Making ourselves at home in an economy that has enough

authors together

by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams

As we enter 2019, there is one thing that all the commentators and punters seem to agree on: no one can really predict what will happen as the months unfold.

What form will Brexit take? Will Trump’s trade wars lead to hostility between nations or will he pull off a peace deal with North Korea? What will the gadget be that people flock to? Will 2019 be the year that plastic bags increase to 10p each in the UK and plastic straws become a thing of the past?

“So many of the factors that shape one’s life are determined in realms beyond your control.”

Against these multilayered uncertainties is the uncertainty that the majority of people have been dealing with for some time: so many of the factors that shape one’s life are determined in realms beyond your control. In boardrooms that decide your pay and hours. In algorithms that shape political decisions. In weather that is more extreme due to the pollution and emissions of the richest. In navigating social interactions charged with pressure to look a certain way, own certain things, or even to pose and pout in a certain way.

It is no wonder that more and more people are grasping for something different, whether it is apparently simple solutions offered at the ballot box or stepping outside the mainstream into alternative lifestyles.

This individual searching is mirrored in the economy writ large, which also needs to find a different direction. It needs a new project that recognises that the growth-oriented economy of the 20th century has delivered, but that now, many parts of the world are entering a period where growth is bringing a diminishing suite of benefits and often even increasing harm. The institutions and policies that once rendered growth positive (such as progressive taxation, collective provision of health services and education, or labour market arrangements that balanced power more equally between workers and the owners of capital) are being eroded. This is leaving the benefits of growth to be enjoyed by fewer and fewer people. Pursuit of ever more growth is often driving increasing problems that require yet more resources to fix.

“The pursuit of more poses ever greater risk for people and planet – and yet it, the idea of growth, has a stranglehold on our political and economic systems.”

The pursuit of more poses ever greater risk for people and planet – and yet it, the idea of growth, has a stranglehold on our political and economic systems.

It is time for such economies to recognise that they have arrived.

‘Arrival’ is about adequacy, being able to meet basic needs. It is primarily a material notion, a matter of having the resources to deliver a good life.

It confronts the ostensibly forbidden question of whether development has a destination.

Crucially, however, having enough resources collectively does not necessarily mean everyone individually has enough. Arrival does not imply that everything is resolved and everyone has what they need. Rather, it is the idea that a society collectively has the means for this.

“Failure to share the world’s harvest, both within and between countries, is one of the most enduring frustrations and tragedies of our time.”

Failure to share the world’s harvest, both within and between countries, is one of the most enduring frustrations and tragedies of our time. It is the cause of so many of the challenges and uncertainties that people, politicians, businesses and communities are wrestling with as 2019 unfolds.

Perhaps 2019 will be the year in which people recognise that growth has reached a point where a high standard of living could, theoretically, be universal.

Realising that possibility demands a new project – using resources in a smarter, fairer way, rather than wasting or hoarding them; focusing on the quality and distribution of economic activity and material resources. That is the task of ‘making ourselves at home’.

Once the delusion of growth as both an end in itself and the best of all possible means is discarded, discussion can then turn to what sort of economy we can create, to making better use of what has already been accumulated and, perhaps more than anything, ensuring it is fairly distributed.

Many aspects of this ‘grown up’ economy are already in existence – and indeed flourishing. From pro-social businesses to the ‘remakeries’ that are popping up in high streets. From policy makers creating incentives for the circular economy, to the city mayors using participatory budgeting.

Making ourselves at home is an economy in which there is scope for continuous improvement. Science and technology will advance. Human creativity and imagination are boundless. The economy will remain dynamic.

What changes is the ultimate goal. Making ourselves at home is an ethos of qualitative improvement that is a very different system-wide goal to the sometimes meaningless, sometimes harmful, and sometimes unnecessary, pursuit of more.

 

the economics of arrival_fcThe economics of arrival by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams is available on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

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Why food crime can’t be ignored

OAT_A handbook of food crime [FC]We’re pleased to announce that A handbook of food crime, by Allison Gray and Ronald Hinch, has been chosen as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title. Find out more about the award here.

In this blog piece, author Allison Gray explains what food crime is and why it can’t be ignored.

“When people learn that my research involves food crime, they often gasp, lean toward me and ask ‘so, you study people stealing a lot of food’? Even for the hundredth time, I offer a small laugh in return, followed by a deep breath, and proceed to watch their eyes widen and eyebrows furrow as I turn their forks into weapons.

Food crime involves the range of systemic harms, injustices, and crimes involving the production, processing, marketing, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food. It includes the use of slave labour in the cocoa industry, deadly salmonella outbreaks, genetic dehorning and the unethical care provided to ‘food animals’, food waste and the impact of food production on climate change. The consequences impact human, animal, and environmental victims, often simultaneously.

“Food crime involves the range of systemic harms, injustices, and crimes involving the production, processing, marketing, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food.”

These issues are happening around the world, yet people are not aware of them. This should not be a surprise given the physical and psychological distance between individuals and food today. Food systems today are run by corporations (agribusinesses) using highly industrial processes, within a political-economic context of ‘cheap capitalism’. Local farming populations are dwindling and food manufacturing occurs in poor rural areas, hidden from the bulk of urbanite populations. Home gardens and backyard animals are being replaced by microwavable meals and manoeuvring through a drive thru at a fast-food restaurant.

One of our goals in A handbook of food crime was to draw attention to these social conditions that facilitate food harms and crimes and their consequences. To think criminologically about food means recognising that these systemic issues are not mere coincidences or weaknesses of our risk-based society. Nutritiously-poor, unsafe, and fraudulent food, produced through unfair, unjust, and dangerous labour, marketed for profit, distributed unevenly, harming ecological systems, is not normal. It is unacceptable.

“Environmental harm, particularly anthropocentric climate change, is arguably the most pressing issue today.”

Environmental harm, particularly anthropocentric climate change, is arguably the most pressing issue today. The United Nations (UN) Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced this year that the world has only 12 years to drastically transform its practices and avoid catastrophic consequences associated with climate change. Unprecedented changes are urgently needed to avoid the danger in moving above 1.5o C and the deadly floods, fires, droughts, and poverty that accompany it.

Food systems, particularly animal agriculture, are leading contributors to climate change. The production of livestock and animal products dominates environmental impacts involving carbon footprints, air and water pollution, and land use. Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 51% of anthropocentric greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and meat-free human diets can reduce GHG emissions by up to 50% of current levels. Unfortunately, it is a vicious cycle where agricultural land, increasingly subject to devastating droughts, floods, and carbon dioxide levels, becomes less efficient and produces less nutritious food.

“Big problems require big solutions, and there is a role for everyone.”

Big problems require big solutions, and there is a role for everyone. Producers need to act ethically, manufacturers need to accept corporate social responsibility, and governments need to create and enforce regulations that mitigate food harms and crimes. Consumers need to make informed purchasing decisions – however, they are largely unsure of or underestimate the connection between animal agriculture and climate change.

It is our hope that this food crime perspective can be part of the sustainable and just food movement that is so urgently required today. Food literally invades and builds our bodies and fuels our social livelihoods. We need to recognise that our intimate consumption practices have global political, social, and criminal connections, so we can give ourselves and our environment a ‘helping fork’.

 

OAT_A handbook of food crime [FC]A handbook of food crime by Allison Gray and Ronald Hinch is available on the Policy Press website. Use discount code POHFC19 (valid until 31/1/19) here to get it for £42.50 (RRP £85.00), or get the EPUB for £21.59.

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Brexit won’t be over until it is over: reflecting on Theresa May’s strategy

janice-morphet

Janice Morphet

Following Theresa May’s survival of this week’s no confidence vote, Janice Morphet, author of Beyond Brexit?, reflects on May’s Brexit negotiating strategy over the last two and a half years.

“In 2016, after the referendum and Cameron’s resignation, Theresa May ended the selection process for a new Prime Minister as the only candidate. She seemed ideal for the task ahead, having earned a reputation for quiet efficiency at the Home Office, a sometimes difficult department which had kept out of the news during her long period as Home Secretary.

What was less clear was her approach to negotiations with the EU in the coming months. Over the period since, we have seen three distinct phases of these negotiations. In those first months, the Prime Minister took charge of shaping the negotiation agenda, with her political rather than civil service advisers. There were some issues of concern about the implications of Brexit for ‘just in time’ manufacturing and services, but these appeared to be bought off by Government assurances of no disturbance to the current methods of working, including an undisclosed letter to Nissan.

In this ‘Brexit means Brexit’ period, there was not much outward sign of the PM’s negotiating strategy – shared with either Cabinet or Parliament. She chose rather to be guided by her political advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill who moved from the Home Office to No. 10 when she changed jobs, whilst her ambassador in Brussels resigned after his advice was ignored. Timothy persuaded the PM to adopt a package of red lines that would lead to a very restricted future deal for the UK with the EU. Although it was clear that, under WTO rules, the EU could not negotiate a future trading relationship with the UK until after Brexit had been implemented, just as the UK could also not conclude any trade deals in its own right until that point, the Prime Minster was adamant that she wanted to have commitments to a future trading relationship as part of the process of the UK’s departure. The EU negotiator, Michel Barnier threw an olive branch to the UK, indicating that the preliminary discussions on the future UK EU relationship could commence once there had been sufficient progress on the Withdrawal Agreement.

Once she had a plan for the negotiation, despite several denials, the PM called a general election in June 2017. What was promoted as a snap election was conducted over the same period as others. It resulted in the loss of her Parliamentary majority. She also lost her political advisers, Timothy and Hill and these were replaced by her new civil service advisor, Olly Robbins, who has subsequently undertaken the negotiation directly on the Prime Minister’s behalf. She also made a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP in order to provide her government with a working majority.

The election marked the beginning of the middle passage of the Brexit negotiations for the PM. Coming quickly afterwards, the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire exposed the impact of austerity policies and deregulation which were the hallmark of the coalition government in which May served.

This period extended to the Windrush scandal which demonstrated what the PM had been keeping quiet while she was managing the Home Office. Her obsession with migration over all other aspects of Brexit started to emerge in the third stage of Brexit, as her main sales strategy to the British people. This destroyed her reputation and, with Amber Rudd’s resignation, started the unwinding of the government.

“Under pressure, she gives way, making agreements or commitments which she subsequently attempts to forget.”

However, the middle passage also demonstrated another aspect of May’s negotiation style. Under pressure, she gives way, making agreements or commitments which she subsequently attempts to forget. In December 2017, the PM wanted to agree a position with the EU that substantial progress on the withdrawal agreement had been made so that she could proceed to discussions about future relationships. In all-night negotiations, she agreed the guarantee to maintain the commitments made to Northern Ireland in the Good Friday Agreement 1998, subsequently known as the backstop. This meant that there would be no borders on the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland remains in the Customs Union and Single Market. Those around the PM were told that this political agreement was not binding. David Davis echoed this view on the Marr programme on the following Sunday, only to be met by Barnier’s riposte that the backstop was binding and would now be included in the final agreement as the UK did not understand the political commitments it had made.

So what about the third stage, where the previous promises the PM has made in the Brexit negotiations are coming back to haunt her? Many in her party have come to distrust her promises which appear to reflect the wishes of those she is speaking with, rather than any intention to keep them. Dominic Grieve found this when he was persuaded to withdraw from an opportunity to defeat the government only to have the promises made to him removed the following day. The humiliation of the Salzburg Council demonstrated her weak position to the UK and was a prelude to the final text of the Withdrawal Agreement as she gave way to pressure again and abandoned her commitments to members of her party and the DUP on the backstop. She also had to give way to Spain on future negotiations that affect Gibraltar. Her red lines have meant that much of what was promised has not been delivered and even the PM’s Chequers proposals, which caused more Government resignations, appear to be a better deal for the economy compared with what is available now.

“There is still no trading relationship proposed for services – which comprise the largest part of the UK’s economy.”

Her Political Declaration on future relationships between the UK and the EU is vague and not politically binding. There appears to be no Parliamentary support for a ‘no deal’ position and trading on WTO terms only would put the UK in the WTO’s division four, the lowest. There is still no trading relationship proposed for services – which comprise the largest part of the UK’s economy.

Further, can Brexit be resolved until some of the other outstanding questions are answered?

  • Who funded the DUP’s intervention in the referendum?
  • Is there a relationship between Leave.EU, Banks and Russian money? If so, would this result in the referendum being declared void?
  • What will emerge about Farage’s role in the Mueller investigations on the role of Russian influence in the US?
  • Is the Government fettered by promises made in the 2015 Parliament about the referendum as any Parliament cannot fetter a future Parliament and we have had a general election since then?
  • The People’s Vote has offered an opportunity to rally remain supporters but will it solve anything? What questions would be on the ballot paper and will 16 year olds and EU citizens be allowed to vote this time?
  • While Norway+/EFTA provides a means of coming to terms with remaining in the EU, this retains the four freedoms including freedom of movement but no participation in the CAP, Fisheries policy or in decision making.
  • The ECJ has determined that Article 50 can be with withdrawn until 29th March 2019 with no detriment to the UK’s opt-outs and rebates so what would trigger this course of action?
  • Can the terms of the UK’s position in Brexit be changed?
  • What will be the Conservative Party’s approach to maintaining power at all costs lead it to do both in the short term to avoid a general election and longer term to attract the millennial rather than grey vote?

Brexit won’t be over until it is over – whether now or in the years to come.

And a final question: how many more Conservative prime ministers will wrestle with this issue?”

Beyond Brexit? by Janice Morphet is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £7.99.

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How to turn a children’s social services crisis into a catastrophe

Ray Jones

Ray Jones, author of In whose interest?

How to turn a crisis into a calamity and catastrophe?

Well, it is not that difficult as shown by the current state of children’s social services in England. But it does require commitment and continuity over time.

Here’s how to do it.

First, see the banker-created crisis of ten years ago as an opportunity. Blame Labour’s commitment to, and expenditure on, public services such as the NHS, schools and children’s social work for creating the crisis, ignoring that it was reckless and selfish behaviours within the financial private sector which took the UK and others to the economic cliff edge.

“When elected to government continue the script that what is required is a good and lengthy dose of austerity with cuts targeted at poor people and public services.”

Secondly, when elected to government continue the script that what is required is a good and lengthy dose of austerity with cuts targeted at poor people and public services. Keep this narrative going through a friendly media with programmes and news reports about shirkers and skivers and about failing public services and incompetent public servants.

Thirdly, create a self-fulfilling prophecy by cutting funding for public services year on year at a time when families are moving from deprivation to destitution amongst the slicing away of social security benefits so that it becomes harder and harder to provide help for children and families who have been left stranded and neglected by the state. Then ratchet-up the story-line that it is the private sector that is the solution to crumbling public services.

Fourthly, change the legislation so that even very personal services such as children’s social work and child protection can be contracted out to private companies who see this as an opportunity to make money. Their route to generating a profit is by cutting back and down-skilling the workforce, reducing terms and conditions of employment, and asset-stripping by selling off buildings and land. And if it all gets too hot, the international venture capitalists who have now come into this commercial market place of the children’s services ‘industry’ sell on their businesses or just walk away.

This is now the context for statutory children’s services and social work in England. Companies such as G4S, Serco, Virgin Care, Amey and Mouchel have all attended meetings with the Department for Education to work on creating and opening up this market place, and the market analysts Laing Buisson have been commissioned by the government to advise on how to create a privatised market in children’s social services.

“Over 70% of children’s homes in England are owned privately and run to provide a profit.”

And it is already happening. Over 70% of children’s homes in England are owned privately and run to provide a profit. A third of foster care is now provided through for-profit foster care agencies. Almost 20% of children’s social workers working within local authorities are employed through private for-profit employment agencies. And international accountancy firms such as KPMG are now paid by government to shape the future of children’s social services.

Hundreds of millions of pounds every year are being taken as private profit out of the public funding allocated to children’s services, money which should instead be used to help and assist children and families in difficulty and to protect children when necessary.

So a crisis created by the bankers has been used as the context to sustain policies of politically-chosen austerity creating a calamity for public services and a catastrophe for children and families but also profit-opportunities for private companies. And the commitment of the government is to even more cuts in the funding for public services, even more draconian cuts in welfare benefits, and even more privatisation. Absolutely awful, and it is without shame or humanity from those who still use a crisis of 10 years ago to hurt and hinder children today.

 

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Social policy first hand

Beresford, Peter

Peter Beresford

Peter Beresford, author of Social policy first hand, discusses developing inclusive action and conversation, globally, about participatory public policy.

Two of the great linked ideological and global problems of our age are the threat to the sustainability of our planet and the rising international tensions and conflicts linked with populist expansionist politics.

We have seen this in the UK with the divisive vote to leave the EU, and in the US with the election of President Trump and its associated deregulation, protectionism, xenophobia and international sabre-rattling. At the heart of both lie misinformation; the disempowerment and impoverishment of populations and the capacity of elites to manipulate them. Traditional paternalistic appeals to both self-interest and collectivism seem to cut little ice in these circumstances. Instead we have seen increasingly unconstrained neoliberalism let loose, with all media, including the new social media and networking once hoped for as a liberating force, put to its service.

The only thing that looks likely to break this perilous logjam is to move beyond the old paternalistic forms of opposition, take more seriously and treat more coherently the new bottom up approaches to self organizing and policymaking which have been emerging especially since the 1970s. That is both the message of this book and the practical role it offers as a route map to new grassroots approaches to involvement, organizing, resistance and renewal.

Social policy first hand explores how a transformed participatory approach to social policy can engage some of the most oppressed and marginalized people and groups in the world and how they are becoming the vanguard for progressive political ideological and social change. Supported by mainstream academics prepared to work in more equal ways with grassroots activists and their self-organisations, the book shows how such user led approaches to public policy are both possible and developing globally in the Global South, no less than the Global North.

We learn about new accessible and inclusive ways of organizing; the strengths and weaknesses of using social media and networks; the costs and gains of being a whistleblower, of fighting for the rights of a family member wrongly killed in the ‘caring’ system. We find out more about the links between participatory and sustainable social policy and how each is essential for the other. We learn from service users and practitioners how practice can become more user led. We are reminded that experiential knowledge, that is to say knowledge grounded in first hand experience, so long devalued in public policy while so-called ‘expert’ knowledge has been privileged, can and must have a key part to play in co-producing the policies and support that people need.

Such a participatory approach to public policy and provision challenges the marginalization of diversity, with contributions here including some of the most excluded groups; people with learning difficulties, indigenous peoples, those who have been homeless, forcibly restrained or institutionalized. It offers the possibility of getting beyond the rhetoric to see from experience how to make co-production, user involvement and listening to devalued voices real rather than just rhetorical.

Social policy first hand challenges the historic paternalistic role of social policy as a reformist device, while offering practical lessons about involvement at every level, from grassroots organizing against oppressive policy change, to playing an active part in shaping the protocols of supra national organisations. Here established social policy academics and thinkers join forces with service user thinkers and activists to explore different understandings, tactics and goals. This is a book for activists, educators and learners who want to make change by building on the diverse knowledge we already have about what can make working for such change a feasible and inclusive process. It aims to encourage a new generation of social policy that can both rescue us from the seemingly unstoppable rise of neoliberalism and ideological extremism, while offering a convincing practical, democratic and sustainable alternative.

Beresford_Social policy first handSocial policy first hand by Peter Beresford and Sarah Carr is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.99.

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Ethics and the role of judgement

Kara, Helen

Helen Kara

Helen Kara is the author of Research ethics in the real world: Euro-Western and indigenous perspectives, out today.

“I have been fascinated by ethics since long before I became a researcher. Like most of my contemporaries (and no doubt many others too), I was brought up to believe that fairness was worth striving for.

Working for the statutory and third sectors in the 1980s and 90s involved a lot of talk about equal opportunities (as it was termed in those days). These raised questions that interested me from an early age. What is fair? What is equal? Who decides?

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article last month suggesting that scholars should stop citing the work of ‘bad people’ (everyone from sexual harassers to fully paid-up Nazis). The basis of this article was a judgement that if someone is identified as a ‘bad person’, we can all stop citing their work, and so, presumably, feel pleased with ourselves for making the world a slightly better place. This approach is problematic in a number of ways. First, it is actually only possible to stop citing the work of people you know to be in some way ‘bad’. If someone has been convicted of a heinous crime then, arguably, fair enough – though not all convictions are safe. If they have been accused of a crime? That is even more problematic if you subscribe to the notion of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. And whatever criteria you use, you can’t escape the fact that you are still likely to cite some ‘bad people’: from criminals who go uncaught to people who are just generally unpleasant.

Also, findings from research conducted in horrific ways by some of the very worst of ‘bad people’ have been later used to save lives. There is a wide difference of opinion about whether this can ever be justified. Some scholars think not; it is simply too repugnant to be OK to use such data in any circumstances. Others think that the harm has been done, and cannot be undone, so why not use the existing results for good?

Research ethics committees have to make judgements about ethical aspects of research, and these too can be really challenging. People who sit on research ethics committees are generally people who work hard to be ethical and to help others think and act ethically. However, committee members may be constrained by institutional and/or legislative requirements.

“How can any social researcher judge whether or not a participant has a mental health problem, or uses illicit drugs, or lives with a chronic but invisible disability?”

A few days after the Chronicle ran its article, I heard about a student’s ethical approval application being rejected on several grounds, one of which was that they could not guarantee individual participants would not be members of vulnerable groups. While the application may have had a number of flaws, this ground for rejection worries me deeply. How can any social researcher judge whether or not a participant has a mental health problem, or uses illicit drugs, or lives with a chronic but invisible disability? These factors are not self-evident, and I cannot see how it would be ethical to ask every potential participant a string of intrusive personal questions to find out. Also, if we did that, it would exclude people from participating in research: people who are already marginalised, who may rarely have the chance to be listened to attentively by another human being, and whose voices are insufficiently heard in the wider world.

“…part of the answer is for us all to learn to think and act more ethically.”

I can see that both the judgement advocated in the article, and the judgement made by the committee, were intended to be ethical. I think I have demonstrated that in each case, the situation is too complex to be effectively addressed by such a straightforward judgement. What, then, are we to do? In my view, part of the answer is for us all to learn to think and act more ethically. It may help if we remember that research is built on academic foundations of elitism and exclusion. Of course there may at times still be occasional grounds for exclusion, but in general might it not be more worthwhile to work towards more inclusive research practice? Rather than trying to complete the impossible task of compiling a definitive list of ‘bad people’ to exclude, we could judge worthy of inclusion more scholars of colour, queer scholars, scholars with disabilities, scholars from Indigenous communities, and so on. And perhaps we could judge the perspectives of so-called ‘vulnerable people’ as valuable, for they may have a great deal to teach us, if only we can learn to listen.

 

Research ethics in the real world [FC] RGBResearch ethics in the real world by Helen Kara is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £17.59.

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