inequality

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Homelessness 101

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I recently taught an eight-module Homelessness 101 workshop, and have since made all material available free of charge here: https://nickfalvo.ca/courses/

Cartoon: What does the billionaire think?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/05/2022 - 9:50pm in

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Credit, crises and inequality

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

Jonathan Bridges, Georgina Green and Mark Joy

Any distributional effects on credit of macroprudential policies are only one part of the distributional story. Relatively little is known about how such policies affect the income distribution in the longer term via their role in preventing crises or mitigating their severity. Our paper helps to fill that gap in the literature by looking at the impact of past recessions and crises on inequality, and the amplifying roles of credit and capital within that. This helps to shed light on the distributional implications of not intervening – in the form of an amplified recession. We find that inequality rises following recessions and that rapid credit growth prior to recessions exacerbates that effect by around 40%.

To shed light on this issue we extend findings that link measures of the financial cycle – such as credit growth – with the probability and severity of macroeconomic tail events. We use a cross-country data set spanning the five decades prior to the Covid-19 pandemic to investigate whether rapid credit growth in the lead-up to a downturn is associated with an amplification of any subsequent impact on inequality. To our knowledge, we are the first to extend those findings into distributional space.

Recessions and financial crises in our sample

Our data are annual in frequency and cover 26 advanced economies since the 1970s. Our final sample covers around 100 recessions, of which just over 20% are financial crises. We identify a recession as two consecutive quarters of negative real GDP growth (based on OECD and national statistics websites). When a recession is accompanied by a banking crisis – defined by Laeven and Valencia as the recession being within one year of a systemic banking crisis – we call it a ‘financial’ recession. When there is no banking crisis, we call these ‘normal’ recessions. Recessions are well represented across the five decades but financial recessions are mainly concentrated around the global financial crisis (GFC).

Measuring inequality

Our data source is the Standardised World Income Inequality Database. We focus on market income inequality and use the Gini coefficient as our headline measure. This captures the extent to which the Lorenz curve – which reflects the proportion of overall income assumed by different income shares ordered from lowest to highest – sags below the 45-degree line of ‘perfect equality’. If during recessions those at the bottom of the distribution bear the brunt of the shock we might expect the Lorenz curve to shift down and the gini coefficient to increase.

So what does the Gini coefficient look like in our sample? Income inequality has trended upwards over the past 50 years growing by around 20% since the 1970s (Chart 1). This trend has been the focus of a growing body of work looking at how rising inequality may have set the conditions for the GFC. But our interest is actually in the reverse of this – the effect of recessions on inequality, and not in the trend but in variation around that trend (also called cyclical variation).

Chart 1: The path of market income inequality in our sample

Source: Authors’ calculations, based on SWIID data. The red line represents the median. The blue shaded area represents the interquartile range.

Empirical approach

To explore the relationship between recessions and inequality we use a local projections approach, where we regress lead observations (up to five years ahead) for income inequality on recession dummies. Because the dependent variable leads our explanatory variables, this helps to address endogeneity concerns ie the worry that inequality might impact the likelihood of a recession taking place.

To focus on cyclical dynamics we de-trend our dependent variable directly, subtracting the full panel average trend. Alongside that, we also control for any country and time-specific trends. This allows us to abstract from any slow-moving effects driven, for example, by different structural changes in a given country in a given decade.

We include country fixed effects to control for any bias in our estimates caused by unobserved, time-invariant variables across countries. And we also control for the domestic macroenvironment in the period before each recession, by including inflation, the size of the current account, the central bank policy rate and the output gap.

The effect of recessions on inequality

Our baseline regression reveals that income inequality rises following recessions. Recessions are associated with a significant increase in the cyclical component of income inequality three to five years out, rising to 2.7% after five years (Chart 2). When we split our sample into normal and financial recessions we find the response of the Gini to financial recessions builds to nearly 4% by year 5 and is more than 50% larger than for normal recessions (Chart 3).

Our findings are robust to a variety of alternative specifications: alternative approaches to de-trending; dropping overlapping recession episodes; dropping our macro controls; and the country-specific trend.

Chart 2: Cumulative change in de-trended Gini index (%) following recessions

Chart 3: Cumulative change in de-trended Gini index (%) following ‘financial’ and ‘normal’ recessions

Notes to Charts 3 and 4: Solid line gives the mean response of the Gini coefficient to a recession. Shaded areas represent 95% confidence intervals around the mean.

We might expect that a large amount of this rise in inequality is accounted for by a rise in unemployment. Low-income earners are most likely to lose their jobs in a recession as they’re often less skilled and more likely to be employed in cyclical industries. They are also more likely to be young with less secured job contracts. There is also an indirect link via wages, as high unemployment also weakens the bargaining power of workers, resulting in weaker wage growth which may particularly impact wages of the lowest paid.

To gauge the relative importance of the unemployment channel in driving the overall link between recessions and inequality, we control for the contemporaneous move in unemployment. This specification moves away from our baseline local projection approach, which is careful to only include explanatory variables observable in the year preceding the onset of each recession. Here we rely on reduced-form accounting rather than claiming causality.

We find that the increase in income inequality is partially accounted for by the increase in unemployment that accompanies recessions. This suggests there is a skewed impact on the income of those remaining in work, consistent with shocks loading most heavily on lower-paid workers.

The amplifying role of credit

To look at the role of credit growth as an amplifier we interact our recession dummies with credit growth. We find that a one standard deviation increase in credit growth (a 15 percentage point increase in the credit to GDP ratio in the three years prior to the crisis) is associated with around a 1 percentage point additional rise in the Gini, which is a 40% amplification by year 5. When we split our sample we find that the amplifying role of credit growth is strongest (and most statistically significant) for financial recessions (Chart 4). We find that the primary mechanism through which the rise in inequality appears to be amplified by rapid credit growth does appear to be through the unemployment channel.

Chart 4: Cumulative change in de-trended Gini index (%) following financial recessions preceded by high credit growth

Notes: Solid line gives the mean response of the Gini to a financial recession. Dashed line shows the amplified effect of a 1 standard deviation credit boom prior to the crisis. The shaded areas gives the 95% confidence interval.

Chart 5: Cumulative change in de-trended Gini index (%) following recessions preceded by low bank capital

Notes: Solid line gives the mean response of the Gini to a recession. Dashed line shows the amplified effect of 1 standard deviation lower capital prior to the recession. The shaded area gives the 95% confidence interval.

Extension: the role of bank capital

We extend our analysis to explore the role low bank capital ahead of a downturn plays in the inequality fallout that follows. Our capital data is only available for a subset of countries so we group recessions together given the more limited sample size. We include bank capital in the regression by interacting it with the recession dummy. We find that a country entering a recession with a banking sector where the aggregate tangible common equity ratio is one standard deviation (1.4 percentage points) lower, experiences around a 55% amplification of the rise in inequality that follows (Chart 5). Our preliminary results suggest that this may operate through the wage distribution of those remaining in work, rather than through the direct impact of unemployment on inequality. This is consistent with channels whereby ‘resilience gaps’ in the financial system can increase the likelihood and costs of macroeconomic tail events.

Policy implications

Our findings provide potential insights for a holistic assessment of the distributional implications of various macroprudential policy options. In particular, they highlight that any consideration of distributional effects needs to consider other aspects, beyond the immediate effect on credit allocation. These include: i) the distributional effects arising from crisis prevention; ii) the role of credit growth in exacerbating post-crisis inequality; and iii) the effect of greater bank capital on post-crisis inequality. All of these work in the ‘opposite direction’ to the effect on credit allocation of macroprudential measures.

Jonathan Bridges works in the Bank’s Market Intelligence and Analysis Division, Georgina Green works in the Bank’s Macro-financial Risks Division and Mark Joy works in the Bank’s Global Analysis Division.

If you want to get in touch, please email us at bankunderground@bankofengland.co.uk or leave a comment below.

Comments will only appear once approved by a moderator, and are only published where a full name is supplied. Bank Underground is a blog for Bank of England staff to share views that challenge – or support – prevailing policy orthodoxies. The views expressed here are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Bank of England, or its policy committees.

Cabinet brainstorms quick fixes for the cost-of-living crisis to avoid the real solution

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 01/05/2022 - 3:51am in

“When people live in a fair, caring society, where everyone has equal access to social goods, they don’t have to spend their time worrying about how to cover their basic needs day to day – they can enjoy the art of living. And instead of feeling they are in constant competition with their neighbours, they can build bonds of social solidarity.”

Jason Hickel – Less is More.

Boris Johnson holds a meeting of UK Cabinet minstersPPicture by Simon Dawson – No 10 Downing Street on Flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 license

According to the Telegraph this week, the Treasury has ‘raked in more tax than ever before’, thus putting the UK, it says, on course to have the ‘highest tax burden since the aftermath of the second world war’. The Chancellor, still counting his beans, was not in the slightest bit apologetic, making clear his assertion that he had no other option but to get the public finances back on track after the vast amount of public money that had been spent during the pandemic. Keeping the £12,570 personal allowance for income tax at its current level would, the author of the Telegraph article indicated, generate an extra £20bn for the Treasury over the next five years, thus reinforcing, yet again, the plainly wrong idea that government relies on tax to spend, or balance the public accounts. A government spokesperson called on for comment, said, wiping a tear away, that it had been forced to make ‘tough decisions’, but not to worry, in 2024 we can expect a tax cut bonanza just before the next election.

The Guardian took another tack, not taxes, but borrowing. In an article by Larry Elliott entitled, ‘UK government borrowing halves but is still close to record high’, he quotes figures from the ONS which reported that the gap between the state’s revenues and its spending was down on the previous year, but that despite the improvement over the year, the total deficit for 2021/22 was more than £20bn higher than forecast by the OBR. All as if borrowing figures were a sound measure of the government’s management of the economy. The Chancellor, trying yet again to sell his agenda of fiscal discipline, was quoted by Elliott, reiterating yet again, that ‘Public debt is at the highest levels since the 1960s and rising inflation is pushing up our debt interest costs, which means we must manage public finances sustainably to avoid saddling future generations with further debt’.

They are all at it! Whether it’s former or current Chancellors of the Exchequer, journalists or orthodox economists, they all have one thing in common: their addiction to the false narrative of household budgets. The idea that governments are limited in their spending policies by how much tax they collect or what they can borrow. The false corollary of all that, is that without careful management of the public accounts, either we face the prospect of the UK going bankrupt, as former Chancellor George Osborne suggested to the public, or future generations will pay the price in higher taxes. All nonsense, of course, but it keeps the public in their place, meaning acceptance without question, that the government has limited fiscal capacity, and the message that government has no option but to impose belt-tightening policies, completely ignoring the fact that a government deficit represents a private sector surplus, in layman’s terms, the money in our pockets. Taxing away more doesn’t give the government more to spend, or to pay down public debt as is implied, and it certainly doesn’t help an economy to navigate difficult times.

We are now witnessing in the most distressing way, the terrible consequences of those narratives which are having a direct effect on the economy, or more precisely, the people who do the work to keep it functioning. Not just the effects of the last 2 years on people’s lives but the ongoing consequences of decades of successive government spending policies. Policies which have ranked fiscal discipline over economic health and public well-being, seen wealth distribution skewed to favour ever fewer people and overseen the selling off or privatisation of key public assets with vast amounts of public money syphoned off for private profit, along with the underfunding of vital publicly run and paid for public infrastructure which has left it in a state of ongoing decay. We have paid a heavy price as a nation for the economic ideology which prevails and dictates policy and spending.

From every corner, the warning signals have been ringing loudly. Last month, Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert, said that he was running out of tools to help people manage the cost-of-living crisis. He said that ‘it’s not something money management can fix, it’s not something that for those on the lowest incomes telling them to cut their belts will work, we need political intervention.’

Phil Andrew, the CEO of the StepChange Debt Charity, echoing Lewis, said that their advisers had been taking increasing numbers of calls from people who fear they won’t be able to keep up their debt repayments. With eleven million households facing Covid-related debt, and four million using credit to pay for essentials, he was clear:

‘For these households, rises in energy bills and the increasing cost of essentials are not things that make the difference between being able to afford luxuries or not. They are the things that genuinely make the difference between heating and eating.’

The Trussell Trust, which runs more than half of UK food banks, says it is witnessing an accelerating crisis across the UK as more and more people are unable to afford the absolute essentials necessary to eat, stay warm and dry, and clean. Figures released this week show that the Trust’s network provided more than 2.1 million parcels to people facing financial hardship from 1st April 2021 to 31st March 2022, which represents a 14% increase over 2019/20 – before the pandemic. And more than 830,000 parcels were provided for children, which represents a 15% increase from 2019/20, when 720,000 were provided. The Trust, again echoing Martin Lewis, said that there is still time for politicians to turn this situation around, saying that, governments at all levels must use their powers and take urgent action now to strengthen our social security system so it keeps up with the true cost of living and helps prevent hundreds of thousands more families being forced through the doors of food banks.’

These figures are a shocking indictment of a government that does have the fiscal tools to put in place solutions to mitigate the economic shock of Covid (although imperfect, already demonstrated), the effects of the war in Ukraine and last but not least to address a climate crisis which threatens humanity, but which seems to have been put on the back burner even as the planet’s life support systems continue to degrade and the social injustices intensify globally.

Our government has the legislative and fiscal tools, should it choose to use them, not only to mitigate this economic crisis in the short term, but also to challenge the market-driven ideology of decades. An ideology which has led to an increasing divide between the rich and the poor, with an ever-increasing share of wealth going into fewer hands, as wages have stagnated. A pernicious ideology that has created increasing reliance on an unfair social security system which punishes people rather than supporting them, whilst it has made the concept of real full employment a dirty word and allowed the corporate sector to get away with murder by paying low wages and setting working people against each other in the dash for a job and a modicum of security.

We may, as the Trussell Trust says, need a fairer social security system for those who cannot work, or who are caught in economic straits not of their making, but we also need a government with the political will to implement a Job Guarantee, not just to provide the vital cyclical economic automatic stabiliser at such times as these, but also to reverse the unfair advantage capital has had for decades over labour, which has been responsible for wages being driven down in a fight for competitive supremacy with all that entails in human deprivation.

However, apparently, the government is right out of tools, out of ideas, out of everything except perhaps its propaganda machine, which is working just fine. This week’s Cabinet ‘blue sky thinking’ exercise left many scratching their heads as Boris Johnson was reported as asking for proposals for tackling the cost-of-living crisis without actually spending public money. Ministers have been ordered to find new ‘non-fiscal’ solutions. Grant Shapps suggested making the MOT test biennial instead of annual. Is that a joke? If so, it’s in the worst possible taste, ignoring as it does the very real effects of higher energy and food costs on families across the country. Their problems won’t be solved by such crass intervention. And Johnson is said to have revived the Liz Truss proposal to cut childcare costs by lowering England’s legal limit on adult supervision for nursery children, even though such a move could well endanger the safety of these children. As we said – right out of ideas, well at least sensible ones like using fiscal policy to address the current crisis and indeed future ones. Meaning, spending newly created money as only a currency-issuing government can do.

Even Torsten Bell from the Resolution Foundation think tank, which has its roots in orthodox economic thinking, commented that he thought the government had ‘lost the plot’, if it believed that such ideas would improve people’s lives substantially.

It is quite shocking and disingenuous of a Chancellor who can afford a £600 pair of trainers, has an extensive property portfolio and will think nothing of spending £13,000 a year on heating a swimming pool, to tell listeners on Mumsnet this week, that it would be ‘silly’ at this moment in time to give poor families any further help with rising bills, when people are already feeling the pinch from record rises in energy price and steep increases in the cost of food and essentials. Sunak’s Spring Statement and previous budgets have been a kick in the teeth for ordinary people who have paid the price in living standards and rising private debt, caused by inadequate spending, not just by Sunak but also by previous Chancellors wedded to economic orthodoxy, and the lie that government spending is just like our own household budgets. People who have already been subjected to government policies which have driven growing poverty and inequality and decimated the public and social infrastructure over the decades which preceded the current emergency. They need help now, not later, when things are likely to be infinitely worse.

The Chancellor has at his disposal the fiscal tools he needs to address the current cost-of-living crisis and create a fairer and more sustainable society. But while he adheres to his fiscal discipline message that puts the household budget narrative of tax and spend, paying down debt, reducing public deficits or the objective of achieving balanced budgets or surpluses at the top of his agenda, regardless of the economic conditions that prevail, the lives of ordinary people can only get worse, and recession will be just over the hill. We are not all in this together under this regime.

There is an alternative. It’s just that we don’t have a government or other political parties willing to challenge the economic orthodoxy which drives spending and legislative decisions. The system has been corrupted to serve global corporations, whilst politicians have been bought, as a result, by benefiting through the revolving door. At the same time, the media plays out the narrative like a broken record, to keep the illusions going that governments are powerless to intervene when economic instability threatens, hamstrung as they are by scarce monetary resources, when the reverse is actually true.

What hinders government is not scarcity of money, but the recognition that it must align its spending to the available resources and the productive capacity of the nation, and make the political decisions about who gets the pie based on that. That is the real balancing act and the real starting point for a true understanding of what governments can do, with the political will, to create the sort of society which benefits everyone, by serving public purpose instead of corporate greed.

 

 

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The post Cabinet brainstorms quick fixes for the cost-of-living crisis to avoid the real solution appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

How Boris Johnson has Spread and Benefitted From Deeply Sexist Attitudes in Politics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/04/2022 - 8:57pm in

The Prime Minister has pushed sexist tropes about women – while being given a free pass by those parts of the press which also trade in them, reports Adam Bienkov

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“There can be absolutely no place” for misogyny in politics, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons earlier this week, following the publication of a sexist story about Labour's Deputy Leader Angela Rayner.

He later described the claims, which had been briefed by Conservative MPs to the Mail on Sunday, as “the most appalling load of sexist, misogynist tripe”.

However, the Prime Minister's sudden opposition to misogyny in politics will surprise anyone who has closely followed his career.

In fact, far from opposing sexism in politics, Johnson has been one of its chief proponents.

As both a politician and a journalist, the Prime Minister has a long record of deeply sexist comments and actions.

'Hot Totty'

In 1996, Boris Johnson wrote a bizarre article for the Telegraph in which he reviewed the quality of "the hot totty" he had observed at the Labour Party Conference.

"The unanimous opinion is that what has been called the 'Tottymeter' reading is higher than at any Labour Party Conference in living memory," he told his readers. "Time and again the 'Tottymeter' has gone off as a young woman delegate mounts the rostrum."

He suggested that such "totty" was attracted to the Labour Party because of the "fickleness" of their sex.

"The real reason why Blackpool is buzzing with glamorous women is surely that they scent victory," he wrote. "It is not the great smell of Brut that makes John Prescott attractive. It is the whiff of power. With the fickleness of their sex, they are following the polls."

Johnson also brought his admiration for "hot totty" into his own workplace, once writing for the Telegraph about the time he pinned a calendar of naked women to his desk, despite complaints from female colleagues. He boasted that the calendar "caused something of a stir” due to the fact that the pictures “made women feel embarrassed".

Johnson’s other writing often betrayed a deeply sexist view of women, according to his biographer Sonia Purnell.

In her book, Just Boris, she notes that throughout his writing women were "portrayed as rather feeble 'blubbing blondes' or 'collapsing with emotion".

His writing was often deeply sexualised. As his other biographer Andrew Gimson noted: “Boris’s writing is suffused with sexual imagery. He sees sex almost everywhere."

This is particularly notable in his GQ columns, in which he reviewed his favourite "babe magnet" cars.

As Purnell notes: "The reviews relied on words such as 'filly', 'chicks' and 'flapping kimonos' and were garnished with plenty of 'gearstick' gags... There is talk of blonde drivers 'waggling their rumps,' his own superior horsepower 'taking them from behind,' aided by tantalising thoughts of the imaginary 'ample bosoms' of the female sat nav voice.

"On driving a Ferrari F340, he wrote: 'it was as though the whole county of Hampshire was lying back and opening her well-bred legs to be ravished by the Italian stallion'."

Such attitudes spilled over into his political career.

In 2005, while campaigning to become the Conservative MP for Henley, he told voters that "voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts".

And in 2012, while hosting the London Olympics as Mayor, Johnson told his readers of the "magnificent" experience of watching "semi-naked women playing beach volleyball... glistening like wet otters".

When hosting the World Islamic Forum in London, he suggested that women in Malaysia only went to university "to find men to marry".

Johnson was Accused of Assaulting Women

These attitudes towards women allegedly sometimes spilled out into his own behaviour.

In 2019, The Sunday Times journalist Charlotte Edwardes alleged that Boris Johnson once groped her and another woman during a lunch hosted by the Spectator magazine, of which he was then editor.

Johnson’s spokesman dismissed the claims. However, his former colleague and friend Toby Young defended Johnson’s alleged actions, saying that “at the Spectator, in those raucous days, people complained if Boris didn't put his hand on their knee".

Indeed, Johnson has previously been open about such behaviour. In a farewell piece in the Spectator marking his exit as editor, Johnson offered the following advice to his successor: "Once the fire is going well, you may find your eyes drifting to the lovely striped chesterfield across the room. Is it the right size, you wonder, for a snooze... You come round in a panic, to find a lustrous pair of black eyes staring down at you. Relax. It's only Kimberly [Quinn, who was then the Spectator's publisher] with some helpful suggestions for boosting circulation."

He advised his successor to "just pat her on the bottom and send her on her way".

Johnson Talks to Women 'Like They're Idiots'

The Prime Minister's claimed outrage over the Rayner story has not been believed by everyone who knows the Prime Minister.

One of his former close colleagues told Byline Times that they were unconvinced by Downing Street's denials about the story.

"I'm convinced that the Rayner story will have come from him, or his allies," they said. "It just sounds exactly like the sort of thing he would say."

Downing Street has strongly denied this. However, the Mail on Sunday's central claim, that Johnson was distracted by Rayner's legs in the chamber, is not surprising to some of his former colleagues.

In a piece written last year, Johnson's former chief advisor Dominic Cummings wrote that "as one woman who knows Boris extremely well and has worked very closely with him said to me last year, ‘he can’t take women seriously, he can’t help staring at tits and talking like we’re idiots’".

This attitude was noticed by female members of the London Assembly while he was Mayor.

In 2012, a cross-party group of female politicians wrote a letter to Johnson accusing him of being "disrespectful and patronising" towards them in the chamber. In his reply, Johnson dismissed the claims, saying that "I have not been more robust towards female rather than male assembly members and I do not believe I have been remotely sexist".

However, such allegations have continued to dog him. Despite appointing a handful of women, like Priti Patel and Liz Truss to senior positions in his Government, his Cabinet still remains overwhelmingly filled by men.

One of his last remaining senior female advisors, Munira Mirza, walked out of the Government last year. His former press secretary Allegra Stratton also stood down, with Johnson saying that he was furious about footage of her joking about lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.

Allies of his predecessor Theresa May suggest that she also remains unhappy with Johnson's treatment of her. When a story about May wearing leather trousers was splashed across newspaper front pages in 2016, Johnson joined in with the barbs against his leader, joking that “our wonderful PM actually wears lederhosen”.

The former Conservative Home Secretary Amber Rudd later said there had been a "whiff of sexism" about how May had been ousted by Johnson's supporters.

Labour Party Deputy Leader Angela Rayner. Photo: PjrNews/Alamy Sexist Media Attitudes Give Johnson A Pass

Whatever the source of the Angela Rayner story, it is undoubtedly the case that Johnson has been treated very differently by the press than if he were a woman.

Imagine for a moment that another prominent politician, who happened to be a woman, was found to have had multiple affairs with other men while married.

Imagine that this same politician secretly had children with these other men, and then refused to ever publicly state how many children she had.

Imagine also that the identity of one of these children was later uncovered in a court case, due to lawyers arguing that revealing it was important to highlighting their "reckless" behaviour.

Imagine that one of these men was also found to have benefited from public money provided to them following the start of their relationship with that woman.

Imagine again that, after all of this became public knowledge, this female politician then left her husband, who was ill at the time, for a man who was 24 years her junior.

It is impossible to imagine that these stories would have then been shaken off by certain newspapers which then championed her to become leader of their party, and prime minister.

Now compare this scenario to how Angela Rayner has been treated for the crime of being a working class woman who occasionally wears a skirt.

Because the truth is that Boris Johnson is not only a purveyor of deeply sexist attitudes in politics – he is also one of the leading beneficiaries of them too.

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UK Food Security: A Fork In The Road

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/04/2022 - 7:58pm in

Tags 

inequality

Taking responsibility One of the primary objectives of any government is to feed its people. But geopolitical events over recent months highlight the fact that many governments in countries who are dependent on food imports have lost sight of their responsibilities. Food security, particularly for a net importer like the UK, is a serious but […]

The post UK Food Security: A Fork In The Road appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Barriers, Ignorance… And More Barriers: The Every Day Experiences of Disabled People

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

Society and politicians need to wake-up to the fact that disability is a normal part of the human condition that can impact us all, says Penny Pepper

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I wonder sometimes whether the day come when I will forget I live in a disabling society? It is unlikely.

Personal experience and the endless statistics tell me otherwise, including how hate crime towards disabled people has escalated under the Conservatives. Outright bigotry is easy to notice, sometimes it wears the smiling face of religion and charity.

Our hidden history is another factor – one of abuse, eugenics and murder. Aktion T4 was the enforced euthanasia of disabled people – ‘useless eaters’ – by the Nazis. The Winterbourne View scandal saw disabled residents pinned down, slapped and taunted. Jimmy Savile preyed on the vulnerable and disabled – I met him as a child in hospital and managed to flee.

These realities must not be dismissed as disabled people expressing ingratitude or asking for ‘too much’. Equality is not a privilege. 

Disabled activists and academics fight on to connect the understanding of disability to the root causes of all discrimination. You can provide a wheelchair user ramped access into a venue, but that doesn't stop that person from being considered second-class, annoying, needy, repulsive – and too costly. Pointless, in fact.

The repellent fall-out from such horrific histories continues to haunt disabled people. Abuse remains chronic and largely unreported because it is not taken as seriously as it is with other marginalised minority groups.

The Coronavirus pandemic has been a case in point of when I have personally noticed discrimination and bigotry. For instance, a personal assistant of mine recently arrived for work and then tested positive – but I’m confronted with staffing emergencies that often lead me to make decisions to employ unvaccinated workers. I’ve written before about the care industry catastrophe; there are simply not enough people wanting to do the job.

For 26 years, I’ve run my own ‘care scheme’ within the embrace of the independent living movement using direct payments. I know my stuff. So, what do I do when the 15 in my emergency bank aren’t available? There is no social services safety net – the idea is laughable – and it’s plain we know more than they do about the reality of employing care workers. I scrape through – my Polish PA travelled over. Lessons are learned, but solutions stay challenging.

Equipped with my experienced PA, I set my work schedule. I do something I love, but it’s a road of multiple obstacles. Initially, it was general discrimination that cut across many of the tropes of marginalisation. You’re a (disabled) girl. You can’t be a writer or a wife. And you never went to university... On it goes. While angst-ridden teenagers may dream of being the next literary sensation, my added labels condemned me further.

The Government-run Access to Work scheme has been around since 1994 and, in principle, it’s a great idea. Through funds for equipment and/or support workers, it attempts to remove barriers and create equality in employment. But it persists as a truly Kafkaesque nightmare.

Much of the processing required remains paper-based – you have to print, sign and post a document in an actual envelope. At a time when online services remove so many barriers – and most other Government departments are digital by default – no one seems to know why this scheme is lagging behind.

As a speaker and spoken-word poet, I travel the country – and barriers begin the moment I leave home. 

It starts with broken pavements and the mysterious phenomena of non-paired dropped kerbs. I speed down the kerb – with its tactile paving for visually-impaired people – and then I’m stuck in the road. Not such a big deal at home in Hastings, but a nightmare in Westminster – a borough that wins the award for being one of the richest and the most scandalously lacking in access. 

The most recent time I had a meeting in Soho – a place I love with its roads of heavy history – I was late because of the lack of drop kerbs.

Complications then develop when I need the toilet. My usual approach is to use the nearest well-known coffee chain – mostly reliable for wheelchair access (though not in Soho).

Travelling can never be taken for granted. I work out where I’m legally allowed to park with my Blue Badge. They are not, like some people assume, an all-encompassing means of free parking anywhere. I seek out permitted spaces, but my success rate is as low as 30%. Why? Because every other disabled person is up against the same barrier of finding parking. And don't get me started on the massive fraudulent use of the badges…

On a recent appointment in Whitehall, I decided that the bus would be safer – as disabled bays for cars are rarities in that area. But the bus is a chore too. The wheelchair space may be taken, the ramp broken, the driver unhelpful – and that’s before the loud abuse and the refusal of other passengers to clear the space. As for Black Cabs, I haven’t the energy to extrapolate all the barriers with that option; often too tired to fight yet again for what should be basic rights in many areas. 

If work means staying over, finding a suitable hotel is another ordeal. 

It begins with an online search, which finds 300 hotels in the area. If you add the filter for 'wheelchair access', this can reduce the available options to as low as six. This is before you talk to uninterested hotel staff and ask for specifics that will ensure you have equality of service as one of their customers. I pay the same rate, after all. Then there'll always be the manager who’s utterly surprised when my PA doesn’t want to share a double-bed with me. This often forces disabled people to need a second room, resulting in double the costs.

While other disabled people will have many different stories to tell, education remains essential for society in general, and for our politicians in particular. The multiple barriers that endure are removable and not so difficult to moderate. Disability is part of the norm of human experience and, the more we all get used to this collectively, the better.

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Russell Group University Assets Burgeon Under Conservative Rule

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/04/2022 - 5:15pm in

As students and lecturers face tougher circumstances, the wealth of their institutions has risen markedly in recent years, reports Sascha Lavin

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Russell Group universities have increased their assets by almost 50% – some £16 billion – under Conservative rule, analysis by the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal. 

The elite group of 24 universities saw their asset wealth increase from £26 million to £48.7 million between 2011 and 2020 – an 87% boost. This amounts to a real-term rise of 49% in net assets during this decade. 

The windfall in wealth hasn’t trickled down to university students and staff. Instead, the Government recently announced a student loan hike – set to hit lower-earning graduates the hardest – while university staff have experienced a pay cut of 25.5% in real terms during the past 12 years of successive Conservative rule.

The National Union for Students told Byline Times that the increase was "immoral".

Its vice-president for higher education, Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, said: “Students, not pound signs, should be universities’ priority. In the past few years, I have heard from students locked inside their accommodation and relying on both food banks and loans from (financial services company) Klarna. It’s simply immoral that universities were benefitting so much at the same time.”

While nearly one in 10 students were forced to rely on food banks during the Coronavirus pandemic, universities hoarded wealth. Russell Group universities accumulated £2.2 billion in surplus cash during the crisis, according to a recent Telegraph investigation. 

Teaching time was also reduced and classes moved online during the crisis – a trend that continues to this day as academic staff strike over pay, pensions and working conditions – yet students are still expected to pay more than £9,000 a year for their degrees.   

With the class of 2020 taking out £45,060 in loans on average, recent research by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that graduates felt that tuition fees represented poor value for money. 

Already being crippled by the costs of university, the same study reported that graduates found their debt “draining, weighing them down, on their shoulders”. Yet, the Government recently announced plans to saddle students with even more of the same.

Under the proposed student loan changes, graduates will be forced to pay back more of their loan, sooner, and for longer, at a time when the cost of living is rocketing. The repayment term after graduation is set to increase from 30 years to 40 and the repayment threshold would be frozen. Interest rates on these loans are also set to increase from 1.5% to 9% among low earners and up to 12% for higher earners.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that these changes will hit the lowest-earning graduates hardest, who stand to be £28,000 worse off than under the current system.

University staff have also lost out during the past decade. Academics who have already had their pay cut by 20% in real terms over the past 12 years, despite a greater workload, now face a 35% reduction in pension payouts under the Universities Superannuation Scheme. 

Byline Times previously reported that some university teachers are unable to buy a house or start a family because of the lack of job security, with zero-hour and short-term contracts becoming increasingly common. 

The Education Industry

Yet, as students and staff struggle to make ends meet, universities have amassed billions in assets under successive Conservative governments. 

The University of Manchester had the biggest jump in asset wealth over the decade: its real-term net assets soaring by 100% to £1.8 billion. 

One final year medical student at the university took to Twitter to explain their struggles to make ends meet as their student loan and NHS bursary falls £3,313 short of the £10,330 estimated annual living costs for a University of Manchester undergraduate.

Luisa Ortuzar, a first year international student at University College London (UCL), also worries about money. “It’s so expensive in London, I’m struggling quite a bit," she said. "And I’m paying so much money for receiving no class because teachers are also super angry because they are cutting their salaries.”

UCL’s asset wealth rose from £750.4 million to £1.6 billion between 2011 and 2020 – a 73% increase in real terms. 

“We are deeply sorry to hear that one of our students is struggling financially and we encourage them to seek support with our student funding advisers. We have schemes to help students who are facing financial difficulties and can provide advice and information,” a UCL spokesperson said. “While most of our asset value sits with our estate, a considerable proportion of our endowment portfolio is held exclusively for the funding of scholarships, bursaries, studentships and hardship funds. In the most recent financial year, we spent £89 million on student scholarships and prizes, which is three times the amount we spent in 2011.”

The prestigious universities of Oxford and Cambridge proved to have the most assets, with a combined post-debt wealth of £27.5 billion – £6.4 billion more than the total net assets of the remaining 22 Russell Group universities.

Oxford saw its assets rise from £5.8 billion to £12.9 billion – a 77% real-terms increase over the 10-year period. 

Cambridge has also accumulated vast sums of wealth since 2012, with its net assets almost doubling to £14.6 billion over the decade – or equivalent to 55% after inflation. Wolfson College saw the biggest increase in total assets among the university’s colleges – a 128% real-terms rise in asset wealth from £27 million to £78 million.

Proving Winston Churchill’s theory that land “is the original source of all wealth”, Oxbridge’s nearly 70 colleges collectively own 51,000 hectares of land – an area more than four times the size of Manchester – worth £3.5 billion, according to a 2018 Guardian investigation. 

Yet, the vast wealth of these two institutions rarely has an impact on those who need it most. Research by the Sutton Trust and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, published last year, found that Oxford and Cambridge failed to boost social mobility because so few people from disadvantaged backgrounds are admitted each year. 

According to the study, in the mid-2000s, children on free school meals were nearly 100 times less likely to attend Oxford or Cambridge than their privately educated peers. 

Although the University of Oxford prides itself on spending £15 million each year on outreach activities and financial support in a bid to recruit undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds, this investment is a fraction of the university’s eye-popping wealth – just 0.12% of its nearly £13 billion-worth of assets. 

A University of Cambridge spokesperson said: “We have made significant progress in admitting students from more under-represented and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Over the last five years there’s been a 2% increase in the number admitted from POLAR Quintile 1 areas of the country.”

The Participation of Local Areas (POLAR) is a measurement used by the Office for Students – the higher education regulator – to look at what percentage of children in each area enter higher education.

But, according to figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, Oxford and Cambridge, along with 15 other Russell Group universities, failed to recruit enough students from POLAR 1 areas – parts of the UK where students were least likely to go to university.

The Russell Group, Manchester University and the University of Oxford did not respond to requests for comment.

This article was updated on 3 May at 12pm to remove a reference to a publicly-available tweet that referenced the personal details of a student.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Exposure: COVID and the long, cold winter of the American homeless

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/04/2022 - 1:49pm in

On a frozen winter night in a northeastern state of the United States in February 2020, four people nestled into a tent they had set up in the shrubbery behind an isolated retail building and went to sleep. They never woke up.

Their bodies were found a day or so later when friends who could not get in contact with them began to fear the worst. The gas from a propane heater they had relied on to keep warm in sub-zero temperatures had leaked overnight, creating a deadly blanket of carbon monoxide gas that had suffocated them slowly while they slept.

A few days later, the bodies and the tent had been removed, but the remnants of the homeless camp remained. Chairs were still set up around the ashes of a dug-out firepit. Empty food wrappers and beer cans were scattered to one side. A makeshift shrine had been set up to honour the dead: a rough-hewn wooden cross dug into the earth, strewn with beads and photographs, small bottles of liquor at its base. I did not know the dead intimately, but I had met them a few times at one of the local services for homeless people that I frequented as part of my work as an anthropologist. I visited the site with a friend to pay our respects, and we talked for a while with one of the other mourners who had gathered there. His eyes were bleary from crying and drinking, as he whispered in shock, ‘They were just tryna keep warm’.

A month later, in those precious early days of March 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic had been declared a public emergency, I sat and talked with another of my contacts experiencing long-term homelessness, who I will call John. We were catching up in a day shelter, a service that provides temporary refuge to people experiencing housing insecurity. Open for specific hours of the day, these services combine temporary shelter with access to resources, including hot meals, ‘go’ bags containing transportable packaged food, hygiene items, and casework support.

Although some people came to the day shelter when they were on the precipice of eviction to seek emergency assistance, most of the ‘regulars’ were experiencing what is defined by the US Housing and Urban Development [HUD] agency as ‘chronic homelessness’, which describes the plight of a person who has been without shelter for at least a year, or cyclically over four years. The HUD definition emphasises that people experiencing chronic homelessness often have other debilitating conditions, such as serious mental illness or substance-use disorders. The irony is that most of the housing assistance available in the northeast of the United States excludes those with active dependency disorders, and mandates that those receiving assistance participate in self-sufficiency programs, which people experiencing or recovering from those conditions often struggle to complete. The result is that some of the most vulnerable people in US society are those most likely to be navigating chronic homelessness.

Since most of the regulars attending the day shelter were disqualified for one reason or another from receiving housing assistance, they mostly came for a few hours of respite from the elements, some warm food, and to socialise with other people in situations resembling their own. They were not aiming to resolve their situation, only to survive it.

Although the early-spring air on this day was still bitter with cold, the mood inside the shelter was frenetic as most of us scrambled to discuss the news that had been slowly building over recent weeks: the news of a virus that was spreading worldwide, the coronavirus, or what would eventually become known as COVID-19. John, sitting beside me, ignored the topic until I directly asked him whether he was worried about the virus. At that time, no cases had been reported in our state, yet increasingly it seemed it was only a matter of time. In fact, the first two cases in our state were announced that afternoon.

John chuckled in response to my question, and clandestinely pulled open one side of his black leather jacket and pointed at a small pocket in the lining. There, I saw a small bottle of clear liquor. ‘Why would I worry about getting sick?’, he explained, grinning slyly. ‘I’m already dead.’

I asked John what he meant. His eyes narrowed cynically and with a sweeping movement of his arm he gestured towards himself and the people around the room where we were sitting. ‘Do you think any of us have any real life? Sleeping outside on stoops and sidewalks? Hiding at night? Ain’t no virus gonna kill me more than all that does every single day.’

Many of us have felt the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak most directly in terms of the biopolitical response of our governments. In an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, governments around the world have imposed various limits on public interaction that have disrupted everyday life for many—forcing people to work from home, children to attend virtual learning, and populations that once enjoyed relative freedom of movement to be simultaneously kept in and kept out by geopolitical borders. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, governments and individuals alike have put significant energy into managing one thing: exposure.

But what John’s perspective on the relativity of exposure and the risks he and other unhoused people navigate daily focuses attention not specifically on the biopolitics of pandemic management but rather the more persistent necropolitics of societal organisation. If biopolitics is power that is realised through the organisation of how people live, then necropolitical power is realised through dictating the limits of who gets to live and who dies. As Achille Mbembe writes, necropolitics are those that consider ‘under what practical conditions is the right to kill, to allow to live, or to expose to death exercised’. Exposure to conditions that produce premature death is not evenly distributed, and the chronically homeless are exposed to myriad threats to health and safety, even without a global pandemic. They are trying to avoid life-threatening bacterial infections from wearing unwashed socks and underwear day after day. They are trying to avoid being detected when they sleep in public lest they become the target of assault. They are ‘just tryna keep warm’—or cool—against the elements. That it was a propane heater that took more lives of the unhoused people I knew in 2020 than the rampant COVID-19 virus alerts us to the cruel necropolitics of exposure.

While the biopolitics of the pandemic disrupted and rearranged the lives of people worldwide as governments attempted to mitigate exposure to the virus, those whose lives were already exposed to death simply incorporated this new risk into the layers they already had to manage as part of daily life. The biopolitical management of the pandemic was felt most acutely by those for whom relative security was already assumed. For people like John, however, who exist in the nebulous space of social abandonment in which they are ‘already dead’, COVID-19 was first interpreted as just another layer of insecurity in a life already exposed to so many vectors of risk, not as a force of rupture.

That was until the situation of unsheltered people emerged as a focal point of pandemic management. No longer simply embodying individualised risk, unhoused people themselves came to be seen as significantly at risk of COVID-19 infection and, as a result, a significant potential source of public exposure.

The price of freedom

In the United States, the breathtaking spread of the virus in 2020 paralleled the rising political tensions leading up to the presidential election held that same year. The virus—and the methods introduced to limit exposure, such as social distancing and mask mandates—became heavily politicised; framed in conservative media discourses less in terms of public health risk and more in terms of an assault on American values of freedom. From the beginning, infection-mitigation efforts were delegated to the discretion of local officials, except in cases where soaring infection numbers forced state leaders to declare a ‘state of emergency’. But even when state mask mandates were in place, these were rarely enforced, and by the middle of 2020 in many parts of the United States it felt as if life were continuing as normal, even as hospitals overflowed with COVID-19 patients.

By the autumn of 2020 in the town where I was living, primary and secondary schools resumed face-to-face classes and by the autumn of 2021 even the mask mandate in schools was lifted, with no vaccine requirement for either students or staff in that state, just as the Delta variant swept across the country. While these kinds of COVID-19 mitigation policies varied in restrictiveness from state to state and locality to locality, ultimately it seemed as if there were one overriding strategy for collectively managing exposure to the virus: personal responsibility. The outcome has been catastrophic. As I write, the death toll from COVID-19 in the United States stands at over 850,000 people. Hundreds of thousands more have been debilitated by the virus, with long-term health and economic effects in a country where access to healthcare is exclusionary and expensive. The organising logic of life in the United States is now, as it long has been, ‘live freely, but at your own risk’.

Except that the relative freedoms of personal responsibility during the pandemic were primarily enjoyed by populations whose freedom was already assumed: namely, the mostly white and middle- to upper-income households, many of whom were working in white-collar industries that could transition to work-from-home settings for the protection of employees. The demand to resume a ‘normal’ lifestyle—that is, one revolving around public-facing consumption activities—was most vocally driven by these populations, whose racial and class privileges also worked to shield them from bearing most of the risk of resuming normality in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

For those who have historically had their freedom limited and constrained, the demand for resuming the freedoms of pre-pandemic life meant, conversely, an active threat to their own lives and well-being, since so much of the workforce called upon to do the retail, service, agricultural and logistics work necessary to maintain public consumption is disproportionately made up of people from low-income households, and with immigrant backgrounds, or people of colour more generally. With so much low-income service work re-classified as ‘essential’, many people from these backgrounds had few or no options to quit those jobs with highest exposure to the virus. With unemployment benefits only being available to those furloughed or laid off—even under the CARES Act, a policy introduced by the federal government to bolster unemployment accessibility—most of those whose ‘essential’ work put them into direct contact with the public could not voluntarily leave their job, else they would be ineligible for unemployment benefits and, essentially, living without income. The freedom they had to contend with was the ‘choice’ of whether to expose themselves to a deadly virus to pay the rent, or limit exposure but risk being unable to pay the rent.

While in the United States the collective management of COVID-19 exposure was mostly relegated to personal responsibility to preserve the ‘freedoms’ of the dominant classes, there was another group of people whose experiences were almost the direct inverse. Far from having their freedoms pandered to during the pandemic, people experiencing chronic homelessness ironically found themselves in the position of having their lives become a site of increased intervention, control and containment.

Restrictions and interventions are not new for people in situations of chronic homelessness who primarily sleep unsheltered. ‘Private’ space, their personal lives are carefully navigated within the less noticeable cracks of public space. Restrictions on public behaviour and the constant threat of policing dictate the decisions that unhoused people must make as to where to sleep without disturbance, where to seek water, bathroom and washing facilities, and overall how not to draw undue attention to oneself. When the call to ‘shelter-in-place’ early in the pandemic put the situation of chronic homelessness under the spotlight for state policy-makers, the response was to introduce new forms of homelessness management that sought to prevent exposure, even though the homeless had been managing exposure to other life-threatening insecurities—weather, bacteria, assaults—long before the pandemic.

*                                            *                                          *

It was almost a year after the first cases had been detected in the United States before I was able to reconnect with the ‘regulars’ I knew from the day shelter. I had attempted to keep in contact by phone and email in those early months of the pandemic, but without people’s usual access to libraries and cafes for public internet, and phones often getting misplaced, my contact with them was sporadic and vague. It was not until I got back to the day shelter in person that I was able to really catch up on their experiences. I was terrified about what I would learn. Was everyone okay? Had everyone ‘made it’?

It felt uncanny when I returned to the shelter to find that, aside from its physical location shifting from indoors to a better ventilated outdoor space, life pretty much resembled what it had been pre-pandemic. Food was still being served, only now in individually wrapped packages, and casework services were still being offered, only now through individual appointments, with everyone required to be masked. Outside the building, I found a group of people I had not seen since the start of the pandemic, including John, sitting together on a park bench.

I was surprised, and thankful, to learn from them that no one had been infected by the virus, and that most knew this for certain because they had been getting tested regularly through a free service. What was even more surprising, however, was that some of the regulars had been moved out of their encampments and placed into medium-term accommodation in a hotel. With the travel industry decimated by the pandemic, and conventional homeless night shelters operating at half capacity, the number of people needing access to emergency housing had increased and hotels were looking for occupants. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and homelessness advocacy groups recognised that traditional night shelters were particularly risky in terms of exposure to COVID-19. As a result, local government had partnered with one of the dormant hotels to set up an emergency housing option for those sleeping unsheltered—a site where they could be isolated within individual hotel rooms rather than congregating in public. Billed as a protective measure to prevent homeless people being exposed to the virus, the experience of staying in the hotel felt less caring for some of those who took up the opportunity.

‘John’s been living it up in the Marriot’, someone joked, while jostling John, who glared back. ‘Well, only for one night!’, someone else chuckled, as the whole story was eventually revealed. John had been invited to move in by the social workers overseeing the hotel program because of his increased risk of complications from COVID-19 infection. He was over 60 and had underlying health problems. But John had been unceremoniously kicked out after staying only one night, after a random room search by a hotel attendant revealed a bottle of alcohol in John’s room. He was asked to leave, and even when a social worker tried to convince him to return some time after, John told them that he wouldn’t. He didn’t think the intrusion on his privacy was worth it, an irony I found troubling given his alternative sleeping arrangement was a sleeping bag in a public park.

On the face of it, an initiative to house the unsheltered in a hotel sounds like a positive move to protect people experiencing housing insecurity. But, as they were to find out, this kind of care was conditional, requiring them to submit to strict curfews, limits on socialising, bag and pocket searches, random room checks and other kinds of behaviour monitoring. The initiative to provide shelter to the unhoused relied on patronising and humiliating them into compliance. Many, like John, chose to expose themselves to the virus and the other dangers of sleeping unsheltered rather than submit to those conditions.

But, John told me, the pressure to re-engage with the hotel and the social workers overseeing the program throughout the pandemic was overwhelming. Not only did social workers from other services, like the day shelter, frequently push him to return but also, since the pandemic, street policing for vagrancy had increased. Previously he and others had been treated as a public nuisance; now they were being treated as a threat to public health. John, immensely frustrated, had been picked up for criminal trespassing in the past month while other ‘normal’ people were openly flouting mask mandates and social-distancing rules in public without any repercussions. ‘It’s the same ol’ shit’, he told me.

John’s experiences suggest that more than just public health was at stake in these arrangements. Framed as a source of public contagion, unsheltered sleepers were increasingly subjected to forms of surveillance and policing that produced new forms of risk and trauma. The biopolitics of pandemic management and the necropolitics of exposure rendered homeless people objects of societal care and attention only when their bodies had the potential to threaten and pose a risk to others.

The irony of a global pandemic bringing attention and solutions—no matter how grim—to their need for shelter was not lost on the chronically homeless, who commented to me more than once that they could have used the hotel room twelve months ago before the deadly virus was detected. Emergency housing—which was otherwise touted as a scarce resource for homeless populations—was made available with comical rapidity when their lifestyle posed a risk to the public and not just themselves.

‘Funny…’, John noted, ‘how they can find a place for us when they are really trying, but the rest of the time—nothing!’ The people in our conversation laughed, but the laughter had a bitter edge. 

The frontlines

With the spread of the virus and attempts to prevent exposure to it disrupting so many aspects of normal societal function worldwide, many of us have understandably taken to narrating our experiences and understanding of the pandemic in terms of its exceptionality: as an event or crisis that has suspended normality. We reel from and attempt to reckon with that rupture in and across our personal and work lives. What the alternative experiences of the homeless demand from us, however, is recognition of the many ways the workings of ‘normal’ life are actually perverse. What truly differentiates ‘normal’ life from the exceptional life of the pandemic, with its risk of illness, lockdowns and mandates, is who is exposed to those risks by circumstance rather than choice.

Returning to the frame of necropolitics is helpful when attempting to make sense of these differential gradients of exposure, and the societal structures that situate people within them. War is one of the key examples that Mbembe draws on to theorise necropolitics. War suspends normal prohibitions on violence and harm, designating ‘enemies’ and granting permission to maim, even kill, them without repercussion. But the intention of the necropolitical order is not always so overt. More generally, it is, as Mbembe writes,  ‘the capacity to define who matters and who does not, who is disposable and who is not’. Citing examples of plantation slavery and apartheid South Africa, Mbembe points out that the power of necropolitics is not so much about the intentional or direct murder of individuals as about the ways that certain kinds of bodies, certain kinds of people, are exposed to death. 

That the response to the pandemic has frequently been described, globally and nationally, as a ‘battle’ and a ‘fight’—the virus is something that needs to be ‘combatted’—alerts us to how the pandemic response relies on a necropolitics. If COVID-19 is a battle, then at some point it needs to be fought, and lives will be sacrificed. ‘Effective’ management of the pandemic is already being read not only in terms of statistics and recorded deaths, but also according to what kinds of people these statistics are formed from: ‘underlying conditions’ or ‘dying with’—rather than ‘from’—COVID-19 has already begun to temper how deaths related to the virus are calculated. As more countries and states move from advising their publics to limit exposure to advising them to manage their exposure, the calculation of life has already begun spinning, prioritising freedoms for some (and economic ‘recovery’) over the potential deaths of those who are vulnerable to complications from the virus. To the horror of disability advocates, stratifications of life are coming to justify risk of exposure. If those risking death are primarily the elderly and those with underlying health conditions (which are often reduced in public media commentary to so-called lifestyle conditions, such as obesity, type-II diabetes, and others), then the pandemic is being ‘effectively’ managed. What does that say about the value of those lives?

The language of war was mobilised early in the pandemic in the United States to legitimise and naturalise a necropolitics. Those same disproportionately low-income and Black and Brown workers who were being mandated to return to ‘essential’ work during the worst peaks of the pandemic had their forced exposure to illness diminished by politicians who clamored to thank them for ‘their service’ as ‘heroes’ on the ‘frontlines’ of the pandemic—the same language used to describe military veterans—as if they had been deployed to a war zone.

When essential workers did get sick, as so many inevitably did, the repercussions were disastrous. With many low-income jobs failing to provide workers with insurance, treatment for COVID-19 became its own economic catastrophe. Those with the added misfortune of experiencing long-COVID symptoms would then have to try to navigate applying for their debilitation to be recognised as a form of disability through an arduous bureaucratic process that relies, ultimately, on discretionary evaluations. Significant evidence suggests that the disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths of people of colour in the United States is linked to their higher representation in occupations that were classified as ‘essential’ during the pandemic.

Here again we see the co-productive workings of biopolitics and necropolitics, with the resumption of normality for some being paid for with the lives of those who are forced to a ‘frontline’ that exposes their bodies to risk and premature death.

Double exposures

As the COVID-19 pandemic promises to recede in its dominance over systems of public health worldwide, it is crucial to continue to observe these co-constitutive patterns of necro- and biopolitics, which are encompassed within the ordinary functioning of societies, not just in times of societal crisis. The lingering effects of the pandemic are to be seen not only in physically infected bodies but also in the wholly predictable political distrust and economic fallout that mismanaged responses to the pandemic have wrought.

I think a lot about homelessness, which commentators—and current housing market instabilities—suggest has likely increased in the United States since the outbreak of COVID-19, despite a federal moratorium on evictions that lasted until August 2021, and novel attempts to respond to housing insecurity during the pandemic. In 2020, homelessness rose by 2 per cent from 2019 numbers, and increased for the fourth year in a row. The biggest increase was in the rise of ‘unsheltered’ people, such as those I work with. While the pandemic prevented an organised homelessness count in 2021, those who work in these areas anecdotally report  a rise in the number of unsheltered homeless people since the beginning of the pandemic. I have observed this myself, noting the new faces seeking emergency assistance at the day shelter, including, distressingly, a number of families with children.

Now that the moratorium on evictions has ended, many of these families have been loaded with unpaid back rent and eviction notices. When I spoke with one of the new families at the shelter, the woman I talked to told me that she had been forced to quit her job to supervise her kids while they did their schooling online. Like thousands of other women, the pandemic had forced her out of the workforce. The result is likely to be catastrophic for her, as for many others.

Seeing public health through the broader lens of exposure enables us to bring light to the parallel public health crises that persist alongside and in conjunction with the pandemic: including, the impending housing crisis that has, in Australia and the United States, produced a housing market so ‘hot’ that it is inaccessible to both buyers and renters, the latter often forced to bid for the privilege of accessing shelter. There are also ongoing issues related to political instability erupting globally, not least in the United States. Most significantly, we must understand exposure as central to the impending public health crisis of climate change, as millions of people worldwide are exposed to the effects of rising sea levels, temperature increases, unseasonal weather events, and fire ‘seasons’ that now last year-round.

All of these are circumstances in which the uneven locus of exposure—operating in conjunction with pre-existing fault lines of class, nationality, race and gender—will draw more and more people into futures of chronic ill-health and premature death. Levels of exposure to these and other circumstances of risk are a measure of the necropolitics at work in our societies, a gradient for estimating how much political attention will be directed at a problem in order to decide who to safeguard, and who to let die.

The Shocking Divides Between London and the Rest of Britain

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/04/2022 - 8:30pm in

Sam Bright details some of the key findings from his new book, on the extreme imbalances between London and other parts of the country

Modern British politics can only be properly understood in the context of regional inequality. Both Brexit and the 2019 General Election, we have come to understand, were outbursts of rage from older, poorer, less well educated voters in rural and former industrial areas who are sick of the status quo – of their areas deteriorating while other places prosper.

However, while much of this conversation focuses on the ‘Red Wall’ and the fabled north-south divide, a formative regional inequality in Britain has been neglected: between London and everywhere else.

Indeed, our all-consuming capital is a vast metropolis with little in common with other urban areas. Its education system, economic output, housing market and demographic make-up are all radically different to the rest of the country – creating acute imbalances that are suffered by people both inside and outside the capital.

I have been researching this subject for the past few years, culminating in my book, published today, Fortress London: Why We Need to Save the Country From its Capital. Below is a snapshot of what I discovered.

Economy

Productivity in London, measured in terms of Gross Value Added, is 30% above the England-wide average, and 40% above the lowest-performing regions.

Gross disposable household income per head in London was £30,256 in 2018 – nearly double the total in Yorkshire and the Humber (£17,959). Ergo, for every minute on the roughly two-hour train journey from the capital to God’s own country, household income per head falls by £102. 

In 2017, disposable income per head in east Germany was €19,909 per year; in west Germany it was €23,283 – a smaller economic gap than between London and the rest of the UK.

The UK’s most productive region, west inner London, has an income per hour that is 70% higher than Northumberland’s, while London and the wider south-east are the only regions that are more productive than the UK average.

As of 2018, London accounted for 30% of all private sector employment in the UK, despite its population representing roughly 15% of the national total.

From 2009/10 to 2019/20, London transport spending per head on average has been £864 – compared to £379 in the north-west of England and £413 in England overall.

Education

Kids on free school meals in London are twice as likely to go to university as their socioeconomic peers in the north.

Overall, 49% of students in London go to university, compared with roughly 35% in every other English region. 

In the most deprived areas of London, 35% of secondary schools are classified as outstanding and close to 90% are either good or outstanding. In the most deprived areas of the north, less than 10% are rated as outstanding and less than 50% are either good or outstanding.

There are eight parliamentary constituencies in England where there are no schools or sixth form colleges – either independent or state-run – offering A-Levels. Six of these constituencies are in the north.

Property Market

In 2020, the average house price in London stood at £497,000 – almost double the England-wide average of £262,000. In Yorkshire, the figure was £175,000, in the north-west £177,000, and £275,000 in the south-west.

The average house price in Kensington and Chelsea in March 2020 was £1.4 million, in Islington it was £632,000 and in Southwark it was £489,000. This compares to £200,000 in Manchester, £220,000 in Leeds and just £165,000 in Durham.

If two people each bought a house in 1980 for £50,000 – one in London and one in Yorkshire – the former would have accumulated £400,000 more in property assets by 2020, with the house likely to be worth £770,000 in London and the house in Yorkshire worth £380,000.

If food prices had tracked house price inflation, in London a chicken would now cost £100, says Anna Minton in Big Capital.

Since 2010, average private rental prices in London have grown at five times the rate of average earnings. The typical rent for a one-bed flat in London now exceeds the cost on average for a three-bed place in every other English region.

In London, a home within 500 metres of an outstanding primary school will set you back an average of £685,000 – a premium of £93,000 versus a home in close proximity to a ‘good’ school and £196,000 more, on average, than a home in the catchment of a school that ‘requires improvement’.

Total property equity in London and the south-east amounts to some £1.53 trillion, versus £533 billion in the north.

In 1990, 25% of people aged 16 to 24 owned their own home in London, falling to 7% by 2018; correlating with a fall in the 25-34 age bracket from 57% to 34% over the same period.

From 1996-98 to 2014-15, the capital saw a 41% increase in young people living with their parents.

The percentage of first-time buyers in the capital receiving parental help has fluctuated in recent years between 25% and 40% – consistently 10 percentage points higher than the rest of England.

Almost 25,000 London homes were left unoccupied in 2020 – the highest figure since 2012 – at an estimated total worth of £11 billion. Homelessness and rough sleeping rates rose by 165% in England between 2010 and 2018.

Transparency International has calculated that at least £6.7 billion worth of property in the UK has been bought with suspicious wealth since 2016 – more than 80% purchased in London. Out of the £6.7 billion, £1.5 billion has been bought by Russians accused of corruption or links to the Kremlin, with these individuals favouring the City of Westminster (accounting for £430 million, or 28.3%) and Kensington and Chelsea (£283 million or 18.8%).

Poverty

The number of people living in poverty in London (some 2.5 million) is only slightly smaller than the entire population of Greater Manchester.

Life expectancy is some 16 years lower for men in the most deprived areas of Kensington and Chelsea than in the least deprived areas.

The poorest 50% of Londoners hold just 6.8% of the capital’s wealth, while the top 10% retain 42.5%.

As of 2020, 28% of people in London were living in poverty, after housing costs, compared to 22% in the UK as a whole.

Some 74% of impoverished adults in the capital are in working families, up from 62% a decade ago. In the three years to 2016, 39% of private renters in London and 46% of social renters were in poverty, falling to 12% among owner-occupiers.

From 2014 to 2019, the number of children in the north of England living in a poor household increased by 200,000 – taking the total figure to 800,000. Over the same period, weekly pay increased by only 2.4% in the north versus 3.5% nationally.

Child poverty increased by 16% in the Red Wall from 2014/15 to 2019/20 – double the England-wide average. Child poverty in the north-east increased from 26% to 36.9 per cent in this period, while it fell in the south-east, from 24% to 23.8%, and only marginally increased in the south-west – from 26% to 26.1%.

Sam Bright’s book, ‘Fortress London: Why We Need to Save the Country From its Capital’, is published by HarperCollins

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