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Volunteers Week: The Future of Volunteering?

Continuity and change in voluntary action RGB

Out now

This Volunteers Week, Rose Lindsey and John Mohan, co-authors of ‘Continuity and change in voluntary action’, part of the Third Sector Research Series and out now, look at the impact of political rhetoric and public attitudes on volunteering on levels of engagement.

Voluntary action has been a hotly-contested topic over the last 30 years. The International Labour Organisation sees it as an “essential renewable resource” for society. Margaret Thatcher, in her famous speech to the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, anticipated a demographic dividend from the retirement of active baby-boomers. Subsequent governments promoted voluntary action not only for its direct benefits (e.g. providing services) but latent impacts (e.g. on social capital, health and employability). The most recent manifestations of pro-voluntarist arguments have been the “big society” of David Cameron and the “shared society” of Theresa May. However, to what extent have several decades of such arguments and policies had impacts on levels of engagement?

There is certainly evidence that volunteering is a renewable resource if we look at statistics about the proportions who volunteer. These have remained steady for some 35 years, albeit with some fluctuations (a recession-induced decline and a short-term boost after the 2012 Olympics). Yet, despite Thatcher anticipating a significant increase in proportions of people volunteering, this hasn’t happened. Nor does it look as if the expansion of higher education – known to be a strong predictor of volunteering – has had much effect.

“…while many people dip into and out of volunteering, voluntary action is dominated by a small core of long-term volunteers.”

Our research demonstrates that while many people dip into and out of volunteering, voluntary action is dominated by a small core of long-term volunteers. In the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) –  the only significant longitudinal study asking questions about volunteering –  very small proportions of the population report volunteering in every survey wave. In a 12 year period (1996-2008) most people reported only intermittent volunteering. We can interpret this evidence in both a positive and negative light. For example, if we consider individuals’ contributions over their life courses, a much greater proportion of the population is involved in volunteering than is revealed by one-off cross-sectional surveys. The more challenging issue for voluntary organisations, however, concerns whether and how they can sustain that involvement over time.

When considering this question, it is useful to have insights derived from people’s own understandings of volunteering. We use extensive qualitative material from Mass Observation, tracking individuals’ accounts of the place of voluntary action and unpaid work in their lives. The material offers rich insights into writers’ individual trajectories into and out of volunteering, the social networks through which they became involved, their motivations, attitudes, and their views as to what voluntary action can and cannot do. Most strikingly, when asked about their involvement in unpaid work, or activities in their community, what they discuss first of all is unpaid care for relatives or neighbours. People prioritise what’s closest to home. This is hugely important in the context of great pressures on the social care system:  the prioritisation of unpaid care will limit the time and capacity that individuals have to engage in voluntary action in other parts of their communities.

“People prioritise what’s closest to home.”

Writers also exhibited a strong sense of scepticism about the conditions under which the public are asked to engage in voluntary action. Some writers articulated this very forcefully; for example one writer’s sole response,  to a question regarding whether she had heard of the “Big Society” was to write in uppercase letters:

“I HAVEN’T GOT A CLUE WHAT IT MEANS. NOBODY I’VE SPOKEN TO DON’T KNOW EITHER. IF IT’S ABOUT OUR PM SAYING WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, IT’S A LAUGH”.

Other respondents articulated a sense of exhaustion – “my days of volunteering for anything are over” – and concern that calls for more volunteering would widen disparities between communities. There were also concerns iterated in the 1990s and again in the 2010s, about funding cuts and volunteers substituting the work of paid-staff. In this context, writers repeatedly argued for clear demarcation between what is the responsibility of public authorities to provide, and what should be expected of communities.

There is long-run stability in engagement, which is positive news. But given these strong views, and the recognition that the greatest burden of voluntary effort is being shouldered by relatively small subsets of the population, our study points to clear limits as to how far we might expect to increase engagement in volunteering further.

Continuity and change in voluntary action RGB

Continuity and change in voluntary action by Rose Lindsey and John Mohan with Elizabeth Metcalfe and Sarah Bulloch is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £60.00 or see more from the Third Sector Research Series.

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Repealed! Now we look to Northern Ireland

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Judith Orr

Originally published by the Abortion Rights blog on May 26th 2018.

An uprising of activists in every city, town and village across Ireland made history yesterday and sealed the end of an era that saw women denied basic human rights. The victory of the Repeal the Eighth campaign will ring out across the world to everyone who is fighting to win the right to safe and legal abortions, whether in Poland, Bolivia or even on the doorstep, in my own birthplace, Northern Ireland.

The grassroots campaign saw great teams of people knocking on doors night after night and taking stalls to local high streets all over the country. It was inspiring to witness thousands of people going out to talk to people face to face about why they should vote Yes.

Thousands came #HometoVote from all over the world, and numerous Twitter streams and new hashtags showed the reach and creativity of the movement. Dentists for Yes campaigned in tribute to Savita Halappanavar who died in 2012 after she was denied an abortion when she suffered a septic miscarriage. She was herself a dentist, and her parents spoke out from India in support of a yes vote. Farmers for Yes tweeted photos of themselves holding Yes signs alongside their livestock and tractors while Grandfathers for Yes defied the clichés that this was simply a generational divide.

“…while Grandfathers for Yes defied the clichés that this was simply a generational divide.”

But most of all the courage of all those who told their own personal stories, many for the first time, stands as a testament to the cruelty of a state ban of what is an essential part of women’s health care. Moving accounts, for example on In her Shoes Twitter account, recorded the anguish inflicted on women who had to travel to end an unwanted pregnancy, or who needed to end a wanted pregnancy for health reasons. Women spoke out about the past so no one would have to go through what they endured in the future.

The No side showed no humility in the face of this outpouring of moving experiences. In fact the anti abortion lobby rehearsed its well worn propaganda about being ‘pro-women’ and ‘pro-life’. These claims were exposed as being lies as the Yes campaign highlighted the impact that denying access to abortion services in Ireland had on every area of women’s health care.

Women described being denied cancer treatment, or medication for epilepsy, when they became pregnant. One doctor told of woman brought by ambulance to a maternity hospital rather than an A&E after being injured in a car accident because she was pregnant. Her own physical injuries were dealt with only after doctors successfully picked up the foetal heartbeat. In the most tragic cases surviving relatives bore witness to the consequences of the constitution treating a foetus and a pregnant women as equal under the law

So this is a momentous change that has been a long time coming. Many compare yesterday’s referendum to one that led Ireland to be the first country to legalise equal marriage after a poplar vote in a referendum. But although both show how attitudes to the Catholic Church’s orthodoxies are changing, today’s result is even more significant. Women’s lives, their bodies, their fertility and sexuality have always faced the greatest scrutiny by the church and the establishment.

“Abortion cannot be seen in isolation, rather as part of a regime of oppression that imposed severe restrictions on women’s lives, and on their sex lives in particular.”

Abortion cannot be seen in isolation, rather as part of a regime of oppression that imposed severe restrictions on women’s lives, and on their sex lives in particular. This is a system that saw women who did give birth, but who happened to be unmarried, forced into institutions, such as Mother and Baby homes and Magdalene laundries. Here their babies were forcibly taken from them to be adopted. Many babies were even sold, often to rich American couples, leaving a trail of personal devastation over generations.

The discovery, in 2017, of a mass grave of babies and children in the grounds of a former Bon Secours Mother and Baby home in Tuam, County Galway show that the full truth of these institutions has yet to come out.

This policing of women’s bodies meant that some women were shamed if they did give birth, but others were also shamed if they decided they did not want to continue a pregnancy. Yet, as so many Yes campaigners pointed out, keeping abortion illegal did not stop Irish women having abortions, it just stopped them having abortions in Ireland.

Yet the shame associated with abortion is not unique to Ireland. Abortion still carries a stigma in countries with access to legal abortion, such as Britain. Abortion is portrayed as the ultimate betrayal of what it is to be a woman, we are encouraged to see it as an aberration and a rejection of our natural biological selves. When anti abortion campaigners can’t win a bar on abortion they concentrate on maintaining these taboos.

Such stigma will not disappear overnight, but the impact of what has happened in Ireland cannot be overstated. It is a sea change that will not only affect the legal status of abortion. The result is both an expression of, and spur for, a transformation of social attitudes to abortion as well. This will be the backdrop for the debates still to come over what new abortion legislation will say, and then about how that is interpreted and implemented.

“But there is also other unfinished business that is thrust into the spotlight by the referendum result, and that is the ban on abortion rights in Northern Ireland. “

But there is also other unfinished business that is thrust into the spotlight by the referendum result, and that is the ban on abortion rights in Northern Ireland. The 1967 Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland, last year least 700 women traveled to England for health care they should be able to access at home. Others risk prison sentences by buying abortion pills online. One woman, 19 years old when she bought online pills when she couldn’t afford to travel to England, received a three month suspended sentence in 2016.

Theresa May was forced to concede that women from Northern Ireland should have access to NHS funded abortions in England in 2017. Until then women from Northern Ireland, paying the same National Insurance and taxes as women in the rest of the UK, not only had to travel for abortion care, they also had to pay for it privately. The issue threatened May’s ability to form a government after a snap election in June left her without a Tory majority. Her subsequent deal with the DUP, a Northern Ireland party trenchantly opposed to abortion rights, led Labour MP Stella Creasy to put a widely-supported amendment that could have defeated May’s critical Queens Speech.

In a single afternoon 50 years of discriminatory practice was overturned. This was not a sudden change of heart by the Tory government wanting to put right half a century of injustice. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had only two weeks earlier fought a case in the Supreme Court to defend the right to deny NHS funded abortions to women from Northern Ireland.

This was a reform pushed through by a government to ensure its own survival, but it showed what was possible. It has made a real difference for hundreds of women. But they still have to travel, and many cannot take the trip even if it is funded, for many different reasons from ill health to child care or the fact they are living in an abusive relationship.

That’s why today while we are celebrating this tremendous referendum victory, the Abortion Rights campaign in the UK is saying let’s take this opportunity to demand reproductive rights for women in Northern Ireland too. It’s about time.

final FC_Lyn 4 webAbortion wars by Judith Orr is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £10.39.

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The role of co-production in research and practice

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Aksel Ersoy

Aksel Ersoy, editor of The impact of co-production, discusses the debate around the ways public engagement can go beyond a simple consultation and how it can be ‘relevant’ in the academia.

“This topic is particularly essential for those who seek economic justification for universities’ actions and research agenda as opposed to academics working especially in the Arts and Humanities divisions.

As a response to this challenge, the mechanisms for measuring and embedding ‘community-oriented impact’ have begun to take hold through the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and bodies designed to support universities in their public engagement strategies such as the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE), The Wellcome Trust, Catalyst Public Engagement Beacons, and embedded university public engagement departments in the UK. New funding streams have opened-up like the Research Council UK (RCUK) Connected Communities programme, designed to promote collaborative endeavours and co-production between academics, artists, public service providers and a range of community groups.

“It not only encourages participants to engage with politics indirectly, but also puts human empathy, spirit and value back into research”

One of the main reasons why we are witnessing new forms of understanding and acting that are being invented within the UK is related to the ambiguous nature of the impact agenda and how it makes academics to act in more prescribed ways. While performance indicators are highly problematic in the context of uncertainties and public cuts, there is a general consensus amongst practitioners and academics that we should pay more attention to governance practices that are engaged in reformulating power structures.

Within this framework, co-production remains as an experiment for communities, universities as well as public authorities as it provides inclusive and practical guidance by facilitating learning. The term is now being cast as a new methodology in which communities can be engaged in policy development, delivery and research. It not only encourages participants to engage with politics indirectly, but also puts human empathy, spirit and value back into research. However, the question of who is advocating this is still a question mark. Commercial consultants, professional associations, client groups, chief executives, think tanks are all a part of this process.

More importantly, the concept is very essential as it can contribute to the creation of alternative urban visions which would stimulate longer term transformations while contributing to sustainable urban development. Although universities are one part of these discussions, their role is getting more prominent as they can be seen as a bridge between citizens, public institutions and community organisations.

The Bristol Method, which came out of the European Green Capital Partnership Award in 2015, is an excellent example for this kind of setting. The Bristol Green Capital Partnership module that has been established as a result of the Award is seen as a vehicle that would lead to drive change towards becoming a more sustainable city over the next decades.

“Discussions on coproduction reveal that we still have not reached a consensus on the difference between coproduction of research and coproduction of public services.”

The coproduction discourse has replaced long tradition of partnership and contractualism, and it is interested in exploring how new arrangements can be established in new ways in new times. Individuals and groups have turned to co-production owing to the fact that it is presented as offering an efficient solution to a range of political tensions associated within the complex social, political and economic orders of advanced liberal societies and it is functioning as a particular form of regulation. Moreover there is a need to move towards exploring more democratic involvement which not only generate change in policy processes but also empower community-oriented practices.

Discussions on coproduction reveal that we still have not reached a consensus on the difference between coproduction of research and coproduction of public services. In fact, there is a constant iteration between these two different but connected arenas. While coproduction of services remains as the successor of the long tradition of partnership and contractualism, and it has been used to explore how public services are delivered in new ways in new times, coproduction of research raises concerns about inclusion and uses different ways with which to leverage experiences of people or institutions in diverse constituencies. It raises the question of how we do what we do. It offers an opportunity to explore process-oriented research without pre-supposing the outcomes of those engagements. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to think that there is no difference of substance amongst the groups or networks of people who are studying coproduction of research.

Coproduction brings in hard questions that we need to be grappling with in terms of us shifting our thinking. It’s a transformation of experience into policy or a transformation of research into action and change. However, instead of intellectualising the concept, it should be celebrated without asking how change happens. This would stop academics finding community organisations to identify what to work on in response to a funding opportunity and encourage engagement and collaboration as a core part of knowledge practices at universities. Otherwise, there might be a danger of doing it wrong.”

The impact of co-production [FC].jpg

The impact of co-production edited by Aksel Ersoy is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £21.59.

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Conceptual issues in welfare debates

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Exploring welfare debates is out this week!

Lee Gregory, author of Exploring welfare debates, publishing this week, discusses the ideological and conceptual issues surrounding welfare debates.

This new textbook provides an introduction to key concepts and debates in welfare using an innovative, question-based narrative to highlight the importance of theory to understanding welfare.

There is a companion website available here.

Our daily lives are surrounded by injustices. Homelessness, poverty, destitution, health inequalities, the list can go on. If you’re a student of social policy or any social science subject you are likely angry at the injustices you see and want to do something to change them, to remove them from existence. That is exactly how I felt.

Studying sociology, politics, law, psychology during a BTEC in Public Services (I was hoping to be an Ambulance Paramedic) my desire to help people started to change. For me there was something fundamentally wrong with how society was structured if it left people destitute, hungry or homeless. If where you were born influenced how long you lived then there was a need for change. But I didn’t feel that I could find a way to pursue this until I discovered Social Policy. It was a fluke, a passing comment by a lecturer at my college, a quick read of Alcock’s Social Policy in Britain and I knew I had found what I was unknowingly looking for.

Poverty, inequality and stratification where my initial interests but I soon discovered that underpinning this, and every other social problem, are a series of debates about the nature of the problem and the appropriate solution. And this isn’t just ideological, it’s conceptual.

“I understand now that these problems exist because we cannot agree on the nature of the problem and the solution.”

This is why concepts have become such an integral part of my thinking, research and teaching. In Foundations of the Welfare State, Briggs (1984: 1) states ‘There was no single impulse behind the making of the welfare state’: rather there are multiple. Exploring conceptual debates in relation to welfare allows us to explore a combination of these impulses: need, citizenship, equality, stigma, social control, and globalisation.

What is fascinating about concepts however is that they are not static. There is no one concept of need which underpins all welfare debates, there are several. The task therefore is to consider how you define need and how you can identify and justify this definition with a longer historical debate. This is what fascinated me. Why, if we have the evidence that, for example, if 14m people live in poverty in the UK, more than 800m globally are in extreme poverty, and, according to FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the homeless, homelessness is on the increase across Europe (except in Finland), do these social problems persist? That younger version of me was both fascinated and frustrated, surely this shouldn’t be? I still am both fascinated and frustrated but I understand now that these problems exist because we cannot agree on the nature of the problem and the solution.

“By exploring welfare debates you can start to understand other views, as well as your own and find the conceptual language for arguing in favour of the change you wish to pursue”

This is not just an ideological debate, but also conceptual. How we define need, equality and social rights, for example, shape how we respond to social problems. Whether we think a particular problem is something the state should be actively eradicating or if we need to rely upon other mechanisms in the market or voluntary sector.

Just as there are many reasons for developing a welfare state, there are different ideas about how we respond to welfare. Understanding these ideas, or concepts, is the essential starting point for studying social policy and for changing the world we live in.

For new students to social policy, however, these can be unsettling discussions. We all come to our studies with some exposure and experience of different insights, debates and views of social problems. But social policy requires that you develop a broader understanding. By exploring welfare debates you can start to understand other views, as well as your own and find the conceptual language for arguing in favour of the change you wish to pursue to tackle injustices and to remake the world around us. Concepts are just one of a number of tools you need to make change, but they are the starting point.

 

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We need more experts participating in political debates: Continuing the legacy of Professor Carol Weiss

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Iris Stucki, the winner of the 2017 Carol Weiss Prize for outstanding early career research, discusses her winning article, ‘The use of evidence in public debates in the media: the case of Swiss direct-democratic campaigns in the health policy sector’. The article is published in Evidence & Policy and is free to access for 3 months.

Arguments referring to evidence are rare in Swiss direct-democratic campaigns. I took 5030 media items and analysed how many of them made a reference to evidence. At less than 7% the result is sobering, and experts, the actors that make most use of evidence in their arguments, are also scarce.

 

Why is this result of deep concern?

The success of democracy depends on an informed public. To be able to make good decisions, voters need to receive information about evidence, in particular evaluation studies, showing whether a policy works or not. Of particular importance for Swiss voters in deciding about a policy is the campaign coverage by the mass media. Here, debates between actors with different interests take place and arguments from both proponents and opponents are conveyed. And here, political arguments could be substantiated by evidence.

“The success of democracy depends on an informed public.”

 

Political use of evidence

Political use of evidence takes place when evidence is used to legitimise a predetermined position. Political use of evidence has had negative connotations for a long time, because, research has often been intended for use in improving and adapting political measures, rather than being used in political arguments. However, the positive view of the political use of evidence recognises that evidence is open to interpretation. Against this background, the use of evaluation studies and other research to support political arguments is nothing to condemn. On the contrary, presenting different evidence-based perspectives enriches political debate. As early as 1979, Carol Weiss stated that research, to the extent that it supports the position of one group, “gives the advocates of that position confidence, reduces their uncertainties, and provides them an edge in the continuing debate”.

My analysis of the use of evidence in direct-democratic campaigns shows that evidence is almost exclusively used in a political way. The good news is that the Swiss media display proponents and opponents in their political use of evidence in a balanced way, that is, pro and con arguments are conveyed in a similar proportion. The bad news is that not all of the actors are given equal coverage. Journalists and politicians dominate the discourse, while experts, the actors most likely to ground their arguments in evidence, appear most rarely. One way to improve this situation would be for the media to integrate experts to a greater extent in their reporting. The simple solution, a fruitful collaboration between journalists and experts seems to be complicated in reality.

 

Knowledge-based journalism

In an ideal world of knowledge-based journalism, journalists serve as explainers of science and facilitators of evidence-based discussions while experts recognise that they have a role to play in educating the public in policy debates. However, such collaboration seems to be tough for experts especially, as they have to be convinced that they want to participate, to take position and to eventually let go of their knowledge. This is best illustrated by a statement in a discussion forum on the question why there are so few experts in political debates. One discussant said that experts have to abandon a part of their identity as scientists when intervening in the world of politics, and have to show idealist ambitions to engage in political debates.

“Ultimately, both journalists and experts are in pursuit of the same goal: an enlightened public to avoid the emergence of a post-truth democracy.”

But perhaps this is the path to take. Ultimately, both journalists and experts are in pursuit of the same goal: an enlightened public to avoid the emergence of a post-truth democracy. Thus, I close with a call for more experts to participate in political communication. I draw, again, on Carol Weiss, who recognized 20 years ago, that experts have the capacity and the responsibility to actively present evidence in the public arena and explain its scope and relevance to citizens. I am convinced that when experts who are involved in the production of evidence collaborate with journalists and publicly share analysis that is relevant in the political world, they both contribute to making democracy more evidence-prone, and citizens more enlightened.

 

Iris Stucki is deputy head of the Federal Office for the Equality of People with Disabilities in Switzerland. She received her PhD in Public Administration in 2016 for her dissertation on the use of evidence in direct democracy. Her research interests cover evidence-based policy making and voting behaviour.

Her article ‘The use of evidence in public debates in the media: the case of Swiss direct-democratic campaigns in the health policy sector’, published in Evidence & Policy is free to access for 3 months.

 

Social forms of care: Changing relationships of support

Mary Holmes

Mary Holmes

Mary Holmes, Co-Editor of Families, Relationships and Societies, discusses the new special issue of the journal which is now available on Ingenta.

It may seem obvious to most of us that we rely on other people for care and support, but how has that changed given the fragmenting tendencies of contemporary life? In the latest issue of Families, Relationships and Societies we look at some of the different ways in which people care and are cared for from Finland, to Sweden, the UK, to the Phillipines. Whether it is caring for children, grandchildren, teenagers, or the elderly, care calls upon our bonds with other human beings.

Whatever the kind of bonds or location, social forms of care include state provision and welfare services, as well as informal care arrangements. People use family, friends and other connections to get the support they need. It is not always easy and may require negotiation and involve conflict. Some informal arrangements may be ad hoc and fragile, but some may contribute to community building and be good alternatives to more institutionalised care provision.

“Childhood, sickness, frailty and old age mean receiving care at times of vulnerability, but even in these cases the cared for might offer some support to others”

A lot of care is mutual. Childhood, sickness, frailty and old age mean receiving care at times of vulnerability, but even in these cases the cared for might offer some support to others – be it financial or emotional. In everyday terms, we give and take care. A friend makes us dinner when we are busy, we look after their children when they have a meeting. A colleague offers to help with our marking and we take a class for them to return the favour. Older children may take a turn to cook, or listen to their parent’s small woes. Caring changes. Parents care for children together and then perhaps alone; help from grandparents disappears as they die; supportive friends move to another town or country. Alongside these ‘private’ forms of caring are changing public provisions and policies that impact on how people care.

The impact of the rolling back of the welfare state in many countries shifts care responsibilities back on to the private sphere.  For example, we see in one article how austerity has made lone mothers in Finland more reliant on informal support networks. In another, Swedish parents have to deal with pressures to control their teenagers’ alcohol consumption. These are changes in what care means and in ideas about who should care for whom and how.

“The articles reveal generational and cultural differences in expectations around care.”

What care means in different kinds of relationships also changes, and the articles look at parents and teenagers, children and child carers in institutions, social workers and clients, parents and parent-in-law, grandparents, children and grandchildren within multigenerational families. In one instance, we see Filipino daughters-in-law making efforts to create affinity with their mothers-in-law to help them balance a sense of autonomy with caring according to cultural norms around obligation to parents. The articles reveal generational and cultural differences in expectations around care. Women also still have to make sense of having the greater part of the burdens and satisfactions of care. Yet people work at caring for each other.

Different contexts of care affect how it is given and received. For example, one author argues that institutionalised care can give children a different sense of time to ‘private’ forms of care. Meanwhile, in social work practice, care becomes difficult if always concentrating on risk prevention, especially within child protection. The articles do not glorify informal or private care as innately superior, but point out the difficulties of caring in the current climate. The social pressures on ‘private’ forms of care can be acute as people try to look after each other around the demands of work, changing demographics and shifting social norms. Fear-oriented assessments of risk, emphasis on responsibility and self-reliance and the withdrawal of various public services have different impacts according to gender, age, disability, class and race/ethnicity. Limited availability and problems within publicly provided care forces people to find support within often already overstretched networks or communities.

Self-reliance is a fantasy, albeit a powerful one, and it is imperative to know how families, friends and public bodies navigate around it to provide support. Here we see them using a range of ways to maintain relationships of support at a time when vulnerability and care are often degraded. Care remains a social achievement.

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Read the special issue “Social forms of care: changing relationships of support”.

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Roma in a time of paradigm shift and chaos

 

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Andrew Ryder and Marius Taba

A themed section of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice ‘Roma in a Time of Paradigm Shift and Chaos’ is available online and will be officially launched on 19 April 2018 in Budapest.

Here Andrew Ryder and Marius Taba explain how this themed section of the journal explores ideas around Roma communities in times of austerity and change.

“The financial crisis of 2008 created a monumental process of turbulence and dislocation in not only economic structures but also in the fields of politics and culture. Nearly ten years after the financial crisis many of the causal factors and consequences of that crisis have not been solved with Roma among the groups most damagingly affected.

This themed section of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice explores notions such as securitisation and how political elites are using the Roma to frame monocultural and xenophobic visions of society. Such trends are leading to the fragmention of the social contract and framing of the Roma in a moral underclass discourse leading to cuts in welfare, workfare programmes and pushing Roma communities further into precarious economic activities. Growing poverty leads to isolated and ghettoised Roma communities which in tandem with racism creates segregated schools and low participation and attainment. These economic drivers in exclusion and segregation have been accentuated by welfare cuts and economic downsizing prompted by recent austerity drives in the wake of the global financial crisis.

“…the themed section considers how the Roma might fare under bolder, redistributive and interventionist policies by the state and the potential of critical forms of multiculturalism.”

As well as detailing the negative impacts of such societal trends on the Roma, the themed section considers how the Roma might fare under bolder, redistributive and interventionist policies by the state and the potential of critical forms of multiculturalism. The themed section explores a number of different questions, as follows:

How might EU policy be reorientated to raise the inclusion of Roma communities? How might the concept of a Social Europe impact upon EU policy and Roma communities? 

The EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS) was launched in 2011 by the European Commission. The Framework is based on open method coordination and EU member states are expected to devise National Roma Integration Strategies, which address exclusion in the spheres of employment, health, education and accommodation. Critics claim Roma civil society has either been ignored in the formulation of national action plans or has been accorded a tokenistic say in design and delivery. Moreover, targets have been weak or limited. The European Roma Rights Centre in 2016 concluded “Five years on, the EU Framework has hit ’a mid-life crisis’. The NRIS have yet to deliver in terms of concrete change to the lives of millions of Europe’s Romani citizens; the implementation gap is more pronounced than ever; discrimination and segregation remain pervasive and human rights abuses against Roma are all too frequent”.  Critics have argued though that open method coordination, upon which the NRIS is based, supports neoliberal tendencies as its emphasis on dialogue and flexibility deters bolder actions.

What might the implications be if the EU project were to fragment and unravel? 

The European project appears to be in jeopardy with critics questioning its relevance with those on the right of the political spectrum wishing to see a focus on market rather than social matters, and questioning the degree and level of European integration. Recently such sentiments led to the UK electorate opting in a referendum to leave the EU. There are fears that other countries may emulate the UK or that it will bolster those who wish to see the EU reduce its social dimension.

How grounded are new trends in Roma Identity?

Within Roma communities important questions and new directions have emerged in the performance and articulation of identity. Whilst poverty and xenophobia have led to Roma communities accentuating tradition through bonding networks others have taken radical departures as reflected by the growing Roma LGBT and feminist movement.

Is the ’Roma Awakening’, a growing cadre of Roma scholars emerging within the academy who are challenging the positivism of the established academic establishment, some of whom support a European Roma Institute to counter anti Gypsyism, merely a reflection of narrow identity politics and the emergence of a new Roma elite or does it present a fundamental shift in knowledge production and Roma empowerment?

Kuhn (1962) described as a paradigm shift, a situation where the anomalies of an established and dominant paradigm are exposed through critique and seeming inability to meet present challenges. On occasion and in the absence of credible responses, there can appear a crisis of confidence in the now vulnerable paradigm (revolutionary phase); if unable to adapt, the old paradigm is consequently replaced with a new conceptual world view, which for a period of time is sovereign in its assumptions, at least until the cycle repeats itself. The emerging paradigm takes as its starting point the theorisation of ethnic and intersectional oppression.

Given the economic and political challenges confronting Europe Roma civil society may be facing its greatest ever test.”

The themed section also asks: How effective has Roma civil society been in promoting social justice and how has it fared as a consequence of austerity and contracting funding bases, alongside heavy dependence on a few donors?

Critics have highlighted fears of a ‘Gypsy industry’ where civil society offers narrow, outsider-driven and ill thought-out initiatives. However, a dynamic civil society can play a critical role in empowering communities, and shaping policy and forming the bedrock of effective national and European advocacy campaigns, by ensuring that advocacy is grounded in the needs and aspirations of communities. Despite the weaknesses of Roma civil society it has often provided the training grounds and platforms for the handful of younger progressive Roma lawmakers, activists, thinkers and artists that are now taking the political and cultural stage. Given the economic and political challenges confronting Europe Roma civil society may be facing its greatest ever test.

 

JPSJ_OFC_Feb2016_72.THINBORDERExplore the themed section: ‘Roma in a Time of Paradigm Shift and Chaos’ from the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice:

Introduction: Roma in a time of paradigm shift and chaos
Author: Matache, Margareta

Roma and a Social Europe: the role of redistribution, intervention and emancipatory politics
Authors: Ryder, Andrew Richard; Taba, Marius

Gender, ethnicity and activism: ‘the miracle is when we don’t give up…’
Authors: Daróczi, Anna; Kóczé, Angéla; Jovanovic, Jelena; Cemlyn, Sarah Judith; Vajda, Violeta; Kurtić, Vera; Serban, Alina; Smith, Lisa

Blame and fear: Roma in the UK in a changing Europe
Authors: Richardson, Joanna; Codona, Janie

Policy & Practice: EU policy and Roma integration (2010–14)
Author: Andor, László


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