Page last updated at 08:02 GMT, Wednesday, 2 July 2008 09:02 UK

UK life costs 'at least 13,400'

Food shopper paying at till
The benchmarks are often higher than the amounts paid in state benefits

A single person in Britain needs to earn at least £13,400 a year before tax for a minimum standard of living, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) says.

A couple with two children need to spend £370 a week and a pensioner couple need £201 excluding housing and childcare costs, the charity says.

Film tickets, a bottle of wine and a bird feeder were on the list of goods people need to participate in society.

The JRF's figures are higher than some government estimates.

According to the report, which took two years to put together, the spending power needed to pay for a basic but socially acceptable standard of living was higher than the official government calculated poverty line.

Staying alive

The report combined academic study with a consensus from 39 different groups of people to come up with a series of benchmarks for an acceptable cost of living in Britain.

This government is committed to a fairer, more inclusive society, providing opportunity for all
Department for Work and Pensions

The definition of a minimum standard of living was not merely the amount of money needed for survival, and included "more than just food, clothes and shelter", the report explained.

"It is about having what you need in order to have the opportunities and choices necessary to participate in society," it said.

For a single person of working age that included walking boots, a pay-as-you-go mobile phone and a bicycle. For all these "essential" items, and rent on a modest council home, a single person would need £13,400 a year before tax, the JRF says.

For a pensioner couple, an occasional carvery meal and a bird feeder were on the list, and a single mother needed £210 a week - excluding housing and childcare costs - for items including nappies for the baby and a Christmas tree.

Families should get the chance to have a one-week self-catering holiday in the UK, the report said.

Needs not wants

The study excluded "aspirational" items, and the JRF said it was aimed at starting a discussion about what was an acceptable standard of living.


Life's little luxuries or modern day necessities?

"This research is designed to encourage debate and to start building a public consensus about what level of income no one should have to live below," said the JRF's director Julia Unwin.


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"Of course, everyone has their own views about what items in a family budget are essential. But this is the best effort to date to enable ordinary people to discuss and agree what all households should be able to afford," she added.

Experts ensured that the lists would provide an adequate diet and enough warmth to remain healthy.

According to the calculations, a single person working full-time would need to earn £6.88 an hour to reach the weekly minimum standard - which is more than the current statutory minimum wage of £5.52.

A single person on Income Support would get less than half this amount.

An out-of-work family would get in state benefits two-thirds of what the JRF regarded as the minimum requirement, but pensioners on Pension Credit reached an acceptable level of income, the charity said.

Poverty levels

Jonathan Bradshaw, professor of social policy at the University of York and co-author of the report, said that this was the first time the question of how much income was enough had been addressed.

Child sitting by railings
The government has pledged to end child poverty by 2020

Official measures of poverty have been based on relative income data.

The official poverty line is a household with an income of 60% of the UK's median household, with the poverty line adjusted for family size.

The government has used this measure as the base for its pledge to halve child poverty by 2010, and to have eradicated it a decade later.

The JRF's report took in the views of people from a variety of social groups, in rural and urban areas, before coming up with an average for a cross-section of society.

It concluded that a car was not required by any social group, nor were cigarettes, but some alcohol consumed at home was acceptable.

The JRF accepted that it could not be shown that everyone living below its minimum income standard would be in "hardship".

Committed government

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "This government is committed to a fairer, more inclusive society, providing opportunity for all. We have lifted 600,000 children and nearly a million pensioners out of poverty.

"We have increased winter fuel payments to £400 for someone aged over 80 and £250 for 60 years plus.

"We welcome the important contribution of this study."


Family typeWeekly budgetBreakdown of expenditure
Single working age157.84
Couple working age240.61
Lone parent, one child210.31
Lone parent, two children282.66
Lone parent, three children378.90
Couple, one child286.45
Couple, two children370.05
Couple, three children465.71
Couple, four children508.18
Single pensioner136.60
Couple pensioner201.49

Food and drink

Fuel (heating etc)

Personal goods and services




Household goods, services, council tax etc

*Note: Weekly budget does not include housing or childcare costs.

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