Many people migrate to another country to earn a decent income and to attain a better standard of living. But my recent research shows that across all destinations and generations studied, many migrants from Turkey to European countries are financially worse off than those who stayed at home. (more…)
On October 5th, Jess Phillips MP gave the Policy & Politics Annual Lecture in the University’s Wills Memorial Hall. (more…)
By Beth Tarleton and Gillian MacIntyre
The lives of parents with learning disabilities have been given increasing attention by policy makers and practitioners in recent years and there has been a growing awareness of their particular support needs and the barriers they face in parenting their children. (more…)
Some young people could avoid becoming homeless if they had the opportunity to reside in an independent living unit situated in their household garden. This was the finding of a recent study by members of the Children and Families Research Centre, working in partnership with the youth homelessness organisation 1625 Independent People. (more…)
By James Garbutt
When it comes to managing type 2 diabetes, there are lots of extreme diets out there with passionate advocates. Avoid carbs! Reduce fat! Restrict calories! However, researching the effects of diet on health in terms of single nutrient changes can be misleading. (more…)
Around the world, the activism of Black women has been instrumental in shaping social justice agendas and promoting human rights. Their work has improved the health and welfare of women and girls, protected the environment and elevated the voices of the oppressed, both in their communities and further afield. (more…)
The co-authors of this contribution are members of the Bristol Civic Leadership Research Project: David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies at the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol; Robin Hambleton, Emeritus Professor of City Leadership at the University of the West of England, Bristol; and Thom Oliver, Associate Lecturer, University of the West of England, Bristol.
In a referendum on 5 May 2022, the citizens of Bristol will make an important decision about the way our city is governed. (more…)
Natasha Carver is a lecturer in International Criminology at the School for Policy Studies and a member of the specialist research institute Migration Mobilities Bristol. Carver wrote the 2012 report “The Right Man for Bristol?” Gender Representation and the Mayor of Bristol.
Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, illuminates a succession of horrific crimes committed by one man against his children and his wife. Its publication in the UK in 2003 coincided with the passage of the Child Rights Act in Nigeria. Reading Purple Hibiscus against this policy and legal backdrop raises numerous questions about child welfare policies and practices in Nigeria.
To discuss the child welfare implications of this book the School for Policy Studies held an event seeking to explore the parenting and child welfare policy and practice implications raised by Purple Hibiscus within an emerging child rights era in Nigeria.
Blog by Ms Olatoun Gabi-Williams (Founder of Borders Literature for all Nations, Lagos, Nigeria)
“Situating Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus in the Child Welfare Policy Context in Nigeria”. This is the title the organisers gave to this seminar which centres a deeply troubled fictional family living under military rule in 1980s Nigeria. Key elements of the seminar were: a reading of a novel excerpt which puts the violent hysteria of the immensely wealthy and influential family patriarch on display, my own review of the novel, and a panel discussion.
The review provides the justification for the meeting of child welfare stakeholders from Nigeria with our peers at Bristol’s School for Policy Studies which took place on Wednesday, 27th October 2021. Viewers will recognise in the Achike’s family crisis, a crisis that has its roots in a time that pre-exists the family – the colonial mission school the father attended as a child. By the end of the seminar, child welfare stakeholders were reminded of the mandate of social work in any situation involving the violation of child rights: the protection of these rights – now made possible in Nigeria by the passage of the Child Rights Act 2003. It has been adopted by over 24 states in a nation of 36.
This seminar was deeply concerned with the dangers colonial legacies may pose to the human rights of children in families. Their rights to life/survival, to development, to protection, to participation in the world around them and to dignity. Mindful of the African family structure with its strong inter-generational links, mindful of how inherited patterns of thought can function like generational curses in a family, a community, a nation, the seminar brought into focus the novel’s atomic vision of brokenness in a parent begetting brokenness in his dependents and it forces a reckoning with this peculiar brokenness which begets its own chain of brokenness.
The seminar was framed in the spirit of two inextinguishable uprisings, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth which attests to a direct link between mental disease in Africa and the colonisation of Africa and Decolonizing the Mind by Kenyan author, Ngugi wa Thiong’o which examines the politics of language, the premier weapon of epistemic violence wielded by imperial forces. With its gaze turned towards the tyrannies of europatriarchal and afro patriarchal knowledge, the seminar also channelled the spirit of Swedish/Nigerian feminist, Minna Salami, whose Sensuous Knowledge, is a pioneering work of epistemology.
But if the spirit of decoloniality is burning here, so too are questions about parenting: the panel examined the social exclusion wrought not by poverty but by wealth underlined by colonial attitudes; the panel shone a light on a Nigerian/ African/ global demographic that ought to be too rich and too famous to parent their children under the radar but that is exactly where the rich and powerful have been parenting: off the social work grid, out of sight, behind the high, fortified walls of their homes.
Dr. Tayo Ajirotutu of Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Lagos and Tunde Koleoso, Rtd. Assistant Director of Social Welfare at Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development were my colleagues on the panel. While we were able to address a few of the questions [from my moderator’s script published on BORDERS, a publicity platform and journal for the African book industry], here is a distillation of important research questions:
How prepared is the mental health care system of Nigeria, a former colony, to provide interventions for Eugene Achike’s condition?
Does the Nigerian mental health care system possess the approaches and resources for intervening in cases like that of Achike’s wife and children who are casualties of a lifetime of violence perpetrated by the family patriarch?
In this era of universal child rights, how much social work in our communities involves the children of the rich and powerful?
In this era of universal child rights, how much literature in childhood studies, social policy studies, family policy studies and social work practice is dedicated to the rich and powerful?
If it were discovered that the rights of the children of a rich and powerful family have been violated in this era of child rights laws, does the existing child welfare system have the resources to intervene effectively and to protect the child?
How have the real-life mission school contemporaries of the fictional Eugene Achike, (octogenarians today) raised their own children? [Type of education, enforcement of discipline, prohibitions, emphases, the language and culture of the home in post-colonial Nigeria]
How did the children of mission schools who rose (like Eugene Achike) to positions of leadership in political life and industry, raise their children? [Type of education, enforcement of discipline, prohibitions, emphases, the language and culture of the home in post-colonial Nigeria]
This week, Dr Natasha Mulvihill, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and researcher at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research in the School for Policy Studies, is launching an anonymised online survey to investigate experiences of ‘rough sex’. She introduces here the context and aims of the research.
‘Rough sex’ refers broadly to aggressive physical or degrading acts during sex. In recent public and popular discourse in the UK, the term has been used commonly in two contexts. The first is to refer to consenting sexual practices following the Fifty Shades trilogy, published by E.L. James over 2011-2012. The second refers to instances of death, usually involving a female victim and male perpetrator, and commonly following asphyxiation, beating or injuries through penetration. In the second case, ‘rough sex’ is an inaccurate euphemism, as such acts represent sexual violence, manslaughter and homicide.
Beyond these two examples, lived experiences of ‘rough sex’ may be better understood on a spectrum, with the line sometimes misjudged between consensual rough sex and sexual violence and abuse.
In a research project commencing this week, I am seeking to understand individual experiences of unwanted ‘rough sex’ – however defined by participants – which occurred within the context of consensual sex, but which the participant felt at the time or later was non-consensual, harmful or upsetting. The research invites participants across different identities of gender, age and sexuality and recognises different contexts of sexual relations, including one-off encounters and short-, medium- and long-term relationships. It recognises too, and welcomes comment on, the limitations of the term ‘rough sex’.
The impact of Fifty Shades is disputed. It is celebrated by some for catalysing popular acceptance of, and engagement in, consensual BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadism, submission, masochism); and by others castigated for promoting unsafe practice, commodifying and mass-marketing kink, and sexualising an essentially abusive relationship (see, for further discussion, Bonomi et al, 2013).
Downing (2012) argues that the non-sexual behaviour of one of the book’s protagonists, Christian, is far more “sinister” (2012, p.99) than the exposition of what happens intimately between the couple. She is concerned here to separate sexual practices from normative assessments of character: a fair concern given how, historically, society has stigmatised sexual activity which falls outside of a heteronormative and reproductive template. Yet from a coercive control perspective, it could be argued that the protagonist’s sexual behaviour is entirely consistent with his wider techniques of emotional, psychological and physical control. So, the insight here is that it is not what happens within a relationship or encounter, so much as what it means to each of those involved – albeit recognising from inside when behaviour is harmful, rather than as an external observer, is not always easy.
The second context relates to where the defendant in a criminal trial claims that a victim’s death occurred through sexual ‘misadventure’ or ‘accidental injury’. The campaigning group We Can’t Consent to This and the Centre for Women’s Justice have been at the forefront of documenting the stories of victims, and seeking a change in the law to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence cannot retrospectively represent their harmful actions as consensual ‘erotic play’. Campaigning and research led to specific amendments to the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (England and Wales), namely:
- Section 70 of the Act makes non-fatal strangulation an offence in its own right
- Section 71 of the Act states that “it is not a defence that the victim consented to the infliction of the serious harm for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification”
It remains to be seen how effectively these offences will be enforced in practice or whether sexual violence packaged as ‘rough sex’ (or the threat of repeating previous episodes of rough sex) is sufficiently recognised by police and prosecutors as part of the repertoire of perpetrators of coercive control (Weiss and Palmer, 2022).
It is likely that experiences of unwanted rough sex broadly are reasonably common and under-disclosed. Indeed, in 2019, a BBC survey revealed high prevalence, particularly in the female under 40 age group, and low police reporting. In common with other sexually harmful experiences, disclosure may be inhibited by embarrassment, shame and confusion about what happened, especially when it occurs within what began as a consensual encounter.
While there is some evidence to suggest that exposure to sexually explicit material online is associated with either a desire to, or an engagement in, ‘rough sex’, the directionality and nature of the relationship continues to be disputed (see, for example, Vogels and O’Sullivan, 2019), as does the assumption that individuals will, through ongoing exposure, come to conflate consensual rough sex and sexual violence. The consumption by young people of sexually explicit material which mainstreams rough sex practices is thought to be a more compelling concern, since their sexual scripts are still in development (see, for further discussion, Wright, Herbenick and Tokunaga, 2021), including their understanding of active and ongoing consent.
Using an anonymous online survey, this research study therefore aims to understand:
- The experiences and contexts of unwanted ‘rough sex’, where study respondents feel, either at the time or subsequently, were harmful to them, physically, sexually or psychologically
- The impact of that experience(s)
- Whether, why (not) and how respondents sought support, advice or justice for what they had experienced and what happened next?
- The respondents’ broader feelings about ‘rough sex’, its nature and prevalence
- What respondents would like to see in terms of, for example, political, media, criminal justice, cultural or educative interventions, to both prevent future harmful experiences of unwanted ‘rough sex’ and to secure accountability or recognition for what happened to them
It is hoped that this work will inform work with police and criminal justice professionals and practitioners working in support services, including with young people and the production of free online briefings to raise awareness and improve practice.
Participation in the survey is entirely voluntary and can be completed by anyone aged over 18, although participants may refer to experiences under 18. It is open from Monday 7 February 2022 to Friday 29 April 2022.
Sources of support:
Blog by Dr Vicky Canning, Senior Lecturer, School for Policy Studies
The acknowledgement that asylum systems across Europe are “hostile environments” for migrant groups has increased in academic and practitioner consciousness, particularly in the aftermath of the 2015 refugee reception crisis. However, although the impacts of socio-political hostilities on migrants are well documented, little has been written about the implications of border restrictions on practitioners working with refugee populations. Research led by Vicky Canning, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the School for Policy Studies, expands the focus of hostilities to consider the variable impacts of intensified bordering practices on this group.
Based on qualitative research which included 74 interviews undertaken across Britain, Denmark, and Sweden (2016–2018), the research outlines the experiences of practitioners working with refugee populations. It highlights that increasingly restrictive or punitive approaches to immigration have had multiple negative effects on practitioners working in this sector. This has potential for longer term negative impacts on practitioners, but also – importantly – refugee populations who require various forms of legal aid, or social and psychological support.
Working with refugee groups can be a fundamentally complex task. Whilst roles differ (such as lawyers, psychologists, or advocates and support workers), the experiences of people seeking asylum or living as refugees can impact on people supporting them in various ways. Likewise, the working conditions of practitioners is often reflected in the standard of care that they are able to offer when supporting people with complex lives, refugees and survivors of violence and persecution in particular. Vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue are two of the most commonly cited problems in working in this area.
Emotional and Workplace Impacts on Practitioners
Interviews with practitioners indicate concerning additions to these potential problems: increasingly restrictive or punitive approaches to immigration which have had multiple effects on practitioners working in this sector. Indeed, one stark issue highlighted through interviews with lawyers, psychologists, detention custody officers, and support workers is that they felt their ability to effectively perform their own role well has been compromised. Some indicated increasing levels of stress and, in Sweden in particular (a strong state centric welfare model), a decreased faith in state and state decisions. Terms such as ‘powerless’ and ‘stress’ were included in responses to questions about the impacts of escalated harms in asylum – in particular that practitioners did not feel they could support people seeking asylum whilst they are being held in an indefinite state of uncertainty or crisis.
Practitioners found that changes in legislation or ‘rules’ meant that they constantly had to change their own approaches. Keeping up to date with the workings of the asylum process is increasingly difficult at a time when laws and policies are changing regularly, and thus affecting the rights or welfare entitlements that people seeking asylum can access. This is particularly difficult for people who are working with refugee groups as a means to providing humanitarian assistance, as they find themselves in positions where they are implementing laws they cannot agree with. For example, an employee of a humanitarian organisation working at Center Sandholm indicated, ‘I find it really, really difficult, this neutrality, impartiality concept, and increasingly so. Every time we have to enforce new, stricter rules that have only been put in place to put pressure on people [to leave]’.
Practitioners working with survivors of trauma or sexual violence raised concerns about their client’s inability to focus on therapy, counselling or integration programmes due to risk of dispersal or other exacerbations of illnesses. People seeking asylum can be more concerned with pressing issues arising in the immediate future, such as the threat of homelessness, fear of detention or deportation, or concern for family and friends still residing in areas of conflict or migrating across borders.
An integration project co-ordinator working in Denmark argued that, ‘it will only get worse. I mean there’s a culture of celebrating obstacles that we can put in people’s place… I mean unashamedly celebrating making it hard for people to access asylum and protective status’. This prediction – recorded in summer of 2018 – has proved accurate. By the end of the year the Danish People’s Party and the Venstre-led government announced new restrictions in the Finance Act 2019 which directly aim to reduce opportunities for integration of migrants and people seeking asylum and instead push toward deportations and enforced removals (Clante Bendixen, 2019). This includes a significant change relating to integration, as the term itself is no longer used in relation to asylum, as focus has changed to accelerating deportation.
The Trend Towards Disempowerment
Practitioners also highlighted feelings and experiences which ranged from sadness or upset to disempowerment and hopelessness. For people working in a deportation centre in Denmark, there was dismay at the lack of clarity regarding the expectations of their role and that their participation did not always have a positive impact,
‘I had days when I went home thinking that today I was definitely a part of the problem, not the solution, today my presence here was a band aid at best but the patient’s haemorrhaging and I’m not actually doing what I’m supposed to be doing.’
In some places, the limits to the support that practitioners are able to provide are not only affected by economic resources, but also managerial and policy decisions on what is or is not allowed. As one nurse in an immigration detention centre reflected, ‘You want to do more than you are allowed; you are not allowed to’.
The emotional effects of seeing people living in avoidable and degrading circumstances are also clear. Many felt that cuts to staffing or services reduced their ability to offer adequate support, as one women’s support worker in Scotland indicated, ‘It really is crippling ‘cause we can’t meet the needs. Literally turning people away every day who are in crisis, so that is awful’. Shortly after this interview, in 2016, the interviewee contacted me to say their role had been removed. To date, it has not been replaced.
Likewise, others disclosed feelings of discomfort at increasingly being part of a system or structure that they had not set out to work in. People spoke of their jobs being reduced from support to ‘managing expectations’ for people seeking asylum and of bureaucracy superseding their capacity to provide support. For example, a custody officer in a Swedish immigration detention centre felt the shifts in law were removing her from the humanitarian approach she had tried to embed in her practice: ‘they [detainees] assume that I am working for the evil government. They think that I don’t see them as human beings, living … I think it’s horrible’.
Finally, this research found that impacts on practitioners are exacerbated by increasing mistrust between people seeking asylum and governmental and non-governmental organisations, particularly in the UK and Sweden.
For others, the emotional impacts of the degradation of people seeking asylum were palpable, as a social worker in the North West of England suggests:
‘Sometimes we need to separate our feelings away from the client, but for the first time since I have worked in this field I felt as if I was about to cry when I went to the hospital because I’ve never seen somebody who has been neglected by the system like this woman I came across, because you don’t treat people like this, this is unacceptable in 21st century Britain’.
Practitioners often alluded to a loss of faith in humanitarianism in their respective states. One torture rehabilitation director remarked that, ‘they’re testing this unfortunately, a social experiment, how far they can get with their whip’, whilst a barrister in London questioned the rationale of governmental agendas, asking ‘Even if you accept the premise that migration is a problem and needs to be reduced, why don’t you wait to see what the last set of bad laws did before you bring in the next of the bad laws?’.
In Sweden, a typically state centric nation, the impacts of this increasing mistrust was strengthened with the introduction of the REVA Project – a collaboration between Swedish Police, the Migration Agency and prison service which targets people suspected of living illegally in Sweden so as to speed up detection and deportation – and which has received subsequent criticism for racism (see Barker, 2017; European Parliament, 2013).
Migrant groups and practitioners are therefore left in precarious positions: anyone without documentation or who is awaiting the outcome of an asylum claim may be subject to arrest and possible detention or deportation, whilst some practitioners simultaneously lose faith in governmental agendas and face reduced capacity to undertake their role due to external pressures.
The nationality and borders bill, now in the House of Lords for readings after being debated for only nine minutes in the House of Commons, will inevitably continue this trend, creating an ever more hostile environment towards migrants and in which practitioners working with refugee populations have to operate, a trend Dr Canning has critiqued elsewhere as degradation by design.
 The former relates to experiencing emotional or psychological distress based on hearing or responding to trauma experienced by others (Barrington and Shakespeare-Finch, 2013). The latter refers to the emotional implications which can develop for people working at the frontline of response to trauma or other social problems, but feel restricted in their ability to do so due to exhaustion or burnout (Ray et al, 2013).
This blog is based on research and analysis presented here:
“Substituted parenting” What does this mean in the family court?
We aim to be in a position to answer this question by the end of our 18-month project (April 2023) and are extremely grateful to the Nuffield Foundation for providing the funding and support that will enable us to do so.
Published family court judgments show that the expression ‘substituted parenting’ is often used during care proceedings in cases involving parents with learning disabilities and tends to result in the children being permanently removed from their families.
The term appears to be being used by local authorities when the support they have identified as necessary for the parents is extensive. They say the high level of support required equates to substituted parenting which is detrimental as it confuses children as to who is the parent. Since most parents with learning disabilities are likely to need long-term support, this approach risks becoming a discriminatory blanket policy.
Where has this term come from? What is the research evidence base for the concept and its conclusion that ‘substituted parenting’ or parenting by others is necessarily detrimental to a child’s welfare? What level of support is regarded as substituted parenting? Is it / should it be a matter of how much support is provided or, instead, should the question be how that support is provided?
Experienced family court lawyers are unclear how the use of this term has developed, ”… appears to be becoming an ‘orthodoxy’” or the ‘default position’ (Senior barristers – email).
“… the family would need … support throughout the children’s waking hours. That would be substituted parenting, not support.” A Local Authority v G (Parent with Learning Disability) (Rev 1) .
“Whether the situation I have described could or indeed should be described as “substituted parenting” is a matter for others to decide… In the absence of a clear description of the dynamic that defines what substituted parenting is …” HHJ Greensmith in PQR (Supported Parenting For Learning Disabled Parents) (Rev 1) .
It is this absence of a clear definition – and the dire consequences that follow a finding of substituted parenting i.e. removal of the child – that prompted our bid for funding to clarify what social workers, lawyers and judges mean by the term ‘substituted parenting’ and how it is applied in care proceedings involving parents with learning disabilities.
Our project aims to establish clarity, consistency and transparency in the understanding and application of the term by the family courts and to highlight good practice, where it exists.
Background to the project
All parents are entitled to support from the state to carry out their parenting responsibilities. So say the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Care Act 2014 specifically includes parenting responsibilities as one of the eligibility factors for support and the central ethos of the Children Act 1989 is that children are best raised by their families, where possible, with local authority functions designed to provide support to the children and families.
The first edition of the Good Practice Guidance on working with parents with a learning disability (2007), published by the Department of Health and the Department for Skills and Education, emphasised the right to support, drawing heavily on the work by Beth Tarleton and colleagues in 2006, Finding the Right Support.
The 2016 and 2021 updates of the Good Practice Guidance by the Working Together with Parents Network did likewise.
And yet, despite this clear, rights-based foundation, cases were continually being reported where parents with learning disabilities were having their children permanently removed as they were unable to parent them safely without the right (or, in many cases, any) support.
In 2016, we started sending emails to the office of the President of the Family Division, highlighting published family court judgments showing local authorities’ routine failure to apply the principles of the Good Practice Guidance, when working with these families.
In April 2018, the then President, Sir James Munby issued guidance:
‘My primary purpose in issuing this Guidance is to bring to the attention of practitioners and judges, and to commend for careful consideration and application by everyone, the very important “Good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability” issued by the Working Together with Parents Network and the Norah Fry Centre in September 2016.’ Family Proceedings: Parents with a Learning Disability | Courts and Tribunals Judiciary
Almost overnight, the right to support began to be acknowledged by local authorities and their proposals scrutinised by the family courts.
‘ …Following the court’s request for additional evidence from the local authority including evidence of how the guidelines in respect of parents with a learning disability had been followed and direct evidence from the independent reviewing officer (in the form of a statement confirming her position in the light of the new evidence), the local authority reviewed its position’.
‘…The court is confident that this package of support …meets the obligations of the local authority to follow the Good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability (2007) revised September 2016 (The Guidelines) (Recognising the Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO))  EWFC B71 (08 November 2018)
It was all going so well… And then, we started receiving reports of cases in which local authorities confirmed that the necessary support had been identified and could be provided, but went on to assert that, such support would amount to substituted parenting, which was detrimental to the child’s welfare and so the child needed to be permanently removed.
We began to look into this concept of ‘substituted parenting’. We tried to find out where it came from, what level of support was considered to tip the balance from acceptable to unacceptable, whether costs and timescales were factors. We checked the literature, and we asked the academics and practitioners. We couldn’t find the information. ‘Good question’, they said.
We scrutinised published judgments, looking for mention of any analysis of the risk that the proposed support would amount to substituted parenting, and any options considered to address/reduce/eliminate that risk. We couldn’t find that either.
This project started 1st November 2021 and runs until April 2023. The timing couldn’t be better for us as the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has just released his report on the need for greater transparency in the Family Court: Confidence and Confidentiality: Transparency in the Family Courts and has confirmed that transparency will be a key priority for him over the next three years:
‘… it is legitimate for the public to know of these judgments [family court cases], to provide a basis for trust in the soundness of the court’s approach and its decisions, or to establish a ground for concern in that regard.’
’It is the case that the Family Court is currently not sufficiently transparent even to those, in particular the judges and the social work professionals, who are working within it. Educational opportunities are thereby being missed.’
Since the family courts are not open to the public, we depend on published judgments for finding out how care proceedings involving parents with learning disabilities are in fact being dealt with. Any move towards greater transparency, in terms of the number of judgments published and the level of information contained within them, can only lead to better and more consistent practices and thereby improved confidence in the fairness of the family justice system.
We very much look forward to speaking with the social workers, lawyers and judges involved in working with parents with learning disabilities in the care proceedings context. We look forward to being able to highlight good practices found in the course of the study and to establishing consensus, clarity, and consistency as to the meaning of the term ‘substituted parenting’, and transparency as to its application by the family courts.
We particularly look forward to working with our Advisory Group of parents with learning disabilities. They will help to ensure that the findings of our study can be made widely available to parents with learning disabilities and in such a way that parents will be able to understand what is meant by the risk of support being considered to be ‘substituted parenting’, the significance of such a risk and, most importantly, how to avert that risk, where possible.
Because, in the much-quoted words of Baroness Hale in a landmark adoption case, “nothing else will do”.
This project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit www.nuffieldfoundation.org.
Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blog posts looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.
In this post, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explores how research from the Centre for Gender and Violence is addressing inequalities and tackling gender-based violence. (more…)
Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blog posts looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.
In this post, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explores how research in the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research is making smart city innovation more inclusive. (more…)
Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blog posts looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.
In this post, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explains how research in the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies is helping to tackle inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities. (more…)
Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blogs posts looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.
In this post, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explores how research in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health is helping to make physical activity guidelines more inclusive. (more…)
‘Social differentiation in later life: The 2nd UK-Japan international collaborative workshop exploring the interaction between (housing) wealth and retirement’
By Misa Izuhara, Professor of Social Policy
Who supports you in your transition to retirement? Is it the state, your employer or are you left to yourself to manage? Do you have sufficient financial resources including your own home to choose when to retire? Do you need to have paid work or will you look for different social participation such as volunteering after retirement? The process of retirement is becoming more complex and differentiated in terms of timing and financial resources. Active ageing policies in many advanced economies encourage older workers to remain in the labour market. However, the reasons and opportunities to do so depend on both market and institutions (e.g. retirement age, social security, attitudes of employers) as well as individual capital (e.g. health, skills, financial resources).
After a long break from the first workshop in Tokyo due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we re-convened via an online platform to explore those questions at the second collaborative international workshop on 17th September 2021. This workshop is part of the UK-Japan collaborative project ‘Social Differentiation in Later Life: Exploring the interaction between housing wealth and retirement in Japan and the UK’ which brings together scholars and stakeholders with the different disciplinary backgrounds of social policy, economics and management to examine the relationship between housing wealth and the extending working life of ageing baby-boomers in the contrasting welfare systems of the UK and Japan.
Five papers were presented covering inter-related themes:
- Matt Flynn (University of Hull) talked about older workers’ mid-career job change in the UK and Japan and how institutional structures like internal and external labour markets; regulations; unions and jobseeker support facilitate and/or inhibit older jobseekers in their pursuit of meaningful second careers. Using Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach and illustrating his arguments using interview data of older jobseekers in the two countries, he discussed how older jobseekers were able to mobilise resources to make a successful job change. He concluded by noting that people who leave the Armed Forces after the age of 50 in order to pursue a civilian career might be a useful case study for comparing the experiences of people making mid-career job changes across different countries.
- Jo Stokes (Community Services Manager, Age UK Bristol) highlighted the importance of a holistic approach to retirement in her presentation “What have we learnt from Post-Retirement Opportunities (PRO) programme”. PRO was a project, delivered by LinkAge Network in 2018-19, supporting people who had recently retired, were approaching retirement, or facing redundancy in later life to manage the transition from work to retirement. The programme delivered free workshops, events and work placements to help older workers explore opportunities and discover what they wanted from the next phase of their life. This presentation argued the importance of social participation and connections for older people beyond paid work in their post-retirement age and the role of the voluntary sector supporting the process.
- Widening wealth inequalities within and between generations was the theme of the following two presentations. Drawing on the data from the Japan Household Panel Survey, Shinichiro Iwata (Kanagawa University) and Junya Hamaaki (Hosei University) examined the impact of unpredicted shocks to house prices on labour supply decisions among older homeowners. They found that Japanese older homeowners tended to remain in the labour market even when they experienced house price inflation. Instead of leaving the labour market, older workers tended to reduce their working hours. However, such practice differs by income level and employment status since reduced hours are only observed among older men in regular employment with a high income and women in non-regular employment. The presentation raised further questions regarding the use of housing wealth in later life including the availability and actual use of equity release schemes.
- While the Japan paper discussed the impact of the economic crisis on house prices, James Smith (The Resolution Foundation) revealed the uneven impact of the COVID-19 crisis on wealth accumulation between households and between generations. The COVID-19 crisis is the first UK recession in 70 years in which wealth has increased but these gains are concentrated among households at the top of the income distribution. This partly reflects the effect on active changes in households’ savings and debt, varied by age but also by the labour market experiences and personal circumstances of individuals. For example, younger people without children were most likely to report that their savings increased during the pandemic (‘forced savings’ given the lockdown restrictions on social consumption). But changes in the value of household wealth were more affected by changing asset prices than by active changes in savings and debt. UK house prices are up around 10 per cent and equities are more than 20 per cent higher. These asset price increases drove an even larger intergenerational wedge in wealth shock. During the pandemic, adults aged 55 and older accrued 63 per cent (£559 billion) of the total increase in British household wealth (£900 billion). By contrast, those aged 20-40 accounted for just 13 per cent (£117 billion) of the total wealth rise. These large, and generationally uneven, increases in wealth mean that the picture of stalled wealth progress for younger cohorts is unlikely to come unstuck anytime soon. By way of inheritances, they are also likely to exacerbate absolute wealth gaps within younger generations, which we expect to open up in future.
- Brian Beach from University College London (formerly International Longevity Centre, UK) presented three pieces of comparative work between Japan and the UK in relation to ageing. The first example covered work published in Ageing & Society, which included seven advanced economies and examined policies related to pensions and retirement and their relationship to labour market participation in later life. Scored across four dimensions each for early retirement and later retirement, Japan and the UK were quite similar in their scores, despite having very different rates of employment among older people. This may suggest that cultural factors related to work play a significant role, above that of policy.
The second example covered a fact-finding study in Japan in May 2017, which highlighted different initiatives to address wellbeing and healthy ageing. Genki-zukuri (health creation) stations are one community-based approach in Yokohama that helps older people set up, develop, and run health-based activities and exercises. Days BLG!, in Machida City, was also featured for its innovative approach to providing day care to people with mild and moderate dementia. With links to local businesses and organisations, the service ensures that participants are engaged according to their capacity, with the group reflecting on their activities at the end of each day.
The third example highlighted the work from the UK-Japan SWAN project (Social relationships and Wellbeing in Ageing Nations). The importance of social connections for wellbeing and other outcomes in later life cannot be underestimated, but challenges appear when conducting comparative analyses in the social realm due to the complexity of measuring social connections. The critical message from this work is that people from different groups, backgrounds, or cultures may view the exact same question differently; ignoring this potential difference risks drawing invalid conclusions from comparative work exploring best practice in policy.
The presentations brought together different issues associated with ageing and work such as work-related transitions, post-retirement opportunities, and widening wealth inequalities, which generated lively discussion among the panellists and participants. Retirement processes and decisions are often not experienced or made independently from one another. The workshop indeed highlighted the dynamic interactions between (housing) wealth and retirement trajectories and decisions. Moreover, we drew interesting comparisons by exploring the topics between Japan and the UK since institutions (social security, retirement age), the housing and labour markets as well as cultural factors related to work and home ownership combine to produce differentiated practices of late career transitions and retirements.
This international project is funded by the UK Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) UK-Japan Connections Grant. The Principal Investigator is Professor Misa Izuhara, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, UK. The project members include Professor Shinichiro Iwata (Co-I) (Kanagawa University, Japan), Professor Matthew Flynn (Hull University), Professor Junya Hamaaki (Hosei University, Japan) and Professor Atsuhiro Yamada (Keio University, Japan).
Misa Izuhara, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol (E: M.Izuhara@bristol.ac.uk, T: @MisaIzuhara)
Blog by Doug Cooley, winner of the Policy & Politics 2021 postgraduate prize to the student achieving the highest overall mark on the ‘Power, Politics and the Policy Process’ unit of the Masters in Public Policy at the School for Policy Studies.
Originally published on the Policy and Politics Blog.
I’m Doug Cooley, and have just finished a one-year Masters in Public Policy at the University of Bristol, home to the Policy & Politics journal. I hope to use this MPP as a basis to conduct future academic or practical policy work. During the year, I have focussed my research on various theoretical concepts, including policy transfer, and power structures in the policy process, applying these concepts to neoliberal mechanisms in the Global Financial System, and to the UK’s local governance structures. I am delighted to have won the Policy & Politics prize for achieving the highest overall mark on the unit ‘Power, Politics and the Policy Process’ as part of the MPP programme.
In this post, I highlight a piece of my work which explores the link between policy transfer, which I define as replication of policy instruments between polities, and institutional isomorphism, or the convergence of organisational structures and governance mechanisms. The relative lack of literature on the link is surprising, given how intuitively similar these ideas are, and the different normative connotations of the two concepts. Policy transfer emphasises the benefits of learning between polities, whereas institutional isomorphism is seen as a constraining influence on innovation.
I posit, building on Radaelli (2002), that there may be a complex interconnectedness between policy transfer and institutional isomorphism. I explore this both theoretically, and empirically through the lens of central banking, and suggest this might be an avenue for future research. As Frumkin and Galaskiewicz (2004) argue, it seems likely that policy transfer can result in institutional isomorphism, for example where public sector organisations work together to develop a joint response in times of upheaval.
Furthermore, a reverse causal relationship is also apparent: in line with Stone (2001), the influence of international institutions has caused similar government bodies in different polities to look more and more alike, which has engendered convergence in the actual policies implemented by these institutions.
Comparing central banking structures is a valuable avenue for exploring the link between these two concepts. Marcussen (2005) focussed on central bank independence as an example of policy convergence, whereby, through the 1990s many central banks were structurally reformed, being granted increased independence from political influence. Moreover, there was remarkable alignment in the timing with which the major central banks implemented Quantitative Easing following the Global Financial Crisis. Policy transfer hence appears to be prevalent in central banking.
I use central banking as a case study to explore the theoretical link between policy transfer and institutional isomorphism. The use of similar policy instruments by different central banks, and an increased homogeneity of the underlying decision-making structures (such as policy committees), have happened concurrently. I suggest reasons for this, including coercive pressure by influential NGOs, and a desire to appease markets under the neoliberal global economic paradigm. These factors have led policymakers to ensure that their monetary policy mechanisms are in step with the global policy community and led to both policy transfer and to institutional isomorphism in this context.
Central banking, therefore, provides an intriguing example of an area where it appears that policy transfer and institutional isomorphism coincide. The mechanisms through which this occurs, and the causal interaction between the two concepts, indicate valuable future research avenues. This could take the form of close reading of policy documents and data analysis to further identify areas of convergence between central banks, and interviews with policymakers to understand similarities and differences in soft power structures, and how these interact with the convergence of policy instruments.
I hope to be able to explore these important issues further in the future, but in the meantime, I will continue to read others’ research in the area, much of which appears in Policy and Politics journal, such as Overcoming the failure of ‘silicon somewheres’: learning in policy transfer processes by Sarah Giest, Successful policy transfer and public sector reform in developing countries by Lhawang Ugyel and Carsten Daugbjerg, and Diane Stone’s article on Understanding the transfer of policy failure: bricolage, experimentalism and translation.
Blog by Lara Gordge, winner of the Policy & Politics 2021 undergraduate prize to the student achieving the highest overall mark on the ‘Understanding Public Policy’ unit at the School for Policy Studies
Originally published on the Policy and Politics Blog.
My name is Lara and I’m currently about to enter my final year of the BSc Social Policy with Criminology undergraduate degree at the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol (home of the Policy & Politics journal). Winning the student prize for the ‘Understanding Public Policy’ unit came as quite a surprise, but I’m thrilled and honoured to have been chosen. All of my peers are brilliant thinkers and so very talented, so to win has given me a lot of confidence in my academic ability.
One of the main things I loved about the ‘Understanding Public Policy’ unit was the ability to write about such a broad variety of topics. One of the essays I enjoyed the most focused on two key questions around power within policymaking in the realm of behavioural economics – who is given the authority to make decisions on behalf of the greater good, and why are those decisions considered the right ones to make?
Since behavioural economics focuses on the presumed irrationality of human beings and how good decision making may be inhibited by different social or psychological factors, my essay relies on the principle that people’s choices are largely predictable and manufactured by their environment (coined by Thaler and Sunstein (2003, 2008) as choice architecture.) Therefore, I discuss the ways in which policymakers exploit the biases that are inherent in us all in order to subconsciously ‘nudge’ individuals towards certain choices. I focus on herding and status-quo bias as two main examples of choice architecture, largely due to the ease of which policymakers are able to manipulate inexorable defaults and the human tendency to conform.
However, while writing this essay, discovering how easily our ability to make informed decisions can be undermined – even coerced – by those in power changed the overall tone and focus of my writing. I explored the shortcomings and criticisms of behavioural economics, focusing largely on the idea that nudges could be used to influence negative choices just as easily as positive ones depending on the intentions of the policymakers.
As behavioural economics relies on the notion that humans are imperfect and make flawed decisions, I make the assumption that surely those with the power to implement policy interventions are also primed to make bad decisions. Schmidt (2017) adds here that the ability to systematically nudge people allows those with the power to foist their will onto others, while possibly holding unobjective views regarding what constitutes a ‘bad’ decision.
Ultimately, my essay poses one major debate: who is the best judge of a ‘good’ decision – the individual, or the state? I conclude by stating that on the one hand, nudging can be an inexpensive method of encouraging healthy behaviour changes and creating small-scale, meaningful benefits at the individual level. But concerns over behavioural economics becoming too paternalistic remain – as exploiting human imperfection without the consent of the people will always be considered by some to be an immoral infringement on individual liberty.
I hope to be able to explore these important issues further in the future, but in the meantime, I will continue to read others research in the area, such as the recent special issue on nudge published in Policy and Politics. You can download the introductory article for free here.
If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:
Special Issue: Volume 49, Number 1, 2021
Beyond nudge: advancing the state-of-the-art of behavioural public policy and administration
Guest edited by Benjamin Ewert, Kathrin Loer and Eva Thomann
This article was originally published by Women’s Aid in their Safe blog.
Tuesday 20th July 2021: Today, Women’s Aid and the University of Bristol publish new research, “Gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse. Evidence for Policy and Practice”. Lizzie McCarthy (Knowledge Exchange Fellow – based in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research while undertaking this research) and Sarah Davidge explain why it is vital that we recognise the role sexism and misogyny play in setting the scene for domestic abuse.
At Women’s Aid we often get asked, ‘why do you say domestic abuse is gendered?’
Our answer would be that even though anyone can experience domestic abuse and should have access to appropriate support, the evidence shows us that there is a disproportionate impact on women. We know that women are more likely to experience domestic abuse, are more likely to be subjected to coercive control (those abusive actions that restrict personal freedom and instil fear) and are more likely to be seriously physically and mentally harmed or killed. The kinds of support they need also tend to be very different.
The question we ask is, why are women so much more likely to experience abuse and why is this experience so different to men?
The answer is because domestic abuse perpetrated by men against women is part of wider sexism and misogyny. It is rooted in women’s unequal status in society and is part of the wider social problem of male violence against women and girls. The root causes of domestic abuse are different for women and so the responses to tackling that abuse in policy and practice have to be different too. Similarly, it is important to consider how other experiences of inequality shape survivors’ experiences of abuse- including the barriers and discrimination faced by Black and minoritised survivors, LGBT+ survivors, disabled survivors and older and teen survivors.
We know from our work with survivors that sexism and misogyny permeate their experiences of domestic abuse.
Feminist writers and activists have been speaking out about harmful gendered stereotypes and their link to male violence against women and girls for decades. Women’s Aid and the University of Bristol have come together to take a fresh look at this. Together, we analysed the interview transcripts of 37 survivors who had taken part in the recent ESRC* funded Justice, Inequality and Gender-based Violence Project. We looked for ‘gendering discourses’ to see where sexism and misogyny had played a part in survivors’ experiences of abuse.
Today (20th July 2021) we’ve published a report on the findings, Gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse. Evidence for policy and practice.
We found that sexist myths which are part of everyday society had enabled and shaped the survivors’ experiences of abuse. Here are three common sexist scripts that featured in survivors’ experiences of abuse, with quotes from the survivors we interviewed:
1. Sexist script: Women and men should play traditional roles in the household
Flipped script: Patriarchal roles in the home can enable domestic abuse
“Just to be subservient and just do everything that he said and not to have a voice or an opinion,…”
“…[he] didn’t lift a finger round the house but expected me to do it. I’d be called to account if things weren’t done.”
“…kind of everything revolved around him…”
Survivors spoke about a hierarchy of roles in their homes or intimate relationships. For the survivors we interviewed, the man was in charge as the ‘head of the household’, and the woman had the unchosen role of the ‘homemaker’. The survivors were tasked with household chores or running the home efficiently, without having any say in how this work was carried out. They spoke of how their male intimate partners often dictated exacting rules about how household work had to be performed, even though the men usually refused to participate in this work themselves. Male authority in the household or relationship was both underpinned and reinforced by male violence and abuse. Evan Stark in his 2007 book on Coercive Control argues that it is easier for men to coerce women through household work (rather than vice versa) because this is already socially accepted as ‘women’s work’ (i.e. these are household roles that women are already socially expected to perform).
2. Sexist script: Women are sexual objects
Flipped script: The sexual objectification of women underpins domestic abuse
“And I think just sort of like the society that we live in at the moment it very much pushes that idea … women are objects and they’re very much sexualised and … like yeah, they’re there for men, like yeah there for the use of … which is … yeah that’s really bad.”
The female survivors we interviewed often described themselves, and how they perceived others saw them, in terms of sexual objects. They were seen as existing for the pleasure of men and expected to engage in sexual activity that was controlled and defined by their abusive male intimate partners. The interview transcripts included reports of many offensive sexualised terms used against women (“dirty bitch”, “slag”, “slut”, “nympho”) that were never applied to men. Women were seen as possessions, aggressively and jealously guarded by their male partners or ‘owners’. The survivors commonly described being routinely subjected to rape and sexual coercion and harassment in their intimate relationships. It was this most intimate part of a relationship that abusive men used to cement their power and control over women.
3. Sexist script: Woman are crazy and over-emotional
Flipped script: Women are silenced with the labels of ‘crazy’ or ‘over-emotional’ when they try to talk about domestic abuse
“The courts are extremely sexist places, and there is still very much a thing about an angry loud woman is crazy, you know, and abusive men are charming … and charming with professionals.”
“…they’re painting me as this crazy woman…”
The survivors we interviewed told us how labels of mental illness had long-lasting negative implications for them. Survivors themselves were seen as problematic rather than the abuse and violence committed against them being identified as the problem. This label of ‘crazy’ was a tool perpetrators could use to threaten survivors or call their credibility into question. Being mentally ill, or showing mental or emotional distress, seemed to be all too easily linked into wider stereotypes about women as a group being supposedly unstable, over-emotional or hysterical. Labels of being mentally unwell overshadowed many of the survivors’ experiences of external responses to domestic abuse (including in court, in interactions with the police and responses from friends and family) and formed a significant barrier to accessing justice and support.
How can we flip the sexist script?
Along with our new report “Gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse”, we have today launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #FlipTheSexistScript. It is impossible to disentangle women’s experiences of domestic abuse from the violence, abuse and harassment that they are subject to elsewhere in their lives. Here‘s what we think needs to happen to #FlipTheSexistScript:
- Specialist domestic abuse services that are run by women, for women, understand how women’s experiences of abuse have been shaped by lifelong experiences of sexism and misogyny, and only they can help women truly recover from abuse. Similarly, those services that are led by and for women from minoritised groups, such as services for Black and minoritised survivors, disabled survivors and LGBT+ survivors are often best placed to support survivors who have been subject to multiple forms of violence and oppression. They all desperately need sufficient, sustainable and long-term funding.
- The root causes of domestic abuse by men against women lie in the disempowerment, objectification and silencing of women. The response must be building empowering spaces for women, challenging inequality and giving all women a voice, including women from minoritised groups. But these are under severe threat from dangerous ‘gender neutral’ funding approaches. You can take action to flip the sexist script by signing our petition to require local authorities to fund specific domestic abuse services for women.
- Policy-makers and legislators must consistently recognise domestic abuse as a form of violence against women and girls. Unless we address inequality, we will never end domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has brought many positive changes for survivors, but in its statutory definition (the first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse) the government missed the opportunity to recognise the gendered nature of domestic abuse in law. We are also very concerned that the government is currently proposing to fragment domestic abuse from the violence against women and girls (VAWG) strategy. We strongly believe that domestic abuse must be part of single comprehensive, holistic and integrated framework to address VAWG.
- Structural inequalities create power imbalances in everyday life which enable violence, abuse and harassment. To end this we all must challenge all forms of discrimination and inequality. We all need to work together to call out the sexism and misogyny that enable and entitle men to demean, objectify, abuse and control women. We need to unlearn gender stereotypes, unpick power imbalances, and unteach misogyny.
Feminist writers and activists around the time when Women’s Aid began in the 1970s (and even earlier than this) warned of the harm caused by social norms about masculinity and femininity. Our research shows that these warnings remain as pertinent today as ever. It is time (in fact, it is long overdue) to recognise that until we challenge sexism and misogyny and their prominence in our society, we cannot effectively tackle domestic abuse. In other words, it’s time to flip the sexist script.
Want to join us in challenging sexism and misogyny?
- Read our new report, Gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse. Evidence for policy and practice here
- Follow our social media campaign #FlipTheSexistScript
- Sign our petition to require local authorities to fund specific domestic abuse services for women.
- Join the Women’s Aid Campaign Champions and support our national campaigns on a local level, give survivors of domestic abuse a voice and help to ensure that politicians and other key decision makers are listening.
- Women’s Aid is working in partnership with Yves Saint Laurent Beauty to educate children and young people about intimate partner violence and challenge assumptions about gender, power and equality. If you work with children and young people, sign up to become an Expect Respect Advocate.
*Economic and Social Research Council
This Fellowship has allowed us to work collaboratively with a well-respected and established charity, to foster more meaningful relationships with their research, policy, and media teams which will undoubtedly reap future benefits in terms of the sharing of knowledge and expertise in both research and impact activities in the future.
Knowledge Exchange Fellowships (KEF) usually involve an academic locating with an organisation or company. This was the first time a Fellow was brought into and located in the University from a National Charity.
The purpose of the KEF was for the Fellow (Lizzie McCarthy from Women’s Aid) alongside Womens Aid staff and UoB staff to: 1) benefit directly from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research’s expertise in compiling and analysing sensitive qualitative data, thereby aiding capacity building for Women’s Aid’s research and policy unit; 2) carry out secondary analysis on an existing dataset (ESRC Justice project) held by CGVR to establish evidence to directly inform national policy debates and practice; and 3) based on Womens Aid’s experience as the national Domestic Violence Charity, for the Fellow to provide specialist seminars for the School on working with Government departments to impact policy.
The Fellowship ran from December 2019 to April 2021 (extended due to covid restrictions).
This exchange of knowledge was made possible by an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), Knowledge Exchange Fellowship awarded to colleagues from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, in collaboration with Women’s Aid In the autumn of 2019.
The IAA focused on exploring the ‘gendered experience of justice and domestic abuse – evidence for policy and practice’, and the final report will be published in a few days time, on 20 July. As such, this is a good opportunity to reflect on what has been a very successful Knowledge Exchange Fellowship process, to identify key elements of learning and offer insights to colleagues who may be interested in doing similar work.
With regard to the KEF project, this proved to be an exciting opportunity to conduct rigorous data analysis to address a key policy problem facing the domestic abuse sector. There were inevitable practical issues in terms of access by the KEF to data and file-stores exacerbated by covid restrictions which limited access to on-site computing equipment. But by sharing knowledge and approaches, we were able to learn from one another and create a piece of work which is both academically rigorous and policy relevant. Womens Aid’s extensive practitioner and policy networks have meant that the work has been presented at the national Women’s Aid conference as well as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic and Sexual Violence. Initial presentations of the work to practitioners, academics, and policy makers has been positive and generated much interest and ideas about changes required in policy and practice. The publication of the report and a related media campaign next week, will ensure that the research’s potential to inform wider public opinion, and challenge the ways sexism and misogyny are used by perpetrators of abuse, are also maximised.
The final report will be launched on 20 July 2021. This will involve joint press and social media releases of key findings from Womens Aid and UoB, alongside the publication of the report itself. Developing a joint press strategy for the launch has involved sharing knowledge and expertise across Women’s Aid and the University of Bristol in terms of policy, media, and impact work.
Written by Dr Emma Williamson, Reader in Gender Based Violence with Marianne Hester, Head of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, Sarah-Jane Walker, Senior Research Associate, and Lizzie McCarthy, Knowledge Exchange Fellow, Woman’s Aid.
Q&A with Mary Wakeham on the links between domestic abuse and animal abuse, developing and disseminate training resources to veterinary practices around the country and her experience of research/business collaboration.
The research – business partnership
In August 2020, Mary Wakeham – a PhD student in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol – was successful in bidding for an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Accelerating Business Collaboration (ABC) award. Funded through the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF), the awards seek to build the capacity and capability of social science doctoral students and early career researchers to engage with business.
Mary’s aim was to use her emerging PhD findings into the links between domestic abuse and animal abuse to develop and disseminate training resources to veterinary practices around the country.
To do this, she partnered with Dr Wendy Sneddon, Company Director of the Lodestone Lounge, a Business Coaching, HR and Recruitment Consultancy. Wendy is also a qualified vet nurse and a Trustee for the Links Group. The Links Group are an organisation who work to raise awareness about the relationships between the abuse of people and animals through support, training and inter-agency working.
Alongside her PhD research, Mary has founded the charity Refuge4Pets, who foster animals for victim-survivors of domestic abuse so that they can escape to safety before being reunited with their much-loved animals. Mary previously worked as an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate prior to starting her PhD. The combination of Mary and Wendy’s knowledge and networks was therefore formidable!
The Principal Investigator for the project was Dr Natasha Mulvihill, Lecturer in Criminology and researcher in the Centre of Gender and Violence Research. Her role was to support Mary as needed through the project. Here, Natasha interviews Mary about the outcomes of the project and what she learnt.
Mary, can you explain briefly the links between animal abuse and domestic abuse?
People often refer to animals as ‘family members’ and ‘best friends’, but for those experiencing domestic abuse, animals may provide their only source of comfort, companionship and love. Perpetrators may exploit this bond that someone has with animals and abuse those animals as a way to coerce and control their partner.
Animals experience similar types of abuse to human victim-survivors including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/psychological abuse and neglect. Some perpetrators may even kill animals as a way to hurt their partner and demonstrate their power in the relationship.
And what does your PhD look at?
My PhD it titled, Animal Abuse as a Strategy of Coercive Control. I set out to explore how and why animals are abused in the context of domestic abuse and the implications for victim-survivors (animals and people). I was also interested in exploring the extent to which professionals are aware about the link between domestic abuse and animal abuse and how professionals respond to victim-survivors’ concerns about the welfare of animals.
What did you achieve over the ESRC-ABC project?
Our aim was to develop resources and training to increase veterinary practice managers’ knowledge about domestic abuse, both how it may present in animals and their owners, and how to support practice staff who may be affected. Over the three-month collaboration period we produced:
- a one-hour basic domestic abuse training for vet practice teams
- a guidance document with basic information about the dynamics of domestic abuse, the link with animal abuse, how to spot the signs of abuse and how to support victim-survivors (animals and people)
- a poster for vet practice staff rooms
- a poster for vet practice waiting rooms
- and a short animation to raise awareness about the link between domestic abuse and animal abuse
The resources that Wendy and I produced together are about to be distributed across 5000 vet practices in the UK.
What have been the unintended outcomes of the project?
This collaboration has opened up many new doors for me to talk about my research and awareness about the parallels between the abuse of people and animals. I have also been asked to comment on and provide information for policy and legislative changes.
Through the project, I have developed new professional relationships and have a collaboration in plan with Dogs Trust. The Links Group have also asked me to join them to coordinate their research subgroup.
Looking back, why did the partnership with Wendy work so well?
Wendy brought to the collaboration expertise in HR and the issues and challenges that veterinary practices face. I was able to apply my experience working in the field of domestic abuse as well as the new knowledge from my research which explores animal abuse as a strategy of coercive control. We share a passion and determination for tackling domestic abuse and safeguarding people and animals. It was a great combination of mutual knowledge and networks.
What were the challenges?
I think the main challenge is around building the relationship with your business partner at the start and having absolute clarity about what you are going to do and how you are going to work together. Once we had that clarity, the collaboration really started to blossom. I have learnt so much from Wendy’s insight into how veterinary practices work.
Another big challenge at the end of the collaboration was ’signing off’ the resources, since by that point the key stakeholder group had grown quite large. That was a key learning point for me and I will manage that process more efficiently in the future. But the benefit of that wide input was that we ended up with a quality set of resources, that will hopefully benefit many people and animals.
A final challenge was timing. I think when you write a proposal, you tend to over-estimate what you can achieve in the timeframe and under-estimate how long things take. The collaboration – originally funded August to November 2020 – overran with final resources not being signed off until late January 2021. And this at a time when I was about to submit my PhD…
So was it all worth it?
Absolutely! Although the collaboration has come to an end it was just the start for me as it has helped me to get my research recognised and gain credibility as a researcher with practitioners. I now have lots of webinars in plan to continue to share my research findings.
And will people be able to see any of the resources that you produced online?
All of the resources will be available to members on the Links Group website www.thelinksgroup.org.uk. If you have animals you may see a poster in your veterinary practice reception area.
Natasha and Mary would like to thank Business Engagement Coordinator Ruth Welters in the Social Sciences and Law Faculty for her invaluable support in drafting the application; research impact experts Eloise Meller and Nikki Hicks in the Research and Enterprise Directorate and Cath Pullinger in Finance Services, for their work and endless patience with us.
Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, was recently invited to speak to our current MSc Public Policy students on the theme of ‘Leading a City in Turbulent Times’. In this blog, student Isabella Bennett summarises the key points from the lecture.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to tear through the globe, the mainstream media focuses on what international leaders are doing. It is very rare that city governance level is analysed in response to various crises thrown up. From this backdrop, Rees suggests that leading a city in turbulent times is just as important as centralised governance.
Rees highlighted that when we define turbulence, it is when it affects wealthy people. Certainly, issues that throw lives into turmoil are continuing to be swept under the rug, until the white, straight, middle-to-higher class man is impacted. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic heavily impacted trade and finance; thus, the news cycle was dominated with stories about the turmoil caused by COVID-19 on trade. In comparison, long term themes of racism, homelessness and domestic violence (key issues spanning generations) are not considered as key points of turbulence until direct attention is paid to them. However, the effects of these issues are felt across large sways of the public.
It is from this that city governance can aid individuals in overcoming turbulence in their lives. Centralised government is increasingly not equipped to deal with these challenges, as the policy cycle is constantly moving. Rees also draws on how an institution can look strong, and resistant to tension, but will crumble when turbulence is introduced. This was the case in the 2008 financial crash, as the previously strong financial market crumbled. Certainly, disinvestment in a service increases its fragility. Indeed, we all have seen that COVID has led to instability in the NHS, as we continue to stay home; and this is felt no stronger than at the local level.
It is from these points of turbulence, that we look at city-level leadership. Leadership, Rees commented, takes two forms: short term — responding to immediate crisis, and long-term — building a city that is resilient to future shocks. Certainly, we have seen that the world has become increasingly globalised. Goods, services, ideas and workforces are able to move across the globe at a greater speed than ever before. It is because of this that city leadership is important both nationally, but also internationally. Too often, cities are discussed, but not given an equal footing in policy discussions, yet the policy impacts how the city functions and the lived experiences of its citizens. This was certainly the case during the pandemic, as sovereignty was seated in Westminster to make decisions on lockdown restrictions and tiers. Rees states that leadership needs to go beyond boundaries as the nature of policymaking changes.
In times of turbulence, it is understandable that trust is diminished. Thus, Rees made a point that being clear on values brings trust, and this trust becomes an important commodity when making plans. Certainly, a loss of trust comes from politics impacting how the people respond to systems. Rees directly mentions the impact the media has on this trust, as many people’s interaction with politics is through journalistic interpretation. Thus, a key aspect of planning comes from restoring trust from the public, through the media. Future plans, when leading a city do not have to be concrete, but it is important to be adaptable to changing contexts and respond to how this may change ideas for the future. Rees draws on the One City Plan for 2050, and how this has been changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the stalls on industry due to lockdowns.
What can be taken from this?
From Rees’ points above, we can see that city leadership takes a back seat in the discussions on key points of turbulence in our lives. This is despite the citizens living in the city, and their lives being thrown into difficulty. As a result, city leadership must focus on supplying a clear message for the citizens, to instil trust for the future. Moreover, Rees calls for city leadership to play an increased role on the international stage, citing the examples of New York’s mental health policy and Helsinki’s functional city policy on how we can learn from city governance to deal with the long-term issues facing citizens. This is coupled with a lack of trust in centralised government over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the University of Bristol’s #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re spotlighting women from the School for Policy Studies who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic by carrying out world-class research.
Dr Emma Williamson, a Reader in Gender Based Violence and former head of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, has been working with Women’s Aid to highlight how the pandemic has affected those experiencing domestic violence.
Your research has focussed on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on domestic abuse. Could you tell us a little more?
We were aware quite early on that any lockdown was likely to have an impact on those experiencing domestic abuse. So we worked quickly and closely with Women’s Aid to look at how they could collect data in order to influence policy. A report called ‘A Perfect Storm’ came out in the summer based on a number of surveys with support services, victims and survivors. We found there was an increase in coercive control, with perpetrators using the restrictions as a tool to stop victims from leaving or seeking help. Many people didn’t realise that domestic abuse was an exemption, so they were worried they would be arrested if they left. This, coupled with a stark increase in homicides during the first six weeks of lockdown, showed there was a major issue. Some of our data was used in a Panorama documentary and we were able to feedback these crucial insights to policy makers.
What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?
The biggest triumph for me was when Boris Johnson announced the second national lockdown and explicitly said that domestic abuse was an exemption. That was amazing and so important. It felt like we’d come a long way from it not being mentioned or discussed, to it being said to the nation by the Prime Minister. That’s testament to the hard work of people in the sector, collecting data and ultimately presenting evidence to the government to show what’s happening on the ground.
What is it like being a woman in academia? Have there been times when you have either faced inequality or had to challenge it?
There have definitely been times when I’ve been sat in a room as one of the most senior people and there’s been an automatic assumption that I am more junior. I tend not to get it in my day-to-day work thankfully. Because of my area of research, I work with a lot of really great senior women and professors.
I think a lot of female academics experience discrimination, especially those with children. Take lockdown: there’s a lot of evidence that suggests women have picked-up more of the caring responsibilities so I expect we’ll see fewer publications from women because their research activities have been put on the backburner. The gender pay gap is one example, but there are other inequalities in academia that the sector needs to deal with, particularly around ethnicity. Although I think we have come quite a long way, there’s still a long way to go.
Which women have inspired you in your career?
When I was doing my PhD in the mid-1990s, I travelled to London two or three times a year to attend meetings of the British Sociological Association’s Violence Against Women Research Group. It allowed me to meet the women whose work I’d been reading – the big names in our field of research such as Marianne Hester, Liz Kelly, Betsy Stanko amongst others. I feel lucky that over the years I got to know them and ultimately work with them.
Our PhD students here at Bristol always inspire me. Many are from overseas and have chosen to come to Bristol because of the expertise in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research; they want to take what they’ve learnt here to bring about positive change in their home country. The risk to them as individuals can be quite high but they’re absolutely determined to make a difference. I enjoy learning from them and vice-versa!
And, ultimately, I’m inspired by the bravery and courage shown by every single one of the victims and survivors who I’ve ever spoken to as part of my research.
What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?
Not to worry about things you can’t change. When we’re younger, we spend a lot of time when we could spend that energy on other things. It’s easy to get frustrated by everyday things but sometimes you have to accept them and focus on the things that really matter, the things that you can change.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of what myself and colleagues have achieved in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research. Domestic abuse can be a tough area to work in but we know our research makes a difference. The Centre was due to celebrate its 30th birthday in the first lockdown, which obviously didn’t happen, and I guess ultimately it would be nice if our work was no longer needed. But for every step forward, a new challenge presents itself and we need to keep listening to the voices of people who experience domestic abuse and try to make a difference to their lives.
As part of the University of Bristol’s #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re spotlighting women from the School for Policy Studies who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic by carrying out world-class research.
Dinithi Wijedasa, Senior Lecturer at the Children and Families Research Centre is surveying the mental health of children in State Care in England through the COVID-19 pandemic
1. Your research has focussed on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of children in care. Could you tell us a little more?
Understanding whether COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on more vulnerable child populations, such as children in care, has been identified as a national-level priority by the SAGE committee.
At any given time in England, there are nearly 80,000 children being looked after by the State (also referred to as children in care). Although high prevalence of mental illness in children in care is widely acknowledged as a serious concern, the current evidence base lacks understanding of long-term mental health trajectories and mental health service provision for children in care. Before the pandemic, we had already started two research studies funded by the ESRC and the Nuffield Foundation to answer these two questions.
We were already planning to carry out a survey of children in care in 2020 for the ESRC funded study. This therefore provided a real-time opportunity to collect information on mental health and wellbeing of children in care during the Covid-19 pandemic. We were also able to collect information on other aspects of children’s lives, which have previously been associated with mental health such as: the strength of their relationships with carers; their feelings about school; social work support; friends; access to green spaces; access to support; and their wishes and feelings. These are aspects in children’s lives that would have also been impacted by the pandemic. We are currently analysing the data from the first wave of data collection where we had responses from 930 children in care from 18 local authorities. I am pleased that we also received further funding through the UKRI Covid-19 call to extend this survey to a longitudinal survey so that we can collect this information two more times to look at mental health of children in care over a period of 18 months.
Our other research project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is a collaboration with colleagues at the Bristol Medical School where we are working towards creating a new national-level linkage between the national pupil data held by the Department for Education and national mental health service data held by the NHS. As mental health service data on children are collected monthly, we are hoping that a successful linkage will enable us to establish a new and relevant evidence base on the characteristics of children in care who are referred to mental health services, their prognosis and pathways through Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic on mental health of children in State care. We are currently working closely with the Department for Education and NHS-Digital to agree the way forward as we are using new legal gateways and data sharing processes to access and link national-level inter-Departmental datasets.
2. What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?
The biggest research challenge was having to adapt our methodologies to suit the restrictions that came about due to the pandemic.
All research fieldwork was stopped by the University as well as Government Departments as we went into the first lockdown. This had a drastic impact on the research timelines. We had to pause recruitment for the survey on the ESRC funded project and pause all project activities on the data linkage project as the Governmental Departments that we are working with paused all research activities to prioritise the Covid-19 response. All of us in the research teams were also working alongside extra pressures brought on by the pandemic such as adapting to homeworking, home-schooling and illness within the team. It was also a steep learning curve for us all in digital engagement and communication!
For me, it is a triumph that despite all these challenges, we have been able to support each other with empathy, kindness, and trust through 352 days of home working and teamworking (as you can see, I have not been counting!). Not having face to face meetings has not been a barrier to team working. It is a triumph that the University was able to switch swiftly and provide us the right digital platforms so that we can continue with our research activities. Despite the setbacks at the beginning of the pandemic, it is a triumph that we have achieved and celebrated research milestones such as receiving NHS ethics clearance for the data linkage project with no amendments and having 18 local authorities and 930 children and young people opt-in to our research!
It is a triumph that I am working with such hard-working colleagues who share the same vision as me to make real change with research. There is a huge responsibility placed on us to give timely and accurate information on this vulnerable group of children, which we hope to deliver throughout the next two years. Although it is extra pressure on the teams to report continuously rather than publishing end of project reports, we believe that sharing timely research information is important. We are continually engaging with local authorities at grass-roots level as well as well as the Governmental Departments at policy level and we will directly feedback our results at policy and practice levels so that we can help enable positive change in the mental health management and service provision for children in care.
Links to the research studies:
As part of the University of Bristol’s #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re spotlighting women from the School for Policy Studies who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic by carrying out world-class research.
Dr Angeliki Papadaki, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition, has been Exploring the experiences of community service providers delivering meals to self-isolating adults during COVID-19
1. Your research has focussed on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the Meals on Wheels service. Could you tell us a little more?
At the beginning of the first national lockdown, around 1.5 million people were instructed to shield and around 17.7 million adults aged ≥65 years, who were also at increased risk of infection, were instructed to stay at home as much as possible. Many of these people might not have had support from carers and community resources and/or enough money to be able to access food, nor the ability to prepare meals for themselves. So we realised early on the impact that the pandemic and this lockdown would have on these people accessing nutritious meals. But we also realised that this increased demand for meals will have an impact on Meals on Wheels services (local authority services delivering meals to older, vulnerable and housebound individuals). So we worked closely with different partners to explore this important issue.
We just submitted evidence to an inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee on ‘COVID-19: Supporting the vulnerable during lockdown’, on why Meals on Wheels should be supported by the Government to ensure the wellbeing of older, vulnerable, and self-isolating adults during lockdown. This was based on our qualitative research findings with service providers (drivers who deliver the meals, service coordinators and managers) in two local authorities in South West England. We found that Meals on Wheels exert important benefits to clients (by conducting welfare checks, encouraging independence and identifying and addressing isolation and loneliness), service providers (via a sense of pride, giving something back and developing reciprocal relationships with clients), but also the wider community (by reducing pressures on carers and the need for residential care). The pandemic brought many challenges, such as an increase in service users, concerns with sourcing food, increased demand on human resources, and uncertainty about how the service will cope in continuous lockdowns. Although the service went above and beyond to continue supporting the most vulnerable, time to interact with clients decreased and there were concerns about clients’ wellbeing because of this. I specifically remember a driver sharing that for some clients of the service, he is the only person they see on any given day. So the importance of the service was even more profound during the national lockdown.
As Meals on Wheels have been facing funding cuts and closures both globally and nationally, these findings are extremely important and provide crucial insights to policy makers for the need to protect, enhance and financially support the continuation of the service, in order to protect the most vulnerable during national lockdowns, and beyond.
2. What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?
During the first few weeks of the first national lockdown, and while we were all adapting to the new restrictions and working from home, I was trying to think of how I can use my skills and research experience to make a difference to people’s lives. I met with a colleague and after a long discussion, he casually suggested I do some reading on Meals on Wheels and establish what the evidence is in this field. I blocked my calendar for two days, read and researched. Within two weeks, we had together a team of four University of Bristol academics, a research associate, two local authorities who agreed to support the project, one national charity to help disseminate the findings, two collaborators from Brown University with expertise in the field and direct links to Meals on Wheels America, a grant application to the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute and noted ideas for future research on this important service. I consider it a triumph that we all met under challenging circumstances but discovered we have a common vision and developed this important piece of research to help the most vulnerable.
3. What is it like being a woman in academia? Have there been times when you have either faced inequality or had to challenge it?
I have often felt that being a woman, and a non-British woman, can be a challenge. In the past, I have had colleagues talk sarcastically about my ideas in public and in front of me. I also find that more males than females ‘are in love with their own voice’ and barely leave time for you to speak during meetings. You have to learn how to be thick-skinned! Although these are challenging situations to be in, I have learnt to overcome it by acknowledging my weaknesses, but also reminding myself of what I’m worth. Nobody is perfect, but we all have our unique skills, strengths and personalities that are valuable in academia. We all need to remember this more often.
4. Which women have inspired you in your career?
I think the first woman who inspired me was my PhD supervisor, who was the most supportive but in her own way inspired my confidence, showing initiative and taking ownership of a project. I cannot pay this forward enough!
A more recent female colleague, and her saying ‘you have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth; use them in this proportion’; showing me that keeping silent and digesting information before you speak does not indicate weakness as many think, but indeed the opposite.
All my official and ‘unofficial’ mentors throughout the years, whose advice helped me look deep into myself, reflect on my strengths and weaknesses, speak out when necessary, and realise that we all have something valuable to offer.
5. What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?
To be patient. To keep eyes and ears open as opportunities might arise from literally everywhere. To listen to your gut feeling. That’s it’s fine to not know where you want to go just yet, and that following the flow can also lead you to great things.
Karen West, Professor of Social Policy and Ageing, has been looking at the impact the Covid-19 pandemic on bereavement in retirement communities.
1. Your research has focussed on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic on bereavement in retirement communities. Could you tell us a little more?
We have been working with the ExtraCare Charitable Trust and Cruse Bereavement Care for three years now on a project that is about developing a volunteer peer bereavement support programme and general ‘grief literacy’ for staff and residents in the retirement villages run by the Trust. When the pandemic came, we weren’t able to continue the face to face field work that we had planned. On the other hand, Covid presented us with an opportunity to try out some different methods of data collection and we applied for funding from the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute to collect diaries of the experience of supporting people through bereavement. This turned out to be a great method for gaining the kind of real-time insight into the work and thoughts of the volunteers that we hadn’t really been able to capture before. We learned a lot about the challenges that people are facing when they have limited connection to the support of families and friends and when funerals and memorial events are very restricted. On the other hand, we also learned that for many who are grieving, lockdown brings a kind of relief at not having to put on a smile and a brave face every day and to be able to manage sorrow at their own pace. We also learned how the residents had been really creative in organising their own social-distanced memorial events.
2. What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?
The biggest challenge has been that of all researchers who do ethnographic field work – not being able to face to face field work. On the other hand, we’ve learned to be creative in developing other methods. This is also true of another Covid project on collaborative housing (funded by NIHR SSCR) that I have worked on. Above all, I feel so lucky to have been able to work with excellent teams of researchers. Our regular Zoom meetings have really given a shape and purpose to my working week that I may not have had otherwise. Oddly, I think my working with relationships with these colleagues has strengthened during the pandemic.
You can read about the projects here:
Drawing on new research based on the experiences of a research team working on a project exploring gender based violence, Dr Emma Williamson discusses the negative emotional impact that can arise for researchers working on traumatic issues, their coping mechanisms and calls on funders and Universities to look at positive ways to address this.
The Centre for Gender and Violence Research has been conducting research on gender based violence (gbv) for 30 years. Over that time researchers have collectively interviewed hundreds of victims-survivors of different types of abuse: domestic violence (dv), sexual abuse, rape, FGM, (so-called) honor based violence, bride price, dowry related abuse, family violence, child abuse, and child exploitation. We have also read, and written, thousands of articles on this subject and analysed thousands of case files in social care, child protection, police, criminal justice, health, housing, welfare, and third sector support agencies.
We have learnt many things over the years and contributed to knowledge and understanding globally about gbv. We also know, first hand, the difficulties faced by researchers themselves when trying to work in this emotionally difficult and draining environment.
Many of us have worked in other sectors, as advocates or professionals. We have, in those arenas, had access to clinical supervision. As researchers we routinely do not. This is in spite of the obvious impact that working in this field has. In response to these issues we recently published an article1 which looks at the impact of working in potentially traumatic areas on researchers. That article, in the Journal of Academic Ethics, looks at the wider context of secondary trauma; the impact on researchers in the gbv field; considers both individual and collective coping mechanisms; and makes recommendations for policy in this area.
The researchers highlight the different ways that interviews, case file analysis, and literature reviews on difficult topics can have a profound impact, as one researcher stated:
Reading through police case files could be just as depressing and upsetting in some of the worst cases and especially the cases involving child victims of rape and family abuse. The police files /child sex abuse cases were particularly hard because of the language and detail of information I was reading – very matter of fact descriptions of the physical sexual acts/ abuse (which I didn’t hear generally during the interviews with victims-survivors). There was also a time when I was collecting data on a DV case and there was a warning attached to the victim’s file which said *DEAD* so I had read all about her history of domestic violence, family abuse, drug and alcohol abuse and then found out that she had actually been found dead 2 weeks after the latest incident and her partner had [previously] been arrested on suspicion of her murder but no further action had been taken (when you could see the pattern of abuse she had suffered and was obviously extremely vulnerable) – that made me gasp out loud in the open plan (and quiet) office I was in (embarrassing) and made me incredibly sad. I cried on my drive home that day.
As well as many incidents of negative impacts of this work, the paper also highlights why researchers continue to work in these traumatic fields and the many healthy and unhealthy coping strategies they adopt when conducting fieldwork. These strategies included:
Definitely mindfulness, meditation, and running (not at the same time!). Spending time with family. Counting my blessings. Also wine, chocolate and binge TV watching.
One of the main conclusions of the paper is a call for funders and Universities to look at whether a form of academic clinical supervision should be automatically funded and made available to successful research projects dealing with traumatic issues. We believe that current provision is generally reactive, rather than proactive, and the minimal additional cost would allow researchers to make choices about whether the negative impacts of such research is sustainable for them, outside of the normal line management structure. With researchers struggling to fit their existing costs within the parameters of funding calls (particularly in some disciplines where funding is lower) we believe ring fenced additionally provided resource for clinical supervision also ensures that researchers who recognize this as an important issue are not penalized in the application process.
As such, we call on funders to address this issue. At a time when health and well-being are clear objectives in research council priorities, it is surprising that this is not being discussed in terms of the research community already.
Having 30 years experience of working in this area, the Centre for Gender and Violence Research is well aware of the support researchers need to conduct this type of work, we call on others to join us to address this issue and look at positive ways to minimize the negative impacts of working in this area. As one researcher said:
You think it would get easier over the years, but it doesn’t. The fact that we keep having to have these conversations is in itself depressing on top of the nature of the issues we are dealing with.
If we want to continue to develop researcher’s skills in difficult areas then addressing the ways in which traumatic research can negatively impact on them is, in our view, essential.
1Secondary Trauma: Emotional Safety in Sensitive Research in the Journal for Academic Ethics.
Williamson, E., Gregory, A., Abrahams, H. et al. J Acad Ethics (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10805-019-09348-y
See also: Call to fund counselling for researchers in traumatic subjects in the THE.
CGVR 30th Anniversary
The Centre for Gender and Violence Research will be holding a day conference event and wine reception on 13th May 2020 to celebrate it’s 30 year anniversary. For more details please keep an eye on the School for Policy Studies event page.
In his latest blog, Dr Oscar Berglund, Lecturer in International Public and Social Policy, explores the unusual methods by which the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement seeks to effect policy change.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) have again been in the news recently. After occupying parts of central London over two weeks in April, their Summer Uprising in five UK cities in July, the last two weeks has seen the Autumn Uprising in London. All these protests involve disruption, breaking the law and activists seeking arrest.
Emotions are running high with many objecting to the disruption. At the same time, it has got people and the media talking about climate change. XR clearly represent something new and unusual that people get annoyed or enthused by. But what is the point of the disruption to daily life, law-breaking and voluntary arrests?
XR are accused of being anarchist in a report from the right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange. To actual anarchists, that is laughable. XR strictly adhere to non-violence, seek arrests and chant ‘We love you’ to the police. That contrasts starkly to anarchists’ antagonistic relationship to the state and its law enforcement. XR’s positive attitude to police is being tested by the police’s increasingly repressive way of dealing with the protests. This week the Metropolitan Police banned all XR protests in London, though this has been contested by the movement both in the courts and in the streets.
Another aspect setting XR apart from more anarchist social movements is their targets. For anarchists, direct action should be prefigurative, meaning to incorporate the aim in the means of protest. Making city centres car-free and blocking access to banks that finance fossil fuel companies are prefigurative protests. Intentionally getting arrested is not; and many experienced activists have been critical of this key tactic of XR.
The movement claims to practice civil disobedience but that is also a confusing label. Civil disobedience developed during the 20th century as a way of understanding and justifying law-breaking protests in liberal democracies. Much of this was in relation to the US civil rights movement. Liberal political thinkers like Hannah Arendt and John Rawls explored when and how disobedience was legitimate in a democracy.
In some ways XR fit with liberal civil disobedience. That disobedience should always be a last resort chimes well with XR’s claim that time is running out and traditional campaigning has proven unsuccessful. The voluntary arrests resonate with the liberal onus on open and conscientious law-breaking that accepts law enforcement. Indeed, the intentional arrests take this conscientious approach to a new level.
However, on two other crucial points, XR break with the liberal civil disobedience tradition. Firstly, civil disobedience is generally aimed at showing the majority of the public that specific laws are unjust. XR do not seem to focus on this majority-building. They do not engage in much discussion with climate change deniers. Their disruption antagonises people who do not share their fears and frustration with the inaction of governments. Instead, XR’s tactic is to get a significant but still small part of the population to participate in disruption. What is important is then to get 3.5% so incensed that they take to the streets. It is not to convince 51% that it is the right thing to do.
Secondly, liberal civil disobedience remains within a ‘fidelity to law’ overall. It is okay to break certain unjust laws as long as you respect the state’s laws generally. The aim is then to get the state to have better, more just, laws. But for XR, the social contract has already been broken. The state has failed to take necessary action on climate change, thereby putting its citizens at risk. Disruption and law-breaking are therefore justified.
XR’s tactics are not based on how social movements have achieved policy change in liberal democracies. It is based on how dictatorships have been toppled. It draws directly on Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s Why Civil Resistance Works, where they argue that non-violence is more effective than violence. The XR tactic is therefore based on how to achieve revolutions, not on how to get governments to respond to the will of the majority.
There are reasons to be skeptical about the relevance of this research for addressing climate change. The 3.5% limit applies to such a small number of historical cases that no conclusions can be based on it. More importantly perhaps, in most cases of regime change, not much else changes. Many climate change activists see saving the world as incompatible with capitalism as a system that depends on economic growth on a finite planet. Most cases of regime change have not resulted in abandoning capitalism, quite the opposite.
There are however good reasons for why XR’s radical tactics resonate with so many. People experiencing climate change through hot summers and other extreme weather increases the sense of urgency. More importantly perhaps, in an era of political polarisation, more extreme action becomes more likely. The legitimacy of the state and its politicians has eroded on both the left and right. In this country not least because of Brexit.
Law-breaking then becomes a more likely form of protest. One of XR’s spokespeople wrote in a bit of an understatement that ‘the chances of…succeeding are relatively slim’. But since many in XR foresee societal breakdown as a result of climate breakdown, the cost of getting a criminal record diminishes. And if you also make it a bit of a party, then chances are we’ll see more disruption even if it does alienate many others.
The recent protests in London will have gained XR both new supporters and new detractors. The less tolerant attitude of the police will certainly be a topic for discussion within the movement and tactics may very well have to change. It also remains to be seen how the court cases pan out, which will affect people’s willingness to be arrested. But climate change activism will not go away and XR have created a strong brand in that demand for policy change.
Using the United Kingdom and Japan as case studies, Professor Misa Izuhara, from The Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research explores the role of housing wealth on retirement and social differentiation in later life.
How do you decide when to retire in a society like Britain where the formal ‘retirement age’ no longer exists? Do you have a big enough pension and/or savings to retire early? Does your employer want you to continue working after you reach 60? Or, are you planning to sell your house to cover the cost of post-retirement life?
The process of retirement is becoming more complex and differentiated in terms of timing and financial resources. In many advanced economies, ‘active ageing policies’ encourage older workers to remain in the labour market longer. However, the reasons and opportunities to do so depend on both institutional systems (e.g. retirement age, social security, attitudes of employers) and individual capital (e.g. skills, pensions, savings, housing assets).
As part of a current ESRC funded project, we bring ‘housing’ more fully into the analysis of retirement inequality, which is absent from existing research.
This collaborative project ‘Social Differentiation in Later Life: Exploring the interaction between housing wealth and retirement in Japan and the UK’ brings together scholars and stakeholders with different disciplinary backgrounds of social policy, economics and management to examine the relationship between housing wealth, the level of education, and extending working life of ageing baby-boomers in the contrasting welfare systems of the UK and Japan.
The first workshop was held in Tokyo (Keio University) in July 2019 to facilitate knowledge exchange between the project members and non-academic stakeholders. Japan is the world most aged society. More than a quarter (27.7%) of the population are already aged 65 and over. Despite the formal retirement age, in practice, Japanese people work longer in line with an increase of pensionable age. Reform of the Act for Stabilization of Employment of Older Persons, which obliged companies to employ their workers up to pensionable age, supports this trend. Scheduled 20% reduction of pension benefit will also strengthen the trend in next decades.
Alongside pensions, home ownership is a major factor shaping household wealth and thus potentially influence people’s retirement decision. The volatile housing market, however, poses a significant barrier in post-growth Japan when considering equity release. As the net household saving rate is falling, future generations are expected to extend working life due to the decline in personal wealth.
As part of the workshop, leading policy makers and practitioners in related areas of employment, finance, housing and city planning presented current situations and emerging issues facing ‘super-aged’ Japanese society:
- Naoto Ohmi (Executive Deputy President, Japanese Trade Union Confederation (JTUC-RENGO) argued that securing employment opportunities up to age 70 was an important policy agenda in Japan. The majority of those in the late 60s who are still in employment mentioned financial reasons for extending their working life. Trade Unions continue to work towards raising mandatory retirement to age 65. It is urgent to close the gap between the retirement age and the pensionable age.
- Takeshi Sakai (Japan Housing Finance Agency) led the development of reverse mortgage products between 2014 and 2018. Reserve mortgage is not widely known or used among older homeowners in Japan, but it is gaining popularity, partly thanks to the promotion by housing developers. However, depreciation of house price remains a major barrier in post-growth Japan in order to further promote the use of housing assets in later life through this type of mortgage products. Equity release currently remains an option largely for the wealthy ‘propertied-class’ but has potential to support those on low incomes.
- Titled as ‘the utilisation of assets in later life’, Kazuhiro Sugaya (Senior Manager, Pension Consultation Division, Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation) located the Japanese social security system in the international context. The composition of household wealth has shifted over the years, but housing assets are the main component of household wealth in Japan. He argued the importance of ‘financial gerontology’, the system enabling to extend individuals’ own financial assets at the arrival of the ‘centennial life’.
- Ageing is a serious concern in Tama City. Yusai Takei (New Town Redevelopment Section Head, Tama City Government, Tokyo) discussed current strategies in order to revitalise the city’s ageing New Towns (developed in the 1970s) and its residents. Not only rebuilding old housing complexes but also the city is developing systems to facilitate residential moves of older households according to their life-course need. By attracting younger families, it is indeed important to achieve age mix in the neighbourhoods to sustain the healthy living environment.
For many participants, it was the first time they had had the opportunity to attend a knowledge exchange workshop. Many agreed it was ‘beneficial for policy makers to exchange knowledge and ideas with academics, practitioners and experts working in other fields.’ Participated stakeholders tend to focus on tasks in their own fields such as city planning or housing. For example, “presentations about employment were fresh and made me think the importance of creating employment for older workers in New Town” (Mr Takei). The UK experiences, presented by Professors Flynn and Izuhara, also provided food for thought. “Transition from work to retirement is a major issue for pensioners. The evidence from the UK contributed to our understanding” (Mr Ohmi). Another participant wanted to know the mechanism of the UK housing market and system to sustain housing prices as the key to facilitate the use of housing assets in later life in Japan.
For the next 8 months, the project team will work collaboratively to examine identified comparative themes such as opportunities and constraints of older workers in the contrasting institutional systems and housing/labour markets; and the impact of personal wealth on retirement trajectories between Japan and the UK using existing micro data.
This international project is funded by the UK Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) UK-Japan Connections Grant. The Principal Investigator is Professor Misa Izuhara, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, UK. For more information and to the team visit the project page.
Professor David Abbott, from the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, looks at collaboration and power sharing in coproduced research.
It’s #CoProWeek if you’ll excuse the twitter short-hand. And with a whiff of, ‘This is what I did in my holiday’ news, I am not long back from a summer school about co-production at the rather glorious and gloriously named, University of the Highlands and Islands.
One of the things I liked about the course was that we were comprised of researchers, activists, heads of charities, community agitators and leaders, and policy and engagement types. We shared a commitment to making things change and making things better in our respective communities. I think some of us went searching for the perfect way to do coproduction and of course in that respect we were usefully disappointed. Two main learning points for me, about which more below, were: 1. Coproduction behoves us to rethink who is ‘we’ and who is ‘them’ and ‘they’? 2. In the overall endeavour of research, who has a say, who always has a say and who rarely or never has a say?
It seems to me that lots of folks are in search of ‘true’ co-production, some holy grail of perfect collaboration and power sharing. We are awash with toolkits, guidance, good practice, courses and webinars about coproduction. It’s an industry in and of itself. I wonder if there is more of this than actual coproduction.
In my field at the intersection of social policy and disability studies, there is a long history of problematising the role and historical dominance of non-disabled people doing research on disabled people. The movement towards more inclusive research with disabled children, youth, and adults, including those with learning disabilities, is now however fairly well established.
In my first research job with a disability focus, our young disabled people’s reference group held a fairly long, no-holds barred discussion about whether or not I should be in the room as a non-disabled person. It was very uncomfortable for me but they were rightly asserting their power and asking a legitimate question. So, coproduction for me sometimes has a feeling of ‘emperor’s new clothes’ but also something co-opted for better and sometimes worse to actually mask power differentials. I can still really only whisper in lower case about being part of a so-called coproduction team evaluating a so-called coproduced government policy programme “with” (lol) disabled people. The volume on coproduction was high but the reality was draconian and grim.
What I can say, from my own experience of being part of a project team made up of user-led organisations, disabled people’s organisations and university researchers, are three things:
- It felt like coproduction because it was hard and mostly uncensored. We had similar goals but I think the wider team sometimes felt I was a bit slavish to the research proposal and agreement with the funder. Others sometimes wanted to ‘get on with it’ or change things. I often did too but felt a bit uptight with the burden and privilege (?) of being the budget holder (see below).
- It worked well as coproduction because we played to our agreed strengths and interests.
- When we asked participants why they had decided to take part in research interviews, several said it was because of the team. Some said they would have put the paperwork in the bin straight away if it had just come from “the University”. The nature of the team reassured people about the underlying values of the research and that there was some presumption of trust and safety.
Money matters and I mentioned above that I had been the budget holder in our work together even though in fact the collaboration was well established and the need for research established before I was ever invited in as a researcher. (I liked this. To me it turned on its head the usual idea that coproduced research is about the researcher inviting the non-academics, the non-researchers into the tent. Plus, note the ‘non’ rather than what people actually are – experts in all kinds of domains.) But the reality is that many funders require the budget holder or principal investigator to be based in a University or the NHS or some other statutory service. This doesn’t rule out coproduced collaborations but the power is already and instantly a bit unequal.
This is why the Disability Research on Independent Living & Learning (DRILL) programme was so neat as the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people. Not to my credit, but I can recall feeling irked that such a big funding opportunity excluded me from applying missing, initially, the point that this was entirely right and massively exciting and important. My initial annoyance presumably mirrored by groups routinely excluded from or hampered by the set-up of research funding streams.
If I can end by directing you to elsewhere it’d be to this brilliant podcast which discusses what to my mind is a wonderful, authentic piece of coproduced research with young disabled women living shorter lives but exerting the value, joy and expertise that their lives engender. “Coproduction is not about having all the answers, but about learning together,” say the researchteam. Amen sisters.
David Abbott is a Professor of Social Policy in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol and an Associate Director of NIHR School for Social Care Research. He tweets things about research, cake and the countryside at @davidabbottbris
Professor Val Williams explores the use of Conversation Analysis to improve communication in dementia settings.
Living with dementia is not a prison sentence, and sensitively conducted social research can help us all to develop more confidence in supporting people to live positive lives after a dementia diagnosis. This ESRC funded research carried out at the School for Policy Studies from 2015-18 was about communication – not the communication skills or deficits of people living with dementia, but the skills of their communication partners. This blog therefore raises the question: ‘Can the skills to communicate well in dementia settings be learnt?’ and reflects on process of creating the 5 co-produced dementia communication training videos being released this week.
In the light of rapid increases in dementia, in the UK and elsewhere, it is generally assumed that research is urgently needed which helps us better understand how to prevent and to treat the condition. While that remains true, it is also important to listen to the voices of people living with dementia, and to look at ways that could improve their everyday lives. In one of the projects in the ‘Getting Things Changed’ programme, members of the ‘Forget-me-Not’ group in Swindon co-produced research with Joe Webb and Val Williams. That means they were actively involved, in advising, in analysing, and pushing the research in directions they felt were important. They felt their lives were enhanced by talking with other people, by getting to know new friends in peer support groups, and by improving the attitudes and skills of all those around them. What they really wanted was to be in control of their own decisions as long as they could and to enjoy their lives and new-found identities. As one of the research group, Sandie Read, says:
“Everyone will tell you the same thing. You’re diagnosed, and then it’s ‘You’ve got dementia. Go home and we’ll see you next month’. What we need is for someone, like a counsellor or someone else with dementia, to tell us at that point ‘Life isn’t over’. You can go on for ten or fifteen years. And you’re not told, you’re just left. And I thought, tomorrow my day had come. The fear and the anxiety sets in, and then the depression sets in, doesn’t it? I think when you’re diagnosed, you should be given a book. And on the front of the book, in big letters, it should say: ‘Don’t panic’.”
The five communication training videos launched this week are all led by members of the Forget-me-Not research group, who appear on screen – both speaking for themselves, and acting out roles based on data we collected during the research. Following the tenets of Conversation Analysis methods (Sidnell and Stivers, 2014), we were interested in the fine-grained detail of the interactions which go on between people with dementia and the other people they meet in their daily lives. Many would consider Conversation Analysis a technical and inaccessible method, but the basic ideas about interaction were, for the Forget-me-Not members, the bread-and-butter of their everyday experience. As we filmed what was happening in the dementia groups where we had obtained consent, Roy, Sandie and Harry helped us make sense of the data from their point of view.
One early example of this can be witnessed in the training video ‘Talking About the Past’. Harry and Roy understand the issues faced by people in their position, who may not easily recall details of their own past life: “When we do our life story now, and people say to us, you know, ‘How did it happen?’, often, I think, are we saying it how it happened? Because I think we are now at the – we can’t remember it all. It’s – and are we saying how it happened, or are we just filling in the gaps? Because I often think about that, you know. Is it a different story than what I said before, because I can’t always remember. Every time I do my life story, it starts off and comes out differently each time.” But when they saw some examples of people being asked about their past in dementia activity group settings, their focus was not just on the person with dementia, but on the way the conversation was conducted. They felt that the person with dementia could easily feel as if they were being interrogated. Questions were asked which seemed meaningless, their answers were never adequate, and the support workers easily slipped into the role of teacher – praising them for ‘good answers’ or for knowing things which the ‘teacher’ already knew.
We all do this type of thing. It is part of the array of interactional resources which we draw on in ordinary conversation all the time, and when someone is seen to be having difficulty in responding, we tend to probe, to prompt them, or even to cross-question them. We also mostly have experience of conversations in which we ourselves get cut out, or where our contributions do not appear to be valued. Supporters in dementia groups do a fantastic job, and have more experience of managing these situations than most of us. So what can our research offer?
We wanted to go further than just providing ‘tips for talk’: there are already resources and training materials which for instance urge dementia supporters to ‘be patient’, ‘listen’, ‘allow waiting time’. But we could see from our data that so much depends on what has just gone before: Conversation Analysis is based on this idea of sequencing. Every remark someone makes reveals how they have interpreted the previous comment or question, and a neat example of this principle happened in our data when a person living with dementia was shown a mug from a Memory Box, and asked the seemingly open question ‘What do you think of that?’; he eventually came out with ‘What do you mean, think?’ Harry and the others in the Forget-me-Not group suggested that these types of questions simply do not work in these situations. It is far more effective to remind someone directly of something they have said, or to mention a fact or situation which might bring back their memory of the past. In fact, the group members could demonstrate how they would do this themselves, in their own group, where they know each other so well as friends. And all of these insights are incorporated into the first of the training videos, ‘Talking About the Past’, as well as being reflected in an article we wrote for a Discourse journal (Williams V., Webb J., Dowling S., Gall M.. (2018). Direct and indirect ways of managing epistemic asymmetries when eliciting memories. Discourse Studies, 21 (2), pp. 199–215.
Our training materials and research are featured this month in a piece published by Joe Webb in the Journal of Dementia Care, and we know that practitioners and trainers are keen to use the videos with all those who communicate regularly with people with dementia. We are very grateful to the practitioners and managers who helped us shape our material into videos which they would find useful for training. Above all, the videos are there as a resource, to get people thinking and reflecting on their own interactions, and to try out something new. As Joe Webb comments, ‘the materials we have produced are a collaboration, moving past traditional approaches to Conversation Analysis by incorporating the views, expertise and lived experience of the Forget-me-Not co researchers into understanding more about how everyday communication works. They are not intended as a prescriptive ‘one size fits all’ approach, but to get the viewer to reflect on how these common, everyday situations come up in interactions, and how they would deal with them. Becoming aware and attuned to the fine-grained way talk is produced is a great way of potentially improving practice. We are hugely indebted to the fantastic staff and participants who shared their skills with us’.
We maintain therefore that Conversation Analysis is not just an ‘academic exercise’ to untangle the rules and conventions of ordinary interaction. It can be a useful tool, providing evidence to help us analyse what is happening in dementia conversations, and in helping us to change things for the better. And nowhere is this more effective than via the direct voice of those who have lived experience of dementia. As Roy James, a Forget-me-Not member, comments on the initial recruitment video for our project:
“It does help to talk to people. That’s what this research is about. Do you have somebody to listen to you? If you don’t, find someone who will listen to you, just talk to them. Think of the other people you’re helping. You might not know the other people, you might not even meet them. But this research, down the line, could give a whole new aspect to someone’s life.”
Dr Wenjing Zhang and Dr Paul Willis from the Centre for Research in Health and Social Care, School for Policy Studies, write on the importance of equality and inclusion within care environments and the launch of the Care under the Rainbow digital resource.
17th May 2019 marks IDAHOT Day – International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. This is a significant day for a number of reasons. For LGBT+ groups and organisations it’s about recognising and speaking out against the violence and discrimination experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and all other people who belong to sexual and gender minority groups around the world. 17th May also marks the date when the World Health Organisation decided to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1990 (subsequently removed in 1992) – this was another successful challenge to institutional homophobia. The UK Government’s recent survey of over 108,000 LGBT+ respondents shows us that we still need IDAHOT day and other local and international campaigns against sexuality and gender-based violence and discrimination. The survey reports that 68% of respondents with a minority sexual orientation said they had avoided holding hands in public with a same-sex partner for fear of a negative response. 40% of respondents had experienced a hostile or violent incident in the 12 months before the survey because they were LGBT+.
In the UK, LGBT+ people who are over 60 years of age have lived through decades of criminalisation (until partial decriminalisation of sex between men in 1967), pathologisation (treatment of homosexual as a mental disorder and ‘unhealthy lifestyle’), and social and moral condemnation of same-sex relationships and desires across communities. For older lesbians, their existence has only been recently recognised in law with the implementation of equal rights law over the last 18 years. For trans individuals, the Gender Recognition Act in 2004 finally enabled people with a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria to change their legal gender and marked a shift in the State starting to protect the civil rights of trans individuals.
Living in a hostile and oppressive climate across one’s lifetime can lead to deep mistrust and low confidence in legal bodies, institutions and helping professionals, such as mental health professionals, GPs, social care workers and housing officers. We know from Stonewall research conducted in 2011 that older LGB adults (55+) report lower confidence in health and social care professionals compared to heterosexual older adults – in turn this may prevent older LGBT+ individuals from seeking health and care support from service providers when they need it later life. In care and nursing homes older LGBT+ people are often invisible, and their personal lives, histories and relationships can be hidden behind a double-layered curtain of ageist and heterosexist/ cisgenderist assumptions. Organisations such as Age UK and Opening Doors London are working hard to challenge these assumptions and to create safer, more equal environments for older LGBT+ people across services, including care and nursing homes. We’ve sought to make our own contribution to creating inclusive care environments for older LGBT+ people with the creation and launch of our new online learning resource titled ‘Care Under the Rainbow’.
On Friday 17th May 2019 the University of Bristol and The Diversity Trust jointly hosted the ‘Care Under the Rainbow Launch Event’. This launch showcased a new online resource for care home staff and managers for making care homes more inclusive for older people who identify as LGBT+. The aim of this new resource is to provide managers and staff teams with tools for leading discussions and educational sessions about the importance of promoting equality between residents in care homes and of valuing diversity amongst staff and residents.
This new resource includes four short films on the inclusion of LGBT+ residents (Care home staff talking, Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual inclusion, Creating Trans inclusion and Werner and Alan’s Story), case studies for use in staff training and development, top tips and things you can do for making care homes more inclusive, and legal timeline highlighting key changes in equality law and policy in England and Wales. The learning materials and films are free and hosted on the Diversity Trust website: Care under the Rainbow. This resource has been co-produced by LGBT+ individuals with the involvement and advice of older LGBT+ individuals and the work has been supported by a wide range of organisations, including Skills for Care and Stonewall Cymru.
Here are some ways in which care home managers and staff might use the learning materials:
- Staff team meeting – watch 1-2 of the films together and/or discuss 1-2 of the case studies to raise discussion about the importance of respect of equality and diversity among residents.
- Recruitment exercise – use one of the case studies in interviews with new staff members as a way of assessing applicants’ attitudes and values.
- Induction – request new staff to view the films and read the documents online and then discuss 1-2 of the case studies together to gauge how new staff members would respond to residents from similar backgrounds.
- Continuous professional development – organise a half-day training session for all staff. Start with watching the films together, test participants knowledge of the law with the legal timeline (e.g. quick quiz) and finish with discussion of the case studies in pairs or small groups of 3-4 participants.
In addition to the showcase of these learning materials, the launch event included the following talks: Paul Willis (Senior Lecturer, University of Bristol) presented messages from recent research on health and social care, ageing and LGBT+ people in later life; Berkeley Wilde (Director and Founder, The Diversity Trust) talked through the project story and showed the audience how to access this learning material; and Alice Wallace (Director, Opening Doors London) introduced the ‘Pride in Care’ project being led by Opening Doors London.
A panel discussion was also held on making care homes more inclusive. The panel included Paul Willis, Berkeley Wider, Alice Wallace, Ian Boulton (South Gloucestershire Councillor for Staple Hill Ward), Stuart Wright (Dementia Care Lead, Brunelcare) and Jenny-Anne Bishop OBE (Chairperson & Outreach and Training coordinator for The Unique Transgender Network North Wales and TransForum Manchester).
We were delighted that a very diverse audience came along to participate in the launch event including care home staff and managers and members of the LGBT+ community. Following the launch, we will be disseminating the learning resource to a wider audience, including care and nursing homes across South West England and South Wales, and would like to explore future research and practice-focused collaborations.
If you would like to find out more information about the launch event and project story, please search our twitter hashtag #careunderrainbow or visit the project website, hosted by the Diversity Trust.
We’d love to hear your feedback on the learning resource, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Geetanjali Gangoli, Senior Leturer and researcher in the Centre for Gender Violence Research recommends further action to eliminate gender violence within UK Universities.
The elimination of gender-based violence (GBV) is a human rights priority both internationally and domestically. The new prominence of movements such as #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #MeTooPhD brought to the forefront of public consciousness the prevalence of GBV and the scale of the impact on women’s everyday lives in education, the home, and the workplace. The World Health Organisation found those experiencing GBV were more than two times as likely to experience mental health issues and thus declared it “a global health problem of epidemic proportions”.
The limited existing evidence on sexual and domestic abuse at UK universities
No study has investigated domestic abuse specifically at UK universities, but there are indicators that it occurs amongst students and staff. For instance, the Office of National Statistics indicate that young adults aged 18 to 24 tend to be at higher risk for domestic abuse. Indicators for university staff can be drawn from wider studies (e.g. Hester et al., 2017; Walby and Allen, 2004), showing that approximately 20% of women and 4% of men experience domestic abuse during their lifetime.
Several studies of varying quality have assessed students’ experiences of sexual violence. Findings from these studies suggested that: for female students, 70% experienced sexual violence, and 5% rape; and for male students, 12% experienced sexual assault. The most recent study by Brook (2019) found that 56% of both male and female students surveyed experienced unwanted advances and assault.
One study on sexual violence and university staff queried students about staffs’ use of sexual violence towards them, with 41% of female and male students reporting they experienced staff sexual misconduct. Only 6-8% of students who experienced sexual violence reported to the police or university, compared to an estimated 17% of victims of sexual violence in the general population.
A multi-site study of the sexual violence impacts experienced by students at English campus universities found that 100% of those who had experienced sexual violence reported a negative psychological, emotional or physical health based impact. Out of these, 27% contemplated suicide or self-harm, 15% developed an eating disorder, 15% abused alcohol or drugs and 12% reported becoming more prone to, and frequent absence from university due to, illness. Additionally, 50% of those who reported being sexually assaulted indicated having experienced a negative impact on their academic performance, and 11% indicated that the progress of their studies was delayed. The Revolt Sexual Assault and Student Room (2018) study found 25% of victim-survivors changed, dropped modules, missed lectures and/or tutorials, and 16% suspended or dropped out of their degree programme.
There are no direct indicators of university staffs’ experiences and impacts of sexual violence, but inferences can be drawn from wider studies. Conducted with general samples in the UK, some studies suggest the prevalence for women may range from 20% experiencing assault or rape in their lifetime to 52% experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace since the age of 16. There is also limited information on men’s experiences. What evidence is available suggests that prevalence for men may range from 4% experiencing assault or rape in their lifetime to 9% experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace since the age of 16.
UK university responses: Ad hoc
Universities function within national and international legal frameworks. However, there are no specific legislative duties on UK universities in terms of data collection, prevention, and response akin to those under USA law, such as; Title IX 1972; the Clery Act 1990/1998; VAWA Act 1994/2013; and Campus SaVE Act 2013.
Universities have potential obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and Human Rights Act 1998, but only to respond appropriately when victim-survivors disclose, not to prevent the violence in the first place. Guidance has been issued by UUK for investigating “student misconduct which may also constitute a criminal offence” but this fails to recognise the complex reality of sexual violence cases and is not mandatory. UUK (2016) issued eighteen recommendations, followed by a further twelve recommendations in 2018; but again none are mandatory.
After the UUK Taskforce: Changing the Culture recommendations in October 2016 there was a flurry of ad hoc university activity stimulated by HEFCE’s (now Office for Students) Catalyst funding pilot projects, including bystander training, reporting systems, and awareness campaigns. UUK (2018) has since reported to Ministers that there were variations in developments across the sector, and there is a need for senior leadership to commit to long term planning and resourcing of interventions, as well as data collection. University responses remain patchy with the Women and Equalities Select Committee concluding that the current voluntary approach is not working. The final evaluations of the Catalyst projects are due this spring, including the findings of a survey to establish what progress has been made against the Changing the Culture recommendations.
Moving towards more consistent university responses in the UK
In March 2019, the Government Strategy Refresh ‘Ending Violence against Women and Girls’ was published and included a recommendation to generate regular data on the nature and prevalence of sexual harassment. We currently await the government response.
Speaking at a conference in March 2019, Jessica Trahar, Head of Student Welfare and Safeguarding at the Office for Students, talked of linking safeguarding around sexual violence and mental health into university Access and Participation Plans, and making funding dependent on adequate provision for victim-survivors in universities.
The Women and Equalities Committee report on sexual harassment of women and girls in public places (2018) took this further, stating “The government should put in place legal obligations that mirror provisions in the US to link state funding with a requirement to prohibit sex discrimination and sexual harassment, and to collect and publish data on the effectiveness of institutional policies”.
While the above mentioned studies begin to shed light on the problem of gender-based violence in universities, and we support these most recent proposals, there remains overarching, fundamental gaps:
- Existing studies should be supplemented with a national study that: a) uses the most robust methodology, including random sampling, b) includes both staff and student victimisation, and c) incorporates domestic as well as sexual abuse.
- University prevention and response ‘plans’ remain ad hoc and piecemeal, primarily because universities remain relatively unaffected if they do not respond. This must be addressed at a structural level either as a statutory or mandatory
- At an institutional level, Universities must be guided to develop strategic responses to GBV based on evidence.
- An evidence based framework should be constructed for the specific context of UK universities, enabling such a comprehensive and cohesive strategic responses
Addressing the above will help to prevent the proliferation of studies that are of insufficient quality, and the development of responses with no strategic vision or little evidence base.
The Office of Students and the Home Office need to work together with Universities UK, universities, students’ unions, victim-survivors’ services, victim-survivors themselves, the criminal justice system, and academics with expertise in the field, to develop robust evidence-based responses to gender-based violence at university.
This blog was first published on the University of Bath IPR blog on 2nd May 2019 and was written with Dr Tina Skinner, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences at the University of Bath. Dr Cassandra Jones,Postdoctorate Research Fellow in Law at the University of Exeter. Dr Rachel Fenton, Senior Lecturer in the Law School at the University of Exeter. Dr Olivia Smith, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Anglia Ruskin University and Janet Keliher, a PhD Candidate at the University of Exeter.
Dr Demi Patsios, Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Research in Health and Social Care, discusses findings from a recent Nuffield Foundation project that examines the importance of using multidimensional indicators to improve the measurement of living standards.
Living standards in the United Kingdom are typically measured using household income or expenditure. Past research focuses on how they have changed over time, the extent to which there are in inequalities within different groups, and the impact of the recession on living standards Subjective indicators such as the personal evaluation of life circumstances, have however often been neglected or dismissed in social policy research as unreliable.
There has been little research that combines monetary and non-monetary indicators to inform living standards in the UK, both objectively and subjectively measured, for different household compositions and family types. Combining information on material and social living standards with how people feel about different aspects of their lives provide both a fuller picture on how different family types are faring in society and a broader picture of well-being, which can be used by policymakers to improve welfare and redress inequalities.
Our project The distribution and dynamics of economic and social well-being in the UK used data from three UK national surveys
- Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey (PSE) 2012
- Family Resources Survey (FRS) 2006/7 – 2016/16
- UK Household Longitudinal Study – “Understanding Society” (USoc) 2009-11 – 14-16
In our research, living standards are defined as the total of individual/family welfare using both objective and subjective indicators of individual/family welfare, which fall under three broad domains: ‘What We Have’, ‘What We Do’ and ‘Where We Live’. This conceptual framework was originally applied to the 2012 Poverty and Social Exclusion survey (PSE2012) data
What We Have
- Economic resources
- Material good
- Financial situation
- Personal and social resources
- Physical and mental health
What We Do
- Paid and unpaid work
- Social and political participation
- Social relations and integration
Where We Live
- Housing and accommodation
- Local area/neighbourhood
- Local services
Key project findings
- The research confirms previous research that certain family life-course types, e.g. single adults of working age and single parents, had been affected most (monetarily and non-monetarily) by the economic downturn and subsequent recovery.
- The same family life-course type differences and trends across the recessionary period are found in both objective and subjective indicators of resources (e.g. income, financial situation and mental health).
- The analysis showed the importance of the nature of the measures and indicators used when trying to establish changes in trends in both objective and subjective indicators and the relationship between them over time.
- The associations between objective and subjective indicators of economic resources are most closely aligned when individual measures or indicators of living standards are highly congruent in both measurement and operationalisation.
- The findings also confirmed the importance of income as a key resource in living standards and the scientific validity of material deprivation items used in PSE, FRS and USoc surveys.
- Satisfaction with income, satisfaction with financial situation, and satisfaction with life can be used as valid and reliable subjective indicators of living standards and how they change over time.
So why use subjective indicators of living standards?
Our research shows that a small set of subjective indicators (satisfaction with income, satisfaction with financial situation, and satisfaction with life) can be used to monitor changes in living standards over time and between different household and family types.
Subjective indicators can corroborate objective indicators such as income and material deprivation, which are not collected consistently across surveys or over time. These could be useful for smaller charitable and voluntary organisations working with individuals and families who do not have the capacity to collect in-depth survey data on income/resources.
Subjective indicators can help track changes in living standards across time and across family life-course types because their variation is explained mostly by what people have rather than who they are, where they live and what they do. By going beyond objective indicators of resources, we can capture a fuller and more nuanced picture of living standards in the in order to identify groups (specifically, single adults of working age and single parents) that require further policy attention (monetary and non-monetary), particularly during periods of economic downturn.
Find out more about the project.
Dr Emma Williamson discusses the current political and societal landscape regarding gender equality and how the Centre for Gender Violence Research continues to fight for justice for the victims of domestic violence.
The last year has been a mixed one for women’s rights. The consequence of the Trump election has seen many of the hard-fought rights for women being reversed in the US, from challenges to women’s reproductive rights – access to contraception and abortion – to changes to the definitions of domestic and sexual violence. These latter changes make it difficult for victims of psychological abuse and manipulative coercive control to get justice and support.
Globally, political and social shifts to the right through nationalist political parties also mean that women’s rights have been challenged from Hungary, where women’s studies centres have been closed, to the decriminalisation of domestic violence in Russia.
Alongside these challenges we have also seen the development of the #MeToo movement which has changed the social landscape of how we talk about abuse, and how we respond. This movement is not a magic bullet however, we need to both prevent abuse happening as well as responding appropriately when people disclose it. We still have a long way to go on both fronts.
Closer to home, many of the research projects from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research have come to fruition. The Justice project ended officially in May last year and we continue to disseminate the findings through our partnerships. Several academic papers are in press looking at faith-based responses to abuse, police responses, issues with protection orders, child sexual abuse, sex with third parties, as well as methods papers and one looking at the secondary trauma impact of this type of work on researchers. We have a London based event in May to further disseminate this work, and we are working with Research in Practice to offer training to social care practitioners across England and Wales over coming months. This training is based on the findings from the Justice and DRIVE projects.
This year saw the publication of the second annual report from DRIVE. This project has been evaluating an innovative approach to disrupting the behaviour of high-risk domestic abuse perpetrators using multi-agency intervention. The findings so far are positive and show that using this approach (enshrined in the Istanbul Convention) has had positive outcomes for the safety of victims/survivors, ensuring a robust response from the criminal justice system.
In December we held the final event for our Global Challenges Research fund project looking at gender and displacement in the UK and Iraqi Kurdistan. We welcomed colleagues from Kurdistan, but the visa process was itself enlightening. Twelve colleagues intended to travel to Bristol but five had their travel visas denied and as a result six decided not to apply (the process is extremely costly). Most disturbing was the fact that unmarried women were deemed not to have strong enough social ties in their home country to mitigate their flight risk. This was ironic given that our project was looking at the ways in which gender impacts on experiences of displacement!
Most recently Professor Marianne Hester with Professor Evan Stark (a previous Benjamin Meaker Fellow at the Centre) provided expert testimony to the successful Sally Challen appeal case. This landmark appeal brings coercive control into focus as a potential mitigating factor in cases of murder/manslaughter where diminished responsibility is at stake. That case will go to re-trial and we anticipate our work in this area featuring in that new trial.
Finally, the only non-Brexit item in the government legislative package this year has been the new Domestic Violence Bill. We engaged with a wide range of activities relating to that consultation, including presenting to four Westminster events, and meeting directly with the Home Office to discuss the findings from the Justice Project – the most up to date data on protection orders and Criminal Justice System responses. With the political uncertainty in Westminster at present we do not know when that Bill will be taken forward but whatever happens, the process of being able to share our findings with service providers and policy makers has been extremely rewarding, both to us and to those who took part in the research.
What all of this work shows us is that victims and survivors are still seeking justice for their experiences of gender based violence. Having spent much of the last year immersed in survivors’ testimonies, we know how crucial victim’s rights (predominately women) are in protecting them and their families from abuse, but so too is the way that society and communities within society respond. Victims and survivors want recognition, they want to be heard, and they want the perpetrator to be held to account. These are simple messages which we can apply to our own individual, institutional, and social interactions when addressing issues of abuse. They are also clear messages we can take forward, in the year which marks the centenary of some women’s suffrage, challenging both the individual and structural barriers which exist to prevent women from achieving their human rights.
Dr Ailsa Cameron, Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Research in Health and Social Care and a Fellow of the NIHR School for Social Care Research, discusses findings from a recent project looking at how we can best support volunteers in social care settings.
Encouraging people to volunteer in social care for older people has been a key part of practice in the sector for many years, but in recent times the significance of volunteering has grown, particularly in light of the funding cuts faced by the sector.
We know volunteers can do a huge amount to enhance the care and support that older people receive. They can bring a new energy to settings and give older people an opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with people other than paid care workers. Volunteers can also do a lot to reduce the loneliness and isolation that many older people experience.
There are also benefits for those who volunteer in social care themselves – opportunities to develop new skills, gain experience of different work contexts and enhance their own wellbeing, or just an opportunity to give something back.
During our research on Exploring the Role of Volunteers in Social Care Settings (ERVIC), we heard about many settings where volunteers were making an important contribution to older people’s care and support. We learnt about volunteer-run exercise programmes and befriending services in residential care, organising and running lunch clubs, and volunteers giving extra support at day centres and visiting people recently discharged from hospital.
However, reliance on volunteers to deliver care and support for older people brings new challenges to the sector. Volunteers are not a ‘free service’ – to be effective, they need training as well as ongoing support. This is particularly important given the vulnerability of many older people who receive social care services. Volunteers have much to offer, but they also need to be clear of the boundaries and limits of their role, and they need to know what to do if they have concerns about an older person.
Several of the settings we visited told us they were struggling to recruit and retain volunteers. Changes to retirement law, as well as growing numbers of older people looking after grandchildren or caring for their partners or friends, means that fewer people have the time or flexibility needed to volunteer. On top of that, delays in DBS processes and burdensome training programmes were thought by volunteer coordinators and managers to put some people off of volunteering in the sector.
On Thursday 21 March 2019, in partnership with Voscur, we will host a workshop at the Southville Centre to present our findings from the ERVIC project and exchange ideas about the challenges and opportunities associated with working with volunteers in social care settings for older people.
This event is aimed at volunteer coordinators, commissioners of adult social care and providers and managers of social care organisations and will involve a Voscur-led workshop called Measuring the Value of Volunteering, plus discussions about how volunteers are contributing to social care, the challenges of involving volunteers and how best to work with volunteers.
If you’re connected to social care, volunteering or services for older people, or you’re just curious and would like to find out more, we hope to see you at the Southville Centre next month. Book your place for the workshop.
Watching the early February snow fall outside my office window is a beautiful sight but it can also be a stark reminder that snowfall in the UK means many things to different people – for some a frustrating barrier to their daily routine or journey, for others a (hopefully) opportune moment to enjoy time off from work or school. For some people who struggle with feelings of loneliness day-to-day and experience social isolation daily, adverse weather conditions in winter can be another reminder of their solitude and disconnection from others and present a further obstacle to leaving the home, both mentally and physically.
Loneliness is a natural and widely experienced emotional response to our desire for increased social contact with others and it’s something we all experience across our lifetime. Feeling lonely is an important social cue that tells us we need to reach out and connect with friends, family members or other people in our neighbourhood or local community. In a lot of cases these feelings are temporary and serve a short-term purpose in getting us socially mobilised. For some people however, loneliness can become an ongoing and persistent ache for other people’s company that is not easily alleviated. It is increasingly defined as a social problem requiring a healthcare and social policy response and, in the UK, this has recently accumulated in the appointment of a Minister for Loneliness and the release of a cross-departmental strategy on tackling loneliness by the UK Government.
Winter is often associated as a difficult time for people living with long-term loneliness and experiencing social isolation, with shorter days and longer nights and adverse weather conditions that undermine attempts to meet and connect with other individuals in person. National campaigning organisation Age UK runs an annual campaign, ‘No one should have no one’, to bring attention to seasons such as a winter and festivities like Christmas as particularly difficult times for older adults who may be socially isolated. Age UK estimates that currently around 1.4 million older people (50+) living in England are ‘often lonely’. We know that a greater percentage of older women report loneliness in comparison to older men in the UK but that men can also struggle with discussing and disclosing emotionally sensitive topics such as loneliness.
As part of a two-year research study on older men, social isolation and loneliness, we’ve been speaking to 111 men from different social groups and circumstances about the ways in which they experience loneliness and how they alleviate these feelings and keep it at bay. We’ve interviewed men (65-95 years) about their experiences from five different groups: older men who are single or living alone in rural and urban areas; older gay men who are single or living alone; older men with hearing loss; and, older men who are carers for significant others (such as family members, partners). The project is funded by the NIHR School for Social Care Research to April 2019 and in collaboration with Age UK.
Across our interviews with different groups of older men, a common thread has been the challenges of combating loneliness during colder months, and winter and night times as being tough times to manage, particularly when on one’s own. The older men in our study talked of ‘winter blues’ that can make them feel particularly isolated and how with the dark nights and winter illnesses they can have trouble socialising and engaging in activities. Over half the men we interviewed lived alone which also complicated efforts to connect with others daily.
I suppose it’s the what, regrettably, is the long nights. We change the clock, the night comes in that much quicker, and daylight hours are shorter.
It gives the general feeling of claustrophobia, then. [M83, 75, single/ living alone]
Sitting here, probably not feeling very well, which is when it hits, in the depths of the winter, when it’s dark. I’m doddering on my legs, and I have to be careful not to go out when it’s icy these days, because you don’t want to fall over and break your hip. That can be very serious. [M7, 72, single, gay]
For men who are caring for significant others such as partners or adult children, night times were difficult not because of the season but more as the first moment of the day they were alone and not in the company of the person they were routinely caring for. This could be experienced as a moment of necessary solitude but also a reminder of their isolation from others within the caring relationship.
Despite experiencing periods of loneliness, this does not mean these men were socially isolated from others. This is where it is important to recognise the difference between loneliness and social isolation. Most men we spoke to had regular contact with friends and family members in their social networks and all were connected to and participated in groups in their local community. Many men told us about how they valued contributing to and being actively involved in running groups and the importance of having a role and purpose which made them feel valued and regarded by others. With Age UK, we are currently in the process of developing good practice guidance for service providers on what men value about groups and some of the considerations that need to be given to running groups.
Tackling loneliness at any time of the year is the focus of many voluntary and third sector organisations. Bristol Ageing Better is one locally-based programme that is commissioning groups and interventions aimed to reducing loneliness and isolation for older people. The UK Men’s Shed Association is another initiative targeting the interests and needs of older men, with Sheds running across the UK. While the UK Government’s Strategy on Loneliness is a welcome policy response on this important issue, there remains further scope for tackling the wider, more complicated problem of social disconnection and the social distances older people, amongst other groups, experience between themselves and the wider communities in which they live.
Further information: Findings from the study, along with the practice guidance, will be launched on Monday 29th April 2019 at Age UK, Tavis House, London WC1H 9NA. To find out more about the launch event please contact email@example.com
Funding disclaimer: ‘This blog summarises independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research School for Social Care Research. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR SSCR, the National Institute for Health Research or the Department of Health and Social Care.’
Dendy Platt, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, School for Policy Studies, discusses the challenges currently facing professionals involved in the assessment of the needs of children and the increasingly difficult environment in which they operate.
Children in need and child maltreatment can be emotive topics. A constant question that lurks at the backs of the minds of those of us involved professionally with assessments of the needs of children, is that “someone, somewhere must know more about children and young people than I do”. And that whoever these experts are, they “must surely have the answers to the assessment dilemmas regarding the children I am working with”.
This nagging search for solutions becomes even more acute in the context of the years of austerity measures currently facing the range of services for children. UK politicians will claim that overall spending on children’s services has gone up in recent years. However, the greatest part of this increase has been absorbed into funding the growing numbers of children in the care system. Yet at the same time, and probably contributing to increases in number of children in care, has been a hidden, but very serious decrease, estimated as a 60% spending reduction, in preventive services for children and young people in need (for example, youth services and children’s centres) . Alongside this wholesale withdrawal of support for children in need, child poverty rates have been increasing. So, with fewer services and more children in need, it is unsurprising that numbers of children in care have been going up.
Whilst local authorities are trying to grapple with the vicious cycle created by this mismanagement of policy, it is also unsurprising that hard-pressed professionals working with children and families would like a ‘quick fix’. Unfortunately, children and families are complex, and the magical short-cut to accurate decision-making has yet to be identified. There are, however, some things that professionals might like to think about in this context:
- Maintaining a focus on the child is a long-standing principle. Time spent, on understanding the lived experience of the child you are assessing, can lead to better, more thoughtful decisions which save time in the long run.
- If you’re looking for a questionnaire or measurement scale, such tools can be helpful, but it is well accepted that they will only contribute to part of the picture. They must not be treated as providing final answers and should only ever be used in conjunction with good professional judgment.
- Using professional judgment means making space for thinking.
- Slowing down is all well and good in theory, but what if there is too much work? Overwork is a management problem, and ought not to be a problem for the individual professional. “Some hope”, you might say. Consider, however, that good, careful thinking and analysis lead to better decisions. And good decision-making means that those decisions stand the test of time. Decisions that frequently have to be revisited, revised and revamped actually create additional work.
In the new edition of The Child’s World, which I recently co-edited with Jan Horwath, we cover the many different aspects of the assessment of vulnerable children, and professional judgement is a theme which we return to throughout. It has been written with busy practitioners in mind so that they can dip in to the chapters and quickly access summary information on specific topics, such as Parents with Learning Difficulties, Child Sexual Exploitation, and assessing Family and Community Support. Easily accessible information such as this can be a useful tool when there is little time for detailed background research.
The Child’s World launch conference is taking place on 18th March in York and has been designed as a collaborative learning event. Reduced conference fees for students and BASPCAN members are available and all participants will receive a free copy of The Child’s World (3rd edition).
Dr Lis Bates, Research Fellow within the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, responds to recommendations from the recent independent inquiry into harassment and bullying within Westminster.
In a blog post in April reflecting on the Newsnight exposure of a culture of bullying and harassment in the House of Commons, I asked:
“How can there be confidence in the system if those who are widely known to have transgressed are still allowed to get away scot-free? There needs to be proper investigation and justice for those who have already suffered. Recent criminal investigations have shown that, even in historic cases, perpetrators can and should be held to account for their actions. Should Parliament and the political parties not now do the same?”
The publication this week of Dame Laura Cox QC’s independent inquiry into Westminster culture has decisively answered: Yes, they should!
The recently-introduced Complaints and Grievance Scheme for parliament must be amended, she says, to allow complaints about ‘historical’ allegations. This would remove the arbitrary cut-off point of June 2017, before which allegations cannot currently be investigated because (the Commons leadership argued), to do so would be to judge Members under a different standards scheme to that in place at the time.
Not true, says Dame Laura: the standard was the same. That the complaints scheme governing that behaviour was deficient (as is widely agreed), does not mean that the minimum standard of behaviour was lower:
“There may not have been written policies in place expressly prohibiting such conduct, but it is obviously not the case that such conduct was acceptable among the Parliamentary Community in the past and will now be rendered unacceptable by the new Scheme.”
She goes further. Examining these older cases is vital to achieving culture change in Westminster and moving forward:
“some, at least, are extremely serious cases. Consigning them to oblivion is not at all consistent with restoring confidence, rebuilding trust and changing the culture. An important part of that culture change for the future should be examining, acknowledging and learning from the failures of the past.”
As well as this unequivocal recommendation that historic allegations be looked at, Cox calls for the establishment of a fully independent process to investigate and rule on claims of harassment and bullying.
Establishing independent oversight – and removing adjudication from the parliamentary Standards Committee, made up of MPs – is, she says, the only way to move beyond the perception and the reality that MPs are still ‘marking their own homework’.
She also is excoriating about the current parliamentary leadership, going so far as to say that she has doubts that change can happen while the current senior management are in post: “I find it difficult to envisage how the necessary changes can be successfully delivered, and the confidence of the staff restored, under the current senior House administration”.
In April’s post, I wrote that what victims of bullying, harassment and abuse want in terms of justice is: to be listened to, the perpetrator to be held accountable, and to be given voice and choice in what happens.
I know this to be true both from personal conversations in the last year with a number of friends and former colleagues in the House, but also from the research we do here in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research with victims/survivors of sexual and domestic abuse.
The Cox report underlines again how crucial these aspects are in achieving justice. The 200 individuals (70% of them serving employees) who spoke to the inquiry told her that the most important elements were “being listened to and taken seriously, having choice and a voice in the decision-making about their case”.
So often we hear of victims/survivors of abuse, harassment and bullying being blamed, discredited and undermined – Christine Blasey Ford just being the latest in a long line.
Dame Laura has changed this narrative. She has done more than just allow them to speak – she has explicitly weighed and vindicated their accounts. Bringing to bear her many years’ experience in forensic examination, she explicitly finds those who came forward to be credible, consistent and considered:
“Throughout this inquiry I have been struck by the professionalism, care and thoughtfulness of those who contributed. These were not people set on revenge or out to malign either individuals or the reputation of the House itself. Those present or former members of staff who came forward care very deeply that the place regarded as the heart of our democracy is failing to live up to the standards to be expected of any 21st century workplace.”
Through this inquiry, Cox has raised these voices up – listened with respect and taken them seriously. Those who spoke with her can feel that their accounts and their voices meaningfully have been heard. Let’s hope that parliament can now do the same.
Lis Bates is an ESRC Research Fellow in the School for Policy Studies, and a former clerk in the House of Commons.
Atlas Torbati explores what sexual assault means in Iranian society and how discursive practices influence individuals’ perceptions and definitions towards sexual assault.
“Every time I go to the bazar I’m concerned about my outfit. I make sure that I wear something loose and conservative and not to wear too much make up”. Said Bahareh, 25, a student inTehran.
Sexual assault is a hidden phenomenon in Iran. There is hardly any academic research or official data or report on the number of victims and conviction rates. Media tries to avoid publishing reports and cases of sexual assault due to the strict censorship existed in Iranian society. Research into the prevalence of sexual assault is difficult for various reasons. Firstly, people avoid reporting such incidents to the police since they fear it jeopardises the honour and reputation of the family. Secondly, some forms of sexual assaults such as verbal abuse have become socially accepted to the extent that some women turn the blind eye towards it, resulting in an increase its acceptance and its frequency. Thirdly, in order to protect public morality, the government does not publish reports on sexual assault cases. Therefore, there are no official statistics on the number of reported incidents or related conviction rates.
On the other hand, the media and government try to relate sexual assault to women’s own behaviour and lack of observing cultural and religious norms and practices. In Iran, women are expected to conform with cultural and social norms such as wearing manteau – the medium-length light jacket and scarf,and are expected to be modest in order to protect the family honour. Therefore those who become the victims of sexual assault are blamed for lack of observance of these norms. Culturally any form of sexual assault, harm, or abuse to a woman’s reputation is considered disgraceful and shameful. This is due to the deep-rooted cultural and religious concept of honour and its related ethical values embedded in society.
Discourses such as shame and honour play a key role in the subservience of victims of violence. These discourses are entrenched in individuals’ everyday lives and preclude the victims of violence to talk about or report sexual assault since it is considered as a private matter and must be kept at home. The existence of such norms and practices results in ignoring the abuse and the creation of silence among the witnesses and the victims.
The term sexual assault does not exist in the Islamic Penal Law in Iran. The closest definitions to sexual assault are adultery (1) or physical assault (2). However, none of these definitions include sexual harassment or sexual verbal abuse. Also the notion of consent is missing in the later definition. The absence of a legal definition and the related guidelines have resulted in increasing the power of judges to use their personal view and their attitudes towards victims in determining the seriousness of sexual assault cases. The absence of a definition also has resulted in acts such as sexual groping, touching and sexual verbal abuse not being recognised as a form of sexual assault. The consequence of this inconsistency is that many women might be unsure whether the definitions would lead them to be qualified as a victim or not although it is against the public morality For instance, some women who participated in this study did not categorise themselves as victims and perceived groping, sexual touching and sexual verbal abuse as normal behaviours. The Islamic Penal Law does not therefore provide any protection for the victims of sexual assault. The paradoxical approach to sexual assault has resulted in repetition and hence normalisation of this form of violence.
Recently, sexual assault has been the focus of social workers, woman activists and Iranian filmmakers. Movies such as, ‘I am a mother’ and ‘Hush! Girls don’t scream’ have broken the taboo in Iranian film industry and showed the sensitivity and consequences of the subject. These movies that were produced and funded by the private sectors, mainly focused on issue of rape and the second one directed was about a girl who was continuously sexually assaulted by the security man in their residential building during her childhood. Therefore, more attention still needs to be paid to this issue through educating families and children, publishing the reports and cases in news papers and magazines, creating space in the media to break the stigma associated with sexual assault and holding public discussion where the victims can freely come and talk about their experience. Policy makers must provide high quality provision of counselling and advocacy and commit themselves to design the policies that promote gender equality and addressing shortfalls in criminal justice system. They must attempt to design a rigorous law that clearly defines what sexual assault is. The law must not only sanction discrimination by gender, but also must protect women instead of accusing them and define specific punishment for the perpetrators.
Atlas Torbati is currently studying for a PhD in Social Work at the School for Policy Studies.
 Adultery or ‘zena be onf va ekrah ‘ is defined as forcible male penile insertion into the female’s vagina or anus. If someone has sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent and when she is drowsy, unconscious or drunk he is convicted of adultery and death penalty (Islamic Penal Law 2000)
 Verbal assault is defined as any verbal offence or indecent language towards women and children in public and a person who commits verbal assault in public is punished by three to six months of imprisonment or 74 lashes (Act 608, Islamic Penal Law 2000).
Dr Natasha Mulvihill, a lecturer in Criminology and a researcher at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, discussed the use of religious community mechanisms as a means of securing justice for victims of domestic violence.
For women (and men) who practice a faith, the imam, rabbi or priest may be among the first contacts in seeking support for domestic violence and abuse (DVA). Faith communities also have the power to annul a religious marriage or grant a religious divorce through religious tribunals, councils or courts. The experience of domestic abuse victims who use these religious mechanisms has received minimal academic attention in England and Wales.
The Justice Project
Since October 2015, members of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol, in partnership with University of the West of England (UWE), Cardiff University and Women’s Aid, have been working on an Economic and Social Research Council funded project looking at how ‘justice’ is understood, sought and experienced by victim-survivors of gender-based violence (GBV). Interviews were conducted with 251 victim-survivors and over 40 practitioners working to support them. The research team was particularly interested in exploring how different social identities and inequalities intersect with the perceptions and experiences of justice – including the influence of faith.
At the Justice Project findings conference at the University of Bristol on 15 May 2018, Dr Nadia Aghtaie, Dr Hilary Abrahams and I presented our respective analysis on how far Muslim Sharia Councils, the Jewish Battei Din and Catholic Matrimonial Tribunals afford ‘justice’ to victims of DVA. I highlight here some findings from interviews with Catholic practitioners, including Diocesan safeguarding officers, an NGO worker and a Canon Lawyer (Canon law is the system of laws and legal principles made and enforced by the Catholic Church; it is not civilly binding in England and Wales).
This article was first published on the LSE blog on 25 June 2018.
Dr Sandra Dowling, a lecturer in Disability Studies at the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies discusses deinstitutionalisation in the context of the Transforming Care Policy programme.
People with learning disabilities are still, in some circumstances, leading institutionalised lives – the Transforming Care programme has a long way to go, and we must not forget those people with learning disabilities with the highest levels of ‘need’ who are experiencing the highest level of separation from an ordinary life. Recent decades have seen significant changes in the lives of people with learning disabilities in the UK. Once routinely institutionalised, distanced from home communities or their Right to a life like any other, people with learning disabilities were relegated to the shadows of the everyday and had limited opportunity to effect change. This article suggests these issues might still be affecting too many people with learning disabilities in 2018.
Advocacy and activism amongst people with learning disabilities and their allies has been a powerful force in altering the opportunities available to some people. To be respected, to be heard, to have choice and to really have the chance of a life like any other have been common demands. For many people these demands, these requests, have to some extent been realised. In the UK today some people with learning disabilities live in a home they have chosen, some have a job, some have regular contact with family and friends and some feel part of their community. Too many do not.
The challenge to realise the fundamental human rights of this section of the population is ongoing. The urgency of the challenge is very much determined by personal position. If you are a person with learning disabilities or indeed an ally, these challenges are of course urgent. Although recent policy does commit to a transformation in social care for people with learning disabilities, urgency to transform this to practice is not consistently apparent.
Major policy initiatives and legislation in recent years have produced a convincing rhetoric to support ideas of individual autonomy, inclusion and a role in decision making about important life matters. The Care Act 2014, for instance, details guidance for adult social care which, importantly, includes the principle of individual wellbeing. In practice wellbeing involves people having control of their day to day life, living in suitable accommodation and being able to contribute to society. It is a requirement of The Act that local authorities take people’s views, wishes and beliefs into consideration, and that their efforts support what people themselves want to achieve in their own lives.
The Transforming Care Policy Programme produced a raft of reports, guidance and policy following the shocking abuse of people with learning disabilities residing in Winterbourne View Assessment and Treatment Unit. The overall aim of Transforming Care has been about improving health and social care services to enable people to live in the community, to have good support and to be close to home. It aimed to address the high numbers of people with learning disabilities living for too long in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATU), often at a long distance from their families and without adequate discharge planning. However, since the scandal broke in 2011, and following a robust policy response, little has changed. The numbers of people in ATU settings has remained stubbornly high, provision of sufficient support in the community has not met need and discharge remains an elongated process for many.
Narratives of Home, a study funded by the NIHR School for Social Care Research, conducted within the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies (NFCDS), has interviewed 18 people with learning disabilities and three parents of people discharged from Assessment and Treatment Units (ATU) during the lifetime of Transforming Care. This narrative study has collected people’s stories of resettlement in the community following their hospital stay. Of those interviewed, 12 were male and 6 were female. Time spent in ATU settings ranged from 4 – 20 years. The legacy of institutional living clearly impacted on their resettlement experiences.
The factors which are identified as important to individuals are just what you would expect. Security, choice, a valued social role, friendships, fun and the opportunity to take pleasure in things which are important to you. But what is different is that the people that we interviewed, even though living in the community, still often live within parameters defined by others. Some described their attempts to ‘get out’ of the ATU by ‘doing what the doctors said’ or ‘just do what you are told, keep your head down, get through all the programmes and hope for the best’. These experiences travelled beyond the walls of the ATU into their now ’independent’ lives in the community. In interview people checked with present support workers whether they were saying the ‘right thing’, or whether it was ‘ok to say this’. Some were so heavily medicated that they could not remain awake throughout the interview.
Choice and autonomy was found in things such as choosing how to decorate your home, or what to have for a meal. A deeper sense of independence of thought and action though, remained elusive for some. Institutionalisation, just as a hundred, or fifty or twenty years ago produces the same results. It dis-empowers individuals, depleting independence of thought and sense of self. A good life happens at a deeper level than what can be seen on the surface of community living. The need to address issues of identity and equality remain pertinent. Deinstitutionalisation remains a goal.
Dr Simon Sebire, Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, reflects on the success of the physical activity initiative, The Daily Mile.
Ten days ago I had the pleasure of being involved in the launch of The Daily Mile in Guernsey. The Daily Mile has been taken on by most schools on the Island in the last 9 months and Thursday 24th June was a celebration of the work here to date. Elaine Wyllie, the founder of The Daily Mile and John, Elaine’s husband, were in Guernsey to support the launch. This included a tour of Daily Miles at various schools around the island, a celebration mile and lunch and a special mile for some pupils around the beautiful Government House (the residence of the Lieutenant-Governor, the Crown’s personal representative in the Bailiwick of Guernsey).
It was whilst walking the mile around the Government House grounds (being lapped by happy, rosy-cheeked children in the process) that Elaine and I began discussing how my research on people’s motivation for physical activity and developing interventions could help explain why children and schools in Guernsey and around the world seem so taken by The Daily mile phenomenon.
Elaine explained her take on this by beginning the following conversation:
Elaine: Think of a happy memory you had as a child, but don’t tell me what it is.
Elaine: Now tell me, were you inside or outside?
Elaine: Were you on your own or with others?
Me: With others
Elaine: Were you in the supervision of adults?
Me: Sort of … at a distance
(By the way, my happy memory was of when I was 7 or 8, a hot summer day, building a sand boat with family and friends to sit in as the tide rose up Port Grat beach in Guernsey. I was outside, with other children and parents were involved sporadically, but letting us play freely.)
In identifying a happy memory, Elaine had just revealed some of the core principles of The Daily Mile. These include a focus on having fun, being non-competitive, being outside and in nature, connecting with other pupils/teachers, being a simple intervention, being fully inclusive and owned by the children (i.e., jog or run at their own pace).
These core principles chime with the fundamental elements of much of my research into physical activity motivation. Using a psychological framework called Self-Determination Theory (or SDT) I have studied the foundations of and outcomes linked with high quality motivation for physical activity in children and adults. According to this approach, a person’s motivation is deemed to be high quality when it is autonomous, in other words when motivation stems from the enjoyment of being active, the satisfaction one gets from being active (or doing a mile), a feeling that being active is in harmony with a person’s sense of who they are, or that being active brings them personally valued benefits (e.g., meeting pupils in other year groups or getting fitter). People have these kinds of motivation for being active when they experience SDT’s core principles; Autonomy, Belonging and Competence (A, B, C).
Autonomy: Feelings of volition, freedom, choice, ownership and empowerment
Belonging: Feeling strong connections with others, included, understood and respected
Competence: Feeling capable, able to master a skill or task.
Importantly, according to the theory, we need to experience the A, B and C in our daily lives, interactions and activities to have optimal well-being, development and functioning.
In a number of studies (referenced below) over the last 10 years or so, my colleagues and I have found evidence to support the idea that when children and adults feel that their A, B and C is satisfied when thinking about being active, they experience high quality, autonomous motivation and that this is linked with greater physical activity. Common to all of these studies is the finding that motivation based on enjoyment and/or personal value is linked to physical activity, whereas motivation based on guilt or external pressure (such as rewards, or demands from others) is not. Accordingly, we have designed a number of physical activity interventions for children and adolescents with the A, B and C of motivation in mind.
When viewing The Daily Mile through this motivational lens, it is possible to see how the intervention expresses the A, B and C:
Of course, my retro-fitting of SDT principles to The Daily Mile is just one lens through which to study its broad appeal and apparent motivating effect on pupils. However, it is entirely possible for interventions which grow from the ground up to align in many ways with what is known from behavioural or psychological sciences even if they did not set out to do this from the start. Aligning the core principles of The Daily Mile with a framework such as SDT’s A, B, C may also allow the intervention to stay faithful to its design as it is adopted and potentially adapted in schools around the world.
I would argue that unknowingly, when implemented in line with its core principles, The Daily Mile could be tapping in to a well-known, evidence based and positive source of motivation for physical activity. At its core The Daily Mile is simple. Perhaps it is as simple as A, B, C.
Dr Simon Sebire is Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity & Public Health in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol. He is also Interim Chief Executive of The Health Improvement Commission for Guernsey and Alderney.
- Are parents’ motivations to exercise and intention to engage in regular family-based activity associated with both adult and child physical activity?
- Testing a self-determination theory model of children’s physical activity motivation: a cross-sectional study.
- Predicting objectively assessed physical activity from the content and regulation of exercise goals: evidence for a mediational model.
- Examining intrinsic versus extrinsic exercise goals: cognitive, affective, and behavioral outcomes.
- What motivates girls to take up exercise during adolescence? Learning from those who succeed.
- Does exercise motivation predict engagement in objectively assessed bouts of moderate-intensity exercise? A self-determination theory perspective.
Dr Noemi Lendvai-Bainton, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Urban and Public Policy at the School for Policy Studies, discusses the recent Hungarian election and how it reflects the trend towards political populism & the rise of illiberal democracies.
After a very long and rather Kafkaesque election night in Hungary, FIDESZ secured a victory for a third term of governing with a two-thirds majority. After eight years in government, the vote for the radical right in fact increased, with both Fidesz (49% of votes) and Jobbik (a far–right party with 19% of the votes) gaining more votes than four years ago. Tellingly, Orban in his victory speech thanked ethnic Hungarians living abroad (largely dual citizens of Romania, Ukraine and Serbia with voting rights) who ‘defended Hungary’, he thanked his Polish friends and Kaczyński, and he gave thanks for all the prayers (with no end to religious references).
The campaign was a single-issue, emotively hostile and negative campaign, focusing on the migration issue and financier/philanthropist George Soros, that erased public policy as a matter for debate all together – the end of an era when negative campaigns can’t be electorally successful, it seems. A déjà vu of the Brexit campaign in which the migration issue captured the public discourse.
This Hungarian result talks to a lot of different issues. It reflects a deep division between the capital Budapest, where the opposition won by a two-thirds majority, and the ‘country’ (countryside) where Fidesz won almost outright. It reflects on the widespread and significant institutional ‘reforms’ in the country which confidently delivered votes in small towns and in villages through channels of appointed officials, public finances, and EU funds (no need for subtle pressures here – civil servants were asked to take a photo of their ballot papers and email it to a central account; Kindergarten teachers were told to hand out Easter chocolate to parents as a ‘gift’ from Fidesz). The election result also points to the fact that corruption has become normalized – despite unprecedented levels of corruption concerning both EU funds as well as public funds, the government secured its third term.
No longer can one think that populism is a short-term political project. Orban can now thrive on the basis that his legitimacy with a high turn-out (70%) at the election makes him a stronger leader than many of his counterparts in (Western) Europe. His anti-EU rhetoric is expected to intensify in the coming months and years and he is already working hard on building a new transnational coalition against ‘liberal’ Western Europe and to evict all NGOs from the country that have political missions.
This article was first published in Social Europe on 19 April 2018.
Dr Lis Bates is a researcher in gender-based violence at the School for Policy Studies, and a former clerk of the House of Commons
As a former clerk of the House of Commons, the recent Newsnight coverage(i) depicting a culture of unchecked bullying and sexual harassment by some MPs took me by surprise. Not because of the allegations: the stories reported, and many more, have long been open secrets in Westminster. But because, for the first time, the corrosive culture of normalising this behaviour was revealed. What is new is that the careful investigation of reporters Chris Cook and Lucinda Day has exposed a pattern of abusive Members not being held to account, and a historic management culture of quietly moving victims who speak out. This is a culture which has normalised the acceptance of bullying behaviour, refused to shine a light on the bullies, and thus tacitly condoned it. This is the same cultural quicksand which led us to Weinstein, Bennell and Saville: a wilful collective blindness.
The Newsnight investigation showed that some victims were believed but no action taken, and others’ accounts were minimised. The problem is, the effect is the same–a silencing of an individual’s voice, and an absence of justice. The House of Commons management’s ill-judged initial response to the story eloquently illustrates this: denying that there is any longer a problem, and insisting on looking forward with a zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment sits jarringly with a refusal to look at past cases, and a policy under which not a single claim of sexual harassment has progressed even to mediation.
In this context, the publication on 8th February of cross-party working group recommendations to strengthen Parliament’s response to harassment, bullying and sexual harassment at Westminster(ii), and the setting up of working groups to beef up grievance policies and drive cultural change, are to be welcomed. The proposals finally start to strengthen an investigatory and sanctions system which for years has been notoriously weak, characterised by handing decision-making powers back to political parties, an absence of accountability for those who abuse their power, and consequently a significant lack of faith in the system by those who might be victims of harassment.
Since the Newsnight story broke, what has increasingly struck me is the parallels with the experiences of victims of sexual and domestic abuse: being disbelieved, discredited, or blamed for ‘bringing it on themselves’, for being weak or not resilient.
Current research from the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff and UWE (Justice, Inequality and Gender-Based Violence (hereafter ‘Justice project’)(iii), led by Professor Marianne Hester and funded by the ESRC, is casting new light on why sexual abuse and harassment cases require handling with particular care. During 2016-17, the research team interviewed over 250 victims of domestic and sexual abuse and harassment to ask “What is justice?”. The answer, it seems, is humblingly simple: being listened to, getting a genuine apology, and being given a voice. There are some direct lessons from our findings for Westminster, as it seeks to respond to sexual harassment, abuse and bullying.
Sexual harassment is about power inequality and rarely occurs in a vacuum
As with other interpersonal abuse, at its core, sexual harassment is about power inequalities which allow one person to exploit another with impunity. It often overlaps with other forms of harassment and abuse. In the Justice project, over a third (39%) of interviewees reported having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace or on the street. Over two-thirds of these women also reported having experienced rape or domestic abuse. The figures confirm that these experiences rarely operate in isolation: sexual harassment and violence frequently occurs as part of a continuum which disproportionately affects women.(iv)
The dynamics of sexual harassment and abuse in Westminster are even more particular. The exploitation of one individual’s power over another is exponentially magnified when the dynamics of an employer-employee relationship, and the power hierarchies of political structures, are fed into the mix. Added to this, the political setting means that (alleged) perpetrators can often use (implicit or explicit) intimidation tactics to undermine or discredit victims, and victims are often shamed or intimated into silence. This toxic cocktail was recognised by Caroline Lucas MP in describing the dynamics of power in Westminster which allows some MPs to get away with belittling and humiliation tactics against staff.(v)
It is therefore important that the working group report has recognised the particularities of sexual harassment, and proposed a separate process and systems of remedy and support from that for complaints of non-sexual bullying and harassment. It is important, too, that plans are underway to provide specific and specialised training to MPs, Peers and staff across Parliament about sexual harassment.
What victims/survivors want
Central to the deliberations of those investigating current and future provision, are the voices of those who experience sexual harassment and abuse.
To be listened to. Part of the process of justice, victims told the Justice project, was being given the space and place to say what’s happened, and be heard. A strong theme throughout our interviews was the importance victims placed on external recognition that harm was done. This was very often the first response to the question “What is justice?” and, for many, overrode ideas of punishment or revenge. As one female victim of domestic abuse and sexual harassment said, “he doesn’t accept that there’s anything wrong–and that isn’t justice to me. Justice would have been a realisation on his part that what he did was utterly dreadful and the impact it had was utterly dreadful”.
Here again is a parallel with Westminster–it is striking that all the alleged perpetrators of sexual bullying have vigorously denied engaging in any harmful behaviour. One has even gone so far as claiming to even have no memory of working with the victim. And, the historic management response of moving victims has the effect of strengthening the same message that the victim is to blame. Participants in the Justice project identified this pattern of behaviour when asked to define what “injustice” meant to them. One female victim of sexual harassment, domestic abuse and child rape said, “that person… does something wrong but then tries to put the blame onto the person they’ve actually done wrong by”.
The perpetrator to be held accountable. This was the other side of the same coin. It was very important to victims that the perpetrator take (at least partial) responsibility for the harm done. For many victims, ideally this would come from the perpetrator themselves, and involve a genuine apology and expression of remorse. But in many cases this had not happened. Here, the next best thing was for another party (the state, the police, their friends and family) to offer this recognition, and to hold the perpetrator (rather than the victim) responsible.
To have choice, control and voice in the process. Another key element in achieving justice for victims was getting back some control over what happened to them. This meant informed choices about what remedies they could pursue, and being put at the centre of decision-making about their case. The Justice project is finding that those experiencing violence and abuse sometimes choose not to pursue public or punitive justice options for a range of reasons, including fear of retaliation or consequences and concern for their status or assets (which, in the case of workplace sexual harassment, could be their job or professional reputation). This makes it vital that they can access a range of remedies when making a complaint. In part, this is because they often have had power and control taken away from them as part of the abuse or harassment. Offering them some control over the process therefore becomes an important part of justice.
For some victims (generally those not experiencing abuse from an intimate partner), a facilitated dialogue with the perpetrator offered an opportunity to have a voice, express the impact of the harm done to them, and create the space for the perpetrators to hear the victim and express remorse. This was especially true when the abuse had occurred within a closed or tight-knit (e.g. activist, traveller, religious) community, where victims often faced additional barriers to reporting abuse because they feared losing their membership of the community–for instance, being ostracised, disbelieved or expelled. These contexts affected the choices victims made about reporting, and have parallels with victims who are members of other closed groups like political parties. In the case of one victim we interviewed, the community organised an informal meeting between them and the perpetrator. For her this showed that the community recognised the harm done, and held the perpetrator to account.
Great care is required with mediation or guided discussion approaches in contexts (like Westminster) where there has been a history of institutional downgrading and minimising of complaints. In these cases, it is even more vital to make sure that victims are taken seriously, that specialists who understand the dynamics of sexual violence are engaged, and that remedies should always include options for punitive sanctions alongside any less formal routes.
However, there is growing evidence that less formal justice approaches can play an important part in some cases of sexual harassment, but only when they involve specialist mediators who can recognise power imbalances (including gender) and challenge abusive behaviours through a process of ‘transformational mediation’.(vi vii) Such mediation only works when it is voluntary and other options are also available to the parties involved. (viii) It should never be used as an alternative ‘first step’ in responding to allegations of sexual harassment, since the process by which a perpetrator accepts responsibility for their actions often requires a more formal investigation or finding of facts. But it can form part of an overall response. If not managed by specialists, mediation approaches can perpetuate harm; but when victims are properly supported by specialists who can reduce the intensity of their participation, they are valued by victims because of the recognition involved.(ix)
Support through specialist advocacy. The evidence from the Justice project and elsewhere (x xi xii) is unequivocal on the importance and effectiveness of specialist victim advocacy. Specialist sexual violence advocates play a crucial role in supporting victims using counselling, emotional support through court/other justice processes, practical help, and referrals to other support agencies. Advocates also can change cultures in other agencies and actors through so-called “institutional advocacy”.(xiii) The Justice project has examined over 400 police rape case files and found a statistically significant link between victims receiving support from a specialist sexual violence advocate and a criminal charge being made.
This body of evidence underlines the importance of victims getting targeted advocacy support from specialists who understand the dynamics of gendered abuse and harassment. In this light, it is positive that the Commons working group proposals include the commissioning of specialist ISVA support for any complainants. Such support should not be contingent on what resolution or justice processes victims choose to follow–it is a vital element irrespective of whether the route to remedy is an internal process, a formal resolution, or criminal justice.
Victims of sexual abuse and harassment want to be listened to, taken seriously, for the perpetrator to be held accountable, and to be able to make their own, balanced, choices about what happens next. Our society, and criminal justice system, does not yet get this right. The same is true of Westminster, where the culture for many years has been one of minimising and victim-blaming on a corporate scale. The new proposals from the Commons working group are a good step towards addressing this, and the most recent indications from the House authorities suggest a renewed commitment to change. There is rightly a focus on adequate sanctions–for too long this has been a deficit. But culture change is just as important, in particular reversing the practice of dismissing or moving victims, in favour of shining a bright light on the harassers.
The litmus test of any new system must be: if these events occurred today, would those victims feel able to come forward, be listened to, and have faith in the system and its decision-makers to deliver justice for them? Unfortunately, this is not yet the case. As the working group’s staff survey found, a majority of those who had made a report under existing procedures were dissatisfied with the choices given them for next steps, and the same proportion dissatisfied with the level of understanding shown about what an appropriate remedy, outcome or sanction would be from their own perspective. Similarly, the quotes from serving Commons employees following the management’s initial response to the Newsnight story clearly showed a lack of confidence, even disbelief and anger.
The current public spotlight gives an impetus and opportunity for meaningful and lasting change. But, there is one big piece still missing. How can there be confidence in the system if those who are widely known to have transgressed are still alllowed to get away scot-free? There needs to be proper investigation and justice for those who have already suffered. Recent criminal investigations (Saville, Bennell, sexual exploitation of girls in Rotherham) have shown that, even in historic cases, perpetrators can and should be held to account for their actions. Should Parliament and the political parties not now do the same?
[i] Newsnight, 2018a [TV]. BBC2. 8th March. 22.30.
[ii] Parliament (2018) Cross-party Working Group on an Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy: Report.
[iii] The research team will be publishing a range of papers from the project during 2018, including on models and victim perspectives of justice, criminal justice attrition in rape and domestic abuse cases, procedural justice, child contact in domestic abuse cases, BME womens’ experiences of justice, Sharia and other religious arbitration.
[iv] Kelly L. (1987) The Continuum of Sexual Violence. In: Hanmer J., Maynard M. (eds) Women, Violence and Social Control. Explorations in Sociology (British Sociological Association Conference Volume series). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
[v] Today programme, 2018 [Radio]. BBC Radio 4. 9th March. 06.00
[vi] McCormick, M.A. (1997) ‘Confronting social injustice as a mediator’, Mediation Quarterly, Vol 14, 4.
[vii] Irvine, M. (1993) ‘Mediation: Is it appropriate for sexual harassment grievances?’ Ohio State Journal On Dispute Resolution. Vol 9, 1.
[viii] McLay, Leah (2009) “Workplace bullying: To mediate or not?,” ADR Bulletin: Vol. 11: No. 1, Article 1. Available at: http://epublications.bond.edu.au/adr/vol11/iss1/1
[ix] Fileborn, B. and Vera-Gray, F. (2017) ‘“I want to be able to walk the street without fear”: Transforming justice for street harassment’, Feminist Legal Studies 25: 203-227.
[x] Hester, M. and Lilley, S.J. (2017) ‘More than support to court: Rape victims and specialist sexual violence services’, International Review of Victimology 1-16.
[xi] Howarth, E., Stimpson, L., Barran, D. and Robinson, A. (2009) ‘Safety in Numbers: Summary of Findings and Recommendations from a Multi-site Evaluation of Independent Domestic Violence Advisors’.
[xii] SafeLives (2017) ‘Insights Idva England and Wales dataset 2016-17’.
[xiii] Coy, M. and Kelly, L. (2011) ‘Islands in the Stream: an evaluation of four London independent domestic violence advocacy schemes’. London: London Metropolitan University.
Dr Laura Johnson, Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, discusses her new paper in which she assesses the impact of dietary patterns on obesity and how modelling may help influence change in both personal habits and public policy.
No single food or nutrient is to blame for obesity. There so many routes from diet to overeating and weight gain, and in real life foods and nutrients aren’t eaten on their own. So, it’s misleading to look at foods that way in research, it’s the overall balance of diet that matters.
I realised this a while ago when I used detailed records of food intake from children age 5 and 7 in the ALSPAC cohort to generate an overall diet score that predicted obesity later on. I thought that eating more fat, less fibre, and having a more energy dense diet (more calories in each bite) would all feature in a diet that fuels obesity (or an ‘obesogenic’ diet). I used reduced rank regression or RRR (a pimped up version of factor analysis, see excellent explanation by Andy Field here) to find the best combination of foods to capture differences in the fat, fibre and energy density of the children’s diets. RRR generates a score based on what you eat. It’s calculated by adding up the intake (grams/day) of 42 groups of foods that are weighted for importance and a higher score means your diet is more obesogenic. I showed that children with the highest pattern score at age 7 were 4 times more likely to have too much fat by the time they were 9 years old (other researchers have since seen similar associations in adolescence and adulthood).
A pretty strong result, right? But, what use is a score made up of 42 foods? Isn’t it too complicated to ever be the basis for changing behaviour? I don’t think so, not if we use computers to deal with the complex calculations. All we need to know is what foods have been eaten (by individuals or populations) and then the obesogenic score can be computed automatically. We would then have a single score indicating whether the overall balance of your diet (or the Nation’s diet if thinking in policy terms) is more or less obesogenic. A total diet score would be better than current measures which only focus on fruits and vegetables or sugar-sweetened drinks, which let’s be honest, no one believes are going to solve the obesity epidemic on their own!
In our latest paper we asked “Do the same foods make up an obesogenic diet regardless of whether you are young or old, boy or girl, rich or poor?” (Because the ALSPAC score might only matter to children living in Bristol in the late ‘90s) “Who in the UK has a more obesogenic diet?” (Because those people need the most help to change) and “Are diets getting more obesogenic over time?” (Because that might suggest national obesity policy isn’t working).
To find some answers we used diet diaries from nearly 10,000 adults and children taking part in the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey between 2008 and 2014. We repeated the RRR in different groups and found it was remarkably stable – the same foods came out as most important to an obesogenic diet over and over again. So, we can feel confident that the obesogenic pattern score and that way foods are weighted by importance reflects the way everyone eats in the UK today. The most and least obesogenic foods we found were (sized and in order of importance):
In terms of whose diets are most imbalanced we found massive social gradients with those in manual jobs and households earning less than £15,000/year having the most obesogenic diets, which mirrors social inequalities in obesity prevalence. Among children, diets became more obesogenic between 2011 and 2014. Among adults a more obesogenic diet went hand in hand with more time spent watching shows on TV/Laptops/Tablets, less physical activity, and eating takeaways more frequently.
All these trends are a starting point for targeting and testing interventions designed to make small changes across a range of foods to shift the balance of diet. By using our score, it could be possible to gauge how multiple changes to policy or what we eat adds up to a less obesogenic diet and with luck prevent obesity in future.
When times get tough, disabled people always seem to go to the bottom of the pile. It’s as if the problem of ‘disability’ is always one step too far, or something which cannot be contemplated until everything else is sorted out. For instance, the debates about BREXIT have centred on trade agreements and free movement of citizens. How often do we talk about the rights of disabled people, and how they may be protected under existing EU legislation?
The UK itself has laws to protect disabled people’s rights, with the 2010 Equality Act. But constant vigilance is needed to remind public services that they have a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled people. UK financial cuts are impacting most heavily on disabled people, and a recent report by the charity SCOPE highlights that, on average, for every £100 earned by a disabled person, only £67 is left after disability-related costs.
Disabled people certainly incur additional costs by virtue of their additional needs, but is disability too much of a ‘cost’ for society? We would argue that the reverse is true: economic, political or social crises create moments when disabled people must be at the forefront. This is what we have been documenting in our project ‘Getting Things Changed’ (Tackling Disabling Practices: Co-production and Change).
Disabled people have always faced problems which are created because society is structured without disability in mind. For instance, the rail transport system assumes that all passengers can step over a gap between a train and the platform, that they can walk to their seat, and indeed that sitting in a ‘standardised’ seat is an option. At a more subtle level, we have also found countless practices in our study which exclude or marginalise disabled people. The way things routinely get done in everyday life can be problematic, and that can include the material infrastructure of a building as well as the ways in which people interact. For instance, people with dementia might rely on familiar, clear signage to find their way in and out of a building, or the facilities in it, but they also need people who will give them time to communicate, or understand how to wait for a response in a respectful way. In parts of our project, we are looking at the barriers disabled patients face in English hospitals. With regular news items about the crisis in the hospital system, we know that change must happen.
We argue that this is the time to include disabled people, not just as recipients of care, but as change makers. Our project is co-produced with Disability Rights UK and with other groups of disabled people who are actively involved in the research. Given that disability is part of humanity, we should all be working WITH people with disabilities, to create a more just society where all are included.
Understanding a disabling society
So how can we start to understand why things get stuck? Since the 1980s and the introduction of the social model of disability, Disability Studies theory has focused considerable attention on the dichotomy between the social and medical model of disability. There have been continual debates since that time, with UK theorists arguing since the 1980s for a new understanding of disability and impairment. Oliver (2013) sums up neatly what the real issues are now:
“While all this chatter did not matter too much when the economy was booming, now it no longer booms it is proving disastrous for many disabled people whose benefits and services are being severely cut back or removed altogether”
Have disabled people’s lives become more restricted since the 1980s, or have the concerns of disabled people themselves been overtaken by theoretical debate? And how can we as activists and academics change that tide? In our recent article from ‘Getting Things Changed’ we argue that we need as a society to go further than debates about ‘what is disability’. The social model directed our attention towards the external barriers facing disabled people, and now we need to find better ways of analysing and understanding those barriers. Many people use the word ‘culture’ here, to bemoan the difficulties caused by unhelpful attitudes and approaches which can be evident in congregate services such as care homes or hospital. In our study, we have turned towards the ideas of social practice theorists such as Elizabeth Shove, which have helped us to understand how things get done, how practices get shaped – and therefore how we can get a handle on change.
An example from our wide-ranging project comes from the insights of people with dementia. Since 2009, we have had an English Government policy called ‘Living Well with Dementia’ . What matters for people with dementia is the quality of life they are leading right now, and our work with the ‘Forget-me-Not’ group from Swindon has helped us to unpick what this might mean.
Here are some words from the researchers with dementia from the Forget-me-Not group:
“Everyone will tell you the same thing. You’re diagnosed, and then it’s ‘You’ve got dementia. Go home and we’ll see you next month’. What we need is for someone, like a counsellor or someone else with dementia, to tell us at that point ‘Life isn’t over’. You can go on for ten or fifteen years. And you’re not told, you’re just left. And I thought, tomorrow my day had come. The fear and the anxiety sets in, and then the depression sets in, doesn’t it? I think when you’re diagnosed, you should be given a book. And on the front of the book, in big letters, it should say: ‘Don’t panic’.”
In terms of social practice theory, these are people who do not want to be seen through a medical lens as individual tragedies, but are turning around the whole meaning of dementia into something where they are in control, can support each other and where they have a voice. However, social practice theory also reminds us about the importance of material resources. For instance, in order to meet each other and to have a collective sense of peer support, people need to have spaces which are not institutionalised, which they feel they can ‘own’. All too often, we have seen very well-intentioned group activities taking place in old, large halls, or where people are routinely sitting in configurations which make communication difficult. But we have also seen the Forget-me-Not group, in an ordinary, homely environment, where staff members interact on a basis of equality with the members who have dementia.
This is just one of many examples where we are finding that people CAN do things differently, and where the ‘culture’ can change towards inclusion and empowerment. We hope our research will provide the impetus to take some of this further.
Change will never be completed – but we will be presenting the latest research from our project and discussing some of these ideas at our launch event on 25 May. Book your place now to find out more about the many strands of the project how we can all be change-makers.
This post was written by Prof Val Williams with assistance from Prof Pauline Heslop, Beth Tarleton, Wendy Merchant, Bernd Sass and Joe Webb at the Norah Fry Centre for Centre for Disability Studies.
An account of an article by Dr Nazand Begikhani’s first published in France’s Le Monde on 23 January.
A recent statement signed by 100 French women, including Catherine Deneuve (Le Monde, 8 January) criticised the #MeToo campaign and defended the right of men to ‘importune’ in the name of ‘sexual freedom’, claiming that men have been subjected to a ‘witch-hunt’. Both the statement and Deneuve’s response (Liberation, 14 January) advocated that such cases should be left to justice institutions, away from ‘public euphoria’.
I contributed to the debate by publishing an article questioning the nature of justice for women in cases of rape and sexual harassment. Quoting Albert Camus’s famous phrase, ‘between justice and my mother, I chose my mother’, my article highlights the fact that the #MeToo campaigners, like Camus, are not opposed to justice not to men, but to patriarchal ‘violence’, if not ‘terrorism’.’
The article entitled ‘La justice est en retard vis-à-vis des femmes victimes’, refers to studies conducted by our Centre for Gender and Violence Research (CGVR), indicating that criminal justice system is short in establishing the rights of women when it comes to abuse and harassment. It adds that in certain countries, such as Iraq, the law forces raped women to marry their rapists to save the honour of their families.
In Western countries where new strategies have been adopted, it is difficult to bring abusers to justice and when it happens they are rarely condemned. Studies conducted by our Centre affirm that the criminal justice system, which is based on ‘incidence’ approach, undermines their emotional and psychological suffering of women and rarely lead to the condemnation of alleged criminals. Le Monde, via my article, highlights that this approach counters the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993), which stipulates in its definition of Violence Against Women (VAW) all forms of ‘physical, emotional and psychological’ violence. It reiterates that the public mobilisation and feminist campaigns can have an impact leading to justice in cases of VAW.
The article concludes that, in many places, including in Paris’ suburban zones, in refugee camps in Calais, inside migrant communities as well as in many southern and Mediterranean countries, women could not join the #MeToo campaign to denounce their abusers, fearing revenge and retribution. It is regrettable that Deneuve’s statement, instead of helping such women in coming forward and expressing themselves, helped reactionary and extremist figures such as Berlusconi who felt he was ‘blessed’ by the statement.
The full article (in French) ‘La justice est en retard vis-à-vis des femmes victimes’ was published in Le Monde on 23 January.
Professor Alex Marsh, Head of the Centre for Urban and Policy Studies (School for Policy Studies) and Co-Investigator for the ESRC/AHRC/JRF Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, responds to the report produced by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smart Cities.
Last month the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smart Cities launched a report entitled Top Tips for City Mayors. The report collated tips provided by members of the group offering key insights, priorities and issues to consider when approaching Smart City development, policy and practice. The APPG report offers more than 50 tips provided by 17 member organisations.
Stephen Hilton and I have taken a look at the tips presented in the report and provided an overview of its key messages. We take the opportunity reflect on some of the points made in the report, note some of the tensions, and highlight issues that deserve greater attention. This analysis is available in our own report: Shaping successful smart cities.
Quite a lot of the Smart City conversation can get bogged down in the digital technologies quite quickly. One of the APPG report’s headline messages is that the Tipsters give a much higher profile to citizens – focus on how smart technologies can meet needs and deliver benefits. The report thus aligns with the more citizen-centred approach that is very much at the centre of Smart City debate right now.
Stephen and I summarize the key messages from the APPG report under five headings: citizens; resources to do the job; priorities for action; data; and partnerships. We then give a flavour for the sorts of arguments being made by the Tipsters under each heading. Download our report to find out more.
In our subsequent reflections we highlight a number of issues that the APPG report does not dwell on but which, in our view, are absolutely vital.
We note that while the rhetoric of the Smart City has embraced the importance of citizens that is not the same as ensuring that citizens are meaningfully involved in practice. Plenty of effort will be needed to make ‘citizen-centred’ development a reality rather than a slogan.
The issues of leadership and governance of the Smart City are increasingly recognised as important, but there is much hard thinking still to do about effective leadership styles and appropriate governance structures and processes.
Smart City approaches are pursued at local level for a variety of reasons: embracing digital is perceived to offer a diverse range of potential benefits. Local smart city policy often has a mix of objectives. Yet these objectives are not necessarily entirely complementary. Hence, we would argue the potential for conflicting priorities needs to be acknowledged and managed.
There is currently much advocacy in favour of Smart City approaches. There is, we submit, an element of hype and hyperbole. The benefits claimed for such approaches run quite a long way ahead of the benefits that have so far been demonstrated. As one Tipster observed, “most potential applications are not yet commercially proven”. That doesn’t mean that benefits are not there to be derived from smart. But it is important to look beyond the hype to probe the when, how and for whom value will be generated. Similarly, there are hard questions to be asked about sustainable business models: who is going to be paying to keep infrastructure and services operational?
Finally, privacy and security are a key component of public debate about our digitally-saturated world. They are equally important in thinking about the Smart City. Applications typically make use of big and open data, which can be gathered from sensors or captured as a byproduct of citizens’ day-to-day online activities. How to we ensure our uses of such data are viewed as legitimate? And how can we ensure that Smart City infrastructures and the data derived from them are secure?
These are not necessarily new questions, and they are not questions to which are no answers. But they need to be kept front and centre of the Smart City conversation.
The APPG Top Tips report offers a quick route to gaining a flavour of current thinking on the Smart City. Our message is to that we need to make sure we keep out eyes on some broader issues of fundamental importance, alongside the specifics of how smart might be put to work for the benefit of citizens.
My name is Beth Richards, I have a learning disability and I am an actress. I want to educate the world about people with learning disabilities through my acting, and think that mainstream TV in the UK should be doing more to represent people like me.
I am doing some research to find out why so few people with learning disabilities are on TV and what can be done to change this. At the moment data suggests that only 1.2% of people on TV have a disability (Mental Health Foundation, 2014) and we still don’t know how many of these have a learning disability.
My research is part of a much bigger ESRC funded project called “Getting Things Changed” at the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, University of Bristol. This project is looking at how the barriers people with disabilities in the UK face can be overcome by changing the way people do things.
Very little research has been done to explore why so few people with learning disabilities are on mainstream TV, or in the media in general, but organisations like Mencap and The Mental Health Foundation have campaigned for things to improve. Some actors with learning disabilities have also spoken out about the issue. For example, Sarah Gordy, an actress with Down’s syndrome who has been on shows like Downton Abbey on ITV and The Silkworm on BBC 1, said:
“It’s important that people with a learning disability are seen on our screens and on stage – simply because we exist.”
(The Huffington Post, 2017).
These campaigns are starting to make a difference as both the BBC and Channel 4 have made commitments to improve the representation of disabled people on their channels. For example, the BBC has committed to quadrupling the number of disabled people in its shows by the end of this year, whilst Channel 4 launched its 360 Diversity Charter in 2015 and made 2016 it’s Year of Disability. I think these commitments are great, but it is hard to find out what impact they have had as the channels aren’t reporting their success widely. From a viewer’s perspective, it doesn’t seem like there are more disabled people, especially people with learning disabilities on TV, than there were a few years ago.
One reason why the numbers of disabled people on TV might not have increased despite the BBC and Channel 4’s commitments, might be down to the way TV is made. Shows are written, commissioned, casted and produced by different groups of people. This means there are lots of different layers where disability can be excluded or discriminated against. Many of them out of the control of the television channels themselves.
This seems to suggest that the way TV is ‘done’ affects the number of people with learning disabilities who end up on our screens. I hope to explore this issue in my research by talking to writers, commissioners, casting agents, producers and actors both with and without learning disabilities about the industry. I am going to look at what these people say using Social Practice Theory to help understand how the way TV is ‘done’ can be changed to help get more people with learning disabilities on TV.
I know people with learning disabilities can be actors and have lots of talents. We are role models for others because we know what it’s like to grow up with a learning disability.
Hopefully my research can help change the media for the better.
If you want to be involved or have anything else you could help me with my research, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or my PA Victoria Mason-Angelow email@example.com. You can also find out more about my research and the wider ‘Getting Things Changed’ project on our website http://www.bristol.ac.uk/sps/gettingthingschanged/
Drawing on a case study of English Devolution in the UK, Dr Sarah Ayres, Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research, examines the role played by ‘informal governance’ in shaping political innovation.
Informal governance can be defined as a means of decision-making that is un-codified, non-institutional and where social relationships play crucial roles. Research evidence suggests that an analysis of informal governance is essential if we are to fully understand how political innovation occurs.
The issue of informality in policy-making is particularly timely as public managers seek to manage multifaceted policy problems within contested and uncertain environments. One view is that political decision-making has increasingly moved away from the national level of government to a more spatially diverse, temporal and fluid set of arrangements. From this perspective, policy-making is increasingly taking place in arenas where there is no generally accepted rules and norms according to which politics is to be conducted. Some argue that it is the surge of ‘wicked problems’ that have prompted this type of leadership, as multiple actors come together to solve complex policy problems. These developments raise important questions about how informal governance operates in this transforming policy landscape and the impact it has on political innovation. Yet, there is comparatively little research on the role of informality in policy-making, partly because of the complexity of studying it.
The case of English devolution in recent years provides us with an interesting example of the complex interrelationship between formal and informal policy making. In the case of English devolution, evidence confirms that informal governance has created an ‘innovative space’ to explore new possibilities and develop trust between critical actors. Elected politicians had a pivotal role in creating an ‘innovative space’ for senior administrators to develop new high trust relationships and working practices. Back stage, administrators were using informal governance to (re)configure institutional arrangements.
Evidence also confirms that informal governance was used to enhance the autonomy and discretion of administrators, leading to an ‘innovative oriented culture’. This shaped both the intention to be innovative and the creation of a permissive environment for change. Informal governance was used by a closely-knit group of well positioned and highly skilled boundary spanners who were motivated to use it in pursuit of securing government objectives. It was used as a tool to break deadlocks, promote political momentum and complement a weak formal bureaucracy. The ‘formalisation’ of informal working at critical points was utilised to secure political innovations that had traction.
Finally, research data confirmed that informal governance led to more responsive problem solving and a shared commitment to new policy goals. Central-local relationships were viewed as more collaborative and there was enhanced diversity and creativity in local policy outcomes. However, while informal working was viewed as a route to policy innovation, some respondents acknowledged the negative impacts regards transparency and accountability. Whitehall officials could be accused of using soft power to enforce the ‘shadow of hierarchy’ in nebulous ways, thus undermining the ability of local actors to secure real influence.
This research tells us that when formal structures and procedures are weak, political innovation can still thrive. Indeed, operating ‘back stage’ offers a number of distinct advantages for political innovation, although these must be mitigated against the pitfalls associated with increased informality if policy effectiveness is to be achieved without undermining democratic legitimacy.
This post is taken from a recent article by Dr Sarah Ayres entitled ‘Assessing the impact of informal governance on political innovation’ published in Public Management Review. This was written as part of a Special Issue on ‘Political Innovation’ and edited by Professor Eva Sorensen (Roskilde University, Denmark).
Dr Sarah Ayres has also co-edited a number of other reports on the role of ‘informal governance’ on devolution to England’s cities, including ‘Policy-making ‘front’ and ‘back’ stage: Assessing the implications for effectiveness and democracy’ and ‘Territory, Power, Statecraft: Understanding English Devolution’.
Dr Natasha Mulvihill, lecturer in Criminology at the School for Policy Studies and member of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, explains how gender power relations were implicated in how “responsibility” and “exploitation” in relation to sex purchase were defined during the parliamentary debates of the Policing and Crime Bill.
How policy is made matters. How gender power relations – how gender is understood and organised in society – are implicated in the way policy is translated from first to final draft also matters. The journey of the proposal to criminalise the purchase of sex in England and Wales is an apposite case study for how a certain version of policy becomes authoritative while others are discarded.
Prostitution is a practice patterned by gender. Research in England and Wales and internationally shows that it is disproportionately men who pay for sex from women (and from men and children). This pattern is consistent with prevailing gender power relations, which, broadly speaking, have privileged masculine interests. Accordingly, English prostitution policy has traditionally focused on ‘managing women’ – from the Contagious Diseases Acts (1864–1869) through to the use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders against street sex workers since the early 2000s. Concern for public decency has also brought visible buyers – kerb-crawlers – in to the legal spotlight.
Among other factors, recent international obligations in relation to the trafficking of human beings for sexual exploitation has shifted the political discourse to focus on ‘demand’ – on the sex buyer. These developments made it possible for Gordon Brown’s Labour Government to introduce Clause 13 of the Policing and Crime Bill (2008), a proposal to part-criminalise sex purchase in England and Wales. I use the term ‘part-criminalise’ because the clause made buying sex an offence in certain circumstances, rather than representing an outright ban.
This initial proposal in December 2008 went through multiple iterations, emerging as Section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009. My analysis of Hansard records reveals that around 25% of the time spent discussing the Bill was focused on this single clause. Moreover, the scope of the clause was narrowed over time from criminalising the purchase of sex from individuals ‘controlled for gain’ to individuals subject to ‘force, threats or deception’ by a third party.
A detailed analysis of the relevant parliamentary papers and records reveals that central to the discussion were contested definitions of ‘responsibility’ and ‘exploitation’. But we need to understand these contested definitions as evidence of gender and power in action.
The above text draws on the author’s published work in the Journal of Public Policy. The article was first published on 23 August in British Politics and Policy, a blog by the London School of Economics and Political Science.
This week a paper from the EPIC-CVD which I co-authored was published in the European Heart Journal. Unfortunately the article was subsequently promoted in the press with the headline ‘Fat but fit’ still risk heart disease, encouraging a belief that physical activity offers no heart health benefit to those that are overweight.
This headline is misleading because most people understand ‘fit’ to mean physically activity, however the paper didn’t measure physical fitness. Instead it measured metabolic health (ie, high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose) which some term ‘medical fitness’, and is often shortened to ‘fitness’. Hence the confusion.
What the paper really shows is that being overweight and having poor metabolic health both contribute to increasing risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), or a heart attack, to put it more simply. If you group people based on their weight status and metabolic health then the risk of having a heart attack increases in the following order:
To provide some context to these numbers, we know that having a heart attack is more common in older people – that risk increases with age by about 10% per year. Being overweight and healthy notionally makes you 2 ½ years older (in terms of heart disease risk) than a normal weight and healthy person. Whilst being obese and unhealthy notionally makes you 15 ½ years older!
My take home message from these figures is that having poor metabolic health is much worse than being overweight or obese on its own; however people carrying excess weight still don’t get off scot-free. So, if you can improve your metabolic health (whether you are normal weight or overweight or obese) you can substantially reduce your risk of CHD. Equally if you can reduce your weight (whether you have good or bad metabolic health) you can reduce the likelihood of a heart attack even further.
What about being fit, ‘physically active’ fit?
If you are overweight and are physically active then this will more than likely be good for your health – we know that physical activity has beneficial effects on metabolic health. The long-standing fat-fit hypothesis states that the health benefits of being physically active can cancel out the increased risk of being overweight, so it’s possible to live just as long if you are fat as long as you are fit. Does our work say anything about that idea? Not really, not without a lot of inference and assumptions. You’d need a study of physical fitness and weight and metabolic health to get to the bottom of that one (a study like this).
What is apparent from this analysis is that grouping people based on continuous measures of health is spurious. If you look at the ‘apparently healthy’ overweight or obese group you’ll see that their blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, etc are actually still higher than the supposedly equally healthy normal weight group. To me this suggests that metabolically healthy obesity doesn’t really exist, not long-term. The people in the healthy obese group just didn’t quite meet the cut-offs for being defined as ‘unhealthy’ yet, suggesting it’s only a matter of time before they cross over to the unhealthy group.
So what’s the point of putting people in boxes, we are all individuals after all, with our own unique profile of risk factors. I’d say let’s try and keep continuous risk factors continuous and aim for lowering them across the whole range using whatever methods have been shown to work in the past. Physical activity and diet can both help in different ways, to either improve metabolic health or promote weight loss, so aiming for a healthier lifestyle is as important as it ever was.
This blog was written by Dr Laura Johnson, a Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Science, School for Policy Studies.
Dr Caryn Peiffer, Lecturer in International Public Policy and Governance in the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research, and her colleague Rosita Armytage of the University of Birmingham reflect on findings from their current project Islands of Integrity.
In most countries that struggle with endemic corruption, discussion of corruption is everywhere. It dominates national newspapers and is the subject of political infighting and point-scoring between politicians. Corruption scandals and allegations are discussed in family homes, social gatherings, and on street corners. Strong opinions and rumours are easy to come by.
But the challenge for researchers is to find people who can shed objective light on where and why it happens. Corruption is located ‘elsewhere’ – always attributed to other sectors, organisations, units, or individuals. For obvious reasons, few will admit their own involvement.
We thought we would have better luck focusing on anticorruption success stories. If people are generally willing to join in a conversation about corruption but reluctant to blame or attribute responsibility, we thought – perhaps naively – that it might be easier to start a discussion about what is going right. Not so.
We have just completed the second phase of our Islands of Integrity research project. In the first phase we scrutinised data from Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer and statistically identified potential anticorruption success stories. These are sectors within countries – whether the courts, education, or healthcare, for instance – where the data show a significant reduction in bribery, despite static or rising levels of bribery in all other sectors. In the second phase we have contacted people familiar with each of our potential cases in an effort to vet a handful of these apparent success stories to assess whether they are likely to represent a real reduction in bribery on the ground.
The third phase will focus in depth on whether and how bribery reduction was achieved. In the process of narrowing down to two cases for this fieldwork phase, we’ve had some surprising reactions from a handful of in-country experts.
For a start, most people we talk to are adamant that things are just as corrupt now as they ever have been, regardless of what the data might appear to say. Sectoral experts (NGO officers, advocacy experts, practitioners, academics, and specialists such as criminologists) in almost all the countries our project has looked at have expressed significant reluctance to discuss or even examine data which might suggest that there has been a reduction in bribery in their sector.
Many of those who have been willing to look at what the data suggest have pulled no punches about how suspicious they are of its validity and statistical soundness. Some have refused point-blank to discuss what factors might have been at play during any given period when there was an apparent reduction in corruption. And some, of course, simply didn’t reply. Why, we find ourselves wondering, is it so hard to get a conversation going with the people who might know what really works – and why – in the fight against corruption?
What might all this hesitancy be about? Some clues have been offered by our more communicative (though no less sceptical) respondents. We discovered, for instance, that if we were very clear that our data might only be detecting temporary reductions in corruption, and didn’t necessarily suggest that these improvements had continued or were ongoing, some of our respondents were more willing to get involved and investigate further.
Critically, as other correspondents pointed out, the sectors we are looking at – ranging from land use and health services to policing – are often the focus of intense political contestation. For police forces in particular – our focus in three of the countries we considered – there is the real danger that data that indicate even a temporary improvement might be appropriated to neutralise anti-corruption work. It might be commandeered for public relations efforts by incumbent administrations, or by anyone with a vested interest in prolonging and sustaining corrupt practices.
We wonder if all this adds up to a kind of pessimism. Perhaps experts who feel that there is still a long, long way to go on the anti-corruption trail find it hard to recognise even small or temporary improvements, particularly where apparent shifts are marooned in a sea of nationwide and worsening corruption.
Of course, it is also possible – as one of our most vehement correspondents has told us – that nothing has changed and our data is deceiving us. It may be that the success we think we have identified is an illusion created by poor data, and statistical outliers are, of course, notoriously clouded in this type of suspicion. But it may also be that those fighting corruption on the ground are fearful that any stories about corruption reduction will undermine the urgency of their work and erode the political will to combat the very serious corruption that still remains.
Some pertinent questions have recently been asked by Duncan Green about how the anti-corruption movement can sharpen up its act. But it turns out that researching corruption is almost as challenging as reducing it. And researching success can be particularly politically challenging. Seeking to locate improvements in contexts of ever-worsening official abuses of power can easily appear foolhardy, naive, or downright counterproductive. As researchers, we must consciously balance the need to find out what works in the fight against corruption with the imperative to do no harm.
Nevertheless, we will continue to investigate these glimmers and gleams of apparent improvement further. If we do discover some small – even if only temporary – improvement in one location, it might provide a clue to the circumstances, policies, or politics that can reduce corruption in other contexts too.
This post is cross-posted from the DLP blog (posted 25/07/17).
(Image: Darkday via flickr under Creative Commons)
There are 163 Women’s Studies Centres (WSCs), funded under the University Grants Commission (UGC) in universities and colleges across India, most of which now face the threat of being wound up after September 2017.
Concerns over the future of the Centres were originally raised in March 2017 but were temporarily allayed when the UGC issued a public notice on 29th March stating that all existing schemes would continue for the fiscal year 2017-18. However, on 16th June, the UGC published a revised notice that ongoing schemes under the Plan Head would be funded only up to September 2017.
The women’s studies centres in India are organically allied to feminist movements in India, and are historically linked to the UN international decade for women (1975-85), and the Status of Women Report led by a group of Indian feminists in 1974, which revealed the myriad social and economic hardships and inequalities suffered by Indian women. Women’s Studies was introduced into the National Policy of Education in 1986. The late 1970s and 1980s also saw the rise of women’s movements’ campaigns against forms of violence against women, including rape, sexual harassment in public spaces and the workplace, dowry, domestic violence, representation of women in the media and female infanticide, and is also linked to wider secular movements.
These concerns have always been represented in the teaching and research interests of women’s studies departments in India. For instance, the Research Centre for Women’s Studies, SNDT University, which was the first women’s studies department set up in the country in 1974, conducts action research programmes on topics as varied as assessing the extent of sexual harassment in university campuses, research on problems faced by the girl child within the family, and teaches women’s studies at Masters and research PhD levels.
In spite of the intellectual and political insights provided by women’s studies scholars in India, the discipline itself has often been treated as marginal by universities and funding bodies. One suggestion is that the challenges to patriarchy and gender roles posed by the Women’s Studies Centres threaten the inherent misogyny within the academy, and this may the reason why this discipline is under threat now. As observers of Indian society are aware, women students have always been subjected to discriminatory policies. Examples of this include: curfews for women in hostels, women students being evicted from their hostels in the summer break and dress codes imposed on female students in different universities.
Within this context, the threat to women’s studies centres indicates the further shrinkage of secular and feminist spaces within Indian academia, and is concerning particularly within the wider context of the rise of misogyny and right-wing Hindu politics in the country, and indeed internationally.
The Centre for Gender and Violence Research has always had close working and personal connections with women’s studies departments in India, and elsewhere, and this is reflected in our new journal in its scope, editorial board and papers. The first issue of the journal has an interesting paper written by academics from the Women’s Studies Centre in Tata Institute of Social Sciences which showcases the work of women’s studies departments in India in terms of its links to activism and feminist concerns with regard to policy and practice on gender based violence.
To read more articles like this, sign up for a free trial of the Journal for Gender Based Violence.
As a co-editor of the journal and currently the Head of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, where the Journal is based, it is an honour to launch the first issue of Journal of Gender-Based violence and share what it means to us, to our international colleagues – activists, policy-makers, front line staff, and academics. We have made the first issue free to access online until 30 June and hope it will be widely shared and read.
The driving force behind the journal is Professor Marianne Hester, who has contemplated what this journal might look like for some time. As she highlights in the editorial of the first issue, the launch begs the question ‘why now?’ Increasingly over recent years those working in this field have had the opportunity to reflect on both progress and success. But we are also aware of threats to the legal and social advances which have been hard won, and concerned about how protections can be rolled back – under the guise of ideology or economics.
So, this journal, at this time, offers an opportunity to share knowledge and insights and to resist those threats. The journal has been organised to reflect the different voices of those working in and living with – gender-based violence. It also seeks to share knowledge across a range of divides.
The journal has internationally-based regional editors to encourage the submission of papers from across the world. We welcome submissions from those for whom English is not their first language and will work with those authors to provide a broader platform for that work. Too often the knowledge and expertise of our international and European colleagues is overlooked and we hope to address that. We therefore invite country and region wide networks to contribute to the journal and engage in that very debate.
By recognising the broad spectrum of knowledge which is out there, we hope this journal is a place for all of us to take the field further and learn from one another, not just in terms of academic papers, but in relation to policy, practice, and activism.
At the heart of the journal is a commitment to social justice and the tackling of gender-based violence within the wider context of inequality and disadvantage. With that in mind we envisage the Policy and Practice and Open Space sections being used to report on campaigns, new interventions, and good practice.
We also invite readers to reflect on work which has inspired them and to share with other readers why such works are still important today. We hope this will inspire new researchers to rediscover authors whose work laid the foundations for the current field and to add to current debate. So if you have a book or author whose work you think others should know about, please do consider writing a reflection piece for the Open Space section. Similarly, if you wrote something years ago and want to revisit it – please get in touch!
Finally, the first issue ends with a piece offering memories of Jill Saward, activist and campaigner. Again, we are proud that this journal can recognise the breadth of knowledge that the field of Gender-Based Violence draws upon, recognising the work of campaigners and the knowledge they contribute.
As such, we dedicate this first issue to all those who have experienced Gender-Based Violence, and those who continue to fight for ‘justice’.
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Professor Julie Selwyn is a Professor and Director of the Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies at the School for Policy Studies. Here, she shares the findings from the new report she co-authored, Our Lives, Our Care: Looked after children’s views on their well-being.
There were 70, 440 children in care in England as of 31 March 2016, according to the Department for Education. The majority of children enter care because of parental abuse and neglect and often enter with physical, emotional and behavioural difficulties as a result of traumatic experiences. Every year ‘outcome’ data are collected and published by the Department for Education on children’s educational achievements, offending, mental health, and number of teenage pregnancies.
Children’s experiences not heard across system
Generally, children in care do not achieve the same level of academic success as their peers and are much more likely to have problems with crime, drugs and have poor mental health. Consequently, the care system is often viewed as failing but there is no systematic collection of information on how children feel about their lives in care. Nor do we know whether children in care emphasise the same aspects of their lives as being important to their well-being, as those identified by children in the general population.
This excerpt was taken from the original post in the WhatWorksWellbeing blog. Read the post in full.
There is a crisis in British care homes, arising not merely from bad behaviour by staff members but from the economic and political context of the social care market.
There are currently close to half a million individual places (‘beds’) used by around 4% of the population aged 65+ and 17% of people aged 85+. Statistics vary somewhat, according to what is being measured, but we can be certain that although the number of older people in the population have risen, a smaller proportion of them live in a care home, that they are older on average when they first enter the home and have more complex, long-term illness that require more skilled assistance.
Older people are also increasingly likely to pay at least a part of their care home fees. According to Laing and Buisson’s 2012-2013 Care of Elderly People UK Market Survey, some 43.4% of older residents in the independent sector paid the full costs and a further 14% received partial council support and topped up their fees. The majority therefore still rely wholly or partially on public resources but this proportion is falling.
Running parallel to these changes is the rise in private ownership of care homes and payment of fees. Over three decades, the proportion of places in local authority run care homes in the UK has dropped while the proportion in the private, for-profit, sector has risen so it now has a 75% share of all places. The voluntary, not-for-profit, sector share has been more stable but is falling slightly. The current crisis involves increasing levels of provider failure and exit from the care home market. Several big providers are deeply in debt, raising fears of a major collapse like that of Southern Cross in 2008. Owners point to rising costs as a consequence of the introduction of the national living wage and falling profits because fees paid by local councils have not risen in line with increased costs. The consequences for providers is an unsustainable business model.
The consequences for older people who need residential care are evident in delayed discharges and hospital waiting lists, a point illustrated perfectly in the case of Mrs Iris Sibley, who remained in the Bristol Royal Infirmary for six months while her family sought a care home place. For residents and their families the insecurity associated with provider failure means added anxiety and stress. Add to this the associated problem of worsening standards, which the Care Quality Commission fears will grow in the absence of major reform. Mrs Sibley’s son described how one place she was offered was so bad that he ‘wouldn’t put a sick dog in there’.
Not all older residents experience the same thing, of course. According to Norman Lamb MP, former Health Minister, the market has come to benefit older people with enough money to pay for their own care while disadvantaging those who rely on state support. Care homes where all or most residents pay their own fees are more secure than those that rely mostly on the local authority payments and are more able to absorb the additional cost of the national living wage. We might question why anyone would argue against a decent level of pay for the people who care for us when we are sick and disabled, but the dominant theme in social care for older people is that it should be as cheap as possible – hence, high numbers of migrant workers in the care home sector.
In fact, debates about care homes focus overwhelmingly on keeping costs down and agreeing who should pay. Should it be individuals (during their lifetime or after their deaths), their families or the public in general? Health and social care are frequently portrayed as unaffordable in the context of the ageing of the baby boomer generation.
I declare an interest here, being a baby boomer, but take issue with such a simplistic argument. Demographic trends have an impact on demand for care, for sure, but there is evidently a wider set of factors at play. Indeed it is arguable that demographic trends provide a useful rationale for cuts to public spending that would be made anyway. Policy-makers have placed themselves in a bind as cuts to public spending have impacted on private sector profits, proposals to recoup the cost of care from older people’s estates after death are met with outrage in the press, as are stories like that of Mrs Sibley.
Evidence on what makes a care home a good place to live and work is abundant. Higher standards of care are usually reflected in higher levels of staffing, more skilled workers and a culture of person-centred care that attends to the whole range of an individual’s needs, not merely to their basic physical requirements. A culture of ‘person-centred care’ promotes a sense of belonging and security and enables residents to maximise their capacities, enjoy new experiences and take risks. Care homes are likely to remain a part of the care system, despite their reputation, so we need to focus on standards. A sizeable number of us who will live in a care home at some stage of our lives, or have a close relative who does. But more importantly, care homes are inextricably linked with other parts of the care system so it is in our interests to think about standards in care homes as a policy issue that affects us all.
Professor Val Williams, from the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies at the School for Policy Studies discusses a recent project to understand people’s personal experiences of the social care assessment process.
Every day we hear about a different crisis in the NHS, some of which, at the least, can be attributed to problems in the funding of social care.
So, what happens to people who need to ‘apply’ for social care? It’s not like phoning up the doctor’s surgery and seeing your GP. To get into the social care system, you first need to have an assessment. And that assessment process will go on to determine how you will be funded, and what support may or may not be considered essential to enable you to live your life. Sounds simple? Not necessarily so. As the findings from our recent research ‘The Values of Assessment: Disabled adults and social care’ show.
The research team, led by Val Williams and Sue Porter at the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, worked in partnership with members of a peer support network at the West of England Centre for Inclusive Living (WECIL), a local disabled people’s organisation, to understand their personal experience of assessments. These stories revealed the sometimes deeply felt emotions and negativity which can be created by an assessment. It can, for example, be very difficult to portray yourself as ‘needy’, to tell someone else about all the things you cannot do, rather than share the positive things you can do.
The 2014 Care Act was being implemented at the time this research was carried out, requiring social care practitioners to focus on disabled people’s own chosen outcomes in their lives, and to carry out assessments in a personalised way, so that disabled people achieve ‘wellbeing’. Everyone is different and real personalisation means recognising that fact.
All this sounds great, but the disabled people who worked with us knew that things can feel very different in practice.
The core part of this project, led by Jon Symonds, included interviews with 30 practitioners, and the messages which came from them were actually very similar to those from disabled people. In fact, the disabled researchers in the WECIL group helped to find meaning in the practitioner interviews, by listening to extracts and discussing them with the team. The theories of social care assessments might sound good, but they are often hard to achieve in practice.
‘Social workers have so many pressures on them that it is sometimes difficult for them to put the principles into practice’ said Symonds. ‘Resource Allocation Systems restricted the amount of funding available to meet a person’s needs and although many would advocate for disabled people with their managers, some would also negotiate with a person which demands were reasonable and more likely to be funded’.
The disabled people interviewed in this project said that what was most needed was ‘trust’. Practitioners also spoke about establishing a personal relationship, listening and taking time for trust to build. However, practitioners described meeting with some potential clients they felt could not be trusted:
‘Sometimes they need help but don’t want it, and sometimes they want help and don’t need it’. (Practitioner interviewed in the ‘Values of Assessment’ research).
So, there is still a need for social workers to exert ‘professional judgment’ to help some people decide what will best enable them to experience wellbeing. These are the more difficult things to discuss, and to reconcile with the views of disabled people themselves, who want control over their own lives. For truly independent living, people need support and may even need help in reaching a decision about that support. However, they also want to be part of the conversation, to speak up for themselves, and to be full partners in that assessment process. Achieving that joint interaction is much more than just ticking a box on an assessment form.
On January 19th 2017 we launched a set of videos, which were created by members of the team led by Jon Symonds, and feature the experiences of the WECIL group. These videos were designed to start the conversation between social work practitioners and disabled people who use social care. The most important thing to learn from the disabled people in these videos is that they could understand, empathise and work with the practitioners who were assessing them.
The videos from this project are now freely available, and the project team would like to hear back from anyone who has used or watched them – for training, for discussion, or just for fun. We would like to know how they’re being used, and how they could make a difference.
The ‘Values of Assessment’ videos are dedicated to Dr Sue Porter, who died suddenly on 11 January 2017, whose inspiration and leadership made this project possible. Her untimely death was a tragic loss to the disability movement, and to disability research.
Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, comments on why recognising the subject of violence against women has never been more relevant than it is now.
25 November marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, followed by 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.
On this day, communities reflect on the damage caused by violence against women and its impact on women, children, men, and societies around the globe.
As well as acknowledging the harm that violence against women causes, 25 November is also a day to celebrate the achievements of a movement which seeks to eradicate the gendered violence which many face every day. To recognise the men and women who work to support victims and perpetrators, to challenge abusive behaviours within societies across the world, and to stand up to the causes of violence by naming misogyny and oppression in its many forms.
At the Centre for Gender and Violence Research based at the University of Bristol, we know only too well about the experience and impact of gendered abuse. Researchers are currently engaged in projects speaking to victims and perpetrators of a wide range of abuses; collecting official data from the police and other statutory bodies; working with refugee communities to address violence against women during displacement; and working with a range of non- governmental organisation (NGO) partners to ensure that research makes a difference in the world.
So, along with our partners in the UK, Europe, and internationally, we mark 25 November as a day to recognise the achievements of a social movement which still has many uphill struggles to face.
In addition to the consistently high rates of domestic and sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence which are experienced every year, this year in particular is a poignant year. Women’s rights have been attacked in a number of countries around the world: Poland and its attempts to restrict access to safe abortions; US presidential candidates’ “locker-room banter” about grabbing women whether they want it or not; the re-trial of a footballer on the basis of the introduction of evidence about the victim’s sexual history; and the crowning of Bono as one of Glamour magazines “women of the year”.
Okay, so the last one isn’t quite an obvious offence to women and equality – he does a lot of work about poverty and its impacts on women- but in a world where over half the population is female, it would be nice if an honour for women were given to one!
These examples show the struggles which we face to challenge the oppression which underpins gendered violence and abuse. They also show us the power of solidarity in the many acts of resistance they evoke. Polish women striking and taking to the streets against the attack on their already limited rights. Michelle Obama’s eloquent speech about the everyday reality of sexism and misogyny. Government reaction to the use of sexual history in sexual assault cases. We have yet to see how sisters uncut respond to Bono but you can be assured it will be creative and fitting!
Of course we also face an additional challenge in the UK with the recent Brexit vote to leave the European Union. The Centre for Gender and Violence Research in Bristol has a long tradition of working with European partners and we regularly meet to identify the emerging challenges which threaten the elimination of violence against women.
Whilst the terms of Brexit remain unclear, we continue to appreciate the importance and power of a global network of campaigners, researchers, and activists challenging the status quo and fighting for women’s human rights.
In Spring 2017, the Centre will be launching a new Journal of Gender-Based Violence. This is the first European- based international journal focusing specifically on this type of violence and abuse. We believe that now, more than ever, we need a space where evidence, policy, and ways of tackling gender-based violence across national borders, can be shared. It will provide a critical space in which we can continue to learn from one another and recognise the connectivity between the different challenges we face.
To articulate how far we still have to go, take a moment to look at the predicament of women worldwide below. (Infographic reproduced with kind permission from United Nations Women).
Dr Emma Williamson shares her reflections on the recent Thinking Futures event at the University of Bristol, which debated what justice means for victims of gender based violence.
What does justice look like? This was the question asked at last week’s Thinking Futures event run by the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol. The event was part of the wider Thinking Futures programme which celebrates research from the University’s Faculty of Social Science and Law, and supports the national ESRCs Festival of Social Sciences.
We chose the topic of Gender, Violence and Justice as it coincides with current research looking at Justice, Inequalities, and Gender Based Violence being conducted in partnership with Women’s Aid, England, and Welsh Women’s Aid.
The event, held at the Church Above The Shops, was introduced by Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West. Thangam brought to the evening her experience of working with the perpetrators of abuse, whether individuals or collective within processes and systems. She reminded us of the need to challenge and change those behaviours and the ideas from which they come. Thangam also recognised the long and on-going history in Bristol of women fighting gender based violence, from the early Women’s Aid movement, to Rape Crisis, to Integrate – all of whom were represented on the evening.
Geetanjali Gangoli, from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research was first to speak, highlighting findings from a recent study conducted for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary (HMIC) on so called ‘honour violence’. Geetanjali highlighted the barriers faced by Black and Minority Ethnic Women when trying to challenge abuse which might be categorised as honour based. She recognised that for some of the women in the research other relatives, including male relatives, were sometimes the ones to encourage victims/survivors to seek justice through the police and official systems. Geetanjali also discussed the difficulty of challenging abuse which might be condoned by families and communities, and the importance therefore of thinking about what justice means in wider and community based context.
Layla Ismail was next on the podium, both in her capacity as director of Refugee Women Bristol, and in her role for FORWARD, the national charity concerned, for many years, with the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or ‘cutting’. Again, the importance of community justice was raised. – To stop this particular abuse, adult survivors of FGM should be given the space to talk about their experience and the impacts it had had, in the hope that it would be a catalyst for social change. Young women in Bristol, supported by FORWARD, have been at the forefront of work on this issue nationally, and it was a pleasure to hear about their success in changing attitudes. In terms of our initial question, what does justice look like, justice here looks like no more FGM/cutting.
As well as inspiring the audience, Layla also challenged the multiple and sometimes contradictory oppressions which women might face. In this case the abhorrence society directs to FGM whilst condoning within popular media similar plastic surgery procedures. These contradictions do not go unnoticed within those populations where FGM has been an issue.
Following Layla was Rowen Miller from SARSAS – Somerset and Avon, Rape and Sexual Assault Service. Rowen was talking about sexual violence and justice, and what it feels like, from a survivor’s perspective to walk into a court of law, to take steps to seek formal types of justice. For most it feels like walking into the lion’s den. Rowen highlighted the importance of empowering survivors following assault to make they own decisions about how they wish to proceed, and the systems they have put in place to assist with this, including acting as a go-between for survivors who might want to report anonymously and the police. As with all of the speakers, Rowen offered us hope about the growth which is possible for survivors following experiences of gender based violence, and the importance of supporting, standing alongside and behind, survivors to their sources of justice, whatever that is.
The final panel speaker of the evening was Marianne Hester. Marianne focused more on domestic violence as one part of the wider gender based violence continuum. She highlighted the failures of formal justice to offer ‘justice’ in the sense of convictions for crimes, and discussed the alternatives we might then wish to explore. If formal justice on a population level, on the whole, doesn’t work for victims/survivors then what are the alternative available to us?
Following the panel presentations, the chair opened up the discussion to the audience. Initially reluctant, understandably, the audience come forward with a wide range of ideas about what justice might look like: rough justice, social justice – social change, restorative justice – in its true and safe form, empowerment, and resistance. As well as people’s experience of working in the field of gender based violence, people also talked about their experiences of abuse and the formal justice system.
We would like to thank all of the audience members for creating a safe space and atmosphere where survivors felt able to speak, and to those speakers for sharing their experiences with us. Injustice was not being able to face the perpetrator, in court, and tell him what he did. Injustice is over five years fighting a perpetrator who twists the system to drag you, as a victim/survivor, through the courts repeatedly. Injustice is being told by a therapist that if you choose to report an incident to the police then you cannot continue to receive their help.
So, taking the injustices which unfortunately inform our ideas of what justice might look like, for this group justice was about a wider recognition of gender, and other, inequalities. It is recognising misogyny as a form of gendered hate crime, and of finding new ways to challenge it. It is challenging schools to implement relationship and respect education – despite the government not making it mandatory. It is fighting for the support services needed to allow victims/survivors to seek the help they need, and to stand alongside them in their struggles to stop it happening in the future to others. Above all justice was what victims/survivors think it should be.
In a week when the US elected a president who admitted sexually groping women without asking (many would call that sexual assault) – justice is living in a society that says that is not okay and stands together to change it.
For further information about the Centre for Gender and Violence Research: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/sps/research/centres/genderviolence/
Anyone interested in talking to the research team about experiences of abuse, as part of the Justice Project, please contact us via the project page or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor Alex Marsh, a leading academic in Housing Studies and Professor of Public Policy at the School for Policy Studies examines the impact of the Overall Benefit Cap (OBC) and what it means for the future of affordable housing in the UK.
We are about to see one of the welfare policies of the late, only occasionally lamented Coalition government bear particularly ugly fruit. Next Monday the process of lowering the Overall Benefit Cap (OBC) from £26,000 per year begins. Over the coming months the policy will be rolled out across the country, with the cap being reduced to £20,000 outside London and £23,000 in London.
Likely policy impacts
The change to the level of the cap is likely to have a dramatic effect. The initial cap at £26,000 affected a relatively small number of households, mostly large families and those in particularly high cost properties. However, the Chartered Institute of Housing has estimated
that lowering the cap will affect 116,000 households including over 300,000 children. Other analysts have argued that this is an under-estimate and the change will affect closer to 500,000 children. Lowering the cap means that some households will be left with next to no
assistance from the government with their housing costs. Their weekly entitlement to housing benefit will drop sharply: as a consequence there is a risk of rent arrears accumulating rapidly. Given these are households who are already entitled to social security benefits they will struggle to make up the shortfall in rent from elsewhere. Hence there is a serious concern that arrears will be followed swiftly by eviction and homelessness.
It is likely that many of these households will turn to their local authority for help under the homelessness duties. The net result could therefore be that they end up in temporary accommodation which is both poorer quality and more expensive than the property from which they’ve been evicted. So the public purse will end up paying more for less.
The standard response to these arguments from Government is that households can exempt themselves from the OBC by moving in to employment. Indeed, one of the key characteristics of the policy, from the Government’s perspective, was that it incentivised households to seek employment.
However, there is limited evidence that the initial cap at £26,000 had such an effect. The likelihood that the lower cap will have such an effect is equally questionable, in large part because most of the households affected are not deemed to be unemployed and able to actively seek work.
Challenging the principle
Most informed commentators are expecting the change to the OBC to have some significant negative impacts on the living standards of low income households and the homelessness statistics over the next year. But it also brings a broader point of principle into sharp relief.
The introduction of the Overall Benefit Cap via the 2012 Welfare Reform Act was viewed as one of the Coalition’s more popular reforms. Placing a limit on the maximum amount of benefit a household could receive was claimed to restore ‘fairness’ to the social security system by ensuring that no household reliant on social security received more than the equivalent of median household income. Many social policy commentators argued that this claim to greater ‘fairness’ was highly dubious, for a variety of reasons.
Nonetheless, it was a claim and a policy that seemed to meet with considerable approval among voters, as measured by opinion polls at least. So much so that the Labour opposition shows no inclination to repeal the OBC.
However, the OBC represents a fundamental change in the nature of our social security system. It breaks with the principle that assistance should be based upon need and that the government has obligations to ensure that households secure a minimum standard of living.
Assistance on the basis of needs
Under the social security system as it operated prior to the introduction of the OBC it was true that some households ended up receiving substantial sums of money from the state. But that was not accidental or arbitrary. It was a product of their household characteristics –
most typically the presence in the household of several children – and/or their high housing costs. There is little robust evidence that either of these policy drivers are a function of the social security system itself.
Yet, it is clear that policy has played a role in driving up the welfare bill. For example, 30 years of housing policy – including the Coalition’s own ‘affordable’ rent policy – drove up social housing rents in the belief that the right model was to limit rent subsidies and let housing benefit ‘take the strain’. At the same time, a failure of new housing supply to keep pace with demand and the financialisation of the private housing market mean that housing costs have moved – seemingly inexorably – upwards.
These changes are of no real benefit to the households living in these more expensive properties. Indeed, there are good arguments that greater reliance on housing benefit has negative consequences for households. But engineering higher rents is a good mechanism for transferring money from taxpayers to landlords or lenders.
Breaking the link?
Yet, as government has sought to exercise control over the welfare budget using crude measures like the OBC it is households – not landlords or lenders – that will face the most acute negative consequences.
It could be argued that the OBC decisively breaks the link between household characteristics/housing costs and the amount of money a household is deemed eligible to receive. Under the new cap, for example, in the most extreme cases some larger families will find that they are now only eligible for 50p a week in assistance with housing costs. Effectively the Government is saying that for certain families it no longer accepts the obligation to assist in securing accommodation appropriate to the household’s needs.
Reducing the minimum
If that feels like too emphatic a position to take, we could argue instead that the OBC policy seeks to re-calibrate where the minimum standard might be and precisely the extent of the obligations upon the state to assist.
For example, before the arrival of the Coalition’s welfare reform agenda there was limited debate about the ‘where’ of government assistance. If I lived in Bristol, Bath or some other relatively expensive area and found that I needed assistance from social security to pay my rent then assistance would be made available. Of course, there were restrictions on the extent of that assistance, which meant that there were parts of the rented housing stock that I couldn’t afford. But, broadly speaking, the social security system would step in to help me maintain my current location.
There are good reasons for this. For example, if I have children in school then if social security helps me to stay in my current accommodation then it means current family and social support networks, access to services and amenities, and my children’s educational
progress are not unduly disrupted.
The current system in effect rejects the idea that you have a right to stay in your current area once you become dependent on social security. There is no longer any certainty that the government will provide sufficient assistance to allow you to afford appropriate accommodation locally – including your current accommodation – if you are subject to the OBC.
The OBC policy has already triggered mobility in London where the initial £26,000 cap rendered much of inner London unaffordable. Lowering the cap is now going to trigger another wave of mobility as more households in more parts of the country are affected and have to seek cheaper accommodation. Moving to accommodation in a cheaper area can result in housing quality being maintained, but other key contributors to quality of life –such as social and family networks – being lost. The alternative strategy, adopted by some households in the face of more limited assistance, is trading down locally. This means that location – hence social and family networks – is maintained but housing quality deteriorates. This can result in an increase in sharing, overcrowding and more informal housing arrangements.
When it was originally proposed the danger with the overall benefit cap was never that it would have a widespread negative impact upon poor households straight away. Because the initial benchmark was median household income, relatively few households were affected. That presumably made it more palatable to politicians of different persuasions. The real danger was that having conceded the principle that a cap was an appropriate mechanism it allowed subsequent governments to tighten the cap as much as they wanted to.
We are about to see the cap lowered to a level that will cause a substantial number of households significant difficulty. And it is a moot point whether it will save any money overall as costs are shunted from one budget to another.
But there is nothing to say that that is the end of the matter. This may be only the first such tightening of the cap. It is not implausible to imagine a future government – perhaps a government facing sharply declining tax revenues as a result of a major economic shock –
arguing that in the interests of the country’s overall fiscal position the cap needs to be lowered further.
Avoiding an even harsher future
Perhaps the best way to minimise the risk of that happening is both to press the arguments for the importance of the principle of guaranteeing minimum incomes and to assemble and communicate effectively the evidence on the negative consequences of policy that is
already in train.
All we would need then is a government that, on the one hand, feels constrained to recognise rights-based arguments for ensuring standards of living and, on the other, is amenable to being influenced by evidence. If we had one of those then we could be well placed to ensure that the lives of the poorest are not unnecessarily made that much harsher.
Tessa Coombes, PhD student in the School for Policy Studies, former councillor, ex-policy director at Business West, and part-time blogger considers the new plans for the City office and the impact this will have on the way Bristol is governed and the people who govern it.
There’s a new approach to partnership working being proposed in Bristol.
Living as we do in the most centralised state in the western world, many different approaches have been taken over the years to try and break down barriers, grab additional local power and move away from the silo thinking that dominates our political and administrative systems. However, few of these have managed to make any significant difference to policy and decision making at a sub national and local level.
Recent years have seen more debate about devolution, leadership and collaborative governance. This has manifested itself in discussions around ‘place-based leadership and power’ where different ways of working are being identified to address the challenges faced by localities. There’s also been a change to the way some cities are governed, with the introduction of directly elected mayors providing clear, accountable local leadership with enhanced powers.
Robin Hambleton in his book “Leading the Inclusive City” (2015) sets a conceptual framework that identifies five intersecting realms of leadership: political leadership, public managerial/professional leadership, trade union leadership, business leadership, and community leadership. He suggests that where these realms overlap we create innovation zones where more creative and inventive behaviour takes place, particularly where it can be focused on aspects of unified action.
It is this very concept that is about to be tried in Bristol through the creation of a City Office. It’s an idea that seeks to address some of the challenges faced by the public sector, with ever decreasing budgets and reducing powers. It is about partnership and collaborative governance, bringing organisations, individuals and budgets together to tackle the issues that we have failed to tackle before, where collaboration and joint working are essential, alongside the willingness to be creative and innovative.
Whilst there have been many partnerships developed over the years in Bristol, some that have worked, others that have been less successful, somehow this new partnership feels different. Perhaps the increasingly challenging context for change is one reason why it feels different this time. With a new form of governance in the city, a directly elected mayor who can lead with greater power and greater visibility, maybe there is now the direction and clarity the city has needed to make this work.
There is also the ‘shadow of austerity’ across the whole of the public sector and local government in particular. The council in Bristol once again faces severe cuts that mean its ability to do anything beyond deliver on statutory services is significantly reduced. That in itself is a big restraint, when you are facing big problems in the city that cannot be solved without significant time, effort and resource. Yet, there is a history of partnership working in the city that has successfully delivered change, with business, public and voluntary/community sectors coming together to make things happen.
Bringing these elements together, in a new partnership approach, could provide the impetus needed to make a difference.
The idea is to enable the city to develop solutions to the issue that matter most, issues that to date we have failed to adequately address. It is also about learning, experimenting and innovating, about not being too afraid of failure and being brave enough to take risks in order to find that set of solutions that do work. The city office is unique in its aim of changing the way we do things, by working together and applying collective resources to the challenges we face, by taking a truly ‘total place’ approach to city development.
It will operate at both a strategic and tactical level, bringing organisations together on project activities that deliver in the short and medium term as well as focusing on creating a shared vision for the future. The concept of additionally is critical, all the projects and activity of the city office need to bring with them the ability to provide something extra as a result of working together.
In addition to the project activity, the Mayor introduced the idea of a ‘Single Plan for Bristol‘, a strategic level shared vision for the future of the city, in a similar vein to the OneNYC Plan. A bold idea that has the potential to really make a difference to the key challenges we face as a city. This is where the city office can bring people and organisations together to work collaboratively to set out a long-term simple but ambitious vision with measurable and achievable short and medium term targets. It should be about addressing the root causes of problems and providing sustainable solutions, and not ducking the difficult issues. It is also where we can set out how we address the ‘big’ issues, like how we eradicate inequality and poverty in our city, providing something that everyone should be able to sign up to.
There’s a long way to go on developing the city office and this new approach to ‘place-based leadership’ but so far the signs are positive and the potential is definitely there to influence and create change.
Dr Clare England, Senior Research Associate and Specialist Diabetes Dietitian, in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences and the NIHR Biomedical Research Unit in Nutrition, Diet and Lifestyle, discusses the challenges of providing individualised dietary advice for people with Type 2 diabetes and introduces a new, validated assessment tool, that may offer a solution.
Diabetes UK estimates that over 3 million people in the UK are living with Type 2 diabetes, and a further 5 million are at high risk. Complications (for example, increased cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, blindness, foot ulcers and amputations) caused by poorly controlled Type 2 diabetes, costs the NHS an estimated at £7.0 billion.
There is an increasing choice of medication available for Type 2 diabetes which can help to reduce blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure, but a healthy diet, regular physical activity and good weight management underpin successful control.
There is strong evidence that regular dietary advice, provided by dietitians improves blood glucose control by improving diet. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that all people with Type 2 diabetes should receive individualised, on-going dietary advice from a health professional with expertise in nutrition, but many people aren’t getting this. Unfortunately, there are not enough specialist diabetes dietitians employed to provide this level of service, and there is considerable variation in provision. For example, the community dietetic service for people living in the north, inner city and east of Bristol is run by a different provider, on a different model, from that provided for people in South and West Bristol.
In the current environment the majority of people with Type 2 diabetes get their routine dietary advice from their GPs, practice nurses or community pharmacists. Some of these health professionals do an excellent job in providing good quality dietary advice but many say that feel they do not have the expertise to assess diets and give individualised advice. I have often heard people with Type 2 diabetes saying that the dietary advice they receive from their general practice is generic, and they struggle to see how to apply the advice they are given to make specific, beneficial changes to their own dietary habits.
With this in mind, clinicians and academics at the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences and School of Clinical Sciences felt there was a need for a brief dietary assessment tool that helps people assess their diets, and enables them to set dietary goals based on this assessment.
Over the last three years we have worked with dietitians, nurses, GPs and people with Type 2 diabetes to develop a brief dietary questionnaire to rapidly assess the dietary habits thought to be of most importance for people with Type 2 diabetes. The resulting questionnaire, the UK Diabetes and Diet Questionnaire (UKDDQ), asks about consumption of higher energy foods and drinks, fruit, vegetables, oily fish, common higher fibre cereal foods and meal patterns. It takes roughly 10 minutes to complete and can be self-scored. We have just published the validation paper, which showed it to be reliable and compares as well with food diaries as other short dietary questionnaires. The UKDDQ is publically available for download and is equally applicable to people with a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, those at risk of Type 2 diabetes and the general population interested in healthy eating. Since the initial development, we have also worked with other researchers from the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Science at the University of Birmingham, to check that the questionnaire is relevant to South Asian people (and made a few small changes to wording) and the UKDDQ was adopted by Birmingham South and Central Clinical Commissioning Group as the tool used for dietary assessment in the initial phase of the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme.
We believe that using the UKDDQ in clinical practice would promote dietary change in people with, or at high risk of, Type 2 diabetes more effectively than the existing generic advice that people are currently hearing. We are planning further work to demonstrate this and would welcome interest from health professionals or people with Type 2 diabetes who would like to be involved in the project.
UKDDQ Project contact details:
Dr Clare England, email@example.com
Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences / Bristol Nutrition BRU
Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in The Centre for Gender and Violence Research, School for Policy Studies, discusses how the current storyline in The Archers raises the question of what justice means when it comes to abuse?
Social media has once again been a-twitter with discussion about The Archers.
I wrote back in April about the domestic violence and coercive control storyline and how the producers had managed to shine a light on the often hidden aspects of abuse. As the story moves this week into the Courts, the media is once again gripped by the drama, with people posting their pictures of solidari-tea with the central character, Helen. The Mail Online even ran a story with Barristers discussing the fictional case .
As with the issue of coercive control more generally, the programme makers are tackling an important aspect of the experience of abuse, namely what is justice when it comes to abuse? This links directly to our current ESRC funded research which is looking at Justice, Inequalities, and Gender Based Violence. This research includes looking at police case files to examine the trajectory of different cases in relation to inequalities and different types of abuse. In addition, we are currently recruiting victims/survivors to speak to us about their experiences of different types of gendered abuse and justice. This includes adult men and women who may have experienced forced marriage, sexual violence, sexual abuse, ‘honor-based’ crimes, and domestic violence and abuse. This project looks beyond the narrow focus of justice in terms of the police and courts, although this is not excluded, and includes people who, for a range of reasons, haven’t reported to the police or have used alternative forms of justice.
This project, like the current Archers storyline, is intended to illustrate what justice and injustice look like, and how formal and informal responses to abuse can highlight the wider responsibilities of society to address the issue and take a stand.
Whatever the outcome in The Archers, the everyday reality for many victims/survivors is that the very idea of ‘justice’ is more complex than a court outcome. Domestic abuse doesn’t just impact on the victims/survivors, but the perpetrators themselves (research shows they have higher rates of depression and anxiety), friends and family members, as well as wider communities. This is all too real for those who have themselves or know someone who has experienced abuse.
The Archers storyline sheds a light on the wider impacts of abuse as the manipulation of the perpetrator affects a whole raft of relationships within families and communities. Irrespective of whether Helen gets ‘formal’ justice in the coming weeks, the damage to those relationships will continue for many years to come. Some would question therefore whether we can ever get ‘justice’ when so many harms go unanswered.
We look forward to following the fictional court case as well as the on-going struggles which the main characters and the Ambridge community as a whole face as they come to terms with the impact of abuse. We once again commend the writers for staying true to the victim’s story and not turning away.
Anyone interested in taking part in our justice research can register an interest, or contact us to discuss in more detail, at:
Telephone: 07807 799967.
Dr Sue Porter, Research Fellow at the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, School for Policy Studies, reflects on the horrific mass attack on Disabled people in Japan on the 26th July and what a Disability Studies lens can bring to our understanding of such hate crimes.
Those attacked in Sagamihara were living in a 150 bed unit for people with learning disabilities, and as such we must assume that the majority of residents were removed from their families and geographical communities. We know that a key factor that encourages hate crime is the “othering” of disabled people, which is reinforced by this sort of segregation. In the UK the Disability rights movement was born out of a desire to resist this sort of institutionalization of disabled people and campaigned to provide the means for disabled people to live within our chosen communities, whether independently or interdependently.
Since the 1980s this has been at the heart of UK government policy, informing personalisation‐related legislation and more recently the Care Act. Even at a time when many question whether austerity‐related cuts in funding to local authorities and changes in welfare benefits are undermining the practicality of independent living for growing numbers of disabled people in the UK, the importance of independent living is acknowledged as key to disabled people being active members of society. However, amongst people with learning disabilities and a label of challenging behaviour or mental health need, there are still over 2.5k living in institutional settings ‐ Assessment and Treatment Units ‐ at a distance from their home communities, for extended periods and without discharge plans. There is little provision in the community for these individuals and a growing number of mini‐institutions (18 or 20 bed) are either in operation or currently being built. So the ‘othering’ and segregation of this particular group of disabled people goes on in spite of the rhetoric, the policy and the promises made after the Winterbourne View abuse scandal.
At the same time cultural references such as the recent Hollywood film ‘Me Before You‘ continue to promote the message that it is better to be dead than disabled. For some it seems hard to imagine that a life lived with impairment or chronic illness is a life worth living. On 11 September 2015, MPs voted overwhelmingly against legalising assisted suicide, but some media coverage would have you believe that the large numbers of the UK population believe it’s a humane choice to legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill or disabled people. Opposition to assisted suicide is not confined to the medical profession and religious groups. Many disabled people, including the very people whom would be most affected by any change in legislation oppose the idea – it’s worth noting that no organization of or for disabled people has campaigned for assisted suicide (including those representing people with Multiple Sclerosis and Motor Neurone disease most often cited as likely to ‘benefit’ from such changes), and that disabled‐led groups like Not Dead Yet UK* continue to raise the issue, most recently protesting at the London premier of ‘Me before
At the time of writing the state of mind of the perpetrator of the attack in Sagamihara is unclear, what is apparent however is the culpability of the media in perpetrating and endorsing negative narratives of disability, potentially feeding the thinking and actions of some individuals.
The Sagamihara attack was a hate crime undertaken by an individual who denied the value of the lives he took, the 26‐year‐old former employee of the facility was quoted as saying. “It is better that disabled people disappear”. Hate crimes are defined as any crimes that are targeted at a person because of hostility or prejudice towards that person’s: disability, race or ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender identity (UK Equality and Human Rights Commission). The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission report that there has been significant progress in the reporting and recording of disability hate crime since it was first included in national policy in 2008 . Police records show an increase from 800 in the first year to 2,508 in 2015/16. The number of prosecutions for hate crimes against Disabled people in the UK last year was up by 41.3% compared to 2014/15. In 2015‐16 there were 941 prosecutions for disability hate crimes. (Action Against Hate, The UK Government’s plan for tackling hate crime. July 2016). Disability hate crime represented 5% of police recorded hate crimes in 2014/15, but this is in contrast to the Crime Survey for England and Wales where disability hate crimes represented one‐third of hate crimes. The under‐reporting of disability hate crime demonstrates the importance of more victims
feeling able to come forward, and the prevailing attitudes and cultural references surrounding us in society risk some Disabled people internalising the negative perceptions of the value of their lives.
Regardless of its form and intention, prejudice always has the potential to cause harm because it reduces the value, status or importance attached to people from ‘the other group’. The ‘othering’ of Disabled people, and the belief that disabled lives are not of value raise fundamental questions about social justice in our society. We need to come together to fight for a global society where diversity is valued and where we can all live free from abuse, fear and oppression. And as the understanding of hate crime increases, it becomes even more important that officials across government engage with those working in the research community and with organisations of Disabled people to build the evidence base for policy interventions.
*Not Dead Yet UK is a network of disabled people in the UK who have joined a growing international alliance of disabled people, who oppose the legalised killing of disabled people. All those involved are disabled people including people with physical and sensory impairments, learning difficulties, and mental health conditions.
Dr Jo Staines, Director of BSc Childhood Studies programmes, reports a on recent seminar held by the School for Policy Studies focusing on the over-representation of looking after children in the youth justice system.
Over 30 academics and practitioners from across the country came together last week to discuss how to reduce the over-representation of looked after children in the youth justice system. Inspired by the Prison Reform Trust’s recent Independent Review, In Care, Out of Trouble, this event drew on current research and examples of innovative practice to consider how policy and practice – and changes in attitude – can reduce the number of looked after children who become involved in offending behaviour and who are drawn into the youth justice system.
Statistics indicate that looked after children are five times more likely to be involved in the youth justice system than non-looked after children – although due to the vagaries of recording practices, this is likely to be an underestimate. A review of international research, which I summarised in the first session, helps to explain how looked after children’s early negative experiences, the potentially adverse influences of the care system, and structural criminalisation all combine to increase the likelihood that looked after children will come into contact with the youth justice system. Anne-Marie Day (University of Salford), Julie Shaw (Liverpool John Moores University), Claire Fitzpatrick (University of Lancaster) and Julie Selwyn (University of Bristol) added depth and detail to these theories, drawing from their current research with looked after children.
The key messages from the presentations and ensuing discussions emphasised children and young people’s need for stability – of placement, of social worker, of educational placement, and of support – and the need for trusting, lasting relationships was overwhelmingly apparent. The challenges faced in achieving this were highlighted, particularly by Tanya Grey and Jennie Mattinson of West Mercia police, who have the unenviable task of working with 19 different care providers and no less than 107 local authorities to develop appropriate, non-criminalising responses to looked after children’s challenging behaviour.
Katy Swaine Williams, from the Prison Reform Trust, gave an overview of the findings of their review and the reforms to policy and practice that were recommended. Chris Stevens (Surrey Youth Support Service), Jamie Gill (1625 Independent People) and Darren Coyne (The Care Leavers’ Association) all passionately introduced the work their organisations have undertaken to provide stability and support to looked after children and to reduce their involvement in the criminal justice system. As shown by these examples, and as highlighted within the Prison Reform Trust’s review, many examples of good practice exist – we know that reducing the number of looked after children who become young offenders can be done, as it is being done – but we need to act as a megaphone to transmit our knowledge about successful approaches and interventions, and to invoke the political will needed to make sure that examples of good practice become standard practice nationwide.
In a post-Brexit environment and with a new Justice Secretary now in post, this event provided the enthusiasm, inspiration and evidence needed to help promote this message.
Val Williams, from the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies comments on the implications for disabled people of Brexit
The shock of the BREXIT decision is not just an issue for disabled people who now have to live in a smaller, diminished country. It also has implications for disabled people across Europe, and particularly perhaps those with intellectual (learning) disabilities.
But what about our partnership with disabled people across Europe? In 1973, when we joined the EU, disabled people in this country did not commonly have a ‘voice’, nor were they taken seriously as a political force. At that time, I had just started working with young people with learning disabilities, within a largely segregated system, which had only just started to recognise their right to an education. Since then, disabled people have themselves taken a lead, and are rightly proud of their achievements within the disabled people’s movement – for instance, over institutional closure, and the ideas of the social model and inclusion. During the 1990s and 2000s I took part in various EU Social Fund projects, where our experiences as UK partners was not just to speak English, but to offer progressive and supportive ideas, while learning alongside other member states. The European Disability Forum has posted the following since the BREXIT decision, which reminds us of some fundamental values:
We strongly believe that a common EU human rights agenda is better achieved together. The tone of the UK campaign, which was characterised by a divisive public debate on migration, reminds us of what is at stake and what we need to fight for, within a strong EU: common values of non-discrimination, human rights and freedom of movement.
Will UK ideas on disability now be discredited? What of the gains in thinking on independent living? Institutional closure across parts of Eastern Europe? Turning specifically to the position of people with intellectual (learning) disabilities, during the latter part of the 1990s, People First groups in the UK set out to link with their European counterparts, and to set up a ‘Europe People First’, genuinely led by people with intellectual disabilities themselves. The movement in Europe has always been within the framework of families’ organisations, but the umbrella organisation ‘Inclusion Europe’ now has a self-advocacy section. This is a European Platform of Self-Advocates, which is composed of member organisations across Europe. Nothing is perfect, but compared with the 1990s, there has been progress towards an understanding that Europeans with intellectual disabilities have a right to live like others, to self-organise and to get support to have a voice. And importantly, UK self-advocates have always been strong in demanding these things, and in making a common cause across Europe.
In the UK we are still aware of the many steps that need to be taken towards including people with intellectual disabilities in the wider disabled people’s movement. There is also already a European network, not just through the Disability Forum and an EU umbrella organisation for disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) across Europe. In the light of the BREXIT decision, they have themselves reached out to disabled people in the UK, as mentioned above in their moving statement on the need to continue the struggle for human rights together across Europe.
Not least, accessible information is key to a meaningful conversation with all disabled people, including those with intellectual disabilities – see the progress made for instance by public and Government organisations in communicating with all. One out of many examples would be Public Health England’s easy English guide to avoiding Flu. UK efforts to work for equality in information, in voice and within public debates and research are now widely recognised across Europe, with a recent publication in Austria on Inclusive Research for instance, written both in English and in German.
As with all disabled people, the position of people with intellectual disabilities has moved on. In the 1990s I was able to visit both Germany and France, on some visits accompanying people with intellectual disabilities. Both countries had strong segregated (albeit meaningful) policies on employment – people lived within a ‘network’ of services, particularly in Germany, and in both countries, they were to some extent treated (and addressed) as children, unlikely to have anything useful to say or to contribute to the debates. Compare that with the debates in those countries today. On June 26th, the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper in Germany led its Society section with a discussion of sexual rights of disabled people with autism. The headline is that people with intellectual disabilities would have aspired merely to be ‘satt und sauber’ (fully fed and clean) until now; the argument is that they can also aspire to enjoy life! That would not have happened before the progress made by bringing disabled people together, through the European Union. The UK voice is important, and the connection between disabled people across Europe needs to continue, so that disability rights remains a common cause.
Val Williams is Reader in Disability Policy and Practice, Head of the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, and Executive Editor of Disability and Society.
Dr Paul Willis, is a Senior lecturer in social work with adults, in the School for Policy Studies. His research interests include sexuality, care and ageing, and trans issues in later life. This blog was first published on the website for Lyn Romeo, the Chief Social Worker for Adults.
Sex and sexuality are undoubtedly difficult topics to discuss with service users and carers – with older adults, even more so. To open up conversations about sexual intimacy risks causing offence, alienating older adults and compromising rapport built up with service users over time.
In some recent research on care home provision for older lesbian, gay and bisexual adults, we found that often managers and staff were reluctant to have these conversations with residents—these were no-go zones because of concerns about offending others, causing embarrassment (for staff and residents) and infringing people’s privacy.
The notion of individual wellbeing sits at the heart of the Care Act 2014. If we are truly invested in promoting the wellbeing of older adults then sexuality needs to be acknowledged as an integral part of their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
We often talk about person-centred approaches in adult social care, but what about sexual personhood? This means recognising the unique elements of an individual’s sexual life-story, including their sexual identity and past and current relationships. Experiences of sexual activity in early adulthood, affirming or negative, can have a lifelong impact on how individuals view themselves and relate to others in later life.
So what makes sex such a tricky subject to discuss with older adults? First, we have to look past the common myth that older people are asexual, in other words older adults are disinterested in sex and it’s no longer important to them. We know that older adults remain sexually active in later life.
The most recent wave of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles 3 in Britain included respondents up to 74 years of age for the first time and highlighted how older adults over 59 years continue to engage in sexual activity, albeit with less frequency than younger folk.
The idea of older adults engaging in sex can often evoke individual responses of disgust and repulsion—some researchers in ageing studies refer to this reaction as ‘ageist erotophobia’. These negative beliefs can make us blind to the sexual health needs of older adults, which can prevent older people from accessing sexual health services. Sexually transmitted infections and HIV do not discriminate on the basis of age. According to the National AIDS Trust in 2014, 636 people over 55 years of age were diagnosed with HIV.
Another popular myth is that all older people are straight or have lived heterosexual lives. Many older adults belong to sexual and gender minority groups and identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB).
Equally, some older adults may be same-sex attracted but do not identify as LGB. For older gay and bisexual men this means they may have had hidden relationships during a time when sex between men was a criminal act and subject to prosecution, prior to decriminalisation in 1967 in England and Wales.
For older lesbian and bisexual women their identities and relationships were not recognised in UK law and policy prior to the wave of equality laws introduced during the last 15 years. During their younger years, some older women and men may have felt compelled to receive psychiatric treatment to ‘cure’ their sexual and gender orientation while others may have experienced social exclusion from faith groups, family and local communities.
These legacies cast a long shadow and we know that older LGB adults are reluctant to access health and social care services as a consequence.
So how do we tune in to the sexual lives and histories of all older service users? This is not a topic easily broached in a first meeting. It’s a gradual and persistent process that relies on trusting relationships built over time, gently and sensitively asking open-ended questions about past and current relationships, and continually signalling to older service users that we are receptive to conversations about sexual health, relationships and identity.
It requires us to ask questions about relationships and intimacy when these issues may not be mentioned or initially appear relevant to people’s care needs. It also requires us to quietly challenge the views of others working with us such as students, colleagues or professionals from other agencies.
And for a lot of us it could mean taking time to reflect on and reconsider the ageist views and assumptions we may hang on to about sex, sexuality and ageing, often unknowingly. This is not an easy endeavour when religious beliefs and personal values about sex and sexuality can run deep.
Fundamentally, social workers have a pivotal role in advocating for the sexual wellbeing of older adults in receipt of care services in their homes, in community settings or in long-term care. Maintaining sexual health and sexual wellbeing is a human right applicable to all—the World Health Organisation reminds us that ‘the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.’ Older people are no exception.
The Centre for Gender and Violence Research has always engaged within intersecting forms of oppression and inequality. Recently, that has involved ensuring that those who experience domestic violence and abuse within same sex relationships are heard and provided for. The recent events in Orlando remind us however, that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) community remains subject to threats and violence from outside.
The recent attack in Orlando was a homophobic hate crime.
The massacre of 49 people within an LGBTQ venue, the Pulse, in Orlando, Florida, has shocked us all. As such our thoughts and feelings go to those who lost loved ones during the attack and to the 53 who were seriously injured. Our thoughts also go out to wider LGBTQ communities who feel shocked and under threat not just from the crime itself, but from the response of others too it. Immediately the discussion in the media turned to one of gun control, Islamic terrorism, and radicalisation. In our western culture of ‘terror’ it is too easy for any of us, myself included, to think of any crime primarily within these lens.
Such is the strength of the terror discourse that only those events which fit the Islamic terrorist narrative are recognised. Owen Jones in his Sky News appearance was trying, I think, to make that point. This was first and foremost, a homophobic hate crime. The gunman chose to target an LGBTQ safe venue, because it was an LGBTQ venue. Richard Angell in his article talks about the implications of that for the LGBTQ community as a whole. The attack, horrific as it is, is also a reminder that the LGBTQ community still needs such spaces, and that they too can be violated.
Fundamentally that is shocking and frightening for the LGBTQ community. As such we need to show our solidarity with that community, to make more safe spaces where sexual orientation is more than tolerated, out of sight but genuinely accepted in our town, cities, and villages.
Media interviews with ex-work colleagues and family of the Orlando gunman shows people saying that they never heard him express threats to carry out such attacks, but they do report a catalogue of hate, homophobia, sexism, and racism. A wide range of people sought to remove themselves from his presence due to his hate. Yet when investigated by the FBI, their obsession with a certain type of terror clouded their judgement and the risks he posed to the LGBTQ community, and others, were disregarded.
Finally, the most recent media commentary has focused on whether the gunman was himself gay. That narrative is currently unfolding but irrespective of his own sexuality, this gunman deliberately targeted an LGBTQ safe venue to kill and maim LGBTQ people. All of us have a responsibility to seek to change society so that sexual orientation isn’t a cause for hate. Whether that hate is spoken or acted upon.
It is perhaps helpful at this difficult time to consider Andrea Dworkin’s (slightly changed) comment on the Montreal Massacre of 6th December, 1989:
“It is incumbent upon each of us to be the that wanted to kill. We must live with this honour, this courage. We must drive out fear. We must hold on. We must create. We must resist.” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/dec/03/montreal-massacre-canadas-feminists-remember
Dr Angeliki Papadaki, Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition at the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, School for Policy Studies, argues on the need for UK dietary guidance to loosen the low-fat advice and embrace higher-fat but healthier dietary patterns, like the Mediterranean diet.
I come from Crete. I grew up in a house where everything revolved around the kitchen. Most of my childhood memories involve my mother preparing meals from scratch, using olive oil. Meals were accompanied with vegetables and we had a legume soup (like lentils, beans, chickpeas) twice a week. All of them were a pleasure to eat; they just needed olive oil and a slice of bread to scoop up the juices to receive a cook’s highest reward: empty plates.
I’ve lived in the UK for 10 years and I still can’t enjoy vegetables or salad unless I prepare them myself. They are boiled and boring, with uninspiring dressings, and no tomato sauce or sautéing with olive oil and onions to give them some flavour. It’s no wonder that 70% of adults in the UK do not eat enough fruits and vegetables and that on average they consume 14g of legumes a day (half the amount consumed in the traditional diet of Crete).
The argument that olive oil, as one of the most important Mediterranean diet foods, helps the consumption of higher amounts of vegetables and legumes is not new. Yet UK dietary guidance has a long tradition of recommending a low-fat diet. Up to recently, the Eatwell Plate recommended to “eat just a small amount of foods high in fat” and made only one reference to olive oil: “When you’re cooking, use just a small bit of unsaturated oil such as sunflower, rapeseed or olive, rather than butter, lard or ghee”.
Granted, the revised Eatwell Guide differentiates unsaturated oils from other high-fat foods, but still emphasises that these foods “should be limited in the diet”, without defining this limit. Again, olive oil comes third in line, after vegetable and rapeseed oil. To contrast this, the Mediterranean diet recommendations suggest that olive oil should be the main source of fat in the diet and used in every main meal. A recent randomised controlled study showed that for each 10 g/day increase in extra-virgin olive oil consumption, cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality decrease by 10% and 7%.
The concern about moving from a low-fat diet recommendation to a higher-fat one (even with the ‘right’ fats) might come from fear of promoting obesity. Yet, despite the advice to limit fats, more than half adults in the UK are overweight or obese. At the same time, diabetes is on the increase and heart disease is one of the most common causes of death. In contrast, and despite its higher fat content, the Mediterranean diet does not cause weight gain, and even if some heart disease risk factors are higher in Mediterranean countries, actual diagnosis of the disease is lower than in the UK. High-fat diets were recently shown to improve risk factors for heart disease among people with diabetes, compared to low-fat diets. The Spanish landmark PREDIMED study also recently showed that following a Mediterranean diet, with high amounts of olive oil (≥4 tablespoons recommended every day), reduces risk of cardiovascular events by 30%, compared to a low-fat diet usually recommended for the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
The EU recently invited its Member States to “promote healthy eating, emphasising health promoting diets, such as the Mediterranean diet”. The US Dietary Guidelines have also recently recommended the Mediterranean diet as an example of a healthy eating pattern. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, after reviewing the evidence for its draft public health guideline on maintaining a healthy weight, recommended to “follow the principles of a Mediterranean diet, which is a diet predominantly based on vegetables, fruits, beans and pulses, wholegrains, fish and using olive oil instead of other fats”. After review by the Public Health Advisory Committee however, this recommendation was not included in the final guidance, exposing a resistance of UK experts to the Mediterranean diet recommendations.
Yet we know that the Mediterranean diet is tastier and easier to comply with compared to a low-fat diet. We know that, with appropriate nutrition education, it can be transferable to Western populations. Perhaps we need to show its effect on health through randomised controlled trials in the UK before we see UK dietary guidance embrace its recommendations, similar to what our US counterparts did.
Social workers’ assessments of parental capacity to change are becoming increasingly important when working with children in need and children who may be at risk of maltreatment. Expectations from the courts regarding care proceedings in England have increased in the last couple of years, focusing particularly on better analysis in social work assessments, and better exploration of alternative courses of action for the child in question. Assessing the likelihood of a parent being able to make sufficient changes in their lives to ensure the child’s safety and wellbeing is a part of this analysis. And capacity to change is now included in the court report template from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services – requiring assessment of whether a parental capability gap can be bridged.
Fulfilling these requirements, however, presents some problems. One view of court decision-making suggests that the key evidence the courts need to make a decision is:
1) Whether harm has occurred to the child;
2) What caused that harm, and whether it can be attributable to the parent(s);
3) What can be done about the situation – and in particularly, whether the parent(s) can change things sufficiently to ensure that the child is well cared for into the future.
A brief look at the history of child protection work shows that there has been a great deal of research into the first point. Child maltreatment is well-understood. Research has helped us develop and improve methods of identifying it, investigating it, utilising medical expertise to arrive at satisfactory diagnoses, and so forth. Similarly, on the second point, a variety of assessment approaches have been developed over the years to give us ways of exploring the context of the harm, the contributory or causal factors, and to help us understand the parents’ roles. Examples include the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families, and the Signs of Safety approach, but there are many others. All these developments have been backed up by theory and research.
The third element of the decision, the potential for changes that benefit the child, has received much less attention. In terms of assessing parents, there are methods that support parents to make changes, and the impact of this can be measured using before and after measures. Examples include the work of Paul Harnett, but few such approaches are widely used, despite their underpinning research. In terms of theory related to behaviour change, the only theoretical approach that has had a significant impact in the context of UK social work practice is the Transtheoretical or Stages of Change model. This model is useful in drawing the practitioner’s attention to the idea that individuals approach change in different ways, and that relapse is a regular part of most attempts to change. However, the model itself has been widely criticised, particularly in the child welfare field. The stages themselves have not proved detectable in significant empirical studies, and individuals’ progress from one stage to the next has not been demonstrated at all clearly.
The key point is that theory and research, to date, have not offered very much help to social work practitioners in relation to understanding and assessing capacity to change.
The C-Change approach, developed by Katie Riches and myself at the University of Bristol aims to fill this gap. Its central principle is that there are two parts to an assessment of capacity to change. The first involves understanding what helps and hinders change in individual parents. The second involves creating an opportunity for change and assessing progress. C-Change brings both of these elements together into one systematic approach.
The first part of the approach draws on behaviour change theories. It can be seen that capacity to change is affected by a variety of factors, ranging from social and contextual circumstances to individual motivations and intentions. These factors interact, and practitioners should avoid relying for their assessment on isolated elements – such as whether a parent has ‘owned up’ to actions that have harmed their child. Some factors may help change, and others may hinder it. The social work assessment should weigh up barriers and facilitators in the individual situation.
The second aspect of the C-Change approach involves creating an opportunity for change, with appropriate support and help, and assessing the success or otherwise of achieving the necessary changes. In this, we have drawn on the work of Paul Harnett in particular, including his use of Goal Attainment Scaling.
These two parts have been combined into a single approach, under the name C-Change, and are supported by a practitioner-friendly manual. The double meaning of “C-“ in the name refers not simply to “capacity” but also indicates our view that a “sea change” is needed in the importance of capacity to change assessment. Whereas at present this part of the assessment can be a bit of an afterthought, our view is that it should be have a central role in the assessment process in recognition of its real importance in decision-making.
Further information, about the C-Change approach and the ideas put forward here, is available from our website: www.capacitytochange.org.uk. The practice manual can be downloaded free of charge by following the links on the site.
See also: Platt D. & Riches K. (2016), Assessing Parental Capacity to Change: The missing jigsaw piece in the assessment of a child’s welfare? Children and Youth Services Review, vol 61, pp. 141–148.
Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in The Centre for Gender and Violence Research, School for Policy Studies, discusses how the recent storyline in The Archers highlights the often silent issue of coercive control and its effect on victims/survivors.
I have to admit that I don’t normally listen to The Archers. And people don’t normally talk to me about the story lines. That all changed when the long running series began a story over 18 months ago which looked at the issue of domestic violence and coercive control. One of the most difficult things that victims/survivors of abuse tell us, and have consistently told us since the first women’s refuges in the 1970’s, is that it is the non-physical abuse they experience which is the most difficult to deal with [Williamson, 2000]. The bruises and other injuries victims suffer from physical abuse are visible. They are evidence to other people but also to oneself. There it is in black and blue. What is more difficult to prove and believe, is that someone who purports to love and care for you would bully, undermine, and manipulate you. The women I spoke too after the fact would either say, ‘how could someone treat me like that?’ or more often than not, ‘how could I let someone treat me like that?’ – still blaming themselves.
As the Archers storyline shows, this type of abuse is characteristic of a pattern of ‘low level’ abusive behaviours rather than the explosive incident people tend to think about when they consider ‘a domestic’. It involves small everyday things which result in people staying away, isolating victims from their family, friends, and networks of support. Recent research from Bristol has documented the massive impact of such abuse on friends and family [Gregory et al, 2016], as well as the evidence we know about the impact on victims [Mullender et al, 2005], their children [Mullender et al, 2002], and perpetrators themselves [Hester et al, 2015]. Doctors, the police, courts, social services, all tend to think of interventions in terms of those single incidents which means that the on-going manipulation of victims goes unnoticed.
Some call this type of abuse coercive control [Evan Stark, 2008], others intimate terrorism [Johnson, 1995], but for many victims it is this type of abuse which has the greatest impact on their liberty and personhood.
Work conducted at the University of Bristol has shown the long term health and emotional impacts of this type of abuse on victims [Abrahams, 2010; Williamson, 2010]. Indeed researchers at Bristol have been at the forefront of developing adequate measures which enable us to include this type of insidious and often invisible abuse within our survey’s and analysis of DV within various population groups [Hester et al, 2011].
In 2016, following work with Evan Stark, oft time visiting professor at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, the British Government introduced a new criminal law on domestic violence which explicitly identified coercive control as a pattern of abusive behaviours. It is this concept which forms the basis of the current Archers storyline and which the script writers have slowly and meticulously explored.
Working with national charities, including Women’s Aid[i], the script writers have demonstrated the impact of this type of on-going abuse and by taking their time, shown how such a manipulative partner operates. 18 months in it is harder for the listener to simply blame the victim and ask why she doesn’t leave. Hopefully the audience can begin to understand how the gradual nature of the abuse undermines someone’s sense of self, their personhood, and ultimately their liberty and/or human rights.
I don’t know what the outcome of the current storyline will be. I hope that there is enough evidence so that Rob gets his commuppence, yet we know from sad reality that for many in this situation escaping the abuse is easier said than done. Even when victims physically leave an abusive relationship they are not ‘free’. Many women are blamed when they retaliate, or killed during the process of leaving[ii] , when the abusers control is being challenged the most. For those with children their contact with the abuser might be on-going through child contact proceedings[iii] [Hester, 2011].
What we do hope however, is that whatever happens with the current story, that the audience leaves with a greater understanding of the ways in which domestic violence operates and how it impacts on those involved. We hope listeners will understand how hard perpetrators make it to leave.
If anyone has been affected by the storyline, and wants to talk to someone in confidence, then the National Domestic Violence helpline are an excellent resource.
24 hours, 7 days a week. 0808 2000 247.
Abrahams, H. (2010) Rebuilding lives after domestic violence: long term outcomes. London: Jessica Kingsley
Gregory, A., Williamson, E., & Feder, G. (2016) The impact on informal supporters of domestic violence survivors: A systematic literature review. Journal, Violence and Victims. 3 Mar 2016.
Hester, M, Ferrari, G, Jones, S, Williamson, E, Peters, T, Bacchus, L & Feder, G (2015) Occurrence and impact of negative behaviour, including domestic violence and abuse, in men attending UK primary care health clinics: a cross-sectional survey. BMJ Open, vol 5: pp. 1-10.
Hester, M. (2011). The three planet model – towards an understanding of contradictions in approaches to women and children’s safety in contexts of domestic violence. British Journal of Social Work, 41, 837 – 853.
Hester, M., Fahmy, E., & Donovan, C. (2011). Feminist Epistemology and the Politics of Method: Surveying Same Sex Domestic Violence. In C. Hughes, & R. Cohen (Eds.), Feminism Counts: Quantitative Methods and Researching Gender. London: Routledge.
Johnson, M.P. (1995) Patriarchal terrorism and common couple violence: Two forms of violence against women. Journal of Marriage and the Family 57 (2):283-294.
Mullender, A., & Hague, G. M. (2005). Giving a Voice to Women Survivors of Domestic Violence through Recognition as a Service User Group. British Journal of Social Work, 35 (8), 1321 – 1341.
Stark, Evan (2008) Coercive Control. Oxford Uni Press; Oxford.
Williamson, E. (2010) Living in the world of the domestic violence perpetrator: Negotiating the unreality of coercive control, Violence Against Women, 16, pp.1412-1423.
Williamson.E. (2000) Domestic Violence and Health: The response of the medical profession, Bristol: Policy Press.
Dr Debbie Watson, Reader in Childhood Studies discusses an innovative research methodology in this blog piece for the Sociological Review. This is part of their special issue on the relationship between sociology and fiction. With colleagues from the ‘Life Chances’ research team, Debbie describes how the project has been using fictional methods to co-create a fictional novel with community volunteers to better understand life on low income for children and families.
The Life Chances project is part of the ESRC funded Productive Margins project led by Professor Morag McDermot which has a number of themed co-produced projects with academics from the universities of Bristol and Cardiff working with a number of grass roots organisations and volunteers to enable new forms of engagement and to challenge regulation of people’s lives.
Tessa Coombes, PhD student in the School for Policy Studies, former councillor, ex-policy director at Business West, and part-time blogger discusses why inequality matters, following the screening of a new documentary at the Bristol Festival of Ideas.
“The people will always forget” was a significant line in the documentary The Divide which I saw this weekend as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas. In the film the line refers to the belief repeated by those to blame for the sub prime mortgage crash in the US, the bankers and financiers, who led us into the Global Financial Crisis and then expected us to bail them out. It’s an assumption that one could well believe our politicians make on a regular basis when taking some of the decisions they do – it’s ok they’ll forget about it when it comes to voting! It’s also an assumption that means we fail to learn from the mistakes of the past and that potentially stops us from addressing many of today’s issues and concerns. Which brings me to the subject of this discussion – the increasing levels of inequality in the UK and the growing divide between top and bottom.
The Divide catalogues the stories of different individuals in the UK and US just trying to get on in life. It highlights all too easily the increasing divide between those that ‘have’ and those that don’t. It illustrates the growing extent to which many of us are perhaps mistakenly driven by money and consumerism, by keeping up with our peers or striving to do better than them, and aspiring for things that are, in the end, unlikely to make us any happier. The main message of the film is based on the book “The Spirit Level” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, first published in 2009, but becoming ever more pertinent as time goes on. One of the most important points that the book makes is that inequality affects all of us. The problems are not just confined to the poor, the effects are seen across all aspects of society. Income inequality is a social pollutant because it spreads and everyone is worse off in a more unequal society.
The film illustrated many relevant issues that we are beginning to see the impact of in the UK, but in this post I’m just going to pick up on a couple of them that I think are becoming ever more relevant, that is, the impact of zero hours contracts and the growth of gated communities.
The use of zero hours contracts has become more prevalent in the UK in recent years across a range of sectors. Whilst some in government have tried to argue that it suits both workers and employers, the human impact of these contracts is illustrated particularly well by the film. If you don’t know how many hours you will be working in any particular week how can you budget for rent, food, bills etc? Imagine the levels of stress this type of contract could impose on you from day to day. You don’t know when you will be needed or for how long, so you don’t know what time you need to go in to work, if at all. You don’t know what you will earn in a week, so how can you plan ahead? The insecurity and uncertainly this creates is huge. Imagine having to live with that, even as a single person, but what if you have children and have to plan for their lives too, how does that work? In New Zealand this form of contract has been banned altogether (by a centre-right government), perhaps we could learn something from them?
The concept of gated communities has been around for some time now, with many more at a massive scale in the US, but something that is also creeping into the UK. In the US it’s a way of creating a sanitised community, where white people can feel safe surrounded by other white people, protected by armed guards at the entrance to their ‘community’. The community in the film had its own golf course, lake, play areas and parks and was characterised by large individual houses in their own plot of land. It’s a community that to many would look and feel like ‘prison’ but which in the US is something to aspire to. In the film these places came across as very exclusive, a place to live where people felt safe, but also where people felt isolated. There was in fact little sense of community in evidence, with estate agents promoting the place as lovely and quiet and where you won’t see your neighbours. That’s not a community! In the UK these types of gated community are happening, not on the scale of the US, but they’re there to make people feel safe, so people can surround themselves with other people who have money and status. To me it would feel like a prison, where you have to sign in visitors and go through guard gates just to get home, and where the diversity that makes our communities so rich and fascinating is totally missing. Let’s hope we choose to learn less from the US and focus more on the innovative and creative approach of our European and Scandinavian neighbours.
This point on who we learn from is an interesting one, which was picked up during the discussion with Kate Pickett after the film. It seems the devolved administrations of the UK are more likely to look to Scandinavia, The Netherlands and Germany for inspiration, when it comes to tackling inequality, than the UK Parliament as a whole, where sadly, all to often we look to the US for ideas.
That is the US where health and social inequalities are worse than anywhere else and where income inequalities are at their most extreme. There are many lessons to learn from elsewhere but let’s please make sure we are looking in the right direction. For example, in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, they are looking at paying citizens a basic income and in Bhutan a Gross National Happiness Framework was introduced to replace measures based on GDP.
“Inequality destroys empathy” that’s why whilst inequality does of course matter, it doesn’t matter how you achieve greater equality. There are a range of many different measures and policies from across the political spectrum that can work. The key is to do something about top and bottom levels of pay to create greater income equality because as Kate Pickett put it “every action we take individually matters and can make a difference”.
In celebrating International Social Work Day it is important that social work students experience dignity and self worth in the delivery of social work education. I should declare at the outset a vested interest in this issue as Programme Director of an MSc Social Work course at a Russell Group University. My responsibility, alongside that of my colleagues, is to ensure we deliver a rigorous learning experience so we can optimise the chances of developing top quality social workers. This of course is no easy thing. As Jonathan Dickens has acknowledged, the complex and contradictory roles and responsibilities associated with social work means “that change is always a work in progress and never a task achieved” (p22, 2011). How do we respond to the individual challenges and complex needs of our service users in what is a constantly changing environment? There are challenges for all practitioners in responding to increased volumes of work, whilst experiencing reduced capacity, during a period of near constant agency reconfiguration, and at a time of austerity. Additionally these challenges exist when there is significant political and academic discussion surrounding the future of social work as a profession and debate around the best methods of delivering social work education.
I have a responsibility to ensure the students’ learning environment models best practice and introduces skills to support behaviour expected in their engagement with their prospective service user groups. The learning experience of the student group must promote dignity and provide examples of self-worth; failure to do so risks these qualities not transferring to their practice.
Attempts to fulfil this aim are supported by ensuring the structure and content of the programme has at its core the ‘three Rs’, the student experience must be Robust and Reflexive with opportunities to develop Resilience – these are foundational to the programme.
Robustness is ensured through immersion in the latest research and opportunities to share innovative practice. We consider our programme to be research live and practice near. The students are taught by academic staff who are all involved in undertaking research. The areas of research address the broad spectrum of social work including mental health, learning disability, children and families and gerontology. Students are able to access up to date research messages and debate cutting edge methodologies both of which help inform the development of their practice. This supports Croisdale-Appleby`s suggestion that social workers be acknowledged as social scientists. This research robustness is further enhanced by close collaboration with partner agencies. Practitioners are actively involved in the design and delivery of all elements of the programme. In addition the programme has a very active Service User Carer Forum group who ensure lived experiences and the importance of power are shared with the student group. This promotes healthy discussion and debate around the professional role, the relevance of social work values, and intersections of oppressions. It also asks fundamental questions on what constitutes ethical practice. The collaboration between academics, practitioners and service users ensures students are able to draw on a broad range of knowledge and experiences to help inform their professional judgements. It is important professional decision making doesn`t rely on instinct but has a robust evidence base at its core.
Reflexivity is the second R and fundamental to social work learning and everyday practice. The students are told on the first day of the course that on completion in two years there is an expectation that there will be a change in how they understand the world and how they understand the construction of knowledge. I acknowledge the process of learning is deskilling and by definition a painful experience. The use of reflection is a vital tool in the social workers toolkit. Pedagogy informs the variety of teaching styles on the programme and opportunities to engage in group work informed by an enquiry and action learning approach helps facilitate the reflective process. It also ensures the students take responsibility for their own learning. The act of reflection is further influenced and supported on placement by quality supervision, peer support, and additional training opportunities. I expect space for reflection to be a fundamental right for all practitioners and this opportunity should begin at the qualifying stage.
Resilience, the third R, is crucial to practitioners being able to sustain themselves in what is an increasingly challenging practice environment. It helps amongst other things to protect against experiences of vicarious trauma. The emotional component of the social workers role demands all students develop emotional elasticity. It also requires the student is able to develop strategies to help self-manage. This might include developing strategies for chairing difficult inter-professional meetings, communicating with reluctant children or adolescents, developing rapport with adults experiencing mental unwellness, or identifying best ways of de-briefing after a challenging home visit.
The three Rs exist as a golden thread fundamental to the design and delivery of the social work programme.
During this period of rapid and significant change there is I believe a real risk to the golden thread. Whilst engaged in celebrating social work in its international context, recent developments in England suggest dangers are afoot. I have anxieties that the Rs may be lost or at the very least diluted, which may impact on students’ experiences of dignity and worth.
I`m not so arrogant to assume there is only one way to deliver social work education, nor would I suggest the structure we have designed is necessarily the best example. However recent changes to how social work education is being delivered does concern me. Fundamental to this concern is the rapid rise of fast track programmes, and there are number of reasons why:
• First of all the proposed numbers involved. One third of the 4,590 social work graduates (2013-14-figures from HESA) undertook post graduate social work programmes. The proposed advance of fast track programmes both Step Up and Frontline aim to train 950 students by 2019. This figure constitutes two thirds of the current post graduate figure. This proposal will have a significant impact on those research intensive HEIs who currently run social work programmes.
• These changes appear to be ideologically driven with a lack of robust evidence to support the assumption that this method of delivering social work education adds value to that which currently exists.
• The focus on children and families work and the move towards specialism puts at risk the benefits of the generic programme. It is a generally held view of social work academics that the generic programme offers the best opportunity for social work students to appreciate the wider social context of family and human development as a whole life course.
• The fast track programmes with their significantly larger bursaries offers a financially perverse attraction to applicants. This creates a two tier application process with those traditional programmes having their bursary allocation squeezed. There is no guarantee that the fast track programmes will attract the best possible candidates with their mix of social care and life experience, all key to supporting the development of well rounded practitioners. In addition there are questions around diversity. In targeting high performing undergraduates there is the potential risk that the fast track programmes attract students of a certain age, class and ethnicity. This will impact on the makeup of the social work profession moving forward, which will further impact on the experiences of the vastly diverse service user groups.
• Squeezing the learning into a fourteen month period places significant pressures on the student. The complexity of the social worker role demands time is taken to help form effective links between social work theory and practice. There are dangers this pace of learning will result in knowledge deficit. This runs the risk of practice becoming overly bureaucratised, target driven, and risk averse. This manifestation mirrors weaknesses in current practice regimes. The result may be paternalistic practice that pathologises service users and fails to acknowledge the impact of the wider social and political context. The danger is such an approach risks creating an ethically naive profession, where principals of social justice are deemed a luxury rather than a fundamental human right.
It is important on this day that we acknowledge all those involved in learning the craft of social work as well as those delivering social work education. Social work “promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and ensures the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance wellbeing” (IFSW 2011). This task is both complex and messy. The act of delivering social work education has many challenges, Wenger (1998) suggests that “learning is the engine of practice and practice is the history of that learning”. The suggestion is people’s learning and the environment in which it is experienced influences what they become. I suggest the principles and structures of the fast track movement offer potential dangers to social work education and the qualifying experience. There is a risk that a learning context is being created that negates the long history of research messages relating to social work education. There is a need for this debate to be amplified and the discussion should be informed by robust research to ensure the student social worker experience is maximised. There is a need to ensure the three Rs remain a fundamental part of any social work programme and aren`t replaced by the three D`s, risk of dilution, the risk to diversity and the risk from dogma.
Dickens, J. (2011) Social Work in England at a Watershed—As Always: From the Seebohm Report to the Social Work Task Force British Journal of Social Work Vol. 41 p22
IFSW. Ethics in social work, statement of principles. Available at www.ifsw.org/f38000032.html
Wenger, E. (1998) ‘Communities of Practice. Learning as a social system’, Systems Thinker, http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/lss.shtml