Delivering “fairness”.

I was prompted to write this by reading the Government’s Impact Assessment of the Household Benefit Cap.

Under ‘Reasons for Change in Policy’, one of the bullet points (top of p6) is:

– deliver fairness to the taxpayer in work

This is a bogus policy justification. Fairness, like justice, can’t be applied to only one section of the population.

‘Fairness’ as perceived by one person, which is achieved by ‘unfairness’ inflicted on another is not fairness at all.

One of the most common cries I hear from the privileged, who face some aspect of their privilege being dismantled, is “that’s not fair”. What they really mean (what I really mean, because I forget myself and say it sometimes too) is “I liked what I had; I liked my advantages; I didn’t mind that you were disadvantaged; don’t take my stuff away from me”.

A see-saw with one end high and one end low is a symbol of imbalance, of advantage vs disadvantage. It is not possible to bring the low end of the see-saw up without bringing the high end of the see-saw down.

Fairness involves all parts of the see-saw, just as justice demands both sides of the scales.

It is not possible to ‘deliver fairness’ to one group only.

That’s just not fair.



What caused the riots across the UK in the summer of 2011? David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, seems to think he knows. Apparently we don’t hit our children enough any more.

and here:…
and here:
…he appears to attribute the riots to the ‘fact’ that parents aren’t allowed to smack their children any more and as a result are unable to instill discipline in them at all.

He is wrong. Here’s why.

Smacking is not against the law. Parents may still smack their children as a disciplinary strategy (however flawed that strategy may be). What they may not do is smack so hard that the smack causes visible bruising, grazes, scratches, swellings or cuts. So if David Lammy is calling for a change to the law in this area, he doesn’t mean ‘parents should be allowed to smack their children’ – because they already are allowed to. He means ‘parents should be allowed to smack their children ’til it really bloody hurts’, which is rather different. He means that the smallest, weakest, most defenceless members of our community should NOT be afforded the same protection (against actual bodily harm) under the law as the biggest, roughest, most-able-to-take-care-of-themselves thugs. He defends this position by implying that without this disciplinary tactic at their disposal, parents are helpless to prevent their children from growing up to become a rioting mob.

To find support for Lammy’s thesis, let’s look at Scotland. Scotland introduced protections for children against smacking in 2003, ahead of England and Wales where the law didn’t change until 2005. So naturally with parental discipline rolled back two years earlier, the Scots saw much worse rioting last summer….

Oh. That’s right. They didn’t.

In summer 2011 there was no rioting in Scotland. Scottish police support was deployed south of the border to help forces in parts of the country where hard smacking had been allowed to continue for longer. Hmm. Not yet much of an evidence base for Lammy’s thesis.

The Scottish position on smacking children is admirably clear and articulated here in the Scottish government’s publication ‘Children, Physical Punishment and the Law’:

Among other things, this document spells out what is wrong with smacking.


“Can be dangerous – it is easy to forget how delicate children are, particularly if you are frustrated or angry. What feels to you like a light slap can have the potential to cause real harm to a small child.

Sets children the wrong example – rather than correcting misbehaviour, it can teach children to hit out at people who are doing things they don’t like or who don’t do what the child wants them to do.

Has effects which last long after the physical pain dies away – young children will not necessarily associate the punishment with their behaviour. It can make them angry and resentful and can be damaging to their confidence and self-esteem.

Smacking is not an effective way to teach children discipline.”

But wait! I should get down off my soapbox, shouldn’t I? Because David Lammy didn’t mean children like mine. Unless he’s been misquoted, he only meant working class children.

“Legislation governing the smacking of children needs to be relaxed so working-class parents can instil discipline in their homes without fear of prosecution, a senior Labour politician has said.” (Guardian)

Obviously working class children need to be hit harder than middle class children, don’t they? He also referenced ‘typical single mums’. Their children must need to be hit harder too. So let’s be clear, if your parents are not middle class (like the legislators) or you’re only being raised by your mum then you need to be smacked more and / or harder.

Er… What?

Call me daft or soft but I think a law that protects children of every class, and regardless of family composition, is exactly the kind of law that we need, not a set of arrangements that pander to the supposed ‘rights’ of parents (of any class or gender) who think hitting is the only method of developing self discipline and respect for boundaries.

Instead of supporting his constituents who want to be able to inflict ABH on their children without fear of punishment, Lammy should be pointing out to them that the law does still permit them to smack their children, but that it isn’t a good way to develop better behaviour. Instead of demanding that the law revert to pre-2004 expectations of ‘reasonable punishment’ Lammy should be campaigning for full funding for parenting and family support programmes which help parents to find better and more effective, non-violent strategies for establishing and maintaining boundaries with their children and enabling good behaviour.

Above all, Lammy should remember the context of the 2004 Children Act, because the context was a massive failure of child protection in Haringey. On his patch.

The 2004 Children Act arose from the soul-searching and reflection that followed the death of Victoria Climbie.

The Victoria Climbie Inquiry Report ( explicitly references (p21) the escalation of abuse of this young girl, which started with ‘little smacks’ and ended with her death.

The Children Are Unbeatable Alliance’s submission to the enquiry ( provides a clear justification for why outlawing corporal punishment of children needed to be considered by the UK Government following the Victoria Climbie case, and points to Sweden as a comparator society, where smacking has been outlawed since the late 70s without either the mass prosecutions of parents or the mass deviant behaviour of children that proponents of smacking suggest would follow an outright ban in this country.

Lammy’s remarks also obliquely touch on another challenging aspect of the Victoria Climbie case, which is the way that child protection concerns intersect with cultural ‘norms’ in corporal punishment of children.

Lammy ridicules the apparent irrelevance of the current legislation to his non-white constituents: ‘The law used to allow ‘reasonable chastisement’, but current legislation stops actions that lead to a reddening of the skin – which for a lot of my non-white residents isn’t really an issue.”

While I agree that it is crass, and probably racist, for the law to refer to a form of harm that may be visible only on pale skin, Lammy surely doesn’t mean us to infer that it is OK to hit black children harder because the hurt is less likely to show?

The Victoria Climbie case forced social workers and other professionals engaged in child protection to confront assumptions that some of them were making about how families from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds disciplined their children. In particular it forced practitioners to ask the uncomfortable question “If Victoria had been a white child, would she have been treated any differently”?

This extract ( from a social work training module on anti-discriminatory practice shows how these issues continue to inform and shape developing social work practice.

At the heart of this module sits this statement from Lord Laming (2003): “The basic requirement that children are kept safe is universal and cuts across cultural boundaries… Cultural heritage is important to many people, but it cannot take precedence over standards of childcare embodied in law. …each child, irrespective of colour or background, should be treated as an individual requiring appropriate care.”

I’m shocked that a Tottenham MP should have such a short memory and dismayed that any public figure should appear to endorse corporal punishment of children based on their class, their family composition or perhaps even the colour of their skin.

If Every Child Matters, then we must find a way to support all parents and carers in establishing and maintaining discipline without violence. If Sweden can do it, then so can the UK.

The ‘Children Are Unbeatable Alliance’ notes that: “Sweden’s law against smacking is vigorously supported by government measures, for example information campaigns, amongst other things on milk cartons read by parents and children at the breakfast table; parent-education lessons, which all first-time parents receive, and immigrant-induction programmes.”

It asks: “Given the fact that banning smacking appears to help save children’s lives, the next question may be, is there a price to pay? For example, are there more Swedish children in care? No, levels of children in both voluntary and compulsory out-of-family placements have fallen sharply since the ban. Are Swedish children out of control? No, in most comparators of youth behaviour, such as crime, drug abuse, hooliganism and suicide, Swedish children not only fare better than UK children, the rates within Sweden have decreased over the period of the ban. Research also reports that the 1979 law focused parents’ attention on effective forms of discipline, so that Swedish parenting became less haphazard and impulsive (Reducing violence to US children: transferring positive innovations from Sweden A Haeuser, Wisconsin University, 1988). Are smacking parents persecuted by the courts? No, despite some well-publicised claims by a minority group of Christian fundamentalists (whose case illustrations reveal quite reasonable forms of state intervention). Though, as we have seen, reports of child abuse rose in Sweden after the ban, the proportion of those prosecuted did not – the trend is a declining one, and sharply so where parents in their twenties are concerned. These are the parents who were themselves brought up in a society without smacking.”

If he cant be persuaded to tackle the social and economic injustices to which so many attribute last summer’s riots, perhaps David Lammy could at least devote his energy to a campaign to outlaw smacking entirely instead?

The Bottled Water Tariff

The Bottled Water Tariff was established in the August riots of 2011 when a 23 year old student with no previous convictions was jailed for the maximum permitted 6 months for the theft of bottled water worth £3.50.


When a member of the well-insulated rich elite, with their absurdist sense of entitlement, is found guilty of stealing from or defrauding others I now assess the appropriate length of his or her sentence based on the Bottled Water Tariff (BWT)

Today’s example is 3 men sent to prison for defrauding a Swiss Bank of $22million.


$22million = approx £14million.

£14million divided by £3.50 (BWT) = 4,000,000

Therefore the value of the bank fraud offence is the equivalent of four million bottled water offences.

This would be 6 months imprisonment on the BWT so this offence should carry a penalty of four million times 6 months. 24,000,000 months.

Divide that by 12 to give a more manageable sentencing unit of years = 2,000,000 years.

If 2 million years seems unreasonable for a $22million fraud, maybe 6 months was unreasonable for £3.50 bottled water.

The “Immoral Capitalism” Speech

In January 2004 Michael Howard, then leader of the Tory party, published a list of beliefs on which the party intended to fight the next election. Among them was this statement: “I do not believe that one person’s poverty is caused by another’s wealth.”

For me this was a defining moment of Tory stupidity and immorality. On a finite sphere, encompassing finite resources, one person’s wealth IS the cause of another person’s poverty.

Unless we all have an equal share of the earth’s natural bounty, some of us have more than our just deserts.

The global situation is so vastly unequal that it’s difficult to imagine anything short of apocalypse having an adequate redistributive impact. But some people at least recognise the fundamental injustice of this situation, work to counteract it, fight to redress the balance. To pretend it simply isn’t there is to exist in a state of extreme moral blindness.

In that one statement, which I’m sure he thought was very smart, Michael Howard exposed the moral vacuum at his party’s core.

Fast forward eight years to January 2012 and we have this:…

This is currently being referred to as David Cameron’s “Moral Capitalism” speech. I hope that it will one day be known as his “Moral Vacuum” speech.

It contains a level of double-think that would confound even Orwell. In it, Cameron re-casts the highest unemployment for 18 years as: “The biggest work programme since the 1930s, helping 3 million people.”

And there are other insights into the empty Tory psyche. Take Cameron’s assertion that “open markets and free enterprise can actually promote morality.” This is, he says, because “The fundamental basis of the market is the idea of something for something”.

Perhaps it is no surprise that a nation of shopkeepers should be asked to embrace the idea that morality = trade. But the concept is nauseating. Every genuine moral code I can think of is based on giving, not on trading. Across philosophies and across religions, across times and across cultures, goods have been traded, services rendered, people have worked and work has been respected, but morality resides in compassion, humility, honesty and courage among other archetypal human virtues.

Morality is found in Mercy – giving someone a second (or umpteenth) chance they maybe don’t ‘deserve’; Hope – giving someone a glimpse of a future to look forward to when times are dark; Loyalty – giving someone consistent support or allegiance through life’s ups and downs; Peace and Non-violence, Compassion and Tolerance – giving others the gift of lives free of fear or intimidation; Generosity – straightforward giving, without thought of return and with joy in your heart.

“Something for something” is really nothing more than shopping. “Something for nothing” is where true morality lives, as long as the ‘something’ is freely given.

Victor Hugo places giving at the heart of love: “You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving. The great acts of love are done by those who are habitually performing small acts of kindness.”

Read those words aloud and feel tears spring to your eyes.

In Cameron’s something-for-something world we get: “That’s why I welcome this week’s decision by Fidelity Worldwide Investment to add their voice to calls for the better policing of boardroom pay.” which really just makes you wonder what the ‘something’ was that he got from Fidelity Worldwide Investment, doesn’t it? And reminds us that Michael Gove found time to plug a carpet shop in an education speech. Classy.

However, if we accept for a moment Cameron’s suggestion that “something for something” is a moral position, we will see that capitalism fails even this rudimentary moral test. It fails because at its heart lies profit and profit is – without doubt – “something for nothing”. However, it’s not a something freely given. It’s a something taken by the stronger from the weaker in the process of a trade. Profit is an expression of power.

When we buy goods or a service, what we pay covers the value inherent in those goods or the service. This may include labour and materials; it may include transport and packaging; it may include research and development, design and publicity. We also pay a little bit more than the value of all those things and that is profit. When the costs of raw materials are paid, and the costs of manufacturing, and distribution, and the overheads of the shop that sells you the thing – whatever it is – the bit that’s left over is profit, and that goes to someone who did nothing. Profit is something for nothing. The shareholder who profits didn’t plough or sow, didn’t harvest or mill, didn’t mix or bake. They just waited, and the profits rolled in.

Profit is what the powerful cream off the top of a trade because they can. And it is the stupid and immoral heart of Cameron’s so-called moral capitalism.

There was once a time when profit could perhaps have been seen as a fair future reward for foregoing an advantage in the present. Someone worked hard, saved their capital and then invested it, perhaps risking their ‘nest egg’, the future well-being of their family, in the hope of greater reward later. But now the capital invested has not been hard-earned by investors through their own graft. The capital invested is borrowed from someone else. Who probably borrowed it from someone else. Who borrowed it from someone else. And nowhere in the chain was the money ever ‘real’.

In a world where someone else’s debt to me can be accounted for as my ‘asset’ and where if I want to increase the value of my asset, I simply need to increase the interest I charge thereby increasing the size of your debt, my ability to coerce something out of you in return for nothing of value from me becomes a measure of my worth.

This cannot be morality.

It’s more like the big boy asking for your dinner money. With menaces. It is the dark side of ‘something for nothing.’ Instead of something given freely with no expectation of return, profit is sublimated violence. The extra that the stronger take from the weaker. Because they can.

Everyone that works for less than the living wage, or on a workfare scheme, in one of our big supermarket chains has had some of their time taken from them for nothing in return. How moral is that?

There is, of course, some morality to be found in working. The quality of industriousness is recognised in moral codes in many cultures and times. I differentiate ‘industriousness’ from ‘engagement in paid work’. There is nothing moral about being engaged in paid work which destroys our environment, which builds weapons to help tyrannical regimes oppress their people or which demeans and exploits women to fulfil the sexual fantasies of strangers. There is much that is moral in mothering a child, caring for an incapacitated parent or partner, writing a letter to bring comfort to a prisoner, marching to stop a war, running six marathons in six days to save a health service, badgering the Government through FOI requests to stop the progress of a bill that will bring suffering to those who are sick or have disabilities.

If we find moral value in industriousness, we may find it in children, whose ‘work’ is to learn and grow, in the sick whose ‘work’ is to get well, and in the elderly whose ‘work’ is to pass on their wisdom and experience to those who follow them.

But the empty-souled Tories no longer even seem to see moral worth in work. They see it only in material success. And the ownership of things.

Cameron promises “a complete intolerance of failure”. (No matter how hard you work, there’s no morality in failure). He promises to value the “new, the innovative and the bold.” (There is no virtue in steadfastness, loyalty, quiet competence). He says: “If you take a risk, quit your job, create the next Google or Facebook and wind up a billionaire, then more power to your elbow.” Although if you wind up a billionaire you probably don’t care for Cameron’s endorsement, or what he thinks of your elbows.

Cameron says: “It’s a basic truth that if people have a stake in business, they will support its growth and share in its success.” From which it seems reasonable to infer that unless you have “a stake” in a business you’re assumed not to care for growth or success.

For the new ‘moral capitalism’ it seems we don’t need honesty, compassion, mercy, hope, loyalty, peace or generosity. We have no need of loving or giving. No. According to our millionaire prime minister “We need more shareholders, more home-owners, and more entrepreneurs.”

This is what Cameron means by moral capitalism. One which is “fair in the true Conservative meaning of the word.”

And I think we all know what that means, don’t we?

E-mail from 38Degrees

I get regular e-mail updates from 38Degrees. This is one I wanted to share:

Dear [imw] I wanted to get in touch with an update on the NHS campaign. It’s been a bit quiet over the last few weeks [well, @cpeedell & chums were heroically doing #Bevan’s run, but that aside… – Ed] , but things are about to hot up again. So, this is an unusual 38 Degrees email. There’s no urgent action to take and no donations required. [<< This is the reason I’m sharing the e-mail. Nothing asked of readers, its just an update – Ed] This is just so you know what’s happening and what to expect in the next few weeks. Andrew Lansley is still trying to get his plan through parliament. It finally passed through the House of Commons last summer. It has been in the House of Lords for the last few months. Before Christmas thousands of 38 Degrees members contacted the Lords with concerns as the plan went through “committee stage”. On February 8th the next stage in the House of Lords begins – “report stage”. Report stage will last a few weeks. This could be the final time that the House of Lords discusses the NHS plans in detail. Before report stage starts, we can expect the government to announce if it will make any changes in response to our campaigning. Our people powered legal team is standing by to quickly analyse the proposed changes. They will cut through the spin and legal speak, so we are able to respond together. Once report stage starts, the Lords will have another chance to vote on changes to Lansley’s plan. They will be able to vote both on changes proposed by the government and changes proposed by other Lords. Some votes could be very close. We may have to work together quickly to make sure the votes go the right way. When we hear the government announcements and see what changes they are proposing, 38 Degrees members will have to vote together to decide what we should do next. This is likely to be within the next 2 weeks. At the moment, we’re hearing a mixture of rumours on how much ground Andrew Lansley might have given. On the one hand, there are some encouraging signs that Lib Dem Lords have secured important concessions on keeping the Secretary of State’s “duty to provide” a health service. On the other hand, just yesterday the Royal College Of Nurses and Royal College of Midwives announced that they thought Lansley’s plans were still very dangerous. They argue that the best thing would be for them to be scrapped altogether. We will need to be ready to move fast and vote to decide together what we do next. It’s amazing to think that when we first started to campaign to protect our NHS, people told us we were wasting our time. They said the changes would be done and dusted by December 2010. But we didn’t give up. We kept up the pressure and defended our health service. By working together we’ve formed the biggest campaign ever to protect the NHS. We are now half a million strong. We’ve signed petitions, delivered them to our MPs’ doorsteps and put pressure on key politicians. Over the last few months over 50,000 of us have contacted members of the House of Lords. On top of that we’ve funded a crack legal team to get to the truth of what’s on the table and to expose the full extent of the government’s plans. It’s nearly a year and a half since we started the campaign. Soon we’ll need to be ready for another big push. There will be more than a few politicians hoping that we’re worn out by now, or that we’ve got bored and decided to do something else. Time and again, 38 Degrees members have proven wrong those who’ve doubted our commitment. We know how important our NHS is, and that’s why we’ll keep working together to protect it. So, please watch out for an email in the next couple of weeks asking you to help decide what we do next. In the meantime, if you’ve got any thoughts or ideas you’d like to share with other 38 Degrees members you can do that on the website here: or on Facebook: Thanks for all you’ve done so far, Johnny, David, Hannah, Cian, Becky, Marie and the 38 Degrees team

Every school above average. Oh! Hang on!

David Cameron on “coasting” schools:

“Coasting schools Last year I spoke out about the scandal of coasting schools – the ones that are content to muddle along without trying hard to improve. These might be schools in leafy areas that get above-average results, or schools in inner cities that have seen flat-lining poor results; what links them isn’t the scores they’re getting, but the complacent attitude that says things are OK just as they are. This year we’re doing something about it. Ofsted have announced today that they’re changing the rating system for schools. It used to be that some schools were labelled ‘satisfactory’. Now they’re abolishing that label and replacing it with a new one: ‘requires improvement’. This is not some small bureaucratic change. It marks a massive shift in attitude. I don’t want the word ‘satisfactory’ to exist in our education system. “Just good enough” is frankly not good enough. Every teacher, every head and every school should be aiming for excellence – no lower. These words are being backed by action. Schools that ‘require improvement’ will be re-inspected within 12-18 months – instead of the 3-year break between inspections they’ve had in recent years. And the bar of expectation is getting higher too. Schools can only be found to ‘require improvement’ twice. At their third inspection they must be rated at least ‘good’ or they will be placed in special measures. To those who say that this will alienate some schools, I say we’ve got to stop making excuses and start doing what is best for our children: demanding excellence and confronting complacency wherever we find it. Making this change of attitude felt on the ground, in classrooms, will be a massive team effort. That’s why this afternoon I’m holding a meeting in Downing Street with some of the country’s most inspiring head-teachers, as well as Sir Michael Wilshaw, the new head of Ofsted. In his previous job as head of Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, Sir Michael said ‘no’ to complacency and failure, and turned that school around. Now he’s going to help us drive the nationwide transformation of our schools. Be in no doubt: this is a government that is incredibly ambitious for all the children in our country – and we will fight for them to get the best start in life.

David Cameron
Prime Minister”

Letter from Pat of “Pat’s Petition”

Hi imw

In haste as it’s a bit manic in our camp! Can you put this out anywhere you can? Blog, tell people. I know you have been a huge supporter before but this is a biggy. Aren’t they all?

Pat x

Last week the government was defeated three times on the Welfare Reform Bill.

On Tuesday this week there will be another debate in the Lords – this time on proposed changes to DLA.

Sue Marsh [@Suey2y] is calling for a pause on Tuesday to reflect on DLA legislation in the light of the Spartacus Report. [#spartacusreport]

Pat’s Petition asks for the government to stop and review all the changes to benefits that are creating a perfect storm.

Pat’s Petition has now reached almost 20,000 in a very short time. Our contacts in the House of Lords say Pat’s Petition is being watched because it is a grassroots petition. High numbers of signatures give them evidence of the strength of feeling behind everyone’s actions. This is exactly what they need.

If you want to support campaigners on Tuesday please help with Pat’s Petition. Whether you’ve been on a Hardest Hit march, tweeted about the Spartacus Report or written to a Lord, please share the link as widely as possible in the run up to the vote on DLA on Tuesday. Keep sharing it so that Lord Freud and others know how many there are of us, watching their every move. is the link to the petition.

It’s on facebook at and twitter at

Pat x