Posts Tagged 'austerity'

The truth about benefits sanctions

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

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


Ruth Patrick

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

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

As David Cameron put it back in 2014:

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

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

Continue reading ‘The truth about benefits sanctions’

The welfare myth of them and us

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

John Hills (small)

John Hills

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading ‘The welfare myth of them and us’

Free extract: How austerity has been biting the UK since 2010

In light of the media surprise at George Osborne’s 2016 botched Budget and Ian Duncan Smith’s sudden bout of conscience we thought we’d treat you to some tasty extracts from Mary O’Hara’s book Austerity Bites.

 Chronicling the true impact of austerity as it has been felt in the UK since its inception in 2010 and calling the government to account for the pain inflicted on society’s most vulnerable, Austerity Bites reveals that the wounds of austerity have been visible for quite some time…

Mary O'Hara

Mary O’Hara

In February 2015 Tory Party grandees believed it was acceptable to hold a Black and White Ball fundraiser with tables going for £15,000 a time and to have among the items being auctioned bound copies of George Osborne’s Budgets, including the first ‘Emergency Budget’ that ushered in austerity.

While the average British citizen has been living in ever-more precarious circumstances and paying through the nose for bankers’ malfeasance the rich can rest assured that they won’t have to pay their fair share. This is the situation almost five years into Austerity UK.

This Tory and the previous coalition government have presided over manifold cases of people so crushed by the brutish, punitive changes to the welfare system, including the inexplicable ‘Bedroom Tax’, and sanctions that many have gone without food, resorted to begging or taken up ‘survival shoplifting’ after their meagre benefits support has been withdrawn. People are suicidal.


The government has driven innumerable disabled people to despair with its spectacularly inappropriate and mismanaged ‘back-to-work’ programmes that are still plagued by criticisms of callousness and ineptitude. Continue reading ‘Free extract: How austerity has been biting the UK since 2010’

4 lessons from the global financial crisis and austerity

As stock markets around the world continue to fluctuate, academic and author of The global financial crisis and austerity, David Clark, shares his thoughts on the four lessons to be learned from the global financial crisis and the ensuing government response of ‘austerity’ and tells us why he’s pleased to have been born when he was…

David Clark

David Clark

Nearly a decade has passed since the US sub-prime mortgage meltdown that triggered the great financial crash of 2008. The advanced economies of the world have yet to make a full recovery from the crash and subsequent Great Recession.

In fact, 2016 has begun with renewed turmoil in global financial markets, reflecting concerns about the slowdown of economic activity in China and the collapse in the price of oil and other commodities.

These are compounded by fears that mediocre growth may be a ‘new normal’, with austerity and the overhang of debt acting as a drag on household consumption. The spectre of skilled jobs being lost due to automation is also contributing to ‘growth gloom’.

So what has gone wrong? Here are four lessons that I think we need to learn about the global financial crisis and austerity.

Lesson 1 – The experts got it wrong

Or, if you want to be really disrespectful, the people in charge don’t know much more than we do (see here). Continue reading ‘4 lessons from the global financial crisis and austerity’

6 free articles on the economic impact of austerity

Photo credit:

Photo credit: Number 10

In the immediate aftermath of the first wholly Conservative government budget in nearly 20 years reaction has been mixed.

Some believe Chancellor George Osborne’s move towards a higher-wage, lower-tax economy is fair and will give the majority of families a higher standard of living. For others, the budget was seen as ‘deceitful’, with the proposed cuts in benefits outweighing the gains, leaving the poorest even worse off.

The coming weeks and months will of course reveal the true impact but now is a good time to review some of the economic impacts of the austerity programme to date, assessing them on the basis of scholarly evidence and research.

For the next week we’re giving you FREE access to six articles from across our journals. These examine austerity economics across local government, the legal system, disability movements, social work and the voluntary sector:

Weathering the perfect storm? Austerity and institutional resilience in local government (Policy & Politics, volume 41, number 4): Evidence from case study research shows the dominance of cost-cutting and efficiency measures, as in previous periods of austerity. But creative approaches to service redesign are also emerging as the crisis deepens, based upon pragmatic politics and institutional bricolage.

Austerity justice (Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, volume 21, number 1): Discusses why civil legal aid has reached this low point and the impact of the loss this source of support for advice on welfare benefits and other common civil legal problems.

Cutting social security and tax credit spending (Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, volume 19, number 3): Examines the scale and nature of earlier government cuts by focusing on the indexation and capping of benefits, making benefits more selective and the fate of contributory benefits in the cuts.

Out of the shadows: disability movements (Critical and Radical Social Work, volume 2, number 2): In resisting cuts to disability benefits and services, today’s disability activists have consciously established themselves as an important part of a wider resistance to austerity.

Crisis, austerity and the future(s) of social work in the UK (Critical and Radical Social Work, volume 1, number 1): Examining the impact of the Government’s policy of ‘austerity’, which seeks to shift the costs of that crisis onto the poorest sections of the population while seeking also to undermine the post-war welfare settlement.

Decoupling the state and the third sector? The ‘big Society’ as a spontaneous order (Voluntary Sector Review, volume 4, number 2): Draws on Friedrich Hayek’s theory of ‘spontaneous order’, suggesting that the Big Society involves some implicit Hayekian assumptions. It concludes by considering the implications of regarding the third sector in such terms.

We publish seven highly prestigious journal in the social sciences. If you’d like to find out more about Policy Press journals and for information on how to subscribe to any of the journals then click on the links below.

Mary O’Hara: Austerity bites with more cuts all the way to 2020

Mary O’Hara’s Austerity Bites is out today in paperback. In today’s guest post Mary contextualises and shares her preface to the paperback edition. She is disappointed at how little has changed since she conducted the interviews and continues to be concerned for the future of the UK as austerity looks set to bed down even further, irrespective of which party/ies win the UK General Election.

Mary O'Hara

Mary O’Hara

Another £12bn. That’s what is on the cards if there is a Conservative-led government elected in May. The chancellor George Osborne has pledged – despite repeated signs in the run up to the election that the economic recovery is extremely fragile – to ratchet up the cuts that for the past five years have harmed economic growth and devastated millions of people.

For people directly affected by austerity, for example the disabled who have seen incomes shrink drastically and who have been repeatedly targeted with punitive welfare reforms, and younger people who are still struggling to find secure jobs with decent wages, all the talk of a bouncing back can sound delusional.

There is a lot at stake in the upcoming election. What kind of NHS will the country have? Will social care services be able to cope with rising demand as pressure on funding snowballs? How many more children and families will go hungry or homeless? How much more can the poorest in society be punished for the misconduct of bankers and the hoarding of wealthy?

Preface to the paperback edition
It is early spring 2015 and the Tory/Liberal Democrat Coalition’s five-year term in power, during which it has unleashed an austerity programme of historic proportions on the UK, is drawing to a close. What I would like to be writing is that austerity has at last been widely seen for the gigantic folly it is and that its wholesale dismantling is under way. I want to tell you that, like Greece, a country ravaged by the worst austerity in Europe, Britain is on the verge of electing a new government that will reject the reckless venture once and for all.

Instead, it is abundantly clear that the first edition of Austerity bites, which chronicles the grisly human cost that was paid during the first three years of unprecedented cuts to public spending, has turned out to be a mere taster of the cruelty that has been experienced by whole swathes of the British population at the hands of its own government. It is also clear that, despite repeated warnings of the damage being done to people who were already struggling to get by, there is no end in sight. As I write, the electorate knows that even if the Labour Party gains power, further (although less drastic) cuts are on the way until at least 2020.

By this time, spring 2015, we know that the Coalition government has willingly left legions of its own citizens unnecessarily destitute, poor, hungry, dependent on food banks, freezing in their own homes, marginalised from society, and publicly vilified and shamed for daring to be unemployed, disabled or sick. As Mark Blyth points out in the foreword to this paperback edition, austerity as it evolved in the UK after 2011 was more about targeting aspects of spending that affected the most vulnerable than a full-blown fiscal transformation that hit the financial elites where it hurt.

The government has presided over manifold cases of people so crushed by the brutish, punitive changes to the welfare system, including the inexplicable ‘Bedroom Tax’, and sanctions that many have gone without food, resorted to begging or taken up ‘survival shoplifting’ after their meagre benefits support has been withdrawn. People are suicidal.

“…it is clear that the Tories, especially, remain hell-bent on pushing through yet more ideologically driven, record-breaking cuts and harsh reforms to social security”

The government has driven innumerable disabled people to despair with its spectacularly inappropriate and mismanaged ‘back-to-work’ programmes that are still plagued by criticisms of callousness and ineptitude. The government has abolished the Independent Living Fund in England, a vital social security safety net that helped around 18,000 of the most severely disabled people retain their hard-fought independence in the community.

Despite the mountain of evidence piling up on the barbarity of austerity – and the fact that the deficit that purportedly necessitated all this pain has nowhere near been eradicated – it is clear that the Tories, especially, remain hell-bent on pushing through yet more ideologically driven, record-breaking cuts and harsh reforms to social security.

Welfare state’s grave

During his first four-and-a-half years as Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne had already gleefully dug the welfare state’s grave, but his 2014 Autumn Statement was the mallet to hammer the nails into its coffin. Osborne confirmed that, if the Conservatives were re-elected, billions more would be slashed from the public purse, including from social care budgets that fund essential services designed to protect the most vulnerable and poorest in society, including children, disabled and older people.

Immediately after the Statement, the highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies concluded that the government’s plans to shave another £20 billion from spending would constitute cuts ‘on a colossal scale’, while at the beginning of 2015 it reported that if proposed Conservative Party plans were enacted they would amount to ‘the largest fiscal consolidation out of 32 advanced economies over the period from 2015 to 2019’.

“… the much-trumpeted uplift in jobs has continued to be characterised by low pay, insecure contract work and involuntary (poorly paid) self-employment”

Make no mistake about the sweeping and ruinous legacy of five years of austerity in the UK. The economic recovery has been the slowest and least robust ever recorded, and the Chancellor’s deep cuts were estimated in February 2015 to have contributed to a needless shrinking of GDP by 5 per cent, delaying any recovery from the get-go.

Millions of people are now poorer, housing costs have soared and living standards continue to fall. Average earnings have dropped significantly. And, as this book’s first edition correctly anticipated, the much-trumpeted uplift in jobs has continued to be characterised by low pay, insecure contract work and involuntary (poorly paid) self-employment. This is how TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady summed it up to me in February 2015:

“As the 2010 to 2015 parliament draws to a close, the average full-time wage will be worth at least £2,000 less than it was when David Cameron entered Downing Street. Austerity has had a tremendous amount to do with this. It’s meant we have the slowest recovery in British economic history, with far too many low-paid, insecure jobs and not enough of the well-paid, decent work people need. But there is an alternative, and that is to build a different kind of economic future based on greater equality of income and wealth.”

Let’s not forget that homelessness is rising dramatically, that services ranging from domestic violence support to addiction facilities, to provision for disabled people and children are closing or stretched to the limit, that access to justice has been severely curtailed due to Legal Aid cuts and that the queues for food banks have swollen to extraordinary levels.

Remember too the government’s lamentable stewardship and quasi-privatisation of the NHS, as well as truly devastating cuts to mental health services. It is no wonder that suicide rates for men have risen steadily since 2007. This is what Professor Sir Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said of the rise:

“It is of great concern that the UK’s male suicide rate is at its highest level for more than a decade. The economic downturn is likely to have played some role in the rise, with mental health services now facing a ‘perfect storm’ of increased demand set against three years of real-terms cuts to budgets. Many people in crisis are simply not getting the support they need.”

There are some signs of hope. Many groups, large and small, as well as individual campaigners continue a valiant fight on an anti-austerity platform and new ones are emerging all the time.

Latterly there has been the rise in the popularity of smaller political parties coalescing around an anti-austerity agenda: the SNP in Scotland, Plaid Cymru in Wales, and the Green Party across the UK offer some kind of alternative29 to voters disillusioned with the mainstream cuts consensus.

But still, I am not able to write what I would have wanted to. I cannot tell you that people’s undue suffering has ended or is about to end.

#austerity #GE2015

Related articles

Tory austerity will eat up the welfare state by Mary O’Hara

Austerity bites [FC] borderAusterity Bites by Mary O’Hara is available for purchase from our website here (RRP £9.99). 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?

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A response to the European and UK local elections by Alison Shaw, Director of Policy Press


When I set up Policy Press it was because I was passionate about social issues.  I felt strongly that we needed to fight for a fairer society, one that looked after all its citizens regardless of their wealth and background; race, ethnicity or faith; gender, age or (dis)abilities; regardless of whether they lived in England or Ethiopia.

Our authors are the experts on how to achieve that goal, from understanding the challenges at a theoretical level through to how to implement policy and practice on the ground, and until today, I have been delighted to let them do the talking.  But following the recent results in the UK local and European elections I am moved to join the conversation and speak out.

This weekend we have seen again the rise of the extreme right in politics, both in the UK and across Europe.  This move appears to be a response to a range of factors – a belief that the European Union is inefficient and has too much control over nation state policies; a fear that immigration is a threat to jobs, security and culture; and an understandable anxiety for many as the global recession continues to take its toll.

It may be that the European Union as an institution is in need of reform, but we have to remember why we have a Union.  Initially a post-World War II settlement, it was a means for ensuring cooperation to avoid future conflict.  More recently it has been more about power and global influence in response to the rise of the emerging economies of China, India and Brazil – but the initial  collaborative intent must not be forgotten.

My fear is that, if we remain silent, then things we take for granted like the belief in equality and fairness will be lost and things we don’t think possible, will happen.  Our authors’ thoughtful writing has helped me to contemplate many of these issues and the three books below stand out for me.

ImageThe UK Government’s response to the global recession was an ‘Austerity’ drive, cutting back spending dramatically, especially to the welfare budget. This has hit those already in challenging circumstances in a devastating way.  Mary O’Hara, a journalist and Fulbright Scholar spent a year travelling the UK interviewing those facing hardship and those supporting them.  Her eloquent, insightful book Austerity Bites, published today, provides first hand testimony of what it is like to be struggling –  not to have enough to feed your family despite working your hardest in low paid, insecure jobs.

When we feel our security is challenged, one response is to fight back.  When we feel threatened we can look around for those that are different to blame.  Perhaps this points to why we are facing an increasing tide of anti-immigration rhetoric.  The headlines in some of the UK tabloid papers have been shocking: “We must stop the migrant invasion” Daily Express, “4,000 foreign murderers and rapists we can’t throw out” Daily Mail or “How Romanian criminals terrorise our streets” Daily Express.



Malcolm Dean, previously Social Affairs Editor for the Guardian, looked at how the media influences and manipulates public opinion and the effect this has on politics and policy in his highly praised book Democracy under Attack.  It provides perhaps one possible answer to how and why we have seen the French National Front, the Dutch Freedom Party and the UK Independence Party (UKiP) gaining such traction in the recent elections.

Image Dimitris Ballas, of Sheffield University and Danny Dorling and Ben Hennig of Oxford University have created the first European Social Atlas and it  analyses social and political Europe in detail.  This beautifully produced book shows in clear graphic form that Europe is a blend of cultures, languages, traditions, landscapes and ideologies that are often not bound by state or regional borders.  The social atlas of Europe is “an insightful look at today’s Europe” (Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley) and will be published on 25 June. It shows Europe and the Europeans in an entirely new light and highlights why we should be, working together, not pulling apart.

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