24 Apr 2023 - 25 Apr 2023All dayOnline event



Niamh Mulcahy


  • Daniel Edmiston (Associate Professor of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds)
  • Mia Gray (Professor of Economic Geography and Fellow of Girton College, University of Cambridge)
  • Johnna Montgomerie (Professor of International Political Economy, King’s College London)
  • Andy Pike (Sir Henry Daysh Chair of Regional Development Studies, Newcastle University)


Cutting costs and minimising government spending have dominated economic policy around the world for over 40 years. From ‘Thatcherism’ and ‘Reaganomics’ in Anglo-America, to the ‘shock therapy’ applied in South America and post-communist Eastern Europe, or austerity measures implemented globally after the 2008 financial crisis, funding cuts are often justified as necessary to keep inflation down, reduce government spending, and so encourage industry to innovate as part of a nation’s economic regeneration.

This two-day online conference critically examines narratives of economic efficiency associated with cost-cutting paradigms, by thinking about externalised and overlooked costs of personal hardship and financial instability arising in economic austerity. Growing disparity and stark changes to life chances are often dismissed as a problem of personal circumstances or work ethic, with struggling households encouraged to manage their finances more efficiently, seek better jobs, and grow their savings to compensate for uncertainty. This conference aims to challenge this outlook by highlighting not only the links between economic policy and hardship, but focusing additionally on the ways that disparity damages economic regeneration with its own unexpected costs. These might include:

  • Skyrocketing household debt and diminished savings;
  • Increased pressure on social services from households in crisis;
  • Regional economies in decline, as people leave in search of better opportunities;
  • Reduced opportunities for advancement because of inadequate education and training programmes;
  • Deteriorating physical and mental health, alongside the cost to healthcare systems;
  • Declining life expectancy

Supported by:

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Call for papers

Does cost-cutting lead to economic efficiency?

Cuts to public spending have been a key feature in government budgets and political rhetoric around the world for over 40 years. They’re touted as money saving initiatives that spare future generations from repaying present debts, while enabling lower taxes in the meantime. They promise flourishing private enterprise alongside improved living conditions for households, as reductions in red tape help industry grow and create new jobs. They’re often tied to a normative outlook that seeks to get people back to work, rather than relying on government benefits, as part of a drive to cultivate independent, motivated citizens.

But cutting public investment in infrastructure and social support comes with its own costs that threaten to curtail economic growth and damage communities affected by financial insecurity and household hardship. This conference seeks abstracts from researchers working across a range of disciplines in the social sciences, which challenge narratives of economic efficiency by examining the economic, political and social costs of funding cuts. Topics might include, but are not limited to:

  • Struggling regional economies, as people relocate in search of better opportunities
  • Unmanageable levels of household debt, and the diminishment of personal savings
  • Costs of supporting households and communities in crisis
  • The effects of deprivation on physical and mental health, or the cost this incurs in healthcare systems
  • Socioeconomic and regional disparities in life expectancy
  • Reduced opportunities for advancement, due to inadequate education and training programmes
  • The effects of economic restructuring and “shock therapy” in Latin America or Eastern Europe
  • Attempts to “Level Up” regional inequalities in the UK after austerity, or “Build Back Better” in the United States

Please submit 200-word abstracts to Niamh Mulcahy, at nagm2@cam.ac.uk by 20 December 2022.

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Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk