PANEL 2 – Engaging Community: Youth, Poverty and the Big Society

1. Angus McCabe, Third Sector Research Centre, University of Manchester: Still Below the Radar?

Download Andy McCabe's presentation slides from conference

2. Dr Andy Mycock, University of Huddersfield : Youth and the Big Society after England’s riots

Download Andy Mycock's presentation slides from the conference

The riots across England in August 2011 brought the role of young people in society into sharp relief. The ensuing debate into their causes revealed political divisions between the Coalition government and the opposition Labour party. David Cameron asserted that the riots were ‘pure criminality’; a ‘slow-motion moral collapse’ that was a product of decades of social liberalism encouraging a culture of mindless selfishness and irresponsibility. This was underpinned by poor parenting, broken families and a lack of discipline in schools which had undermined social values and discipline in some – but not all – communities. Whilst Labour also condemned the violence and vandalism, they suggested the causes were more complex. Ed Miliband argued that there was ‘inconvenient truth’ that politicians and other powerful business and media elites were also guilty of irresponsibility, creating a ‘values crisis’. Persistent social inequality and rising youth unemployment, the impact of government spending cuts, particularly on youth services, increases in University tuition fees and the removal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) had created a ‘lost generation’ with limited aspirations.

Most parliamentarians were in agreement with Sadiq Khan when he stated the riots were not ‘a genuine outlet of political angst’. Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams argued the riots were not a form of ‘legitimate political protest’ and those involved were not rioters but looters infused with a selfishness driven by an ‘age of rampant consumerism’. Government responses have predominantly focused on the swift penalisation of those involved, including the potential to withdraw welfare rights, together with a rapid expansion of National Citizen Service and a ‘family intervention’ programme to provide social, economic and behavioural support to 120,000 ‘most troubled families’. This emphasis on the criminality of the young people involved, according to Gary Younge, has allowed politicians to overlook ‘the political nature of what took place’. Deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman was one of the few politicians to suggest ‘there is a sense that young people feel they are not being listened to’.i]Blogger Laurie Penny concurred, arguing that ‘violence is rarely mindless’ and many of those rioting represented a ‘disempowered generation’ who sought political recognition.

A number of influential reports have concluded that many young people feel they are uniquely isolated or even excluded from a self-serving political system and feel their inferior citizenship status means they are considered as ‘second-class citizens’. The presentation will assess the causes of such sentiments, exploring historical approaches to youth citizenship, before moving on to consider recent efforts by government to engage with young people. It will assess the role of young people within the broader narrative of the Big Society, focusing on the impact of current reductions of public funding for youth services. It will also analyse the development of one of central planks of the Coalition government youth engagement strategy, National Citizen Service, considering the aims, implementation and expansion of the programme. Finally, the presentation will consider the current government youth initiative, Positive for Youth, exploring how young people will shape the future development of the Big Society. The paper will conclude by arguing that recent governments, regardless of their political persuasion, have failed to empower young people and have prioritised their responsibilities whilst failing to maintain the rights of youth citizenship.

[i]BBC Newsnight, debate with Michael Gove. Broadcast on 10th August 2011.

3. Katherine Duffy, EAPN : What role has “community” in combating poverty and social exclusion?

Download Katherine Duffy's presentation slides from the conference

The European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) is a European network of 26 national networks and 23 European organisations. Individual member organisations in its national networks may be large or small, advocates or service providers and the national structure differs in each country. The European network is a policy advocate for and with people at risk of poverty and social exclusion. See

Dr Katherine Duffy retired this year from the Business School at De Montfort University, but is continuing her long term commitment to anti-poverty action and research. Katherine was for many years active in social initiatives in Telford new town, including women’s action and refuges, play and youth facilities, support for unemployed workers, community newspapers and fanzines. She continues to practice long term accompaniment and continues to volunteer for EAPN.

From 2010 until spring 2011 Katherine was Deputy Chair of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Social Inclusion Advisory Group. For the ten years before that, she chaired the Social Policy Task Force of UK NGOs working with DWP on the European Inclusion agenda. For five years until 2010 Katherine also chaired EAPN Europe’s cross-national Social Inclusion Working Group of member state network representatives and European organisations.

Katherine has worked as a consultant for the European Commission on its contribution to combating poverty and social exclusion and on evaluating research proposals for the targeted socio-economic research programme on social exclusion. She was a consultant and evaluator for the UK Economic and Social Research Council’s thematic programme on social exclusion.

From 1995-1998 Katherine was Director of Research for the Council of Europe initiative on Human Dignity and Social Exclusion. This pan-European research was the first to aim for a pan-European understanding of social exclusion and resulted in a new research and funding programme for central and eastern Europe and contributed to developments in social rights. Before that (1989-1994), Katherine was UK programme manager and evaluator for the European Commission Poverty 3 programme of 41 area-based and thematic projects which tested the principles of partnership, participation and multidimensionality in combating area-based poverty and social exclusion.

Contact Katherine on

This note summarises the theoretical argument that underpins my presentation.

My presentation accepts that there is a distinct spatial dimension to concentrations of poverty and social exclusion (PSE) and therefore there is a need to focus on communities of place as well as interest in combating PSE. Such a focus can usefully challenge the current UK government focus on social mobility as a route out of poverty.

But I will contend that idealised notions of community have had damaging effects on previous area-based programmes, both in terms of their own goals and in understanding what could be their contribution to combating poverty and social exclusion.

I argue that a common presumption that social exclusion can be understood as lacks in social capital at the level of individuals or localities is based on an assumption that social inclusion can be defined as individual or group social participation.

I challenge that view and its implications in terms of the “Big Society”. Drawing on evidence from my European work, I argue that social inclusion is co-produced by family and personal networks, labour markets and welfare states. In the absence of classical conditions for organic communities, the welfare state is a mechanism for organising the integration of societies of strangers. Social rights govern the redistribution of resources. I link risks of PSE to the operation of the “welfare triangle”.

I argue that in periods of system turbulence uncertainty is falsely modelled as individual risk and insurance against it. Large scale redistribution away from people at risk of PSE is undercutting systems of order and accommodation. As the political space for dialogue on the turbulence and on strategies to combat PSE are reduced, occupation of the public square is taking place physically and electronically. My presentation will note the key messages from EAPN’s recent work on the social impact of the financial crisis before reflecting, given the current international and national context, what can be done at local level to combat PSE?

Grassroots and intermediate organisations, organised as network agencies, can aim to increase resilience to PSE and may even try to bend welfare restructuring in favour of those at risk of PSE. They may do this through strategies of revalorisation of local resources, local partnership bargaining over national resources and local policy bending. But they will defeat their own goals if they engage in the heavy lifting on PSE that has been the role of the social protection system.

In the UK the scope for influencing national policy is reduced by changes to the role and purpose of the welfare state and through the impact of the Localism agenda. The Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) is divided and focused on organisational competition for survival to the detriment of combating PSE. Welfare cuts combined with the loss and restriction of grassroots and intermediate organisations will make local area strategies more difficult to implement. It will be important for civil society to recognise, reflect and act on the sub-politics of community as an arena of struggle that replays conflicts from other levels.


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