England still stands outside Europe

That’s what British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote at the end of the First World War, one hundred years ago (in The Economic Consequences of the Peace).

“England still stands outside Europe. Europe’s voiceless tremors do not reach her. Europe is apart and England is not of her flesh and body. But Europe is solid with herself. France, Germany, Italy, Austria, and Holland, Russia and Roumania and Poland throb together, and their structure and civilisation are essentially one.”

Now, one hundred years later, Britain’s inequality is staggering, so bad that it pulls down the measure for equality for the entire EU, yet Brits have been told that the EU is to blame for their misery, along with lots of other lies.

One hundred years ago, Keynes wrote about how odd it was for him, an Englishman based in Paris for a while, to go back to London for quick visits and find it so distant.

“But it is under the influence of Paris, not London, that this book has been written by one who, though an Englishman, feels himself a European also, and, because of too vivid recent experience, cannot disinterest himself – as opposed to the people in Britain at the time, AS – from the further unfolding of the great historic drama of these days which will destroy great institutions, but may also create a new world.”

Is England, one hundred years later, still as aloof, and still as deaf and blind to what is going on in the world?

And does the EU, in order to flourish, really need a Britain that loves to be proud of how it isolates itself from the rest of the world and how it milks its poor to balance its books?

I worry more about the negative influence that this may have on other countries than that I “worry” about the boost foreigners provide to the British economy year after year after year and what they do for people’s outlook on life.

When you hear Brits in southern England say, angrily, “What’s he got to be smiling about?” – and perhaps even with suspicion – about a young Polish man with a positive outlook on life, meaning that he won’t let the rain in his life bring him down, and when you literally hear Brits curse all day long you realise that Britain’s problem isn’t the EU.

Britain is the fifth richest nation in the world. This means that it could do so much better for its own people, but its government refuses to, and fights its own people, the EU and UN on these points, spending quite a bit of money on it, too:

https://angelinasouren.com/2018/01/31/the-illegality-of-british-government-actions/

Yes, I too feel that some European regulations are getting out of hand. It seems ridiculous that you literally can’t serve coffee or tea with cookies without needing to go on a course first. But if I then think of the two recent deaths that occurred in Britain because two young women with severe allergies were served food (in a commercial setting) that was supposed to be free from allergens but wasn’t, I see the point.

When your life depends on the government…

“A cross-party group of MPs has criticised the Department for Work and Pensions’ “culture of indifference” after it took six years to correct a major error which left chronically-ill and disabled benefit claimants thousands of pounds out of pocket.

An estimated 70,000 claimants were underpaid by between £5,000 and £20,000 between 2011 and 2016 because the DWP failed to ensure they received the correct amounts when moving them from incapacity benefit on to the employment and support allowance (ESA).”

“As well as losing out on thousands of pounds through underpayments, the DWP’s failure to check claimants’ entitlements meant some were also denied their rights to help with dentistry costs, as well as free school meals and free medical prescriptions.”

“After years of “inertia” it (the Department for Work and Pensions – AS) began to put in place a repayment plan in 2017, and then only after receiving advice that it had a legal responsibility to act.”

Source: Patrick Butler in The Guardian at https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/18/disability-claimants-owed-340m-after-dwp-blunder-say-mps

See also this other article by Patrick Butler: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/18/government-will-pay-arrears-thousands-benefit-claimants-backdated-2011

It’s common in Britain to have to take the government to court to get it to do what it is supposed to do. See this post: https://angelinasouren.com/2018/01/31/the-illegality-of-british-government-actions/

Waarom de Britten ons haten – en wat we eraan kunnen doen

Tuurlijk, “de” Brit bestaat niet. En er zijn ook massa’s Britten die ons helemaal niet haten. Maar Britten die ons wel haten, waar komt dat door? Ik heb het eens op een rijtje gezet.

    • Een rotsvast geloof dat andere EU landen arme lage-lonenlanden zijn waar productie naartoe is verhuisd waardoor Britse fabrieken moesten sluiten. (Men denkt ook dat uit de EU stappen betekent dat die fabrieken terugkeren.)
    • De overtuiging dat EU burgers naar het VK komen omdat ze denken dat ze daar meer kunnen verdienen maar er de lonen laag houden omdat ze voor minder geld werken dan Britten. (Men concludeert dus dat uit de EU stappen tot hogere lonen in het VK gaat leiden.)
    • Het idee dat de meeste EU burgers laag zijn opgeleid en hier banen inpikken die laag opgeleide Britten zouden moeten hebben. (Men concludeert dus dat uit de EU stappen betekent dat er in het VK meer banen vrij komen voor laag opgeleide Britten. In werkelijkheid is het niveau van de Britten zelf niet zo hoog en draaien veel faciliteiten hier op buitenlanders omdat de Britten het zonder die buitenlanders simpelweg niet zouden redden. Een vaak genoemd voorbeeld is de Britse gezondheidszorg. Zonder buitenlanders zou de National Health Service instorten en de uittocht van de nu al door Brexit verdreven buitenlanders heeft de problemen binnen de Britse gezondheidszorg nog veel groter gemaakt.)
    • Het idee dat de Britse gezondheidszorg van een dermate hoog niveau is dat buitenlanders in drommen naar het VK toe stromen omdat ze in het VK niet voor gezondheidszorg hoeven te betalen en dat dit de reden is dat de NHS in grote problemen verkeert. Health tourism. (Het gaat in werkelijkheid om 0.3% van het budget van de NHS. Het bestrijden van dit vermeende enorme misbruik kost veel meer dan het kan opleveren en leidt er soms ook toe dat Britse kankerpatiënten, zwangere vrouwen etc. de deur wordt gewezen. Dat lossen de Britten dan op met crowdfunding.)
    • Het in oktober 2017 en februari 2018 door James O’Shaughnessy (Health Minister) heel geniepig gesuggereerde idee dat buitenlanders in het VK geen belasting betalen. Helaas namen de media deze uitspraken klakkeloos over en gaven ze geen tegengas.
    • Het idee dat het onderwijs in alle andere landen veel slechter is dan in het VK.
    • De overtuiging dat buitenlanders er altijd op uit zijn om je een loer te draaien. (De Brit Richard Lewis, in When Cultures Collide, noemt dit “British insularity”.)
    • De overtuiging dat EU burgers naar het VK komen om hier te luieren en van uitkeringen te genieten. (Dit gaat volkomen voorbij aan het feit dat EU burgers niet meteen aanspraak kunnen maken op uitkeringen; je moet daarvoor al een tijd in het VK hebben gewoond en gewerkt en ook dan kun je minder rechten hebben dan Britten. In werkelijkheid dragen EU burgers bovendien gemiddeld 2 miljard per jaar bij aan het VK, en dat is netto.)
    • Soms ook de overtuiging dat sommige landen in het midden Oosten deel uitmaken van de EU en/of dat buitenlanders vaker terroristen zijn.
    • Omdat Theresa May mensen doet geloven dat dat is wat goede Britten doen. (Donald Trump gaat in de praktijk minder ver dan de Britse regering. Hij respecteert bovendien, voorzover mij bekend, de Amerikaanse wetten en de rechtbanken. De Britse regering doet dat beslist niet en lapt zowel de rechters als de wetten nogal eens aan de laars.)

Politici, de Britse overheid en media liegen hier aantoonbaar over en worden desondanks geloofd. Het is namelijk de emotionele respons die de overtoon speelt, niet de rationele.

Er is veel diepe armoede in het VK, dus veel angst, stress, onmacht en wanhoop.

Er is dus hoop nodig.

Het is voor veel Britten makkelijker om te geloven dat hun ellende door buitenlanders komt dan te accepteren dat hun eigen regering hen voortdurend uitmelkt en een poot uitdraait.

Dat leidt namelijk tot de hoop dat het ooit beter wordt.

Daar ligt dus de oplossing. Hoe voeg je hoop toe op een manier die de haat juist minder maakt? Niet door het rationeel aan te pakken maar door de emoties aan te spreken.

Dat zou bijvoorbeeld kunnen doordat buitenlanders met genoeg geld in de arme wijken Britse steden structureel (een keer per maand?) briefjes geld gaan verspreiden en er publiciteit aan wijden zodat de associatie tussen narigheid en buitenlanders wordt doorbroken.

Er is al iemand geweest die zoiets heeft gedaan, die in een stadsdeel her en der geld had verstopt.

Je zou vliegtuigjes kunnen laten overvliegen met een lange banner (“Holland/The EU/Poland/France/Italy/Spain/Germany/Denmark/… loves you!”) en van waaruit briefjes van 5, 10, 20 en 50 naar beneden dwarrelen.

Je kan ook vanuit het buitenland enveloppen met bijvoorbeeld een briefje van 20 pond erin anoniem gaan sturen aan adressen in arme Britse wijken met daarin bijvoorbeeld ook de tekst “The EU loves you!”.

Voedselpakketjes sturen mag natuurlijk ook.

(Voedsel vanuit vliegtuigjes droppen raad ik niet aan vanwege de eventuele schade.)

Het trieste van het bovenstaande is dat het Britse regeringsbeleid de mythes in realiteit aan het omzetten is. Door rijbewijzen en paspoorten in te nemen, mensen te pas en onpas op te pakken en voor onbepaalde tijd vast te zetten (en na vrijlating identiteitsbewijzen in beslag genomen te houden), het vinden van werk en woonruimte te blokkeren en Britten zeer hoge boetes te geven voor collaboratie met verdacht gemaakte buitenlanders (zoals het verhuren van kamers) en buitenlands gedrag te criminaliseren worden buitenlanders (maar ook soms ethnische Britten evenals Britten die een vreemde achternaam hebben of met een buitenlander zijn getrouwd) de ellende in gedreven.

Tegengas is dus hard nodig.

Hieronder staan wat linkjes naar Engelstalige informatie. Continue reading

Public transport accessibility

Once you start thinking about how many of the impairments of physically non-mainstream people are created by society, you notice it increasingly frequently.

 

Why, for instance, isn’t it much easier to roll onto a train than it currently is in most cases?

(For blind, deaf, and deaf-blind people, more could be done as well, but that kind of research, into wearable technology that connects with the already present station networks, is underway.)

About a week ago, someone tweeted about a very positive experience with Eurostar. Others reported similar experiences. But it still involves complicated activities that simply shouldn’t be necessary.

In my home country, it’s no better. If you’re in a wheelchair, you can get the required assistance that enables you to travel by train, but I think that you actually have to book it in advance. So, while the rest of us simply hop on the train to the next town if we suddenly feel like attending a theatre performance or concert of any kind, anyone who uses a wheelchair is probably forced to jump through multiple hoops first and then realizes he or she won’t be able to get to the event in time.

(At this point, I am not aware of any transport-related research in my home country that focuses on accessibility, but I have not concluded my little investigation yet and still need to make some phone calls as well.)

Why don’t trains come with automatically extending ramps that lower onto the platform?

In the rare cases that the platform is higher than the train floor, they should not extend, of course, but that can be accomplished either sensor-based or programmed.

Someone on Twitter (Sven Slootweg: thanks!) helpfully made a drawing for me:

Well, here is one possible answer as to why no innovation is taking place, for the case of Britain:

https://www.standard.co.uk/business/business-focus-why-your-boxfresh-train-is-being-replaced-by-a-brand-new-model-a3766501.html

I also ran into some other news, though, and sent the message below to the Spanish manufacturer of those new trains. I am looking forward to hearing back from them.

Hello,

I saw that you are constructing new trains for Britain (here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-42937218).

As you probably know, 10 to 20% of any population is considered “disabled” but many physical impairments are actually caused by hindrances created by society.

By 2050, there are expected to be nearly one billion urban dwellers who are “disabled”. How are you taking them into account in your new designs? Do your trains have automatic extending hinging ramps that lower onto the platform so that anyone in a wheelchair can easily roll on and roll off and make use of public transport just as easily as anybody else?

I am neither disabled nor looking after someone who is disabled. I am merely becoming increasingly aware of how biased society is toward mainstream people.

I look forward to your reply. Thank you.

Kind regards,

Angelina Souren

There is no way that they can ignore such a large proportion of the human population, and I can imagine that increasing accessibility, also for parents with small children, would also improve punctuality.

As someone else commented or hinted at (a blog post for which I currently don’t have the link at hand), such automatic ramps would likely also be very handy for freight trains.

For more on the topic, see for instance this article in The Guardian:
https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/14/what-disability-accessible-city-look-like

UK police liability becoming a real thing

The Supreme Court, in Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police [2018] UKSC 4, has declared that if “a third party such as a pedestrian is injured as a result of a negligent arrest on the street by a police officer, the police are liable in negligence where that injury was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the police’s actions.”

Read more, here:
http://www.ukpolicelawblog.com/index.php/9-blog/163-an-assault-on-hill-police-liability-in-negligence-narrowed

It’s always annoyed me immensely that British police could almost never be held accountable for anything they did. It’s a recipe for carelessness, almost literally, when duty of care does not apply.

So I am pleased to see that a little bit more liability is finally appearing.

(I used to have an interesting in policing and the law a few years ago but local police officers weren’t very fond of that, I was made to understand, and I decided to drop it.)

Filthy EU migrants contributed over 20 billion pounds to Britain in past decade

UCL study finds EU migrants to Britain contribute big time in taxes:
https://www.ft.com/content/c49043a8-6447-11e4-b219-00144feabdc0?segmentid=acee4131-99c2-09d3-a635-873e61754ec6

The idea that EU migrants would come to Britain for benefits is utterly preposterous. Sorry, I can’t make this any prettier than it already is! Yay!

I’ll leave it at that and will resume my bioethics focus in my posts (am currently tackling the matter of wrongful life cases, which needed more depth in my book, and then I’ll be largely done).

I think it is impossible anyway to convince people who firmly believe that migrants are all “filthy thieves” of the fact that we’re not. It’s not about the truth, it is about what they need to believe for themselves to keep their world whole, somehow. It probably has to do with the inequality that  the British government imposes on them.

But guess what, we contribute a lot more than mere money, too. We are all from nations with much greater equality than Britain, for example. (Yes, all other 27 nations in the EU have greater equality.) Our insights and experiences help make Britain a better place for everyone.

Dutch in the UK

Someone posted the following on Twitter:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Two responses from Brits:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Human rights and Britain

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
Continue reading

We need a global guideline for eugenics – urgently

People are currently focusing on Trump and his silly comments, but perhaps they should be focussing on Britain.

A few days ago, British newspaper The Guardian reported about a eugenics meeting that allegedly had been convened in secret, involving someone who has previously advocated child rape. This meeting is supposed to have taken place at University College London and white supremacists supposedly were present at this meeting. Continue reading

More and more young people are falling into debt – but it’s not their fault


File 20171019 1045 1vv28ed.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Paying the price.
Derwent Living/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Alex Simpson, University of Brighton

The UK has a consumer debt crisis and it is young people, aged 18 to 34, who are most vulnerable. National unsecured debt – which includes credit cards, overdrafts and car loans – has topped £200 billion for the first time since the global financial crisis struck in 2008. But the concentration of debt, and the experiences of vulnerability, are not shared out equally.

Andrew Bailey, the head of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), has warned that there is a “pronounced build-up of indebtedness amongst the younger age group”. He was responding to the FCA’s Financial Lives Survey which showed that 55% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 63% of 25- to 34-year-olds are in debt, owing on average over £8,000.

These numbers alone are cause for alarm, and that’s before even considering the harms and vulnerability that over-indebtedness brings. Any debt organisation will tell you about the damage which debt causes to mental and physical health. And yet so many young people are forced into debt, often before they start any meaningful form of work.

This problem should not be seen as a product of “binge” culture, and young people should not just be told to rein in their spending. Rather, this is a problem of affordability.

A house and a car? Keep dreaming.
Oscar F. Hevia/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Rising housing costs; an increase in zero-hours contracts; inflation outstripping wages; the rapid rise in student loans – all of these issues are creating a cage of debt around young people. While the older generation retains financial security through assets (usually in the form of housing) and enjoys greater security in work, the younger generation is more likely to be exposed to the risks of private renting and job insecurity.

How did it come to this?

Amid the global panic arising from the 2008 financial crisis, the UK government propped up a failing banking sector with £1,162 billion in support. At this moment, the private financial crisis turned into a public state crisis.

Crises are usually defined by change, signalling an end to the unstable conditions of the past. Yet the enduring legacy of the financial crisis has been a transformation of the role of the state and public finances, which has left young people in an even more precarious position.


Read more: Period poverty: why one in ten young women struggle to afford pads and tampons


Ten years on from the financial crisis, and eight years after the introduction of the welfare-stripping austerity agenda, one thing still holds true: it is the people who contributed the least towards the crisis who are paying the highest price.

A raw deal

As the UK government continues to pay back its own debts by cutting costs and squeezing out savings, it is really young people who are carrying the burden of debt. What’s worse is, they don’t really have a choice.

In the years since the crisis, fiscal responsibility has been transferred from the state onto the individual. In other words, rather than the state providing services to ensure a basic level of well-being for everyone, it’s increasingly up to individuals to pay the price for their own education, housing and health care.

Students protest against £9,000 tuition fees, London 2010.
Binary Ape/Flickr, CC BY

Nowhere is this clearer than in higher education; whereas the state once invested in the futures of the young, it now saddles university graduates with an average debt of £25,505 each.

Even the government’s flagship apprenticeship scheme uses young people for cheap labour, with 18-year-olds paid as little as £3.40 an hour.

All this means that, unless young people have the financial support of a parent, they are forced to rely on an increasingly punitive and complex benefit system or (more likely) be pushed down the pathway to debt. In these circumstances, it’s unsurprising that debt has become a “lifeline” for so many.

The ConversationDebt is a major political instrument of control, and it should be seen as such. Individuals shoulder the burden of debt, but it is not an individual problem; it is a problem of society. It is no accident that the young are indebted in the way that they are: it is the product of years of neglect and a lack of investment by the state. The political choices of the UK government got young people into this mess. Now, political action should be used to help them out.

Alex Simpson, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Brighton

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why is it so hard for the wrongfully jailed to get justice?

Linda Asquith, Leeds Beckett University

Imagine for a moment you are wrongfully convicted of a crime. You get sent to prison, where you start to serve out your sentence – every minute of every day knowing you are innocent. Then the unthinkable happens and you are released. You are elated – this is the moment you’ve been waiting for.

But those feelings of elation and happiness quickly turn to fear and despair as you realise you have nowhere to go. Your old life as you knew it is gone, you have no way of supporting yourself, your relationships have broken down and you have nowhere to turn to for support.

Sadly, this is the reality many exonerees face when they are trying to put their lives back together. Many of these people – who have in some cases spent years behind bars – find upon release that their problems are only exacerbated. Wrongfully wrenched from their families, homes and communities, they struggle to reintegrate into society when they return.

And things seem to be made worse because unlike prisoners who have access to support to help them resettle when they are released from prison, those who suffer a miscarriage of justice do not get this.

“Rightfully convicted” individuals are provided with a plan for release from prison – often starting months in advance. This involves a range of activities, all of which are aimed at helping the person to resettle back into the community. But exonerees have none of these preparations – and often receive very little notice of their release.

Victor Nealon, for example, served 16 years in prison after he was falsely charged with rape. He received three hours’ notice of his release, and ended up in a bed and breakfast on his first night as a free man – he had nowhere else to go.

An unfamiliar world

The wrongfully convicted don’t receive any preparation for their release because of the way the prison system works. Prisoners have to show they are “tackling their offending behaviour” to gain parole. But if you haven’t committed the crime in the first place, this is not possible. The end result is that a person may spend longer in prison than if they had committed the offence and admitted it.

Upon release, the wrongfully convicted are thrust into a world they are unfamiliar with – and they have zero support or guidance. It’s common for exonerees to develop PTSD as a result of their wrongful conviction, alongside other mental and physical health problems requiring significant support.

This in part happens because as soon as the conviction is quashed, these people are no one’s responsibility. They are no longer a prisoner, or an ex-offender. There is no standard programme of support which is triggered at the point of release. And while probation would be well placed to support the wrongfully convicted, they cannot as they are not ex-offenders – ex-prisoners, yes, but not ex-offenders.

Say I’m innocent

There are only two specific organisations that provide support to exonerees. They are the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) based at the Royal Courts of Justice, and the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (MOJO). This was founded by Paddy Hill – one of the six men wrongly convicted of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings. He set it up in an attempt to provide the support to others that he was not given when released in 1991.

But both services are restricted by funding and staffing limitations, and while both organisations do superb work against a backdrop of austerity measures and extremely limited resources, both are at best a piecemeal response to what is, in reality, a government responsibility.

A recent BBC documentary called Fallout highlights these issues. The the director of the documentary Mark Mcloughlin has launched the “Say I’m Innocent” campaign, and is now fighting for all the services that are available to guilty prisoners on release to be made available to exonerees. The campaign is also calling for a public announcement of a person’s innocence upon their release. As well as other measure including a transition centre in both the UK and Ireland to allow them time and help to reintegrate into society.

The ConversationThis is important because the key issue here is responsibility. The state assumed responsibility for these individuals when they were wrongfully convicted. It is therefore only right that the state continues to take responsibility for them once exonerated.

Linda Asquith, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Leeds Beckett University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Britain’s unclaimed benefits: four million families miss out on £12.4 billion


File 20170915 8071 1kycsz5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Why aren’t people entitled to benefits claiming them?
via shutterstock.com

Dan Finn, University of Portsmouth

Up to £12.4 billion of means-tested benefits – including pension credit, housing benefit and jobseekers and employment support allowance – were left unclaimed in 2015-16, according to new data released by the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions.

Means-tested benefits are designed to ensure a minimum standard of living for Britain’s poorest families. But not all those people eligible are claiming them – in comparison to the near universal take-up rate of the basic state pension and widespread take-up of child benefit (which is taxable only for high earners).

Annual average amounts unclaimed by eligible families vary from an estimated £5,000 per year for those eligible for employment support allowance (for those with a disability or long-term illness), to £2,000 per year for those eligible for pension credit. In a parallel data series HM Revenue & Customs estimates take-up rates for tax credits – which are paid directly to qualifying low paid workers.

The latest data for 2014-15 adds further to the scale of unclaimed entitlements. The central estimate is that £2.3 billion of child tax credit and £3 billion of working tax credit went unclaimed by 640,000 families and 1.2m families respectively.

Improving take-up rates of means-tested benefits directly reduces poverty. Research also suggests that families who top up their income with benefits also have higher levels of health, family well-being, and employment participation and retention.

Why people don’t claim

The failure to claim benefits stems from a mix of social and economic circumstances, administrative structures, and complex eligibility rules. It may, for example, reflect a lack of awareness about the availability of the benefit or a potential claimant’s expectation that the costs involved in applying for the benefit outweigh the value of any payment.

But there is much evidence that a key factor undermining take-up is the poor design and delivery of the benefits system. Take-up has also been implicitly discouraged by policy changes targeted at some working age groups, especially the short-term unemployed. An increase in conditions and related sanctions are designed to get people into work as quickly as possible and, as a result, make their claims to benefits relatively short-lived.

Plus, the tenor of contemporary media narratives on welfare dependency has increased the stigma attached to claimants, especially people of working age. Research suggests this stigmatisation is linked to reductions in take-up and a reluctance to claim among potential beneficiaries, notably among pensioners.

The British government is unique in Europe in publishing robust annual estimates of benefit and tax credit take-up. The data for 2015-16 gives an insight into which families are at risk of poverty and claim the help from the state that they are entitled to, as the graph below shows.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/aa2BQ/1/

Take-up rates vary depending on the type of household. For example, while the overall take-up of housing benefit was 77%, it ranged from over 90% for singles with children to only 64% for those eligible in private rented accommodation. And while the main estimate for working tax credit was 65%, only 33% of eligible households without children were claiming it.

The data implies that those with greater entitlements are more likely to claim. A significant change since 2012-13 was a decrease of 11% in means-tested jobseekers allowance caseload take-up – people who are entitled to a benefit but who do not claim it. This may have been due to high employment rates, more stringent conditions attached to claiming unemployment benefit and the early impact of the new universal credit, which for working age people rolls most means-tested benefit entitlements into a single monthly payment.

Universal credit take-up must be measured

There are no estimates or commitment yet given to publish take-up data for universal credit, even though it is now claimed by 1.5m people and will, it is estimated, be claimed by nearly 6m households in 2021. One of the supposed principal benefits of universal credit is that it will improve take-up rates by making the system less complicated and easier to deliver.

The evidence on take-up suggests these assumptions are over optimistic. It will take time for awareness to develop about the new rules and regulations involved.

It is unlikely that public and voluntary sector organisations will be able to invest in the additional effort needed to inform potential claimants, front line delivery staff, and related intermediary organisations that assist more disadvantaged groups and communities. There is also a risk that the “default digital delivery” (which means that most universal credit claimants must apply and self-manage their claims online) may reduce and deter take-up among people without access to computers or the skills to navigate digital channels.

Means-tested entitlements will likely remain at the centre of the British welfare system, including for many pensioners. And measures to improve take-up will remain central to national and local poverty-reduction strategies. It’s therefore vital to continue publishing take-up data to gauge the future impact of universal credit and related welfare and pension reforms.

The ConversationIf universal credit take-up rates do not improve as anticipated, the government should establish and state what percentage of eligible people eligible it expects to take it up. Measuring take-up rates would provide an important way to assess the impact of universal credit and help establish a transparent benchmark to measure whether the new system is achieving its objectives of reducing poverty and incentivising work. The government might also consider investing some of the £12.4 billion unspent means-tested benefits to develop new ways to increase take-up.

Dan Finn, Emeritus Professor of Social Inclusion, University of Portsmouth

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Are energy efficiency programmes all they seem?

Ross Gillard, University of York and Carolyn Snell, University of York

The cost of energy in the UK is once again a hot topic. During the party conference season, Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, announced that the Scottish government will set up a publicly owned, not for profit energy company. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn restated his wish to nationalise utility companies to “stop the public being ripped off”. And the Conservative prime minister Theresa May promised to fix the “broken” energy market, in part by imposing a cap on some domestic energy prices.

The UK government swiftly followed this season of rhetoric with two supporting policy announcements. It has drawn up draft legislation to set an energy price cap, although this may take until the winter of 2018/19 to be enacted. Second, it has published a clean growth strategy, which promises “cleaner air, lower energy bills, greater economic security and a natural environment protected and enhanced for the future”.

It’s not easy to address the social, environmental and economic dimensions of domestic energy in one go, as these different goals interact with each other. For example, a price cap clearly makes energy more affordable, but it doesn’t reduce the amount of energy needed or used. While the sheer price of energy is problematic for many people, so too is inefficient housing which increases bills and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

The clean growth strategy addresses this by reconfirming a commitment to require large energy companies to install efficiency measures such as insulation and heating systems. This scheme, the energy company obligation (ECO), now has £3.6 billion in funding through to 2028. It aims to help 2.5m fuel-poor households. Alongside stricter regulations within the private rented sector, the ECO is intended to upgrade all fuel-poor homes to a decent standard by 2030.

But it’s worth putting the rhetoric and promises of these policy announcements into context. Help for people in fuel poverty has decreased since 2010, largely due to the coalition government abandoning publicly funded schemes in England in favour of privately funded energy supplier obligations like ECO. Though social and environmental policies do add to fuel bills, policymakers assume that this increase is more than offset by people using less energy thanks to efficiency savings.

How much heat is escaping out of your windows?
Ivan Smuk / shutterstock

In our research we are currently looking at whether ECO is an effective way to address affordability and energy efficiency in vulnerable people’s homes. England is the only one of the four UK nations that relies solely on this market-driven scheme, so it’s important to evaluate its impact. We recently highlighted a number of potential problems, and solutions. To begin with, only certain people are eligible. Proxies such as welfare benefits, demographics and postcodes are used, but they can arbitrarily exclude households on the margins of these measures who may indeed be vulnerable.

People also struggle to upgrade their homes if the work does not enable a certain amount of carbon savings at a certain price. In other words, private companies are likely to prioritise meeting their statutory obligations rather than findings and helping the most vulnerable households. Even for those that do secure funding, it’s at best a long and complicated process. Some upgrades are never completed because installers are not equipped to manage the needs of people with, for example, disabilities or mental health conditions.

What is clear from our comparative research of the UK nations is that state funded schemes, such as nest in Wales and home energy efficiency programmes in Scotland, are better able to target, and respond to the needs of, vulnerable households. Market driven schemes are different as they will, by definition, seek out the most cost effective work. But this ceases to be an asset once the low-hanging fruit has all been picked, and those with the greatest need (and potentially higher costs) are left subsidising other people’s housing upgrades.

The ConversationAn energy price cap will certainly provide some initial relief. But unless it is continually ratcheted down or extended to more customers it will not provide long-term savings or wider benefits. Increasing investment in energy efficiency ticks more social and environmental boxes, but the regressive approach to funding such a scheme in England means it will continue prioritising cost-effective carbon savings over helping those most in need.

Ross Gillard, Research associate, University of York and Carolyn Snell, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, University of York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why (ex)Hurricane Ophelia took a wrong turn towards Ireland and Britain – and carried all that dust

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Met Office

Alexander Roberts, University of Leeds

Hurricane Ophelia, by then downgraded to Storm Ophelia, reached Ireland on Monday October 16. At the time of writing there had already been three deaths and countless reports of severe damage to buildings and fallen trees. Unlike other severe storms to reach Ireland and Britain, such as the 1987 Great Storm, Ophelia was in many ways a typical tropical cyclone with a tight spiral of cloud, powerfully strong winds, and a cloud-free eye.

But what set it apart from other Atlantic hurricanes was its direct route to Europe. While hurricanes do sometimes take a circuitous route westward across the ocean and loop back again towards Europe, this one took a short cut.

Ophelia began as a rather innocuous looking group of clouds in the Atlantic Ocean, several hundred miles south-west of the Azores and roughly on the same latitude as Morocco or northern Florida. Yet even at this stage it was unusual. Most named storms in the Atlantic are generated in warmer waters much further south and, as such, they are generally driven across the ocean by the easterly (blowing westwards) trade winds. They eventually dissipate as they curve north into the Atlantic or make landfall in the Caribbean, Mexico or the US.

Tracks of all Atlantic hurricanes from 1851 to 2012.
Nilfanion / US National Hurricane Centre, CC BY-SA

In Ophelia’s case, moderate atmospheric shear (changes in direction and strength of wind with height) and relatively cool sea surface temperatures meant it took several days to develop the well-defined low pressure centre, strong winds and spiral clouds of a hurricane. Then, instead of travelling west, like most Atlantic hurricanes, Ophelia began to head north-east.

This can be explained by the position and strength of the mid-latitude jet stream, an atmospheric feature that plays a major role in determining the weather over Western Europe. When its path loops north over the UK it can produce stable warm conditions in the summer (as in the record-breaking heatwave of July 2015), and bright cold days in the winter. When its path west to east is more direct, it guides low pressure storm systems across the UK and Ireland and can be responsible for the rapid strengthening of storms in a short period of time (described colloquially by forecasters as a “weather bomb”).

https://giphy.com/embed/uDOWJ8J8zD1fy
A northwards loop of the jet stream (far right) guided Ophelia from the Azores to Ireland.

It is this that produced such a rapid change in direction for Ophelia. Such waves on the mid-latitude jet stream are not unusual, however, the combination of both the jet’s and Ophelia’s position produced the conditions to guide the ex-hurricane toward the British Isles.

Adrift in the Azores

Tropical cyclones that form in or travel to the region near the Azores can become trapped. Stronger vertical wind shear to the north and south as well as colder sea surface temperatures in the surroundings can lead to storms that travel very slowly and eventually dissipate due to unfavourable conditions.

If there is no external force that can help to steer the storm, but conditions remain favourable, then tropical cyclones can persist for a long time. An example of this was Hurricane Nadine which circled the same part of the ocean where Ophelia formed for almost a month in 2012, the fourth longest-lived Atlantic hurricane on record.

First part of Ophelia’s journey. Compare to the map above – very few hurricanes take this route.
US National Hurricane Centre

That may have been Ophelia’s fate too, had it not been for the mid-latitude jet stream which instead guided the hurricane directly toward Ireland. It is partly due to this behaviour that the forecasts have been so accurate. Jet streams are generally well represented in numerical weather models, and so their influence on a storm’s path can be well predicted.

Ahead of Ophelia’s arrival the UK had a weekend of unseasonably balmy temperatures thanks to warm tropical air driven northwards. This is partly due to the winds circulating around the Ophelia low pressure centre, but also the positioning of the jet stream helping to draw air up from the tropics.

What about that dust?

On Monday much of the UK looked far less like a hurricane had arrived, and much more like the whole country had been put through a rosy Instagram filter. The sun was particularly red at dawn and throughout much of the day the whole sky glowed a yellowy-orange.

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This effect was partly thanks to the southerly winds on Ophelia’s eastern side, which transported Saharan dust and smoke from Iberian forest fires. In fact several flights over the UK were forced to make emergency landings when smoke could be smelt in the cabin. Increased number of particles in the atmosphere then scattered light preferentially from the blue end of the spectrum, leaving the more orange and red colours to reach our eyes.

The ConversationBut Ophelia also produced a layer of upper level clouds, thick enough to block out much of the sun’s rays directly but thin enough to allow a large amount of diffuse, scattered light to pass through. On a day when the sky was not full of smoke and dust particles, this would have appeared like a run-of-the-mill white skied, overcast day. However, on Monday it led to Facebook feeds being filled with photos of a bright orange sun at midday and yellow clouds.

Alexander Roberts, Researcher, Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science (ICAS), University of Leeds

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why Brexit is a good thing

It is exposing flaws. It is shining a very bright light on all areas in which there has been room for a lot of improvement for a long time.

 

That improvement is only possible through major changes, and the halting of Brexit.

There is nothing new about the “mess” that Brexit has turned into. This situation, of British politicians making an ass of themselves, of the UK government thinking in “us” and “them” terms, and being unable to conduct negotiations at the international level has been in existence for many years. David Cameron was no better at it than Theresa May.

  • Want to recite another poem, Mr Johnson, and talk about a few more dead bodies that need to be moved out of the way?
  • The EU is the “enemy”, Mr Hammond? Really?

The Brexit mess shows very clearly that most British politicians lie all the time, that they are not striving to unite, but to divide and how they use humans to get what they want.

Most British voters believe the lies their politicians tell them. Because why else would they deliberately have voted for the destruction of their own future?  (Okay, some did that because they thought they would have no influence on what would happen next as the referendum was a non-binding one.)

The poorer and more powerless the masses are, the more power governments have.

In other countries too, many people are appalled about how the British government is currently using the three million Europeans – and other foreigners – in Britain as bargaining chip. But Britain doesn’t treat its own citizens any different.

The root cause of all the misery in the UK is a whopping degree of inequality, coupled to the fact that upward mobility is very limited here.

Class thinking lies at the base of all of this. The idea that there are “lesser” and “higher” humans – and the idea that your degree of humanity is measured as “net worth”.

How do we turn this class nonsense upside down?

Probably through a mass movement that consistently ridicules and devalues it.

By the way, where does Theresa May get her ill-fitting jackets from? This one seems to be missing one or more buttons. Did she dig it out of a tip somewhere?

Oh wait, the British have already been doing that for many years too…

Okay, I may have a better idea.

If you believe people are worthless, you make them worthless. If you believe someone cannot be trusted, you make that person untrustworthy. If you believe some people are powerful, you make them powerful.

Start every day with one thought. “Today, I am going to do at least one thing that will make someone else happy.” Regardless of who or what he or she is.

You won’t know what that one thing is until it happens.

 

PS

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PPS
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, a prime minister grabs his bicycle and rides it to the King’s palace to discuss the country’s new government.

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PPPS

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PPPPS

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Investing in warmer housing could save the NHS billions

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Bitterly cold.
Ruslan Guzov/Shutterstock

Dr Nathan Bray, Bangor University; Eira Winrow, Bangor University, and Rhiannon Tudor Edwards, Bangor University

British weather isn’t much to write home about. The temperate maritime climate makes for summers which are relatively warm and winters which are relatively cold. But despite rarely experiencing extremely cold weather, the UK has a problem with significantly more people dying during the winter compared to the rest of the year. In fact, 2.6m excess winter deaths have occurred since records began in 1950 – that’s equivalent to the entire population of Manchester.

Although the government has been collecting data on excess winter deaths – that is, the difference between the number of deaths that occur from December to March compared to the rest of the year – for almost 70 years, the annual statistics are still shocking. In the winter of 2014/15, there were a staggering 43,900 excess deaths, the highest recorded figure since 1999/2000. In the last 10 years, there has only been one winter where less than 20,000 excess deaths occurred: 2013/14. Although excess winter deaths have been steadily declining since records began, in the winter of 2015/16 there were still 24,300.

According to official statistics, respiratory disease is the underlying cause for over a third of excess winter deaths, predominantly due to pneumonia and influenza. About three-quarters of these excess respiratory deaths occur in people aged 75 or over. Unsurprisingly, cold homes (particularly those below 16°C) cause a substantially increased risk of respiratory disease and older people are significantly more likely to have difficulty heating their homes.

Health and homes

The UK is currently in the midst of a housing crisis – and not just due to a lack of homes. According to a 2017 government report, a fifth of all homes in England fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard – which is aimed at bringing all council and housing association homes up to a minimum level. Despite the explicit guidelines, an astonishing 16% of private rented homes and 12% of housing association homes still have no form of central heating.

Even when people have adequate housing, the cost of energy and fuel can be a major issue. Government schemes, such as the affordable warmth grant, have been implemented to help low income households increase indoor warmth and energy efficiency. However, approximately 2.5m households in England (about one in nine) are still in fuel poverty – struggling to keep their homes adequately warm due to the cost of energy and fuel – and this figure is rising.

Poor housing costs the NHS a whopping £1.4 billion every year. Reports indicate that the health impact of poor housing is almost on a par with that of smoking and alcohol. Clearly, significant public health gains could be made through high quality, cost-effective home improvements, particulalrly for social housing. Take insulation, for example: evidence shows that properly fitted and safe insulation can increase indoor warmth, reduce damp, and improve respiratory health, which in turn reduces work and school absenteeism, and use of health services.

Warmth on prescription

In our recent research, we examined whether warmer social housing could improve population health and reduce use of NHS services in the northeast of England. To do this, we analysed the costs and outcomes associated with retrofitting social housing with new combi-boilers and double glazed windows.

After the housing improvements had been installed, NHS service use costs reduced by 16% per household – equating to an estimated NHS cost reduction of over £20,000 in just six months for the full cohort of 228 households. This reduction was offset by the initial expense of the housing improvements (around £3,725 per household), but if these results could be replicated and sustained, the NHS could eventually save millions of pounds over the lifetime of the new boilers and windows.

The benefits were not confined to NHS savings. We also found that the overall health status and financial satisfaction of main tenants significantly improved. Furthermore, over a third of households were no longer exhibiting signs of fuel poverty – households were subsequently able to heat all rooms in the home, where previously most had left one room unheated due to energy costs.

Perhaps it is time to think beyond medicines and surgery when we consider the remit of the NHS for improving health, and start looking into more projects like this. NHS-provided “boilers on prescription” have already been trialled in Sunderland with positive results. This sort of cross-government thinking promotes a nuanced approach to health and social care.

The ConversationWe don’t need to assume that the NHS should foot the bill entirely for ill health related to housing, for instance the Treasury could establish a cross-government approach by investing in housing to simultaneously save NHS money. A £10 billion investment into better housing could pay for itself in just seven years through NHS cost savings. With a growing need to prevent ill health and avoidable death, maybe it’s time for the government to think creatively right across the public sector, and adopt a new slogan: improving health by any means necessary.

Dr Nathan Bray, Research Officer in Health Economics, Bangor University; Eira Winrow, PhD Research Candidate and Research Project Support Officer, Bangor University, and Rhiannon Tudor Edwards, Professor of Health Economics, Bangor University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The murky issue of whether the public supports assisted dying

Katherine Sleeman, King’s College London

The High Court has rejected a judicial review challenging the current law which prohibits assisted dying in the UK. Noel Conway, a 67-year-old retired lecturer who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2014, was fighting for the right to have medical assistance to bring about his death. Commenting after the judgement on October 5, his solicitor indicated that permission will now be sought to take the case to the appeal courts.

Campaigners are often quick to highlight the strength of public support in favour of assisted dying, arguing that the current law is undemocratic. But there are reasons to question the results of polls on this sensitive and emotional issue.

There have been numerous surveys and opinion polls on public attitudes towards assisted dying in recent years. The British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey, which has asked this question sequentially since the 1980s, has shown slowly increasing public support. Asked: “Suppose a person has a painful incurable disease. Do you think that doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient’s life, if the patient requests it?” in 1984, 75% of people surveyed agreed. By 1989, 79% of people agreed with the statement, and in 1994 it had gone up to 82%.

Detail of the question matters

But not surprisingly, the acceptability of assisted dying varies according to the precise context. The 2005 BSA survey asked in more depth about attitudes towards assisted dying and end of life care. While 80% of respondents agreed with the original question, support fell to 45% for assisted dying for illnesses that were incurable and painful but not terminal.

A 2010 ComRes-BBC survey also found that the incurable nature of illness was critical. In this survey, while 74% of respondents supported assisted suicide if an illness was terminal, this fell to 45% if it was not.

Wording counts.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

It may not be surprising that support varies considerably according to the nature of the condition described, but it is important. First, because the neat tick boxes on polls belie the messy reality of determining prognosis for an individual patient. Second, because of the potential for drift in who might be eligible once assisted dying is legalised. This has happened in countries such as Belgium which became the first country to authorise euthanasia for children in 2014, and more recently in Canada where within months of the 2016 legalisation of medical assistance in dying, the possibility of extending the law to those with purely psychological suffering was announced.

It’s not just diagnosis or even prognosis that influences opinion. In the US, Gallup surveys carried out since the 1990s have shown that support for assisted dying hinges on the precise terminology used to describe it. In its 2013 poll, 70% of respondents supported “end the patient’s life by some painless means” whereas only 51% supported “assisting the patient to commit suicide”. This gap shrank considerably in 2015 – possibly as a result of the Brittany Maynard case. Maynard, a high-profile advocate of assisted dying who had terminal cancer, moved from California to Oregon to take advantage of the Oregon Death with Dignity law in 2014.

Even so, campaigning organisations for assisted dying tend to avoid the word “suicide”. Language is emotive, but if we want to truly gauge public opinion, we need to understand this issue, not gloss over it.

Information changes minds

Support for assisted dying is crucially known to drop-off simply when key information is provided. Back in the UK, a ComRes/CARE poll in 2014 showed 73% of people surveyed agreed with legalisation of a bill which enables: “Mentally competent adults in the UK who are terminally ill, and who have declared a clear and settled intention to end their own life, to be provided with assistance to commit suicide by self-administering lethal drugs.” But 42% of these same people subsequently changed their mind when some of the empirical arguments against assisted dying were highlighted to them – such as the risk of people feeling pressured to end their lives so as not to be a burden on loved ones.

This is not just a theoretical phenomenon. In 2012, a question over legalising assisted dying was put on the ballot paper in Massachusetts, one of the most liberal US states. Support for legalisation fell in the weeks prior to vote, as arguments against legalisation were aired, and complexities became apparent. In the end, the Massachusetts proposition was defeated by 51% to 49%. Public opinion polls, in the absence of public debate, may gather responses that are reflexive rather than informed.

The ConversationPolls are powerful tools for democratic change. While opinion polls do show the majority of people support legalisation of assisted dying, the same polls also show that the issue is far from clear. It is murky, and depends on the responder’s awareness of the complexities of assisted dying, the context of the question asked, and its precise language. If we can conclude anything from these polls, it is not the proportion of people who do or don’t support legislation, but how easily people can change their views.

Katherine Sleeman, NIHR Clinician Scientist and Honorary Consultant in Palliative Medicine, King’s College London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Underpaid, overworked and drowning in debt: you wonder why young people are voting again?

Paul Whiteley, University of Essex

The 2017 general election was highly unusual as far as the youth vote was concerned. The Labour party won 65% – the lion’s share – of the youth vote. The nearest comparisons are with 1964 and 1997. In both those years, Labour took 53% of the youth vote. In the 2015 election, just two years earlier, the party had won just 38% of the youth vote.

How the under-30s vote

Tracking the youth vote between 1964 and 2017.
Paul Whiteley, Author provided

The contrast between the youth vote in the 2010 and 2017 shows how radically youth voting patterns have changed. During this period, their turnout rose by 19%. This change in youth participation, combined with a massive swing to Labour, has unsurprisingly led some to talk of a “youthquake”.

What could have brought this about? Political and cultural drivers are clearly at work. That includes youth support for remaining in the EU and their preference for Jeremy Corbyn over Theresa May. Only a quarter of 18-to-25s voted to leave in the EU referendum compared with two-thirds of those over 65.

But economic drivers also played a crucial role. Young people, put simply, have lost out both in the economy and government policy making. Since 2010 the British government has been preoccupied with shoring up its political support among middle aged and retired voters. It has largely ignored the concerns of the young, very often dismissing them because, in the past, most young people did not vote. That all changed in 2017.

Paying for education

One obvious driver of youth voting is the rapid increase in student debt imposed by a government which sought to privatise higher education during the austerity years. Tuition fees were originally introduced in 1998 and had reached £3,000 per year by 2006-7. At the time, it was widely accepted that the considerable graduate premium which existed in lifetime earnings justified a contribution to the costs of higher education by the beneficiaries.

But things radically changed in 2010 when the coalition government introduced a fees cap of £9,000. Ironically, this increased privatisation of the costs of higher education was accompanied by ever-increasing regulation, so that the less the state supports higher education the more it wants to control it. This trend culminated in a 2016 proposal to scrap maintenance grants and raise fees to £9,250 while at the same time charging interest rates of 6.1% on student loans at a time when the Bank of England base rate was 0.25%.

Such a reckless disregard for the interests of more than 40% of the under-25s is quite hard to understand, particularly in light of the fate of the Liberal Democrats following their u-turn on tuition fees after they joined the coalition in 2010.

The bias against youth was not confined to university students. In April 2016, the minimum wage was raised to £7.50 an hour, but this change only applied to employed workers over the age of 25. The minimum wage for apprentices under the age of 19 was a meagre £3.50 and hour and this did not change. Young people were essentially ignored.

Another aspect of the same issue relates to the self-employed, none of whom receive the minimum wage. Historically, self-employed workers have been older than the workforce average age – but, in recent years, self-employment has grown faster among the under 25s than any other group with the exception of 40-year-olds. Between 2008 and 2015 the number of self-employed people in the UK increased from 3.8 million to 4.6 million people with part-time self-employment, often synonymous with under-employment, increasing by 88%. Thus young people have lost out on the increases in minimum wages, with many of them being underemployed and working part-time for wages that are well below average.

Are you even listening?

It was, therefore, no surprise that when the pollsters YouGov recently asked citizens to rank their priorities for the country, 46% of 18-24 year olds selected increasing the minimum wage to approximately £9 per hour. That compared to a national figure of 28% (and 19% among pensioners).

In our panel survey of the electorate conducted immediately before the 2017 general election, we asked respondents if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “The government treats people like yourself fairly”. We found that 18% of the under-25s agreed with this statement compared with 28% of the over-65s. In contrast, 49% of the under-25s disagreed with it compared with 32% of the over-65s. Youth have not only been left behind but many of them are aware of this fact and have a sense of grievance arising from it. The stark difference in the responses of youth and pensioners to this statement is related to the differences in the government’s treatment of them.

The so called “triple lock” on pensions was introduced by the coalition government in 2010. It was a guarantee to increase the state pension every year by the rate of inflation, average earnings or by a minimum of 2.5% whichever was the highest. By 2016 it produced a situation in which retired people had average incomes £2,500 higher than in 2007/8, while those who were not retired earned an average of £300 less over this period. The latter reflects the fact that real wages have been flat-lining for more than a decade.

Given all this it is no surprise that the 2017 election was a case of youth striking back.

The ConversationThis article is based on research by Paul Whiteley, Harold Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Marianne Stewart. Paul Whiteley is speaking at Youthquake 2017! Can young voters transform the UK’s political landscape? a joint event between The Conversation and The British Academy on October 9, 2017.

Paul Whiteley, Professor, Department of Government, University of Essex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bare cupboards and nobody to help buy food: the forgotten welfare gap in older age


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Poverty and isolation is leading to nutritional problems for older people.
via shutterstock.com

Kingsley Purdam, University of Manchester

Welfare reform and austerity in the UK has led to reductions in public spending on services that support older people. Age UK has highlighted how nearly one million older people have unmet social care needs. This is of particular concern as the winter months approach.

In ongoing research on food insecurity in older age, my colleagues and I have analysed survey data and interviewed older people who use foodbanks. We’re finding that many older people are at risk of under-nutrition because of poverty, or because they don’t get the support they need to shop, cook and eat.

While many older people have been less affected by the recent recession than other age groups, in part because of the triple lock protection for pensions, poverty can persist in old age. Data from 2015 shows that 1.6m pensioners live below the relative poverty line, and 8% of pensioners are in persistent poverty – defined as having spent three years out of any four-year period in a household with below 60% of median income.

Poverty and social isolation

Around 20% of older people have little or no private pension, housing or material wealth and retiring with debt is also a growing problem. There are 3.8m people aged 65 and older living alone in the UK and evidence from Age UK suggests that nearly one million people in this age group always or often feel lonely.

Older people living alone tend to eat less. This can lead to under-nutrition – a major cause of functional decline among older people. It can lead to poorer health outcomes, falls, delays in recovery from illness and longer periods in hospital, including delayed operations.

Evidence from the National Nutrition Screening Survey suggests that an estimated 1.3m people aged over 65 in the UK are not getting adequate protein or energy in their diet. On admission to hospital, 33% of people in this age group are identified as being at risk of under-nutrition.


Read more: Huge cuts have made elder care today look like a relic of the Poor Law


Data we are analysing from the 2014 English Longitudinal Study of Ageing suggests that for around 10% of people aged 50 and over “too little money stops them buying their first choice of food items” and this has increased consistently since 2004. Evidence from the Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey in 2012 found that 12% of people aged over 65 had often or sometimes: “skimped on food so others in the household would have enough to eat”.

Embarrassment and stigma

The Health Survey of England consistently highlights the issue of unmet need among some older people. For example, 6% of people aged over 65 reported that they had not received help from anyone with shopping for food in the last month. In addition, 19% of this age group reported needing help to leave their home.

Evidence suggests that as food insecurity has increased in the UK, many older people have become reliant on food banks. In 2016, the food redistribution charity FareShare said that 13% of its clients were aged over 65.

Our interviews with older people using food banks have highlighted the challenges many older people can face. Some were having food parcels delivered by the food banks as they were unable to go themselves or did not want to be seen going.

Embarrassment and stigma were also a concern for one 69-year-old man who told us how he preferred coming to the food bank than asking family or friends for help. “I don’t believe in asking others, I don’t want to upset people,” he said. Another 65-year-old man told us: “My family would help but I don’t like to ask them, they have their own families to look after.” Others, however are either unable or too embarrassed to visit a food bank.

Food or warmth

One 54-year-old man said: “I can go for a couple of days without food… the gas is cut off and I get hot water from the kettle to wash.” There was also evidence that some older people were not fully recognising their nutritional needs. As one 60-year-old woman said: “When you are on your own… sometimes I don’t cook, depends how I feel.” Another 65-year-old man revealed his poor diet, stating how when he had no food he would: “Just eat cornflakes.”

Counting the pennies.
Kingsley Purdam, Author provided

Other people chose to cut back on food during the winter due to the costs of heating their home – suffering the cold as a result. As one 72-year-old woman stated: “Sometimes I just go without putting the heating on.”

An increasing number of older people are constrained in their spending on food, many are skipping meals and are not getting the social care support they need. Emergency food parcels are an inadequate and unsustainable way of addressing the issue of food insecurity.

There are currently 10m people in the UK aged over 65, but this is expected to increase to 19m by 2050 – that’s one in every four people.

The ConversationAs the size of the older population continues to grow, the reductions in local authority spending on social care raise concerns about their long-term welfare. Given the follow-on costs to the public purse, including in terms of healthcare, the government must do more to combat food insecurity amongst older people.

Kingsley Purdam, Senior Lecturer, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

When gun control makes a difference: 4 essential reads

Emily Schwartz Greco, The Conversation

Editor’s note: This is a roundup of gun control articles published by scholars from the U.S. and two other countries where deadly mass shootings are far less common.

An underresearched epidemic

Guns are a leading cause of death of Americans of all ages, including children. Yet “while gun violence is a public health problem, it is not studied the same way other public health problems are,” explains Sandro Galea, dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health.

That’s no accident. Congress has prohibited firearm-related research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health since 1996. Galea says:

“Unfortunately, a shortage of data creates space for speculation, conjecture and ill-informed argument that threatens reasoned public discussion and progressive action on the issue.”

The Australian model

The contrast with Australia is especially stark. Just as Congress was barring any research that might strengthen the case for tighter gun regulations, that country established very strict firearm laws in response to the Port Arthur massacre, which killed 35 people in 1996.

To clamp down on guns, the federal government worked with Australia’s states to ban semiautomatic rifles and pump action shotguns, establish a uniform gun registry and buy the now-banned guns from people who had purchased them before owning them became illegal. The country also stopped recognizing self-defense as an acceptable reason for gun ownership and outlawed mail-order gun sales.

These measures worked. Simon Chapman, a public health expert at the University of Sydney, writes:

“When it comes to firearms, Australia is far a safer place today than it was in the 1990s and in previous decades.”

There have been no mass murders since the Port Arthur massacre and the subsequent clampdown on guns, Chapman observes. In contrast, there were 13 of those tragic incidents over the previous 18 years – in which a total of 104 victims died. Other gun deaths have also declined.

Concerns about complacency

After so many years with no mass killings, some Australian scholars fear that their country may be moving in the wrong direction.

Twenty years after doing more than any other nation to strengthen firearm regulation, “many people think we no longer have to worry about gun violence,” say Rebecca Peters of the University of Sydney and Chris Cunneen at the University of New South Wales. They write:

“Such complacency jeopardizes public safety. The pro-gun lobby has succeeded in watering down the laws in several states. Weakening the rules on pistols so that unlicensed shooters can walk into a club and shoot without any waiting period for background checks has resulted in at least one homicide in New South Wales.”

In the UK

Like Australia, the U.K. tightened its gun regulations following its own 1996 tragedy – when a man killed 16 children and their teacher at Dunblane Primary School, near Stirling, Scotland.

Subsequently, the U.K. banned some handguns and bought back many banned weapons. There, however, progress has been less impressive, notes Helen Williamson, a researcher at the University of Brighton. On the one hand, the number of firearms offenses has declined from a high of 24,094 in 2004 to 7,866 in 2015. On the other, criminals are growing more “resourceful in identifying alternative sources of firearms,” she says, adding:

The Conversation“Although the availability of high-quality firearms may have fallen, the demand for weapons remains. This demand has driven criminals to be resourceful in identifying alternative sources of firearms. There are growing concerns about how they could acquire instructions online on how to build a homemade gun, or even 3D-print a functioning pistol.”

Emily Schwartz Greco, Philanthropy and Nonprofits Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New discriminatory NHS policy is bad for your health, whoever you are

File 20170928 1440 1wn352h
Imran’s Photography/Shutterstock

Jessica Potter, Queen Mary University of London

When I first qualified as a doctor more than ten years ago, it was simple – my duty was to provide the best possible care to the patient in front of me. Evidence and clinical experience were my guides. Unlike in a commercialised health system, such as the US or India, I was not torn between doing the right thing and demands from a profit-making paymaster, or concerns over whether my patient could afford the care.

Identity checks at the front door and upfront charging have changed all that. They compromise my duty to “show respect for human life” by prioritising British lives over all others, regardless of the wider implications.

According to the NHS constitution, healthcare should be “available to all irrespective of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion, belief, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity or marital or civil partnership status”. It is a service that provides care “based on need, not an individual’s ability to pay”. It is these first two fundamental principles that I, along with many other NHS staff, am so proud of.

For the first time since its inception, Jeremy Hunt has said “we should all expect to be asked questions that confirm our eligibility for free healthcare”. This statement came as part of the Migrant and Visitor Cost Recovery Programme, first rolled out in 2014. It sets in place a series of policies that restrict access to healthcare for those not born in the UK. The NHS cannot be available to all, as the constitution states. A line must be drawn somewhere, and that line is the UK border.

An immigration health surcharge has been one of the least controversial measures introduced, attached to the visa application process for long-term non-European Economic Area migrants and students.

However, the second part of the cost recovery programme has been to incentivise NHS trusts to identify ineligible patients and charge them 50% more than the actual cost of their care. Critics argue that the cost of managing this scheme does not justify the 0.3% dent in the annual NHS budget attributable to health tourism. Furthermore, there have been reports of patients wrongfully billed. This would be stressful in itself, but more concerning are the reports of racial profiling that has been used to aid the identification of chargeable patients. With the introduction of charges upfront in an NHS that is already running on empty, snap decisions on who will actually be asked to provide identification are likely to be based on identifiers of difference, such as skin colour or accent.

To add to this hostile environment for migrants, in February this year the assumption of confidentiality – a sacred cornerstone of medical practice and a foundation of the trust that is so vital to the doctor-patient relationship – was placed on shaky ground with an agreement that patient details could be passed on to the Home Office. This memorandum of understanding, along with a hotline which charged the NHS 80 pence per minute (just to add insult to injury), is aimed at identifying people for deportation.

A public health risk

Despite the Department of Health’s claim that evidence is lacking, there is a significant body of knowledge that demonstrates that charging and data-sharing deter people from seeking help when they are unwell. These barriers to obtaining health – which, by the way, the UK government has signed up to protect as part of the EU convention on human rights – extend way beyond those who, in the eyes of the law, are ineligible for care. From a public health perspective, delaying diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases increases the risk of spread to the wider community. Bacteria, I assure you, pay no heed to arbitrary notions of birth rights and citizenship.

From an economic perspective, prevention is better than cure. Those deterred from accessing healthcare by these policies are the least able to pay. By the time their treatment is life-threatening, you can be sure that, had we treated them sooner, the outcome would be better and cheaper for all. It will be those who look different, sound different, or dress differently from an “average British citizen” (in the head of the person in front of them) who will be caught in the wider net of eligibility checks.

The ConversationThese policies do not protect human rights. They are not in line with my General Medical Council duties as a doctor or with NHS principles. They are not economically sound. They will not protect the health of the public. These policies feed a narrative that the NHS crisis has been caused by migrants – not the rich people who broke the banks and heralded in a period of austerity. We must look up and hold those people in power to account and look around at our fellow human beings with compassion and kindness.

Jessica Potter, MRC Doctoral Clinical Research Fellow, Queen Mary University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Big algal bloom off southern English coast?

An unusually hot day yesterday and, I think, this was the first time in a long time that we’ve had hot weather on a bank holiday weekend. So lots of people made the trip to the coast.

This photo is from a different year, looking east from Southsea (Portsmouth).

Yesterday evening, a “chemical haze” suddenly rolled in from the sea in southeastern England. People’s eyes and throats were irritated by it and some people are reported to have vomited (but I wonder if that was actually caused by whatever was in the air).

Whatever it is, it is present in Portsmouth as well. During the day, I had noticed that my throat was achy, for no reason that I could identify. In the afternoon/evening, I first smelled something that I quickly recognized as barbecue fumes and later I smelled something else that I couldn’t identify and shrugged off. Maybe someone did something weird with a barbecue.

Then I saw a tweet… After I read about a chlorine-like chemical haze, I wondered if I was merely imagining smelling something. Seems easy enough to do. I later went to the window, saw that the windows were wet on the outside so some cold air (mist) had definitely rolled in, and what I smelled was like the smell of seaweed that I smell when I hang out on the shore.

Anyway, chlorine seemed very unlikely to me and I started thinking ozone build-up. But it seemed too massive for that (and would likely have required a reversal of wind direction during the day).

What I ended up wondering is: Could it have been DMS from a massive algal bloom? (“gas production during the senescence phase is 7–26 times higher than during the growth phase”) And next: Could it have come from E hux? (And, could it be related to global warming, maybe? It’s likely to soon for it to be related to Harvey somehow.)

If that is the case, then surely active marine scientists have already contacted the authorities with their speculations.

As usual, the British authorities were saying little more than to close windows and not to worry.

Also, wouldn’t the substance spike have shown up in one of the automatic air quality monitoring stations?

Likewise, if the haze was due to some kind of industrial event in France, then surely the authorities would have already found that out. (There is a windfarm construction project off Brighton, but it seems very very very unlikely to me that that has anything to do with it, lol.)

Some people must still be very busy studying satellite images of the English Channel right now.

An E hux bloom should show up in those easily enough, but such an observation would then have to be linked to “ground truth”. If it’s some other kind of bloom, it might be more difficult to detect.

If there is a bloom, wouldn’t one of the ferries have noticed something? If not, then a bloom could be further out.

They’re working on it: https://www.sussex.police.uk/news/hundreds-affected-as-gas-cloud-hits-sussex-coast/

I am highly intrigued!

A phytoplankton bloom in the English Channel as seen by SeaWiFS (2002) (The light area near the Thames, that is sediment, however.)

 

Five books about Britain

I haven’t read the fifth one yet, but take for granted that it’s highly informative. The first one is pretty heavy reading, more suitable to browse and read when anything catches your eye about how the tea tradition came about for instance or that alcohol used to be seen as good sustenance for hard-working people. Do that often and you’ll learn a few things you didn’t know yet.

The other four are much easier reads.

The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin Modern Classics)

Rich Britain

The Making of Modern Britain

SHOPPED: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets

A History of Modern Britain