Tuesday, 13 March 2012

THAT graph

Anyone involved in the 'Workfare' debate has probably come across this graph.

Firstly, I make no attempt at claiming a bi-partisan position, I actively support the Schemes involved in 'Get Britain Working' policy but just like all positions that I hold, I like to do it with fact. I do not fear evidence in any way because I am not dogmatic and if I find evidence to suggest my view is wrong, I will simply change my view. If I say something that turns out to be incorrect, I will withdraw my comment.

 Now, with that said, let's review this graph and the text that accompanies it.

  “This [graph] appears to show that the youth work experience scheme has had no additional impact on the speed at which young people leave benefit, and may have actually led to them spending longer on benefit than they would have done.”

Now, as you can see, they are hinting at a lot and the creator of the graph has a lot to answer for. The table below shows the raw data

So we can see that the graph line for the Work Experience starts on weeks on scheme whereas the JSA line starts from start of claim.

This makes the two lines incomparable. As the Work Experience scheme is *primarily* for those between 13 and 39 weeks * Thanks to @consentmeuk for correcting me when I said at first that is was open to ONLY those of 3 months or more, whereas in truth, in exceptional circumstances the limit can be lowered and for 16/17 year olds the start of the scheme can be immediate. While this new information doesn't really change my point, I do like to make sure it is accurate.

A couple of points though, the activities in the scheme do not begin straight away, I do not know if they count the Start of Work Experience to mean the sign on date or the date the work placement begins.
At any rate, only if EVERY person who joined the Work Experience Scheme joined on the first day of their JSA and went straight into their Work Experience placement would we be able to compare the two lines and even then we would need to make some allowances.

Hopefully, you'll see now why comparing them is flawed, if not I will explain a little further.

Please note this document

In particular this line "Off-flows from JSA remain high - almost  60% of claimants leave within three months 
and almost 80% leave within six months of making their claim"

So, 60% of JSA claimants stop their claim before their even primarily eligible for the Work Experience, the numbers are higher for 16-24 year olds in fact, and at halfway through the primary eligible timescale (6 months) the number of people that have already stopped their claim goes up to 80% (again I believe this to be higher for <25 year olds.).

So lets look at that graph again..

Most people that take part in the Work Experience Scheme do not even appear on X axis. You would need to make it three times as long in fact to get all people who join the Work Experience scheme on it.

The reason most people go ON the Work Experience Scheme is because they haven't got the ability (Or luck yet) to get off benefits. This is evident as the people that primarily use the scheme are the 40% - 20% or lower that are still on JSA when they become eligible for volunteering for the programme.

It seems pretty harsh to compare the success rate for coming off 'out of work benefits' as a whole to that of a system that is designed for those that find it hard to get off 'out of work benefits' and then claim that the system doesn't work because it only emulates the success of the group without the difficulty getting off JSA.

I am not going to make the leap to suggest that it DOES help, as although it seems self evident to me that it can't hurt, there simply isn't the evidence either way, which is the point of this whole blog entry.
Similarly comparing the Work Experience Scheme with The Future Jobs Fund , is difficult too, though what we can say is that it appears to have similar, if not better results for a fraction of the cost, but there are variables to consider.

As always, any comments or corrections are gratefully received.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Marriage, civil partnerships & freedom

The prospect of gay marriage has again appeared on the horizon and the furore that accompanies it, isn't far behind.
As with almost all debates, the extremes of both sides are the most vocal whereas a majority of the rest are centralized so much closer on either side of the pivot point.

It occurs to me that much of the trouble comes down to differing definitions of the word, some see it as a term of commitment and love, some see it as a child rearing partnership and some see it as a religious ceremony and many more definitions besides.

This difference in opinion should not cause too much undue distress however just like a lot of things, the state gets involved and has to have 'an official position' which is bound to just piss SOME people off.
This is where we need to think outside the box.

The state needs to drop ANY recognition of marriage.
Much of what is useful in the term can be taken exclusively into the realms of civil partnership. This can be transformed from a ceremony to just a legal document signing, a contract of partnership.
This will be open to anyone who wants to take part. By that, I literally mean any adult able to give consent, and any number. If people want to have more than one partner, as long as that is agreed with all participants why not?

The state, will recognise these partnerships much in the same way that it does marriage & present civil partnerships and the partners will be entitled to all rights & bound by the responsibilities.
This will really be true equality since everyone will be entitled to everything equally.
Then it comes to the other bit, marriage has been divided into two subsets, religious and civil. The civil part would become defunct and the religious part [so your particular faith and/or god(s) recognise it] can carry on being as exclusive or non exclusive as they want.

Anyone can call themselves married and anyone can claim someone else isn't married (just as they do now) but because the term will be completely meaningless and subjective, there will not be a state sanctioned 'right' definition or answer.
If you WANT to have a ceremony, have one. If you want to get married in a pub between rounds of drink, you can. Will everyone recognise it, no, but you can't force anyone to anyway.
The fact is, that marriage cannot be owned by any one institution and therefore officially allowing and officially dis-allowing is only going to infringe on people's right to define it themselves.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Slavery - contrast and compare

What with all the 'workfare' drama in the last few weeks, the word "slavery" has become a popular buzz word.

I have already written in my last post about the differences in the schemes that seem to be attacked by anti-workfare protesters, so I will defend the most controversial aspects of each scheme in order to not 'cherry pick' from each scheme as the critics do.

What we need to establish for the word is a commonly held definition. Unfortunately for humanity but luckily for this blog, there are numerous examples to draw upon.

Let's look firstly here at an organisation that defends those against slavery, the aptly named Anti-Slavery organisation.

Here is their helpful list

Common characteristics distinguish slavery from other human rights violations. A slave is:
  • forced to work -- through mental or physical threat;
  • owned or controlled by an 'employer', usually through mental or physical abuse or threatened abuse;
  • dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as 'property';
  • physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.
It would take an inventive thinker with an ability far beyond my richest dreams that could equate that to being asked to work for 6-8 weeks, for 30 hours a week in a safe, secure and hopefully productive employment in return for a continued supply of benefits.

They are not forced to work any more than any other person is forced to work in order to pay bills.

They are not owned. By anyone (a threat of not being paid is not a threat by an owner).

They are not sold, or treated as a commodity in any way

They can do whatever they want for 138 hours a week and even in the other 30, they can still do whatever they want, they will just not be paid (again, equal to the freedom anyone being employed has).

The central argument tends to be "...but if they don't work they will lose their home and not be able to feed themselves.."

*SNAP* that is true of almost every single person on the planet. That isn't slavery.

The same website then goes on to publish a list of things slaves are made to do-

Bonded labour x
Early and forced marriage x
Forced labour x
Slavery by descent x
Trafficking x
Worst forms of child labour x

OK, how about other types of slavery though-out history (as I would say that is what we all think about when someone says slavery). 
The Transatlantic slave trade involved the kidnapping (either directly or by native middlemen) of Africans who became a commodity. They were shipped in incredibly poor conditions to the Americas where, if they were lucky enough to survive (15% died on the voyage) they were sold on. 
They were completely owned, could be punished at will for anything the owner decided to punish them for. 
They could be raped, their children would automatically become slaves and even their lives could be taken.

A lot of the basis of this comes from Roman Law on slavery and as that is probably the second most thought of type of slavery that will be the other type we'll look at. 

These slaves again were out right-owned and had very little rights. They could be beaten, whipped, and even killed without much intervention by the state. They could be raped at will by their owner or anyone that their owner decided to give the right to.
 They would be forced to work in any line of work their owner decided, with no right to food or shelter and were only granted this as to continue their 'use'. Their children were born into slavery. If a slave turned on their owner it was common practice for the entire household of slaves to be put to death 
The slaves were often branded or forced to wear collars, their testimony was only admissible in court if delivered under torture, even if offered up. 

Now let's compare this with our 'workfare slavery'.
If you do not go to work for 30 hours a week, the state will not hurt you, it will not stop your free movement, it will not do ANYTHING except stop giving you a small amount of money. 

Compare that to a slave in the traditional sense. They are told "we will allow you to go about your business freely, you get to live your life exactly how you want, with protection from violence and imprisonment, but we will only give you money if you agree to work 30 hours a week for 6-8 weeks. If you don't like it, you can jog on and we will not hunt, hurt or look for you"  - Can you imagine how ecstatic they would be?
This comparison has got to stop as it is meaningless and is just hyperbole. I beseech anyone, on either side of the debate, to avoid this term.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Working for something is not slavery

As anyone not living in a box with a cat and some radioactive material will probably have seen, the Government's work programme has come under fire in the last few weeks.

The criticism itself varies from the thought out view that people working for just their JSA & expenses without contribution by the private institutions  amounts to a government subsidy for businesses....and then you have the rabid "this is exactly like slavery" folk.
(I've also read blogs that try to argue that there are different types of slavery, some of which are more similar to the programme than the common understanding of slavery.. so its ok to call it that...though on closer inspection the author had either cherry picked or was simply misinformed about ancient slavery).

The whole thing has a very slight whiff of the central No2AV campaign about it. The lumping together of many different work schemes, voluntary as well as mandatory, adding together all the participants and then using all the potentially controversial parts of different schemes to make it seem that a huge number have to suffer terribly is so dishonest, but they have used real data.. *Eric M - "just not necessarily in the right order" ..

So let's look at the facts..these are pretty thin on the group in a huge error by the Government which has allowed room for the social media driven nonsense which fills our ears, inboxes and twitter feeds to flourish.

The source of the most comprehensive list of the schemes comes from an unlikely source. The Guardian (full article on the link)...Did it just get cold in here? I have used their data to compress it into easy read bullet points

Here we go...

Work Experience

  • The Work Experience programme is  voluntary
  •  For 16 - 24 year olds
  • Out of employment from 3-9 months
  • Placements are 2-8 weeks
  • Placements are from 25-30 hrs
  • JSA & Expenses including childcare costs
  • If the placement is abandoned without good reason after one week the participant runs the risk of losing two weeks benefits
  • 34,200 people had started a Work Experience placement by Nov 11

Sector-based work academies

  • Training and a work placement
  • Open to people unemployed for over three months. 
  • Anyone completing a placement is given a guaranteed job interview 
  • Placements last up to six weeks (part classroom training/part on-the-job)
  • Participation is voluntary but those that quit face sanctions
  • 3,400 people had participated as of Nov 11

Mandatory Work Activity

  • Compulsory Scheme for people "who have little or no understanding of what behaviours are required to obtain and keep work."
  • No set time frame though placements typically reserved for those unemployed over three months
  • Scheme lasts six to eight weeks
  • Up to 30 hours a week 
  • The jobs must "make[] a contribution to the community"
  • Refusal leads to a loss of 13 weeks benefit, the second refusal increases this to 26 weeks
  • 24,010 people participated up to Nov 11

The Work Programme

  • The scheme is for "tailored support" which may or may not include useful work placements
  • This task is contracted out to organisations that do not have authority over Benefits
  • Starts nine months for young people and a year for everyone else
  • 370,000 people were referred to the Work Programme as of Nov 11 (as stated not all these involve work placements

Community Activity Programme

  • Pilot scheme for hose unemployed for more than two years
  • Work placements are up to 30 hrs per week
  • Work placements can last up to six months
  • Help to get into employment is also included in the scheme
  • The scheme is designed  "to develop disciplines and skills associated with sustained employment, (for example: attending on time on a regular basis as part of a working routine, carrying out specific tasks and working under supervision".
  • The placements must be tasks that deliver contribution to the local community and " must not displace what would otherwise be paid jobs."
  • As will MWA, this is compulsory and will result in sanctions if quit

As we can see, the schemes are very different and the use by some of the more ruthless critics of data from one to attack the other is not only unfounded but irresponsible and harmful to the many volunteers that have been denied experience in various institutions that have felt the need to pull out of the voluntary schemes.

This brings me to my next point, many of the companies that took part in these schemes weren't doing it for financial gain, they were doing it as part of community responsibility policy. Speak to any employer, especially in the retail sector and they will tell you that taking on unskilled, inexperienced new staff is probably the most counter productive and harmful thing to their business.

Not only are there endless risk assessments, induction trainings, customer service trainings, health and safety trainings, product trainings, policy trainings and supervision to organise, you have to do it all again in the few short weeks (and hours) that the staff are there.

As the goal in many of the placements isn't the job at the end of the placement, it's the real world experience, the discipline, the CV entry, the ability to give references...topped off with a chance of a job offer, the pressure put on these businesses to only take on these people if paid and there is a job for everyone will only make the business heavily reduce the number of placements.

In fact, why would they even bother to participate in the scheme? Why risk it with long time inexperienced unemployed people when you could simply just poach them from a competitor that are fully trained, are already doing the job and are a lot less work to get to unsupervised level?

The answer is simple ..they will not participate in the scheme, the companies thought that despite of it not actually helping them in real terms, that they might get a bit of PR boost for providing the opportunities ...however with that out the window, they are pulling out and fast. Tesco have said they will start paying people and will give people jobs at the end of the placements unless there is a reason not to.

It is very important to actually read that statement with a business head on. Tesco's will not be taking on more people than they need, so whereas they used to grant placements to a large amount of VOLUNTEERS, that number will be shrinking.

Well done everyone, you have succeeded in taking away placements that actually have waiting lists because so many people WANTED to get on them out of uninformed misdirected anger.

I take it you'll be off to shut down the soup kitchens now for not paying their 'slaves' serving the food?

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Twitter Vs Strawman / Dorries

It is rare that I find myself in agreement with the majority of Twitterettes and Twitterinos, so was not unsurprised that I found myself on the wrong side of the herd view, what did surprise me was the ratio.

In a very unscientific analysis of the hashtag, I found only one other poster that agreed with me.

The subject of course is Nadine #Dorries and her proposed amendments in reference to abortion.

Now I understand that many people dislike Dorries so even taking this into account, (That people will say the sky is pink if she says it is blue) I am surprised by the opposition on a couple of parts of what she says.

Opinion One, that any organisation that benefits financially from a particular outcome, should not be classed as independent, when it comes to whether that outcome is taken or not.

That is common sense, isn’t it?

Someone tried comparing it to the RSPCA somehow, saying that ‘Stopes’ having a vested interest in abortion is the same as the RSPCA having a vested interest in cruelty.

That is a bit of a strange comparison on a couple of fronts. 

Firstly, the RSPCA would make more money by NOT treating animals; just sending them away, would be easier than operating etc.

Secondly, it is suggesting that the choice between abortion or not abortion is similar in context to animal suffering or non-suffering.

There is an automatic assumption that the only people allowed to give advice will be religious fundamentalists though Ms Dorries has said “This won’t be offered by any religion-affiliated groups, but by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy”1

So unless the BACP have suddenly become religious zealots, I am a bit unsure what the cause of this ‘Straw-man’ nonsense is.

As an atheist and anti-theist I have no enthusiasm for practical decisions to be made in relation to mythological belief, but this is not the only alternative so it is misleading for it to be framed in such an either/or way.

Her second opinion which has upset people, but has been less (a little less) vilified is her opinion that the upper timescale limit of 6 lunar months should be reduced to 5. i.e. 24 weeks to 20.

This apparently makes her ‘evil’.

When I asked why this would be the case I am often ignored.

Her is my research on the subject, and please keep in mind I have no axe to grind, I am pro-choice, I have no moral objection to the idea of pregnancy termination.

According to meta-analysis cited by SpensersHope.org, up to 70% of pre-mature births at 24 weeks can survive; published articles in medical journals put this figure more conservatively at 39%-50%.

These figures alone are quit worrying, now consider that these are where pre-mature birth is caused for a whole range of different reasons, a lot of them to do with the health of the mother and/or baby which would increase the chance of mortality, and you can imagine the levels of survival from babies about to be aborted at a much higher level.

I am all for personal freedoms, I am a libertarian and consider personal liberty paramount but with one very big exception. The acts of a person should never take away someone else’s freedom or life and it is quite evident that life is indeed being taken away in some of these late term pregnancies.

Again, I feel I need to stress that I am NOT an anti-abortionist, but for me what happens to fetuses is abortion, what happens to babies is murder and when something is alive in its own right, it is a baby not a fetus.

Let the vitriol attacks begin 

Thursday, 19 May 2011

-Interruption to normal service- Rape being rape is rape, but not all rapes are the same

Hello people,
                    Slight change of pace and subject I know, but this subject has sucked so much of my time because I cannot bare uninformed or over-zealous arguments to beat down intelligent, rational comments.
Firstly, let's start with Slut Walk.
I have devoted a bit of my time trying to figure this out. I have spoken to many different women in support of it, some fanatically, some more sensibly.
My conclusion is that it is a misguided and pointless march.
Interestingly, unlike most causes that start with good and intelligent intentions but run the risk of being hi-jacked by irrational forces, Slutwalk has been the opposite.

Slutwalk was sparked by a Policeman in Canada making some rather blunt and politically incorrect comments. The exact wording changes depending on who you speak to and to what degree they are trying to use the policeman as a reason for the march, but the jist is 'girls should avoid dressing like sluts to help avoid being victimised'.
At it's heart, this is a sad but probably true comment on society.
The biggest obstacle we come up against is information, as so many rapes are unreported also a great number of rapes reported are found not guilty and a great number of rapes that are both reported and convicted (so count towards the figures) are committed by relatives or people where the target is not randomly selected, so 'stranger' rape is quite rare to have statistics on it either way.
However, this is where common sense comes into play.
Most people will say that if you walk through a bad neighbourhood alone with a Rolex on and draw attention to it, you will increase your chance of robbery. This is quite accepted, it is not shifting blame, it's not saying that the victim deserved it, it is purely a statement on statistics.

I have asked a more relevant question to the debate, which woman is more likely to be attacked, Woman A or Woman B where Woman A is with a group of friends and relatively sober and Woman B is lying passed out in an alley with her skirt pulled up.
Chances are statistically small that either woman will be attacked, but in comparison to each other, there would be, I imagine, a hugely increased risk to Woman B. Again, this is not talking about blame as fault is not implied with statistical analysis.
To bring it closer to the offending statement. A woman that has gone to the effort of making themselves attractive and sexual will likely increase the chance of people being attracted to her sexually and with increased attention, the likelihood of a bad type of attention from verbal harassment, pinching of girls bums also increases.

The choice of words may well have been objectionable, but this was, by the sounds of  most accounts, an off the record,throw away comment by someone that is probably a lot more familiar with the subject, seeing as he has to deal with it on a day to day basis, than most of us (thankfully) that is probably logically true even if it is a terrible truth.
This is not a basis for a international march.

Other reasons given

Reclaiming the word slut (slut is an insult and will always be one..used just as much by women to describe other women than by men. There is no need to reclaim it..just don't use it)

Highlighting 'Rape is wrong' (now to me the fact that rape carries a custody sentence as a minimum in most cases and can be 'life' ..I am quite sure rape is acknowledged to be wrong already..except perhaps by rapists, but let's be honest, a group of angry women are unlikely to change their mind)

Combat victim blaming (this is the reason I said was the sensible cause that is trying to hi-jack the irrational core. Victim blaming is wrong and nearly everyone except the really foul fringes of our communities agree. Let's be clear here, there is a HUGE gulf between saying refraining from certain actions can statistically lower risk and saying that if you don't refrain from certain actions you DESERVE the outcome. One is statistical analysis, the other is victim blaming and is unacceptable)

The problem is, this last idea, the hastily added extra by women who want to get angry about something and go on a march but require rational reasoning, for me is too far removed from the core and often leads to the mistake I clarified above between talking about likelihood and how much someone deserves actions against them.

 The second part of the article deals with the comments of Ken Clarke.

A similar over-reaction to sensible comments on a controversial subject. He said nothing that isn't understood by anyone working in the law profession or in fact any other objective person.

Let's firstly deal with the definition of rape in the UK's court process, which is a lot stricter than many country's.

Rape is the non-consensual act of sex performed on an unwilling participant.

The concept of consent is quite blurry in UK law too. For example, a 15 year old is below the age of consent, but if it is mutually agreed, it doesn't class as rape, it is unlawful sexual intercourse or U.S.I. Only at 12 yrs or younger is mutually agreed but non-consensual (due to not being seen as fit to consent) sex considered rape, even if committed by someone of the same age..or younger in the case of a male.

Other countries don't have this complication and consider statutory rape (sex below the age of consent at any age) as rape.

Mutually agreed sex can also be considered rape in the case of adults if one of the parties later decides they weren't fit to consent, even if they initiated and carried out the act.

Say for example we have a Boy -B and a Girl - G.

B and G meet at a party, both are drunk, perhaps B even a little more so.
As the evening draws on, things become sexual and G asks B to go somewhere private with her. B obliges.
G performs a sex act on A and initiates intercourse with B.
After the deed, they lay together in bed, and after a while leave the party to go to their respective homes.

In the morning G wakes up and decides that if she was sober she wouldn't have gone all the way with B on the first 'date'. In other words G has decided due to alcohol, she was unfit to consent. At this point the exchange above becomes rape by law.

I am not here to argue the wrongs or rights of that. However if you look at this objectively, you can see how this crime does not deserve life imprisonment for B, which is the possible sentence he could have faced had he abducted G, threatened her with a weapon and violently had forceful sex with her.

I'd like to think that anyone thinking about this objectively will see this. This is what Ken Clarke said, he also said the first example of rape , i.e. date rape as we would understand can be as serious as the second example in some instances, for example had B specifically medicated G in order to have sex with her that he knew G would not consent to.

The whole 'Rape is rape' argument is misleading because it can mean any different things to different people. Logically rape is of course rape otherwise it wouldn't be called rape, but it is often meant to suggest that there are no differences in the severity of rape. This I hope we have dis-spelled but further evidence is the amount of trauma that the victims go through.

Now I am quite sure the number of people that regret a drunken fumble is quite high and the amount of times this can involve penetration is almost equally high, but I doubt many people would claim their trauma caused from this is equal to that of a forcefully raped victim. It would be interesting to pair the latter with the former and ask the latter's opinion.

Key Points
Blame never lies with the victim in any crime
Rape is rape but not all rapes are equal in severity or seriousness evidenced by trauma caused and circumstances.
Political capital can often be made to try to twist words of sensible people

Hopefully this will be the last time I need to deal with this terrible subject, but I think it's important we don't let the highly emotional subject matter to lead to us losing our rationality.