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?
The problem is that the state schools are nothing like as good at delivering education as the private schools. Prof Tooley organised tests of 3,000 children at a random selection of state and fee-paying schools in Lagos. In every subject, children at the fee-paying schools did considerably better. In maths, they scored an average of 56 marks whereas children at the free state schools got 41. In English they scored 65 marks whereas children at the free schools got only 42.
When he visited the state schools, some of the reasons for this disparity became clear. Even though his visits were pre-arranged, he came across one teacher who was slumped at his desk, apparently sleeping. In another class, the teacher broke off from teaching to take a call on her mobile phone.
Elsewhere in Africa, in Ghana, his research revealed that only 57 per cent of teachers at state schools were actually present and teaching.
Prof Tooley's work is not the first to have suggested that state schooling in Africa and other Third World countries is markedly inferior to schooling provided by private schools that cater to the poor.
The World Bank studied schools in Tanzania, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines and Thailand and concluded that "private school students generally outperform public [state] school students on standardised math and language tests".
This was despite the fact that the cost of the education in the private schools was generally lower. The World Bank studies adjusted for the social class of the parents and the bank took care to emphasise, in commenting on Tanzania and Colombia, "our results are robust. The estimated private advantage is large and empirically important".
Some will respond to all this by saying: "Even if it is true that private education for the poor in Africa is better than state education, the great thing about state education is that it can be given to every last child. No one will be left out." That assertion may possibly be true in form, but not in reality.
We in Britain should know. Theoretically, we have "education for all". But, according to the Government itself, 20 per cent of all adults in Britain are "functionally illiterate". As the black MP Diane Abbott once exclaimed when justifying sending her child to a private school, "In Hackney [state] schools, only nine per cent of black boys get five decent GCSEs".
More than 14 per cent of children in Britain pass no exam. So yes, in name, we have education for all through free state schooling. But it is theoretical, not actual. The same - or worse - will certainly be the case if Africa goes pell mell for a vast increase in state education.
This drive to push free education in Africa is generally driven by a laudable, philanthropic instinct. But we ought to adopt one of the principles of the medical profession: primum non nocere - "first, do no harm". We should be careful, too, of simply exporting the way we do things to Africa. Even those who think state schooling in Britain is a great success have reason to wonder how well it would be administered in parts of Africa where corruption is rife.
To put an extreme case, who truly believes that there would be a great improvement in schooling in Zimbabwe if the G8 gave hundreds of millions of dollars a year to President Mugabe on condition that he spent it on free education?
By discovering the huge, mostly unrecorded, number of private schools for the African poor, Prof Tooley has also shown that far fewer children are missing out on education there than was formerly thought. Officially, half the children in Lagos are getting no education. But Tooley's research suggested that it may be only a quarter.
It is also likely - certainly in those countries where some economic growth is being achieved at last - that the proportion missing out will continue to fall in coming years. That is what happened in Britain in the 19th century as private and charitable schooling grew at an astonishing rate.
Prof Tooley went with a BBC Newsnight team to look at the private schools in the shanty town of Makoko. He says the team was sceptical, as you might expect. But as they came to see more of the private and the state schools, they were converted.
Before we impose a state model on Africa, we should be open-minded and honest enough to ask, are we sure that African state education will really achieve what we all want?
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.
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:
Whites: 14.5%, 11.3% and 12.5%
Blacks: 30.6% 22.5% and 24.4%
Hispanics: 30.7%, 21.5% and 22.5%
He ascribes the recent uptick in poverty rates to the reduction in US growth since 2000. Even allowing for this, it is very clear that there has been a major reduction in poverty among those who are most prone to it.
Incidentally, the official American government's definition of poverty is very different from that in Britain. In Britain, 'poverty' is defined as people who are much poorer than average. In America, the government defined poverty in 1964 as a particular level of income. That level of income is adjusted each year for inflation. This provides, in my view, a far more useful definition. Under this measure, so-called poverty does not rise because the top one percent gets richer. That is what happens under the British system (see postscript in The Welfare State We're In , "Why do people talk more about 'poverty' now there is less of it?"
What is the difference between Larry Mead and Charles Murray, author of the seminal work, Losing Ground? Professor Mead said that Charles Murray believed that people responded to incentives whereas he thought people did not always make proper calculations about where their advantages lay. He thought people, especially the least able 5%, wanted to be told what to do. That was what the welfare reform programme had done. It had declared, "We expect you to work. If you want the right to benefits, we expect you to work, even if you are a lone parent and even if you have a disability." (These are not his words but my interpretation.)
However in my view, the same measures could also be seen as a rearrangement of incentives. Only getting benefits if you work looks like a pretty strong incentive to get moving.
Unless I misheard him, Larry Mead said he was staying with David Willetts. An interesting connection. David Willetts has also told me in the past that he knows Charles Murray personally. David Willetts is certainly well versed in welfare reform. But his public pronouncements have fallen well short of the radical reforms that took place in America and was generally endorsed by both these men. Will the Conservative Party ever stand up for radical welfare benefits reform?
One of Larry Mead's book that I must get is Government Matters: Welfare Reform in Wisconsin. It available from Amazon here or you could try Abebooks.com or click onto any of the Amazon links in the left hand column and then search for 'Welfare Reform in Wisconsin'.
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.
"The UK is in danger of becoming totally dependent on imported intellect."
The report, by mathematicians from Cambridge, King's College London, University College London, Warwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Hull, said that maths had been dumbed down under political pressure to make it easier, more "accessible" and to show continuously improving results. Over the past 15 years the subject had become fragmented - reduced to a collection of simple, one-step routines that had made mathematics unappetising and unchallenging.
As a result, the numbers taking A-level maths had fallen by more than 50 per cent since 1989.
The number of qualified maths teachers had declined from 46,500 in 1988 to 30,800 in 1996.
The full article in the Daily Telegraph is here.
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.
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.
Though children have to be educated, there is no legal requirement in Britain for them to attend school. The progress of children at home may be monitored at intervals by the local education authority.
Home teaching groups claim the number taught at home could soar to 150,000 by 2015, equivalent to one child in 30.
Mike Fortune-Wood, of Home Education UK, a website that provides advice on home schooling, said there was a “quiet revolution” going on. “People find that at home they can provide their children with an education far better suited to their individual needs,” he said.
Janey Lee Grace, a Radio 2 presenter and mother of three, teaches her two older sons, aged five and six, at her Hertfordshire home. She relies on a network of like-minded parents, informal tutoring groups and an organisation called Naturekids, which stresses the link between learning and nutrition.
“I think the school system fails most kids,” she said. “It’s fine if you want to be in the army, but not for most people who are more individual.
“I know a home-taught 11-year-old who is taking her maths GCSE. She will take the rest of her GCSEs at the normal age, but because she is good at maths she is going at her own faster speed.”
In the next academic year parents teaching at home will have the further support of the country’s first internet secondary school. The £165-a-month online school is being pioneered by Paul Daniell, 42, a senior physics teacher in south Wales.
It will use the internet and conference-call technology to offer GCSEs in seven core subjects. Teachers will give morning classes online to small groups and set them work for the afternoon under parental supervision.
To date, more than 40 children have been signed up to the “Inter High School”, which has three teachers. Numbers are expected to grow, with interest from families abroad and even teachers in conventional schools who wish to use the lessons.
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.
Mr Brown said: "It wasn't until I read about Tony Blair's procedure that I even knew my condition could be treated. I was given some pills to take and that was that.
"When I went back to see my consultant I was told the operation could only be carried out in London because not many doctors are trained to do it.
"Now I am on a waiting list for what is effectively a waiting list - I have been told I will be treated in six months but I will not be given the date of my operation until a month before."
Further on in the printed version of the story, a spokesman for the Royal Berks Hospital says that it was normal for someone with Mr Brown's condition to be given medication rather than being operated on. Only if the tablets did not work, would alternatives be considered. But the point is that finally - and only after prompting - the NHS did decide Mr Brown should have the surgery which appears to be of the same sort as Mr Blair had. But whereas Mr Blair had his surgery immediately, Mr Brown will have to wait six months - on a rather intriguing kind of non-waiting-list-waiting-list (part of waiting list manipulation perhaps).
So it remains the case, that Mr Brown waits whereas, apparently for similar surgery, Mr Blair was treated without delay.
Perhaps it will be said that Mr Blair is important and should be given priority. If so, then it could equally truthfully be said that certain industrial leaders are important, in which case presumably they should be given priority, too. It could similarly be said that dustbinmen are relatively less important and, therefore, according to this logic, they should be put right at the back of the queue. A whole peckng order could be constructed. Is this really what medical ethics have come to? Is it not appalling way to regulate NHS queues -according to the 'importance' of the patient?
It would also be salutary for Mr Blair, who has praised the NHS so often and who claims it is so much improved, to experience it as others do. Indeed, it is obnoxious of him to say it is good and then to avoid experiencing it as it really is. If he truly believes the NHS is in fine shape, why does he feel the need to queue-jump? The man is a hypocrite.
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.
DHL has put parts of London, Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham off limits because of complaints from its drivers.
Recently blacklisted areas include London's Canning Town and Custom House.
The firm, which will not give exact details of other trouble-spots, is asking people to collect their packages from its local depots.
The BBC online version of the story is here.
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.
In a hard-hitting report, she says that, without reforms to the system, "a sizeable group of families will continue to suffer not only considerable inconvenience, but also significant worry and distress".
She urges ministers to reconsider the way the Government pays tax credits, which are claimed by around six million families.
She also accuses the Treasury of misleading MPs about the extent of the problems and calls for claimants to be allowed to keep overpayments received as a result of error. The ombudsman's findings, which are echoed in a separate report today from the charity Citizens Advice, are an embarrassment to the Chancellor, who considers tax credits to be one of his major achievements.
The full article is in the Telegraph.
Polly Toynbee, in the Guardian, rode to the defence of tax credits although in the process she was good enough to lay bare more about how disastrous they have been:
If the sums involved are eye-wateringly huge - £2bn overpaid - that is because more families are getting these payments and the money they receive is far more generous than ever before. Even so, it takes the breath away to find that out of the 6 million families getting tax credits, almost 2 million have been overpaid by an average of £1,000 each.
For Ms Toynbee, it is a regrettable side issue that two million overpayments have been made. For her, the point is how generous Mr Brown has been and how clever he is politically to help the poor, despite the fact that - so she claims - the electorate does not like this.
She claims, incidentally, that there is no higher incidence of computer systems going wrong in the private sector than in the public sector. I wonder what evidence she has for that, assuming she has some? But in any case, should not prudent government policy allow for the fact that public sector computer systems, at least, tend to go wrong (and way over budget)? Would it not be sensible to make policies, where possible, that do not heavily depend on them?
But the major failing of her piece is the failure to consider much simpler (and thus less accident-prone) approaches such as introducing a high threshold for tax free income. Tax credits are generally repayments of tax paid. It is far simpler not to take the tax in the first place.
A second failing in her piece is to ignore the fact that many of the poorest and least able do not claim their tax credits. It is just too difficult. So they are not helped at all.
Today, Polly Toynbee has been reminded that her great admiration for tax credits is not shared by, er,
The Guardian was the first newspaper to reveal the tax credit system was in trouble and Jobs & Money has campaigned tirelessly for two years for the Inland Revenue officials to take a more lenient stance on repayments.
Last year, under the headline "Don't make it easy for the taxman" we told how Citizens Advice was advising claimants to check their records before agreeing to make overpayments. Given the official reports detailing how Inland Revenue systems make thousands of errors a month, it turned out be sound advice.
In the spring we offered further tips on how to appeal if the Revenue had begun to claw back overpayments ("Tax credit victims in fightback") and reported on calls by MPs for ministers to tackle the "tax credit shambles".
It would be a further two months before Dawn Primarolo, the minister in charge would concede to conducting a limited review. Calls for her resignation this week were rebuffed by the government.
The government has resisted calls for an overhaul of the tax credits system ever since it was launched in 2003 amid chaos and confusion.
Ms Primarolo ordered a limited review last month, but this week's critical reports have failed to persuade her the system is flawed.
She has also ignored calls by charities representing low income families, MPs and civil service unions, which have campaigned for a moratorium on demands for tax credits to be repaid until basic defects in the system are investigated.
"Chaos", "confusion", "shambles"? Not a problem for Polly.
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.
He has written an article in the latest edition of Economic Affairs which is introduced thus:
In many developing countries, private unaided schools are serving the poor in large numbers. Some commentators view their presence as undesirable in particular assuming that there is a conflict between 'commercial gain' and 'concern for the poor'. We show one way in which there is no conflict the private unaided schools offer free or concessionary places to the poorest of the poor. Using data from a random sample of schools in Hyderabad, India, and a smaller sample in Makoko, Nigeria, we show that such places range from 1020% of all places offered.
The full text is here.
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,
believe it or not, Bill Clinton. Ron Haskins was assertively conservative and Republican. But, on the matter of welfare reform, he was full of praise for Clinton. He had met Clinton before he became president and even then had been impressed by his detailed knowledge of the welfare system. There was only one other governor who knew as much or more. Clinton was also emphatic, regardless of his own sexual history, that people should leave college, get a job, get married and have children in that order.
Most other democrats fought reform bitterly. That Democrat attitude still has not gone. Haskins now works at the Brookings Institution which clearly has a full representation, to put it gently, of Democrats. One day Haskins found, just in time, that one of the images he was going to use for a presentation had been doctored. It was a poster with Bush and Cheney. On it had been put super-imposed message, "We hate poor people".
He said that even Clinton vetoed the reform package twice. Support from Democrats in the House amounted to a mere 17 votes. Then Clinton, at the last moment, decided not to veto the package on the third occasion. Only at this very late stage did the vote among the Democrats increase to about 100.
The achievements of the package so far?
- a 60 per cent reduction in those on welfare rolls
- a massive saving in taxation
- a major reduction 'poverty' as officially measured among lone mothers.
- the rate of unmarried parenting has stopped rising but has not fallen
- black men are no more likely to have a job than previously
- there is little support in the figures for the idea that people can start on a low income job and hope to rise and rise from there.
I suggested, in the question and answer session, that getting people to marry more could be like trying to turn around an oil tanker - it takes time. People who are thinking of having sex, will not pause and say "Oh no, wait a minute. The benefit system has changed. Perhaps I won't after all."
It takes a big cultural shift. That takes place by such things as a younger sister seeing that her older sister is not having such a good life as a lone parent. She is having to drop off her children in the early hours at school or with childminders, then she is rushing to work, then going back to pick up the children and put them to bed. Not great fun. Over time, the younger sister might come to decide - or be advised - that maybe it would be better have children in the context of marriage.
Others in the room were concernd that a large amount of money was being spent on unmarried mothers in the form of child care subsidies that they would not get (?) if they were married. So lone parenting was, perhaps, still being unintentionally encouraged by the state.
Following back a 'site reference' to this website, I came across the following by someone signing him or herself 'darkhorse' on Guardian Unlimited 'The Talk'.
I notice that Bartholomew unquestioningly parrots the comments of Haskins.
It doesn't occur to him that changes in the statistics relating to single parent families and unmarried parents in the US over the 90s are almost certainly down to the fact that the US experienced a recession in the early 90s, followed by the usual economic growth cycle after a recession and the dotcom boom from 96-2000.
Instead, like a starry-eyed evangelist (or propagandist, more likely) he is, he unquestioningly accepts the spurious attribution of this improvement in income to a range of welfare reforms implemented in 96. It's as if he believes nothing else happened in the US in this period except these blessed reforms.
It so happens that Ron Haskins dealt specifically with this line of political counter-attack. Unfortunately I don't have a transcript of his remarks so I cannot authoritatively give chapter and verse. But he showed a chart which, from memory, was of the number of people on welfare benefits over several decades. This showed that periods of strong economic growth in the past have indeed had some effect. But the impact was alway relatively small and quite trivial compared to what has happened since 1996.
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?
Unfortunately the most conclusive statistics will not be available until much later. These are the proportions of people who survive for five years or more after contracting the various kinds of cancer. International comparisons of these 'five-year survival rates' have, in the past, been the most damning and incontrovertible evidence that the NHS has provided medical care that is amongst the worst in the advanced world.
In the absence of such emphatic evidence, though, there is much to suggest that a radical improvement of the NHS is just not happening.
In 2003, 72 per cent of cancer patients were not given curative radiology in a timely way. The figure was actually worse than in 1998, when 32 per cent were not treated acceptably.
There are still serious delays on all sorts of diagnostic work that has to be done for a doctor to establish what a patient is suffering from and how bad it is.
Recently a woman was told that she would have to wait for 18 months for an MRI scan. Many health authorities commonly quote a six month wait for such scans, which are used for assessing cancer, heart disease and damage to the brain among other things.
Many people assume that the NHS will give us the drugs we need, when we need them. This has not been the case for a long time. It still isn't. There is large scale under-prescription of Aricept, for those whose memories are fading, and of Cox-2 inhibitors for those with arthritis. In America there is a drug for colo-rectal cancer called Avastin has been in use for a year. In Britain, it is now possible to get it privately. But NICE, the government quango which assesses new drugs, says it will not decide whether or not NHS patients should have it until more than a year from now. Herceptin, a drug for breast cancer, is only given to about half of the women who would benefit from it. In America, virtually every woman who would benefit gets it.
The Picker Institute recently assessed the progress of the NHS and made the telling observation that it had improved where there had been a lot of political focus. But it had not improved - and in some cases had got worse - in areas that were out of the limelight.
It is not encouraging that so many doctors have recently been expressing disgust at the way the NHS operates. Mike Lavelle, a consultant surgeon, resigned from the NHS earlier this month saying "the delays in operating theatres are quite frankly scandalous".
Another consulant, Milton Pena, an orthopaedic surgeon, said that on his ward a "desperate shortage of nurses is putting patients' lives at risk".
The Government seems to be on a campagin - involving civil servants who are meant to be independent - to convince us that the NHS is getting better and better in every way. But it has reached the point where government claims and statistics are treated as less trustworthy than those from outside bodies. There has been plenty of evidence that waiting lists are manipulated.
Professor Karol Sikora, a leading cancer specialist, said yesterday, "we've got ourselves into a propaganda culture' and said that the government claim that 99 per cent of suspected cancers were seen by a specialist within two weeks is "just lies".
However much the government huffs and puffs about how well it is doing, the true quality - or lack of it - of the NHS can be seen by us all. It will certainly also be analysed by outside bodies. There is no hiding place if the NHS cannot match other systems in the world. And on present form, in two years' time, it still won't. Then we might be thinking quite hard about what sort of system would be better.
On reading through the rest of the Daily Express today, I find, in the very same issue, an example of a public servant - who should be independent of all politics - putting out more pro-NHS propaganda and thus acting, effectively, as a pawn of the Labour Party.
Dr Gill Morgan, the Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, no less, has found time to write to the letters page of the Daily Express to correct a reader who, in her view misrepresented the true situation in the NHS. (What is the Confederation? "The Confederation brings together the organisations that make up the modern NHS across the UK.")
The reader is quoted as applauding a "surgeon's stand against empire builders". (Perhaps he was referring to Mr Lavelle, mentioned above.) Dr Morgan writes:
Your correspondent David Dowd misuses statistics in his letter.
Three per cent of the overall NHS budget is spent on managers.
To claim there is one administrator for every useful member of the NHS is wrong and also incredibly demoralising to the cleaners, porters, IT staff, managers and cooks who don't work directly with patients but without whom the NHS would collapse.
It is marvellous to behold Dr Morgan accusing a member of the public of "misusing statistics". Note her own careful use of the phrase "three per cent of the overall NHS budget is spent on managers". It is up to the NHS of course, what it defines as a 'manager'. If she is really willing to break down the entire budget, let us hear what percentage is spent on every other category of staff including 'administrators','office clerks' and suchlike who are not 'managers'. And when she says "overall" NHS budget, what is she including? Everything? In which case, let us have the relevant statistics just for hospitals.
I wonder if she herself counts as a 'manager' or whether her job description is something else, perhaps 'special adviser for refuting any criticism of the NHS'.
I fully expect that she, or Nigel Crisp, will be writing to the Daily Express again today to 'refute' my article. I wonder whether there will be meetings and consultations, perhaps with ministers, on how best to do it. (Well, as a way of spending taxpayers' money, it is alternative to hiring a nurse.) Will they go round to see the editor to re-educate him?
How sad it is, indeed, that public servants have become like this. I suppose it is simply that nowadya they will not given the top jobs unless they are willing to toe the (political) party line. It is a kind of corruption of the body politic.
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.
Each home has three basic bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom and is supplied with heating, gas, electricity and hot water.
The Dutch scheme was hailed a success and is to be extended nationwide. Mr Field said he would volunteer his constituency of Birkenhead, Merseyside, if ministers wanted to run a pilot scheme here.
And he went on: "They can put them up underneath the motorway flyover. The Labour Party in Holland has stopped messing about on this issue and has got serious.
"We need to be doubly serious about this issue because we are further down the road to anarchy."
The story comes from the Mirror today.
I have been asked to appear on Radio 5 Live between 10.00pm and 10.30pm tonight to discuss Field's idea.
Thersites listened to the Radio 5 Live discussion and makes some remarks on it here.
I was not surprised to be surrounded by people with a Left-wing mind set. But I was mildly encouraged by the way the managing editor of the Observer implicitly acknowledged that this was a serious problem and not just a matter of a few people playing loud music now and again. On the other hand, the 'criminologist' was, indeed, extraordinary. We were all asked by the presenter, Anita Anand, what we would suggest should be done with nightmare neighbours if all else had failed and we did not want Frank Field's steel houses. His answer? We should 'have a debate'.
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.
Before 1996, never-married mothers were (as in Britain) the most likely to drop out of school, go on welfare, and have long spells on benefits. Yet their employment grew by almost 50 per cent. As with the case-load decline, these changes in employment by low-income single mothers - especially never-married mothers - are without precedent.
The pattern of income for the poorest mother-headed families has shifted dramatically. Earnings have risen by 130 per cent to constitute almost 55 per cent of income, while welfare income fell to about 20 per cent. Rising earnings accompanied by falling welfare is the precise goal of welfare reform.
The bottom line is that female-headed families with children are financially better off. Child poverty fell every year between 1993 and 2000, and among black children reached its lowest level ever. The percentage of families in "deep poverty", defined as half the poverty level, has also declined substantially.
Trends in non-marital births and the composition of American families are less startling, but give grounds for optimism. Our teen birth rate has been declining since the early 1990s and by 2002 reached its lowest ever. And after decades of increases, the non-marital birth rate for women of all ages has roughly stabilised since 1994; among black households, it has actually declined.
The percentage of children living with single mothers has also declined, while the percentage of children living with two adults has increased. Child-support collections have nearly doubled since 1995, and paternity establishment has increased substantially.
So, for the first time since the 1960s, and in contrast to Britain, most of the measures of family structure are either stabilised or moving in the right direction. Given the strong research evidence on the benefit for both children and adults of living in married families, this should have broad impacts, including better school readiness, higher rates of school completion, less delinquency, lower rates of mental health problems, less poverty and further declines in welfare use.
The above is from an article by Ron Haskins in the Telegraph today.
It is clear that the one area that has not shown so much improvement is that of the incidence of marriage. But perhaps that is like turning a tanker around - it takes time. The immediate decision of individuals about whether to marry or not is largely cultural and only partly financial. I believe that over time, the change in the financial effects of marriage or non-marriage will change the culture. But that is probably a long term process.
By RUSSELL LEWIS
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.
Let's start with Britain's most popular game. In the 1930s, British football crowds were as orderly as church congregations. Today our soccer fans are a byword for aggressive violence. In the first-class matches in 1946-47 only 10 players were sent off. By the mid-'90s the total number of red cards issued in a season had reached 451. Hooliganism is not confined to our footballers and their supporters. In 2002, a survey by the travel company Expedia of tourist offices in 17 countries found that, for loutishness, British visitors were top of the league.
At home the yobbism of the football crowds is only magnified in the incidence of violent crime, which rose from 4,221 in 1898 to 331,843 in 1998-99. Even adjusting for population growth, that amounts to a 47-fold increase. The situation is actually worse than the numbers suggest, for the laws and their enforcement were stricter a century ago. Indeed, as one eminent authority, Professor Jose Harris, put it, "If Edwardian standards were applied in the '90s, most of the youth of Britain would be in gaol."
But at least we Brits still love our children, don't we? Well, not, it seems, in all cases. In recent times there has been a virtual epidemic of child abuse. Prosecutions for cruelty or neglect of children in England and Wales -- 228 in 1988 -- have since jumped more than threefold.
Drug use, once remarkably well-contained in this country, is now rife among English teenagers. According to a 1999 European Union survey, 41% of English youngsters between 15 and 16 years of age had tried cannabis -- the highest rate in Europe. Alcohol abuse is also expanding merrily, and not only among the lager louts in and out of the stadiums. When it comes to tippling, British women are way ahead of their sisters on the European mainland.
Dickens' Fagin would have found much to applaud in the activities of present-day English juveniles. According to a speech by then-Education Secretary Estelle Morris in April 2002, the proportion of all robberies committed by 10- to 16-year-olds during school hours was as follows: street robberies 40%; car thefts 33%; burglaries 25%; and criminal damage 20%. After reading that, it isn't surprising to learn that 9.9% of all schoolchildren skip class at least once a week.
Of course the ultimate source of these troubles is poor upbringing, fueled in part by the rise of illegitimacy. Between 1900 and 1960 births outside marriage averaged 4%-5% in the U.K. Today they are 40% of the total. This flouting of societal norms appears to have stimulated a corrupt attitude toward society's institutions: The Benefit Agency reports that over a quarter of the people it serves were definitely or possibly guilty of false claims -- not a very inspiring example to the offspring.
The reasons for this moral decline are as clear as the aforementioned statistics are bleak. As James Bartholomew argues in his recent book "The Welfare State We're In" (Politico's, 2004), the blame rests squarely on the growth of the welfare state, which has removed personal responsibility in large areas of people's lives and substituted dependency on the state and the rule of the bureaucrat. The state is complicit in the breakdown of the family; consider Mr. Bartholomew's example of how the state has promoted single-parent families by taxing married couples -- and abolishing the marriage allowance -- while giving increasing amounts of money to single parents.
No wonder, then, that from 1972 to 1992 the proportion of children living with a lone parent tripled to 21% from 7%. The link with rising crime is reflected in one shaming statistic: One-third of the people in U.K. prisons spent time in an orphanage at some time in their childhood. One prison governor, on being asked how many of the inmates had formerly been taken into foster care, replied: "Nearly all of them."
Indeed, the collapse of the traditional nuclear family has hit the poorest classes quite disproportionately, with nearly a quarter of girls whose fathers were unskilled workers becoming teenage mothers, mostly outside marriage. Divorces have risen sevenfold since 1960, and these also have been much more common among the poor.
Of course there are many examples of children being well raised by a single parent, but these are statistically dwarfed by the evidence that two-parent families are more successful in teaching discipline and respect for morality. With one parent -- most often the father -- missing from the picture, it is not surprising that children are more apt to run wild.
Free state education was intended to civilize the poor and improve their lot by fostering their intellectual and practical skills while also making them good citizens. The reality is that, rather than making up for the failures of a bad home background, schools in poor neighborhoods are generally the worst -- characterized by lack of discipline, high rates of bullying and crime, poor teaching, low grades and even unacceptably poor basic skills such as reading, writing and counting.
* * *
How depressing to watch the British people trampling upon their once-high reputation for civility and respect for law. Yet for this social breakdown -- for that is what it is -- they have only themselves, and the indulgent welfare society they demanded from the state, to blame.
Mr. Lewis is a former general director of the Institute of Economic Affairs
"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.
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.
Ministers are bursting with ideas and are asking others to come up with more. A government policy document proposes that council tax in Northern Ireland should be based on home values. The idea could be tried out there and then applied nationwide.
If ministers don't go for that one, they will get suggestions from a review of council tax by Sir Michael Lyons later this year. He is likely to recommend changes to council tax which will result in many people paying more.
Don't let us forget second homes. Next month a 'rural housing commission' will start looking for ways in which to hurt those with a place in town and a hideaway in the country. This could be done through planning restrictions or by raising council tax for second home owners. Yvette Cooper, a minister in John Prescott's department, has said it might be a good idea to tax second home owners because this could make more homes affordable for local people. As ever, the government is keen to blame problems on other people. The real reason property is expensive is that we have a rising population (partly through immigration), more people living alone because of family breakdown and very restrictive planning laws. The result is inevitable and not the fault of second home owners.
Gordon Brown has already got 'form' on taxing property. He has increased the rate of stamp duty several times since he became chancellor and he has kept the increases in stamp duty thresholds - the point at which the higher rates apply - far below the increases in house prices. The top rate of stamp duty is now four per cent and many people who once thought the higher rates would never affect them are finding they are getting close to them.
Mr Brown also increasingly taxes property when people die. As with stamp duty, he has raised the inheritance tax threshold as slowly as possible. As property prices have risen, there are millions of people alive today who will not be able to leave their homes to their children, free and clear. They will be forced to leave up to forty per cent of the value to Gordon Brown.
Why does Labour government have it in for property?
One reason is grubbily political. Property taxes genrally raise money without hitting Labour's supporters in areas where property prices are relatively low. In Scotland and the North of England, some 60 per cent of property purchases do not attract stamp duty at all. That compares with only 13 per cent in the South East and less than five per cent in London. Similarly less than 10 per cent of purchases in Scotland, the North, the North-West, Yorkshire and Humberside and Wales attract the the three per cent or four per cent bands of stamp duty. In contrast, the higher rates are paid in close to 40 per cent of purchases in London. Stamp duty is a tax on the south and on Conservative Party supporters.
Gordon Brown has also got Left-wing theorists egging him on towards higher property taxation too. The Institute for Public Policy Research has called on the government to “reduce the under-taxation of home ownership” arguing that more tax would reduce the gap between the homes lived in by the rich and those of the poor. Another argument in favour of hitting home owners is the suggestion that, Britain has "too much owner" occupation and is "out of line" with the lower levels on the Continent.
Is it right that our property should be taxed more? Is it a 'good thing' we would be selfish to oppose?
Actually a high rate of home ownership is a positive thing. People look after their own homes better than, say, homes belonging to a council. The total destruction of many council estates over the years - both in Britain and abroad - is testament to this fact. The reason home ownership is less widespread in many Continental countries is probably because they have taxed it so heavily. Some Continental countries have made it disastrously expensive to buy and sell houses. The rules are far from simple but in France, for example, stamp duty is between 10 and 12 per cent for properties older than five years. In Italy the rate is 11 per cent. So what happens? People don't buy and sell. They rent, not through choice but because the government pushes them that way. These countries have made a mistake. They should change, not us.
Labour is missing the most profound point about property. A house or flat may seem to be just a piece of land with some bricks - a good target for taxation. But to each of us as individuals, an owned home is profoundly important. It is somewhere we can go to whenever we want and for as long as we want. It is financial security. Even if we lose our jobs or our shares go down, we feel that we will still own something if we own our home. And it will very probably keep, or increase, its value.
A house or flat is a way in which we try to improve our circumstances. We typically start off in a small place. But we hope to save, get promotion or an inheritance and then move on to something better. The desire to take ourselves and our families to better things is a natural part of human behaviour. It benefits ourselves, our families and the national economy.
These are things Tony Blair appeared to understand before he became prime minister. When out canvassing for votes, he met 'Sierra Man' polishing his car - the sort of person who had done well out of Lady Thatcher's years. Sierra Man had bought his council house and had been able to get his car because of lower taxes. 'Sierra Man' had 'got on' with the aid of property ownership and low taxes. It was because Mr Blair saw the importance of this that he got his landslide.
Unfortunately Tony Blair has not been in charge of the taxing and spending of this government. Gordon Brown has. What is more, he is likely to get the top job in the next few years. He subscribes to the idea that taxing property is good. So look out, home owners, you are first in line for the coming rise in taxes.
(This is an unedited version of an article that appeared in the Daily Express today.)
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,
In recent times party political debate has often been in danger of missing the big point in education.
The Labour Party has talked primarily about "resources", talking about spending per pupil, per school and as a share of our national wealth.
The Conservative Party has talked more about "structures", giving parents greater choices between different sorts of schools.
Both are important - but there is a danger of missing the absolutely vital bit in the middle: what actually happens in our state schools.
Will our children learn to read, write and add up properly? Will they be safe in class? Will they be stretched to the best of their abilities? Will they be taught the skills they need to have a successful career when they leave? Will our local school do the best for our child?
These are the questions parents ask themselves - the issues we stress about when considering our children's education.
Mr Cameron is, of course, quite right to think it is important that children should learn to read, write and add up properly. He is not exactly being controversial, either, in suggesting that it would be a good thing if they were safe in class and that they should be 'stretched'. These are views that anyone might have. The important issue is how do we get schools which actually achieve these things.
Mr Cameron seems to think that merely saying that such things are important and that they are common sense amounts to a policy. Does he really think that being education minister and thinking these things is going to make a difference? To be fair, he does name a genuine policy - one of giving heads the power to expel pupils without there being an appeals tribunal. But while he wants children to learn to read and write, he does not say if he is going centrally impose the synthetic phonics he approves of. If he did so, he would be going against the 'celebration' of school independence which he favours.
He has plenty of good wishes and intentions but distinctly short of methods to make them happen. It is all talk and no action and in this is is very like the superficial appeal and actual uselessness of Blairism. But the worst thing about his speech is this:
He dismisses as, at best, a subsiary idea the only realistic chance of making schools the way that he wants them. He attacks his own party saying that it has 'missed the big point' by talking about 'structures'. But on the contrary, it is only by changing the structure of schools that there is any chance of bringing about major improvement.
State schooling overall has performed lamentably badly. When he talks about children not being safe, he is really talking about them not being safe in state schools, not private ones. When he suggests they are not being stretched, he is not referring to private schools. State schools perform badly precisely because they are state schools. The only way we are going to get high quality schooling in Britain is if most or all schools are private ones with a high degree of independence enshrined in law. That is a matter of structures.
My preference would be for wholly private schools paid for by parents directly. I would understand if Mr Cameron would think that the British public is not ready to listen to that idea. But he could still go for many other options that would make really big difference to the culture of education in Britain:
1. State schools made into individual charitable trusts or sold to private companies or trade unions or friendly societies.
2. Vouchers for every child to go to a private (or any remaining state) school.
or 3. Education tax relief at the standard rate, up to a limited amount.
4. Abolition of the national curriculum.
5. Abolition of Ofsted and many another educational quango.
The structures Mr Cameron thinks are of secondary importance are, on the contrary, 'the big point'.
Imagine it is the early 1980s. Mr Cameron is a leading, 'modernising' member of the party. The privatising programme is getting under way. He declares, "The Conservatives are missing the big point about the telephone service. The important thing is that the service should be good - that the telephones should actually work and that one should be able to have a new line installed in less than three months. It does not matter so much whether the telecommunications service is privatised or not."
But of course it was only because the structure was changed - the telephone service was privatised and opened to more competition - that its quality dramatically improved. The same goes for education now.
Mr Cameron and his supporters like to describe themselves as modernisers. In fact they are, in the traditional sense, 'conservatives'. They don't want to change anything much. They certainly don't want to change structures. They don't understand how much structures matter. They are not radicals, let alone Thatcherites. Lady Thatcher, indeed, would have called them 'wets'.
It is very sad that after, all this time, a new generation of Tories has come along which, instead of showing new courage has been made gutless and meaningless by the 1997 defeat.
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..."
"For years now, I have been stopped from doing my job in the NHS by the lack of facilities, but in public, the politicians (in particular Alan Milburn and John Reid) have blamed the consultants for the waiting lists. This is extremely demotivating and demoralising", Mr Lavelle wrote.
"It seems the Government thinks that if only they could get the consultants in the NHS to work harder, then waiting lists would be a thing of the past.
"You may not believe this but I have found in the past 10 years or so that the harder I work in the NHS the gloomier managers get because I am spending the limited resources. The delays in operating theatres are quite frankly scandalous. I have complained about this for years, yet nothing has been done.
"In the end, the taxpayer is paying twice for the operation; once when I am sitting around doing nothing, either because of delays in getting patients to theatres or because of lack of beds, and then again when the operation is farmed out to the private sector."
The above quotes are taken from the limited version of the story on the Daily Mail website.
From the printed version, I would add that Mr Lavelle also criticised the employment of a 'Service Improvement Facilitator' who visited the the endoscopy unit to inquire about the number of endoscopes (in instrument for internal examinations).
"Everybody knows that to improve the service we need a second room up and running and some new endoscopes, but instead of that we employ these people to go around interfering and collecting inaccurate data."
"A year's salary for this person would probably but a new colonoscope and we could have a new scope every year for the next five years!"
"It is my impression at the moment that there always seems to be money available to appoint new managers, but if you go on to my ward the nurses are struggling to look after patients because the establishment is inadequate."
The criticisms of Mr Lavelle indicate some of the answers to the question which we can expect people to be asking more and more in the next few years: 'why has the NHS improved so little when so much has been spent?'
1. Waste of money when operating theatres are not used and highly qualified staff (not to mention the patient) are left hanging around
2. Waste of money on administrative staff which could be better spent on frontline staff.
Some politicians might respond, "Right-o, we will demand that operating theatres are used more efficiently and we will cut back on admin staff". They will imagine that yet another diktat from the centre will solve everything. How many times has this naive idea got to be tried out before it is understood that it will not work?
The problems identified result from a systemic problem. State monopolies tend to be extremely wasteful. They do not have the same incentives simultaneously to save money and serve the customer very well. Their 'customer' is the central government. Their employees' jobs depend on doing what central government demands. So they do what central governments demand. They fill in forms. They report back on how they have carried out instructions. They need more staff to do this. This is the priority and never mind the patients, the waste or all common sense. The NHS is an inherently bad system because it is a government monopoly. Only when the NHS is reformed in a way that it ceases to be a government monopoly - in other words completely breaks with the Bevan model - will it have the remotest chance of being good.
Incidentally, I would be interested to know what Mr Lavelle is going to do next. Neither the Express nor the Mail reveals that. Will he work in private practice, retire or work abroad?
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:
All the diagnostic scanning in this hospital is already digital. There is no need for photographic plates (which often get lost in British hospitals). All the material is on computers and can be transferred to other computers anywhere in the world.
It is extraordinary, to put it mildly, that the Daily Telegraph should present its story as a good news story about the NHS. In fact the story reveals that the NHS is years behind other countries in its scanning facilities. As a result people with serious diseases like cancer and heart disease are diagnosed late. Late diagnosis means a higher risk of death. Many people die in Britain each year because of the out-of-date diagnostic equipment.
The blog Once More Unto the Breach has an interesting posting and comments on the options and difficulties in welfare reform.
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'.
When Bob Geldof is angry, people have to listen just as they did to Moses. He has moral authority earned through years of effort on behalf of the poor. He has now taken on the wealth and, indeed, popularity, of Ebay which has a stockmarket value of US$51 billion, and bullied it into submission. He encouraged people to bid ridiculous prices of up to £10 million for Live 8 tickets - sums that would never be paid - so as to wreck the auction process. He fulsomely insulted the company. He deliberately damaged their name and their business. In a court of law, the company might have had a right to claim damages. But Ebay realised that it that it would either have to give in or take on a mighty battle with Bob Geldof, conscience of the nation. The company understandably decided to give in.
One has to admire Mr Geldof. He is brilliantly effective. He gets attention and makes things happen. He has even performed a miracle - persuading the band Pink Floyd to get back together again. He also focuses relentlessly on something that genuinely matters - unlike some pop stars who flit from one fashionable cause to another.
But there is increasingly reason to feel uneasy about Bob Geldof and what he demands of us.
In the midst of this latest row, the quiet question people were asking was: what is so wrong about people buying or selling Live 8 tickets on Ebay? What harm was being done?
Bob Geldof said it was "capitalising on the misery of the poor". But if one person (the buyer) goes to the Live 8 concert instead of another person (the seller), how would this hurt the poor? The issue of who happens to sit in a particular seat in Hyde Park one afternoon is surely a matter of indifference to those struggling to get enough food for themselves and their families. And if no one is harmed, then Bob Geldof's expressions of outrage appear illogical and excessive.
He calls the sales "profiteering" as if making a profit were, in itself, an evil thing. But the entire economy is based on people making profits. Every company from Marks and Spencer to the Body Shop tries to make profits. Those who do jobs generally do so to get money, too. Bob Geldof used to sell records on which he, too, made profits. Indeed members of his own band are currently starting proceedings against him because they argue that he kept too much of the profits and passed too little on to them. If profits are evil, we are all sinners.
Bob Geldof may have stopped Ebay from auctioning tickets, but he should not imagine that he has stopped all buying and selling of Live 8 tickets. That will go on by email, in pubs and clubs and outside the concert itself. By blackmailing Ebay into halting its auction, his only achievement will have been to drive the trade underground whereas otherwise it would have been open and traceable.
Mr Geldof clearly thinks he has got the whole country behind him boasting, after Ebay gave way, "they miscalculated this country very badly and, magnificently, the country won". But on a Radio 5 Live phone in yesterday, there were plenty of callers saying they did not agree with him and who regretted that Ebay had been bullied into closing down a legal and useful auction. Warren Buffet, the second richest man in the world, is meanwhile showing that Ebay, far from being villainous, can be used to help good causes. He is selling lunch with himself on the auction site and the proceeds will go to Glide, a San Francisco charity for the homeless. Last year he raised $202,000 for the charity in this way.
The whole nature of what Bob Geldof is doing has changed. When he first created Live Aid, he was raising money for charity to help with the famine highlighted by Michael Buerk on BBC News. Charity - delivered with dedication by decent, philanthropic people to those in need - is something which virtually all of us support.
But Live 8 is not directed towards charity. It is a political campaign in which, among other things, Mr Geldof is trying to pressure world governments into giving more aid to the governments of poor countries. This is a different matter. Plenty of people have serious doubts about government-to-government aid. As a leading authority on the subject, Professor Peter Bauer that said government-to-govenment aid could readily mean "transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries".
Through his over-the-top attack on Ebay and the changed nature of what he is doing, Mr Geldof could be beginning to lose some of the moral authority he previously built up. It is a pity. We can do with people who care about right and wrong.
(This is the unedited version of an article which appeared in the Daily Express today).
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'.
Consultant and GP numbers on the up
Published: Thursday 26 May 2005
Reference number: 2005/0190
New figures published today by Health Minister, Lord Warner show that there are more consultants and GPs working in the NHS in England delivering faster, better care for patients.
There are now 7,542 more consultants and 3,331 more GPs working in the NHS than were in 1999. These staff are helping to bring about big improvements to services for patients:
· improving access – waiting times are now falling consistently so that all heart bypass operations and angioplasties are now done within three months, compared to a two-year wait before 1997
· Almost everyone in England can now see a GP within 48 hours (99.98 per cent)
· GP practices are providing higher quality services, for example over 1.5 million people suffering from diabetes and 2.5 million suffering from asthma are now receiving care to best practice standards
· more than 99% of people with suspected cancers are seen by a specialist within a fortnight of referral by their GP.
Lord Warner said:
"These figures show a continued growth in the number of consultants and GPs working in the NHS. This is having a huge impact on patients, helping them to access treatment faster and get better care.
"It is these people who are responsible for the real changes we are seeing in patient care, the falling waiting times, the improvement in survival rates for cancer and coronary heart disease and the changing role of the NHS from being a sickness service to a true health service through community based initiatives such as our stop smoking services.
“This growth in doctor numbers – and the growth announced recently for the whole NHS – provides the platform for us to deliver a patient led NHS.
“We realise that some pockets of the NHS still struggle to recruit all the staff they need, which is why we are constantly trying to make the NHS a more attractive employer through improved pay and conditions, flexible working and increased access to childcare."
Notes to editor:
1. The number of Consultants in the NHS increased by 213 between September 2004 and December 2004.
2. The number of GPs in the NHS increased by 275 between September 2004 and December 2004.
3. The total number of Consultants in England as at 30 September 1997 was 21,474. As at 31 December 2004 this figure was 30,863- an increase of 9,389.
4. The total number of GPs (excluding GP retainers and GP registrars) in England as at 1 October 1997 was 28,046. As at 31 December 2004 this figure was 31,798- an increase of 3,752.
5. Further information about the mini-census can be found at the link provided:
One is so accustomed to spin, carefully selected statistics, misleading statistics, distorted statistics and so on from this government, that one is inclined to be distrustful. Yet since the government itself is in charge of the production of statistics, figures and explanations it is not so easy to produce a rebuttal.
Here, for the time being, are some off-the-cuff suspicions and comments:
1. I understand that it now takes less time to become a consultant. So not all consultants now would have been called consultants in 1997. The figures are not genuinely comparable. The big rise may not be what it appears.
2. The claimed rise in the number of GPs is much more modest at only 13.4 per cent since 1997. But these figures appear to be headcount figures, not 'full time equivalent' figures. More and more GPs are women working part time. So what is the change in full-time-equivalent GPs? Does the GP figure include or exclude GPs from other countries like Germany?
3. What has been the change in administrative staff, incidentally? A far bigger rise, I believe.
4. The claim that "more than 99% of people with suspected cancers are seen by a specialist within a fortnight of referral by their GP" is surprising. I was recently told by a cancer consultant that some 40 per cent of the patients at her hospital in London are not seen by a consultant but that the cases are discussed with a consultant. To a layman, there would seem to be quite a big difference.
5. Then there are all the figures which are not mentioned:
The waits for diagnostic procedures such as MRI scans which are still very long in many parts of the country.
The availability or otherwise of advanced diagnostic machines, new and better surgical procedures and the more expensive drugs.
As I have mentioned before, I visited one hospital in Miami on my recent visit there. That hospital had one of the latest 64 slice CT scanners. In Britain, only one hospital in the entire country apparently has such a machine. The underuse of many kinds of drugs from Aricept (for dementia) to Cox 2 inhibitors (for athritis) is spectacular in Britain.
GP services remain almost entirely reactive - even when it comes to the elderly. The regular health check-ups that are routine in some other countries are practically unknown here.
A physiotherapist who cares for NHS patients tells me that in her part of Hampshire, provision of NHS physiotherapy has significantly deteriorated in recent years.
I would be grateful for comments - favourable or otherwise - from medical practitioners on what they consider to be the reality of the new, well-funded NHS.
Comment from one doctor quoted in the Guardian today in an article about hip fractures:
Most patients requiring a so-called neck-of-femur repair to correct the injury are older women, and most already have other medical things wrong with them, says Christopher Bulstrode, professor of orthopaedics at Oxford University and a council member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. "They are very difficult to anaesthetise. You can lose them because they have dicky hearts, hypertension or are suffering dehydration. We give them to the most junior surgeons; we operate in the middle of the night and, surprise surprise, they don't do very well.
The article is part of an assessment of NHS performance. It is probably valuable in assessing the performance of NHS trusts in comparison with each other. Unfortunately it is not focused on NHS preformance compared with the past or, most important of all, other countries.
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.
Thousands of evening classes and part-time courses are being scrapped following a cut in government funding, further education colleges said yesterday..
More than 200,000 adult education and training places on courses ranging from A-level English to painting and decorating will disappear in September, with further closures expected in 2006, principals warned. The Association of Colleges said fees for many of the remaining courses will double or even quadruple as colleges try to make up shortfalls in their budgets
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?
There are two reasons for the under-saving. First, the government strongly disincentivises saving by the poor. Most means tested benefits are not payable to anyone with financial assets of more than a specified amount. It used to be £15,000 - I don't know the up-to-date figure. But it means that anyone who is - or thinks that in the future they might be - on means tested benefits, has a strong disincentive to avoid having savings of any substance.
Gordon Brown has added to this the Pension Credit which is a means-tested benefit for the elderly. This has pushed the discouragement to saving up towards those of more means. The pension credit means the benefit of saving - including saving through a pension fund - are seriously reduced unless one accumulates well over £100,000.
The second way in which the government has discouraged saving is through the state pension. The existence of the state pension makes people think, 'The state is looking after my pension. I don't need to think about it'. At some point in their lives, they discover this is not true. The state will not look after them in old age. The state pension is tiny. But they often discover the truth too late to do anything about it.
An honest politician would say: "Don't rely on the state pension. It is very small and it is continuing to get smaller compared to average incomes."
A decent politician would take means testing out of the equation by easing out the pension credit.
An open-minded politician would, as Peter Lilley did, propose a new pension scheme for younger people which would be invested in stocks, shares and bank deposits.
A radical politician would propose the gradual but wholesale abolition of the state pension, leaving only income support for those people who had made no provision for their old age. That is the policy that would have the most dramatic effect in encouraging a saving culture in Britain, just as it has a dramatic effect in Hong Kong.
The article quoted come from the
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.
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.
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.
This is the 'producer interest' at work. Politicians and civil servants create the rules which favour themselves, rather than those they are supposed to be serving. It is easer for public servants to pursue their 'producer interest' than for those who are in private companies. That is a fundamental reason why governments are less efficient in all their activities. They waste money. In this case the waste arises becaue it would be perfectly possible to hire the same public servants at the same wages - or only fractionally higher - without their relatively luxurious pension schemes. Public money is spent which could have been saved.
The taxpayers pay for this waste and these taxpayers include those paying income tax on incomes of a mere £5,000. In other words, people who are very poor pay tax to finance the unnecessarily high pensions of public servants. It is, of course, a scandal. But don't expect the BBC to be outraged. They are public servants. And don't expect politicians to say anything. They are a) public servants and b) don't want to offend the other 5.7 million public servants who are also voters.
All this is without going into another scandal in public servant pensions: the all-too-easy and frequent early retirements in the fire service and several other public services.
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.
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.
Children with learning difficulties are not all the same. There is a big difference between a child who is a bit slow and a severely retarded paraplegic. There is a need for flexible thinking. It is marvellous that Bob Black's child, Morwenna, has done well in mainstream schools. But there are some inner city comprehensive schools where even ordinary children are bullied. It would be taking a terrible risk to send a Down's Syndrome child to such a place. Morwenna may not have been bullied but that does not mean that many other disabled children have not been, and badly.
It is true that a child with problems can sometimes benefit from the example of more able children in a mainstream school. The presence of such a child might also improve the attitude of other children, making them more accepting of disabled people. But let us remember hard fact number two: mainstream schools do not have special training in all the different disabilities. I am a governor of a state primary school which has six children with 'statements' of 'special educational needs'. Each one is different. The staff cannot possibly be well versed in them all.
Then there is the grotesque 'special needs' bandwagon that has built up. The proportion of children with the worst problems who have 'statements of need' has tripled since 1991. This is a farce and a scandal, as Baroness Warnock now admits. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that schools get more cash when a child is 'statemented'.
The proportion of children with less acute problems has also jumped - at least by a third and probably far more. Astonishingly a fifth of children in school years three to seven are now supposed to have 'special educational needs'. This is simply beyond belief. There has not really been a mass outbreak of childhood learning difficulties. In many cases, the problem is not the children but the teaching. Schools for the last two decades have been infected by poor methods of teaching children to read and write.
There is terrible waste in a new 'special needs' industry. Vast amounts of expert time and paperwork goes into drawing up the 'statements' of need. Far less is spent actually giving children useful things such as speech therapy. A vast army of support assistants sits next to 'statemented' children. It is far from clear that all the children who are given this expensive attention truly benefit.
In Florida, parents of disabled children can get vouchers which enable them to get their children out of their state schools and into different state schools or private schools instead. Fifteen thousand children have taken advantage of the programme. Surveys have revealed that the children have become significantly safer from bullying, happier and have done better academically. If we really want to look after children who have difficulties, we should give parents here the same choice.
(A useful source on the subject is the essay What are special educational needs? by Dr John Marks which was published by the Centre for Policy Studies in 1999. The government's latest figures for children defined as having special needs are here. The fall in the figures in recent years looks rather strange and there is some hint in the notes that this might be due to different methods of collecting the figures. If anyone has further information on why the official figures have fallen, I would be glad to hear of it.)
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:
During the inter-war years, a number of Conservative radicals had sought to move the party towards the corporatist policies then popular across Europe. Even during the Second World War, the Tory Reform Committee was active the House of Commons as a virtual party within a party pressing a paternalist corporatist agenda often in sympathy with Labour's statist policy. After the 1945 election defeat, Winston Churchill created the Conservative Research Department of Central Office; he put R.A.Butler in charge of a 'rethink' of domestic policy which took the party firmly to the left. The key policy document, 'The Industrial Charter' of 1947, largely bought into Harold Macmillan's pre-war corporatist 'Middle Way' (the middle being half way between Manchester and Moscow, or free market liberalism and state communism) supporting the nationalisation of the Bank of England, coal and railways, the establishment of state planning and central economic direction, alongside industrial 'co-partnership' and industrial councils.
Experience of the Labour Government of 1945-51, however, led Churchill's administration to bravely begin a 'bonfire of controls', ending rationing, including amidst great controversy rationing of sweets and chocolates, and quietly forgetting about co-partnership. Under Macmillan, the rot set in, and the doctrine of the 'left only ratchet' and the inevitability of the decline of capitalism prevailed.
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.
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.
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.
He said, "we failed in the non-economic aspects of policy" and "I bitterly regret that we weren't bolder in our programme in 1987 - particularly in health reform and education reform".
On Europe, he suggested the policy now should be to describe a European Union of a kind that we would like and, if we cannot get it (or, presumably, something close, that we should leave the EU. He said that Thatcher tried to make the European Union into more of the kind of place she wanted with the Single Market. But this had not worked: "Have we got a single market? Have we hell!"
He was asked what was the biggest mistake of the Thatcher years. He had no doubt that it was joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Up until the ERM fiasco, the Conservatives were ahead in virtually every opinion poll on the question of which party would be better at running the economy. Ever since the ERM, the Conservatives have been behind on the same question.
In describing Margaret Thatcher's view of things, he said, "she believed fundamentally that people behave logically". He said approvingly that she was "predictable". You know what she would think on any issue. You did not have to ring up Number Ten and ask. When she and he were both making speeches on the same night, they did not need to exchange speeches to ensure they would not contradict each other. The line was clear and predictable. He pitied those who worked for Blair who would have no such certainty. [For example, does he believe in the state running things or private companies? One minute Railtrack is nationalised, the next he is contracting out hospital operations to private companies.]
The evening brought home how many radical things she did - things that are easily forgotten like removing exchange controls, pay limits and dividend controls. Tebbitt remarked, "we were thinking so many unthinkable thoughts we almost frightened ourselves".
Dennis O'Keeffe said that under the Thatcher administration he came to be proud of Britain. In looking to a future leader of the Tory party, he thought we would need one who could make us proud again.
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.
It is easy just to think, 'oh well, that is not surprising. There are more graduates so their extra skills are not as highly valued.' But it goes much further than that.
The main justification for the vast expansion of university education under governments of both complexions has been that university education benefits the economy. How have governments known that university education benefits the economy? Because the old statistics used to show a big premium on the earnings of graduates and that was taken to indicate that university education made them much more productive and valuable parts of the economy than non-graduates.
We are now seeing one of the flaws in this line of reasoning (there are others - see the relevant part of the education chapter in The Welfare State We're In). It is that the more graduates you have, the less needed the next one is and therefore, on the logic of the government, the less the benefit of university education to the economy.
So the falling premium given to graduates means that the economic benefit of making more of them is even more dubious than it was before. The government is almost certainly not adding to Britain's economic growth by further expanding university education.
Here is one the recent articles on the subject.
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.
I enjoyed the comment about A levels by one of the students:
Fresh from his IB higher-level chemistry exam, Chris Sharpe, who has a conditional offer from Cambridge to study history, agrees these new exams require more effort than A-levels. Of the 30% of his fellow sixth-formers who chose the A-level programme he says: “Are they more laid back? They are flipping horizontal.”
The head notes that not everyone likes the ethos of internationalism in the IB. See previous posting about this.
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.
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.
Jim Rose has been appointed to conduct a study , one of the so-called 'three wise men' who (along with Robin Alexander and Chris Woodhead) wrote the 'Alexander Report', which was highly critical of extreme progressive orthodoxy. However, Rose is an experienced mandarin himself, and it remains to be seen how he will react to DfES pressure. Part of the problem is that some advocates of synthetic phonics are eager for the Government to impose synthetic phonics by dictat. This simply won't work since the only means of 'enforcement' currently at the Government's disposal is the Department For Education and Skills. This is the Department which has fought synthetic phonics tooth and nail ever since the first Scottish Office results were announced in 1998. Giving the task to the DfES would make as much sense as asking a defeated army to draw up the peace treaty - it really is that adversarial. Admittedly, it would be possible to create yet another quango with the remit of introducing synthetic phonics, and perhaps this will happen. But even then, it is almost impossible for ministers to think in terms of letting the market work. Trying to introduce synthetic phonics through command-and-control measures will work no better than current measures to restore discipline in our schools. There is only one way forward for Jim Rose: he must initiate trials of synthetic phonics, allowing schools to volunteer to try out different commercial synthetic phonics programmes. Rather than adhering to the current practice of getting all the 'experts' around a table and hashing out a compromise, these experts should simply get out there an do it. As I argued in my March 2 pamphlet (After the Literacy Hour: Let the best plan win! published by the Centre for Policy Studies), teachers need to see synthetic phonics working in other local schools. The best schools are always the ones which are open to new ideas, and these are the ones that should act as the shock troops for synthetic phonics. This whole affair has been a sorry fiasco, and it is to be hoped that ministers will start to consider a drastic curtailment of the DfES. The behaviour of those in charge of the NLS has been little short of criminal, and beyond question their incompetence has been demonstrated. It is true that a true market in education would produce some awful schools, but they wouldn't last long. In any case, this would be a lot better than the uniform awfulness that results from the meddling of bureaucrats.
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.
In the Queen's Speech two weeks ago, the government announced it will bring back the Charities Bill which ran out of time in the previous parliament. The effect of the bill - if it becomes law, as it probably will - will be to force many independent schools to do more charity work to avoid losing charitable status and therefore suffering more tax. This will make life harder for them. It will, at a minimum, result in higher fees for the parents.
Chris Woodhead is one of those who think the attack is not too serious. He has said that giving up charitable status would add four per cent to fees and this should not present too big a problem.
Four per cent would certainly do some damage to those who are struggling to afford private education and for whom this would be the last straw. But there is a worse threat. Private schools with charitable status may not be allowed to give it up. A school that did not want to do the charitable activity required, might not be permitted to 'go commercial'. Its assets were created by charitable donations and the law might insist that they remain for charitable use. The assets could be assigned, perhaps, to some other charity. So the pressure on such schools to do charitable work could be as powerful as the threat of being closed.
What is wrong with that? Isn't charitable activity a good thing? Yes, most of us agree with that. But this is not charity. Charity, by its nature, is voluntary. This will be done under duress. It is more like extortion.
It is unjust treatment of the parents of children at private schools. They are already paying for their children's education twice. They are paying through their taxes, then paying the school fees. Making private schools do charitable work would mean they would pay three times. This is would be penal and create an even bigger discouragement to private education than the existing laws. (Quite deliberately as far as Old Labour M.P.s are concerned.)
What about one of the fast-growing, relatively low-cost, faith-based schools? Their customers are often not rich at all - I have met one who was a single mother living on a council estate who has been giving up 40 per cent of her income to save her children from a comprehensive school where they were being turned into delinquents. She took them out and put them in an evangelist school instead. If such schools for the poor were taxed, this would be obscene. But if such schools were not taxed, private schools would suffer tax depending on whether the customers were rich or poor. This would expose the fact that this is really an attack on the wealthy - an exercise in class hatred.
Old Labour hates private schooling, its growth and the growth of home-schooling because these things imply that state schooling is not good enough. The easy way to dispose of that uncomfortable suggestion is to make life as hard as possible for private schools and, if possible, destroy them.
It is sometimes argued that private schools should not get a charity 'tax break'. That is a sick joke. The parents pay twice, as already mentioned. But more fundamentally, education should not be aggressively taxed anyway. You don't need to think education is necessarily a charity to believe it is a 'good thing'. Instead of increasing further the burdens on private education, parents should be allowed to take the cost of the state education of their children and spend it on private schooling instead. That would give poorer parents - above all - a real choice. They are the ones whose children are most frequently condemned to 'bog-standard' comprehensives. They - and hundreds of thousands of others - would benefit by a reduction in the burdens on private schooling, rather than an increase.
(This is the unedited version of an article which appeared in the Times Educational Supplement last week.)
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.
Between 1990 and 2000, Norway's out-of-wedlock birthrate rose from 39 to 50 percent, while Sweden's rose from 47 to 55 percent. In Denmark out-of-wedlock births stayed level during the nineties (beginning at 46 percent and ending at 45 percent). But the leveling off seems to be a function of a slight increase in fertility among older couples, who marry only after multiple births (if they don't break up first). That shift masks the 25 percent increase during the nineties in cohabitation and unmarried parenthood among Danish couples (many of them young). About 60 percent of first born children in Denmark now have unmarried parents. The rise of fragile families based on cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing means that during the nineties, the total rate of family dissolution in Scandinavia significantly increased.
Scandinavia's out-of-wedlock birthrates may have risen more rapidly in the seventies, when marriage began its slide. But the push of that rate past the 50 percent mark during the nineties was in many ways more disturbing. Growth in the out-of-wedlock birthrate is limited by the tendency of parents to marry after a couple of births, and also by the persistence of relatively conservative and religious districts. So as out-of-wedlock childbearing pushes beyond 50 percent, it is reaching the toughest areas of cultural resistance. The most important trend of the post-gay marriage decade may be the erosion of the tendency to marry at the birth of a second child. Once even that marker disappears, the path to the complete disappearance of marriage is open.
And now that married parenthood has become a minority phenomenon, it has lost the critical mass required to have socially normative force. As Danish sociologists Wehner, Kambskard, and Abrahamson describe it, in the wake of the changes of the nineties, "Marriage is no longer a precondition for settling a family--neither legally nor normatively. . . . What defines and makes the foundation of the Danish family can be said to have moved from marriage to parenthood."
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.
She said the child would be going to a private school. She had no doubt that the state schools were to be avoided if at all possible. This is like the experience I had in Miami, visiting a religious school where the children wanted to be there because of the guns, knives and drugs at their previous government-run school. And here in Britain, it is like the religious school where I interviewed two boys who said that if their mothers had not moved them from their comprehensive school in Westminster, they would have become criminals.
For Mr Brown to promote state schooling in Africa is to visit on that Continent the same mistake that has been perpetrated in Britain.
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.
Gordon Brown and others appear to think that government to government aid is the answer. In fact, as this story illustrates, governments in most impoverished countries are the problem, not the solution.
Full article here.