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Beyond the Barriers – New Spartacus Report

09/04/2014

The Spartacus group, which produced Responsible Reform, has just published its latest report on the Employment and Support Allowance.

Beyond the Barriers has taken evidence from around Europe, the results of the government’s own enquiries and some primary research of its own to produce a highly critical report. It suggests alternatives to the controversial Work Capability Assessments, and places the whole system in the context of the current labour market.

You can read the full report here.

I’d obviously encourage the politically engaged amongst you to read the report and spread the word as widely as possible. ESA and the WCA process are highly flawed. Trying to take a subjective concept such as “disability” and apply it to a rigid set of arbitrary medical measures was always going to be an issue. And it has been for a long time.

But since I’m not disabled and cannot even begin to fathom what the experience of going through a WCA is like (50% of respondents said that stress and fear were the worst parts of the process), I thought I’d retreat into my ivory tower and offer some historical perspective.

Spartacus & DIG

A lot of the tactics employed by Spartacus are reminiscent of the Disablement Income Group in the mid-1960s and early-1970s. The use of international comparisons, for example, is very DIG-esque. Back in 1971, DIG’s research into Western European benefits systems was so advanced, even the Department of Health and Social Security didn’t keep that sort of data.1 Of course, the rise of multiple international bodies (including the EU) since then has made governments much more aware of international comparisons. But the idea of ‘inspiring or shaming’ through showing how much greener the grass is on the continent is by no means a new tactic. For DIG, it was a rather successful one; the media coverage inspired the DHSS to set about conducting its own research, and by 1977 a whole host of new benefits for disabled people had been created.

DIG was also keen to use evidence from surveys of disabled people themselves. During the 1960s, there was no official category of “the disabled” or “disabled people”. Arguably, there still isn’t, but at least the government has developed ways of beginning to estimate the numbers of disabled people in the country. Until 1971, the United Kingdom had no published data on this at all. DIG was one of the few organisations that knew disabled people, where they lived, and the general problems they faced. As a result, it was actively consulted in helping to design a survey for the Office of Population and Census Studies.2 Not only did DIG know what questions to ask, it knew how to find whom to ask. Beyond the Barriers employs a similar methodology, building on the analytical work conducted in earlier research projects.

What Spartacus has done with the wider social questions, however, is much more advanced than anything DIG attempted. Developments in disability studies, rights legislation and the faltering economy have all helped; but the critique of the labour market as inherently discriminatory against disabled people is pretty radical. Certainly DIG would have trouble making these arguments in a pre-Thatcher, “full-employment” interventionist welfare state. Indeed, Spartacus has been able to take current workplace initiatives such as work placements and explain how and why they currently fail to produce any meaningful results. DIG did make compelling arguments about how disabled people earn less, are more likely to be unemployed and are more likely to incur extra costs (the basis of today’s disability benefit coverage). But this report takes things much further by making concrete suggestions about how these sorts of barriers might be overcome.

One key continuity remains. DIG was always focused on democratic, gradual reform. It did not demand revolution, or for solutions to be created overnight. Instead, it always pushed for incremental improvements in the level of services, pushing towards an “ideal type” National Disability Income. Spartacus is certainly strident in its demands; but there are a set of ‘Interim Recommendations’ which are practicable in the limbo between the current situation and a more appealing future. This kind of reform has its drawbacks; but it certainly cannot be thought of as unreasonable and unthinking. DIG was able to secure a number of reforms over the course of around 15 years through this sort of campaigning. At the same time, more radical groups always felt that such compromises were more damaging in the long term. This is a debate that will probably never be resolved.

**

So, again, do spread the word about the report. It’s certainly for a good cause. Given this government has already ignored court rulings that their policies contravene the Equalities Act, these sorts of well-presented, well-researched and professional-quality reports are exactly what opposition politicians and journalists need to tackle injustice.

If you would like to contact the report’s authors, they can be found through @SpartacusReport.
  1. Hampton, Jameel, ‘Disabled People and the Classic Welfare State, 1948-1975: Changes in Perception, Developments in Policy’, PhD thesis, University of Bristol, 2011, esp 134-6.
  2. Harris, Amelia I., Handicapped and impaired in Great Britain (London: H.M.S.O., 1971).
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Co-operation or conflict – how best to tackle injustice?

07/04/2014

A few weeks ago, I came across a statement from a disability organisation, furious about cuts to the Independent Living Fund. The Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) coalition appears to have gained quite a lot of traction in recent years through social media. But its tone has always worried and fascinated me in equal measure. Is insulting the people whose behaviour you want to reform really the best way to go?

First of all, a whole bunch of caveats are probably necessary. I am not (yet) disabled. I am not part of any disability charity or lobbying organisations. I am not affected by the closure of the ILF, nor is anyone I know personally. It is not my place to tell disabled people how angry they should be or how they choose to express their dissatisfaction with current or past governments.

As a historian, however, I am interested in the age-old argument about whether to compromise with those in power or to attack them head on. A sort of a Communist versus Social Democrat angle. Does gradual reform lead to fudged policies which maintain unequal power structures? Does more revolutionary behaviour cause resentment and backlash? It’s not an easy question to answer. Indeed, it’s one that the disability lobby has had to fight for a very long time.

When the Disablement Income Group (DIG) was formed in 1965, it very deliberately tried to work alongside the British government to secure the first disability benefits. In that sense, it worked – gradually reforming the existing social security structure to provide for disabled people’s needs. At the same time, the power structures which discriminated against disabled people were not brought down, limiting the sort of radical reform that may have helped even more people in the long term.

The Disability Alliance (DA), created in 1974, attempted to be more strident with the government. Even more radical was the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, a coalition of groups run by disabled people themselves campaigning for an end to discrimination. Over the years it has been groups like DIG, DA and the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (RADAR, 1977) who have gained more attention from and access to those in power; but it has been the BCODPs of this world that have more effectively argued the political case for why and how disabled people are disadvantaged in non-disabled society.

Quite understandably, groups like BCODP, and now DPAC, have been angry at the way “respectable” organisations have collaborated with governments of all colours – what gave them the right to speak on disabled people’s behalf, especially when many of them are run by non-disabled people? By the same token, the DPAC statement has some interesting language choices within:

  • “Tory government”
  • An “ideologically driven attack on the quality of life of all but the richest UK citizens”
  • “The manifest sadism of a government bent on imposing destitution and despair on the populace”

It’s hard to disagree with the sentiments. (As an academic leftie. Right on.) But the language seems reminiscent of sixth form student activism rather than mature discussion. Of course, this could well be the point – by dressing up language to please those in power, you end up becoming complicit in the very structures you hope to tear down. Moreover, why shouldn’t anger be expressed? Some of what the government is doing right now should drive people to emotional outbursts. But is it a good campaigning strategy?

Ultimately, as Mike Oliver said in 1991:

It is perhaps ironic that many of us spent the 1970s criticising the welfare state, only to find that these arguments were built upon and taken much further by a government determined to reduce state expenditure. Consequently, we spent the 1980s defending what we had previously attacked. In sum, we defended the indefensible and I do not propose to spend the 1990s doing the same.1

With a government seemingly ideologically opposed to you, is there much point in trying to talk to them? If your arguments can be used against you, and there is little prospect of genuine reform, why bother trying to look “respectable”?

This isn’t really a question that can be answered – certainly not by an outsider. But it’s the kind of thing I like to think about. Is there a point at which being “professional” and “reasonable” isn’t so reasonable after all?

  1. Mike Oliver, ‘Speaking out: Disabled people and state welfare’, in Gillian Dalley (ed.), Disability and Social Policy (London: Policy Studies Institute, 1991), 156.
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Dyslexia and diagnosis

27/02/2014

Richard Crossman told Alf Morris that he couldn’t put dyslexia provision in his Private Member’s Bill because it didn’t exist. “Well then”, said Morris, “it won’t cost you anything, will it.”1

Yesterday, the authors of The Dyslexia Debate appeared to back up Crossman, albeit 45 years later.2 But that would be to misunderstand the historical context of the debate, and the cultural meaning ascribed to people with reading difficulties.

It was not uncommon even when I was a child to hear that dyslexia wasn’t real – it was just a fancy medical term for kids who were thick. The attitude still resonates today, and overlooks the fact that, while most people on the planet find it relatively easy to learn how to read, many do not. As societies became more literate, their economies relied on people who could read and write to operate machinery and keep bureaucracies running. Almost every form of art, employment and pastime in the Western World involves some form of reading comprehension. For those who cannot, the rise of the internet is actually a disabling thing, not a liberator.

So, if society doesn’t find ways of reaching those who might take longer or more help to read, those children will be at a monumental disadvantage in life. They will be far more likely to be unemployed, impoverished, and with that subject to ill health and more likely to commit criminal offences.

What appears to be going on here, however, is the idea that dyslexia need to be “de-medicalised”. Rather than requiring a diagnosis before anyone will act, all people, regardless of their ability to find a medical certificate, ought to be helped if they struggle with literacy.

The reason dyslexia is so pervasive – and why parents go to such great lengths to get their children diagnosed – is because of the way bureaucracies deal with numbers. Until dyslexia could be diagnosed, there was little quantifiable, objective evidence to suggest more resources needed to be pushed towards special needs education. It is still the case that often a parent will need to prove their child needs help until they can secure it.

We now live in a world where the vast majority of those in an educational setting understand that some children require extra help. A number of symptoms are broadly lumped together as “dyslexia”, and so this is how we have come to understand the problem. Like many disability policies, however, a general policy of inclusion and access can help people without the need to constantly medicalise and label. Ramps into Post Offices help anyone who has difficulty walking, from the wheelchair user to the woman with a slight limp to the father with a pushchair. Similarly, automatically providing help to any child who struggles with reading would help raise literacy standards without the need to get a doctor’s certificate. By disaggregating “dyslexia”, educators can focus on the specific needs of the child based on their knowledge of the child’s abilities. Reading difficulties remain very real, even if “dyslexia” isn’t.

Unfortunately, these sorts of nuanced arguments very often get twisted. No doubt someone will use this to “prove” that there’s no such thing as dyslexia and will cut funding to dyslexia initiatives. Without diagnoses, people will argue that the real need is either unquantifiable or non-existent, and so reading schemes will not receive the funding they require. In a neo-liberal world based on targets and quotas, it may well be that we need “dyslexia” as a tool to ensure at least some children get the help they need. Whether it’s “made up” or not.

See also the BBC news item on this.

Image courtesy of Wikicommons.
  1. Paraphrase. See Derek Kinrade, Alf Morris, People’s Parliamentarian (London : National Information Forum, 2007).
  2. The term ‘dyslexia’ is unscientific and misleading and should be abandoned, according to new book‘, Durham University, 26 February 2014 (accessed 27 February 2014).
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Dominic Sandbrook and questionable history – the sixties and the Daily Mail

02/01/2014

Reading the Daily Mail can, obviously, be bad for one’s health. But recently I was directed to a piece by a Conservative-supporting Facebook friend of mine condemning the legacy of Labour in the 1960s. Pretty normal for the Mail, of course, and nothing new from Sandbrook. However, his basic conclusion – that the use of experts in the 1960s ruined Britain – is a little difficult to swallow unless one deliberately distorts history to justify the neo-liberal turn of the late 1970s.

To start, I would point people to Anthony Seldon’s work on the post-war period if they’re after a less partisan, Conservative (big and little “c”) account.1 As he points out, historical reviews of Harold Wilson (Prime Minister 1964-1970 and again 1974-1976) and Ted Heath (1970-1974) have overtly blamed the 1960s and 1970s for destroying Britain. It’s not difficult to see why. For the Conservatives, it becomes easier to justify the radical and decidedly un-conservative politics of the Thatcherites if Keynes’s poster children are painted as incompetent monsters.2 Similarly, New Labour required the failure of the 1970s to justify policies which abandoned “socialism” and nationalisation of industry.

The 1960s are just… well… a little less interesting than that. Undoubtedly, Labour had problems with the economy, many of their own making.3 The poor response to the sterling crises created problems with inflation, and economic grown was uneven (despite being on a generally good positive trend). Heath also had issues in the 1970s, forcing him to abandon his more hard-line economically liberal policies.4 Heath’s three-day week and Callaghan’s Winter of Discontent signalled the crisis of Keynesianism which allowed Thatcher to present the British electorate with an alternative. The blame obviously lay at the feet of those “liberals” who demanded the death penalty be repealed; who built Milton Keynes; who tried to plan the economy.

Harold Wilson, Prime Minister 1964-70, 1974-76.

Harold Wilson reflected his times. Sandbrook’s insinuations that it was his government and party that ruined Britain ring hollow. Image from Wikicommons.

Sandbrook’s main ire (aside from his typical Daily Mail disdain for women getting access to birth control, young people taking drugs and boys with long hair) is, however, reserved for “the expert”.5 Of course, this was not a Labour invention. It wasn’t even an invention of the 1960s. The rise of the expert is a phenomenon seen in British politics from at least the Second World War. Indeed, the War was apparently won (even by the Daily Mail’s standards) by experts at Bletchley Park, canny radar operators, and the great civil servants who planned the wartime economy and kept us all calm while we carried on. Expertise is not, in itself, a problem. Indeed, as the world became an increasingly globalised and complicated place, it was the experts that made sense of the machines and administrative departments that controlled our lives.

Harold Macmillan’s Public Expenditure Survey Committee looked to harness this new spirit of planning to help direct the economy. Wilson had his own visions for the Civil Service as he looked to wrest it from the control of public school boys with Oxbridge humanities degrees and put it in the hands of people with genuine academic and practical experience. Heath updated PESC with his own Programme and Analysis Review. Planning wasn’t Labour’s brain child; it was set up and actively pursued by Conservative politicians. Macmillan and Heath have been accused of many things, but I don’t think “socialist” can be said to be one of them.

Indeed, Margaret Thatcher was also big on planning; albeit with a different set of “experts”. For it seemed that “academics” and “professionals” served only their own interests. But the world of business could be trusted to have the economy’s (and therefore the people’s) best interests at heart. While Brian Abel-Smith6 was a communist evil trying to make the health service a monolithic money sink, Derek Rayner7 was a knight (literally) in shining armour (not literally) looking to slash expenditure. Under Thatcher, health service targets, the national curriculum and league tables reduced autonomous professionals to disciplined workers. Whether these genuinely raised standards or cut costs is immaterial – this was the basis for the Thatcherite revolution, and the one that has been seized upon by all governments since.

In any case, the overall point is that to blame Labour for either a) introducing this mindset or b) exacerbating it makes no sense. It was Conservative governments that did both. It is intriguing, therefore, that Sandbrook uses Wilson and Crosland as his poster children, and focuses predominantly on the 1964-70 governments. It’s almost as if he has an agenda(!).

But, of course, “the death penalty”. The imposition. The anti-democratic attempt to destroy law and order and British tradition. Well, the problem was that the British people continued to support people who wanted to make the world a better place. Regardless of whether presentist readings agree, the general attitude of the 1960s was one of (tempered) optimism for a better tomorrow. Repealing the death penalty was the result of a decades-long campaign, and a Private Member’s Bill (i.e. NOT the government) from a Labour MP.8 At the same time, abortion controls were relaxed (another Private Member’s Bill, this time a Liberal),9 and homosexual sex was legalised (oops – this one was a Bill by a Tory).10 And then you have divorce law reform, gender and race equality legislation… The filthy liberals were everywhere, even in the Conservative Party. Was this because Westminster hated the people, or because Westminster reflected the general attitude of the times? Either way, it doesn’t suit the Daily Mail narrative to consider this.

Professionals and experts do have a tendency to go looking for problems to fix to justify their continued existence. We have rightly grown to question and hold accountable those who offer us solutions to our problems. However, the world is a very complicated place as a result of advances in technology and our ability to handle vast amounts of information. The simple fact is, most of us don’t know how to educate our children; we don’t know how to administer a social security system; we don’t know the really effective ways to reduce crime; we don’t know how to run a hospital, perform organ transplants or develop new cures for diseases.

We may have anecdotal evidence or passing experience in these areas. But just because we think Latin will make our kids smarter, private companies will run jails better or cutting benefits will make our poor work harder doesn’t mean we’re right. The experts don’t hold all the answers. They can tend to live in a vacuum which means they ignore knock-on effects in other services. But it also doesn’t mean we should ignore their advice or warnings simply because it conflicts with how we want to see the world. How the Daily Mail has ruined Britain is by convincing us to believe in superstition dressed up as “common sense” at the expense of people who actually know what they’re doing.

Images courtesy of Wikicommons.
  1. See Anthony Seldon and Kevin Hickson (London: Routledge, 2004); The Heath Government, ed. Stuart Ball and Anthony Seldon (London: Longman, 1996).
  2. Anthony Seldon, “The Heath government in history,” in The Heath Government, ed. Stuart Ball and Anthony Seldon (London: Longman, 1996), pp. 12-14.
  3. Stephen Thornton, “A Case of Confusion and Incoherence: Social Security under Wilson, 1964–70,” Contemporary British History 20, no. 3 (2006): pp. 454-55.
  4. Michael A. Young, “The One Nation Government,” Contemporary Record 3, no. 2 (1989): p. 26.
  5. Hilton, Matthew Mouhot Jean-François, The politics of expertise : how NGOs shaped modern Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
  6. A professor of Social Administration, and part of a group at the London School of Economics that helped Labour plan their reforms of social services from the 1950s onwards. Along with Peter Townsend, Richard Titmuss and others, they were highly respected left-wing academics by both major parties. They were, perhaps, forerunners of the “SPAD” (special advisers) which are now a common route to becoming an MP and front bencher. David Cameron, for example, was a SPAD in the Treasury.
  7. CEO of Marks and Spencer. Thatcher felt that business leaders knew how to reform services to make them more cost efficient. Rayner’s first task was to review manpower in the government, and he recommended reducing the number of researchers in Whitehall. Conservative-approved think tanks picked up the slack, producing reports that were more favourable to the government. To be fair to Thatcher, she was not the first post-war Prime Minister who had justified concern that the Civil Service was too conservative to make genuinely radical reforms. Wilson had a similar attitude.
  8. Sidney Silverman. See Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965. Second reading debate HC deb 21 December 1964 vol. 704 cc. 870-1010.
  9. David Steel. See Abortion Act 1967. Second reading debate HC 22 July 1966 vol. 732 cc. 1067-1165
  10. Humphry Berkeley. See Sexual Offences Act 1967. Second reading debate HC Deb 11 February 1966 vol. 724 cc. 782-874.
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Can the Conservative Party Re-Write History?

13/11/2013

Well, here’s a good “water cooler” conversation for history departments across the country: if you can no longer Google something, did it ever happen?

Today, Twitter was abuzz that the British Conservative Party has been attempting to remove speeches made by its senior members between 2000 and 2010 – that is, the ten years before they were elected as the largest party in the current coalition government.1 Presumably this is so that it will become more difficult to accuse the party of breaking its election promises. An attempt to “erase history”.

So, if it becomes more difficult to find the past words of Cameron, Osborne et alter, how will this affect the way history is viewed? Are we entering an age where large corporations can rewrite the past through omission?

In the long run, the short answer is “no”. Even though the Conservatives have removed the speeches from their own website and certain online archives,2 it quite clear that enterprising individuals are able to track down the salient points of these politicians’ words through other media.3 Moreover, the speeches and the deliberations around them will, presumably, become available at some point through the Conservatives’ own archive at the Bodleian Library.4 With a combination of television, print media, personal papers and the records of the Party itself, mass media makes it virtually impossible to delete this sort of very public information.

The more worrying problem, however, is the short term. With fewer and fewer “physical” sources (printed paper, film reel, etc.) it becomes a distinct possibility that various documents can be “deleted” in their public, digital form and made rather difficult to access. Internet service providers can already filter out certain types of website, as the government has made very clear in the case of pornography,5 and it does not take much paranoia to believe that this could be done for more overt political reasons – such as we see in China.6

Moreover, politics is not conducted in history books. While the more recent past is still legitimate terrain for the modern historian, those critiquing the government need access to material. The behaviour of cabinet ministers over the last ten years is very important information. Indeed, as shown by the recent trawl through Tory speeches – an amusing if entirely predictable reaction to getting caught – George Osborne himself argued that:

We need to harness the internet to help us become more accountable, more transparent and more accessible – and so bridge the growing gap between government and governed.

George Osborne, shadow chancellor of the exchequer, 8 March 2007.7

The speed at which “the internet” jumped on this story is probably a sign that, in the end, any attempt to remove evidence of the past will be futile. Or, at the very least, crude attempts to delete things will trigger a tsunami of keyboard warriors who will attack anything that threatens freedom of information and freedom of speech. The more worrying issue is whether powerful institutions (and that doesn’t just include government departments and political parties, but large companies too) with competent PR experts will be able to coerce search engines and databases to remove unsavoury information either through “investment” (read: bribery) or legal pressure through arcane libel laws.

But in the end, there is probably a much better defence that powerful entities can employ – information overload. As the history of social security has shown, it has become harder and harder to resist social security reform as the system has gained ever greater complexity. It is simply beyond the knowledge of the lay person to properly critique benefits, medicine, the law, scientific discoveries, policing, teaching and a whole host of other areas of our lives. True, we can maintain an opinion, perhaps even a semi-informed opinion. But with greater complexity has come greater mistrust in the systems which govern us. Departments have, ironically, become far more transparent over the past 40 years, especially since the rise of the internet and Freedom of Information. But there is so much information that analysing and presenting it in an intelligible way is beyond most people. And those with the professional capacity to explain it are presumed to have an interest in maintaining the status quo, and so their explanations are ignored or pooh-poohed.

Well, that’s a depressing note to end on, isn’t it? So, can the Conservatives rewrite history? It appears not, and any attempt to do so will backfire. The more worrying thing might be that they have no need to.

Image from Wikicommons.
  1. Mark Ballard, ‘Conservatives erase Internet history’, Computer Weekly (12 November 2013, 17:02 GMT).
  2. ‘Conservative purge old speeches from online archives’, BBC News (13 November 2013, 14:48 GMT).
  3. Jim Waterson, ’6 Speeches The Conservatives Don’t Want You To See’, BuzzFeed (13 November 2013, 9:46 EST).
  4. Conservative Party Archive, Bodleian Library Special Collections, Oxford.
  5. Online pornography to be blocked by default, PM announces, BBC News (22 July 2013, 15:16 BST).
  6. ‘Golden Shield Project’, Wikipedia (accessed 13 November 2013).
  7. Mark Ballard, ‘All aboard the Osbornesource bandwagon!’, The Register (9 March 2007).
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Sol Campbell, quotas and institutional isms

04/10/2013

Sol Campbell recently claimed that he would have to move abroad to get a management position in football because of the inherent racism in the British game.

Those of you who aren’t sport fans might be tempted to switch off at this point. But stick with it – because it’s a fascinating insight into culture, racism, discrimination (positive and negative), equality and perceptions of institutions.

Sol Campbell was one of the best defenders of his generation.

Sol Campbell was one of the best defenders of his generation.

If you don’t follow football (“association football” or “soccer”) you might not know who Sol Campbell is. He’s a Londoner, and played for a number of Premier League clubs including Tottenham, Arsenal and Portsmouth. He played 73 times for England at full international level and won three Premier League titles and four FA Cups. At his peak, he was one of the top ten defenders in the world (in the opinion of this author), and is almost certainly one of the best English centre backs of the past twenty five years. He was never the best in the world, but he was up there.

Oh. And Sol Campbell is black. This, he claims, is what is stopping him becoming a manager (or, for North Americans, “head coach”) of a Premier League club.

American football, of course, has been accused of such racism before. In 2003, concerned at the lack of ethic minority head coaches, the NFL instituted “the Rooney Rule” which stipulated that, whenever a head coach vacancy appeared, franchises must interview at least one ethnic minority candidate. The 2007 Super Bowl saw two black coaches face off against each other in Tony Dungee and Lovie Smith, with Mike Tomlin also picking up a ring in 2009.

Tony Dungy became the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl.

Tony Dungy became the first African-American to win a Super Bowl.

This sort of “positive discrimination” has admirers from many quarters. For one, it does not force companies to hire people from minority backgrounds; it simply increases the likelihood that they will be considered. The recruitment firm employed for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games made a commitment to interview any candidate who self-identified as disabled. As a result, the company hired almost double their target of disabled people. Admittedly, this was for part-time and unpaid work. But lessons were learnt, and it was one of the positive aspects of the Olympics for disabled employment rights.

However – quotas for interviewing and for hiring often only go so far. The British state nominally had a quota system for firms employing over 20 people in Britain. Only five firms were ever prosecuted between 1948 and 1995 when the law was in effect. Partly this was because the government handed out exemption notices like confetti. Partly it was because these quotas don’t overcome the fundamental reasons why minorities do not get hired in the first place. Even if we exclude direct prejudice, black people, women, disabled people, etc. are far more likely to have poorer education, less work experience and more breaks in their employment than white, middle class men. This doesn’t just make their CVs look bad in comparison. It means they tend to perform worse in interviews, and have less experience of the “culture” of business. In short – white men find it easier to “fit in” than other groups. Hence, they tend to win out in a competitive job market.

Remploy ran sheltered workshops for disabled people, alongside a government quota scheme. But disabled people still found it difficult to get work in post-war Britain.

Remploy ran sheltered workshops for disabled people, alongside a government quota scheme. But disabled people still found it difficult to get work in post-war Britain.

That’s something that can’t be overcome with quotas. Indeed, it is beginning to bite again in the NFL. In 2006, 22% of head coaches were non-white. Today, it is back down to around 13%. That’s still higher than the 6% in 2002, but it is a significant drop. The issue is that there aren’t enough people in the traditional “gateway” positions. You don’t just hang up your “cleats” (boots, for people who speak the Queen’s English) and then walk into a head coaching role. You might instead go to college football, the “Football League” to the NFL’s “Premier League”. You become a coach at a particular position; then an offensive or defensive co-ordinator; then an assistant coach; and then you might, if you’re good enough, be selected as a head coach. Some stages might be skipped if you’re really that damn good – but most people require that apprenticeship in the lieutenant positions before they can prove themselves worthy of becoming a general.

So where does this leave Sol Campbell? Well, Sol has very little coaching experience. He is still in the process of acquiring his UEFA “A” licence – a formal qualification which coaches are required to hold before they are allowed to manage in the top leagues in Europe. Right now, Campbell couldn’t manage a Premier League club even if a club wanted to hire him. This isn’t because he’s black. It’s because he’s unqualified.

That said, Campbell makes some valid points. Despite the vast numbers of black players at all levels of the game for many decades, black people hold only four management positions amongst the “ninety-two” clubs (the traditional professional game in England incorporating the Premier League and three divisions of the Football League). The number of black coaches in more minor positions is growing, but the profession is still disproportionately dominated by white men. More white guys have “A” licences than black guys. This is a problem which exacerbates the racial imbalance amongst top-level managers.

There are many reasons why. The preference for white people in “skill” positions in sport has long been recognised. Quarter backs, captains, pitchers, even officials – all still dominated by white men. The evidence appears to point to lingering social prejudices. While in the past, white people were thought to be “clever” enough to play those positions (blacks weren’t), today we have the problem that white people are encouraged to strive for positions of power. Black people, for myriad reasons, are not taught to have the same expectations. Born, no doubt, from the bitter experience of past generations. Are, then, enough black people applying themselves to coaching? Or do they simply take orders for their careers and drift off after retirement, never considering a senior coaching position as a legitimate target to pursue?

Campbell – an ex-international and soon-to-be certified coach – should be in a decent position to get a job. Perhaps not a Premier League job; but certainly a job at one of the big clubs in England’s second or third tiers. This would be entirely respectable. Very few coaches get to walk into the really big jobs on their first foray into management unless they were a) one of the best players in the world or b) had such a legacy with one club that they were groomed for the position. Pep Guardiola is not typical.

The problem for black coaches may therefore be part of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you judge success by immediate employment in a “big” job, then many demographics fail. Heck, there are only a handful of managers in the Premier League who can be identified as “English”; and most of those had to work their way up. Sam Allardyce (Limerick), Steve Bruce (Sheffield United), Ian Holloway (Bristol Rovers) and Alan Pardew (Reading) all began their careers outside the Premier League. By the same token, if this is given as a reason to not even try – black people won’t succeed, so you won’t succeed if you’re black – then the numbers will continue to be low.

The perception of racism is therefore important. It must be removed if the situation is to improve. More black people need to “get their badges”, and more black footballers need to be encouraged to stay in the game as coaches once they retire from playing. It won’t be quick, but over time the number of coaches will improve; and following that, the number of black assistant coaches will improve; and finally the number of black managers.

However – there is a difference between the population and the individual. And here is why Sol Campbell – the person – may have to go abroad. For Sol Campbell seems to make a point of pissing off everyone wherever he goes. He was abused whenever he returned to play at White Hart Lane after he deliberately let his contract run down so he could join arch-rivals Arsenal on a free transfer. At Arsenal, he let his contract wind down, telling his manager he wanted to move abroad. A few months later, he’d signed a fat contract with Portsmouth. He sued Portsmouth when they were on the verge of bankruptcy, alienating himself from fans who feared losing their club altogether. And he left Notts County after one game after falling out with the (admittedly, it turned out, fictitious) owners of the world’s oldest professional football club.

As a black ex-international, he could get a job in England. As Sol Campbell he might struggle.

However, history shows that Sol Campbell should not be used as the excuse by which to become complacent about the bias against black people in football. Whether Sol Campbell deserves a management job is immaterial. Many black people do, and many are denied those positions through a difficult, nuanced and highly complex mix of attitudes, confidence, history and prejudice. The “Rooney Rule” is not a panacea. Quotas in themselves do not tend to work. Alongside the legal right to an interview, there needs to be a concerted effort by all stakeholders to increase the numbers of black people gaining qualifications, putting themselves forward for coaching positions, and considering candidates on their merits rather than prejudices about their culture or natural ability. The very fact that Campbell feels like he has to move because he’s black (not because he’s Sol Campbell) should raise alarm bells in itself. The white-dominated press cannot dismiss it since they have no and can have no idea what this is like. (And, yes, as you can see from my own skin colour I am well aware of the irony. Check one’s privilege, etc.).

If the disability quota scheme has taught us anything – if the gender pay gap has taught us anything – it’s that laws don’t help in isolation. We also require policies and schemes to bridge to education, qualification and work experience divide that continues to benefit white men. We need investment. Lots of it. And now.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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More VAHS stuff – and thank you George!

01/10/2013

At some point I will be updating this blog more regularly. Possibly after my viva. Anyway, I wrote a blog post for the good people at the VAHS again based on the paper I gave to their conference in Huddersfield earlier this year.

Let’s take this opportunity also to thank George Gosling (check out his blog!) for his tireless work editing the VAHS site over the past year or so. There’s been some really good content and discussion over there. As he steps down, let’s hope his successor can keep up his level of output. Cheers, George!

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