Spaces of austerity: experiences of youth in Dublin and Cork

Photo by Piet den Blanken www.denblanken.com

The 2008 economic crisis and subsequent austerity undoubtedly affected everyday life for people living in Ireland. From the bailout of the so-called Troika of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission, the foundation of the National Asset Management Association to the attempted implementation of water charges, the aftershocks of a homegrown property bubble combined with an international financial crisis left no one untouched.

Although Ireland successfully left the Troika programme and an economic recovery is underway, the lives of many did not return to ‘normal’; in 2015, 25.5% of the population was living in deprivation – compared to 11.8% in 2007, precarious working conditions expanded, take-home pay fell or stagnated for many, and homelessness is still rising sharply. It is therefore critical to move beyond economic figures to investigate the lived realities of austerity and recession as experienced by those affected.

Austerity particularly ‘bites’ in disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods harbouring those most vulnerable to layoffs, most dependent on state supports and thus vulnerable to retracting and reforming state practices. Youth is particularly vulnerable to recession and austerity. Young people are often the first to lose employment, lack the experience to regain employment and do not possess financial reserves to fall back on. Furthermore, several austerity measures specifically addressed youth, such as the age-specific reductions of Jobseeker’s Allowance and certain activation programmes. My investigation engaged youth aged 18 to 25 from Knocknaheeny in Cork and Ballymun in Dublin to illuminate the experiences of austerity by disadvantaged urban youth.

As a geographer, I investigated the role of place and the neighbourhood in shaping the localised emergence of austerity. Indeed, nationally implemented austerity did not arrive equally in both neighbourhoods; its arrival was shaped by local histories of regeneration, the embeddedness of neighbourhoods within their city, and their level of institutional and governmental penetration. Such deeper institutional penetration in Ballymun, for example, channelled austerity experience to spheres of training and social services, while in Knocknaheeny it was often experienced in the income-related spheres of work and social welfare.

Furthermore, the interactions of reduced social welfare, falling income through work and minimised access to affordable housing restricted opportunities for disadvantaged urban youth, excluding them from social networks, employment, support and leisure options that the city traditionally offered. Not only did inhabitants have less money themselves, facilities and services left their neighbourhoods through processes of austerity. This increased costs of access and thus reduced availability. This was most visible in housing; youth cannot leave the parental house and becomes trapped in unfavourable living conditions in an urban landscape without possibilities.

Austerity, thus, has differential effects beyond the socio-economic characteristics of individuals and groups, it is also spatially variegated. Austerity and recession create new urban spaces. Understanding the socio-spatial variations of austerity’s impacts is essential to create a more inclusive society. Dedicated policy and support in these urban spaces is required, especially now that the economy is recovering, to prevent the consolidation of such spaces of exclusion as a permanent legacy of the financial crisis.

PhD Scholar discusses involving the patient in research from the study design stage


Kieran Walsh, PhD Scholar and Research Pharmacist, UCC

As a research pharmacist, I am interested in understanding the patient’s perspective on issues. For instance, why a patient doesn’t take his/her statin as prescribed, or what a patient thinks about being prescribed antipsychotics. Historically research has been conducted by researchers ‘to’, ‘about’ or ‘for’ patients, with little regard as to what actually matters to the patient.  However, there has been a shifting attitude by the research community towards involving the patient in research from the study design stage, asking them “what’s important to you?” Involvement of members of the public and patients has the potential to increase the utility of findings to both researchers and to patients. My PhD research is focusing on developing strategies to reduce the inappropriate prescribing of antipsychotics in people with dementia, utilising participatory methods.

So, when I saw the advertisement for PG6025, Community-Based Participatory Research, I was naturally intrigued. Although I had no experience of conducting participatory research, I was very interested to get involved, learn the skills and apply them to my own research. The 5-credit module involved a blend of classroom-based theory and discussions as well as on-site participatory activities with our community partners. The cohort of PhD students that I was part of, consisted of a huge range of disciplines from, for example, pharmacy, public health and sociology, and our diverse perspectives enabled rich discussion and analysis. We also received top-class direction from the knowledgeable and enthusiastic lecturers, Catherine, Kenneth and Ruth. Engaging with our community partners was also a really rewarding experience. I felt honoured to listen to their stories and I believe they really enjoyed somebody asking “Well, tell me what’s important to you?” As a group of PhD researchers, academics and community partners, we collectively gathered, prioritised and created novel research questions that were important to this community. These research questions were subsequently answered by undergraduate students the following year to the satisfaction of our community partners.

I came away from the module with a better understanding of the principles of community-based participatory research and strategies for applying them to my own research. As a result of participating in this module, I was better able to engage with my advisory group members who had dementia, and enable true discussions on the issue of antipsychotics. I would highly recommend this module to any PhD student in STEM, Medicine and Health, particularly if you are considering involving members of the public or patients in the design or conduct of your research. I learned valuable skills and knowledge in this unique module, and I also found it a really enjoyable experience.

Module Details
Target Audience: PhD Students
Credit Weighting: 5
Proposed Start Date: Semester Two 2018
Registration and further information: Contact Dr Ruth Hally – email: ruth.hally@ucc.ie

Modules for PhD students – Community-Based Participatory Research

Community-Based Participatory Research – PG6025 
2016 Recipient of the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

What is Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) and why should it be part of your/your students’ PhD journey?
Community based-participatory research focuses on the reciprocity and democratization of knowledge production between stakeholders. Students engage in community-led authentic research projects with the attendant benefits of increased societal engagement and enhanced employment prospects through the development of research skills; project management skills; an engaged orientation, and a critical and inquiring mind-set. Through engaging with community partners on real-world research issues, students are made aware of the role of research beyond the university’s walls and gain an increased sense of responsibility, civic engagement and increased motivation in supporting community partners. This module was first introduced in semester 2, 2016. UCC partnered with The Westgate Foundation in 2016 and Before 5 Family Centre in 2017. In 2018, UCC will partner with a new community group. The feedback (below) from participating students has been very positive and we are looking forward to working alongside a new group of PhD students.

Student Feedback
“This module provides a unique opportunity to engage in and experience CBPR. So often PhDs can feel isolated in their research. This engagement with UCC and the community feels ground breaking, empowering and democratic in that everyone has a contribution to make. We all have something to learn from each other – we need to stop and listen.”

“I have learned something valuable from my encounters with everyone involved in this module. The module coordinators were all pretty inspirational in their own way. The PhD group were all empathetic and engaged.”

Module Details
Target Audience: PhD Students
Credit Weighting: 5
Proposed Start Date: Semester Two 2018
Registration and further information: Contact Dr Ruth Hally – email: ruth.hally@ucc.ie