Homelessness: its social and economic causes and effects

Despite increased policy attention, and the implementation of strategies to halt it, homelessness is on the rise in most European states and remains at stubbornly high levels across developed nations. Its adverse effects on mental and physical health, crime levels, substance abuse, and general wellbeing are profound, and it is urgently necessary to devise means that will bring it to an end. Professor Nicholas Pleace is a globally recognised authority on homelessness, he is Director of the Centre for Housing Policy, the University of York Research Champion for Justice and Equality and holds a Chair in Social Policy at York. His work centres on comparative research, particularly across Europe and the Anglophone countries, and on transdisciplinary research that encompasses inequalities in health, life chances/opportunity and area effects in urban space with a particular focus on housing precarity and homelessness. He has led research for numerous international governmental and non-governmental organisations, and is a member of the European Observatory on homelessness, and of the Women’s Homelessness in Europe Network.  He is also on the Editorial Boards of the European Journal of Homelessness and the International Journal of Housing Policy, and has written very widely on the subject of homelessness, one of his most recent publications being Ending Homelessness? The Contrasting Experiences of Ireland, Denmark and Finland (2020). Guardian article

16th March 2020


Climate Change: How can our political systems meet the challenge?

As carbon emissions from fossil fuels rise inexorably from the world’s greatest industrial powers, it is clear that on our present course there is no hope of meeting the zero carbon emissions target that scientists say is essential to prevent catastrophe. Although huge strides have been made in the search for carbon free power, it has so far proved impossible to reduce dependence on fossil fuels generally and coal in particular. Worldwide, governments have failed to deliver coherent programmes that will deliver the economic and social changes  required for zero carbon emissions; political institutions and  political elites seem unable to meet the existential challenge that faces us.

Jacqueline McGlade is Professor of Resilience and Sustainable Development in the Institute for Global Prosperity at UCL and Professor of the Environment at Gresham College. A Marine Biologist and Environmental Informatics specialist she was Executive Director of the European Environment Agency from 2003 to 2013 and Chief Scientist and Director of the Science Division of the United Nations Environment Programme between 2014 and 2017. Over a long period she has worked at the interface of sustainable development, science, society and policy and her research on biodiversity, climate change , ecosystems, oceans and social dynamics has been of great importance. She will talk about the changes that will be necessary in political, economic and social systems to avoid climate catastrophe and how these changes can be brought about.

16th March 2020


The Science of Motivation and its role in changing our lives

What convictions and desires form our choices, and motivate us to take action, personal, professional and political? What incentives, arguments or punishments might cause our decisions and behaviour to change? And where does the role of morality and identity lie in the process of motivating others to alter their views and judgements? These are crucial questions in a world in which we are subject to an overwhelming stream of information and persuasion, and where there is little time for reflection about how we should respond. Robert West is Professor of Health Psychology at University College London and an Associate of UCL’s Centre for Behaviour Change. He is Editor-in-Chief of the scientific journal Addiction, and has published more than 800 scholarly works including books on behaviour change and addiction. His most recent book Energise: the Secrets of Motivation, was published last year, and was written in collaboration with his son Jamie West, a writer and musician.

17th February 2020


Voices of Resistance in the Gig Economy

One of the huge changes in today’s employment structure is the rapidly growing number of workers engaged in casual and precarious work within the so-called ‘gig economy’, a term applied increasingly in differentiated circumstances worldwide but also specifically to those who depend for their pay on insecure working arrangements which provide no benefits or protection: no holiday, sick pay, parental leave, pension rights or guarantee of job security. Millions of workers, from pizza deliverers and call centre operators to those engaged in limited forms of self-employment in traditional companies or outsourced public services find themselves without unions or other organisations to protect them from routine exploitation, the pressure of loss of work, or the proliferation of surveillance and control. But battles and strategies to unionise, organise and resist both physical and mental isolation and the ever-looming threat of work degradation in a global economy has grown and developed. Jamie Woodcock, is a senior lecturer at the Open University, where his research has focused on digital labour, the gig economy, and resistance, and he is currently involved in the Fairwork Foundation, a project about online labour platforms. He worked undercover in a call centre to gather insights into the everyday experiences of call centre workers, and this experience informed his book Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres, published in 2016.   His latest book, The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction  provides an overview of the whole issue, and outlines four strategies that can produce a fairer platform economy that works for everyone.

3rd February 2020


The Pharmaceutical Industry: Private wealth or public health? with Dr Panos Kanavos

While the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most profitable in the world, over 2 billion people lack access to essential medicines. Although much pharmaceutical Research and Development (R&D) in part is publicly funded, companies habitually claim very high development costs as an excuse for the often exorbitant and, for the poor, unaffordable prices of drugs. Generic versions of these vital medicines can be made available, but when a new medication is created, it is understood to be protected by ‘intellectual property’ and can be patented for 20 years. 

Additionally, the practice of ‘evergreening’ is often used to extend these patents by repeatedly making minute modifications to the product concerned. Governments attempting to override them are met by huge resistance from the corporations concerned, while other governments are often supportive of their actions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, new drug approvals have increased significantly over the past few years, which is great news, but most of the new drugs are available at prohibitive prices and require health care systems to resort to extensive negotiations to ensure affordability. 

Dr Panos Kanavos will discuss this situation with us. He is Associate Professor in International Health Policy in the Department of Health Policy at the London School of Economics, and Programme Director of the Medical Technology Research Group, which administers the Programme on Pharmaceutical issues. An economist by training, his teaching role currently includes Health Care Financing and Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy.

20th January 2020