Archive for the 'Economics and society' Category

Documenting media bias and lies in Simon Wren-Lewis’ new book

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Simon Wren-Lewis

Simon Wren-Lewis, author of The Lies We Were Told, out today, talks about his anger at austerity and how this and other key events of recent times have been impacted by media bias and lies.

“Many of the key events of the last eight years have a common thread to them. In the case of austerity, the Eurozone crisis, the 2015 UK election, the Brexit vote in the UK and Trump’s election, the media played a critical role in making them happen. This involved ignoring expertise, ignoring facts that didn’t fit the chosen narrative of one side, or simple lies. None of these events are mistakes only in hindsight, but rather errors that were predicted at the time. Documenting that is an important part of this book.

It was for that reason that I tell the story through my blog posts at the time, with additional postscripts, preambles and introductions that enable each chapter to tell a complete story. There seemed no better way of showing how all of these policy or electoral errors were understood at the time and therefore could easily have been avoided.

“I began writing my blog mainlymacro because of my anger at austerity.”

I began writing my blog mainlymacro because of my anger at austerity, and the fact that the view of the majority of macroeconomists that it was a bad idea was largely ignored by the media. When the media did talk to economists, they tended to be from the financial sector. Financial sector economists are biased in two directions: they tend to be right wing and they tend to talk up the importance of a capricious financial market and their ability to know its ‘needs’. I used the term ‘mediamacro’ to describe how most of the media seemed happy to tell the story of the deficit as if the government was a household, which any first year undergraduate textbook explains is not true.

Many used the Eurozone crisis as an excuse for austerity, but I quickly discovered that the line most journalists took was missing the key reason for that crisis. Eurozone countries cannot create their own currency, and the institution that could act as an unlimited lender of last resort to individual governments, the European Central Bank, was refusing to do so. The crisis ended when the Eurozone changed this policy and became a lender of last resort to most countries. The exception was Greece, and I tell their more complex but shocking story in a few posts.

“Adapting an old Sun headline, I argued it was mediamacro wot won it, although luck also played its part.”

Before the UK’s 2015 election the Conservatives talked about a strong economy, and talked up rising employment levels. The media went along with this narrative. In reality the recovery from the recession had been the weakest for centuries, in good part because of the policy mistake of immediate austerity. Strong employment growth combined with weak output growth meant productivity was stagnant, which in turn helped create falling real wages. Yet for mediamacro the government’s deficit was a more important goal of policy than economic growth or real wage growth, and as a result the economy was the Conservatives strong card that led them to victory at the election. Adapting an old Sun headline, I argued it was mediamacro wot won it, although luck also played its part.

Defeat in 2015 led to Jeremy Corbyn being elected as leader of the Labour party. Although this took the commentariat by surprise, I argued it was the logical result of Labour’s weak or non-existent stand against austerity and a lot of what austerity required. When John McDonnell became shadow Chancellor, he invited me to be part of an Economic Advisory Council, and I explain how this led me to help create Labour’s fiscal rule, which is the first such rule that prevents austerity. I also explain why the Council came to an end.

“A consequence of the Conservatives winning in 2015 was a referendum on Brexit.”

A consequence of the Conservatives winning in 2015 was a referendum on Brexit. A few months before I wrote a post reproduced in the book which fairly accurately set out how the campaign would play out. Remain’s case was that leaving the EU would have serious economic consequences, and it was a very strong case, but I suggested the media would balance this case against nonsense from Leavers, and the electorate could convince themselves that the economics was not clear cut. The fact that free movement prevented controlling immigration from the EU was by contrast clear cut, but as the government had played up the negative aspects of immigration they could not credibly change course.

Alas the media’s failed to present near unanimous expert opinion in economics and elsewhere as knowledge, and instead it became just Remain’s opinion to be balanced by the other side. As a result the electorate, who craved information about the EU, did not get it from the broadcast media. In addition, those that read most of the daily papers by readership got propaganda pure and simple, and had been getting it for a year at least. I present strong evidence at how influential the media can be, and therefore argue that Brexit represented the triumph of the right wing press. I showed that the media were failing in similar ways in the US, and that therefore confidence that Trump would not get elected could be misplaced,

The book also has a chapter on the role of economists in influencing policy. Did the global financial crisis or the failures of macroeconomic forecasting discredit economics, and is macroeconomics influenced by ideology? I explain why the delegation of economic decisions can be partly about transparency, and why economics is most like medicine among the sciences.

“While the media played an important role in Trump becoming President and Brexit it does not explain why those things are happening now rather than ten or twenty years ago.”

While the media played an important role in Trump becoming President and Brexit it does not explain why those things are happening now rather than ten or twenty years ago. The final chapter in the book looks at what neoliberalism is, and why both austerity and using fear of immigration to gain votes despite austerity can be seen as neoliberal overreach, by which I mean taking deception of the electorate in order to pursue ideological goals to a dangerous extreme. Both austerity and anti-immigration feeling helped the cause of Brexit and helped elect Trump.

The Global Financial Crisis required a strong and quick recovery to avoid the dangers of populism. Austerity prevented a strong recovery, and it was undertaken as a cynical attempt to reduce the size of the state. The subsequent populist mood was directed towards the right by politicians and the media playing on racism and xenophobic fears. This was fertile ground for disasters like Brexit and Trump to happen. This suggests that even if we could go back to the world as it was before Brexit and Trump that is not enough to stop similar disasters happening again.

The Lies We Were Told FCThe Lies We Were Told by Simon Wren-Lewis is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Bristol University Press and Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Volunteers Week: The Future of Volunteering?

Continuity and change in voluntary action RGB

Out now

This Volunteers Week, Rose Lindsey and John Mohan, co-authors of ‘Continuity and change in voluntary action’, part of the Third Sector Research Series and out now, look at the impact of political rhetoric and public attitudes on volunteering on levels of engagement.

Voluntary action has been a hotly-contested topic over the last 30 years. The International Labour Organisation sees it as an “essential renewable resource” for society. Margaret Thatcher, in her famous speech to the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, anticipated a demographic dividend from the retirement of active baby-boomers. Subsequent governments promoted voluntary action not only for its direct benefits (e.g. providing services) but latent impacts (e.g. on social capital, health and employability). The most recent manifestations of pro-voluntarist arguments have been the “big society” of David Cameron and the “shared society” of Theresa May. However, to what extent have several decades of such arguments and policies had impacts on levels of engagement?

There is certainly evidence that volunteering is a renewable resource if we look at statistics about the proportions who volunteer. These have remained steady for some 35 years, albeit with some fluctuations (a recession-induced decline and a short-term boost after the 2012 Olympics). Yet, despite Thatcher anticipating a significant increase in proportions of people volunteering, this hasn’t happened. Nor does it look as if the expansion of higher education – known to be a strong predictor of volunteering – has had much effect.

“…while many people dip into and out of volunteering, voluntary action is dominated by a small core of long-term volunteers.”

Our research demonstrates that while many people dip into and out of volunteering, voluntary action is dominated by a small core of long-term volunteers. In the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) –  the only significant longitudinal study asking questions about volunteering –  very small proportions of the population report volunteering in every survey wave. In a 12 year period (1996-2008) most people reported only intermittent volunteering. We can interpret this evidence in both a positive and negative light. For example, if we consider individuals’ contributions over their life courses, a much greater proportion of the population is involved in volunteering than is revealed by one-off cross-sectional surveys. The more challenging issue for voluntary organisations, however, concerns whether and how they can sustain that involvement over time.

When considering this question, it is useful to have insights derived from people’s own understandings of volunteering. We use extensive qualitative material from Mass Observation, tracking individuals’ accounts of the place of voluntary action and unpaid work in their lives. The material offers rich insights into writers’ individual trajectories into and out of volunteering, the social networks through which they became involved, their motivations, attitudes, and their views as to what voluntary action can and cannot do. Most strikingly, when asked about their involvement in unpaid work, or activities in their community, what they discuss first of all is unpaid care for relatives or neighbours. People prioritise what’s closest to home. This is hugely important in the context of great pressures on the social care system:  the prioritisation of unpaid care will limit the time and capacity that individuals have to engage in voluntary action in other parts of their communities.

“People prioritise what’s closest to home.”

Writers also exhibited a strong sense of scepticism about the conditions under which the public are asked to engage in voluntary action. Some writers articulated this very forcefully; for example one writer’s sole response,  to a question regarding whether she had heard of the “Big Society” was to write in uppercase letters:

“I HAVEN’T GOT A CLUE WHAT IT MEANS. NOBODY I’VE SPOKEN TO DON’T KNOW EITHER. IF IT’S ABOUT OUR PM SAYING WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, IT’S A LAUGH”.

Other respondents articulated a sense of exhaustion – “my days of volunteering for anything are over” – and concern that calls for more volunteering would widen disparities between communities. There were also concerns iterated in the 1990s and again in the 2010s, about funding cuts and volunteers substituting the work of paid-staff. In this context, writers repeatedly argued for clear demarcation between what is the responsibility of public authorities to provide, and what should be expected of communities.

There is long-run stability in engagement, which is positive news. But given these strong views, and the recognition that the greatest burden of voluntary effort is being shouldered by relatively small subsets of the population, our study points to clear limits as to how far we might expect to increase engagement in volunteering further.

Continuity and change in voluntary action RGB

Continuity and change in voluntary action by Rose Lindsey and John Mohan with Elizabeth Metcalfe and Sarah Bulloch is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £60.00 or see more from the Third Sector Research Series.

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The past and future of the Journal of Public Finance and Public Choice

JPFPC cover no logo

Bristol University Press is thrilled to announce the relaunch of the Journal of Public Finance and Public Choice (JPFPC).

In the Editorial below, Emma Galli (Editor-in-Chief) and Giampaolo Garzarelli (Editor) discuss the past, and future, of this important journal.

Volume 33, issue 1, of the journal is FREE until 20 April 2018. Read online here.

 

JPFPC, founded in 1983 (and directed, owned and principally sponsored) by Professor Domenico da Empoli (1941–2016), was the first European public economics journal explicitly covering Public Choice.1 Giannini Editore in Naples was JPFPC’s first publisher under the title Economia delle scelte pubbliche/Journal of Public Finance and Public Choice. In 1997 Gangemi Editore in Rome took over publishing responsibilities when Public Choice still continued to have a minority status in Italian academia. The journal then changed title to Journal of Public Finance and Public Choice/Economia delle scelte pubbliche. The last issue published by Gangemi was the 2014, Volume 32, single issue 1/3 (actually published in 2016). We are very grateful for their excellent job. The current owner and copyright holder of the journal is ‘Associazione Economia delle Scelte Pubbliche’ (AESP), which exclusively licenses all publication rights to Bristol University Press. At present, JPFPC will be published twice per year, continuing the original volume numbering. Back issues will also be available.

Da Empoli came into contact with Public Choice during a visiting period in the US, first at the University of Illinois (1965), and then at the University of Chicago (1966). At that time Public Choice – namely, the subfield of public economics that methodologically treats public sector analysis no differently from market analysis (homo economicus, methodological individualism, and politics as exchange) – was picking up momentum in the US. Da Empoli’s background until then had mostly been in the Italian tradition of Scienza delle finanze. The Scienza delle finanze is a unique approach to public economics. Developed in Italy, beginning approximately at the end of the 1880s, it always stressed the importance of law and politics when considering the study of the workings of the public sector. Moreover, in line with its Italian origin, it is an approach that always kept a non-idealistic stance to the body politic: politicians are, like everyone else, self-interested. This means that public decisions originate from political compromises within an institutional framework that must also be considered. Two implications immediately follow: comparative institutional analysis matters; the institutions of the public sector are not perfect, they can fail just as those of the private sector can fail.

Da Empoli’s Scienza delle finanze background was particularly congenial for Public Choice, also because Scienza delle finanze is one of the three traditions that build up Public Choice (the others being Austrian subjectivism and Wicksell’s approach to collective decision making). Therefore, da Empoli immediately was able to pick up the potential of then-emerging Public Choice, on both positive and normative grounds: Public Choice offered a rigorous analytical lens that Scienza delle finanze at that time still lacked.

“Since its birth JPFPC has published many works of Italian and international scholars, including Nobel Prize winners (M Allais, JM Buchanan, RH Coase, G Stigler). “

The rest is history. Since its birth JPFPC has published many works of Italian and international scholars, including Nobel Prize winners (M Allais, JM Buchanan, RH Coase, G Stigler). Over more than thirty years, thanks to constant and serious work by the former Editor and Editorial Board, all committed to publishing high-quality, peer-reviewed papers, and to their openness to new ideas, JPFPC has acquired a very good scientific reputation.

 

What about JPFPC’s future?

Our objective is to keep JPFPC a high-quality outlet for thought-provoking research. One change with the past is that we will aim to make the content of JPFPC more reflective of its title: that is, to advance knowledge in both public finance and public choice. We do not wish to favour one approach over the other. Rather, the attempt is to stimulate fruitful debate over different, rival positions. JPFPC therefore is an inclusive outlet.

In this sense, we also welcome behavioural, experimental and multidisciplinary approaches. Moreover, we encourage submissions from economics, as well as from cognate disciplines (geography, law, political science, sociology), that contribute to our understanding of the public economy and its broader constitutional, legal and political economy matrix. Theoretical and applied papers, including contributions on the history of economic thought, are welcome. When considering a contribution’s added value, JPFPC will continue to value originality over formalism.

We live in an era when journal indexing, metrics and turnaround times are increasingly influencing, especially in economics, an author’s ‘where to submit’ decision. JPFPC is already present in several databases, including Australian, EconLit, French, and MIAR. The objective is also to include JPFPC in other relevant databases, with the intention to obtain journal metrics. Furthermore, we are committed to a quick turnaround time.We are very grateful to Bristol University Press for believing in the JPFPC, and for recognising JPFPC’s uniqueness in the international landscape of public economics journals.

 

Note
1 On Domenico da Empoli, see Galli, E, Garzarelli, G, Villani, M, 2016, Domenico da Empoli, In Memoriam, International Tax Law Review (Single Issue), 9–15, and Galli, E, Garzarelli, G, 2017, Domenico da Empoli (1941–2016), Homo Oeconomicus: Journal of Behavioral and Institutional Economics 34, 2–3, 253–5

 

Find out more about the Journal of Public Finance and Public Choice (JPFPC) on our website.

The extent of poverty

By Gill Main, co-editor, with Esther Dermott, of the first volume of Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK and University Academic Fellow at the University of Leeds.

Originally published by Poverty and Social Exclusion on November 29th 2017. 

The UK-wide Poverty and Social Exclusion survey (PSE-UK) in 2012 revealed startling levels of deprivation. Eighteen million people are unable to afford adequate housing; fourteen million can’t afford essential household goods; and nearly half the population have some form of financial insecurity.

When compiling Poverty and Exclusion in the UK: the nature and extent of the problem, the first of the two-volume study based on this research, Esther Dermott and I were interested in what lay behind these top-level figures. How are different groups within the UK population affected? How do people experience poverty?

Drawing on the large-scale, representative data of this PSE-UK survey, leading experts in the field provide detailed insights into how poverty affects younger and older people; men and women; people from different ethnic backgrounds; children and parents; people with disabilities; and people in different geographical locations.

It is a stark picture: poverty, defined as those whose lack of resources and low-income forces them to live below a publicly agreed minimum standard, is affecting over one in five people – and over one in four children. Vulnerable groups are suffering disproportionately. These findings are deeply concerning; especially in light policy changes since 2012 which have already – and will continue to – push more and more vulnerable people into ever deeper poverty.

The PSE-UK approach – by combining deprivation (lacking necessities) with low-income – allows us to examine poverty in fine detail and throws light on the many ways in which poverty affects people’s lives, often obscured by less nuanced measures. In addition, the large sample of the survey – combined with the decision to interview all individual adult members of a household rather than a single household representative – has enabled us to identify new patterns in vulnerability to poverty among different groups.

Christina Pantazis and Saffron Karlsen, for example, present a detailed breakdown of the ways in which people from a wide range of ethnic background might experience poverty. Esther Dermott and Christina Pantazis show that men and women experience different types of vulnerability to poverty at different life stages. Pauline Heslop and Eric Emerson demonstrate that ‘disability’ cannot be treated as a homogenous characteristic, and people with different kinds of disability experience poverty in different ways. Gill Main and Jonathan Bradshaw disaggregate data on poverty within families with children, finding that while children are at the highest risk of poverty of all age groups, parents are likely to sacrifice their own needs to provide for children, making them even more vulnerable to lacking the necessities of life.

The book also highlights areas where more development is desperately needed: a theme running through many chapters is how to include the experiences and perspectives of diverse and heterogeneous groups while maintaining a comparable measure of poverty. Arguments are made for considering the unique situations of young people (Eldin Fahmy), people with disabilities (Pauline Heslop and Eric Emerson), and older people (Demi Patsios). As approaches to poverty measurement develop over time more groups have been represented in surveys – but there is still work to be done, for example in the inclusion of children’s own perspectives, rather than a reliance solely on parental reports on children’s experiences (Gill Main and Jonathan Bradshaw). A fuller representation of the needs, experiences and reports of these groups would further enhance our understanding of poverty and how it impacts the lives of those unlucky enough to experience it.

The UK PSE survey 2012 was conducted, and this book compiled, amidst an assault on the welfare state – in the guise of austerity politics – which have decimated the support available for those living on a low income. While we can only provide a snapshot of a single point in time, policy changes strongly suggest that if the survey were conducted today, findings would be even more stark. This poses serious concerns and questions about the effects of continued reductions in state support for people vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion.

People across the social groups examined in the volume are, among many other deprivations, going hungry, lacking adequate clothing, and living in low-quality housing which may impact their health in the present and in the future. Unsurprisingly, many of the chapters highlight the impact on well-being, both physical and mental, resulting from this. Shame is a common feeling among those without adequate resources – which is exacerbated by policy and media representations of the ‘undeserving’ poor and itself exacerbates a reluctance among people in poverty to seek the meagre and ever-decreasing state help that is available to them through the social security system.

We conclude the book with key messages for academics, policy makers, practitioners, and the media. A national reassessment of how poverty is represented, discussed, and addressed is overdue. We believe that the data and analysis presented in the volume offer valuable insight into the issues of poverty and social exclusion in the UK, and hope that the book will make a contribution to changing attitudes and, ultimately, to developing policy and practice more likely to effectively reduce and eliminate poverty in the UK.

 

Poverty and social exclusion in the UK edited by Esther Dermott and Gill Main is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £19.99.

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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.

 

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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.

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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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