• Young people and the informal economy: understanding their pathways and decisionmaking within the economy

      Adamu, Nenadi (University of BedfordshireUniversity of Bedfordshire, 2016-03)
      This is a study of a group of young people that explores their journeys into, and experiences within, the informal economy. Evidence has shown that young people have always been more disadvantaged in a context of high levels of unemployment, limited job opportunities and entitlement to welfare benefits. As an alternative to low paying jobs with poor working conditions, and in addition to strict conditions for claiming benefits, some young people are making the decision to engage in criminal ways of generating income. This study examines the experiences of twenty-six young people from Luton and Cambridge who had engaged in begging, drug dealing and sex work as alternative forms of ‘work’ in their transitions to adulthood. It explores the structural, cultural and biographical factors that influence their informal career decision-making processes, by drawing on Bourdieu’s social field theory. By examining the lived experiences of these young people, the study throws more light on the role of structure and personal agency in the decisions the young people made in engaging in the informal economy. These young people wanted to be seen as ‘normal’ young people. Most were hardworking, and ambitious, and their engagement in informal economic activities was often a ‘means to an end’. This study also identifies strategies that were employed by the young people for their successful navigating of the economy, and highlights the importance of elements like trust, respect and knowledge in their negotiations. It assesses how the issue of risk was managed with the help of what was seen to be an unwritten code of conduct in the field. The study also identified a hierarchy within the field, which was determined by the individual participants, depending on their personal perceptions and perspectives. The data was collected using semi-structured interviews, over a period of a year. The process of collecting data was long and difficult, highlighting the ethical and methodological challenges of conducting research with a ‘hidden’ population. The findings throw new light on the unique challenges young people face both in the formal job market, and in accessing welfare support, in light of the significant changes to social policy in the UK.