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Household Financial Security: What can we learn from research in the U.K.?

By: Matthieu Despard, Faculty Director with the Social Policy Institute 

Imagine: A Trans-Atlantic Policy Forum on household financial security.

A Trans-Atlantic Policy Forum could bring together academic researchers,
policy makers, advocates, and corporate leaders in the U.S. and U.K. to develop
insights to fuel changes in public policies and corporate behavior to promote the
financial security of low- and moderate-income (LMI) individuals and families.
That was the inspiration I felt after my June 2022 visit to the Centre
on Housing Savings and Asset Management
(CHASM) at the University of
(U.K.) for the International Visiting Research Fellowship Scheme
at CHASM. 

But maybe I was just taken in by the newness of my surroundings and the buzz
of meeting researchers from a different country. Yet three months after
returning to the U.S., I still think this is a good idea. Let me explain. 

Well-Aligned Policy Research 

During my visit, I was struck by the similarity of CHASM and the Social
Policy Institute’s (SPI) research, such as Lorenza Antonucci’s research on gig work which mirrors SPI’s growing portfolio
of research on employment and financial security, including gig work and self-employment. CHASM scholars Danny McGowan and Christoph Görtz have been conducting research on the
effects of the U.K.’s furlough scheme and mortgage holidays on financial hardship of households during
COVID-19, which is similar to a series of SPI reports from the Socioeconomic Impact of COVID-19 and Expanded
Child Tax Credit
projects. Those are just a few examples of overlapping
research between CHASM and SPI. 

Opportunities for Shared Learning 

Not all research from CHASM and SPI overlaps. CHASM director Louise Overton is leading research on the use of pensions in the U.K. – a topic SPI could explore
given the dramatic shift in the U.S. from defined benefit to defined
contribution plans. The topic for CHASM’s Annual Research Conference which I attended, was
the intersection of energy policies to reach net zero and household financial
security. In my comments as a discussant, I remarked at how I was unaware of
this conversation happening in the U.S. and how we face particular challenges
with respect to transportation (e.g., the affordability
of EVs
for LMI consumers). 

It is not just research topics, but research methods around which shared
learning can occur. I was thrilled to learn about Kayleigh Garthwaite’s COVID Realities project and its use of digital
participatory research methods that leverage social media and offer individuals
new ways of
engaging in research
and elevating their voices

Opportunities for Cross-National Policy Analysis 

CHASM and SPI’s research lays the foundation for comparing outcomes related
to policies in the U.S. and U.K.. Was the U.K. Furlough Scheme more impactful
than expanded Unemployment Insurance and Economic Impact Payments in the U.S.
for workers who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic? I am currently
conducting research on “benefits cliffs” – the loss or reduction of public benefits
LMI households experience as their income rises. How do the income phase-out’s
for public benefit programs compare between the U.S. and U.K.? What are policy
options for mitigating benefits cliffs? These are but a few questions we could
explore together.  

A Shared Vision Amidst a Changing Economic Landscape 

I believe the principal question CHASM and SPI are trying to answer is the
same: “How can markets and public policies promote a greater degree of shared
prosperity to promote financial security and economic mobility for LMI
households?” Evidence is clear on a central point: neoliberal economic policies have resulted in extreme and
growing economic inequality which has an outsized effect on people and communities of color. This
realization is reflected in numerous initiatives focused on inclusive growth and shared prosperity

Thus, there is an opportunity among researchers, advocacy groups, policy
makers, corporate leaders, think tanks, and foundations in both
countries to better understand policies and market practices that will promote
shared prosperity. 

Start Small, Build Relationships 

The best part of my visit with CHASM was the chance to meet people and
realize shared interests. The idea of a policy forum may sound big and
complicated, but it needn’t be. It starts just by connecting to share ideas,
compare research notes, and engage in lively conversation about the positive
change we are trying to create in a world that needs new ideas that point to a
better future.  

This post is a reflection by Mathieu Despard, faculty director for SPI, who completed a two-week fellowship in June 2022 at the University of Birmingham (U.K.) as part the International Visiting Research Fellowship Scheme of the Centre on Housing Savings and Asset Management.