Monthly Archives: November 2020

Research Bulletin, November 2020

Hello all,

This is my monthly update on research interests, and here are some recent developments that might be useful to know.

1. A calendar for 2021

You may know that I’ve got into the habit of getting a wall calendar printed each year with some historic photos of the history of the disabled people’s movement and culture in England. The photos generally come from my (and others’) past and research. This year I’ve chosen photos which mostly have a media theme, so that somewhere in the image is a film or TV news crew.

2. Mental health

This year has been a great strain on many people and it’s already been said that the next pandemic will be in our mental health. I’ve had a long interest in radical and community-based mental health groups, starting with Manchester Mind in the late 1970s. As you might expect, I’ve catalogued an archive collection for Manchester Mind from 1970 – 1990, though I suggest it’s a very different organisation now. This was where I first learnt about the social model.

In my bones I feel there is a need now to think about a radical mental health model that works with disabled people’s lived experiences this year.

For example, understanding the isolation and degrees of threat that were higher than in the general population, as well as the neglect and mismanagement by government that led to so many disabled people dying (supported housing, care homes, etc) as well as being left without support. There were also community-led responses in self-organisation and protection such as The Bunker on Facebook.

I’m not thinking about this as a funding bid (no doubt many are being made) but rather as an area in need of further discussions with safeguards and with a radical community-based understanding. I’d welcome any discussions, one-to-one in confidence or wider, as people wish.

As a matter of interest, I’m seeing similar mental health issues in the Excluded-UK community which represents three million people, usually freelance workers and many in the creative industries, who fall between the cracks of poorly targeted government support. It gets quite technical, but in short some people have had less that £600 since March and don’t qualify even for Universal Credit. It’s an oppressive mess and the suicide rate within the group is awful.

3. Sian Vasey

I noted last month the sad news of Sian’s recent death. There was an online tribute and commemoration held by many of her friends and colleagues, and a topic that was raised on that day was our wish to record some kind of memoir of Sian’s life. So in the year ahead I’ve offered to facilitate producing a book of her life and three of her close friends have kindly agreed to be its editors.

4. Hearing Voices Network

Last month I covered a number of plans that are being made for the International Day of Disabled People, this Thursday 3 December.

One item that is being held over until early next year is a video made by the Manchester Hearing Voices Group which I helped facilitate. The hope is to time the video with a wider physical post-covid exhibition, all related to the relaunch of the Manchester group. This group previously led to the creation of the network of hearing voices groups that exists today around the world, having started in Manchester in the 1980s. And by some of my friends involved in Manchester Mind at the time.

Stay safe,


Research Bulletins, back copies can be found here:

Working in a Hostile Environment

I was in a meeting recently with a staff member of a national newspaper, and one of the topics they mentioned was on the issue of working in a hostile environment.

As part of their job they had been sent into war zones and similar conflicts, so their HR people had sent them on a training course beforehand. It covered topics like first aid, flak jackets, tracking devices, and avoiding harm. There were policies such as checking in three times a day, and always sharing movements and plans.

Clearly their employer was being very responsible, and risk assessments were built into their work.

And it got me wondering.

We can easily understand that a war zone somewhere else in the world is dangerous. We might even think that sometimes there might be dangerous assignments closer to home, such as covering a large protest or investigating and tracking down violent criminals.

But what about people who work in social policy in the UK?

It has been government policy for at least ten years to create a hostile environment for many people. It has become structural. The experience of the Windrush generation of Black British people and the Home Office is one stark example. And the experience of disabled people at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is another. The experience of local authorities – councils – and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government is yet another.

But how far have third sector employers in the UK in the field of social policy appreciated that their staff are working in a hostile environment? Just because bullets are not flying overhead there is a danger that the risk is being under-estimated. People are still dying, especially when even the meanest of benefits have been withdrawn.

Years and years of relentless hostility will always cause their own damage, harm and trauma. It has been known for a long time that a key stress factor at work is the lack of control that anyone might have over their daily work. Build up that pressure over years and years, cuts upon cuts, and then add hostile policies and demeaning comments by national politicians (such as scroungers, work-shy, benefit cheats) – it all piles up.

A journalist would not be left in a war zone for a decade by their employer without a break. After a decade of cuts and hostilities in the UK I wonder if some third sector employers need to look again at the appalling external and policy environments their own staff have endured, to consider what more can be done to provide at least some of the much-needed respite and relief. Even without new money, though so very much needed, I believe there are still many non-financial improvements and reliefs that could be started or extended.