All Work and Low Pay: We must not forget how people from different backgrounds are affected in different ways

The nature of poverty is changing, and today more people living in poverty are working than are out of work. The injustice of low-pay is increasing throughout the UK – since 2009 the number of workers earning less than a living wage – the amount considered adequate to achieve a minimum standard of living – has mushroomed, from 3.4 million to 4.8 million.

One woman who is supported by Wai Yin Chinese Women Society explains that “my husband and me work six days per week, ten hours per day, just to manage our daily living. We only can work in Chinese restaurants, because we cannot speak English”

Austerity has contributed towards this, but clearly poverty existed before the collapse of Lehman Brothers and there are persistent structural inequalities that reach deep into the heart of our society, which need to be dealt with. To have any chance of transforming the lives of people on low-pay, we need to reveal the complex dimensions of poverty and make visible that which is often neglected in mainstream debates.

 

One of these complexities is the clear connection between how levels and experiences of poverty are affected by people’s ethnic identities. We can see this through stark facts which show that young black people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed compared to young white people and almost half of all Bangladeshi and Pakistani workers in the UK earn less than £7 an hour.

Around two-fifths of people from ethnic minorities live in low-income households, twice the rate for white people, although there are also clear variations by ethnic group and gender that must be considered. Furthermore, there are also geographical dimensions to this, as although people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be in income poverty than white British people wherever they live, evidence shows that the extent of the difference is much greater in inner London and the English North and Midlands than elsewhere. The evidence is clear, but as Stephen Crossley asks: are ethnic minority workers in low paid jobs hiding in plain sight?

The high representation of ethnic minorities in low-paid work means that those who seek to address the issue of low-pay must consider how people from different backgrounds are affected in different ways. At the same time, anti-racism campaigners need to consider the scourge of low-pay more centrally. As local Manchester activist Tony Wright says:  “It is beyond black and white now, and is also about the colour of money.”

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is currently undertaking a far-reaching programme to better understand the relationship between ethnicity and poverty. This has included an in-depth look into a range of issues. For instance, the research showed that social networks can provide an essential safety net, but at the same time can limit people within circles of their own communities, which can serve to reproduce inequalities by providing important access to employment, but that is often restricted into low-paid jobs which relied on informal recruitment processes. Research into the relationship between caring and earning reveals the impact of caring for children, disabled children and older relatives that demands more flexible working patterns in order to be able to provide the necessary balance, but can trap people (predominantly women) into low-paid and part-time work. Finally, the JRF’s research into the impacts of employer behaviour and the nature of local labour markets clearly provides further evidence which shows that discrimination continues to have an impact on people’s life chances, particularly those on low-pay.

These results point to a complicated picture of poverty and racism in the UK and provide policy-makers and communities with more knowledge on how to change things for the better. The campaign for a living wage is an important strategy for improving the position of low-paid workers, but for it to be truly transformational there must also be a consideration of how the labour market currently disadvantages people from ethnic minority backgrounds in terms of trapping them into low-paid work.

The JRF’s research shows us the importance of access to good jobs and progression opportunities once people are in work. Within this, the intersecting dimensions of ethnicity and gender must be considered throughout. As Fran Bennett points out: ‘workers who are female, part-time on temporary or casual contracts and working in the private sector are at greater risk of low paid work.’ More secure positions are needed for the many women that are often forced into taking on part-time and low-paid work in order manage their caring responsibilities and survive daily life. The very nature of work must change to become more flexible for workers and not just employers, while affordable childcare needs to become more accessible for all communities, particularly those on low-pay. Beyond this, more value must be placed upon the role of un-waged caring in our society; anti-poverty strategies have to recognise that employment alone must not be the only approach, as many women rely on access to non-income resources to maintain financial security and are being further exposed by austerity.

The beauty of the Living Wage campaign is the simplicity of its message: that everyone deserves to be paid a wage that can ensure a decent standard of living. But for it to be truly successful, it must not forget the complexity of inequality and poverty that we face in twenty-first century Britain.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Centrally designing policies that neglect the perspectives of people living in poverty is not a good strategy

Many organisations lobby for changes in redistributive policy to reduce poverty, but it is the very model (or business) of policy-making that requires transformation. With figures recently released that austerity is increasing child poverty (fifty percent of children in the central Manchester constituency are already living in poverty) and studies showing a decline in civic engagement, an alternative approach to policy-making is necessary to tackle the complex problem of social disadvantage that persists in our communities.

The damaging disconnection between policy makers and communities runs far deeper than the Eton dominance of Number Ten. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation argues, existing anti-poverty strategies often lack an evidence-based link between policy aims and implementation. This is because they reflect centrally designed policies that neglect the perspectives of people living in poverty, which means policy often fails to address the complexity of interventions that are required. It is rare that people who live in poverty are included in debates in the media, let alone within the corridors of power.

 

But what better way to understand the impacts of policy implementation than by drawing on the knowledge of those people who are the subject of decisions made by politicians? This requires a shift in the model of governance and public policy that currently exists, which privileges statistical data and economic performance management, towards a model that draws more upon the experiences of people living in poverty.

Co-production is based on recognition that public services are a collaborative project between citizens and the state. Co-production to create policy increases the capacity for learning about complex issues and supports a broader range of perspectives, creating public services that have enhanced knowledge about the interventions that are being delivered. Increased adoption of co-produced knowledge within the policy-making process has significant potential to address poverty by bringing in both experiential expertise and local knowledge into the policy-making process.

Quantitative evidence draws out systemic patterns, and can convey powerful messages. However, it forms the basis of technocratic and target-driven approaches that dominate the production of public policy. This is rooted in the inequalities of power that are inherent within existing policy-making structures in which marginalised communities have little influence.

This ultimately leads to public policy that fails to understand the complexity of social life and so therefore ultimately fails to address deep-rooted problems, such as poverty. Furthermore, as we have recently seen, statistics are not always used honestly. And as Nick Cohen states: “When the powerful lie with statistics, they do so in the cynical knowledge that the public is more likely to believe them.”

So-called experts often dismiss the experiences of communities as too anecdotal and value-driven, placing it outside of the realm of what is considered to be reliable evidence as it does not fit within the dominant framework of efficiency and performance management. But surely citizens are experts on how policy directly impacts on their lives?

Research suggests that credibility and the way things are framed are important conditions of attempts to influence policy. Therefore in order to increase the use of evidence presented by communities within the policy-making process, co-production needs to integrate aspects of the dominant rational scientific mode of knowledge more effectively. This can be done in a way to supports progressive social change – as the academic Radical Statistics Group advocates. There also needs to be more evidence of the efficiencies gained through involving the people who are the target of interventions in the development of policy.

In order to truly address poverty, we need to transform the very nature of public policy by locating technocratic and citizen knowledge on a more equal footing – beyond redistribution towards a fundamental recognition of the considerable value of the knowledge that is held by our communities and an end to divisive approaches to ‘deal with feckless scroungers.’ It is about changing not just the substance of policy, but the very way in which it is made. If our society had more of a connection between those concocting policies and the people who experience its impacts a little more, perhaps we would not be so violently unequal.

 

Originally posted on the LSE Politics & Policy Blog: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/archives/33479

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Empowering communities in poverty to drive economic recovery

One of the many complex reasons why public policy has not adequately addressed deep-rooted and entrenched poverty has been the over concentration of investment in physical regeneration.

Whilst such interventions are essential to create sustainable places where people want to live, the long-term investment in people as assets has not been given the value that it requires. An alternative way of approaching this is for local authorities to adopt a model of micro finance that will support local entrepreneurs from communities currently living in poverty. Adopting a micro-financing model will enable entrepreneurship at a community level and enhance local economies, which in turn will serve to develop community resilience. We can learn much from the Grameen Bank model, which has proven to be cost-effective, has a proven track record and is transferable from rural to urban areas.

The idea was the brain-child of Professor Muhammad Yunus, who first researched the idea in 1976. The bank was formally instituted in 1983 with the sole objective of working alongside those struggling to remove themselves out of poverty by providing micro-finance through a sustainable institutional framework. This model is particularly effective because it empowers the individual to take responsibility and make informed choices, while binding groups within communities to commit to supporting each other. Most importantly, it provides access to loans without requiring collateral.

The methodology of Grameen is simple yet very powerful. It includes investment in small loans at a local level to groups of five entrepreneurs who have difficulty accessing traditional loans and have come together to share risk, expertise and support. The initial investment is targeted to two members of the group. Depending on their performance in repayment, the next two borrowers can then apply and, subsequently, the fifth member as well. This enhances mutuality between all those involved. In order to provide the necessary support, operations are characterised by intensive discipline, supervision, and servicing. This support and structure to manage credit is essential to the model, especially in light of the fact that it is the people who are furthest removed from the market economy that are the focus of the model.

This allows for managed risk, an incentivised scheme and an environment where innovative projects can flourish. The success of this approach shows that a number of objections to lending to the people living in poverty can be overcome if careful supervision and management are provided. The delivery system is geared to meet the diverse socio-economic development needs of these communities and support people to escape the vicious cycle of low income, low savings, low investment, and low income.

There are opportunities to develop this model through the City Deal framework – to launch a micro-finance strategy targeted at the most vulnerable and poorest members of our communities, using the Grameen Bank model of micro finance.  It is locally-based, leads to a high rate of recovery and a rests upon tightly disciplined model. The launch of Grameen UK in Scotland is certainly something to keep an eye on. There is potential for this to be administered through the credit unions, which are well respected and have a credible and robust financial structure. It will also be essential to have local authority partnership with this initiative to provide the necessary strategic support. Through providing the means to develop the potential for entrepreneurship within our communities, we can invest in both the economic and social regeneration of some of our most deprived communities.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Our welfare state is being transformed under false pretences

Presenting the financial crisis as a problem of public debt neglects its wider roots, argues Dan Silver, from his experience in Salford and Manchester. The result is an assault on the welfare state which won’t deliver economic recovery but is driving many into poverty.

The government’s programme of austerity and the transformation of the welfare state, which defines their response, is to become a harsh reality in April 2013 when a range of different reforms come into force.

There are many different layers to this, including the recent decision to cut benefits and child tax credits in real terms – a decision alone that pushes 200,000 children into poverty. Another worrying aspect is the localisation of a reduced Council Tax benefit, which the New Policy Institute estimates will adversely affect 2.2 million working-age claimants.

Further reforms, such as changes to disability living allowance and the bedroom tax, all means that many people will suddenly find themselves in the midst of a personal financial crisis. Changes to the benefits system through monthly payments of Universal Credit will not help the situation – instead of people having to cope for a few days at the end of the week with no money, it will now often be the final week of the month.

Worse is set to follow with the decision to reduce resources and remove the ring-fence from the Social Fund (which provides crisis loans to families in desperate situations). This is likely to result in the unavailability of critical emergency support, leaving vulnerable people more susceptible to the scourge of legal loan sharks in order to survive. As the social security net is restricted, many people will fall deeper into the clutches of poverty. This all comes alongside the eye-watering reductions in public funding to some of the country’s most deprived cities, which will inevitably lead to essential services being cut to the bone.

A family living in poverty, from the Salvation Army archive SlumXpoverty.jpgGoing back. An early 20th century family living in poverty, from the Salvation Army’s archive. Photograph: Salvation Army

The injustice of people in poverty suffering for a financial crisis that they did not cause becomes visceral when contrasted to Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan’s recent announcement of profits that defied all expectations. For some, this will result in a record bonus season, yet perversely it is people living in poverty who are portrayed as scroungers taking advantage of the system.

These starkly contrasting fortunes are a direct result of the way that the financial crisis of 2008 has been constructed as one of public debt, obscuring the reality of a flaw within the dominant model of financial capitalism that predicated growth on irresponsible free-market fundamentalism and continuous consumer spending based on unsustainable debt.

Since 2007 the UK has committed to spending £1.162 trillion on bailing out the banks. There has been a massive transfer of wealth from the public to the private realm – ultimately to prop up a bankrupt system. Yet we rarely hear about this when the arguments are made for cutting the social security net to a point that creates poverty. And not only is austerity proving to be socially unjust, Sheffield University academic Colin Hay argues that a failure to understand the causes of the crisis in the flawed model of economic growth has resulted in responses that are ultimately doomed to fail. The daily revelations of grim economic realities and the potential for a triple-dip recession appear to support him.

The logic of financial capitalism that has brought the world to its knees is reflected throughout the UK welfare system. This is built upon a flexible labour force and low levels of social protection, with a large role for the private sector in the delivery of welfare – all based on market relations that complement the dominant mode of economic growth. We can clearly see this through the use of tax credits to subsidise poverty wages, and housing benefit to pay private landlords for inflated rents.

It is the economy that needs transforming, rather than the welfare state alone. In order to deal with the financial crisis, there must be a rupture from the current consensus of market fundamentalism that has led us to this point. The French philosopher Jacques Rancière argues that ‘politics begins and ends in a dissensus.’ This is the moment when the dominant narrative becomes disrupted and fresh approaches are considered.

As Colin Hay shows, ‘change our sense of the crisis and we change the range of responses considered appropriate.’ Our economic failure is not the fault of the welfare state and its solutions do not lie exclusively within debates between austerity and Keynesianism. We need to begin a fundamental re-definition of our economy into one that is both socially just and environmentally sustainable, which enables a welfare state of the 21st century to develop. It is only through achieving such a transformation that recovery can truly begin.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Will the UK topple down a ‘welfare cliff’ in three months’ time?

The US turmoil over fiscal matters has a mirror in the crisis approaching the welfare state, argues Dan Silver, as use of UK food banks rises six-fold

The six-fold increase in the use of food banks reveals a growing social crisis and the abject failure of the welfare state to provide the basic support that is required. Sadly, this is set to get worse in the New Year.

The financial crisis of 2008, which for many has discredited the dominant model of financial capitalism, has been maintained by those currently in power. It has been reconstituted as a debt crisis caused by government deficits. Indeed, Ian Duncan Smith has argued that not only did welfare transfers (such as the tax credits that provide support to many underpaid workers) increase people’s dependency on the state – worse still, it pushed the public finances almost to breaking point.

This has lead to significant changes in government fiscal policy, which will define politics and policy for years to come. Such logic also provides further credence to the erosion of the redistributive role of the welfare state – as the government declaims about more ‘fairness to the taxpayer.’ What began as a financial crisis in the banking sector has now become a social crisis for some of our most marginalised and vulnerable communities.

This will become more intense in 2013 – as the true impacts of austerity and welfare reform hit. Whilst the Labour Party is correct to discuss the impacts on people throughout the country, and Neil McInroy of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies clearly argues that ‘inequality has no compass points,’ the north of England will undoubtedly be at the forefront of this looming social crisis. The huge and disproportionate cuts to local authorities, which Polly Toynbee points out are neglected by a London-centric media, mean that the essential services that support a wide range of communities will be stripped to the bone – and sometimes taken away completely. Indeed, the council leaders of NewcastleLiverpool and Sheffield wrote a letter published in Sunday’s Observer, which anticipates social unrest as a result.

This is not another alarmist doomsday prediction, but is a valid concern that is rooted in the reality of what is happening in many areas.

Universal Credit (UC), which is a single monthly payment for people looking for work or with low income, is set to be piloted in the North West region of England. With payments being made directly to claimants on a monthly basis, around 20-30 percent of tenants may well struggle to pay the rent on time when UC comes in, and many more people will experience difficulties with the new model (not to mention a financial reduction in real terms).

Sir William BeveridgeLord (William) Beveridge (1879-1963), principal architect of the welfare state. Is his work eroding beyond rescue?

There is also a significant withdrawal in funding for advice services, at a time when they will be more vital than ever in providing support for people to navigate the system. As the implications of the fiscal cliff in the United States appear set to dominate the coming political commentary, there needs to be more debate about the welfare cliff that we will experience in the UK from April 2013 – when many of the reforms come into force, and austerity hits our communities in new ways.

The two issues highlighted above are part of many more which increase hardship, a programme of reform which consistently reveals a stark political choice about where, and on whose shoulders, deficit reduction falls. We must not fail in our duty to highlight this fact.

However, of equally important note is the fact that the government is leading us towards increasing poverty and crisis management, and away from any hope of the long-term preventative solutions based on early-intervention that are required to tackle many social problems, and indeed save money. This appears a clear political choice, not an inevitable fact of a post-Lehman Brothers’ world. For instance, tax credits of £28 billion and the Housing benefit of £22 billion are essentially subsidising employers and private landlords, when a living wage policy and increased house building would allow for the state to target resources elsewhere.

The transformation of the welfare state is truly set to take hold next year. Instead of a progressive change that empowers communities and aims for long-term improvements that meet the challenges of a changing society, we are likely to see decimation of services, crisis and increasing poverty. In the end, this will benefit nobody.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The cruellest of blows?

Manchester councillor Amina Lone finds worrying practice in the Government’s altered system of assessing and paying disability benefits

The welfare reforms enacted by the coalition government have proved to be controversial; but none more so that the shift from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independent Payments (PIPs). Each share many similarities, for instance the inclusion of a daily living allowance and mobility component that are essential to ensure that individuals can maintain control over their own lives by taking responsibility through personal choice.

However, organisations such as Disability Rights UK believe that the main driver is to cut allowance and reduce public expenditure. Whilst reducing the deficit is of course critical for our economy, it is also a political choice about who carries the responsibility for achieving this. This seems confirmed as the government announced that more than 300,000 disabled people will have their benefits cut although the change has been delayed for two years.

In a speech to parliament yesterday Esther McVey MP, the welfare minister, declared that the PIPS will be ‘more transparent, objective and fair,’ and that ‘everyone will be assessed as an individual.’ However, Atos – the organisation that is implementing such assessments – appears to have not yet received this instruction.

Speaking to a number of people who have had to deal with Atos in terms of their eligibility for DLA, I have been shocked at the way the assessments are carried out. There seems to be a complete lack of professional understanding of hidden disabilities, especially in the case of mental health illness. One case I am currently involved in through my role as a local councillor, has a claimant being placed in the ‘fit-to-work’ group even though she has a brain tumour (for which she is due to go into imminent surgery), has a severe strain of bi-polar and has serious knee problems that need operating on. To top it off, she has been advised she will be left permanently deaf from the brain surgery. Her first appointment with Atos was scheduled for the week after her brain operation and when she said she could not attend, she was informed that this was her choice and if she didn’t attend she would be putting her benefits at risk.

And this case is just the tip of the ice-berg. I know of at least two other local cases where the claimant has lost their benefits and have not turned to any professionals for advice or support. What will happen to these hidden people and how will they be measured in the Government’s statistics of successful getting people off benefit?

The mass of welfare reforms which are like a tidal wave hitting the poorest in our communities seem to be on a one-way course to increase poverty. The majority of people who are on benefits are in fact working – and are not the feckless work-shy the government falsely refer too. However the disability cuts are going to impact on some of the most vulnerable members of of communities and often some of the most discriminated against in our society. How does this square with Cameron’s own rhetoric of his government being fair and all in it together?

Furthermore, many of these welfare reforms simply seem unsustainable. If Atos is wrongly assessing people with no expertise in hidden or mental disabilities and deeming these people fit for work, how do they know how long these people will be able to stay in work?

The strategy is looking very short-term and incredibly reactionary especially when you consider the revolving door element that could come in to play if someone is misdiagnosed as fit for work, somehow manages to get a job and has to leave that job within six months because they are unable to continue the job due to their illness. How many employers are going to tolerate someone who suffers from a hidden disability or a mental illness? Illnesses like bi-polar disorder are unpredictable and many people who have it cannot plan for their future precisely because of that.

These cuts are punishing those who have often done nothing wrong but have had the misfortune to be born with a disability that they could not control. Maybe that is Cameron’s next policy initiative: Make sure you get your genes right otherwise you are going to be stuffed when you get out in to the big bad world. Cameron’s own version of the evolutionary theory.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Silent voices

In the recent furore surrounding the BBC’s internal failings around coverage of abuse allegations, the original tragedy of the victims of Jimmy Savile has been lost., Unfortunately, this is typical of the way child sexual rape, abuse and exploitation have too often been treated. The tendency to ‘look the other way’ has its own grave consequence, not the victims simply fear they will not be believed – that their word as a child will carry less weight when measured against an adult’s testimony. It is a common pattern and the abusers exploit it well.

Abusers use power and control, telling victims they will not be believed and that they will be blamed for taking part in the abuse. To seal the culture of silence, individual workers in positions of trust have at various times effectively colluded with this by turning a blind eye. This contributes to a wall of silence that fails to protect our most vulnerable children.

Furthermore, the racialisation of the cases of sexual abuses by some south Asian men has further blurred the understanding of how prevalent sexual abuse is in all communities and at all levels of society. The interim report by the office of the children’s commissioner has concluded that there are much more intricate and insidious patterns of abuse taking place within our localities.

However, to ignore the problem of street grooming by some men in particular communities would be woefully neglectful. Let me be unequivocal in saying that there are specific problems with some men from some communities. There is a cultural attitude by a minority of men within certain south Asian communities, who believe that ‘white’ girls in particular are easy prey as they supposedly have a different set of cultural norms and values with regard to sexual activity and personal freedom. Professional classes’ uncertainty around possible perpetrators’ cultural background has often led them to fail to act. But there can never be any justification for the failure to prosecute an individual who has committed a crime because of culture, race, gender or class – especially crimes as heinous as the rape of a child.

The other problem with this narrative is the conclusion that sexual abuse does not occur within south Asian communities. This is not only false, but a dangerous position to support. Conversations about sexual activity within certain communities are already taboo and abuse is certainly not discussed openly. Many families who discover sexual abuse has taken place within their own families prefer to deal with it in-house for fear of their Izzat (honour) being irrevocably stained. Therefore when the media makes this an issue between south Asian men and white girls – this further isolates the victims from South Asian backgrounds who have experienced sexual abuse. The Henna Foundation, which work to support such victims, has noted a year-on-year increase in victims from south Asian backgrounds abused by south Asian perpetrators coming to them for help. Often victims will be pressured in to not sharing the abuse with anyone and will turn to religious leaders within the community for help.

The pattern of grooming between a minority of south Asian men and white girls is one particular pattern of abuse and will unfold differently in different geographical areas. The common themes are not race, culture or class but the fact that many of the victims were vulnerable.

Regrettably victims can get forgotten. Anyone who works with victims of abuse knows that one of the common consequences of abuse is the victim’s belief that they were somehow complicit in the abuse and that they take a share of the blame upon themselves. This is compounded when the authorities or adults who the victims confide in do not believe the victims. In one recent case, a 15-year-old child was raped by a number of men and reported it to various authorities. Despite the fact that this child was being continuously threatened and raped until she was made pregnant by one of her abusers, not one professional acted significantly enough to protect her. The professionals charged with safeguarding her were more concerned with the risk that this teenager placed to the baby she was carrying than any consideration of her mental, physical and emotional wellbeing – even though she was self-harming and abusing alcohol. The stark fact that a child had conceived a child thorough the act of multiple rape somehow got lost in the professionals assessment.

There are ways to prevent these abuses. To do this we need to build upon well-evidenced processes that already work to alert parents and communities, with localised knowledge and expertise of the predominate types of paedophile activity in their area. That is not to be culturally insensitive or racist. It does, however, require careful consideration and implementation.

Safeguarding should include educating parents and young people of what to look out for from abusers, and identifying particular risks within their localities will help. It is also important that different agencies share expertise, knowledge, resources and data. Strengthening relationships between children and adults including family members and teachers should be part of the strategy – if only so there is another layer of protection. However, the biggest single factor is professionals, individuals and other children not turning a blind eye to abuse, but to speak out and report all incidents. It is high time we put the victims first.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

David Cameron’s ‘aspiration nation’ neglects underlying issues

The Prime Minister’s rhetoric needs the backing of healthy public services and measures such as Manchester’s new £7.15 minimum wage.
David Cameron

A central message that the Prime Minister wished to communicate in his speech to the Conservative party conference was that ‘Britain is on the rise.’ To guarantee this success, David Cameron highlighted the need to create an ‘aspiration nation.’

To achieve that, he declared war on the great evils of ‘unfairness and injustice’ with the aim of addressing poverty and stimulating economic recovery. The ‘aspiration nation’ is to be built upon ‘hard work, strong families and taking responsibility.’

However, thanks to the divisive manner in which current government policy is being designed and implemented, these statements look more like part of the wider dynamic of blaming of poor people for their own poverty.

The recent intake of employees at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Halewood, Merseyside saw 20,000 people apply for 1100 jobs. Jobs are quite simply not there – especially in the north of England. This does not mean that those who were not offered work at the Jaguar Land Rover plant are ‘scroungers’ and not part of the so-called ‘aspiration nation.’ They clearly aspired to work.

Evidence from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that many people out of work do want jobs but cannot find them and the statistics on underemployment reveal that there are up to six million people who aspire to work more but can’t. Aspiration exists within our communities, but the expectation of a secure job at a fair wage and chances for social mobility within an unequal society is increasingly diminishing, whilst possibilities for people to fulfil their potential become yet more scarce.

paste

Gentleman’s relish? What are the Government’s ingredients? Image: Dan Farley

 

It is not aspiration or responsibility that is lacking, but opportunity. The economy is not creating the jobs that are needed nationwide. In spite of this, unemployment has been constructed as the result of poor individual choices. This denies the government’s failure to deliver the economic recovery it promised, and neglects the deep-rooted structural problems within our economy that continue to create inequalities. Responsibility is individualised – in the process absolving government of blame.

As the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen argues, responsibility requires social support, such as education and healthcare, which is designed to create

more opportunity for choice and substantive decisions for individuals who can then act responsibly on that basis.

By contrast, the government’s public services agenda fundamentally transforms the nature of the welfare state, shrinking it in a way that reduces these structures of support, resulting in the Government failing to fulfil its own responsibilities.

David Cameron will fail in his mission to reduce welfare dependency unless his party realises that the alternative to this idea of a more minimal state is not an over-burdensome bureaucracy (another of the evils he identifies). There has to be some form of redistribution through the democratic state to create the conditions from which to promote individual responsibility and substantive choices.

Cameron’s call for taxpayers to say in effect: ‘It is our money, not yours’ to the Government fundamentally undermines this principle. The Prime Minister also said that ‘countries on the rise are spending money on their future.’ But on his watch there has been a reduction in many of the major investments in our communities that are vitally necessary – most viscerally felt by the existence of over a million unemployed young people.

The narrative of the ‘scroungers’ who lurk behind their curtains in the morning when decent, hard-working people are on their way to work is clearly popular amongst certain sections of society. Cameron vilifies those claiming housing benefits as ‘a cause of great injustice’ when in fact, 93 percent of new claimants seeking housing benefit are actually in work.

Manchester City Council yesterday approved a living wage of £7.15 for its lowest-paid employees, a wage identified as necessary to meet the basic cost of living in the city, compared to the national minimum wage of £6.15. This is an encouraging step, and one measure that can help address poverty at a local level. If work is the only route out of poverty, what about those hard-working people who cannot make work pay?

This shows the confused and flawed nature of the Prime Minister’s arguments. As long as the Government continues to blame individuals for poverty and neglects the root causes of inequality, David Cameron’s claim that its role is to ‘spread privilege around’ appears to be quite preposterous.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

New City Deals need to involve local people

Dan Silver welcomes news of more City Deals for the north – provided they bring innovative systems for genuinely democratic decision-making

Salford council housing Social Action & Research Foundation SARF

A new wave of so-called ‘City Deals’ has just been announced by the Government in which 20 cities and their wider areas will be given the opportunity to bid for radical new powers to boost local growth.

This involves the Government devolving powers in exchange for responsibility for delivering growth locally and includes the ability to ‘earn back’ tax from the Treasury as well as devolved transport budgets and control of the skills budget for each city.

This new wave includes several cities in the north of England: Hull and the Humber; Preston and Lancashire; Sunderland; and the Tees Valley – adding to existing City Deals in Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield and the first of them all in Greater Manchester which set the benchmark for those announced today.

A key theme of City Deals is the need to have economic growth. Whilst this remains a driver for national and local government, solely concentrating on economic outputs severely limits potential to invest in communities and effectively tackle some of the long-term and structural inequalities that people face. For instance, such an approach can potentially exclude areas that form a critical portion of the non-market economy.

There must be a balance between the two. Successive investment and regeneration have changed the physical structures of place, yet entrenched social policy problems remain for some sections of the communities that live there. In order to address this, we need to involve all those that live in communities to best support the potential capabilities in a way that can drive social regeneration within some of our most consistently deprived communities.

The Social Action & Research Foundation, a new think-tank based in Salford which co-produces policies to eradicate poverty (of which I am a co-Director alongside Amina Lone), proposes the idea of Hot-Housing Public Policy; this is a new way of evidencing, shaping and delivering public policy that draws upon the range of expertise and knowledge of those that live and work in communities. In turn this will lead to more co-produced public services, which are effective and efficient and that deepen democratic accountability.

The City Deals provide a unique opportunity to be able to deliver this, but it requires some creative thinking. Successful innovation in one area will not be directly transferable to others, and will require local reinterpretation. Therefore, the City Deals should put in place commissioning and performance frameworks that enable local innovation to flourish, whilst maintaining the necessary monitoring that is required in order to assess effectiveness.

It is important to provide the necessary space whereby policy ideas can be nurtured within the local communities that they are rooted. In order to achieve this, City Deals could provide a skeleton framework as well as a support function that will allow the strategic and coordinated measures that are necessary. Alongside this, it is important to ensure adequate safety mechanisms and a level of quality assurance and standards across the board. However within this framework, communities must be given greater voice within local decision-making processes to be able to implement interventions and deliver co-produced services at a local level that are more in tune to local needs.

A coordinated approach will then be necessary to propagate the more successful innovations by supporting their replication to each locality, while allowing for a flexibility that can meet the specific needs and challenges of the area. This allows a basic framework with a universal policy approach to provide equitable delivery of services, whilst ensuring the flexibility for each co-produced project to be cross-fertilised with local expertise.

The development of innovations in public policy and its implementation in each City Deal area will then grow organically. This builds upon the successful and creative interventions that have already occurred, whilst providing more space, ownership and empowerment for such innovations to flourish, while providing the necessary frameworks to ensure the needs of all our diverse guarantees are met. Through such an approach, City Deals can help to contribute to increased localism within our communities in a way that creates efficient, effective and equitable public services.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Learning lessons from the Fire Service: prevention is best

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue provides a model of how public services can look ahead and seek prevention, rather than gearing themselves to a largely emergency response. 
Firefighters Salford

Courageous but also thoughtful. In Greater Manchester, there is much to be learned from firefighters’ work away from emergencies such as this suspected gas explosion in Salford. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

The Social Action & Research Foundation’s Tale of Two Cities report provided reflections and recommendations on the riots that took place in Salford and Manchester, and used the events last summer as a starting point for wider debate on some of the major social policy issues that exist. The report suggests that we should consider a fundamental shift in the delivery of public services away from responding to emergency issues, and towards new delivery models that are rooted in early intervention and towards a culture of prevention.

As we noted throughout the report, the Social Action & Research Foundation did not claim to be inventing a brand new model for our public services – much of this is already underway. As it has moved from a purely responsive organisation to one that focuses on prevention over the last fifteen years, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service embodies this transformation perhaps better than any other public service.

Indeed, whilst Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service played a key role in responding to emergencies as they arose during the riots last summer, the impact of the organisation’s prevention activity within Greater Manchester’s communities is long term and far reaching, albeit less ‘visible’. Therefore, we should make sure that we learn from the lessons that this move towards a culture of prevention has involved.

The minimum recommended for apprenticeships is one yearApprenticeships are one way GM Fire and Rescue is involving and helping young people.Photograph:AlamyGreater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service has adopted a strategic approach that involves working more closely with the communities in which the Service is embedded, which is followed by a range of structured programmes designed to be able to deliver practical changes. From this an impressive range of innovative approaches have emerged that are being undertaken in Greater Manchester by the Fire and Rescue Service – which are often targeted to the greatest areas of need.

These include developing Community Safety Apprenticeships to provide young people with the skills to successfully enter the labour market, whilst increasing their self-esteem, responsibility and sense of belonging. Through collaboration with the Prince’s Trust, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service has engaged with one thousand young people who have acquired in excess of two thousand academic qualifications. These are practical solutions to some of the issues highlighted in our report, not least in terms of youth unemployment and disengagement.

Elsewhere, innovation can be seen in Greater Manchester’s model of Community Budgets – these pool the resources of public sector providers in order to gain the best possible outcomes for our communities. A fundamental aspect of this is developing connections between public sector agencies. For instance, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service have developed intelligence relating to sixty thousand homes that are deemed most at risk of fire; these homes are often the same as those which require other public services. Therefore, sharing such information and expertise can have a real impact at reducing the strain on resources, whilst at the same time providing the conditions for more successful interventions at an early stage.

A model in which public services are working more collaboratively in sharing resources and knowledge, as well as a culture of early intervention, is a huge step forward in terms of challenging some of the worst effects of poverty in our communities and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service can shed light on how this can become a wider reality.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized