Michael Orton from the University of Warwick organised a series of events on this important theme recently. Our WelCond team members Lisa Scullion (University of Salford) and Sharon Wright (University of Glasgow) co-hosted two of the events. Here Michael summarises the project
Conditionality is a major issue but it can also be seen as part of more fundamental shift over the last thirty years or so, which has seen the notion of social security largely replaced by the term ‘welfare’ and the now ubiquitous ‘welfare reform’, a euphemism for cuts and increasing socio-economic insecurity.
The extent and impact of socio-economic insecurity was highlighted in a 2015 report – Something’s Not Right: Insecurity and an anxious nation – which identified the extent, impact and pervasiveness of the problem. A subsequent report published in 2016 identified solutions and was entitled: Secure & Free: 5+ solutions to socio-economic insecurity. In Secure & Free it was found that on issues such as early childhood education and care and housing there is considerable consensus within civil society about what needs to be done – and some very clear plans for how to do it.
However, on the core issue of social security in relation to income it was found that while there are plenty of reports on the subject, and a veritable mountain of data, there are far fewer recommendations of ways forward, little evidence of consensus and certainly not the kind of detailed plans that exist (say) on housing.
To redress this a series of workshops were held, supported by a grant from the Social Policy Association, and posing the question: What practical, concrete steps can be taken to put the security back into social security in the short to medium term? A total of eight workshops were held. They were conducted in November-December 2016 in different parts of the country: Glasgow, Leeds, London, Salford, Stoke and Teesside. The workshops had three aims: identify immediately available answers to the question above; create a community of interest around this issue; and plan next steps. Underpinning this was a theme of exploring what ideas people have regarding the social security system and whether there is any kind of consensus.
Close to 150 people participated in the workshops, with a rich mix of civil society actors from front-line advice services, anti-poverty policy and campaign groups, think tanks, academia, community and grassroots groups and a wide range of other third sector organisations. Hugely important was the participation of people with expertise by experience.
The workshops used participatory methods such as World Café and deliberative consensus building, a very different approach to standard conferences/roundtables/speakers followed by Q&A sessions. Reflecting growing interest in new ways of making events more inclusive and productive, an ethos was adopted encouraging participants to: see co-operation and compromise as strengths; focus on points of agreement; listen and ensure everyone has their say; and at all times act with care, compassion and respect for each other. The emphasis on ideas for ‘concrete, practical steps’ was highlighted throughout the workshop sessions.
So what was the outcome? There were some very long lists of ideas produced and some points of disagreement within and between workshops. But there were also points of agreement and a possible framework for further development. A report will be produced in early 2017 and if you would like a copy email Michael.Orton@warwick.ac.uk. But even better, why not think about the top five or ten practical, concrete steps you would suggest to put the security back into social security in the short to medium term? Answers greatly welcomed!
Dr Michael Orton is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Employment Research, University of Warwick