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Partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Improving the Evidence Base for Understanding the Links between Inequalities and Poverty

LSE is delighted to have been awarded £565,000 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) for a three-year programme to investigate the links between inequality and poverty.

We hope this partnership will make an important contribution to public debate and understanding at a critical time for efforts to reduce poverty in the UK.


The III is collaborating with the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at LSE on a three-year programme of research on the connections between inequality and poverty. This programme is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

An understanding that poverty and inequality are inextricably linked has given rise to a number of large international organisations (World Bank; UN; WEF; Oxfam) setting joint inequality-poverty reduction targets on the basis that poverty cannot be seriously tackled without addressing inequality. However, the evidence base was relatively weak with only limited information available on the relationship between the two phenomena.  This project is specifically designed to expand the evidence base on the links between inequality and poverty and to fill this knowledge gap.  In this programme of research we are exploring the relationship between inequality and poverty by:

(a) examining philosophical concerns for poverty and inequality and how they may overlap

(b) estimating the empirical relationship between income inequality and a variety of poverty measures

(c) reviewing the existing evidence base on potential mechanisms that may drive any relationship

(d) conducting case study research to explore in more detail one of the key mechanisms identified in the evidence reviews

(e) investigating potential policy options. 

Within the III, the programme supports the 3-year appointment of Dr Aaron Reeves as Associate Professorial Research Fellow in Poverty and Inequality. His research has looked at four main topics: the social composition of elites over time; the economic returns to symbolic resources; the political determinants of health inequalities; and the economic determinants of negative media rhetoric regarding people living in poverty.

Research outputs

Here we review some of the conceptual issues and existing evidence alongside emerging findings from this research with links to published discussion papers and presentations.

Inequality, poverty and the grounds of our normative concerns
Irene Bucelli

Irene Bucelli has been reviewing different philosophical positions and theories that underlie concerns about poverty and inequality and explores the extent to which these are compatible and can, in fact, overlap. This paper concludes that it is possible to argue that our concerns with poverty and inequality are not mutually exclusive and that a ‘pluralist’ view can incorporate different justifications for being concerned about both.

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The relationship between poverty and inequality: concepts and measures
Lin Yang

In this paper, Lin Yang reviews the different concepts and measures of inequality and poverty. It highlights how some measures are likely to lead to a higher empirical correlation between the two phenomena for mathematical reasons and provides a strong basis for our empirical studies.

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The empirical relationship between income inequality and income poverty in rich and middle income countries
Eleni Karagiannaki

Eleni Karagiannaki carried out an extensive examination of the empirical cross-country relationship between income inequality and income poverty.  Her research shows that higher income inequality (measured in a variety of ways) is associated with higher income poverty across countries and that there exists a positive relationship between changes in income inequality over time and changes in relative income poverty. 

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Multidimensional poverty and income inequality in the EU: An adjusted headcount approach
Lin Yang and Polly Vizard

There may be some concern about the circularity in looking at the relationship between income inequality and income poverty, so Lin Yang and Polly Vizard investigated the relationship between income inequality and three further measures of poverty (material deprivation, a multi-dimensional poverty index and a capability-based multi-dimensional measure of poverty. In this paper they provide evidence that the positive correlation between inequality and poverty is not limited to income measures of poverty, and holds after controlling for a range of micro-level and macro-level variables.

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Living on the edge: precariousness and why it matters for health
Martin McKee, Aaron Reeves, Amy Clair, and David Stuckler

The post-war period in Europe, between the late 1940s and the 1970s, was characterised by an expansion of the role of by the state, protecting its citizens from risks of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity. This security began to erode in the 1980s as a result of privatisation and deregulation. The withdrawal of the state further accelerated after the 2008 financial crisis, as countries began pursuing deep austerity. The result has been a rise in what has been termed ‘precariousness’. Here the authors review the development of the concept of precariousness and related phenomena of vulnerability and resilience, before reviewing evidence of growing precariousness in European countries. It describes a series of studies of the impact on precariousness on health in domains of employment, housing, and food, as well as natural experiments of policies that either alleviate or worsen these impacts. It concludes with a warning, drawn from the history of the 1930s, of the political consequences of increasing precariousness in Europe and North America.

Link to paper

'Set up to Fail'? How Welfare Conditionality Undermines Citizenship for Vulnerable Groups
Aaron Reeves and Rachel Loopstra 

Underpinned by the assumption that unemployed persons are passive recipients of social security, recent welfare reforms have increased benefit conditionality in the UK and introduced harsher penalties for failure to meet these conditions. Yet, conditionality may result in vulnerable groups disproportionately experiencing disentitlement from benefits, one of the rights of social citizenship, because they are, in some cases, less able to meet these conditions. Rising sanctions, then, may be the product of a disconnection between welfare conditionality and the capabilities of vulnerable claimants. To test this hypothesis, the authors evaluate whether sanctions are higher in areas where there are more vulnerable Jobseeker's Allowance claimants, namely, lone parents, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities. They find that sanction rates are higher in local authorities where more claimants are lone parents or live with a disability, and that this relationship has strengthened since the welfare reforms were introduced under the Conservative-led coalition. Failure to meet conditions of benefit receipt may disproportionately affect vulnerable groups.

Link to paper / download open access version

Public pensions and unmet medical need among older people: cross-national analysis of 16 European countries, 2004–2010
Aaron Reeves, Martin McKee, Johan Mackenbach, Margaret Whitehead, David Stuckler

Since the onset of the Great Recession in Europe, unmet need for medical care has been increasing, especially in persons aged 65 or older. It is possible that public pensions buffer access to healthcare in older persons during times of economic crisis, but to our knowledge, this has not been tested empirically in Europe. The authors integrated panel data on 16 European countries for years 2004–2010 with indicators of public pension, unemployment insurance and sickness insurance entitlement from the Comparative Welfare Entitlements Dataset and unmet need (due to cost) prevalence rates from EuroStat 2014 edition. Using country-level fixed-effects regression models, they evaluate whether greater public pension entitlement, which helps reduce old-age poverty, reduces the prevalence of unmet medical need in older persons and whether it reduces inequalities in unmet medical need across the income distribution.

Link to paper

Does sanctioning disabled claimants of unemployment insurance increase labour market inactivity? An analysis of 346 British local authorities between 2009 and 2015
Aaron Reeves

Imposing financial penalties on claimants of unemployment insurance may incentivise labour market re-entry. However, sanctions may have differential effects depending on the work-readiness of the claimants. In this paper, Aaron Reeves explores whether sanctioning disabled claimants is associated with greater labour market activity or inactivity among disabled people using data on 346 British local authorities between 2009-2014. When the number of sanctioned disabled claimants rises (as a proportion of all claimants) the proportion of economically inactive people who are also disabled becomes larger. There is not a clear relationship between sanctioning disabled claimants and the proportion of employed people who are disabled.

Download paper

Socioeconomic position and mortality risk of smoking: evidence from from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA)
Dan Lewer, Martin McKee, Antonio Gasparrini, Aaron Reeves, Cesar de Oliveira

It is not clear whether the harm associated with smoking differs by socioeconomic status. This study tests the hypothesis that smoking confers a greater mortality risk for individuals in low socioeconomic groups, using a cohort of 18,479 adults drawn from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. 

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The growing disconnect between food prices and wages in Europe: cross-national analysis of food deprivation and welfare regimes in twenty-one EU countries, 2004-2012
Aaron Reeves, Rachel Loopstra and David Stuckler

Food insecurity has been rising across Europe following the Great Recession, but to varying degrees across countries and over time. The reasons for this increase are not well understood, nor are what factors might protect people’s access to food. Here the authors test the hypothesis that an emerging gap between food prices and wages can explain increases in reported inability to afford protein-rich foods and whether welfare regimes can mitigate its impact. They find that rising prices of food coupled with stagnating wages are a major factor driving food deprivation, especially in deprived groups; however, our evidence indicates that more generous welfare systems can mitigate this impact.

Link to paper

The Decline and Persistence of the Old Boy: Private Schools and Elite Recruitment 1897 to 2016
Aaron Reeves, Sam Friedman, Charles Rahal, Magne Flemmen

This paper draws on 120 years of biographical data (N = 120,764) contained within Who’s Who—a unique catalogue of the British elite—to explore the changing relationship between elite schools and elite recruitment. The authors find that the propulsive power of Britain’s public schools has diminished significantly over time. This is driven in part by the wane of military and religious elites, and the rise of women in the labor force. However, the most dramatic declines followed key educational reforms that increased access to the credentials needed to access elite trajectories, while also standardizing and differentiating them. Notwithstanding these changes, public schools remain extraordinarily powerful channels of elite formation. Even today, the alumni of the nine Clarendon schools are 94 times more likely to reach the British elite than are those who attended any other school. Alumni of elite schools also retain a striking capacity to enter the elite even without passing through other prestigious institutions, such as Oxford, Cambridge, or private members clubs. The analysis not only points to the dogged persistence of the “old boy,” but also underlines the theoretical importance of reviving and refining the study of elite recruitment.

Link to paper

The impact of persistent poor housing conditions on mental health: A longitudnal population-based study
David Pevalin, Aaron Reeves, Emma Baker, Rebecca Bentley

Living with housing problems increases the risk of mental ill health. Housing problems tend to persist over time but little is known about the mental health consequences of living with persistent housing problems. We investigated if persistence of poor housing affects mental health over and above the effect of current housing conditions. The authors used data from 13 annual waves of the British Household Panel Survey (1996 to 2008) (81,745 person/year observations from 16,234 individuals) and measured the persistence of housing problems by the number of years in the previous four that a household experienced housing problems. OLS regression models and lagged-change regression models were used to estimate the effects of past and current housing conditions on mental health, as measured by the General Health Questionnaire. Interaction terms tested if tenure type modified the impact of persistent poor housing on mental health. In fully adjusted models, mental health worsened as the persistence of housing problems increased. Adjustment for current housing conditions attenuated, but did not explain, the findings. Tenure type moderated the effects of persistent poor housing on mental health, suggesting that those who own their homes outright and those who live in social housing are most negatively affected. Persistence of poor housing was predictive of worse mental health, irrespective of current housing conditions, which added to the weight of evidence that demonstrates that living in poor quality housing for extended periods of time has negative consequences for mental health.

Link to paper

The Great Recession and inequalities in access to health care: a study of unemployment and unmet medical need in Europe in the economic crisis
Joana Madureira-Lima, Aaron Reeves, Amy Clair, David Stuckler

Unmet medical need (UMN) had been declining steadily across Europe until the 2008 Recession, a period characterized by rising unemployment. This paper examines whether becoming unemployed increased the risk of UMN during the Great Recession and whether the extent of out-of-pocket payments (OOP) for health care and income replacement for the unemployed (IRU) moderated this relationship.

Link to paper

Switching Focus: whose responsibility to improve disabled people’s employment and pay?
Liz Sayce 

This report addresses the question of whether there is a set of policy levers that could, together, encourage employers to improve disabled people’s employment and pay. It also considers how proposals could be framed and pursued, to enable people to unite to achieve them.

Links to report: 

Full PDF report, see here
Full Word report, see here
Easyread version, see here
Executive Summary, see here

Links to video and audio: 

Audio, see here                                                                                                        Video, see here

 More information on the launch 

Improving disabled people’s employment and pay: changing patterns of campaigning and influencing
Liz Sayce

Blog, see here

Four policy proposals to improve disabled people’s employment and pay
Liz Sayce

Blog, see here



Understanding the Relationship between Poverty and Inequality, Overview report                                                                                                                                    Irene Bucelli, John Hills, Eleni Karagiannaki, Abigail McKnight, Polly Vizard and Lin Yang

An understanding that poverty and inequality are inextricably linked has given rise to a number of large international organisations setting joint inequality-poverty reduction targets on the basis that poverty cannot be seriously tackled without addressing inequality. However, the evidence base was relatively weak with only limited information available on the relationship between the two phenomena. The programme was designed to expand the evidence base on the links between inequality and poverty and to fill this knowledge gap. In the research summarised in this report we explored the relationship between inequality and poverty by: • Examining philosophical concerns for poverty and inequality and how they may overlap • Estimating the empirical relationship between income inequality and a variety of poverty measures • Reviewing the existing evidence base on potential mechanisms that may drive any relationship

Link to paper

Next phase

The next phase of our work involves examining the evidence on a number of potential mechanisms that theory and evidence suggest drive the positive empirical relationship. Such as:

  • Economic mechanisms: fundamental drivers such as resource constraints and the inequality-growth-poverty triangle (higher inequality stifling growth and therefore ability to reduce poverty or, conversely, inequality generating growth and increasing the capacity to tackle poverty).
  • Political mechanismswhere command over economic resources is linked to political power inequality which can result in resistance against policies (such as redistribution or poverty reduction programmes) that threaten the economic position of the rich and powerful.
  • Social and cultural: unequal societies are also often characterised as highly punitive countries with high rates of incarceration. This may be driven by well-off people dominating positions of power including the judiciary. For some groups it appears that poverty acts as a 'pipeline to prison' and a vicious cycle ensues. 

We are also exploring how dynamic mechanisms may help to shape the relationship between inequality and poverty. For example, the relationship between higher inequality and lower mobility (cross-sectional and intergenerational) is making it harder to escape poverty. Discussion papers examining the evidence on mechanisms will be published shortly.

Practitioner Fellowships 

Growing out of our partnership with the JRF, the III has funding to build a network of academics and practitioners dedicated to changing policy, practice, and public dialogues around inequalities.

These fellowships undertaken in 2018 have provided Fellows with reflective time away from line responsibilities to engage with recent research and interact with members of the III, as well as world-leading academics and other practitioners from around the world. It is designed to strengthen policy professionals' ties to the academic world, providing the Institute an insight into how different organisations are conceptualising the relationship between inequality and poverty.

Fellows have determined their own projects focusing on different aspects of the intersection between poverty and inequality, such as housing, finance, taxation, social security and labour markets. They have become an important part of the III, participating in weekly seminars and presenting their work to the research group and to the wider public. 

Zamila Bunglawala

Zamila Bunglawala is Deputy Director - Strategy and Insight, Race Disparity Unit at the Cabinet Office and JRF Practitioner Fellow at LSE III. Through her extensive national and international policy, strategy and programmes experience in senior roles – including No.10 Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, Cabinet Office, Open Society Foundation, Young Foundation, Brookings Institution, United Nations– Zamila has led a wide range of policy and program projects, specialising in education and employment, gender, SGBV, ethnic and faith minority groups, humanitarian conflicts and development.  She is widely published and is an international public policy speaker on gender and minority equality issues.


Liz Sayce was Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK (and its legacy charity Radar) from 2007-2017, where she led work for equal participation for all, through programmes on independent living, career opportunities and shifts in cultural attitudes and behaviour. Liz is a member of the Committee of Healthwatch England and the Social Security Advisory Committee. With a background in mental health and disability policy, previous roles include Director of Policy and Communications at the Disability Rights Commission, where she led formal investigations and a new ‘Disability Agenda’; and Policy Director of Mind. She led an Independent Review into disability employment programmes for Government in 2011 and has published widely on mental health, disability and social participation. She undertook a Harkness Fellowship in the USA resulting in a book (From Psychiatric Patient to Citizen, 2000 – updated in 2016), was awarded an OBE in 2009 and an honorary doctorate from the University of Kent in 2014. 

Naomi 5 2012

Naomi Eisenstadt is currently deputy chair of the Poverty and Inequality Commission for Scotland. She has recently published Life Chances of Young People in Scotland for the Scottish Government and in January 2016 published Shifting the Curve, identifying fifteen recommendations that could significantly reduce poverty in Scotland. After a long career in the NGO sector, in 1999 Naomi became the first Director of the Sure Start Unit. The Unit was responsible for delivering the British Government’s commitment to free nursery education places for all three and four year olds, the national childcare strategy, and Sure Start, a major programme aiming to reduce the gap in outcomes between children living in disadvantaged areas and the wider child population. After Sure Start, Naomi spent 3 years as the Director of the Social Exclusion Task Force working across government to identify and promote policies to address the needs of traditionally excluded groups. Since retiring from the Civil Service, Naomi has chaired the Camden Equalities Commission, the Milton Keynes Child Poverty Commission, published a book and several articles relevant to child development and child poverty. She is a trustee of four charities: Save the Children, the Standard Life Foundation, the Dartington Social Service Lab, and the Trust for London. Naomi is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Oxford Department of Education and the Department of Social Policy and Intervention. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Open University in 2002 and in 2005 became a Companion of the Bath.

Carey Oppenheim

Carey Oppenheim is an independent consultant. She recently stepped down from her role as the first Chief Executive of the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), a charity and What Works Evidence Centre. She is now an associate of the EIF. Her previous roles include being Co-director of the Institute of Public Policy Research between 2007-2010.  She was Special Advisor to the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair MP, in the Number 10 Policy Unit between 2000 and 2005. She worked closely with Ministers, civil servants and stakeholders on child poverty and children’s rights, work-life balance, social security and employment policy. Carey has also been a senior lecturer in social policy at South Bank University, Acting Deputy Director and Head of Research at the Child Poverty Action Group. She chaired the London Child Poverty Commission which developed policies to tackle poverty in the capital city. Between 2010 and 2013 she trained to be a teacher and taught history and politics at an inner-city London school. Carey is a trustee of the National Childbirth Trust, sits on the advisory boards for Save the Children and the Institute of Policy Research at the University of Bath and is a member of the Social Metrics Commission, an independent charity, whose aim is to develop new poverty metrics in the UK which have long-term political support.  She took her Masters in Social Policy at the LSE. She lives in London with her husband and two daughters. 


JRF-supported events at the III

Revitalising Housing Studies: a collaborative workshop on emerging methods/approaches to inequalities research
11-13 September 2017
Participants: Aaron Reeves (LSE III), Rebecca Bentley (University of Melbourne), Emma Baker (Unversity of Adelaide), and others

The Decline and Persistence of the Old Boy: private schools and elite recruitment 1897-2016
10 October 2017
Speakers: Aaron Reeves (LSE III) and Dr Sam Friedman (LSE Sociology)

The Great Leveler: violence and economic inequality from the Stone Age to the future
27 November 2017
Speaker: Professor Walter Scheidel (Stanford University)
Chair: Dr Aaron Reeves (LSE III)

Closing the Gender Data Gap:  from data access to informing decisions and changing behaviours   This event was held jointly by the Global Institute for Women's Leadership at KCL and LSE International Inequalities Institute                                                                    16 October 2018                                                                                                                      Speakers:  Zamila Bunglawala (Cabinet Office and JRF Practitioner Fellow, LSE III); Seeta Gangadharan (LSE); Anna Wechsberg (Government Equalities Office)                                 Chair: The Hon Julia Gillard AC (Global Institute for Womens Leadership, KCL) 

Tackling ethnic disparities using websites                                                                    30 October 2018                                                                                                                    Speaker:  Zamila Bunglawala (Cabinet Office and JRF Practitioner Fellow, LSE III)                                                         

International Inequalities: Leave No One Behind - Digitising Development Data                22 November 2018                                                                                                        Speakers:  Zamila Bunglawala,  (JRF Practitioner Fellow, III LSE); Rose Caldwell (Executive Director, Concern Worldwide UK); Elizabeth Stuart (Head of Programmes ODI); and Claudia Wells (Assistant Director for Sustainability and Environment statistics at the Office for National Statistics)                                                Chair: Matthew Rycroft (Permanent Secretary DFID)

Switching Focus: whose responsibility to improve disabled people’s employment and pay?                                                                                                                                                     28 November 2018                                                                                             Speakers: Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE (cross-bench peer), Lord Chris Holmes MBE, David Isaac CBE (Chair, Equality and Human Rights Commission) and Liz Sayce (LSE III)                                                                                                                                  Chair: Dr Tania Burchardt (LSE, Department of Social Policy)

Nudge Theory and What Works - dynamic approaches to opening up data                           5 December 2018                                                                                                            Speakers: Zamila Bunglawala (JRF Fellow in Practice and Deputy Director, Race Disparity Unit, Cabinet Office); David Halpern (Chief Executive, Behavioural Insights Team); Sandra Kerr (Race Equality Director, Business in the Community ); and Mike Savage (Director, International Inequalities Institute, LSE III)                                    Chair: John Pullinger (UK National Statistician, Head of the Government Statistical Service and Chief Executive UK Statistics Authority) 

Podcast Here 

Sure Start: celebration and reflection      

22 February 2019                                                                             

Speakers: Naomi Eisenstadt (LSE International Inequalities Institute); Edward Melhuish (Human Development at the University of Oxford, and Birkbeck, University of London); Carey Oppenheim (LSE International Inequalities Institute); Susie Owen (Department of Education); Natalie Perera (EPI); Kitty Stewar (Social Policy and Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE); Baroness Philippa (Social Metrics Commission and the Legatum Foundation); Kathy Sylva (Educational Psychology at the University of Oxford); Polly Toynbee (The Guardian)

Chair: John Hills (Social Policy and CASE, LSE)

Discussant: Torsten Bell (Resolution Foundation)

January 2019 marks twenty years since Tessa Jowell, then Public Health Minister, announced the first sixty Sure Start Trailblazer areas. In tribute to Tessa Jowell, this half-day conference will reflect on what has been learned from the evaluations of Sure Start and its successor, Children's Centres, what those involved at the time think now about the initiative, and what it has taught us as a way forward for integrated early years services. 

Podcast available here: 

Part 1 

Part 2

Part 3  

Presentation slides available here: 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3