Series: Social Policy Review
Published in association with the Social Policy Association.
Social Policy Review draws together internationally renown contributors to provide students, academics and all those interested in welfare issues with critical analyses of progress and change in areas of major interest during the past year.
Social Policy Review
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The Autonomy Voucher (Voucher Autonomia) is a social measure enacted by Lombardy Region (Italy), aimed at combating social isolation and fostering the integration of the elderly and of people with disabilities. It provides access to a series of local services aimed at promoting autonomy, helping the elderly stay in their homes and developing social skills for people with disabilities. Based on data about the three rounds of the policy, including original empirical evidence gathered through focus groups and semi-structured interviews with stakeholders and key informants, the chapter offers an in-depth analysis of its implementation, shedding light on the factors that have hindered it.
Immigration fundamentally challenges the social contract of European welfare states, which is based on the idea of redistribution within a closed, nationally bound community of welfare. This chapter explores how local social administrators deal with the challenges of solidarity and fairness within an increasingly culturally diverse society when legal entitlements remain ambiguous. It approaches the question through a detailed examination of the German case, as the country constitutes one of Europe’s ethnically most diverse countries. The study is based on over 100 in-depth qualitative interviews with local social administrators, migrant claimants and welfare advisers and explores the inequalities in access when claiming welfare benefits and associated services in local job centres. The findings point to three dominant styles of decision-making, namely generous, restrictive or indifferent gatekeeping based on nationality and perceived belonging of a claimant. Street-level bureaucrats informally, yet systematically, sort benefit claimants, with non-nationals more likely to be subject to administrative discretion that creates barriers to receiving benefits. The findings show how street-level practices affect possibilities for social and economic inclusion and exclusion regardless of Germany’s manifest legal obligations to EU citizens.
Climate change is both global in scope and unprecedented in scale and has been described by the UN as ‘the defining issue of our time’. There has been scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change for some time, with the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirming that it is ‘unequivocal’ that human activity has warmed the atmosphere, land and oceans. There is also substantial evidence surrounding the impacts of climate change, with evidence of it already ‘disrupting national economies and affecting lives’. Climate change threatens food, water and energy security and poses acute risks to lives and livelihoods through extreme weather events, especially heatwaves, droughts, cyclones and sea level rise.
Pandemics, climate change and economic crises are all drivers of migration, both internally and transnationally. On top of these socio-environmental emergencies, vulnerable migrants often face institutional violence, social welfare exclusion and the enduring effects of colonisation and global inequality. However, the Eurocentric and Western social work curricula have mainly focused on clinical practice – with the ‘individual client’ being the main recipient of welfare services – and failed to properly address the structural challenges posed by colonialism and global capitalist expansion, which may reproduce inequalities and pose obstacles to radical social transformation. To create effective social change, social workers must engage in social policy practice and politics. There is an urgent need to decolonise Social Work, which means not only incorporating postcolonial theory and approaches into the profession but questioning and calling out the reproduction of colonial practices through welfare and social assistance programmes. This chapter engages with social work practice with vulnerable and/or marginalised migrants and explores critical voices in the fields of social work and human rights to address the long-lasting effects of colonisation and capitalist oppression in times of social, environmental and health emergencies. The chapter urges social workers to understand the effects of colonisation when working with vulnerable migrants.
The ways in which researchers carry out ethical and inclusive research has been reimagined as a result of COVID-19. The predominant response has been to take research online through a range of methods and technologies. Through reflections on carrying out research during a global pandemic, key issues of digital exclusion have been brought to the fore. In addition to digital exclusion there is the risk that research has changed in a way that positions participants unavoidably as objects of research rather that subjects who can engage with researchers in a transparent and authentic manner. The reflections are based upon researching disability and engaging with disabled participants. There is a recognition that for many disabled participants, engaging in research through digital technologies provides autonomy and control about how and when they can respond. However, this chapter will carry an important message and warning for researchers to be mindful about the ways in which digital methods can be and are exclusionary. Practical examples of seeking to ensure that an authentic relationship can be built with participants through digital methods in a way that leaves them feeling engaged rather than ‘visited’ will be provided.
UK employment policy is at a critical juncture; the effects of COVID-19 and Brexit on the labour market have heightened pre-existing and created new employment and income inequalities. Such experiences (and related temporary government policy responses) play out alongside the long-term roll-out of Universal Credit, a social security policy that imposes conditionality on a range of individuals, including people who are in work. As Universal Credit has the potential to transform power dynamics between individuals, the state and employers, revisiting and questioning the direction of active labour market policies (ALMPs) should unite the interests of diverse social security and employment researchers. Policymakers should draw on an abundance of research to reform the UK’s ALMPs and avoid replicating the problems of narrowly conceived work-first programmes and practices. In this chapter, we explore the role of social policy researchers in influencing policy change, reflecting on our own experiences as early career researchers. We advocate a ‘pragmatic realist’ approach to policy engagement and reflect on different approaches to operating at the evidence–policy interface.
Housing has often been regarded as a ‘wobbly pillar’ of the welfare state due to its disjointed position between the public and private realms and the intractability of some problems to policy solutions. Indeed, we can ask whether a ‘housing sector’ exists at all, due to complex systems of governance, financialisation, policy divergence and overall fragmentation of housing-related social policy throughout the UK. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of housing policy, putting ‘the home’ and neighbourhoods into the spotlight. This chapter looks at some of the key emerging and re-emerging issues for housing policy in the UK through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic. The chapter firstly outlines why housing was considered the ‘wobbly pillar’ going into 2019, including issues surrounding the financialisation of housing. Key COVID-19 housing-related policy responses are then examined in the context of emerging evidence that the pandemic is reinforcing inequalities in housing. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated underlying housing issues faced by more vulnerable groups, yet it has also created an opportunity to showcase radical policy options and highlight the importance of future-proofing housing to be more flexible, dynamic and better quality.
Italy was ‘patient zero’ of the Western world with regard to the spread of COVID-19. However, COVID-19 had different social, economic and health implications in Italian regions depending on their existing features. These same differences emerged with renewed strength during the pandemic crisis, especially during the second wave, when Italy adopted a regionally differentiated system to react to the spread of the virus in which the regional health system’s features played a crucial role. In many cases, regions have been classified as risky because of the structure of their health system rather than high rates of positive tests or deaths, meaning that in those regions people were less likely to find a free hospital bed and receive the necessary care in case of need. COVID-19 may have highlighted what researchers have been investigating for a long time: is there still ‘one’ right to healthcare or are there instead ‘multiple’ rights with a strong regional dimension? The chapter first analyses the structure of Italian regional health systems to highlight regional differences in terms of organisation and services. Then, data on hospitalisation and health services provision during the last year will be used to show the variety of regional responses to the crisis.
UK employment policy is at a critical juncture and policies need to respond to unemployment and broader economic hardship induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, both immediate and longer-term policies need to take account of the body of research examining active labour market policies (ALMPs) to avoid replicating the problems of work-first employment support. This is increasingly important due to the growing numbers of applicants and former Tax Credit recipients to Universal Credit, a policy which extends conditional social security to those in work on a low income. Ensuring research into these developments influences policymakers should unite social security and employment researchers more broadly, as this unprecedented policy change has the potential to transform the way individuals, the state and employers interact, and the power balance between them. In this chapter, we explore the role of social policy researchers in this context and argue that policy development and research in this area to date has suffered from uneven engagement with diverse actors and research communities. We advocate a ‘pragmatic realist’ approach to policy engagement reflecting on examples of social policy engagement in the science–policy interface while also drawing on our own varied experiences of engaging with policymakers in relation to ALMPs.
Emergent and leading international experts in the field present key contributions of emerging social policy issues over the past year. The first part of the volume contains contributions from the Social Policy Association Policy Groups, while the second part focuses on wider issues in social policy.