Posts Tagged 'welfare'

Conceptual issues in welfare debates

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Exploring welfare debates is out this week!

Lee Gregory, author of Exploring welfare debates, publishing this week, discusses the ideological and conceptual issues surrounding welfare debates.

This new textbook provides an introduction to key concepts and debates in welfare using an innovative, question-based narrative to highlight the importance of theory to understanding welfare.

There is a companion website available here.

Our daily lives are surrounded by injustices. Homelessness, poverty, destitution, health inequalities, the list can go on. If you’re a student of social policy or any social science subject you are likely angry at the injustices you see and want to do something to change them, to remove them from existence. That is exactly how I felt.

Studying sociology, politics, law, psychology during a BTEC in Public Services (I was hoping to be an Ambulance Paramedic) my desire to help people started to change. For me there was something fundamentally wrong with how society was structured if it left people destitute, hungry or homeless. If where you were born influenced how long you lived then there was a need for change. But I didn’t feel that I could find a way to pursue this until I discovered Social Policy. It was a fluke, a passing comment by a lecturer at my college, a quick read of Alcock’s Social Policy in Britain and I knew I had found what I was unknowingly looking for.

Poverty, inequality and stratification where my initial interests but I soon discovered that underpinning this, and every other social problem, are a series of debates about the nature of the problem and the appropriate solution. And this isn’t just ideological, it’s conceptual.

“I understand now that these problems exist because we cannot agree on the nature of the problem and the solution.”

This is why concepts have become such an integral part of my thinking, research and teaching. In Foundations of the Welfare State, Briggs (1984: 1) states ‘There was no single impulse behind the making of the welfare state’: rather there are multiple. Exploring conceptual debates in relation to welfare allows us to explore a combination of these impulses: need, citizenship, equality, stigma, social control, and globalisation.

What is fascinating about concepts however is that they are not static. There is no one concept of need which underpins all welfare debates, there are several. The task therefore is to consider how you define need and how you can identify and justify this definition with a longer historical debate. This is what fascinated me. Why, if we have the evidence that, for example, if 14m people live in poverty in the UK, more than 800m globally are in extreme poverty, and, according to FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the homeless, homelessness is on the increase across Europe (except in Finland), do these social problems persist? That younger version of me was both fascinated and frustrated, surely this shouldn’t be? I still am both fascinated and frustrated but I understand now that these problems exist because we cannot agree on the nature of the problem and the solution.

“By exploring welfare debates you can start to understand other views, as well as your own and find the conceptual language for arguing in favour of the change you wish to pursue”

This is not just an ideological debate, but also conceptual. How we define need, equality and social rights, for example, shape how we respond to social problems. Whether we think a particular problem is something the state should be actively eradicating or if we need to rely upon other mechanisms in the market or voluntary sector.

Just as there are many reasons for developing a welfare state, there are different ideas about how we respond to welfare. Understanding these ideas, or concepts, is the essential starting point for studying social policy and for changing the world we live in.

For new students to social policy, however, these can be unsettling discussions. We all come to our studies with some exposure and experience of different insights, debates and views of social problems. But social policy requires that you develop a broader understanding. By exploring welfare debates you can start to understand other views, as well as your own and find the conceptual language for arguing in favour of the change you wish to pursue to tackle injustices and to remake the world around us. Concepts are just one of a number of tools you need to make change, but they are the starting point.

 

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Exploring welfare debates by Lee Gregory is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £17.59.

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.

 

Our inspiring women for International Women’s Day 2018

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Women, peace and welfare FCMarch 8 sees both the publication of Ann Oakley’s Women, peace and welfare and International Women’s Day.

In the book, Ann tells the inspirational untold stories of women who’s work and vision of a more humane way of living have influenced social reform and welfare.

Watch Ann talk about the lives of the following inspirational women from her book by clicking the links below:

Emily Hobhouse, a British welfare campaigner and international pacifist;
Emily Balch, an economist who was who was sacked from her university for engaging in the international peace movement;
Aletta Jacobs, the first female Dutch physician;
Rosika Schwimmer, a Hungarian pacifist feminist.

Following Ann’s lead, we asked Policy Press staff and authors who their inspiring women are. Watch the slideshow above and read on for their reasons for their choices.

Our free journal articles for March also focus on research about women and gender. Find out more on our website.

 

Win a suffragette pincushion

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We have ten suffragette pin cushions to give away. Tweet the name of your inspiring woman with the hashtag #policypressforprogress to be in with a chance to win one.

 

Our inspiring women

 

Mary_Wollstonecraft_by_John_Opie_(c._1797)Mary Wollstonecraft by Alison Shaw

Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) said “It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world”.

I am not someone who really ‘feels’ history, and I am drawn to contemporary writing, but finding Mary Wollstonecraft’s book was a rare exception. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. She challenged the view that women were ‘ornaments or property to be traded in marriage’ and that they deserved the same fundamental rights as men. Mary argued that women were not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education and provided concrete plans for a national education service. Her stance is one of social justice, something that has been a major part of my world view since reading her work 35 years ago.

“Her stance is one of social justice, something that has been a major part of my world view since reading her work 35 years ago.”

Her influence has echoed down the ages and she inspired many critical thinkers from Virginia Woolf to Amartya Sen. She died young, aged 38, just after giving birth to her second daughter who became Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein  (Rebecca Tomlinson’s choice below!).

Image: John Opie [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Asma_Jahangir_Four_Freedoms_Awards_2010Asma Jahangir by Helen Kara

Asma Jahangir was an activist in Pakistan, a country with an appalling record of oppressing women. Born in 1952, she became a lawyer in 1980 and co-founded Pakistan’s first all-women law firm. She defended women facing criminal charges as a result of being raped, choosing their husbands independently, or seeking a divorce from a violent man.

Undeterred by police beatings or house arrest, she also fought against honour killings, child labour, and capital punishment. Jahangir co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and even found time to become an author of two books, one criticising Pakistan’s anti-women legislation, the other arguing for rights for Pakistan’s child prisoners. Very sadly, Jahangir died of a heart attack on 11 February.

Image:  By Lymantria (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

 

EttyEtty Hillesum by Sarah Bird

Etty was a young Jewish Dutchwoman, who died at Auschwitz aged 29. Her diary, started in 1941, contains the most inspiring, humane writing I have ever come across. Unbelievably she chose to go to Westerbork, the Nazi transit camp for Jews awaiting deportation, so that she could be with her people, and not hide. In her diary she documents everything, refusing to turn away from the horror of her experience, but also finding beauty and hope in what is around her, in an amazing personal spiritual transformation. She was sexy and spirited and unflinching.

“Her diary, started in 1941, contains the most inspiring, humane writing I have ever come across.”

 

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Ann Oakley by Zoe Young

When Ann Oakley published ‘Housewife’ in 1974, women’s lives and labours inside the home had barely featured in historical or sociological accounts of work. Men worked, women did housework. Ann Oakley’s rich and vivid portraits of Patricia, Juliet, Margaret and Sally’s domestic lives, told in their own words inspired me to write women’s lives and experiences in the same way. Few women would call themselves housewives today, but the deeply gendered issues around how domestic and care work is shared within families have proved remarkably resilient. I am researching and writing about them forty-four years on.

 

Press_for_Change_with_Mo_Mowlem_-_1st_October_1997Mo Mowlam by Jo Greig

I wish I’d been a fly on the wall during some of the Northern Irish discussions, Mo Mowlam’s straight talking, non-nonsense pragmatism always filled me with awe.

Image:  By Plainsense (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

Ellen_Cicely_WilkinsonEllen Wilkinson by Diane Reay

Working-class, feminist and anti-racist, my heroine is ‘Red Ellen’. She was involved in women’s suffrage, and helped found the British Communist Party. Fiercely committed to the Republican cause in the Spanish civil war, she led the Labour Party’s anti-fascist campaign. Among many outstanding achievements was her leadership of the iconic Jarrow Crusade and her appointment as first female Minister of Education. In this latter role she oversaw the introduction of free school milk and raised the school leaving age from 14 to 15. But what characterised her entire career was a passionate commitment to the ‘working class man and woman’, a strong streak of non-conformity and a ferocious bravery that would brook no collusion with injustices of any kind.

Image: by Bassano Ltd [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

128px-RosaparksRosa Parks by Kalwant Bhopal

On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. For me, this single act was one of courage and strength and Rosa must have known full aware of the consequences this would have on her life; she and her husband both lost their jobs and had to move away from Alabama. I have great admiration and respect for her decision to take this single action which had a significant impact on the Civil Rights movement.

 

MaryShelleyMary Shelley by Rebecca Tomlinson

Apart from the amazing and enduringly popular book she wrote, Frankenstein, Mary spent most of her life in the shadow of her husband and the scandal he bought to their family. Despite being a great writer, she devoted most of her time to publicising her husbands work and caring for her family. Despite her life being full of tragedy (Percy Shelley’s untimely death and the death of 3 of her children) Mary carried on writing and only recently scholars have shown increasing interest in her literary output, particularly in her novels, which include the historical novels Valperga (1823) and Perkin Warbeck (1830), the apocalyptic novel The Last Man (1826), and her final two novels, Lodore (1835) and Falkner (1837).

Image: Richard Rothwell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Raid_on_Rise_-_Narrative_Creation_on_'Rise_of_The_Tomb_Raider'_-_GDC_2016_(25823811225)Rhianna Pratchett by Nick Levett

She’s inspiring to me for her work as a video game writer. The gaming industry is super male-dominated so it’s really cool to see a strong female presence doing great work on notable games and projects. Another reason she inspires me is that although she’s the daughter of Terry Pratchett, she refuses to live in his shadow or be defined by that – she’s forged her own career in her own sphere and that’s really impressive and rare.

Image: by Official GDC (_TXT6469) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

ursula-le-guinUrsula Le Guin by Danny Dorling

I found it very hard to read. I did not properly begin to read until I was aged eight, and then I read fiction. Ursula Le Guin’s books were different to other books that children read in the 1970s. They took your imagination further, they were not about reinforcing or returning to power a hierarchy, but overturning it. It was not until I was much older that I learnt that Ursula Le Guin did not ‘just’ write for children. But write well for children and you can change the way a generation thinks. After she died I learnt that she had written this: “You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.” — The Dispossessed, 1974.

Image: Flickr Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

“You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.” — The Dispossessed, 1974.

 

westerdijk.jpgJohanna Westerdijk by Liza Mügge

Johanna Westerdijk was a Dutch plant pathologist and appointed as the first female professor in the Netherlands at the University of Utrecht in 1917. Westerdijk supervised 55 PhD students in a period of 35 years, almost half of them were women. On top of her award-winning research she broke many glass ceilings and continues to be a role model for women in academia. “Even a mold dies from a boring life”, she said. She is known for her humor, loving to party, drink and dance. Her motto was: “Working and partying creates clean minds.” I couldn’t agree more.

 

lucy_parsonsLucy Parsons by Lisa Mckenzie

Lucy was an American mixed race, African and native American woman, her husband Albert Parsons was hung for the Chicago Haymarket uprisings, Lucy was a anarchist and understood class solidarity and the class war that was being waged upon working men and women, while the middle class suffragists were vote begging, Lucy was going around the US and Europe calling for a working class revolution, the Chicago authorities said that she was more dangerous than a 1000 rioters, the FBI ensured that Lucy Parson’s writing and her memory were lost to history.

“I have been carrying a banner around for the last 5 years with her quote ‘We must devastate the avenues where the rich live’.”

I have been carrying a banner around for the last 5 years with her quote ‘We must devastate the avenues where the rich live’. In today’s austerity, privatisation of public services and spaces, the housing crisis and the class cleansing of working class people out of the spaces the middle class value Lucy Parsons is more important and more relevant today than the vote begging and liberal reformism than our political leaders today or past.

 

kollantiAlexandra Kollontai by Michael Lavalette

Alexandra Kollanti (1872-1952) was a writer, a novelist, a theorist, a socialist activist and a Commissar in the early Soviet Republic.

She was drawn into public work in 1894 with the Political Red Cross – a radical welfare organisation. She gradually became a major figure in the Russian socialist movement, playing significant roles during the Russian Revolution, the Civil War and the formation of the socialist republic. An economist, a linguist and a social theorist, she is best known for her writings on women’s liberation and socialism and her views on human sexuality and freedom.
In 1918 she was appointed Commissar for Welfare. Under her leadership married women were granted more rights, as were children of single women; divorce was granted on request and abortion was legalised; homosexuality was legalised and free public child care set up.

 

256px-Pictures_of_English_History_Plate_IV_-_Boadicea_and_Her_ArmyBoadicea by Janice Morphet

Why Boadicea? When I was at primary school in Islington in the 1950s, our headmaster was a northern classicist who was never seen in anything other than a three-piece suit. However, there were many days when he came into our classroom to extol the virtues of Boadicea leading her tribes into battle and defeating those against her. She was a woman to be reckoned with and he said that this was celebrated through her statue outside Parliament on Westminster Bridge. Boadicea was the only role model our Headmaster’s offered … and girls always did well at our school…

Image credit: By Joseph Martin Kronheim (1810–96)[1] [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The extent of poverty

By Gill Main, co-editor, with Esther Dermott, of the first volume of Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK and University Academic Fellow at the University of Leeds.

Originally published by Poverty and Social Exclusion on November 29th 2017. 

The UK-wide Poverty and Social Exclusion survey (PSE-UK) in 2012 revealed startling levels of deprivation. Eighteen million people are unable to afford adequate housing; fourteen million can’t afford essential household goods; and nearly half the population have some form of financial insecurity.

When compiling Poverty and Exclusion in the UK: the nature and extent of the problem, the first of the two-volume study based on this research, Esther Dermott and I were interested in what lay behind these top-level figures. How are different groups within the UK population affected? How do people experience poverty?

Drawing on the large-scale, representative data of this PSE-UK survey, leading experts in the field provide detailed insights into how poverty affects younger and older people; men and women; people from different ethnic backgrounds; children and parents; people with disabilities; and people in different geographical locations.

It is a stark picture: poverty, defined as those whose lack of resources and low-income forces them to live below a publicly agreed minimum standard, is affecting over one in five people – and over one in four children. Vulnerable groups are suffering disproportionately. These findings are deeply concerning; especially in light policy changes since 2012 which have already – and will continue to – push more and more vulnerable people into ever deeper poverty.

The PSE-UK approach – by combining deprivation (lacking necessities) with low-income – allows us to examine poverty in fine detail and throws light on the many ways in which poverty affects people’s lives, often obscured by less nuanced measures. In addition, the large sample of the survey – combined with the decision to interview all individual adult members of a household rather than a single household representative – has enabled us to identify new patterns in vulnerability to poverty among different groups.

Christina Pantazis and Saffron Karlsen, for example, present a detailed breakdown of the ways in which people from a wide range of ethnic background might experience poverty. Esther Dermott and Christina Pantazis show that men and women experience different types of vulnerability to poverty at different life stages. Pauline Heslop and Eric Emerson demonstrate that ‘disability’ cannot be treated as a homogenous characteristic, and people with different kinds of disability experience poverty in different ways. Gill Main and Jonathan Bradshaw disaggregate data on poverty within families with children, finding that while children are at the highest risk of poverty of all age groups, parents are likely to sacrifice their own needs to provide for children, making them even more vulnerable to lacking the necessities of life.

The book also highlights areas where more development is desperately needed: a theme running through many chapters is how to include the experiences and perspectives of diverse and heterogeneous groups while maintaining a comparable measure of poverty. Arguments are made for considering the unique situations of young people (Eldin Fahmy), people with disabilities (Pauline Heslop and Eric Emerson), and older people (Demi Patsios). As approaches to poverty measurement develop over time more groups have been represented in surveys – but there is still work to be done, for example in the inclusion of children’s own perspectives, rather than a reliance solely on parental reports on children’s experiences (Gill Main and Jonathan Bradshaw). A fuller representation of the needs, experiences and reports of these groups would further enhance our understanding of poverty and how it impacts the lives of those unlucky enough to experience it.

The UK PSE survey 2012 was conducted, and this book compiled, amidst an assault on the welfare state – in the guise of austerity politics – which have decimated the support available for those living on a low income. While we can only provide a snapshot of a single point in time, policy changes strongly suggest that if the survey were conducted today, findings would be even more stark. This poses serious concerns and questions about the effects of continued reductions in state support for people vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion.

People across the social groups examined in the volume are, among many other deprivations, going hungry, lacking adequate clothing, and living in low-quality housing which may impact their health in the present and in the future. Unsurprisingly, many of the chapters highlight the impact on well-being, both physical and mental, resulting from this. Shame is a common feeling among those without adequate resources – which is exacerbated by policy and media representations of the ‘undeserving’ poor and itself exacerbates a reluctance among people in poverty to seek the meagre and ever-decreasing state help that is available to them through the social security system.

We conclude the book with key messages for academics, policy makers, practitioners, and the media. A national reassessment of how poverty is represented, discussed, and addressed is overdue. We believe that the data and analysis presented in the volume offer valuable insight into the issues of poverty and social exclusion in the UK, and hope that the book will make a contribution to changing attitudes and, ultimately, to developing policy and practice more likely to effectively reduce and eliminate poverty in the UK.

 

Poverty and social exclusion in the UK edited by Esther Dermott and Gill Main is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £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.

Taxation, inequality and post-industrial society

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Sally Ruane

In this blog post, Sally Ruane, co-author of Paying for the Welfare State in the 21st Century, explains why we need to challenge the political culture surrounding taxation to effectively tackle inequality.

 

“The dramatic electoral developments in the US, France and most recently the UK, point to a state of flux in which there is a high degree of uncertainty regarding future direction and outcomes.

These political symptoms emerge following the transition of advanced Western countries from industrial to post-industrial societies, a transition managed in such a way that economic inequality has deepened and financial deregulation has brought about a destabilisation of the whole system.

The rise of in-work poverty

In the UK, from 1980 to 2003, median income began to lag behind economic growth, rising at the rate of only 70% of national economic growth; and in the five years leading up to the financial crash, household income stagnated despite economic growth during the period. More recently, the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that in the seven years after the crash, average gross employment income had yet to recover its pre-recession levels. Into this mix we must add that, unlike the postwar period when poverty was associated with a problematic or disrupted relationship to the labour market, most people living in poverty today are living in households where at least one person is working. What is more, average pensioner household income is now higher than average income in working age households. Meanwhile, at the top end of the scale, the best off 1% of households has raced away, holding 7.9% of all income in 2014/15 against 5.7% 1990.

“Average pensioner household income is now higher than average income in working age households.”

Tax and the allocation of resources

The allocation of resources in society is an outcome not just of ‘market incomes’ but also of the totality of fiscal policy. This entails government spending on benefits and in-kind services, on the one hand, and the tax system on the other. The social policy gaze has tended to focus on the former rather than the latter but to understand questions of inequality we have to examine taxation. The tax system encompasses more than the entities taxed, the taxes levied, and the rates and thresholds at which those taxes are levied. It entails also attitudes to the payment of tax, the capacity to and vigour with which the tax collection authority pursues those who owe tax and the infrastructure through which income and wealth are handled, disclosed (or not) and made subject (or not) to tax liability.

‘Flexible’ working and rising inequality

The way in which the tax system works not only is influenced by the nature of the wider socio-cultural and economic system but at the same time influences that wider system.

The acceptance of a model of globalisation in which the financial system was deregulated and many relatively well paid working class jobs were transferred to other, low wage economies, reinforced by a strong pound which suited the interests of the financial sector, gave rise to exhortations that labour must be flexible to attract capital investment. ‘Flexibility’ meant that the wages and terms and conditions of workers were systematically worsened to the advantage of capital. New Labour’s revival of Speenhamland type policies in which the low wages of those in work were supplemented by tax credits afforded a degree of redistribution but at the expense of establishing the acceptability of paying low wages, reinforcing the problem of in work poverty. In other words in addressing workplace exploitation, the tax system has simultaneously exacerbated it.

“… in addressing workplace exploitation, the tax system has simultaneously exacerbated it.”

The cost of tax avoidance

The increasing effectiveness with which corporate and financial interests have been able to lobby ministers has given rise to criticism of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for lacking zeal in its pursuit of complex and sophisticated forms of tax avoidance and evasion, reinforcing the resources which corporations can bring to bear in further lobbying of ministers. The debilitation of the organised working class through acceptance of the dominant globalisation model has weakened the countervailing forces which might have checked concessions to big business and big finance. The success with which large corporations and affluent individuals are able to avoid and evade paying taxes materially affects the resources governments claim are available for funding social security and public services. The resulting austerity erodes the social wage and further weakens the base for social democratic policies.

“Challenging the political culture surrounding taxation is essential if inequality is to be effectively tackled.”

These are just some of the inter-linking examples of the way in which the tax system is both shaped by wider cultural and social factors as well as recursively shaping that wider society.

We argue in Paying for the Welfare State in the 21st Century that reforming the tax system goes beyond altering rates and bands and that challenging the political culture surrounding taxation is essential if inequality is to be effectively tackled and some of the destructive consequences of the shift to post-industrial society are to be reversed.

 

Paying for the welfare state in the 21st century [FC]Paying for the welfare state in the 21st Century by David Byrne and Sally Ruane is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website.  Order here for just £10.39.

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.

Election focus: Manifestos on welfare should be about engagement, dignity and respect

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Ruth Patrick

In this blog post, part of our Election Focus series, Ruth Patrick offers suggestions for what should be included in party manifestos on welfare reform, based on the six years of research into individuals’ experiences of social security and welfare reform in her book, For whose benefit?

Too often General Election campaigns seem – yet another – opportunity for politicians to talk ‘tough’ on ‘welfare’ as they compete to be seen as the party who will finally rid Britain of its supposed problem of ‘welfare dependency’. 2010 featured billboards with David Cameron finger pointing as he pledged: ‘let’s cut benefits for those who refuse work’.

In the run up to the 2015 election, Rachel Reeves, then shadowing the Department for Work and Pensions brief, was quoted saying: “we are not the party of people on benefits” disowning millions of potential voters.

And now another election. With the dominance of Brexit, as yet we have not heard much on ‘welfare’ and it may well be crowded out by policy debates in other areas. Corbyn’s Labour can be expected to offer up a more egalitarian social security agenda but the scope for this to gain traction and support from the public may be limited.

Continue reading ‘Election focus: Manifestos on welfare should be about engagement, dignity and respect’

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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The truth about benefits sanctions

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

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

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Ruth Patrick

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

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

As David Cameron put it back in 2014:

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

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

Continue reading ‘The truth about benefits sanctions’


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