Archive for the 'Poverty and Inequality' Category

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


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.



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

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

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

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

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

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