What is the impact of Brexit for health and social care?

The Nuffield Trust, breakfast seminar, 26 January 2017


Brexit is bad for health, in the short, medium and long term, unless significant attention is paid to mobilising informed discussions on its effects, and what resource will be needed to mitigate them, to secure pro-health decisions in UK government, devolved regions, and among all health stakeholders.

Hand washing

There is nothing good for health about Brexit. I said this recently and my teenage daughter challenged me. “Why is Brexit so bad for health, Mum? Does it not wash its hands?” That’s not a bad metaphor. It really is as fundamental as hand-washing is to health.

I’ve been researching and teaching EU law for over 25 years. About 20 years ago, I began to be interested in all aspects of how EU law affects health law. From my point of view – the legal, big picture – there is nothing good for health about Brexit.  And things are particularly bad because of the type of Brexit that this government wants us to have.  This is a Brexit that takes us outside of the single market; that hopes for a future relationship with the EU that is less than the one the EU has with Norway, Morocco, or Tunisia.  This is a Brexit that could easily be a ‘cliff edge’ or ‘plane crash’ Brexit, where no mutually acceptable UK-EU agreement is reached within the two years of Article 50 being triggered (by March 2019).  Bear in mind it takes time to negotiate a trade agreement (the EU-Canada one took 7 years).  And, at the same time, our government has to negotiate the exit agreement too.

When thinking about What is the impact of Brexit for health and social care?, I think we need to be mindful of three distinct, but overlapping things:

  1. The big picture
  2. Short term specific instances, where close scrutiny and oversight will be needed to avoid the worst case impacts on health and social care
  3. Medium to longer term strategic decisions, where being outside of the EU could mean opportunities for improving health and social care, if the relevant political conditions are in place and the relevant priorities are accepted
  1. Big picture

The biggest threat to health really comes from the threats to the economy even of an orderly Brexit, and the significant threat to public spending that comes from Theresa May’s ‘Plan B’ if she does not get a deal.  That plan is for the UK become a low tax, low investment in public services, low regulatory standards economy.  Even on Plan A, we will not have as good a trade deal as EU membership offers with our nearest geographical neighbours, and we will not (in the short term at least) have trade deals with the 124 countries that currently have or are negotiating trade deals with the EU.  There’s a correlation between strong economies and population health.  When a new country joins the EU, its population health improves (Greece, Spain, Portugal, Central and Eastern European states): it is not impossible to imagine the effect in reverse when a country leaves.  And, as Nicholas Macpherson, Treasury permanent secretary from 2005-16, says:

“If you want to be a tax haven you would have to have some fairly big discussions with the public about how you are going to fund areas like health and the National Health Service.”

What makes these Brexit negotiations worse for health is that the way that EU law is structured – and so the way we suspect the negotiations will be structured – means that health isn’t around the table when health topics are being negotiated.  Those topics are thought of in EU law as being about trade, or movement of people, or employment rights, or competition policy, and so on.

  1. Short term specific instances, where close scrutiny and oversight will be needed to avoid the worst case impacts on health and social care

There is barely an area of health or social care services provision entirely untouched by EU law.

EU law gives rights and protections to health professionals, and other people who work in the NHS, and in social care, from other EU countries.  Their qualifications must be recognized, they can come here and work with minimum administrative fuss, they can bring their families (children, elderly relatives), they are secure that their pensions will follow them if they go home.  Around 5% of English NHS staff are EU nationals.  Over 30 000 doctors from the EEA are currently registered with the General Medical Council to practise medicine in the UK.  It’s particularly challenging for Northern Ireland, where many health professionals have a qualification from the Republic of Ireland which is currently automatically recognised in UK law.  After Brexit, none of that will be guaranteed.  The government could act now to secure the position of those who are already here, either for a transitional period or indefinitely.  We can continue to press for that unilateral decision not to use people as bargaining chips, in this area above all where the general UK public are not hostile to migrant workers.  For the future, the UK could introduce a points system into its immigration law to encourage the staff we need.  A study of the immigration law changes in 2010 shows that this has had a gradual chilling effect on the flow of labour into the NHS.  Virtually all the evidence to the House of Commons Health Committee’s Inquiry into Brexit and health and social care raises concerns about staffing. We will need close scrutiny of the position of citizens of the rest of the EU who are working in the NHS now. We will need to watch what is proposed for future migrant workers in the NHS and social care, particularly in areas where there are shortages of staff that cannot be plugged from the domestic labour market.

EU law sets minimum standards for working time rules, which mean medical professionals, and social carers, cannot lawfully be forced to work without proper rest periods, paid holidays, and so on.  These have been tricky for the UK, and we used the opt-out and transitional rules of EU law to the maximum when they were being brought in.  After Brexit there will be no EU labour laws to curb our government from setting whatever standards it wishes.  We will need to make sure that labour laws are not changed in a way that puts patients or vulnerable elderly or other people at risk from being treated by health or care professionals who are exhausted.

EU law gives patients rights and protections. For instance, UK citizens have legal rights to emergency health care across the EU: after Brexit, each of us will need private health insurance whenever we go to an EU country.  Retired British people living in EU countries can access medical treatment as if they were citizens: after Brexit, many of those people will choose to come back to the UK.  Evidence to the HC Committee on Leaving the EU suggests ‘hundreds of thousands’ or ‘roughly a million’ people in this situation.  We will need scrutiny to make sure that ‘acquired rights’ of UK citizens are secured in negotiations; if they are not, and maybe even if they are, then we will need contingency planning and injection of resource into the NHS to cater for returners.

The EU regulates the safety of all pharmaceuticals marketed in the EU, by enforcing stringent pre-market authorization rules, as well as post-marketing surveillance.  It does this through the European Medicines Agency, which will relocate from London.  Currently, pharmaceuticals with an authorisation from the EMA can be marketed anywhere in the EU. If the UK’s future relationship with the EU does not include that regulatory system, and it looks as if it will not, access to the UK market will be subject to an additional regulatory process. Faced with a choice of access to a market of patients in the whole of the EU, or the UK, pharma companies will act rationally and choose the EU, or at least the EU first.  We will be later, with New Zealand or Canada.  And it isn’t only EU product marketing standards that give access to the whole EU market. A new EU-wide clinical trials system gives single approval for clinical trials anywhere in the EU.  So we will need to be vigilant to make sure that safe pharmaceuticals are still available in the UK, and that we can attract pharmaceutical companies to market here. Any additional costs associated with that (in the form perhaps of inducements) will have to be secured.

As Mike Thomson, CEO of Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, put it in June 2016

“We need to convince the rest of the world to come to Britain. We have to make sure we put our best foot forward to convince the rest of the world and global pharma that Britain is a great place to bring new medicines to market even when we leave the EU.”

I could go on:

Our clinicians and biomedical researchers have access to EU networks of collaborators, and EU data-sets, tissue banks and the like. Our data is comparable with EU data, and can be compared through Eurostat: this, for instance, revealed discrepancies with our cancer outcomes that changed protocols.  Our life sciences researchers can also access significant amounts of EU research funding.  All of this will need to be replaced post-Brexit.

In the public health domain, EU rules on wide-ranging matters – road infrastructure and transport safety, food and product safety, air and water quality, workplace health and safety and tobacco regulation – have had tangible effects on EU population health.  Post-Brexit, we will have to make sure that these standards remain attentive to health.

  1. Medium to longer term strategic decisions, where being outside of the EU could mean opportunities for improving health and social care, if the relevant political conditions are in place and the relevant priorities are accepted

This is the most difficult part of the brief Nuffield gave me! What – asks the Nuffield Trust – are opportunities for health associated with Brexit? I do not wish to be misunderstood here: my considered view is that there is nothing good for health about Brexit, and any so-called ‘opportunities’ are either based on misunderstandings of what EU law requires or are merely theoretical opportunities, subject to political arrangements and support which are not guaranteed.

Nothing in EU law directly affects the funding given to the NHS, or its structure. Nothing in EU law requires ‘privatisation’ of the NHS or social care provision in the UK.  To the extent that this has happened, that is a political decision for national governments, under the legal division of competences.  We have the NHS structure – and resources – we chose, not those imposed by the EU.

But some EU rules affect the way in which the NHS may be run. We have to comply with procurement rules, and EU competition law designed to ensure a fair playing field for ‘economic actors’.  Outside of the EU, those rules will no longer apply.  However, I think any opportunity here to improve health or social care is at best over-stated.  Those EU rules are interpreted in ways which respect national decisions about how national health systems are organised and the values they express.  There’s nothing per se to guarantee that future trade agreements that the UK secures won’t open up the NHS markets to non-UK providers: the EU had secured such an opt-out for health services for TTIP, outside the EU there needs to be a serious discussion about what strategic decisions need to be made for procurement laws in health, based on where we are self-sufficient, and where we are not.  Clinical services are one thing; medical equipment, devices, supplies are quite another. In the latter case, our health institutions currently source many supplies from EU-based companies, and procurement laws need to support that if we are to get good deals.

Outside of the EU, we can have national determination of professional qualifications standards; working hours for health professionals and social care workers; access for non-national patients in non-emergency situations; marketing authorizations for medicines and medical devices; standards for clinical trials, and so on.  We can have national determination of public health matters, such as environmental standards, transport safety, food and water quality, tobacco and alcohol regulation.  We can take the opportunity of Brexit to have a national debate about what standards, what laws, what regulations will be best for health in the UK.

Sure, this does represent an opportunity.  But wouldn’t we be wanting to have those discussions at least in the light of – if not with – other countries who are facing similar economic, demographic and clinical challenges within their health systems?  Health and social care after all are related closely to medical science, an international discipline.  But wouldn’t we wanting to interact with and inform ourselves about other countries which share our history of a state-backed health care system that provides care for all regardless of means?  There’s no point in looking, for instance, to the USA for this kind of discussion.

Moreover, and finally, even under the government’s ‘Plan A’ for its future relationship with the EU, if we depart from the EU’s standards, we will make it very difficult for trade in products or services with our near neighbours, and we then won’t attract people or companies, and we won’t be the first market for new products or technologies.  But what I fear is the ‘Plan B’ version of this: what will health and social care in the UK look like in the low tax, low investment in public services, low regulatory standards economy?

Hence, my considered opinion remains: Brexit is bad for health.  But just as that bus was critical in the Leave campaign; so can health be critical in the national debate that informs decisions our government takes in the process of leaving.  Now is the time to start salvaging from the wreckage (for the short term), and building a new settlement (for the longer term).

photo: http://www.pixnio.com/miscellaneous/hand-washing


More in ‘conversation’ with my MP

So, in early December 2016, I finally got a reply from Paul Blomfield, my MP. (His full email is below)

While I was not at all surprised by its contents, given that they are official Labour Party policy, there is so much about this reply that doesn’t resonate with my idea of what democracy and the rule of law means. I’m saddened by the notion that our political process cannot be trusted, implied in the passage in the email to the effect that the most important consideration is that if we have a General Election, the Conservatives will be stronger. Leave/Remain wasn’t a Conservative/Labour issue. Some of the email I find downright disingenuous, such as the implication that the referendum is legally binding; and the implication in the statement “continue to hold … to account for … extra funding for the NHS” that such holding to account has already happened. Perhaps it has, but I don’t know anyone who works in the NHS who thinks it has the extra funding it needs.

Anyway, in the light of the Supreme Court hearing which was happening as I wrote (5 December 2016), rather than engaging with all those things (and more), I’ve sent a simple reply:

Dear Paul

Thank you for your email. I won’t engage with all the arguments you put in it, as I imagine that to do so would be fruitless.

But could you answer one question, which will help me to decide how to vote in the next General Election?

If the Supreme Court rules (with or without a ruling from the CJEU) that Article 50 is revocable, will you push for a further referendum on the terms of the deal that the government manages to negotiate, once we see that deal, and/or will you reject a deal that you judge to be worse for your constituents’ interests than remaining in the EU? (As argued here.)  It strikes me that this is consistent with everything you say in your long email, but I may have misunderstood your position.


It’s now 19 December, and I haven’t had a reply. So I’m going to email again, today, asking Paul to respond to the AC Grayling letter which has been sent to every MP.

Oh, I have donated to a Sheffield foodbank. As I do regularly.



On 05/12/2016 14:00, BLOMFIELD, Paul wrote:

Dear Tamara,

Thank you for your email about the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

I campaigned relentlessly for the UK to stay in the EU, speaking at meetings across my constituency and knocking on doors to make the case every week over several months. In the year leading up to the vote I regularly invited constituents to join me in the campaign and we built a great team of volunteers. Together we spoke to almost 9,000 people across central Sheffield. I know that many others were active in the cross-party ‘Britain Stronger In Europe’ campaign. I was deeply disappointed by the decision made on 23rd June, but I accept it. Had Remain won the referendum and a pro-Leave Parliament voted to take us out of the EU regardless of the result, it would not have been acceptable. I don’t think the argument is any more persuasive the other way round.

I agree with the significant number of constituents who have written to me about the divisive nature of the campaign run by the Leave side, and the fact that their promises started to unravel from the moment the referendum result was known. I have challenged the Government over what it is doing about the spike in hate crime we have seen since the referendum, as well as pushing the Culture Secretary to ensure the press do not fuel hatred in our society. However, provided elections and referenda comply with the law, we must accept their result. To do otherwise sets us on a dangerous course. At the same time, together with my Labour colleagues in Parliament, I will certainly continue to hold Leave campaigners to account for their promises like extra funding for the NHS.

As you know, on 3 November the High Court ruled that the Government cannot trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and launch the formal process for leaving the EU without Parliament agreeing to undo the effect of the Act of Parliament that gave effect to us joining the EU in the first place. The Government is now appealing this decision, and the case will be heard in the Supreme Court this week. The attacks on our judiciary in some sections of the media, and the failure of the Lord Chancellor Liz Truss to defend their independence following the High Court case, have been wholly unacceptable. As well as urging Ministers to speak out against those criticising our judges for doing their job, Labour has been pushing the Government to accept that Parliament must have a say, and concentrate efforts on building a national consensus around getting the best possible terms for the country in our future relationship with the EU.

Therefore my work with Labour’s Shadow Brexit team has been focussed on holding the Government to account so that we get a Brexit that doesn’t crash our economy, tear apart our communities and cut us off from our closest allies. This kind of “hard Brexit” is exactly what we are fighting against in Parliament, as the Tory right, UKIP and sections of the tabloid press are trying to use the binary question of triggering Article 50 as a smokescreen while they press their aim of a hard Brexit.

The British people voted to leave on 23rd June, but were not given a choice on the terms by which Britain would leave. While I recognise that people voted to come out, I don’t believe that they voted to lose out. So far we know nothing about the Government’s plan for Brexit. They are refusing to disclose how they will approach the negotiations with the other 27 EU countries and what the red lines will be. In fact, there still appears to be disagreement between Cabinet Ministers about their approach. This is a serious problem, it creates uncertainty across the board – for the economy, for businesses, for British citizens living abroad and EU nationals residing in the UK, and the wealth of organisations such as the NHS that rely on these employees.

The terms upon which we exit the EU will determine the place of the UK not only in Europe but in the world for many years to come, as well as having a profound impact on our economy. It is vital all political parties, all areas of the country and representatives from across our economy and civil society are part of the most important conversation in a generation about the future of our country. Labour is leading calls for the Government to start that conversation.

On the specific question of a vote on triggering Article 50 – i.e. launching the process of leaving the EU – if Parliament were to block the result of the referendum and refuse to invoke Article 50, it would provoke a democratic crisis and, as importantly, would not result in us staying in the EU.  Faced with such an impasse, the Prime Minister would clearly go back to the country by calling a General Election, on the issue of Parliament trying to frustrate the will of the people. Ask yourself whether this would lead to anything other than a stronger Conservative and pro-Brexit majority in the House of Commons. I see no evidence to suggest a General Election wouldn’t get that result – and the flaws in our electoral system mean that no form of ‘progressive alliance’ could overcome this fact.

I also don’t think we can have a re-run of the referendum. Asking people to vote on the same proposition in the hope of getting a different answer would be to question their judgement.  A second referendum after a deal is reached would depend on the legal question of whether or not the two year negotiating period is fixed and or/our decision to leave is irrevocable. If the period is fixed and/or the decision is irrevocable, a referendum on a ‘take it or leave it’ deal would be pointless. The question of the revocability of a decision to trigger Article 50 may be considered by the Supreme Court as part of the appeal on the High Court decision, and may therefore clarify what options are available in the longer term.

Labour has been clear from the start that in order to get the best deal for Britain, the country must see the basis on which the Government intends to proceed and their plans must be subject to scrutiny by the House of Commons. Our focus, therefore, is on the substance of the Government’s Brexit plans, given so much is at stake. We are pushing for the best deal across the board, from allowing EU nationals already living here the right to stay (see my speech here), to getting guarantees on investment in our universities (see my speech on that here). You can read more about Labour’s stance on the issue in this debate, led by Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU Keir Starmer.

Thanks again for contacting me about this important issue on which I feel every bit as strongly as you.

Best wishes,


P.S. I’m fundraising for foodbanks in Sheffield. Please donate here if you can.

Have Some Optimism for Christmas (Guest blog by Alex Brianson)

This was originally posted on Facebook 12 December 2016. So much of it resonates with how I feel that I asked Alex if I could host it here. He has kindly agreed.candle

Some of my fb friends know I have led services in Unitarian places of worship. It’s nothing special – my fb friends include many qualified Ministers, and the odd priestess, as well as others who are amateurs like me. I haven’t been at a service for a while because I haven’t found a local place yet, and I haven’t given a service for some time thanks to illness and two relocations.

This week I’ve been wondering what I’d say if I had to lead one this week or in the run-up to Christmas. It’s a tricky one, because many Unitarians are like me – not Christian, maybe not even theists. And some Unitarians are Christian. In the congregations I know, you can’t just do a standard Christmas service and expect everyone to be happy. But at the same time most people want to mark the occasion for a whole host of personal reasons.

Like many people, I struggled to make Christmas meaningful for a long time. I’m a sentimental softie, so weeping at “Mary’s Boy Child” has never been a problem, but it took me ages to see anything particular in the shlock that I found spiritually meaningful. I’ve done a fair amount of reading on Christianity, some of it by authors who identify as Christian, some by authors who don’t; some of it is personal and/or devotional, some of it is academic. And although in my head I no longer find much of what used to appal me about Christianity offensive because I have learnt to understand it contextually or metaphorically (e.g. the claim to be the unique way to salvation, the hideous contradictions of the bible, and the monstrosities committed by Yahweh throughout the Old Testament), I’m still not Christian.

So why do I even want to find meaning in the festivals of Christmas? And why am I bothering to post about it on fb of all places? Why not just enjoy the pagan parts of the celebration that persist in the UK and elsewhere, such as the mistletoe (form an orderly queue please boys), the eponymous plant celebrating the Holly King’s victory and the turn of the wheel of the year, the solstice and its marking of the return of the light (and Light), and the feasting?

For some years I did that, and actually I will this year too. I find paganism much more nourishing than Christianity. But this year I want to use Christmas as a receptacle into which we can all, if we so choose, sink our fears and our cynicism, and celebrate the possibilities of renewal and social progress.

Yes, Christmas is about the birth of a baby – THE baby, if you’re Christian – born to save our species from sin. And yes, this fits a pattern of virgin births of demi-gods and heroes in ‘Middle Eastern’ and Mediterranean mythologies. But what I have come to see in this story is the thing that many religions point to – the divine (or dharma, or tao, or awen) is inherent in the world that we inhabit, and we can, indeed should, use it to help make our world better. We can do that. We have that power.

2016 has been a dreadful year, for me personally and also of course at the macro level. So many deaths of cherished people, so many awful political choices and events, so many signs of impending eco-tastrophe. It is easy to feel bludgeoned into submission, to feel that there is no possibility that right (or good, if you like) will prevail. For those who suffer depression, this is even more true; there have been times this year when I have wondered whether it’s worth bothering with recovery.

But here’s the thing: even if, as is likely, things get worse in the world, and even if, as is likely, there will always be those who are prepared to do absolutely anything to achieve their goals, there is always also the rest of us. And we have to make sure we use our power.

At one of my school assemblies the Headmaster told a parable about how the devil’s best line was that ‘there’s plenty of time’ – he could stop people bothering to do good by convincing them to come over all ‘maňana’. It’s not a story I liked. But I can see the wisdom of a re-imagined version: the best tool of those who seek to control and oppress is to convince the rest of us that we can’t do anything about things that matter.

We can. I do. We all, I’m sure, do.

So this year, I’m celebrating Christmas as a political act. I celebrate the reminder to be active in pursuit of social justice. I celebrate the time of re-birth, of potential, of hope blossoming lotus-like in the most unlikely places. And I celebrate the gift of optimism. It is this that I hope in some small way to give to all my fb friends.

Merry Christmas.

Back to it: democracy is a process, not a moment

Here’s my latest communication to my MP, Paul Blomfield, following Tim Farron’s announcement today.

Dear Paul

I have tried many times to email you about this and each time I get your standard email response. I appreciate that you have many people trying to contact you and I think that it’s fine to send out standard responses. But please can you make sure that your response actually answers the question I am asking this time?

This morning, Tim Farron has confirmed that his eight MPs will vote against triggering Article 50 unless there is a second referendum on the eventual Brexit deal.

I would like to know whether you will support that vote.

There is no need for me to elaborate in detail the reasons I am asking this question. On 24 June, you spoke about how bad leaving the EU will be for Sheffield – pointing to EU money that would have helped us build the local economy. You know that the 23 June vote was based at least in part (and we will never know quite how much) on misinformation and lies. Our universities (a key plank in Sheffield’s economic well-being as well as bringing much of value in other terms to the city) rely on EU collaboration, funding, staff, and above all on EU and international students. All of this is under threat of being lost when we leave the EU.

Democracy is a process, not a moment. This is not about “disrespecting the vote on 23 June”. This is about asking us, the people who put you into power, what we want, once we see what the deal is on the table. In our constitution, parliament, not the government is sovereign. The Miller case reminds us of this. If you and your fellow MPs are courageous enough, we can have an informed decision about whether to leave the EU, based on information about what the options are, and the consequences of those options.


Tamara Hervey

Research and teaching equality and diversity in legal education settings: Sheffield Law School September 2016

  • LERN@LegalEdResearch

Our workshop co-hosted with @sheffielduni is beginning! Prof. Tamara Hervey welcomes all participants. Jess Guth creates hashtag 


Prof Hilary Sommerlad @LawLeeds takes the floor to give keynote:

Legal Professionalism and Diversity:

challenges for legal education and legal services providers in the contemporary UK context

Two studies. One involves participants drawing pictures of lawyers.

How did students see legal field? – drawings are fascinating. Dissonance b/een view +background: white, male, middle class

Interesting that part of appeal was that they didn’t see themselves in those pictures. But also awareness of outsider status

Second study involves interviews with Magic Circle and similar law firms.

Sommerlad – things are getting much worse in the profession!

Overall ‘feel’ from keynote: depressing. According to the speaker.

Sommerlad: Creation of a whole new labour market for the inauthentic lawyers. Depressing!

But ‘feel’ in the room is indefatigable.
We need to empower students to understand all of this because that changes the nature of the dynamics

Not ignoring gloomy narrative but telling stories of hope

Over to parallel panels:

A Inclusion, Unconscious Bias, and Affect-based learning Chair/Discussant: Chalen Westaby, Sheffield Hallam University.  Papers on Using the affective domain in teaching diversity and equality, Emma Jones, The Open University; Inspired by Law: a gallery of and for inspiring lawyers – the faces of equality and diversityDr Michael Rodney, Alan Birbeck and Kim Silver, London South Bank University; and The Fairness Project – an Interactive Workshop, Rachel Nir and Tina McKee, University of Central Lancashire;

Panel 1B Overcoming barriers to diversity in legal education Chair / Discussant: Charlotte O’Brien, University of York. Papers on Disability in Legal Education: How to Achieve ‘Inclusive Legal Education’?, Gauthier de Beco, School of Law – University of Leeds; Facilitating students’ learning of equality and diversity issues by applying sociological concepts to the use of simulated clients in an employment law module, Jenny Gibbons, University of York; and Defining the Paradigm of the Contemporary Globalized Legal Education, Midjohodo Franck Gloglo, Intellectual Property and International Trade Law Scholar, Associate Fellow, Center for International Sustainable Development Law, University of Laval, Canada

There’s work to be done here.

There’s more scholarship re access for disabled students than there is on disability in curriculum.

Interesting Q about nature of merit – everything that challenges the idea of ‘good lawyer’ is constructed as deficit

Conversations, real and virtual:

I really do love the idea of building your curriculum around the students in the classroom. You can be inclusive +challenging

Jess Guth: So, teachers – do you only ever ask questions you know the answer to in the classroom? Tamara Hervey: never. How boring! I only ask questions I /don’t/ know the answer to! Jess Guth: Me too – what’s the point of asking questions when you already know the answer?!?

Could globalised legal ed or exchange programme build cultural capital for students (or of course reduce importance of it)

Elaine Freer on social mobility at the bar: background makes it difficult to penetrate the community of the bar

Hilary Sommerlad – the bar relies on its ‘mystique’ as an economic benefit, so why would they want to change this?

Excellent discussion on the use of speech in legal culture

Second round of parallel panels:

Panel 2A: Diversity and equality in Legal Careers Chair/Discussant: Andrew Callaghan, University of Sheffield. Social mobility and socio-economic diversity in legal education: what can be learnt from an attempt to improve diversity at the Bar? Elaine Freer, University of Cambridge; Diversity data among solicitors and on GDL/LPC attainment; and Debra Malpass, Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Panel 2B Ethical and intersectional questions Chair/Discussant Jessica Guth, Leeds Beckett University. The Henry Higgins Conundrum, Dominic De Saulles, Centre for Professional Legal Studies, Cardiff School of Law and Politics; and Only Relatively Equal? Differences and hierarchies in the Equality Act 2010 – diversity in the legal profession, Steven Vaughan, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham and Elisabeth Griffiths, Northumbria Law School, University of Northumbria at Newcastle.

Excellent discussions event on equality/diversity great discussions on your data and our paper

And the final roundtable, chaired by Prof Lisa Webley:

Need to educate students about what cannot be taken for granted (EU and Human Rights Act).

If you haven’t read ‘s work around the gendered nature of welfare cuts etc then do! It’s powerful and important

And praise from the participants:

Thank you for making a day of resisting the neoliberal drivers in HE possible. It’s been fab!

Sep 16 Great conference on in the profession

Sep 16 @TamaraHervey@LegalEdResearch thanks from for a great day exploring equality and diversity in Sheffield!

Sep 17 Excellent and thought-provoking conference yesterday, thanks to LERN and University of Sheffield

If you’d like to read another person’s view of the day, may I recommend Jess Guth’s blogs:




The long view, how difficult it is to take it and still be optimistic, and what I’m doing about that

Circumpolar_AZ81.jpgPhotocredit: LCGS Russ – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15270259

There’s something profoundly depressing in reading and writing about equality and diversity in law and legal education. The more recent things I’ve been reading, about how the legal profession, and legal education, are riddled with inequalities based on sex, race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, nationality, (dis)ability, sexuality, gender … repeat messages from things I was reading in the 1990s and 2000s, which in turn repeat messages from things I was reading in the 1980s, and I’m sure they go back and back and back, if I only had time to look.

In this regard, of course, the legal profession and legal education are no different to other areas of life and the world. People in powerful groups make life harder for people in less powerful groups. Sometimes they do so deliberately; I like to be optimistic and charitable about motives and believe that probably more often they do so unwittingly.

If we care at all about these phenomena – and I do – we want to make sure that anyone whom we in a position to educate learns about them. In my case, I want my  UG students to understand that, for instance, while more than 60% of the UG cohort in Sheffield Law School are women, there have only ever been six women on the Supreme Court of India; four on the US Supreme Court; four on the Constitutional Court of South Africa; (I believe) three on the Federal Court of Malaysia; just one on the UK Supreme Court. I want my daughters to understand that not one single woman has ever been a Roman Catholic priest, and also that that official church position is not what many Roman Catholics believe to be right. I want anyone who is prepared to listen to understand that (statistically speaking) police officers in many countries treat the liberty and the very lives of black people as worth less than the lives and liberty of white people. And so on.

With this desire to educate about how bad it all is, there is a danger that the curriculum, that our conversation, becomes all about numbers and statistics. This kind of data shows, in ways that are incontrovertible, or at least relatively difficult to challenge, how bad it all is. The numbers ‘speak for themselves’. They say how unequal life is, the law is, and for how long this has been so. I don’t doubt that there is a certain power in having that voice heard.

But it also plays into a kind of narrative of despair.

If we’re going to educate in a more hopeful way, then we need a different approach. (Or at least an additional approach.) And that’s why the students on the Equality and Diversity project are recommending learning using insights from positionality.

At this point in writing the blog, I had a happy two hours trying to track down the precise meaning of this word, and when it was first used in the way that my students and the literature they have been reading use it. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that in this sense, the first use is in the 1980s in feminist literature. I think it may be Linda Martín Alcoff’s “Cultural Feminism v. Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory” SIGNS Spring 1988, 405-436, or it may be Julia Kristeva.

The idea of positionality stands in opposition to essentialism. It takes seriously the position, the lived experience of those in whom we are interested – in this case people who are disadvantaged in the legal profession and legal education. It’s related to intersectionality, in that it allows for multiple identities, rather than pigeonholing individuals into just one box (black, female, disabled, etc).

And because positionality focuses on lived experience, it pays great attention to people’s stories. I’ve been interested in narrative, and how it works with legal texts and law in general, for a while now. But I haven’t yet thought seriously about how it works in terms of education. (Well, that’s not true – I haven’t thought seriously in a work context about that. I’ve thought a great deal about it in a family context. My children know (now) that, for instance, fairy tales embody truths, even if they are not true in a literal sense (yes, girls, there are wolves in the woods). They understand that the Old Testament bible stories we read every Advent embody truths about what Christians believe to be the nature of God. And so on.)


So, to construct a narrative of hope, in encouraging learning in Sheffield Law School about equality and diversity, we will be telling stories. We could start with Belva Ann Lockwood, one of the first women lawyers in the US. But to bring it home, we’ll tell about the first woman to graduate from Sheffield Law School in 1927. Her name was Alice Josephine Duke. We think she went on to work in the League of Nations in Geneva. There are more stories of women in the law in the UK here.

For Belva Ann, for Alice Josephine, law school may have been a pretty lonely place. To see that it need not always be the way it is now, we need to take the long view.