Monday, November 05, 2012
"Liberation" can be lonely
Marriage undoubtedly requires compromises but some compromises can be worth it
This week the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed that more of us than ever are living alone. This won’t trouble the author Colm Tóibín, who once eulogised the freedom that living alone gives him, likening his solitary existence to that of “a cloistered nun”.
A terrifying image, surely, and not a metaphor for a life most of us would seek to inhabit. Certainly not my friend Helen: successful, well-off, homeowner; but tired of her single life, of the near-constant awareness that she’s running out of time to have children, as fast as she’s running out of the energy to embark on another round of futile first dates. Nor my friend Mark, divorced dad, active in his daughter’s life – but who still, at the end of the weekend, returns the child to her mother, before driving back to his re-emptied house, where he passes the evenings with PlayStation and Sky Sports.
In discussing solitary lives, we should ignore the Colm Tóibíns – financially independent people who realise that, for them, to live alone brings more advantages than otherwise. Most people of my generation had such a stage in their lives – between university, and settling down – but we didn’t want it to last forever. In any case, with property prices as they are, such self-selected solitary living is not an option for much of the succeeding generation.
Set aside, too, those figures pertaining to the very elderly; not because there aren’t real problems faced by those (usually female) “survivors”, but because their existence is a function of the uneven impact of medical advances and lifestyle changes on the longevity of each of the genders.
It’s not the relatively young, or the very old, who are the main drivers of this demographic change. As the ONS makes clear, the largest increase in solitary living is down to the 45-64 age group. Almost two and a half million Britons in that age category have no one with whom to share their home, an increase of more than 800,000 households since the mid-Nineties. Even allowing for the increase in total population size, that’s still a noticeable change, and they don’t all enjoy the experience. I suspect there are more divorced parents, like my friend Mark, poking about their fridges for an M&S meal for one, than there are cloistered Irish novelists.
Which would be fine, were this phenomenon merely to affect matters as concrete as housing. But evidence suggests a link between solitariness and poorer health outcomes (mirroring, bleakly, the evidence about the outcomes for children raised in single-parent households). One paper I read showed a significant increase in the prescription of antidepressants to the solitary, compared with cohabiting couples. Correlation doesn’t prove a sociological theory, of course, but it’s hard to ignore the link between living alone, and other deleterious life choices.
Which demands a political response: marriage is the most important institution to act as a bulwark against loneliness, and the Government should promote it. Iain Duncan Smith is unwinding the insidious “couples penalty”, the financial cost to setting up a home with your partner, and the other probable cause, after divorce, for the change in living habits. His Centre for Social Justice discovered that the people most penalised for living together are – surprise – among the poorest. This must be fixed (and couples who “live apart together” shouldn’t be demonised for rationally navigating the snares of the benefits system).
But if it’s understandable that a financial penalty can cause the poorest to avoid marriage, why assume that monetary considerations don’t affect the better-off? First, because politicians are scared to reward marriage in the tax system, and second, because our divorce laws so scar those who endure them that, I suspect, we’ve produced a generation with the motto “once bitten, twice shy”. The changes to child benefit for the well-off hardly help: a middle-class “couples penalty”.
Michael Howard deployed a powerful phrase in defence of his criminal justice policy: prison works. It’s time we used a similar phrase, in defence of social justice: marriage “works” too. It works for most people and definitely for civic society, yet we find it hard to say this, and shy away from its political implications. What started as a desire not to judge “lifestyle choices” has bred a generation living in lonely, quiet despair. Loneliness is a much harder political issue to tackle than, say, house-building, but – if we believe in “society” at all – hardly one of lesser significance.
More petty nastiness from bureaucratized Britain
A grandmother of four has been threatened with jail for sweeping the leaves outside her home. Barbara Ray, 82, was accused of 'causing a hazard' by brushing the fallen leaves into a 'large heap' for roadsweepers to collect.
She was warned her simple attempts to keep the neighbourhood tidy could leave her facing prosecution for fly-tipping, punishable by a £50,000 fine and a 12-month jail term.
When Mrs Ray queried the letter, she was astonished to discover council contractors had photographed her gardener, who visits once a fortnight, sweeping the leaves into the street.
And the council even defended its stance by claiming that her behaviour was 'unacceptable'.
Mrs Ray, who worked as the financial director of a printing business she ran with her late husband, branded the council officials ‘petty bureaucrats’ as she told of her anger over the letter’s threatening tone. She said: ‘It’s bureaucracy gone mad. I’m not a person who wants to make a fuss but it was a shock to read that letter.
‘When I challenged the district council officer and asked him how he knew I’d cleared the leaves into the road from the front of my house, he said they had photos to prove it.
‘I like to keep my house neat and tidy. The council told me to use my green bin – but that is soon full of garden waste because they only empty it once a fortnight. I’m just annoyed that the council can treat me like this.’
The mother of two first moved to her part of Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, in the 1950s with her husband Tony, who died of cancer in 1997 at the age of 71.
Following his death she moved round the corner to her three-bedroom bungalow, which is in a road lined with lime trees.
In a letter sent last week, an official from the district council warned Mrs Ray: ‘You were seen removing leaves from your front garden and depositing them in the road channel in front of your property.
‘Abandoning material in this manner constitutes fly-tipping under section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which is punishable by a fine of up to £50,000 and/or 12 months’ imprisonment.’
A spokesman for the authority told the Daily Mail yesterday that during the autumn, road sweepers are sent once a week to 100 of the worst roads for leaf fall in the district – one of which is Mrs Ray’s.
But she claims the sweepers do not come ‘for weeks’ at a time, so she frequently has to sweep up the leaves from her garden, driveway and the footpath.
Mrs Ray said: ‘I’ve lived through the war and have been in this town all my life. I pay my council tax and should receive this service. I’ve got better things to worry about at my age than this.’
Her family have also played a significant role in the town. Her husband acted as mace bearer for the mayor, while his brother, Malcolm, and father, Ernest, were both mayors in their time.
Mrs Ray said the council has now dropped its threat to prosecute after she promised to stop the sweeping. She turned down the authority’s offer to supply her with a second green bin – for a £35 charge. She will now put the leaves into refuse sacks, which a friend will drive to the council waste disposal centre.
A council spokesman said the ‘very large heap’ of leaves from Mrs Ray’s lawn which had been left in the ‘road channel’ were a ‘hazard’, which caused cars to move further into the road.
He added: ‘Moving the leaves in this manner is unacceptable and can cause additional problems with blocking of drains. The District Council would like to apologise if the letter sent to Mrs Ray caused any concern.’ He added that the letter had been addressed to ‘The Household’, not Mrs Ray herself.
Her local MP, Conservative Nadhim Zahawi said he was 'disappointed' about the council's action. He said: 'As Mrs Ray's Member of Parliament it's my job to represent people like her, particularly in dealing with local bureaucracy and issues with the Council and as such it's a shame I wasn't able to get involved in this case.
'I'm particularly disappointed that the Council's Officers seem to have chosen such a confrontational approach from the outset rather than perhaps asking her local Councillor to intervene or simply sending a less threatening warning letter.'
Jews of Diaspora and Israel are under attack
Prominent French-Jewish intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy declared on Tuesday night that Jews in Israel and around the world are under attack from the twin threats of anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism, and total war against the State of Israel.
Speaking at a conference on the future of the Jewish people organized by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), Lévy labeled the phenomenon of anti-Zionism as “the new mutation of the anti-Semitism virus.”
“The challenge we have to face is the new shape of old anti-Semitism, a new system of legitimacy to express anti-Semitism that revolves around hatred of Israel and anti-Zionism,” he said.
Hatred of Israel, denial or partial denial of the Holocaust, and the identification of Palestinians as the only legitimate victims, he explained, form the basis of the anti-Zionist and anti- Semitic onslaught.
In addition, he said, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are planning a total war constituting a serious threat to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
“For the moment they don’t have the means to wage total war; maybe they will never have it. But when you listen to Hamas, to Hassan Nasrallah, to the men in power in Tehran including the so-called moderates such as Rafsanjani, the words they speak have to be considered as a plan for a form of total war,” Lévy suggested.
Prof. Suzanne Last Stone, academic counsel to JPPI, said the conference was designed to approach challenges to the Jewish people in a more holistic fashion.
One of the overarching challenges, she said, was the importance of building “mutual understanding” to develop and improve Israel-Diaspora relations.
One focus of misunderstanding between the two communities was the lack of understanding among US Jewry regarding the matter of religion and state in Israel.
“The Israeli way of arranging religion and state is strange and troubling for US Jews, and part of a larger set of differences between Israel and the Diaspora,” Last Stone said.
“There are no easy and immediate solutions, but the goal of this conference is to put the issues on the table and bring both communities to understand each other’s positions.”
Australian Aboriginal people 'in welfare trap'
THE Territory's Indigenous Advancement Minister has given Aboriginal people a severe ticking off. Alison Anderson [above] said she "despaired'' at their reluctance to work.
"I look at the men of Yirrkala and ask why they will not drive the 20km to Nhulunbuy to earn excellent money in the mine and the processing plant there,'' she said.
"It is the kind of question the rest of Australia has been asking for years, as it tries to connect the dots, tries to understand why a long-running mining boom can exist literally next door to a culture of entitlement and welfare dependency.''
In a major speech to the NT Legislative Assembly, Ms Anderson said welfare dependency meant indigenous Territorians expected the government to "do everything for them''...
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.