Archive for the 'Author interviews' Category

Volunteering: Policy Press help to put the homely into homeless shelter

Social issues such as homelessness and the support of the most vulnerable people in our society are key for Policy Press. Each year we support charities in a number of ways, but this year we took our support to the next level, offering up our time in addition to fundraising.

Volunteering is an important way in which many people support and are supported within our society. Rebecca Megson reports on Policy Press’ experience of volunteering at Bristol based homeless charity St Mungo’s Broadway and talks to authors Sue Baines and Irene Hardill about how volunteering has changed in the past 20 years.

Photo credit: Shelter

Photo credit: Shelter

The season of merriment is all but upon us but the reality is that Christmas is not necessarily a joyous time for all. Homeless charity Shelter have reported a 30% rise in the number of calls they are fielding from individuals and families who fear they may be homeless this year.

As an organisation we’ve been supporting homeless charity St Mungo’s Broadway throughout 2014, running charity quizzes, sporting and other events to garner sponsorship for them as our ‘chosen charity’. This was the first time, however, that we’d provided practical, hands-on help.

It was a slightly wet, grey day as we all trooped down to St Mungo’s Broadway, dressed in our scruffiest painting and decorating gear.

Policy Press staff hard at work redecorating

We’d offered to spend a day helping to redecorate the centrally shared space at the hostel and a counselling space. We hoped that between our painting, decorating, curtain and cushion making skills we could help to add a little bit to the sense of homeliness for residents and visitors.


Ali Shaw getting ready to paint

Founder and Policy Press director Alison Shaw explained why she thought it was an important next step: “The aim of Policy Press has always been to try to improve social conditions with publications that will make a positive difference.”

“Many of the books and journals we publish are concerned with the social conditions and policies that both result in and respond to homelessness. We wanted to get closer to the frontline in engaging with the realities of being homeless and help the organisations that support people who find themselves in that situation.”

The finished product  - redecorated central areas

The finished product – redecorated central areas

St Mungo’s Broadway is a national charity that provides a bed and support to more than 2,500 people a night who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. It also works to prevent homelessness, helping about 25,000 people a year.


Curtains to make the room cosy on winters evenings

Marketing Executive Jessica Miles said: “It was a great opportunity to do something different as a team, as well as hopefully make a little bit of a difference to the guys staying at the St Mungo’s Crisis House in Bristol.”

Passionate advocates

Policy Press authors Professor Irene Hardill and Professor Susan Baines have researched and written extensively on the subject of volunteering. Their book ‘Enterprising Care?Unpaid voluntary action in the 21st century’ draws on a number of projects Sue and Irene undertook, including a micro-sociological study, which drew on lived experience, of undertaking voluntary work.

Talking to them, it is immediately obviously that they are passionate advocates for volunteering. They have watched with interest how the political debate has developed from New Labour’s emphasis on formal volunteering through to the Conservative-led coalition government’s ‘Big Society’ ideas.

Sue Baines says: “Volunteering activity is organic and hard to control. New Labour tried to bring in a lot of structure to help with that, and to be able to measure volunteering.”

Sue is cautious about the top-down approach as she feels that structured programmes can do more harm than good. Irene says the management of volunteers and the drive to push a contracts culture can be one of the negatives about volunteering. Sue says: “You come to help older people, let’s say, and suddenly it gets changed into something else, much more formal.”

“The unmet need is of course greater now than ever”

The practice of volunteering and how it is defined has changed. Recent debates for example have focused around employer’s use and abuse of volunteering in the workplace, otherwise known as ‘internships’.

Sue Baines

Sue Baines

Sue is concerned that the alignment of volunteering with work can reduce the richness it offers. She says: “I think that volunteering stands to be besmirched, or the perception of it, by the work agenda: the press has been full of accounts of ridiculous things like Scouts delivering public health.”

Both Sue and Irene believe there is a need to think differently about volunteering and to move away from the idea that volunteering is there to help in the delivery of public services. Instead they highlight that volunteering has an important role for fulfilling unmet needs outside of standard welfare service delivery. They point to the difference in approach towards volunteering in Wales which is much more focused around scrutinising authorities and organisations; or the development of the hospice movement in the UK. Initially set up by volunteers who spotted a gap in service provision for end-of-life care  and sought to fill it.

Author and academic Irene Hardill

Irene Hardill

Hardill says: “The unmet need is of course greater now than ever. New Labour put more emphasis on formal volunteering to map and measure what was going on in the country. But volunteering is also about being a good neighbour, about being involved in community groups. Really it’s just a messy form of any kind of unpaid work.”

Baines says: “I think it’s important to reemphasize the breadth and variety of volunteering – volunteers engage in the founding and running of organisations; people dip in and out with sports events etc., these days, but it’s all volunteering, it all counts.”

Hardill says: “What volunteering you do, how much, how often, why and what it means to you depends on where you are in life and on your personal circumstances. It can be an alternative to and supplement paid work; it makes you feel good, builds confidence and self-esteem.”

photo 4

Production Manager David Worth getting the job done

Policy Press staff involved in the day at St Mungo’s Broadway would certainly agree with the feel-good factor of getting involved in a hands on way with volunteering. Production Manager David Worth said: “I enjoyed the decorating day a lot and was amazed how so much can be achieved when everyone works together.”

IMG_0047 (EW)

Art work to brighten up the walls

Commissioning Editor, Victoria Pittman said: “I was so impressed to see the difference we could make in just one day! I hadn’t realised we would be able to do so much, so it was great that we could.”

You can find out more about the work St Mungo’s Broadway do in supporting homeless people by checking out their website here. If you would like to get involved there are a whole host of ways you can do so this winter, from supporting campaigns, texting donations, sending Christmas cards or attending a carol concert in Oxford through to giving some of your time in volunteering for them. Why not check out their website for more details?

If you’d like to read Irene Hardill and Susan Baines book ‘Enterprising Care? Unpaid voluntary action in the 21st century’ it is available at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website here.

‘Politicians see the British education system as a job factory’

Policy Press author and academic Peter Mortimore’s book Education Under Siege has just been released in paperback. Nearly 18 months on from Mortimore first sitting down to write it, Rebecca Megson asks what he’s still concerned about in the education system in the UK.

peter-mortimore-photoApart from a change in education minister, Peter Mortimore says the UK’s educational landscape remains largely the same as it was when he first wrote and published Education under Siege. The focus remains on the exclusive achievement of ‘levels’ which Mortimore believes is bad news for children, parents and teachers, applying, as it does, an almost constant level of pressure.

“The idea of education having a ‘noble’ side has been written out of the British education system – the system is seen as a job factory. Ministers are too focused on targets. Once you have a target in place, then the focus on education falls away,” he says.

Despite the relentless emphasis on results, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the UK’s international results are only average for maths and reading compared to similar countries. The 2012 report also showed little improvement in any of the subjects tested compared with earlier results.

Average results

Whilst a results-driven education agenda continues to dominate the UK debate, the PISA measurement system would suggest that system changes implemented over the past eight years have had little impact.

“I blame politicians for this situation – and all political parties too, there’s no bias in my condemnation. I’m sure they believe they are doing the right thing but they all have worked to make our system more and more competitive and have therefore created a national neurosis.”

Mortimore has worked in the education system as a teacher and researcher and was the director of the Institute of Education, University of London. He believes that when parents set out on the educational journey, they simply want the best for their children, which they define as them being happy, safe and successful at school.

Whilst this is the environment most children experience in Key Stage 1 Mortimore says it isn’t long before the system becomes more competitive. He says: “Suddenly it’s about getting into the best schools by living in the best areas – of course estate agents benefit enormously but it’s hopeless as a national strategy. More and more people fighting for limited places just creates fear, anxiety and panic.”

“Education is a powerful force in our culture: the better the system the better the society our children will inherit”

Earlier this month, education secretary Nicky Morgan denied rumours that she was on the verge of introducing compulsory setting in secondary schools. Mortimore welcomes this, warning against setting. He asks ministers and parents to look at the hard evidence, which clearly indicates that setting makes little difference. He says: “The theory that you get to focus on each group according to their ability is good. But, in practice, as soon as you stream, you lower children’s self-expectations.”

Mortimore has worked with a number of education ministers in his career. His work at the University of Southern Denmark also provided him with insight into the Nordic education. He believes the system in the Nordic countries offers an interesting alternative.

“You don’t get the same focus on competition, it’s about bringing up children to be happy and secure. Of course, life will be competitive but in the Nordic systems competition is introduced later, because it is believed that the older you are the better able you are to deal with it.”

Mortimore believes the campaign for change needs to come from the grassroots. In order for that to happen, he feels parents need to realise there are alternatives and then to put pressure on politicians to make changes. He believes the secondary school system is a disaster, creating confusion by providing too many different types of school, with funding distributed to whichever school type is most favoured by those with political power at the time.

He feels the situation could be immediately improved by simply providing schools with same basic funding, rules and powers. Through these measures Mortimore believes the system could at least return to a more level playing field.

Beyond that, he calls for ‘brave politicians’ who are willing and able to introduce a balanced intake of pupils so as to ensure that the school environment accurately reflects the diversity of people and backgrounds within modern society.

“The only method I can see that really works is a ‘lottery’ system, allocating kids pupils so that each school gets a fair intake, then every school can has a chance to be as successful as the next,” he says.“Education is a powerful force in our culture: the better the system the better the society our children will inherit. The converse is also true as the two are locked together.”

As a society, Mortimore feels we are becoming increasingly divided. The plethora of schools from which to choose from and the nature of area selection, entrenches the position of economically disadvantaged children as opposed to encouraging their potential. Furthermore, the number of different teaching unions dissipates teachers’ strength and power to challenge and change the system.

Mortimore feels more optimistic about the future. He says: “In the past year or so, as I’ve toured round the country I’ve found teachers and education officers collaborating, despite what the politicians are doing and saying. They realise it’s important for schools to work together.” He believes that in the long run things will get better, but he warns that, without thoughtful and supportive involvement from the country’s politicians, it is likely to be a slow game.

The paperback of Education Under Siege is available at the 20% discount price of £7.99 (RRP £9.99) on the Policy Press website. Click here for more details.

Related links

UK’s international results as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Guardian article on Nicky Morgan

Scotland decides: Could the ‘Yes’ vote deliver a different kind of Scottish society?

Open University academic and Policy Press author Gerry Mooney has written extensively on the subjects of Scottish social policy and devolution. On the eve of the referendum to decide whether Scotland should become fully independent from the UK Mooney shares his views on how a ‘Yes’ majority return on Thursday could lay the foundation for a more socially just Scottish society. Interview and report by Rebecca Megson.

Gerry Mooney feels whatever happens at the referendum, the debate has changed the political landscape of Scotland

Gerry Mooney feels whatever happens at the referendum, the debate has changed everything for Scotland

Gerry Mooney is a ‘Yes’ man. Unapologetically so, in fact.

What’s more, he is bursting with excitement about the possibility of Scotland returning a majority ‘Yes’ vote for independence tomorrow. He believes that this will be the first step on the long road to developing a different kind of society from the rest of the UK, a society that is centred on equality and fairness.

But Mooney is quick to point out a misunderstanding about the ‘Yes’ vote, one that he suggests is being deliberately made by the Unionist politicians – that is those on the ‘No’ side of the debate.

“A ‘Yes’ vote has been portrayed as a vote for the SNP, for Alex Salmond and for Scottish nationalism”, says Mooney.

“In reality, the vast majority of people voting ‘Yes’ wouldn’t actually go on to vote SNP and are not nationalists. What a future independent Scottish Parliament would look like, we simply don’t know yet. That will have to be decided further down the line, through Scottish general elections.”


This isn’t the only misunderstanding about the referendum debate south of the border, according to Mooney. Whilst the UK national news focuses on what he calls ‘blazing representations of Scottish nationalism’ – men and women in kilts and tartans, calling upon the spirit of Braveheart – his experience is that this has been very much on the margins of the debate in Scotland.

“On the ‘Yes’ side there is no need to assert Scottishness, it is taken for granted, whilst for the ‘No’ camp they have to almost ‘overdo it’ in stressing their Scottishness,” says Mooney

“It is the ‘No’ campaign who have actually had to do a lot more because of the independence campaign as far as nationalism is concerned. They’ve had to defend their Scottishness, to develop and portray a sense of Britishness and a British nationalism that includes Scottishness.”

“Many people are unhappy with the policy decisions being made by the UK coalition government in London”

The real debates in Scotland over the past couple of years leading up to the referendum have centred on future Scottish public services and social policy, rather than rampant nationalism. Mooney says:

“Many people are unhappy with the policy decisions being made by the UK coalition government in London. There is a lot of opposition to austerity, to the privatisation of schools and the privatisation of the NHS. These policies are out of tune with what many in Scotland would like to see.”

Irrespective of the outcome tomorrow, Mooney believes the political and policy landscape will never be the same again in Scotland. Even if the ‘No’ campaign wins, if the ‘Yes’ campaign gets 48% of the vote, as some polls are predicting, that isn’t a voice that is going to disappear. The consequences of a ‘No’ vote are, according to Mooney, uncertain.

Mooney’s enthusiasm for Scotland’s independent future is infectious. He feels that the spirit of devolution will be equally as infectious for the rest of the country, predicting calls for greater devolution in Wales and the instigation of an Assembly in the North of England if a ‘Yes’ vote is returned.

Westminster Parliament feels 'remote' to many in Scotland - Photo Wikipedia

Westminster Parliament feels ‘remote’ to many in Scotland – Photo Wikipedia

“The rise in the dominance of London and the south of England in the last 10 years has really shifted the view on devolution. London seems as remote and alien to people in the North of England as it does to people in Scotland.”

Until recently, the ‘No’ campaign and the main political parties at Westminster have largely ignored the possibility of Scotland returning a ‘Yes’ vote. Mooney says:

“It is astonishing to see that the UK government has suddenly woken up to the fact that this referendum is happening. In the last two weeks, as the polls have shown that the ‘Yes’ vote was consolidating and catching up with the ‘No’ campaign, the ‘danger’ button has been pressed down in London.”

Mooney is amused that, as he sees it, the panic in Westminster has led to Scotland making the lead item in the news every day. Renewed focus on the country is, he believes, largely being seen as too little, too late.

“It looks extremely desperate. Until these past two weeks the ‘No’ campaign has been completely and utterly negative, portraying Scotland in crisis if it votes for independence. Now, all of a sudden there are promises of more powers and discussion of what being part of the UK can do for Scotland.”

There have been a lot of promises made by London if Scotland votes ‘No’ but Mooney feels that there’s very little sense of what the promises are likely to amount to in the long run, or if Westminster politicians can be trusted.

He says: “We don’t know what a future Scotland will look like – we can’t guarantee it will be the future we want and hope for but we will have more power to create that society if we’re independent.”

“However, we can be certain, if it’s a ‘No’ vote there will be more austerity, more cuts, more poverty and rising inequality.”

Mooney has no illusions that the change will happen overnight. However he is confident that the creation of a new Scotland that is focused upon the pursuit of equality can only be realised if Scotland delivers a ‘Yes’ majority tomorrow.

More from Gerry Mooney
Social justice and social policy in Scotland [FC]Read Social justice and social policy in Scotland – available at the special discounted price of £15.00 (RRP £28.99) from the Policy Press website this month.

Articles by Gerry Mooney
OpenLearn articles can be found here

The Conversation articles can be found here, including the recent: ‘Campaigns fight to define what Scottish Social Justice means’ 

On Discover Society: ‘Scotland: State and devolution…but not revolution…as yet?’

In the Scottish Left Review on ‘Poverty and Independence’

Gerry’s other publications can be viewed at his OU webpage

Personal brand ‘essential’ to gangland survival

Academic and Policy Press author Simon Harding’s award winning book The Street Casino is based on findings from his extensive ethnographic study of local residents, professionals and gang members in south London.

Harding’s research provides a fresh perspective and new insights on the gang world. He believes more time should be spent understanding, rather than condemning, the street gang system if we are serious about helping the young people trapped in it. Interview and report by Rebecca Megson.


SimonHarding2NEW FINDINGS show that street gang leaders actively work to build a ‘brand’ for themselves as an essential part of gang culture.

Author and senior criminology lecturer Dr Simon Harding has been researching street gangs for some years. He has found that on the street developing a person’s brand is as essential as it is in mainstream consumerist society.

Harding explains that an individual’s brand is effectively ‘capital’ on the street; capital that can be traded, exchanged, increased and reduced. Brand protection is one reason why street violence erupts and escalates so rapidly.

Harding says: “If I ‘dis’ you, I take some of your ‘street capital’. You have to act pretty quickly in order to regain it. You might do that by knifing me, in which case you have now regained and multiplied your street capital.”

It doesn’t end there, though. “If the person is knifed in front of other people the value of that action is perceived to have increased. The wider group of people then also knife the person as their way of getting a piece of the capital.”

‘Creativity and intelligence’

Harding’s ethnographic study has focused specifically on a deprived area of Lambeth, South London, SW9. He interviewed people from the area, including young people involved in street gangs.

He says: “What I found was an enormous amount of creativity and intelligence – these young people just want to get on with their lives. They are in gangs but they view it as something they have to get involved in even though they don’t really want to be. We owe the young people involved a moral and social responsibility to understand their world.”

Harding is very clear on one point that he feels needs to be addressed first and foremost: the wellspring of gangs is poverty.

“People enter gangs because there is no plausible alternative available to them. The old ways of moving from adolescence into adulthood have evaporated.”

“the gang has a strong gravitational pull”

There are few opportunities for the young people Harding talked to – something which he says is made worse in a multiply deprived area that has been effectively ‘written off’ by both local and national government.

As local services retreat, youth facilities and clubs close. If jobs exist they are sub-minimum wage and dead-end. Harding says: “These people are constantly battling the poverty trap, the gang has a strong gravitational pull.”

At this point, literally the only ‘game in town’ is the gang.

Harding says: “This is where my metaphor of the ‘Street Casino’ comes in – life is a casino for these people. They think they are going to win and win big, but the reality is very different.”

As with a real casino, there are many diversions along the way to keep people playing. They win a little, get some girls, have some entertainment.

Harding found that young people believe in the ‘game’ as their way out. They get addicted, the game becomes compulsive and people get stuck in this world. “The gang becomes the only game in town – but more than that, it becomes the only game they know how to play.”

In light of his findings Harding believes that young people need better support from local services, who in turn should work more effectively with a deeper understanding of the gang domain to provide a safer, alternative future to the Street Casino.

Copies of The Street Casino are available to purchase, with a special discount from the Policy Press website.
The Street Casino has just been awarded The Frederick Milton Thrasher award for Superior Gang Research. The award was established by the journal of Gang Research in 1992 to honour and recognise outstanding scholarship, leadership and service contributions by individuals and programs in dealing with public safety issues like that posed by gangs.

Summer time and the reading is easy….

reading in the sunshineSo it’s finally that time of year – sports day is over, the schools have packed up and the morning commute has become a little quieter. It’s the time when people start to kick back and think of flip-flops, exotic destinations and, definitely at Policy Press, of catching up on some much needed reading time.

We decided we’d ask a few of our authors what little gems they were tucking away in the suitcase to read this summer as they jet off for their well- earned holidays…

Danny Dorling’s most recent co-authored book The Social Atlas of Europe has just published, which means his well-earned break should afford him enough time to catch up on a couple of books at least:

Danny Dorling“I plan to read Selina Todd’s The People. The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010. People who have read it say it includes enough anecdotes to be lively and gives the account that has been needed to be written for some time. I also aim to re-read Maud Pember Reeve’s Round About a Pound a Week, published 101 years ago. I recently read Mary O’Hara’s Austerity Bites which reminded me of what had Maud found four generations earlier. I’m going to need something more fun to read as well after all that!” Danny Dorling

Unfortunately for Helen Kara, author of Research and evaluation for busy practitioners, we’re making her slog on through the summer months, so she’s beavering away at the second draft of her forthcoming book ‘Creative research methods’ completed before the autumn.  However she is making some room in her busy schedule for Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel:

Helen Kara“It’s a graphic novel memoir about her childhood growing up in a funeral home and her father’s suicide.  That makes it sound very depressing, but it’s not; some of it is sad, but quite a lot of it is hilarious.  I love graphic novels, they have different rhythms from pure text, and I think there should be more books with pictures for grown-ups.”  Helen Kara

The thoughts of Malcolm Dean, author of Democracy under attack, are never far from the subject of media misbehaviour, and the summer holiday is for him an opportunity to go further into the dark and murky world of tabloid terrorism:

Malcolm Dean

“I’m taking two books this summer. The first is Ray Jones’s The Story of Baby P, which I have already dipped into. It is a forensic documentation of the malign faults of the tabloids, and the readiness of politicians — in this case one from each side, Ed Balls as a minister and David Cameron as the Opposition leader — to fall in line with the populist papers’ pernicious agendas. My second book is Margaret MacMillan’s widely acclaimed The War that ended Peace. History, when I took GCE 49 years ago, stopped at the 14 causes of the First World War. I thought it was time to refresh my memory. My daughter must have thought so too. She gave it to me.” Malcolm Dean

The Spartacus report, service users and personal budgets

An interview with the authors of Supporting People.


 Supporting People author imageSupporting People author imageSupporting People author image  Supporting People Cover





Peter Beresford, Jennie Fleming and Suzy Croft are among the co-authors of a book published last May entitled Supporting people: Towards a person-centred approach. Peter recently wrote a piece on this blog about the contribution of service users, disabled people and their organisations to challenging the status quo and making change happen. We asked Peter and his colleagues to tell us more about these movements.

TPP: Peter: in your blogpost you mentioned the viral campaign of the Spartacus report on government welfare reform earlier this year, which eventually led to the House of Lords rejecting the bill. Please could you let us know more about this:

A group of disabled people, service users and allies got together because of their desperate concerns about the effects of planned government benefit reforms. Their first report made clear that the government’s evidence base for its proposed reforms to Disability Living Allowance were not reliable. Since then with minimal resources and capacity, but maximum commitment and skill, they have gone on to highlight the cruel effects of current welfare reform and build up a high profile user led campaign to challenge it. The Reliable Reform or as it has come to be called the Spartacus Report looks like being a major precedent for future ‘user-led’ campaigning.

 TPP: Can you all tell us how service users are better placed than academics to ‘make a difference’ and some examples of this:

The great strength of service users is their ‘experiential knowledge’. They are talking from experience. They live the issues that politicians, policymakers and researchers engage with 24/7. That has given them a great determination to make change. That’s the invariable reason people give for getting involved – they want to make a change for themselves and others. This doesn’t mean that academics haven’t a contribution to make, but there do seem to be pressures inhibiting the action of many of many of them.

TPP: You talk about letting service users’ voices be heard when discussing their needs. Can you also let us know what social science academics can do to support service users through their work:

It’s all about inclusion and addressing diversity. The academy is a hierarchical place that sadly mirrors most of the barriers and exclusions of the wider world. First it must mount a bigger challenge to these and secondly, it’ll be great for more academics to follow the paths of those who are already working to support service users’ voices to be heard on equal terms. There are academics working in partnership to support service users research issues that affect them and so create a case for change.

TPP: Supporting People talks of a mismatch between the current social care market and person-centred support. Can you describe what this is and how it can be addressed:

The recent scandals of people with learning difficulties being abused at Winterbourne View and  the service provider  Southern Cross collapsing, highlight the problems of a social care market that is increasingly dominated by large unaccountable private sector organisations. Service users, carers and practitioners, emphasise the importance of small local organisations to provide sensitive, flexible and appropriate support. There is strong evidence that service users particularly value user led organisations as service providers. However, for all the talk of welfare pluralism, enormous barriers are still working against the development of such provision, even though we know that it has a key part to play in advancing person-centred support or ‘personalisation’.

 TPP: Peter, you spoke at the Community Care Live conference this week about the way that personal budgets are being used inappropriately to cut social workers. Could you let us know a little more about how this is happening and what can be done to change things:

Personal budgets were offered as a panacea that could sort out all the problems of an inadequate, excluding and underfunded social care system. Of course, while they’ve worked for some people, they couldn’t achieve miracles and are being increasingly brought into disrepute, as support is cut more and more.  In the meantime, using the rhetoric of ‘personalisation’ and ‘self-directed support’, social worker posts have been cut, social workers replaced by untrained, more tractable staff  working to scripts, service users have lost valuable advocates and fewer and fewer service users are gaining the support social workers can offer to help them empower themselves.

 TPP: Finally, what is special for you all about your book Supporting People from the Standards We Expect project?

Two things stand out. First we spoke to and sought the views particularly of service users, carers, face to face practitioners and middle managers. They are the key people in social care but often their views are ignored. We didn’t want to ignore them as well. We thought they had some of the most important things to say – and they did. Furthermore there is a lot of consensus among them in what they say. Finally what the work really highlighted was that if we are going to improve social care, then it is really only likely to happen if those groups can all get together and form alliances and create a new force for change. We felt that the project helped to show how to do that and what it could achieve.

For us one of the special things about the book is how it shows the importance of user involvement and highlights the impact people’s individual involvement in decisions about their day to day support and also considers how groups of people can be actively involved in the design, delivery and evaluation of services to ensure they better meet needs individually and collectively. 

We found that if service user involvement is to make a progressive contribution to the lives of service users then there needs to be a real organisational commitment to listen to what service users say, act on what they say and power sharing.   In this way service user involvement can move beyond being tokenistic or seen as an end in itself, and lie at the heart of improving the lives of service users. Things will only change when people who are affected by the issues are involved.  

Peter, Jennie and Suzy, thank you for your time. Their book is available at 20% discount here.

‘Critical perspectives on user involvement’ author interview

Critical perspectives on user involvement coverThe Policy Press is delighted to present another one in our occasional series of author interviews, this time with Marian Barnes (MB) and Phil Cotterell (PC), joint authors of Critical perspectives on user involvement, publishing this month.

TPP: How did the book come about?

MB: Work on user involvement and user movements has been a feature of my research for most of my academic career. I felt instinctively drawn to the importance of understanding the experience of using services from the perspective of those on the receiving end and, when I started out on this work was surprised that (at that time) this was a rather radical idea. Now it’s no longer radical, I wondered if this meant that things have changed fundamentally?

TPP: Tell us about the conference you organized to explore these issues:

The conference was held in Brighton in April 2009 and the contributors to this volume spoke. It was designed to enable a dialogue between user activists, academic researchers and practitioners. It highlighted tensions and differences between those different groups who are all in some way interested in and committed to understanding and promoting user perspectives on services; what it means to live with illness, disability or mental health difficulties, and how collective action can contribute to transformation. It also demonstrated the diverse contexts in which dialogue is taking place and the new relationships that are being explored.

TPP: What kind of things did you learn from the conference?

One thing that was particularly striking was the importance of research as a space in which new knowledge and new understandings are being generated. Perhaps this is ultimately less threatening and easier to accommodate than fundamental changes to services?

TPP: Phil, what is your particular interest in this topic?:

PC: The essential focus of user involvement for me has always been about ‘voice,’ about enabling meaningful engagement to occur and about involvement leading to action. I guess this is not ‘rocket science,’ and this focus may well be seen as a simplistic one. However, across all three sections of the book (user movements, user involvement in services and user involvement in research), what ‘voice’ means and what, it any, action this leads to, are examined and critiqued in a variety of settings.

The range of contributors, from the established and well known, to those newer to involvement and writing about it, offer perspectives on specific initiatives and on key concepts and ideas. Settings where involvement is described and analysed include mental health, disability, cancer care, local government, acute health services, social care and a range of research settings such as young people (e.g. young mothers and young people with hearing loss), older people and women’s alcohol use.

TPP: What kinds of conclusions do you reach through the book?

PC: Taken together, the contributions offer complex insights into user involvement. Much critique concerns the opportunities, challenges and tensions for those individuals and groups who become involved, and for groups and organizations where involvement is played out. The historical perspective offered by some contributors reminds us both how much has changed, and how similar are many of the issues faced by users seeking to shape services. Evidence highlights the need for inclusive and diverse ‘bottom up’ involvement. However, negotiating the service user/professional interface remains important if more effective and rewarding involvement opportunities are to be achieved.

TPP: Thanks very much Marian and Phil.

Critical perspectives on user involvement was published on 16 November 2011 and can be ordered here.

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Musings on a Mad World

Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

Professor of Politics and Public Policy, University of Stirling

Path to the Possible

Democracy toward the Horizon


Governance: An international journal of policy, administration and institutions

Shot by both sides

The blog of Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP

Paul Collins's Running Blog

Running and London Marathon 2013 Training

Bristol Civic Leadership Project

A collaborative project on change in local governance

Stuck on Social Work

And what a great place to be

Points: The Blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society

short and insightful writing about a long and complex history

Urban policy and practice

Publishing with a purpose


Policy Politics Place


Publishing with a purpose

Public Administration Review

Public Administration Review is a professional journal dedicated to advancing theory and practice in public administration.


European Politics and Policy

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