UCL News


Cost of living crisis report calls for intersectional approach to policymaking

18 October 2023

Policy responses to the cost of living crisis are falling short by not accounting for differences in how people experience the crisis, and by not addressing the root causes of rising deprivation in the UK, found a recent mini-commission led by UCL researchers.


Their new report, The Cost-of-Living Crisis in the UK: All In It Together?, highlights how policy responses to the cost of living crisis have failed to grasp the magnitude and depth of deprivation in the UK, plagued by short-term thinking and a lack of accountability.  

The report, a collaboration between IOE, UCL Public Policy, UCL Grand Challenges and Tortoise Media, distils expertise drawn from a series of ThinkIn discussions involving experts from UCL, policy, and the third sector. The report gives policymakers a clearer sense of the impacts of the cost of living crisis, how responses are falling short, and what can be done to improve people’s experiences. 

The impact of the cost of living crisis is significant and widespread, particularly with high levels of inflation placing pressure on household finances. An estimated one in five people were living in poverty in 2020/21, and it is projected that an extra 300,000 people will fall into absolute poverty next year, with relative child poverty expected to reach its highest levels since 1988-98 in 2027-28.  

"Who is missing from the data?" remains a critical question.  

Despite the many initiatives and trackers developed by organisations to analyse the impact of the current crisis, there remains a lack of real-time evidence related to how rising costs are affecting different households. Many people are missing from official statistics, either for not being “poor enough” to qualify for support, or because of stigma associated with receiving benefits.

The report highlights that official estimates of households in poverty may well underestimate the true impact, and consequently there is an urgent need for improved data that accurately measures the crisis's impact and policy responses across all demographic groups and intersecting policy areas. 

Rethinking the cost of living “crisis” as a poverty pandemic is vital 

Through in-depth discussions with representatives from across the public and social sectors including The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Citizens Advice and the Local Government Association, this work emphasised the significance of adopting an intersectional approach to address both the current acute crisis and the wider underpinning poverty pandemic effectively.

Recognising that most people do not neatly fit into a single demographic category, an intersectional approach that considers factors such as age, sex, disability, ethnicity and others must be adopted to understand the overlapping and complex pressure points affecting a person’s life chances and outcomes. Reframing the narrative of a current “crisis” to instead stress the deep-set levels of poverty in the UK is also needed. 

Professor Ann Phoenix (IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society) said: “Each Thinkin has been instrumental in shedding light on key aspects of the cost of living crisis and the importance of an intersectional approach. These discussions highlighted the shortcomings of current policy responses, particularly in evidence collection, data inclusion, and policy coherence.

“A central message is that raising living standards should be viewed as a long-term investment in the future of the UK, rather than a short-term drain on resources. A key message from the report is that an intersectional perspective can help to bridge the widening gap of inequality and ensure a commitment to addressing the root causes of poverty."

What now? 

The report’s conclusion calls for a more comprehensive approach to tackling the cost of living crisis, which takes account of intersectionality, to be adopted in the UK, highlighting the need to move beyond solely economic policy responses. This approach should move beyond short-term “sticking plaster” solutions, recognising that while high rates of inflation and spiralling costs, affect the entire UK, their impacts do not affect everyone equally, with the most deprived hit the hardest. The report suggests a series of recommendations, including greater accountability, critical data gaps to be addressed, improved cross-departmental collaboration and alignment across ministerial portfolios, and an understanding that raising living standards should be viewed as a long-term investment in the UK’s future, rather than as a short-term capital expenditure. 

Jess Winch, News Editor at Tortoise Media, said: “It has been a privilege to work with UCL on this important project. The cost-of-living crisis - or the cost-of-living reality, as one speaker described it - has no end point in sight and is not impacting everyone equally. I chaired three discussions with people working on the frontline of this issue, from community leaders to charity heads to policy researchers and senior economists. We hope that the discussions will help inform more effective government policy in the short-term and build a stronger social safety net over the coming decades.”



Media Contact

Mike Lucibella

  • E: m.lucibella [at] ucl.ac.uk