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Living Precariously: Families in an age of Austerity

Families are nothing if not resilient, remarkably capable of adapting to change and uncertainty. Today, the challenges of austerity are sorely testing that resilience. Families and parents across Britain are hourly and daily pickingup the strains of reduced income, higher bills, fewer local services, more pressured jobs and – on the whole – making do.

This programme of research was initiated to build up a picture of life in austerity in the round; starting with analysis of sweeping shifts in national policy, to changes at the local level before focusing in more closely on families themselves. This perspective has revealed the extent to which the consequences of economic stagnation are not just financial, but relational and social. There has been much debate about who has ‘borne the burden’ of the cuts, but this research illustrates just how many different groups have been affected by the changes which flowed from the recession and subsequent political responses. It also reminds us that it is within the family where all these pressures accumulate – whether cuts to youth services, caps on benefits or rising energy and food costs.

As we consider ways to ameliorate the effects of austerity, the political emphasis is rightly on economic growth. Headline infrastructure projects such as high-speed railways are touted as ‘investment in our future’. Yet, we know that families are central to economic growth. It is family members who are the unpaid care-givers; it is the family unit which enables people to work and learn; families who are consumers of goods and services. Over the long-term, families are our national infrastructure. Yet families, like everything else, require a supportive climate in which to flourish.