Chips and cheese and a massive fucking TV: Stephen Crossley on representations of Britain’s impoverished

Crossley T03151From Jamie Oliver’s ‘chips and cheese’ and a ‘massive fucking TV’ comments, to the sneering ‘Benefits Street’, absent from the discourse on Britain’s poor is discussion of the material processes that cause poverty. Instead we see a committed Othering of poor people; a belief in social pathologies and moral inferiority. In this blog, Stephen Crossley author of In Their Place, explores this manipulation of public discourse; examining how often ethnographic research, and the institutions that fund it, often reinforce these stigmatising narratives through methodological approaches and practices.

In Their Place: The Imagined Geographies of Poverty explores how spaces of poverty and representations of disadvantaged people are used by politicians, the media, policy makers and academics to ensure a gap in inequality remains and that everyone knows where the poor belong.


Members of the public could be forgiven for barely batting an eyelid when David Cameron announced in 2014 that he was going to ‘blitz’ poverty by knocking down what he referred to as ‘sink estates’. Cameron argued that it wasn’t a coincidence that people who participated in the 2011 riots came ‘overwhelmingly’ from post-war housing estates and suggested that some such estates were ‘actually entrenching poverty in Britain – isolating and entrapping many of our families and communities’. There is, of course a long history of politicians and other prominent individuals – journalists, social reformers, media personalities, authors – of conflating places where poor people live, with locales that produce both poverty, and an assortment of other, often tenuously connected, ‘social problems’.

William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, compared the East End of London with outposts of Empire and, in 1890, rhetorically asked:

‘As there is a darkest Africa, is there not also a darkest England? Civilisation, which can breed its own barbarians, does it not also breed its own pygmies?’

More recently, Iain Duncan Smith famously ‘discovered’ his ‘passion’ for social justice (one is left wondering how he had previously missed it…) following visits to Easterhouse in Glasgow. His discovery led him to establish the Centre for Social Justice think-tank and staff it with ‘lackey intellectuals’ whose ‘research’ identified five ‘pathways to poverty’, which relied on and promoted behaviourist explanations for poverty. Jamie Oliver has proffered his own helpful contributions to debates about poverty in the UK at the current time, arguing that an episode of one of his television shows which featured a child eating ‘chips and cheese out of Styrofoam containers, and behind them is a massive fucking TV’ showed that poverty in modern-day Britain ‘just didn’t weigh up’.

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One might hope, if not expect, academics and academic institutions, supposedly capable of and supporting and advancing independent and critical thought, to robustly challenge such stereotypes. Alas, divergence from such lazy, stigmatising portrayals of disadvantaged neighbourhoods can also be found within the walls of academia. Tom Slater has powerfully argued that the ‘cottage industry’ of ‘neighbourhood effects’ research that focuses on how where you live affects your life chances, is deployed as ‘an instrument of accusation, a veiled form of class antagonism that conveniently has no place for any concern over what happens outside the very neighbourhoods under scrutiny.’ One university that I have connections with has produced a risk assessment that attempts to address the ‘increased hazards of testing in socially disadvantaged areas’. Potential researchers are encouraged to ‘investigate the area in which they’re planning on working in advance’ and ensure they are ‘aware of any social or cultural tensions in the area’. They are told to study a map of the area before conducting the research, and to check the location of areas that ‘might form the basis of obtaining assistance if required’. Further information is provided on personal safety with researchers reminded to ‘carry valuables in an unobtrusive and secure manner’, ‘consider safe places to park’ and, incredibly, ‘consider breaking routine so your timings vary’ if travelling to the neighbourhood on multiple days. This is not to undermine the need for lone workers to feel safe when carrying out their work and for appropriate mechanisms to be put in place to ensure their safety as far as possible. A generic risk assessment for carrying out research ‘off-site’ would be a useful resource for researchers about to embark on a study. The specific reference to ‘research carried out in a socially disadvantaged neighbourhood’, however, gives the game away. There is no such risk assessment for carrying out research in an ‘affluent neighbourhood’ or a ‘socially advantaged neighbourhood’ at the same institution. The insinuation is that poorer areas are more threatening and dangerous areas. In writing about the idea of disadvantaged neighbourhoods as ‘dreadful enclosures’ in 1977, the sociologist E.V. Walter wrote:

‘Certain milieu gather reputations for moral inferiority, squalor, violence, and social pathology, and consequently they objectify the fantasy of the dreadful enclosure … According to the stereotype, housing projects are loci in which sick and dangerous people drift together in a kind of behavioural sink, producing urban capsules of pathology so highly concentrated that the ordinary resources of the body social cannot control them.’[1]

Disadvantaged and marginalised populations have often been the subjects of a variety of social research from different disciplinary backgrounds. Researchers can gain credit, or symbolic capital, for carrying out research in such areas and with groups of people iDS EASTERHOUSEothers deem to be ‘hard to reach’, dangerous or threatening. For example, the American sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh, who recently took up a position at Facebook, wrote a book about how he was ‘gang leader for a day’ during ethnographic research in a housing project in Chicago. Simon Harding, a criminologist in the UK has published a book on status or ‘weapon dogs’ and another on street gangs in London, in which he describes gang members as players of the game in ‘the casino of life’. Sociologists in the UK who debunked the idea of households where ‘three generations have never worked’ highlighted the almost mythical status of such households amongst politicians, policy-makers, practitioners and members of the public, by likening their research to ‘hunting yetis’. Interest in disadvantaged groups has even led to an emerging literature on ‘over-researched communities’, with some young people in Kings Cross apparently confident in asking researchers working in their neighbourhood about their choice of methodology and ethical approval processes.

And yet, going to see things close-up and first hand, does not necessarily lead to greater clarity of though or greater insight. The influential French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu argued that:

‘The perfectly commendable wish to go see things in person, close up, sometimes leads people to search for the explanatory principles of observed realities where they are not to be found (not all of them, in any case), namely at the site of observation itself. The truth about what happens in the ‘problem suburbs’ certainly does not lie in these usually forgotten sites that leap into the headlines from time to time. The true object of analysis, which must be constructed against appearances and against all those who do no more than endorse those appearances, is the social (or more precisely political) construction of reality as it appears, to intuition, and of its journalistic, bureaucratic and political representations, which help to produce effects that are indeed real, beginning with the political world, where they structure discussion.’[2]

This is not to criticise the work of all researchers or academics who carry out ethnographic, or indeed other forms of research with marginalised groups or in/on disadvantaged communities and neighbourhoods. For example, Kayleigh Garthwaite spent a year volunteering in a foodbank in order to understand the issues and processes which led people to use foodbanks, in the process highlighting the political, structural and systemic causes of increased foodbank use in the UK. Lisa McKenzie has highlighted how residents of St. Ann’s in Nottingham experienced austerity and increasing class inequality. Researchers such as Rob Macdonald and Tracy Shildrick have documented the myriad effects of deindustrialisation in Teesside, expounding the difficult youthcrossley blog 1 transitions to adulthood at a time of chastening political attitudes towards young people, and when the local labour market offers only low-paid precarious employment. These are all research studies of individuals and groups living in impoverished areas, but with one eye (at least) on the wider social and structural determinants of the lives of the research participants. In a similar vein, contributors to the recently published book The Violence of Austerity highlight the effects of austerity driven cuts and ‘reforms’ on different already structurally disadvantaged groups.

How disadvantaged and impoverished neighbourhoods, and the people that reside them, are depicted in research depends very much on how they are perceived in the first place. Martin Nicolaus, put it succinctly when he railed against ‘fat-cat sociologists’ who operated with their eyes trained downwards and their palms turned upwards, stating that ‘it all depends on where you look from, where you stand’. Research that views, or accepts the dominant political narrative that ‘socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods’ are threatening places, or a ‘problem’ that can best be understood by examining ‘neighbourhood effects’ or close-up research does nothing more than legitimise the stigmatising narratives about working class neighbourhoods or social housing estates. On the other hand, research that attempts to highlight the impact on poor neighbourhoods of political decisions made by powerful people living very different lives in very different neighbourhoods can help to reveal to reveal the impact of such decisions on communities across the country. Nicolaus, however, went further. He argued for a ‘reversal of the machinery’ and asked:

‘What if the habits, problems, secrets, and unconscious motivations of the wealthy and powerful were daily scrutinised by a thousand systematic researchers, were hourly pried into, analysed and cross-referenced; were tabulated and published in a hundred inexpensive mass-circulation journals and written so that even the fifteen-year-old high-school drop-out could understand them and predict the actions of his landlord to manipulate and control him?’[3]

If we want to truly understand how and why poverty affects some places more than others, we need to be turning our attentions to what might be termed ‘advantaged neighbourhoods’ and the daily lives of those that frequent the ‘corridors of power’. Decisions about resources and services that could be made available to neighbourhoods benefits streetand their residents are often taken hundreds of miles away, perhaps by people whose only experience or knowledge of poverty might have been gleaned from a carefully managed day trip or two.  It is worth remembering that few, if any, of the politicians who voted through, or abstained during, the welfare reforms introduced in the UK since 2010, were going to be substantially affected by them, or could imagine what they might mean to many families already living on low incomes across the country. Numerous researchers have demonstrated various ‘Westminster effects’ on disadvantaged neighbourhoods by highlighting how the government’s recent welfare reforms have had disproportionately greater impact upon poorer areas. Whilst it is vital to acknowledge that where people live can affect their lives, a compelling case can and should be made that the strongest effects exerted on residents of impoverished neighbourhoods often emanate from the words and actions of politicians in Westminster, rather than the allegedly ‘mean streets’ of social housing estates.


Stephen Crossley is Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at Northumbria University. He previously worked on a regional child poverty project in the North East of England and has also worked in local government and with local voluntary sector organisations in neighbourhood youth work and community development roles.


In Their Place: The Imagined Geographies of Poverty by Stephen Crossley is available from Pluto Press.


[1] E.V. Walter, ‘Dreadful Enclosures: Detoxifying and Urban Myth’, European Journal of Sociology 18/1 (1977): 150-159, quote from p. 154.

[2] P. Bourdieu et al., The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999), p. 181.

[3] M. Nicolaus, ‘Fat-cat Sociology: Remarks at the American Sociology Association Convention’, 1968 (available at:, accessed 1 December 2016).

What’s Wrong with Modern Work? Jamie Woodcock on the Taylor Review

Low-paid, precarious zero hours contracts and an enforced dearth of union organisation is the bind that unites much of the post-industrial service economy. The failure of the Woodcock T03174Tory-backed Taylor Review to advocate in favour of workers suggests that a solution will only come from struggle within the ‘gig economy’. Jamie Woodcock, author of Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centressuggests we turn to Engels’ report on the conditions of workers in nineteenth-century Manchester, which could offer a glimpse into what a counter-offensive against atomised precarity could look like.


The government has become increasingly concerned about the rise of the so-called “gig economy” and other forms of precarious work like zero-hours contracts. A range of scandals, from those at Sports Direct to Parcelforce,[i] have given a glimpse of the exploitation and regular breaches of employment rights that are rife in this kind of work.

The recent publication of Good work: the Taylor review of modern working practices[ii] was meant to provide the government with evidence and recommendations in this area. However, it has been met with widespread derision from workers and trade unions. In a particular, Jason Moyer-Lee (the general secretary of the IWGB – the Independent Workers union of Great Britain) has argued that ‘when one looks at the actual recommendations, it is full of vacuous fluff and light on substantive proposals.’[iii]

The report focuses on the idea of “quality work”, not recognising that the degradation of flog and dropthe modern workplace – from call centres, delivery, transport, and care – is not some kind of aberration, but central to the business models of these companies. However, this is no surprise given the constitution of the panel for the review. For example, one was a corporate lawyer who represented businesses in industrial relations disputes, while another had actually invested in Deliveroo! There were no workers’ voices included, nor was the IWGB consulted, despite it successfully organising workers in this sector.

In my ongoing collaborative research project with Deliveroo workers, a very different picture of modern work is emerging.[iv] We put together an evidence submission for the Parliamentary inquiry on ‘The Future World of Work.’ In the survey we organised, the overwhelming majority felt their current employment status did not accurately reflect the nature of their work, that the independent contractor classification was used to treat them unfairly (even that it was used deliberately to take advantage of them), and were in favour of greater employment rights.[v]

Yet instead of addressing these issues, the Taylor review failed on multiple counts. There are no serious suggestions for enforcement, with no measures to address breaches or remove the obstructive fees for employment tribunals. More worryingly, the review even goes on to suggest the introduction of piece rate legislation that would undermine the minimum wage:

platforms would be able to compensate workers based on their output (i.e. number of tasks performed), provided they are able to demonstrate through the data that they have available that an average individual, working averagely hard, successfully clears the National Minimum Wage with a 20% margin of error.[vi]

Part of the problem with this is that the companies involved in the gig economy have a history of obscuring the data. For example, Uber have used the ‘Greyball’ tool to provide false information to enforcement officials.[vii] So there is little chance of accurate information being used in these calculations. In addition to these issues, the IWGB has prepared a very detailed response to the entire review.[viii]

I want to take a different approach to thinking about the impact of the review. Just over a week after the report was released, a statue of Engels was unveiled as part of the Manchester International Festival. As part of the ceremony, I argued that the statue should be a call to action on work.[ix] However, it is particularly important to reflect on the legacy of Engels in the light of the Taylor Review. Engels came from a bourgeois background – coming to Manchester to oversee the running of his father’s factory – yet opened his eyes to the conditions of workers across the city. In The Conditions of the Working Class in England, Engels investigated how the new form of factory work was effecting workers in Manchester.[x]

If Engels were to arrive in London today and explore its neighbourhoods, what would he engelsmake of the working conditions? The rights that workers have fought for – and won – since then are increasingly being eroded by companies, whether through wage theft, misclassification of employment status, or masquerading as platforms rather than employers. Yet, Engels did not see these kinds of deleterious effects as an anomaly, but rather a result of the antagonism between workers and capital.

Marx later took a similar approach when writing chapter ten on the working day in Capital.[xi] He drew on the data collected by factory inspectors for government reports. Later in his life, Marx would then argue for a workers’ inquiry to understanding the experiences of workers.[xii] It is this approach that guides my own research, from call centres to Deliveroo, that does not see research on work as an end in itself.[xiii] To paraphrase Marx: there is no one better placed than workers themselves to describe work, and the exploitation they face can only be overcome through their collective actions.

Taylor claimed at the start of the process he would ‘tell Theresa May what’s wrong with modern work’[xiv], yet after the response to the publication, he is now arguing that the ‘report on work’ is, in fact, ‘brilliant’ – it is just that ‘people don’t get it.’[xv] This is a long way from the reports of the factory inspectors in Marx’s time. Unlike Leonard Horner, whose ‘services to the English working class will never be forgotten,’[xvi] Taylor’s review deserves to not even be remembered. It has clearly failed to deliver results for workers in the gig economy, but given its approach, this is hardly a surprise. Instead what is needed is to listen to those workers who already understand the problems – but also to understand that the solutions can only come from the struggles that are emerging in the gig economy and beyond.


Jamie Woodcock completed his PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is currently a fellow at LSE. His research interests include: digital labour, technology, management, critical theory, and the sociology of work. He is the author of Working the Phones (Pluto, 2016).


Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres is available from Pluto Press.


[i] Rob Davies, (2017) DPD and Parcelforce face MPs’ questions over working conditions, The Guardian.

[ii] Good work: the Taylor review of modern working practices (2017)

[iii] Jason Moyer-Lee, (2017) Wishy-washy and full of fluff – the Taylor review offers little, The Guardian.

[iv] Jamie Woodcock, (2017) Automate this! Delivering Resistance in the Gig Economy, Mute.

[v] Written evidence from IWGB Couriers & Logistics Branch (WOW 99), (2017), The Future World of Work.

[vi] Taylor review, (2017), p38.

[vii] Mike Isaac, (2017) How Uber Deceives the Authorities Worldwide, New York Times, available at:

[viii] IWGB (2017) Dead on Arrival, the IWGB’s reply to the Taylor review on Modern Employment Practices.

[ix] Jamie Woodcock, (2017) All work and no play.

[x] Frederick Engels, (2017) The Condition of the Working Class in England.

[xi] Karl Marx, (1867) Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I.

[xii] Karl Marx, (1880) A Workers’ Inquiry.

[xiii] See, for example: Jamie Woodcock (2017) Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres, London: Pluto.


[xv] Rowland Manthorpe and Kelly Fiveash, (2017) ‘Matthew Taylor: My report on work was brilliant – but people don’t get it’, Wired.

[xvi] Karl Marx, (1867) Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I.

‘Voting for Closure’ Potent Whisper reflects on the election

The championing of ‘third way’ neoliberal policies under Blair, the invasion of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan marked, among other things, a turn against the Labour party for many people in the UK. Protest votes and abstention have long been a practice of the British Left, but Jeremy Corbyn looks set to change that. This blog, by rapper, Spoken Word artist and activist Potent Whisper, narrates this sea-change; describing his longstanding activism against the structural violence enacted by Labour and Tory governments and the hope for a progressive future that Corbyn’s leadership offers.

Watch Potent Whisper’s Rhyming Guide to Voting below.


My name is Potent Whisper. I co-lead the ‘Save Brixton Arches’ campaign and foundedPotent Whisper Press Shot (New Radical) the anti-gentrification community group ‘Our Brixton’ which fuses art with direct action to support local housing campaigns. I have spent the past two years doing what I can to try and defend my community against the violence that Lambeth Council – a Labour council – inflicts relentlessly on its residents and those who work in the area. I have fought not only on estates, in the streets and at council meetings but I have witnessed also the suffering of friends and neighbours behind closed doors, in their most vulnerable moments.

So when it came time to inform a friend that I would plan to vote for the Party that is threatening to make her homeless under the guise of “estate regeneration” I could not do so without feeling some degree of shame. Not only could this decision potentially compromise my place in my community, but also my place in the hearts of people I love and respect. Making this decision to vote and campaign for Labour has been extremely difficult and one that I have not taken lightly.

I’d like to share my reasons for making this decision, and the thought process that led me here. Before I do though, I want to say – very clearly – that none of what I am about to write seeks to deny any of the violence that Labour councils have been carrying out, or the suffering that has come about because of them. To deny this would be to deny the truth and everything I have been campaigning against for years. Further, I want to make it clear that I will continue to campaign against Lambeth Council for the entirety of the election period – Labour or not.

In recent years it has seemed increasingly apparent to me that we need true political revolution in this country. For decades the British public have been sold dreams by politicians, only to be betrayed and abandoned by the people who were supposed to represent them. I can not think of one Party leader in recent decades who has represented the people before their own personal interests. For this reason, millions of people have sought change and their approach has typically been to attempt to use the system, to beat the system. They invest their time and energy into “playing the game” i.e. engaging with mainstream politics, joining a Party or attempting to get elected themselves; in the hope that they may – one day – get into a position of power and make the change we need. My view is that this approach is ineffective – at least to the degree that we require. The tragic truth is that the political system in itself seems designed – on all levels – to prevent any real change or true democracy from taking place.

On a national scale, this is evidenced when looking the voting system, disproportionate representation, the power held by unelected officials, or one of the thousand other examples I could give. Then on a local level, the virtual impossibility of making change by way of “proper”/ systematic process is evidenced every day, not least on housing estates across London. Look at estate regeneration/ estate demolition:

To start with, the official process of community consultation will be carried out after the decision to demolish an estate. When finally consulted, residents will vote overwhelmingly not to demolish. They will attend an official council meeting where only two residents will be given the opportunity to speak, for two minutes each. This is compared to the five minutes each, allowed for every councillor. The residents’ opposition to the demolition goes completely ignored by the council, and so they pursue a judicial review. The judge rightly rules in favour of residents, but the council challenges the decision – with their expensive legal team – and wins. Residents continue to organise, in a desperate attempt to save their homes, only to then be demonised by the council – who use their friends at the press to paint their victims as aggressors. This is just one of a hundred examples I could give of the system fighting those it should be working for.

Any attempt to achieve change within the current system seems simply futile. This is the reason I have only voted once before in my life, and the reason I have always opted to put my energies into direct action and organising in my community. Despite this, I have always had a voice at the back of my mind, almost tormenting me, asking me whether I am definitely taking the right approach to what I believe will be a lifetime of struggle.

Now, however, it seems that I have the opportunity to determine – once and for all – whether meaningful change can or cannot be achieved within this current system. This General Election, and Jeremy Corbyn, surely offers us the ultimate opportunity to determine whether controlled/ systematic methods of resistance can ever work, whether you can “play the game” and win, or whether we in fact need a revolution and nothing but a revolution.

Though Corbyn may not be a revolutionary, his “new kind of politics” is certainly radical in this political climate. He is proposing truly socialist policies/ ideas that serve the common person and completely oppose Tory/ New Labour ideology. If put into practice, they are policies that would directly better the everyday lives of millions of people across the UK. It has been noted that historically, Corbyn’s words have – more often that not – been accompanied by action. Despite the criticisms that some may have of him, the fact remains that he has dedicated his life to bettering the lives of those in his community and has knowingly risked his own personal liberty in the process.

I do not believe that we have ever had a British politician with such progressive views, who has been this close to getting into power. I don’t imagine that we ever will. Surely then this is the ideal opportunity to put the age old argument between “outright revolution” and “internal systemic reform” to the ultimate test. If Corbyn is successful in delivering what he promises as prime minister, then the majority of us will enjoy a better quality of life. If he fails, we will know once and for all that the system can’t be beaten. Surely?

It would not matter how Corbyn may fail; whether he loses the election outright or whether he wins and is then overthrown by New Labour MP’s. It would not matter that “the media was biased” or that “May didn’t give him enough notice before the election” or that “the whole establishment was against him”. If he were to fail, we would know then that this system – and all of its arms – does not/ can never work for ordinary people.

If Corbyn were to fail – despite the fact that he’s won every election he ever stood in – perhaps it would not be the end of the Left, but the beginning of real effective resistance. Perhaps it would bring new possibilities and spark an interest in exploring new/ more effective/ direct approaches to making change. Perhaps then I would be able to move forward with the certain knowledge that I am acting as effectively and efficiently as possible, based on what I would then know does not work – the current system.

Corbyn is the best chance at change that we have/ will have – within this system. I’m voting for Corbyn’s Labour because I want to know whether he can/ will deliver his promises as Prime Minister, to get some closure, to find out whether this system could have ever worked, or whether the majority of the Left have been betting on a horse that was born without legs.

My approach to this is quite simple: I will do whatever I can to help Corbyn get into power. If he wins and is successful in bringing the change he speaks of, then we will all be one big step closer to achieving a compassionate and prosperous society that – as he says – works for everyone. But of course we still won’t be there yet, and I will remain active. If on the other hand he loses, or if he wins but fails to implement his proposed policies for any reason, then I will again continue to remain active. Either way, the power is always with me/ us. Nobody represents me. I have no masters. I just have a vote, a bit of hope and a chance to get some fucking closure.


Potent Whisper is a London based rapper, Spoken Word artist and community organiser. Visit his website:


This blog was submitted to Pluto, if you wish to send in a submission please email:


They cut, we bleed: Women of Colour’s Anti-Austerity Activism by Akwugo Emejulu and Leah Bassel

The Violence of Austerity collects the voices of campaigners and academics to show that rather than stimulating economic growth, austerity policies have dismantled the social COOPER T03205systems that operated as a buffer against economic hardship, exposing austerity to be a form of systematic violence.

This article, by Akwugo Emejulu and Leah Bassel, highlights the political action undertaken by women of colour who, in spite of their adverse suffering at the hands of the Conservative government, have organised and fought against austerity policies.

In our 2017 General Election all of our books are on sale, Violence of Austerity can be yours for 50% off. Now £8.49!


Sisters Uncut, the feminist collective fighting against budget cuts to domestic and sexual violence organisations and services in Britain, succinctly and powerfully captures the violence that austerity wreaks on women of colour with protest slogans like ‘Austerity is state violence against women’ and ‘They cut, we bleed’. Here we discuss how austerity, as both a political frame for this time of economic uncertainty and as a programme of asymmetrical and devastating cuts to social welfare provision, represents a form of epistemic violence that women of colour activists are compelled to confront and resist. By ‘epistemic violence’ we follow Kristie Dotson and refer to the ‘persistent epistemic exclusion that hinders one’s contribution to knowledge production’. We argue that this exclusion from knowledge production is a kind of violence that renders the Other, and in our case, women of colour and their experiences, invisible and inaudible to both policy-makers and ostensible social movement ‘allies’. We argue that there is little attention paid or action to combat women of colour’s poverty and inequality because there is a widespread assumption that poverty is an endemic feature of the experience of the racialised Other and can thus be ignored. Rather than treating austerity as a ‘new’ phenomenon, we argue that the concept of austerity is but the latest example of violently erasing women of colour’s persistent, institutionalised but unremarkable economic and social inequalities. What is ‘new’ under Britain’s austerity regime is the further undermining of women of colour’s economic security through the unprecedented roll back of the welfare state and its social protections. Thus, the epistemic violence of austerity represents both a discursive and material challenge to the agency and dignity of women of colour.

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Austerity and the Production of Hate by Jon Burnett

The Violence of Austerity collects the voices of campaigners and academics to show that rather than stimulating economic growth, austerity policies dismantled the social COOPER T03205systems that operated as a buffer against economic hardship, exposing austerity to be a form of systematic violence.

This article, by Jon Burnett, highlights the troubling way that the government has manipulated public discourse to turn the population against some of Britain’s most vulnerable people. Burnett contends that the ‘scrounger’ and anti-migrant rhetoric espoused by politicians and their media mouthpieces is indivisible from austerity politics, helping to sustain it by obscuring its effects.

In the run up to the 2017 General Election all of our books are on sale, Violence of Austerity can be yours for 50% off. Now £8.49!


This essay is about the ways that two forms of institutionally produced hatred – hatred targeted at migrants and hatred targeted at welfare claimants – have become closely interlinked by ‘austerity politics’. This chilling symbiosis has become apparent in a relentless barrage of headlines about migrant hordes, supposedly exploiting public services and undercutting wages, and the British benefit ‘cheats’ supposedly too idle to work and abusing the welfare state. As the Daily Express condemns the ‘millions’ of migrants grabbing ‘our jobs’, it celebrates the latest ‘blitz’ on British ‘benefit cheats’. As the Sun launches a war on benefits culture (‘leading the charge to rid Britain of a generation of scroungers’), it simultaneously issues a ‘red-line’ demand to the prime minister to ‘halt immigration from the EU’, claiming that ‘this is not racism … [i]t is a simple question of numbers’.

Such campaigns are organised separately. But they feed off and into each other. And they are replicated day after day to the point where they have become a routine aspect of popular culture. Both are voyeuristically treated inbenefits street television programmes like Benefits Street and Immigration Street. Those programmes stem from the same ideological enterprise: to reduce their subjects to objects of ridicule and contempt, turning human struggles into a sneering form of entertainment.

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2017 General Election Reading List – All books 50% off!

It is 2017 and for radicals we are finally seeing a candidate that we could vote for. Within our reach is the end of austerity, the restoration of the NHS, the improvement of the lives of underprivileged people and Britain that is not governed by Old Etonians, City boys and tax-dodgers. Vote, and Vote Corbyn! And, in case you needed convincing, here’s our selection of some of the best Pluto books on British politics.

Ahead of the 2017 General Election, all of our books are 50% off! Follow to apply your discount code.


The Violence of Austerity edited by Vickie Cooper and David Whyte

Was: £16.99 Now: £8.49

Austerity, a response to the aftermath of the financial crisis, continues to devastate contemporary Britain. Unless we vote for a change in government, it’ll continue; austerity is over in name only. COOPER T03205

In The Violence of Austerity, Vickie Cooper and David Whyte bring together the voices of campaigners and academics, including Danny Dorling, Mary O’Hara and Rizwaan Sabir, to show that rather than stimulating economic growth, austerity policies have led to a dismantling of the social systems that operated as a buffer against economic hardship, exposing austerity to be a form of systematic violence. Austerity is a class project, disproportionately targeting underprivileged and vulnerable people.

Covering a range of famous cases of institutional violence in Britain, the book argues that police attacks on the homeless, violent evictions in the rented sector, the risks faced by people on workfare schemes, community violence in Northern Ireland and cuts to the regulation of social protection, are all being driven by reductions in public sector funding. The result is a shocking exposé of the myriad ways in which austerity policies harm people in Britain.


Do I Belong? Reflections from Europe edited by Antony Lerman


Was: £14.99  Now: £7.49

With a general election defined by party policies on immigration and Brexit, the notion of ‘belonging’, as both a political project and a human emotion, has never been more important. Since its foundation in 1957, the European Union has encouraged people across its member states to feel a sense of belonging to one united community, with mixed results. Today, faced with British departure from the EU, the fracturing impacts of the migration crisis, the threat of terrorism and rising tensions within countries, governments within and outside the EU seek to impose a different kind of belonging on their populations through policies of exclusion and bordering.

In this collection of original essays, a diverse group of novelists, journalists and academics reflect on their own individual senses of European belonging. In creative and disarming ways, they confront the challenges of nationalism, populism, racism and fundamentalism.

Do I Belong? offers fascinating insights into such questions as: Why fear growing diversity? Is there a European identity? Who determines who belongs? Is a single sense of ‘good’ belonging in Europe dangerous? This collection provides a unique commentary on an insufficiently understood but defining phenomenon of our age.

Authors include: Zia Haider Rahman, Goran Rosenberg, Isolde Charim, Hanno Loewy, Diana Pinto, Nira Yuval-Davis and Doron Rabinovici among others.


Voices from the ‘Jungle’: Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp by the Calais Writers

Was: £14.99  Now: £7.49

Often called the ‘Jungle’, the refugee camp near Calais in Northern France epitomises for many the suffering, uncertainty and violence which characterises the situation of CalaiswritersT03221refugees in Europe today. Discussion of refugees is consumed by numbers and the media and Westminster all too often ignore the voices of the people who lived there – people who have travelled to Europe from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan and Eritrea: people with astounding stories, who are looking for peace and a better future.

Voices from the ‘Jungle’ is a collection of these stories. Through its pages, the refugees speak to us in powerful, vivid language. They reveal their childhood dreams and struggles for education; the wars and persecution that drove them from their homes; their terror and strength during their extraordinary journeys. They expose the reality of living in the camp; tell of their lives after the ‘Jungle’ and their hopes for the future. Through their stories, the refugees paint a picture of a different kind of ‘Jungle’: one with a powerful sense of community despite evictions and attacks, and of a solidarity which crosses national and religious boundaries.

Illustrated with photographs and drawings by the writers, and interspersed with poems. In the midst of an election obsessed by immigration, this book must be read by everyone seeking to understand the human consequences of this world crisis.


Against Austerity: How we Can Fix the Crisis they Made by Richard Seymour

Was: £14.99  Now: £7.49Seymour T02680

Why are the rich still getting away with it? Why is protest so ephemeral? Why does the left appear to be marginal to political life? In Against Austerity, author of Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics, Richard Seymour challenges our understanding of capitalism, class and ideology, showing how ‘austerity’ is just one part of a wider elite plan to radically re-engineer society and everyday life in the interests of profit, consumerism and speculative finance.

But Against Austerity is not a gospel of despair. Seymour argues that once we turn to face the headwinds of this new reality, dispensing with reassuring dogmas, we can forge new collective resistance and alternatives to the current system.


Cut Out: Living Without Welfare by Jeremy SeabrookSeabrook T03123

Was: £12.99 Now: £6.49

Britain’s welfare state, one of the greatest achievements of our post-war reconstruction, was regarded as the cornerstone of modern society. Today, that cornerstone is wilfully being dismantled by a succession of governments, with horrifying consequences. The establishment paints pictures of so-called ‘benefit scroungers’; the disabled, the sickly and the old.

In Cut Out: Living Without Welfare, Jeremy Seabrook speaks to people whose support from the state – for whatever reason – is now being withdrawn, rendering their lives unsustainable. In turns disturbing, eye-opening, and ultimately humanistic, these accounts reveal the reality behind the headlines, and the true nature of British politics today.

Published in partnership with the Left Book Club.


How Corrupt is Britain? edited by David Whyte

Was: £16.99 Now: £8.49

A game-changing book. It should be read by everyone – George Monbiot Whyte T02913.jpg

Banks accused of rate-fixing. Members of Parliament cooking the books. Major defence contractors investigated over suspect arms deals. Police accused of being paid off by tabloids. The headlines are unrelenting these days. Perhaps it’s high time we ask: just exactly how corrupt is Britain?

David Whyte brings together a wide range of leading commentators and campaigners, offering a series of troubling answers. Unflinchingly facing the corruption in British public life, they show that it is no longer tenable to assume that corruption is something that happens elsewhere; corrupt practices are revealed across a wide range of venerated institutions, from local government to big business. These powerful exposés shine a light on the corruption fundamentally embedded in the current UK politics, police and finance.



The Rent Trap: How we Fell into It and How We Get Out of It by Rosie Walker and Samir Jeraj

Was: £12.99 Now: £6.49

Deregulation, revenge evictions, parliamentary corruption and day-to-day instability: Walker T03066these are the realities for the eleven million people currently renting privately in the UK. At the same time, house prices are skyrocketing and the generational promise of home ownership is now an impossible dream for many. This is the rent-trap: an inescapable consequence of Tory-led market-induced inequality.

Rosie Walker and Samir Jeraj offer the first critical account of what is really going on in the private rented sector and expose the powers conspiring to oppose regulation. A quarter of British MPs are landlords, rent strike is almost impossible and snap evictions are growing, but in the light of these hurdles The Rent Trap shows how to fight back.

Drawing on inspiration from movements in the UK, Europe and further afield, The Rent Trap coheres current experiences of those fighting the financial burdens, health risks and vicious behaviour of landlords in an attempt to put an end to the dominant narratives that normalise rent extraction and undermine our fundamental rights.

Published in partnership with the Left Book Club.


All books are available from Pluto Press and are currently 50% off RRP!

‘Voices from the ‘Jungle” Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp

To coincide with the publication of Voices from the ‘Jungle’, we present a blog, introduced by one of the book’s editors, Katrine Møller Hansen, and accompanied by the voices of the book’s authors: the Calais Writers.


This book brings together the personal stories of people who lived as refugees, during 2015 and 2016, in the Calais camp on the northern French coast, just 26 miles from the UK: a camp that was often called the ‘Jungle’. For the authors, that have all left behind CalaiswritersT03221loved ones and a place of belonging, the ‘Jungle’ became home for a short or a longer time. Through poetry, prose poems, diary entries, photography, drawings and conventional accounts they narrate their personal experiences, life stories and they imagine the lives that lie ahead of them. We hear about the borders – geographical, national, cultural and religious – they have crossed, drawn or dissolved on their journeys and in their search for better and safer futures.

The authors want their voices to be heard and they call for audiences willing to listen. Aware that they are becoming objects of distrust and fear and that they have been depicted as benefit cheats, criminals and terrorists, they take control in this book, of their own representation. However, they do not speak in unison. Differences in opinion appear and the stories may ‘disagree’ with each other. Through such conversations, the book displays the human face of the current world crisis. This implies a multiplicity of truths and life trajectories rather than one homogenic narrative or life story. Their collective voices negotiate what it means to belong and to be human and their stories may resonate with any reader that queries into the human consequences of the displacements and human rights violations we witness today.


Image 1 Photo by Babak Inaloo (from Iran) Continue reading

Pluto Podcast Episode 1 – ‘Footwork’ with Tom Hall

Our first podcast is with Tom Hall, the author of Footwork: Urban Outreach and Hidden Lives. A street-corner ethnography of the homeless living in Cardiff, drawing on the themes of urban regeneration, lost space and the 24-hour city. It’s an insightful and at times very funny portrait of hidden lives, an ‘erudite book about city life that exudes a deep but irreverent sense of humanity.’ Do have a listen…

Rough Sleeping in the 24hr City by Tom Hall

Tom Hall’s Footwork: Urban Outreach and Hidden Lives is a street-corner ethnography that looks at how urban modernisation, development and politics impact on the hidden lives of people living and working on the streets. From the rough hall-t02150sleeping homeless to street drinkers and sex workers, this book reveals the stories of the vulnerable and isolated – people living in the city that we often choose to ignore.

In these extracts, Hall introduces some of Cardiff’s homeless community: Gerald, Paul, Rose, Jackie, Wayne, Damian, Gemma and Carol, looking at how the politics of the urban landscape metes out injustices, limits the right to a home, impacts health and contrives relationships. 

In directing attention to homeless individuals my aim has been to people this book, early on, with those whose lives and difficulties are at stake throughout, if only just a few of them. I feel they are owed some visibility. But I do not want any brief description of individual character and circumstance to be read as a satisfactory, or even part-way satisfactory, account of the problem. Understanding why some people are homeless is best begun somewhere else. It remains the case that homelessness is something that (only) happens to people, however; and that is worth remembering. I have also, at points, obscured things: I have anonymised some of those I am writing about, protecting identities and changing some details – of appearance, sequence of events, particulars. I have done so to afford some privacy to those whose lives are already uncomfortably public. I hope this does not seem inconsistent. I have tried for balance: some visibility, but not too much. Were this book about homelessness, or, rather, about homeless people, things would be different perhaps. Instead, the homeless are a little off to one side of what I am really about here. Their lived circumstances animate others in various ways, as I have suggested, and it is those others, care and outreach workers moving around the city looking out for people in need, that this book is about if it is about any collection of individuals at all. Accordingly, Charlie is Charlie, and Dennis is Dennis, because I know them well and have shared their work; and they know me. Visibility – who sees who and on what terms, who sees their (own) name in print – has to be managed.


Gerald sleeps (as I write) against the rear wall of the Glamorgan Building in Cardiff ’s civic centre. He may not be sleeping at all, may not have slept much all night, but he has made a place for himself there and has occupied it dependably for the last few months, wrapped in a sleeping bag with his minimal possessions arrayed around him. He doesn’t move much and doesn’t like to be disturbed; he can spend two or three days (and nights) in this same spot without seeming even to stand up. He must sleep some of the time.

The Glamorgan Building, once the county hall of Glamorgan, houses Cardiff University’s Schools of City and Regional Planning and Social Sciences; it is a large, neoclassical, listed (Grade 1) building. I work there, in an office on the first floor with a view out across the city, towards Cardiff Bay. Directly below my window a walkway runs along the side of the building and around a corner to a car park at the back. Here, squeezed between the tarmac apron and the rear wall of the building, under cover of a first-floor balcony and balustrade, are a couple of concrete benches and some bicycle racks; and this is where Gerald has established himself, where he was lying this morning as I passed him on my way into the building. It is a good spot, sheltered from the rain and mostly quiet.

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