Archive for août, 2011

Analysis of UK Rioters

Mercredi, août 24th, 2011

Further to the article on the UK riots of two weeks ago (see Categories/Chairmans Blog/Social Mobility/UK Riots 2011 in the right-hand index column), analysis shows that the vast majority of those appearing in court were young, poor and male. Of the first 1000 cases, 90% of those charged were men, with less than 10% either studying or in employment and two-thirds aged under 25. The neighbourhoods they come from are depressed, two-thirds of these areas having got poorer between 2007 and 2010. In addition and according to the police, 60% of those charged in London already had previous convictions and 25% were known to be linked to gangs.
These rioters in the main belong within a group of people without skills, education or hope for the future. They seem detached from what we consider the social norm i.e. they remain outside normal society, are angry and alienated and, therefore, are perceived as a threat. They inhabit a social and emotional vacuum, are often the children of single or absent parents with no supporting family structure or adults they value and respect, to lay down the generally accepted rules of civilised society such as respect for the rule of law and the rights of their fellow citizens.
As Prince Charles suggested when meeting those impacted by the Tottenham riots, rather than just the results of pure criminal behaviour, was not gang membership for example also the logical extension of a basic human need for a social framework, to belong, to find identity, pride, camaraderie and purpose, as well as offering an albeit criminal means of taking a share of the goods available within our consumer society.
Writing today in a letter to the Times newspaper, Sir Michael Howard recalls his experience of joining gangs in his younger days, starting out at his first boarding school at the age of 9 and later joining more prestigious ones at his house at school, college at university and his regiment when joining the army. Although this example is taken from a vastly different level in society, it serves to illustrate the basic human need for a social framework. Sir Michael does not see why young people today should be denied the chance of acquiring such social skills because they cannot afford to learn them as expensively as he did.
Prince Charles also comes from an even more privileged and protected background but his instincts ring true. His charities and trusts have achieved a lot on youth unemployment and exclusion and he should, therefore, be listened to when the government reviews whether its current social and community policies are sufficient to avoid a recurrence of the recent riots. In the UK, there is a growing divide between rich and poor, not least in the respective perception of each side by the other. This perception gap needs to be bridged in developing through sharing these important middle-class-type, social skills key to finding e.g. good training and good jobs for their children.

UK Riots 2011

Mercredi, août 17th, 2011

Ken Livingstone, the former Labour mayor of London, last week blamed Coalition Government cuts (which have not even taken effect yet!) for the riots in major city centres in the UK. This then conveniently ignores not poverty in the UK which is relative, not to blame and not anywhere near the deprivations experienced in parts of the developing world, but the failure of policies of the previous Labour Government in the key areas of schools, work and the home.
Wasted – The Betrayal of White Working Class and Black Caribbean Boys by Harriet Sergeant is published by the Centre for Policy Studies and quotes the damning statistics on illiteracy that came out just before the riots. These statistics showed that at the age of 14 years, 63% of white working class and over 50% of black Caribbean boys have a reading age of seven years or less; around 50% of 16-year-olds also have no basic qualifications in English or mathematics.
As an American friend of mine commented after watching on television the riots and resulting wanton destruction, everything seemingly of value to the rioters appeared to be looted and trashed apart from one lone bookshop which remained undisturbed! Indeed from the US Department of Justice there is evidence that the failure to learn to read at school can lead to such a level of frustration that, if sustained, can cause aggressive antisocial behaviour and delinquency. Thus according to Harriet Sergeant, half the prison population has a reading age less than that of an 11-year-old. Even if you are clever, the school system can still work against you when streaming according to ability is abolished as elitist and leads to boredom amongst cleverer pupils through lack of challenge.
There is also the effect of the change in the job market with a lot less jobs in manufacturing to absorb those leaving school at 16 years. In addition, our disadvantaged youths find themselves in competition with skilled and capable immigrants with a better work ethic. The generosity of the current benefits system is a further contributing factor in making the lower paid jobs taken by immigrants even less financially attractive for our own unemployed.
Finally there has been a failure in the home where politicians are demanding that parents control their children. However, whether at home or at school there is a lack of guidance and support from adults, particularly in the case of young single mothers, with the UK in addition having the highest rate for teenage pregnancies in Europe. As an example, mothers of young children considered at risk are five times more likely to be single teenage mothers. Despite this, since 1997 a single mother of two children has had her benefits increased by 85%. In responding to this financial incentive, young girls leaving school with no qualifications seem to get pregnant as naturally as their male counterparts turn to crime. The state has now taken over the role of both husband and employer in such homes where there is no family to even breakdown and where over 50% of single mothers have never even lived with the father of their children.
Harriet Sergeant concludes that for such young people to have a stake in our society, apart from the need for improved schooling we have to create jobs. This of course is one key growth policy aim of the Coalition to offset the effects of cuts in government spending.

Primary School Education

Mercredi, août 10th, 2011

The national curriculum in the UK is currently being reviewed by an independent commission which should be given further food for thought this year with one third of children (around 180,000) leaving primary school at the age of 11 years, without reaching the required standards in reading, writing and arithmetic. National test (SATS tests) results also showed more than 30,000 of these 11-year-olds leaving the primary school stage with a reading age of seven years or less. The largest group of underachievers were those from disadvantaged homes usually with few books and where education is not necessarily valued, the sole responsibility then falling upon the schools to teach these children what they need to know.
Traditionally such teaching used to be based on instilling a core knowledge of history, geography, art, music, English, mathematics and science. However, this system of knowledge-based education seems to have been discarded in favour of more progressive ideas which are aimed at developing thinking skills through child-centred teaching, rather than the subject–centred teaching associated in the past also with rote-learning. This current progressive emphasis on putting the learner child at the centre poses less problems for the middle class child with supportive and aspiring parents it would appear, than those from disadvantaged homes requiring new experiences beyond the limited confines of their local community.
Children as in previous generations can still be taught how to think for themselves but they will be better prepared to think and make more sense of the knowledge-based, modern society around them, if this can also be based on an acquired and broader subject knowledge. If this core knowledge base is then decided by the teacher rather than relying on the individual child to decide what is important, at least all will start junior school with the same basic grounding.
This could be one small step perhaps towards reducing the number of children entering the feral, uneducated under-class currently rioting, vandalising and looting in major UK city centres.

German Economic Success?

Jeudi, août 4th, 2011

The German economy has seemingly made a remarkable recovery since the onset of the financial crisis with GDP growth of 3.6 % in 2010, the same level expected in 2011 and unemployment now below 3 million, giving the best results for 20 years. A major factor has been the labour market proving more flexible than expected, enabling costs and productivity to be held at more competitive levels than e.g. the weaker members of the Euro-zone such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland which are now requiring financial bailouts. In reality, the German economy is now back to where it was in 2009 and the current growth rate is not considered typical, underlying growth being around 1.2 % according to Stefan Kooths of the Kiel Institute.
However, despite this growth in business and manufacturing adding an unexpected Euro 135 billion in extra revenues, the financial crisis has still left the German federal government finances weaker than before. There are structural threats to the economy from local public authority indebtedness, a costly social security system and a health system with a Euro 11 billion deficit. Half the total income of Berlin comes from federal sources and e.g. Frankfurt as a major financial centre with a population of 600,000 raises three times as much in local taxes as Berlin, which has a population of 3.5 million and a debt mountain of over Euro 60 billion. In common with the north of the UK, the former industrial heartland of the Ruhr region is still trying to replace jobs in iron and steel with new businesses in high technology and services such as the media, as the financial health of many cities in the region has steadily declined. The city of Bremen in the north of Germany has a debt of Euro 20 billion on a budget of Euro 4.5 billion and Saxony-Anhalt has the highest debt of any German state outside Berlin, with around Euro 20 billion of debt equivalent to 40 % of income.
Therefore, as is the case with the Coalition government in the UK, the German federal government is faced with having to reduce its debts (currently 83 % of GDP) by what some might well consider, however, a less than ambitious although substantial Euro 80 billion, considering the large tax gains from growth in the previous year (and indeed what the government in the UK is still struggling to replicate from growth in the British economy). It is aiming to achieve this mainly through cuts to the social service budget and family benefits, together with redundancies amongst civil servants and tax increases. Local authorities are also being forced to find new sources of income from taxes and cutting costs by withdrawing support for e.g. libraries, sports programmes, parks, playgrounds and swimming pools.