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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The impact of housing wealth on retirement inequality

Using the United Kingdom and Japan as case studies, Professor Misa Izuhara, from The Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research explores the role of housing wealth on retirement and social differentiation in later life.

How do you decide when to retire in a society like Britain where the formal ‘retirement age’ no longer exists? Do you have a big enough pension and/or savings to retire early? Does your employer want you to continue working after you reach 60? Or, are you planning to sell your house to cover the cost of post-retirement life?

The process of retirement is becoming more complex and differentiated in terms of timing and financial resources. In many advanced economies, ‘active ageing policies’ encourage older workers to remain in the labour market longer. However, the reasons and opportunities to do so depend on both institutional systems (e.g. retirement age, social security, attitudes of employers) and individual capital (e.g. skills, pensions, savings, housing assets).

As part of a current ESRC funded project, we bring ‘housing’ more fully into the analysis of retirement inequality, which is absent from existing research.

This collaborative project ‘Social Differentiation in Later Life: Exploring the interaction between housing wealth and retirement in Japan and the UK’ brings together scholars and stakeholders with different disciplinary backgrounds of social policy, economics and management to examine the relationship between housing wealth, the level of education, and extending working life of ageing baby-boomers in the contrasting welfare systems of the UK and Japan.

The first workshop was held in Tokyo (Keio University) in July 2019 to facilitate knowledge exchange between the project members and non-academic stakeholders. Japan is the world most aged society. More than a quarter (27.7%) of the population are already aged 65 and over. Despite the formal retirement age, in practice, Japanese people work longer in line with an increase of pensionable age. Reform of the Act for Stabilization of Employment of Older Persons, which obliged companies to employ their workers up to pensionable age, supports this trend. Scheduled 20% reduction of pension benefit will also strengthen the trend in next decades.

Alongside pensions, home ownership is a major factor shaping household wealth and thus potentially influence people’s retirement decision. The volatile housing market, however, poses a significant barrier in post-growth Japan when considering equity release. As the net household saving rate is falling, future generations are expected to extend working life due to the decline in personal wealth.

As part of the workshop, leading policy makers and practitioners in related areas of employment, finance, housing and city planning presented current situations and emerging issues facing ‘super-aged’ Japanese society:

  • Naoto Ohmi (Executive Deputy President, Japanese Trade Union Confederation (JTUC-RENGO) argued that securing employment opportunities up to age 70 was an important policy agenda in Japan. The majority of those in the late 60s who are still in employment mentioned financial reasons for extending their working life. Trade Unions continue to work towards raising mandatory retirement to age 65. It is urgent to close the gap between the retirement age and the pensionable age.
  • Takeshi Sakai (Japan Housing Finance Agency) led the development of reverse mortgage products between 2014 and 2018. Reserve mortgage is not widely known or used among older homeowners in Japan, but it is gaining popularity, partly thanks to the promotion by housing developers. However, depreciation of house price remains a major barrier in post-growth Japan in order to further promote the use of housing assets in later life through this type of mortgage products. Equity release currently remains an option largely for the wealthy ‘propertied-class’ but has potential to support those on low incomes.
  • Titled as ‘the utilisation of assets in later life’, Kazuhiro Sugaya (Senior Manager, Pension Consultation Division, Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation) located the Japanese social security system in the international context. The composition of household wealth has shifted over the years, but housing assets are the main component of household wealth in Japan. He argued the importance of ‘financial gerontology’, the system enabling to extend individuals’ own financial assets at the arrival of the ‘centennial life’.
  • Ageing is a serious concern in Tama City. Yusai Takei (New Town Redevelopment Section Head, Tama City Government, Tokyo) discussed current strategies in order to revitalise the city’s ageing New Towns (developed in the 1970s) and its residents. Not only rebuilding old housing complexes but also the city is developing systems to facilitate residential moves of older households according to their life-course need. By attracting younger families, it is indeed important to achieve age mix in the neighbourhoods to sustain the healthy living environment.

For many participants, it was the first time they had had the opportunity to attend a knowledge exchange workshop. Many agreed it was ‘beneficial for policy makers to exchange knowledge and ideas with academics, practitioners and experts working in other fields.’ Participated stakeholders tend to focus on tasks in their own fields such as city planning or housing. For example, “presentations about employment were fresh and made me think the importance of creating employment for older workers in New Town” (Mr Takei). The UK experiences, presented by Professors Flynn and Izuhara, also provided food for thought. “Transition from work to retirement is a major issue for pensioners. The evidence from the UK contributed to our understanding” (Mr Ohmi). Another participant wanted to know the mechanism of the UK housing market and system to sustain housing prices as the key to facilitate the use of housing assets in later life in Japan.

For the next 8 months, the project team will work collaboratively to examine identified comparative themes such as opportunities and constraints of older workers in the contrasting institutional systems and housing/labour markets; and the impact of personal wealth on retirement trajectories between Japan and the UK using existing micro data.

This international project is funded by the UK Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) UK-Japan Connections Grant. The Principal Investigator is Professor Misa Izuhara, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, UK. For more information and to the team visit the project page.

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Another Blog on the C-Word.

Professor David Abbott, from the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, looks at collaboration and power sharing in coproduced research.

It’s #CoProWeek if you’ll excuse the twitter short-hand. And with a whiff of, ‘This is what I did in my holiday’ news, I am not long back from a summer school about co-production at the rather glorious and gloriously named, University of the Highlands and Islands.

One of the things I liked about the course was that we were comprised of researchers, activists, heads of charities, community agitators and leaders, and policy and engagement types. We shared a commitment to making things change and making things better in our respective communities. I think some of us went searching for the perfect way to do coproduction and of course in that respect we were usefully disappointed. Two main learning points for me, about which more below, were: 1. Coproduction behoves us to rethink who is ‘we’ and who is ‘them’ and ‘they’? 2. In the overall endeavour of research, who has a say, who always has a say and who rarely or never has a say?

It seems to me that lots of folks are in search of ‘true’ co-production, some holy grail of perfect collaboration and power sharing. We are awash with toolkits, guidance, good practice, courses and webinars about coproduction. It’s an industry in and of itself. I wonder if there is more of this than actual coproduction.

In my field at the intersection of social policy and disability studies, there is a long history of problematising the role and historical dominance of non-disabled people doing research on disabled people. The movement towards more inclusive research with disabled children, youth, and adults, including those with learning disabilities, is now however fairly well established.

In my first research job with a disability focus, our young disabled people’s reference group held a fairly long, no-holds barred discussion about whether or not I should be in the room as a non-disabled person. It was very uncomfortable for me but they were rightly asserting their power and asking a legitimate question. So, coproduction for me sometimes has a feeling of ‘emperor’s new clothes’ but also something co-opted for better and sometimes worse to actually mask power differentials. I can still really only whisper in lower case about being part of a so-called coproduction team evaluating a so-called coproduced government policy programme “with” (lol) disabled people. The volume on coproduction was high but the reality was draconian and grim.

What I can say, from my own experience of being part of a project team made up of user-led organisations, disabled people’s organisations and university researchers, are three things:

  1. It felt like coproduction because it was hard and mostly uncensored. We had similar goals but I think the wider team sometimes felt I was a bit slavish to the research proposal and agreement with the funder. Others sometimes wanted to ‘get on with it’ or change things. I often did too but felt a bit uptight with the burden and privilege (?) of being the budget holder (see below).
  2. It worked well as coproduction because we played to our agreed strengths and interests.
  3. When we asked participants why they had decided to take part in research interviews, several said it was because of the team. Some said they would have put the paperwork in the bin straight away if it had just come from “the University”. The nature of the team reassured people about the underlying values of the research and that there was some presumption of trust and safety.

Money matters and I mentioned above that I had been the budget holder in our work together even though in fact the collaboration was well established and the need for research established before I was ever invited in as a researcher. (I liked this. To me it turned on its head the usual idea that coproduced research is about the researcher inviting the non-academics, the non-researchers into the tent. Plus, note the ‘non’ rather than what people actually are – experts in all kinds of domains.) But the reality is that many funders require the budget holder or principal investigator to be based in a University or the NHS or some other statutory service. This doesn’t rule out coproduced collaborations but the power is already and instantly a bit unequal.

This is why the Disability Research on Independent Living & Learning (DRILL) programme was so neat as the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people. Not to my credit, but I can recall feeling irked that such a big funding opportunity excluded me from applying missing, initially, the point that this was entirely right and massively exciting and important. My initial annoyance presumably mirrored by groups routinely excluded from or hampered by the set-up of research funding streams.

If I can end by directing you to elsewhere it’d be to this brilliant podcast which discusses what to my mind is a wonderful, authentic piece of coproduced research with young disabled women living shorter lives but exerting the value, joy and expertise that their lives engender. “Coproduction is not about having all the answers, but about learning together,” say the researchteam. Amen sisters.

David Abbott is a Professor of Social Policy in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol and an Associate Director of NIHR School for Social Care Research. He tweets things about research, cake and the countryside at @davidabbottbris 

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

Professor Val Williams explores the use of Conversation Analysis to improve communication in dementia settings.

Living with dementia is not a prison sentence, and sensitively conducted social research can help us all to develop more confidence in supporting people to live positive lives after a dementia diagnosis. This ESRC funded research carried out at the School for Policy Studies from 2015-18 was about communication – not the communication skills or deficits of people living with dementia, but the skills of their communication partners. This blog therefore raises the question: ‘Can the skills to communicate well in dementia settings be learnt?’  and reflects on process of creating the 5 co-produced dementia communication training videos being released this week.

In the light of rapid increases in dementia, in the UK and elsewhere, it is generally assumed that research is urgently needed which helps us better understand how to prevent and to treat the condition. While that remains true, it is also important to listen to the voices of people living with dementia, and to look at ways that could improve their everyday lives. In one of the projects in the ‘Getting Things Changed’ programme, members of the ‘Forget-me-Not’ group in Swindon co-produced research with Joe Webb and Val Williams. That means they were actively involved, in advising, in analysing, and pushing the research in directions they felt were important. They felt their lives were enhanced by talking with other people, by getting to know new friends in peer support groups, and by improving the attitudes and skills of all those around them. What they really wanted was to be in control of their own decisions as long as they could and to enjoy their lives and new-found identities. As one of the research group, Sandie Read, says:

“Everyone will tell you the same thing. You’re diagnosed, and then it’s ‘You’ve got dementia. Go home and we’ll see you next month’. What we need is for someone, like a counsellor or someone else with dementia, to tell us at that point ‘Life isn’t over’.  You can go on for ten or fifteen years. And you’re not told, you’re just left. And I thought, tomorrow my day had come. The fear and the anxiety sets in, and then the depression sets in, doesn’t it? I think when you’re diagnosed, you should be given a book. And on the front of the book, in big letters, it should say: ‘Don’t panic’.”

The five communication training videos launched this week are all led by members of the Forget-me-Not research group, who appear on screen – both speaking for themselves, and acting out roles based on data we collected during the research. Following the tenets of Conversation Analysis methods (Sidnell and Stivers, 2014), we were interested in the fine-grained detail of the interactions which go on between people with dementia and the other people they meet in their daily lives. Many would consider Conversation Analysis a technical and inaccessible method, but the basic ideas about interaction were, for the Forget-me-Not members, the bread-and-butter of their everyday experience. As we filmed what was happening in the dementia groups where we had obtained consent, Roy, Sandie and Harry helped us make sense of the data from their point of view.

One early example of this can be witnessed in the training video ‘Talking About the Past’. Harry and Roy understand the issues faced by people in their position, who may not easily recall details of their own past life: “When we do our life story now, and people say to us, you know, ‘How did it happen?’, often, I think, are we saying it how it happened? Because I think we are now at the – we can’t remember it all. It’s – and are we saying how it happened, or are we just filling in the gaps? Because I often think about that, you know. Is it a different story than what I said before, because I can’t always remember. Every time I do my life story, it starts off and comes out differently each time.”  But when they saw some examples of people being asked about their past in dementia activity group settings, their focus was not just on the person with dementia, but on the way the conversation was conducted. They felt that the person with dementia could easily feel as if they were being interrogated. Questions were asked which seemed meaningless, their answers were never adequate, and the support workers easily slipped into the role of teacher – praising them for ‘good answers’ or for knowing things which the ‘teacher’ already knew.

We all do this type of thing. It is part of the array of interactional resources which we draw on in ordinary conversation all the time, and when someone is seen to be having difficulty in responding, we tend to probe, to prompt them, or even to cross-question them.  We also mostly have experience of conversations in which we ourselves get cut out, or where our contributions do not appear to be valued. Supporters in dementia groups do a fantastic job, and have more experience of managing these situations than most of us. So what can our research offer?

We wanted to go further than just providing ‘tips for talk’: there are already resources and training materials which for instance urge dementia supporters to ‘be patient’, ‘listen’, ‘allow waiting time’.  But we could see from our data that so much depends on what has just gone before: Conversation Analysis is based on this idea of sequencing. Every remark someone makes reveals how they have interpreted the previous comment or question, and a neat example of this principle happened in our data when a person living with dementia was shown a mug from a Memory Box, and asked the seemingly open question ‘What do you think of that?’;  he eventually came out with ‘What do you mean, think?’  Harry and the others in the Forget-me-Not group suggested that these types of questions simply do not work in these situations. It is far more effective to remind someone directly of something they have said, or to mention a fact or situation which might bring back their memory of the past. In fact, the group members could demonstrate how they would do this themselves, in their own group, where they know each other so well as friends. And all of these insights are incorporated into the first of the training videos, ‘Talking About the Past’, as well as being reflected in an article we wrote for a Discourse journal (Williams V., Webb J., Dowling S., Gall M.. (2018). Direct and indirect ways of managing epistemic asymmetries when eliciting memories. Discourse Studies, 21 (2), pp. 199–215.

Our training materials and research are featured this month in a piece published by Joe Webb in the Journal of Dementia Care, and we know that practitioners and trainers are keen to use the videos with all those who communicate regularly with people with dementia. We are very grateful to the practitioners and managers who helped us shape our material into videos which they would find useful for training. Above all, the videos are there as a resource, to get people thinking and reflecting on their own interactions, and to try out something new. As Joe Webb comments, ‘the materials we have produced are a collaboration, moving past traditional approaches to Conversation Analysis by incorporating the views, expertise and lived experience of the Forget-me-Not co researchers into understanding more about how everyday communication works. They are not intended as a prescriptive ‘one size fits all’ approach, but to get the viewer to reflect on how these common, everyday situations come up in interactions, and how they would deal with them. Becoming aware and attuned to the fine-grained way talk is produced is a great way of potentially improving practice. We are hugely indebted to the fantastic staff and participants who shared their skills with us’.

We maintain therefore that Conversation Analysis is not just an ‘academic exercise’ to untangle the rules and conventions of ordinary interaction. It can be a useful tool, providing evidence to help us analyse what is happening in dementia conversations, and in helping us to change things for the better.  And nowhere is this more effective than via the direct voice of those who have lived experience of dementia. As Roy James, a Forget-me-Not member, comments on the initial recruitment video for our project:

“It does help to talk to people. That’s what this research is about. Do you have somebody to listen to you? If you don’t, find someone who will listen to you, just talk to them. Think of the other people you’re helping. You might not know the other people, you might not even meet them. But this research, down the line, could give a whole new aspect to someone’s life.”

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