A library and an art gallery: two Blakes in Newcastle 

Daniel Blake and Quentin Blake: what do a fictional character from a hard-hitting, award-winning Ken Loach film and a celebrated children’s book illustrator have in common?.  I found a connection at the Socio-Legal Studies Association annual conference, held this year at the University of Newcastle. I’ll try to explain.

The library – Daniel Blake

As I made my way through the Newcastle city streets, I could not help but notice the local accents and some of the memorable film locations in I Daniel Blake .  I passed the library where Daniel Blake tries to make an online claim for benefits and wondered if there were real people like him inside, struggling with the technology and the bureaucracy.  The library also contains a Citizens Advice Bureau so perhaps those real claimants will get the advice that Daniel Blake so desperately needed. It is perhaps obvious what the connection was between this film and the Socio-Legal Studies Association conference, where I spent most of my time in the Social Rights and Citizenship stream: listening to speakers discussing the effects of austerity and ‘welfare reform’, and the ways in which the law might, or might not, help to tackle the challenges of poverty and inequality.  I would have liked to go to other sessions, where people talked about access to justice, the increasing use of technology in social administration, homelessness, gender, disability: all themes that arise in this important film.  I referred to the film in my own paper, where I discussed historical data on how the welfare state has tried to distinguish between unemployment and ‘incapacity for work’.  Daniel Blake finds himself at the centre of this predicament but his problems are not new.  There were Daniel Blakes in the 1980s and in the 1930s, when disabled people and people with health issues struggled to find appropriate work at times of high unemployment and struggled to claim benefits when they could not access work. There were also Daniel Blakes in the 1950s, when the labour market was stronger but there was not always the right kind of work in the areas where people lived, or where social attitudes to gender and disability meant that disabled people were last in the queue for jobs.  Crucially, for my research, there were also women, facing different and often greater challenges to accessing benefits than men.  The connection between Daniel Blake and my paper at the conference was clear.

The Art Gallery – Quentin Blake

Opposite the library is the Laing Art Gallery, a less likely setting for my thoughts on this conference.  But here there was an exhibition of the work of Quentin Blake.

The conference package included a tour of the exhibition. Although I could not immediately see the socio-legal connection, as a committed fan of Quentin Blake’s work, I was not going to miss this.  The exhibition itself is stunning, with original art works, story boards, drafts, notes on how this great artist creates characters and scenes, how some of our favourite children’s book characters have come to life: Roald Dahls’s Matilda, and The Twits, David Walliams’ The Boy in the Dress, Michael Rosen in his devastating but somehow uplifting Sad Book and of course Quentin Blake’s own Cockatoos, Dancing Frog and the fabulous Captain Najork and his hired sportsmen (Information about all of these books here https://www.quentinblake.com/books). What I really loved about the exhibition was the space and the activity tables, which allowed adults as well as children to create their own stories, read the books and think about the nature of story-telling and illustration and, ultimately, being human.  You may think of Quentin Blake as an outstanding children’s illustrator.  That in itself is a wonderful thing but his illustrations: both in his own books and collaborations with other authors, also tackle the most important issues in society: grief and loss, inequality and difference, childhood and old age, loneliness and friendship, health and identity, justice and retribution and, in the depths of some of the darkest tales, hope.

Pop-up Museum of legal objects

But what does any of this have to do with socio-legal studies?  Well the theme of the SLSA conference this year was ‘Visions of Law’ and the plenary had speakers on graphic justice, photography, model making and art and law.  These speakers gave us much to think about.  I also participated this year in the ‘Pop-up Museum of Legal Objects’.

We were asked to choose an object – any object which could have a ‘legal’ aspect, relevant to our research – so long as the object was also publicly available in a museum or similar public place and that it had an online presence.  I chose The Family Guide to National Insurance, 1948, which I have written about here.

Family Guide to National Insurance 1948

 

We were also asked to make a model of our object – the idea being that making the model would help us to think about our research differently, perhaps bring a whole new angle to the research or maybe help us to describe our work in new ways.  My model for the conference was a mock-up of the Family Guide, showing a rather boring ‘official leaflet’.

Model of Family Guide Jackie Gulland

When you opened it up, an owl popped out, fitting I thought for a pop-up museum.

Pop-up owl Jackie Gulland

Making the model helped me to think about the nature of this leaflet, who wrote it, who read it, who drew the pictures and what were the images trying to portray?

Family Guide to National Insurance 1948

The owls under the umbrella appeared to symbolise a vision of an inclusive welfare state: one where everyone is protected, a long way from today’s vision of ‘welfare’ as negative and stigmatising.

Information about this and details of the objects are all available on the legal treasures website.  https://legaltreasure.wordpress.com/collections/pop-up-museum-of-legal-objects-2017/

So where is the connection to Quentin Blake?  I managed to bring one of his images to my talk, an image from his book Three Little Owls In this book, Quentin Blake’s owls also have umbrellas, just like those in the Family Guide.  But the main connection is in the link to creativity. Drawing, making, doing things in three dimensions can all help us to think about legal issues (or any research issues ) in new ways.  I had some great conversations about this and I left the conference buzzing.

If you haven’t done it yet, go and see I Daniel Blake (community showings going in many areas but now also out on DVD), go to the Quentin Blake exhibition (if you can’t get there, go to his website and read all of his books) and then think about what connections you can make between two Blakes and your work.

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Mary Macarthur

I’m delighted to see that Mary Macarthur, who was a campaigner for women’s rights to sickness benefits, has been commemorated today by a blue plaque on her home in London. Information here

In her very short life, Mary Macarthur was active in the labour and trade union movement, campaigning for women’s rights in the workplace. She stood (unsuccessfully) for parliament in 1918, as a Labour candidate, campaigning, among other things, for equal pay, a living wage, peace, the abolition of the Poor Law and the House of Lords and the right of allotment holders to ‘the fruits and vegetables of their labours’.*

Mary Macarthur and sickness benefits

Less well known are her efforts to improve sickness benefits for working women.  The UK’s first national insurance sickness benefit scheme was launched in 1911.  Within a year of its introduction a committee was set up to look at ‘excessive claims’ for benefit.  The committee met for seven months and collected evidence from ninety-four witnesses and looked at 1,500 pages of written evidence.  Mary Macarthur was a member of the committee, representing the Women’s Trade Union League.  Her involvement on the committee included listening to the evidence of the witnesses, giving evidence on behalf of the National Federation of Women Workers and writing a dissenting memorandum to the final report.  In her evidence and her dissenting memorandum she stressed the need to take account of the realities of working class women’s lives in deciding their claims for sickness benefit.  She dismissed ideas that women were claiming benefit in order to get away from the factories, or because they could get more money from benefit than they could earn her wages, or because they couldn’t understand the principles of the insurance scheme.  She argued instead that women had a right to benefit because they were ill and had contributed to the scheme through their work in the factories.

For more information about the committee and Mary Macarthur’s involvement in the sickness benefit scheme, see my contribution to the Dangerous Women project and  Gulland, J. (2013), ‘Extraordinary Housework: women and claims for sickness benefit in the early 20th century’, Women’s History Magazine, 71, Spring 2013, pp23-30.

For further information on Mary Macarthur, see Angela John, ‘Macarthur, Mary Reid (1880-1921)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004).  Available at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30411 Access to the online edition is often available through public libraries

* Election address reproduced in Barnesly, T. 2010 Breaking their chains: Mary Macarthur and the chainmaker’s strike of 1910, London: Bookmarks Publications.

Hunt, C. (2014) The National Federation of Women Workers, 1906-1921. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

 

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Being creative with conference presentations

I’ve been a bit lost in book writing lately but I have the chance to do something a little different at a forthcoming conference. I will be going to the Socio-Legal Studies Association conference in Newcastle in April.

Incapacity and unemployment

In one presentation I will talk about the link between incapacity benefits and unemployment.  It is well established that claims for incapacity benefits go up in times of high unemployment and people are more likely to claim incapacity benefits in areas where there are fewer jobs.  It is fairly easy to understand why this is: people with health issues or impairments find it more difficult to find jobs at the best of times and struggle when there are fewer jobs to go around.  But legal decision makers have always argued that it is possible to distinguish between ‘unemployment’ and ‘incapacity for work’.  So people who have health issues and can’t find jobs are often described as unemployed rather than unable to work.  This has important consequences for their benefits entitlement, how much they may be entitled to and whether they have to look for work in order to qualify. My paper will show how these legal ideas developed across the twentieth century.

Owls popping up all over the place

Family Guide 1948 cashing order

My second paper will be a little different.  Here I will be taking part in the ‘Pop-up Museum of Legal Objects’.  I will use this innovative session to talk about a little booklet from 1948 which advertised the new post-war National Insurance scheme.  I’ve written about it on the blog before – see here.  When I was in the National Archives a few weeks ago, I found out a bit more about this leaflet so I have more to say. The pop-up museum asks me to make a model of my object so I have a bit of work to do. I’ve been looking in charity shops and getting out the glue….  If this gets too interesting, I might be taking the Blue Peter skills to the other session too.

 

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Disability Research Network

I’m part of a network of researchers interested in all aspects of disability, based in the University of Edinburgh. Our members’ interests range across many subjects, including social science, music, education, psychology and history. We’re launching our new website at an exciting free event on Wednesday 15th June. Why not join us?

See our new Website here

 

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Challenge Poverty Week

PrintIt’s Challenge Poverty Week.  I’ve contributed a blog post to ‘Let’s discuss Poverty’ a blog site with contributions from writers and academics across Scotland, writing about their research on poverty. There are blogs on women, sanctions, children, students, and one from me on history. Have a look here

Challenge Poverty Week is co-ordinated by the Poverty Alliance. Here’s what they say about Challenge Poverty Week  17-23 October 2015:

“More than 900,000 people in Scotland live in low income households. In a rich country like ours this is unnecessary and unacceptable.

Challenge Poverty Week is an opportunity for you to raise you voice against poverty and show what is being done to tackle poverty across. Organisations large and small supported Challenge Poverty Week last year, and we hope even more get behind it this year. 

The main aims of the week are to:

  • Highlight the reality of poverty and challenge the stereotypes about exist about it;
  • Demonstrate what is being done across Scotland to address poverty
  • Increase public support for more action to combat poverty 

We are encouraging as many groups and individuals to get involved in Challenge Poverty Week by organising activities or taking part in activities organised by others.”

For information on events go to http://povertyalliance.org/challenge_poverty

and on Twitter #CPW15

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Gender history seminar

The gender history seminar at the University of Edinburgh has asked me to talk about my work.  I’ll be presenting ‘work in progress’ on Wednesday 6th May, 5-6.30pm, Meadows Lecture Theatre, William Robertson Wing, details at this link.  Access information at this link  All welcome. Find out more about the gender history network on their facebook page

My talk will provide an overview of the research discussed in this blog.  Here’s the outline:

A considerable capacity for housework”: gender, disability and the construction of (in)capacity for work across the 20 century

This paper is based on research the development of incapacity benefits in the UK across the 20th century. Incapacity benefits are usually paid to claimants who are considered to be ‘incapable of work’ but the legal and social construction of this concept has been debated since the first sickness insurance scheme was introduced in 1911. While we might expect definitions of ‘incapacity for work’ to focus solely on the kind of work that people can do outside the home, in the early 20th century, policy makers and decision makers continually struggled with whether or not women’s work in the home should count as evidence of capacity for work in the labour market. Students of social policy and post-war social history are familiar with William Beveridge’s statement that housewives did not need to be part of a scheme for national insurance because they had ‘other duties’*. The problem of the ‘male breadwinner’ model of national insurance has been widely discussed in the literature. However, little attention has been paid to the working women (both married and single) who did qualify for benefits as a result of their national insurance contribution records. This paper looks at these women and the ways in which gendered assumptions about their role in the domestic sphere were used to consider the capacity for work in the labour market.

Using archive data from across the 20th century and legal decisions on disputed claims, the paper explores the relationship between ‘household duties’ and ‘work’, showing that the concept of ‘incapacity for work ‘ was closely connected with assumptions about the kind of work that women (and men) were expected to do, both within and outside the home.

* Beveridge, W. (1942). Social Insurance and Allied Services, Cmnd 6404. London: HMSO, para 114.

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Disability History Month

This month is Disability History Month. The Disability History Month website describes it as ‘an annual event creating a platform to focus on the history of our struggle for equality and human rights’.There are events across the UK, including exhibitions and talks, with many having a focus on of the First World War see this link for information about different events.
Here in Scotland, Disability History Scotland is launching a new film ‘One Last Push – The Final Battle of WWI?’ , a short animation about the history of the disability movement from World War One to the present day. Disability History Scotland will show the film as part of an evening of events on Saturday 6th December at the City Chambers in Edinburgh.  For further information and tickets, see this link

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Explorathon European Researchers’ Night

On Friday 26th September I’ll be helping out with the Explorathon European Researchers’ Night in Edinburgh.  It’s all about public engagement: getting research out of the universities and connecting with the public.  This time I won’t be talking about my research but helping out with some of the other exciting events going on in Edinburgh. Everything from ‘Meet the experts’, through ‘PhDs in an hour’ to ‘Steampunk Science’, covering topics from stem cells to teachers.  And its not just at night either.  Events start from 1pm and go on until late evening. Most events are free but you need to book for some of them. Find out more here: www.explorathon.co.uk/edinburgh

My involvement with Explorathon comes through the Beltane Public Engagement Network.  Through Beltane we try to make our research accessible to the general public.  Events like this provide exciting opportunities to do this in new and interesting ways.  An added bonus for me is that I get to meet researchers from universities across Scotland, doing research on a wide range of subjects, from science to medicine to languages and social science. We often find surprising connections in our research as well as good ideas about how to explain what we do to non-specialists.  You can meet some of them too through Explorathon.

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