FACT: We can’t afford the rich

Academic and Policy Press author Andrew Sayer latest book Why we can’t afford the rich publishes today. In today’s guest blog post Andrew provides some insights into what motivated him to write the book and why he believes we really can’t afford the rich…

Sayer0002Yes, I really do mean we can’t afford the rich. The richer they are, the more likely they are to be extracting more wealth than they create.

It’s not about rich individuals but about the mechanisms by which they accumulate excessive wealth – wealth that others, by and large, have created.

As I explain in the book, these mechanisms are both unjust and dysfunctional, and have a lot to do with the current economic crisis. They primarily involve controlling key assets – like land, property and money – that others lack but need, and using them to extract wealth via rent, interest payments, profit from production, dividends, capital gains, and speculative gains.

Here’s an example: you have, or buy, a house purely to rent out to others. The production costs of the house have already been paid for. Once you have deducted any maintenance costs, then that rent is unearned income, as are any capital gains resulting from rising house prices. The house already existed and was paid for, so the rent is something for nothing, because you haven’t provided anything that didn’t already exist.  Continue reading ‘FACT: We can’t afford the rich’

Inequality: The debate that won’t go away

Policy Press Director Alison Shaw has been passionately engaged with the subject of inequality for many years, trying to puzzle out the causes and what can be done to resolve the situation. This month she is pleased to be launching two books that she believes add to the debate in an engaging, accessible, rigorously researched way.

Policy Press - 018 resize“As a young person, a now distant memory, it seemed perplexing to me why some people had immense wealth and privilege and others had nothing, even within wealthy Western societies never mind globally.

This somewhat naive question has led to me to try to understand over the years why this is the case, and more importantly perhaps, what can be done. What happens when you have so little that you can’t feed your children? When you have to borrow money to get through a week but this means you get into further debt the next? When jobs are poorly paid and insecure (if you can find them at all) and when the much heralded welfare safety net has holes in it big enough to regularly fall through because the system can’t keep up with changes in work patterns and so you get no money? What then? Continue reading ‘Inequality: The debate that won’t go away’

Myth busting: How the Treasury really spends your money

In light of the Treasury’s example ‘annual tax summaries’ and the implications in terms of welfare spending, academic and Policy Press author John Hills has shared some infographics with us to help us understand the difference between what we’re told and what the numbers actually show.

According to Hills’ research, when the social security budget was described to members of the British public – covering state pensions, child benefits, tax credits for those in work, benefits for unemployed and disabled people – half of people said they thought that 40% or more of spending went on the unemployed. The actual figure is closer to 4%. Continue reading ‘Myth busting: How the Treasury really spends your money’

Academic writing: ‘Rigour and relevance in health and social care’ – is the best of both worlds possible?

Professor of Health and Social Care at the University of Birmingham Jon Glasby provides his views on how academic writing can not only serve to bridge the gap between research and practice in health and social care but can also generate a useful creative tension for the writing process.

Jon GlasbyWhen I was completing my social work training and thinking about a possible PhD, colleagues at the time said I was too academic for practice and too practical for academia… Luckily I found somewhere like the Health Services Management Centre (HSMC) at the University of Birmingham, where the stated commitment to ‘rigour and relevance’ enabled me to fulfil (and make a virtue out of) both sides of my personality.

For me, it’s crucial that we try to bridge academia and practice – but I’ve always been very aware of the tensions that this can entail. Leading universities are increasingly asked to demonstrate that they are internationally renowned in terms of their research, and yet translating this into everyday practice requires a detailed knowledge of/empathy with the realities of front-line services, the pressures they face and the difference they can make (both positive and negative) to the lives of people using such services.

two different directions

Being able to speak to an international research audience and a local practice audience at the same time can be challenging – and certainly requires an unusual mix of skills. The danger is that people trying to span this traditional divide get pulled in two different directions at once, and end up having to justify themselves against rules with which they don’t really agree (competing for influence against more traditional academics on the one hand and against more practice-orientated organisations on the other – and doing so on their own terms).

However, this has always felt to me like a creative tension – with scope to take the best of both worlds. Why would anyone want to contribute knowledge of what works to a practice audience unless they were really clear it was high quality, distinctive and helpful knowledge in the first place? Equally, why would anyone want to research the realities of front-line services, without wanting to be able to contribute to helping to improve such services?

“All too often we either ‘do’ or we ‘think’, with different approaches and different success criteria in both academia and in practice”

Rather than seeing these as separate worlds, we need more people who can act as a bridge or as a conduit: who can take the best research and help apply it, whilst also building on detailed knowledge of policy and of front-line practice in order to improve the quality and relevance of our research. Rather than competing in either an academic or a practice-orientated world, we need to be arguing that these are two sides of the same coin – that both ‘rigour and relevance’ matter.

Often, these issues have come to the fore for me when I’ve been writing for Policy Press. Having a detailed knowledge of the latest research and theory is important, but so too is being able to use this in a way that engages students, practitioners, managers and policy makers alike. Indeed, this has become something of an acid test for me over the years – if I understand something well enough to be able to try to explain it to others in everyday language and in a way that works for them, then I probably understand it pretty well.

Equally, if I can’t make a policy and practice audience interested in the research I’ve been doing, then should I have been doing it at all in the first place? All too often we either ‘do’ or we ‘think’, with different approaches and different success criteria in both academia and in practice. Yet the issues involved in running and in researching health and social care services are so complex and so important that we need to be able to ‘do’ and to ‘think’ at the same time – definitely a question of ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or.’

Jon Glasby is Professor of Health and Social Care, Director of HSMC and incoming Head of the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham. His latest with Policy Press include:
Partnership working in health and social care_ 2nd edn_[FC]Debates in personalisation [FC]Partnership working in health and social care (with Helen Dickinson) (2nd ed., 2014)

Debates in personalisation (edited with Catherine Needham) (2014)

 

Other titles by the same author:
Understanding health and social care (2nd ed., 2012)
Commissioning for health and well-being (edited collection) (2012)
Evidence, policy and practice (edited collection) (2011)
Direct payments and personal budgets (with Rosemary Littlechild) (2nd ed., 2009)
The Better partnership working series (2008) (edited with Helen Dickinson)

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

The welfare state’s surprising winners

Leading social policy expert, academic and Policy Press author John Hills’ new book Good Times, Bad Times: The welfare myth of them and us,  publishes today. In his blog, first published on the LSE British Politics and Policy blog explains how the idea of a welfare-dependent underclass is wrong.

John Hills (small)Twenty-five years ago Granada television and my colleague in LSE’s social policy department, Julian Le Grand, came up with a novel way of presenting the effects of social policy.

Instead of graphs, tables and talk, they used a TV game show between two families – the Ackroyds, from Salford in Greater Manchester, and the Osbornes, from Alderley Edge in Cheshire – to illustrate who got what out of the welfare state of the time. Which of these stereo-typical working-class and middle-class families were the true ‘Spongers’ of the show’s title, most ‘dependent on government’ in current formulations, if one could look over their whole lives?

As it happens, the longer-living, university-educated, opera-loving middle-class Osbornes turned out to be the winners, getting more than the working-class Ackroyds. A follow-up programme which I helped with, Beat the Taxman, two years later looked at which family had done best as a share of income out of the tax reforms of the Thatcher years. Perhaps less surprisingly, the Osbornes won that one too.

Invented

What was special about these families was that, in the words of the game show host Nicholas Parsons, “we’ve invented them”. A quarter of a century later I’ve gone back to those families and their (newly invented) children and grandchildren to explore key issues in the current debate about ‘welfare’ and the welfare state.

In my new book, Good Times, Bad Times: The welfare myth of them and us, I present the results of research over the last decade or more in LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) and elsewhere using large datasets, the results of our own surveys, government statistics, and the results of computer simulations.

But the continuing lives of the Osbornes and the Ackroyds may bring home some of its key points. There are Gary and Denise Ackroyd, whose incomes vary widely from month to month as his hours as a van driver change and her work in a school only brings in pay only in term-time – contrasting with the stable and predictable incomes of people like young civil servant Charlotte Osborne (and of many academics).

Over the 2000s, the circumstances of the Osborne parents, Stephen and Henrietta changed a lot, particularly after Stephen’s heart attacks and decision to down-shift his accountancy work, but they still remained in the top 2 per cent of the income distribution. By contrast, the changes in the size of their family and the effects of Jim Ackroyd losing his job in 2006 meant that he and his wife Tracy bounced around the income distribution – close to being in the poorest tenth in two years, but just above the middle by the time they were empty nesters in 2010.

“But we don’t need made-up examples to know that arid picture of unchanging lives is wrong”

The book also looks at the life chances of the newest grandchildren, George Ackroyd and Edward Osborne, born at the same time in July last year. If we knew nothing about them apart from where they were born, we would already expect Edward to live nearly four years longer. And although some of the educational gaps have closed in the last decade, the chances are that Edward will be doing better at school from the very start, leave with better qualifications, go to a better university, earn much more and build up a far higher level of wealth. There’s nothing predetermined about that, and George Ackroyd might buck the trend – it’s just that he starts with the odds against him.

And looking at the recent past, the poorest of the families, lone mother Michelle Ackroyd, working 16 hours a week on a low wage, turns out to have lost 6 per cent of her income from tax credit and benefit cuts and austerity tax rises since May 2010. By contrast the most affluent of the families – Stephen Osborne with £97,000 per year earnings and his wife with £9,000 from her part-time teaching, plus significant investment income – have lost slightly less in weekly cash than Michelle, and only 0.7 per cent of their income.

Twenty-five years on, more than ever, the debate around ‘welfare’ contrasts a stagnant group of people benefiting from it all, while the rest pay in and get nothing back – skivers against strivers; dishonest scroungers against honest taxpayers; families where three generations have never worked against hard-working families; people with their curtains still drawn mid-morning against alarm-clock Britain; ‘Benefits Street’ against the rest of the country; undeserving and deserving; them against us. We are always in work, pay our taxes and get nothing from the state. They are a welfare-dependent underclass, pay nothing to the taxman, and get everything from the state.

But we don’t need made-up examples to know that arid picture of unchanging lives is wrong. We know from our own experiences, those of our families – and from TV soap operas and nearly every novel – that people’s lives and circumstances change, and what we get out and put in changes over our lives.

It remains true that people starting advantaged remain much more likely than others to end up advantaged, and those who start poorer are more likely to end up poorer. But there is considerable variation and uncertainty around such average differences in life trajectories. This does not just include the long-term changes over the life cycle that we all go through, but also other variations and changes, from at one end the rapid variations many people experience in circumstances and need for support from week to week to, at the other end, the factors that affect the life chances of our children and our grandchildren.

As a result of all this variation in circumstances over our lives, most of us get back something at least close to what we pay in over our lives towards the welfare state. When we pay in more than we get out, we are helping our parents, our children, ourselves at another time – and ourselves as we might have been, if life had not turned out quite so well for us. In that sense, we are all – or nearly all – in it together.

Good times bad times [FC]Good Times, Bad Times: The welfare myth of them and us is published by Policy Press.  For further information, follow this link: Good times, bad times

John Hills is Professor of Social Policy and Director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at the London School of Economics.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

After ‘The Untold Story of Baby P’ documentary – what next?

Ray Jones, author of 'The story of Baby P: Setting the record straight'

Ray Jones, author of ‘The story of Baby P: Setting the record straight’

Former Director of Social Services, academic and Policy Press author Professor Ray Jones follows up his blog on last week’s BBC documentary Baby P: The untold story on the 7 questions to ask when watching the programme. Here he offers his insight into what the programme revealed and what should happen next.

 

The recent BBC documentary ‘Baby P: The Untold Story’, made by Henry Singer and Jenny Saunders, held few surprises for those who had tracked the media’s creation and peddling of the ‘Baby P story’. But it very helpfully profiled and put into the public arena what the press, politicians and the police preferred to keep secret and unknown. Singer and Saunders deserve thanks for their commitment, indeed bravery, in the face of powerful forces, in confronting a wrong which still needs to be properly righted.

The documentary told a ghastly tale of how those with power worked together for their own ends and purposes to focus blame for the terrible death of a little boy, Peter Connelly, on social workers and their managers and on a paediatrician. She, the public now know, was left exposed and unsupported in a role for which she was inexperienced and not appropriately qualified.

The testimony from her husband about the devastating impact on her and her family of the press and political vilification, which was misplaced and misinformed, that she failed to identify a child with a broken back, was one of the most emotionally moving moments in the programme. Alongside Dr Al-Zayyat’s husband, it was the humility and humanity of Maria Ward, Gillie Christou and Sharon Shoesmith, the social worker and her managers, which shone through and illuminated what otherwise was a dark tale of powerful people behaving badly.

So where and what now? The documentary exposed a number of issues but left others floating in the air. They need to be grounded and those who chose to create personal danger by whipping up wrongly targeted anger and hatred  should be held to account.

First, the Metropolitan Police. The two criminal investigations they undertook before Peter died have never been properly scrutinised and reported in the public arena. They may have sought to deflect attention from themselves onto the social workers. It is time now for their own actions to be the subject of public review.

Secondly, Ofsted and Mr Balls. Both seemed to have been heavily influenced by the hate campaign, the so-called ‘Campaign for Justice’, generated by Rebekah Brooks as editor of The Sun, demanding the sackings of social workers and their managers. It should also be the subject of further review and reflection that a Secretary of State, and what was presented as an independent national inspectorate, should apparently be so cornered by a tabloid newspaper.

There has never been an inquest into Peter Connelly’s death, but one should now be held. It would explore, amongst other issues, the actions of the police and the NHS which to-date have been left largely without scrutiny. It may also clarify how a case of chronic neglect spiralled into horrific abuse in a very short time before Peter died.

Given what has increasingly become known about Ofsted and its engagement with Mr Balls’ senior civil servants, there is now a need to consider again the rushed, selective and skewed Ofsted-led Joint Area Review, commissioned by Mr Balls, and the second Serious Case Review, both of which were undertaken and delivered at the height of The Sun’s campaigning.

The House of Commons Education and Children’s Select Committee should see it as a priority to consider whether a major national inspectorate, with a key and crucial role in overseeing services to protect and care for children, itself became compromised amidst the heat and hatred generated by the press and politicians, and with our current prime minister, Mr Cameron, allied to The Sun’s campaigning.

In 90 minutes the BBC documentary raised a number of major concerns which should not remain unaddressed. They are concerns which are also raised, with more time and in more detail, in ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’ book. A new, and more accurate, telling of the ‘story of Baby P’ has now emerged. Its implications and import have still to be followed through.

The story of Baby PRay Jones is professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, and the author of ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’, published by Policy Press in July. The book is available for just £10 (+p&p) on the Policy Press website.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

And, after ‘The End’ of the book? #AcWriMo of course…

Independent researcher and author Helen Kara is in a rather celebratory mood (as are we!) as she has finished writing her current book Creative research methods in the social sciences: A Practical Guide. Does this mean she is destined to spend the run up to Christmas twiddling her thumbs and resting on her laurels? Heavens NO – she’s straight onto the next thing of course: #AcWriMo…

Helen KaraI finished my book! And I’ve blogged about the process for the Research Whisperer – the post should be up next week. But, in brief: it’s done. And I’m proud of it. Happy with it. Mostly. There are always nagging doubts; those won’t go away unless I get good reviews and feedback from readers after publication – and maybe not entirely, even then. Either way, I won’t know about that until the middle of next year. And I haven’t finished being a writer. So, what next?

And this is what the new book will look like!

And this is what the new book will look like!

Ooh, just look at the time. It’s AcWriMo! This was founded in 2011 by Charlotte Frost and a colleague who work on the excellent PhD2Published blog. AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month) was inspired by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which began in 1999 in San Francisco with 21 writers who wanted to support each other in producing 50,000 words of fiction each in one month. Now, hundreds of thousands of writers all over the world spend November churning out 50,000 words (or trying to) and networking on social media for mutual support.

AcWriMo began with the same 50,000-word goal, but by the second year it had morphed into a system where everyone set their own target. There is a spreadsheet to record your target, plan, daily progress, and final achievement. Which of course means you can see what others are planning and doing. Come and join us if you like – OK we’re a few days into November, but that doesn’t matter.

‘rest, play, celebrate’

Some targets are matter-of-fact and outcome-based: ‘Finish discussion chapter, finish and submit journal article’. Others are more process-oriented: ‘Develop a sustainable writing habit of 500 words per day, rest, play, celebrate.’ Mine is ‘Write one solo authored journal article and one co-authored journal article.’

The plans are interesting, too, ranging from the specific ‘write 2 hrs/day 5 days/wk’ to the vague ‘make a good plan’. Mine is somewhere in the middle: ‘Write some words most days.’ Last year I was aiming for 5,000 words per week, 20,000 words altogether, as I hammered out the first draft of the book (I did it, too, by 26 November). This year will be considerably more relaxed – but, as always, there are words to write and meaning to create. And that makes me happy.

Now that the book is done, I have a backlog of journal articles to write or co-write and submit. There are 10 on my list, so I’ll be glad to tackle two of them in November. After that I’m thinking of aiming for one a month or so, although whether I’ll be able to do that in practice depends on the amount of commissioned work I get, and other commitments – in April and May, for example, I’ll need to do promotional work for the next book.

I will, of course, be continuing to blog my academic writing progress – although not here, as I’ve set up my own blog and website. So if you’d like to find out how I approach AcWriMo and writing journal articles, please do come and see me there.

It’s been a real pleasure hosting Dr Helen Kara’s blog and we’ll continue to support Helen’s blog as it expands and grows over on her new site [LINK TO]. If you’ve missed any of Helen’s blog, don’t forget you can catch up on them by following the links below:

 Impostor syndrome or the obstacle course of the self

Reviewers comments: the good, the bad and the ugly

EXCITING NEWS KLAXON!!!

That difficult second research book

Three compromises you have to make when writing a book

How much pre-writing research do you have to do?

Where does a book begin?

What, another blog on academic writing?!!!

A year in the life of an academic writer: About Helen Kara

And some books by the same author:

Research and evaluation for busy practitioners

Policy Press bytes

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.


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