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Poverty and insecurity

Poverty and insecurity: Life in low-pay, no-pay Britain

Tracy Shildrick
Robert MacDonald
Colin Webster
Kayleigh Garthwaite
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  • Book Info
    Poverty and insecurity
    Book Description:

    Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the 'Precariat', where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a 'hard-to-reach group' of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-912-4
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. List of figures and boxes
    (pp. iv-iv)
  2. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book is about the lives of individuals and families living in or near poverty – despite (or, as this book will show, because of) their enduring commitment to work and repeated engagement with jobs. We live in a period and in a country where an ‘old libel’ (PSE, 2011) has returned with force, is repeated as fact and is too little challenged: the poor are so because of their own failings – their weakness of morals and character, their fecklessness and idleness, their culture and ways of life. The workless are so because of their preference for ‘benefit dependency’ and their...

  3. 2 Poor work, welfare and poverty
    (pp. 11-38)

    This chapter aims to locate our particular empirical case study of the low-pay, no-pay cycle and recurrent poverty within wider debates and research about poor work, welfare and poverty. It is followed, in Chapter 3, by a discussion of the particular place of study – Middlesbrough in Teesside, North East England – and how broad-based and wide-ranging political, economic and social changes documented in this chapter have played out in Teesside.

    We begin by situating the study within a wider programme and growing body of research that is interested in the dynamic study of poverty and working lives, noting that many of...

  4. 3 Researching the low-pay, no-pay cycle and recurrent poverty
    (pp. 39-60)

    Our study was conducted in Teesside, North East England. The participants came from Middlesbrough, the main town of this large, industrial conurbation. Anecdotally, Teesside has been described variously as both a ‘research laboratory’ and a ‘policy laboratory’. It has had a fascination for research because of the speed and scope of social and economic changes as they have affected this locality, and the social problems that these have generated have been met with a multitude of successive policy interventions geared toward tackling them, as described later.

    This chapter has the following aims and parts. First, we sketch the remarkable social...

  5. 4 The low-pay, no-pay cycle: the perspectives and practices of employers and ‘welfare to work’ agencies
    (pp. 61-78)

    The prime aim of the study was to understand recurrent poverty and its connection to the low-pay, no-pay cycle on the basis of accounts gathered from those engaged in this cycle. We also, however, sought to investigate the perspectives and practices of, first, local employers in Teesside who might offer jobs to people such as the interviewees and, second, of those agencies that seek to help people from ‘welfare to work’. We were interested in exploring their views about local worklessness and what might cause people to become caught up in the low-pay, no-pay cycle. As noted in Chapter 3,...

  6. 5 The low-pay, no-pay cycle: its pattern and people’s commitment to work
    (pp. 79-100)

    In this chapter we begin telling the story of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain, as revealed to us by those caught up in it. It has two main purposes: first, to describe the predominant shape of the low-pay, no-pay cycle and how this differed slightly for some participants; and second, to discuss commitment to employment. Thus, this chapter seeks to illustrate the overall shape of the work histories we uncovered and then, with a feel for the processes that underpin it, to describe the sort and level of motivations that those engaged in it had towards jobs. It begins with...

  7. 6 Searching for jobs: qualifications, support for the workless and the good and bad of informal social networks
    (pp. 101-124)

    We now turn to the processes and practices that underlay participants’ experiences of searching for work. The formal services provided through the state, voluntary and private sectors to help the workless into jobs are described, from the point of view of our interviewees. A key finding of the chapter, with implications for social policy and practice in this area, is that the informal methods and practices of job searching tended to prove more successful in locating jobs but, as a corollary, tended to limit people to the poor work done by others in their social networks. We begin, however, by...

  8. 7 Poor work: insecurity and churning in deindustrialised labour markets
    (pp. 125-142)

    In this and the following chapter we seek to understand the interviewees’ work histories in more depth. In Chapter 8 we examine the ‘supply side’ of the labour market – how personal issues and family circumstances, often rooted in wider social disadvantages, had an impact on people’s engagement with work. In this chapter we are concerned with the ‘demand side’ of the ‘employability’ equation (Lindsay and McQuaid, 2005), or more precisely, how research participants experienced the sorts of employment that they did and what we can learn about the low-pay, no-pay cycle from their descriptions. We begin by noting the deindustrialisation...

  9. 8 ‘The ties that bind’: ill health and caring and their impact on the low-pay, no-pay cycle
    (pp. 143-166)

    As stressed at the end of Chapter 7, the prime driver of the low-pay, no-pay cycle was the insecurity of employment on offer coupled with a strong motivation to work and to avoid being ‘welfare dependent’. In other words, the ‘demand side’ of the local economy – the spread and type of jobs that were available – was unable to properly accommodate people’s need and appetite for jobs. Yet this was not the complete story that was told to us in interviews. ‘Supply-side factors’ also served to shape the low-pay, no-pay cycle. By this we mean that, in some situations and at...

  10. 9 Poverty and social insecurity
    (pp. 167-192)

    In this chapter we turn to the interviewees’ experiences of poverty. A primary aim is to show how these experiences related to encounters with employment, with the welfare system and with debt. In other words, the chapter aims to examine the relationship between cycling between low-paid jobs, unemployment and poverty. While inadequate benefits and low pay were each important factors in explaining poverty, it was also the case that moving between these different states – between employment and unemployment – was in and of itself a key contributory factor to the informants’ financial hardship.

    The first part of the chapter examines the...

  11. 10 Conclusions
    (pp. 193-224)

    So what have we learned about the low-pay, no-pay cycle and poverty? The first part of this chapter very briefly reviews the key findings that arose from the research reported in earlier chapters of the book. Following this we discuss how best we might explain and understand these experiences of labour market churning and poverty, situating our case study of Teesside’s working poor within a broader, more global discussion of economic change, poverty and place. Following this we discuss the key policy conclusions that arose from the project. Insecurity of work and income (from employment and from welfare benefits) and...