Normalising ‘special’: Covid, online learning and those with special educational needs

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago, I was wondering how some educational practices could be changed in category from ‘special’ to ‘normal’ as a result of socially distanced practices, and what that might mean for our relationship with normality.

Online access to education had previously been campaigned for by disabled students with limited success, and where it was provided it was a ‘special’ accommodation. In response to Coronavirus, online access had become a ‘normal’ practice. The change in status of such accommodations, based upon evolving social practices, removes the illusion that barriers to access are the unavoidable and unfortunate consequences of an individual’s special educational needs or disability (SEND).

Instead, in mobilising our resources to make the world accessible to the majority, it appears many of the barriers that previously, and still exist are socially constructed, reflecting the social model of disability.

But, what has happened in the case of children with SEND accessing learning in the pandemic?

For some, school closures and online access have been a source of intense difficulty. Evidence provided to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for SEND shows that aspects such as differentiation and communication were forgotten for many during home learning activities. Supports were reduced or removed, and in some cases children’s hours of schooling reduced. The report explains that many stakeholders felt that learning for children with SEND was an ‘afterthought’, both during and after the school closures.

For other children, the evidence provided suggests that home learning provided relief from an environment that they never quite felt comfortable in. Shepherd and colleagues’ analysis of the perceptions of parents and carers shows that the lack of requirement for uniform, opportunities for developing independence, reduction of stress, and the flexibility brought about by online access were seen as positive outcomes. My own child reports the benefits of lockdown learning for him in this order: “No shoes, no uniform, no people, no sitting still or upright.”

It appears, then, that despite the rapidly changing categorisation of accommodations such as online access, the categories of ‘normal’ and ‘special’ in accommodations remained salient.

What fits into those categories has changed and changed again. The move to online access enabled some children with SEND to thrive whilst others were significantly disadvantaged. Perhaps, where accommodations are considered surplus or additional (‘special’), it can be easier to deprioritise them during times of threat and rapid change.

It might be useful to suggest that universal design learning could be a key factor in preventing children with SEND from being left behind or forgotten in times of rapid social change. In this context, all accommodations are normal. Where we always consider all potential pupils in our planning, instead of applying supports as extra/other, we promote inclusive learning environments that recognise and value human variation.

As Shepherd and colleagues suggest, what we have learned in the last year suggests that there is a post-pandemic potential for much greater flexibility and responsivity in education.

Michelle Dunne is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 29th May 2020 by Michelle which can be found here.

Photo by SeventyFour

Relax… World War Three is NOT Imminent – at least not yet

Covid Anniversary Blog

What with COVID, the death of the Duke of Edinburgh and a football furore, you could be forgiven for not noticing the recent build-up of 80,000 Russian troops on the Russian-Ukraine border. Unsurprisingly, this has raised alarm within the international community, as an armed conflict between these two nations would have serious and inevitable implications.

Technically, Ukraine and Russia have been engaged in a conflict since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and backed separatist forces in Ukraine’s coal and gas rich eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, known collectively the Donbas. This reflects the ethnic and cultural split that emerged from attempts to Russify the Soviet Union through the settlement of ethnic Russians within its 15 republics. In Ukraine, such Russification was enacted in the East where labour was needed to extract natural resources. Consequently, today Ukraine is split between the Russian-speaking so-called ‘red’ areas to the east and the ethnically Ukrainian ‘orange’ areas to the West.

At face-value such a troop build-up looks like Russia is preparing to formalise its incursion into the Donbas by forcibly annexing it. Yet this is unlikely to happen for the following reasons:

  1. In recent months a number of factors have led President Putin to reassert his ‘strong man’ image. He no longer has a friendly ally in the White House. In recent days we have seen the imposition of US sanctions against Russia in response to confirmed Russian interference in the 2020 US Presidential election. At the same time Ukrainian President Zelensky and Turkish President Erdogan held their own summit that condemned Russian aggression, creating (the appearance at least) of a Black Sea axis against the Russian Federation. Amassing troops is a way to counter both this axis, and a more hostile United States.
  2. Russia will hold elections for the State Duma (parliament) in September. While Putin needs a show of force to maintain his image, he does not need another war. The cost of such an incursion would be very damaging to the Russian economy still in the throes of COVID. Moreover, despite being the first country in the world to bring a COVID vaccine to market, domestic take up has been very low. He also faces public unrest in response to the imprisonment of dissident Alexei Navalny. Putin does not need to be fighting a war on multiple fronts as voters go to the polls.
  3. Ukrainian President Zelensky also does not need a war. He was elected president in 2019 on a promise to end the conflict in the Donbas which has created more than 1.4 million internally displaced persons, most of whom are women and children. Escalating this would not be in his interest.

Thus it is unlikely that we are on the cusp of an armed conflict in the Caucuses. Recent troop build-up is much more about domestic agendas than it is about foreign ambition. So we don’t need to hold our collective breath – at least not yet.

Jo Crotty is Professor of Management and Director of the Institute for Social Responsibility at Edge Hill University.

image by Oleg Elkov

What COVID-19 has taught us about human communication

Covid Anniversary Blog

We all know what Zoom calls are like. They’re just not the same.

Pundits talk about ‘zoom fatigue’ – this weariness that results from this unnatural form of communication.

‘But what’s so unnatural about it?’ supporters say. You can hear the words (usually), you can see facial expression (when not frozen), indeed you can stare at the face without embarrassment, unlike real life.

‘But what about the hands?’ I ask.

‘Who’s bothered about people waving their hands about?’ they reply.

But hand-waving, it turns out, is always more than that. These movements are iconic representations of thoughts, often with information not in the speech. These dynamic gestural movements work alongside speech in the communication of meaning.

A proud parent is describing how her son was playing football, she said ‘he was running up the pitch’, the iconic gesture represented the speed and direction of the movement – fast and zig-zagging, as he beat the defenders – a new Maradona, no less! The iconic gesture occurred at exactly the same time as the word ‘running’ itself. It was not an afterthought. Rather, the speech and the gesture originated from what the psychologist David McNeill from the University of Chicago has called the ‘growth point’ of the utterance. The speech and gesture are generated at the same time, in the prelinguistic planning stage.

But it’s not just about actions. After lockdown, a colleague was spotted breaking her strict diet by a mutual friend. ‘She was eating a sandwich,’ the friend reported. The iconic gesture represented the size of the sandwich, hands wide apart – too big for any diet. The size of the sandwich was not mentioned in the speech, but perfectly coordinated.

We process these gestural messages effortlessly in face-to-face conversation, our eyes track these movements and we decode the critical information and combine it with the speech information to get the full meaning.

‘But hang on, Zoom is for serious discussion, it’s for work,’ says the Zoom supporter ‘not for football and sandwiches’.

But these iconic gestures also metaphorically enact abstract meaning, showing where ideas originate from with gestures indicating position in the gestural space and how quickly they arise (speed of gesture trajectory), how ideas connect (the hands are good at representing positional information in both the physical and metaphorical senses), they tell you how far somebody is prepared to go and the nature of their ambition (distance; height).

In my book ‘Rethinking Body Language’ (Routledge, 2016), I outline the science behind this. The hands are apparently able followers of Lakoff and Johnson in their seminal book ‘Metaphors We Live By’, who demonstrated how much of metaphorical language is premised on a physical conceptual basis.

On Zoom, we see none of this. COVID-19 has reminded us of the essential multimodal nature of everyday human communication and how different modalities, including gesture, cooperate to transmit meaning about the everyday world of actions, of ideas, of interpersonal relationship.

With Zoom, we’re just left guessing, and that can indeed be very fatiguing.

Geoffrey Beattie is Professor of Psychology at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 11th May 2020 by Geoff which can be found here.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Can you hear me now?

Covid Anniversary Blog

Perhaps second only to “you’re on mute”, the phrase “can you hear me now?” has become key to COVID-19 pandemic communications. Whether this phrase follows unmuting or is used as the go-to check-in question following the all too many incidents of unstable WIFI connections, the reality is that we all want to be heard.

When I wrote a blog on reflection at a time of COVID-19 a year ago, I spoke about the importance of intentionally taking even short periods of time to listen to ourselves, and to get our bearings in the moment to inform the future.

However, this past year has also demonstrated the importance of not simply listening to the voices in our own heads, but also to those around us.

Who hasn’t heard the tips that regularly get trotted out during communications training, especially when we are working remotely with a screen as a mediating device? Nod, make eye contact, summarise what the person has said. The truth is, if we’re really listening, the other person will know, regardless of whether we have been nodding and providing verbal cues.

I defended my Masters’ Thesis quite some years back in that old world called face-to-face. One of my three panel members held eye contact and stayed connected visibly throughout, one looked down at his notes more than at me, and I genuinely worried that my adviser, the Dean, had fallen asleep. His eyes were nearly shut; he sat very still, he offered no clues that anything I had said was registering. I finished speaking and waited. My panel immediately took turns to offer thoughtful observations and incisive questions, all leading to a successful defense. All three had been listening, and listening carefully. And, at least on the surface, listening differently. I knew they had been listening because of how they responded to what I said.

Sociologist Charles Derber, in his classic 1979 book, The Pursuit of Attention, references two ways we can choose to respond when we are listening to someone else. If we use the ‘shift’ response, we turn the attention back to ourselves, our needs and our priorities. When we use the ‘support’ response, we continue the focus on the other person and their topic. We give them our time; we give them our respect. For example:

“I’m struggling with my workload.” “Yes, I know what you mean. I have three deadlines this week that I’m not sure I can meet.” (shift)

“I’m struggling with my workload.” “Tell me more. What do you need to get done?” (support)

Giving others the space not simply to be heard but to be listened to will open up opportunities for the deep learning and the shared story telling necessary to navigate our way through the post-pandemic challenges that await us.

Perhaps the question should be not “Can you hear me now?” but instead, “Are you listening now – and how?”

Cindy Vallance is Assistant Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery at Advance HE.

Photo by Lee Campbell on Unsplash

You Still Need Society! Authoritarianism and COVID-19

Covid Anniversary Blog

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided us with insights into different political regimes’ responses to what is now a prolonged, unpredictable, and difficult to manage crisis.

Parts of Eastern Europe had initially been considered as the models for how to respond to the pandemic. Nearly a year on, with cases surging and the state struggling to control the pandemic, this no longer holds.

In the Russian Federation, despite bringing the worlds first COVID-19 vaccine to market, the state has struggled to deal with the sluggish domestic take up and so it has failed to make a discernible impact on cases. This might be a surprise given the assumption that in authoritarian contexts, individuals are not only more accepting of restrictions of their individual freedoms but that the state is often more strict at enforcing compliance. One could have assumed that authoritarian regimes might have put to use their expansion of individual surveillance under the guise of combatting COVID-19, to encourage or even enforce vaccinations. Even if this failed, national pride at its scientific achievement would surely have had people queuing up to be vaccinated, but it seems not to be the case.

The nature of state-society relations might help us consider some of the issues impacting vaccine take-up rates. In the Russian Federation, political, legislative, financial and cultural limits impact the ability and reach of third sector groups to mobilise the public. In addition, the state’s, often arbitrary, use of institutions such as the judiciary, is unconducive to building public trust in such institutions.

Yet a successful vaccination programme requires both trust and mobilisation.

This is particularly true for mobilising and engaging hard-to-reach segments of society, a task and role that NPOs tend to perform much better than state institutions. Can third sector groups play a role in this process, given the restrictive context they operate in? If they do, will this enable them to receive concessions from the state with regards to the activities they can engage in? Could this lead to a reshaping of state-society relations?

A year on, answers to questions around the future shape of state-society relations in an authoritarian context remain unclear. It is too early to tell whether or not third sector groups in an authoritarian context such as Russia will be able to take advantage of arising opportunities to reshape their relationship with the state.

The imprisonment of critics such as Alexander Navalny suggests that the Russian state is not overtly open to reshaping state-society relations at the national level. However, as stated a year ago, things might play out different at local and regional levels – and thus present opportunities for change.

Dr Sergej Ljubownikow is a lecturer in Strategic Management at Sheffield Management School. He is an expert scholar in Russian civil society development and an ISR Visiting Fellow.

Photo by Ivan Lapyrin on Unsplash

A Year of Covid TV

Covid Anniversary Blog

In a year when we spent more time at home than ever before, television provided a crucial window on the world. Ofcom estimated in August 2020 that during lockdown people were spending an average of 40% of their waking hours in front of a screen. TV watching was up by approximately a third.

While this might look like a windfall for TV broadcasters, these activities coincided with a sudden recession which wiped out a swath of advertising money. This led to a frustrating paradox – more people were watching, but broadcasters could not make extra revenue from the larger audiences.

In any case, there was the significant problem of what to fill schedules with. Like in most industries, normal processes for TV production juddered to a halt. We quickly became used to seeing contributors to news or panel shows Zooming in from home, with the inevitable ‘hilarity’ caused by interrupting children or pets.

Though our usual expectations for what TV ‘should’ look like were upended, in some ways these new practices provided a heightened version of the TV experience. TV has historically operated using an aesthetic that combines intimacy – an emphasis on human connection – with immediacy – the feeling that we are we are watching things unfold as they happen. Zoom interviews combine the two, giving us a momentary glimpse into the private world (and at the carefully curated bookshelves) of contributors.

But there were still huge gaps to fill in the schedules. Research at the University of Huddersfield suggested that this did not go unnoticed by audiences, who found their usual menu of ‘event television’ (high profile new shows scheduled in peak time) replaced by repeats.

The launch of Disney+ in March 2020 was seen by many as another nail in the coffin of broadcast television. Indeed, streaming video on demand services added an extra 4.6m subscribers during lockdown. Research found that people were turning to drama boxsets to escape the tedium.

Adopting a ‘show must go on’ attitude, the UK television industry agreed protocols in May 2020 for Covid secure productions. The gradual resumption of regular programming – especially soaps – mirrored the slow return to normality experienced in daily life. The reliability and routine of television schedules, especially daytime television provided a source of comfort to those who suddenly found themselves adrift in furlough.

Meanwhile, daily televised briefings provided a much-needed demonstration of the power and value of broadcasting. Watching the Prime Minister and his associates (or in Scotland, the First Minister) deliver key messages became for many a grim ritual, but one enabled by broadcast’s unique ability to gather a nation together.

The impact of Covid on TV production and broadcast has been vast and painfully visible. But it can also teach us about the ongoing value and importance television has in our lives: as a source of information, of comfort, and of connection. The problem comes of course, when you find that you have ‘completed Netflix’, and what to do next!

Dr Hannah Andrews is Senior Lecturer in Media, Film and Television at Edge Hill University.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Covid-19 and Sport: Some Positive Outcomes for Athletes and Athlete Welfare

Covid Anniversary Blog

As outdoor sports facilities open and organised sports clubs begin to welcome back members, it’s uplifting to note that there have been numerous positive developments in safeguarding children and young people in this sector recently. These include:

  • In its latest 10-year plan, Sport England, the body responsible for grassroots sport, have named safeguarding as one of their five main themes and have substantially increased investment into helping sports clubs and national federations create safer sports environments.
  • The ‘Safe to Play’ campaign, which aims to ensure young people know how to report a safeguarding concern, was successfully rolled out in tennis in England throughout last year’s lockdowns and is being expanded to other sports this year.
  • The government agreed last month (March 2021) to change the law around positions of trust to include adults in supervisory positions in sport, making it illegal for coaches and others in authority positions over athletes in sport to have sex with 16 and 17 year olds in the same way it is for teachers and pupils.

In addition, one of the most inspiring safeguarding development from the past 12 months has come from the young female gymnasts who spoke out against the toxic culture in their sport (see here). Researchers of athlete welfare like myself know how practices such as fat shaming, enforced training while injured, physical violence, and emotional abuse have become so entrenched in some sports that they often go unchallenged.

Physical and emotional abuse rarely attract as much attention or elicit the same emotion as sexual abuse, yet their consequences can be just as devastating. Working together and using the hashtag #gymnastalliance to draw attention to the impact of non-sexual abuse, which are by far the most prevalent forms of abuse in sport, these brave young women forced the sports authorities to act.

A review is now underway into abuse in the sport and British Gymnastics’ handling of complaints, and some athletes are suing the sports’ governing body for negligence and breach of duty. Such unprecedented action has sparked a global movement of athletes speaking out against the dangerous and degrading practices that have become normalised as part of many sports. Through collective action and dogged determination, these young athletes are opening up a positive conversation for long-term change. 

The restrictions placed on all our lives during the pandemic have (re)ignited people’s love of sport and physical activity and reminded us all of its importance for our mental and physical health. In particular, lockdown has encouraged teenage girls who were previously not active to do more sport and physical activity. If sport is to capitalise on this new-founded enthusiasm, it must ensure it provides everyone involved with a safe and positive environment. Thanks to the many young gymnasts who disclosed abuse over the past year, we are one step closer to ensuring this vision for sport.

Dr Mel Lang is Associate Director at the Centre for Child Protection and Safeguarding in Sport (CPSS) at Edge Hill University.

Photo by Sandro Schuh on Unsplash

Third sector organisations: An oasis for asylum seekers and refugees in the wake of Covid-19?

Covid Anniversary Blog

Negative discourses around migration have created a hostile environment for asylum seekers and refugees. Having often had horrific and unimaginable experiences in their home country – and endured dangerous passage to claim asylum, refugees need places to feel accepted, recognised, to heal, reconcile in their host communities and to share their experiences of daily life and trauma with others.

Prior to the emergence of Covid-19, third sector organisations like charities, faith-based organisations and non-government organisations have provided asylum seekers and refugees with this ‘safe space’. These organisations have facilitated access to formal, informal and semi-formal social protection and are sites where asylum seekers and refugees gather together for information sharing, resources (i.e., food banks) and support. These locations also foster social connections among asylum seekers and refugees, which are vital to their successful integration and inclusion.

The forced closure of certain businesses deemed non-essential – including some third sector organisations – in response to the pandemic has potentially deprived asylum seekers and refugees of an invaluable and highly valued resource. The closure of third sector organisations during regional and national lockdowns has surely changed how third sector organisations provide asylum seekers and refugees with social protection.

As a result of Covid-19, asylum seekers and refugees’ access to third sector organisations for social protection has changed. The operations of many third sector organisations has moved to virtual environments, and while this has been positive through enabling asylum seekers and refugees to remain engaged in integration activities and receive support, virtual environments pose certain barriers. They inhibit casual social interaction and can burden those with low English language proficiency or poor internet technology skills. Additionally, in recognition of deprived asylum seekers and refugees’ often desperate need for material support, especially food, many organisations have delivered dry rations.

In the wake of Covid-19, it appears the third sector has come to the rescue of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK. Third sector organisations’ active involvement in helping asylum seekers and refugees throughout the pandemic emphasises the importance of the third sector in supplementing social protection. Their efforts both before and throughout the pandemic should be acknowledged, and caution should prevail whenever considering withdrawing, reducing or altering the services of such organisations, especially in times of crisis.

Niroshan Ramachandran is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of Social Sciences at Edge Hill University.

Silver Linings: Autism, Covid and Digital Engagement during the Pandemic

Covid Anniversary Blog

While the pandemic has been detrimental for many, COVID-19 has also presented us with opportunities. One such opportunity has been to re-examine the impact that increased digital engagement has had on increasing participation in the autistic community.

Autistic people are advantaged by being able to engage digitally with friends, colleagues, classmates and educators. Among other benefits, the ability to remain in a familiar setting reduces social anxieties and sensory overloading. It may also aid communication for autistic people as there is more control over the digital environment, with less of an emphasis on nonverbal cues.

For years autistic people have advocated for more flexible working and educational environments that better fit their needs. We are now seeing an understanding that we all have individual preferences for work and education that can be accommodated with greater personalization, i.e. the ability to be online or in-person. Maintaining that understanding could make an enormous difference in the lives of autistic people in the future, with some saying that the move to online work models may increase neurodiversity in the workplace.

A move to online spaces may also benefit the way autistic people receive care. Diagnostic processes and the delivery of interventions for autistic people has long suffered from insufficient funding. Improving remote access to care has been accelerated by the pandemic, leading many mental health professionals to operate online, with research indicating that tele-mental health care can address the long waitlists and restricted hours of service that can impede services. Tele-healthcare may particularly benefit autistic people who may be less stressed in their home environments, while clinicians are also able to see the home setting and understand their client’s person-environment fit. For young children, autism interventions like the Denver Early Start model can delivered at home through parent-training programs that rely on telehealth support systems. Initiatives like these are particularly promising as research suggests long-term benefits from parent involvement in early interventions.

That said, digital advancements that may improve outcomes for autistic people are only possible with further changes that require structural changes in society. As suggested in a recent roundtable of autism experts discussing the effects of the pandemic on the autistic community, we must decrease the digital divide, and increase funding for autistic people to acquire alternative communication devices. In order for autistic children to benefit from telehealth initiatives and maximize caregiver involvement in interventions, we must find ways for families to receive financial reimbursement for their work as support staff.

Importantly, we must ensure that remote participation remains possible following the pandemic. It’s common to hear that now that there is widespread inoculation against COVID-19 that life can return back to ‘normal,’ i.e. in-person rather than online. Such statements are entirely subjective, and that for many, online engagement has not only become the ‘new normal’ but preferable to the former way of life. Listening to the needs of the community by including stakeholders in changing practice is vital is we are to preserve any silver linings from COVID-19.   

Dr Gray Atherton is Lecturer in Psychology at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 27th April 2020 by Gray which can be found here.

After a Year, is it Time to Log Off?

Covid Anniversary Blog

In this morning’s tutorial with a postgraduate our conversation meandered here and there, touching on writing, juggling deadlines and inter-weaving theoretical ideas with the blessed Harvard referencing. It reminded me of the best things about being a university tutor – I was actually helping!

Except, I was sitting in my house with my laptop perched atop my knee and as I stretched my crumpled back, I thought how this was now normal.

Before the pandemic, tutorials would be prearranged on campus and less frequent.  Now, I’m constantly online, seemingly available and visibly accessible. In truth, I am troubled by this altered relationship with the digital world even with all its inherent affordances.  

Recently my research has been putting to work theories of new materialism (Albin-Clark 2020). Through this lens, we see the humans (me and my friendly postgraduate) in co-existence with a non-human world that we could trace from our laptops. Cables snake beneath my street, electrical wires stretch across rooftops powered from generators far away, flicking data along invisible networks. From this perspective, the material and social are in a complex assemblage when the human becomes displaced from the centre of the focus. This leads me to the question; what does the non-human world do?  

Without doubt our inter-relationship with the non-human digital world offers affordances, like convenience and accessibility. But there is more at work as using technology is embodied, your fingers tap at the keyboard and your heart rate spikes as you open your emails.

Yet what troubles are embedded in those affects? Our enticing, ever blinking devices blur personal and professional boundaries causing the working day to creep in earlier and slip later into the evening.  Our back and wrists ache, the reading glasses prescription no longer fit for purpose after a year of screen-bound life.

Now what I long to do is the simple act of switching off my computer and shift into an evening that is not a workplace.

I am missing those chance human encounters in my lockdown technologically entwined life, the material social assemblage of twinkly corridor tutorials. The students catches your eye, you gently touch their arm in greeting and the ensuing talk tunes you in, sparks your next teaching plan and eases troubles.  

So now I’m looking to re-entangle with natural world, so I just might refill those birdfeeders in my little back garden and stretch my legs in the Springtime air. I’m disentangling in stages from my non-human digital world, and so here I go – I’m logging off!

Dr Jo Albin-Clark is a senior lecturer in the Early Years Department, Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 28th May 2020 by Jo which can be found here.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Then and Now: Crime, Speeding Cars, and How to Stop Them

Motor cars have been used for crime since their earliest pre-First World War development. However, with the rapid rise in car ownership it was the interwar period that saw public and political concern rise significantly. Fears about criminal use of motor cars became focused on the idea of the ‘motor bandit’, an emotive and flexible label for any driver wanted for a serious crime.

One of the important issues for police was how to stop a speeding car that was going to be, or more likely had been, used for crime.

A barricades committee was given a remit to devise a barrier that would be obstructive, simple and quick to set up and take down by no more than two constables, could obstruct the footway as well as the carriageway, and be distinctive to an approaching driver without being obvious from a distance (otherwise ‘the bandit’ would just turn around).

Tests of spiked mats were held at the London General Omnibus Company depot in Chiswick on 21st August 1928 under the auspices of the Daily Mail. Coverage in the newspaper heralded the tests a success but the Metropolitan Police found the mats wanting. Specifically, spiked mats were felt to be inefficient against the bandit in a stolen car, who could just escape on foot, but possibly more effective against the ordinary ‘road hog’ using his own car.

Whether motor bandit or ‘road hog’, the safety of the occupants of targeted cars was also an important consideration as was that of the safety of pedestrians or occupants of other vehicles; this ruled out the use of wire ropes across the road.

The problem of how to apprehend criminals travelling at speed was born in the 1920s but is a live issue a century later. Indeed, many earlier physical methods have been refined and enhanced using technology. Some remain familiar such as the stinger (or spike strip), a device designed to puncture the tyres of vehicles to slow or stop them. Talon, a net with steel spikes that become entangled around front wheels can be deployed by two people in less than a minute. Like much recent road control technology the latter was developed to prevent terrorism, a threat that was also experienced during the interwar era.

The 1920s barricades committee highlighted the difficulties of stopping motor vehicles using barriers and cordons when traveling criminals could change their route readily. The current security cordon around the City of London makes use of narrowed roads, chicanes created by concrete blocks, and police guards to monitor traffic – all of which are reinforced by digital CCTV recordings of traffic and 24-hour automated number plate recording. This has been termed ‘fortress urbanism’.

The friction between interventionist policing methods and public and police safety also endures as revealed in recent criticism about the dangers of police cars hitting (making ‘tactical contact’) suspected offenders on mopeds or motorcycles. This debate goes directly to a long-established core issue of policing: the balance between their purposeful physical intervention on the roads, the impact on suspects and the potential collateral damage experienced by others. After 100 years, it seems this debate is not over.

Alyson Brown, is Professor of History and Associate Head of Department at Edge Hill University.

Image by franckreporter

A Year ‘at a distance’: Is there hope ‘when this is all over’?

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago we started to experience changes to even the most menial of tasks, including the weekly shop. Stripes of yellow and black tape appeared on supermarket floors guiding us around (sometimes unfathomable) one way systems, and indicating where we should stand in a ‘socially distanced’ queue. Plastic screens that used to adorn checkouts in the 1970s were hastily (re)instated.. and then we were told to don masks and ‘shop alone’.

I wrote at the time that while this physical distancing was necessary in a pandemic, it also brought into focus the risk of our being distanced from each other in ways that the philosopher Gabriel Marcel, called our ‘unavailability’.

After many months of forced separation, there is clearly a longing to be physically together again.

We recall the delight that accompanied the announcement that there could be some kind of limited family gatherings over the Christmas period, and the profoundly moving scenes of family members being able to hold hands with relatives in care homes for the first time since the pandemic started.

But what of Marcel’s more richly nuanced idea of our being available to each other – our disponibilité?

The pandemic has allowed us to reflect on what it means to offer the gift of ourselves in hospitality to another. But more than this, it has allowed us to think about what this means in original, practical, ways and how we can maintain this availability over time. These are ideas that Marcel captures in what he calls our need for ‘creative fidelity’ in our relationships with others.

The tragedy of the pandemic is all too evident in the devastation of lives, communities and the economy. But it has opened up opportunities for us to forge new ways of being available to each other emotionally, spiritually, practically, and temporally, despite physical distance.

We ask whether the world will be the same once ‘all this is over’. Perhaps not; but I want to hold on to the idea that creative fidelity, and the idea of availability, are examples how we can have hope for finding new ways to be together again. 

Amanda Fulford is Professor of Philosophy of Education at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 20th May 2020 by Amanda which can be found here.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Winners and Losers: A Year of Tourism During Covid-19

Covid Anniversary Blog

So now we know.  Figures published by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation show that the impact of COVID-19 on tourism has been devastating. International arrivals to the UK fell by 74% in 2020; levels not seen since the early 1990s. 1 billion international arrivals have been ‘lost’, along with export revenues of $1.3 trillion. Globally, up to 120 million tourism and hospitality jobs are at risk and international tourism is not forecast to return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024.  

But while international tourism may be in the doldrums, the ‘staycation’ boom indicates that the desire to take holidays remains unchanged. Last summer tourists and day trippers largely shunned the cities and headed to the countryside and coast.  Britain’s much-mocked seaside towns had never been so popular.

One of the unexpected consequences of this staycation boom was a new form of so-called over-tourism, particularly at the seaside and our national parks.  We saw some extraordinary scenes, including a day in June when half a million people arrived on Bournemouth beach, causing the local council to declare a major incident. Meanwhile, those destinations traditionally associated with over-tourism – Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik – experienced a very quiet summer.   

As for this summer, another tourism boom is forecast due to the pent-up demand for travel. Once again it is likely to be those parts of the country that are traditionally most popular with domestic tourists – especially the South West and the Lake District – that do best, while resumption of international travel may take longer.

In the longer term, everything inevitably depends on the vaccination programme not only in this country, but also in potential destinations.  Whether by choice, or through restrictions posed in countries of origin, there will some parts of the world that will be effectively closed to tourists for several years. It’s also becoming clear that proof of vaccination will soon be as essential as the passport for those wishing to travel internationally. Anti-vaxxers will face a dilemma if they aspire to international holidays.  

With reported losses of $50 billion, one sector which is particularly dependent on the pace of the vaccine roll-out is the cruise industry. Cruise ships anchored off the British coast became a familiar sight during 2020 (at one stage, there were 6 such ships anchored in Bournemouth bay alone). It will probably take some time before consumer confidence fully returns, and when cruising does return to its pre-pandemic trajectory, new hygiene regulations will be central to the cruising experience. In the short term, the cruise companies are responding by developing new products such as low-density cruises, largely limited to domestic destinations. 

And what about the hopes that COVID-19 could bring about a reset in global tourism growth and a move towards more sustainable forms of tourism?  This looks increasingly unlikely and there is even talk of a new phenomenon of ‘revenge tourism’ as customers, deprived of opportunities to travel during lockdowns, splash out on extra holidays as a way of taking ‘revenge’ on the virus.

Thus combined with an inevitable ‘reshaping’ of the tourism industry in terms of jobs, attractions and destinations of choice, how we ‘do’ tourism is also likely to permanently change, and so the impact of Covid-19 will be felt for many years to come.

Dr Duncan Light is Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management at Bournemouth University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 13th May 2020 by Duncan which can be found here.

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Rebuilding after COVID-19: Is Now the Time for a Universal Basic Income?

Covid Anniversary Blog

Has the time finally come for a universal basic income (UBI)?  Many believe so, especially in light of the economic fall-out from the covid-19 pandemic. Experiments of basic income are running in many advanced welfare states. What for centuries has been an outpost of radical, even obscure, philosophical and economic debates could soon become a reality.

Historically, basic income has held little tract with mainstream European political parties.  Rather, its supporters were found across a range of radical traditions, such as anti-work theory and various strands of libertarianism.   Yet in an age of disruption, radical policies can take on an unexpected persuasion and, before long, appear the most pragmatic of choices.

Given its diverse support base, the problems that basic income can purportedly solve often appear breathtaking in range.  But its recent popularity can be explained by its convincing claims to solve four key challenges facing advanced welfare states: automation; labour market precarity; gender inequality; and the desire of many for a better work-life balance.

That these are profound and genuine challenges for societies is without doubt.  Yet that basic income is the policy answer is unclear; so let’s apply three tests.

  • Can UBI win widespread public support?

Basic income will require a higher tax settlement than at present and public enthusiasm for much higher public spending is largely undetectable.  Whilst opinion polls tend to show reasonably high support for basic income, once people are informed of the tax consequences support falls significantly.

Perhaps more fundamentally, basic income is at odds with social norms on welfare deservingness, with entitlement to social security largely wedded to notions of contribution or need.  UBI would go to those who do not contribute, as well as to those who have little need and so contrary to dominant social norms around the moral, as well as economic, value of paid work.

  • Can UBI to correct those problems its supporters identify? 

Here there is a case that basic income is not nearly transformative enough: Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for example, describes basic income as a defeatist proposal.  It does not seek to contest and correct the inequalities and problems its advocates identify.  It takes these inequalities as inevitable and, absent of an idea for how to truly eradicate them, offers a small income to compensate people’s losses.

  • What would be the impact of UBI on existing and alternative social policies.

It would for example leave less expenditure, and less public will, to maintain and expand existing social policies, and to develop new ones.    Equally, it raises the potential that basic income could be used as an excuse to retrench existing welfare arrangements in the future.

This is the real dilemma posed by UBI: what policies should be prioritised?  A basic income or better-funded childcare?  A basic income or reskilling and training programmes for young people and the unemployed?  If the argument can be won for stronger social investment, governments will not have the capacity to provide both basic income and more generous, expanded social interventions.  A stark and difficult choice would have to be made.

More plausible, credible and evidence-backed social policies exist as viable alternatives.  Whilst not as elegant or seductive as UBI, they offer stronger claims to winning public support and transforming societies for the long-term.  Now is not the time to trust in a single, simple solution for the most complex social and economic challenges.

Dr Daniel Sage is Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University.

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Who needs a wall? US-Mexico Immigration during a Pandemic

Covid Anniversary Blog

`Never say never’ … the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico has fallen.

Well, not literary, but since the inauguration of Joe Biden, they have stopped building it. Yet this is largely symbolic, as due to pandemic, the U.S.-Mexico border continues to be closed. In fact, since March 2020 the US-Mexico border has been closed to all but essential crossings. All immigration procedures were put on hold and asylum seekers desperate to reach the U.S. were told to wait in Mexico, living in shelters under inhuman conditions.

Yet there is an even darker side to this story. With no hope of the border re-opening, migrants have turned to the people smugglers. The pandemic has also made it more difficult for the US authorities to infiltrate such smuggling rings; and economic deprivation brought about by the pandemic has increased incentives for Mexicans to participate in people smuggling. The pandemic has created a circle of migration error.

Most of the undocumented Mexicans enter the U.S. to provide for their families back home. 3% of Mexico’s GDP was attributed to such money flows in 2019. This has increased during the pandemic, with Mexico recording a record 4 billion dollars in money transfers in March 2020. This contrasts with the majority of other Latin American countries who have experienced a fall in the bank transfers from the U.S in 2020.

Many Mexican immigrants are also ‘critical workers’ in construction, food services, manufacturing industries, making them more vulnerable to Covid-19. They pay taxes, add to the U.S. economy, but many of them cannot enter healthcare system and they are afraid of being caught by the authorities; increasing their risk during the pandemic, and the risk of others.

Yet with the Biden administration comes a new approach. Deportations have been halted for 100 days. ‘Dreamers’- immigrants who came to the U.S. with their parents illegally have had their protection from deportation reinstated. Asylum seekers no longer need to wait in Mexico to be allowed to enter the U.S., and the U.S. is now doing everything possible to reunite detained migrant children, separated from their family as a result of policies pursued by the Trump administration, with their parents.

There are ways to cross the border; asking for asylum, migrant smugglers, temporary work VISAs, sending children. The pandemic, and not the wall, changed is how to get to the ‘promised land’; but if the socio-economic situation in Mexico does not improve, there will incentives to find a way – legal or illegal – to cross.

And the wall is still standing…

Katia Adimora is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of English, History and Creative Writing at Edge Hill University. Twitter: @AdimoraKatia

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A Year of Youth Work in Lockdown: What have we been doing if not innovating?

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago I was planning a workshop hosted by Youth Focus NW. Speakers were coming from across the country and there were lots of discussions over whether the event should be cancelled or go ahead. Taking the lead from the Cheltenham Festival, we went ahead with our chairs spaced a metre apart. That was the last time I saw my colleagues in person.

Twelve months ago the youth sector was also already looking ahead and thinking what provision would look like post-COVID. That now seems naïve. We never thought we would still be in lockdown a year later.

Now we proceed with a mixture of wariness and flexibility, moving between different styles of delivery depending on the operating ‘level’. Together the National Youth agency have worked with Government to develop a system of levels that allow youth organisations to understand what they can and can’t do under the restrictions that are in place.

As a result, over the past year youth workers have carried on, fitting their practice to meet the current guidance, planning and replanning, innovating and making sure they reach as many young people as possible they can.

Youth services and organisations have learnt how to offer provision online, they have continued to meet vulnerable young people in person. Many organisations haven’t stopped, they have just used their ingenuity to find a way to make sure young people have support.

The impact of the pandemic and the needs of young people are now also becoming clear. NHS data suggests one in 6 young people have a mental health problem. Research from UK Youth indicated 66% of youth organisations are experiencing increased demand. Demand is increasing but income is falling. Almost two thirds of organisations that took part in the research think they may have to close in the next 12 months. Young people need those services and the relationships with youth workers. We should be planning how we  are going to support young people return to, what we hope will be, a more normal life. 

In response the government is undertaking a rapid review to inform policy for the out-of-school agenda until 2025. This will determine the future of the £500m Youth Investment Fund (YIF), promised in the Conservative Party’s 2019 general election manifesto for boosting the infrastructure of open access youth provision. On hold since the start of the pandemic, the delay has been attributed to a perception that it was “impossible to expect people to innovate at the moment”. Yet the pandemic has forced us all – willingly or not – to innovate. So what better time to invest these much needed funds in the future of our young people?

Elizabeth Harding is the former CEO of Youth Focus NW, she is a Visiting Fellow of the Institute for Social Responsibility, and now a freelance consultant with a focus and interest in youth work.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 18th May 2020 by Liz which can be found here.

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COVID-19, (im)mobility and Health Inequalities

Covid Anniversary Blog

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on human mobility and migration.

Governments across the world took extraordinary measures to curtail international travel and movement of peoples whilst simultaneously calling all their citizens to return home. Domestic systems of disease management followed including enforced quarantine and closed borders. The pandemic was initially thought as an equalizer; a global phenomenon and suffering, and a common basis for global solidarity, but it has been anything but.

One year on and the new understanding is that COVID-19 and (im)mobility has exposed even more global and local inequalities. The way nation states regulated (im)mobilities may have changed, but the fundamental principles that guided the unequal treatment of some groups and forms of movement have only gained more traction.  While access to and practices of movement – be it international or local – are known to be uneven and as such to generate more inequalities, health (im)mobilities have been little scrutinised, and less so in relation to ethnic and racial diversity.

The reasons are manifold. A Global Society on Migration, Ethnicity, Race and Health Conference has shown that the approach of nation-states has been that of bio-security and not that of a right to health. Facing various issues of access to healthcare before the pandemic, economic migrants and refugees have not been meaningfully included in the emergency resource allocation during the past 12 months. The impact of these policy gaps on the health attitudes and experiences of these groups following the pandemic makes scapegoating potentially high.

Furthermore, the attitude of nation-states towards measuring the impact of COVID-19 in relation to race and ethnicity varies greatly, and sometimes there are also differences between states and local authorities. This variability has consequences for gaining an understanding of patterns at local, national, regional and global level and for comparative analyses to take place.

The bio-security agenda may lead to even deeper mobility inequalities, not least because of harsher immigration restrictions and lower accountability for policy-makers at national level. As a new era of bio-politics dawns in the wake of COVID-19 it is likely that little may change for racial and ethnic inequalities, particularly for migrants.

Dr Zana Vathi is a Reader in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University. She also an ISR Fellow and Director of the Migration Working Group, North West.

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The Continued Impact of Coronavirus on LGBTQ+ People

Covid Anniversary Blog

Research and contemporary reports on the impact of COVID-19 indicate how those from marginalised and disadvantaged backgrounds have been most impacted by the virus. This has been particularly the case for disabled people and ethnic minorities.

February 2021 was LGBT History Month, a time to focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who shaped the civil rights and (relative) freedoms we have today. Social media was buzzing with reference to the queer saints who went before us, including the LGBTQ+ authors on school curricula, specifically Wilfred Owen, Alice Walker, E. M. Forster to name just a few.

Twelve months ago, I discussed the complexities of LGBTQ+ young people who may be residing in lockdown with families to whom they are not open about their non-normative gender or sexual identities. I warned against the romanticisation of “coming out” given that LGBTQ+ young people are statistically more likely to be made homeless, sofa-surf or have insecure housing as a result. While lockdown has been challenging for everyone, for LGBTQ+ young people the risk of non-acceptance and/or homophobic, bi-phobic, or transphobic violence at home as significantly increased. Moreover, as school and colleges are closed, the usual channels to discuss safeguarding concerns have changed.

The Barnardos Charity reports how calls to their switchboards have increased by 20%. They reiterate the message from the Albert Kennedy Trust, that LGBTQ+ young people should think carefully and maybe consider pressing pause on any intention to come out during lockdown periods. Their page lists a number of UK charities equipped and ready to support LGBTQ+ people.

The LGBT Foundation has conducted research into the impact of coronavirus on LGBTQ+ lives. Their findings demonstrate the following:

  1. LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to be socially isolated; they may lack contact or support.
  2. Trans and non-binary people have experienced interruptions to hormone therapy, with appointments and surgeries cancelled.
  3. There has been an exacerbation of poor mental health already experienced by LGBTQ+ individuals. For many, the struggles may be worse, including because of the lack of contact or support with others in the LGBTQ+ community. This can also lead to substance abuse, including alcohol.
  4. LGBTQ+ people more likely to experience domestic abuse, especially during lockdown periods.

In addition to their research into COVID-19 on LGBTQ+ individuals and communities, the LGBT Foundation has offered a list of ten simple strategies people can do at home to both affirm their LGBT identities, and support mental health. The list is here, and includes engaging with LGBT films, music, YouTube channels; connecting with people in safe online chat forums; documenting experiences to process emotions and thoughts; and to talk with trusted people.

Post-Covid, education and health settings will have a real task ahead in promoting and supporting wellbeing and positive mental health to all young people who have been impacted by the pandemic: academically and emotionally. Reflecting on my words written almost a year ago, my position remains that coming-out should not be romanticised, either within or outside a pandemic. It is not always a safe transition for young LGBTQ+ people and is indicative of the work still to do to eradicate homophobia, bi-phobia and transphobia in society.

Dr Chris Greenough is Senior Lecturer in Theology and World Religion at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 18th May 2020 by Chris which can be found here.

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A Year On in Lockdown Ministry

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year of ministry in lockdown brings with it a conflicting mixture of befuddlement, anger and hope.

The anger comes from standing alongside many families in their bereavement with so few people allowed in our buildings; thirty in Church, and ten or twenty at Crematoria. No hymn singing allowed even in a brief respite near Christmas, when we managed about 4 Sunday services in Church rather than on zoom, including two muted Holy Communion services, giving only bread.

When I stop and think that bereavement pain has been repeated well over 120,000 times since this virus took hold I am angry. Standing outside the places of committal many large families wept with frustration and on a number of occasions hugged one another out of desperation when I stood by masked and sensibly isolating. Although it was impossible to save everyone, I wonder if the interface between science and politics might have been better handled?

Although I have deeply missed singing with others there have been a few things that have lifted me. Over Christmas we decided to do socially distanced outdoor carolling by some of the houses of our most vulnerable members. We were so inspired to see many front doors opening with many local people joining in. It was truly heart-warming and a real tonic in the middle of Winter.

Not being able to have hymns or sing,  families have been given the opportunity to pick songs they like or their deceased relative’s favourites. Many people who died were my age or younger so I have had many memories relit by listening to old favourites including Whitney Houston, Elvis, Tom Jones, the Dubliners, the Beatles and Jerry and the Pacemakers.

But what has struck me most is that people have been really sensitive to their own and other people’s feelings and the music has touched us all deeply. Things like ‘Have I told you Lately that I love you’ and ‘Goodbye is the Saddest word’ have revealed the pain and wishes of people who are universally grateful that we are focussed on their needs and feelings and not imposing hymns and songs they don’t know.

My hope is that we have got nearer to the beating heart of our communities in new and meaningful ways. As well as funerals and other contacts made during lockdown we have been privileged to share food parcels, Christmas Hampers, and half term meals for families through our work with One Knowsley and Knowsley Kitchen. Realising the poverty and need in our areas brings again a mixture of anger and hope. We easily become isolated from other people’s pain when we just try to manage our own; we all need to look outwards for change and make it happen.

Rev John S Davis Assistant Priest, St. Gabriel’s Church, Huyton, Deanery Missioner and an ISR Visiting Fellow.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 30th April 2020 by John which can be found here.

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Digital Inclusion and a ‘Good Society’ in the wake of COVID-19

Covid Anniversary Blog

12 months ago I reimagined a good society in the wake of Covid-19. The vision was one of mutual aid, community strength and public policy, led by strong, independent and diverse voices. One year on, this vision has in some sense been enacted; yet the pandemic has revealed more obstacles on the road to a ‘good society’, none more so than the impact of digital poverty and exclusion.

The pandemic has led to passionate campaigning on many issues. Activism around issues such as food poverty have highlighted how a human values response to policy making can make fast and impactful changes. However food poverty is simply a symptom of a broader structural exclusion experienced by people on low incomes. For in reality food poverty, is in plainer terms, just poverty. With research starting to indicate that Covid itself may become a disease of the poor, it is imperative that we take this opportunity to permanently reshape our society.

Thus to return to the three imaginings of a good society from my original post, this requires a not simple a ‘repairing’ of the welfare state, or a re-imagining of a what a good society might look like, or even a move towards more meaningful collaborations between voluntary, public and private sectors. It requires a shift in our conceptualisation of poverty, and our collective response thereto.

The last twelve months have highlighted that a post-Covid vision of a good society needs to be more compassionately radical, to re-frame its reimagining around human rights and opportunity, and our right to participate in a democratic society. The curtailment of our civil liberties aside, the almost exclusive digital response to the pandemic has diminished the ability of many in poverty to participate or to use their voice.

There is no question that digital exclusion has broadened the divide between the ‘digital haves and have nots’, as highlighted by recent reports from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). The JRF UK Poverty Report and the JRF Destitution Report both highlighted digital poverty as not simply about not being able to access basic public services such as education, health, and social security; but is more fundamentally about voice. As APLE Collective, state ‘to be digitally excluded, is to be silenced’.

So to re-imagine a good society in the wake of covid-19 we must build what Baroness Ruth Lister calls ‘voice-space,’ and address digital poverty as a human rights issue. For, from digital inclusion, so comes the ability to campaign, share ideas, listen and be heard; and so voices emerge. To be truly ‘good’ our post-Covid society must take account of this.

Dr Katy Goldstraw is Senior Lecturer in the Social Sciences as Staffordshire University and is Chair of the ISR External Advisory Group.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 6th May 2020 by Katy which can be found here.

Note: ISR are playing their part in creating opportunities for ‘voice-space.’ We are running a series of webinars, which are idea sharing sessions, focussed on how you generate socially distanced, social responsibility. Join us on March 17th for Young People and the Pandemic: Doing Socially Distanced Social Responsibility.

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