Join us for a #LucyInLockdown virtual talk with Lucy's Alice Tong Sze Research Fellow and Economic Sociologist, Dr Niamh Mulcahy.
An investment into the community: Local authorities and the financialisation of welfare provision
British households have been under financial pressure since the 2008 crisis and the resulting austerity measures implemented by the UK Government in 2010. An increasing cost of living, alongside declining real wages, has left many struggling to make ends meet or in need of debt to make up the difference, at a time when government benefits have been restructured to decrease public spending. Problem debt, homelessness, and foodbank use are on the rise, as quality of life drops even for those with full-time work or multiple jobs.
This talk explores the pressure these problems place on welfare provision at the local level, in order to understand the changing face of regional assistance related to debt and financial precariousness. Local authorities offer advice or assistance to struggling households, having been charged by central government with a duty to help prevent homelessness. They also provide services meant to help with contingency or financial difficulty as part of their mandate. But with no additional funding from central government to cover assistance or much needed social housing projects, local authorities are starting to conceive of their role in welfare provision as one of investment, using new financial capabilities endowed by the Localism Act to generate their own sources of income through the establishment of joint venture and wholly owned companies. By using these entities to build needed housing and provide services, local authorities weigh the risks of problem debt and household ruin against the economic stability or growth that could result from an investment into community infrastructure. The upshot is that welfare provision is considered not simply as an inherent social good, but a return on a public investment.
Dr Niamh Mulcahy is the Lucy Cavendish Alice Tong Sze Research Fellow and will be at CRASSH (the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities) until 2022.
I am an economic sociologist, working in the critical tradition of political economy. My focus is on finance-led economic growth, and the financialisation of household income, as savings and income are channelled into capital markets through personal investment and debt.
My doctoral research considered the rise of the “financial subject”, or the “everyday entrepreneur”, in the context of widening economic inequality in the United Kingdom since the 1980s. Risk-taking is rationalised as an opportunity for greater reward: savings are linked to market performance through investment in private pensions, unit trusts, bonds or assets such as property, while debt, when responsibly managed, can be used to ameliorate short-term periods of uncertainty. Household finance has acquired a more entrepreneurial character as a result, but this is difficult to manage for those facing problems of low income, precarious or short-term employment prospects, and with little wealth, savings, or assets to rely on. The problem of “financial exclusion”, when individuals and households struggle to access necessary financial services or make use of them within their means, therefore deepens inequality and creates new forms of precariousness.
My current project is a funded research partnership with three local authorities, investigating the effects of financial exclusion on the life chances of indebted households. Capturing financial exclusion, as indicated by levels of indebtedness and limited engagement with mainstream financial services, will help illustrate what happens to excluded households and how they get by. This, in turn, will shed light on the type of provision at the local level that could benefit the financially-excluded. As local authorities become increasingly interested in indebted households as a result of the pressure they place on reduced welfare services, a proactive approach involving community-based solutions aimed at addressing systemic shortfalls is needed. Developing a deeper sense of financial exclusion and its regional variations is an important first step.
This event is free and open to all. Please register to receive instructions for joining the event using Zoom: