Archive for the 'Author interviews' Category

Exploring the quiet revolution of mission-driven millennials


Asheem Singh

An interview with Asheem Singh, author of The moral marketplace, originally published by Pro Bono News on 7th February 2018.

“A global generation of youthful social entrepreneurs is on the march, according to the author behind a new book exploring how social enterprise is driving mass political and social change.

Asheem Singh is an international activist, social entrepreneur, journalist and formerly the youngest ever CEO of leading UK charity leaders body Acevo.

In his new book The Moral Marketplace: How Mission-Driven Millennials and Social Entrepreneurs Are Changing Our World, he argues that the rapid global growth of social enterprise over the last decade has been a “quiet revolution” of “mission driven millennials”.

He told Pro Bono News social enterprise had come to dominate thinking when it comes to how social innovation happens.

“The Moral Marketplace is my term for a number of independent, grassroots business type organisations that have grown up over the past decade, and they have grown at pace,” Singh said.

Watch Asheem Singh answer the question ‘What is social enterprise?’ in this great video.

“They have begun to really dominate our thinking when it comes to how social innovation happens, how doing good happens … and there are all sorts of different kinds of organisations that come within the banner.

“What has been really cool to see, is so many, what I call mission driven millennials, enter the marketplace and set up their own social enterprises. You see it all over the world, you see it in Australia as well. There are so many fantastic, inspirational young people who say, ‘I don’t want to just do nine to five, I don’t want to just work hard for some faceless corporation and give back to charity, I want to make the object of my life doing good, as well as doing well’.”

In his book, Singh uses examples from around the world, giving first-hand accounts of social innovation in India, movements built to counter cultures of abuse and rape in Zimbabwe and exploring how entrepreneurs selling ethical products across Europe and America have proliferated.

He said the founders of the social enterprise movement were “very much not millennials”, but it was a model that resonated with younger generations.

“I don’t think we’ve seen yet the full potential of this incredible generation being tapped.”

“My book opens with a guy called Vinod Kapur, he is an Indian guy, I think he is past 70 now, he has been working in the villages for years, and he found that women in Indian villages were abused, they had no capital of their own, they had no way out of their own situation and that was because they couldn’t rear their own livestock, conditions were too harsh. So he spent 20 years, breeding a chicken that could survive in the most distant and most remote of Indian villages and by doing that he managed to reach out and find groups of women who could benefit from this innovation and over 10, 20 years, he managed to create the most incredible business called Keggfarms whose principle goal is not just the rearing of chickens and the production of eggs for India’s middle class, but actually to empower women. And some of the stories you see and some of things he has done are just incredible, so this guy is not a millennial,” Singh said.

“But what we find is that we’ve reached a sort of critical mass of these stories.

“In an age of social media, information technology, when the foundations for the sharing economy are being set and universities are doing more to spread information about the moral marketplace, people like me are writing books about it, a critical mass of these millennials are being turned on by these stories, they are tuning in and saying ‘you know I want this too’.

“I don’t think we’ve seen yet the full potential of this incredible generation being tapped.”

Startup Stock Photos

Singh said social enterprise was the tool many millennials were using to change the world.

“I think that what you see is in the old days, previous generations they had their thing, they had their way of doing charity, their way of doing good. I think this generation, so generation Y-ers and generation Z-ers, social entrepreneurship is their thing, that is the tool they will use to change the world. To be part of that, as a millennial myself, being part of that is really exciting,” he said.

“I think it is that idea of almost feeling powerful enough to change the world. We live in an age of hashtag activism, which is covered in the book, we live in an age where people are giving us these messages that you too can make a difference, that each of us can make a difference each and every single day, and part of me thinks that message is getting through.

Singh-MoralMarketplace-FC-web“When you hear someone like Muhammad Yunus say that the young people he meets every single day, the young generation are the most socially conscious generation, the least selfish generation we have ever encountered, it flies in the face of everything you hear about young people. We hear that they’re snowflakes, we hear that they’re self obsessed, they live in a selfie culture and the rest of it, and some of these things to an extent among certain people are true, but I think there are also real sense of wanting to do good and social entrepreneurship being a tool with which they can do that.”

He said he was sceptical about interpretations that millennials were “the have your cake and eat it generation” who wanted to feel like they can make money and do good at the same time.

“I think that is the Gen X and baby boomers’ interpretation of what has happened here,” Singh said.

“The young people who are getting into the space that I have seen are not in this for themselves, they are in this to make a difference because that is what they care about.

“This idea of enlightened self interest, it is a very kind of 1950s value and I just think we’ve moved on, I think people genuinely feel in an age of disconnection, of alienation, of loneliness, of urban alienation, I think they feel that they want to reach out to community and build their own community and try and help people.

“A lot of the social enterprises that I see are about getting elderly lonely people and bringing them into the community. There is a great one called GoodGym here in London there is a running group, where the route for the runners goes along houses of elderly people who are lonely and don’t have any family. So the runners, stop in, drop off a paper and then carry on. They get fit, they do some good, this is not about enlightened self interest, this is about building community and I think millennial realise, what we lost through the selfish years, the ‘Ateful Eighties’ as we call them… was that sense of connection, connectivity, community, and I think social entrepreneurship is to them a way of rekindling that flame.”

In the book Singh distinguishes between two kinds of social entrepreneurs.

“I talk about what I call incubated social entrepreneurs, which is the kind of the classic Harvard grad who has had a very privileged life, who then goes to Kenya and says ‘I want to help these Kenyan farmers because I am great’. And sometime they do great stuff and sometimes they really help, there are some great examples of those kinds of social enterprises in the book, I think that is fantastic. I am all for that. I am so glad they are doing that and not ruining the world by joining some investment bank or making arms to sell to a war zone,” Singh said.

“But what I would say are the more radical and more exciting social enterprises for me are those ones that are fed-up by what I call the people living at the bottom of the pyramid, so they are bottom pyramid social enterprises.

“They are the ones where you have got someone living in a disadvantaged situation, a difficult circumstance, they have suffered and they say ‘I am never going to let that happen to anyone ever again, I am damn well going to set up something which changes the situation’. It might be something completely stupid like a waste management system because someone they know died of cholera, but that is an act of social entrepreneurship and is every bit as valuable as the mega chicken that Vinod Kapur produced, or the really cool tech for good apps that all these Harvard grads are producing.”

But Singh said the full potential of social enterprise was not being realised.

In particular he argued that previous and current governments have not done enough to unleash the potential of Britain’s social enterprise community.

He said there was a big debate currently taking place in the UK regarding public service contracting, that was being fueled by the collapse of Carillon.

“Government outsourcing megaliths like Carillon, who rinse the public for profit, are the antithesis of the moral marketplace of social enterprises,” Singh said.

“Our public services are a ticking time bomb as a result of contracts made with companies like Carillion. The government’s regrettable indifference to the real potential of social enterprise to reform public services and place social value at their heart – if it continues – will only result in waste and misery. I trust that Carillion’s collapse will be the stimulus for radical change.”

Among 30 policy ideas included in The Moral Marketplace Singh has suggested a “community first” test for public service contracting, which urged government to privilege purpose-driven, socially-minded organisations over private sector businesses when tendering for public services.

“It is about putting organisations with social purpose, social value at their heart, and saying we’re going to give you a chance to get this contract first before we turn to anyone else. Just something simple like that can really empower, from the government perspective, these organisations. From our perspective, we the people, we need to be encouraging them to do that,” Singh said.

He said the public should continue to support social enterprises through learning more and buying from organisations in the moral marketplace.

“There is so much we can do as an activated, motivated public. More than ever people are wearing their causes as badges and saying this is what I stand for and I just think we need to get that momentum behind, these amazing people, these mission driven millenials who are saying you know what, I want to change the world.”

He said he hoped his book helped people learn more about social entrepreneurship and offered lessons to people looking to enter the space as well as for officialdom on how to create a consensus that works better for social enterprise.

“If you are someone who cares about doing good and you want to know what good looks like in our time, maybe you have heard about this thing social enterprise but you’re not sure what it looks like, hopefully my book will be able to help you elevate your knowledge and also feel good about what’s happening out there. If I can help more people get more active and more involved then I think the book will have done its job.”

The moral marketplace by Asheem Singh is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £10.39.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post 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.

Election focus: Manifestos on welfare should be about engagement, dignity and respect


Ruth Patrick

In this blog post, part of our Election Focus series, Ruth Patrick offers suggestions for what should be included in party manifestos on welfare reform, based on the six years of research into individuals’ experiences of social security and welfare reform in her book, For whose benefit?

Too often General Election campaigns seem – yet another – opportunity for politicians to talk ‘tough’ on ‘welfare’ as they compete to be seen as the party who will finally rid Britain of its supposed problem of ‘welfare dependency’. 2010 featured billboards with David Cameron finger pointing as he pledged: ‘let’s cut benefits for those who refuse work’.

In the run up to the 2015 election, Rachel Reeves, then shadowing the Department for Work and Pensions brief, was quoted saying: “we are not the party of people on benefits” disowning millions of potential voters.

And now another election. With the dominance of Brexit, as yet we have not heard much on ‘welfare’ and it may well be crowded out by policy debates in other areas. Corbyn’s Labour can be expected to offer up a more egalitarian social security agenda but the scope for this to gain traction and support from the public may be limited.

Continue reading ‘Election focus: Manifestos on welfare should be about engagement, dignity and respect’

Volunteering: Policy Press help to put the homely into homeless shelter

Social issues such as homelessness and the support of the most vulnerable people in our society are key for Policy Press. Each year we support charities in a number of ways, but this year we took our support to the next level, offering up our time in addition to fundraising.

Volunteering is an important way in which many people support and are supported within our society. Rebecca Megson reports on Policy Press’ experience of volunteering at Bristol based homeless charity St Mungo’s Broadway and talks to authors Sue Baines and Irene Hardill about how volunteering has changed in the past 20 years.

Photo credit: Shelter

Photo credit: Shelter

The season of merriment is all but upon us but the reality is that Christmas is not necessarily a joyous time for all. Homeless charity Shelter have reported a 30% rise in the number of calls they are fielding from individuals and families who fear they may be homeless this year.

As an organisation we’ve been supporting homeless charity St Mungo’s Broadway throughout 2014, running charity quizzes, sporting and other events to garner sponsorship for them as our ‘chosen charity’. This was the first time, however, that we’d provided practical, hands-on help.

It was a slightly wet, grey day as we all trooped down to St Mungo’s Broadway, dressed in our scruffiest painting and decorating gear.

Policy Press staff hard at work redecorating

We’d offered to spend a day helping to redecorate the centrally shared space at the hostel and a counselling space. We hoped that between our painting, decorating, curtain and cushion making skills we could help to add a little bit to the sense of homeliness for residents and visitors.


Ali Shaw getting ready to paint

Founder and Policy Press director Alison Shaw explained why she thought it was an important next step: “The aim of Policy Press has always been to try to improve social conditions with publications that will make a positive difference.”

“Many of the books and journals we publish are concerned with the social conditions and policies that both result in and respond to homelessness. We wanted to get closer to the frontline in engaging with the realities of being homeless and help the organisations that support people who find themselves in that situation.”

The finished product  - redecorated central areas

The finished product – redecorated central areas

St Mungo’s Broadway is a national charity that provides a bed and support to more than 2,500 people a night who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. It also works to prevent homelessness, helping about 25,000 people a year.


Curtains to make the room cosy on winters evenings

Marketing Executive Jessica Miles said: “It was a great opportunity to do something different as a team, as well as hopefully make a little bit of a difference to the guys staying at the St Mungo’s Crisis House in Bristol.”

Passionate advocates

Policy Press authors Professor Irene Hardill and Professor Susan Baines have researched and written extensively on the subject of volunteering. Their book ‘Enterprising Care?Unpaid voluntary action in the 21st century’ draws on a number of projects Sue and Irene undertook, including a micro-sociological study, which drew on lived experience, of undertaking voluntary work.

Talking to them, it is immediately obviously that they are passionate advocates for volunteering. They have watched with interest how the political debate has developed from New Labour’s emphasis on formal volunteering through to the Conservative-led coalition government’s ‘Big Society’ ideas.

Sue Baines says: “Volunteering activity is organic and hard to control. New Labour tried to bring in a lot of structure to help with that, and to be able to measure volunteering.”

Sue is cautious about the top-down approach as she feels that structured programmes can do more harm than good. Irene says the management of volunteers and the drive to push a contracts culture can be one of the negatives about volunteering. Sue says: “You come to help older people, let’s say, and suddenly it gets changed into something else, much more formal.”

“The unmet need is of course greater now than ever”

The practice of volunteering and how it is defined has changed. Recent debates for example have focused around employer’s use and abuse of volunteering in the workplace, otherwise known as ‘internships’.

Sue Baines

Sue Baines

Sue is concerned that the alignment of volunteering with work can reduce the richness it offers. She says: “I think that volunteering stands to be besmirched, or the perception of it, by the work agenda: the press has been full of accounts of ridiculous things like Scouts delivering public health.”

Both Sue and Irene believe there is a need to think differently about volunteering and to move away from the idea that volunteering is there to help in the delivery of public services. Instead they highlight that volunteering has an important role for fulfilling unmet needs outside of standard welfare service delivery. They point to the difference in approach towards volunteering in Wales which is much more focused around scrutinising authorities and organisations; or the development of the hospice movement in the UK. Initially set up by volunteers who spotted a gap in service provision for end-of-life care  and sought to fill it.

Author and academic Irene Hardill

Irene Hardill

Hardill says: “The unmet need is of course greater now than ever. New Labour put more emphasis on formal volunteering to map and measure what was going on in the country. But volunteering is also about being a good neighbour, about being involved in community groups. Really it’s just a messy form of any kind of unpaid work.”

Baines says: “I think it’s important to reemphasize the breadth and variety of volunteering – volunteers engage in the founding and running of organisations; people dip in and out with sports events etc., these days, but it’s all volunteering, it all counts.”

Hardill says: “What volunteering you do, how much, how often, why and what it means to you depends on where you are in life and on your personal circumstances. It can be an alternative to and supplement paid work; it makes you feel good, builds confidence and self-esteem.”

photo 4

Production Manager David Worth getting the job done

Policy Press staff involved in the day at St Mungo’s Broadway would certainly agree with the feel-good factor of getting involved in a hands on way with volunteering. Production Manager David Worth said: “I enjoyed the decorating day a lot and was amazed how so much can be achieved when everyone works together.”

IMG_0047 (EW)

Art work to brighten up the walls

Commissioning Editor, Victoria Pittman said: “I was so impressed to see the difference we could make in just one day! I hadn’t realised we would be able to do so much, so it was great that we could.”

You can find out more about the work St Mungo’s Broadway do in supporting homeless people by checking out their website here. If you would like to get involved there are a whole host of ways you can do so this winter, from supporting campaigns, texting donations, sending Christmas cards or attending a carol concert in Oxford through to giving some of your time in volunteering for them. Why not check out their website for more details?

If you’d like to read Irene Hardill and Susan Baines book ‘Enterprising Care? Unpaid voluntary action in the 21st century’ it is available at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website here.

‘Politicians see the British education system as a job factory’

Policy Press author and academic Peter Mortimore’s book Education Under Siege has just been released in paperback. Nearly 18 months on from Mortimore first sitting down to write it, Rebecca Megson asks what he’s still concerned about in the education system in the UK.

peter-mortimore-photoApart from a change in education minister, Peter Mortimore says the UK’s educational landscape remains largely the same as it was when he first wrote and published Education under Siege. The focus remains on the exclusive achievement of ‘levels’ which Mortimore believes is bad news for children, parents and teachers, applying, as it does, an almost constant level of pressure.

“The idea of education having a ‘noble’ side has been written out of the British education system – the system is seen as a job factory. Ministers are too focused on targets. Once you have a target in place, then the focus on education falls away,” he says.

Despite the relentless emphasis on results, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the UK’s international results are only average for maths and reading compared to similar countries. The 2012 report also showed little improvement in any of the subjects tested compared with earlier results.

Average results

Whilst a results-driven education agenda continues to dominate the UK debate, the PISA measurement system would suggest that system changes implemented over the past eight years have had little impact.

“I blame politicians for this situation – and all political parties too, there’s no bias in my condemnation. I’m sure they believe they are doing the right thing but they all have worked to make our system more and more competitive and have therefore created a national neurosis.”

Mortimore has worked in the education system as a teacher and researcher and was the director of the Institute of Education, University of London. He believes that when parents set out on the educational journey, they simply want the best for their children, which they define as them being happy, safe and successful at school.

Whilst this is the environment most children experience in Key Stage 1 Mortimore says it isn’t long before the system becomes more competitive. He says: “Suddenly it’s about getting into the best schools by living in the best areas – of course estate agents benefit enormously but it’s hopeless as a national strategy. More and more people fighting for limited places just creates fear, anxiety and panic.”

“Education is a powerful force in our culture: the better the system the better the society our children will inherit”

Earlier this month, education secretary Nicky Morgan denied rumours that she was on the verge of introducing compulsory setting in secondary schools. Mortimore welcomes this, warning against setting. He asks ministers and parents to look at the hard evidence, which clearly indicates that setting makes little difference. He says: “The theory that you get to focus on each group according to their ability is good. But, in practice, as soon as you stream, you lower children’s self-expectations.”

Mortimore has worked with a number of education ministers in his career. His work at the University of Southern Denmark also provided him with insight into the Nordic education. He believes the system in the Nordic countries offers an interesting alternative.

“You don’t get the same focus on competition, it’s about bringing up children to be happy and secure. Of course, life will be competitive but in the Nordic systems competition is introduced later, because it is believed that the older you are the better able you are to deal with it.”

Mortimore believes the campaign for change needs to come from the grassroots. In order for that to happen, he feels parents need to realise there are alternatives and then to put pressure on politicians to make changes. He believes the secondary school system is a disaster, creating confusion by providing too many different types of school, with funding distributed to whichever school type is most favoured by those with political power at the time.

He feels the situation could be immediately improved by simply providing schools with same basic funding, rules and powers. Through these measures Mortimore believes the system could at least return to a more level playing field.

Beyond that, he calls for ‘brave politicians’ who are willing and able to introduce a balanced intake of pupils so as to ensure that the school environment accurately reflects the diversity of people and backgrounds within modern society.

“The only method I can see that really works is a ‘lottery’ system, allocating kids pupils so that each school gets a fair intake, then every school can has a chance to be as successful as the next,” he says.“Education is a powerful force in our culture: the better the system the better the society our children will inherit. The converse is also true as the two are locked together.”

As a society, Mortimore feels we are becoming increasingly divided. The plethora of schools from which to choose from and the nature of area selection, entrenches the position of economically disadvantaged children as opposed to encouraging their potential. Furthermore, the number of different teaching unions dissipates teachers’ strength and power to challenge and change the system.

Mortimore feels more optimistic about the future. He says: “In the past year or so, as I’ve toured round the country I’ve found teachers and education officers collaborating, despite what the politicians are doing and saying. They realise it’s important for schools to work together.” He believes that in the long run things will get better, but he warns that, without thoughtful and supportive involvement from the country’s politicians, it is likely to be a slow game.

The paperback of Education Under Siege is available at the 20% discount price of £7.99 (RRP £9.99) on the Policy Press website. Click here for more details.

Related links

UK’s international results as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Guardian article on Nicky Morgan

Scotland decides: Could the ‘Yes’ vote deliver a different kind of Scottish society?

Open University academic and Policy Press author Gerry Mooney has written extensively on the subjects of Scottish social policy and devolution. On the eve of the referendum to decide whether Scotland should become fully independent from the UK Mooney shares his views on how a ‘Yes’ majority return on Thursday could lay the foundation for a more socially just Scottish society. Interview and report by Rebecca Megson.

Gerry Mooney feels whatever happens at the referendum, the debate has changed the political landscape of Scotland

Gerry Mooney feels whatever happens at the referendum, the debate has changed everything for Scotland

Gerry Mooney is a ‘Yes’ man. Unapologetically so, in fact.

What’s more, he is bursting with excitement about the possibility of Scotland returning a majority ‘Yes’ vote for independence tomorrow. He believes that this will be the first step on the long road to developing a different kind of society from the rest of the UK, a society that is centred on equality and fairness.

But Mooney is quick to point out a misunderstanding about the ‘Yes’ vote, one that he suggests is being deliberately made by the Unionist politicians – that is those on the ‘No’ side of the debate.

“A ‘Yes’ vote has been portrayed as a vote for the SNP, for Alex Salmond and for Scottish nationalism”, says Mooney.

“In reality, the vast majority of people voting ‘Yes’ wouldn’t actually go on to vote SNP and are not nationalists. What a future independent Scottish Parliament would look like, we simply don’t know yet. That will have to be decided further down the line, through Scottish general elections.”


This isn’t the only misunderstanding about the referendum debate south of the border, according to Mooney. Whilst the UK national news focuses on what he calls ‘blazing representations of Scottish nationalism’ – men and women in kilts and tartans, calling upon the spirit of Braveheart – his experience is that this has been very much on the margins of the debate in Scotland.

“On the ‘Yes’ side there is no need to assert Scottishness, it is taken for granted, whilst for the ‘No’ camp they have to almost ‘overdo it’ in stressing their Scottishness,” says Mooney

“It is the ‘No’ campaign who have actually had to do a lot more because of the independence campaign as far as nationalism is concerned. They’ve had to defend their Scottishness, to develop and portray a sense of Britishness and a British nationalism that includes Scottishness.”

“Many people are unhappy with the policy decisions being made by the UK coalition government in London”

The real debates in Scotland over the past couple of years leading up to the referendum have centred on future Scottish public services and social policy, rather than rampant nationalism. Mooney says:

“Many people are unhappy with the policy decisions being made by the UK coalition government in London. There is a lot of opposition to austerity, to the privatisation of schools and the privatisation of the NHS. These policies are out of tune with what many in Scotland would like to see.”

Irrespective of the outcome tomorrow, Mooney believes the political and policy landscape will never be the same again in Scotland. Even if the ‘No’ campaign wins, if the ‘Yes’ campaign gets 48% of the vote, as some polls are predicting, that isn’t a voice that is going to disappear. The consequences of a ‘No’ vote are, according to Mooney, uncertain.

Mooney’s enthusiasm for Scotland’s independent future is infectious. He feels that the spirit of devolution will be equally as infectious for the rest of the country, predicting calls for greater devolution in Wales and the instigation of an Assembly in the North of England if a ‘Yes’ vote is returned.

Westminster Parliament feels 'remote' to many in Scotland - Photo Wikipedia

Westminster Parliament feels ‘remote’ to many in Scotland – Photo Wikipedia

“The rise in the dominance of London and the south of England in the last 10 years has really shifted the view on devolution. London seems as remote and alien to people in the North of England as it does to people in Scotland.”

Until recently, the ‘No’ campaign and the main political parties at Westminster have largely ignored the possibility of Scotland returning a ‘Yes’ vote. Mooney says:

“It is astonishing to see that the UK government has suddenly woken up to the fact that this referendum is happening. In the last two weeks, as the polls have shown that the ‘Yes’ vote was consolidating and catching up with the ‘No’ campaign, the ‘danger’ button has been pressed down in London.”

Mooney is amused that, as he sees it, the panic in Westminster has led to Scotland making the lead item in the news every day. Renewed focus on the country is, he believes, largely being seen as too little, too late.

“It looks extremely desperate. Until these past two weeks the ‘No’ campaign has been completely and utterly negative, portraying Scotland in crisis if it votes for independence. Now, all of a sudden there are promises of more powers and discussion of what being part of the UK can do for Scotland.”

There have been a lot of promises made by London if Scotland votes ‘No’ but Mooney feels that there’s very little sense of what the promises are likely to amount to in the long run, or if Westminster politicians can be trusted.

He says: “We don’t know what a future Scotland will look like – we can’t guarantee it will be the future we want and hope for but we will have more power to create that society if we’re independent.”

“However, we can be certain, if it’s a ‘No’ vote there will be more austerity, more cuts, more poverty and rising inequality.”

Mooney has no illusions that the change will happen overnight. However he is confident that the creation of a new Scotland that is focused upon the pursuit of equality can only be realised if Scotland delivers a ‘Yes’ majority tomorrow.

More from Gerry Mooney
Social justice and social policy in Scotland [FC]Read Social justice and social policy in Scotland – available at the special discounted price of £15.00 (RRP £28.99) from the Policy Press website this month.

Articles by Gerry Mooney
OpenLearn articles can be found here

The Conversation articles can be found here, including the recent: ‘Campaigns fight to define what Scottish Social Justice means’ 

On Discover Society: ‘Scotland: State and devolution…but not revolution…as yet?’

In the Scottish Left Review on ‘Poverty and Independence’

Gerry’s other publications can be viewed at his OU webpage

Personal brand ‘essential’ to gangland survival

Academic and Policy Press author Simon Harding’s award winning book The Street Casino is based on findings from his extensive ethnographic study of local residents, professionals and gang members in south London.

Harding’s research provides a fresh perspective and new insights on the gang world. He believes more time should be spent understanding, rather than condemning, the street gang system if we are serious about helping the young people trapped in it. Interview and report by Rebecca Megson.


SimonHarding2NEW FINDINGS show that street gang leaders actively work to build a ‘brand’ for themselves as an essential part of gang culture.

Author and senior criminology lecturer Dr Simon Harding has been researching street gangs for some years. He has found that on the street developing a person’s brand is as essential as it is in mainstream consumerist society.

Harding explains that an individual’s brand is effectively ‘capital’ on the street; capital that can be traded, exchanged, increased and reduced. Brand protection is one reason why street violence erupts and escalates so rapidly.

Harding says: “If I ‘dis’ you, I take some of your ‘street capital’. You have to act pretty quickly in order to regain it. You might do that by knifing me, in which case you have now regained and multiplied your street capital.”

It doesn’t end there, though. “If the person is knifed in front of other people the value of that action is perceived to have increased. The wider group of people then also knife the person as their way of getting a piece of the capital.”

‘Creativity and intelligence’

Harding’s ethnographic study has focused specifically on a deprived area of Lambeth, South London, SW9. He interviewed people from the area, including young people involved in street gangs.

He says: “What I found was an enormous amount of creativity and intelligence – these young people just want to get on with their lives. They are in gangs but they view it as something they have to get involved in even though they don’t really want to be. We owe the young people involved a moral and social responsibility to understand their world.”

Harding is very clear on one point that he feels needs to be addressed first and foremost: the wellspring of gangs is poverty.

“People enter gangs because there is no plausible alternative available to them. The old ways of moving from adolescence into adulthood have evaporated.”

“the gang has a strong gravitational pull”

There are few opportunities for the young people Harding talked to – something which he says is made worse in a multiply deprived area that has been effectively ‘written off’ by both local and national government.

As local services retreat, youth facilities and clubs close. If jobs exist they are sub-minimum wage and dead-end. Harding says: “These people are constantly battling the poverty trap, the gang has a strong gravitational pull.”

At this point, literally the only ‘game in town’ is the gang.

Harding says: “This is where my metaphor of the ‘Street Casino’ comes in – life is a casino for these people. They think they are going to win and win big, but the reality is very different.”

As with a real casino, there are many diversions along the way to keep people playing. They win a little, get some girls, have some entertainment.

Harding found that young people believe in the ‘game’ as their way out. They get addicted, the game becomes compulsive and people get stuck in this world. “The gang becomes the only game in town – but more than that, it becomes the only game they know how to play.”

In light of his findings Harding believes that young people need better support from local services, who in turn should work more effectively with a deeper understanding of the gang domain to provide a safer, alternative future to the Street Casino.

Copies of The Street Casino are available to purchase, with a special discount from the Policy Press website.
The Street Casino has just been awarded The Frederick Milton Thrasher award for Superior Gang Research. The award was established by the journal of Gang Research in 1992 to honour and recognise outstanding scholarship, leadership and service contributions by individuals and programs in dealing with public safety issues like that posed by gangs.

Summer time and the reading is easy….

reading in the sunshineSo it’s finally that time of year – sports day is over, the schools have packed up and the morning commute has become a little quieter. It’s the time when people start to kick back and think of flip-flops, exotic destinations and, definitely at Policy Press, of catching up on some much needed reading time.

We decided we’d ask a few of our authors what little gems they were tucking away in the suitcase to read this summer as they jet off for their well- earned holidays…

Danny Dorling’s most recent co-authored book The Social Atlas of Europe has just published, which means his well-earned break should afford him enough time to catch up on a couple of books at least:

Danny Dorling“I plan to read Selina Todd’s The People. The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010. People who have read it say it includes enough anecdotes to be lively and gives the account that has been needed to be written for some time. I also aim to re-read Maud Pember Reeve’s Round About a Pound a Week, published 101 years ago. I recently read Mary O’Hara’s Austerity Bites which reminded me of what had Maud found four generations earlier. I’m going to need something more fun to read as well after all that!” Danny Dorling

Unfortunately for Helen Kara, author of Research and evaluation for busy practitioners, we’re making her slog on through the summer months, so she’s beavering away at the second draft of her forthcoming book ‘Creative research methods’ completed before the autumn.  However she is making some room in her busy schedule for Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel:

Helen Kara“It’s a graphic novel memoir about her childhood growing up in a funeral home and her father’s suicide.  That makes it sound very depressing, but it’s not; some of it is sad, but quite a lot of it is hilarious.  I love graphic novels, they have different rhythms from pure text, and I think there should be more books with pictures for grown-ups.”  Helen Kara

The thoughts of Malcolm Dean, author of Democracy under attack, are never far from the subject of media misbehaviour, and the summer holiday is for him an opportunity to go further into the dark and murky world of tabloid terrorism:

Malcolm Dean

“I’m taking two books this summer. The first is Ray Jones’s The Story of Baby P, which I have already dipped into. It is a forensic documentation of the malign faults of the tabloids, and the readiness of politicians — in this case one from each side, Ed Balls as a minister and David Cameron as the Opposition leader — to fall in line with the populist papers’ pernicious agendas. My second book is Margaret MacMillan’s widely acclaimed The War that ended Peace. History, when I took GCE 49 years ago, stopped at the 14 causes of the First World War. I thought it was time to refresh my memory. My daughter must have thought so too. She gave it to me.” Malcolm Dean

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