Monthly Archives: July 2011

Risking the American Dream.

By some estimates, the USA currently has up to 3 million unfilled jobs!

While the reasons for this figure, in the midst of more than 9% unemployment, should be the subject of another debate (that of how education in its current format is failing today’s advanced societies), a simple explanation for this is that the American economy is so technologically advanced it’s actually leaving people behind.

These 3 million unfilled jobs are jobs within the booming technology sector, including website, software, and robotic engineers and website masters. The problem is that, while before the recession recent graduates were entering the workforce on an annual basis having been trained for these jobs thanks to various internship and work experience opportunities, there are now millions of adults in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, who have never written any software or HTML coding who joined the ranks of the unemployed. While, they come from what used to be the backbone of the American economy, our factories, it’s clear that our economy is shifting to high tech industries, which are subsequently playing a much larger role in the overall output and production of our economy.

In short we have millions of unemployed, officially 9.2% of the workforce but much higher in reality, who are not trained to take on the jobs of the future.

What does this mean for them?

One of the greatest vehicles for social mobility has been the American Dream. But this dream implies that there are jobs out there for those willing to work hard enough to make something of themselves and as a consequence climb the social and economic ladder, which countless people have done throughout American history.

What of the millions of unemployed today though? It is very unlikely that the vast majority will be able to receive the adequate training to fill one of these vacancies in the technology sector. Will they become a lost generation, forever dependent on government support or unable to find long-term employment?

If these people remain among the unemployed for too long their skills will become outdated and it will be almost impossible for them to find a suitable job. As a consequence, their chance at the American Dream will be lost and the number of Americans in poverty and living on food stamps will undoubtedly remain above the 40 million mark it reached in 2010.

It’s up to our government and our society to ensure that this Dream lives on for future generations so that they too have their chance to work hard and climb the social and economic ladder. To accomplish this, we must put today’s unemployed back to work. What we need is a 21st Century version of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), to put the millions of unemployed back to work and give them a shot to hone certain skills as they prepare themselves to get back into the workforce as soon as the economy kicks in. Without it, we risk their chances for the future and the long-term viability of an American Dream.

Amedeo d’Amore.

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Bleak Britain: A shrinking economy and income inequality.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced today that the economy grew by 0.2% in the last quarter. This announcement had been expected and confirms that the economic recovery is still far from certain.

In fact, if you consider the previous two quarters under Coalition governance this uncertainty becomes even more evident. The last quarter of 2010 saw -0.5% growth, the first quarter this year saw 0.5% growth and then comes today’s announcement. All things considered, in this nine-month period you do not need a degree in economics (although it might help George Osborne…) to work out that this equates to a desperate 0.2 net growth.

The Chancellor, George Osborne.

As usual with Britain everyone has a ‘dog ate my homework style’ excuse for this economic malaise. The ONS insist there were one-off factors that placed a strain on the recovery, which include the additional bank holiday for the royal wedding, the wedding itself, the after-effects of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the first phase of Olympic ticket sales and the record warm weather in April…

Perhaps George Osborne and the Coalition may take some relief from this economic propaganda and the fact that the ONS believe (This being the operative word) that without these events the GDP figure would have been 0.5%. But, and this may be a simplistic understanding of economics, surely every quarter in every year has one-off factors (In December it was the snow, let us not forget) and in times of economic growth we similarly had one-off factors, shit happens, the world spins on, you have to deal with it. These excuses do not hide the reality – the Government’s economic policies are not working and arguably the harsh spending cuts are seeming unnecessary and ineffective.

Interestingly, despite this economic stagnation, last week it was announced that in 2010 £14bn was paid out in bonuses in the city. In particular, the ONS found that banks and insurance companies paid 40% of all bonuses even though they employ only 4% of the workforce.

This revelation brings me to a report published by think tank, the Resolution Foundation. Entitled, ‘Missing Out’ this report has made some enlightening observations about the distribution of national income within Britain in the past thirty years.

Amongst the most revealing is the fact that, the percentage of national income going to the bottom half of earners has declined from 16% in 1977 to 12% in 2010. Breaking the scope of this reality down further, the Resolution Foundation claim that out of each £100 of GDP only £12 (In wages) goes to the bottom half of earners, about £14 goes to the top 10% and £3 to the top 1%. If bonuses are included this gap widens, with the top 1% taking home around £5 of each £100, and the bottom half’s share declining to around £10.

Source: The Resolution Foundation.

This serves as a stark reminder of this country’s ongoing poor record on social mobility and economic fairness. In fact, these findings coupled with the illuminating unemployment and education statistics published last week (See post: Unqualified and Unemployed: The state of modern Britain) paint a bleak picture of the state of modern Britain.

Matthew Whittaker, the author of the ‘Missing Out’ report said, “The declining fortune of low-to-middle earners is in stark contrast to those at the top, and if you take into account bonuses, the picture looks even worse. This is not just about the finance sector racing away – wage inequality across all sectors of the economy seems to be the driving factor, including in retail, which is the largest employer of those on low-to-middle incomes.”

It’s only fair to note that, the Resolution Foundation state this growth in income inequality slowed after 1996. Showing that despite Labour’s failure to eradicate the gap, the introduction of the national minimum wage and working tax credits at least limited this trend. Equally, it seems worthwhile to suggest that between 1979-1997 Britain had a Conservative government, one that cared little for social mobility and with the Coalition’s current policy portfolio, history is more than threatening to repeat itself.

While, the heart just about suggests Cameron is not Thatcher mark II, he needs to prove that his government’s big talk on social mobility and fairness is not just hot air. Otherwise, this income inequality will only continue to grow and poorer households, regardless of a recession or boom, will continue to miss out.

Kenneth Way.

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Unqualified and Unemployed: The state of modern Britain.

Analysis published this week by the University and College Union (UCU) has revealed the presence of stark differences in both local and regional educational achievement in the UK.

The UCU claim that these statistics illustrate ‘two Britains’, separated by a damaging educational divide. A quick glance at the graphic above seems to consolidate this view. In fact, while many local variations exist in educational attainment, certain generalisations can be established.

For instance, England is a comparatively more qualified nation than either Scotland or Wales and London and the South are evidently better qualified than many areas of the Midlands or the North.

Putting generalisations aside, regardless of the fact that many of Britain’s most educated workforces can be found in London (98%+ of residents in Brent North have a qualification), the UCU stated that London was a ‘city full of contrasts’. A fact perhaps best illustrated by the analysis’ observation that Hackney South has around twice as many unqualified residents as Hackney North.

Adding to this, many of the lowest-achieving constituencies in London can be found in the east of the capital. Notably, Barking, Ilford South, Romford, Hornchurch, Walthamstow, West Ham and East Ham are amongst the least qualified areas of London. Undoubtedly, this shows the importance of ensuring these communities have better access to high quality education and enforces the necessity of eradicating the constituency lottery that seems to be placing nonsensical limitations on the future success of many individuals.

But, arguably the main story from these findings emerges from the West Midlands. In a week when the West Midlands has already been identified as the region that has suffered the greatest increase in unemployment during the recession (See ONS link below), the analysis published by the UCU shows that the West Midlands is also the least educated area of Britain.

According to the statistics, an astonishing 25 out of 28 constituencies in the West Midlands have an above average number of individuals without qualifications. The situation in Birmingham Hodge Hill (Only second to Glasgow North East nationally) is particularly glum, with 33.3% of residents being without a single qualification. Beyond this, the West Midlands is also home to 8 of the top 20 least qualified constituencies. This coupled with the 6.1% increase in unemployment during the recession, undeniably signals bleak times for people from this part of the country.

As UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said, “Educational achievement is well below the national average in the vast majority of the West Midlands, which should deeply concern all of us. There is a real danger that children growing up in places where it is not unheard of to have no qualifications will have their ambition blunted and never realise their full potential.”

Indeed, it is difficult to suggest that children growing up in these environments are being aided enough (Or in any way) in terms of social mobility. This is despite the country still being relatively fresh from around 13 years of Labour governance, and with a Coalition government regrettably increasing tuition fees and scrapping education maintenance allowance (EMA) it only appears to be getting harder for individuals from less fortunate backgrounds.

In fact, the scope of this barrier to success is one that is being regularly highlighted in both national and international findings. Only last month did a report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) place the UK 28th out of 35 leading world economies in terms of the likelihood of a child overcoming a tough start. (See BBC link below)

This alone should serve as enough of a warning that the issue of social mobility needs to be addressed. However, the frankly laughable notion that this Government cares about social mobility is one that threatens to worsen the socio-economic unfairness that seems destined to forever blight this nation.

Quite simply more must be done to ensure that children from poor backgrounds are not forgotten by our society. If their plight continues to be ignored then in the face of a poor economy these problems will continue to be exacerbated by irresponsible governance and age-old classism.

For more on unemployment statistics – Office for National Statistics, 2011, http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=397

For more on the OECD report- Coughlan, S, 2011- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-13794591

Kenneth Way.

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The archaic family unit is not a necessity for social mobility.

Literally two minutes ago, I finished reading an article by Keith Kendrick for the Daily Mail entitled ‘The key to social mobility is having a devoted and determined family’. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2004509/Social-mobility-So-YOU-posher-parents.html) Of course, this is the Daily Mail so I wasn’t exactly holding my breath for enlightening discourse on the subjects of opportunity and education.

However, this patronising article portrays an archaic but beloved attitude in this country. One which is vicarious in its nature, and self-deprecating when truly observed. Kendrick argues that the sole reason why he managed to escaped a life of relative poverty and move up to the dazzling heights of writing for The Mail (No that is not an oxymoronic sentence!) is because of the strong family unit and the strength of his parents’ work ethic.

I think that the example set to Kendrick by his parents was exceptional, and if replicated throughout the country, would prove immensely beneficial to social mobility. However, I think that Kendrick misses the point. By a country mile.

It matters not who is responsible for setting an example. There are plenty of families out there broken through circumstances and situations unimaginable to Kendrick. An alternative to this old-fashioned breadwinner, family unit needs to be proposed in order to achieve real social mobility. Communities need to organise, educate and set examples to their youngest members. Local councils should be encouraging extra-curricular activities aimed at improving standards not merely educationally, but also to increase links between and inside communities. A family unit is all well and good, but the simple fact is this; there are families out there that for some reason or another do not lead by example. There are families out there that cannot work, and cannot read, and do not engage in community projects, and do not lead by example. Should the children of these families immediately be set aside, never to escape from the life in which they were accidentally born into?

This seems to me (and to most people) ridiculous. I am happy for Keith Kendrick. He was lucky enough to have wonderful parents who helped and guided him. What he must always remember is that there are hundreds, if not thousands of people like him, who weren’t so lucky. Who did not have the opportunity. These people deserved to escape poverty just as much as he, and children should never, ever be subjected to criticism or ignorance purely because of the actions of their parents. Community action and involvement is the true way in which these children can enjoy the opportunities of Mr. Kendrick.

Nico Leon.

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As a nation cuts back, it’s a Bunga Bunga life for Italian MPs!

In hope of avoiding a fate akin to Greece, in the past few days both the Italian Chamber of Deputies (Lower House) and the Senate have given parliamentary approval to a hard-hitting austerity budget.

Included in this budget are plans for extensive spending cuts of around €48bn (£42 bn) over the next three years. These would focus on reducing Italy’s public debt, which happens to be one of the largest in the Eurozone.

In fact, despite evidently poor governance from Silvio Berlusconi’s Freedom Party, the cuts are certain to hit the least fortunate the hardest. Proposals include increases in health-care fees, cuts to family tax benefits and top-level pensions and the obvious public sector salary freeze.

The infamous Silvio Berlusconi.

Having only been approved on Friday, Sunday saw the rapid implementation of two key proposals from the austerity budget. Both health-care provisions, these changes are expected to cost families around €500 a year.

While, the necessity for drastic action on the Italian debt is clear, the IMF last week called for the ‘decisive implementation’ of spending cuts, it seems that the most vulnerable are bearing the brunt of these tough cuts. And, being the topsy-turvy world of Italian politics, not even an austerity budget can escape unnecessary controversy.

This has come in the shape of stealthy amendments made by Berlusconi and his Freedom Party to water down the proposed cuts to politician’s pay. Clearly not satisfied with the ludicrous expenses Italian politicians already receive (these can be up to €117,000 a year) Italian MPs are ensuring that their lavish lifestyles remain as unaffected as possible, despite very real concerns for many of the most vulnerable members of their population.

Here, it should be pointed out that Italian MPs can claim their expenses without needing to show receipts for housing, office staff, telephones and travel. And we thought our MPs were bad… As Union Leader, Raffaele Bonanni said, “The government and opposition have again teamed up to protect privileges which are unequalled in Europe.

You do wonder how much more the average Italian can take? But after all this is Italy, a nation where political scandal is part of the furniture. And supporters no doubt find Berlusconi, his lifestyle and his undeniable charisma to be captivating and dare I say aspirational, after all he has been elected about 45 times!

But surely these latest revelations are too much for the Italian public to handle, the Italian government and Berlusconi in particular have proven adept at escaping scandal, but in these uncertain times it can only be a matter of time before the public fight back. Otherwise, as a nation tightens their belt, a government will continue to live above reality.

Kenneth Way.

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Those graduation blues…

It’s been a relatively slow news week regarding social mobility – no offence to Wales at all, but the findings of the Estyn Report and the under performance of schools in Blaenau Gwent really fails to get the juices flowing. Although for more- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-14136356

So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to look at something a bit more personal – this something being university graduation. On Thursday, I experienced this joyous occasion, and I’d be lying if I said the tangible pride emanating from my family didn’t truly humble me. However, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing from the whole procedure (perhaps the most apt word I could use).

I have probably sent some eyes rolling with that comment, but believe me when I say, I really don’t wish to be labelled a killjoy, there was nothing wrong with graduation. My university happens to be particularly stunning, the ceremony was very nice, there was even some trumpet playing Queen’s Calvary to create an extra sense of awe amongst the graduands and guests.

But, while this was all very nice, I have no doubt that a very similar ceremony is replicated not only at my university (3 or 4 times that day) but at institutions throughout the country. As a result, it felt rather formulaic. There was no personality to the day, no fun and no sense of realism offered to the changing significance of a BA/BSc degree.

This brings me to life as a young person, we are endlessly told how tough this world we live in is. The media has a conveyor belt of stories relating to graduates struggling to find work, we are informed that degrees mean less and less, you must do a Masters, and unpaid internships are now the norm for most graduates seeking to mould a career for themselves.

So, as I stood there in my archaic cap and gown (which by the way gown makers are yet to manage to adapt to female clothing) queuing up to receive my scroll, I couldn’t help but wonder why all the fanfare.

I hear shouts of tradition, tradition and fair enough tradition is often a wonderful thing, it shapes culture and is something that places real value on an event, but we don’t live in the past. A university degree used to be truly elite, something coveted by the higher social echelons of society, a ticket to success and with these ideas the ceremonies and customs surrounding these days were built.

Maybe this is what made me feel uncomfortable, after all graduation, while enjoyable, is an indulgent experience, steeped in the remnants of deep social class divisions that once defined entry to higher education. An excuse to dress up and exert your intellectual ‘superiority’ over the unenlightened.

Even placing my cynicism aside, it’s difficult to argue that a university degree means the same today. A degree is no longer a guarantor of future success. It doesn’t even guarantee employment. Therefore, can I be blamed for how I feel? In many ways, society has belittled the importance of a degree for me. Played down my achievement to the point where I was left feeling somewhat cold about the momentous nature of my own graduation.

Of course, you could justifiably argue that there is no damage done by a little fuss and tradition, but is it just peddling a lie? Perhaps, in these times it would be more apt if the graduation line had stops along the way. You receive your scroll, a brisk walk, a light applause and you join your fellow graduands in the queue for the dole.

Disregarding my thoughts, the nature of graduation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. These are just the musings of someone who found themselves slightly bemused by the rigidity of the event. Maybe it’s just me but, a dose of realness would do the day no harm. Change isn’t always a bad thing.

Kenneth Way.

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Debate: Home Office’s proposals on family migration: Plain wrong, political point scoring, a necessary evil or common sense?

On Wednesday, the government announced their intentions to introduce a minimum income threshold for British citizens seeking to sponsor a spouse, partner or dependent’s move to the UK.

These plans could potentially see the unemployed and those earning under £5,000 a year being banned from sponsoring migration to the UK. While, also proposing an increase (two to five years) in the probation period required for spouses and partners being able to apply for settlement in Britain.

Immigration Minister, Damian Green, has claimed that these proposals are intended to end abuses to the system. Adding, “If you can’t support your foreign spouse or partner, you cannot expect the taxpayer to do it for you.” Some might argue that this stance is one that is tough but fair and shows the Coalition acting on the issue of immigration.

Smug...Damian Green, Immigration Minister.

Although, is this really the case? In 2010, around 49,000 visas were granted via family migration, which is clearly a significant number. However, out of these 49,000, the Oxford University-based Migration Observatory estimates that, only around 8,000 migration cases would be affected by the proposed reforms.

This is a relatively small number of cases and when dispersed throughout Britain seems to suggest that while nationally this plan would have a nominal affect on immigration levels, the impact on some families could be distinctly greater. In fact, not only could British citizens be technically limited in their choice of partner, but also vulnerable families could be ripped apart.

For a government seemingly so intent on instilling this idea of the ‘family’, in a traditional idealistic sense, not the modern reality, it does seem rather strange that a policy that could keep poorer citizens away from their families is seen as the answer to immigration concerns. Should wealth really dictate migration chances? Even more, should wealth dictate happiness?

Putting this concern aside, arguably, the issue of immigration is one of the most misunderstood in British politics. It is a plain and simple fact that the vast majority of immigration to Britain comes from the EU. Despite this unquestionable truth, politicians seemingly circle around the reality endlessly, avoiding the fact that they can do little about this form of immigration.

Therefore, are these proposals just a mere case of empty political point scoring? The government wanting to seem like they are responding to immigration concerns, without actually affecting the real numbers too dramatically.

On the other hand, perhaps these proposals are a necessary evil. We are living in tough economic times, more and more people are out of work, or seeking part time employment, and while unfortunate, is it just the case that the state cannot support more vulnerable individuals?

Or, maybe it is just common sense to not let the poor migrate to Britain. Many would argue that the taxpayer already contributes enough to supporting the unemployed and poor living in Britain, is supporting poor migrants also the taxpayer’s job?

To me, the core idea of an immigration cap is one that is inherently flawed. Not only is any number arbitrary but, these days so little immigration comes from non-EU citizens. The 8,000 cases this could affect will do little to address the nationalistic qualms currently surfacing regarding immigration, only a good economy will stop those. All these proposals threaten to do is limit personal choice regarding marriage and break families apart.

However, one of the most intriguing things about these proposals is that it seems difficult to pitch yourself solely behind one point of view. All raise justifiable concerns. Therefore, let’s cue some debate.

What do you think of these proposals? A step forward on immigration or not?

Kenneth Way.

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