Perceptions of poverty levels: a long view

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Clery (@liz_clery), who works with the amazing NatCen team that are responsible for the British Social Attitudes Survey.

The latest British Social Attitudes report came out in July, and it pointed out a puzzle in public attitudes to poverty:

  • Trends in poverty have remained relatively stable over the last 12 years (at least using HBAI, and at the population level).
  • However, the proportion of the public thinking that there is “quite a lot” of poverty in Britain has increased markedly over the same period, from 52% in 2006 to 65% now.

Our chapter in the BSA report sought to identify the reasons for this divergence – and in this blog post, I both summarise our findings and probe this slightly further.

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Has Amber Rudd fixed the DWP’s disability assessments?

It’s been a while since a DWP Secretary of State made a major speech on disability assessments – and given the WCA’s continuing failures (not to mention those of PIP), we should be grateful that Amber Rudd has devoted her speech to it today. Her announcement has been mainly positively received so far (at least in the BBC, Sky, Daily Mail, Mirror, though with more reservations by the Graun and Indie), but in this post I want to ask: how far should we welcome Amber Rudd’s policy changes today? Continue reading

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Would more people support foreign aid & charities if they grasped the scale of global inequality?

This is a guest post by the excellent Aveek Bhattacharya, who (like I did!) combines a PhD in Social Policy in LSE with work in the field of alcohol & public health – and is also cross-posted on his personal blog here.

For all the attention that economic inequality has received in recent years, it is too rarely noticed that the largest disparities in living conditions are between people in rich countries and those who are poor by global standards. Yet for those of us concerned about global inequality, the political trends of the past few years in rich countries have been dispiriting. Foreign aid remains politically controversial, hostility to migration appears to have risen, and trade protectionism seems likely to increase.

In a recent article in The Journal of Politics, Gautam Nair suggests one reason for this apparent lack of concern for the global poor is that people in rich countries do not appreciate just how well off they are by global standards. If we can correct these misperceptions, he suggests, support for international redistribution will grow. Continue reading

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Does the new poverty measure fully capture disability poverty?

In recent years, we have seen fierce political battles over what poverty is, and the best way of measuring it. The Social Metrics Commission (SMC) is therefore a brave venture – to get a politically diverse group of people to agree how poverty should be measured in the UK, led by one of Iain Duncan Smith’s former special advisers, but well-represented by a host of the-great-and-the-good from the Labour years. Amazingly this seems to have succeeded, with this week’s SMC report being been well-publicised and well-regarded (see the IFS response in The Times, or the BBC or the Guardian, and a more lukewarm Telegraph piece), but in this post I want to put some scrutiny on a central claim of the new measure: that it better captures poverty among disabled people. Continue reading

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Is truth-seeking inherently conservative?

Howard Becker’s 1967 ‘Whose Side Are We On?’ is one of the most famous papers in Sociology – a staple reading for generations of undergraduates, and still the subject of argument between academic sociologists about what Becker actually meant. Yet I have just discovered (thanks to Alistair Leitch at Oxford) a later 1973 paper by Becker that I think should be much more famous, for it considers the broader relationship between radical social science and radical politics, and poses more difficult questions for engaged social scientists in twenty-first century Britain. I can’t recommend reading the full paper highly enough, but in this post I want to dwell on one question it raises: is seeking the truth about the social world an inherently conservative enterprise? Continue reading

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Further increases in public support for benefit claimants

We’ve reached high summer, and this means intense heat, test cricket – and the latest installment of the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, our bible for showing how our attitudes have been changing. As ever, I like to review trends in attitudes towards benefit claimants on the blog (see 2017, 2015, 2014 and 2013) – and the headline news from this year’s chapter on social security attitudes is that public attitudes are increasingly positive. Continue reading

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Does diversity help students learn about inequality?

Amidst all of the studies of public attitudes, there are relatively few studies that look at how we learn about inequality – yet if we know how people learn about inequality, then we have ideas about how people’s attitudes can be changed. So I was really interested to hear a presentation by LSE/Harvard’s Jonathan Mijs, looking at how the nature of universities influences how we learn about inequality. In this post I explain Mijs’s study (which I liked), and also his policy recommendations (which I didn’t)… Continue reading

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A temporary diversion: inequality and world football

A temporary interruption – I have a large list of half-written Inequalities articles, and normal service will be resumed next week. In the meantime, and in tribute to the start of the World Cup, I just saw this 2015 piece by the ever-intriguing Branko Milanovic, which ends with the following quote that I thought would be interesting (and provocative) to Inequalities readers:

“Well-meaning people often think that on our menu is both a more inclusive and less corrupt society. But unfortunately, our choices in real life are more likely to be either a more inclusive and less unequal society with greater corruption, or an autocratic, elite-run society with less corruption simply because those in power are already rich and powerful enough.”

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Sanctioning disabled claimants: interrogating the evidence

This seems like a good time to take stock of the evidence on perhaps the biggest issue in the benefits system over the past few years: benefits sanctioning. The massive ESRC-funded ‘welfare conditionality’ project has this week published its final findings, prompting headlines that “Benefit sanctions found to be ineffective and damaging and “Benefit sanctions increasing poverty and pushing people into ‘survival crime,’ finds report”. The Parliamentary Select Committee is doing an inquiry, as is the Government’s former sanctioning reviewer Matt Oakley for one of the think-tanks. And I myself have written about in a paper last year and Demos report earlier this year.

But often missed in the hubbub are the subtleties of the evidence, a deeper effort to get to the bottom of what we know. Over a few blog posts, I want to interrogate some of the existing evidence, to challenge some of the easy interpretations that get mobilised for political debate. And this week it’s the turn of the Government’s 2016 pilots of conditionality for ESA claimants, which were quietly published last August – and unlike this week’s headlines, the pilots seemed to show that conditionality was effective.

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Can poverty rise while inequality is flat?

I recently saw a great post about how there’s been a big increase in inequality within the bottom half of the income distribution (between the 3rd and 1st (bottom) deciles) from 1996-2008, which then fell but rose again 2011-2016.

The piece is on stumblingandmumbling (the great economics blog by Chris Dillow) , and I thought Inequalities readers might be interested – if so, you can read his full piece here. (I’ll occasionally link to interesting other blog posts, in between my own biweekly blog posts).

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