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Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion

Tania Burchardt

CASE is proud to be a long-standing member of the STICERD family of research centres and programmes. At the core of our agenda is research on the relationship between social and public policies and multiple forms of social and economic disadvantage. Within this, we have research themes on:

  • Welfare states and distributional outcomes
  • Economic inequalities, social mobility and multidimensional poverty
  • Capability, equalities and human rights
  • Childhood, early years and intergenerational relations
  • Housing and communities.

The popularity of the term 'social exclusion' has ebbed and flowed since we adopted it in the late 1990s, but – regrettably – the underlying phenomena of multi-dimensional disadvantage, gaps between the haves and have-nots, and the dynamics of exclusion remain very 'live' social problems. Income poverty is a core concern, and we see this in relation to deprivations in other aspects of life, such as health, education, employment, housing, care and physical security. Similarly, the 'vertical' inequality between rich and poor is important in its own right, and we combine this with an interest in the 'horizontal' inequalities associated with, for example, sex, ethnicity, age and disability. This multidimensional and intersectional perspective is reflected in the Centre's work that has been influential in developing frameworks and applications of the capability approach, including those being used by Equality and Human Rights Commission in Britain, and Oxfam International.

Social Policies and Distributional Outcomes in a Changing Britain

In October 2017, we began a major 3-year programme, 'Social policies and distributional outcomes in a changing Britain', funded by the Nuffield Foundation. It is led by Polly Vizard and John Hills and in partnership with research teams at University of Manchester, Heriot Watt University and UCL Institute for Education. It is overseen by an independent Advisory Board chaired by Dame Frances Cairncross

The central objective of the programme is to provide an authoritative evidence base on social policies and distributional outcomes in 21st century Britain. The central question we are addressing is: What progress has been made in addressing social inequalities through social policies? The research programme is ambitious 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 last 25 years.

The programme of research builds on previous CASE analyses of social policies and distributional outcomes. This includes the Social Policies in a Cold Climate (SPCC) research programme covering the period 1997-2015 and previous outputs such as Towards a More Equal Society and, going back even further, to the State of Welfare books that were published as part of the Welfare State Programme (also under the auspices of STICERD).

The approach provides the ability to look at cumulative outcomes for specific groups across policy areas elsewhere considered in administrative and research silos, and to integrate the unique insights that emerge. For example, the Social Policies in a Cold Climate programme identified the phenomenon of 'selective austerity' through an investigation of how simultaneous changes to social security/ tax, health and social care, education and employment, and housing/communities policies under the UK Coalition government impacted on different groups. Families with young children, youth and the low skilled were significant losers from spending and service cuts.

The SPDO programme will update 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 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 (e.g. social attitudes and subjective experiences); and the inclusion of additional breakdowns (e.g. migration status). This programme also has a forward looking component, identifying the key challenges for social policy in the 2020s.

There are three main research tasks.

  1. First, we are providing detailed and crosscutting documentation, monitoring and analysis of progress made in tackling social inequalities through social policies over the period 2015-2020. This includes 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).
  2. Second, our social policy analysis is being 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 (such as age, socio-economic group, ethnic/ national/religious migration status and area).
  3. Third, our overall assessment of social policies and distributional outcomes covering the period 2015-2020 will be contextualised 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 identifying 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; and changes in the balances between public and private sector roles.

Understanding the links between inequalities and poverty

An understanding that poverty cannot be seriously tackled without addressing inequality has given rise to a number of international organisations (World Bank; UN; WEF; Oxfam) setting joint inequality-poverty reduction targets. However, the evidence base was relatively weak, with only limited information available on the relationship between the two phenomena. A 3-year programme of work, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and led by John Hills, Abigail McKnight, and Polly Vizard in partnership with the International Inequalities Institute, is expanding and deepening the evidence base on the links between inequality and poverty.

The first stage is conceptual clarification. Irene Bucelli's paper examines the normative grounds of our concern about poverty and about inequality. She shows that theories of social justice have tended to emphasise inequality rather than poverty, while humanitarian, rights-based and sufficientarian accounts have been associated with the primacy of poverty. However she argues that there are, or can be, areas of synergy. In the first place, reducing inequality may be instrumentally important to reducing poverty, even where the normative priority remains poverty. Secondly, some grounds of concern overlap, for example, “both poverty and inequality can be seen as violations of human dignity” (p7), and this in turn can be related to the capability approach, with its emphasis on what people are able to be and do.

A second paper, by Lin Yang, canvasses the conceptualisation and measurement of inequality and poverty in the social science literature, while the third and fourth papers arising from this programme explore the empirical association between different measures of poverty and inequality across a range of rich and middle income countries. Eleni Karagiannaki's paper uses a number of international datasets and confirms significant positive associations between levels of income poverty and levels of inequality within countries at a point in time, as well as between changes in poverty and changes in inequality within countries over time (see Figure). These associations are stronger for inequality measured by the Gini and the 90:10 and 50:10 ratios, and there is no consistent pattern for the association between long-term trends in the income shares of the top 10 per cent or top 1 per cent with relative poverty rates. This suggests that, while overall the association between inequality and poverty is strong, "the forces that drive the the evolution of top income inequality and poverty are different" (p5). Moreover Eleni's in-depth examination of the trends for the UK, US, Sweden and Denmark indicates that country-specific factors are important in shaping the relationship between inequality and poverty, including the role played by tax-benefit schemes and broader welfare systems.

Lin Yang and Polly Vizard's paper continues the exploration of the asssociation between income inequality and poverty, but in this case expanding the definition of poverty to encompass material deprivation and multi-dimensional poverty. They confirm strong cross-sectional associations between inequality and poverty using these broader measures for European countries. Changes in inequality over time and changes in multidimensional poverty over time are also positively associated, but not statistically significant. Controlling for income inequality, variations in rates of material deprivation and of multidimensional poverty are associated with 'welfare regime' categorisations, which once again points to the importance of policy as a mediating influence in the relationship between inequality and poverty.

Both programmes described above are on-going and further papers will be made available via the CASE website over the coming months.

See also