Social impact bonds : the securitization of the homeless

Cooper, Christine and Graham, Cameron and Hinick, Darlene (2015) Social impact bonds : the securitization of the homeless. In: 11th Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Accounting Conference 2015, 2015-07-08 - 2015-07-10, Stockholm University.

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This paper examines the recent phenomenon of social impact bonds (SIBs). Social impact bonds are an attempt to marketize/financialize to some contemporary, intractable “social problems” (for example, homelessness and criminal recidivism). SIBs rely on a vast array of accounting technologies including budgets, future cash flows, discounting, performance measurement and auditing. As such, they represent a potentially powerful and problematic use of accounting to enact government policy. This paper contains a case study of the most recent in a series of SIBs, the London Homelessness SIB and St Mungo’s, a London-based charitable foundation. The case is designed to enable a critical reflection on the rationalities which underpin the SIB. For this, the paper draws upon Michel Foucault’s work on biopolitics and neo-liberalism. The SIB is thoroughly neoliberal in that it is constructed upon an assumption that there is no such thing as a social problem -- only individuals who fail; it transforms all participants in the bond, except the homeless themselves, into entrepreneurs. The homeless are securitised into the potential future cash flows of investors.