The Bristol Referendum 2022: Thinking through the options

The co-authors of this contribution are members of the Bristol Civic Leadership Research Project: David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies at the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol; Robin Hambleton, Emeritus Professor of City Leadership at the University of the West of England, Bristol; and Thom Oliver, Associate Lecturer, University of the West of England, Bristol.

In a referendum on 5 May 2022, the citizens of Bristol will make an important decision about the way our city is governed.

Citizens will be asked to choose between retaining the existing mayoral model of governance, which was introduced into Bristol in 2012, or to opt for a committee system of decision-making, which was last used in Bristol in 2000. In a new report, called The Bristol referendum 2022: Thinking through the options, we consider:

  • What exactly are these two ways of running a city?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of these two models?
  • How could the models be designed to enable Bristol to respond to the current challenges the city now faces?

This is the latest report from the Bristol Civic Leadership Project (BCLP). This project, which brings together city governance experts from our two local universities, has been examining the impact of mayoral governance on the city since 2012.

Research findings on mayoral governance and the committee system

Our research has shown that the introduction of mayoral governance has had many benefits for Bristol. Opinion research carried out by the BCLP before and after the introduction of a directly elected mayor – in 2012, 2014 and 2018 – indicates that the citizens of Bristol felt that the leadership of the city became far more visible. Civic leaders agreed that the mayoral model enhanced the visibility of the city leader, and they also felt that the mayoral model had improved the leadership of the city.

Detailed investigation over the last ten years has also revealed that civic leaders in the city, in the public, private and community sectors, as well as citizens at large, take the view that Bristol’s first two directly elected mayors, Mayor Ferguson (2012-2016) and Mayor Rees (2016-2024), have both been successful in developing a positive vision for the future of the city and that the mayoral model meant that the city was much better represented in national and international settings.

On the downside BCLP research has also shown that, following the introduction of mayoral governance, many councillors felt that their role in city governance became unnecessarily restricted. There was also concern amongst civic leaders that too much power had become concentrated in the office of the mayor. Our survey research also suggests that citizens’ views on the timeliness of, and trust in, decision-making have not been improved by the introduction of mayoral governance in Bristol.

This new report also reviews experience with the committee system used in Bristol and across local government in Britain up to 2000. Supporters of the committee system argued that it enabled local government to be both effective and democratic, and that it provided councillors with influential roles in decision-making.

However, in a report published by the Bristol Local Democracy Commission in 2001, major criticisms of the committee system were identified. The Commission found that there was no clear and accountable leadership, that important decisions were not subject to proper and effective scrutiny, and that a lot of time and effort was absorbed to no great effect in committee meetings.

Where next for city governance in Bristol?

Current legislation means that the referendum will fix the governance system of Bristol for ten years, from 2024 to 2034. It is a hugely significant decision. This new report discusses a range of issues for citizens to consider and here we highlight three important themes.

First, the literature on city leadership suggests that the way city governance is organised can have an important impact, not just on whether a city council is able to be effective in meeting the many complex issues they face, but also on the democratic vitality and inclusiveness of decision-making in their city.

It follows that all the citizens of Bristol should be encouraged to consider which of these two models of governance will help the city respond to the major challenges now facing the city. These challenges include: responding to the public health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic; revitalising the economy of Bristol in the face of economic downturn; addressing the global climate emergency; and addressing increasing social, economic and racial inequality in our city.

Second, key democratic questions emerge in this debate. What are the advantages and disadvantages of enabling citizens to directly elect the city leader? What are the pros and cons of the committee system, where the council leader is selected by councillors? As part of our research on mayoral governance, we have long argued for stronger roles for councillors within the mayoral system. Adopting a committee system gives councillors clear roles in decision-making. In our report, we consider these and other matters, and include consideration of the ways that the models shape political leadership, their impacts on accountability and the ways that they affect the representation of people locally and the city externally.

Third, given the momentous significance of the May referendum for the future governance of Bristol the report recommends the establishment of an independent Bristol Governance Commission. This new commission, which would need to include representatives from across the voluntary, community, trade union, business, public and university sectors should be charged with the task of considering the best way to improve the governance of the City of Bristol.

This new commission should be set up without delay to take evidence, to consider experiences with successful city governance elsewhere in the world and to make recommendations to Bristol City Council.

The outcome of the Bristol Referendum in May 2022 is best seen not as the end of a debate about city leadership in Bristol, but the beginning of a civic conversation on how to improve the quality of city governance in our city.

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Diversity and Representation. Does having a mayoral system make a difference?

Polling station
Image credit: Elliott Stallion, UNSPLASH

Natasha Carver is a lecturer in International Criminology at the School for Policy Studies and a member of the specialist research institute Migration Mobilities Bristol. Carver wrote the 2012 report “The Right Man for Bristol?” Gender Representation and the Mayor of Bristol.

This article is part of Bristol Ideas’ Referendum 2022 debate which looks at all aspects of city governance as part of ongoing work on democracy and the forthcoming May 2022 referendum.

Ten years ago, in the run up to the first mayoral election, Bristol Fawcett Society produced a report which documented shocking levels of representational inequality across political leadership in the city (The Right Man for Bristol?” Gender, Representation and the Mayor of Bristol). A pitiful 17 (24 per cent) of the 70 members of Bristol Council were female, significantly worse than the national average in local government, which itself was a poor reflection of the population. Ethnic diversity was limited to just three (four per cent) Asian-heritage councillors, despite the census returns showing 13.5 per cent in the city identifying as non-white, many of them as African-Caribbean, Black British or African. Voter turnout records showed that those from wealthier neighbourhoods were twice as likely to vote than those from the more deprived areas. In the public and private sectors things were no better, in fact they were considerably worse. Not only were the vast majority of public-sector organisations and private-sector employers led by white men, but so too their boards: ten of the largest employers in Bristol had boards comprised entirely of men.

Bristol lagged woefully behind the national picture: its claim to be a diverse, progressive city was entirely undermined by the cabal of wealthy white men who held power and seemed unwilling to make space for others – even when it came to statues of slave traders.

But that was ten years ago. As we all know, the people of the city took it into their own hands to put the statue where it belonged. And while we debate what if anything should be put up in its place, change has already taken place in City Hall: the number of female councillors has risen from 17 to 32 (46 per cent); the number of ethnic minority councillors (excluding white minorities) from three to nine (13 per cent), not including the mayor himself.

But does this success story have anything to do with the post of the elected mayor? Both mayors have been male in accordance with the script across England and Wales, where it seems people continue to think that they must find ‘the Right Man’ for the job – or as the former Prime Minister David Cameron put it when he inaugurated the mayoral system, ‘our dream is to have real heavyweight, influential figures [like] Boris’ (laugh or cry quietly into your cup of tea over that one).

However, it was George Ferguson who signed the European Charter for Equality of women and men in local life on behalf of the city, and Marvin Rees who launched a Commission for Race Equality (CRE). The former led to the founding of the Bristol Women’s Commission (BWC) which made increasing women’s participation in public life one of their top priorities, while the latter broadened the reach through the Stepping Up programme aimed at increasing diversity in senior leadership across the public and private sectors.

The work of BWC and the CRE has made an enormous difference, but it also requires those who hold power to accept that things need to change.

Back in 2012, we reported that despite achievements nationally, men were staunchly over-represented among Labour and Liberal Democrat party councillors in Bristol; the level of female councillors for the Conservative Party was lower than the low national figures; and only the Greens, who had just two councillors, were bucking the trend. In our report we argued that ‘the three main political parties of Bristol City Council are all under-performing in relation to equality and diversity and it is incumbent on them to consider strategies and means for improvement.’

The national picture has not changed. In 2019, the Fawcett Society published research which showed that women’s representation in local government was ‘at a standstill’: just 35 per cent of councillors were female, and progress in this area has been so slow that in 2021 the Fawcett Society calculated that it would take until 2077 to reach gender equality.

But in Bristol, following the admirable efforts of BWC, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat Party took these criticisms on board and put women and ethnic minority candidates in seats where they actually stood a chance of winning. The Conservatives, meanwhile, continue to operate as though they are living in the 1890s (when the statue of Colston was erected).

SOURCE: BRISTOL FAWCETT SOCIETY, 2012; FAWCETT SOCIETY, 2019

Would there have been real change if the post of the mayor hadn’t existed? It seems unlikely, with all the political wrangling needed to bring about change in a council system. But then if the mayor had been Conservative then it seems even less likely that his cabinet would look remotely like the current one.

The extent to which this is a lasting change and will survive either a change of mayor or the end of the mayoral system is, however, dependent not on how you cast your vote in the referendum, but on changing the way politics is financed, organised and conducted. We argued in 2012 that the three factors which limited diversity in public office were caring responsibilities, cash and culture. With regard to the first two of these – as the BWC have recently documented through a survey of female councillors leaving office (some after just one term) – it costs time and money to campaign for office, things that women and ethnic minority people are still often short of in comparison to white men.

More problematic, however, is the culture of politics. Based on analysis of data from 2015-18, Local Government Chronicle found that formal grievances involving bullying and harassment by council staff had increased by 7.5 per cent. Bristol Council was among the worst with 40 complaints over the three-year period. Despite efforts to change this culture, complaints about what the former Leader of the Greens, Ani Stafford-Townsend, called ‘nasty and bullying sexism’ continue to be made.

In addition to the internal masculinist culture, women and ethnic minority people in public life are increasingly subject to misogyny and race hate on social media. This has been found to be the major factor preventing women from taking up roles in public life and driving out those who already have public roles. It’s hard not to see social media as an amplified echo chamber of the sexist culture of politics. A ‘heavyweight’ may have been the stereotype of ‘the right man’ for the job in 2012, but the era of the dinosaurs is over. If we stick with the mayoral system, then perhaps this time we can think about choosing the right person for the job.

Originally published on Bristol Ideas.

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Situating Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Purple Hibiscus’ in the child welfare policy context in Nigeria

Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, illuminates a succession of horrific crimes committed by one man against his children and his wife. Its publication in the UK in 2003 coincided with the passage of the Child Rights Act in Nigeria. Reading Purple Hibiscus against this policy and legal backdrop raises numerous questions about child welfare policies and practices in Nigeria. 

To discuss the child welfare implications of this book the School for Policy Studies held an event seeking to explore the parenting and child welfare policy and practice implications raised by Purple Hibiscus within an emerging child rights era in Nigeria. 


Blog by Ms Olatoun Gabi-Williams (Founder of Borders Literature for all Nations, Lagos, Nigeria)


“Situating Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus in the Child Welfare Policy Context in Nigeria”. This is the title the organisers gave to this seminar which centres a deeply troubled fictional family living under military rule in 1980s Nigeria. Key elements of the seminar were: a reading of a novel excerpt which puts the violent hysteria of the immensely wealthy and influential family patriarch on display, my own review of the novel, and a panel discussion.

The review provides the justification for the meeting of child welfare stakeholders from Nigeria with our peers at Bristol’s School for Policy Studies which took place on Wednesday, 27th October 2021. Viewers will recognise in the Achike’s family crisis, a crisis that has its roots in a time that pre-exists the family – the colonial mission school the father attended as a child. By the end of the seminar, child welfare stakeholders were reminded of the mandate of social work in any situation involving the violation of child rights: the protection of these rights – now made possible in Nigeria by the passage of the Child Rights Act 2003. It has been adopted by over 24 states in a nation of 36.

This seminar was deeply concerned with the dangers colonial legacies may pose to the human rights of children in families. Their rights to life/survival, to development, to protection, to participation in the world around them and to dignity. Mindful of the African family structure with its strong inter-generational links, mindful of how inherited patterns of thought can function like generational curses in a family, a community, a nation, the seminar brought into focus the novel’s atomic vision of brokenness in a parent begetting brokenness in his dependents and it forces a reckoning with this peculiar brokenness which begets its own chain of brokenness.

The seminar was framed in the spirit of two inextinguishable uprisings, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth which attests to a direct link between mental disease in Africa and the colonisation of Africa and Decolonizing the Mind by Kenyan author, Ngugi wa Thiong’o which examines the politics of language, the premier weapon of epistemic violence wielded by imperial forces. With its gaze turned towards the tyrannies of europatriarchal and afro patriarchal knowledge, the seminar also channelled the spirit of Swedish/Nigerian feminist, Minna Salami, whose Sensuous Knowledge, is a pioneering work of epistemology.

But if the spirit of decoloniality is burning here, so too are questions about parenting: the panel examined the social exclusion wrought not by poverty but by wealth underlined by colonial attitudes; the panel shone a light on a Nigerian/ African/ global demographic that ought to be too rich and too famous to parent their children under the radar but that is exactly where the rich and powerful have been parenting: off the social work grid, out of sight, behind the high, fortified walls of their homes.

Dr. Tayo Ajirotutu of Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Lagos and Tunde Koleoso, Rtd. Assistant Director of Social Welfare at Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development were my colleagues on the panel. While we were able to address a few of the questions [from my moderator’s script published on BORDERS, a publicity platform and journal for the African book industry], here is a distillation of important research questions:

How prepared is the mental health care system of Nigeria, a former colony, to provide interventions for Eugene Achike’s condition?

Does the Nigerian mental health care system possess the approaches and resources for intervening in cases like that of Achike’s wife and children who are casualties of a lifetime of violence perpetrated by the family patriarch?

In this era of universal child rights, how much social work in our communities involves the children of the rich and powerful?

In this era of universal child rights, how much literature in childhood studies, social policy studies, family policy studies and social work practice is dedicated to the rich and powerful?

If it were discovered that the rights of the children of a rich and powerful family have been violated in this era of child rights laws, does the existing child welfare system have the resources to intervene effectively and to protect the child?

How have the real-life mission school contemporaries of the fictional Eugene Achike, (octogenarians today) raised their own children? [Type of education, enforcement of discipline, prohibitions, emphases, the language and culture of the home in post-colonial Nigeria]

How did the children of mission schools who rose (like Eugene Achike) to positions of leadership in political life and industry, raise their children? [Type of education, enforcement of discipline, prohibitions, emphases, the language and culture of the home in post-colonial Nigeria]

 

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Understanding ‘rough sex’

This week, Dr Natasha Mulvihill, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and researcher at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research in the School for Policy Studies, is launching an anonymised online survey to investigate experiences of ‘rough sex’.  She introduces here the context and aims of the research.

Photo by Kristin Vogt from Pexels

‘Rough sex’ refers broadly to aggressive physical or degrading acts during sex.  In recent public and popular discourse in the UK, the term has been used commonly in two contexts.  The first is to refer to consenting sexual practices following the Fifty Shades trilogy, published by E.L. James over 2011-2012. The second refers to instances of death, usually involving a female victim and male perpetrator, and commonly following asphyxiation, beating or injuries through penetration.  In the second case, ‘rough sex’ is an inaccurate euphemism, as such acts represent sexual violence, manslaughter and homicide.

Beyond these two examples, lived experiences of ‘rough sex’ may be better understood on a spectrum, with the line sometimes misjudged between consensual rough sex and sexual violence and abuse.

In a research project commencing this week, I am seeking to understand individual experiences of unwanted ‘rough sex’ – however defined by participants – which occurred within the context of consensual sex, but which the participant felt at the time or later was non-consensual, harmful or upsetting. The research invites participants across different identities of gender, age and sexuality and recognises different contexts of sexual relations, including one-off encounters and short-, medium- and long-term relationships. It recognises too, and welcomes comment on, the limitations of the term ‘rough sex’.

The impact of Fifty Shades is disputed.  It is celebrated by some for catalysing popular acceptance of, and engagement in, consensual BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadism, submission, masochism); and by others castigated for promoting unsafe practice, commodifying and mass-marketing kink, and sexualising an essentially abusive relationship (see, for further discussion, Bonomi et al, 2013).

Downing (2012) argues that the non-sexual behaviour of one of the book’s protagonists, Christian, is far more “sinister” (2012, p.99) than the exposition of what happens intimately between the couple.  She is concerned here to separate sexual practices from normative assessments of character: a fair concern given how, historically, society has stigmatised sexual activity which falls outside of a heteronormative and reproductive template.  Yet from a coercive control perspective, it could be argued that the protagonist’s sexual behaviour is entirely consistent with his wider techniques of emotional, psychological and physical control. So, the insight here is that it is not what happens within a relationship or encounter, so much as what it means to each of those involved – albeit recognising from inside when behaviour is harmful, rather than as an external observer, is not always easy.

The second context relates to where the defendant in a criminal trial claims that a victim’s death occurred through sexual ‘misadventure’ or ‘accidental injury’. The campaigning group We Can’t Consent to This and the Centre for Women’s Justice have been at the forefront of documenting the stories of victims, and seeking a change in the law to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence cannot retrospectively represent their harmful actions as consensual ‘erotic play’.  Campaigning and research led to specific amendments to the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (England and Wales), namely:

  • Section 70 of the Act makes non-fatal strangulation an offence in its own right
  • Section 71 of the Act states that “it is not a defence that the victim consented to the infliction of the serious harm for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification”

It remains to be seen how effectively these offences will be enforced in practice or whether sexual violence packaged as ‘rough sex’ (or the threat of repeating previous episodes of rough sex) is sufficiently recognised by police and prosecutors as part of the repertoire of perpetrators of coercive control (Weiss and Palmer, 2022).

It is likely that experiences of unwanted rough sex broadly are reasonably common and under-disclosed.  Indeed, in 2019, a BBC survey revealed high prevalence, particularly in the female under 40 age group, and low police reporting.  In common with other sexually harmful experiences, disclosure may be inhibited by embarrassment, shame and confusion about what happened, especially when it occurs within what began as a consensual encounter.

While there is some evidence to suggest that exposure to sexually explicit material online is associated with either a desire to, or an engagement in, ‘rough sex’, the directionality and nature of the relationship continues to be disputed (see, for example, Vogels and O’Sullivan, 2019), as does the assumption that individuals will, through ongoing exposure, come to conflate consensual rough sex and sexual violence. The consumption by young people of sexually explicit material which mainstreams rough sex practices is thought to be a more compelling concern, since their sexual scripts are still in development (see, for further discussion, Wright, Herbenick and Tokunaga, 2021), including their understanding of active and ongoing consent.

Using an anonymous online survey, this research study therefore aims to understand:

  • The experiences and contexts of unwanted ‘rough sex’, where study respondents feel, either at the time or subsequently, were harmful to them, physically, sexually or psychologically
  • The impact of that experience(s)
  • Whether, why (not) and how respondents sought support, advice or justice for what they had experienced and what happened next?
  • The respondents’ broader feelings about ‘rough sex’, its nature and prevalence
  • What respondents would like to see in terms of, for example, political, media, criminal justice, cultural or educative interventions, to both prevent future harmful experiences of unwanted ‘rough sex’ and to secure accountability or recognition for what happened to them

It is hoped that this work will inform work with police and criminal justice professionals and practitioners working in support services, including with young people and the production of free online briefings to raise awareness and improve practice.

Participation in the survey is entirely voluntary and can be completed by anyone aged over 18, although participants may refer to experiences under 18.  It is open from Monday 7 February 2022 to Friday 29 April 2022.

https://sps.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/experiences-of-rough-sex


For further information, please contact the lead researcher: natasha.mulvihill@bristol.ac.uk Updates on this project will over 2022-2023 be signposted from here.


Sources of support:

https://rapecrisis.org.uk/

https://www.womensaid.org.uk/

https://www.survivorsuk.org/

https://www.switchboard.org.uk/


 

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Lockdown saw couples share housework and childcare more evenly – but these changes didn’t last

Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Susan Harkness, University of Bristol

It may feel like a common occurrence today, but if you cast your mind back to the first COVID lockdown, having whole families working and studying from home was a very unfamiliar situation. And it was one that had unfamiliar consequences.

For opposite-sex couples, lockdown disrupted the traditional gender division of household chores. In research that my colleagues and I conducted, we found that having both partners at home saw men increase how much of the domestic burden they took on, so that women’s typically greater share decreased.

We discovered this by analysing data from Understanding Society, a big longitudinal household panel study – the largest of its kind. The study follows a sample of UK households, periodically asking them questions to see how their lives are changing. Between April 2020 and September 2021, its participants were asked to complete web surveys every few months specifically about the impact of the pandemic on their lives.

We looked at responses from people of working age who were in opposite-gender relationships that continued throughout this period of COVID surveying. This provided a final sample of just over 2,000 couples for us to analyse. Here’s what we discovered.

Lockdown shocks

The couples were asked about the gender division of housework during the first lockdown, and we then compared this with information collected from pre-lockdown surveys carried out during 2019. The couples were also asked whether those changes persisted when the first lockdown eased. On top of this, we also compared the changes experienced by those with no children at home and those with children of various ages.

What we saw was that overall, women’s share of housework fell from 65% pre-COVID to 60% during the first lockdown. So initially there was a moderate amount of gender rebalancing in the sharing of domestic work. However, by September 2020 the old gender divisions were being re-established. By this point, women were on average doing 62% of housework.

These changes coincided with changes in working behaviour. Overall, the findings showed that both men’s and women’s paid working hours reduced substantially in the spring of 2020 but had recovered by September.

A woman vacuuming a rug
Despite some rebalancing, on average a sizeable majority of the domestic burden still fell on women.
Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

And during the spring lockdown, around a third of both male and female respondents were employed but working from home. However, this had fallen to just under a quarter by September. Similarly, around one in five women and one in seven men were furloughed in the spring, but this had dropped to fewer than one in 20 by September.

This seems to suggest that having both members of a couple at home, with less time committed to work, leads to the domestic burden being more evenly shared.

Having both family members spending more time at home also appears to have led to there being more housework to be done. Both men and women increased their weekly hours of domestic work during lockdown – from 12.5 to 15.5 for women and from 6.5 to 10 for men. Come September 2020, these figures had fallen again, though they remained above their pre-lockdown levels.

Childcare burdens

However, the rebalancing of work wasn’t consistent across the couples we looked at. The extent of the change depended on the number and age of the couple’s children.

When the respondents were split into three groups – those who had no children living at home, those who had children under the age of five and those who had older children – marked differences emerged.

For couples without children at home, women’s share of domestic labour fell during the spring and continued to fall after the summer. Though these women still did more domestic work than their partners, their input did not return to pre-COVID levels as 2020 progressed.

For those with children aged between six and 15, the drop in women’s share of housework had partially reversed by September, but it hadn’t fully bounced back. In the autumn they were still doing less than before the pandemic.

But for those with children under five, the drop in women’s share of housework had reversed completely by September. This was despite the initial drop in the spring having been greater for this group compared to the other two.

Family dynamics

So what do we make of this? In terms of family dynamics, the lockdown may have had more lasting effects for some families than for others. Fears that advances in gender equality could be reversed during the pandemic were more real for those with very young children, who were much less able to keep themselves busy with other tasks and whose children were not old enough to make use of online education.

One important reason for the division of labour changing during lockdown was men’s and women’s working hours. Women with young children tended to reduce their paid working hours more as the pandemic progressed in order to take on the increased burden of care that stemmed from schools and nurseries being closed.

A grandfather and grandson walking outside
Having family support nearby will have influenced how much childcare and housework couples did.
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Our study shows that changes to family life during the pandemic were nuanced, with different family set-ups resulting in different changes to the balance of housework and the rebalancing of work changing over time. Indeed, there may be further nuances that we’re yet to fully identify.

In the future, it would be good to look at whether extended family networks were able to alleviate the increased care burden for some families. We could also look at how the pandemic affected the mental health of women with and without children, and it would be useful to see whether different countries’ lockdowns affected families differently as well.The Conversation

Susan Harkness, Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Centre for Poverty and Social Justice, University of Bristol

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

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Collateral damage: the implications of border restrictions on practitioners working with refugee populations

Blog by Dr Vicky Canning, Senior Lecturer, School for Policy Studies

The acknowledgement that asylum systems across Europe are “hostile environments” for migrant groups has increased in academic and practitioner consciousness, particularly in the aftermath of the 2015 refugee reception crisis. However, although the impacts of socio-political hostilities on migrants are well documented, little has been written about the implications of border restrictions on practitioners working with refugee populations. Research led by Vicky Canning, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the School for Policy Studies, expands the focus of hostilities to consider the variable impacts of intensified bordering practices on this group.

Based on qualitative research which included 74 interviews undertaken across Britain, Denmark, and Sweden (2016–2018), the research outlines the experiences of practitioners working with refugee populations. It highlights that increasingly restrictive or punitive approaches to immigration have had multiple negative effects on practitioners working in this sector. This has potential for longer term negative impacts on practitioners, but also – importantly – refugee populations who require various forms of legal aid, or social and psychological support.

Working with refugee groups can be a fundamentally complex task. Whilst roles differ (such as lawyers, psychologists, or advocates and support workers), the experiences of people seeking asylum or living as refugees can impact on people supporting them in various ways. Likewise, the working conditions of practitioners is often reflected in the standard of care that they are able to offer when supporting people with complex lives, refugees and survivors of violence and persecution in particular. Vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue[1] are two of the most commonly cited problems in working in this area.

Emotional and Workplace Impacts on Practitioners

Interviews with practitioners indicate concerning additions to these potential problems: increasingly restrictive or punitive approaches to immigration which have had multiple effects on practitioners working in this sector. Indeed, one stark issue highlighted through interviews with lawyers, psychologists, detention custody officers, and support workers is that they felt their ability to effectively perform their own role well has been compromised. Some indicated increasing levels of stress and, in Sweden in particular (a strong state centric welfare model), a decreased faith in state and state decisions. Terms such as ‘powerless’ and ‘stress’ were included in responses to questions about the impacts of escalated harms in asylum – in particular that practitioners did not feel they could support people seeking asylum whilst they are being held in an indefinite state of uncertainty or crisis.

Practitioners found that changes in legislation or ‘rules’ meant that they constantly had to change their own approaches. Keeping up to date with the workings of the asylum process is increasingly difficult at a time when laws and policies are changing regularly, and thus affecting the rights or welfare entitlements that people seeking asylum can access. This is particularly difficult for people who are working with refugee groups as a means to providing humanitarian assistance, as they find themselves in positions where they are implementing laws they cannot agree with. For example, an employee of a humanitarian organisation working at Center Sandholm indicated, ‘I find it really, really difficult, this neutrality, impartiality concept, and increasingly so. Every time we have to enforce new, stricter rules that have only been put in place to put pressure on people [to leave]’.

Practitioners working with survivors of trauma or sexual violence raised concerns about their client’s inability to focus on therapy, counselling or integration programmes due to risk of dispersal or other exacerbations of illnesses. People seeking asylum can be more concerned with pressing issues arising in the immediate future, such as the threat of homelessness, fear of detention or deportation, or concern for family and friends still residing in areas of conflict or migrating across borders.

An integration project co-ordinator working in Denmark argued that, ‘it will only get worse. I mean there’s a culture of celebrating obstacles that we can put in people’s place… I mean unashamedly celebrating making it hard for people to access asylum and protective status’. This prediction – recorded in summer of 2018 – has proved accurate. By the end of the year the Danish People’s Party and the Venstre-led government announced new restrictions in the Finance Act 2019 which directly aim to reduce opportunities for integration of migrants and people seeking asylum and instead push toward deportations and enforced removals (Clante Bendixen, 2019).  This includes a significant change relating to integration, as the term itself is no longer used in relation to asylum, as focus has changed to accelerating deportation.

The Trend Towards Disempowerment

Practitioners also highlighted feelings and experiences which ranged from sadness or upset to disempowerment and hopelessness. For people working in a deportation centre in Denmark, there was dismay at the lack of clarity regarding the expectations of their role and that their participation did not always have a positive impact,

‘I had days when I went home thinking that today I was definitely a part of the problem, not the solution, today my presence here was a band aid at best but the patient’s haemorrhaging and I’m not actually doing what I’m supposed to be doing.’

In some places, the limits to the support that practitioners are able to provide are not only affected by economic resources, but also managerial and policy decisions on what is or is not allowed. As one nurse in an immigration detention centre reflected, ‘You want to do more than you are allowed; you are not allowed to’.

The emotional effects of seeing people living in avoidable and degrading circumstances are also clear. Many felt that cuts to staffing or services reduced their ability to offer adequate support, as one women’s support worker in Scotland indicated, ‘It really is crippling ‘cause we can’t meet the needs. Literally turning people away every day who are in crisis, so that is awful’. Shortly after this interview, in 2016, the interviewee contacted me to say their role had been removed. To date, it has not been replaced.

Likewise, others disclosed feelings of discomfort at increasingly being part of a system or structure that they had not set out to work in. People spoke of their jobs being reduced from support to ‘managing expectations’ for people seeking asylum and of bureaucracy superseding their capacity to provide support. For example, a custody officer in a Swedish immigration detention centre felt the shifts in law were removing her from the humanitarian approach she had tried to embed in her practice: ‘they [detainees] assume that I am working for the evil government. They think that I don’t see them as human beings, living … I think it’s horrible’.

Breaking Trust

Finally, this research found that impacts on practitioners are exacerbated by increasing mistrust between people seeking asylum and governmental and non-governmental organisations, particularly in the UK and Sweden.

For others, the emotional impacts of the degradation of people seeking asylum were palpable, as a social worker in the North West of England suggests:

‘Sometimes we need to separate our feelings away from the client, but for the first time since I have worked in this field I felt as if I was about to cry when I went to the hospital because I’ve never seen somebody who has been neglected by the system like this woman I came across, because you don’t treat people like this, this is unacceptable in 21st century Britain’.

Practitioners often alluded to a loss of faith in humanitarianism in their respective states. One torture rehabilitation director remarked that, ‘they’re testing this unfortunately, a social experiment, how far they can get with their whip’, whilst a barrister in London questioned the rationale of governmental agendas, asking ‘Even if you accept the premise that migration is a problem and needs to be reduced, why don’t you wait to see what the last set of bad laws did before you bring in the next of the bad laws?’.

In Sweden, a typically state centric nation, the impacts of this increasing mistrust was strengthened with the introduction of the REVA Project – a collaboration between Swedish Police, the Migration Agency and prison service which targets people suspected of living illegally in Sweden so as to speed up detection and deportation – and which has received subsequent criticism for racism (see Barker, 2017; European Parliament, 2013).

Migrant groups and practitioners are therefore left in precarious positions: anyone without documentation or who is awaiting the outcome of an asylum claim may be subject to arrest and possible detention or deportation, whilst some practitioners simultaneously lose faith in governmental agendas and face reduced capacity to undertake their role due to external pressures.

The nationality and borders bill, now in the House of Lords for readings after being debated for only nine minutes in the House of Commons, will inevitably continue this trend, creating an ever more hostile environment towards migrants and in which practitioners working with refugee populations have to operate, a trend Dr Canning has critiqued elsewhere as degradation by design.

 

[1] The former relates to experiencing emotional or psychological distress based on hearing or responding to trauma experienced by others (Barrington and Shakespeare-Finch, 2013). The latter refers to the emotional implications which can develop for people working at the frontline of response to trauma or other social problems, but feel restricted in their ability to do so due to exhaustion or burnout (Ray et al, 2013).


This blog is based on research and analysis presented here:

Reimagining Refugee Rights: Addressing asylum harms in Britain, Denmark and Sweden

Managing Expectations: Impacts of Hostile Migration Policies on Practitioners in Britain, Denmark and Sweden (Open Access).


 

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Why some anti-corruption campaigns make people more likely to pay a bribe

Commuters waiting at a bus stop in Lagos
Adekunle Ajayi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Nic Cheeseman, University of Birmingham and Caryn Peiffer, University of Bristol

Donors and civil society groups spend tens of millions of dollars every year trying to combat corruption. They do it because corruption has been shown to increase poverty and inequality while undermining trust in the government. Reducing corruption is essential to improve public services and strengthen the social contract between citizens and the state.

But what if anti-corruption efforts actually make the situation worse?

Our research in Lagos, Nigeria, found that anti-corruption messages often have an unintended effect. Instead of building public resolve to reject corrupt acts, the messages we tested either had no effect or actually made people more likely to offer a bribe.

The reason may be that the messages reinforce popular perceptions that corruption is pervasive and insurmountable. In doing so, they encourage apathy and acceptance rather than inspire activism.

Fighting corruption

Efforts to combat corruption in “developing countries” initially focused on law enforcement by political leaders and bureaucrats. But these strategies met with limited success and so efforts switched to raising public awareness of the dangers of corruption.

This change of approach made sense. One reason that leaders don’t deliver on reforms is that they benefit from the way things are. Encouraging citizens to reject corrupt leaders would give those in power an incentive to act.

The last 20 years therefore saw a vast array of campaigns, from newspaper and radio advertisements to Twitter messages. Short films, theatre productions and signs that proclaim that government institutions are “corruption free zones” were also included.

These messages are seen by large numbers of people, but until recently there had been remarkably little systematic research on whether they actually work.

Researching corruption

To test the impact of anti-corruption messages we developed five short narratives like those promoted by civil society organisations and international donors. One message focused on explaining that corruption is widespread and damaging. Others emphasised the local impact of graft and the way it wasted citizens’ taxes.

To test the effect of more positive messages, one narrative talked about recent successes that political leaders had in curbing corruption. Another detailed the role that religious leaders played in promoting clean government.

We read the messages to 2,400 randomly selected people in Lagos. While corruption has often been identified as a major challenge in Nigeria, the Lagos State government has made some progress towards reducing government waste, ensuring all citizens pay taxes and delivering better services. It was therefore plausible that both positive and negative messages about corruption would resonate with Lagosians. The state is also ethnically diverse, with considerable poverty and inequality, and so reflects the kind of context in which anti-corruption messaging is often deployed.

Each person we interviewed was given one of the narratives. A control group was not given any anti-corruption information. This was to enable us to compare the impact of different messages. We then asked everyone a number of questions about their attitudes towards corruption.

In an advance on previous studies, we also invited 1,200 people to play a game in which they had an opportunity to win real money. In the game, players could take away more money if they were willing to pay a small bribe to the “banker” who determined the pay-outs. The game tested players’ commitment to rejecting corruption in a more demanding way than simply asking them if they believed corruption was wrong.

We were then able to evaluate whether anti-corruption messages were effective by looking at whether those who received them were more likely to demand clean government and less willing to pay a bribe.

More harm than good

In line with prior research, our findings suggest that anti-corruption campaigns may be doing more harm than good. None of the narratives we used had a positive effect overall. Many of them actually made Lagosians more likely to pay a bribe.

Put another way, the good news is that public relations campaigns can change citizens’ minds. But the bad news is that they often do so in unintended and counterproductive ways.

The reason for this seems to be that anti-corruption messages encourage citizens to think more about corruption, emphasising the extent of the problem. This contributes to “corruption fatigue”: the belief that the problem is simply too big for any one person to make a difference generates despondency. It makes individuals more likely to go with the flow than to stand against it.

This interpretation is supported by another finding that the negative effect of anti-corruption messaging was far more powerful among individuals who believed that corruption was pervasive. This reveals that the problematic consequences of anti-corruption messages are not universal. Among less pessimistic people, messages did not have a negative effect. And one message had the desired effect of reducing the probability of paying a bribe. This was the narrative that emphasised the relationship between corruption and citizens’ tax payments.

Our study therefore suggests that if we can target anti-corruption messages more effectively at specific audiences, we may be able to enhance their positive effects while minimising the risks.

What next?

Other studies have come to similar conclusions in Indonesia, Costa Rica and to some extent Papua New Guinea.

We therefore need to take the lessons of these studies seriously. Anti-corruption campaigns that send untargeted messages should be halted until we work out how to target them more effectively. The most logical response is to embrace new ways of working.

This might mean identifying messages that persuade citizens that corruption is fallingand so “nudge” them to believe it is a problem that can be overcome.

Where that’s not possible, it is also worth considering a more radical break with the past. As others working within the Anti-Corruption Evidence Consortium have argued, the most promising approach may be to abandon traditional anti-corruption messaging in favour of working more indirectly. This would involve building public demand for greater political accountability and transparency without always talking directly about corruption.

Such an approach would be less high profile, but is far more likely to be effective.The Conversation

Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy, University of Birmingham and Caryn Peiffer, Lecturer in International Public Policy and Governance, University of Bristol

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

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‘Substituted parenting’ – a term with no apparent consensus, clarity, consistency of meaning, or transparency as to its application by the family courts.

Project team: Nadine Tilbury (Policy officer for the Working Together with Parents Network (WTPN ) and Beth Tarleton (WTPN Co-ordinator and project PI)


“Substituted parenting” What does this mean in the family court?

We aim to be in a position to answer this question by the end of our 18-month project (April 2023) and are extremely grateful to the Nuffield Foundation for providing the funding and support that will enable us to do so.

Published family court judgments show that the expression ‘substituted parenting’ is often used during care proceedings in cases involving parents with learning disabilities and tends to result in the children being permanently removed from their families.

The term appears to be being used by local authorities when the support they have identified as necessary for the parents is extensive. They say the high level of support required equates to substituted parenting which is detrimental as it confuses children as to who is the parent. Since most parents with learning disabilities are likely to need long-term support, this approach risks becoming a discriminatory blanket policy.

Where has this term come from? What is the research evidence base for the concept and its conclusion that ‘substituted parenting’ or parenting by others is necessarily detrimental to a child’s welfare? What level of support is regarded as substituted parenting? Is it / should it be a matter of how much support is provided or, instead, should the question be how that support is provided?

Experienced family court lawyers are unclear how the use of this term has developed, ”… appears to be becoming an ‘orthodoxy’” or the ‘default position’ (Senior barristers – email).

“… the family would need … support throughout the children’s waking hours. That would be substituted parenting, not support.”  A Local Authority v G (Parent with Learning Disability) (Rev 1) [2017].

Whether the situation I have described could or indeed should be described as “substituted parenting” is a matter for others to decide… In the absence of a clear description of the dynamic that defines what substituted parenting is …” HHJ Greensmith in PQR (Supported Parenting For Learning Disabled Parents) (Rev 1) [2018].

It is this absence of a clear definition – and the dire consequences that follow a finding of substituted parenting i.e. removal of the child – that prompted our bid for funding to clarify what social workers, lawyers and judges mean by the term ‘substituted parenting’ and how it is applied in care proceedings involving parents with learning disabilities.

Our project aims to establish clarity, consistency and transparency in the understanding and application of the term by the family courts and to highlight good practice, where it exists.

Background to the project

All parents are entitled to support from the state to carry out their parenting responsibilities. So say the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Care Act 2014 specifically includes parenting responsibilities as one of the eligibility factors for support and the central ethos of the Children Act 1989 is that children are best raised by their families, where possible, with local authority functions designed to provide support to the children and families.

The first edition of the Good Practice Guidance on working with parents with a learning disability (2007), published by the Department of Health and the Department for Skills and Education, emphasised the right to support, drawing heavily on the work by Beth Tarleton and colleagues in 2006, Finding the Right Support.

The 2016 and 2021 updates of the Good Practice Guidance by the Working Together with Parents Network did likewise.

And yet, despite this clear, rights-based foundation, cases were continually being reported where parents with learning disabilities were having their children permanently removed as they were unable to parent them safely without the right (or, in many cases, any) support.

In 2016, we started sending emails to the office of the President of the Family Division, highlighting published family court judgments showing local authorities’ routine failure to apply the principles of the Good Practice Guidance, when working with these families.

In April 2018, the then President, Sir James Munby issued guidance:

‘My primary purpose in issuing this Guidance is to bring to the attention of practitioners and judges, and to commend for careful consideration and application by everyone, the very important “Good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability” issued by the Working Together with Parents Network and the Norah Fry Centre in September 2016.’ Family Proceedings: Parents with a Learning Disability | Courts and Tribunals Judiciary

Almost overnight, the right to support began to be acknowledged by local authorities and their proposals scrutinised by the family courts.

‘ …Following the court’s request for additional evidence from the local authority including evidence of how the guidelines in respect of parents with a learning disability had been followed and direct evidence from the independent reviewing officer (in the form of a statement confirming her position in the light of the new evidence), the local authority reviewed its position’.

‘…The court is confident that this package of support …meets the obligations of the local authority to follow the Good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability (2007) revised September 2016 (The Guidelines) (Recognising the Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)) [2018] EWFC B71 (08 November 2018)

Unintended consequence

It was all going so well… And then, we started receiving reports of cases in which local authorities confirmed that the necessary support had been identified and could be provided, but went on to assert that, such support would amount to substituted parenting, which was detrimental to the child’s welfare and so the child needed to be permanently removed.

We began to look into this concept of ‘substituted parenting’. We tried to find out where it came from, what level of support was considered to tip the balance from acceptable to unacceptable, whether costs and timescales were factors. We checked the literature, and we asked the academics and practitioners. We couldn’t find the information. ‘Good question’, they said.

We scrutinised published judgments, looking for mention of any analysis of the risk that the proposed support would amount to substituted parenting, and any options considered to address/reduce/eliminate that risk. We couldn’t find that either.

Timing

This project started 1st November 2021 and runs until April 2023. The timing couldn’t be better for us as the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has just released his report on the need for greater transparency in the Family Court: Confidence and Confidentiality: Transparency in the Family Courts and has confirmed that transparency will be a key priority for him over the next three years:

‘… it is legitimate for the public to know of these judgments [family court cases], to provide a basis for trust in the soundness of the court’s approach and its decisions, or to establish a ground for concern in that regard.’

’It is the case that the Family Court is currently not sufficiently transparent even to those, in particular the judges and the social work professionals, who are working within it. Educational opportunities are thereby being missed.’

Since the family courts are not open to the public, we depend on published judgments for finding out how care proceedings involving parents with learning disabilities are in fact being dealt with. Any move towards greater transparency, in terms of the number of judgments published and the level of information contained within them, can only lead to better and more consistent practices and thereby improved confidence in the fairness of the family justice system.

Next steps

We very much look forward to speaking with the social workers, lawyers and judges involved in working with parents with learning disabilities in the care proceedings context. We look forward to being able to highlight good practices found in the course of the study and to establishing consensus, clarity, and consistency as to the meaning of the term ‘substituted parenting’, and transparency as to its application by the family courts.

We particularly look forward to working with our Advisory Group of parents with learning disabilities. They will help to ensure that the findings of our study can be made widely available to parents with learning disabilities and in such a way that parents will be able to understand what is meant by the risk of support being considered to be ‘substituted parenting’, the significance of such a risk and, most importantly, how to avert that risk, where possible.

Because, in the much-quoted words of Baroness Hale in a landmark adoption case, “nothing else will do”.


This project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit www.nuffieldfoundation.org.


 

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Top tips from the editors of Policy & Politics for getting published

Policy & Politics is a leading international journal in the field of public and social policy. It spans the boundaries between theory and practice and links macro-scale debates with micro-scale issues. It seeks to analyse new trends and advance knowledge by publishing research at the forefront of academic debates.

Co-Editors: Oscar Berglund, University of Bristol, UK, Claire Dunlop, University of Exeter, UK, Chris Weible, University of Colorado, US

From the Policy and Politics Blog.

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Ending gender-based violence: what role does research play?

Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blogs looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.


In this blog, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explores how research from the Centre for Gender and Violence is addressing inequalities and tackling gender-based violence.

Introduction

Gender-based violence describes any harmful act towards individuals or groups on the basis of their gender.

It includes domestic violence which UK law defines as ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.’

Domestic violence is a gendered crime that is unequally experienced by women and perpetrated by men. It is extremely common in the UK. For the year ending March 2019, the ONS estimated 1.6 million women aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse.

Gender-based violence is a well-documented problem and there are many organisations and activists working to stop it. How can research help to address it? Academic staff in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research conduct high quality research, in collaboration with practitioners and activists, to inform action on addressing the inequality that is gender-based violence.

In this blog, I start by explaining why the Centre’s intersectional, inclusive and collaborative approach to research is vital for addressing gender-based violence. I then explain how findings from research projects contribute to ending violence and supporting survivors/victims.

Doing research: why is an intersectional and collaborative approach important?

Intersectionality explains how different social justice issues (e.g. gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age) cross over with one another.

Taking an intersectional approach is important for understanding how different forms of gendered abuse emerge and addressing the needs of marginalised groups who face violence. For example see: Rape, inequality and the criminal justice response in England: the importance of age and gender. This paper takes an intersectional approach and concludes that, ‘(r)esults suggest age and gender are significant factors in how sexual violence, and the criminal justice system (CJS), is experienced. Victims-survivors from BME or LGBTQ+ groups are underrepresented within the CJS, implying these groups are not seeking a criminal justice response in the same way as ‘white’ heterosexual victims-survivors.’

Collaboration with practitioners is also important. As Marianne Hester explains:

“The partnership between practitioners, researchers and activists is absolutely key. We don’t create change if we sit in our little bubbles. We need to work together.”

Using findings: understanding how violence works

The way domestic abuse manifests is constantly changing so it is important to know how violence works and changes in order to act against it, including emerging forms of coercive control. The Understanding and Responding to Coercive Control project addresses a series of important issues in tackling domestic violence and abuse that have not previously been dealt with to any extent, relating specifically to emerging forms of Coercive Control.

Coercive control is defined as an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim, for example the use of chemical restraints (abuse via medication). The project will also look into the use of faith and faith practice as part of coercive control; assess domestic violence incidents recorded by the police for evidence of coercive controlling behaviour; improve measurement of coercive control; explore survivors’ mental health for implications on employment and ability to seek safe accommodation; develop briefings on the relationship between coercive control, financial /economic abuse and housing crises faced by DVA victims-survivors; and briefing on the abuse of pets in the context of coercive control.

Another project will be looking at the questions we ask to collect data about domestic abuse from the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

Conclusion

Research has a role to play in ending gender-based violence, but it does not operate in a silo. The Centre for Gender and violence’s work shows why an intersectional and collaborative approach to research is so important for making change happen.

Read more about some of the issues raised here

Articles and links based on research from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research:

Nine in 10 domestic abusers also target pets, survey finds – The Independent, 24 November 2021

‘My ex-partner would take his anger out on my dog – I’d rather he hurt me’ – The Telegraph, 23 November 2021

Student spikings: universities told to step up prevention efforts – Times Higher Education, 4 November, 2021

‘You couldn’t leave your husband. It just wasn’t done’, The Independent, 02 October 2021

Improving the justice and healthcare response for victims & survivors of gender based violence 

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