Empowerment of homeless people through
employment?: the experience of British
social enterprises
Aslan Tanekenov, Ph.D.
International School of Economics and Social Sciences (ISE)
HAS Conference, 15th April, 2014
Outline of presentation:
 Rationale for Undertaking Current Research and
UK Government Policy
 Research Question
 Conceptual Framework: ‘Empowerment’, ‘Selfhelp’ and ‘Capabilities’ models
 Research Methods
 Key Fieldwork Findings
Introduction to Research
 Rationale for current study
 UK Government initiatives to support Social
Enterprises (SEs) as ‘policy vehicle’
 Promotion of integration of homeless people into
employment using SEs:
New Labour (1997-2010) - ‘Places of Change’ in
2007 & ‘Spark Challenge’ 2008 -2011;
Coalition Government (2010-to present) – ‘Big
Society’ vision & extension of ‘Spark’ programme
The main research question is:
How effective are employment-centred social
enterprise models in empowering homeless
people via enhancing their capabilities?
Empowerment Debate
The ‘individual’
The ‘collective’
The ‘Individual’ and ‘Collective’
Empowerment Debate
Empowerment aspects that cut across the
dichotomy of empowerment
Weaknesses of Empowerment Models
 Significantly, however, the empowerment literature
fails to adequately capture vulnerable individuals’
diversity, the complexities of difficulties they face,
personal ‘conversion’ factors and the impact of
context on the extent to which they are (or are not)
‘Capabilities’ approach
 In essence, ‘capabilities’ represent “...a
person’s freedom to lead one type of life or
another” (Sen, 1992, p. 40).
 In other words, the capabilities approach
focuses on the real opportunities we have to
accomplish what we value. Sen (1992) terms
these accomplishments ‘valuable functionings’.
‘Capabilities’ approach
 As Hill (2003, p.121) argues:
 ...the capability approach does not identify
the interests of the individual with her
stated or revealed preferences. Rather, it
assesses the individual’s capability to
achieve valued functionings by scrutinizing
her situation from different perspectives, in
a manner consistent with true interests
Nussbaum’s (2000) an operational list of 10
central human capabilities and key domains of
1) Life
2) Bodily Health
3) Bodily Integrity
4) Senses, Imagination
and Thought
5) Emotions
6) Affiliation
7) Practical Reason
8) Other species
9) Play
10) Control over one’s
Table 1. Capabilities-grounded empowerment
Empowerment domain
Capability list
Bodily empowerment
Life; Bodily health, Bodily
Economic and political
Practical Reason; Control over
one’s environment
Social and emotional
Affiliation and Emotions
Creative and intellectual
Senses; Imagination and
Research Methods
A qualitative methodology was employed in the
study, and in-depth interviews were conducted
with 22 key informant stakeholders from social
enterprises across the UK, and detailed case
studies undertaken of four social enterprises
operating within the UK homelessness sector (11
service providers and 23 (ex-) homeless service
users were interviewed in site visits to these four
social enterprises)
Bodily empowerment
 Somewhat effective with respect to bodily
empowerment: it helped to combat substance
misuse and improved mental health.
 However, there was little evidence of an
enhancement living environment aspect of bodily
empowerment in either those SEs with a social or
a business emphasis.
Economic and political empowerment
 The political aspect of empowerment, as opposed
to the economic one, was articulated by neither
service provider nor any of the homeless people
interviewed in this study.
 Much weaker in the economic empowerment
domain (especially with respect to financial
Social and emotional empowerment
 Some homeless people’s abilities to establish and
maintain meaningful social relationships with peers in
the workplace, friends, and extended family members
also appeared improved.
 Interestingly, almost all of the positive empowerment
benefits of SEs for homeless people, particularly the
strong benefits noted in the social and emotional
realm, were found far more readily in SEs with a
social emphasis, rather than those SEs with a business
focus, which proposed employment models offering
greater individual self-help and responsibilities.
Creative and Intellectual Empowerment
 The evidence suggested that SE service providers totally
overlooked the creative and intellectual capabilities of
homeless people, but...
 These aspects of empowerment were noted as being
equally as significant as other empowerment dimension by
homeless people themselves.
 It seemed that SEs with a social emphasis had the
potential to promote the social, creative and intellectual
development of homeless people; this was currently taking
place ‘informally’, and unintentionally, ‘on the ground’.
The extent that employment-focused SE
models can empower homeless people
Clearly there were limits to the extent that employment
focused SE models can empower homeless people:
 Homeless people reliance on state benefits during their course
of volunteering or being a trainee meant a continued financial
dependency which constrained their opportunities to become
involved in mainstream social networks and societal activities.
 Those living in isolation in hostels struggled to leave behind
their previous lifestyle and to network with people who had not
experienced homelessness.
 There were cases when projects failed to provide a wide
enough choice or level of skills development to satisfy
homeless people's desire to gain access to various types of jobs.

Bodily empowerment - Housing Studies Association