The impact of benefit sanctioning on food insecurity: a dynamic cross-area study of food bank usage in the UK
Published: Oct 2016

Household food security, which may be compromised by short-term income shocks, is a key determinant of health. Since 2012, the UK witnessed marked increases in the rate of ‘sanctions’ applied to unemployment insurance claimants, which stop payments to claimants for a minimum of four weeks. In 2013, over 1 million sanctions were applied, potentially leaving people facing economic hardship and driving them to use food banks. Here we test this hypothesis by linking data from the Trussell Trust Foodbank Network with records on sanctioning rates across 259 local authorities in the UK. After accounting for local authority differences and time trends, as the rate of sanctioning increased by 10 per 100,000 adults, the rate of adults fed by foodbanks by an additional 3.36 adults per 100,000 (95% CI: 1.71 to 5.01). The availability of food distribution sites affected how tightly sanctioning and food bank usage were associated (p<0.001 for interaction term), such that in areas with few distribution sites, rising sanctions led to smaller increases in Trussell Trust food bank usage. Sanctioning appears to be closely linked with rising need for emergency food assistance, but the impact of sanctioning on food insecurity is likely not fully reflected in available data. There is a need to monitor household food insecurity in the UK to fully understand the impact of government policies on this outcome.

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Why did Labour fail to perform better in the 2015 General Election? An analysis of English voters using the 2015 British Election Study
Published: May 2016

Contrary to expectations, Labour failed to perform much better in the 2015 General Election than they did in 2010. Here, we evaluate the British Election Survey to examine some of the explanations for their 2015 performance. Negative perceptions of Ed Miliband had a modest negative effect on Labour's vote share. There is no evidence Labour fared worse because they moved to the left, but they did suffer from a perceived lack of competence. Labour's anti-austerity message led to some gains, but this was undermined by concerns about their competence and their perceived failures on the economy and immigration.

Keywords: Economics Labour

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How Protesting Depends on Peers: U.S. Students in the 1960s
Published: Feb 2016

There is an extensive literature on how individual voters are influenced by the actions and attitudes of others in their social network or geographical area. Comparable analyses of social movements are lacking. This paper uses a panel of freshmen entering American colleges in 1967, who were sampled again in 1970. Freshmen were asked to estimate their own chance of protesting. This provides a comprehensive control variable at the individual level, and is aggregated at the college level to measure social influence. From analysis of 11,355 students, the probability of protest during college increased markedly with the proportion of their peers who had anticipated that they would protest, controlling for over thirty variables pertaining to the individual, college, and state. This effect is plausibly attributed to social interaction within college, rather than selection into certain colleges by individuals already inclined to protest; the effect is strong even for students who had expected not to protest. Students protested, in part, because their peers did. Although most variation among colleges can be explained by the characteristics of entering freshmen, initial differences were amplified by social influence.

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Size Matters: The Problems with Counting Protest Events
Published: Aug 2015

Since the 1970s, catalogs of protest events have been at the heart of research on social movements. Sociologists count the frequency of events to measure how protest changes over time or varies across space, as either the dependent variable or a key independent variable. This measure is disconnected from theory, which conceptualizes protest as collective action—by implication, what should be quantified are actions. Most fundamentally, counting events is inappropriate because it treats an event with ten participants as equal to an event with a million. This paper investigates three forms of protest: demonstrations, strikes, and riots. Their size distributions manifest enormous variation. Most events are small, but a few large events contribute the majority of protesters. When events are aggregated over years, there is no high correlation between event frequency and total participation. Therefore analyses of event frequency are not informative about the causes or consequences of participation in protest. The fact that the bulk of participation comes from large events has positive implications for the compilation of event catalogs. Rather than fretting about the underreporting of small events, concentrate on recording large ones accurately.

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The Social Contexts of Islamist Activism: Elite Students and Religious Education in Egypt
Published: Aug 2015

A large body of scholarship asserts that students of engineering and medicine are over-represented in Islamist movements. It also claims that political Islam emerges from secular rather than religious education. This paper uses unique data on 1,379 Islamist students arrested after President Muhammad Mursi was overthrown in 2013. Matching these activists to the population of undergraduate students, we analyze how the arrest rate varied across 378 university faculties. We find that Islamists came disproportionately from al-Azhar University, which provides a religiously inflected education in diverse subjects. Thus the literature's emphasis on secular education does not hold for contemporary Egypt. Most importantly, we find that Islamists tended to come from university faculties admitting students with higher grades, and from faculties that recruited from students taking science rather than literature in secondary school. Controlling for grades, engineering and medicine were not especially prominent. These findings suggest that Islamist movements conform to a more general pattern: political activism attracts elite students.

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