Social Situation

The UK economy was deeply affected by the 2008 financial crisis partly because of its close links with global financial centres. Many at the time considered the ‘credit crunch’ and resulting recession as symptomatic of wider structural and systemic issues globally. This is supported by recent research which suggests that the crisis was fuelled by a debt-led growth strategy. Reduced regulation of the financial system in the preceding decades enabled financial institutions to take greater risks for higher profits. ‘Easy credit’ enabled households to maintain their standard of living at a time when real wages were declining or stagnant. This was off course at the cost of greater household indebtedness. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the combined household debt in the UK was around 95 billion pounds in 2008-10. While debt is a burden for most households, close to 40 per cent of poor and low income groups reported that it was ‘a heavy burden’ for them.

Between January 2008 and July 2009, unemployment rose from 1.62m to 2.47m and has remained stable until recently. There has also been some change in the extent of poverty and the composition of poor households since the beginning of the crises. Absolute poverty after housing costs increased from 20 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2012. Prior to the 2008 crises, poverty rates were particularly high amongst children, pensioners and lone parents. Hence, these groups have been subject to greater debates, media coverage and attention from policy makers. In the aftermath of the crisis, the risk of poverty and social exclusion is higher for the first time amongst working families than amongst unemployed people, highlighting the low pay as an important factor. The 2011-2012 Family Resources Survey indicated that more than half of all the 13 million people in poverty belonged to a working family. In addition, single persons without children, as well as younger people, have experienced greater deprivations after the crisis.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, who assumed power in 2010, chose to implement wide-ranging welfare reforms alongside their programme of austerity to deal with the problem of public debt accumulated after various rescue operations for the banking industry. These reforms, alongside lack of employment and training opportunities, falling real incomes and rising cost of living, have severely increased the financial pressure on households across the UK. Therefore, it is important to understand how households cope with such pressure and the implications of their coping strategies for their wellbeing in general.

Previous Research

Whilst poverty in the UK has been comprehensively researched, the issue of resilience is still relatively new and requires systematic exploration. Most of the work on resilience is concerned with ecology or psychology. There is some new research emerging on this topic in other areas such as economic geography and political science. However, these present more general and bird-eye views of resilience for cities, regions, countries, rather than its relevance for the lives of individuals, families, households and communities. Of the very few studies focusing on household behaviour two are noteworthy:

  • Canvin, K., M. Anneli, B. Burstrom & M. Whitehead (2009) ‘Tales of the unexpected? Hidden resilience in poor households in Britain’, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 69, Issue 2, July 2009, Pages 238–245
  • Harrison, E. (2013) ‘Bouncing back? Recession, resilience and everyday lives’ Critical Social Policy 33(1): 97-113

There are also a handful of other household-based studies on resilience undertaken by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The RESCUE research will build on these existing studies but be distinct from them in a number of ways. Firstly, it will investigate variations of resilience by examining the social, economic and cultural practices of households. Secondly, it will explore the interface of household resilience with welfare systems, social divisions, participation and politics. Finally, it will enable a systematic comparison of poverty and resilience patterns across a large number of European countries.

The Team

  • Matthew Donoghue
    Matthew Donoghue
  • Ursula Huws
    Ursula Huws
  • Hulya Dagdeviren
    Hulya Dagdeviren
Matthew Donoghue

Matthew Donoghue, MA International Studies: Citizenship and Global Justice; PhD Candidate in Politics (Oxford Brookes University). Matthew is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UH. His research interests lie broadly in political economy and political sociology, particularly regarding issues of citizenship, welfare, cohesion and inequality. He is experienced with qualitative methods, particularly focus groups, as well as (critical) discourse analysis. His latest publication is a critical discourse analysis of New Labour’s welfare reform and community cohesion policy, published in the journal British Politics. He is also preparing a paper based on focus group research for a special edition of the Political Studies Association’s journal Politics. He will submit his PhD thesis in summer 2014.

Ursula Huws

Ursula Huws, PhD, Professor at UH, having previously been Professor of International Labour Studies at London Metropolitan University and an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Employment Studies. She is very experienced in the international, interdisciplinary research, having directed or participated in a number of EC-funded research projects in the 5th, 6th and 7th Framework Programmes, including EMERGENCE, RESPECT, STILE, LAW, TOSCA,WORKS and ETICA. She is also a reviewer of the RECWOWE (‘Reconciliation of Work and Welfare’) project. Her recent publications include ‘New forms of work; new occupational identities’ in N. Pupo and M Thomas (eds.) Interrogating the ‘New Economy’: Restructuring Work in the 21st Century’, Broadview Press, Peterborough, Ontario, 2010, and ‘Between a rock and a hard place: the shaping of employment in a global economy’, Work Organisation, Labour and Globalisation, Volume 4 No 1.

Hulya Dagdeviren

Hulya Dagdeviren, MSc and PhD in Economics, University of London. Dagdeviren is currently Professor of International Economic Development at the UH. Her research interests include poverty, income distribution and privatisation of public services. She worked as advisor for various international organisations and took part in many programmes, including the Macroeconomics of Poverty Reduction for the United Nations Development Programme. Economic Policies for Growth, Employment and Poverty Reduction, UNDP, 2006, (with V. Chisala, A. Geda, T. McKinley, A. Saad-Filho, C. Oya, J. Weeks) is one of the books published as a research output of this programme. Previously, her work on “Poverty reduction with growth and redistribution’ Development and Change, 2002, 33 (3): 383-413 (with R. van der Hoeven and J. Weeks) was supported by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Her most recent publications include “Political Economy of Contractual Disputes in the Water Sector” Annals of Public and Co-operative Economics, 2011, 82 (1): 25-44, ‘Crisis, sustainability of electricity prices and state interventions in Argentina’ Industrial and Corporate Change, 21 (2): 403-427, ‘A critical assessment of incomplete contracts theory for private participation in public services’, co-author, Simon A. Robertson, Cambridge Journal of Economics, Forthcoming.