Friday, 26 November 2010


"Young people in the UK are twice as likely as their counterparts in other rich countries to be so seriously ill or incapacitated that they cannot work and must live off disability benefits, an international study on welfare has found."

Surely that should read: "Young people in the UK are twice as likely as their counterparts in other rich countries to claim to be so seriously ill or incapacitated that they cannot work and must live off disability benefits, an international study on welfare has found."

"The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said it was an "extremely worrying fact" that among 20- to 34- year-olds, rates for disability payments are around 2% in most countries, but 4% in the UK."

No kidding

"Chris Grayling, the work and pensions minister, said he thought the high rates in the UK were a result of 'more children growing up in workless households than in other parts of Europe. Growing up with high levels of dependency shapes your outlook.'

Around 2 million children live in households where no one works – one in six youngsters in Britain. This rate is almost twice the EU average."

Sounds about right - so why not (a) make it so that benefits are always worse than working, by a significant amount (ffs, it's meant to be a safety net, not a hammock) and (b) discourage the continued spawning by those who are not working (when the system makes it impossible for people in low paying jobs to afford kids, but those with no jobs are advantaged by having kids, something is wrong)

"The report says ... there has been a "big shift" in the reasons for making a disability benefit claim. Mental health problems have replaced physical causes for long-term sickness payments."

That might be because we're checking for physical problems now.  If you can fake a mental illness, you've got it made.

"In Britain, two-fifths of those claiming benefits because of depression or mental health issues are aged between 20 and 34."

See above.

"Professor Malcolm Harrington, the occupational health specialist tasked with improving the government's medical assessments, has told ministers that 'people do not attempt to get benefits by pretending they are mentally ill'."

Oh, well that's ok then.  He's a Professor, so he must know what he's talking about...

"In the mid-eighties, the number of people receiving unemployment benefit was "three or four times" higher than those claiming disability benefit. But an inexorable rise in claims saw the number of people on disability benefits exceed the number of unemployed in 1997.

Today 7% of Britons of working age receive disability benefit, above the OECD average of 5.7%. In Japan the comparable figure is less than 2%."

WTF?  7% of our working age population are apparently so disabled that they can't work?  Seriously, that can't be right.  And there were more people disabled than unemployed?  I really hope that's no longer true...

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Stopping the wrong type of immigrants

The government are capping the number of skilled non-EU workers that can enter the UK to 21,700 per year. 

There are a few problems with this.  Just from looking at the press release we see:
- It only affects those coming from outside the EU (we could have millions coming from inside the EU and we'd be powerless to stop it)
- It doesn't affect intra-company transfers of those who earn at least £40,000 per year and who will be staying for between 1 and 5 years

But the biggest point from my point of view is:

- It limits the number of "skilled" people that can come in

I don't care how many people come here, work, pay taxes and generally contribute to the UK.  What I object to is those that come here (or are born here, to be fair) to claim benefits, lounge around and do nothing productive except produce children, the better to get money from the taxpayer.

The government's own figures (from here ) show that 567,000 people arrived to live in the UK from abroad in 2009.  A number of these were British, and a number of the non-British people already in the country left, so to be fair we should look at the net number of non-British citizens entering (after subtracting those that left) which was 242,000.  Almost a quarter of a million.

Of these, 58,000 were from the EU, 105,000 from the commonwealth and 79,000 from elsewhere.

We don't have figures on how many have jobs lined up here, but apparently a number were asked what their purpose for coming here was.  This being a survey, it's likely not worth the paper it's written on, but taking it at face value we find that 37% of those coming to this country claimed to be doing so for "formal study".  This is a great wheeze - claim to be a student and you get into the country easy.  Apparently there are a number of supposed schools that will charge minimal fees and send you authentic looking paperwork but then hold no classes, their sole purpose is to get you into the country.  Once you're here you can claim all sorts of benefits.  I'm sure a goodly number of the people claiming to be here for "formal study" genuinely were, but I doubt that it applies to all of them.

23% had a "definite job" lined up.  That doesn't sound too bad, does it?  Well, it does if you think about it.  Last year we had a net increase in population of 242,000 and 56,000 had a job lined up.  That's 186,000 people ready to suckle on the state benefits teat who've contributed absolutely nothing towards it.

11% claimed to be looking for work.  Nuff said.

13% were here to accompany or join someone else.  So that'd be the wife/kids/extended family of the few who come here to work?  Or of the previous folks who've come here to sponge off the state.  Either way, more mouths to feed...

6% gave no reason and 9% said "other".  Probably not something that will get them paid regularly, at any rate...

The latest statistics I can find for births are in 2008 (deaths go up to 2009, but for comparison I'm using the 2008 figures).  There were a total of 708,711 babies born in 2008 (see here).  This compares with a total number of deaths of 509,090 (see here - this includes 1,261 deaths of people resident in another country but present in the UK - I assume the same thing happens when our holidaymakers die abroad, so will leave these in the total for now).  The net increase in population was 199,621.  We can already see that the growth through immigration is faster than the growth through birth.

Now, we should also consider that some of the births and deaths will be of those were not originally from the UK (I'm not going to touch on what it takes to become a UK citizen or the like, largely as we don't have figures for that sort of thing).  Deaths would be mostly of the elderly, and I would imagine that the non-UK born represent a smaller proportion of the elderly than other age groups, still in the absence of a detailed breakdown it seems only fair to assume that the proportion of deaths attributed to non-uk born individuals is in proportion to the number in the UK.  From here we see that an estimated 10.6% of the population were non-uk born, so the total UK born deaths can be considered to be approximately 89.4% of 509090 = 455,126.

Births on the other hand seem to be a little more skewed (as we'd expect, if we thought about it - the UK birth rate has been quite low for a while,  until the immigration started to ramp up).  This suggests that 21.9% of the births in 2007 (latest figures I could find) were to foreign born women.  This means that 78.1% of 708,711 = 553,503 births in 2008 were to UK born women (assuming the percentage born to foreign born women hasn't changed - in fact it's probably gone up).

Thus the actual net change of uk population from "native" birth is 98,377.  This compares to 242,000 immigrants and 101,244 births to immigrants - a total increase of 343,244.

So it's not all that surprising that people are getting annoyed about immigration - but putting a little cap on the number of actually useful people that come here really isn't helping anything.

(incidentally, like I said - I have no objection to people coming here and working.  That means that things get done, the govt takes money from them in tax and I end up paying less over all.  When people come here to sponge, then I end up paying more, and that annoys me.  Likewise, when people born here sponge, or have a dozen kids to get more benefits, that annoys me)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Vince Cable has no idea what he's doing

I've just seen this article at (EDIT: hidden behind a paywall - try this link instead).
Businesses could be asked to pay levies to underwrite the cost of training and employees might be required to hold licences to participate in certain trades, under government plans to improve the country’s skills.
I'm not really sure where to start on this...  If a company wants their staff to be trained in particular things, surely it's easy enough for them to arrange the training...
Mr Cable said: “Some firms are reluctant to train because they fear losing their trainees to their competitors.”
Let's see - if they train them, they end up with competent staff who may end up going elsewhere.  The answer to that is to make sure that the pay you offer is competitive. If you don't train your staff, you end up with incompetent staff who will stay with you - I don't see that this is a good thing.
The plans also proposed a “licence to practice” for workers in some sectors. “We want to encourage a wider set of industries . . . to consider where the introduction of clear professional standards will benefit an industry,” the report said.
They want to encourage the industries to consider whether or not they want anyone new coming into the field to have to arrange for a "licence"?  Is that really wise?

Consider the question put to the fast food market.  Clearly dominated by McDonalds and Burger King, both of whom would be able to procure licences in bulk.  Would McDonalds and Burger King like it if all fast food staff needed a licence?  You bet they would - the extra costs would drive down competition and make staff have to come to them - if anything, it would lead to a cut in the pay.

So why should companies be forced to pay towards "...statutory and voluntary training levies..." that they likely don't need?  I know that Vince Cable doesn't get it, but really they should employ someone to sit beside him and point out that government run schemes are always very inefficient and thus money would be wasted.  If companies want their staff to be trained, then they'll arrange the training.  Why does government have to get involved?  Contrary to what some think, there are some of us who can think for ourselves and don't need the government's help to spend our money.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Evils of Taxation

 I believe that a lot of what the government does, they shouldn't.  They provide services that could be obtained for less in the public sector, purely because the people in charge think that they know better how to spend our money than we do.  Everyone these days seems to be looking at the way the government spends our money, but before they can spend it, they have to take it from us.  As most people are unaware of just how much of our money is taken, I thought it worth taking the time to quickly explain just how much of our money the government gets it's grubby mits on.  In particular, I'm interested in the marginal rate that you pay.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

How to do something after a certain number of shakes

More android stuff below - this post is mostly to save me the effort of having to upload pics somewhere else on the web.  Proceed at your own peril :-)

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Android App Inventor

So, I just got accepted to the app inventor beta.  First impressions: it's really really shiny, but there are some functions that I would really love but can't find for the life of me...

(warning - geeky stuff ahead)

Monday, 5 July 2010

Thoughts on the perfect electoral system

Mark Wadsworth put up a post recently on what he considered to be the least bad voting system - do please go read it, it's interesting stuff, but I don't think it would solve the problem that we have here of two monolithic parties that control the country despite having very little total support.

I did put up a comment there, but the discussion was fairly minimal, so I thought I'd re-post it here:

A few quick thoughts...

This does still mean that a vote for anyone who doesn't rank highly is still wasted. Perhaps the party can reallocate a few (one third?) of the votes for members who definitely aren't going to get a seat?

I still think there's going to be some barrier to entry here - a small party that does incredibly well and gets 50% of all the votes of one member's-worth of constituency (which would guarantee a win in the single member constituency) would have only 1/10th of the vote in the 5 member MMC proposed.

Consider if two large parties get 1/3 of the vote each, and the remainder are split between smaller parties (including the 1/10th to the party that we're looking at) the large parties could simply give each of their top three 1/9 of the total vote, meaning that they'd have a fight for the top spot (likely going to whoever had a few more votes) and they'd end up with all of the seats between them.

This would be lessened somewhat if people voted for individuals instead of parties, but most tribal voters would literally vote for a plastic toy with a red/blue (delete according to taste) rosette on, so chances are they'd all be votes for the party directly. (although it occurs to me, you could make votes for the party itself worth less in comparison to direct member votes, as direct member votes have the risk that the entire vote could be wasted).

I would perhaps be a little more radical in electoral reform. We have ~60m population and ~600 MPs, why not just make it so that each MP requires a pledge from 100,000 people. They would then represent those people directly, rather than a geographical area. Each person could only pledge to one MP, of course, and for the avoidance of doubt you would not be able to change your mind instantly, perhaps a minimum term of 6 months or 1 year before you can remove or change your pledge? And if an MP got 200,000 pledges, he or she would get two votes in the commons. Simples. And under this system, every vote counts.

If we must stick close to the system we have now, I'd probably halve the number of constituencys and run the voting as we do now, then I'd add on a PR system that assigned the other half of the seats based on the number of seats each party should have got nationwide.

You could even question the need for parliament altogether. We have the technology now that we could build a computer system where everyone in the country (identified by NI number perhaps?) could vote online on our laws, giving a truly democratic result. Of course if it was built by the government the system would be very insecure, full of faults and likely have big gaping back doors so people could cheat, but it's an idea...

Anyone else have any thoughts?

Friday, 5 March 2010

I knew it!

A US study has shown that anti-binge drinking ads may actually provoke exactly the kind of liver-bashing behaviour they're trying to prevent.
I always resent being told what to do. If someone says "don't go to that pub" or "you know, you really should eat less red meat" it just makes me want to do it more... And it's even worse when the government do it - they're taking my money by force and using it to tell me how I should behave? That's just not going to work.

The article linked here proves that the government should leave us to do as we please - but what are the chances they'll actually listen?

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Minimum Wage

"Ministers have been stung by a series of reports in recent weeks showing that, while Labour has reduced poverty since taking power in 1997, the gap between rich and poor has widened because the incomes of the top 10 per cent of earners have soared."

What does it matter? Ok, I will admit that I find it very amusing that under Labour, the gini coefficient has increased, but surely all that tells us is that what they're doing right now isn't working. The point is: they're looking at the wrong thing.

The poor are now more poor than before, when compared to the rich. Well, why are we comparing them to the rich? Are they better off than they were? If so, where's the problem? Like all Labour policies, it seems to stem from a combination of deep seated jealousy and a wish that we could all be good communists. Who cares what the "top 10 per cent of earners" are earning - the only question that matters is whether or not the poor are better off...

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

What is a Crime?

What is a crime? It's an interesting question, which becomes more and more vague the longer we let politicians run the place. As the government push through more and more laws that criminalise various different activities, I started to consider what I would consider a crime.

I have been known to quote Robert Heinlein and this little statement about sin:
'Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other "sins" are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself is not sinful - just stupid).'
Which I think is a good starting place. The key thing of course being that someone must be hurt for a thing to be a crime (of course, for the good of social cohesion, you need to consider cases where it is simply planned that someone be hurt - I'll go into that below). If you do something that causes no harm to anyone other than yourself (or only causes harm to willing consenting people) then it should not be considered a crime.

The most simple kind of crime to quantify and identify is theft. Depriving someone of something that is theirs without their willing consent (buying something from someone is fine, that's a trade - and taking something that they want to give away is fine). If you steal something then destroy it, it's still a crime even if it gains you no benefit, because you have still deprived the victim of whatever it was that you stole and destroyed. This should apply to all manner of things, not just physical items. Theft of liberty (currently called kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment), theft of consent (rape), etc.

So we make the first law:
1) Thou shalt not deprive another of something that is theirs in the form that they wish to have it, whatever that thing may be, unless they consent to your taking it or changing it and are in sound mind when doing so. (aka no stealing)

Sound mind would of course be largely interpretational. Someone who's had a drink or two should still be capable of judgement, someone who is passed out and under the table is not.

Let's look at some examples of what this would mean:
Vandalism - you are either breaking something or changing it in a manner not desired by the owner, thus depriving them of it as they want it. Thus, this would be a crime.
Assault - you're depriving someone of health, looks, blood. This would be a crime.
Rape - as mentioned above, this is depriving someone of the ability to consent (or of the right to say no). This would be a crime.
Murder - depriving someone of life - definitely a crime.
Accepting Charity - someone is being deprived of their money/goods/whatever, but they are giving it up willingly, so there is no crime.
Assisting a Suicide - provided that the person is willing to die and in their right mind, this is not a crime as the person who is losing their life is willing and consenting - of course you'd want to make sure that you had plenty of evidence/witnesses so you can demonstrate that they were willing
Posession of Drugs - the only person being harmed by this is you - this would not be a crime. Bear in mind that you are still 100% responsible for your actions while under the effects of the drugs, so could easily get into trouble as a result of this.
Sale of Drugs - again, not a crime. If people want to take drugs, there's no reason to stop them. As long as they are aware that they are fully responsible for anything that happens as a result. Of course, if you've cut the drugs with something harmful and don't tell people this then you're causing them harm, and they're not fully aware, so you would still get in trouble for supplying poor quality drugs.
Sale of Drugs cut with something harmful - unless the buyers are fully aware of what you've done here and are willing to risk their life with these dodgy drugs, this will cause harm - and so is a crime. If you tell them it's cut with bad stuff and they're still willing to take it, then it's ok - but as with the assisted suicide, you might want some sort of evidence.
Drunk Driving - this does not directly cause harm. As a result, this would not be a crime - but any harm that is caused as a result would be fully prosecuted (rather than having the silly rules now where killing someone with a car gets you a fine and a suspended sentence, whereas killing someone by accident can get you 5 years in jail).

I'd imagine a lot of people are going to look over that list and dispute some of those cases. I'm not quite finished yet, though...

The rule above covers most things that I would consider to be crimes, but it does miss a few. What if you plan a murder, but are caught before you can pull the trigger? Technically, you've committed no crime as yet, but you clearly intended to. If it can be demonstrated that you planned and would have carried out a crime, then you should be charged as if you had carried it out. This would have to be very carefully treated though, I'm reminded of a case in the US where a schoolboy was arrested for terrorism because he'd made a doom or quake map based on his school, and modded the monsters so that they looked like the teachers. He never planned to actually shoot them, but enjoyed pretending to. No harm done to anyone, so why was this a crime?

So, the rule should probably be something like:

1) Thou shalt not deprive another of something that is theirs in the form that they wish to have it (or attempt to do so), whatever that thing may be, unless they consent to your taking it or changing it and are in sound mind when doing so.

It's a little long winded, but relatively simple (as compared to the literally thousands of laws currently on the books)...