When Ends Don't Meet: Assets, vulnerabilities and livelihoods

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This report describes a pilot project of Church Action on Poverty (CAP) and Oxfam's UK Poverty Programme (UKPP) to explore how men and women in 24 low income households in Thornaby construct their livelihoods. Drawing on the 'Sustainable Livelihoods Approach' (SLA) commonly used in international development, the research is based on detailed interviews with participants, working with them to understand what assets they have, and their own analysis of how they are getting by. In addition to the interviews, the project also carried out some participatory research and an analysis of the local and regional economy.
  ASSETS, VULNERABILITIES AND LIVELIHOODS AN ANALYSIS OF HOUSEHOLDSIN THORNABY-ON-TEES SHEENAORR ã GREG BROWN ã SUE SMITH ã CATHERINE MAYã MARK WATERS WHEN ENDS DON’T MEET  BUILDING BETTER LIVES  Contents Executive Summary 2-8 Section 1 Introduction 1.1Background to 9-10Thrive Initiative1.2Context10-111.3The Sustainable11-15Livelihoods Approach1.4Thornaby households 15and questionnaire1.5Household types16-171.6Structure of the report17 Section 2 Financial Assets 2.1Sources of income182.2Savings, credit and debt18-202.3Access to Bank Accounts20-21and credit2.4Impact of debt222.5Debt and Advice22-232.6Budget Control232.7Insurance policies232.8Gender and Financial24 Assets Section 3 Human Assets 3.1Knowledge and skills26-273.2Health and ability to work27-283.3Self-esteem293.4Ill health amongst children293.5Caring for adults and 30children with disabilities3.6Women and unpaid work303.7Gender and Human Assets31 Section 4 Social Assets 4.1The importance of33-35relationships4.2Support from 35previous partners4.3Care from family35and friends4.4Social contacts354.5Faith364.6Gender and Social Assets36 Section 5 Public Assets 5.1Community Activity37-385.2Local Services385.3Local Groups for38-39Regeneration5.4Gender and Public Assets39 Section 6 Physical Assets 6.1Productive Equipment40-416.2Transport416.3Gender and41-42Physical Assets Section 7 Inter-relatedness of assets 7.1Assets Pentagon43 Section 8 Livelihood andStrategies Outcomes 8.1Surviving and coping458.2Shocks to Households45-478.3Livelihoods ladder48-498.4Analysis of livelihoods49-50strategies Section 9 Looking to 51 the FutureSection 10 Conclusions 52-54 References 55 Annex 1 overview of households 56 NOTE: The names of interviewees have been changedin order to protect their identity.  Key Findings Strength and resilience This study affirms the positiveaspirations and strengths of men andwomen living on low incomes inThornaby. Contrary to the all toocommon stereotypes of people onlow incomes as feckless,irresponsible, and undeserving, themen and women we intervieweddemonstrated considerable resilienceand resourcefulness in the face of significant barriers anddisadvantages, and in hard timesthey strove to make ends meet, andto keep going. Non-financial assets For many people non-financial assetswere often the strongest and mostimportant assets they had, withdependence on families and socialnetworks really standing out ascrucial in combating the isolation they experienced. Interviewees recognisedthese assets as really positivefeatures in their lives, and animportant element in their copingstrategies. Enduring poverty The research highlighted the day-to-day reality men and women inhabit,and the continuing existence of poverty. Many people had very fewfinancial assets and for some, thiswas combined with high levels of unmanageable and unmanaged debt. Use of credit and debt Debt was particularly common amonglone parents, who were more likely toaccess high cost alternative creditthrough non-mainstream sources,such as doorstep lenders. Thecombination of high interest rates,inability to move beyond survival Executive Summary Thornaby on Tees is a town in the North East of England where ChurchAction on Poverty has been working since the late 1990s. It is typical of many towns where, since the 1970s, the key industries have beendeclining, and inequality between areas has increased. Containing someof the poorest wards in England, it has been the focus of significantregeneration activity over the last few years. This report describes a pilot project of Church Action on Poverty (CAP) andOxfam’s UK Poverty Programme (UKPP) to explore how men and women in24 low income households in Thornaby construct their livelihoods. Drawing onthe ‘Sustainable Livelihoods Approach’(SLA) commonly used in internationaldevelopment, the research is based on detailed interviews with participants,working with them to understand what assets they have, and their ownanalysis of how they are getting by. In addition to the interviews, the projectalso carried out some participatory research and an analysis of the local andregional economy. 2  mode, lack of any assets, and mentalhealth problems brought on by debt,affected women disproportionately. Mental health The majority of the households in thisstudy, and a high proportion of women (all but two in the survey)experienced mental health problems,especially depression (including post-natal). This had a big impact on their ability to earn and therefore toincrease financial assets. Women are poorer  The factors that made women poorer than men are complex. Many womenliving on their own could notundertake paid work to grow their financial assets, because of their caring responsibilities, and did notmove beyond ‘survival’mode. Someopted to remain on benefits becausethe transition to work felt too risky totheir overall livelihood strategy, andthey considered that paid work was“not worth it”. Anumber who hadseparated from male partners choseto give up claims to high valuefinancial assets such as pensions or mortgages, in order to get a “cleanbreak” from their partner. Couples are better off  Couples were more likely to be in avirtuous circle of asset growth, andsingle people and lone parents in avicious circle of asset loss. Coupleshad more joint capacity for combiningpaid and unpaid work, and thepotential to negotiate roles within thehousehold, and therefore greater flexibility of labour leading to a better ability to weather external shocks. Gender stereotyping Gender stereotyping played a role inrestricting the choices of occupationmade by women and men in thestudy. Many of the women ended upin low paid employment based onstereotypical female roles: for example as care workers,hairdressers, or classroom assistants.This affected women’s chances of asset growth, particularly if they wereliving on their own. Men, particularlyin couple households, were morelikely to be in higher-level craft skilledindustrial work, which was better paid.This gave them greater potential tobuild their assets. Political engagement Most people in our survey wereunaware of, or uninterested in, localregeneration schemes. Few had anyinvolvement in their local council or inthe planning and delivery of services,and little belief that their involvementwould make any difference to localdecisions made. Interaction with public services Both women and men’s experiencewas that when public services wereapproachable and useful, theybenefited a great deal, but when theservices were unsupportive andtreated people without dignity, theimpact on the individual and their confidence was immensely damaging. 3
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