Advising in Austerity

Professor Morag McDermont, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Bristol

Professor Morag McDermont, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Bristol

Ben Crawford, Knowledge Exchange Fellow (University of Bristol Law School)

Research led by Prof Morag McDermont of University of Bristol Law School has explored the ways in which advice organisations such as Citizens Advice (CA) have become key actors in legal arenas, particularly for citizens who face the most disadvantage in upholding their rights. Findings from a four year study in partnership with Strathclyde University, highlight the importance of free-to-access advice in enabling people to tackle problems and engage with the legal and regulatory frameworks that govern their lives.

The advice sector, however, is under threat, as a new book Advising in Austerity: Reflections on challenging times for advice agencies (edited by Samuel Kirwan and published by Policy Press ) demonstrates. The book, co-written by the research team and advisers in the field, highlights both the possibilities and the challenges for an advice sector that largely relies on volunteers to provide a vital interface between citizens and the everyday problems of debt, health, employment and much more.  Despite the skills and enthusiasm of the workforce, many services are caught between rising demand and large-scale funding cuts, as traditional sources of revenue from local authorities and legal aid are dramatically reduced. Across the network, reductions in core funding are forcing agencies to reduce or reconfigure services. In particular, the face-to-face, generalist advice model that provides a holistic assessment of client’s problems is under pressure as services are reduced in favour of telephone or online support. Continue reading

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Why cities are crucibles for sustainable development efforts (but so hard to get right)

Figure 1. Rural and urban population trends, 1950-2050,  Adapted from Fox, S. & Goodfellow, T. (2016) Cities and Development, Second Edition. Routledge.

Dr Sean Fox, Lecturer in Urban Geography and Global Development, University of Bristol

Sustainable Development Goal 11 outlines a global ambition to ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. It is arguably one of the most important of the 17 recently agreed Goals, but we’re unlikely to reach it in most parts of the world by 2030.

The importance of Goal 11 stems from global demographic trends. As Figure 1 illustrates, over 50% of the world’s population already lives in towns and cities, and that percentage is set to rise to 66% by 2050. In fact, nearly all projected population growth between now and 2050 is expected to be absorbed in towns and cities, and the vast majority of this growth will happen in Africa and Asia (see Figure 2).

These trends mean that when it comes to eliminating poverty and hunger, improving health and education services, ensuring universal access to clean water and adequate sanitation, promoting economic growth with decent employment opportunities, and creating ‘responsible consumption and production patterns’ (and achieving many other goals) urban centres are on the front line by default. Continue reading

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The Turkish referendum thwarts civil rights struggles – in Europe and in Turkey

Dr Bahar Baser, Research Fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations (Coventry University) and Associate Fellow at the Security Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa (SIGLA) at Stellenbosch University.

Dr Aleksandra Lewicki, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Free University of Berlin and a member of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol.

On Sunday, 16th April 2017, Turkish citizens are to decide in a referendum whether Turkey’s parliamentary republic will be turned into a presidential system. Representatives of the Turkish Government have been campaigning in favour of this constitutional reform in Turkey, and have also organized rallies in European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands. Although absentee voter turnout lingered at less than 10% in previous elections, the large diaspora vote can still have a detrimental impact on the results.

Some of the rallies in Europe were cancelled due to security concerns. President Erdoğan immediately associated these reactions with mounting Islamophobia across Europe. He accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of ‘Nazi methods’ and suggested that ‘the spirit of fascism’ was ‘running rampant in Europe’. His ‘Yes’ Campaign appeals to anti-European sentiments and nourishes the “Sevres Syndrome”, whereby Erdoğan and the AKP present themselves as the alternative to those who threaten Turkey’s citizens’ interests and rights.

Chancellor Merkel, who relies on a deal with Turkey to keep the number of refugees arriving in Germany at its current low, rebuked such crude comparisons rather mildly as ‘unjustifiable’ and condemned the instrumentation of the victims of the National Socialist Regime. As national elections are coming up in September 2017, German political parties are worried of losing their voters to the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which successfully mobilized Islamophobic sentiments in 2016. Therefore, although anti-Muslim attitudes are indeed gaining in influence in Germany, initiatives to address Islamophobia hardly feature on the current Government’s political agenda or the election campaign. Continue reading

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29th March 2017 – a day of historical significance? How history is (mis)used to illustrate our ‘glorious’ present

Statue of Europe, Unity in Peace

Dr. Martin Hurcombe,
Reader, School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol

There are some who will no doubt greet the triggering of Article 50 on the 29th March 2017 as an occasion of historical significance. It may seem churlish to even state otherwise, but my sense is that this is not a date that will live long in the memory. It is simply the prelude to events of far greater importance, the scale of which few of us seriously claim to be able to gauge in all their potential complexity.

No doubt, though, politicians and journalists will once again be casting around for historic parallels, for popular aides-mémoires through which the public can grasp the event. They will struggle to find anything quite like this in living memory, so will have to delve deep into our nation’s bag of collective memories. I expect Boris Johnson’s paws will delve the deepest. Out will come toy spitfires, reminders of our island status and how we all pulled together (whoever we are now) in moments of national need.

War memories often act as handy markers of national identity. They are quintessential moments when the nation pulled together. It is therefore unsurprising that the Leave campaign so frequently returned to what Estelle Shirbon of Reuters dubbed ‘Britain’s World War Two fixation’.  The Blitz and Churchill (possibly one of the Conservative Party’s most ardent Europeans) were all trotted out, whilst the European Union was depicted by Johnson as Hitler’s victory from beyond the grave. Continue reading

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Cheap goods at what cost? How the EU Road Package can address ‘unfair payments’ to truck drivers

© Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Peter Turnbull, profile photo

Professor Peter Turnbull, School of Economics, Finance & Management, University of Bristol

As you drive home at night, do you ever pause to think about the many trucks parked in lay-bys at the side of the road? You might be only a few miles from home, but the driver’s home could be thousands of miles away. Imagine if the truck door was the front door to your home, the truck cabin both your office and your bedroom. If this sounds far-fetched, then spare a thought for the thousands of East European truck drivers who work for weeks on end, sometimes months, in Western European countries, driving, eating and sleeping in their cab.

A survey of around 1,000 East European road haulage drivers published by the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) in 2013 found that the majority (60%) spent between 3-12 weeks away from home, 80% cooked and ate their own food in the lorry, 95% took their breaks and rest periods (including the weekly rest of 45 hours) in their lorries (contrary to EU working time regulations), 60% were paid by driven kilometres (despite EU Regulation 561/2006, Art.10 forbidding payments per kilometre schemes that have a negative impact on road safety), approximately 80% of the interviewed drivers stated that fatigue was a problem but they would not report it as they were afraid lose their job. A more recent 2015 study of 225 Bulgarian, Romanian and Macedonian drivers working in Denmark found that the average time working and living in their lorry away from home was 7 weeks (88% slept in their lorry most nights), pay was just €1,100 to €1,900 per month (16% were paid on the basis of kilometres driven), drivers reported regular breaches of the rules on working time and 13% stated that their employer exerted pressure on them to break the rules on driving and resting times. Continue reading

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Government must ignore illegal proposals for a pre-Brexit cut-off point limiting the rights of EU nationals in the UK

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

In its paper of 13 March 2017 on “The Rights of EU Nationals in the UK Post-Brexit”, Migration Watch UK has put forward a range of proposals aimed at clarifying – and limiting – the rights of EU nationals in the UK in the context of Brexit. These proposals are illegal under EU law and the UK Government must ignore them in their process of shaping the UK’s migration policy towards EU nationals as a result of Brexit. This post summarises these proposals and details the reasons why they are illegal under EU law.

The proposals of the Migration Watch UK paper focus on two main categories of EU nationals: first, those that are residing in the UK at the time of triggering Article 50 Treaty of the European Union (TEU) but will not qualify for permanent residence at the time of Brexit (which the paper assumes to be March 2019) (category (a)). Second, those that will continue to arrive to the UK between the moment in which Article 50 TEU is triggered and the moment when Brexit becomes legally effective (category (b)). Even if the paper is not very clear about it, the proposals would also affect the rights of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals, as well as those of individuals whose residence and work rights derive from those of an EU/EEA national. For simplicity, though, I will stick to the use of the expression “EU nationals” to cover all of them. Continue reading

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Women’s rights gained under EU law must not be lost in Brexit

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Sue Cohen, Research Associate in Bristol Law School

Much of the debate in the UK, pre and post the referendum, has been on the single market and freedom of movement. Gender has been all but cleansed from the Brexit political and media discourse, with barely a mention of investment in women’s equality, the social infrastructure and the institutions that might guarantee progressive gains from gender mainstreaming.

The EU Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights is a significant institution in this respect, and one we will lose upon Brexit. The Committee helps to process legislation on equal treatment adopted by EU institutions, invites transnational lobbying on women’s issues, and investigates particular issues and concerns that affect women.  It does this through commissioning research and reports that further gender mainstreaming in the funding programmes of the European Commission. (1)

Critically, the UK, has no comparable influential institution. The Women and Equalities Committee is a new select committee and its influence is not embedded in the decision-making structures and funding mechanisms across government. The Women’s Commission was closed down by the Coalition Government, whilst the influence of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been eroded over time, with significant cuts in staff and funding and thus significant limitations on its ability to deliver strategic change. Continue reading

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Research, Impact and the UK Parliament – Event Report

Katie Drax, Honorary Research Assistant at the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG)

Science can inform how society is run so research can have implications for public and private policy. But how? How can research feed into policy-making, i.e. evidence-based policy? For those who don’t have a clue about parliamentary actions or how they relate to academics’ work the “Research, Impact and the UK Parliament” event series is a good way to get to grips with Parliament and research.

Starting at 10 a.m. we pinned name badges to our shirts and busied ourselves by riffling through the Houses of Parliament tote bags placed on our seats. Thankfully the event did not require much prior knowledge since it was assumed the majority of attendees were ignorant about the workings of Parliament and so the first presentation was a 30 minute crash course on the subject. Continue reading

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“Buy Brexit”? Using “cultural fit” as evaluation criteria breaches EU and UK public procurement law

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

On March 1, 2017, The Guardian  reported that the UK’s Department for International Trade had tendered contracts where they expected that tech companies should have the right ‘cultural fit’ if they wanted to be hired. This was interpreted in the news report as a clear mechanism whereby “Firms bidding for government contracts [were] asked if they back Brexit“. It is indeed a worrying requirement due to the clear risk of unfettered discretion and ensuing discrimination that such ‘cultural fit’ requirement creates. In my opinion, the requirement runs contrary to both EU and UK public procurement rules (and this was later echoed by the follow-up coverage story by The Guardian as well: “Trade department may have broken EU rules with ‘pro-Brexit’ contract criteria”).

In this post, I develop the reasons for the assessment that such a ‘Buy Brexit’ requirement is illegal (which I previously published in my personal blog and the specialised EU Law Analysis blog). I will try to keep this post as jargon free as possible and limit the technical details of my legal assessment as much as possible. However, this is a rather technical area of economic law, so some technicalities will be unavoidable. Continue reading

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“A food dystopia: Is Britain sleepwalking into a crisis?”

Back to the future?

Terry Marsden is Director of the Sustainable Places Research Institute, and Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning, Cardiff University.

Kevin Morgan is Professor of Government and Development, Cardiff University

The historical ability for the UK state to periodically create self-inflicted harm upon its own food system seems to be raising its head again as the country triggers Article 50 to remove itself from the European Union. We should remember that the repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1840s, opening up the UK to cheap food imports (based indeed on subsidised imperial preferences to its colonies), in exchange for colonial penetration of its financial and manufacturing interests and sectors, created the conditions for a long- running agricultural and rural depression in the UK, lasting well into the 1930s. That Imperial regime of ‘free trade’ created much harm to the British food system, its rural areas, and indeed shaped a dependent food diet based upon imports from colonies and other European nations (like Danish Bacon and Dutch eggs and pork). What is ironically labelled as the ‘full English’ breakfast up and down the land derives from the successful import penetration of its component parts from overseas. The decline in our food-based infrastructure was so bad that, by the onset of the 1st World War, Lloyd George had to go ‘cap in hand’ to the likes of Henry Ford to plead concessions on building his tractors on these shores in order to resolve food and rural labour shortages. Even by 1941 the national farm survey found the agricultural situation in a parlous state, even before the U-boat campaign further disrupted food supplies and led to a period of prolonged public food rationing until 1954. Continue reading

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