Research theme: Poverty & Social Inequalities

Rates of poverty and social exclusion are persistently high in the UK as well as elsewhere, and are among the most important challenges for social policy today. Currently there are targets to combat poverty and social exclusion at EU level and ‘protecting the poor and excluded’ is a common theme in policy discourse. In addition, the United Nations has recently adopted ‘sustainable development goals’ which apply to OECD countries as well as those in the global south, and expects all these countries including these to halve ‘poverty in all its forms’, as well as eradicating extreme poverty. Poverty and social exclusion are also of course a focus of ongoing research efforts and knowledge exchange. Surveys and databases have been much improved in recent years and much progress has been made on how to define and measure both poverty and social exclusion, which the available evidence tells us are multi-dimensional phenomena affected by a range of economic and social factors. Time, geography and societal structures are important factors in shaping spells of hardship. However, we still know too little about the conditions leading to both poverty and social exclusion and how different aspects of disadvantage may intersect over time. There are also gaps in our knowledge in relation to the impact of particular approaches and policy instruments, meaning that we are still a long way from effective anti-poverty strategies and policies. The lived experience of everyday poverty is also under-researched, especially from the perspective of how people who are themselves living in poverty approach their situation and how they are treated by others.

Our research interests in poverty and social exclusion bridge the global north and south, and prioritise understanding derived from the knowledge of people with direct experience of low income and social exclusion. One strand of research across both OECD countries and those in the global south sought to test in very different contexts the link made by the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen between shame and poverty, and then explored the principles and operation of policies which either exacerbate or manage to sever any such linkage. Another strand is investigating the dimensions of poverty across six very different countries through a form of participatory research with people of different ages with experience of poverty, who then engage in deliberative discussion with groups of other stakeholders (academics, practitioners and others). The context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is clearly highly relevant to this research, which is being conducted in collaboration with an international anti-poverty NGO, ATD Fourth World. Our research will also look at the future impact of poverty in ageing societies. The implications for poverty and inequality in late career, retirement income and long-term care needs require careful study of current and future developments, adopting comparative, longitudinal and prospective analyses. 

Research Projects