Minimum income standards: how might budget standards be set for the UK?

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Britain's New Labour government will spend some 133 billion this year on social protection for vulnerable groups with low incomes such as pensioners, disabled people, and working families with and without children. It also regularly reviews the National Minimum Wage for workers. Although its intentions are laudable, the government can be criticised for setting income floors with little or no grounded assessment of individual welfare requirements. Budget standards, originating in Rowntree's work on poverty at the close of the nineteenth century, offers an alternative for setting minimum incomes. Used by Beveridge in 1942 to rationalise the proposal for social security levels, they have largely been neglected by successive governments and were recently rejected by New Labour in its review of child poverty measures. Academic research, however, continues to identify non-arbitrary income thresholds. The transparency of evidence to maintain a defined standard of living along with the minimal personal costs involved are key attractions. The challenge remains to find a generally acceptable standard. How much emphasis should be given to scientific prescriptions for health compared to popular cultural practices captured by national surveys of poverty and social exclusion or agreed by the consensus of ordinary citizens in focus groups? This article considers the current debate within UK social policy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)619-636
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Social Policy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2005


  • minimum income standards
  • budget standards
  • UK
  • New Labour
  • social protection
  • vulnerable groups
  • minimum wage
  • social policy

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