Monthly Archives: June 2011

Lyn Brown: Another internship, another hypocrite.

Unpaid work is exploitative. It is not conducive to social mobility. This was all covered in a previous blog post on roughsociety and has been tirelessly campaigned against by groups such as Intern Aware, amongst a whole range of others, both organised and unorganised. ‘Tirelessly campaigning’ is a phrase familiar to Lyn Brown MP for West Ham in London.

On Ms. Brown’s official website (www.lynbrown.org.uk) it clearly states that she is an advocate of the London living wage of £8.30 per hour. This information must come as a metaphorical kick in the teeth for her next ’employee’ who will be nonsalaried. To top it off, this unpaid intern will be replacing a salaried member of staff according to Westminster sources when asked by the BBC.

This is a disgraceful and archaic display of contempt for the poorest members of society. Those applying are people so desperate for experience that these opportunities are of value to them. Unfortunately, they are not of enough value to Ms. Brown to demand a wage. In an age where the Labour Party is expected to provide a viable alternative for the electorate, this party has proved itself once again as incapable and lacking direction.

Paying workers a salary should be a complete non-issue. You work for an employer, regardless of who that employer is, or what the trade is, or what the work entails, you are ultimately creating value. Nick Clegg has said it. Ed Miliband has said it. Lyn Brown has said it. Speaker Bercow continually berates MP’s for arguing and shouting in the chamber, claiming it is the thing his constituents hate the most about politics. He is wrong, it is the hypocrisy of our leaders that drives the people to apathy, the broken promises they make and the contempt with which they do so.

Politicians in this country are far too comfortable to truly be accountable. The expenses scandal has escaped the memory of many in the public, the internship promise made by Clegg probably went unnoticed in the first place, but if it didn’t, it too is consigned to the horizon of the electorates mind. In a time of savage cuts to public spending, the only thinking occupying the news sphere is ‘what will the unions do?’ Well here we have an issue that transcends the political spectrum. Employing somebody without paying them a wage is a barbaric abuse of power and people across the parties, and across the country should be united in confronting the government (and the opposition) in keeping to their promises for once.

Nico Leon.

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The rear end of the system.

Yesterday, David Willetts published his White Paper for Higher Education. ‘Students at the Heart of the System’ outlines plans to allow increased market forces to operate in English higher education and subtly includes proposals to allow financially able students to repay their loans early.

Addressing the latter first, this does little to dissuade those who believe this government is out-of-touch. However, no doubt aware of unleashing too many controversial proposals at one time, the government have held back on the full details. So watch this space.

This brings us back to immediate plans to allow increased market forces into English higher education. A move that, under government proposals, will see around 25% of universities places allocated via direct competition between not only universities but also private providers. The apparent basis for this being that students should be regarded as consumers within higher education and subsequently universities should prove to students why their institution is the best choice.

As a notion within itself this is not necessarily the most flawed, students will soon pay up to £9,000 per year for a degree and there is no doubt that with the current job market and the declining significance of a ‘meagre’ BA students deserve satisfaction. However, being a recent graduate, the lack of customer satisfaction within higher education arguably emerges from the lack of contact time, the lack of student input into their courses and the unshakable feeling that sometimes you are paying for a reading list.

You can only wonder how the proposals laid out in the White Paper will address any of these issues. But, cynicism aside for a moment, it seems only fair to explore claims made by Universities Minister, David Willets, who has said these reforms will ‘put power where it belongs – in the hands of students’.

So, delving into this statement, the White Paper details plans to allow universities to offer unlimited places for students achieving AAB or above at A-level, regardless of total student quotas. This move is geared towards encouraging the best universities and private providers to participate in a competition for the 65,000 students each year who are awarded these grades.

A moment of speculation on this notion leads you to inevitable thoughts of universities heading to colleges around the country pitching themselves to students, marketing campaigns, advertisements and whatnot. Undeniably, a head-scratching prospect for someone who is not convinced that universities should be based around the fleeting desires of inexperienced sixteen and seventeen year olds. In fact, how early will these recruitment programs start? Will we see universities (a term set to be reviewed under the White Papers proposals) purchasing academies at secondary or even primary level and grooming students throughout their education? It is but human to speculate.

Regardless of this, it seems likely that an influx of private providers will enter the English educational system. And obviously in this case, you cannot ignore the elephant in the room. There are currently five private providers operating within England with the ability to award degrees, these being Buckingham University, the College of Law, the IFS School of Finance, Ashridge Business School and finally BPP University College.

BPP University College is perhaps the most notable private provider within this group. Owned by a US-based company, the Apollo Group, in 2010 BPP became the first profit-making provider to be awarded university status in the UK. Since then, BPP have stated their intentions to expand within the UK and remain in talks with at least three public universities for the right to run these institutions business operations.

Arguably, the marriage of a company seeking profit and education is one that is fundamentally tenuous and can only lead to declining standards. Indeed, there are very real risks associated with allowing more private providers into the English higher educational system. As the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) stated earlier this year, private providers ‘may only focus on those subjects, and those students, that are most profitable.’

This analysis raises new concerns. As Nico Leon stated in his post ‘Even More Hurdles?’, a disproportionate number of private school students achieve AAB or above in their A-levels. Does this therefore mean that less fortunate students from state schools will be forgotten in this reformed model? Left to fight for scraps in clearing or even worse seeing institutions they could attend closing down due to not being able to attract significant student numbers. In our education system, already fraught with academic elitism, this runs the risk of further devaluing those with alternate but equally useful skills. Any educational reform should see a move away from archaic classifications of intelligence, not a re-affirmation.

Despite this, what is clear is that, these plans pave the way for the growing Americanisation of higher education in England, which is identifiably not beneficial for social mobility, as the University and College Union (UCU) found in their report, ‘Privatising Our Universities’; the U.S. has seen college tuition grow at four times the rate of inflation in the past 25 years, a trend that could be destined to reach these shores.

Obvious problems aside, believing this could work in England is not only an idea steeped in questionable logic, but one severely risking the quality of our institutions. Love or hate America, their higher education model is one that is far more conducive to recognising other talents. A clear example being the far-reaching sports based programme, which provides less academic but innately talented individuals with the chance to not only hone their talents, but also gain a university education.

With all these things considered, how can one overlook the idea that the government are simply reacting to the gross oversight they made regarding how many institutions would attempt to charge the £9,000 top rate fee? Echoing sentiments from Gareth Thomas, shadow Universities Minister, these plans reek of a ‘desperate drive to cut fees, no matter what the cost to quality.’

So are the government risking English higher education to cover for their incompetence? Allowing private providers to not only enter the system but to create a competitive market from which to recruit students. This seems the case and once again those who are less fortunate are most likely to fall under the weight of an unfair system.

Kenneth Way.

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The ineptitude of strength.

In recent weeks, Kenneth Clarke and his Ministry of Justice seem to have become unwelcome ever-presents in the news.

The Justice Secretary’s foray into the limelight began with the proposed increase to prison term discount for prisoners who plead guilty early, with an extension from the current 33% discount to 50% outlined.

A proposal, which after weeks of support, suddenly became subject to a dramatic U-turn last Tuesday, with Cameron deriding this policy as ‘too lenient’ and attempting to label this change of heart as a ‘sign of strength’. Adding, “Being strong is about being prepared to admit you didn’t get everything right the first time, you are going to improve it and make it better.”

In fact, while both Clarke and Gove (Education Secretary) look ever more incompetent, outspoken and out-of-touch, Cameron has developed an uncanny knack for riding in, with a rationale head, bringing with him an undeniable sense of perspective. Call me a cynic, but methinks a charade is staring us in the faces. But that’s an issue for another day and another blog.

For this post is concerned with plans laid out in the ‘Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders Bill’. Already controversial enough, with cuts to legal aid certain to hit the poorest in British society hardest, it has now emerged that the Ministry of Justice have stealthily cleared the way to means-test the judicial right to a free solicitor upon arrest.

This move would undoubtedly see an arbitrary line placed within the British legal system, with anyone either with access to reasonable savings or earnings above this line being forced to pay for legal representation.

Guaranteed to cause a stir, this proposal is one that challenges a universal right within the British judicial system. As Richard Miller, head of legal aid policy at the Law Society said, “The purpose of having a solicitor acting for them is to ensure their rights are respected, that they are not physically abused, that their confessions are not forged and they are not detained for longer than legally allowed. It’s been a cornerstone of our justice system for the last 25 years and the idea that it should be changed is entirely wrong.”

However, this plan, although not on the immediate horizon, once more signals the Coalition government’s willingness to place spending cuts above all else, regardless of the repercussions.

Noting this growing tendency to overlook the fallout from a rash policy decision, it seems worthwhile to query where exactly the monetary mark would be set for those who had to pay for legal representation. And arguably, the second you raise this question, the answer is one that appears to you with unwavering certainty. While, the erratically deemed poorest of the poor might continue to receive legal representation, those who find themselves in the awkward ‘middle’ could find themselves facing means-testing in order to gain access to something that should be a universal right.

Even placing this concern aside, the operational aspects of this proposal are identifiably of a migraine inducing nature. Will an arrested individual have to fill out means-testing forms before being questioned? Who will carry out this aspect of the arrest? How much will it cost to employ someone with the expertise to handle an individual being asked to work out his or her personal worth while in the midst of an extremely stressful situation?

Ah well, perhaps these concerns are just a waste of time, all will be forgotten come next week when U-turn o’clock strikes once more and the ever rosy cheeked Cameroon swoops in to save the day and assure his flock of the strength of ineptitude.

Kenneth Way.

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Even more hurdles?

A week ago, it was revealed through a study by the OECD that the “resilience” level of UK pupils, or in other words, the likelihood of pupils succeeding despite the odds being stacked against them, was one of the worst in the developed world.

A reason given as an explanation for these findings included levels of self-confidence i.e. the lack of self-esteem instilled in those from poor socio-economic backgrounds. The report finds that motivation must be inward facing, and should not be manifested outwardly through rewards. Of course, the report also finds that schools can do something about this shambolic state of affairs through:

“… providing more opportunities for disadvantaged students to learn in class by developing activities, classroom practices and teaching methods that encourage learning and foster motivation and self-confidence among those students.”

It comes as no shock therefore that only yesterday, a challenge to the potential scheme to allow universities to expand by taking on more AAB standard students emerged from Pam Tatlow, head of Million+.

Tatlow explains that this move could be detrimental to social mobility and it is plain to see why. The total number of students that are below the AAB line will be reduced, not in line with Clegg and Cameron’s commitment to social mobility. It is clear that the majority of students that achieve AAB will be students at better schools, in better areas, with higher socio-economic status. Couple this with the outrageous fee level, and we could see a return to the elitist institutions of the past.

Tatlow goes on to explain that the plans may hit the Science subjects the hardest, as people achieving AAB grades tend to do so in Arts and Humanities. So now we have an even more dangerous concoction of policies designed to limit university places to those with a head start in life.

The most important thing in promoting social mobility in education is to ensure contextual data is not pushed to one side by universities. The government has promised prospective students that Universities charging the highest fees possible will be doing so only under the condition that they find other ways in which to widen access. These new proposals may very well eliminate the contextual side of applications and maintain the vicious cycle in which the poorest revolve.

Nico Leon

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Recession and depression: The socio economic toll of the Greek Crisis.

As Greece enters its third year of recession, media attention surrounding the crisis has remained fixated on the possibility of a Greek default. Meanwhile, markets around the world have oscillated uncontrollably as various European heads of states continue to negotiate the first installment of the €110bn rescue package, with eurosceptics and bankrollers alike already proclaiming the failure of the whole ‘European project’ altogether.

Elsewhere, key eurozone players, such as Angela Merkel’s government, have demonstrated a reluctance and at times outright aversion to Greece’s distress call – it is clear that such a bailout is one that comes with immense risks, notably at a time where most European governments are undertaking tough measures in order to reign in public expenditure and maintain economic recovery.

Yet with its sovereign debts elevating at 160% of its GDP, George Papandreaou’s government has had to force through the toughest of European austerity measures, under the mentorship of the European Union (or as some would argue, Angela Merkel’s terms) and the dreaded IMF. Measures have included the privatisation, liberalisation and selling off of key infrastructures, public services and assets, to a major downsizing of the national budget, finalised by an increase in taxation. And while, private commercial and banking groups were only too willing to profit from such an “auctioning”, millions of Greek citizens have felt the effects.

Despite scenes of turmoil and discontent on the streets of Athens, birthplace of democracy, the voice of the people has been seen as a mere irritation for European and Private sector financiers. According to Marina Economou, writer for the Journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, depression and suicide rates have increased sharply throughout the course of 2009 and 2010.

Similarly, the livelihoods of many have seen profound degradation; from the case of a 47 year old deputy company director whose redundancy in late 2010 led to her spending nights on the streets of Athens, to that of a 26 year old student, whose fruitless search for employment has ingrained sentiments of insecurity, fear and stress over the future.

Economou explains that, as well as the loss of one’s salary or failure to gain employment, it is an entire social structure that is collapsing, thus symbolising the abrupt destruction of personal identities and livelihoods– a process that is repeated and experienced by millions of Greeks.

With such anxiety and discontent persisting over ever increasing unemployment rates, the lowering of salaries and the continuing repossessing of livelihoods – it seems notable that the world of the protagonist markets, decision makers and the mass media, all remain fixated by the terms and conditions of Europe’s rescue package.

Sanders Arampamoorthy.

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World Wealth Report: A tale of the rich getting richer and Asian growth.

In one of the perhaps least surprising findings of recent times, the annual World Wealth Report, published today by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini, has found that the world’s richest individuals were richer in 2010 than they were prior to the 2008 banking crisis.

Delving deeper into these findings, the report found that the combined wealth of HNWIs (high net worth individuals) reached $42.7 trillon in 2010, this itself a 9.7% increase from 2009 and a figure that indicates a new peak for the wealth of HNWIs globally.

As well as becoming richer, the number of HNWIs, who can be best defined as those with in excess $1 million of free investable capital, has grown by around 11 million when compared to the pre financial collapse figures.

Arguably for us Britons, somewhat of a silver lining comes from the fact that the financial prospects of HNWIs in Britain were partially limited by declining house prices and a rise in unemployment. This meant that among the top 10 richest nations, the growth of rich citizens in the UK was relatively low, with only a 1.4% increase compared to Germany’s 7.2% increase and the US’ 8.3%.

Although it should be noted that, Europe and North America have not enjoyed full recoveries since 2008, and much of this growth is attributable to dramatic wealth increases in the Asia-Pacific region, where HNWIs are now 14.1% richer than 2007.

This is where the story of this year’s report seemingly emerges. Here, with 3.3 million HNWIs, the region overtook Europe and subsequently became the home to the second largest number of rich individuals, although still trailing North America.

Focusing on China and India (two of the so-called BRIC nations) the acceleration of HNWIs is particularly notable. Regarding China, the report’s authors said, “Newly wealthy Chinese buyers are widely reported to be keen bidders and buyers at galleries and auction houses, especially to acquire the fast-diminishing supply of works from native artists.” Findings like this once again raise the question regarding China’s socialist status and in particular the rising acquisitions of luxury cars such as Mercedez-Benz and Ferrari indicates an emerging market for commodities.

In India, there was a 20.8% growth in HNWIs, an increase that saw the country climb to 12th in terms of its number of rich individuals. In noting this trend, it remains to be seen whether this growth in rich individuals will lead to better social mobility in China or India or an ever-widening wealth gap within these countries.

This tendency is potentially alarming as both nations have already been subjected to unwanted coverage in recent years for their growing wealth gaps. The findings of this study are unlikely to alleviate these concerns and in two countries where mass poverty already presents a very serious challenge, an ever-widening wealth gap could become a limiting factor on both of these country’s social stability and international reputations.

Kenneth Way.

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“This is a bank robbery, please only give me one dollar.”

The words above are those of James Verone, 59, the man who robbed a bank in North Carolina to the tune of $1 in order to gain access to rudimentary healthcare.

Mr. Verone resorted to ‘crime’ after losing his job of 17 years as a Coca-Cola deliveryman. With the notoriously harsh nature of the American healthcare system, the loss of a job can have far reaching repercussions and in Mr. Verone’s case this was no different. Along with his livelihood, Mr. Verone lost his health insurance, which meant he could no longer access treatment for a range of ailments.

This turn of events ultimately led to an increasingly desperate Mr. Verone leaving home on June 9th with the intention to ‘rob’ the local bank. Unlike other criminals, on success Mr. Verone did not flee the bank and there was no grand plan or getaway car, to the contrary, he sat on a chair awaiting the arrival of the police.

Undoubtedly, incidents such as this make it even more of a mystery as to why Obama’s healthcare reforms suffered such a pounding last year before eventually emerging from Congress, albeit seriously watered down.

With regards to Mr. Verone, although, a somewhat light-hearted and amusing tale of ingenuity (Since being in prison Mr. Verone has been tended to by nurses and secured an appointment with a doctor) the fact that an otherwise honest man would have to resort to the most cunning of survival instincts and a feeble attempt at crime for his personal wellbeing signals the broken nature of the American healthcare system and once more highlights the lack of support provided to the poorest in American society. And, perhaps in the land of supposed boundless social mobility, American Dream and all that, this is what makes this episode truly sad.

Kenneth Way.

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