Queen's Anniversary Prize Conference
Social Policy in Hard Times: Child Poverty and Support for Vulnerable Families
17 April 2012
Following on from the award of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education, the Department of Social & Policy Sciences held a half day conference on the 30 March to present some of the research that led to the prize, and set out how it intends to take forward its work on child poverty and support for vulnerable families.
Almost 200 delegates attended the conference, including the Minister of State for Pensions, the Mayor of the City of Bath, senior academics from across the world, as well as national and local policy makers. The Department’s postgraduate research student community was also well represented.
The conference was chaired by Jane Millar, Professor of Social Policy and Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Bath. Professor Millar emphasised the academic excellence recognised by the award was built on secure and confident foundations and that now, possibly more than ever, high quality evidence, grounded in the experience of vulnerable families and those living in poverty, was essential in the policy making process.
Professor Paul Gregg and Dr Susan Harkness presented the first paper at the conference. The report, which on the basis of detailed, large-scale quantitative data analysis, addressed some of the myths associated with lone parenting, challenging some of the popular and wilful misrepresentation of their lifestyles and behaviours.
The presentation by Dr Tess Ridge and Professor Ian Butler was focussed on the question ‘why listen to children?’ when developing policy. They argued that children’s narratives were essential to understanding the experience of poverty and that such experiences should and could be made into a set of political realities, structures and processes.
The next two papers focused on the work of the Centre for Development Studies within the Department. Dr Joe Devine and Professor Geof Wood talked about their research in Bangladesh, working with some of the poorest 1,000,000 people on earth, suggesting the need for longer term policy commitment to those most in need. Dr Jason Hart then vividly represented his work on child protection in the occupied territories of Palestine in the context of political violence more generally and the institutional and political factors that prevent major agencies from ensuring effective protection for children in the occupied territories and beyond.
Sue Duncan (president of the Social Policy Association), a former Government Chief Social Researcher, spoke about how the research-policy relationship is always difficult and offered her expert advice about how and when to engage in the policy process. Alison Marshall (Public Affairs Director, UNICEF UK) spoke of the need for academics and NGOs to work together to develop applied research that maximises impact and which recognises the distinctive roles that each party to the policy process plays.
The final presentation, by Professor Graham Room, linked many of the themes that had emerged throughout the conference. He discussed how traditional social policy perspectives are having to change as the global map of poverty and wealth is being fundamentally re-shaped, as economic power shifts east and south. He noted how, because traditional welfare systems were built around social insurance, for the risks faced by the industrial worker: we are now having to face new and collective risks, associated with climate change and environmental degradation and world-wide insecurity of food and water.
Each presentation was followed by opportunities for questions and discussion that spoke to a lively, sustained and very committed engagement with the issues by all of those attending.
Download the speaker biographies and research summaries from some of the prize winners: