Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Age discrimination

You may be forgiven for not realising that "age" is also one of the protected characterisics in the equality act.  What this means is that it is unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their age or because they fall within a group of ages.

Age based discrimination is a little different in that it can be justified, but only in certain circumstances.  

This article examines three examples of potential age discrimination and asks you to consider whether or not there is a potential for discrimination, and if so, can the discrimination be justified.

In reading through the examples below, please keep an open mind.  Also, please bear in mind that there is a distinction between direct discrimination (overt) and indirect discrimination (where a policy, criteria or practice applies equally to everyone, but may have a disproportionate effect on some more than others).

1.  The Bank

TSB, LLOYDS and the Bank of Scotland all advertise "youth accounts".  There is nothing new about this, it has been industry practice to create specific products targeted at young people to encourage them into the financial services world.  

However, under the same heading, one of the accounts is marked up as a "student account".  Again, it is industry practice to market specific products to the students of higher and further education.  If you check the eligibility for a student account, you will find a requirement for a UCAS letter, proof of SAAS / LEA funding and so on.  Also, a requirement to be studying for at least two years full time.  

Here are the questions which arise in this example:

Is it acceptable to market a student account as one of the range of services under the heading "youth accounts"?

Are there any issues with the eligibility criteria set for the student account?

2.  University Tutition Fee Discount Schemes

Edinburgh Napier University, the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow all offer 10% discount on postgraduate tuition fees provided the student is a graduate of that institution.  Some Universities also attach additional conditions, for example, requiring the student to have achived a certain grade at undergraduate level, to only study full time or not to be embarking on a "professional course of study". 

Are there any issues with the operation of such a "loyalty" scheme?

3.  Freshers' Week

In the first week of a University or College semester, the institution or the local student body, organises a series of events for new students.  In many cases, the events will be open to every new student.  There will also be social events organised, these may include famous pub crawls, nights out and cultural excursions.  Parallel to these events, the Institution will also organise a in induction programme designed to introduce new students to the more functional side of academic life.  

What issues, if any, arise from the operation of freshers weeks or induction events?

Please leave your comments in the box below.

I have designed this exercise to get my readers engaged.  

I will post my responses, in answer to the comments given.  

Sunday, 10 November 2013

More Women Please in the Boardroom and in Politics

In our society, women constitute just over 50% of the population.  Taking this figure into account, why are there not more women seen in politics?  Perhaps, this is the wrong question to ask - there are lots of women active in politics - just not represented in our Parliaments or in our Local Government. This then changes the question, why are there not more women in Parliament or Local Government?


Many readers will be familiar with the sociological concept of patriarchy.  This is where society, in almost all aspects, is dominated or controlled by men.  This can been seen at a number of levels; men still dominate the Board Rooms of large corporations, men are heavily featured in Parliament, the Judiciary, Senior Government Roles and so on.  Women still earn on average less than men in terms of their take home pay and certain Professions, at a senior level, remain dominated by men.

Against this background, we contrast the following:

Women, on average, are performing better in education than men.  Similarly, the majority of entrants to the legal profession, at the junior level, are also women.  Women are also more likely than men to take part in, or organise campaigns at a local level for example, to stop the closure of a local school or hospital.  Women are less likely than men to take risks, for example by driving dangerously, or in making risky financial decisions.  Women also live longer than men and are generally better at taking care of their own health and wellbeing than men.

If women are more responsible, are better educated, are more than able to take part in politics, then why are there not more women in Parliament or in Local Government?

No Easy Answer

Of course, it it easy to answer this question from the point of view of discrimination, or blocking from the boardroom, perhaps even societal expectations and expected gendered roles.  However, it is actually more complex than that.

Access to Power

If we first turn to the boardroom.  This example also translates into politics.  In order to get there, you need access.  Unfortunately, it is not as simple as simply walking through the door and taking your seat at the table.  If women are not given the same access to the opportunities that men have, certainly at senior level, then women will always hit the "glass ceiling".  This is an analogy which continues to be relevant.  Women are granted access to a certain level and thereafter, have to stare through at the men sitting above them.

If the boardroom remains controlled by men, then why would men want to change that?  If the current model of working suits, why change it.

Men are not all the same

First of all, it is important to note that not all men subscribe to the concept of control or exclusion.  However, it takes a brave soul to instigate change.  Usually, a carrot and stick approach is necessary here.  For example, a change in the law.  This in itself, is not enough.  The equal pay act and the sex discrimination act all failed to achieved either board room parity or parity in pay with men.  Even to this day, women are fighting it out in employment tribunals across the UK to achieve the same rights as their male counterparts.

The powers that be, whether in the board room or in politics, inevitably still favour men.  This may not be direct discrimination against women, but usually indirect, where a policy, criteria or practice, applying both to men and women has a disproportionate effect on women.

We know that a majority of women remain the primary carers for children, for older relatives and also  work as a majority in certain work roles e.g., cleaning staff, catering, social work and teaching.  These responsibilities do not lend well to taking part in the boardroom, or seeking selection as a candidate for a political party (the precursor to seeking election as a candidate).

Indirect Discrimination in the Boardroom

If you are the primary carer for your disabled son, would you be able to drop those responsibilities at a moments notice, to enter into an extended board meeting?  The answer, in the majority of cases, is likely to be no.

In order to do that, you would need help and support.  First of all, you would need someone to share your caregiving responsibilities, board meeting would have to be arranged at family friendly times, you would need the support of your colleagues to take time off for inevitable appointments with the doctor and so on.  If you are an executive, sitting on a governing board, how likely are your colleagues to be that supportive - particularly if they are all, or by majority, men?

Indirect Discrimination in Politics

In order to get selected by a political party, you have to be seen to be active in that political party.  This means giving up personal time to go out and campaign, to deliver leaflets, attend conferences and events, meetings and so on.  If you are looking after your children, whilst your partner is at work, how easy is that going to be?

Similarly, if you are motivated enough and can find that spare time to actually get selected, what happens when you notice that Parliament sits late into the night, that there are no creche facilities, no extra allowances are provided for you and your family to employ a nanny or to permit your partner and children to re-locate to your new Parliamentary office?

The next obstacle involves persuading your colleagues that the rules should be changed.  However, bear in mind that the expenses scandal put any challenge to the current rules - to make them more family friendly - unlikely.

Solutions to this problem

1.  Identifying the institutional barriers

This seems easy to achieve.  However, as mentioned elsewhere, it is not as simple as that.  First of all, it is important to consult with women who have ambitions to join the board or enter politics.  We need to know what their experiences are, where their ambitions lay and what steps could be taken in order to help them achive their full potential.  

It is also important not just to look at women, but also look at men's experiences too.  Although, we have identified that a majority of women retain priminary responsibility as a care giver, a growing number of men, as well as women, now also perform this role.  In some cases, the responsibilities are shared between both partners in a family.  

It is also important to identify what systems currently operate in terms of recruitment - whether to elected office or the boardroom - and to perform an equality impact assesment.  This will help identify problems, for example with child care.  It will not identify all of the problems, but it will identify some.  

When you are aware of what the issues are or where the inequality in policies, practices or criteria lay, you can begine to apply some fixes.  If a particular policy sets board meetings at any time, then change it to accomodate family needs.  If you cannot take part in a selection meeting because you are looking after the children, ask for additional support from the political party to enable your participation.

2.  Take action

It is not enough to just look at the problems and say that there is an issue.  Talk is cheap.  What is important is that there is a measure of follow through.  It is not enough to say we have changed out recrutiment policy, or we now hold our meetings during the day, you have to stick with it and continue to improve and learn from the experiences generated along the way.  

There is no point encouraging women to come forward if you are not going to committ to providing the necessary support, education, training and rule changes that are necessary to facilitiate any change.  There has to be a full blown cultural change which tackles the institutionalism preventing many women coming forward.  

3.  All Women Shortlists

This is a form of direct affirmative action.  It is not without its merits and was sucessful in increasing the representation of women in both the Scottish Parliament and Westminster under the then Labour Governments.  

However, this is an extreme step.  It is a matter of debate whether in the long term a policy of all women shortlists will solve the problem.  

In the Labour Party, the decision was taken to use only all women shortlists.  However, following a decade of improved representation of women in both Parliaments, the numbers began to return to earlier levels.  Additionally, the Westminster Parliament took the retrograde step of reverting back to late night sittings of Parliament and the right to pay for your spouse to come to Parliament with you was withdrawn.  In essence, Parliament became the dominion of men once again.  Additionally, for the few women who did remain, they often had gorwn up families or came from families without children.  

If you are woman, or a man for that matter, with a family, how likely are you going to want to seek selection as a candidate if you know the working environment will not be family friendly?  This appears to the crux of the matter.  If the institution you are seeking election to is not family friendly, then what is the point of an all womens shortlist?  

Additionally, if the very party you are seeking to represent, is unwilling to move to change the rules that govern the system, or support you and your family inside the system, will you come forward to seek election?

An all womens shortlist will only work sucessfully if it allows all women - those with caring responsibilities and those without - to come forward as equals.  It will also only work where the institutional barriers have been broken to facilitiate full participation and are not tokenistic.  

At the moment, the reintroduction of an all womens shortlist system into politics or the board room would only act in the short term.  In the long term, like its precursor, it will fail.  

Moving Forward

The arguments reheresed in this article are not new and some may question the wisdom of writing about this issue.  However, it is important to remember that our democracy, whether local or national is meant to be representative.  Women constitute over 50% of the population, yet are routinely excluded from our political system.

Whether you believe in all women shortlists or not, society has to move out of an institutional mould and allow more women that coveted place at the top table. 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Institutional Discrimination - Call it Out

Image from

In February 1999, Sir William Macpherson published his report into the Metropolitan Police ("the Met") and their handling of the murder investigation of the late Stephen Lawrence.

At that time, one of the controversial assertions made in his report, was that the Met was "institutionally racist".  This is the definition used by Sir Macpherson:

"The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people."
(Home Office, The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry: Report of an Inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, February 1999, para 6.34)

While the Macpherson Report had "race" as its focus, the definition provided can easily be expanded to encompass the other protected characteristics within the Equality Act 2010.

"The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because they share a Protected Characteristic, whether directly or indirectly. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and stereotyping which disadvantage people because they share a Protected Characteristic, whether directly or indirectly as the case may be."
Or words to that effect, replacing reference to "race" with "disability" or "age" and so on.  

The wide ranging application of Macpherson's definition has already been realised by a number of public authorities.  The definition has been used to inform their training in and understanding of equalities within their own policy framework.

However, nearly fifteen years on, the same cannot be said of every public service.    

In this article, I will examine the term institutional discrimination with reference to various Protected Characteristics.  I will also demonstrate where more work needs to be done in order to engender that cultural change, in "processes, attitudes and behaviour..." as identified by Sir Macpherson when addressing institutional racism within the Met. 

Example 1 - The Bedroom Tax

Readers may not be fully familiar with the full application of the policy described by the current UK Government as "the spare room subsidy" or more popularly coined as "the bedroom tax".

This policy cut the level of housing benefit paid to single people, couples or families with adult children who lived in public sector housing with more bedrooms that their assessed need.  In the case of a couple (without children) one double bedroom was deemed suitable.  This was also the case for single people or single parents who may only have their children stay with them for part of a week.

Disabled people were also covered by the new policy decision.  However, what was not taken on board by the UK Government was the lack of suitably sized and suitably located accommodation for disabled people, single people without children or couples living alone.  There was also a lack of appreciation to what purpose the extra bedroom was put.

For example, in the case of a disabled person who is a Kidney patient - and awaiting a transplant - the extra bedroom may be used to store essential medical equipment, including a hospital bed (or re-laxer chair), sink, dialyses machine, filters and other associated paraphernalia required by that patient for their day to day living.  It is also likely that that machine, together with its filter technology will have been permanently plumbed into the cold and waste water mains. 

The extra bedroom, in this case, is being used for a specific purpose.  It is also being used as an alternative to the patient taking longer term stays in hospital.  The patient's partner is usually the full time carer of the patient and will have received specialist training to assist their partner through their dialyses.  This approach is saving the NHS and also the Taxpayer money.

In the case of a single parent, estranged from their former spouse, but retaining full parental responsibilities and rights, the extra bedroom may be necessary to accommodate the children when they stay with that parent.   

In this scenario, the blind classification system adopted by the UK Government, a kidney patient, despite saving the Taxpayer money, will no longer be entitled to financial support to fund the spare room.  The single parent, who relies on the spare room for their children, will no longer be entitled to financial support for that room.  In both cases, the room will be classified as a bedroom, an extra room, surplus their assessed requirements.

Example 2 - Non Binary Gender

It is a common assumption that there are only two categories of gender - male and female.

To a certain extent, this assumption follows the sexing of a child at birth and the continued assumption that that sex will lead to a particular gender identity.

However, as a child grows and becomes more conscious of their own identity, they may find both the cultural gendering and their prescribed biological sexing difficult to reconcile.  The conflict may present at any age and in no particular prescribed manner.

Some people may grow up biologically female and yet identify more closely with the male gender.  Other people may grow up biologically male and identify themselves as female.  In both cases, some people may not identify with either the male or female gender, nor accept their prescribed sex given at birth.

The legal system has evolved - following a number of Human Rights challenges - to recognise that someone may wish to have their gender reassigned.  The law also protects someone, at whatever stage in their gender reassignment process, from discrimination.

Taking this into account, toilet and changing room facilities remain prescribed in many cases as either male or female.  Additionally, passports and birth certificates, both require a gender identity to be provided as either male or female.  It is noted, that in some cases, this culture has begun to change.  Nepal was one of the first countries to recognise another gender "X" in formal documents and other some venues have at least considered introducing some gender neutral toilets.

However, despite greater understanding and legal changes, the culture remains predominately discriminatory against non-binary gender people.

Example 3 - The Court System

The legal system is full of tradition and established models of work.  This culture extends to features, facilities and institutions through which the legal system operates.    

Court Rooms traditionally see the Judge sitting on a stepped, higher level, than the well of the Court or the Public Gallery.  Witnesses are usually required to enter a "Box", swear an Oath before God and stand to give evidence.

The majority of buildings are not fully accessible through the main entrance, host Court rooms in inaccessible locations and predominately contain features to accommodate the utility of the majority - namely able bodied, non disabled people.

To a certain extent, one has to acknowledge legacy issues, particularly concerning buildings and facilities built to a standard not accepted today.  However, this explanation has to be taken in context of legislative, jurisprudential and societal change.

The European Convention on Human Rights ("the Convention") was written with an Article 6 absolute right to a fair hearing.  The Disability Discrimination Act was passed by Parliament in 1995 followed by the Equality Act 2010 (disability and religion / belief are protected characteristics within the Equality Act).  The Human Rights Act 1998, brought the Convention into domestic law and the Scotland Act 1998 provided for the Scottish Parliament to encourage equal opportunities.

In addition, disabled people have featured more heavily in social policy and policy development.  A new societal understanding of disability has been encouraged and people who do not hold any specific religious conviction have their views recognised too, in addition to any traditional religious systems of belief.

Institutional Discrimination in Context

Bedroom Tax

In the first example, we see that both the disabled person (the kidney patient) and the single person (the parent) face discrimination against their own particular circumstances.

The Government has approached the Policy decision to withdraw financial support for extra bedrooms from the perspective of cost.  The policy primer; cut the cost of housing benefit, save the tax payer money and cut the budget deficit - look good to the voters.

Although the UK Government did consult concerning their policy, they ignored the representations made.

The policy discriminates against disabled people, who require a spare bedroom, as a consequence of their disability.

The policy also interferes with the respect for family and private life.  This is a Human Right found in Article 8 of the Convention.  It also likely indirectly discriminates against men, as single parents, who are statistically less likely than women to hold "full time" caring responsibilities for any children.  (Indirect discrimination occurs where an apparently neutral policy, criteria or practice has a disproportionate effect on one group of people more so than others).

The UK Government was aware of these policy impacts.  Yet, despite being made aware, the policy continues under the auspices of expediency.  In this case, the need to save money.

The policy is an example of institutional discrimination for that reason.      
Non Binary Gender

As described above, non binary gender people are protected from discrimination at any stage in their gender reassignment process or if they are perceived to be undergoing a gender reassignment process.  Yet, the Passport still requires to bear either a Male of Female gender identity.  Toilets and changing rooms remain focused on either male or female gender roles.

If you do not subscribe to either a male or female gender identity, what do you do about your Passport or which set of changing rooms do you use?

The culture of expediency is found here as well.  It is easy to use only male or female gender identities, that reduces the need for training of staff around the issues, the redesign of Passport form and booklets or changing the policy around toilet designs.  It is also easier to accept and go with the pre-existing convention, than seek to challenge it and thus have to face questions from the curious public about new ways of working.

This is institutional discrimination.  

The Court System

Direct disability discrimination can not be justified in law.

Almost 20 years have passed since the advent of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Public services have been put on notice for some time that old ways of working - which excluded disabled people - were not acceptable.

Similarly, public services should have also been aware that their legal duties do not stop with a limited range of reasonable adjustments.

The legal duty is both anticipatory and continuing.

Yet, disabled people, with a range of mobility related impairments are routinely discriminated against in both the facilities and accommodation they are presented with.

If someone is in a wheelchair, how is that person to give evidence from a "Box" if it features a step and is not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair user?  Are lawyers with mobility impairments able to apply for the role of Sheriff (Judge) knowing that the working environment is largely inaccessible?

Of course, it is possible to make reasonable adjustments.  However, the crux is that it would not be necessary to do this if our Court buildings were made accessible in the first place.

The situation is further compounded when new facilities are built or when existing facilities are refurbished and the old, discriminatory, inaccessible practices continue.

This is institutional discrimination.

A similar story is found concerning the swearing of a witness' Oath.

The Law recognises and prevents discrimination against people with religious beliefs or people without religious beliefs.  This is a qualified right, in that it is not possible to claim religious discrimination when providing public services (for example, for a Christian couple to refuse B&B accommodation to a Gay couple).

Yet, the standard Oath used in Court is the religious Oath.

It is assumed, almost entirely, that this Oath will be used because it has formed standard practice for so many years.  An alternative is available, however it is not readily used or advertised.

This too, is institutional discrimination.
Going Forward

It is easy to discriminate.  That is self evident. 

It is more difficult, perhaps because of cost, resource allocation, or some other reason not to discriminate.

It is also too easy to provide passive acquiescence to the discriminatory status quo.    

However, both society and the law accept that discrimination is unacceptable.

Just as Sir Macpherson found in his report concerning the Met, institutional discrimination needs to be exposed for what it is.  It requires public scrutiny, it needs to be talked about and services have to be aware of how their organisation operates, at an institutional level, in generating an acceptable culture of discriminatory practice.

It is important, that where institutional discrimination is identified as a problem that no attempt is made to cover it up, silence complainers, or apply selective memory to recording particular incidents because of "...processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and  stereotyping..."

The UK Parliament held a Committee investigation into the progress made by the Police, in the ten years following the publication of the Macpherson Report. 

It was noted here that all but a few of the recommendations made had been implemented and had it not been for Sir Macpherson drawing attention to the problem through the label "institutional racism" little if any, progress would have been made. 

This is why it remains important to "call it out" wherever "institutional discrimination" is found. 

Only then can we move forward to generate positive solutions for overall cultural and thus institutional change.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Supporting Disabled Students

The end of August marks the end of school holidays, the beginning of many college courses and the start of the new university year.  

However, if you are a student with a Disability, some planning many have to go into the start of your academic year in order to facilitate the support you need to stay on course. 

First of all, it is important to remember that you are just as entitled to attend school, college or university as everyone else.

It is also important to always believe in yourself, you can do it.

Dyslexia as an Example

At times, the society we live in may make education difficult.

For example, if you are dyslexic and have difficulty reading, remembering and writing - the three "Rs" as far as Dyslexia is concerned - the need to hand in written work, read through pages of black and white text and then to sit a written exam on the subject, educational achievement may seem like a challenge.  However, it need not be.

In this case, you may be entitled to additional time with your course work, to additional time with written exams, to use a scribe, to additional toilet breaks if you need a breather, the use of a computer and assistive technology.

This list of support described above is by no means prescriptive nor is it exhaustive.

What the list reflects are the potential "reasonable adjustments" that can be put in place for you to help you stay on course.

Personal approach is necessary

It is also important to remember that no one person with a disability - whether it is dyslexia, a mental health condition, a physical support need or something else - is the same.  We are all unique, and with that, each of us may have different support needs.

Unfortunately, many school administrators like to group disabled students, misunderstanding that the support needs for one person may not be the same as those you require.  This can lead to some difficulty in determining what is "reasonable" in terms of the adjustments that any institution may have to make.

The Medical Model of Disability

For example, a number of years ago the issue of student mental health - as a disability - was hotly contested within the education sector.  There was, and still is, to some extent, a lack of understanding concerning mental ill health.

Many educationalists preferred to focus on the medical model; always seeking a diagnosis and determining from that whether or not mental health fell within the scope of "disability" in order to make any reasonable adjustments.

The over reliance on the medical model, is something that many more experience disabled activists will be familiar with.  For the sake of brevity, the medicalisation of a disabled person removes the personal, it dehumanises and it predominately sees the disabled person as a problem.

The Social Model of Disability 

This approach is contrasted with a social model of disability.  Under this model, it is society, with its focus on maintaining utility for the majority, that is actually the problem.

The majority of people are able bodied, do not use wheelchairs and  do not have support workers to enable day to day living.  This is why, amongst other things, buildings, services, educational assessments and the way our society operates are all designed to accommodate the utility for the majority.

The social model articulates that society is actually the disabling factor.  Unlike the medical model, the societal understanding of accommodation is the problem.  Importantly, the problem is not the disabled person themselves.

Mental Health as an Example

Returning to the example of mental health, the medical model almost entirely ignores the problems created by society in providing appropriate support - and reasonable adjustments - for people with mental ill health.

Additionally, the medical model also seeks to categorise - through diagnosis - the mental health problem in hand.  This means that people with depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder or some other category are often grouped together rather than being looked at as individuals with personal support needs.

What is essential to providing support to any disabled person is that you have an understanding of the support needs for that person; not as a homogenised group of persons with a particular category code or diagnosis.

A student with a mental health problem may experience problems with motivation, concentration, memory and also experience fatigue and general ill health.  In order to support someone in this context, a support worker may be necessary, additional time for assessments allowed, no penalties for handing in work late or absence.  Again, this is not an exhaustive list.  

The Law

The legal position concerning reasonable adjustments is found in the Equality Act 2010.

The Equality Act is lengthy and for this reason, a summary of what it says is provided here; 

  1. Disabled students are protected from discrimination - discrimination can either be direct or indirect.
  2. Protection also extends to acts of harassment or victimisation for a reason connected with the disability (in some circumstances, the criminal law also provides protection).   
  3. You do not need to be disabled yourself to benefit from protection; you are also protected from discrimination by association or a reason connected with the disability.   
Education providers, whether schools, colleges or universities must make reasonable adjustments to provide support for disabled students.  There is no prescribed list of what is reasonable and what is not, as this is always context and person specific.

In some cases, an education provider may decline to make a reasonable adjustment, if it is felt that the request is not reasonable.

If a dispute arises concerning a School, there are specific tribunals established to resolve a dispute.  Unfortunately, the tribunals do not have jurisdiction over colleges and universities.  In these cases, a dispute would have to be resolved through the local crown or sheriff court.

Getting Support

It is important to make contact with your education provider as soon as possible. 

The institution should then refer you to an appropriate service to seek support and discuss reasonable adjustments.  In many colleges and universities there is a dedicated student support service with disability advisers who can make recommendations.

It is important to be as open as possible about what support you may require.

The discussion you have is a two way process.  You do not simply have to accept what someone tells you, if you want something else or do not feel that it is appropriate.   

You may also be asked to provide evidence.  This is a reasonable request, but it should not be made too onerous.  For example, in the case of dyslexia a report summary from a Psychologist should suffice.  In the case of a mental health issue, a letter from a G.P.   

Please note, if you are told that the recommendations do not have to be accepted by the course provider, then this could constitute an unlawful act of discrimination, harassment or victimisation.  

The law says that reasonable adjustments must be made.  The law also prohibits discrimination.  Education providers are not given a choice about the law; it is there to protect you.

In Higher and Further Education, the Government provides a scheme called the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA).  The DSA provides funding for you to buy equipment, software and to access non medical personal help.  In order to access DSA funding, your education provider may have to refer you to a specialist assessment centre.

Once you settle into your academic year, you should be able to enjoy your course and fingers crossed, that with a little planning in advance, you get the support you need.     

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has prepared various guidance notes concerning Equality in the Education sector.  For more information, visit:
Caveat:  This article is not legal advice. 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Edinburgh Fringe - The beginning and now the end: An Interview with The Noise Next Door

At the start of the Edinburgh Fringe 2013, I previewed "The Sound house" by the Noise Next Door.  This show was a musical, improvised comedy with some audience participation.  It was funny, witty and amazing to see the guys perform and react to the suggestions from the audience; although doing foreign accents was probably not one of their fortes.  

I caught up with Charles (White tie), Matt (Green tie) and Sam (Red tie) from the group as they were about to go into their last show.

So, how was your Fringe?

This was our sixth year here at Edinburgh and as sad as it may be, It is time for us to go home.  We did two shows this year and for Sound House, we had a number of families come to each show.  One family in particular, came to see us three times.  

It is always good to see our fans come back each year and bring their friends to our shows - onwards 2014!

What is next for you and Sound House?

Well, on tuesday afternoon we get on a train at noon and say good bye to Edinburgh, only to have three days rest before doing our next gig in Birmingham.  

As for Sound House, we enjoyed this year but it is time for something new, something bigger and better!  We've got to keep our parents proud of us.  

If you could give any words of wisdom to would be performers, what would they be?

That is a difficult question.  Hmm [head scratching all around]. 

Well, it is important to display yourself in anyway you can.  Get up there on the Royal Mile, flyer and talk to people about your show and why they should come along.  It is also important to get into any extra spots, such as "The Best of the Fest" and the "Picks of the Fringe".  

You also have to "know your product" [pointing to their ties] and effectively market yourself - branding is important.  

Most importantly, believe in yourself.  You can do it, there are many ways to do it and it can also be affordable for example through the "Free Fringe". 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Edinburgh Fringe - Bin Laden The One Man Show

It is about time someone did a show about this monster of a man!  He was a mass murdering lunatic, a renegade, a despot, a terrorist and err, a family man?

The western media has encouraged us to use language of condemnation and judgement and how else are we to respond to someone who is responsible for the atrocity of 9/11?  However, do any of us really know the Man?

Bin Laden: The One Man Show is the brainchild of Knaive Theatre.  The show is not what you expect and this is how Bin Laden - played by Sam Redway - is presented from the outset.

The audience is asked politely - by a handsome, blonde haired, young man in jeans and shirt - whether they would like a cup of tea, milk sugar and a biscuit or two as they take their seats.  You are also presented on stage with a flip chart and what appears to be an autobiography. 

For a moment, you will have a second take, am I in the right place?  It would not be unexpected to ask yourself "I thought this was a show about Bin Laden?"

It is this challenge to the perception of what to expect from the outset that sets the scene for what is to come.  This is very important as both Sam Redway and Director Toby Tyrrell-Jones have to get the audience to release their preconceptions.

The story of Bin Laden is laid open, in a style designed to relate to a western audience.  Soft and business like Sam Redway releases the character's Charm without mimicry or stereotypical supposition.

In this way, the story of the Man is made human again.  The demonic, media monster montage is  dissolved.  We are introduced to Bin Laden the family man, Bin Laden the Scholar, Bin Laden the warrior against poverty, inequality, disenfranchisement and as a crusader against corruption in Government. 

The show opens your eyes into the life of the Man as opposed to the character narrated on through the media news.  

The show does not condone acts of terrorism, but it does offer a differing view concerning the motivations of the Man.  This may appear bitter sweet for any audience but as the character develops we are presented with the all to familiar mantra; Bin Laden condemning the West just as the West has condemned him. 

The energy of Bin Laden's motivation is projected in Sam Redway's portrayal of the man.  This would have been a difficult performance to put on for any actor or for any new Director bringing such an unexpected first to an International audience.

Knaive Theatre, present this show professionally and with dignity.  The content is well researched and remains relevant throughout.  The Audience's attention is held remarkably.

Challenge your assumptions, and leave your preconceptions at the door.  This is a magnificent performance.

Bin Laden The One Man Show is one at C Venues C Nova at 19.35 until Monday 26 August 2013.  The show then transfers to London for a limited run. 

You can book tickets for the remaining Fringe performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Box Office or at the C Nova Box Office.   

For more information about the show, visit the company's website:

Or follow them on Twitter: @BinLadenShow




Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Edinburgh Fringe - The backstory behind Missing, performed and written by Engineer

Missing is performed and written by Engineer, a new theatre company to come out of The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.  

The show tackles some of the issues connected with missing people and their families, which until now I had not considered as a human rights issue.  

I took the opportunity to speak to Simon Lyshon, one of Engineer's founding members to get the back story behind the show.  

Why the issue of Missing people?

We were living with Greg Walton from the Independent and he had written a piece about how there are an estimated 275,000 missing people in Britain every year. That is around 1 person going missing every 2 minutes - to give you an idea of scale, that's a City the size of Plymouth.  

Jesse, a co-founder along with myself, Beatrice and George, started the project after that.  

How you you go about researching the issues involved?

We were lucky to have had a good contact in Greg Walton.  He had already built up a network of people who were interested in the issue and we asked him to approach his network to see if we could talk to them.  

A lot of the work from then on involved arranging interviews.  We were a new theatre company, we lacked any previous record of tackling such big issues and the only thing we had was our former connection with Royal Central. 

We had to build up trust.  Following the initial introduction, we built that trust.  We began to record interviews.  We had to make sure we kept it real; each subtle intonation in speech and nuance was particularly important to us.  The issue remained live for many of the people interviewed and we had to keep it personal for that reason.  

Why did you decide to use Verbatim, as opposed to a more traditional form of documentary storytelling or theatre?

Verbatim is a different form of theatre.  It lives and breathes from the stories of real peopleAs it is based on real-life conversation, it can have a tendency to become static and dry in terms of presentation. Verbatim is known as 'documentary theatre' by many people and this brings it's own set of prejudices. We were keen to break away from this and did this by exploring ways of physicalising and presenting the text in a more active way. 

How does the set relate to the issue of missing people?

When people go missing, usually all that is left behind are the objects that belonged to them.  So, to put it into context, when we talk about the case of Luke Durbin, his sister speaks about the old caravan at the back of the house, which belonged to Luke.  In the case of Moira Anderson also covered in the show, we place a present - a box in itself - inside a cupboard, representing all of the unopened presents that Moira's mother bought for her.  

Also, some of the boxes allow us to represent the passage of time - demonstrating the passing of seasons.  Each box being labelled, Spring, Summer or Autumn and when opened sound illustrates the season, such as chirping birds in Spring.  

They represent the idea of archives, the passage of time and that all that is left of a person are their possessions.  

The show also covers the Police response, how did you research this aspect?

The character in the show is actually an amalgam of several different sources.  To be fair, it's not just about saying that the Police need to do more, or that there needs to be some sort of national database or investigating agency created.  We found out, that it is actually more complex than that. 

In one interview, we were told, and this is also in the show, that if a strong enough case could be made for a particular investigation, then the resources would be made available for that investigation.  In this respect, its not just a question about a lack of resources from the Police point of view.  

In reality, the Police have limited ways of investigating the disappearance of people.  There is only so much that can be gained from CCTV, talking to witnesses and tracking the person before they go missing.  

We also used various academic reports concerning missing people.  These reports were mainly written with a criminal justice / Police audience in mind and unfortunately don't always translate into dramatic/theatrical material very easily.  However, one useful report was entitled "Geographies of Missing People" co-authored by the University of Glasgow.  

The show is quite powerful.  It opened my eyes.  Is there any message that you are seeking to get across?

Naturally, this question did occur to us in the process of making the show.  We asked ourselves, what is Missing?  Is this about the experience of missing people, the Police, Society or the whole of the media?  

We did not consider this an equalities or human rights issue as such.  We did not want to relay a political message.  

Missing, is probably best considered as a "Human Experience"; a window into the experiences of the people left behind. 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Edinburgh Fringe - League of St. George: My Dad used to be a Skinhead and the Strong Women in my life, an interview with the Cast

Sitting in the client services lounge of C-venues, C-Nova, the cast of The League of St. George could not be more relaxed; they were keeping a low profile though, being a skinhead on today (Saturday 17th August) would not have made them too popular in town. 

After all, it was the same day of the SDL (Scottish Defence League) march on the Scottish Parliament but the cast did not seemed phased by the potential attention. 

I asked each member of the Bricks and Mortar Theatre Company about how they got into the show. 

The writer - Georgia Bliss

Geogia describes herself as a warm person and having met her, it is easy to understand why.   

She had been watching shows such as "This is England" and reading "Children of the Sun" which features as skinhead, when she came up with the idea for the show.  As she looked into the issue more, it became "engrossing" for her so much so that she wanted to find out more as the topic really held her interest.

She explains to me that East London, where the Bricks and Mortar Theatre Company are based is literally the epicentre of all things BNP (British National Party).

"Its a strange area, half of the town is very multicultural and the other half are completely against multiculturalism."

She has even witnessed groups of white thugs beating up non-white people at bus stops.

Even in work - Georgia used to work in a call centre - there was racism too.  It was just so blatant, she explains, racial profiling was rife.

"If someone had an Asian sounding name, we were told not to contact them as the managers had already decided that they would not buy..."

 It is somewhat ironic, that the money earned from that call centre job, then went into finding "League of St. George." she explained.

I actually thought that justice.

The Dad - Dan Walker

Dan is only 21, but to look at him, you can see that father figure gleaming in his eyes.

His first overt experience of racism was in High School.  It was the language used, the jokes and the slurs.  He does explain that it wasn't a racist school, but that that kids just didn't' really understand what they were saying; it was like an ideology picked up and spoken without knowing its true meaning.

Dan explains that he liked the writing of the show - not that Georgia is staring at him from across the room.

"I really wanted to be a part of the production" he said.

"My dad used to be a skinhead".  He quickly clarifies.  His dad was an original, working class, skin head, before the image was coined and type cast as racist.  In those days, you got white and black skin heads together.  That is the difference I was told.

Dan talks about the amount of research he did for the show.  His knowledge of social history is absolutely astounding, detailing the complete social stratification of each subculture of the time.

The wisdom of his character also comes through in him when I ask him about standing up to racism.

"It only takes one person to do it" he explains.  Once you do it, others soon follow.

Is he the "batman" of the group I wonder?

Matt Pearson and Nathan Parkinson - The Skinheads   

Both boys seem quiet, relaxed, soft and gentle.  The complete dichotomy of the characters portrayed.

Matt's main interest is that he "wanted to convey and a new story to a new audience".

Nathan also finds the "story the show tells engaging" together with the music.

He also lives in Camden and has been around a lot of prejudice.  He can relate to his character of "mark" played in the show, who can't get a job and the product of bad parenting.  He is clear though, that he he does not relate to the "Anger" or the "Hate".

"Just because you are bored or dont have opportunities, is not excuse for going around mugging and beating people up!" he said.

Matt had a liberal upbringing.  His relationship to his character "Jimmy" is a deeply personal one.

His character, tries to find acceptance and probably lacked any support in school.  This is why Jimmy probably compromises a lot - the need join the League comes from that need for acceptance.    

Matt explains that he is Dyslexic and like Jimmy he did not have that extra support in School.  This is why the relationship is personal.

Holly Mallett - The Strong Lady from the shoe shop

Holly comes across as someone you would want to keep on side.

She explains that there are a lot of strong women in her life.  It was her dad who gave up his job to be a house husband and her mum who went to work.  She describes her house growing up as very intellectual - featuring regular debates around the dinner table.

"My Dad is the biggest feminist in the world" she explains and my family is very matriarchal. 

In terms of the show, she gets a real buzz from it.  "I wanted to be in it as opposed to just Drum in it" she says.

Her character is easy to relate to.  The "shoe shop lady" plays a devils advocate and challenges "Adam" about his role as a skin head; "She really gets the politics of it".

Samantha Lund - The Mum

Sam comes across as the supportive type; it is easy to see the mother in her.

Sam explains that her Mum is very supportive, she is lovely.  She wanted to play a Mum like her own mum.

What attracted her to the show was that she "loved the character" and that it is not preachy theatre.

Is there a message in "The League of St. George"?

The show is not preachy, its the story that is important and makes you want to go an watch it.

Dan says that at the end of the show, "you have an empty glass and should be ready to go get another."  Or, "Just don't be a racist homophobe!"

All the cast agree that Racism seems to be getting worse.  Holly highlights that "life is not so simple and people are just people and that is fine".

Nathan talks about the problem of parenting, "the outdated attitudes are being handed down by parents.  The problem is shrinking and shrinking, but until those attitudes die away, there will always be a problem with racism and homophobia"

The League of Saint George is on at C Venues C- NOVA at 21.55 until Monday August 26th.  To buy tickets, or to find out more visit the Fringe booking site by clicking here.

To find out more about the show and the Bricks and Mortar Theatre Company, visit their site by clicking here.   




Saturday, 17 August 2013

Edinburgh Fringe - What I want to say, but never will

Don't speak your mind, there may be consequences.  Keep your opinions to yourself, they are not valid anyway.  I am scared to say it, what if they reject me?  

Sex, pregnancy, coming out as Gay, child abuse, family, divorce, anger, hatred, love, self harm, depression, drugs and alcohol, anorexia, religion, cancer and death.  All Emotions and experiences building barriers between us.   

These are also some of the subjects sometimes found to be taboo.  To put it simply, we find it difficult to talk about them - finding tape put over our mouths. 

What I want to say, but never will, performed by the St. Ives Youth Theatre, is a collection of thoughts, emotions and experience compiled by Alan, an English teacher, of the things that young people in America really want to say and why they feel that they can't.

The thought that our young people feel unable to talk about what is on their mind, or that perhaps we as a Society are not prepared to listen is truly disturbing.  However, this show opens a window into their world and the constraining influences preventing - whether directly or not - the burst for self expression.  

Alan acts as the adult narrator, seeking to encourage each of the young people to come forward and tell their story.  He makes it clear that the show is not about him; which is why his character is taken on by a beautiful teenage girl - contrasted by the middle-aged, balding fat man - that we may expect.

One by one, the cast - all young people - dressed in theatrical black - reveal themselves.  However,  anyone can tell a story, what makes their tales unique is the controlling - even constraining - tape over their mouth.  The tape bears individual words and each word has meaning - bearing that back story - of the tale never told.

When the tape is peeled away, the young people speak; shout; cry and move all in dialogue with their fears.  We never see the reality.  We never know whether the cries are heard; real tears shed, gay children embraced or expelled; the pregnancy reaching child birth or the friendships continuing or ending.

This is the mystery of the performance.  It always leaves you wanting to ask a question and perhaps, you should.   

Of course, Alan admits that some of the stories, or things that young people want to say, lack context.  Some if it is just venting, frustration, hitting out or a need to release that built up angst.  The other stories are more important; abusive parents, self harming, not knowing what to do about an unexpected pregnancy or shouting, seeking and pleas for help.

Are we listening?  That is what Alan keeps reminding us.  Perhaps, more importantly, do we even want to listen?

Adults, whether a parent, guardian, priest or a friend are meant to be there to protect our children.  Who can our young people turn to if there is no one there to listen.

There are two sides to every story.  This is the subtle sometimes that Alan conveys too.  The adult figure may be willing to listen, but has the young person shut themselves off.  Perhaps, they do not understand their parents as much as they think?

This is what Alan advised me;

"What do you want to say but you know you never will?

To whom do you wish you could say it to?

Why won't you say it

This message is important.

Listen to me..."    
 Advice that you too, can take away.

A poignant performance, not best expressed in words alone.  See it and believe.

No five stars could do this show justice - it worth far more than that.

What I want to say, but never will is on at Sweet Venues, Grassmarket at 14.55.  The last performance is on Sunday 18th of August.  Tickets are available on-line from the Edinburgh Fringe box office, alternatively they can be purchased directly from the venue.    

For more information on the St. Ives Youth Theatre and the show itself, visit their website:

Twitter: @sity_sayit    

Friday, 16 August 2013

Edinburgh Fringe - Exclusive Interview with Cast and Crew of "BENT"

On the eve of the Scottish Defence League (SDL) march on the Scottish Parliament and the Unite Against Fascism Scotland (UAF Scotland) counter demonstration, Bent, by Table9 Productions could not be more relevant.  

It is even more poignant that the show's last night in Edinburgh is Saturday 17 August - the day of both events.  

In this exclusive interview with Chris Bassett, the Director and Producer of the show and Peter Calver, who plays "Max" the lead character I ask about the show and whether it remains relevant to the current day.

Why bring "Bent" to the Fringe 2013?

Chris reminds me that this is the biggest Fringe ever put on.

From a Production Company's point of view, it is a chance to get noticed, to gain exposure but more importantly the openness of the Fringe is something which Chris is extremely passionate about.

Chris also reminds me that "Bent" is also a well known play, its not new and has been around since 1974.  There is also a film, based on the play, of the same name.  From his point of view, "you can really buy into the story..."

Peter also talks about the Cast's passion and commitment to the show.

He explains that his colleague, Anthony Eglington, who plays the character of "Horst" - Max's rock moving, co-worker come lover, who wears the Pink Triangle with Pride - read the script overnight and came back and was adamant that "he had to do it".

Peter explains that everyone has such a powerful attachment to the show.  You are hooked.      

 Is the show really that powerful?

The first thing that both Chris and Peter emphasize is the sheer emotion attached to the production.

I asked them to expand on this and Peter explains that it is not easy playing a character who comes across as arrogant, kills his partner in an act of survival, has to have sex with a dead 13 Jewish girl in order to prove that he is not Queer to his Nazi overlords, denies his own identity by wearing a Yellow Star instead of the Pink Triangle, before taking his own life in an act of self reclamation.

I asked Peter how he managed to cope with the role and what was expected of him as an actor.  He explained, that although it is "heavy" he manages to get through.  However, at the same time, does not leave any rehearsal or performance without feeling severely physically and psychologically drained.

This is also a point that Chris picks up on.  He explains that everyone associated with the show has had the same feeling.  It is difficult to explain, but sometimes words are not necessary to convey the message he reveals.  This is why, when leading up to the climax, the final scenes are directed in silence, "...the sheer emotion of the moment is relayed through music and the lighting.  At every performance, the audience leaves their seats and they do so in almost complete silence.  The silence speaks for itself in terms of the emotion conveyed through the performance on stage." 

Its 2013, is there still a need for a show about Nazis?

Both Peter and Chris answer with a resounding "Yes"

Chris highlights that when they flyer on the Royal Mile, dressed in character, they get a reaction and it is not always positive.  "People react to the uniforms at first and may take a photograph, but then you get people making comments and asking questions"  he says, "there is definitely still interest".

Peter talks about the current news and that the themes of the play, such as persecution based on ethnic, religious or sexual identity stay new because they are always at the forefront of the news.  He says, "it is important not to ignore the past and to recognise that we as Humans are capable of these things."

Chris reminded me of the main reason that Martin Sherman wrote the Play in the first place.  It was because there was no mention of that subsection of society that suffered horrendously even more than other groups - Queers.

What do you want people to take away with them?

Everyone will be touched with the feeling of loss.  It does not matter if you are Gay or Straight, you will be moved by the performance.  In the end there is only silence.

This is perhaps summed up best by a memorable line; as the Nazi overlords stand gleefully about the body of Horst, having shot him in the back, one of them them turns to Max and and says "I hope the medicine helped".

Bent is on at C venues C Too and has its last show on Saturday 17th August.  
You can book tickets online.

To read my review, click here.