The financial crisis showed us not only that Credit Rating Agencies were incompetent, but also that they stopped financial markets acting responsibly. It is worrying that investors, and journalists, continue to listen to them, as they could put millions of jobs at risk
Demonstrations in Dublin last month against spending cuts
Last year, Derren Brown did a television “magic trick” in which he claimed to have predicted the results of the National Lottery. As each number was announced by the lottery, he revealed what his own prediction had been.
As magic tricks go, it was stupid. David Mitchell summed it up on Mock the Week when he said that Brown’s only real trick had been to make people believe it had been a “prediction” of the lottery numbers – when in fact he was reading out the numbers after they had been announced.
Brown might well have drawn his inspiration from the murky world of Credit Rating Agencies (CRAs). From autumn 2007 CRAs began to downgrade their ratings on billions of dollars worth of complex financial derivatives. The ratings, which claimed to predict the likelihood of default on a particular security, were being downgraded only after defaults had started to mount up.
► Continue reading Disgraced credit rating agencies are being allowed to wield too much power
The Labour Party must promote the idea of universal welfare, even for the aspiring classes. The welfare system will not survive without a broad coalition of support
UK Uncut's protests against Philip Green tax avoidance
Johann Hari said yesterday on UK Uncut’s blog that Philip Green, owner of TopShop (amongst other businesses), was “sponging off the state” by avoiding £300m of income tax – and suggested we should stop providing taxpayer-funded services to branches of TopShop, until Mr Green was aware of exactly how much his business had depended on them. 77% of Britons, apparently, support clamping down on tax avoidance.
At the same time, the Social Attitudes Survey reveals that UK voters are more anti-welfare and anti-redistribution than at any time since the 1980s.
Hari reminded me of a conversation I once had with a Salford barber (which I had to quickly abandon, for fear of him shaving something embarrassing into my hair) when Labour proposed the 50% tax. He was certainly never going to earn anything like the £150,000 he would need to start paying the new tax level – but if he had got to that level all through his own hard work, risk-taking and entrepreneurial skills (and never ‘sponged off the state’ by claiming benefits, mind), he would be bloody annoyed if the Government were going to any more of it away from him.
► Continue reading The welfare state must benefit everyone, or we’ll lose it
David Lammy's figures show that there are real barriers to getting into Oxbridge for state school students – even those who do achieve highly at A-level
The lovely Girton College, Cambridge
This week, during the full heat of the tuition fees debate, David Lammy released figures on Oxford and Cambridge admissions, painstakingly put together from Freedom of Information requests. It turns out successful Oxbridge applicants are predominantly “white, middle-class and southern.” This is not news.
What is news, is the light it throws on why that is. As Lammy said, his most important findings were on where the successful applicants came from. To take one (admittedly self-indulgent!) example, in 2008, when over a hundred Oxbridge offers were made to students from Richmond-upon-Thames, just one student from Salford was so lucky.
Oxford says that where the educational attainment is there, students will get in. But in reality it’s not so simple.
The most obvious problem is that Salford’s bright young things are not applying to Oxbridge. Richmond students averaged 260 applications to Oxbridge per year (over 13 applications per 100 students finishing A-levels or equivalent) – over ten times the rate of Salford students, who managed just 17 (or 1.2 per 100 finishing students).
► Continue reading Oxford and Cambridge are not taking widening access seriously
Frank Field is only half right. A poor child's upbringing can reduce the opportunities they will have - but poverty itself closes too many doors to them
This week, half buried under a new deluge of Cablegate chatter, Frank Field published his review of poverty in the UK. At its heart is a recommendation to move funding gradually away from direct support to poor children, and towards education and support for parenting and care for the child’s first five years.
Field is right to say that parenting is key early in a child’s life, and that poor upbringing can lead to poor choices later in life. In my own (brief!) experience working with Special Educational Needs pupils, the biggest hurdle to helping them achieve more was the ‘why should I?‘ factor. It’s not easy to magic up this kind of aspiration in pupils if they didn’t get it from their parents early on. Another example was reading ability. Those with a reading age of less than 9yrs struggle even to understand the curriculum, let alone learn it. Again, it’s difficult to get a child to read, much less to love reading, if they never got it from their parents.
But Field is only half right. Giving poor children a good start in life is necessary, but it’s not enough to say that poverty comes from making poor choices. People living in poverty can find their choices rather limited.
In power, Labour did recognise that poverty itself – relative poverty itself – led to social exclusion. Take digital inclusion, as one example: in 2008, Gordon Brown announced that children who received free school meals would get a free laptop, so they would not be at a disadvantage compared to their peers. Or financial inclusion: the Government set up a national financial advice service after it was found that people on low incomes had little access to financial advice. (Turns out banks and IFAs tend to concentrate their efforts on wealthy people? Who knew.)
► Continue reading No, Frank, poverty isn’t just in the mind