Pick ‘n’ mix housing policy?


Tessa Coombe’s reflection at the end of the party conference season is that once more politicians have failed to grasp the magnitude of the housing problem we face in the UK. She welcomes the enthusiasm of Policy Press authors Hugh Ellis and Kate Henderson and their timely reminder of what is possible with a ‘passionate ambition’ in their book “Rebuilding Britain: Planning for a better future”, as well as looking at the more direct criticism featured in Kate Barker’s latest book “Housing: where’s the plan”. Enjoy…

Originally posted on TessaCoombes:

380451857_ce9bad11e3_zAs party conference season draws to a close are we any closer to knowing how to deal with the housing crisis? Housing has certainly featured on the agenda and been the subject of much discussion at many fringe meetings, but have any of the parties come close to a comprehensive policy approach? Sadly, my initial conclusion would be that once more politicians have failed to grasp the magnitude of the problem and have instead come up with a whole load of ‘initiatives’ that play at the edges of the issue rather than provide a strategic, co-ordinated and coherent plan. We continue along the lines of a “pick ‘n’ mix” approach to housing policy, where pet projects and short term ‘solutions’ are promoted for electoral gain – appealing to target groups rather than providing solutions for those most in need.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some decent proposals and some…

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The coming apocalypse in UK social policy

Academic and Policy Press author Tony Fitzpatrick has been musing on the state of UK social policy and the effectiveness of welfare reforms since 1945.

tonyfitzpatrick[1]Many expect that in the next few years we will experience an Armageddon in UK social policy, with the effective privatisation of the NHS, the proliferation of profit-making schools, the increased outsourcing and marketisation of public services more generally, and increased levels of poverty and inequality as a result of government austerity.

But these pessimists and naysayers are overlooking something important about the near future. Here’s why.

How often have you heard something like the following? ‘The problem with the welfare state is that it pays people to do nothing. All of those entitlements and unconditional rights encourage them to become dependent. Benefit levels are too high. The result is an erosion of the work ethic, a culture of poverty, lack of family values, increased crime and general loutishness. What we should do is crack down, force the shirkers and the scroungers to do their bit. Let’s end the passive, something-for-nothing system.’

This refrain has been heard repeatedly since 1979. In fact, it began the day after the Elizabethan Poor Law was enacted in 1601, but leave that point to one side. 1979 was the year a government was elected which was dedicated to ending benefit and welfare dependency. Ever since then successive governments have more or less sung the same song.


Of course, quite soon a difficulty builds up. If the welfare state’s unconditional, milk-and-honey culture has produced endless social problems, how to account for the effects of economic and social reforms since 1979? As the welfare state becomes more and more conditional, and as markets and consumerism play a greater and greater role, then it becomes harder to maintain that social problems are due to a post-WW2 system that encourages people to take, take, take.

It’s at this point that politicians turn into vampires. Just as vampires don’t see their own reflection in a mirror, so politicians are often adept at ignoring their own role in creating existing social and economic conditions.

Take the strategy of most Secretaries of State in the last government. Every few months some new shake-up was announced in which unemployed claimants/scroungers/beggars/single mums/teenagers/asylum-seekers/deadbeat-dads would no longer be allowed to sit at home all day having children and watching Countdown. This would be announced on BBC news as ‘the greatest reform to the welfare state since Beveridge’, etc etc. Time would pass. Then a few months later, basically the same initiative would be re-announced as if nothing had happened beforehand.

“By 1979 a grateful nation had awoken to its moral decline, vowed to pull its socks up and give a good kicking to those indigents who insisted on not getting the message”

This is one reason social policy debates often resemble some malicious echo chamber in which the same ideas bounce around for decades by being refurbished as radical and innovative. Overall, governments have swept the negative effects of their own policies and interventions to one side in the search for headlines and votes.

The narrative of the last 3 decades has been this, then. The years after 1945 after filled with social policies that distributed all sorts of goodies and presents to people and asked nothing in return.

This was the era of ‘passive welfare’. Only a few brave, lone voices in the wilderness warned us where it was all going: laziness, dependency, economic catastrophe, and so on.

‘Active welfare’

By 1979 a grateful nation had awoken to its moral decline, vowed to pull its socks up and give a good kicking to those indigents who insisted on not getting the message. After 34 years the party was over; time for responsible adults to clean the house. This is now the era of ‘active welfare’.

Is this idyll the society in which we now live? Can you think of anyone who imagines this is the case? Why isn’t middle England content, for instance? Let’s think of the possibilities.

One is that we were simply too optimistic about the task to be done. Turns out that the 1945-79 period was one of such decline that it may take generations, of instilling discipline and respect for authority in the rabble, to rectify.

Another possibility is that too many politicians of all parties have been living in a fantasy of their own making and have been trying to conjure that fantasy into reality by ignoring their own previous and ongoing role in creating a highly unequal, anxious, scapegoat-seeking and often punitive country.

For instance, New Labour’s defence of its record was simple.

In unfavourable circumstances – global hypercapitalism, corporate governance, post-national sovereignty, knowledge economies, and a culture of political apathy – it did all a modern social democratic party can do. Poverty was reduced. And following 4 years of Coalition government, its record doesn’t seem that bad now, does it?

Yet its modest progress on poverty stalled around 2003; ‘the excluded’ were Othered in a way that has increased middle England paranoia about destitute spaces, feral youth, social-moral meltdown and anti-social whatever; and it did little to reduce the levels of inequality it inherited in 1997.

So, according to the prevailing narrative, in the 34 years from 1945-79 we had a hedonistic, unconditional welfare state which failed. Well, by 2013 we had had 34 years since 1979. Will this lead to a sober, objective appraisal of where those 3 decades have left us and why? Will we conclude that if 34 years was long enough for one type of system to fail, it is also long enough for another to fail too?

Will we turn ourselves away from a political and economic system that tolerates massive inequalities, the intrusion of free markets into practically everything, an assumption that private is always best because the public sector is inefficient, underemployment and overwork (including some of the longest working hours in Europe), high levels of child poverty, insecurities, personal acquisitiveness and selfish individualism, and all the regulations designed to control personal behaviour?

Climate Change & Poverty [FC]Tony Fitzpatrick’s latest book Climate change and poverty: A new agenda for developed nations is available at the discounted price of £19.99 (RRP £24.99) from Policy Press website here.

Also available by the same author:

Applied ethics and social problems: Moral questions of birth, society and death

Voyage to Utopias: A fictional guide through social philosophy

Understanding the environment and social policy

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.

Politics: Local power can make a difference to quality of life

Policy Press author Robin Hambleton, whose book Leading the Inclusive City: Place-based innovation for a bounded planet publishes next month, argues that it is time to sweep away the obsessive centralisation that is holding Britain back

HambletonThe very high level of participation in the Scottish Referendum on 18 September is good news for all those who care about the quality of democracy in the UK.

The turnout, at 84.6%, was a massive improvement on the 65.1% who voted in the last UK General Election back in May 2010. Indeed, the citizens of Scotland have forced a re-write of the record books. They delivered the highest turnout in any election held in the UK since 1918, which was the first year all adults enjoyed the right to vote.

Lessons learned

The first, and most important, lesson to draw from the lively political debates in Scotland is that place-based power matters. The referendum shows that, when citizens are granted significant decision-making authority, power to take decisions that really matter, they are more than ready to step up to the plate.

The events of last month provide a refreshing contrast to the long-established pattern of declining voter engagement in national and local government elections across the UK.

Westminster and Whitehall must shoulder much of the blame for the deterioration in the civic culture of Britain during the last thirty years. This is because successive governments have pursued a policy of, what I have called elsewhere, ‘centralisation on steroids’.

Over the years the ‘we know best’ London-centric political class, aided and abetted by our over-centralised media, have lost touch with large sections of the electorate.

The second major lesson from the Scottish Referendum is that the days of obsessive centralisation of decision-making in Whitehall should now be numbered. It is clear that avenues for introducing a dramatic decentralisation of power have now opened up within England.

The opportunity must not be missed

But there is a risk that the chance to give a major boost to local democracy will be missed. Discussion of the intricacies of voting arrangements in Westminster – the so-called ‘English Votes for English Laws’ debate – is in danger of distracting us from the larger prize.

Last month Scotland came close to breaking away from the UK. The passion of the referendum campaign demonstrated truly massive frustration with the excessive centralisation of power within the British state.

Believing that adjusting voting rights in the Houses of Parliament represents an adequate response to the public clamour for the real influence in decision-making is to demonstrate a startling lack of understanding of what is called for.

What is to be done?

First, it is vital that politicians in Westminster avoid the temptation to try to execute a ‘quick fix’. Rather, they should seize the opportunity for a radical overhaul of the British constitution. This requires, almost certainly, the creation of a constitutional convention – one that takes account of the voices of civil society, local government and the regions, as well as the political parties.

On 19 September the Prime Minister made a speech in Downing Street in which he proposed that the restructuring of power in England should take place ‘in tandem with and at the same pace as the settlement for Scotland’. This is a wholly misguided approach.

The starting point should be to consider how to revitalise local democracy and local politics across the entire country. There is, to be sure, little public craving for the creation of another tier of government within England.

freiburg_200So, instead of wasting money on trying to reintroduce regional government, it makes far more sense to drive power down to the local authority level and, for some powers, to the level of the city region or county region. We already have a pretty good system of local government, one that can be up-dated, strengthened and given serious fiscal power.

It is worth recalling that, as local government has had its powers reduced, voter turnout in local elections has declined to an unacceptably low level. In recent years, with an average voter turnout hovering at around the 31% mark, British local democracy is sick. It has now established itself firmly at the bottom of the European voter turnout league tables.

Local voting rates in other countries are far higher with, for example, Germany at 70%, Denmark 72% and Sweden 79%. In these countries local governments are far more powerful than in the UK.

The challenge, then, is to reverse the process of centralisation and bring about a radical rebalancing of power within England.

Learning from abroad

The evidence from my recent research on place-based leadership in other countries shows that really powerful elected local authorities can make a major difference to the local quality of life. Moreover when the power of place is given a boost, and this is hardly surprising, public participation in civic affairs also rises.

Strong local authorities are now to be found in all continents taking bold steps to advance social justice, promote care for the environment and tackle climate change. From Curitiba to Melbourne, and from Copenhagen to Portland, we can see that radical urban innovation flourishes when power is decentralised.

Leading the inclusive city [FC]

Leading the Inclusive City will be launched at a talk given by the author at the Watershed in Bristol on 24th November 2014 as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas. To book tickets please visit the website here.

 Leading the Inclusive City can be pre-purchased at the 20% discount price of £19.99 (rrp £24.99) from the Policy Press website – click here for more details.

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.

7 questions to ask when watching tonight’s ‘Baby P’ documentary

Former Director of Social Services, academic and Policy Press author Professor Ray Jones expresses his hopes that tonight’s BBC documentary Baby P: The untold story will give an accurate account of events leading up to and surrounding the death of Baby P. His ‘7 questions to ask when watching tonights ‘Baby P’ documentary’ offers a unique measurement system by which we can judge the material presented.


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’

Tonight the BBC are broadcasting a documentary about how the terrible death of 17 month old Peter Connelly was turned by the media into a story about a little child who became known as ‘Baby P’. Social workers and their managers were blamed and vilified for his death, with Rebekah Brooks and The Sun at the forefront of the vicious and personalised attacks on the social workers.

From September 2012 I provided briefings and information over 18 months to the makers of the BBC film, including the first full draft of ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’, which was published in July.

I have not seen the film, and do not know what editorial approach has been taken by the film makers. But here are my hopes, and some measures against which the film might be judged.

1. Is it recognised in the film that Peter Connelly was a neglected child but that he and the Connelly family were not neglected by social workers? Given what the social workers knew at the time they worked diligently to improve his care and monitor his well-being. It does seem that neglect turned to vicious abuse only in the days immediately before Peter died, but this would never been known from how the story had been told to date.

2. Does the film record that when the social workers sought legal advice about whether the grounds for care proceedings were met there were significant issues about the competence and experience of the legal advisor and the advice that the grounds were not met, and in the management of Haringey Council’s legal services?

3. Will the film report the considerable concerns about the police involvement with Peter and his family before Peter died, and how the police worked with and briefed the media, including the BBC, so that the focus was turned away from the police and centred instead on the social workers?

4: Will the concerns about Great Ormond Street Hospital’s senior managers in ensuring a safe and secure community paediatric service in Haringey be given attention?

5. Will the part played by Ofsted and by the second government-required serious case review be reviewed as both legitimised and reinforced the media’s blame of social workers for Peter’s death?

6. Will the behaviour of Mr Cameron, Mr Balls and other politicians receive comment as they tucked in behind the media’s vilification of social workers and combined to deliver the sackings of social workers and their managers, with a Director of Children’s Services, Sharon Shoesmith, later found by the High Court to have been scapegoated following The Sun’s so-called ‘Campaign for Justice’?

7. Will the film note the terrible impact on the child protection system in England, and therefore on the safety and welfare of children, which quickly became over-loaded following the media’s shaping of the ‘Baby P’ story, and with child protection services at breaking point? The Coalition Government, with no opposition from Labour, is now arguing for and allowing the marketisation and privatisation of child protection investigations and assessments.

There are high hopes that tonight’s documentary will play a major part in correcting what has been told about the awful death of Peter Connelly, about the part played by those who worked to protect children, and how the ‘Baby P’ story came to be mis-shaped to target social workers.

If the film addresses all or most of the points above it will be a considerable credit to the programme makers and a major contribution to correcting a story which has to date largely left the public misinformed.


Professor Ray Jones is the author of ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’, and Professor of Social Work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London. A registered social worker, for 14 years he was a Director of Social Services. He has been chair of the British Association of Social Workers and chief executive of the Social Care Institute for Excellence. A frequent media commentator, he oversees child protection in several areas and has written several books and numerous papers on social work and social policy. 

Other blogs by the same author:

Who protects the protectors? Social workers still ravaged by Baby P media storm

Related links:

Seven years on, why is the Baby P case still making headlines? The Guardian article by Harry Ferguson 

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.

Impostor syndrome or the obstacle course of the self

Independent researcher and author Helen Kara continues her fortnightly series of blogs on the practice of non-fiction, academic writing by looking at often the biggest challenge in the whole process – the writer themselves… 

Helen KaraThere are lots of potential obstacles to writing: lack of time, motivation, or ability; needing to read all the internet before you start; and so on. Not having time is often cited as a major reason why people don’t write. I have little time for time as an excuse.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that it’s possible to write effectively in short periods of time. It took me around ten minutes to write the first 100 words of this blog post. That’s 100 words I didn’t have before. If I spent ten minutes writing each day for five days, I’d have 500 words, or approximately a typed page of A4.

I went on a fiction writing course, some years ago, with the Arvon Foundation, and one of the tutors was the novelist Andrew Cowan. I remember him telling us how he wrote quite slowly, and not to worry if we did too, because every novel was just a pile of pages, and the thing to do was to carry on putting another page on the pile, and eventually you’d have a whole novel’s worth, and it didn’t matter if that took you years.

an inspirational woman

On that course I also met an inspirational woman who is the other reason I have little time for the ‘I don’t have time’ excuse. This woman cared, single-handed, for three young children and her elderly, infirm father. She had to get them all up in the morning and washed and fed, take them to their various schools or day care, and then go to work to earn her family’s living.

After work she had to collect them all again, bring them home, feed them, do the housework, and put them all to bed. Then she used the next half-hour for writing, while the house was quiet, before she fell into bed herself. She talked about how lucky she felt to have half an hour, every day, for her writing. At that point I made a silent vow that I would never, ever, whinge about not having enough time to write.

hk_19092014maskI’m motivated to write, my ability is proven, and I’m not much of a procrastinator (if you don’t count tweeting, which I don’t – you have to write tweets, right? So it’s practice). But I’m experiencing a whole new obstacle, which has made this week remarkably unproductive. It’s called impostor syndrome. Essentially, I feel like a fraud, and I’m sure I’ll be caught out, because I can’t possibly be allowed to get away with impersonating someone who knows enough to write a book.

I had this with my last book, too, but it didn’t kick in until the writing was done. This time it’s really getting in the way. It’s completely bizarre because I know it’s ridiculous – I can write; I do know about research; and I also know how to spot gaps in my knowledge and how to fill those gaps. Yet there’s this incredible feeling of fraudulence right alongside that knowledge.

“impostor syndrome is a great problem to have, because it’s a problem of success”

In one way, impostor syndrome is a great problem to have, because it’s a problem of success. I’ve experienced other problems of success, such as learning to say ‘no’ (I’m quite good at that these days) and managing a ridiculous email inbox (that too). But I’m really struggling to solve this problem.

Going back to the reviewers’ comments, lovely though they are, doesn’t help. Their criticism could not have been more constructive, yet their gentle and useful pointing out of ways I could strengthen the typescript simply have me convinced that if I wasn’t a fraud I would have thought of them myself. I found out that one of my writerly heroes, Neil Gaiman, has also suffered from impostor syndrome (well worth watching, but skip to 7 mins 25 secs if you want to get straight to the point).

You’d think that would be comforting – but no, it intensified the problem, as in: I must be even more of a fraud if I think I can have a syndrome that Neil Gaiman had. I’ve tried to persuade myself to think differently – ‘come on, Helen, you can do this writing thing, you’ll be fine’. I’ve tried to berate myself out of it – ‘for goodness’ sake, Helen, get a grip and put some words down’. Nothing works.

So I guess I just have to find a way to live with it and write anyway. Oddly enough, I think writing this blog post may have helped. It is well known that writing can be therapeutic, so maybe… I’ll let you know next blog.

Let’s hope the blogging has helped!  Whilst you wait for the next instalment however why not browse some of Helen’s previous blogs below:

Reviewers comments: the good, the bad and the ugly


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.

The complexity of convergence: criminal justice, mental health and risk

The World Mental Health Day earlier this month aimed to create awareness and mobilise efforts to support the mental health of individuals.  Editors of A companion to criminal justice, mental health and risk, Paul Taylor, Karen Corteen and Sharon Morley, which publishes today, have a particular interest in the point of ideological, legislative , practical and procedural convergence between mental healthcare and criminal justice.

In their blog post academics and Policy Press authors Paul Taylor, Karen Corteen and Sharon Morley begin to outline some of the intertwining issues surrounding criminal justice and mental health.

PT, SM, KCNational and international awareness days are just one example of the myriad of activities aimed at promoting mental health agendas. Indeed, here in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, those tasked with the mandate of support, educating about, and treating mental health issues are cross-disciplinary and multi-agency. One area, among many, of discussion and debate on the improvement of mental wellbeing and the support of mental health issues is in the criminal justice context.

Those in contact with the criminal justice system who experience poor mental health may be considered as exceptionally vulnerable. A system whose remit is to respond to a variety of crises – be that of a criminal or personal/social nature – is a system of complexity with a range of demands placed upon it.

Precarious system

Moreover, it is a precarious system whereby the expectations placed upon it are diverse, with innumerable competing aims. Allegations that aspects of the criminal justice process fail to support the needs of those with mental vulnerabilities are frequently expressed, and so too are those concerns that the system itself is implicit in creating and exacerbating mental health issues.

So then, the mobilisation of policies and services to address mental health in a criminal justice context have evolved, but at the same time has come under scrutiny. Indeed for some, the boundaries between healthcare and criminal justice have become blurred, and not always with positive outcomes.

This critical approach to the intersections of criminal justice and mental health legislation, policy and practice have grown gradually and have illuminated upon the ideological, legislative, practical and procedural convergence between mental healthcare and criminal justice (see for example, Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2010).

“A criminal justice system facing pressures to be efficient that at the same time is punishing more and more individuals finds itself riven with dilemmas”

Convergence continues to take place in many criminal justice and penal systems. It is complex to observe, sophisticated in form and influenced by a range of imperatives, agendas and discourses. The overlapping areas of criminal justice, mental healthcare and risk require a critical and balanced understanding, and along the way, require observers to ask the question “who benefits?”

Multiagency approaches and cross-discipline developments in the area of mental healthcare, risk management and criminal justice are becoming increasing normalised in the organising principles of those subject to sanctions and interventions.

The benefits of increased convergence are well documented, not least in the developing agendas to support mental health issues in areas such as court diversion and prisons. But at the same time, understanding the complexities of convergent practices provides a potential to be alerted to unintended consequences and less-than-positive outcomes.

A criminal justice system facing pressures to be efficient that at the same time is punishing more and more individuals finds itself riven with dilemmas, not least when thinking about the support and treatment of those subject to its controls.

The delivery of therapeutic interventions within an environment of sanctions is ideologically contradictory to say the least, and so the challenges facing those tasked with the planning and delivery of interventions are increasingly becoming more acute.

A companion to criminal justice mental health & riskA companion to criminal justice, mental health and risk by Paul Taylor, Karen Corteen and Sharon Morley is available at the discounted price of £22.39 (RRP £27.99) from Policy Press website, here.

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 Points Interview: Henry Yeomans


Interview with academic and Policy Press author Henry Yeomans, (first published on ‘Points’ by Claire Clark 14th October 2014) about his book Alcohol and moral regulation: Public attitudes, spirited measures and Victorian hangovers. Perfect Monday morning reading…

Originally posted on Points: The Blog of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society:

EDITOR’S NOTE: Points is delighted to welcome back past contributor Henry Yeomans (check out his previous series of Points posts here,here, and here). Yeomans is a Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Leeds. Here, he discusses new book, Alcohol and Moral Regulation: Public Attitudes, Spirited Measures and Victorian Hangovers (University of Chicago/Policy Press for the University of Bristol, 2014).

screenshot_1200Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Alcohol is a magnetic topic for public attention in England and Wales. Newspapers incessantly run stories on the ills of binge drinking, new government policies regularly seek to address ‘irresponsible’ or ‘problem’ drinking, and commentators and campaign groups routinely demand tighter laws to counter an ‘out of control’ drinking ‘epidemic’. This level of alarmed attention tends to be justified by a widespread belief that drinking in Britain is a worsening and peculiarly British social problem…

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