Living in poverty was bad for your health before COVID-19

Publication type



Publication date

July 25, 2020


Key points:
• Income is associated with health: people in the bottom 40% of the income distribution are almost twice as likely to report poor health than those in the top 20%. Poverty in particular is associated with worse health outcomes. This is especially the case for persistent poverty.
• Income and health can both affect each other – lower income is associated with more ‘stressors’ which can harm health and allow fewer opportunities for good health. Poor health can limit the opportunity for good and stable employment and so affect income.
• The UK entered the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and related economic shock from a starting position of stagnant income growth and low levels of financial resilience. 65% of families in the bottom income quintile had either no savings or savings below £1,500.
• The pattern of employment loss and furloughing by income suggests that the future economic consequences of COVID-19 may be borne by those on lower incomes. This in turn risks an additional long-run burden on health.
• Providing support to bolster people’s incomes for as long as necessary should remain a priority. But there are gaps in the government’s current package of support that risk undermining public health, including the need for more reassurance for renters, retraining support for people who have lost their jobs, and more comprehensive statutory sick pay.
• The government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda must include investment to improve the health of the whole population and level up health outcomes.




References: Brewer, M. and Tasseva, I.V. (2020) 'Did the UK policy response to Covid-19 protect household incomes?', EUROMOD Working Paper Series, No. EM12/20. Colchester: University of Essex. Institute for Social and Economic Research.



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