December 2019


  1. Analysis of inequality in South Africa remains shallow
  2. We cannot build our way out of inequality
  3. Within a single generation, Poland has gone from one of the most egalitarian countries in Europe to one of the most unequal
  4. Arts 'crucial' to reducing poor health and inequality
  5. Digital solutions for tackling homelessness

Analysis of inequality in South Africa remains shallow


A major report on South African inequality, Inequality Trends in South Africa was published last week and received prominent coverage.

The TimesLive article, “Whites earn three times more than black people: Stats SA”, by Unathi Nkanjeni, tells us nothing we don’t already know — it merely gives the latest figures to what everyone already knows about South Africa’s supposed racialised inequality.

The Mail & Guardian article by Dennis Webster, “Why South Africa is the world’s most unequal society” (first published by New Frame), uses additional research to compound what it, too, presents as racialised inequality. Measuring wealth, rather than income, the M&G reports that the richest 1% of South Africans own 67% of the country’s wealth, with the top 10% owning 93% and the remaining 90% owning a mere 7%. Such are the numbers of world-beating inequality.

Webster asks but doesn’t answer his own question: “Why does the gap in South Africa’s earnings continue to widen?” Instead, he addresses the question of why South Africa’s inequality “remains stubbornly racialised”.

He tells us: “The persistence of South Africa’s inequality a quarter of a century after formal democracy is, in large part, down to enduring colonial and apartheid geographies.”

“Racialised inequality” is, at best, a lazy answer. I can state this with assurance because we must presume that both authors read the Inequality Trends report. Indeed, it was a single sentence in Nkanjeni’s article — “The report also found that the wage gap between SA’s groups increased between 2011 and 2015” — that intrigued me sufficiently to read the whole report.

By so doing, I found the following two paragraphs, in the Inequality Trends report. The first one, on page 40, notes: “In 2006, both the within-group and between-groups inequality based on population group contributed equally to overall inequality ... However, the within-group inequality overtook the between-groups inequality for the remaining periods (2009, 2011 and 2015). Meanwhile ... the within-group inequality accounted for 58,0% in 2006 and gradually rose to 69,0% in 2015, while the between-groups inequality has decreased from 42,0% in 2006 to 31,0% by 2015. Furthermore, the contribution of black Africans to [the] within inequality [group] was the highest and has risen over time, while the contribution of the other three population groups remained more or less the same over the period.”

The second paragraph, on page 139, offers the explanation for why “within-group inequality” [within each of the apartheid races still embedded in all statistics in 2019] has grown while the “between-group” inequality has declined:

“Given that social status is often passed through family, it is important to look at what is happening with intergenerational mobility. Arden Finn and Murray Leibbrandt, in their paper, The Evolution and Determination of Earnings Inequality in Post-apartheid, showed that, once children enter the labour market, nine out of 10 from the poorest families still occupy the same place in the earnings distribution as their parents.  This … very high labour market immobility … reflects the transmission of disadvantage across generations for parents at the lower end of the earnings distribution. The correlation between parents and children’s earnings is somewhat lower in the middle of the distribution. It is interesting to note that this correlation increases again for fathers towards the top of the distribution. Children of top-earning fathers have a 70% probability of being top earners themselves. This shows very strong transmission of advantage from one generation to the next at the top end of the labour market.”

These two paragraphs should be unremarkable, for they do no more than apply 101 sociology: that intergenerational inequalities are reproduced as a natural part of the natural reproduction of society. This continues unless subject to interference external to the complex of these inherent transmission processes that reproduce inequality.

Class inequalities are universal; a condition as old as the emergence of class divisions themselves. Moreover, these class divisions remain remarkably stable, in between the few revolutionary periods that disrupt them. At the same time, the specificities of the class divisions that individualise each country are shaped by each country’s history and geography.

The year 1994 was hardly a revolutionary moment in South Africa’s history. But it did disrupt the apartheid dualism of racial capitalism. Capitalism survived. The standard class inequalities of capitalism, however, were disrupted by the aspirations of those people who had not “joined the struggle to be poor”, as a leading member of the ANC, Smuts Ngonyama, put it, in 2004. Using their newly won political power, the aspirant rich imposed affirmative action and black economic empowerment (BEE) as disrupters of the class reproductions of apartheid to ensure that some Africans are no longer the prisoners of apartheid-designed poverty. These policies have been so successful that marked and growing inequality among black South Africans now figure in research findings. At the other end, “the transmission of disadvantage across generations”, ensures that the majority of the “disadvantaged” remain black people, for they form 80% of the total population. This natural reproduction of advantage/disadvantage similarly explains why white people (largely) remain in the highly privileged position they occupied in 1994.

This basic sociology, along with the demographics of the country’s population, explains why South Africa might, at a first, very shallow glance, appear to be colour coded.

But, to go beyond this mere description of South African inequality — in terms of which the majority of the poor remain black and the majority of white people remain rich — to provide, that is, the validation of the seemingly obvious, everyday truism of racialised inequality, requires vigorous and comprehensive analysis. Yet, it is precisely this analysis that is still wanting. In its place, we have nothing but assertions. A race-based analysis — even a partial one — would, additionally, need to explain why and how the racism that supposedly keeps the majority of black people poor simultaneously produces, and reproduces, a growing class of rich black people.

The statutorily promoted emergence of the upwardly mobile black elite is a notable success story. Yet, it is kept in the shadows. Could this strange silence be because the facts are contrary to the needs of the still far from satisfied black rich? Could it be that the black rich, rejoicing in the normal class reproductions that leave a permanency of black poverty, use that fortuitous condition to prove that “transformation” has still a long way to go before it is deracialised?

It does seem that precisely because affirmative action and BEE can never dislodge the permanence of black poverty, that poverty serves as a most effective battle cry for permanently more affirmative action and BEE. Accordingly, rather than addressing the inequity of capitalist produced poverty, the black rich are compelled to retain the apartheid categories that, being so deeply embedded in our self-identities, continue to keep us locked in the apartheid-world of racial separateness.

Research revealing the dramatic increase in (class) inequality within the black population is — whether consciously or not — not welcome. Even the statistician general, ce, who published the Inequality Trends report, has no difficulty in ignoring his own research. TimesLive quotes him say that South African inequality remains “heavily racialised”.


Jeff Rudin is a research associate at the Alternative Information and Development Centre


By                    :               Jeff Rudin

Date                 :               December 1, 2019

Source             :               Mail & Guardian


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We cannot build our way out of inequality


A dominant view in urban economics suggests that the solution to the housing crisis of major cities is to relax zoning and other planning regulations. Andrés Rodríguez-Pose and Michael Storper challenge this position, arguing that there is no clear and uncontroversial evidence that housing regulation is a principal source of differences in home availability or prices across cities and that these issues are more linked to rising inequalities in the geography of employment, wages and skills. Blanket changes in zoning are unlikely to increase affordability for lower-income households in prosperous regions but would increase gentrification without appreciably decreasing income inequality


The housing affordability problem

Housing in the largest metro areas the world over has become unaffordable for much of the population. Hard working individuals living in large cities have been priced out of better-quality housing. Those wanting to move from lagging regions into dynamic urban areas in search of better opportunities are also deterred by astronomical real estate costs. Segregation and housing and income inequality are increasing, as are commuting times.

According to the dominant view in urban economics, the main culprit for this situation is restrictive zoning in large metro areas. The solution is simple: the massive upzoning of urban land by reducing the decision-making power of local communities over land use, so that they can no longer prevent high-density building. By getting rid of restrictions and letting the real estate developers in, more and more affordable housing will be built in the places where people have the greatest opportunities. Prosperous metropolitan areas, like New York, the Bay Area or London will become bigger, more productive, and more socially inclusive. Inter-regional mobility will pick up and, as a consequence, income inequality will decline, both within cities and across the country.

Supply restrictions are, therefore, considered to be the main obstacle to solving the problem. Zoning prevents building enough housing to keep up with demand, increasing housing prices, rewarding landowners, enhancing, as a consequence, inter-personal and inter-territorial income inequality and dissuading talent from flowing into the more affluent regions. It is also regarded as a main source of economic inefficiency, as lack of affordable housing may prevent these cities to reach their full potential, limiting overall national growth and hurting the most vulnerable.

Finding a possible solution

The solution is, according to this view, simple: cut regulation in order to build more and denser housing in metro areas. The greater affordability triggered by housing deregulation in the prime areas of prosperous metro regions would trickle-down to the rest of the metro area. Following this view, a fast growing coalition of high-income millennials (YIMBYs), urban planners who want density, developers, and elected officials has thrust this view into the public debate. Legislation is now actively promoting top-down deregulation and upzoning not just as a way to address the housing affordability problem, but also as a cure-all for low productivity and aggregate national growth as well as for both interpersonal and inter-territorial inequality. Nowhere is this rifer than in California, where Senate Bill 4 (McGuire and Beall 4/10/2019) states that “Economists widely agree that restrictive land use policies increase housing prices. Studies have found that housing prices in California are higher and increase faster in jurisdictions with stricter land use controls, and in some markets, each additional regulatory measure increases housing prices by nearly 5 percent. Stricter land use controls are also associated with greater displacement and segregation along both income and racial lines. Restrictive land use policies also hurt economic growth by preventing residents from moving to more productive areas where they can accept more productive jobs that pay higher wages.” SB 50 (Weiner et. al, as amended 11/03/19) states that the consequences of restrictive local housing regulations “are discrimination against low-income and minority households, lack of housing to support employment growth, imbalance in jobs and housing, reduced mobility, urban sprawl, excessive commuting, and air quality deterioration.”

What’s novel about this coalition is that it draws on mainstream housing economics and then claims that this new deregulationist market urbanism is socially and economically progressive. In like fashion, they consider those who oppose their endorsement of blanket upzoning to be self-centered NIMBYs, uninterested in justice, inclusion or equality, and who, they say, have caused the current crisis. YIMBYism can be seen as a generational clash between the younger segment of the top 30% who resent the existing (somewhat richer and older) segment of the top 30%, who occupy the neighbourhoods where the millennials would like to live but cannot, but who represent themselves as the avant-garde for the lower 70% of the population. The beauty of their solution to the housing and inequality woes of our cities is that it is straightforward: deregulate to allow more housing units on high-demand existing lots, and when the market generates higher buildings in the most lucrative neighbourhoods, wait for the benefits to trickle down the social and geographical ladder.

Is this too good to be true?

Does this sound too good to be true? In a new paper on the limits to deregulation and upzoning in reducing economic and spatial inequality, we argue that this is, indeed, too good to be true. The authors posit that the background to understanding the housing crisis is not just zoning, but the decades-long rise in income inequality and the return of high-wage jobs to cities, a toxic combination of high overall demand with high-inequality and insufficient housing purchasing power on the part of much of the population. The paper argues against those proposing blanket deregulation and upzoning in two main ways.

First, the evidence on trickle-down benefits is weak to non-existent. The intra-urban housing markets in cities are highly segmented. This means that the interest in prime land in the downtowns and job, transit, and amenity-rich areas is far greater than in virtually all other urban land. There are considerably more benefits to be made by building in these areas than in more distant and less accessible locations. There are also far greater benefits to be made by targeting the upper- than the middle- or lower-end of the housing markets. It comes therefore as no surprise that in virtually all processes of inner-city upzoning the first new constructions are luxury condos in some of the most desirable areas of the city. The buyers of these properties end up being generally affluent local workers at the top of the salary scale, wealthy suburbanites who want a pied-à-terre in the city, institutional investors, part-time residents, or, in cases like London and New York, foreign oligarchs.

More high-end housing supply might be welcome if it triggers a trickle-down effect that is big enough to help wide swathes of the population in wide swathes of neighbourhoods. How could this occur? The consumers of the new high-priced housing in desirable locations would have to “filter” out of these other neighbourhoods and hence soften demand enough in them so that prices in the housing markets for lower income groups would become substantially lower and their housing upgraded. The problem for this claim is that even the academics who find some filtering also find it occurs almost entirely within the already high-priced areas. The higher-income people are just moving up within their areas. This isn’t trickle down but attending to the privileged.

This is why, in most previous cases where widespread upzoning has taken place, the same story is repeated: supply expands and the cost of housing for the upper income segment declines, while having little to no positive effect for the rest of the population.

Second, a key claim by those positing blanket deregulation is that selfish elites in dynamic metro-regions are not just creating a local problem, but a national one, by keeping people from less dynamic places from moving in. Yet, taking the case of the US, the link between population change and GDP growth has, in recent years, been non-existent (Figure 1). Many large American cities with relatively lax planning regulations are indeed growing fast. Between 2010 and 2018 the population of Orlando grew by 20.5%, that of Houston by 18.2%, Dallas-Fort Worth by 17.3%, Phoenix by 15.8%, and Atlanta by 12.5%. But Seattle (14.5%), Portland (11.4%), Washington, D.C. (10.9%) also grew in double digits, despite much greater planning restrictions. The Bay Area increased its population by 9.1% (which in absolute terms represents 500,000 additional inhabitants in Seattle and 400,000 more in the Bay Area in a mere eight years). But another big difference is that while annual GDP growth per capita in restrictive San Jose between 2001 and 2017 was 3.5% and 2.5% in Portland, GDP per capita growth in less restrictive places, such as Atlanta, Orlando or Las Vegas was negative, or a paltry 0.03% in Phoenix and 0.36% in Houston.  

No amount of affordable housing in the Bay Area, London or Frankfurt can facilitate the job market integration of a high school graduate from, say, Youngstown (Ohio), Sheffield, or Chemnitz, respectively. The problem in this respect lays not in housing unaffordability, but in education systems that leave so many people behind, while prosperous metro areas concentrate jobs in the industries requiring the most education. Figure 2 buttresses the view that it is the fundamentals of economic geography more than house prices that are at work, by showing the weak relationship between changes in home values, expansion of the developed residential area, and the presence of immigrants in US cities.’

Towards more carefully targeted upzoning as a solution

Hence, blanket upzoning is likely to end up adding further within-city spatial segregation to what are already rife interpersonal inequalities. Just as neglecting rising territorial inequalities has unleashed populism across the developed world (Rodríguez-Pose 2018), ignoring the spatial consequences of upzoning is a recipe for future social troubles, leading to less, not more, economic growth.

In other words, carefully targeted – not blanket – upzoning may ultimately be part of a delicate and complex policy mix that is required to address inequalities both within our cities and across our regions. This mix includes at least combining education, social, health, and housing policies. And in the realm of housing policy, this will mean more and different types of regulation that may appeal to neither YIMBYs nor NIMBYs.


Andrés Rodríguez-Pose (Professor of Economic Geography, London School of Economics; Research Fellow, CEPR)

Michael Storper (Professor of Economic Geography, LSE; Distinguished Professor of Regional and International Development in Urban Planning; UCLA)





Freemark, Y (2019), “Upzoning Chicago: Impacts of a zoning reform on property values and housing construction”, Urban Affairs Review, 29 January.

Ganong, P, and D Shoag (2017), “Why has regional income convergence in the US declined?”, Journal of Urban Economics, 102, 76–90.

Glaeser, E L (2017),     “Reforming land use regulations”, Brookings Center on Regulation and Markets, 24 April.

Glaeser, E L, and J D Gottlieb (2008), “The economics of place-making policies”, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Spring, 155-253.

Gaubert, C (2018), “Firm Sorting and Agglomeration”, American Economic Review, 108 (11), 3117–3153.

Hsieh, C, and E Moretti (2015), “Why do cities matter? Local growth and aggregate growth”, NBER Working Paper no. 21152.

Hsieh, C, and E Moretti (2017), “Housing constraints and spatial misallocation”, NBER Working Paper no. 21154.

Ihlanfeldt, K (2007), “The effect of land use regulation on housing and land prices”, Journal of Urban Economics, 61, 420–435.

Katz, L, and K Rosen (1987), “The Interjurisdictional Effects of Growth Controls on Housing Prices”, Journal of Law and Economics, 30 (1), 149-160.

Kline, P, and E Moretti (2014), “People, places, and public policy: Some simple welfare economics of local economic development programs”, Annual Review of Economics, 6, 629–62.

Popov, I (2019), “Housing markets and income inequality”, Apartment List, 24 April.

Quigley, J, and S Raphael (2005), “Regulation and the High Cost of Housing in California”, American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings, 95 (2), 323-328.

Rodríguez-Pose, A (2018), “The revenge of the places that don’t matter (and what to do about it)”, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 11 (1), 189-209.

Rodríguez-Pose, A ,and M Storper (2019), “Housing, urban growth and inequalities: The limits to deregulation and upzoning in reducing economic and spatial inequality”, Urban Studies, 17 September.

Saiz, A (2010), “The geographic determinants of housing supply”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 125 (3), 1253-1296.


By                    :               Andrés Rodríguez-Pose & Michael Storper

Date                 :               October 2, 2019

Source             :               VOX  CEPR Policy Portal


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Within a single generation, Poland has gone from one of the most egalitarian countries in Europe to one of the most unequal


Poland experienced a sharp rise in inequality during its transition from communism to capitalism, and this trend has continued into the 2000s. Pawel Bukowski and Filip Novokmet chart a century of data on Polish inequality to examine the key causes. Their work illustrates the central role of policies and institutions in shaping long-run inequality. This rising inequality and promises to address it through redistributive policies were key factors in the victory of Law and Justice at this year’s Polish election – and they could well be a major feature in the UK’s upcoming election campaign.


Poland’s profound transformation from communism to a market economy happened in less than one generation, and the accompanying economic growth has been the fastest in Europe and much faster than that of famous ‘Asian Tigers’. At the same time, however, there has been growing support for redistributive policies, which became a key factor in the election victories of the right-wing populist party Law and Justice in 2015 and 2019. A flagship family allowance programme (500+) was introduced in 2016, and the retirement age has been lowered to 60 for women and to 65 for men. In the electoral campaign of 2019, a further expansion of 500+ was proposed along with a radical increase of the minimum wage from around 46% of the average wage to nearly 78%.

This suggests that, although the real average national income has more than doubled since 1990, not all income groups and income sources have benefited from it equally. How do inequalities evolve in such quick-changing societies and what is the role of transition policies and emerging institutions? How does the Polish experience compare to western European countries, Russia, other former socialist countries in the EU, or to China and other developing countries?

In a recent study, we made a comprehensive attempt to look at the long-run evolution of inequality in Poland. We combined tax, survey and national accounts data to provide consistent series on the long-term distribution of national income in Poland. Figure 1 shows that top income shares in Poland have followed a U-shaped evolution from 1892 until today. Inequality was high in the first half of the twentieth century due to the high concentration of capital income at the top of the distribution. As has been documented now in many countries, the downward trend after the Second World War was induced by the fall in capital income concentration.

The introduction of communism signified a comparatively greater shock to capital incomes relative to other countries, by literally eliminating private capital income with nationalisations and expropriations. In addition, it implied a strong reduction of top labour incomes. During the remaining four decades of communist rule, top income shares displayed notable stability at these lower levels.

We analysed the transition from communism to the market economy by constructing the full income distribution (1983-2015) from combined tax and survey data. Figure 2 shows there was a substantial and steady rise in inequality after the fall of communism, which was driven by a sharp increase in the income shares of the top groups. Within one generation, Poland has moved from being one of the most egalitarian to one of the most unequal countries in Europe. The highest increase took place at the outset of the transition in the early 1990s, but we also found substantial growth since the early 2000s, after Poland joined the EU.

Today, Polish top income shares are at the level of more unequal European countries, most notably Germany and the UK, but still substantially below those documented in Russia. The table below shows that over the whole period 1989-2015, the top 1% has captured almost twice as large a portion of total income growth than the bottom 50% (24% versus 13%). This contrasts with France, where the top 1% captured the same share of growth as the poorest half.

The rise of inequality after the return to capitalism in the early 1990s was induced both by the rise of top labour and capital incomes. We attribute this to labour market liberalisation and privatisation. But the strong rise in inequality in the 2000s was driven solely by the increase in top capital incomes, which are dominant sources of income for the top percentile group. We relate the rise in top capital incomes to current globalisation forces and capital-biased technological change, which have potentially rebalanced the division of national income in favour of capital.

Overall, the unique history of Polish inequality illustrates the central role of policies and institutions in shaping inequality in the long run. The communist system eliminated private capital income and compressed earnings, which led to the sharp fall and decades-long stagnation of the top income shares.

By the same token, labour market liberalisation and privatisation during the transition instantly increased inequality and brought it to the level of countries with long histories of capitalism. On the other hand, a marked increase in social transfers and expansion of the safety net during the early transition years played a key role in ‘protecting’ the bottom 50% of the distribution. It provided the general political support for market reforms and enterprise restructuring in Poland.

This contrasts with the Russian transition, as shown in the table above, where the share of the bottom 50% collapsed. Social transfer payments in Russia were small and declining, while pensions were not indexed for inflation, leading to a plunge in living standards of the bottom 50% when hyperinflation struck in the early 1990s. This suggests that mitigating a more substantial rise in inequality may be conducive to economic growth.

Finally, recent developments suggest that the future of inequality in Poland is likely to be linked with the prominent role of capital income among top incomes. Moreover, one should not expect a weakening of this trend, as processes connected with globalisation and technological change seem to contribute to the growing dominance of capital in the economy.

Rising inequality might have adverse social and political implications, as is evident in the recent populist anti-globalisation backlash in Poland and internationally. The issue of distribution of gains from economic growth has become crucial for sustaining long-run development.


Pawel Bukowski is a Research Officer in the labour markets programme at the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance (CEP).

Filip Novokmet is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Bonn and World Inequality Lab.


By                    :               Pawel Bukowski & Filip Novokmet

Source             :               The London School of Economics & Political Science

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Arts 'crucial' to reducing poor health and inequality


Engaging in artistic activities such as singing and dancing from a young age can reduce social inequalities and encourage healthy behaviours, according to a new report from UCL and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The study, published today, is the world's largest review to date into the health benefits of the arts. The paper reviews over 3,000 studies and highlights the importance of involving the arts sector in health delivery and health policy for all countries in the WHO European region.

Lead author, Dr Daisy Fancourt (Associate Professor of Psychobiology & Epidemiology, UCL Epidemiology and Health Care) said: "Much of the research in this area has focused on the role of the arts in the treatment of illness.

"This report also highlights that engagement with the arts can affect social determinants of health, improving social cohesion and reducing social inequalities and inequities. Crucially, the arts can support the prevention of illness and promotion of good health."

In terms of treating ill-health the arts have been found to reduce psychological and biological markers of stress and improve immune response. For people with neurodevelopmental and neurological disorders and non-communicable diseases (including cancer, respiratory disease and cardiovascular conditions) engaging with the arts has been found to improve mental health and physical function.

The report also focusses on how the arts can improve engagement with primary healthcare. For example, doctor's surgeries that have visual art on walls have been found to reduce patient anxiety and calming music in dental surgeries can help anxiety, blood pressure and stress hormones.

"As well as helping patients or those with health problems to recover or better manage their illness, we see engagement with the arts having a significant positive health benefit from a young age.

"The arts have an important role to play in early years as well as throughout our life-course. In this study, we see many examples of programmes which have specifically helped more vulnerable children to manage anxiety and aggression as well as increased school attendance and self-esteem.

"Additionally large-scale community-based music programmes amongst children exposed to violence have been found to improve self-control and reduce behavioural difficulties," added Dr Fancourt.

The researchers says the report leads to a number of policy recommendations for the WHO and member states. These include ensuring arts provision in communities is accessible and supporting arts organisations in making health and wellbeing part of their strategies.

Dr Piroska Östlin, WHO Regional Director for Europe (ad interim), said: "Bringing art into people's lives through activities including dancing, singing, and going to museums and concerts offers an added dimension to how we can improve physical and mental health."

"The examples cited in this groundbreaking WHO report show ways in which the arts can tackle 'wicked' or complex health challenges such as diabetes, obesity and mental ill health. They consider health and well-being in a broader societal and community context, and offer solutions that common medical practice has so far been unable to address effectively."



Case study: Arts on Prescription, England

Arts on Prescription has been used for around two decades in the UK as part of broader Social Prescribing schemes, such as the UCL-led Museums on Prescription initiative. People who visit their GP with non-medical problems such as social isolation or loneliness can be referred to the programme and connected with community activities such as arts participation. Evaluations have shown benefits for mental health, chronic pain, management of complex and long-term conditions, social support, and wellbeing, as well as an average return on investment of £2.30 for every £1 spent through reducing unnecessary prescribing and health services.

Case study: Men's Sheds, Scotland

Men's Sheds are community-based places designed to connect men within their communities, through activities such as woodwork (primarily) and sometimes also gardening, pottery, photography, art and other social activities. Originating in Australia, there are now over 1,500 Men's Sheds worldwide. Research on the sheds has shown benefits including skills acquisition, social belonging, enhanced wellbeing, increased self-esteem, a greater sense of self-worth and cognitive stimulation, as well as a roughly ten-fold social return on investment.

Study example: Regular trips out guard against depression in old age

A 2018 study led by Dr Fancourt, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found people who attended films, plays or exhibitions every few months had a 32% lower risk of developing depression, with those attending once a month or more having a 48% lower risk. She also led another study in 2018 finding a link between museum visits and reduced incidence of dementia after 10 years.

Study example: Singing improves mental health for family cancer carers

A 2019 BMJ Open study led by Dr Fancourt among people who were caring for a spouse, family member or close friend with cancer, found that weekly participation in a choir reduced anxiety and improved wellbeing.


Source                             :               EurakAlert! AAAS


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Digital solutions for tackling homelessness


An event organised on 15 October by EPHA members the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) explored the potential of using digital solutions in the fight against social and digital exclusion of homeless people. A number of new mobile solutions were presented that could provide value for their beneficiaries and for society at large.

As part of these, the “Surviving in Brussels” app provides up-to-date, comprehensive information provided by participating organisations for the benefit of homeless people and their supporters. It provides information about where and how 24 different basic needs can be met, ranging from finding a safe place to sleep to free toilet and shower facilities, to food and drink options and tips about legal entitlements. It is offered in four languages including Romanian, reflecting the strong worker migration of Romanian nationals in recent years, including many Roma who not infrequently end up homeless. The app is accessible via computer and smartphone, but also through terminals in associations and across the city, supported by paper maps for people not familiar with digital environments.

A representative of the French “Entourage” NGO network and app, active in five French cities with the aim of reconciling digital and social inclusion, stated that loneliness and the absence of a network are felt most harshly on the streets, often resulting in low self-esteem among homeless individuals. The goal is thus to create links and relationships between homeless people and local residents wishing to give support, warmth and shelter. Activities (including educational offers), services and requests can be posted by homeless people themselves or by local residents, and they are moderated by social workers. A secondary goal is to motivate professional actors to step in and close existing service gaps, recognising that sustainable support is required in the long term.

Soliguide is another French initiative listing detailed, up-to-date services, initiatives and resources for homeless and refugee populations in France, also grouped into different categories and capturing key needs. Keeping information updated and in good quality is absolutely vital as homeless people may not return if bad advice has been given.  Moreover, although smartphones are not uncommon among segments of the homeless population, continuity of access remains an issue (e.g. due to the costs involved) and support for administrative processes is often vital, depending on level of education, digital literacy, socio-demographic background, etc. Since lack of valid documents has been identified as a key reason for exclusion from social assistance in France, with about 40% of homeless people affected in one way or another, the Reconnect platform offers a “solidarity cloud” into which personal documents can be safely scanned and saved, without having to rely on social workers’ or institutional servers. Many hospitals are using it already, and the aim is to create a social ecosystem.

In his commentary, David Mallows of University College London Institute of Education highlighted that digital inequalities tend to exacerbate social inequalities, and digital skills and learning are key for accessing the new opportunities afforded. The Digital Inclusion Pathway entails different stages (access, developing a taste for digital technology, and readiness), with digital literacy as a continuum along the path leading to digital competence. More people must be included in the digital realm so they can be socially included too.

A representative of the Diesis social economy network recalled that 80 million Europeans have never used the Internet whereas one third of the poorest children do not have access at home due to the barriers presented by high costs, low connectivity and lack of skills.  EU funded projects including MEDICI, which maps best practices of digital inclusion implemented by municipalities, private sector initiatives, etc) and NewTalents4EU, (which empowers refugees through ICT training and linking them up with the labour market) are attempting to close some of the existing gaps.

Overall, while it was argued that some studies (e.g. in France) point at a relatively high smartphone penetration rate among homeless people, more research will be necessary to better understand what categories of homeless people use them, how they use them and for what purposes, to get a better idea of, inter alia, their socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, level of education, gender, age and motivation. It would appear that there a big differences also among homeless people when it comes to using digital tools, with many of the available apps and services arguably catering to those who have the agency to seek out help and engage online, which may not be so easy for long-time homeless persons, people suffering from chronic conditions or addiction, those living with learning difficulties or mental health conditions or subject to forms of multiple discrimination.


By                    :               Sascha Marschang

Date                 :               December 2, 2019

Source             :               European Public Health Alliance


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