Many Turkish people in Europe are worse off than those who stayed at home

Author: Dr Şebnem Eroğlu-Hawksworth 

Many people migrate to another country to earn a decent income and to attain a better standard of living. But my recent research shows that across all destinations and generations studied, many migrants from Turkey to European countries are financially worse off than those who stayed at home.

Even if there are some non-monetary benefits of staying in the destination country, such as living in a more orderly environment, this raises fundamental questions. Primarily, why are 79% of the first-generation men who contributed to the growth of Europe by taking on some of the dirtiest, riskiest manual jobs – like working in asbestos processing and sewage canals – still living in income poverty? There is a strong indication that the European labour markets and welfare states are failing migrants and their descendants.

In my recent book, Poverty and International Migration (2022), I examined the poverty status of three generations of migrants from Turkey to multiple European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. I compared them with the ‘returnees’ who moved back to Turkey and the ‘stayers’ who have never left the country.

The study covers the period from the early 1960s to the time of their interview (2010-2012), and draws on a sample of 5,980 adults within 1,992 families. The sample was composed of living male ancestors (those who went first were typically men), their children and grandchildren.

A Turkish guest worker working in a factory in Loosduinen, the Netherlands in 1971 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

For my research, the poverty line was set at 60% of the median disposable household income (adjusted for household size) for every country studied. Those who fall below the country threshold are defined as the income poor.

Data for this research is drawn from the 2000 Families Survey, which I conducted with academics based in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. The survey generated what is believed to be the world’s largest database on labour migration to Europe through locating the male ancestors who moved to Europe from five high migration regions in Turkey during the guest-worker years of 1960-1974 and their counterparts who did not migrate at the time.

It charts the family members who were living in various European countries up to the fourth generation, and those that stayed behind in Turkey. The period corresponds to a time when labourers from Turkey were invited through bi-lateral agreements between states to contribute to the building of western and northern Europe.

The results presented in my book show that four-fifths (79%) of the first-generation men who came to Europe as guest-workers and ended up settling there lived below an income poverty line, compared with a third (33%) of those that had stayed in the home country. By the third generation, around half (49%) of those living in Europe were still poor, compared with just over a quarter (27%) of those who remained behind.

Migrants from three family generations residing in countries renowned for the generosity of their welfare states were among the most impoverished. Some of the highest poverty rates were observed in Belgium, Sweden and Denmark.

For example, across all three generations of migrants settled in Sweden, 60% were in income poverty despite an employment rate of 61%. This was the highest level of employment observed for migrants in all the countries studied. Migrants in Sweden were also, on average, more educated than those living in other European destinations.

My findings also reveal that while more than a third (37%) of ‘stayers’ from the third generation went on to complete higher education. This applied to less than a quarter (23%) of the third generation migrants spread across European countries.

Returnees did well

Having a university education turned out not to improve the latter’s chances of escaping poverty as much as it did for the family members who had not left home. The ‘returnees’ to Turkey were, on the other hand, found to fare much better than those living in Europe and on a par with, if not better than, the ‘stayers’.

Less than a quarter of first- and third-generation returnees (23% and 24% respectively) experienced income poverty and 43% from the third generation attained a higher education qualification. The money they earned abroad along with their educational qualifications seemed to buy them more economic advantage in Turkey than in the destination country.

The results of the research should not be taken to mean that international migration is economically a bad decision as we still do not know how impoverished these people were prior to migration. First-generation migrants are anecdotally known to be poorer at the time of migration than those who decided not to migrate during guest-worker years, and are likely to have made some economic gains from their move. The returnees’ improved situation does lend support to this.

Nor should the findings lead to the suggestion that if migrants do not earn enough in their new home country, they should go back. Early findings from another piece of research I am currently undertaking suggests that while income poverty considerably reduces migrants’ life satisfaction, there are added non-monetary benefits of migration to a new destination. The exact nature of these benefits remains unknown but it is likely to do, for example, with living in a better organised environment that makes everyday life easier.

However, we still left with the question of why migrants are being left in such poverty. Coupled with the findings from another recent study demonstrating that more than half of Europeans do not welcome non-EU migrants from economically poorer countries, evidence starts to suggest an undercurrent of systemic racism may be acting as a cause.

If migrants were welcome, one would expect destination countries with far more developed welfare states than Turkey to put in place measures to protect guest workers against the risk of poverty in old age, or prevent their children and grandchildren from falling so far behind their counterparts in Turkey in accessing higher education.

They would not let them settle for lower returns on their educational qualifications in more regulated labour markets. It’s also unlikely we would have observed some of the highest poverty rates in countries with generous welfare states such as Sweden – top ranked for its anti-discrimination legislation, based on equality of opportunity.

Overall, the picture for ‘unwanted’ migrants appears to be rather bleak. Unless major systemic changes are made, substantial improvement to their prospects are unlikely.

Dr Şebnem Eroğlu-Hawksworth is a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Bristol. Her research focuses on poverty and household livelihoods, and on the economic behaviour, success and integration of migrants. Her recent book, Poverty and International Migration: A Multi-Site and Intergenerational Perspective (2022) is published by Policy Press.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. The article was also published on the Migration Mobilities Bristol blog.

Old Friends, New School: A UoB student’s experience of teaching in India

This BPI blog post was written by Sebastian Constable, a final year BSc Economics Student at the University of Bristol. In this post Sebastian shares his experience teaching at a school in rural West Bengal, India before he started his course at Bristol. He writes about the school system in India, including the role some schools actively play in accommodating children living below the poverty line.


In 2019 I spent six months teaching at St. Xavier’s English School in Chalsa, Rural West Bengal. When my girlfriend and I returned to St. Xavier’s for a month long visit in 2022, I realised how much has changed since my previous visit. The school’s growing intake has forced the youngest three years (Nursery, Lower Kindergarten, and Upper Kindergarten) off-site, into the school hostel, where the Principal’s family, some staff, and eighteen students currently live, and where we also called home during our stay.

Every day this summer we were woken up by the shouts of raucous 4-year-olds, serenading us with their morning nursery rhymes. The door of our bedroom led straight onto the corridor where nursery was held, forcing us to manoeuvre through a sea of toddlers and their bags as we journeyed to breakfast.

Children learning at St. Xavier’s English School, West Bengal
A lesson taking place in the corridor of the school hostel, St. Xavier’s English School, West Bengal, India.

We would spend our days at the school, either doing arts and crafts with the students in preparation for the fundraiser or teaching English: recapping the different tenses, how to form questions, and writing thrilling horror stories!

Outside of class, the children constantly wanted to be read to or taken to the ground to play football, so we had a lot of fun messing around too. The Principal’s bantering personality, matched with his eagerness to learn, hadn’t changed one bit. He would be constantly asking the definition of complex words, or making fun of our silly ways. Teacher friends cooked us delicious meals, and took us to meet their families in the mountains, while former students returned to visit us and catch up over tea.

The school’s commitment to education is reflected in its values. For example, upon returning we found out that one of our most promising former students, Swati (aged 13), had been forced to leave the school due to her mother’s death and instead worked in a tea garden for the equivalent of £7.20 per week. We arranged to visit her with the Principal, who spoke to her father and agreed to allow her to move back into the school hostel and resume her studies for free.

The diverse school, hosting Adivasis, Bengalis, Hindis, and Nepalis, with students breaking from their English medium education into their respective vernacular classes, was set up independently by the Principal.

In this part of India, free state schools have between 80-100 students in one class, without the option to learn in English – all classes are taught in Hindi. The children explain how those at the front can learn, while the others can’t hear, begin to talk, and are forgotten about. Moreover, to maintain control over so many students, silent study, copying work from the board and learning it by rote, is enforced with corporal punishment. Hence, visionary independent schools, which bring opportunities to children who otherwise would have no meaningful chance of progressing their education, contain enormous value. Overcoming such a lack of active student engagement, vivacious debate, and creative exploration is fundamental to St. Xavier’s vision, where everything possible is being done to keep class sizes small.

Group photo of class six, St. Xavier’s English School, West Bengal
Class VI, St. Xavier’s English School

The school fees are between 400-700 Rupees a month, depending on the age of the student, which roughly equates to between £4-7, and allows the pupils to access high quality teaching, music lessons, karate and other sports sessions, as well as annual programmes, such as Sports and Independence Day celebrations.

In line with Indian Government guidelines, 25 of the school’s 400 students study for free. On top of this, Prem Lepcha, the Principal, provides free education to an additional 50 students and free accommodation to 10 of the 18 hostellers, all of whom, as the Principal explained to us, live below the national poverty line. The other students living in the hostel pay between 2000-4000 Rupees in total per month for their accommodation and education, according to what their parents earn.

As evident in Swati’s case, without this school, and the hostel which allows them to live on-site, many students would face a life of menial work and very low wages. The hostel houses many people who would be otherwise outcast from society: those with divorced parents or vulnerable individuals, with few remaining relatives. Moreover, the school is fairly unique in the fact that it is English Medium which opens many doors for the students’ future prospects.

Recognising that the hostel is becoming an impractical place to learn and an uncomfortable place to live, my girlfriend and I were driven to create an ambitious fundraising project to help improve the situation. The children enthusiastically made bracelets, necklaces, and cards for us to sell in the UK as part of these fundraising efforts.

We have sent the first round of funds to the headteacher, and building work has commenced on a plot of land just behind the existing building. The school is very excited about the project, with the Principal expecting new admissions due to the improvements. All seven of the new classrooms will be 20 x 25 feet, in line with government guidelines. In addition there will be a nursery playroom, and an outdoor playground, ensuring that the students have more space to learn creatively.

Building site at St. Xavier’s English School
Building is under way at St. Xavier’s English School

With my girlfriend receiving a place on a Master’s course with a term taught at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, we are excited to be returning to India in 2024, and are eagerly awaiting a chance to visit all our friends and the new building in Chalsa.

If this initiative is something you would like to support, Sebastian invites you to visit their fundraising page.

As part of Dr Zahra Siddique’s Economics of Developing Countries course at the University of Bristol, Sebastian is carrying out a group project which analyses the labour market implications of vocational education in India.

The economic impact of COVID in the UK depended on where you live

Shutterstock/ 3DJustincase

Julie MacLeavy, Professor of Economic Geography, University of Bristol
David Manley, Professor of Human Geography, University of Bristol
Jamie Evans, Senior Research Associate, University of Bristol; and
Katie Cross, Senior Research Associate, University of Bristol

COVID brought rapid and lasting economic change around the world. But in the UK, the level of impact depended on where you lived when the virus arrived.

Our research shows that the economic difficulties experienced during periods of social restrictions were particularly stark for those in deprived neighbourhoods.

During the first national lockdown, for example, we found that 23% of people in the most deprived parts of the UK were unable to afford day-to-day expenses or to save for the future. Food bank usage was reported at 9%. In the least deprived places, those figures were 6% and 0.5% respectively.

The impact on employment followed a similar pattern, with 10% of workers from the most deprived areas experiencing a job loss in the early months of the pandemic, compared with only 4% in the least deprived areas. Overall, the people who live in the UK’s most deprived neighbourhoods fell further behind through the pandemic.

This corresponds with previous data that lays bare how being poor limits a person’s ability to cope with – and recover from – abrupt changes in economic conditions. Mostly, this stems from a lack of capacity to soak up financial shocks (having savings, for example) and from the nature of state welfare provision.

With COVID, the sudden restrictions placed on the labour market, alongside an absence of childcare, placed many in uncharted waters. Among them, single-parent households were much more likely to have experienced job loss or a reduction in working hours.

A report by the independent Women’s Budget Group found that the socio-economic effects of COVID were particularly severe for women with disabilities, women from minority ethnic groups, and women of migrant status. Again, this underlines how the pandemic exposed and amplified existing vulnerabilities.

In terms of emergency support, the temporary universal credit increase (which provided an additional £20 a week to the standard allowance) helped to reduce overall inequality. And the furlough scheme (plus similar support for the self-employed) reached many in potential difficulty – but not all.

Brought in to prevent potential mass unemployment and pay workers a replacement wage, these policies excluded many in the most precarious positions, including an estimated three million on zero-hour contracts, agency workers and the newly self-employed.

But those eligible for employment support were not immune from difficulty. About one-third of the 11.2 million workers furloughed saw their income fall below the official low-pay threshold. A further 6% ended up behind with their bills as a result of large income falls, high expenses and low savings.

Filling the gaps in state support were family, friends and community groups, many of which were set up in direct response to the pandemic. Informal transfers of money from these sources were common for those on the lowest incomes, regardless of where they lived.

Continued risk

This highlights a failure of state support to fully mitigate the effects of COVID restrictions for those facing financial, food and housing insecurity. Despite the government spending over £70 billion on emergency financial assistance, a combination of insufficient payments and problems of access left many reliant on informal forms of support. In addition, there is evidence that the stigma surrounding benefits put a lot of people off applying for help, even when they really needed it.

Our analysis found that working-age adults were more likely to have received financial support from family or friends (8%) than apply for universal credit (4%). We also found that this kind of reliance was more likely among those who had been furloughed than those who had continued working through the pandemic, and even more widespread for those who had lost their job, suggesting that the furlough scheme, while not perfect, was better than mass job losses.

High street without shoppers.
Empty streets in Sheffield, UK, April 2020. (Shutterstock/Kristin Greenwood)

Today, while the worst effects of COVID seem to be behind us, the risks of job losses, business failures and debt defaults remain. In the UK, recession is expected, inflation is high, and energy bills are soaring. Of particular concern are those for whom the pandemic has increased their financial vulnerability. They are not well placed to weather this coming crisis.

Rather than scale back state financial support, the government needs to ensure the poorest and most vulnerable are protected. In doing so, they would guard against the scarring effects of unemployment and debt.

There is also a role for targeted regional investment. The financial impacts of the pandemic were most keenly experienced by those in places with long histories of deeply entrenched disadvantage. Without help, the hardship and insecurity wrought by the pandemic risks becoming ingrained, and with it, the geographical concentration of poverty that our analysis has uncovered.The Conversation

Julie MacLeavy, Professor of Economic Geography, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol
David Manley, Professor of Human Geography, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol
Jamie Evans, Senior Research Associate, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol; and
Katie Cross, Senior Research Associate, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From research to practice: My outreach experience in Africa

By Cynthia L. Fonta, Final year Doctorate candidate, School for Policy Studies

Volunteering and outreach activities

I volunteered in a research institution in a community in Burkina Faso prior to joining the School for Policy Studies as a postgraduate research student. It was a lonely four hours’ drive to that community from the city. The roads were terribly dusty during the dry season and flooded in the wet seasons. We had to pass several flooded bridges in the wet season – a risky crossing. Just getting there was a nightmare but then, you tend to forget all agitations and worries once you have arrived. It was a natural and untouched environment with clean air and wonderful people. I fell in love with the villagers with their friendly and generous nature.

What struck me the most was how forgotten they were by the development plans and projects. I could see in their eyes the unspoken truth of suffering and poverty. Water was not clean; sanitation was in the bushes and no households who could afford even unimproved pit toilets.  I thought to myself, how can something as basic as this be a luxury? How can there be campaigns to increase Vitamin A uptake, mass deworming programs, hand washing sensitisation campaigns without the most basic key to life, clean water services? These are all good strategies, but in my opinion, they must be integrated with the most important needs of the community.

I suddenly had the urge and motivation to go back to school to enhance my research skills and influence policy. I had no financial means to help, I had no voice to speak and the only way I could have a voice was through research. So, my journey to Bristol began. I met my current supervisor, Professor Gordon, whose work had so much inspired me to understand child poverty and how it was measured. The rest was history. The very idea that I realised my dreams to study policy in health-related research is itself a blessing I never take for granted. My stipends from the University of Bristol studentship helped me adjust to student life and take care of my cost-of living expenses. A small part of it was saved every month because I promised myself to do something someday to help an impoverished community.


I went back home for the summer break to be with my kids while working remotely from home, Yaounde, Cameroon. It was my first time living in that community in Yaounde. Early on, I noticed children walking down the hill with buckets to fetch water. Their ages ranged from as small as four years to adults.  I decided to drill a bore hole for the community with some funds put aside from my stipend. Notice the little boy fetching water into the container for drinking in the photo on the right-hand side above? The water has been tested and it is odourless, colourless, free of chemicals and microbes. I thank the University of Bristol and the Bristol Poverty Institute for granting such an opportunity to make a difference in this small way.

Blog author Cynthia L. Fonta

I also had the opportunity to meet a lovely group of persons with special needs at the Centre des Handicapés (special needs centre) at Etoug-Ebe in Yaounde Cameroon during same period. This meeting took place during a three-day symposium organised by the deputy director of the Centre (centred with the white face cap in the photo below), Mr Douglas Achingale. I was invited by one of the guest speakers.

Members of the Centre des Handicapés, including Deputy Director Mr Douglas Achingale (with white cap)

The participants came from all provinces across the country to discuss their challenges and difficulties of navigating their limitations in such resource poor settings. They were educated about their rights as included in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), followed by a series of entertainment activities.

The director owns an NGO Sports on Wheels Association whose main purpose is to promote sporting activities among people with special needs. They are known throughout the country for organising country wide basketball tournaments, table tennis tournaments, weightlifting and other indoor activities for persons with special needs to uplift their spirits and keep them healthy. It was really impressive.

My research and future interests

My research focuses on child poverty and deprivation in decent living standard (clean water, adequate sanitation, access to health and adequate diet, quality housing, access to education and information) across African states and the implications of poverty on child mental health states. Child poverty is examined in the context of postcolonial economic and administrative dependency structures linked to persistent unequal distribution of poverty and under-development in the continent. African states are categorised into two groups, Anglophone Africa, governed under indirect ruling structures set up by English colonists, and Francophone African states which ruled under centralised or direct ruling polices set up by French colonists. The overall aim of the study is to determine which group produced worse child poverty outcomes and inequality distribution to direct policy priorities. Here, large secondary data from varied sources are harmonized over different survey years to produce robust poverty and inequality estimates.

The School for Policy Studies and my supervisors, Professor David Gordon and Dr Zoi Toumpakari, have guided my epistemic way of thinking to critically theorise, conceptualise and hypothesise innovations and ideas to provide the best evidence for policy. They exposed me to managing large data sets, multidimensional poverty estimations, inequality calculations and multilevel regression analysis. I intend to carry on with these skills by conducting research in vulnerable groups anywhere in the world. I have done some work on elderly wellbeing, currently doing some work on children in poverty and hopefully in the future, work with persons with special needs or maternal wellbeing. I intend to use these skills to shine a light on impoverished and vulnerable groups in the society through community research and implementation activities.

Advice to policy students

My advice to policy students is to follow their passion, be innovative in thinking and remain in constant touch with supervisors who will guide and harness your thoughts, innovations, and productivity. Present your work in conferences and research groups to gain feedback for improvements. Volunteer as much in research institutions or programs because it opens one’s mind to relevant problems and areas on which to focus. Take advantage of every conference or program you attend to grow your research network and request to volunteer in any program that might be of your interest. Your supervisors are your guide to this lonely and challenging path to obtaining a PhD. It gets challenging as the workload increases over the years, but it takes dedication, commitment and focus to keep going, following the directions of your supervisors every step of the way.

Volunteering and outreach institutional contacts

Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Contact- Jean-Noël Poda (

Centre National de Réhabilitation des Personnes Handicapées, Yaoundé, Cameroon
Contact- Mr Douglas Achingale (

Disabled people are already cutting back on costs more than others – for many, the £150 cost of living payment won’t do much to help

Sharon Collard, Professor of Personal Finance, University of Bristol
Jamie Evans, Senior Research Associate, Personal Finance Research Centre, University of Bristol

Even before the current cost of living crisis, disabled people were much more likely than non-disabled people to be in poverty and living on inadequate incomes. Now, spiralling living costs are adding to years of financial disadvantage. Our new analysis of YouGov survey data starkly illustrates the situation, showing that three in ten disabled households are in serious financial difficulty.

The UK government has announced several measures that will provide some relief for many, including an energy price freeze and payments totalling £650 for people on means-tested benefits. All households will also receive a £400 reduction in energy bills via instalments spread over six months, and 8 million pensioner households are receiving a separate one-off payment of £300.

Disabled people who receive benefits that aren’t based on income (non-means-tested) will also get a one-off cost of living payment of £150. But while these measures are welcome, this amount is a fraction compared to the additional costs disabled people typically have to cover.

Disabled households often need to spend more on essentials like heating and insurance, as well as necessary equipment, therapies and support. In 2019, disability charity Scope estimated that disabled people in the UK face extra costs of £583 per month, on average. For one fifth of disabled people, this “disability price tag” was over £1,000.

Source: Pixabay

Rising energy costs are particularly impacting households that need to run vital equipment. Wheelchairs, feeding and suction pumps, or ceiling hoists all need to be constantly charged. Some people may also need additional heating to stay warm to prevent pain or seizures.

Considering these already higher costs, it should not come as a surprise that disabled households are disproportionately cutting back or doing without compared with other households. We found that four in ten have cut back on overall spending in 2022, and half have already struggled to keep their home warm this year. Similar proportions have reported reducing their use of the cooker and shower.

Around one in ten non-disabled households report that rising costs mean they are eating fewer meals. This rises to three in ten among disabled households. A survey conducted by the charity Family Fund found that half of carers looking after disabled children have skipped meals in the last year. We increasingly hear about “choosing between heating and eating”, but there are concerning reports of some being forced to choose between heating and medication.

Many disabled households are already at a breaking point, even before we enter a more costly winter. There is nothing else these families can cut back on. The situation is so dire for some that for the first time in its history, the deaf-blind and complex impairments charity Sense is giving cost of living grants of £500 directly to families.

When work and benefits aren’t enough

Soaring inflation means that disabled people in employment are experiencing the same real terms fall in wages as the rest of the working-age population. Around half of working-age disabled people are in work, but many others are excluded from participating in the labour market.

There is a large gap between the rate of disabled and non-disabled people in employment, for many reasons including structural and discriminatory barriers. Disabled people are also underemployed due to the quality of jobs on offer to them, forced to take lower-skilled or lower-paid roles offering fewer or infrequent hours.

Across all UK households in serious financial difficulty, disabled households are much more likely to have no earners than their non-disabled counterparts. But with a quarter of disabled households who have two full-time workers currently in serious financial difficulty, work is by no means a guarantee of avoiding hardship. In-work poverty disproportionately affects disabled people.

Disabled people are more likely to engage with the social security system. This is partly due to their lower employment rate, but also because there are benefits available to assist with the higher cost of living with a disability. State benefits for disabled people rose by 3.1% in April.

But, as is the case with earned income, rising inflation means that benefits are shrinking in real terms. For disabled households, this means substantial monthly financial losses.

Families with a disabled adult were among the hardest hit groups from changes to the social security system in the 2010s, with the inadequacy of provision for disabled people attracting widespread criticism. The process of applying for disability benefits has been described by disability campaigners and charities as complicated and inhumane.

For lower-income disabled households, these new cost of living payments will be insufficient or at best, a short-term solution to longstanding financial inequalities. These disadvantages are more widely corrosive, driving social exclusion, limiting agency and choice, and ultimately impacting people’s mental health and wellbeing.

To meet the scale of the crisis faced by disabled households, longer-term solutions – such as proposals for a decent social security system – are certainly needed if we are to avoid a further decline in living standards.The Conversation

Sharon Collard, Professor of Personal Finance, University of Bristol and Jamie Evans, Senior Research Associate, Personal Finance Research Centre, University of Bristol.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. It was also previously re-blogged by PolicyBristol Hub.

Four things that cost more if you’re already poor – and some simple ways to help fix this

Author: Sara Davies, Senior Research Fellow, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol

As the UK faces the sharpest increase in the cost of living in a generation, households across the country are feeling the pinch. Those already on low incomes are affected most, not just because they have less money to begin with, but also because they actually pay more to access essential goods and services than anyone else.

Known as the “poverty premium”, it is essentially an extra cost of being poor. Much of this premium is driven by systems which effectively penalise low-income households for not being able to afford more economical ways of paying for everyday necessities.

I recently led a University of Bristol investigation, funded by the charity Fair by Design, which revealed that where people live has a significant effect on the extent of the premiums they incur. In the poorest areas of the UK, families pay up to £541 a year more than affluent families to access the same basic essentials.

Here are four things that can cost more if you’re already poor:

Source: Pixabay

1. Spreading costs

Some household costs come with a choice of paying the full amount up front, or spreading the total over the course of a year. This can apply to anything from insurance to a mobile phone or a fridge. But the “choice” usually involves paying extra if you don’t pay in full. Faced with an unaffordable upfront payment, households without the means will naturally end up paying extra if they need to spread the cost.

Other bills are cheaper if you pay by direct debit. But if a household’s income fluctuates due to insecure work, then paying when you get the bill is the financially responsible, but more expensive, method.

In other words, poorer customers are given the illusion of consumer choice, when really there is only one option available.

2. Prepayment meters

Using pre-payment meters for gas and electricity, which have to be constantly topped up, typically costs households using them £131 a year more than paying by direct debit. This is because the standing charge is higher for pre-payment meters than other meters, although it is hard to see what the extra cost covers.

For our work we looked at one of the most deprived areas in the UK, where more than 11,000 households rely on electricity pre-payment meters, taking more than £730,000 a year out of the pockets of people in that community.

Certain groups are disproportionately exposed to this aspect of the poverty premium, including people with disabilities and those who are housebound. As energy bills hit record highs it’s the poorest households and most vulnerable who are already facing the worst consequences, with increasing numbers being pulled into fuel poverty.

When energy prices soared in April 2022, there were warnings that record numbers of pre-payment meter customers were “self-disconnecting” by not topping up their meters.

3. Higher insurance premiums

We found that low-income households often pay much more for home or car insurance because of where they live, or rather, where they can afford to live. Insurers factor in a perceived risk to vehicles and property, depending on the neighbourhood.

With motor insurance for example, taking the same profile of person and vehicle, the extra cost for insurance in a deprived area rose sharply from £74 on average in 2016 to £298 in 2019. Households in deprived rural areas where car ownership is a necessity are even more vulnerable to this premium than areas of higher deprivation in cities.

While our work suggests that the poverty premium for home insurance is less, unlike car insurance it is not a legal requirement. The UK’s financial regulator has warned that the cost of living crisis could force people to cancel or cut back on insurance costs, with potentially ruinous consequences – and if the worst happened low-income households would be unlikely to have the means to replace essential items.

4. Financial services

The poverty premium can even be seen in the very act of accessing money, through paying to withdraw cash from fee-charging cash machines or through higher-interest loans and credit cards. It is estimated that around 1,700 cash machines in the UK switched from being free to charging a fee at the start of 2019. These changes were more common in deprived areas.

Source: Flickr Creative Commons

Since 2014, major regulation has dramatically changed the consumer credit landscape in the UK, with the number of high-cost, short-term lenders falling by almost one-third between 2016 and 2020. This has led to a recent surge in pawnbroking, where people use use items they own (such as jewellery) as collateral for short-term loans. With consumer borrowing rising sharply, there is a clear a need for access to affordable credit by low-income households to manage low or unstable incomes.

These four aspects of the poverty premium can be hugely damaging to already precarious household incomes. But they are entirely fixable.

The UK charity Fair By Design, for example, which campaigns to end the poverty premium, suggests various measures. These could include the UK’s financial regulator stepping in to stop the insurers charging extra for “non-standard” billing methods, and introducing a price cap on all forms of credit. It also recommends that the energy regulator should prevent companies charging customers more for not paying by direct debit.

Elsewhere there have been calls for changes to charges for different kinds of payment

With more households choosing between heating, eating or meeting essential costs, the need for action has never been more pressing. As the temporary £20 Universal Credit uplift showed, small sums can make a big difference to people on low incomes. Relatively simple actions by industry, government and regulators could significantly reduce these premiums, and make a huge difference to millions of lives.The Conversation

Sara Davies, Senior Research Fellow, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

UK Aid cut: A serious implication for the commitment made at the ICPD25 Nairobi Summit

This blog was written by Dr Tigist Grieve, Senior Research Associate in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol and Member of Bristol Poverty Institute’s (BPI) Advisory Board. It was posted earlier in the summer on the University’s International Development Research Group blog, and has been reproduced here with their kind permission.

The University of Bristol’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Law International Development Research Group was recently approached by the BBC for their views on the UK Aid cut. Professor Guy Howard, Global Research Chair Environmental and Infrastructure Resilience and BPI Advisory Board member, outlined how the impact of the reduction will be devastating for those most impoverished.

Funding cuts in the middle of a global pandemic, as the public sector is struggling and where health care provisions are stretched, is detrimental to those already most marginalised and at-risk including girls and women in low income countries. Despite the renewed commitment from the UK at the 2019 International Conference on Population and Development in Nairobi – the ICPD25 Nairobi Summit – the withdrawal of funding to organisations such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) halts the progress made so far in advancing the rights and dignity of women and girls globally.

Professor Isabella Aboderin (with microphone) contributing to a round table discussion at ICPD25. Professor Aboderin is Perivoli Chair in Africa Research and Partnerships at the University of Bristol.

The University of Bristol (UoB) is a founding member of the UNFPA’s University Network, TransformU, and UoB’s researchers and its Perivoli Africa Research Centre were at the UK “On the Road to Nairobi UNFPA ICPD25” Parliamentary Reception hosted by Baroness Sugg CBE at the House of Lords. UoB’s researchers subsequently shared their work on sexual and reproductive health and rights at the Nairobi summit as well as at a “Translating commitments to actions” side event at the Aga Khan University.

Dr Susan Jim sharing University of Bristol research at the Aga Khan University. Dr Susan Jim is Manager of the Perivoli Africa Research Centre and Development Manager of the Worldwide Universities Network at the University of Bristol.

The ICPD25 Summit catalysed significant economic and political commitment to build on the progress made since the inaugural ICPD Summit in Cairo to help accelerate the UNFPA’s “3 Zeroes Agenda“. While many areas are affected by the UKAid cuts, the significant drop in funding to the UNFPA and others will pose a serious challenge in translating these important commitments into action.

Jassi Sandhar, PhD researcher in International Law at the University of Bristol, shared her research, drawing on her work in Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and Uganda. Title: ‘I am free from the conflict now, but I do not feel free’ (Jassi Sandhar in collaboration with Geoffrey Omony, YOLRED).


Dr Tigist Grieve shared her work drawing on adolescent girl’s voices on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Title: Seeing the Social (Dr Tigist Grieve in collaboration with Dulce Pedroso A Thousand Words).


The team also shared the work of Bristol Poverty Institute (BPI) and responded to questions and answers from various scholars on the work of BPI.


Julio Mkok, Dr Susan Jim, and Jassi Sandhar (all University of Bristol) at the Nairobi Summit with Matt Jackson, third from the left (Director, UK UNFPA, London Office).

You can read Professor Guy Howard’s interview with BBC Newsbeat as part of the following article ‘UK foreign aid cut: Where does it go and what is it used for?‘. Professor Howard is co-lead of UoB’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Law International Development Research Group, interim Director of the Cabot Institute for the Environment, and a member of the BPI Advisory Board.

The unequal pandemic: Are we really all in it together?

This blog was written by the authors of the Unequal Pandemic: Clare Bambra (Professor of Public Health, Population Health Sciences Institute at Newcastle University); Katherine Smith (Professor of Public Health Policy at University of Strathclyde); and Julia Lynch (Professor of Political Science at University of Pennsylvania). It was originally posted on the blog Transforming Society and has been re-posted here with their kind permission. 

In 1931 Edgar Sydenstricker identified inequalities in the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, reporting a significantly higher incidence among the working classes. This challenged the widely held popular, political and scientific consensus of the time that ‘the flu hit the rich and the poor alike’.

In the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, there have been parallel claims made by politicians and the media – that we are ‘all in it together’ and that the COVID-19 virus ‘does not discriminate’.

But we can dispel this emerging myth of COVID-19 as an ‘equality of opportunity’ disease, by showing how, just as 100 years ago, the pandemic is experienced unequally across society. COVID-19 and inequality are a syndemic – a perfect storm.

The syndemic of COVID-19, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the social determinants of health.

Our new book delves into international data and accounts, reaching the conclusion that the pandemic is unequal in four ways:

The pandemic kills unequally: COVID-19 deaths are twice as high in the most deprived neighbourhoods of England than in the most affluent, and infection rates are higher in the more deprived regions such as the north-east of England and in urban areas. There are also significant inequalities by ethnicity and race, with the mortality of ethnic minorities in the UK considerably higher than expected, and the death rates of black Americans in US cities such as Chicago far higher than for their white counterparts. This is because of the interaction of the pandemic with existing social, economic and health inequalities.

The pandemic is experienced unequally: the COVID-19 ‘lockdowns’ have resulted in a significant increase in social isolation and confinement within the home and immediate neighbourhood for an average of 10–12 weeks. The social and economic experiences of this lockdown are unequal, as lower-income workers are more likely to experience job and income loss, live in higher-risk urban and overcrowded environments, and have higher exposure to the virus by occupying key worker roles.

The pandemic impoverishes unequally: COVID-19 and the lockdowns have resulted in an unprecedented shock to the economy with widespread predictions of the worst recession for 300 years. This economic devastation will result in job losses, wage reductions, higher debt and more poverty, as well as increases in the ‘deaths of despair’. However, the social and geographical distribution of these economic impacts will be unequal – with low-income workers, women and ethnic minorities bearing the brunt.

These pandemic inequalities are political: the unequal impacts of COVID-19 were not inevitable – the pandemic was a predictable event and its unequal effects could have been mitigated or avoided through better preparation. The original inequalities leading to these unequal impacts were a result of prior political choices, and policy makers could have chosen to address the unequal impacts of the pandemic or not. Governments responded differently and those countries with higher rates of social inequality and less generous social security systems had a more unequal pandemic.

So, COVID-19 is a syndemic of infectious disease and inequalities. It has killed unequally, been experienced unequally and will impoverish unequally. These health inequalities, before, during and after the pandemic are a political choice – with governments effectively choosing who gets to live and who gets to die. Our book concludes by showing how we can learn from COVID-19 quickly to prevent inequality growing and to reduce health inequalities in the future.

Clare Bambra is Professor of Public Health, Population Health Sciences Institute at Newcastle University.

Katherine Smith is Professor of Public Health Policy at University of Strathclyde.

Julia Lynch is Professor of Political Science at University of Pennsylvania.

This post was originally written for the blog Transforming Society and has been re-posted here with their kind permission.