UK Data Service Data Impact Fellows 2023: Rhiannon Williams

Rhiannon Williams

We are delighted to announce Rhiannon Williams as one of our Data Impact Fellows for 2023. In this post Rhiannon shares a bit about her background, her current work and research and what she hopes to get out of the Fellows scheme.

About me and my background

 I am a final year PhD student in the Sheffield Methods Institute at the University of Sheffield, as part of the ESRC Data Analytics and Society CDT. The programme includes an integrated MSc in Data Analytics and Society. Before joining the SMI, my background was in libraries and information studies. I undertook an MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield Information School, during which I became interested in how the worlds of data and social issues intersect. My PhD project has enabled me to explore this intersection by looking at the relationship between housing insecurity and welfare policy in England through a data analytics lens. Alongside my research, I also support quantitative skills teaching in the SMI.

 My PhD project is in partnership with the housing charity Shelter. This relationship with Shelter means that my research questions have been informed by conversations with Shelter housing practitioners and insights from Shelter call data. By aligning my research with real-world experiences, I have been able to make impact central to my project and produce practical outputs for use in Shelter’s work throughout the project. I am now keen to expand the usability and impact of my work, enabling other housing practitioners and policy-makers to make use of findings as part of a wider effort to combat housing insecurity and support vulnerable people.

My research

My research applies quantitative methods to the Understanding Society household panel study, provided by the UK Data Access Service. Understanding Society provides insights into the social and economic experiences of households across the UK, including valuable perspectives on housing and welfare.

My first paper, Understanding the effect of universal credit on housing insecurity in England: a difference-in-differences approach, has been published in Housing Studies (2022). This study investigates the association between housing insecurity and claiming Universal Credit, a centralised benefit for all working age claimants replacing a variety of legacy benefits, in comparison to Housing Benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance. To examine changes in housing insecurity trajectories before and after the introduction of Universal Credit, we apply a difference-in-differences fixed effects logistic regression research design to Understanding Society data (2009–2020) on benefit claimants in England. This approach compares renters’ likelihood of having problems meeting their housing costs under the new and old benefit systems. The research makes use of the staggered rollout of Universal Credit across England to compare people with similar characteristics living in similar places at the same time but claiming under different benefit systems.

The paper found that claiming Universal Credit does indeed have a significant effect on increasing housing insecurity in comparison to claiming Housing Benefit or Jobseeker’s Allowance. This effect varied across different scenarios, including a larger effect for people with disabilities and claimants moving from Housing Benefit to Universal Credit. These results demonstrate that the Universal Credit system negatively impacts particular population groups more than others, placing these claimants at disproportionate risk of experiencing housing insecurity. This finding could have significant practical implications for policymakers and housing practitioners in driving policy change and targeting support for vulnerable people.

My current PhD research focuses on two additional studies. The first looks at how the association between housing insecurity and Universal Credit varies across different places in England using multilevel modelling. The study finds that small-scale variation between LSOAs is more significant to this relationship than large-level regional variation. My final ongoing study compares the impacts of the Global Financial Crisis (2008), the UK Welfare Reform Act (2012), and the start of the COVID pandemic (2020) on housing insecurity in England, aiming to identify similarities and differences between the scarring effects of these events on people’s housing experiences.

My future plans

The core aim of my research is to develop our understanding of housing insecurity and how it relates to other social changes, such as policy change and economic crises, in order to find pathways to improving housing stability and equality in the UK. Being part of the UK Data Impact Fellowship will provide the opportunity to disseminate my findings beyond academic circles, helping me reach wider audiences of housing practitioners and policy-makers. With the UK Data Impact Fellowship’s support, I aim to reformulate my research to be more widely accessible and ready to be used as part of practical, evidence-driven decision-making around how housing policy is formed and how we can support those at risk of vulnerable housing positions.

Follow Rhiannon on Twitter: @RWilliamsSheff

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