citizens-on-low-incomes - RSA

How can citizens on low incomes get a fairer deal on goods and services?

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  • Picture of Reema Patel
    Research Director and Head of Deliberative Engagement, Ipsos
  • Economic democracy

How can citizens on low incomes get a fairer deal on goods and services? In the first crowdsourced challenge for the RSA Citizens’ Economic Council, we’ve asked you for ideas how we can get a fairer deal on what we buy. Life costs more if you are poorer. So we’re also seeking some ideas that go beyond strengthening consumer rights towards levelling the playing field for those who, because of their low incomes, are more disadvantaged than others to get a good deal on their goods and services.

A fairer deal for everyone – including those on low incomes

Here are some of the factors underpinning why, often, those on low incomes do not get a fair deal on their goods and services. (These factors have been identified by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation).

This can add up to 10% of citizens’ costs – and place additional pressure on already constrained household budgets. Here are some of the ways in which those on the lowest incomes might not get the fairest deal on what they buy:

  • Paying in the wrong way: through pre-payment meters, instead of direct debit for electricity or gas, for instance
  • Tariffs: Being unaware of the availability of other tariffs or the ability to switch tariffs
  • Location: Very often, those in rural or other isolated locations (seaside coastal towns, for instance) can experience higher prices as a consequence of a lack of market competition
  • Amount consumed: Standing charges can harm people who don’t consume much electricity – as they end up paying much more for the electricity that they do consume.
  • High cost credit: Those on low incomes can struggle to access credit at reasonable rates – and can be at risk of borrowing from lenders who use exploitative practices (for instance, payday lenders).
  • A lack of enablers to access a diversity of goods and services: Being unable to access a current account, have a smartphone or have access to high-speed internet might penalise people from being able to access the fairest deal on goods/services they purchase.
  • Personal circumstances: It is also well established that life costs more if you are disabled. From buying specialist equipment to facing higher everyday expenses, disabled people face extra costs in almost all areas of life. By way of another example, women might be expected to pay more for essentials than men (a clear example being the ‘tampon tax’).

We’d be delighted to hear your ideas on how these challenges could be addressed so that those on low incomes can also get a fairer deal on what they buy and the services they access through the RSA’s new crowdsourcing platform, powered by Wazoku.

We particularly encourage and welcome submissions from people with lived experience of some of the barriers outlined above.

How can I submit an idea?

Sign up to the RSA Ideas platform  to submit your ideas in response to our challenge online.

Criteria for submissions

When thinking about your Idea we want you to consider:

  • Feasibility: We are looking for practical solutions. We welcome radical ideas, but can you make a case for how they would be implemented? 

  • Creativity: Your proposal can be completely of your own invention, or based on existing ideas that have been tried elsewhere or discussed before. Either way, we would like to see the proposal contribute something new and different to how we can make better financial decisions. 

  • Positive social impact: How is your idea likely to benefit society? Is there a particular social problem that your idea would help solve? If there are particular groups that will benefit from your idea, who are they and how will they benefit? 


You have until 10th April 2017 to submit your ideas for this challenge. We will review your idea 7 days after it has been submitted and check if it meets the criteria outlined above. If it does your Idea will be open to voting and commenting by the public for 30 days.

Finally, your idea will then be judged by a panel (including citizen councillors, economists and staff at the RSA). They will make their judgement based on the feasibility, creativity and positive social impact of each idea. The comments and votes that an idea receives will help inform this judgement but will not necessarily be a deciding factor in the panel's decision.


To contribute your ideas sign up for the crowdsourcing challenge 


Find out more about the RSA Citizens' Economic Council

DIY Economics: download our Toolkit

 Follow the Citizens Economic Council @citizenseconomy 


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