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2020

Researchers at Cardiff University, Queen Mary University of London, and University of Exeter have revealed the significant impact of austerity on rural areas.

The findings, published in the Journal of Rural Studies, provide the most comprehensive account to date of how changes in spending power and service spending have affected rural communities in England and Wales. Using both statistical and qualitative data, the research highlights how austerity has compounded long-standing but often ignored problems of rural poverty.

Academics say the research provides new evidence of the ‘hollowing out’ of rural local government through the closure of libraries, youth centres and  transport services and the ways local authority spending power has diminished through the merger of District Councils and creation of Unitary Authorities. According to analysis, the establishment of Dorset Unitary Authority in 2019 amounted to a loss of £21.7m (-6.59%) in 2019-20 core spending power. Similarly, the creation of West Suffolk District Council in 2019 resulted in a 1.21% loss (£200,000) in spending power between 2018/19 to 2019/20 but must be understood in the relation to a 16.8% reduction (totalling £3.3m) in spending power since 2015/16.

Changes which could have a direct and rapid impact on food insecurity are also disproportionately affecting people in rural areas, according to the study.

Jobseeker Allowance claimants in rural areas are more likely to experience higher-level sanctions, the research says. Despite comprising only 12.4% of total sanction referrals made in England between November 2012 and October 2019, rural areas accounted for 17.8% of all known high-level sanctions in that period. These measures lead to an individual’s loss of income for 13, 26 or 156 weeks and are imposed if a claimant fails to accept or apply for a job, is dismissed for misconduct, or is deemed to have left employment without good reason.

Using Freedom of Information data, the report also shows that rural authorities are far more likely than their urban counterparts to have closed discretionary Local Welfare Assistance Schemes (LWAS) schemes, which are designed to help people in financial crisis. Just under one in three (9 of 28) rural authorities have done so, compared to one in seven urban authorities (16 of 116).

Dr Andrew Williams, based in Cardiff University’s School of Geography and Planning said: “It is well documented that austerity has hit the most deprived urban areas the hardest, but the impact on rural poverty is often overlooked given difficulties in measurement and idyllic representations of countryside."

Professor Jon May, based at Queen Mary University of London’s School of Geography, said: “Beyond the image of 'leafy shire counties' and 'idyllic chocolate box villages', the last decade has seen a steady dismantling of the social infrastructures - bus routes, libraries, youth centres – which many people in rural areas rely on.

“Poverty and food insecurity are rising, as too the number of food banks as a disproportionate number of people in rural England and Wales face some of the worst impacts of austerity.”

Still bleeding: The variegated geographies of austerity and food banking in rural England and Wales is published in the Journal of Rural Studies and is available to view here.

This research was funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Foundation: ‘Emergency Food Provision in the UK’.

Thousands of police detentions and voluntary interviews of vulnerable people may have been carried out without an ‘appropriate adult’ (AA) present, a report has found.

There to Help 3 was co-authored Dr Roxanna Dehaghani of Cardiff University and Chris Bath, chief executive of the National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN).

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) Codes of Practice states that vulnerable people, including those who have a mental illness, learning disability, brain injury or autism spectrum condition should have an appropriate adult present when they are brought into custody.

A lack of such support could mean police detentions and voluntary interviews of mentally vulnerable suspects risk producing unreliable evidence.

Clinical interviews have previously shown that 39% of adults in police custody have a mental disorder, including mental health and learning disabilities. The report’s analysis of data from police forces in England and Wales during 2018/19 suggests AAs may have therefore been required over 384,000 times during this time.

Researchers found in 2018/19, the need for an AA was recorded in only 6.2% of over 831,000 detentions of adults and in only 3.5% of over 150,000 voluntary interviews of adults. The need for an AA was recorded 57,000 times, meaning vulnerable adults who met the criteria for mandatory support may have been missed up to 327,000 times.

Dr Roxanna Dehaghani, based in Cardiff University’s School of Law and Politics, who previously spent six months making observations in police custody suites, said: “Appropriate adults facilitate effective participation and ensure fairness within the first - and often only - stage of criminal proceedings."

Chris Bath, chief executive of the National Appropriate Adult Network, said: “Front line police officers have an incredibly difficult job. As a minimum, they deserve reliable tools to implement the complex rules about vulnerable suspects – and for there to be independent appropriate adult schemes available when needed. Beyond that, the sheer scale of vulnerability amongst suspects raises questions about whether we are asking police to pick up the pieces from failures elsewhere.”

Identification of vulnerable suspects has been slowly improving, from under 3% in 2012/13, to around 6% in 2017/18. In August 2018, the Home Office radically redefined vulnerability and introduced new requirements on police. Following this, rates in custody did not significantly increase and worsened in voluntary interviews.

Using data shared by NHS England Liaison and Diversion (L&D), which identifies people who have mental health, learning disability, or other vulnerabilities in police custody, researchers found on average, forces with access to L&D services recorded higher rates of AA need but four out of five L&D clients had no AA and of these, 68% at least one mental health issue at the time.

The full report, There to Help 3, which was published by NAAN and commissioned by the Home Secretary, is available to view here.

The Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and Cardiff University have formally joined forces to work on shared strategic goals.

The three-year agreement will pave the way for closer cooperation on projects highlighting the challenges and opportunities facing future generations – in line with Cardiff’s strategic aim to improve the health, wealth and well-being of the people of Wales.

Future Generations Commissioner, Sophie Howe, and Cardiff University President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Colin Riordan, have signed a virtual Memorandum of Understanding to mark the partnership.

Sophie Howe said: “We are delighted to formalise closer strategic ties with Cardiff. The University plays an important role in providing multi-disciplinary research expertise to help meet the needs of future generations, and encouraging public bodies to take greater account of the long-term impact of the things that they do.”

Professor Riordan said: “The partnership strengthens a long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship. The Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales provides policy expertise and connections which gives Cardiff University potential to create greater research impact and enhanced opportunities to inform public debate.”

Virtual signing between the Future Generations Commissioner and Cardiff University

The agreement paves the way for future collaboration across shared projects including:

  • Promoting research and policy capabilities of both organisations through new collaborative projects;
  • Identifying Cardiff expertise to inform the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales’ Cloud of Innovators;
  • Providing University expertise for the Future Generations Commissioner’s work with public bodies in Wales, including Live Labs, monitoring, advice and guidance;
  • Providing Future Generations training around the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and guidance on how Cardiff might optimise civic impact.

Cardiff University’s SPARK (Social Science Research Park) will play a key role in Cardiff’s work with the Commissioner. SPARK includes 11 of Cardiff’s leading social science research groups, with internationally leading expertise in the areas of children, education, ageing, wellbeing, sustainability and climate change.

Professor Chris Taylor, Academic Director of SPARK, explains, “Through this agreement, SPARK will continue to play a leading role in understanding wellbeing and the needs of future generations. Research into ‘futures’ is a strategic priority for SPARK, which includes our long-standing interests in sustainability and children, but also includes new areas such as the green and foundational economies, behaviour change, care and caring, and intergenerational relationships. We hope this partnership will help us identify new areas of research and to help ensure our research can have impact on future generations.”

Academics from Cardiff University’s School of Modern Languages have helped to communicate a new guide for families applying for school places.

Cardiff Council’s School Admissions team have put together seven tips on how the admissions process works, the importance of using all preferences available to them and why they should apply on time.

University academics have provided voiceovers for the accompanying animated films, making the information accessible for as many people as possible. Languages include Arabic, Czech, Romanian, Portuguese, Polish, Somali and Bengali.

Dr Elizabeth Wren-Owens said: "The School of Modern Languages is delighted to support this excellent initiative. It's important to celebrate our linguistic and cultural diversity. Having the opportunity to support primary and secondary schools to foster such inclusivity is a real pleasure."

Cabinet Member for Education, Employment and Skills, Councillor Sarah Merry said: “Applying for a school place can be a nerve-racking time, particularly if families are not fully aware of how the application process works or that completing the application incorrectly could hinder their chance of getting a place at their preferred school.

“The aim of this campaign is to make the application process as simple and transparent as possible, so that every family in Cardiff has the knowledge, support and understanding to ensure that they are not at a disadvantage when applying for a school place.”

Information is also included on how to make an appeal if you are not offered your preferred school.

For more information, go to: www.cardiff.gov.uk/schooladmissions

Violence reduction strategies, which have traditionally focused on pubs and nightclubs, need to be broadened to include places where alcohol is not served if they are to be effective, a new study has suggested.

Researchers from Cardiff University’s Violence Research Group gathered data from 10 city centres across England and Wales and used machine learning to map the distribution of reported incidents of violent crime against alcohol outlets and, crucially, locations where alcohol is not sold.

When they compared their analysis to a model mapping only places where alcohol is sold, the researchers discovered their new combined model more accurately predicted levels of violence.

The study found that alongside pubs and bars several other destinations often associated with typical “nights out” were hot spots for violent crime, including fast-food outlets, takeaways, bus stops and cash machines. The researchers say this is the first time such a wide area has been analysed and their study has uncovered previously unmapped violence hot spots.

Joseph Redfern, a PhD student working on modelling alcohol-related violence, who is from the Visual Computing Group at the School of Computer Science and Informatics, led the data-driven research.

“Violence reduction strategies often focus on pubs, bars and nightclubs, for example staggering pub closing times and venue security requirements - and while alcohol outlets remain the best individual predictors of violence, our research suggests that more could be done in a range of other locations,” said Joseph, 27, from Anglesey, North Wales.

“Our study provides a means to better understand where violence takes place and could inform new, targeted initiatives. The research also shows that such violence reduction strategies would be most effective if developed on a city-by-city basis rather than implemented as a generic ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.”

Joseph said he was interested in researching this area because it allowed him to analyse large datasets and work on an issue that has the potential to make a real impact.

“If this work could help to inform new violence reduction strategies and reduce the number of assaults, it could have a positive effect on many people’s lives,” he said.

Professor Simon Moore, director of the Violence Research Group and Co-Director of the Cardiff University Crime and Security Research Institute, said: “Where there are people there is a risk of violence. Some people are more prone to be aggressive and understanding how certain locations attract these people means resources can be put in place to challenge violence.

“It is likely that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to considerable pent up demand and when nightlife returns to normal it is very likely levels of violence will as well. But we have a unique opportunity to think clearly about how we can better manage public spaces so that people have fun, but safely. This work makes a considerable contribution to our understanding of these issues.”

The study used public police data which is available throughout England and Wales.

The paper was published in international scientific journal PLOS ONE and can be found here.

A new video to mark the virtual topping out of Cardiff University’s Centre for Student Life shows how far the construction of this building, set to transform Cardiff’s civic centre, has come.

The new Centre for Student Life is more than an impressive addition to the capital city. It will revolutionise the student experience when it opens in 2021, providing an integrated home for the University’s support and wellbeing services. Student welfare will be the heart of the campus.

With an ongoing global pandemic affecting many people’s mental health, and a recent NUS survey* finding that only 42% of respondents were currently feeling good about themselves, Cardiff University is committed to tackling this reported low self-esteem among students. The Centre for Student Life will provide a new environment for that work to continue.

Luke Morgan, a student at Cardiff University and a Wellbeing Champion, said: “Mental health issues can affect any student, at any time, in any number of ways. Due to the diversity in mental health issues, services on offer need to be just as diverse. As Wellbeing Champions, we are here to provide empathy and support as many of us have been through similar issues."

Alongside the construction, investment in new software has already taken place to enhance support services for students. A new service called Student Connect was launched over the summer. This enables students to get answers to frequently asked questions online, 24/7, and establishes our Student Connect team who will be the front line of the Centre for Student Life when it opens. Further enhancements to this service will make it even easier for students to ask questions about support services and to book appointments with those teams that will help them make the most of university life.

Professor Damian Walford Davies, Pro Vice-Chancellor for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, oversees the delivery of the Centre for Student Life. He said: “The Centre for Student Life encapsulates our commitment to putting the welfare of our students above all else. The project is much more than the physical building we can see transforming Park Place. The people and systems that will work within the building will provide connected, responsive and smart support for the student journey – all within a modern, safe, social and accessible environment.”

A new lecture theatre in the building, named after Welsh businessman and philanthropist Sir Stanley Thomas OBE, will become Cardiff University’s largest, featuring 550 seats and providing a modern, purpose-built teaching space. The building will also add more than 600 flexible study spaces over five floors.

Sir Stanley Thomas said: “I last visited the Centre for Student Life site in January and I’m delighted to see how much the works have progressed since then, despite the coronavirus outbreak. With this impressive building, Cardiff University is making a commitment to all students, putting their wellbeing at the heart of their university experience.”

Justin Price, Construction Director at BAM, said: “BAM is committed to improving and maintaining the wellbeing of our people, including our supply chain, so it is particularly satisfying for us to support Cardiff University in creating this revolutionary building that places student welfare right at the heart of the campus.”

The Centre for Student Life is being constructed by BAM in partnership with Cardiff University Students’ Union. Construction is due to be completed next summer.

https://youtu.be/mmHpYuG87JE

E-cigarette use among young people has fallen for the first time in Wales but declines in youth smoking have stalled, analysis from Cardiff University shows.

The report is based on responses from 119,388 11-16 year-olds who took part in the School Health Research Network’s (SHRN) 2019 Student Health and Wellbeing survey, one of the largest youth health surveys of its kind in the UK. It shows 22% reported having ever tried an e-cigarette, down from 25% in 2017. Current e-cigarette use (weekly or more) by young people also declined from 3.3% to 2.5% over this period.

Experimentation with vaping (22%) - defined as having ever tried an e-cigarette - is still more popular than trying tobacco (11%), according to the data. But the long-term decline in those regularly smoking has stalled, with 4% of those surveyed smoking at least weekly in 2019, the same level as in 2013.

Dr Nicholas Page, based at the Centre for Development, Evaluation, Complexity and Implementation in Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), said: “Monitoring young people’s behaviours and attitudes towards smoking and e-cigarette use is essential to developing effective public health policy in Wales. The findings from our latest survey suggest that experimentation with e-cigarettes has fallen for the first time since measurement began in 2013, but remains greater than experimentation with tobacco. Our data also suggest that regular use of e-cigarettes is still rare among young people in Wales and is concentrated predominantly among smokers.”

“While our findings show a small decline in youth smoking experimentation from 2017, the percentage of regular smokers has remained unchanged since 2013. As we’ve seen in previous years, the numbers of young people using tobacco increased with age and were higher among young people from less affluent families - showing the substantial inequalities in smoking uptake.”

The report also suggests youth perceptions of the harmfulness of smoking and e-cigarette use have changed since 2017. A higher percentage now think that both substances are equally as damaging to health, while less now believe smoking to be worse than vaping.

Of the shift in attitudes, Dr Page said: “It is important to place this change in the context of when our data were collected. The survey was undertaken at a time when the US outbreak of vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) was receiving global media attention. While we don't know whether this had an impact, EVALI has been associated with a similar change in harm perceptions among adult smokers in England. It remains to be seen whether this continues to be the case in future surveys.”

Girl smoking cigarette stock image

Despite large population declines in smoking prevalence in recent decades, tobacco remains a leading cause of death and disability.

Since their emergence in UK markets over the past decade, e-cigarettes have been increasingly recognised as having a role to play in helping smokers to quit. However, much debate has centred on their use by young people and whether vaping may act as a gateway into smoking. Regulations for e-cigarettes such as age of sales restrictions and restrictions on marketing and product labelling have been introduced in the past few years.

The Student Health and Wellbeing survey is a biennial survey administered to a core sample of 11-16 year olds attending participating schools in Wales. In 2019, students from 198 schools took part.

SHRN was established in 2013 and is led by DECIPHer at Cardiff University. Welsh Government, Public Health Wales, Cancer Research UK and the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research Data and Methods (WISERD) are also partners.

ASH Wales CEO Suzanne Cass said: “With e-cigarette usage falling amongst young people, this evidence demonstrates that vaping is not a public health concern. The focus should firmly be on addressing the unacceptable smoking levels amongst young people which despite all our efforts has remained unchanged in seven years.

"Sadly, smoking is a lifelong addiction that all too often begins in childhood and we know from our own research that 81% of adult smokers in Wales were 18 or under when they had their first cigarette.

"This study also shows that tobacco usage is highest among those young people from the least affluent families - a pattern that is mirrored in adult smoking prevalence and leads to striking health inequalities across the country."

A mathematician from Cardiff University has developed a new method for processing large volumes of COVID-19 tests which he believes could lead to significantly more tests being performed at once and results being returned much quicker.

Dr Usama Kadri, from the University’s School of Mathematics, believes the new technique could allow many more patients to be tested using the same amount of tests tubes and with a lower possibility of false negatives occurring.

Dr Kadri’s technique, which has been published in the journal Health Systems, uses simple algebraic equations to identify positive samples in tests and takes advantage of a testing technique known as ‘pooling’.

Pooling involves grouping a large number of samples from different patients into one test tube and performing a single test on that tube.

If the tube is returned negative then you know that everybody from that group does not have the virus.

Pooling can be applied by laboratories to test more samples in a shorter space of time, and works well when the overall infection rate in a certain population is expected to be low.

If a tube is returned positive then each person within that group needs to be tested once again, this time individually, to determine who has the virus. In this instance, and particularly when it is known that infection rates in the population are high, the savings from the pooling technique in terms of time and cost become less significant.

However, Dr Kadri’s new technique removes the need to perform a second round of tests once a batch is returned positive and can identify the individuals who have the virus using simple equations.

The technique works with a fixed number of individuals and test tubes, for example 200 individuals and 10 test tubes, and starts by taking a fixed number of samples from a single individual, for example 5, and distributing these into 5 of the 10 test tubes.

Another 5 samples are taken from the second individual and these are distributed into a different combination of 5 of the 10 tubes.

This is then repeated for each of the 200 individuals in the group so that no individual shares the same combination of tubes.

Each of the 10 test tubes is then sent for testing and any tube that returns negative indicates that all patients that have samples in that tube must be negative.

If only one individual has the virus, then the combinations of the tubes that return positive, which is unique to the individual, will directly indicate that individual.

However, if the number of positive tubes is larger than the number of samples from each individual, in this example 5, then there should be at least two individuals with the virus.

The individuals that have all of their test tubes return positive are then selected.

The method assumes that each individual that is positive should have  the same quantity of virus in each tube, and that each of the individuals testing positive will have a unique quantity of virus in their sample which is different to the others.

From this, the method then assumes that there are exactly two individuals with the virus and, for every two suspected individuals, a computer is used to calculate any combination of virus quantity that would return the actual overall quantity of virus that was measured in the tests.

If the right combination is found then the selected two individuals have to be positive and no one else. Otherwise, the procedure is repeated but with an additional suspected individual, and so on until the right combination is found.

“Applying the proposed method allows testing many more patients using the same number of testing tubes, where all positives are identified with no false negatives, and no need for a second round of independent testing, with the effective testing time reduced drastically,” Dr Kadri said.

So far, the method has been assessed using simulations of testing scenarios and Dr Kadri acknowledges that lab testing will need to be carried out to increase confidence in the proposed method.

Moreover, for clinical use, additional factors need to be considered including sample types, viral load, prevalence, and inhibitor substances.

The vast majority of skin disease patients feel their condition affects their mental health and many struggle to access appropriate treatment, a new report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Skin has found.

Five hundred patients with a range of skin conditions were surveyed in March and April of this year, along with 100 clinicians and 16 organisations in the field of dermatology.

The research found 98% of respondents felt their condition affected their emotional and psychological wellbeing - and yet only 18% had received psychological support.

Of those surveyed, more than half (54%) did not realise that specialist psychodermatology services were available for skin patients. And all of the organisations surveyed felt that NHS mental health provision for skin patients was “poor” (80%) or “very poor” (20%).

Consultant clinical psychologist and honorary professor at Cardiff University, Andrew Thompson, an NHS advisor to the group’s expert committee, said: “Skin conditions are incredibly common and for many people there is an impact on wellbeing - significant symptoms of anxiety and depression are reported by some patients.

“The findings around lack of mental health support are particularly worrying since the Covid-19 pandemic will have exacerbated mental health issues among people who were already suffering.

“This report draws on both existing research and new data collected by the group to provide politicians, commissioners, and NHS providers with a clear set of recommendations for addressing the woeful level of service provision in this area.”

Among the other key findings:

  • 93% reported a negative impact on their self-esteem and 87% said it had a negative impact on their social life or ability to do sporting activities;
  • 73% reported a negative impact on intimate relationships and 69% said it had a negative impact on their work or education;
  • 5% reported having suicidal thoughts;
  • 100% of the 27 children who responded to the survey indicated that their skin condition affected their psychological wellbeing, and 85% felt they had low self-esteem;
  • Of the children with low self-esteem, 85% reported this being particularly in relation to engaging with peers at school

One survey respondent said: “When I turned 19 it [the eczema] became so bad that I couldn’t participate in normal life anymore due to the pain… I had to give up my job as I am always too unwell. My skin is often too painful to have intimate relations or to even hug or kiss my partner. I had to postpone my wedding as I can’t cope with the idea of a flare up on my wedding day.

“My eczema has caused me to develop anxiety and depression. I have been in hospital twice for a week because of my eczema and in 2019 I had to visit A&E six times as a result of a facial eczema outbreak. I have had 36 courses of antibiotics for my skin in the last 2 years. My eczema has ruined my life.”

Recommendations made in the report include mandatory psychodermatology training, an increase in dermatology training numbers, and comprehensive dedicated psychodermatology services in each region of the UK.

The full report can be found here.

Black women’s digital creativity is at the forefront of media and cultural production changes in Britain, a Cardiff University academic says.

Dr Francesca Sobande, based in the School of Journalism, Media and Culture at Cardiff University, has shared key findings from her five-year project which aims to fill a knowledge gap in the digital and everyday lives of Black women in Britain. Her research evidences how Black women in Britain are using digital tools in creative, collaborative, and cutting-edge ways. The project also highlights the pervasiveness of online abuse that is directed at Black women over social media, as well as how Black women’s digital creativity and labour is commodified and co-opted by others.

Dr Sobande’s work is captured in her new book, The Digital Lives of Black Women in Britain, which charts Britain’s changing landscape of media representation.

The book is shaped by Black feminist approaches and based on research that commenced in 2015. It draws on material accessed at the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) in Brixton, London, and the Spare Rib digital archive at the British Library, in addition to interviews with a number of Black women.

Dr Sobande said: “Twenty-first century digital developments such as the rise of social media have impacted how people create, work, and share knowledge. Black women’s digital creativity and work is at the forefront of many significant media, creative, and cultural production changes in Britain, yet they rarely receive sustained public recognition and substantial sources of long-term institutional support.

“The digital experiences of Black women in Britain are often distinctly affected by vitriolic online abuse that is aimed at them and is a result of interconnected antiblackness, sexism, misogyny, classism, colourism, xenophobia, and other intersecting oppressions.

“Although Black women are increasingly identified as digital ‘trendsetters’ by businesses, they are also simultaneously erased and hyper-visible as creators, knowledge-producers, and social movement builders. The digital creativity of Black women is often exploited by commercial organisations, including brands that attempt to ‘diversify’ their image due to its potential profitability.”

From accounts of twentieth-century activism and television representations, to Black women’s experiences of YouTube and Twitter, Sobande's book traverses tensions between digital culture’s communal, counter-cultural, and commercial qualities.

She added: “My work also shows how digital outlets have contributed to transnational Black activism and solidarities, including in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement. Just as ‘the personal is political’, it is sometimes also ‘digital’.”

The Digital Lives of Black Women in Britain can be purchased from Palgrave Macmillan here (as an ebook or in print).

Chapters 2 and 4 are available open access under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License via link.springer.com. They can be accessed here: