Social policies and distributional outcomes in a changing Britain

'Social policies and distributional outcomes in a changing Britain' ("SPDO") is a major new research programme being undertaken by a team of inequalities and social policy experts at the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics in partnership with research teams at University of Manchester, Heriot Watt University and UCL Institute for Education. The research programme is funded by the Nuffield Foundation, and will be overseen by an independent Advisory Board chaired by Dame Frances Cairncross.

Central objectives

The central objective of the SPDO research programme is to provide an authoritative, independent, rigorous and in-depth evidence base on social policies and distributional outcomes in 21st century Britain. The central question to be addressed is: What progress has been made in addressing social inequalities through social policies? The research programme is ambitious and comprehensive in scope, combining in-depth quantitative analysis of trends in social inequalities and social divides with detailed and systematic public expenditure and social policy analysis across ten major social policy areas over the period 2015-2020, together with broader reflection on the changing nature of social policies and distributional outcomes over the 21st century.

The programme of research adds to (and will reflect on) the previous Social Policies in a Cold Climate (SPCC) research programme covering the period 1997-2015. The SPDO programme will update, extend and broaden our analysis of public expenditure, social policies and distributional outcomes using the most recent datasets available, resulting in a unique evidence base on trends in social inequalities and social policies going back to 1997. Innovative extensions included within the SPDO research programme include: coverage of additional areas of social policy (e.g. physical safety/security and complex needs/homelessness); emphasis on the new context for social policy making (e.g. devolution and BREXIT); assessment of a broader range of multidimensional outcomes within our quantitative analysis; and the inclusion of additional breakdowns (e.g. migration status). This programme will also have a forward looking component, identifying the key challenges for social policy in the 2020s.

Research tasks

There are three main research tasks:

  • First, we will provide detailed and cross-cutting documentation, monitoring and analysis of progress made in tackling social inequalities through social policies over the period 2015-2020. This will include an in-depth examination of public expenditure, social policies and their immediate consequences for outcomes over this period across 10 major social policy areas (social security and general housing; health; social care; early years; compulsory school age education; higher education; employment; safety and security; social mobility; and homelessness / complex needs).

  • Second, our social policy analysis will be supplemented by in-depth quantitative analysis of distributional outcomes, drawing on a wide range of social survey and administrative data sets, as well as new insights on social attitudes and social mobility. The distributional analysis will cover five critical dimensions of life (living standards, health/care, education, employment and safety/security) with breakdowns by a range of characteristics (age, socio-economic group, ethnic/national/religious migration status and area).

  • Third, our overall assessment of social policies and distributional outcomes covering the period 2015-2020 will be contexutalised within and informed by broader reflection on the changing nature of social inequalities and progress made in addressing these through social policies going back to the late 1990s as well as on the major social policy challenges ahead. This will include analysis of the evolution of social policy making in 21st century Britain; the changing nature of social inequalities; the changing relationship between the individual and the state; changes in the balances between public and private sector roles; and the key challenges looking forward.


The project outputs will include a series of papers examining social policies and outcomes over the most recent period; time-series analysis of distributional outcomes and social attitudes since 1997 (and especially since the financial crisis and economic downturn); and broader reflection on 25 years of social policy making and social inequalities and the challenges moving forward. While there will be dissemination and engagement activity throughout the three years of the programme to ensure the findings are effectively communicated and debated along the way, the work will culminate in a major event assessing social policies and distributional outcomes in 21st century Britain in September 2020.