As many as half the adults defined as 'poor' in Britain are either buying their homes with a mortgage or own their properties outright, a study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reveals.
Another 41% of poor adults live in social housing and 9% in the private rented sector.
The foundation says the findings challenge the existing policy of state support for low-income households, where 92% of help with housing costs goes to tenants and only 8% to owners.
The research, by Professor Roger Burrows of the University of York, finds that mortgage holders were more likely to live in poverty if they were young, lone parents or from a ethnic minority group.
Poverty was also more common among housebuyers in the Midlands and Wales than other regions.
Comparing low-income homeowners with poor people living in other tenures, the study found that nearly half all homeowners who were poor were couples with dependent children, compared with 26% of tenants.
The report calls for a change in traditional thinking about poverty, especially the way that housing tenure is assumed to be a measure of relative advantage or deprivation. It also recommends reassessment of housing benefit and other existing state help with housing costs.
Burrows says: “It is hard to justify the crude discrimination whereby 50% of poor adults live in owner-occupied homes, yet receive only 8% of state assistance with housing costs.
“We must also ask whether the area based interventions designed to tackle social exclusion that are currently targeted on social housing estates are the best way of combating poverty. Homeowners who are poor tend not to be concentrated in particular estates, with the result that current initiatives mostly fail to reach them.”