Multi-level marketing has been likened to a legal pyramid scheme – the backlash against it is growing

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Máire O Sullivan, Edge Hill University

There is a growing rumble of discontent against multi-level marketing (MLM) businesses. As well as a growing backlash from former MLM recruits, regulators are getting involved, too. Unfortunately, however, these businesses that have been likened to legal pyramid schemes are unlikely to disappear altogether.

Multi-level marketing is the model of selling products through a network of distributors. Distributors buy stock in the company’s product and then sell it on, keeping a cut of the profits. Money is not just made from selling, but also from recruiting new distributors – if someone signs up under you, you become their “upline” and receive commission from their earnings, too. If your recruits sign up anyone beneath them, you also take a cut of their profits, and so on.

The difference with illegal pyramid schemes is that there is a product. But critics say that many MLMs have a business model that focuses on recruiting “downline” and getting new distributors to buy the product, rather than on actual sales to consumers, making them akin to pyramid schemes.

A recent report in The Guardian newspaper revealed the “cultish grip” that some of these businesses have on many recruits. They offer people a life-changing financial opportunity, but many lose money – and their friends – when they sign up to MLMs. Only the few at the top of the pyramid profit.

The Guardian focused on beauty sales business, Younique. But you may have seen a number of brands on your social media feed, including Herbalife which sells weight-loss products, Arbonne which sells skincare and many others. In fact, these businesses increasingly rely on social media to grow, both selling their products and recruiting new distributors online.

Women are the main target. According to the US Direct Selling Association, the trade body for the sector, 73.5% of those involved in MLMs in 2018 were women. The European Direct Selling Association suggests 77% are women in the UK.

Young mums, in particular, are inundated with requests to “support the businesses of their friends”. They are promised an easy way to make money from home, while balancing childcare. Another appeal of MLMs is the community they offer to distributors. Recruits are given coaching on how to make their side hustle a success and get support from others in the network.

This often results in vulnerable people being targeted by the allure of making easy money, fitting work around your own schedule and entering a supportive community. But some of these companies have an alarmingly cult-like mentality, encouraging distributors to cut negative influences and naysayers from their lives.

Bearing in mind that only 1% of people turn a profit, those naysayers may have good reason to sound the alarm. And the constant drive for sales can alienate friends and family who don’t want to get involved in the MLM.

Anti-MLM activism

The number of people that have been burned by their experience as an MLM distributor has led to the rise of an anti-MLM movement. The anti-MLM group on internet forum Reddit has almost half a million members. It states that: “Multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes are a drain on our society. Its participants either build the pyramid taller, or get squashed by it.” The Facebook group “Sounds like MLM but ok” has more than 100,000 members and a podcast to discuss MLMs and what it describes as “their poor business structure, obnoxious marketing practices, and all around awful nature”.

Clothing MLM Lularoe is a particular target for online activists and has been the subject of a recent Vice documentary. Lularoe had an initial buy-in cost of a minimum US$5,000 – an enormous sum in the MLM industry. A litany of subsequent scandals has culminated in the Washington state attorney in the US filing a lawsuit against the company alleging it is a pyramid scheme – something Lularoe says is completely without merit.

Activists have many major MLMs firmly in their sights. The Netflix documentary Betting on Zero, for example, features the fight against Herbalife by LatinX community activists in the US. The Pink Truth assists “women in freeing themselves from abusive pyramid schemes and predatory multi-level marketing companies like Mary Kay [cosmetics]”. Activists often feel they have been personally victimised by the industry, either as former distributors or as targets of them.

End in sight?

With this renewed media attention and a burgeoning grassroots movement against MLMs, it is interesting to see that AdvoCare, a diet and nutritional supplement brand headquartered in Texas, decided last month to abandon its MLM model. The company stated that the Federal Trade Commission took issue with “how AdvoCare compensates its distributors”.

The FTC talks that led to this decision were confidential so it’s hard to know exactly why AdvoCare decided to terminate its 100,000 distributors. But its MLM model had experienced difficulties in the past few years with an ESPN investigation into its practices, a class action lawsuit by former salespeople claiming it was a pyramid scheme, and an Olympic swimmer alleging that their products were responsible for her testing positive for a banned substance.

Despite all of this, it is unlikely that we will see an end to MLMs any time soon. While specific MLM companies have risen and fallen, the model itself – which promises easy money and an alluring community – has withstood a number of court challenges over the years. But hopefully the anti-MLM movement will bring about change through consumer education and pressure, as well as supporting the many people who fail to reap the rewards that these businesses promise.


We asked for comment from the MLM companies referred to. Only Lularoe responded. They insisted they offered participants an opportunity for “responsible entrepreneurism” and “a journey towards new freedom in their life”, suggesting failures just hadn’t put in the “required effort”.

Máire O Sullivan, Lecturer in Marketing and Advertising, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is there hope for independent candidates in a snap election? A short history of MPs who go it alone

Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

British politics is in a state of flux. In the space of less than a year we’ve seen at least two new parties formed – The Brexit Party and the Independent Group for Change (formerly Change UK). We have seen MPs leave parties to join others. Chuka Umunna, for example, left first the Labour Party then Change UK to end up in the Liberal Democrats, while various other MPs are sitting as independents in the House of Commons. And the most recent national election, the European election in May, showed that voters are increasingly willing to forsake the traditional two main parties.

As the number of groupings increases, perhaps parties are losing their hold. So does this open up opportunities for those who want to go it alone?

Former Labour MP Frank Field recently announced that he is to stand as an independent candidate in the next election, after quitting the Labour Party in 2018. The Birkenhead on Merseyside MP had clashed repeatedly with the Labour leadership over its handling of antisemitism in the party before resigning the whip and complained of a “culture of intolerance, nastiness and intimidation” in local parties.

Field, who has represented his constituency since 1979, has applied to register the Birkenhead Social Justice Party with the Electoral Commission to make his bid possible. The party is more of a vehicle for getting noticed on the ballot paper, however, rather than an attempt to start a new movement. To all intents and purposes, Field is striking out alone. Of course he’ll have helpers and supporters, but he is independent of party.

Modern British politics, particularly at Westminster level, is not that kind to independent candidates. The main parties have huge machines and most voters pick the party rather than the person when entering the ballot box. Even when a politician has a personal vote, it’s hard to beat the machine.

There are some examples of independents succeeding, though. One of the best known independent candidates must be the former broadcaster Martin Bell, who triumphed in Tatton in 1997. Bell stood as an anti-corruption candidate against incumbent Conservative Neil Hamilton, who had been part of a “cash for questions” scandal. Bell’s path to victory was smoothed by Liberal Democrat and Labour candidates, who stood down to give him a better chance. Both parties also provided support to Bell. He did. however, pledge to only serve one term, so we’ll never know if he could have won the seat again.

When MPs go independent, it’s generally because they are unhappy with their party. In 2005, Peter Law, a member of the Welsh Assembly, caused quite a shock when he quit the Labour Party to stand as an independent candidate for the Westminster seat of Blaenau Gwent. The seat had become available when the Labour incumbent announced his retirement but the Labour Party angered some local activists when it decided that his replacement would be chosen from an all-woman shortlist. Law was among the dissenters and caused quite a shock when he won the seat – supposedly one of the safest for Labour in Wales.

Another famous case is Labour MP Dick Taverne, who fought a by-election in 1973 as an independent in Lincoln after falling out with his local party over Europe. Taverne defended his seat successfully in the first of the two 1974 elections, but lost in the second.

History tells us that independent candidates find it difficult to win election and even harder to retain a seat. One of the few who has successfully stayed in place is Wyre Forest’s Richard Taylor, a retired doctor who stood on a single-issue campaign to save his local hospital. He won in 2001 and defended in 2005. On each occasion, the Liberal Democrats stood aside. He lost to the Conservatives in 2010.

Lessons for Field

Historically, successful independent campaigns in the UK have all involved a big issue, like the health service or sleaze, and a party row which effectively provides plenty of manpower and motivation or tacit support from potential opponents. They have also included some element of personal vote, although it is important not to overstate this. Bell’s triumph, for example, also included a good dose of anti-politics.

Field does have an issue, but frankly “social justice” is too broad and too open to being claimed by others. He has rowed with the Labour Party over antisemitism and over Europe (he campaigned for Brexit) but, again, these are too broad to make the difference for him as an independent candidate.

Field has certainly had a row with his former party, but will this deliver the person-power needed to mount a campaign? It is hard to see the Liberal Democrats standing down to help Field. The party has councillors on the Wirral and disagrees with Field on lots of issues – particularly Brexit. The Greens have been making progress locally too. Labour has just selected a new candidate and says it will contest the seat vigorously. Labour, after all, has since 2017 had a massive majority there. It is also hard to see the Conservatives walking away from this one – although the Brexit Party might step aside to give Field a better chance.

Field has a personal vote but, based on previous examples of independent campaigns, this is not enough for a victory. But politics is in flux today and maybe that big issue will come along.

As the election gets nearer, it will be intriguing to see if any others decide to strike out on their own. The risks are great, but the current talk about de-selection in both the Labour and Conservative parties may make some think more seriously about it. With most positions in the political marketplace clearly occupied at the moment though, any potential independent will need to keep his or her fingers crossed for that elusive local issue.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Remain Alliance – can it halt Brexit and beat Boris Johnson?

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Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

This week’s by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire will be the first formal test of the so-called Remain Alliance. The unusually short list of candidates in this contest is partly because parties such as the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, have stood down in favour of the Liberal Democrats. Campaign visits have also been made by those who originally formed Change UK, such as former Conservatives MPs Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen.

It is rare in British politics for parties to stand down in favour of their usual competitors. And while this isn’t the first occurrence, or the first initiative, the Brecon agreements could well lead to something more formal. A little earlier in the summer, former Change UK (now Independent Group for Change) leader Heidi Allen launched Unite to Remain. The idea is for Remain-supporting parties to work together to maximise the chance of electoral, and therefore policy, success. This would include the use of a common title or strapline to make the point.


Read more: How Boris Johnson can win a snap election – and what the others can do to stop him


There have been attempts to achieve a common purpose in the past. The 2017 general election, for example, saw the promotion of the so-called Progressive Alliance (of which more later). But what marks out the latest attempt is the move to register a name and logo (Remain Alliance) with the Electoral Commission. Current electoral law means that ballot papers can only include registered names and logos (or the word “Independent”).

Tribalism

To understand whether or not the current initiative can succeed, it is worth looking at cross-party cooperation, or the lack of it, in the past.

British politics is usually very tribal. This tribalism has meant that past efforts at cooperation have generally been motivated by negative factors, such as a desire to defeat a particular party (usually the Conservatives).

But the nature of the electoral system also means that tactics could trump tribalism. In a first-past-the-post system, which is used for UK parliamentary elections, a horse-race narrative often develops. It is in the interests of a challenger party to appear as the only participant with a chance to overtake the favourite and win.

This in turn means supporters of lower placed, unlikely-to-win parties are targeted to “lend” their votes to defeat a less-preferred option. This has given birth to idea that only certain parties are worth supporting.


Read more: How Boris Johnson draws on the past to rule in the present – with a little help from myth


Resistance, however, can come from the candidates and activists of those lower-placed parties. While the Green Party did stand down in favour of the Liberal Democrats in the 2016 Richmond Park by-election when the Lib-Dems successfully took the seat from Zac Goldsmith, for example, parts of the local Green Party felt very aggrieved and voiced their annoyance quite publicly. This in turn means that cooperative arrangements are often rare.

Who wins, and loses?

It can be very difficult to negotiate cooperation, particularly when one party will feel it is losing out. Anyone who thinks this is easy needs to look further into the SDP-Liberal Alliance.

The SDP was formed in 1981 and almost immediately began working with the existing Liberal Party. The idea was that one of either party would contest each parliamentary seat. This was generally achieved, but only after tortuous negotiations which rather ruined the image of cooperation and which are well described by participants such as the then MP, now Lord, Bill Rogers and the authors Ivor Crewe and Anthony King.

In fact, the Croydon North West by-election in 1981 was fought by the Liberal Bill Pitt – rather than by the leaders’ preferred option, Shirley Williams – because Pitt simply refused to budge. Pitt went on to win.

Of course, parties do not need to be working together explicitly for voters, or organisations, to urge tactical outcomes. While tribalism has a long history in UK politics, so too do attempts to persuade voters to make tactical decisions.

TV87, for example, referenced in an article in Political Behaviour, was a campaign set up to focus voters’ minds on the possibility of lending votes in the 1987 election. And it became common for publications and campaigns to produce lists of seats where incumbents were vulnerable to temporary tactics.

Anna Soubry: leader of Independent Group for Change. Shutterstock

The current initiative, which goes well beyond leaving decisions to voters alone, can perhaps best be judged against more recent projects. The 2017 general election saw the promotion of the so-called Progressive Alliance. The thinking was that Progressive parties (generally centre-left or left wing) could stand down for each other in seats where this might help defeat a Tory, or assist a vulnerable Progressive incumbent. The book All Together Now by Barry Langford lists 42 seats in which this happened, but it was not always successful and it was only really the Green party which played a full part.

So can the Remain Alliance work?

The Brecon and Radnorshire by-election result may provide part of an answer, although we need to remember that this has been a Lib-Dem seat in the past and the party has been campaigning there for some time (in other words, the cooperation between parties may not be the crucial factor here).


Read more: Brexit: wisdom of crowds proves effective predictor of Britain’s chaotic EU departure


Perhaps more telling will be any negotiations ahead of the forthcoming Sheffield Hallam by-election as well as what happens when more than one party has a justifiable claim to stand.

The big issue, however, must be Labour’s role and how one can define a Remain party. Labour played no active part in the 2017 Progressive Alliance, so what would the Remain Alliance do if Labour was the clear challenger to the Conservatives, or Brexit party, in a tight contest? Only time will tell, but the answer hangs on whether or not Jeremy Corbyn ever comes out as an unequivocal supporter of either Leave or Remain.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Parties launch for unexpected elections

Later this month we have an unusual, and potentially defining, political event.

In previous years, the five yearly European Elections have been low-key. Most parties have run campaigns about anything but Europe. Many voters haven’t bothered to turn out. Electoral regions have been too big for any real sense of a constituency link. And the results, rather than coming on a Thursday night and Friday morning after polling day, have waited till counts on a Sunday when only the very keen were paying attention.

But this time we have an election which wasn’t supposed to happen, and not one, but two new high-profile parties joining others on the ballot paper.

In the run up to the elections I’ll be looking at some of the communications issues surrounding the contest.

In this article I’m focusing on campaign launches.

It’s probably significant that, at the time of writing, the two parties with potentially much to fear from these elections (Labour and the Conservatives) haven’t held their launches. But we have heard from, among others, Change UK, the Brexit Party, Ukip and the Liberal Democrats.

The style and content of those launches can tell us a lot about each party and its current state of health.

Time for Change (UK)?

Change UK, the party based on the breakaway of a group of MPs from the Labour and Conservative parties, is so new that its logo wasn’t registered in time to make it onto the ballot paper.

I suspect in an ideal world the party would have wanted a longer build up before actually contesting an election. But this late May event could not be ignored, given what the founders have already said about Europe and Brexit.

Change UK traveled to Bristol for an invited audience event which also highlighted some of the potential MEPs. Media coverage has pointed to ‘celebrity candidates’ such as former BBC man Gavin Esler and journalist (and Boris Johnson’s sister) Rachel Johnson.

Realistically what we have here are people famous in a particular media environment rather than more widely. But given the objective of getting coverage, and given that this was not a policy launch, it is easy to see why Change would want to point to particular recruits.

Change UK, in its previous Independent Group form, did manage significant positive media attention. But the challenge for a new party, once the initial excitement is over, is to find other ways of standing out.

For me, having seen far too many political launches, this one didn’t really tick the boxes.

What Change needs is something which clearly explains why they deserve support in an increasingly crowded political market. However, they made a wise choice in appointing the media friendly Heidi Allen as interim leader, which will help them look fresher for longer.

Lib Dems and the B-word

The Liberal Democrat event took place later in the same week. There are clear benefits to going first, but there are other benefits to avoiding news clashes, and the Lib Dems’ Friday launch meant less competition with other political stories.

What I found interesting here was the focus on women as speakers and a clear ‘Stop Brexit’ message. This message is also used by Change, by the Greens, and by some other parties, and one of the big questions of these elections is whether it will end up definitively attached to one more than others.

The Lib Dems, however, must be pleased that at last there is an election which is highly relevant to this particular message of theirs.

Back to Brexits

The Brexit Party, which sees Nigel Farage back in a leadership position, has a very clear message too in its name. It traveled to Coventry for a launch, early in the season, which saw some candidates announced, including Jacob Rees Mogg’s sister, and former Conservative candidate,  Annunziata.

The party slogan – ‘fighting back’ – and its clear arrow logo mean it is easy to brand any venue.

In media terms, Farage is usually box office so there was little need to add much to the launch.

What I found impressive was the series of mini launches which followed, with the announcement of star or significant candidates over several days.

While a high profile leader matters, organisers will know that other capable and high profile interviewees are needed to carry the media load. And in former Government  minister and more recently reality show participant, Anne Widdecombe, the Brexit party has certainly found one.

Ukip-ed

Of course, the last Euro election, 2014, was a massive success for Ukip.

That party has suffered since from splits, defections, rows and rapid changes of leader. It will be impossible for Ukip to repeat the previous success. The communications issue is how to position the team so that the Brexit party does not simply roll up all support.

Middlesbrough was the location for a launch event with the slogan ‘Tell them Again – Make Brexit Happen’.

The dilemma facing leader Gerard Batten is whether to talk about The Brexit Party or not.

He needs to distinguish Ukip, perhaps by pointing out differences, but he also doesn’t want to talk up Farage by raising perception of his significance.

He’s chosen, perhaps unavoidably, to criticize, with one statement telling us that the party is ‘a wholly owned subsidiary of one man’s ego’.

To be fair to Ukip, this launch also included plenty of material about policies and plans, but unsurprisingly it is the personal invective which breaks through.

Spoilt for Choice?

Voters can only choose one party in these elections, so  campaigners will need to find ways to stand out and be preferred. This is going to be tricky for those on the Stop Brexit side of things.

Launches and slogans matter, but they are only part of the package.

In future blogs I am going to look at other key comms issues, including those affecting the Conservatives and Labour as they attempt to position themselves on the grid. Is there even any room?

We will soon see.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics

Landlords will be forbidden from evicting tenants for no reason – but reform has only just begun

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No place like home. Shutterstock.

Tom Simcock, Edge Hill University and Kim McKee, University of Stirling

Change is coming. Soon, private tenants in England will have the security they need to call their rented house a home. The UK government has announced plans to abolish “no fault” Section 21 evictions in England, meaning that landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants without a legitimate reason.

Nearly one in five households in England live in the private rented sector. At present, no fault evictions cause significant insecurity for tenants, as well as negative impacts on mental health and well-being. So an end to Section 21 will have a real, positive impact on millions of households, preventing them from being uprooted at short notice. It could also help to prevent homelessness, since the biggest single cause is the ending of a tenancy in the private sector.

As waiting lists for social housing grow, the private rented sector is accommodating more vulnerable and low-income households, as well as growing numbers of families with children. Yet research shows that insecure tenancies aren’t the only challenge facing private tenants. Poor quality and unaffordable housing remain key concerns, right across the UK.

A state of disrepair

The latest government statistics show that one in four privately rented houses in England did not meet the government’s own standards for decent homes. This means that around 1.1m private renters are living in homes which contain dangerous hazards, are not in a reasonable state of repair, or lack suitable heating.

With Section 21 in place, tenants are vulnerable to “revenge evictions” if they complain about poor conditions in their homes. Citizens Advice found that tenants had a 46% chance of being served a Section 21 notice if they complained to the local council about their landlord.

Ending Section 21 should give tenants more confidence to speak out against dangers, without the threat of losing their home. But this will depend on whether councils have the funding needed to enforce standards and compel landlords to carry out repairs.

Historically, enforcement has been a postcode lottery and landlords are rarely prosecuted. In the context of austerity, where local councils have seen spending cuts of up to 40% since 2009/10, there’s little to indicate that more consistent enforcement will be possible.

Rent controls and reclamation

Tenants also face issues of affordability; particularly vulnerable, single parent families and low-income renters. This issue has worsened due to the housing benefit freeze, which has kept allowances at the same rate since 2016, while rents have continued to rise, meaning families are facing considerable hardships.




Read more:
Housing benefit freeze still driving tenants from their homes, despite Universal Credit reforms


Even with the reforms to Section 21, it would still be possible for landlords to take advantage of affordability issues, and unreasonably increase the rent to force tenants out of their home. Appropriate safeguards must be in place to stop this from happening.

Rent stabilisation measures – like those in place across much of Europe – are one solution. These measures, which can restrict when rent can be increased, or by how much, are even supported by nine out of ten landlords in England and Wales.

Berlin is well known for its rent controls. Shutterstock.

Reforms need to be introduced carefully, to minimise any unintended consequences. For example, landlords might become more risk averse, which could lead to greater discrimination against tenants who claim benefits. Or, they could decide to let their property on Airbnb instead.




Read more:
Airbnb and the short-term rental revolution – how English cities are suffering


So the government’s proposed reforms to the court process and Section 8 are vital, to give landlords confidence that they can reclaim possession of their property quickly, for legitimate reasons. This will help to ensure that good landlords have the support needed to continue letting out safe and secure homes.

Learning from Scotland

Clearly, ending Section 21 is only the first step on a long path of reforms needed to modernise the private rented sector. But English lawmakers can look to Scotland for a good example of how to tackle all the different challenges facing the private rented sector in a joined-up way.

There, all new private tenancies since December 2017 are “private residential tenancies”. They are open-ended, meaning the tenant can remain in the property as long as they wish, unless the landlord uses one of the 18 grounds for eviction, such as wishing to sell the property. When this happens, the amount of notice required varies depending on how long the tenant has lived there and the grounds for eviction used.

Rent increases are restricted to once a year, and can be referred to a “rent officer” to adjudicate. Local authorities can also apply to the Scottish government to limit rent increases in specific areas.

Private tenants can take complaints to the new housing tribunal for free, without needing a solicitor to represent them. It is designed to be less adversarial than the court process. Among its many powers, the tribunal can serve a Repairing Standard Enforcement Order on landlords, which specifies work the landlord must undertake to ensure the property meets the “repairing standard”.

Though these reforms are still in their infancy, and by no means perfect, they show how security of tenure is only one element of a modernised sector. Other parts of the UK would do well to learn from the different approaches, all while collecting evidence on what works, sharing experiences and supporting tenants and landlords to understand their new rights and responsibilities.

Ending the “no fault” ground for eviction is vital for tenants to be able to put down roots, feel settled and make their private rented property a home. But reform can’t stop there.The Conversation

Tom Simcock, Research Fellow, Edge Hill University and Kim McKee, Senior Lecturer, Social Policy and Housing, University of Stirling

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Housing benefit freeze still driving tenants from their homes, despite Universal Credit reforms

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Tom Simcock, Edge Hill University

The controversial roll out of Universal Credit has been stalled. Under pressure from across the political spectrum, work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd has unveiled a “fresh approach”. Among the new measures, Rudd has announced that the government will launch a digital platform, which promises to streamline housing benefit payments to landlords, in cases where the tenant is having difficulty paying rent.

Though it sounds technical, there is much at stake: landlords wait much longer to receive such payments from the government under Universal Credit than they did under the previous system, which was administered by local authorities. And while they wait, tenants can slide further into arrears, leaving them prone to eviction – and possibly, homelessness.

If successful, the platform could benefit landlords, as well as tenants facing the prospect of eviction when they fall into rent arrears. Yet evidence suggests that the new platform cannot plaster over the deeper issues around housing affordability, which are causing benefits claimants to lose their homes.

Rising rent arrears

Research I conducted for the Residential Landlords Association showed that over the past three years, more and more landlords have reported tenants on Universal Credit going into rent arrears. In 2016, 27% of landlords said their tenants on Universal Credit had gone into arrears. By 2018, this had more than doubled to 61% of landlords.

Before Universal Credit, housing benefit could be paid directly to landlords without delay, at the discretion of local authorities. But now, landlords must wait until a tenant has been in arrears for two months before they can apply to receive the housing benefit directly from the government to cover unpaid rent.

On average, it takes 9.3 weeks for landlords to receive the first payment. By that time, the tenant could owe up to four months worth of rent. At this point, the tenant is at significant risk of losing their home, as landlords can lawfully evict tenants with two months of rent arrears. This was borne out in our research: 77% of landlords in my study reported that the main reason for evicting tenants on Universal Credit was unpaid rent.

If the government’s new platform makes it quicker for landlords to receive a direct payment, it could reduce rent arrears, help to sustain tenancies and ultimately reduce homelessness. But our research also showed that there was a significant increase in rent arrears for tenants who claimed housing benefit, but were not on Universal Credit. This tells us that the roll out of Universal Credit isn’t the only thing which is causing hardship for private tenants.

Five year freeze

These problems can be traced back to 2013, when the government reformed how the housing benefit is calculated. Previously, each claimaint’s entitlement was worked out using Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, based on private market rents in the claimant’s local area.

But from 2013, the government capped how much the LHA rate could rise – first in line with inflation, and then to 1% each year. In 2016, Chancellor George Osborne froze LHA rates for four years. In effect, this means that the housing benefit has not kept up with rising rents for five years.

Recent research from Manchester Metropolitan University found that the LHA rates were a major factor in the increase in homelessness. Researchers found that tenants on benefits were more likely to lose their tenancy, and then have difficulties finding an affordable home to rent, due to the gap between housing benefit and the rent.

Can’t make ends meet. Shutterstock.

Analysis by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has found that 90% of LHA rates across the country did not cover the cheapest rents and that some families face a shortfall of hundreds of pounds a month.

This is extremely worrying, especially as the latest figures from the government show that there are 1.2m housing benefit claimants in the private rented sector. And statistics from the latest English Housing Survey show that 81% of claimants report that their benefits only cover part of their rent.

This means that nearly 1m low-income renters are now struggling with housing affordability, and being forced to make hard decisions about how they make up the shortfall created by the government’s housing benefit freeze.

Relieving the pressure

The “fresh approach” to Universal Credit may go some way to relieve pressure on households, by making it easier for landlords to claim rent directly from the government. But it will not address the underlying affordability issues caused by the benefit freeze.

Rudd has said that the benefit freeze should not continue past 2020 – but serious questions remain. For example, if the freeze is lifted, will the LHA rates be increased to current market rent levels? The CIH estimates that this would cost the government nearly £1.2 billion in housing benefit payments, placing further pressure on the Treasury.

Building more social housing – with rents linked to tenants’ income, rather than rising property and land values – would directly address the lack of affordable housing for society’s most vulnerable. A cross-party report from housing charity Shelter recently called for the government to build 3.1m new social homes by 2040 to this end, costing £214bn over 20 years.

One thing is certainly clear: without action to improve housing affordability and end the benefit freeze, the hardship faced by renting families, those just about managing, is likely to get worse.The Conversation

Tom Simcock, Research Fellow, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why there will be no winners from the US-China trade war

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Christopher Dent, Edge Hill University

The clock is ticking for China and the US to resolve their trade dispute. Some progress was made at the last round of talks (January 7-9) but negotiators must find a comprehensive agreement by March 2. If they fail, the US government plans to raise tariffs from 10% to 25% on US$200 billion of Chinese imports. This would have an enormous impact not just on US-China bilateral trade but also on many other countries due to global supply chain linkages.

The US president, Donald Trump, wishes to adjust the “terms of trade” between both countries, addressing what he alleges are China’s “unfair” trading practices. Many observers believe this is a battle not just about trade but also about economic and technological supremacy.

The Trump administration accuses China of stealing technology from American companies. It has also been critical of the Chinese government’s strategic plans to make the country a world leader in industry sectors such as aerospace, renewable energy, robotics and electric vehicles. The recent successful landing of a Chinese spacecraft on the Moon would have caused further consternation among Americans fearful of China’s new technological capacities.

The US says it wants China to become a free market economy and ditch its state management approach. Ironically, the credibility of America’s position on this matter is undermined by Trump’s own protectionist stance on trade, which itself constitutes significant state intervention in the marketplace.

Donald Trump advocates an ‘America First’ trade strategy. Andrew Cline / Shutterstock.com

But, despite their political and economic differences, the reality is that the US and China’s economies are deeply interconnected through various layers of commercial, financial and production links. The two are so entwined that they have been dubbed a symbiotic “Chimerica” economy.

Economic interdependence

US-China economic interdependence has to be carefully managed and many companies are critical of the Trump administration’s decision to raise tariffs. They rightly warn that aggressive US actions against China will ultimately harm American firms, workers and consumers. What’s more, the world’s two largest national economies lie at the core of an ever more integrated global economy. Any significant disruption to their relationship will have major ramifications for businesses worldwide.

From his actions and tweeted thinking to date, it appears that Trump is failing to acknowledge the extent of US-China economic interdependence, or is choosing to ignore it. While the US trade deficit of US$336 billion with China in 2017 is at some level a cause for concern, China recycles much of its surplus back through buying US government securities.

Taking the car industry as an example, we can reasonably assume that Trump wishes to see more cars made by Ford, General Motors and other American firms in the US, which get sold both at home and in foreign markets. Ideally, in Trump’s view, they would also be sourcing materials and parts from US-based companies, thus overall generating more jobs and prosperity for Americans. But this cannot be sustainably achieved through protectionist trade measures.

Global supply chains are interlinked. Corine van Kapel / Shutterstock.com

Trump’s adoption of a defensive economic nationalist position and a simplistic “imports bad, exports good” mindset chimes with a 19th-century view of the world economy. Then it was the norm for companies to organise production in one nation and simply export from it. Today, technological advances mean companies increasingly organise their production across nations, mainly for reasons of cost efficiency, making goods cheaper to buy and providing wider consumer choice. In many of the world’s major industries, it makes no economic sense today to do otherwise.

Competitive advantage

For companies, the ultimate arbiter of success is the consumer. The fundamental reason why the sales of American car manufacturers have fallen over the years – both at home and in export markets – is not due to “unfair” trade practices but because they lack competitiveness. The same logic applies to other industries.

Sales of foreign cars in Japan illustrates this. While the Japanese car market is hard for foreign firms to penetrate, Japan does not apply import tariffs in this sector. So both European and US firms face the same challenges in satisfying the discerning Japanese consumer.

From 2013 to 2016, Japan’s imports of US cars fell from 23,381 to 19,933, whereas imports of European vehicles increased from 239,090 to 251,155. If Trump wishes American car makers to expand production and exports, they need to produce more competitive and desirable products.

Sometimes, this is extraordinarily difficult to achieve in industries experiencing deep structural decline, such as the US steel sector. There are, of course, many other sectors where American firms have developed a competitive advantage over their foreign rivals, such as cinema and television shows, popular culture, financial services and university education.

Higher tariffs on US imports of goods from China and other countries will in most cases be passed on as higher prices to American consumers, raising inflation and, in turn, interest rates. One of the ironies of imposing import tariffs on goods from China is that a high volume of these will come from US companies such as Apple and Dell, which assemble their products cost competitively in China, then export them to US consumers. Trump calls for these firms to relocate their production back to the US, but comparatively much higher labour and other costs would lead to higher prices for consumers and inflation.

It is time for the US president to end his short-sighted and self-harming trade policies, and fully appreciate the inter-connected nature of the 21st-century global economy and society. The future health of the global economy depends on a good working partnership between the US and China. Both countries must quickly end this trade war and focus instead on establishing more harmonious relations – for all our sakes.The Conversation

Christopher Dent, Senior Lecturer in Economics and International Business, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Snowflake millennial’ label is inaccurate and reverses progress to destigmatise mental health

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Triggered? Tim Dennell/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Shelly Haslam-Ormerod, Edge Hill University

From the baby boomers of the mid 1940s to the early 60s to Generation X yuppies who came of age in the 1980s – labelling generations is nothing new but as early as 1839 French Philosopher Auguste Comte wrote about the gradual and continuous influence generations have upon each other and how generational stereotypes hold firm.

For today’s millennials, who came of age around the early 2000s, the charge of “snowflake” has been attached to criticise their perceived sensitivity. The British Army even used the name recently to address young people in a recruitment campaign. One of the soldiers featured in the campaign has received hundreds of social media messages mocking his association with the snowflake poster. Despite this reaction from some people, the advert’s intention was to invert the label’s stigma and highlight the value of compassion in millennials.

Use of the term elsewhere has been uniformly negative. The English dictionary defines “snowflake” as a derogatory term to describe an easily offended person, or someone who believes they are entitled to special treatment on account of their supposedly unique characteristics. Members of the so-called “snowflake generation” are typecast as emotionally weak and lacking resilience.

Research has shown that labels such as these create stigma – and stigma’s role in mental health is an age-old problem. Amid the media furore around the poster there remains the disturbing statistic that one in eight children and adolescents and one in four adults in the UK will experience a mental illness.

Flippant stereotyping of a generation as weak based on their mental well-being contradicts efforts to reduce mental health stigma. It also undermines the goal of ensuring society values mental health equally with physical health.

From ‘can-do’ to #MeToo

The “snowflake” label contrasts with early published anticipation for the millennial generation. At the outset, millennials were met with encouragement, as a book published in 2000 by William Strauss & Neil Howe shows. “Millennials Rising” predicted a “can-do youth” which would recast young people from downbeat and alienated to upbeat, engaged and optimistic.

Since then however, global financial recessions, the rising cost of living and education, insecure work, climate change and a turbulent political landscape have all contributed to significant increases in poor mental health among young people. This has created a difficult environment for millennials to meet their potential. Rather than characterise them as weak, society should work together to help young people overcome these challenges.

In the UK, tabloid headlines have fuelled the problem. “Life’s too tough for snowflake worriers who spend six hours a day stressed out” reads one from the Daily Star in 2018. “Sheltered snowflakes with no idea how to survive in the real world are having to pay for ‘adulting classes’”, reads another.

Millennials have inherited difficult career prospects, a febrile international order and an expensive housing market. Fizkes/Shutterstock

A recent Daily Star headline from December 2018 prompted an open letter from mental health campaigner Natasha Devon. She condemned the headline: “Snowflake kids get lessons in chilling” and implored the media to recognise the ongoing mental health crisis and the need to challenge stigma, rather than labelling and stigmatising those in need.

What is perhaps more worrying is the ease with which this label is seeping beyond the millennial generation with the Daily Mail stigmatising even young children as “snowflakes”.

A quick Google image search of “snowflake generation” produces a slew of images that typify a hatred towards millennials, with derogatory jokes and memes. There’s also an association with words such as “weak”, “sensitive”, “triggered” and “entitled”.

Using “snowflake” as an insult was popularised by the alt-right during the 2016 US presidential elections in the US to negate the views of those considered anti-Trump, including liberals and leftists. This legacy does not reflect well on those parroting it in the UK media.

Debunking the ‘weak millennial’ myth

The label’s connotations need to be challenged. In reality, the millennial generation are resilient in bucking legacies left by older generations. Millennials are consuming less drugs and alcohol than previous generations and youth turnout at the 2017 general election in the UK was reported to be the highest in 25 years.

Despite growing insecurity in the job market, unemployment in Britain’s under-25s is among the lowest in Europe. Millennials are also ousting older generations from high-ranking roles.

The emotional intelligence of millennials shines through their continued efforts to oppose injustice. Their resilience is also clear in their efforts to excel despite the challenges they face.

Ultimately, the snowflake label is unfair because it encourages stigma and evokes hatred. The word “snowflake” has lost its wistfulness as the harbinger of winter, replaced by insults to an individual’s capacity to cope in a challenging world. As a society, perhaps we need to ask ourselves – when has stigma and contempt ever helped?The Conversation

Shelly Haslam-Ormerod, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Knife crime: how former offenders can make great mentors for at-risk teens

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Shutterstock

Sean Creaney, Edge Hill University

It’s widely reported that there’s been an increase in street violence, particularly in London – with the number of knife and gun crimes rising. While the causes are complex and multifaceted, victims and perpetrators of serious youth violence often lack a relationship with a trusted adult.

One way to help reduce crime is to use ex-offenders as peer mentors. Those who have overcome adversity and stopped offending can act as positive role models for their peers – especially teenagers who are at risk of committing crime or being drawn into gang activity.

My research found that young people on court orders really value building empathetic and collaborative relationships with professionals who are ex-offenders, and have first-hand experience with the criminal justice system.

When carefully selected, provided with extensive training and given tailored support, former young offenders can be uniquely well-equipped to help their peers in need of support. And they can encourage young people on court orders to engage with criminal justice services and make positive changes in their lives.

Positive peers

Peer mentors can offer advice and support to young people who are experiencing personal, social or emotional difficulties, because they have first-hand experience overcoming such problems themselves. Projects operating around the world offer proof that this can work in practice.

One approach in the US is to recruit ex-offenders as credible messengers who can build trust and inspire change among young people. These mentors, who have transformed their lives, are viewed as assets who can help motivate young people – who are often marginalised and disadvantaged – to make better decisions and desist from crime. The project has been shown to reduce re-offending and improve young people’s self-esteem.

Similarly, the St Giles Trust, based in London, works with young people exposed to or at risk of violence. Their SOS project carefully recruits ex-offenders to engage young people.

The effectiveness of this approach was borne out in my research: in 2016 and 2017, I spoke with 20 young people and 20 professionals from a youth offending service in England, which works with young people who get into trouble with the law. One young person in my study said:

…unless you’ve experienced that, you cannot tell them…you cannot relate to them. Unless it’s happened to you, or someone that you know, there’s no way you can fully understand how they’re feeling.

Teenagers who are at risk of committing crime or being drawn into gang activity may be reluctant to talk to authority figures. But if the person they’re speaking to is an ex-offender themselves, they may be more forthcoming. For example, another of my participants, Anthony (aged 17), spoke passionately about a trusting relationship he had built with one of his workers, who had experience in the care and criminal justice systems.

Anthony said his worker was non judgemental and able to empathise and offer guidance when he was in a difficult situation. He described how he has contacted his worker on many occasions in a state of panic and valued receiving emotional and practical assistance. Anthony described his worker as inspirational, and was keen to follow in his footsteps in the future, by securing a job which involves caring for others.

Another of my participants – Zain, aged 17 – was also inspired by his mentor:

I’d love to do his job. He sort of inspired me. Cos I know about his past, he knows about mine. And it’s pretty similar, do you know what I mean? Grew up on a bad estate, got into drugs.

The right choice

Yet within the justice system there is still some scepticm about whether ex-offenders can steer their peers away from crime.

There are challenges: young people may lack the ability to offer emotional and practical assistance to their peers who are experiencing mental health problems. For this reason, it’s crucial to provide ex-offenders with appropriate training and ongoing support.

What’s more, they may have their own unresolved traumas, which could make it more difficult for them to form constructive relationships with both their peers and professionals. And this is why it’s important for authorities to screen and select the right people.

Yet peer mentoring can be an antidote to the disconnected, unhearing and technocratic criminal justice process. And the young people who engage in mentoring can discover that they have talents and abilities they didn’t know they had.

Because they’re seen as role models, rather than authority figures, young people who are ex-offenders can forge positive and meaningful connections with their peers, to the benefit of both parties. Above all, mentoring gives young people who have overcome their own hardships a chance to help others do the same.The Conversation

Sean Creaney, Lecturer in Psychosocial Analysis of Offending Behaviour, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

County lines: the dark realities of life for teenage drug runners

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Jon Tyson/Unsplash., CC BY

Grace Robinson, Edge Hill University; James Densley, Metropolitan State University , and Robert McLean, Northumbria University, Newcastle

“County lines” is a term used by the police to describe a growing practice among criminal gangs: when demand for drugs fails to meet the supply in major cities, gangs travel to remote rural areas, market towns or coastal locations in search of new customers.

The process – referred to as “going cunch” (country) or “going OT” (out there) by those involved – has initiated ugly forms of exploitation. Children as young as 12 are hired as “runners” to transport and sell illicit drugs, while the homes of vulnerable adults are occupied without permission to create a base to sell from – a practice also known as “cuckooing”.

Tackling county lines is now a national priority: the government has launched a new £3.6m National County Lines Coordination Centre, made up of experts from the National Crime Agency. The centre aims to measure the threat of county lines, focus resources on the most serious offenders and work closely with partners in health, welfare and education to reduce the harms associated with the practice.

For our latest research, published in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, we spoke with members of organised crime groups, police, staff on youth offending teams and young people aged between 14 and 17 involved in drugs gangs in Glasgow, Scotland and Merseyside, England, to find out what leads them to get involved in this practice, and how it affects their lives.

Working the lines

Before gangs started using the county lines model, class A drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine were typically supplied in remote areas by user-dealers who would sell to locals from their own supply. Competition in these areas was low, and violence was kept to a minimum.




Read more:
Not all drug dealers are the same – it’s time to ditch outdated stereotypes


But in recent years, gangs have been using experience gained in the big cities to enter into smaller, satellite areas with high demand, good profit margins and low police presence. They are leveraging violent reputations earned in the big cities to intimidate and dominate existing players in the illegal drugs market. Police in picturesque county towns such as Shrewsbury (a town of about 70,000 people close to the Welsh border in Western England) are now dealing with turf wars and homicides.

A costly mistake. Shutterstock.

During our research, we found that one of the root causes of this problem is how normal it is among teenagers to use cannabis – and the monetary cost of this. Young people in our study began smoking weed recreationally with their friends as young as 13. Perhaps more significant than the psychological and physical effects of cannabis use, which are heightened around the time of puberty, was the fact that weed cost money that these adolescents did not have.

The majority of county lines workers we interviewed in Merseyside owed money to a drug dealer. They accrued debt by having their drugs “on tick” – a slang term for a “buy now, pay later” scheme. When they failed to pay, the indebted were forced into working for their dealers. Working the lines meant being deployed anywhere at any time, answering the phone without delay when their masters (or clients) called, and leaving their post only to meet paying customers.

Debt bondage wasn’t the only way people ended up working the lines. Some of our interviewees in Glasgow entered the trade by their own volition. They were willing to travel and simply asked known drug dealers for a job. Owing to boredom, poverty and a sense of hopelessness about their legitimate job prospects, these young people felt they had no choice but to sell drugs.

The experiences of young people who had made a choice (albeit a constrained one) to “go country” didn’t fully concur with the horror stories about the practice portrayed by the media. During their interviews, some young people recalled their experiences as “funny”, especially when they spoke of the exploitative relationships they had formed with vulnerable drug users.

A user-dealer’s flat is taken over by teenage drug runners. Source, Author provided
Young interviewees in both cities recounted how drug users would be “terrored” or intimidated to pass the time between waiting for the phone to ring and completing drug sales. Young people would entertain themselves by getting users to perform sex acts, eat from ashtrays and “shit off the floor” or undergo “challenges” in exchange for “free” drugs.

Removing root causes

Our findings expose a paradox at the heart of county lines – the exploited and the exploiters are often one and the same. Drug dealers, drug runners and drug users form a hierarchical structure, with the most vulnerable – the users – at the bottom. Drug runners look down on drug addicts to make themselves feel better about their own station.

County lines expose that drug prohibition is not working: current laws neither effectively prevent young people from selling drugs, nor protect the most vulnerable in society from consuming them. Positive initiatives such as the National County Lines Coordination Centre are necessary for sharing intelligence between police and social service providers, but constrained by the folly of existing drug policy.

Our research highlights that a criminal justice approach based on tough enforcement and recovering the proceeds of crime is not enough to dissuade dealers from dealing. Unless we tackle demand for illicit drugs, and the root causes of gang culture – namely social and economic marginalisation – county lines will continue to be drawn.The Conversation

Grace Robinson, PhD Candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant, Edge Hill University; James Densley, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Metropolitan State University , and Robert McLean, Lecturer in Criminology, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.