Tagged: British society

Welfare reform reinforces growing prejudice against disabled and unemployed, report finds

British society is becoming increasingly intolerant of unemployed and disabled people, according to academics at the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI).

A study by the University of Sheffield has found there is a growing sense that unemployment is caused by individuals’ personal failings, rather than by structural problems in the economy.

People tend to believe that work is plentiful, and that unemployment was therefore a lifestyle choice, rather than an imposition, and that poverty therefore results from moral deficiencies.

The research also highlighted an alarming intolerance towards disabled people, with participants questioning the legitimacy of benefits for disabled people deemed incapable of working.

It is clear that the derogatory term ‘chav’ remains in popular usage. Middle class research participants tended to identify and condemn ‘chav’ culture so as to validate and re-affirm their own superior social position. Working class respondents were more likely to identify and condemn ‘chav’ culture in order to distinguish themselves from it.

We appear to be witnessing the re-emergence of traditional distinctions between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, associated with the Victorian era.

This research identifies contemporary attitudes to the unemployed by drawing on a series of case studies conducted in Leeds, in Northern England. The evidence presented here is based on 90 interviews which were conducted with participants from a variety of different social classes and ethnic backgrounds.

The Coalition government’s welfare policies are in part a response to the kind of popular prejudices identified in the research. However, government rhetoric on welfare ‘scroungers’ is likely to reinforce these attitudes – focussing blame for poverty on individuals rather than on wider structural problems in Britain’s increasingly low-pay, low-skill economy.

There is in fact a danger that misplaced fears and prejudices relating to welfare claimants will present a threat to social cohesion, potentially legitimising policies which might exacerbate, rather than alleviate, social inequality.

Professor Gill Valentine, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Sheffield and author of the report, said:

The evidence is mounting that the coalition government’s austerity agenda has been targeted at the poorest groups in society rather than the most affluent.

“This research shows that this is reinforcing prejudicial and intolerant attitudes towards the most disadvantaged members of society, as the government has been successful in individualising the causes of poverty and unemployment, and marginalising the socio-economic determinants of hardship.”

You can download the report from the Sheffield University website

Source –  Benefits & Work,  11 Nov 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2935-welfare-reform-reinforces-growing-prejudice-against-disabled-and-unemployed-report-finds

300,000 More People In ‘Absolute Poverty’ Than Previously Thought

300,000 more people could be living in “absolute poverty” in the UK than previously thought, according to a shocking new report.

Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that poorer households have experienced larger increases in living costs than richer households, mainly due to rises in food and energy prices.

> Well – who’d have guessed ?

IFS say that taking into account “differential inflation” since 2010-11, the number of people recorded as being in absolute poverty would be 300,000 higher in 2013-14 than official figures suggest.

Between 2002-03 and 2013-14 the poorest 20% of households saw prices increase on the typical goods they purchase by 50%, compared to richest 20% who saw prices rise by 43%.

According to the IFS, poorer households devote more of their income on things like food and energy, whereas the richest 20% of British society spend more on areas such as motoring and mortgages.

On average, the prices of goods purchased by low-income households have risen more quickly than those more commonly purchased by more affluent households. This is particularly apparent in the ‘wake’ of the 2008 recession, say IFS.

Source: IFS Poverty Study

The government uses two different methods of measuring poverty in the UK. The first is ‘absolute poverty’, which is a measure of the number of people thought of as being below a poverty line, before housing costs, calculated using the Retail Price Index (RPI). Through this measure we can confidently say that 18.8% of individuals were living in absolute poverty in 2012-13, before housing costs.

Another method used by the government is relative poverty, which calculates the number of households earning less that 60% of the national median average. Using this method we can calculate that 15.4% of the UK population were living in ‘relative poverty’ (before housing costs) in 2012-13.

The IFS study also accounts for different inflation pressures felt by households depending on how they spend their income – a measurement not included in official poverty statistics. This new measurement found that absolute poverty is 0.5% higher in 2013/14 than standard poverty measures- the equivalent of 300,000 more households.

However, the IFS say this trend has not been consistent over earlier years, adding that “this new definition had been at times higher and at times lower”.

Peter Levell, a Research Economist at IFS said:

“In recent years, lower-income households have tended to see bigger increases in their cost of living than have better off households.

“Official poverty measures do not take this into account and hence have arguably understated recent increases in absolute poverty by a small but not insignificant margin.”

Rachel Reeves MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said:

“This report is further evidence of the huge pressures which families are facing as a result of David Cameron’s cost-of-living crisis.

“The Government’s failure to tackle soaring energy, childcare bills and low wages has led to millions struggling to get by. Earlier in the year the IFS said child poverty is set to rise 900,000 by 2020.

“A Labour Government will do more to help families who are struggling to make ends meet so that every child gets the best start in life. We will freeze energy prices, raise the minimum wage, extend free childcare provision, scrap the Bedroom Tax and introduce a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee to get people off benefits and into work.”

> But getting  people off benefits and into work  doesn’t mean those people will necesserily be any better off. Maybe Labour should really be thinking about capping rents, energy, public transport and food prices ? But of course they won’t really change anything much, they’ve bought into the system too far to do that.

Source – Welfare Weekly,  05 Nov 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/300000-people-absolute-poverty-previously-thought/

Health Inequalities and the one per cent – Free talk will address inequalities

The issue of health inequality in an increasingly unequal UK is the topic of the Wolfson Annual Lecture at Durham University’s Stockton campus later this year.

The free public lecture entitled “Health Inequalities and the one per cent” will be given by Professor Danny Dorling, from the School of Geography and the Environment at Oxford University.

Prof Dorling, who is the author of  Bankrupt Britain: An Atlas Of Social Change, highlights the fact that health inequalities are growing in the UK as the super-rich get richer.

In Britain the best-off one per cent take a very high share of national income – much more, for instance, than the annual cost of running the National Health Service,” he said.

Before tax, they consume about 15 per cent of all income, or around 10 per cent after paying income tax.”

In no other Western European country does a small group of people take such a large share of the cake, he adds.

Even as the overall size of that cake shrank during the great recession, their share rose while that of the rest fell.”

Prof Dorling asks what are the implications for everyone else in British society and suggests that the effects of such a wealth gap are not beneficial.

“There are many possible reasons as to why living in a very economically unequal country might be bad for our health….it is difficult to ascertain which might matter most. It is easier to suggest ways of remedying the situation.”

Anyone is welcome to attend the November 19 2014 lecture, which begins with lunch at 12.45 and ends at 3pm, but places are limited and must be booked in advance by contacting Suzanne Boyd on 0191 3340013.

The venue is the Ebsworth Building, Durham University, Queen’s Campus, Stockton.

Source – northern Echo, 02 Sept 2014

Miners’ Strike Film – Still the Enemy Within

Still the Enemy Within is a unique insight into one of Britain’s most dramatic struggles, the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike. No experts. No politicians. Thirty years on, this is the raw first-hand experience of those who lived through the UK’s longest strike. Follow the highs and lows of that life-changing year.

In 1984, a conservative government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declared war on the unions, taking on the strongest in the country, the National Union of Mineworkers. Following a secret plan, the government began announcing the closure of coal mines, threatening not just an industry but whole communities and a way of life.

Against all the forces the government could throw at them, 160 000 coal miners took up the fight and became part of a battle that would change the course of history.

Still the Enemy Within tells the story of a group of miners and supporters who were on the frontline of the strike for an entire year. These are the people that the media dubbed ‘Arthur’s Army’ and who Margaret Thatcher called ‘the Enemy Within’. Many of them have never spoken on camera before.

Using interviews and a wealth of rare and never before seen archive, Still the Enemy Within draws together personal experiences – whether they’re tragic, funny or terrifying – to tell the story of the key moments in the strike. It puts the viewer right at the centre of events.

Follow Norman Strike, from devising ingenious ways of getting past police road blocks in a key battleground, Nottingham, to suddenly finding himself a minor celebrity after a mishap on national television; Paul Symonds, from the optimism and excitement of a young man fighting for his future to the tragic death of his best friend on a picket line; Joyce Sheppard, from her life as an ordinary housewife to becoming a political activist and facing violence as huge numbers of police are sent in to Yorkshire villages to break the strike.

They, along with a range of voices from across the country, give a frank, emotional and ultimately inspiring account of ordinary people at the centre of extraordinary events.

From the infamous Battle of Orgreave, where miners found themselves in a brutal confrontation with over five thousand police, to the hardship endured after almost a year on strike – their story is not just one of personal drama but one that raises questions about the very nature of British society.

Still the Enemy Within shatters the mainstream narrative of the Miners’ Strike. It challenges us to look again at Britain’s past and how it shaped the world today, so that in the words of Yorkshire miner Steve Hammil, “we can still seek to do something about the future”.

The film will premiere at the Sheffield Documentary Festival 2014 in June, followed by a screening on the weekend on the Durham Miners Gala, 13th July  in the Miners Hall at Redhill, Durham City.

More info –  http://the-enemy-within.org.uk/

Not Wishing You A Dickensian Christmas

Its a strange thing but a “Dickensian” christmas is often held up as the personification of all things the season should strive to be… the soft, warm glow of candlelight, decorated xmas trees, hot punch, roasting chestnuts, happy families around the fire, merry carol singers gathered under the gaslight in the street, not the least phased by the several inches of snow covering everything – proper snow, snow that miraculously doesn’t turn to slush under the passage of so many feet and the wheels of carriages, or become polluted by the regular discharges from the horses that provided the motive power.

Sometimes people will organize “Dickensian Christmas” events and dress up in Victorian costume, probably read from his works… and generally miss his point.

Because the strata of society they dress up as is inevitably the upper or upper-middle classes of Victorian society. Then as now, the low paid and unemployed weren’t invited to the party – who do you think lit the candles and fires, cooked the feasts and generally did all the work ?

British society must not revert to “times of Charles Dickens” and leave the nation’s poorest families in desperate need of food and clothes, a  charity has warned.

Action for Children said the nation “can’t go back” to the scenes of desperation described by the Dickens.  The comments come as the charity said it has been regularly sending families to food and clothes banks for the first time since the 1940s.

Spokesman Jacob Tas said a “staggering” number of its centres were showing families where they could obtain emergency supplies, with some families are being forced to choose between eating, paying for heating or the rent.

Almost two-thirds (62%) of the charity’s 220 children’s centres said they aere “regularly” signposting families in need to food banks, according to its annual report, The Red Book.

And 21% of managers of the charity’s intensive family support services are signposting those in need to clothes banks, said the report released earlier this year.

Mr Tas said:  ” It’s painful and unfortunate that we have now entered in a time when we go back in comparison to the 1940s. It’s really horrible for those families who are basically already at the bottom of the food chain that they have to go to go to food banks to get their food.

“Some families now have to make a choice between either paying the rent, paying for heating or paying for food. We are talking about children that are cold at home and are hungry and that is in 2013, which is really painful for everybody involved.

“In this very wealthy country, we are in the top 10 of the richest in the world, yet here we have a two-tier society where people are struggling to feed and clothe themselves.

“We can’t go back to the times of Charles Dickens where at Christmastime we are handing out food and clothes. We should be more advanced in our opinion of society where we take care of those who need help the most.”

He said that there are a number of contributing factors to the rise in people seeking help for basic necessities including the economy, unemployment, changes to the benefits system and cuts to services. “These families are facing the maximum squeeze from all sides,” he said.

In Tyne & Wear, the  Trussell Trust, which runs several foodbanks, has already this year helped 19, 388 people – last year it was 7,020. In Newcastle’s West End 7,410 people received help – last year it was just 26.

Gateshead saw a rise from 390 last year to 1,720

The Bay Foodbank (North Tyneside) last December delivered 97 boxes of food (designed to last a family 4-5 days). In November this year they delivered 305 boxes.

The People’s Kitchen in Newcastle is expecting to help around 650 people over Christmas.

Austerity – we’re all in it together. Alledgedly. This time next year, a whole lot more of us will probably be in it, and we can all have Dickensian christmas’s.