RE-InVEST Newsletter - issue 1/2017
RE-InVEST Newsletter issue 1/2017
The social damage of the crisis
Author(s) 13 partners of RE-InVEST
The crisis has changed more than everyone thoughtRE-InVEST started in 2015 with a clear road map. The first two years we analysed the social damage of the social disinvestment during the crisis years. We also developed a methodology to engage in a ‘merging of knowledge’ with vulnerable people.
RE-InVEST investigated how vulnerable people in 13 countries experienced the crisis of 2008 and its aftermath. This crisis changed more than everyone thought, even in countries that resisted fairly well economically. Thirteen country studies show the impact of the shock waves in our societies, that overhauled the lives of vulnerable people.
The methodological challenge
RE-InVEST started with a critical reading of the different methodologies used in qualitative research. Although all these methodologies are quite interesting, they lack a broad Human Rights point of view and missed the emphasis on the merging of knowledge between vulnerable groups, civil society and academics.
Moreover, Human Rights must be implemented and translated into actions, agency and structures. Therefore, the Human Rights Approach was combined with a critical reading of the Capability Approach.
The ‘crossing of knowledge’ is a main feature of our methodology. The expertise of all participants, ’experts from experience’, researchers, professionals, … needs to be validated in the research. They all have their own expertise and knowledge.
This methodology is being further used in the next stages of the research, which relate to labour market policies, social protection schemes and the social services.
The ’Participatory Action-Research based on the Human Rights and Capabilities Approach’ (PAHRCA) has the purpose to empower people: whereas other research methodologies are often limited to extracting information from vulnerable respondents, this methodology focused on the empowerment of the respondents.
This methodology requires a lot more commitment from research teams than ‘normal’ research methodologies do. In addition, many partners involved in the process have no prior experience with research. An additional challenge of the methodology therefore was to empower respondents and to build capacity.
The impact of the crisis
Whereas the trends in ‐ and causes of ‐ increased inequality and social exclusion have already been extensively studied, the economic, social, cultural and political consequences of this growing divide are less clear. Wilkinson and Pickett argue that growing inequality affects people’s psychological health, trust, the overall social climate, and indirectly also boosts violence, racism, mental illness, infant mortality, suicide etc. Moreover, this seems to apply to rich as well as poor people.
One of the most worrying trends since the outbreak of the crisis is the dramatic decline of trust in institutions, including the European Union. This link was also further investigated. Other alarming symptoms relate to massive homelessness, youth unemployment, emigration of young people, resurgence of contagious diseases or indeed suicide rates among the poor.
Our first key hypothesis in this regard is that growing distrust and indeed resentment among the population may be attributed to (a rejection of) the neoliberal policies employed by national as well as European elites in recent years. Before the crisis, social capital experts showed that countries with higher social‐expenditure‐to‐GDP ratios tend to generate more trust among their population through the achievement of more equal opportunities; it was also known that trust is positively correlated with income or SES.
Hence, it seems quite plausible that the retrenchment of the state, in conjunction with rising inequality and income insecurity, may have undermined trust, especially among the poor and the ‘precariat’.
Paradoxically, the return to a more solidary type of welfare state as a collective reaction seems to be far from evident, partly because of asymmetries in the effects on different social groups, and partly because neoliberal policies may have contributed to a shift in social capital and cultural values (focus on individual responsibility, reduction of the ‘tax burden’, downsizing of unions and NGOs, etc.).
The erosion of the middle‐class, uncertainty and perceived threat from competing groups among the ‘precariat’, internalisation of the obsession with austerity and the pressure of internal and external migration may help explain why European citizens remain divided. In order to rebuild a consensus about the social dimension of European policies, there is a need for a diagnosis of the social crisis that can be shared by large sections of the population: the socially excluded, the peripheral regions, the labour movement and the ‘average citizen’.
The second key hypothesis is that this integrated diagnosis can build on the idea of the erosion of/disinvestment in (individual and collective) capabilities and basic social rights in the EU. This means that experiences of insecurity, poverty and social degradation need to be re‐analysed from those perspectives.
The erosion of collective capacities is reflected in the fragmentation and weakening of public services, civil society organisations, unions etc. Human rights (and basic economic, social and cultural rights in particular) can be seen as the cornerstone of European values and thus an essential part of our European heritage.
These two hypothesis are examined in 13 country reports. You find these reports on our website www.re-invest.eu
Trust is key to investment
Next to the qualitative research we also carried out a statistical analysis of the dynamic relationship between vulnerability, shifts in social policies and trust. This report answers questions such as: in which sections of the population has the trust in institutions declined most? Can different patterns between countries be observed, and can they be explained by differences in policy shifts and differences in resilience of civil society?
An executive summary of this report is also available on www.re-invest.eu
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