Your clearest explanation of the New Economy yet - plus how it connects to wellbeing and Extinction Rebellion
Confused about what exactly Community Wealth Building is? Like the sound of the latest Green New Deal but unsure what it means? Let Miles Thompson be your guide as he reflects on a rousing first Stir to Action festival
In July, I rather surprised my tent which had only just been taken down from Glastonbury, by putting it up again just outside of Frome. The occasion was the inaugural Stir to Action festival. Its title: “Playground for the New Economy”.
Stir to Action, founded by Jonny Gordon-Farleigh, produces both STIR, a quarterly magazine, and a nationwide series of workshops informing the public about aspects of the “New Economy”. But what is the New Economy? Hopefully this blog, summarising some of the content presented at the festival, will give you an overview if the term is new to you. It is also hoped the blog will map out a terrain where we can build more links between those interested in New Economies and those interested in Psychologists for Social Change (PSC). Both seem passionate about reforming the structures that create and maintain inequality, advancing alternatives to austerity and tackling the social determinants of distress.
Obese and high-weight individuals are stigmatised and blamed for their poor health. This bullying approach is further harming these individuals and is not the solution to this complex health challenge
Last month in the US WW (formally Weight Watchers), launched Kurbo, a nutrition and weight loss app aimed at children aged 8 to 17. The app uses a traffic light system, nudging children towards consuming ‘green light foods’ (fruits and vegetables), limiting ‘amber light foods’ (protein and dairy) and avoiding ‘red light foods’ (sweets, chocolate etc).
Gary Foster, chief scientific officer at WW told the Huffington Post “This isn’t a weight loss app. This is an app that teaches in a game-ified, fun, engaging way what are the basics of a healthy eating pattern.” The app has received widespread backlash in the media, with parents across the UK arguing that the focus on weight loss puts children at risk of eating disorders and life-long body dissatisfaction. As a psychologist working in a bariatric servicer, I would argue that this risk doesn’t end when the child grows into an adult. That weight-based stigma has negative mental health impacts and that the responsibility and blame placed on the individual for their poor health is both harmful and over simplified.
Around a third of children in the UK aged 2 to 15 are already labeled as overweight or obese. Children are becoming obese at an earlier age, and staying obese for longer. Regardless of how we might feel about an 8-year-old logging their fish fingers into an app, weight based stigma which emphasises individual responsibility for weight is still a widely accepted basis for discrimination and humiliation, It is an approach to viewing weight that children are socialised to think is normal through culture, entertainment, advertising, health policy, as well as mainstream and social media.
Violent youth crime won’t change until we start speaking about it differently. We need to recognise the psychosocial factors that contribute towards violence and the ineffectiveness of our current response towards crime
In the past 18 months, the UK has seen a spike in violent crime. Recent figures released by the Home Office suggest that offences involving knives have increased by two thirds since 2014. The use of these weapons by young people against other young people, in particular, is rising. Although the issue has been addressed by the media and politicians, discussions have focused on criticising police cuts and promoting tougher sentences for individuals caught carrying offensive weapons. This public narrative doesn’t include consideration of how wider social and psychological factors impact the act of committing a crime.
When knife crime is reported to the public, the emphasis is almost solely on the incident itself. Media outlets spare no detail recounting the events and condemning the perpetrators for what is seen as a senseless act of violence. In political debates, these incidents of violence have been used to highlight the impact of austerity, including police having reduced capacity to deter and respond to these events. While some journalists have highlighted the closure of youth clubs as a relevant precursor to the upsurge in crime, this consideration of broader context tends to be the exception rather than the norm. For the most part, the media decontextualizes acts of violence from the wider influences on behaviour - the conversations only begin in the moment a crime is committed. The myriad other influencing factors remain in the margins.
Yet, there is a large body of evidence to suggest that offending behaviour can have its roots long before the act occurs. Young people who are exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), such as physical, verbal or sexual abuse, or whose parents are in prison or going through divorce are more likely to become involved in crime. And, though we are all susceptible to experiencing ACEs, poverty acts as a risk factor - people living in the most deprived areas report the highest levels of ACEs. The more ACEs a young person has, the more likely they will be criminally involved by the time they reach their teenage years. This evidence shouts loudly that youth violence is influenced by factors that emerge or are present long before the act of crime itself. It is clear that current narratives focusing only on the act of violence itself are ignoring a range of social and psychological factors that are also a part of each young person’s story.
Where do we focus our efforts is often a question that new PSC groups ask. In this series of blogs, we attempt to provide some answers. Here PSC Oxford explain their thinking
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash
Psychologists for Social Change in Oxford started a little under a year ago. Much of its infancy was spent trying to find its identity, which was shaped by the shared values of branch attendees. With Oxford being in the midst of a homelessness crisis, we naturally wanted to start here as our initial focus. Our journey began by reaching out to local homeless shelters to offer support where we could. Some of our members have been attending events to link in with ongoing projects, such as the development of a women’s homelessness shelter in Oxford.
We decided also to focus on change through dissemination, publishing an article in The Oxford Mail. Our article emphasised the urgency of bolder and braver approaches to homelessness in Oxford, and the benefits of psychologically informed perspectives on the issue. More recently, we reached out to an innovative local charity ‘Greater Change’, which you can learn about here. With Greater Change, we brainstormed potential collaborations, such as investigating the factors which contribute to the stigmatisation of people who are homeless.
How do we move beyond platitudes and empty words in our response as a society to the systematic and widespread abuse of people with learning difficulties?
The BBC Panorama programme ‘Undercover Hospital Abuse Scandal’ shown on 22.05.19 shows devastating treatment of people with learning difficulties and a lack of respect for their human rights. The Position Statement below is PSC's response.
The issues documented in the programme in long-stay hospitals are recurring and therefore cannot only be attributed to an individual failure of care by a specific group of staff in a particular institution. They must be seen as reflecting a range of failures of health, education and social services throughout the lifespan of the person who needs support. Of course, those involved need to be held accountable for the horrific nature of their actions in accordance with the law. However, there is a pattern to the continued abuse of people with learning difficulties (*please scroll down for a discussion on language) that silences, marginalises and excludes them from vast sections of society and makes abuse more likely.
More children are being admitted to long-stay hospitals. This increase coincides with the government’s austerity agenda, where there has been a reduction of funding in real terms for social care and education. This equates to cuts in services, with families being unable to access respite support such as short breaks or community activities which meet the needs of children and young people with learning difficulties or autism. In the education system, the focus on a narrow range of academic educational outcomes, alongside less money, has led to a curriculum environment that cannot tolerate diversity in children’s approaches to learning, and staff who do not have the training and support to make sense of the behaviour of children whose needs may be harder to understand. Children with learning difficulties are being off-rolled or excluded if they cannot meet the behavioural expectations of the classroom. Such actions do not always lead to the child being able to access a more suitable placement.
Campaigns that raise awareness, normalise mental health difficulties and encourage people to tell their story enable the underlying sources of stigma to go unchallenged and the status quo to remain
In recent years, public conversation around mental health has been dominated by the topic of stigma, defined as “a strong feeling of disapproval that most people in a society have about something, especially when this is unfair”. Other than occasional mentions of underfunding of services, stigma is the primary focus of the media and of campaigning efforts by charities. In these contexts, stigma is usually framed as incidences such as strangers hurling verbal abuse or workplace bullying.
There is no doubt that these kinds of interactions happen and that they can be hurtful and traumatic. I have experienced this from the public I encounter in my job and also A&E staff during a mental health assessment. I have met people who use residential mental health services who have been verbally abused by the neighbours that live nearby.
However, I believe that this narrow focus on interpersonal stigma distracts from the underlying purveyors of stigma - mental health services and the medical model of distress. Before examining how these entities contribute to creating far more stigma than random bad eggs encountered out and about, we must first ask ourselves a question. Is this an intentional move, and if so who benefits and how?
Ofsted is changing the way it conducts inspections. Drawing on the views of students, we take the opportunity to think about how the education system could go from coercive to nourishing
In a previous blog, Psychologists for Social Change (PSC) responded to the announcement that the education regulator, Ofsted, are to update the framework they use to inspect schools in England. Having looked at the changes that Ofsted are proposing and finding them extremely narrow, the purpose of this article is to go further and envision an alternative future for the education system. It is based on PSC’s joint submission to the public consultation on Ofsted's proposals changes.
When thinking about change in a democratic society, it is only right to begin by asking the people that will be directly affected. To this end, we spent time with States of Mind, a social enterprise that gives young people a platform to discuss issues related to education and mental health. Since January, States of Mind has conducted focus groups with 80 young people to elicit their views about the impact of Ofsted’s inspection framework on their education. Those involved were very keen to share their views:
“We feel that our voices and experiences are constantly overlooked and neglected... we believe that it is our right to tell the true story of how the current system is failing us.”
The students have written a powerful letter to the head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, communicating their deep concerns about the system’s negative impact on students. They also put forward psychological healthy ways of doing things differently. We draw on some of their ideas for this article. We also heard from parents and mined our own experience as teachers and educational psychologists.
A behaviour change programme minus the behaviour change: What happens when health services are run as businesses?
In austere times, outsourcing health services to private providers is becoming more common. To ensure service-users aren’t short changed and public spending isn’t wasted, commissioners need to take a much more hands-on approach
Changing eating habits is often an element of a behaviour change programme
Recently, I spent a period working as a clinical psychologist in a health and well-being service, commissioned by a local authority in response to the UK’s obesity rate. The service is run by a small private organisation and was set up to promote healthy lifestyle behaviours. One of its aims is to support people to achieve a healthy weight to reduce the risk of preventable weight-related diseases and the human and economic costs associated with these. It does this with programmes designed to change people’s behaviours around food and eating and increase their physical activity.
Aspects of the service were very encouraging. The team deployed creative ways of engaging local communities, statutory services and charities, ensuring a steady stream of suitable people referred to the service. It had established a strong presence in the community by taking part in health and wellbeing campaigns. The programmes were delivered by an enthusiastic though overstretched team that strongly abided by the “code” of the healthy lifestyle behaviours they promoted. A particularly exciting aspect of the service was that commissioners had recognised the role psychological and psychosocial factors play in the development and maintenance of obesity and behaviour change – hence the opening for a psychologist. I was excited to get stuck into my role, supporting this already vibrant service by integrating psychological theory and practice into the service delivery.
Alas, my enthusiasm was short-lived. As I gained insights into how the service functioned, a nagging sense of unease took hold. A feeling, I now think, that stemmed from a tension created by the outsourcing of public services to private providers. It is hard to believe that the consequences of this tension are limited to this particular service - after all, in current economic times, this model of service procurement is becoming the norm. In fact, while writing this article, I had numerous conversations with colleagues working within the public and education sectors who found my experiences resonated with their own. This further convinced me to share my experiences as I hope they will stir up a further discussion.
The UK government's ‘Prevent’ policy has put counter-terrorism on the agenda for social workers and health practitioners but what are the ethical implications for the services and the impact on the people they serve?
Since the London tube bombings in 2005, counter-terrorism policy in the UK has extended into many areas of daily life. Introduced in 2006, the UK government’s Prevent strategy has put staff in areas such as local government, health and education on the front lines of domestic security and even border control, making them responsible for identifying and reporting those they consider at risk from ‘radicalisation’.
The extension of counter-terrorism to the safeguarding of vulnerable individuals such as children is unique to Britain and the ethical dilemmas it poses for professionals who work with communities rendered suspect by Prevent are only beginning to be explored.
In 2016 a UN special rapporteur criticised Prevent on grounds that the government’s definition of domestic extremism was too broad, noting concerns about “the program being implemented in a way that translates simply into crude racial, ideological, cultural and religious profiling, with consequent effects on the right to freedom of association of some groups.” Muslim groups and charities including Amnesty International and the Muslim Council of Britain have raised concerns that the policy creates division and resentment.
Anxieties about terrorism can lead to a climate of fear in which vaguely defined ‘security risks’ can become pretexts for political repression, greater government intervention in daily life and even deprivation of the rights and protections afforded by citizenship. The introduction of pre-emptive ‘risk work’, analogous to duties performed by the security services, into health and social care settings may adversely impact communication between service users and professionals and deter help-seeking – especially in scenarios where children may be removed from their parents' care.
Researchers in health and social care have begun to assess the implementation of Prevent to ask whether Muslim groups are right to see the policy as discriminatory. Questions include the impact of pre-existing biases among professionals on referrals and over the validity of the ‘conveyor belt’ model of radicalisation – a key premise of the policy which places 'moderate' religious and political beliefs and behaviours on a continuum leading to 'extreme' beliefs and potentially violent acts.
On 22nd January 2019 the government announced an independent review of the Prevent strategy, raising the possibility that the policy may be reformed. However, security minister Ben Wallace has sounded a defensive note, demanding "solid evidence" that Prevent is in fact discriminatory and accusing the policy’s critics of using "distortion and spin" to raise concerns over its effects.
In such a highly contested and politicised area, concerns about national security are sometimes invoked in a way that shuts down debate. Is it possible for health and social care professionals to stand in solidarity with service users who feel victimised in this climate? Given that Prevent remains a statutory duty as part of safeguarding, how can professionals think through the ethical and professional dilemmas it raises when working with families from communities that feel unfairly targeted? Even if the policy ends, what can we learn from the issues and debates prompted by its implementation?
If you are a health or social care professional interested in knowing more, come to the joint BASW (British Association of Social Workers) London and MedAct event on Thursday 21st March. Advocacy groups, social workers and academics will present some of their findings on the above topics and MedAct will facilitate a discussion and workshop:
Why the proposed changes to the Ofsted inspection framework won’t deliver and what we need to do to really benefit our children and young people
In December 2017, the UK Government released a Green Paper entitled Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision. In response, Psychologists for Social Change wrote an open letter, signed by 1400 psychologists, teachers, social workers, students and counsellors, as well as young people with lived experience of mental health issues and their parents.
In it, we urged the government to “take a genuinely preventative approach” to mental ill-health, by acknowledging and addressing the wider social factors known to be linked to distress, as well as bringing an end to the austerity policies that have exacerbated these. You can read our review of the finalised proposals, published this summer, here. In short, we believe they fall desperately short of addressing the underlying barriers to long-term improvements to our collective mental health.
We also called on the government to review the toll that accountability measures like exams and ‘teaching to the test’ are creating, which, according to the National Education Union, are a great source of emotional distress for teachers and pupils alike. Currently, Ofsted holds teachers and schools accountable for the academic results of young people. Every child is expected to achieve a pre-defined, government set ‘standard’. Anything else is viewed as failure for the school, regardless of a young person’s needs or the pupil demographics of the area. This leads to teachers spending hours assessing students, tracking and logging data. Workload stress is having an increasingly detrimental impact on the mental health and job satisfaction of teachers. Schools can struggle to retain teachers.
In short, things are bad before we’ve even considered the impact on students. For them, the focus on results means an inflexible curriculum, with limited opportunity for creativity and a narrow conception of what intelligence and achievement means. For those who struggle to make progress, constant messages about not achieving ‘expected progress’ can be catastrophic to their mental health.
PSC is a network of people interested in applying psychology to generate social and political action. You don't have to be a member of PSC to contribute to the blog