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Urban poverty shifting out to the suburbs could further increase inequalities

Context:

  • Historically, poverty in the UK has been concentrated near town and city centres.
  • This has had pros and cons for poor households:
    • On the one hand, it means they are closer to public services, amenities and employment opportunities, which tend to be located in urban centres, though they do not always benefit from these.
    • On the other hand, they are more exposed to crime, noise and air pollution, which also tend to be concentrated near urban centres.
  • There is evidence across a range of countries including Scotland (Kavanagh et al. 2016, forthcoming) that urban poverty is decentralising – moving from the inner city to the periphery.

Findings:

  • The shift in poverty is most commonly observed in medium to large UK urban regions (typically more than 400,000 residents) such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Sheffield, Liverpool, Leeds, and Bristol.
  • Poorer residents are becoming relatively more spread out and are located further away from amenities and employment opportunities. This has increased inequality between poor and non-poor households in terms of access to employment and amenities, but has also led to lower exposure to air pollution.

Policy implications:

  • One implication for policy is that reducing inequality cannot be achieved through fiscal policy alone (e.g. raising taxes on high earners). Inequality in access to employment and amenities has a strong geographical dimension that needs to be addressed at the local and regional levels by, for example, improving transport options for poorer households living in the suburbs.
  • There are also implications for the provision of public services. As poverty becomes more dispersed there is greater risk of ‘hidden poverty’, so there will be an increased burden on public service providers to identify and serve these households.

Related publication:

Journal article: The dynamics of poverty, employment and access to amenities in polycentric cities: Measuring the decentralisation of poverty and its impacts in England and Wales

The dynamics of poverty, employment and access to amenities in polycentric cities: Measuring the decentralisation of poverty and its impacts in England and Wales