Posts Tagged 'Poverty'

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.”

But despite this, much popular debate assumes that people’s lives are unchanging, and that we can be divided neatly between those who pay into the ‘welfare’ system, and those who take out from it. Allied with the escalating stigma that has been attached to those who are at any one moment receiving benefits and the notion that a large share of public spending goes on people who are out of work, this makes further savings from ‘welfare cuts’ sound attractive – and politically costless, since those affected will be ‘them’ rather than the ‘us’ voters are assumed to be.

‘Welfare savings’

Built into the successful Conservative 2015 election manifesto was therefore a pledge to find a further £12 billion of ‘welfare savings’. This was carried through by the then Chancellor George Osborne’s July Budget, which set out cuts that would reduce spending on working-age benefits and tax credits by what added up to £13 billion per year by 2020.

But in the months that followed reality broke in.

Making cuts on this scale – and getting them in place fast, well ahead of the run-up to the next election – turned out to mean the threat of big overnight cuts in income from tax credits to many families that were ‘doing the right thing’ – just the kind of ‘hard working families’ that had been persuaded someone else could be the subject of this austerity.

“This retreat was in many ways a stay of execution, not a full reprieve.”

Through the second half of 2016 pressure groups, think tanks, alarmed tax credit recipients and eventually parliamentarians in both the Lords and Commons began to realise the scale of what had been planned for the spring of 2017. The government retreated, and existing tax credit recipients were ‘protected’.

But what needs to be understood is that this retreat was in many ways a stay of execution, not a full reprieve. The very dynamics of people’s lives with which this book is concerned mean that there is constant turnover in who receives in-work support and therefore continues to be protected.

As new people try to claim – including those who had higher pay for just a while, as well as those who would have become eligible for the first time – they will enter a system meaner than the one from which predecessors in the same position would have benefited.

This will affect in particular those getting the new ‘Universal Credit’, as it is slowly rolled out in a much less generous form than originally advertised (see Chapter 4).

Despite the political rhetoric that has stressed things like the irresponsibility of people with more than two children looking to the state for support, as if those with teenagers could have foreseen the events of the last decade, the government itself knows that these dynamics mean most of the originally planned welfare savings will still occur – pencilling in only half a billion pounds of cost from the concessions remaining by 2020–21.

With new cuts – such as tougher limits to Housing Benefit for social tenants – the government still forecasts at least £12 billion of savings a year by the time of the next election, if that comes in 2020, only slightly ameliorated by adjustments announced in the 2017 Autumn Statement.

Politically, it will be interesting to see whether this quieter, but more drawn-out, austerity strategy will stay under the radar. But for the individuals and families affected, the lower income will be all too apparent – and so, eventually, will be its effects on poverty, particularly for children in larger families and their parents.

A period of uncertainty

In fact, the cuts – and with them the hardship – may now be greater than originally planned, after allowing for inflation. The immediate effect of the Brexit vote to leave the European Union was a sharp drop in the value of the pound.

“Each 1 per cent increase in prices means a 1 per cent fall in their real value.”

The likely effect of this is higher inflation and a greater cost of living. But with working-age benefits and tax credits frozen in cash as part of the July 2015 cuts, each 1 per cent increase in prices means a 1 per cent fall in their real value. Without any new announcement, this quietly generates further cuts in the generosity of the system designed to protect people from bad times when they occur.

Of course, higher inflation could also mean pay rises to keep pace, and then rising tax revenue in cash terms, which could be used to offset this overshoot. But if Brexit does turn out to mean the economy is smaller than it would otherwise have been, and so public finances are weaker, this link may not be very apparent.

Alongside this, however, another kind of risk we run as our lives change – healthcare needs and how to cover them – looms ever larger. Indeed, the alleged £350 million per week for the NHS promised by those arguing for Brexit before the referendum tapped exactly into that awareness.

The bulk of spending on the welfare state goes on the widely spread services of healthcare, schools and pensions (see Chapter 9) that come into play at particular stages in our lives. If these continue to be at least, relatively speaking, protected, the dominance of ‘life cycle redistribution’ as opposed to ‘Robin Hood redistribution’ between rich and poor will be further reinforced (see Chapter 3).

The new Prime Minister Theresa May said, as she entered 10 Downing Street, that she would fight ‘the burning injustice’ that those born poor live nine years less than others. Wider aspects of links between generations – what Chapter 7 describes as the ‘longest wave’ in our lives – have been given greater prominence under the heading of ‘promoting social mobility’.

The importance of better understanding the evidence surveyed in this book thus seems greater than ever after the turmoil of the last two years.

But there are now more recent data for many of the graphs and analysis that it presents, and so while most of the text is unchanged from the first edition, many of the figures and numbers have been updated. Where there have been more substantial policy changes, these have also been taken into account – such as to the plans for Universal Credit (Chapter 4) or the pattern of austerity (Chapter 8).

If anyone needed a reminder that life is far from static, it was given by the effects of referendum night in June 2016 on all our anticipated futures and on the immediate fortunes of our most powerful politicians.

More than ever as we enter a period of huge uncertainty, we need to better understand what we are arguing about and who really benefits from and pays for the systems we have designed to cope with risks and uncertainties. This book aims to bring the evidence that could underpin that understanding to a wider audience.

John Hills
London School of Economics

9781447336471Good times, bad times by John Hills can be ordered here for £10.39.

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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.

Foodbanks, social justice and why we need a new conversation about poverty

In her speech from The future of social justice event we held on Monday, Kayleigh Garthwaite, author of Hunger Pains, talks about her experience of volunteering at foodbanks and how we can harness and express the collective shame that should be felt over the existence of emergency food aid.

kayleigh-garthwaite“For the last three years, I’ve been a volunteer and a researcher at a Trussell Trust foodbank in central Stockton, North East England, finding out how a foodbank works, who uses them, and why.

Every week, I prepared the three days’ worth of food that goes into each food parcel. I dealt with the administration of the red vouchers required to receive food, making sure that anyone who needed further support was told where it could be obtained. I volunteered at food collections at Tesco supermarkets, asking people to add an extra tin to their weekly shop. Most importantly, I sat and listened to the stories of the hundreds of people who came through the food bank doors for emergency food.

Continue reading ‘Foodbanks, social justice and why we need a new conversation about poverty’

Attitudes to welfare: a departure from the past or more of the same?

johnhudson

John Hudson

s200_ruth_patrick

Ruth Patrick

wincup-emma

Emma Wincup

 

 

 

 

 

 

The latest issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice is a special themed issue exploring ‘welfare’ attitudes and experiences. Here, the issue editors – John Hudson, Ruth Patrick and Emma Wincup –  look at hints that attitudes to welfare may be changing.

 

Discussions about ‘welfare’ in the UK over the past five years have been set against a dominant backdrop of ongoing welfare reform. The key players in government – David Cameron, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith – have focused on ending what they describe as a culture of ‘welfare dependency’.

This political landscape shaped public and media debates, with the negative characterisation of ‘welfare’ and the lives of those who rely on it only further embedded by the exponential growth in ‘Poverty Porn’. However, in the 12 months since we began assembling the research we report here,  the UK’s political landscape has been dramatically altered by Brexit: Cameron, Osborne and Duncan Smith are all figures of the past.

The ramifications for social policy are unclear, but today, as we publish our Journal of Poverty and Social Justice special issue on attitudes to ‘welfare’ and lived experiences of those reliant on the most stigmatised form of state support, there are hints of a new rhetoric, politics and approach on ‘welfare’ in the UK. Continue reading ‘Attitudes to welfare: a departure from the past or more of the same?’

Why Cameron’s housing policy will make the UK more spatially unequal

Today’s guest post by Peter Matthews, co-author of After urban regeneration: Communities, policy and place, was written in response to David Cameron’s announced plan to demolish England’s poorest council estates.

This article, originally titled ‘ABI n* – return of the ABI’ was first published on the blog Urban policy and practice on Monday 11th January 2016.

Peter MatthewsI did my doctoral research on area-based initiatives, or ABIs. Even when I was doing the research the writing was on the wall for them.

The focus of my research had been the former Scottish Executive Community Regeneration Fund administered through Single Outcome Agreements. This ceased to be just as I was going into the field following the first SNP victory in 2007, so it ended up being about the “ending” of meaningful regenerationfor residents.

Following the 2010 election and the coalition government it looked like any form of regeneration was off the cards under the excuse of “austerity”. I’ve co-edited a book – After Urban Regeneration – that argues this very point. My research had turned to broader questions of inequality in our cities, particularly what the increasing focus on community engagement and involvement in service delivery might mean for inequalities in service delivery. Continue reading ‘Why Cameron’s housing policy will make the UK more spatially unequal’

Ten of the most important questions to ask about UK poverty

Article originally published on 2 October on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation blog 

Poverty research must provide useful answers for policy and practice, says Chris Goulden.

To deal with entrenched problems of poverty in the UK, serious improvements need to be made to knowledge about the causes of poverty and the effectiveness of potential solutions.

A two-day exercise led by a partnership between JRF and the Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge identified the most important unanswered and researchable questions about poverty. As well as the potential benefits of improving the evidence base in general, this is part of our programme developing strategies to reduce poverty in the UK.

Participants were invited from a range of organisations across the UK. Over 40 people from government and non-governmental organisations, and academics or researchers working in universities or think tanks, took part. They were asked to identify an initial set of research questions by consulting widely with others, and to propose questions that would make a real difference to poverty in the UK but had not yet been adequately answered. We started off with 470 questions, which were reduced to 100 through a democratic process of discussion and voting.

The categories of questions covered a number of important themes, including attitudes, education, family, employment, heath, wellbeing, inclusion, markets, housing, taxes, inequality and power. Ten of the most important questions were:

What values, frames and narratives are associated with greater support for tackling poverty, and why.

How do images of people in poverty influence policy debates in different countries?

What are the most effective methods of increasing involvement and support for the education of children among their parents or guardians?

What explains variation in wages as a share of GDP internationally?

What is the nature and extent of poverty among those who do not or cannot access the safety net when they need it?

How could targeting and incentivising payment of the Living Wage make it more effective at reducing household poverty?

What are the positive and negative impacts of digital technologies on poverty?

How do environmental and social regulations or obligations affect prices for those in poverty?

Who benefits from poverty, and how?

What evidence is there that economic growth reduces poverty overall, and under what circumstances?

We hope these questions will be used in a range of ways. Most directly, it’s an important input into our anti-poverty strategies programme. But we also expect that practitioners, policy-makers, researchers and funders will use it to help shape further research programmes across a range of economic and social science disciplines.

The full paper, 100 Questions: identifying research priorities for poverty prevention and reduction by William J. Sutherland et al., is published in Journal of Poverty & Social Justice as an Open Access paper and can be accessed here.

Exposing the mythologies of the workless

Tracy Shildrick

Tracy Shildrick

by Tracy Shildrick, co-author of Poverty and insecurity: Life in low-pay, no-pay Britain

Even in the short while since we finished writing this book the issues with which it deals have become even more critical and contentious. Poverty and insecurity provides a detailed account of life at the edges of the contemporary labour market. We undertook interviews with sixty men and women, aged between 30 and 60, who were trapped in a cycle of low paid working and periods on and off benefits. The book tells the life stories of our interviewees and details their day to day struggles with working life and a largely hostile and unhelpful benefits system.  The current Coalition government are keen to draw distinctions between ‘the deserving’ and ‘the undeserving poor’ and in trying to cement this unhelpful distinction they divide the ‘shirkers’ from the ‘strivers’. ‘Shirkers’ are those who can’t be bothered to get out of bed in the morning, whilst the hard-working ‘strivers’ are toiling to earn a living and pay their taxes. This spurious distinction paves the way for punitive welfare cuts justified as targeting ‘work-shy, welfare scroungers’ but which make poorest poorer (and also cut in-work benefits to people ‘striving’ in low-paid jobs).

This book stands as a corrective to this sort of myth making (a recent study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by some of the same authors challenged the idea ‘cultures of worklessness’ based on further research in Teesside and in Glasgow). This new book shows close up the day to day realities of working at the edges of the labour market. Ours is one of the first concerted studies in this area. A key aim was to understand the dynamics of poverty and marginal work across the life course and, drawing on in-depth life history interviewees, to illustrate the consequences of this for the lives of individuals and their families. Our research in Teesside provides a case study example of the wider processes of labour market polarisation that relegate some to a life of hard work in low, paid temporary jobs that neither relieve poverty nor provide pathways up and away from it. Importantly the study has shown that this pattern of working is not simply the preserve of young adults struggling through ‘entry level’ jobs but that these patterns continue for many into adulthood and the middle of working-life.

An important conclusion of the book points to the resilience and lasting work commitment shown by our interviewees, despite the frustrations and setbacks of the low-pay, no-pay cycle. This strong work attachment was learned across generations, where parents and grandparents had also worked and passed on the importance of ‘working for ones living’ to younger interviewees. It would not be an overstatement to say that our interviewees deplored claiming welfare benefits, with some refusing to claim all together. For example, one respondent  Carol Anne (34, in part-time work and a mother to a young son) said:

Me Dad always worked and me Mum did. I think that influenced me. I saw the difference between when me Dad worked and when he didn’t, you know? The money situation: I seen how they struggled when he wasn’t working…like they felt awful at Christmas when they can’t buy you the stuff that they want and it really doesn’t matter what you get but…that made me want to work and do the best for Ben really.  

Contrary to the widely held view that ‘employment is the best route out of poverty’, the sorts of work available to our interviewees – as care assistants, cleaners, shop assistants, factory workers, security guards – kept them in poverty rather than lifting them out of it.  At the bottom end of the wage distribution, there continues to be an abundance of low wage work in the UK and this was the work done by our interviewees. This is the sort of work that does not require high level or indeed any qualifications and which was predicted to wither if not disappear under visions of a ‘high-skills, information economy’. As the book shows, what employers in these sectors want is not high skills or qualifications but the ‘right attitude’; workers who are physically willing and able to do insecure, low paid, low skilled ‘poor work’.

The book makes a number of recommendations in respect of policy to tackle poor work and the low-pay, no-pay cycle. For instance, paying the Living Wage would make a substantial difference to the lives of our participants. The book ends with a discussion of what we call ‘the great myth’ and ‘the great illogic’. Through its critical case study material the book aims to show that much which claims to speak of the poor and the workless is myth. These are old, powerful and widely-held myths, but myths nonetheless. These are myths that tell us that people are poor because of their own behaviours. This book has helped to expose these mythologies of the workless and in doing so the fallacies of current welfare reforms, at least as they refer to those caught up in the low-pay, no-pay cycle. This ‘great myth’ is exposed for what it is by the ‘great illogic’. The initial results of the government’s Work Programme highlight what we mean. Even with the concerted help and guidance provided by this multi-million pound programme fewer people were moved into jobs than might be expected had those unemployed people been left to their own devices. To coin a phrase, ‘it’s the economy stupid’. In virtually all parts of the UK there are many times more job-seekers than there are vacancies.  As one welfare-to-work advisor put it to us, ‘what’s the point of aspirating [sic] people if the jobs aren’t there?’

Poverty and insecurity: Life in low-pay, no-pay Britain is available to order with 20% discount from the Policy Press website.

Policy & Politics: Why do windows of opportunity close?

Quite apart from its practical importance, policy is an endlessly fascinating subject of study. A core theme in the analysis of policy is stability and change. Why do we witness extended periods of stability followed by episodes of change or periods of rapid change? In his 1984 book Agendas, alternatives and public policies, John Kingdon proposed a model based upon multiple streams. The alignment of the problem, policy and politics streams opens a window of opportunity for change. This model has been widely applied, including recently to US health care reform by Kingdon himself in the 2010 revised edition of his book (Kingdon, J.W. (2010) Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies (Updated Edition, with an Epilogue on Health Care), Longman).

An illuminating application of the model is offered by Annesley, Gains and Rummery in their recent paper analysing New Labour’s legacy on engendering politics and policy. The election of New Labour in 1997 appeared to open a window of opportunity for significant progress in the engendering of both politics and policy – and the authors are careful to maintain the distinction between the two. For reasons of both electoral calculation and values the New Labour government recognised gender as a significant policy issue. Annesley et al argue that New Labour’s attempts to engender politics could claim significant success. However, they examine two specific policy areas – change to leave for new parents and action to close the gender pay gap – and argue that the achievements in engendering policy were considerably more limited. They identify three broad reasons why policy change was modest, particularly in relation to the gender pay gap. All three speak to issues of great interest in the contemporary analysis of policy more generally. The first reason is the way the policy problem was framed: the focus was narrowed to the issue of women’s labour market participation and poverty, rather than the broader gender division of paid and unpaid labour. The second reason was the extent and speed with which the institutions of governance adapted to a new agenda. Effectively they couldn’t keep up. The third reason is the extent to which it is possible to pursue policies that run against the presumptions of broader (neo)liberal and pro-business economic policy. And the move to recession in 2008 dissipated what limited momentum there was behind the push to level upward on pay or introduce more flexible maternity and paternity leave: economic imperatives – and reducing the burden on business – take precedence.

The concept of the window of opportunity has given good service in the analysis of policy change. This case study of New Labour’s attempts to engender politics and policy provides a valuable additional dimension to our understanding of precisely how propitious the circumstances need to be before significant change can occur.

Annesley, C., Gains, F. and Rummery, K. (2010) Engendering politics and policy: the legacy of New Labour, Policy & Politics, vol 38, no 3, 389-406.

Alex Marsh, Management Board, Policy & Politics


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