Archive for the 'Poverty and Inequality' Category

The truth about benefits sanctions

300,000 people have had their benefits suddenly stopped by sanctions in the last 12 months, many of whom have been plunged into poverty, unable to heat their homes or even eat.

On today’s National Day of Action Against Sanctions, Ruth Patrick highlights the reality of welfare reform as laid out in her new book, For whose benefit? The truth is that our punitive welfare reform agenda leaves people further away rather than closer to the paid labour market.

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Ruth Patrick

“While Cameron and Osborne may no longer be in charge, their welfare reform agenda continues apace. This month sees the implementation of another wave of reforms, which will further weaken Britain’s social security system.

Over recent years, politicians have robustly defended successive rounds of welfare reform. They argue that reform is needed to end supposed cultures of ‘welfare dependency’ and prevent people from being able to ‘choose’ benefits as a ‘lifestyle choice’. In making their case, politicians draw upon simplistic but powerful demarcations between ‘hard working families’ and ‘welfare dependants’, and suggest that welfare reform will help those on out-of-work benefits join the ranks of the hard working majority.

As David Cameron put it back in 2014:

“Our long-term economic plan for Britain is not just about doing what we can afford, it is also about doing what is right. Nowhere is that more true than in welfare. For me the moral case for welfare reform is every bit as important as making the numbers add up: building a country where people aren’t trapped in a cycle of dependency but are able to get on, stand on their own two feet and build a better life for themselves and their family.”

But does Cameron’s moral case stand up? And has welfare reform actually helped people make transitions from ‘welfare’ and into work?

“The truth is that our punitive welfare reform agenda leaves people further away rather than closer to the paid labour market.”

Patrick_For whose benefit-webOver the past six years, I have been researching experiences of welfare reform: walking alongside a small group of individuals as they anticipated, experienced and reflected upon changes to their benefits. By returning to the same people several times, I was able to contrast their expectations with what subsequently happened, and to unpick individual journeys through the benefit system against a context of far-reaching welfare state retrenchment.

The single parents, disabled people and young job seekers I spoke to did not recognise the idea of benefits as a lifestyle choice. Their lived experiences contrasted markedly with the popular stereotypes so often peddled by politicians and replicated and reproduced in the media. What they instead showed was the hard ‘work’ that getting by on benefits demands, and the ways in which welfare reform simply added an additional burden to their already difficult lives.

One of the individuals I interviewed was Adrian, a young job seeker and care leaver who had a history of offending. Adrian had never worked, but expressed strong aspirations to find employment, aspirations that endured over time despite repeated setbacks. Challenging the popular narrative of ‘inactive’ claimants, Adrian volunteered at a local homeless hostel, enjoying the chance to ‘give something back’ and provide support that he himself had once benefited from.

“The single parents, disabled people and young job seekers I spoke to did not recognise the idea of benefits as a lifestyle choice.”

At the time of our first interview, back in 2011, Adrian was on a benefits sanction for failing to apply for a job after a misunderstanding between himself and his Job Centre Plus adviser. Over the following five years, he was subject to repeated sanctions, and these often seemed to be due to poor communication, confusing directions as well – on occasions – as Adrian’s failure to turn up for appointments on time or when unwell.

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Image copyright: Dole Animators

For Adrian, sanctions meant immediate and extreme hardship, and indirectly led to his becoming homeless when he was unable to pay back rental arrears. To survive, Adrian turned to foodbanks and was also caught shoplifting sandwiches for which he received a fine which he was unable to pay because of his sanctions.

While Adrian continued to seek work, he felt the sanctions made this more difficult:

“You’d ring them [employers] up and they’d say “oh, come down, we’ll go for an interview”. You’d go for an interview and if it’s a point where you’re being sanctioned, you’re all…skinny and everything, you look proper ill. They look at you and go “nah, you look like a crackhead or something.”

When I spoke to Adrian last year, he explained the impact sanctions had on his work-search and mental health:

“[I go to the work programme] more or less every week….Just talk about looking for work, and then they’d put me on some mock interview and [I’d] never get through. They did say why, they said [poor] eye contact, which were pretty good. Cos I don’t make eye contact after the sanctions and that, I became very unsociable, didn’t want to trust…now it’s just lasted, made me unsociable with people and that, made me feel down…”

Adrian has been ill-served by a punitive welfare reform agenda that is grounded in a baseless rhetoric that suggests that individuals require ‘tough’ measures if they are to be activated off benefits and into employment. Over five years, repeated sanctions left him destitute and – ironically – further away rather than closer to the paid labour market. What Adrian needed – but what was notably absent – was targeted and effective support.

Any further changes to the social security system should start with a complete rethinking of the assumptions that currently underpin ‘welfare reform’. Unpicking these assumptions requires a recognition of the lived experiences of poverty and out-of-work benefits receipt, experiences that expose the weakness of David Cameron’s moral case for welfare reform.

#no2sanctions

Patrick_For whose benefit-webFor whose benefit? The everyday realities of welfare reform by Ruth Patrick is out on 12 April. Pre-order your copy for £19.99 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.

What would Beatrice Webb say now?

On this International Women’s Day Georgia Smith, Communications Officer at Webb Memorial Trust, highlights the accomplishments of sociologist and social reformer Beatrice Webb, a woman who was truly bold for change. 

Georgia Smith

International Women’s Day offers an opportunity to celebrate the work of a pioneering social reformer whose lifetime of research into the economic conditions of the working class enabled much of the social advancement of the 20th century but who is now largely forgotten: Beatrice Webb (1858-1943).

The legacy of Beatrice Webb

Beatrice Webb’s contribution was to provide substantial intellectual capital for the formation of the welfare state at a time when women didn’t even have the vote.

Her Minority Report on the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress 1905–09 recommended “a national minimum of civilised life” and advocated that government – rather than charity – should be responsible for the well-being of citizens.

Amongst other achievements Beatrice and her husband Sidney founded the New Statesman and the London School of Economics. She is also credited with coining the term “collective bargaining”

“…the seed from which later blossomed the welfare state.”

Continue reading ‘What would Beatrice Webb say now?’

It doesn’t have to be like this: Why capitalism needs to change, and fast

Where has capitalism gone wrong? In Too much stuff, Kozo Yamamura upends conventional capitalist wisdom to provide a new approach. Read about his new perspective on capitalism’s “sickness.”

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Kozo Yamamura 1934 – 2017

Over the past three decades, the financial and environmental prospects of the UK, US, Japan and Europe, have slowly but surely been moving in a calamitous direction because of ill-conceived “easy money” policies pursued by those in power, from governments and banks through to multinational corporations and the advertising industry.

The result: a self-perpetuating cycle of stagnating economies, social unrest and political upheaval.

The advanced economies of the world are sick and democracy is floundering. Capitalism as we know it has created a climate where extremist, anti-EU political parties are flourishing by tapping into widespread dissatisfaction with the way things are.

They’re right in one sense – the system does need to change, because if it doesn’t, “what becomes the issue will not be the survival of our system, but the survival of our civilizations”.

“The advanced economies are sick, and the environment is getting sicker.”

Continue reading ‘It doesn’t have to be like this: Why capitalism needs to change, and fast’

The welfare myth of them and us

Read the complete preface to the second edition of John Hill’s influential Good times, bad times below. This ground-breaking book uses extensive research and survey evidence to challenge the myth that the population divides into those who benefit from the welfare state and those who pay into it – ‘skivers’ and ‘strivers’, ‘them’ and ‘us’. 

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John Hills

Good times, bad times was completed in 2014. A great deal has happened in UK politics and policy since then, not least the election of a majority Conservative government led by David Cameron in May 2015, the result of the referendum in June 2016 for Britain to leave the European Union, and the subsequent appointment of Theresa May as Prime Minister in July 2016.

Through all of this, the issues discussed in this book have remained central. One of its themes is the way that our lives are ever-changing.

Sometimes this is simply because we get older, we form – and dissolve – marriages and other partnerships, children are born, and they leave home.

But it is also because we move in and out of work, change and lose jobs, and what comes in from work and other sources can change not just from year to- year with our careers, but also from month-to-month, or even day-to-day, in ways highlighted by the spread of ‘zero hours contracts’.

Our needs – for education and for health and social care – change as we grow older, but also with the fluctuations in our state of health.

“Much popular debate assumes that people’s lives are unchanging.”

Continue reading ‘The welfare myth of them and us’

Why we need radical solutions to our housing supply crisis

There is now a deep crisis in housing supply in many parts of England. In his provocative new book, Duncan Bowie, author of Radical solutions to the housing supply crisis, argues that policy proposals promoted by Government and many commentators are either just tinkering with the problem, or will actually exacerbate the situation.

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Duncan Bowie

We have not learnt the lessons of the 2008 credit crunch and in fact we have had a housing deficit whether the country has been in boom or bust.

It is time to throw off long held ideological assumptions as to ideal forms of tenure and the relationship of state to market.

There is a systemic problem which cannot be corrected by short term measures and more radical solutions are necessary if the housing market is to be stabilised and the delivery of new homes increased.

“Housing…is now the central component in inequity between households both within and between geographical areas.”

We need to recognise that if we are to tackle inequity in wealth and opportunities, we need to tackle inequity in housing, which is now the central component in inequity between households both within and between geographical areas. It is also central to the growth in inter-generational inequality.

Continue reading ‘Why we need radical solutions to our housing supply crisis’

What is the future of social justice? A Policy Press event

Answers to this question were offered at the Policy Press The Future of Social Justice event held on Monday 5th December in association with the Bristol Festival of Ideas.

The Great Hall in the University of Bristol’s Will’s Memorial Building was packed with over 800 audience members who heard Danny Dorling, Owen Jones, Kayleigh Garthwaite and Melissa Benn speak about the most significant successes, challenges and opportunities for social justice.

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The exciting event began with the official launch of University of Bristol Press by Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Bristol.

Inspiring contributions from the speakers followed, expertly chaired by Alison Shaw, Director of Policy Press and University of Bristol Press.

Amongst the many points made, Melissa Benn focused on segregation in schools and the way this feeds into a lack of understanding and knowledge about others. Danny Dorling examined housing policy, highlighting the urgent need for rent control. Kayleigh Garthwaite highlighted that allowing charity to become ‘normal’ and acceptable is not the way forward. Finally, Owen Jones reminded us that we need a collective thought process in order to solve collective issues. One of the key message of the evening was that we need to step out of the ‘bubble’ and into communities.

2016 has been a dark year but this event inspired optimism and hope. What will we say to future generations when they ask what we did at at time like this? It’s time to come together and be active in our opposition to injustice.

 

Didn’t get a chance to attend? You can listen to the event in full on Soundcloud here.

Read Danny Dorling’s full speech on the housing crisis and hope for the future from the event.

Read Kayleigh Garthwaite’s full speech on foodbanks and why we need a new conversation about poverty.

Keep up-to-date with Policy Press/University of Bristol Press news and events by signing up to our newsletter. Subscribers also receive a code for 35% discount on all our books.

Foodbanks, social justice and why we need a new conversation about poverty

In her speech from The future of social justice event we held on Monday, Kayleigh Garthwaite, author of Hunger Pains, talks about her experience of volunteering at foodbanks and how we can harness and express the collective shame that should be felt over the existence of emergency food aid.

kayleigh-garthwaite“For the last three years, I’ve been a volunteer and a researcher at a Trussell Trust foodbank in central Stockton, North East England, finding out how a foodbank works, who uses them, and why.

Every week, I prepared the three days’ worth of food that goes into each food parcel. I dealt with the administration of the red vouchers required to receive food, making sure that anyone who needed further support was told where it could be obtained. I volunteered at food collections at Tesco supermarkets, asking people to add an extra tin to their weekly shop. Most importantly, I sat and listened to the stories of the hundreds of people who came through the food bank doors for emergency food.

Continue reading ‘Foodbanks, social justice and why we need a new conversation about poverty’


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