Thursday, 26 November 2009

It's International Day!

Tonight (Well tomorrow morning at 2am!) Will see going International. If you are unable to sleep we will be on the panel of the Today program on Beyond Beijing, talking about what happened to Cool Britannia. The discussion topics are as follows:

A policy document published a couple of years ago by the opposition Conservative party painted a picture of Britain as a broken society riddled with debt and addiction, welfare dependency, family breakdown and educational failure. It said that family breakdown costs £24 billion a year, educational underachievement £18 billion and crime £60 billion. Is Britain broken?

Who broke it? Some say the left is largely responsible for the destruction and despair – conversely, others say the country is fighting a war on two fronts: the economic downturn and the lingering legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Which is it?

Susan Anderson, director of public services and skills policy at the Confederation of British Industry says the number of 18-24 year olds not in employment, education, or training will continue to rise. She says “We know from the 1980s recession that unemployment scars the lives of young people, so they need our support.” Are they getting it?

Official figures from the Government's Department for Children, Schools and Families indicated that 959,000 of the nation's 16- to 24-year-olds were classified as NEET (not in employment…etc) by June 2009. That is an extraordinary number. Why is there such a lack of opportunities?

Immigration has become an almost taboo word in what has been described as today’s Politically Correct Multicultural Britain. Yet it is a matter of fact that where there are nearly million of the so-called NEETS, that number is matched by Eastern European workers – largely low skilled – that have been recruited by British employers in the last 4 years. Is there a connection?

As we’ve just mentioned, sometimes even just talking about problems related to immigration can immediately lead to accusations of being a member of the British National Party. But just how concerned are average citizens, and is there any really sensible debate in the UK over immigration?

It has also been suggested – at least according to a report released by the Department of Work and Pensions – that the NEET phenomenon is at least partly (and possibly largely) due to the fact that “British workers lack basic employability skills, incentives and motivation.” Fair comment?

If we take the report from the DW&P at face value, then obviously it is a pretty shocking indictment of the education system, wouldn’t you say? According chief executive Sir Tom Leahy of the Tesco supermarket chain, “despite all the money that has been spent, standards are still woefully low in too many schools.” In 2008, 40% of 16-year-olds failed final high school exams in math and 37% failed the same tests in English. What has gone wrong?

“Broken Britain” is a term that the Sun newspaper in the UK uses to describe the supposed lawlessness of the youth there. Just casual reading of the headlines on UK newspaper websites suggests that there is indeed a problem with youth crime – and in particular knife crime. But are the press exaggerating the problem simply to sell papers?

Legendary British actor Sir Michael Caine has been somewhat outspoken on youth violence in Britain and even suggests a return to national service. Not to put boots on the ground in Afghanistan, but simply to give the youngsters a sense of belonging somewhere, to something, rather than what he describes as an aimless existence. So, non-combat national service? What do you think?

Two British academics argue that almost every social problem, from crime to obesity, stems from one root cause: inequality. Here are some figures. Obesity is twice as common in the UK as the more equal societies of Sweden and Norway. Teenage birth rates are six times higher in the UK than in more equal societies. The academics say countries such as the US and the UK where the top 20% earn seven, eight or nine times more than the lowest 20%, scored noticeably higher on all social problems at every level of society than in countries such as Sweden and Japan, where the differential is only two or three times higher at the top. So is that the root cause of Broken Britain?

It is all well and good blaming everything on Maggie Thatcher and the Tories – but according to research the Labour government has only maintained inequality at the level at which it inherited it. While there has been some positive action at the bottom income levels for pensioners and young families, the damage has all been done at the other end. Peter Mandelson said early in the Labour administration, 'We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich. And according to the academics, he has been as good as his word. Is there really anything to choose from between the Labour Party and the Conservatives these days?

Britain’s National Health Service used to be the envy of nations! But the other day I read this rather weak attempt at humour – “The National Health Service – a free for all but worthless to many.” Too harsh?

Paraphrasing from the UK Progressive website: Gordon Brown knows that as despised as his Labour Government currently is, the Tories, because of their own past history and an unconvinced electorate with the leadership ability of David Cameron – next year’s election is still wide open. Is it? Which way do you think (wish?) it will go?

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