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David Christie

History, University of Birmingham

Thesis title:

A Hand up not a Hand Out': The Labour Governments and Street Homelessness, 1997-2010

My research is on the the Labour Governments’ interventions to reduce street homelessness. The numbers of people sleeping rough on the streets had been growing rapidly since the 1980s and reached a peak in the mid 1990s. The sight of people sleeping in shop doorways was common to all the large cities in the United Kingdom, and more than 2,000 people were belivered to be sleeping rough in London every night. The issue was given a high priority by the Blair administration on coming to power in 1997 as one of the four target areas of the newly-created social exclusion unit reporting directly to the prime minister. A Rough Sleepers Unit (RSU) was set up to coordinate the work of central government, local government and voluntary sector, substantial resources were granted, and innovate working practices were utilised including the controversial practice of ‘assertive outreach’. Clear targets were set, and the aim of reducing rough sleeping by two-thirds was achieved ahead of its target by Novemeber 2001. However, since 2010 homelessness has risen by 169% returning to levels last seen in the 1980s. This suggests a number of interpretations. Either the Labour government achieved something remarkable that has deep relevence to contemporary social policy, and has been squandered by subsequent administrations; or their programme, by failing to address the underlying roots of the issue, was no more than a temporary fix. This research intends to investigate how the ideology and public policy practices of New Labour shaped their interventions in homelesness, and the efficacy of the multiple interventions they undertook. At its core will be an extensive use of oral history, assertaining the perspectives of key players in government, the RSU and its voluntary sector partners and the  practitioners (outreach workers, hostel mangers, mental health professionals etc)who delivered the programme. Vitally, it seeks to access the voices of homeless people themselves to ensure that the views of those who were direct affected by Labour’s programme will be given their due prominance. 

Research Area

  • History

Publications

'Covid-19 and the End of Homelessness' - History Workshop Online, 3 August 2020. https://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/covid-19-the-end-of-homelessness/

'Pandemic Perspectives: A Call to Arms for the Humanities', Post-Pandemic University, 24 October 2020.  https://postpandemicuniversity.net/2020/10/24/pandemic-perspectives-a-call-to-arms-for-the-humanities/

Conferences

M4C digital conference, June 2021 (research relay), 'Homelessness, Empowerment and the Voluntary Sector under New Labour'.

Conference chair, Pandemic Perspectives 2021: 'Reflections on the Post Pandemic World' April 20 2021 

Institute of Historical Research 'Historylab' seminar series, 25th March 2021, presented and led end of seminar series rountable on PhD's under Covid-19 and work of Pandemic Perspectives group.

Housing and Communities Research Group CHASM Seminar series, 21 January 2021 (Paper) 'New Labour and Street Homelessness: Forgotten Social Policy Triumph or Failed Experiment?'

Institute of Historical Research 'Historylab' seminar series, 21 January 2021 (Paper) 'The Organisation, Politics and Representation of Squatting (1968-79): An Investigation into the Squatting Movement's failure'

M4C digital conference, July 2020 (research relay) 'Why did New Labour make a significant intervention in street homelessness? Why have their achievements been forgotten?'

BEAR Birmingham Research conference September 2020 (paper)

BRIC (Birmingham Research Institute) 'Humanities Lab' lecture series - led session presenting the work of the interdisciplinary group 'Pandemic Perspectives'. 


Public Engagement & Impact

In May 2020 I set up and continue to chair, 'Pandemic Perspectives', an interdisipinary online discussion group debating the impact of the covid 19 pandemic. The group consists of historians, philosophers, sociologists, political scientists and literature reasearchers. The group debates the impact of the pandemic on 'future history' - both thematically and from the perspective of our own specialisms. Debates have been fascinating and perspectives across different disciplines hugely enlightening. Core membership is made up of Post Graduate Researchers from Birmingham, Warwick and Edinburgh Universities, but has evolved into an international network of scholars debating the pandemic. Has met weekly online since May 2020 and is still expanding.
Launched and manage the 'Pandemic Perspectives' website August 2020 in which I chronicle the group's debates and contribute articles. http://pandemic-perspectives-uk.com/ 

Article on ethos and purpose of group, 'Pandemic Perspectives: A call to arms for the humanities', published in October 2020 by the Post-Pandemic University at https://postpandemicuniversity.net/2020/10/24/pandemic-perspectives-a-call-to-arms-for-the-humanities/

As member of the conference sub-committee for the inaugural Pandemic Perspectives Conference 'Pandemic Perspectives 2021: Reflections on the Post-Covid World', was part of the team responsible for producing the call to papers, selecting the speakers, planning the programme and publicising the event.

Acted as conference chair for the very successful conference on 20 April 2021. Event attracted high calibre keynote speakers (including Professor Kalypso Nicolaides of Oxford University), and a very impressive range of speakers across the full range of humanities disciplines. Pandemic Perspectives appears to be becoming a place where scholars from around the world (speakers at the conference were from Toronto, Hyderabad, Stockholm, Florence and Notre-Dame Universities) come to present their pandemic-related research 

I was lead applicant (although it was a group effort) on a successful CFD bid to M4C for funding to produce the conference transactions as a journal (both online and in print). Will oversee all aspects of publication process with a view to completion by November 2021.

Other Research Interests


Memberships

Social History Society

Oral History - History beyond the Academe

As a historian heavily influenced by Raphael Samuel and the History Workshop approach, I am interested both in the politics of historical knowledge and in taking history outside of the academe. To that end, I participated in a grass-roots oral history project on a West London football club in February/March. Delivered by the hugely impressive digital-works media group (http://www.digital-works.co.uk/) the full results are now posted online at http://www.pushupbrentford.org.uk/, and a documentary film was shown on NOW TV in 2020 and is available on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5huYAzz4i8 The full engagement of non-historians in the construction of the project and the subsequent validation of their life-experience made a powerful impression on me. As a supporter of the club, I was also interviewed for the project, and the experience deepened my understanding of both the construction of oral history projects and the conduct of oral history interviews which will inform my research. I highly recommed it!

Utopian Thought

I hold an abiding interest in utopian thought - in its political, literary and imagined community dimensions. I published a utopian novel, Sweden, in 2017, whose central conception is a society where wage labour value is calculated in direct proportion to its contribution to the collective good. Didn't sell many copies but am still convinced there's something in it! 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/SWEDEN-David-Christie-ebook/dp/B06XXMLGX3/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=david+christie+sweden&qid=1596456361&s=books&sr=1-1

Am preparing with a view to publication an essay written during my MA that evaluated the impact of Edward Bellamy's utopia, Looking Backward. Attend, and highly recommend, the Dystopia reading group chaired by Liam Knight (LJK930@student.bham.ac.uk). 

Squatting

MA Dissertation Squatting 1968-79.pdf

My Masters Degree dissertation was titled  'The Politics, Organisation and Representation of Squatting 1968-79'. I considered squatting to be an important 'forgotten' history that needed restoring to the historical record. I had squatted myself during the 1980s, obtaining my squat through the Advisory Services for Squatters whose newly-archived material formed the basis of my research. Squatting was widepread in the 1970s with 50,000 people estimated to be squatting in Britain, 30,000 in London alone. It was not only the scale of the movement I thought important, but I also considered squatting as a significant factor in the creation of the urban landscape, as an important radical grass-roots social movement, and the site of so much important cultural change from Gay Liberation squats in Brixton through Feminist Collectives experimenting with living outside patriarchy, to punk bands from The Clash to the anarcho-punks Crass. 

I expected my research to be celebratory, as my experience of squatting had been an empowering one, but the archive material led me in a different direction. My research highlighted the multipile faultlines within the squatting movement and the fissiparous internal politics that prevented it from holding together as a movement, leaving it powerless to respond to a full media-panic that irrevocably tarnished squatting's image from the mid-1970s onward. I suggest that this was typified by the contrasting aims of the two key squatter slogans 'Homes for all", and "No evictions", arguing that the first is a fundamentally social democratic aim that any left-wing government could seek to implement , and the second slogan calls for an end to the rule of law - or at least our conception of property rights and is therefore revolutionary in its implications. My gloomy conclusion led me to subtitle my research 'An investigation into the causes of the squatting movement's failure'. You may not agree. The research is attached and I would heartily welcome any comments.

Postcript: Squatting still continues, despite it being made a criminal offence in 2012. Squats are now more often in empty comercial properties (in the 1970s and 1980s it was vacant council stock), it is therefore more short-lived, and has once again become the site of political activism. Extinction Rebellion, for example, opened up a squat in the empty Ballet Rambere building in West London in 2019. Will squatting revive after coronavirus? Empty office buildings in every town after the rise of remote working? An exodus from the locked down cities leaving behind vacant townhouses? Join 'Pandemic Perspectives' to discuss!