Wednesday, June 27, 2012

British PM is right to want to limit the welfare state

Several of David Cameron’s most recent interventions have come about as a result of an apparent rush of blood to the head. He ill-advisedly taunted the French, by trying to woo their wealthy to come here and pay taxes to prop up the NHS. He got into an undignified row with Argentina’s President.

Then, in Mexico for the G20 summit, he read about Jimmy Carr’s tax wheeze and quickly condemned the comedian’s alleged immorality. The PM would have been better stopping to think first. Does he really want to start pronouncing on individual morality in cases where no law has been broken? Is he prepared for every Tory minister and donor to have their affairs examined by the press? This one, I suspect, isn’t over by a long way.

As a Tory MP put it to me over the weekend: all in all, it isn’t very Prime Ministerial.

But this latest stuff on welfare came from somewhere. Cameron and his advisors have clearly wargamed it. So what are they up to? I had four immediate thoughts.

1) Cameron must have finally started to work out he’s in considerable trouble, with voters, his MPs and the Tory-inclined parts of the press. It will take much effort to woo people back but being tougher on welfare, as the polls show, is probably the easiest place to start. Clegg won’t let him do much more on benefits, so he wants to stress that he would go further if he was unshackled.

2) He seems gradually to be coming to a realisation that the Coalition may not go the distance (I think it won’t see out next year, but let’s see). Either way, better, as some Tories have been saying for some time, to be ready with the makings of a manifesto.

3) There are going to have to be more, as yet unspecified, welfare cuts, according to George Osborne’s own numbers. So the the Government must prepare the ground. That is surely preferable to repeating the Budget experience, where the ground went so unprepared that even when the Government was in the right (equalising tax treatment, via the so-called Granny Tax) it still got stiffed by a public backlash.

4) The Number 10 machine seems to be in a bit of a mess. Even though this welfare push was planned, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone involved that it would be taking place on the same day as the launch of Alistair Darling’s cross-party Save the Union launch in Scotland. This is one of the most important developments of Cameron’s premiership. The Tory leader is desperate to see Salmond defeated and the break-up of the UK averted, so why create a clash rather than giving Darling and his colleagues a clear run in media terms? Labour seems slightly baffled by this cock-up, but has decided not to cause a fuss. It seems to come down to basic poor logistical planning and a lack of nous in the upper reaches of the Number 10 operation.

But so much for the process, what about the content? Here, Cameron deserves praise for making an important and carefully considered speech. A Prime Minister calling for the start of a national debate generally sounds pretty pitiful, but the Tory leader is right that a proper examination is needed of what is expected in terms of welfare provision.

Since the modern concept of the welfare state was launched on the back of Beveridge (elements obviously date from earlier reforms) it has grown like knotweed. If William Beveridge had known his reforms would lead to there being housing benefit available to the under-25s one suspects he would have been appalled. The state is going beyond basic provision and agreeing to a crazy set-up in which some young adults think the state must pay for their housing (having paid for their education and guaranteeing them health care), something that would never occur to many other people battling on low salaries to get a foothold on the property ladder and pay a mortgage. It is also a huge subsidy of the rental market, meaning the taxpayer subsidises landlords.

Cameron used the following example:

    "Take two young women living on the same street in London. One studied hard at college for three years and found herself a full-time job – say as a receptionist – on £18,000 a year, or about £1200 take-home pay a month. She’d love to get her own place with a friend – but with high rents in her area, the petrol to get to work and all the bills, she just can’t afford it. So she’s living at home with her mum and dad and is saving up desperately to move out. Then there’s another woman living down the street. She’s only 19 years-old and doesn’t have a job but is already living in a house with her friends. How? Because when she left college and went down to the Job Centre to sign on for Job Seeker’s Allowance, she found out that if she moved out of her parents’ place, she was automatically entitled to Housing Benefit. So that’s exactly what she did. Is this really fair?"

No.  Cameron cited another example:

    "We inherited, quite simply, a mess of perverse incentives, mind-numbing complexity and real unfairness. Take a couple living outside London.

    He’s a hospital porter, she’s a care-worker. They’re both working full-time and together they take home £24,000 after tax. They’d love to start having children – and they know they’d get some help from the state if they did so. But with the mortgage and the bills to pay, they feel they should keep saving up for a few more years. But the couple down the road, who have four children, haven’t worked for a number of years. Each week they get £112 in income support, £61 in child benefit, £217 in tax credits and £141 in housing benefit – more than £27,000 a year. Even after the £26,000 benefit cap is introduced, they’ll still take home more than their neighbours who go out to work every day. Can we really say that’s fair?"

Again, no.

The Government has already embarked on ambitious welfare reforms, which include the Universal Credit. One hears dark warnings that the computer system won’t work. The consequences of it not working would be calamitous and set back by years the noble cause of welfare reform, which IDS and his Minister of State Chris Grayling have done so much to trumpet.

But Labour can’t avoid these questions either. If it ends up back in office it will be confronted with the same depressing reality. Incredibly, the welfare bill, including pensions, is consuming a third of what the Government spends. Despite years of attempted reform under Blair, the system still creates perverse anti-work incentives. And as the polls show, the part of the population which doesn’t claim welfare but pays for it is losing patience rapidly.

Some of the growth in welfarism is down to changes in the British way of life. The loosening of family bonds, the fracturing of informal networks which existed when relatives lived within minutes of each other rather than 100 miles apart, hasn’t always helped.

As Alessandra Galloni recounted in a superb piece for the Wall Street Journal recently, in troubled southern European states there is “an unheralded social safety net.”

    "An army of older family members are helping younger generations make ends meet during the region's crippling economic crisis. Half of all abuelos, or grandparents, in Spain take care of their grandchildren nearly every day, and 68 per cent of all children under 10 in Italy are looked after by their nonni when not in school or with parents, according to official numbers. By way of comparison, 19 per cent of preschoolers in the US were taken care of primarily by grandparents while their mothers worked in 2010, according to Census Bureau figures."

In Britain we have supplemented the weakening of the family with a burgeoning culture of entitlement which encompasses the worst abusers of the benefit system, out-of-control bankers and even egomaniacal footballers.

On welfare, what is needed is a calm, reasoned discussion about what can be done. There needs to be a reliable safety net, to ensure those most in need are looked after. But beyond that all the effort should be shifted to encouraging work, self-reliance and fraternity. Cameron and his ministers are making a decent start.


Evil British Social workers 'considered sending African boy to Congo for disturbing and traumatising exorcism because his parents claimed he was possessed by evil spirits'

Social workers have been accused of 'misguided political correctness' after they considered sending a boy in their care to the Congo for a 'deeply traumatising' exorcism.

Bosses at Islington Council in north London considered sending the African boy to the Democratic Republic of Congo because his mother claimed he was possessed by evil spirits and needed 'deliverance'.

An expert has claimed that Islington council officials were 'mindful to agree to the request' for exorcism, which it is claimed involved starving children and sometimes beating them.  The boy's family, who were from Africa, had claimed an exorcism was necessary because he was possessed by 'kindoki' or evil spirits.

The child's mother no longer has responsibility for him, and he had been taken into care by Islington Council.

The local authority paid an expert over £4,000 to travel to Africa to investigate the possibility of an exorcism as they were worried the family's 'sensibilities might be affected'.

Dr Richard Hoskins, an expert in African religion, completed the trip and advised the council the boy should not be exorcised as the rituals can be 'violent...deeply disturbing and traumatising'.

Dr Hoskins has since told how the case - which Islington Council later dropped on his advice - highlights how British officials do not tackle abuse when it is 'masked behind multiculturalism'.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Dr Hoskins told a conference yesterday: 'We fear to tread where sensibilities might apparently be affected.'  'This problem is about the underlying failure to tackle abuse when it is masked behind multiculturalism.'

Dr Hoskins added that officials do not challenge the mistreatment of children when it is committed under the guise of 'religious or cultural practices'.

Dr Hoskins visited Kinshasa, the capital of DRC, in 2005, where he met the grandparents of the child.  The grandparents claimed the boy had been 'infected by sorcery' in the UK which would 'destroy them all'.  Church officials in Congo also claimed that the evil spirits would lead to 'strife, illness, divorce, hardship, poverty and death' if not dealt with.

The ritual would have involved depriving the boy of food or fluids for three days in order to 'cast out' the evil spirit.

Although Dr Hoskins was assured the boy would not be beaten, his investigation found evidence that other children who had been exorcised suffered violence and were left 'scared and traumatised'.

Islington Council acknowledged to the Telegraph that they had paid Dr Hoskins to go to Africa, but said they did so on the recommendations of a judge.

A spokesperson said: 'It is a normal process in care proceedings to assess the extended family when a child has been removed from parental care,' a spokesman said.

'Dr Hoskins was instructed to meet with extended family members to assess their belief that a child of the family was possessed by spirits. This was on the instruction of the Family Court during care proceedings.'

A spokesman for the Department for Education echoed the findings of Dr Hoskins, adding: 'It is not acceptable for councils to be considering this. These services can be extremely traumatic.

'We are tackling all forms of child abuse linked to belief, including belief in witchcraft or spirit possession.  'Such abuse is rightly condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths.'


Mollycoddling your children could give them depression, say experts studying the rise in mental health problems

Over the past 30 years, our culture has become more obsessed with pursuing an elusive human state called happiness.  We are convinced it offers an antidote to depression and other mental health troubles.

This butterfly chase has culminated in David Cameron’s annual ‘happiness survey’, which asks 200,000 householders questions like: ‘Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?’ — at a reported cost of £2million.

But some experts think this emphasis is wrong, and say the pursuit of happiness has created the problems it was designed to protect against.  Young people now expect easy success as an emotional human right, and crumble into suicidal depression when faced with adversity.  Indeed, suicide among teenagers and young adults has increased three-fold in Britain since 1970, according to figures from the United Nations.  Young people from the most affluent and protective backgrounds are the most at risk.

An increasing body of research suggests that pursuing happiness can prove futile at best.

Last year Yale University found that adults who followed tips in magazines on how to be happy often felt worse — due to disappointment at the ‘you can be happier’ promise proving hollow.

But a review of happiness studies by Nicholas Emler, a professor of psychology at Surrey University, concludes that we seem born with our personal level of self-esteem pre-set for life. No amount of self-help books can change it, he says.

Many experts believe what really matters is resilience — the ability to take life’s knocks on the chin, pick yourself up and carry on.

A leading expert in the study of resilience, Professor Michael Rutter of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London, believes adversity is like a vaccine — a bit of it when people are young can build up defences for later.  ‘There is evidence that stress can cause strengthening in some people,’ he says.

This also has a physical effect, he adds, as exposure to emotional pressure can make the body’s nervous and hormonal systems more resistant to stress.

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has followed thousands of people from young adulthood into old age. It found those who maintained a grittily positive view of life were fitter and healthier in their older years.

In Britain’s older generation we see this in the ‘Blitz spirit’, the belief that adversity breeds strength.

Psychologists Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte, of the University of Pennsylvania, have come up with the concept of ‘resilience coaching’.

In their 2002 book The Resilience Factor, they reject the idea that ‘positive thinking’ can beat adversity and say we need to learn ‘accurate thinking’ instead.

This idea has reached the political arena, with Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham recently urging Mr Cameron to scrap happiness surveys and focus on helping people cope with life’s troughs, especially in the recession.  ‘Resilience is the bottom line,’ he declared.

Resilience teaching is already on the curriculum at 46 state schools in Hertfordshire.

One child to benefit is an 11-year-old I’ll call Adam, who suffered serious bullying at the primary school he left last year.

His senior school, Longdean in Hemel Hempstead, is coaching him to fight back — by learning to have the strength of character to become immune to it.  He is one of 6,000 mainly 11-year-olds who have received 18 hours of resilience lessons per year since 2007.

He believes it’s made a real difference, saying: ‘I have learnt how to bounce back from the bullying, and I have even been helping my friends with this kind of thing.’

'The courses aim to teach children mental habits so they respond to pressures positively. If a pupil fails a test, they may think: ‘I’m not good enough.’  They’re encouraged to adopt resilient thoughts instead, such as: ‘Which bits did I do OK at? Where can I improve?’

Lucy Bailey, who runs the scheme, says: ‘Our aim is not to help people be happy. We’re trying to help young people lower their risk of becoming clinically anxious and depressed.’

Parents’ eagerness to protect offspring from harsh realities can leave them sorely vulnerable, she says.  ‘Children who unexpectedly commit suicide often come from supportive families and have good school records, but have never come across adversity before.  'When they do, whether it’s romantic troubles, academic failure or problems with parents, they don’t have the skills to cope.’

The U.S. Army launched a course to strengthen soldiers’ resilience two years ago, after psychologists said increasing numbers were returning from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder.   Rates of suicide were rising, too.

One element of the programme is called Hunt The Good Stuff.  This teaches troops to notice all the good things rather than the negatives — even small things like a colleague holding a door open for them.

Military psychologists say this small but fundamental change of attitude can be a great help when something deeply traumatic happens in combat.  Major General Don Dunbar, who implements the programme, says: ‘This is not some namby-pamby, feel-good kind of experience. It is about survival.’

U.S. Brigadier-General Rhonda Cornum visited Britain to spread the teaching, including to pensioners.  Cornum, who was assaulted by Iraqi forces in 1990, has studied what makes some people more resilient than others, and leads the $125million emotional fitness regime for the U.S. military.

She is coming to Britain again to help the Young Foundation with its  scheme to instill a sense of ‘grit’ in young people.

The think-tank is also piloting a support service for over-65s suffering isolation, mild anxiety or depression.  The aim is to get them to help each other boost their sense of resilience.

Will these courses make a difference? The London School of Economics studied 4,000 pupils in Hertfordshire — those who took resilience lessons for a year and those who didn’t.

It found the course lowered levels of anxiety and depression and raised academic attainment.

But not everyone is convinced.  As Lord Layard — the economist who set up the independent Action for Happiness movement to promote well-being — puts it: ‘The problem with the word “resilience” is that it has a slightly dour sense to it and comes from handling adversity.’

And some researchers say there is a genetic element to resilience —  gene 5-HTT appears to help buffer people against the effects of adversity, controlling how much of the ‘feel-good’ chemical serotonin circulates in the brain.  A third of the UK population has a form of the gene. So is it pointless teaching resilience to this group?

Professor Rutter thinks not. He says the gene may make them more sensitive to what happens in their environment, positive and negative.  The key point to remember, he says, is that there’s been too much focus on ensuring children never experience stress: ‘Stress is part of what is normal.

'Parents should ensure it is part of growing up by letting them experience risk and adversity, while trying to protect them against excessive stress.

‘In this way, children can learn how to cope with challenges, to take responsibility, to develop their self-control and to reflect on their experiences objectively, rather than being overwhelmed by them.’


'War on drugs' is fuelling HIV epidemic

This is simply logical.  Needle sharing would plummet if you could get all your gear legally.  It could even come in single-use pre-packaged shots from your local pharmacy

A pressure group that includes six former presidents has called for the United Nations to acknowledge that "repressive drug law enforcement" is driving an HIV/AIDS pandemic.

THE global "war on drugs" is forcing users away from treatment and into environments where the risk of contracting HIV is high, the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) argues.

In a report published on Tuesday, the panel urges the UN to "acknowledge and address the causal links between the war on drugs and the spread of HIV/AIDS and drug market violence".

It also presented evidence that aggressive law enforcement policies created barriers to HIV treatment.

"The public health implications of HIV treatment disruptions resulting from drug law enforcement tactics have not been appropriately recognised as a major impediment to efforts to control the global HIV/AIDS pandemic," it argues.

The GCDP is a panel of politicians, writers and businessmen that advocates decriminalising drug use by those who "do no harm to others".

Members of the GCDP include six former presidents, four of whom are from Latin America: Mexico's Ernesto Zedillo, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ricardo Lagos of Chile and Colombia's Cesar Gaviria.

It was Gaviria who led Colombia when police gunned down the notorious drug-runner Pablo Escobar in 1993.

Other supporters include the European Union's former foreign policy chief Javier Solana and George Shultz, the who served as US secretary of state during Ronald Reagan's presidency.

The report accuses the US, Russia and Thailand of ignoring scientific evidence about the relationship between law enforcement policies and HIV rates "with devastating consequences".

The increased availability of drugs worldwide proved that the strategy is failing, it says.

"The war on drugs has failed, and millions of new HIV infections and AIDS deaths can be averted if action is taken now," it concludes.



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, GUN WATCHAUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING 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.  For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site  here.


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