Essex sociologist wins prize for contribution to social policy

  • Date

    Wed 14 Dec 22

image of outline of UK with photo of homeless person superimposed on it

Professor Lydia Morris, from the Department of Sociology, has received an award for her book, The Moral Economy of Welfare and Migration: Reconfiguring Rights in Austerity Britain.

She was joint winner of this year’s The Richard Titmuss Book award, from the Social Policy Association (SPA) for her book’s contribution to the understanding of social policy.

On winning the award, Professor Morris said: “I am pleased this research on a policy area that causes misery for so many has been recognised by the Social Policy Association. I am grateful for the support of the Leverhulme Trust and the University of Essex, which allowed me to complete the research and produce the book.”

The book examines the changes to both welfare and migration in Britain, under the coalition government of 2010 – 2015 and its Conservative successors, showing how similar devices of deterrence and control operate in both fields.

Professor Morris takes a sociological approach on these topics by exploring the idea of a moral economy that shapes discourse and policy under the guise of ‘fairness’ and ‘morality’ but with discriminatory effects that at times have been in breach of human rights guarantees.

The book shifts the idea of ‘moral economy’ from its original focus on food riots in 18th century England to a more contemporary application that refers not to protest from ‘below’, but rather to discourse imposed from ‘above’ in a strategic reshaping of key features of socio-economic life.

This framework is applied to the analysis of discourse and policy on domestic welfare and migration by tracing the translation of abstract concepts into substantive content. Hence, we find ‘morality’ construed as ‘fairness’ and ‘responsibility’ set against ‘dependency’ and ‘abuse’, alongside a view of welfare and migration as ‘two sides of the same coin’. Flying in the face of empirical evidence, migrants and welfare recipients are thus mutually opposed in a zero-sum game.

The research was funded by a Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust and The Moral Economy of Welfare and Migration: Reconfiguring Rights in Austerity Britain was published by McGill-Queens University Press (2021).