The impact of welfare reform on the social services workforce in Scotland

Between April 2013 and 2017, welfare reforms will create major and far reaching changes to the benefits system. As the individual components of the UK Welfare Reform Act (2012) are slowly introduced, local government authorities, care and support providers and voluntary sector organisations are bracing themselves for an unprecedented demand on their services.

Reports from a number of concerned groups and agencies have anticipated a major shift in how care and support is delivered. The impacts of these reforms, according to a Citizens Advice Scotland report, are likely to be felt amongst the following groups: families on low incomes, the unemployed, and the disabled (Dryburgh and Lancashire, 2011). It is also expected that the impacts will be felt the most in areas where deprivation is the greatest, according to a report published by Sheffield Hallam University (Beatty and Fothergill, 2013). Continue reading

Towards Civic Capitalism: The Social Quality of Participatory Democracy

The Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) recently launched an initiative for developing a new capitalism to replace the failed Anglo-American neo-liberal model, which the Coalition Government clings to despite the model’s fiscal and moral bankruptcy. This new civic capitalism would emphasise people as citizens within a democratic polity, seeking sustainable and socially just economic growth, rather than the unsustainable consumerism of selfish individualism, socially destructive levels of inequality, and increasing precarity for the majority of people created by the neo-liberal model of capitalism. Continue reading

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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The trouble with the ‘New’ Localism

I recently attended an excellent seminar at Birkbeck, University of London discussing the emergence of the ‘new’ localism agenda in UK politics. The panel considered some interesting questions concerning the nature of the state/citizen relationship, and whilst there was predictable disparity between the views on offer, it became increasingly clear that under the Coalition government, the UK is well on a path to localism. This article discusses some of the emerging issues and considerable challenges with implementing the localism agenda.

Phillip Blond, director of the think tank ResPublica, began with the increasingly popular view that representative democracy is failing. In Blond’s opinion this has come about in part because the New Labour project of centralisation prioritised the unobtainable goal of universal provision, encouraging a non-responsive and rigid system of service supply. The answer to this in Blond’s view is to establish ‘hyper local’ institutions that can develop accountability at community level. The problem here is that the Big Society – a set of initiatives that Blond was instrumental in developing – is predicated on just such a system, and it has already failed. Continue reading

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