The term polycrisis has recently gained much interest in academia and policy-making circles as a perspective to understand the nature of ‘overlapping emergencies’ – geopolitical, ecological, pandemics and economic – that are disrupting policy and politics in the Global North and South. How do we understand the nature of these new forms of crisis? This provocation argues that polycrisis, while a good descriptive term for the overlapping emergencies that characterise the current conjecture, should be analysed in terms of the larger crisis of capitalist social reproduction. The polycrisis needs to be understood as a political crisis that arises from a contradiction between social reproduction and the crisis of capital accumulation. It leads to increasing authoritarian statist forms as well as the growing resistance and dissent that is a feature of the broken politics of time and distinguishes the multiple intersecting crises of the 21st century.
To achieve the dual goals of minimising global pollution and meeting diverse demands for environmental justice, energy transitions need to involve not only a shift to renewable energy sources but also the safe decommissioning of older energy infrastructures and management of their toxic legacies. While the global scale of the decommissioning challenge is yet to be accurately quantified, the climate impacts are significant: each year, more than an estimated 29 million abandoned oil and gas wells around the world emit 2.5 million tons of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In the US alone, at least 14 million people live within a mile of an abandoned oil or gas well, creating pollution that is concentrated among low-income areas and communities of colour. The costs involved in decommissioning projects are significant, raising urgent questions about responsibility and whether companies who have profited from the sale of extracted resources will be held liable for clean-up, remediation and management costs. Recognising these political goals and policy challenges, this article invites further research, scrutiny and debate on what would constitute the successful and safe decommissioning of sites affected by fossil fuel operations – with a particular focus on accountability, environmental inequality, the temporality of energy transitions, and strategies for phasing out or phasing down fossil fuel extraction.
In this paper I argue that the new coronavirus pandemic has brought to light some of the contradictions and paradoxes of our time, namely the contrast between human fragility and the technological hubris linked to the fourth industrial revolution (artificial intelligence); and the contrast between the TINA ideology (there is no alternative) and the sudden and extreme changes in our everyday life caused by the virus, thus suggesting that there are indeed alternatives. I then analyse the main metaphors that have been used in public discourse concerning our relations with the virus: the virus as an enemy; the virus as a messenger; the virus as pedagogue. I prefer the last one and explain why, and in what sense the virus is our contemporary.
The United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) has thrust food systems transformation onto the main stage of international discourse in 2021. As recognised by UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, food systems are at the heart of delivering on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals for people, planet and prosperity. There has been a growing recognition that the global food systems, as currently constructed, are flawed due to the high levels of food and nutrition insecurity, food losses and waste, rising levels of inequalities, health-related challenges, and high levels of environmental degradation arising from unsustainable production systems. This article provides reflections from my own experience as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the 2021 Food Systems Summit. It articulates the key drivers behind the conceptual shift towards systems thinking to addressing the world’s food challenges. The article discusses some of the challenges faced by the global food systems and highlights why a paradigm shift from the traditional narrow focus on production and self-sufficiency to a more holistic and integrated approach is urgently required. The article provides an African perspective to the food systems discourse, highlighting some of the priority actions identified by African stakeholders and articulated in the Africa Common Position to the UNFSS, which sets out Africa’s opportunity to turn adversity into opportunity through food systems transformation. The paper outlines some highlights of the Summit, with a view to emphasising the key transformative pathways and crucial next steps that are required at country and regional levels.
Changes in patterns of family formation in Britain in recent decades have been documented in the previous chapter. In tandem with this, there have been changes in the labour market. As Chapter Four will show, male employment has become less secure while women are entering the workforce in increasing numbers, albeit often in part-time rather than full-time jobs.
The contrast with marriage and family life in the 1950s is stark, where the economic roles of spouses were symmetrical but markedly different. Men had jobs, and in an era of full employment, this meant that virtually all men worked between the end of full-time schooling and the statutory retirement age. There is a debate as to how to characterise women’s longer-term employment histories, but with some specific exceptions, women left the paid labour force at marriage, or at the birth of their first child, or they may never even have entered it. A minority of those who left during the early part of marriage returned later. These patterns gave a characteristic lop-sided M-shape to the graph of women’s employment by age (Dale, 1987). Instead of paid work in the labour force, during the early stage of family formation women took virtually sole responsibility for unpaid work within the household, and maintained this irrespective of any subsequent re-attachment to the labour market. The evidence suggests that the total amounts of paid work done by men roughly balanced the total time spent on unpaid work by women (Young and Willmott, 1974). However, the work itself was strongly segregated by gender.
This chapter is about the changes in people’s incomes from one year to the next in Britain. It aims to establish salient facts about income dynamics in general and poverty dynamics in particular, and their socio-economic correlates, drawing on new evidence for the 1990s derived from the British Household Panel Survey.
A household’s income level is strongly associated with two main characteristics: the composition of the family and the employment of its members. So this chapter follows logically from previous contributions to this book, especially Chapters Two and Four. As will be shown later in this chapter, movements in and out of poverty are related to both demographic and economic changes.
The pattern of income changes from one year to the next is one of much mobility, but most of the changes are short-range. For example, of those who are poor in one year, almost one half are not poor the following year – but those who escape poverty often remain on low incomes and have a high risk of returning to poverty in future years. Income mobility also means that the proportion of the population that is touched by poverty over a six-year period is twice as large as the proportion that is poor in any one year.
Income and poverty dynamics have intrinsic social relevance and policy significance. The extent of mobility and poverty persistence are important social indicators to be placed alongside information about the income distribution at a point in time. For example, the former Secretary of State for Social Security Peter Lilley discounted the rising incidence of low income during the 1980s with reference to new evidence about
People’s housing situation changes through stages of their life-course – the way in which this occurs in Britain is the focus of this chapter. In keeping with the rest of this book, the chapter is concerned with the dynamics of the housing situation, and not simply cross-sectional snapshots. It considers not only the nature of the moves that people make from year to year, but goes beyond this to look at the cumulative impacts of these moves. It then describes housing careers as they develop over the life-course.
The housing career may be considered as not unlike the work career. It starts with leaving the childhood situation, a process of relatively active search. It then leads to relatively high mobility, and a process of investment to obtain or keep better jobs or housing, although in the case of the work career the investments are mainly in human capital, while in the housing career they are financial investments. These processes of career building in both housing and work tend to lead to a stabilisation in middle periods of the life-course. It is at the later stages of the life-course that the patterns diverge, since although there is sometimes a scaling down of housing requirements, it is nothing like as deterministic as the disengagement from the labour market.
However, there are three important reasons for elaborations to this view of the housing career. The housing career is:
substantially shaped by the work career, both because the investments which people can make in housing will depend on their incomes (and on the stability of their incomes) and also because work career mobility will often require housing mobility;
directly influenced by the movements through various stages of the life-course: there are changing housing space and location requirements from different stages of the process of family building;
strongly influenced by the pattern of state intervention, perhaps even more so than the work career, leading to much greater differences in housing careers in different countries, and greater changes over time within a single country.
The album tells us stories. Perhaps the studious child, curled up with a book in the corner of the frame of an old black and white photo at the start of the album, reappears in a graduation photo towards the end. Perhaps the mother-to-be is found again, as we turn the pages, with two toddlers and a less convincing smile. The walk-up flat in the background becomes a three-bedroom semi, and later acquires a roof-light and a downstairs extension, or the semi is exchanged for a studio apartment with a care assistant down the hall. Some faces recur throughout the book, older but still recognisable; we see others for a few pages, and then no more.
Each snap tells us something, but we learn more from the sequence of photographs, and more still from the connections we make between the people shown in them…. The whole album provides a picture that is more than the sum of the individual pictures, more than we would get from, say, a random collection of photos from different families in successive decades of the century. The family album tells about the complex pattern of continuity and change that make up the lives of individuals and households. (Buck and others, 1994, p 10)
‘The family’ is a subject of enormous academic, political and popular interest. It is a central feature of most people’s lives, the framework within which other relationships, activities and events take place. Families have changed hugely during the past generation: not only in the formal demographics of marriage, cohabitation and childbearing, but also in the social and economic relationships between men and women, and between adults and children.
The BHPS data on family structures, employment, income and housing, on which previous chapters are based, have been the subject of detailed analysis ever since the panel data first came on stream in the mid-1990s. Much of the material covered so far has summarised work that has already been published in a series of more detailed, and sometimes more technically complex, papers. However, the survey also includes a substantial set of questions about respondents’ state of health, and their use of health services. These have not been analysed in anywhere near as much detail, and certainly not in a way that takes full advantage of the longitudinal structure of the data. The purpose of this chapter is to develop the analysis of the dynamics of ill-health. However, because the analysis of this part of the BHPS data is at a much earlier stage, it is necessary to start by considering some more technical issues than needed to be addressed in other chapters. The most commonly used survey-based measures of ill-health and impairment in Britain are derived from cross-sectional surveys. A sample of respondents is interviewed once, and asked questions about their current state of health. This provides an estimate of the number of people ill or impaired at any time, but it provides no direct indication of the rate at which people become ill or recover. This is true of the self-reported health measures obtained by, for example, the General Household Survey (ONS, 2000) and the 1996 Health Survey for England (Prescott-Clarke and Primatesta, 1998); and of the impairment measures obtained by the 1985 Disability Survey (Martin and others, 1988), the 1995 Health Survey for England (Prescott-Clarke and Primatesta, 1997) and the Disability Follow-up to the Family Resources Survey (Grundy and others, 1999).