Posts Tagged 'Poverty'

What’s next for poverty?

Barry Knight 3

Barry Knight

Barry Knight, author of Rethinking poverty: What makes a good society?, explains why we need to change the way we frame ‘poverty’ in order to make progress.

“Progress on poverty has stalled, in fact the proportion of people living in poverty in the UK has remained the same since 2005. This applies both to absolute and to relative poverty.

Poverty campaigners know that they need a new language if they are to make progress. Justin Watson from Oxfam has suggested that charities are getting it wrong:

“There is growing consensus that the narratives used by the third sector, however well-meaning and ‘right’, have been rejected. Take ‘poverty’ for example, a term that is politically divisive, laced with stigma and highly contested to the point of still having to persuade people it exists at all in the UK.”

Reports on poverty may raise awareness but, as Olivia Bailey, Research Director of the Fabian Society points out, “talking about a problem doesn’t generate enthusiasm for a solution”. Leading journalist Simon Jenkins has recently written that endless research into Britain’s growing gap between rich and poor is a waste of time. We need to set aside partisan politics and act.

Yet, solutions are hard to come by. The traditional remedies of the post-war settlement – work and welfare – are no longer sufficient. Social security payments leave many people struggling to make ends meet, while economic development produces low paid jobs.

So, how do we end poverty when the traditional means of doing so no longer work?

Technocratic policy fixes treat symptoms, rather than address the complex processes that produce poverty in the first place. Moreover, such an approach wastes effort in repairing an old system that seems incapable of eradicating poverty. We can no longer rely on public and private sectors to guarantee people’s well-being and there is little sign that anything in present arrangements will make our society better.

“This approach redesigns our society so that poverty becomes obsolete.”

We need to reframe our approach. Rather than addressing what we don’t want – poverty – we need to develop what we do want – a society without poverty. This approach redesigns our society so that poverty becomes obsolete.

To do this, we need to draw on a sociological tradition originally deriving from the work of C. Wright Mills, and modernised by John Paul Lederach, in which we use our moral imagination to develop the society we want. Research by the Webb Memorial Trust shows that the society people want differs markedly from the society we have. Rather than opting for a society based on current political categories, they want a society where social factors come first, where relationships are given priority, and the economy supports people in their lives, rather than the persistent drive for ‘growth’.

The model of how we develop a good society needs to change. This can no longer come from the elites as something done to us. Rather, it involves us doing it for ourselves. ‘You can’t go around building a better world for people. Only people can build a better world for people. Otherwise it’s just a cage’, wrote Terry Pratchett in Witches Abroad. Nowhere is this truer than the ending of poverty, a process that now can and must involve the poor being their own agents of change.

“The way forward lies not in a set of transactional policies that shift resources, but rather in the development of transformational relationships that shift power.”

The way forward lies not in a set of transactional policies that shift resources, but rather in the development of transformational relationships that shift power. Young people understand this and that is why working with them to help them take power must be the first goal of social policy.

Rethinking poverty [FC]The pdf of Rethinking poverty by Barry Knight is available to download free via OAPEN. The paperback is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website.  Order here for just £7.99.

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Challenging the politics of early intervention

Nicola Horsley

Ros Edwards

Val Gillies

The past decade has seen a rash of early intervention programmes targeting mothers of young children.

Reports by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, and early years policy and service provision in the UK and internationally, are now characterised by an emphasis on early intervention in the belief that pregnancy and the earliest years of life are most important for development. It has become the orthodoxy in a whole range of professional practice fields.

The idea of being able to intervene in parenting to ensure better life chances for children feels constructive and positive, but there is little evidence to suggest that it works. Moreover, early intervention doctrine ultimately holds mothers accountable for poverty and other social ills.

“…there is little evidence to suggest that it works.”

Pressure on mothers

Early intervention is directed at mothers as the core mediators of their children’s development. The significance of mother-child relationships in the early years often is underlined through reference to the developing brain. For example, the website of the influential Harvard Center on the Developing Child refers to mothers as ‘buffers’ between their children and adversity. As buffers, they are held personally responsible for inculcating what the Harvard Center terms ‘a biological resistance to adversity’ in their children.

The quality of mother-child relationships is posed as a decisive lever in building children’s brains, and is a core principle structuring the everyday work of many early years intervention programmes. In one UK early years intervention initiative that targets young and marginalised first time mothers, the Family Nurse Partnership programme, practitioners provide mothers with a sheet headed ‘How to build your baby’s brain’ featuring a list of activities claimed to enrich neural connectivity, such as reading books, singing rhymes, and playing on the floor.

“The deprivation facing poor working class families is posed as a result of poor mothering.”

The responsibility loaded onto mothers is especially pronounced in relation to low income, working class mothers and Black and minority ethnic mothers, as both cause of and solution to their children’s marginalisation and poverty.

The deprivation facing poor working class families is posed as a result of poor mothering and consequently the stunted brains of their offspring, at the same time as they are positioned as buffers who can mitigate against and overcome the effects of a harsh wider environment for their children. Early intervention programmes such as the UK’s Family Nurse Partnership, the Solihull Approach, and Parent-Infant Partnerships, overwhelmingly are delivered in areas of deprivation to poor mothers.

Ideas about brain science are used to legitimise interventions in the child rearing habits of working class families, protecting children brought up in poverty from any effects of their disadvantage and promote their social mobility. The social and structural causes of hardship and need that are being experienced by these families in the present are effectively masked, placing mothers as hidden buffers against the effects of privation on their children.

The developing world

Globally, UNICEF brings together early years development and parenting to offset children experiencing war and hunger on the basis of the speed of new neural connections formed in the brain in the early years, asserting that good parenting will help children overcome multiple adversities such as violence, disaster, and poverty. Despite the overall paucity of evidence that early years intervention works, initiatives are being rolled out across the developing world, in the belief that improved mothering will surely benefit the state of the nation.

For example, the ‘Fine Brains’ (Family-Inclusive Early Brain Stimulation) programme seeks to promote parental stimulation and interaction to improve children’s brain architecture in sub-Sahara. It asserts that mothers in these countries are ill-equipped to maximise the benefits of interaction, need to be trained, and then to train their husbands to parent properly. The complex and diverse historical, economic, political, social and religious contexts of sub-Saharan Africa are obscured in favour of a focus on individual mothers as able to overcome poverty, conflict and post-conflict, engrained gendered inequalities, and so on, through improving their knowledge of child development and home engagement practices.

“Despite the overall paucity of evidence that early years intervention works, initiatives are being rolled out across the developing world.”

 

A meritocratic construction

The policy and practice preoccupation with how poor mothers and deprived families bring up and nurture their children relies on a meritocratic construction of the wealthy and privileged as having better developed brains. This is a statement that many of us might find offensive. But within the confluence of brain science and early years intervention, success is naturalised and unproblematically correlated with brain structure and intelligence. From this perspective, the solution to poverty is to make people smarter. Working class mothers, black and minority ethnic mothers, and mothers in the global South can enable their children to think their way out of their predicament.

The idea that hardship and discrimination is to do with how much attention of the right sort that mothers give to their children, and the notion of countering global traumas and inequalities through parenting, is jaw-dropping. It demonstrates why early intervention policy and practice deserves more critical scrutiny.

 

Challenging the politics of early intervention by Val Gillies, Rosalind Edwards and Nicola Horsley is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website.  Order here for just £18.39.

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

One size does not fit all: the problem of extended working life policy

Áine Ní Léime and Debra Street, co-editors of Gender, ageing and extended working life, launching today at the British Society of Gerontology conference, discuss problematic extended working life policies, and their potential consequences for both women and men in later age. 

Debra Street

Áine Ní Léime

“How can affluent countries “afford” pensions for ageing populations?

Some policymakers prefer one answer—people should simply work longer, thus cost less. Increased longevity makes policies to extend working lives appear logical and seem potentially benign.

Favoured initiatives range from increasing state pension ages, requiring higher/more frequent worker pension contributions, eliminating mandatory retirement, and introducing anti-age discrimination legislation. They run concurrently with the broader neoliberal agenda of pension privatisation, making individuals (rather than employers and governments) more responsible for providing their own pensions or working to much later ages.

“Extended working life policies focus almost exclusively on reducing state pension costs…”

Such policies are highly problematic and reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the complexities of current employment arrangements and future job markets. Extended working life policies focus almost exclusively on reducing state pension costs, with scant attention to existing gendered differences across the life course, whether associated with adequate pay and flexibility to balance work and family responsibilities, working longer, or amassing pensions.

The upshot: women and men, unsurprisingly, would fare quite differently.

 

Back to the future: work ’til we die?

Workers in physically demanding and/or stressful jobs such as construction, cleaning or caregiving are likelier to have chronic health conditions or to be worn out by work as they approach the traditional state pension age, usually 65. Many started work at younger ages than the more advantageously employed, so they may already have spent 45 or more years at work by age 65.

Increasing state pension age requires them to work longer still. This punitive measure ignores their experience of already extended working lives, albeit at the younger end of the adult life course. It is unfair to deprive them of the choice to stop or work longer.

Because gender norms designate women as the primary providers of unpaid care for children and others, many have employment histories punctuated by breaks in paid work or long spells of low- paid, part-time employment to juggle work and family responsibilities.

Demanding work to older ages and greater pension contributions to qualify for minimum and maximum state contributory pensions makes it more difficult for women to get a full state pension and greatly increases their risk of poverty in old age.

Extended working life policies assume demand for older workers. Yet little evidence suggests that is true. Research on age discrimination in employment shows that jobs for older workers are typically scarce and poorly paid, if unemployment happens as it did during the recent recession.

Older women seeking employment face the “double whammy” of ageism and sexism, rendering women ”socially older” than comparably aged men, making re-employment more difficult. Precarious work is growing in all countries and, while women traditionally predominated in the precarity, men are increasingly relegated to non-standard work.

Many women and all precarious workers have episodic pension contribution patterns that make poverty in old age more likely. Finally, privatising pensions is especially detrimental to women’s pension provision, since they are typically in lower paid jobs that make private pension contributions unaffordable.

 

Where do we go from here?

The way forward is not obvious. There is a need for more thoughtful, flexible policies, if women, workers in physically demanding and/or stressful jobs, or those in precarious employment are to be expected to work longer.

To understate, we are not particularly optimistic that such adequately enlightened policies will be enacted.

“An adequate universal citizen’s income is one policy refinement that could offer a genuine choice to people nearing retirement age.”

Working longer offers a welcome option for some workers in rewarding, interesting, physically undemanding occupations, but it should not be a requirement for all workers. Calls for an adequate universal citizen’s income is one policy refinement that could offer a genuine choice to people nearing retirement age.

Since women and precariously employed individuals are more likely to depend on safety-net state pensions, a citizen’s income would benefit them most. Unfortunately, debating the merits of citizens’ incomes does not implement them and evidence of policy appetites for such proposals is disheartening.

It seems obvious that the fragility of labour markets for workers of all ages should give policymakers pause before assuming (as they seem to have done so far) that rising pension costs can be stemmed by unilaterally extending working life for all. Such policies will inevitably fall far short of expectations, given that they ignore real experiences of working lives shaped by gender and other work/life circumstances.

‘One-size-fits-all’ extended working life policies—undifferentiated for women and men, for physically demanding work and white collar occupations, for the precariously and the securely employed—are clearly neither benign, nor logical, nor capable of meeting the varied economic needs of ageing individuals.

Gender, ageing and extended working life edited by Áine Ní Léime et al. is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £60.00.

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

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

Celebrating 25 years of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice with a FREE anniversary article collection

In celebration of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice’s 25th anniversary, editors Rod Hick and Gill Main reflect on the achievements of the journal and release a selection of articles free to download for the remainder of 2017. 

Rod Hick

Gill Main

This April marked the 25th anniversary of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice.

Since its inception in the early 1990s, the academic, policy and practice communities have seen drastic changes – but the issues addressed by the journal have remained all too relevant.

Poverty and social justice remain at the forefront of academic and policy debate – both nationally and internationally.

Over the last decade, the global financial crisis has raised major debates about the nature of poverty and social justice. Many governments continue to pursue austerity agendas which have produced rising poverty rates, and to promote interpretations of social justice which are often in conflict with academic approaches.

Continue reading ‘Celebrating 25 years of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice with a FREE anniversary article collection’

Attitudes to social security in Britain today

As new welfare reforms come into effect this month the editors of a special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice explore attitudes to and experiences of welfare. 

Image copyright: Dole Animators

Authors: John Hudson, Ruth Patrick and Emma Wincup

In his first budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond was notably silent on the topical issue of ‘welfare’.

Unlike his predecessor, Hammond announced no new tightening of the social security budget nor any extra mechanisms to address what is so often (however erroneously) described as the ‘lifestyle choice’ of ‘welfare dependency’.

However, the welfare reforms already timetabled by Osborne and Cameron are proceeding apace.

April 2017 sees several new measures implemented that will further reduce social security support and make it more conditional. These include extensions to the welfare conditionality faced by parents and carers of young children and reductions in the financial support available to disabled people. May’s government is also overseeing the removal of child-related financial support via tax credits and Universal Credits for third and subsequent children in the same family.

“Attitudes to ‘welfare’ are much more complex and nuanced than often presumed.”

These welfare reforms are typically presented as being in tune with a ‘hardening’ of public attitudes to ‘welfare’ over time. This picture is challenged in a recently published special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice which draws together research exploring attitudes and experiences of ‘welfare’.

What this research shows is that attitudes to ‘welfare’ are much more complex and nuanced than often presumed. Further, it illustrates the reach and extent of benefits stigma and the ways in which this stigma impacts upon how those in receipt of out-of-work benefits see themselves, see others and are seen by others.

Key findings from the special issue were debated at a policy roundtable in the House of Lords in December 2016, organised by the Social Policy Association (SPA), Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, and jointly chaired by Baroness Lister of Burtersett (representing the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice’s editorial board) and Alison Garnham (Chief Executive of CPAG).

Contributors to the special issue were joined by experts from Parliament, central and local government, the media, the third sector and think tanks. The roundtable debate unpacked some of the very real political challenges faced by those looking to make the case for a more expansive vision for social security in the UK today.

Much campaigning activity in recent years has focused on fact-checking based ‘mythbusting’ but participants made a number of suggestions for shifting attitudes which go beyond this approach,  including a greater focus on individual stories and using social media to engage specific groups in discussion and debate.

“…need to focus political debate more fully on the human costs of ‘welfare reform’…”

Indeed, the efficacy of ‘mythbusting’ was subject to much comment and Baumberg Geiger and Meuleman offer a critical evaluation of the approach in the special issue. Some argued there was a need to focus political debate more fully on the human costs of ‘welfare reform’; for example, in terms of poor mental health or people living in poverty and increasingly destitution. Several of the papers in the special issue explore lived experiences of ‘welfare reform’, including papers by Patrick, who reports findings from qualitative longitudinal research with out-of-work benefit claimants, and Garthwaite, who reports findings from ethnographic research undertaken in foodbanks.

Others suggested there was a need to move away from making the case for social security and to focus instead on the reasons why individuals may become reliant on it: for example, significant numbers of people engaged in low paid, precarious work or underlying stigma to groups typically excluded from the labour market. Many papers in the special issue explore such debates, for instance Wincup and Monaghan focus on dependent drug users and the ways in which stigma often acts as a barrier to recovery.

Finally, there was also much discussion about the extent to which contemporary attitudes really are ‘harder’ than those in the past, with significant continuities in discourse and attitudes being identified. Hudson, Lunt et al explore these themes in their contribution to the special issue, tracing the continuities in pejorative attitudes to ‘welfare’ from the ‘golden age’ of welfare through to today’s debates.


The ‘Exploring ‘welfare’ attitudes and experiences’ special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice was guest edited by John Hudson (University of York), Ruth Patrick (University of Liverpool) and Emma Wincup (University of Leeds) and published in the Autumn 2016 volume of the journal.

You may also be interested in The truth about benefits sanctions by Ruth Patrick

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It doesn’t have to be like this: Why capitalism needs to change, and fast

Where has capitalism gone wrong? In Too much stuff, Kozo Yamamura upends conventional capitalist wisdom to provide a new approach. Read about his new perspective on capitalism’s “sickness.”

kozo_portrait

Kozo Yamamura 1934 – 2017

Over the past three decades, the financial and environmental prospects of the UK, US, Japan and Europe, have slowly but surely been moving in a calamitous direction because of ill-conceived “easy money” policies pursued by those in power, from governments and banks through to multinational corporations and the advertising industry.

The result: a self-perpetuating cycle of stagnating economies, social unrest and political upheaval.

The advanced economies of the world are sick and democracy is floundering. Capitalism as we know it has created a climate where extremist, anti-EU political parties are flourishing by tapping into widespread dissatisfaction with the way things are.

They’re right in one sense – the system does need to change, because if it doesn’t, “what becomes the issue will not be the survival of our system, but the survival of our civilizations”.

“The advanced economies are sick, and the environment is getting sicker.”

Continue reading ‘It doesn’t have to be like this: Why capitalism needs to change, and fast’

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’


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