Today, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published their UK Poverty 2023: The essential guide to understanding poverty in the UK report. I was fortunate enough to be able to join the excellent webinar for its launch. I have not yet had time to read the report in detail, but I did want to reflect on two of the headline findings, and bring them together with findings from our own research project, to consider what this might mean for the experience of poverty for LGBT+ people in the UK.
The two particular headline findings that caught my attention were, firstly, that the temporary £20 a week increase to welfare benefits in 2020 led to a substantial reduction in income poverty; and secondly, that high housing costs in the south-east of England deepen the experience of income poverty for people who live there.
In terms of the £20 uplift, my mind immediately went to our initial findings that gay men are more likely to claim out-of-work benefits. We suggested that this could be due to the sectors in which gay men are likely to work having greater staff-turnover. This would suggest that the £20 uplift would have really benefits gay men during this period. This is also supported by further insights from the JRF that showed that the sorts of industries we may be talking about – leisure and retail – did see big reductions in employment, and thus increases in poverty of people who had worked in them. While the £20 uplift may not have prevented people who lost their jobs experiencing income poverty, it will have reduced the severity of that poverty. This is also supported by earlier descriptive analysis of data from the Welfare at a Social Distance project (currently in press) that showed a higher proportion of LGB-identifying people claimed welfare benefits due to being made redundant after March 2020 and COVID lockdowns.
Our qualitative research has also shown this. Participants lost their jobs when COVID hit, and then found the changes to Universal Credit – the online application and removal of in-person meeting requirements – easy to access. Some participants spoke of finding the thought of having to go to a Job Centre as quite scary, for a variety of reasons, so not having to do this made claims easier. The removal of work-search requirements also made the process of managing a claim less stressful.
In terms of housing and poverty, we know from previous research that LGB people are more likely to live in London and the South-East of England. This has been confirmed by the recently released Census data for England and Wales, as shown on the interactive mapping (with Kemptown in Brighton being the “gayest” place in the UK). Fantastically, we also now have data on gender identity, which shows an even more pronounced spatial clustering of non-cisgendered people in London and the South-East of England.
Subsequently, LGBT+ people are going to be massively impacted by the high housing costs in this area. We do not have the statistical analysis yet, but it is likely there are experiencing income poverty after housing costs more, and that poverty is likely to be deeper. This is something we are hoping to explore later in the project with other datasets. Compounding this, is the fact that LGB people are more likely to live in the Private Rented Sector which is the most expensive tenure in the UK.
This is why we are increasingly of the view that sexual and gender identity really matters for understanding the dynamics of poverty and income inequality in Great Britain.