Tuesday 27 February 2018

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to an old dancing Philosopher called Roger Scruton

Roger, who teaches aesthetics to graduate students at Oxford and has written more than 40 books, is 74 years old today. He  still likes to dance, however, in his collection of essays entitled 'Confessions of a Heretic,' he took issue with the dancing witnessed in the nation’s clubs and pubs, in which participants “jerk on to the floor in obedience to the puppet master at the desk.”

In his essay, 'Dancing Properly', he commented that dancers today 'are dancing at each other. The difference between ‘at’ and ‘with’ is one of the deepest psychological differences we know. It is exemplified in all our encounters with other people – notably in conversation and in sexual gambits … The decay of manners that we have seen in recent times is to a large extent a result of the loss of withness and the rise of atness in its stead. Rudeness, obscenity, the ‘in your face’ manners of the new TV presenter – all these are ways of being ‘at’ other people. Courtesy, manners, negotiation and deference are, by contrast, ways of being with.'

It is hard to fault this analysis and those old Brits born before, or just after, the middle of the last century, would recognise the 'withness' society into which they were born has diminished over the years, to the extent they find themselves at odds with young people across the whole spectrum of social interchange in 'atness' Britain.

Although he confessed that he was “no good at it,” Roger still loves dancing and he looks back nostalgically to the tactile dances of his youth in the early 1960s where "physical contact was permitted in a way that it wasn’t in everyday life. The electricity of physical contact has gone therefore from young people’s lives. For us ageds, I can remember the tingle in your fingertips when you touched a girl’s body anywhere. That’s part of it, but also that touching as a courtesy has gone." It has been replaced by the solitary nature of much modern dancing.

A little conservative in his dancing tastes : "I love Viennese waltzes and polkas, and especially cèilidhs and old-fashioned formation dancing,” Roger also admitted that : “I like rock’n’roll too." In the early days of rock, he claims, dance steps required a partner and this allowed couples to “touch, swing around each other, move together in an attempt to recapture withness.” 
All this was confirmed by British Pathé in 1961.

Roger believes a good example of music to dance “properly” to, would be Elvis Presley's 'Heartbreak Hotel', in which the rhythm is generated by the melodic line and the voice: “There is no violent drumming, no amplified bass, none of the devices which – I am tempted to say – substitute for rhythm in so much contemporary pop. This withness is felt by the listener as an urge to dance, an urge to look around for the person whose hand could be taken and who could be led on to the floor.”

Roger also believes that this was so 'with the pop music in the days immediately following rock ’n’ roll – music like that of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and a hundred others, which is now widely listened to, but rarely danced to, precisely because it contains a memory of real dancing. Its very melodiousness ensures that it will be banished from the disk jockey’s computer table, and replaced by a grotesque caricature of music in which rhythm is replaced by beat and melody by senseless repetition.'

Roger has kindly given us the philosophical arguments underpinning his thesis about dancing in his essay, 'The Lost Love of Dancing.'

Monday 26 February 2018

Britain is no country for the poor boys today who will become the shorter-lived old men of tomorrow

Britain in 1901
In the sunset of the Victorian period, there was a big disparity between the life expectancy of old men living in the wealthiest neighbourhoods as opposed to the poorest.

Britain in 2001
New research from the Longevity Science Panel has shown, once again, life expectancy diverging between England’s wealthiest and poorest neighbourhoods and this widening gap applies to boys born today and men already in older age. In 2001 a boy born in one of the most advantaged 20% of neighbourhoods could expect to outlive his counterpart in the least advantaged 20% by 7.2 years. By 2015 the gap had widened to 8.4 years.

Commenting on the research, LSP’s Dame Karen Dunnell said : “Dying earlier if you are poor is the most unfair outcome of all. So we should all be concerned about the growing divergence in rich-poor life expectancy. To reduce the risk of further widening, we need better understanding of the precise causes, followed by co-ordinated policy initiatives across health, work, welfare, pension and housing to improve outcomes for all.”

Co-author, Professor Steve Haberman, Professor of Actuarial Sciences, Cass Business School said :
“Our main finding is that the socioeconomic gap in life expectancy in England has widened over the last 15 years. This has happened despite life expectancy increasing across all sections of the population - it is clear that some groups are being left behind. As the population ages, these inequalities are likely to increase further. To solve this problem, we will need better coordinated policies involving central and local government, civil society and the private sector”.

Britain in 2018
A country where social progress has gone into reverse and widening disparities in wealth today will be reflected in widening lengths of longevity tomorrow. 

Thursday 22 February 2018

Britain, after all these years, still no country for old men who came as boys from the Commonwealth

Page views : 2473

Renford McIntyre
is 64 years old and came to Britain from Jamaica fifty years ago, when he was 14 years old to join his mother, who had come over to become a nurse and his father, who was working as a crane driver. During that fifty years he didn't apply for British citizenship and has now been told, under the new draconian rules being applied to immigrants by the Home Office, that he isn't permitted to either work or is eligible for any government support. In fact, he is one of a growing band of largely invisible old men and women being told they are here illegally, who arrived in Britain as children from Commonwealth countries more than half a century ago and grew up here believing themselves to be British, only to discover recently, in a newly hardened immigration climate, that they are without the necessary papers and unable to prove their right to be here.

Renford said : "I’ve worked night and day, I’ve paid into the kitty – now no one wants to help me" he is referring to the fact that he has spent 35 years working and paying taxes as a tool setter, a delivery man in the meat industry and a National Health Service  driver." For the past year, he has been homeless, mostly sleeping on a sofa in an unheated industrial unit in Dudle. With no shower and nowhere to cook, he has to visit friends if he wants to eat hot food or wash. “It’s an appalling place to live. I’m a proud man; I’m embarrassed at my age to be living like this.” 

Back in 2014, a routine request from his last employers to update paperwork revealed that he didn’t have a passport and had never naturalised in Britain and as a consequence he was given the sack. Unable to find new work without papers, he became depressed and then homeless. Dudley council said he was not eligible for emergency housing because he had no right to be in the country and for the same reason he has been told he cannot sign on for state benefits.

With the support of the 'Refugee and Migrant Centre' in Wolverhampton, Renford gathered together paperwork showing 35 years of National Insurance contributions, but the Home Office has returned his application, requesting further evidence. “It makes me so angry. I’ve always worked. I’m a grafter. I can’t explain how bad it makes me feel.” 

Hubert Howard is 61 and travelled to Britain from Jamaica with his mother fifty-eight years ago, when he was three and has never lived anywhere else. His troubles began in 2005. His mother returned to Jamaica when she retired and Howard’s problems emerged when he wanted to visit her urgently when she became ill in that year. He applied for a passport, but his application was rejected because he had never naturalised. He hadn’t known that this was necessary and as a consequence his mother died without him seeing her in 2006.

His problems multiplied when Theresa May, as Home Secretary, announced the introduction of a “really hostile environment” for illegal immigrants in 2012. His employers at the time were the Peabody Trust and he recalled : “Peabody wanted to see the passport that I came in with, but my mum had taken it. Immigration was swooping all over the workplace. My employers were told by the Home Office that they had to get rid of me, otherwise they would get fined. All I needed was for the Home Office to say I was legal, but they said I was an overstayer and I didn’t have status. I tried to argue they were wrong. I left my job in 2012.”

Before he was fired Hubert had been a trusted and highly regarded employee who had been with them for a decade. He found that the years he spent working as a maintenance worker for British Rail, a plumber and later as a senior caretaker for the housing association, and, like Renford,  the tax he had paid over 35 years of working life, counted for nothing.

Older men and women like Renford and Hubert both have a legal right to stay in Britain because the 1971 Immigration Act gave people who had already settled in Britain indefinite leave to remain, but they have struggled to gather enough documents to convince the Home Office that they arrived before the cut-off point.

As Hubert said : “They basically messed up my life. I had a steady job. They took my job away, stating quite clearly I had no status in this country. It broke my heart losing my job with Peabody. It was the best job I was ever in. When my mum passed away, I wasn’t there, and I still have not been at her graveside."

The Jamaican High Commissioner, Seth George Ramocan, said about others grappling with similar difficulties : “We don’t know how many there are, primarily because they are unaware of their status, or lack of it. Most believe that they are OK, that they are British. People are thrown into crisis when they find out. When you are in this situation you cannot get a job, health care, a place to live. It locks you out of the system.” 

Guy Hewitt, the Barbados High Commissioner in London said : “This is affecting people who came and gave a lifetime of service at a time when the UK was calling for workers and migrants, they came because they were encouraged to come here to help build post-World War II Britain and build it into the multicultural place that it is now. These are not people who tried to take advantage of the system. We need to find a compassionate mechanism for resolving this." 

He said it was difficult for vulnerable, elderly residents to bring together the required evidence : “It is really for many a very traumatic process. Often, the family and friends who could vouch for them are dead. It is a tragic situation because technically the Home Office has the right to deport anyone they have reason to believe has not been granted the right to reside here. Missions from the regions are working with the Home Office to avoid people being forcibly removed back to islands they don’t recognise.”

High Commissioners of Commonwealth countries are clearly concerned about the number of elderly former Commonwealth citizens, who have been here since childhood, facing similar problems and have called on the British Government to show "more compassion."

New evidence of harsh treatment by the Home Office emerged this week when officials said they “now accepted” that Anthony Bryan, 60, who has spent five weeks in immigration detention centres, was in fact “lawfully present in the UK”. Anthony, a grandfather who has lived in Britain for 52 years, has had two spells in detention and was booked last November on a flight to Jamaica, a country he left in 1965, when he was 8 years old and has not visited since. A decorator, he lost his job in 2015 because, like Hubert, he was unable to prove he was not an 'illegal worker', and struggled to convince the Home Office of his right to be Britain until the Guardian highlighted his case last year.

Anthony interviewed on Channel 4 News : https://www.channel4.com/news/grandfather-of-seven-fears-deportation-after-decades-in-the-uk

Anthony said he was relieved but angry at his treatment, which has left him heavily in debt because he was prevented from working for almost three years :

“I told them I was eight years old when I arrived here, but nobody believed; they told me I was an illegal immigrant and a criminal. They locked me up unlawfully. It was very stressful. It has been a nightmare.” 

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Britain is less and less a country for more and more old women as opposed to old men

Traditionally, British women live longer than men. However, a combination of more women taking on the stress of full-time work, often at the same time as looking after children or parents, as well as adopting more unhealthy lifestyles has seen the gap close.  A new statistical analysis of life expectancy in England and Wales since 1950 suggests that, by the year 2032, men can expect to live as long as women, with both sexes sharing an average life expectancy of 87.5 years.

Women are also being diagnosed with traditional 'male' diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure and adopting unhealthy habits, such as binge drinking, that were once the preserve of men may also be taking its toll. For men, on the other hand, quitting smoking and taking more care of their health in middle age is believed to have boosted their life expectancy.

At the moment the average life expectancy in England is 82.9 for women and 78.9 for men but Public Health England figures suggest that men can now expect to outlive women in 110 districts. In general, lifespans of men and women are closer than at any time since the early 1950s – a time when women lived on average until 70 and men into their late 60s.

Les Mayhew, an Adviser to the Office for National Statistics, said : “There is a long-running trend since the 1970s for male life expectancy to catch up with female, and in some areas they have now caught or surpassed it. The figures show which areas are in the lead for this phenomenon, but the gain for male life expectancy is to do with the lifestyle of the men living there rather than something unusual about the geographical location.” He suggested that men in such areas tend to be better educated and have the best work prospects.

Danny Dorling, Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford said : “The difference between the genders also narrows because of the introduction of contraception and female entry into the labour market. But the really interesting thing is it’s actually a kind of reverse inequality: women have lived longer than men who are paid more throughout their lives and are structurally advantaged in any number of ways. We haven’t entirely worked out why that might be.”

Majid Ezzati, Professor of Global Environmental Health at Imperial College, said the gap can be attributed largely to social rather than biological factors : “It’s actually the existence of the gap that is unusual, rather than the narrowing. It’s a recent phenomenon which began in the 20th century.”

In addition to the heavy male death tolls caused by two world wars, men started to smoke in large numbers before women did and women’s consumption never outpaced men’s. Male cigarette consumption peaked in the 1940s when tobacco industry figures revealed that more than two-thirds of men smoked whereas female consumption peaked later, in the 1960s. As well as changing attitudes to cigarettes and alcohol, the loss of heavy industry jobs, which were statistically more dangerous in both the short- and long-term, also disproportionately affected men

At present, the biggest gap in lifespan between the sexes is in Crawley, West Sussex, where men are outliving women by 13 years. In the borough’s middle-class neighbourhood of Bewbush and Broadfield men can expect to live to 96, while women reach only 83 on average.

The latest findings, from Public Health England for 2006 to 2010, show that the second biggest gap in longevity between men and women, after Crawley, is in the wealthy area of Ladbroke Grove East in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London. Here, men tend to live to 93 and women only to eighty-seven and a half – a difference of five and a half years. A second area in the posh borough, Sloane Street, comes in at number three for men living longer than women. There, men can live to 93.5, 4.9 years longer than the women at 88.6 years.

“As the life expectancy gap narrows, our understanding of what it means to be a man and a woman changes.” 
Danny Dorling

Sunday 18 February 2018

Brexit Britain is not a country which would have welcomed an old émigré called Walter Holland, its erstwhile and now forgotten 'Giant of Epidemiology'

In 2016, Lord Dubs, who came to Britain as a Jewish refugee on a Kindertransport from Czechoslovakia when he was seven in 1939, sponsored an amendment to the Immigration Act 2016 to offer unaccompanied refugee children safe passage to Britain amidst the European migrant crisis. Originally rejected by the House of Commons, the amendment was accepted by the Government following a second vote in favour by the Lords. In February 2017, the Home Office abandoned the scheme after accepting 350 out of the planned 3,000 child refugees.

 * * * * * * 
Walter Holland, who has died at the age of 88, whose passing has been scarce noticed with a brief tribute from King's College and the LSE and a handful of tweets, came to Britain as a refugee from Czechoslovakia in the same year as Lord Dubs, but at the age of 10, in 1939. In his adulthood he played a big part in the branch of medicine known as 'epidemiology' and has been instrumental in improving thousands of lives of British people.

Walter was born in 1929 in Teplice in the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia, the son Hertha and Henry, who, with his own father, was a successful Jewish businessmen who owned a very large wholesale business that sold cotton and woollen goods which was the largest wholesaler in the country. He recalled, as a boy, the violence and unrest fomented by Hitler and the Nazi Party based on his ever shriller demands that the Sudetenland should be returned to Germany : "Almost every weekend we would leave because of the riots that used to take place and go to the mountains, or somewhere like that, which was not very pleasant really."

When, in September 1938, Britain and France gave Hitler what he wanted at Munich and he annexed the Sudetenland, the family moved to Prague and then with the German occupation of the city the following year his father moved fast : "My father was Jewish and he had helped a large number of Germans in their escape from Germany before 1938. When Prague was taken over he left almost immediately, within 24 hours and within 6–12 hours of his departure the Gestapo came for him." 

His father had made his way to Britain and a few weeks later Walter and his mother followed, leaving behind his Grandfather who died from a heart attack in 1940 and Grandmother who died in the horrors of the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, quite near to Teplice.

His father had managed to transfer funds to Britain before his escape and, when War between Britain and Germany broke out in 1939, was working for the electrical company British Thomson Houston in the Midlands. Walter himself, knowing "only a few words of English," went to a succession of English boarding schools, including Rugby, where he combined an interest in history with the sciences.

He recalled : "I think probably, my parents suggested that I would be more likely to earn a living if I did a scientific subject than a non-scientific subject, but I decided that medicine was of interest to me. I can’t say that it was altruism or my wish to do good. I think my interest was largely because I could see an application for the physics and chemistry, biology and maths that I was learning. Various other books about what doctors could do and did also fascinate me and that’s what really I wanted to do. And I was always brought up with the feeling that I also had a duty to repay society for what it had done to help me. And I think that also there was always a feeling of gratitude about how we had been received by this country so I felt I had some debt to repay."

Having successfully sat the Higher School Certificate, Walter was still too young to start his training as a doctor at St Thomas’ Hospital in London and so started working as a Research Assistant to Dr Tom Day, Reader in Pathology for a pound a week. From Day he learned about "the need for exactitude and for being careful and so on, so that I could understand what research was about."  He also developed his taste for : "the excitement of research. If you set up a particular experiment and it works and you see the things that you hoped that you would and you discover new structures. It was really the excitement of it and the need for patience, but at the end it paid off."

He later speculated : "I think that the question of hypothesis driven science was not common in the late 1940s. It was, ‘Let’s find out how something works.’ Not, ‘I think, that this is what is going to happen, let’s see if that’s right or wrong."

Having started his formal BSc studies and in recognition of his early promise, he was one of three students, of the sixty in his year, offered the opportunity to study for an 'intercalcate degree' and chose to insert 'physiology' into his studies. He later commented : "It was extremely instructive because it was just at the time that they were beginning to do open heart operations and we were the individuals who were asked by the cardiologists to do various estimations of blood gases because we’d used a Van Slyke machine. It was a very interesting 18 months."

Having graduated in 1954, Walter was required to serve his two years National Service in the RAF from 1954-56 and it was as an RAF doctor that he discovered the particular area of research to which he would devote a substantial portion of his professional life : respiratory disease. It was his first foree into epidemiology, the branch of medicine dealing with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health.

His term of duty wasn't over when, in 1956,  he joined the Central Public Health Laboratory in Colindale in North London to work on testing a new vaccine developed by Glaxo for use against the respiratory illness, adenovirus. It proved to be fortuitous that the vaccine failed its safety tests because Glaxo forgot to switch the incubator off over Christmas and so the specimens were “fried” and the company offered him the opportunity to study Asian Flu, affecting S.E.Asia and expected to reach Britain in the winter of 1957. So he put aside the opportunity to work in the Institute of Aviation Medicine : "I decided that flu was a once in a lifetime opportunity whereas the physiology I could do anytime and so I stayed at Colindale."

With his non-hypothesis based approach he said : "The question posed for me was why did flu only appear when the weather got cold, in the winter months?  So we set up a system of surveillance to identify when the first cases of influenza reached this country." His boss at Colindale was Professor Corbett McDonald who was to carve a career as an occupational epidemiologist, whose work led to the universal recognition of the toxicity of asbestos.

As a result he visited : "all the RAF recruit training stations every 2 weeks and examined and took blood specimens from every recruit who was ill at the time. I hadn’t got the faintest idea of what epidemiology was, that was really where I learnt what it was about. I found it fascinating and very interesting."

He followed this up with an investigation of two outbreaks of Q Fever, one in the Isle of Man in Jurby in the Officers’ Training Camp where he "was able with reasonable certainty to show that it came from the officers having a smoke in a shepherds hut where the lambs had had their young." The other was at St Mawgan in Cornwall where he "was able with reasonable certainty to show that the infection can be spread from man to man, which had not been described before."

In 1957, at the age of 28, with his National Service over he returned to St Thomas' Hospital as a Clinical Lecturer in Medicine and conducted an epidemiological study of respiratory infections of patients in hospital. Two years later he moved to the London School of Hygiene and it was here that he served his apprenticeship when he worked with (left to right) : Sir Austin Bradford Hill, Richard Doll and Donald Reid, who "had a completely shared ethos on epidemiology and epidemiological research. They were all three very hard nosed, very, very good methodologists."

Walter then left Britain for a year to earn some decent money by filling a substantive post at Johns Hopkins University in the USA where he started a study to look at the effect of air pollution on respiratory disease and devised an investigation which examined post office and telephone van drivers in four different locations in Britain with different levels of air pollution, could be used in the States and whether it could demonstrate that the finding that respiratory disease was commoner in Britain than in the USA was true.

He returned to Britain in 1962 "with the idea of developing epidemiological research at St Thomas" and two years later he was placed in charge of the newly created 'Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Social Medicine' within the Department of Medicine.

He recalled : "On appointment as a Senior Lecturer I was given Honorary Consultant status and I continued to hold a clinic once a week for patients with chronic respiratory disease. That was the research field that I was studying and I felt it was important to maintain my clinical links." He taught his students on his clinical ward rounds, he thought it was crucial to be in touch with patients in order to learn.

At the same time he recruited statisticians and also social scientists from a non-medical backgrounds and developed a close relationship with the London School of Economics and Professor Richard Titmuss but confessed that his main interest remained "hard-nosed epidemiology."

Walter was working at a time when respiratory disease was one of the major causes of death and disability in Britain, problems of air pollution were manifest and he himself recorded that he had lived through the Great Smog in London in 1952 "so I knew what it was about." He was interested in why disease affected some and not others : "Part of my work in the Air Force had suggested to me that factors in early life could be important in making individuals more susceptible to develop chronic disease in later life. Nobody was really doing any work on that so that I thought that that was an interesting area for exploration."

The result was 'The Kent/Harrow Research Project' and working with the Medical Officers of Health in both areas and chose the districts he and his team would investigate by their environmental and social factor affecting populations of children. The Project lasted a total of seven years. In Harrow they started from birth and followed the children to the age of five and in Kent started at age five and went to age 14. He recalled working with his colleague John Colley, later Professor of Epidemiology at Bristol University : "I was then not married and neither was he, and so we each spent one evening a week visiting families in Harrow. That was considered normal. In my day, medical researchers would start at nine o’clock in the morning and usually work till nine, ten in the evening."

He reflected that in 1960s and early 1970s, there was no pressure to provide quick results : "The pressure was to provide results that were valid and good, not quick and dirty. And, in fact, studies that were quick and dirty were looked down upon by my generation, and still are." 

The results were published at the end of the 1970s and were tabulated with the use of early computers and confirmed the :

* influence of air pollution on the development of respiratory symptoms and respiratory function from birth.
* occurrence of illness in the first year of life was important in terms of predetermining the liability for respiratory infections in later life.
* importance of cigarette smoking by parents on respiratory illnesses in 1-year-olds,
* importance of social factors and deprivation on height and weight and on nutrition in school- aged children.
* growth of obesity, particularly in the deprived groups in Kent.

He noted that in the 1960s : " the realisation that health services research was important began to permeate." In 1967–1968 he created a Department of Health-funded unit, which indicated the Government's recognition of the importance of his work, linking public health and clinical medicine. In 1968 he became Britain's first Professor of Social Medicine.

The new unit was born out of the role he and his team played in the rebuilding of  St Thomas’ Hospital when they "were challenged to provide some ideas for doing this and we eventually said we’d do what we knew how to do, namely a population survey in Lambeth, find out what illnesses people had, what services they received and from that try to design the hospital."

The proposal to build a new hospital at Frimley on the basis of more outpatient facilities than in-patient facilities provided Walter with the opportunity to undertake his next research project which produced "unexpected findings."  The first involved the early discharge of patients : "We showed that actually the costs were almost exactly the same if you included the social costs, which everybody always excludes." Another was that : "the major cost of minor operations was not in the hospital but it was the time off work, which was the same whether you were in for 2 days or whether you were in for 7 days." 

He was now approached by the Medical Research Council if he would like to put for a proposal for a major study of ‘Smoking in School children.’ He found the reception of his study frustrating :
"We showed that children began to take up smoking before they went to secondary school, so that if you wanted to have an affect you had to do it in primary school. We suggested various ways for doing this. We were completly blocked by the educational establishment who were uninterested in doing anything among primary school children and who were unwilling to change their curriculum to take into account what we said, which was to teach that children had to take responsibility for their actions rather than how to learn to read and wrote only."

In addition, he came up against : "complete resistance by the local politicians and central politicians as well, to admit that children below the age of 11 could take up smoking! They didn’t want to believe this! This was so foreign to their ideas that they couldn’t understand that, perhaps, between 3 and 7 per cent of children below that age were already smoking when they entered secondary school."

With the advent of screening services in Britain in the 1970s, Walter and his team "were asked to do a large randomised control trial of multi-phasic screening, which was a sort of ‘MOT’ of everybody" and after 8 years had the results of the trial, which showed that essentially there was no improvement : that multi-phasic screening did not improve mortality or morbidity. As a result his findings were then accepted by the Department of Health and multi-phasic screening was not introduced into the NHS. He saw his groundbreaking paper on validation of medical screening procedures, published jointly with fellow epidemiologist Archie Cochrane in 1971, became a classic in the field.

Walter was interviewed about what he called 'the milieu of screening' in the 1960s in 2016 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GbZjF5_fLw

Walter said, with self-effacement : "I think that the things that I have done over the years have been concerned with the health of populations and with the factors that cause disease and improve health. Certainly some of the work, and certainly a greater proportion of the work that I did in my final years was to enable others to do that and provide them with the opportunities to do it rather than doing it myself."

Those 'things that he had done' included the publication of over 315 articles and books, his editorship of the Oxford Textbook of Public Health and the International Journal of Epidemiology from 1971-1977 and Presidency of the International Epidemiological Association from 1987-1990. In addition, he was he was President of the Faculty of Public Health and in 1992  was made a CBE in recognition of his contribution to the field.

* * * *

With grateful acknowledgement to Christopher Cook's 2004 interview with Walter, without which this post could not have been composed..

Thursday 15 February 2018

Britain is no country for old steel workers like Richard Bevan, fleeced of their British Steel pensions by financial vultures

In 1967 Harold Wilson's Labour Government used its power to take the independent steel makers in Britain into public ownership as 'British Steel' and in 1988 Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government sold it off again as the privatised 'British Steel plc', whose workers continued to pay into the British Steel Pension Fund. The company merged with Koninklijke Hoogovens to form the 'Corus Group' in 1999 and in 2007 Corus itself was taken over in 2007 by the Indian steel operator, 'Tata Steel.'

In 2017 Tata announced a restructuring of inherited £14bn British Steel Pension Fund to keep its loss-making operations in Britain afloat.

These are the small number of big movers whose actions have affected thousands of small lives.

* * * * * * * 
Parliament's 'Work and Pensions Select Committee' has now published a Report which deals with  the closure of the British Steel Pension Scheme. Apparently, the average British Steel retirement saving was £400,000, per pensioner, although, in around 20 cases, the transfer value was in excess of £1million. The Committee found that many retirees were 'shamelessly bamboozled' into transferring hundreds of thousands of pounds into risky products and in the process netting so-called advisors' chunky payouts with fees as high as 10% . They were 'exploited for cynical personal gain by dubious financial advisers in tandem with parasitical so-called ‘introducers.’'

The Committee Chairman, veteran MP Frank Field, said : "We're not sure of the full extent, but we've certainly got evidence and presented evidence, in the Report, that there are not just a few occasions where this has occurred and there have been people who probably have been fleeced of the most valuable asset they will ever had, which they would have built up as part of their pension scheme. Some have been entitled to a million pounds drawing down of which the financial vultures have been after and in too many cases, been successful in getting their claws on."

Richard Bevan who has been working in the steel industry for almost 40 years, most recently at Tata's Trostre Plant said he turned to a local company to discuss what to do with his pension savings once it became clear that Tata's British Steel Pension Scheme would close. Apparently, he was advised to leave the scheme even after he had received a communication from the Pension Fund advising him that a revaluation was under way which could mean he had much more in his savings pot than previously thought. He now thinks that he was misled and told BBC Wales he has lost almost £200,000 by transferring out of the Pension Scheme.

The Head of Policy at Hargreaves Lansdown, Tom McPhail said : “It is extraordinary that even after the pension mis-selling scandal of the 1990s, the members of the British Steel scheme could be let down so badly. The scheme trustees and administrators should surely have taken more responsibility for protecting members interests and shielding them from unscrupulous advisers. Contingent charging, where the adviser is actively incentivised to recommend a transfer, creates a glaring misalignment of interest between adviser and their client; it would be remarkable if it didn’t lead to at least some mis-selling.”

One would think that the evidence proving the exploitation of these old pensioners was irrefutable, but :

* despite the fact that the Committee concluded communication to British Steel pensioners over switching their pension pots was 'woefully inadequate', the Trustee of the scheme rejected this  conclusion and said it was 'not supported by the evidence' and 'all members were provided with enough information to make good choices.'

* The Pensions Regulator also rejected some of the Report's conclusions and a spokesperson said it : “helped tackle unscrupulous financial advisers who were exploiting the situation.” “We went to Port Talbot and took part in a discussion forum with scheme members and others. We reviewed communications sent to members and were satisfied they adequately warned of the dangers of transferring out of a defined benefit scheme.”

* ex-Pension Minister, Steve Webb, urged authorities : “not to throw the baby out with the bath water. The obvious lesson is that you clamp down on the crooks and scammers, not that you clamp down on pension freedoms.” 

"The pension's got to last me the rest of my life."
ex steel worker Richard Bevan

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Britain is a country and no country for more and more hungry old men and women

The veteran MP, Frank Field, set up the 'All Party Parliamentary Group on 'Hunger and Food Poverty' with Laura Sandys in 2013, in order to investigate the root causes behind hunger, food poverty and the huge increase in demand for food banks across Britain. The group renamed itself the 'APPG on Hunger' in 2015.

Last month it delivered a Report : 'Hidden hunger and malnutrition in the elderly', which began with :

'Malnutrition arises when a person’s body does not gain the nutrients it needs to function properly. Older people are particularly at risk of becoming malnourished, due to a range of unique medical, physical, and social reasons.'

The Report said that a million old people in Britain are at risk of 'withering away in their own homes' as a result of malnutrition caused by social isolation and cuts to public services. It concluded that isolation, which can be caused by either bereavement, illness, immobility or confinement, perhaps through the loss of a driving licence, are the main causes of a largely 'hidden' problem of elderly hunger in Britain.

It stated that : 'Loneliness accompanied by a bowl of cereal and two sandwiches, every day, every week, should be unacceptable in modern Britain. But within the current legislative framework, it is almost inevitable.'

In answer to the question : Why are so many old men and women in Britain in 2018 undernourished ?

The Report said that there is a heightened risk of malnutrition among old people who do not qualify for formal social care packages or whose help does not include assistance with shopping or cooking hot meals. They are not getting that extra bit of help to make sure they are looking after themselves. Things are made worse by cuts to 'meals on wheels' and bus services and local shop closures. Fewer than half of local authorities now provide 'meals on wheels', down from 66% in 2011 and the Report adds that some councils have replaced them with a link on their website to takeaway food shops.

Frank has said : “Hidden beneath the radar, there are malnourished older people in this country spending two or three months withering away in their own homes, with some entering hospital weighing five and a half stone [35kg] with an infection or following a fall, which keeps them there for several tortuous days, if not weeks. The elimination of malnutrition amongst older people is urgently required for the sake of the NHS, and social care services, but above all for purposes of humaneness.”

Izzi Seccombe, Chair of the Local Government Association’s 'Community Wellbeing Board', said : “Significant funding pressures on councils are already threatening services that elderly people and their friends and families rely on, particularly meals on wheels and luncheon clubs.”

The Government, whose austerity policy is the root cause of malnourished old men and women in Britain, thinks that the answer is to spot them before they become malnourished and a spokesperson said : “Malnutrition is a complex issue and most patients diagnosed in England have other serious health and social problems. We know better diagnosis and detection is key, which is why we continue to train all health staff to spot the early warning signs of malnutrition so effective treatment can be put into place.”

Britain's hungry old men can take heart that their Government is not preventing them to become malnourished, but is training staff to spot them before they fade away.