Dr Jane Ellis and Marina Bush both teach on our BA (Hons) Social Policy in Cambridge. They share their thoughts on the post-referendum situation, from a social policy perspective.
Jane’s expertise is in violence prevention and violence against children and women. She teaches on the Changing Context of Social Policy, Crime and Community Safety and Controversies in Criminal Justice modules.
Marina’s research explores the ideas of community and community building and looks at marginalised communities and their participation. She teaches on the first year research module, Social Problems, Politics and Policy making in the UK, International and Community Development: Institutions, Policy and Practice and Working with Communities and Groups.
Views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the university.
Taking back control was the key message of those campaigning to leave the EU in the recent referendum. Neatly encapsulated in the #TakeControl hashtag, the slogan wound together a number of complex, overlapping and interconnected issues in contemporary Britain that resonated with many of the electorate. Many of those issues were linked to topics we and our students talk about on our BA Social Policy.
On the face of it the slogan addressed issues of sovereignty, economics, migration, security and the provision of public services. Claims were thus made that Brussels, and not the UK was in charge of our laws, levels of taxation, borders, funding of the NHS and job creation for example and leaving the EU would be the remedy. Of course there were many challenges to these claims prior to, and since 23 June and whilst there is space to continue such debates that is not the focus here, we want to consider possibilities for the meaning of #TakeControl at the level of individuals.
Analysis of the geography and demographics of voting patterns has shown marked divisions between remain and leave voters by age/generation, class and location. One group highlighted has been the ‘left behinds’ who overwhelming voted leave in many areas of the country ravaged by deindustrialisation, globalisation and who are bearing the biggest cost of the financial crisis, lack of recovery and austerity policies. Lives that are shaped through few job opportunities, precarious and poorly paid work, a lack of quality affordable housing to rent or buy, and drastic cuts in public services with the knock on effect on schools, GP services, reduced or removed benefits and the closure or increased cost of local facilities such as libraries and sport centres.
At the same time the neo-liberal agenda has promoted the idea of choice in many areas of social policy since the 1980s. Whilst choice is presented as an instrument to improve marketised services it also, by implication, empowers individuals to have greater control over key aspects of their lives such as health, education, social care.
Contrasting the lives described above we would like to suggest that it is into the gap between the rhetoric and reality of ‘choice’ that TakeControl neatly slipped. All that is wrong with the UK, the issues put forward by leave campaigners, and holding the EU responsible for them, became the clothes on which the discontent and sense of powerlessness of those with little autonomy and few choices could be hung. The slogan arguably offered to people the illusion of (re-)taking control over their lives and communities.
Some weeks on from that monumental vote, the Leavers and the Left Behind may be wondering exactly when they can hope to take (back) control and what will be left to take (back) control over. There seems to be no rush to invoke Article 50, which would trigger the UK’s exit formally from the EU and until that begins, things remain the same – uncertain and uncomfortable. Reports from institutions such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the governor of the Bank of England paint a grim economic picture, with talk of the financial capital relocating from London to Paris and businesses already eyeing up European destinations for their relocated headquarters.
With this goes the prospect of any well-spring of new jobs created for those left behind or any investment in places left behind to regenerate them or provide sorely needed affordable housing. So too, goes access to higher education, with the abolition of grants and plans to raise fees, further reducing choice of university at all and any associated benefits for job prospects.
With the root-of-all-evil- EU to be shortly out of the picture, who will be held responsible when the realisation sets in that control has not been taken, there are fewer choices available and even fewer opportunities to exercise those choices? From where or whom shall we exit then?
If we want different results for the places we live in, we need to start asking different questions.
Dr Jane Ellis and Marina Bush