Does Britain bust a left or hang a right? (British Social Attitudes Survey Part II)

I think we can safely assume the majority of Brits don’t define themselves in crude political terms. So, let’s look at some of the detail of the British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS) to understand how closely the sympathies of Britons align with the aims of the coalition and the right-wing press.

Inequality and Fair Pay

A majority believe the gap between those with high incomes and low incomes is too large, that this contributes to social problems and that it is the responsibility of the government to reduce income inequality.

The government are not ignorant of this, having commissioned Will Hutton to produce a report looking at fair pay. However, the report’s remit was restricted to the public sector with the brief to investigate a pay ratio of 20 to 1 – according to the BSAS, people think the ratio should be 6 to 1.

You have to question whether the government’s aim with this report is really about fair pay. Both the Tories and the right-wing media appear more concerned about government spending and mythical “public sector fat cats” than income inequality across the whole of society. The right-wing media, in particular, are strongly against government involvement in reducing income inequality across the private sector.

This puts the British public further to the left than the Tories and completely at odds with the right-wing media.

Just over half of people believe the government should provide a decent standard of living for the unemployed, but only 27% believe more should be spent on welfare benefits for the poor.

The 27% figure is the statistic most favoured by the right-wing press. And it is significant, especially considering support for higher welfare spending has decreased from 58% in 1991. However, considering this survey comes off the back of a Labour government which has increased welfare over the previous decade, the massive drop doesn’t necessarily reflect a desire to greatly reduce benefits.

This finding is therefore inconclusive. Other findings of the survey show that people aren’t unsympathetic to the poor and, in fact, favour distinctly un-Thatcherite policies: 62% want better education or training opportunities to enable people to get better jobs, 54% want the minimum wage increased, and 40% want higher income taxes to be increased.

Investment in public services

Secondary schools have been seen to improve in every way under Labour and there is widespread support for an increasing emphasis on non-academic areas including practical and life skills.

While Tory (and Lib Dem) rhetoric before the election uncontroversially focused on limiting top-down interference over schools, the policies of Michael Gove since then seem at odds to what the public clearly perceive as a successful decade for education under Labour.

In particular, Gove’s peculiar fixation on ‘traditional’ lessons (including Classical Greek, Biblical Hebrew and Latin) is not shared by the people, 72% of whom believe the teaching of life skills is more important than academic subjects.

While happy to trumpet the parts of the survey that support with its own agenda, the Daily Mail sneers at the ‘alarming complacency’ suggested by the nearly three-quarters of people who think our schools teach basic schools well.

Regardless, it’s not obvious how Gove’s plans will improve schools in the way people want. His anachronistic baccalaureate idea and intent to abolish coursework conflicts with the view, agreed with by six in ten people, that “schools focus too much on tests and exams and not enough on learning for its own sake”.

Satisfaction with the NHS is at its highest level ever, reflecting that people recognise and value the improvements made by Labour, particularly the successful introduction of maximum waiting times targets.

I never understood the right-wing war against NHS targets, especially considering (if my memory serves me correctly) they were introduced as a result of right-wing media pressure.

When Labour entered office in 1997, satisfaction with the NHS was at the lowest level (34%) since the survey began. In 2009, satisfaction reached the highest level since the survey began (64%). Even among Conservative supporters, satisfaction with the NHS is at its height.

Against this backdrop, you really have to wonder why the Tories are embarking on a highly controversial and extremely risky reorganisation of the NHS. Many would suggest the motivation is ideological. If this is the case, Tory ideology (and that of its right-wing supporters) is clearly not shared by the British public.

So what?

This is just a scraping of findings from the report’s executive summaries available online. Still, I think it’s pretty damn supportive of New Labour’s record and suggests the Tories should be careful.

The unexpected ambition of their education and health reforms are controversial at the moment. Considering they are completely out of line with what the public actually wants, when they are introduced the shit, as they say, could well and truly hit the fan.


Reality check: Thousands of women are NOT giving birth in hospital toilets! Are you stupid!?

Terrifying news from the guys and gals at the Daily Mail. An attention grabbing headline announces that: “bed shortages forces 4,000 mothers to give birth in lifts, offices and hospital toilets”.

Are you asking yourself what is this country coming to? You’re an idiot. This headline just screams bullshit. For one thing, most hospitals would tend to have more beds than lifts, suggesting that the elevator isn’t the preferred second choice amongst medical staff.

Delving into the article, they don’t even try to substantiate the claim, saying:

63 births in ambulances and 608 in transit to hospitals;
117 births in A&E departments, four in minor injury units and two in medical assessment areas;
115 births on other hospital wards and 36 in other unspecified areas including corridors;
399 in parts of maternity units other than labour beds, including postnatal and antenatal wards and reception areas.

Not too scary. Although they do ominously add:

Babies were born in offices, lifts, toilets and a caravan, according to the Freedom of Information data for 2007 and 2008 from 117 out of 147 trusts which provide maternity services.

How many though? One thousand? Two thousand? Or the four thousand you claim in the headline! They don’t say. Fortunately (before I school myself in midwifery to make up for the NHS’s obvious failings – the logical solution), The Guardian provided more statistics:

The 2008 figures reveal that as well as 1,548 unplanned home births, there were 333 births in transit to the hospital, 171 in an antenatal ward or area, 38 in an ambulance, 63 in A&E.

In addition, 26 births occurred on a postnatal ward, 11 in a maternity reception, 34 in a maternity ward other than a designated labour ward and 52 in other wards. A total of 22 births occurred in other parts of the hospital, one in a corridor and eight in a car park.

Call me underly sensationalist, but that seems more symptomatic of uncontrollable baby-spawning (what’s the scientific term for that?) than anything else.

At the heart of this particular issue, removing all the waffle, seems to be this: On 553 occasions in 2008, overstretched (under-resourced?) maternity units were not able to admit any more women in labour.

Who’s at fault here and what should be done about it, if anything? Discuss….

Thousands of Brits celebrate their granny-killing, evil, socialist euthanasia engine [NHS love]

Health facts - via BBC

I’ve been following the American healthcare pantomime with the usual morbid fascination I reserve for their insane media (you can include political leaders and citizens under that adjective for that matter). After a while, however, I started to be genuinely concerned that this madness is going to cost the non-crazy Americans a chance for real healthcare reform. Hmm… not so funny anymore.

And into this shitstorm was unfairly thrust the good ol’ NHS, better known across the pond as an evil and Orwellian socialist institution that would have let Stephen Hawking’s die, had he been cursed to be born British (I can understand the confusion; as Ricky Gervais said, born in Oxford but speaks with an American accent? Pretentious). Even worst, one of our own (meant very loosely) joined the attack. Tory MEP Dan Hannan tears into the NHS (on Fox News, no less!), seemingly lending weight to the nightmare perception of the British system. Mikeno12’s comment sums things up succinctly.

We weren’t going to put up with that shit. The #welovethenhs Twitter campaign mobilised us Brits to shout our support for the ‘cradle to the grave’ free health care provided to everyone – whether rich, poor, sick, dying, hypochondriac or just a small-breasted teen who fancied a bit of a cleavage.

Yesterday, Gordon Brown and his wife, Sarah Brown, joined the campaign with an emotive Tweet (an oxymoron?) and, since then, the British media has been covering this story pretty extensively (something that does not seem to have been echoed in the US, unfortunately – though the only reference to this I would ever expect to see on Fox News would be along the lines of “do you want British socialist scum recommending US policy?”).

Possibly the most interesting development in the whole tale was the Conservative leader, David Cameron, interrupting his holiday to publicly distance his party (the British equivalent to the Republicans) from aforementioned NHS-basher, Daniel Hannan. Rule #1 of British politics: fuck with the NHS at your peril.

Note to Americans: I’ve read some comments suggesting health care reform would decrease accountability. In this country, dissatisfaction is voiced in the most powerful way, by decisive elections! Perhaps, this is why the Republicans are so scared of reform? They’re worried it will prove so popular and benefit so many people, they’ll either never win an election again or have to completely change their ideology. Best to keep the public stupid and scared, eh?

Looking at the facts (a rare practice in this debate) provided by the BBC, US health isn’t the ‘best in the world’. Of course, the NHS isn’t either, and this explosion of support shouldn’t make us ignore some of the very real problems people have had with the system (for the record, not me; I’ve had three pretty significant operations with the NHS and have no complaints – if you’re looking for anecdotal comparisons, I recommend reading this moving account by someone who’s experienced both).

My own, considerably less moving, account of my own surgery last year:

Hospital face
As a patient, I was an absolute cunt
Where's my belly button!?
Spent the first three days angrily asking where's my belly button!? Still got it though
No, not some lovely NHS nurses. Gorgeous Crunkettes lending some moral support (with custom tees!)
No, not some lovely NHS nurses. Gorgeous Crunkettes lending some moral support (with custom tees!)

I guess the point is that having shitty health care that may bankrupt you so private companies can get grotesquely wealthy just sounds offensive to my British delicacies. It makes me feel ill thinking about it. I suppose the saddest thing is that some American’s seem to be so obsessed with the ‘dream’ of corporate greed that they don’t see how innately unfair their system is.

Die young or live in Didcot? I’ll meet you at the train station…

Growing up in Didcot is very much like having a prostate exam. As much as you never wanted to be in such a position and as much as you try to get on with your life as if nothing happened, you can’t escape the knowledge that, metaphorically speaking, you HAVE had another man’s finger up your ass.

The sheer existence of Didcot relies on the necessity to link A and C with a B. While the eponymous parkway may have put Didcot on the map, it was the later introduction of the coal-burning power station that made it a visible blight on the landscape. While both the railway station and impressive cooling towers can be appreciated from either the comfort of a train carriage or a reasonably tall hill several miles away, you need to get closer to discover what really makes Didcot so…well, I guess you have to go there to understand (or maybe just read the relentlessly dull Twitter feed)

I was able to escape a little under a year ago and, to be honest, expected to miss the ol’ place a lot more than I do. I still return every now and again to visit my parents or scope some feral jailbait and I’m genuinely surprised by how much shittier the place is than I remember. Recently, I was struck with an inescapable comparison to the moment in Back to the Future Part II when Marty travels back from 2015 to find Hill Valley totally fucked – except worse as I didn’t even have a hover board.

Before tonight, there would have been little I could credit Didcot with except possibly for allowing me to claim a deprived upbringing whenever I think it’ll help. However, after watching an old episode of Mock the Week on Dave earlier, there is one positive thing to say:

Didcot offers undeniable proof that God exists. And he’s a bastard with a sick sense of humour.

You see, a few years back Didcot appeared in the top twenty list of the crappest towns in the UK. If enough people who lived there actually explored the town beyond the route from their home to the train station, this might have been cause for a fuss. As for the young boys and girls who fight with their Abingdon opposites out of pride for their community, their literacy rate falls somewhere just above being able to read the pregnancy test results and below the instructions for a condom, so they wouldn’t have found out about it anyway.

This isn’t shocking anyway. What is mind-blowingly surprising however (and provides final proof in that God character), is that residents of Didcot have the longest, healthiest lives in the whole of England and Wales! This article from The Telegraph uses the phrase “… residents enjoy the longest, healthiest lives…” but I think ‘enjoy’ is surely pushing the limits of journalistic integrity.

What kind of twisted world do we live in where one of the most depressing and soulless places in the UK also has its most healthily long-lived population? Living in Didcot’s kind of like being in a stable coma on life support – do yourself a favour and pull the fucking plug already.

Update! Here’s a video clip of that Mock the Week referencing Didcot (and legs on pies…)