Archive for the 'Poverty and Inequality' Category

The coming apocalypse in UK social policy

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


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

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

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

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

Milk-and-honey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Active welfare’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also available by the same author:

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

Voyage to Utopias: A fictional guide through social philosophy

Understanding the environment and social policy

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

Universal Credit developments since publication of “Understanding Universal Credit”

blog_sam-royston_200x200pxSam Royston is Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the Children’s Society, and author of “Understanding Universal Credit”, published in the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice in February 2012. Since the original publication of this article there have been a number of policy updates affecting the delivery of the new system.  In this blog Sam summarises those change that particularly relate to the content of his article published in 2012.  The original article is free to access until 31st October 2014.

Childcare

At the time of publication, the Government intended to introduce childcare support under Universal Credit at a rate covering 70% of childcare costs. “Understanding Universal Credit” showed that this would be a much lower rate of support than some families can receive through the current system as a result of a combination of childcare support through Tax Credits, Housing Benefit, and (what was at the time of writing) Council Tax Benefit.

Since publication, the Government have sought to address this problem by providing an 85% rate of childcare support for families in receipt of Universal Credit. As a result, although some families would continue to receive less support than under the current system, any difference will be considerably less.

Since 2012, the government has also introduced plans for a new “Tax Free Childcare” scheme. Although families in receipt of Universal Credit will not be entitled to receive Tax Free Childcare, differences in the way the two systems will be administered and paid may create some complexities for those caught between the two systems. These issues are expected to be debated during the course of the “childcare payments bill” in Autumn 2014.

Free School Meals (and other passported benefits)

The successful implementation of Universal Credit continues to be threatened by the potential introduction of a benefits “cliff edge” as a result of the interaction between Universal Credit and various passported benefits – including, most significantly, Free School Meals.

Notably, the Government have still not yet made a final decision about eligibility for Free School Meals under Universal Credit, however, an “interim” solution of providing Free School Meals to all families in receipt of Universal Credit has been implemented.* In order to avoid undermining the progressive work incentive intentions of Universal Credit, it is critical that these rules remain in place following the roll out of Universal Credit.

Payment of Universal Credit

“Understanding Universal Credit” raises concerns that Universal Credit will typically be paid monthly and payments will not normally be able to be “split” between joint claimants. Increasingly concerns have also been raised about plans to pay “direct housing payments” (payments of the housing component to the tenant – rather than to the housing provider) through Universal Credit for tenants in the social rental sector – an arrangement which already exists for most tenants in the private rental sector. Concerns have been raised that these arrangements may lead to many social housing tenants to get into rental arrears.

The government has since released guidance on the circumstances under which “alternative payment arrangements” (APAs) will be considered. APAs would enable claimants to have their Universal Credit payment split, paid more frequently than monthly, or have the housing component paid to their landlord. Concerns remain that claimants will not be able to “opt in” to these arrangements for themselves, without this provision it remains a real concern that claimants unable to manage their money effectively, may not be able to get the support they need in order to do so.

Changes to the timeline for the introduction of Universal Credit

The government has significantly slowed the introduction of Universal Credit since original plans were laid out (for example, as late as the start of 2013, the DWP website stated that all new claims would be for Universal Credit from April 2014). During the initial period of the pathfinder, claims have only been able to be made by people with very specific circumstances, and in a very limited number of areas of the country. As of May 2014 only 6570 people were in receipt of Universal Credit .

Since this point, the government has begun to extend the pathfinder to additional jobcentres, and the service has opened to its first new claims from couples. From towards the end of this year, Universal Credit is expected to begin to take new claims from families with children for the first time.

*http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2013/650/made
It should also be noted that the Government’s decision to provide Free School Meals for all children in reception, year 1 and year 2, solves the difficulties arising from the interaction of Free School Meals and Universal Credit for this group of children.

The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice provides a unique blend of high-quality research, policy and practice from leading authors in the field related to all aspects of poverty and social exclusion.  For more information or to request a free trial please see our website here.

A response to the European and UK local elections by Alison Shaw, Director of Policy Press

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When I set up Policy Press it was because I was passionate about social issues.  I felt strongly that we needed to fight for a fairer society, one that looked after all its citizens regardless of their wealth and background; race, ethnicity or faith; gender, age or (dis)abilities; regardless of whether they lived in England or Ethiopia.

Our authors are the experts on how to achieve that goal, from understanding the challenges at a theoretical level through to how to implement policy and practice on the ground, and until today, I have been delighted to let them do the talking.  But following the recent results in the UK local and European elections I am moved to join the conversation and speak out.

This weekend we have seen again the rise of the extreme right in politics, both in the UK and across Europe.  This move appears to be a response to a range of factors – a belief that the European Union is inefficient and has too much control over nation state policies; a fear that immigration is a threat to jobs, security and culture; and an understandable anxiety for many as the global recession continues to take its toll.

It may be that the European Union as an institution is in need of reform, but we have to remember why we have a Union.  Initially a post-World War II settlement, it was a means for ensuring cooperation to avoid future conflict.  More recently it has been more about power and global influence in response to the rise of the emerging economies of China, India and Brazil – but the initial  collaborative intent must not be forgotten.

My fear is that, if we remain silent, then things we take for granted like the belief in equality and fairness will be lost and things we don’t think possible, will happen.  Our authors’ thoughtful writing has helped me to contemplate many of these issues and the three books below stand out for me.

ImageThe UK Government’s response to the global recession was an ‘Austerity’ drive, cutting back spending dramatically, especially to the welfare budget. This has hit those already in challenging circumstances in a devastating way.  Mary O’Hara, a journalist and Fulbright Scholar spent a year travelling the UK interviewing those facing hardship and those supporting them.  Her eloquent, insightful book Austerity Bites, published today, provides first hand testimony of what it is like to be struggling –  not to have enough to feed your family despite working your hardest in low paid, insecure jobs.

When we feel our security is challenged, one response is to fight back.  When we feel threatened we can look around for those that are different to blame.  Perhaps this points to why we are facing an increasing tide of anti-immigration rhetoric.  The headlines in some of the UK tabloid papers have been shocking: “We must stop the migrant invasion” Daily Express, “4,000 foreign murderers and rapists we can’t throw out” Daily Mail or “How Romanian criminals terrorise our streets” Daily Express.

headlines

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Malcolm Dean, previously Social Affairs Editor for the Guardian, looked at how the media influences and manipulates public opinion and the effect this has on politics and policy in his highly praised book Democracy under Attack.  It provides perhaps one possible answer to how and why we have seen the French National Front, the Dutch Freedom Party and the UK Independence Party (UKiP) gaining such traction in the recent elections.

Image Dimitris Ballas, of Sheffield University and Danny Dorling and Ben Hennig of Oxford University have created the first European Social Atlas and it  analyses social and political Europe in detail.  This beautifully produced book shows in clear graphic form that Europe is a blend of cultures, languages, traditions, landscapes and ideologies that are often not bound by state or regional borders.  The social atlas of Europe is “an insightful look at today’s Europe” (Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley) and will be published on 25 June. It shows Europe and the Europeans in an entirely new light and highlights why we should be, working together, not pulling apart.

Austerity: the true story

Mary O'Hara

Mary O’Hara

by Mary O’Hara

When I began travelling the country in October 2012 as part of a Joseph Rowntree Foundation/Locality project aimed at documenting the impact of austerity I knew already that the government’s cuts drive was hitting people hard. How could I not?

Barely a day had passed since May 2010 after the coalition government came to power when there wasn’t a report of cuts to public services, to jobs, to the benefits upon which so many of our most vulnerable citizens rely.

We were told time and again by government – and to an extent the Opposition too – that the financial pain was necessary, that we were “all in this together” and that the government would aim for fairness in how it implemented its austerity programme. Of course what we now know – and what became clearer with each visit I made to a number of organisations all over the UK in 2012 and 2013 – was that austerity policies were not fair, did not affect everyone and, put simply, were wreaking havoc on individuals, families, communities, and the voluntary groups often left to pick up the pieces.

From Hull to Glasgow, to Sussex to Northumberland and beyond I spoke to people at the sharp end of austerity policies. A number of things struck me – not least of which was the growing hardship confronting people as they took hit after hit from policy after policy. From the now infamous Bedroom Tax to the loss of Sure Start programmes, to council tax benefit changes and benefits sanctions the list of dire outcomes just grew and grew. Debts were piling up, families were buckling under the pressure of less money to live on, disabled people were reeling from a series of measures including back to work assessments that saw thousands wrongly – and stressfully – classified as ‘fit for work’.

Visit after visit the misery mounted. People all over the country were increasingly living in fear of what each new policy brought. At the beginning of 2014, as I was finishing the book based on my austerity journey and the talk from government was of the economy finally turning a corner, it was apparent that it was a ‘recovery’ for the few while millions remained unemployed, under-employed, on low-pay in ‘Zero-hour’ contracts, and denied vital benefits. For those reliant on social care the savage cuts to local government funding still in the pipeline as 2014 dawned induced a whole new level fear. Indeed, as organisations such as the Centre for Welfare Reform were pointing out, with austerity tightening its grip it was clear that local authorities were running out of options to protect ‘frontline’ services. Disabled people, elderly people – indeed anyone needing access to social care – were doubly fearful of what the future might hold.

During my journey I spoke to many in the voluntary organisations helping people affected by cuts and welfare reforms. They, along with campaigners, were doing an incredible job to highlight the pain being inflicted and were challenging the toxic narrative that those who were in difficulty as a result of austerity were ‘scroungers’ or skivers’. Now, one year before the 2015  general election critical questions hang in the air: Does the wider public fully grasp the damage austerity has unleashed? And what are they going to do about it?

Mary O’Hara’s book Austerity Bites: A journey to the sharp end of cuts in the UK, published May 2014, is available with 20% discount from http://www.policypress.co.uk.

Mary O’Hara is a Fulbright Scholar and award-winning social affairs journalist. She regularly writes for the Guardian newspaper.

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


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