“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 


The poor pay more: free ATMs disappearing from deprived neighbourhoods

Tackling the ‘poverty premium’ is a key hurdle to the reduction of poverty in the UK. Indeed, our research at the Personal Finance Research Centre found in 2017 that the average low-income household pays £490 more per year – just because they are poor. While much of this relates to the energy market (for example, being on a pre-payment meter or not being on the best tariff) or the use of high-cost credit, a component that shouldn’t be overlooked is the fact that low-income households often pay more to access cash.

While, in 2019, cash may seem like a thing of the past, we know that many people still depend on it. According to the Financial Conduct Authority (2018), an estimated 2.2 million people report that they only use cash, while UK Finance say that there are 1.3 million who are ‘unbanked’. In our research, we often encounter those who find it difficult to access mainstream banking products, those who find it easier to manage a tight budget in cash, and those who simply lack trust in digital banking. Many of these people are in potentially vulnerable situations; for example, having a disability or a mental health problem.

Given the number of people for whom cash is still king, it’s important that we understand the geography of access to cash and how it is changing over time. In May we therefore published a case study of Bristol, looking at changes in its cash infrastructure between October 2018 and March 2019. Over this period, demand for cash continued to decline and there was a drop in the interchange fees paid by banks when a customer withdraws cash from another company’s ATM, which reduced the revenue of ATM operators.

While we found that most of Bristol – and in particular local economic centres – were relatively well-served in terms of access to cash, we noticed that a considerable number of the city’s ATMs had changed from free to fee-charging during this period. More worrying in terms of the poverty premium, was that most of these ATMs were located in the city’s most deprived neighbourhoods – most likely caused by the fact that non-bank ATM operators seem to be dominant in such areas (since banks have largely retreated from such areas towards economic centres).

Location of ATMs in Bristol that changed from free to fee-charging between October 2018 and March 2019. Deprived areas appear disproportionately affected by these changes.


Our research focused only on the city of Bristol and we were therefore pleased that colleagues at Which? published analysis of a national dataset of ATMs in September 2019, looking at differences between January 2018 and May 2019. This confirmed that our findings applied nationally, showing that the 20% most deprived areas had seen 979 (net) conversions from free-to-use to fee-charging, compared with just 223 in the 20% least deprived areas. This is concerning as it risks increasing the poverty premium for those least able to afford it and many of those most likely to depend on cash.

Having identified the problem, however, the challenge now is to identify a solution. We are supporting organisations such as the Payment Systems Regulator, LINK and the Financial Conduct Authority to explore options and are also conducting further research which will consider new ways of identifying areas most in need of cash infrastructure, in rural as well as urban contexts.

The full report is available here.

Authors: Jamie Evans (Senior Research Associate, Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC), University of Bristol), Sara Davies (Senior Research Fellow, PFRC) and Daniel Tischer (Lecturer in Management, University of Bristol).

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.

Welcome to the Bristol Poverty Institute blog!

Welcome to the new blog site for the Bristol Poverty Institute (BPI) at the University of Bristol!

Follow this blog for news, views and opinions on a wide range of poverty-relevant topics from BPI members, including leading experts in the fields of education, sociology, child health, poverty measurement, and many others.

To find out more about the BPI please visit our website or follow us on Twitter.

Please note that individual authors are responsible for the content of all blog posts, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the BPI or University of Bristol.