Archive for the 'Poverty and Inequality' Category

Inequality: The debate that won’t go away

Policy Press Director Alison Shaw has been passionately engaged with the subject of inequality for many years, trying to puzzle out the causes and what can be done to resolve the situation. This month she is pleased to be launching two books that she believes add to the debate in an engaging, accessible, rigorously researched way.

Policy Press - 018 resize“As a young person, a now distant memory, it seemed perplexing to me why some people had immense wealth and privilege and others had nothing, even within wealthy Western societies never mind globally.

This somewhat naive question has led to me to try to understand over the years why this is the case, and more importantly perhaps, what can be done. What happens when you have so little that you can’t feed your children? When you have to borrow money to get through a week but this means you get into further debt the next? When jobs are poorly paid and insecure (if you can find them at all) and when the much heralded welfare safety net has holes in it big enough to regularly fall through because the system can’t keep up with changes in work patterns and so you get no money? What then?

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth busting: How the Treasury really spends your money

The welfare states surprising winners

The coming apocalypse in UK social policy

Myth busting: How the Treasury really spends your money

In light of the Treasury’s example ‘annual tax summaries’ and the implications in terms of welfare spending, academic and Policy Press author John Hills has shared some infographics with us to help us understand the difference between what we’re told and what the numbers actually show.

According to Hills’ research, when the social security budget was described to members of the British public – covering state pensions, child benefits, tax credits for those in work, benefits for unemployed and disabled people – half of people said they thought that 40% or more of spending went on the unemployed. The actual figure is closer to 4%.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Slides/Images courtesy of Professor John Hills/LSE

Good times bad times [FC]Good Times, Bad Times: The welfare myth of them and us is published by Policy Press. For further information, follow this link: Good times, bad times

John Hills is Professor of Social Policy and Director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at the London School of Economics.

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

The welfare state’s surprising winners

Leading social policy expert, academic and Policy Press author John Hills’ new book Good Times, Bad Times: The welfare myth of them and us,  publishes today. In his blog, first published on the LSE British Politics and Policy blog explains how the idea of a welfare-dependent underclass is wrong.

John Hills (small)Twenty-five years ago Granada television and my colleague in LSE’s social policy department, Julian Le Grand, came up with a novel way of presenting the effects of social policy.

Instead of graphs, tables and talk, they used a TV game show between two families – the Ackroyds, from Salford in Greater Manchester, and the Osbornes, from Alderley Edge in Cheshire – to illustrate who got what out of the welfare state of the time. Which of these stereo-typical working-class and middle-class families were the true ‘Spongers’ of the show’s title, most ‘dependent on government’ in current formulations, if one could look over their whole lives?

As it happens, the longer-living, university-educated, opera-loving middle-class Osbornes turned out to be the winners, getting more than the working-class Ackroyds. A follow-up programme which I helped with, Beat the Taxman, two years later looked at which family had done best as a share of income out of the tax reforms of the Thatcher years. Perhaps less surprisingly, the Osbornes won that one too.

Invented

What was special about these families was that, in the words of the game show host Nicholas Parsons, “we’ve invented them”. A quarter of a century later I’ve gone back to those families and their (newly invented) children and grandchildren to explore key issues in the current debate about ‘welfare’ and the welfare state.

In my new book, Good Times, Bad Times: The welfare myth of them and us, I present the results of research over the last decade or more in LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) and elsewhere using large datasets, the results of our own surveys, government statistics, and the results of computer simulations.

But the continuing lives of the Osbornes and the Ackroyds may bring home some of its key points. There are Gary and Denise Ackroyd, whose incomes vary widely from month to month as his hours as a van driver change and her work in a school only brings in pay only in term-time – contrasting with the stable and predictable incomes of people like young civil servant Charlotte Osborne (and of many academics).

Over the 2000s, the circumstances of the Osborne parents, Stephen and Henrietta changed a lot, particularly after Stephen’s heart attacks and decision to down-shift his accountancy work, but they still remained in the top 2 per cent of the income distribution. By contrast, the changes in the size of their family and the effects of Jim Ackroyd losing his job in 2006 meant that he and his wife Tracy bounced around the income distribution – close to being in the poorest tenth in two years, but just above the middle by the time they were empty nesters in 2010.

“But we don’t need made-up examples to know that arid picture of unchanging lives is wrong”

The book also looks at the life chances of the newest grandchildren, George Ackroyd and Edward Osborne, born at the same time in July last year. If we knew nothing about them apart from where they were born, we would already expect Edward to live nearly four years longer. And although some of the educational gaps have closed in the last decade, the chances are that Edward will be doing better at school from the very start, leave with better qualifications, go to a better university, earn much more and build up a far higher level of wealth. There’s nothing predetermined about that, and George Ackroyd might buck the trend – it’s just that he starts with the odds against him.

And looking at the recent past, the poorest of the families, lone mother Michelle Ackroyd, working 16 hours a week on a low wage, turns out to have lost 6 per cent of her income from tax credit and benefit cuts and austerity tax rises since May 2010. By contrast the most affluent of the families – Stephen Osborne with £97,000 per year earnings and his wife with £9,000 from her part-time teaching, plus significant investment income – have lost slightly less in weekly cash than Michelle, and only 0.7 per cent of their income.

Twenty-five years on, more than ever, the debate around ‘welfare’ contrasts a stagnant group of people benefiting from it all, while the rest pay in and get nothing back – skivers against strivers; dishonest scroungers against honest taxpayers; families where three generations have never worked against hard-working families; people with their curtains still drawn mid-morning against alarm-clock Britain; ‘Benefits Street’ against the rest of the country; undeserving and deserving; them against us. We are always in work, pay our taxes and get nothing from the state. They are a welfare-dependent underclass, pay nothing to the taxman, and get everything from the state.

But we don’t need made-up examples to know that arid picture of unchanging lives is wrong. We know from our own experiences, those of our families – and from TV soap operas and nearly every novel – that people’s lives and circumstances change, and what we get out and put in changes over our lives.

It remains true that people starting advantaged remain much more likely than others to end up advantaged, and those who start poorer are more likely to end up poorer. But there is considerable variation and uncertainty around such average differences in life trajectories. This does not just include the long-term changes over the life cycle that we all go through, but also other variations and changes, from at one end the rapid variations many people experience in circumstances and need for support from week to week to, at the other end, the factors that affect the life chances of our children and our grandchildren.

As a result of all this variation in circumstances over our lives, most of us get back something at least close to what we pay in over our lives towards the welfare state. When we pay in more than we get out, we are helping our parents, our children, ourselves at another time – and ourselves as we might have been, if life had not turned out quite so well for us. In that sense, we are all – or nearly all – in it together.

Good times bad times [FC]Good Times, Bad Times: The welfare myth of them and us is published by Policy Press.  For further information, follow this link: Good times, bad times

John Hills is Professor of Social Policy and Director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at the London School of Economics.

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

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

Image

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.


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