The Welfare State on the Chopping Block

zach_morrisZach Morris, Assistant Professor, Stony Brook University School of Social Welfare

Zach Morris, 2017 winner of our Bleddyn Davies Prize for the best article from an early career scholar, summarises the findings from his winning article, which is free to read until 15 June 2017.

With the Republican Party in power in the US, the welfare state is once again on the chopping block. And disability benefit programs – traditionally designed for the “deserving poor” – may not be protected from these cuts. So, what political strategies are retrenchment advocates pursuing? And will their efforts succeed?

As discussed in my P&P article, a major safeguard against disability benefit retrenchment in the US is its structural positioning as a “Social Security” program. In the UK, the disability benefit program has always been considered distinct from the old-age “State Pension” program. But in the US, the disability and old age programs have historically been grouped together under the auspices of the Social Security Administration. This connection between disability benefits and the more popular old-age program provides a form of institutionalized protection to the US disability program and is a major reason why that program has historically proven so difficult to cut. Continue reading The Welfare State on the Chopping Block

Policy & Politics announces the 2017 winners of the Early Career and Best Paper Prizes

The winning papers are available to read for free until 15 June 2017.

The Bleddyn Davies Early Career Prize has been awarded to Zachary Morris, University of California Berkeley, USA, for:

zach_morrisConstructing the need for retrenchment: disability benefits in the United States and Great Britain [Free to access until 15 June 2017]

In this excellent paper, Zachary Morris seeks to address an important and politically timely question – Why are some welfare state programmes more susceptible to retrenchment than others? The paper examines why the major disability benefit programme in the United States has proved resistant to austerity measures while the comparable disability programme in Great Britain has been repeatedly scaled back. This engaging comparative analysis reveals that both structural differences matter greatly, as does the way that policy ideas are communicated to the public. In Britain, the portrayal of beneficiaries as underserving proved critical for constructing the need for retrenchment. Continue reading Policy & Politics announces the 2017 winners of the Early Career and Best Paper Prizes

Depoliticising austerity – how Portugal challenged the discourse of ‘there is no alternative’

Adam Standring.jpgAdam Standring (Faculty of Social and Human Sciences in the New University of Lisbon, Portugal, FCSH-UNL) 

It’s March 2011 and Portugal makes one of its infrequent visits to the pages of the international media.  Rising borrowing rates and pressure from the international financial markets, combined with an increasingly unpopular ruling party, make it increasingly likely that Portugal will become the next of the ‘profligate PIIGS’ to succumb to the contagion of the Eurozone Sovereign debt crisis.  Within four months the Troika will be called in and the country will embark on a harsh ‘Economic Adjustment Programme’ – economics-speak for the raft of austerity measures and structural reforms on which bailout packages are conditioned. Continue reading Depoliticising austerity – how Portugal challenged the discourse of ‘there is no alternative’

Studies in Policy Failure: Government Decisions That Don’t Benefit Anybody

newman_birdJoshua Newman and Malcolm Bird

It seems that whenever political leaders announce a new policy, a program, a tax, a tax cut, a purchase, a sale, or anything else, they invariably claim that this decision will be for the benefit of all citizens. Of course, only the deeply deluded would believe this to be true – the fundamental scarcity of resources insists that every decision that a government makes must produce winners and losers, supporters and opponents. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.

But what if, sometimes, governments did things that didn’t benefit anybody? What if it were possible for situations to arise that actually gave incentives to governing parties to produce pathological policy outcomes? Instead of learning from mistakes, can governments sometimes deliberately make matters worse? Continue reading Studies in Policy Failure: Government Decisions That Don’t Benefit Anybody

Neoliberalism by stealth? Exploring continuity and change within the UK social enterprise policy paradigm

nicholls-teasdaleAlex Nicholls (University of Oxford) and Simon Teasdale (Glasgow Caledonian University)

Since the late 1990s the idea of social enterprise – broadly speaking businesses that trade for a social purpose –has received considerable academic and policy attention. It is probably fair to say that opinions are polarised. On the one hand we have those who see social enterprise as a new paradigm whereby localised civil society responses to social problems achieve financial sustainability through economic activity and regenerate and reinvigorate communities.  Alternatively critics, particularly from the left, see social enterprise as an extension of a neoliberal paradigm whereby policies to extend market discipline and competition have been extended throughout society, and responsibility for welfare provision moves from state to communities.

In a recent article in Policy & Politics entitled Neoliberalism by stealth? Exploring continuity and change within the UK social enterprise policy paradigm, we developed recent work on policy paradigms (broadly speaking a coherent set of ideas and norms that specify policy goals, instruments and problems). Continue reading Neoliberalism by stealth? Exploring continuity and change within the UK social enterprise policy paradigm

“Politics in Interesting Times” – Report from the Annual Political Studies Association Conference, University of Strathclyde

felicity-matthewsFelicity Matthews (University of Sheffield), Co-Editor of Policy & Politics

Politics in Interesting Times”.  Has ever a conference title been so apt, or provided such a unifying theme?  This year’s PSA Conference, held at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, was host to a record number of delegates, who had travelled from 75 countries to reflect on the interesting times that we inhabit.  Brexit, Scottish independence, forthcoming elections in Italy and France, the election of Trump, the decline of traditional parties, the rise of populism, new forms of representation and participation.  All of these issues – and many, many more – were discussed, debated and often contested within the conference’s ten panel sessions. Continue reading “Politics in Interesting Times” – Report from the Annual Political Studies Association Conference, University of Strathclyde

Communities First?  Governing neighbourhoods under austerity

Welsh Government is phasing out its (former flagship) Communities First tackling poverty programme from 2017/18.  The Bevan Foundation, a think tank, has stressed that subsequent local action should be led by ‘community anchors’ – community-based organisations with a good track-record and strong community engagement. In a recent article published in Policy & Politics, we use the conceptual framework of hybridity – conducted as part of the Transgob project in Cardiff, Wales – to support this recommendation, and highlight the need for local government to relinquish its former levels of control to give these organisations space to develop approaches which work for their communities.

The research explored what austerity means for participation in city governance.  The optimistic view is that making governance more participatory can help overcome the hurdles of bureaucracy, with government ceding control to enable capacity to address complex problems.  The pessimistic view is that city governance remains dominated by state elites, with third sector and community partners co-opted to compensate for the decline in state provision, compromising their ability to advocate for and ensure that communities get decent services.  In Cardiff we uncovered attitudes and practices somewhere in between these two views.

We found that austerity had accelerated the city council’s use of its city governance structure, the Cardiff Partnership, to share the risk and responsibility of service delivery with other public organisations, but also with third sector organisations and neighbourhood-level community groups.  Communities were certainly having to take more responsibility for delivering their own (formerly public) services, such as play and youth services and the maintenance of parks, sports grounds and streets.  Those at the neighbourhood frontline faced tensions and power conflicts in trying to develop workable practice.

But we did find that community-based organisations had some room for manoeuvre in developing forms of co-production that were rooted in communities as well as responding to the strictures of funding cuts.  One example was timebanking, championed by a deprived community-based organisation in south Cardiff.  The approach means that volunteers can exchange equivalent hours of providing a service such as kids’ school holiday activities for other services.  The scheme was underpinned by the council offering access to facilities such as swimming pools, but the opportunities to spend credits earned within the community were expanding, indicating potential for it to become self-sustaining (and thus definitively community-led).  But it was too early in our research to tell whether attempts to replicate it will be successful.

mpill

Credit: photograph taken by Madeleine Pill of the mural celebrating ‘Timeplace’, a community timebank running in the Cardiff neighbourhoods of Ely, Caerau, Fairwater and Pentrebane.  Timeplace is run by ACE (Action in Caerau & Ely) http://www.aceplace.org/timeplace/, a community-based organisation, in partnership with Spice,http://www.justaddspice.org/, a specialist timebanking non-profit organisation.

The city council was also seeking to transfer assets such as libraries and community centres to communities.  The frustrations of this process – such as the need for willing community groups to become formalised organisations – showed the need for change in the council’s attitudes to risk.  In the words of a Welsh Government officer, government needs to ‘recognise that the cheapest and best way to achieve real things is to spot what people are doing for themselves and support them’.

When the Communities First programme was reshaped in 2011, Cardiff Council innovated by contracting community-based organisations to manage the four deprived neighbourhood ‘clusters’ eligible for programme support. In so doing, the council downloaded risk and offloaded staff costs as the organisations took on responsibility for finance, HR and evaluation – thus becoming hybrid third-public sector organisations.  Their staff had to navigate the tensions and dilemmas of implementing a (national) programme, engaging in the (city-wide) strategy overseen by the Cardiff Partnership, and the needs and demands of their communities.  Doing this aligned with the demands of austerity, enrolling these community organisations into service delivery in ways that included voluntarism, thus increasing community self-reliance.  But we also found, to an extent, that community organisation staff were able to innovate (such as with timebanking) – and in ways that maintained their community-focused mission.

Therefore our Cardiff research shows how the ‘devolution, decentralisation and downloading’ of Peck’s (2012) ‘austerity urbanism’ encourages hybridity at a scalar, organisational and individual level.  But our research also reinforces the need to understand local practices to provide insight beyond the dualism of empowerment or incorporation.  The Cardiff experience of participatory governance demonstrates the potential for transformative alternatives in the everyday and the small-scale – and also highlights the need for state supports rather than constraints in these processes.   In the case of Wales, the need to sustain the work of community anchors should be a priority.

The ‘Transgob’ project analysed the discourse and practice of participatory urban governance under austerity in two British (Cardiff and Leicester) and four Spanish cities.  It was funded by the Spanish government’s National Research and Development Plan (reference CSO2012-32817).

Dr Madeleine Pill is a Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Sydney, Australia, and Valeria Guarneros-Meza is a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, based at De Montfort University, in the UK.

If you enjoyed this blog post you may also like to read Community asset transfer in Northern Ireland by Brendan Murtagh.