IFS Press Releases

Biggest one-year fall in middle incomes since 1981

Date: 14 June 2012
Authors: Jonathan Cribb , Robert Joyce and David Phillips
Average take-home incomes fell in 2010-11 despite a modest recovery in the wider economy, as rising inflation and the delayed effects of the late 2000s recession acted to reduce living standards. Median household income fell by 3.1%, after accounting for inflation. This large fall follows surprising growth in median income during the years of the recession itself (2008-09 and 2009-10) when falling inflation and increases in benefits and tax credits supported household incomes in the face of rising unemployment.

This is one of the key findings from today’s annual Household Below Average Income (HBAI) report published by the Department for Work and Pensions. The data cover years up to and including 2010-11, the first full financial year following the late 2000s recession. Other key findings include:

  • 2010-11 saw the largest one-year fall in median income since 1981, reversing five years of (slow) growth in middle incomes in a single year. This means that after accounting for inflation, median income in 2010-11 was no higher than in 2004-05.
  • Incomes fell right across the income distribution. But incomes fell proportionally more for richer households than poorer ones, leading to a large fall in income inequality.
  • Measures of relative poverty continued to fall in 2010-11. But unlike in previous years, this did not reflect rising absolute living standards among poorer households. Instead, it reflected the fact that their incomes fell by less than median income. Absolute measures of poverty increased for the population as a whole.
  • The last government’s target to halve relative child poverty between 1998-99 and 2010-11 was missed by 0.6 million children. However, the number of children in relative income poverty did fall by around a third over that period with 2.3 million children in relative poverty in 2010-11 compared with 3.4 million in 1998-99.