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.

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Modernising the Mental Health Act: Will more rights lead to less wrongs?

This blog post was written by Judy Laing, Professor of Mental Health Law, Rights and Policy, University of Bristol Law School. 

The government published a White Paper in January 2021 outlining proposals to reform the Mental Health Act in England and Wales.  The government has consulted on these proposals and the consultation period closed a few weeks ago on 21st April 2021. We now await further announcements on the government’s plans following this consultation process. I am currently engaged in a parliamentary academic fellowship, working with Lizzie Parkin (a University of Bristol alumna) in the House of Commons Library Social Policy section. The Library offers an impartial research and information service for MPs and their staff. Part of my role involves working on research briefings to inform Members of Parliament on business in the House of Commons. Mental health law reform will no doubt be debated in parliament in the coming months and I have developed a detailed research briefing on the proposals in the White Paper to assist parliamentarians with that process.

Continue reading

To make science reproducible, focus on prevention not cure

This post was written by Marcus Munafò, University of Bristol, Malcolm Macleod, University of Edinburgh, they are on the steering group of the UK Reproducibility Network and Malcolm Skingle, director of academic liaison at GlaxoSmithKline. 

Improved upstream quality control can make research more effective, say Marcus Munafò and his colleagues.

Science relies on its ability to self-correct. But the speed and extent to which this happens is an empirical question. Can we do better?

The Covid pandemic has highlighted existing fault lines. We have seen the best of scientific research in the incredible speed at which vaccines have been developed and trialled. But we have also seen a deluge of Covid-related studies conducted in haste, often reflected in their less-than-ideal quality.

Peer review, the traditional way of assessing academic research, occurs only after work has been done. Can we identify indicators of research quality earlier on in the process when there is more opportunity to fix things? And if we did, could scientific knowledge be translated into societal benefit more rapidly and efficiently?

In many ways, the cultures and working practices of academia are still rooted in a 19th-century model of the independent scientist. Many research groups are effectively small, artisanal businesses using unique skills and processes.

This approach can yield exquisitely crafted output. But it also risks poor reproducibility and replicability—through, for instance, closed workflows, closed data and the use of proprietary file formats. Incentive structures based around assessing and rewarding individuals reinforce this, despite the welcome shift to team-based research activity, management, dissemination and evaluation.

Lessons from industry 

Research needs a more coherent approach to ensuring quality. One of us has previously argued that one way to achieve this would be to take the concept of quality control used in manufacturing and apply it to scientific research.

Pharmaceuticals are one R&D-intensive industry that has worked hard to improve quality control and ensure data integrity. Regulatory frameworks and quality-assurance processes are designed to make the results generated in the early stages of drug development more robust.

Indeed, some of the early concerns about the robustness of much academic research—described by some as the ‘reproducibility crisis’—emerged from pharmaceutical companies.

For regulated work, major pharmaceutical companies must be able to demonstrate the provenance of their data in fine detail. Standard operating procedures for routine work, and extended description of less common methods and experiments, makes comparisons between labs easier and improves traceability.

Data constitute the central element of robust research. The integrity of the systems through which data are collected, curated, analysed and presented is at the heart of research quality. National measurement institutes, including the UK’s National Physical Laboratory and National Institute for Biological Standards and Control have a role to play, sharing best practice and developing protocols that contribute to international standards.

How well these systems perform depends on many factors: training in data collection and management; transparency to allow scrutiny and error detection; documentation, so that work can be replicated; and standard operating procedures to ensure a consistent approach.

Red-tape review

Academic researchers are increasingly keen to learn from industry, and vice versa—to identify best practice and ways to implement higher standards of data integrity. University and industrial research are very different, but academia can learn lessons and adopt working practices that might serve to improve the quality of academic research in the biomedical and life sciences.

Learning from other sectors and organisations is a central theme of the UK Reproducibility Network. The network, established in 2019 as a peer-led consortium, aims to develop training and shape incentives through linked grassroots and institutional activity, and coordinated efforts across universities, funders, publishers and other organisations. This multilevel approach reduces the cost of development and increases interoperability, for example, as researchers move across groups and institutions.

Given the likely future pressures on the UK’s R&D budget, effective and efficient ways to bolster research quality will be essential to maximising the societal return on investment. Simply encouraging, or even mandating, new ways of working is not sufficient—many funders and journals have data-sharing policies, for example, but adherence is uneven and often unenforced.

A coordinated approach will require a clear model of research quality; buy-in from institutions, funders and journals; infrastructure; training; the right incentives; and ongoing evaluation. Coordinating all these elements will be challenging, but it is essential to improving research quality and efficiency. We need to take a whole-system approach.

This also applies to the independent review into research bureaucracy recently announced by the UK government, charged with identifying how to liberate researchers from admin. This is laudable—academia should certainly not be regulated in the same way as the pharmaceutical industry—but the review should recognise that an ounce of prevention can save a pound of cure.

Developing and deploying systems that improve research quality might increase efficiency and reduce research waste, as well as securing greater value for our national research effort.

This blog post was originally posted on Research Fortnight, you can read the original article here.

To address ethnic inequalities in COVID-19, we must acknowledge the multifaceted influence of racism

This blog post was written by Dr Saffron Karlsen, (Associate Professor in Sociology, University of Bristol). 

The evidence of ethnic inequalities in the number of COVID-related infections and deaths in the UK is compelling – yet discussions about how to address them remain somewhat simplistic. Dr Saffron Karlsen discusses five key issues that must be acknowledged if we are to establish a more complete picture of these inequalities and their drivers.

Continue reading