359 - Levelling - life costs | Scoins.net | DJS

359 - Levelling - life costs

A report I found just this morning talks at some length about the relative life expectations of various bits of Britain when compared with other bits of Britain and with many parts of Europe. Basically it says that if you live in Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield or Glasgow your life prospects are significantly lower and shorter, by 4 to 8 years, or, 5-10%. 

This is, of course, part and parcel of the so called levelling up agenda. I note again (mind decay, as if not having had this thought already) that, having coined the phrase, there is a raft of interests adding their interest to the scales of imbalance. I covered (some of) the gender interests in essay 354. One should look (well actually very many should look, but only a few of us will) at how we might achieve any levelling up and how on earth we might pay for that. The Guardian pointed out in [1] and in an earlier article that there is a parallel from the unification of Germany, where, in order to bring the East towards the West there was a charge on every adult's earnings for decades, which goes small some way to the generation of the 2 trillion euros that Germany estimates was spent. Look up Solidaritätszuchlag.

And there, in the German example, is the size of the problem. We have a legacy problem much as Germany did, and I've seen references to this being 85 years old (why? 85 years ago was 1936) but it is quite probably an issue for historians to point to how very long we have been unequal between north and south, have and have-not. However, the inequality is there and inescapable: that is, we cannot ignore it, not that it is so rooted we cannot fix it, though one suspects that the reason we still have such inequality is that everyone who looks at this decides it is too big. And, of course, if you want to fix it for yourself, simply move south and that will, of course, fix the problem. It might.

The size of the bill in Germany points to a need for a similar size number for Britain. We're smaller in area and population, the difference—East-West versus North-South—is quite similar and so we should expect that the cost of this levelling up will be trillions (and let's say two, £2tn, because we're remarkably bad at estimating future costs) which means that we should expect a charge of the same sort of size as Germany did on everyone one of us, around the size of VAT, possibly 5-10% of taxable income. 

Do think at all that the nation will surrender to such costs? If it is sold as a need for large-scale societal change to meet the several challenges we face, by adding levelling up to climate change (and there's an opportunity for the sort of fudge politicians clearly love to generate), then I say perhaps we would go for that.

The life expectancy figures obviously point to health inequalities across the nation. But that is not a matter of provision, though it might be seen as a demand for more provision in places with greater need, as much as it is an expression of the consequences of disadvantage, the need for the very levelling-up that is being talked about. The assumption is that, if we manage to make the country more equal, the life expectancies will level off. Of course, the assumption throughout is that the new mean will equate, more or less, to the standards perceived as what the 'haves' have. I persist in maintaining that the 'haves' will perceive that any levelling means that they lose. I say that they will indeed lose some of the advantage they have from already living in a rich area with lesser issues than a relatively (very) poor area, but only in the sense that the pool of people available to grab any advantage rises. They still have all the advantages of education and of passing their richesse within the family.

Mind, we could postulate a world in which what is stopped is the ability to pass on that advantage. Imagine we had 100% inheritance tax; that would be a great leveller. Though I'd then expect parents to spend on their progeny in ways that pursue advantage much as they do already but still more directed. Imagine that most independent schooling is stopped (lose its charitable status, for example); the demands upon the state sector to raise its game to match what has been 'closed' would change they ways in which education is delivered, mostly because the customer base is suddenly overwhelmed with those who demand and keep on demanding however their demands are met. This is the face of the Advantaged, much the same as the vote of the Loudest Voice being somehow bigger than the silent, even when a majority.

So we have a huge problem with financing whatever it is that we do about levelling-up. We have a political problem in that those who see that they are disadvantaged obviously want whatever is on offer and that those who have advantage already do not want to lose out, whatever that might mean. Yet at the same time we clearly have a need for wholesale change so as to effect some balance with regard to climate change, which I see as not only similarly hugely expensive but requiring a similarly large-scale change of the ways in which we run our society. Those changes include changing our expectations, say of the ability to travel.


Let's look at travel for a moment, though this might subsequently turn into another page. In order to effect a serious change in carbon (dioxide) output and creation we are faced with the possibilities of being persuaded to do a lot less travel. We have, I suggest, four sorts of travel; leisure, business (which I think of as sales), commuting and delivery.  We have a general assumption, I think, that we will steadily move to EVs for transport, though we need more infrastructure to meet the demand for power supply in appropriate sites. I see the principle of freedom of movement as one which we cannot easily curtail. BUT it is possible that, while many meetings could move to Zoom and its equivalents, so too we might see leisure travel move to something within the home as, perhaps a 3-D experience.

We have a need to inspect what it is we think we 'need' from vacation and leisure and, having clearly established what those are, could and should address those needs so that the demand for travel is reduced; significantly reduced. Personally, I want to continue to be able to go outside for exercise – long walks in the countryside, preferably including long sight lines (such as a view from a hilltop) and doubling as healthy exercise in changed air. I accept that for many others, a change of scene amounts what I'd call 'shopping', wandering around in random ways within a cityscape – which makes my quite different idea of a day out look thoroughly planned.

I don't see delivery changing much; the perception could easily be that this sector expands quite dramatically as delivery displaces the go-fetch sort of shopping. 

I would argue that the business visit needs to change and could / should largely disappear thanks to the online meeting; I would agree this could improve over where it is already at and that the face-to-face meeting still has advantages for now, but I can see advantages to us all if we could remove a lot of the need to the business visit. What would remain is the sort of visit where an expert is required to 'fix' some physical problem, from the plumber to the server specialist. 

The commuting —travel to and from work—could reduce if we grasp the opportunities for home working (WfH) that the covid pandemic has taught us about, but there are issues as to how that is managed that need to be clarified (when is one 'on' and 'off', how one is 'available' or not, issues of overtime, whether WfH constitutes a taxable 'office', and so on). However there is a lot of commuting that cannot be lost, such as that of care workers (health in all its respects and I'll include education here), all of site construction and maintenance – and include equipment so as to embrace both the plumber and the hardware specialist. Maintenance includes cleaning, here. Yet we could change the face of education by deciding that the online course and lesson has a place and value. We do not need to replace all teaching with online work but we could move a significant chunk of delivery and exercise to an online position. That requires everyone to have access and equipment, which we do not achieve as yet; it requires every child to have somewhere it can go and be safe and do its schooling; currently that is its local school, with rather more travel for secondary and a lot more for tertiary. So while we can have, as we saw during the pandemic, some families that coped really well with the kids being at home and parents working too, such a situation does not apply to all and it is the gap between some and all that has to be addressed completely. Otherwise we perpetuate the whole business of advantage. Bring on the universal basic income, say I.

Personally, the idea of an overseas holiday disappeared with the 2016 referendum vote and has been only underlined by Brexit. Coupled with the recognition of climate change, I don't see myself doing any air travel. I wonder whether the spouse will see her folks again or even whether a return to China means she is not returning. I see this as not yet priced in ways that reflect the larger cost, but I also wonder whether, if travel were priced to include climate change damage, one would abandon having a personal vehicle altogether. I don't want to do that, but part of that reluctance is the continuing perception that the alternatives are so very poor; cycling is deemed by me to be still unsafe and remarkably uncomfortable, while public transport is desperately cramped (not crowded as much as not comfortable, too much anticipated density, too noisy – and I really don't like people much).


Another recognised inequality lies in education, that there are clear correlations between geography and educational success, between the perceptions of disadvantage and those of learning. A part of this is endemic, that the lost third (those that were deemed to be failures by our flawed system) do not, I suspect, engage with state education – in the sense that they don't encourage any forms of learning for themselves or their children. My own viewpoint is that these people are left in positions which encourage them to have children when they'd be better off with fewer (both the adults and the children would be better off). We have a general failure of our education system to produce the advancement it is expected to produce, where by advancement I mean opportunity for change of social status. But then we have that already confused, being still to an extent class-ridden; what is 'better' social status? I suggest it is not being able to get drunk of a weekend (nor even wanting to), nor is it having cash in your pocket, which I see as largely the same thing, since the available cash tens to lead to immediate gratification, in a pub. I rate any measures of happiness as a positive thing and a desirable goal but I am far from sure about perceptions of entitlement. 

||Side issue here raised by the Plymouth shooting this week, raising the word 'incel', involuntary celibate, which pejorative term immediately implies there is a right-to-sex. The term ought to be involuntarily celibate, methinketh; one is involuntarily celibate and one is an involuntary celibate. Whichever it is, there is no right to non-celibacy. Hence, of course, a perception of entitlement. "I exist, therefore someone of another gender wants what I've got" Not true, even among thieves. "I want sex, so therefore I'm entitled to it" confuses wants and needs with everything we might be entitled to as rights. Broadband is in front of sex in that queue. Also note that it is 'sex', not anything with mutual consent or added sentiments that approach love.||

We remain very unclear what it is we want from education. For those who can articulate what it is they want from education, it is often unclear how those objectives are achieved  The qualification we have shoved in front of us do not easily relate to career paths one can see, not even at the level of generally applicable skills. We say at school we teach people how to learn, but we do not couch that in such terms, when we should. We should be demonstrating that <this skill> is widely applicable and where that is not true, we should be open to identifying that as true and look to swap the item for something more obviously applicable. Having taught maths for 30 years I see the value of solid thorough appreciation of number; I see a lot of value in manipulation of symbols such that algebra is a tool for mixing ideas and structures to discover consequential results. Maths allows the exploration of different systems and the consequences of assumptions. But it is not couched in those terms and as a result a large proportion of all maths looks completely useless to at least half of the population. Yet we give every under 16 around an hour of this every day. I was thoroughly aware that maths required a precision of reading rarely offered in other courses and that English, in Britain  is the other subject we tackle for the same length of time daily. Yet, I say that both our appreciation of number and our ability to use English is generally lamentable, in the sense that the median value of those two abilities is disturbingly low.

I repeat, yet again, we are not at all clear what it is that we want from education  If we were, we would then be clear how to improve education. Not do it differently, actually improve it in purpose and delivery.

||Another side issue here: the recent delivery of GCSE and A-level results shows marked change in grading, known as grade inflation. Yet too few are listened to when the observation is made that teacher assessment and exam assessment do not measure the same thing. An exam is a snapshot of what a student can do on the day; teacher-assessment is more nearly an estimate of what a student can do, as an aggregation of much more work and, in general, picking out the best bits. So any teacher assessment not based on an exam is going to result in higher grading, even when the teacher attempts to compensate for this. When estimating grades, one always assumes that the student will have a 'good' day and has prepared well. Thus we might well expect that something like 20% of all students do 'badly' on the day of an exam, as we should expect that some students will rise to the occasion (mostly boys) and some will to an extent collapse under the weight of stress, perceived or real.||

[1]  https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/aug/15/the-cost-of-boris-johnsons-levelling-up-2tn-says-uk-thinktank

[2]  https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2021/jul/15/boris-johnsons-speech-on-levelling-up-decried-for-lack-of-substance What the PM said, or didn't say. He added 'more devolution', which which I agree.  If you look at the Guardian site, once you've located a topic ther 'more on this story' panel has arrows right and left, genuinely giving 'more'.

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