Archive for the 'Equality and Diversity' Category

Our inspiring women for International Women’s Day 2018

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Women, peace and welfare FCMarch 8 sees both the publication of Ann Oakley’s Women, peace and welfare and International Women’s Day.

In the book, Ann tells the inspirational untold stories of women who’s work and vision of a more humane way of living have influenced social reform and welfare.

Watch Ann talk about the lives of the following inspirational women from her book by clicking the links below:

Emily Hobhouse, a British welfare campaigner and international pacifist;
Emily Balch, an economist who was who was sacked from her university for engaging in the international peace movement;
Aletta Jacobs, the first female Dutch physician;
Rosika Schwimmer, a Hungarian pacifist feminist.

Following Ann’s lead, we asked Policy Press staff and authors who their inspiring women are. Watch the slideshow above and read on for their reasons for their choices.

Our free journal articles for March also focus on research about women and gender. Find out more on our website.

 

Win a suffragette pincushion

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We have ten suffragette pin cushions to give away. Tweet the name of your inspiring woman with the hashtag #policypressforprogress to be in with a chance to win one.

 

Our inspiring women

 

Mary_Wollstonecraft_by_John_Opie_(c._1797)Mary Wollstonecraft by Alison Shaw

Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) said “It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world”.

I am not someone who really ‘feels’ history, and I am drawn to contemporary writing, but finding Mary Wollstonecraft’s book was a rare exception. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. She challenged the view that women were ‘ornaments or property to be traded in marriage’ and that they deserved the same fundamental rights as men. Mary argued that women were not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education and provided concrete plans for a national education service. Her stance is one of social justice, something that has been a major part of my world view since reading her work 35 years ago.

“Her stance is one of social justice, something that has been a major part of my world view since reading her work 35 years ago.”

Her influence has echoed down the ages and she inspired many critical thinkers from Virginia Woolf to Amartya Sen. She died young, aged 38, just after giving birth to her second daughter who became Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein  (Rebecca Tomlinson’s choice below!).

Image: John Opie [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Asma_Jahangir_Four_Freedoms_Awards_2010Asma Jahangir by Helen Kara

Asma Jahangir was an activist in Pakistan, a country with an appalling record of oppressing women. Born in 1952, she became a lawyer in 1980 and co-founded Pakistan’s first all-women law firm. She defended women facing criminal charges as a result of being raped, choosing their husbands independently, or seeking a divorce from a violent man.

Undeterred by police beatings or house arrest, she also fought against honour killings, child labour, and capital punishment. Jahangir co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and even found time to become an author of two books, one criticising Pakistan’s anti-women legislation, the other arguing for rights for Pakistan’s child prisoners. Very sadly, Jahangir died of a heart attack on 11 February.

Image:  By Lymantria (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

 

EttyEtty Hillesum by Sarah Bird

Etty was a young Jewish Dutchwoman, who died at Auschwitz aged 29. Her diary, started in 1941, contains the most inspiring, humane writing I have ever come across. Unbelievably she chose to go to Westerbork, the Nazi transit camp for Jews awaiting deportation, so that she could be with her people, and not hide. In her diary she documents everything, refusing to turn away from the horror of her experience, but also finding beauty and hope in what is around her, in an amazing personal spiritual transformation. She was sexy and spirited and unflinching.

“Her diary, started in 1941, contains the most inspiring, humane writing I have ever come across.”

 

Ann Oakley photo

Ann Oakley by Zoe Young

When Ann Oakley published ‘Housewife’ in 1974, women’s lives and labours inside the home had barely featured in historical or sociological accounts of work. Men worked, women did housework. Ann Oakley’s rich and vivid portraits of Patricia, Juliet, Margaret and Sally’s domestic lives, told in their own words inspired me to write women’s lives and experiences in the same way. Few women would call themselves housewives today, but the deeply gendered issues around how domestic and care work is shared within families have proved remarkably resilient. I am researching and writing about them forty-four years on.

 

Press_for_Change_with_Mo_Mowlem_-_1st_October_1997Mo Mowlam by Jo Greig

I wish I’d been a fly on the wall during some of the Northern Irish discussions, Mo Mowlam’s straight talking, non-nonsense pragmatism always filled me with awe.

Image:  By Plainsense (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

Ellen_Cicely_WilkinsonEllen Wilkinson by Diane Reay

Working-class, feminist and anti-racist, my heroine is ‘Red Ellen’. She was involved in women’s suffrage, and helped found the British Communist Party. Fiercely committed to the Republican cause in the Spanish civil war, she led the Labour Party’s anti-fascist campaign. Among many outstanding achievements was her leadership of the iconic Jarrow Crusade and her appointment as first female Minister of Education. In this latter role she oversaw the introduction of free school milk and raised the school leaving age from 14 to 15. But what characterised her entire career was a passionate commitment to the ‘working class man and woman’, a strong streak of non-conformity and a ferocious bravery that would brook no collusion with injustices of any kind.

Image: by Bassano Ltd [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

128px-RosaparksRosa Parks by Kalwant Bhopal

On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. For me, this single act was one of courage and strength and Rosa must have known full aware of the consequences this would have on her life; she and her husband both lost their jobs and had to move away from Alabama. I have great admiration and respect for her decision to take this single action which had a significant impact on the Civil Rights movement.

 

MaryShelleyMary Shelley by Rebecca Tomlinson

Apart from the amazing and enduringly popular book she wrote, Frankenstein, Mary spent most of her life in the shadow of her husband and the scandal he bought to their family. Despite being a great writer, she devoted most of her time to publicising her husbands work and caring for her family. Despite her life being full of tragedy (Percy Shelley’s untimely death and the death of 3 of her children) Mary carried on writing and only recently scholars have shown increasing interest in her literary output, particularly in her novels, which include the historical novels Valperga (1823) and Perkin Warbeck (1830), the apocalyptic novel The Last Man (1826), and her final two novels, Lodore (1835) and Falkner (1837).

Image: Richard Rothwell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Raid_on_Rise_-_Narrative_Creation_on_'Rise_of_The_Tomb_Raider'_-_GDC_2016_(25823811225)Rhianna Pratchett by Nick Levett

She’s inspiring to me for her work as a video game writer. The gaming industry is super male-dominated so it’s really cool to see a strong female presence doing great work on notable games and projects. Another reason she inspires me is that although she’s the daughter of Terry Pratchett, she refuses to live in his shadow or be defined by that – she’s forged her own career in her own sphere and that’s really impressive and rare.

Image: by Official GDC (_TXT6469) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

ursula-le-guinUrsula Le Guin by Danny Dorling

I found it very hard to read. I did not properly begin to read until I was aged eight, and then I read fiction. Ursula Le Guin’s books were different to other books that children read in the 1970s. They took your imagination further, they were not about reinforcing or returning to power a hierarchy, but overturning it. It was not until I was much older that I learnt that Ursula Le Guin did not ‘just’ write for children. But write well for children and you can change the way a generation thinks. After she died I learnt that she had written this: “You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.” — The Dispossessed, 1974.

Image: Flickr Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

“You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.” — The Dispossessed, 1974.

 

westerdijk.jpgJohanna Westerdijk by Liza Mügge

Johanna Westerdijk was a Dutch plant pathologist and appointed as the first female professor in the Netherlands at the University of Utrecht in 1917. Westerdijk supervised 55 PhD students in a period of 35 years, almost half of them were women. On top of her award-winning research she broke many glass ceilings and continues to be a role model for women in academia. “Even a mold dies from a boring life”, she said. She is known for her humor, loving to party, drink and dance. Her motto was: “Working and partying creates clean minds.” I couldn’t agree more.

 

lucy_parsonsLucy Parsons by Lisa Mckenzie

Lucy was an American mixed race, African and native American woman, her husband Albert Parsons was hung for the Chicago Haymarket uprisings, Lucy was a anarchist and understood class solidarity and the class war that was being waged upon working men and women, while the middle class suffragists were vote begging, Lucy was going around the US and Europe calling for a working class revolution, the Chicago authorities said that she was more dangerous than a 1000 rioters, the FBI ensured that Lucy Parson’s writing and her memory were lost to history.

“I have been carrying a banner around for the last 5 years with her quote ‘We must devastate the avenues where the rich live’.”

I have been carrying a banner around for the last 5 years with her quote ‘We must devastate the avenues where the rich live’. In today’s austerity, privatisation of public services and spaces, the housing crisis and the class cleansing of working class people out of the spaces the middle class value Lucy Parsons is more important and more relevant today than the vote begging and liberal reformism than our political leaders today or past.

 

kollantiAlexandra Kollontai by Michael Lavalette

Alexandra Kollanti (1872-1952) was a writer, a novelist, a theorist, a socialist activist and a Commissar in the early Soviet Republic.

She was drawn into public work in 1894 with the Political Red Cross – a radical welfare organisation. She gradually became a major figure in the Russian socialist movement, playing significant roles during the Russian Revolution, the Civil War and the formation of the socialist republic. An economist, a linguist and a social theorist, she is best known for her writings on women’s liberation and socialism and her views on human sexuality and freedom.
In 1918 she was appointed Commissar for Welfare. Under her leadership married women were granted more rights, as were children of single women; divorce was granted on request and abortion was legalised; homosexuality was legalised and free public child care set up.

 

256px-Pictures_of_English_History_Plate_IV_-_Boadicea_and_Her_ArmyBoadicea by Janice Morphet

Why Boadicea? When I was at primary school in Islington in the 1950s, our headmaster was a northern classicist who was never seen in anything other than a three-piece suit. However, there were many days when he came into our classroom to extol the virtues of Boadicea leading her tribes into battle and defeating those against her. She was a woman to be reckoned with and he said that this was celebrated through her statue outside Parliament on Westminster Bridge. Boadicea was the only role model our Headmaster’s offered … and girls always did well at our school…

Image credit: By Joseph Martin Kronheim (1810–96)[1] [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Why the UCU strikes are bound to be insufficient to ensure equality

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Jan Deckers, Newcastle University

Jan Deckers, contributor to Justice and fairness in the city, talks about the UCU strikes, currently underway.

“Members of UCU, the University and College Union are on strike over a proposed change in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), or pension scheme. The crux of this proposal is a transition from a Defined Benefit to a Defined Contribution scheme, where it will be much less clear what benefits employees will receive when they retire. Whilst employers would reduce their contributions from 18% of salary before tax to just 12%, employees would shoulder greater individual risk due to individual (rather than collective) portfolios being gambled on the stock market.

We are all in this together, right? The fight over pensions essentially pits the hierarchies of higher education institutions against those who are lower on the echelons of power, as the executive heads of UK universities and colleges make up Universities UK, a charity that, amongst other things, negotiates pensions with USS. Whilst not all vice-chancellors and principals are united in the push for changes in said pension scheme, the rift suggests a worrying trend as salaries of senior academics have increasingly been criticised as unfair.

In my work I consider how salaries ought to be allocated within large organisations, and I have provided my own organisation, Newcastle University, as an example. I argue that decisions about what people’s salaries, and therefore also their work pensions (or deferred payments), ought to be are best made by starting from an egalitarian baseline. Any changes from this baseline must be justified by reference to a number of criteria. These include: controllable effort; duties in relation to unpaid work; health care needs; morally significant debts; and historic unfairness.

Let us take each of these factors in turn. It is important to start from an egalitarian baseline where every employee is paid the same amount for each hour worked as, in the absence of countervailing evidence, treating people equally demands that we assume that they work equally hard. In practice, however, people’s commitments vary, which is where controllable effort comes in. Whilst it may be unfair to discriminate against those who may be naturally or culturally predisposed to be less committed, it seems fair to reward those who voluntarily work harder. A pat on the back in the form of a bonus payment can incentivise hard workers to keep up the good work or to work even harder.

Where governments fail, employers should also compensate for employees’ varying duties in relation to morally important unpaid work, for example for the many hours of care work that is predominantly carried out by women. Their health care needs are as important as everyone else’s. This is why employers must more generally vary payments so that those with complex or expensive health care needs that are insufficiently addressed by governments and insurance schemes can afford the health care that they deserve. Payments must also consider morally significant debts, for example, those that some employees may have accumulated to qualify for their jobs. Finally, payments must also take into account historic unfairness. Yes, some who have been overpaid in the past may justifiably be paid less in the future.

“…without explicit attention and careful calibration of these morally significant factors, the battle over pensions is likely to be dominated by the narrow self-interests of individuals and their institutions.”

There is no evidence that careful consideration of these criteria has altered decision-making in large organisations, and a dearth of evidence that they have been discussed in the academic literature, in spite of this neglect resulting in significant negative health impacts. My fear, however, is that without explicit attention and careful calibration of these morally significant factors, the battle over pensions is likely to be dominated by the narrow self-interests of individuals and their institutions.

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Credit:  Flickr: Nick Efford (CC BY 2.0)

Many of my colleagues know that there is something rotten in the state, but one does not need to become a comrade to know that the occasional handouts, usually around Christmas time, to poorly paid staff are not quite sufficient to trigger significant change for the better. Unless current discussions regarding this pension scheme engage in serious discussion about these criteria, it is my concern that especially those who will be the worst off may come to rely even more on charity, rather than on fairness, from those who wield power over them.

It might be argued that the fair pay and pension scheme that I have sketched here is not fair either as it falls foul of what I call the ‘brain drain’ objection. A charity such as Universities UK might seek to justify a less egalitarian scheme by appealing to some notion of the greater good or the lesser evil. If a more egalitarian scheme was implemented, it might lead to people with big brains leaving higher education, resulting in a loss in economic power and an even greater deficit in the pension scheme than that envisaged by Universities UK, which is based on a rather dire prediction. Whilst the ‘brain drain’ objection must be taken seriously, it is rather ironic that this prediction suggests that there is little confidence in the future of higher education in the UK, at a time when the managers of various institutions have awarded themselves significant pay rises for their efforts to secure this future.

In all this, it must be emphasised that this lack of solidarity has a significant inter-generational component. However, not only younger academic colleagues stand to lose a lot. Now that many students in the UK have to pay tuition fees for which they enter into significant debt, these same students will lose out once again as they face the negative consequences of strike action, for example through class cancellations.

Justice and fairness in the city_for web [FC]

Justice and fairness in the city, edited by Simin Davoudi and Derek Bell was published in 2016 and is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £19.99. Jan’s chapter from the book is available to read free here.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

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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.

8 Women Social Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing The World

To coincide with the hundredth anniversary of some women first gaining the right to vote – and the recent release of the eagerly-awaited The Moral Marketplace: How Mission-Driven Millennials and Social Entrepreneurs are changing Our World – author and social entrepreneur Asheem Singh highlights eight women from across the globe, some well known, some flying below the radar, many of whom feature in his book, who are changing the world through fierce leadership and social entrepreneurship.

Betty Makoni was a child rape victim in Zimbabwe whose assault was hushed up. She grew up to become a teacher, advocate and researcher and set up the Girl Child Network, which lets girls share their experiences in classroom settings. GCN has spread across Africa and there is even a chapter in Basildon, Essex. Supermodel Adwoa Aboah recently set up a sassy, online, generation-Z variation on the network called Gurlstalk last year.

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, born 1980, is an Ethiopian social businesswoman and inspirational speaker and the founder of SoleRebels, Africa’s fastest growing footwear company that now supplies 30 countries worldwide, and that is ecologically sustainable and ethical in all its production ‘to boot.’

Lily Cole is already well known as more than a supermodel. With a double first in history of art from Cambridge University, she has also set up the social enterprise platform Impossible. This year, she will help lead the celebrations to mark the bicentenary of Emily Bronte’s birth.

Laura Bates is the British grad who founded the everyday sexism website. A simple blog has become a global brand, the hashtag itself is an icon of our times and a testament to the accessibility and potential of social entrepreneurship in our time.

Talia Frenkel. A former photojournalist, she now makes condoms that women in developing countries are not afraid to carry around. One pack purchased here, sees one given free to a vulnerable person in an AIDs danger zone.

Eden Full. A young woman and an engineering and innovation genius. When she was 19 years old, Full dropped out of Princeton University to turn her high school science fair project, the SunSaluter, into a global juggernaut. It provides both clean water and electricity for poor communities being as it is a solar panel that tracks the movement of the sun across the sky, making it significantly more energy efficient than sedentary flat panels. It can now be found in 15 countries around the world and Full has no plans of stopping there.

Wendy Royskopp. A Princeton grad who realised that quality of teaching was essential to life chances. The social movement she founded, Teach for America, its British counterpart, Teach First and other chapters are revolutionising education.

Malala Yousufzai. She was oppressed, denied an education. She was butchered, she got up, she spoke out, she won the Nobel prize for peace. She now studies law at Oxford. And still she has so much to give. An enduring inspiration.

 

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

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

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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.

Why does public sexual harassment matter?

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Fiona Vera-Gray

The announcement today that MPs are launching an inquiry into the public sexual harassment of women and girls is a welcome recognition that finally these experiences matter. Fiona Vera-Gray, author of The Right Amount of Panic, looks at how safety and freedom work together in women’s lives.

“Picture this: You’re on a bus and this guy in front of you turns around and starts talking. You think, it can’t be at me, so keep reading, and then he says, “Are you ok? I’m talking to you.” You’re polite, a little unsure, so respond, “Oh sorry I don’t know you.” And then it starts. He says, “I thought we could get to know each other. What’s your name? Have you got a boyfriend? Where have you been? What are you reading? Why are you being so rude? You think you’re better than me? Stuck up bitch.” He follows you when you get off at your stop. You make sure you stay on a main road. You lose him at a busy intersection when you cross the road just before a bus passes, leaving him stuck on the other side.

“Women and girls are routinely having to evaluate what the right amount of panic is, to direct their movements and actions in public space.”

This is just one example of what women have told me about their experiences of public sexual harassment. Parts of this will be familiar to many women in the UK and beyond, the intrusive questioning and interruption, the quick turn to insults and aggression. Women and girls are routinely having to evaluate what the right amount of panic is, to direct their movements and actions in public space. And though usually such encounters, and the work women do to manage them, are commonly dismissed as “all part of growing up”, it looks like the impact they have is about to be taken seriously.

The announcement today by the Women and Equalities Committee that they are launching an inquiry into the public sexual harassment of women and girls is a welcome recognition that finally these experiences matter.

Activists and organisations have been working for many years to try to raise awareness of the routine intrusions women and girls experience from men in public spaces. In the UK, the filmmaker Aleah Scott’s short film LDN GIRLS profiled the work of activist Kafayat Okanlawon, and groups such as Purple Drum, the young women’s project at Imkaan committed to archiving and amplifying the voices of black and minoritised ethnic women, have highlighted the importance of looking at racialised public sexual harassment, and the experiences of queer black and minoritised ethnic women.

I have been researching this since 2012, publishing the first full length study in the UK in 2016. I’ve also been working with young people on the issues, developing a set of Lesson Plans with Rape Crisis South London and Purple Drum that helps young people think through the differences between banter, harassment, and a compliment. What I have found is that far from the ways public sexual harassment is trivialised, it plays a significant role in limiting women’s freedom.

Women are habitually performing safety work, often without thinking. Habits such as restricting where they go, what they wear, choosing particular seats on public transport or certain routes home. The vast majority of this work is pre-emptive, a highly crafted way of evaluating what the right amount of panic is in any given situation.

“… crucial information can be missed when we ask broad questions about crime and safety.”

However, this ability to create a feeling of safety through changing their behaviour creates a problem: it means that crucial information can be missed when we ask broad questions about crime and safety. Questions such as “how safe do you feel?” or “how often have you experienced sexual harassment in public?” are unable to capture the work that women may be doing to feel safe, or the many times where this work has been successful and they have expertly avoided sexual harassment. We become unable to see the full impact of the sexual harassment of women in public because we’ve separated out safety from freedom and are only measuring the former. But in women’s lives, the two work together. The Women and Equalities Inquiry may finally give a space for this connection to be uncovered.

Over the past months, we have seen the ways that the #metoo movement has mobilised women across different sectors. It is not that women are finally speaking about their experiences of harassment – indeed many of the accounts include how disclosures were previously made to people with the power to make changes – it is that women are finally being heard. This movement has shown what happens when we take workplace sexual harassment seriously. The Inquiry over the next few months may at last do the same for our experiences in public.

9781447342298The Right Amount of Panic by Fiona Vera-Gray is publishing in July 2018 and is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Pre-order here for just £11.99.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

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.

The Tax Credits system needs fixing: addressing Universal Credit is not enough

Sam Royston, author of Broken benefits, argues that the government must reform the  flawed Tax Credits system before they can even begin to improve Universal Credit.

It is tempting to think that a “devastating picture of administrative chaos, computer errors and political misjudgements” in the social security system must be a reference to Universal Credit over the last few months. It well could be, but this is, in fact from George Osborne back in 2005 emphasising that problems with the Tax Credits system had become so serious he believed that there were serious questions over the future of the responsible Minister.

Many of the problems were to do with the way in which Tax Credits are calculated and paid. Whilst, as we shall see, many of the problems were addressed at the time, cuts to the benefits system mean that they have been rapidly re-emerging in recent years.

Why were Tax Credits such a mess when they were first introduced?

Tax Credits are an annual award – the total amount a claimant is entitled to is calculated for the whole year. However, people, and particularly those living on the lowest incomes, need to receive payments more frequently than once a year. For this reason, they are normally paid on a weekly or four weekly basis, based on an estimated entitlement for the whole of the year.

Since Tax Credits are means-tested, the claimant’s household earnings over the course of the year can affect the overall amount due – predicted annual entitlement is based on what the claimant thinks their income will be for the year.

“At the height of the Tax Credit problems, around £1.9 billion was overpaid to households in receipt of Tax Credits.”

The difficulty arises at the end of the year, when the award amount is checked against the household’s actual income for the year. If the household’s income is lower than the estimate, then the award may have been underpaid and is topped up to the actual entitlement. If the household’s income is higher than the estimate, then this can result in the award being classed as overpaid and the government asking for some of the money back.

We aren’t talking about small amounts of money – in 2004, at the height of the Tax Credit problems, around £1.9 billion was overpaid to households in receipt of Tax Credits.

To reduce the likelihood of overpayments occurring, the Tax Credit system has a built in “buffer zone” (known as the “income disregard”) which means that a household’s income can rise by up to a given amount during a year without affecting their Tax Credit entitlement. In the mid 2000s, as a result of the amount of Tax Credits being overpaid, the government decided to increase the income disregard from £2,500 to £25,000. In effect this meant that if a claimant had been paid Tax Credits for a few months at the start of the year based on their previous year’s earnings of £10,000, and then changed job so that by the end of the year they had earned £35,000, their overall Tax Credit entitlement wouldn’t be affected.

Some overpayments are in fact impossible to avoid without a buffer zone – a household that has a low income for most of the year and then gets a sharp but unforeseeable increase in income may have already had more than their yearly entitlement before the rise in their income.

What’s gone wrong with welfare reform?

Despite this positive effect, following the 2010 election, the coalition government decided to reduce the size of the overpayments buffer zone – first from £25,000 to £10,000, and then to £5,000.

“They are treated as if their earnings are the same as the previous year – which could cost them more than £1,000 at a time.”

Astonishingly, the coalition government also decided to introduce the reverse of a buffer (an anti-buffer?) which disregarded falls in income of up to £2,500 from 2012. This means that when (for example) a worker sees their hours reduced so that they earn £2,500 less than they did the previous year, the earnings figure used to calculate Tax Credits is not immediately adjusted down. Instead they are treated as if their earnings are the same as the previous year – which could cost them more than £1,000 at a time when they are likely to be struggling.

As the income disregard has been reduced, overpayments (again, unsurprisingly) have increased. As large a proportion of Tax Credit claimants face overpayments than during the height of Tax Credit problems in 2005, with one in three claimants facing an overpaid award, and £1.6 billion of overpayments in 2015-16. This includes some exceptionally large overpayments – including around 50,000 families overpaid by more than £5,000.

Tax Credit awards overpaid as a proportion of total awards
2003/04 – 2015/16

awards-overpaid

In 2005 when these problems were first recognised, the then shadow (and later actual) Chancellor of the Exchequer called for the resignation of the Minister responsible. The response of the government was dramatic – not only did the Prime Minister apologise, but the large increase in the size of the income disregard was a direct response.

In 2015, when he himself was faced with a similar scale of problems within the system, the response of the Chancellor was to further reduce the level of the income disregard, back to the 2003-4 level of £2,500. We don’t yet know the impact that this will have on overpayments, but the Chancellor expects to save quarter of a billion pounds from this measure at its peak in 2018-19.

Giving credit where credit’s due

“It isn’t good enough to just focus on improving Universal Credit – the Tax Credits system needs fixing.”

It is tempting to think of the Tax Credits system as a thing of the past, focussing instead on the profound mess which is being made of the introduction of Universal Credit. However, it is important to remember that more than 4 million families (with more than 7 million children), still rely on vital Tax Credits to make ends meet – and will do for the next few years at least.

Nor will these families escape their overpayments when they transfer over to Universal Credit – they will come with them and be automatically deducted from their Universal Credit entitlement.

It isn’t good enough to just focus on improving Universal Credit – the Tax Credits system need fixing. For a Government which wants to improve the fairness and simplicity of the benefits system, removing vital income disregards which prevented families from falling into benefit debt is a move in entirely the wrong direction.

 

Broken benefits by Sam Royston is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £12.00.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

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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.

Europe’s largest ghetto: squalor and violence in the shadows of Madrid

Welcome to Valdemingómez. Just 12km from Madrid, political neglect, spatial exclusion and social policy stagnation have created a lawless landscape of drugs and violence. Squalor and hopelessness reduce chances of a way out.

“Julia” nervously emerges from her shabby tent to face another day of survival: she is homeless, wanted by the police, and addicted to heroin and cocaine. She is also five months pregnant.

The harrowing stories of Julia and others like her feature in a new book Dead-end lives: Drugs and violence in the city shadows by Daniel Briggs and Rubén Monge Gamero – out today.

sleeping

Image: Dead-end lives, page 192: ‘Respite’

Read the foreword by Professor Dick Hobbs below.

“Long before urban ethnography came of age with the Chicago School, Henry Mayhew had trawled London’s streets for narratives of the poor, dispossessed and excluded. For all of their rightly celebrated qualities, the sociologists of the Chicago School seldom provided the kind of vivid detail that is central to Mayhew’s journalism for the Morning Chronicle. He was particularly concerned with men and women for whom transgression was an inevitable consequence of the material conditions in which they found themselves. Seamstresses squeezed by the punitive pressures of piecework turned to prostitution to feed their families, street traders who relied on their own invented language and transgressive leisure pursuits to resist harassment by the new social control agencies, and some of the poor reduced to collecting dog shit from Albertoian pavements before delivering their fetid buckets to the capital’s leather tanneries. For Mayhew, crime/deviance/transgression was a social product, and very much part of the relentless unforgiving meat grinder of life in the city.

However, the Chicagoans’ establishment of urban ethnography as a central and enduring prop of social scientific endeavour did open the door to the city’s dirty secrets, and through this door have passed many thousands of scholars intent on bringing to the fore issues that most urban dwellers seek to scrape from the soles of their shoes. Most, but not all, of Chicago-influenced ethnography was based on an urban template created as an explanatory model of industrialism.

The industrial city was essentially zonal, and when drilling down into these zones, deviant behaviour – predominantly, but not exclusively, youthful delinquency – could be unwrapped, analysed and, crucially, rehabilitated. While later proponents of urban ethnography sometimes withdrew from engagement with rehabilitative policy engagement, its replacement was often a romanticised misfit sociology that valorised both the deviant and the intrepid researcher who would then shamelessly trade on this brief brush with outlaw status for the remainder of an academic career.

The post-industrial city, where the now superfluous poor of the industrial project have been supplanted by previously unfamiliar forces of economic apartheid, offers few of the assured inevitabilities of industrialism. The shape and form of urban existence has changed, and as a consequence, the trajectories of existence in the alcoves where working-class lives are lived are now dominated by population churn, by fragmentation and by a vernacular cosmopolitanism based on informal modes of survival that have little connection with institutions of governance.

landscape

Valdemingómez is one such alcove, and in describing life, death and commerce in this area on the edges of Madrid, we are introduced to a world that is uncomfortably close to Mayhew’s London. Thankfully, Daniel Briggs and Rubén Monge Gamero are as sensitive to the multiple complex forces that created Valdemingómez as they are to the harrowing conditions of survival of its population, where addiction and the servicing of addiction dominate social life. Cities churn, global populations shift and with capitalism in a state of permanent crisis, the flotsam and jetsam of ‘Europe’s largest ghetto’ compete and co-exist within a range of informal economies, in particular, the drug trade. Briggs and Monge Gamero explore this world of poverty, profit, hope and addiction with enormous skill. For this is the future, the ghetto at the edge of the city, life at the periphery largely abandoned by the state, occasionally subjected to police operations, but not often enough to impact on the illegal economies that are the poisonous lifeblood of Valdemingómez, where ‘the Wild West meets the third world’.

The authors do not valorise deviance, but do describe and explain a world where destructive social and personal practices are the norm. Indeed, the descriptive passages, which constitute this book’s strength, are among the most vivid and insightful to be found in contemporary ethnography. Highlighted are the impacts of often ignored causal factors such as the withdrawal of the state, and the consequences not only for the addicted and their families, but also for the poor bloody infantry of police and drug agencies that seek to make an impact on this blighted domain. The limits of intervention, particularly during an era of austerity, along with the predatory culture of many of Valdemingómez’s residents, are emphasised by harrowing description and interviews.

This is a deeply upsetting book about an alcove of the global economy where death and degradation are embedded into every pore. Enhanced by photography, this excellent and innovative ethnography stands as a powerful and unnerving document of contemporary and probable future urban life.

paloma-resting
Image: Valdemingómez, where people like Paloma sleep in dirt and sell sex for a couple of euros for drugs.

Yet, as with Henry Mayhew’s seminal work, written in a long distant era of exploitation, deprivation and squalor, it is the heart-rending stories of the poor that leave the most indelible impact on the reader. The utter impossibility of their plight is genuinely disturbing, and the term ‘social exclusion’ has seldom been more appropriate, its causation more complex, or its reality more distressing.

Professor Dick Hobbs, Emeritus Professor at the University of
Essex, and Professor of Sociology at the University of
Western Sydney, Australia

Dead-End lives [FC]Dead-end lives by Daniel Briggs and Rubén Monge Gamero is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £13.59.

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Is the new impact agenda the excuse you’ve been waiting for to use your research to make a difference?

Sharon Wright and Peter Dwyer, researching the impacts of Universal Credit since 2013 as part of the collaborative ESRC Welfare Conditionality project, reflect on their recent experience of contributing to the Universal Credit debate, to argue that impact activities can be most meaningful if they are aimed at making a difference that really matters.

Dr. Sharon Wright

Prof. Peter Dwyer

The news that research impact will account for a quarter of a unit’s score for the REF2021 research excellence rankings has piqued the interest of cash-hungry University leaders across the country.

With the most significant and far reaching impacts bringing in around £324k, pressure is building for academics to strike into uncharted knowledge-exchange territory to secure elusive high-earning 4* impact case studies.

But if the thought of money as a motivator leaves you cold – and the more familiar competing pressures of teaching, administration and research offer space for little else – is there an alternative way of looking at the new drive for impact?

“Impact activities can be most meaningful if they are aimed at making a difference that really matters.”

In October 2017, Universal Credit (UC) hit the headlines with public outrage at claimants unable to afford to eat and at risk of losing their homes because of the built-in delay of 6 weeks for the first payment.

One of the greatest injustices is that Universal Credit was sold to the electorate as a reform aimed at simplifying the system and making work pay, and as such, it was originally welcomed widely. However, design flaws are being exposed as contributing to rising foodbank use, homelessness and destitution.

House of Commons

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke, has been resistant to calls for urgent action to restore UC in line with its original policy aims. On 18th October 2017, a unanimous group of opposition MPs won the landmark House of Commons vote, 299 to zero, to ‘pause and fix’ the Universal Credit roll-out.

Decisive to the vote and the ongoing debate, were SNP MP Neil Gray’s authoritative parliamentary speeches, which used cutting edge research evidence, including our article on ‘Ubiquitous Conditionality’, alongside the experiences of his constituents to substantiate compelling arguments for reform:

“The Government should review the cuts to the work allowances, which are acting as a disincentive to work and making work pay less; review the cuts to housing benefit, which are driving up rent arrears […]; and review the cuts to employment support, which are denying help to those who need it most, and they should fully review and then scrap the disgusting sanctioning policy, which could have cost the life of my constituent, Mr Moran, and has cost the lives of others. That was the subject of an excellent paper by Sharon Wright of Glasgow University and Peter Dwyer of the University of York in The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice.” Read the full transcript of the debate here. 

How did we achieve this impact? Sharon met with Neil Gray on a panel discussing ‘Rethinking Poverty’ at the SNP Conference in Glasgow. Following this, she watched a clip of Neil’s first Universal Credit speech and let him know that our research published in The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice (including the article that was featured in a free collection at the time) backed up several of the points he had made. Via Twitter and email, Sharon sent Neil a link to our recent blog and responded to a follow-up query with additional research evidence. Neil then used the evidence in his subsequent speeches and said:

“Academic and well researched evidence on the impact of
Universal Credit is crucial for persuading government to
change its mind and fix the system as it is being rolled out.

Neil Gray

Sharon’s research and input has been invaluable for me in
setting out the case that I have in the House of Commons.
The government can try to dismiss or ignore political debate,
but personal testimony and independent academia is harder
to ignore.

I hope Sharon and others will continue to look at issues like
the social security ‘reforms’ so that government policy can
be effectively challenged and hopefully overturned, to help
people who desperately need that support.”

As an impact activity, the process was quick, easy and direct. The result was Neil’s exemplary use of research evidence for accurate and well-informed debate that continues to feed into meaningful changes to policy and practice.

“…exemplary use of research evidence for accurate and well-informed debate that continues to feed into meaningful changes to policy and practice.”

The focus throughout was straight-forwardly on the issues that matter. For us as academics, the current importance placed on impact activities offers legitimacy to carve out the necessary time to do exactly what we have always wanted to do – proactively engage with policy makers, in a policy field where robust evidence has gone against the grain of dominant political preferences, to use research to make a difference.

 

Universal Credit, ubiquitous conditionality and its implications for social citizenship from The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, is FREE to read on Ingenta until 31 December 2017.

Policy Press has always worked closely with authors to ensure their work gains the social impact it deserves alongside academic impact. Find out more here.

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Image: UK Parliament, ‘House of Commons: MPs debate 2013 Queen’s Speech‘ Flickr Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0


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