When rhetoric does not translate to reality: hardship, empowerment and the third sector in Austerity Localism
Austerity localism powerfully explains dynamics of (dis)empowerment at the local level, especially regarding the autonomy and accountability of local authorities and third sector organisations (TSOs) in the UK. Yet these dynamics at institutional level have also a clear impact on individuals, especially the socio-economically vulnerable. This is especially true in a time of cost-containment and welfare retrenchment. This article addresses a gap in the literature by focusing not only on TSOs but also on the experiences of vulnerable individuals under austerity localism. The discussion is centred on two types of TSOs: foodbanks and advice/advocacy organisations. Drawing upon primary qualitative data from three locations in England and Wales, the article argues that the emphatic rhetoric of empowerment within austerity localism, which others have shown to be problematic at the institutional level, does not translate into real-world empowerment for service users and other vulnerable individuals. In making the argument the article contributes to work on expanding the analytical scope of austerity localism, as well as further exploring the roles and prospects of TSOs in the current long period of austerity in the UK.