Everybody involved in the UK Higher Education Sector knows that Toby Young has been recruited to the board of the Office for Students.  They will also know that he has had to delete thousands of offensive tweets, mainly about the size of women’s breasts, homophobia, snobbery and disablism.  The tweets are abhorrent.  His published views on “progressive eugenics” and his contempt for many of his fellow citizens would usually bar him from holding public office.  I know of no school or local authority who could appoint a man with this kind of public profile.  However, I want to move the debate forward.  I don’t want the discussion to simply be about how terrible/brave/caustic/hard-working Toby Young is.  I want it to be about how the government has recruited to a post that is supposed to be about  putting “the student interest at heart” and promoting fair access to HE.  I want to hold the government to account in the way that other public bodies are.  Therefore, I have put together this petition, which if signed by enough people, will force a response from the government about the process. If you live in the UK, please sign and share as widely as possible:



Elizabeth Gaskell – Mary Barton (1848)

Mary BartonIt is ages since I’ve read a Victorian novel and I’ve never read a book by Elizabeth Gaskell.  Mary Barton is one of the first industrial novels.  It is set in the early days of Manchester’s industrial expansion. However, I was struck by how modern the story is.

Mary is a smitten young working class woman, dreaming of improving her life by the promise of marriage to a richer man.  future footballer wifeHer life as a seamstress is filled with fashion and gossip.  Unlike her father, a union man, she shows little awareness of the structural inequity underpinning her fantasy of escape. As a young, pretty woman she is subject to judgement, through gossip, inter-generational sneering, and her own harsh opinion, when she realises she was looking in the wrong place for happiness. Continue reading

‘Don’t Even Get Us Started on Social Workers’: Domestic Violence, Social Work and Trust—An Anecdote from Research

This is the abstract from a recent paper written with Kate Cook at Manchester Metropolitan University:

This paper explores the concept of trust in relation to social work, child protection and work on domestic abuse. Trust is a complex notion. Borrowing from the arguments of Behnia that trust is the outcome of a process, the paper uses the talk of women who have experienced social work in the context of domestic abuse and child protection to consider the barriers to trust building. The evidence is gathered from three focus groups which formed part of an evaluation of a ‘Freedom Programme’. The findings highlight issues with trust building that start with the context of living with abuse and work outwards to considerations of professional power, social work systems and wider inequality, suggesting an ecological approach to the trust-building process. The key argument is that social workers will struggle to gain trust within a system that sees domestic abuse as a hurdle that mothers must overcome, rather than a trauma through which they should be supported. The experiences of the women in this research, however, do show that trust and respect for voluntary service are achievable and that practice which builds alliances with the voluntary sector and service users could develop more trusting relationships.

The full paper can be found at the British Journal of Social Work.

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Ajay Close – A Petrol Scented Spring (2015)

petrol scented springSocial policies categorise people.  A primary category is those who require support.  Another is those who provide support.  Those who are subject to social policy are then further divided; we call them service-users, patients, recipients, tenants, etc.  And those who provide services are called social workers, medics, civil servants, housing officers etc.  Social policy academics can look at the impact of social policy for those who use services, the organisation of those provide services or the relationship between the two.  I have been turning my attention more recently to that last point. This is for three main reasons.  First, I am not convinced by the divide between those in need and those who provide.  I am both teacher and learner.  I offer help but also require it.  I require help, but can also provide it.  Second, the relationship is subject to the implementation of policy.  The consequences of legislation and resource allocation mean that it is not simply about practitioners using professional judgement, but understanding the context of their practice.  Third, the relationship is not as described and is frequently far from the ideal that the terms service-user and provider would suggest.  If the expectation is that someone described as in need of a service will receive an appropriate and professional service from someone described as a service-provider, that expectation is often thwarted. Continue reading

My Letter to a 12 Year Old

Ever since I read this story (here) about you, a girl that was raped at the age of 12 I have wanted to reach out to you.  Of course, I can’t.  Because one of the few things our legal system gets right is the anonymity of victims of sexual assault.  However, I don’t need to know your name, where you live or what you look like to write this letter.

There are lots of ways I could write to you to let you know that I care. Continue reading

Helen Dunmore – Birdcage Walk (2017)

birdcage walk coverWhen I first started this blog I wrote that I wanted to use my reading, cinema viewing, theatre and exhibition visits to help me with understanding the discipline of social policy and my place in the world.  This blog aims to be an inter-disciplinary space using culture to understand the practicalities of politics.  Helen Dunmore does something similar with her fiction.  She asks ordinary people to cope with the dramas of history and politics.  For example, The Siege (2001) focuses on the Levin family trapped inside Leningrad while Hitler’s army surrounds the city.  The Lie (2014) gives a raw portrayal of a soldier’s return from World War 1.  Exposure (2016) examines a marriage under the strain of the Cold War.  This novel does something different.  The big event is the French Revolution.  However, the triumph and horror of the ferocious events of Paris are experienced vicariously as the action of the novel is set in Bristol. Continue reading

Naomi Alderman – The Power (2016)

The PowerInequality is everywhere.

Evidencing inequality is the easy part.  Exposing the injustice and ridiculous consequences of inequality is important.  But, understanding the reasons for its ongoing hold on social life is where it gets difficult.  This novel Naomi Alderman’s The Power runs with the suggestion that the reason for gender inequality is as banal as physical strength.  Continue reading