Labour’s new leadership must not be dragged along behind the Tory austerity bandwagon

In today’s guest post, Peter Hain, author of Back to the Future of Socialism, implores the new Labour leader, whoever they may be, to defend the party’s pre-crisis spending plan and provide a radical alternative to Tory austerity.

We have 5 signed copies of Back to the Future of Socialism to give away. All we ask is that you promise to write a review of the book on Amazon! The first 5 people to email with their details and a promise to review will receive one. 

Peter Hain, representative for Neath, during a photocall for Labour MP's at The House of Commons, Westminster.

Whichever candidate Labour members support for the leadership, everyone in the Party should insist on backing a radical alternative to five more years of Tory austerity. In truth our Party has been too timid for too long on the economic agenda.

After 2010, our leadership allowed the big Tory Deceit to go unchallenged: namely that it was the last Labour Government ‘over spending’ rather than the banking collapse that produced mountainous levels of debt and borrowing, bequeathing a large deficit. As I demonstrate with detailed evidence in Back to the Future of Socialism, that is simply not true.

“Our Party has been too timid for too long on the economic agenda.”

Labour’s borrowing, the deficit and the national debt was low before the global banking crisis – lower than most of our competitor countries from America to Japan and France, and significantly lower than levels inherited from the Tories in 1997: we did ‘fix the roof when the sun was shining’. Otherwise why did Cameron and Osborne sign up in September 2007 to Labour’s three year spending plan?

It was the colossal cost of bailing out the banks and the unemployment and business collapses triggering recession which caused the extra spending. Labour’s pre-crisis deficit in 2007 was 2.7% of GDP. The bank bailout cost 90% of GDP. A slightly lower deficit would have been irrelevant.

“Labour’s pre-crisis deficit in 2007 was 2.7% of GDP. The bank bailout cost 90% of GDP.”

Our Party’s new leadership needs to trumpet that because otherwise we will be dragged along behind the Tory austerity bandwagon. We also need to rebut the charge that the alternative is some wild, irresponsible, unelectable platform of ‘tax and spend’ as critics will doubtless attempt to claim.

Back to the future of socialism [FC]Back to the Future of Socialism offers a practical, financially prudent but economically robust alternative to austerity. Investment in faster, fairer, greener growth is the way to reduce the deficit and the national debt, just as it was in the 1950s when both Tory and Labour governments built double the number of houses each year than today and founded the NHS – at a time when the post-Second World War national debt and deficit was much higher than it is today. They went for growth, not cuts. That’s exactly what we should now do.

“In the decades ahead, Labour should be about securing a growing economy.”

Faster sustained growth would also allow us to tackle both insecurity and aspiration, and not have to choose between them. There is no political necessity for spurning Left-Behind Britain in order to appeal to Middle Britain: the interests of both can be advanced together by Labour.

In the decades ahead, Labour should be about securing a growing economy, with policies to ensure that living standards for all rise, quality of life improves, our environment is nurtured instead of destroyed and everyone shares in the proceeds of growth Democratic socialism, not neoliberalism, should remain both the source of our inspiration and the vision for our age.

Back to the Future of Socialism is available for £19.99 on our website. Order your copy here. The updated paperback is publishing in September, but too late for the leadership contest so buy (or win) your copy now!

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Summer budget 2015: Lower income families hit by housing policy changes

In today’s guest post Bristol University academic and author Alex Marsh reviews the implications of the proposal to cut housing association rents by 1% each year for the next four years, announced as part of the recent government summer budget.

Alex Marsh

Alex Marsh

George Osborne’s recent “emergency” budget proposed many changes to state support to lower income households in a bid to fulfil the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to cut £12bn from welfare spending.

One unexpected aspect of this package was the proposal to cut housing association rents by 1% each year for the next four years.

This proposal was justified with reference to social housing rent rises over the last few years. These have pushed up the already substantial housing benefit bill. Households have needed greater state assistance in order to afford the rents being set. Bearing down on rents over the next few years will, it is claimed, both reduce the housing benefit bill and force social landlords to deliver efficiency gains.


To the unwary or unfamiliar this argument could appear entirely plausible. It is surely time to try to rein in this sort of behaviour: landlords extracting income at the taxpayers’ expense.

Yet, it is important to understand how we have arrived at the current situation and what the consequences of this policy change are likely to be.

The 2010-2015 Coalition government did not want to see new housing association properties built for rent being let at conventional sub-market social rents. Instead it introduced the Affordable Homes Programme.

Under the AHP the level of capital subsidy per property was limited and the expectation was that the properties built would be let at so-called “Affordable Rents”. Affordable rents could be set at up to 80% of the local market rent. The greater income stream that would flow as a consequence would allow the housing associations to access the private finance necessary to build the properties in the first place.

There was no presumption that tenants of these properties would have a different profile to conventional social housing tenants. So it was likely a significant proportion would need to claim housing benefit. Indeed the higher Affordable Rents meant that it was likely that a greater proportion of tenants would need assistance to meet their housing costs.

“Many housing associations will be tearing up their existing business plans and having a major rethink”

In addition, the Coalition government encouraged housing associations to convert existing social rented tenancies to Affordable Rent when there was a change of tenant, in order to increase their revenue stream still further.

Finally, in 2013 the Government indicated that housing associations would be able to increase their average rents by CPI for the next ten years. This would give housing association boards some clarity and allow them to plan their strategies accordingly. So decisions were taken, in the light of projected income streams, about how many new properties could be planned, largely financed from private sources.

The Chancellor’s announcement last week pulls the rug out from under all of this. Many housing associations will be tearing up their existing business plans and having a major rethink.


There have been several forecasts of how much housing associations will scale back their planned new development activity as a result. The OBR estimated 14,000 properties, while the National Housing Federation suggested 27,000. In the context where it is generally acknowledged there is a crisis of housing supply this is more than a little unfortunate.

More dramatically, it is likely that there are housing associations who planned on the basis of previous assurances and borrowed on the basis of what they thought were firm commitments by Government who will now find themselves in serious difficulty. A few will almost certainly go out of business. There are likely to be urgent mergers and acquisitions talks relating to organisations in distress.

Quite how severe a problem this policy change has created is still to emerge. One technical, but potentially significant, issue is that valuers are currently debating how this change to income forecasts will affect the valuation of housing association assets and therefore loan security. This is on top of the Government pushing to extend the Right to Buy to housing associations, which will also erode the asset base.

“They are being punished for embracing the previous Government’s agenda”

The Credit Rating Agencies have an eye on the sector for the possibility of a sector-wide downgrade as a result of the impacts of welfare policy change. This would reduce the viability of current businesses as well as further constrain new housing development.

This whole situation adds up to a paradigmatic example of policy-induced uncertainty.

The organisations that most fully embraced the previous Government’s Affordable Rent regime will find themselves more exposed to the cuts now being proposed. The organisations that responded most ambitiously to the apparent certainties offered by the ten year rent pledge will now find themselves having to undertake the biggest rethink. It is hard not to conclude that they are paying a significant price for taking the Government at its word.


The question is what to do next? And how much weight should housing organisations place on any commitment given by Government, when it has been demonstrated that the rules of the game can so quickly be turned on their head without warning? Proceeding with extreme caution would seem advisable.

Some housing associations will no doubt increasingly look to develop activities that do not rely on government and to house people who do not depend on social security. As independent organisations they have the discretion to strike out in different directions. But the question of how we, as a society, deliver good quality affordable housing to those on low incomes remains just as pressing as ever.


The battle of the bedroom tax [FC]Alex Marsh is Professor of Public Policy, University of Bristol. Alongside Dave Cowan, he is co-authoring a Policy Press ShortThe Battle of the Bedroom Tax –  which will be published later this year. To keep in touch with this and other forthcoming publications why not sign up to the Policy Press enewsletter here?

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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.


How the Conservatives are ‘strengthening’ child poverty measures in the UK

Today’s guest blogger Fran Bennett, from the University of Oxford, is chair of the editorial board of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice. She discusses how the government intends to change the measurement of child poverty in the UK.

csm_Fran_Bennett_69933b0e83On 1 July the Government announced that it was going to ‘strengthen’ the child poverty measure.

From the statement by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP, it is clear that the current range of child poverty measures, and accompanying targets, in the Child Poverty Act 2010 will be replaced by a statutory responsibility to report on only two measures: the proportion of children living in households that are workless, and long-term workless; and educational attainment at age 16 for all pupils and the most disadvantaged.

‘root causes’ of child poverty

The government will also develop other measures and indicators of what the Secretary of State calls the ‘root causes’ of child poverty to underpin a strategy on children’s life chances. It is unclear to what extent, if at all, poverty in work will feature, despite the fact that well over half (in fact, some two-thirds) of children living in households in poverty have at least one parent in work.

“…worklessness, educational failure, debt, drug and alcohol addiction and family breakdown, [are] repeatedly identified as causes of poverty”

The duties and provisions of the Child Poverty Act will also be repealed. And ‘child poverty’ will be dropped from the remit of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

This story goes back several years. Iain Duncan Smith came into office under the 2010-15 coalition government committed to the Centre for Social Justice analysis  highlighting worklessness, educational failure, debt, drug and alcohol addiction and family breakdown, and has repeatedly identified these as causes of poverty since then.


The consultation document on changing the child poverty measure in 2012 also hinted that these might be integrated into it. Many academics, NGOs and others responded to the consultation, with a large number of critical responses (for example, from the Poverty and Social Exclusion group of academics).

The Conservative Party’s 2015 election manifesto repeated a similar list of ‘root causes’ of poverty and said that better measures of child poverty would be introduced to drive change, by ‘recognizing’ these. There were rumours that the Treasury had blocked the proposed new child poverty measure not on principle but because it was unclear how to measure some elements. What seems to have happened now is that the DWP is going ahead with the feasible elements, pending more work on others.

“But with any poverty line, people on one side or the other will not have vastly different lives”

Opposition within the government also seems to have hardened to the relative income measure of poverty (60 per cent of median disposable equivalized household income). The Child Poverty Act in fact also contains complementary measures, including a fixed income poverty line rising with prices (confusingly labelled ‘absolute’); and a combination of relative low income and material deprivation. Persistent poverty and extreme low income and deprivation combined were added later. But the headline measure – used internationally, including in comparisons across the European Union) – is 60 per cent of median contemporary income.


Indeed, before the 2010 election it was made clear by the Conservatives that they acknowledged and would act on relative poverty when David Cameron recognised it. Yet this is the measure now criticized by ministers. First, they argue that movements in the pension or overall income affect child poverty numbers. But this must be the case for a measure depending on median income, because it is about falling behind typical incomes. The existence of several measures in the 2010 Act is then valuable, in that we can also assess if more children are suffering material deprivation or living on an income fixed in relation to prices.

Secondly, ministers label the poverty line as arbitrary. But with any poverty line, people on one side or the other will not have vastly different lives. If we try to identify those in poverty, we need some dividing line. We can argue about whether 60 per cent of median income is the best, and there are currently explorations in Europe to find minimum budget levels; but this does not obviate the need.

Thirdly, ministers argue relative income is too narrow – more income does not transform lives. This takes no account of the evidence of improvements in children’s lives when real incomes have increased, as in this review, for example. And it belies what must be the core of any poverty measure: having insufficient resources to participate fully in the society in which one lives.

“As Ruth Lister argues, children are human beings, not human becomings”

This is the key problem with this redefinition of the child poverty measure. Because of a desire to incorporate certain supposed causes / consequences / correlates, it neglects the need for a focus on the essential factor distinguishing poverty from other conditions. Including all possible dimensions that may (or may not) be associated with poverty in a measure merely leads to confusion. As we know from the media, family breakdown or drug addiction, for example, may affect many families who live well above the poverty line.

This confusion arises from ministers’ real concern not being with child poverty in the here and now, but instead with two other issues. The first is social mobility, or life chances: the extent to which current circumstances dictate future outcomes. This is important. But it is not the same as child poverty. As Ruth Lister argues, children are human beings, not human becomings. And it is much harder to create equal opportunities for the future if poverty is not tackled in the present.

The second concern is ‘social justice’, which to the current government appears to have the limited meaning of a focus on the ‘most disadvantaged’. Indeed, the five causes of poverty cited by ministers were originally seen as markers of an ‘emerging underclass’. This tends to suggest that attention on a small group with multiple difficulties will solve the problem.

Ministers previously suggested that income is only one dimension of poverty. At least the government has undertaken to continue to publish Households Below Average Income each year, so that we will be able to track annually how many people live in households on under average (median) household income – including those below the various thresholds we now use as poverty lines, as described above. But the government now appears to have abandoned income as a measure completely, along with any targets to monitor progress towards eliminating child poverty.

JPSJ 2015 [FC] for e-marketingThe 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.

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6 free articles on the economic impact of austerity

Photo credit:

Photo credit: Number 10

In the immediate aftermath of the first wholly Conservative government budget in nearly 20 years reaction has been mixed.

Some believe Chancellor George Osborne’s move towards a higher-wage, lower-tax economy is fair and will give the majority of families a higher standard of living. For others, the budget was seen as ‘deceitful’, with the proposed cuts in benefits outweighing the gains, leaving the poorest even worse off.

The coming weeks and months will of course reveal the true impact but now is a good time to review some of the economic impacts of the austerity programme to date, assessing them on the basis of scholarly evidence and research.

For the next week we’re giving you FREE access to six articles from across our journals. These examine austerity economics across local government, the legal system, disability movements, social work and the voluntary sector:

Weathering the perfect storm? Austerity and institutional resilience in local government (Policy & Politics, volume 41, number 4): Evidence from case study research shows the dominance of cost-cutting and efficiency measures, as in previous periods of austerity. But creative approaches to service redesign are also emerging as the crisis deepens, based upon pragmatic politics and institutional bricolage.

Austerity justice (Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, volume 21, number 1): Discusses why civil legal aid has reached this low point and the impact of the loss this source of support for advice on welfare benefits and other common civil legal problems.

Cutting social security and tax credit spending (Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, volume 19, number 3): Examines the scale and nature of earlier government cuts by focusing on the indexation and capping of benefits, making benefits more selective and the fate of contributory benefits in the cuts.

Out of the shadows: disability movements (Critical and Radical Social Work, volume 2, number 2): In resisting cuts to disability benefits and services, today’s disability activists have consciously established themselves as an important part of a wider resistance to austerity.

Crisis, austerity and the future(s) of social work in the UK (Critical and Radical Social Work, volume 1, number 1): Examining the impact of the Government’s policy of ‘austerity’, which seeks to shift the costs of that crisis onto the poorest sections of the population while seeking also to undermine the post-war welfare settlement.

Decoupling the state and the third sector? The ‘big Society’ as a spontaneous order (Voluntary Sector Review, volume 4, number 2): Draws on Friedrich Hayek’s theory of ‘spontaneous order’, suggesting that the Big Society involves some implicit Hayekian assumptions. It concludes by considering the implications of regarding the third sector in such terms.

We publish seven highly prestigious journal in the social sciences. If you’d like to find out more about Policy Press journals and for information on how to subscribe to any of the journals then click on the links below.

The Illusion of China’s Economic Liberalization

China has become an economic superpower by  Author and academic Andrzej Bolesta, author of China and Post-Socialist Development 

Dr Andrzej Bolesta

Dr Andrzej Bolesta

The leading theme of the proceedings of the Chinese rubberstamp legislature – the National People’s Congress – is always reforms.

Recently, hopes have been high. The administration of president Xi Jinping and premier Li Keqiang has been promising more market forces in China’s economy. Despite this, in recent times, China’s economic liberalization has been an illusion rather than a fact and this will not change any time soon.

The assumption has been that the interventionist model, characterized by the state’s heavy involvement in the economy, which dominated the first 30 years of reforms and opening up has come to exhaustion.

Why? The implementation of the state interventionist model has led to a growth in social inequalities, significant damage to the natural environment and, perhaps most recently, an almost three percent drop in economic growth – the lowest in 24 years.

Market forces

The logic has been that if a lack of market forces has brought upon China these, to put it mildly, worrying trends, then we need to introduce more market forces to amend the situation. “We need more market forces” – has been the message of the current state administration. And what has happened since the calls for more market reforms began? In terms of economic liberalization, not much.

Since the commencement of economic transformation by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 China has undergone an extensive process of liberalization. A somewhat market-based economy was constructed. But with the administration of president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao from 2003 the liberalization process essentially halted and China has since only reluctantly been fulfilling its obligations related to its WTO membership.

“The authorities have little intention of continuing economic liberalization”

The current drive towards economic liberalization is also an illusion. Some reforms will continue but the progress towards a greater role of the market in economic affairs will be slow, painful and perhaps full of retrenchments. The authorities have little intention of continuing economic liberalization. There is an important reason for this.

Shanghai - economic capital of China Photo credit - wikipedia

Shanghai – economic capital of China Photo credit – wikipedia

The higher echelons of the Chinese communist party long ago chose the model of China’s development and since the beginning of transformation the general idea has hardly been altered, despite the plethora of analyses that claim to the contrary.

This model can essentially be summarized as an attempt to employ the systemic, institutional and policy solutions used by Japan and Korea during their high growth periods.

East Asian development model

It is true that China is very different from both countries. It is much larger and more decentralized; it has a different historical institutional background as it was a socialist country; and finally, it attempts to imitate Japan and Korea at a time when the advancements of globalization in a way impose a great deal of openness on national economies, thus making some of the Japanese and Korean historical policies incompatible with the arrangements of the contemporary world.

Nevertheless, with all its indecisiveness and reform retrenchments, China’s leadership has vigorously implemented the East Asian development model as extensively as the internal and external conditions have allowed – a model responsible for the most spectacular developmental advancements of mankind in the second half of the twentieth century.

“In this model, however, there is hardly any space left for further economic liberalization”

This implementation is clearly visible when we examine China’s trade policies to support export and to discriminate import, when we observe the deliberate policy of development of certain sectors of export-orientated production; when we see economic nationalism becoming, next to political nationalism, the leading state ideology; and when we see how the leadership wants to keep the society subordinate and obedient and at the same time supportive of the national development trajectory, and does so by keeping the social sphere weak and unorganized and by, nevertheless, creating conditions for gradual improvements in the welfare.

This model has largely been a success. China has become an economic superpower. In this model, however, there is hardly any space left for further economic liberalization. Further liberalization will only be possible once domestic companies reach the level of sophistication that enables them to control the domestic market in the free market environment, and to effectively compete on the global arena, as was the case of Japanese keiretsu and Korean chaebols.

This moment has yet to arrive. Chinese authorities continue to believe that more competition from foreign actors will negatively affect the domestic business sector. Chines authorities also believe that the social and environmental problems their country is currently facing cannot be solved by market forces. And this is the perfect excuse to continue following its long-term model of development with an intrusive and interventionist state. Chinese leadership will talk about economic liberalization as it plays the global game, for China is a part of the global economy. And the global game is to praise more market, more free trade, more economic liberalization. But it will not liberalize.

Dr. Andrzej Bolesta

China and post socialist development [FC]China and Post-Socialist Development is available for purchase from our website here (RRP £70.00). 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?

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Do you want a better NHS or more equal health outcomes for all?

Jonathan Wistow, lead author of Studying health inequalities which published this week, explains why a better NHS is not necessarily the answer to ensuring greater health equality.

Wistow4Few things are as important to the quality of life as the number of years healthy life expectancy and overall life expectancy. 

So why, nearly 70 years after the creation of the NHS, do we have wide variations in health outcomes that are related to peoples’ different and unequal positions in society?  We might expect a universal free at the point of delivery health service to narrow these inequalities.  However, this has not been the case.

Social problem

To address this issue, it is necessary to view health inequalities as a ‘social problem’ – a problem that is created by, and exists within, society.  As such health inequalities provide a useful and significant insight into the dynamics of contemporary societies.

They reflect (amongst other things) the distribution of wealth; the way that we live our lives; the way that services are organised; the quality of, and access to, different services and amenities; the history of places; where people want to live; where people actually live; what people do for work; and the opportunities and options people have throughout their different life stages.

“health is too often conceived of as an individual and medical issue in both the way it is resourced and understood”

However, health is too often conceived of as an individual and medical issue in both the way it is resourced and understood. This is significant not only in terms of how public resources are prioritised (particularly during periods of austerity) between NHS, public health, local government and community and voluntary sectors but also in terms of how we view rights to services and/or outcomes.

Following a general election when resourcing of the NHS was a major issue and priority for all of the main political parties it is reasonable to ask whether we want a better NHS or more equal health outcomes for all?  These are not necessarily mutually reinforcing goals.  The former is about service delivery and the allocation of public funds and the latter is about redistribution as well.

A key issue to consider here is the nature of the social contract and how the balance between individual and social rights is prioritised. In the UK over the past 30-40 years a more or less free market based capitalism centred on individual rights has been pursued and we have witnessed a substantial increase in socio-economic inequalities in this period.

This shapes how equality is viewed and the extent to which there is a challenge to divisions of power, wealth and security in society. In turn this has implications for both the existence of inequalities in health and policy solutions to these.

“we are more concerned with individual rights to services than with collective rights to more equal outcomes”

Consequently, despite the existence of the NHS we are more concerned (in policy at least) with individual rights to services than with collective rights to more equal outcomes. Such a move to more equal health outcomes would require a much more fundamental redistribution of health across society and a return to the European tradition of pursuing equality of condition.

There is a further methodological issue that is important for framing how we understand and, as a result, respond to health inequalities. At an individual level potential causes of health inequalities relate to a complex combination of lifestyle behaviours which influence the socio-economic distribution of health risks associated with, for example, smoking, diet, exercise, bodyweight, and exposure to sunlight.


It is very difficult to isolate these behaviours and attribute causation to them as individual variables. Indeed we can question whether this is a desirable strategy given that in practice people do not live their lives in neat and separate component parts: diet, frequency of exercise, social and work activities, alcohol and nicotine consumption, are all parts of the complex whole that make up individuals’ lifestyles.

But this is still not the whole picture. Lifestyle, in turn, relates to (but is not wholly determined by) the contexts in which people live their lives. Different people react to these different contexts differently.

When we talk about contexts here we take a broader approach, including family, workplace, neighbourhood settings, towns, cities and regions – all important contextual characteristics within which people lead their lives.  It follows that we should take a research approach that concentrates on the complex interactions between people and settings.

To develop more equitable health outcomes in society our understanding of health needs to be based on the kinds of policy, ideological and methodological issues identified above.  Without such a broad consideration achieving fairer health for all seems particularly challenging.  However, there is scope to consider health as a key focus for redistribution and one that may help to move equality back up the political agenda.

Jonathan Wistow is a researcher and teaching fellow, in School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University.  His interests include health inequalities, governance and local government.


Studying health inequalities [FC] 4webStudying health inequalities published on 30th June 2015 and you can order your copy from our website here (RRP £24.99).

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Children First, Offenders Second

In today’s guest post Kevin Haines and Stephen Case, whose book Positive Youth Justice: Children First, Offenders Second publishes today, caution against overlooking the “Child” in childhood crime prevention.

Steve pic

Stephen Case Swansea University

Kevin Haines Swansea University

Children have a special place in society and deserve special treatment due to their lack of maturity, their relative powerlessness in decision-making processes and the need for adults to provide them with support and protection.

However, when children enter the Youth Justice System (YJS) of England and Wales, it seems that their treatment becomes ‘special’ in the sense of discriminatory, negative, controlling and punitive.

Children who commit crime, it seems, are held responsible for their perceived psychological and social ‘failings’ and ‘deficits’, which are seen to contribute to offending behaviour and to the failure of any formal interventions aiming to prevent future offending.

This unpalatable, grossly unfair situation has to change. Consequently, we have formulated a principled and progressive model of ‘positive youth justice’ that is fit for purpose and fit for our time.

Children First

Children First, Offenders Second (CFOS) is a positive approach to youth justice that is built on a set of policy and practice principles, the key to which is to treat children in child-friendly and child-appropriate ways.

Simply put, when children enter the YJS, we should treat them as ‘children first’, not ‘offenders first’ and treat their offending behaviour as a normal part of growing up.

“CFOS is a reaction to controlling, punitive and harmful interventions”

The philosophy of children first will help youth justice professionals to understand why they come into work every day and provide them with a touchstone against which they can measure their daily practice.

CFOS enables staff to understand what they do, why they do it in the way they do it and how they can reflect on the appropriateness and effectiveness of their work. It is a guiding philosophy for practice that gives clear objectives for practice and gives practitioners a sense of purpose to frame and animate their knowledge and skills.

Without this coherent and explicit philosophy, policies and practices are information and understanding without knowledge; skills are abilities and techniques without foundation or application.

CFOS is simultaneously reactionary and progressive. It is a reaction against the ways in which youth justice policies and practices subject children to (possibly well-meaning) interventions that are ultimately controlling, punitive and harmful. It is progressive in its philosophical, principled position and in its policy-practice focus.

We believe that for youth justice policies to be implemented effectively in practice, they must have clear, overarching objectives and be targeted on three key practice areas along a continuum of youth justice:

The Three Principles


Negative outcomes can be stopped.

Prevention (Positive Promotion): We advocate for the promotion of positive behaviours, outcomes, services and opportunities for all children, within and outside of the YJS.

The approach can be animated by adult service providers designing and delivering services in partnership with children; services that prioritise children’s consultation, participation and engagement in all decisions that affect them.

We evidenced this effectiveness in our national evaluation of the Welsh youth inclusion strategy ‘Extending Entitlement’ (Case et al 2005) in terms of improved positive outcomes and reduced negative outcomes (for children in the YJS) as well as improved perceptions of access to entitlements and ability to participate in services (for all children).


More constructive routes can often be found.

Diversion: We support a progressive diversion approach based on diverting children out of the formal YJS and into positive, promotional interventions.

The effectiveness of progressive diversion has been evidenced by the Bureau model (now rolled out across Wales), which prioritises systems management (child-focused decision-making at all stages of the youth justice process) and partnership between practitioners (e.g. police, youth justice staff, teachers), children and families during assessment (prolonged, holistic assessment process consulting with all relevant parties), decision-making/sentencing and intervention planning – which are shared processes pursued by emphasising consultation, agreement and legitimacy (fair, moral, justified treatment of children).

Intervention: All intervention in the formal YJS should be child-friendly and child-appropriate. This means that policy-makers and practitioners should prioritise children’s participation and engagement in the design, delivery and evaluation of services.

The YJS should embed a systems management approach to intervention planning that is evidence-based (not pre-judged, pre-formed, ‘off the shelf’ interventions) and achieved through partnership between children, practitioners, policy-makers and researchers.


Sometimes intervention is unavoidable.

Such consultative and inclusionary ways of working with children in the YJS have been found to be effective internationally in relation to promoting positive outcomes (e.g. children’s perceptions of the increased legitimacy of their treatment, increased access to their entitlements) and decreases in the negative outcomes targeted by interventions (e.g. offending, reoffending, antisocial behaviour).

The new AssetPlus framework for assessment and intervention in England and Wales has the makings of such an approach to the extent that it promises more consultation with children in the YJS, more practitioner discretion, a more holistic understanding of children’s lives and more appropriate, effective interventions as a result.

“What CFOS requires to make it work is a change of attitude and practice…”

A CFOS approach to youth justice founded on positive promotion, diversion and intervention can be achieved within current legislation in England and Wales (along with other countries internationally). It does not require seismic policy shifts or huge injections of money in the short-term. What CFOS requires to make it work is a change of attitude and a change of practice.

A Children-First model for our time

CFOS is not a buffet from which to select some elements, whilst others can be ignored. The model is a whole child, holistic, coherent approach. Every component should be executed as assiduously and effectively as any other. CFOS and the interventions it delivers are child-friendly and child-appropriate, working to the central principles that prevention is better than cure and that children are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

“CFOS is a new way of framing and understanding the lives of these children”


Justice Minister Dominic Raab. CFOS could provide the answer for youth justice reform. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

As academics, we are often criticised (notably by politicians and frustrated policy makers) for being so critical, for pointing out what is wrong with the system, for highlighting its flaws and failings, for being against everything, but for offering nothing by way of an alternative. Through CFOS positive youth justice, we are engaging pro-actively in the debate about how we should respond to children in the YJS.

CFOS is our attempt to structure the answers to the question concerning the nature, intensity and timing of intervention in the YJS and a new (principled, progressive, pragmatic, positive) way of framing and understanding the lives of these children. With a new UK Government and a new Justice Minister inevitably looking for potential areas of youth justice reform, we offer a solution: CFOS.


CoverKevin Haines’ and Stephen Case’s book, Positive youth justice: Children first, offenders second, is available to buy from the Policy Press website. You can also follow Stephen on twitter @SteveCaseCrim and join the Positive Youth Justice Facebook group.

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