Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Legal Threats make Bad Samaritans

When I took driving lessons I received the advice that if I were ever in an accident I should never say sorry as this implied guilt and would count against me. It would not matter if I were guilty or innocent, nor would it matter if I were only sorry for the hardship that this accident would cause to anyone involved in that accident.

I have also heard stories about care professionals walking past situations in which their caring skills may have been useful. Their fear is that if anything went wrong then they could be sued because of the skills which they possess. I could give further scenarios in which legal implications have stifled care which has led to a sort of Good Samaritan in reverse.

You may have guessed that I am leading up to the Rennard story which I wrote about at Nobody's Perfect. Since then Lord Rennard's membership has been suspended and he is threatening legal action. One of his accusers and maybe more, are threatening legal action if things don't go their way but this would "depend on the circumstances".

Essentially this problem has arisen because there is some legal advice that is telling Chris Rennard that he should apologise, and there is other legal advice saying that he shouldn't. The answer is really quite clear. There should be an apology because perceived sexual harassment deserves an apology, but of course this apology should not be offered if it were to trigger new investigations and cause further sanctions.

I can't help feeling that this whole situation could be resolved if the lawyers were not involved.  These developments are not just unfortunate for the Liberal Democrats, they are also unfortunate for society in general. Good work is stifled by a legal system that tells us to be a bad Samaritan. It seems that we should not put ourselves at risk because there will be lawyers who will find fault with what we have done. 

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Monday, 20 January 2014

Labour's Plan - Strip Benefits From Unemployed

What is the purpose of jobseeker's allowance? There is a clue in the title as it is for people who are looking for work and there are two types of JSA. One type is based on the contributions made in the previous two years which, unsurprisingly, is called contributions-based JSA and there is also an income-based JSA. If you are over 25 the benefit comes to £71.70 and is less for those under 25. It isn't guaranteed that you will receive this money as there are criteria to fulfil, but this benefit isn't the safety net that gives you the money for the basic things in life, it is simply a benefit to tide you over until the next job. So if a job came up paying the minimum wage of £6.31 (for those over 21) then there would have to be a contract for over 11.37 hours to make it worth while.

Now put yourself in that individual's shoes. If you get a contract for 20 hours on the minimum wage  then you are getting £126.20 but you are losing your £71.70. Effectively you are working for £54.50. On purely financial terms it is difficult to see why you should get out of bed. It looks like any debt that you have will still be spiraling out of control. It doesn't need a genius to see why many young people 'feel they have nothing to live for'. The Government's answer is to provide jobs and apprenticeships.

The Labour Party has come up with its own plan - 'to strip benefits from unemployed people who lack basic English, maths and computing skills. These people have been failed by the education system. They are unemployed. They are most likely to be in a cycle of debt. And today the Labour Party's response is to rob them of their remaining dignity. Sorry, I mean the Labour Party are doing this with the intention of upgrading the skills of those who are unemployed in order to make them more employable. However there is a big problem with this. If there aren't enough jobs then it doesn't matter how many qualifications they have. Why do I think this looks like kicking people when they are down?

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Sunday, 19 January 2014

Nobody’s perfect.

Nobody’s perfect. Think of something that you have done wrong which may not be worthy of a visit from the police but it has done some harm. Maybe it’s dropping litter or pushed into a queue. Now think about how that action could be interpreted by others. Could it be that the litter you have dropped is seen as victimisation because your neighbour feels everyone drops litter in their garden? Could it be that one push into a queue deserves another and it is easy to see how this could escalate.

Now think about possible ‘banter’ which could be interpreted as ‘sexual harassment’.  It is easy to see how the wrongdoer could feel that they are innocent and it is easy to see how the ‘victim’ could hold the opposite opinion. What is also easy to see is that an apology could be given for any perceived offence without any acknowledgement of guilt. The trouble is that some lawyers don’t see that and an apology may imply guilt and used in evidence.

A presumption of innocence in law does not imply innocence, after all, nobody is perfect. What it does mean is that the onus is on the prosecution to find us guilty. In some courts proof is needed beyond reasonable doubt and in others proof depends on the balance of probabilities. This simply means that there has to be more than a fifty percent chance that something is true for the standard of proof to be met.

Lord Rennard is looking to get back the Liberal Democrat whip. Is he an innocent man and it would be wrong if he is not allowed to do his job? Is he a guilty man who shouldn’t be allowed back? Well it depends on how you view his actions. The police decided to drop the case against him. It doesn’t make him innocent but it doesn’t make him guilty. The internal inquiry by the Liberal Democrats found that he is guilty if the burden of proof relates to “broadly credible evidence”. However evidence is only evidence. It isn’t a conviction beyond reasonable doubt, and neither is it a conviction on the balance of probabilities.

Those who say he is guilty have missed out the conviction bit. Those who say he is innocent have missed the possibility that even his best scenario is one in which sexual harassment was perceived. Many will see the Liberal Democrat response as an unacceptable compromise but life is complicated. It would be helpful if we could tell lawyers that apologies may be made without implication of guilt. Why do I feel that the actual answer isn’t that simple?

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Friday, 17 January 2014

It's not grim oop north

Last night's Question Time had a question about Benefits Street, the subject of my last blog. The person who asked the question, Matthew, was criticised by another member of the audience. This person who had been made redundant and had been unemployed thought that he had been labelled a scrounger by Matthew when David Dimbleby invited him to give his impression of the Channel 4 programme. That's the problem with the programme. I believe that Benefits Street has set out to get more viewers by telling us sensational stories. Then the viewers start to think that this anecdotal evidence reflects badly on anyone who happens to be unemployed. More importantly, those who are unemployed believe that they have been demonised.

One member of the audience told us that "the vast majority of people that are unemployed do want to get work but there is a minority that are working the system. They are generating employment issues especially up north and why can't we talk about that. Why is a programme that highlights that being accused of demonising them? Is that something we can talk about?" We can talk but it should be a balanced discussion. It has to be based on a situation in which it is not easy to live on benefits. It has to reflect a society that does not make things easy and in which many will demonise the unemployed because of anecdotal evidence. It shouldn't be based on people thinking there is a boundary between north and south as that boundary will vary significantly depending on where you live. I would count myself as a northerner and I am not sure what this member of the audience means by saying that some of us are generating employment issues. Does it mean that northerners cheat the system? How does she know anyway?

As Tim Farron said, benefits street should be balanced with a street in Kensington and Chelsea where there are people on seven-figure salaries. Some of them are absolute scroungers as they will not be paying any tax. It is wrong to generalise about the unemployed especially when the general view is wrong.

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Thursday, 16 January 2014

Benefits Street: Benefit of the Doubt?

There is a reality TV series on Channel 4 called Benefits Street which purports to reveal 'the reality of life on benefits'. I have now watched two episodes - with horror. The word benefit could relate to pensions or child benefit or numerous benefits other than unemployment, but this series targets those who aren't working. There is nothing wrong with that and I am sure that this documentary is factual in its way, but when I receive facts I would like to think that I could come to a balanced conclusion.

Channel 4 have picked on individuals who have no intention of seeking work, some are rogues and one has been in and out of prison (if not more). Anyone who is prejudiced against the unemployed will have those prejudices reinforced. It would appear that a banning order from the centre of Birmingham is ineffectual. The resident who breaks his banning order is arrested,  but whether the police caught up with his shoplifting is another matter.

In episode two I think we are supposed to feel sorry for a large group of Romanians who live in one house. Their gangmaster is treating them like slaves and half leave for London with no money while the other half live in fear of their boss returning. I think we are supposed to feel a warm glow when a neighbour gives them food. I am not sure what we are supposed to feel when a policeman tells them there is nothing he can do as there is no hard evidence against the gangmaster.

Channel 4's episode guide tells us 'this observational documentary series reveals the reality of life on benefits'. Well that 'reality' does not mention anyone who is working hard to get a job. There is no mention of anyone who is working and receiving benefits. In fact anyone who has preconceived ideas that all those who are unemployed are lazy thieves who have no sense of morality then this is the show for them.

This documentary would not be a problem if they didn't set out to document sensational stories and depict them as the norm. Problems arise because extreme behaviour looks like the norm. If you are unemployed then you have no intention of finding work. You are happy to live off benefits with the bonus of some work on the side (not a word to the tax man) or do a bit of shoplifting. At best you are happy to pass the time of day doing nothing that is constructive.

Channel 4 try to assuage fears of demonising the unemployed by making claims like 'this is a place where people look out for each other and where small acts of kindness can go a long way'. On the contrary, Channel 4 have provided viewers with a stick to beat these lazy people. It is annoying because I believe that people are good until proven otherwise. They want to work for a living and if a system is in place in which you are financially better off on benefits than you are working then the system should be changed. If all immigrants come here via a gangmaster then there should be provision to do something about it and I am sure that there is. Unfortunately Channel 4 in their 'documentary' haven't told us.

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Sunday, 12 January 2014

No Need To Attack The Teaching Profession

It was only three weeks ago when I wrote about the continuous changes in our education system (How To Turn People Off Politics) and how those changes meet with political praise or objection depending on the party that is supporting change. I mentioned grade inflation but said that it applies to any form of change. Well two days ago the Labour Party proposed that teachers should be licensed. Why would Labour do this when they had thirteen years in government in which to implement such a change? Well they did try in 2009 when Ed Balls wanted "classroom MOTs". It was dropped partly because it was "pointless". The NUT called it "another unnecessary hurdle". However other teaching unions supported the move.

If a management directive supports and enhances the teaching profession then changes should be made. One teacher writes on the BBC website "I've worked with teachers delivering sub-standard lessons". If change is needed then this presupposes that the mechanism for reducing the amount of sub-standard teaching is not good enough but I have heard no mention of this mechanism. I have heard of teachers who are under pressure, and there are already mechanisms in place which check standards but cause a significant rise in that pressure. I don't hear teachers saying "isn't it good that we are being inspected as we will all be inspired to improve our level of teaching". I do see teachers who feel stress in such situations.

There will be teachers who do not teach to the required standard. There will be other teachers who may be good and complain about these teachers to the BBC. It would be interesting to know if these good teachers have gone through the appropriate channels and what happened as a result. These channels should not be seen as a threat but as a support but Labour's proposals just look like a threat. Labour is saying that there are unnamed bad teachers (could be anyone on an off day) and Labour wants to sack them because they can't be sacked now.

Licensing teachers may be a good thing but not if the teachers feel the same way about it as they do about inspections. As with most political discussions, there is no clear right and wrong, the split in the teaching unions clearly shows this, but we don't need any attacks on the teaching profession by the Labour Party.

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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Immigration is Good

Today I watched a recording of last night's BBC programme called 'The Truth About Immigration' so whatever the BBC said must be true. In case you didn't watch it I'll give you a brief summary. Almost half of us think that immigration is bad for our economy. It isn't. 31% think that immigration is good for the economy but even half of them want to see immigration cut.

Nigel Farage reckons that Enoch Powell was "wrong in the sense that he felt that black and white would find it difficult to mix, but unfortunately he's been proved to be right because the sheer numbers that have come into Britain have led to segregation and led to ghettoisation and we now see significant parts of our big cities where people don't even speak English". So Nigel could easily miss out the Enoch was wrong bit and justify Enoch's opinions about the colour of skin being the cause for people not mixing. Of course life is not this simple. Colour of skin doesn't mean that a language cannot be spoken. Colour of skin does not mean that integration is not possible.

If we accept a relationship between ability to speak a language and the colour of skin then what is Nigel's unstated threshold? For some people this could be two. Nigel is wrong to make this a language and a race issue and panders to xenophobia. I wonder how Nigel deals with people speaking Welsh in Wales.

Immigrants don't come to the UK in order to take up benefits. They come here to work and they do jobs that we can't or won't do. Those who criticise the amount of immigration to this country have to accept that they are supporting a move that will hit us all in our pockets. This means that Labour and Tory politicians don't say that immigration is good because this would lose them votes. Yvette Cooper for Labour reckons that the impact that immigration has had on different parts of the population has not been fair (that's bad). There will be anecdotal evidence for this but I can't help thinking that immigration has been more than fair. It has strengthened our economy and kept our NHS going along with countless other organisations. Immigration is good for most of us.

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Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Where are the explosions?

Today I received a comment on last week's blog, Tory Lies or Labour Cluelessness and I have published this comment. Unfortunately the person who wrote it has missed the point. The list that he published on his Facebook page was called "ten Tory lies". All the points in his comment could be true, and it wouldn't show that the Tories had lied. For that you'd need to reference an actual statement by a Tory which contradicts one of those truths.

To take number one of the 'lies', if David Cameron had said "Royal Mail was making a loss when privatised" then he would have been contradicting his own government's Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and as the person who made the comment pointed out himself, David would have been contradicting presumably carefully audited figures from itself and from other sources. Furthermore David would have been massively undermining his own government's privatisation plans, the success of which was vital to his own political future.
The political explosions from these Tory 'lies' would have been considerable. So where are those explosions? It is difficult to come to any conclusion other than that some Labour Party supporters who produce infographics don't know how to string an argument together. It is also sad to see the language used by Labour supporters when they pat each other on the back for supporting these 'lies'

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Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New Year's Resolution: Improve Political Debate

Wouldn't it be nice if all politicians made a new year's resolution to improve the standard of political debate. To paraphrase a Monty Python sketch, I believe that the vast majority of right-thinking people are sick and tired of being sick and tired with the level of political debate. I certainly am, and I'm sick and tired of being told that I'm not.

Political speeches are ripe for parody as there is so much that is said which is, at best, meaningless. More often it is simple insult which commonly results in a round of applause. Even the people who purport to be interested in politics will descend into insult. In Facebook terms this results in clicks on 'like', and this makes me concerned for the future of our democracy. The public are turned away from politics for many reasons but this includes politicians insulting each other and each of them giving their own 'facts'. More importantly, insults become a regular occurrence and debate is often meaningless.

When politicians talk about lines that must never be crossed then they are cheered. In practice lines are notoriously difficult to find in politics. When figures are discussed like unemployment or debt  then these figures are never perfect. There has to be a degree of error with figures even if it is just rounding them up or down. They will change on a daily basis and if anyone wishes to quote figures there has to be a reference point. This would be my main concern with the recent posting on my Facebook timeline which I wrote about on  Tory Lies or Labour Cluelessness except that a greater concern for me is the vitriol that results from misinformation.

Marge Simpson stood for public office and soon discovered that voters want to hear meaningless slogans. Those who use them will defend their honour with vigour. There is nothing wrong with supporting families, the nation, patriotism etc and anyone who doesn't agree deserves derision. A friend put it succinctly. "It's terrorism ... think of the children ... it's climate change ... asylum seekers ... British tradition ... the previous Government ... the economy ... etc etc etc."

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