Tag Archives: austerity

Understanding the impact of austerity

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield

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Closed all hours This shop, now disused, located in the small village of Ballyroan: Image credit: (c) Liam Murphy Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

David Cameron recently announced plans to introduce  parenting classes, in part as way to combat poverty. Aside from valid criticisms of heteronormativity, troubling assumptions about what makes a “good” family, and a disregard for established support networks, this ignores the complex causes of poverty and impact of austerity.

Sarah M Hall has been conducting long term ethnographic research on families living with, and in, austerity. Much research focuses on large scale economic impacts but Hall works at the level of personal and intimate geographies. This reveals the complexity and diversity of individual lives; there is no one-size-fits-all austerity family experience. Hall is influenced by moral and Feminist geographies and has a deep concern for the ethical impact of her work. The ethnographer is necessarily entangled with the subject of her research and becomes part of their lives for the projects duration. Ethical research acknowledges power dynamics and is constantly aware of researcher positionality but this does not preclude empathy. Indeed Hall suggests research has a caring dimension as “by listening to and empathising with participants, or in providing companionship or intimacy one can provide a caring role” (2016:3).

Decisions on whether to offer financial compensation to research participants take on added weight in times of austerity. Hall did not pay her participants but offered small tokens of gratitude, which often made her part of an extended support network.  The impact of austerity on families can be devastating and Hall describes conversations which she found deeply affecting. However she stresses there is a distance in the research relationship, and differences of experience, which means the researcher must be mindful not to speak for, or steal the voice of, her participants.

Hall confirms JRF (2015) research that states welfare cuts disproportionately harm people already in difficult, precarious and marginalised positions. She also witnesses the unintended consequences of closing services such as libraries and the threat to community groups suffering grant cuts or loss of volunteers who need to find work. Hall treats her participants with the dignity they deserve, and implicitly challenges glib demonization.  It is hard to imagine how parenting classes will help tackle structural inequality or mitigate the very real impact austerity has on families.

References

books_icon Hall, S.M. (2016) Personal, relational and intimate geographies of austerity: ethical and empiral considerations Area 2015 DOI: 10.1111/area.12251 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/area.12251/abstract  (online accessed 15.1.16)

60-world2 JRF  (2015) The Cost of The Cuts: the Impact on Local Government and Poorer Communities Joseph Rowntree Foundation https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/cost-cuts-impact-local-government-and-poorer-communities (Online accessed 15.1.16)

60-world2 The Independent (2016) David Cameron Plans to Make Parenting Classes Normal http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/david-cameron-plans-to-make-parenting-classes-normal-a6804381.html (online accessed 15.1.16)

Austerity will increase the North South health divide

By Clare Bambra and Kayleigh Garthwaite, Durham University

We were told by the Coalition government that we are “all in it together” and that recession, austerity, cuts to welfare and the privatisation of the NHS are the necessary medicine to revitalise our broken country. This is a dangerous, neoliberal myth as the effects of austerity are not being shared equally across our country.

Northern England (commonly defined as the North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humber regions) has persistently had higher death rates than the South of England, with people in the North consistently found to be less healthy than those in the South – across all social classes and amongst both men and women. This is a longstanding historical divide that can be dated back to the early 19th century.

In our paper published by Area, we argue that since 2010, these health inequalities between the North and the South of England have increased. For example, suicide rates have increased across England – but at a greater rate in the North. Similarly, antidepressant prescription rates have risen, again with the highest increases in the North. Food bank use and malnutrition rates have also increased more in the North of England.

Boarded up houses in Stockton on Tees, North East, 2015. Photo Credit: Kayleigh Garthwaite.

Boarded up houses in Stockton on Tees, North East, 2015. Photo Credit: Kayleigh Garthwaite.

We argue that these increases in health inequalities between the North and the South are a result of the uneven geographies of “austerity”. Welfare reform and public service cuts have disproportionately impacted on the older industrial areas in the North, whilst the South (outside London) has escaped comparatively lightly. By way of example, Blackpool (North West), will experience twice the loss of income per person as a result of welfare reforms, whilst the worst-hit local authority budgets such as Middlesbrough (North East) will lose around four times as much as those least affected by the cuts – located exclusively in the South (such as Hart, South East).

So what can be done? Drawing on our involvement in the Public Health England (PHE) commissioned Due North: The Independent Inquiry into Health Equity in the North (2014). We argue that certain policy measures need to be urgently undertaken if we are to prevent the English health divide from widening: (1) increasing the value of welfare benefits; (2) improving welfare rights advice services; (3) making work pay by introducing a living wage; (4) implementing health-first active labour market policies to tackle health-related worklessness; and (5) decreasing debt by capping loan rates, supporting credit unions and regulating energy companies. Some of these policies are being taken forward by the opposition parties in their 2015 party election manifestos.

Partly as a result of the Due North Inquiry, and partly as an outcome of renewed debates about English devolution, there is now a “policy window” around the English health divide. This represents a prime opportunity for geographers to influence this important area of research, policy and practice.

About the authors:

Clare Bambra is Professor of Public Health Geography at Durham University. Her research examines how politics and politics impact on the social and spatial determinants of health and health inequalities. Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite is a Postdoctoral Research Associate within the Department of Geography at Durham University. Her research interests focus on health inequalities, welfare reform and austerity, with a focus on narratives and lived experience.

books_icon Inquiry Panel on Health Equity for the North of England (2014) Due North: The report of the Inquiry on Health Equity for the North (pdf). Inquiry Chair: Margaret Whitehead.

books_icon Bambra, C. and Garthwaite, K. (2015), Austerity, welfare reform and the English health divide. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12191

Shock of the Global: Post-War Britain and Globalisation

A 'make do and mend' poster, c.1942.

A ‘make do and mend’ poster, c.1942.

by Benjamin Sacks

The Second World War permanently altered Britain’s relationship with the rest of the globe. Before 1939 the empire, particularly India and the settler colonies, dominated Britons’ conceptions of international affairs. But nearly six years of global conflict incontrovertibly changed this mindset. Isolated from its dominions by Axis submarines, ‘austerity’ Britain quickly adopted severe rationing and a ‘make do and mend’ approach. Gardening, raising small animals, and comprehensive recycling and reusing of countless household items became part-and-parcel of daily life. The British government and various civil organisations promoted the ‘local’, not the ‘global’ (to borrow sociologists George Ritzer’s and Roland Robinson’s terminology), prioritising national entrepreneurship and ingenuity over importing and exporting of goods.

This radically – and painfully – changed after 1945. India and Pakistan’s independence in 1947 catalyzed the empire’s irreversible (but relatively ordered) disintegration. The United States and the Soviet Union emerged as fierce economic competitors, with considerably greater physical resource assets. At home, voters ousted Winston Churchill in favour of Labour Party leader Clement Atlee, who promised to refocus government policies on domestic social welfare. Internationally, Britain was forced to contend with a radically-changing marketplace. By the 1950s, it was increasingly evident that it could no longer solely rely on domestic production and inter-Commonwealth trade to both satisfy consumer demand and maintain the state’s strong international profile.

In ‘Fill the ships and we shall fill the shops: the making of geographies of manufacturing’, Thomas Birtchnell (University of Wollongong) skillfully demonstrates how – in short order – the Board of Trade, private businesses, and public organisations sought to re-educate consumers and producers alike of the global marketplace. They widely circulated such advertisements as ‘how can cycles sent to Africa fetch us cotton from U.S.A.?’ (1947) (p. 437). Officials popularised a “container-ship culture” in schools, trade and commercial magazines, and businesses in an effort to ramp up exports and imports of both raw materials and finished goods. Birtchnell recalled how social economist Karl Polanyi’s 1944 study, The Great Transformation, was trumpeted to promote Britain’s long history of international trade alongside other ‘economic propaganda’ campaigns (pp. 437-438).

To accomplish this goal, the Board of Trade and its allies tapped into a culture of consumerism and luxury that had persisted despite the war’s enormous pressures. At partial odds with Guy de la Bédoyère’s 2005 study The Home Front, Birtchnell proposes that Britons were at first exorted to produce and export advanced luxury items (e.g. radios, clothing, automobiles) in exchange for essentials. But this found little favour with British audiences, who had quietly clamoured for higher-end goods during the war, and now demanded their availability in the post-war environment. From 1947 the language changed: the Board of Trade instead promoted the export of British goods in exchange for foreign luxuries – silks, perfumes, electronics, foodstuffs. Such historians as Llewellyn Woodward promoted this programme via their writings; in 1947 he pronounced that ‘An English housewife finds it odd that English china to match a tea-set shattered in the Blitz can be bought in New York but is not on sale in London’ (p. 439). Birtchnell’s study is a fascinating contribution to our knowledge of Britain’s immediate post-war recovery, and hints as well at how Britain’s manufacturing base gradually switched from mass production to luxury, bespoke goods.

books_icon Thomas Birtchnell 2013 Fill the ships and we shall fill the shops: the making of geographies of manufacturingArea 45.4: 436-42.

Also see:

books_icon George Ritzer 2004 The Globalization of Nothing (Thousand Oaks, CA and London: Pine Forge Press).

books_icon Llewellyn Woodward 1947 Middle EnglandForeign Affairs 25.3, 378-87.

 

 

Admiralty Arch for sale: building a biography

by Fiona Ferbrache

My Great Aunt was a ‘Jenny’ – a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) – and, as a First Officer, she worked in Admiralty Arch, the Grade I listed building that straddles the road between the Mall and Trafalgar Square.

Admiralty Arch was completed around 1911 and initially provided offices and residences to the Royal Navy.  Over the years, it has provided hostel accommodation for homeless people and, most recently, offices for the Cabinet.  Today, Admiralty Arch is for sale at approximately 75 million pounds, and speculation suggests a transformation into a lavish hotel (Ruddick, 2011).

An iconic landmark of London, Admiralty Arch evokes a sense of place, but it is also provides an example of the “building biography”, a concept explored by McNeill and McNamara (2012) in relation to the life of a Sydney hotel.  A building’s biography draws attention to different persepctives throughout its history, and how these may have been constituted by human agents, materialities and political and economical conditions at the time.

Applying this concept to Admiralty Arch, one must consider the people who have worked there, as well as those who have been involved with its maintenance, as significant characters in the biography. In addition, this idea positions the building within urban frameworks and geopolitical and economic contexts. For example, the sale of Admiralty Arch can be seen as part of the Government’s strategy to improve efficiency of government property in a time of austerity (see report, 2011).  At the heart of their paper, McNeill and McNamara invite geographers to challenge preconceived visions of what a building actually is (how it differs through time); that is, to reconceptualise the ontology of the built world.

  Report

  Ruddick, G. (2011) London’s Admiralty Arch could become a hotel under Government plans. The Telegraph. 03 November, 2011.

  McNeill, D. & McNamara, K. (2012) The life and death of great hotels: a building biography of Sydney’s ‘The Australia’. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 37,1. pp.149-163