Out of the Ordinary
Exploring the lives of Ordinary Working Families from a Local Perspective
‘Ordinary Working Families’. ‘The Squeezed Middle’. ‘Just About Managing’. ‘Alarm Clock Britain’. Whatever the preferred term, and whatever the precise definition, the challenges facing people earning low to medium salaries have remained high on the political agenda in recent years. Given their prominence in the recent general election campaign, it is reasonable to assume they will do so for some time to come.
The debate is not simply about the level of household income. It encompasses practical matters around access to housing and education alongside less immediately tangible concerns, such as financial resilience. Although the terminology used by commentators, researchers and politicians may vary, the core issues appear similar.
Crucially, and despite headline economic growth, households on median incomes experience increased vulnerability. This combines objective shifts in the labour market with subjective feelings arising from a range of perceived threats. There is a growing realisation that the resulting impact upon the lives of ordinary working families – in terms of security of incomes and stability of living standards – has been neglected in government policy. The focus on the poorest and the wealthiest has, it is argued, left this group feeling excluded. As the aftermath of the Brexit vote has brought into sharp relief, this exclusion is having a pronounced influence on political discourse. Nonetheless, the voices of those living within these families are seldom heard within the discussion.
Bringing local voices into the policy arena is one of the unique contributions that the Nottingham Civic Exchange (NCE) will make across a range of contemporary issues. As a place-based think tank, NCE will illuminate and inform national policy debates – starting with the concerns around Ordinary Working Families – from the perspectives of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.
NCE has undertaken initial research to outline the current situation and will be building on this over the coming months. In partnership with the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), we will be launching a policy analysis and developing targeted research with Nottingham Trent University (NTU) academics and partners over the summer. For more information on our upcoming work or to make a submission to our Call for Evidence, please follow the links above.
NCE has undertaken initial research in partnership with NTU academics and the University of Birmingham. Our key findings from this research are laid out below along with a link to download the full report. Additional findings and research will be published here.
Phase one findings
Economic precariousness is indeed an important feature of the lives of Ordinary Working Families. This can either be in objective terms, where they may live financially close to the poverty line or in subjective terms, where they may feel a level of insecurity in relation to financial resilience.
Many households move between living in and just above poverty levels, even if they have a member who is employed. This is due to insecure, changing, or low income, and variations in living costs, such those consequent to the birth of a child.
There are differences between governments, economists’ and families’ understanding of what it means to be just about managing. Analysis of the Understanding Society survey shows that average net household income for those who see themselves as just about getting by is £34,500. This means that 40% of this group within the Understanding Society sample have a household income above the currently used financial measure for just about managing households. We estimate there are at least six million adults in working households with income above the national average but who self-identify as just about managing financially.
Using the Resolution Foundation’s 2016 income based definition, we have found that Ordinary Working Families are more likely to be found in the East Midlands than in the East, London, South-East and South West regions of the UK.
In the city of Nottingham, Ordinary Working Families are particularly affected by low pay. Compared to the UK as a whole, a higher proportion of Nottingham residents work in sectors and occupations where low pay is more common, such as caring roles and the leisure industry. One of the implications of this is for housing affordability. Our detailed analysis at a local level shows the areas across Nottingham where the average household income will be insufficient to support the purchase of an averagely costed home within the neighbourhood.
There is an income disparity between Nottinghamshire and Nottingham City. A relatively large number of highly paid and highly skilled workers in Nottingham City are resident elsewhere and a lower proportion of residents are able to access or progress within the better paid and more highly skilled jobs within the City.
Our work connects directly to our own student body. A large proportion of NTU students come from households that can be defined as just about managing. 21% of our total 2015 undergraduate intake came from areas classed as just about managing. However, this figure rises to 32% of our 2015 cohort from Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.
Work undertaken so far
We reviewed the academic and public policy literature to compare the different definitions of ordinary working families and the just about managing group.
We have conducted a new analysis of Understanding Society. We analysed several annual accounts of these data, exploring the differences between households’ objectively recorded income and their subjective perceptions of their financial standing.
We explored official estimates of household income, after housing costs, for the financial year ending 2014 at the level of individual neighbourhoods, comparing Nottingham and Nottinghamshire to the East Midlands and the UK. We looked at these data against small-area estimates of households in poverty and households below the median income, as well as proportions employed by main job type.
We examined the key labour market statistics published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on the structure of employment and annual earnings from paid work for the Local Authority Districts in Nottinghamshire County, alongside Nottingham City and the regional and national averages. We established how the types of jobs people do, and the level of skill associated with those jobs, relates to differences in earnings and income.
We explored NTU’s 2015 full-time undergraduate intake and looked at where our students came from using ACORN Household Classifications. We tested these classifications measured against students disclosed household income.
What we are going to do next?
Nottingham Civic Exchange will work with Nottingham Trent University staff, our partners, students and communities to establish a distinctive and innovative programme of research on Ordinary Working Families.
We will engage with Ordinary Working Families to undertake participatory action research, that will be designed to robustly explore the issues which these families and family members experience.
We will organise events which will bring together community representatives, professional agencies and public sector bodies with understanding and experience of the issues relating to Ordinary Working Families, to consider the outcomes of the research.
We will support the development of practical solutions and policy interventions of relevance to Ordinary Working Families in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, and the wider region.
Download the full report
The full initial report is available for download.
Alongside the publication of our first report on Ordinary Working Families, we have produced a range of interactive maps which are highlighted within our report. To allow for more in-depth analysis we have produced these as interactive maps below. A full list of interactive maps is provided under the yearly net household income after housing costs map below. To drill down from the national view please use the search widgets provided on the right hand side.
- Household Income
- Percentage of households that are 60% below median across the East Midlands
- Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Basic Housing Affordability
- Affordability of Lower Quintile Houses
- Largest Occupation Group returned in 2011 Census
- 2nd Largest occupation by neighbourhood area (MSOA) from 2011 Census
- Household income highlighting the 2nd to 6th income deciles
Key programme themes
Capturing the Lived Experience of Ordinary Working Families
Findings from the first report published from the Out of the Ordinary programme of work highlighted that not enough is understood about the everyday experiences of people coming from households described as Ordinary Working Families. Nottingham Civic Exchange will be working with a range of NTU and external partners to develop a dedicated focus on this issue as we move into the third phase of this programme. Associate Professor Clifford Stevenson will be leading this research cluster and support Nottingham Civic Exchange and our partners.
Our first focus will to develop a series of pilot studies to test our assumptions and develop evidence for future bids to external funding. If you wish to get involved please contact us via email. We shall be producing academic research and policy briefings on the issues uncovered. NTU academics will also be hosting a focused workshop during the autumn to map out additional research questions and ensure we create a multidisciplinary research team.
Keep up to date with our ongoing work on Ordinary Working Families via @NottsCivicEx
Academic lead for programme theme
Clifford Stevenson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at NTU.
He undertook his PhD at Lancaster University before taking up research posts at Lancaster and Queen’s University Belfast. He was Lecturer at Limerick University 2007-2012, Senior Lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast 2012-2015 and Reader at Anglia Ruskin University 2015-2016.
Clifford's research examines how social identities shape the everyday experience and social interactions of group members. His projects on crowd behaviour, on community identity and resilience and on intergroup contact in residential settings have been funded by the Irish Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council (UK) and the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council as well as by local and regional government.
Researching Housing and Ordinary Working Families
Findings from the first report published from the Out of the Ordinary programme of work highlighted that housing and housing affordability was a large area for further study. It was noted that large parts of Nottingham proved to be out of reach to prospective homeowners when the average household income was taken into account. Nottingham Civic Exchange will be working with a range of NTU and external partners to develop a dedicated focus on this issue as we move into the third phase of this programme. Professor Michael White will be leading this research cluster and support Nottingham Civic Exchange and our partners.
Our first focus will explore the challenges of housing affordability, fuel poverty and the private renting sector. If you wish to get involved please contact us via email. We shall be producing academic research and policy briefings on the issues of housing affordability at a local neighbourhood level and developing new work on fuel poverty. NTU academics will also be hosting a focused workshop during the autumn to map out additional research areas.
Academic Lead for Programme Theme
Michael White is Professor of Real Estate Economics in the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment at Nottingham Trent University. His research interests are in the fields of property economics, macroeconomics and in the relationship between markets and institutions.
He has published widely on real estate market analysis and is a board member of the European Real Estate Society and economics editor of the International Journal of Housing Policy.
His research has been funded by the ESRC, Department of Communities and Local Government, the Investment Property Forum, Scottish Widows Investment Partnership, Fannie Mae, and the Housing Research Foundation.
Precarious Work and Ordinary Working Families
Findings from the first report published from the Out of the Ordinary programme of work highlighted that low pay and insecure work created significant problems for Ordinary Working Families. This is connected to the relatively high proportion of Nottingham residents employed in sectors and occupations where low pay is common, such as caring roles and the leisure industry. Nottingham Civic Exchange will be working with a range of NTU and external partners to develop a dedicated focus on this issue as we move into the third phase of this programme. Dr Tom Vickers and Dr Stefanie Petschick will be leading this work and support Nottingham Civic Exchange and our partners.
Our first focus will identify which local stakeholders see precarious work as a problem that falls within their remit, draw insights from their understandings of its causes and consequences, and identify how they are responding. If you wish to get involved please contact us via email. We shall be producing academic research and policy briefings on the issues of precarious work and its wider social context, including for example the relationship to community networks, international migration and immigration controls, and benefit systems. NTU academics will also be hosting a public event in the summer of 2018 on the subject of ‘precarious workers organising’.
Keep up to date with our ongoing work on Ordinary Working Families via @NottsCivicEx
Academic lead for programme theme
Tom Vickers is Senior Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University and convenes the Critical Public Sociology Research Group. His research interests concern interactions between international movements of capital, commodities and people, and local conditions of exploitation and resistance.
He has published widely on the political economy of borders, welfare and work and is the Co-Convenor of the British Sociological Association Activism in Sociology Forum and a member of the associate editorial board of the Sociological Research Online journal.
Tom has received research funding from the ESRC, British Academy, Leverhulme Trust, the NIHR School for Social Care Research, Nottinghamshire County Council, and Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum.
Stefanie Petschick is Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University. Her research explores the impact of neoliberal rationality on different areas of British society, with a focus on the way neoliberalism allocates precarity differentially.
How to get involved
If you are working with households that could be defined as Just About Managing as a researcher or practitioner we want to hear from you.
We will be hosting a workshop on the lived experiences of Ordinary Working Families in the near future and would welcome contributions from Nottingham Trent University and external experts.
If you have reports, evidence or contacts interested in this area of work we will be willing to engage with them.
Out of the Ordinary – Call for evidence
We are launching a call for evidence to gather views on households that are just about managing. Much has been made politically on those who are just about managing and we aim to develop practical solutions that help these people and to help better understand their lived experiences. Our initial research into this group locally highlights a number of interesting findings. On Thursday 15 June, we published our analysis of the local view of those who are just about managing in and around Nottingham to stimulate debate and to launch a programme of work to research and implement practical policy recommendations that ensure these households manage better in the times ahead.
As part of our programme, we invite all interested parties to share with us relevant information, ideas and comments about this group and their situation. This evidence call will gather material in one place to help develop a more nuanced and detailed view that will lead to better policy recommendations.
This call for evidence will help us to map the current activity designed to support this group and enable us to connect our resources and skills to pertinent areas of interest you identify.
We are specifically interested in:
- Evidence based on households lived experiences
- Practical examples of programmes that are working to support people who fit within these groups
- Methods to map where Ordinary Working Families and those who are just about managing live
- The difference between the objective and subjective views of citizens who are just about managing.
We recommend you consider reading our initial report released on Thursday 15 June to help frame your response.
Please email your Evidence Submission, no more than 3000 words, if you would be interested in developing your ideas in partnership with NTU academics please get in touch. The deadline for submissions has been set for Sunday 13 August to ensure that all the material can be synthesised so that it feeds into our practical research phase that will begin over the summer.