"The number of people in poverty has fallen as a result of the actions the government has taken over the last several years” – Chancellor Rishi Sunak on BBC Breakfast programme, 6 July 2021


Tory government statistics show the number of children in poverty in the UK rose by 600,000 between 2011 and 2019. The latest evidence (from a Tory think tank) says another 150,000 children are living in poverty since the pandemic – despite any aid from the Chancellor.


The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, is thought to be the richest person in the House of Commons. Sunak began his career with the investment bank Goldman Sachs. He then worked in the hedge fund sector before launching his own firm called Theleme Partners in 2010. That firm had an initial capital of £557m.

Sunak is married to Akshata Murthy, the daughter of Indian billionaire NR Narayanan Murthy, who is worth an estimated £2bn according to Forbes business magazine. Mrs Sunak has considerable holdings in the family business.

The National:

Sir Alistair Graham, former chair of the committee on standards in public life (which acts as a watchdog for UK public office holders) is on record as saying that Sunak must declare the financial interests of himself and his close family given “the Chancellor’s capacity to determine the Government’s financial and business policies”.

Graham went on: “He seems to have taken the most minimalist approach possible to this requirement. Perhaps Rishi Sunak should carefully read the ‘Seven principles of Public Life’ to make sure he is fulfilling the two principles of ‘Honesty and Leadership’.”


On the BBC Breakfast programme, the Chancellor claimed that the number of people in poverty in the UK has fallen as a result of the actions the Tory government had taken “over the last several years”. This claim went unchallenged by the BBC. Is Sunak correct?

The most respected independent body analysing poverty levels in the UK is the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. According to the latest JRF annual report, “there has been little change in overall poverty levels for more than 15 years” – a finding clearly at odds with the Chancellor’s claim that poverty rates are falling.

According to the JRF, in 2018/19 (i.e. before the pandemic) some 14.5 million people in the UK were living in poverty. That is one in five of the population. This figure was made up of 8.4m working-age adults, 4.2m children and 1.9m pensioners.

READ MORE: FACT CHECK: PMQs claim that UK has 'severed' link between Covid infection and death

Again, according to JRF data, average income after housing costs (AHC) was actually lower in 2018/19 than in 2016/17 after taking account of inflation. The biggest fall in incomes was for people in the fifth of the population with the lowest AHC income. This reduction was driven by deliberate reductions in state benefits, due to the austerity cap on benefit rates between 2016 and 2020.

UK official statistics on poverty reinforce the Joseph Rountree Foundation evidence. Take, for instance, figures published by the Social Mobility Commission, a non-departmental public body which advises the Department of Education in England. In June last year the Commission published a report showing that “in the UK today, 8.4 million working age adults live in relative poverty; an increase of 500,000 since 2011/12.” 

The report went on: “Things are no better for children … there are now 4.2 million children living in poverty – 600,000 more than in 2011/12.”


Possibly the Chancellor is referring to the period since the pandemic. But no official figures on poverty levels have been published since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in March 2020. However, in January this year, the independent Legatum Institute - a think tank run by Tory Peer Baroness Stroud – published its private research into the impact of the Covid emergency on UK poverty rates.  Baroness Stroud concluded:

“It goes without saying that the situation has not improved over the last few months, and that poverty has risen as a result of the pandemic. Compared to the situation where Covid-19 had not hit the country, 440,000 more people were in poverty this summer, and 690,000 more this winter, including a further 150,000 children. Nor have these impacts been evenly spread, being felt the hardest by young workers, those in relatively low-paying employment, and those working in sectors such as hospitality and retail.”

This is a comprehensive repudiation of the Chancellor’s claims by one of his own colleagues. It should come as no surprise. As the latest Joseph Rowntree Foundation work indicates, the people worst hit by the lockdown were low-paid workers and sectors where there were already much higher rates of in-work poverty, such as accommodation and food services. Lone parents – mostly women, many of whom work in hard-hit sectors – have struggled with childcare during lockdown. Such anecdotal evidence would suggest that poverty levels may have increased during the pandemic.

In January, the official Child Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, published a warning to the UK Government on child poverty.  This said: “The Covid crisis is creating a child poverty timebomb that could see millions more children falling into poverty without urgent help … By the end of this parliament, even with a strong economic recovery, one in three children will be living in relative poverty – a level not seen since the 1990s.”


The Chancellor – probably the richest MP in Parliament – has responded to the Child Commissioner’s warning by announcing that he is ending the emergency £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit payments in August: “… my view and the Government's point of view is the best way to help people is to help them into work and make sure those jobs are well paid".

The end of the Universal Credit uplift has been opposed by six former Conservative work and pensions secretaries, including Iain Duncan Smith. They have written to the Chancellor urging him to retain the extra £20 a week payments. 

Chancellor Sunak seems convinced he has reduced poverty but even his own colleagues disagree.

FACT CHECK RATING: Zero. Only the Chancellor thinks he is correct.