Transport and economic austerity: current and future policy agendas

Our monthly GM Policy Hub seminar series which focuses on a different regional policy agenda each month. In January 2023, we will focus on transport and its relationship to economic austerity to address the challenge presented by transport poverty.

Economic austerity policies since 2010 have widened and deepened poverty across the UK. The UK is now considered the most unequal society in Europe. With the cost of living set to rise again, this is an urgent national and local policy issue, including in Greater Manchester where recent measures have addresses the cost of local transport. Transport poverty has recently been recognised as an additional financial burden that many low-income households are struggling with.

Although this issue is well-documented within transport research, we currently know very little about how people are experiencing transport austerity alongside the cost of living crisis. Equally, local transport policies, anti-poverty strategies and planned programmes do not directly confront the transport poverty issue.

When: 1:00-2:30pm, Thursday 26 January


  • Karen Lucas, Professor of Human Geography, School of Environment, Education and Development, University of Manchester
  • Sarah Marie Hall, Professor of Human Geography, School of Environment, Education and Development, University of Manchester

Chaired by: Dr Maria SharminaReader in Energy and Sustainability at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the School of Engineering


Post-event write up

Post-event write up

Following the event, we published a write up which condenses the research contained in Karen Lucas’ and Sarah Marie Hall's presentation.

Transport and poverty is an integrated social problem

As of 2020, around 11.7 million people in the UK were living in relative poverty, with that number increasing to almost 14.5 million when housing costs are considered. That is the equivalent of a quarter of the total population. With the cost of living crisis considerably worsening the economic situation for many families and householdspoverty, and its many manifestations, is an urgent and ongoing national and local policy issue.

Transport poverty has been recognised as an additional financial burden that many low-income households are struggling with. This is no less true than in Greater Manchester, where recent measures have been aimed at addressing the cost of local transport.

Although transport poverty is well-documented within transport research, we currently know very little about how people are experiencing transport poverty alongside the cost-of-livingcrisis. Equally, local transport policies, anti-poverty strategies and planned programmes oftendo not directly confront transport poverty. As such, the social problem is not sufficiently understood by policymakers and legislators. An integration of data and research on transport and poverty needed to create a clearer picture of the problem and some consolidated policy action to address it.

Understanding the reality of transport poverty

Prof Karen Lucas and Prof Sarah Marie Hall, researchers in Human Geography at The University of Manchester, recently discussed the importance of tackling transport povertywith Greater Manchester based policymakers during a policy engagement seminar in JanuaryKaren’s long-standing research in transport and social-exclusion and Sarah’s specialism in inequalities and social difference intersect to present a clearer view of the challenge posed by transport poverty in the UK.

In many parts of the UK, the simple cost of transport is an obstaclebut transport poverty does not only manifest in terms of affordability. Crucially, lack of access to public transport is also a significant challengeChallenges of access are highest in the South West, with around 50% of areas in the region notably affected by public transport inaccessibility, and in the North East (25%), compared with the level of transport inaccessibility in London which is less than 5%. This may not come as a surprise, as well as increased demand by way of a large population, London has a public transport network that is comprehensive and integrated, whereas peripheral urban areas and rural populations struggle to connect with every day activities using public transport. 

Nationally, half of the UK population cannot or do not drive. This is further compounded by the fact that 57% of the working age population live in areas with limited numbers of jobs that are accessible by public transport. Without a car, many areas of the country are locked out of employment and training opportunities and social activities, making the challenge of transport poverty and accessibility, a more general determinant of social disadvantage.

But that is not to say that people in areas with better public transport access – like London or Manchester – aren’t also affected by transport poverty. Cuts to public services, including public transport, disproportionately affect the poorest groups, including children, young, older people, people with disabilities, and racial and ethnic minority communities, who are more likely to experience other forms of deprivationPeople and families in poverty are more likely to use public transport services and less likely to afford cars or taxis when services are cut. They are also more likely to live in the most deprived parts of the country facing the largest spending cuts. These intersecting factors lead to a situation in which austerity, poverty, and, in turn, the current cost of living pressures, are unevenly spread across society.The research on spending cuts is clear: the impoverishment that results from austerity isexperienced along lines of gender, class, raceage and disability.

It is impossible – and inappropriate – to segregate transport poverty from other forms of poverty, particularly with the cost-of-living crisis. Transport poverty is not just material or economic, but shapes everyday practices, relationships and future hopes.

Turning research into action on transport poverty

The first step in moving from research into action is to build the local capacity for integrated policy action. Engaging public and private stakeholders is necessary to build such capacity.

Co-production is also essential, particularly in building an evidence base and an action agenda at the citywide and regional level. This would include establishing local partnerships and working arrangements, but also involving local communities in building the agenda. But evaluating the outcomes, holistically and against social outcomes, is just as important as having the agenda. Sarah and Karen point out the inclusion of a transport domain into the Poverty Monitor from Greater Manchester Poverty Action, as an example of evaluation and co-production.

Building on this idea of co-productionconnectedness and integration of the actual transport network is an important policy priority. When transport is not joined up, passengers incur a penalty on time as well as money. A virtuous circle of integration, backed by additional subsidy and ticket revenue growth, is the biggest step towards solving transport poverty from a practical transport policy perspective.

To reduce transport poverty, integration is key. Collaboration between policymakers and academics working on this issue. The joining up of information, research, and policy is also vital. Integrating transport networks to remove the time and financial penalties to passengers. And crucially, the integration of transport policy into poverty strategies more generally.