Poverty, Inequality and Social Justice

The issues involved in poverty, inequality and social justice are many and varied, from basic access to education and healthcare, to the financial crisis and resulting austerity, and now COVID-19. Addressing Goal 1: No Poverty, Goal 5: Gender Equality, Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities and Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, our list both presents research on these topics and tackles emerging problems. A key series in the area is the SSSP Agendas for Social Justice.

This focus has always been at the heart of our publishing with the view to making the research in this area as visible and accessible as possible in order to maximise its potential impact.

Bristol University Press and Policy Press are signed up to the UN SDG Publishers Compact. In Poverty, inequality and social justice, we aim to address the following goals: 

Poverty, Inequality and Social Justice

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Basic income has garnered a great deal of attention in recent years. This surge in interest stems from growing income disparities, the failures of existing minimum income programmes, shifts in labour market dynamics and numerous global basic income pilot initiatives. Yet realising the successful implementation of a basic income requires a sustained and comprehensive effort. This research contributes to this imperative by presenting an unprecedented microsimulation analysis of the economic viability of introducing a basic income in the Basque Country. The study introduces two economically sustainable and coherent basic income models that not only effectively eliminate poverty but also generate redistributive effects. These outcomes would position the Basque Country as a region with lower income inequality than any European Union (EU) member state. This article underscores the transformative potential of basic income in the Basque Country and offers valuable insights for policy makers contemplating similar initiatives in other regions or nations.

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This article explores one primary school’s response to addressing poverty experienced by children and families, within a post-Covid context. It draws on a small-scale qualitative case study exploring the role of the Health and Well-being Lead (HWBL) in a primary school in a relatively affluent market town in the south-east of England. A psychoanalytical approach was taken to understand the data drawing on the researchers different situated experiences and knowledges. Participants included children, parents and staff at the school. All parent participants shared their financial challenges, which they referred to as ‘struggles’, with many relating to the impact of the cost of living and adverse unexpected events. Staff raised concerns about how cuts to support services and funding for schools had contributed to and exacerbated challenges due to long waiting lists and a lack of early intervention. The role of the HWBL was recognised by both parents and staff as an important resource within the school. Integral to this role was a non-judgemental and empathic approach, which created an open and trusting relationship with parents. Despite the apparent success of the role, it was evident that the workload and the increase in ‘struggles’ experienced by families was having an impact on both the HWBL and other staff. While we acknowledge that such a role could benefit other schools, we argue that this will only be successful and sustainable if the government also addresses the need for early intervention, funding and the workload crisis in children’s services and schools.

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Before the introduction of the household benefit cap in the UK in 2013 the previous mechanism there limited the income of social assistance recipients was the wage stop, operating for four decades between 1935 and 1975. Similar to the benefit cap, the wage stop reflected and reproduced concerns with incentivising unemployed people to labour. This raises questions about why the wage stop was abolished in the mid-1970s when worries about unemployment continued, particularly its intersections with out-of-work benefits. It is widely argued that the abolition of the wage stop was a consequence of lobbying by the Child Poverty Action Group. Drawing upon records held at the UK’s National Archives, this article argues that this is an over-simplified explanation that, first, ignores concerns with the wage stop that pre-dated the Child Poverty Action Group’s criticism of it, including concerns within the assistance boards with its administration. And, second, while by the mid-1970s there was (albeit ambiguous) concern with the impacts of the wage stop, there was a shift in approach that emphasised the supplementation of low wages with social security benefits, rather than forcing social assistance below the assessed needs of households, as being a preferable means of ensuring the incentive to take wage-labour.

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By ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, states committed themselves to ensure an adequate standard of living and social protection to all persons with disabilities, including children. Yet, prior studies showed that children with disabilities are more likely to grow up poor. Existing research has mainly focused on single-country case studies or comparative analyses for low- and middle-income countries. Due to the lack of good quality data, comparative studies on poverty outcomes, its determinants and the poverty-reducing role of social transfers among children with disabilities in high-income countries are largely missing. This article addresses these gaps using the 2017 EU-SILC cross-sectional survey. The results show great differences across Europe in the prevalence of childhood disability, the poverty outcomes of children with disabilities and the poverty-reducing effectiveness of social transfers for them. In only a third of European countries are children with disabilities more likely to live in poor households than children without disabilities. Countries that perform weakly for children without disabilities also perform weakly for children with disabilities. Moreover, social transfers achieve more for children with disabilities in more than half of European countries. The family’s employment participation and social background have the expected poverty-reducing effects for children with disabilities and children without disabilities, though the strength of some effects differs between the two groups within certain geographical regions. However, the income-based poverty indicator disregards the higher costs families with children with disabilities face which underestimates their poverty risk. More research is needed on which poverty indicator accurately reflects the real living standards of children with disabilities.

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The Scottish Government has ambitions to build a new social security system in Scotland with new powers over social security. With the ability to now entirely replace the UK’s Personal Independence Payment, highly controversial for the way it has narrowed entitlement and made the process of applying stressful, the Scottish Government has the opportunity to transform both the experience of disabled people in applying for social security and ensure that what is paid more accurately reflects the costs of disability. However, while significant improvements to the process of applying appear to have been made and these are having a positive impact on access to payment, the Scottish Government’s gradualist approach has also put off by some years more fundamental improvements.

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Research on quality of life (QoL) is important for public policies and human development programmes. Given the high proportion of youth within the South African population, and the rapid expansion of informal settlements, the aim of the study was to investigate the socio-economic living conditions of youth in Zandspruit informal settlement and their perceived impact on their QoL. Guided by the Integrated Theory of Quality of Life and a blend of Honwana’s ‘waithood’ and Thieme’s ‘hustle’ theory, the research employed a qualitative, case study approach involving interviews with 20 youth between 18 and 35 years. Caught in prolonged ‘waithood’ between adolescence and adulthood, most participants were unemployed and relied on government grants or piece jobs. They acknowledged challenges that negatively affected their QoL such as lack of basic services which impacted their physical and mental health and feelings of safety. At the same time, they were able to see the benefits of living in Zandspruit such as having sporting programmes, business and job opportunities, availability of goods, and meeting people from different backgrounds. They were able to assert their agency to counter the negative environment and impact of waithood by socialising with family and friends, joining church choirs, engaging in sporting activities, helping children with homework, and persisting with job hunting. These activities represent ways of what refers to as ‘getting by’ while living in ‘waithood’. The study highlights the need to fast-track the implementation of the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme by providing essential services.

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Conventional (income-based) poverty measures have been criticised for being narrowly focused and failing to provide evidence that those identified as poor have an unacceptable standard of living. The consensual approach to deprivation addresses both weaknesses by drawing on community perceptions of what items are essential for all and establishing that those who do not have them cannot afford them. In contrast, the consensual income approach maintains the role of income as a key determinant of poverty but uses community perceptions of how much is needed to make ends meet to set a poverty line. Although perceptions vary widely, it is possible to estimate the income level at which people with that income would say that their current income is just enough to make ends meet. This article re-examines this approach drawing on recent developments in poverty research and using new data for Australia. The consensual poverty lines produced are shown to have similarities with those used in existing poverty studies, but also to exhibit important differences. An overlap measure is developed that includes those in consensual poverty who also indicate that their current income is not enough for them to make ends meet. The poverty rates produced by this overlap measure is shown to align with those based on the 50 per cent of median-income OECD equivalised poverty line used in most Australian studies. It is argued that the consensual income approach has the potential to advance our understanding of poverty beyond that provided by conventional income-based measures.

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This article seeks to contribute to the generation of more accurate poverty indicators in the EU, by providing some further evidence of potential bias when joint income-wealth perspective on poverty measurement is not considered. Using the 2018 EU-SILC, we compare the individuals’ financial satisfaction and his/her household classification as at risk of poverty (AROP). We detect a significant group of people whose households are classified as poor but who are satisfied with their economic situation. The explanations for this mismatch lie both in errors in the income estimation and in the presence of household wealth. Through an exploratory analysis with certain limitations, we find that those in this group have different characteristics from the rest of the poor and are more similar to those who are neither poor nor dissatisfied when we analyse economic stress and proxy wealth variables. The article supports the recommendation to revise the AROP indicator based on the joint income-wealth distribution.

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The Household Support Fund is a creature of crises. Initially conceived as a temporary palliative for struggling UK households in 2021 amid the devastating COVID-19 crisis, the local authority administered support is now in its fourth wave. Accounting for over £2.5 billion of funding since its introduction, it is a flagship component of the UK government’s response to the cost-of-living crisis. Drawing on interviews with 12 local authorities, we argue this scheme is part of an ongoing shift towards dependence on localised discretionary funds to mitigate increasingly insufficient central social security support – although the fund provides essential support for struggling households, this is not a role it can fulfil in its current form. The article falls into three parts. The first provides an overview of the origins of this cash-limited HSF scheme and situates it in the shifting role of localised support in the UK social security system. The second provides an overview of the method. The third draws four key themes from the interview data: a lack of funding leading to sticking plaster provision, problematic tensions between supporting those most at need and concerns about dependency on crisis funds, administrative capacity shaping scheme design, and third sector organisations’ increasing role in both mediating and providing support. We conclude that the HSF signifies a significant ongoing shift towards patchwork, localised support in the UK welfare state, subject to unpredictable renewal. Rather than comprehensive centralised provision, funds like the HSF are increasingly being tasked with mitigating insufficient working-age social security.

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This article reviews evidence on and possible causes of non-take-up of social security benefits, focusing on the UK, and analyses the implications of the introduction of Universal Credit for take-up. It discusses why (non-)take-up is an important issue, in relation to those affected, the performance of social policies in relation to their goals and the nature of social citizenship. It explains how take-up is usually measured (or estimated) in the UK, giving some recent results, and describing recent policy decisions to halt the publication of figures on take-up of working-age benefits. It investigates explanations put forward about why entitlements are not claimed, highlighting analysis of obstacles at the individual claimant level; barriers within benefits administration; problems with system design; and wider structural issues in society. It examines the implications of the introduction of Universal Credit both for take-up and for the evidence base about it. The integrated nature of Universal Credit was argued to favour higher take-up; but features of its design and administration may have the opposite effect. Evidence is, however, lacking on the outcome of this combination. The conclusion reflects on the future of initiatives to boost benefit take-up, especially those relying on automation – often interpreted in different ways. It argues in favour of taking more account of the reasons for non-take-up relating to the nature of potential claimants’ relationship with the state, and the characteristics of benefits left unclaimed, rather than assuming that administrative information and automation will overcome all the obstacles currently resulting in non-take-up.

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