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Policy responses Overcoming Factors in the Intergenerational Transmission of Inequalities

Final Report Summary - PROFIT (Policy responses overcoming factors in the intergenerational transmission of inequalities)

The PROFIT project sought, primarily, to address the issues raised under the Research Area 2: Options and choices for the development of knowledge-based society and was particularly concerned with the topic of the intergenerational Inheritance of inequalities (IIofI). Strategic goal of the project was to inform policy by developing an integrated understanding of how a knowledge-based society can promote the societal objectives of the European Union (EU) of sustainable development, social and territorial cohesion and an improved quality of life.

In identifying the challenges for society that are posed by the existence of intergenerational transmission of inequalities, the analysis sought to capture the factors and social mechanisms limiting / promoting social mobility for individuals from deprived communities and regions.

The analysis set out to identify the policies and practices especially at the local level, which can help to improve social mobility mechanisms. One medium-size town per country was selected to carry out field work among local stakeholders and social policy end-users (young adults 25-29 year old). Special attention was paid to three policies: educational, labour market and welfare policy. The gender dimension was seen as underpinning all aspects of the research. While comparing social mobility opportunities for men and women in deprived areas, the research aimed to contribute to the evaluation of the effectiveness of the mainstreaming approach and of the political commitment at the EU, national and local levels to promote gender equality.

The project was designed to extend the work of previous research done in the field, especially that initiated by the EU, like the Joint Report on Social Inclusion (2002, 2004), Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion (2005, 2006, 2007), etc., as well as those presented in the reports within the TSER Programme and the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) concerned with improving the socio-economic knowledge base. It undertook cross-national comparisons and involved new empirical work with local policy-makers, -executors and -users to examine the measures and methods used to counteract the intergenerational inheritance of inequalities and thus overcome its consequences.

The departure point of the project was an assumption that the IIofI is a result of intersecting influences coming from the family of origin, community and society. It is the social status and the efforts of the family which primarily define the opportunities of the offspring by means of economic, cultural and social resources. However, the process of transmission is modified by society (socio-economic-cultural context) and community (social capital and economic resources). Different policies and ways of conceptualising the problem belong to this context and produce or counteract IIofI. Among them, and of particular importance, are policies in the field of education, employment and social welfare.

The project focused on interrelations between policies and practices exercised at national (society) and the local (community) level in the process of overcoming IIofI. Specific objectives of the project were:
1. development of a greater understanding of the socio-economic-cultural context within which intergenerational inheritance of inequalities (IIofI) occurs and policy responses at the national level;
2. development of a greater understanding of policy responses at local level to overcome IIofI;
3. identification of the relative importance of policy among the factors affecting social mobility of individuals;
4. assessment of the transportability of policy solutions promoting social mobility chances at local level.

The project is contributing to the European social model in that it provides information about policy implementation at the lowest level of administration and governance. In European countries, it is common practice that local authorities are responsible for delivering social services tailored to local needs.

To answer the research questions, the following sources of information were explored at the national level:
1. reviews of scientific literature elaborated by national PROFIT research teams;
2. in-depth interviews with political, economic and social actors, conducted and analysed by national research teams (field work specifically designed for PROFIT purposes);
3. national official policy documents like National Action Plans (NAPs) against poverty and social exclusion, Joint Memoranda 2002 (in the case of Central European States), Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion (2006, 2007);
4. synthetic reports elaborated by independent international research teams aimed at international comparisons, based on NAPs and other documents, while at the local (municipality) level;
5. focus group interviews with local stakeholders like local politicians (members of municipality councils), social services workers (front-liners: social workers, teachers, probation officers, priests, policemen, NGO staff etc.) and executives in municipality social departments (of education, labour office / job centres, social assistance etc.);
6. survey study among young adults (24-29 year olds) being permanent residents of selected towns on 'young adults at risk, opportunities and constraints on social mobility' (field work specifically designed for PROFIT purposes);
7. in-depth interviews with selected young adults living in a given town (field work specifically designed for PROFIT purposes).

The realisation of 11 Work packages (WPs) contributed to the progress of the research. Among them, three (WP2, WP5 and WP9) aimed at improving the research skills and competences of research assistants. All partners were involved in the whole process of the research. The work schedule was agreed between the partners. The methods and research tools were accepted in a process of mutual communication and findings were monitored and compared throughout the duration of the research. The sequence of WPs was designed to gain knowledge in a cumulative manner.

WP1, WP3 and W4 comprised activities connected with the review of scientific literature and official governmental documents in order to analyse whether and in which way the problem of the intergenerational inheritance of inequalities is dealt with. An important part of this stage of the study was conducting in-depth interviews with top-level actors (political, social, and economic) to reveal how they conceptualise and perceive IIofI. In the project, an assumption has been made that the way top level politicians, as members of parliament and representatives of political parties, think about the reproduction of inequality and how it constitutes a 'cultural' factor that may determine policy measures aimed at overcoming IIofI.

WP6, WP7, WP8 were composed of activities connected with field work carried out in selected medium-size towns located in each country in the study. Methodology and respective research tools were designed to conduct focus group interviews with local stakeholders and survey and in-depth interviews among local social policy end-users, being young adults aged 25-29.

WP10 and WP11 aimed at disseminating project results in the towns in the study. Having collected and analysed data from all stages, national research teams organised seminars to present the results of the study to the town authorities and other stakeholders, in order to receive feedback and to agree on an example of good practice to be presented during the dissemination conference in Spala, Poland. In Spala, the conditions for transferability of activities, projects and measures working in particular towns to towns in other countries were discussed by town representatives and academics.

A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods was applied. The project was carried out as a set of case studies based on the same assumptions and methods. Its relevance was perceived first of all in the contextualisation of the problem. The literature review revealed that intergenerational inheritance of inequalities is a topic scarcely approached by scholars and politicians. There is a lack of knowledge concerning how policy makers and social service managers and providers conceptualise the problem and what measures and programmes they perceive as appropriate to overcome IIofI. Qualitative methods were commonly accepted as the best method to detect and describe the perceptions and expectations of politicians and municipal stakeholders. To estimate roughly the extent of inequality transmission across generations, a small-scale survey was conducted among young adults living in the towns in the study. Survey respondents constituted a reservoir for selecting people from low status families to reveal the impact of different institutions, including local policies and practices, on their life course and their social achievements. Giving voice to those who are potential clients of programmes and measures had the objective of improving their social and economic mobility. The project delivered information on the implementation potential of these policy instruments.

The reflexivity of what it has been done in the PROFIT project could be summarised in three topics:

Lessons learned in the theoretical sphere
The central problem for theory and method in relation to policy-oriented studies has to do with creating frameworks that can handle two types of approach: 'hard' and 'soft' systems theory (Cheeckland 1998; Cheekland, Scholes, 1990). In 'hard systems', there are assumed to be clear objective boundaries, built in goals, goal-seeking mechanisms and conditions. A 'soft systems' approach is understood as one addressing human activity systems composed of people, where the goals are a source of conflict. A soft system is socially constructed by actors involved.

The hard system was a starting point in our project to formulate a list of questions for the research on intergenerational transmission of inequality and policy responses to that process. However, this perspective does not emphasise 'that human action must be understood through actor(s) and interpreted on the basis of reasons: knowledge, intention, power, and institutions'. On the basis of a 'soft' framework, we could formulate some detailed questions relevant to our concerns of what 'local actions' are effective platforms for combating the intergenerational transmission of inequalities and how 'good practice' could be transported from one community to another:
- What are the ways in which different partners (having different interests) might handle the kinds of inter-related and inter-disciplinary problems related to the intergenerational transmission of inequalities?
- How do stakeholders come together as 'partnerships'?
- How are they constructing agendas for action?
Such an attempt shows that the issue of combating intergenerational transmission of inequalities could be defined as problem-based learning. It is a process that needs time and takes place in concrete situations in regard to who is concerned and the willingness to interact, what issues are at stake and in which general framework.

The process of change is not easy and for stakeholders it is essential to develop an understanding of the new learning and practices before these practices can be successfully applied (a wide gap between best and common practice).

Lessons learned in the methodological sphere
- When we talk about raising local capacities to act, we are thinking of ensuring that there are human resources to help communities and groups identify opportunities, constraints and resources and develop strategies for action (including horizontal and vertical networking). People with certain competences are needed to help here. Who should they be? Should these resource people be 'owned' by local communities: should they have professional status and benefit from professional networking: should they have access to specialised sources of knowledge and help - e.g. through universities?
- The next research area, not fully recognised, should concentrate on the role of facilitators and the role of facilitation tools and mediation tools in the learning processes.

European - level learning
What do we learn from being involved in a larger European group? Despite the many similarities, there are a number of very important differences between European countries which are relevant to the issue of IIofI.
- National level for counteracting the intergenerational transmission of inequalities seems to be commonly conceived of as providing facilitation and support rather than structures supplying sufficient resources.
- The need for national, regional and local collaboration is identified as a central problem for securing social and economic cohesion.
- The impact of the EU on social policies, especially in the New Member States, is not to be overestimated. The EU imposes an obligation on the states to formulate strategies for combating poverty and social exclusion. It makes national and local authorities consider social problems in strategic and everyday management. Commonly agreed objectives and indicators as well as the open method of coordination are of particular relevance. Since 2006, child mainstreaming became an important element of the EU social agenda, which seems to be crucial for counteracting the intergenerational transmission of inequalities. In this respect, it is essential for political leaders to commit themselves to ensuring the well-being of the next generation.