Britain: Universities on Strike

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/03/2018 - 7:34am in

British university lecturers are in their fourth week of a militant, historic strike—taking a stand not just against austerity, but for a more humane, democratic higher education system.

Long Read Review: Minority Women and Austerity: Survival and Resistance in France and Britain by Leah Bassel and Akwugo Emejulu

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/03/2018 - 11:32pm in

In Minority Women and Austerity: Survival and Resistance in France and BritainLeah Bassel and Akwugo Emejulu contribute to analyses of the political effects of austerity by looking at how minority women in cities across the UK and France navigate their race, gender, professional lives and social groups in an increasingly harsh economic landscape. Drawing on interviews, focus groups and knowledge exchange events, this book offers searing and vital insight into the inherent intersectionality of meaningful political struggle, centralising the often marginalised voices of those committed to the painstaking work of organisation and activism, writes Rebecca Liu

This review is published as part of a March 2018 endeavour, ‘A Month of Our Own: Amplifying Women’s Voices on LSE Review of Books’. If you would like to contribute to the project in this month or beyond, please contact us at If you are interested in this review, you may also like to listen to/watch a recording of Professor Akwugo Emejulu’s LSE lecture, ‘Crisis Politics and the Challenge of Intersectional Solidarity’, recorded on 31 January 2018. 

Minority Women and Austerity: Survival and Resistance in France and Britain. Leah Bassel and Akwugo Emejulu. Policy Press. 2018.

Find this book: amazon-logo

Shakespeare’s Hamlet ends with an orgiastic spectacle of death. At the close of the play, Norwegian prince Fortinbras saunters from various military victories into a scene replete with unnecessarily created corpses, his initial self-assured bravado striking a jarring contrast to the morbid misery of the moment. Former UK Chancellor George Osborne may not be a Norwegian prince, but he demonstrated a similar gift for misreading the room earlier this month when he tweeted about the UK government finally meeting its austerity budget targets, two years later than the anticipated date. ‘We got there in the end’, he noted – who is ‘we’?, I wonder – ‘a remarkable national effort’. Not to be outmatched, former Prime Minister David Cameron added that Osborne’s policy ‘was the right thing to do’.

In this instance, the avowed ‘right thing’ has caused the doubling of Britain’s homeless community in parts of the UK; an increased 700,000 people living in poverty; and a projected 120,000 extraneous deaths due to cuts to public social spending. Reminiscent of the revolutionary dictum – often attached to France’s Reign of Terror and the Russian Bolshevik revolution – that you must break a few eggs to make an omelette, Osborne and Cameron’s tweets made one thing clear. For them, the price of their proverbial omelette – a radical fundamentalist politics that valorises the preservation of upper-class privilege over genuinely sense-making economics – was arguably the proverbial ‘eggs’ of the hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths and the widespread immiseration of our society’s most vulnerable.

Recent discussions of the political effects of economic austerity have centred around the so-termed ‘white working class’: a social group that is invariably coded as male, politically nativist and professionally attached to classic blue-collar manufacturing. Leah Bassel and Akwugo Emejulu’s Minority Women and Austerity: Survival and Resistance in France and Britain offers a welcome and refreshing addition to the debate, signalling that it is in fact possible to both fall victim to an increasingly cosmopolitan world governed by globalised market capital and also reject the tribal ethno-nationalism of the so-called populist right.

Based on sociological research conducted across the UK and France, Bassel and Emejulu’s work is the unsettling yet important result of various one-on-one interviews, focus groups and knowledge exchange events with minority and migrant activist women in cities including Manchester, Glasgow, Lyon and London. The women interviewed in the book include third sector employees who work in migrants’ rights, social care and anti-poverty mobilisation. The insights garnered from their studies speak to how minority women navigate their race and gender, professional lives and social groups in an increasingly harsh economic landscape. ‘I go to a women’s group’, narrates a Scottish Chinese interviewee in Glasgow; ‘we used to do things like yoga and Tai Chi therapy […] but the funding for them has gone, so now we teach each other’ (85). ‘I’m fed up’, says another activist of balancing the day-to-day grind of wage labour alongside necessary activism for her basic rights: ‘I’m fed up of fighting, to not have Saturdays, to not have evenings and on top of this to work on never-ending files for hour and hours’ (79).

Image Credit: Women’s March, London, 2017 (Nessie Spencer CC BY SA 2.0)

One of the major contentions in Minority Women is that the story of austerity as we know it – that the 2008 crash brought about a universal state of social and economic precarity and impoverishment, prompting nation states across the world to adopt austerity measures – is a narrative of decline that nonetheless privileges the standpoint of the previously socially mobile middle class. Bassel and Emejulu cite Dara Strolovitch’s argument that ‘the naming of the 2008 crisis is a power relation that focuses policy attention and resources on the transformed economic landscape that the economically privileged must now negotiate’ (40). A London-based Black woman activist speaks to the lived norm: ‘If you’ve got a family, you’re a single parent, you’re a Black woman who is probably working two jobs […] you’ve got a tyrant-type boss […] you’re probably too tired to get up.’ Bassel and Emejulu’s conversations with these women suggest that while 2008 indeed saw the collapse of major financial markets, the unarticulated significance of this particular crisis is located in how it drew ‘middle-class groups […] into precarious social and economic circumstances in which minority women have always had to struggle’ (40).

For many minority women in the UK and France, precarity was the modus operandi of their lives long before 2008. They were, and continue to be, statistically more likely than their counterparts to be employed in the public sector; involved in chronically underpaid service and care work; and bear the burden of both familial and domestic welfare, all of which have come under focused attack through austerity cuts. The financial crisis and the resultant embrace of austerity economics, Minority Women suggests, are a symptom of the reign of global financialised capital adopted in the UK and France since the 1980s, rather than an aberrant mistake made by some individual rogue agents. More to the point, different social groups in these nations have diametrically different experiences, and those who suffer the most from financial crises are often the ones furthest from their making, in spite of the frequent embrace of a falsely universalist ‘we’ by politicians to justify policies that will hurt the most vulnerable (consider Osborne’s use of terms like ‘national effort’). An activist with UK social group Sisters Uncut acutely observes that ‘as a woman of colour I know we have always fought against the double burden of sexist and racist oppression and have always been ignored in our fight’ (111).

The forced erasure of social difference in favour of a heavy-handed, universal ‘we’ is identified in Minority Women as a major form of social and political delegitimation, used by both the political right and left to the detriment of the minority women activists. Europe, and France in particular, is targeted for its ‘political racelessness’: a notion of ‘racial Europeanisation’ defined by critical race theorist David Theo Goldberg as a state of affairs in which ‘race is to have no social place […] it is to be excised from any characterising of human conditions, relations [or] formations.’ Unlike America’s often explicit invocation of race as both a category of oppression and/or liberation, in ‘politically raceless’ Europe minority women have to tread carefully in a world that casts them invariably as ‘an other’, yet also denies them recourse to meaningful recognition through a bad-faith regime of enforced homogeneity. On the left, Bassel and Emejulu further take aim at the proclivity of the European ‘white left’ to take a purely class-based reading of political struggle, irrespective of the differentiations of race and gender, drawing to mind Labour’s ill-fated ‘controls on immigration’ mugs in 2015. One black activist interviewed by Bassel and Emejulu notes how she frequently runs into a type of white activist who purports to understand ‘what true equality means and what oppression is’ in theory, but becomes ‘very defensive’ when confronted with difficult conversations about race ‘because they don’t want to actually admit they’ve got it wrong’ (96).

Minority Women wades into the inevitable debate about the place of identity politics in economic struggle, discussed with much fervour by academics and pundits alike with varying degrees of insight. By speaking to how minority women are disproportionately affected by austerity, how they have been failed by not only the right but also the left and how they bravely and affirmatively constitute themselves as political agents according to contours of race and gender, Bassel and Emejulu open themselves up to the familiar criticisms that they are ‘sowing division’ for the sake of it, thus preventing a genuine progression towards economic justice.

Yet, the sociologists anticipate and evolve beyond such criticisms through several important manoeuvres that should, in an ideal world, move the debate beyond the current stasis we see today. Bassel and Emejulu first point out that the foundations of the commonly-touted universal liberalism heralded by the Enlightenment – ostensibly under attack by ‘identity politicians’ today – were in fact deeply embedded in concurrent projects of racialised colonialism: here, they cite Barnor Hesse’s observation that the then-modernity of Europe was built on the notion of ‘rational masculinity’ in contradistinction to the ghastly spectres of ‘savages or women’. (Mark Lilla has argued that identity politics began at college campuses in the 1980s. Counterpoint: was the Enlightenment identity politics for white male Europeans?). But, more importantly, they argue that the recognition of how social differences are personally experienced is not in itself divisive, but rather serves as the founding premise of a world in which all iterations of personhood can be accorded the same degree of respect. In a particularly acute statement, Bassel and Emejulu note that ‘difference is not the enemy of solidarity but the foundation for building a collective identity and a politics based on dignity and respect’ (28).

In her foreword to Minority Women, seminal black feminist thinker Patricia Hill Collins praises the work for approaching its minority women subjects as self-constituting political agents: a method that ‘demonstrates a clear yet contentious break with dominant epistemological frameworks that over-emphasise minority women’s status as devalued victims’ (xii). The strength of Minority Women and Austerity is precisely its ability to integrate its ethos at every layer of its analysis, from its epistemic premise that ‘politics’ involves far more than what is done in the staid, often white and male halls of state power, to a research methodology that centres the personal parole [power of speech] of its minority women subjects. Left ambiguous, however, is a sense of the efficacy of such grassroots ‘politics of survival’ against a ubiquitous economic regime of austerity that is, as Bassel and Emejulu note, the result of a decades-long ideological assault on the limits of the collective political imagination.

Nevertheless, the valuable intervention made by their work should not be understated. Contemporary discussions on race, gender and economics today are hamstrung by false dichotomies that re-entrench the mandate of those in power: the popular assumption, for example, that any rejection of financialised global capital always comes from retrograde right-wing nativism; that the articulation of social difference is in itself a divisive act that will only lead to more division; and that struggles for cultural recognition are inevitably separate from economic ones. In this confused discursive landscape, Minority Women offers searing and important cultural insight into the inherent intersectionality of meaningful political struggle, with an added warning that history does not bend towards the arc of justice of its own accord. Rather, social change is often the result of painstaking and often tedious organisation, activism and activity among those relegated to the margins. Minority Women does this a major service by centring this story, as these subjects rightfully deserve. Or as the women of Blanc-Mesnil ­– a north-eastern Parisian commune frequently portrayed by politicians as a ‘infamous site of disorder and failure’ (96) – powerfully affirm: ‘we don’t want to wait to be given la parole. We wanted to simply take it.’

Rebecca Liu is a writer in London. She holds an MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History from the University of Cambridge, and previously studied history at the University of Chicago. She is an editor for King’s Review, a magazine of academic journalism, and tweets at @becbecliuliu. Read more by Rebecca Liu.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Austerity in the UK: Senseless and Cruel

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/03/2018 - 1:42am in

As the UK recorded its first current budget surplus in 16 years, the IMF was quick to use this development as sufficient proof to declare the austerity measures, imposed by the UK government in the aftermath of the financial crisis, a success. To the IMF, the UK case of eliminating its budget deficit, while avoiding a prolonged recession, and faring better than other European countries, supports the case for further austerity.

However, this overly simplistic interpretation disregards the long-term structural problems that the UK economy is facing, does not acknowledge the active role played by the Bank of England (BoE) in mitigating the crisis, nor does it attempt to understand what is behind the growing voter discontent that led to the Brexit vote. Furthermore, given that the austerity measures have been linked to 120,000 deaths, it seems rather odd to celebrate this approach.

While at a first glance, one might think the UK economy is in pretty good shape, with low unemployment levels and continuous growth for the last 8 and a half years, a closer look at the data reveals a less optimistic picture. As outlined in this report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) that I co-authored with Mark Weisbrot, the UK economy is facing some serious challenges.

The last decade has failed to deliver any improvement in living standards to most households, with real median incomes of working-age households barely returning to their pre-recession levels this year. Retired household have fared somewhat better, yet are under threat as a target for further spending cuts. While increased employment has meant household incomes reached their precession levels, real hourly wages have not. To make matters worse, a widely cited decline in the gender pay gap is due to a larger drop in male wages, rather than female wages increasing.  

One of the most striking and unusual aspects of the recovery is that poverty, by some measures, has actually increased for people of working age. After accounting for housing costs, the percentage of people aged 16–64 with income below the poverty threshold has risen to 21 percent in 2015/16, from 20 percent in 2006/07.

In terms of productivity growth, which is the engine of rising living standards, the past decade has been the worst for the UK since the 18th century. The slowdown in productivity growth means that GDP per person is about 20 percent lower than it would have been if the prior growth trend continued. The problem of slow productivity growth is directly linked to low investment levels in the UK, which has the lowest rate of gross capital formation amongst G7 countries.

The UK currently finds itself in an economy where demand is lagging, and the prospects of Brexit bring significant uncertainty over the future. This is an environment that is unlikely to attract major private investment, especially in the areas it is most needed. There is a clear need for public investment and spending that can grow the economy and improve living standards. More austerity might seem to reduce the government’s deficit now but its price will ultimately be paid through lost output and slower growth.

The negative feedback from the fiscal tightening was undoubtedly mitigated by the expansionary monetary policy conducted by the BoE, which also explains why the UK was able to withstand austerity without deepening its recession and fared better than countries in the eurozone. The BoE started lowering its Bank Rate in October 2008 until it reached 0.5 percent. The rate was further decreased in the aftermath of Brexit to 0.25 percent, only to be raised again to 0.5 percent at the end of 2017.

The most important step taken by the BoE was its Quantitative Easing program, launched in August 2008, to buy bonds and ensure long-term interest rates for the UK remain low. The European Central Bank (ECB) only took similar steps for euro denominated sovereign bonds in July 2012.

While the IMF portrays the UK net public debt-to-GDP ratio as unsustainable high (it was 80.5 percent in 2017), this assessment is mostly arbitrary, especially given the UK’s specific circumstances. The burden on the public debt is best measured by the interest payments on the debt, relative to the size of the economy since the principal is generally simply rolled over. At present, the net interest payments on the debt are about 1.8 percent of GDP, a number significantly lower than in the 1980s when interest payments on the debt were generally above 3 percent of GDP annually, and in the 1990s when they were between 2 and 3 percent per year.

It is essential to note that financial markets recognize there is little risk to holding UK bonds, and the UK government can currently borrow at negative real interest rates. Given that the UK issues bonds in its own currency, investors understand there is no risk of default.

There are many public investments that have a positive real rate of return by increasing the productivity of the economy. Thus, given the current circumstances, it seems rather absurd to focus on reducing the debt rather than growing the economy.  

There is no doubt that Brexit is one of the major challenges that the UK faces. However, particularly in this context of uncertainty, macroeconomic policies play an essential role. Unnecessary fiscal and monetary tightening pose an immediate threat to economic progress and the UK’s ability to improve living standards of its residents.

Imposing austerity on an economy where incomes have not recovered from the last recession, there is a large slowdown in productivity growth, an overall lack of investment, and the government can finance its spending at negative real interest rates is senseless and cruel.


For more details, graphs, and complete sources check out the full report.


The post Austerity in the UK: Senseless and Cruel appeared first on The Minskys.

Mental Health & Neoliberalism event video

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/02/2018 - 9:29pm in

Can today’s crisis in mental health be seen as the result of neoliberalism? We asked the panelists to reflect on the aftermath of the 2007/08 financial crisis and the austerity policies which followed, but then to engage with how the slashing of expenditure on public services and increase in private debt has been met with questions around whether these factors are exacerbating mental health problems.

This event titled, ‘Mental Health and Neoliberalism’, sought to situate the growing awareness of psychological distress in relation to such exogenous cultural and economic structures of oppression, but also examine how new technologies may be amplifying certain self-obsessive psychological states, such as attention and feedback addiction from social media and mobile devices.

Each speaker gave a presentation of their research on this topic, before engaging in a Q&A with the audience.

Event chair: Lucy Crimmens

Panel: Dr William Davies Co-director of Political Economy Research Centre, Goldsmiths University, Author of The Happiness Industry: How the Government sold us well-being

Dr Ruth Cain Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Kent Medical Ethics and Law, Mental Health Law

Dr Jay Watts Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Writer and Activist

Video director & editor: Conor Hinds Flyer & graphic design: Tyler Parry

The post Mental Health & Neoliberalism event video appeared first on Political Economy Research Centre.

Lobster 75 Is Up With My Book Review on British Pro-Nazis and Nazis during World War II

I put up a post this morning about a book I’ve reviewed for Lobster, the conspiracy/parapolitics magazine, of Richard Griffiths ‘What Did You Do in the War?’ on the activities of the British Fascist and pro-Nazi right from 1940 to 1945. This has been rather late being posted, as the webmaster is very busy with work. I am very pleased to say that it has now gone up, along with the first parts of Lobster 75, the new issue of the magazine for summer 2018. The magazine comes out twice yearly.

Apart from my article, there is editor Robin Ramsay’s own column and roundup of news of interest to parapolitics watchers, ‘The View from the Bridge’, Garrick Alder on how Richard Nixon also tried to steal documents covering his lies and crimes in Vietnam, and his sabotage of the 1968 peace talks years before the Watergate scandal. Part II of Nick Must’s article on using the UK Foia. There is also a review of Jeffrey M. Bale’s book The Darkest Parts of Politics, which is an extensive examination of corruption, violence, terror committed by governments and political organisations around the world; And John Newsinger’s devastating review of Gordon Brown’s My Life, Our Times. Brown’s book is intended to present him as some kind of lefty, but Newsinger shows that instead Brown was a consistent supporter of Blair’s neoliberalism, who had no qualms about sucking up to Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre, with whom he is still friends. He also wanted to impose a graduate tax following Blair’s imposition of student fees. He also argues that Brown’s protestations of innocence about the claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction is similarly unconvincing. Brown claimed that MI6 lied to them. Newsinger argues instead that either Brown’s very naïve, or he’s also lying. And he shows how the humiliation the British army has suffered in Basra in Iraq and Afghanistan was due to cuts imposed by New Labour. Oh yes, and Brown’s also a close friend of Benjamin Netanyahu, the right-wing maniac now running the Israeli government and ethnically cleansing the Palestinians.

He also argues that if Brown had won the 2010 election, austerity would now be imposed by a New Labour government, there would be a state visit arranged for Donald Trump – Brown recently went over there to give a very sycophantic speech to Congress, as well as more privatisation, more cuts to welfare services, and the graduate tax.

Lobster 75 is at

Please read, if you’re interested in knowing what’s really going on behind the lies of the lamestream press.

Alan Blinder on Fiscal Adjustment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/02/2018 - 5:29am in

Alan Blinder published recently two columns on the WSJ (here and here) on the need to exercise fiscal restraint. In both cases he complains that the fiscal deficit is too large. Note that he is not saying that this is always the case, he emphasizes that in the second and most recent piece. The reason, as always, is that we are close to full employment. In his words:

"... today we are back at full employment, or perhaps beyond it, ad economic growth kooks solid. The economy doesn't need fiscal stimulus."

Blinder one must note was strongly for hiking rates in the mid to late 1990s, when he was the vice chairperson at the Fed, exactly for the same reasons (see this old piece in The American Prospect).  So at least he is coherent. We cannot grow too fast, since that would cause inflation. And we have a tendency to be at full employment (note that a few years back almost everybody said full employment, the natural rate, was about 6%, not the 4% or so we have). But if he is coherent, he has also been almost always wrong.

And we are not at full employment. The employment-population ratio (seen below) has finally started to recover in the last three years, but it is still well below the peak before the recession, and the participation rate (not shown but available here) has been stagnant.
That means that too many people remain discouraged about the situation in the labor market, and that when we look at broader measures of unemployment that look at those marginally attached to the labor market the level of unemployment is closer to 8% (see here). And let's not forget that the last two decades saw an impressive decline in manufacturing jobs that reduced the availability of good jobs. So the issue is not just the number of jobs, but the quality of those. It should NOT be a surprise that Trump won in some Rust Belt states.

Dems, and their economists (like Blinder), should be more sensible about the need to create more jobs, and particularly good jobs if they want to regain the White House and Congress. I would suggest that austerity is a terrible strategy. This is what you should expect from the Progressive-Neoliberal branch of the party, as it was aptly called by Nancy Fraser.

Capitalism’s Crisis of Stagnation and Austerity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 31/01/2018 - 3:11am in


austerity, Debt

image/png iconsecular stagnation.png

As 2018 opens economic optimism is breaking out amongst the capitalist class. Leaving aside the vainglorious boasts of the current President of the United States that unemployment in the US has reached lows only last seen in the post-war boom, or that the New York stock market is now at all time record highs, more serious economic commentators are arguing that after a decade of misery (at least for 99% of the planet) the signs of recovery from the 2007-8 banking collapse are now behind us. If this sounds familiar it is because we have heard the same tale so many times.

read more

What Are We Waiting For?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/01/2018 - 9:32am in

Seven years after toppling a dictator, thousands of Tunisians are back in the streets—this time over IMF-backed austerity, and a sense that not enough has changed since 2011.

Public Debt. I can’t Believe we are Still There

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/01/2018 - 5:19am in

The crisis is supposedly over, as the European economy started growing again. There will be time to assess whether we are really out of the wood, or whether there is still some slack. But this matters little to those who, as soon as things got slightly better, turned to their old obsession: DEBT! Bear in mind, not private debt, that seems to have disappeared from the radars. No, what seems to keep policy makers and pundits awake at night is ugly public debt, the source of all troubles (past, present and future).

Take my country, Italy. A few days ago this tweet showing the difference between the Italian and the German debt made a few headlines:


The ratio increased, so DEBT is the Italian most pressing problem. Not the slack in the labour market. Not the differentials in productivity. I can’t stop asking: why aren’t Italians desperately tweeting this figure?


This shows the relative performance of Italy and Germany along two very common measures of productivity, Multifactor productivity and GDP per capita. I took these variables (quick and dirt from the OECD site), but any other measure of real performance would have depicted a similar picture.

So what? The public debt crusaders will argue that precisely because of debt, Italy has poor real performance. The profligate public sector prevented virtuous market adjustments, and hampered real convergence.  The causality goes from high debt to poor real performance, they will argue. Reduce debt!

Well, think again. Research is much more nuanced on this. A paper by Pescatori and coauthors shows for example that countries with high public debt exhibit high GDP volatility, but not necessarily lower growth rates. High but stable levels of debt are less harmful than low but increasing ones. In a recent Fiscal Monitor the IMF has shifted the focus back to private debt (which, it is worth remembering is the root cause of the crisis), arguing that the deleveraging that will necessarily continue in the next few years will require accompanying measures from the public sector: on one side, renewed attention to the financial sector, to make sure that liquidity problems of firms, but also of financial institutions) do not degenerate into solvency problems. On the other side, the macroeconomic consequences of deleveraging, most notably the increase of savings and the reduction of private expenditure, may need to be compensated by Keynesian support to aggregate demand, thus implying that public debt may temporarily increase in order to sustain growth (self promotion: the preceding paragraph is taken from my book on the relevance of the history of thought to understand current controversies. French version available, Italian version coming out in March, English version coming out eventually).

In just a sentence, the causal link between high debt and low growth is far from being uncontroversial.

Last, but not least, it is worth remembering that Italy was not profligate during the crisis; unfortunately, I would add.  Let’s look at structural deficit (since 2010; ask the Commission why we don’t have the data for earlier years), which as we know washes away the impact of cyclical factors on public finances.


The Italian figures were slightly worse than the German ones, but not dramatically so. And if we take interest expenditure away, so that we have a measure of what the Italian government could actually control, then Italy was more rigorous (Debt obsessive pundits would use the term “virtuous”) than Germany.

The thing is that the Italian debt ratio is more or less stable, in spite of sluggish growth (current and potential) and low inflation. It is not an issue that should worry our policy makers, who should instead really try to boost productivity and growth. Said it differently, it is more urgent for Italy to work on increasing the denominator of the ratio between debt and GDP than to focus on the numerator. And I think this may actually require more public expenditure and a temporary increase in debt (some help from the rest of the EMU, starting from Germany, would not hurt). It is a pity that the “Italian debt problem” is all over the place.

Book Review: Kids – Child Protection in Britain: The Truth by Camila Batmanghelidjh with Tim Rayment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/01/2018 - 10:37pm in

In Kids – Child Protection in Britain: The Truth, Camila Batmanghelidjh with Tim Rayment sets out a defence of Kids Company, the charity that she ran from 1996 until its dramatic and controversial closure in 2015. While the book underscores the organisation’s genuine impact upon the most vulnerable, due to both Batmanghelidjh’s passionate commitment as well as considerable governmental support, and offers valuable insight into the inner workings of a non-profit, John Picton is left dissatisfied by the simplistic engagement with the wider social and political context in which Kids Company operated. 

Kids – Child Protection in Britain: The Truth. Camila Batmanghelidjh with Tim Rayment. Biteback Publishing. 2017.

Find this book: amazon-logo

The fallout from Kids Company’s dramatic insolvency has been a feature of press headlines since 2015. Following the emergence of – eventually unproven – sexual abuse allegations, the London-based charity was unable to attract donations, causing it to permanently shut its doors. The case rumbles on: The Insolvency Service is currently seeking to disqualify the charity’s founder and author of this book, Camila Batmanghelidjh, alongside its other trustees, from holding future boardroom positions.

In Kids – Child Protection in Britain: The Truth, Batmanghelidjh defends the organisation she ran from 1996 until its closure. She emphasises the human significance of its work, leaving us with no doubt of her life-long – even life-consuming – passion for the charity. But, ultimately, the book contains only a naïve account of the social and economic context in which the organisation operated.

First established in Camberwell, South London, Kids Company provided intensive psychological therapy – including art therapy – alongside free meals, financial help and educational support for extremely deprived young people. Many of the children using the service had been victims of neglect. The book contains real-life accounts of the most harrowing types of abuse, including rape and sustained childhood violence. It reminds us of the value of case-work: that in many instances, it is possible to change lives through sustained care and attention. The charity also operated in an open and generous spirit, never turning anyone away.

The author presents a stark picture of state services stretched to breaking point. It is clear that her organisation provided essential care, replacing – rather than supplementing – the work of local councils. Batmanghelidjh writes that the ‘overstretched local authority on the receiving end of a referral will do everything they can not to take the case’ (133), and that ‘at times, overworked social workers would ask us to do their jobs (134)’. In such bleak circumstances of state retrenchment, there is no doubt that the charity had plenty of work on its hands.

Image Credit: Year of the Bus London 2014 – 09. Kids Company (Karen Roe CC BY 2.0)

As a consequence of her high profile work, Batmanghelidjh had access to two Prime Ministers: Tony Blair and David Cameron. Little attention is given to Blair in the book, although relations between the two appear to have been reasonably good: he wrote her a direct letter of support in 2006 (147). Her relationship with Cameron was apparently much more involved, being the focus of press speculation that she had ‘mesmerised’ him in return for state funding – an allegation that the author finds to be a mischaracterisation (147).

It is the link between Batmanghelidjh and the Cameron government that is the most interesting in social policy terms. Yet here the author lacks a nuanced understanding of the social and economic context in which her organisation operated. It is true that she says that she ‘never believed that complex social and therapeutic work should be done by charities’ (340), and that she is aware that she was a ‘politically desirable product of the Big Society Agenda’ (346). However, she does not directly address the likely political motivation behind the Cameron government’s endorsement. Alongside the large sums Batmanghelidjh raised privately, the charity also received considerable financial support from central government – 41.8 million pounds in total (1). This funding links in with the development of austerity as a social policy, but the word is not mentioned once in the book.

The ‘Big Society’ was intended as the silver lining to the dark cloud of state service cuts, a process creating precisely the gap in which a welfare-providing charity like Kids Company is required. There is nothing in the book to suggest that the author supported Cameron’s austerity policy. It is also true that the charity was involved in advocacy work, seeking to reform state-led child social care across the country (16). But neither is there anything to show that Batmanghelidjh understood her charity as a supporting element of austerity. She did not understand it as part of the scaffolding for the shrinking state.  The success of her non-profit, partly rooted in it being favoured by government and her spectacular ability to raise private funds, combined to make local authority retrenchment seem politically feasible. That is why she was ‘politically desirable’.

The author takes a dim view of Cameron. In a remarkable passage, Batmanghelidjh describes how she was invited to a seemingly private meeting, only to find television cameras present (166). She describes the former Prime Minister as overly concerned with his brand image and so unable to do the ‘gritty work that child protection required’ (164). But she never links Cameron’s interest in her charity with his wider political economy. That would mean seeing the political effects of the charity – an organisation which replaced state services – as ambiguous.

As executive of the charity, Batmanghelidjh networked not only with government, but also with elite donors. Her glimpse into their world is striking. Few are able to observe the complex psychological processes which cause the wealthy to part with money. She describes some benefactors as narcissistic, so they might require her to grovel before donating funds, with others overly focused upon measurable outcomes (88). But some she finds genuine, writing that ‘supposedly callous financiers were awed by the courage of the kids’ (86). She looks favourably upon such elite figures as Queen Rania of Jordan and Samantha Cameron. She says, ‘for our kids, the kindness of strangers was the first step to being embraced by a society they felt had banished them’ (95).

This is also socially limited. Many – although not all – of the benefactors were extremely rich. To perceive any elite donation as simple kindness or an accepting ‘embrace’ is to misunderstand the nature of inequality. It is not coincidental that the very poor live alongside the very rich in London. It is an interlinked city in which classes of people interact as employers and workers, service-providers and service-purchasers, tax payers and welfare recipients. The cause of Kids Company’s service-users’ poverty cannot be understood as distinct from the wealth of its donors. They are rich because others are poor.

In Kids, Camila Batmanghelidjh sets out a passionate defence of Kids Company. The book is of social policy interest, providing a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a large non-profit. It reminds us that the charity genuinely impacted upon the lives of the most vulnerable. However, its understanding of the social and economic context in which Kids Company operated is simplistic.

Dr John Picton is Lecturer in Law at the University of Liverpool, where he is a member of the Charity Law and Policy Unit. He tweets @JohnPicton5Read more by John Picton.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.