Friday, December 12, 2008


An email from David Whitehouse [] to Benny Peiser

I speculated on Dec 1 about the ways that some in the media would react to the forthcoming data that will likely show that 2008 will be the coldest year since 2001. One would have thought that any dispassionate and scientifically rigorous look at the general temperature standstill since 2001, and now a slight fall in the average annual global temperature record would provide pause for thought about what is really going on, and, whatever side of the fence you sit, perhaps a humble appreciation that we do not by any means know as much about the complexities of the climate as some say we do.

And so it happened. The headline in the Guardian said:
"2008 will be coolest year of the decade; Global average for 2008 should come in close to 14.3C, but cooler temperature is not evidence that global warming is slowing, say climate scientists"

If I may quote from the article;
"Prof Myles Allen at Oxford University who runs the website, said he feared climate sceptics would overinterpret the figure. 'You can bet your life there will be a lot of fuss about what a cold year it is. Actually no, its not been that cold a year, but the human memory is not very long, we are used to warm years,' he said, 'Even in the 80s [this year] would have felt like a warm year.'

And 2008 would have been a scorcher in Charles Dickens's time - without human-induced warming there would have been a one in a hundred chance of getting a year this hot. 'For Dickens this would have been an extremely warm year,' he said. On the flip side, in the current climate there is a roughly one in 10 chance of having a year this cool."

Overinterpret? Is that a new way of saying don't look at all the relevant data because it might be inconvenient?

As I pointed out, this is not telling the whole story, nor even putting it into a proper context. The important point evaded is not that 2008 would have been hot for Dickens but how hot is it with respect to the current warming spell. Nobody is arguing that the past decade is not warmer than previous ones and that the world1s glaciers and ecosystems are not reacting to it. If 2008 is the coldest year since 2001 and the global average temperature didn't change at all between 2001 - 2007 one should ask why! Talking about 2008 on its own and comparing it to Victorian times is misleading.

Then a few days later in the Guardian the environmental campaigner George Monbiot wrote, in response to the first article that "In the physical world global warming appears to be spilling over into runaway feedback."

Really? What a load of nonsense. It's statements like these that make me wonder if I am either living in the same physical world and if we need real world data at all?

It is said in that article that it's all right because the Met Office predicted that 2008 would be cool because of the la Nina effect. What it didn't say is that the previous year was predicted by the Met Office to be the warmest ever and it wasn't. la Ninas come along regularly and it's no great scientific achievement to say that when one occurs the world will cool. A failed prediction of warming however is highly significant especially given the faith put in computer modelling.

Also this supposed explanation is not in itself adequate. If the predicted cooling by la Nina had not occurred then 2008 would probably have been the same temperature (given the uncertainties) as every year since 2001 and that in itself would require explanation.

Later on in the Monbiot article we have, as I predicted, the tired old cliche about "professional deniers employed by fossil fuel companies." Where I wonder are their counterparts, the professional campaigners whose vested interests make them see a runaway warming world despite what the real world the data says?

I am broadly in favour of the global warming -CO2 hypothesis but I know it is just that, a hypothesis - and that needs testing against real observations in the physical world. If it isn't, then it's not science.

No independent minds in official Britain

An email from David Henderson [] to Benny Peiser

See the text that I used as the basis for a recent invited lecture in Edinburgh at Heriot-Watt University. Most of the ideas are in earlier publications of mine, but the following excerpts are new thoughts (for me)

" ... economists, here as elsewhere, are not agreed. Some of our differences on climate change relate to already familiar issues which arise in other areas of policy: a leading instance, and an important one in this context where distant possibilities are in question, is the choice of an appropriate rate of interest for discounting projected future costs and benefits. But the dividing line between upholders and dissenters in economics falls outside the accepted bounds of our subject. It concerns the choice of a point of departure; and this choice depends on a judgement as to what conclusions it is appropriate to draw from arguments and evidence that are scientific rather than economic. Received opinion among economists takes as given what it sees as firm scientific conclusions. Thus the Stern Review says at the start that 'The scientific evidence that climate change is a serious and urgent issue is now compelling', while the Garnaut Report take a similar line. For me, such unqualified assertions presume too much."

"Where so much remains uncertain, unsettled or unknown, policies should be evolutionary and adaptive, rather than presumptive; and their evolution should be linked to a process of inquiry and review which is more thorough, balanced, open and objective than is now the case.

As things are, there is little or no chance that such a new framework could emerge in Britain. Policy and research alike are almost entirely in the hands of institutions that appear as firmly committed to currently received opinion. The list of those involved in the advisory and policy process, and spending public money accordingly, includes the new Department of Energy and Climate Change and the relevant segments of some other departments of state, the Office of Climate Change, the Committee on Climate Change, the Hadley Centre, the Tyndall Centre, the National Environment Research Council, the Energy Research Centre, the Carbon Trust, the Environment Agency, and the Sustainable Development Commission.

I do not offer the above list as exclusive; and indeed, sad to say, Her Majesty's Treasury has to be added to it. When I started work on climate change issues, I argued that it was high time for the Treasury to become seriously involved with them. Subsequent events, including the Stern Review, have brought home to me the old adage, 'Be careful what you wish for'.

In all these official bodies, as also in the growing number of non-governmental research centres that have been set up in Britain to work on issues relating to climate change, a common way of thinking prevails. I doubt whether among them there is today, or could ever be as things now are, a single professional staff member who could be identified as even a mild dissenter or non-subscriber: there is no place for such minority thoughts, and no point in voicing them. Her Majesty's Government, with a good deal of unofficial backing, have created and financed a dominant culture of conformity. Other OECD member governments, and the European Commission, have taken much the same path.

Britain gives 'back door' amnesty for 180,000 asylum seekers who slipped through the net

Up to 180,000 asylum seekers are to be granted a 'back door' amnesty to live in Britain. They include failed refugees who should have been deported, and migrants whose claims were never even concluded by the Home Office. Instead, their files were lost or left unfinished as the asylum system went into meltdown.

Now officials are finally wading through the backlog, and have already granted more than 50,000 approvals. Based on the current rate at which cases are being rubber-stamped, the total number to benefit from the amnesty will be around 180,000. The approval rate is 40 per cent and rising, with all those who are successful gaining access to housing and other benefits. Local councils will be expected to find homes for many of them.

The major reason why so many of the claims are being approved is the Human Rights Act. Under it, those who have been here for many years can claim Britain is now their home and that they no longer have links to their country of origin. If their claims had been considered when they were first submitted, many might have been sent home.

The HRA, passed by Labour a decade ago, also prevents the removal of asylum seekers to countries where they could face torture or persecution, which is likely to apply to thousands of cases in the backlog.

Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'Whilst the Minister for Immigration tries to talk tough, the reality is that the Government is prepared to grant what amounts to an effective amnesty just to get the figures down. 'Despite all the spin, it is clear that Labour is no closer to getting a grip on illegal immigration.'

The 450,000 so-called 'legacy' cases were unearthed by former Home Secretary John Reid during a clean-up of the department he described as 'not fit for purpose'. He said he wanted all the cases - some of which date back to the mid-1990s - resolved by around 2011. Lin Homer, chief executive of the UK Border Agency, said that of nearly 130,000 cases concluded so far, 51,000 - or 40 per cent - had been approved. A further 53,000 had been closed because, for example, the claimant could not be contacted. Only 23,500 applicants have been removed.

Town halls have been warned to make the migrants a priority for council housing. They have been given a 'transitional grant' of 1.1million of taxpayers' money to help towards the cost, but the final bill is likely to be far higher. It is expected to be passed on in council tax rises.

The list of countries with most beneficiaries of the 'legacy' policy is headed by Turkey, with 2,400 successful claimants.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the pressure group Migrationwatch UK, said: 'We are only now getting the measure of the disaster that befell the asylum system in recent years. 'It is frankly absurd that tens of thousands of people should be given full access to the welfare state for no other reason than the administrative chaos that ruled in the Home Office.'

It also emerged yesterday that seven of the most dangerous criminals involved in the foreign prisoner scandal have been given permission to stay in Britain. They are rapists, killers and paedophiles. One of the main reasons for being allowed to stay is that under human rights law they have a right to a family life. In total, out of 1,000 offenders involved in the Home Office fiasco, only 336 have been deported to date.

Tory MP James Clappison said: 'The fact that even the most serious criminals have been allowed to stay makes a mockery of Labour's original promise that they would be found and deported.'

The revelations, made in a letter to Parliament's home affairs committee, came as a study showed that allowing every illegal immigrant living in the UK to stay would cost 2billion a year. Migrationwatch estimated the cost of a full immigrant amnesty could rise to 4billion once newcomers started families. The think-tank also released results of a poll which found that 70 per cent of those questioned opposed a blanket amnesty for all the estimated 700,000 illegal migrants.

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: 'We have improved our performance and are now resolving several thousand old asylum cases every month. We are well on track to complete all 450,000 cases by 2011. 'We will continue to prioritise those who may pose a risk to the public, and then focus on those who can more easily be removed, those receiving support, and those who may be granted leave. 'We will no longer pay to support to those who have had their cases concluded. Those who are granted the right to stay should seek work and those who have been refused will be removed.'


Incorrect newspaper clippings in Britain

We read:
"A pub landlord [bar owner] has hit out after being arrested on suspicion of committing a racially-aggravated public order offence. Police swooped on Peter Mailer's premises, the Black Bull Hotel in Warkworth, last Tuesday, following a formal complaint over newspaper clippings, political cartoons and other items displayed on his bar-room walls.

Mr Mailer, who admits he is an active supporter of the British National Party, was hauled into Alnwick Police Station, along with the cuttings, where he provided a taped interview under caution. He has now been bailed to return to the station on December 23, when he will learn whether or not the Crown Prosecution Service will charge him.

But the 52-year-old publican said he was stunned to learn that the complaint had been made by an off-duty senior police officer from Nottinghamshire, who was on holiday in the region when he paid a visit to the Black Bull the previous Friday night. "There was absolutely nothing said about the so-called racist items on my wall. About 90 per cent of them were clippings taken directly from national newspapers. "On Tuesday two Northumbria officers turned up and arrested me, took everything off the walls and I had to go to the station to give a taped interview."

He added: "It seems that this senior officer had to justify his fat salary by rocking the boat in a sleepy little village hundreds of miles away from where he lives. "I've had this pub three years, it's full of regulars of all political persuasions who don't have an issue with what I put on my walls."....

A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said: "A 52-year-old man from the Alnwick area was arrested on Tuesday, November 25, on suspicion of committing a racially-aggravated public order offence, and has been bailed."


It's legal for the newspapers to publish it but you must not pin it up on your walls???? I'm guessing that the clippings were mainly reports of immigrant crimes.

Thousands of NHS patients suffer avoidable medical errors, says Healthcare Commission

Thousands of patients are the victims of medical errors that could have been avoided if safety was given a higher priority in the NHS, the health watchdog has warned. Incidents where patients were harmed or so called near-misses are not being reported meaning lessons cannot be learned and future problems avoided, the Healthcare Commission said in its annual State of Healthcare report. One in ten patients admitted to hospitals will suffer from an error and around half of these could have been avoided, it warns.

The report said only half of NHS trusts comply with all safety standards and there has been little improvement. Errors that have led to patients being harmed include incorrect diagnosis, wrong doses of medication, surgeons operating on the wrong part of the body and paperwork going missing.

The wide ranging report covers all aspects of healthcare in England and highlights a number of areas of significant improvement in the NHS, particularly around deaths from cancer and heart disease and huge reductions in waiting times.

Demand for healthcare has increased dramatically, the NHS has higher levels of funding than ever before, and the health of the nation is improving, the report said. However, the last annual report before the Healthcare Commission is subsumed by the Care Quality Commission, the report focuses on patient safety and the lack of progress in the last five years. The report said too few incidents are reported to the National Patient Safety Agency with particular problems in primary care where doctors and nurses report almost no errors although the majority of patient care is delivered by GPs.

The report said there are 'up to 600 errors a day in primary care' but this was disputed by the Department of Health and the British Medical Association as based on research in other countries. The NPSA received 959,000 incidents of errors in 2007/8 but "worryingly" the report said seven per cent of hospital trusts and 13 per cent of primary care trusts did not report any incidents.

Prof Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of the Healthcare Commission, said: "In my view the NHS is really only just out of the starting blocks. "There is a lot more we can do before we can be confident that the care patients receive is as safe as it reasonably can be. "What must change and change quickly is that we don't know very much about how safe care is in primary care. Information about missed diagnoses and late diagnoses won't show up on anyone's register of incidents of untoward events. "Safe care is what patients expect and what they are entitled to. "The real responsibility for the safety of care lies with those who provide care locally, namely the trusts and the boards responsible for trusts." He said unless safety is "internalised in their DNA" then nothing can change.

The Healthcare Commission called for one national database of serious incidents as the recording of errors is currently spread across different organisations. And hospital trusts and primary care trusts should also be measured on their serious untoward incidents and how they learn from them.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of Council at the British Medical Association said: "The overall picture in this report is of major improvements to standards of care. We applaud the efforts of NHS staff in reducing the amount of time patients have to wait, and improving the quality of the care they receive. "Any errors are regrettable but there are millions of contacts between the NHS and patients every day. It is inevitable that, in a very small proportion of these, care falls below the highest standards. Doctors want to get rid of unacceptable variations in quality, but we need to be careful to analyse and learn from the causes of low performance rather than jumping to conclusions or simply adopting a blame culture."

Martin Fletcher, Chief Executive at the National Patient Safety Agency, said: "Good reporting is the cornerstone of patient safety. Safety cannot be improved without a range of valid reporting, analytical and investigative tools that identify the sources and causes of risk in a way that leads to preventative action. The National Reporting and Learning System has a vital role to play in supporting NHS organisations to identify risks to safe patient care. Patient safety needs to be everyone's responsibility."

Health Minister Lord Darzi said: "The NHS sees a million people every 36 hours. Unfortunately, as in any modern health service, mistakes and unforeseen incidents will happen. Only a very small number of errors put patients at serious risk. "We know there's more work to be done and are leading the way worldwide, having set up the National Patient Safety Agency and established a reporting and learning system to encourage open reporting. The introduction of quality quality accounts will refocus the attention of the boards of NHS bodies on the quality and safety."


Oh Come All Ye Tasteless

'Chav' is a derogatory British term most frequently used to describe white working class teenagers or young people who misbehave. The burberry cap on the figure below is a chav hallmark

A British school has asked kids to learn a "chav" nativity play - where Jesus turns water into lager instead of wine.

Mary and Joseph break into a garage instead of finding shelter in a stable. She is told she will get extra benefits for having Jesus - and the Wise Men are asked for gifts of Adidas and Burberry. When a character says Mary is a virgin, another replies: "Wossat then? A train?" The script was thought to have been found on the internet.

Michelle Taylor, 35, has a relative at Oakwood School for 11to-16 year olds with emotional and behavioural difficulties in Bexley, Kent. She said: "I couldn't believe it. You encourage children to speak properly, then they get this at school." Bexley Council said the script was used in a drama lesson for kids of 14, but the school would still stage a traditional nativity.

Source. Fuller details here

School results are a poor predictor of future success

John Lennon left school without any qualifications, Damien Hirst did marginally better and was awarded an E for his art A-Level whilst Bill Gates dropped out of college on his way to becoming the world's richest man. They are hardly shining examples of those who achieved all they did because of success in the classroom.

But according to intriguing new research, school tests are by no means a measure of true ability - nor can they be used as a tool to predict future success or abject failure. The study, by the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA), found that as many as 77 per cent of people believe that formal examinations fail to reflect their true intelligence.

Sour grapes? Perhaps, but there are those who have successfully bucked the trend. They include Gordon Ramsay, Ralph Lauren (who quit college to sell ties in a New York men's store) and degree-less business knights, Richard Branson, Philip Green and Alan Sugar. Then there's fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, Radio Four's interrogator-in-chief John Humphrys, the BBC's Terry Wogan, chat show legend Michael Parkinson and finally the X-Factor's Simon Cowell. Not one of them made it to university.

Not surprisingly then, just three out of 10 people associate exams with 'a sense of pride', according to the CIEA study which was based on the responses from 2,000 adults. The research also found that 62 per cent spoke of feeling 'butterflies in the stomach' moments before they were due to sit an exam. Other reactions included headaches, insomnia and vomiting.

Pupils in England currently sit an average of 70 formal examinations, whilst primary school children are now subjected to more tests than their international counterparts. Yet, 60 per cent of teachers who responded to a separate online poll for the CIEA said they did not think exams were necessarily the best indicators of a pupil's ability and were not reflective of their future success in a job.

'Exams don't suit everybody,' said Graham Herbert, deputy head of the CIEA, which aims to improve senior examiners, moderators and markers. 'They don't tell the full picture. Most adults agree that their performance in exams does not reflect their true abilities. 'That is not to say we should get rid of exams. What we need is a supplement to the exam system, a supplement that can be relied upon. And that supplement could be teacher assessment.' The CIEA is training qualified assessors through its Chartered Educational Assessor (CEA) initiative and aims to place 3,000 of them in schools across England by 2011. Already 33 are in place, with a further 70 in training.

Mr Herbert said the reliance on exams meant that many schools were now focusing on teaching for tests. 'If you say the purpose is to put a school in a rank order, then it becomes a high-stakes test,' he added. 'People get really nervous about it because their reputation is at risk, so they tend to teach to the test. 'That means that their learners jump through the hoops put there by the exam, rather than testing their ability and their knowledge.

'Take Richard Branson and Winston Churchill. They are two very famous, highly skilled individuals who were both poor exam performers. So exams don't necessarily on their own bring out the best in individuals. 'And they become stigmatised by that. A lot of adults feel that. From our survey, the majority, it seems.'


Kids need nonsense

Comment from Britain on British humour and entertainment -- reflections on the recent death of much-loved TV animator Oliver Postgate

Before my brothers had children of their own, one of them would be co-opted as Duty Uncle on Christmas Day, so that we could get lunch ready while he amused the children. Our son was 4 when he pronounced, one Christmas morning after an exhilaratingly failed session with a balloon-rocket: "I like Uncle Mike the best because he is the most silly uncle".

There was a profound truth in that, although for the sake of family harmony I should stress that Mike has always had hot competition in that area, and that when not in the company of under-fives all three brothers are sober citizens. But the fact is that all children have a strong urge towards nonsense, silliness, absurdity. And for all our desire to offer them educational or reassuring stories, they will always have an eye for goonery and an ear for silly rhymes.

I thought of this yesterday morning as the nation mourned Oliver Postgate, creator of such benign absurdities as Ivor the Engine, Bagpuss, Noggin the Nog and The Clangers.

Grown-ups like to present children with stories about being brave and sensible, or loaded with facts about the wide world. There is a place for this, whether in the old world of Arthur Mee's Encyclopaedia and The Railway Children or the modern equivalents of educational DVDs and books about children in tower blocks coming to terms with divorce and knife gangs.

But they need nonsense too. We all do. As soon as a baby can focus, it longs for jokes. Silly jokes. You can make a two-month- old grin and giggle by putting a wastepaper basket over your head and taking it off again: I demonstrated this once to a scornful academic who had been claiming that babies could not perceive incongruity because their range of experience was too short. His baby thought differently.

As a child grows it learns plenty of serious stuff - like language and how to use the potty - and immediately subverts it with daft rhymes, shouting "smelly jelly fatty belly". Any character calling himself Noggin the Nog or Bagpuss is halfway there already; and silly noises are gratefully received, so Postgate's Clangers with their mad slide-whistling were ideal. This does not indicate shallowness of understanding - the same child who learns keenly about steam engines and pistons can be charmed by Ivor the Engine's ambition to sing in a choir.

Nonsense, at its best, takes us into the realm of the impossible, and when your world is circumscribed by your size and strength and by living under authority (we can all feel that way, even as adults), nonsense is a blessed relief. It is an adventure, a romance, an escape. The horrors of the plague can become a ring o'roses, the fear of Napoleon a game (taught to my children by an old Suffolk lady) of Chasing Bony Party.

So prosy old Postman Pat is all very well, and so is the tediously responsible Thomas the Tank Engine (Fat Controller's pet that he is, always saving the day). But there are moments when you need something sillier. You need Oliver Postgate's Clangers eating some blue string pudding and green soup. Or a verse or two of Jabberwocky, a dose of Edward Lear, or Bill and Ben saying nothing more taxing than "flubalub". Or the Christopher Isherwood poem that starts: "The common cormorant or shag/ lays eggs inside a paper bag..."

And the more serious-minded and curriculum-conscious the adults around you, the more you need nonsense. It is particularly galling when they cheat by trying to sneak lessons into everything: I had high hopes of the Teletubbies, rolling around in coloured fat-suits and squeaking "eh-oh!" at each other on green mounds. But just as this psychedelic landscape became engagingly mad, one of them would stare at its telly-belly and give birth to an educational little film about canals, or baking a cake. Pshaw!

There is a long and lovely tradition of nonsense literature in English, and we would do well to remember and respect it rather than grey everything down into social realism, Barbie-fied celebrity or factual automatism. Dulling rationalism threatens at all levels: even James Bond has lost his edge of fantastico-technical nonsense (gondolas on wheels! cars with fish fins!) and turned, with the arrival of Daniel Craig, into a dour, sub-le Carre chronicle of tediously wicked villains and an angsty 007 who never cracks a smile.

The nonsense tradition must go on: it embraces everything from Anglo-Saxon riddles to T.S. Eliot's Jellicle cats dancing under a Jellicle moon, to The Goon Show and the various heirs of Monty Python. It is always best marked by a certain amorality, as in Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter, in which the neat little oysters are eventually eaten.

Even the most kindly child likes that: in the realm of nonsense there is little morality. Perhaps that is why it provides such needful, happy release to those who worry a lot about right and wrong - such as dutiful children or, indeed, our own Prince of Wales. Why else, do you think, does the heir to the throne - who literally worries for England - find such lifelong joy in the adventures of Bluebottle, Grytpype-Thynne and Moriarty in The Goon Show? Why else, indeed, did those troubled men Sellers and Milligan invent it all in the first place? Not to push back the boundaries of art but to create a parallel universe where nothing is wrong and everything is daft. And why, one might equally ask, was John Cleese only ever funny in the days before he went to see a series of shrinks, worked out all his issues and lost the gift of nonsense?

You can divide nonsense into two streams, though. There is full-on nonsense, detached from reality and floating free, far above us on pink-and-magenta-striped clouds, up there in the sky with Lucy and her diamonds. And then there is what I would call anti-sense. Lewis Carroll is the best example of the latter: he was a logician and his world is a looking-glass with everything backwards and therefore absurd, but mostly with clear references to reality: the Duchess's baby may well be a pig, but she is a recognisable, satirised character; Alice herself is grounded, always able to say "You're nothing but a pack of playing-cards!" or help the dormouse out of the teapot. Many of his best-loved poems are satires on the improving literature of the day - How Doth the Little Crocodile is a straight adaptation of an Isaac Watts verse. Yet sometimes Carroll can fly beyond the tugging threads of leftover 18th-century Oxford rationalism that still held him captive: The Hunting of the Snark is the most powerfully surreal and therefore beautiful of his works, the Snark itself a "Boojum", which is to say, nothing. And the crew's behaviour is satisfyingly mad:
They roused him with muffins, they roused him with ice
They roused him with mustard-and-cress;
They roused him with jam and judicious advice,
They set him conundrums to guess...

Here he moves closer to Lear, though nobody before or since has matched Lear's gentle, romantic blurred vision. I have met at least one teacher who won't use his verse on the ground that it is wrong to let children think there is any such thing as a Pobble, or that there is any help in Aunt Jobiska's remedy of "lavender water tinged with pink". I excoriate that teacher and all her dreary works! Nonsense it all may be, but I learnt much of what I know - really know - about life and love from Lear's poems: yearningly romantic, a Platonic ideal of a world where Owl and Pussycat may sink their natural differences, fall in love to the sound of a small guitar and buy a pig's nose-ring for a shilling. Every enterprise of my life has been fortified by the spirit of the Jumblies, who quixotically defied sense and prudence to follow their dream:
They went to sea in a sieve, they did;
In a sieve they went to sea;
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter's morn, on a stormy day,
In a sieve they went to sea!

They faced storms with pink blotting paper and a coppery gong, and knew themselves to be wise:
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong...
O Timballo! How happy we are
When we live in a sieve and a crockery-jar!

Well, as Lear himself says with that melancholy inseparable from true romanticism, far and few are the lands where the Jumblies live. But when their message crackles through to us via Postgate or Carroll, Eliot or Milligan, we should rejoice. Recession is coming. Sail in a sieve, take plenty of honey, rely on your Aunt Jobiska and listen for the distant singing of Ivor the Engine in the heavenly choir. A little insanity keeps you sane.


More British welfare reform: Benefits to be paid only to those who show they are looking hard for work

Unemployed people will have to prove that they are taking practical steps to return to work in return for state benefits, under changes to the welfare state to be announced by ministers today. The only exceptions will be carers, parents of very young children and anyone who is severely disabled. All other claimants will have to show that they are preparing for work with activities ranging from updating a CV or finding out about childcare through to full-time training or work experience.

The conditions for claiming benefits will be set out in a statement to MPs and a White Paper by James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary. Most controversially, the paper will suggest that single parents with young children, possibly from the age of 1, should start work-related activities. They are currently not expected to attend work-focused interviews until their eldest child is 12, although this will be reduced to 7 next year.

Incapacity benefit and income support will be scrapped. Only the most seriously ill and disabled will be able to claim a new employment support allowance. Everyone else will be moved to jobseeker's allowance, with conditions attached requiring work- related activity. The plans mean that the controversial recommendations made by David Freud, Tony Blair's welfare reform adviser, will be implemented in full.

Gordon Brown initially rejected Mr Freud's findings when he became Prime Minister, but had second thoughts and now wants them to be enforced. Writing in The Times today, Mr Freud seeks to defend his proposals against criticism that they amount to a dismantling of the welfare state. He says that the roots lie in the Beveridge postwar settlement.
"The central proposition in the White Paper is that virtually everyone will be expected to set entering the world of work as their goal, including many of the people who have languished on incapacity benefit for years," he says. "Substantial support for individuals in achieving this objective is being developed, and should be ready in time for the next economic upswing. Beveridge would have approved - he wrote, `Most men who have once gained the habit of work would rather work ... than be idle ... But getting work ... may involve a change of habits, doing something that is unfamiliar or leaving one's friends or making a painful effort of some kind'."

Mr Freud said that it was also important to make the changes now, despite the economic downturn.


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