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Homelessness, Empowerment and Self-reliance in Scotland and Ireland: The Impact of Legal Rights to Housing for Homeless People

  • BETH WATTS (a1)

Abstract

This paper explores the impact of legal rights to housing for homeless people, focusing on the capacity of such rights to ‘empower’ those experiencing homelessness. Lukes’ (2005) three-dimensional view of power, complemented by Bourdieu's (1972) concept of ‘habitus’, is used to distinguish between conceptualisations of empowerment. A distinction is drawn between ‘traditional’ understandings of empowerment, which focus on people's capacity to realise their ‘subjective interests’, and on understandings that foreground ‘real interests’. These latter ‘radical’ perspectives direct attention to people's ‘habitus’ – their internalised dispositions to perceive situations and act in particular ways. Empirically, the paper draws on a qualitative comparison of approaches to homelessness in Scotland and Ireland. Whereas in Scotland virtually all those who are homeless now have a legal right to settled accommodation, Ireland has rejected such a ‘legalistic’ approach, pursuing a consensus driven ‘social partnership’ model. Based on primary research with national experts, service providers and homeless single men in both countries, it is argued that legal rights can effectively empower homeless people. These findings call into question popular and political understandings of the relationship between legal welfare rights and self-reliance.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Journal of Social Policy
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