Targeted support is needed to protect the wellbeing of researchers working with emotionally challenging material

Authors:
Jessica Hammett, Senior Research Associate, University of Bristol
Claire Nunan, Senior Accredited Counsellor, School of Applied Mental Health

People around us do not see the huge emotional impact that our research has on us. Our peers and line managers do not know about the emotional toll of the work we do, so it is practically invisible for them. Most of them think that it is just a matter of being positive, or just taking a break.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

For early career researchers working with sensitive and challenging material there are many barriers to good wellbeing. Over a six-month period, we worked with a small group of researchers from the arts, humanities and social sciences to better understand how emotionally challenging material impacts their wellbeing, what strategies they have in place to mitigate these risks, and to test out peer-support as a new method to promote wellbeing. The results of our findings have been published as a policy briefing, and in this article we explore the thoughts and feelings of our project participants in more depth.

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Disabled people are already cutting back on costs more than others – for many, the £150 cost of living payment won’t do much to help

Authors:
Sharon Collard, Professor of Personal Finance, University of Bristol
Jamie Evans, Senior Research Associate in Personal Finance, University of Bristol

Even before the current cost of living crisis, disabled people were much more likely than non-disabled people to be in poverty and living on inadequate incomes. Now, spiralling living costs are adding to years of financial disadvantage. Our new analysis of YouGov survey data starkly illustrates the situation, showing that three in ten disabled households are in serious financial difficulty.

The UK government has announced several measures that will provide some relief for many, including an energy price freeze and payments totalling £650 for people on means-tested benefits. All households will also receive a £400 reduction in energy bills via instalments spread over six months, and 8 million pensioner households are receiving a separate one-off payment of £300.

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Sending in the Royal Navy is not the answer to small boat migration in the Channel

This blog post was written by Timothy Edmunds, Professor of International Security, University of Bristol and Dr Scott Edwards, Research Associate, Translational Organised Crime at Sea, University of Bristol. 

The Home Office has announced a plan to bring in the Royal Navy to take charge of policing the English Channel after the number of migrants attempting the crossing in small boats tripled in 2021. Full details of the plan have not been revealed, but appear to involve the navy taking a leadership and planning role, as well as possibly providing additional vessels to augment the Border Force cutters already at sea.

Certainly, at first glance, the navy has the potential to bring more resources to the problem. Border Force currently operates five cutters and six coastal patrol vessels, whereas the navy has many more ships suited to maritime security tasks. These include 16 Archer class patrol vessels and eight of the larger and more capable River class offshore patrol vessels.

Yet numbers can be deceiving. The Archers and Rivers are already in high demand. Two of the Rivers, HMS Tamar and HMS Spey, are forward deployed to the Indo-Pacific. Others are assigned to areas of longstanding UK interest, such as the Caribbean and the Falklands, or now patrol the UK’s fishing waters following Brexit. Likewise, two of the Archers are deployed to the Gibraltar Squadron, another two assigned to security duties at the Faslane nuclear submarine base in Scotland, while the others play important roles with University Royal Naval Units.

With so many vessels already in use elsewhere, it seems unlikely that the Admiralty will welcome new deployments to the Channel -– especially so soon after an announcement that Border Force is receiving money for an upgraded fleet of cutters.

P2000 Archer Class Patrol Vessel HMS Raider, LA(Phot) Martin Carney, Flickr

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Understanding how COVID-19 impacted on people who use drugs

Authors

Dr Joanna Kesten, Research Fellow, Bristol Medical School, Bristol Population Health Science Institute, Health Protection Research Unit. 

Professor Catriona Matheson, Professor at the University of Stirling, and Chair of the Ministerial Drug Death Task Force for Scotland.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK in early 2020, there was concern about its impact on vulnerable groups in society. In this blog, Jo Kesten, Research Fellow at the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol and Catriona Matheson, Professor at the University of Stirling and Chair of the Ministerial Drug Death Task Force for Scotland, discuss the findings and wider policy implications of two independent research projects to investigate how people who inject drugs were affected. Both studies interviewed people who use drugs in the first national lockdown in 2020 to understand how the pandemic impacted on them. In Scotland, data from online forums, surveys and the police were also used to examine changes in the drugs market.

 Key points

  • Service innovation can happen quickly in a crisis
  • Digital inclusion is important if services are to continue with remote contact
  • Many people struggled with the loss of connection with others
  • There were fewer infections among interviewees than may have been predicted
  • Drug markets were more resilient than we had thought
  • More research needs to be carried out on changes to drug treatment medication policies as our studies recorded slightly different experiences

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Creative Industry Paradoxes: New business models and spaces of change

This blog was written by Malu Villela Garcia & Alice Willatt, researchers at the University of Bristol working on an IEI Bristol+Bath Creative R&D project.

The creative industries are not short of paradoxes. A culture of flexibility, self-management and creativity exists alongside precarious working conditions, excessive working hours, and a lack of inclusion and diversity. In the past months we’ve spoken with ten representatives from alternative organisations in the Bristol and Bath region to explore whether their business models are more effectively tackling the challenges faced by the industry. Here we discuss our main findings and propose some solutions.

‘Alternative’ business models

What do we mean by ‘alternative’ business models? These are businesses which put social and environmental goals alongside or before profit through democratic ownership and governance structures. They are referred to as ‘alternative’ because of how they seek to distinguish themselves from traditional shareholder-led, profit-driven, mainstream types of business. But the extent to which they manage to move away from this traditional model lies in a spectrum. Towards the more democratic and socially-oriented end, we see cooperative and employee-owned models, whereas towards the more commercial end we can find social enterprises and mission-led businesses (such as B Corps). Continue reading

Levelling-up: using the language of the government to maximise policy engagement opportunities

This blog was written by PolicyBristol’s Nathalie Goodsir and Simon Russell who both work for PolicyBristol. Nat is the PolicyBristol coordinator, and Simon is the Associate for Science and Engineering.

Though it began as yet another snappy campaign slogan, it is clear that ‘levelling-up’ remains a central theme of the current government’s policy agenda. In a speech in July, the Prime Minister once again reiterated his ‘mission’ to level-up the country. While the keynote address had promised to define and refine this somewhat amorphous vision, talk of ‘magic sauce’, ‘the ketchup of catch-up’ and ‘jam-spreading operations’ may not have provided the desired clarity. However, researchers and policy engagement experts can, and should, respond to the situation at hand – even a large-scale governmental vision still short on substance can present opportunities.

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The freedom to love: Mixed-immigration status couples and the immigration system

This blog post was written by Dr Candice Morgan-Glendinning, University of Exeter & Dr Melanie Griffiths, University of Birmingham. Their report from the Deportability and the Family project was launched in June 2021. You can download the project report, Policy Bristol policy briefings and other outputs from the webpage.

“If you are a British citizen then falling in love with someone who is not British isn’t allowed to happen basically.”

In the last decade, a series of changes to immigration policy have significantly affected the family lives of people living in and coming to the UK. These have restricted not only the private lives of immigrants but also thousands of British citizens, with implications for their wellbeing, prosperity and sense of national identity.

Shifting policy

A wide spectrum of changes to family migration rules were introduced in July 2012. This included dramatic increases to the minimum income required by Britons seeking to bring a foreign spouse to the UK, to a figure well above the minimum wage. There were also changes to the entry requirements for family members and lengthened probationary periods, as well as increased – but unevidenced – suspicion over so-called ‘sham marriages’.

As well as affecting the arrival and settlement of foreign family members, concurrent policy changes have curtailed the relationships of people already in the UK. In particular, Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for one’s private and family life) became considered increasingly controversial and suspect. The response has been to make drastic changes to the interpretation of Article 8 and the threshold needing to be met by families, particularly in removal and deportation cases.

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The ‘New Plan for Immigration’: a further curtailment of rights

This blog post was written by Nadine Finch, Honorary Senior Policy Fellow in the School for Policy Studies at University of Bristol. 

Over the past three decades I have linked my practice as a human rights lawyer in the UK with research and policy development in the migration field and I will draw on this experience in my new role as an Honorary Senior Policy Fellow in the School for Policy Studies at Bristol. It will take the totality of this experience, and more, to address the formidable challenges posed by the immigration legislation recently proposed by the UK government. The New Plan for Immigration needs to be placed in the context of repeated attacks on ‘activist lawyers’ and plans to limit the discretion of judges in immigration and asylum appeals and to reduce their powers in judicial review.

It is not just international law norms that are not respected in the wake of Brexit. There is also a growing disregard for the parts of the UK’s unwritten constitution that assign the judiciary a role, as important as that of the executive and parliament, when it comes to domestic law. The enormity of the possible consequences for migrants and the professionals who support and assist them is still not fully comprehended by many in civil society. The gradual and disparate extension of the ‘Hostile Environment’ over the past three decades has been mitigated to some extent by local authorities and legal challenges and this has lulled many into a false sense of security that there are certain lines that will not be crossed. As have the continuing invitations to take part in consultations and working groups.

The UK has legislated to control immigration on numerous occasions since 1905, when the Aliens Act first gave responsibility for matters concerning immigration and nationality to the Home Secretary. The very fact that responsibility was allocated to this particular minister indicated a belief that it was imperative to ‘protect’ existing British residents from those seeking to enter from abroad. Since then, on many occasions, legislation has been introduced – and supported by the mainstream media – to protect the ‘majority’ from migrants who are perceived to be seeking employment and support, to which they are not entitled, and who are said to be responsible for a varying degree of criminality. In the populist climate following Brexit and the repudiation of the human rights norms underpinning much EU law, these claims can be more blatant and fact-free.

(Image: DDP on Unsplash)

The main targets for this legislation can be refugees and migrants fleeing from civil war and economic and social degradation, which is rooted in the history and economic policies of the very states in which they are compelled to seek protection. Attempts have previously been made to deter asylum seekers from accessing protection but the main principles underpinning the 1951 Refugee Convention have been honoured. The New Plan for Immigration is in many ways a radical departure.

The Immigration Rules relating to this New Plan do not provide a safe and legal route for an asylum seeker to enter the UK as a refugee. A person seeking international protection cannot seek sanctuary and assistance at a UK diplomatic post abroad. Instead, they can only apply for asylum once they have reached the UK’s home territory. Some individuals do manage to circumvent this restriction by initially entering as a student or a visitor. But this is only possible if they can meet a series of onerous financial and evidential conditions before leaving their own state. A person fleeing persecution is unlikely to have the economic resources, the freedom of movement or the time to do so. In addition, if they mention a fear of persecution in their application for a student or visitor visa it will be refused as they will not be able to show that they will return to their country of origin after their limited leave to enter and remain as a student or visitor. But if they do not mention it, this failure will damage the credibility of any subsequent refugee claim.

Therefore, asylum seekers have to employ whatever means are available to enter the UK, whether on flights and Eurostar trains or dinghies to the southern and eastern seaboards of England. In response, the Government has funded defensive walls and fences in northern France, posted immigration officers in airports in many states abroad and is now patrolling the Channel. An individual travelling alone is unlikely to be able to penetrate these defences: this is a major factor that has led to their need to employ smugglers to assist them to enter the UK. The emergence of these ‘criminal networks’ is better characterised as a response to the barriers faced by refugees than a reason for their arrival.

If adults do manage to enter, but illegally, and are deemed to have passed through or have a connection with a safe third country, any application for asylum is deemed inadmissible and they will face removal. If they cannot be removed, and even they are found to be entitled to international protection, they will only be given a lesser and temporary form of protection, will have no recourse to public funds unless they are destitute and their immediate family members will not be permitted to join them. This creation of a two-tier system for international protection does not meet the requirements of the Refugee Convention and has been severely criticised by UNHCR.

It is also planned to set the test for qualifying for international protection at a significantly higher level than that recommended by UNHCR in its Handbook. In a series of seminal cases the UK’s highest court has also recognised the severe challenges facing asylum seekers asked to provide evidence of detention, torture or ill-treatment, when their persecutor is a repressive regime, witnesses and family members may have been killed or imprisoned and they may have fled without any possessions, let alone documents, to prove their case. An individual’s ability to provide evidence will also be curtailed by the fact that on arrival they will be transferred to proposed reception centres or camps. This will limit their access to legal advice and representation as well as medical and other expert reports. It is also likely to increase any trauma previously experienced in their countries of origin and during their journeys and render them less capable of providing a cogent account of their persecution.

It is still not clear whether these centres and camps will accommodate any children accompanying adult asylum seekers, as was the case in the 1990s before it was accepted that the detention of children in such circumstances breached the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, children wrongly assessed as being adults will be detained. It is also likely that proposed changes to the age assessment process will increase the risk of mistakes being made. In particular, the proposal to establish a National Age Assessment Board staffed by social workers, contracted to the Home Office, would remove the process from the direct oversight of local authorities who have the training and skills to maintain necessarily robust and regulated child protection processes.

The core elements of the New Plan were included in the Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2021 and it is expected that the proposed bill will have its Second Reading before the parliamentary summer recess. It is likely that much of the detail of the Plan will not be on the face of the Bill but that the Government will give itself wide regulatory powers. This will be addressed in a policy briefing that I am writing on the Plan and the Bill, which will be published by Policy Bristol in the autumn.

Nadine’s primary areas of research and policy development relate to children on the move in the UK and Europe. She is also an associate at Child Circle in Brussels. Between 1992 and 2000 she was a barrister at 1 Pump Court Chambers and then Doughty Street Chambers and from 2000 she was a barrister at Garden Court Chambers.

This blog was originally published by Migration Mobilities Bristol. You can find the original blog post here

 

How scientists and policymakers collaborate towards sustainable Bristol

This blog post was written by Dr Ola Michalec, a social scientist based at the University of Bristol, researching regulation in the domain of digital innovations for sustainable energy. Ola also serves as a member of the Bristol Advisory Committee for Climate Change and is a member of the Cabot Institute for the Environment.

In the world facing increasingly complex and interdisciplinary challenges, our job descriptions expand to account for new collaborations, duties, and types of knowledge to engage with. Civil servants are now expected to ground their policies in evidence, while scientists are required to translate their findings so that they’re useful to the citizens, industry practitioners or politicians.

Climate action is no different. It comes to life at the curious intersection of activism, political will, market incentives, democratic mandate and, of course, scientific knowledge. As a university researcher, I am on a mission to ensure academic knowledge serves Bristol’s transition to the sustainable city.

An effective collaboration across the worlds of science and policy requires some professional unlearning. Convoluted and jargon-filled academic writing style is not going to cut it if we’re serious about influencing ‘the real world’ (sorry). Similarly, our traditional output formats are simply too long to be accessible for policymakers. I also firmly believe that we ought to advance public debates, rather than solely our respective disciplinary conversations; for that matter we need to invite a broader set of discussants to the table.

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