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‘Snakes and Ladders: Understanding Young People’s Transitions to Adulthood in contexts of poverty and disadvantage’. Professor Tracy Shildrick [email protected] Popular and powerful myth making. Speaking recently at Centre for Social Justice, Ian Duncan Smith yet again refers to the:

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‘Snakes and Ladders: Understanding Young People’s Transitions to Adulthood in contexts of poverty and disadvantage’

Professor Tracy Shildrick

[email protected]


Popular and powerful myth making
Popular and powerful myth making Transitions to Adulthood in contexts of poverty and disadvantage’

  • Speaking recently at Centre for Social Justice, Ian Duncan Smith yet again refers to the:

  • ‘twilight world of Britain’s welfare ghettoes’ where people are ‘languishing on welfare with no incentive to aspire for a better life’ (January 2014)


The research
The research Transitions to Adulthood in contexts of poverty and disadvantage’

  • To take seriously the problems that Teesside and its residents face – to understand them, & seek answers, based on rigorous, long-term, in-depth critical social science research

  • Key philosophy = we must learn about people’s lives within their social context, within the landscape in which lives are lived


3 studies about young adults 2000 2004 2005
3 studies about young adults Transitions to Adulthood in contexts of poverty and disadvantage’(2000, 2004, 2005)

  • What is it like to grow up in some of Britain’s poorest neighbourhoods?

  • Are young people really becoming cut off from the economic, social & moral mainstream – part of a socially excluded, disconnected underclass?

  • How can we best understand & respond to the social problems said to affect/ be caused by young people?

    • e.g. educational underachievement, youth crime, drug use, early parenthood, youth unemployment/ NEET

  • Funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation & Economic and Social Research Council


2 studies of older age groups more focus on poverty worklessness
2 studies of older age groups Transitions to Adulthood in contexts of poverty and disadvantage’… more focus on poverty & worklessness

  • Low-pay, No-pay: Understanding Recurrent Poverty(2010)

  • How/ why people (60, aged 30-60 yrs) are trapped in cycle of churning between low-paid jobs & unemployment, over years

  • Intergenerational Cultures of Worklessness? (2012)

  • Do we have places where 3 generations of family have never worked? What inter-generational processes shape poverty & unemployment? (20 families in Teesside & Glasgow)


Research methods
Research Methods Transitions to Adulthood in contexts of poverty and disadvantage’

  • In-depth - lengthy, detailed, biographical, qualitative interviews

    • [also interviewed ‘stakeholders’, professionals who work with young people/ communities]

    • also informal ‘participant observation’

  • Extensive

    • 186 ‘hard to reach’ young people (aged 15-30+) from very deprived wards in Teesside (in England)

  • Broad-ranging

    • education & labour market

    • housing, neighbourhood & family

    • leisure, crime & drug use

  • Long-term/longitudinal

    • Following some of the same young people into their 30s


Teesside a policy laboratory a research laboratory not really but
Teesside: ‘A policy laboratory’? ‘A research laboratory’? Not really, but…

  • From the ‘youngest child of England’s enterprise’, fastest growing town in England in 19th century, through full employment, 3rd most prosperous UK sub-region in ’60s & ‘70s

  • …to one of poorest &‘most deindustrialised locales in the UK’ in 1990s/ 2000s.

  • Scale & depth of socio-economic change is unique? Generating serious social challenges.

  • Can’t understand the latter without understanding the former


What do young people want
What do young people want? laboratory’? Not really, but…


School a depressingly familiar story
School…a depressingly familiar story laboratory’? Not really, but…

  • ‘Disappointment’ - disaffection - disengagement

  • Underachieving pupils in underachieving schools

    ‘Our school didn’t really do much homework or nothing, I found. I dunno, there was no encouragement there, I didn’t feel there was anyway…Well, I dunno, maybe if, I dunno…I was in lower sets than a lot of people so I’d just, I think maybe under that mark, there didn’t seem there was enough encouragement…’ (Anthony, 23 years)

  • BUT disappointing experiences of school did not set in stone negative attitudes: later re-engagement with education/ training - 2nd, 3rd, 4th chances (sometimes helping to improve job prospects)


Post school transitions
Post-school transitions laboratory’? Not really, but…

  • Unemployment = common & recurrent for all…

  • …but so was employment

  • Long-term post-school transitions, into 30s = insecure & non-progressive

    age 16-18: School-youth training-unemployment-/ age 18-26: job unemployment-FE -unemployment-New Deal…/ age 26-36+: unemployment-job-unemployment-job-unemployment...

  • Not labour market exclusion (or idle underclass) - but long-term churning underemployment &economic marginality


Long term precarious transitions
Long-term, precarious transitions laboratory’? Not really, but…

  • Doing the same ‘poor work’ at age 17 & 27& 37 years

  • Same pattern of ‘low-pay, no-pay cycle’ amongst older workers in 40s and 50s – not just a problem for young adults

  • Low-paid, low-skilled, insecure jobs = not stepping stones to something better

  • ‘the precarious nature of many low-paid jobs’ means that getting ‘a job may only represent a turn in the cycle of poverty’ (McKnight, 2002: 98)

  • Insecurity of employment = prime driver of ‘low-pay, no-pay cycle’ (conclusion of other national studies too) i.e. people left/ lost jobs involuntarily.


Low pay no pay insecurity richard 30 currently unemployed
‘Low-pay, no-pay’ insecurity: Richard (30, currently unemployed)…

‘Just jumping from job to job it’s no way to go. It’s a nightmare! Jack of all trades, master of none (laughs). I just want something with a bit of job security - where maybes I can buy me own house in the future rather than just where you’ve got to be on a wing and a prayer type thing… just a job that I can call me own, you know what I mean? Rather than just looking for one all the time or just jumping from job to job’.

Since age 16:

  • 15 episodes of unemployment

  • 5 training schemes

  • 9 jobs (longest 18 months), now via emp. agencies

  • highest pay £7.50 ph, usually £5.50 ph.


Low pay no pay cycle partly driven by strong commitment to work stigma of unemployment
… low-pay, no-pay cycle partly driven by strong commitment to work/ stigma of unemployment

  • Virtually no positive comments about being unemployed/ on welfare

  • Strong working-class views about self-reliance, hard work & family respectability

  • Wide-spread opposition to being - and to be seen as - ‘a dole wallah’, to be on benefits


Not being a dole wallah
Not being a ‘dole wallah’ to work/ stigma of unemployment

Malcolm, 19, no qualifications, unemployed, ex-burglar, ex-drug user, father:

‘I would hate being on the dole…I won’t do it. It’s embarrassing going to the Post Office with your giro. You just become lazy, have a lazy life… I just don’t wanna sign on the dole.I wanna work…It’s a weekly wage for a start, instead of a daft £78 per fortnight. It’s just part of life. To have a job and support your family. So instead of him [his son] growing up and when his friends’ Mams or teachers say ‘what does your Dad do?’ ‘Oh, he’s on the dole’. I don’t want none of that. I want him to grow up and say ‘Oh, our Dad’s working at summat’. So he can feel proud and have nice things when he gets older’.


Not being a dole wallah1
Not being a ‘dole wallah’ to work/ stigma of unemployment

‘I don’t like it at all. I feel, like, suffocated; that they (JC+) are waiting for me to do something. I just hate it. I’m an independent person. I don’t like relying on benefits. I just hate it. They turn into the FBI, questioning your every movement. It’s like “I just don’t want to be here”! Just going to the Job Centre makes me depressed. I just detest it, I really do’.

(Chrissie, 31, occasional employment, voluntary work, long-term depression)


Hard demanding work
Hard, demanding work... to work/ stigma of unemployment

  • Interviewees described instances of:

    • Not being paid properly for hours’ work done;

    • Being required to do extra hours at very short notice (often with the threat of dismissal if they did not)

    • Being required to undertake tasks that seemed unreasonable and outside of their normal role;

    • Being treated unfairly in relation to other workers;

    • Of the refusal of requests to leave work early or take time off for family reasons (e.g. because a child was sick);

    • Losing maternity allowances because of employers’ bureaucratic errors;

    • Being sacked for taking a day’s sick leave, and so on.

  • But work did not take people away from poverty


Subsistence survival for young mothers
Subsistence/survival for young mothers... to work/ stigma of unemployment

  • Researcher: where do you shop?

  • Kate and Kelly: Netto (together)

  • Kelly: Cos it’s the cheapest place we can go. Or Kwicksave or the freezer shop because like Morrisons – you’ve got to be a millionaire to go in there!

  • Researcher: Do you think there are certain shops or certain foods the kids miss out on?

  • Kelly: Yeah a lot, like fruit and veg

  • Kate: And yoghurt and things like that

  • Kelly: Yoghurts yeah – we buy yoghurts but only in Netto ‘cos they’re cheaper. Maybe once a week. She’ll have veg and that’s on a Sunday when we do a Sunday dinner


Mothers feeling guilty
Mothers feeling guilty… to work/ stigma of unemployment

‘I like to be able to take the kids away but I can’t afford it. The only place we go is Scarborough (to stay with sister). I’d like to go to a caravan site with ‘em, like Primrose Valley, but I can’t afford to do it. I’d like to take them places but they have never been away’ (Dawn, 30)

‘If the kids come along and say Mam can I have £3 or £4 and I’ve only got £2 I feel guilty’ (Linda, 33)


Debts driven by necessity wanting to provide for children
Debts driven by necessity & wanting to provide for children to work/ stigma of unemployment

‘If I want clothes or the kids want anything, it’s always like getting the Provident book out [a door-step loans agency], you know? I would, like, have to miss something to get something, if you know what I mean? It’s awful. There’s never anything in my purse. It’s always empty. If someone said ‘do you want to go somewhere?’ I couldn’t just get up and go out and do it’ (Sophie, 30).


Unreliable and unpredictable welfare
Unreliable and unpredictable welfare to work/ stigma of unemployment

  • Interviewees deplored claiming welfare and where they could they resisted claiming altogether

  • Claims were often slow, complicated and difficult to resolve and it was not unusual for interviewees to be left with little or no income, and sometimes for lengthy periods of time

  • Interviewees were often subjected

    to decisions about claims which they

    failed to understand and frequently

    felt powerless to challenge


Complex lives and multiple disadvantage
Complex lives and multiple disadvantage to work/ stigma of unemployment

  • Key to our research has been the ambition to understand lives holistically:

    • Deep poverty was a shared experience

    • Lots of ill health across the sample and in their wider families and networks

    • Widespread caring responsibilities (which were often frequent and unpredictable)

    • Widespread experiences of bereavement (with unpredictable and often long-term consequences)

    • Living in heavily risk laden neighbourhoods (drugs/ crime and victimisation)

    • But multiple hardships described with a striking sense of stoicism, resilience, ‘ordinariness’ – the everyday normality of abnormal hardship; ‘that’s what life’s like round here’,


Crime drugs
Crime & drugs to work/ stigma of unemployment

  • Devastating impact of arrival of heroin market in mid-90s (as many in sample were in mid-teens)

  • Some young people (particularly those disengaged from school) quickly tied up in dependent drug use & offending

  • ‘It just got worse as I was getting older. I went from E to heroin. I started doing it daily to feed my habit so I was robbing everything in sight. Whatever I could sell, I’d rob. It did for me, heroin. Shoplifting, thefts, then burglary and robbery’ (Barney, 20).

  • Impact on wider families & community

  • Intertwined ‘careers’ of drugs & crime gave some of the hardest stories of social exclusion: stories of loss, damage, guilt, shame.

  • Desistance & recovery possible/ achieved by many - need for wide social support + active decision to change


Ill health
Ill-health to work/ stigma of unemployment

  • Impact of wider social inequality & of unemployment/ poor quality jobs – depression widespread

  • Carol-Anne (28) ‘loved’ her job as an administrator in a small family firm but ‘it was a small family business with a very high staff turnover and I was off with a tummy bug for a week so they sacked me’ (even though she had a doctor’s note)

  •  ’I didn’t feel at the time that I could do anything about it. I just didn’t have the confidence. And I just felt it was all my fault…that was sort of when my depression started really. Felt really bad about myself’.

  • Bereavement (parents, friends, siblings, children) strikingly common for young adults too – unpredictable ‘critical moments’ with unpredictable effects on their lives

  • Ill-health & caring responsibilities impacted on well-being as well as on labour market engagement


Strengths of poor places
Strengths of ‘poor places’ to work/ stigma of unemployment

  • ‘Living here, it’s brilliant….If you’re stuck, someone’ll help you’ (Martin, 20).

  • ‘Bonding social capital’/ resilience, mutual care of social networks of family & friends made life liveable – and generated strong sense of ‘social inclusion - under conditions of poverty/ ‘socialexclusion’

    e.g. caring for others, informal child care, loans of money, protection from criminal victimisation, reparation after crime, job search, leisure life, emotional support, voluntary work etc.


Main conclusions from the research
Main conclusions from the research to work/ stigma of unemployment

Strong work commitment & repeated engagement with jobs, despite ‘poor work’ & possibly ‘better off on benefits’

= Not unemployment as a ‘life-style choice’, nor ‘culture of worklessness’

i.e. residents of high unemployment locales have varied relationships to the labour market: the story of low-pay, no-pay rarely heard

Financial necessity, a desire to work, abundant ‘poor work’ & lack of better opportunities led people  to take jobs that trapped them in long-term insecurity and poverty


What helps what could help
What helps? What could help? to work/ stigma of unemployment

  • You will have your own thoughts…

  • Obviously, a greater quantity of jobs (& other post-16 education/ training opportunities)

  • But also better quality of jobs (& other post-16 education/ training opportunities)


What helps what could help1
What helps? What could help? to work/ stigma of unemployment

  • Some young people get caught on a merry-go- ground of courses/ schemes that lead nowhere

    • ‘…The staple offer for between a quarter and a third of the post-16 cohort is a diet of low-level vocational qualifications, most of which have little to no labour market value. Among 16 to 19 year olds… at least 350,000 get little to no benefit from the post-16 education system’ (The Wolf Report, 2011: 7)

  • How do we achieve greater value from post-16 education/ training – and greater benefits to young people?


What helps what could help2
What helps? What could help? to work/ stigma of unemployment

  • A handful of young people in our studies ‘escaped’ the low- pay, no-pay cycle… (people typical in all other respects) Critical to this was:

  • ‘ending up’ with better employers

  • Investment in training

  • Career (and pay) ladders

  • Sympathetic to wider problems in people’s lives (e.g. caring crises, ill-health)

  • Greater security = strong evidence that opportunities (rather than individuals’ skills, qualifications, backgrounds, aspirations etc.) explain youth unemployment & labour market churning

  • All such employers were ‘not for-profit’ organisations (the significance of the public & third sector to Teesside)? How can we create better as well as more employment? Role of the private sector? The significance of this in Leeds?


Conclusion main messages
Conclusion: main messages to work/ stigma of unemployment

  • Unemployment is not a ‘life-style choice’

  • People want jobs – but jobs they got were low-paid & insecure

  • Poverty remains even when people are in jobs

  • Multiple hardships & disadvantages impact on people growing up & living in ‘poor neighbourhoods’ – which can also limit people’s prospects & well-being

  • Yet these neighbourhoods have many strengths

  • Policy & practice can help tackle disadvantage – a key issue being the shortage of jobs, particularly better quality employment (as a route out of poverty & towards security and well-being)


Conclusions what has happened here
Conclusions: to work/ stigma of unemploymentwhat has happened here?

  • Teesside, these neighbourhoods, built for industry - & industrial workers & families; success, security, prosperity

  • But our interviewees born on the cusp/ in the depths of accelerated global-local economic change (between 1974 & mid-80s)

  • De-industrialisation shifted economic crisis onto individual life histories , scrapping traditional routes to adulthood & secure forms of working class life

  • People now ‘get by’ via friends & family & churning poor work


References to teesside studies
References to Teesside Studies to work/ stigma of unemployment

Johnston, L., MacDonald, R., Mason, P., Ridley, L., and Webster, C. et al. (2000) Snakes & Ladders, York: JRF.

http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/jr090-young-people-exclusion.pdf

Webster, C., Simpson, D., MacDonald, R., Abbas, A., Cieslik, M., Shildrick, T., and Simpson, M. (2004) Poor Transitions, Bristol: Policy Press/JRF.

http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/1861347340.pdf

MacDonald, R., & Marsh, J. (2005) Disconnected Youth? Growing up in Britain’s Poor Neighbourhoods, Palgrave.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Disconnected-Youth-Growing-Britains-Neighbourhoods/dp/1403904871

Shildrick, T., MacDonald, R., Webster, C. and Garthwaite, K. (20120) Poverty and Insecurity: life in low pay, no pay Britain, Bristol, Policy Press

Shildrick, T., MacDonald, R., Furlong, A., Roden, J., and Crow, R. (2012) Are cultures of worklessness passed down the generations ?, York: JRF

http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/cultures-of-worklessness


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