Magazine article Geographical

Social Benefits

Magazine article Geographical

Social Benefits

Article excerpt

IN MY OPINION, human geographers should pay much more attention to the issues which affect the lives, livelihoods and living standards of individuals in different parts of the world and rather less to some of the more obscure areas of cultural geographical theory.

In the last ten years, the 'cultural turn' in human geography has led to an increasing interest in universities in rarefied theoretical debates which have minimal relevance to the lives of ordinary people and they world they live in.

I would like to see human geographers paying more attention to key issues of employment, housing, education, health and the like. The risk otherwise is that parts of geography could be seen by the public and policy makers as a largely irrelevant parlour game for an inward looking intellectual elite.

One of the biggest influence on the sort of lives most people are able to live is their income--whether from employment, property, savings, investment or welfare benefits. If your income is low and you have to subsist on a state pension or welfare benefits, this is likely to severely circumscribe the kinds of things that you can do and the choices you can make. Inequality has grown considerably in Britain in recent decades and a large number of people on low incomes struggle to survive.

Welfare benefits are a key element of income, particularly for low income groups. It might seem a rather dull subject, but it forms a major component of government spending in developed countries and it has a big impact on household incomes and living standards in some regions and areas.

In Britain, welfare benefits currently total about 200 billion [pounds sterling] a year or about 25 per cent of total government spending. There is also a distinct geography of welfare spending and the incidence of welfare benefits.

In poorer regions, welfare benefits form a significant share of overall household incomes. But, welfare spending is not just something that only affects poor people in poor areas. Almost every household in Britain will, at some stage, enjoy child benefit or a state pension and almost 70 per cent of households in Britain are in receipt of one or more major welfare benefits at some time.

There are, of course, major variations from region to region in the incidence and importance of key benefits. Though the incidence of pensions is, not surprisingly, highest in the south west and lowest in London--given the age structure of the two regions--the percentage of households in receipt of pensions or child benefit are fairly equally distributed by region. …

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