Tag Archives: social policy

Guest blog: Nicholas Parsons and the Osbornes and the Ackroyds

By Adrian Sinfield, Professor Emeritus of Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh and Honorary Fellow of the JUC.

I doubt if the many tributes to and obituaries of Nicholas Parsons who has just died at the age of 96 will recall his great performance working with Julian Le Grand and others in The Spongers, broadcast by Granada TV on 15 May 1989. The mock panel show had Nicholas as the compere with an assistant Pandora who opened magic boxes to reveal how much or little two couples and their children, the working class Ackroyds and the middle class Osbornes, gained in benefits from the welfare state across their lifetimes.  I used a 20-minute video of it for teaching on the social division of welfare on undergraduate, postgraduate and Erasmus/Tempus courses for years. It took account of not only state benefits but some tax reliefs and some occupational benefits. Nicholas kept bringing in Julian Le Grand as ’The Professor’ to tell us who was getting what, and to explain why.  By the end of their longer lives the Osbornes were shown to have gained more than the Ackroyds. It was ideal for one of the closing sessions of my course: it generated a great deal of amusement and much relevant, often challenging discussion.  Meeting past students now, they often recall that, if nothing else.

Julian told me that Nicholas got very engaged with putting on the show and came up with suggestions that sharpened it in a number of ways. In Good Times Bad Times (2015) John Hills built very successfully on it to discredit ‘the welfare myth of them and us’ including analyses of further generations of those two families, presented as case-studies set in italic.

By a curious coincidence I heard of Nicholas’s death an hour or so after discovering that HMRC is no longer publishing its annual lists of the costs of tax reliefs and expenditures first started after much campaigning in the late 1970s. That data was integral to the Spongers analysis and much used in my course.  Instead HMRC has released a Bulletin on the Estimated Cost of Tax Reliefs which presents each costed relief in a separate table and chart. Apparently they do not want us to add them up as this is misleading.  The Office for Budget Responsibility did so in its July Fiscal Risks report. One of its tables presented ‘policy motivated’ tax reliefs from 2005-06 to 2023-4 as a percentage of GDP.  OBR regarded them as ‘large in absolute terms – approaching 8 per cent of GDP – and also by international standards’. So HMRC has thrust one less visible, less accountable but quite considerable element of the social division of welfare further back into the black box.  I can only hope that the OBR, the National Audit Office and select committees challenge this. John Stewart’s biography of Richard Titmuss, out this year, describes the difficulties he had in 1955 and again later to get consideration of these issues.

Even more now, we need more programmes like The Spongers using the skills that Nicholas had to open up the full picture of who gets what, and why.

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Public Administration and Social Work at the Margins – An International Conference

The Joint University Council for the Applied Social Sciences (JUC) is holding it’s annual conference at Northumbria University on 17-18 September 2019. The theme of the conference is ‘Public Administration and Social Work at the Margins’. Find out more here: www.northumbria.ac.uk/JUC2019

Key features of the conference include:

  • The Frank Stacey Address delivered by Rt Hon Baroness Grey-Thompson, Chancellor of Northumbria University, former Paralympian and Crossbench Peer
  • Academic keynote on ‘Integrative Leadership in Tumultuous Times: Claiming the Center’ delivered by Professor Barbara Crosby, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota
  • ‘Meet the Editors’ Lunchtime Session with Professor John Diamond (Teaching Public Administration) and Professors Claire Dunlop and Edoardo Ongaro (Public Policy and Administration)
  • Exhibition stands by academic publishers of latest books/journals and other publications
  • A social programme including walking tour of the Ouse Burn on evening of 16 September and conference dinner on 17 September.

The idea for the conference theme came about through discussion on the state of the subject of public administration and public management (particularly in the UK context). The subject area has been subject to significant challenge in the last 20-30 years and, alongside the alignment of public administration with Business Schools, there has been a slow and steady decline in the teaching of public administration and public management. This has left some UK scholars feeling marginalised within their own institutions and, more generally, within UK Higher Education.

At the same time the UK, and specifically public administration within the UK, is at risk of becoming marginalised within Europe. Brexit looms large over all aspects of public policy and administration. It also poses significant challenges for UK business which consequently may then have an impact on economic growth and tax receipts. The uncertainty around Brexit and continued economic slump may lead to ongoing austerity for years to come – placing UK public administration at odds with the rest of Europe.

Finally, questions need to be asked about the content, delivery style and assessment of public administration programmes such as MPA’s. Do they adequately address issues of marginalisation? How can universities best support public service organisations to address inequality in the context of ongoing austerity? Whilst politics is in disarray our public servants must continue to deliver good public administration and social work to some of the most vulnerable in our society.  As such we want to encourage submissions of abstracts that explore issues of race, gender identity, sexuality, variability and class.

In addressing many of these challenges collaboration and collective leadership is required. At Northumbria University we are leading a public administration revival through our research activities, including the 3PM Research Interest Group, and teaching of public leadership, including the MSc Strategic Leadership for Public Services. This conference marks a great opportunity for scholars and practitioners to come to our campus in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne to share the latest thinking on how our public services can work together to tackle inequality and challenge marginalisation. Find out more about the conference here: www.northumbria.ac.uk/JUC2019

Key dates:

  • Abstract submissions – Friday 31 May
  • Feedback on abstracts – by 30 June
  • Full papers due – 31 August
  • Conference walking tour – evening of 16 September
  • Conference start – morning of 17 September
  • Conference dinner – evening of 17 September
  • Conference finish – evening of 18 September

Submit your abstract now:
https://app.geckoform.com/public/?_ga=2.178698471.297039799.1557340916-551790689.1545312066#/modern/21FO0085pnoxur00ghisdbvlo9

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