Poverty work

An investigation of the challenges and potentials at stake in helping three different types of citizens on social benefits. The project is part of a collaboration with The Department of Anthropology, School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University.


In this project, we will explore the myriad of activities that characterise the strategies of three categories of citizens on social benefits for coping with everyday life. A lot of time and energy is invested not only in seeking employment, providing food and accommodation and making ends meet, but also for meeting the criteria for receiving social benefits, which involves multiple encounters with various departments in the public sector. We analyse these activities as a particular type of everyday work – which we term as poverty work - associated with living on a very low income. The results of this project will add new knowledge to our understanding of how these efforts obstruct, are hampered by or achieve synergy with policy implementation in governmental and private services, strengthening or further weakening the position of the people they aim to assist.



The project is motivated by the observation that while Danish unemployment rates are significantly decreasing, a significant increase in people living low income lives – that is, incomes below the poverty line – can be observed at the same time. In particular, child poverty is increasing, with well-documented long-term consequences at both educational and economic levels, even in the case of short-term childhood poverty. Moreover, it is well recognised that there are, in fact, many sound and relevant services available, from local authorities as well as the third sector, e.g. voluntary organisations that aim to help citizens gain footing at in the labour market. However, statistically, some citizen groups are known to be particular difficult to help into employment. This is the case, for instance, for socially marginalised Greenlanders, young homeless men, and single parents on social benefits. Consequently, a better understanding of how best to develop services and offer support in order to help these citizens into employment is highly warranted.

The study

The project consists of three parts:

1)    Analyses of documents (legislation, guidelines, strategies) outlining governmental strategies targeting these citizens. In this part of the project, we will explore the legal framework of social and employment related policies and services, including analyses of the economic and political frames of services. 

2)    Mapping of relevant municipal and private sector services as well as interviews with professionals and volunteers. The interviews will focus on the participants’ experiences with people from the target groups, both related to challenges, but indeed also to concrete potentials for helping these groups. 

3)    We will include 12 citizens from each group in an observational study of their experiences with municipal and private services in a 12-months timeframe. This will provide insights into how services are structured as well as details related to ways of delivering support in manners that take into account the citizens’ life conditions. This allows us to better understand if and how citizens accept the support and how they assess it, relative to their situation and everyday life. Furthermore, we will conduct interviews with the 12 citizens from each group.

The project runs from February 1st 2019 to January 31st 2022.


The research project is funded by The Velux Foundations.