Continuing confusion about Universal Credit and couples

This blog post was written by Marilyn Howard, Honorary Research Associate at the Law School and doctoral student in the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol and Fran Bennett, Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford, and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Bath Institute for Policy Research (IPR).

On 9 March, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee and the Commons Work and Pensions Committee held a joint oral evidence session. The Committees wanted to question the Government about its responses to the reports they had both published recently (see: Economic Affairs Committee report and Commons Work and Pensions Committee report) about Universal Credit (UC). Such a joint session is unprecedented, to our knowledge.

The witnesses were Will Quince MP, Minister for Welfare Delivery, and Neil Couling, Senior Responsible Owner for UC in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). One question was about the potential for separate payments of UC to each partner in couples, to replace the single payment to one account that is currently the default arrangement. This had been favoured by witnesses giving evidence to the Economic Affairs Committee, including both academics and nongovernmental organisations (and including Rita Griffiths from the ESRC-funded Universal Credit and Couples research project based at the University of Bath). But the Government has reiterated that it is unnecessary to introduce such separate payments.

These issues have been raised previously and discussion of them tends to reflect ongoing confusion about how couples manage their money; who currently receives UC in couples; and the Scottish Government’s intention to introduce separate payments. In order to try to clarify these topics, we draw here on our joint article and on our engagement and writing as active members of the Women’s Budget Group, which has carried out gender analysis of UC since it was first mooted.

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Management consultants in healthcare do more harm than good, but keep getting rehired – new research

This blog post was written by Andrew Sturdy, Chair in Organisation and Management, University of Bristol and Ian Kirkpatrick, Chair in Management, University of York. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license, read the original article here.

The use of management consultants has grown enormously in recent years. In the UK, consultancy brings in around £10 billion a year in fees across the public and private sectors. And while not totally recession-proof, the numbers grew in the run-up to Brexit and then COVID-19. (Remember test and trace? Consultants played a major role.)

Consulting firms can provide advice and extra resources at short notice and can be very effective for the right task and client. But their use often brings controversy, especially when public money is at stake, over the value of outsourcing, for instance. This raises a number of questions. Does consultancy bring improvements such as increased efficiency? If not, how can we explain its huge growth?

In the NHS, there is a remarkable lack of clarity and transparency over how much consultancy is used and with what effects. This falls within broader concerns noted in a recent National Audit Office report on procurement across public services.

In our ongoing research on management consultancy in the NHS, we have started to address these issues.

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“Getting your research in front of people who matter” – the benefits of policy placements

Contributors:

Professor Rachel Murray (Professor of International Human Rights, University of Bristol Law School)

Jamie Evans (Senior Research Associate, Personal Finance Research Centre, School of Geographical Sciences)

Dr Tamsin Sharp (Visiting Research Associate, MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, Population Health Sciences, University of Bristol)

The Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) and UKRI support policy fellowships and internships in government departments and branches of Parliament. These placements can provide a wide range of benefits, from enhancing knowledge and understanding of how parliament works, to helping expand networks and developing transferable skills. PolicyBristol has been working with three researchers from different career stages to support them to apply for these positions and during the lifetime of the posts. In this blog, these researchers share some of the highlights and benefits of undertaking these roles.

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What’s yours is mine …. Assumptions about couples in means-tested benefits

This blog post was written by Marilyn Howard, Honorary Research Associate and Doctoral student in the School of Policy Studies, University of Bristol

Couples living together are often assumed to share income and manage finances jointly. This assumption underpins means-tested benefits, which treat a couple as if they were one unit, so that one partner’s income and assets affects the couple’s overall benefit entitlement.

Summarising existing research into money management and control in a briefing for the Women’s Budget Group , Marilyn Howard from the University of Bristol, and Fran Bennett  from the University of Oxford, use these insights to explore the implications for how social security benefits are designed and delivered.

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COVID-19 school closures are threatening children’s oral language skills: but whole-school based interventions could help.

Oral language skills are critical for learning, and they matter now more than ever

Dr Ioanna, Bakopoulou, Lecturer in Psychology in Education, School of Education, University of Bristol

Capabilities such as vocabulary knowledge, narrative skills and active listening are foundational for young children’s learning. Developed both at home and in school, these capabilities are known as oral language. Oral language is essential for young children’s learning, in particularly their literacy development and their ability to access the curriculum.

Oral language skills have always mattered, but they matter now more than ever.

The Covid-19 pandemic has widened the already stubborn ‘language gap’, that is the difference between the language levels of children from poorer backgrounds vs their more affluent peers. Ofsted have raised concerns that children hit hardest are ‘regressing in basic skills and learning, including language, communication and oral fluency1. Recent research found that 92 per cent of teachers think school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic have contributed to a widening of the ‘word gap’ and that 94 per cent found it challenging to support pupils’ vocabulary development while teaching remotely during the first national lockdown2.

This suggests that the inequalities facing children in our school system are being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Pupils from poorer backgrounds have suffered the most and face a greater loss of learning as a result of school closures3.

The likely increase in the disadvantage gap highlights the importance of school-based, early language interventions. Support for oral language offers an important means by which we can address the injustices worsened by the pandemic.

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Learning loss: the National Tutoring Programme for England is a valuable step – but may not go far enough

Authors:
Simon Burgess, Professor of Economics, University of Bristol
Hans Sievertsen, Senior Lecturer in Economics, University of Bristol

UNESCO estimates that around 1.5 billion children were unable to attend school in the spring of 2020. Closed schools mean lost learning, lower skills and reduced life chances and wellbeing.

A strategy for closing this learning gap needs to be rapid, school-based rather than online, and provided in addition to regular school. Given the size of the learning gap, it requires significant investment. Most importantly, there must be evidence of its effectiveness.

The policy that best fits these criteria is small-group tutoring, based in schools. This is the focus of the UK government’s new flagship catch-up programme, available to state schools in England.

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All Party Parliamentary Groups – an effective route to policy impact

Written by Alexia MacDonald, PolicyBristol Associate Social Sciences and Law, Arts and Humanities.

Have you ever wondered who else might be interested in your research, other than your academic colleagues and students?!

The Register of All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) is an extensive list of groups consisting of parliamentarians who share interests, knowledge and expertise. APPGs cover a diverse range of subjects from artificial intelligence to wrestling, and from historic vehicles to youth employment – so there is probably at least one that overlaps with your research area.

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Webinar and film launch – Engaging with policymakers and the public to promote ethical drug policy

 

Launch of the film – Putting UK Drug Policy into Focus

And discussion with:

Professor David Nutt – Imperial College London
Ann Fordham – International Drug Policy Consortium
Dr Magdalena Harris – London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Neil Woods – Law Enforcement Action Partnership
Dr Nuno Capaz – Lisbon Dissuasion Commission
Dr Prun Bijral – Change Grow Live

Followed by a Q&A

Chaired by Dr Adam Holland and Dr Emily Crick (University of Bristol)

5th November 2020
15:00 – 16:30 GMT
(16:00 – 17:30 CET)

Register for the free webinar here, along with the other online events of the European Harm Reduction conference

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The critical role of schools in protecting vulnerable children: why schools and social workers need immediate support to respond to the effects of lockdown

Dr Victoria Sharley
Lecturer in Social Work with Children and Families

With the majority of children returning to schools this week, referrals to Children’s Services are expected to substantially rise. As Peter Walker reported in the Guardian, schools will play ‘a pivotal role in spotting neglect and abuse’.

After nearly six months away from the classroom, children who would have previously been identified as needing help and support have been invisible to staff in schools.  According to the Department for Education, the number of referrals received by Children’s Services since schools closed due to the Covid19 outbreak, has seen a dramatic reduction of 18% (compared to the last three years).

The NSPCC states that schools are vital partners in the safeguarding and protection of our children. Staff in schools have the opportunity to observe children in a range of settings, inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers and other school staff can monitor children’s behaviour daily, over an extended period of schooling, whilst observing their interactions with peers and members of their families. They are uniquely positioned to detect concerns at an early point and share information which ensures children receive the support they need at the right time.

It is therefore essential that school staff are fully supported to recognise children who are in need of additional support, and be ready to respond to those who have been living with abuse or neglect, and are in need of protection.

A new policy report by Dr Vicky Sharley (University of Bristol) highlights findings from a recent study funded by Welsh Government through Health and Care Research Wales. The report looks at how school staff identify and respond to children they suspect are living with neglect (the most common reason for a child to be on a child protection plan in England). The report sets out key recommendations for best practice across schools and child protection services, and calls for policymakers to support schools and social workers in their unique but closely related roles within the safeguarding system.

The report also outlines a new approach for the development of effective inter-agency relationships to improve safeguarding outcomes. It is essential for children’s welfare that any concerns are raised at the earliest point possible. This requires more support for school staff and social workers to develop close working relationships and excellent communication channels. Recommendations are particularly pertinent at a time when children are returning to the classroom, having been ‘hidden’ from services for more than five months and referrals are expected to soar.

You can read the full report here. The key recommendations include the following:

  • Head Teachers should be supported to establish effective learning communities within their schools so staff develop context-specific knowledge and expertise on how to respond to child neglect effectively within a school setting.
  • Schools should recruit strategic staff who demonstrate commitment to developing expertise in child neglect to promote children’s wellbeing within the school setting.
  • School staff who know the local community well should have opportunities to provide insights into the lives of children who are suspected of living with neglect.
  • Social workers should routinely provide feedback to schools on the outcome of referrals made to child protection services and the rationale for their decision not to intervene.
  • Social workers should ensure that Child Protection Conferences are not planned during school holidays, and that information is shared with new schools where children are transitioning to secondary education.
  • Informal and formal opportunities should be made available to all staff to spend time in partner agencies to support development of knowledge and expertise about service provision.
  • The local authority’s threshold guidance document should be used as a tool for reflective discussion across services, to inform professional decision making and foster a ‘shared language’, so school staff can more effectively articulate concerns in their referrals.
  • The role of the School Social Worker responds to many interprofessional barriers between schools and child protection services, and should be established in all local authorities.

This study forms the basis of Dr Sharley’s ongoing research investigating interprofessional safeguarding practices across the United Kingdom. She would be happy to answer any questions about this study or discuss her ongoing and future work in this area.