Thursday, July 09, 2009

People aren't as envious as the Leftists think

The most fascinating document I read all week wasn’t Michael Jackson’s obituary, or the breakdown of BBC expenses, or even the desperately moving Twitter feeds from Iran. It was a lengthy piece of research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on attitudes to inequality in Britain. And the reason it was so absorbing was that it showed that almost all activists’ and politicians’ assumptions – including mine – about how people feel about inequality are wrong.

The main parties think that poverty and inequality will be one of the key battlegrounds of the next election. They can all see that unequal societies are associated with every social ill, from crime to addiction. The Conservatives, with their concern for broken Britain, want the poorest to be brought into the mainstream. Labour is mortified by the fact that while it has been in power, the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer, while it is now harder than ever to move between the two.

All parties assume that the financial crisis has focused people’s fury on the unjustified salaries paid to the very rich; that the recession will mean there’s much more sympathy for the unemployed; and that there is a new concern about bridging the gap between the top and bottom.

I’m in that camp. These are the things I know, not least because they are endlessly repeated: that we live in more egalitarian times, that the ages of automatic deference and respect for those higher in the social hierarchy are over, and that most people think that Britain’s social immobility is a scandal.

Well, it’s not so. Rowntree’s research, among more than 1,000 adults of all income groups, shows that more than two thirds of them admire the rich, and assume that their high salaries are a proper reward for ability, effort and performance. On the other hand, they are largely contemptuous of the poor, especially those who live on benefits. Those people are routinely described as scroungers.

The research group are sublimely unconcerned about social mobility, because they think it exists. It’s now harder to move class in Britain than in any other developed country except the United States, and yet 69% believe that there are enough opportunities for anyone to get on in life if they really want to. And though most people described themselves as very concerned about inequality, it wasn’t the gap between rich and poor they cared about. It was the gap between the top and themselves that they wanted to see narrowed.

At first glance, it’s hard to see why people should be so positive about the rich, so oblivious to the many social and financial obstacles faced by the less privileged, and so harsh about the poor. It’s so clearly untrue that the hawkers of dodgy mortgages are more useful or work harder than, say, carers for the elderly. It’s equally untrue that the dim public-school boy faces the same difficulties in finding a good job as the dim child from a comprehensive. Only one thing can explain people’s determined fantasy about how society works, and that is our desperate need to make sense of the world by believing that it is just.

We’re told we live in a meritocracy, so despite the evidence around us, we pretend it’s so. Anything else would be too painful to bear. We can tolerate the comfortable or luxurious lives that some people live only by telling ourselves that they are deserved. These people must work much harder than we are prepared to, or have skills we cannot dream of.

In the research sessions, participants projected all kinds of virtues – dedication, private study, willingness to tolerate stress – onto those with high salaries. Equally, we might find the grim poverty or simple limitations of others’ lives indefensible unless we told ourselves that these people had a choice, and it’s wilfulness or laziness that keeps them as they are. The idea that our life chances are radically unfair is more than we can admit.

Our need to believe in the worth of those above us might give us a different explanation for the anger over bankers’ salaries and MPs’ expenses. It isn’t the fact of their high incomes that enraged us. It was that their selfishness and incompetence destroyed our illusions about their worth. Our faith required us to believe that they deserved what they got. Having their faults exposed has made us uncomfortable.

This mass delusion doesn’t mean that attempts to make Britain more equal are doomed, but it does show that those who think it desirable have to take a different approach. Expecting most people to care about inequality as an abstract concept is pointless: they don’t. They think that quite a lot of it is fair. But the Rowntree research does show a way forward.

The research group were asked which of three societies they would rather live in – a traditional free-market one, with few protections; an egalitarian one that cut the gap between rich and poor; or one that gave priority to improving everyone’s quality of life.

Almost nobody, not even the rightwingers, opted for a society that made economic growth and standards of living a priority, especially if these were accompanied by greater insecurity. Yet this is pretty much what Labour has offered in the past dozen years – increased wealth but much more precarious lives. If that bargain ever was appealing, it isn’t any more.

Only a small number opted for the egalitarian choice. The overwhelming majority chose the third. [Which only capitalism can deliver]


Woman who cried rape after date with man she met in internet chatroom is jailed for a year

In one of their rare acts of judicial sanity, the Brits do prosecute these bitches -- but the woman should get the same sentence the man would have got if she had been believed

An innocent man almost lost his freedom after being accused of rape by a woman he dated through the internet. Gary Wood was hoping for romance when he arranged to meet Natalie Jefferson after chatting to her online - but ended up facing a potential 10-year jail term. Instead 27-year-old Jefferson is beginning a 12-month jail term after detectives saw through her lies.

Mr Wood, 31, of Walker, Newcastle, said he was still baffled by her motives. 'I just want to know why,' he said. 'Maybe she's is messed up in the head, maybe she's an attention-seeker or maybe it is a bit of both, but I could have lost everything because of what she did.'

Newcastle Crown Court heard how Jefferson, of Fellgate, South Tyneside, agreed to meet Mr Wood in Newcastle's Gateshead before going for a drink in nearby Jesmond. But she received a phone call during the night and claimed one of her children had been taken to hospital. Mr Wood offered to go with her but she only let him travel on the Metro underground system part of the way with her.

He phoned her later but was horrified when she told him she had been raped by a stranger. It was a lie - but she had already called police claiming Mr Wood himself had raped her. Soon officers were on his doorstep to arrest him. He said: 'I got a call saying the police wanted to speak to me. They didn't say what it was at first but when they came to my flat, the officer said, "I will be up-front with you - we have had an allegation of rape against you."' Mr Wood was held in custody for three hours.

Jefferson - also known as Natalie Dawn Dodsworth - had alleged Mr Wood attacked her on January 7 near Newcastle's Luckies bar and even agreed to go to a rape crisis centre. But she was arrested and charged with perverting the course of justice after investigating officers interviewed Mr Wood and witnesses, as well as studying CCTV, and grew suspicious about her version of events. In court Jefferson admitted the charge.

Robin Patton, prosecuting, said: 'It's quite clear she had concocted this account for no good reason at all. 'The man's medical examination was about to start but police, having viewed the CCTV footage, immediately stopped the examination because they were sure he was an innocent man.'

Ailsa MacDonald, defending, told the court: 'There is a considerable psychiatric background and she has alcohol problems.'

Pronouncing sentence, Judge Esmond Faulks said: 'This was a huge waste of police time and, more seriously, led to the arrest of an innocent man.' Det Con Graeme Barr, of Newcastle CID, said: 'We are happy with the sentence passed by the court as it sends out the message that people will be punished for making false reports of crime. 'Gary is an innocent man and she could quite easily have ruined his life. I hope he can now put this behind him and get on with his life.'

Mr Wood said: 'I had met her on the internet. She didn't seem right as soon as I met her and kept going to the toilet, which was strange, but I never thought she would do anything like this. 'I have never been in any trouble with the police before this. I was on bail for two weeks with this allegation hanging over my head. 'I can't stop thinking that if there had been no witnesses or CCTV to prove that she was lying I would have been in real trouble and would have been sent down. I would have lost my friends and everything I've got.' He added: 'It has still affected me and if I was to meet someone now, I would only do it in public. I am glad with the sentence but think she should have got more because she could be out and doing it to someone else in six months.'


British tumour patient was treated in corridor

As Barbara McVernon was wheeled to the operation for brain surgery, she broke into song: "Wish me luck, as you wave me goodbye..." It was a typical gesture from an exuberant, sociable woman, who at the age of 76 was showing no signs of slowing down. If the keen artist and charity fund-raiser from Wokingham was fearful about the surgery to remove a tumour from her eye socket and temple, she was determined not to show it, recalls her daughter Lynne.

After the surgery, at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, in April 2006, Mrs McVernon remained in good spirits, laughing and joking with family and friends. However, further tests revealed that the growth – as well as pains in Mrs McVernon's hips, which her local hospital, the Royal Berkshire in Reading, had mistaken for arthritis – was in fact caused by multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow. Nonetheless her specialist was optimistic: if the will was there, the pensioner could survive five years.

Soon after Mrs McVernon was transferred back to the Royal Berkshire, one of her hips broke. She was sent to a specialist NHS hospital, The Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, in Oxford, for surgery the following month. It went well. Yet in the days following the operation, the outgoing, lively woman became increasingly confused and depressed.

Amid repeated concerns raised by her family, staff insisted her behaviour was normal – until 11 days after the operation, when a doctor diagnosed diabetes. An investigation found staff had made a "critical error" when the elderly woman was admitted to the hospital, by keeping her on a high dose of steroids which should have lasted for just four days. The findings, which included an admission that the mistake could have caused the onset of diabetes, reached Lynne on the day her mother died.

In her last few weeks, the increasingly weak pensioner had been transferred back to the Royal Berkshire Hospital, soon after her family found out that she was suffering from MRSA, which she had already been carrying before treatment at the Nuffield.

Hours after the transfer, her daughter found her being treated in a corridor, before a bed could be found. As the quality of her life deteriorated, and amid chaotic care, Mrs McVernon lost the will to continue, says her daughter. "She was having hourly blood tests because of the diabetes, her hands were caked with blood, she had bed sores, she was upset, confused and disorientated because her blood sugar levels were see-sawing. "It was hard to believe Mum was the same woman who had been singing on her way to surgery."

On June 22, Mrs McVernon died of pneumonia, multiple myeloma and MRSA.

A spokesman for Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre Trust said patient safety was its top priority, and that it regretted that the McVernons' experiences did not fulfil its usual standards. It said the trust had been open about the findings of its investigation, and learned lessons from the case. The Royal Berkshire trust said it was "deeply disappointed" that the family had not raised any concerns since Mrs McVernon's death, so that any failings could be investigated.


NHS units exposed over unacceptable conditions

This is a total whitewash. What they say about the food tells you that. British hospitals are notorious for inedible food

At least a dozen NHS units in England are treating patients in poor or unacceptable conditions, an official report says today. A national survey of 1,265 medical sites found that the vast majority of facilities scored either “excellent” (24 per cent) or “good” (60 per cent) for standards of cleanliness, decoration, linen, furniture and general state of repair. But of the rest, more than one in six sites (15 per cent) had only “acceptable” working conditions, while nine sites were rated “poor” by the local Patient Environment Action Team (PEAT) assessments.

Three sites — all rehabilitation units for mental health patients — were rated “unacceptable” for their environment: Windmill House in Bushey, West Hertfordshire; Norfolk Lodge, in Colliers Wood, South London; and Lodge Causeway, in Bristol.

The National Patient Safety Agency, which publishes the scores, said that poorly-performing sites would be followed up by the regional health authorities or the Care Quality Commission, the NHS regulator, to make sure standards were improved.

The PEAT programme was established in 2000 to assess all NHS hospitals with more than ten beds every year on a range of standards including food and whether patients were treated with dignity and privacy. The assessment teams consist of NHS staff, including nurses, matrons, doctors, catering and domestic service managers, executive and non-executive directors, dietitians and estates directors. Most also include patients and members of the public.

A total of 94 per cent of sites scored ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ ratings for levels of privacy and dignity, which examined the quality of their sleeping accommodation as well as toilet and bathroom facilities.

But Thorneywood Unit, a child mental health clinic run by Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, and Norfolk Lodge, part of South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust were rated unacceptable.

On food, 95 per cent of sites achieved an "excellent" or "good" ratings for quality, choice and availability of their menus [By British hospital standards, maybe]. Just one unit, Ogden House in Ramsgate, a mental health inpatient unit, was rated unacceptable for its food.

Ann Keen, the Health Minister, said that the increase in trusts achieving good results was “great news for NHS staff and patients”. “Cleanliness is a top patient priority and these results show that the measures we have in place are working. We are also delighted to see such high scores in the area of privacy and dignity.” Ms Keen said that she expected to see further improvements in next year’s results after a drive to eliminate mixed-sex accommodation in the NHS.



The boys in green are coming as the Environment Agency sets up a squad to police companies generating excessive CO2 emissions.

The agency is creating a unit of about 50 auditors and inspectors, complete with warrant cards and the power to search company premises to enforce the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), which comes into effect next year.

Decked out in green jackets, the enforcers will be able to demand access to company property, view power meters, call up electricity and gas bills and examine carbon-trading records for an estimated 6,000 British businesses. Ed Mitchell, head of business performance and regulation at the Environment Agency, said the squad would help to bring emissions under control. “Climate change and CO2 are the world’s biggest issues right now. The Carbon Reduction Commitment is one of the ways in which Britain is responding.”

The formation of the green police overcomes a psychological hurdle in the battle against climate change. Ministers have long recognised the need to have new categories of taxes and criminal offences for CO2 emissions, but fear a repetition of the fuel tax protests in 2000 when lorry drivers blockaded refineries.

The central unit, based in Warrington, Cheshire, can call on the agency’s national network of hundreds of pollution inspectors, many of whom will soon be trained in CO2 monitoring.

It will also be able to demand energy bills from utilities without the companies under investigation knowing they are being watched.

Perhaps most worrying for managers will be the publication of an annual league table ranking companies by performance in cutting emissions. The government hopes the potential shame of a lowly placing will drive organisations to greater energy efficiency.

Mitchell predicted the unit would audit about 1,200 businesses a year. The first stage would be a desk study of their energy bills and activities, followed by a visit when numbers do not add up. “The inspectors will carry warrant cards giving them powers of entry to collect evidence. We will also have access to company accounts with suppliers,” he said.


Leftist discipline phobia brings predictable results in Britain

One teacher a day in hospital after attack

One teacher is hospitalised in England almost every day after being attacked at school, according to new figures. Almost 180 staff were forced to spend three days at home or working outside the classroom following a serious physical assault, it is disclosed. At least one-in-10 attacks involved teachers working in nursery or primary schools. Many resulted in "major injuries", including broken bones, dislocations, burns or even loss of sight.

It is feared the true scale of assaults may be significantly higher amid claims only a fraction are ever reported for fear of harming a school's reputation.

The latest disclosure was made in figures published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Bob Spink, the independent MP, who obtained the data in a Parliamentary question, said: "Teachers can hardly draw breath without being attacked or falling victim to a false allegation. All political parties pay a lot of lip service to the issue of discipline without carrying it through. If head teachers and governors were allowed to focus on getting discipline right then many other problems in our schools would be a lot easier to solve."

According to figures, 176 school staff suffered injuries "involving acts of violence" in 2007/8, the latest available data. The school year is normally 190 days. This included 17 injuries suffered by nursery or primary teachers and 33 staff who worked in special schools. In total, 26 attacks resulted in major injuries and 150 kept staff away from ordinary duties for three days or more. The figures came from data collected by the Health and Safety Executive.

Earlier this year, a teacher was awarded £280,000 in compensation after being attacked by a pupil at a Nottingham special school. The 13-year-old jumped on her back - placing her in a headlock - causing her to fall and injure her back and head. Sharon Lewis, who was 26 at the time of the assault in 2004, was forced to quit the profession after suffering nerve damage and post-traumatic stress disorder.

It came as research by the NASUWT union suggested nine-in-10 physical assaults in schools were never reported.

The Government insisted behaviour in schools was improving. Vernon Coaker, the Schools Minister, said ministers were introducing new requirements on schools to record incidents of bullying between pupils and verbal and physical assaults on staff. "We will also consult on whether schools should also be required to report these records to their local authority, and whether they should be required to record and report these incidents by type where the incident is motivated by a particular form of prejudice [for example] as racist, homophobic bullying incidents," he said. "


UK: Kindness not enough to cut the queues : “Cheers all round as the Human Tissues Authority announce that the number of people donating kidneys to strangers has increased by 50 per cent. The only problem, alas, is that the increase is from ten people to fifteen. And three of those have yet to undergo surgery. In a country where 7,000 people are in need of a kidney, an increase of two donors is hardly a cause for celebration. Fortunately there is a long-ignored solution: compensating organ donors.”

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