Sunday, 28 November 2010

Forbidden cities.

I've been at the Guardian website again. In between all this wikileaks excitement (Personally looking forward to hearing the diplomats candid views of Cameron) I've spotted an article on how the cap on Housing Benefit has been pushed back to January 2012 to allow local authourities time to deal with the ensuing displacement.

I'm genuinely terrified by the consequences of this policy. According to the article the number of households affected in inner London will be 18 645. Given that the average UK household size in 2008 is 2.37 just taking that figure means at least 44 189 individuals will be affected, however, the real figure is probaly more, as the households affected are more likely to be families rather than single people or couples without children so the average size of affected households will be greater than the overall uk average.

I am unfortunate to live in a city where rents are high. The reasons for the high prices are many, too many to be listed here, but there is a general rule of thumb that proximity to transport links and proximity to the areas where jobs are concentrated mean higher rents. Lower rents are found in areas far from jobs where public transport is poor and even if it does exist prohibitively expensive.

It seems strange to me that if you lose your job you will possibly end up moving to an area far from potential sources of work. It certainly seems counter to the IDS led reforms to unemployment benefits which are all about getting people back into work. I have a scary vision of the marginalized, being literally marginalized, dispatched to the edge of cities where a punative benefits regime forces them to undertake long journeys each morning and evening to minimum wage service sector jobs in the centre of the cities where they are not allowed to live. Forbidden cities.

Saturday, 27 November 2010


I've said a lot about personalisation in the past; on here, on the Guardian, on other blogs, in team meetings, on training courses, in seminars, so many places, so many times, I've lost count. I've even consciously tried to remain quiet on the issue for a bit for fear of just going on about it far, far, too much.

Today however, I caught this article by a person with a personal budget which quite neatly captures my feelings and concerns about personalisation.

That is: Personalisation is a good thing which can improve services, but there are many issues around it which still need to be addressed. The simple fact which is spelt out in the article is that quality care costs.

The issue is are local authorities prepared, or able to fund it and if they are not does it mean that people unable to top-up with their own cash are pushed into using their budgets to purchase care from one of the typical big care agencies personalisation was meant to spell the end for?

Friday, 19 November 2010

The privatisation of the public.

I've been arguing for some time that there is now no such thing as the public and private sector; that the divide between the two has become so smudged they can no longer be seen as distinct entities.

Finally some proof of this in the Guardian. In the first 5 months since the election Capita received 3.3 billion, which as the article points out is greater than the annual budget for the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

What's more shocking is that the figures seem to refer only to Central Government spending. If we looked at local government the scale to which firms like Capita perform the functions hitherto carried out by local authorities we'd no doubt conclude that somehow, behind our backs, the whole state apparatus has been privatised.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

an amendment

Just something I want to add on to my previous post.

Last night, whilst settling down to my first assignment of the year, I caught the end of a debate on Radio 4. I can't recall who any of the participants were apart from Michael Portillo, but one of the points which was made in the programme has resonated with me.

The point concerned the type of language used in the debate around the reforms to benefits, in particular unemployment benefit, and how it is playing a role in allocating the blame for their predicament onto individuals; a point I was at pains to make myself on this blog a little while back.

It all seems curious to me that in the middle of a downturn widely held to be caused by the actions of the finance sector, and affecting many economies across the world (particularly hard hit is our neighbour Ireland) that the blame for unemployment has been shifted from the whimsical vagaries of the international economic order onto the individual.

Is it me or is this counter-intuitive?

Friday, 12 November 2010

Active Labour Markets

Active Labour Markets; This is the technical term for the reforms proposed to unemployment benefit. Philosophically they adhere to the amendment to the ideas of social rights which formed the foundations of the post war Beveridge welfare state; From simple social rights to what Blair best termed 'rights with responsibilities.'

In historical terms the seeds of change emanated from the 'crisis' in the welfare state which arose from collapse of the full-employment economy in the 1970s. The social-insurance model Beveridge created was only intended as a short-term stop gap never a long-term solution so was ill-equipped to cope with the new phenomena of long term unemployment.

Some 40 years on and the problem of long-term employment has never really been solved. My old Exec director was often fond of saying that in our City there were now families where three generations had not worked.

Are active labour market policies the answer? As Polly Toynbee points out about 1.5 million people are expected to lose their job in the next 2 years. She also hits on another key point; that is what will happen to those most on the margins, will the most vulnerable be the most heavily penalised?

It is here that the devil really is in the detail. Per se, most people - even a room of left-leaning Social Policy students, will agree on the face of it with active labour market policies - so long as the carrot is as big as the stick. That is so long as the policy places emphasis on incentives and support to those most in need.

This DWP report, based on viewing other countries policies, published last year highlights some of the key conditions which need to be met:

1. Personalised support and early intervention for 'those most in need'

2. Adaquate staff/client ratios

3.Specific support for 'harder to help customers'

4. Subsidized work placements and on the job training.

It remains to be seen whether these conditions are met. If they are not all that remains will be an excessively punative system cutting benefits for the vulnerable and shunting others into low-pay, no-prospect Mcjobs

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Rage, rage

I must say that today's events in London caught me quite by surprise. As I was explaining to a course-mate today my first year of university happened to coincide with the introduction of fees. There were of course protests then as well, but the overall response from students was somewhat muted and apathetic.

This seemed to add to the general characterisation that unlike their long-haired and bearded forebears (who had become the politicians then introducing fees) subsequent generations of students, and young people in general, were content to shirk politics concentrating instead on the trappings of consumerism. Campuses far from resounding with talk of radical philosophers had become apolitical stomping grounds for brands like Red Bull and financial firms jostling for the opportunity to woo the Hollister clad students (See this Guardian article for a view on how University life differs from the 1970s).

I don't think there has been a drastic or radical re-awakening of the general student political consciousness far from it, apart from a few hardy individuals painting banners outside the students union it has been business as usual on my campus with the Red Bull beach buggy blasting its sounds into the chilly air.

Putting aside the scenes of broken windows which do more harm than good for any cause; For me the significance of today is that we've seen the truth in the theories which argue that any retrenchment of the welfare state will be heavily contested that people will indeed take to the streets. It certainly seems the welfare state will not be going gently into that good night

Friday, 5 November 2010


We are currently in a phoney-war. Waiting for the cuts to make the transformation from paper projections to concrete reality it appears that aside from a few opening skirmishes the real action is still somewhere further down the line.

Yet have we already seen the birth of one of the most important debates, one which may well come to define the new century.

Much has been made of the term the 'squeezed middle' which exploded into our consciousness following Ed Milibands election as labour leader.

On one hand this can be dismissed as simply the politics of Blair; Championing the middle ground occupied by the floating voter, but on the other it can be an astute reflection on the final collapse of the Post War Welfare State. Like Brighton's West Pier the Post War Welfare state seems to have lingered on an, a shell of its former self, gradually disintegrating back into the sea with each new storm.

It has long been said that the welfare state, founded on principles of universalism, benefited the middle classes, sometimes even disproportionately. They gained from an expansion in university education, the universal NHS and perhaps most importantly benefited from the jobs created by expanding state bureaucracies the legions of teachers, nurses, town-planners and social workers all needed to deliver the new universal services.

The impact of the disintegration of the post-war welfare state therefore means that, as Madeline Bunting pointed out in the Guardian, the middle-class dream of university education, home ownership and the trappings of status are in effect now over.

There are of course many interestiong arguments about just who the middle class are. Melanie Phillips favours the term 'aspirational classes'. Aspiration is of course another word for dream; the dreaming classes. Whilst I do not wholly accept Phillips views about the finer points of the definition the dreams of the middle-classes, of a comfortable life, of a good society, of upward-mobility and fairness provide the template for the post-war welfare state and are intrinsically, inseparably linked.

The question this leaves is what replaces the dream? For its many faults the attempt to create a 'New Jerusalem' after the war was an act of dreaming par excellence. A dream of a better society which would somehow make sense of the sacrifices made to create the platform of peace and prosperity it rested upon.

The 'big society' just doesn't seem an appropriate replacement for the good society; something the Philosopher Slavoj Zizek (credit for the link goes to The Plashing Vole) hits upon when he argues, using some intellectual groundwork by Oscar Wilde, that charitable giving only alleviates and prolongs the misery caused by the overarching system; Charity per se is not necessarily bad he suggests, but what is needed is to attack the causes of the problems - to create a better society. To dream of a better world.

This is our challenge all the more urgent now the dreams of 1945 and the middle classes are over. Once the phoney-war has ended and the cuts begin to bite we need to ask ourselves what kind of society we want.

Just what are we dreaming of?

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Private sector job losses?

Some really interesting news in the Guardian today about the impact of spending cuts on the private sector.

I have long argued that the distinction between the public, private and even third sector has become increasingly blurred in the past two decades.

This is now so much so that the distinctions no longer really hold up; they are also ever more opaque. In my area it's certainly fairly safe to say that most people don't know where Capita ends and the council begins and we're not even talking about the private sector companies involved with highways, street lighting, running leisure centres, the voluntary sector running several academies and the presence of privately run NHS treatment centres.

This seems to be recognised, at least in part, by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) who assert that:

"The combined direct and inderect effect of public sector cuts will result in the loss of 650 000 private sector jobs."

I'm currently taking a fairly intense unit on survey methods at uni so I'm increasingly wary of any survey unless I'm familiar with its methodology, but this seems to be hinting in the right direction. It will definitely be interesting to see whether any more surveys reach similar conclusions.