Our Nasty Nanny State | Brussels Blog

Our Nasty Nanny State

posted by on 17th Apr 2015

Our Nasty Nanny State

“We had to undertake role play etc in order to supposedly help us on our way back to work … where we had to stand up and tell the group what kind of job we were looking for  … I took a paracetamol to numb my panic .”


Tories cross a “bridge too far” for 1 million working poor

In 2011 Jonathan Rutherford wrote a piece in the Guardian This punishing welfare plan may be a bridge too far for the government :

The Tories are planning a draconian extension of welfare sanctions that will affect millions of working families currently claiming tax credits…

People who work hard and feel they are contributing to society will be told they must earn more or face a sliding scale of cuts to their income…

Workers who fall below this threshold must increase their work with their current employer, or look for an additional job or for a new one.

The subtitle says

Yes, the public are angry with benefit cheats – but they may object to harrying the low paid into earning more

One way of overcoming the objections is to sneak the measures in. Digging around in the Parliamentary Sessions (2014-15) for the 2nd Delegated Legislation Committee we find

Esther McVey:

“…we will be working actively with 1 million more claimants who are in work—that is 1 million working claimants who have not been supported to date.”

“…individuals on universal credit who earn less than £12,000 per year on average and who can earn more…”
“These were traditionally low-earning tax credit claimants some of those activities could be mandatory, specifically where they offer claimants a strong opportunity to increase their salaries.”

That means being punished for earning less than £950 in any one month and the Universal Credit self employed fact-sheet 2015 says

If you earn less than the minimum income floor in any month, Universal Credit will not bridge that gap. This will encourage you to grow your business and make sure it can support you.

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We should listen to … Chris Exley

posted by on 27th Mar 2015

People we should listen to. No. 4

Professor Chris Exley on aluminium and Alzheimer’s

Does aluminium increase the chances of Alzheimers?

The easiest place to start is Chris Exley’s YouTube presentation which he introduced like this

Even my old boss at The Royal Society, Professor I Forget His Name FRS, enquired quizzically of me as to why I was bothering to research aluminium. I explained that this was actually the subject for which I was awarded my Royal Society University Research Fellowship! Oh, he replied, his dark and slightly foreboding eyes beginning to glaze over as our ‘interview’ came to an abrupt end. I am sure that he mumbled something about it (aluminium) having no biological purpose and being essentially benign as he walked away, probably convinced that I was wasting both his and my time! One of his mumbles had some substance, aluminium having no known essential biological role, but his other final utterance, purposefully beneath his breath, that aluminium had no biological reactivity was at best uninformed and more likely contrived.

Does silicon rich water help ?

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Submission to the Barker Review of Land Use Planning (2003)

posted by on 24th Mar 2015

This was my submission (in 2003) to the interim

Barker Reviewof Land Use Planning




1. Property price inflation.

The rise in the value of property has reached 40% of GDP in some recent years.

2. Wealth redistribution.

Changes in tax and benefits since 1997 have made the poorest families better off by about £30 per week. Over the same period the wealthy have seen their property assets increase by hundreds of pounds per week. Wealth distribution is from the poor to the rich and from the young to the old.

3. Total planning permission.

The term “planning permission” is usually used in the context of new build. But most existing buildings have permission to remain at their location. If they do not have this permission, the planning authority can demand that they be removed. Increases in property values have for many years been driven by a shortage of this totality of planning permission. It is not an increase in the value of the bricks and mortar that has made my house three times more valuable in the past five years. It is the increase in the value of the right I have to keep my house in its present location.

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We should listen to … Heather Ashton

posted by on 11th Mar 2015

People we should listen to. No. 3

Professor Heather Ashton on benzodiazepine withdrawal

Drugs linked to brain damage

An article in The Independent, Drugs linked to brain damage 30 years ago starts “Secret documents reveal that government-funded experts were warned nearly 30 years ago that tranquillisers that were later prescribed to millions of people could cause brain damage.” It also says

Heather Ashton, emeritus professor of clinical psychopharmacology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, set up the first NHS withdrawal clinic in 1984. In 1995 she submitted a research proposal to the MRC to investigate the link between long-term benzodiazepine use and permanent brain damage, using sophisticated EEG and MRI scans, and cognitive testing in a randomised control trial. Her proposal was rejected.

The Department of Health

The article also references the work of Professor Malcolm Lader. Professor Ashton referred to him in a letter to Dr Iona Heath, President of the Royal College of General Practitioners (02 August 2011).

In the radio programme Professor Lader was asked why the Department of Health had not taken action on this problem as it is admitted that there are over one million long-term prescribed benzodiazepine users in the U.K. who receive little help in withdrawal. His depressing reply was that

(1) the DOH is influenced by the powerful drug companies who would have to pay out millions of pounds/dollars     in compensation if the health risks of long-term benzodiazepine use were exposed and
(2) general practitioners are afraid of litigation from patients who have been prescribed long-term benzodiazepines.

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We should listen to … Zig Engelmann

posted by on 2nd Mar 2015

People we should listen to. No. 2

Zig Engelmann, preschool teacher

Only 1% should be illiterate?

A few months ago I was a messenger between an ex head teacher and an educational academic. The topics was Direct Instruction, a method of teaching young children to read. The teacher claimed it worked; the academic said several methods work if good, enthusiastic people were using them.

The teacher claimed that only about 1% of children should remain illiterate, a much lower rate than schools achieve today. One problem was that it was not liked by many teachers because the teachers liked to have the freedom to express themselves and innovate. The practitioner said he’d done it but the academic didn’t believe it was repeatable.

However, if the practitioner’s 1% were to be anything like correct, why does the National Literacy Trust say

Around 16 per cent, or 5.2 million adults in England, can be described as “functionally illiterate”.

Evidence or “Gimme Some Truth”?

(Break here for John Lennon)

To look around to resolve this literacy contradiction I found Somerville and Leach writing

The Direct Instruction programme resulted in gains in reading performance significantly greater than the other two programmes and the control group…
Post‐intervention questionnaires completed by the subjects, their parents and their classroom teachers indicated that perceived success differed significantly from measured success and that parents and children were predisposed towards the success of any programme to which they had committed themselves. An explanation was offered for the continued acceptance and use of intervention approaches which have failed to find significant support in the literature.

Evidence alone isn’t good enough.

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We should listen to … Bob Johnson

posted by on 24th Feb 2015

People we should listen to. No. 1

Bob Johnson, psychiatrist

In a pub last week I had a short conversation with a former prison governor. He had been a governor of some high profile prisons. Obviously a caring person but not naive, he said long prison sentences were too long and short prison sentences were too short. If I caught his meaning correctly in this short conversation, long sentences make prisoners institutionalised, unable to cope with release and short sentences didn’t give the prison system time enough to do any good. Do judges talk to the prison service enough?

I asked the governor, if he knew the psychiatrist that quietened Parkhurst Prison for several years by getting the respect of prisoners and understanding the origins of their behaviour and enabling them to change. He immediately knew of Bob Johnson and acknowledged his work but he also said that no one else could repeat his success. The governor’s judgement – which I am reluctant to accept – has prompted me to start this series and make Bob Johnson the first.

I have attended some of Bob’s conferences and he is charismatic. My simplistic view of psychiatric interventions is that one discriptive dimension of methods ranges from “digging the bullet out” to “papering over the cracks”. Bob “digs bullets out”. But that’s enough of my amateur observations, go an find out more about Bob Johnson:

Video: Curing mental pain

Website: Truth Trust Consent

Book: Emotional Health: What Emotions Are and How They Cause Social and Mental Diseases

Book: Unsafe at Any Dose: Exposing Psychiatric Dogmas, So Minds Can Heal, Psychiatric Drugs Do More Harm Than Good

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The BBC says it has no editorial guidelines on climate change

posted by on 28th Jan 2015

Below I list more complaints I have made to the BBC about their coverage of climate change. There is particular reference to their choice of “experts” that they use for interviews and quote in articles.

The core complaint is

The BBC regularly reports scientists who express less urgent views and are more “government friendly” (e.g. Julia Slingo, Myles Allen, Brian Hoskins) but rarely those who express more urgency and express views less friendly to the government (e.g. Kevin Anderson, Robert Watson, Michael Mann)…

The BBC takes pays attention to “dissenting voices” if they down play climate change but ignores those who say it is much worse. This is bias.

One reply makes an interesting point

We don’t actually have editorial guidelines on the subject but we treat it the same way we treat any controversial subject – in a fair and balanced way.

That’s very interesting.

Complaints to the BBC and replies

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The BBC favours business over Greens.

posted by on 19th Jan 2015

Below I list some recent complaints I made to the BBC on the coverage of business and climate change.

The complaints and replies below aren’t easy reading and I have not enough energy to follow through with a considered complaint to the BBC Trust as the last reply suggests.

A quick glance at the membership of the BBC Trust suggests a leaning towards a business that would make them unprepared to accept necessary lessons on climate change. For example, Rona Fairhead was previously head of the Financial Times Group and was appointed a British business ambassador by the prime minister.

The BBC dropped the the Green Party from the election debates. We need a debate between the BBC and a prominent green.

What about George Mombiot on the green side and Rona Fairhead for the BBC?

Would be a good debate. Much more gripping than the stuff below.


Complaints and replies

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Joined up economic and climate research needed

posted by on 5th Jan 2015


I have been surprised over decades, on the lack of power of important economic models to investigate the policies that interested me. My proposal for modifying VAT to create employment (in 1978) could not be tested on the Treasury Model because its labour market segmentation was not rich enough.  I understand it is still the case that the Treasury Economic Model cannot investigate this and similar proposals which can actually be specified quite simply.

In the 1990s, a grant from the European Commission enabled Professor Kim Swales and colleagues to create a more sophisticated model than the one that I had constructed. The results showed the VAT with Rebate proposal was very promising. A proposal with some similarities, which has increasing support in the USA, is the one for a Carbon Fee and Dividend aimed at cutting carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

We propose an initial fee of $15/ton on the CO2 content of fossil fuels, escalating $10/t/y, imposed upstream at their point of extraction and collected upon entry into the economy. All revenues, less administrative costs, are rebated to U.S. households in the form of monthly dividends.

On behalf of the Citizens Climate Lobby, this proposal has been modeled by Regional Economic Model, Inc (REMI). This has produced encouraging results.

The full dividend drives new wealth into hiring, particularly among lower income groups. The rate of change in fossil fuel-dependent areas will be gradual, unfolding at the pace of “normal” economic evolution but in the direction of reduced fossil fuel dependence.

The Scottish Government funded economic research from the University of Strathclyde, The economic and environmental impact of the introduction of a carbon tax in Scotland. This concluded

when revenues from the tax are recycled to reduce taxes on employment there is a reduction in emissions accompanied by an increase in Scottish GDP and employment. Extensive sensitivity analysis allows us systematically to compare our results with others reported in the literature.

The effect to increase Scottish GDP and employment is similar to that reposted for the USA in the REMI modeling.

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We need a green recession and full employment

posted by on 27th Dec 2014


This preface is an afterthought. After a week or so of struggling to bring out the argument below, I have realised a few days later a simpler way of expressing where the argument leads: to save the world from climate catastrophe a reduction we need a recession because we have to cut most of that consumption which pollutes.  Green growth is greenwashing. We need a green recession.  Below I suggest one mechanism of creating a green recession with full employment. I have changed the title from “Poverty, equality, climate and growth” to “We need a green recession and full employment”.

 Post-crash economics

In university economics  departments there are  courses in “free market theory” but to my surprise  a Google search for a “free market theory courses” at UK universities gave results that were mostly critical.  The 2008 crash seems to have had an impact. For example Economics students aim to tear up free-market syllabus

Economics undergraduates at the University of Manchester have formed the Post-Crash Economics Society, which they hope will be copied by universities across the country. The organisers criticise university courses for doing little to explain why economists failed to warn about the global financial crisis and for having too heavy a focus on training students for City jobs. Joe Earle, a spokesman for the Post-Crash Economics Society and a final-year undergraduate, said academic departments were “ignoring the crisis” and that, by neglecting global developments and critics of the free market such as Keynes and Marx, the study of economics was “in danger of losing its broader relevance”.

Personally, I hope the students don’t take Keynes or Marx too seriously. Economists with a Keynesian bent will lean to expanding the economy at a time when we must cut consumption to avoid a climate disaster. Current consumption might lead to the end of most life on Earth. Marxists believe in the labour theory of value. This links labour value to the right to consume. This has been expressed as “He who does not work, neither shall he eat“.  As far as I remember, Marxists have clever but awkward ways of rigging their theories to make labour the basic measure of value but this needs hard counter-intuitive argument. It also undermines the  non-labour sources of value, such as the air we breathe. Anyway, I shall not  discuss further Marxism here: We are stuck in a capitalist market system of sorts and we should look for ways to change it to make the world a better place, with less poverty and avoid the impending climate disaster. An obvious starting point to discuss the current capitalist “free market” system is the ideas of Milton Friedman and his followers. He has outlined an approach to three key issues: Poverty, equality and climate change.

Poverty and Equality

In  Poverty and Equality, a video from LibertyPen Milton Friedman says

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