Archive for the 'Poverty and Inequality' Category

Poverty and insecurity awarded prestigious British Academy Peter Townsend Prize 2013

Winners of the Peter Townsend Policy Press prize 2013: (left to right) Colin Webster, Rob Macdonald, Kayleigh Garthwaite and Tracy Shildrick

Winners of the Peter Townsend Policy Press prize 2013: (left to right) Colin Webster, Rob Macdonald, Kayleigh Garthwaite and Tracy Shildrick

The Peter Townsend Policy Press prize from the British Academy celebrates Peter Townsend’s immense contribution to the social sciences with an award that recognises excellence in social policy and sociology. This year’s prize was awarded on 14 November to Tracy Shildrick, Rob Macdonald, Colin Webster and Kayleigh Garthwaite for Poverty and insecurity. The British Academy judges unanimously commended it as a first class, scholarly and very well-written piece of work.

Poverty and insecurity is a fantastic book that lets us see the world through the eyes of those experiencing poverty and flies in the face of the tabloid headlines of benefit scroungers. It combines theory, empirical research, policy analysis and recommendations to show how those caught in the cycle of low-paid insecure work move in and out of poverty and highlights how they are thwarted by circumstances outside of their control, and yet their resilience and determination remains.

This is exactly the kind of book Policy Press strives to publish – high quality work that makes a contribution to advancing knowledge and analysis across academia, policy and practice, and to improving social conditions for the most vulnerable. Peter Townsend set very high standards for research, and for presenting those arguments in a way that had an impact beyond academia. The authors of the book also reached those very high standards and the whole of the Policy Press team congratulates them on their achievement.

For more information about the prize visit the British Academy website.

Ten of the most important questions to ask about UK poverty

Article originally published on 2 October on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation blog 

Poverty research must provide useful answers for policy and practice, says Chris Goulden.

To deal with entrenched problems of poverty in the UK, serious improvements need to be made to knowledge about the causes of poverty and the effectiveness of potential solutions.

A two-day exercise led by a partnership between JRF and the Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge identified the most important unanswered and researchable questions about poverty. As well as the potential benefits of improving the evidence base in general, this is part of our programme developing strategies to reduce poverty in the UK.

Participants were invited from a range of organisations across the UK. Over 40 people from government and non-governmental organisations, and academics or researchers working in universities or think tanks, took part. They were asked to identify an initial set of research questions by consulting widely with others, and to propose questions that would make a real difference to poverty in the UK but had not yet been adequately answered. We started off with 470 questions, which were reduced to 100 through a democratic process of discussion and voting.

The categories of questions covered a number of important themes, including attitudes, education, family, employment, heath, wellbeing, inclusion, markets, housing, taxes, inequality and power. Ten of the most important questions were:

What values, frames and narratives are associated with greater support for tackling poverty, and why.

How do images of people in poverty influence policy debates in different countries?

What are the most effective methods of increasing involvement and support for the education of children among their parents or guardians?

What explains variation in wages as a share of GDP internationally?

What is the nature and extent of poverty among those who do not or cannot access the safety net when they need it?

How could targeting and incentivising payment of the Living Wage make it more effective at reducing household poverty?

What are the positive and negative impacts of digital technologies on poverty?

How do environmental and social regulations or obligations affect prices for those in poverty?

Who benefits from poverty, and how?

What evidence is there that economic growth reduces poverty overall, and under what circumstances?

We hope these questions will be used in a range of ways. Most directly, it’s an important input into our anti-poverty strategies programme. But we also expect that practitioners, policy-makers, researchers and funders will use it to help shape further research programmes across a range of economic and social science disciplines.

The full paper, 100 Questions: identifying research priorities for poverty prevention and reduction by William J. Sutherland et al., is published in Journal of Poverty & Social Justice as an Open Access paper and can be accessed here.

Text of letter in today’s Guardian from social policy experts

Here is the text of a letter in today’s Guardian from 50 social policy experts in the UK about the impact of benefit cuts coming into effect on 1 April:

As the UK’s leading experts on social policy and the welfare state, we urge the government to reconsider the benefit cuts scheduled for 1 April and to ensure that no further public spending cuts are targeted on the poorest in our society. We have two major concerns.

First, as the government’s own impact assessment has demonstrated, the 1% uprating in the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Act will have a disproportionate effect on the poorest. Families with children will be particularly hard hit, pushing a further 200,000 children into poverty. In addition, those with low to middle earnings and single-earner households will be caught by the 1% limit on tax credit rates. These new cuts come on top of the cumulative impact of previous tax, benefit and public expenditure cuts which have already meant the equivalent to a loss of around 38% of net income for the poorest tenth of households and only 5% for the richest tenth.

Second, the welfare state is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. All developed countries have them and the less developed ones are striving to establish their own. Welfare states depend on a fair collection and redistribution of resources, which in turn rests upon the maintenance of trust between different sections of society and across generations. Misleading rhetoric concerning those who have to seek support from the welfare state, such as the contrast between “strivers” and “shirkers”, risks undermining that trust and, with it, one of the key foundations of modern Britain.

In fact the divisions are not so simple. For example, the borderline between low and no pay is fluid. Families move in and out of work and in and out of poverty. Around one in six of economically active people have claimed jobseeker’s allowance at least once in the last two years (almost 5 million people). The record level of youth unemployment accounts for most of those households where no one has ever worked. Around 6.5 million people are underemployed and want to work more. The 50% rise in families receiving working tax credits since 2003 reflects the 20% increase in the working poor, as one in five women and one in seven men earn less than £7 per hour. Now the majority of children and working-age adults in poverty live in working, not workless, households.

In the interests of fairness and to protect the poorest, as well as to avoid the risk of undermining the consensus on the British welfare state, the government should increase taxation progressively on the better off, those who can afford to pay (including ourselves), rather than cutting benefits for the poorest.
Professor Peter Alcock University of Birmingham
Professor SJ Banks University of Durham
Professor Marion Barnes University of Brighton
Professor Saul Becker University of Nottingham
Professor Tim Blackman Open University
Professor Hugh Bochel University of Lincoln
Professor John Clarke Open University
Professor Gary Craig University of Durham
Professor Guy Daly Derby University
Professor Alan Deacon University of Leeds
Professor Bob Deacon University of Sheffield
Professor Nicholas Deakin
Professor V Drennan Kingston University
Professor Hartley Dean LSE
Professor Simon Duncan University of Bradford
Professor Peter Dwyer University of Salford
Professor RS Edwards University of Southampton
Professor Nick Ellison University of Leeds
Professor Norman Ginsburg London Metropolitan University
Professor Ian Gough LSE
Professor Caroline Glendinning University of York
Professor Paul Higgs UCL
Professor Michael Hill
Professor Julian LeGrand LSE
Professor Ruth Lister University of Loughborough
Professor Linda McKie University of Durham
Professor John Macnicol LSE
Professor Nigel Malin University of Sunderland
Professor Nicholas Mayes London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Professor Jane Millar University of Bath
Professor Michael Noble University of Oxford
Professor JS O’Connor University of Ulster
Professor Jan Pahl University of Kent
Professor J Parker University of Bournemouth
Professor S Peckham University of Kent
Professor Lucinda Platt Institute of Education
Professor Randall Smith University of Bristol
Professor Tess Ridge University of Bath
Professor D Robinson Sheffield Hallam University
Professor Karen Rowlingson University of Birmingham
Professor Kirstein Rummery Stirling University
Professor Adrian Sinfield University of Edinburgh
Professor Peter Taylor-Gooby University of Kent
Professor Alan Walker University of Sheffield
Professor Carol Walker University of Lincoln
Professor Robert Walker University of Oxford
Professor Jane Wheelock University of Newcastle
Professor John Veit-Wilson University of Newcastle
Professor Fiona Williams University of Leeds
Professor Nicola Yeates Open University

Launch of Richard Stone’s Hidden Stories of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry: Personal Reflections

Stone launch pic

Left to right: Lord Bill Morris, Alison Shaw, Sadiq Khan MP, Dr Richard Stone and Tom Brake MP

by Alison Shaw, Director of Policy Press

The largest committee room at the House of Commons was packed and the diversity of the UK was evident in the room. Alongside the MPs and peers, there were activists, police, media, academics and many working across the public and voluntary sectors. The speakers’ contributions were passionate and heartfelt – Lord Bill Morris chaired with presentations from across the political spectrum: Sadiq Khan MP, Sir Peter Bottomley MP and Tom Brake MP, as well as Doreen Lawrence, Dr Richard Stone and myself as publisher. Below is an adapted version of my brief comments:

The issues raised in Hidden Stories are crucial if we are ever to see equality on our streets and in our lives. At Policy Press we publish work we believe will make a difference to society – in particular work that challenges discrimination and inequality in whatever guise it is found. Hidden Stories does just this. The book provides a unique insight into the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry from Dr Richard Stone’s position as one of three advisers to the judge Sir William MacPherson. It uncovers things that Dr Stone believes undermined the Inquiry, diluting the long-term impact. The 20th anniversary of Stephen’s murder is coming up in April, yet racism is still evident in our police and wider society and many of the lessons have not been learnt.

I live and work in Bristol, a large, vibrant multi-cultural city, and as a mother of teenage boys I worry about them as they became more independent venturing out across the city.  But I do not worry that they will be attacked solely because of the colour of their skin. That is because we are white. How wrong is it that parents of children from other communities cannot take that for granted! My sons walk the streets and the police never stop and search them. Why is that so different if you come from a black or minority ethnic community? As the book highlights, the inequality between stop and search can be up to 28 times greater if you are black rather than white. Stephen’s own brother, Stuart, a teacher, has made a charge against the police as he has been stopped 25 times for no reason, it appears, other than his colour.

I cannot imagine the horror of losing a son, let alone losing one so cruelly, and yet Stephen Lawrence’s parents Doreen and Neville Lawrence, and many others around them, including Dr Stone, have turned that terrible murder into a positive legacy and a fight for change. Doreen spoke movingly at the book launch of how her family have never found time to grieve as the fight to get answers and justice continues; she said: ‘no family should have to struggle for justice as we did’. Yet she does fight on and the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, established by Doreen and Neville, works hard to provide opportunities for disadvantaged young people, fostering positive community relationships and enabling people to realise their potential.

Dr Stone’s book questions how far we have come in tackling racial discrimination, particularly in the police service, since that appalling crime nearly 20 years ago, and his conclusion is that, unfortunately, it is not far enough. His chapter Final Reflections directs us to some key changes that have to be addressed, although after the many Inquiries and reports on race discrimination Dr Stone feels enough recommendations have been written on the subject, it is the action that is needed!

For me, a key point from the book is about leadership. Those of us in leadership roles or positions of influence across public and private sectors and civil society, however big or small, have a particular responsibility to ensure that policies, practices and cultures which truly make a difference are embedded throughout our organisations. We need to hold to account those who fail to do so. No-one should just pay lip service to equality. We all need to continue to challenge racism and discrimination of all kinds wherever we find it, just like Dr Stone does, so that one day we will live in a society where everyone is equally free to walk down the street and to follow their dreams.

Hidden Stories of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry: Personal Reflections is available at www.policypress.co.uk

The Day After

World Report 2013

World Report 2013

by Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

Excerpt from the introduction to Human Rights Watch’s twenty-third annual World Report. The complete introduction is available at http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/essays/day-after

Two years into the Arab Spring, euphoria seems a thing of the past. The heady days of protest and triumph have been replaced by outrage at the atrocities in Syria, frustration that the region’s monarchs remain largely immune to pressure for reform, fear that the uprisings’ biggest winners are Islamists who might limit the rights of women, minorities, and dissidents, and disappointment that even in countries that have experienced a change of regime, fundamental change has been slow and unsteady. Difficult as it is to end abusive rule, the hardest part may well be the day after.

It should be no surprise that building a rights-respecting democracy on a legacy of repression is not easy. The transitions from communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union yielded many democracies, but also many dictatorships. Latin America’s democratic evolution over the past two decades has been anything but linear. Progress in Asia and Africa has been uneven and sporadic. Even the European Union, which has successfully made democratic reform and respect for human rights conditions of membership, has had a harder time curbing authoritarian impulses once countries—most recently Hungary and Romania—became members.

Moreover, those who excelled at overthrowing the autocrat are often not best placed to build a governing majority. The art of protest does not necessarily match the skills needed for governing. And allies in ousting a despot are sometimes not the best partners for replacing despotism.

But those who pine for the familiar days of dictatorship should remember that the uncertainties of freedom are no reason to revert to the enforced predictability of authoritarian rule. The path ahead may be treacherous, but the unthinkable alternative is to consign entire peoples to a grim future of oppression.

Building a rights-respecting state may not be as exhilarating as toppling an abusive regime. It can be painstaking work to construct effective institutions of governance, establish independent courts, create professional police units, and train public officials to uphold human rights and the rule of law. But these tasks are essential if revolution is not to become a byway to repression by another name.

The past year offers some key lessons for success in this venture—as valid globally as they are for the states at the heart of the Arab Spring. There are lessons for both the nations undergoing revolutionary change and the international community.

[...]

The Arab Spring continues to give rise to hope for an improved human rights environment in one of the regions of the world that has been most resistant to democratic change. Yet it also spotlights the tension between majority rule and respect for rights. It is of enormous importance to the people of the region–and the world–that this tension be resolved with respect for international standards. A positive resolution will require acts of great statesmanship among the region’s new leaders. But it will also require consistent, principled support from the most influential outsiders. No one pretends it will be easy to get this right. But no one can doubt the importance of doing so.

The Arab Spring has inspired people the world over, encouraging many to stand up to their own autocratic rulers. As its leaders act at home, they also set an example for the world. Much is riding on making this precedent positive—one that succeeds in building elected governments that live by the constraints of rights and the rule of law.

World Report 2013 is now available to buy from www.policypress.co.uk

Exposing the mythologies of the workless

Tracy Shildrick

Tracy Shildrick

by Tracy Shildrick, co-author of Poverty and insecurity: Life in low-pay, no-pay Britain

Even in the short while since we finished writing this book the issues with which it deals have become even more critical and contentious. Poverty and insecurity provides a detailed account of life at the edges of the contemporary labour market. We undertook interviews with sixty men and women, aged between 30 and 60, who were trapped in a cycle of low paid working and periods on and off benefits. The book tells the life stories of our interviewees and details their day to day struggles with working life and a largely hostile and unhelpful benefits system.  The current Coalition government are keen to draw distinctions between ‘the deserving’ and ‘the undeserving poor’ and in trying to cement this unhelpful distinction they divide the ‘shirkers’ from the ‘strivers’. ‘Shirkers’ are those who can’t be bothered to get out of bed in the morning, whilst the hard-working ‘strivers’ are toiling to earn a living and pay their taxes. This spurious distinction paves the way for punitive welfare cuts justified as targeting ‘work-shy, welfare scroungers’ but which make poorest poorer (and also cut in-work benefits to people ‘striving’ in low-paid jobs).

This book stands as a corrective to this sort of myth making (a recent study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by some of the same authors challenged the idea ‘cultures of worklessness’ based on further research in Teesside and in Glasgow). This new book shows close up the day to day realities of working at the edges of the labour market. Ours is one of the first concerted studies in this area. A key aim was to understand the dynamics of poverty and marginal work across the life course and, drawing on in-depth life history interviewees, to illustrate the consequences of this for the lives of individuals and their families. Our research in Teesside provides a case study example of the wider processes of labour market polarisation that relegate some to a life of hard work in low, paid temporary jobs that neither relieve poverty nor provide pathways up and away from it. Importantly the study has shown that this pattern of working is not simply the preserve of young adults struggling through ‘entry level’ jobs but that these patterns continue for many into adulthood and the middle of working-life.

An important conclusion of the book points to the resilience and lasting work commitment shown by our interviewees, despite the frustrations and setbacks of the low-pay, no-pay cycle. This strong work attachment was learned across generations, where parents and grandparents had also worked and passed on the importance of ‘working for ones living’ to younger interviewees. It would not be an overstatement to say that our interviewees deplored claiming welfare benefits, with some refusing to claim all together. For example, one respondent  Carol Anne (34, in part-time work and a mother to a young son) said:

Me Dad always worked and me Mum did. I think that influenced me. I saw the difference between when me Dad worked and when he didn’t, you know? The money situation: I seen how they struggled when he wasn’t working…like they felt awful at Christmas when they can’t buy you the stuff that they want and it really doesn’t matter what you get but…that made me want to work and do the best for Ben really.  

Contrary to the widely held view that ‘employment is the best route out of poverty’, the sorts of work available to our interviewees – as care assistants, cleaners, shop assistants, factory workers, security guards – kept them in poverty rather than lifting them out of it.  At the bottom end of the wage distribution, there continues to be an abundance of low wage work in the UK and this was the work done by our interviewees. This is the sort of work that does not require high level or indeed any qualifications and which was predicted to wither if not disappear under visions of a ‘high-skills, information economy’. As the book shows, what employers in these sectors want is not high skills or qualifications but the ‘right attitude’; workers who are physically willing and able to do insecure, low paid, low skilled ‘poor work’.

The book makes a number of recommendations in respect of policy to tackle poor work and the low-pay, no-pay cycle. For instance, paying the Living Wage would make a substantial difference to the lives of our participants. The book ends with a discussion of what we call ‘the great myth’ and ‘the great illogic’. Through its critical case study material the book aims to show that much which claims to speak of the poor and the workless is myth. These are old, powerful and widely-held myths, but myths nonetheless. These are myths that tell us that people are poor because of their own behaviours. This book has helped to expose these mythologies of the workless and in doing so the fallacies of current welfare reforms, at least as they refer to those caught up in the low-pay, no-pay cycle. This ‘great myth’ is exposed for what it is by the ‘great illogic’. The initial results of the government’s Work Programme highlight what we mean. Even with the concerted help and guidance provided by this multi-million pound programme fewer people were moved into jobs than might be expected had those unemployed people been left to their own devices. To coin a phrase, ‘it’s the economy stupid’. In virtually all parts of the UK there are many times more job-seekers than there are vacancies.  As one welfare-to-work advisor put it to us, ‘what’s the point of aspirating [sic] people if the jobs aren’t there?’

Poverty and insecurity: Life in low-pay, no-pay Britain is available to order with 20% discount from the Policy Press website.

After the Olympics frenzy, will London’s East End return to its former poverty?

Photograph of Anne PowerBy Policy Press author Anne Power, Professor of Social Policy and Head of LSE Housing and Communities at the London School of Economics

East London boroughs are different from the rest of London – their populations have lower incomes, higher unemployment, lower skills, bigger concentrations of residents from ethnic minority backgrounds. Their population is younger with more lone-parent families, higher population turnover, more social housing. But the East End also has many valuable assets – more spare land and more disused buildings, more space for redevelopment, faster improving skill and lower house prices than London as a whole. All this is the legacy of centuries of intense development as London’s backyard.  The Olympic Games came to East London to overcome this twin legacy of high deprivation and spare capacity, which divides the area into extremes of wealth and poverty.

The LSE Housing and Communities team made repeat visits over ten years to one hundred low-income East End families in two of the Olympic boroughs – Hackney and Newham, both before and after the bid was announced. Today the LSE team is again interviewing residents about the direct impact of the Olympics on family life and local neighbourhoods. Newham is the main host of the Games and the borough will be directly affected. Before the Games, Newham had three times the national level of lone parents, double the unemployment rate, three times the rate of violent crime, double the proportion claiming benefits, double the proportion living in social renting. Despite the Games developments, Newham still ranks among the very poorest local authorities in the country.

Families struggling on low incomes in deprived neighbourhoods want a better future for their children. They welcome investment in their area, as long as it doesn’t directly threaten them, such as demolition of their homes. The Olympics, building on largely derelict sites, will add a major park and better transport connections, but locals are still unsure how much they will directly benefit. Olympic jobs have not proved easy to access. The Olympic site itself was firmly closed up to the Games; and the much vaunted legacy of new homes, school and health centre is yet to kick in. Only the brand new Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, the dense blocks of the athletes’ village in the distance, the festive street improvements, the outline of the stadium and the sight of the huge Olympic Park suggest the massive legacy there will be.

Yet real community change has happened since our family interviews began in 1998. Firstly, the arrival of high speed international trains at Stratford, long in coming, paved the way for London winning the Games, making King’s Cross less than 10 minutes from the Park. London buses, local trains and underground have improved around this long run plan. Secondly, the local Stratford shopping centre rose to the challenge of upmarket Westfield, by upgrading its image while still providing cheap, affordable goods for low-income local populations. Thirdly, local schools have climbed steadily from their very poor performance in the 1990s to catch up with national scores in the last few years.

So post-Olympic East London may become an easier place to bring up children, it may become a more harmonious, more hopeful, more resilient place. Or it may be left even poorer as spending cuts bite harder and resources tighten. Local leadership will need to fight for their existing communities, not for richer newcomers. More jobs, more education, more opportunity, more local events and more support for families and young people are the lifelines of survival in tough times. Local communities will be the losers if developers take their space and displace them. There’s a lot to win or lose after the Games.

Note: LSE Housing and Communities is carrying out research into the long term impact of the London Olympics on deprivation in the London Borough of Newham.

Anne Power is the co-author of East Enders: Family and community in East London, which is our special offer during August for only £15.00 (RRP £23.99). Purchase your copy.

Other books by Anne Power with The Policy Press:
- City survivors: Bringing up children in disadvantaged neighbourhoods
- Jigsaw cities: Big places, small spaces
- Phoenix cities: The fall and rise of great industrial cities
- Family futures: Childhood and poverty in urban neighbourhoods

DEBATE: ‘Capitalism works only when the rewards are seen to be shared’

Policy & Politics Debates, July 2012
Sarah Ayres, Associate Editor, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol

The most recent ‘debates’ articles for Policy & Politics are written by Stewart Lansley (Visiting Fellow, University of Bristol) and Professor Kevin Doogan (Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research, University of Bristol).

Lansley charts the growth of inequality under capitalism since the 1970s. He contends that ‘the proceeds of economic growth have been increasingly colonised by a small financial and business elite’ and that this trend is unsustainable. The forces driving higher levels of inequality remain in place and this, it is argued, makes economies increasingly unstable and prone to crisis. You can read the article, ‘Capitalism works only when the rewards are seen to be shared’ for free here.

Doogan responds by suggesting that appeals for a ‘nicer capitalism’ are perhaps unrealistic and instead solutions need to be found in broad societal transformations, rather than incremental reforms of the capitalism system. His article, ‘A fairer capitalism?’ is also now available for free here.

To find out more about Policy & Politics, please visit our website.

The petty politics of the anti-inequality brigade

Daniel Ben-Ami

The following is an extract from an essay on the Spiked website.

It is easy to make the mistake of assuming there is a big drive towards equality in the world today. Politicians, pundits and even billionaire financiers rail against the dangers of inequality, excess and greed. A handful of Occupy protesters claiming to represent the ‘99 per cent’ against the super-rich ‘one per cent’ are widely lauded in influential circles. Parallel campaigns slate the wealthy for failing to pay their fair share of tax. Officially sanctioned campaigns promote fairness, social justice, social equality, equal access to education and the like.

From this false premise it appears to follow that radical politics is alive and well. If equality was historically a core principle of the left then, so it is assumed, the current discussion must be enlightened and humanistic. Those who oppose the plethora of apparently pro-equality initiatives are therefore cast as reactionary souls who are probably in the pay of giant corporations.

The aim of this essay is to show that there is no dynamic towards equality at present. Instead there is a drive towards what could be called the therapeutic management of inequality. This is not a trivial distinction. On the contrary, the two sets of ideas embody fundamentally opposing conceptions of humanity.

Historically, support for equality was ultimately about trying to achieve the full human potential or what was often called the perfectibility of mankind. It meant advancing from a more backward society to a civilised one. In its most advanced forms it married a desire for social equality with support for economic progress.

In contrast, the discussion in recent years has shifted decisively against the idea of economic progress and towards a deep suspicion, even hatred, of humanity. It promotes initiatives to counter the dangers of social fragmentation in an unequal society. Indeed, this fear of a disintegrating society can be seen as the organising principle behind a wide range of measures to regulate supposedly dysfunctional behaviour. These range across all areas of personal life, including childrearing, drinking alcohol, eating, sex and smoking. Such initiatives assume that public behaviour must be subject to strict regulation or it could fragment an already broken society.

A distinct feature of the current discussion is that the rich are also seen as posing a threat to social cohesion. Their greed is viewed as generating unrealistic expectations among ordinary people. In this conception, inequality leads to status competition in which everyone competes for ever-more lavish consumer products. A culture of excess is seen to be undermining trust and a sense of community.

The contemporary consensus thus marries the fear of social fragmentation with anxiety about economic growth. It insists that the wealthy must learn to behave responsibly by maintaining a modest public face. It also follows that prosperity must be curbed. This is on top of fears about the damage that economic expansion is alleged to do to the environment.

This drive to curb inequality is informed by what could be called the outlook of the anxious middle. It is middle class in the literal sense of feeling itself being torn between the rich on one side and ordinary people on the other. Its aim is to curb what it regards as excesses at both the top and bottom of society. It sees itself as living in a nightmare world being ripped apart by greedy bankers at one extreme and ‘trailer trash’ at the other.

This essay will examine the significance of the contemporary fear of inequality. First, it will examine current criticisms of inequality made by politicians, the media and academics in more detail. Typically, they are keen to promote economic sacrifice, thus paving the way for austerity, while supporting intrusive measures to curb social fragmentation. Second, it will look at the historical support for equality from the Enlightenment of the late seventeenth and eighteenth century onwards. Typically, egalitarians of this period linked their support for equality with notions of progress and the realisation of human potential. Economic advance was often seen as playing a central role in this process.

In conclusion, it will examine the damaging consequences of the current debate. It is harmful on both political and economic grounds. On the one hand, its therapeutic drive to regulate behaviour makes it a gross threat to individual freedom. On the other, through its populist rhetoric it paves the way for the popular acceptance of austerity. In this respect, what could be called ‘green egalitarianism’ is essentially about promoting equitable sacrifice. Its goal is to ensure that pain is ‘fairly’ distributed in society.

This essay focuses on the transformation of the discussion of economic and social equality. However, it should be noted in passing that there is also a parallel debate to be examined in relation to the redefinition of political and legal equality.

Read the rest of this essay on the Spiked website.

Daniel Ben-Ami is the author of Ferraris for all: In defence of economic progress, published by The Policy Press.

A Historic Moment for Women’s Rights

Christiane Amanpour

An extract from The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the global fight for women’s rights, edited by Minky Worden

Unfinished Revolution cover image To the one who makes the lonely feel they are not alone, who satisfies those who hunger and thirst for justice, who makes the oppressor feel as bad as the oppressed. . . . may her example multiply,
May she still have difficult days ahead, so that she can do whatever she needs to do, so that the next generation will not have to strive for what has already been accomplished.
—Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, from his poem “To Shirin Ebadi,” read at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in 2003

In October 2011, the Norwegian Nobel Committee named three women winners of the Nobel Peace Prize—an award won by only a dozen women since 1901. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her compatriot Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman were honored “for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights,” in a declaration that was clearly intended to send the message that the moment for women and girls to achieve basic rights had arrived.

The Peace Prize citation proclaimed, “We cannot achieve demoracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.” As the Nobel Committee emphasized, this moment is as dramatic as any in recent decades for women and girls.

I have been a foreign correspondent for almost three decades in just about every war zone there is. I have made my living in an overwhelmingly male profession, bearing witness to some of the most horrific events of the end of the last century. In this time, we have seen enormous changes in law and practice, with measurable progress in women’s ability to get an education, to work, and to make decisions about their own bodies.

Yet as this book seeks to explain, in much of the world, basic rights such as control over their lives and access to health care remain far out of reach for millions of women and girls.

In India, some state governments can’t be bothered to count the number of women dying from preventable causes in pregnancy and childbirth. In the United States, rape victims are denied justice through bureaucratic inertia. In Somalia, warlords and famine—yet again—threaten women’s lives and families. In some European countries, women fleeing domestic violence are sent home to “work it out” with their abusive spouses. In Saudi Arabia, women of all ages live under a male guardianship system, preventing them from working, studying, marrying, driving, or traveling abroad without the permission of a male guardian—a father, husband, brother, or even a son.

China is a country of contradictions that has lowered infant and maternal mortality rates, and raised education standards, while still imposing a one-child policy that often leads to major abuses of women, including forced abortions. Indeed, in many countries, the picture is mixed, with progress in education and maternal mortality paired with escalating health threats such as HIV/AIDS and barriers to participation in public life.

In several places, including Iraq and Afghanistan, women are losing ground, facing violent insurgencies that threaten and attack women who are active in public life or work outside their homes. As Rachel Reid writes in this anthology, a common form of threat in Afghanistan is the “night letter” left at a house or girls’ school, such as this ominous letter sent to a female government employee: “We Taliban warn you to stop working for the government, otherwise we will take your life away. We will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner. This will be a good lesson for those women like you who are working.”

With societies from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya in political transition from repressive dictatorships, fundamental questions remain about whether women will indeed benefit from the overthrowing of tyrants. It is not yet clear whether they will be allowed to participate in the new political systems in the Middle East, or whether their rights will be protected under the region’s new constitutions.

This book is designed to spotlight these and other pressing problems for women and girls in the world today, and to give a road map to solutions that can work. In these pages you will meet tenacious women human rights defenders. You will hear in their own voices from women and girls who have faced unimaginable terror and grief. And you can decide for yourself whether so-called “traditional practices” such as early marriage or female genital mutilation are just harmful practices that have no rightful place in the world today.

Human Rights Watch was one of the first international organizations to treat domestic violence as a human rights issue. In war-torn Bosnia and Rwanda, researchers documented systematic rape and other forms of violence against women as a “weapon” in war, laying the groundwork for courts to later prosecute sexual violence as a crime against humanity. The organization’s experts, such as Nadya Khalife, who writes movingly about her work to end female genital mutilation in Iraq, show us how it should be possible at this historic moment for women’s rights activists to expand local campaigns and achieve truly global impact.

In some cases, as when Eleanor Roosevelt championed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, change for women can come at the stroke of a pen; in other cases, change takes generations. In Libya and states now building institutions from the ground up, addressing rights and protections for women is not yet at the top of priority lists. However, as the US State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer points out, this is a shortsighted and dangerous approach because “the vibrancy of these potential democracies will depend on the participation of women.”

When women are fully empowered, there is clear evidence that previously unthinkable opportunities develop, for them—and also for their families, communities, and countries. The effectiveness of women as peace negotiators in conflict zones led the United Nations Security Council to adopt Resolution 1325, which recognized “the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building,” as well as “the need to increase their role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution.” The selection of Leymah Gbowee as a laureate of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was based largely on her tireless activities as a peace negotiator in Liberia.

In September 2011, just before the Nobel committee announced its award recognizing the vital work of women, the world lost one of its few female Nobel laureates. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was a pioneering professor who led an environmental revolution in her native Kenya. Her key to success, she often said, was empowering women “to create a society that respects democracy, decency, adherence to the rule of law, human rights, and the rights of women.”

It is a time of change in the world, with dictators toppling and new opportunities arising, but any revolution that doesn’t create equality for women will be incomplete. The time has come to realize the full potential of half the world’s population.

Christiane Amanpour is the anchor of ABC’s Sunday morning news program, This Week with Christiane Amanpour. Chief International Correspondent at CNN from 1992 to 2010, she joined CNN in 1983. Amanpour has reported on and from the world’s major hot spots including Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iran, Iraq, Rwanda, and Somalia, and has won every major broadcast award—including nine Emmys, four George Foster Peabody Awards, two George Polk Awards, and the Courage in Journalism Award.

The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the global fight for women’s rights was published by The Policy Press in the UK & Europe on 4 July 2012, £14.99. The book is available to buy at 20% discount from our website.

You can hear editor Minky Worden talking about some of the issues in the book on a podcast or follow news relating to the book on its Facebook page.


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