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A key aim of Universal Credit is to simplify the social security system. While several aspects of its introduction have received critical attention, this overarching aim continues to receive acceptance and support. Drawing on two empirical studies involving means-tested benefit claimants, we aim to deconstruct the idea of ‘simplicity’ as a feature of social security design and argue that it is contingent on perspective. We suggest that claims of simplicity can often be justified from an administrative perspective but are not experienced as such from the perspective of claimants, who instead can face greater responsibility for managing complexity.

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This article considers a genealogy of the governing by data of families in poverty; a case study of the codification of disadvantaged families and problematisation of their difficulties over the course of a century and a half. Influenced by Bacchi’s ‘what the problem is represented to be’ approach, we explore a genealogy of the micro acts of ruling that reveal the practice of constructing and governing of disadvantaged families. We draw on a case study analysis of materials recorded and collected by the Charity Organisation Society and its subsequent guises, during four major periods of recession in Britain, from the late 19th century to the early 21st century. We outline the ‘problematisation’ approach to governance that underpins our discussion before describing the administrative records with which we worked. We argue that the genealogy of the construction, positioning and governance of poor families over time in this case may be observed in terms of three key shifts in problematisation: (i) from the identification of deservingness towards the assessment of risk; (ii) from a gendered concentration of parents to the perceived needs of children; and (iii) from consultation of authority figures to a reliance on increasingly ‘professionalised’ data capture tools.

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Unemployed and low-income couples entitled to means-tested benefits are known to have higher rates of separation and divorce than couples in which one or both partners are in regular, paid work. However, how and why unemployment and benefit receipt increases the risk of partnership dissolution remains the subject of much debate. In recent policy discourse, financial differentials in benefit entitlement between lone and couple parents are said to encourage intact couples to separate. Based on in-depth, face-to-face interviews with a group of low-income mothers who had been partnered prior to claiming lone parent benefits, this paper explores whether benefit entitlement or receipt influenced the decision to separate or divorce. The research found that more salient to partnership dissolution than the amount of benefits a couple may have been entitled to, was who had access to the money, how it was managed and how it was spent. To the extent that welfare systems influence which member of a couple has access to household income, the design and administration of benefits was having an important contributory effect. Policy implications of paying Universal Credit to couples in the form of a single monthly household award into one bank account are discussed.

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This study uses a governmentality approach to examine poverty and welfare media discourse as a complex aggregate of a wide variety of knowledge and political rationalities aimed at governing citizens. A discourse analysis of newspaper articles about poverty from 1994 to 2013 was conducted. Five discursive strategies and four oppositional claims were found in the 20-year sample period. The findings illustrate the relationship between neoliberalism and governmental strategies in poverty discourse.

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Despite the prominence of poverty in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit, and other sexual and gender minorities (LGBTQ2S+) in Canada, studies that centre the material conditions of these groups as sites of inquiry remain scant. Accordingly, in this paper we present an intersectional narrative review of the limited Canadian literature on LGBTQ2S+ poverty. We examine 39 studies, published between 2000 and 2018, that report Canadian data on poverty in LGBTQ2S+ youth, older adults, racial minorities and Indigenous groups. We highlight intersectional differences reflected across these axes of social location, and consider research, policy and practice implications of our analysis.

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Despite the pervasive social scarcity of electricity in Zimbabwe, there is little understanding of this phenomenon, especially how it abrogates social justice. With a view to debunking the natural inevitability of electricity scarcity, the article argues that in an energy sector driven by neoliberal tendencies, capital accumulation is not challenged. Hence electricity scarcity is erroneously considered inevitable. Drawing on qualitative research, the fundamental argument advanced in this article is that structural factors such as the market trends produce and reproduce electricity social scarcity, which in turn perpetuates social injustice because electricity is a sine qua non of human development. Coincidentally, this work also reveals that neoliberalism is not only an ideological rhetoric embedded in political-economic reality, but rather its discourse produces prudent subjects who are loyal to it and prepared to endure the effects of energy poverty. Accordingly, the paper raises some critical challenges for policymakers as it has both political-economic and social justice implications, insisting that electricity availability does not mean access to all – scarcity can be experienced even when the resource is in abundance.

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In this paper, I argue that we look through the lens of family care to show how economic scarcity translates into an actual experience of everyday life. Referring to analyses from narrative interviews with people in deprived life circumstances who live across the UK and the Republic of Ireland, I introduce care work as one situational context in which precarious living conditions become tangible for my interviewees. In addition, I demonstrate that gendered expectations concerning mother- and fatherhood make a difference for how women and men experience poverty. Yet, as stereotypical as this may seem, there is more to tell.

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This article examines the challenges in designing income-tested benefits for people of working age. This is particularly difficult in the context of changing patterns of work and volatility in earnings and income. Matching benefits to needs requires timely assessment and payment. We compare the treatment of timing issues in the working-age welfare systems of the United Kingdom and Australia. The article discusses how these different but similar systems deal with the timing of income receipt and benefit adjustment, problems of overpayment and debt, and draws out some lessons for the design of income-tested provisions.

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In the context of critiques of welfare policy in the USA, I explore how mothers living in public housing balance notions of individual and collective responsibility for families struggling with poverty. Participants recognise collective responsibility at the institutional level and prefer inclusive approaches to public assistance policy. But the hegemony of individualism in the culture and in the framing of their specific programme pulls them toward the rhetoric of personal responsibility and a punitive, market-based logic of individual choice. This, in turn, obscures the gendered and classed structures reinforced by neoliberal policy’s emphasis on privatised market forces and personal responsibility.

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