“The human balance sheet”

Over the last couple of days, three incredibly powerful blogs or reports relating to issues of welfare reform have caught my eye. This short post is intended to highlight and promote them to readers of this blog. All 3 deal with the impact on people of the welfare reforms we are currently experiencing.

In chronological order, we’ll start with Alison Stenning’s blog on the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’. Alison’s short post on the impact of the bedroom tax on relationships ends “It’s a terrible policy, one with a potentially enormous human cost. Relationships matter and we need to take care of them.”

Alison’s post inspired Tom Slater to write ano-holds barred longer blog post drawing on the work of Marc Fried and others that highlights the extensive literature on the effects of ‘displacement’. Bringing to mind the statement that ‘we’re all in it together’, Tom notes that

Once we come to understand – and communicate more effectively – that an involuntary change change of home, like bereavement, can be a devastating disruption of the meaning of life for the person or family affected, only the coldest and cruellest policy elites and government ministers would not reflect on how they might feel if the positions were reversed

Finally, this morning saw the publication of a report called ‘Real life reform’ by the Northern Housing Consortium. This project is tracking the lives of 100 households until 2015, looking at the impact of welfare reform on them as families and individuals. The first page of the report includes the quote below from a respondent:

The pure worry of what’s going to happen has caused me anxiety. I’ve been to see the doctor… I’d rather go hungry than be cold/dark. It feels like that’s where we’re heading… I feel lost

These contributions all reminded me of a powerful section I read a while ago by Professor Mike Miller in the Introduction to ‘The Philosophy of Welfare’, a collection of selected writings by Richard Titmuss. Miller writes

Reducing expenditure on a programme not only collapses its scope but also transforms its character, leading to increased pressure to bar people from gaining access to needed aid or ending rapidly such aid. Inhumanity becomes a social policy because it keeps the costs down …

Challenging reductions in programmes or advocating restorations of some cuts require more than the examination of budgets. The effects of reduced expenditures on daily functioning is the crucial issue. A social programme is what it does daily and how it does it. The political atmosphere of the 1980s is poisoning the character of programmes and eroding their contributions; the Titmuss perspective leads us to examine the delicate processes which shape the on-going experience of those who need services and benefits. The financial balance sheet has to be compared with the human balance sheet of distress, despair, isolation and stigma.

Reading the three articles I have mentioned, it is hard to not to consider and reflect on the ‘human balance sheet’ of many of the welfare reforms. Please read them if you can.

Steve

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