Monday, February 04, 2008

Britain has just legalized polygamy

For the benefit of guess who? Interesting that they can do it without reference to their legislature. Britain is adopting more and more characteristics of a Fascist State

Husbands with multiple wives have been given the go-ahead to claim extra welfare benefits following a year-long Government review, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal. Even though bigamy is a crime in Britain, the decision by ministers means that polygamous marriages can now be recognised formally by the state, so long as the weddings took place in countries where the arrangement is legal. The outcome will chiefly benefit Muslim men with more than one wife, as is permitted under Islamic law. Ministers estimate that up to a thousand polygamous partnerships exist in Britain, although they admit there is no exact record.

The decision has been condemned by the Tories, who accused the Government of offering preferential treatment to a particular group, and of setting a precedent that would lead to demands for further changes in British law.

New guidelines on income support from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) state: "Where there is a valid polygamous marriage the claimant and one spouse will be paid the couple rate ... The amount payable for each additional spouse is presently 33.65 pounds." Income support for all of the wives may be paid directly into the husband's bank account, if the family so choose. Under the deal agreed by ministers, a husband with multiple wives may also be eligible for additional housing benefit and council tax benefit to reflect the larger property needed for his family.

The ruling could cost taxpayers millions of pounds. Ministers launched a review of the benefit rules for polygamous marriages in November 2006, after it emerged that some families had benefited financially. The review concluded in December last year with agreement that the extra benefits should continue to be paid, the Government admitted. The decision was not publicly announced.

Four departments - the Treasury, the DWP, HM Revenue and Customs, and the Home Office - were involved in the review, which concluded that recognising multiple marriages conducted overseas was "the best possible" option. In Britain, bigamy is punishable by up to seven years in prison. Islamic law permits men to have up to four wives at any one time - known as a harem - provided the husband spends equal amounts of time and money on each of them.

A DWP spokesman claimed that the number of people in polygamous marriages entering Britain had fallen since the 1988 Immigration Act, which "generally prevents a man from bringing a second or subsequent wife with him to this country if another woman is already living as his wife in the UK".

While a married man cannot obtain a spouse visa to bring a second wife into Britain, some multiple partners may be able to enter the country via other legal routes such as tourist visas, student visas or work permits. In addition, officials have identified a potential loophole by which a man can divorce his wife under British law while continuing to live with her as his spouse under Islamic law, and obtain a spouse visa for a foreign woman who he can legally marry.

"Entry clearance may not be withheld from a second wife where the husband has divorced his previous wife and the divorce is thought to be one of convenience," an immigration rulebook advises. "This is so, even if the husband is still living with the previous wife and to issue the entry clearance would lead to the formation of a polygamous household."

Chris Grayling, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said that the decision was "completely unjustifiable". "You are not allowed to have multiple marriages in the UK, so to have a situation where the benefits system is treating people in different ways is totally unacceptable and will serve to undermine confidence in the system. "This sets a precedent that will lead to more demands for the culture of other countries to be reflected in UK law and the benefits system." Mr Grayling also accused the Government of trying to keep the ruling quiet because the topic is so controversial.


"Training" is replacing education in Britain

`Black Monday', with its economic chaos and confusion, was nothing compared with British PM Gordon Brown's self-inflicted educational disaster of `McMonday'. Yesterday, 28 January, Brown announced the New Labour government's latest educational wheeze: a proposal to allow the fast-food chain McDonald's, the low cost airline Flybe, and Network Rail to award qualifications at school level. These were immediately dubbed `McA-levels', `McGCSEs'; Network Rail is even thinking of offering doctorates in railway engineering: McPhDs, if you like. This is the first substantial move by the government to allow private companies to award British educational qualifications.

Brown introduced and defended these new awarding powers on GMTV early on Monday morning. He argued that the government was not dumbing down its qualifications, and companies like McDonald's would ensure that standards would not fall and even ensure that the 51 per cent non-completion rates for apprenticeships would be tackled. John Denham, secretary of state for innovation, universities and skills, said it was an important step towards ending the division between company training schemes and national qualifications (1). Nick Gibb, the opposition Conservative Party school spokesperson, was enthusiastic, too, arguing that: `They may well be better vocational qualifications. because they relate to the real world of work.' (2) Even the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) considered that `employer-led qualification routes with a specialised vocational background may prove a valuable route into higher education' (2).

A proposal to offer qualifications with about as much intellectual nourishment as a Big Mac should have upset public sector unions, teachers and educationalists. However, initial criticism has been muted and technical. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), expressed some concern about giving private companies the power to award educational qualifications and demanded that they meet stringent requirements. Others questioned the new qualifications' academic rigour; their transferability to other workplaces; whether they would be accepted by other employers; and whether they could devalue traditional qualifications.

The muted criticism is easily explained: ever since the government commissioned the Tomlinson Committee report in 2005, there has been a broad base of support for its proposed radical overhaul of qualifications for 14- to 19-year-olds, and for the aim of eventually replacing A-levels with a personalised `Diploma' (3). Careful readers of the Tomlinson report would have noted that Carmel Flatley, the director of human resources and training at McDonald's, worked for a time as a member of the committee (4). The Tomlinson report suggested vocational routes for children as young as 14 to allow those with vocational rather than academic interests to follow their inclinations. Educationalists have accepted the government's argument that Britain faces a major skills gap and needs to ensure that young people have the skills, often `learning to learn' skills, that would serve them well in the new world of work. However, Tomlinson's much-heralded reform proposals were not implemented. The New Labour government, then under Tony Blair, seemed to lack the confidence to bring in such sweeping changes; instead it kept the `gold standard' of A-level qualifications, which were seen as academically respectable.

One of Gordon Brown's first acts when he became prime minister in June was to split the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) into the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS). The missing word in the titles of these reorganised departments was `education'. This was more than trendy re-branding. It showed how the government has undermined the idea and the essence of Education, of knowledge and learning, and replaced it with Skills instead. When the emphasis is on can-do skills rather than abstract ideas and thinking, it makes sense to transfer `educational training' over to the business world and to transform universities into `training institutions' for the world of work.

Following `McMonday', the newspapers were full of references to `McQualifications'. `What a joke!' commentators proclaimed; or as one union official put it: `Nothing is stranger than life!' McDonald's is, of course, the brand that every member of the chattering classes loves to hate. And it helps that it is easy to play the McDonaldisation Game by adding the `Mc' prefix to everything one dislikes about modern life. Yet in reality, the fundamentals of the McDonaldisation thesis - of applying efficiency, calculability, predictability and control to education - have already been accepted by almost everyone in the worlds of government, teaching and unions. Mocking McDonald's and its new role in education is a way of avoiding the profound denigration of education that has already occurred, and which has brought us to this situation.

From seeing that fewer pupils are excluded from schools to ensuring that 50 per cent of the population go on to higher education: efficiency in education goes unchallenged today. Often this means making examination and assessment varied, or to be truthful, making them easier. Calculability, in terms of league tables, is questioned by some educationalists, but not by those who perform well in the tables. Predictability, in terms of common learning outcomes and standardised degrees, is now accepted by educationalists across the board. And the most threatening form of McDonaldisation - control, through the standardisation of teacher training in all sectors - is universally celebrated. This serious McDonaldisation of the education system has severely undermined the unpredictable, creative and exciting process of education, reducing it to a list of dull, predictable skills. It was the government that made education the equivalent of learning how to flip burgers - signing up McDonald's was the next logical step.

There is no real opposition to the skill-crazy philistinism within education. Further Education (FE) lecturers have always taught skills, of course; but in the past they argued for something called `vocational education'. Now even former radical educators in Britain sneer at the idea of `education for its own sake'. This, too, is a product of the post-Tomlinson consensus. One of Tomlinson's stated aims was to overcome the academic/vocational divide. This brought everyone on side as it seemed, particularly to radical educationalists, to provide parity for working-class children who might be more practical-minded and hence vocationally orientated. In truth, the removal of the academic/vocational divide looked more like a cover for the fact that many working-class children are not being provided with a first-class, gold-standard education; it was a way of selling out these children, effectively giving up on their educational aspirations, but it was dressed up to look like a radical move in favour of the `vocationally minded'.

It is the consensus over the need for a skill system that is bringing about the McDonaldisation of education. The irony is that the academic/vocational divide is being overcome: parity will finally be achieved when there are only vocational qualifications left.


Britain to get a conservative Catholic primate? "A monk in a remote Scottish abbey has emerged as a surprise contender to replace Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor as leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. Hugh Gilbert, 55, the abbot of Pluscarden Abbey in Elgin, Moray, has become a serious candidate to replace Murphy-O'Connor when he retires later this year. The ultimate decision will rest with the Pope, but senior church figures are said to have been impressed with Gilbert's orthodox views and leadership skills. For some time Rome has felt that the liberal drift of the bishops has failed to halt declining church attendance. Gilbert would represent a change in style because he is known as a traditionalist with dynamic qualities of leadership. He has presided over an expansion of his abbey and the founding of two offshoots in Africa and America. He is part of a very successful monastic community which is bursting at the seams. He is a quiet, scholarly monk who would probably accept the appointment out of obedience to the church. Vatican officials visited Pluscarden and are said to have been impressed with Gilbert's powers of delegation and the high esteem in which he is held within and outside the monastery."

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