Accepted Paper:

Welfare reform and fairness as moral reasoning in North Manchester, England  


Katherine Smith (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the ways in which the local idiom of fairness, as in what is perceived to be ‘fair’, is used to express shared anxieties and the empirical realities of recent welfare reform and increased poverty in North Manchester, England.

Paper long abstract:

This paper addresses recent welfare reform and policy changes under the coalition government and new levels of poverty and anxieties about the future amongst the 'white, English, working-classes' in Harpurhey, North Manchester, England. Considering 'welfare' is premised on the idea that some need and depend on the help of others, this paper questions the distortion in social discourse and political representations of white, English, working-class benefits claimants, when people and society mirror back a confining, demeaning or contemptible picture of them, and it explores the local transmission and transformation of moral reasoning and knowledge of the lived experiences of these discourses and representations which are being constituted and reinforced through policy, as 'unfair'. It examines the local concept of 'fairness', as in what is perceived to be fair, as an idiom which serves competing moralities. Fairness is prioritized according to knowledge of biographical histories, experiences of benefits cuts, the perception of governmental and bureaucratic contempt for the poor and vulnerable, and the absence of sympathetic consideration of those who need welfare - consideration that characterizes local expressions of fairness. Fairness becomes a mechanism by which to shift between moral standpoints, express the viability of the person in situations not of their choosing, express new forms of relationality in the face of benefits cuts, and prioritize localized values. This paper raises questions about the capacity of individuals to engage in shaping political agendas and to carve out new ways of being political that are located outside of policy and reform discourses.

Panel P26
Nationalism, democracy and morality: a historical and anthropological approach to the role of moral sentiments in contemporary politics