Archive for the 'Poverty and Inequality' Category

What effect do sanctions & conditionality have on disabled people?

Guest editor Ben Baumberg Geiger introduces the new Journal of Poverty and Social Justice special issue, focusing on disability and conditional social security benefits.

 

Ben Baumberg Geiger

“There are times that policy runs ahead of academic knowledge.

Indeed, this is often the case, for policies must first be introduced before social scientists can study them – and if policy makers were restricted to policies that had been tried and tested, then policy innovation would be impossible.

Yet such innovation can come with considerable risks, as new policies can be introduced and widely imitated, only for social scientists – after some delay – to show that such policies are difficult to implement, can fail to achieve some of their aims, and may even have unforeseen and harmful consequences.

In a new special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, we focus on one area where this might be happening: conditionality for sick and disabled social security claimants. While, historically, disabled benefit claimants were largely exempt from seeking work, high-income countries from Australia to Norway have increasingly required disabled claimants to take steps towards finding work, under the threat of financial penalties.

“…high-income countries from Australia to Norway have increasingly required disabled claimants to take steps towards finding work, under the threat of financial penalties.”

The conventional wisdom repeated by bodies such as the OECD is that this is a necessary step towards reducing high benefit claim rates, and, moreover, helps improve the finances, health, and social inclusion of disabled people themselves.

However, there are several challenges to this story. By any principle of justice, claimants cannot reasonably be required to perform actions that they are incapable of doing, but it is difficult for benefits agencies to know exactly what someone can or can’t do. If they get this wrong, conditionality for disabled people can create injustices, and inflict considerable stress on disabled people. Moreover, conditionality may move disabled people further away from work, by both undermining their relationship with their employment support caseworker, and making them less willing to take risks in performing tasks that they are not sure they are capable of doing.

 

Two conflicting stories – but what does the evidence say?

Until now, there has been very little published research trying to establish which of these accounts is correct. This is the aim of the special issue, which includes four research papers looking at experiences from around the world. In the UK, Aaron Reeves looks at on the impacts of conditionality for disabled people claiming unemployment benefit. In Denmark and Sweden, Sara Hultqvist & Iben Nørup look at the different forms of conditionality implemented for young disability benefit claimants. In Germany, Patrizia Aurich-Beerheide & Martin Brussig look at the (failed) implementation of conditionality for disabled people in Germany. And my own paper (see below) brings together these papers with a wider review of evidence and practice, to come to some initial conclusions about what we know so far.

“It is crucial for the wellbeing of disabled people around the world that deeper knowledge and more informed policy go hand-in-hand.”

The special issue also includes four further, slightly more unusual papers about the UK, perhaps the country where these issues have become most hotly contested. Indeed, conditionality for disabled people has been the subject of an award-winning film (I, Daniel Blake) and an award-winning play (Wish List), both of which are reviewed in the special issue (by Alison Wilde and Kim Allen respectively). Jed Meers covers a recent Supreme Court judgement about the ‘bedroom tax’ in the Supreme Court. And we felt it was important to convey the lived experience of conditionality, so a team from the Welfare Conditionality project describe two real-life stories of people who took part in their research.

So at the end of this, what do we know? In my (open access) review paper, I summarise the evidence into four ‘stylized facts’:

1. Requirements for disability benefit claimants are common, but sanctioning is rare (particularly outside of the UK and Australia).

2. Assessment and support are critical in making conditionality work on the ground, and can be combined into ‘passive’, ‘supportive’, ‘demanding’ or ‘compliance-based’ systems.

3. The limited but robust existing evidence suggests that sanctioning may have zero or even negative impacts on work-related outcomes for disabled people.

4. Individual case studies in ‘compliance-based’ systems suggest that sanctioning in the absence of other support can lead to destitution, and that conditionality can harm mental health.

While we need to know more, it is already clear that we cannot assume that conditionality for disabled benefit claimants is easy to implement, nor that it will have purely positive consequences. Policy may have run ahead, but research is now starting to catch up. It is crucial for the wellbeing of disabled people around the world that deeper knowledge and more informed policy go hand-in-hand from this point.

This is an edited version of the (free) introduction to the special issue, and is simultaneously being posted on the Policy Press blog and my own Rethinking Incapacity blog. The full special issue can be accessed here.

 

You can read the Disability and Conditional Social Security Benefits’ special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice here. 

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Taxation, inequality and post-industrial society

Ruane4Jul17

Sally Ruane

In this blog post, Sally Ruane, co-author of Paying for the Welfare State in the 21st Century, explains why we need to challenge the political culture surrounding taxation to effectively tackle inequality.

 

“The dramatic electoral developments in the US, France and most recently the UK, point to a state of flux in which there is a high degree of uncertainty regarding future direction and outcomes.

These political symptoms emerge following the transition of advanced Western countries from industrial to post-industrial societies, a transition managed in such a way that economic inequality has deepened and financial deregulation has brought about a destabilisation of the whole system.

The rise of in-work poverty

In the UK, from 1980 to 2003, median income began to lag behind economic growth, rising at the rate of only 70% of national economic growth; and in the five years leading up to the financial crash, household income stagnated despite economic growth during the period. More recently, the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that in the seven years after the crash, average gross employment income had yet to recover its pre-recession levels. Into this mix we must add that, unlike the postwar period when poverty was associated with a problematic or disrupted relationship to the labour market, most people living in poverty today are living in households where at least one person is working. What is more, average pensioner household income is now higher than average income in working age households. Meanwhile, at the top end of the scale, the best off 1% of households has raced away, holding 7.9% of all income in 2014/15 against 5.7% 1990.

“Average pensioner household income is now higher than average income in working age households.”

Tax and the allocation of resources

The allocation of resources in society is an outcome not just of ‘market incomes’ but also of the totality of fiscal policy. This entails government spending on benefits and in-kind services, on the one hand, and the tax system on the other. The social policy gaze has tended to focus on the former rather than the latter but to understand questions of inequality we have to examine taxation. The tax system encompasses more than the entities taxed, the taxes levied, and the rates and thresholds at which those taxes are levied. It entails also attitudes to the payment of tax, the capacity to and vigour with which the tax collection authority pursues those who owe tax and the infrastructure through which income and wealth are handled, disclosed (or not) and made subject (or not) to tax liability.

‘Flexible’ working and rising inequality

The way in which the tax system works not only is influenced by the nature of the wider socio-cultural and economic system but at the same time influences that wider system.

The acceptance of a model of globalisation in which the financial system was deregulated and many relatively well paid working class jobs were transferred to other, low wage economies, reinforced by a strong pound which suited the interests of the financial sector, gave rise to exhortations that labour must be flexible to attract capital investment. ‘Flexibility’ meant that the wages and terms and conditions of workers were systematically worsened to the advantage of capital. New Labour’s revival of Speenhamland type policies in which the low wages of those in work were supplemented by tax credits afforded a degree of redistribution but at the expense of establishing the acceptability of paying low wages, reinforcing the problem of in work poverty. In other words in addressing workplace exploitation, the tax system has simultaneously exacerbated it.

“… in addressing workplace exploitation, the tax system has simultaneously exacerbated it.”

The cost of tax avoidance

The increasing effectiveness with which corporate and financial interests have been able to lobby ministers has given rise to criticism of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for lacking zeal in its pursuit of complex and sophisticated forms of tax avoidance and evasion, reinforcing the resources which corporations can bring to bear in further lobbying of ministers. The debilitation of the organised working class through acceptance of the dominant globalisation model has weakened the countervailing forces which might have checked concessions to big business and big finance. The success with which large corporations and affluent individuals are able to avoid and evade paying taxes materially affects the resources governments claim are available for funding social security and public services. The resulting austerity erodes the social wage and further weakens the base for social democratic policies.

“Challenging the political culture surrounding taxation is essential if inequality is to be effectively tackled.”

These are just some of the inter-linking examples of the way in which the tax system is both shaped by wider cultural and social factors as well as recursively shaping that wider society.

We argue in Paying for the Welfare State in the 21st Century that reforming the tax system goes beyond altering rates and bands and that challenging the political culture surrounding taxation is essential if inequality is to be effectively tackled and some of the destructive consequences of the shift to post-industrial society are to be reversed.

 

Paying for the welfare state in the 21st century [FC]Paying for the welfare state in the 21st Century by David Byrne and Sally Ruane is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website.  Order here for just £10.39.

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What now for Brexit?

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Danny Dorling, Dimitris Ballas and Benjamin Hennig

Danny Dorling, Dimitris Ballas and Benjamin Hennig – authors of The human atlas of Europe – look at the reasons behind Labour’s success and ask… what now for Brexit?

 

“On June 8th 2017 young people all across the UK turned out to vote for a new conception of politics and a more inclusive, nourishing vision of society (as New Internationalist journalist Chris Brazier put it).

The rise of Labour in the polls in the month before the election was three times greater than any rise ever seen for that party in a month before. The swing in the vote to Labour was greater than that measured at any general election other than the 1945 landslide election. To be fair to Jeremy Corbyn it was actually even greater than that, as that 1945 swing took ten years (from 1935) to occur. In contrast, Labour’s swing in 2017 emerged within just two years of the last election (held in 2015).

Despite the enormous success in the polls and the voting booths it was not enough for Labour to win. The party had started so far behind in 2015 that a completely unprecedented swing would have been needed for outright victory. Labour’s four week surge in the polls would have had to have been not just three times greater than it had ever been before, but five, six or seven times – depending on exactly where that swing had been geographically concentrated. An outright Labour victory in June 2017 was nigh-on impossible in the circumstances, not least of a split Labour party.

But what Labour achieved was enough to put the Conservatives into the demotion zone of now being a minority government.

 

“..greater solidarity is gaining in popularity over division.”

 

Continue reading ‘What now for Brexit?’

Compromise, sacrifice and confusion: why I didn’t vote

Lisa McKenzie

Lisa Mckenzie

by Lisa Mckenzie, author of Getting By; Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain.

“I didn’t vote in this election, which for me was the right choice, and a choice that is seldom given debate to within the national media.

My reasons were this: our political system asks us to vote for members of parliament to represent us in Westminster. I didn’t want any of the people on my ballot paper to represent me.

I also don’t think the system of parliamentary political party politics is truly democratic. It serves the greater good, it compromises what individuals believe in order to serve a middle, a mainstream, and a mediocre. It always has to sacrifice something, and someone, and the sacrifice is usually those with least power. I cannot endorse that.

“…the sacrifice is usually those with least power.”

The Labour Party have annoyed me for a long time (forever actually) but especially over the last two years.

I have been involved in many grass-roots organisations and campaigns and I know how difficult it is to keep people’s confidence up when they are having all kinds of institutional power thrown at them from all spectrums of political ideology.

However over the last two years this situation has become much worse, with the internal fighting of the Labour party. Many Labour supporters as well as politicians have taken sides and instead of being an opposition to the Government that has caused so much misery to the poorest people in the UK, they have opposed each other.

Continue reading ‘Compromise, sacrifice and confusion: why I didn’t vote’

Of and for society: Thinking the prosocial

What would it take to make society better? Rowland Atkinson, Lisa McKenzie and Simon Winlow, co-editors of the new book Building better societies, discuss some of the obstacles we face in trying to improve society. 

Rowland Atkinson

Lisa McKenzie

Simon Winlow

Social researchers spend so much time investigating the problems of inequality, crime, poverty and ill-health that they rarely have time to step outside these painful realities to engage in the kinds of utopian, creative and counter-intuitive thinking that can change entire academic fields.

We are encouraged, more than ever before, to be ‘policy relevant’, and the space and time needed to identify new and imaginative routes forward is diminishing with every passing year.

Many of us act in ways that are self-disciplining, if not self-defeating. We make careful pre-judgements about who will listen to us, and this often prevents us from making proposals or running ideas that might make the world – dare we say it – a better place. Given the sheer scale of the problems we face today – unparalleled inequality, ecological crisis and deep economic and political uncertainty – the role, and perhaps the duty, of social researchers is to draw on their evidence and intervene effectively in helping social conversations about the issues that really matter.

Continue reading ‘Of and for society: Thinking the prosocial’

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

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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’

Celebrating 25 years of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice with a FREE anniversary article collection

In celebration of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice’s 25th anniversary, editors Rod Hick and Gill Main reflect on the achievements of the journal and release a selection of articles free to download for the remainder of 2017. 

Rod Hick

Gill Main

This April marked the 25th anniversary of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice.

Since its inception in the early 1990s, the academic, policy and practice communities have seen drastic changes – but the issues addressed by the journal have remained all too relevant.

Poverty and social justice remain at the forefront of academic and policy debate – both nationally and internationally.

Over the last decade, the global financial crisis has raised major debates about the nature of poverty and social justice. Many governments continue to pursue austerity agendas which have produced rising poverty rates, and to promote interpretations of social justice which are often in conflict with academic approaches.

Continue reading ‘Celebrating 25 years of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice with a FREE anniversary article collection’


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