Housing benefit cuts: how the government is shaping the argument

It’s been an interesting time for those of us who follow welfare politics. On the one hand, we’ve seen the axing of child benefit payments for higher earners, and now further, hefty cuts to housing benefit, on top of those announced in June. On the other, the government is apparently to embrace a greater degree of universalism on pensions. In terms of Realpolitik, this isn’t much of a riddle – turnout at the last general election was highest amongst pensioners (76%), and lowest amongst the less well-off (social classes D and E had turnout of 57%) and those who rented accommodation (55%).

But there are, it seems to me, there are several interesting points to come out of this. In future pieces, I’ll write about the likely costs elsewhere to the public sector through these cuts, and the likely effect of housing policy changes upon our welfare settlement. For now, I want to focus upon how the government is trying to win the arguments for these cuts.

There’s a lively debate about when, and under what circumstances, cutting welfare payments may be popular, and what politicians can do to influence this. An assumption that permeates much academic writing on this subject is that cutting benefits is usually unpopular. There is the least resistance when there is a lower number of beneficiaries, and when they have less access to the political process (hence the relevance of lower turnout amongst poorer people).

To build public support for the measure, the government’s strategy has been pretty clear-cut: to paint a picture of housing benefit which will be deeply unattractive to the general public. This started prior to the announcement, with ubiquitous stories in the media about particular families who appeared to be getting very generous support with their rent, had no desire to become active in the labour market, and were photographed, slouching or beaming around a flat-screen television.

Latterly, in justifying the cuts, a similarly jaundiced picture has been painted. So Nick Clegg, at Prime Minister’s Questions, contrasted those who claimed Housing Benefit with those who
“go out to work, pay their taxes and play by the rules“
. This is a pretty hopeless representation of housing benefit –“the rules” dictate that people are perfectly entitled to claim housing benefit if they are on a low income, and a good many people on HB do go out to work. As the homeless charity Shelter pointed out, just 12% of housing benefit recipients are unemployed. In many of the remaining cases (i.e. excluding pensioners, parents of very young children, and the disabled), it is just that their work is insufficient to allow them enough money to live on whilst paying their rent.

Similarly, both Nick Clegg and David Cameron focused on the £400 weekly cap on housing benefit payments. In fact, this particular measure will apply to under 22,000 households, whereas some 774,000 households, according to the government’s own impact assessment, are likely to see their benefits drop as a result of reduction in rates to the 30th percentile within a Broad Rental Market Area (the area for which benefit levels are calculated).

It is perhaps no surprise that there is initial, abstract support for the government’s plans, which 57% of voters say they support. Whether the efforts to discredit the benefit and those who receive it are as successful once the full impact becomes clear remains to be seen.

Student Forum on the Spending Review – a Resounding Success

Our lunchtime Student Forum on the Comprehensive Spending Review was a resounding success, with some 90 students attending the discussion on 21 October. The highlight of the discussion was a presentation by Dr Anneliese Dodds, Lecturer in Public Policy at Aston University. The slides used in the discussion are posted here for those of you who have not managed to attend. Dr Dodds’s presentation was followed by a lively discussion and we look forward to the next set of events.

You can download Dr Dodds’s presentation here: The Comprehensive Spending Review — Autumn 2010(2)

Welcome to our new MA students

We are very pleased to welcome our new cohort of twelve Masters students this year. The students are taking part on the programme MA EU and International Relations, and the Double MA programme which is offered jointly with the Institut d’Etudes Politiques Lille. This semester’s lectures on European Security, International Relations and Research Methods have started, and the group is hard at already work in their MA students’ office, preparing their readings and class discussions.

This week, we will also welcome our new postgraduate student from Albania, who is taking part on our Professional Development course through a specially designed one semester programme for students from the European University Tirana. The students on this programme will take part in MA-level classes and will begin to prepare their MA thesis, before returning home to complete their degree.

In other MA student news, Luke John Davis (MA EU and International Relations in 2009-2010), has just returned from a Youth in Action Conference in Belgrade, Serbia, where he discussed problems of European integration with other students from across Europe.

Making Sense of the Comprehensive Spending Review

This Thursday, 21788984_10603133 October, we will be discussing the Comprehensive Spending  Review (CSR), in an informal lunchtime forum.

Introductory statements by Dr Nat Copsey (Politics and International Relations)  and Dr Anneliese Dodds (Sociology and Public Policy), followed by an open discussion. Chair: Professor Simon Green (Politics and International Relations)

The Comprehensive Spending Review, the results of which will be announced on 20 October, is likely to lead to the most far-reaching restructuring of the British state for at least a generation. In this session, which is the first in a new series of student-oriented lunchtime events hosted by the Aston Centre for Europe, colleagues from LSS will provide a first response to the outcome, followed by a chance for general discussion.

All students  and colleagues are welcome to attend – just turn up on the day!

13.00 – 13.45, Thursday, 21 October 2010 in Room G11, Main Building, Aston University

Malcolm Harbour MEP lecture on the European Parliament

Malcolm Harbour MEP
Malcolm Harbour MEP

We are very pleased to announce our first event of the new academic year.

Malcolm Harbour MEP is coming to Aston on 15 October to talk to students about the work of the European Parliament in European governance. His talk is at 14.00h in MB578 and is open to all. There is no need to book, but if your require further information, please email europe@aston.ac.uk

Prof Anand Menon: Europe, State of the Union

Prof Anand Menon, Europe: State of the Union

As a part of our series of events examining the changing nature of Europe, we will be hosting a public lecture with Prof Anand Menon, entitled ‘Europe: The State of the Union’.

Anand Menon is Professor of West European Politics at the University of Birmingham. He was previously founding Director of the European Research Institute, one of the largest academic institutions devoted to the study of Europe. Prior to this, he taught for ten years at the University of Oxford (St Antony’s College), and has held positions at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, Boston University, Columbia University and New York University. He has written widely on many aspects of contemporary European politics, particularly the institutions and policies of the EU and on European security. He is author of Europe: The State of the Union (Atlantic Books 2008) and France, NATO and the Limits of Independence 1981-1997: The Politics of Ambivalence, (Macmillan, 2000). In addition, he has edited 9 books on the European Union, and published widely in the media, including the Financial Times and Wall St Journal. He has worked as a special adviser for the EU Committee of the House of Lords and as speech writer for European Commissioner Neil Kinnock. He is currently preparing the Oxford University Press Handbook of the EU.

Event Details

27 October 2010
4.30pm until 6.00pm
Byng Kendrick Lecture Theatre (G11)
Main Building, Aston University

The event is free and open to all. There is no need to book.
For further information, please email europe@aston.ac.uk

Welcome to Aston Centre for Europe

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Welcome to the Aston Centre for Europe blog!

Aston Centre for Europe has had an exciting year.  We have grown in size, won research and event funding and put on a series of interesting events. Over the last twelve months, we’ve hosted  high level speakers who addressed our audiences on a diverse range of topics.

In December 2009, we started with the first of our series of events funded by the European Commission. We discussed the European parliament with Prof Simon Hix as the keynote speaker, with Gisela Stuart MP, Malcolm Harbour MEP, Phil Bennion (Liberal Democrat MEP candidate), and David Harley (former Deputy Secretary General of the European Parliament and a practitioner fellow of Aston Centre for Europe) taking part in the debate.

In April 2010 we hosted a conference on the Legacies of 1989, another European Commissions funded event, which examined democratic change in Eastern Europe. We were very privileged to hear Sir Christopher Mallaby, former British Ambassador to East Germany, Prof Alan Mayhew (Sussex) and Prof George Kolankiewicz (UCL) who provided a fascinating insight into the twenty years of democratic change in Eastern Europe.

Our final event of the academic year was a high level conference on Green Growth and Sustainability.  The conference was funded by the European Commission and we worked very closely with the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. At the conference we heard from Ian Robertson (BMW AG), Peter Vis, (Head of Cabinet to European Commissioner for Climate Action), Fiona Harvey (Financial Times), Prof David Bailey (Coventry University), Naresh Kumar (Rolls Royce), Chris White MP and Paul Tilsley (Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council) amongst many other notable speakers.

In between the larger conferences, we kept busy hosting smaller lectures and guest speakers.  We discussed the Cambodian genocide with Denise Affonco; examined the reasons behind global conflicts with Prof Daniel Chirot (University of Washington); talked about Eand examined the future of the Euro with David Marsh, and discussed population change with Prof Jane Falkingham during the British Science Festival 2010.

Our series of exciting events and lectures continues this year. To make sure you keep up to date with the latest, join our email list by sending us your details to europe@aston.ac.uk