New criminal offence to stop NHS hospitals ‘fiddling’ figures to be introduced
A new criminal offence to stop NHS hospitals “fiddling” official figures is to be introduced by ministers in the wake of the Mid Staffordshire scandal
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is to announce that senior NHS managers and hospital trusts will be held criminally liable if they manipulate figures on waiting times or death rates.
Trusts could be fined millions of pounds and managers jailed if they are found to have falsified data used by patients to select where they are treated.
Several NHS hospitals have been accused recently of seeking to obscure high mortality rates by “mis-recording” the reasons for deaths. Such practices make it hard for regulators and the public to identify hospitals that have poor standards of treatment.
Nurses have also alleged privately that they have been told to “massage” waiting time figures by changing the recorded time when patients are treated or discharged.
Mr Hunt said last night: “This is about a transparent, honest and accountable NHS. Patients and the public should be confident that they can trust information about how hospitals are performing, and a culture of honesty and accuracy will help those organisations drive up standards of care.
“If NHS Trusts are caught deliberately manipulating that information, whether waiting times or death rates, they need to be held to account.”
A source close to Mr Hunt said: “The manipulation of data has been happening, rarely but consistently, for many years. We feel strongly that if NHS Trusts are caught acting fraudulently about their performance on areas such as death rates or waiting times, they should be criminally liable.”
The Daily Telegraph understands that the criminal sanctions will form one of the Government’s main responses to the Francis report into the Mid Staffs scandal. Up to 1,200 patients died as a result of poor care at the hospitals and ministers will announce a series of initiatives in 10 days to prevent a repeat of the scandal.
Ministers believe that one of the main failings at Mid Staffs was the lack of transparency about what was going wrong.
Therefore, in future, medical staff will be under a “duty of candour” to admit mistakes, and NHS trusts will be banned from silencing former staff who wish to blow the whistle.
The criminal sanctions will be put in place to ensure that NHS hospitals publish straightforward “patient relevant data”. Board members of NHS trusts and individual senior managers responsible for the data would be held criminally liable for seeking to manipulate information.
Health regulators, the Department of Health or members of the public would be able to report NHS hospitals and managers to the police if they had concerns about the data being released.
A source close to Mr Hunt said: “The future NHS will have a more open culture, with better information for patients and the public. We’re determined that information must be credible and provided on a basis which is honest and consistent.” It emerged this month that the Royal Bolton Hospital hospital may have mis-recorded the deaths of up to 400 patients. As many as half of patients recorded as having blood poisoning at the hospital in 2011/12 may have suffered from less serious conditions, according to Dr Foster, the health analyst group.
Death rates are being closely scrutinised by regulators and ministers to highlight potentially poor care. More than a dozen hospitals are being investigated by the medical director of the NHS for having higher than expected death rates.
Private firms are offering consultancy services to hospitals on how to “code” deaths to help them from being identified as poor performers.
The Department of Health hopes that the threat of criminal prosecution will help to deter hospitals from seeking to “game” league tables.
A recent survey of nurses also uncovered evidence of even more blatant attempts to manipulate information. Four in 10 nurses said they were aware of attempts to change data, and one in 10 saying they had to change times of patient discharge to meet waiting time targets.
In a Daily Telegraph interview last month, Mr Hunt suggested that police should consider investigating Mid Staffs NHS trust. He said it was “absolutely disgraceful” that no doctors, nurses or managers had been held to account for the failings at the hospitals.
Police and prosecutors are due to meet on Monday to discuss the possibility of a criminal investigation. However, the current criminal law is thought to be limited and make the prosecutions of medical staff and managers unlikely.
The Daily Telegraph has launched the Put Patients First campaign calling for NHS staff and managers to be held to account for the Mid Staffs scandal.
“I shake with rage that the cosmetic surgeon that killed my mother is still working”
At the inquest into her death, former Scottish international soccer star Colin Hendry described his wife Denise as ‘beautiful …. inside and out.’
Few could have failed to appreciate the painful irony – maybe if she had truly felt this way, she would still be alive today.
Yet, like so many women, Denise was unhappy with her body. Not desperately so, but after four children, she disliked her ‘mummy tummy’ enough to investigate cosmetic surgery.
The solution seemed so straightforward: Liposuction, a ‘simple’ technique in which a thin tube is inserted under the skin to break up and suck out some of the fat. She chose a local clinic and booked a date.
As her still heartbroken 23-year-old daughter Rheagan says today: ‘She didn’t want to be perfect – she just wanted to feel a bit better in a swimsuit.
‘When she said she wanted liposuction, it was one of the first times I had heard her ask for something for herself. ‘The rest of her life was all about looking after us. We didn’t think it was that big a deal. ‘No one mentioned risks. It sounded as straightforward as getting your hair done.’
But that £2,400 operation went disastrously wrong. During the procedure the surgeon, Gustav Aniansson, punctured Denise’s bowel – not just once but nine times.
In the following days, she suffered a heart attack, multiple organ failure and blood poisoning as the toxic contents of her digestive system spilled into surrounding tissue.
For five weeks, Denise fought for her life in a medically induced coma and on life support, but miraculously survived.
Her digestive system was destroyed, though, and over the seven years following that first operation in 2002, she was forced to undergo 18 corrective procedures on her bowel and abdomen.
Before she died in 2009, she needed an ileostomy; in which a tube is fitted bypassing the intestines, attached to a bag collecting waste. Denise was just 42 when her body, ravaged by infection, gave up.
Today, Rheagan has agreed to speak out to launch a Mail on Sunday campaign to end the scandal of Britain’s unregulated cosmetic surgery industry.
Little has been done to clean up the substandard clinics which, say critics, are putting commercial concerns ahead of patient safety, despite repeated appeals for regulation from former Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson and leading medical bodies.
Our investigation reveals Denise is far from the only case of horrendous treatment.
While many surgeons undergo extra training to ensure they know how to do cosmetic procedures properly, this is not required by law – and in many cases, doctors are not skilled in the procedures they offer.
Leading plastic surgeon Nigel Mercer, former president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), a voluntary professional body whose members adhere to strict standards, says: ‘As long as doctors are registered with the General Medical Council, they can come to a private clinic, pick up a knife and operate.
‘The law in this country says that only a vet can operate on an animal. But the same protection isn’t given to humans.’
When Denise went public after her operation, 46 more patients of Aniansson contacted Denise’s solicitor Stephen Jones with complaints.
Of these, 16 were taken on as legal cases. The clinic, Broughton Park Hospital near Preston, was sold by its owner a month later.
And after 13 separate complaints were made to the General Medical Council – the body that all doctors working in the UK are legally required to be registered with – Aniansson removed his name from their lists in 2003, rather than face being struck off.
In June 2006, he paid a six-figure sum to Denise in an out-of-court settlement. All the other patients won their cases.
But Aniansson is listed as a cosmetic surgeon on the website of a clinic in his native Sweden.
Rheagan, who lives with her two-year-old daughter River in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, was just 12 when her mother became ill.
She recalls: ‘The surgeon had hurried to finish her operation as he was flying back to Sweden immediately afterwards. ‘It took the nurses two days to realise there was something seriously wrong and transfer her to Preston Royal Infirmary.
‘I remember being taken in to see her for the first time – she was a tiny woman, 5ft 2in, but she looked huge and bloated from all the fluid they had been pumping into her, and she was covered in tubes.’
Although Denise did come home after six months in hospital, she never fully recovered. ‘She never once said: “Why me?” ‘But she always apologised to us. “I can’t believe what I’ve put you and Dad through,” she’d tell us.’
Rheagan’s anger has been unrelenting: ‘I think about it every day. I just want to ask Aniansson why?
‘He must have known he made a mistake – it wasn’t one puncture, it was nine. He killed my mother – I hold him completely responsible.
‘And he’d been complained about before – if the clinic had been properly regulated, perhaps Mum would still be alive today. ‘It makes me shake to think he’s still working as a surgeon.’
At last, a dose of reality for NHS pen-pushers, as Jeremy Hunt puts them to work on healthcare’s front line
Last week Andy Burnham was on the radio talking about the NHS being ‘on a journey of improvement’.
It’s a journey that, like a war, involves thousands of unnecessary casualties (20,000 according to one expert), continual blame-shifting, and endless analysis about what went wrong.
According to former Health Minister Andy, things have got better, because ‘before Labour came to power in 1997, people were dying while they were on waiting lists’. Well, at least now they can die on a trolley in a corridor, or die lying unattended and starving in a ward with two nurses to every 25 patients.
Or maybe they can die because they’ve contracted a bug after entering a place where they are supposed to get better.
Haven’t MPs got a unique way with the English language? Why a provider of a basic service – health care – still has ‘lessons to learn’ God only knows.
In school, if kids fail tests, they resit them. If schools don’t meet targets, they are taken over and heads replaced. In the NHS, it seems to be another story – senior staff multiply like Topsy, all on nice salaries and pensions, working on this ‘journey of improvement’, with few doing the decent thing and resigning when there’s a catastrophe and unnecessary deaths.
Far more gets spent on top-heavy administration than front-line action. I know a bit about how the NHS works for two reasons – first, my sister spent her last weeks dying of cancer on a mixed ward in an NHS hospital in Middlesex. At the very last minute, as she lapsed into unconsciousness, she was shunted off to a hospice. She kept a horrific diary of her experiences that led Gordon Brown and Patricia Hewitt to assure me that mixed wards would be soon be eliminated.
That’s turned out to be a journey about as long and convoluted as taking a bus from St Ives to Hartlepool. Every successive government says it’s taking action, but all over Britain mixed wards linger on. The hospital concerned threatened to sue me, held an inquiry about my sister’s allegations, and not a single person was ever sacked.
The second reason I know how the NHS operates is because I spent two weeks in Barnsley Hospital as a nursing assistant for a television series. I worked normal shifts, through the night. I laid out a dead body, helped deliver babies, dealt with a junkie in A&E and drunken relatives on the labour ward. I fed old people unable to fend for themselves and dished out bedpans.
It turned out to be an eye-opener. It left me with utter contempt for 90 per cent of those in authority and total respect for nurses and assistants on the front line trying to adhere to ridiculous targets, dealing with mountains of unnecessary paperwork generated by their office-bound bosses, who in turn were jumping to Whitehall’s every whim.
Now, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has decided that civil servants in his department will be leaving their comfort zones in Whitehall, and sent to discover how the NHS works at first hand. From next month, 2,000 are to go on work placements in hospitals, old people’s homes, and in doctor’s practices.
Today, Sir David Nicholson, the chief executive of the NHS, faces another grilling from MPs – a man in charge of a service that has seen death rates increase and life expectancy drop to below that of comparable countries. If he were running a FTSE 100 company, he would have fallen on his sword long ago.
The Government has another review underway – this time into high mortality rates – and Hunt says he wants a ‘zero-harm culture’ in which every mistake is regarded as unacceptable.
Forget the trendy jargon, what patients want is simple – care, consideration and reliability.
The only way to achieve that is for the pen-pushers to get out into the jungle and see for themselves.
Hopefully, Jeremy Hunt’s initiative will be emulated by other Whitehall departments, because, unless politicians re-connect with ordinary people who use public services, they’re finished.
MPs attack British Government’s ‘downgrading’ of religious education
Religious education in schools is to come under attack in a report which will warn that more than half of those who teach the subject do not have any expertise.
A cross-party group of MPs, peers and bishops will claim that “a raft of recent policies” have undermined the teaching of RE in schools.
Their report, to be published tomorrow, includes a survey of 430 schools, which found that 10 out of 130 secondary schools broke the law by not teaching RE to some pupils.
In a quarter of the primary schools surveyed, pupils were being taught by teaching assistants, rather than qualified teachers, while 43 per cent of staff teaching RE in primary and secondary schools did not have any specialist training in the subject.
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Religious Education described its findings as “unacceptable”.
“A raft of recent policies have had the effect of downgrading RE in status on the school curriculum, and the subject is now under threat as never before, just at the moment when it is needed most,” it concludes.
The group took evidence from sources including current and former schools inspectors and the Department for Education (DfE). The report, RE: the truth unmasked, will be given to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary.
The report suggests there is a contradiction in the Government’s vocal support for “well-trained” RE teachers, while at the same time withdrawing funding for specialist training.
Stephen Lloyd, the Lib Dem MP who chairs the APPG, said: “It is illogical to think that we can dilute the professionalism and expertise needed to teach RE well and still have a generation of young people that understand and are sensitive to the growing levels of religious and non-religious diversity in our society.”
A DfE spokesman said: “There are now 1,000 more RE teachers than there were in November 2010 and the number of RE teacher training places for 2013 has actually increased by 99 from last year.”
British schools will be 250,000 places short next year: Immigration, baby boom and exodus from private schools blamed
A quarter of a million extra school places are needed by next year, the National Audit Office warns. The biggest baby boom since the 1950s combined with high levels of immigration have been blamed for the huge shortfall.
The squeeze on household incomes has also seen large numbers of families turn their backs on private schooling.
An estimated 240,000 of the places expected to be needed in the 2014-2015 academic year are in primaries. More children than ever could be forced to travel large distances to school, be taught in makeshift classrooms or in oversized classes.
Amyas Morse, who is head of the NAO, said yesterday: ‘Despite increases in places and funding over the last two years, the Department for Education faces a real challenge, with 256,000 places still required by 2014-2015.
‘There are indications of real strain on school places.’
The number of pupils in state schools is expected to soar by nearly a million to 7,950,000 by the end of the decade. Last year alone the primary school population went up by 78,000, the fastest rise in a decade.
At least a fifth of schools were full or overflowing last May and the number of infant classes with more than 31 children has doubled since 2007.
Last September, hundreds of primary children were left waiting for a confirmed place as the term began. And around 23,000 began their education at schools their parents didn’t want them to attend.
The rising demand has had a significant impact on the average time a child spends travelling to school.
Areas under the greatest strain include Hampshire, where 122 primary schools are educating children who are ‘in excess of school capacity’.
Kent has 733 too many children in 114 primaries and 1,351 ‘excess’ pupils in 33 secondary schools.
Were migration reduced to zero, 106,000 fewer places would be needed, DfE figures suggest.
But it is feared that the arrival of an estimated 50,000 Romanians and Bulgarians when an immigration cap expires at the end of this year will heighten the problem.
Councils have been concreting over parks and other open spaces to build extra classrooms.
Children are also having lessons in former warehouses, police stations, offices and retail outlets.
Some education chiefs have considered ‘radical’ solutions such as split-shift schooling, with school days staggered to have different year groups taught at different times of day.
Sir Andrew Green, of MigrationWatch UK, said: ‘This is yet another example of Labour’s failure to plan for the inevitable effects of mass immigration which they stimulated.’
The Office of the Schools Adjudicator warned in November that a shortage of capacity for four- and five-year-olds is one of the biggest problems facing councils.
The Government has pumped more than £5billion into creating more spaces. But this did not include costs such as acquiring land – because the Department for Education assumed most places would be in existing schools, the NAO said.
The shortage increases the likelihood of more ‘super’ primaries being opened that can accommodate up to 1,000 children.
Kevin Brennan, Labour’s schools spokesman, accused the Government of cutting funding for school buildings by 60 per cent.
‘Michael Gove’s first job as Education Secretary is to provide enough school places for children – he is failing in that duty,’ he added.
But schools minister David Laws said the NAO report confirmed the Government was ‘dramatically’ increasing funding for school places. He added: ‘Labour reduced the number of places available even though there was a baby boom.
‘We have already created 80,000 new places to deal with the shortage left by the last government and there will be more places to come.’
A DfE spokesman said: ‘We will have spent around £5billion by 2015 on creating new school places, which is more than double the amount spent in the previous parliament.
‘We are confident that this will meet the local demand that local authorities face.’
David Simmonds, of the Local Government Association, said councils faced ‘unprecedented pressures’.
‘If the Government wants to rapidly increase the number of school places it should release money from the grip of Whitehall mandarins and let councils, who have both the legal duty and the local knowledge to deliver new places.’
Climate propaganda cut from British national curriculum for children up to 14
And the Warmists are having a wail
Debate about climate change has been cut out of the national curriculum for children under 14, prompting claims of political interference in the syllabus by the government that has failed “our duty to future generations”.
The latest draft guidelines for children in key stages 1 to 3 have no mention of climate change under geography teaching and a single reference to how carbon dioxide produced by humans impacts on the climate in the chemistry section. There is also no reference to sustainable development, only to the “efficacy of recycling”, again as a chemistry subject.
The move has caused alarm among climate campaigners and scientists who say teaching about climate change in schools has helped mobilise young people to be the most vociferous advocates of action by governments, business and society to tackle the issue.
The draft contrasts with the existing curriculum: under the heading of geography, there are several mentions of the interdependence of humans and their environment and the impact of that on change, including “environmental change”. The current syllabus explicitly discusses sustainable development and “its impact on environmental interaction and climate change”.
“It’s just hollowed out argument,” said John Ashton, the government’s climate change envoy until last summer, and a founder of the independent not-for-profit group E3G. “Climate change should have as much prominence as anything in teaching geography in schools.”
The shift of any mention of climate change from geography to chemistry “makes me more concerned, not less”, said Ashton. “What’s important is not so much the chemistry as the impact on the lives of human beings, and the right place for that is geography.”
The proposed changes, which are still under consultation by the Department for Education (DfE), were broadly welcomed by other groups, including the Geographical Association which represents more than 6,000 geography teachers, and the Royal Geographical Society.
“In the past, in some instances, young people were going to start on climate change without really knowing about climate,” said Rita Gardner, the RGS director, who does, however, want climate change taught at GCSE and A-level. “What we have got [in the new draft] is a much better grounding in geography, and it has the building blocks for a much better understanding of climate change and sustainability.”
A DfE spokesman said the idea that climate change was being excised from the national curriculum was nonsense: “All children will learn about climate change. It is specifically mentioned in the science curriculum and both climate and weather feature throughout the geography curriculum.”
A source at the Liberal Democrat-led Department for Energy and Climate Change said they were relaxed about the changes: “There’s nothing from the DfE that says climate change is off the agenda or will never be taught. Sensible teachers will look at that as the broadest of signposting.”
Sarah Lester, a policy researcher specialising in climate change education at the Grantham Institute of Climate Change at Imperial College, London, said also rejected the argument that pupils first needed to learn the “building blocks” before they were taught about climate change. Such issues were already taught in the three sciences, even religious education and citizenship – and “all come together in geography”, said Lester. “I don’t think that’s what’s being done: I think it [climate change] is just being stripped out of the curriculum.”
Attenborough should check his facts on polar bears
De rigueur though it may be to describe Sir David Attenborough as a “national treasure” and our “greatest living naturalist”, it really is time he was called to account for the shameless way in which he has allowed himself to be made the front-man for one particular propaganda campaign that has stood all genuine scientific evidence on its head. Last week yet another report picked up on the part Sir David has played in promoting what the facts show to have been no more than a colossal scare story.
It is now seven years since Sir David was first wheeled out by the BBC as the main cheerleader in its campaign to whip up panic over man-made global warming. In two documentaries, he presented himself as a one-time “climate sceptic” who had now been convinced by the evidence. The only problem was that, as he repeated a series of familiar alarmist mantras, there was little sign that he had checked the evidence for any of them: not least his claim that, thanks to the melting of Arctic ice, the world’s polar bear population, already down by a quarter, could be facing extinction.
Pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth had already made polar bears the most iconic image for their crusade to save the planet. WWF, in its relentless pursuit of funds, was moving on from pandas to appealing to the public to “pay £3 a month to adopt a polar bear”.
Vainly, in the face of this avalanche of propaganda, did an array of experts and bodies such as the US National Biological Service and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature point out that, thanks to curbs on hunting in the Seventies, the world’s polar bear population had, in fact, risen from 10,000 in 1966 to 25,000 or more in 2006; that all but one of their 19 main groups were significantly increasing in numbers; and that, based on observed data rather than highly questionable computer models, there was not a shred of evidence of any threat to the bears from climate change.
Al Gore twice famously fell flat on his face in promoting the cause, first when his film An Inconvenient Truth focused on the fate of four bears that were later shown just to have drowned in a storm; then when he made big play with a picture of two bears on a half-melted iceberg, which the photographer later protested she had only taken because it was a striking image, unconnected in any way with climate change.
But although Al Gore may have been notoriously reckless in misusing evidence, he has no pretensions to being a scientist. Sir David’s reputation, on the other hand, is that of a man with respect for science, although this did not prevent him in 2009 from supporting a ridiculous BBC publicity stunt involving a giant blow-up plastic polar bear floating down the Thames, or making polar bears a key feature of his Frozen Planet series in 2011, ending in a propaganda pitch for global-warming alarmism that somehow managed to overlook the fact that polar sea ice had recently been greater in extent than at any time in 30 years.
When, last week, the Global Warming Policy Foundation published a new report, Ten Good Reasons Not to Worry About Polar Bears, Matt (now Lord) Ridley referred in his foreword to Sir David’s bizarre determination to ignore the evidence. The report’s author, Susan Crockford, an experienced Canadian polar bear expert, explains just why there is no connection between the thriving polar bear population and climate change, and how this has been concocted into one of the great urban myths of our time.
Nothing is going to stand in the way of Sir David’s reputation as a national treasure, even though it rests so largely on the extraordinary skill of the cameramen who make his documentaries so memorable. But for his readiness to lend his immense prestige to a scare story that defies all the evidence he deserves no respect at all.
Green tax boost for wind farm profits
The full extent of the profits to be made by wind farms in Britain can be spelt out for the first time.
A briefing document on the wind industry written for investors – and seen by The Sunday Telegraph – shows how attempts to increase the supply of green energy will make turbines far more profitable over the next decade.
It predicts that wind farms will generate greater income following the introduction of a new tax on energy from gas and coal-fired power stations because it will drive up the cost of electricity over the next seven years.
The new tax, intended to cut pollution from traditional sources of electricity, will allow wind farm operators to charge more for the power they produce, with the extra costs expected to be passed on to consumers through their bills. Energy industry experts predict the new tax will cost electricity customers an extra £1billion a year from 2016.
The documents seen by The Sunday Telegraph show how:
* Wind farms are already making hundreds of millions of pounds of profits, with half the income from existing consumer subsidies;
* Coal-fired power plants are being forced to close ahead of the new carbon tax as it will make operating too expensive;
* Electricity prices are expected to increase at an accelerated rate due to the resulting reduction in power supplies;
* Energy costs will rise by around eight per cent each year between now and 2020, meaning wholesale prices will almost double.
The details are contained in a 70-page prospectus drawn up by Barclays Bank and sent to financiers looking to invest up to £260million in a new energy fund, Greencoat UK Wind, which is planning to buy stakes in six big wind farms around the UK.
The document will anger backbench Tory MPs, who have campaigned for wind farm subsidies to be cut – only to discover that they will effectively be receiving a new subsidy on top of existing ones the industry receives to encourage renewable energy.
Chris Heaton-Harris, a Conservative MP who has led a campaign to reduce wind farm subsidies, said: “I find it hard to believe that the Department of Energy and Climate Change has pulled the wool over the eyes of those in the Treasury.
“This prospectus explains the massive rush of wind applications, as developers know they will get rich whilst pushing thousands of energy consumers into fuel poverty.”
The financial prospectus shows just how much money the bank is convinced investors can now make from wind energy, providing the most detailed insight yet into the workings of the wind industry.
Most of the profit comes from the generous subsidy currently offered by the Government to encourage green energy, which is subsequently added on to electricity bills.
The document says the introduction of the new green tax on polluting forms of energy – called the “carbon price floor” – will have the effect of driving up prices, not least because coal-fired power stations are being shut down as a result, making wind farms even more profitable.
The Government, through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, has committed £50million to the Greencoat fund to underpin the scheme.
Critics complain that this means the Government is unlikely to reduce generous subsidies on which it is now also staking its own money.
Investors were told in the prospectus that electricity prices should rise by 55 per cent from £45 for each megawatt-hour to £70 by 2016. On top of that wind farms receive an additional subsidy of about £50 for each megawatt-hour.
Dr John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, a charity which has highlighted the cost of wind farms, said: “Wind power is already over-subsidised, so it is simply astonishing that government should calmly and one suspects incompetently spread another generous layer of jam on the revenue of existing wind farms.”
A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said it was investing £50million in Greencoat “to help catalyse the additional private sector capital required” to increase investment in renewable energy.
Richard Nourse, managing partner at Greencoat Capital, which will manage the fund, said: “Greencoat UK Wind offers investors the prospect of a six per cent dividend yield expected to increase in line with inflation.
“In these days of low interest rates and high volatility, this seems to be attractive to investors.”
Don’t attack Britain’s oldies – they keep the economy going
The growing army of working over-65s dispels the idea that the elderly burden the young
When I worked at The Scotsman, news editors were always looking out for stories portraying Glasgow in a positive light. The newspaper was anxious to overcome perceptions of an Edinburgh bias, so there was great excitement at conference one morning over a study hailing Glasgow as the “youngest city in Europe”, with an average age of 36. Much discussion followed about the city becoming a cosmopolitan magnet for the young, until a Glaswegian colleague spoiled it all by stating the obvious. “They’re young,” he said, “because when they’re not, they’re deid.”
It was an inarguable point. To be a “young” city, or country, is no boast: it tends to mean poverty, sickness and low life expectancy. But the converse is also true: as a country becomes more prosperous, its people become healthier and live longer. To note that Britain is “rapidly ageing” is another way of saying that things are getting rapidly better. The air is cleaner, the roads are safer, our hospitals (for all their problems) can equip us with new knees or hips to keep us moving and working. The political panic about the “ageing population” is the equivalent of saying: Oh my God, we’re all going to live.
This, at least, was the reaction to the House of Lords report yesterday peering a little into the future. It found that, by 2030, the number of over-65s will rise by a third. The new Royal baby can expect to be writing a letter to himself (or herself) in July 2113, because half of children born nowadays will likely become centenarians. Cities such as Glasgow have their own problems, but most Brits will live longer than ever. That ought to be great news – in Westminster, though, it is seen as a “demographic timebomb”, and an impending avalanche of dribbling NHS customers.
The truth is obvious to anyone who has done any shopping and looked at the age of the cashier: the over-65s are not just fitter than ever, but working harder than ever and paying more tax than ever. Ten years ago, 500,000 pensioners were working, and by the peak of the boom that number was 700,000. But it didn’t stop there. Throughout the great recession, Britain’s grey workforce have been working harder than ever. Almost a million of them are now employed – behind checkout desks, at the office or even setting up companies. The proportion of elderly people in work has doubled over a decade.
Neuroscience has now proved what many long suspected: that the brain accumulates wisdom and older workers tend to make better decisions. In the old days, health could be a problem. Now, medicine has advanced to the extent that a 76-year-old with one functioning lung can be elected pope and 85-year-old pontiffs resign because death is too distant a prospect.
The nature of work is changing, too: the Church of England will next week enthrone a former oilman for whom religion is a second career. As retirement becomes a process, rather than an event, pensioners find themselves with more energy than ever.
There are two ways of seeing this. One is to salute the industriousness of those whose taxes built the welfare state, and still choose to keep at it. The other is to imagine that the “baby boomers” are now stealing the jobs of the young and burdening the NHS, having grown undeservedly rich from the property boom. In recent years, this latter argument has morphed into the “intergenerational fairness” agenda, which is worth taking seriously, because it is one of the more potent and sinister ideas of recent years.
The complaint of the generational jihadists is based on a valid point: that the housing boom of the past two decades has left pensioners living in properties worth mind-boggling amounts. Now and again, there is talk (even among young Tory strategists) about taxing the “unearned” income of the old and passing the cash to the young to address the elderly’s “unearned” boost in assets. The baby-boom generation have anyway benefited from free university education, runs the argument, and their legacy has been a massive debt that will take decades to repay. So it’s time for the taxman to impose a little “fairness”, perhaps with a wealth tax.
There is, of course, no moral justification for penalising those who have saved just because they happened to do so before an asset boom (induced, incidentally, by an easy-money policy that continues to this day). Nor would it be reasonable to begrudge NHS care, no matter how expensive, to those who built this country and, in many cases, defended it.
But if the Government is wrong to regard pensioners as charity cases, it is also wrong to dispense so much charity that it cannot really afford. The idea of free bus passes, for example, is hard to defend in the age of cuts. A minister in the last government told me that he started work on abolishing them, and envisaged £1 billion of savings. He was amazed to see David Cameron pledge to keep them – the first of many pledges to ring-fence benefits for the elderly, who were by no means demanding the concessions. The irony of last year’s Budget was that George Osborne was lambasted for a granny tax while giving the largest ever increase to the state pension. “We should have been telling pensioners: ‘You’ve never had it so good’,” one Cabinet minister tells me.
The generational jihadists say that this generosity is because the baby boomers are now the most powerful lobby group in the country. But the truth is rather more mundane. Politicians, of all persuasions, seem to view pensioners with a mixture of fear and condescension – imagining that they do little else but stay at home, count their benefits and vote for the party that offers the most. A fear of the grey vote led the Coalition to make the most expensive ring-fence pledge of all: a “triple lock” on pensions, which have been rising far faster than salaries. This focuses pain on working-age benefits and, of course, students.
There is no oldies’ union that demanded a triple lock on pensions. It wasn’t in the Tory manifesto. It emerged because politicians panicked, and imagined that pensioners want greater welfare. And this sprang from a patronising and out-of-date view about how to please the over-65s – who, incidentally, account for a fifth of the increase in employment under Cameron.
Michael Caine, who turned 80 yesterday, spoke for many when he wondered a few years ago if the old were now carrying the young. “We’ve got 3.5 million layabouts on benefits and I’m 76, getting up at 6am to go to work to keep them,” he complained when filming Harry Brown. “Let’s get everybody back to work so we can save a couple of billion and cut tax, not keep sticking it up.”
The idea of a clash of generations is based on a false idea: that the working-age must support the pension-age. Each day, a growing army of healthy (and much sought-after) British workers over 65 is disproving this notion. The balance between tax and welfare will have to change, but the shifting demographics make odd grounds for panic. Britons are leading longer, healthier and more prosperous lives than ever before – as political problems go, it’s a good one to have.
Parents’ social service hell after one anonymous letter : Judge attacks Baby P council for ‘knee-jerk’ abuse investigation
A mother told of her nightmare yesterday after being secretly investigated for child abuse by social workers who received a single, anonymous letter.
The woman was left ‘terrified’ that her six-year-old daughter would be removed in the probe by Haringey Council – the authority at the centre of the Baby P scandal.
After winning a ‘landmark’ case yesterday, she also spoke of her anger that the local authority had sought to avoid being named in the affair to prevent further public embarrassment.
Officials had obtained three mobile numbers and a landline phone number for the family after contacting the girl’s school without her parents’ knowledge.
The mother – who works as a social worker – said she was ‘horrified’ when a student social worker later contacted the couple to belatedly reveal they were investigating allegations of mistreatment.
Yesterday a High Court judge condemned Haringey for its ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to the unsigned letter, which was riddled with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
This included approaching the child’s GP and her school to ask for any signs of ‘emotional and physical abuse’ of the child before they had spoken to her parents.
Judge Anthony Thornton said the child was never at risk of harm from her middle class parents, who had never been in trouble with police or had previous contact with social services.
He quashed the ‘unlawful’ decision to start the investigation and ordered the council to pay £2,000 compensation to the couple and legal costs expected to run to tens of thousands of pounds.
After the hearing, the girl’s mother urged the Government to step in to sort out Haringey’s beleaguered child protection department.
She expressed fears that while the council squandered taxpayers’ cash investigating spurious complaints it risked overlooking genuine cases.
She said: ‘This has been a dreadful ordeal that has taken a huge emotional and financial strain on my family. Although I knew it was groundless, I was terrified they would take my child away.
‘We were accused of smacking our child. As it happens, we don’t smack, but if the council starts investigating all parents who occasionally smack their child to discipline them, they would end up looking at 90 per cent of families in the borough.’
The woman and her partner are both experienced social workers and so knew the council’s reaction was excessive.
They brought a legal challenge to the council’s decision to investigate them under Section 47 of the 1989 Children Act, which the judge described as an ‘intrusive’ assessment of a child and her parents to determine if she was being harmed.
The mother said: ‘Because we know the system we had the courage to stand up to the council and take it this far, but I pity the many other parents who aren’t able to do this and have to suffer in silence.
This is the first time that a section 47 investigation has been successfully challenged and overturned.’
The council launched the investigation after its ‘social services child abuse department’ received the unsigned letter dated March 2011 from someone claiming to be a neighbour of the family saying he was worried about the child.
The judge ruled that approaching the GP and school without seeking the parent’s permission was ‘erroneous’.
He said: ‘These were serious departures from permissible practice and these actions were unlawful.’ The child was not at risk of significant harm and it… was highly likely the anonymous referral was malicious.’
A Haringey Council spokesman said: ‘Our handling of this case fell below the standards that we would expect, and we apologise to the family concerned.’
A welfare cut is not a tax
The British conservative government is trying to combat underused welfare housing. Elderly people in particular tend to stay on alone in a large family home long after the family have moved away
Iain Duncan Smith has attacked the BBC for ‘adopting the language of the Labour Party’ by calling a key welfare reform a ‘bedroom tax’.
In a letter leaked to the Daily Mail, the Work and Pensions Secretary accuses the corporation of helping to alarm hundreds of thousands of people in social housing who will be unaffected.
In the strongest attack on the BBC’s coverage by a minister since the Coalition came to power, he says there has been ‘persistent use’ of the term ‘bedroom tax’ by its correspondents and on its news website, despite the phrase being ‘innately political and indeed factually wrong’.
Under the Government’s housing benefit reforms, working-age claimants in social housing who have more bedrooms than they require will see their handouts reduced from April.
Tenants affected will face a 14 per cent cut in housing benefit for the first excess bedroom, and 25 per cent where two or more bedrooms are unused.
The Government, which estimates the average household affected will lose £14 a week, says the policy will cut £500million a year from the housing benefit bill.
It will also encourage people to move into smaller properties, freeing up larger homes for other families who are crammed into accommodation that is too small, ministers say.
Mr Duncan Smith says the Government is simply cutting a ‘spare room subsidy’ but Labour fiercely opposes the move, branding it a ‘bedroom tax’.