A reading list on the social and economic geographies of austerity in Ireland

Sander van Lanen, currently at Groningen but formerly based in Cork, sent me this list of readings on the geographies of austerity in Ireland. I spend a fair amount of time in Ireland (mostly the west, around Galway) so I’m very aware of and interested in the Irish experiences of recession and austerity, but more from a lay perspective than an academic one.*

There are a few Irish references on my previous lists, but it’s great to have this more comprehensive list. Ireland’s experiences resonate with the British experience, but there are also some particular aspects which reflect Ireland’s very different social and economic geographies, especially around housing and property (including ghost estates), and around family and generation (an area I’m increasingly interested in), and which encourage to see Britain’s particularities too.

So, thank you, Sander!

Sander has himself worked on the impacts of Irish austerity on disadvantaged urban youth in Dublin and Cork and his recent Urban Geography paper is well worth a read.

*As an aside, one of the best novels I’ve read recently was Conor O’Callaghan’s Nothing on Earth, about Ireland’s ghost estates. It’s amazing. Read it.

 

 

Carney G.M., T. Scharf, V. Timonen & C. Conlon (2014) ‘Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt’: Solidarity between generations in the Irish crisis, Critical Social Policy, 34(3): 312-332.

Crowley, N. (2012) Lost in austerity: Rethinking the community sector, Community Development Journal, 48(1): 151-157.

Drudy, P.J. & M.L. Collins (2011) Ireland: From boom to austerity, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 4(3): 339-354.

Forde, C., D. O’Byrne, & F, Ó’hAdhmaill (2015) Community development in Ireland under austerity and local government change: Policy and practice, The changing landscape of local and community development in Ireland: Policy and Practice, Cork: Institute for Social Sciences in the 21st Century.

Fraser, A., E. Murphy & S. Kelly (2013) Deepening neoliberalism via austerity and ‘reform’: The case of Ireland, Human Geography, 6(2): 38-53.

Free, M. & C. Scully (2016) The run of ourselves: Shame, guilt and confession in post-Celtic Tiger Irish media, International Journal of Cultural Studies.

Kitchin, R., C. O’Callaghan & J. Gleeson (2014) The new ruins of Ireland? Unfinished estates in the post-Celtic Tiger Era, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(3): 1069-1080.

Kitchin, R., C. O’Callaghan, M. Boyle, J. Gleeson & K. Keaveny (2012) Placing neoliberalism: The rise and fall of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger, Environment and Planning A, 44(6): 1302-1326.

Mercille, J. & E. Murphy (2015) Conceptualising European privatisation processes after the great recession, Antipode, 48(3): 685-704.

Mercille, J. (2013) The role of the media in fiscal consolidation programmes: the case of Ireland, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 38(2): 281-300.

Murphy, E. & M. Scott (2014) ‘After the Crash’: Life satisfaction, everyday financial practices and rural households in post Celtic Tiger Ireland, Journal of Rural Studies, 34: 37-49.

Murphy, E. & M. Scott (2014) Household vulnerability in rural areas: Results of an index applied during a housing crash, economic crisis and under austerity conditions, Geoforum 51: 75-86.

O’Callaghan, C., M. Boyle & R. Kitchin (2014) Post-politics, crisis, and Ireland’s ‘ghost estates’, Political Geography, 42: 121-133.

O’Callaghan, C., S. Kelly, M. Boyle & R. Kitchin (2015) Topologies and topographies of Ireland’s neoliberal crisis, Space and Polity, 19(1): 31-46.

Waldron, R. & D. Redmond (2017) “We’re just existing, not living!” Mortgage stress and the concealed costs of coping with crisis, Housing Studies, 32(5): 584-612.

Waldron, R. (2016) The “unrevealed casualties” of the Irish mortgage crisis: Analysing the broader impacts of mortgage market financialisation, Geoforum, 69: 53-66.

Whelan, C.T., B. Nolan & B. Maítre (2016) The great recession and the changing distribution of economic stress across income classes and the life course in Ireland: A comparative perspective, Journal of European Social Policy, 24(5): 470-485.

 

Yet another updated reading list on austerity and social geography

Once again, I’m updating my reading list for the Newcastle University Stage 2 module on Social Geographies (GEO2110) and am uploading the references and links here for ease of access, and so that others can use it too.

The usual disclaimer that I can’t cover everything here and I’m sure I’ve missed some great stuff. Please do let me know of things I can add. 

Previous versions of this list are accessible here: 2014, more 20142015 and 2016. I have repeated some of the references (for example, when a journal article has actually been published after being pre-publication previously, or when I’ve just forgotten I’ve already listed it 😉 ) but I have tended just to add newly-published material, so do look back over past versions to access publications that are just a couple of years old.

Note that some of the links for the policy reports in the previous posts are broken but all of the reports are still available – you can Google the report titles and find the updated links.

I have very much focused on publications which relate directly to the themes we cover in GEO2110 Social Geographies. There is much more excellent work which relates more closely to economic or political geography themes.

New (or updated) academic publications

Ballas, D., Dorling, D. and Hennig, B. (2017) Analysing the regional geography of poverty, austerity and inequality in Europe: a human cartographic perspective, Regional Studies, 51(1), 174-185.

Bragg, J., Burman, E., Greenstein, A., Hanley, T., Kalambouka, A., Lupton, R., McCoy, L., Sapin, K. and Winter, L. (2015) The Impacts of the Bedroom Tax on Children and Their Education: A Study in the City of Manchester.

Cooper, V. and Whyte, D. (2017) Government austerity demands that we die within our means, Open Democracy, 23.5.17.

Cooper, V. and Whyte, D. (eds.) (2017) The Violence of Austerity, Pluto – there’s a video here in which the authors talk about the book’s central argument.

Corcoran, M., Kettle, P.  and O’Callaghan, C. (2017) Green shoots in vacant plots? Urban agriculture and austerity in post-crash IrelandACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 16(2), 305-331.

Edmiston, D., Patrick, R. and Garthwaite, K. (2017) Introduction: Austerity, Welfare and Social CitizenshipSocial Policy and Society, 16(2), 253-259. This is an introduction to a special section, and the editors have also produced a guide to “Some Useful Sources

Garthwaite, K. (2017) ‘I feel I’m Giving Something Back to Society’: Constructing the ‘Active Citizen’ and Responsibilising Foodbank UseSocial Policy and Society, 16(2), 283-292.

Garthwaite, K. and Bambra, C. (2017) “How the other half live”: Lay perspectives on health inequalities in an age of austeritySocial Science & Medicine, 187, 268-275.

Greenstein, A., Burman, E., Kalambouka, A. and Sapin, K. (2016). Construction and deconstruction of ‘family’ by the ‘bedroom tax’British Politics, 11(4), 508-525.

Greer Murphy, A. (2017) Austerity, women and health inequalities in the UK, Women Are Boring, 12.3.17.

Gill, R. and De Benedictis, S. (2016) Austerity Neoliberalism, Open Democracy. http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/15648/1/Austerity%2520Neoliberalism-1.pdf

Green, M., Dorling, D. and Minton, J. (2017) The geography of a rapid rise in elderly mortality in England and Wales, 2014-15Health & Place, 44, 77-85.

Hall, S. M. (2017) Personal, relational and intimate geographies of austerity: ethical and empirical considerationsArea, 49(3), 303-310.

Hitchen, E. (2016) Living and feeling the austereNew Formations, 87, 102-118.

Mattheys, K., Bambra, C., Warren, J., Kasim, A. and Akhter, N. (2016) Inequalities in mental health and well-being in a time of austerity: Baseline findings from the Stockton-On-Tees cohort studySSM-Population Health, 2, 350-359.

McDowell, L. (2017) Youth, children and families in austere times: change, politics and a new gender contractArea, 49(3), 311-316.

Moffatt, S., Lawson, S., Patterson, R., Holding, E., Dennison, A., Sowden, S. and Brown, J. (2016) A qualitative study of the impact of the UK ‘bedroom tax’, Journal of Public Health 38(2) 197-205

O’Brien, M. and Kyprianou, P. (2017) Just Managing? What it Means for the Families of Austerity Britain Open Book Publishers. https://www.openbookpublishers.com/reader/591#page/1/mode/2up

Patrick, R. (2016) Living with and responding to the ‘scrounger’ narrative in the UK: exploring everyday strategies of acceptance, resistance and deflection, Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, 24(3) 245-259

Pimlott‐Wilson, H. and Hall, S. M. (2017) Everyday experiences of economic change: repositioning geographies of children, youth and familiesArea. This is the introduction to a special issue with a number of related pieces.

Power, A. and Hall, E. (2017) Placing care in times of austeritySocial & Cultural Geography, 1-11 (from a forthcoming special issue on Placing Care in Times of Austerity).

Raynor, R. (2017) Dramatising austerity: holding a story together (and why it falls apart…)cultural geographies, 24(2), 193-212.

van Lanen, S. (2017) Living austerity urbanism: space–time expansion and deepening socio-spatial inequalities for disadvantaged urban youth in Ireland, Urban Geography.

Wilkinson, E. and Ortega-Alcázar, I. (2017) A home of one’s own? Housing welfare for ‘young adults’ in times of austerity, Critical Social Policy.

A special issue of Discover Society on families and relationships in crisis, with short articles by geographers including Sarah Hall and Helen Holmes, Iliana Ortega-Alcázar, Eleanor Wilkinson, and me (Alison Stenning)

 

Reports from thinktanks and charities

The School of Law at Warwick University collates and regularly updates a list of Reports on the Impact of Public Spending Cuts Across the UK. This includes reports on different parts of the UK and on different sectors.

Women’s Budget Group Gender Impact Assessment of Spring 2017 Budget

House of Commons Library Estimating the gender impact of tax and benefits changes, 13.12.2016

 

And a reminder to look at certain organisations, such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Poverty and Social Exclusion, and key newspapers, such as The Guardian and The Financial Times, to explore their coverage of austerity and its impacts.

 

 

Austerity and Everyday Relationships in Low-to- Middle Income Families in the UK

This is a PDF of my recent presentation at the Nordic Geographers’ Meeting in Stockholm. I’m hoping to get this written up in the next few months, but in the meantime…

NGM Presentation

The paper’s abstract was as follows:

In the context of a research project which explores the experiences of austerity in a small number of ‘squeezed middle’, ‘just about managing’ (low-to-middle income) families in north east England, this paper focuses on the place of everyday relationships within and beyond the family in mediating austerity. It uses a psychosocial framing to foreground the importance, complexity and diversity of relationships in making sense of and negotiating changing socio-economic circumstances, attempting to think about and connect the psychic dynamics of families’ relationships and the social dynamics of austerity and recession, and to develop a psychosocial geography of everyday austerity. After setting out some ideas about the nature and value of relationships, the paper asks how and why relationships with family, friends, neighbours, acquaintances and wider communities have been invoked, used, challenged, remade, and imagined as families have navigated the transformations of austerity. As part of the ‘squeezed middle’, these are not families living in poverty, but they have all experienced real threats and losses in the context of austerity, redundancies, falling incomes, tightened budgets, and growing insecurities, for example. The paper explores the ways in which these shifts are connected, in families’ reflections and narrations, to the place of children and their futures in family dreams, the diverse support and demands of friends in crises, large and small, memories of earlier family lives, and everyday negotiations with partners, husbands and wives, and wider families. It seeks to map these shifting relationships, identifying the varying sites and spaces, within and beyond the family home, in which they are made and remade. In these ways, the paper connects to ongoing debates, political, popular and academic, about relationships, austerity, and neoliberalism more widely, to reflect on their diverse and complex articulations.

Thanks to Sarah Hall, John Horton and Helena Pimlott-Wilson for organising the session.

Updated Resources for Geographies of Austerity and Recession

As in previous years, I’m updating my reading list for the Newcastle Stage 2 module on Social Geographies (GEO2110) and am uploading the references and links here for ease of access, and so that others can use this too.

The usual disclaimer that I can’t cover everything here and I’m sure I’ve missed some great stuff. Please do let me know of things I can add. 

Previous versions of this list are accessible herehere, and here. Note that some of the links for the policy reports are broken but all of the reports are still available – you can Google the report titles and find the updated links.

New academic work (late 2015 or 2016)

(As more and more academic work has been published on austerity, I’ve focused more on the explicitly geographical work here, but there will be a lot of relevant work in the other social sciences too. If you have references to any other relevant work, please do let me know and I’ll add it – alison.stenning@ncl.ac.uk)

Bambra, C. (2016) Health Divides: Where You Live Can Kill You, Policy Press. (See also the supporting website: Health Divides.)

Brown, G. (2015) Marriage and the spare bedroom: Exploring the sexual politics of austerity, ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 14(4), 975-988.

Garthwaite, K. (2016) Hunger Pains: Life inside Foodbank Britain, Policy Press. (See also a Guardian piece by Kayleigh which introduces some of the themes of her book.)

Garthwaite, K. (2016) Stigma, shame and ‘people like us’: an ethnographic study of foodbank use in the UK, Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, Fast Track.

Greer Murphy, A. (2016) Austerity in the United Kingdom: the intersections of spatial and gendered inequalities, Area, Early View.

Hall, S. M. (2016) Personal, relational and intimate geographies of austerity: ethical and empirical considerations, Area, Early View.

Hall, S. M., & Jayne, M. (2016) Make, mend and befriend: geographies of austerity, crafting and friendship in contemporary cultures of dressmaking in the UK, Gender, Place & Culture, 23(2), 216-234.

Hall, S. (2017) Family relations in times of austerity: Reflections from the UK, in Punch, S. and Vanderbeck, R. (eds.) Families, Intergenerationality, and Peer Group Relations: Geographies of Children and Young People (Vol. 5), Springer-Verlag (follow link from my blog)

Holdsworth, C. (2015) The cult of experience: standing out from the crowd in an era of austerity, Area, Early View.

Horton, J. (2015) Young people and debt: getting on with austerities, Area, Early View.

Horton, J. (2016) Anticipating service withdrawal: young people in spaces of neoliberalisation, austerity and economic crisis, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Early View.

Jupp, E. (2016) Families, policy and place in times of austerity, Area, Early View.

Lambie‐Mumford, H., & Green, M. A. (2015) Austerity, welfare reform and the rising use of food banks by children in England and Wales, Area, Early View.

McDowell, L. (2014) The sexual contract, youth, masculinity and the uncertain promise of waged work in austerity Britain, Australian Feminist Studies, 29(79), 31-49.

McDowell, L. (2016) Youth, children and families in austere times: change, politics and a new gender contract, Area, Early View.

Morse, N. and Munro, E. (2015) Museums’ community engagement schemes, austerity and practices of care in two local museum services, Social & Cultural Geography, 1-22.

Patrick, R. (2016) Living with and responding to the ‘scrounger’ narrative in the UK: exploring everyday strategies of acceptance, resistance and deflection, Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, Fast Track.

Power, A. (2016) Disability, (auto) mobility and austerity: shrinking horizons and spaces of refuge, Disability & Society, 31(2), 280-284.

Williams, A., Cloke, P., May, J., & Goodwin, M. (2016) Contested space: The contradictory political dynamics of food banking in the UK, Environment and Planning A, Online Before Print.

 

The Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University recently completed a research project on The Uneven Impact of Welfare Reform. The final report is available to download here and a series of maps here.

Amy Greer Murphy, a Geography PhD student at Durham, has compiled this list on Austerity & Welfare Reform in UK.

 

 

Film, TV and Radio

Ken Loach’s new film, I, Daniel Blake, focuses on austerity and welfare reform and is set in Newcastle. It won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. There’s a trailer here, and you can find numerous reviews online. It opens in cinemas on October 21st. The synopsis explains:

“Daniel Blake, 59, who has worked as a joiner most of his life in the North East of England needs help from the State for the first time ever following an illness. He crosses paths with a single mother Katie and her two young children, Daisy and Dylan. Katie’s only chance to escape a one roomed homeless hostel in London is to accept a flat some 300 miles away. Daniel and Katie find themselves in no-man’s land caught on the barbed wire of welfare bureaucracy now played out against the rhetoric of ‘striver and skiver’ in modern day Britain.”

The Divide tells the story of 7 individuals striving for a better life in the modern day US and UK, including a care worker from Newcastle. The film is inspired by the book The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. There are screenings across the UK over the coming months – nothing planned for Newcastle at the moment.

BBC Panorama produced a film about cuts in Selby, North Yorkshire, called Living with Cuts: Austerity Town. You can watch it here. There’s a BBC News article about it here.

 

Recent reports

The Women’s Budget Group have produced “A cumulative gender impact assessment of ten years of austerity policies” (March 2016).

A NatCen British Social Attitudes report on “Britain Divided? Public Attitudes after Seven Years of Austerity” (June 2016).

The British Medical Association‘s report on “Health in All Policies: Health, Austerity and Welfare Reform” (August 2016).

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation‘s report on Falling Short: The Experience of Families below the Minimum Income Standard; they estimate that 1 in 3 UK families lives below the Minimum Income Standard.

In June 2016, there was considerable media coverage of a United Nations report deemed to be a damning indictment of the UK’s austerity policies, declaring them to be a human rights violation. You can see reports here from The New StatesmanThe Independent and from Just Fair, the consortium of social justice organisations who submitted evidence to the UN. And there are many others which you can search for.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies reported in May 2016 that “Brexit could add two years to austerity“. If you search for IFS, Brexit and austerity, you’ll find various accounts of the report and its findings.

 

Austerity and recession in the North East

For GEO2110 Social Geographies first assessment, these are the links to the ‘storified’ tweets from 2014. You can find the Twitter account for the module @geo2110NCL.

Updated and Consolidated List of References and Links on the Social Geographies (Broadly Defined) of Recession and Austerity

Because of the very contemporary nature of these issues, much of the best material on the social geographies (broadly defined) of recession and austerity is only beginning to be formally published, but much is accessible through newspaper columns and blogs, both by academics and by others.

Previous versions of this list are accessible here and here, but I hope I’ve included all I’ve previously referenced in this updated and consolidated list.

This page doesn’t look very pretty – I may tidy it up sometime, but I think, at least, all the links work. Let me know (alison.stenning@ncl.ac.uk) if they don’t – and let me know if you know of publications I could add. Thanks!

There’s an article about some ‘austerity’ blogs here: http://www.theguardian.com/media/shortcuts/2013/jul/07/rise-and-rise-of-austerity-blog

These are some of the most interesting, and some other links that document the experience of austerity in the UK today.

Geographer Danny Dorling writes widely about inequality, poverty, and most recently, austerity. Search his most recent publications here: http://www.dannydorling.org

http://agirlcalledjack.com – Blog by Jack Monroe who has published particularly about food and food poverty; her Guardian columns (and recipes!) are available here: http://www.theguardian.com/profile/jack-monroe

http://katebelgrave.com – “Talking with people dealing with public sector cuts”. Kate Belgrave’s Guardian columns are here: http://www.theguardian.com/profile/kate-belgrave

http://mumvausterity.blogspot.co.uk – Bernadette Horton, “a mum of 4 fighting everyday battles against austerity – and hoping to win!”

From Guardian Witness, personal accounts (https://witness.theguardian.com/assignment/52933b6ee4b0fc237c3f02c9) and Patrick Butler’s Cuts Blog (http://www.theguardian.com/society/patrick-butler-cuts-blog).

Patrick Butler is The Guardian’s editor of society, health and education policy. His articles can be found here: http://www.theguardian.com/profile/patrickbutler.

The Telegraph’s ‘Recession Tour” of 2008: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/recession/uk-recession-telegraph-tour/

The journalist Mary O’Hara’s book Austerity Bites ”chronicles the true impact of austerity on people at the sharp end, based on her ‘real-time’ 12-month journey around the country just as the most radical reforms were being rolled out in 2012 and 2013” (http://www.austeritybitesuk.com/). Her Guardian page (http://www.theguardian.com/profile/maryohara) has links to all sorts of different articles on related issues (welfare, legal aid, disability, mental health etc.). You can also find her discussing “Austerity Economies and Mental Health” on Madness Radio http://www.madnessradio.net/austerity-economies-and-mental-health-mary-ohara-madness-radio/

 

In addition, there are numerous policy and charity reports on the effects and experiences of austerity and recession.

The Centre for Human Rights Practice at Warwick University has compiled a very comprehensive list of “Reports on the Impact of Public Spending Cuts on Different Disadvantaged Groups within the UK” which can be found here

Others include:

Real Life Reform – “an important and unique study that tracks over a period of 18 months how people are living and coping with welfare reforms across the North of England” – there are six reports available here: http://www.northern-consortium.org.uk/reallifereform

The Association of North East Council’s report on The Impact of Welfare Reform in the North East: http://www.northeastcouncils.gov.uk/curo/downloaddoc.asp?id=601

Voices of Britainhttp://voicesofbritain.com – “A Snapshot of the Condition of Britain in 2013” from the Institute of Public Policy Research

The Family and Parenting Institute’s work on Families in the Age of Austerity: http://www.familyandparenting.org/our_work/Families-in-the-Age-of-Austerity/Family+Matters.htm

The charity Gingerbread has research the effect of austerity on single parents in a project called Paying the price: Single parents in the age of austerity (http://www.gingerbread.org.uk/content/1813/Paying-the-price).

Relate and a range of other organisations produced a report on Relationships, Recession and Recovery: The role of relationships in generating social recovery (http://www.relate.org.uk/policy-campaigns/publications/relationships-recession-and-recovery-role-relationships-generating-social-recovery)

The Campaign for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Working Group for the North East produced this report on the impact of austerity measures on women in the North East: http://wbg.org.uk/pdfs/NEWN-impact-of-austerity-measures-case-study-(June-2013)-.pdf

Other sites/organisations include the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Shelter, Poverty and Social Exclusion (http://www.poverty.ac.uk) and the New Economics Foundation. Search for these online and see what you can find.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has continued to analyse the reform of welfare budgets, including in this report on living standards: http://www.jrf.org.uk/publication/will-2015-summer-budget-improve-living-standards-2020.

For an Irish perspective, have a look at http://irelandafternama.wordpress.com – a blog written mostly by geographers on Ireland’s experience of financial crisis and austerity.

 

There is a useful summary of the 2012 reforms here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welfare_Reform_Act_2012.

Other summaries can be found here:

The government: https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/simplifying-the-welfare-system-and-making-sure-work-pays

Child Poverty Action Group: http://www.cpag.org.uk/sites/default/files/CPAG_factsheet_the%20cuts_May13.pdf

Local Government Information Unit: http://www.lgiu.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Welfare-Reform-Act-20121.pdf

Some of the emerging academic and related work…

Allen, K., Tyler, I. and De Benedictis, S. (2014). Thinking with ‘White Dee’: The gender politics of ‘austerity porn’, Sociological Research Online, 19/3, http://www.socresonline.org.uk/19/3/2.html.

Atkinson, W., Roberts, S. & Savage, M. (eds.) (2012) Class Inequality in Austerity Britain, Palgrave MacMillan: Basingstoke. (The first chapter is available to download here: http://www.palgrave.com/PDFs/9781137016379.pdf)

Bailey, N., Bramley, G. and Hastings, A. (2015) Symposium Introduction: Local responses to ‘austerity’, Local Government Studies, ahead-of-print.

Bambra C. (2013) ‘All in it together’? Health inequalities, austerity and the ‘Great Recession’, Health in Austerity, Demos: London. http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/healthinausterity [see also a brief report at http://classonline.org.uk/blog/item/paying-the-highest-price-austerity-will-accelerate-area-health-inequalities]

Bambra, C. and Garthwaite, K. (2015) Austerity, welfare reform and the English health divide, Area, 47/3, 341-343.

Beatty, C. and Fothergill, S. (2013) Hitting the Poorest Places Hardest: The Local and Regional Impact of Welfare Reform, http://www.shu.ac.uk/research/cresr/sites/shu.ac.uk/files/hitting-poorest-places-hardest_0.pdf

Brown, G. (2013) The revolt of aspirations: contesting neoliberal social hope, ACME http://www.acme-journal.org/vol12/Brown2013.pdf

Clayton, J., Donovan, C. and Merchant, J. (2015) Distancing and limited resourcefulness: Third sector service provision under austerity localism in the north east of England, Urban Studies, ahead-of-print.

Clayton, J., Donovan, C. and Merchant, J. (2015) Emotions of austerity: Care and commitment in public service delivery in the North East of England, Emotion, Space and Society, 14, 24-32.

Copeland, A., Kasim, A. and Bambra, C. (2015). Grim up North or Northern grit? Recessions and the English spatial health divide (1991–2010). Journal of Public Health, 37/1, 34-39.

Crossley, S. and Slater, T. (2014) Articles: Benefits Street: territorial stigmatisation and the realization of a ‘(tele)vision of divisions’, Values and Value Blog, https://values.doc.gold.ac.uk/blog/18/.

Donald, B., Glasmeier, A., Gray, M. and Lobao, L. (2014) Austerity in the city: economic crisis and urban service decline? Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 7/1, 3-15.

Dowler, E. and Lambie-Mumford, H. (2014) Rising use of “food aid” in the United Kingdom, British Food Journal, 116/9, 1418-1425.

Dowler, E. and Lambie-Mumford, H. (2015) How can households eat in austerity? Challenges for social policy in the UK, Social Policy and Society, 14/3, 417-428.

Dowler, E. and Lambie-Mumford, H. (2015) Introduction: Hunger, food and social policy in austerity, Social Policy and Society, 14/3, 411-415.

Flaherty, J. and Banks, S. (2013) In whose interest? The dynamics of debt in poor households, Journal of Poverty & Social Justice, 21/3, 219-232.

Fraser, A., Murphy, E. and Kelly, S. (2013) Deepening neoliberalism via austerity and ‘reform’: The case of Ireland, Human Geography, 6, 38-53.

Garthwaite, K., Collins, P. and Bambra, C. (2015) Food for thought: An ethnographic study of negotiating ill health and food insecurity in a UK foodbank, Social Science & Medicine, 132, 38-44.

Hall, S. M. (2015) Everyday ethics of consumption in the austere city, Geography Compass, 9/3, 140-151.

Hall, S. M. (2015). Everyday family experiences of the financial crisis: getting by in the recent economic recession. Journal of Economic Geography, online first.

Hall, S. M. and Jayne, M. (2015) Make, mend and befriend: geographies of austerity, crafting and friendship in contemporary cultures of dressmaking in the UK, Gender, Place & Culture, ahead-of-print.

Hamnett, C. (2010) Moving the poor out of central London? The implications of the coalition government 2010 cuts to Housing Benefits, Environment and Planning A, 42/12, 2809-2819.

Hamnett, C. (2011) The reshaping of the British welfare system and its implications for geography and geographers, Progress in Human Geography, 35/2, 147-152.

Hamnett, C. (2013) Shrinking the welfare state: the structure, geography and impact of British government benefit cuts, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Early View Online.

Hancock, L. and Mooney, G. (2013) “Welfare ghettos” and the “Broken Society”: Territorial stigmatization in the contemporary UK, Housing, Theory and Society, 30/1, 46-64.

Harrison, E. (2013) Bouncing back? Recession, resilience and everyday lives, Critical Social Policy, 33/1, 97-113.

Hodkinson, S. and Robbins, G. (2013) The return of class war conservatism? Housing under the UK coalition government, Critical Social Policy, 33/1, 57-77.

Horton, J. (2015) Young people and debt: getting on with austerities. Area, online first.

Jacobs, K. and Manzi, T. (2013) New localism, old retrenchment: The “Big Society”, housing policy and the politics of welfare reform, Housing, Theory and Society, 30/1, 29-45

Jensen, T. (2014). Welfare commonsense, poverty porn and doxosophy, Sociological Research Online, 19/3, http://www.socresonline.org.uk/19/3/3.html.

Jensen, T. and Tyler, I. (2013) Austerity parenting: New economies of parent citizenship, Studies in the Maternal, 4/2 http://www.mamsie.bbk.ac.uk/back_issues/4_2/editorial.html

Jensen, T. and Tyler, I. (2015) ‘Benefits broods’: The cultural and political crafting of anti-welfare commonsense, Critical Social Policy, online first.

Jones, G., Meegan, R., Kennett, P. and Croft, J. (2015) The uneven impact of austerity on the voluntary and community sector: A tale of two cities, Urban Studies, ahead-of-print.

Kennett, P., Jones, G., Meegan, R. and Croft, J. (2015) “Recession, austerity and the ‘Great Risk Shift’: Local government and household impacts and responses in Bristol and Liverpool, Local Government Studies, ahead-of-print.

[The two papers above, and Meegan et al (2014) below, come from a research project on “The uneven impact of recession on cities and households: Bristol and Liverpool compared”. More details and publications can be found here: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/sps/esrcunevenimpact/. Their website has links to a range of background documents, including a review of ‘grey literatures’ on the “Impact of the Recession and Period of Austerity on Households”, http://www.bris.ac.uk/sps/esrcunevenimpact/findingssofar/otherpapers.html.]

Koch, I. (2014) ‘A policy that kills’: The bedroom tax is an affront to basic rights, http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/a-policy-that-kills-the-bedroom-tax-is-an-affront-to-basic-rights/

Lambie-Mumford, H. (2013) ‘Every town should have one’: emergency food banking in the UK. Journal of Social Policy, 42/1, 73-89.

Lambie-Mumford, H. and Jarvis, D. (2012) The role of faith-based organisations in the Big Society: opportunities and challenges, Policy Studies, 33/3, 249-262.

Loopstra, R., et al. (2015) Austerity, sanctions, and the rise of food banks in the UK.” British Medical Journal h1775. http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h1775.short

MacDonald, R., Shildrick, T. and Furlong, A. (2014). ‘Benefits Street’ and the myth of workless communities, Sociological Research Online, 19/3, http://www.socresonline.org.uk/19/3/1.html.

Meegan, R., Kennett, P., Jones, G. and Croft, J. (2014) Global economic crisis, austerity and neoliberal urban governance in England, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 7/1, 137-153.

O’Hara, M. (2014) Austerity Bites: A Journey to the Sharp End of Cuts in the UK, Policy Press: Bristol.

Pearce, J. (2013) Commentary: Financial crisis, austerity policies, and geographical inequalities in health, Environment and Planning A, 45/9, 2030-2045.

Purdam, K., Garratt, E. and Esmail, A. (2015) Hungry? Food insecurity, social stigma and embarrassment in the UK, Sociology, ahead of print.

Ridge, T. (2013) ‘We are all in this together’? The hidden costs of poverty, recession and austerity policies on Britain’s poorest children, Children & Society, 27/5, 406-417.

Schrecker, T. and Bambra, C. (2015) How Politics Makes Us Sick: Neoliberal Epidemics, Palgrave Macmillan: London.

Schrecker, T. and Bambra, C. (2015) Neoliberal epidemics: the spread of austerity, obesity, stress and inequality, The Conversation, http://theconversation.com/neoliberal-epidemics-the-spread-of-austerity-obesity-stress-and-inequality-46416

Slater, T. (2011) From ‘criminality’ to marginality: Rioting against a broken state, Human Geography, 4/3, http://www.geos.ed.ac.uk/geography/homes/tslater/RiotingAgainstABrokenState.pdf

Slater, T. (2014) The myth of ‘Broken Britain’: welfare reform and the production of ignorance, Antipode 46/4, 948-969.

Stenning, A. (2013) The Costs of Austerity [blog post] https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/alisonstenning/the-costs-of-austerity/

Stuckler, D. and Basu, S. (2013) The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills. Basic Books.

Tyler, I. (2013) The riots of the underclass? Stigmatisation, mediation and the government of poverty and disadvantage in neoliberal Britain, Sociological Research Online, 18(4) http://www.socresonline.org.uk/18/4/6.html

See also the themed issue of Critical Social Policy on “Social Policy in an Age of Austerity” in August 2012 (32/3)

More social geography of austerity/recession links and references

This is mostly info for GEO2110 Social Geographies students at Newcastle University but I’m very happy for others to use and circulate it too. For now, it’s a fairly random set of links to work, academic and more popular, that I’ve come across recently.

Mary O’Hara’s book Austerity Bites “chronicles the true impact of austerity on people at the sharp end, based on her ‘real-time’ 12-month journey around the country just as the most radical reforms were being rolled out in 2012 and 2013” (see her webpage). Her Guardian page has links to all sorts of different articles on related issues (welfare, legal aid, disability, mental health etc.). You can also follow Mary on Twitter.

Whilst we’re focused on The Guardian, a reminder about Patrick Butler’s articles. Patrick is The Guardian‘s editor of society, health and education policy. He can be followed on Twitter too.

I’ve focused on the ‘bedroom tax’ a bit myself: here is a report by Insa Koch, Assistant Professor in Law and Anthropology at the LSE, titled ‘A policy that kills’.

A major research project based at Bristol University, in collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University, is exploring “The uneven impact of the global economic recession and austerity on places and people: Bristol and Liverpool compared“. Their website has links to findings so far (such as this) and a range of background documents, including a review of ‘grey literatures’ on the “Impact of the Recession and Period of Austerity on Households“.

A series of seminars are being organised by Middlesex University, and partners, around the theme of Work-Life Balance in the Recession and Beyond. Their website includes copies of papers and presentations from the seminars, and from related events (such as this on “Work-Life Balance in Times of Financial Crisis and Austerity in Europe”).

Professor Clare Bambra, from Durham University, has written extensively on health inequalities in a time of austerity. This from Class (a thinktank on the left) is a good example, but you can find more references and links on her website.

The charity Gingerbread has research the effect of austerity on single parents in a project called “Paying the price: Single parents in the age of austerity“.

Stephen Crossley (Durham University) and Tom Slater (Edinburgh) have just published a blog/article on “Benefits Street: territorial stigmatisation and the realization of a ‘(tele)vision of divisions’” which reflects on the way right-wing commentators have engaged with the TV programme Benefits Street and other versions of ‘poverty porn’. On this theme, it’s also worth looking at Tracey Jensen’s “Welfare Commonsense, Poverty Porn and Doxosophy“, “Thinking with ‘White Dee’: The Gender Politics of ‘Austerity Porn’” by Kim Allen, Imogen Tyler and Sara De Benedictis, and other papers in the same special issue of Sociological Research Online.

I’ll keep adding to this as I find more to link to, so check back occasionally.

The Social Geographies of Recession and Austerity

In preparing for some undergraduate teaching, I’ve pulled together a preliminary bibliography of academic and other material on the social geographies of austerity and recession. It’s a fairly mixed bag of published journal articles, blogs and reports from charities, think tanks and other organisations. It’s far from comprehensive but it offers a starting point. Any suggestions, updates or other comments would be very welcome.

Some basic summaries of the key reforms introduced by the coalition government can be found here:

Wikipedia

The government

Child Poverty Action Group

Local Government Information Unit

My Costs of Austerity blog post

 

Some really great blogs have emerged over the past few years as people have tried to document their own, and others’, struggles with austerity.  There’s an article about some of these blogs here.

These are some of the most interesting and/or prolific:

http://agirlcalledjack.com – Blog by Jack Monroe who has published particularly about food and food poverty; her Guardian columns (and recipes) are available here: http://www.theguardian.com/profile/jack-monroe

http://katebelgrave.com – “Talking with people dealing with public sector cuts”. Kate Belgrave’s Guardian columns are here: http://www.theguardian.com/profile/kate-belgrave

http://mumvausterity.blogspot.co.uk – Bernadette Horton, “a mum of 4 fighting everyday battles against austerity – and hoping to win!”

Most of these bloggers also tweet; you can find them and follow them for more updates and links to other bloggers.

 

Many of the major newspapers have developed sub-sections on their websites in which they document the effects of austerity from a number of perspectives.

On Guardian Witness, you can find personal accounts of families living in poverty; you follow the link to Guardian Witness from this page. The Guardian is also home to Patrick Butler’s Cuts Blog.

In 2008, The Telegraph’s went on a ‘Recession Tour‘ of a variety of UK localities.

 

Much of the material that ends up on the (web)pages of our national newspapers comes from a range of different projects launched by a variety of think tanks, lobby groups, charities and so on. The projects I’m highlighting here are ones which focus on the everyday experiences of recession and austerity in communities.

Real Life Reform is “an important and unique study that tracks over a period of 18 months how people are living and coping with welfare reforms across the North of England”. It has been developed by the Northern Housing Consortium with seven northern housing associations. There are two reports, one from September 2013 and another from December. A third report is due in the spring of 2014. You can follow Real Life Reform on Twitter @RealLifeReform.

The IPPR have developed a Voices of Britain website (http://voicesofbritain.com), as a “snapshot of the condition of Britain in 2013”.

The Family and Parenting Institute’s work on Families in the Age of Austerity is another exploration of the effects of austerity on families.

The Campaign for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Working Group for the North East produced this report on the impact of austerity measures on women in the North East.

For an Irish perspective, have a look at http://irelandafternama.wordpress.com – a blog written mostly by geographers on Ireland’s experience of financial crisis and austerity.

 

Some of the emerging academic work…

Atkinson, W., Roberts, S. & Savage, M. (eds.) (2012) Class Inequality in Austerity Britain, Palgrave MacMillan: Basingstoke. (The first chapter is available to download here).

Beatty, C. and Fothergill, S. (2013) Hitting the Poorest Places Hardest: The Local and Regional Impact of Welfare Reform.

Brown, G. (2013) The revolt of aspirations: contesting neoliberal social hope, ACME http://www.acme-journal.org/vol12/Brown2013.pdf

Flaherty, J. and Banks, S. (2013) In whose interest? The dynamics of debt in poor households, Journal of Poverty & Social Justice, 21/3, 219-232.

Fraser, A., Murphy, E. and Kelly, S. (2013) Deepening neoliberalism via austerity and ‘reform’: The case of Ireland, Human Geography, 6, 38-53.

Hamnett, C. (2011) The reshaping of the British welfare system and its implications for geography and geographers, Progress in Human Geography, 35/2, 147-152.

Hamnett, C. (2013) Shrinking the welfare state: the structure, geography and impact of British government benefit cuts, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Early View Online.

Hamnett, C. (2010) Moving the poor out of central London? The implications of the coalition government 2010 cuts to Housing BenefitsEnvironment and Planning A, 42/12, 2809-2819.

Hancock, L. and Mooney, G. (2013) “Welfare ghettos” and the “Broken Society”: Territorial stigmatization in the contemporary UKHousing, Theory and Society, 30/1, 46-64.

Harrison, E. (2013) Bouncing back? Recession, resilience and everyday livesCritical Social Policy, 33/1, 97-113.

Hodkinson, S. and Robbins, G. (2013) The return of class war conservatism? Housing under the UK coalition governmentCritical Social Policy, 33/1, 57-77.

Jacobs, K. and Manzi, T. (2013) New localism, old retrenchment: The “Big Society”, housing policy and the politics of welfare reformHousing, Theory and Society, 30/1, 29-45.

Lambie-Mumford, H. (2013) ‘Every town should have one’: emergency food banking in the UKJournal of Social Policy, 42/1, 73-89.

Jensen, T. and Tyler, I. (2013) Austerity parenting: New economies of parent citizenship, Studies in the Maternal, 4/2  and a variety of other pieces on related themes: http://www.mamsie.bbk.ac.uk/back_issues/4_2/index.html.

Pearce, J. (2013) Commentary: Financial crisis, austerity policies, and geographical inequalities in health, Environment and Planning A, 45/9, 2030-2045.

Slater, T. (2012) The myth of ‘Broken Britain’: welfare reform and the production of ignorance, Antipode Early Online View.

Stuckler, D. and Basu, S. (2013) The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, Basic Books.

Tyler, I. (2013) The riots of the underclass? Stigmatisation, mediation and the government of poverty and disadvantage in neoliberal Britain, Sociological Research Online, 18(4)  (This is part of a special issue of Sociological Research Online on Collisions, Coalitions and Riotous Subjects: Reflections, Repercussions and Reverberations).

There is a themed issue of Critical Social Policy on “Social Policy in an Age of Austerity” in August 2012 (32/3).

 

 

 

 

On the Edge: Neoliberalism, Austerity and Insecurity

I touched on the idea of families on the edge, of poverty, security, certainty, anxiety, in my squeezed middle post. I want to explore that idea, of the edge, a bit more here, to think about the ways in which neoliberalism, in general, and austerity, in particular, are associated with experiences of being on the brink, and what it might feel like to be on the brink.

Of course, these are ideas long associated with neoliberalism. Pierre Bourdieu‘s 1998 discussion of the violence of neoliberalism sees the ‘absolute reign of flexibility’ create an environment of competition and individualisation: “the struggle of all against all … through everyone clinging to their job … under conditions of insecurity, suffering and stress”. For Bourdieu, the structural violence of unemployment and the ‘menace’ of job insecurity puts workers on edge.

More recently, Guy Standing has drawn our attention to the precariat, the ‘new dangerous class’, “a multitude of insecure peole, living bits-and-pieces lives, in and out of short-term jobs, without a narrative of occupational development”. A particularly pernicious and increasingly widespread form of precarity is the zero-hours contract, which forces workers (in major public sector organisations, such as the NHS, as well as large corporations) into a liminal, ‘twilight zone’, ‘on standby’, neither fully in nor fully out of the labour market, with little control over their time or their income. It’s easy to see how that loss of any sense of certainty, or predictability, might be associated with anxiety.   

The idea of precarity echoes strongly the idea of an edge, and a danger of falling. As Standing himself suggests “Many people outside the precariat feel they could fall into it at any time.”

on the edge

One of the markers of this period of recession and austerity, then, is the extension of precarity and vulnerability to ever larger parts of the population. What was, until recently, an experience associated with more marginal forms of employment, in informal economies, is now part of the mainstream, an everyday threat. More and more workers – and their families – have been brought to the edge. Media analyses, blog posts and think tank reports are full, day after day, of stories of workers in good jobs, with stable track records of employment, suddenly falling into uncertainty as they face job loss and redundancy.

But perhaps the metaphor of a cliff edge is wrong. Perhaps it’s more like a shoreline, with the edge of the labour market moving backwards and forwards through working populations, leaving people sometimes in, sometimes out. Despite myths of ‘benefit dependency’, most Jobseekers Allowance claims are very short, with many claiming for less than six months. But this in itself is troubling; life is unpredictable and unreliable. The precariousness of life under neoliberalism rests, then, to a considerable extent on the insecurity of employment, the in and out, the threat of redundancy, and the loss of the possibility of continuity.

But this is also coupled with what Rachael Peltz identified as “the absence of a containing governing authority” or what Lauren Berlant has described as a declining “infrastructure for holding the public as a public”. The erosion of welfare provision and the loss of other ‘containing’ institutions, such as unions and certain kinds of community, reinforce the sense of insecurity. The idea of social security and of the ‘safety net’ clearly assert the connection between these institutions and a sense of being contained, or held, of not being allowed to fall (off the edge).

In the context of current period of austerity, not only is welfare provision eroded still further, but the threat of further erosions and a growing sense that any benefit income is itself uncertain, subject to repeated reassessment and ever-changing criteria, provoke still more anxiety.

What is more, neoliberalism also promotes ideas of independence and self-sufficiency. It fosters an ambivalence towards, or even a wholesale rejection of, interdependency (as Judith Butler has explored). Neoliberal subjects should be self-contained, relying only on themselves to achieve success. Of course, this means, following Valerie Walkerdine, that any failure is also ‘achieved’ individually.

As I discussed in an earlier post, the sense of being contained enables us, hopefully, to go on being. In conditions of precarity, that sense is threatened; “trust in the continuity of life” (to quote Lauren Berlant) is replaced by new forms of subjectivity, insecurely balanced on experiences of vulnerability and individualisation. The loss of a secure environment of interdependency makes it difficult to ‘go on being’, to feel a sense of ontological security, as well as a sense of material or financial security. As Adam Phillips suggests, without a sense of containment, living becomes reactive, coping replaces living. Donald Winnicott explains how ruptures and breaks in the ‘holding’ or ‘facilitating’ environment, and the threat of them, erodes the possibility of going on being; when life becomes a struggle against the environment, when the environment impinges on life, then there is a psychic cost.  

Although Winnicott was working in the field of child development, and talking of the welfare of infants, it is possible to think about these ideas in a broader context of welfare. Debates about the ‘psychical effects of social injustice’ (Frost and Hoggett 2008, 442) have enriched our discussions since Bourdieu drew our attention to ‘social suffering’ and since Richard Sennett spoke of the ‘hidden injuries of class’. In this project, what I’m trying to explore further is what this sense of being ‘on the edge’ feels like for families today and, importantly, to ask who (or what) contains these families in the context of austerity.

 

 

 

Why the “Squeezed Middle”?

The ‘squeezed middle’ is a term which has attracted a great deal of attention since Ed Milliband’s struggle to define it on the BBC’s Today programme in November 2010 (it even has a Twitter hashtag: #squeezedmiddle). Miliband ummed and aahed and got tied in knots by Nick Robinson, but in a piece in The Telegraph explained himself a bit better. Using a phrase we’ve heard repeatedly since (most recently, from George Osborne as he launched the 2013 Budget), Miliband described the “people who work hard and want to get on”. He seemed reluctant to define the ‘squeezed middle’ further but depicted an evocative emotional landscape of dashed dreams, anxieties, and fears.

Miliband took the idea of the ‘squeezed middle’ from the Resolution Foundation, a think tank established in 2005 to improve the living standards of low-to-middle income households (low-to-middle earners, LMEs). In a series of audits (the latest published in 2010), the Resolution Foundation described the 15 million Britons who live in low-to-middle income households. These households live below the median income but above the income of the poorest 10% of households. For a couple without children, that means their household income sits between £12,000 and £30,000; for a couple with three children, between £19,200 and £48,500. These are not poor families, but nor are they well-off. They are often too rich to get much help from the welfare and benefits system, but not in a position to really flourish in a market economy.

Most own their own homes, though a significant minority live in the private- or social-rented sectors. Most are in employment, full- or part-time, though many women are stay-at-home mothers. Some of the 15 million have degrees, but many more are educated to GCSE or A-level standard. They are particularly likely to have skilled or semi-skilled jobs and to work in sectors such as retail, health and social care, hospitality, manufacturing, construction and public administration.

The ‘squeezed middle’, then, echoes with other keywords such as low pay, the living wage, and the working poor (households with one or two adults in low paid jobs, even those paying just the minimum wage, would find themselves included).

What the ‘squeezed middle’ isn’t is the traditionally understood middle class. It maps on to what might previously have been described as social classes C1, C2 and D, the skilled working and lower-middle classes. It’s also not ‘middle England’, with all the conservative (big and little ‘c’) baggage that that phrase carries.

In 2011 the Oxford English Dictionary identified the ‘squeezed middle’ as their Word of the Year, defining it as “the section of society regarded as particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes and cuts in public spending during a time of economic difficulty, consisting principally of those on low or middle incomes.” This is a succinct and helpful definition which connects both to ‘objective’ issue of income, and to the more ‘subjective’ question of experience.

Notwithstanding the term’s popularity, there are a number of criticisms that can be leveled at it. Without doubt, Miliband and other politicians, on the right and left, have identified the ‘squeezed middle’ with swing voters whose ballots they are keen to attract. And with the hard-working, deserving ‘strivers’ we’re supposed to support, in opposition to the undeserving, feckless ‘skivers’ we’re supposed to view with contempt. Miliband’s and Osborne’s attachment to the idea of the “people who work hard and want to get on” belies a troubling moral distinction which need not be at the heart of debates about recession and austerity.

Ian Jack in The Guardian argues that the “‘Squeezed middle’ is far too cuddly a term for the damage being done to British and American wages by changes in global trade, and the lack of any serious political challenge to free-market theology.” For Jack, the idea of the ‘squeezed middle’ is not political enough. It doesn’t allow for an appropriate critique of the neoliberal agendas which enable low and stagnant pay.

For others, all the attention paid the ‘squeezed middle’ (not least in the media) draws attention away from those who really find themselves at the blunt edge of austerity, the poor. Even the Resolution Foundation acknowledges that these aren’t the most deserving households.

Yet, for me, there is still something provocative about the idea of the ‘squeezed middle’.

The idea of the ‘middle’ connects to a range of sociological debates about the ‘missing middle’ and our academic tendency to study the most vulnerable or the most powerful. Steve Roberts and Robert MacDonald explore this in the context of youth studies; they draw attention to the need to think about the ordinary, the ‘invisible majority’, those who find themselves between the middle class youth who seemingly make their transitions to adulthood with relative ease and the excluded poor, who find themselves outside education, employment or training. For Roberts and MacDonald, researching the ‘missing middle’ gives us a fuller and more diverse picture of social change. They argue that this middle may appear to be ‘getting by’ but suggest that more may be going on, under the surface. These unseen, undocumented experiences of struggle, to find and keep a job, to further education or training, to juggle work and family life, and so on, echo with my concerns here.

Roberts and MacDonald build on the arguments of David Byrne (2005) who in turn connects to the work of Michael Zweig, writing in the US about the ‘working class majority’. For Byrne and Zweig, the majority of US and UK households find themselves neither in the middle class, nor in what is most commonly identified as the working class (the dispossessed, the excluded, the most vulnerable). This ‘missing middle’, with jobs in which they have little autonomy, but living in their own homes with little visible deprivation, are barely understood: as Byrne argues, “The absence here is of knowledge about people like these. How do they live? Statistically we know a lot – they fill in census forms and Neighbourhood Statistics yield up the data cited above. But we know very little about how they think, how they feel about work, about their identities in these places, about their schools and about their hopes for the future.”

Pieces by journalists, activists, and others are beginning to sketch out some of the contours of life in ordinary families, in the context of the the ongoing recession and the austerity measures I described in a previous blog. These range from reduced food spending and the turn to discounters such as Aldi and Lidl, to the need to turn down heating to cut fuel costs, or to giving up a family car, or to delaying retirement.

What these pieces hint at – and what really interests me – is the position of these families ‘on the edge’, ‘struggling’, ‘juggling’ ‘vulnerable’, ‘unstable’. These are families who are doing OK, are ‘getting by’ but for whom a single knock (reduced working hours, rising food and fuel prices, rent increases, ill-health, family separation) might be enough to push them into poverty. They are living on edge of security, a few degrees from insecurity, threatened, at risk.

What I’m trying to understand in this project is how these risks and insecurities are lived and negotiated, and the focus of my project is on relationships. In their best form, relationships help us to feel secure, ‘contained’, or ‘held’ and to fend off anxiety; my question then is how do relationships help the ‘squeezed middle’ to negotiate these social and economic challenges and to achieve (or maintain) material and emotional security.

In his Telegraph piece, Ed Miliband explained: “The squeeze on family life is not just financial, but it is also a squeeze on our time, our relationships and our communities.” I’m not so sure that Ed Miliband is taking his own words seriously, but it is this concern that is at the heart of my project.

The Costs of Austerity

In this project I’m interested in the ways in which people’s relationships with family, friends and the wider community enable them to negotiate social and economic change. The cluster of economic and social changes that I’m particularly focused on are those associated with the ongoing recession and the austerity measures implemented, by government and other institutions, in response to recession.

Many of these changes are part of the coalition government’s ongoing welfare reforms, announced in the 2012 comprehensive spending review and the 2012 Welfare Reform Act. The key reforms include:

– the freezing of child benefit rates and ‘tapering’ of access for higher income households (earning over £50,000) plus reductions in a variety of payments to new parents (such as the Child Trust Fund and the Health in Pregnancy Grant)

– the capping of housing benefits (as part of the overall benefit cap, see below), a reduction in Local Housing Allowance rates (which set the local levels of housing benefit) and benefit reduction for ‘under-occupation’ (the so-called ‘bedroom tax’)

– time limiting of employment and support allowance (ESA)

– a reduction in both coverage and levels of tax credits (in advance of all tax credits being subsumed with Universal Credit, see below)

– the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) by Personal Independent Payments (PIPs) and a re-assessment of all recipients (expected to result in hundreds of thousands receiving reduced levels of benefit)

– the localisation of council tax benefit (i.e. to cash-strapped local authorities) and a reduction of council tax benefit budgets by 10%

– a benefit cap of £500 per week for a family or £350 per week for a single person

– the abolition of community care grants and crisis loans (with a suggestion but no statutory requirement that they be replaced by local schemes, devised by (cash-strapped) local authorities)

– the introduction of Universal Credit from Oct 2013; this will become the main means-tested social security benefit for people of working age, replacing Housing Benefit, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Jobseeker’s Allowance, Working Tax Credit & Child Tax Credit

– an increase in state pension age

In addition to these welfare reforms, the other major cuts affecting households’ everyday lives are the cuts to council spending allocations, amounting to £5 billion in 2011/12 and 2012/13. This equates to an average decline, over two years, of approximately 16% in councils’ funding from central government. These cuts are leading to declining support for essential services and the wholesale of withdrawal of support from apparently non-essential services (in, for example, Newcastle City Council’s plan to cut all arts subsidies). There’s a particular geography to these funding cuts, as Patrick Butler’s Cuts Blog in the Guardian explores. In North Tyneside, Conservative mayor, Linda Arkley, has spearheaded an outsourcing of council services, in the face of opposition from Labour-held council. The impacts of this outsourcing are as yet unknown, but the fear is that access to services will be reduced.

On top of all these, families are feeling the ‘squeeze’ from, at one end, pay cuts and freezes, reduced working hours and job loss, and at the other, from increases in everyday prices, for food and energy for example. The ‘big six’ energy providers announced price increases in December of between 6 and 12%. At the same time, a number of the large supermarkets predicted further food price rises, as a result of both high world grain prices and the wet UK winter. The impact of this particular squeeze is seen in the rapid growth of food banks across the UK; the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest provider of food banks, estimates around 230,000 people will be fed nationwide by food banks in 2012/13 (see also this report).

Numerous commentators suggest that yesterday’s Budget will do little to alleviate the pressures on families. Budget reflections by the Resolution Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Fawcett Society, and many others argue that nothing has been done to stop more and more working families finding themselves in, or on the brink of, poverty. What’s more, there are fears that the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review (expected later this year or in 2014) will see further cuts to welfare.

All in all, this is tough picture for the ‘squeezed middle’ families at the heart of my research. Whilst these are not families living in poverty, they are families for whom a few knocks (such as reduced working hours, or rising energy prices, or limited access to tax credits, or the loss of free local playgroup) make life increasingly difficult.