Posts Tagged ‘British and Irish Politics and Policy’

Five things we have learnt about England’s voter ID trials in the 2019 local elections

The Cabinet Office and Electoral Commission have published their evaluations of the voter ID trials that were held during this May’s local elections. Michela Palese assesses what we have learnt from them, and what concerns remain.

The ID trials, which followed an initial set of pilots last year, required voters in ten English local authorities (Braintree, Broxtowe, Craven, Derby, Mid-Sussex, North Kesteven, North West Leicestershire, Pendle, Watford and Woking) to present personal identification when visiting the polling station.

As in 2018, the participating local authorities tested three different types of identification requirements: a photo ID model (Pendle and Woking), a mixed model where voters presented either one piece of photo ID or two pieces of non-photo ID before casting their vote (in Braintree, Derby among other areas), and a poll card model, in Mid-Sussex, Watford and North West Leicestershire. In the areas piloting the photo ID and mixed ID models, voters who did not have the required identification could apply for a locally issued certificate of identity.

While the Cabinet Office declared the 2019 trial to have been a ‘success‘ for the government’s voter ID pilots, the Electoral Commission was more cautious in its judgement, saying: ’Important questions however remain about how an ID requirement would work in practice, particularly at a national poll with higher levels of turnout.’

So, what did we learn from the Cabinet Office and Electoral Commission evaluations?

1. Around 2,000 people were initially turned away from the polling station for not having ID, with around 750 of them not returning to vote

Compared to allegations and verified cases of personation – the crime of pretending to be someone else at the ballot box – the figures for numbers turned away in each pilot area (see Table 1) are extremely high. Figures released by the Electoral Commission in March 2019 showed that, of the 266 cases of electoral fraud investigated by police in 2018 just one in five (57) related to complaints made about the voting process. Of these, personation fraud at the polling station accounted for just eight of the allegations made in 2018. There is therefore insufficient evidence to suggest that personation fraud is widespread in the UK, which makes it hard to justify this level of disenfranchisement for lack of ID.

Table 1: Number of people who were not able to show ID in each trial area

Source: Electoral Commission; *In Watford, the lower number in the range indicates those that gave their name to polling station staff and were then not issued with a ballot paper because they did not have ID; the higher number also includes those who left before giving their name, so cannot be confirmed as registered at that polling station.

2. Requiring voter ID can have a potentially disproportionate impact on certain groups

As the Electoral Commission stated in its evaluation, some groups of people may find it harder than others to show ID, particularly photo ID. This includes people with protected characteristics as well as other less frequent voters. Possession of ID is not universal in the UK and previous research by the Electoral Commission showed that around 3.5 million citizens (7.5% of the electorate) do not have access to photo ID. Getting ID costs time and money, which some may not be able to invest, and we know that certain groups – particularly marginalised or vulnerable groups – are less likely to have ID.

Awareness of ID requirements also differs across demographic groups: those aged 18–34 were less likely to have heard about the pilots than those aged 55+; similarly, those from a BAME background were less likely than white respondents to be aware of the ID requirements.

Requiring identification has the potential to discriminate against certain groups and, as the Electoral Commission stated in its evaluation: ‘If there were to be a disproportionate impact on particular groups of voters this could also have a negative impact on public confidence; we know that problems at elections can affect voters’ and non-voters’ overall perceptions of the poll.’

3. Requiring voter ID had only a small effect on voter confidence among voters in pilot areas

The Cabinet Office report found that the perception of the polling station being safe from fraud and abuse increased by around 2–5 percentage points across the pilot areas. But levels of confidence in safeguards at polling stations were already high – with between 85% and 87% of people saying that voting at polling stations is safe from fraud and abuse before taking part in the pilots.

Similarly, the Electoral Commission’s post-poll research found that 77% of electors thought voting in general is safe, particularly at the polling station (81%). Indeed, looking at the Electoral Commission’s post-pilot surveys, it is clear that postal voting is more of a concern: ‘72% believe postal voting to be safe from fraud or abuse whereas 87% believe voting at a polling station is safe. The proportion who would describe voting by post as unsafe (15%) is three times the proportion who would describe voting at a polling station as unsafe (5%).’

In short, though the evaluations conducted by the Cabinet Office and Electoral Commission indicate a slight increase in perceptions of polling stations being safe from fraud and abuse as a result of the pilots, pre-existing levels of confidence in the security of polling station were already very high. This cannot be said for other aspects of electoral integrity, such as postal voting, on which the government is not currently focused.

4. Fraud is not voters’ top concern about elections

Post-poll research by the Electoral Commission found that electoral fraud is not at the top of electors’ concerns. Only one in four respondents (24%) said electoral fraud was somewhat of or a serious problem, with more (26%) stating it isn’t a problem.

By contrast, low voter turnout and bias in the media were considered to be a problem by 64% and 56% of respondents respectively. Other issues that came higher in people’s priorities were: inadequate regulation of political activity on social media (chosen by 38% of respondents); inadequate regulation of the money political parties spend on their election campaigns (38%), and foreign influence on UK election results (30%).

Only barriers to democratic participation for minority groups and intimidation of candidates that stand for election were lower priorities for voters than voter ID (chosen by 22% and 18% of respondents respectively).

5. Questions remain about how voter ID requirements  would work for the whole country in a general election

Unable to draw any definitive conclusions from the trials on how voter ID would work if rolled out nationally, the Electoral Commission highlighted three areas for further consideration: any scheme should clearly deliver improved security; it should ensure accessibility for all voters, and any ID scheme should be realistically deliverable at a national level, taking into account the resources required to administer it. Though most voters were able to vote on 2 May in the pilot areas, some of them were not. The disproportionate effect requiring voter ID has on certain communities in particular, as shown above, and the restrictions on where and when free local elector cards can be obtained are further evidence that current ID requirements are not accessible for all voters.

Though electoral administrators were satisfied with how the pilots were administered and didn’t find them to have been too resource- and time-intensive, the setting in which the trials were conducted is highly dissimilar to that of a typical general election – which is likely to attract higher numbers of voters from much more heterogeneous demographics.

Mandatory voter ID – particularly in a polity such as the UK with no universal, free or cheap access to ID cards – poses a risk to democratic access and equality which far outstrips the levels of personation at the ballot box and the slight increases in perceptions of polling station voting being free from fraud or abuse.

We should be focusing on addressing voters’ concerns – low turnout, media bias, financial interference in elections, among many others – not on preventing voters from exercising their democratic right to vote.


Note: The above was first published on Democratic Audit. Photo by Dom J from Pexels.

About the Author

Michela Palese is Research and Policy Officer for the Electoral Reform Society.



Categories, stereotypes, and political identities: the use of Brexiter and Remainer in online comments

Joanne Meredith and Emma Richardson examine how the terms Brexiter and Remainer were used by online commenters during and after the referendum. They find that the two are seen as political categories in their own right, with other, well-defined political identities resisted when used.

Commentary around Brexit highlighted political and social divisions in the United Kingdom in the run-up to the referendum. These divisions continue three years on. While there has been much public focus on the discourse of politicians during this time, we were interested in how members of the public discussed and debated Brexit and how this might impact upon society and politics in the future. We analysed the language and discourses used by commenters in online newspapers as they discussed articles relating to Brexit; focussing on the period from the announcement of the date of the referendum until four months after the result was announced. We examined 2,586 threads of conversation, taken from 34 articles across four different online newspapers. As the £350 million claim was so prominently contested we chose to focus on news items which related to this claim.

Categories and stereotypes

Our specific interest was in the ways in which the terms ‘Brexiter’ and ‘Remainer’ were used, and defined, in those comments. We found, through a discourse analysis of the posts, that work was done by each group to define the other. Brexiters used certain terms, or categories, to ‘define’ the attributes of someone who belonged to the Remainer camp, and vice versa. We found that for both sides, there tended to be a multitude of negative definitions of the opposing side. Brexiters were defined by Remainers as racists, xenophobic, ignorant, uneducated and so on. Remainers, on the other hand, were defined by Brexiters as ‘luvvies’, out of touch with reality, and as scaremongers (echoing the rhetoric of ‘Project Fear’).

Social identity theory discusses this in relation to ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’. When we identify with a particular group, whether it’s a political party, football team or fans of a particular singer, we position ourselves within the in-group, and those who do not identify with that particular group are positioned as the out-group. Social identity theory suggests that those who identify with the in-group aim to present their own group in a positive way, and this can involve defining the out-group in a negative way comparatively. It is important to note that the terms in-group and out-group do not inherently make value judgements about the groups being discussed, but rather relate to how individuals identify with those groups.

We found posters repeatedly using negative terminology to define their out-group, which formed and maintained emerging Brexiter/Remainer stereotypes, with the discourses used prior to the referendum becoming ever more defined by the end of the campaign.

Political party affiliation and Brexit

We also examined the interactions between posters, where one or more people responded to an original post to form a thread. In these threads, we observed individual posters categorising another as belonging to, or affiliating with, a particular political party. We saw posters use categories as ‘typical Leftie’ or ‘obviously a Ukipper’ in their posts.

The use of other political parties or political affiliations, such as left- or right-wing, tended to be resisted quite strongly by those being categorised. Unlike the emerging categories of Brexiter and Remainer, where we found extensive work being done by posters to define these terms, the political spectrum in the UK is well defined. Categories such as leftie or right-wing are treated as inference-rich; ‘a great deal of the knowledge that members of a society have about the society is stored in terms of these categories’.

So why might posters resist being categorised by other affiliations? We argue that the traditional dividing lines in British politics were not deemed by posters as relevant to discussions about Brexit. In other words, in this context, belonging to the well-defined categories of Labour or Conservative supporters was not salient. Instead, the dividing line that mattered was whether they were a Remainer or a Brexiter, and the characteristics that were attributed to other posters related strongly to those categories rather than the ones of traditional political parties. There was one exception to this finding: when people were supporters of Brexit and were aligned with UKIP by other posters, this did not tend to be resisted. In other words, while being a Conservative or Labour affiliate was resisted in discussions around Brexit, UKIP – who had a platform of leaving the EU as their main policy – was seen as a relevant political party to invoke in the discussions.

Social divisions, toxicity and the future

Our research highlighted that, firstly, even in the outset of the referendum campaigns there was a growing social division between Brexiters and Remainers, which led to stereotypes of these groups being established by ordinary people. The language and debate tended to be so toxic and negative, with stereotypes and personal attacks, that we rarely saw any moves towards finding agreement or towards a conciliatory position. This highlighted the problems which would later arise in terms of finding agreement and compromise on the issue of Brexit between supporters of each side.

In terms of trying to heal these divisions, one option may be to try and bring Brexiters and Remainers together in ways that allow them to reduce the stereotypical view they have of each other – known as the contact hypothesis. Another suggestion might be to try and find ways to reduce the extent to which Brexiters and Remainers identify with those particular identities, and instead identify with a larger identity. We see politicians talking about being British and believing in Britain, which posits a larger identity that might be relevant. However, at the present time is appears that the identities of Brexiter and Remainer are still, to a great extent, the more salient in public discourse. However, in the future, such social psychologically informed measures could be used to try and heal social divisions.

In terms of the political landscape, the current strength of the Brexiter and Remainer identities suggests that individuals are trying to find parties which house their Brexit views unequivocally. As such, we may see shifts in the traditional political landscape as traditional ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ ideologies do not map to ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’. We have seen this borne out over the previous year, with new parties forming which have very specific ideologies towards Brexit (Change UK and the Brexit Party). Considering that individuals resisted the use of traditional party categories by pointing out the splits which exist within those parties, it may be that the issue of Brexit continues to cut across party lines for many years.


Note: the above draws on the authors’ published work in the Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology.

About the Authors

Joanne Meredith is Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Wolverhampton.

Emma Richardson is Research Associate in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Leicester.


All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).


Who decides who is leader of the opposition?

David Howarth explains the legislation and parliamentary rules that determine who is recognised as the official Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. The political implications of these procedures are significant, given current discussions about who would form a government if the current one were to lose a vote of no confidence.

Jeremy Corbyn has explained his position on what happens if the Johnson government falls:

I am the leader of the opposition, the leader of the Labour party. All the constitutional precedents are, when a government collapses, it’s the leader of the opposition that takes over.

As several commentators have pointed out, Corbyn’s second sentence is inaccurate. True enough, when UK governments collapse, sometimes leaders of the opposition do take over. That happened, for example, in 1905, in 1924 and in 1974. But on other occasions, in 1916, 1922 and 1931 for example, the leader of the opposition did not take over. In 1916, a member of the same party became Prime Minister. In 1922, the new Prime Minister came from the other party in the previous coalition. And in 1931, the same Prime Minister started again supported by a differently constituted majority.

Corbyn is simply wrong. No such constitutional rule exists. If there is a rule at all (which one might doubt), it is that the person best placed to provide a stable administration takes over, even if, as in 1905, that administration was not likely to be able to govern for long.

But perhaps more interesting is Corbyn’s first sentence. Undoubtedly Jeremy Corbyn is the current leader of the opposition and he is the current leader of the Labour Party, but, contrary to Corbyn’s implication, the two things are not the same. Corbyn enjoys important privileges in Parliament, not least the benefit of the convention, enjoyed by no other MP, that the government exercises its discretion to control the time of the House in favour of allowing a debate and a vote on a motion of no confidence that stands in his name. But that privilege attaches to his position as leader of the opposition. It does not attach to his position as leader of the Labour Party.

Corbyn is leader of the Labour Party by virtue of the Labour Party’s own rules, which govern, for example, how he might be challenged, and how those rules themselves might be changed. But he is obviously not leader of the opposition by virtue of the rules of the Labour Party. Political parties, contrary to what they sometimes think, control, at least as far as the law allows, only their own internal workings. They are not organs of the state.

But that raises an important question: by virtue of whose decision is Corbyn leader of the opposition? The answer to that question might surprise some, though it is entirely rational. Corbyn is leader of the opposition ultimately because he is recognised as such by the Speaker of the House of Commons. Two lines of reasoning lead to that result: one legal and one parliamentary.

The law

The first reason for saying that ultimately the Speaker decides who is the leader of the opposition is that the law says so. The Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 authorises the payment of an official salary to the leader of the opposition. Section 2 of that Act says that the leader of the opposition is the member of parliament who is ‘the Leader … of the party in opposition to Her Majesty’s Government having the greatest numerical strength in the House of Commons.’ But it then adds, in section 2(2):

If any doubt arises as to which is or was at any material time the party in opposition to Her Majesty’s Government having the greatest numerical strength in the House of Commons, or as to who is or was at any material time the leader in that House of such a party, the question shall be decided for the purposes of this Act by the Speaker of the House of Commons, and his decision, certified in writing under his hand, shall be final and conclusive.

That looks like the end of the matter. The Speaker decides. But not quite. Section 2(2) is restricted to ‘the purposes of this Act’, which means for the purposes of paying the leader of the opposition’s salary and the designation of the person who receives the official salary attached to being opposition chief whip. But who decides for other purposes, especially for the purposes of the motion of no confidence convention?

Government and Parliament

The current Speaker, John Bercow, has asserted that in his view the Speaker decides not only for legal purposes but also for parliamentary purposes. In 2016, in response to an opportunistic point of order claiming that Corbyn, having lost the support of the overwhelming majority of Labour’s MPs, could not possibly be considered the leader of his party, Bercow said:

I can confirm that the Labour party currently constitutes the official Opposition and that its leader is recognised by me, for statutory and parliamentary purposes, as the Leader of the Opposition. He will have noticed that I called the Leader of the Opposition earlier to ask a series of questions of the Prime Minister. He will also be aware that today we have Opposition business duly chosen by the Leader of the Opposition, as indicated on the Order Paper. I should perhaps add that in making these judgments and pronouncing in response to points of order, I do give, and have given, thought to the matter, and I have also benefited from expert advice. These matters are not broached lightly.

The basis of Bercow’s answer, which is now entrenched in Erskine May, the bible of parliamentary procedure, is that the position of leader of the opposition is a parliamentary job. It is mentioned in the Commons’ standing orders and recognised in the daily practices of the House. As such, the only options for deciding who holds the position are the House itself and the Speaker. The problem with saying that the House decides, that MPs might vote on who counts as the leader of the opposition, is that it leads to an absurdity. A government-supporting majority would be able to designate one of their own as leader of the opposition. And so, the decision must be for the Speaker.

The government might counter that the motion of confidence convention is an exception. It might argue that the convention forms part of the rules that give the government discretion to determine what the House debates, so that for the purpose of those rules the government itself should also determine who counts as leader of the opposition. But that view also leads to an absurdity. If the government could designate the leader of the opposition for the purpose of the convention, it could, for example, designate one of its own backbenchers or even a minister, as leader of the opposition, and thus never have to face a motion of no confidence. That cannot possibly be right. The Commons might have delegated its power to control the time of the House to the government for many purposes, but those purposes cannot possibly include making the government immune from motions of no confidence.

Another possibility is that the government might refuse to comply with the convention, declining to allow the leader of the opposition designated by the Speaker to move a motion of no confidence. That would raise interesting and important questions as to how the Speaker might nevertheless enforce the convention.  He might, for example, accept a privilege motion, exempt from the government’s control of the order paper, perhaps on the basis that the government, in defying a clear convention and a ruling of the chair as to who is leader of the opposition, would be treating the House with contempt. Alternatively, he might accept the no confidence motion, or a motion paving the way for it, anyway, using Standing Order 24.

A new opposition leader?

The conclusion that the Speaker decides who is leader of the opposition has potentially important current political consequences. If large numbers of Labour MPs, under the leadership perhaps of Tom Watson, were to declare themselves to be a separate parliamentary party, in numbers greater than those staying loyal to Corbyn, it would ultimately be for Bercow to decide whether Corbyn or Watson was the person entitled to have his motions of no confidence debated and voted on. The internal rules of the Labour Party would be irrelevant.


Note: the above was first published on Democratic Audit. Featured image credit: UK Parliament/(CC BY-NC 2.0) licence.

About the Author

David Howarth is Professor of Law and Public Policy, University of Cambridge.





Religious diversity in the workplace: the case for alternative dispute resolution

Élise Rouméas uses a recent court case involving an NHS nurse being dismissed for proselytising religious views to explain why the matter could have been handled differently. Specifically, she argues that cases such as this illustrate how alternative dispute resolution ought to be seen as a desirable complement to the rule of law rather than a cheaper alternative.

In 2016, Sarah Kuteh, a nurse at the NHS, was dismissed for ‘gross misconduct’. She was found guilty of inappropriate proselytising. While conducting patient assessments, she initiated conversations about faith, gave a Bible, and prayed. She persisted in sharing her beliefs in spite of patient complaints as well as warnings from her management. In May 2019, a Court of Appeal confirmed that Kuteh had been fairly dismissed.

In contesting her dismissal, Kuteh claimed that evangelising was part of her right to religious freedom. Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) protects the right to manifest one’s religion or belief. Kuteh argued that she didn’t engage in wrongful proselytising, but rather freely exercised her protected right to manifest her belief — why would it be so wrong to share words of hope with those she cared for?

It is hard not to feel for Kuteh as she sheds tears in shock of her dismissal and the long legal battle that ensued. Mother of two, she found herself in a precarious economic situation. She suffered from media exposure and missed her nursing career. Her ordeal appears disproportionate compared to the harm she inflicted on patients. Claimants reported feeling ‘awkward’ and ‘uncomfortable’, while one said what happened was ‘very bizarre’ and a ‘Monty Python skit’.

Despite my genuine compassion for Kuteh, I do believe that religious freedom at work should not be unlimited. Not all religious expressions ought to be protected, not all demands for exemptions ought to be met. For instance, it is crucial that judges refrain from proselyting, given their role as public officials and practitioners of the law. Scheduling arrangements for religious holidays should not place an excessive burden on other employees. Religious claims must be carefully balanced against other workplace considerations.

Human right and non-discrimination law provide a general framework to regulate religious freedom. Article 9 of the ECHR famously protects ‘the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’, including the freedom to change religion or to manifest one’s belief individually or collectively. A 2000 European Union Council Directive crucially distinguishes between direct and indirect discrimination on religion or belief (among other protected characteristics). Direct discrimination involves treating someone less favourably on grounds of their religion or belief — because they are Christian, Muslim, Jew or atheist.  Indirect discrimination is more subtle; it occurs when an apparently neutral rule has the unfortunate effect of disadvantaging individuals holding specific religious beliefs. For instance, a workplace regulation on uniforms can lead to the prohibition of some religious dress code. Whether such a rule is justified ought to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Although the law provides a useful general framework, each situation is specific and requires an individual judgement: to what extent was Kuteh’s religious talk inappropriate? Should firms offer part-time work to accommodate religious duties? In which cases are visible religious signs incompatible with a profession? A number of court cases have dealt with these types of workplace conflicts involving religion, such as Ahmad v. United Kingdom (1981) and Eweida v British Airways Plc (2010).

But while court cases are key for the judicial development of rights, at an individual level they are wrenching. Reflecting on her two-year legal battle, Kuteh sighed: ‘I never thought my story was gonna be over the media anyway (…) It’s been costly, very costly.’ Litigation is no panacea; it is costly both on a material and immaterial level.  It should remain the last resort, while other procedures should be explored to negotiate religious freedom at work.

Here Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) comes into play. ADR refers to a set of dispute processing methods, such as arbitration and mediation. Unlike litigation, ADR relies on the consent of the parties involved and seek a mutually satisfactory solution. In the UK, ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) is a public provider of ADR. Acas helps disputants find an arrangement (called ‘Early Conciliation’) before submitting a claim to an employment tribunal.

It does not seem that Kuteh’s dismissal was preceded by an attempt at conciliation. Whether a mediation could have achieved a more favourable outcome in Kuteh’s case is pure speculation. Yet it would have been worth a try, to avoid years of anxiety.

A mediator could have intervened before Kuteh’s dismissal to facilitate communication between her and the Matron, Suki Gill. Gill gave a very explicit warning to Kuteh in a private discussion detailed in a letter, expressing patients’ complaints, and concluding that no discussion about religion should occur in the assessments, unless initiated by patients themselves. Gill’s warning was perfectly clear. Yet Kuteh did not obey. She most likely thought that the prohibition was unjustified and that her duty to spread the Gospel remained undefeated.

A professional mediation could have improved mutual understanding and explored paths to compromise. Perhaps Kuteh could have been persuaded that it was insensitive and unprofessional to impose her religious views on fragile patients. Perhaps she could have been given a different role within the NHS which did not involve conducting these patient assessments. Perhaps she could have been allowed instead to wear a small cross as a visual testimony of her faith. A compromise solution would have been better for her than the radical option of her dismissal, which left her mortified and impoverished.


Note: The above draws on the author’s published work in Political Studies.

About the Author

Élise Rouméas is Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

Residential mobility in the UK: how distance and local economic conditions drive residential choices

Monica Langella and Alan Manning find that high unemployment in an area induces people to move away, and has an even stronger effect on the attractiveness of that area to potential movers. They also find that younger and better-educated individuals are less sensitive to distance and tend to move further away than other groups.

Regional inequalities are strongly persistent in many countries and this can have both economic and political consequences: feeling ‘left behind’ by austerity policies may have had impact on recent electoral outcomes. One mechanism that could smooth out spatial economic differences is migration. For instance, moving to an area with better opportunities can increase the probability of having a job and improve one’s economic prospects. Then, areas with worse economic conditions should experience a decrease in population in favour of areas that start from a better economic situation. Looking at the UK case, data seem to confirm this. Neighbourhoods that had high unemployment in the 1980s tend to have bigger drops in population 40 years later, as Figure 1 shows.

In the same line though, one should also expect that areas would converge over time in terms of economic performance, but that is not what Figure 2 suggests. In the UK, as in many other countries, spatial economic differences are quite persistent.

Note: the models include controls for age distribution, marriage rates, student presence, and education rates.

If populations respond to economic shocks, why is persistence in economic conditions still so strong? Others have shown that, although in the UK migration dynamics do respond to local economic shocks, they are not able to keep up with the speed of economic adjustments. Building from there, we study the dynamics of residential mobility to understand what can explain the slow adjustment. We do so by looking at very detailed data that records moves between census area statistics (CAS) wards – these are areas of approximately 5,000 people, and there are more than 10,000 such wards – both at the aggregate level and at the individual level.

First, we look closely at the role of distance in explaining residential mobility. Most of residential mobility in the UK occurs within regions, as Figure 3 shows, so it is not surprising to find that the relationship between distance and mobility is very strong. For instance, estimating a distance cost function on a full ward-to-ward pair matrix of residential flows, we find that doubling the distance between two places makes the mobility drop by 73.5%.

Figure 3: Percentage of population who moved based on census data

Second, we study the impact of local unemployment on population inflows and outflows. We find that local unemployment negatively affects inflows and positively affects outflows, thus causing people to move away from areas of high unemployment and towards areas of lower unemployment. A 1% increase in unemployment in one area decreases the inflow from 1.5% to 4% in our instrumental variable models, while it increases outflow by about 1.6%.

Third, we use individual level data to study whether different groups of people have different reactions to economic conditions and whether their cost of distance is different. Understanding this is important because the view that migration tends to equalize economic opportunity is based on the idea that migration reduces competition for jobs in the areas left and increases it in the destination areas. Such a conclusion may not be justified if, for example, it was the best educated or the most ambitious who leave an area after a negative labour demand shock – this would alter the skill mix in a way that might worsen labour market prospects for those left behind. For example, recent work suggests that out-migration of young people is likely to have a negative effect on the settlement of new firms in the departure areas.

With this in mind, we look at heterogeneities both to distance and to economic opportunities, for inflows and outflows separately. We find that:

  • younger people and people with higher levels of education tend to move further away, while people in social housing, people who are working, and people with children tend to choose closer destinations;
  • married people are less likely to move to high unemployment areas, as are older people;
  • non-white people are relatively more likely to choose more high unemployment areas, as are those in social housing;
  • regarding outflows, women and people with children are less sensitive to the unemployment in the area, while for married people unemployment appears to matter more.

Overall, we spot some mechanisms that could explain why changes in population are not strong or fast enough to offset the persistence of economic shocks. Mobility is a local phenomenon. People who move do so within a few kilometres from the original location, so they are likely to remain under similar economic conditions. Even though they move locally, people tend to take into account local economic conditions, as unemployment causes both fewer people to move to a certain area and more people to move away from it. Moreover, different groups of people tend to have different dynamics of residential mobility, so it is difficult to assume that the people who leave and the ones that stay in the area are similar. This may have an impact on the potential that migration has in smoothing out special disparities.


Note: the above draws on the authors’ paper for the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance.

About the Authors

Monica Langella is Research Officer at the Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.



Alan Manning isProfessor of Economics at the LSE.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

If we want a better civil society we need to get policy thinkers to focus more on it

A healthy charity sector is a crucial part of a good society, writes Dan Corry. He draws on the Charity Tax Commission’s latest report to explain why the sector deserves more study by academics, researchers, and policymakers.

Civil society is a very important part of what makes a good society and underpins a strong economy. Yet I am constantly amazed at how the policy community really tries to get under the skin of what is happening in the UK around this crucial part of our body politic.

I wrote about this a few years ago after four years on the ESRC Research Committee where I tried to get social scientists interested in wanting to understand what makes a strong civil society; how charities are evolving and what issues they face; what makes them successful; what hinders them; where they are located and what that means for communities. I’m not sure this made much headway: the money certainly never flowed towards these topics.

My latest confrontation with this lack of research on charities and civil society has come from spending some time as a member of the Charity Tax Commission. Charities receive various tax breaks as a consequence of their charitable status. They are exempt from taxes on much of their income and pay less in business rates. They can also claim part of the tax that would be paid by their donors for themselves (Gift Aid) and individuals making donations at the higher rate of tax can get tax reliefs on their donations. But there are also many rules around trying to prevent unfair competition with the private sector that make the system – especially on VAT – fiendishly complex. This is a nightmare, especially for small charities and community groups.

This set of tax breaks gives the charity sector a very valuable £5bn according to government statistics and we need to make sure that this use of precious tax revenues is configured in a way that achieves the maximum impact and the strongest possible civil society. That’s why I had been calling for a review of charity tax breaks for some time and eventually an independent Commission was established with Nick Montagu, a former head of the HMRC, as the chair and I was asked to be a member of it. The Commission’s report was published in July 2019.

Embedded in it are some proposals that could be enacted pretty fast – we have enough evidence to know they make sense. Key amongst these is the idea of making the top rate tax relief go to the charity, not back to the individual, unless the top rate payer specifically opts out. In addition, the report sets out some principles for judging the case for charity tax breaks in the future, which I hope will help debates in this area. They try to get to the very heart of why we might give charities tax breaks at all. In addition, the report sketches out some longer term directions for change, around VAT, business rates, and Gift Aid that could be very significant if the ideas do not get lost in the long grass.

But the experience overall was a bit depressing. First, there was complete lack of interesting thinking about how you might want to construct a structure for charity taxation that led to more social good, more equally spread.  This chimed badly with the feeling that a number of Commission members felt – that the current system of charity tax breaks was born in another era and does not address the needs and nature of the non-profit world. We held valuable sessions with a number of economists and policy types but there had been little thinking about these wider issues. Fair enough that where the system seems flawed – in terms of who gets what – economists would argue that the first best solution is to use grants to ameliorate them rather than to tweak or change tax breaks, but this seemed to me to not go far enough and was unlikely to happen in the real world. Our hope that some in and around the sector, including academics, would come up with bold new and better ways of supporting civil society that we could engage with, turned out to be naïve.

Second, there is a real dearth of data and evidence on the impact of charity tax both in the UK and other countries. Sure, there is some good academic work on the elasticity of giving (i.e. how much a tax break increases giving above the cost of the tax break itself), but very little on how the tax breaks (like VAT and business rates) influence the way charities organise themselves, the inefficiencies they may give rise to and so on. We need academics to dig into this area if we are to use resources well. Some of the problems here were to do with availability of data – and the HMRC’s reluctance to let people at it too much – and the Commission had some quite tough things to say about this. The radical proposals were stymied because we felt we did not have the evidence or data to help us understand the implications of such change: hence they became agendas for the future, not immediate proposals.

But even a bit of digging into the data can enable new agendas to emerge. For instance, the data report we published alongside the main report is some of the most crucial reading – with some of the striking things the data showed about where the tax breaks go. Surely some work trying to understand how charities are turning themselves upside down to minimize tax, in terms of charity structure (especially where there is some trading going on, or in joint research etc) is worth studying.

Charity tax simply has not kept up with the modern word. Not just digital, but the growth of charities trying to get government contracts, being half social enterprises, mixing grants and contracts, having social investment, wanting to collaborate on research etc. It has not kept up with the way we think about civil society and its role.

The whole panorama of civil society, the charity sector and philanthropy deserves more study and more policy thinking. Let’s hope our report has sowed a few seeds in policy and academic minds.

About the Author

Dan Corry is Chief Executive of charity sector think tank and consultancy NPC. He has had a varied career in public policy and economics, including as Head of the Number 10 Policy Unit and Senior Adviser to the Prime Minister on the Economy from 2007 to 2010.


All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

A national unity government led by backbenchers to block no-deal Brexit is a dangerous idea

The idea of a government of national unity to prevent a no-deal Brexit is a destructive contradiction and would only serve to sharpen divisions, writes Lea Ypi.

The metaphor of the body politic can be an attractive one to think about political community, especially when the body is on the verge of collapse and you have a name for the disease: Brexit. The UK has been branded ‘the sick man of Europe‘ and needs a good cure before it is too late. What better suggestion than the idea of a national unity government, united only by the noble purpose of extending article 50 to avert a no-deal?

The idea of a government of national unity to prevent a no-deal Brexit is a destructive contradiction. First, there is a contradiction in its appeal to the nation. A government of national unity identifies the whole nation with the part opposed to a no-deal Brexit. It not only ignores the will of the other part of the nation, inclined to leave the EU, and indeed leave by October 31st, but denies its claim to be part of the nation, even in name.

Second, there is a contradiction in the promise of unity. A national unity government would sharpen divisions, not only in the nation as a whole but in its parts.  A cross-party government formed and dissolved with the sole purpose of fixing Brexit by extending article 50 (assuming a further extension is any kind of fix) can avoid taking responsibility for the consequences of its very consequential decisions. By its temporary nature, by its concentration of executive discretion, by its absence of a wider programmatic commitment, it lacks the democratic credentials to chart a process of future reconciliation. It prevents citizens from linking their grievances on Brexit to wider political issues, and to engage with the deeper question of what kind of society they all want to share.

Not only does the solution sharpen divisions in the nation, it sharpens them in its political parties.  In parliamentary democracies, these are the primary agents that help citizens distinguish their political views, the principles they subscribe to, and the selection of policies that reflect their commitments. A government of national unity is the work of all but the responsibility of none. Such is the hope of course, yet British history has not been kind to pioneers of national unity. Lloyd George, the artifice of a power-sharing deal with the Conservatives in 1916, was the last Prime Minister the Liberals ever had. In 1931, Ramsay Macdonald’s decision to form a government of national unity with Tories led to his expulsion from the party, and to Labour being wiped out of power until 1945. 1945 was of course the year that marked the end of yet another government of national unity, and with it the eclipse of the prime minister that championed it – that same prime minister about whom Boris Johnson has written a biography and of whom he admires the statesmanship.

These were extreme circumstances. Only in the phantasies of the most ardent Leavers can Brexit be compared to a World War. Nor can it be compared to the Great Depression, though some Remainers have tried. Still, the fact that parties are systematically punished for their participation in governments of national unity is not the result of unfortunate historical accident. It is the logical expression of a very basic democratic tension, one where in consequential political moments, politicians that owe their power to the people they represent, turn crucial political decisions into matters for professionals. The price of cross-party unity is the depoliticization of those very political problems that move people to associate with parties in the first place, their classification as accidents that must be averted rather than as products of human will.

This leads to the third contradiction in the idea of a Brexit-stopping national unity government: the government part of the formulation. A government is an agent that uses executive power to make decisions in the name of the people. Its actions are supposed to be rooted in an organic web of democratic processes and institutions that enable the people’s will to be articulated in an intelligible way. This is why parties have conference debates and decisions, leadership campaigns, electoral manifestos. This is why they are chosen to represent citizens, and how they are held accountable for their performance in government, and in opposition. This is why popular sovereignty is the soul of the body politic.

A government of national unity led by backbenchers rather than the current Leader of the Opposition would not only suspend party democracy in the present, it would destroy confidence in it for the future. Just like the denial of authority to the seventeen million or so citizens who voted Brexit, the denial of dignity to the half-million Labour members represented by Corbyn reveals the enduring inability of pro-Remain elites to comprehend, let alone relate to, opinions they oppose. Both are treated as some kind of disease from which we will be cured, provided the right treatment is found. Both display the same thoughtlessness vis-a-vis the process that led to these decisions, and the likely consequences of further ignoring their rationale. This is the way not to solve Brexit but to dig the sick man’s grave.


Note: the above was first published in The Independent.

About the Author

Lea Ypi (@lea_ypi) is Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science and co-author of The Meaning of Partisanship.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

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