Category Archives: Public Policy

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

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.

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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.

Reflections on my article: “Creating public value through caring for place”

patsy-healeyPatsy Healey

Many of us these days are deeply worried about the tone and content of contemporary public debate and discussion about key issues which affect us in common. Somehow, the gulf which has long appeared between elites, experts, academics and everyone else has widened out dramatically. We seem to lead separate lives, imbibing separate ideas and creating separate crude stereotypes about others with whom we share our environments and our political institutions.

A century ago, from the struggles between labour and capital and between tradition and modernity, and the fight for the political rights of workers and women, some sense of a shared political community was forged. Today, while we pass our fellow citizens by on the bus, in the playground, at the supermarket or the doctor’s, or meet in a care home, how much do we understand of our various ways of life, struggles and challenges? Political institutions without some sense of what citizens of that community share in common is far from any conception of democracy. They become easy prey to the megaphones of contemporary populism, as we in the Western world are re-discovering. Continue reading Reflections on my article: “Creating public value through caring for place”

India’s Emerging Social Policy Paradigm: Productive, Protective or What? 

stefan-kuhner-and-keerty-nakray

Stephan Kühner and Keerty Nakray

The last two decades have been marked by a renewed focus on pro-poor social policies in India under the two Centre/Left Congress/United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments (2004-2009, 2009-2014). These social policies included a plethora of education programs (such as Madhyamik Shiksha Yojana (National Middle School/ Secondary School Scheme), health insurance programs (such as Rashtriya’s Swasthya Bima Yojana, (RSBY) along with several conditional cash transfer schemes such as Janani Suraksha Yojana (Protection of Motherhood Scheme, JSY); and rural poverty alleviation programs (such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) etc.

In our recent article published in the Journal of Asian Public Policy, we analyse if these programs really mark a genuine shift towards pro-poor universal social policies and if the actions of the UPA actually delivered on its well-promoted rhetoric of pushing India towards a high skills based knowledge economy.  Our analysis also re-examined the existing research on extending welfare regime theories to developing counties. For example, Wood and Gough (2006) classified India as an informal-insecure regime as large numbers of citizens largely depend on precarious employment and informal family and kinship networks for welfare. Similarly, Kühner (2015) pointed out that much of the social expenditure is disproportionately directed towards to social protection programs such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

Our analysis indicates that the majority of these social programmes do not signify a genuine move towards greater inclusivity or categorical entitlements. Benefit levels remain generally low and eligibility criteria too rigid to facilitate an extension of social protection coverage. India’s social policies essentially remain residual, even minimalist, in character. Recent social policy initiatives largely appear in fragments with few connections with each other or any clearly defined strategy linking them to the economic goals of the country.

Our research makes a contribution to welfare state modeling which in recent decades has gone beyond focusing solely on advanced capitalist countries in the rich European and OECD countries. The emergence of East Asian welfare states and more recent developments in middle income countries such as Brazil and China has led to a diversification of the literature. India has not been dealt systematically in this research.  We have attempted to extend and diversify welfare regime theory based on an interdisciplinary review of India’s emerging social policies during the two recent Centre/Left Congress/United Progressive Alliance governments (2004-2009, 2009-2014).

We hope that the announcement of many new social protection schemes by the ambitious Modi government elected in 2014 may force us to change our assessment of the emerging social policy landscape in India. For instance, the World Bank’s Global Findex indicates a considerable improvement in access to formal bank accounts (from 35 per cent in 2013 to 53 percent in 2014) as a consequence of the Jan Dhan Yojana (Prime Minister’s People Money Scheme) program, which was launched in 2014.

If equally successful, the Modi government’s ambitious ‘Skill India’ and ‘Make in India’ initiatives, which aim to train 500 million Indians and create 100 million new manufacturing jobs by 2022 may well force us to reconsider the Indian political economy altogether. It remains to be seen whether further extensions of the emerging Indian middle class – currently standing somewhere between 100-300 million depending on the exact measure used – together with an ever-increasing presence of civil society organizations will trigger not only more domestic demand for manufacturing products and more formal employment, but will also create a new politics of social policy that will manage to move India beyond its current dependency mode.

Dr. Stefan Kühner, is an Assistant Professor at Ling nan University, Hong Kong. Email: stefankuehner@ln.edu.hk  Twitter: @stefankuehner

Dr. Keerty Nakray, is an Associate Professor and Assistant Director, Centre for Women, Law and Social Change, at O.P. Jindal Global University, India. Email: knakray@jgu.edu.in; Twitter @socialpolicyind

If you enjoyed this blog post you may also like to read Gender budgeting and public policy: the challenges to operationalising gender justice in India by Keerty Nakray.

“I Will Fight for What I Deserve”: Political Struggles for Welfare Rights

esiston-and-humpage

Daniel Edmiston, University of Oxford and Louise Humpage, University of Auckland

An extended version of this post was originally published  on 1 February 2017 in the Policy Briefing section of Discover Society which is provided in collaboration with the journal Policy & Politics. The original post is available at  http://discoversociety.org/category/policy-briefing/.

Across advanced capitalist economies, welfare withdrawal and reform are undermining the rights, identity and belonging of low-income social citizens. Amidst this upheaval, welfare claimants are engaged in diverse political struggles for and against social citizenship. What risks and opportunities does this present for the future direction of welfare politics? To answer this question, our recent Policy & Politics article explores how welfare claimants negotiate the institutions and ideals driving successive rounds of welfare reform over time.

political-struggles-for-welfare-rights-1

Source: Michael Candelori, https://www.flickr.com/photos/bymikey/18993988515/ (CC BY SA 2.0)

The uneven effects of welfare austerity contradict the notion that ‘we are all in this together’. The promise of shared sacrifice and frugality has failed to materialize across the developed world with the rich and the poor pulling further apart from one another since the global financial crisis. Increasingly restrictive welfare provision has been driven by penalizing and disciplinary reforms targeted at those most reliant on low-income social security and assistance. Continue reading “I Will Fight for What I Deserve”: Political Struggles for Welfare Rights

Understanding Trump: Modes of Deliberate Disproportionate Policy Response

moshe-maorMoshe Maor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Since the U.S. response to 9/11 and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, there has been increasing interest in the concept of disproportionate policy response and its two component concepts ─ policy over- and underreaction. This policy response is understood to be a lack of ‘fit’ or balance between the costs of a public policy and the benefits that are derived from this policy, and between policy ends and means. So far, however, little scholarly attention has been devoted to this type of policy response and to its two anchor concepts. This is because of the impression that disproportionate policies are not carefully thought out; are not carefully implemented; are based on strategic misperceptions, and are bound to fail. The few studies that address this topic have concluded that this policy response is unintentional, occurring when policymakers engage in mistakes of omission or commission in the diagnosis and the prescription stages of decision-making. Continue reading Understanding Trump: Modes of Deliberate Disproportionate Policy Response