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Forgotten Voices of Welfare Reform

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Dr Nicola Cunningham, University of Stirling

The policy voice of welfare reform is evident on a daily basis, from coverage of the current Northern Ireland impasse to senior government ministers advising they ‘could live on £53 a week’.  Since 2010, welfare reform has been rapidly drawing in previously unaffected sickness and disability benefits and claimants from the welfare periphery. People experiencing sickness and disability are more vulnerable to poverty, particularly those of working age. This may also impact on the ability to retain independence, contribute to society and be valued; reinforcing existing barriers to equality. Never before have frontline advice and support services across all sectors been more stretched – and under-resourced.

The often forgotten voices of welfare reform are those health, social care and welfare professionals supporting people affected by disability and ill-health. In current climates, advising and supporting people affected by disability and ill-health can be stressful and testing. Taking time for reflection can prove difficult.

While reflective practice is not a simple cure-all for social and welfare ills, networking and learning helps front line professionals share and exchange skills and knowledge, removing sometimes unhelpful boundary demarcations between staff and service sectors.

The outcome? Professional experience and support is improved; likewise, support for patients, claimants, their families, partners and carers is improved.

Within my work as Macmillan Lecturer I encounter a range of health, social care and welfare professionals sharing and reflecting on their learning and practice online, establishing connections and networks across health and social care sectors. This is one space where health, welfare and social care professionals can join together, share their concerns and make their voices louder.

Dr Nicola Cunningham
Macmillan Lecturer
Twitter:  @NCunningham6

Women in leadership in health and university sectors: Are there actually enough to celebrate?

Photo of Professor Jayne Donaldson

Professor Jayne Donaldson

On 8th March 2015 we celebrated the achievements of women for International Women’s Day – but should we celebrate?


Being a man or a woman has a significant impact on an individual’s health: for example, women face increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.  The health of women is of particular significance and concern because, in many societies, they are disadvantaged by sociocultural discrimination. Some of the sociocultural factors that prevent women benefit from quality health services and health outcomes include:

  • unequal power relationships between men and women;
  • social norms that decrease education and paid employment opportunities;
  • an exclusive focus on women’s reproductive roles; and
  • experience of physical, sexual and emotional violence.

However there has been progress on improving health issues for women.  For example improvement in maternal health has taken place in some countries but there remain significant mortality rates worldwide.  Also more countries are implementing HPV vaccinations for teenage girls but there remains reluctance in others despite the evidence base for its role in the prevention of cervical cancer in women.


The Institute for Women’s Policy Research stated that in 2013, female full-time workers made only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 22%. Women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio.  Professor Sharon Bolton argues this week that, according to the ILO, it will take 200 years before women achieve parity with men at management level globally:  Why there are so many women managers, but so few women CEOs


Data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (2014) shows the very low proportion of women in the parliaments of different countries’ governments. The UK is ranked 74th. Rwanda is ranked first, followed by Andorra, Cuba and Sweden. Four countries in the ranking have no women in their lower or single house, while 39 have fewer than 10% women – including two European countries (Hungary and Ukraine).

Role models

Women through the past and present continue to inspire me through role modelling behaviours, such as leadership and innovation, as well as knowing their professional and personal values and strengths.  When I read statistics about women’s health and wealth, and political representation of women, I am shocked that gender issues exist in our modern world.

Women in leadership

As a female Professor of Healthcare, a Head of School of Health Sciences and a Registered Nurse, I am still disappointed by the progress society has made in achieving fairness and equality for women in leadership roles in any sector, but particularly in Health and Higher Education (HE).   Reports from Higher Education state that only 12% of chairs of university boards, 17% of vice-chancellors, and 19% of professors are women. While within the UK’s NHS, around 75% of the workforce are women, only 37% of NHS Directors are women, and even fewer work at Chief Executive level.

Many research reports, blogs and other commentaries state reasons such as child care, lack of networking opportunities and other reasons.  Leadership programmes such as Aurora and Leadership Foundation do give me inspiration and hope that we are developing and strengthening women in HE to attain their career aspirations and personal goals.  There is also an array of programmes within the NHS Leadership Academy.

But how do we attract and retain women onto these leadership development programmes and into leadership roles?  So programmes exist both in the NHS and within HE sector but how do we encourage women to make the most of these opportunities?  We have a lot to do to ensure equity of opportunity for women.

© Text copyright Jayne Donaldson, 11 March 2015
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