Archive for June, 2011

A manifesto of social justice

Peter Townsend (1928-2009) was one of the 20th century’s great champions of social justice. In an earlier book (The Peter Townsend reader edited by Alan Walker et al. 2010) his work was celebrated, but there is now a need to look to the future and apply his analyses to debates going forward in order to achieve a more socially just society. Using Peter Townsend’s academic legacy of nearly 600 publications, it addresses the current unacceptable levels of poverty, such as seen in the recent BBC documentary “Poor Kids” and the need to shape new arguments and policies to combat them.

In Fighting poverty, inequality and injustice, the contributors draw on the work of Peter Townsend to make a compelling case against the pessimistic analysis of neoliberal policy makers and commentators, including many in the Coalition government, that the welfare state must be cut back and that better alternatives are the market and self-interest.  While this policy direction neglects the poor and vulnerable, the alternative one proposed would lead to a less fractured, more socially just society.  The key elements of this manifesto for social justice are:

  • - An adequate income, sufficient to allow people to live decently and with dignity, in work, out of work, in childhood and in old age.
  • - A concerted attack on damaging social divisions in society – based for example on class, race, gender, and location – which result in exclusion, ill-health and premature death.
  • - A universal child benefit and a universal basic pension paid at a level that enables full participation in society.
  • - A new welfare state, at the heart of British life, aimed at nurturing the self-realisation of everyone, providing support when needed across the life course, and actively preventing poverty, inequality, ill-health and exclusion.
  • - An international welfare state in which rich nations redistribute large portions of their income to the poorest.

The manifesto  does not simply state the case for social justice and list demands for policy action; it demonstrates the affordability of these basic demands.  First of all, by rebutting the claim of the present government that Britain is broke.  It shows that the debt threat has been blown out of proportion and that the size of the public sector is not out of step with other major European countries with more successful economic records.  It also illustrates alternative sources of revenue to public spending cuts, such as closing tax loopholes and taxing vacant housing.

Secondly, it is argued that social justice in Britain depends on a fair tax system.  At present the top 0.1% of taxpayers benefit by more than £50,000 each from tax reliefs. Their pre-tax incomes are 31 times the average and their tax reliefs 86 times the average.

The manifesto for social justice is realistic and realisable if policy makers reject inequality and choose to promote opportunities for every person in this country to live, at least, a decent and fulfilled life.

Alan Walker, co-editor of Fighting Poverty, Inequality and Injustice: a manifesto inspired by Peter Townsend, published by The Policy Press on 15 June 2011.

Gender matters

Recently a Toronto couple who decided not to disclose the sex of their new baby have been criticised for denying their child a gendered identity and imposing their own values on the infant.
The Canadian couple have disrupted the customary exchange that is so familiar at the birth of a baby. What is it? What did you get? The expected response is, of course, a girl or a boy. Why is this so troubling? They have a healthy baby. Why should anyone else be concerned?
It matters because gender matters. Gender informs the social, cultural and political systems through which people relate to each other and gender is a powerful determinant of social and economic inequalities. Gender also underpins people’s sense of self and of who they are. Parenting may appear to be constructed as an individualised project in the west with some choice accorded to parents about how they nurture their child, but children are born into a wider social world.
The very language we speak, and which speaks us, demands gendered identities. This is not only a matter of marked nouns, like actor/actress, which have been addressed by the refusal to use such gendered titles; an actor is an actor. A foetus may be described using the neutral third person singular pronoun ‘it’, but once the little person is in the world, in English, humanity is bestowed by ‘she’ or ‘he’.
Some of the feminist comments on this story have offered support for the couple’s liberatory project and have stressed the distinctions between sex, as biological and anatomical and gender, as socially constructed which has been a useful means of highlighting the importance of social factors in shaping what we see as appropriate for women and for men. Social practices, such as the clothes we wear are determined by social and cultural forces and not anatomical or genetic sex. However, sex and gender are also more closely connected than the simple sex/gender binary claims. Sex too is socially constructed in the relationship between social practices, categories of definition and the embodied experience of being assigned to one sex or another. Sex is more complex than the two categories of female and male suggest and includes, for example intersex.

What this story has done, however to demonstrate how difficult it is to challenge the norms of sex and gender, which is not to suggest that parents and communities who reject gender stereotyping cannot deconstruct and challenge its limitations. In order to do so we need to understand how gender works, how sex and gender are interconnected in order to provide more equal opportunities for the next generation. What needs to be challenged is the deeply embedded discrimination which persists across the globe, the entrenched endurance of patriarchy in so many social institutions and the ways in which masculinity as well as femininity is made and re-made within and by social systems. Looking harder at how gender is constructed and lived can be liberating for us all and gender identifications are also positive and productive as the experience of parenting can also demonstrate.

Kath Woodward is author of The short guide to gender, published by The Policy Press on 15 June 2011

A device to encourage reading?

Picture of Kindle and booksFor this techno-phobe in her 50s (although I am now the proud and obsessed owner of a smart phone) the introduction of electronic book readers seemed like just another new piece of gadgetry that I am not interested in or don’t understand! Also, for traditional book readers amongst us, why would you possibly want to read your favourite novel or latest research piece on a small screen, rather than have the bound paper copy in your hands?

However, as with all new technologies, there are millions of people that are interested in the latest gadgets, and e-readers are one of them. Huge interest has been generated in these new devices, especially the Kindle, sold through Amazon. The company released its next generation Kindle 3G in May in the US and has announced it is now selling more Kindle books than paperbacks and hardbacks combined in the US, and its UK business is shifting twice as many e-books as hardbacks!

As publishers, this is an area that cannot be ignored and The Policy Press has just launched its first titles on the Kindle through the Amazon.co.uk site.

I am yet to be convinced to buy one of the devices, but have you? What do you read on it? Would you use it for teaching or research?

After a survey published earlier this week quoted that “three in 10 children (aged 8 – 17) live in households that do not contain a single book” I hope that this technology will encourage the love of reading in the younger generations. I will certainly be an e-reader fan then!

Ann Moore, Sales and Distribution Manager, The Policy Press

Image: Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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