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Strathclyde Business School

Avoiding consumer poverty through collaboration

By Kathy Hamilton - Posted on 20 March 2014

Dr Kathy Hamilton from the Department of Marketing considers the issue of consumer vulnerability as a contributor to UK poverty.

With this week’s budget providing further evidence of an apparently improving economy we should be in no doubt that the issues of consumer vulnerability remain only too real for people the length and breadth of Britain. Consumer vulnerability can be defined as a network of risk which can conspire to push people into poverty. Issues including a personal change in circumstance, such as managing a larger family, or dealing with unemployment or bereavement – through to rising living costs such as utility bills, and larger basket prices at our supermarkets.

It’s through this prism that the Economic Social Research Council (ESRC) has been conducting a series of seminars looking at consumer vulnerability. The fifth seminar in the series was held at the University of Strathclyde with its central focus being modern poverty.

The series is timely in that it’s been looking to provide a space to challenge the issues facing consumers in order to promote dialogue and an exchange of knowledge between researchers, practitioners, and policy makers; and to create a supportive forum through which to foster methodological good practice.

The day was inspiring and thought-provoking, with presentations which generated significant discussion. Our first speaker was Dr Katherine Trebeck, a research and policy advisor in Oxfam’s Global Research Team. Katherine looked at the macro context of consumer vulnerability, exploring a broken economy, inequalities, and a failing social safety net. Katherine explained the findings of Oxfam's Humankind Index for Scotland to put forward an alternative approach and consider what priorities people in Scotland have for their communities.

This was complemented by the ESRC research project “Poverty, Shame and Social Exclusion: A study in seven countries”. Our second speaker was Dr Elaine Chase, from the Oxford Institute of Social Policy, University of Oxford. Elaine presented the report’s findings which highlighted that refocusing the debate away from measures of material deprivation towards the psychological and social consequences of poverty provides new insights into how poverty is perpetuated.

Our third speaker was Dr Luca Visconti from ESCP Europe, Paris campus. Luca’s presentation was based around the question of whether poor consumers experience poor consumption. The programme ended with a panel discussion that included more practical examples of responses to poverty. Sara Bryson, Policy & Business Development Officer at Children North East, spoke about a recent initiative called Poverty Proofing the School Day. Lisa Glass, who currently works with an Edinburgh based charity, draw on her experiences of working with vulnerable communities experiencing poverty, homelessness, financial exclusion and blood-borne viruses. Dr Alia Weston, University of Strathclyde, reflected on her research on the creative and entrepreneurial activities of disenfranchised communities, including those facing severe poverty in Africa.

At a time when there is a growing awareness of increasing levels of poverty in the UK the seminar series has highlighted the importance of forging links with relevant third sector or public policy organisations so that research can become practical meaningful and relevant. It is by understanding the issues and by finding new ways of tackling them that we can work to protect consumers and promote higher standards of living for all.

What are your thoughts on the challenges facing consumers in 2014? Is enough being done to identify and deal with the problems in our society? 

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