Research impact - summary
Our research has changed the way that information about poverty is collected, measured and understood by governments, academics and NGOs in most OECD countries, including all 28 European Union member states, Australia, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland, Taiwan and Turkey.
The Cabinet Office's Social Exclusion Task Force commissioned four pieces of work based on our B-SEM framework, addressing different stages of the life-course. The B-SEM was used by Demos for their 3D Poverty research which then led to the joint work in 2013 of the Family Strategic Partnership and the Family and Parenting Institute.
B-SEM appears in the work of the WHO in 2008; in a 2012 EU report; in the work of the Australian Government in 2008; and by the Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children Board in 2011. It is used in care home management by the Croner-i service; in tackling social exclusion in libraries, museums, archives and galleries; and in the UK Equip tool, developed for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and used by housing providers to assess the impact of their policies and, this year, by the International Organization for Migration (IoM).
Improving global efforts to reduce child poverty and deprivation
In 2006-07, UNICEF used our Approach to facilitate the UN General Assembly to adopt a new, international definition of child poverty which reflects the needs and rights of children. It noted: "According to this new definition, measuring child poverty can no longer be lumped together with general poverty assessments which often focus solely on income levels, but must take into consideration access to basic social services, especially nutrition, water, sanitation, shelter, education and information".
UNICEF then made our Approach a core part of its Global Study on Child Poverty and Disparities, conducted in 54 countries with over 1.5 billion children. The team advised UNICEF country offices, ran training workshops, undertook analyses and guided governments and NGOs in applying the multi-dimensional approach. The regional and national benefits include:
- The Chinese Government's Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development decided to consider child poverty as distinct from adult poverty, conduct research and identify the dynamics of child-poverty alleviation. Child poverty targets were incorporated in the ten-year National Rural Poverty Reduction Strategy 2011-2020, which will benefit China's 322 million children;
- The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean applied the Approach to produce the first regional study of child poverty in 2010, using our research to design a free multilingual, multimedia training guide for estimating child poverty. This is used by advocates for children's rights, journalists, NGOs and policy makers across the continent;
- The Mozambique Government has approved a Children's Act and incorporated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into national legislation. It has invested in education and health, reducing the proportion of children experiencing deprivation and, in 2010, introduced the Basic Social Protection Strategy. In 2013, UNICEF's Senior Social Policy Specialist reported that our research has led to increased Government budget allocations for programmes to deal with child poverty;
- We provided the first ever estimates of child poverty in Haiti, reflected in the 2008 Haitian National Poverty Reduction Strategy and UNICEF's 2009-2011 Country Programme. Following the earthquake of January 2010, our work was also used by UNICEF in its Humanitarian Action Report 2010: Partnering for Children in Emergencies;
- UNICEF has used our work in its Socio-Economic Policies for Child Rights with Equity training programme for all professional staff and to create a free online tool for conducting Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis (MODA);
- In Mali, the Study results in 2008 were instrumental in helping to convene the first national forum on poverty which led to an action plan on social protection and the Government of Mali establishing a mandatory health insurance policy and a healthcare assistance fund for the poorest 5% of the population;
- In Tanzania, the Study directly influenced the government to develop and pass the Law of the Child Act at the end of 2009, which provides a legislative framework for reducing child poverty and fulfilling child rights
In 2016, a Centre member was appointed to the UNICEF Office of Research Advisory Board to continue providing expertise on child poverty measurement and anti-poverty policies.
Reducing inequalities in educational attainment
The Foundation Years Trust (FYT) commissioned the creation of the Brief Early Skills & Support Index to operationalize the factors identified by our research. This has resulted in the package of FYT programmes that supports families from pregnancy to when a child enters school.
The need, highlighted by researchers, to promote early language development was linked to the role of health visitors in the Foundation Years Strategy. Commitments to increase the health visitor workforce and expand the Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) programme have led to a 50% increase in the number of health visitors and an additional 4,000 FNP places.
Our research has been used in English schools to address the needs of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) learners. Over the past 20 years, we have measured the increased likelihood that BME pupils are at greater risk of both poverty and educational underachievement. These studies have shaped Government policy including the implementation of the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant and the Black Pupils Achievement Programme.
Improving access to financial services for low-income households
Our research set out a blueprint for a bank account better suited to the needs of people on low incomes than a traditional current account (notably no credit facility but, ideally, a small ‘buffer zone’). This blueprint can be seen in the basic bank accounts introduced by banks and building societies from 2002-03 and still available today. The proportion of households without a bank account dropped from 20-25% in the late 1990s, to 8% in 2002/03 and less than 2% in 2013/14.
The DWP Growth Fund increased access to affordable credit through credit unions and other non-profit lenders between 2006 and 2011. Our evaluation of this programme led to a DWP feasibility study to modernise and expand credit unions which, in turn, led to an investment of £38 million in the Credit Union Expansion Project which aims to attract one million more credit union members and increase lending to £1bn by 2019.
In 2008, we were an expert partner on a European Commission study to identify the most effective policy measures to prevent financial exclusion and we advised Eurostat on the design of surveys to capture financial exclusion data. The European Commission launched a public consultation on ensuring access to basic bank accounts and has adopted a Recommendation and a Directive to provide every EU citizen with the right to a basic payment account.
The approach, developed by our academics, has led directly to similar research in India and Australia to establish the extent and nature of financial exclusion among their adult populations. This has led to an Australian Financial Inclusion Action Plan in 2016.
Also in 2016, the UK Prime Minister set out the Government’s intention for a new ‘Help to Save’ scheme to encourage people on low incomes to build up a rainy day fund. This scheme is broadly modelled on our work and espouses the same fundamental ideas and approach. A public consultation ran from May-July 2016 and our research is cited in two submissions.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has used our Poverty Premium research in their comprehensive report, UK poverty: Causes, costs and solutions, which presents their solution to poverty in the UK. In January 2017, Kate Schmeucker of JRF wrote that the research “has laid bare the scale of the poverty premium… [It] enables us to quantify for the first time the number of households subject to different types of poverty premium.”
Our lead researcher in this field is a Commissioner in the Financial Inclusion Commission,an independent body of experts drawn from frontbench UK politics, senior management in financial services, businesses and the charity sector, national regulators and academia. She is also a member of the Financial Services Consumer Panel, an independent statutory body that represents the interests of consumers in the regulation of financial services.
Improving the quality of education for poor children in Africa
The “Leadership and Management” strand of the EdQual programme assisted Ghanaian academics to develop evidence that persuaded their government to fund national professional development programmes for primary school leaders throughout Ghana. Our work helped head teachers to devise and implement a range of successful initiatives: community support for school meals, remedial classes to boys who were going out to work; and a programme to reduce sexual risk and pregnancy for young girls. Simpler projects influenced parents to make sure children ate breakfast and came to school with pen and exercise books. Access to education and literacy, especially for girls, is often used as a measure of poverty. Education enables improvements in life chances for girls, and improving access is one way the EdQual programme impacted upon poverty in Ghana.
A further legacy is that one of EdQual’s PhD students has been appointed Coordinator for the Leadership for Learning (LfL) Programme with the Ghana Education Service. LfL builds the leadership capacity of school head teachers in order to improve the quality of education and bring children out of their inherited chain of poverty.
A second strand of EdQual, “Language and Literacy”, worked in Tanzania and Rwanda to improve the content and reading level of books for primary school children, making them more appropriate for children from rural villages. The new books have improved children’s learning and government procurement guidelines have encouraged publishers to produce books that are more accessible to poor children. Rwanda’s Ministry of Education has used the EdQual experience to generate an appetite for innovative approaches to aid the disadvantaged. An EdQual PhD student led Rwanda’s successful bid for a World Bank Award for Excellence.
Thirdly, the “School Effectiveness” strand used our Institution’s expertise in multi-level modelling to analyse data on school performance. Data from 42,000 primary school pupils, teachers and head teachers in 14 Sub-Saharan African countries were used to understand how factors within and outside a school can explain variability in pupil performance. The Ministry of Education and Vocational Training Zanzibar subsequently implemented value-added measurement methods, leading to poverty-sensitive measures of progress.
Homelessness, poverty and housing law
The University has built a unique dataset on the use of the Homelessness Review process, based upon surveys since 1996. Key findings are that few homeless people use the process and local authorities have widely varying numbers of reviews. Factors dissuading people from using the Review process are a lack of knowledge, transience of abode and a lack of trust. This longstanding expertise led an academic to be seconded to the Welsh Government to translate policy ideas into instructions for staff drafting the Renting Homes Wales Act 2016 which changes the law of security and tenancy for 660,000 people in Wales. The Act’s purpose is to make tenants’ rights clear, plain and up front, making the law accessible to citizens.
Poverty and health inequalities
The University’s pioneering approach to life-course research has had a significant impact on policy and practice. Research into of life-course influences related to health inequalities has shown that two conditions, stroke and stomach cancer, appear to be particularly responsive to early-life influences while others, such as coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive respiratory disease, breast cancer and suicide, appear to be influenced by social-patterned exposure acting across life. A life-course perspective facilitates more effective policy and practice interventions to help reduce the impact of poverty and deprivation on health.
For example, work with colleagues in north-east Brazil has shown that worse development outcomes are found in those low birthweight (LBW) babies who are exposed to environmental and nutritional deprivation in the first six months of life. The Brazilian Government has prioritised nursery places for LBW children and introduced early health interventions to tackle the amplifying effects of continued poverty. In another study, the integration of supplemental nutrition with public health programmes in pregnancy and early childhood was shown to reduce cardiovascular risk in rural Indian adolescents. Our research has also shown that injury in childhood is strongly linked to poverty, and identified specific injuries (such as scalds to young children) which are being targeted in prevention campaigns.
Our research influenced the independent inquiry into health inequalities, chaired by Sir Donald Acheson, and the more recent inquiries into socio-economic determinants of health, chaired by Sir Michael Marmot. Over the past 30 years, we have helped to shift the scientific debate about the primary causes of health inequalities away from the ‘victim blaming’ health behaviours of the ‘poor’ towards the now wide-spread recognition of the complex mechanisms by which poverty can result in premature death. The University continues to lead the field, exploiting epigenetics as a biological mechanism to explain how social exposures ‘get under our skin’ and shape health in later life.
Research into poverty at our University has had deep and far-reaching global impacts. The Institute is at the forefront of poverty research and our work has been applied worldwide in order to develop more effective and efficient anti-poverty policies. Our rigorous, innovative and cutting edge approach to poverty measurement has enabled us to disentangle the complex inter-relationships between poverty, deprivation, financial exclusion and detrimental education and health outcomes. This has helped policy makers and practitioners to develop effective interventions which will continue to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.