welfare

Why I’m Voting Yes on September 18th

Posted by admin on August 19, 2014
referendum, scotland, welfare / No Comments

You may have guessed by my Twibbon that I will be voting yes on September the 18th. Inspired by last week’s #bbcindyref debate  I thought it was time for me articulate why I will be doing so. The answer to this one is simple. It’s because I want to live in a fairer, more socially just Scotland, and I believe independence is the best way to achieve it.

For me it’s not a question of nationalism, nor party politics, or even about the oil. Rather it reflects my belief that Scotland will be a better place to live if we are no longer part of the Union. Whilst devolution, and the creation of the Scottish Parliament, has been one of the best things to happen to the country in my lifetime, I don’t think it goes far enough. To address the deep-rooted and persistent inequalities facing our society we need control over the tax and social security system. We don’t have that at the moment. Because of that we’re now witnessing a fundamental dismantling of the British welfare state by the Coalition government. The impact of which has been felt only too keenly by low-income households and communities across the length and breadth of the country. Yet we’re powerless to stop it. This for me is not democracy, nor a union of equals.

In turn, this takes me to the joke about the pandas: a well-rehearsed one in Scottish politics, but pertinent nonetheless. From a Scottish perspective we’re ruled by a Conservative-led coalition government that we didn’t vote for and don’t want. The direction of travel of politics and policy in England truly frightens me. It does not reflect my beliefs, my values or my view of how the United Kingdom needs to move forward. The possible scenario of a government including Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage beggars belief. Yet under the current constitutional set-up that is potentially what we have to look forward too.

The independence referendum however, offers us an opportunity to do things differently; more so than we’ve ever done before. But to achieve this we need to have faith in ourselves as a nation to stand and fall by our own decisions. And we need to also accept the independence is not a one off event; like devolution, it will be a continually evolving process. Much haggling and negotiation would need to be done in the years immediately following a yes vote.

But as Ken Stott quite rightly pointed out on the #bbcindyref panel last week, plenty of other countries have successfully gained independence from the British government. So it can be done if we have patience, faith in ourselves as a people and a nation, and we keep the end goal in sight. That’s not to say it won’t be a bumpy ride.

One final thought. The media and politicians have largely framed the #indyref debate in terms of the economy. But looking only at the economic issues means we may miss the transformative social and political potential of independence. For me that’s where the real prize is. Plus, at any rate we’ll be keeping the pound, currency union or not. It belongs to Scots as much as any other nation of the UK. Given the EU referendum in 2016, I’d say we’ve also more chance of being in Europe as an independent nation than as part of the UK.  The real plan B then isn’t about an alternative economic vision, rather it’s about what will Scotland do if we don’t secure independence, and we face another Conservative-led government in Westminster?

Worth pondering folks.

And time to come off the fence I’d say.

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Young People, Tenure Choices and Inequality

Posted by admin on February 02, 2012
housing policy, housing tenure, welfare, young people / No Comments

I’ve spent today writing a presentation for a conference on Friday about Housing in Scotland.  I’m tasked with covering the issues facing young people in the housing market.  Yet my gut reaction is that we can’t understand the complexity of issues at play if we only look at ‘the market’.  I suppose this reflects my dissatisfaction with the way in which economists think about ‘choice’ in terms of how people negotiate the housing market.  For me, choice is a fallacy because societal structures ultimately shape and construct the ‘decisions’ individuals and households make – focusing on the rational decison making process fails to get to grips with this.  To fully grasp the issues at play we need to get beyond the immediate housing issues and think about the interplay between housing and other social and economic policies, and also demographic issues.   Housing has been central to individual and national wealth in the post-war period,  It has also assumed a pivotal role in more recent societal shifts from collective to asset-based welfare provisions.  This involves individuals assuming more responsibility for their own future well-being, thus reducing the burden upon the state.

It strikes me that housing has been and will continue to be fundamental to patterns of social inequality both within and across generations.  It is now extremely difficult for young people to purchase a home in the UK without drawing on financial support from their family.  Where however does this leave those young people who are the children of renters? Is homeownership now further reinforcing existing patterns of wealth and inheritance?   Given our ageing population and shift towards ‘asset-based welfare’ it also remains to be seen whether house-rich older generation are able to (and want to) leave an inheritance to their children and grand-children. The growing expectation from government that we should use our housing assets to secure our own future welfare (i.e. to fund social care in old age, or to top-up our meager state pensions) means they may need their housing assets in their own old age.  Again this raises questions about how the current cohort of young people are supposed to secure their own future welfare if they are being denied access (or are having a delayed entry) to the housing ladder.

These dilemmas highlight the crucial importance of this public policy issue, and it is one which I am lucky enough to be able to investigate and unpack over the next few years.  The Leverhulme Foundation have funded my colleagues and I to conduct a three year, inter-disciplinary project to investigate the role of housing wealth in creating inter-generational inequalities.  The project involves St Andrews, Birmingham and Durham Universities and is led by Dr Beverley Searle at St Andrews.  The workstream which I am leading focuses on the issues mentioned above in terms of young people, tenure choice and future welfare.  I look forward to being able to report some empirical results in the years ahead.

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