Prof. Birgit Pfau-Effinger and her team (Dr. Christopher Grages, Dr. Ralf Och and Mara Papenhagen) at the University of Hamburg hosted the third Meeting of the EUROSHIP National Stakeholder Committee (NSC) on 5 January 2023. The members of the NSC in Germany represent a wide range of different interest groups: Dr. Heidrun Mollenkopf representing the German Working Group of Senior Citizens Organizations (BAGSO), Herbert Düll representing the German Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), Sarina Strumpen representing the German Association for Old-Age Care (KDA), Dietmar Erdmeier representing the United Service Worker Unions of Germany (Ver.di) andMichaelDavid from the German Welfare Association Diakonia representing the German National Poverty Conference (NAK).
The meeting took place as a virtual event. At the beginning of the meeting, Birgit Pfau-Effinger and Christopher Grages provided a brief overview of the current state of research in EUROSHIP and summarized the research activities of the last year. Afterwards Christopher Grages presented research findings from the life-course interviews that have been conducted in the EUROSHIP project. The participants contributed to a lively discussion and made substantial recommendations and discussed challenges for further research.
Overview of the presentation on old-age poverty
Christopher Grages presented findings of the comparative analysis of old-age poverty in Europe . The presentation was based on the life-course interviews with older citizens (born between 1940-1950) that have been conducted in the seven EUROSHIP study countries (DE, UK, EE, ES, IT, HU, NO). The study examines how older people cope with low financial means and in how far different coping strategies lead to social resilience. The findings show that resilience against poverty in old age depends to a large extent on the availability of external support like social policy measures and other forms of support provided by family, friends or the third sector. Access to such external support may cushion the social risks. However, relevant supporting measures show large cross-national variation as do the social risks that are related to old-age poverty. Furthermore, how citizens experience and cope with economic hardship depends on individual life-courses and resources, as well as structural and cultural differences.
Grages pointed out that the study introduces an innovative typology of coping strategies and examines how older low-income persons make use of their individual (health and living conditions, gender and educational background) and social resources (family, community and public support) in order to achieve social resilience. The study also includes reflections on the interaction of national social policies and cultural ideas with different forms of social support and individual abilities. This focus is instrumental in order to understand differences and similarities in the use of coping strategies of persons affected by old-age poverty among European welfare states.
Input from the stakeholders
The stakeholder committee members appreciated the efforts the team had made to gain access to vulnerable target populations for the life-course interviews. They highly valued the most interesting results of the study on poverty in old age. Furthermore, they raised some important questions and critically reflected on the preliminary results of the study.
The stakeholders drew attention to the special importance of employment biographies in the context of poverty in old-age and emphasized the role that specific economic sectors play in this context. They encouraged the Hamburg team to give more systematic consideration to this aspect in the further analysis of the material regarding experiences of poverty and coping strategies. The Hamburg researchers agreed. They explained that the emergence of poverty in the available interview material is often linked to self-employment, migration, disruptive life events, work in the informal economy and fragmented employment biographies due to career breaks as a result of care responsibilities or – especially in the case of the Eastern European countries under investigation – due to the political system change after 1990.
With a view to the UK, the stakeholders reflected on the specific composition of the sample. Many of them were homeless people living in shelters. They emphasized the specific character of the housing situation in the UK, leading to a duality of poverty. Some people have property despite being poor (which is disproportionately common in the UK) and are thus basically secured but at the same time excluded from some support measures and benefits due to means-testing. In other cases, persons affected by poverty fall completely through the safety net in the UK and are consequently dependent on support from the third sector. In this context, the Hamburg researchers pointed out that the specific composition of the sample focuses more on particularly vulnerable subpopulations and do not aim to provide a comprehensive picture of poverty in the UK.
Furthermore, the stakeholders emphasized the influence of gender on the prevalence of poverty in old age and on the choice of strategies to cope with and/or overcome poverty. In this context, they also emphasized the importance of (often female) caring responsibilities in the life course for the development of effective coping strategies in old age. The Hamburg researchers agreed with the considerations regarding the influence of gender and reported that gender-specific differences in the choice of coping strategies can be found in the interview material. For example, women were more likely to actively resist difficult financial circumstances and to attempt to actively transform their situation, while men were more likely to accept the situation. However, the mechanisms behind these gender-specific patterns require further investigation.
In addition, the stakeholders argued that disadvantages or dimensions of discrimination in terms of intersectionality can accumulate over the life-course. For instance, low educational qualifications may lead to low income and later to low pension entitlements or disruptive events (sometimes taking place in parallel) such as the death of partners, illness or caring responsibilities. Accumulation of such disadvantages can have an impact on poverty in old age. In addition, the stakeholders highlighted that dealing with poverty or unemployment can be easier if they are collective rather than individual experiences or fates. In this context, the Hamburg researchers explained that the interlocking of different risk factors such as education, gender or health can be observed throughout the interview material and often leads to passive coping strategies and even resignation.
Finally, the stakeholders referred to how migration shape the experiences of old-age security and old-age poverty. Migration is often associated with several risks in this context. In addition to the fragmentation of employment biographies, immigrants experience language barriers and access barriers to welfare state support and authorities. The Hamburg researchers explained that the inaccessibility of welfare state services and support measures for migrants can often only be remedied by low-threshold and tailor-made specific offers of help. Family, social networks and civil society organisations also play a crucial role. This can be seen in the example of discrimination against Roma in Hungary. Reference was also made to the difference between EU citizens and non-EU citizens. The latter is even more exposed to risks of poverty and social exclusion. This is a problem currently increasing in the UK after Brexit.
In the final part of the session, Birgit Pfau-Effinger provided an overview of the next steps of the EUROSHIP research project in 2023. She thanked the stakeholders for the time and effort they had invested in participating in the German National Stakeholder Committee. She emphasized that the team appreciated the many insightful comments and suggestions provided by the committee`s members, offering numerous new inspirations and ideas for the research process.