Posts Tagged 'Inequality'

Growing injustice: six myths about inequality

final-cover-photoby Danny Dorling

Originally published on the New Statesman Politics Blog, The Staggers, 1 June 2015. Read the original article here.

We need to see things as they are, not as a few with great wealth would have the rest of us believe.

We used to say that most people don’t know how the other half lives; in the UK that has changed. Our society can no longer be meaningfully divided into two halves. Most of us have little understanding of the lives in the tranche just above or below us, and those people have little understanding of the tranches above and below them and so on. We live in different worlds. Most people find it difficult to believe that some people who have an income ten times higher than theirs, when asked, say that they are finding it difficult to manage financially. Continue reading ‘Growing injustice: six myths about inequality’

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

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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.

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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.

After the Olympics frenzy, will London’s East End return to its former poverty?

Photograph of Anne PowerBy Policy Press author Anne Power, Professor of Social Policy and Head of LSE Housing and Communities at the London School of Economics

East London boroughs are different from the rest of London – their populations have lower incomes, higher unemployment, lower skills, bigger concentrations of residents from ethnic minority backgrounds. Their population is younger with more lone-parent families, higher population turnover, more social housing. But the East End also has many valuable assets – more spare land and more disused buildings, more space for redevelopment, faster improving skill and lower house prices than London as a whole. All this is the legacy of centuries of intense development as London’s backyard.  The Olympic Games came to East London to overcome this twin legacy of high deprivation and spare capacity, which divides the area into extremes of wealth and poverty.

The LSE Housing and Communities team made repeat visits over ten years to one hundred low-income East End families in two of the Olympic boroughs – Hackney and Newham, both before and after the bid was announced. Today the LSE team is again interviewing residents about the direct impact of the Olympics on family life and local neighbourhoods. Newham is the main host of the Games and the borough will be directly affected. Before the Games, Newham had three times the national level of lone parents, double the unemployment rate, three times the rate of violent crime, double the proportion claiming benefits, double the proportion living in social renting. Despite the Games developments, Newham still ranks among the very poorest local authorities in the country.

Families struggling on low incomes in deprived neighbourhoods want a better future for their children. They welcome investment in their area, as long as it doesn’t directly threaten them, such as demolition of their homes. The Olympics, building on largely derelict sites, will add a major park and better transport connections, but locals are still unsure how much they will directly benefit. Olympic jobs have not proved easy to access. The Olympic site itself was firmly closed up to the Games; and the much vaunted legacy of new homes, school and health centre is yet to kick in. Only the brand new Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, the dense blocks of the athletes’ village in the distance, the festive street improvements, the outline of the stadium and the sight of the huge Olympic Park suggest the massive legacy there will be.

Yet real community change has happened since our family interviews began in 1998. Firstly, the arrival of high speed international trains at Stratford, long in coming, paved the way for London winning the Games, making King’s Cross less than 10 minutes from the Park. London buses, local trains and underground have improved around this long run plan. Secondly, the local Stratford shopping centre rose to the challenge of upmarket Westfield, by upgrading its image while still providing cheap, affordable goods for low-income local populations. Thirdly, local schools have climbed steadily from their very poor performance in the 1990s to catch up with national scores in the last few years.

So post-Olympic East London may become an easier place to bring up children, it may become a more harmonious, more hopeful, more resilient place. Or it may be left even poorer as spending cuts bite harder and resources tighten. Local leadership will need to fight for their existing communities, not for richer newcomers. More jobs, more education, more opportunity, more local events and more support for families and young people are the lifelines of survival in tough times. Local communities will be the losers if developers take their space and displace them. There’s a lot to win or lose after the Games.

Note: LSE Housing and Communities is carrying out research into the long term impact of the London Olympics on deprivation in the London Borough of Newham.

Anne Power is the co-author of East Enders: Family and community in East London, which is our special offer during August for only £15.00 (RRP £23.99). Purchase your copy.

Other books by Anne Power with The Policy Press:
City survivors: Bringing up children in disadvantaged neighbourhoods
Jigsaw cities: Big places, small spaces
Phoenix cities: The fall and rise of great industrial cities
Family futures: Childhood and poverty in urban neighbourhoods

DEBATE: ‘Capitalism works only when the rewards are seen to be shared’

Policy & Politics Debates, July 2012
Sarah Ayres, Associate Editor, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol

The most recent ‘debates’ articles for Policy & Politics are written by Stewart Lansley (Visiting Fellow, University of Bristol) and Professor Kevin Doogan (Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research, University of Bristol).

Lansley charts the growth of inequality under capitalism since the 1970s. He contends that ‘the proceeds of economic growth have been increasingly colonised by a small financial and business elite’ and that this trend is unsustainable. The forces driving higher levels of inequality remain in place and this, it is argued, makes economies increasingly unstable and prone to crisis. You can read the article, ‘Capitalism works only when the rewards are seen to be shared’ for free here.

Doogan responds by suggesting that appeals for a ‘nicer capitalism’ are perhaps unrealistic and instead solutions need to be found in broad societal transformations, rather than incremental reforms of the capitalism system. His article, ‘A fairer capitalism?’ is also now available for free here.

To find out more about Policy & Politics, please visit our website.

The petty politics of the anti-inequality brigade

Daniel Ben-Ami

The following is an extract from an essay on the Spiked website.

It is easy to make the mistake of assuming there is a big drive towards equality in the world today. Politicians, pundits and even billionaire financiers rail against the dangers of inequality, excess and greed. A handful of Occupy protesters claiming to represent the ‘99 per cent’ against the super-rich ‘one per cent’ are widely lauded in influential circles. Parallel campaigns slate the wealthy for failing to pay their fair share of tax. Officially sanctioned campaigns promote fairness, social justice, social equality, equal access to education and the like.

From this false premise it appears to follow that radical politics is alive and well. If equality was historically a core principle of the left then, so it is assumed, the current discussion must be enlightened and humanistic. Those who oppose the plethora of apparently pro-equality initiatives are therefore cast as reactionary souls who are probably in the pay of giant corporations.

The aim of this essay is to show that there is no dynamic towards equality at present. Instead there is a drive towards what could be called the therapeutic management of inequality. This is not a trivial distinction. On the contrary, the two sets of ideas embody fundamentally opposing conceptions of humanity.

Historically, support for equality was ultimately about trying to achieve the full human potential or what was often called the perfectibility of mankind. It meant advancing from a more backward society to a civilised one. In its most advanced forms it married a desire for social equality with support for economic progress.

In contrast, the discussion in recent years has shifted decisively against the idea of economic progress and towards a deep suspicion, even hatred, of humanity. It promotes initiatives to counter the dangers of social fragmentation in an unequal society. Indeed, this fear of a disintegrating society can be seen as the organising principle behind a wide range of measures to regulate supposedly dysfunctional behaviour. These range across all areas of personal life, including childrearing, drinking alcohol, eating, sex and smoking. Such initiatives assume that public behaviour must be subject to strict regulation or it could fragment an already broken society.

A distinct feature of the current discussion is that the rich are also seen as posing a threat to social cohesion. Their greed is viewed as generating unrealistic expectations among ordinary people. In this conception, inequality leads to status competition in which everyone competes for ever-more lavish consumer products. A culture of excess is seen to be undermining trust and a sense of community.

The contemporary consensus thus marries the fear of social fragmentation with anxiety about economic growth. It insists that the wealthy must learn to behave responsibly by maintaining a modest public face. It also follows that prosperity must be curbed. This is on top of fears about the damage that economic expansion is alleged to do to the environment.

This drive to curb inequality is informed by what could be called the outlook of the anxious middle. It is middle class in the literal sense of feeling itself being torn between the rich on one side and ordinary people on the other. Its aim is to curb what it regards as excesses at both the top and bottom of society. It sees itself as living in a nightmare world being ripped apart by greedy bankers at one extreme and ‘trailer trash’ at the other.

This essay will examine the significance of the contemporary fear of inequality. First, it will examine current criticisms of inequality made by politicians, the media and academics in more detail. Typically, they are keen to promote economic sacrifice, thus paving the way for austerity, while supporting intrusive measures to curb social fragmentation. Second, it will look at the historical support for equality from the Enlightenment of the late seventeenth and eighteenth century onwards. Typically, egalitarians of this period linked their support for equality with notions of progress and the realisation of human potential. Economic advance was often seen as playing a central role in this process.

In conclusion, it will examine the damaging consequences of the current debate. It is harmful on both political and economic grounds. On the one hand, its therapeutic drive to regulate behaviour makes it a gross threat to individual freedom. On the other, through its populist rhetoric it paves the way for the popular acceptance of austerity. In this respect, what could be called ‘green egalitarianism’ is essentially about promoting equitable sacrifice. Its goal is to ensure that pain is ‘fairly’ distributed in society.

This essay focuses on the transformation of the discussion of economic and social equality. However, it should be noted in passing that there is also a parallel debate to be examined in relation to the redefinition of political and legal equality.

Read the rest of this essay on the Spiked website.

Daniel Ben-Ami is the author of Ferraris for all: In defence of economic progress, published by The Policy Press.

Q&A with Minky Worden, editor of The Unfinished Revolution

Unfinished Revolution no 3

Image from The Unfinished Revolution. Photograph Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

The unfinished revolution: Voices from the global fight for women’s rights outlines the recent history of the battle to secure basic rights for women and girls, including in the Middle East where the hopes raised by the Arab Spring are yet to be fulfilled.

The book’s editor, Minky Worden, is Director of Global Initiatives for Human Rights Watch where she develops and implements international outreach and advocacy campaigns.

Here, she talks to us about developing the book and the future for women’s rights.

Firstly, can you tell us how the idea for the book came about?

The genesis of The Unfinished Revolution was an interview with Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights lawyer. She recounted her life story: as a young lawyer, she had been the first female judge in pre-revolution Iran, and was on the frontlines of that revolution. But after the political revolution in 1979, Iran’s legal system was changed to give women half the value of men in law, and Dr. Ebadi was made a secretary in the court she had once presided over. The Iranian government has since persecuted her for human rights and women’s rights work. So Shirin Ebadi’s story, which she tells in the book, is a cautionary tale for today.

We have seen political revolutions sweep decades-long dictators from office in the Middle East and North Africa. But we should remember that when new governments are taking power, when constitutions are being rewritten, this is a time when women and girls can either have rights advanced and solidified – or basic rights and freedoms can be rolled back.

And despite the undeniable progress achieved in women’s rights around the world in the past two decades, much remains to be done. The “unfinished revolution” refers to the global struggle for gender equality in education, work, health, and political participation. In many countries, women are legally considered second-class citizens, and in others, religion, custom, and traditions – from ‘honor killings’ to denial of property, labor and economic rights – block basic freedoms such as the right to work or study, and access to health care. Around the world, women and girls are trafficked into forced labor and sex slavery; rape is used as a weapon of war in conflict zones, and women still face major obstacles to education and reproductive freedom.

There are a wide range of contributors to the book. How did you manage to bring so many diverse people together?

Of the 33 contributors to this anthology, half are Human Rights Watch experts based around the world who wrote on topics ranging from rape in the Congo to maternal mortality in India, and domestic violence in Europe.

Others are key colleagues such as Georgette Gagnon, who has been the human rights director a the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and contributed a powerful chapter on how women in Afghanistan may be losing ground. We felt it is important to bring voices of women on the frontlines including Dr. Hawa Abdi of Somalia and Esraa Abdel Fattah from Egypt because they are themselves agents of change and share our vision that now is the time to tackle the “unfinished revolution” for women’s rights.

The book talks about a revolution in thinking about women’s rights as human rights. What differences do you think this would make to women’s lives?

In Dorothy Thomas’s chapter, she calls it “the power of an idea”. This concept is a key to changing mindsets, particularly in countries where so-called “harmful traditional practices” such as female genital mutilation, or ‘honor killings’ prevail. Our book seeks to make a reality of the slogan, “Women’s rights are human rights” by looking at practical and multi-dimensional solutions that work to empower and end abuses of women and girls.

A central feature of the book is a number of pieces from women who are victims of human rights abuses.  What do you think these heart-rending stories can tell us about the future battle for human rights?

 Honestly, although I asked her to write it, and have read it dozens of times, the story of a girl in Congo that opens Anneke VanWoudenberg’s chapter make me choke up every single time I read it.

These testimonies underscore the urgency of justice and change, particularly in countries where the lives of women and girls are at stake every day, such as the DRC, Afghanistan, Somalia or Iraq, but also in countries where the abuses are more insidious – in Europe, where domestic violence occurs behind closed doors, or the United States where many immigrant women face threats when they try to cross the border from Mexico or even once they have made it safely across the border.

There are several proposals within the book for new policies and solutions. What can people reading the book do to help?

First, thank you for reading the book! Second, it is easy to become complacent that progress for women is always forward. At times of political upheaval or transition, as with the military pull-out in Afghanistan, it is absolutely essential for leaders to engage on the subject of protections and freedoms, and to send the message that women’s rights are a top priority. When leaders don’t prioritize women’s rights, that sends a message too.

So write your leaders that it matters very much what messages are sent about women’s rights, and stay on top of what is happening through Human Rights Watch’s website. You can also consider getting involved in a global campaign such as “Girls Not Brides” efforts to end child marriage. Make your voice heard!

On the Human Rights Watch website, there are examples of success stories resulting from your campaigning. Can you tell us about any recent successes in the field of women’s rights?

One recent advance for women is the Saudi government’s announcement that it would allow “qualified” female athletes to compete in the London Olympics, following intense outside pressure from Human Rights Watch and concerned women athletes.

Can you tell us more about this current campaign regarding Saudi sports for women?

Despite this modest advance, it is at best a partial victory because we have still not succeeded in ending the effective ban for women who want to play sports inside Saudi Arabia. Gender discrimination in Saudi Arabia is institutional and entrenched. Millions of girls are banned from playing sports in schools, and women are prohibited from playing team sports and denied access to sports facilities, including gyms and swimming pools.

The fact that so few women are ‘qualified’ to compete at the Olympic level is due entirely to the country’s restrictions on women’s rights.

Human Rights Watch is seeking the end of discrimination against women and girls who want to play sports in Saudi Arabia. More broadly, we continue to push for long-term reforms in the kingdom, such as an end to the male guardianship system. For more information, please visit http://www.hrw.org/let-them-play.

Find out more about The Unfinished Revolution

A Historic Moment for Women’s Rights

Christiane Amanpour

An extract from The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the global fight for women’s rights, edited by Minky Worden

Unfinished Revolution cover image To the one who makes the lonely feel they are not alone, who satisfies those who hunger and thirst for justice, who makes the oppressor feel as bad as the oppressed. . . . may her example multiply,
May she still have difficult days ahead, so that she can do whatever she needs to do, so that the next generation will not have to strive for what has already been accomplished.
—Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, from his poem “To Shirin Ebadi,” read at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in 2003

In October 2011, the Norwegian Nobel Committee named three women winners of the Nobel Peace Prize—an award won by only a dozen women since 1901. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her compatriot Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman were honored “for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights,” in a declaration that was clearly intended to send the message that the moment for women and girls to achieve basic rights had arrived.

The Peace Prize citation proclaimed, “We cannot achieve demoracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.” As the Nobel Committee emphasized, this moment is as dramatic as any in recent decades for women and girls.

I have been a foreign correspondent for almost three decades in just about every war zone there is. I have made my living in an overwhelmingly male profession, bearing witness to some of the most horrific events of the end of the last century. In this time, we have seen enormous changes in law and practice, with measurable progress in women’s ability to get an education, to work, and to make decisions about their own bodies.

Yet as this book seeks to explain, in much of the world, basic rights such as control over their lives and access to health care remain far out of reach for millions of women and girls.

In India, some state governments can’t be bothered to count the number of women dying from preventable causes in pregnancy and childbirth. In the United States, rape victims are denied justice through bureaucratic inertia. In Somalia, warlords and famine—yet again—threaten women’s lives and families. In some European countries, women fleeing domestic violence are sent home to “work it out” with their abusive spouses. In Saudi Arabia, women of all ages live under a male guardianship system, preventing them from working, studying, marrying, driving, or traveling abroad without the permission of a male guardian—a father, husband, brother, or even a son.

China is a country of contradictions that has lowered infant and maternal mortality rates, and raised education standards, while still imposing a one-child policy that often leads to major abuses of women, including forced abortions. Indeed, in many countries, the picture is mixed, with progress in education and maternal mortality paired with escalating health threats such as HIV/AIDS and barriers to participation in public life.

In several places, including Iraq and Afghanistan, women are losing ground, facing violent insurgencies that threaten and attack women who are active in public life or work outside their homes. As Rachel Reid writes in this anthology, a common form of threat in Afghanistan is the “night letter” left at a house or girls’ school, such as this ominous letter sent to a female government employee: “We Taliban warn you to stop working for the government, otherwise we will take your life away. We will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner. This will be a good lesson for those women like you who are working.”

With societies from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya in political transition from repressive dictatorships, fundamental questions remain about whether women will indeed benefit from the overthrowing of tyrants. It is not yet clear whether they will be allowed to participate in the new political systems in the Middle East, or whether their rights will be protected under the region’s new constitutions.

This book is designed to spotlight these and other pressing problems for women and girls in the world today, and to give a road map to solutions that can work. In these pages you will meet tenacious women human rights defenders. You will hear in their own voices from women and girls who have faced unimaginable terror and grief. And you can decide for yourself whether so-called “traditional practices” such as early marriage or female genital mutilation are just harmful practices that have no rightful place in the world today.

Human Rights Watch was one of the first international organizations to treat domestic violence as a human rights issue. In war-torn Bosnia and Rwanda, researchers documented systematic rape and other forms of violence against women as a “weapon” in war, laying the groundwork for courts to later prosecute sexual violence as a crime against humanity. The organization’s experts, such as Nadya Khalife, who writes movingly about her work to end female genital mutilation in Iraq, show us how it should be possible at this historic moment for women’s rights activists to expand local campaigns and achieve truly global impact.

In some cases, as when Eleanor Roosevelt championed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, change for women can come at the stroke of a pen; in other cases, change takes generations. In Libya and states now building institutions from the ground up, addressing rights and protections for women is not yet at the top of priority lists. However, as the US State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer points out, this is a shortsighted and dangerous approach because “the vibrancy of these potential democracies will depend on the participation of women.”

When women are fully empowered, there is clear evidence that previously unthinkable opportunities develop, for them—and also for their families, communities, and countries. The effectiveness of women as peace negotiators in conflict zones led the United Nations Security Council to adopt Resolution 1325, which recognized “the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building,” as well as “the need to increase their role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution.” The selection of Leymah Gbowee as a laureate of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was based largely on her tireless activities as a peace negotiator in Liberia.

In September 2011, just before the Nobel committee announced its award recognizing the vital work of women, the world lost one of its few female Nobel laureates. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was a pioneering professor who led an environmental revolution in her native Kenya. Her key to success, she often said, was empowering women “to create a society that respects democracy, decency, adherence to the rule of law, human rights, and the rights of women.”

It is a time of change in the world, with dictators toppling and new opportunities arising, but any revolution that doesn’t create equality for women will be incomplete. The time has come to realize the full potential of half the world’s population.

Christiane Amanpour is the anchor of ABC’s Sunday morning news program, This Week with Christiane Amanpour. Chief International Correspondent at CNN from 1992 to 2010, she joined CNN in 1983. Amanpour has reported on and from the world’s major hot spots including Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iran, Iraq, Rwanda, and Somalia, and has won every major broadcast award—including nine Emmys, four George Foster Peabody Awards, two George Polk Awards, and the Courage in Journalism Award.

The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the global fight for women’s rights was published by The Policy Press in the UK & Europe on 4 July 2012, £14.99. The book is available to buy at 20% discount from our website.

You can hear editor Minky Worden talking about some of the issues in the book on a podcast or follow news relating to the book on its Facebook page.


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