Poverty and institutional care

Rebecca Roberts
Wednesday, 25 September 2013

As part of the Centre’s evidence and policy review on poverty and ‘institutional care’ on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation we held an anti-poverty forum last week. The aim was to share our initial findings, discuss them with those working in the field and consider the poverty risks and potential solutions. Our study has covered a range of settings including immigration detention, looked after children, people with disabilities, prisons and psychiatric institutions.

In trying to identify well evidenced strategies for reducing poverty amongst people living in institutional care we find that interventions tend to focus on support for people transitioning out of institutions – predominantly in the arenas of education and employment.  There are however clear gaps in the evidence base – especially in high quality studies which follow up people’s incomes over time. In particular there are very few studies that focus on immigration detention or indeed on disability, and yet these are groups that are at serious risk.

What is evident from the investigation so far, and the discussion at the forum, is that while the reasons for being in institutional settings may differ, the experience of poverty is central to the lives of people prior to, during and after institutional care. We are talking about some of the most vulnerable, hidden, and under-prioritised sections of society. For governments and policy makers, concerns about ‘poverty’ are rarely high on the agenda, whether it be for children in care, prisoners, or people in psychiatric institutions. Poverty is bound up with and related to a range of individual and social problems including social exclusion, poor health, lack of access to financial resources, to name but a few. If the values of a society are to be tested by its concern for the most vulnerable, there is something seriously lacking here, which makes it all the more important to discuss strategies for raising awareness and policy attention.

Our findings will be reported later in 2013 and we welcome the prospect of continuing work with partners to raise the profile of poverty risks for people entering and leaving institutional care. If you share our concerns and want to work with us we would appreciate contact with you so that the impact can be widened and strengthened.

To find out more about our research into poverty and institutional care visit our project page.