Archive for the 'Poverty and Inequality' Category

Protecting Children: Time for a new story

 

Protecting children [FC]

Protecting children is out now

As their new book, Protecting children: A social model, publishes this week, Brid Featherstone, Anna Gupta, Kate Morris and Susan White look at how child protection practice must adapt to reflect our changing world.

And so it goes on: the roll call of more children coming into care, more children living in poverty, more families using food banks and more families living in overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation.

 

It is painfully apparent that the settlement between the state and its citizens, forged post-war, has been undermined profoundly, if not broken, over the last decades. Increasingly, expectations of decent work, secure and affordable homes and enough to eat can no longer be guaranteed by a state that is experienced as both intrusive and neglectful, especially by those living in poverty, with a subsequent loss of trust and widespread feelings of alienation and disconnection.

The policies and practices that have been developed to protect children must be understood and located within this wider canvas. While the state and its resources allegedly shrink, its gaze is harder and its tongue sharper. As part of an increasingly residual role, the system has become narrowly focused on an atomised child, severed from family, relationships and economic and social circumstances:  a precarious object of ‘prevention’, or rescue. As its categories and definitions have gradually grown, the gap between child protection services and family support, or ordinary help has, somewhat paradoxically, widened.

Indeed, the child protection mandate struggles to move beyond holding individuals (usually mothers) responsible for managing children’s protection, thus, in effect, privatising what are often public troubles and outsourcing their management to those often most harmed by such troubles.  When they almost inevitably struggle to cope, state responses incline towards removal and the rupture of connections and networks with ethical and human rights considerations becoming casualties of a risk averse climate and narrow and reductive understandings of children’s outcomes.

“Austerity has made things very much worse as successive governments, since 2010, have pummelled the poorest areas of our country and the poorest families relentlessly.”

Austerity has made things very much worse as successive governments, since 2010, have pummelled the poorest areas of our country and the poorest families relentlessly.   But it is vital we recognise the roots of our current malaise go way back and are intimately connected to a long-standing tendency to see child protection as something apart, the province of uniquely troubled families and thus disconnected from the wider contexts in which all families seek to survive and thrive.

The following deep-rooted assumptions are core to the child protection story:

  • The harms children and young people need protecting from are normally located within individual families and are caused by actions of omission or commission by parents and/or other adult caretakers;
  • These actions/inactions are due to factors ranging from poor attachment patterns, dysfunctional family patterns, parenting capacity, faulty learning styles to poor/dangerous lifestyle choices;
  • The assessment of risk and parenting capacity is ‘core business’ and interventions are focused on effecting change in family functioning.

In our new book Protecting Children: A Social Model we argue for a new story to support more hopeful and socially just policies and practices. This would oblige rooting the protection of children within broader understandings of what all families need to flourish and locating such understandings within the scholarship on inequality and poverty. Crucially, it means developing a range of strategies and practices to deal with the social determinants of many of the harms experienced within families such as domestic abuse, mental health difficulties and addiction issues; all pervasive features of highly unequal societies such as ours.

“Social work practice needs to be re-thought obliging the re-visiting of the old and engagement with the new.”

Social work practice needs to be re-thought obliging the re-visiting of the old and engagement with the new. When there is widespread misery and deprivation, how can the individually focused home visit continue too often to be the only game in town?   Collective strategies must be considered in a project that promotes community work, locality based approaches and peer support and is founded on seeing families as a source of expertise about system design and best practice.

Building on the ideas in the best-selling Re-imagining Child Protection: towards humane social work with families, and drawing from a wide range of social theorists and disciplines, we identify policies and practices to argue for a social model of protecting children that is animated by the need to:

  • Understand and tackle root causes;
  • Rethink the role of the state;
  • Develop relationship(s) based practice and co-production; and
  • Embed a dialogic approach to ethics and human rights in policy and practice

Re-imagining child protection [FC].jpgRe-imagining child protection by Brid Featherstone, Susan White and Kate Morris is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.19.

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 Bristol University Press and Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

The soul of a university: prologue

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Chris Brink

by Chris Brink

The soul of a university: Why excellence is not enough is out now from Bristol University Press

“Aristotle characterised the soul as ‘the essential what-ness’ of a living body. On this definition, and if we accept the university as a living body, the question of the soul of the university is a question about its essence.

Universities are among the most durable institutions society ever invented. You can trace the idea of a university back to Greek philosophers, or Chinese sages, or Islamic madrassas. Even just its European manifestation goes back almost a thousand years. Somehow, despite their wide variety, there is something recognisable about a university. We feel that if a time machine dropped us into a university of say 500 years ago, we would recognise it, and not feel out of place there. Likewise, we hope that if the time machine brought us forward in time to the year 2500, we would still find universities recognisable, and flourishing.

Such durability must be a consequence of the unchanging essence, the soul, of a university. And while we might dispute details and offer different formulations, there can be little doubt that the essence of a university has to do with the exercise of reason. Reason exercised, in particular, in the pursuit of knowledge and the search for truth. When we engage in learning and scholarship we do so in a certain way, and we try to inculcate that way in our students. We follow the way of rationality. This is not to say that universities do not adapt. They do. They may be maddeningly slow, and they may wander off into detours and dead ends, but they are not ignorant of what happens in society, because professors are people, and students even more so. So when we say there is something unchanging about the university – that there is an identifiable essence that characterises it – this is not an indictment of resistance to change. It is an affirmation of enduring value.

“The very essence of a university, it seems, is under threat.”

Having said that, it must be recognised that at present universities are confronted with a societal change so fundamental it is hard to know how it will turn out. The very essence of a university, it seems, is under threat. Throughout the history of universities, the exercise of reason, the pursuit of knowledge and the search for truth have enjoyed the respect and support of society. But no longer. Or at least no longer to the extent to which universities have always taken such respect for granted. It is hard to think of any earlier time when the very concept of truth itself has been undermined and constrained as at present.

Towards the end of 2016, the Oxford English Dictionary selected ‘post-truth’ as its word of the year. In a post-truth world, appearance matters more than reality, and what people can be led to believe takes precedence above what they ought to know.

With hindsight we can see the signs. In the penultimate chapter of his 1997 book Truth: A History and a Guide for the Perplexed, the historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto traces what he calls ‘the death of conviction’, and the role of intellectuals in its demise. Deconstruction, postmodernism, relativism: the intellectual whiteanting of truth is well documented. Since the millennium, the decline of truth has accelerated. Iraq was invaded on the grounds of weapons of mass destruction, which were not found. The financial crisis of 2007–8 destroyed trust in the probity of banks and the veracity of governments. The widening inequality gap led to the rage of the Occupy movement. And, increasingly, a disenchanted electorate refused to vote as they were supposed to, turning to unexpected charismatics stronger on promise than on experience.

In the UK, the leader of a political party signed a pledge, on camera, against any increase in student fees, and then, as part of a coalition government, voted to triple them. Another party elected as leader a man with no clear expertise but a messianic message, and although 80% of his parliamentary colleagues initially declared that they had no confidence in him, the electorate gave him an extra 30 seats in parliament. A former secretary of state for education declared that the people have had enough of experts. A new prime minister called a general election in the confident expectation of significantly increasing the government’s majority, and lost it. The United States of America elected as president a billionaire with no experience whatsoever of government, but an instinctive mastery of social media and an oceanic reservoir of self-belief as an exponent of the art of the deal. France swept aside both the established left and the established right, and elected a president who had never fought an election, and a party which had not existed a year before.

At the same time, we see a new isolationism taking shape. Three decades after the wall came down in Berlin, new walls, physical or metaphysical, are being constructed. Scotland threatens to leave the United Kingdom, Catalonia may leave Spain, and England voted to leave the European Union. A post-referendum secretary of state re-affirmed the government’s intention of bringing immigration into the UK down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands, starting with a clampdown on international students. A prime minister declared that ‘If you see yourself as a citizen of the world you are a citizen of nowhere. You do not understand the concept of citizenship.’

Both the post-truth and isolationist developments are contrary to the idea of a university. Universities are where experts come from. The search for truth is what makes an expert. Truth knows no boundaries and no national identity. Universities, for hundreds of years, have welcomed anybody, regardless of national or cultural identity, who has the ability to contribute to, or the potential to benefit from, an environment concerned with  knowledge and understanding. That is why universities have always been international entities, ever since medieval wandering scholars commuted between Bologna and Paris and Oxford. The post-truth conception of the world undermines the idea of a university, and the new isolationism constrains it.

It may be argued that the current developments are just a new manifestation of the old tension between logic and rhetoric. But that would be to flatter the post-truth Twitterati. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were all fairly scathing about the sophists, but they took rhetoric seriously, and no sophist would have openly flouted logic, though they were adept at twisting it. It used to be the case that public figures who contradicted themselves were held up to ridicule. Reductio ad absurdum has long been a powerful weapon for destroying the credibility of an opponent. But no longer. The Trumpeters have discovered that contradicting yourself is a way of validating any opinion. In the post-truth world of social media you can always refer back to the currently convenient half of your previous contradiction, and trust to the short attention span of your audience to forget the other half.

Any thought of a response must begin with an admission. As academics, we have been complacent in watching the new posttruth spirit develop, complicit in facilitating it, and compliant in accommodating its consequences. Which is odd. How can we say that we strive for knowledge when we disdain truth?

There are two key questions we should always ask about our academic work. The first is: what are we good at? The second is: what are we good for? The first question is about excellence: who is expert at what? The second question is about purpose: how do we respond to the needs and demands of society? Both questions are important and legitimate. We have been complicit in a relentless focus on the first question, and complacent in the face of a growing revolt about our lack of focus on the second.

“The UK and US like to boast about the world-class excellence of their top academics, counting their Nobel prizes like their Olympic gold medals.”

Inequality is about the distance between the haves and the have-nots. In the UK and the US the economic distance between the top and the bottom is greater now than it has ever been. This is worth taking note of, because there is a strong argument that social ills proliferate in direct correlation with economic inequality. The greater the distance between the rich and the poor, the more social problems the state will face. The same, I hold, is true for educational inequality. The UK and US like to boast about the world-class excellence of their top academics, counting their Nobel prizes like their Olympic gold medals. At the same time, just as the rich are stratospherically above the poor, and the super-athletes are on another plane than the obese masses, the star academics float above an underclass of barely literate and largely innumerate people who, we now know, are very angry. They have been fed a sugary diet of appearances rather than a healthy dose of truth, to the extent that they cannot recognise the difference any more. They do not understand the experts, nor do they interact with them. Whatever lingering vestiges of respect there might have been for clever people has been eroded by a lack of evidence that their work benefits everybody. There has not been a clear educational trickledown effect, just as there has not been an economic trickle-down effect. The knowledge gap, like the wealth gap, has become too large to endure.

The central thesis of this book is that universities should pay attention to the question of what they are good for with the same rigour and determination as they pursue the question of what they are good at. This is not entirely a new idea. I quote a somewhat obscure medieval scholar called Boethius of Dacia as saying that the supreme good open to man is to know the true and pursue the good – and to take delight in both. You can read his own words on this topic in the Epilogue, and you can trace his idea back to Aristotle.

We have not been paying sufficient attention to parity between the two guiding questions about the true and the good. We have self-indulgently been focusing on the former. Some have done so by undermining the very idea of truth. Among the remainder, who have no problem with truth, there is a school of thought that the search for truth is an end in itself – that advancing the frontiers of knowledge will suffice as a response to the question about societal benefit. We may call this the ‘invisible hand’ argument: that knowledge will always, in the fullness of time, through the workings of an invisible hand, bring benefit to society. Many of us accept this maxim as true, but some of us feel that it cannot be the whole truth. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is necessary, but not sufficient, for addressing the needs and demands of civil society. Its benefits are unpredictable in nature and slow in coming.

In global society space has shrunk and time has accelerated to the extent that responsiveness to the challenges facing us cannot wait for the workings of the invisible hand in the knowledge economy. Universities need to engage with the challenges faced by civil society, global and local. We should do so with a proper understanding of when the pursuit of knowledge should be challenge-led rather than curiosity-driven, and how these two methodologies differ from and interact with each other. The societal benefit of having experts should be made manifest. We have not been clear about the feedback loop between excellence and relevance.

In expounding my thesis, I have found it necessary to introduce some new ideas and debunk some common assumptions. ‘Applied research’, for example, is almost exactly what I am not talking about when I speak of ‘challenge-led research’. Applied research is a solution looking for a problem, challenge-led research is the opposite. I also have severe concerns about the fashionable idea of ‘merit’, and the accompanying socio-political construct of a meritocracy. A meritocracy, I argue, is much the same as an aristocracy, except that those at the top have higher self-esteem. Third, I am somewhat impatient with bogus quantification, and the deferential respect commonly paid to any conclusion arising from the application of a formula. We are prone to confusing accuracy of calculation with legitimacy of conclusion. This tendency is well illustrated by the current craze for university rankings. It takes only a little scrutiny to realise that these rankings are normative at least as much as they are substantive. They create a reality more than reflect a reality. Any competent arithmetician could easily find a perfectly plausible formula and a decent data set that will deliver pretty much any ranking you want.

“Rankings are a perfect manifestation of the post-truth society. “

Rankings are a perfect manifestation of the post-truth society. They give the appearance of certainty and avoid the complexities of truth. In response to a question about quality they offer a single number, which is your university’s position on their ranking. And they get away with it, on the apparently unimpeachable grounds that the result was obtained by a mathematical calculation.

Behind almost any discussion about universities is the question of quality. What makes a ‘good university’? This question, which occupies not only academics but millions of parents and prospective students, is of course only a proxy for a more fundamental question: what do we mean by ‘good’? Following Boethius of Dacia, I hold that ‘good’ has at least two dimensions: good as in excellent, and good as in virtuous. On the latter, less explored axis, quality is inseparable from equality. Likewise, equality is inseparable from diversity, which leads me to conclude that quality needs diversity.

I have now said what my book is for. If you ask, on the other hand, what my book is against, it is the poverty of linearism. ‘Linear’ just means ‘as if on a straight line’, which is how ordinary numbers are arranged. A straight line is the simplest representation of one-dimensionality. When we assign everything a number we have enforced a situation where, of any two things, one of them has a higher number than the other, and so is presumed to be better. Linearism, then, is a lazy preference for the apparent certainty of one dimension rather than the multidimensional complexities of truth. A ranking, of universities or anything else, is a numbered list, which is a one-dimensional representation of whatever reality we started with. The problem is not that it is done, but that it is so easily and uncritically accepted as a true representation of reality, rather than a preferential ordering. I can easily rank apples above oranges; that will tell you something about my preferences but nothing about fruit.

The antidote to one-dimensionality is more dimensions. I advocate an academic landscape, the two axes of which are excellence and purpose. The excellence axis is our response to the question of what we are good at; the axis of societal purpose is our response to the question of what we are good for. As in any landscape, the two axes are conveniently thought of as being orthogonal: at right angles to each other. Such a conceptualisation is half metaphorical and half practical. Metaphorically, I argue, we should envisage the good as orthogonal to the true. In practical terms, what this means is that challenge-led research cuts across disciplinary research (for which we use words like ‘cross-disciplinary’), and the idea of knowledge in service of society cuts across the idea of knowledge for its own sake.

One advantage of the landscape metaphor is that we are not trapped by another common assumption, which is that academic debate presents itself as a series of binary oppositions. It is not the case that we are talking of excellence versus purpose; the good versus the true. Instead, we can talk of excellence and purpose, knowing the true and pursuing the good. We can delight in both, because each can reinforce the other.

On the metaphor of an academic landscape each university could determine for itself its desired coordinates. What subjects do you wish to be good at? And what contribution do you wish to make to the challenges facing civil society? Given your circumstances, location, history, opportunities and responsibilities, where would you like to be located on the axis of excellence, and where on the axis of societal relevance? And how do these two ambitions interact, and mutually reinforce each other?

In the same way as we all strive to be a ‘world-class’ university on the axis of excellence, we can all strive to be a ‘civic’ university on the axis of societal purpose. ‘Civic’ is nicely ambiguous: it can refer to your interaction with your city or region, but it can also refer to your responsibility to civil society – local, national or global. Just as a world-class university knows what it is good at, and has the evidence to back it up, a civic university is one that knows what it is good for, and has the evidence to back it up.

“Locating ourselves on an academic landscape means we can compete when competition will suffice and collaborate where joint action is necessary.”

For better or for worse, the good-at axis has developed as a competitive one – a fact the rankers have clearly perceived and ruthlessly exploited. The good-for axis, however, is intrinsically a collaborative one. Tackling climate change, or clean energy, or antimicrobial resistance, or obesity, or inequality, or extremism, or any other grand challenge facing global society, is unlikely to be the work of some lone genius. It will be the work of committed teams with various forms of expertise, interacting on different fronts. Locating ourselves on an academic landscape means we can compete when competition will suffice and collaborate where joint action is necessary.

And so, in summary, this book is one of advocacy. It is a set of academic considerations regarding the soul of a university. In a post-truth society we need to keep up the search for truth and understanding, but we need to do so with a better understanding of why we are doing it, and a clear commitment that academic excellence must respond to the challenges facing civil society. In an increasingly fractured world, we need to combat isolationism with the simple truth that your problem will no longer stop at my border, nor mine at yours. It is up to us to demonstrate that the world can still benefit from wandering scholars.

 

The soul of a university FCThe soul of a university by Chris Brink is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

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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 Bristol University Press and Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

A democratic answer to neoliberalism and authoritarianism

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Bryn Jones

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Mike O’Donnell

Bryn Jones and Mike O’Donnell, editors of Alternatives to neoliberalism,  examine the problems of authoritarian nationalism and explain that the best hope for greater equality and quality of life lies with people themselves, and in more, not less democracy. The paperback of Alternatives to neoliberalism is out now.

When the hardback edition of our co-edited book was published in early 2017, it was the long, harsh aftermath of the 2007-8 financial crisis and subsequent recession – encapsulated in the term ‘austerity’ – that we challenged and sought answers to.

Along with a growing number of progressive critics and politicians, we named the extreme free-market ideology of neoliberalism as the underlying cause of the economic and social disruption that still persists. Alternatives to neoliberalism offers a range of democratic and egalitarian alternatives from progressive academics and policy practitioners. Their answers apply now even more urgently and provide a concrete vision of a participative society in which power is exercised by citizens, routinely in the communities and institutions in which they engage, and through robust systems of accountability at regional and national levels.

In the last year the need to defend and extend democracy and social justice has become even more acute. The neoliberal theorist, Fredrick Hayek, was a proponent of ‘the free-market’ but tended towards political and social authoritarianism so that business could be executed with the minimum of inconvenience. One man’s freedom…

“Liberal capitalist regimes, especially neoliberal ones, tend to respond to economic crisis and the social protest it provokes, with a shift to authoritarianism.”

However, the current resurgence of authoritarianism in many parts of the world, notably in the United States, Eastern Europe and Russia, and the Philippines, is not significantly the product of theoretical thinking – rather the opposite.  Liberal capitalist regimes, especially neoliberal ones, tend to respond to economic crisis and the social protest it provokes, with a shift to authoritarianism. Thus, they impose austerity on the majority in order to pay off debts caused mainly by financial speculation. The cry ‘we are all in this together’ rings out and populist nationalism is offered as the antidote to ‘the peoples’ complaints.

In reality, political turbulence following economic chaos serves to obscure the real causes of crisis and misleads popular opinion. ‘Taking back control’ in terms of sustained democratic participation is a fair description of what is least likely to happen. Alternatives to neoliberalism seeks to make these processes transparent and to offer solutions.

“…populist leaders and supportive media frame ‘the solution’ in terms of a supposed long-suffering national majority and ‘others’.”

Authoritarian nationalism typically couches the promise of restoring economic prosperity in terms of cultural inclusion and exclusion. These two aspects are rhetorically conflated as populist leaders and supportive media frame ‘the solution’ in terms of a supposed long-suffering national majority and ‘others’, frequently recent migrants or more established but easily differentiated and scapegoated groups. This was the scenario in inter-war Germany and is currently being played out in numerous parts of the world, if for now in somewhat less brutal terms. Why ‘we’ behave in this way is not best explained in terms of the psychopathology of the few – although that has some traction – than in the exploitation of insecurity and want.

It need not be so. The message of our book is fundamentally optimistic. Sceptical of the sustained intentions of remote elites to deliver on electoral promises, we believe that the best hope for greater equality and quality of life lies with people themselves, in more, not less democracy.  However, we mean this not in terms of current populist bombast but in the extension of citizens’ engagement and rights.

Thomas Marshall’s classic book on citizenship published in 1950 chronicles the development of a trilogy citizen’s rights in Britain; civil (legal), political and social. We advocate a fourth phase in the accretion of citizen’s rights: the development and implementation of democratic participation and accountability from the bottom to the top of society. Already many community and voluntary organisations as well as more formal organisations such as trade unions and small businesses contribute to sustain their localities.

Anna Coote, a contributor to the book, argues for a ‘new social settlement’ that would channel capital and resources ‘upstream’ drawing on civic organisation and vitality, leaving to residents more control of expenditure and development be it, for instance, in social care, additional educational and leisure facilities, community enterprise, and the maintenance and protection of the environment.  A complementary policy presented in the book would require supermarkets to negotiate and contract for the provision of certain services such as sourcing a minimum quota of local produce and/or meeting enhanced environmental standards.

“Such redistribution of power as we are currently seeing is into the hands of populist politicians.”

Building a more participative society will take organisation. Like any major change it has a political as well as a socio-economic dimension. It requires a redistribution of power. An increase in democratic participation in locally based institutions of, for instance, big business, education and in budget allocation will cumulatively have major regional and national implications. If sustained it will create a participative democratic society. Such redistribution of power as we are currently seeing is into the hands of populist politicians.

After the virulently totalitarian inter-war bout of authoritarianism and the war required to defeat it, there was a widespread desire for social reform. That reform, Marshall’s third phase of citizens’ rights, has been pushed back and as a priority must be defended and re-established. But beyond necessity awaits the tantalising possibility of a society of meaningful participation and opportunity.

Jones_Alternatives to neoliberalism [FC]Alternatives to neoliberalism edited by Bryn Jones and Mike O’Donnell is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £20.79.

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.

‘Ain’t no such things as half-way crooks’: political discourses and structural duplicity in the troubled families agenda

Troublemakers FC

‘Troublemakers’ by Stephen Crossley came out in April

Stephen Crossley, author of Troublemakers: The construction of ‘troubled families’ as a social problemdiscusses the National evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme 2015 to 2020 interim findings, ‘dirty data’, his approach and methodology and the purpose of academic research.

Academics from different disciplines are often expected to demonstrate the impact of their research and this impact can be expected to relate to demonstrable changes in policy and/or practice. Such aims can lead to research being commissioned and published that is amenable to the interests of policy-makers and politicians. But there can be dangers in this, especially in the UK at the current time where many academics would not feel comfortable aligning themselves with some of the policies being pursued or advocated by our government or other powerful institutions.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu railed against ‘lackey intellectuals’ (Stabile and Morooka, 2010: 329) who put themselves in the service of neoliberal governments and, along with his long-time collaborator Loïc Wacquant, referred to such individuals as ‘defector[s] from the academic world entered into the service of the dominant, whose mission is to give an academic veneer to the political projects of the new state and business nobility’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 2001: 1).

“Sociology should not be a ‘disinterested calling pursued for purely intellectual and aesthetic reasons’ and instead should be ‘committed to, and involved in, solving current problems’”

In studying the implementation of the Troubled Families Programme (TFP) for my PhD and for Troublemakers, I wanted to adopt a different approach. Drawing on the work of Bourdieu and Wacquant, as well as other sociologists who have urged researchers to remember whose side they are on and to ‘study up’, I decided that ‘muckraking’ sociological approach would be appropriate. Gary T. Marx argued for a ‘muckraking sociology’ which, using the tools of social science, could help to unearth ‘dirty data’. Marx, like many others, proposed that sociology should not be a ‘disinterested calling pursued for purely intellectual and aesthetic reasons’ and instead should be ‘committed to, and involved in, solving current problems’ (1972: 4).

Writing in the 1970s, but with continuing relevance, he argued that muckraking research should help to document and publicise ‘the gap between values and actual practices and in questioning established orthodoxies’ (Marx, 1972: 2), and could be of benefit to those groups seeking change. Such research, Marx argued, could ‘give us a clearer picture of our world, stripped of protective verbiage and without the usual selective perceptions (and misperceptions)’ (1972: 4–5). In a passage particularly relevant to an examination of the TFP and its emphasis on ‘hands-on’ practical support for disadvantaged families, while marginalising structural inequalities and poverty, Marx argued that muckraking research ‘can expose the fallacies in certain common sense beliefs about social problems and show how certain ideas rationalize an unsatisfactory status quo’ (1972: 5) He goes on suggest that:

Such research uses the tools of social science to document unintended (or officially unacknowledged) consequences of social action, inequality, poverty, racism, exploitation, opportunism, neglect, denial of dignity, hypocrisy, inconsistency, manipulation, wasted resources and the displacement of an organization’s stated goals in favour of self-perpetuation. It may show how, and the extent to which, a dominant or more powerful class, race, group or stratum takes advantage of, misuses, mistreats, or ignores a subordinate group, often in the face of an ideology that claims it does exactly the opposite.

Such an approach has been particularly fruitful in studying the TFP. Research by myself and other academics have unearthed a large amount of ‘dirty data’ relating to the programme ‘whose revelation would be discrediting or costly’ to the government and that goes beyond incidental or minor inconsistencies, errors of judgement or ‘soft-core discrepancies’ (Marx, 1984: 79).

“The government claimed to have evidence that there were 120,000 ‘troubled families characterised by crime, anti-social behaviour, school exclusion and ‘worklessness’. It didn’t.”

In 2011, at the launch of the programme, the government claimed to have evidence that there were 120,000 ‘troubled families characterised by crime, anti-social behaviour, school exclusion and ‘worklessness’. It didn’t.

It had evidence that, around seven years earlier, there were around 120,000 families that were experiencing ‘multiple disadvantages’ such as poverty, material deprivation, poor housing, and poor maternal mental health. The government claimed that the programme ‘turned around’ the lives of 99% of the 120,000 ‘troubled families it originally set out to work with. It didn’t.

Families that turned themselves around with no contact with the programme were counted in the TFP figures. Families could, in some circumstances, be classed as having been ‘turned around’ by a child reaching school leaving age. The effectiveness of the ‘family intervention’ model, on which the TFP is based, had, in the words of David Gregg, been ‘sexed up’. Research was carried out without appropriate ethical procedures. Statistics and surveys that formed the basis of the need for ‘radical reform’ were invented. Local authorities were effectively threatened with naming and shaming if they didn’t ‘turn around’ 100% of their families in the first phase of the project. Local authority officers on the programme complained of staff from DCLG phoning them up to complain about slow progress. It was alleged that the government attempted to ‘suppress’ the official evaluation of the programme when it failed to provide them with the support it was expecting. Researchers who critiqued the programme had their competence and their integrity publicly called into question. A parliamentary committee accused the DCLG (now the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) of obfuscation and evasion in its lack of co-operation with an inquiry into the programme.

While I was carrying out my research, I was reminded of Mobb Deep’s assertion that there ‘aint’ no such things as half-way crooks’. In more academic terms, Bourdieu (1985: 738) argued that ‘political discourses have a sort of structural duplicity’, and the ‘troubled families’ agenda is a clear-cut example of this. It relies on deceit and duplicity at all levels, and the catalogue of inconsistencies, contradictions and falsehoods listed above cannot be put down to individual errors of judgement or mere coincidence.

Troublemakers focuses attempts to explicate and lay bare the overblown claims of the programme, the underhandedness, political chicanery and ‘structural duplicity’ that has been evident throughout the programme, and the symbolical importance of the programme at a time of wider state restructuring. It is, in short, an attempt to rake all, or as much as possible in a little over 200 pages, of the muck associated with the TFP into a single heap.

References

Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L. (2001) NewLiberalSpeak: Notes on the new planetary vulgate, Radical Philosophy, 105: 2-5.

Marx, G.T. (1972) (ed.) Muckraking Sociology: Research as Social Criticism, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.

Stabile, C.A. and Morooka, J. (2010) ‘Between Two Evils, I Refuse To Choose The Lesser’, Cultural Studies, 17 (3-4): 326-348.

Troublemakers FCTroublemakers by Stephen Crossley is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.99.

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Conceptual issues in welfare debates

Exploring welfare debates [FC] rgb

Exploring welfare debates is out this week!

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

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

There is a companion website available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Exploring welfare debates [FC] rgb

 

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Roma in a time of paradigm shift and chaos

 

authos

Andrew Ryder and Marius Taba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How grounded are new trends in Roma Identity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Troubled Families Programme: changing everything, yet changing nothing

 

Troublemakers FC

‘Troublemakers’ is out now

Stephen Crossley, author of Troublemakers: The construction of ‘troubled families’ as a social problem – out today – examines the most recent Troubled Families Programme Outcomes report, which published last week.

 

The Evolution of the Trouble Families Programme

The Troubled Families Programme (TFP), originally tasked with ‘turning around’ the lives of 120,000 ‘troubled families’ in a single term of parliament has evolved into a different type of programme since its inception, albeit one with many enduring features. The expanded criteria for the second phase of the TFP shifted from allegedly criminal, anti-social and ‘workless’ families, to include those experiencing troubles such as domestic violence and health issues.

The ‘next phase’ of the programme, announced in April 2017, sought to bring sharper focus to the work of the TFP by emphasising the need to support ‘workless’ families into employment. The criteria for identifying and prioritising families for the programme changed, the outcomes expected by the programme also shifted, but some core, sometimes unintentional, features of the programme remain, including the labelling of disadvantaged families as ‘troubled’.

 

Disproving the ‘underclass’ theory

The most recent findings, published on 27th March, highlight some continuities with previous ‘troubled families’ publications.

“Fewer than 10% of ‘troubled families’ were involved with one or more anti-social behaviour incidents in the twelve months prior to entering the programme”

By way of example, we learn from the latest Outcomes report that:

  • Fewer than 10% of ‘troubled families’ were involved with one or more anti-social behaviour incidents in the twelve months prior to entering the programme (p24);
  • Only one in three ‘troubled families’ are classed as ‘workless’ (p20);
  • Fewer than 2% of ‘troubled families’ had ever been evicted (p21);
  • and just 2.8% of children in ‘troubled families’ had a caution in the 12 months prior to entering the programme.

The findings thus mirror two sets of evaluation data from the first phase of the programme (Final report on the family monitoring data and An interim report showing family monitoring data), and demonstrate that the stigmatising feckless, workshy, ‘neighbours from hell’ imagery associated with ‘troubled families’ courtesy of powerful individuals such as David Cameron, Eric Pickles and Louise Casey, is entirely inappropriate. Essentially, the official evaluation of the TFP is the latest in a long line of research that helps to disprove the longstanding theory of an ‘underclass’.

 

Changing nothing

The impact of the programme also continues to look problematic, considering this was a flagship social policy that was originally intended to ‘turn around’ the lives of ‘troubled families’ and change the way that the government intervened in their lives.

The impact study of the first phase of the programme was ‘unable to find consistent evidence’ that the programme ‘had any significant or systematic impact’ (p20). Since the renewed focus on tackling ‘worklessness’ was announced in April 2017, 104,809 families were worked with on the programme. Of these, just 4,807 families entered ‘continuous employment’ in the last year. In just under three years, not a single ‘troubled family’ in Newham (out of 2858 on the programme) has met the ‘continuous employment’ criteria according to the latest figures. And yet, over a slightly longer period, over 1000 families met this criteria in Liverpool. The difference between such figures (and there are plenty of other inconsistencies) is not explained.

The main finding in the Outcomes report is that a significantly smaller proportion of children were classed as children in need (a 3.9 percentage point difference, a statistically significant difference) after 6-12 months of work under the TFP, than similar families in a matched comparison groups who were not on the programme over a similar period. This improvement is to be welcomed, but given the resources allegedly attached to the TFP, the intensive, transformative approach, and the allegedly failing approach of other services, it hardly represents conclusive evidence that the family intervention model is worth the effort.

 

Deflection

The continuing focus on ‘families’ – either ‘troubled’ or ‘workless’ – and on the family intervention approach continues to deflect attention away from the quantity and quality of jobs on offer, and their suitability or otherwise for carers of young children and/or disabled or vulnerable adults. The potential consequences of poor, or insecure, or sporadic work on disadvantaged families’ lives remained undiscussed. Poor quality, poorly paid, irregular work, often at unsociable hours in the early morning or late at night, accompanied by potential or changes to benefits entitlements, does not always lead to less parental conflict, more support for ‘children in need’, or a greater, more sustainable income. The pejorative term ‘workless’ ignores the amount of domestic and caring work that takes place within ‘troubled families’, many of whom have young children and/or family members with health issues or disabilities.

“The transformation of local services that the government claims is taking place under the TFP appears to be driven more by ideology than evidence.”

 

Ideology not evidence

Despite the evidence that suggests a lack of impact in many areas, there also remains claims of the allegedly transformative aims of the TFP. As each phase of the programme has been announced, and as its profile and importance has dropped, there has been an increase in the extent to which the programme claims to be transforming and re-shaping local services. The most recent annual report claims that the programme ‘drives service reform’, ‘drives reduction in social care demand’ and ‘promotes social justice’. Problematic and/or slow progress of many families on the programme suggests that the family intervention approach might not be worth ‘rolling out’ and ‘mainstreaming’. The transformation of local services that the government claims is taking place under the TFP appears to be driven more by ideology than evidence.

 

Troublemakers FCTroublemakers by Stephen Crossley is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.99.

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

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