Motor fuel price increases in the UK: who will lose the most?

Fuel prices at the pump, which had been declining since 2014, have recently started to increase again, as a result of changes in the oil price market and sterling devaluation since Brexit. They are expected to increase even further in 2017 as part of a general trend towards higher inflation in the UK.

If prices were to increase significantly, many British households would find it hard to cope. Household budgets are already under strain and, for many, a car is necessary to reach work, shops and other basic activities of daily life. For some, it will be possible to ‘shift’ to alternative modes of travel, but this is by no means always the case.

In our work for the (t)ERES research project, we have developed an indicator to map vulnerability to fuel price increases in England. Details about the method and findings can be read in a conference paper available on this website and in the presentation below.

Overall, our findings show the picture of a divided country. Greater London and the surrounding areas would be very resilient to fuel price increases, because of low current levels of expenditure on fuel, higher income and good public transport.

Much of the rest England, however, would suffer more, as a result of lower income, worse public transport, or both. This is true of places as different as Cumbria, the West Midlands, Sheffield city-region and seaside towns on the East Coast. Many of these places have suffered huge cuts to public transport since 2010, which have probably made them even more vulnerable.

Four more articles from journal special issue published online


As part of this research project, we are guest-editing a special issue of Tranport Policy on “Household transport costs, economic stress and vulnerability, at the interface between mobility, domestic energy and residential location”. The first two articles were published online in late 2016.

January 2017 has seen the publication online of four further articles on the themes of forced car ownership, automobile debt, spatial patterns in the costs of car use, and the consequences of the economic crisis on travel behaviour. They cover contexts as different as the UK, Greece, Canada and Glasgow (Scotland).

Alan Walks – ‘Driving the poor into debt? Automobile loans transport disadvantage, and automobile dependence

Alan Walks of the University of Toronto presents a study on the link between automobile dependence and household indebtedness in the main Canadian metropolitan areas. He finds evidence that low-income households living in car dependent areas have higher levels of debt for automobile loans, although the determinants of overall debt levels are complex and hard to disentangle.

Tim Chatterton, Jillian Anable, Sally Cairns & Eddie Wilson – ‘Financial implications of car ownership and use: a distributional analysis based on observed spatial variance considering income and domestic energy costs‘ 

Tim Chatterton (University of the West of England) and colleagues demonstrate how vehicle inspection data (publicly available in the UK) can be used to map spatial variation in household motoring expenditure at a very disaggregated level. They find higher expenditure levels in less urbanised areas, as well as a strong relationship between expenditure on road fuel and domestic energy (at the area level).

Apostolos Papagiannakis, Ioannis Baraklianos & Alexia Spyridonidou – ‘Urban travel behaviour and household income in times of economic crisis: Challenges and perspectives for sustainable mobility

Apostolos Papagiannakis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) and colleagues present findings from a survey of urban travel behaviour in crisis-striken Greece. They find that economic recession has resulted in large decreases in car use, as a result of both modal shift and outright trip avoidance. Notably, they find that low-income households had to switch to cheaper travel modes in order to maintain or even decrease their travel expenditure.

Angela Curl, Julie Clark & Ade Kearns – ‘Household car adoption and financial distress in deprived urban communities: A case of forced car ownership?

The study of Angela Curl and colleagues (University of Glasgow) takes a look at ‘forced car owners’ – households owning cars despite financial difficulties – in deprived areas of Glasgow (Scotland). They find that, despite the urban location and the impact of the economic crisis, ‘forced car ownership’ rates increased rapidly between 2006 and 2011. This suggests that, even in urban areas, many low-income households find it hard to do without cars, and have to cope with the resulting economic stress.

First articles from journal special issue published online


It’s been a long time coming, but we’re almost there. The two-day international workshop of the (t)ERES project  of May 2015 (see the presentations here) led to a call for papers for a Special Issue of Transport Policy on “Household transport costs“.

As usual with these things, the process is a bit lengthy, but we have now reached a first milestone. The first two papers of the Special Issue are now published online.


Joachim Scheiner – ‘Transport costs seen through the lens of residential self-selection and mobility biographies

In his paper, Joachim Scheiner of TU Dortmund University provides a fresh perspective on the issue of transport costs. Scheiner looks at the issue of transport costs through the lens of mobility biography and residential self-selection research. His theoretical paper highlights that high transport costs in the present time can be the result of travel and residential decisions that individuals have taken earlier in the life course. Over time, these patterns can become entrenched as a result of path dependencies and self-reinforcing dynamics.


Nathalie Ortar – ‘Dealing with energy crises: Working and living arrangements in peri-urban France

Nathalie Ortar of the University of Lyon provides an interesting investigation of how households deal with increasing transport and domestic energy prices in periurban areas in France. The qualitative study provides much needed evidence of how households adapt (or not) their travel and domestic practices. An important conclusion of this research is that businesses and employers play an important (but often neglected) role in influencing households’ energy needs, notably for commuting.


More articles will be published online in the next few months. We expect to publish the complete special issue sometime in 2017.

Summary of research findings published


A short ‘Research Insight’ note for the (t)ERES project has been published on the DEMAND Research Centre website – it can be viewed here.

Among the main findings:

  • in 2014, 9% of British households had low income and spent ‘too much’ on running motor vehicles
  • large areas of the country experience high levels of ‘car-related economic stress’ and are vulnerable to motor fuel price increases (see map below)




Call for papers Transport Policy Special Issue on “Household transport costs, economic stress and vulnerability, at the interface between mobility, domestic energy and residential location”

Further to the success of the (t)ERES workshop, we are co-editing a Special Issue of Transport Policy titled “Household transport costs, economic stress and vulnerability, at the interface between mobility, domestic energy and residential location”. The call for paper is available at

While we aim to include all contributions from the workshop, we are also encouraging further submissions. The deadline for abstract submission is October 1, 2015.


Call for papers DEMAND Centre Conference 2016 – Workshop on ‘Energy and Money’

The DEMAND Centre invites abstract submissions for its international conference to take place on April 13- 15 2016 in Lancaster, UK. The core of the conference programme will consist of 13 workshops organised into parallel streams.

More information on the conference (including the detailed call for papers) is available on DEMAND website.

Workshop 6: Energy and money

Convenors: Giulio Mattioli, Caroline Mullen and Greg Marsden (University of Leeds)

To understand energy demand, many researchers maintain that we need to investigate the specific ways in which energy is used in everyday life. This contrasts with the assumption that we can understand energy primarily a single commodity, which like other goods, can be translated as – ‘the grand equalizer’ – money. It is this economic approach to analysing energy demand which has been dominant in the transport and domestic energy sectors. Perhaps surprisingly, but in contrast, current accounts of energy-consuming practices often say little about how monetary resources can shape and constrain ‘what people do’, and the energy demand that results from it.

This workshop theme aims to gather theoretical, empirical and methodological approaches that cover the vacant middle ground between these approaches. It will bring into conversation research from within and beyond DEMAND and from a range of disciplines, to develop original insights into how monetary resources are involved, alongside other factors, in making and transforming energy demand. Possible topics include, for example:

– the relationships between poverty and energy use (e.g. fuel-, transport- and energy-poverty);
– the distinctive energy consumption practices of the wealthiest sectors of society;
– the distributional impacts and justice implications of energy policies such as taxes, subsidies and pricing;
– the impacts of changes in how public money is spent (e.g. austerity) on energy-consumption;
– the role of private household debt/credit in sustaining and making possible a variety of (often unsustainable) energy-consuming practices;
– methodological approaches to using expenditure data as a trace of energy consuming practices

This workshop will be based around a set of pre-written papers and associated presentations, with other activities such as panel discussions potentially to be included.

Abstract submissions

Abstracts of around 400 words should be submitted by the deadline of 28th September 2015 using the online submission system, which will be available at the latest by 24th August. Decisions on accepted papers will be made by workshop convenors, whom you may contact before the submission deadline to advise on relevance and fit.

All accepted participants will be required to prepare a written version of their paper (normally between 3000 and 4000 words in length) by the deadline of 1st March 2016. We plan to make all papers available as online proceedings. However, authors may decline to have their papers published in this form

Please contact Giulio Mattioli ( if you have any questions about this workshop

Transport Poverty workshop: view all the presentations

Transport poverty workshop

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. It was organised as part of the EPSRC-funded (t)ERES research project, which is linked to the DEMAND Research Centre. 41 participants from four countries took part in the workshop over the two days, including 13 non-academic participants from DfT, DECC, DCLG, 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’.

The workshop programme can be downloaded here, a short paper setting the background to the workshop can be downloaded here, and all presentations can be viewed after the break.

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Transport, housing, domestic energy: an affordability crisis in the UK?

The electoral campaign is over, but it is easy to predict that questions of living standards and affordability will continue to be debated in the UK.
The parties’ housing policies have been under intense scrutiny (see here and here) as opinion surveys show that “69% of people believe the UK is bereft of affordable housing“. A comprehensive study on “Housing in 2040” sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation concludes that, “unless some of the trends in housing policy are reversed” (including a rapid increase in house building rates):

the link between income poverty and housing deprivation is likely to strengthen, with housing costs becoming a more important cause of poverty, and the experience of poverty more likely to be combined with the experience of housing deprivation

Affordable housing may be scarce in the UK, but how does it compare to other European countries? Poorly, according to a 2012 CECODHAS report on “Housing affordability in the EU”.

Housing costs

If we look at domestic energy costs and fuel poverty, the comparison is also unflattering. The table below is taken from the Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE) fact-file, significantly titled “The Cold Man of Europe“.


Transport costs have not drawn much attention recently, probably because of the 2014 oil price drop. For a number of years, however, they have been a cause of concern, leading for example Sustrans to plea for the official recognition of “transport poverty”.
Indeed, findings from a 2013 Eurobarometer on urban mobility suggest that 83% of Britons (higher than the EU average) find “travelling costs within cities” an important problem.


This is problematic, as transport costs add to housing costs, and the price of oil might be seeing a recovery.

In this blog, we will comment on questions of transport affordability and how they relate to spending for housing and domestic energy – so watch this space.