7th October 2019

Research having an impact on policy, and the wider world, can be extremely hard to quantify, but on occasion we find an example that illustrates the great potential we have to make a difference.

One such example came when Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and his senior advisers, Bassam Khawaja and Rebecca Riddell, made an official visit to the UK in November 2018. They were tasked with conducting an investigation in the UK and subsequently presented their findings to the UK government in the form of a 21 page report.

In order to maximise the efficacy of what are generally less than two-week visits, the time spent in the country must be carefully planned and structured extensively ahead of time. This involves “extensive advance work, including broad consultations and in-depth research”. It is during this planning that Alston used the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, later stating: “the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice is clearly one of the best in the field, as I learned in preparing for my visit to the UK.”

One of the key aims of of the visit was to “maximise the opportunities to hear diverse viewpoints directly from people affected by poverty, academics, civil society representatives and local and central government officials”. While, as Alston says, “the single most important focus of any visit has to be on understanding the perspectives of the ‘rights-holders’, or those living in poverty”, the importance of academic research on the subject is clearly not forgotten. Indeed, it is often through this that these diverse viewpoints are initially heard.

The report produced following the visit gave a damning indictment of the UK’s austerity policies, calling them “punitive, mean-spirited and often callous”, as well as pointing out that “the impact of Brexit on people in poverty is an afterthought”. Despite the fact that, in the UK, “the Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial” about the impact of their policies, this report has started to create a discussion around the issue, as Philip Alston explains in his recent Journal of Poverty and Social Justice article:

“While it is too soon to assess impact on policymakers and the general public, Parliament has engaged with the findings in various ways. Parliamentary questions have been asked regularly of both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. For example, on the Monday following my press conference, at least 15 MPs from four parties pressed Ministers on poverty and unemployment, many of them pointing to my findings directly. The word ‘poverty’ was mentioned 52 times in Parliament that day, more than any other day in the preceding year. The Work and Pensions Committee also announced an inquiry into the UK’s ‘welfare safety net’. Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn referred to my findings multiple times in his Questions to the Prime Minister, and sent a letter to the Prime Minister in which he called the findings a ‘wake-up call about the rising levels of poverty and destitution that exist in Britain today’.”

Clearly, the findings in Alston’s report have made a considerable impact on perceptions of poverty and the actions being taken to alleviate it, even if the full extent is currently uncertain.

This may not be a usual case for research having a positive impact on society, but it highlights that there are many avenues your work can take on its way to making a difference. All these pathways must be trodden if we are to dispel the myth that we have, as Michael Gove put it, “had enough of experts”.


Philip Alston’s article ‘Much ado about poverty: the role of a UN Special Rapporteur’ was the most read article in the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice in 2019.

Find out more about achieving impact on policy on the Impact and Case Studies pages on our website.

Read the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice here.

Image credit:  UN Photo by Bassam Khawaja