The UK’s richest households receive double the transport subsidy of the poorest

Inequality is entrenched even in the way we travel

A Northern Rail Manchester-Leeds train through the Pennines - not exactly 21st-century standard


The Budget next month should end speculation about where government spending will be directed and where any cuts will fall.

For some policy areas like welfare, it’s not difficult to see how proposed changes could increase inequality, but there are other unexplored areas where existing spending is already entrenching inequality.

Take transport for example, an unglamorous policy area which is continually overlooked. There is an annual £5.4bn spend on transport subsidies – more than double the amount we spend on NHS A&E services across the country.

For those of us regularly stranded by ‘leaves on the track’, it’s understandable that transport headlines focus on price hikes, poor services and frustrated commuters.

But our new report Taken for a Ride reveals a more fundamental and troubling problem with our system of public transport funding: it actually perpetuates inequality, and has been doing so for decades.

When looking at transport subsidies we found that, in total, the richest ten per cent of households benefit from £978 million in transport subsidy – over three times more than the £297 million received by the poorest ten per cent.

This inequality persists even when you look at household level and adjust for their different sizes, with the richest ten per cent still gaining £294 per year per household compared to the poorest households’ £162.

Perhaps more worrying is just how long this inequality has been going on. For most of the last 20 years, the richest ten per cent has received over four times the level of subsidy of the poorest ten per cent.

This matters because it means we’re doing a fine job spending huge amounts of money ferrying the relatively well-off into decent paying jobs. But we’re doing far less to provide those on low incomes with similar prospects.

The result is not only that the poorest are effectively locked out of decent jobs; they’re also prevented from accessing good health and education services and even cultural activities.

The problem isn’t just one of rich and poor either. The development of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ will be a major project this parliament, and the economic benefits of the greater connectivity that comes from infrastructure investment should be celebrated.

But investing in transport links alone is a job half done and an opportunity wasted if the poorest can’t afford to benefit, and if some regions are receiving far less support than others.

A household in the north east or north west receives about half the rail subsidy received by a household in London. It’s even worse in Wales, where a household receives almost four times less rail subsidy than one in London.

If we can’t fix this, we’re in danger of creating growth that benefits some but leaves many others behind.

It’s not easy to turn around such institutionalised inequality, but it is possible. Our report recommends that all government departments’ cost-benefit evaluations should consider whether new proposals increase inequality, and that the net effect of their policies as a whole should also be measured against this.

Inequality permeates every area of life in the UK, even the way we travel. Addressing it should be a government priority.

Lucy Shaddock is policy and campaigns officer at the Equality Trust. Follow her on Twitter

9 Responses to “The UK’s richest households receive double the transport subsidy of the poorest”

  1. Tony Conway

    need to subsidise bus services

  2. Torybushhug

    Down here in reality street most ‘poor’ folk earn undeclared income in cash. I could give countless examples from my working life, it’s completely endemic.
    The left is clownish in it’s ignorance. Put down the bar charts for once, get out there, talk to lowly Indian restaurant workers that own 3 London buy to lets, meet the barber that shows a nill profit on his tax return but that takes home £2k per week and owns all the rooms let out above his shop, talk with the part time bus driver who owns 2 houses with 10 rooms let out for cash, have a beer with the firemen on £31k officially but that work self employed concerns such as undeclared window cleaning rounds on their many days off. Live a little ffs, the public finds you figures of naïve fun.

  3. Dave

    “Put down the bar charts for once, get out there”

    In other words lets not use the empirical evidence of statistical research and listen to your unsupported anecdotes instead.


  4. blarg1987

    I assume as an up standing member of the community you report these individuals to HMRC on a regular basis as it is so pandemic?

    If not is the reasoning because it is only second hand and may not be factually accurate?

    Do not get me wrong their are individuals who do fiddle the system but they come from all walks of life and background.

  5. Daio

    This is just plain dumb – if all poor people are in fact rich who is the bottom 10%? Are you seriously saying most low income workers are renting out flats etc.? They’re is no more income earners coz they’re all on the make.
    Methinks you are assuming everyone does the same as you. It would be worth HMRC checking you out I think.


    In Scotland, Glasgow the SNP government subsidise two bus companies one of which is owned by a donator to the SNP. They run a five minute almost empty bus service to a new Glasgow Hospital. And the SNP say the Scots are hard done too. I wonder what this contract costs the taxpayer. Oh and I forgot the owners of the other bus company are apparantly supporters of the socialist SNP. Those bloody SNP socialists giving out public money to the private sector they hate. You have to laugh and have a cup of tea.

  7. Brumanuensis

    “talk with the part time bus driver who owns 2 houses with 10 rooms”

    How does someone working part-time persuade a bank to lend them the money to purchase those properties, without resorting to fraud?

  8. CarolJLockett

    All time hit the leftfootforward Find Here

  9. LindaIGarcia

    ….All time hit the leftfootforward Find Here

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