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.

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Is private rented an option when there are no other options?

Research has highlighted that in recent years the risk of homelessness has surged in all tenures (CIH, NHF, Shelter, 2012); perhaps unsurprisingly, this has been linked to the economic downturn (Homeless Link, 2010). The Government’s spending reforms in respect of housing and welfare has been described as ‘radical fiscal retrenchment’ whereby public outlay has decreased to its lowest rate since 1945 (Nevin and Leather 2012).

Housing Options Survey
In November last year I forwarded a survey to all Local Authority Housing Advice Services (hereafter referred to as LAHAS’s) in England, just over two thirds responded. In a nutshell, LAHAS’s deal with statutory homeless applications, housing advice, and homelessness prevention services. To be owed a main housing duty a service user must satisfy the LAHAS that they are vulnerable in some way, for example due to a serious health issue or dependent children (usually referred to as being in ‘priority need’).

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Conceptual spaghetti: or why the Big Society won’t work.

It’s been over three years now since the Big Society was first launched at the Hugo Young Lecture in December 2009. Since that time there have been countless articles dissecting David Cameron’s flagship idea, and it’s fair to say that the majority of these articles have been negative. In some respects the Big Society is a blank canvas onto which various parties have projected their own fears. The lack of a clear message from Number 10 means that in some quarters it is seen as little more than a joke.

But this is a naive view: at it’s best the Big Society can be seen as an inducement for citizens to volunteer and do good, but at it’s worst it is a dangerous gamble predicated on the hope that the third sector can provide core public services. More often than not policies such as these are simply regarded in functionalist terms as indicative of cuts to public expenditure. Indeed it is now an established argument to see the Big Society as an ideological fig-leaf used to cover up the deep and destructive spending cuts currently being implemented (Corbett & Walker, 2012). An agenda it may be, but the Big Society suffers from it’s own problems too. Continue reading