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Everyday Life on a Low Income
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The recent radical cutbacks of the welfare state in the UK have meant that poverty and income management continue to be of great importance for intellectual, public and policy discourse. Written by leading authors in the field, the central interest of this innovative book is the role and significance of family in a context of poverty and low-income. Based on a micro-level study carried out in 2011 and 2012 with 51 families in Northern Ireland, it offers new empirical evidence and a theorisation of the relationship between family life and poverty. Different chapters explore parenting, the management of money, family support and local engagement. By revealing the ordinary and extraordinary practices involved in constructing and managing family and relationships in circumstances of low incomes, the book will appeal to a wide readership, including policy makers.

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This chapter investigates how respondents interpret and engaged with key ‘public encounters’, especially those involving perceived negative constructions and expectations. It is especially interested in public encounters, viewing these as arenas of moral scrutiny. The chapter identifies respondents’ experiences in regard to situations in which they have to represent themselves and their families and investigates the cognitive and social processes and activities they engage in to counter negative depictions of themselves and their family members. The chapter is especially interested in understanding to what extent such encounters are associated with embarrassment and/or shame and whether this affects people’s sense of empowerment, identity, well-being and resource use. The chapter also looks at if and how people engage in ‘othering’, distancing themselves from others through negative processes.

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The wider political context within which this study is set is one of radical reform of the welfare state in the UK. This chapter discusses and highlights key elements of the current policy context, especially reform of welfare and social policy, and reflects on these in light of some of the key findings. It also, uses the circumstances reported to shine a light on the type of policy approach that is necessary to respond to the complex individual and family circumstances that are revealed by the research, covering such topics as illness and disability, childcare provision, income adequacy and employment, fuel poverty, an integrated set of local services.

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The discussion in this short chapter, meant as an overview of both the findings and the theoretical framework, is organised mainly in terms of the four elements of the theoretical framework that guided the study. To begin, and to set the larger context for the study, the chapter outlines the predictions around poverty in Northern Ireland in the coming period. Following this, the main findings are set out and the insights yielded for the reconceptualisation of family from this study of family life in a context of poverty and low income are discussed.

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This chapter outlines the background to the research and sets out the study’s aims, theoretical orientations and methodology. Having reviewed some of the relevant literature, the chapter presents the theoretical framework, and clarifies the approach taken to defining and conceptualising both family and poverty. In addition, a theoretical model is presented of how family and poverty are related. This four-fold framework centres on the structural, cultural, relational and representational aspects of the relationship between family and poverty. The chapter also details how the respondents were obtained, the main features of the interviews and the information gathered. The chapter also outlines the main limitations of the research and the book’s structure.

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This chapter examines both the local lives and engagements of respondents and the ‘localness’ of their lives. It first looks at people’s sense of the locality in which they live. One of the questions running through the chapter is the extent to which people are socially isolated and/or locally engaged. Hence the chapter examines respondents’ friendship networks and also their involvement with neighbours. People’s use of a range of local services is also considered as is how they see their own involvement in the local community. Finally, the chapter examines respondents’ evaluations of how they and their family compare to others in terms of aspects of standard of living.

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This chapter probes the everyday reality of life on a low income through considering the family as a unit of expenditure and consumption. The chapter opens by first outlining how money and need are viewed and where the priorities lie in these regards. This leads to a discussion of how people organise their budgeting, especially their essential spending on fuel, housing and food. The chapter then moves on to consider more existential elements, detailing how money is part of individual and family mood and frame of reference. The remainder of the chapter enquires into patterns of money management, the distribution of resources and the general patterning and practices of family life in these regards.

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This chapter explores further the everyday processes of family life in conditions of low income, with special attention to cognitive and cultural processes relating to the meaning of family. The chapter has four sections. The first focuses on the sets of understandings around family that prevail and the ways in which everyday activities and interactions contribute to realising prevailing senses and ideals of family. The second part examines some instances whereby people engage in family building (e.g., Christmas and birthdays) or construct family life. The third and fourth parts investigate people’s sense of their capabilities to realise the personal and family lives which they would like to have and the impacts of living on a low income on people’s sense of themselves and their capabilities.

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This chapter explores the modes of relating within respondents’ families, with relationships with children to the fore. The chapter investigates the extent to which children are the source of their parents’ most meaningful relationships and the hopes and expectations that parents have for their children and their childhood. It also hears parents’ accounts of their parenting practices and considers the impact of poverty and low income on how people parent. The ethics around parenting in such circumstances are also considered. The chapter also considers the lives of the children living in these families and aspects of the relationships that children have with parents.

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This chapter investigates the meaning and significance of family relationships among adults and especially the chains of relationships outside the immediate or nuclear family. These are examined mainly through the prism of whether and how people’s familial relationships involve the giving or receiving of resources and support including (money, other forms of material support, emotional support and knowledge/information). Among the topics investigated are the nature of the support received (if any) and the relational context within which it takes place. The chapter is especially interested in investigating the understandings that people have of receiving and giving help and assistance from and to relatives and the particular norms that govern exchanges among family members. The negotiations around exchanges, for example, ambivalences, the norms around giving back and reciprocity are also considered.

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