Austerity Christmas: Why are the most vulnerable footing the bill for the country’s debts?

In addition to the revelry and merry making, Christmas is a time for reflecting on the past year. Director Alison Shaw looks back on the political play of 2014 and throws out some tough questions well worth ruminating on over the turkey and the cake this holiday season.

Policy Press - 018 resizeWhilst we publish work at Policy Press that challenges social problems, our team, like most of our readers and community, will be spending time this Christmas in comfort with families and friends (for which I am extremely grateful). I am conscious however that there are an enormous number of people who face a Christmas of poverty, distress and loneliness.

I can’t help but think, at this time of giving gifts and consuming an abundance of food, what about those people who cannot do this for their children and family, who are suffering from yet more cuts to their income and the services that support them? How do you actually live when your benefits have been sanctioned and you have no money for a month or three – nothing – zero. How about this for Christmas cheer:

“It’s Christmas Day. You don’t do any jobsearch, because it’s Christmas Day. So you get sanctioned. For not looking to see if anyone has advertised a new job on Christmas Day.” (Source: Poverty Alliance)

It is positively Dickensian. And not in the warm, comforting glow of A Christmas Carol.

The surprised look on the childrens faces when Father Christmas tells them he has fogotton the presents Credit: TheirHistory

1930s: The surprised look on the childrens’ faces when Father Christmas tells them he has forgotten the presents. Photo credit: TheirHistory

Reflecting on 2014, we have seen tough public spending cuts in the UK with promises of substantially more taking us back to 1930s level of public spending. What pains me is the severe hardship some of our most vulnerable citizens are in. There is constant talk from all the main parties of reducing the deficit, a seeming consensus, but what surprises me is the lack of animated public debate about this assumption. Surely the political decisions as to where the cuts happen, how much money needs to be saved and over what period needs questioning when the poor and vulnerable are seemingly bearing the biggest burden.

historic picture

I briefly looked at the historic picture to gain a longer view. According to the ONS September 2014 data General Government net borrowing (‘deficit’) was 5.9% of GDP in 2013/14 and gross debt was 87.8% of GDP. I think our debt has ranged from over 200% of GDP during World War II to as low as 25% in 1992, with the period from the 1920s to the mid 60s seeing debts of at least 100%, and often much higher, which seems to suggest we can live for long periods with a debt that is higher than the current one.

“ makes me question whether the mantra that we have to cut the deficit is in fact a political position…”

I guess the key issue is the cost of servicing the debt, and again a longer view helps put the current situation in context: post World War II we paid about 4% of GDP in interest and by the 2000s it had dropped to 2%. The cost is now expected to be around 3%. So it makes me question whether the mantra that we have to cut the deficit is in fact a political position being taken around the size of government and public spending and not based on a necessity, as we are led to believe.

So, the point of all this is to really question why we are pulling back from helping those most in need? I admit to being incredulous that when we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world over 900,000 UK citizens had to be fed by The Trussel Trust food banks in 2013-14 because they could not eat without it. How did we get here?

I’m grateful that there is a growing body of accessible data on the subject of government spending and that we’ve been able to contribute to this over the past couple of months, enabling people to take a closer look at the numbers through publishing books such as Good times, bad times and Why we can’t afford the rich. Getting that kind of research out into the public domain is to my mind essential and it is only by increasing awareness of the cold hard facts, of encouraging people to interrogate the numbers with ever greater attention to detail, that we’re really going to be able to call our politicians to account. This of course is going to be something that will become ever more important as we run into the General Election in the UK next year.

Robin in the snow, Martin Mere. Photo credit: Gidzy

Robin in the snow, Martin Mere. Photo credit: Gidzy

Thanks to the tremendous support we’ve received this year from our authors and editors, customers and readers, retailers and suppliers. Policy Press has had a fabulous year publishing some really ground-breaking and influential work. As we all step back and take a few days’ break I hope that there will be time for reflection, as well as time to recharge batteries, ready to fling ourselves back into the fray in the New Year and keep on keeping on to get us to a better, fairer and more just society.

And now, stepping down from the soap box for 2014, I’d just like to wish you all a truly wonderful Christmas and New Year from everyone at Policy Press.

Chicago in December: Taking the Policy Press message across the Atlantic…

For a number of years now Policy Press and the University of Chicago Press (UCP) have had a ‘special relationship’ through which Policy Press titles are marketed, sold and distributed in North America. Assistant Director Julia Mortimer travelled to UCP’s annual sales conference  earlier this month to share valuable information with them about our lead titles for the new year and learn ever more about publishing in the American marketplace.

I must confess a shameful secret: I love Chicago best in the cold.

― Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

Policy Press - 014During a bright, frosty week in early December I had the pleasure of returning to University of Chicago Press for a week of sales presentations and meetings. Policy Press works with UCP to market, sell and distribute our books in North America.

The partnership is a truly collaborative one and the UCP staff are a delight to work with as well as being wonderful hosts. As you might imagine they are incredibly knowledgeable about the North American market and very generous in sharing that knowledge to the benefit of their distributed presses.

So, what happens at a sales conference?


University of Chicago Press offices

The main purpose of my trip was to present Policy Press Spring 2015 titles to the sales and marketing team. Between them the sales reps cover visits to booksellers, wholesalers and library suppliers across the country from Washington State to New Mexico and up to Canada.

The sales presentations last all week and involve all of the UCP North American sales reps and members of the UCP sales and marketing team. They see all the key Chicago and distributed press titles for that season – it’s a full-on week for everyone, so cookies, bagels and strong coffee are in plentiful supply!

There is real concern in the US about growing inequality just as there is in the UK so our lead titles for the Spring season Why we can’t afford the rich by Andrew Sayer and Sixteen for ’16: A progressive agenda for a better America by Salvatore Babones were well received by the reps.

Both Sayer’s and Babones’ books provide the evidence for the need for change. Sayer’s book is a detailed exposé of the myths surrounding wealth creation, whilst Babones’ text is a clarion call for change in US social policy and will be particularly pertinent with the US elections taking place next year.

University of Chicago campus

University of Chicago campus

The marketing and promotions team are looking forward to working on these titles. As I left, the publicity staff were setting off to make their calls on the newspaper and magazine reviewers and a wide range of media outlets in New York including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and NBC.

Given the more regional nature of US media the team also work on covering outlets across the country, in addition to which they send out review copies of our books to a wide range of reviewers from magazines to academic journals.

Perfect partners

We’re passionate about getting the Policy Press message out internationally and the UCP team are perfect partners because they have the skills and expertise in terms of identifying just the right places to promote each book – the kind of knowledge it’s just not possible to foster as effectively from this side of the pond.

Consequently, we’re thrilled that several recent titles have featured in The Nation, the country’s foremost progressive monthly magazine as well as quarterly, The American Prospect and the New York Review of Books. The marketing team will also enter books for relevant North American prizes.

“…talking to the UCP team, learning from the wealth of experience they have, will really help as we develop our list…

The UCP team attend and promote our books at numerous conferences and meetings throughout the year, including the American Sociology Association, the American Political Science Association, Midwest Political Science Association and the Association of American Geographers. So if you are attending any of these events do go and meet them, they are a really lovely bunch of people!

During the week I also visited the Chicago Distribution Center where our books are stored  and had very useful meetings – though the plethora of reporting on sales and distribution available to us was enough to make my brain hurt with information!


As well as being a week of working hard, we were also treated to some fantastic Chicago food and drink

Face to face contact is so valuable. I’m confident that being able to go over and spend time talking to the UCP team, learning from the wealth of experience they have, will really help as we develop our list going forward.

The most important take home message for me from my visit was how domestic the US market focus is and how our content needs to meet this need in order to be highly relevant and sell well there, particularly for ‘trade’ titles.

Fortunately our reputation for quality, highly regarded books stands us in good stead and UCP are in no doubt that we are on track for our books to continue to be key purchases for the top research institutions.

However, we’re not resting on our laurels on this one. If you are an American author working in any of the areas we cover we would love to hear your ideas so please do get in touch with our commissioning team. Our website details which editors are responsible for which subjects areas so do have a look here and send an email across to the relevant person. We’re confident that our partnership with UCP will give your book excellent promotion in North America, and you have the added bonus of reaching UK and European audiences too!

Policy Press – a year in charity

Throughout 2014 Policy Press supported St Mungo’s, a charity supporting the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. We got involved in some great activities. Below is a summary of the year.

December 2013


Victoria wins the mince pie bake-off!

Policy Press staff and authors kick-started our year of activity by donating to St Mungo’s in lieu of sending Christmas cards.

We also held a mince-pie bake off amongst staff. Congratulations Victoria!








January 2014

Woolly hat day

Woolly Hat Day 2014

On Friday 31st January we took part in St Mungo’s Woolly Hat day, wearing our woolliest hats to work and holding a cake sale.





March, April, May, June

Our monthly charity coffee mornings were a real success with Policy Press staff and colleagues in other University departments.



Charity quiz poster

For our big fundraising event of the year Policy Press held a ‘pub’ quiz. The event was a great success with teams from other Bristol publishers taking part, and prizes donated from local Bristol businesses.









Painting and decorating at St Mungo’s

Policy Press staff spent the day volunteering at a St Mungo’s crisis centre for men, in Bristol – decorating, making soft furnishings and cooking.








In 2015 we will be supporting Off the Record, a charity that runs a range of projects across Bristol and South Gloucestershire to support young people to improve their mental health and well-being.

If you would like to donate please visit our local giving page.

Competition: Your chance to win a signed copy of Mary O’Hara’s Austerity Bites

Mary O'Hara

Mary O’Hara

Inequality is on the increase in the UK with more people being driven towards the poverty line.

At Policy Press we believe it’s really important that our understanding of the situation happens at both the level of the head and the heart and we’re thrilled that Owen Jones selected Mary O’Hara’s ‘Austerity Bites’ as his best book of 2014 in the recent Guardian ‘Writers picks’.

Danny Dorling

Danny Dorling

So thrilled in fact we’re giving you the chance to win a free, signed copy of Mary’s book. If you’d like to enter our prize draw please email us here with the subject: ‘Austerity Christmas Prize Draw’ by 11am on Monday 22nd December. We’ll be holding the draw on Monday afternoon and will be in touch with the winner to get your full details and send you your winning copy.

Austerity bites [FC] borderIn the meantime, why not grab a cuppa and have a listen to a podcast of Mary O’Hara and Danny Dorling speaking on the subject of Austerity Bites, Inequality and the 1% from last months event at Bookmarks Bookshop in London?

The political economy of ‘a country called Europe’

SPERI_logo_300Policy Press author Dimitris Ballas recently published a blog on the University of Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute blog, speri.comment, about ‘The political economy of ‘a country called Europe’ in which he suggests that new mapping techniques open up the possibility of  more informed policy-making and a greater sense of solidarity across Europe . We enjoyed it so much we thought you might like to read it too…

dimitris_ballasCan Europe be seen as one country? Or at least as an emerging ‘entity of identity’ made up of a growing number of smaller countries and regions? To what extent, in other words, can we start talking about the political economy of ‘a country called Europe’?

After several years of severe economic crisis and austerity measures that have disproportionately and brutally hit the most disadvantaged citizens across the continent, accompanied by a rise of extremist far right and populist parties, it may seem that a positive answer to these questions might be very unlikely.

Yet, despite the negative climate and the political scapegoating of the European Union in some of the countries most hit by the crisis and austerity measures, the fact is that, according to the most recent Eurobarometer survey, ‘most people are optimistic about the future of the EU in nearly all member states’ and, remarkably, ‘close to two-thirds of Europeans feel that they are citizens of the EU’. This seems to be particularly the case amongst the rapidly increasing numbers of Europeans who live, study and work in a member-state other than their country of birth.

There is undoubtedly a need for reform of the European Union and there are currently very important debates taking place regarding governance, democratic accountability and social cohesion, building on the remarkable achievements of the past seven decades. A notable example is a recently proposed manifesto for a euro political union, calling for ‘less Europe on issues on which member countries do very well on their own, and more Europe when union is essential’.

One novel way of contributing to these debates and of highlighting the benefits of policy-making at the European level is to consider European economy, culture, history and its human and physical geography as a single, large, land and population mass. This is the approach taken by myself and my fellow European geographers Danny Dorling and Benjamin Hennig in our recently published Social Atlas of Europe.

Our project highlights the notion of Europe as a single entity by looking at its physical and population geography simultaneously, using state-of-the-art Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and new human cartography techniques that build on recent award-winning research and innovative Worldmapping applications. The material and maps presented in our new atlas can then be used to inform evidence-based debates about policy-making at the European level.

I illustrate this here with a simple example taken from the Health chapter of the book, showing the relevance of our mapping to current debates about the political economy of Europe.

This is a map known as a Hennig Projection Gridded Cartogram, with the area drawn scaled proportionally to population but shaded by the total numbers of practising physicians per 100,000 population in each region (more information on the types of maps and the data and methods can be found in the introductory chapter and amongst other material available via the book’s accompanying web-site). It is worth noting that amongst the regions with the higher numbers we see countries heavily affected by recession and austerity, including Greece (which also the highest number of doctors per capita in Europe).

The map shown here can be used to inform debates regarding the planning of health services at the European level. For example, it enables us to understand better inequalities in health service provision across European regions and countries; at the same time, it allows us to make a case for a pan-European Health System which could involve the co-ordination of efforts and funding at the European level to arrange treatment and routine operations in countries and regions that have surplus medical staff. It’s easy to see that this could have great benefits for the populations in countries with longer hospital waiting lists and at the same time support the local and national economies of those areas affected most by the crisis.

Another policy-relevant debate that can be informed by the use of the ‘data geovisualisation’ presented here is that surrounding highly skilled migration and ‘brain drain’ in Europe at times of crisis. In particular, it is interesting to note that highly qualified professionals (including medical staff) in the regions hit the hardest by the recession and massive government cuts have been migrating over the past five years to regions with lower unemployment, mostly in the north and in countries like Germany. It can be argued that such movements of population not only help some regions and countries overcome their skill shortages, but that they also further contribute to the formation and bolstering of European identity, both in the receiving countries as well as in the minds of the migrating population.

On the other hand, these movements can be seen as a brain-drain for the originating regions with further negative economic and social implications. In any case, it is very important to point out that the cost of educating highly qualified professionals like doctors was typically not covered by the receiving country, but rather by the tax-payers of those sending countries, like Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal, which made huge investments in their higher education systems in past decades. This is worth remembering when considering European solidarity! The point is simple but important: the investments in higher education (including medical schools) made by these countries in the past decades (and which have contributed to their high overall levels of government debt) are now benefiting the European Union as a whole via the migration of these highly skilled groups of individuals.

Indeed, there are many more examples of variables and themes that can be used to illustrate how mapping and conceptualising Europe as one place can inform relevant policy debates. Other examples might include migration, regional populations by age, unemployment, hospital beds and EU Spending.

Finally, in addition to the enrichment of the evidence base available to inform urban, regional, national and European policy simultaneously, we can plausibly hope that these new maps and cartograms of Europe may also enhance a sense of common identity, solidarity and belonging. By such means, perhaps we can slowly move away from a ‘nation-state mentality’ and towards the idea of Europe as a country united in diversity – in effect a Europe of cities and regions rather than nation-states.

Many thanks to the University of Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute for giving us permission to reblog this piece.

Dimitris Ballas is co-author of The Social Atlas of Europe with Danny Dorling and Benjamin Hennig. Copies of the book can be purchased at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website

If you enjoyed this blog, you might also like reading…Once upon a time there was a country called Europe

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.

Playing nicely: How best to get the parallel worlds of education to overlap in the UK

So often these days conversation around education focuses on what’s wrong with it, how the UK education system’must try harder’ if it is to make the grade. However guest blogger Peter Kraftl, qualifies the recent comments from the Shadow Secretary of State, suggesting that politicians and the public should look much more closely at some of the A* collaborations happening between State and the ‘alternative’ education movement in the UK.  

Peter Kraftl

Peter Kraftl

In a recent Guardian article, Shadow Secretary of State Tristram Hunt argued that private schools should cooperate more extensively with State schools.

Threatening a withdrawal of tax breaks for independent schools, he indicated that fee-paying schools should be prepared to share facilities and engage in competitive sport with State schools. His position was that independent schools had been asked – ‘politely’ – to cooperate, but with little effect.

Mr Hunt’s article revives a number of long-standing debates about the class divides in the UK education system. Not least, it reminds us of the enduring significance in this country of what the sociologist Stephen Ball termed ‘circuits of schooling’ – parallel worlds of education, differentiated by class, which rarely overlap.

Considerable complexity

Notwithstanding deeper questions about the relationship between the existence of private education and educational inequalities, Mr Hunt’s position glosses considerable complexity in and between the different sectors of the UK educational landscape. Indeed, with some regularity, the State and private sectors are viewed as monolithic, even oppositional entities.

However, if one looks to the UK’s diverse but growing alternative education sector, the picture is far more complex. Alternative education spaces call in to question the assumption that different education sectors in the UK rarely work together.

By alternative education, I mean those educational practices that are neither funded directly by the State, but neither do they follow one of the UK’s National Curricula. Some such practices may be privatised – fee-paying, or, like elective home education, taking place in the domestic sphere.

One of many care farms across the UK

One of many care farms across the UK

Yet, underpinned by alternative pedagogue – like Steiner, Montessori, or Democratic schooling – they differ from the majority of independent schools. In addition, if one defines alternative education as a practice that replaces all or part of a child’s compulsory schooling, then a range of other spaces can also be included – from Care Farms to Forest Schools. Many of these latter spaces are run by volunteers, rely on grants or donations, or are based on social enterprise models.

“gradually, the lines between ‘alternative’, ‘mainstream’ and ‘private’ are becoming increasingly blurred”

Crucially, alternative educators have worked to forge connections with ‘the mainstream’ in all kinds of ways, which both exceed and could inform consideration of the kinds of collaboration cited by Mr Hunt. Examples include:

• The influence of alternative pedagogies upon the National Curriculum – most notably, of Montessori and Steiner approaches upon the contemporary early years curriculum;
• The regular flow of teachers between mainstream and alternative schools, with an associated two-way transfer of teaching expertise;
• Attempts by alternative educators to forge ‘communities of inquiry’ around outdoor/natural education – including leaders from the State schools sector, the National Trust and NHS;
• The enduring social mission of urban-based Care Farms to provide an educational and social space for young people from disadvantaged local communities, who attend State schools, and who are becoming disproportionately disadvantaged by the withdrawal of public services such as Children’s Centres (NSPCC, 2011);
• The role of Care Farms in providing expertise and advice for the increasing number of State schools seeking to grow food or raise animals on school grounds.

These examples represent just four of the many and diverse ways in which alternative educators work with diverse facets of the ‘mainstream’. Evidently, that mainstream includes but extends beyond State schools, encompassing curriculum development, sharing knowledge/staff and work with urban communities.


photo credit: PhotKing

If Labour – or any of our political parties – are serious about breaking down the boundaries between our different education sectors, then a priority must be to engage with and learn from the diverse forms of cross-sector collaboration already underway in the UK, in the work of alternative educators.

Alternative educators are the first to recognise that their approaches are far from perfect. But, gradually, the lines between ‘alternative’, ‘mainstream’ and ‘private’ are becoming increasingly blurred in the UK. Recently, for instance, Free Schools policy has led to the first State-funded Steiner schools in the UK, and effectively allows for diverse educational models, funded by the State, to flourish.

It goes without saying that there are highly divergent views on Free Schools, independent schools and, indeed, alternative pedagogies. Yet, as the relative merits of possible collaboration between independent and State schools are afforded renewed consideration, we could pay greater attention to how Britain’s relatively small but growing base of alternative educators are attempting to engage with State schools and beyond.


Geographies of alternative education [FC]

Peter Kraftl’s book Geographies of alternative education offers a comparative analysis of alternative education in the UK, focusing on learning spaces that cater for children and young people was published in paperback last month and is available at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website.

Peter Kraftl is Professor of Human Geography at the University of Leicester, UK. He is the author of four books and over 50 journal articles and book chapters about children’s geographies, education, and geographies of architecture. He is an editor of Children’s Geographies journal.

If you liked this, you might also be interested in….

Guest blog by author and academic Peter Mortimore – ‘Politicians see the British education system as a job factory’

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.

Celebrating Human Rights Day, 10 December

AS today is Human Rights Day we wanted to celebrate by sharing with you some of the striking photo essays by award-winning photographers from the World Report 2014.

This year’s slogan is ‘Human Rights 365′, emphasising the fact that every day is, or should be, Human Rights Day. At Policy Press we are proud to publish the annual Human Rights Watch’s World Report, which reminds us that human rights abuses continue around the world. It is imperative that we continue to monitor these inequalities and fight for rights that for most in the West think commonplace and too easily take for granted.

Slideshow images are taken from the global rights watchdog’s 24th annual review of global trends and news in human rights which features incisive country surveys and hard-hitting essays highlighting key human rights issues.

Images are reproduced with the permission of

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Human Rights WatchIf you would like to find out more about the World Report 2014 or order copies at a 20% discount, please go to our website.

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