Friday, August 22, 2008

An 'anti-natal' society tells parents not to have big families

Society unfairly pressurises parents into having small families, according to a new report. The study for the think tank Civitas claims that the middle-classes are made to feel guilty about the impact on the environment and the damage to their careers if they have large numbers of babies. Everything from house prices to car tax makes it far more expensive for them to raise more than two children, it says.

The report says that this "anti-natal" prejudice against large families is misplaced, however, and that young people who have lots of brothers and sisters grow up happier and better-adjusted than only children.

Colin Brazier, a father-of-five who wrote the report, concluded: "Few television advertisements show a family with more than two children. Many feature just one. "The only child - once pitiable - is now fashionable. "A growing canon of work exists to justify the decision to restrict family size in the interests of the environment or career. "Respectable authors sidestep a substantial body of evidence to argue that only children suffer no material disadvantage by dint of their solitary status."

Mr Brazier, a presenter on Sky News, claims in his article in this month's Civitas Review that many British parents would like to have more than one or two children but that they cannot afford to do so. He says that the property market acts as a "contraceptive" because developers now build smaller homes, and that having more than three bedrooms adds two-thirds to the price of a house in some areas.

The report points out that parents who send their children to fee-paying schools suffer as there are only "modest discounts" for having multiple siblings on the roll. Meanwhile state schools no longer guarantee that all children from the same family will get a place, forcing parents to make several visits on the school-run each day.

Large families suffer financially on holiday as "family tickets" invariably admit two adults and two children, Mr Brazier said, while some councils insist that parents take no more than two children into swimming pools.

The study claims environmental concerns are now increasingly being cited as reasons to charge large families more for services, with people carriers facing higher road tax and "pay-as-you-throw" bin charges likely to penalise households with more children for throwing away more rubbish.

Despite this, Mr Brazier insists there are great benefits to children, their parents and society as a whole from large families. He cites academic studies that have shown children from larger families get into fewer fights at school and make more friends, because they are used to negotiation and team-playing, and are less likely to develop allergies.

He suggests having older siblings creates a "trickle-down" effect of knowledge to younger children in middle-class homes, and claims that in some broken families, deprived children only learn valuable social skills from their brothers and sisters.

The report claims parents are less likely to be over-protective or pushy if they have lots of children, while young people themselves benefit from having older siblings to play with and look after them.


British road sign insults the elderly?

We read:
"Pensioners' groups called for the road sign depicting old people to be scrapped because it is insulting.

Age Concern and Help the Aged said that the hunched figure with a walking stick, above, should be replaced with a new image. Barry Earnshaw, Age Concern Lincoln chief executive, said: "The sign doesn't represent older people as they are today. There should be a generic sign that is representative of all vulnerable pedestrians, regardless of age."

A Highways Agency spokesman said that new signs would be costly and require a change in the law.


(In Britain, a "pensioner" is someone living on Social Security)


The following email from a Brit may be of interest:

"Just a small correction. "In Britain, a "pensioner" is someone living on Social Security" is misleading. A pensioner is, broadly speaking, any woman over 60 and any man over 65, because they are entitled to receive the state pension to which they have contributed during their working lives. I am a pensioner and receive this payment, but because I also have an occupational pension and some independent income, I could easily do without it. It is true that some pensioners have no other income, and as the state pension is niggardly theirs is not a lot to be envied. But most are perfectly comfortable financially, and would be rather piqued at the suggestion they were living on social security!

I think pensioners' views on the road signs would be ambivalent. On the one hand many of us are very spritely (I go hill-walking and sailing, am perfectly upright, do not use a stick and am physically strong provided I watch my back a little) and don't look the least bit like the sign. On the other hand, most of us couldn't give a toss, having more important things to think about!"

Thousands of NHS operations cancelled

Thousands of NHS operations were cancelled last year, many because of shortages of staff, beds or equipment, figures suggest. One in three hospital trusts cancelled surgery for the same patient at least three times, and up to 7,014 patients had operations cancelled or rescheduled more than once, data obtained by the Conservatives shows.

The most common reported reason for cancellation was problems with theatre bookings, responsible for 16,617 cases. Other causes included: 400 operations cancelled because the patient's notes had been lost, more than 10,000 cancelled because of bed shortages, nearly 4,000 because of equipment failure and more than 11,000 because of staffing shortages.

Data from 124 trusts - more than three quarters of those in England - responding to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, suggested that 77,302 operations were cancelled for "non-clinical reasons" in 2007-08. However, the trusts with the highest reported cases of cancelled surgery apologised yesterday for providing inaccurate data.

Kingston Hospital NHS Trust, which reported 10,351 operations cancelled last year, said that this figure was incorrect. "This was an error on our part and we apologise for any confusion this mistake has caused," the trust said, adding that only 190 operations were cancelled in 2007-08. Other trusts reporting more than 3,000 cancellations included hospitals in York and Brighton and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London. They also said that the figures were erroneous or had been misinterpreted.

Many cases could have been cancellations by patients themselves or have been logged as changes by hospitals before the patient was notified of a date for surgery, NHS staff said.

A spokesman for Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust said: "Over six hundred of the operations that were `cancelled' were in fact brought forward to an earlier date and around 1,000 were administrative cancellations, which are about how the hospital schedules its work."

Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said: "Having an operation cancelled can cause huge distress for patients and their families. It's simply unacceptable that these figures are so high."

Government figures show that the number of cancelled operations has increased by 14 per cent since 1997. There were 57,350 cancelled operations in 2007-08, compared with 50,505 in 1997-98, official records state, but they include only operations cancelled 24 hours in advance or less.

Richard Collins, a spokesman for the Royal College of Surgeons, said that the figures would almost certainly relate to elective, planned surgery rather than urgent care. "The shortage of ICU [intensive care unit] beds for major surgery patients is a common problem, especially in winter," he added. "Notes are also lost on a worryingly frequent basis."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The number of cancelled operations needs to be set against the huge increase in the number of patients that the NHS is treating. "Between 1997 and 2008, the number of elective admissions has increased by over 1.5million while the number of operations cancelled at the last moment remained at less than 1.5 per cent."


Britain: Parents applying to university on children's behalf

Pushy parents are being allowed to apply to university on their children's behalf, it has been revealed. Students starting higher education next month will be the first to be able to leave the admissions process to mothers and fathers. Some universities are even allowing parents to sit in on vital interviews. Critics said the move risked turning universities into "schools for biologically mature children". It is also feared that it will benefit middle-class teenagers, with some students from poor homes unable to call upon articulate parents.

In the past, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) had to deal directly with students themselves. But officials insisted a rise in the number of calls from parents had prompted a rule change, with applicants now able to nominate parents, guardians or teachers to act as "agents" on their behalf. Ucas said the service - which affects almost all students applying to university - was also intended to benefit those on gap years. Around one in 10 this year are estimated to have nominated parents to make calls on their behalf this year.

Experts said it underlined the influence of so-called "helicopter parents" - mothers and fathers who hover over their children at school, putting too much pressure on them at a young age. Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University, said over-protective parents were "destroying the distinction between school and higher education". "All universities now have to take the parent factor into account," he told BBC Online. "On university open days you can see more parents attending than children. "There is a powerful sense of infantilism, where parents can't let go."

He told how some parents arrived at university expecting to attend their son or daughter's interview. Some academics even accepted that it would be "a family discussion", and allowed parents to take part.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University Management School, said parents wanted to control the "psychological and financial investment in their children". "These parents are paying more, so they think they can demand more," he said.

A Ucas spokesman said: "This is usually because the parent feels they haven't got all the information they need from their son or daughter and so phone back to double check and clarify points."


Old King Coal may be our saviour yet

Britain is not alone in finding it hard to come to grips with reconciling the need for energy to fuel economic growth with the emerging consensus that something must be done about global warming, while moving away from the dependence on oil. The Democratic-controlled Congress slunk out of Washington last week without even voting on the various policy proposals before it.

So be kind to your own politicians. Making energy policy is a tough job, made tougher by politicians' refusal to acknowledge facts. The most basic is that the promotion of nuclear, solar, wind and other forms will do nothing in the near or medium term to end reliance on oil to propel cars and lorries. For as far ahead as a planner should try to see, we will depend on oil to move ourselves and our products around the country.

You can't fill up at a wind machine or a nuclear plant - and won't be able to until the electric car becomes economic, and that is a long way off. Which means that one ingredient of energy policy is the ability to defend oil supply routes, a job that the world has so far largely out-sourced to America.

No good saying Britain has plenty of oil in the North Sea - which might prove to be the case if oil prices stay high enough to make development of smaller, more difficult-to-access fields profitable, and if the Government resists the siren call of windfall taxes.

Oil markets are international, and if the Iranians try to close the Straits of Hormuz, or the crazies take over Saudi Arabia, prices would reach levels that will have us pining for the good old days of $150 oil.

Which is why the Government's decision to go ahead with the construction of new aircraft carriers is a sensible form of energy policy, assuming it does not come out of an already stretched military budget.

The next reality check is to accept that nuclear power is far dearer than the Government is anticipating. The cost of a nuclear plant is now estimated to be significantly more than twice the figure put about by the industry only five years ago - and rising. Many nuclear advocates have been pinning their hopes for cost reductions on the next-generation nuclear plant being built in Finland by Areva, a French company that Gordon Brown has announced might be allowed a monopoly of nuclear plant construction.

The Finnish project is two years behind schedule and $1.5 billion-plus over budget. High construction costs mean that electricity from nuclear plants can be competitive with the output of fossil fuel plants only if the price of carbon emissions rises and if investors are somehow guaranteed that those prices will stay high for the 20- to 40-year life of the nuclear plants. No such guarantee is possible, given the volatility of carbon markets, so pay no heed to industry promises that it will not seek subsidies.

Most likely, owners of the massive amounts of capital required to build these facilities will insist that they be guaranteed above-market prices for their power, a covert subsidy that will be hidden on electricity bills.

Nuclear's need for subsidies is not unique. Wind and solar, currently receiving large inflows of investment capital, also remain heavily dependent on subsidies. As does ethanol, part of the programme that has contributed to soaring food prices by giving farmers an incentive to transfer acreage to growing fuel.

Which leaves only natural gas, an efficient fuel, but one on which western Europe is overly dependent, to Vladimir Putin's delight - and coal. The world has limitless supplies of coal, most located in nations friendly to the West. But coal is an abomination in the eyes of environmentalists because of its alleged contribution to global warming.

Nevertheless, it will be a key ingredient in the world's energy future: India and China between them have 700 plants planned or under construction; the Government has sensibly authorised a new plant in Kent; and European countries plan to build 50 new coal stations in the next five years.


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