Our history

The Bristol Poverty Institute (BPI) is pursuing a multidisciplinary research programme with colleagues across the social sciences, health sciences, engineering and health sciences, in the UK and around the world.

Excellence and quality in research and impact

Research by the BPI and the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research have transformed the definition and measurement of poverty and social exclusion.

Our empirical methodologies for measuring multidimensional adult and child poverty were evaluated in 2006 by the UN Expert Group on Poverty Statistics (Rio Group) and endorsed as 'best practice' to guide national policy makers. In 2011, the European Union (EU) recommended the methods as the academic 'gold standard'.

The combined low income and relative deprivation poverty measure developed for the 1999 Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) Survey research was adopted by the UK, Northern Ireland, Scottish and Welsh governments and is a legally binding official measure in the 2010 Child Poverty Act – receiving all-party support in Parliament.

Empirical methods developed for the 2012 PSE Survey research have helped the EU create an improved consensual deprivation measure. In 2016, EU statistical law changed to mandate the collection and use of this new adult deprivation index for policy making.

David Walker, Head of Policy at the Academy of Social Sciences, argued, “here was strong evidence about what the public actually thinks is acceptable. This is reflexive social research at its best as the original findings get fed into the maw of political and policy debate and the public see their own beliefs refracted and debated.”

The 1999 PSE survey was the first attempt to develop direct measures of social exclusion (rather than using data collected for other purposes).

Subsequent work for the UK Cabinet Office resulted in the B-SEM (Social Exclusion Matrix) in 2007, which was adopted for analytical and policy making purposes by the Government.

More recent theoretical and empirical research for the 2012 PSE has extended the B-SEM framework so that it is now applicable internationally. For example, the International Organisation for Migration (IoM) recently selected the B-SEM model as a framework to measure the exclusion of migrants in Southern Africa.

In 2003, supported by UNICEF and the UK Department for International Development (DFID), we produced the first global scientific estimates of child poverty, revealing that over one billion children were severely deprived of at least one basic human need, such as clean water or sanitation, and 650 million were suffering from Absolute Poverty.

As a part of the process of the UN General Assembly’s adoption its first definition of child poverty, Centre members were granted the honour of addressing the General Assembly about child and youth poverty.

In 2008, our multidimensional child poverty measure was mandated by UNICEF for its first ever Global Study of Child Poverty and Disparities, which involved research and policy advocacy in over 50 low and middle income countries.

As a result, UNICEF said our research had "transformed the way UNICEF and many of its partners understood and measured the poverty suffered by children.... [It] has exposed policy-makers all over the world to a new understanding of child poverty and inequalities. As a consequence, children are more visible in poverty reduction policies and debates".

Our research into the complex links connecting poverty, problem debt, health and education outcomes is world renowned and highly influential. We led multidisciplinary research into area-based targeting of poor health in Wales from 2001-04.

This resulted in a direct needs formula for allocating £3 billion of Welsh NHS funds, adopted by the National Assembly for Wales. Subsequently, Centre members took up public appointments to advise the Welsh Government and London Assembly about inequalities and child poverty.

Similarly, we were the first to systematically compare the penalties of socioeconomic disadvantage on children's skills at school entry in the UK with those in other countries (showing that the impacts of early poverty on school readiness are not immutable).

Our analyses also estimated the relative influence of parental health and well-being, material hardship, the home learning environment and child care experiences. This has been used by the Sutton Trust, Cabinet Office, Resolution Foundation and the National Equalities Panel to inform policy.

From 2005-11, we also led the EdQual Research Programme Consortium with universities in the UK and Africa. Out of 170 applications, EdQual was one of only three funded by DFID. The work created knowledge and strategies for improving the quality of education for poor and disadvantaged learners in sub-Saharan Africa.

The excellence of our work on financial exclusion and the ‘poverty premium’ paid by low-income households is attested to by its influence on UK and EU financial inclusion policy.

This led directly to the introduction of basic bank accounts and the achievement of a government-banking industry target to halve the number of adults in UK households without a bank account (from two million to 730,000).

Our evidence influenced the European Parliament and European Commission to adopt the Directive on access to a basic payment account in 2014, which provides all EU citizens with a right to a basic bank account.

In December 2016, the University launched its new Strategy and created seven Specialist Research Institutes in areas with the greatest potential for world-changing impact.

The Vice Chancellor said, "Our ambition is to be internationally renowned for the breadth, depth and impact of our research. Focusing on the areas of research where we can make a particular contribution to global challenges, and working with the best placed international partners is critical to our success."

The Bristol Poverty Institute brings together a growing community of interdisciplinary researchers who will build the partnerships described here to address the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ‘no poverty’ and to assist the anti-poverty commitments of the EU and the governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the UK.

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