The welfare state no longer provides a safety net for the most
vulnerable in society; unemployed people are facing a 'job trap' -
stuck in a cycle of low-paid, precarious work and life on benefits;
and local government cuts have all but killed the government's
vision of a 'Big Society'.
These are just some of the key findings from the recently
published 'Surviving Austerity' report by the new economics
foundation (nef), an independent think tank for economic
The report, the result of two years of research, looked into how
people in two of the most economically deprived parts of Birmingham
and Haringey, North London, were coping in the face of sustained
public spending cuts, welfare reform and an ongoing recession.
Through peer research, photojournalism, interviews and workshops
with local residents, community organisations and local authority
officers, nef discovered that the social and human costs of these
reforms was shocking and worryingly there is only worse to
The report focused on how people were experiencing welfare
reform and public sector cuts, what Big Society meant for local
residents and what could be done at local level to promote social
justice and improve people's well-being.
The resulting report found that the welfare state no longer
provides an adequate safety net and with unemployment rising,
in-work poverty overtaking out-of-work poverty for the first time,
many more people are struggling just to meet their basic needs.
Despite these findings, nef also looked at how people can use
local assets and resources to try to tackle these problems. The
result is five themes nef believes will help guide socially just
local action. These are:
- Promote fairness - Embed the principles of fairness in all
decisions that a local authority takes, and use resources to reduce
poverty and inequality
- Commission for social, economic, and environmental value -
commissioning decisions should be made based on the value in terms
of long term social, environmental and economic outcomes, not
- Make co-production a standard way of getting things done -
Co-production is a way of sharing power, strengthening
relationships, and making the most of our collective
- Make well-being for all the primary goal of all public
services: When budgets are being cut, it is vital to make carefully
considered, evidence-based decisions that are directed at improving
well-being for all.
- Develop sustainable local economies: Local authorities should
invest public resources to transform local economies, so that they
promote well-being for all and environmental sustainability.
The full report can be downloaded from the nef website at