Monday, 13 June 2011

Neighbouring in low income neighbourhoods The Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University has published the final report of their study of low income neighbourhoods. It’s an important body of work, mainly qualitative and thus sitting most obviously alongside Anne Power’s City survivors as a source of stories and quotes. At the same time, JRF have published a paper prepared by some of the researchers and based on the same study, which looks at current social policies and assesses their potential impact on residents living in the neighbourhoods studied. The paper explores some of the underlying assumptions in the new policy agenda. (Summary here). It’s a smart move, let’s hope this latter paper has some impact. The key message seems to be this: There was little evidence in the research of any fault line between ‘cohesive’ and ‘broken’ communities, of places somehow set apart from ‘the rest of us’. Place still matters and, as a rule, neighbourhood mattered most to people where both the economic legacy and future prospects for their community were least favourable. The authors stress the role of social housing - neighbourhoods with a higher proportion of social housing often provided households with an island of stability in an ocean of turbulence (not least in the jobs market). They go on to ask, what happens to those communities that are facing structural economic weakness but where countervailing systems of mutual support and resilience have also become attenuated over time – those at the end of the economic line – if the opportunities for economic growth lie elsewhere? As far as neighbouring is concerned, two familiar points are re-confirmed: that neighbouring is not the same as friendship; and not everyone wants to invest in neighbourliness. But there is one pertinent point that is very well-made in the main research report, concerning the extent to which so many people on low-incomes are both time-poor and cash-poor. This point needs making with research to back it up, because policy too often implies that people in poverty have time on their hands while worthier citizens are busy driving the economy and bringing up more worthy citizens. Lack of time and energy constrains people’s ability to get involved in co-production or civic action or in strengthening their social networks. Here’s one quote that illustrates the way in which this plays out in neighbourhood relations: No I don’t want to be going round for cups of tea and that kind of thing... I think it’s important to say hello and recognise each other but… there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to socialise with the people I socialise with, family and friends as it is… and it’s just trying to find time to do the laundry and keep the house tidy as well as everything else. And finally while I remember it, for the record, there’s one point in one of the research papers which doesn’t seem to have made it into the final report, concerning the negative effect of declined neighbourly overtures:...

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