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CAPE Case Study Report: Manchester City Council and Austerity and Altered Life-Courses

⌚ Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Sarah Marie Hall

Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Manchester

This case study reports on a collaboration project between the Austerity and Altered Life-Courses (AALC) research team at The University of Manchester (UoM) and the Poverty Strategy team at Manchester City Council (MCC). The project aimed to co-develop innovative strategies to address poverty in Manchester, using co-production to achieve mutual benefit. Key outcomes include Anti-Poverty Strategy, qualitative research training for MCC staff, and recommendations for affordable childcare. The collaboration has strengthened the relationship between MCC and UoM and has provided new opportunities for further joint initiatives.

About the project

Our CAPE project, entitled Co-developing innovative urban policy strategies on poverty and austerity in Manchester, UK, was focused on addressing one core policy need: to co-develop local anti-poverty strategies. The project was a collaboration between the Austerity and Altered Life-Courses (AALC) research team at The University of Manchester (UoM) and the Poverty Strategy team at Manchester City Council (MCC). More specifically, we were tasked with identifying innovative ways to address poverty in Manchester, as a long-standing local policy issue exacerbated by austerity policies over the last twelve years. This core focus developed two further aims: i) to draw on international examples and networks to enhance this innovation, and ii) to support future innovation by training MCC colleagues in qualitative research design, methods and analysis.

Embedding co-production

Our project embedded co-production techniques from inception to delivery. To facilitate this, a member of MCC was seconded into the AALC project for six months, joining field site visits to Barcelona and Cagliari, and co-developing ideas for innovative responses to poverty. During this phase, we honed the focus of the work on childcare, which also became a pressing policy issue following changes brought about by the UK Autumn Budget in 2022. Sharing sessions and activities also supported this co-production, with MCC consulting AALC on the draft Anti-Poverty Strategy and on community consultation methods. AALC then led on the development of an ‘Introduction to Qualitative Research’ training module, consisting of five sessions run by colleagues and team members at The University of Manchester. The contents of the sessions were informed by and directly responsive to the needs of the MCC team. The final report, showcasing our findings about childcare as an innovative approach to poverty alleviation using international examples, was based on the collaborative research efforts of MCC and AALC, and led by a member of the research team. An online report launch was held, attended by an international audience, followed by an in-person final workshop with members of MCC and AALC to co-produce ideas for future collaborations.

Challenges and opportunities

Working across institutions with their various cultures and systems has been challenging at times. However, members of the collaboration across MCC and AALC have embraced the opportunity to learn from one another. We also envisage that the training module provided to MCC staff will offer foundational support for future collaborative projects between MCC policymakers and UoM academic researchers.

EDI considerations

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) are principles and practices at the heart of this collaboration. Members of communities with lived experiences of austerity and poverty were involved in the field site visits and were invited to engage in project activities and outputs. The report’s conclusions contain several recommendations that are easily implementable and have the potential to make childcare more affordable for vulnerable families. By doing so, these recommendations would also help to alleviate the mounting economic and caring pressures that these families face. Furthermore, the project has supported four early career post-doctoral researchers in developing policy impact and project leadership.

Benefits and beneficiaries

The benefits of the project can be summed up by Peter Norris, Strategy and Economic Policy Manager for City Policy at MCC:

“Manchester City Council enjoys a strong and productive relationship with The University of Manchester. This CAPE funded project has taken place at an important and opportune time as the city embarks on major programmes of work to address the causes of health inequalities, especially poverty, and begins to think about what the next stage of the city’s growth might look like. The city values academic input into our work, and this CAPE project has helped meet our need to develop new policy and strategy that is supported by high quality research and analysis. It has been especially helpful in adding research capacity relating to access to and uptake of childcare, where we know that there are particular challenges in Manchester, and in connecting us to examples of best practice from other cities in Europe.

The outputs of the project have directly supported the development of a new Anti-Poverty Strategy for Manchester and will influence the future development of childcare policy in the city. Connections between the academic team and officers of the City Council which have developed over the life of the project have already led to the identification of areas for future collaboration which we look forward to working on together. Over time we hope that the products of this project and our future work will contribute towards improving the life-chances of Manchester residents who are largely disconnected from the city’s growth, help reduce poverty and health inequality, and improve outcomes for the youngest and most vulnerable.”

Project outcomes and future plans

As a result of this CAPE collaboration, MCC and AALC are pursuing further opportunities to work together and, in parallel, to develop an Anti-Poverty Network across Manchester. AALC have successfully applied for funding for a summer intern to join their team for six weeks starting in July 2023, with the specific remit of consulting stakeholders in the voluntary and community sector and co-developing ideas for this network. The selected candidate will have opportunities to work with members of MCC to co-produce these activities.

In relation to changes resulting from the qualitative methods training, MCC attendees stated in the evaluations that the course increased their understanding of and confidence with qualitative research methods and increased their likelihood of using these methods in their future work.