Opinion piece: Understanding modern poverties

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted deep-seated poverties across the globe. From dramatic falls in employment to increased food insecurity, the past 18 months have not only emphasised existing inequalities but have created wider poverties which touch us in new ways.

Nicholas Harris (1)

The pandemic has driven falling incomes and more time at home through furlough and lockdowns. Home-schooling children has put increasing pressure on family budgets while bills have risen. Government financial support, although welcome, doesn’t reach everyone or go far enough for many. There is also limited public awareness of how to access support, which can be both complex and time consuming.

Behind the headlines are even more, stark, often unseen poverties – the unintended consequences of our response to the pandemic and the shift to a new societal norm. Among these is remote working - initially introduced during lockdown, homeworking looks set to stay for many and there’s been no sweeping return to the nine to five office routine. Businesses may be feeling the benefits of more digital processes and a reduction in office overheads but are the impacts on remote workers quite so positive? Are we seeing emerging new ‘poverties around a lack of effective workspace, barriers to efficient technology, higher bills from being at home more and a reduction in social interaction, with resulting impacts on both physical and mental health?

These are just some of the aspects Stonewater looked at when we moved to a permanent hybrid working model, combining virtual homeworking with a small network of physical collaborative hubs. While our own colleagues have welcomed the switch (which includes more flexible working, interest-free loans to create comfortable workspaces and updated benefits), it also led us to question how the variety of inequalities created by the pandemic may be impacting our customers, many of whom are among Britain’s lowest paid workers. To better understand the challenges, we have commissioned independent research by leading think-tank Demos, to look at how the housing sector, government and society as a whole can respond to the issues faced by low-paid workers in a post-pandemic environment.

With over 33,000 homes right across the UK, Stonewater is in a unique position to examine the impact of this ‘new normal’ on workers up and down the country by speaking directly with people experiencing the challenges. The report will look at the impacts of remote working and identify the barriers faced by low-paid workers as well as the consequences of this shift on wellbeing, work-life balance, and personal finances. Demos’ work will focus particularly on those who earn less than £20,000, and the potential new poverties being created, such as digital poverty, connectivity poverty, social and space poverty.

By launching this research, we can better understand both the challenges and the opportunities we have to address some of the inequalities created by the pandemic.  We hope that the report and its recommendations will create a pathway for not only the housing sector but employers across the country to respond to the new modern poverties around remote working.

We’ll be sharing our findings in a live event in October 2021. For more information, and to keep up to date with what we’re doing, please visit our thought leadership page.

Nicholas Harris; Chief Executive, Stonewater