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Charlie Jeffery Heads New ESRC Project with Brazil

"Place Inequality": A UK-Brazilian Collaboration

Charlie Jeffery of Politics/IR will be working with Marta Arretche of the Center for Metropolitan Studies, Sao Paolo on a project titled "Exchanging Data and Skills on 'Place Inequality': A UK-Brazilian Collaboration". The project is part of the ESRC 'Pathfinder' initiative designed to prompt collaboration around data and methods between UK and Brazilian researchers.  

This collaboration focuses on 'place inequality', that is variations from place to place within states in the availability of public services to citizens (as sometimes described in the UK as a 'postcode lottery' in the availability of services). Both Brazil and the UK are (part-)decentralised states in which there are significant place inequalities, around which there are high profile policy debates. But the debates pull in different directions. In Brazil there is a strong policy commitment to reduce place inequalities which is in some respects very effective, for example in the territorial evenness of spending on healthcare and education (though in other public services there are wide territorial variations). In the UK there has been an intense debate for more than a decade about the appropriate ways of governing the four component nations of the UK, which has responded to popular demand for (further-reaching) devolution outside England. The devolution reforms that have resulted have widened place inequalities between the nations of the UK. Only more recently has the question of how far (or whether) to address, and/or limit, place inequalities been a focus of policy debate. These differences in the direction of debate are reflected in differences in research focus and the data collected to support research. In Brazil there are very extensive datasets on the revenues and expenditures of sub-state governments, measures taken by central government to equalise revenues and direct spending in some policy fields, and the impacts on policy outcomes from place to place. In the UK such data is in part flawed, in part simply unavailable, at the level of the four component nations of the UK. These data gaps have become increasingly significant as a series of official enquiries by UK and devolved institutions have considered and recommended measures to limit (or equalise) place inequality.

But in the UK there is extremely good public attitudes data on what citizens want central and devolved governments to be responsible for, and what they think about variations in services from place to place. There is growing evidence that they see sub-state, rather than statewide scales of government - Scotland, or England, rather than the UK as a whole - as the relevant one for the pursuit of equality (implying that some level of place inequality across the UK as a whole is seen as legitimate). In Brazil - a large and diverse country - there have been very few attempts to disaggregate public attitudes at sub-state scales and explore whether citizens there favour the current statewide or alternative sub-state approaches to (in)equality in the provision of services. That data gap is becoming significant as growing attention is focused on place inequalities not addressed by current measures, and as 'loser' places and social groups challenge current patterns of distribution of revenues and spending.

This collaboration is based on a simple premise. Brazilian and UK research communities each have areas of expertise that are less well developed in the other research community. The collaboration is designed to exchange the expertise that UK researchers have in exploring citizen understandings of place inequality with the expertise Brazilian researchers have in measuring the effects of equalisation policies. It will raise mutual awareness of the types of data needed to explore particular aspects of place inequality, exchange expertise in the methods of analysis of that data, and enable researchers in each country to engage more effectively with emerging policy debates in areas where data is underdeveloped. It will do so through a structured programme of exchange over twelve months involving both senior researchers and cohorts of early career researchers, and carried out through data trawls, workshops and immersion visits by the early career researchers.

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