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?

Current debates about inequality and ‘austerity’ are brought starkly into focus when faced with the facts. Oxfam for example recently reported that just 85 people own as much wealth as half the world’s population. At the other end of the numbers scale nearly a billion people can barely afford to feed their families globally.

Over in the US wealth inequality has risen sharply in recent years, with the share of total income earned by the top 1% of families now exceeding 20% of total household wealth. It was less than 10% in the late 1970s.

Closer to home Shelter has highlighted that 90,000 children in Britain will be homeless this Christmas.


These figures and this kind of research is of paramount importance to me. It’s what drives me, and our team, to find and publish the very latest work on these issues, books that show that inequality is not inevitable, that inequality is often structural and that we have choices about the policies that are implemented which either lessen or compound inequality, be that within the UK or globally.

This month in particular is a big one for Policy Press in terms of publishing two key books that I feel will make a difference to the inequality debate.

Hills-launch-pic-1On Wednesday I was delighted to be at the launch of John Hills’ powerful book Good times, bad times: the welfare myth of them and us at the LSE.

Good times bad times [FC]I feel the central statement of Hills’ book can’t be said loud enough or often enough – that that there is no truth in the ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’ analogy that we are so familiar with thanks to certain sectors of the media and government. What appealed to me about the book was that Hills’ robustly argues, based on the latest research data, that in fact we all rely on the welfare state throughout our lifetimes and that there is not a ‘welfare-dependent’ minority who are paid for by the rest.

Critically he uses hard data to explode myths about welfare dependency and the cost of welfare – such as the public belief that 40% of welfare spending goes on out of work benefits. The real figure is in fact closer to 4%.

Next week I’ll be attending the launch of Andrew Sayer’s Why we can’t afford the rich at which Polly Toynbee and Richard Wilkinson will also be speaking.

BadgeI’m thrilled that we’re publishing Andrew’s book which is an eloquent argument about how the rich are threatening the planet through their fixation on unsustainable growth.

Why we can’t afford the rich exposes how the top 1% are syphoning off wealth produced by the others and far from being wealth creators, the wealthy are extracting it from the rest of us.

Why we can't afford the rich [FC]What is important to me is that Andrew clearly and engagingly explains how, and why, the rich have been increasingly able to hide their wealth, create indebtedness and expand their political influence. Crucially he provides solutions too, calling for radical change to make economies sustainable and fair.

At the heart of Policy Press is a belief in fairness, equality and social justice. I want our books to make people think and challenge entrenched views, to provide robust evidence and to lead to action and positive change.

We have published research on inequality from around the globe but there are a few titles from the UK which I am proud to say have made a big impact: Danny Dorling’s Injustice is a foundational book for those who want to understand why inequality matters; Martin Evans and Lewis Williams remarkable study A generation of change looks at the impact of social policies at different points in our lives by analysing 30 years of British data from 1979-2009 and Karen Rowlingson and Steve Mackie’s Wealth and the wealthy was the first serious book to look at the role of the wealthy in inequality where previously the focus was on the poor.

“academics need to constantly respond to and challenge the myths that are put forward by the media”

But it is not just about academics providing the evidence. I believe it is vital to hear the voices of those that experience poverty every day and those that try to support them. Mary O’Hara shared her experiences of travelling around the UK hearing what it is like to live on the breadline in the bestselling Austerity Bites and Tracy Shildrick, Rob MacDonald, Colin Webser and Kayleigh Garthwaite delved into the reality of working in precarious low paid jobs, balancing week to week with no or low pay, in the award winning Poverty and Insecurity.

As Polly Toynbee implored at the launch of Good times, bad times, academics need to constantly respond to and challenge the myths that are put forward by the media. Policy Press is here to help them do just that by publishing their robust evidence and thoughtful arguments.

If you liked this you may also be interested in reading….

Myth busting: How the Treasury really spends your money

The welfare states surprising winners

The coming apocalypse in UK social policy

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%.

The slide show below shows firstly how the Treasury suggest our taxes are spent and then how that view masks the true welfare state spend.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Slides/Images courtesy of Professor John Hills/LSE

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.

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.


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


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.

Climate change: The rallying call for political bravery, increased democracy and ‘sustain-ablity’-as-standard in education

Pic 3 Ros WHugh Atkinson_photoAcademics and Policy Press authors Hugh Atkinson and Ros Wade examine what needs to be done in light of climate change to kick start the process of building a more sustainable world.

They ask if the world’s leaders are capable of making the necessary brave decisions and call for more democracy, not less, as the solution.  

But, Atkinson and Wade believe, at the heart of it all is the need for life-long learning and an education system that provides each of us with the ability to sustain ourselves and our planet – and quickly too….

The world is facing  fundamental social and environmental challenges over the next 50 years. Climate change, global poverty and continuing war and conflict, all of which are set against a backdrop of highly consuming lifestyles, the rapacious tide of neo liberalism and a growing population that is predicted to reach 9 billion by the turn of the century. The resources of the planet are being eaten up at an alarming and unsustainable rate.  Yet governments have been extremely slow in addressing these issues.

One of the obstacles to change has been a reluctance or an inability to integrate social and environmental concerns in to policy making and practice. The concept of sustainable development which came to global prominence after the UN Rio Summit of 1992 was devised as a new way of linking these concerns. Indeed it has provided a new vocabulary of political change. Sustainable development has been at the centre of mainstream policy making over the last 10 years, though its meaning and application have at times been contested.


Yet politicians, concerned about winning elections, appear reluctant to promote awareness raising of the major global and local challenges among the general public in any meaningful way. By the same token, the general public, or at least significant sections of it, seem unable to grasp the challenges that lie ahead for both people and planet. All this highlights some key questions about our current education systems and their ability to develop the knowledge, understanding and competencies that are needed for the world of the 21st century.

Al Gore at the Climate change 2014 march

Al Gore at the Climate change 2014 march

Despite the Agenda 21 commitments of the world’s governments at the 1992 Rio Summit to reorient education systems towards sustainable development, the evidence shows that the process is still very patchy and far from complete.

So what can we do to kick start the process of building a more sustainable world? We need to fundamentally rethink the way we do politics, education and learning. But how is this to be done?

How do we move to a new kind of politics in which political leaders are honest with voters about the need to use our cars less, to fly less and to forego the latest high tech gadget? Are the world’s leaders capable of making the necessary brave decisions? Such decisions involve spelling out clearly what has to be done if we are to tackle climate change and build a more sustainable world. But this will require significant sacrifices by consumers in the ‘developed’ world. How will they respond at the ballot box to such an agenda? Will our politicians resort to the default position of short term expediency?

“For the last 20 years neo liberalism has provided the dominant framework for education policy making”

There is no doubt that democratic systems face significant challenges in shaping a more sustainable world. But the solution to meeting these challenges is more democracy, not less. Political leaders must seek to secure the informed consent of citizens to fundamental shifts in their behaviour through a significantly more participatory model of democracy.

There are also significant challenges in education and learning. An overview of current education practice across a range of countries shows that although policy commitments to reorient education systems towards sustainable development have increased, practice lags rather far behind. There are clear reasons for this. For the last 20 years neo liberalism has provided the dominant framework for education policy making.

photo_climate change marchAs a consequence marketisation and privatisation have frequently skewed education practice towards unsustainable development. The culture of individualised learning, competition and testing adds little to the future well-being of the world, rather what is needed is a culture of learning with an emphasis on a shared humanity and shared ecology. We need to learn the ability to sustain ourselves and our planet, and learn rather quickly too! Sustain- ability (personally locally and globally) should be at the heart of all learning and of all education systems.

Yet, without a sea change at international and national levels, education policy will fail to address the huge challenges that the world is facing in the 21st century. We need to embed a lifelong commitment to sustainability in all learning and at last there does seem to be some evidence of this, at least at the global level.

The 2013-14 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report which monitors progress on the education millennium development goals (MDGs) clearly states the importance of sustainable development and global citizenship in delivering quality education. An education curriculum devoid of these elements will not enable humanity to live sustainably, indeed such an education will only add to the problem of unsustainability.

There is no simple and easy answer here but these are all issues that need to be seriously addressed. Perhaps one way forward is to look at the challenges we face through a different lens.  The terms of the debate need to be shifted so that shaping a more sustainable world is not seen purely in negative terms, but rather as a real opportunity to build a more fulfilling way of life, away from the treadmill of consumerism and the drum beat of neo liberalism!

The challenge of sustainability [FC]Hugh Atkinson and Ros Wade are the co-editors of  The challenge of sustainability: linking politics, education and learning which will be published by Policy Press on 3 December 2014

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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