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 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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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.

demo
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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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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Self-isolating and domestic violence and abuse

Dr Emma Williamson, from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research highlights the concerns of the Coronavirus pandemic and self-isolation for people who experience abuse and points to research, resources and actions that can help make a difference.

As many of you will already know, home is not always a place a safety for those, predominately women and children, who experience abuse. The Centre for Gender and Violence Research has been researching abuse for 30 years and the impact of control, manipulation, and isolation on victims-survivors has a profound and lasting impact.  For many survivors going out to work, or going about their daily lives away from the abuse, is what sustains them and keeps them safe.

Whilst everyone is anxious about the current Coronavirus pandemic, for those whose homes are not a place of safety, this is a deeply difficult time.  Calls to specialist helplines often increase after holidays where families spend more time together.

So what can people do?

Be conscious that for some people self-isolating might be dangerous.

Support on-line services. For those isolated at home, possibly with a perpetrator, it may not be possible to call a helpline. On-line services, like that run by women’s aid, is therefore a crucial lifeline and they need support: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/urgent-appeal/

Friends and family members can make a big difference. If you are aware things ‘might not be right’ at a friend or family members home – give them a call. Let them know that they have support, particularly in this time of isolation. More on the impact that domestic violence and abuse has on people providing informal support to a survivor.

There is no doubt that many families will be financially impacted by the current crisis.  Financial abuse and poverty can also impact on families where abuse is an issue. More on Poverty and domestic violence and abuse (DVA) in the UK.

Finally, whilst many survivors will cope and get through this crisis, as they do everyday, the impact of self-isolation might be a catalyst for change.  Support services for survivors of domestic violence and abuse are already suffering from significant funding cuts over recent years and a lack of commitment to their long-term funding.  Ensuring that these services are given the funds to pick up those who need support after this crisis is going to be crucial.  https://www.womensaid.org.uk/what-we-do/campaigning-and-influencing/campaign-with-us/sos/

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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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Professor Ray Forrest, 1951-2020

Ray Forrest, Emeritus Professor of Urban Studies and former Head of the School for Policy Studies, died on 16 January, at the age of 68. Alex Marsh leads the remembrance of an inspirational scholar whose research and academic leadership profoundly shaped the fields of housing and urban studies globally.

Ray’s early programme of work on the privatisation and commodification of public housing under the Right to Buy is the paradigmatic example of sustained, critical engagement with an evolving policy agenda; one that also drew out broader questions about social divisions and spatial dynamics that presented challenges back to the disciplines of sociology and geography. He continued to be committed to the belief that work done in the field of housing studies has important things to contribute to core disciplinary debates in the social sciences. His work intentionally spoke directly to these broader audiences. 

Ray had a knack for identifying the issue of the moment and his interventions were therefore often hugely influential. Following his work on the Right to Buy he pursued a succession of pressing and timely topics: struggling home owners, ageing and negative equity in the 1990s; neighbourhoods and social cohesion in the early 2000s; the impact of the global financial crisis on housing in the late 2000s; housing and the super-rich in the 2010s; an ongoing research programme on housing assets and intergenerational relations. His recent work included revitalising the topic of urban managerialism; exposing the contradictions of the neoliberal project in housing; and exploring the commodification of the city. Over time the geographical focus of his work expanded and his interest in global housing – and East Asia in particular – strengthened. 

Collaboration was central to Ray’s research philosophy. He collaborated with colleagues from many institutions and across continents. This included collaborating with several of his former doctoral students who had gone on to forge their own successful academic careers. My experience of collaborating with Ray, both on research and writing, was that he was always engaged, unfailingly energetic, and driven by insatiable curiosity.

Not only did Ray make an enormous contribution to housing and urban research but also to the institutional architecture of our field. He was one of the small group of friends and colleagues who founded the journal Housing Studies in the mid-1980s. He subsequently acted as chair of the Management Board and, between 2005-2008, as a Managing Editor. Ray was also a founding member of, tireless champion for, the Asia Pacific Network for Housing Research. And he was a great believer in bringing people together to facilitate intellectual exchange. He was almost invariably cooking up a plan to organise a panel, workshop, symposium or international conference. His reputation, diplomatic skills and dynamism allowed him to assemble stellar events: these not only initiated conversations and built networks but as often as not yielded a special issue, edited collection or new writing collaboration. 

Ray was born in Edinburgh in April 1951 and educated at Daniel Stewart’s College and Heriot Watt University. He moved south to Birmingham in 1971: first to complete a postgraduate diploma at Aston University and then a research Masters in Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Birmingham. He spent six years as a researcher at Birmingham before moving to Bristol in 1981. At Bristol Ray hit his research stride: he delivered a remarkable series of research projects, usually in collaboration with colleagues, and a formidable portfolio of publications. He was appointed as Professor of Urban Studies, at the School for Advanced Urban Studies, in 1994. After SAUS was absorbed into the School for Policy Studies Ray acted as School Research Director before becoming Head of School, 2001-2004. This coincided with his role as Co-Director, with Ade Kearns of Glasgow University, of the ESRC Centre for Neighbourhood Research. Ray then went on to found and co/direct the University of Bristol’s Centre for East Asian Studies, 2004-2008. 

Since the 1990s Ray had developed strong connections with higher education institutions in Hong Kong and after leaving the University of Bristol in 2012 he took up the role of Chair Professor of Housing and Urban Studies and Head of the Department of Public Policy at City University of Hong Kong. This was a fruitful research period for Ray, but the role also represented a significant managerial commitment. In 2017 he decided to move to Lingnan University, Hong Kong, to the role of Research Professor in Cities and Social Change. He was the first ever Research Professor appointed by the university. 

Ray Forrest’s contribution to his academic field is incalculable. He enthused generations of students. He was an inspirational intellectual leader. He was also a pleasure to spend time with – either in work or in the pub. He was always a genial host to the many members of his extensive academic network who passed through Hong Kong. Ray was a human dynamo who seemed bulletproof. I certainly thought of him that way. But he wasn’t. And our community is in shock that he leaves us too soon. 

Ray is survived by his wife, Jacqui, and children, Robert and Hana.

If you would like to add a tribute or share a memory of Ray, please write in the comment box below.

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Extinction Rebellion – Breaking the Law to Save the World

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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