Tag Archives: Families

Understanding the impact of austerity

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield


Closed all hours This shop, now disused, located in the small village of Ballyroan: Image credit: (c) Liam Murphy Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

David Cameron recently announced plans to introduce  parenting classes, in part as way to combat poverty. Aside from valid criticisms of heteronormativity, troubling assumptions about what makes a “good” family, and a disregard for established support networks, this ignores the complex causes of poverty and impact of austerity.

Sarah M Hall has been conducting long term ethnographic research on families living with, and in, austerity. Much research focuses on large scale economic impacts but Hall works at the level of personal and intimate geographies. This reveals the complexity and diversity of individual lives; there is no one-size-fits-all austerity family experience. Hall is influenced by moral and Feminist geographies and has a deep concern for the ethical impact of her work. The ethnographer is necessarily entangled with the subject of her research and becomes part of their lives for the projects duration. Ethical research acknowledges power dynamics and is constantly aware of researcher positionality but this does not preclude empathy. Indeed Hall suggests research has a caring dimension as “by listening to and empathising with participants, or in providing companionship or intimacy one can provide a caring role” (2016:3).

Decisions on whether to offer financial compensation to research participants take on added weight in times of austerity. Hall did not pay her participants but offered small tokens of gratitude, which often made her part of an extended support network.  The impact of austerity on families can be devastating and Hall describes conversations which she found deeply affecting. However she stresses there is a distance in the research relationship, and differences of experience, which means the researcher must be mindful not to speak for, or steal the voice of, her participants.

Hall confirms JRF (2015) research that states welfare cuts disproportionately harm people already in difficult, precarious and marginalised positions. She also witnesses the unintended consequences of closing services such as libraries and the threat to community groups suffering grant cuts or loss of volunteers who need to find work. Hall treats her participants with the dignity they deserve, and implicitly challenges glib demonization.  It is hard to imagine how parenting classes will help tackle structural inequality or mitigate the very real impact austerity has on families.


books_icon Hall, S.M. (2016) Personal, relational and intimate geographies of austerity: ethical and empiral considerations Area 2015 DOI: 10.1111/area.12251 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/area.12251/abstract  (online accessed 15.1.16)

60-world2 JRF  (2015) The Cost of The Cuts: the Impact on Local Government and Poorer Communities Joseph Rowntree Foundation https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/cost-cuts-impact-local-government-and-poorer-communities (Online accessed 15.1.16)

60-world2 The Independent (2016) David Cameron Plans to Make Parenting Classes Normal http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/david-cameron-plans-to-make-parenting-classes-normal-a6804381.html (online accessed 15.1.16)

Drinking at Home: Socially Acceptable or a New Moral Panic?

By Stacey Balsdon

By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Alcohol consumption and binging in public spaces has long been recognised both within the media and academia. More recently there has been a call to look at domestic drinking practices and the relationship between these practices and various social axes of difference. The BBC article discussing the 4Children report entitled, ‘Over the Limit: The Truth about Families and Alcohol’ is insightful into the domestic drinking practices of families in Britain.  This report suggests a large number of parents are drinking over their daily recommended number of units, with middle-class parents being more likely to consume substantial quantities.

This article made me think of an earlier paper written by Holloway et al. (2008) in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, which discussed a study conducted on the domestic drinking practices of adults living in Stoke-on-Trent and Eden. Their study noted class differences in the consumption practices of participants, which also linked the increasing consumption of alcohol to increases in income over the life course.  Both Holloway et al., and 4Children highlight the social acceptance of drinking in the home for the middle classes, with the freer ability of alcohol in supermarkets being linked to the increase in consumption for this group.

The BBC reports the 4Children study findings as if they are startling and something new to behold. Yet, Holloway et al.’s paper was published 4 years prior to this report and demonstrates that the trends noted by 4Children are not new but have existed for some time. Holloway et al.’s paper discusses the focus of studies on public and urban drinking practices and clearly shows the need to investigate drinking in the home. The moral panic often associated with public ‘binge’ drinking seems to be becoming more and more prevalent in studies which investigate drinking in the home, with both the health of the parent and the effect their drinking has on their children becoming a growing concern within the public domain.

What is clear from reading the 4Children report, alongside Holloway et al.’s paper, is the importance of geographical research, and the ability for academic research to be at the forefront of exploring everyday practices.

Warning over middle-class parents’ alcohol habits, BBC News

Over the Limit: The Truth about Families and Alcohol, 4Children

Sarah L. Holloway, Mark Jayne, Gill Valentine, 2008, ‘Sainsbury’s is my local’: English alcohol policy, domestic drinking practices and the meaning of home‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 4 532-547

Listening to children’s voices and respecting their rights


By Rosa Mas Giralt

In last Sunday’s Observer, Henry Porter commented on the lack of public attention given to the fact that about 2,000 asylum seeking children a year are locked up with their parents in detention centres in the UK. The treatment of these children by the UK authorities is in breach of their rights and seriously jeopardizes their wellbeing, a fact which has long been denounced by children’s rights groups.

In a forthcoming article for Area, Heaven Crawley explores a different aspect of this issue through the experiences of unaccompanied children seeking asylum as they go through the application process and interview to establish whether their asylum claim will be approved. She concludes that “[i]ndividual children are treated with contempt and a lack of basic care when they present their claims for protection. And what they have to say about their experiences is often not listened to, let alone heard or understood” (Crawley, 2009: 6).

Children’s geographies scholars and those from other disciplines have long argued that young people must be recognized as independent individuals with their own agency. The asylum system in the UK is failing to do this by not respecting children’s rights and disregarding their voices.

60% world Read full Henry Porter’s Comment article in The Observer and comments from members of the public

60% world Read Heaven Crawley (2009) “‘No one gives you a chance to say what you are thinking’: finding space for children’s agency in the UK asylum system”. Area. Early View.