Debates about the welfare cuts, David Beckham's philosophical awakening, the future of literature and quotas for women business leaders head the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, which launches on Wednesday.

The theme this year is ‘Frontiers’, which explores how borders, boundaries and margins are being either challenged or reinforced around the world

Now in its sixth year, the Festival, which this year includes over 200 events for all ages and tastes, celebrates the rich contribution the arts, humanities and social sciences make to our culture and understanding of the world.

The theme this year is ‘Frontiers’, which explores how borders, boundaries and margins are being either challenged or reinforced around the world.

On 1 November, social welfare experts will debate whether the UK welfare system needs a radical reform to deal with the demands of our growing elderly population and whether the current cuts are justifiable.

Simon Szreter, Professor in History and Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, will argue that we are too focused on benefits recipients. He says the real change over the last decades has been the growth in tax avoidance and how that affects the money we have available to support our welfare system. Other speakers include Bill Davies of the Institute for Public Policy Research, Jeff Miley, a Lecturer in Political Sociology at the University of Cambridge, and Rory Meakin, Head of Tax Policy at the Taxpayers' Alliance.

Rory Meakin, who was a lead researcher to the 2020 Tax Commission, a joint initiative with the Institute of Directors, will argue in favour of the cuts. Jeff Miley will argue against. He said: “The cuts are not likely to achieve the putative goal of decreasing 'dependence' among the unemployed and low paid. On the contrary, the restriction of welfare benefits is likely to generate perverse social consequences and unintended costs – making Britain a less equal, less just, and even less stable society.” The event will be chaired by political journalist Gaby Hinsliff.

2013 is the centenary of the birth of the great French-Algerian writer, thinker, and goalkeeper, Albert Camus, author of The Outsider and The Plague. And it is the year in which David Beckham, footballing legend, played for Paris-Saint-Germain – and encountered the French intellectual tradition for the first time.

Dr Andy Martin, author of The Boxer and the Goalkeeper: Sartre vs Camus and French lecturer at the University of Cambridge, will speak about a blog he has written about the existential adventures of Beckham, Becks in Paris (http://becksinparis.tumblr.com/), in which football meets philosophy head on. His talk entitled ‘Becksistentialism’ takes place on 26 October.

Is now the most exciting time to be a writer and reader? Is digital technology allowing writers to break down boundaries as never before or are publishers more cautious as funding is syphoned from books to games and multimedia storytelling? Award-winning author MJ Hyland, digital publisher Dan Franklin, literary agent Rachel Calder and critically acclaimed writer Trevor Byrne will debate these questions on 31st October at Mill Lane Lecture Rooms. The event will be chaired by Alex Ruczaj and Leigh Chambers, radio hosts of Cambridge 105's 'Bookmark' programme.

Daniel Franklin said: “Now that digital reading is a mainstream activity, writers and publishers can explore new ways of telling stories where the medium and format can actually shape and influence the content itself. What are the opportunities when the digital medium and the message are so interdependent, and what new kinds of creativity are being unleashed? Is there a risk that book publishers crossing into games and multimedia storytelling means that too much energy is being invested in the Emperor’s New Clothes? Or is it actually an era of breaking down boundaries and the most exciting time to be a writer and reader ever?”

On 29 October, Dr Jude Browne will examine how we should allocate positions of power in today’s corporate sector during her public talk, ‘Corporate boards, female quotas and political theory’.

Other issues being debated at the Festival include Europe, immigration, the impact of conspiracy theories on history and whether rappers or poets make better lyricists. The Festival is also teeming with theatrical performances, comedy, poetry, music and film screenings as well as a range of exhibitions and interactive events for children and families.

Speakers include Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury; artist Quentin Blake; writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg; George the poet; leading academics ranging from David Reynolds and Noreena Hertz to Mary Beard, Anthony Giddens and Richard Evans; journalist Michael White; columnist Owen Jones; teen writer Anthony McGowan; and Paralympian Claire Harvey.

The Festival is sponsored by Barclays, Cambridge University Press and Anglia Ruskin University, who also organise events during the Festival. Event partners include Heffers Classics Festival, University of Cambridge Museums, RAND Europe, the Goethe-Institut London and the Junction. The Festival's media partner is BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and its hospitality partner is Cambridge City Hotel.

For more information about the Festival of Ideas, please visit: www.cam.ac.uk/festival-of-ideas

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