A graduate’s perspective: Top tips for thriving in your postgraduate studies

We caught up with Lucy Bull; recent MSc Nutrition, Physical Activity and Public Health graduate to get some top tips on how to get the most out of your postgraduate study…

Hello there, would you mind telling me a little bit about yourself?

“I’m Lucy, I’m a 40-year-old mum of three children and I NEVER thought I could do an MSc! I run a nursing home in Devon with my mum but wanted to build my own expertise to support my work. The umbrella of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Public Health seemed to be a good fit, serving as a platform for future specialism. It seemed like a good course that would fit alongside the expertise of our nurses in the home.

Why did you choose University of Bristol, for your studies?

“My background is the arts; I worked for the BBC for many years. This MSc meant I could commute from Devon, retrain my artsy brain into a science one and gain expertise. My love of Bristol now encompasses a deep loyalty to the University of Bristol, for its amazing facilities, sublime course content and world class teaching staff.”

Talk about a project/initiative you’ve got involved in whilst studying here?

“My dissertation dovetailed my media experience with my newfound scientific thinking, as I analysed the media coverage of recent physical activity guidelines. I discovered that there is a real lack of confidence in media skills within academia. Because this MSc is so good at developing research skills and scientific writing, I now feel more competent at searching out niche areas of research.

How has completing your MSc helped with your career or further education?

My knowledge base is much stronger, and I can research key topics exceptionally quickly. This has been crucial during Covid to pull together evidence-based guidance for the nursing home. I can speak more authoritatively to the team and they have confidence that I know what I am talking about!

And finally, do you have any advice or tips for people who are thinking about undertaking a Masters, or continuing their education?

“Yes! I wrote a twitter thread about it. I felt a bit at sea when I started and wanted to help others feel less lost.

 

  1. Try and find your people, whether you are learning online or in person. Reach out, through whatsapp or uni email; most will be happy to hear from a friendly soul. Be kind to the silent ones.

2. Find your lecturers on Twitter, learn who they follow and why. #academictwitter is a fascinating, useful rabbit hole.

3. If you like a lecture, tell the lecturer. You never know when your paths may cross in the future.

4. There are NO stupid questions. Every answer helps someone. 

5. Embrace statistics and if you don’t understand a stat, don’t use it. Push your limits of statistical comprehension. Chances are you’ll understand more than you thought.

6. Get to know your librarian, use their knowledge. Learn Endnote or Mendeley and their capacity to help your referencing. Choose one and learn it. 

7. Get to grips with the Assignment template in Word and how to use it. Do it sooner than later.

8. If you’re new to scientific writing, don’t be scared. There’s a wealth of resources at your fingertips. University of Bristol Study Skills run some incredible courses. Use your personal tutor and always ask for feedback after assignments.

9. You’re about to step into a world of fascinating study led by world experts in their field. Use their intellect, ask questions, don’t let imposter syndrome silence you! Your teachers are clever, brilliant people but above all they are kind and they want you to flourish. This is your springboard, to new friends, jobs and opportunities.

Thank you Lucy for your wise words! I’m sure this will help maybe new students navigate their way through postgraduate life.

If you are interested in studying a postgraduate degree with us, join us at our Virtual Postgraduate Open Weeks in November.

Click here for more information on MSc Nutrition, Physical Activity and Public Health.

To follow Lucy on twitter click here.

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The impact of COVID-19 on sex workers

Dr Natasha Mulvihill, lecturer in Criminology at the School for Policy Studies and member of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research has published work on prostitution and sex work, domestic abuse, honour abuse and sexual exploitation. In this blog she talks about impact of COVID:19 on sex workers. 

Sex workers, like the majority of society, have suffered from the effects of austerity – and COVID-19 has left them even more exposed. Dr Natasha Mulvihill, argues that legal and welfare reform are needed to enable choice and reduce harm.

In 2019, I co-authored a Home Office-commissioned report with colleagues at the University of Bristol on the nature and prevalence of prostitution and sex work in England and Wales. As part of that research, we heard from over 500 individuals involved in selling sex, and followed up with more than 40 within that group to learn more about their experiences. Since the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, I have been thinking about our participants in that research and how they are managing.

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A 2009 demo in support of sex workers’ rights in London. Photo: Hannah Nicklin via a CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence

The challenges facing those who sell sex both in the UK and around the world during the pandemic have been articulated in academic journals, by organisations working with and representing sex workers (including NUM, ECP, Changing Lives, Beyond the Streets, SWARM and One25) and on news and social media. Of course, many of those selling sex are unaffiliated to any group or support organisation: they work alone in privacy or remain outside the public and media gaze, through choice or otherwise.

There is stark commonality, but also diversity across the sex industry. Most are working in-person, providing sexual services, including full sex either at home, outdoors or in another venue such as a brothel, parlour or hotel; others are working through phonelines or online, webcamming or making clips to order, for example. Given the lockdown, there has been some movement to online, but many will have continued to work in-person. Most sellers are women, including trans women. There are also a significant number of male sex workers, as well as those who identify with other genders or none.

Some are successful entrepreneurs, running their own websites, operating from dedicated premises, registered as self-employed and paying tax. A proportion of these may therefore have met the criteria to apply for the UK Self-Employment Income Support Scheme set up in response to the lockdown. However, the Home Office research suggested that the majority of those selling sex are either doing so temporarily, intermittently or long term to make ends meet, including as a supplement to other paid work. Many are caring (often solo) for others, including children, partners or parents; some are managing long-term physical illness or mental health issues; many are migrants, some with insecure status; some are students; some involved are victims of partner abuse, or are misusing drugs or alcohol. Some may register their earnings formally; most will not. I would term this majority as ‘sex workers’ or ‘individuals engaged in survival sex’ (see Mulvihill, 2019), and it these groups that are the focus of this commentary. There are also a significant number of mainly women and girls who are coerced into, and abused by others through, ‘prostitution’ – which, while recognising the overlap and movement between categories, I would rather term ‘sexual exploitation’.
The COVID-19 crisis has brought into sharp focus two issues for those engaged in sex work and survival sex in the UK: the inadequacy of the legal environment, and the inadequacy of the welfare safety net and public provision.

In England and Wales, it is legal to sell and to buy sex. However, myriad activities around the sale of sex are illegal, such as pimping, kerb-crawling, soliciting on the street or working with one or more other people from a premises, as this constitutes a ‘brothel’. These laws have been layered piecemeal over decades and are unevenly enforced, more so given tightening police resources. They are ostensibly aimed at preventing exploitation, but stem as much from a concern to keep such activity out of public view.

Whether you understand selling sex as a job like any other or as an outcome of patriarchy and other inequalities – or both – most can agree that sex workers should not be criminalised. Governments should seek to allow sellers to work together in a small-scale and self-managed way. Such brothels already exist up and down the country, but sex workers risk inconsistent policing, depending on where they are located. The illegal status of brothels places barriers to reporting violence or other crimes against sellers. Those selling sex on the street should not be criminalised. Equally, the concerns of communities in relation to both indoor and outdoor sex work need to be recognised and negotiated. Rather than seeking to manage outdoor sellers, far more resource should be invested in tackling the drivers for street sex, which are well documented (see for example, Matthews et al., 2014; Sanders, 2007).

The legal status of sex workers links to the second issue of access to welfare and collective provision. The UK, like other liberalising economies, has seen a steady erosion of the welfare safety net. The threshold for eligibility is ever higher and the benefit received ever lower. State dependence is stigmatised and personal responsibility prized (though inheritances and other financial support from one’s family are encouraged). Sex workers, like the majority of society, are vulnerable. Not vulnerable in the sense of helpless or lacking resourcefulness, ability or graft, but rather vulnerable through exposure to changing individual circumstances and unforgiving welfare and legal contexts. Many of us can face this sudden exposure when we find ourselves caring for others, made unemployed, discriminated against, migrate or become ill. Surveys in the US and UK suggest that at least a third of millennials, for example, have no savings put by; and another third would only have three months pay if their income stopped. So a safety net, whether that is short or longer term, is crucial both to uphold human dignity but also to avoid the future multiplier costs to the state of economic and social exclusion.

Yet austerity and the difficulties in accessing Universal Credit have pushed many into exchanging sex for money. How ironic that now the COVID-19 crisis is affecting mainstream workers, the government has adopted a ‘pay now, verify later’ approach to Universal Credit – and that borrowing, minimised for a decade in favour of austerity, has reached unprecedented levels in order to stave off a depression. Had we prioritised spending after the 2008 financial crisis to invest in a fairer safety net and more robust public provision, we might have been better equipped to meet the challenge of the pandemic.

Around the world, those who sell sex (including those who add significantly to national income through the tourism and leisure industries) have found that they either have no access to government income support (France, Thailand, Japan or Kenya) or minimal access (Brazil or Mexico). In New Zealand, by contrast, where sex work is decriminalised, applying for help has been more straightforward.

The pandemic has temporarily allowed us to see alternatives to the current order. It is possible to hold quite divergent views on prostitution and sex work, yet at the same time agree that punitive criminal justice or welfare measures appear only to harm those who sell sex – indeed, harm all those exposed by social inequity or a change in circumstances. By lifting those selling sex out of social, economic and legal grey zones and giving them the resources to stand in equality with others, they can determine their own futures.

This article represents the views of the author and was first published on 8 June 2020 in LSE COVID-19 Social Policy, a blog by the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Extinction Rebellion – Breaking the Law to Save the World

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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.

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The impact of housing wealth on retirement inequality

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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.

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Can research based videos help to change the way we talk with people living with dementia?

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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.”

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Introducing a new learning resource for creating inclusive care home environments for older LGBT+ residents.

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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: paul.willis@bristol.ac.uk

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What Is To Be Done About Sexual and Domestic Abuse at UK Universities?

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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 misconductOnly 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.

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-harm15% developed an eating disorder15% 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 delayedThe 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 mandatoryUUK (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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. At an institutional level, Universities must be guided to develop strategic responses to GBV based on evidence.
  4. 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. 

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How should we measure living standards in the UK?

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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

  1. Economic resources
  2. Material good
  3. Financial situation
  4. Personal and social resources
  5. Physical and mental health

What We Do

  1. Paid and unpaid work
  2. Social and political participation
  3. Social relations and integration

Where We Live

  1. Housing and accommodation
  2. Local area/neighbourhood
  3. 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.

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International Women’s Day 2019

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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.

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The Cox Report and Westminster: Better justice for ALL those bullied

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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.

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