2012 Joint EASP/SPA Annual Conference Report: Social Policy in an Unequal World

16 – 18 July 2012, University of York, UK 

The 9th International Conference of the East Asian Social Policy Research Network (EASP) took place at the University of York, UK. This time, it was jointly organised by the EASP and the UK Social Policy Association (SPA), bringing together two of the largest academic social policy conferences within a single event for the first time. Supported by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the joint conference attracted over 360 participants from all around the world with over 250 paper presentations that formed 8 parallel sessions.

The Chairs of EASP and SPA, Professor Yeun-wen Ku (National Taiwan University) and Professor Caroline Glendinning (University of York), respectively, officially opened the event by welcoming all and expressing their gratitude to both associations for making it possible. Dr Chris Holden from the University of York chaired the first plenary session. Drawing from the National Equality Panel’s report on economic inequalities between and within different groups in the UK, Professor John Hills (LSE) discussed how far the promotion of social mobility, set as one of its key objectives by the new Coalition government, had been achieved and how this had been related to the government’s plans to cut the deficit. He pointed out that achieving social mobility or at least lowering inequality in life chances would remain very hard while there were such large differences in the resources people and families had to help them develop their talents. While income inequality fell at the beginning of the recession, he cautiously warned that the costs of recovery would not be borne largely by those who gained most in the period before the crisis, and would be in the strongest position to bear them. Dr Gyu-Jin Hwang (Secretary of EASP, University of Sydney) provided a brief response to Professor Hills’ plenary speech, identifying how some of the key themes that were addressed could be seen relevant to the context of East Asia.

The second half of the first day of the conference consisted of the two parallel paper sessions where over 80 papers were presented under a wide variety of themes that cut across both the East and West. The first day of the conference was rounded up by a conference dinner at National Railway Museum. There, both EASP and SPA presented their awards. For the EASP part, Professor Yeun-wen Ku (Chair of EASP, National Taiwan University) presented an award both to Dr Young-Jun Choi (Korea University) and Dr Junko Yamashita (University of Bristol) for their pioneering contribution to the development of EASP.

The second day of the conference began with two more paper sessions, consisting of over 70 papers. After lunch, Professor Rebecca Tunstall (Director of the Centre for Housing Policy, University of York) chaired the second plenary session. There, Dr Misa Izuhara (University of Bristol) and Dr Patricia Kennett (University of Bristol) presented their latest research findings. Dr Izuhara presented her recently completed ESRC comparative research on relationships within the family and across generations in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai and highlighted how work, entry to home ownership, and asset accumulation play out over the life-course. Dr Kennett, on the other hand, spoke about a mixed methods study exploring the impact of the economic recession on cities and households through a systematic comparison of two English cities, Bristol and Liverpool. Two more paper sessions with more than 60 papers followed and concluded the second day of the conference.

The third and last day of the conference began with two more parallel paper sessions with over 40 papers presented. This was followed by the third plenary session, chaired by Dr Stefan Kühner (University of York) with a more international focus. Firstly, Dr Christina Behrendt from the International Labour Office (ILO) discussed the implications of the recently adopted ILO’s Social Protection Floors Recommendation with a particular focus on building national legal frameworks for promoting pro-poor growth and human development. Secondly, Jesse Griffiths, Director of Eurodad (European Network on Debt and Development) spoke about some of his recent work in relation to the promotion of responsible finance principles and practices and the redesign of the financial architecture.

Following the third plenary session, Professor Ka-Ho Mok, incoming Chair of EASP exchanged the reciprocal agreement with Professor Nick Ellison, incoming Chair of SPA. This was both to celebrate the successful liaison between the EASP and SPA and to recognise their shared commitment to further develop their collaboration. Both incoming Chairs addressed the delegates by thanking them for their support and participation. Special thanks were also expressed to Dr John Hudson and his team at York for organising this historic event. Not only was this the biggest conference of its kind, it was also the conference where social media featured prominently. There was an official twitter hashtag-#socpol2012 and twitter account @socpol2012. During the conference, many participants who brought their media devises helped create an online presence and the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at York ran two small hands-on workshops to provide training around the use of social media.

The 9th Conference also marks the important change in the membership of the EASP Committee. Professor Ka-Ho Mok (Hong Kong Institute of Education) and Dr Sophia Seung-yoon Lee (Ewha Womans University) have taken the role of Chair and of Secretary of EASP, respectively. Three other members have joined the committee, including Dr Yuko Tamiya (Kobe Gakuin University), Dr Bum Jung Kim (University of Hawaii) and Professor Emiko Ochiai (Kyoto University). Further details can be found at http://www.welfareasia.org/contact/

The venue for the conference in 2013 will be announced towards the end of the year.

Gyu-Jin Hwang (University of Sydney)

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