"Widening the gaps"
To make raw data relatable to an audience, it's important to provide context.
So the researchers took the Treasury’s figures and drove them down to the local level, district-by-district — tapping into a vast range of official statistics.
Their method showed cumulatively and visually how various cuts to unemployment, housing and disability benefits would impact on households of different types in different areas.
This was important because most welfare policy takes little or no account of place. It applies consistently across the UK, regardless of the wide economic and social disparities between, say, St Albans and Barnsley.
The research made clear that the same ex-industrial areas that had been devastated by mass unemployment from the 1980s onwards were the ones being hit hardest by welfare reform.
But other areas stood to lose out too. Seaside towns, for example, have high levels of private rented accommodation, low wages and a seasonal economy. Blackpool — a seaside town in a largely industrial region — was to be the worst affected area in the country.
London boroughs such as Tower Hamlets, Haringey or Hackney were also at risk. There, spiralling rents and living costs meant budgets were already tight, so the cuts to housing benefit, and the new benefit cap, hit particularly hard.
In short, policy changes that were being widely referred to as nationwide were anything but. Instead, these reforms worsened the situation for specific communities that had already suffered the most, while scarcely affecting more prosperous regions at all.
As one of the team’s early reports said:
“The financial impact of the reforms varies greatly across the country. At the extremes, the worst-hit local authority areas lose around four times as much, per adult of working age, as the authorities least affected by the reforms.
“A key effect of the welfare reforms will be to widen the gaps in prosperity between the best and worst local economies across Britain”