Dr Niamh Mulcahy

at Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge


Junior Research Fellow, Lucy Cavendish College

Niamh is an economic sociologist, working in the critical tradition of political economy. Her focus is on finance-led economic growth, and the financialisation of household income, as savings and income are channelled into capital markets through personal investment and debt.

Her doctoral research considered the rise of the “financial subject”, or the “everyday entrepreneur”, in the context of widening economic inequality in the United Kingdom since the 1980s. Risk-taking is rationalised as an opportunity for greater reward: Savings are linked to market performance through investment in private pensions, unit trusts, bonds or assets such as property, while debt, when responsibly managed, can be used to ameliorate short-term periods of uncertainty. Household finance has acquired a more entrepreneurial character as a result, but this is difficult to manage for those facing problems of low income, precarious or short-term employment prospects, and with little wealth, savings, or assets to rely on. The problem of “financial exclusion”, when individuals and households struggle to access necessary financial services or make use of them within their means, therefore deepens inequality and creates new forms of precariousness.

Her current project is a funded research partnership with three local authorities, investigating the effects of financial exclusion on the life chances of indebted households. Capturing financial exclusion, as indicated by levels of indebtedness and limited engagement with mainstream financial services, will help illustrate what happens to excluded households and how they get by. This, in turn, will shed light on the type of provision at the local level that could benefit the financially-excluded. As local authorities become increasingly interested in indebted households as a result of the pressure they place on reduced welfare services, a proactive approach involving community-based solutions aimed at addressing systemic shortfalls is needed. Developing a deeper sense of financial exclusion and its regional variations is an important first step.