Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Am I a patient?

Alan Cribb unravels the transition from an epidemiological approach to a philosophical approach to healthcare he discusses in his new book – Healthcare in transition – by examining how his identification, or not, as a patient impacts on his research.

Whilst working as an academic I tend not to identify myself as a patient. 

In the last few years one of the themes of my work has been patient-centred or person-centred healthcare, and I have just completed Healthcare in transition, a book in which I tried to tease out some of the elements of, and tensions within, this idea. But I have never self-identified as a patient in my writing and I only occasionally do so in my face to face encounters with trusted colleagues and in what feel like safe spaces to me.

In some ways this is odd. I am not simply a patient in a notional sense – like very many people, I have regular interactions with medical consultants and other health professionals, I follow a regime of treatment and I have health-related conditions that challenge my identity and frame the way I organise my life. So why not self-identify as a patient in my academic work?

“Why not self-identity as a patient in my academic work?”

Partly it is probably just about privacy or for reasons of self-protection – not to invite threatening line of enquiry from others. But it feels as if it is about something more than that. First and foremost it seems presumptuous. It feels like I have been invited to the meeting with one ticket – as a researcher – but now I am claiming to have a further ticket and am expecting to vote twice!

This sense of cheating applies however I think about what counts as a patient, and I have to confess that I am confused about this. In health services research, for example, it is now a methodological and ethical norm to worry about the inclusion of either patient perspectives or patients in some fuller sense. But there is a spectrum of attitudes and practices in response to this norm.

In some cases – and this is to exaggerate for effect – ‘patients’ is treated as a kind of self-fulfilling marginal category, such that if people happen to have any other source of relevant expertise – they are health professionals, or researchers, or activists or even heavily engaged in a peer led patient group then they will to some extent be disqualified as ‘patients’.

This attitude stems from an understandable concern that the identity of patients isn’t colonised and misrepresented by powerful voices but, at the same time – certainly in this exaggerated sense – it risks reproducing a deficit view of patients.

“I feel either disqualified or under qualified.”

At the other end of the spectrum there are strong patient voices and groups who will not only lobby for involvement in research but will themselves lead research and will challenge prevailing orthodoxies – for example, questioning not only the practices of patient involvement but also the ways in which research agendas are set and research is conducted and so on. These kinds of patient voices play an important role and can be inspirational. But there is also a danger here – again at the extreme – that the identity of patient itself becomes professionalised and owned by a few well-organised people.

The first account coincides with my worry about being presumptuous. I need to be cautious about saying I am speaking as a patient, especially with any implication that it is on behalf of other patients, when I already have a hearing as an academic.

But I am equally ruled out on the second account. I have not taken any special steps to become an expert patient; nor do I have any particular credentials to claim a quasi-professional status in this regard. For me to act as if I had would be to cheat.

In short, I feel either disqualified or under qualified. But the issue of my patient identity will not go away completely. It seems unavoidable because even not mentioning it feels like a significant choice. In some contexts there are temptations to mention it – because for certain audiences it may add a sense of authenticity and credibility. In other contexts there are temptations not to mention it – because, for example, some clinicians or others may worry about what axe I have to grind and see it as a source of ‘bias’.

How far this issue is seen to be of importance, and in what respects, is arguably a function of the kind of research we are talking about and also of disciplinary assumptions and conventions. But for anyone who thinks ‘reflexivity’ matters it does seem to be a question worth asking.

If I am being reflexive as an academic then I can treat my identity as a source of problems or limitations that need to be acknowledged, or as a source of legitimacy or authority, or sometimes as a combination of both. This seems as relevant to patient identity as to other aspects of identity. On this account there seems to be something seriously lacking in my approach to date.

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Social media homicide confessions – stories of killing in digital culture

Criminologist Professor Elizabeth Yardley discusses the relationship between violent crime and social media use, ahead of her new research being published later this month. Originally published by Birmingham City University on 15th September 2017.

Elizabeth Yardley

On Easter Sunday earlier this year, 74-year-old Robert Godwin Senior went out for a walk in east Cleveland in the US state of Ohio.

It was a sunny day and he was making the most of the pleasant weather as he waited for his Easter dinner. It was during this walk that he would be ruthlessly shot dead in the street.

Most homicide victims know their killers but not this time – this was a chance encounter with a man who intended to do fatal harm. His killer had been making videos of himself as he drove around the streets of Cleveland that day.

In one of these videos the man is heard to say “I found somebody I’m about to kill”. He then pulled his car over to the side of the road, commenting on his plans. “I’m about to kill this guy right here. He’s an old dude,” he said as he walked towards Mr Godwin, who was on his own and walking along on the path. “Can you do me a favour?”, the man asked Mr Godwin before asking him to say the name of a woman. “She’s the reason this is about to happen to you”. He then shot Mr Godwin dead. This video, and several others, were uploaded to the social networking site Facebook.

This is one of many cases in recent years in which a perpetrator has posted about a homicide they’ve committed on social media. The killing of television news reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in August 2015 was accompanied by similar behaviour by the perpetrator.

Why do people do this? What is this all about? Are these people extreme narcissists, desperate for attention and notoriety or is there more to it than this? These are just some of the questions I set out to explore in the research covered in my new book – Social Media Homicide Confessions: Stories of killers and their victims.

I examine the case of Jennifer Alfonso, murdered by her husband following a relationship characterised by coercively controlling and abusive behaviour. After shooting her in the kitchen of their Miami home, her killer posted a picture of her body on Facebook, accompanied by a statement claiming that she had been abusing him. In this statement, the killer also referenced his ‘fans’ and said they would see him in the news.

I also consider the familicide in which Shelly Janzen was killed by her brother, who then went on to kill his wife Laurel and daughter Emily. Before taking his own life, their killer posted on Facebook, confessing to killing Shelly, Laurel and Emily and explaining that Emily’s chronic migraines were the reason for the familicide.

The murder of Charles Taylor is the third case I explore. Charles was killed by the former wife of his late son Rex. After the murder, she posted images and statements on a variety of social media platforms. This included a photograph taken by her male accomplice, in which she can be seen holding a knife and Charles’ dead body is in the background. This image was uploaded to her Tumblr blog and sent to a friend who ran a website about serial killers. She made several Facebook and Instagram posts whilst she was on the run, many of them blaming Charles for Rex’s death.

I spent several months exploring not only the homicide-related posts, but also how the perpetrators had used social media more generally in the years preceding the killings. Social media was a platform to tell stories about their lives and the social roles and identities they occupied. It was a space in which they revealed their expectations about other people and how they should behave.

They also performed their membership of social groups and institutions via social media. These performances were aspirational ones – presenting their lives in highly idealistic ways, concealing the realities that contradicted these idyllic imaginaries. Visibility was a weapon that they used to tackle the struggles and challenges of everyday life. It was also a tool they used to manage their transgressions as killers. They used social media to protect them from the consequences of accepting their realities and maintaining their fantasy idealistic identities and practices.

This fetishistic disavowal (Žižek, 2009) served to conceal the negative aspects of their identities and amplify the valued roles and behaviours that gave them status. Whether they embraced the identity of the killer, tried to claim victim status for themselves or accepted responsibility for their actions, social media enabled them to position themselves as particular characters in their stories of homicide for others to consume.

Several gatekeepers stood between the killers of the past and those who consumed their stories. Mainstream media organisations decided which cases were newsworthy and as such, which cases would enter the public consciousness. Whether the killers of the twentieth century would be seen or unseen depended on the judgements and decisions of other people. If these stories did emerge, they did so second-hand, mediated and edited, the perpetrator’s control of the story diminishing with every filter it passed through.

However, the tables have now turned, today’s killers can share their stories of homicide in their own words at the tap of a touchscreen. This has enabled them a degree of control over the narrative that they have not previously experienced. Social media enables these killers to show themselves and their victims in ways they want to be seen. Perpetrators both create and represent the homicides they commit. They go from consumers to producers, their content particularly marketable in ‘wound culture’ of public fascination with violent crime (Seltzer, 1998, 2007).

The confessions I explored were not bizarre, one off aberrations but patterns of entrenched behaviour. Just as individuals don’t suddenly snap or change when they kill, neither does what they do with networked media. In a world where to be is to be seen, this is not going to change.

As criminologist Steve Hall notes, ‘the terror of insignificance, of remaining unrecognised by others, might now reign supreme as the most potent and extractable source of human energy’ (2012: 172). Criminologists, social media companies and law enforcement all need to realise that the online and the offline are not separate. We now live in a world where real, embodied, visceral violence is performed and consumed on social media. We need to start making better sense of how people live within these seamless spaces if we are to tackle homicide in digital culture.

References

Hall, S. (2012) Theorizing crime and deviance, London: Sage.

Seltzer, M. (1998) Serial killers: Death and life in America’s wound culture, New York, NY: Routledge.

Seltzer, M. (2007) True crime: Observations on violence and modernity, New York: Routledge.

Žižek, S. (2009) Violence, London: Profile Books.

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Challenging the politics of early intervention

Nicola Horsley

Ros Edwards

Val Gillies

The past decade has seen a rash of early intervention programmes targeting mothers of young children.

Reports by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, and early years policy and service provision in the UK and internationally, are now characterised by an emphasis on early intervention in the belief that pregnancy and the earliest years of life are most important for development. It has become the orthodoxy in a whole range of professional practice fields.

The idea of being able to intervene in parenting to ensure better life chances for children feels constructive and positive, but there is little evidence to suggest that it works. Moreover, early intervention doctrine ultimately holds mothers accountable for poverty and other social ills.

“…there is little evidence to suggest that it works.”

Pressure on mothers

Early intervention is directed at mothers as the core mediators of their children’s development. The significance of mother-child relationships in the early years often is underlined through reference to the developing brain. For example, the website of the influential Harvard Center on the Developing Child refers to mothers as ‘buffers’ between their children and adversity. As buffers, they are held personally responsible for inculcating what the Harvard Center terms ‘a biological resistance to adversity’ in their children.

The quality of mother-child relationships is posed as a decisive lever in building children’s brains, and is a core principle structuring the everyday work of many early years intervention programmes. In one UK early years intervention initiative that targets young and marginalised first time mothers, the Family Nurse Partnership programme, practitioners provide mothers with a sheet headed ‘How to build your baby’s brain’ featuring a list of activities claimed to enrich neural connectivity, such as reading books, singing rhymes, and playing on the floor.

“The deprivation facing poor working class families is posed as a result of poor mothering.”

The responsibility loaded onto mothers is especially pronounced in relation to low income, working class mothers and Black and minority ethnic mothers, as both cause of and solution to their children’s marginalisation and poverty.

The deprivation facing poor working class families is posed as a result of poor mothering and consequently the stunted brains of their offspring, at the same time as they are positioned as buffers who can mitigate against and overcome the effects of a harsh wider environment for their children. Early intervention programmes such as the UK’s Family Nurse Partnership, the Solihull Approach, and Parent-Infant Partnerships, overwhelmingly are delivered in areas of deprivation to poor mothers.

Ideas about brain science are used to legitimise interventions in the child rearing habits of working class families, protecting children brought up in poverty from any effects of their disadvantage and promote their social mobility. The social and structural causes of hardship and need that are being experienced by these families in the present are effectively masked, placing mothers as hidden buffers against the effects of privation on their children.

The developing world

Globally, UNICEF brings together early years development and parenting to offset children experiencing war and hunger on the basis of the speed of new neural connections formed in the brain in the early years, asserting that good parenting will help children overcome multiple adversities such as violence, disaster, and poverty. Despite the overall paucity of evidence that early years intervention works, initiatives are being rolled out across the developing world, in the belief that improved mothering will surely benefit the state of the nation.

For example, the ‘Fine Brains’ (Family-Inclusive Early Brain Stimulation) programme seeks to promote parental stimulation and interaction to improve children’s brain architecture in sub-Sahara. It asserts that mothers in these countries are ill-equipped to maximise the benefits of interaction, need to be trained, and then to train their husbands to parent properly. The complex and diverse historical, economic, political, social and religious contexts of sub-Saharan Africa are obscured in favour of a focus on individual mothers as able to overcome poverty, conflict and post-conflict, engrained gendered inequalities, and so on, through improving their knowledge of child development and home engagement practices.

“Despite the overall paucity of evidence that early years intervention works, initiatives are being rolled out across the developing world.”

 

A meritocratic construction

The policy and practice preoccupation with how poor mothers and deprived families bring up and nurture their children relies on a meritocratic construction of the wealthy and privileged as having better developed brains. This is a statement that many of us might find offensive. But within the confluence of brain science and early years intervention, success is naturalised and unproblematically correlated with brain structure and intelligence. From this perspective, the solution to poverty is to make people smarter. Working class mothers, black and minority ethnic mothers, and mothers in the global South can enable their children to think their way out of their predicament.

The idea that hardship and discrimination is to do with how much attention of the right sort that mothers give to their children, and the notion of countering global traumas and inequalities through parenting, is jaw-dropping. It demonstrates why early intervention policy and practice deserves more critical scrutiny.

 

Challenging the politics of early intervention by Val Gillies, Rosalind Edwards and Nicola Horsley is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website.  Order here for just £18.39.

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What makes for a strong Voluntary Sector Review paper? Eight points to consider

Rob Macmillan, Nick Acheson and Bernard Harris, editors of the international Voluntary Sector Review journal, present 8 tips for submitting a strong paper. 

Rob Macmillan, Nick Acheson and Bernard Harris

As editors of Voluntary Sector Review (VSR), we attract a wide range of international article submissions, covering the whole range of topics around voluntary and community action, non-profit organisations and civil society. We often reflect on what makes for a strong paper.

Full-length research articles in VSR, normally no longer than 8,000 words in length, may focus on empirical findings, methodological issues, scholarly or theoretical inquiry, and applied analysis of relevance to practitioners and decision makers. We welcome submissions from all parts of the globe, and encourage all of our authors to highlight the international implications of their work.

We know that the whole process of submitting a paper can be daunting and onerous for authors – something you’ve been working on for a while has finally been given over for an external judgement of its potential value. Preparing a good paper for submission is an art rather than a science, and through our experience as editors and authors we have drawn together a list of eight helpful points to consider before you submit your paper.

1. What is the paper about and why is it important?

Be very clear on what the paper is about, starting with a clear statement of the issue that it addresses, together with an explanation of why the issue is of interest to and important for readers of the journal. You need to provide good reasons for readers to read on and subsequently remember your article.

2. Critical understanding of the literature

Embed the issue the paper addresses in the relevant literature, with a critical understanding of the most important and influential previous articles and books in this area.

3. Intellectual, theoretical, policy or practice context

Make sure you set out clearly the intellectual, theoretical, policy or practice context that informs the article.

4. Methods

Where you are reporting empirical findings, make sure the research design, data collection methods and analysis techniques used are described in sufficient detail for readers to be able to understand how the study might be replicated, and on what basis the conclusions are being drawn. Where prior literature provides the basis for the article (in addition to or instead of empirical findings), explain how it was sourced, selected and reviewed.

5. Key findings

Set out the key findings relevant to the issue addressed in the article in a systematic way, relating them to earlier work covered in the literature review. Authors often try to say too much here, overloading their submission with empirical findings such that the point of the article is obscured in empirical detail.

6. Contribution to knowledge

Identify the extent and ways in which the findings and discussion contribute to new empirical knowledge about the issue or better theoretical understanding of the topic. There is a balance to be struck here: be confident in the conclusions you draw, but don’t overstate the case.

7. Implications for future research, policy or practice

Draw out the implications of the study for future research, policy or practice – in the country which is the primary focus of the article, but also more broadly where appropriate.

8. Argument, structure, and signposting

Finally, check to see whether there is a clear, well-signposted, structure and thread of argument running through the paper, so that readers can quickly gain a secure sense of the paper’s development from introduction to conclusion.

On receipt of a submission, we will always make an initial editorial judgement before we send a paper out for review, and we may ask you to revise the paper before doing so. We encourage reviewers to provide constructive feedback to authors in order to help improve papers, and we will provide guidance on how to proceed if the decision is one of ‘revise and resubmit’. The peer review process can be exacting but it is rigorous and invariably leads to better quality papers.

We would encourage you to get in touch if you have an idea for a paper but are not sure of its suitability. We’ll always aim to provide helpful guidance, though, of course, we cannot provide any guarantees of publication.

If you would like to submit a paper you can find the Journal’s aims and scope, and instructions for authors on the Voluntary Sector Review website. You will also find further information about submitting Policy and Practice articles, along with details of the relevant editors for these sections.

 

More about Voluntary Sector Review

To submit an article consult our instructions for authors.

For news about all the latest issues and free articles sign up for our e-newsletter and follow the journal on Twitter @VSRjournal

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Three key lessons from Labour’s campaign – and how the party needs to change

Originally posted by Democratic Audit UK  12/06/2017

Patrick Diamond

Jeremy Corbyn has confounded his critics and increased Labour’s share of the vote in the General Election. But the party is some way from being able to command a parliamentary majority, says Patrick Diamond. Labour has articulated a vision of society which appeals to many young people and ‘left behind’ voters. Now the party needs to get over the intellectual defensiveness which has afflicted it for decades – and reach out to people in English constituencies who have no tribal loyalty to Labour.

Politics in the Labour party will never be the same again in the aftermath of the 2017 general election. Only six weeks ago many commentators, most Labour MPs, party members and even Jeremy Corbyn’s allies feared he would be humiliated at the ballot box.

‘Politics in the Labour party will never be the same again’

It didn’t happen. Labour fought an insurgent campaign in which Corbyn deftly exploited his status as the underdog; the Labour party appears to have excited young people as well as so-called ‘left behind’ voters in ways not seen for decades. Criticisms of Corbyn’s leadership style focused on his inept approach to internal party management and estrangement from his own parliamentary party; where Corbyn exceeded expectations was his ability to fashion a distinctive, eye-catching political agenda that captured the imagination of the electorate, and distanced the Labour party from its potentially ‘toxic’ legacy (one of the historian Stuart Ball’s key criteria for effective opposition party leadership).

Of course, it has not been plain sailing for Corbyn’s Labour. Arguably, the leader’s greatest vulnerability has been his reluctance to acknowledge the place of other traditions in the Labour party beyond his own heterodox brand of socialism. Corbyn’s weakest moments during the campaign were his defensiveness over the nuclear deterrent, as well as controversy over his previous reluctance to condemn IRA terrorism. There are still major questions about the viability of Labour’s manifesto, for all that its ideological clarity inspired the faithful. Still, there can be little doubt that the campaign Corbyn fought marks a decisive shift in the politics of the Labour party to which all sections of the party will now be obliged to respond.

So what strategic lessons can, and should, we glean from the Corbyn leadership project in the wake of the general election result?

The first lesson is that Corbyn’s politics evidently appeal to many younger voters, as well as the social groups that have increasingly abstained from voting in the UK since the late 1980s. The dynamic here was that Corbyn projected ‘hope’ because his programme was not constrained by conventional electoral calculation; Labour’s prospectus offered a different vision of society after nearly a decade of spending cuts, tax rises, and missed deficit reduction targets. Corbyn’s views on policy articulated a rare combination of clarity and conviction. The Labour leader offers an innovative politics of participation which is about doing things ‘with’ people rather than ‘to’ them, sweeping away anachronistic institutions and inherited privilege; if carried forward this might be the platform for a resurgence of British social democracy.

The challenge ahead for Corbyn’s project will be to construct the electoral alliance between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ that is required to win greater numbers of marginal seats, enter government, and deliver policies like progressive redistribution and public investment. Another general election appears likely to be called relatively soon. A Labour victory will mean winning in English constituencies like Reading West or Thurrock that Labour was unable to carry last Thursday.

‘There are still major questions about the viability of Labour’s manifesto’

The second lesson of the Corbyn leadership project is that Labour needs to get over the intellectual defensiveness that has plagued the party since the late 1980s. Corbyn says he now wants an open debate about policy; he ought to be taken at taken at his word. In the past, some modernisers behaved as if the best approach to making Labour a party of government was to give the entire PLP and party membership an intellectual lobotomy. This risked denuding the Labour party of the capacity to think and revitalise itself. The ascendency of Thatcherism convinced many that Britain had become an inherently conservative country, and that the Left could only win by accepting the basic parameters of the Thatcher settlement. In this election under Corbyn, Labour made its most audacious attempt since 1945 to shift the centre ground of politics towards the Left.

The Corbyn leadership project’s third lesson is that when effectively presented, measures that are widely perceived to be traditionally ‘left-wing’ are still popular with mainstream voters. Among the most important issues raised in the Labour manifesto was the question of public ownership in a post-industrial economy geared towards the production of information and knowledge. For the last 30 years, the assumption in the Labour party has been that whether ownership is public or private no longer matters. It was thought that utilities and public services delivered through the private sector could still be regulated effectively in the public interest. Nationalisation in the 1990s was rejected by Labour because it was believed to be too costly to bring major public utilities like water, gas or rail back into public ownership. Yet it is clear that since 1997, public opinion has become more hostile towards private ownership of the utilities, especially rail. Previous assumptions ought to be interrogated: many privatised industries in the UK are natural monopolies; the privatisations of the 1980s and 1990s have been detrimental both to consumer welfare and economic efficiency.

None of this ignores the fact that Labour is still some way from winning a parliamentary majority at a general election. The party has made significant progress since 2015; but to defeat the Conservatives Labour has to be capable of winning seats throughout Britain. It is not enough merely to rouse already committed supporters: the party has to be capable of reaching out to ‘non-Labour Britain’ where there is little tribal affiliation with the Labour party. It is clear from the election campaign and the terrorist atrocities in Manchester and London that national security is likely to remain a major issue in British politics. Offering voters social justice without addressing their basic concerns about physical insecurity in a world of borderless crime and terrorist threats is a recipe for future defeat. To help the most vulnerable and marginalised in Britain, Labour has to be a party of power rather than a pressure group of social protest.

‘To defeat the Conservatives, Labour has to be capable of winning seats throughout Britain’

Corbyn has spectacularly demolished Theresa May’s hopes of securing a decisive Tory majority. The ‘moderates’ in the Labour party will have made a grave error if they dismiss Corbyn’s approach to strategy and policy as outdated and destined to end in failure. Yet it remains doubtful as to whether as things stand Corbyn has an electoral or governing project that can end the latest phase of Conservative hegemony in British politics. That is the next crucial task of revitalisation for the British centre-left.

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The importance of the advice sector in the context of legal aid cuts

Originally published by PolicyBristol on the 19th June 2017.

Dr. Sarah Moore

The PolicyBristol blog has the pleasure of welcoming this guest post by Dr Sarah Moore, who was one of the participants in the recent book launch of Advising in Austerity. Reflections on challenging times for advice agencies (Policy Press, 2017). Dr Moore is also the co-author of Legal aid in crisis. Assessing the impact of reform (Policy Press, 2017) and offers here her insightful views on the need to boost the activities and funding of the legal advice sector.

Anyone familiar with legal aid reform will know that the Legal Aid and Sentencing of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) has dramatically altered the meaning and nature of legal aid. It has meant, amongst other things, a significant reduction in funding, largely achieved by taking a large number of areas of civil law out of scope, including private family law cases, and almost all cases involving social welfare, housing, medical negligence, immigration, debt, and employment.

The most strenuous critics of LASPO have pointed out that the recent funding cuts restrict people’s access to justice. In answering to these problems, LASPO incorporated a set of exceptions. Those who could provide evidence that they had been victims of domestic violence, for example, were to be given access to legal aid to pursue family law cases. And an Exceptional Case Funding caveat was incorporated in the Act for those who could successfully make a case that their human rights would be breached without publicly-funded legal assistance. Both have been woefully inadequate.

Research led by Rights of Women indicates that, even after the government relaxed the rules on domestic violence evidence and legal aid eligibility, a significant proportion of female victims (38% in their 2014 survey) did not have the mandatory evidence to receive publically-funded support. And the Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme has been a disaster by anyone’s standards. In the first year post-LASPO, the Legal Aid Agency received only 1,520 applications for ECF. According to the Public Accounts Committee, only 69 were granted funding. That is far, far fewer than the Ministry of Justice and Legal Aid Agency had predicted in the post-LASPO period. Applications have picked up in the last year, as has the acceptance rate, but the fact remains that this safety net is sorely under-used.

Assessing the impact of LASPO

In assessing the impact of LASPO, academics and policy-makers have tended to focus on the impact of reform on the courtroom and litigation. There is certainly much to talk about here. Funding for civil representation and litigation now stands at about two-thirds of its pre-LASPO level, and this has led, amongst other things, to a steep rise in people representing themselves in the courtroom, so-called litigants in person.

All this has been well-documented, not least of all by Trinder et al’s (2014) excellent review of the difficulties faced by litigants in person in family law courts. What has received less attention is the steep decrease in funding for legal advice, with government funding for this form of support now at around one third of its pre-LASPO level. That is a staggeringly sharp decline in a four year period, one that even took the Legal Aid Agency and Ministry of Justice by surprise. This cut to funding has led to a radical change in the landscape of legal advice by prompting the closure of Law Centres, solicitors’ firms where legal aid was previously bread-and-butter work, and, of course, organisations in the advice sector.

The role of the advice sector post-LASPO

What does all this mean for the advice sector, and how might we start to think about the distinctive value of these organisations in a post-LASPO world? For one thing, the steep decline in state funding for legal advice has had the dual-effect of decreasing advice agencies’ budgets and increasing the unmet need for sources of support. And, as mentioned earlier, legal advice has been particularly hit by the cuts, making need for this support especially acute. It is therefore no surprise that, post-LASPO, the advice sector has played a crucial role in plugging the gap in legal support, even whilst it has undergone its own funding struggles.

The value of the advice sector post-LASPO also lies in its role in signposting people to exceptional case funding and, where capacity allows, supporting people in making applications. If LASPO’s exceptions and special provisions are to work, there needs to be support for people to make an application — people, it bears repeating, who are particularly vulnerable and ill-equipped for legal dispute. This lack of support is the principle reason for the failure of the Exceptional Case Funding caveat, and, as a set of organisations that tend already to have contact with the most vulnerable members of our society, the advice sector is potentially key to improving the take-up of this funding and thereby providing access to justice.

Lastly, the advice sector has a valuable role to play in improving public knowledge about eligibility rules for legal aid. Year on year post-LASPO, there has been a drop in casework for civil legal aid work. That downward spiral is not due to a decline in need. It reflects, amongst other things, the public’s understandable confusion about eligibility, and the presumption that legal aid no longer exists — that, at least, is the explanation offered by the House of Commons Justice Committee. And, again, as the advice sector necessarily plays a key role here in informing the public about what is available.

Advice as access to justice

The advice sector can play a really important role, then, in mitigating the effect of LASPO and making real its promise to offer a safety net. It can only do that with proper funding and support, and that requires a major shift in public debate so that the role of advice in ensuring access to justice is recognised. Herein lies a major challenge for the advice sector. Advising people on legal matters (or matters that have a legal dimension) is crucial work; it is also poorly-understood (in academic and policy terms) and relatively neglected in mainstream media coverage of legal aid cuts. This is despite the fact that public need for advice is growing as we enter a seventh year of ‘austerity’.

As we restrict people’s access to state services and welfare, people’s legal needs become more multifaceted and interwoven with social and psychological problems, as the accounts in Advising in Austerity (Kirwan, 2017) so neatly illustrate. The young woman seeking advice on an illegal eviction may also be managing a cut to her benefits, her employment may have become more erratic, and the public services in her local area may have deteriorated. This is what austerity means ‘in the round’, and it is just such a holistic conception of need that the advice sector is well-able to attend to, with its distinctive ability to provide advice on legal matters and information about broader social services. And, of course, in doing this important work, advice agencies do more than simply fill an information gap; they help explain official rules and decisions, often to people who are especially prone to feeling like they’ve been left behind and let down by social authorities. This, too, is what access to justice looks like. Making this case is all the more important in a post-LASPO era.

This blog post was first published in the Bristol Law School blog.

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Of and for society: Thinking the prosocial

What would it take to make society better? Rowland Atkinson, Lisa McKenzie and Simon Winlow, co-editors of the new book Building better societies, discuss some of the obstacles we face in trying to improve society. 

Rowland Atkinson

Lisa McKenzie

Simon Winlow

Social researchers spend so much time investigating the problems of inequality, crime, poverty and ill-health that they rarely have time to step outside these painful realities to engage in the kinds of utopian, creative and counter-intuitive thinking that can change entire academic fields.

We are encouraged, more than ever before, to be ‘policy relevant’, and the space and time needed to identify new and imaginative routes forward is diminishing with every passing year.

Many of us act in ways that are self-disciplining, if not self-defeating. We make careful pre-judgements about who will listen to us, and this often prevents us from making proposals or running ideas that might make the world – dare we say it – a better place. Given the sheer scale of the problems we face today – unparalleled inequality, ecological crisis and deep economic and political uncertainty – the role, and perhaps the duty, of social researchers is to draw on their evidence and intervene effectively in helping social conversations about the issues that really matter.

Continue reading ‘Of and for society: Thinking the prosocial’


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