The Welfare State We're In, The website of the book by James Bartholomew
June 30, 2005
What's wrong with free education for Africa

One of the ways in which Gordon Brown and Tony Blair think they can help Africa is by offering free education to everyone. It sounds like an obviously good thing. Wouldn't it be marvellous if every young African could learn to read, write and learn much else besides, as well as coming out of poverty? Of course. But there is a problem.

Professor James Tooley of Newcastle University has done a study of schooling in Africa and discovered something that will come as a surprise to many. There are a huge number of private schools there catering for the poor that do not appear in official statistics. They are not regulated and inspected or anything like that. Yet many extremely poor parents in the shanty town of Makoko on the Lagos lagoon in Nigeria make great financial sacrifices to send their children to them.

The danger to Africa is that if Messrs Brown and Blair persuade other members of the G8 to give, say, $7 billion a year to Africa to promote free education, it will have an unintended consequence. Many of the poor parents who send their children to fee-paying, private schools will be tempted to send them to a vastly increased number of free state schools. In the process, the fee-paying schools will be driven out of business or dramatically reduced in size.

What's wrong with that, you might ask?

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Foreign aid

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June 29, 2005
Newsnight: Tooley in Africa

While there is time, I recommend you have a look at the part of Newsnight last night about private education in a slum in Africa, presented by Professor James Tooley. The programme is here. The section concerned starts after 32 minutes - you can fast forward to it. I think this Newsnight will no longer be viewable after the next one appears tonight.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education • Foreign aid

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Welfare reform reduced poverty in America. When will the Tories endorse it?

I attended a talk by Professor Larry Mead at the Institute of Economic Affairs the night before last. He gave his talk in a scholarly, methodical way - quite different from the more openly partisan talk given by Ron Haskins last week. But the message was mostly the same. The big fact is that welfare rolls fell by 60 per cent in America following the 1996 reform package. It was an awesome result. Of course, people like Professor Mead knew very well that such a thing would be attacked as cruel and bad. But one of the impressive things about the American Right is that it arms itself with plenty of facts to counter such assertions:

He gave Federal Poverty Rates for whites, blacks and Hispanics in 1994, 2000 and 2003 respectively:

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Parenting • Recommended reading • Reform • Welfare benefits

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June 28, 2005
The number of qualified maths teachers has slumped from 46,500 to 30,800

This looks like a key report on the deterioration of maths teaching in Britain. It ties in the experience of parents even at private schools where they find that their children are doing what might be regarded as trivial, meaningless puzzles instead of learning 'real maths'. At the age of eleven, such puzzles are being done whereas, forty years ago, such children would be learning algebra.

Teaching of maths in spiral of decline, say dons By John Clare, Education Editor (Filed: 28/06/2005)

Maths teaching in schools and universities has entered "a spiral of decline" and the Government has failed to grasp the nature of the crisis, leading mathematicians said in a report yesterday.

They said the performance of more able pupils had collapsed; the numbers taking A-level maths were falling dramatically; those with top grades were "increasingly innumerate and even ineducable"; the shortage of qualified maths teachers had reached "dangerous" levels; national test results were grossly inflated; and postgraduates with a PhD in maths from a British university were now "largely unemployable" in British universities.

The country was "no longer producing sufficient competent mathematicians to supply the bulk of its core needs". The maths community could no longer reproduce itself.

The report said: "Our society is increasingly dependent on mathematics, yet a disturbing number of jobs - from teaching, through IT, to serious research in science and technology - can now only be filled by attracting those trained in other countries.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education

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June 27, 2005
Are some British schools dangerous, nasty places?

Here is an excerpt for a Guardian article about 'youth cabinets' discussing the problems of the young:

There are too many exams; gangs are out of control (although some thoughtful voices ask what the difference is between a group of friends and a gang, concluding that it depends on which neighbourhood they are from); bullying makes many lives a misery and knives are becoming a common sight in playgrounds.

Sapphire, 15, from Leeds, thinks that by the time she has children most primary school pupils will be carrying knives. One boy says a gun was brought into the playground at his school. Crime seems a daily reality in these children's communities.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Behaviour & Crime • Education

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Home schooling is growing fast - but why?

For some time now I have been confident that the number of children being home-schooled has been rising fast.

Now comes confirmation from an article in the Sunday Times. What the article does not analyse is the cause of the trend. I would suggest that it is partly

1. dissatisfaction of middle class parents with the quality of education their children can get particularly, but not only, at state state schools.
2. Inability readily to pay for private education (which, arguably, is much more expensive than it should be, for a variety of reasons including state rules on planning, health and safety and so on).
3. Desire of parents to save their children from the violence and influences towards crime, drugs and teenage parenting in some of the more 'bog-standard' inner city comprehensives.

Here is the Sunday Times article:

Number of children taught at home soars Lois Rogers, Social Affairs Editor THE number of children taught at home has almost doubled in the past five years, a trend that experts say reflects a crisis of confidence in the state school system. Government figures show the number of five to 16-year-olds educated at home jumped from 12,000 in 1999 to 21,000 last year.

The increasing number of parents opting out of the school system reflects a similar trend in the United States, where one in 20 children is now taught at home.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Behaviour & Crime • Education • Parenting

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June 26, 2005
Blair queue-jumps Mr Brown - but not that Mr Brown

Here is an article from the Reading Chronicle, of all news sources. It draws further attention to the privileged treatment Mr Blair has been given by the NHS. Why do hospitals and consultants give him this privileged treatment? Why do they not say to Mr Blair, "We are sorry. But the NHS exists to provide equally good treatment for everyone. If we allow you to queue jump or get superior treatment, it would be wholly unfair to everybody else." Has the medical profession so little sense that people should be treated according to clinical need rather than status? Here is one of the people who was queue-jumped by Mr Blair. What makes the story so telling is that he suffers from a similar condition to Mr Blair.

A LIFE-long Labour Party supporter suffering from a similar heart condition to Tony Blair has been waiting more than a year for the same surgery which has changed the Prime Minister's life.

Grandfather Richard Brown from Thames Side in Reading suffers from atrial fibrillation - a condition in which the heart beats irregularly, leading to dizziness and blackouts.

He realised he was ill more than a year ago, when he collapsed while on a walk with wife Esme. But unlike Mr Blair, who was treated at an NHS hospital within hours of experiencing chest pains and dizziness in October 2003, Mr Brown was told by a Royal Berkshire Hospital consultant he would have to take medication for the rest of his life.

And it was not until the Labour leader underwent his second operation in less than a year that 67-year-old Mr Brown even realised his condition could be cured.

Now, after demanding a second appointment with his consultant, the retired computer programmer from Newcastle-upon-Tyne has been placed on a six-month waiting list for treatment at University College Hospital in London.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in NHS • Politics

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The no-go areas of brutish Britain

Another measure of how brutish Britain is becoming: DHL will no longer deliver to some areas because of the danger to drivers. Imagine what those areas must be like for the residents.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Behaviour & Crime • Housing

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June 25, 2005
One part of Gordon Brown's incompetence

Gordon Brown's poor record as chancellor is gradually becoming more obvious.

This week, more light fell on his bad policy of tax credits. But first a quick summary of the bad policies he has pursued:

1. He has raised tax heavily to pay for investment in a monopolistic healthcare system (adding to the problem by fighting any attempt to make it less monopolistic). The result: the country will be poorer than it would have been and people less well cared for when ill.

2. He took a pension system which was amongst the most successful and well provided for in Europe and has put it in crisis. Result: more people will be poor in old age.

3. He has increased the prevalence of means testing - with all its disadvantages (see The Welfare State We're In and previous postings. One of the results: reduced savings (which will, again, cause more people to be poor in old age).

4. He has dramatically increased red tape, waste and errors through complicated systems - such as tax credits - instead of using much simpler methods (such as higher thresholds for tax-free income). By wasting public money, he has made us poorer. Through red tape he has cost us money again and wasted our time.

Here is some of the coverage of the problems Mr Brown created through tax credits:

Hundreds of thousands of families have suffered because of flaws in Gordon Brown's £13 billion system of tax credits, a watchdog says today.

Ann Abraham, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, says poor families are particularly vulnerable because of the way they have been forced to pay back money given to them in error.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Reform • Tax and growth • Waste in public services • Welfare benefits

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June 24, 2005
Private education in the third world

One of the many reservations I have about the Richard Curtis/Bob Geldof/Gordon Brown bandwagon to 'make poverty history' and have a million people pressurising the G8 is that they all, effectively, wish to bolster the state apparatus in African countries.

One of the areas where this could be counter-productive is education.

Professor James Tooley has been to third world private schools and reported on how the private schools often do more good for the poor than than the state schools.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education • Foreign aid

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June 23, 2005
American welfare reform was bitterly opposed and not bi-partisan

Ron Haskins, a senior adviser to President Bush on welfare reform, addressed the Centre for Policy Studies yesterday. It was an exceptionally good presentation - powerful about the way in which the 1996 welfare reform programme has succeeded and honest about admitting ways in which it has disappointed.

He brought home that the welfare reform was not, as it is usually described in Britain, a genuinely bi-partisan affair. It was, above all, a Republican reform that was fought bitterly by most Democrats (with one particularly notable exception). Based on the American experience, we should not get hung up on the idea that only the Left can reform welfare on the same basis that 'only Nixon could make peace with Commmunist China'. In America, passionate Republicans aimed to save their country though welfare reform and they have, to a remarkable degree, succeeded.

The notable exception on the Democrat side was,

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Behaviour & Crime • Parenting • Politics • Reform • Welfare benefits

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June 22, 2005
Government is hiding the truth about the NHS

Original unedited version of article in the Daily Express today (and extra comment at the end)

One of the most basic things you would hope to get from the NHS is an appointment with a doctor. Yet now a survey suggests that 22 per cent of patients are not able to make an appointment two or more days ahead. It sounds crazy. Usually an appointment is easier to get the further away the date. Diaries are less full up. But in the NHS, it is now impossible to make a future appointment at all with many doctors. It sounds like something out of Alice Through The Looking Glass.

What has brought about this topsy-turvy situation? A target. If a GP agrees to see us more than two days in the future, he increases the risk that he will fill up his appointment book and then break a government target - that all patients should be seen within 48 hours. But for many people, a firm appointment a little further ahead is what they want. Absurdly, as a result of a government target, the service provided by GPs has actually got worse, in this respect, instead of better.

In the view of one senior government adviser, the NHS has two years in which to reach a good standard, otherwise the public is likely to lose faith in the entire system. Since 2000, the government has been putting huge amounts of extra money into the NHS. Many members of the public are willing to allow time for the results to come through. But not unlimited time. By 2007, a decade after Labour came to power, if the NHS has still not become world class, the public might stop believing that the only problem previously was lack of money. They may be ready to believe a state monopoly system is not a good system.

How, then, is the NHS doing? Is it going to deliver a first class service within two years?

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in NHS

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June 21, 2005
Frank Field thinks the unthinkable
Former Welfare Minister Frank Field is pushing for tough action to throw unruly tenants - responsible for social ills including noise, assaults and vandalism - off estates.

And he believes ministers should copy a scheme in Kamper, eastern Holland, where neighbours from hell have been moved into vandal-proof accommodation in steel containers.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Behaviour & Crime • Housing

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If we had had welfare reform like America, we could have had this:

Below is what has been achieved in America. It could have been done here. But instead of radical reform in welfare, Gordon Brown increased means-testing. There has been some reduction in the value of welfare benefits and some increased incentives to work and even some increased conditionality of benefits. But it has been minor and at the edges.

If Blair had done what Clinton (pushed on by the Republicans) had done in the USA, then we might have had this:

What was the result of the 1996 reforms? By 2003, American welfare case loads had declined by about 60 per cent nationally. The number of families receiving cash welfare is now the lowest it has been since 1971. Between 1993 and 2000, the percentage of single mothers in employment grew from 58 per cent to nearly 75 per cent. The sub-group of never-married mothers working grew from 44 per cent to 66 per cent.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Behaviour & Crime • Parenting • Politics • Welfare benefits

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June 20, 2005
Wall Street Journal Europe - commentary by Russell Lewis


Unruly Britannia

March 3, 2005

Half a century ago George Orwell, like many others, was impressed by the gentleness, courtesy and orderliness of British life. It has been downhill ever since. This view rests not on nostalgia but on recorded fact.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Reviews

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Jenifer Ziegler, Cato Institure

"a great combination of the statistical scholarship of Charles Murray's Losing Ground, the journalistic appeal of Jason DeParle's American Dream, and the realism of Mona Charen's Do-Gooders."

Jenifer Ziegler, Cato Institute.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Reviews

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Watch out, the government intends to tax your property.

If you own property, the government is on your tail. The idea of increasing taxes on property has been building up for several years. Now the election is out of the way - and there is a big government budget deficit to fix - it won't be long now.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Housing • Tax and growth

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June 18, 2005
The new, disappointing generation of Tories led by David Cameron

On Thursday 16th, David Cameron issued a speech about education. Since then Boris Johnson and other rising young stars have endorsed David Cameron as a candidate for the leadership of the Tory party.

After reading the speech David Cameron made, I find this all very depressing. It is a speech in which Mr Cameron positions himself as the Tony Blair of the Right. But more important than that, it is a speech in which Mr Cameron shows that he has not got to grips with how and why the country's welfare state - particulary the education part - is in such trouble. And the fact that many rising young Tories have endorsed him, suggests that they have not understood either.

He said in his speech,

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education • Politics

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A consultant gives an insight into why the NHS will not deliver, despite all the extra money

Rather strangely, neither the Telegraph nor the Guardian appear to have covered a story made a big impact in both the Mail and the Express this week. It is not a trivial, celebrity story but one that goes to the heart of one of the big issues of the time: whether the NHS model of healthcare can ever deliver a first class service.

A consultant surgeon, Mike Lavelle, has resigned from the NHS and leaked a letter in which he made a powerful attack on the way the NHS works.

"The delays in operating theatres are quite frankly scandalous" he says.

"I have no doubt that the service is grossly overmanaged now.. there has been an almost unbelievable increase in NHS employees who contribute nothing to the treatment of patients. But if you go onto my ward the nurses are struggling to look after the patients..."

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in NHS • Waste in public services

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June 16, 2005
The NHS has out of date scanning equipment

The Daily Telegraph this morning celebrated the news that the NHS is starting a review to decide whether or not to switch to digital scanners for detecting breast cancer. The review will be completed by the end of next year. If the review comes out in favour of digital, then the scanners may start being ordered in 2007 and delivered in the following years.

But the impression that the NHS is at the forefront of modern scanning technology is the reverse of the truth. Here is a picture of the latest 64 Slice CT scanner at Mercy Hospital in Miami, Florida:

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in NHS

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How to do welfare reform.

The blog Once More Unto the Breach has an interesting posting and comments on the options and difficulties in welfare reform.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in NHS • Politics • Reform • Welfare benefits

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Bob Geldof''s attack on Ebay was illogical and excessive

Bob Geldof is becoming Britain's moral conscience. Bishops, vicars and cardinals have vacated the pulpit from which morality was once preached and in has stepped the veteran pop singer. He is beginning to look the part, too. His long greying locks, hunched shoulders and staring eyes suggest the pained experience and passion of some Old Testament prophet.

In his latest eruption of fury, he furiously attacked Ebay, the biggest online auction company in the world, for allowing auctions of tickets to the Live 8 concert. He said that "selling Live 8 tickets which are free is sick". He branded the sinners as "despicable" and denounced Ebay for acting "as an electronic pimp". He was like Moses coming down from the mountain and denouncing those who had started worshipping 'graven images'.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Foreign aid

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June 14, 2005
The NHS gets better and better. Is the government's claim true?

Below is a classic example of the Government's line on what is currently happening in the NHS. Basically, so it says, although there are a few little problems here and there, the vast majority of things are getting better.

Is the picture painted in this Department of Health press release accurate? If it is, then the extra money pumped into the NHS has 'worked'.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in NHS

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The less well publicised education news

The Guardian and the Mail have a story which does not appear elsewhere in the national press, as far as I know. Why? Because this is a story about education that was not announced by the government.

The usual sort of stories reported by education correspondents are the ones announced by a minister and therefore widely reported. The plan that schools should offer 10 hour days was a recent one. These announced, 'good news' stories involve more money being spent and facilities offered.

But this story, only reported in two papers, is about education cuts.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education

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Why don't people save?

People don't save enough for their retirements.

People in their 30s could be forced to continue working until they are more than 74 unless they dramatically increase the amount they save, an insurer has warned. Prudential said people in their 30s were setting a side an average of just £62 a month towards their retirement - £340 a month less than they need to.

The group said in order for someone on average earnings to retire at 65 on two-thirds of their pre-retirement income, including money they would get from the state pension, they should actually be saving around £400 a month

Why don't people save more?

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Pensions

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Hidden truancy

The amount of truancy from Britain's state schools is even higher than previously reported. It now emerges that:

Children who miss school during the rest of the summer term will not be counted in the official annual absence statistics for the year in England.

Schools are required to report pupils' attendance from September up to the end of May only.

Attention has been brought to this by the Liberal Democrats. The BBC Online story is here.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education

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June 13, 2005
Kelly's children

The objections to a ten hour school day, as proposed by the current education secretary, Ruth Kelly, are:

1. It will estrange children even more from their parents, leading to more children who feel unloved and become aggressive and ultimately delinquent.

2. The care will be cheap and bad.

3. Insofar as the state pays for this, families who actually look after their children will be taxed to finance childcare for families who don't have time to look after their children. This is undesirable and unfair.

4. Insofar as the state will not pay for this, it is something which schools could do now if they were so minded. (And if it is to become compulsory, then the state will end up paying, which takes us back to 3.)

Here is the Telegraph's coverage of the story.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education • Parenting

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June 12, 2005
The scandal of public servant pensions

Five million out of 5.7 million public sector employees (88 per cent) have final salary pensions. Meanwhile only 3.6 million out of 22.5 million private sector employees (about 16 per cent) have final salary pensions.

These figures, accourding to the Sunday Telegraph, will be published by the Government Actuary's Department on Thursday. There have been a fall of one million in those in the private sector who are on final salary schemes over the past five years. That is largely the effect of Gordon Brown's tax on dividends received by pension funds which has helped make final salary pension schemes just too expensive for private companies. But what is too expensive for private companies, is not too expensive for taxpayers to pay for.

The civil servant, the teacher and the hospital manager all get relatively luxurious, final salary pensions, courtesy of taxpayers. The MPs and the prime minister get the most luxurious pensions of all.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias • Pensions • Waste in public services

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June 10, 2005
We are not truanting, we are ill

The government threatens penalties for truancy. So what, in the real world, do we expect to happen? A smart reduction in truancy? or this...

Research for Cambridge University found sickness absences in a sample of 76 schools in England rose from 4.05% to 5.37% between 2002-03 and 2004-05.

Some head teachers and welfare officers said they thought parents were pretending their children were sick - or taking them on holiday.

The rise coincided with a government clampdown on term-time holidays.

You cannot get rid of truancy without getting rid of the causes of truancy. The most important of these is the poor quality of many state schools. Many of the children do not learn how to read and write easily. The classes they attend come to mean nothing to them. They become disenchanted. They are compelled by law to stay until they are 16. The consequences - truancy and delinquency, too - are inevitable.

The full BBC version of the story is here.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education

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The 'special needs' fiasco

Baroness Warnock wrote a report over 25 years ago in which she called for children with 'special needs' to be included in mainstream schools. The 1981 Education Act incorporated her recommendations. Now she is apparently going to re-cant and say that the pressure to include pupils with special needs in mainstream schools causes "confusion of which children are the casualties". The following article appears in the Daily Express today alongside an article by Bob Black, saying he is pleased that his 17-year-old daughter Morwenna, who has Down's Syndrome, has been to a mainstream school:

Baroness Warnock's report started a movement which has led to some education authorities positively insisting that disabled children should go to mainstream schools. A policy started with the friendly, 'inclusive' ideas of the 1970s has gone badly wrong.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Waste in public services

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June 09, 2005
The Conservatives: not just a battle but a long-running war

There is a battle for the future of the Conservative Party. But it is not a one-off battle. It is part of a long-running war that has gone on for decades and will probably continue for many more.

The real division is not between those who want to be nice to gays and those who don't. Nor is it between those who want to put on a friendly face and those who can't. It is between those who believe in that the state is just fine at running things and those who think it is awful at the job.

The long history of this war is reflected in a passage by Lord Tebbitt in his essay in Margaret Thatcher's Revolution, a book due out very soon:

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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No improvement for the old since Labour came to power

I do not accept the use of the word 'poverty' as redefined by Left-wing propagandists, but it is probably still worth mentioning the following. It shows that, even by the Left's own standards and measures, it has failed the elderly.

The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) said an estimated 2.2 million older people, the equivalent of one in five pensioners, currently lived below the poverty line, the same number as in 1997.

The above is from Tiscali News. According to the Daily Mail, the NPC is a Left-leaning organisation.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Pensions

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Governments are not good at running things

Earlier this week, the Conservative Party collected together some data about how the awesome way government has wasted money on computer projects:

...a new courts computer with an original budget of £146 million, rocketed to almost £400 million; a move of the GCHQ spy centre computers to a new building cost a staggering £450 million, instead of the projected £20 million; and a new national insurance payments system turned out at £90 millions over budget, after mistakes and problems had to be corrected.

More here.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Waste in public services

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June 07, 2005
The Thatcher years by Norman Tebbitt and others

I went to an event at the Institute of Economic Affairs last night at which several of the authors of a new book, Margaret Thatcher's Revolution, including Norman Tebbitt, spoke. Here are some of their remarks:

Dennis O'Keeffe: "much 'special needs' is about children who have not been taught to read".

David Marsland: Privatising the supply of healthcare (ie hospitals and doctors) is relatively easy. Privatising demand is more difficult. But a start could be made by using tax rebates to enable people to opt out of state-financed care.

James Stanfield: He went to a comprehensive school. He did GCSE in English Literature and did not do any Shakespeare at all. The year after he left, the headmaster was punched by a pupil as order faded. He reckons he got out 'just in time'. He wanted governments, if they are subsidising education, to subsidise the consumer, not the producer. He said he had been to Kenya and was appalled that the British government was exporting the failed British model of 'free and compulsory' education. He said, "British money is destroying education in Africa."

Norman Tebbitt talked of the huge transfer of assets that took place under Thatcher from the public sector to the private sector. He reeled off a list of companies privatised that was far longer than most of us can easily remember. On top of that was the sale of council homes. He said these things combined to make a big difference in social attitudes.

He admitted some failures.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education • European Union • Housing • NHS • Politics

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More graduates will not mean a richer Britain

The story about how graduates can expect to make less of a premium in the way of extra income in their working lives is more important than it first appears.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education

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June 06, 2005
King's College, Wimbledon totally gives up on A levels.

King's College previously offered students a choice of A levels or the International Baccaleureate (IB). Now it is going over entirely to the IB, says The Times.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education

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It is not only MRSA. Here is another bug you could get in an NHS hospital

From today's Guardian:

A new strain of a hospital-acquired infection has claimed 12 lives at the specialist Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire and infected more than 300, the Department of Health confirmed last night

And further down the story:

But incidences of Clostridium difficile have risen quickly in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from 10,000 a year in 1995 to more than 40,000 in 2004.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in NHS

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Tony Blair has a personal reason for pushing ahead with 'synthetic phonics'. But can he defeat the power of the DfES?

So synthetic phonics are now officially approved. But will this superior system of teaching reading and writing actually be adopted in schools? Will it save us from the current situation in which 20 per cent of British adults are 'functionally illiterate' according to the Government itself? It must be doubted.

Here is a (slightly edited) email from Tom Burkard, the well-informed and always interesting educationalist. He reveals - at least it is news to me - the personal background to the change that comes from within Tony Blair's family. He describes the ineffective implementation he fears and a better way he recommends:

Ruth Kelly has executed a stunning U-turn on the National Literacy Strategy.

Pressure had been growing ever since February 12. That is when the Scottish Office released the latest data from their trials of the teaching method known as 'synthetic phonics'. Pupils who were originally taught with this method in 1997 are now 3 1/2 years ahead in reading. These results are all the more remarkable in that the schools are located in a deprived rural area of Clackmannanshire, and that pupils from disadvantaged homes read just as well as their more favoured classmates. There are several other schools in Britain that have achieved similar, or even better, results through synthetic phonics.

However, ministers stoutly supported the official National Literary Strategy, despite pressure from Number 10 and a Commons Education Committee enquiry which was against the mandarins at the DfES. No doubt Ruth Kelly--like all recent Education Secretaries--had in mind the fate of poor John Patten, the last one to ignore the advice of his 'advisors'. Yet from her statements in defence of the NLS, there can be little doubt that Ruth Kelly is yet another 'true believer' in the entrenched orthodoxies of the educational establishment. On Thursday (June 2) the Sun published a photo of Kelly, apparently making her statement through clenched teeth.

There is no doubt that the change is a result of extreme pressure from Tony Blair, who elevated Andrew Adonis and appointed him as a junior minister in the DfES in order to get a grip on his insolent civil servants. It is an open secret that one of the Blair children was taught to read by a synthetic phonics tutor, and that he has long been impatient with official foot-dragging. However, it remains to be seen how things will work out.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education

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June 04, 2005
Attacking private schools is like banning fox-hunting

Why is the Labour Party leadership renewing its attack on private schools? Because private schools are like fox-hunting. Tony Blair does not really care about them one way or the other. But he attacks them both to try to persuade disenchanted Old Labour MPs and voters to keep on supporting him.

Private schools are disposable, as far as he is concerned, just like the men in red jackets blowing horns. If it pleases his rebellious troops to victimise them, he will do it. Pontius Pilate would have understood.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education

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June 03, 2005
Family breakdown in Scandinavia

Sweden's out of wedlock birth rate apparently reached 55 per cent in 2000. This is from an article by Stanley Kurtz on Scandinavian family breakdown in an in The Weekly Standard 2nd February 2004.

The family dissolution rate is different from the divorce rate. Because so many Scandinavians now rear children outside of marriage, divorce rates are unreliable measures of family weakness. Instead, we need to know the rate at which parents (married or not) split up. Precise statistics on family dissolution are unfortunately rare. Yet the studies that have been done show that throughout Scandinavia (and the West) cohabiting couples with children break up at two to three times the rate of married parents. So rising rates of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock birth stand as proxy for rising rates of family dissolution.

By that measure, Scandinavian family dissolution has only been worsening.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Parenting

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June 02, 2005
Mr Brown spreads failure to Africa

Mr Brown thinks it is awful that many people in Africa have a limited amount of education. Without entering the truth or otherwise of that, his assumption that he should therefore subsidise state-provided education is wholly wrong. State education in Africa, as elsewhere around the world, is inferior to private and charitable education.

On a personal note, I know a young Zimbabwean woman who does what we in Britain would consider low-paid work. I asked her whether her young child in Zimbabwe would be going to a private or a state school.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education • Politics

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June 01, 2005
Governments don't make poverty history

When someone suggests that more money should be given to governments of third world countries to help them 'make poverty history' remember this article in Saturday's Daily Telegraph:

Five months after the tsunami struck, killing 40,000 and leaving 500,000 homeless in Sri Lanka, more than 100,000 of the poorest victims are still living in tents or crude temporary shelters.

Despite almost unlimited resources - the relief fund stands at more than £1.75 billion for Sri Lanka alone - victims are cooped up in camps waiting for news of progress that never seems to come.

Aid agencies keen to press on with rebuilding are being frustrated at every turn by the tangled and all-embracing bureaucracy of the central government. Shipping containers remain stuck at ports, vital building plans await approval and incompetent officials ignore the advice of specialists.

This week, as the first monsoon rains arrived, agencies were striving to move thousands of people out of their tents and into solid shelters before camp sites turned into quagmires.

After months during which the situation has deteriorated and no one has spoken out for fear of upsetting the highly sensitive government, the World Bank finally broke cover this week.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics • Waste in public services

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