The new 'precariat': living on the edge in unstable Britain

By Simon Barrow
January 13, 2013

As the distorted language of 'shirkers and strivers' becomes ever more embedded in governing culture, it is definitely worth having a look at the new book Poverty and Insecurity: Life in low-pay, no-pay Britain (Studies in Poverty, Inequality and Social Exclusion), by Tracy Shildrick, Robert MacDonald, Colin Scott Webster and Kayleigh Garthwaite. It was published by Policy Press on 19 December 2012.

In summary: How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the 'Precariat', where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being?

This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about 'the workless' and 'the poor', by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain.

Work may be 'the best route out of poverty' sometimes, but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty - and of long-term churning between low-skilled 'poor work' and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a 'hard-to-reach group' of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many.

About the authors: Tracy Shildrick is a Professor of Sociology at Teesside University. She has researched and written widely around issues to do with young people, poverty and worklessness. Robert MacDonald is Professor of Sociology at Teesside University. He has long-standing research interests in the areas of youth transitions, social exclusion and unemployment. Colin Webster is Professor of Criminology at Leeds Metropolitan University. He has long-standing research interests in ethnicity and crime and poverty and social exclusion. Finally, Kayleigh Garthwaite is a researcher in the Geography Department at Durham University. Her research interests focus on health, welfare-to-work and identity.

"This book is about one important part of the growing precariat, those who have fallen out of old working-class communities. It should make people sad and angry. It is a great corrective to the utilitarian bias exhibited by mainstream politicians," comments Professor Guy Standing, whose own book in the area is entitled The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (Bloomsbury Academic, 2011).

* The Precariat:

* Poverty & Insecurity:

* The low-pay, no-pay cycle and recurrent poverty:


Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

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