Energy-related economic stress in the UK, at the interface between transport, housing and fuel poverty

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Institute for Transport Studies


At present, home energy issues are framed in terms of reducing energy consumption and emissions while at the same time taking into account fuel poverty - an established area of interest for British policy and research. The same is not true for transport poverty and economic stress, which are currently under researched. This is despite transport costs being an increasingly significant item of household expenditure, and a major cause of public concern in the UK - notably for low income car-owning households, who spend 31% of their income on transport.
The project will develop the concept of transport poverty, exploring its relationships with housing and fuel poverty, and implications for energy demand reduction and social justice. It will develop connections between the British academic and policy debate and similar debates abroad, where issues of increasing transport costs and vulnerability to oil price spikes have been framed in terms of sustainable spatial development, highlighting the interlinkages between transport and housing affordability.
The following research questions will guide the study:
1. What are the systematic patterns of transport poverty and economic stress in the UK, in terms of socio-demographics, geographic distribution and relationships with housing and fuel poverty?
2. What do these patterns suggest for the distributional and total demand implications of energy demand reduction policies and scenarios for the UK?
The project has been designed to have a symbiotic relationship with other on-going work on qualitative understandings of transport needs and affordability within the DEMAND Centre ( It will inform DEMAND's work with hard figures on transport poverty and economic stress, while at the same time using their qualitative findings to inform a critical discussion of existing data sets and to orientate the quantitative analysis.
A set of 5 interdependent workpackages, mostly consisting of secondary quantitative analysis, will span 18 months. The specific goals are:
1. to conceptualise the relationships between transport, housing and fuel poverty in an interdisciplinary and international perspective, based on an international literature review
2. to explore patterns of transport spending and its relationship with spending on housing and domestic energy in the UK, by analysing recent family expenditure data (Living Costs and Food Survey 2012)
3. to explore material deprivation and economic stress in low-income car owning households in the UK and the EU, based on the EU-SILC dataset
4. to explore more geographically detailed patterns of transport poverty for a metropolitan area characterised by high levels of deprivation, by analysing the Merseyside Travel Poverty Survey
5. to exploit MOT Tests and Results Data to understand the potential role of technological lags for lower income groups in aggravating transport poverty and economic stress, and to produce UK-wide maps of the fuel-related economic stress and oil vulnerability of car users
The project aims to challenge the current "silo" approach of policy making, in which issues of transport, housing and fuel poverty are seen as separate. A series of written outputs (publicly available working paper and report, policy briefing) and public engagement events (2-day international interdisciplinary workshop and final dissemination event) will aim to highlight the significance of transport poverty and to bring together a cross-sectoral audience of stakeholders, with potential impacts in terms of cross-fertilization and knowledge sharing. The ambition is to contribute to the development of innovative cross-sectoral policies, along the lines of measures experimented abroad (e.g. location efficient mortgages, mobility-efficiency certificates for building, online tools for calculating the mobility costs of residential relocation).

Planned Impact

The project will add new understandings of cross sectoral, energy-related economic stress. By highlighting the distributional implications of energy demand reduction policies, which limit their public acceptability, it is of relevance to evidence-based policy making at a range of levels and departments, not least to DfT and DECC. By considering the interaction of transport and fuel poverty with housing affordability, it will also generate findings of interest to DCLG.
At the level of local authorities, the knowledge produced will benefit Integrated Transport Authorities and Passenger Transport Executives. The project will identify areas where economic stress is intensive, potentially informing the planning of subsidised public transport services. Therefore, efforts will be made to engage with the Passenger Transport Executive Group, Merseytravel and Transport for London (already a partner in DEMAND). The project will capitalise on other work in DEMAND on prices and justice, which is focussed on the engagement of stakeholders and transport policy makers at the local and national level, to enhance its economic and societal impact. The project will also add to the tools that the MOT project is developing for local authorities to evaluate policy interventions, by enriching the datasets with indicators of economic stress that allow a longitudinal 'tracking' of the distributional impacts of policies.
By adopting an international perspective, the project aims to arouse interest of policy makers for measures adopted abroad to reduce the transport expenditure of households. These include e.g. Location Efficient Mortgages (US) and online tools for calculating the mobility costs of residential relocation (Germany, Austria). While it is not always possible to import policies, this might contribute to the development of effective measures in the UK. This maps onto DEMAND'S priority of exploring the international experience of the governance of energy demand reduction. The analysis of an EU-level dataset on living conditions will allow comparison of the UK with other countries, generating findings of interest to policy communities in the EU.
Beyond policy-making, the project will benefit to a range of non-governmental organisations with interests in sustainable development and/or poverty and affordability, in the transport sector and beyond (e.g. Sustrans, Campaign for Better Transport, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, RAC Foundation). By showing which social groups and neighbourhoods struggle the most with the costs of motoring, the project will be of interest to public transport operators looking to expand their services.
The embedding of the project within DEMAND will ensure close cooperation with EDF R&D, which has an established interest in fuel poverty and will increase the project's non academic impact. Also, the project will benefit from DEMAND's stakeholder mapping exercise, which has set the goal to interact with over 150 stakeholders from the fields of energy, local planning and more.
By exploring the links between low fuel vehicle efficiency and transport poverty among low income households, the project will be of relevance to organisations such as the the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, informing their scenarios with social justice considerations.
Finally, engaging with the research communities working on housing affordability and fuel poverty will result in increased awareness of issues of transport poverty and economic stress, with cascading effects on the public awareness and understanding of this burning social issue, as well as on the design of future data collection exercises.
Overall, in the longer term, an improved understanding of economic stress in the transport sector will benefit wider society (including, crucially, future generations) in terms of increased resilience to oil price shocks, which is essential if the UK is to maintain economic competitiveness, social welfare and cohesion.
Description As of March 2016, the key findings of the project "Energy-related economic stress in the UK, at the interface between transport, housing and fuel poverty" are the following.
Work package 1. The multinational literature review highlights the lack of connections being made in British research and policy-making between questions of affordability in the fields of housing, domestic energy and transport. This contrasts with the situation in France and Germany, where these connections are increasingly being made. On the other hand, the British debate on affordability has been dominated by an analogy between fuel poverty and "transport poverty" - which is assumed to be the transport equivalent of fuel poverty. We critically discuss this assumption in a paper submitted for publication, highlighting a number of similarities and differences between the two issues, with important implications for how transport poverty is to be conceptualised, measured and tackled.
Work package 2. We have used Living Costs and Food Survey data for 2012 to develop a metric of "car-related economic stress" that is inspired by the "Low-Income-High-Cost" indicator of fuel poverty currently adopted by the English government. The results show that 9% of households (approximately 2.3 million) in Great Britain have low income and high running motor vehicles cost. Households with children, the 'working poor', the disabled and home owners are particularly likely to belong to this group.
Work package 3. We have used EU-SILC data to develop a material-deprivation-based measure of "car-related economic stress". Approximately 7% of the population of Great Britain (1.7 million) own a car despite being in "material deprivation". These are more likely to be working poor, households with children, living in thinly populated areas. These households tend to experience affordability problems in more than one area (car-related economic stress, housing cost overburden, fuel poverty), to curtail social activities and domestic energy consumption, and to be in debt.
Exploitation Route The findings have already been shown to be of interest to government officials in housing, land-use, energy and transport. The information is hugely important in understanding how fair different energy transition pathways might be.

The methodology and the integration of new data sets can also be used for future policy analysis.
Sectors Energy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport
Description The project has been instrumental in encouraging debates in the international and British research communities on the links between transport, housing and energy costs. This is happening for example with the forthcoming special issue of Transport Policy on "Household transport costs, economic stress and vulnerability, at the interface between mobility, domestic energy and residential location", as well as with the conference session "Energy & Money" as part of the DEMAND Conference 2016. The approach has raised the interest of British policy-makers and practitioners as attested by the invitation to present as part of the Scottish Government Climate Change Seminar Series, as well as by requests of information by institution such as Transport for London and FirstGroup. The conference papers published so far have been well received, as attested by the feedback at conferences, by number of reads on academic social networking websites, and by the fact that they are cited in several of the papers submitted for publication in the special issue of Transport Policy mentioned above. The project has reached beyond its original aims with a collaborative paper, published in the "Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Transport", where questions of transport poverty and affordability in developed and developing countries are discussed and compared.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Energy,Environment,Transport
Impact Types Policy & public services
Description Cross-sectoral workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation workshop facilitator
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The two-day international workshop "Energy-related economic stress at the interface between transport poverty, fuel poverty and residential location" was held at the University of Leeds on May 20th-21st. 41 participants from four countries took part in the workshop over the two days, including 13 non-academic participants from DfT, DECC, DCLG, the Welsh Government, Leeds City Council, RAC Foundation, EDF R&D, CPT, ACE and the Centre for Cities.

The aim of the workshop was to make connections between issues of affordability in different areas (transport, housing and domestic energy) and how these have been conceptualised (or not) in three different EU countries (UK, France and Germany), while at the same time bringing together academic and policy perspectives. Over two intensive days we have discussed topics such as: transport-related economic stress among motorised lower-middle classes; the poor resilience and oil vulnerability of suburban and remote areas; urban households who cannot afford car ownership; the coping strategies of households and policy makers in the face of rising fuel and housing costs; how to develop a comprehensive approach to (transport and domestic) energy poverty; the definition and measurement of 'transport poverty'.

Request for subscriptions to project newsletter. A Special Issue of the 'Transport Policy' Journal will include some of the papers presented at the workshop (
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Presentation to policy makers as part of the Scottish Government Climate Change Seminar Series (3 March 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact On 3 March 2016 Giulio Mattioli delivered a talk to Scottish policy-makers as part of the Scottish Government Climate Change Seminar Series. The seminar was attended by more than 20 policy-makers, was well received and led to an interesting discussion. The organiser of the Seminar Series has requested to kept abreast of our research activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The website for the research project was launched online in May 2015. As of 8 October 2015 it had 464 views from 214 visitors from 35 countries.

The website notably provided an outlet for the dissemination of the results of the international workshop (all presentations can be viewed online at and the "Sociology of Energy" conference paper. In informal discussions at conferences / meetings colleagues have mentioned that this enabled them to get an impression of the project's progress.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Twitter profile for research project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The twitter profile is an outlet for dissemination of project-related news, with a link to the project website.

From the profile activation in May 2015 to 8 October 2015 tweets from this profile have had 59 'followers', 7.9K 'impressions', 33 'link clicks', 50 'retweets', 18 'favorites' and 2 'replies'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015