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  • Author or Editor: Mark Shucksmith x
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This chapter examines the developments of rural policy in Great Britain in the context of international economic, social, and political trends. It evaluates the achievements of New Labour’s rural policy against the internationalist aspirations of the party’s Commission on Social Justice in 1994. The findings indicate that while its macroeconomic policies have fostered continuous growth, New Labour’s economic policies for rural areas remain stubbornly agricultural and outdated.

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Responses from Civil Society and Civic Universities

Neoliberal-driven austerity has changed the role of the state, public service provision and citizenship. Thriving in today’s society is a challenge for communities around the world as governments increasingly promote privatisation, centralised control, individual responsibility and battle with the impacts of Covid19.

Co-authored by practitioners and academics and based on case studies of collaborations between civil society and the civic university, this book uses the North East of England as a lens to explore how different communities have responded to changing circumstances. The case studies present examples of actions aiming to create hope and inspiration for communities in challenging times.

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Experiences of Social Exclusion in Rural Britain

Poverty is perceived as an urban problem, yet many in rural Britain also experience hardship. This book explores how and why people in rural areas experience and negotiate poverty and social exclusion. It examines the role of societal processes, individual circumstances, sources of support (markets; state; voluntary organisations; family and friends) and the role of place.

It concludes that the UK’s welfare system is poorly adapted to rural areas, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and cutbacks exacerbating pressures. Voluntary organisations increasingly fill gaps in support left by the state. Invaluable to those in policy and practice, the book recommends a combination of person-based and place-based approaches to tackle rural poverty.

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How to thrive in today’s turbulent times is a challenge for communities around the world in an age buffeted by ‘rollback’ and ‘roll-out’ neoliberalism, with governments cutting public expenditure, promoting privatisation and deregulation, and individualising social risks and responsibilities. This age of austerity has now been compounded by the anxieties of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its heavy toll of lives and livelihoods. Drawing on innovative cases and strategic initiatives from the North East of England, this book has explored multiple ways in which communities responded to neoliberalism and austerity. The aim has been to provide deeper insights into the efficacy of these approaches and their relevance and interest nationally and internationally, and to offer insights for addressing the post-pandemic challenges ahead.

This volume began by posing some difficult questions about the role of civil society in an age of austerity (see the chapter ‘Islands of hope in a sea of despair’). Should we celebrate the contributions of civil society in mitigating the impacts of rolling back the state, or lament civil society’s role in masking the state’s abdication of its role in serving its citizens? Should we embrace the activities of civil society as resistance to austerity and neoliberalism, or criticise civil society for enabling and facilitating these? Have civil society’s responses to austerity constituted real alternatives to neoliberalism (sparks of renewal), or only isolated, temporary respite (flickering candles in the wind)? Has civil society perforce become subject to, and a servant of, neoliberalising hegemony through its need for funding and for credibility? In sum, what should be our balance between hope and despair?

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Charles Dickens opens his most political novel, A Tale of Two Cities, with these words. Nearly two centuries later, we cannot but agree with his suggestion that, ‘In short, the period was … like the present period’ (Dickens, 1859: 1). Such entangling of hope and despair not only defines our everyday life experiences; it is also echoed in the intellectual dilemma that is at the heart of this book. From the outset, we were searching for ‘hope in the dark’ (Solnit, 2004), with the ‘dark’ being austerity policies and their implications for people and places, and ‘hope’ being civil society’s responses to them. By the time the manuscript was ready for submission (in spring 2020), the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was in full swing. While a full analysis of its effects is premature and beyond the scope of this chapter, we cannot but reflect on it where appropriate, especially in the conclusion. The juxtaposing of hope and despair does not suggest that hope is an unqualified positive attribute. On the contrary, as Ernst Block (1986 [1954–59]: 56) suggests, ‘fraudulent hope is one of the malefactors, even enervators, of the human race, concretely genuine hope is its most dedicated benefactor’, defining the latter as ‘informed discontent’ with the status quo and a call for action. So, for us, hope is that which allows us to imagine an alternative future and strive to achieve it. This is particularly apt in relation to the COVID-19 crisis and the limited preparedness for tackling it.

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There is no definitive, universally agreed definition of what social welfare is (Lowe, 1993), and in the UK, ‘social welfare’, ‘social security’ and the ‘welfare state’ are terms that are often used interchangeably to refer to the provision of a lifeline, a safety net, to help people cope during periods of disruption or crisis. While welfare provision is often associated with the post-war social-democratic states and, in Britain, the introduction of the NHS in 1945, Alcock’s (2016) historical account demonstrates that charitable forms of welfare provision existed before, for example, the Poor Law of 1601 in England, where parishes administered relief to the destitute, and measures introduced in the 19th century that applied to large sections of the population regarding access to education, hospitals and sanitation. However, social infrastructures such as schools and hospitals were typically owned by churches and voluntary organisations, or funded by private individuals, rather than the state (Alcock, 2016). This tradition of charitable and voluntary welfare provision has continued to date, leading to the involvement of multiple actors and creating diversity in terms of the manner of service delivery, staff ethos and the purpose and accountability of the organisations.

Across the public, voluntary, community and private sectors, increased prominence is given to collectively produced welfare services through co-production and collaboration. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2011) simply defines co-production in terms of a model incorporating diverse organisations operating in distinct ways and with differing levels of engagement from and involvement of civil society organisations, service users and citizens.

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The relationship between the city and the university has ebbed and flowed since the early medieval universities became integrated into the cities. In the UK, the 13th-century ‘town and gown’ adversarial relationships, exemplified in the establishment of the University of Cambridge, are now often replaced by attempts on both sides to create fruitful collaborations (Madanipour and Davoudi, 2017). It has become clear that their fortunes are often tightly entwined, especially in smaller cities with large universities (Benneworth et al, 2010) such as Newcastle. Here, the city’s 19th-century industrial origin of shipbuilding, mining, heavy engineering and agriculture provided the foundation for the disciplinary strengths of Newcastle University and its advances in the development of professional training in these fields, as well as newly emerging professional fields such as architecture, planning, teaching and arts. These earlier connections became less tangible and direct from the mid 20th-century for a number of reasons, notably, the globalisation of the higher education sector, the growing neoliberal emphasis on competitiveness in both student recruitment and research funding, and the encroachment of ‘new public management’ approaches to academic performance and university rankings. International academic publications trumped local civic engagement in the universities’ order of priorities. It was not until the last decade or so that the latter began to be foregrounded, partly due to a change in the way universities’ research excellence was nationally assessed, giving weight to its non-academic impacts as well as its academic excellence (Davoudi, 2015; Laing et al, 2017).

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This chapter reviews previous studies of rural poverty and social exclusion in Britain, Europe and North America as an essential underpinning for this research. The review starts by defining some of the key terms from this literature and then it moves on to review existing evidence on the extent of poverty and financial hardship in rural Britain and how these challenges have affected different demographic groups. It then reviews some of the specific factors contributing to rural poverty and discusses the reasons why poverty and hardship often remain ‘under the radar’ in rural areas. The review concludes by setting out the analytical framework for the approach taken in the research, which focuses on the interconnections between individuals’ experiences of hardship/wellbeing and the structural and external processes bringing changes.

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