Archive for the 'Social Policy' Category

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.

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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.

Shared Lives: a new health and care system

Alex

Alex Fox

Alex Fox is the author of A new health and care system – out today and launching at Nesta this evening.

Here he unpicks the dehumanising tendencies of our public services to introduce a new health care model where those living with long-term conditions can achieve wellbeing in a system that looks at people’s strengths and capabilities, and their potential, not just their needs.

“The NHS was designed in the 1940s for brief encounters: healing us or fixing us up. It often does that astonishingly well. But now 15 million of us (most of us at some point during our lives) live with long-term conditions; three million with multiple long-term conditions. We cannot be healed or fixed, we can only live well, drawing on state support relatively little, or live badly, drawing on state support heavily and falling repeatedly into crisis. That long term, increasing reliance on intensive support services is not only likely to feel miserable to us as individuals and families, it drives long term financial meltdown which will bankrupt our service economies, even if they survive the current period of austerity.

“…we remain locked into seeing people who need support as illnesses, impairments, problems, risks, not as people who can and must share at least some of the responsibility for their own wellbeing.”

So we need a different relationship between people with long term conditions, their families and the services they turn to for help. But health and care leaders continue to talk and plan as if the health and care system was fixable by streamlining what we currently do, integrating various kinds of organisation, or making better use of tech. This is because, whether we use public services, work in them, or lead them, we remain locked into seeing people who need support as illnesses, impairments, problems, risks, not as people who can and must share at least some of the responsibility for their own wellbeing. We do not recognise that people who live for years or decades can become more expert in what works for their wellbeing than many of the professionals who necessarily dip in and out of their lives. Family carers provide more care than the state, but even they are not recognised as vital members of a wider caring team, who might need knowledge, training, equipment and emergency back up just as much as their paid colleagues.

“…fit support around a good life instead of asking people to fit their lives around a good service.”

To unpick this, we need to trace the dehumanising tendencies of our public services from their first contact with people who may need their support and their families, through all of their interactions, to the ways in which they ultimately reject, or in some cases, cling on to, their inmates. With demand rising, services are putting more resources into assessment processes designed to keep away the less needy, but those processes are themselves a drain on resources, and they ensure that those who meet needs thresholds are least able to identify and build on their own capacity to self-care, and have already had their confidence and independence demeaned and undermined by bureaucracy.

The alternative is to take an ‘asset-based’ approach to every long-term support service offered: looking for people’s strengths and capabilities, and their potential, not just their needs. For nearly everyone, these ‘assets’ are partly their relationships with friends and families, so every support service must be delivered in ways which fit round and back up those informal networks, minimising disruption to them.

There is already at least one nationally scaled support model which does this: Shared Lives, now used by 14,000 people in almost every UK area.

Edward, Stephen and Christina’s story

edward-2

Edward is 66 years old and lives with Shared Lives carers Stephen and Christina. Edward has a learning disability and has been blind since childhood, and when living with traditional methods of support his independence suffered. He didn’t have his own space and was restricted from carrying out many of the tasks and routines of daily life, as well as access to broader life experiences.

Stephen had had contact with Edward through his previous work as a social worker. He perceived that Edward had a lot of potential and believed he could do much more for himself. So when Stephen became a Shared Lives carer and developed his own personal care skills, he and Christina opened their home to Edward and made it their mission to develop his confidence.

The transformation has been profound, with Edward describing his increased independence: “I’ve got my own room and all the things I need. It’s been brilliant. I haven’t looked back since I’ve been with Stephen and Christine.”

Edward has gone from a situation in which he hardly ever experienced leisure activities or life outside home, to having an impressive list of holidays and trips under his belt. He has been to Las Vegas, and taken a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. Closer to home, with a bit of support from his Shared Lives carers, he has been to a Formula One Race at Silverstone: “I could feel the cars!” said Edward, describing the sensation of picking up the vibrations of the revving of engines through his feet.

Stephen has encouraged Edward’s enjoyment of the atmosphere at sporting events – and they go to the rugby almost every week. Through Shared Lives, Edward has been able to explore his pre-exiting interests in cars and sports to the full.

Shared Lives demonstrates that it is possible to combine people’s own capacity, with the strengths of positive family and community life, and the back-up and resources of a regulated care service. No one approach can be the magic bullet which will heal our ailing NHS, but Shared Lives offers lessons and challenges which could be taken up by any service: look for the person, not the condition; fit support around a good life instead of asking people to fit their lives around a good service; always connect.

A new health and care system [FC]A new health and care system, by Alex Fox is publishing on 28 February 2018 and is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £15.19.

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

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

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.

Repealing the 8th: how new legislation on abortion should be designed

Fiona de Londras

Fiona de Londras

Mairead Enright

Mairead Enright

Fiona de Londras and Mairead Enright – authors of ‘Repealing the 8th: Reforming Irish abortion law‘ – respond to the announcement of the Irish Cabinet of its intention to hold a referendum to repeal Article 40.3.3 in May 2018. The book, now publishing on Thursday this week, looks beyond the referendum to what might come next, presenting detailed proposals for new legislation.

Chapter 4 from the book – Accessing abortion care: principles for legislative design – is now available to download free on our website. 

In 1983 the Irish Constitution was amended by the insertion of Article 40.3.3, now known as ‘the 8th Amendment’. This provides that “the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

At first glance, the 8th Amendment may seem innocuous or merely aspirational. However, over time, this provision has led to a near-absolute prohibition on abortion in Irish law and serious infringement of pregnant people’s rights. Under the current law, abortion is only lawfully available in Ireland when a woman will almost certainly die without it, and even then multiple doctors usually have to agree that this is the case.

“More than three decades of activism have come together in a large, vocal, visible and highly effective campaign for political and legal reform.”

Now, though, there are signs of change. More than three decades of activism have come together in a large, vocal, visible and highly effective campaign for political and legal reform; for the removal of the 8th Amendment and introduction of a law that will enable women to exercise agency in pregnancy and ensure that, for those who want to avail of it, abortion care is available at home in Ireland.

On Monday, the Irish Cabinet announced its intention to hold a referendum to repeal Article 40.3.3 in May 2018. The People will be asked to delete this Article and to insert a provision that expressly says that provision may be made by law for the termination of pregnancy. The Taoiseach said that the referendum will present the People with a choice to enable the Irish parliament to legislate for abortion care at home, or to continue to export abortion to other jurisdictions and to put the lives of women in Ireland at risk.

The Cabinet will publish indicative legislation for a GP-led abortion service ‘on request’ up to 12 weeks, and more limited access to abortion in later pregnancy.

Hamill Aoife - 205kTravelled - Signs - London Irish Arc 2

After the referendum

In the book we look beyond the referendum, to what might come next once the 8th Amendment no longer absolves the Oireachtas of the responsibility to make law to provide for the needs of women in Ireland. We include detailed proposals for how new legislation on abortion might be designed, including draft legislation that gives effect to the proposals that appear to have received Cabinet support this week in a way that respects the rights of pregnant people in Ireland.

“…the rights of pregnant people can be developed in ways that truly respect and protect bodily integrity, privacy, and the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment.”

In doing this, we argue that repeal of the 8th Amendment would create opportunities for the progressive interpretation of the Constitution, so that the rights of pregnant people—for so long narrowed down to a bare right to life said to be equal in stature to that of an unborn foetus—can be developed in ways that truly respect and protect bodily integrity, privacy, and the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment. This, we argue, would compel the Irish state to provide for lawful abortion, but would allow it to pursue the socially valuable objective of preserving foetal life provided in doing so it respects the constitutional rights of pregnant people.

This can be done by introducing law that makes abortion available without restriction as to reason up to at least the twelfth week. After that such a law might make lawful abortion available on broadly drawn health grounds so that pregnant people can truly determine the course of their own reproductive lives, and so that victims of sexual violence or those who have received unexpected foetal diagnoses will be able to be supported through a decision to an end a pregnancy, rather than forced through a punitive ‘qualification’ processes. This is what we are calling for now that the Referendum has been announced.

Like the Citizens’ Assembly and Joint Oireachtas Committee on the 8th Amendment, we draw distinctions between the availability of abortion after 12 weeks and after 24 weeks, with later abortion (after 12 weeks) being truly exceptional in law, just as it is in life. Illustrating the feasibility of such an approach, we include in the book draft legislation that gives effect to this approach. This makes our book essential reading for anyone involved in the campaign.

Our objective in writing this book was threefold. First, we wanted to make the constitutional arguments about the 8th Amendment clear and accessible and, in so doing, to show that from a legal perspective there is nothing unusually difficult about legislating for abortion and no reason why, uniquely among medical procedures, it should be regulated within the text of the Constitution. Second, we wanted to show how the Constitution itself could develop after repeal to reinvigorate the personal rights of pregnant people and to strike a balance between protecting these legal rights and pursuing the social objective of preserving foetal life through voluntary, consensual, and well-supported pregnancy. Finally, we wanted to show that, by drawing on experience in other countries and on international human rights law, and by committing to ensuring that pregnant people have sufficient certainty and support to make decisions about their own reproductive lives, a workable, reasonable, and rights-based law on access to abortion can be imagined and designed for Ireland.

Now, with the announcement of the Referendum on the 36th Amendment to the Constitution, we are a step closer to achieving some of these goals, but there is still much work to do. Given this week’s developments, Policy Press has brought forward the publication of the book to 1 February: please circulate information about it to anyone who is involved in the debates around the referendum.

 

Repealing the 8th: Reforming Irish abortion law‘ by Fiona de Londras and Mairead Enright  is publishing on 1 February 2018 and is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Pre-order here for just £10.39.

It will be available Open Access under CC-BY licence.

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

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

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.

The Tax Credits system needs fixing: addressing Universal Credit is not enough

Sam Royston, author of Broken benefits, argues that the government must reform the  flawed Tax Credits system before they can even begin to improve Universal Credit.

It is tempting to think that a “devastating picture of administrative chaos, computer errors and political misjudgements” in the social security system must be a reference to Universal Credit over the last few months. It well could be, but this is, in fact from George Osborne back in 2005 emphasising that problems with the Tax Credits system had become so serious he believed that there were serious questions over the future of the responsible Minister.

Many of the problems were to do with the way in which Tax Credits are calculated and paid. Whilst, as we shall see, many of the problems were addressed at the time, cuts to the benefits system mean that they have been rapidly re-emerging in recent years.

Why were Tax Credits such a mess when they were first introduced?

Tax Credits are an annual award – the total amount a claimant is entitled to is calculated for the whole year. However, people, and particularly those living on the lowest incomes, need to receive payments more frequently than once a year. For this reason, they are normally paid on a weekly or four weekly basis, based on an estimated entitlement for the whole of the year.

Since Tax Credits are means-tested, the claimant’s household earnings over the course of the year can affect the overall amount due – predicted annual entitlement is based on what the claimant thinks their income will be for the year.

“At the height of the Tax Credit problems, around £1.9 billion was overpaid to households in receipt of Tax Credits.”

The difficulty arises at the end of the year, when the award amount is checked against the household’s actual income for the year. If the household’s income is lower than the estimate, then the award may have been underpaid and is topped up to the actual entitlement. If the household’s income is higher than the estimate, then this can result in the award being classed as overpaid and the government asking for some of the money back.

We aren’t talking about small amounts of money – in 2004, at the height of the Tax Credit problems, around £1.9 billion was overpaid to households in receipt of Tax Credits.

To reduce the likelihood of overpayments occurring, the Tax Credit system has a built in “buffer zone” (known as the “income disregard”) which means that a household’s income can rise by up to a given amount during a year without affecting their Tax Credit entitlement. In the mid 2000s, as a result of the amount of Tax Credits being overpaid, the government decided to increase the income disregard from £2,500 to £25,000. In effect this meant that if a claimant had been paid Tax Credits for a few months at the start of the year based on their previous year’s earnings of £10,000, and then changed job so that by the end of the year they had earned £35,000, their overall Tax Credit entitlement wouldn’t be affected.

Some overpayments are in fact impossible to avoid without a buffer zone – a household that has a low income for most of the year and then gets a sharp but unforeseeable increase in income may have already had more than their yearly entitlement before the rise in their income.

What’s gone wrong with welfare reform?

Despite this positive effect, following the 2010 election, the coalition government decided to reduce the size of the overpayments buffer zone – first from £25,000 to £10,000, and then to £5,000.

“They are treated as if their earnings are the same as the previous year – which could cost them more than £1,000 at a time.”

Astonishingly, the coalition government also decided to introduce the reverse of a buffer (an anti-buffer?) which disregarded falls in income of up to £2,500 from 2012. This means that when (for example) a worker sees their hours reduced so that they earn £2,500 less than they did the previous year, the earnings figure used to calculate Tax Credits is not immediately adjusted down. Instead they are treated as if their earnings are the same as the previous year – which could cost them more than £1,000 at a time when they are likely to be struggling.

As the income disregard has been reduced, overpayments (again, unsurprisingly) have increased. As large a proportion of Tax Credit claimants face overpayments than during the height of Tax Credit problems in 2005, with one in three claimants facing an overpaid award, and £1.6 billion of overpayments in 2015-16. This includes some exceptionally large overpayments – including around 50,000 families overpaid by more than £5,000.

Tax Credit awards overpaid as a proportion of total awards
2003/04 – 2015/16

awards-overpaid

In 2005 when these problems were first recognised, the then shadow (and later actual) Chancellor of the Exchequer called for the resignation of the Minister responsible. The response of the government was dramatic – not only did the Prime Minister apologise, but the large increase in the size of the income disregard was a direct response.

In 2015, when he himself was faced with a similar scale of problems within the system, the response of the Chancellor was to further reduce the level of the income disregard, back to the 2003-4 level of £2,500. We don’t yet know the impact that this will have on overpayments, but the Chancellor expects to save quarter of a billion pounds from this measure at its peak in 2018-19.

Giving credit where credit’s due

“It isn’t good enough to just focus on improving Universal Credit – the Tax Credits system needs fixing.”

It is tempting to think of the Tax Credits system as a thing of the past, focussing instead on the profound mess which is being made of the introduction of Universal Credit. However, it is important to remember that more than 4 million families (with more than 7 million children), still rely on vital Tax Credits to make ends meet – and will do for the next few years at least.

Nor will these families escape their overpayments when they transfer over to Universal Credit – they will come with them and be automatically deducted from their Universal Credit entitlement.

It isn’t good enough to just focus on improving Universal Credit – the Tax Credits system need fixing. For a Government which wants to improve the fairness and simplicity of the benefits system, removing vital income disregards which prevented families from falling into benefit debt is a move in entirely the wrong direction.

 

Broken benefits by Sam Royston is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £12.00.

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

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

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.

Europe’s largest ghetto: squalor and violence in the shadows of Madrid

Welcome to Valdemingómez. Just 12km from Madrid, political neglect, spatial exclusion and social policy stagnation have created a lawless landscape of drugs and violence. Squalor and hopelessness reduce chances of a way out.

“Julia” nervously emerges from her shabby tent to face another day of survival: she is homeless, wanted by the police, and addicted to heroin and cocaine. She is also five months pregnant.

The harrowing stories of Julia and others like her feature in a new book Dead-end lives: Drugs and violence in the city shadows by Daniel Briggs and Rubén Monge Gamero – out today.

sleeping

Image: Dead-end lives, page 192: ‘Respite’

Read the foreword by Professor Dick Hobbs below.

“Long before urban ethnography came of age with the Chicago School, Henry Mayhew had trawled London’s streets for narratives of the poor, dispossessed and excluded. For all of their rightly celebrated qualities, the sociologists of the Chicago School seldom provided the kind of vivid detail that is central to Mayhew’s journalism for the Morning Chronicle. He was particularly concerned with men and women for whom transgression was an inevitable consequence of the material conditions in which they found themselves. Seamstresses squeezed by the punitive pressures of piecework turned to prostitution to feed their families, street traders who relied on their own invented language and transgressive leisure pursuits to resist harassment by the new social control agencies, and some of the poor reduced to collecting dog shit from Albertoian pavements before delivering their fetid buckets to the capital’s leather tanneries. For Mayhew, crime/deviance/transgression was a social product, and very much part of the relentless unforgiving meat grinder of life in the city.

However, the Chicagoans’ establishment of urban ethnography as a central and enduring prop of social scientific endeavour did open the door to the city’s dirty secrets, and through this door have passed many thousands of scholars intent on bringing to the fore issues that most urban dwellers seek to scrape from the soles of their shoes. Most, but not all, of Chicago-influenced ethnography was based on an urban template created as an explanatory model of industrialism.

The industrial city was essentially zonal, and when drilling down into these zones, deviant behaviour – predominantly, but not exclusively, youthful delinquency – could be unwrapped, analysed and, crucially, rehabilitated. While later proponents of urban ethnography sometimes withdrew from engagement with rehabilitative policy engagement, its replacement was often a romanticised misfit sociology that valorised both the deviant and the intrepid researcher who would then shamelessly trade on this brief brush with outlaw status for the remainder of an academic career.

The post-industrial city, where the now superfluous poor of the industrial project have been supplanted by previously unfamiliar forces of economic apartheid, offers few of the assured inevitabilities of industrialism. The shape and form of urban existence has changed, and as a consequence, the trajectories of existence in the alcoves where working-class lives are lived are now dominated by population churn, by fragmentation and by a vernacular cosmopolitanism based on informal modes of survival that have little connection with institutions of governance.

landscape

Valdemingómez is one such alcove, and in describing life, death and commerce in this area on the edges of Madrid, we are introduced to a world that is uncomfortably close to Mayhew’s London. Thankfully, Daniel Briggs and Rubén Monge Gamero are as sensitive to the multiple complex forces that created Valdemingómez as they are to the harrowing conditions of survival of its population, where addiction and the servicing of addiction dominate social life. Cities churn, global populations shift and with capitalism in a state of permanent crisis, the flotsam and jetsam of ‘Europe’s largest ghetto’ compete and co-exist within a range of informal economies, in particular, the drug trade. Briggs and Monge Gamero explore this world of poverty, profit, hope and addiction with enormous skill. For this is the future, the ghetto at the edge of the city, life at the periphery largely abandoned by the state, occasionally subjected to police operations, but not often enough to impact on the illegal economies that are the poisonous lifeblood of Valdemingómez, where ‘the Wild West meets the third world’.

The authors do not valorise deviance, but do describe and explain a world where destructive social and personal practices are the norm. Indeed, the descriptive passages, which constitute this book’s strength, are among the most vivid and insightful to be found in contemporary ethnography. Highlighted are the impacts of often ignored causal factors such as the withdrawal of the state, and the consequences not only for the addicted and their families, but also for the poor bloody infantry of police and drug agencies that seek to make an impact on this blighted domain. The limits of intervention, particularly during an era of austerity, along with the predatory culture of many of Valdemingómez’s residents, are emphasised by harrowing description and interviews.

This is a deeply upsetting book about an alcove of the global economy where death and degradation are embedded into every pore. Enhanced by photography, this excellent and innovative ethnography stands as a powerful and unnerving document of contemporary and probable future urban life.

paloma-resting
Image: Valdemingómez, where people like Paloma sleep in dirt and sell sex for a couple of euros for drugs.

Yet, as with Henry Mayhew’s seminal work, written in a long distant era of exploitation, deprivation and squalor, it is the heart-rending stories of the poor that leave the most indelible impact on the reader. The utter impossibility of their plight is genuinely disturbing, and the term ‘social exclusion’ has seldom been more appropriate, its causation more complex, or its reality more distressing.

Professor Dick Hobbs, Emeritus Professor at the University of
Essex, and Professor of Sociology at the University of
Western Sydney, Australia

Dead-End lives [FC]Dead-end lives by Daniel Briggs and Rubén Monge Gamero is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £13.59.

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Is the new impact agenda the excuse you’ve been waiting for to use your research to make a difference?

Sharon Wright and Peter Dwyer, researching the impacts of Universal Credit since 2013 as part of the collaborative ESRC Welfare Conditionality project, reflect on their recent experience of contributing to the Universal Credit debate, to argue that impact activities can be most meaningful if they are aimed at making a difference that really matters.

Dr. Sharon Wright

Prof. Peter Dwyer

The news that research impact will account for a quarter of a unit’s score for the REF2021 research excellence rankings has piqued the interest of cash-hungry University leaders across the country.

With the most significant and far reaching impacts bringing in around £324k, pressure is building for academics to strike into uncharted knowledge-exchange territory to secure elusive high-earning 4* impact case studies.

But if the thought of money as a motivator leaves you cold – and the more familiar competing pressures of teaching, administration and research offer space for little else – is there an alternative way of looking at the new drive for impact?

“Impact activities can be most meaningful if they are aimed at making a difference that really matters.”

In October 2017, Universal Credit (UC) hit the headlines with public outrage at claimants unable to afford to eat and at risk of losing their homes because of the built-in delay of 6 weeks for the first payment.

One of the greatest injustices is that Universal Credit was sold to the electorate as a reform aimed at simplifying the system and making work pay, and as such, it was originally welcomed widely. However, design flaws are being exposed as contributing to rising foodbank use, homelessness and destitution.

House of Commons

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke, has been resistant to calls for urgent action to restore UC in line with its original policy aims. On 18th October 2017, a unanimous group of opposition MPs won the landmark House of Commons vote, 299 to zero, to ‘pause and fix’ the Universal Credit roll-out.

Decisive to the vote and the ongoing debate, were SNP MP Neil Gray’s authoritative parliamentary speeches, which used cutting edge research evidence, including our article on ‘Ubiquitous Conditionality’, alongside the experiences of his constituents to substantiate compelling arguments for reform:

“The Government should review the cuts to the work allowances, which are acting as a disincentive to work and making work pay less; review the cuts to housing benefit, which are driving up rent arrears […]; and review the cuts to employment support, which are denying help to those who need it most, and they should fully review and then scrap the disgusting sanctioning policy, which could have cost the life of my constituent, Mr Moran, and has cost the lives of others. That was the subject of an excellent paper by Sharon Wright of Glasgow University and Peter Dwyer of the University of York in The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice.” Read the full transcript of the debate here. 

How did we achieve this impact? Sharon met with Neil Gray on a panel discussing ‘Rethinking Poverty’ at the SNP Conference in Glasgow. Following this, she watched a clip of Neil’s first Universal Credit speech and let him know that our research published in The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice (including the article that was featured in a free collection at the time) backed up several of the points he had made. Via Twitter and email, Sharon sent Neil a link to our recent blog and responded to a follow-up query with additional research evidence. Neil then used the evidence in his subsequent speeches and said:

“Academic and well researched evidence on the impact of
Universal Credit is crucial for persuading government to
change its mind and fix the system as it is being rolled out.

Neil Gray

Sharon’s research and input has been invaluable for me in
setting out the case that I have in the House of Commons.
The government can try to dismiss or ignore political debate,
but personal testimony and independent academia is harder
to ignore.

I hope Sharon and others will continue to look at issues like
the social security ‘reforms’ so that government policy can
be effectively challenged and hopefully overturned, to help
people who desperately need that support.”

As an impact activity, the process was quick, easy and direct. The result was Neil’s exemplary use of research evidence for accurate and well-informed debate that continues to feed into meaningful changes to policy and practice.

“…exemplary use of research evidence for accurate and well-informed debate that continues to feed into meaningful changes to policy and practice.”

The focus throughout was straight-forwardly on the issues that matter. For us as academics, the current importance placed on impact activities offers legitimacy to carve out the necessary time to do exactly what we have always wanted to do – proactively engage with policy makers, in a policy field where robust evidence has gone against the grain of dominant political preferences, to use research to make a difference.

 

Universal Credit, ubiquitous conditionality and its implications for social citizenship from The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, is FREE to read on Ingenta until 31 December 2017.

Policy Press has always worked closely with authors to ensure their work gains the social impact it deserves alongside academic impact. Find out more here.

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Image: UK Parliament, ‘House of Commons: MPs debate 2013 Queen’s Speech‘ Flickr Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0


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