Choosing invisibility? Exploring service (dis)engagement of women experiencing multiple disadvantage

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Purpose: The shift in policy discourse towards individualism is affecting service provision and access, which has become increasingly conditioned on individual agency and the “deservingness” of the recipient. Gendered and intersectional experiences of homelessness and excluded populations less likely to be living on the streets remain overlooked and unaddressed. This study thus aims to uncover what drives “invisibility” in services for women experiencing multiple disadvantage and the gendered constraints the women are facing when exiting and navigating multiple disadvantage. 

Design/methodology/approach: The paper draws on in-depth interviews with women who face severe and multiple disadvantage and their support staff. Data is also gathered through survey data and observations with a wide range of frontline service providers, as well as support notes and numerical progress data recorded by one of the service providers. 

Findings: Contradicting the common assumption that people act as rational actors in their interaction with services, the author found that women’s decisions to (dis)engage may be blinded by forces of multiple disadvantage and mistrust. These are often developed as a result of systemic and gendered constraints that limit women’s capabilities and exercise of choice. Barriers in service access often amplified the personal barriers they were facing and reinforced women’s decisions to not engage with services. 

Research limitations/implications: The author hopes that this paper sheds light on the particular set of barriers women with multiple disadvantage face, which will be vital to reach women who face severe disadvantage and provide more effective policies, care and support. 

Originality/value: This study gives voice to a particular hidden population: women with multiple disadvantage. It contributes to existing frameworks on agency and choice by understanding gendered barriers behind service engagement and how services themselves may be contributing to women’s invisibility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-133
Number of pages19
JournalHousing, Care and Support
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2023

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