Poverty Dimensions of COVID-19 for Girls in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs): Webinar Summary


On Thursday 11 February, the Bristol Poverty Institute (BPI) held the fourth webinar in our ‘Poverty Dimensions of COVID-19’ series: Poverty Dimensions of COVID-19 for Girls in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs)

The webinar had over 60 attendees representing a range of sectors and organisations including civil sector, national and international NGOs, charities, consultants, and academics from around the world, including individuals from France, Mexico, Canada, Senegal, Indonesia, Norway, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Turkey and China. This diverse audience was deliberate: the series has been designed to bring together a variety of participants representing different sectors, with a range of theoretical, methodological, and disciplinary approaches.

Our webinar featured four fantastic speakers who explored different dimensions of the impact COVID-19 has had on girls in LMICs from different perspectives, with a Q&A session at the end. The slides from these presentations will be available shortly on the BPI website, and we will also be uploading recordings of the presentations.

Speakers and titles


Dr Tigist Grieve and Dr Alba Lanau Sánchez, ‘Corona has really spoiled a lot of things’: Adolescent girls experiences of COVID in Burkina Faso & Sierra Leone

Our first presentation came from two collaborative speakers: Dr Tigist Grieve, Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol; and Dr Alba Lanau Sánchez, Research Fellow at the Centre d’Estudis Demogràfics (CET) which is an affiliated institute to the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain.

Tigist began by providing an outline of the African Report on Child Wellbeing 2020, produced by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) in collaboration with partners including the University of Bristol and researchers across the five countries where the research took place. In response to the emergence of COVID-19 the project team are seeking to explore what the economic impact of the pandemic has been on adolescent girls, and to what extend the impacts of the pandemic have been mediated by factors such as girls’ socio-economic status and geographical location.

This presentation focussed primarily on impacts in Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone. Tigist explained how the situation girls in each country is different. For example, Burkina Faso have prioritized improving young people’s access to health care though its National Health Development Plan, whilst in Sierra Leone they abolished secondary school fees and focused on the National Reproductive, New-born, Child, and Adolescent Health Strategy. The countries at the focus of the research have relatively low figures of COVID-19 in terms of deaths; however, there is major concern over adolescent girls. Tigist explained that poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa is already a huge problem, and one which is likely to worsen.  There is major concern about the risks to children because of increased food insecurity, with more than 26 million girls across Africa already relying on school meals as a source of nutrition. Access to school feeding programs have been stopped due to schools being closed, significantly impacting on the lives of huge numbers of children and young people.

Slide containing text

Alba then introduced some of the findings of their project to date. She began by explaining how whilst most research studies are generally focussed on health this project specifically sought to draw upon girls’ voices, which are rarely heard. The study involved talking to 87 adolescent girls aged 14-19 across five countries. Girls were asked about their education, safety, health, hopes and dreams and specifically their own understanding and experiences of COVID-19.  Alba explained that the general expectation is already for an increase in poverty and inequality in Africa; however, the team wanted to find out how COVID-19 has reinforced this, and how it has affected girls’ experiences.

Alba highlighted that girls have different experiences depending on their positionality, and the team identified three different groups (plus an additional group only in Burkina Faso). The groups were

  1. Those with limited economic impact.
  2. Those who are managing to cope.
  3. Those who are struggling and/or have been severely impacted.
  4. Those whose lives are defined by conflict (Burkina Faso only).

Alba explained that the first group are relatively sheltered from the economic impact of pandemic. The second group have experienced some loss in livelihood and income but are coping and adapting by using their existing resources. In this group more girls are now working in their family workplace. The third group are those struggling and suffering severe impact, including extreme poverty and hunger and complete loss of income. Many girls in this group reported impacts on others rather than themselves, talking about their friends/family members losing income and having to care for others.  Some girls also reported others who were struggling and turning to sex work.  For those in the fourth group (Burkina Faso only) conflict is still the key factor in their lives, and COVID-19 has therefore not altered their lives. Alba noted that within this group those who have money had sent their children away, whereas those without money were forced to remain in the conflict situation. This is therefore an example of how experience of the pandemic is mediated by socio-economic and geographic position, and those better off are often more protected.

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Alba highlighted how important it is to listen to children’s voices to understand their lived experiences, particularly girls, who often downplay economic struggles. The girls interviewed through this project commonly reported isolation, fear of COVID-19, and feelings of insecurity, with one interviewee stating that “early marriage is when you are sent to marriage at an early age due to poverty”.

Alba and Tigist concluded by highlighting that the pandemic will increase economic inequality, hitting the poorest the hardest. Income support is therefore needed for those working in informal sectors, small farms, and other small businesses. The pandemic is likely to deviate transitional trajectories accelerating the end of schooling and/or marriage and increasing gender inequality. They therefore called for responses to the (post) pandemic to be gender sensitive.


Ms Maria McLaughlin, The Case for Holistic Investment in Girls: Improving Lives, Realizing Potential, Benefitting Everyone

The next speaker was Maria McLaughlin, Global Policy and Advocacy Advisor for Economic Empowerment at Plan International with a focus on adolescents and youth. Maria is also a researcher on women and youth empowerment, with a focus on market entry-points for women and youth, and analysis of their barriers to entry and success. Plan International is an independent development and humanitarian organisation that advances children’s rights and equality for girls.

Maria introduced a study undertaken by Plan International and Citi bank during late 2019 and completed in 2020. The study looked at the case for holistic investment in girls, specifically adolescent girls. She explained that this study is based on some assumptions on the pathway through adolescence for girls and how it compares with the situation for adolescent boys. The assumptions made in this study is based on information from various analyses, including from the Gates Foundation, focusing on ages 10-19 which is a critical phase in life for both girls and boys when many transitional social, economic, and biological events are taking place.

Maria explained that challenges faced by girls in LMICs include early and forced marriage, with 21% married before their eighteenth birthday. She went on to introduce some key pre-COVID-19 statistics, which showed that:

  • 132 million girls worldwide are out of school, including 100 million girls at secondary school age.
  • More than 85% of girls in low-income countries do not complete secondary school.
  • Intimate partner violence affects around 29% of girls aged 15-19 worldwide.
  • Globally one in five women were married before their eighteenth birthday.
  • Almost a billion girls and young women under the age of 24 are lacking key skills needed for life and work. In lower middle-income countries, this translates to 75% and rises to 93% in low-income countries.

This research was carried out in eight LMIC’s: Ghana, Uganda, Mali, El Salvador, Bolivia, India, Lao PDR, and Egypt. The team looked at potential for investment in 12 years of education through to secondary school completion and two years of multi complement intervention to prevent child marriage and violence and promote economic independence. There is an assumption that this leads to increased years of schooling, leading to higher employment earnings. The analytical framework for the research looked at the business-as-usual scenario and compared with an increase in investment scenario. Maria explained that assumptions must be made around education, labour demand, and government policies, so the research does not take these variables into account. Maria also explained that there were limitations and boundaries for this research. For example, one challenge when looking at global data was that it rarely segregates for gender and age.

With these caveats notes, Maria reported that the project findings indicated that if 100% secondary school completion were achieved and if investment of achievement were in place it could lift the emerging economies by ten percent compared with pre COVID-19. The report makes an argument that the level of investment involved – $1.30 per day – has a multiplied effect in terms of GDP as well as moral investment. She noted that the cost in Mali and Uganda would be greater than the returns; however, the positive impact there would be much greater than the other countries. She also reported that in countries where the secondary school completion rate is lower the benefits will take longer to materialise but are greater long term. Maria therefore summarised that holistic approach to investment would have a higher return over the course of a girl’s life. The report states that it is not just the education alone to achieve the benefits: a multi-level approach is required.

Maria concluded her presentation by exploring the potential impacts of COVID-19 on these groups. The emerging research speculates on the impacts of COVID-19 based on the trajectories. Before COVID-19 more than 130 million girls worldwide were out of school, one in five women were married before their eighteenth birthday, and almost 30% of girls aged 15-19 were affected by intimate partner violence. After COVID-19, 743 million girls were out of school and UNESCO estimates that over 11 million girls may not return to school after the crisis. Teenage pregnancies often increase in times of crisis, extreme poverty will be faced by many families who relied on school lunch programmes, and cases of child marriage and domestic violence are all rising. These are therefore worrying trends that need urgent attention.

Slide with text


Dr Anita Ghimire, the impact of COVID-19 on girls working in the adult entertainment sector in Nepal

The final speaker was Dr Anita Ghimire, Research Director at the Nepal Institute for Social and Environmental Research (NISER).  Her research experiences are on migration and mobility, social norms and gender, adolescents and young people, and social protection, in addition to evaluation studies of different interventions.

Anita introduced ‘Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence’ (GAGE), a nine-year programme of work looking at research in nine LMICs to try and understand what works for enabling adolescent girls to transition into a better adulthood.  In Nepal there are three different strands of GAGE, with Anita’s presentation focussing on girls working in risky jobs in the adult entertainment sector (AES). Anita explained how the AES is an informal economy, consisting of hotels, guesthouses, commercial sex work on the street and freelance sex work. This work is establishment based and affiliated with an institution such as a hotel or dance bar, and involves physical, economic, and sexual exploitation of girls, including minors. Girls enter this sector through their peer network, boyfriends, or male relatives, or recruiting mechanisms from brokers who are operating online.

Anita noted that entertainment sectors were closed in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, informal personal connections remained, and hotels were still connecting girls with clients discreetly. There was still a decrease in work, with sex workers reporting that they previously had three to five customers a day, which dropped down to only one or two clients a week during lockdown. The Nepalese government eventually eased lockdown for a few hours per day which meant clients visited early morning and evening, although there continued to be a lower demand due to factors including changes in working hours, challenges of childcare for the women workers, worries about catching COVID-19, and closed borders preventing people from travelling from surrounding countries for adult entertainment.  As a result many girls moved their work onto the streets, increasing competition for the limited clientele. This included an increase in international sex workers from China, Malaysia, and Africa who had previously worked in high-end casinos and were willing to charge lower rates, creating more competition for Nepalese girls and women.

The implications of lockdown for these women and girls were therefore severe, including an increase in food insecurity and vulnerability. Many of the girls had previously eaten their daily meals in the establishment where they worked, so were unable to eat due to their workplace being closed. Some were also living in the hotels or guesthouses where they worked, and when the establishments closed, they were also made homeless. Sometimes the girls were so desperate that they sold their bodies for a single meal or drink. Anita reported that the levels of desperation were so severe that some said they would work for a small amount of money to buy poison to kill themselves and their children, as they would rather die than be unable to feed their children.

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The girls reported an increase in violence from their partners and/or clients, and some clients would not pay them money and buy them a beer instead. There was also violence from police arresting girls for just being on the streets. Some were blackmailed for sex from clients; there were threats to tell the girls families if they did not provide sex for free. There was also increased vulnerability to COVID-19 infection because of the close contact, and an increase in sexually transmitted infections and in pregnancies.

Anita went on to introduce some of the survival strategies the women and girls had implemented during lockdown. For example, some of the unmarried, child-free girls had previously made a good amount of money and were therefore able to use their savings to survive. Working for less money or for food was another strategy. Some girls tried alternative livelihoods, some cut down on food and basic hygiene, and some sold their assets. Anita then highlighted some of the other outcomes of the pandemic on girls on the AES. For example, she noted how some of the girls organised themselves into groups to help with childcare and to help one other with clients. In addition, whilst some girls started revisiting exploitative relationships with partners and employers, there was an increased recognition of the exploitation they were facing and a movement towards making decisions that were beneficial for themselves. They also learnt the value of savings and looked at alternative less risky livelihoods.

Anita concluded by highlighting the importance of activating and creating awareness on secondary reporting mechanisms and to tackle issues related to deprivation of basic human rights of children, particularly around food, shelter, and protection. Having hungry children hungry is a big problem for the girls in the AES and the social protection system should therefore expand to women working in this area.



Following the presentations the Chair, Dr Lauren Winch (BPI Manager) opened up the floor to questions from the audience, as well as discussions among the panel members. Topics of discussion included how poverty and sex work can go hand-in-hand in many different country contexts, gender inequalities, and shifting aspirations among girls in terms of education, career and family lives.

Recordings of the discussion, as well as all of the presentations, will be available on the BPI website shortly.

Closing the discussions Lauren summarised how the webinar covered a range of interesting and important topics. She noted how COVID-19 is having wide ranging, complex, and devastating impacts on communities across the world and those in poverty will be disproportionately affected, exacerbating existing inequalities including those relating to gender. She noted that hopefully by coming together and learning about different perspectives, approaches and challenges we can be better situated to make a positive impact individually and collectively. The Bristol Poverty Institute is keen to keep these discussions going, and to explore ways to tackle the challenges and inequalities exposed and exacerbated by this pandemic. For more information or to discuss an idea please get in touch with the BPI team (bristol-poverty-institute@bristol.ac.uk).

Finally, Lauren also announced that the BPI are running a large online conference from 27-29 April 2021 exploring Poverty and the Sustainable Development Goals at all scales from the local to the global. The conference will have non-academic speakers throughout, including people with lived experiences of poverty to ensure their voices are represented. It will explore a wide range of topics, from food and nutrition to education, and from livelihoods and debt to child health and development, and the ambition is to bring together representatives from across the world to tackle these complex issues.

For more information on the BPI…

Check out our website: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/poverty-institute/

Follow us on Twitter: @bristolpoverty

Get in touch: bristol-poverty-institute@bristol.ac.uk


Authors: Mrs Melanie Tomlin and Dr Lauren Winch

The poverty and inequality dimensions of COVID-19 in Africa: webinar summary

Bristol Poverty Institute and Perivoli Africa Research Centre hosted

The poverty and inequality dimensions of COVID-19 in Africa

Thursday 12 November 2020 (online)

On Thursday 12 November the  Bristol Poverty Institute (BPI) and Perivoli Africa Research Centre (PARC) co-hosted a webinar exploring the poverty and inequality dimensions of COVID-19 in Africa. This webinar was attended by around 50 participants representing a range of sectors and organisations including international NGOs and academics from around the globe. More than a third of registered attendees were from outside the UK, with almost half of these from African countries including Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya.

This webinar provided a broad overview of how COVID-19 has been intersecting with and exacerbating inequalities and poverty in Africa, recognising the huge breadth of challenges, geographies, societies, political and physical environments, and other dimensions of both poverty and COVID-19 across the continent. We were delighted to be joined by a fantastic panel of seven speakers, who gave four thought-provoking presentations. Presentations lasted around 15 minutes each, with a short Q&A following each one.

The slides and recordings from these presentations can be accessed via the BPI website.

List of presenters and titles 

Professor David Gordon, COVID-19 infection vulnerability in Africa

The first speaker was Professor David Gordon, Professor of Social Justice and the Director of the Bristol Poverty Institute and Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol.

David began by introducing survey microdata from over 50 countries with information on some 3.2 million people, analysis of which found that the COVID-19 crisis is likely to increase the amount of severe poverty, affecting from 10s to 100s of millions of people, depending on duration of the pandemic. He highlighted how evidence from previous twenty-first century epidemics, including Zika, SARA and Ebola, shows us that there is a consistent increase in the inequalities not only during pandemics themselves but also during the subsequent 5 years.

David noted that the situation in Africa is particularly problematic, where concerns relating to population density in poor urban areas, plus a large informally employed population, insufficient handwashing basics, and high rates of underlying health conditions suggested potential for disaster.

He noted, however, that the African Union had adopted a continental strategy promptly in March 2020 including quarantines, lockdowns, border controls, and public health information. This involved a different set of policies and approaches to the European-style lockdowns, which would have had limited effectiveness in many African contexts and may even have been counter-productive. This is one of many illustrative examples of how it cannot be assumed that the policies of the Global North can be transplanted to Africa and other global contexts.

Information on COVID-19 infection in Africa

Despite the severe challenges that this pandemic has presented, the next section of David’s presentation highlighted that severe poverty has not prevented an effective fight against the pandemic. He gave examples of how Uganda, Togo, and Rwanda have managed to suppress the outbreak. For example, in Uganda they were able drew upon the experience of a public health system that already knows how to deal with outbreaks, meaning that anti-infection measures were in place four days before the first case arrived. This resulted in only 2,750 cases and only 28 deaths at the time of reporting. This was in stark comparison to the UK, with only a slightly larger population and a vastly larger public expenditure, which had had 40,000 deaths and over one million cases by the end of August.

David was keen to ensure that this success story was balanced by an account of vulnerability, however, indicators of which included crowded living conditions, age, obesity, lack of cleaning supplies, shared/scarce toilet facilities and water sources, and other factors. These factors led to increased contact and risk of spreading disease both through the shared use of resources and facilities but also due to the fact that compliance with social distancing in these situations is difficult if not impossible.  David emphasised that governments need to provide money, for loans, essential food, soap, water, cleaning materials to aid compliance, and that local authorities can also have a positive impact through initiatives such as queuing systems and provision of masks.

David concluded his presentation by noting that despite the successes in some quarters there are still desperately challenging times ahead across the continent, including both direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19.

Professor Gordon’s presentation can be viewed in full via the BPI website.


Professor Isabella Aboderin, The impact of COVID-19 on older generations in Africa

The second speaker was Professor Isabella Aboderin, the Director of the Perivoli Africa Research Centre (PARC) at the University of Bristol. Isabella began by highlighting the importance of situating thinking around the impacts and implications of COVID-19 in Africa in the context of the broader discourse on ageing and older populations. She highlighted now Africa is a very ‘young’ continent, but one with a rapidly growing absolute number of older people. There has been little concern to date with the impacts of ageing on the sustainability of systems, whereas the ensuring of wellbeing and rights has been the focus.

Overview of presentation

Isabella outlined the recent discourse and scholarly trends surrounding older age research, and the general truths that a) later-life poverty reflects exposures in earlier phases of life course (e.g. lack of formal education, ill-health, etc.) and b) there is no one systematic approach to later-life course. She then went on to explore the debate on social protections, and why we are seeing inequalities in older populations.

Isabella went on to highlight that heightened COVID risk among older adults are influenced by a range of factors including lower income, food insecurity, higher prevalence of chronic diseases, compromised capacity for protection against COVID, access and adequacy of health system responsiveness, and restrictions on movement including practical, social and emotional. The tolls these factors take on mental and physical health is considerable and have implications for scientific and policy debate when considering a wider context in sub-Saharan Africa.

She noted how it is imperative to identify priority investments to reduce poverty and inequality. Within that, there is an urgent need to better understand the nature and scope of old age poverty and inequalities. Specifically, how has the COVID crisis impacted age-based multidimensional poverty inequalities and what role have intergenerational dynamics played? How does age interact with other factors (gender, geography, disability, etc.) and, crucially, how is this likely to evolve over medium term?

Isabella concluded by noting the significance of these conceptual and methodological challenges, as well as the important opportunity collectively such challenges present for concerted Africa-led research.

Professor Aboderin’s presentation can be viewed in full via the BPI website.


Professor Hassan O Kaya, Dr Injairu Kulundu-Bolus, Dr Michael Tusiime and Dr Rafael Mitchell, Researching education, poverty and sustainability in the context of COVID-19

The next presentation came from a panel of speakers representing the GCRF research network Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF), which focuses on socially and environmentally just education for climate action, decent work and sustainable cities. TESF is supporting up to 80 Southern-led projects in Rwanda, Somalia/Somaliland, South Africa and India. The presentation featured four speakers representing several of the programme partners: Professor Hassan O Kaya (University of KwaZulu Nata, South Africa), Dr Injairu Kulundu-Bolus (Rhodes University, South Africa), Dr Michael Tusiime (University of Rwanda, Rwanda), and Dr Rafael Mitchell (University of Bristol, UK), bringing a range of knowledge, expertise and perspectives to this important discussion.

Information on speakers


Professor Hassan O Kaya opened the presentation with a short talk on COVID-19 research and paradigm shifts, highlighting how the pandemic has exposed and worsened the uncertainties and contradictions in the conceptualisations of global challenges including pandemics, poverty, climate change, educational transformation, social justice and human rights. He called for a multi- and trans-disciplinary research approaches for a holistic understanding, from the perspectives of the affected communities and social groups themselves.

Presentation slide

Hassan observed how Africa’s response to the pandemic in terms of education saw institutions at all levels closing abruptly and moving learning online. This exposed and exacerbated existing socioeconomic inequalities and the digital divide between privileged and underprivileged pupils, students and families. Hassan concluded that there ought to be emphasis laid on self-reliance, and it is critical to build on complementary indigenous knowledge systems.

The second TESF speaker was Dr Injairu Kulundu-Bolus, whose short talk emphasised how the pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges including food security, access to water, and ongoing economic precarity. She also noted not it has also highlighted different dimensions of poverty, including the interconnected concepts of ‘poverty of trust’ and ‘poverty of connectedness’ relating to trust between the government and between communities, felt most starkly in the most unequal countries.

Injairu then went on to highlight how different community action networks have responded to these related concerns. For example, some have been hiding in plain sight, acting in meaningful ways despite a lack of government support such as community food kitchens which fulfilled a dire need particularly when the schools closed taking with them a vital source of nutrition for many children.

Injairu observed how the pandemic had raised many questions, such as how can you maintain proper hand-washing hygiene when water is scarce, what is needed next in order to adequately support communities, and how do we foster an embodied local engagement. She concluded by commenting on how the pandemic has created a space for young people to assert their futures and look beyond the paradigm of charity. The question of how to ‘build back better’ and foster social solidarity by rewiring our ways of working has a ready if incomplete answer in community action networks. These have rich potential to support deep reflection on which we can build to go forward.

The third speaker from the TESF network was Dr Michael Tusiime, who introduced two aspects of his work in Rwanda. Firstly his work with communities to identify the most vulnerable families who have not been able to access remote learning, and the measures taken to try and remedy this. He also highlighted the perpetual problem of ‘catching up’ and associated continued inequalities for these children, and how teachers’ capacity to provide remedial teaching when schools resume is of great concern.

Michael then went on to introduce his subsequent work which examines opportunities and challenges communities experience as they negotiate their children’s continuity of learning as they encounter wider issues surrounding sustainability. For example, how can existing local community structures be empowered to proactively support children’s learning during and post COVID-19? How best can they tap into the local resources they have? He concluded that it remains to be determined what is needed for education institutions to reopen safely for disadvantaged groups, and how inequalities can best be tackled.

The final TESF participant was Dr Rafael Mitchell. Due to time constraints he was unable to share his presentation during the webinar; however, it is available to view via the BPI website alongside recordings of all the presentations.


Ms Angeline Munzara, COVID-19 Aftershocks: Out of time

The final speaker was World Vision’s Angeline Munzara. Angeline began by highlighting how there has been a clear loss of income and reduced access to food for most vulnerable, and how this pandemic could reverse progress made towards the 2030 agenda and the SDGs irreversibly damaging lives. She introduced work from World Vision’s rapid assessment in 24 countries which suggests that millions of children will go hungry and be forced to beg. She gave examples of especially acute problems which have been observed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, how desert locusts have ruined crops in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya, an increased risk of sexual violence against children, and how the resurgence of Ebola in some regions has complicated the response to COVID-19.

Angeline gave a stark warning that the basic right to provide needs of children is being inhibited; COVID-19 is curtailing caregivers’ ability to look after children. The world is also edging towards another global food crisis with rising food prices and a pronounced loss of income for many small businesses in Africa, and urgent action is required because this leaves the wellbeing of children at major risk, including a hugely increased incidence of child marriage.

In the final section of her presentation Angeline introduced World Vision’s key recommendations in response to these challenges, as shown in the below slide. She concluded that systemic, holistic, integrated approaches to economic recovery are required, and that it is crucial to understand how to learn from the pandemic to shape systems and deliver services to most vulnerable communities and children.

List of recommendations

Angeline’s presentation can be viewed in full via the BPI website, and she has also written a fantastic blog piece reflecting on the discussions in this webinar which is available via this link. The full World Vision report cited in this presentation is available on their website.


This webinar therefore covered a range of interesting and important topics, and also generated engaged discussion through the Q&A sections. Clearly COVID-19 is having wide ranging, complex, and devastating impacts on communities across the African continent and those in poverty will be disproportionally affected, exacerbating existing socioeconomic and ethnic inequalities. Hopefully by coming together and learning about different perspectives, approaches and challenges we can be better situated to individually and collectively make a positive impact. Both the Bristol Poverty Institute and Perivoli Africa Research Centre are keen to keep these discussions going, and to explore ways to tackle the challenges and inequalities exposed and exacerbated by this pandemic. We encourage participants – and blog readers – to get in touch if you are interested in future collaboration.

Contact details

Recordings of all presentations are available on the via the BPI website, alongside slides from presentations where speakers have given us permission to share these.

Authors: Lauren Winch (BPI) and Elliot James (PARC)

The impact of COVID-19 on children in Africa: a thorn in the flesh

Author: Angeline Munzara

Editor: Keetie Roelen


The children of Africa are bleeding

The COVID-19 outbreak is like a double-edged sword to a poor African child, piercing through bone and marrow. Even before the pandemic, children in sub-Saharan Africa were disproportionately affected by poverty. Sub-Saharan Africa has increasingly become a locus for extreme poverty and is home to 59% (413 million) of the world’s extreme poor. Experiences with other communicable diseases highlight their far-reaching negative consequences on lives and livelihoods. Countries such as Sierra Leone and Democratic Republic of Congo are still recovering from the socio-economic impacts of Ebola.  Analysis by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Program (WFP) about acute food insecurity in October shows that these countries are most affected.

Growing fears of repeat of history

Similar to Ebola, COVID-19 has had serious knock-on effects on household income. With few or no government social protection schemes in place, COVID-19 is putting children at risk of eating less food, having to beg, or in some cases, even to be married off early or drop out of school as parents and caregivers resort to negative coping mechanisms.

Studies increasingly reveal evidence of the economic impact of COVID-19. Vision Fund, the microfinance arm of World Vision, carried out rapid assessments on COVID-19 impacts among its 2400 microfinance clients in eight countries in Africa (DRC, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia) showing how 92% reported loss of income. Another rapid assessment was also carried out among savings for transformation refugees/host settlements groups in West Nile, Uganda with 47% of members facing reduced income and 10% percent having already sold productive assets.

What needs to be done? A Call to Action

Article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that parent(s) or main caregivers have the primary responsibility to secure, within their abilities and financial capacities, the conditions that are necessary for the child’s development. COVID-19, however, is making it hard to fulfil these obligations. We are OUT OF TIME to address the impacts of COVID-19, and must act now. Without immediate action to protect people’s livelihoods now, the impact of this pandemic will reverse progress toward the post 2030 Agenda and irreparably damage the lives of current and future generations of children.

As we look into COVID-19 Recovery Responses, integrated and sustainable solutions are required. In helping families recover from the Ebola crisis, World Vision supported 42,000 small traders in Sierra Leone – almost 80% of whom were women – kick-start their businesses by providing small loans and grants to help members’ pool resources and fund their businesses. Through a combination of targeted cash transfers and financial literacy training, 302 savings groups were established (10,546 members with 6,373 females) including the first child savings group (known as ‘Destiny’) during 9 months of lockdown and school closures.

An analysis of the Women Empowered for Leadership and Development  in Sierra Leone shows how members used the earnings from the loans shows that 81.3% of beneficiaries used funds to pay school fees and buy learning materials, and 60% used the funds for medical expenses. The majority of loans provided for the basic needs of more than 40,000 children at a time when basic incomes were severely limited.

Based on these key learnings, governments, UN agencies, donors, NGOs, and the private sector must act together to:

  • Urgently scale up child sensitive social protection measures to help poor families meet immediate food, nutrition and income needs of children
  • Where school closures halted school meals programmes, ensure children continue to access food through such means as delivering food to homes.
  • Keep food and agriculture market systems functioning through prioritising the rapid analysis, response and adaptations to food and agricultural markets.
  • Protect jobs and livelihoods by providing funding to support Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), particularly, those led and owned by women to allow for faster economic recovery. Debt financing should allow flexible repayments and grace periods.
  • Invest in interventions promoting a green recovery and develop economic recovery interventions that integrate resilience to climate change and restore environmental assets central to food security, safety nets and natural resource-based livelihoods.

World Vision’s Response 

The wide range of COVID-19’s impacts require a multi-pronged response and strong partnerships to provide such a response. World Vision’s COVID-19 Emergency Response plan aims to directly support 72 million of the most vulnerable people and 36 million children in 70 countries. In some cases, this means plugging the gaps following discontinuation of services, such as reported by our teams in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC):

“Communities shared feedback about their children who used to benefit from school feeding, but are now going hungry as a result of school closures. World Vision and WFP listened and reached a consensus to provide food rations to families of 18,651 children in the Kasai region, who had already been registered and were benefitting from the programme before schools closed.

Elsewhere, World Vision is working on targeted programmes on nutrition-sensitive agriculture and  providing cash vouchers and food assistance to the most vulnerable children and their families, supporting savings groups with technical guidance and recovery support, working to analyse disrupted market systems to identify recovery strategies that both engage market forces and support the productive capacity of poor households, particularly smallholder farmers.  World Vision is also offering an integrated package of assistance, savings groups, training and assets (e.g., seeds, sewing machines, livestock, etc.) coupled with ongoing coaching support, to enable the most vulnerable families to escape the extreme poverty trap. Alongside this, we are collaborating with faith actors to train communities on Empowered World View, an approach that reaches deep into people’s core beliefs, transforming their view of the world so that the cycle of chronic poverty and hopelessness can be broken.

But over and above any interventions that can be offered, children and their families need to be able to find and hold onto hope that their present, painful circumstances can change.

This blog post was written by Angeline Munzara, who is Senior Advisor, Livelihoods External Engagement & Savings Groups, World Vision. It was originally published on the Poverty Unpacked blog by Keetie Roelen following the Bristol Poverty Institute  webinar on ‘The poverty and inequality dimensions of COVID-19 in Africa‘ that was held on 12 November 2020.

Photo credit: gitgitau_photography

“Now is literally the worst time in decades to be entering the work force”: the impact of COVID-19 on university students’ finances

By Katie Cross and Sara Davies

As students return to University campuses, the discussion has largely focused on worries over increased COVID-19 rates. But our survey of University of Bristol students suggests their approaching financial position should also be cause for concern. 

The economic impact of COVID-19 has been both rapid and widespread. By June, the economy was around 17% smaller than it had been in February. The sharp increase in Universal Credit claims after lockdown was unprecedented, with almost 2.5 million household claiming between mid-March and late June. And the Office for Budget Responsibility is projecting an unemployment rate of 11.9 per cent in Q4 of 2020. It is a very uncertain time for all.

But one group whose financial position we have heard less about during this time is that of university students. Each year we conduct a survey for the University of Bristol’s Widening Participation team to look at the impact bursaries have on students, comparing the financial experiences of those from low- and middle-income backgrounds who receive financial support from the University, with those from higher-income backgrounds[1], who do not. This year the timing of the survey allowed us to ask students about their financial experiences both pre- and post-COVID, and to look at how they may have fared during the crisis.

Financial impacts so far

As with the wider UK population, COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown has had an unparalleled impact on student employment. Prior to the pandemic half of students surveyed (51 per cent) were employed in some form. Since the outbreak however, over two thirds of those previously working were no longer doing so, with a further 12 per cent working fewer hours than before. Of those no longer working, two thirds said this was due to their employer being closed (either temporarily or permanently). Although the majority of students receiving some form of maintenance loan, earned income is still important to students in order to manage financially, particularly among those who are not in receipt of a bursary, where this loss of income could be worryingly detrimental.

My maintenance loan does not even cover my rent which means I have to borrow money from family and work in order to cover my rent and food.”  – Year two, unfunded

Overall, the impact of coronavirus on the students we spoke to had been fairly evenly split across those finding it easier to manage financially (30 per cent), much the same (40 per cent) and harder to manage (30 per cent).

This means that, for the majority of students, COVID-19 had not had any major negative impact on their financial situation. Indeed, nearly half said they had been able to save money as their costs had generally reduced – a finding which is perhaps unsurprising as lockdown prevented social spending. A third also reported not having to pay for their final term of accommodation, representing a further considerable saving. This does, however, still leave 65 per cent of students paying for at least part, if not all, of their accommodation for the summer term, despite no physical teaching and (for the majority) returning home. Unsurprisingly the majority (95 per cent) of those who weren’t required to pay for their final term of accommodation were first year students (typically living in University owned halls), as opposed to second and third year students who were more likely to rent privately.

“No change at all despite the fact that our bills are included in rent so we are paying more for water, electricity etc that none of us are using (no one living there at the moment). When we contacted to ask for some reduction in rent, we were told that the property is the landlord’s primary source of income (seems an irrelevant argument) so we wouldn’t get any reduction.” – Year two, funded

Overall, 3 in 10 reported their costs and outgoings being harder to manage due to the outbreak. This rises to over half for mature students (who were more likely to have financial dependents) and around two-fifths for those who had lost income from employment.

Support from family

Many students rely on financial support from their families and friends to manage. Indeed, eligibility for bursaries and maintenance loans is based on parental household income from the previous tax year, and there is an expectation that those from higher-income households will receive support from their family. Almost two thirds of Bristol students who were ineligible for bursaries relied on support from family and friends, with 19 per cent having their accommodation paid for and 57 per cent receiving a set amount of money each week or month. Since the outbreak, a small number of (mainly non-bursary) students had received additional support from family or friends. Mature students were also more likely than younger students to have turned to family and friends for financial support since the lockdown, whereas beforehand they were significantly less likely to have done so.

However, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 – particularly once the furlough scheme comes to an end – may have dramatic impacts on family household income, and the worry is that students may fall through a gap, without university funding or family support.

“[I have] concern over lack of employment for my parents, who I rely on financially to pay for my living and accommodation in Bristol, as my maintenance loan was significantly lower than my accommodation cost.” – Year one, unfunded


While almost a third of students were currently finding it harder to manage financially, even more were worried about the coming academic year. Half were concerned over their lack of paid employment/income during the holidays or coming year and 41 per cent were worried about how they would manage financially in the Autumn term. Those who usually rely on paid work may run into financial difficulties, particularly if they are unable to return to work or find alternative employment. In our survey, over a third who worked considered employment income ‘very important’ to financially continuing at the University.

It is also important to consider the longer-term financial impact and job prospects for students. The unemployment rate is expected to rise to almost 12 per cent by the end of the year, and those who have recently left education are likely to be disproportionately affected. We are already seeing a reduction in job vacancies and in our survey 69 per cent reported being generally worried about their future, with nearly four in ten third-year students concerned over their post-graduate prospects since COVID-19.

Now is literally the worst time in decades to be entering the work force.” – Year three, funded

Given the general worry about the future, concern over personal and familial health, uncertainty around teaching in the coming year and reduced socialising with friends, it is unsurprising that some students also commented on the negative impacts on their mental health.

“Due to some of my family members being high at risk to corona, I am increasingly anxious as to what is going to happen to them. My mental health has suffered a lot from being very isolated over the Easter term. I am worried that the global economy is about to collapse and the whole world is going to go into recession. So all in all, quite a lot to be stressed about.” – Year one, funded

“My depression has got much worse, my father is at risk, I am struggling to focus at all so I am behind in all of my work and I don’t know how I will cope financially if I cannot work in the summer” – Year two, funded  

Overall, the student community has faced an unprecedented situation with remarkable resilience, but it is apparent that the challenges brought by COVID-19 will impact students for a long time to come. It is crucial that universities understand that, for some students at least, it will be much harder to manage financially than in previous years, and institutions therefore need to provide an appropriate level of practical and pastoral support to help them.

Firstly, we need greater recognition of how important earned income is to students’ financial position and participation at university. Secondly, the increased likelihood of financial difficulty among families of students should be considered, and the impact of this on students – both financially and emotionally – given the role that family support plays in getting by while at university. This suggests that there will be a need for a well-funded and accessible hardship fund in the coming years, because increased financial difficulties may well effect likelihood of withdrawal from studies.

Some students will need more help than others; previous surveys have found that bursaries appear to have some protective effect, therefore attention should also be given to those from higher-income households, particularly those just outside of eligibility, as they are more likely to rely on income from employment. Mature students, who we have previously found struggle financially more than their younger peers, are already turning to their families for support in greater numbers, but what about those who do not have people to turn to?

Finally, the ongoing emotional toil of dealing with a global crisis should not be underestimated. It is worrying enough leaving university in normal times, let alone doing so during a time of recession and increasing unemployment. Giving students as much support and guidance as possible, both to manage during their studies, and to help them to prosper as they leave, is going to be vital over the next few years.

[1] Low income = Residual Household Income (RHI)  > £25k; Mid income = RHI £25-44k; Higher income =RHI £43-80k

Capturing the value of community energy

Author: Colin Nolden, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, University of Bristol Law School

Energise Sussex Coast and South East London Community Energy are set to benefit from a new business collaboration led by Colin Nolden and supported by PhD students Peter Thomas and Daniela Rossade. This is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council with match funding provided by Community Energy South from SGN. In total, £80,000 has been made available from the Economic and Social Research Council Impact Accelerator Account to launch six new Accelerating Business Collaborations involving the Universities of Bath, Exeter and Bristol. This funding aims to increase capacity and capability of early career researchers and PhD students to collaborate with the private sector. Match funding from SGN (formerly Scotia Gas Network) provided by Community Energy South for this particular project will free up time and allow Energise Sussex Coast and South East London Community Energy to provide the necessary company data and co-develop appropriate data analysis and management methodologies.

The Capturing the value of community energy project evolved out of the Bristol Poverty Institute (BPI) interdisciplinary webinar on Energy and Fuel Poverty and Sustainable Solutions on 14 May 2020. At this event Colin highlighted the difficulty of establishing self-sustaining fuel-poverty alleviation business models, despite huge savings on energy bills and invaluable support for some of the most marginalised segments of society. Peter also presented his PhD project, which investigates the energy needs and priorities of refugee communities. With the help of Ruth Welters from Research and Enterprise Development and Lauren Winch from BPI, Colin built up his team and concretised his project for this successful grant application.

The two business collaborators Energise Sussex Coast (ESC) and South East London Community Energy (SELCE) are non-profit social enterprises that seek to act co-operatively to tackle the climate crisis and energy injustice through community owned renewable energy and energy savings schemes. Both have won multiple awards for their approach to energy generation, energy saving and fuel poverty alleviation.

Infographic from South East London Community Energy

However, both are also highly dependent on grants from energy companies such as SGN with complicated and highly variable reporting procedures. This business collaboration will involve the analysis of their company data (eight years for ESC, ten years for SELCE) to take stock of what fuel poverty advice and energy saving action works and what does not, and to grasp any multiplier effects associated with engaging in renewable energy trading activities alongside more charitable fuel poverty alleviation work.

Benefits for ESC and SELCE include the co-production of a database to help them establish what has and has not worked in the past, and where to target their efforts moving forward. This is particularly relevant in the context of future fuel-poverty alleviation funding bids. With a better understanding of what works, they will be able to write better bids and target their advice more effectively, thus improving the efficiency of the sector more broadly.

It will also help identify new value streams, such as those resulting from lower energy bills. Rather than creating dependents, this provides the foundation for business model innovation through consortium building and economies of scale where possible, while improving targeted face-to-face advice where necessary. It will also explore socially distant approaches where face-to-face advice and engagement is no longer possible.

With a better understanding how and where value is created, ESC and SLECE, together with other non-profit enterprises, can establish a platform cooperative while creating self-renewing databases which enable more targeted energy saving and fuel poverty advice in future. Such data also facilitates application for larger pots of money such as Horizon2020, and the establishment of a fuel poverty ecosystem in partnership with local authorities and other organisations capable of empowering people instead of creating dependents. This additional reporting will capture a wider range of value and codify it to be submitted as written evidence to the Cabinet Office and Treasury at national level, while also acting as a dynamic database for inclusive economy institutions and community energy organisations at regional and local level.


Dr Colin Nolden is a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow based on the Law School, University of Bristol, researching sustainable energy governance at the intersection of demand, mobility, communities, and climate change. Alongside his appointment at the University of Bristol, Colin works as a Researcher at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford. He is also a non-executive director of Community Energy South.

Peter Thomas is a University of Bristol Engineering PhD student investigating access to energy in humanitarian relief by combining insights from engineering, social sciences, and anthropology.

Daniela Rossade is a University of Bristol Engineering PhD student investigating the transition to renewable energy on the remote island of Saint Helena and the influence of renewable microgrids on electricity access and energy poverty.

Partner Companies


For more information on the project contact: Dr Colin Nolden colin.nolden@bristol.ac.uk


Webinar summary: Poverty Dimensions of the Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Communities

Bristol Poverty Institute COVID-19 Webinars

Poverty Dimensions of the Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Communities

Thursday 30 July, 14:00-16:00 (online)

On Thursday 30 July the Bristol Poverty Institute (BPI) held the second webinar in our ‘Poverty Dimensions of COVID-19’ series: Poverty Dimensions of the Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Communities.

The webinar had over 60 attendees representing a range of sectors and organisations including civil sector, local and national government, national and international NGOs, consultants, and academics from around the world. This diverse audience was deliberate: the series has been designed to bring together a variety of participants representing different sectors, with a range of theoretical, methodological, and disciplinary approaches. We recognise that different professional, academic, and civic communities will have access to different sources of information, datasets, and tools for analysis, and may also have different immediate priorities. We are, however, all driven by the ultimate aim of reducing the negative impacts of this global pandemic on all aspects of society, and particularly on those communities and individuals who are already experiencing disadvantages. By bringing together a range of perspectives we sought to improve our understanding of the poverty dimensions of this pandemic, and by extension our ability to influence policy and practice in order to mitigate its negative impacts.

Our webinar on the ethnic inequalities associated with COVID-19 featured four fantastic speakers who explored different dimensions from different perspectives. Each talk lasted 15minutes, with opportunity for a short Q&A following each presentation. The slides from these presentations will be available shortly on the BPI website, and in due course we will also be uploading recordings of the presentations.

Before launching into the presentations I (Lauren Winch, BPI Manager) alerted the audience to the fact that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have launched a highlight notice on their COVID research funding call, with a specific focus on understanding the reasons for vulnerability to COVID-19 and differentials social, cultural, and economic impacts of the pandemic on minority ethnic groups.

Dr Saffron Karlsen, Understanding ethnic inequalities in COVID-19

The first speaker was Dr Saffron Karlsen, Senior Lecturer at the School for Sociology, Politics, and International Studies at the University of Bristol.

Saffron’s presentation gave an overview of the evidence of the presence and explanations for ethnic inequalities in COVID-19 in the UK, rather than focusing solely on the poverty aspect. She began by highlighting how the first deaths in the UK were BAME doctors and nurses and data showed that BAME groups were more at risk of contracting and ultimately dying from COVID-19. The results were unsurprising for those looking at health and ethnic inequalities, as they are similar to patterns for other health conditions. Her presentation highlighted the various dimensions of inequality which contributed to the increased risk and impact of COVID-19 in these communities. For example, individuals from BAME backgrounds are more likely to be in key worker roles and therefore more at risk of contracting the virus, as well as relying heavily on public transport.

Ethnic variations and occupational position and employment status have persisted since the 1970’s, and for some groups are getting worse. Saffron noted how these structural inequalities are not only important because of the impact of COVID-19 but have also led to other problems which disproportionately affect ethnic minority communities in lockdown. For example, overcrowding in BAME households has been found to be a factor for impact and is often presented as cultural preference rather than a financial problem. Poverty has a huge impact on food choices and obesity, which links to susceptibility and severity of infections such as COVID-19. Saffron closed by emphasising that those with privilege must use it to hold people to account, to make change happen and to elevate unheard voices.

At the end of the webinar Saffron also encouraged participants to engage with a survey being run by the University of Bristol and Black South West Network to find out more about the pandemic experiences of BAME people in the South West. The survey can be accessed via this link. For more information please contact Rosie Nelson rosie.nelson@bristol.ac.uk.

Saffron’s presentation is available here.

Dr Andrea Barry, The coronavirus storm: exposing pre-existing racial inequalities and poverty in the UK

The second speaker was Dr Andrea Barry, a Senior Analyst at Joseph Rowntree Foundation leading analysis for their work outcome group. Andrea began by talking about pre-existing racial inequalities and factors which mean that certain people will be affected by COVID-19 more than others. Andrea’s approach looked at the pre-COVID-19 picture around poverty, housing, income, and ethnic inequalities, and how this has been impacted by the Coronavirus ‘storm’.

To illustrate this Andrea provided statistics on home ownership vs. rental and how this intersects with poverty, the rise of in-work poverty over the last twenty years, and how different groups have been disproportionally affected by poverty.

She also explored how both rates of poverty and proportions of the population classified as ethnic minorities were higher in certain areas and the potential correlations between these, highlighting London and the West Midlands as particular examples.

Andrea went on to explore the multiple factors that influence it citing the fact that being in low paid work makes it difficult to escape poverty, and that if you are a BAME household you are disproportionately more likely to be private renting and more likely to be in social housing accommodation. In addition, the pre-COVID picture for BAME communities in poverty looks very different which is partly down to peoples work and work status, for example whether they work full time, part time or are self-employed. Those working in food, accommodation and retail sectors were at greatest risk of in work poverty. Andrea also explored a range of other factors including pay inequalities, wealth gap comparisons, poverty-linked health issues, and debt, all of which are disproportionally impacting on BAME communities and exacerbated by COVID-19.

Andrea concluded with some recommendations which would help tackle some of these issues:

  • An increase to the local housing allowance to cover median rents in areas and access to affordable housing.
  • Relaxing labour market constraints and removing barriers and inequities to alleviate in work poverty.
  • Strengthen the support for self-employed people in Universal Credit by removing the minimum income floor rule.

Andrea’s presentation is available here.

Ms Chiara Lodi, Economic impact of COVID-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic businesses and communities

The next speaker was Chiara Lodi, a Policy and Research Officer at Black South West Network (BSWN) and the lead author on their recent report on the Impact of COVID-19 on BAME Led Businesses, Organisations and Communities.

Chiara opened by introducing the fact that BAME communities are mathematically over exposed to COVID-19 due to being overrepresented in food industries and the retail sector, as well as being overrepresented in low income and insecure employment such as taxi driving and takeaways, echoing points made by Andrea previously. Financial insecurity, low quality housing and mental health all interconnects making this a socio-economic picture and not just about economics. She highlighted how structural inequalities are not only placing BAME groups at much higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 but also creating conditions for them to experience harsher economic impact from the government measures to slow the spread of the virus.

Chiara explained that BSWN knew from the beginning that there would be a disproportionate impact on BAME, and their response was therefore immediate. They issued a survey straight after lockdown to access the impact on BAME led businesses, social enterprises, voluntary organisations, and self-employed ethnic individuals. National financial support packages were available from the start, but BSWN wanted to identify systematic barriers that communities had with trying to access support. The research found that sectors where BAME people were overrepresented, those working low income jobs, the self-employed, and the charity events and voluntary sector are the hardest hit by the economic environment of COVID-19 and the government’s response to it. At the same time structural barriers hinder the sectors access to the national financial support packages. Self-employed people were the most worrying sector for analysis as there was no support for low income self-employed workers or people on zero-hour contracts who were unable to work.

Chiara concluded by highlighting that BSWN continues to monitor the impact and collect key evidence for a recovery strategy for the sector. They are also working with Saffron Karlsen and others at the University of Bristol to identify the impact of COVID-19 on health. BSNW are continuing their work with business and voluntary community networks with webinar sessions and have also launched the ‘Back Her’ business programme which focuses on black female entrepreneurs. More information is available on their website.

Chiara’s presentation is available here.

Dr Soumya Chattopadhyay, COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on the global poor: Pathways, patterns and concerns

The final speaker was Dr Soumya Chattopadhyay, a Senior Research Fellow in the Equity and Social Policy Programme at Overseas Development Institute (ODI) who was previously in the Poverty and Equity Global Practice at the World Bank.

Soumya’s focus and analysis was more about the impact of COVID-19 from a global perspective. He explained that direct linkages to BAME might not translate directly; however, every country has its own group of vulnerable and marginalised communities and these would be his focus. He began by explaining how COVID-19 infection, recovery and health economics vary by country. He also noted that the more affluent countries are more mobile, so the pandemic transferred quickly across borders whereas other countries may not yet have hit their peak of the virus. Soumya noted that COVID-19 has been called a ‘disease of poverty’ and there is a vicious cycle between poverty and health vulnerability. He reported that World Bank predicts 70-100 million people will enter extreme poverty in 2020, which is classified as living on less than $1.90USD per day.

Echoing comments made in previous presentations Soumya explained how poor people are more exposed to the pandemic due to factors including the nature of their work and their health conditions. For example, only 26% of people living in rural Bangladesh have access to running water with soap, and most developing countries do not have access to reliable and affordable healthcare systems. Soumya did note, however, that some developed countries also suffer from this problem as health insurance is often linked to jobs meaning that if you lose work; you lose health cover.

Soumya explained that the economic channels for increased vulnerability are loss of employment from sickness or caregiving, loss of earnings and employment in lockdown, Inability to work from home, low wages, and the lack of a social protection system. Anyone working informally or seasonally does not exist in a universal database so in many cases are ineligible for any financial support from government. He also reported that as countries ease restrictions there has been some re-emergence’s of COVID-19. Lockdowns in some cases (particularly India) led to people trying to migrate and people lost lives trying to get back to their native place. Soumya questioned how governments, policy makers and individuals could respond to the risk involved, noting that most governments have utilised any surplus and borrowed heavily to meet the crisis so their ability to keep giving social protection is hampered. Soumya concluded by emphasising that data driven policy interventions and disaggregated data is needed now more than ever.

Soumya’s presentation is available here.


Slides from all presentations are available on the BPI website, and we hope to upload recordings of the presentations shortly.

Poverty dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK (BPI Webinar)

Bristol Poverty Institute COVID-19 Webinars

Poverty dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK

On Thursday 11 June the Bristol Poverty Institute (BPI) held the first webinar in our new COVID-19 series: Poverty Dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. The webinar had around 60 attendees on the day representing a range of sectors and organisations including local governance, international NGOs, independent journalists and consultants, and academics from around the world. This diverse audience was deliberate: the series has been designed to bring together a variety of participants representing different sectors, with a range of theoretical, methodological, and disciplinary approaches. We recognise that different professional, academic, and civic communities will have access to different sources of information, datasets, and tools for analysis, and may also have different immediate priorities. We are, however, all driven by the ultimate aim of reducing the negative impacts of this global pandemic on all aspects of society, and particularly on those communities and individuals who are already experiencing disadvantages. By bringing together a range of perspectives we sought to improve our understanding of the poverty dimensions of this pandemic, and by extension our ability to influence policy and practice in order to mitigate its negative impacts.

Our Poverty Dimensions of COVID-19 in the UK webinar featured four fantastic speakers who explored different dimensions from different perspectives. Each talk lasted 15minutes, with opportunity for a short Q&A following each presentation. The slides from these presentations are available on the BPI website, and in due course we will also be uploading recordings of the presentations.

Professor David Gordon

COVID-19 and Poverty in the UK

The first speaker was Professor David Gordon, Professor of Social Justice and the Director of the Bristol Poverty Institute and Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol.

Professor Gordon’s talk highlighted how marginalised people are usually those at greatest risk during a pandemic, sharing figures from the Office for National Statistics which showed that death rates from COVID-19 infections in March and April were twice as high in the poorest areas of the UK compared to the richest areas. He identified several reasons why people in poor areas are more likely to contract COVID-19 including the facts that:

  • They are more likely to be key workers, many of whom are low paid and often live in deprived areas.
  • They are more likely to have worse internet connections and not be able to afford the premium for online grocery shopping and therefore need to shop more often, putting themselves at risk.
  • Deprived areas tend to have higher population densities, meaning increased contact with a potentially infected person.

Professor Gordon additionally highlighted that poor people are more likely to die from COVID-19 infection for a number of reasons, including the fact that people in deprived areas are more likely to suffer from underlying health conditions that are associated with higher mortality rates – such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer – because of factors including higher levels of pollution in deprived areas, greater stress levels, and greater risk of H. Piori  infections in childhood. He also highlighted that the ‘Inverse Care Law’ also unfortunately still affected the health service, whereby the quality of health care is often inversely related to the health need, meaning that on average deprived areas have worse health care than richer areas.

Professor Gordon concluded with a worrying statistic from the Food Foundation survey that 4.9million adults are currently food insecure compared with 2million pre lockdown, and 1.7million children live in these households. The pandemic may therefore increase inequality and relative poverty in the UK to levels not seen since before the introduction of the welfare state in 1948.


Mr Thomas Croft

Digital exclusion, multidimensional poverty and COVID-19

The second speaker was Mr Thomas Croft, a National Coordinator for ATD Fourth World UK who are an international human-rights focussed anti-poverty organisation.

Mr Croft talked about a research study ATD Fourth World UK had been involved with in partnership with the University of Oxford on Understanding Poverty in All its Forms; A participatory research study into poverty in the UK, and how COVID-19 had added new dimensions and challenges.  He explained the process of the research journey which involved developing research tools, planning, and facilitating groups, holding peer group meetings to discuss what poverty means to them and to identify aspects of poverty and group into dimensions. The themes raised through this study included:

  • Disempowering systems, structures, and policies
  • Financial insecurity, financial exclusion, and debt
  • Damaged health and wellbeing
  • Stigma, blame and judgement
  • Lack of control over choices
  • Unrecognized struggles, skills, and contributions

Mr Croft went on to discuss the core experiences people had highlighted, and the relational dynamics and privations involved. He noted that there were modifying factors in each of these, including cultural beliefs, environment and environmental policy, identity, location and timing and duration. Mr Croft concluded by noting that the social side of people’s relationships and connections with other members of the community was a constant theme; however, this manifested itself in different ways and therefore further highlighted the importance of working with different communities.


Professor Sharon Collard

The impact of COVID-19 on financial wellbeing

The third speaker was Professor Sharon Collard, the Research Director of the Personal Finance Research Centre and a Professor of Personal Finance at the University of Bristol.

Professor Collard opened by highlighting that the financial wellbeing of the UK was not in great shape before COVID-19, with events such as the welfare reform having had damaging effects. Professor Collard reported how Standard Life Foundation have commissioned a COVID-19 Financial Impact Tracker, which is a monthly tracker conducted by YouGov where c.6500 people across the UK are asked about how COVID-19 has affected their household finances and its likely impact over the next 12 months. She explained how The University of Bristol team designed the survey and analysed the data and shared findings on the first three weeks of lockdown, including the fact that half of all UK households believe they will struggle to meet their financial commitments and the fact that renters seem to be greater impacted than home-owners.

Professor Collard concluded by identifying key policy gaps and noting that whilst there are furlough schemes and help for self-employed people there is not a great amount of help for people who were struggling before. Rules and regulations make it hard for low income homeowners and middle-income homeowners. Her closing statement re-emphasised how inequalities existed before COVID-19, and that we need to ensure that we do not forget the fact that the old ‘normal’ was not a good normal.


Mr Ben Carpenter

Opportunities in South Bristol

The final speaker was Mr Ben Carpenter, a Youth and Community Worker and founder of Grassroot Communities in Bristol, who is also a City Fellow of the University of Bristol, working to ensure that communities at the margins are critical knowledge producers in decision-making around city futures. Grassroot Communities is an organisation that tailors and delivers school, youth and community work projects based on the wants and needs of local people.

Mr Carpenter began by introducing his own background growing up in a challenging environment, and why his own experience made his goal to become a youth and community worker. He believes that opportunities are the key to supporting people out of poverty. Mr Carpenter highlighted some key statistics around poverty in South Bristol, including the fact that the ten areas identified as having the highest levels of deprivation across the city are all in South Bristol, with some of these areas being rated in the top 1% nationally. He highlighted the difference that having a little bit of money could have on the home environment, particularly in terms of stress, friction, and freedom; however, money alone does not necessarily create opportunity. He noted, for example, how if one parent has been to prison, the child is more likely to go to prison, same with living in poverty or going onto higher education. Mr Carpenter also reported that levels of addiction and violence tend to be higher in more marginalised communities, adding more challenges for young people growing up in these environments.

Framed by these observations and statistics, Mr Carpenter therefore recommended that we look at meaningful, tailored interventions, based on the wants and needs of the community.  He believes that role models, raising aspirations and most important opportunities can provide steppingstones out of poverty and gangs. His projects such as Reconnect, Community Champions and the Grassroot Activators Programme act as engagement tools and interventions and can create opportunities for young people to believe in themselves and give them confidence. He concluded by highlighting that all these situations and challenges will be exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19, and that further cuts will continue to impact those who are most in need.


Concluding remarks

In conclusion, the poverty dimensions of this pandemic in the UK are wide-ranging and complex. This first webinar has therefore served to set the scene for the ensuing series, identifying some of the key topics, challenges, and policy issues. Building on this first webinar University of Bristol researchers will be able to apply to host their own webinar within this series in collaboration with external partner(s). Future webinars may have different regional and/or thematic foci, exploring the various dimensions of how this pandemic will impact on lives across the globe.

For more information or to discuss an idea please get in touch with BPI Manager Dr Lauren Winch (lauren.winch@bristol.ac.uk).

Check out our website: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/poverty-institute/

Follow us on Twitter: @bristolpoverty


Authored by Lauren Winch and Melanie Tomlin

BPI Director’s reaction to ONS report on deaths involving COVID-19 by local area and socioeconomic deprivation

Earlier today (1 May 2020) the Office for National Statistics (ONS) launched a report on Deaths involving COVID-19 by local area and socioeconomic deprivation: deaths occurring between 1 March and 17 April 2020. The statistican for this report noted that “People living in more deprived areas have experienced COVID-19 mortality rates more than double those living in less deprived areas. General mortality rates are normally higher in more deprived areas, but so far COVID-19 appears to be taking them higher still.

The Director of the Bristol Poverty Institute, Professor David Gordon, has been approached by the media to offer expert opinion on why this may be the case. His response is as follows:

“There are a range of reasons why the death rates in the 30% of the most deprived areas are more than twice as high as in the richest areas.  Firstly, people in poorer areas are more likely to get a Covid-19 infection. They are more likely to be key workers (for example, care assistants, shop assistants, building workers, bus drivers, delivery drivers, etc.) so they are more likely to come into contact with infected people than their peers in richer areas who may be able to work from their homes.  Many key worker jobs are low paid and therefore these key workers often live in deprived areas. People in deprived areas are more likely to have to rely on public transport than people in richer areas and thus come into contact with infectious people. They are also more likely to have worse internet connections and not be able to afford the premium on grocery home delivery services so will need to go out to shop for food more often than people in richer areas. Deprived areas tend to have higher population densities than richer areas; therefore people in these areas are more likely to have contact with an infected person when they leave their homes for exercise, medical care, food shopping, etc.  The higher the population density the more difficult maintaining social distancing is likely to be.

“Secondly, people in poor areas who have a Covid-19 infection are more likely to die. There is a higher risk of severe disease and death from a Covid-19 infection if you have underlying health condition such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer.  People in deprived areas are more likely to suffer from these particular underlying health conditions than people in richer areas for a range of reasons, such as greater pollution levels, greater stress levels, greater inflammation levels, greater risk of H. Piori infections in childhood, etc. The Inverse Care Law unfortunately still affects the NHS in the UK  – the quality of health care is inversely related to health need, i.e. deprived areas on average have worse health care than richer areas.

“It is very disappointing but not surprising that more people are dying of Covid-19 infections in deprived areas, given the reasons listed above.  However, what is a surprise is that the inequality in death rates between richer and poorer areas from Covid-19  are so much greater than deaths from other causes. In the most deprived 30% of areas people are more than twice as likely to die from Covid-19 infections compared with people in the richest 10% of areas in both England and in Wales – so this is not just a ‘London effect’.  So far the Public Health response to the pandemic has not targeted or tried to shelter people living in deprived areas – this is clearly needed given these new ONS statistics.

“These data tell us about death rates from Covid-19 by area deprivation level but they do not tell us who is dying in these ‘poor’ and ‘rich’ areas.  The assumption is that poor people are more likely to die of Covid-19 than rich people but these data do not prove this.  They of course also do not tell us why there are much higher death rates in poorer areas but we can make an educated guess as to the causes.”


The full ONS report can be accessed here: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsinvolvingcovid19bylocalareasanddeprivation/deathsoccurringbetween1marchand17april 


What we’ve been up to: interdisciplinary seminars

With the new academic year on the horizon the BPI team are busy planning an exciting suite of events and activities for the coming year, building on last year’s successes and learnings. In the 2018-19 academic year we ran a wide range of events, from a one-day conference on 50years of Poverty Research to an NGO-Academia Collaboration Forum on Poverty and Malnutrition in Low-and Middle-Income countries, and from a book launch to interactive workshops. Whilst many of these events welcomed and encouraged external participation our main focus for our first year of activity was on building internal awareness and engagement, both of the BPI itself but also across and between researchers working in different poverty-relevant fields.

In October 2018 we therefore launched a new interdisciplinary lunchtime seminar series on broad themes relevant to poverty research. The key aims of this series were to facilitate networking, to showcase the range and value of research taking place on poverty-relevant themes across schools and faculties, to expose researchers to different perspectives and approaches, and to set collaborations in motion. We also welcomed participants who are not currently working directly on poverty-focussed projects, as a key purpose of these seminars was to bring together researchers working in relevant fields and to try and expand the community of UoB researchers engaged with poverty-relevant issues.

This seminar series explored a diverse range of topics, and prompted lively debate and discussion within the rooms. This year’s topics were:

All the seminars were very well attended with highly interdisciplinary audiences. All six faculties were represented across the series, including researchers from engineering, veterinary sciences, population health, history, chemistry, English, human geography, biological sciences, linguistics, experimental psychology, earth sciences, archaeology and anthropology, and translational health alongside a wide range of social sciences. These attendees spanned all career stages from Masters students to Professors, with around 50% of attendees at PhD or early-career stage. The range of speakers were similarly diverse, with at least three faculties represented in every panel including an average of 1.5 PhD/early-career, 2 mid-career and 2.5 senior-career speakers per panel.

We are pleased to announce that we will be continuing this seminar series in the 2019-20 academic year, alongside a portfolio of other exciting activities and initiatives. This year’s seminars are looking to explore a range of interesting topics, including the intersections between poverty and themes such as gender, conflict, infrastructure, technology, mental health, and sustainable energy.

Keep an eye on our website and twitter for more announcements, and feel free to get in touch via bristol-poverty-institute@bristol.ac.uk if you have any questions or are interested in learning more about the Bristol Poverty Institute. We look forward to hearing from you!

World Hunger Day 2019

Tomorrow, Tuesday 28th May, is World Hunger Day. Established by The Hunger Project, this initiative seeks to promote a multidimensional approach to hunger and poverty, including work opportunities, health, education, social justice, women’s rights, and sustainability. This therefore strongly resonates with the aims and ambitions of the BPI.

On this WHD we therefore wanted to highlight the ways that we are engaging with issues at the intersections of hunger and poverty, including:

  • Our internal seminar on Eating ‘Well’, which brought together academics from a wide variety of disciplines to explore what it means to eat ‘well’, and how this can be linked to poverty.
  • Our NGO-Academia collaboration forum on Poverty and Malnutrition in Low- and Middle-Income Countries in partnership with Development Initiatives, exploring how NGOs and academics can effectively work together.
  • Participating in Feeding Bristol’s recent workshop, which was a fantastic opportunity to come together with people from a range of sectors and backgrounds with the shared ambition of achieving food security and zero hunger. We are meeting with Feeding Bristol shortly to explore how we can work together further.

We also have some exciting upcoming events in this space:

  • We are supporting a day of intersectoral workshops on UK rural food poverty in collaboration with IFAN and Food Power. Contact sabinegoodwin@gmail.com, IFAN Coordinator, for more information.
  • We will be partnering with 91 Ways to bring students and staff together with community members to explore the challenges that people in Bristol face.

These are currently invitation-only; however, information will be available on our website shortly.

Finally, we are in the process of establishing a BPI research cluster in the broad space of ‘food and water’; we’re therefore keen to continue to develop discussions in this space, and to work with partners to reduce levels of hunger and poverty in multiple contexts.