Sunday, 20 October 2013

Naming neighbours' names 91.5 per cent of neighbourliness surveys ask the wrong questions. And an astonishing 98.2 per cent fail to provide the evidence for the stuff that gets reproduced in newspapers. These random remarks have been conjured out of nowhere (consistent with the evidence-free policy environment that we currently inhabit) following the publication in today’s Indy and several other sources, of survey results from a home insurance company. I have not been able to find the questions or data behind the press release; nor the press release, come to that (although of course that can be fairly accurately reconstructed from the articles published). We are told: ‘About 70 per cent of people do not know their neighbours’ full names.’ The questionable assumption being that knowing your neighbours’ names is necessarily a good indicator of neighbourhood relations. And I suppose one reason you might ask about full names (how full?) in a survey would be in the anticipation of getting a figure you could broadcast to imply that neighourliness is in crisis. But surely not, who would do such a thing? Next - ‘Less than a third of those polled would classify their neighbours as friends. This falls to 18 per cent for those aged between 18 and 34.’ Are we supposed to absorb the assumption that neighbouring is equivalent to friendship? Being on what is called ‘first-name terms’ might be a necessary condition for someone to be categorised as a friend, although I think even that is questionable. Taking the above two quotes together, it’s reasonable to suggest that survey respondents are more fully aware than those behind the survey, or the company releasing it, or the journalist reproducing it, that neighbouring is not the same as friendship. Glancing back to this rough summary (which I know I need to update) I notice the following from previous surveys: Don't know name of next door neighbour Aviva (Norwich Union) 2006 - 55% (maybe a typo?) Full of Life survey 2008 - 5% It's hard to know what to make of these without seeing the wording. But here’s some good news. A while ago Swinton put their name to a rather more responsible-looking survey, and their communications agent, SKV, kindly sent me the basic data. I intend to try to do justice to this material when I’ve had a little more time to look at it, but for now let me share one minor detail. The survey asked ‘Do you know the names of your next door neighbour?’ (I suspect that should have read ‘neighbours’ plural). The results were as follows: So that’s 85.5 per cent of respondents claiming they know the name(s) of at least one of their next–door neighbours - not all neighbours, just those on either side. These figures do not necessarily contradict those published in today’s articles based on the idea of knowing a neighbour's full names. But I suggest they are both more useful and more dependable. Finally though, here’s what I think is the most interesting finding offered...
Making the links: poverty, ethnicity and social networks JRF have published a piece of research on the links between poverty and ethnicity, which examines how social networks help or hinder people in moving out of poverty. I was involved in the study in a partnership led by the Third Sector Research Centre. Among the key findings: People’s social networks were shaped by factors including ethnicity, class and gender, but personal characteristics, such as confidence, were also important in developing useful connections. Family and friends were seen as the basis for most relationships but there were low levels of awareness about wider social networks and how they might be used for moving on from poverty. People’s links beyond their own ethnic community were important, but the added dimension of racism could prevent access to ‘mainstream’ influential networks. Social networks tended to be ‘like with like’, so while they were used to access employment, this was often into low-paid jobs which relied on informal recruitment processes. Strong bonds with family and friends helped mitigate the effects of poverty. However, developing bridging and linking ties with networks that could move people on from poverty involved risks and scarce energy and resources. Voluntary, community and faith based organisations were seen as important for facilitating access to cross-cultural networks. There were examples of good practice in agencies encouraging people to consider how their social networks could help them move out of poverty. However, there was no consistency in practice between agencies. There’s a four-page summary here. The full report is here, and if I may say so, well worth a read. The other members of the team were Alison Gilchrist, Angus McCabe, Asif Afridi and Paul Kyprianou. This is the place for me to record that, taking into account all the consortia and partnership work I’ve been involved in over the past thirty years – where relationships with co-conspirators have meant a great deal to me and almost invariably been rewarding - it’s been an outstanding privilege to work with such a genial and inspiring group of people. I hope our work has some impact and leads onto other things.

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