Elbow room…

“All too easily the social scientist can be the unwitting servant of contemporary social values, and in the study of poverty, this can have disastrous practical consequences. He may side with the dominant or majority view of the poor. If, by contrast, he feels obliged or is encouraged from the start to make a formal distinction between scientific and conventional perspectives, he is more likely to enlarge knowledge by bringing to light information which has been neglected and create more elbow room for alternative forms of action”

Peter Townsend (1979)

Last week saw the launch of the Commission’s report exploring the approaches of the 12 North East Local Authorities in fulfilling their local duties under the Child Poverty Act. The Act requires local authorities and their partners to prepare and publish a Child Poverty Needs Assessment and a joint Child Poverty Strategy for their area.

The report can be accessed by clicking on the image below.

The report, which is primarily aimed at policy makers and practitioners, explores the priorities identified by local authority Strategies and Needs Assessments and challenges the focus of some of these documents using available evidence. The report concludes with 20 potential policy options for local authorities and regional bodies to consider when refreshing and updating their Needs Assesmments and Strategies.

The report was launched at an event at Durham University on Friday 19th October and during the presentation that I delivered, I suggested, with the aid of the Peter Townsend quote at the top of this blog, that we, in the region, had some ‘elbow room’ to develop alternative forms of action from those currentlyy being pursued. I argued that central government narratives around the causes of poverty were too narrow and focused primarily on the perceived behavioural shortcomings of a separate and distinct group of ‘poor people’. Using quotes from local authority strategies, I attempted to demonstrate that in a number of cases, local authority priorities adhered too closely to this narrative, even when the research evidence suggested they might not be the most fruitful avenues to pursue. The presentation can be accessed by clicking on the image below

I suggested that 3 small steps could be taken by local authorities when they came to update their Needs Assessments and Strategies, which would represent giant leaps from the existing position. These smalle steps were:

  1. Use – and add to – the evidence base
  2. Examine instituional behaviour – ‘do no harm’
  3. Give people living in poverty a voice

It could be argued that these steps are ‘essentially minimalist’, to use a phrase that Ruth Levitas has levied at national governmental efforts to tackle poverty, but I would also argue that they are practical steps which could result in a very different narrative around poverty being developedin the North East.

Kind regards,


If anyone has problems accessing or downloading the report or presentation, please contact me and we will send you an electronic copy of either or both. The presentation is quite large though…..

One response to “Elbow room…

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