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Just Managing?

 | 
Mark O'Brien
, 
Paul Kyprianou

Appendix I: How the Research Was Conducted

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1The intention behind the Getting By? project was to capture what life is like for typical families in low paid employment, and the extent to which they can maintain an acceptable living standard. In defining ‘acceptable living standard’ the work of the Centre for Research in Social Policy and the Family Budget Unit of the University of York was used. This established a Minimum Income Standard (MIS) and was based on research with the wider public, specifying items that need to be included in a minimum household budget. This is regularly updated and can be accessed as an online calculator. The MIS forms the basis for setting the Living Wage (outside London).

2Participation in the project was open to Liverpool families that had at least one child under eighteen years of age, and with at least one member of the household in paid employment, whether this was part-or full-time work. Another selection criterion was that the family income after tax and National Insurance, but taking account of tax and welfare benefit payments and paid employment, had to fall below the MIS in the UK. The families could be either lone parents or couples, and could include extended families living within the same household and sharing their finances. A decision was taken not to seek out families whose situation was extreme; for instance, families who were about to become homeless or where there were issues with alcohol or substance misuse.

3The project was widely publicised through an interview on BBC Radio Merseyside at peak listening time; and through local Community and Voluntary Sector organisations, including Citizens’ Advice Bureaus, registered social landlords and credit unions. Publicity was circulated via electronic newsletters and broadcasts such as those of Liverpool Charity and Voluntary Services, as well as widespread circulation of a flyer for interested groups or organisations. An information sheet was also produced for families who expressed an interest in the project.

4From late November 2013, the process of recruiting the thirty families began. The families were mainly recruited via contact with community organisations from across the City. An effort was made to include ethnic minority families to reflect Liverpool’s demographic profile, but also because they are disproportionately highly represented amongst groups in low-paid employment. Families were recruited from Chinese, Black British, Polish and Somali backgrounds.

5At the same time six community researchers were recruited and trained, one of these being a Cantonese speaker. In addition, a participant information sheet was produced detailing the methodology, including ensuring informed consent and confidentiality, and explaining how the information gathered would be analysed. One of the project’s two academic advisors then reviewed the research for ethical aspects. This ensured that appropriate ethical standards were met.

6The families each took part in five separate recorded in-depth interviews over a year. The initial interview for each family established informed consent and gathered basic demographic and income data. The spending diary was also explained. The interviewers also asked for general information about how the family was managing financially. The first round of interviews took place at the end of 2013 and the start of 2014.

7In the spring, summer and autumn of 2014 (at approximately three month intervals), the families took part in further interviews. These were informed by the responses to the first and subsequent interviews, which were subject to thematic analysis. They were also informed by regular debriefing of the community interviewers. Recurring interview themes were identified and then subject to further inquiry. The interviewers followed up any specific issues affecting their families, for example the challenges facing a family with a disabled member.

8In the months when the families were not being interviewed the community researchers contacted them by phone. The point of this was to find out whether the family were having any difficulties keeping their spending diary, and to see if there had been any significant change in their circumstances that would need to be taken account of in the next interview.

9The final interviews at the end of 2014 reviewed the families’ experience of the previous twelve months in managing their finances and their use of the spending dairy. It also focused upon their thoughts about the future and further changes to tax credits and welfare payments.

10Participation in the project was incentivised, with the payment of £30 for the first interview and then £5 a week being saved over the duration of the family’s involvement. At the end of the project the families received the remaining amount.

11Each family’s income and expenditure was recorded by them in a printed spending diary. The data from the spending diaries was collated and analysed. Where families had not completed 52 weeks, their aggregated weekly spend was weighted to provide an annual figure for various items of income and expenditure.

12The information from the spending diaries for each family was broken down into the following elements: rent; utilities (water, gas and electricity); fuel; weekly shopping; food; transport; clothing and shoes; unexpected costs; paying back debt. One family amended their spending diaries to identify ‘food and fuel’ costs separately.

13Over the course of the year six families dropped out of the project. The first families to leave the project were those with the largest number of children. One person decided not to continue when they got married, and their new partner was in a well-paid job. Another person didn’t want to continue when they lost their job. Another got a new job and decided not to continue. The last person dropped out due to family circumstances. None of these families completed spending diaries.

14For the duration of the project a website provided an open forum for discussion about issues to do with poverty and austerity as it affects Liverpool families. It also provided links for advice and help, and signposts to relevant services.

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