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Economic isolation and its effect on employment and well-being for women

Author: Lisa Buckner
Institution: School of Sociology & Social Policy
Type of case study: Research

About the research

National well-being and economic growth are stated priority initiatives for the UK government. Despite this focus, previous research shows that women work less and live in poverty at greater rates than men. How then does this labour market disconnection impact on health and well-being for women?

This research study seeks to explain how economic isolation can impact the physical and mental health of women. The researchers used neighbourhood analysis to explore some of the operational contradictions in public policies aimed at regenerating underserved communities, with a special focus on the experiences of women residents.

The researchers found that even in wards with significant funding for regeneration, one third of working-age women are workless due to a variety of reasons: home and/or family obligations, long-term sickness or disability, early retirement, or seeking work. Wards with high unemployment reported statistically high levels of long-term illness, health problems or disability that limits daily activity or work that can be performed (as defined in the 2001 census); they also reported higher levels of poor health (as self-reported on the census). Of special concern are the 30 per cent of workless women who reported permanent sickness and disability.

In addition to physical health problems, the female focus group participants expressed feelings of stress, worthlessness, depression, and isolation due to economic isolation. Although highly motivated to work, researchers found that a lack of qualifications, tax and benefit system limitations, and lack of affordable childcare were a few of the multiple barriers to employment, especially for those from ethnic minority groups. These challenges were cited by the women as causes for their demoralisation.

During interviews, the representatives of stakeholder voluntary and statutory organisations supported the claims of the female residents. The stakeholders offered ideas to increase the effectiveness of regeneration strategies, such as educational and employment mentoring for women in easily accessible community centres.

Based on these findings, the authors suggest that to improve the physical and mental health of women in priority regeneration areas, a holistic approach in designing support programmes are necessary to address the complex needs of residents.


The researchers used a mixed method approach to examine the local dynamics of employment and health in five neighbourhoods in Birmingham and Newcastle, two UK cities that have received significant funding from the national regeneration programme.

Data were collected from the ward-level 2001 Census, regeneration strategy and evaluation documents. They also conducted 24 stakeholder interviews and focus groups with female ward residents.


Escott, K. and Buckner, L. (2013) ’Improving employment and women’s well-being in regeneration programmes’, International Journal of Public Sector Management, 26(3), pp. 250-263 doi: 10.1108/IJPSM-10-2011-0125