The new head of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has pledged to track the effect of cuts on poverty levels. While this is a general pledge, presumably it could include research on the effects of the governments plans to cut back the advice sector through its legal aid and other cuts.
"Charity chair pledges to track how cuts are affecting poverty levelsTony Stoller, the new chair of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is driven by a responsibility to side with people in poverty
Alison Benjamin guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 10 January 2012 16.04 GMT
With all the main political parties hell-bent on refashioning the welfare state to reduce its spiralling costs, by siding with hardworking people (the deserving poor) and labelling anyone else as benefit scroungers (the undeserving), it is reassuring to learn that at least the UK's leading voice in social policy research is not adopting this invidious rhetoric.
In its new strategic plan (pdf), the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) says: "We are independent but we are not neutral: we are on the side of people and places in poverty."
What that means, says Tony Stoller, the foundation's new chair, is to "be an advocate for those communities that bear the burden of poverty".
The foundation, however, is a non-campaigning organisation, so achieving that goal can, he admits, be tricky. "Of all the challenges for the chair, that is the hardest," he says.
"Every trustee from time to time comes across something they think is too important not to make a song and dance about, but you have to pull yourself back and say no. The way we work is trusted; to produce the data, convey the results and expect they will have influence on policy making," he says.
But the foundation tends to build alliances with campaigning organisations that will make a noise about the often worrying findings of JRF-funded research. Its newest friends are the Guardian and the London School of Economics, and it funded their Reading the Riots study – interviews with 270 people who took part in England's summer unrest.
"We don't major in criminal justice, but there is at least a prima facie argument that some or most of those who were rioting felt disadvantaged or alienated from their communities. Helping others to look at this is [therefore] a legitimate part of what we do," Stoller explains. "We spent a weekend thinking should or shouldn't we do it."
For a foundation that prides itself on producing robust, independent research that informs politicians and policymakers alike, how does he feel about being associated with a study largely dismissed by the home secretary, Theresa May, who argued that participants in the August riots were an "unruly mob" who were "thieving, pure and simple"?
"We have to accept that politicians are under enormous pressure to give immediate reactions," Stoller replies diplomatically. "We were careful not to comment until we had hard data about the main themes," he adds.
Over the next three years, the foundation will pump £23m into research in three main areas: identifying the root causes of poverty and injustice, supporting communities where anyone can thrive, and planning and developing for an ageing society.
In particular, it will track how the coalition government's public spending cuts are affecting levels of poverty and inequality, and how disadvantaged people are coping, or not; the foundation will help to develop practical solutions to reducing poverty.............................."