Posts Tagged 'peter beresford'

Social policy first hand

Beresford, Peter

Peter Beresford

Peter Beresford, author of Social policy first hand, discusses developing inclusive action and conversation, globally, about participatory public policy.

Two of the great linked ideological and global problems of our age are the threat to the sustainability of our planet and the rising international tensions and conflicts linked with populist expansionist politics.

We have seen this in the UK with the divisive vote to leave the EU, and in the US with the election of President Trump and its associated deregulation, protectionism, xenophobia and international sabre-rattling. At the heart of both lie misinformation; the disempowerment and impoverishment of populations and the capacity of elites to manipulate them. Traditional paternalistic appeals to both self-interest and collectivism seem to cut little ice in these circumstances. Instead we have seen increasingly unconstrained neoliberalism let loose, with all media, including the new social media and networking once hoped for as a liberating force, put to its service.

The only thing that looks likely to break this perilous logjam is to move beyond the old paternalistic forms of opposition, take more seriously and treat more coherently the new bottom up approaches to self organizing and policymaking which have been emerging especially since the 1970s. That is both the message of this book and the practical role it offers as a route map to new grassroots approaches to involvement, organizing, resistance and renewal.

Social policy first hand explores how a transformed participatory approach to social policy can engage some of the most oppressed and marginalized people and groups in the world and how they are becoming the vanguard for progressive political ideological and social change. Supported by mainstream academics prepared to work in more equal ways with grassroots activists and their self-organisations, the book shows how such user led approaches to public policy are both possible and developing globally in the Global South, no less than the Global North.

We learn about new accessible and inclusive ways of organizing; the strengths and weaknesses of using social media and networks; the costs and gains of being a whistleblower, of fighting for the rights of a family member wrongly killed in the ‘caring’ system. We find out more about the links between participatory and sustainable social policy and how each is essential for the other. We learn from service users and practitioners how practice can become more user led. We are reminded that experiential knowledge, that is to say knowledge grounded in first hand experience, so long devalued in public policy while so-called ‘expert’ knowledge has been privileged, can and must have a key part to play in co-producing the policies and support that people need.

Such a participatory approach to public policy and provision challenges the marginalization of diversity, with contributions here including some of the most excluded groups; people with learning difficulties, indigenous peoples, those who have been homeless, forcibly restrained or institutionalized. It offers the possibility of getting beyond the rhetoric to see from experience how to make co-production, user involvement and listening to devalued voices real rather than just rhetorical.

Social policy first hand challenges the historic paternalistic role of social policy as a reformist device, while offering practical lessons about involvement at every level, from grassroots organizing against oppressive policy change, to playing an active part in shaping the protocols of supra national organisations. Here established social policy academics and thinkers join forces with service user thinkers and activists to explore different understandings, tactics and goals. This is a book for activists, educators and learners who want to make change by building on the diverse knowledge we already have about what can make working for such change a feasible and inclusive process. It aims to encourage a new generation of social policy that can both rescue us from the seemingly unstoppable rise of neoliberalism and ideological extremism, while offering a convincing practical, democratic and sustainable alternative.

Beresford_Social policy first handSocial policy first hand by Peter Beresford and Sarah Carr is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.99.

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

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

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

Welfare debate: How should people look after each other in a twenty first century society?

The official launch of Peter Beresford’s book taking place this evening as part of an engaging debate on the future of the welfare state by an impressive panel of speakers including John McDonnell, Natalie Bennett and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

We asked Peter to kick start thinking about the issue by sharing his thoughts on why he felt All our welfare was a book that needed to be written….

Beresford image“I wanted to take a fresh look at the post-war welfare state, particularly from the perspectives of people on the receiving end, as a case study of social policy.

What was wrong with it, could it be improved? I wanted to see how well modern neo-liberal social policy lived up to its claims of improving on state welfare. But most of all, I wanted to explore what social policy might look like and how it might be secured, which was truly participatory and involved us in all our diversity in improving our well-being –the cross-party mantra of modern public policy.

And because my concern here, as in all my work, has been with ‘user involvement’ and ‘citizen participation’, I wanted to do this in a participatory way; engaging with experiential as well as ‘expert’ or professional knowledge, drawing on my own, my family’s and many other people’s experience as welfare service users.

The reader will be the judge of how well this task has been tackled. But it led me to a realization that there was a key question facing modern social policy, that barely seems to have been articulated, let alone addressed in all the discussions, developments and reforms that have been taking place.

“‘welfare’ has in some mouths become a dirty word…”

Continue reading ‘Welfare debate: How should people look after each other in a twenty first century society?’

Beyond Downton: Can the welfare state embrace a participatory future? #participatorycare #allourwelfare

The union of personal experience and professional knowledge has informed Peter Beresford’s latest book All our welfare which publishes today. In his guest post he reflects on a life lived in parallel with the development of the welfare state and suggests greater involvement of participants in the process of welfare could be the key to an enduring future…

Beresford imageWriting All Our Welfare has really made me realize just how much the welfare state has impacted on my life – personally as well as professionally.

At a time when we are encouraged to think of ‘welfare’ as for ‘other’ people, particularly stigmatized and devalued other people, this goes against the grain of received wisdom.

I realize that I may have had more contact than most people, with state services – including so-called heavy end ones, like ‘benefits’, psychiatric system, environmental health, rent officers and so on. But this increasingly feels like a strength rather than a weakness in exploring social policy.

Lived experience

I wanted my book to include and value lived experience as well as traditional ‘expert’ knowledge. As part of this I included comments from many members of my family in the book. What was interesting was that all of them could speak from direct experience about the welfare state, from age three to 91 and most did so enthusiastically (Charlie (aged 11) and Poppy (aged 9) weren’t too keen on some aspects of school!).
Continue reading ‘Beyond Downton: Can the welfare state embrace a participatory future? #participatorycare #allourwelfare’

Free extract: All our welfare – foreword by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, journalist and author, has written an impassioned foreword to Peter Beresford’s forthcoming book All our welfare and you can read the full extract of the book in full for free here!

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown – Credit: Wikipedia

Ours is an age of rage, miserliness, crudity and startling ignorance. Seventy years ago, although Britons were exhausted and depleted by barbarous world wars, they were generous, idealistic, hungry for education and collectivist. That past and our present didn’t just happen. Politics, policies and national conversations make, change and manipulate public attitudes, sometimes to prepare the ground for major ideological or economic remodelling.

After the two world wars, the poor and working classes would, in time, have wearily returned to the old, unjust status quo. In 1945, before this fatalism set in, while the wounds and horrifying memories were still fresh, the Labour government tapped into and drew on the nation’s anguish and insecurities as it embarked on reconstruction and radical change. The people were primed, made ready for the welfare state. It, was, in effect, a quiet, very British, revolution. Without the pain of war, without astute politicking there would have been no gain.

Margaret Thatcher’s counter revolution aimed to incapacitate this welfare state. Men and women, she believed, had obligations only to their own families. She wanted this nation to be like the USA, ultra competitive, avaricious, selfishly Darwinist. It took longer than…Read the full extract for free here


You can also follow Yasmin Alibhai-Brown @y_alibhai and Peter Beresford @BeresfordPeter on Twitter.

All our welfare [FC]All our welfare publishes on 29th January and is available to pre-order here  from the Policy Press website. Remember that Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – if you’re not a member of our community why not sign up here today?

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


Hedgehogs, Foxes and Sociologists*

Dr. Katherine Smith                        Dr. Nasar Meer


Dr. Nasar Meer and Dr. Katherine Smith write:

The late Isaiah Berlin once distinguished between two types of political animal: the first was a prickly hedgehog (who views the world through the lens of a single defining idea), and the other a cunning fox (for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea).  Sociologists have traditionally aspired to be neither. Motivated less by ‘normative’ positions and arguments, it is with some bemusement that many of us have encountered Aditya Chakrabortty’s recent admonishments.

Like Bill Jordan (see previous blog post), we agree that the study of economics has been found wanting, and that Chakrabortty certainly catches something of a deeper conversation amongst academics, with the important proviso that Chakrabortty’s piece on occasion conflates those who study markets with those who feverishly endorse them. True, economics has in places been stripped of its critical and holist features, but there are political economists who continue, often persuasively, to take a more direct route (see for example David Harvey’s RSA lecture on the financial crisis). We do not wish to intrude on private grief however and so will leave economists to speak for themselves and focus instead on those who have disappointed Chakrabortty most.

A prevailing strand of sociological inquiry in Britain has long sought to make our social world more knowable through a methodology of verstehen; a term employed by the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920).  While this can incorporate quantitative and comparative perspectives, Weber’s task was to ‘empathetically understand’ the ways in which the actions of people and groups in society are inscribed with ‘meaning’.  Through the study of this meaning, he maintained, we could observe intentional or unintentional social outcomes, as shown in his study of early capitalism in Northern Europe, and specifically the role of a Calvinist-Protestant work ethic in encouraging capital accumulation and investment.

Much has changed in sociology, and we have past many ‘post-’s, but these approaches remain familiar to students and teachers of the discipline whose research spans the seemingly banal to the most contested; the most intimate to the most innocuous topics. That is to say that there is perhaps a consensus that whatever else sociological inquiry resembles, it must necessarily be motivated by a concern with something greater than political debate. It is here that Chakrabortty’s lament that a ‘Focauladian lens’ or studying ‘the holistic massage industry’ is a distraction from what really matters comes up short; not least because he repeats the error he is critiquing by giving primacy to all that is seemingly ‘economic’. Another way of putting this is to say that economics is not the only sphere of the social world and, to reverse the problem, it is short-sighted to uncouple economics from the study of culture, gender, ethnicity, and so forth, and so miss the intersectionalities of social phenomena.

This means it is not for sociologists to ‘defeat’ economists but to engage in sociologically valid inquiry that incorporates more than economics.  This does not mean ignoring the economic crisis rather to take it in the round. Hence the core theme of the 2010 British Sociological Conference (BSA) was ‘Inequalities and Social Justice’, while ‘Sociology in the Age of Austerity’ was the core theme for our 2012 meeting. Each of these showcased important arguments that are yet to find their way into press, partly because the rigours of peer-review can entail a lag of around eighteen months between article submission and publication (we have elsewhere discussed what the implications of increased auditing of scholarship might entail)  Nonetheless, there is a diverse range of sociological scholarship on the economic crisis that offers more than the sum of its parts and so deals with the big questions too

In many ways Chakrabortty’s concern strikes at the heart of what has been debated widely – indeed on the pages of the journals he says ignore the economic crisis – as Public Sociology.  An important point here is that there is more than one ‘public’.  So when sociologists engage in the mass media, as is easily observed in the mediatised letters and campaigns against the NHS and Social Care Bill or the hike in tuition fees, Michael Gove’s ‘free’ schools, or the Government’s targeting of the most vulnerable, this is just one kind of public.  Sociologists also engage with other ‘publics’, many of which may be less visible to journalists such as local communities, prisons, virtual communities, and students (of various kinds, both inside and outside universities), as well as conventional academic publics. These too are sociological terrains of political economy.

It may be easy for Chakrabortty to dismiss a few (purposively selected) niche research topics as irrelevant but it is equally important to ensure that those with a public voice do not presume to know what is, and what is not, of interest to different kinds of publics. In the context of the economic crisis and its fall out, debates that take place between broadsheet commentators, academics and policymakers are just one kind of conversation (and, if we are honest, a rather elite and limited kind).

*Dr. Nasar Meer is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Northumbria University, and author of The impact of European Equality Directives upon British Anti-Discrimination Legislation, Policy & Politics, 38(2). Dr. Katherine Smith is a Lecturer in the Global Public Health Unit at Edinburgh University

What about the role being played by service users in the economic crisis?

ImageBill Jordan, the much respected social scientist, launched a spirited and thoughtful response here to Aditya Chakrabortty’s criticism in The Guardian of his academic peers for failing to address the crisis and cuts created by neo-liberal politics. But it, like the other responses from social scientists, seems to have cut little ice with Aditya who has since energetically defended his position. Perhaps, however, both of them are looking in the wrong direction. The sad truth is that social scientists have often been more effective in defending the status quo, than in challenging it.

The severity of the attacks on the most powerless people in our society  under the UK’s current government, including old and disabled people, poor families, disadvantaged young people and asylum seekers without citizen rights, are unmatched in modern memory. The crudity and viciousness of its welfare reform policies echo the poor law. These developments have only been matched by the flight of former allies of poor people who once fought their corner. The parliamentary Labour Party has taken a line on welfare reform little different from the Coalition. Big charities have seemed more interested in gaining government contracts from workfare schemes and outsourcing than speaking up for the constituencies they are supposed to serve. We should not be surprised if the response from social scientists, and indeed social policy academics and their professional organisations seems muted.

But what is much more interesting is the part that marginalized groups are themselves now beginning to play. While think tanks hog the media microphones and academics appear non-plussed under the cosh of the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework, disabled people, service users, their organisations and movements have stepped up to the plate to challenge the excesses of current capitalism. They have provided powerful first hand testimony of the excesses of current social policy and achieved U-turns at both an individual and policy level.

It was the Spartacus report on government welfare reform, put together by disabled people and their allies which first went viral and then stirred the House of Lords into action against welfare reform. It is the local user-led and disabled people’s organisations which have especially encouraged resistance and pioneered new forms of inclusive opposition, making use of social networking and social media. Service users have realized that we have to speak for ourselves because few others, it seems, will speak up on our behalf.

We can see the increasing impact of this action and engagement even in the lists of publishers like Policy Press, a not-for-profit publisher whose core mission is to make a positive difference to people’s lives, where the discourse is increasingly being influenced by service users, by calls for user involvement and by academic theory being recast and revitalized by the involvement of people with direct experience of the problems they talk about. The recent arrival of such ‘experiential knowledge’ into the policy arena, and the growing impact it has, represents a significant new force for change. That’s not to say there aren’t social scientists to be found among the growing band of service user activists. But perhaps we have been looking in the wrong places for them. They are more likely to be out there in the thick of it, rather than in academic associations and in the pages of unread peer review journals published by cutting edge capitalist companies.

Peter Beresford is co-author of Supporting people, published by The Policy Press, which demonstrates how change can be made now, and what strategic changes will be needed for person-centred support to have a sustainable future. It can be ordered here at 20% discount. Other books published for service users include Critical perspectives for user involvement by Marian Barnes & Phil Cotterell, which is also available at 20% discount.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Twitter Updates


Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print.

The work on the Policy Press blog is licensed under a Creative Commons licence.

%d bloggers like this: