Friday, 24 February 2012

Forced Fed Charity?

Now I know I already blogged exactly on this subject a couple of days ago, but I had to append a quick postscript. I was listening to Radio 4 on the commute home today when an odd phrase pricked up my ears. Some totally neutral commentator on the Beeb was talking about the Government's work experience plan and why it was so mean when he said "it's because it's compulsory" that it had attracted such leftist vitriol.

Which I thought was odd. Because you see, it's not.

You don't have to 'claim' unemployment benefits. It isn't compulsory to claim them. You can be unemployed and not claim them. You'll be 60 odd quid a week the poorer but nobody is forcing you. And in that situation you can do whatever you see fit with your non-working week - further education, apprenticeships or create hilarious cat-based YouTube hits in a bid to become wealthy through…well through however one becomes wealthy from just putting things on the internet that people look at.

If you do sign up, however, to unemployment benefits, you sign up to a contract of sorts. From my memories of The Full Monty, I think roughly speaking it says you have to actively look for work and the Government will a) help you and b) give you a small amount of money to keep you alive. All the Government is now doing is adding another rule.

They've decided that you might also have to try some work-experience for the various reasons alluded to in my last post (break the unemployment cycle, gain skills, guaranteed job interview afterwards etc). That's now your side of the contract. They've decided to be given this free money that you may or may not have in part contributed to in previous tax payments, you have to do a little more because the current system is so obviously fucked.

Seems fair to me. If you don't like it, don't claim and save George Osborne another £3,000 a year. Simple as that. Every little helps...

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Hypocrisy Experience

No, I'm not blogging about the opportunity to be in the shadow cabinet, specifically being the shadow Chancellor. Today's offering is about job snobbery and the convenient forgetfulness of both the leftstream media and their consumers.

There has been sporadic outrage at the Government work experience programme whereby unemployed people get unpaid (with jobseeker's allowance plus expenses) work experience at signatory firms. They get experience in a line of work and a guaranteed interview for a job at the end of the maximum 4 week spell. In Tesco's case (who have born the brunt of the criticism) there is actually a guaranteed job at the end, performance-dependent. The firms in reply get paid for getting the unemployed into work should they take them on paid (and of course some free work).

I'm really struggling to see the problem. Work experience works. Part of the issue with unemployment is the cycle one falls into. The longer one spends out of work, on average, the less likely people are to ever return to work. People get used to not working and find other things to fill their time thereby deciding they no longer have time for work. Also, confidence and self esteem spirals as joblessness extends. Work experience or just volunteering breaks that cycle. It gets people used to doing a working day. It lets them see they are able to achieve an employable standard. Job-dependent there may also be the chance to gain employment-relevant skills. It gives them face time with employers too.

Now this is not a new idea. It wasn't more than a few months ago that the leftstream media were all too happy to bash those pesky middle class parents who actually want their children to succeed (probably the cause of all the world's evils) when they were securing their kids work experience at various firms. Now the types of employment we are talking about here were probably mainly jobs in finance, accountancy, the legal profession and the like. They are certainly different jobs to stacking shelves at Tesco. But the principle is the same.

Exactly the same.

Apparently it is unfair that middle class folks can get their kids good unpaid work experience. But the same commentators rail against the idea that the Government might do the same for the unemployed of this country. You can't have your cake and eat it. If it is unfair that those with connections can use them to get their children work experience it must be because there is some benefit in unpaid work experience. Which leads me to think the only important difference people are not specifically complaining about but really want to, is the type of job, and this is the crux of the problem.

We as a society have become arrogant. We believe immigrants should sweep the streets, stack the shelves and pull the pints. When they take the jobs we refuse to entertain as options and unemployment rises, we complain that immigrants are stealing our jobs. Newsflash - this country cannot survive without a spectrum of employees. If you cannot find a job of the calibre you think you 'deserve', scale back your ambitions, eat some humble pie and just get a job. Well done the Government for trying to help the unemployed (and 20,000 of those who have taken up the programme are now employed). Work experience works. Probably better than a meeja 'degree'...

Monday, 13 February 2012

University Challenge

The debate about the social make-up of university populations has been doing the rounds since before I  started at university, back in the last millenium. It is still missing the point. The case for the prosecution seems as simple as those who propose it: Rich kids who go to expensive schools make up 7% of the school population but they take up about 50% of the university places. Therefore universities are failing children from poorer backgrounds.

A bulletproof argument; as long as you exchange the word 'universities' for 'state schools'.

For years the darlings of the left (often Oxbridge-educated following either private or grammar schooling) have lambasted universities, the Russell Group especially and in particular Oxbridge. They accuse them of snobbery, of elitism, of social and financial exclusion. In their eyes the universities are entirely to blame for the underrepresentation of those schooled by the state (and supposedly therefore poor and underprivileged) at university.

It appears it has never crossed the minds of these people, like Prof Les Ebdon (Vince Cable's proposed candidate for the Office of Fair Access), that the raw product might not be up to scratch. It never occurred to them that the reason the 7% do so well is that their school system works and that the one schooling the 93% doesn't. They don't suppose that it might be the fault of those failing to adequately prepare students for university application rather than those whose job it is to judge the relative strengths of all candidates for the process.

Now call me a bluff old traditionalist, but I think this is rather arse about face. If a school turns out badly educated kids after years in charge of their tutelage, I imagine they have a pretty high degree of accountability for that failing. If they tested those children on day 1 of kindergarten and found they weren't all that sharp, I think it would be rather unfair to blame the school. They haven't been responsible for the standard of education up until that point - the parents have. By the same token, if there is a poor education standard among graduates, the universities certainly take some of the blame. Why anyone thinks that the failings of those applying to those universities could ever be their fault is genuinely beyond me.

It all smacks of the politics of class envy. The uncomfortable truth is that the state system has failed, despite billions of pounds of investment, to replicate the success of the private or grammar systems. It's a failing that belongs to both major parties. Unfortunately, neither has any particularly good ideas about how to go about fixing it, nor any real desire to let it be known this is really all the fault of those in charge of the system. It is far easier, especially today where the court of public opinion rides roughshod over contracts, facts, or just plain common sense, to shift the blame.

It is the easy course to blame the wealthy parents who selfishly try to do the best for their children - whether by paying for a good education or by buying a house in a catchment area for a good grammar school. It is easy to accuse the snobbish (presumably because the bricks are old) universities for failing to attract disadvantaged applicants. The statistics don't look good - but only because we don't look at them in detail; lies, damn lies and all that...

Universities should not be instruments of social engineering. They can though, use their discretion to mitigate against lower academic results where intellectual promise is evident but good schooling is not. And they do. Actually bother yourself to investigate what universities now do to try to better understand who the best applicants are. The key though, is the word 'best'. Yes they have leeway to accept those who have attained lower grades and regularly do, but only when they think that student is better than one with higher grades and good schooling.

Enormous amounts of time, money and effort goes into attracting university applications from all walks of life. Very intelligent people then spend a long time deliberating over which applicants are the best and should be offered places. Ultimately though, for all the mitigation and for all the effort to encourage applications from poorer areas of society, their job is to take the best. In many cases the state has simply put them at such a disadvantage by delivering a desperately inferior level of education that they will be unable to make the grade. This is why we don't have 93% state-educated university populations.

The only thing penalties for missing quotas can do is financially punish blameless universities for the failure of schools or force them to avoid that cost by admitting worse candidates. The outcome is all downside for tertiary education and for this country. Doctoring the numbers as enforcing quotas will do does everyone a disservice as the increased number at university from poorer backgrounds will just mask the continued failing of the state system. Fighting quotas and getting the public to understand where the blame lies for the public/private imbalance in their populations; this is the great University Challenge.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Liberal Sentences?

Now I admit I was among the first to cheer when anti-Coalition cabinet member Chris Huhne 'resigned' from his post as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. The man is a buffoon. His barking views have too long plagued the Coalition as this moron continually briefed against his own cabinet.

Perhaps his actions have been attempts at Liberal point scoring seeing as his party now languish in the single digits in terms of popularity, or maybe early movements to depose Nick Clegg after the nigh on inevitable 2015 election disaster.

Either way, he's gone. Which is great. But something about this schadenfreude feels wrong. As much as I'd like to see Chris Huhne gone from politics on a fairly permanent basis (he will certainly almost lose Eastleigh, but will inevitably pop up in a Lib Dem 'safe seat' if such a thing exists), I cannot abide by the potential sentence both he and his estranged wife, Vicky Price face. For colluding in the evil deception that is pretending someone else was doing the speeding, they could face life in prison.

I'm sure I don't need to go into any depth on my views on speed cameras. Suffice to say I'm not a fan and think the insistence on their mass installation is more to do with revenue than road safety. It's lazy statistic and money driven policing. However, I think we must have something wrong when shifting 3 penalty points onto someone else can attract the same penalty as murder.

Now don't get a hard-on over this. I'm not saying it's not breaking the law. It is. But we have a proportional judicial system whereby we measure how bad each crime is and attribute to that crime a punishment in proportion. I feel the 'Eastleigh 3 point shuffle' is pretty low down that scale.

At the other end of the scale is planning to blow up the London Stock Exchange with its concomitant structural damage, economic damage and most importantly, mass murder. You probably agree. Yet Huhne might go to prison for life (of course he won't, but that's where the parameters are set) for getting his then-wife to take 3 points and the radical extremists (take that pleonasm, PC BBC) who plotted to kill half of London will likely be back out on the streets (no doubt totally rehabilitated because there's no religious extremism in prison) in little over 6 years.

Is it just me or have we got this slightly back to front? There's definitely something wrong with that sentence...

Monday, 6 February 2012

Bonus Culture Club

Today's post is some slightly delayed comment on a story from last week. It concerns greedy individuals holding their employers to ransom demanding a bonus for simply doing their jobs. Nope, not bankers. No Stephen Hester in sight. No Mr Fred Goodwin. Who then? Who thinks that they should be paid on top of their generous salaries a bonus just for turning up?

If you're struggling to work out to which story I'm referring, perhaps I should reword it. Who thinks they should be paid on top of their generous salaries a bonus for not going on strike? Yup, you got it - the sanctimonious moron Bob Crow and his merry band of lazy bastards, the RMT. Not satisfied with an average wage of £50,000 for sitting still operating one binary control (for 35 hours a week, with 8 weeks annual leave), the RMT is demanding its tube drivers be bribed to not go on strike during the Olympics. What a bunch of belters.

The fact that they get paid double the minimum wage for a job perhaps unsurpassed anywhere on earth for its simplicity is in itself an oddity. Remember that wage when you next see the RMT striking, demanding higher pay in a recession for its "hard-pressed, hard-working members". The little boy in the picture above can at least decide to turn the train left into his mother's ankles or to drive it into a sleeping cat on his right. Tube drivers have 'go forwards' on rails and 'stop'. I'm pretty sure even the doors are automatic. Anyway, enough maligning of the noble profession of tube driving. Onto the specifics of the non-strike bribe…

Because London is hosting the Olympics, there will be a couple of extra people coming to town and this might require a slightly better than normal service in quality and quantity. Because they are working longer shifts they have already been given an extra £1200. Okay. But to guarantee they won't strike (always the last resort clearly, not just the first bargaining chip on the table by an unscrupulous, greedy, lazy leadership - we've been here before) they want a bribe. No point calling it anything else. It's a bribe.

And the Government have already quietly offered them about an extra £500 mainly made up of £20 per shift extra. Now that in itself is sickening; demanding more money because for 1 month of the year, the work might be slightly harder. I think it fair to say that workers in department stores the country over have to work harder in the run-up to Christmas when more people use their stores. But they still work their 9-5 or whatever the shift. And they do it for the same wage as in June. Why? Because it's a yearly salary. Yup, sometimes work is harder, sometimes it's easier. As an office worker, you don't get paid more because you didn't get to go on Facebook as much at work but actually had to do your job.

But even better, the RMT have refused this unwarranted offer of a bribe. Nope, they say it isn't enough and because it's based on having to work longer hours during the Olympics, their members who are on leave or sick won't benefit. Yes, you heard that right. Bob Crow thinks it would be unfair for those who don't even do the apparently harder work to miss out on the bribe to not go on strike just because of the simple technicality that they aren't doing any of the work anyway. Presumably they'll be busy attending the overpriced games seeing as they can definitely afford it on their salaries.

Worth finishing with a comparison methinks. The military will have nearly 15000 soldiers, sailors and airmen working on security flat out over the Olympics. Are they getting a bonus for the many extra hours they will have to work like the £1200 bung for tube drivers? Nope, same yearly salary. Will they demand a bonus on top of that to not go on strike thereby totally fucking the Olympics in the ass? Nope again. Because not only do the not have the right to strike, if they had it I'm sure they wouldn't use it. Because therein you can still find some Britons with a sense of duty and selflessness who will be proud to play their part. There is one bonus for them though that I forgot to mention - to ensure sufficient staffing, they've all had their leave cancelled.

Enjoy the Olympics. Just cycle or walk. London Fucking Underground.