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Book that dispels myth of ‘benefits scroungers’ wins prestigious British Academy prize

Two Teesside University professors, whose book exposed the myth of the ‘benefits scrounger’, have been honoured with a prestigious award and have donated their £2,000 prize money to a charity that helps people living in poverty.

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Greg Brown, Community Organiser at Thrive, Professor Tracy Shildrick, Tracey Herrington, Project Manager at Thrive, Professor Rob MacDonald.

Greg Brown, Community Organiser at Thrive, Professor Tracy Shildrick, Tracey Herrington, Project Manager at Thrive, Professor Rob MacDonald.


Professors Rob MacDonald and Tracy Shildrick have been awarded the British Academy Peter Townsend Policy Press Prize for their book ‘Poverty and Insecurity: Life in Low-pay, No-pay Britain’, published in December last year.

The book, written with Professor Colin Webster from Leeds Metropolitan University and Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite, from Durham University, was based on research with people from Middlesbrough who were caught up in the ‘low-pay, no-pay’ cycle – churning between low-paid, insecure jobs and periods out of work, often over many years. It demonstrated that people living in poverty are not like the ‘prejudiced portraits of benefit scroungers’ as depicted in popular culture. Instead it found a lasting work commitment and a hatred of claiming benefits among those living in, or close to, poverty.

The biennial Peter Townsend Policy Press Prize is awarded for outstanding work with policy relevance on a topic to which Professor Townsend - one of the most distinguished global figures in contemporary social policy and sociology – made a major contribution. This includes poverty and inequality, ageing and the lives of older people, disability and inequalities in health.

Professor Shildrick, from the University’s Social Futures Research Institute, said she is thrilled the book has received such recognition from the British Academy.

'the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many,” explained Professor Shildrick.

'It details the life stories of people who were poor for much of their lives, juggling precarious work and meagre benefits. Ours was a study of the personal consequences of poor work which dispelled the myth of the stereotypical benefits scrounger often depicted in popular culture.

'Professor Peter Townsend made a hugely significant contribution to social policy internationally – particularly to understanding and combating poverty - to receive this accolade is extremely rewarding.'

Professor MacDonald, also from the Social Futures Research Institute, said he was honoured to be able to donate the £2,000 prize money to Thrive – a charity based in Thornaby that works across the Teesside area.

Thrive is a charity that combines research, campaigns and projects in order to help the most excluded households in the region.

Professor MacDonald said: 'Thrive does some fantastic work in helping people who are living through difficult financial circumstances.

'The esteemed recognition of our book means an awful lot and to be able to donate the prize money to such a worthy cause makes it even more special.'

Greg Brown, Community Organiser at Thrive added: 'We are extremely grateful for this donation and it means an awful lot to the charity. Our aim is to support people living in poverty and raise awareness through campaigns and research – the money is a huge gesture of kindness.'

Born in Middlesbrough, Professor Peter Townsend, a Teesside University honorary graduate, became an international researcher and public intellectual who made an immeasurable contribution to analysis and policy-making in the areas of poverty and inequality, health inequalities, disability and older people. He was a Fellow of the British Academy and the prize was established to honour his memory following his death in 2009.

Professor Sara Arber, Fellow of The British Academy and one of the judges, said: 'This first class, scholarly and well-written book makes moving and poignant use of qualitative material to provide real insight into the circumstances of people in North East England caught in the low-pay, no-pay cycle. It is in the tradition of Peter Townsend’s writing, is highly policy relevant and stands as an effective corrective to much current debate around social security, unemployment and low pay.'

Julia Mortimer, Assistant Director of Policy Press, said: 'We are really delighted that this important, much-needed and highly topical book has won the 2013 prize. It sums up exactly what the prize is all about - a book which throws light on the reality of living in poverty, challenges current myths and has the potential to impact on policy and bring about change. It deserves to have a wide readership and the prize will bring it to the attention of new audiences.'

18 July 2013

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A book by Teesside University professors Rob MacDonald and Tracy Shildrick has been awarded the British Academy Peter Townsend Policy Press Prize for 2013.


Award Winning Book Exposes The Myth of The Benefit Scrounger
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A book by Teesside University professors Rob MacDonald and Tracy Shildrick has been awarded the British Academy Peter Townsend Policy Press Prize for 2013. Clare Horton wrote about the book in Society


Prize winning poverty book authors donate price money
UK Fundraising (Web), 26/7/2013
Two Teesside University professors, whose book on poverty in the UK has won an award, have donated their £2,000 prize to a charity helping people living in poverty.


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guardian.co.uk (Web), 22/07/2013
Teesside University professors Rob MacDonald and Tracy Shildrick whose book exposing the myth of the 'benefits scrounger' has been awarded the British Academy Peter Townsend Policy Press Prize.


Professor's co-authored book receives prestigious British Academy prize
Leeds Metropolitan University (Web), 19/07/2013
The Peter Townsend Policy Press Prize was awarded to Professor Webster alongside co-authors Professor Tracy Shildrick and Professor Robert MacDonald of Teesside University and Kayleigh Garthwaite of D