience of low-income households helps with the identification of groups of households, and of the particular combination of services likely to be most effective in helping them.

As with all research, there are limitations to this study and it is important to reflect on them here. Although the Scottish Household Survey has a number of qualities that mean research such as this is possible - notably, its large sample size and inclusion of a broad range of poverty-related data - the income information it collects is limited compared to other specialist income surveys, meaning it is difficult to accurately identify households living on low income.

We have used Latent Class Analysis to help identify poverty types. Although a powerful analytical technique, it also has flaws. For example it requires a certain amount of subjective decision making by the researcher - in selecting the chosen number of poverty types, and in interpreting the types. Perhaps not a fault of the analytical technique, but it is also clear that low income households do not fit perfectly into a set of poverty types. In other words, there is still quite a lot of variation within each poverty type - not all households in the same type have exactly the same experience of poverty. People's lives are complex, and being able to neatly summarise the varied experiences of poverty into a small number of 'poverty types' is unrealistic.

Further research would benefit from replication of this approach, to see if other data produces a similar set of poverty types in Scotland. Comparisons with the original 'Poverty in Perspective' study suggests that there are some similarities (for a number of reasons, we may not expect a complete overlap between UK and Scottish poverty types). Further research may also try to understand the dynamic element of poverty types. Do types of poverty remain the same over time, or do different types of poverty emerge - perhaps in line with structural changes to the economy and society? Do people stay in the same poverty type over time, and does the persistence of poverty vary depending in which type of poverty you are in? Do people move from one poverty type to another, and is moving between poverty types a start of the route out of poverty for some? Are people more likely to escape from poverty if originally situated in one poverty type rather than another, and which type of poverty are those who enter low income most likely to join? All these questions need further research, and many need to utilise the qualities of longitudinal surveys (something which the Scottish Household Survey does not offer).

Despite these limitations, having a truly multidimensional picture of the experiences of low income households is still very useful to policy makers. Arguably, this information goes a step further than the two-way connections between low income and other indicators of poverty that is the feature of many statistical studies of poverty. There are numerous research reports that demonstrate the link between low income and worklessness, and between low income and low education, and between low income and poor health. But unless a truly multidimensional approach is taken, it is difficult to understand how these interact with each other. The poverty typology presented here just does that, and has led to a range of policy recommendations for groups of low income households with quite different experiences of poverty.


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