IPR Blog

Expert analysis, debates and comments on topical policy-relevant issues

How the left should respond to the steady march of nationalism

📥  Brexit, future, International relations, Trump

Published in The New Statesman, December 2017

The new wave of nationalism is a reminder of the contingent, if not cyclical, nature of history. The liberal left cannot retreat to the comforts of moral outrage.

“Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built,” remarked ­Florian Philippot, the chief strategist of France’s Front National, after Donald Trump’s victory. Trump’s election to the presidency of the United States has consolidated a global shift towards nationalism that has been under way since the 2008 financial crisis. The steady march of nationalist politics has swept up swaths of the world’s population: Russia and Turkey are governed by authoritarian, ethno-religious regimes; eastern Europe is criss-crossed by illiberal, nationalist governments; and western Europe is now home to virulent, far-right movements and large, electorally competitive political parties, such as the Front National and the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party) in Austria, which have made their way into the democratic mainstream. Japan and India are governed by democratic, conservative nationalists, while in China an emergent strongman, Xi Jinping, has been newly designated as the “core” of the Communist Party leadership.


Until recently, the Anglosphere countries had largely bucked these trends. Centrist conservative dominance in England, Justin Trudeau’s victory in the 2015 Canadian general election and the likelihood that the Democrats would retain the White House promised to build a liberal firewall against the nationalist ascendancy. Brexit and Trump upended those assumptions. The nationalist virus has infected the body politic of Burkean Anglo-America.

A focus on populism – in policy, rhetoric and political style – obscures the asymmetry of this shift along the left/right axis. Contemporary nationalism is almost wholly conservative or authoritarian, and sometimes avowedly fascist. It is only civic or leftist in the case of political movements seeking liberation from existing nation states, as with Scottish or Catalan nationalism. Its ascendancy is therefore another marker of the electoral weakness of the contemporary centre left.

But it is also highly differentiated. In the UK, Theresa May’s government represents an attempt to reconcile post-Thatcherism with a soft economic nationalism and renewed social conservatism. Its bedrock is an older, security-conscious electorate that is sceptical of immigration and hostile to elites. This is a far cry from the nativist and fascist movements of the European mainland, which draw energy from youthful extremists as well as the post-industrial dispossessed, and which direct unstinting fire at migrant populations and the EU project.

European nationalism, in turn, cannot supply the conceptual frameworks with which to understand Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s business-friendly Hindu identity politics in India, nor, in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist, anti-Kurdish authoritarianism, which seeks to wrench Turkish nationalism out of its 20th-century secular, Kemalist frame. These have their own origins and trajectories. For its part, China maintains a political order that is highly ethnocentric, built around the dominant identity of the Han Chinese, and its leadership is increasingly centralised. But China is committed to the rule-bound, liberal global economic order on which its economic growth critically depends, and shows no interest in the military adventurism of its Russian neighbour.

This suggests that talk of a nationalist ­revolt against globalisation offers too simple an account of a complex picture. The new wave of nationalism has been incubated in the era of global integration, but it will not bring it to a close. Global supply chains, foreign direct investment, cross-border lending and the political institutions of managed trade all inhibit a reversion to autarky, imperial blocs or high tariff walls.

Global trade has fallen because of weak demand and the slowing of China’s growth, not protectionist sentiment, and although new multilateral deals with the Americans may now be off the cards, the cost of the US launching punitive tariff wars will be punishingly high. Trump’s election signifies an end to the signature trade agreements of the Obama era, and his narcissism and volatility introduce a deep uncertainty into global politics, particularly in the handling of relations with China, as the storm over Taiwan has shown. But regional trade blocs such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the European single market are unlikely to collapse, and the integration into the global economy of the huge working populations of Asia will continue, not unwind.

Still, such are the howls of protest from the rust belts of advanced economies, the surge of discontent among debt-laden, college-educated young people who have been locked in to low salaries and priced out of housing markets, and the political shocks administered by Trump and Ukip, that austerity in Europe and inequality in the US will come under renewed pressure. A “reactionary Keynesianism” of tax cuts for the rich, increased military spending and infrastructure credits will form the core of Trump’s economic strategy as he seeks to repay his base. He will be inaugurated at a time of rising wages, and as long as inflation is held in check, American workers will feel their pay cheques swell throughout his first term. In the UK, the rhetoric of delivering for the “just about managing” classes will outpace reality, but, like their Republican counterparts, the Conservatives will seek to lock down the electoral allegiances of working-class voters.

The eurozone is more uncertain. A victory for Marine Le Pen would be a cataclysmic defeat for European liberalism, but even if her Front National doesn’t manage to emulate Trump, the size of its popular support, the pressure of left-wing opponents of austerity in southern Europe, and the electoral threat posed by reactionaries in Germany may yet force Angela Merkel to abandon the self-defeating straitjacket of EU-wide austerity and weaken the mercantilism of the country’s export sectors. By dint of history and conviction, Germany’s leaders remain deeply committed to the European project; they will not let it disintegrate easily.

Some reshaping of the global security order is likely, in which tacit co-operation between the main military powers returns, retrospectively endorsing Vladimir Putin’s land-grabs and power plays in the Middle East. With the US, Japan and France pivoting towards more Russia-friendly postures, and Britain detached from European security diplomacy by Brexit, the stage is set for a new rapprochement with Putin. The EU is likely to expend more effort in defending the Paris climate-change agreement and the Iranian nuclear deal than in contesting Crimea or Aleppo, despite the fears of the Baltic states. China has already indicated that its priorities for dealing with a Trump presidency will be resisting protectionism and any backsliding on climate change.

The electoral success of nationalist and conservative authoritarian governments also masks the continued strength of liberalism’s social and economic redoubts. Cosmopolitan liberalism is not rootless: it is founded on large and growing university-educated, ethnically diverse urban populations. In recent electoral contests, this bloc has roughly matched those of the conservatives and nationalists. It has suffered narrow defeats, not decisive ones. It will now dig in to defend its social gains and to resist encroachments on civil rights and liberal constitutionalism. This resistance is already facing down authoritarianism in central and eastern Europe, and will put up a fight against evangelical-inspired culture wars, environmental degradation and attacks on minority rights. The politics of constitutional patriotism, often restricted to a “kissing the typewriter” liberalism of procedural justice, will, for once, attract passion and anger.

The new wave of nationalism is a reminder of the contingent, if not cyclical, nature of history. It is unlikely to usher in a post-liberal order, let alone foreshadow the end of capitalism, though one cannot discount increased violence and repression of minority communities. The space for a broad alliance of liberal, centrist, social-democratic and green politics remains wide – but it will need to find a way of articulating working-class interests, economic as well as cultural, and to find a more expressive, emotional and compelling register for its politics.

The liberal left cannot retreat to the comforts of moral outrage and political protest. The new times demand a progressive engagement with the politics of identity and belonging, as well as renewed radicalism on economic policy and social protection. “You have made yourself the trustee for those in every country who seek to mend the evils of our condition by reasoned experiment within the framework of the existing social system,” Keynes wrote to Roosevelt in December 1933. If the era of nationalists and authoritarians is to pass, this kind of leadership will be needed again.



Building the right organisations: a neglected policy tool?

📥  policymaking

Stephen Muers is Head of Strategy and Market Development at Big Society Capital. This blog post is based on his time as one of IPR's Visiting Policy Fellows while in his previous role as Director of Criminal Justice Policy at the Ministry of Justice.

My previous post on this blog discussed the importance of culture and values in determining policy outcomes, and posed the question of how policymakers can promote a culture of learning and innovation. This post picks up that challenge and looks at one way in which it can be done: building organisations that embody the desired values.



Culture comes from organisations

It is commonplace for managers in any organisation to say that culture change is hard. All the unwritten rules and practices of any institution reinforce one another and can act like the immune system in a living organism, rejecting new ideas and preventing unwelcome change. This is essentially the point I made in the previous post about how culture trumps policy tools, but at the organisational rather than system level: leadership tools are defeated by organisational culture in the same way that macro policy tools are defeated by the culture of a whole delivery system.

Organisation building as a policy tool

If culture is vital to policy success, and organisations embody culture, then surely creating new organisations is an important tool for the policymaker. However, it not always considered as a primary option. Government often starts with the classic option set of regulation, expenditure (or taxation) or exhortation. There are good reasons for this: they fit around the main levers that governments have and can be universal in their application, promising national-scale results that the development of new organisations is unlikely to achieve.

However the previous analysis on the impact of culture shows that the promised rapid national impact of these traditional tools may be a mirage. Regulation can be complied with to the letter and not the spirit, or ignored entirely. Expenditure can be misused and the tax system gamed by those with more detailed knowledge than the policymaker and different incentives. Exhortation can easily be ignored entirely if it doesn’t resonate with someone’s underlying value set. An example that illustrates the value of organisational culture compared to regulation is the experience of the UK financial services system around the 2008 financial crash. There was plenty of regulation in place that should, in theory, have prevented reckless lending. Northern Rock, Bradford and Bingley and RBS all had compliance departments, audits and copious paper trails demonstrating how they had followed the rules. The internal incentives and cultures that they had developed, however, made those controls operate as an afterthought and an inconvenience to be worked around. In contrast, some building societies that had remained driven by a value-system that focused on safe lending to their local communities came out of the crisis largely unscathed. The potential policy question in this example is therefore: should the response to the financial crisis have considered actively promoting the growth of financial institutions that are driven by positive social values, as well as looking at regulation of the market as a whole?

Organisation building is not, of course, mutually exclusive to the other policy tools. The recent experience with addressing low wages in the UK is a good example. The National Minimum Wage is a very successful piece of classic national regulation[1] – but its success goes well beyond the existence of the legislation and the fact that compliance is widespread (in fact, as recent press investigations have shown, even this simple and popular piece of regulation, largely going with the grain of prevailing culture, is sometimes being avoided). Progress beyond the minimum wage to an increasingly successful national movement for a Living Wage has in part been driven by employers (both private sector and not-for-profit) who see creating a better deal for their employees as a central part of their value system and therefore are willing to voluntarily go beyond the national minimum. They then act as role-models for other organisations, exemplifying what is possible and making it easier for others to follow suit.

How can policy build organisations?

The simplest way for policymakers to build new organisations is to do so directly: create a new statutory agency, design its governance and choose the leadership so as to maximise the chance of it successfully embodying the desired values. This can work fine when a single national organisation is what is required. A good example is the move in several countries to create anti-corruption bureaus to tackle perceived endemic problems in existing public sector institutions. The Hong Kong ICAC is often seen as a very successful effort in this direction, copied more recently in several of the Eastern European states as part of their preparation for EU membership and also in African countries including Sierra Leone, Ghana and Malawi among others.[2]

In other cases, however, the new organisation (or organisations) may need to be more dispersed and further from government control. Also, the more closely an organisation’s creation is controlled by and associated with a particular government, the greater the risk that a change of political control will end up undermining it before any impact on the culture system overall has a chance to take effect. One route to adopting a more dispersed model is for government to establish the outline of a form for new organisations to use, and some supportive funding and regulation, but allow others to build the individual examples. The academy school programme supported by successive UK governments exemplifies the benefits of such an approach: academies are a new organisational form with a strong bias towards both independence from government and collaboration between chains of schools. The details of the particular culture and philosophy of education developed by each chain is left to them, rather than designed by the centre – but the net effect at a system level has been a significant impact on the overall culture of education in England.[3]

Moving even further from central government control, it is possible for policymakers to foster the development of desirable organisations that, once established, have little to do with government at all. For example charities and social enterprises have a particular ability to foster value change as they are explicitly value-driven organisations. Social enterprises do behave differently from other businesses in the same industries, with potentially socially advantageous results both directly and as a result of showing others what is possible (although hard evidence for the latter is limited[4]). Clearly government has little control over such independent bodies, which may well be dealing directly with consumers in a market with no government involvement. This doesn’t mean that policymakers can’t still play a role, though – through setting tax and regulatory regimes that benefit value-led organisations, for instance (take the creation of Social Investment Tax Relief). Such an approach is an indirect way of achieving impact, potentially with a long lead-time, and so is less appealing to policymakers under pressure to deliver results. However, if we believe that cultural change is generally essential to delivering social improvement, that such change is usually organic, evolutionary and slow, and that an ecosystem of organisations that adapt and support one another is likely to be needed, then this kind of approach has much to commend it.

Of course, just creating a new institution will not solve the cultural barriers to policy change. If the rest of the system doesn’t respond and seeks to undermine it then a new culturally distinct organisation will struggle. Indeed, many of the anti-corruption bodies have suffered this fate as political opponents seek to undermine them by cutting off resources, attacking the integrity and credibility of their leadership or simply ignoring their conclusions.[5] If a new organisation goes with the grain of other supportive trends in society, however, then it can be an important part of making a difference.

When is organisation building likely to work?

Like any policy tool, building organisations to embody a desired culture change (as opposed to building an organisation simply as a delivery channel for a policy intervention) will only be suitable in certain situations. The following criteria should be considered:

·         Are decisions made at organisation level the important ones to drive change? Some policies are directed at changing the decisions that organisations make, such as how businesses invest or how public bodies commission services. Others are much more closely related to individual choices. The latter are less likely to be amenable to an organisation-building strategy: the crucial cultural values are carried by informal peer networks rather than the sort of institutions that policymakers can build. It  is harder to see how the cultural changes needed to tackle individual choices about whether to drink-drive or abuse drugs, for example, are likely to be developed by new forms of organisation that are fostered by policymakers.

·         Do the key organisations need to be directly democratically accountable? There is a separate debate (which I will not cover here) about which decisions should be taken by directly elected representatives. There is an important link to this debate, however: it will be harder to develop institutions that embody a particular set of values if those institutions need to be directly accountable, as they will then necessarily adapt to the political leadership of the moment and the prevailing majority view in the electorate.  Also, if there is an existing set of elected institutions that monopolises the policy space involved, then there may be no room for new entry. The possible exception to this would be if the policymaker’s intention was to promote a culture of democratic responsiveness, either as an end in itself or as the best way of achieving flexible, innovative policy delivery.

·         What are the existing competitor organisations? No new organisation lands in a vacuum. If it is a threat to existing players in the same space, they may well attempt to damage it or to push its culture into a form with which they are more comfortable. It is important not to overstate this particular risk though: history shows that new values-driven organisations can thrive even in existing competitive markets. Mutual building societies, friendly societies and co-operatives grew in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries despite the presence of large shareholder-return driven financial institutions. Ethical businesses (those following Fair Trade principles, for example) have made serious inroads in large consumer markets such as coffee and chocolate. Heavy competition will make change via institution building a long-term challenge, but need not rule it out entirely.

The value of values

Building new organisations is just like any other approach to policy in that it will not work in all situations, there are different approaches that will suit different challenges and there are trade-offs to make around the timescale for impact and where control, accountability and impetus for innovation sit. I would argue, though, that if we take seriously the need to address culture and values when thinking about policy change – and the claim that effective change comes from experimentation, learning and evolution – then creating the organisations that have such an approach at the heart of their existence has much to commend it.


[1] Institute for Government “The S Factors” 2012
[2]Sousa. Anti-corruption agencies: between empowerment and irrelevance. Crime, Law and Social Change, 2009
[3] Woods, Woods and Gunther “Academy Schools and entrepreneurialism in education” Journal of Education Policy 2007 (Vol 22 issue 2)
[4] Peattie and Morley “Social Enterprises: Diversity and Dynamics, Context and Contributions” ESRC Research Monograph 2008
[5] Doig, Watt and Williams Investigating “success” in Five African Anti-Corruption Commissions U4 report 2005


Trumpism 101: The Outsider, Ignored For Years. No longer

📥  future, International relations, Trump, Uncategorised

Janine R. Wedel, a social anthropologist in the Schar School of Government and Policy at George Mason University and Global Policy Chair at the University of Bath, is the author of Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Finances, Freedom, and Politics and Created an Outsider Class (Pegasus, 2014), now out in paperback.

A version of this article was published in the Huffington Post (“Trumpism 101: The Outsider, Ignored For Years. No longer,” Oct. 27, 2016)

Hundreds, if not thousands, of pundits the world over have written about the various them­es that have come to life in the most extraordinary and alarming election year in modern history. But I daresay only a handful of thinkers can rightfully claim they examined these themes and warned about a coming revolt years ago. I am one of the few, a social anthropologist studying power and influence, first in Central and Eastern Europe before and after communism and, more recently, in the United States. I began addressing anti-establishment rage with Shadow Elite in 2009 and then further in 2014’s Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Freedom, Finances, and Politics and Created an Outsider Class, now out in paperback.



The rhetoric this year has been disturbing to me, not just as a person who values civility in discourse, but also as a scholar. Complex topics I have studied for decades—elite power and influence, corruption, political rigging—have now been hijacked by a demagogue. There is thus a big risk of burying a sober and much-needed discussion of these important, complicated issues. I hope to address them here.

Let’s begin with the defining feature of the 2016 revolt: outsiderism. Increasingly, people identify themselves as outsiders, and look to leaders who claim to do the same. Digital technology, of course, enables these outsiders to mass together in ways never before possible. Wholesale alienation was in evidence long before 2016.

Two years ago, I wrote this in Unaccountable:

How is it that ordinary people have an instinctual grasp of the real nature of corruption and the inequality that often results, while many experts are still wedded to the idea that corruption happens somewhere out there? Witness the Occupy protests that began on Wall Street in 2011 and the Tea Party movement that helped grind the U.S. government to a halt in the fall of 2013. They may otherwise have little in common, but they share a resounding refrain: that the system is gamed by the powerful.

When I wrote those words, President-elect Donald Trump was just a middling, blustering reality television star and self-aggrandising real estate mogul. Senator Bernie Sanders was a distant third on the list of famous Vermonters, well behind Ben and Jerry, of ice cream fortune. More than two years later, I’ve heard these revolutionary figures and a parade of their supporters agree wholeheartedly that the system is rigged.

Since 2014, I have watched with distress, though not much surprise, as the arguments I made sprang to full flower in massive anti-establishment movements in the United States and Europe. My lack of surprise is because I come at this issue from a perspective and history few others have. I am an American who began her career as a young scholar overseas in the waning years of communism. On both sides of the Atlantic I have since been studying elites who wield power and influence, how they operate in new and insidious ways, and the seismic changes that spawned them. The result is that ordinary people now have little meaningful voice in making and shaping the policies that affect their lives and livelihoods. I have sought to redefine corruption as actions that violate the public trust, even if they are not technically illegal. Most, if not all, of this “new corruption,” as I call it, is fully legal, even if most of us would consider it unethical.

Over the past two years, the populist, anti-elite movements erupting around the world showed that regular people were starting to grasp at a primal level the contours of the new corruption, because indeed they were living with it. Now this is a stone-cold reality. The public knows full well that this new corruption is flourishing, though the culprits that are usually mentioned—money in politics, greedy banks, or the simple revolving door—tell a story that’s dangerously incomplete. Many elites, by contrast, have been blind-sided. The media, too, have been caught off guard by insurgencies from both right and left. So have most pundits and scholars.

That is because, to quote from Unaccountable:

…..more and more we feel like we’re excluded from a system we used to know how to negotiate but no longer quite do. Figuring things out is not as straightforward as in the past. We‘re subject to new ways of influencing and organizing influence that are not as obvious as they were just twenty-five—or even five—years ago... [W]e sense a division between outsiders and insiders and that the insiders are working on their own behalf, even as they purport to have us, the public, in mind. The rest of us are left on the outside, knocking to get in.

This rigged system does exist. The sense that something huge is amiss has driven millions of Americans to seek leaders they perceive as outside of the system—the most successful being Trump, Bernie Sanders, and a motley collection of third party candidates. In fact, as I argue, the new corruption of Hillary Clinton and many, many elite players of all stripes has paved the way for the likes of Trump and Sanders. Clinton’s byzantine family foundation is not merely a right-wing talking point. Serious concerns about the conflicts of interest embedded there should give pause to citizens of any political persuasion. And her use of a private email system while secretary of State exemplifies a classic characteristic of this Unaccountable era—boundary-pushing elites subverting the standard bureaucracy in self-interested ways that make transparency difficult, if not impossible. It is unfortunate that Trump has so sullied the discourse that these very real issues cannot be discussed dispassionately; rather, people, even family members, are coming to blows on social media. Sometimes this election season, we’re talking about actual blows. And now the President-elect seems to be blithely disinterested or uninformed about the very corruption he decried in speech after speech. Aside from blatantly violating norms and dismissing questions about his own vast conflicts-of-interest, he is surrounding himself with some of the very people who practice the more subtle but very insidious form of new corruption, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Trump, it is important to note, is not one of the elites I study who shape policy. He is actually useful in making the distinction about who I am talking about. Trump is a wealthy celebrity who until Election Day was not involved himself in any major way in Washington-style policy manipulation. (That in no way absolves him from his many other alleged abuses: of the tax code, of sound and fair business practices, of standards of civility, and of women.)

Trump is what happens when elites in the establishment game the system to their advantage, widening income inequalities, and crippling trust in civic institutions. These developments have left regular people disillusioned and looking for a savior in a demagogue like him.

Sanders, of course, never exhibited the alarming authoritarianism that Trump does, but his followers are equally anti-establishment and anti-elite. To Sanders’s supporters, Clinton represents the unholy alliance between Democrats and Wall Street, and the corruption of a political system awash in mystery money from corporations and even foreign governments. These followers have solid points to make, if not always pragmatic plans for fixing the enormous challenges they lay out.

Americans are not the only people experiencing an epidemic of outsiderism. Such disaffection from the establishment and resulting populist movements are by no means limited to the United States. I have witnessed them first-hand in Europe, where I spent the year from September 2015 through August 2016 conducting research and teaching in several cities across the continent, in part as a Fulbright scholar (my analysis here is entirely my own, not that of the Fulbright program.) In Germany, I saw the continued rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), founded only in 2013. The AfD scored strongly, earning votes in the double digits in three German states during elections in spring 2016 and, in September 2016, even beating the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel in her home state. I watched German news coverage of France, where terror attacks have been feeding xenophobic support for Marine Le Pen and her far right-wing National Front party. In June, from Ukraine, I watched coverage of how voters in the United Kingdom shocked elites there and around the world by voting to Brexit the European Union. The far right (some would say fascist) did suffer a defeat in December in Austria’s presidential elections, where, for the first time since World War II, neither establishment party (Social Democrats and Austrian People’s) saw their candidate appear in the top spot.

Whether from the right or the left, these candidates and movements have one hugely salient attribute in common: They are profoundly and aggressively anti-elite, anti-establishment, and anti-system. They seek to abolish the system without any real or viable plan for replacing it.

The result is President-elect Trump, whose actions thus far to “drain the swamp” suggests only one thing: that he had no idea who the swamp-dwellers were in the first place.







Trump, COP22 and the Tipping Point for Climate Change Mitigation

📥  energy, sustainability

Professor Ricardo García Mira is Professor of Social and Environmental Psychology at the University of A Coruña in Spain, and Visiting Professor at the IPR.

Last October the requirement that enabled the Paris Agreement (adopted in December 2015 by 195 countries) to come into force was met; 55 countries who together account for a minimum of 55% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions formally accepted the Agreement, which came into force a month later. By the close of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP22) held in Marrakech last month, 111 countries had already ratified the Agreement, accounting between them for over three-quarters of global emissions. The Agreement has been one of the quickest to come into force as an international treaty for a global agreement.

The uncertainty generated when delegates became aware, partway through COP22, that Donald Trump had won the US election and would be the next President of the United States did not stop over 200 different countries from signing the Marrakech Action Proclamation with the highest level of political commitment to combatting climate change and reducing its impact. The Proclamation will not be immediately binding on the parties, but will serve as a guide for designing political action towards the drawing up of a regulatory text that will enable the practical application of the Paris Agreement.

A moment of transition

Despite the uncertainties hovering over Marrakech due to Trump’s election victory and his previous criticisms of climate change, the assembled heads of state fixed a deadline of 2018 for the application of the rules in the Agreement. COP22 also led to a better understanding of the numerous questions involved in designing a framework within which the commitments of the Paris Agreement could be fulfilled, defining the areas of convergence and divergence between countries, and adopting a work plan (The Paris Rulebook). The Rulebook covers a wide range of topics, including mitigation, adaptation, finance and transparency, together with a delineation of tools including a new ‘global inventory’ process, market mechanisms and guidelines for the application and fulfilment of commitments based on which definitive decisions will be taken in 2018, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s group of experts, will advance its new report on the effects of climate change and increasing temperatures.

The Prime Minister of Morocco declared that it was an extraordinary occasion, and that there is now no going back on this moment of transition towards an earnest and unified struggle against climate change. Other cities, states and NGOs in Africa, China, Europe and Latin America, among others, declared their concurrence with these sentiments through their heads of government and ministers – including US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The plans in the Paris Agreement include aid for developing states from developed countries to promote the implementation of policies for adapting to climate change and the assignation of specific mitigation funds to eradicate sources of greenhouse gas.

Professor García Mira at COP22

Professor García Mira at COP22

COP22, which brought together over 500 politicians, business people, NGOs and civilians in Marrakech, urged Trump to act for the benefit of the planet, and called for his collaboration. Trump’s leadership, however, is not so critical if we take into account the fact that the struggle against climate change is already being configured as a matter of social responsibility all over the planet, and has already started to generate elements of social identity and socio-political involvement around it. Added to this is the commitment and organisation of municipalities, cities and regions of the world into forums and associations which reinforce this social identification on a local level. Furthermore, China and the European Union are already fighting for the leading position in the struggle against climate change, just in case the United States resigns from this mission. China, for example, has not budged from its commitment to the Paris Agreement, and will keep on fighting against global warming. Political commitment to this cause is real.

Matters still to resolve

Adaptation to and mitigation of the impacts of climate change will require additional funds, especially for developing countries. Hence, despite a high level of consensus between countries, there are certain matters which will need resolving over the next two years; we must reach an agreement to define the climate change adaptation fund, for example, which has been suspended again and will require further negotiations. Another outstanding issue is the Green Climate Fund, which will require more financing.

Climate change exists and is very serious, and people are the main cause. This is stated in the 5th IPCC Report. It is therefore urgent to drastically reduce CO2 emission so that we do not exceed the 2 degrees centigrade threshold, which would be a serious threat to the planet’s stability. The central challenge lies in establishing a real commitment to a green economy, and assessing the positive and negative aspects of applying techniques like geoengineering and bioengineering, which could help establish one.

Finally, scientists as a whole must bear responsibility for the way in which we deal with and supply knowledge to decision-makers in the struggle against climate change. Like the mass media, we also must resist the pressure of powerful lobbying by both large companies and governments that use the results from our reports to pursue their own interests. Furthermore, we can all see – and should greet with concern – the ready flow of money to deniers and sceptics of climate change that facilitates them in discrediting the results of painstaking scientific work.

Commitments underway

Some initiatives towards addressing these challenges are already underway, including Cross-border Cooperation in the Mediterranean (a 5+5 Water Initiative), and others related to energy. The International Civil Aviation Organization is creating a device to reduce CO2 emissions from planes. 48 countries in the Climate Vulnerable Forum undertook to maintain their systems in such a way that global temperature increase will be no more than 1.5 degrees centigrade, and to promote measures to achieve a 100% renewable electricity supply, in the short or medium term. Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada, among others, have announced their target of reducing CO2 by 80% in 2050. The European Union has made a similar statement, although some countries have not evidenced a clear strategy in other aspects, such as phasing out coal.

Trump’s electoral victory did not, therefore, prevent some of the most vulnerable countries from undertaking serious commitments to reduce emissions, transform their traditional energy systems into renewable energy production, and move towards eco-friendly systems in energy management.

Over the next two years, the technical agreements reached in Marrakech will lead to policies, protocols and financial and transparency procedures which, in turn, will provide the framework for moving from commitment to implementation between now and 2050. Signatories will be committed to drawing up the necessary regulatory architecture to implement political action; complying with the ordinances laid out in the Agreement all over the planet; and driving efficient adaptation to climate change, promoting more sustainable lifestyles which depend less on carbon. In their national industries, they will be expected to establish an eco-friendly framework in energy management, including the residential sector; to promote a sustainable mobility and transport policy; and to fix specific reduction targets for each of the main sectors in greenhouse gas emission, in the short, medium and long term (2020, 2030 and 2050). Their commitments to finance and transparency will include promoting and implementing national policies tending towards the reduction of CO2 emission in all sectors of the economy, and the tools for complying with them; guaranteeing an information management system that is free and which can be publicly accessed; and undertaking appropriate financing to be able to reach these targets.

Marrakech as a tipping point

Implementing these policies effectively will also require combining them in such a way that they are more efficient in terms of mitigation, given the transversal nature of the way the struggle against climate change should be deployed. Far from being dulled by Trump’s victory, Marrakech can be seen as a “tipping point”, a marker of the moment when the idea of the struggle against climate change became an irreversible social trend, spreading out over the whole planet as if it were a forest fire.


Shared prosperity and protest

📥  Brexit, development, EU Referendum, Trump

Professor James Copestake is Professor of International Development at the University of Bath, as well as being a member of the IPR Central Team and Director of Studies for the Professional Doctorate Programme (DPRP).

Donald Trump’s victory in the USA earlier this month coincided with a campus lecture here at Bath from Kaushik Basu, who played a leading role in the World Bank’s decision to add shared prosperity to its mission statement alongside the already established goal of absolute poverty reduction. Defined as growth in the income of the poorest 40%, shared prosperity is not in itself a measure of inequality – but it does invite comparisons with how their income growth compares with that of others in society. It also echoes the attention being paid under the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 to “ensuring that no one is left behind’ (the Republic of Uganda, for example).



That said, many people living towards the bottom of the economic pyramid are likely to regard such worthy statements as at best irrelevant, and at worst fodder for the expensive bureaucratic ‘system’ for centralising power and promoting the global free markets through which they were marginalised in the first place. This takes us back to Trump, to Brexit and, most likely, to further political protest movements and ‘surprise’ votes. If so, then rising demand for better evidence of who is benefitting most from economic growth looks set to continue. Here are three examples of literature to watch.

First, there are 'Kakner-Milanovic global growth incidence curves', also known as Elephant Diagrams. Integrated global versions reveal rising shares of growth among world income deciles from 0% to 60%, high growth for the top 1%, and a stagnant trough of disaffected poor-to-middle class voters in between, mostly living in richer countries. This suggests that we should not be surprised to see more news stories that reverse the polarity of neo-liberal versus protectionist debate between the global north and south.

Second, there is the P20 initiative to monitor the poorest 20% of the world’s population: who they are, how they are doing, and where they are. Three-quarters of them currently live in just nine countries – India, China, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Indonesia, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Tanzania. Hoy and Sumner argue that other people in these same countries are now rich enough to transfer the simplistic sums necessary to eliminate this poverty – through a mix of higher taxes and shifts in funding from military spending and regressive fossil-fuel subsidies, for example. This is likely, in turn, to fuel renewed demand for incorporating estimates of countries’ relative tax effort into aid allocation.

Third, there is more nuanced political economy analysis of the causes and consequences of unequal shares in income growth. Take Ethiopia. Its government has been impressively successful over the last two decades in both promoting economic growth and channelling it into poverty-oriented activities, including rural roads, agriculture and social protection programmes. A symbol of its economic success is the construction boom in Addis Ababa and other prospering centres, and the rising property prices and rents anyone fortunate enough to own or acquire land there can enjoy. But investor confidence behind this model is threatened by protests linked to perceived horizontal inequality of access to these windfalls between different regional/linguistic groups. In short, if economic growth leads to rising inequality, political intolerance of the same will sooner or later threaten to hold it back.

All this suggests that indicators of shared prosperity (equitable or otherwise) are of interest not only to academics, researchers and development bureaucrats, but also to politicians, investors and activists – particularly to the extent that they can be disaggregated not only by income but also by class, ethnicity, gender, region, religion, disability, age and their intersections.

You can read more about Kaushik Basu's visit, his lecture and the conferment of his honorary degree here.



From Foucault to Valls: experiments with basic income in France

📥  universal basic income

Dr Susan Milner is Reader in European Politics at the University of Bath.

In line with changes discussed in the British context, it is startling to observe how much has shifted in French policy debates since the last presidential and legislative elections in 2012. For over two decades now, as in other OECD countries, the twin discourses of welfare dependency and ‘making work pay’ have dominated public debates. In the US presidential elections, the rhetoric of ‘decent jobs for decent pay’ was powerfully articulated across the political spectrum. It has not (yet?) made its way across the Atlantic. Instead, amidst the tumult of primaries as the political parties gear up for next year’s executive elections, the idea of a universal basic income has been making its way across the political landscape in France.



The idea has a long pedigree in France where it is associated with radical thinkers such as Michel Foucault who argued that an unconditional basic income would free citizens from the intrusion of state power and the stigmatisation of means testing and conditionality. Philosopher André Gorz also advocated a ‘revenue of autonomy’ back in 1983, first linking it to the need for recipients to engage in work as a precondition for active citizenship, then later - in 2002 - abandoning this link to employment in the face of mass unemployment, and as a reaction against the spread of ‘workfare’ conditionality. Gorz’s ‘farewell to the proletariat’ (physically productive paid work as opposed to brain work) was in line with this new left utopia, and it chimes with the current mood of political debates which have been sparked by concerns and hopes about the consequences for human employment of developments in artificial intelligence.

Equally startling is the observation that the idea has gathered new converts across the political spectrum. The ruling French Socialist Party has been relatively slow to welcome it, and the mainstream right has, up until now, been mostly hostile. The conversion of key politicians on both wings has reopened debates. In the Socialist Party, universal basic income has gathered support recently from would-be leaders on both the left and right wings. On the centre-right, François Fillon - its most notable proponent - made a surprise breakthrough in the first round of the primaries on Sunday.

However, as Luke Martinelli pointed out in his IPR blog, behind the apparent consensus lie some fundamental differences which need to be acknowledged and explored if the debate is to develop meaningfully. A report by the Fondation Jean Jaurès, a think tank with close ties to the ruling French Socialist Party, identified at least three approaches to universal incomes, with a fundamental divide between libertarian-right and ecologist-left versions based on whether a universal income should be residual subsistence-level or generous enough to allow individuals to live decently without any need for paid work.

Most proponents among the contenders on the centre-right propose pegging the rate at €450 per month, which is far from the conditions of autonomy espoused by Gorz or Foucault. Some of the (less prominent) politicians in the Les Républicains party have suggested a rate almost double that, at €800 per month, which is the rate around which support in the Socialist Party seems to be gathering. However, among the more likely winners of the forthcoming primary on the right, support for basic income has been at best lukewarm - and has been based on the assumption of rates lower than current benefit levels. Mr Fillon, tagged as an economic liberal and social conservative, espouses a low-level basic income as part of a general push to lower welfare spending.

A recent Senate report modelled three levels: €500 per month (the level of the current minimum income, revenu de solidarité active (RSA)), which could potentially be topped up by existing state pensions but no other benefits; €750 (the absolute poverty threshold); and €1000. Whilst the first two would save money for the state, the third would require further funding to the tune of €153 billion. The rate of €750 per month, with an additional €250 for pensioners and €250 per child to families, is the most widely advocated option - the ‘most realistic utopia’ for the authors of the Fondation Jean Jaurès report.

This specific difference concerning income levels raises a wider question about the motives for adopting a basic income. Several politicians on the French right have been explicit in advocating its adoption as a way of saving money for the state by reducing benefit levels. The result would almost certainly be a rise in levels of poverty risk, which France has so far been relatively successful in containing, at 12.1% of the total population in 2014 compared to 16% in the UK.

Existing social transfers significantly attenuate poverty in France: before social transfers the at-risk-of-poverty rate is around 22%. However this does not mean that it is efficient: as well as the stigmatising effect, the social safety net has several large gaps, particularly around young people (who are not eligible for the RSA and who have a poverty rate of 18%) and single people, as the transfers are skewed towards families with children. The RSA is a particularly unloved benefit, as it falls short of a universal basic income and, with its plethora of conditionality rules, has become complex to administer and to claim, with little impact on employability.

A final area of uncertainty, and therefore of political debate, concerns the impact of universal income on low-paid work. The late sociologist Robert Castel, a leading scholar of social exclusion who was one of the first to theorise the ‘precariate’, excoriated the RSA for providing insufficient resources to the poor whilst at the same time encouraging low-paid, low-quality jobs. Poverty concerns, he argued, have to be raised in the context of a wider discussion about the quality of work. In the current French political debates, the universal income proposals assume that they will be widely topped up with low-paid work. Moreover, contradictions with the post-work utopia are simply sidestepped.

Almost entirely absent from the current debates is any sense of the material needs of individuals claiming universal benefits, apart from low-income pensioners. There is no discussion of how universal benefit would affect families, or people with physical or mental disabilities, who may be cumulatively disadvantaged if a universal benefit is used to shrink the state in terms of its services as well as its cash transfers. There is no modelling of how benefits interact with consumption needs, particularly housing. Unless these fundamental questions are posed and answered, the current debates could end up instrumentalising the concept of a universal basic income without resolving the problems which sparked them in the first place.

To help answer some of these questions, the new interest in universal incomes has at least had the effect of stimulating investment in local experiments. In the Gironde department, a universal income will be administered by amalgamating existing benefits for the poorest. This French experiment will be much closer to a universal citizens’ income model than the Finnish and Dutch initiatives which will take place at the same time, and which are explicitly aimed at integrating recipients into the labour market. It also has the novel addition of a citizens’ panel which will form part of the evaluation process. The Gironde experiment has already caught the attention of the Prime Minister Manuel Valls and served to re-ignite the interest of presidential hopefuls. It will yield useful results for ongoing debates on a universal basic income.



Abolishing the Autumn Statement, Sticking with the Treasury View

📥  Brexit, Economy

If the Autumn Statement was meant to deliver on the Prime Minister’s Chamberlainite ambitions for improving working class living standards while intervening to restructure the economy towards higher productivity, investment and exports, it has disappointed. Post-Brexit referendum downgrades to growth forecasts have increased borrowing and forced the Chancellor to push deficit reduction further out into the future. But there was very little in the way of extra support for low-income families and no increase in planned public spending on the NHS, social care or childcare. Meanwhile, tax changes – increases in the Personal Tax Allowance and higher rate income tax threshold – favour households in the top half of the income distribution.



The new National Productivity Investment Fund is the biggest spending item in the Autumn Statement, but at less than an average £5 billion a year, it is small beer when compared to the scale of the challenges the UK faces. The UK’s business investment is falling, productivity is catastrophically low, and we are not paying our way in the world. Huge regional disparities persist.

This is what the Office for Budget Responsibility report has to say on a number of these key issues. On business investment:

“The latest data show that business investment in the first half of 2016 was down 1.4 per cent on a year earlier. We expect that weakness to continue, with heightened uncertainty following the EU referendum causing investment to fall further in the second half of 2016 and for growth to remain subdued in 2017. Overall, we expect business investment to fall 2.2 per cent in 2016 and 0.3 per cent in 2017, before annual growth returns in 2018.”

On productivity:

“In March we revised down our productivity growth assumption, as we put slightly more weight on the post-crisis period of weak productivity growth relative to the pre-crisis historical average. Nothing in the recent data would lead us to change that judgement about the rate of trend productivity growth that the economy can ultimately return to. But we do expect uncertainty to reduce investment and productivity growth in the run-up to – and in the transition phase after – the UK’s exit from the EU. We have therefore made a further downward adjustment to trend productivity growth over the next five years.”

On the UK’s twin deficits:

“the concurrence of large fiscal and current account deficits has been a feature of the UK economy in recent years. This means that overseas investors are ultimately – if not directly – financing the UK’s budget deficit. This could pose risks if those investors’ confidence in the UK economy was damaged by uncertainty or changes in policy. That could lead to a sharper fall in sterling and a more abrupt demand-led narrowing of the current account deficit”

On household deficits:

“The persistence of a household deficit of the magnitude implied by our forecast would be unprecedented in the latest available historical data, which extend back to 1987. Other datasets extending back to 1963 also suggest little evidence of large and persistent household deficits, with the household surplus negative in only one year between 1963 and 1987. A household deficit of the size and persistence we expect over the forecast period might be considered consistent with the unprecedented scale of the fiscal consolidation and the extremely accommodative monetary policy upon which our forecast is conditioned. It nevertheless demonstrates that the adjustment to the fiscal consolidation is subject to very significant uncertainty, and alternative adjustment paths are quite possible.”

The Brexit vote could have led to a more substantial reckoning with these persistent weaknesses in the British economy. So far, it has not done so. A slow decline, rather than a sudden crisis, means that dominant orthodoxies in the Treasury have not been dislodged. The Chancellor may have abolished the Autumn Statement, but he has not changed the Treasury view.


Three Facts about Debt and Deficits

📥  Economy, Public sector

Professor Roger Farmer is Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Research Director at the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR). 

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, will present his Autumn Statement to Parliament on Wednesday. In the heated debate over austerity, this piece offers three facts about debt and deficits which, I hope, will help shed light on the issues he will face.



Fact Number 1: UK Public Sector Debt is Not Large

The UK public debt is equal to £1.7 trillion and it is increasing at a rate of £5,170 per second (National Debt Clock UK). But although government debt is increasing at a rapid rate, that fact does not pose a threat to the solvency of the UK Treasury.  Government debt should not be measured in pounds; it should be measured in GDPs. When GDP is high, so are tax revenues, and so is the ability of the government to repay.

Chart 1 shows the ratio of government debt to GDP for every year beginning in 1692. Notably, this ratio has been as high as 250% – during the Napoleonic War – and almost as high again at the end of WWII.

Chart 1: UK Public Sector Debt

Chart 1: UK Public Sector Debt

Fact Number 2: Governments Do Not Repay Debt: They Grow Out of It

Chart 2 reproduces the debt-to-GDP ratio from Chart 1, but the time scale is limited to the years from 1920 to 2015.  Public sector debt is the upper solid line, measured on the right scale as a percentage of GDP.  The line marked by circles, measured on the left scale, also as a percentage of GDP, is the value of the public sector deficit, smoothed by averaging adjacent values. A positive number indicates that the public sector spent more than it received in revenue.

On average, the public sector borrowed more in every year from 1920 to 2015. Nevertheless, the debt-to-GDP ratio fell continuously from the end of WWII to the early noughties. The public sector borrowed more – but its debt, properly measured, fell.

Chart 2: Debt, Deficits and Interest Rates Net of NGDP Growth

Chart 2: Debt, Deficits and Interest Rates Net of NGDP Growth

George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, planned to bring the government budget into surplus by the year 2020. That plan represented a break from UK post-WWII policy. A surplus of public sector borrowing is neither necessary nor sufficient to reduce government debt when debt is measured as a fraction of the government’s ability to repay.

Fact Number 3: Government Debt Should Not Be Zero. Ever!

Nation states borrow to provide public capital: rail networks, road systems, airports and bridges, for example. These are examples of large-expenditure items that are more efficiently provided by government than by private companies.

The benefits of public capital expenditures are enjoyed not only by the current generation of people, who must sacrifice consumption to pay for them, but also by future generations who will travel on the rail networks, drive on the roads, fly to and from the airports and drive over the bridges that were built by previous generations. Interest on the government debt is a payment from current taxpayers, who enjoy the fruits of public capital, to past generations, who sacrificed consumption to provide that capital.

To maintain the roads, railways, airports and bridges, the government must continue to invest in public infrastructure. And public investment should be financed by borrowing, not from current tax revenues.

Chart 3 shows that investment in public infrastructure was, on average, equal to 4.3% of GDP in the period from 1948 through 1983. It has since fallen to 1.6% of GDP. There is a strong case to be made for increasing investment in public infrastructure. First, the public capital that was constructed in the post WWII period must be maintained in order to allow the private sector to function effectively. Second, there is a strong case for the construction of new public infrastructure to promote and facilitate future private sector growth.

Chart 3: Public Investment as a Percentage of GDP

Chart 3: Public Investment as a Percentage of GDP

The debt raised by a private sector company should be strictly less than the value of assets, broadly defined. That principle does not apply to a nation state. Even if government provided no capital services, the value of its assets or liabilities should not be zero except by chance.

National treasuries have the power to transfer resources from one generation to another. By buying and selling assets in the private markets, government creates opportunities for those of us alive today to transfer resources to or from those who are yet to be born. If government issues less debt than the value of public capital, there will be an implicit transfer from current to future generations. If it owns more debt, the implicit transfer is in the other direction.

The optimal value of debt, relative to public capital, is a political decision. Public economics suggests that the welfare of the average citizen will be greatest when the growth rate is equal to the interest rate. Economists call that principle the golden rule. Democratic societies may, or may not, choose to follow the golden rule. Whatever principle the government does choose to fund its expenditure, the optimal value of public sector borrowing will not be zero, except by chance.

Recommendations for the Autumn Statement

What can we learn from these three facts and what should we look for in the Autumn statement?

We should not be too concerned about a debt to GDP level approaching 100%. We have been there before and we will go there again.  We should be concerned that public spending has shifted away from investment on the capital account and towards the current account.

Economics has the reputation of being the dismal science. It is a dismal reality that there are diminishing returns to the prolongation of life. As we invest an increasing share of resources into advanced drugs and new treatments, the additional benefits, measured in extra weeks of life, will shrink.

As the population ages and life expectancy increases there will be an increasing burden on pensions and the National Health Service. These expenditures are predictable and can be planned for by stabilising the deficit on the current account either through limits on expenditures or through increased taxes. Our politicians must choose how much, as a society, we spend on health. And this choice must be presented to the electorate.

Capital account expenditures should be separated from the current account and increased back to 1960s levels. Work by Paul Romer, the new Chief Economist of the World Bank, suggests that these expenditures have the potential to pay for themselves. He advocates the creation of new charter cities and the expansion of existing cities. The last coalition government’s proposal to create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is an example of an investment of this kind.

There are also strong economic arguments to consider education expenditures at all levels – primary, secondary and tertiary – to be a capital expenditure. Education is an investment in the British people from which we all gain. But as with all capital expenditures, investment in education should be targeted towards the areas that have the highest potential for social impact.


On November 22, Professor Farmer will speak at an IPR public lecture entitled Prosperity for All: How to Prevent Financial Crises.

This post originally appeared on the NIESR blog.



Cost over quality: sexual health in an age of austerity

📥  Economy, health, policymaking, Public sector

Dr Frances Amery is Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Bath and Co-Convener of the PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group.

Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is a hugely important yet neglected area of public health. From access to abortion and contraception to treatment for HIV, SRH services are an essential part of efforts to address inequality. Yet SRH provision has been severely impacted by the NHS restructure precipitated by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act and by subsequent cuts to public spending.



The policy background

Department of Health guidance on SRH provision is set out in A Framework for Sexual Health Improvement in England, published in 2013. The Framework was published amid widespread uncertainty about what the upcoming reforms to the NHS would mean for SRH services and calls for the government to clarify its approach, while responding to evidence of inequalities in the sector. In particular, campaigners and medical organisations called for a life course approach to SRH which takes into account the ways in which men and women’s needs change with age.

The Framework appears to address these concerns. Equalities issues are foregrounded throughout: the document draws attention to the need to tackle discrimination and stigma surrounding sexual health matters, to ensure equality of access to services, to promote good body image and self-esteem, and to raise awareness of issues surrounding consent. Throughout, the different needs of different social groups and identities are highlighted. Calls for a life course approach are also addressed in a section titled ‘Sexual health across the life course’.

On paper, there has been a clear attempt to respond to demands of various advocacy groups. But as many equality policy researchers have observed, good intentions on paper often do not result in equality in practice. Indeed, the Framework has come under fire from SRH providers and campaigners for putting forward ‘ambitions’ without setting in place strategies to achieve them.

Inequalities remain in sexual and reproductive health

In spite of the high-flown ambitions found in DH guidance, huge inequalities in service provision and access remain. A 2012 report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health (APPGSRH) found evidence of some local authorities barring women over the age of 25 from accessing contraceptive services, and sexual health charities suggest that this situation has not improved. There are also regional variations in the coverage of abortion services, with Scottish women facing significant barriers in access, while abortion law in Northern Ireland remains incredibly strict. Many women are not able to access abortion and contraceptive services under one roof, meaning that the quality of the care they receive is compromised.

Meanwhile, clinics around the country face the threat of closure due to budget cuts. An example is the proposed closure of the genitourinary medicine clinic at Whipps Cross Hospital, which campaigners say will have a disproportionate impact on black and Asian men living with HIV. While closed clinics usually have their services integrated into a larger clinic at a different site – as is planned for the Whipps Cross clinic – there is often still a negative impact on the community as patients lose access to local services. Some patients may not be willing or able to travel the longer distances now required of them.

Particular difficulties exist regarding trans people’s access to services. Demand for trans services is booming, yet there are only a handful of gender identity clinics in the UK. Waiting times are astronomical, with some clinics predicting that new patients will have to wait four years for their first appointment.

Among all this, race is a cross-cutting issue. Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities tend to suffer worse health outcomes than the general population, and sexual health is no exception: BAME communities bear a disproportionate burden of HIV, and BAME people can sometimes face more stigma and greater barriers when accessing sexual health services. This problem is worsened by the closure of clinics servicing local communities. There is also a lack of representation in service provision: for example, BAME trans people might never meet another trans person who shares their background when attending treatment and support groups.

Why aren’t we delivering adequate services?

The government’s ‘ambitions’ regarding SRH provision and related inequalities are hindered, in large part, by fragmentation in commissioning and service provision. Lack of centralised, top-down direction is not necessarily a problem for healthcare, and local networks can be key players in advancing healthcare services. But in this case, fragmentation has been accompanied by a lack of accountability within commissioning structures resulting in gaps in service provision. This was already the case before the Health and Social Care Act 2012 came into force, but has been worsened by the subsequent restructuring of the NHS.

The Health and Social Care Act abolished the existing structures responsible for commissioning services and replaced these with new Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), as well as establishing new national bodies. Responsibility for commissioning the various services making up sexual and reproductive healthcare – including abortion services and HIV treatment – is now spread out among CCGs, local authorities and the national commissioning board, although the lion’s share of responsibility rests with local authorities. The APPGSRH argues that this has resulted in a further loss of clear lines of accountability, which means that commissioners are not able to work together effectively. These commissioning silos can mean that it is not possible to deliver integrated services under one roof, since abortion and contraceptive services, for example, are commissioned by different bodies. Public Health England, the new executive agency with responsibility for SRH (among other aspects of public health in England), has ‘reducing health inequalities’ as a key part of its stated mission, but little role in policy formulation. Initial claims that the body would ‘speak truth to power’ appear to have been forgotten, and it has so far shown an unwillingness to challenge government policy.

This has all been compounded by the politics of austerity and in particular by cuts to local government budgets. Since November 2015, local authorities’ public health budgets have been separated from the budget for NHS England. This means that they are not protected from the latter’s budget ring-fencing, and public health spending has dramatically fallen as a result. While local authorities receive their own ring-fenced grants for public health, there is evidence that these are being diverted towards threatened services in other areas. Austerity has promoted unequal health outcomes directly, as clinics and services close or relocate as a result of budget cuts. Some contracting models appear to prioritise cost efficiency over quality, further compromising the services on offer.

Cuts to SRH services are a false economy – they result in drastically increased spending due to unintended pregnancies and STI infections. We should be more concerned, however, with the adverse impact of cuts on disadvantaged communities. While Theresa May has expressed an interest in social justice, it remains to be seen whether she will address the trends set in motion under her predecessor.


Comparing Basic Income Experiments: Lessons and Challenges

📥  Economy, living wage, research, universal basic income

Dr Jurgen De Wispelaere is a Policy Fellow at the IPR, as well as Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Tampere. As part of the latter role, he plays a part in the Kela-led research team preparing the upcoming national basic income experiment in Finland.

Experimenting with basic income: a unique situation

In Europe we are faced with a unique situation: in 2015/2016 not one but two countries started down the road of piloting a basic income experiment. There are important similarities between the experiments planned in Finland and the Netherlands. All going well, both countries hope to get started in early 2017 and run the experiment for two years - and in both cases, for a variety of reasons, the plan is to pilot an experiment limited to social assistance recipients. In short, Finland and the Netherlands will be simultaneously conducting an experiment on a broadly similar target population.



There are of course also important differences. First and foremost, the experimental design in both countries is very different. For example, Finland will pilot a national randomised controlled trial with a single basic income model, while in the Netherlands different municipalities will experiment with a variety of models. There are also very interesting differences in terms of the political process associated with the basic income experiments: where Finland’s experiment was initiated by the Finnish government and is therefore highly centralised, the Dutch experiments were pushed onto the policy agenda by local NGOs or municipal decision-makers against considerable resistance from the central government. Finally, Finland and the Netherlands are very different types of welfare states, and we can expect variation in welfare institutions and processes to affect both the political decision-making process and the actual design of the proposed experiments.

Why compare?

This combination of two experiments simultaneously taking place in countries that differ in important respects is a unique situation that opens up the possibility of engaging in serious comparative research. Why compare? There are three reasons why both projects should engage in close collaboration and why we should adopt a comparative approach to studying what happens in Finland and the Netherlands.

The first reason is practical. Piloting a basic income scheme is a complex endeavour and those involved in designing and implementing the experiment run into a lot of problems along the way. There is much to learn from experiments carried out in the past in the US and Canada as well as, more recently, Namibia and India. But the lessons to be learned from those experiments are limited by the fact that they took place several decades ago — the world has moved on quite a bit since the 1970s — or that they operated in an environment that is very different from that of an advanced welfare state inside the EU. For this reason it makes sense that the experiments about to take off in Finland and the Netherlands may be able to help each other more than any of those that took place before. Exchanging information about hurdles encountered, as well as proposed solutions, may offer key guidance that could benefit both experiments.

A second reason for thinking comparatively relates to building up cumulative knowledge about basic income design, implementation and effects. Despite a massive increase in media and policy attention, we actually don’t know that much about basic income. Many arguments doing the rounds run the gamut from “reasonable expectation” (when grounded in good theory or analogous reasoning from other policy areas) to wild speculation (in other cases). There is a simple reason for that: basic income has not been implemented in a way that allows for robust insights.

The recent interest in pilots and experiments offers a great opportunity to (partly) rectify this problem, provided we adopt an approach that allows for systematically comparing design, implementation and results, as well as the underlying policy process. There is little to be gained from experiments that make it impossible to compare results in any meaningful way. Streamlining experimental design as much as possible to facilitate valid comparisons during and after the pilot — e.g., by standardising baseline surveys, indicators and measurement instruments where possible — is of immense importance in terms of furthering our global knowledge about basic income policy. Although experiments will always have important variation built into them, given the specific context in which they operate, when carefully coordinated they will tell us how to interpret design differences and their effects on the outcomes. And this, in turn, helps us understand which outcomes are unique to a specific experimental setting, and which can be generalised across and reflect common results of instituting a basic income.

A third important reason pertains to the politics of basic income pilot experiments. The dramatic increase in media and policy attention in the span of a mere three years has taken everyone — advocates and critics alike — by surprise. We know next to nothing about the factors that explain why basic income has suddenly become politique du jour amongst the political elites (Sure, we all have out little pet theories, but without systematic analysis and evidence, that is exactly all they are!). Equally, if not more importantly, we are only beginning to understand the political drivers of basic income policy development more generally. Against this uncertain background, the experiments play a crucial role in uncovering in a systematic manner the policy and political processes that have brought us to where we are now. Understanding these underlying processes, of course, is also critically important in thinking about where to go next, and how to make use of basic income experiments and their results in due course to move policy development along.

Having experiments taking place in two countries as diverse as Finland and the Netherlands offers a unique opportunity to study the political forces at play — an opportunity not to be wasted. Two intriguing aspects of these jurisdictions merit particularly careful examination. First, comparing the top-down approach adopted in Finland with the bottom-up approach that characterises the Dutch context allows us to examine closely the complicated political process by which an idea moves onto the policy agenda and — hopefully — soon enters the implementation phase. Real world policy development of the basic income proposal will have to make sense of the multi-level nature of its design and implementation. Second, there are important lessons to be learned in terms of framing the basic income debate: where Finland has embraced the experiment as a natural continuation of several decades of intense and complicated debate about basic income, in the Netherlands the experiments proceed while strategically avoiding any connotation with the basic income idea. Understanding the framing process will help political strategy in overcoming public and political resistance of the basic income idea.

Challenges to adopting a comparative approach

There are challenges to adopting a comparative approach to basic income experimentation. Some of the challenges are related to each experiment as an individual — e.g., maintaining the political momentum to carry out the experiment in a manner that produces reliable results — while others pertain to the demands of coordination between experimental teams. Examples of the latter include the need to adapt the research design and experimental setting to maximise comparability, the sharing of information and regular communication across jurisdictions — keeping in mind that each project is highly politicised! — and the building of a cross-country collaborative research network dedicated to supporting and evaluating ongoing and future basic income experiments. There is much work to be done, but the opportunity is there for grabbing.


This piece draws on information from a workshop entitled “Experimenting with Basic Income: Finland and Netherlands”, which was hosted by Kela with the aim of exchanging views between researchers involved in the planning of the Finnish basic income experiment and researchers from the Netherlands currently preparing the experiments planned for early 2017 in Utrecht, Wageningen, Tilburg and Groningen.

The presentations given at the workshop were recorded and can be viewed here. This piece has also been published on the Kela website.