I’ve done a guest blog for VONNE (Voluntary Organisations Network North East) on why charities really should be paying the Living Wage. The blog can be found here: http://blog.vonne.org.uk/2013/05/21/guest-blog-talking-the-talk/
I’ve done a guest blog for VONNE (Voluntary Organisations Network North East) on why charities really should be paying the Living Wage. The blog can be found here: http://blog.vonne.org.uk/2013/05/21/guest-blog-talking-the-talk/
Guest post by Professor Alison Stenning
Both academic and more popular narratives suggest that the apparently individualising impulses of neoliberalism, together with increasing geographical mobility and connectivity, erode the value of local, personal relationships (with, for example, family, friends and neighbours). Yet relationships remain at the heart of our everyday lives. They create an environment that ‘contains’ us, allows us to keep going and to tolerate stresses of various kinds, and the value of such relationships is increased, not decreased, at a time of economic crisis. Insecurity, vulnerability, loss and anxiety are experienced by many as they face the considerable economic, social and emotional challenges of austerity, and the contribution that local, personal relationships might make to weathering these challenges is a critical concern.
The effects of over four years of economic crisis have been widely felt but they have also been uneven, socially and geographically. Socially, the so-called ‘squeezed middle’ has been identified as being particularly susceptible to ongoing crisis and cuts. Although definitions of this class are vague, the Resolution Foundation suggests that it consists nationally of some 6 million working, home-owning households with a gross income of something like £12-40,000. These households are not living in poverty but are increasingly insecure and vulnerable to the threat of labour market, cost-of-living, and tax and benefit changes. Geographically, the UK’s northern regions, and in particular the North East, have been disproportionately affected by job loss, public sector cuts and pay squeezes.
This new research project seeks to explore how, in the contemporary context of crisis and austerity, the personal relationships that shape communities (between families, friends, neighbours etc.) enable so-called ‘squeezed middle’ households in Cullercoats, North Tyneside to negotiate social and economic challenges and achieve material and emotional security. This might be through the moral support they offer, or because they give time, or money, or other kinds of help that make it easier for families to get by. An innovative psycho-social approach is being developed, placing emphasis on and exploring the intertwining of social and emotional dynamics in everyday life.
This focus on relationships has developed out of previous research. In a project on households and neoliberalism in Poland and Slovakia (with colleagues Adrian Smith, Darek Swiatek and Alena Rochovska), we concluded that the families that struggled most with tough economic circumstances were those without good relationships with family, friends and neighbours, who found themselves isolated from all sorts of support networks, through which information, money, and love, amongst other things, might flow.
This idea led me to the work of the British object relations school. As far as I understand, the British object relations school of psychoanalysts (including Melanie Klein, Ronald Fairbairn, Donald Winnicott, John Bowlby, Wilfrid Bion and others) argued that the primary human motivation is relationship-building (not sex or death, as Freud would have it). They argued that humans need important others and seek relationships to build a sense of self and identity and to feel secure, ‘contained’, or ‘held’ and to fend off anxiety. For these psychoanalysts, our relationships create a ‘holding’ or, later, ‘facilitating’ environment that, hopefully, is good enough to enable our well-being, within which we can be and be ourselves. Our ‘natural’ state is one of (inter)dependence. This idea is linked primarily to our earliest intimate relationships, with our mother, and then our father, and then our other close family and friends. But the idea of a holding or facilitating environment might be extended, to the community, our friendship networks, clubs and teams, workplaces and, even, the social world of the state. This is an idea that other social scientists (such as Martha Nussbaum and Valerie Walkerdine) have developed in different ways and, in this project, I’m interested in exploring it further, both conceptually and empirically.
To do this, I’m exploring psycho-social methodologies (such as those developed by Wendy Hollway, Simon Clarke, Paul Hoggett and Valerie Walkerdine) with the hope that they might allow me to think about the conscious and unconscious dynamics at play in the everyday lives of my interviewees, to think about their hopes, desires, anxieties and identities and how these are shaped by the interplay of their experiences of austerity and their relationships. At the moment, this means I’m setting up narrative interviews with ‘squeezed middle’ households in Cullercoats, aiming to achieve something approaching free association around the theme of relationships and austerity, coupled with personal community mapping (following Liz Spencer and Ray Pahl) and a relationship diary exercise. And I’m also trying to think more about my place in the research process, scrutinising what I bring to the research and what I have invested in it.
This is very much pilot research at this stage. I’m trying out new methodologies and pushing myself in new ways, and I’m also beginning to think through new ways of representing my research in new places (hence my blog and my first foray into Twitter). I’m very keen for feedback, for contacts and for suggestions about this research: this is just the beginning….
Yesterday, Nick Pearce from IPPR suggested in a Guardian blog that Labour should ‘drop its child poverty target’ and new measures should ‘take into account the fiscal realities we now face.‘ One of his proposals included ‘freezing child benefit in cash terms for a decade’ to ‘free up £2.5bn a year to invest in quality childcare services’ which is quite staggering, coming as it does from ‘the UK’s leading progressive think-tank’.
We blogged a couple of weeks ago about what the economic – or in this case fiscal – reality actually is and we have also highlighted the role of other think tanks (usually the CSJ) in developing policies – or ‘trailing them’ as part of a ‘market testing exercise’ - for political parties. Ruth Levitas called this ‘the privatization of policy making’ in her book The Inclusive Society? and suggested that think-tanks, including IPPR:
‘enable public response to policy options to be tested without directly implicating – or at least without committing – the party itself….Moreover think-tanks and their staff are neither elected nor accountable, and Labour’s think-tanks and the networks around them, while sometimes claiming openness, in fact, had at their core a small, self-selected, largely metropolitan and disproportionately male elite.’ (p30, 1998)
Whenever, I hear about the fiscal or economic ‘constraints’ we have to accept or that ‘we now face’ I am always reminded of Bourdieu’s concept of doxa (‘the naturalization of arbitrariness’ or ‘the world of tradition experienced as a “natural world” and taken for granted’) and how ‘the specifically symbolic power to impose the principles of the construction of reality – in particular, social reality – is a major dimension of political power‘ (pp164-165, 2002). Similarly, whenever I hear someone from a think-tank, supported by the media, discussing these issues and supporting the thesis that we don’t have any alternative, I am reminded of his idea of doxosophers, ‘intellectuals of the political-administrative establishment’ (Pearce is ‘a former No 10 adviser under Gordon Brown, (who) remains highly influential in the Labour party’ according to an accompanying article in The Guardian) who
Locked in the narrow, short-term economism of the IMF worldview which is also causing havoc, and will continue to do so, in North-South relations, all these half-wise economists fail, of course, to take account of the real costs, in the short and more especially the long term, of the material and psychological wretchedness which is the only certain outcome of the economically legitimate Realpolitik
Referring to the centre of the state apparatus as the right hand and front line worker as the left hand, Bourdieu goes on to argue that ‘the right hand, obsessed by the question of financial equilibrium, knows nothing of the problems of the left hand, confronted with the often very costly social consequences of ‘budgetary restrictions’.
Drawing on the work of Bourdieu, and of particular relevance to the comments made by Nick Pearce, Stabile and Morooka discuss doxosophers as ‘those intellectuals – academic and non-academic alike – who traffic only in the most superficial of debates and whose primary function is to comment on representations as if they were real‘ (original emphasis).
and ‘these intellectuals provide justifications for neo-liberal policies by dressing them up as scientific, progressive and even inevitable’ (my emphasis)(pp328-329, 2010)
Chomsky highlighted how, through ‘brainwashing under freedom’, ‘the critics, or at least, the “responsible critics” make a major contribution to the cause by bounding the debate within certain limits’ and that by presenting a range of debate within a narrow framework, ‘the debate only enhances the strength of assumptions, ingraining them in people’s minds as the entire possible spectrum of opinion that there is.’ (p13, 2003)
It is, in my view, unseemly that a supposedly progressive think-tank should consider freezing child benefit for 10 years (see this report by CPAG who spoke to people living on low-incomes about how they used Child Benefit - did IPPR do this before formulating their policy ?) and suggest that the child poverty target should be moved back and is ‘now all but impossible to meet’. There are plenty of alternative ways to end child poverty without ‘dropping the target’ (which, it should be remembered, is a legally binding commitment, although you wouldn’t think it) or moving the date back, but politicians and their ‘reassuring entourage of young technocrats’, as Bourdieu called them, are not prepared to discuss them, producing a doxic society.
It appears that the ‘truce on inequality’ that Peter Townsend wrote about over fifty years ago is still holding very firm indeed.
*If anyone would like the full references for the quoatations used above, please let me know.*
Earlier this week the Centre for Social Justice published its response to the Joint Public Issues Team report about poverty myths, ‘The lies we tell ourselves’. Called ‘Setting the record straight’, the first page states that the much of the JPIT report ‘is based on serious misinformation and fails to give an accurate representation of life ‘on the breadline’ today’.
It is a really interesting read, for all kinds of reasons. The first myth tackled includes the issue of ‘dependency’ and ‘worklessness’. The CSJ report states that:
The report disputes the idea of ‘dependency’ as a serious issue. This is despite the latest available data showing that more than 20 million families are now dependent on some kind of benefit
which, as Tracy Shildrick pointed out on Twitter, starts with the very big assumption that everyone receiving benefits is ‘dependent’ on them. And is the idea that we can be independent of each other not an ‘insipid illusion’, as Marx suggested. Surely there are many people whose wealth is dependent on lots of low paid workers continuing to generate profits for them. My children depend on me. I depend on my employer for my income. Is the welfare state not supposed to be something which we can depend on when opportunities to secure other sources of income are not available to us?
Anyway, moving on to the issue of worklessness, Shildrick et al’s study of the idea of ‘cultures of worklessness’ was published by JRF last year (and didn’t get an individual CSJ repsonse interestingly) and it highlighted on a couple of occasions the belief amongst some practitioners that families where 3 generations of unemployed people existed:
In our own earlier research we have found that such views are popular amongst practitioners who work with the unemployed. In numerous interviews with ‘welfare-to-work’ professionals in Teesside, carried out over many years, the cultures of worklessness thesis has frequently been offered up to us as one of the main barriers to helping the unemployed into work (Webster, et al., 2004; MacDonald and Marsh, 2005; Shildrick, et al., 2010). (p13)
During eight months of ethnographic, community-based fieldwork, many strategies were used to recruit an appropriate sample (see Appendix 1). This included a set of meetings with local practitioners to help us locate families for interview. The idea of intergenerational cultures of worklessness was well-known to them. It was one that they often drew on in trying to understand the situations of the families with which they worked. For instance, a regeneration manager in Glasgow stated that he had heard, anecdotally, of families where three generations had never worked but stated that his organisation did not record such information. Similarly, a Job Centre Plus manager told us she did not know of any directly but she had also ‘certainly heard’ of families where three generations had never worked. It became apparent that most of these practitioner interviewees operated with a loose definition of the term ‘never worked’. They often meant families who experienced longer-term unemployment in different generations or families that were known to them because of their ‘multiple problems’, which might include periods out of the labour market. We met with more than 30 practitioners but none was able to direct us to potential recruits for the study (confidentiality of client records only accounted for this to a small extent). We believe this to be an interesting finding in itself; when pushed to identify families where ‘three generations had never worked’ these practitioners were unable to do so, despite their apparent belief in the existence of such families and their close engagement with local communities. (p18)
The CSJ report, however, presents statements from two practitioners as evidence that ‘intergenerational worklessness’ does exist:
At the charity we have worked for 11 years now with second and third generation unemployed…I can assure you that we do have/had clients whose grandparents became unemployed in the early 70s…and haven’t worked since. Indeed their children and grandchildren have suffered the same inactivity’.
‘There is no question that it doesn’t exist…in Portsmouth there are many families where there is unemployment through several generations. We need to be much more proactive about intervening early’
I won’t go into detail on the other myths that are addressed but there are some very interesting and, I would argue, confused points made in the report around issues such as poverty and addiction, benefit fraud and error (no mention of the scale of tax fraud or the scale of underclaiming of benefits – both much bigger issues that benefit fraud) and the role of social security or, as the CSJ prefer to call it, welfare.
We have blogged about the CSJ before (here and here) and we have highlighted the links between them and Iain Duncan Smith, who set them up. The CSJ like to call themsleves independent but if that isn’t itself a myth, it’s being a little bit economical with the truth. The current Director of the CSJ is Christian Guy who used to be Iain Duncan Smith’s speechwriter. The former Director of the CSJ, Philippa Stroud, is now Iain Duncan Smith’s Special Advisor, so there are some very strong connections there, at the very least. An interesting account of who knows who in relation to Duncan Smith can be found here, courtesy of Channel 4.
The role and influence of unelected, unaccountable think-tanks very close to (or even set up by) politicians was something that Bourdieu addressed on a number of occasions, including in the postscript to ‘The Weight of the World’. He states that ‘those who govern are prisoners of a reassuring entourage of young technocrats who often know almost nothing about the everyday lives of their fellow citizens and have no occasion to be reminded of their ignorance’. He then goes on to make the point that
‘social science today is up against anyone and everyone with a claim to interpret the most obvious signs of social malaise … It has to deal with all these people, too clever by half and armed with their “common sense” and their pretensions, who rush into print or to appear on television to tell us what is going on in a social world that they have no effective means of either knowing or understanding.’
Finally, for one of the best critiques of the role of the Centre for Social Justice in debates around welfare reform, I would strongly recommend people read this paper by Tom Slater of Edinburgh University where he highlights the role they play in ‘manufacturing ignorance’ around the causes of poverty.
A couple of days ago I got the book ‘In search of the scrounger’ by Alan Deacon out of the library and thought I would share a few of the paragraphs from the Introduction and Conclusions chapters. The book covers the inter-ward period and, more specificially, the 1920′s. Despite the near 100 year difference, the concerns of politicians and administrators in relation to social security sound all too familiar to current discussions around Jobcentre Plus targets, sanctions, tightened conditionality and, of course, ‘scroungers’. All emphases are mine
“Throughout the 1920s discussion of unemployment insurance in Britain became increasingly dominated by the question of abuse. In particular, there developed a bitter controversy over the administration of a series of regulations which were collectively known as the genuinely seeking work test … Between March 1921 and March 1930 nearly three million claims for benefit were refused because the claimant had failed to meet this condition. By 1927, one claim in ten was being disallowed on the grounds that the claimant was not genuinely seeking work, and in some areas the proportion was over one third. At no time in these years did any prominent politician or government official seriously suggest that the work they were supposed to be genuinely seeking actually existed.” (p1)
” … the focus of attention must primarily be upon those who were directly responsible for the formulation of policy in this area: the Ministers and senior officials of the relevant government departments. It was they who demanded that the unemployed repeatedly demonstrate their willingness to work in a period of mass unemployment, and it is their perceptions which have to be understood and their decisions which have to be explained. Those explanations, of course, must be sought in terms of their wider economic and political aims, and the role which they perceived that the test could play in the realisation of those objectives.” (p1)
“Any assessment of the seeking work test must begin by acknowledging that its abolition in March 1930 did enable some claimants to draw benefit even though they were not looking for work at the time of their claim. It is argued, however, that such abuse was largely confined to married women and that even amongst this group the extent of the practice was considerably exaggerated by contemporaries. Certainly, there was no need to impose the test on all groups of claimants, and the campaign to ‘tighten-up’ the administration between 1925 and 1929 was totally unnecessary. The question remains, however, whether that campaign was the result of folly, malice, or both.” (p87)
“In short, the test was a sledgehammer to crack a relatiely small – and often exaggerated – nut. The use of this sledgehammer, moreover, had profound consequences for the administration of benefit, and affords a classic illustration of the impact of departmental pressure upon the ways in which local officers utilise their discretionary powers.” (p88)
“In the case of the test, the Ministry of Labour left its officers in no doubt as to what was expected of them. Their task was to detect and penalise malingering, and the accomplishment of this purpose was to override all other considerations. Olive Stevenson has recently observed that the “very existence” of powers to restrict the supplementary benefits paid to unemployed men or separated wives “tends to arouse suspicion in the minds of officers or to suggest to them that higher authority wants them to be suspicious”. In the 1920s that suspicion was deliberately fostered, and by the end of the decade the staffs of the Echanges were obsessed with the aspectre of abuse.” (pp88-89)
“(A report by John Hilton) found the interviewing officers convinced of their ability to spot a scounger – ‘a groundless and dnagerous faith’ – and often neglecting their duty to help claimants secure work. This, he believed, was a direct result of the pressures put upon them from above.” (p89)
“The seeking work test was as pernicious as it was unnecessary. It led to hundreds of thousands of unemployed men and women being arbitrarily deprived of benefits which they desperately needed, and forced many more to make repeated journeys in search of jobs they knew did not exist.” (p89)
“If the seeking work test was not prompted by malice, it was ‘tightened-up’ with a callous disregard of the hardships and injustices which resulted.” (p91)
An interesting blog post from Shaun Rafferty at JRF last week suggested, in the byline to the post, that ‘Economic reality means the Living Wage can’t be compulsory’ and then went on to argue that lobbying to make the Living Wage compulsory was ‘self-defeating’ because ‘It’s an economic reality that in the current operating environment there are many employers who genuinely couldn’t afford to pay their staff the Living Wage.’
This got me thinking about what the economic ‘reality’ is and I guess my reality is slightly different from Shaun’s (more post-modernism later). My view of the economic situation is that many people in this country ‘have never had it so good’, so to speak, but that this affluence sits quite uncomfortably alongside poverty. There are huge inequalities in wealth, but still ots of wealth in the UK as the figures below help to demonstrate.
The ONS suggested last year that household wealth in the UK had hit £10.3 trillion in 2008/10. The ONS website states that
Mean household total wealth grew from £373,000 in 2006/08 to £418,000 in 2008/10; the region with the highest mean value in 2008/10 was the South East at £562,000; the lowest was the North East where mean household total wealth was £322,000
Ruth Levitas used the table recently to highlight how the top 10% of earners received 10% more of total net income in 2009/10 than they did in 1979 whereas the bottom 10% saw their proportion drop from 4% of total net income down to 1% over the same period. So, the put it quite bluntly, the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer over the last 30 years.
More recently, the Sunday Time published its Rich List for this year which showed that ‘The wealth of the richest 1,000 has reached a record high – £450bn. The increase in wealth is significant, with 11 new billionaires being added to the list between 2012 and 2013.’
However, not all employers are in the top 10% of earners and Shaun’s point was about the operating environment, but last year it was reported in The Telegraph that business investment in the UK was slow ‘despite a corporate cash pile now worth more than £754bn’. The figure, taken from an Ernst & Young ITEM Club report, equates to 50% of gross domestic product and the report was expected to say that say that ‘while businesses are in a strong position, British households remain under intense pressure.’ (my emphasis)
And, of course, there is the issue of tax avoidance and evasion. HMRC conservatively estimate the tax gap as around £32 billion. Richard Murphy at Tax Justice UK has estimated it at potentially in excess of £120 billion. Put simply, if everyone paid the tax they were supposed and paid it on time, there would be more than enough for poverty to be eradicated in the UK and, if distributed differently, there is more than enough money to ensure that all employers could afford to pay the Living Wage to their staff.
There is almost blanket acceptance of the ‘need’ for austerity and the tough ‘operating environment’ that this creates, not least in social policy areas such as poverty and low-pay, where policy solutions have to ‘fiscally credible’. However, the figures above – from diverse sources – suggest that the economic reality might not be all it seems. Indeed, if we were to get all post-modern about it (and I said I would return to this) we might begin to think that the ‘economic reality’ was in fact a ‘hyperreality’ – a simulation or representation of reality that is difficult to distinguish from reality.
This week is Business in the Community’s ‘Responsible Business Week’ and we’re very pleased to be able to help report that one large employer in the North East shares our view that responsible business practice has to start with the treatment of employees, including their pay.
Fabrick Housing Group, which manages 14,000 properties and is based in the Tees Valley but covers an area from North Tyneside to York, have recently decided to become a Living Wage employer and are pursuing accreditation for this as well. They have also been keen to promote this decision and managed to get an article in Inside Housing magazine, highlighting that other housing providers could also make the pledge. A press release from Fabrick states that they are now encouraging their suppliers to join up and sign up to become Living Wage employers
Heather Ashton, Group Director of Finance and Corporate Services for Fabrick, who recently led a BitC ‘Seeing is Believing’ visit on in-work poverty in the North East said: “This is really important to us as an employer and we want the living wage to become a real consideration for businesses that become our suppliers too. We work very closely with local suppliers and when we award a contract, we will offer them a fair price to make sure they can provide the living wage” and “Offering the living wage helps tackle poverty and reduce the massive inequalities in our society.”
The decision to become a Living Wage employer has meant that 29 people received a pay increase of around ten per cent, but the decision to apply for accreditation and to encourage suppliers to sign up as well will bring benefits to a far larger number of low paid workers.
And, we also found out that Aquila Way, another housing provider in the North East have also just become accredited Living Wage employers and we’re sure that others are about to follow as well. This means that we now have more housing providers than local authorities in the North East paying the Living Wage…
For more information about Fabrick Housing Group, contact Helen Sturdy, Communications and Media Officer, on 01642 773616.
If you’d like to know more about how to become a Living Wage employer, please click here
Yesterday, along with Sara Bryson from Children North East, I presented at a FUSE / ASO conference on school meals, inequality and obesity. The event was called ‘Could I have some more please, sir?’ and the focus of our presentation, which can be found by clicking the image below, was on the administration of Free School Meals (FSM) within the school environment.
The main part of the presentation focused on Sara’s work with children and young people, staff and parents from four schools in the North East as part of the ‘poverty proofing the school day’ project they are currently carrying out, with support from the North East Child Poverty Commission. This work has highlighted how children are generally very easily able to identify who receives FSM as a result of the way in which they are administered: some schools administer cash-less systems but when these break down, children receiving FSM are identified by being given a different coloured ticket to their friends who pay for their meals; some schools still collect dinner money with register at the start of the week (those receiving FSM stay in their seats while those that pay give their money to the teacher); and some schools have separate tills for FSM pupils despite having cash-less systems.
The presentation focused on the stigmatizing effect that this has on the children. These are, after all, the children of ‘scroungers’ or ‘shirkers’, the children whose parents are probably still in bed by the time school starts, still ‘sleeping off a life on benefits’. Children in receipt of FSM are easily identifiable as a result of a stigmatizing, discriminatory and divisive national policy which is often implemented in a stigmatizing, discriminatory and divisive fashion at the school level. Sara’s findings highlight the role of street-level bureaucrats as the ‘ultimate policy makers’. The work with children, involving them in the design and the carrying out of the research, has also highlighted how children are able to negotiate and resist nutritional standards in schools through the provision of alternatives, with a thriving ‘black market’ in ‘non-permitted items’ a consistent feature in secondary schools.
What is unsurprising is that this stigma is nothing new. Other presenters highlighted that the provision of FSM to certain sections of the school population pre-dates the turn of the last century and one of the slides we used in the presentation contained a quote from a study carried out by John Veit-Wilson in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1971:
‘There is no doubt that this stigma is both ascribed by widespread public values and experienced by recipients. It is bad enough to have to admit that one cannot feed one’s own children by one’s own labour – but that indignity can be kept within the family. It is worse to have to apply for public assistance in feeding them – but that indignity could perhaps be kept a secret between the family and the Local Education Authority. However, the greatest indignity is when one’s children are publicly displayed in the classroom or dining room as the children of a financial incompetent – one who cannot even earn enough to pay for their food’
And stigmatisation within public programmes has consequences. Professor Mike Miller, writing in the introduction to a book on Richard Titmuss writes:
‘Stigma threatens the person stimgatized, the programme, and the society which condones stigmatization. The stigmatized person experiences the fact of being separated from the rest of society, of being treated as someone different, marginalized, as less than others, as not worthy of the everyday exchanges and transactions that make up the community. This experience often produces a ‘spoiled identity’, a self-image which is damaged and diminished, impeding the autonomous actions of the individual.’
He goes on to argue that ‘programmes aimed at stigmatized people tend to be of low quality’ and that funding is often inadequate. We know this to be the case for FSM as many children who are living in poverty (including some who, by the DWP’s own estimates, are in the ‘deepest’ poverty) are prevented from receiving FSM as a result of the criteria which largely excludes children who have a working parent in the household. Miller argues that, in cases such as this, ‘Inhumanity becomes a social policy because it keeps the costs down.’ (p16) One might think, as Titmuss himself argued, that ‘the primary purpose of the system and the method of discrimination was, therefore deterrence (it was also an effective rationing device)’ (p153).
We ended the presentation by suggesting that the best way of addressing this situation was by providing Universal Free School Meals and Universal Breakfast Clubs. Campaigns such as the current Children’s Society ‘Fair and Square’ which aim to extend FSM to all children living in poverty run the risk of simply giving all poor children the opportunity to be singled out and stigmatized at school. Universal Free School Meal pilot projects, started by the last government, in Durham and Cornwall (with an extended FSM programme running in Newham) have suggested that the provision resulted in an increase in uptake of school meals across the board. Evidence from the qualitative case studies indicated that ‘this may be because universal provision decreases the stigma attached to taking free school meals’ (p11). There was also an increase in attainment across the board, with the largest increases being seen by children who would were previously eligible for FSM. The Impact report for the pilot project suggested that, as attendance at the schools had not been affected, ‘the increases in attainment evident in the universal pilot areas must arise as a result of improvements in productivity whilst at school’ (p9) which highlights the crucial role of food in ensuring that children are ready and able to learn.
Titmuss argued that there could be ’no answer to the problems of poverty, ethic integration, and social and educational inequalities without an infrastructure of universalist services. These are the essential foundations’ (p139) Of course, universal FSM provision would also benefit the ‘hard working families’ that the government is fond of talking about and it may also help the ‘welfare system’, which currently divides, become more binding, something which David Cameron has (sort of) expressed concern about in recent days. Universal services may also be the most efficient and cost-effective way of targeting services at those most in need. In a book entitled ‘Not Only the Poor: The Middle Classes and the Welfare State’, Goodin & Le Grand make the point that:
‘If our concern is primarily with reducing poverty and making sure everyone achieves certain minimum standards, then targeting might simply not be worth the cost. From that perspective, there would be nothing fundamentally wrong with ‘erring on the side of kindness’ and paying benefits to some people who do not strictly need them, if that is the least cost way of guaranteeing that they reach everyone who does need them.’ (pp217-218)
The philosophy of welfare : selected writings of Richard M. Titmuss, London: Allen & Unwin
Goodin, R.E. & LeGrand, J. (1987) Not Only the Poor: The Middle Classes and The Welfare State, London: Unwin Hyman
Those of you on Twitter can see some of the audience comments by searching for clicking here or searching, on Twitter, for #schoolfoodchat
We will provide a link to the FUSE website were all of the presentations can be found once they are uploaded.
We’ll also provide a link to the digital story that one of the young people involved in the project produced, exploring the entreprenurial side of food of schools.