Improving UK skill levels would lift 1.5 million out of poverty

Improving skills in the workforce is seen as fundamental to achieving a more competitive economy and maintaining productivity. Current and previous government policy implies that an increase in skills will reduce poverty and income inequality. The research investigates how improving UK skills levels will affect rates of poverty and income inequality.

‘Can Improving UK Skills Levels Reduce Poverty and Income Inequality Levels by 2020’ published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, suggests the distribution of skills projected for 2020 will:

  • Reduce fixed (or absolute) UK poverty rates by 2.2 percentage points – equivalent to lifting about 1.5 million people out of poverty in comparison to the distribution of skills in 2008.
  • Have a smaller impact if using a relative poverty measure, but still reduce relative poverty by 1.0 percentage point – equivalent to lifting 500,000 people out of poverty.
  • Reduce poverty among families with children by about 4.0 percentage points using a fixed poverty line – equivalent to lifting 500,000 children out of poverty.
  • Relative child poverty will fall by 1.8 percentage points lifting 250,000 children out of poverty.
  • Reduce poverty in all four UK nations, with slightly larger effects in Wales and especially Northern Ireland.
  • Have only a small impact on income inequality.

To conclude, policies to improve UK skills levels particularly those that meet or exceed the projected improvement in skills levels by 2020 could improve the absolute quality of life of large groups of people currently in poverty. However, to reduce relative poverty and income inequality more substantially, the skill levels of those at the bottom of the income distribution must be raised much further relative to those towards the middle and top.

Photo credit: summitskills


Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest