Recent Research and Policy Work

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Making Ends Meet:  Women’s Perspectives on Access to Lending

We have published the Consortium research paper on women’s access to lending entitled ‘Making Ends Meet’.  This paper examines the research on current debt levels and the different types of borrowing available with a focus on problem debt and high-cost lending especially for those on low incomes.
The aim of this research was to explore the perspectives of women, living and working in disadvantaged and rural areas of Northern Ireland, on why they need to borrow money, where they go to get this money and their experiences of using different forms of lending, particularly the more expensive forms of credit.
The research found that the majority of women had needed to borrow money in the last three years.  Many reported borrowing money to make ends meet or for essential items such as white goods, furniture, Christmas, etc.  The use of high-cost credit was widespread particularly though doorstep lending and credit/store cards.  Worryingly there were also example of borrowing through loan sharks.  Women also reported feeling the impact of austerity/welfare reform with many struggling to make ends meet on benefits or in low-paid work.  The initial 5-week wait for Universal Credit had caused severe financial hardship and distress for many women.
The research made a number of key recommendations including the need for greater access to affordable credit for low-income families as a way of reducing reliance on high-cost lending.  The Consortium also recommended the extension and strengthening of the welfare mitigations package in Northern Ireland to include new challenges such as Universal Credit.
Copies of the summary of the research and links to the full paper have been circulated to all MLAs, Policy Workers in political parties and other key contacts.  Details about the research were sent to Deirdre Hargey, Minister for Communities and following this the Consortium have been invited to take part in the local launch of the UK Financial Wellbeing Strategy.
A summary of the research and a copy of the full research paper is available to download from the Women’s Regional Consortium website:

If you would like to discuss the research further please contact Siobhán @ WSN on 028 9023 6923 or via email at policy@wsn.org.uk

Research:  Universal Credit


Siobhán has started work on a piece of research on Universal Credit.  Following the launch of the Consortium research paper on the Impact of Austerity/Welfare Reform on women and Siobhan’s work with the CliffEdge Coalition there is a body of evidence on the impact of Universal Credit on women particularly around the 5-week wait.

Given the ongoing situation with the Corona virus this will limit the ability to carry out any focus group research on this issue.  Siobhán will continue to work on the background research for this paper in the meantime.  Siobhán is asking for help from women’s centres/groups and Consortium partners (if possible!) as follows:

    • General Information on problems with Universal Credit – if you have noticed any issues with Universal Credit in your work with women and would be willing to have a chat about them please contact Siobhán.
    • Case Studies – please send in any case studies that you have on the difficulties women have experienced with Universal Credit.  If you know of any women that would consent to having a telephone conversation about their experiences please pass the details on to Siobhán and she will make contact with them directly.

You can contact Siobhán on any of these issues on 028 9023 6923 or via email at policy@wsn.org.uk.  


Policy: Consultation Responses


Dormant Accounts Consultation
An electronic submission was made to the Dormant Accounts consultation in December 2019.

Call for Evidence:  Social Security – Women’s Budget Group
A submission was made to this call for evidence from the national Women’s Budget Group in January 2020.  This submission relied on feedback from the Consortium’s research paper on the Impact of Austerity/Welfare Reform on Women and Siobhan’s work as part of the CliffEdge NI Coalition. 

Policy: Forthcoming Consultations

Hate Crime Legislation in Northern Ireland – Independent Review
Hate crime is a generic term used to describe offences which are motivated by hostility/bias based on a personal characteristic of the victim.  At present gender is not a category within hate crime legislation.  This consultation is asking for feedback in a number of areas including whether new categories of hate crime should be created including for gender. 

Siobhán is working on preparing a Consortium response to this lengthy consultation with the help of The Women’s Policy Group who are producing guidance on making responses.  The full consultation runs to 310 pages with 68 questions and it is quite legal and complex.  A shorter online survey is also available which is simpler and has 25 questions.

Details about the consultation including the consultation document itself and the shorter online survey can be found here

The closing date for this consultation is 31st March 2020.

Review of Personal Independence Payment (PIP)


Individuals and organisations who have information or experience of how the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment process is working in Northern Ireland are being asked to share their views as part of the second Independent Review of PIP.  The Review will look at the operation of the PIP assessment process.
The call for evidence is aimed at organisations and individuals who have information that is relevant to how the PIP assessment process is working for new claims, award reviews and change of circumstances.
Siobhán was hoping to carry out some focus group research on this issue but due to the Corona virus this is unlikely to be able to take place.  If you wish to make a contribution to this consultation or know of any women who would be willing to take part in a telephone interview as part of this consultation please contact Siobhán with the details.  A couple of good case studies highlighting the issues/problems may be all we can expect in terms of actual evidence from women given the limitations with the Corona virus so it would be really good to hear from you if you could participate in any way.
Details about the call for evidence are available here

The closing date for this consultation is 29th April 2020.

Campaigns:  CliffEdge NI Coalition


WSN and the Consortium continue to be members of this important Coalition.  The new Communities Minister Deidre Hargey has committed to extended the existing welfare mitigations beyond the March 2020 cliff edge.  The Coalition met with the Minister to discuss our concerns in January 2020 and it was clear that it was a priority for her Department to continue the existing mitigations.  The Coalition made it clear to the Minister that while we very much welcomed her commitment to extending the existing mitigations we felt there was a great need to strengthen the mitigations even further to provide protections for new challenges such as Universal Credit. 
The CliffEdge Coalition also met with Andy Allen MLA (Ulster Unionist) to discuss the Coalitions’ concerns about the extension and strengthening of mitigations.  Andy committed to asking a number of Assembly Questions on this issue following this meeting.
Following the meeting with the Minister the Coalition were invited to present to the Communities Committee at Stormont.  A delegation from CliffEdge, including Siobhán representing women’s issues, presented to the Communities Committee in February 2020.  Evidence given by Siobhán focused on the findings from the Consortium research on the impact of austerity/welfare reform on women.
The CliffEdge Coalition is continuing to campaign for the strengthening of welfare mitigations and hopes to feed into the review of mitigations which was promised as part of New Decade, New Approach. 

International Women’s Day 2020:  Rights In Sight
Siobhán spoke at a number of events to celebrate International Women’s Day 2020:

    • NIRWN Rights In Sight Event – Glenavon Hotel, Cookstown (04/03/20) – Siobhán spoke about both the recent Consortium research papers on the impact of austerity/welfare reform and women’s access to lending
    • Reclaim the Agenda Lunchtime Lecture – Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church (06/02/20) – Siobhán concentrated on the impact of austerity/welfare reform research but mentioned the newly launched access to lending paper as many of the women were forced to borrow due to the impact of austerity/welfare reform.