Say It Like It Is: The Sun and Last Year’s Prison Riots

On 16th December last year, rioting broke out in HMP Birmingham. The incident, ‘which lasted for more than 12 hours’, is one of a spate of riots in other prisons across the country, with similar disruption occurring at HMP Swaleside on 22/12/16 and HMP Bedford last November.[1] Amongst a fairly balanced assessment of these events across all other major news publications, The Sun’s sensationalist coverage of disorder in UK prisons in December last year encourages popular support for a failing and needlessly punitive prison estate, perpetuating grave inadequacies in our justice system. Such reportage achieves this by extricating the Ministry of Justice of blame for prison disorder and unfairly vilifying the prison population.

Reporting on riot at HMP Birmingham, The Sun described the prison as ‘LOUT OF CONTROL’, referring to rioting prisoners as ‘tooled-up lags’.[2] The same The Sun headline flippantly states that the riot took place because of a ‘broken telly’.[3]

By focusing solely on the immediate causes of this riot and using pejorative terms such as ‘lout’ and ‘lag’, The Sun have presented their readership with a grave misunderstanding of the deeper-lying causes of last December’s disorder. Instead of putting the riot down to the mindless violence of ‘louts’ angry about a ‘broken telly’, The Sun should investigate the chronic underfunding and overcrowding of UK prisons, which is widely known to be the root cause of the riots. Due to lack of staff and rocketing prison numbers, prisoners have little opportunity to engage in meaningful activity such as academic study or training during their sentences, with many locked in overpopulated cells for 23 hours a day. In The Telegraph, Diane Abbott went so far as to say that such conditions made such rioting inevitable, describing the British prison system as ‘a timebomb’.[4]

Such irresponsible journalism fuels misconceptions of UK’s prisons and prisoners to the public. Despite a brief mention of understaffing and the very end of the article, one need look no further than the comments section to see the pernicious effects of how The Sun has framed the riot, with some readers calling for a return of the death penalty and deeming the UK’s prisons ‘holiday camps’.[5]

This climate of hostility towards prisoners generated by sensationalist journalism serves to fuel the political will to lock more and more people up in understaffed UK prisons, as well as garnering public support for a more punitive criminal justice system. Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s Shadow Attorney General, has dubbed UK prison policy a longstanding ‘authoritarian arms race’ between Labour and Conservatives; each party trying, until Chakrabarti’s statement, to be “tougher” on crime than the other.[6] This shift toward a punitive prison system in recent decades has seen the prison population increase beyond the means of its facilities and has made prisons unsafe, with rates of violence towards prison staff, prisoners and suicides high and rising. These effects bring about the most salient causes of rioting.

The power of “fake news” to shape public opinion in the US presidential election has shown us that the need for responsible and measured journalism has never been greater. It is high time that the public learned the unadulterated truth about the state of the country’s prisons. A better-informed public would work to put an end to the shameful conditions that precipitated these riots instead of encouraging punitive justice policies.

William Farmer studies MA Conflict, Security and Development at KCL. He writes about criminal justice policy and African politics.

 

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/dec/19/hmp-birmingham-prison-riot-public-private-jails-crisis

[2]https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2413767/hmp-birmingham-winson-green-prison-on-lockdown-amid-reports-of-inmates-rioting-and-threatening-officers/

[3] Ibid.

[4]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/16/prison-riot-breaks-hmp-birmingham/

[5]https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2413767/hmp-birmingham-winson-green-prison-on-lockdown-amid-reports-of-inmates-rioting-and-threatening-officers/

[6]https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/dec/23/shami-chakrabarti-end-authoritarian-arms-race–uk-prisons

Feature image from: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/winson-green-prison-riots-live-12335266

Notes from a Participant: Future of Bioscience? Post-Brexit Reality

The event hosted jointly by King’s Think Tank and KCL Bioscience Student’s Association entitled “Future of Biosciences? – Post-Brexit Reality” invited two expert panellists from distinct fields within the Biosciences to share with the audience about how they perceive the impact of the UK’s departure from the EU.

The first panellist, Sir Robert Lechler, Vice President and Executive Director of King’s Health Partners, spoke from the point of view of academia. After presenting about the current excellence of the UK in the Biosciences, he summarised his  concerns under “4Ps”. Dr Virginia Acha, Executive Director Research, Medical and Innovation at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, introduced current actions taken to address these upcoming issues.

Their opinion on the challenges of Brexit often converged, borrowing the “4Ps” from Sir Robert Lechler:

  • Pound (money, trade and funding): funding for research, but also the supply chain for patients and medicine could be affected.
  • Permission (Regulations): the relationship between the EMA and the UK Regulatory bodies will be altered, with most probably alignment.
  • Partnerships (Research): a key point is how to maintain partnerships in research with potentially new borders.
  • People: access to talents was presented as the most important issue from both panellists.

Both panellists gave a clear picture of the context and current state of affairs from each of their fields, which allowed constructive discussion when it came to questions. The inputs from the audience were indeed stimulating for both the panellists, and highlighted different perspectives on Brexit for everyone in the venue.

The fact that concerns surrounding Brexit are similar for both academics and practitioners in the industry is interesting, and the discussion today made us realise how close the two are in the Biosciences. Participants were made aware that access to academia does have a strong impact on industry, particularly through partnerships in Bioscience research. For students (especially those from the EU), this challenge also sheds new light on their future career prospects.

Sophie-Asako Xerri is an undergraduate student at the School of Bioscience Education, King’s College London.

Solving Britain’s Productivity Problem

On 2nd December, Virgin Trains East Coast announced that in 2017 it intended to increase rail fares on average by 4.9%. Although season and off-peak return fares, which are government-set, are to rise by 1.9%, the fares that Virgin control will rise by an average of 5.5%.[1] With such high increases in the cost of rail travel, which no doubt will hinder the geographical mobility of Britain’s workforce, transport is only one of several problems that hold back Britain’s productivity.

An economy’s productivity is of crucial importance in underpinning a country’s prosperity and international competitiveness. A lack of productivity means the cost of producing goods and services is higher than otherwise it would be, meaning the price of its exports are higher than they could be. This contributes to Britain’s unsustainably high current account deficit. The UK’s deficit with the rest of the world in 2016 rests at around seven per cent of GDP.[2]Paying for the current account deficit usually entails eating into the UK’s financial account (for example, the dividends British investors earn from asset portfolios based abroad) or, alternatively, borrowing from foreign creditors. In either instance, inevitably the country is made poorer in the long-term. Furthermore, low productivity depresses real wages, so that UK workers work longer hours for less pay than their counterparts elsewhere. In his fairly recent autumn statement, the chancellor, Philip Hammond commented it takes a German worker four days to produce what a UK worker does in five.[3] Britain’s productivity problem is therefore chronic, something that potentially may become considerably more severe in the wake of Brexit, especially if negotiations with the remaining European Union members sour and a trade-off takes place with greater border control is prioritised at the expense of single market access.

How do the UK’s policymakers fix Britain’s productivity plight? One obvious policy prescription might be to increase government spending on infrastructure. Indeed, much of this is planned for the following few years, with £23 billion set aside in the autumn statement for improving physical infrastructure, including on rather mundane aspects of transport, such as new railway signalling, increasing internet connections and filling in potholes.[4] These plans may improve productivity to some extent, if, for example, it allows workers to move more quickly and easily to work or (in the case of internet connectivity) allows for information to flow between businesses.

However, this is a tried-and-tested policy, repeated ad nauseam. To some extent, its impact will be limited, due in part to the fact that the sums proposed are meagre. With the state expected to borrow £122 billion more over the next five years thanks to Brexit, the amounts invested in infrastructure are likely to continue to be small.[5] Furthermore, as the development economist Ha-Joon Chang points out, the impact technological change has  on productivity in the Western world is less substantial than it was a century ago. [6] This means industrialised economies will benefit less from improvements in their physical infrastructure than countries which continue to be developing and industrialising.

What is instead needed is a fundamental change in corporate culture, one that is not only driven by the pursuit of private profit, but one that reflects the various interests of several stakeholders. When Theresa May became prime minister, she promised that Britain’s corporate culture would change for the better, with consumer and worker representatives on company boards influencing their decision-making. Yet, it seems that this promise is already being backtracked on; May commented in late November that for some companies it may be better for workers and consumers to partake in advisory panels separate from company boards rather than have representatives directly influencing executive decisions.[7] This is a mistake. Participation of several different stakeholders in corporate decision-making other than owners and managers minimises the risk of conflict over the deal workers, suppliers and customers get from the businesses that affect their lives daily.[8] This will only promote productivity with fewer strikes and secure supply chains. What is more, it may reduce the damaging levels of economic inequality in British society today. As workers are in a position to demand better pay and conditions thanks to their increased ability to be more vocal, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots will surely shrink. With this, as the sociologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out, levels of productivity in this country will dramatically improve through a myriad of factors, from better physical and mental health to greater social mobility to lower crime rates.[9]

Moving away from our current model of corporate governance to one that meets the needs and interests of the several groups that are affected by company decisions everyday would prove to be beneficial to the UK economy, raising it from its current lull in productivity. It would certainly have a bigger impact than a cheaper rail ticket.

Nick Naylor is a final year undergraduate in History at King’s College London, and has previously contributed to the King’s Think Tank publication The Spectrum.

 

[1] Gwyn Topham,Rail fare rises driven by hikes on Virgin Trains East Coast’, The Guardian, 2nd December 2016.

[2] Larry Elliott ‘Fixing a Hole: how to solve the chronic UK current account deficit’, The Guardian, 18th September 2016.

[3] Graham Ruddick, ‘Low productivity, an enduring and growing drag on the UK economy’, The Guardian, 23rd November 2016.

[4] ‘The Brexit Budget’, The Economist, 26th November-2nd December 2016.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ha-Joon Chang, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (2010), 31-40.

[7] Anushka Asthana and Peter Walker, ‘Theresa May: I won’t force companies to appoint workers to their boards’, The Guardian, 21st November 2016.

[8] Andrew Gamble and Gavin Kelly, ‘Stakeholder capitalism and one nation socialism’, Renewal volume 4, number 1 (1996), 23-32.

[9] Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (2009).

Counter-terrorism and education: The PREVENT Strategy as the lesser of two evils?

After 9/11, the terrible 7/7 bombings in London and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the so-called ‘war on terror’ is raging on. Faced with pressures to effectively protect and safeguard the population from terrorist groups, in 2003 the British government introduced a new counter-terrorism strategy called PREVENT.

While involving a wide range of sectors, including education, criminal justice and charities, the PREVENT strategy tries to minimise risks of radicalisation by identifying and engaging with people believed to be at risk of getting drawn towards violent extremism. Indeed, given the inevitable necessity to constrain civil liberties in order to ensure the nation’s security, policies such as PREVENT could be viewed as the lesser of two evils. However, to what extent is it even possible to identify people who might be at risk of becoming involved in terrorism without turning Britain into a police state characterised by the arbitrary use of power and persecutions? How effective has PREVENT really been?

In fact, by focusing on ‘radical’ ideas as being the root motivation of terrorism, PREVENT tends to overlook the real causes of political violence. Various sources have tried to come to terms with the significance of terrorist attacks. Psychological inspired analyses, for instance, seek to explain motivations for terrorism in terms of personality types, mental illness or psychological deviance. Others point to demographic and socio-economic factors in order to determine the causes of political violence. Irrespective of what factors lie at the heart of people’s engagement in terrorism, it is essential to note that, unlike the government’s belief, it is not the power of ideology which causes the violence in the first place. Meaning, while the language of violent jihad may well borrow its vocabulary from Islamic theology to create a useful marker of shared identity and legitimise the involvement of people in terrorist attacks, religious ideology does not cause the action.

On the contrary, as stated by Dr Rizwaan Sabir, Lecturer in Criminology at Liverpool John Moores University, research has shown that terrorism and political violence usually prosper in closed and repressive systems of power. Thus, a lack of political inclusiveness in states, enhanced through a sense of relative depravation and lack of upward mobility within society, might be identified as one of the main drivers of the creation of an environment conducive to terrorism. In accordance with this perspective, Dr Sabir argues that the greatest flaw of PREVENT can be found in its over-collection of information and exaggerated use of intelligence. By placing a legal duty on members of staff to refer and report individuals who might become involved in terrorism or other acts of political violence, the PREVENT strategy is failing to minimise risks of terrorist attacks by trying to treat the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem.

In fact, highlighting its tendency to contribute to a climate of fear, Dr Sabir refers to PREVENT as being highly counterproductive. While creating an environment in which religion, especially Islam, becomes a taboo topic, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy has shut down any possibility of debate and discussion. As emphasised by Rob Faure Walker, former teacher in East London and Researcher at the Institute of Education, focusing on counter-terrorism in schools, PREVENT casts teachers as ‘informants’, forcing pupils to stop openly practicing their religion and engaging in political debates out of fear of being reported.

Hence, instead of improving communication between the Muslim community and members of the government, the attempts to safeguard people from terrorist attacks have led to greater polarisation between Muslims and non-Muslims in British society. In fact, by impeding the possibility of critically reflecting on conflicting views, PREVENT does not only help to maintain stereotypes of Muslims perpetuated in the media; it also exacerbates feeling of social exclusion and thus creates the very conditions that make terrorism more likely.

Thus, with PREVENT doing more harm than good, we might ask ourselves, what can be done in order to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism? Can we actually teach peace?

As emphasised by Mr Faure Walker, in order to win the fight against terrorism, we’ll have to open education up to critical debate and empower pupils with the necessary tools to successfully challenge the existing dogma. In other words, rather than promoting violent subjectivities in discourses of ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’, the only way to prevent people from becoming involved in acts of political violence is by providing them with the capacity for self-reflection and critical evaluation of cultural differences. It is thus through its ability to teach people how to embrace cultural diversity that education can contribute to a more harmonious society.

Marina Zabelina and Anne Siebenaler are editors of the Education Policy Centre, King’s Think Tank.

Comments on Autumn Statement 2016

When planning ahead, it’s useful to know what you’re planning for; faced with an uncertain Brexit, Philip Hammond did not have this luxury. However, independent forecasts all point towards a pessimistic few years, and he has responded relatively well.

These forecasts are the first things to note, since they bring chipper, ‘Remoaner’-bashing claims that the economy has grown after Brexit back down to earth. The economy has indeed grown by 0.5%, but that’s less than 0.7% last year[1]. We haven’t left yet, and George Osborne’s brainchild, the Office of Budget Responsibility, reminds us that the consequences when we do leave should not be underestimated. It predicts that GDP growth to 2017 will be 1.4 percentage points lower than expected, based on the uncertain potential outcomes of Brexit. Since Article 50 should be invoked in March 2017, this will be the result of investment hesitating, businesses retreating, migration slowing, productivity stalling and consumption withdrawing from the uncertainty.

Mr Hammond has done what he can to address these problems. First of all, he aims to further reduce the deficit and commit to falling debt[2]. This means he has turned his back on all three of George Osborne’s three goals; having already failed to reduce debt as a share of national income every year and to stick to the cap on welfare spending, he has now reneged on reaching a budget surplus by 2019-20. Choosing new rules was wise in terms of growth; meeting Osborne’s goals may have required harsher austerity, having a particularly punishing effect when coupled with the OBR’s forecasts and higher inflation. However, eyebrows have been raised over the prospects of a higher debt to GDP ratio in 2010-21[3].

Secondly, he has promised to ‘build an economy that works for all’; particularly for those who are ‘just about managing’. Measures include raising the Personal Tax-Free Allowance to £12,500 and the Higher Rate Threshold to £50,000, increasing the National Living Wage for those 25 and over, increasing the National Minimum Wage, and lowering the rate at which benefits are reduced under Universal Credit[4]. These measures may benefit some of the ‘just about managing families’, loosening UC in particular. However, many claim rightfully that increasing the tax-free allowance doesn’t help the poorest[5], particularly those under 25; the Resolution Foundation believes Hammond’s these measures will cover only 7% losses from the planned £12bn in welfare cuts[6].

In fact, the poorest are most likely to be negatively affected due to these cuts: a freeze in working age benefits, tax credits and income support from April 2016. Combined with higher costs of living, inflation and the OBR’s predictions, the next few years look challenging for those already struggling the most. The Institute for Fiscal Studies confirms this; workers will earn fewer real wages in 2021 than in 2008, with forecasts revised down by 3.7% since March. Similarly, the Resolution Foundation has warned that living standards could be worse during this parliament than the last, while the Treasury predicts the poorest 30% households will see a negative impact on their income by 2019-20[7].

However, this fiscal tightening has been combined with spending in an attempt to regenerate slow productivity. The idea is to boost incomes and reduce debt in the long term. Hammond’s £23 billion ‘National Productivity Investment Fund’ include investment in transport infrastructure, housing, future transport technology and research and development. This is a step in the right direction; more productivity means more jobs and higher wages, while innovative industry protects our economy against being ostracised after Brexit. Some claim that the plan is too modest. Still, the Chancellor doesn’t have unlimited means; he has clearly chosen modest spending and modest tightening, with a view to longer term growth. This time, it is the worse off who are bearing the brunt, rather than the richest or corporations.

Hammond has given corporations a tax reduction to 17% in 2020, down from 28% in 2010. This looks like a decision to prioritise the richest over struggling families, but in reality it’s likely that Hammond was trying to prevent business from uprooting to countries within the EU. This may end up improving corporate tax revenues in the long term, allowing the government to extend greater help to struggling families. In a similar vein, he has pledged £400 million from the British Business Bank for growing innovative firms, and cracked down on corporate tax avoidance[8]. At a King’s Think Tank Event, New Economic Foundation’s Olivier Vardakoulias foresaw a Singapore-style business culture arriving in London; low taxes, low regulation, little red tape, all attractive to Brexit-shy investment. This prediction could be coming true.

To conclude, Hammond has done a reasonable job of creating long term gain out of the short term pain of Brexit. Growth in productivity through innovative, long-term industries, should offset the effects of the benefit freezes in the short term. Without some tightening, government investment wouldn’t be possible; but Hammond could look for a less vulnerable short-term revenue base, given prospects for growth and incomes alongside cost of living and rising inflation. Coddling rather than taxing corporations increases the pressure on Hammond’s pro-business measures succeeding; since they rely heavily on confidence form external investors, the government must set out a clear strategy for Brexit, before they retreat any further.

Charlotte Baker is editor at Business and Economics Policy Centre, King’s Think Tank.

[1] ‘Brexit Britain: What has actually happened so far?’ BBC 15 December 2016 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36956418

[2] ‘Autumn Statement 2016’ HM Treasury 23 November 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/autumn-statement-2016

[3] Wolf M ‘The wages of Brexit are bigger debts’ Financial Times 23 November 2016 https://www.ft.com/content/e87f92ea-b176-11e6-a37c-f4a01f1b0fa1

[4] ‘Autumn Statement 2016’ HM Treasury 23 November 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/autumn-statement-2016

[5] ‘Philip Hammond takes a sober approach to post-Brexit Britain’ FT 23 November 2016 https://www.ft.com/content/ca6e9ef8-b177-11e6-a37c-f4a01f1b0fa1

[6] ‘The Guardian view on the autumns statement: half right, half wrong’ The Guardian 23 November 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/23/the-guardian-view-on-the-autumn-statement-half-right-half-wrong

[7] Peachey, K ‘Autumn Statement: Workers’ pay growth prospects dreadful, says IFS’ BBC 24 November 2016 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-38090977

[8] ‘Autumn Statement 2016’ HM Treasury 23 November 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/autumn-statement-2016

Study Abroad: A Necessity for Intercultural Competence?

With the rise of globalization and expansion of migration, our traditional ways of life including our cultural, social, political and economic ideas are being actively challenged. In times of social tension and conflict arising from new and dynamic mixtures of different cultures and ethnic groups, education has a key role to play in the promotion of “social cohesion and peaceful coexistence”[1]

Intercultural education has emerged as a key component of promoting social cohesion.[2] One of the main aims of intercultural education is to develop individuals who are interculturally competent and who are able to regard diversity as an advantage rather than a challenge. Sven Sierens introduces the definition of intercultural competencies as “equip[ing] young people with the cognitive characteristics attitudes and skills they will need in a multicultural, multinational and internationalising world.[3]

Through opportunities and programmes that foster discussion between students of different beliefs and cultures, education can promote these intercultural competencies.

The study abroad experience is advertised as the perfect opportunity for intercultural education, the chance to learn about other cultures and gain a greater understanding of perspectives from around the world. We asked several students to talk about their experiences studying abroad to see whether the opportunity had developed their intercultural competencies and shaped their understanding of different cultures.

Anonymous, Madrid

There are many advantages to living abroad: from being able to find the self-confidence and self-determination to go to a foreign country alone, and set up a new life, to conversing in a language that is not your mother tongue. It also allows you to deal with cultural sensitivities that simply cannot be pre-taught in a classroom. There are many more aspects of the study abroad that are undeniably of huge value to me, both in terms of personal and professional progression.

I grew more culturally aware and developed a greater understanding of some of the social crises that European Union countries are facing. These issues are vastly different from those faced by the UK. In particular, my time spent in Madrid highlighted for me the shocking reality of the presence of comparatively underdeveloped countries within the EU; on levels such as: administration, education and employment rights.

The process of studying abroad is always sold with a certain infallible positivity and optimism, despite what I gained from the experience, I have also encountered very real challenges. Unfortunately, the positive times I had interacting with local Spaniards and students was blighted by the disappointment I had with the academic quality of my host university.

Anonymous, Brazil

I found adjusting to Salvador quite difficult. The similarities between Brazilian life and British life are far fewer in number compared with the similarities between European countries and the UK. When my Portuguese was weak to start with, no one had English strong enough to help. Moreover, there was practically zero infrastructure to provide help for foreigners looking to stay for a permanent length of time. The university did not even tell me when and where I needed to be on my first day! We had no guidance of where to look for housing or how, and it took far longer to get to know the city in a deeper and more intimate way.

However, I think that after returning from Brazil, I felt more pride in myself, because despite the greater hurdles at the beginning, I did manage to adjust – as best a white British girl can in a predominantly Afro-Caribbean Brazilian city – to the culture of Brazil and Salvador.

While I was fortunately not affected by economic factors during my study abroad, there were political factors that did shape my daily life. The impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, accompanied with weekly protests and riots, of which I often became a part of, dramatically affected the general way of life. I noticed that every day discourse between myself and my Brazilian friends swayed to the current affairs of the country. It was a fascinating insight into the corruption of Brazil which I had obviously read about and studied, but never experienced first-hand. I never truly understood the extent of the problem and the impact corruption has on Brazilian life. Something I think you can only really understand by immersing yourself into Brazilian life.

The structure of the host educational institution was vastly different from that of KCL. At UFBA in Salvador, I really liked how much the student voice was heard, every single class, without fail, would end with a student discussion. I think this has been lost in our system in London somewhat. Also, the classes I was offered to take were so relevant, something I think the KCL modules somewhat lack. While at KCL they refer specifically to the Iberian Peninsula or South America, they have little translation to modern day life. I am fascinated with the Portuguese language because of the modern development and progress of the countries in which it is spoken. Yet our course here in London seems to have forgotten that.

My time abroad has greatly changed my opinion on my home country and on Brazil. I see now that the rush, pressure and stress which seems to exist in London is not necessary for achievement, be it on a personal or greater level. I see now that the lack of personal and work life balance many Londoners suffer with, is something that can, and should be fixed.

I have also noticed that Brazil is stigmatised by and reduced to its stereotypes of the beach and carnival in the foreign mind-set and media, which is grossly unfair. Whilst these stereotypes do obviously exist, there is a great profundity to Brazil which is sadly often forgotten. My experience has deepened my understanding of Brazilian culture and has greatly developed my intercultural competencies as I am able to better communicate and understand the Brazilian people.

Anonymous, Berlin

Before moving to London for my year abroad at King’s, the U.K made the decision to leave the European Union that undoubtedly had an impact on my initial time here. Even before arriving, the uncertainty of the result made me slightly nervous as I didn’t know how this would affect my experience. King’s emailed the study abroad students and reiterated that they remain an international university and that Brexit would have no immediate impact on their policies. This definitely reassured me; however, from the outset of attending lectures and seminars, I noticed how Brexit became the elephant in the room. While in Berlin we definitely had politically active discussions in class, I’ve noticed especially in Private International Law the significant impact Brexit has on virtually every aspect of the material we learn.

In terms of adjusting to King’s and my host country I have noticed that in many ways it is similar to Berlin, as both are European capital cities and have a vibrant mix of nationalities and cultures. While I haven’t left the cosmopolitan feel, it has been more difficult to connect with British students. I’ve noticed a divide between national and international students as they tend to loosely interact separately. Considering that most students have developed close friendship groups over their course, it is more difficult to penetrate these barriers to get to know individuals. However, I’m still discovering the city and King’s and hope to learn more about the British culture to better connect with the local students. Perhaps the increased contact hours at King’s will allow me to build my cognitive flexibility and to think within different contexts for a more varied understanding of topics.

There are also structural differences, the academic level of work is largely the same however there is more independence back in Berlin in terms of studying. Here there are essays and attendance, whereas in Berlin the examinations at the end of the semester are the main focus. While for some this may be a welcome organizational crutch, for me it is sometimes an overwhelming amount of work that detracts from my ability to explore the city and meet new people.

I’m only two months into my study abroad experience, but I’ve already had a chance to realize that the structure of learning in Berlin is more suited to my independent learning style. Nevertheless, for me, while my academic results are important, the reason I chose to study abroad at King’s was to really delve into the British culture so that at the end of my experience I can confidently say that I have a better understanding of the underlying economic and political conditions that have shaped the perspectives of the British politicians, media and even students. I hope that this in turn will develop my ability to empathise and appreciate the diversity of opinions.

For now, I remain open to new ideas and curious about the different perspectives of the people I may meet on my study abroad.

Conclusion

While a study abroad may not be a necessity for intercultural competence, it is clear that it provides a valuable opportunity for students to learn to communicate with people from different cultures and to understand nuances of perspectives. However, King’s and London can also provide a diversity of perspectives from cultures around the world that allow students to develop intercultural competencies without leaving the country. There are also challenges with the study abroad experience, such as low-quality academic system, which can adversely affect the ability of some to develop their intercultural understanding.

Nonetheless, to explore the realities of current events in foreign countries, it is worth experiencing this first hand. In terms of language skills, study abroad provides a wonderful opportunity to grow and communicate with locals more confidently to promote the exchange of opinions and viewpoints.

Marina Zabelina and Anne Siebenaler are editors of the Education Policy Centre, King’s Think Tank.

[1] UNESCO Guidelines On Intercultural Education. 1st ed. Paris: N.p., 2006. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

[2] Intercultural Competence For All: Preparation For Living In A Heterogeneous World. 2nd ed. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2012. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

[3] “Intercultural Education – Better Education For Everyone?”. Inter Cultural Iceland. N.p., 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

Please Mind the Gap: Policies on the Gender Pay Gap

In October 2016, the Law Policy Centre of King’s Think Tank Society hosted its first event – “Please Mind the Gap with DLA Piper”. The expert panel, consisting of Her Honour Judge Anuja Dhir, Her Honour Judge Georgina Kent, Miss Sarah Ellington – commercial litigator at DLA Piper, and Mrs Janet Walsh – professor of Human Resource Management and Employment Relations at King’s College London, was moderated by the president of the Law Policy Centre Miss Jagoda Klimowicz. The panel aimed to explore various aspects of the phenomenon known as gender pay gap.

Gender pay gap measures the difference between the hourly pay of the average man and the average woman and it does so without taking into account any differences between the types of jobs, education or qualifications of persons in question.[1] The measure should not be confused with unequal pay which measures the difference between what men and women are paid for the same, or equivalent, work. As of November 2015, the gender pay gap in the UK stood at 19.2% for full and part-time workers, and it was the most pronounced in the area of part-time work and for women aged 50-59.[2] While the causes of gender pay gap are numerous and complex, the panel’s discussion focused upon three main issues affecting the gender pay gap -maternity leave, quotas and targets in employment, and salary publication. Each will be examined in turn.

One of the key causes of gender pay gap are women’s caring responsibilities. According to the 2011 census, 58% of carers were women, looking after children, elderly, and disabled.[3] Consequently, women are often prevented from accessing well-paid work, ending up in part-time, low-skilled jobs instead. Focusing specifically on the impact of maternity leave on gender pay gap, the panel explained that a positive correlation between the two phenomena is well recorded. Once women return to work after the birth of a first child, the wage difference per hour between men and women steadily widens, particularly in the case of highly educated women, amounting to 4% for each year out of paid work. In contrast, the impact of taking time off is less pronounced for the lowest-educated, likely due to wage progression being more limited in general.[4]

The impact of maternity leave on gender pay gap varies not only between women with different levels of education, but also across different occupational sectors. According to a longitudinal study carried out in the USA, referred to by Professor Walsh, taking time out of employment has the greatest disproportionate effect on female MBA holders; they suffered a 48% decrease in their earnings on average. On the other hand, the pharmaceutical sector recorded one of the lowest gender pay gaps in America. Arguably, its success could be attributed to the fact that work in the pharmaceutical industry tended to be organised around part-time arrangements and teams of employees with a similar skill-set, where one employee could easily replace another. This high degree of flexibility thus enabled women to continue working even after giving birth and in consequence, they did not experience such drastic changes in their earning potential as their MBA counterparts. Flexibility of work as a crucial weapon in fighting against gender pay gap in general has also been emphasized by the UK’s House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee.

Additionally, the effects of gender pay gap stemming from maternity leave could potentially be remedied by an introduction of a compulsory paternity leave scheme. The evidence of the OECD’s gender initiative shows that good public childcare and good parental leave arrangements play a crucial role in reducing gender pay gap.[5] When men and women take paid leave equally, women can work more, which equalizes the risk to an employer of hiring a man or a woman which has further positive effects for women. Those benefits clearly translate into financial gains; data from Sweden shows that for every month of paternity leave woman’s earnings increased by 7% a year.[6] In the UK, the Government introduced a shared parental leave (SPL) in April 2015 enabling parents to split the leave among themselves. However, unlike in Sweden, taking time off for fathers is voluntary which results in a very low take up of SPL (estimated at around 2-8%), mostly so for reasons of prevailing cultural perceptions.[7]

In light of this evidence, it has been suggested that paternity leave should be introduced on a compulsory, non-transferrable basis. While the costs of such a scheme would be very high (estimated as between 200-400 million of pounds per year), arguably, the benefits of keeping women at work would nevertheless greatly exceed this figure in the long run. Crucially, however, to achieve compliance with such a compulsory scheme, the payment of paternity leave should increase in order to avoid a too big financial strain on parents – a consideration which presently often acts as a deterring factor for fathers to take a leave in the first place.[8]

Secondly, the panel discussed how gender pay gap could be tackled by improving gender diversity in employment through the use of quotas and targets. While quotas can be defined as mandated outcomes that must be achieved, targets determine specific objectives in a discretionary manner. Positive discrimination, which gives applicants from disadvantaged or under-represented backgrounds a preferential treatment in the recruitment process, is currently unlawful in the UK.[9] Consequently, filling quotas is unlawful as well. In contrast, legislation encourages positive action, meaning that where a choice needs to be made between two candidates of equal merit, preference may be given to a candidate from a disadvantaged or under-represented background.[10] This can play a vital role in enhancing positive action.

Arguably, both devices have merits and faults. While quotas are useful for improving diversity in employment quickly and effectively, it has been suggested that on balance, long-term negative effects significantly outweigh short-term benefits. Being bound to fill the quotas would not only interfere with employers’ freedom of selection, potentially forcing them to choose from a pool of less-qualified employees, but could also spark resentment by co-workers if they perceive that an individual was appointed due to her protected characteristic and not because of her merit. A counter-example to this assertion, however, can be provided by the success story of Norway. While in 2002 only 6% of board members in Norway were women, the so-called “Women on Boards Act”, introduced by the Norwegian government in 2006, has led to a greatly improved women’s representation on boards to a level slightly beyond the prescribed quota of 40%, achieving this result seemingly without any major problems.[11]

In contrast to quotas, targets enable companies to effect change according to their own preferences and at their own pace, but the voluntariness and aspirational nature of commitments may result in a failure to make any improvements at all. In the UK, targets, like quotas in Norway, have worked successfully in respect of increasing gender diversity in boardrooms. Based on the voluntary, business led approach to increase representation of women on FTSE 100 boards to at least 25% by 2015, the figure stood at 26.1% in October 2015, and the target has been increased to 33% of women on boards of FTSE 350 companies to be achieved by 2020.[12] In spite of this success, much more needs to be done in respect of other occupations. As an example, the judges on the panel pointed to the lack of representation of women in judiciary, especially at higher levels (i.e. High Court and above), the most drastic example of which is the composition of the Supreme Court with only one female judge out of twelve.

Weighing the pros and cons of both quotas and targets, it appears that finding a middle ground between the two approaches, possibly in the form of mandatory positive action, would be the best first step in the UK for the time being.

Lastly, the panel addressed advantages and disadvantages of salary information publication in relation to gender pay gap. As of now, companies may choose to report on gender equality related issues concerning their workforce under the framework of the voluntary government initiative “Think, Act, Report” which has been launched in September 2011.[13] The three-pronged approach is based firstly, on identification of issues around gender equality within the company, secondly, on taking action to address those issues, and lastly, on reporting on progress and sharing best practice and case studies. While since its initiation more than 250 companies (including names such as Aldi, Tesco, HSBC, Samsung, Vodafone), covering over two and a half million employees, signed up for the program, its voluntary nature represents a real barrier towards any tangible improvements; by July 2015, only 5 companies published their data.[14] The lack of success prompted the coalition government of 2010–2015 to introduce, under section 78 of the 2010 Equality Act, a mandatory gender pay gap reporting scheme which will come into force in 2018 and will be binding on all private and public companies with more than 250 employees.[15]

Since the voluntary system does not work well, this is definitely a positive development. It is however nevertheless questionable if the new mandatory scheme will act as a panacea for all the problems, given the facts that  it does not envisage any enforcement mechanism which would ensure that companies would publish gender pay gap figures; and, that it does not require action aimed at improvement of reported outcomes. In order for the scheme to be successful, not only do these two defects need to be remedied but in addition, reported figures should be broken down by age and part-time status in order to enable a more targeted approach to tackling gender pay gap. Moreover, the evidence from abroad (e.g. from Finland and Sweden) suggests that the threshold for organisations covered by the new regulations should be reduced, especially so since the current scheme excludes small and medium sized enterprises which account for 99.9% of private sector companies in the UK, and equally important, since it is also the case that gender pay gap is more pronounced in smaller organisations with 20-99 employees.[16] However, when reducing the threshold, it is of utmost importance to ensure that the personal data of every employee remains private and protected.

In conclusion, it can be asserted that while measures such as compulsory paternity leave, mandatory positive action, and mandatory salary information publication could serve as an important first steps in reducing gender pay gap, the problem itself is too complex to be solved by isolated policy proposals alone. A more holistic approach is required, not least bearing in mind that for any new laws in this area to be successful in the long run, a shift in the society’s cultural attitudes is needed as well.

Aya Marovt is the Editor of the Law Policy Center, King’s Think Tank.

[1] House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee: Gender Pay Gap (Second Report of Session 2015–2016), p. 7. Accessible at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmwomeq/584/584.pdf (7.12.2016).

[2] Ibid.

[3] House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee: Gender Pay Gap (Second Report of Session 2015–2016), p. 18. Accessible at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmwomeq/584/584.pdf (7.12.2016).

[4] BBC News: Mothers’ pay lags far behind men (23 August 2016). Accessible at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37156178 (7.12.2016).

[5] House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee: Gender Pay Gap (Second Report of Session 2015–2016), p. 43. Accessible at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmwomeq/584/584.pdf (7.12.2016).

[6] House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee: Gender Pay Gap (Second Report of Session 2015–2016), p. 44. Accessible at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmwomeq/584/584.pdf (7.12.2016).

[7] House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee: Gender Pay Gap (Second Report of Session 2015–2016), pp. 45–46. Accessible at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmwomeq/584/584.pdf (7.12.2016).

[8] House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee: Gender Pay Gap (Second Report of Session 2015–2016), pps. 47–48. Accessible at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmwomeq/584/584.pdf (7.12.2016).

[9] See Equality Act 2010. Accessible at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents (7.12.2016).

[10] Sections 158 and 159 of Equality Act 2010. Accessible at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/159 (7.12.2016).

[11]Royal Norwegian Embassy in London: UK Interest in Norwegian Quota Act. Accessible at: http://www.norway.org.uk/norwayandcountry/Current-Affairs/Bilateral-Relations/UK-Interest-in-Norwegian-Quota-Act/#.WEf6YMfs8y4 (7.12.2016).

[12]Lord Davies of Abersoch: Women on Boards (February 2011). Accessible at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/31480/11-745-women-on-boards.pdf (7.12.2016).

[13] Government Equalities Office: Policy Paper: Think, Act, Report (July 2015). Accessible at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/think-act-report/think-act-report (7.12.2016).

[14] Mason, Rowena and Jill Treanor: David Cameron to force companies to disclose gender pay gaps (14 July 2015). Accessible at: (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jul/14/david-cameron-to-force-companies-to-disclose-gender-pay-gaps (7.12.2016).

[15] Mason, Rowena: Gender pay gap reporting for big firms to start in 2018 (12 February 2016). Accessible at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/feb/12/gender-pay-gap-reporting-big-firms-start-2018 (7.12.2016).

[16] House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee: Gender Pay Gap (Second Report of Session 2015–2016), pp. 74–78. Accessible at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmwomeq/584/584.pdf (7.12.2016).