Reflections on the Social Policy Association conference, 2013

As a first time attendee at the SPA conference I was interested to hear from prominent social policy academics on the current crisis of welfare and the decline in public support for social security. For the most part, I was impressed by the commitment to rigorous, empirical research that expressed a desire to influence public debates. This was especially true in the session I attended that addressed the issue of stigma and shame under austerity. I was also interested to hear Joanne Warner’s excellent presentation on the issue of class in relation to parenting under austerity – a presentation that had been adapted from a paper in ‘Health, Risk and Society’. My concern, however, as with most conferences I’ve attended, lies with the impact of our internal debates on the wider discourses pertaining to welfare and social security in the UK.

Under the coalition government the welfare state is in the process of being dismantled with the intention of creating a new system that penalises the poor, often into a further state of destitution. Indeed, this is a renewed attack on working class families, and a revival of the old politics of division – a move that has served conservative agendas well in the past (and one that has seen Labour politicians join in on the offensive). Theinsidious spread of negative propaganda on welfare is pitting people against each other at a time when solidarity amongst the working class is crucial. There are now far too many myths being recycled in the media about welfare and the protection of the most vulnerable in society, and it seems as if there is very little respite for the working poor.

In these ‘challenging times’, I would expect to see social policy academics on news programmes, writing articles in magazines and mainstream newspapers, defending the welfare state, and standing up for the working class. Instead we remain, broadly, silent whilst the coalition government continues its unforgivable and merciless attack on the poorest in society. After a largely positive experience at the SPA conference, I hope that our academic community will continue in its efforts to conduct exciting research that will not only impress our peers, but also the general public.

By Greg White.
You can find out more about Greg on our contributors page.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on the Social Policy Association conference, 2013

  1. Greg, I think your blog raised some really interesting and important points for discussion. I’d just like to touch on one or two of them and throw in my tuppence worth.

    I agree that social policy scholars are in a strong position to contribute to public debates around welfare and social security (among other things), and it would be great to see academics engage with the public more frequently and more directly. A once-in-a-blue-moon open letter to the Guardian just doesn’t cut it…

    But alongside public engagement, I think we need more political engagement. The social policy community needs to present a strong, critical voice in public debates, but it’s just as important for scholars to use their knowledge and expertise to influence policymakers. These dialogues require a much more collaborative mind set and a focus on finding alternative policy solutions.

    Charities and think tanks are already attuned to working in this way – but it would be great to see more social policy academics in the mix.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Hardeep.

    I agree with your political engagement point. Although I think a deceptive amount of academic engagement is happening within parts of the civil service, I’d be interested to know how you think it could be extended?


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