Academics from all over the world gather in York this week for one of the most significant conferences of social policy researchers in the UK in recent times. Two of the biggest social policy associations in the world – the Social Policy Association (SPA) and the East Asian Social Policy research network (EASP) – have joined forces to host ‘Social Policy in an Unequal World’, which opens today (Monday 16 July) at the University of York.
The conference, which features a conference stream hosted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) incorporates both UK and international perspectives on inequality. SPA Chair Caroline Glendinning explained: “The global economic picture, recent trends in welfare reform and the shift of economic power to the East make this event timely and particularly salient, and underlines the Association’s commitment to work with international partners on issues of social injustice and inequality wherever it is to be found. We are delighted to be working in partnership with EASP to this end.”
The conference will see keynote addresses that tackle the conference theme from both UK and international/global perspectives:
•Speakers at the final plenary will be Christina Behrendt (International Labour Organization [ILO]) and Jesse Griffith (EURODAD [European Network on Debt and Development]. Christina will discuss the process and rationale behind the ILO Social Protection Floor Recommendation and the broader UN Social Protection Floor Initiative, whilst Jesse will argue that European governments must forge a fairer system of international finance in response to the debt crisis.
• John Hills (LSE) will explore ‘Inequality, life chances and the conclusions of the National Equality Panel two years on’. He will look at the relationship between the UK Coalition government’s promotion of social mobility on the one hand, and the substantial cuts in public spending and radical reforms to social policies on the other, in the light of the evidence reviewed and analysed by the Panel.
• Patricia Kennett (University of Bristol) will present her research on the impact of the economic recession on cities and households through a comparison of Bristol and Liverpool, whilst Misa Izuhara (also University of Bristol) will focus on the influence of housing assets on relationships within the family and across generations in East Asian societies.
The conference will also feature paper contributions by academics and practitioners, a few examples of which can be found below:
•With support for corporations thrust into the spotlight by bailouts for banks and the UK government propping up the car industry, Kevin Farnsworth and Adrian Sinfield will argue for greater attention to the ways in which states support, sustain and direct business and industry – at a time when state support to individuals and families is being presented in increasingly negative ways and is being, redirected, modified and restricted.
• With attitudes towards benefits claimants in the UK having become harsher over the last 15 years – which seems to have influenced the path of welfare reform under the Coalition government – Ben Baumberg will discuss new research which explores the relationships between perceived levels of fraud, local area characteristics and the newspapers people read.
• Recent governments’ visions of an increasingly diverse range of healthcare services have led to accusations of ‘privatising the NHS’. Martin Powell and Robin Millar will examine the conceptual arguments associated with different types of privatisation in this context and provide an historical explanation of privatisation in the NHS. On a related theme, Ian Greener will argue that the Health and Social Care Bill is a case study in how not to reform public services, with its difficult passage due less to its content than to the fact that it was presented as what amounts to Conservative government policy, and so incurring greater suspicion and scrutiny.
Finally, JRF has organised a series of panel discussions drawing on research it has funded, including a symposium devoted to forced labour and the experiences of Chinese migrants to the UK (www.jrf.org.uk/publications/chinese-migrants-their-experiences).