Archive for the 'public policy' Category

What is the long-term impact on China of the recent fall in shares value?

In today’s guest post Andrzej Bolesta, author of China and Post-Socialist Development, provides his insight into why the current situation will have minimal long-term impact on China.

Dr Andrzej Bolesta

Dr Andrzej Bolesta

Recently the media have been writing a lot about China’s stock exchange. They have been speculating about the reasons for the fall in shares value and about the possible long term trends impacting China’s development trajectory.

Between the middle of June and the end of August, Shanghai’s stock exchange composite Index fell by around 40 percent, whereas Shenzhen’s by around 45 percent. Although for many investors and analysts it is important to see short term causes and consequences of the current “correction”, for researchers like myself, the paramount issue is whether the current situation is part of a larger package of occurrences, which might impact China and thus the world.

Limited long-term impact

My opinion is that the current situation will have a minimal long‐term impact on China, if any. China’s other challenges are way bigger than the recent troubles related to the stock market.

Firstly, bear in mind that the indexes are still higher than when the boom started last year. This boom is difficult to associate with robust economic growth, as the “new normal” pace is not a double digit figure. Consequently, it is also difficult to associate the current correction with some specific troubles of the Chinese economy.

“there are many things about the companies listed on the stock market that we don’t know…”

Naturally, there are all sorts of factors which are believed to have contributed to the current state of affairs; for example, the financial supervisory authorities have manipulated the regulations concerning the availability of credit to purchase shares, the August devaluation of the RMB has been perceived as an illustration of another weakness of the Chinese economy, speculations that the US Federal Reserve will increase interest rates initiated the flight of the dollar back to America.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there are many things about the companies listed on the stock market that we don’t know. Many of them are state‐owned enterprises with
only limited share available for trading and China’s economy is not the most transparent one.

Consequently, these companies’ standing often depends on non‐market, political factors. Hence, investors have a limited knowledge upon which to act. This contributes to the level of uncertainty, which, in turn, may perhaps generate fluctuations and these fluctuations can be perceived as irrational.

Active macroeconomic policy

Thirdly, to try to amend economic problems, China still has room for active macroeconomic policy. Unlike the US and Europe, it can comfortably continue lowering its interest rates. Moreover, its central government’s debt is comparably low.

Fourthly, the impact of the current situation on the Chinese citizens, as broadly argued, will be rather insignificant. The stock market capitalization as compared to the national GDP is lower than in advanced economies and thus their influence on the national economy is limited. Moreover, the shares are significantly dispersed among many small scale private

“So whatever happens in China does not stay in China”

Nevertheless, make no mistake. Whatever happens in China has most likely either short term or long term, or both, consequences for the rest of the world.

Soon to be the biggest economy in the world (according to purchasing power parity estimates it already is), China is an integral and deeply integrated component of the global economy. Shanghai is becoming one of the capitals of the financial world.

So whatever happens in China does not stay in China. Consequently, many stock markets around the world have followed suit and recorded falling indexes. However, what may worry the rest of the world the most is China’s slowing rate of economic growth, inevitably perceived to become a long term trend. The slow down affects primarily China’s suppliers of raw materials and energy resources, then the economies with a large share of export directed to China, for example, as part of the regional production chains, and then everybody else.

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The Illusion of China’s Economic Liberalization

China and post socialist development [FC]For more insights into China and it’s systematic following of the Post Socialist Development State (PSDS) model why not take a look at China and Post-Socialist Development which is available to purchase here from the Policy Press website. Remember that Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – if you’re not a member of our community why not sign up here today?

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.

How have attitudes changed in the last five years towards asylum and migration?

Five years ago, based upon more than two decades of research with people seeking asylum, Maggie O’Neill wrote Asylum Migration and Community. In today’s blog post O’Neill reviews, in light of the reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis, how little has changed in terms of attitudes and approaches towards asylum despite the evidence of what can be achieved through the use of participatory action research, visual research/the image and creativity.

MONeill2“What is the legal way to immigrate? Why don’t they give me this option? I am illegal because there is no legal route.” (Matthias Kispert , 2015, ‘No More Beyond‘)

Jeremy Corbyn’s acceptance speech as leader of the Labour party on Saturday 12th September connected for me, with much research and scholarly work on the current asylum-migration crisis. With shades of Zygmun Bauman’s (2004) use of ‘negative’ or ‘uneven’ globalization, Corbyn stated that going to war creates problems for humanity and we not only need peace but we need to recognise we cannot go on like this with grotesque levels of global inequality; that the richer governments must step up to the plate; and that people should not end up in refugee camps instead of contributing to the good of all.

Corbyn’s approach and commitment to welcoming refugees to the UK and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s in Germany, is a loud and clear message mirrored in the vigils and demonstrations across western Europe calling for refugees to be allowed in and for open borders.

Yet at one and the same time Hungary has erected a 4m high fence along its border with Serbia, the Hungarian police are described as treating migrants like animals (the Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann has drawn parallels between Hungary’s treatment of refugees and Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews) and the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia are so far refusing to take any of the migrants; and counter vigils and protests are also taking place across Europe.

Beyond borders?
The movement of people across borders is a key defining feature of the twentieth and twenty first century (as it has been, to a lesser degree ,throughout recorded history). It is now five years since I published Asylum Migration and Community (Policy press) and yet the book could have been published yesterday, so little has changed.

Based upon more than two decades of research with people seeking asylum  funded by the AHRB and AHRC I argued that migration in the context of ‘negative’ or ‘uneven’  globalisation is on the increase;  that increasingly restrictive asylum policy measures  impact  upon the humiliation and  social marginalisation of  people seeking asylum,  refuge and the hope for a better life;  and that  that there is an urgent  need to challenge and  transform social inequalities in relation to the asylum-migration-community nexus.

I argued that there was a withdrawal of humanising practices, a lack of welcome to people seeking asylum, and a heightening of the adversarial approach to those who seek to make their lives in the UK and the North. At the same time there is a significant lack of accountability and responsibility by governments and states for their part in the production of the worlds refugees.

I also stated, and still believe, that we need to face up to our global responsibilities towards the displaced, address the causes of ‘the misery of growing refugee movements’ and foster dignity and egalization in the institutions, laws, policies and practices towards people seeking safety in the asylum-migration-community nexus. International agreements on settlement are vital. Further, that creative, cultural and participatory research can support this process, as part of a public sociology or criminology, that can helps build communities of practice to challenge and change such gross inequalities and open and keep open spaces for critical thinking, help mobilise resistance, recognition and respect for people migrating – moving beyond war, violence, poverty and environmental disasters.

Arts based research
For Walter Benjamin (and also John Berger ), the imaginary is central to utopian political thinking, and in order to counter the petrification of the imagination Benjamin stresses the need to revolutionize our image worlds. Thus, arts-based research that prioritises thinking in images can bring into being a politics of representation informed by a politics of subalternity that offers ways of seeing and understanding that may feed into public policy and ultimately help to shift the dominant knowledge/power axis embedded in current governance around ‘immigrants’, migration and in the case of the research documented here the asylum-migration and community nexus, in this case, for women migrants in Barcelona, women seeking asylum in the UK and artists documenting displacement and migration.

Moreover, the benefits of working in participatory ways using arts based research with people seeking asylum to represent lived experiences, claim a voice, raise awareness of relations of humiliation, exclusion as well as inclusion and challenge exclusionary processes and practices, can support the articulation of identity and belonging for those situated in the asylum-migration nexus. This is vitally important to the development of dialogue, a recognitive theory of community, cultural citizenship and social justice, particularly when the voices of migrants are mediated by others, notably the mainstream press and media; as can be seen in ‘Women, wellbeing and community‘ participatory research conducted with women seeking asylum in collaboration with a regional refugee organisation and film maker Janice Haaken.

Global Governance: what next?
In a world of constant movement, of glocalisation, global mobility, migration and what Castles (2003) calls the asylum-migration nexus an enormous amount of energy, time and money is spent on securing the borders of Northern states, of erecting stronger and stronger barriers to entry. This is the current case in Hungary and in Melilla (a Spanish city located on the north coast of Africa, sharing a border with Morocco) where 11.5km of heavily patrolled triple wire fence prevents migrants trying to enter; the current closing of the borders in Austria, Germany and Hungary on the 14th September 2015 as a result of ‘gridlock’; alongside increasingly restrictive asylum policies preventing entry and speeding up removals.

In an open letter to world leaders, Parvati Nair (2015) writes that Greece and Italy are on the frontline in responding to the mass movement and arrival of people and the photograph of three year old Alan Kurdi’s body washed ashore, has mobilised international responses to the ongoing migration crisis in the Mediterranean. For Nair “this signals two inter-related tragedies: firstly, that of the human loss and suffering that is ongoing in this context, and secondly, that of the dire shortcomings of global and regional good governance of migration”.

Similarly, David Held (2015) recently argued that “only when people live securely in a world where sustainable development is promoted in all regions, where severe inequalities between countries are tempered and reduced, and where a universal constitutional order guarantees the rights of all peoples…can cosmopolitan ideals be realised”.

I believe we need to revolutionize our image worlds to think and do creative governance in relation to migration and develop a radical democratic imaginary around borders, migration and belonging .

In taking this project forward I will be working with photographer John Perivolaris, Counterpoint Arts and other collaborators to extend Asylum Migration and Community both theoretically, methodologically and practically in Methods on the move: borders, risk and belonging funded by a Leverhulme Fellowship that brings together walking methods with biographical methods to interrogate the concept of borders, risk and belonging in collaboration with artists and film makers. This will, I hope, in some small way feed into and envision ‘more inclusive, more just, more democratic politics’ and we must work together to create change.


Information on  Counterpoints Arts can be found here

No More Beyond‘ is a video essay that was part of Counterpoints Arts Dis/Placed exhibition, June 2015.  Filmed in the city of Melilla, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, where 11.5 km of heavily patrolled triple wire fence separate EU territory from migrants trying to enter. The project takes its title from the city’s motto: Non Plus Ultra’. – See more here 
Zygmunt Bauman (2004) Wasted lives: modernity and its outcasts Cambridge, Polity Press.
Stephen Castle (2003), ‘Towards a sociology of Forced Migration and Social Transformation’ in Sociology Vol. 37, No 1, (edited by O’Neill and Spybey) February 2003 London: Sage.
David Held (2015) The Migration Crisis In The EU: Between 9/11 And Climate Change
Parvati Nair (2015) The Mediterranean Crisis: An Open Letter to World Leaders
Maggie O’Neill (2010) Asylum, Migration and Community Bristol: Policy Press

John Perivolaris work including Migrados can be found here
John Perivolaris and Maggie O’Neill (2014) (2014). ‘A Sense of Belonging: Walking with Thaer through migration, memories and space’. Crossings: Journal of Migration & Culture 5(2-3): 327-33

Asylum, Migration and Community is available for purchase from our website here (RRP £25.99). 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

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.

Leadership lessons from the Baltimore riots?

In today’s guest post Robin Hambleton, author of Leading the inclusive city,  suggests that government policies rather than racial prejudice by individuals are to blame for urban disturbances, such as those in Ferguson and Baltimore in the USA and in Bristol and other cities in the UK.


Robin Hambleton

Having visited several American cities in recent weeks, and talked to public servants, business leaders, community activists and academics about current urban stresses and strains, it is difficult not to conclude that US cities face deeply troubling challenges. Continue reading ‘Leadership lessons from the Baltimore riots?’

Shame, stigma, fear and rage: Lessons from Berlin the day before #GE2015

Policy Press director Alison Shaw recently travelled to Berlin for a few days. Contemplating a wealth of history during the trip, Alison shares with us her thoughts on some of the similarities with the threats facing us today, especially around freedom of expression, the use of  shame as a political tool and the rhetoric around food and work.

Policy Press - 018 resizeA few weeks ago I was in Berlin. It is an amazing city with a complex history. We went from gazing at stunning statues of Queen Nefertiti from 14th century BC to mind-boggling brain-activated artificial limbs (husband is a neuroscientist!).

We saw the now rather glamorised Wall that separated East from West, but the thing that stood out was the Topography of Terror, a museum on the site of the central institutions of Nazi persecution, where the leadership of the Secret State Police, the SS, were housed.

Politics today

It is an astonishing museum on the history of the Nazi movement. Three things struck me in particular that are relevant to politics today.

Burning booksAs a publisher I was taken by the photos of piles of burning books – knowledge is power, and clearly those that take away that knowledge wield an intensified power. Freedom of speech and tolerance of ideas is so vital in society.

The Charlie Hebdo murders, and the response from the different communities, put this into stark relief. Our ‘global village’ is small and we have to find a way to live in tolerance with each other. The rise of extremism is something that concerns us all. But the almost hysterical rhetoric about immigration in the UK is deeply concerning.

The question is how do we engage communities who are fearful of other cultures. The rise of UKIP is something both the left and the right in Britain need to understand – they are providing something people want – so, in a multi-cultural society, how can the traditional parties address those concerns whilst staying true to their beliefs?

“The significant effect shame has on people has come to the fore recently in work on poverty.”

The second aspect that stood out was the use of shame and stigma as a method of control, such as the parading of individuals down the streets with shaved heads and placards reading out their misdemeanors.

Shame is a powerful emotion that most of us want to avoid and thus is extremely powerful. The significant effect shame has on people has come to the fore recently in work on poverty. Amartya Sen described shame as the “irreducible core” of poverty. The shame of it by Gubrium, Pellissery and Lødemel takes research from across the globe to show how policy makers must take account of the psychological aspects of people’s experiences  to provide policies that work effectively.

Families and poverty with border [FC]Closer to home O’Hara’s interviews with those facing the savage cuts to welfare in the UK for Austerity bites highlighted how shame plays a significant role in people’s responses to poverty with Daly and Kelly’s ground-breaking study Families and Poverty supporting this.

Jennifer Jacquet’s Is shame necessary? (Penguin) turns the concept on its head by looking at how the public can shame the powerful into behaving better as in the case of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the shaming of the 1% such as by Dorling in his fully updated edition of Injustice and Sayer in Why we can’t afford the rich. It will be interesting to see if there are real changes made to policy and legislation to address the inequality of the 1% to the 99% as a result.

One text line stood out for me at the Topography of Terror and that was “Those who do not work, shall not eat” which was used as the justification for the murder of the mentally and physically disabled and the mentally ill. Now we don’t murder people in the UK but we have moved to an extremely punitive sanctions regime for those ‘who do not work’ and we do leave people with literally nothing to eat.


I remain outraged that we have benefit sanctions that are so tough that people have no money at all for months because they are late to a benefits appointment by 5 minutes. What are they meant to do? The bedroom tax has had an appalling impact on the disabled and the welfare cuts are hitting the disabled and mentally ill hard as services and care support are cut.

In the new Afterword to Austerity Bites, O’Hara gives the example of a young disabled woman who had had her support cut – she had gone from being a Cambridge undergraduate who, although severely disabled had been able to live a full life filled with promise, to someone who said: “There have been just two emotions in the last month – fear and rage. I joke that the Tories should just round up all us disabled people and have us shot – it would be quicker and cheaper than what they’re doing and it would put us out of our misery. It’s a dark joke but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. I wonder when will we fight for equality for the disabled?”

According to Mahatma Ghandi, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” How are we doing as a society? Pretty badly I would say for one of the globe’s wealthiest nations.

Related links

How benefit sanctions left me sleeping on the streets

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!

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Policy Press March ‘editorial picks’: Environment and Sustainability

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

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Policy Press CoverMoney and electoral politics by Johnston and Pattie

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.

#MakingItHappen – International Women’s Day 2015

To celebrate International Women’s Day, which takes place this year on Sunday 8th March, we asked author of Women of Power: Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide, Torild Skard, to share her reflections on where we are today in terms of political gender equality and the necessary conditions to enable women to take crucial leadership roles within politics. 

Torild Skard

Torild Skard

For more than a century women have spoken out, marched and demonstrated for equality and rights on International Women’s Day. And there has been progress, though it has been uneven and slow. Whilst the gender gap globally has been nearly closed in areas such as health and education, it continues to remain wide open in economic participation and even more so in political empowerment.

In 2014/15 only 22 per cent of the members of parliament and 17 per cent of the government ministers worldwide were women. Not more than 9 per cent of the nation states had a woman as head of state or government. This is a record high, but still very far from gender balance, even from the benchmark of 30 per cent women.

Gender equality roadmap

The UN theme for international Women’s Day 2015 is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!”. Governments and activists around the world will commemorate the 20th anniversary year of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic gender equality roadmap signed by 189 governments with the necessary strategic objectives and actions for achieving women’s rights.

The endorsement of the world’s governments of the Beijing Platform for Action in addition to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is decisive, but they then have to ‘walk the talk’. And follow up effectively.

Looking at steps that have been taken in the direction of equality – such as the increase in the number of women presidents and prime ministers worldwide over the past 50 years – can provide useful lessons to help us (and, perhaps more importantly, the politicians and policy makers) understand what conditions are necessary to achieve the goals they have agreed to.

“How could a woman cope with such a demanding task?”


Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike (1916-2000), the modern world’s first female head of Government, Copyright: Anuradha Dullewe Wijeyeratne

In 1960 when Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first woman prime minister in what was then Ceylon, it caused international concern. How could a woman cope with such a demanding task?

Half a century later the woman president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, received the Peace Prize from an impressed Nobel Committee for her contribution to “ensuring peace, promoting economic and social development and strengthening the position of women”.

Attitudes evidently have changed – a bit. But all over the world national political institutions are still dominated by men. How did women manage to rise to the top, and what happened when they got to power?


HE Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, HE Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Credit: Wiki Creative Commons

During the half century after 1960 about 40 per cent of industrial countries have had one or more women as heads of state or government, while this has been the case for only 20 per cent of developing countries. High living standards improving people’s health, education and income may contribute to broader participation in politics.

In fact, most of the women presidents and prime ministers during this period were very well educated. Many had long professional careers before they became political leaders and achieved very high positions. To be able to get to the top, more women top leaders had such positions than their male predecessors.

Industrial countries have also often been democratic. And the great majority of women presidents and prime ministers around the world obtained their positions in countries that were characterized as “democracies”.

But the type of democratic system makes a difference. For example: of the women national leaders most rose to the top in countries with both a president and a prime minister. There were two top positions and a woman obtained one of them as part of a “top leader pair”. Very few women acquired the top position where there was only an executive president or an executive prime minister.

If a democratic system is necessary to increase women’s representation in the national political leadership, it does not follow that this is sufficient.

“An active feminist movement was required to increase the participation of women and their access to power”


After World War II, Western industrial countries mostly had liberal democracies with political rights for women. But women were usually not mobilized and welcomed in established political institutions. An active feminist movement was required to increase the participation of women and their access to power.

The women presidents and prime ministers did not become top leaders primarily because they were women, but because they felt they should lead the nation. Some also acted in the same way as their male colleagues, fighting on their terms, without being particularly engaged in ‘women’s issues’.

But many women top leaders tried to compromise, looking after both men’s and women’s interests. And a certain number challenged the male domination and explicitly promoted women friendly or feminist policies. In most cases, it made a difference that a woman rose to the top instead of a man, but the difference was often limited.

Dynamic women’s movement

To empower women then, woman-friendly democratization processes have to be actively implemented. A dynamic women’s movement is needed as a driving force and men with power must take their responsibility for reform of institutions and policies.

This means, among others things, that the political culture, the political parties and the media must ensure that women can promote their interests on equal terms with men. Parliament and government must become more representative, for example by changing the electoral system and adopting measures such as quotas to increase the recruitment of women. And “good governance” must entail emphasis on participation, protection of human rights and promotion of social justice and equality.

Women of Power Women of Power publishes in paperback on Monday 9th March. Copies are available from our website here & if you’re a subscriber to our newsletter you’ll receive a 35% discount on the website too (subscribe here if you’re not part of our community yet!)

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