Deprivation of necessities has become more widespread in Britain since 1999

Eldin Fahmy, co-editor of our journal Journal of Poverty and Social Justice recently wrote a blog post for the LSE Politics and Policy blog based on a themed issue in the journal. In case you missed it on the LSE blog, here it is again!

Eldin FahmyThe 2008 financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures have seen the most sustained decline in household incomes since the 1930s. In this post, Eldin Fahmy examines their impacts on public perceptions of minimally adequate living standards, and on the extent of deprivation. Based upon analysis of survey data for 1999 and 2012, it seems that as households have been forced to ‘tighten their belts’, perceptions of minimum living standards have become less generous. At the same time the extent of deprivation has increased dramatically.

The 2012 UK Poverty and Social Exclusion survey (2012-PSE) is the latest and most comprehensive in a series of household surveys conducted since the early 1980s adopting a ‘consensual’ approach to poverty which reflect public views on minimally adequate living standards. Since our last survey in Britain in 1999, public perceptions of what constitute the ‘necessities of life’ have become less generous.  Nevertheless, the proportion of adults in Britain deprived of these necessities has increased substantially since 1999.

Poverty in Britain today is widely understood in relative terms as an inability to take part in lifestyles and activities which are customary or widely approved in contemporary society due to insufficient resources. This requires direct observation of living standards and cannot be established simply be using arbitrary income thresholds. Since Mack and Lansley’s ground-breaking 1983 survey, surveys on poverty in 1990,1999 and 2012 have therefore examined public views on minimally acceptable living standards and have incorporated these views within the definition and measurement of poverty itself.

One consistent finding emerging from these surveys has been the striking degree of public consensus across social groups (e.g. by gender, age, social class, income level, etc.) concerning the relative importance of different items and activities. Nevertheless, as deprivation is here understood to be relative to prevailing societal standards, we should expect that perceptions of necessities will vary across time to reflect changing living standards, tastes and customs. What, then, do the British public view as necessities of life today and in what ways has this changed since our last survey in 1999?

Table2Table 1 shows the percentage of adults in 2012 and 1999 describing a comparable set of items and activities as ‘necessities’. In both 1999 and 2012 there is widespread agreement on many items, and perceptions of necessities extend far beyond what might be described as ‘basic’ needs to encompass a range of ‘social’ necessities. As predicted by relative deprivation theory, perceptions of necessities also reflect changes in prevailing living standards and consumption norms, for example, in relation to technological items which have become more widely available (and widely encouraged) over the 1999-2012 period.

However, one implication of a relative approach is that during periods of declining living standards public perceptions of necessities may also become less generous. Given the sustained decline in household incomes and living standards arising from the 2008 financial crisis, it would be astonishing if this was not also reflected in public attitudes to the necessities of life. Table 1 suggests that this is indeed the case.

Many items record a substantial fall in the proportion of respondents who view them as necessities in 2012 compared with 1999, with those items where public support was more equivocal in 1999 witnessing an especially dramatic decline in approval. As household incomes have become more constrained, more basic necessities (towards the top of Table 1) are increasingly prioritised over more discretionary items. As we argue in our preliminary report, it seems that the public have scaled back their expectations regarding minimum living standards in ways which reflect the prevailing climate of austerity and pessimism. One consequence of recession and the austerity programme may be that the British public have ‘tightened their belts’ and now consider many things which in the past were viewed as essential to no longer be necessities.

However, even though public perceptions of minimum living standards became less generous, the extent of deprivation of necessities has nevertheless increased for adults in Britain over this period.  Table 2 shows the percentage of adults in Britain who lack different necessities in 1999 and 2012 because they cannot afford them. The proportion of adults unable to afford items and activities considered by the British public to be ‘necessities of life’ in 2012 has increased dramatically compared with 1999. For example, the percentage of adults unable to adequately heat their home has increased seven-fold, and the percentage unable to afford a damp-free home, or to replace broken electrical goods, or to afford appropriate clothes for job interviews has at least doubled over this period.

There is now widespread agreement on what constitutes a minimally acceptable diet for adults, including two meals a day, fresh fruit and vegetables daily, and meat and fish every other day.  However, an increasing number of adults are unable to afford to eat properly, with the percentage of British adults who are unable to afford at least one of these dietary essentials increasing from 5 per cent in 1999 to 8 per cent in 2012. Since Table 2 focuses on the same items measured in comparable ways in 1999 and 2012, there has been an absolute increase in social and material deprivation over this period amongst the British adult population.

Underpinning the growth in deprivation over this period has been a rising tide of income inequality over the 1999-2008 period which ensured that despite a period of sustained economic growth until 2008, the benefits of growth were for the most part not enjoyed by poorer households whose incomes and wages fell further and further behind those of the better-off in relative terms.

Following the 2008 recession there has been a modest decline in income inequality and relative income poverty, but this reflects an overall decline in societal standards rather than any absolute improvement in the circumstances of poorer households. Although this decline in living standards is also reflected in more restrictive public perceptions of necessities, the extent of social and material deprivation amongst adults in Britain has clearly increased substantially since 1999.  Indeed, these findings reflect the situation in 2012 before the majority of proposed changes to welfare benefits came into effect. Since these measures are set to hit the poor hard, our findings almost certainly underestimate the true extent of social and material deprivation in Britain today.

Note: A longer version of this article was published in the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice (Vol 22, Issue 2) in October 2014. This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting. Featured image credit: Cliff Johnson CC BY-SA 2.0

About the Author

JPSJ 2013 [FC]Dr Eldin Fahmy is Senior Lecturer in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol. He is a member of the ESRC-funded 2012 UK Poverty and Social Exclusion Surveyresearch team (Ref: RES-060–25–688 0052) and co-editor of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice.

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 election debate: What you need to know about transport in the UK today

Authors and academics Jon Shaw and Iain Docherty give their view on the Coalition government’s performance in the area of transport. With some strong investment on the inter-city infrastructure, it’s not all bad news, but they suggest we should be asking our UK General Election candidates some tougher questions about their plans for developing international links and putting local transport control back in the hands of its passengers…

Iain Docherty

Iain Docherty

Jon Shaw

Jon Shaw

Has transport has been slowly but surely creeping up the political agenda at Westminster? When we first sat down to startwriting The Transport Debate in 2010, just after the last election, the prospects weren’t particularly encouraging.

As a policy area, transport had for a long time been largely forgotten. Spending large sums of money even to stop the quality gap between Britain and other European countries getting any more glaring had been anathema to successive ministers.

Over lunch one day, a Treasury official explained to us that if the UK could achieve about the same GDP as France without a TGV system, a comprehensive motorway system and a very rapidly expanding programme of urban tram re-openings, why bother spending the money?

Five years on, it all seems rather different. It’s not particularly fashionable to praise the Chancellor, especially in academic circles, but the view that we might well be better off if we do invest heavily in our transport networks seems to have gained traction in Whitehall since George Osborne took over.

Inter-urban infrastructure

High speed rail development UK Photo credit: Wikipedia

High speed rail development UK Photo credit: Wikipedia

Despite the worst economic downturn for generations, we are witnessing the most investment in our railways for, well, generations.

Crossrail and Thameslink are being taken through to completion; HS2 has been supported enthusiastically; hundreds of miles of electrification have been approved; thousands of new train carriages have started to arrive; the ‘Northern Hub’ is being built and a raft of major station improvements (e.g. Reading, Birmingham New Street) are progressing nicely. New tramlines are opening up in Nottingham and Greater Manchester.

Photo credit

Photo credit: Lewis Clarke

On the roads we have witnessed a revitalisation of reasonably large-scale road building and a medium-term funding commitment to the newly created Highways England. ‘Smart motorways’ are cropping up all over the place and a network of ‘Expressways’ – upgraded ‘A’ roads with controlled access and grade-separated junctions – has been announced.

Looking to the future we now have on the table more new roads, Crossrail 2, further railway electrification, a new western rail connection to Heathrow and an ambitious proposal including HS3 to link up the cities of the North of England. We of course will have to wait and see if these and other vaunted schemes ever see the light of day, but we’d be tempted to lay a tenner on at least some of them coming to fruition.

Celebrate

It is not entirely clear why transport investment has all of a sudden become fashionable again (we quite like the story about George Osborne’s dad coming back from Japan waxing lyrical about the quality of their railway system) but, whatever the reason, we should celebrate it while it lasts.

Although our transport system is functional, it is by any number of measures poor in relation to those of, say, Germany, France and the Netherlands. We are probably in a minority among our colleagues in embracing the DfT’s current road building proposals, but surely there is no excuse for perpetuating a poor quality inter-urban road network.

The trick will be to ‘lock in’ the benefits of better roads – less congestion, more reliable journey times, a reduction in pollution and so on – so that traffic is not induced onto improved sections. In any event, we should remember that the amount of rail investment dwarfs that being spent on new roads.

Does all of this mean that we’re going to be popping up in one of those election adverts on YouTube giving an academic thumbs up for Dave, George and the troops? Not exactly.

The truth is that neither Coalition party would like the message we’d have to give them. Even after all the hard work, after all the ‘difficult decisions’ that have enabled transport investment to take place while cuts are made elsewhere, Coalition ministers have only got the their approach at best one third right. That’s 33%. We’d fail a student for scoring less than 40%.

International links

As geographers, we can think of the problem as one of scale. Building lots of new inter-city infrastructure is certainly helping to make good past mistakes at the national level, but there’s been precious little happening to promote our international links.

Take of queue Heathrow Photo credit:

Take off queue Heathrow Photo credit: PhillipC

The only discernable policy making for aviation has been the decision to set up the Davies Commission. This is a shameful fudge.

The government should long ago have decided either to build new runways (Labour supported expansion at Heathrow) or to have a more ‘sustainable’ aviation policy by forcing the airports to work more efficiently (bigger planes, fewer short haul flights and so on). Perhaps better still, it could have decided to do both. In the context of previous governments’ ceaseless dithering, putting everything on hold for five more years is an abrogation of duty.

Local transport

And outside of London, at the local level there’s arguably an even bigger problem. Investment in our provincial urban transport networks has fared worse over the years than our inter-city ones. Assuming people’s final destination lies beyond the main railway stations, local transport in Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and so on will become swamped with the hugely increasing number of passengers disgorging from new HS2 and other electric trains. And this will be on top of the rise in demand associated with population growth in each of these centres.

We might think Manchester’s and Nottingham’s trams are great – and indeed in the British context they are – but they are pretty small beer in relation to what others take for granted. Consider also that there is not one English city outside of London with an underground network, and most provincial centres except maybe Birmingham and Manchester have rather under-developed urban rail networks by the best European standards.

While our Second City has a patched-together Victorian urban rail system on a single light rail line, Frankfurt, its smaller twin, enjoys nine S-Bahn and several other urban lines (including a cross-city tunnel with trains every two minutes), 11 tramlines and fully nine underground lines.

English urban transport systems are mainly the preserve of deregulated bus services with their ever-changing routes and fares – and, in Liverpool, virtually no priority on the road network.

There are moves afoot to introduce smart ticketing across the large conurbations, and to regulate the bus network in Tyne and Wear and maybe Greater Manchester. Perhaps the large private bus companies are starting to realise that their effective control over local bus policy might be coming to an end. How novel that the passenger rather than the shareholder might be placed at the centre of urban transport operations.

Transformation of transport investment

Cyclists at Hyde Park corner roundabout in London Photo credit: wikipedia

Cyclists at Hyde Park corner roundabout in London Photo credit: Wikipedia

We have seen from across the Channel how it is possible to change the direction of transport policy. Like Britain, France used to be heavily reliant on the car but over the course of the last 40 years – no-one is suggesting change of this magnitude can come quickly – has completely transformed the focus of its transport investment, predominantly (but not exclusively) to benefit the public modes.

Transport for London is now into the second decade of a transformational investment strategy, but some of the seeds for what’s happening at the national level were sown only a couple of years before Gordon Brown was ejected from Number 10.

The Coalition has been delivering on a commitment to significantly improve inter-urban railways and roads, but is it realistic to expect the next government to continue this and get to grips with aviation and local transport? Given the need for heavy investment across the country’s public services in a climate of continued austerity, despite all the recent good progress we are not sure we’d lay a tenner on that just yet.

#GE2015 #whyvote #imvotingbecause

REPLACEMENT_The transport debate [FC]The transport debate by Jon Shaw and Ian Docherty is available for purchase from our website here (RRP £14.99). Don’t forget Policy Press newsletter subscribers get a 35% discount when ordering through our website. If you’re not a subscriber yet why not sign up here today and join our Policy Press community?

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.

In Defence of Welfare 2: What has been the impact of coalition cuts and reforms since 2010?

In Defence of Welfare 2 is now available and editor Liam Foster tells us more about what we can expect from this Social Policy Association response to the impact of coalition government’s cuts and reforms since 2010.

In defence of welfare 2 [FC]In Defence of Welfare began in 2010 as a response to this government’s first Major Spending Review. Put together by the Social Policy Association, it was an attempt to anticipate the impact of such cuts to welfare on British society.

This second edition, In Defence of Welfare 2, brings together nearly fifty short pieces from a diverse range of academics, policy makers and journalists to explore the impact of those reforms at a time when a general election is looming.

Contributors to this edited collection cannot help but note the increased inequalities in income, wealth and well-being which have seemingly become firmly entrenched in society over the Coalition Government’s term of office. In Defence of Welfare 2 considers the role of conditionality, and cuts in services and benefits on peoples’ lives. It focuses on extensive inequalities in social policy including the labour market, child care provision, access to health and social care, pensions, housing and education among others.

Experiences

Drawing on the experiences of children, women, immigrants and the unemployed, it explores how the Government has surprisingly little understanding of how inequalities are played out in society – or how effective policy is made, developed or implemented.

“stigma has become a key challenge for welfare recipients, particularly the poorest in society”

It demonstrates how many social policies mark a relentless attack on those who are most ‘disadvantaged’, hitting those hardest without the resources to sustain an acceptable standard of living. Instead the role of the voluntary and faith sectors have been important responses to the insufficiencies of welfare with the use of food-banks expanding rapidly. At the same time those most privileged in society continue to benefit from Coalition policies with the gap between those at the very top and the rest growing rapidly, whilst social mobility is at a standstill.

In addition, In Defence of Welfare 2 shows how stigma has become a key challenge for welfare recipients, particularly the poorest in society. The portrayal of the welfare state as ‘too generous’ resulting in welfare dependency is inaccurate. The language of ‘scroungers’, ‘cheats’ and ‘troubled families’ are all too prevalent in the media and beyond, and have a detrimental impact on people’s well-being. Such terminology is the result of an unfortunate dichotomy of workers vs non-workers and rich vs poor which permeates society. It is argued that a responsible civic language is required.

Importantly, In Defence of Welfare 2 considers how welfare can and should develop in order to promote a more equal society, one which provides for the needs of those with the lowest and most precarious incomes in the UK.

In Defence of Welfare 2 edited by Liam Foster, Anne Brunton, Chris Deeming and Tina Haux is available for purchase here or download it here.

You can also follow @SocialPolicyUK and hashtags #IDOWII #defendwelfare for more on In Defence of Welfare

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.

Policy Press April ‘editorial picks': Politics

Continuing our new series of monthly ‘editor picks’, and with our focus very much on the election it makes sense for our Politics Senior Commissioning Editor Emily Watt to tell us a little bit about her background, what she’s most excited by in upcoming Politics titles and why she feels certain New Zealand will win the Rugby World Cup this year…

Policy Press - 013Name: Emily Watt

Title: Senior Commissioning Editor

What’s your background story?
I have been at Policy Press for just over 10 years, which is still hard to believe, working my way up from Editorial Assistant in January 2005 to my current role as Senior Commissioning Editor.

About 4 years before this and about a year after graduating from Lancaster University with a BA Hons in American Studies, I went travelling with my best friend for 15 months to the US, Australia and South East Asia. I didn’t really know at this point what I wanted to do, so I was hoping this trip would enable me, in true clichéd style, ‘to find myself’. It was an amazing experience, but it didn’t get me much closer to a career decision.

When I returned I found out that one of the friends had just completed an MA in Publishing at Oxford Brookes and then the penny dropped, I suddenly knew this is what I wanted to do! My Mum had also done copy-editing and proofreading and worked in magazine publishing, so publishing had always been there in the background.

One year of study later, during which I worked part-time at Berg, I finally got my qualification and, just as importantly, was put in touch with Alison Shaw, the Director at Policy Press. While back in Bristol, I wrote a letter to Alison to ask if she had any work for me. The rest, as they say, is history and I haven’t looked back since.

What does your role entail and what do you enjoy most about it?
As a Senior Commissioning Editor and manager of the Commissioning Team, my role can be really varied. For example, one morning I can be reading and feeding back on new book proposals, planning for the next conference or campus visit, preparing paperwork for our next Acquisitions Meetings or sending out referee comments or contract offers. By the afternoon, I could be reviewing the Team’s budget, analysing the commissioning targets to feed into plans for the following year, or attending a cross-team meeting.

I really relish balancing such a variety of tasks in any one day and being able to challenge myself to think through problems and make swift decisions. I enjoy managing the team, but my real passion is commissioning and being able to see an early idea start from a conversation I had at a conference to becoming a finished product. This gives me great satisfaction.

What most excites you about your subjects?
I look after a good range of subjects including Politics, such as Public Policy, Social Policy and Welfare, Social Geography and Urban Studies and Housing and Planning and although they interlink, I like that the books I work on can be so different in scope.

I am particularly engaged in areas of my list that have a social justice or equality angle, that challenge current thinking and push the debate forward and which truly bridge the gap between theory and practice. Great recent examples of this are ‘Making policy move’ by John Clarke, Dave Bainton, Noémi Lendvai and Paul Stubbs, which is out this month, ‘New philanthropy and social justice’ (part of our Contemporary issues in social policy series) by Behrooz Morvaridi and Julian Dobson’s campaigning book ‘How to save our town centres’.

What key things are happening in Politics at Policy Press this year?
You could argue that everything we publish has a relevance to politics and policy, but in Politics we started the year off well with the release of a new trade book by Peter Hain MP entitled ‘Back to the future of Socialism’, which is a real boost to our Politics list. Written by a former Labour MP, who was in the Blair and Brown Cabinets, Peter’s book revisits the classic 1956 work by Anthony Crosland and uses it as a springboard for putting forward his political prospectus for today. The book, pitched at a wide readership, is a real boost for our Politics list and makes for an academically engaging and personal read, one that I think is very important given the public’s growing disengagement and disaffection with mainstream political parties.

Another important book that has just been released as a paperback is ‘Women of Power’ by Torild Skard which charts an impressive 73 female presidents and prime ministers worldwide over the last 50 years. Based on an astounding amount of research by the author, the book looks at these women’s motives, achievements and life stories in politics and it is a must read for anyone interested in gender, politics and leadership.

There has also been some excellent content on key political issues published in the latest issue of our Policy & Politics journal. I was particularly drawn to ‘the politics of quangocide’ from Katharine Dommett and Matt Flinders and ‘Governing at arm’s length’ by Catherine Durose, Jonathan Justice and Chris Skelcher. The journal co-edited by Sarah Ayres (Bristol) and Matt Flinders (Sheffield) is a leading international journal in the field of public policy that importantly prizes itself (as Policy Press does too) on bridging the gap between theory and practice and linking macro-scale political economy debates with micro-scale policy studies.

Our new Policy Press Shorts are an ideal format for Politics given that the subject is so fast-moving and topical. Being able to offer flexible publishing options has opened up new opportunities in all our subjects and the Policy Press Shorts have a 12 week turnaround from delivery to publication. They are an excellent outlet for publishing original ideas quickly and making a difference in a concise and accessible way, ideal for politics.

One great example is a Policy and practice Short entitled ‘Battle of the Bedroom tax’ by Dave Cowan and Alex Marsh which publishes just after the election. The bedroom tax was a key and highly contentious policy and one which could slip down the political agenda depending on who gets in power in May, so having the Short out quickly so that it hits the right political moment is key.

What interests you particularly about Politics?
The key issues that interest me in Politics at the moment are political disengagement, devolution and a shift in power from a Westminster-centric view and the ongoing debates related to independence and the decline of mainstream political parties in favour of more extreme parties, such as UKiP (there is much more to be said here!).

I am also keen to commission more politics books in areas we are known for and which are continually on the political agenda. This includes political issues for disadvantaged groups, such as those in poverty, older people, disability and gender and books that push the boundaries and put forward radical and fresh perspectives.

What reading book is currently on your bedside table?

I’m reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt that was chosen by our very own Victoria Pittman for book group. I really like what I’ve read so far, but I have a feeling the book will be by my bed (or on the bus with me) for a while!

Laura Vickers led the editorial picks in March – what would you say is her secret superpower/thing she is most awesome at doing?
Her sheer determination. When she puts her mind to something she doesn’t give up and makes sure it gets done even though it might be really challenging along the way or take a long time.

Laura’s question for you is: Who will win the Rugby World Cup?
This question from Laura is a not a surprise as she is a massive fan of rugby and most sports. I have absolutely no idea how to pick a team to win the World Cup, but I will base it on a place where I have always wanted to visit – New Zealand.

What question would you want us to ask our next editorial interviewee?
Who would be the 4 best/most influential people you would have dinner with and why? They don’t all have to be alive!

If you enjoyed this blog you might also enjoy….

Policy Press March ‘editorial picks': Environment and Sustainability

Policy Press February ‘editorial picks': Criminology and Criminal Justice

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​​5 must reads before you vote

5 Pre election read_2s

Now in the midst of election campaigning, we’re bamboozled by spin and party politics, but what about the facts?

What about the very real stories and statistics that should provide the foundation of our decision about who to vote for?

We have selected five of our books that present these clearly.

Read one, some or all of them, read the policies, and place your vote.

In defence of welfare – Want to know more about developments in ‘welfare’ over the last five years of Coalition Government? This book brings you nearly 50 short, digestible pieces from a range of social policy academics, policy makers and journalists full of facts and analysis of welfare changes since 2010.

Austerity bites Mary O’Hara – If  ‘austerity’ is the thing you most want to know about then this book is for you. It chronicles the impact of austerity on people at the sharp end of the cuts, based on the author’s 12-month journey around the country in 2012 and 2013 and fully updated for the paperback edition.

Getting by – Lisa Mckenzie – Poor neighbourhoods are an area of public concern and media scorn but if you want to hear the story from the inside then you’ll want to read Getting by. Lisa Mckenzie lived on the notorious St Ann’s estate in Nottingham for more than 20 years. Her ‘insider’ status enables us to hear the stories of its residents, often wary of outsiders, to give a unique account of life in poor communities in contemporary Britain.

Good times, bad times – John Hills – Do you want hard data and facts about who benefits most from welfare spending in this country? Using extensive research and survey evidence, this book challenges the myth that the population divides into those who benefit from the welfare state and those who pay into it. It shows that all of us rely on the welfare state throughout our lifetimes, not just a small ‘welfare-dependent’ minority.

Sixteen for 16 – Salvatore Babones – And if you’re already thinking about the possible impact of next years’ US Presidential election then Sixteen for ’16 offers a new agenda for the 2016 US election crafted around sixteen core principles from securing jobs to saving the Earth. It is a manifesto which makes the argument for each of these positions, clearly, concisely, and supported by hard data.

There’s not much time left before the election, but these are available on Kindle or at all good bookshops…

#GE2015 #whyvote #imvotingbecause

Don’t forget Policy Press newsletter subscribers get a 35% discount when ordering through our website. If you’re not a subscriber yet why not sign up here today and join our Policy Press community?

Student confessions: why I didn’t vote in the last election…

As part of our #imvotingbecause campaign we asked University of Bristol second year Sociology student and Policy Press intern Katie Lucas, to share her insight into voting amongst the student population.

Katie argues that more positive and campaign driven media coverage as well as an increase in informal, social discussions about politics as key ways in which young people could easily be re-engaged in the process.

KatieI must confess I, Katie Lucas, did not vote in the last election. I am embarrassed to admit that I am one of those youths who didn’t muster the effort to walk the 5 minutes to my local polling station to vote.

But then I had the audacity to complain and despair after the EU parliament elections didn’t go the way I had expected. When discussing the EU election in 2014 with my friends, nearly all of them were disappointed the outcome and most of them also hadn’t actually participated in the vote. Why is this? I reflected upon my own feelings and did some further delving in order to try and understand why we weren’t participating.

Lack of knowledge

A major impact is a simple lack of knowledge. Young people don’t really know what the campaigns strive for and even more worryingly don’t really know the actual date of the election. As a student I can admit it can be easy to get wrapped up in your student bubble and the outside world can simply escape you.

It seems that the EU election was one these events that passed many by. Perhaps, it escaped some people’s attention because they really didn’t know who to vote for and therefore ignored any broadcasts and articles.

“Many of my peers had no idea what the different parties were standing for…”

 

Many of my peers who I spoke to had no idea what the different parties were standing for and many felt that researching and finding out seemed like a daunting, arduous task and therefore ignored the whole thing all together.

In combination with lack of knowledge, it seems that lots of the information that is presented is extremely negative. Newspapers and blogs slamming campaigns and politicians- mocking Ed Miliband, David Cameron etc.

When I review the information I do know about the parties’ campaigns it’s more about what they are doing wrong and why they are incompetent rather than anything positive highlighting a promising future or a policy that has worked.

It is all so discouraging, it often feels like we’re simply voting for the lesser of two evils. Is it more about keeping certain people OUT of power rather than wanting certain people in? It seems to have created a sense of apathy amongst those I spoke with – What’s the point in voting?

“We shouldn’t be aspiring to apathy over participation”

This is really not what young people should be feeling. We shouldn’t be aspiring to apathy over participation. Certainly Russell Brand’s cries of ‘there’s nothing worth voting for’ aren’t helping by validating those who aren’t.

Encouraged

Not everyone feels this way though. I do know those who do vote. Most were encouraged by discussions of politics at home or having participated in some sort of politics course at school or college. My friends who vote were appalled that I hadn’t and were all so willing to help me understand what certain parties argue and why it is important to vote.

After the EU elections with UKIP coming out on top I realised how important it is that I do vote, even if it is just to keep those who I really disagree with out of power. I urge young people to discuss the elections with friends or family as this can be a much less daunting way of finding out information.

Overall, I don’t know what the answer is but it clearly is a huge issue with a large proportion of my friends who don’t vote. Scotland’s substantial turn out when deciding whether to separate from England or not is something to aspire to if we want the political outcomes to express our actual opinions and thoughts.

I have now registered to vote in the general election in May as it has become clear to me how important it is and how ridiculous it is that I didn’t vote – it really is no effort at all for something that will actually impact me in the future. Each vote can make a difference and I hope to inspire my friends to follow suit.

#imvotingbecause #whyvote #GE2015

Mary O’Hara: Austerity bites with more cuts all the way to 2020

Mary O’Hara’s Austerity Bites is out today in paperback. In today’s guest post Mary contextualises and shares her preface to the paperback edition. She is disappointed at how little has changed since she conducted the interviews and continues to be concerned for the future of the UK as austerity looks set to bed down even further, irrespective of which party/ies win the UK General Election.

Mary O'Hara

Mary O’Hara

Another £12bn. That’s what is on the cards if there is a Conservative-led government elected in May. The chancellor George Osborne has pledged – despite repeated signs in the run up to the election that the economic recovery is extremely fragile – to ratchet up the cuts that for the past five years have harmed economic growth and devastated millions of people.

For people directly affected by austerity, for example the disabled who have seen incomes shrink drastically and who have been repeatedly targeted with punitive welfare reforms, and younger people who are still struggling to find secure jobs with decent wages, all the talk of a bouncing back can sound delusional.

There is a lot at stake in the upcoming election. What kind of NHS will the country have? Will social care services be able to cope with rising demand as pressure on funding snowballs? How many more children and families will go hungry or homeless? How much more can the poorest in society be punished for the misconduct of bankers and the hoarding of wealthy?

Preface to the paperback edition
It is early spring 2015 and the Tory/Liberal Democrat Coalition’s five-year term in power, during which it has unleashed an austerity programme of historic proportions on the UK, is drawing to a close. What I would like to be writing is that austerity has at last been widely seen for the gigantic folly it is and that its wholesale dismantling is under way. I want to tell you that, like Greece, a country ravaged by the worst austerity in Europe, Britain is on the verge of electing a new government that will reject the reckless venture once and for all.

Instead, it is abundantly clear that the first edition of Austerity bites, which chronicles the grisly human cost that was paid during the first three years of unprecedented cuts to public spending, has turned out to be a mere taster of the cruelty that has been experienced by whole swathes of the British population at the hands of its own government. It is also clear that, despite repeated warnings of the damage being done to people who were already struggling to get by, there is no end in sight. As I write, the electorate knows that even if the Labour Party gains power, further (although less drastic) cuts are on the way until at least 2020.

By this time, spring 2015, we know that the Coalition government has willingly left legions of its own citizens unnecessarily destitute, poor, hungry, dependent on food banks, freezing in their own homes, marginalised from society, and publicly vilified and shamed for daring to be unemployed, disabled or sick. As Mark Blyth points out in the foreword to this paperback edition, austerity as it evolved in the UK after 2011 was more about targeting aspects of spending that affected the most vulnerable than a full-blown fiscal transformation that hit the financial elites where it hurt.

The government has presided over manifold cases of people so crushed by the brutish, punitive changes to the welfare system, including the inexplicable ‘Bedroom Tax’, and sanctions that many have gone without food, resorted to begging or taken up ‘survival shoplifting’ after their meagre benefits support has been withdrawn. People are suicidal.

“…it is clear that the Tories, especially, remain hell-bent on pushing through yet more ideologically driven, record-breaking cuts and harsh reforms to social security”

The government has driven innumerable disabled people to despair with its spectacularly inappropriate and mismanaged ‘back-to-work’ programmes that are still plagued by criticisms of callousness and ineptitude. The government has abolished the Independent Living Fund in England, a vital social security safety net that helped around 18,000 of the most severely disabled people retain their hard-fought independence in the community.

Despite the mountain of evidence piling up on the barbarity of austerity – and the fact that the deficit that purportedly necessitated all this pain has nowhere near been eradicated – it is clear that the Tories, especially, remain hell-bent on pushing through yet more ideologically driven, record-breaking cuts and harsh reforms to social security.

Welfare state’s grave

During his first four-and-a-half years as Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne had already gleefully dug the welfare state’s grave, but his 2014 Autumn Statement was the mallet to hammer the nails into its coffin. Osborne confirmed that, if the Conservatives were re-elected, billions more would be slashed from the public purse, including from social care budgets that fund essential services designed to protect the most vulnerable and poorest in society, including children, disabled and older people.

Immediately after the Statement, the highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies concluded that the government’s plans to shave another £20 billion from spending would constitute cuts ‘on a colossal scale’, while at the beginning of 2015 it reported that if proposed Conservative Party plans were enacted they would amount to ‘the largest fiscal consolidation out of 32 advanced economies over the period from 2015 to 2019’.

“… the much-trumpeted uplift in jobs has continued to be characterised by low pay, insecure contract work and involuntary (poorly paid) self-employment”

Make no mistake about the sweeping and ruinous legacy of five years of austerity in the UK. The economic recovery has been the slowest and least robust ever recorded, and the Chancellor’s deep cuts were estimated in February 2015 to have contributed to a needless shrinking of GDP by 5 per cent, delaying any recovery from the get-go.

Millions of people are now poorer, housing costs have soared and living standards continue to fall. Average earnings have dropped significantly. And, as this book’s first edition correctly anticipated, the much-trumpeted uplift in jobs has continued to be characterised by low pay, insecure contract work and involuntary (poorly paid) self-employment. This is how TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady summed it up to me in February 2015:

“As the 2010 to 2015 parliament draws to a close, the average full-time wage will be worth at least £2,000 less than it was when David Cameron entered Downing Street. Austerity has had a tremendous amount to do with this. It’s meant we have the slowest recovery in British economic history, with far too many low-paid, insecure jobs and not enough of the well-paid, decent work people need. But there is an alternative, and that is to build a different kind of economic future based on greater equality of income and wealth.”

Let’s not forget that homelessness is rising dramatically, that services ranging from domestic violence support to addiction facilities, to provision for disabled people and children are closing or stretched to the limit, that access to justice has been severely curtailed due to Legal Aid cuts and that the queues for food banks have swollen to extraordinary levels.

Remember too the government’s lamentable stewardship and quasi-privatisation of the NHS, as well as truly devastating cuts to mental health services. It is no wonder that suicide rates for men have risen steadily since 2007. This is what Professor Sir Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said of the rise:

“It is of great concern that the UK’s male suicide rate is at its highest level for more than a decade. The economic downturn is likely to have played some role in the rise, with mental health services now facing a ‘perfect storm’ of increased demand set against three years of real-terms cuts to budgets. Many people in crisis are simply not getting the support they need.”

There are some signs of hope. Many groups, large and small, as well as individual campaigners continue a valiant fight on an anti-austerity platform and new ones are emerging all the time.

Latterly there has been the rise in the popularity of smaller political parties coalescing around an anti-austerity agenda: the SNP in Scotland, Plaid Cymru in Wales, and the Green Party across the UK offer some kind of alternative29 to voters disillusioned with the mainstream cuts consensus.

But still, I am not able to write what I would have wanted to. I cannot tell you that people’s undue suffering has ended or is about to end.

#austerity #GE2015

Related articles

Tory austerity will eat up the welfare state by Mary O’Hara

Austerity bites [FC] borderAusterity Bites by Mary O’Hara is available for purchase from our website here (RRP £9.99). Don’t forget Policy Press newsletter subscribers get a 35% discount when ordering through our website. If you’re not a subscriber yet why not sign up here today and join our Policy Press community?

You can also follow Mary O’Hara on twitter @maryohara1

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