Inspired by the Issue: Pension Pitfalls and the Politics of Presence

Felicity Matthews
Felicity Matthews

by Fliss Matthews, University of Sheffield

As Associate Editor of Policy & Politics, I value the opportunity to be exposed to a diverse range of cutting edge scholarship and to learn from so many experts in their field.  I look forward to receiving the quarterly email update to confirm that our latest issue has gone to press, and to reading all of the published articles over a coffee or three (academics and coffee go hand-in-hand, right?).

In October’s issue two articles in particular leapt out as having direct relevance for my own research interests regarding public policy and representation, and together the two articles provide a clear empirical justification for the advancement of further research along with an innovative framework through which to proceed.  The first article in question is Liam Foster’s sobering analysis of the impact of austerity on women, specifically the effect on pension provision, which is all the more acute in the context of an ageing society.  Many of my thirty-something contemporaries joke about how there will be nothing for us when we retire, or that we’ll be retiring at 100. But at least we have several decades to prepare for this possible reality.  However, as Dr Foster’s analysis starkly reveals, for women throughout Europe who are rapidly approaching retirement age, the luxury of foresight is one that has been denied.  Structural issues arising from the long-term weaknesses of female employment prospects and the gendered inequalities in which this has resulted, combined with the short-term assault on the pensions pot as a response to austerity, means that many women face an uncertain old age.

This thought-provoking piece of research in turn raised a series of fundamental questions, best summarised as ‘how on earth did no-one see this coming?’  It is here that the second article by Karen Johnson Miller and Duncan McTavish begins to provide some answers.  It is widely accepted that diversity in representation has the capacity to enhance the legitimacy of political institutions and the quality of the political process, in particular in ensuring that potentially marginalised groups receive adequate ‘voice.’  Building on this assumption, Johnson Miller and McTavish provide a critical overview of the main scholarly debates to demonstrate why the politics of presence matters.  Focusing on the distinction between passive and active representation within public bureaucracies, they demonstrate a clear relationship between the breadth and depth of presence on the one hand, and the quality and inclusivity of policy outputs on the other.  In doing so, they develop a four-fold typology that not only classifies bureaucracies in terms of their representativeness, but also provides a series of critical lessons that should be pursued to improve it.  In the context of the welfare debates analysed by Foster, such lessons need to be heeded by governments throughout Europe as a matter of urgency.

Felicity Matthews
Associate Editor of Policy and Politics
Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of Sheffield

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s