Skip Content

2015 Smoking Room Debate

Published: 24 Sep 2015


On Wednesday 16 September, Toynbee Hall hosted a contemporary Smoking Room debate, chaired by broadcaster and journalist Jon Snow. The debate was attended by those from the charity sector, think tanks, financial service providers and the public who debated, Poverty Premium, a fact of life or easily eradicated?

The Poverty Premium, also known as a tax on the poor, is the extra cost that the poorest households in society have to pay for essential goods and services. This costs the poorest residents in Tower Hamlets over £1,000 a year. This area is a key theme for Toynbee Hall and is one of the ways in which we feel we can make the greatest impact on our community.

The topic for debate was introduced by Jon Snow who asked, how can we remove this indirect tax on the poor?

A panel of experts from organisations such as Money Advice Service, Visa Europe, LINK, the Consumer Finance Association, Runnymede Trust, PayPoint, Financial Inclusion Commission, the Centre for Responsible Credit and Toynbee Hall’s Head of National Services, Sian Williams, debated contributing factors and possible solutions. The debate was then opened up to floor where members of the audience including some with lived experience of the Poverty Premium, shared their thoughts.

A consensus amongst the panel was that there are three key factors that largely contribute to the Poverty Premium, energy, high cost credit and insurance, but the problem is far wider.

Regulation, innovation and financial capability among the low income households were suggested as possible ways to reduce these costs and arguments for and against those ideas were put forward.

2015 Smoking Debate

The open nature of the debate was reminiscent in style of the original Toynbee Hall Smoking Room debates. During our beginnings in the 1880s, Smoking Room debates were a key part of Toynbee Hall life.  Every Thursday for over 30 years, around 250 members of the public would gather to discuss important issues of the day with an expert guest whilst smoking, which helped keep everyone on a friendlier and familiar footing.

Toynbee Hall has already worked with some of the organisations who attended the debate and will now be encouraging others to help us deliver practical solutions that will help the poorest households in our community.

The Poverty Premium is a sharp end that us as consumers, are involved in because we all pay more than we need to. It is not about us and them. It is about us and we. Who would like to work on this together to reduce this barrier?”
Sian Williams, Head of National Services at Toynbee Hall

If you would like to find out more about the Poverty Premium, read the report from our research project.