Thursday, May 17, 2007

Britain: True immigration levels could be twice as high

The only surprise about local council complaints that immigration figures are ''flawed'' is that anyone is surprised. Figures on this subject are the least trustworthy of all government statistics, and that is saying something. How do we tell the scale of immigration to the UK?

For years, the Office for National Statistics relied upon the International Passenger Survey (IPS) which, as its name suggests, is a survey not a number check. When immigration was at fairly low levels from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s, this somewhat hit-and-miss approach was adequate. For many years, it was almost in equilibrium - showing little net immigration into the UK. But since 1997, immigration has shot up. Even measured by the (IPS) the net figure - the difference between those arriving and leaving - has averaged 180,000 or more for five years.

These figure do not include asylum seekers who have been through all their legal procedures and have been turned down but have stayed on. There could be 400,000 of these. They do not include illegal immigrants, either clandestine entrants or people who have arrived on visas and have not gone home. It is simply unknown how many there are of these. It does not include the 600,000 who have arrived from eastern Europe since the exapansion of the EU and have registered to work. And this latter figure does not include those from eastern Europe who are not required to register, for example the self-employed, or those have chosen not to.

So, the true levels of immigration could easily be twice as high as the official IPS showed. Even if the figures for arrivals are accurate there is now way of knowing how many have left because embarkation controls at the border were scrapped in 1997. Anyone who lives in London or another major city can simply see with their own eyes how the number of overseas workers has grown in recent years. Yet, this was the very moment the ONS decided to replace one suspect set of statistics with another. Instead of the IPS, they are now relying on the Labour Force Survey. This covers just 0.2 per cent of the population and asks migrants where they are actually working.

These figures are then used to calculate the funds needed by local authorities to provide essential services. Coun Mark Loveday, cabinet member for Hammersmith and Fulham, said: "I didn't think it was possible, but this new method for counting migration is actually worse than the old one - which was also a disaster. "The Government's new figures suggest that we have fewer migrants than three years ago. "This methodology will still not account for those spending less than a year in the country. The Labour Force Survey will also not pick up those staying in hostels or living in houses of multiple occupancy."

Coun Merrick Cockell, leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, said: "We don't find the Office of National Statistics' latest figures credible - 20,800 people cannot simply have vanished." Local authorities now say that they should collect the data and tell the Government how many immigrants they have. Whether that will make them more accurate is anyone's guess.


Another big NHS shortfall

A key target in the Government's health reforms - to have thousands of community nurses treating the most seriously ill patients outside hospital - has been missed, with fewer than half the promised numbers in place. A pledge made three years ago to have 3,000 experienced nurses in post by March this year has been delayed, with social workers and less qualified staff having to make up the numbers looking after patients with chronic illnesses. Cost-cutting and a recruitment freeze in the NHS have forced ministers to revise the deadline back one year in order to benefit from record funding increases in 2007-08.

The retreat has emerged as Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, prepares to outline today how œ8 billion of extra NHS funding will be spent this financial year. It is the last planned annual increase, and many NHS chiefs are already preparing for a subsequent period of drastic budgeting. There are more than 17.5 million people living with chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and heart failure. The Department of Health has claimed that cuts to local hospital services could be justified by having experienced senior nurses treating these patients in or close to their homes.

But The Times has learnt that unqualified social workers, physiotherapists and less experienced staff are being used to boost the total number of "case managers" who care for the most chronically ill patients outside hospital. The department's latest estimate is that there were 1,470 community matrons working in the NHS in December, with an official NHS workforce survey suggesting that fewer than 100 were recruited last year.

The target, set by John Reid, the former Health Secretary, during Labour's "Big Conversation" in 2004, aimed to respond to patients' calls for more care nearer to their homes. Ministers claimed that the 500 million pounds community matrons' policy would soon pay for itself by saving 400 million a year through reduced hospital stays.

But Mrs Hewitt admitted yesterday that community care remained poor in some areas. Treating patients with long-term chronic conditions was the "really big challenge" facing the NHS, she said, but she made no direct admission that the target had been missed. "By March next year, 220,000 of the most needy patients will be getting support and care in their homes from 3,000 community matrons and other case managers," she added.

Josie Irwin, head of employment relations at the Royal College of Nursing, said that the figures amounted to a "spectacular failure" of a government policy.



The libel laws are an abomination. They favour rich, litigious bullies at the expense of free expression. Even a website for mothers to chatter on is fair game to this draconian law. Last week was forced to pay a five-figure sum for comments posted on its chat site. It stood by the comments but this law is such an ass that the burden of proof rests solely with the defendant. Meanwhile, claimants can make their allegations free from evidential proof. Their opinion is all that counts. They do not have to prove the comments are false. They don't even have to show any harm to their reputation. I can think of no other area in law in which an individual's spurious opinion outweighs the greater public good of truth and justice.

The Mumsnet case makes clear how libel affects everyone, not just journalists or those working in the traditional media. More and more of us, thanks to the growing ubiquity of blogs, chat groups and web forums, are vulnerable to this nefarious law. And while big media groups have deep pockets, the individual hasn't. If the damages don't get the writer, then legal costs certainly will. Most writers are not rich people and so they must settle. Result: vibrant debate is quashed, truth inevitably suffers. The law is so heavily weighted against freedom of expression that all writers (even those hosting blogs) are being urged to buy libel insurance; the freelance chapter of the National Union of Journalists is inundated with inquiries about its new policy.

No matter that the publishers of Mumsnet didn't even write the comments that the author Gina Ford claimed defamed her. Under the Defamation Act 1996 nonauthors can be held liable if they fail to expeditiously remove comments someone thinks are defamatory. But how quick is quick? The Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts said that the comments were taken down after little more than 24 hours. Yet the vagueness of the law means she would have to go to court to prove this was a reasonable time period.

As a result we now have a culture where the default position is not free speech but censorship. After the 2001 case Godfrey v. Demon Internet Ltd, all internet service providers became vulnerable to libel lawsuits if they failed to immediately censor comments that a person claimed were defamatory. Whether or not the words are true is irrelevant.

England's libel laws have never been about protecting individuals - at least not poor or helpless individuals. They are about protecting the rich and the powerful. A fair law would be one in which the claimant has to prove falsity, harm and malicious intention, while providing a defence for truth, reasonable care and the public interest. Then both reputations and freedom of expression could be protected. Until then, mum's the word.


Huge expansion of intervention in people's lives under Blair's "New Labour" government

From 'fetal ASBOs' to calorie-counting on the curriculum: the Blairites intervened in family life in ways the Tories never dreamed of

I was one of Thatcher's children. I started school in 1980 and did my GCSE exams in 1991; a childhood and adolescence spent entirely under that Tory prime minister's beaky nose, absorbing all the emotional anti-Thatcherism of the times. I remember Thatcher as a pantomime villain, like the child-catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, immortalised in the Spitting Image puppet that gave you nightmares. When she resigned, it seemed like a happy ending in the making.

But the Blair years have been worse. As a young person under Thatcher, at least you knew where you stood - you hated her, and you assumed that she hated you. Blair seems the opposite - a devoted daddy who wants to get down with the kids and help their parents, who professes to appreciate us and feel our pain. In reality, his reign has been a constant process of family-fiddling and therapeutic intervention, which has undermined parents and unsettled childhood. For example:

When Margaret Thatcher famously argued, back in 1987, that `there is no such thing as society; there are individual men and women, and there are families', this was understood as the apex of Thatcherite individualism. Forget the poor, the needy, the lonely - Eighties Britain was a place of sink or swim, and the family was seen as life-raft enough. That government's promotion of Victorian values and the virtues of home ownership, backed up by its intolerance of more `diverse' lifestyles or family forms (remember the ill-fated war on single parents?), have all entered the liberal lexicon as examples of just how bad the Tories were at looking after families. But Thatcher was more likely to leave us in peace and privacy than Blair's lot.

Blair's government had been in office a mere year when it published the consultation document Supporting Families. (One critique of the document had the apposite headline `Supporting Families like a rope supports a hanging man'.) As I have previously argued on spiked, the document's `message was clear: for too long, it has been assumed that families are best left alone to live their lives in private. Now the state should become more involved - through processes called supporting, helping and advising families - to encourage people to live their lives in the right way.' (See What future for the family?)

Under New Labour, the dynamic towards greater state involvement in everyday family life has intensified year on year. You can see this in initiatives such as the planned creation of a national database that effectively puts alls children under state surveillance (see Children: over-surveilled, under-protected), in the routine use of parenting classes and the more punitive parenting orders, and in the Sure Start scheme, which purports to be an anti-poverty childcare provision initiative but in reality is about sitting by the elbows of low-income parents and guiding them in the right way to bring up their kids (see A Sure Start for the therapeutic state). Parents under Blair are treated like irresponsible children, in need of constant guidance and monitoring by the state. If this is what is meant by society `supporting families', we'd be better off cut adrift.

One of Thatcher's most famous `nasty' moves was her decision, when education secretary in Edward Heath's government, to abolish free school milk: earning her the childish nickname `Thatcher Thatcher, Milk Snatcher'. But at least she never went down the Blairite route of demanding `Let them eat carrot sticks', and sending in a sort of Obesity Special Branch to check the contents of children's school lunchboxes.

The obsession with children's diet, formalised in New Labour's healthy schools initiative, is to me one of the most depressing aspects of bringing up children in today's society. Given a hysterically high profile by the celebrity chef Jamie `Parents Are Tossers' Oliver, the question of what children put into their mouths at breaktime is now considered of utmost political and educational importance. School prospectuses burble on about how keen they are to follow the government's healthy eating agenda and advise parents to ask themselves if their children really need a midmorning snack; reports by the schools inspection body Ofsted rate educational institutions on how well pupils are doing on their diet-and-exercise programmes and whether skinny-limbed kids come home refusing to eat their dinner because some teacher has told them that sausages are `bad foods' and chips `aren't healthy'.

Most parents are more concerned that their kids are eating enough than that they will turn into doughnuts, and we relish the enjoyment that children get out of eating the food they like. The Blair government's mean-spirited attitude to children's food is already poisoning the atmosphere around the dinner table and providing a bitter distraction from the fact that, when schools are not shoving the National Fruit Scheme down children's throats, they are filling their heads with junk. Yes, Thatcher messed about with the curriculum and got on the wrong side of most teachers. But she did not create a situation where calorie-counting was considered more important than maths.

Thatcher was hardly considered a teenager's best friend. Hers was the party of law'n'order as well as (unofficially) the party of youth unemployment, which would later, under John Major, push through the Criminal Justice Bill, widely perceived as a law against the `repetitive beats' of rave culture and other activities beloved of young people. But Thatcher never tried to give teenagers a criminal record while still in the womb.

In September 2006, Blair unveiled plans to identify and intervene in `problem families' at the earliest possible stage, to prevent their children becoming criminals later on in life. The UK media branded the scheme `fetal ASBOs' - a new extension of the Blair government's Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, which are used to whip teenagers into line for such offences as hanging out on the street. This has also been a government that issues on-the-spot fines for all manner of trivial misdemeanours and sends parents to jail if their children play hooky from school (see Parents: we are not the law). The politics of behaviour is promoted through a policy of `Respect' - as though the long arm of the law is any way to get teenagers to respect anything. (See Respect for what?)

Already it is reported that teenagers wear their ASBOS as a `badge of honour', and if they have stopped wearing hooded tops it is presumably not because of the government's sartorial advice on the subject. But it all creates a climate of conformity in which the young, typically more adventurous and energetic than the rest of society, might find themselves in counselling simply for wanting to cross the road.

Of course, none of this means that I pine for the Thatcher era. I remember it as being quite grey and bleak, with the sense of any political alternative crumbling before one's eyes. But the chrome-covered Blair years have been unable to disguise the mistrust, the lack of vision, and the narrow authoritarianism that has powered this government's regime. And now it's about to go Brown..


Even thin people can be too fat!

Note the entirely unjustified assumption that all fat is bad for you

If it really is what's on the inside that counts, then a lot of thin people might be in trouble. Some doctors now think that the internal fat surrounding vital organs like the heart, liver or pancreas - invisible to the naked eye - could be as dangerous as the more obvious external fat that bulges underneath the skin. "Being thin doesn't automatically mean you're not fat," said Dr Jimmy Bell, a professor of molecular imaging at Imperial College, London. Since 1994, Bell and his team have scanned nearly 800 people with MRI machines to create "fat maps" showing where people store their fat.

According to their data, people who maintain their weight through diet instead of exercise, are likely to have major deposits of internal fat, even if they are otherwise slim. "The whole concept of being fat needs to be redefined," said Bell, whose research is funded by Britain's Medical Research Council. Without a clear warning signal - like a rounder middle - doctors worry that thin people may be lulled into falsely assuming that because they're not overweight, they're healthy. "Just because someone is lean doesn't make them immune to diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease," said Dr Louis Teichholz, chief of cardiology at Hackensack Hospital in New Jersey.

Even people with normal Body Mass Index scores - a standard obesity measure that divides your weight by the square of your height - can have surprising levels of fat deposits inside. Of the women scanned by Bell and his colleagues, as many as 45 per cent of those with normal BMI scores (20 to 25) actually had excessive levels of internal fat. Among men, the percentage was nearly 60 per cent. Relating the news to what Bell refers to as TOFIs, or people who are "thin outside, fat inside," is rarely uneventful. "The thinner people are, the bigger the surprise," he said. He said that they have even found TOFIs among people who are professional models.

According to Bell, people who are fat on the inside are essentially on the threshold of being obese. They eat too many fatty, sugary foods - and exercise too little to work it off - but they are not eating enough to actually be fat. Scientists believe we naturally accumulate fat around the belly first, but at some point, the body may start storing it elsewhere. Still, most experts believe that being of normal weight is an indicator of good health, and that BMI is a reliable measurement. "BMI won't give you the exact indication of where fat is, but it's a useful clinical tool," said Dr Toni Steer, a nutritionist at Britain's Medical Research Council.

Doctors are unsure about the exact dangers of internal fat, but some suspect it contributes to the risk of heart disease and diabetes. They theorise that internal fat disrupts the body's communication systems. The fat enveloping internal organs might be sending the body mistaken chemical signals to store fat inside organs like the liver or pancreas. This could ultimately lead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease.

Experts have long known that fat, active people can be healthier than their skinny, inactive counterparts. "Normal-weight persons who are sedentary and unfit are at much higher risk for mortality than obese persons who are active and fit," said Dr Steven Blair, an obesity expert at the University of South Carolina. For example, despite their ripples of fat, super-sized Sumo wrestlers probably have a better metabolic profile than some of their slim, seated spectators, Bell said. That's because the wrestlers' fat is primarily stored under the skin, not streaking throughout their vital organs and muscles.

The good news is that internal fat can be easily burned off through exercise or even by improving your diet. "Even if you don't see it on your bathroom scale, caloric restriction and physical exercise have an aggressive effect on visceral fat," said Dr Bob Ross, an obesity expert at Queen's University in Canada.

Because many factors contribute to heart disease, Teichholz says it's difficult to determine the precise danger of internal fat - though it certainly doesn't help. "Obesity is a risk factor, but it's lower down on the totem pole of risk factors," he said, explaining that whether or not people smoke, their family histories and blood pressure and cholesterol rates are more important determinants than both external and internal fat.

When it comes to being fit, experts say there is no short-cut. "If you just want to look thin, then maybe dieting is enough," Bell said. "But if you want to actually be healthy, then exercise has to be an important component of your lifestyle."



Nigel Lawson may be in idyllic semi-retirement in France - but, as he tells William Keegan, he still has the stomach for a battle over climate change that could keep him in the headlines alongside his celebrity offspring


Which brings us back to current preoccupations: Lawson's active membership of the high-powered House of Lords economics committee, which has already reflected his sceptical view on global warming. I got the impression that he would have liked at least half of our interview to be about global warming, but trust that he appreciates that there is still a lot of interest in the Chancellorial history of the father of Nigella.

At any rate, he expatiated enthusiastically on the way he was attracted by the 'multi-dimensional' aspects of global warming - the science, the economics and the politics. Whatever the mounting scientific evidence, he believes the economic implications - the choices, the complications, the alternatives - are not fully understood.

'It has always seemed to me that the economic dimension is very important, but also very neglected. People thought that once the science was straightened out - and it is true that there is not a lot of scope for differences in the science - all would follow. But it doesn't. It is not at all clear what makes economic sense - or what is politically feasible.'

Lawson insists that the conventional view - urgent action now to help future generations - is unfair. 'How big a sacrifice is it reasonable to ask people today to bear, in order to benefit generations 100 years hence who'll be substantially better off than we are today?' he asks.

He is fully in sympathy with the Chinese for resisting the Kyoto-type approach. 'I understand their view entirely. I've no time for the Chinese regime, but they have a huge population, most of whom are extremely poor, and the most important thing is to lift them out of poverty because otherwise they'll die in large numbers. They need the fastest possible rate of growth, and that means the cheapest energy. The point is that the Chinese are not prepared to sacrifice the present generation for the generation 100 years hence, and that is absolutely understandable.'

The old Chancellor with a new cause is insistent: 'The idea that the European Union should take the lead [over global warming] and that the UK should lead within the EU only means we suffer, because we lead and others don't follow.'

He is quite determined, and fully aware of the risks to his reputation in the face of what has become a formidable and fashionable consensus. With that familiar twinkle in his eye, he added: 'As a superannuated has-been, I've got involved because political correctness makes it damaging for anyone in politics to speak out. I don't need to worry.'

Indeed, my host went on to say that he has had a big response from the public. 'My postbag, or should I say my email bag, has been overwhelmingly favourable.' So there you are. Watch out Nigella, dad's back in town, and clearly only semi-retired in Gascony.


British university allows Leftist goons to prevent free speech

The leader of the British National party, Nick Griffin, has been barred from speaking at Bath University amid fears the event would bring chaos to the campus. Earlier this week the university had said that Monday's meeting, which Mr Griffin was due to address, would go ahead because of the institution's commitment to freedom of speech.

But as the scale of the opposition became clear yesterday the university backed down. In a statement published on its website it said many students had expressed fears for their safety if the BNP leader was allowed to appear. It added: "The university has now learned that a very large number of protesters intend to arrive on campus. This creates the likelihood of substantial public order problems and real possibility of disruption ... making it impractical for the university to allow the event to go ahead. In the light of all these considerations the university has decided to refuse permission for the event to take place."

Mr Griffin was invited to address the meeting by first-year politics student and BNP youth leader Danny Lake, who told the Guardian he wanted Mr Griffin to visit the university to explain the BNP's policies to lecturers and students. However, others said the meeting was part of an wider campaign by the BNP, which failed to make a breakthrough in this month's local elections, to establish a foothold on university campuses.

Last night Mr Lake described the university's decision as "a knee-jerk reaction to threats made by the undemocratic left - namely the unions and Unite Against Fascism who care not a jot for people's right to hold opinions". Earlier student leaders and union officials said the initial decision to allow Mr Griffin, who has a conviction for inciting racial hatred, to address the meeting was naive, describing the BNP as dangerous and divisive.

Bath students' union passed a motion at an emergency meeting condemning the BNP and criticising the university. Earlier 11 union general secretaries wrote to the university's vice-chancellor, Glynis Breakwell, calling on her to reconsider her decision. Last night Sally Hunt, joint general secretary of the University and College Union, welcomed the university's U-turn: "We feel this is the correct decision. Allowing the BNP to speak would have compromised the safety of staff and students and sent out a very worrying message about Bath University's commitment to diversity. "The millions of staff and students who cherish academic freedom ... deplore the presence in an institution of learning of Nick Griffin." Paul Jaggers, president of Bath Student Union, said the decision "sends a clear message that students do not want the BNP on university campuses".


Prof. Brignell has put up a very good summary of Tony Blair's appalling legacy in Britain.

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