New £1million research programme on inequality

The first two decades of this century have been a period of unusual social change
homeless 747x560

A major new £1million research programme will analyse the progress of social policy in addressing social inequalities.

Social policies and distributional outcomes in a changing Britain (SPDO) will be undertaken by a team of inequalities and social policy experts at LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), in partnership with University of Manchester, Heriot Watt University and UCL Institute for Education. Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, it will be overseen by an independent Advisory Board chaired by the economist Dame Frances Cairncross.

The central objective is to provide an authoritative, independent, rigorous and in-depth evidence base on social policies and distributional outcomes in 21st century Britain. The central question to be addressed is: What progress has been made in addressing social inequalities through social policies? It will combine in-depth quantitative analysis of trends in social inequalities and social divides with detailed and systematic public expenditure and social policy analysis across ten major social policy areas over the period 2015-2020, together with broader reflection on the changing nature of social policies and distributional outcomes over the 21st century. It will be led by Dr Polly Vizard, Associate Director of CASE.

The new research programme will add to, and will reflect on, the previous Social Policy in a Cold Climate (SPCC) programme covering the period 1997-2015. The SPDO programme will update, extend and broaden analysis of public expenditure, social policies and distributional outcomes using the most recent datasets available, resulting in a unique evidence base on trends in social inequalities and social policies going back to 1997. Innovative extensions included within the SPDO research programme include: coverage of additional areas of social policy, such as physical safety/security and complex needs/homelessness; emphasis on the new context for social policy making, such as devolution and BREXIT; consideration of a broader range of multidimensional outcomes within our quantitative analysis; and the inclusion of additional breakdowns such as migration status. It will also have a forward looking component, identifying the key challenges for social policy in the 2020s.

Commenting on the new programme of research, Dr Polly Vizard, Associate Director of CASE, said: “We are living through tumultuous times, with increasing uncertainty, severe pressure on public services and growing concerns about the consequences of social inequalities. This important new research programme funded by Nuffield Foundation will enable us to build up new evidence on distributional outcomes amongst different population groups and to make a comprehensive assessment of the progress that is being made in addressing social inequalities through social policies. Building on previous CASE research, the programme will enhance knowledge and public understanding of the new context for social policy making post-Brexit and of progress made in addressing social inequalities over the period 2015-2020. In addition, we will be taking a longer term perspective, reflecting on continuities and changes in social policies and distributional outcomes over the first two decades of the 21st century, and addressing the major challenges looking forward”.

Teresa Williams, Director, Justice and Welfare, the Nuffield Foundation said: “As individuals, our health, education, career, standard of living and safety are all affected by the social policies of the day, but these effects are not the same for everyone and vary depending on factors such as where we live, our ethnic background, our age, and our income. These differences can alter the overall make-up of our society, for example by changing the level and type of inequality, so understanding the relationship between specific policies and their effects on different groups is essential, first to understand the changing nature of inequality, and secondly to proposing policies that might reduce it. This is an issue at the heart of the Nuffield Foundation’s mission to advance social well-being, and our financial and political independence make us well-placed to work with CASE on this comprehensive assessment of the changing nature of inequality and social policy over the last twenty years.”

Dame Frances Cairncross, Chair of the programme Advisory Board said:  "The first two decades of this century have been a period of unusual social change, with historically high levels of employment, little growth in real wages and high levels of inward migration from Europe. Public spending, which burgeoned in the early years of the century, stagnated in the second decade and wealth inequality grew. The programme will be a bold attempt to disentangle some of the impacts of such dramatic social and economic trends."

The programme outputs will include a series of papers, culminating in a major event in September 2020. Find out more here:

If you would like to be updated about this project, sign up here: