Visualising the Household Budget Sheet—Numbers As the Language of Indebtedness
It is widely acknowledged that UK households service a large stocks of debt. This debt exists as a large number of credit commitments: mortgage, home equity loan, student loan, auto loan, line of credit, credit cards, store cards, overdrafts; there are also ‘fringe’ financial products like payday loans, doorstep loans, pawnbroker, catalogue loans. However, approximating how much debt the household sector owes is not easy because the publically available data is partial, difficult to access, and not comparable. This pilot scopes the publically available data on household debt levels in the UK and develops a corroborative method for constructing a comprehensive and differentiated picture of how households’ finances have changed over time in the UK. The results of this data analysis will be used to better visualise the complex and incomplete nature of our understanding of the household finances when framed as a balance sheet compared to a household budget.
This paper will investigate a ‘corroborative’ method and data collection strategies for creating and making visible the scale and scope of indebtedness. We adapt the method used by civil society (or third-sector) groups like Citizens Advice Bureau and StepChange that generate data and statistics on household debt levels regularly using their own resources. What is different about these data sources is that create user-generated information of the household budget (not balance sheet), which offers a unique source of information on the state of household finances. This method seeks to offer a new way of empirically and conceptually evaluating the changing composition and size of household debt burdens in the UK. From here we can better understand the ways in which debts compose space, time and experience, and in how, on a broader scale, debts intersect and interact with other obligations and social relations.
This program of research builds on a successful track record of academic research and knowledge exchange with key third sector groups working on household debt and everyday financial management.
A six-month pilot study, entitled Digital Technologies of Debt Resilience: Everyday Life and Citizenship in the Age of Austerity (Communities and Culture Network+), explored the network of Civil Society Organisations (CSO) providing services or political advocacy on debt in contemporary Britain and Peer-to-Peer (P2P) digital forums that engage in debt self-help. This pilot discovered a significant ‘data gap’ between official statistics and civil society data collection. CSOs perceived official data sources on household debt as not ‘relevant’ or ‘useful’ to the social scales with which they primarily engaged—the household and the local community. A wide array of civil society organisations produce, use and create data on debt and its impact on the economy, but this is usually at the household or community-level. In response to the perceived lack of data, CSOs create a range of different data sources; for example, community organisations offer qualitative data based on public ‘testimony’ of the impact debt has on their family or neighbourhood. Debt advice providers, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, collect important budget data and qualitative evidence of the effects of debt on, for example, mental health, family breakdown and poverty. A follow-on Knowledge Exchange Opportunities (ESRC) nine-month project Crafting an Alternative Politics of Debt dedicates and entire work package to exploring the empirical gap on sources and methods of social data collection. CSOs, often with academic support through ‘knowledge exchange practices, produce a steady stream of new data and analytics produced about the household sectors finances, which is significant for shaping public policy debates about the state of the economy. Research commissioned, analysed and published in the last two years by UK-based CSOs demonstrate the high-quality data available on the household finances and methodological innovations that engage participants as actors not research subjects. There is widespread acknowledgment that everyday financial management technologies are the future of data collection, service provision and support for households struggling with debt. CSO create or reproduce open-source templates (like googledocs) or promote mobile phone Apps (like GYAB - get yourself a budget- Debtology) as digital tools for household budgeting. These technologies offer new ways of conceptualising ‘how’ we collecting household financial data as well as new ways of understanding how everyday financial flows within ‘the household economy’ shape the wider macro-economy.
Aims and Objectives
To translate national statistical sources on the household balance sheet into a basic budget template, adapted from those used by leading civil society groups. The objective is to analyse these budgets based on basic demographic/household characteristics and to use these findings to develop new ways of visually representing a picture of household financial position.
This pilot scopes the publically available data on household debt levels in the UK and develops a corroborative method for constructing a comprehensive and differentiated picture of how households’ finances have changed over time in the UK. The results of this data analysis will be used to better visualise the complex and incomplete nature of our understanding of the household finances when framed as a balance sheet compared to a household budget. Existing publically available data sources on household debts and overall ‘balance sheet’ exist across a range of different datasets and time frames. This paper will offer econdary analysis of (1) The British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), provides data on income, savings and debts; (2) Wealthy and Assets Survey (WAS), including the Household Annual Debt Supplement (HAD);(3) Family Expenditure Survey (FES) SWAS (HAD if possible), BHPS and/or Living Costs and Food Survey, and tranlate these official sources into a household budget sheet, including basic household and demographic characteristics to produce different ‘snapshot’ of household budget over time based on data from different datasets.
This adapts the method used by civil society (or third-sector) groups like Citizens Advice Bureau and StepChange that generate data and statistics on household debt levels regularly using their own resources. What is different about these data sources is that create user-generated information of the household budget (not balance sheet), which offers a unique source of information on the state of household finances.