Developing smart cities: where are citizens’ voices? Learning from Mexico City and Bristol

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 looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.


In this blog, 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.

Smart city innovation raises questions about citizens’ inclusion and participation in city governance.  The term ‘smart city’ is usually used to describe an urban area that uses digital technology to collect data (e.g. from citizens and the environment) to monitor and manage spaces. Such management may lead to environmental and social benefits in urban areas. For instance, smart city technology can be seen as a way to improve environmental sustainability and citizen’s welfare by optimising cities’ limited resources or monitoring and deterring crime. Whilst these potential benefits appear promising, smart city technology necessitates consideration of equality and inclusion issues related to urban governance, including:

  1. What role could and should citizens play in developing smart cities?
  2. What are the opportunities, risks and vulnerabilities for citizens created by increasing reliance on digital technology?
  3. What does an inclusive approach to smart city development look like?

In this blog, I set out the problem with developing smart cities without citizens’ input and explain how research from the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research is helping to make smart city innovation more inclusive and equitable.

What’s the problem?

Across the globe, cities are investing in smart infrastructure. The Covid 19 pandemic appears to have accelerated the growth and use of smart city innovations in some places. As the OECD highlighted in July 2020, “the pivotal role of digitalisation in emergency responses to the pandemic has pushed many cities to systematise the use of smart city tools more permanently, while staying alert and monitoring the risk of contagion.”  Whilst the rapid growth of digitalisation in some urban areas may provide solutions to some issues, not including citizens in decisions about smart city infrastructure could create long-term problems, including:

  1. Urban areas and citizens being ‘locked in’ to using certain types of smart city innovation

Decisions to buy digital infrastructure are likely to have long-lasting consequences. If one type of technology (e.g. from a particular company) is installed in an urban area, this may have impacts on what other forms of smart city technology can be used in the city. It may be expensive or difficult to install another type of technology in the future. Thus, not including citizens in decisions about smart city innovations could mean that citizens are forced to use and fund a type of technology that they do not want, for a long time.

  1. Smart city innovation not responding to citizens priorities and interests

If decisions are made about smart urbanism without citizens’ input, innovations may not respond to citizens’ priorities and interests. This could result in some citizens not engaging with smart city innovations and smart city innovations failing to address citizens’ needs.

  1. Individuals or groups being disadvantaged or excluded by smart urbanism

There is a risk that some citizens could be disadvantaged or excluded by smart city innovations. For example, if citizens need a certain level of digital literacy to engage with smart city technology, or if they need certain tools like smart phones, this could exclude some individuals or groups from elements of urban life.

Professor Alex Marsh from the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research is working with Dr Arturo Flores from Anáhuac University, Mexico to lead research that aims to address these issues. In collaboration with Knowle West Media Centre, Professor Marsh and Dr Flores are leading the Empowering Citizen-Orientated Smart City Innovation in Mexico (ECOSCIM) project which aims to develop a new framework to guide smart city innovation to be more inclusive, responsive and reflexive.

The ECOSCIM Project

The ECOSCIM project aims to develop a framework to guide smart city innovation in a way that pays attention to citizens’ needs and priorities. The project involves examining smart city innovations in Mexico City to see how they measure up to the new framework, as well as investigating the social and political contexts in which Smart City innovation takes place.

To achieve its aims, the ECOSCIM project involves working with citizens, community groups and policy makers in Mexico City to understand different perspectives and to build a new method to help the smart city innovation project. ECOSCIM has a particular focus on Mexico City as the city is large and its smart city innovation has not been researched in great depth. Conducting the research in Mexico City, rather than cities like Singapore or London which have more digital infrastructure, therefore means that the project can shed light on new perspectives about how smart city development can work in different contexts. Whilst the project will help citizens in Mexico City and other parts of Mexico, research findings will also support citizens all over the world who are interested in being involved in smart city innovations.

To carry out the project, the research team is collaborating with Knowle West Media Centre and using the Bristol Approach to understand more about Mexico City citizens’ priorities and to involve them in developing smart city innovation. Developed by Knowle West Media Centre, Ideas for Change and Bristol City Council, the Bristol Approach is a way of working that aims to ‘understand the issues people care about’ and how digital technology might help to address problems that citizens experience in everyday life. It involves local groups working together to identify issues that are affecting their cities and gathering information that will help to tackle those issues. The ECOSCIM project is exploring how the Bristol Approach can be used in Mexico City, as well as how Mexico City is involving citizens in smart city development. These inquiries will feed into the creation of a smart city toolkit aimed at communities.

Toolkit for taking action

The key output from the ECOSCIM project will be a toolkit that will help to make smart urbanism more inclusive and equitable. The toolkit will support citizens to get involved in smart city innovation and help them to address issues or problems that people are facing in their cities. Whilst the toolkit will be based on the research project in Mexico City, the research team intends for it to be helpful to communities across the globe.

Citizens’ voices are important

Research from the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research is helping to highlight the importance of citizen voice and the necessity for an inclusive approach to smart city innovation. In a world where digital and technological infrastructure is quickly becoming more ubiquitous in urban settings, it is vital to remember: citizens can and should be included in decisions about their cities.


 

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Social differentiation in later life: the interaction between housing wealth and retirement in the UK and Japan

‘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).

 

Contact:

Misa Izuhara, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol (E: M.Izuhara@bristol.ac.uk, T: @MisaIzuhara)

 

 

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Blog from the winner of Policy & Politics 2021 undergraduate prize

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.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein (Penguin, 2009)

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

 

 

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Supporting vet practitioners to recognise signs of domestic abuse in animals and their owners: a PhD student-business collaboration

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.

Q&A

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.

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Marvin Rees: Leading a city in turbulent times

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.

Turbulence

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.

Leadership

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.

Future planning

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.

Find out more about MSc Public Policy and BSc International Social and Public Policy at the University of Bristol.

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The importance of self-identification for trans older adults in the UK

Authors: Dr Paul Willis (Head of the Centre for Research in Health and Social Care, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol), Dr Christine Dobbs and Dr Elizabeth Evans (Centre for Innovative Ageing, Swansea University).

Recently The Sunday Times broke news that the UK Government would scrap proposals for legal reform to allow trans citizens to self-identify their gender. A consultation on proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 in England and Wales (first proposed in 2016) included whether individuals should be given the right to self-define their gender rather than having to prove this through the current medicalised measures embedded in the 2004 Act. A response from the UK Government to the consultation is yet to be released publicly, although the story in The Sunday Times suggests a step away from this proposed action.

Importance of inclusive and gender-affirming environments
Running alongside this proposed U-turn in policy direction have been intensely debated concerns about the ‘threat’ that trans people, namely trans women, represent to single sex spaces for women. This is not the first time that trans individuals have been misrepresented in media press as a threat to the rights of others. Within the title and text of the article published in The Sunday Times the increased recognition and rights for one group (trans citizens) is presented as oppositional to the rights of others (in this case women seeking safe spaces in women-only facilities).

It’s as though we can’t talk about the extension of rights for one group without compromising important safeguards for another. It also secludes the material reality that some trans individuals will require access to safe women-only spaces and services when experiencing abusive relationships. The two groups are not mutually exclusive.

This comes at a time when trans citizens in the UK more than ever need safe, supportive and gender-affirming services. Findings from a recent national survey of 100,000+ LGBT citizens highlight socio-economic disparities between cisgender (individuals whose gender matches the sex assigned to them at birth) and trans respondents. For example, trans respondents were more likely to have left education after secondary school and to earn less, and were less likely to have had a paid job in the 12 months prior to the survey.

The findings bring acute attention to the safety concerns of trans citizens: over two thirds of trans respondents stated they avoided being open about their gender out of concern for negative responses from others. They reported higher rates of verbal, physical and sexual harassment and violence than cisgender respondents. In parallel, hate crimes perpetrated against trans citizens increased by 32% in England and Wales between 2016-17 and 2017-18. This represents crimes that are reported to the police so is likely to be an underestimate.

Trans ageing and care in later life
Trans individuals in mid to later life will be no strangers to debates about the extension or erosion of equal rights and recognition for trans citizens in the UK. They have lived through multiple decades of change to equality and human rights law and social and healthcare policy and provision. Older trans adults are frequently invisible in public discussions about legal and social reform and healthcare provision for trans citizens, with much greater attention being given to the needs and interests of children and adolescents. Receiving good, inclusive healthcare will become more of a priority for many trans adults having to manage multiple health conditions in later life or to those providing care to significant others experiencing health-related changes.

Our recently published paper brings attention to the ageing-related concerns and expectations of trans and gender non-confirming individuals in mid to later life. We report key findings from a research study into the health and social care needs of older trans people in Wales, UK. The study culminated in the creation of practice guidance for healthcare professionals and social workers and the production of four short digital stories. These stories capture the ageing experiences of trans individuals living in Wales and were produced by trans filmmakers Fox and Owl from MyGenderation.

In our new article we highlight the key turning points trans individuals experience in mid to later life that trigger decision-making about seeking to transition socially and medically. A central theme is the notion of ‘trans time’ and the ways in which trans individuals experience the passage of time as non-linear. For some individuals later life has been experienced as a new life-chapter and return to young adulthood, partly stemming from gaining access to gender-affirming and supportive healthcare services.

For others later life was overshadowed by a sense of running out of time as they experienced frequent delays and hurdles in seeking to transition through medical means. This was often a result of systemic problems with the provision of gender-affirmative healthcare services by public bodies in England and Wales. We are happy to report that since we completed the study a new Welsh Gender Service for adults has been launched by NHS Wales. We hope this leads to a much-improved service for Welsh residents. However, there is still much more to be done.

Being able to change gender legally without having to rely on medical diagnosis and treatment would make older age a much more positive experience for many trans individuals seeking to transition in later life. Less time and energy would be spent on having to navigate through a complicated healthcare system; this is particularly important for older individuals who have ongoing concerns about their health and wellbeing and want to experience older age as a new lease of life and receive full recognition for who they are. Older age is too often understood through a biomedical lens of physical and mental decline and impairment – the biomedical lens of old age can eclipse recognition of older people’s social identities, life-experiences and life-history. Untangling medical intervention from gender transitioning and legal recognition would be a step closer to a more positive ageing experience for many trans individuals. Finally, not all people taking part in our study sought to transition through medical means, further highlighting the importance of separating legal recognition from medical requirements.

Self-identification, dignity and maintaining autonomy are important dimensions to positive ageing for older adults; the proposed law reforms would help extend this for older trans individuals.

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Email: paul.willis@bristol.ac.uk

The paper is available to read online as open access: Willis, P., Raithby, M., Dobbs, C., Evans, E., & Bishop, J. (2020). ‘I’m going to live my life for me’: Trans ageing, care, and older trans and gender non-conforming adults’ expectations of and concerns for later life. Ageing and Society, 1-22. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0144686X20000604

Visit the Trans Ageing & Care website to view the digital stories and other resources. The study was funded by the Dunhill Medical Trust, 2016-2019 (Grant no. R416/ 0515). A summary of the study can be read here.

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Lockdown lunches

Written by Dr Laura Johnson and Dr Zoi Toumpakari

Family life has been transformed by lockdown. Since schools closed on 23rd March many families have had to create classrooms at home and juggle home-schooling with home working. But what has happened to school food at home? Are packed lunches still the norm or are family meals now the dish of the day?

Campaigners like the Food Foundation (@Food_Foundation) have already identified the most vulnerable children and are working hard to ensure that free-school meals are maintained for 18% of families with children eligible. Under half of these families have been given vouchers to buy food, another third has had food prepared for collection or delivery by schools, so provision, to some extent, has continued. But worryingly a third have not had anything. Furthermore, out of necessity food provided is often highly processed to ensure it lasts for a week or more at a time, suggesting that compared with food served in canteens, where school food standards apply, food quality may have dropped. But what about the other 82% families? Are meals worse across the board? Or is it possible that for many children lockdown lunches are a healthier option than the norm?

According to a YouGov poll in April, over half of households haven’t noticed a change in what they eat, but 1 in 3 have reported cooking from scratch more often; 1 in 5 think their diets are healthier since lockdown but 2 in 5 think they are eating more. Straw polls of families we know have reported diverse reactions. Some are more aware of what their children eat, have more control, are providing more fruit or eating meals as a family. Others have been fending off relentless biscuit requests (not always successfully). For some kids it’s meant a switch from cooked school dinners to more packed lunch type fare at home. But is that a problem? What do we know about school food pre-COVID19?

A review of studies up to 2007 comparing the nutritional quality of packed lunches to school dinners found that more energy, sugar, saturated fat and salt was in packed lunches. Back then both school dinners and packed lunches were pretty poor. However, school food standards have been in place in England since 2006 to raise the nutritional quality of food provided by schools. Around the world, as in England, the introduction of school food standards have generally improved the quality of meals provided in schools. Although intakes of vegetables and nutrients like fibre and iron still need attention, fruit intake is up, fat intakes are lower (especially saturated fat) and less salt is being consumed from school canteens.

Improvements in school-meals is great news, a real win for public health, but now the gap in the quality between school dinners and food brought from home has widened and the spotlight is firmly on packed lunches as a key area for action. Food from home still makes up 40% of meals eaten in UK schools. Recent times have seen small changes in how often sweets and how much sugary drinks are packed in lunches, but protein is lower and vegetables remain sparse, at just half a portion a day. Multiple interventions aiming to change packed lunch quality have been tested but with little success to date.

Our work on the National Diet and Nutrition Survey has used the detailed reports of what teenagers ate over 4 days to identify the key differences between meals at home vs. school. We found that most eating (two thirds) happens at home, and only 1 in 8 meals are consumed at school. Nearly 3 out of 4 school eating occasions included foods high in fat and sugar, compared with 2 out of 3 meals at home. We found that when eating at school, foods high in fat and sugar were not only eaten more often but also in larger amounts. We estimated that teenagers ate an extra 59 calories of foods high in fat and sugar in school-based meals compared with a similar meal at home, the equivalent of half a bag of Wotsits.

The kinds of foods high in fat and sugar eaten at school are similar to those eaten at home, including crisps and savoury snacks, biscuits, sugary drinks, cakes and chocolate. But there were some key differences between eating at home and school. Predictably, eating at school occurred primarily at lunchtime (about 50% of all eating) but it was also common in the morning too (40% of eating). In contrast, meals at home happen throughout the day, with around 50% occurring after 5pm (i.e. dinner time). Eating at school is more often with friends whereas at home eating is as likely to be alone (33%) as it is with family (39%).

We also went to talk with teenagers directly about what they thought influences their eating. For most teens, food choices when away from home are a result of many different factors working together. But they told us that they enjoyed eating most when they were with their friends, one said “I tend to prefer to eat at school because I’m with my friends and it’s more sociable really than with my family.”. Social drivers are clearly important. Therefore, creating social school environments that enable and actively promote healthy choices could be an element of achieving positive change in school food future. An interesting challenge in our new socially-distant world.

Many schools are opening up more widely today, what might the lifting of lockdown mean for children’s diets? Some schools, to prevent spreading the coronavirus, have banned packed lunches. In other schools, ensuring a safe school food service is a concern so packed lunches are mandated. Social distancing may limit the kind of interactions kids used to enjoy about lunch times at school, will that affect what they eat now? Times are changing fast, new normals are being created and this may be an opportunity, in the longer-term, to reset the system for the better.

About the authors

Written by Dr Laura Johnson and Dr Zoi Toumpakari, Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol. Dr Johnson is a member of the GENIUS network, funded by the UK prevention research partnership, which aims to build a community of school staff, policymakers, food providers and researchers to generate fresh insights into the challenge of ensuring healthy food in schools and reducing inequalities. Follow us in twitter @GeniusSFN

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Combatting loneliness in a climate of self-isolation for older housing residents

By Paul Willis, Ailsa Cameron and Brian Beach.

In the current climate of self-isolation, keeping social and staying in touch with others is vital to our health and wellbeing. This is even more important in later life when people’s social networks may start to shrink in size.

Older adults can experience feelings of loneliness due to the loss of intimate connections, such as the death of a spouse or relationship separation, and the transitions associated with later life, such as retirement, the onset of chronic illness, or changes in living environments. We also know that social isolation (being separated from the company of and contact with others who are important to us) over a protracted period of time can trigger feelings of loneliness and have an adverse impact on older adults’ emotional and mental wellbeing.

The current government policy response requiring older housing residents aged 70+ to self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic can potentially exacerbate feelings of loneliness. Below are some key messages for those providing support to older residents in housing with care schemes [1]. These messages have been distilled from research projects led at the University of Bristol over the last four years on extra-care housing, loneliness in later life, and social inclusion in housing schemes for older adults.

1) Supporting residents to maintain daily contact with significant others, such as through telephone calls or online messaging, is essential. Many older residents in housing schemes will live alone in their homes. While living alone does not mean every resident will experience loneliness, residents may be missing regular face-to-face contact with family (e.g. adult children and grandchildren) and good friends within the same scheme and the wider community.

Housing staff need a good understanding of each resident’s social networks – who is important to them and who do they call on for practical and emotional support when needed. For example, we know from previous research that older LGBT+ people may regard friends as close family members and hold close friends in equal esteem as biological kin. Supporting residents to maintain the connections that matter to them is really important during this time of self-isolation.

2) We know that some older adults may equate loneliness with thoughts of being socially discarded, not having a purpose, and being no longer valued by others. Now more than ever, residents may value having a clear role they can play to contribute to the lives of others and the scheme where they live. While volunteering outside the scheme is not a viable option, residents could be supported to help other residents, such as keeping in daily telephone contact with those who lack social contact or experience illness or poor health. Other ways of contributing could be through gardening or maintenance activities around the scheme where tasks can be completed solo.

3) While some older residents may already use social media on a regular basis and be confident to extend their use into new media such as community-based WhatsApp or Facebook groups, we should remember that many will have no access to the internet and as a result may become more isolated over the coming weeks and months. For example, preliminary findings from our DICE project suggest that around a third of housing with care residents never use the internet, in contrast to over half using the internet at least once a week.

Our recent research into older men’s experiences of loneliness with Age UK highlighted how much older men who were single or living alone valued social connections with other people through groups, whether that be through clubs, societies, sports groups, or learning with others. While some men were online, it was routine, face-to-face contact outside of the home that was valued and helped keep loneliness at bay. Where feasible within public health guidelines, staff may explore ways in which residents within schemes can meet together each day for a short period of time while maintaining social distancing, for example in open courtyard spaces or gardens.

4) Our previous work with older people living in housing with care settings illustrates how the impact of austerity had already exacerbated older people’s experiences of isolation and loneliness because of a lack of public funding to support social engagement. For these older people, calls to self-isolate may reinforce their sense of isolation and marginalisation from wider society; regular resident contact with housing and care staff is critical more than ever.

In addition, as a result of the new Coronavirus Bill 2020, many local authority obligations bestowed under the Care Act 2014 (for example, in relation to assessing an individual’s needs, determining an individual’s eligibility for services, and care planning duties) have been suspended. As a result, care and support staff will need to be attentive to the additional care and wellbeing needs that residents may have, and housing with care providers may have to provide additional care and support to those older people in need without local authority involvement.

Concluding messages: Other groups have recently commented on the many problems of adopting blanket policy approaches based on chronological age (e.g. see the British Society of Gerontology’s recent statement). We echo these concerns about the ageist assumptions within this policy approach, while recognising that the mortality risk from COVID-19 is associated with age. More than ever, older adults need support to keep in regular social contact with others. If that must be in their homes, they will need assistance to access online technology to facilitate this, and it should not be assumed that digital resources and broadband access are automatically available to them. At the same time, maintaining face-to-face contact, at the recommended physical distance, is equally important and should not be underestimated or forgotten.

[1] By ‘housing with care’ we mean housing schemes that support older adults with independent living while providing care and support if needed, for example extra-care housing, sheltered housing and supported living schemes.


About the authors:

Paul Willis and Ailsa Cameron are Senior Lecturers at the University of Bristol and Senior Research Fellows of the NIHR School for Social Care, England. Brian Beach is a Senior Research Fellow at the International Longevity Centre UK. For more information contact: paul.willis@bristol.ac.uk

Related research:

The Provision of Social Care in Extra Care Housing, 2015-17, University of Bristol, funded by NIHR School for Social Care Research. More information: https://www.housinglin.org.uk/_assets/Resources/Housing/OtherOrganisation/ECHO-summary.pdf

Older Men at the Margins: Addressing older men’s experiences of loneliness and social isolation in later life, 2016-2019, University of Bristol with Age UK, funded by NIHR School for Social Care Research. More information: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/our-impact/policy-research/older-men-at-the-margins-how-men-combat-loneliness-in-later-life/

Promoting social inclusion in housing with care and support for older people in England and Wales (the DICE study), 2019-2021, University of Bristol with ILC-UK and Housing LIN, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. More information: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/sps/research/projects/promoting-social-inclusion-in-housing-schemes/

Isolation: The emerging crisis for older men. A report published by the International Longevity Centre UK in 2014. https://ilcuk.org.uk/isolation-the-emerging-crisis-for-older-men/

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Secondary Trauma and Researchers

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.

 

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Baby box: child welfare experts say use of sleep boxes could potentially put infants’ lives at risk

Baby box: child welfare experts say use of sleep boxes could potentially put infants’ lives at risk

The baby box in Finland is embedded as part of the maternity system.
Kela

Debbie Watson, University of Bristol; Helen Ball, Durham University; Jim Reid, University of Huddersfield, and Pete Blair, University of Bristol

Having a baby can be expensive. So it’s maybe not surprising that many retailers around the world have cottoned on to the success of Finland’s baby boxes – a package aimed to set up new parents and their bundle of joy. The Finnish boxes include baby clothing, sleep items, hygiene products and a parenting guide –- as well as a “sleep space” for the baby.

Many retailers around the world are now offering similar boxes for expectant parents. Indeed, research conducted at the University of Tampere in Finland suggests there are variants in over 60 countries. This includes Scotland’s baby box scheme – with all newborn babies getting a free baby box from the Scottish government.

But as a group of child welfare experts, we believe imitations of the Finnish boxes could be placing babies at risk. This is because it has become common to believe that if babies sleep in these boxes, it will help protect them from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Unfortunately, the research does not back this up.

Mother and fathers in Finland are given a baby box from the state that functions a bit like a starter kit. The box includes 64 items and is estimated to cost around €140 (£119). It comes as part of a wider maternity package in Finland, in which parents are also required to register for a health check before the fifth month of pregnancy.

They can opt for a cash alternative of €170 instead of the baby box, although most choose the box. The maternity package has been offered by the Finnish government for over 50 years, and initially arose as a response to poverty and high infant mortality rates.

The Finland baby box for 2019.
Kela

What’s the problem?

To some extent, retailers in other countries have tried to copy the Finnish model. In the UK, new parents can choose between paying for bigger baby boxes or a free box with some basic items if they engage in an online course. The course doesn’t have much professional oversight, however, and these boxes certainly don’t contain as much as the Finnish version.

But there is a danger that parents might view the boxes as a safe sleep space that will help reduce the risk of SIDS. This sort of belief appears to be based on the fact that the SIDS rate in Finland has fallen over the years – but this does not appear to be because of the boxes.

The same reduction has been found in neighbouring countries such as Norway and Sweden, where baby boxes are not used. The handful of observational SIDS studies conducted in Finland do not mention the box and largely attribute the lower mortality rates to “a reasonably high standard of living, good educational level of mothers, well organised primary maternal and child health services, and the rapid advances in obstetric and neonatal care equally available and regionalised”. All three Scandinavian countries have in place a well supported welfare system that looks after vulnerable families.

As far as we can see, there is no evidence to support a belief that the box can be used as a safe space to reduce infant death. There are also already safe sleep spaces for babies, with cots and Moses baskets that have a safety kite mark readily available.

And with baby boxes being sold by private companies – and public health messaging moving into private hands as a result, the risk is that the impact of government risk reduction campaigns that have saved thousands of young lives in recent decades are forgotten.

What new parents should do

All the evidence-based guidance that has emerged over recent decades delivers clear messages about safe sleeping practices, while also acknowledging that parenting practices can be culturally diverse – in many cultures, for example, co-sleeping is the norm until children are weaned.

The importance of robust evidence must be a key priority. This is why we believe governments and health providers should consider these factors before assuming that baby boxes are the solution to ongoing tragic unexplained deaths of infants.

Look for the kitemark when buying a sleeping space as it confirms that the British Standards Institution has tested a product and found it meets a particular standard.
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Crucially, research is needed on the ways in which parents use existing baby boxes, in what circumstances and contexts they might be beneficial, and whether it is the box, or the programmes around them that benefits families.

As a response to this need, we are starting to work with vulnerable parental groups and health providers in Scotland, Finland, Zambia, Vietnam and Kenya to find out whether baby boxes or alternative devices that can be brought into the parental bed can improve infant safety and survival.

The hope is that our combined research should enable low cost, appropriate solutions to be designed with the people who will benefit – and to improve the health and wellbeing of infants and mothers.The Conversation

Debbie Watson, Professor In Child and Family Welfare, University of Bristol; Helen Ball, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab, Durham University; Jim Reid, Senior Lecturer, Department of Education and Community Studies, University of Huddersfield, and Pete Blair, Professor of Epidemiology and Statistics, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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