Tackling Poverty

Did you know that over 17% of the Suffolk population is affected by poverty?

  • Poverty means not being able to heat your home, pay your rent, or buy the essentials for your children. 
  • It means waking up every day facing insecurity, uncertainty, and impossible decisions about money
  • It means facing marginalisation – and even discrimination – because of your financial circumstances.
  • The constant stress it causes can lead to problems that deprive people of the chance to play a full part in society
  • It can significantly affect your health - The Health Foundation have found that the healthy life expectancy gap between the most and least deprived parts of the UK is 19 years. 

People are in poverty when they lack the resources to:

  • have a healthy diet,

  • have healthy living conditions

  • take part in activities that are normal in society



There are different definitions of poverty but one of the most commonly used is the definition of 'relative poverty'. This is when your resources are well below your minimum needs.

You are considered to be in poverty if your household income is less than 60% of the median wage. Below 60% is called 'relative poverty, below 50% is called 'deep poverty' and below 40% is called 'very deep poverty'. Whilst poverty is not just about your household income, the following table shows what this looks like based on figures from 2019-20. 

Income Level



Median Household Disposable Income in the UK



Relative poverty (60% of the median)



Deep poverty (50% of the median)



Very deep poverty (40% of the median or less)



Source: ONS, Average household income, UK: financial year ending 2020 (provisional)

Low incomes like this mean people are excluded from ordinary living, that means they lack the resources to eat healthily, have healthy living conditions and take part in activities that are normal in society. 


Overall, some 17% of people in Suffolk are affected by poverty.

Department for Work & Pensions statistics shows that:

  • In 2019/2020, there were an estimated 135,314 people in Suffolk in relative low-income poverty out of a population of 761,350.   That's 17.77% of people in Suffolk who are in relative poverty.
  • Between 2014/15 and 2018/19 poverty in Suffolk has increased. By 2019/2020, there were 31,314 children, 33,831 pensioners and 70,169 working age adults living in relative low income households.
  • In total 17,832 additional people have fallen into relative low income poverty between 2014/15 and 2019/20.
  •  And since lockdown, more people are likely to have also fallen into poverty, for instance we know that between Jan 2020 and April 2021, 30,169 additional people in Suffolk have had to claim Universal Credit

The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have further increased the number of people in Suffolk in poverty for instance:

  • DWP data shows 30,000+ additional people having had to claim Universal Credit
  • Suffolk County Council data shows that the number of children eligible for Free School Meals have increased from 16,087 children pre-pandemic to 21,381 children at December 2021.

And we are now experiencing cost of living pressures that have seen energy and food prices rise significantly making it harder for many people to afford the essentials.

There can be many causes as to why someone falls into poverty but typically there are four main income-related drivers, they are:

  • Increasing housing costs - for example if the cost of rents, mortgages or utilities outpaces rises in income then people's income doesn't go as far. Housing affordability in Suffolk has worsened over the last decade and more so than the national average.6
  • Increasing unemployment - higher unemployment means more people without jobs
  • Rate of benefits - if benefits rise at a lower rate than earnings or the cost of living. 
  • Low earnings growth - if those on low incomes earnings grow at a lower rate than median earners

In addition, traumatic life events such as redundancy, bereavement, relationship breakdown and domestic abuse are often triggers for people to fall into poverty. We have also obviously recently seen more people fall into poverty as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the current cost of living pressures..

As you can see, anyone could fall into poverty through no fault of their own.

Having a job used to be the main way to escape poverty, but increasingly having a job alone does not guarantee this. In fact, around 43% of Suffolk households receiving benefits nowadays are actually in work. 

The unfortunate fact is that the impacts of poverty are many and can be very significant and affect people for a long time. Some of the biggest impacts include:

  • Easier to fall into debt and harder to get out, creating a vicious cycle or "poverty trap".
  • Restricts the choices people can make - for instance people may have to choose between immediate essentials like heating their home or eating and be unable to afford to do things that would help them in the long term such as paying to access training to get a higher paying job.
  • Can cause mental health problems
  • It affects people's health - for instance it is more expensive to eat healthier food than unhealthy food
  • People on low-incomes can incur what is known as a 'poverty premium' on fuel, telecommunications, insurance and accessing credit or cash. 
  • Childhood poverty is the strongest statistical predictor of how well a child will do at school and as a result how they are likely to do in adult life.
  • The Education Endowment Foundation found that the disparity in early learning outcomes that is related to a child’s socio-economic background, begins in the early years, is already evident when children are aged 5 years (a gap of 4.3 months) and grows wider at every subsequent stage of education, doubling to 9.5 months by the end of primary school and more than doubling again to 19.3 months by the end of secondary school.
  • Significantly impacts on children's access to out of school activities that provide enrichment, learning and physical activity
  • Children growing up in poverty are at higher risk of self-harm as young adults

These are just a few examples, but there are many more as poverty can have impacts on almost every aspect of people's lives.

Suffolk County Council already commissions, funds or delivers a range of services that contribute directly or indirectly to tackling poverty such as:

  • Free School Meals
  • Employment support programmes
  • Skills and training programmes
  • Social prescribing
  • Suffolk Libraries
  • Financial inclusion and advice services
  • Warm Homes, Healthy People programme
  • Housing related support

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began we have also put in place or commissioned additional support including: 

  • Suffolk Advice and Support Service
  • Local Welfare Assistance Scheme
  • Holiday Activities & Food Programme
  • Providing funding to ensure Suffolk foodbanks have sufficient food to meet increased demand
  • Winter Grant Scheme
  • Household Support Fund

Suffolk County Council has developed a Tackling Poverty Action Plan with the aims of supporting people born into poverty, and those who fall into poverty, to be able to move out of poverty and maintain their position outside of poverty. 

The strategy and plan has been informed through widespread consultation, co-production and research. We have: 

  • Reviewed national and local data to help us identify what the issues and needs are in Suffolk. 
  • Carried out co-production and consultation activities with over 75 local voluntary, charity and social enterprise sector organisations who work with people experiencing poverty
  • Worked with 11 local charities to get the views and experiences of adults with lived experience of poverty
  • Carried out co-production activities with 50 young people
  • Surveyed schools
  • Surveyed Council staff who work with people who are experiencing poverty
  • Carried out research to identify approaches, initiatives and projects that are shown to work. This will help us match proven solutions with the needs we identify from the data and the co-production work.

The findings of these activities has then been used to develop our Tackling Poverty Strategy and Action Plan.

The Action Plan has four themes that recognise the need to help people in immediate crisis, help people out of poverty, mitigate the impacts of poverty on people's health and wellbeing and prevent people falling into poverty.  To make a difference to poverty it is important to take action across all four of these themes. The four themes are:

  • Emergency Support
  • Increasing Incomes, Reducing Costs
  • Wellbeing & Life Chances
  • Preventing Poverty.

Within each theme there are specific actions that we plan to address. Some of the immediate priorities we expect to focus on during 2022/23 are: 

  • Food poverty and improving access to health food
  • Information, Advice & Guidance - increasing awareness of the range of available support
  • Financial resilience 
  • Fuel Poverty
  • Opportunities for disadvantaged children and young people to participate in positive enrichment activities such as sports, arts and culture, school holiday activities and youth social action

In future years we plan to focus on the following areas as well:

  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACE's)
  • Asset-based community development in disadvantaged areas
  • Financial education for children and young people
  • Employment support and skills training
  • Increasing the number of employers in Suffolk who provide 'good work' for their employees.

We will continue to involve people with experience of poverty and the organisations that support them throughout this time so that the Action Plan is monitored and evaluated by people who most understand the issues and who can tell us if the work is making a difference.

If you would like to get involved please email povertystrategy@suffolk.gov.uk 

Suffolk Infolink: Suffolk Infolink is our directory that lists a wide range of community services across Suffolk. It's a great place to find organisations that can help.

Foodbanks: This link provides a list of all the foodbanks in Suffolk listed on our Infolink directory.

Debt Advice: This link provides a list of organisations in Suffolk on our Infolink directory that provide debt advice.

Warm Homes, Healthy People: Suffolk's Warm Homes Healthy People is a project designed to help vulnerable people and families make their homes cheaper to heat. 

Suffolk Domestic Abuse Helpline: If you are experiencing domestic abuse or if you are worried about a friend/relative or colleague you can call 0800 977 5690 for advice and support.

Suffolk Advice and Support Service Helpline (SASS): For financial advice or support with access to food, you can call 0800 068 3131 between 9am-5pm Monday to Friday. You can call them to get advice about debt, rent or mortgage arrears, access to food or one-off grants for things like white goods, fuel vouchers.