Archive for the 'Poverty and Inequality' Category

Policy Press April ‘editorial picks': Politics

Continuing our new series of monthly ‘editor picks’, and with our focus very much on the election it makes sense for our Politics Senior Commissioning Editor Emily Watt to tell us a little bit about her background, what she’s most excited by in upcoming Politics titles and why she feels certain New Zealand will win the Rugby World Cup this year…

Policy Press - 013Name: Emily Watt

Title: Senior Commissioning Editor

What’s your background story?
I have been at Policy Press for just over 10 years, which is still hard to believe, working my way up from Editorial Assistant in January 2005 to my current role as Senior Commissioning Editor.

About 4 years before this and about a year after graduating from Lancaster University with a BA Hons in American Studies, I went travelling with my best friend for 15 months to the US, Australia and South East Asia. I didn’t really know at this point what I wanted to do, so I was hoping this trip would enable me, in true clichéd style, ‘to find myself’. It was an amazing experience, but it didn’t get me much closer to a career decision.

When I returned I found out that one of the friends had just completed an MA in Publishing at Oxford Brookes and then the penny dropped, I suddenly knew this is what I wanted to do! My Mum had also done copy-editing and proofreading and worked in magazine publishing, so publishing had always been there in the background.

One year of study later, during which I worked part-time at Berg, I finally got my qualification and, just as importantly, was put in touch with Alison Shaw, the Director at Policy Press. While back in Bristol, I wrote a letter to Alison to ask if she had any work for me. The rest, as they say, is history and I haven’t looked back since.

What does your role entail and what do you enjoy most about it?
As a Senior Commissioning Editor and manager of the Commissioning Team, my role can be really varied. For example, one morning I can be reading and feeding back on new book proposals, planning for the next conference or campus visit, preparing paperwork for our next Acquisitions Meetings or sending out referee comments or contract offers. By the afternoon, I could be reviewing the Team’s budget, analysing the commissioning targets to feed into plans for the following year, or attending a cross-team meeting.

I really relish balancing such a variety of tasks in any one day and being able to challenge myself to think through problems and make swift decisions. I enjoy managing the team, but my real passion is commissioning and being able to see an early idea start from a conversation I had at a conference to becoming a finished product. This gives me great satisfaction.

What most excites you about your subjects?
I look after a good range of subjects including Politics, such as Public Policy, Social Policy and Welfare, Social Geography and Urban Studies and Housing and Planning and although they interlink, I like that the books I work on can be so different in scope.

I am particularly engaged in areas of my list that have a social justice or equality angle, that challenge current thinking and push the debate forward and which truly bridge the gap between theory and practice. Great recent examples of this are ‘Making policy move’ by John Clarke, Dave Bainton, Noémi Lendvai and Paul Stubbs, which is out this month, ‘New philanthropy and social justice’ (part of our Contemporary issues in social policy series) by Behrooz Morvaridi and Julian Dobson’s campaigning book ‘How to save our town centres’.

What key things are happening in Politics at Policy Press this year?
You could argue that everything we publish has a relevance to politics and policy, but in Politics we started the year off well with the release of a new trade book by Peter Hain MP entitled ‘Back to the future of Socialism’, which is a real boost to our Politics list. Written by a former Labour MP, who was in the Blair and Brown Cabinets, Peter’s book revisits the classic 1956 work by Anthony Crosland and uses it as a springboard for putting forward his political prospectus for today. The book, pitched at a wide readership, is a real boost for our Politics list and makes for an academically engaging and personal read, one that I think is very important given the public’s growing disengagement and disaffection with mainstream political parties.

Another important book that has just been released as a paperback is ‘Women of Power’ by Torild Skard which charts an impressive 73 female presidents and prime ministers worldwide over the last 50 years. Based on an astounding amount of research by the author, the book looks at these women’s motives, achievements and life stories in politics and it is a must read for anyone interested in gender, politics and leadership.

There has also been some excellent content on key political issues published in the latest issue of our Policy & Politics journal. I was particularly drawn to ‘the politics of quangocide’ from Katharine Dommett and Matt Flinders and ‘Governing at arm’s length’ by Catherine Durose, Jonathan Justice and Chris Skelcher. The journal co-edited by Sarah Ayres (Bristol) and Matt Flinders (Sheffield) is a leading international journal in the field of public policy that importantly prizes itself (as Policy Press does too) on bridging the gap between theory and practice and linking macro-scale political economy debates with micro-scale policy studies.

Our new Policy Press Shorts are an ideal format for Politics given that the subject is so fast-moving and topical. Being able to offer flexible publishing options has opened up new opportunities in all our subjects and the Policy Press Shorts have a 12 week turnaround from delivery to publication. They are an excellent outlet for publishing original ideas quickly and making a difference in a concise and accessible way, ideal for politics.

One great example is a Policy and practice Short entitled ‘Battle of the Bedroom tax’ by Dave Cowan and Alex Marsh which publishes just after the election. The bedroom tax was a key and highly contentious policy and one which could slip down the political agenda depending on who gets in power in May, so having the Short out quickly so that it hits the right political moment is key.

What interests you particularly about Politics?
The key issues that interest me in Politics at the moment are political disengagement, devolution and a shift in power from a Westminster-centric view and the ongoing debates related to independence and the decline of mainstream political parties in favour of more extreme parties, such as UKiP (there is much more to be said here!).

I am also keen to commission more politics books in areas we are known for and which are continually on the political agenda. This includes political issues for disadvantaged groups, such as those in poverty, older people, disability and gender and books that push the boundaries and put forward radical and fresh perspectives.

What reading book is currently on your bedside table?

I’m reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt that was chosen by our very own Victoria Pittman for book group. I really like what I’ve read so far, but I have a feeling the book will be by my bed (or on the bus with me) for a while!

Laura Vickers led the editorial picks in March – what would you say is her secret superpower/thing she is most awesome at doing?
Her sheer determination. When she puts her mind to something she doesn’t give up and makes sure it gets done even though it might be really challenging along the way or take a long time.

Laura’s question for you is: Who will win the Rugby World Cup?
This question from Laura is a not a surprise as she is a massive fan of rugby and most sports. I have absolutely no idea how to pick a team to win the World Cup, but I will base it on a place where I have always wanted to visit – New Zealand.

What question would you want us to ask our next editorial interviewee?
Who would be the 4 best/most influential people you would have dinner with and why? They don’t all have to be alive!

If you enjoyed this blog you might also enjoy….

Policy Press March ‘editorial picks': Environment and Sustainability

Policy Press February ‘editorial picks': Criminology and Criminal Justice

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Austerity: Creating more harmful societies?

In today’s guest blog post author and academic Simon Pemberton shares his insights on the true cost of austerity measures having compared the rates of social harms across 31 OECD countries for his recently published book Harmful Societies.

Simon Pemberton

Simon Pemberton

Collectively we tend to worry about things that are unlikely to happen to us, or those events that are least likely to impact our long term health or prosperity. Our perception of risk is distorted.

Many of us might worry about crime and threats posed by strangers to ourselves and loved ones, but we probably concern ourselves less with the air that we breathe, the everyday act of crossing the road, the dangers our workplaces pose and so on.

Yet the numbers are staggering. If we take the example of homicide rates, the UK has a thankfully low murder rate, there are around 500-1,000 a year. Contrasting homicide to a range of social harms puts this into some perspective: 18,000 (England and Wales) people who die due to the effects of winter, while 29,000 (UK) lives are ended prematurely from air pollution and 13,000 (Great Britain) lives are lost from lung disease or cancers contracted via the workplace.

Lottery of life?

Is this a fair comparison? Homicide is the most unnatural end to one’s life imaginable; the other examples might most commonly be considered part of the ‘lottery of life’ due to the fairly diffuse and ambiguous causal chains. Indeed many of us would struggle to view these harms to be ‘preventable’. This said we might be more willing to accept that these harms are preventable if we feel that it is in our collective capacity to intervene within its production.

Comparing death rates across similarly-placed capitalist societies quickly demonstrates that there is no ‘natural’ rate of death from suicide, homicide, road traffic injuries or obesity, nor are there ‘natural’ rates of poverty, overwork, unemployment, financial insecurity or social isolation.

In fact some societies appear to be better placed to protect their populations than others. In relation to all but one of these harm indicators the Social Democratic regime (Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway) proves to be the least harmful; whereas the Neo-Liberal regime (Chile, Mexico, Turkey and Russia) and Liberal regime including the UK, US and Australia, are among the most harmful.

“we get the levels of harm that politically we are willing to tolerate”

Far from being inevitable events then, these social harms are the result of the way we choose to organise our societies. In other words we get the levels of harm that politically we are willing to tolerate.

There are a number of features of societies that make them more or less harmful. Societies that exhibit high levels of trust and low levels of inequality better protect populations in relation to many harm indicators, whereas highly individualised competitive societies seem to generate greater levels of harm.

Additionally societies characterised by high expenditure on welfare benefits, services, education and healthcare appear to reduce the likelihood of autonomy harms (such as poverty, financial insecurity) as one might expect, yet they also provide contexts that reduce the likelihood of specific physical harms (such as homicide, infant mortality deaths).

Finally, societies that place restrictions on market activities through high levels of trade union representation and/or state regulation demonstrate lower rates of autonomy harms (such as poverty, youth unemployment, long working hours).

Under siege

Many of the societal features that appear to protect populations from harm are currently under siege in many nation states. Austerity programmes in countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and the UK are eroding and in some instances actively dismantling many of the features that protect populations from social harm.

If one wants to understand the collateral harms that might result as a consequence of the UK coalition government’s austerity agenda and the harms our society might generate then we only need to look to the US – where levels of harm are similar to those of middle income countries in the Neo Liberal regime.

With the UK’s social expenditure anticipated to fall below that of the US by 2016 the erosion of the social state through cuts to benefits, services and regulatory bodies are likely to directly impact the experience of harm. In the process the UK will undoubtedly become a more harmful society.

“Other nation states have responded very differently to the pressures of the public spending deficit, acting to protect populations”

Quite simply it does not need to be this way. This harm is entirely foreseeable – given the weight of empirical evidence that documents the deleterious impact of austerity on harms such as suicide, infant mortality rates, depression and so on.

Moreover there are alternative courses of action available. Other nation states, such as Iceland, who arguably faced more desperate situations than the UK have responded very differently to the pressures of the public spending deficit, acting to protect populations. This is a matter of political will – do we have the politicians with the fortitude required to reverse the harmful legacy of austerity?

Harmful societies [FC]Harmful Societies by Simon Pemberton is available for purchase and you can buy your copy from our website here (RRP £70.00). Don’t forget Policy Press newsletter subscribers get a 35% discount when ordering through our website. If you’re not a subscriber yet why not sign up here today and join our Policy Press community?

You can also follow @socialharm for more on Studies in Social harm.

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

Tyranny’s False Comfort: Why Rights Aren’t Wrong in Tough Times

Human Rights Watch is an independent, international organization that defends the rights of people worldwide.  To celebrate the publication of their World Report 2015 this month we have reproduced an excerpt of Executive Director, Kenneth Roth’s (@KenRoth) article about the current state of human rights globally today. This post was first published on the Human Rights Watch website and can be viewed in full here.

Kenneth Roth

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director Human Rights Watch

The world has not seen this much tumult for a generation. The once-heralded Arab Spring has given way almost everywhere to conflict and repression. Islamist extremists commit mass atrocities and threaten civilians throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa. Cold War-type tensions have revived over Ukraine, with even a civilian jetliner shot out of the sky. Sometimes it can seem as if the world is unraveling.

Many governments have responded to the turmoil by downplaying or abandoning human rights. Governments directly affected by the ferment are often eager for an excuse to suppress popular pressure for democratic change. Other influential governments are frequently more comfortable falling back on familiar relationships with autocrats than contending with the uncertainty of popular rule. Some of these governments continue to raise human rights concerns, but many appear to have concluded that today’s serious security threats must take precedence over human rights. In this difficult moment, they seem to argue, human rights must be put on the back burner, a luxury for less trying times.

That subordination of human rights is not only wrong, but also shortsighted and counterproductive. Human rights violations played a major role in spawning or aggravating most of today’s crises. Protecting human rights and enabling people to have a say in how their governments address the crises will be key to their resolution. Particularly in periods of challenges and difficult choices, human rights are an essential compass for political action.

The Rise of ISIS

No challenge in the past year has exploded more dramatically than the emergence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the extremist group also known as ISIS. One can only be appalled at ISIS’s mass execution of captured combatants and disfavored civilians. This Sunni armed group has singled out Yazidis, Turkmen, Kurds, Shia, and even other Sunnis who contest its extreme interpretation of Islamic law. Its militants have enslaved, forcibly married, and raped Yazidi women and girls, and beheaded journalists and aid workers in gruesome videotaped spectacles. Rarely has an armed force engendered such widespread revulsion and opposition.

Yet ISIS did not emerge in a vacuum. In part it is a product of the United States-led war and military occupation of Iraq that began in 2003, which produced, among other things, a security vacuum and the abuses of detainees in Abu Ghraib prison and other US-run detention centers. Funding of extremist groups by Gulf states and their citizens also played a role. More recently, the sectarian policies of the Iraqi and Syrian governments, and international indifference to those governments’ serious rights abuses, have been important factors. If the conditions that led to ISIS are left to fester, the group could deepen its hold on the two countries and expand into Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, and beyond.

Iraq

In Iraq, ISIS owes much of its emergence to the abusive sectarian rule of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the resulting radicalization of the Sunni community. With Iranian backing, Maliki took personal control of Iraqi security forces and supported the formation of Shia militia, many of which brutally persecuted the minority Sunni population. Sunnis were excluded from select government jobs, rounded up and arbitrarily detained under new overbroad laws, summarily executed, and indiscriminately bombed.

The severity of the persecution can be measured by its effects. ISIS’s predecessor, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was defeated with the help of a military coalition of Sunni tribes in western Iraq known as the Awakening Councils. But many of the tribes that nearly single-handedly defeated AQI became so fearful of slaughter and persecution by pro-government security forces that when conflict broke out in 2014, they felt safer fighting those forces than ISIS.

Human rights groups persistently called attention to Maliki’s abusive rule, but the US, the United Kingdom, and other countries, eager to put their own military involvement in Iraq behind them, largely shut their eyes to this sectarian reign—and even plied it with arms.

Today, there is wider recognition that this indifference to atrocities under Maliki was a mistake. Eventually he was forced from office and replaced by Haider al-Abadi, who has pledged a more inclusive form of governance. But as Western military aid still flows into Iraq, abusive sectarianism has not ended. Maliki continues to serve as one of Iraq’s three vice presidents, and the weak government has vastly increased its reliance on Shia militia, allowing the mobilization of almost one million Shia fighters without government oversight or regulation. Indeed, because of the Iraqi army’s disarray, the militias are the lead ground forces fighting ISIS, despite their ongoing killing and cleansing of Sunnis as ostensible ISIS sympathizers. Until these atrocities end, the Shia militias are likely to do more to aid ISIS recruitment than to defeat ISIS on the battlefield.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has not ended indiscriminate military attacks in civilian areas or released a significant number of detainees held without a warrant or after completion of their sentences. The corrupt and abusive judiciary remains unreformed, and Abadi’s calls for an end to abusive, exclusionary rule remain unimplemented. Over the long term, completing these reforms will be at least as important as military action to protect civilians from ISIS atrocities.

Syria

In Syria, ISIS owes its rise to various factors, including porous borders with Turkey that have enabled fighters armed and funded by foreign governments to flow in. Many then joined the extremist group. ISIS has also generated funds through exorbitant ransom demands and “taxes” on people in territory it controls, as well as selling Syrian oil and antiquities.

With these building blocks, ISIS came to portray itself as the force most capable of standing up to the extraordinary brutality of President Bashar al-Assad and his troops. In vicious fashion, Assad’s forces have been deliberately attacking civilians who happen to live in opposition-held areas, aiming to depopulate these areas and punish presumed rebel sympathizers.

Since the Syrian government turned over its chemical weapons, its most notorious tool has been the barrel bomb, an oil drum or similar container filled with high explosives and metal fragments. Also used by the Iraqi air force, it has gained notoriety in Syria, where the air force typically drops it from a helicopter hovering at high altitudes to avoid anti-aircraft fire. From that height, the barrel bomb is impossible to target with any precision. It simply tumbles to earth, making its dreaded swishing sound as its contents shift back and forth, until it hits the ground and detonates.

Barrel bombs are so inaccurate that the Syrian military does not dare use them near the front lines for fear of hitting its own troops. Rather, it drops them well into territory held by rebel groups, knowing that they will destroy apartment buildings, hospitals, schools, and other institutions of civilian life. These indiscriminate weapons have made life so miserable for many civilians that some who do not flee the country choose to move their families near the front line, preferring to brave snipers and artillery rather than the horror of the barrel bombs.

When the Syrian government attacked civilians with chemical weapons, the United Nations Security Council pressured Assad to stop and to surrender his weapons. But as the Syrian government killed countless more civilians by indiscriminate attacks with conventional weapons such as barrel bombs, as well as cluster munitions, incendiary weapons, and unguided rockets, the Security Council has largely stood on the sidelines. A number of states have condemned the slaughter, but they have done little more to generate pressure to end it.

Russia has used its Security Council veto power to stop unified efforts to end the carnage. Russia, as well as Iran, has also refused to use their enormous influence in Damascus to press for an end to the indiscriminate attacks, despite demands from the Security Council, including Russia, for such attacks to cease. Referring Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to address serious international crimes by all sides, a step endorsed by more than 65 countries, remains anathema to Moscow.

The US-led coalition has taken on ISIS, but no nation—whether adversaries like the US, or backers like Russia and Iran—have increased pressure on Assad to stop the slaughter of civilians. The two cannot, and should not, be so easily separated

This selective concern has been a gift to ISIS recruiters, who portray themselves as the only ones willing and able to stand up to Assad’s atrocities. Simply attacking ISIS is clearly not going to end its appeal. A broader concern with protecting Syrian civilians is required.

To read more of Kenneth’s article please click here. You can follow Kenneth on twitter @KenRoth and you can follow Human Rights Watch there too – @hrw

World Report 2015 [FC]You can also purchase a hard copy of the World Report 2015 from the Policy Press website at a 20% discount here

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Celebrating Human Rights Day, 10 December

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

 

Would a Citizen’s Income make some people poorer than they are today?

The notion of a Citizen’s Income, an unconditional income for every individual as a right of citizenship, has been around for thirty years, thanks in no small part to the efforts of author and director of the Citizen’s Income Trust Dr Malcolm Torry. In today’s guest post, Dr Torry gives clarity and background to the recent debate over whether a Citizen’s Income would really leave some low-income families worse off.

Malcolm Torry, photo for websites, 2015An unconditional income for every individual as a right of citizenship would help to solve the problem of poverty and would create a more just society. This is no doubt why the Green Party voted to include a Citizen’s Income in its manifesto for the forthcoming General Election.

The details have not been published, but what is known is that the party intends a Citizen’s Income of £72 per week for every adult (less for children and young people, and more for elderly people), and that it would pay for it by abolishing personal tax allowances and means-tested benefits.

Current controversy around the Citizen’s Income was caused however by Andrew Neil’s interview with Natalie Bennett, the Leader of the Green Party. He suggested that because people would lose their personal tax allowance of something like £10,000, and would only receive £3,500 in Citizen’s Income, they would be worse off.

In making this suggestion it is clear that Neil had not understood that the cash value of a tax allowance is the value of the allowance multiplied by the tax rate; and Natalie Bennett didn’t pick him up on the mistake.

But even though the logic was erroneous, the idea was out there that a Citizen’s Income would lose people money.

Problem

The Green Party scheme might be similar to the Citizen Income Trust’s illustrative scheme that the Work and Pensions Select Committee published as evidence in 2006 and updated in 2013. There is no problem with affording this scheme, as the abolition of personal tax allowances, the abolition of means-tested benefits, and the restriction of pension contribution tax relief to the basic rate, would save enough money to pay for the whole of the UK population’s Citizen’s Incomes: but there is a problem with it.

For some low income households their Citizen’s Incomes would more than replace the value of their lost personal tax allowances, but they would not also replace the whole of their abolished Working Tax Credits.

Because the Citizen’s Income would never be withdrawn, additional earnings would produce more additional disposable income than additional earnings can produce in the context of means-tested benefits, so households suffering small losses at the point of implementation of a Citizen’s Income would be able to make them up quite easily by earning a little more. But this was clearly not a total solution, so more work was required.

In 2012 I used the Euromod modelling software maintained by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex to quantify the losses that low income households would experience; and during the summer of 2014 the Citizen’s Income Trust studied a number of schemes similar to our illustrative scheme. We found that we could reduce the losses but not eliminate them. So the search began for alternative methods of implementation.

Alternative

Work I subsequently carried out using Euromod showed that a revenue neutral Citizen’s Income scheme need not impose losses on low income households at the point of implementation if means-tested benefits are left in place and households’ Citizen’s Incomes are taken into account as income when their means-tested benefits are calculated. The 2012 and 2014 results were published together in an Institute for Social and Economic Research working paper and have been republished in a recent edition of the Citizen’s Income Newsletter.

The Guardian’s Political Editor, Patrick Wintour, then read our website, telephoned me for a discussion, and wrote an article stating that the Citizen’s Income Trust had said that the Green Party’s Citizen’s Income scheme would impose losses on low income families.

We had not said that – in fact, we had never commented on the Green Party’s scheme, except to note that they intended to develop one for their manifesto: but by noticing the similarities between our illustrative scheme and what the Green Party had so far said about theirs, Patrick Wintour had drawn his own conclusion and published it as if it was ours.

“…it is perfectly possible to implement a genuine Citizen’s Income of £72 a week without imposing losses on low income households…”

What he did not emphasise, which he might have done, is that we had proved that it is perfectly possible to implement a genuine Citizen’s Income of £72 a week without imposing losses on low income households if means-tested benefits are retained and households’ Citizen’s Incomes are taken into account when their benefits are calculated.

What other journalists have correctly noted is that if additional tax revenue is raised, either through higher Income Tax rates, through the implementation of a financial transaction tax, or through some other new tax, then a larger Citizen’s Income would become affordable. This would eliminate losses on low income households, and possibly on all households, without means-tested benefits having to be retained.

On the plus side, Patrick Wintour’s article, and the many articles that have followed it, in the Guardian, the Times, the Financial Times, and elsewhere, have stimulated a substantial increase in the level of the debate, which is exciting for the Citizen’s Income Trust. We have never before had so many people asking to join our mailing list, our website has never experienced so many daily visits, and we have never had so many new Twitter followers.

Later this year  Policy Press will be publishing my new book, 101 Reasons for a Citizen’s Income. This will be a short introduction to the subject, and cheap enough to enable readers to give copies to their friends, colleagues and relatives.

The need for the book is clearly urgent, and I’m working as hard as I can to finish it.

You can keep up to date with Citizen’s Income by following them on twitter @Citizensincome


Torry-MoneyForEveryoneDr Malcolm Torry’s book Money for Everyone: Why we need a Citizen’s Income (Policy Press, 2013) is available at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website – here.

His new book 101 Reasons for a Citizen’s Income publishes later this year. Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest information on forthcoming publications, be part of the Policy Press community and access members special offers.

The Citizen’s Income Trust was formed from a group of people who had gathered together thirty years ago to discuss how they might promote debate on a Citizen’s Income (then and sometimes still called a Basic Income), they became the Basic Income Research Group, and then the Citizen’s Income Trust. They promote debate on the desirability and feasibility of a Citizen’s Income. They publish the Citizen’s Income Newsletter, maintain a library and a website, hold meetings and conferences, and respond to requests for information. They run on voluntary labour and a shoestring budget. More information is available via their website – here.

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

Happy National Voter Registration Day 2015 #TakePower

One of the things we have been talking about at Policy Press is how we can do more to affect social change. Given that this is an election year our first area of focus is around increasing youth voter participation and so we are pleased to be supporting National Voter Registration Day today. Alison Shaw shares her thoughts on why Policy Press are supporting the campaign…

Policy Press - 018 resizeThe Scottish Referendum in September last year had the highest voter turn out in recent history, with a staggering 84.59% of people voting. The election enabled 16 – 17 year olds to vote for the first time in the UK and over 100,000 of them turned out, shattering the idea that young people as a whole are disengaged by the political process. 

Of course turning up at the polling station and making your mark in the voting booth is really the end point of a much longer journey – and one that starts with making sure that people are registered to vote.

Living in a democracy, as we do, voting is the main way in which we all have the power to make our voices heard. Consequently we’re supporting National Voter Registration Day (#NVRD) today. The campaign was set up in response to the lack of education and awareness around voter registration in the UK and last year NVRD registered 50,000 people. Raising the bar even higher, this year they have set a target of registering 250,000 people.

417-2NVRD focus on encouraging young people to register to vote and a quick look at the figures show why this is such an important group to focus on. In the 1964 general election just over 76% of 18 – 24 year olds turned out to vote. By 2010 that figure had fallen to 52% – though that was at least up on the 38% of young people who had turned out to vote in the 2005 general election.

What worries me is the sense that we have moved from a position of action and activism in the sixties, to a place of increasing youth voter apathy from the nineties, to a position now, potentially, of actively choosing not to vote. Whilst influential celebrities such as Russell Brand have done a sterling job of putting politics into the spotlight for a more disengaged generation, the idea of actively not voting as a way to give voice to the opinion that those who govern us do not fully represent us, is deeply counterintuitive to me.

I believe that not voting is a way to give those who go on to govern us more power not less. The lack of an overall majority in the 2010 general election left us with a hung parliament, resolved by the coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. In effect the Conservative party became the first party on the basis of achieving only 36% of the overall vote. By not voting, we effectively give politicians a mandate to do as they see fit, irrespective of whether that is in our best interests (and with a good chance that it won’t be).

Voting now is more important than ever. Since 2010 we have seen the rise and rise of austerity measures in politics and the impact that has on the lives of everyday people, including young people. Nearly 17% of 16 – 24 year olds are unemployed, and those who have opted to go to university will start their working lives with high levels of debt, and no guarantee of jobs when they graduate.

I believe we have a responsibility to be actively engaged in our democracy and to actively engage other people, including young people, in the process of democracy. What is positive is that we have access to more information, analysis and opinion on politics and policies today than we’ve ever had in modern history. And more than ever it would seem people are accessing this information from a variety of different sources, hungry for information they can trust.

The first step however is to make sure that people are registered to vote. Then, and only then, can we take the next steps to support them on that journey to the polling booth. We will be watching with interest today and engaging with bitetheballot.co.uk activities over the coming months, keeping you updated on our progress here. #TakePower #NVRD

If you enjoyed this, you may be interested in reading…

….the first in a new election series from the University of Bristol called Speakers’ Corner:

Speakers’ Corner: Have the Liberal Democrats lost the student vote?

Getting By, getting published and getting to ‘that London’

Writer, academic and guest blogger Lisa Mckenzie provides a personal and powerful insight into what it means to see her book Getting By published this week.

Lisa Mckenzie, author of 'Getting by'

Lisa Mckenzie, author of ‘Getting by’

After a lifetime of working class experience (mine as well as those in the book) and ten years’ of research, Getting By, is being published.

I have mixed feelings about reaching this stage of my research and my life: I am nervous about its publication, but also about the route my life is taking. I appear to have become part of the establishment at the London School of Economics, and, heaven help me, in ‘that London’.

The anxieties I have over my book becoming an item that you can hold in your hands, and something people can buy, are I suppose the normal anxieties every writer has when their thoughts are allowed out of their heads and into the public domain. Will anyone read this book? I hope they do, is my first reaction, quickly followed by, I hope they don’t.

With this book there is an added anxiety about how I have represented the people who have given me their time, their stories, allowed me to share in their lives. I carry a responsibility, as all researchers do to their respondents, to ensure they are not misrepresented. The way working class people, especially those who live on council estates, are misrepresented is at the heart of this book, and at the heart of the activism I undertake.

Devaluing and dehumanising

I know first-hand the painful consequences of what happens when working class people are devalued, what it means to be ‘looked down on’, ‘laughed at’, ‘ridiculed’ and despised. It hurts, and it is damaging. This type of institutional devaluing of any human being is also dangerous.

“the process of devaluing people…has been at the root of fascism, racism, slavery, and capitalism”

Without being too dramatic (actually why not, it is dramatic), the process of devaluing people is a way of dehumanising them which has been at the root of fascism, racism, slavery, and capitalism. It allows for the justification of the process and outcome of inequality, where some people can be treated badly, and/or cruelly while others receive equally unfair societal advantage.

The essence of this book is to show that the people who live on St Ann’s council estate in Nottingham have been subject to unfair disadvantages because they are working class, because they live in social housing, because they are low paid, unemployed and precarious. The book also makes clear that this kind of disadvantage, and any systematic devaluing of groups of people is structural, purposeful and historical.

People ‘like me’

I left school before I was 16, worked in a factory making tights for nine years, and am now researcher, author, teacher at the LSE, and in ‘that London’.

In 1984 when I left school at the beginning of the Miners’ Strike, education was not for the likes of me. My school careers interview consisted of asking me which factory I wanted to work in, and had I got one lined up? I said ‘yes thank you I’m going to work with my mum’, and I did.

“I believed the rhetoric and thought that it was my fault: I hadn’t worked hard enough at school”

My own story demonstrates clearly and obviously that I was subject to the unfair disadvantages that class inequality bestows on people ‘like me’. I, like many, believed the rhetoric and thought that it was my fault: I hadn’t worked hard enough at school and I wasn’t interested in education as a child.

However (and fortunately) that changed as I somehow found myself doing a sociology degree at the University of Nottingham as a mature student. It didn’t take me long to understand that I should have always been in higher education.

1415838227-class-war-women-wear-red-at-poor-doors-aldgate-protest_6252752A university education is a remarkable thing, and I am grateful for it, and to those who have imparted their knowledge to me, helped me and supported me. However that doesn’t stop me from being angry for my friends, my family, my community and my class, that the process of de-valuing working class people hurts them, and benefits others.

A question of representation

Consequently it lies heavy on me that I represent people who I think of ‘like me’ fairly and accurately. Does this mean that I show the people of St Ann’s in Nottingham as tireless working class heroes, chirpy in the face of inequality like the Downton Abbey servants? The deserving, humble, and not-angry-at-all working class? I’m sure those who are advantaged by our disadvantage would like that.

Or do I represent them as downtrodden victims of the endless misery that class distinction, and class inequality produces, perhaps in the way that George Orwell does in the Road to Wigan Pier?

And of course there are other ways to represent working class people and the neighbourhoods where they live as one-dimensional ghettos full of gangs, drugs, sex, and violence. This view would definitely grab the headlines give me a bit of fame, perhaps allow me to curry a bit of favour with the Daily Mail, and even get the ear of a Minister, they love that sort of thing.

None of this would be true, it wouldn’t be fair, and it would say nothing about the complexity of family life, community, and inequality in Britain today, or in actual fact, ever.

So what I have tried to do is bring to life the life, the people, and the situations I have known and lived. These are all of the above – heroes, villains, victims – and everything in between.

Stories from the ‘inside’

And lastly, since I have been in constant turmoil and anxiety of my own class position and how it relates to this book, my research, and now my life… why did I write this book at all?

I wanted and still want to tell the stories from the inside, from the position of a working class woman, with a common Nottingham accent. From the position of an academic who doesn’t know the correct grammatical use of ‘borrow’ and ‘lend’. From a granddaughter whose Granddad couldn’t read and write, and died from emphysema from working down the pit his whole life. And whose Grandma had 10 children and only left Nottinghamshire to go to Skegness for our holidays. She had never been to ‘that London’.

Getting by [FC]Getting by publishes on Wednesday 14th January and copies can be purchased at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website – here

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

Austerity Christmas: Why are the most vulnerable footing the bill for the country’s debts?

In addition to the revelry and merry making, Christmas is a time for reflecting on the past year. Director Alison Shaw looks back on the political play of 2014 and throws out some tough questions well worth ruminating on over the turkey and the cake this holiday season.

Policy Press - 018 resizeWhilst we publish work at Policy Press that challenges social problems, our team, like most of our readers and community, will be spending time this Christmas in comfort with families and friends (for which I am extremely grateful). I am conscious however that there are an enormous number of people who face a Christmas of poverty, distress and loneliness.

I can’t help but think, at this time of giving gifts and consuming an abundance of food, what about those people who cannot do this for their children and family, who are suffering from yet more cuts to their income and the services that support them? How do you actually live when your benefits have been sanctioned and you have no money for a month or three – nothing – zero. How about this for Christmas cheer:

“It’s Christmas Day. You don’t do any jobsearch, because it’s Christmas Day. So you get sanctioned. For not looking to see if anyone has advertised a new job on Christmas Day.” (Source: Poverty Alliance)

It is positively Dickensian. And not in the warm, comforting glow of A Christmas Carol.

The surprised look on the childrens faces when Father Christmas tells them he has fogotton the presents Credit: TheirHistory

1930s: The surprised look on the childrens’ faces when Father Christmas tells them he has forgotten the presents. Photo credit: TheirHistory

Reflecting on 2014, we have seen tough public spending cuts in the UK with promises of substantially more taking us back to 1930s level of public spending. What pains me is the severe hardship some of our most vulnerable citizens are in. There is constant talk from all the main parties of reducing the deficit, a seeming consensus, but what surprises me is the lack of animated public debate about this assumption. Surely the political decisions as to where the cuts happen, how much money needs to be saved and over what period needs questioning when the poor and vulnerable are seemingly bearing the biggest burden.

historic picture

I briefly looked at the historic picture to gain a longer view. According to the ONS September 2014 data General Government net borrowing (‘deficit’) was 5.9% of GDP in 2013/14 and gross debt was 87.8% of GDP. I think our debt has ranged from over 200% of GDP during World War II to as low as 25% in 1992, with the period from the 1920s to the mid 60s seeing debts of at least 100%, and often much higher, which seems to suggest we can live for long periods with a debt that is higher than the current one.

“..it makes me question whether the mantra that we have to cut the deficit is in fact a political position…”

I guess the key issue is the cost of servicing the debt, and again a longer view helps put the current situation in context: post World War II we paid about 4% of GDP in interest and by the 2000s it had dropped to 2%. The cost is now expected to be around 3%. So it makes me question whether the mantra that we have to cut the deficit is in fact a political position being taken around the size of government and public spending and not based on a necessity, as we are led to believe.

So, the point of all this is to really question why we are pulling back from helping those most in need? I admit to being incredulous that when we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world over 900,000 UK citizens had to be fed by The Trussel Trust food banks in 2013-14 because they could not eat without it. How did we get here?

I’m grateful that there is a growing body of accessible data on the subject of government spending and that we’ve been able to contribute to this over the past couple of months, enabling people to take a closer look at the numbers through publishing books such as Good times, bad times and Why we can’t afford the rich. Getting that kind of research out into the public domain is to my mind essential and it is only by increasing awareness of the cold hard facts, of encouraging people to interrogate the numbers with ever greater attention to detail, that we’re really going to be able to call our politicians to account. This of course is going to be something that will become ever more important as we run into the General Election in the UK next year.

Robin in the snow, Martin Mere. Photo credit: Gidzy

Robin in the snow, Martin Mere. Photo credit: Gidzy

Thanks to the tremendous support we’ve received this year from our authors and editors, customers and readers, retailers and suppliers. Policy Press has had a fabulous year publishing some really ground-breaking and influential work. As we all step back and take a few days’ break I hope that there will be time for reflection, as well as time to recharge batteries, ready to fling ourselves back into the fray in the New Year and keep on keeping on to get us to a better, fairer and more just society.

And now, stepping down from the soap box for 2014, I’d just like to wish you all a truly wonderful Christmas and New Year from everyone at Policy Press.


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