Category Archives: Politics, Policies And Process

Financial Regulation Is Strengthened By Diversity

Woman executive red briefcase, pink notebook + accessories The current financial chaos is producing a lot of debate about regulation. On one hand we’re told that very tight scrutiny, emboldened by severe legislation, is a must; whilst others say more ‘good, moral people’ from the City are the answer. Both positions have merit. But urgent action to widen the pool from which Board Directors is drawn is one essential and immediate option, insisting that many more women become directors of the most influential companies.
Few would deny that, as Andrew Phillips said recently in The Guardian, a ‘welter of regulation’ cannot in and of itself avoid further catastrophe for the Threadneedle Street and City of London and Wall Street.
Of course ‘good, moral’ people are a pre-requisite of effective reformation of the financial system; and of course this must include people of ‘all talents’.
Diversity improves scrutiny
What Lord Phillips might also propose, however, is that none of this is likely to deliver unless the talents involved are those of a truly diverse lot, in background, ethnicity, gender and otherwise.
The best way to secure proper scrutiny is to ensure, however well meaning they might be, that decision-making groups are not also a collection of people with much, beyond the necessary skills and expertise, in common.
Diversity improves business performance too
We already know that diversity at the top makes for successful business. Group members of different sorts, from a variety of backgrounds, aren’t an optional extra when it comes to effective group working. They’re essential.
And the UK workplace equality legislation to deliver this – applicable as much in the boardroom as on the shopfloor – is already in place.

Read more about Business & Enterprise and about Gender & Women.

John Willman, Tim Leunig And North West England

08.09.27  NWDA AGM 2008 John Willman  Liverpool BT Conference Centre John Willman is UK Business Editor of the Financial Times, so his take on the UK economy was an important contribution to the NWDA 2008 Annual Conference in Liverpool. His message, whilst analytically cautious in the present market chaos, came over as generally upbeat. Would that Tim Leunig, the academic who advised the economic emphasis should Go South, had seen things in the same light. Better surely for the North and the South of England, if we face the UK’s regional (and centralist) challenges, than if we run away?
The headline message from John Willman‘s talk came over to me as: Tim Leunig is mistaken. And the UK economy is fundamentally strong.
Leunig’s recent staggering judgement (in the report Cities Unlimited, by the free market leaning independent think tank Policy Exchange) that in general developers should abandon the North of England for the delights of the Golden Triangle – he suggests more development around Oxbridge, which will supposedly realign the North-South markets – in my view takes some beating for silliness. John Willman appeared to be of a similar mind.
The great Victorian cities
Far from suggesting, as Leunig seems to, that Greater London should become even more overheated, Willman made the case that the ‘great Victorian cities’ are the best equipped for the new ‘global living’. There is, he said, a Kit: some combination of conference centres, art galleries, a four-star hotel, some culture and festivals, and maybe a port.
In these respects the major English cities of the North (of the Core Cities, only Bristol is South) have the edge on continental European cities such as Bordeaux and Porto. They’re also great and fascinating cities (as I too can attest), but they’re probably 15 years behind their parallels in Britain: Their docksides have yet to be developed for the new leisure economies, for instance.
North-South divide: London ‘vs’ the rest
The debate about the North-South divide, Willman told us, is sterile. It’s useless to ‘blame’ London. The UK capital is a truly global city; in this, the North can never expect or even hope to compete. It’s just not a realistic objective to close the gap.
And London, with the mayoral model which elected mayor Ken Livingstone provided, showed how a ‘get things done’ city can operate.
The national and global economy
Despite the panic, only 3% of UK mortgages are in default. Willman judged that Britain is still doing pretty well as the sixth largest manufacturer in the world, a supplier of very high quality products.
In these respects the UK economy is well placed for the globalised world; as is North West England, with its emphasis on the service economies, life sciences, media and creative products and the current / forthcoming energy industries (including nuclear energy) .
The Wimbledon effect
The UK is an open economy, which in some senses punches above its weight. Britain demonstrates the ‘Wimbledon effect‘: we don’t necessarily take the headlines, but we do host the event.
In fact, the consultants Saffron Brand recently reported that perhaps the UK sells its story ‘too well’ – some of our cities are actually more highly rated than cold analysis suggests they might be.
A strong basic economy
Willman’s overall judgement at the NWDA 2008 Annual Conference was that UK economy is ‘so much stronger than 30 years ago’.
Perhaps some of us continue to see the elephant in the room – climate change and environmental sustainability – as an critically important challenge, still to be adequately (and very urgently) addressed.
Whatever… Would that Tim Leunig and others like him were as willing as Willman, on the basis of the evidence over many decades, to recognise that people everywhere have to believe in themselves to make their economies work effectively at all.
Read more about Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions
and about Economics Observed.

Sure Start’s Approach To Health Inequalities Does Work

High Infant Mortality Rates (IMR) are a distressing measure, but they tell us a lot about the nation’s health. In the UK today the risk of infant death is about one in two hundred live births. But still seven times as many babies die in some working class Northern towns as do in the wealthiest parts of the South East. The Sure Start programme, alongside the Government’s IMR health inequalities initiative, shows promise in addressing these massive inequalities; but the next step must be to strengthen Sure Start’s interdisciplinary framework.
Fundamental issues such as human health and well-being are rarely a challenge for only one part of public sector services.
The really big problems almost always straddle a wide range of service provision, which can add substantially to the difficulties of resolving them – no one service provider alone ‘owns’ the issue, and it is often unclear who should head up programmes to address the problem.
Differentials in life expectancy
A classic example of this is the challenge in the UK of reducing the gap between the life expectancy of richer and poorer people, to achieve the goal of everyone who possibly can enjoying a long and healthy life.
The better the start in life, the more likely a person is to have a good outcome also in the future. For this reason there has been much emphasis in recent years on Infant Mortality Rates, which are generally agreed to be amongst the most sensitive overall indicators of a nation’s health.
Infant Mortality Rates (IMR) are usually stated as numbers of deaths per 1000 live births. The figures are often broken down into rates for the first four weeks of life (neonatal rate) and then for the rest of the first year of a child’s life (post-neonatal rate), i.e. from the end of week four till first birthday.
Infant Mortality Rates in Britain
The national statistics show that even since the 1970s, in the UK IMRs have fallen by about 60%. In 1978 the neonatal (first four weeks) rate was 8.7 deaths per 1000 live births, and the post-neonatal rate, up to a child’s first birthday, was 4.5.
By 1988 the rates were 4.9 and 4.1 respectively, and in 1997 they were 3.9 and 2.0.
In 2007 the UK neonatal mortality rate was 3.3 per 1000 live births, and the post-neonatal rate was 1.5 – in other words, a child born in the UK in 2007 had a probability of dying before his or her first birthday of just about one half of one percent. (You can see international comparisons here.)
Regional differences
Sadly, these national statistics include both good and bad news. The good news is that decent housing, income and environments can support people in long and healthy lives.
The bad news is that the opposite conditions can be lethal. There are parts of the North of England, for instance, where IMR is about twice that national average, and up to seven times that of the very best outcomes.
Specifically, high IMR and low life expectancy often go hand-in hand in the Spearhead areas; the 70 local authority areas with the worst health and deprivation indicators, and for which a programme of public service interventions has been developed.
High risk factors in health inequality
The target does not however take into account all dimensions of health inequalities in infant mortality. The statistics show e.g. that in 2002–04, the infant mortality rate of babies of mothers:
* born in Pakistan (10.2 per 1,000 live births) was double the overall IMR;
* born in the Caribbean (8.3 per 1,000 live births) was 63% higher than the national average;
* aged under 20 years (7.9 per 1,000 live births) was 60% higher than for older mothers aged 20–39;
* where the birth was registered by the mother alone (6.7 per 1,000 live births), was 36% higher than among all births inside marriage or outside marriage or jointly registered by both parents.
Improving life chances
Obviously, these significant inequalities are just not acceptable. The Government therefore introduced a Public Service Agreement (PSA ) Target in 2007 with the express objective of reducing the IMR gap, so that more babies will live to have long and healthy lives. (Healthy babies also have better long-term prospects, sometimes dramatically so.)
The deal is that the UK Treasury provides the money, and the public sector delivers the agreed outcome, to a clear timescale and against clearly measured outcomes.
Particular emphasis has therefore been placed in terms of health inequalities on achieving a ten percent reduction (between 2003 and 2010) in the IMR deficit between people in routine and manual (R&M) jobs, and the general population.
Practical steps forward
The practical ways in which the Health Inequalities Infant Mortality PSA Target Review (February 2007) can be achieved are focused on two things: sensible day-to-day actions and provisions, and interdisciplinary co-operation. In the words of the NHS summary of the Implementation plan for reducing health inequalities in infant mortality:
‘The plan describes how commissioners and service providers can develop local services to help reduce health inequalities in infant mortality through:
* promoting joined-up delivery of the target with Maternity Matters and Teenage Parents Next Steps. This includes
* improving access to maternity care;
* improving services for black and minority ethnic (BME) groups;
* encouraging ownership of the target through effective performance management;
* raising awareness of health inequalities in infant mortality and child health;
* gathering and reporting routine data, including specific maternity and paediatric activity;
* undertaking joint strategic needs assessment to identify local priorities around health inequalities in maternity and infant mortality;
* giving priority to evidence-based interventions that will help ensure delivery of the target.
It emphasises the importance of partnership working; outlines the role of government departments, strategic health authorities (SHAs), primary care trusts (PCTs), local authorities and Sure Start Children’s Centres.’
Specific, realisable targets for practical action and delivery
Progress may be slow, but none of this is rocket science.
Large-scale studies have demonstrated that just a few health messages about avoiding early years risk can have a big impact. Indeed, the Review of Health Inequalities has been able to quantify four measures, and suggest another one, which would have appreciable impact on the ‘10% reduction in IMR gap’ target. These were:
* reduce prevalence of obesity in the R&M group by 23%, to current general population levels – 2.8% gap reduction
* reduce smoking in pregnancy from 23% to 15% in R&M group – 2% gap reduction
* reduce R&M group sudden unexpected deaths in infancy by persuading 1 in 10 women in this group to avoid sharing a bed with their baby, or letting it sleep prone (on its front) – 1.4% gap reduction
* achieve teenage pregnancy target – 1% gap reduction
* also, early booking and improved teenage pregnancy services – not possible as yet to quantify probable gap reduction, but positive impact on gap anticipated.
Getting it right
The scope for getting this right in very simple ways is therefore enormous. Whilst guidance at national level, such as the Department of Health’s Child Health Promotion Plan (June 2008) is essential to provide a framework, much of the responsibility for success has to lie with the authorities ‘on the ground’, who have to co-ordinate the action.
In reality, only at the local level is it possible to get practitioners to work together well, to ensure that all those – including so-called ‘hard to reach’ minority ethnic familes, travellers and e.g. very young parents or parents with mental health problems – who would benefit from services, advice or support, in fact receive them. Although programmes such as the Family Nurse Partnership (a joint Department of Health / Department for Children, Schools and Families project whereby specially trained midwives and health vsitors work closely with vulnerable, first time, young parents) are starting to reach those with most disadvantage, in some places still this doesn’t always happen.
It is disappointing therefore to read claims in this month’s Regeneration and Renewal that the PSA Inequality target will be missed, despite the many billions of pounds (£9bn in 2007-8) which have been invested in Sure Start services to deliver early years provision.
An expected move
This probably why the Government is launching a public consultation on proposals to give Sure Start Children’s Centres a specific statutory legal basis, as part of the forthcoming Education and Skills Bill.
Such a move was indicated as a possibility when The Children’s Plan (the ten year programme for Every Child Matters) was introduced in December 2007. It would establish Sure Start Children’s Centres as ‘a legally recognised part of the universal infrastructure for children’s services, so their provision becomes a long term statutory commitment and part of the established landscape of early years provision’.
The best way forward
This is a much better idea than the alternatives proffered in some quarters – more Health Visitors as a stand-alone, for instance. (What about the GPs / family doctors? How do they fit in?)
A review of progress has shown (as my own consultancy work also indicates) that the PSA infant mortality target was not known or understood by practitioners (NHS, local government and Sure Start staff etc) despite individual examples of leadership and good practice.
Reaching out
And nor, in my experience, do practitioners and policy makers automatically know that impact has to be measured across the whole relevant population of infants, not just those who attend particular service provision, be this Health Visitor clinics, Sure Start or whatever.
About 80% of early years formal care is actually undertaken by small private concerns, child minders and so forth, a ‘group’ which, whilst of course the subject of statutory regulation and monitoring, it is particularly difficult to bring together in any meaningful way. But what happens in small relatively isolated provision will have a big impact on children’s future lives.
The PSA IMR Review has therefore identified the criticality of making the 10% gap reduction target part of everyday business – integrating into commissioning plans and provider contracts; taking responsibility and engaging communities; matching resources to needs; and focusing on what can be done.
Multi-disciplinary and future-facing
The challenges of equipping professionals to work together across disciplines are complex; not every practitioner would say, if asked, that they actually want to be so equipped and so far out of their comfort zone. But these challenges must be met, as is beginning to happen, with skills audits by NIACE which indicate the centrality in Sure Start provision of effective multi-agency leadership and partnership development.
The National Audit Office reports that, whilst most Sure Start Children’s Centre managers understand they must approach the work in a multi-disciplinary way, this is not always so for local authorities, who ‘had not all developed effective partnerships with health and employment services’.
The onus is now particularly on local government and NHS providers. If it takes more legislation to ensure they all collaborate properly with Sure Start Children’s Centres (and vice versa), so be it. It’s children’s futures which are at stake.
Read also: Early Intervention In The Early Years
See also: ‘Changes for the better?
– The Every Child Matters policy, published in 2003, was a landmark proposal for child social service reform. Five years on, Ruth Winchester asks the professionals how things have developed, and what progress has been made (The Guardian, 22 October 2008)

Rationales For Community Leadership (And Their Outcomes)

Leading by umbrella How do people come to be leaders in their communities? Are they anointed or appointed? Do they take or earn the authority to represent their peers? What are the rationales behind their belief that they should lead? Do others agree? And what are their objectives, and why? It all depends on where you’re coming from, and what sort of ‘community’ it is. So how should those who work in regeneration with communities and their leaders approach this complex and delicate issue?
The answer to these questions is, of course, that there is in fact No One Answer.
People come to be leaders through many different routes. For some authority and legitimacy is always a struggle. For others it just comes with who you are.
Different ‘communities’ for different purposes
This is a tale of different ‘communities‘ in different places and at different times. Some communities are geographically based, some interest based, some economic, some cultural.
‘Communities’ can comprise locations defined by their mono-cultural base (whether Protestant, Punjabi or Presbyterian), whilst at the other end of the spectrum some exist only as loosely connected groups of people who enjoy Politics, Portsmouth City or Painting. Leadership in these different communities will obviously not be of just one kind.
Intentions and expected outcomes
The intended outcomes of the leadership role vary. Some people believe they’re there to uphold tradition and (in their mind) maintain stability in an unstable world. Others seek to be leaders precisely so they can change things.
Traditional leaders and those (at the opposite end of the spectrum) who are of the ‘change the world’ tendency often to see their remit as wide. Others have more piece-meal and modest expectations, perhaps to improve things in a specific and direct way.
Authority to lead
The really interesting thing is that traditionalists and revolutionaries alike usually derive their authority from (what they perceive as) universal social values or mores. But those who seek more modest and specific changes tend to legitimise their positions in reasoned ways, perhaps in terms of the avoidance of harm or similar logically justifiable and rational objectives.
There is a chasm between those who exert overall authority as such – whether to maintain the status quo or radically to alter it – and those who seek to manage specific change, which they believe can be demonstrated to be for the better.
And these forms of influence are not randomly distributed. They tend to be associated with differences in community / cultural experience, age, gender and class. One person’s assumption of power and influence may well become, without any such overt intention, another person’s disempowerment.
Competing beliefs and challenges
Community leadership and wider social interests are sometimes hard to bring together in a world where there are competing beliefs about what legitimate authority in a community might be; and indeed about what constitutes a ‘community’.
Here lies one of the biggest challenges for those of us who seek to work with people in their (and our) own localities. Delivering stability and change together is hard to handle well.
In diversity lies strength?
Where the bottom line is overt – in for instance FTSE 100 Board Rooms – the evidence is incontrovertible, that diversity of gender (e.g. The McKinsey Report: Women Matter) and culture enhances good decision-making.
But how can (or ‘should’) we apply that knowledge in communities where at present the bottom line is not overt (what exactly is being ‘lead’?) and is certainly not up for discussion?
Read also
Social Diversity & Inclusion
and
‘Workable’ Regeneration: Acknowledging Difference To Achieve Social Equity (‘Regeneration Rethink’)

The Haldane Principle, 21st Century Science Research And Regional Policy

Research lab There are compelling reasons for a regional science policy for the UK; but they are often dismissed as incompatible with the Haldane Principle of 1904 and 1917/18, that government must not ‘interfere’ with scientific research. Science then was vastly less expensive and impacted far less on the economy and ordinary people’s lives. In the 21st century, the potential for regional development through science is huge – and it can only be done through intentional government direction.
The ‘arm’s length’ principle, that government should not intervene in how to determine what scientific research is done, was developed about a century ago, by Richard Burdon Haldane (1856-1928), who chaired UK Government commissions and committees on this subject in 1904 and 1917/18.
The 1918 Haldane Report recommended that only specifically required research should be commissioned and supervised by particular governmental departments. All other research, said Haldane, should be under autonomous Research Councils (of which the Medical Research Council was to become the first), free from political and administrative pressures and able to develop as was deemed fit by the Research Councils themselves.
Noble and fictional?
Noble as the pursuit of knowledge simply for its own sake may be, it’s impossible in our age of huge expenditure on Big Science that this recommendation, now almost a century old, can remain unexamined as the way forward.
The possibly apocryphal story is told (sadly, I can’t remember by whom) of one of the extraordinarily talented Huxley family having, many years ago, a laboratory at home in which he explored scientific questions; and of his son asking innocently of their young neighbour, what his father did in his (home) laboratory…. It’s not like that any more.
And in most cases it probably wasn’t like that then either. Not many people in any age have been able to pursue science just as a self-financed hobby.
Vast investments
As recent House of Commons debates have illustrated, there is growing concern that the UK Government’s huge investment in science should have the best possible return, on what is in the end tax payers’ money.
But no investment returns in our complex world can be measured in only one way. There are impacts of many kinds – on jobs and the economy, on infrastructure, on the environment, on people’s future life expectations, as well as on the state of knowledge itself.
Who does what evaluation?
Few of these impacts are easily measured, and even fewer carefully monitored from when a line of research is first proposed. This is at least in part because of the Haldane Principle and its continuing influence on government.
Politicians continue be nervous of any accusation that Haldane has been breached, an accusation easily made by scientists keen to pursue their work unhindered. So, little is made of the positive or negative impacts that scientific research of itself (as opposed to later ‘applied’ through technology and industrial developments) may have on, for instance, the locations in which they may be placed.
Single criterion decisions
‘The science’, it is proclaimed, must speak for itself, unhindered by base considerations of how it might benefit (or otherwise) non-scientific developments such as urban regeneration.
One result of this position is that decisions about large-scale and fundamental scientific research are made only by scientists, with scant if any regard to the measurable impacts which the process – as opposed simply to the possible eventual outcomes – of undertaking the research might have on the people (tax payers) who provided the wherewithal.
Surely even a hundred years ago this was not Haldane’s intention? He was in fact advising the government of the day on how best to benefit from science at a time of war.
Imaginations and applications
There is a strong case for supporting fundamental or ‘pure’ science, in the sense that it allows the very best scientists to take their disciplines forward in exciting and truly astonishing ways. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is a core activity in science, and, properly handled, can be an enormous catalyst for progress.
Haldane can be very properly invoked to ensure that there is no interference in the way fundamental science is actually done. We can understand that fundamental research requires scrupulous peer review, but never political meddling.
This is however very different from the idea that politicians have a positive duty to ensure all the ‘added-value’ they can squeeze for the wider community which they represent, when the government funds big research investments.
Regionalism and regeneration
In Haldane’s time the very concept of regeneration as we now know it didn’t exist.
It was only later that observers such as J.D. Bernal (in 1939) argued that the overarching consideration be social good rather than freedom of research; this being followed in 1971 by Sir Solly Zuckerman‘s critique of the artificial separation of applied and basic science – a critique in part accommodated by the Rothschild Report of the same year, which saw some funding and decision-making being handed back to government. (This thinking was also followed elsewhere, e.g. in 1972, when an article in the respected journal Nature called for an ‘End to the Haldane Principle in Canada‘.)
That was respectively 80 or 35 years ago; and despite continuing debate (in Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere) it seems we still fail to see where Haldane helps in the modern world, and where he doesn’t. I doubt this was a legacy the man himself intended.
Good science can also offer added value
There is little doubt that only good science is worth doing – the other sort isn’t really science at all – and good science requires genuine independence for its practitioners. Haldane continues to offer assurance that scientists can and must conduct the work they do unhindered.
We should not however confuse this guarantee of research independence ‘on the ground’ with the duty upon government to ensure its (and our) money is invested well.
Sometimes the best investment is indeed in fundamental research, expensive though this is. But the ‘non-science’ dividends of placing that research, whether fundamental or applied, in one location rather than another, may be compelling.
Regional science policy
Now that science involves such enormous funding, the case for investing that money also as part of regeneration strategies in the UK ‘regions’ is persuasive.
Some scientists on Research Councils, divorced from the realities of wider public policy, may want to cite Haldane as they resist the idea of looking at regional investment impacts ensuing from the development of research proposals. They are wrong to do so.
The time has come for regional science policies to become part of the equation, acknowledging the impact that Big Science research based away from the Golden Triangle would have on areas of the UK which require regeneration. This is hardly an ask too far.
And it is certainly not a threat to the integrity or operational independence of science, Haldane Principle or not.
Read also:
Science & Politics
Natural Vs. Physical Science Research Points Up Regeneration Added-Value
and
Big Science, Technology And The New Localism

World Population Day: Important In Britain Too

Today is World Population Day. On this day in 1968, world leaders proclaimed that individuals have a basic human right to determine the number and timing of their children. Forty years later, population issues remain a real challenge even in Britain, where greater cohesion is still needed for policy in action.
Inevitably much of the focus since then has been on women, and especially maternal health and education.
There can be no doubt at all that a failure of health care during pregnancy and birth takes a terrible toll on lives, both maternal and infant. Multiple unplanned pregnancies are a leading cause of premature death and tragic disability for many women and their children, especially in very poor countries.
Access to family planning
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, says active use of family planning in developing countries has increased from 10-12% in the 1960s to over 60% today. But despite these improvements, a World Bank report just released says that 35 countries – 31 of them in sub-Saharan Africa – still have very high fertility rates and grim mortality rates from unsafe deliveries or abortions.
According to this World Bank report, women in developing countries experience 51 million unintended pregnancies each year because of lack of access to effective contraception That is a great deal of heartache, even apart from the enormous issues it raises for global ecosystems.
Not just a a ‘Third World’ issue
But this is not a problem only for people in the poorest developing countries.
Most of us are aware that people in the ‘developed’ countries use hugely more energy and other resources than do those in poor countries. Even with our much lower fertility rates we are currently much more of a threat to global sustainability than are people in Africa.
Blighted lives in the Western world too
“Promoting girls’ and women’s education is just as important in reducing birth rates in the long run as promoting contraception and family planning,” says Sadia Chowdhury, a co-author of the World Bank report.
That is also true even in places such as today’s Britain. Teenage pregnancy – and unintended pregnancy overall – remains a serious issue for many families in the U.K. even now.
There is an essential synergy between prospects for women in education and employment, and elective motherhood. Each benefits from the other. And each also brings benefit for the children who are born, including better prospects even for their very survival.
IMR inequalities relate to social class
Currently differences in infant UK infant death rates can be huge, and can often be attributed to occupational and class differentials. In 2002-4 a baby born in Birmingham was eight times more likely to die before its first birthday than one in Surrey, with rates of 12.4 and 2.2 infant deaths per thousand live births respectively. (Bradford is another very high-risk area, and set up its own enquiry to see how to improve.)
This is not an easy matter to discuss politically, but it could not be more important, even in Britain, one of the wealthiest nations in the world.
Improving family health
One main health objectives of the British Government is to improve infant mortality rates (IMR: the number of babies who die before their first birthday, against each one thousand born), so that the infants of poorer parents have better outcomes, like those of more advantaged parents.
The target for England is a 10% reduction in the relative gap (i.e. percentage difference) in infant mortality rates between “routine and manual” socio-economic groups and England as a whole from the baseline year of 1998 (the average of 1997-99) to the target year 2010 (the average of 2009-2011).
Life outcomes and expectation
To focus this up: for each baby in the UK who dies before his or her first birthday, there will be about ten who survive with enduring disability, and often with diminished life expectancy.
At present, often through lack of knowledge, or sometimes difficulties in accessing appropriate care, this distressing outcome is much more likely to affect families where women are poorly educated, than those where women have a good education and good jobs or careers.
Preventable tragedy
It does not have to be like this.
The Government is absolutely right to tackle this difficult matter, but effective action requires co-ordinated delivery by all who provide care and support for parents and children. There must be no room for professional maternity care in-fighting, such as is reported by Sir Ian Kennedy, chair of the Healthcare Commission to exist between obstetricians and midwives.
Children’s Centres as a way forward?
The national transition from Sure Start to the encompassing provision of Children’s Centres, underpinned by the fundamental philosophy of the Every Child Matters initiative, is now underway.
To date there has been little discussion about how family planning support needs to be built into this really important development.
Professional obligation
This may be a tricky issue, but it’s one where the professionals could, if they chose, much help the Government to help all of us.
When are we going to hear those who provide early years and family support saying, loud and clear, that ‘every child a wanted child‘ is a basic requirement for everyone in Britain as well as elsewhere?
A not-to-be repeated opportunity?
The need for effective family planning in parts of the developing world remains desperate, and must be met.
But that doesn’t excuse skirting the issue here at home, just at a point when new and joined up services focusing directly on families and children are being created, with the aim of eradicating child poverty and increasing wellbeing for everyone.
And given the political sensitivities, surely it’s the practitioners – in health, education, welfare and the rest – who have to lead the way?
Read more articles about Public Service Provision.

The British Sociological Association (BSA)

The British Sociological Association, founded in 1951, promotes the work of sociologists and social scientists as practitioners and scholars, in the UK and, through links, much further afield. Sociology offers an analysis which helps surprisingly large numbers of us make sense of what happens in our ever-changing world.
I recently re-joined the British Sociological Association, of which I was an Executive Committee member when I worked in further and higher education, much earlier in my career.
It’s fascinating to see how things have evolved since that time, back in the 1980s.
Battles now won
Then we were battling to ‘save’ the Personal, Social and Health curriculum, which Sir Keith Joseph, then Secretary of State for Education under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was keen to remove or at the very least side-line. History in schools was to stop at 1945, the end of the Second World War and before the arrival in 1948 of the National Health Service (NHS) and Welfare State; Section 11 legislation made it almost professional suicide to teach about HIV / AIDS; the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) had to be renamed the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) lest anyone should think that social research was scientific – in retrospect a far cry attitudinally from current demands for ‘evidence-based’ policy at the highest levels.
All this we addressed, through the Executives of the BSA and other professional associations, via FACTASS, The Forum of Academic and Teaching Associations in the Social Sciences, of which I was Convenor. Now there is no need for FACTASS. We managed to hang on in there, and it’s unlikely that any mainstream politician in any modern democratic country would want to see it otherwise; the PSHE curriculum and entitlement of children to understand their world is, along with positive resolution of the GCSEs-for-all debate, now established.
Fundamentals
But the fundamental emphases of the BSA on social equity; on understanding the interactive social constructions which give meaning to our daily lives, continue, developed and debated by people who have now spent a lifetime exploring how human societies and communities work and are understood by the people in them.
The ‘classics’ – gender, ‘race’ and ethnicity, age and life transitions, and social class – remain (alongside matters such as health and medicine, work and employment, and so forth) the fundamental building blocks of sociological analysis, keeping us constantly aware that big and sometimes invisible forces shape our day-to-day experience, even to the extent that they often determine our actual life expectancy.
New social analysis too
And beyond that, there is a new and critical emphasis on our physical world, on sustainability and green issues and how societies and communities will find themselves responding to the challenges we all face.
It may be too soon to say that Human Geographers and Sociologists have found completely common ground, but it looks as though a convergence may slowly be developing, after a decade or more when the gathering of empirical data on population change and socio-economic impacts was sometimes perceived to be enough to take governmental programmes and political policy forward.
Contextualising for the future
There is now a recognition that ‘social research‘ must inform, e.g., environmental as well as community, health and education policies. (I was recently a co-author of the Defra Science Advisory Council report on Social Research in Defra – a fascinating and I hope very fruitful experience.)
The BSA, I note, has a growing Section (interest) Group on Sociologists Outside Academia (SOAg). I intend to sign up for it.
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History Lessons Need More Than ‘Hitler And Henry’
Social Geographers Take The Lead In Social Policy

Operation Black Vote Is Launched In Liverpool

08.05.29a Operation Black Vote Launch Simon Woolley speaks in Liverpool Town Hall 001a.jpg Liverpool’s Operation Black Vote programme was launched today in our Town Hall. This ambitious movement intends to establish an emerging generation of politicians of all ‘races’, cultures and faiths, who have been mentored early in their careers by existing councillors. The event this evening demonstrated that OBV’s aim is shared by all our civic leaders, and that they believe they will indeed deliver.
08.05.29a Operation Black Vote  launch Liverpool Town Hall 007a
08.05.29a Operation Black Vote Cllr Anna Rothery 320x300 l 008a 08.05.29a Operation Black Vote: The next generation?   Keziah Makena 010a
08.05.29a Operation Black Vote  Cllrs Anna Rothery & Joe Anderson 011
08.05.29a Operation Black Vote Liverpool Town Hall reception 026a 08.05.29a Operation Black Vote  Janet Robinson & Francine Fernandes 365x385 027a
08.05.29a Operation Black Vote  Lord Mayor Cllr Rotheram & OBV participants 020a
Further information on Operation Black Vote.
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Clinton And Obama: Psychology, Politics And Prospects

08.05.11  pink & black cotton reels  160x98  032a.jpg The Presidential potential of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is great. So how has this embarrassment of riches for Democrats in the USA seemingly become an advantage for John McCain and the Republicans, as the ‘race’ and gender agendas compete for dominance? Do progressive politics in race and gender need to collide?
The current – but perhaps soon to be resolved – contest for the Democratic Presidential nomination has revealed some aspects of the political process usually less visible to outside observers.
To understand what’s happening we probably need to look as closely at the (social) psychology of the evolving situation, as we do at the formal political process.
How did two of the most powerful and internationally visible advocates for equal rights find themselves head to head in the same contest? And what does it tell us about gender, ‘race’, and age in politics?
The prospect of candidature is daunting
Only the most stout-hearted would ever consider running for Presidential nomination. It’s a hiding to nothing for most contenders, it costs millions of dollars, and it requires vast amounts of personal time, energy, drive and gritty optimism.
So we’re not talking about ‘normal’ people when we consider Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.
Testing the water
Sometimes, nonetheless, the time seems right.
For both Clinton and Obama the Bush administration’s record of failure offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Democrats to take the USA and the world by storm.
And for Clinton it represented the culmination – and justification – of a long period of influence on the global stage. She’d planned for several years to become the first ever female World Leader; and her experience gave her huge justification for this ambition.
Complex judgements
Obama’s situation was probably rather more complex. Did his family, worried about his safety, really want him to stand? Would his short time as a Senator be seen as inexperience or as a fresh face? Were race issues going to make things difficult?
But crucially, he will have asked himself, would there ever be a greater opportunity, a more open goal, for whoever was nominated by the Democrats? Best perhaps to put down a marker now….?
It has been said Obama promised his wife he’d only stand once. When could be better for establishing the first black President in office?
Firming the intent
There comes a time for all serious election candidates when they really believe they can win. Surrounded by supporters and campaign workers, they are, however inadvertently, at one remove from the cruel truth that there will be many losers but only one victor.
Presumably this moment came quite early on for Obama. He decided to stand and looks at present as if he will gain the Democratic nomination.
These are very delicate issues, but put bluntly, the contest appears to be developing – as surveys have largely shown – according to the usual lines.
Age, gender or race?
Both candidates have huge appeal to progressive Americans, eager to shrug off the turgid, backward-looking and deeply divisive Bush era. But there are differences not easily dismissed in who the two potential candidates ‘are’.
Clinton is an older (age 60), white woman, inevitably carrying the baggage which decades of deep political engagement bring.
Obama is younger, black and male; and his lack of baggage, because of the good fortune (at 45) of his comparative youth, compensates for his inexperience.
A hierarchy of preference
If things turn out as seems likely we shall have observed again the hierarchies which present in so many aspects of public life.
Given the opportunity to choose between two symbols of progressive – if not leftwing – politics, race is it currently appears perhaps less of an issue (overall?) for the electorate than gender.
Could it be that this consideration in some way enhanced Obama’s enthusiasm for standing so relatively early in his political career? (Earlier in his career he reportedly told a male colleague, Jesse Jackson Jnr., that he, Obama, would only contest a Senate seat if the other man did not.)
Discomforting agendas
Many people across the free world – including me – would like to see Clinton and Obama together on the world stage, running side-by-side as Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates. They are as good, in the context of US realpolitik, as it gets.
For some of us there remains nonetheless an unbidden sadness in the realisation that, even now, the odds are apparently stacked against a (any?) woman. More than half the population of the USA is female (an estimated 153 million, of a total population of nearly 302 million – of whom 240 million are ‘white’); but there is – unless you consider Chelsea?no immediately obvious female presidential successor to Hillary Clinton, if or when she pulls out.
Seeing things longer-term
To many younger people it seems Obama looks the more attractive option, for the reasons we have considered above. Some of us who have been involved in the equal rights movement for decades may, however much we genuinely want to see equality in ‘race’ just as much as we want to see gender, go along with that judgement with a heavy heart.
Perhaps the truth is this: Gender becomes more oppressive for many women as they experience full maturity – it’s when hard ‘family vs career’ choices have to be made that the full force of being biologically female hits one. (And how many women under, say, 35 are ever going to run for president?)
On the other hand, for people of ‘minority’ race, especially if they’re educated men, maybe the oppression lessens a little as maturity approaches and one’s destiny is more one’s own? I would like to think so, anyway – and would be interested to learn more from those who can speak directly about this.
Squaring the circle
These are delicate and difficult matters to discuss.
We are all a product of our individual genetic makeup, and of our socio-economic background, age and culture. No-one is immune from these influences; but everyone is fundamentally entitled to shape and take charge of their own way in life. To enable this to happen requires a very firm commitment, embedded at every level of society, to respect for equality and diversity.
To repeat: Progressives are seemingly spoilt for choice. Both Clinton and Obama are hugely refreshing and talented alternatives to the usual presidential offerings. Either would serve the equality and diversity agenda – so very essential for our future well-being and sustainability – really well.
A step forward or a step back?
But some of us, in spite of our earnest and well-meaning selves, are a bit weary of being the majority which is always and apparently irredeemably second in the race. Especially when, as is the truth for Hillary Clinton, we were there first.
How can feminists – advocates of a progressive perspective which at its best will always seek equality for everyone, female and male, black and white, aged and youthful – cope with the evidence apparently emerging that voters still prefer not to select a woman, if other progressive choices are available? (And, probably, those other candidates have recognised, and can benefit from, this usually unexamined preference…)
As Marie Cocco of the Washington Post puts it, we are now facing the ‘Not Clinton’ Excuse – and that could put things back a very long time.
A challenge Obama must resolve
Somehow the putative President Obama must show this is a challenge to his progressive credentials, and to the inner feelings of many disappointed women who in other respects share his progressive position, which he understands and can accommode.
Perhaps in the current situation the best we can hope for immediately is that Hillary Clinton is acknowledged by Barack Obama in some seriously meaningful way.
The worst possibility is that an extended and exhausting Clinton-Obama contest gives John McCain the opportunity he seeks to slip through the middle and retain the Presidency for the Republicans later this year.
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National Vegetarian Week

 Today marks the start of UK National Vegetarian Week. The arguments for a balanced vegetarian diet are persuasive – it ‘saves’ energy, it uses less carbon and water, it can respect the seasons, it has potential to make a huge contribution to resolving global hunger, and it’s good for us. So how can vegetarianism become more often the diet of choice?

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