The Ben Kinsella Trust – A Useful Resource for Knife Crime Teaching Resources

Knife Crime statistics have remained stubbornly high over the last few years, and this is in spite of ongoing campaigns to reduce it.

One such organisation which campaigns to reduce Knife Crime is the Ben Kinsella Trust, named after a teenage victim of Knife Crime from 2008.

The charity has produced numerous teaching resources aimed at key stage four students focussing on the laws surrounding carrying knives and the consequences of carrying them.

Unsurprisingly it has a very victim centred focus, featuring lots of videos with victims of knife crime.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is obvious relevance to the Crime and Deviance module and I see two uses to teachers – firstly, some of the resources can be downloaded and adapted, there’s lots relevant to the topic of victimology especially.

Secondly you could get students to analyse the work of the trust itself – getting them to consider how effective such campaigns are, and why they exist.

It does seem somewhat unfortunate that it’s left to the relations of a murdered teenager to spend the rest of their days campaigning to reduce knife-crime, after all.

One would hope that either progressive social change would reduce such incidents OR the police would have sufficient funding to tackle knife crime and at least hold it level (rather than seeing it increasing like it has done recently), but neither of these seem to have been the case, hence why we have a need (a function, in functionalist terms) for charities such as the Ben Kinsella Trust.

It’s a tough one this – a charity doing very positive work, but honestly I’d rather there were no need for it in the first place!

Evaluating Apprenticeships in England and Wales

There are currently around a million people doing Apprenticeships in England and Wales, and about one in seven of the current workforce is either doing one or has done one as part of their training, but how effective are apprenticeships today?

If it is possible to generalised, what are the strengths and limitations of modern apprenticeships?

Strengths of Apprenticeships

This 2021 government report on apprenticeships points to the fact that standards of apprenticeships have risen in recent years, with a new minimum length of training being one year, the increasing number of advanced apprenticeships, and more rigorous monitoring.

The public sector is also now heavily involved with apprenticeship training and there is a commitment to ensuring apprenticeships are supporting diversity and social mobility.

Interviews with small firms who have taken on apprentices recently point to a number of benefits of doing so such as:

  • Being able to meet increasing demand in a cost effective way. Apprentices can help to boos productivity.
  • Increasing diversity of skills and challenging set ways of thinking – apprentices with new skills and fresh ways of looking at things can establish new innovative ways of working and challenge the status quo in a company, keeping it dynamic.
  • Being able to mould future leaders of a company – some employers like taking on young apprentices especially as they can train them appropriately over a series of months and years to go into management positions.  

For many employers taking on new apprentices is going to for a key strategy of rebuilding after the pandemic. Apprenticeships are well suited to helping both businesses and individuals recruit and retrain after the disruption caused due the government imposed restrictions on work during the Pandemic.

Limitations of Apprenticeships

Some recent research by the London School of Economics suggests that apprenticeships are stalling –– the increasing of the minimum training time to one year is possibly linked to this, interestingly, the introduction of the Levy on employers in 2017 doesn’t seem to be correlated.

There has also been a shift towards apprenticeships being directed more towards the over 25s and away from the more disadvantaged, as the number of higher apprenticeships has increased compared to intermediate.

The report also notes that not all of the available funding (from the Levy) is used.

Some apprenticeships were also disproportionately affected by the government’s chosen response to the recent Pandemic – most notably those related to travel and hospitality, although that’s not a criticism of apprenticeships themselves as such, just something to be aware of! (some apprenticeships can’t work effectively when there’s a government imposed lockdown going on!

Trends in Apprenticeships England and Wales 2021

Apprenticeships are a form of Vocational Educational which have become increasingly popular over the last decade.

Although the number of people doing them has levelled out and declined slightly in recent years around one third of people engaged in Vocational Education in England today are doing an apprenticeship.  

In this post I simply summarise some of the recent trends in Apprenticeships in England and Wales to 2021.

Recent Trends in Apprenticeships

There were just over 250 000 Apprenticeship starts between August 2020 and April 2021, with 657 000 people doing apprenticeships and almost 100 000 people completed apprenticeships achieving a related qualification in the same period.

Taking the longer-term view, there have been almost 2.5 million apprenticeship starts since 2015, and almost 5 million since 2010.

Last year’s figures  are down slightly on the long term trend, which correlates to changes in funding introduced in 2017, although correlation may not mean causation. Some of the recent dip in starts can also be attributed to the Pandemic (like short term declines in many things!).

The number of higher apprenticeships has grown in the last 3 years compared to intermediate apprenticeships. Today, approximately 30% of apprenticeships are advanced, with 20% being intermediate and 20% higher.

Of the apprenticeship starts in the last year –

  • 53000 were aged under 19
  • 74000 were aged 19 -24
  • 125000 were aged 25 and over.

So while you might think that apprenticeships are mainly for the young, half of them are undertaken by adults, presumably undergoing some kind of retraining.

The two main areas in which people do apprenticeships are in business and administration and  health and public services. The next larges category is Engineering, but this is a long way behind the first two….  

Analysis of these statistics

Apprenticeships now make up a significant part of the Vocational landscape, with 5 million people in the UK either doing or having done an apprenticeship, that is around 1 in 7 of the UK Workforce!

The fact that the numbers of apprenticeships is levelling out is probably due to their having reached saturation point – they couldn’t keep on growing forever – eventually the numbers have to plateau because the workforce isn’t constantly increasing, thus you wouldn’t expect the numbers of apprenticeships to increase forever either.

The fact that half of all apprenticeships are taken up by over 25 year olds suggest they are playing a key role in helping people to retrain in later life and change careers. Maybe one of the functions of apprenticeships is that they help workers adapt to an ever-changing postmodern economy with its flexible labour market.  

Apprenticeships also seem to be growing in status, with an increase in the relative number of higher apprenticeships, which are degree level qualifications.

On the other hand, many apprenticeships are also in low-skilled work such as the care sector.

One possible criticisms of the apprenticeship landscape is that there isn’t a huge amount of diversity – the majority of them are in business and administration and public sector/ care work.

But at the end of the day, whatever we think about Apprenticeships they are probably here to stay!

Apprenticeships: find out more

These are the latest apprenticeship statistics

This is a nice data visualisation tool on apprenticeships which will make exploring them further much more fun!

The Recent Budget – An end to Neoliberalism?

The recent UK Budget saw a nominally right wing Conservative government pledge more money for public services and introduce pay and universal credit increases for the lowest paid.

Following a huge increase in borrowing during the Pandemic and a recent increase in National Insurance contributions (basically a tax increase) this hardly seems like a government committed to a neoliberal agenda.

Maybe this is because neoliberalism just can’t respond to these current crises – the public sector (the NHS) has been so central in the ‘fight the Pandemic’ narrative that this requires continued high levels of funding – which in turn requires a certain level of taxable income, which requires decent wages.

And ‘deregulation’, another tenet of neoliberalism hardly fits the appetite for policing the pandemic.

And leaving employment up the free-market hasn’t worked in many sectors following Brexit – it turns out that many migrant labourers now see themselves as better off simply staying in their home countries such as Romania rather than coming to Britain to work on a temporary VISA, and so raising the minimum wage is necessary to make work pay.

The government simply has to step in and legislate to prop up wages and take on debt to stimulate the public sector – otherwise millions of the working poor would find themselves earning too little to meet their basic needs.

It would seem that even a government nominally committed to neoliberalism can’t follow through with a neoliberal agenda at this time!?!

Facebook: putting profit over safety

According to ex Facebook employee Frances Haugen Facebook’s puts its profits over protecting users from harm – over the last several years it has consciously chosen to recommend posts which spread online hate and encourage addictive behaviour rather than protect users.

Haugen has gone on record stating that Facebook’s own research shows that many children show addictive patterns of behaviour when using Instagram – it doesn’t make them happy, but they can’t stop using the app.

She also says that Facebook recommends extremist and radical material to people, creating divisions, because such material holds people’s attention for longer and this increases their advertising revenue. This may well include content that is hateful towards to women and is very much in line with findings from this documentary.

Finally she says that Facebook’s safety department is relatively understaffed compared to other departments – more people are employed in tweaking its algorithm for profit compared to keeping people safe.

And funnily enough Facebook recently announced it would be rebranding to ‘Meta’ – this is typically what companies do when the criticisms mount up – so as deflect negative attention away.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is of relevance to the Media Option, and is also supporting evidence of how TNCs spread harms, supporting the Marxist Theory of crime (possibly!)

Sources

BBC News article on Facebook’s putting profit over user safety.

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Women are Receiving more Online Abuse than Ever…

Social Media can be a toxic place for women who are getting more online hate than ever, while companies such as Facebook prefer to profit from this trend rather than protect the female victims, and the police lack the expertise (or the resources/ willpower) to do anything about it either.

This is based on research outline in a recent Panorama documentary fronted by Marianna Spring – BBC’s disinformation and social media reporter.

Social media platforms such as Facebook direct people who show an interest in it to hateful content in order to increase their profit margins.

Why do men think it’s oK to send women hateful messages online?

The extent of online hate against women

The documentary consists of Marianna’s own experience, interviews with very minor celebrities and politicians and some more quantitative analysis, so all in all not a bad mix of methods.

Marianna herself has been keeping an 18 month video diary about the online abuse she’s been receiving – which include rape threats, frequent use of C and F word and lots of sexualised commentary – much of it is too explicit to publish on the BBC!

DEMOS analysed more than 94 000 posts and comments about Love Island and Married at First Sight.

Women received more abusive comments that men and the abuse was focused on their gender – with women being accused of being manipulative and sexual while men were accused of not being masculine enough.

Ethnic minority women also received more abuse than white women.

Women MPs also receive a disproportionate amount of hate – the show features Ruth Davidson who used to be an MP who got a lot of online abuse and who thinks men might target such women as they don’t like powerful women voicing their opinions.

The UN asked over 700 women prominent on social media – 1 in 5 women said they’d experienced harm in the real world and that this was linked to their online activity. Women who reported on disinformation were more likely to be targeted in real life.

Ineffective policing of online hate against women

In Spring 2021 Marianna started to receive more violent comments, one possibly by someone with a prior conviction for stalking.

She reported this to the MET in April – but by the shooting of the documentary (late summer I think this was) nothing has been done – she had been passed around liaison officers who seemed to lack the ‘expertise’ to do anything about it, her latest doesn’t know how to use Instagram for example.

There has been more than a 100% increase in women reporting online hate in the past four years, but only a 32% increase in the number of arrests.

New research suggests that 97% of accounts reported to Twitter and Facebook (Instagram) for posting hate messages about women are not taken down.

Facebook spreads Online Hate against women

The final section of the documentary involved an experiment in which a fake profile was set up with the same interests as some of the accounts well known for posting abusive comments against women.

The account didn’t post anything itself, it just followed other accounts and got recommendations based on that.

TikTok and Twitter didn’t recommend any misogynistic content, YouTube recommend some but not too much.

But Facebook and Instagram were the worst- they directed the new account towards a whole online world of hate against women.

Relevance to A-level sociology

The evidenced outlined in this documentary is an unfortunate reminder that women are still more likely to be victims of abuse than men, in this case, online abuse in the public realm.

This is most relevant to the gender and crime topic studied as part of the Crime and Deviance module, usually taught in the second year.

It’s also a warning to stay away from Instagram and Facebook where you can – use TikTok and Twitter instead.

Facebook may change its ways, but clearly it’s set up to put profit before ethics, this won’t change.

Jews and Muslims Unite to Help Combat Poverty

Sociology is usually all doom and gloom, but here’s a nice example of something positive for once…

This community food kitchen in Nottingham is a joint project between Jews and Muslims which takes surplus food from supermarkets and cooks it to distribute it to those in financial difficulty.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is a great example of a project where religion is working to promote consensus in society, relevant to the beliefs in society module.

Although NB this is thought to be the ONLY joint project between Jews and Muslims in the UK.

But at least it goes to show that religious difference don’t have to be a source of conflict!

Just a quick post for today, they can’t all be 500 or more words long!

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Organised Crime Thrived During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Criminal Contagion: How Mafias, Gangsters and Scammers profit from a Pandemic is a recent study produced by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime.

As the title suggests the book is an exploration of how Organised Crime has exploited opportunties during the Pandemic, and been thriving as a result.

As lockdowns closed down businesses, Organised Crime stepped up and transformed their practices to take advantage of the opportunities provided with people losing their jobs and just the general fear and confusing.

How organised crime exploited the pandemic

There was a massive increase in Cyberscams targeting both businesses and individuals offering such things as free Coronavirus testing kits and some of the government sites offering financial helps were cloned by criminal organisations to phish for people’s personal details.

There was even one website which offered ‘Coronavirus anti virus software’ which you could download to protect you from Coronavirus – playing on people’s fear and confusion (NB people did actually fall for this). Of course this was just a virus which extracted information from any computer it was downloaded to.

Online porn also increased massively – along with the exploitation of people uploading ‘home made content’ – regulating this kind of thing is difficult, to say the least.

One case from South Africa outlined a case where local gangs were going around houses telling people that cash was one of the main things that was spreading the disease and that people should hand over their cash so it could be cleaned.

Mafia Loan sharking also increased – with loan sharks preying on the many people who lost their jobs during the Pandemic.

The drug trade, however, remained relatively unchanged by the Pandemic, which is surprising given the closing down of trafficking routes. This was because many organisations had large stockpiles of drugs ready to sell, and a lot of health shipments related to the Pandemic (PPE shipments for example) actually contained drugs.

On the street level, local drug dealers dressed as health officials so they appeared as legitimated public officials out and about during lockdowns.

The Pandemic also put extra pressure on Criminal Justice Systems around the world – courts closed, and public order officials were hardest hit with sickness as they were on the frontline, compromising their ability to police the pandemic.

There was also a mass release of criminals from prisons as these were a main vector of transmission of the virus, including four major Mafia bosses in Italy.

In many countries where there is massive corruption, a lot of the funds released for public health made their way to private hands.

Source: I took this summary from this most excellent Thinking Allowed Podcast. (September 2021).

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is fantastic resource for students studying the Crime and Deviance module in their second year!

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Paedophile-Priests and the Declining Signficance of Religion…..

A recent report found that there have been at least 216 000 child victims of sexual abuse since the 1950s at the hands of clergy and other officials working for the Catholic Church in France.

The victims are mainly teenage boys and the figures are probably an underestimate. There could well be over 300 000 victims.

The report found evidence of 3200 abusers out of a total of 115 000 priests in France.

The report took two years and involved looking at historical records of church cases and inteviews with victims and their families.

To date (as I understand it) not one of these paedophile-priests has been prosecuted. There has been a culture in the Cahtolic Church in France of covering all of this up and allowing the abuse to just carry on even though it was widely known it was taking place.

It was only in 2019 that the Pope changed the law in the Vatican to explicitly criminalise sexual abuse, including the grooming of minors, and removed the discretion of senior clergy to simply ignore the existence of abuse if they were aware of it going on.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This grim report is of obvious relevance to anyone studying the beliefs in society option and the crime and deviance compulsory aspect of A-level sociology.

I guess students could use this material in relation to the question of whether religion causes conflict or consensus in society. Certainly now this is out in the open the church is clearly in conflict with mainstream values which see Paedophilia as one of the worst crimes.

In terms of Crime and Deviance it shows the context dependency of deviance – child abuse is universally condemned in society, but not in the Catholic Church’s recent history.

It also offers some support for the Marxist theory – that the crimes of the powerful are more costly than the crimes of the poor, and also shows us how the powerful can cover up their crimes and avoid punisment.

This will also probably lead to the further decline of the Catholic Church – now that it is out that this level of abuse has been happening but ignored it just shows how this institution isn’t really ‘sacred’ at all, it just carried on tolerating these hideous crimes to protect its own reputation.

Hidden Girls – A Documentary on the Exploitation of Girls in Gangs

Gangs in the UK are increasingly ‘recruiting’ very young girls, as young as 10, to hold and run drugs and weapons for them and, for the even more unfortunate, to use as sex-slaves.

It seems that girls are very much the victims within gangs, as they have very little chance of moving up the gang hierarchy. They may well make it to the status of ‘youngers’ but it seems that’s where their progression stops – the best they can hope for is to be in the front line running drugs and weapons and recruiting more girls into sexual exploitation.

They have almost no chance of becoming elders, the people who run local gang cells.

If you want a thoroughly depressing watch, then Hidden Girls on BBC3 (available on iplayer) is for you.

The documentary focusses on two female victims of gang exploitation, exploring how they got involved with the gangs, what gang life was like and how they got out of the cylce of exploitation.

The main method used is semi-structured interviews with the two victims, and also some other professionals who work in the field.

Both victims had very unstable home backgrounds from a young age – one talks of how she experienced her mother (not herself) being abused constantly by her father, and when that relationship ended her mother eventually ended up with a new partner who was a gang member and her house became a base for drug dealing, she was roped into the gang that way, eventually ending up holding drugs and weapons for the gang, from when she was 12.

She doesn’t recount too much about her life as a gang member, but she ended up in what she thought was a ‘loving relationship’ as a teenager with a gang member in their 20s, and I dread to think what kind of abuse she suffered, although this isn’t talked about explicitly.

She went through years of self-harming but eventually managed to get out through finding a place in a ‘safe-house’ with a key worker to support her.

The other victim talks about how she was (basically) neglected at home with there frequently being no food or other amenities – washing her hair with cold water and fairy liquid was normal.

She ended up hanging around with a gang, from the age of 11, because she enjoyed the banter and jokes, getting giving stuff for free, and eventually being asked to hold weapons and drugs.

It sounds like she avoided sexual exploitation herself, but only because she had an older girl friend in the gang who advised her that if she wanted to avoid the dreaded ‘line-up’ ritual (where several male gang members have sex with one girl at once) she had to bring in other young girls and persuade them to be the sex-slaves.

She now regrets all the victims she created and runs Out of the Shadows – an organisation aimed to help young people out of a life of crime.

The documentary also talks about how social media is facilitating the sexual exploitation of young girls, although the links to gangs in relation to social media aren’t really explored.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This post has primarily been written for students of A-level sociology and this material on female victims in gangs is mainly relevant to the Crime and Deviance topic.

More specifically it is relevant to the topic of gender and crime – it is support for the view that female criminals (because these victims are also criminals) usually come from a background of abuse and neglect at home.

It also reminds us just how much gangs are a male phenomenon, with females being victims within the gang structure.

So there is obvious relevance to the topic of victimology here too, these are good examples of hidden victims.

This topic is also worth exploring for research methods – according to the woman who set up Out of the Shadows it is very difficult to access these female victims while they are victims – they tend to keep quiet about their exploitation and suffer in silence, so methodologically this means there is no reliable data on the extent of female victimisation in gangs and it might only be possible to explore this from a historical point of view, once they are out.

Needless to say this is also a sensitive topic, so an interesting one from an ethics point of view.

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