Tom Adnan-Smith

Tom Adnan-Smith


I am a second year PhD student in the School of Sociology and Social Policy. I began my academic journey at Durham University studying towards a BA in Criminology. I came to be particularly interested in themes of power, marginalisation, and inequality during this time.

After completing my undergraduate studies, I worked as a secondary school teacher until 2020. I predominantly taught social science disciplines to secondary school students aged 14-19. Teaching students in my hometown of Stevenage furthered my interests in inequalities within the education system, especially in relation to social mobility and academic achievement.

Eager to pursue a role in research, I undertook postgraduate study at the University of Sheffield, obtaining an MA in Social Research. This equipped me with the basic skills and theoretical understanding to move onto postgraduate research. It was during this time that I became particularly interested in the application of quantitative methods to social scientific questions. My MA thesis involved using quantitative methods to explore the relationship between aspirations and their conversion into ‘probable futures’ or actual expectations for the future.

During my postgraduate studies, I successfully secured a position to undertake research on a collaborative studentship award at the University of Leeds. The project title is ‘The Changing Attitudes and Social Outcomes of Deep Poverty in the UK.’ The collaborative partner for this award is the Department for Work and Pensions.

Research interests

My current PhD research will explore the changing dynamics and social outcomes of deep poverty in the UK.

The story told by official ‘headcount’ measures of poverty (which count the number of people beneath a given income threshold as poor) suggest that poverty rates have been remarkably stable in recent years. Such measures of poverty are often (mis)used in the public arena, used to tell a particular story of poverty. Reliance on such measures of poverty is problematic, particularly when a single dimension of poverty (low income) is treated as a definition of poverty in itself. These measures cannot tell us in any complexity about what has happened to living standards beneath poverty thresholds. In fact, the story of stability is one which seems counterintuitive when the period since 2010 has seen a period of harsh austerity, particularly for those reliant on social security support. This time is widely acknowledged as a period of increased hardship, especially for those at the bottom of the income distribution. Recent low income analysis shows that poverty in the UK has deepened during this time, with many of the poorest falling further away from the poverty line.

Recent years present an interesting challenge for those seeking to understand the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and current cost of living crisis on those in deep poverty. Whilst time-limited changes to the social security system during the pandemic helped those across the income distribution, a rise in absolute poverty rates is inevitable due to soaring inflation and the rising cost of living following the pandemic. These changes present interesting challenges for deep poverty researchers in coming years.

The concept of deep poverty presents a useful heuristic for understanding the intensification of poverty that has occurred in the decade following 2010. Deep poverty is a fundamentally relativist concept, presenting a conceptual alternative to absolutist concepts which focus on minimal standards of living. Developing a measure of poverty which is effective at capturing varying degrees of hardship would offer a useful tool for both researchers and policymakers. Finally, policy which is sensitive to degrees of poverty is crucial. Relying on relative low income measures to inform policy means that policies may be deemed successful if they lift those close to the poverty threshold above it, even if they are ineffective or detrimental to those facing more extreme hardship.

The current focus of my project has been to grapple with conceptual and methodological issues related deep poverty. The project has two key foci: the ‘dynamics’ and ‘social outcomes’ of deep poverty. In addressing the ‘dynamics’ of deep poverty, I hope to develop conceptual and measurement tools which better capture poverty in varying degrees and what movement between these gradations of hardship look like. Secondly, in investigating the ‘social outcomes’ of deep poverty, I am interested in understanding its psychic costs. Particularly in relation to understanding the ‘shame’ of deep poverty, and how this might compare to the stigma experienced by those in less intense forms of poverty.


  • MA Social Research, Distinction
  • PGCE Social Science, Grade 1
  • BA (Hons) Criminology , 1st Class