Education

The crisis in school places: is Brexit the quick fix?

With about a month to go before the EU referendum scheduled to take place on 23 June 2016, high-profile Brexiteers keep pushing the line or argument that it is because of the European Union´s (EU) freedom of movement of people that Britain has major problems with its public services, not least health (EU health tourism), housing (being priced out by EU migrants), benefits (EU benefit tourism), education (too few places due to EU immigrant families), etc.

I have already discussed some of the arguments (see links above), so now attention turns to another major public policy concern in the Brexit: education. If it true that the education system is under pressure specifically because of immigration from the EU, then this could be a reason for considering leaving Brexit from the EU.

On the other hand, if the pressures for educational places predate 2004, when the EU immigration to the UK started in earnest, or if EU migration is only one factor among others that are causing the particular problem of pressures for school places, then it is also reasonable to discuss those other issues, thus putting EU immigration in context.

After all, everyone knows that government has ultimate responsibility for securing public goods which the market cannot deliver on its own: where an important public policy gap is diagnosed, it is for government to devote the necessary public funds to correct the market failure. No one is suggesting that Brussels is responsible for education (or housing construction, funding hospitals and clinics, etc.), not even the Brexiteers.

My kingdom for a school place!

In a clear echo of their diagnosis of the nature of the crisis in the health sector (i.e. the NHS is at breaking point because of EU health tourism and similar), the Brexiteers they are once again pressing the crisis button and pointing in the direction of Brussels: the school system is under “huge and unsustainable pressure” from a dramatic rise in the number of children from European migrants’ families. Ms Priti Patel, the pro Leave Employment Minister, echoing her now familiar anti-EU immigration refrain, keeps making comments such as: „These figures show how the EU’s open borders policies, and the uncontrolled immigration that stems from that, is leading to huge and unsustainable pressures on our schools.“

This possibility is deeply troubling for the average British family, so let us try to unpack this issue.

First of all, it is clear that Ms Patel and her bedfellows are not making allegations about the performance of the school system. There, it is clear that educational performance is a long running concern that cannot be pinned on the EU: Britain is responsible for the national curriculum, the schools and the teachers, not the EU. In any case, Britain has a long and proud history of accepting children whose mother tongue is not English and turning them into integrated citizens. Furthermore, the experience of EU migrant’s children has generally been positive in pushing up standards, especially in the urban areas where EU and other migrants tend to concentrate. So instead, the Brexiteers are focusing on the issue of insufficient school places (i.e. the unsustainable pressure bit) and pointing to EU immigration as the reason for the crisis.

So the central question to be asked is: are there sufficient places for school age children in the UK?

The answer is a clear and unequivocal “yes”. At the national level there is a notable surplus of both primary and secondary school places.

While Ms Patel and other Brexiteers are pointing the accusing finger of blame in the direction of EU immigrants, even Migration Watch, an initiative that maintains that immigration is neither properly managed nor sustainable and thus has an impeccable Brexit pedigree, says otherwise:

“There are currently 4.416 million primary school places in England and 4.011 million pupils on school rolls which means there are 434,000 unfilled places. At the moment the number of unfilled places as a percentage of total places is 9.8%…  The current number of secondary school places in England is 3.637 million while the current number of pupils is 3.191 million. This means that there are over 450,000 places currently unfilled. The number of unfilled place as a percentage of total places is currently 12.9%.” (emphasis added, 2014 data).

The real issue is that Britain’s fertility rate combined with immigration has resulted in a projected increase in school age children, which will feed into the school system from 2018 to 2020, as illustrated in the chart below.

So the point is not that there are currently unsustainable pressures but that in the future there might be unsustainable pressures if the British government fails to act. Perhaps this is what Ms Patel actually means, as opposed to what she and the rest of the Leave campaign are implying. Either way, the effect on the average voter can be imagined.

Responding to present or future school place demand is categorically not the responsibility of the EU or of EU citizens who choose lo live in Britain, as is their right to do.

It would be absurd to blame the large numbers of Britons living in France and Spain for causing unsustainable health / housing / education, etc. pressures there. Relatively little of the projected increase in demand for UK school places can possibly be attributed to EU immigrants. Generally speaking, they tend to be younger, better educated and single, factors which tend not to be correlated with large families and thus disproportionate number of school age children. As far as I can tell Britons, including Ms Priti Patel and Mr Nigel Farage, as well non-EU migrants who make-up the majority of the annual immigration to the UK, also find the time to make babies. British children clearly and unequivocally make-up vast majority of the children taking-up places in the schools.

When it comes to forecasts about future school places, it is the responsibility of Ms Priti Patel, Mr Boris Johnson, Mr Michael Gove (former Secretary of State for Education (2010-2014) and previously Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (2007 – 2010)), Mr David Cameron, Mr David Osborne, etc. to ensure that resources are allocated to meet those needs. Since politicians keep on about our children being our future, one would expect them to get on with funding the necessary school places, so as to avoid any future unsustainable pressure from a well-documented surge in school age children. Is this too much to expect of a responsible government and its leading ministers?

Bread today, not tomorrow

It would not be appropriate to suggest that the problem of school places is only about the future: it is also about today. The point is that demand for school places varies from location to location. Some schools are much more attractive than others for the simple reason that some perform much better academically than others. Most parents want to send their children not just to the nearest local school but to the best performing nearest school, since this is likely to affect their educational performance and thus their chances of getting to university and land a good job. That is a perfectly rational desire on their part.

But the result is that in high demand locations/schools, the parents’ first choice of school may or may not work out. The issue is thus not one of not getting a school place, whatever the Brexiteers may imply (though it may come to that in the future), but of getting a place in the school that the parents would prefer their child to attend. The better schools will always attract more demand for school places than they can possibly satisfy. In this context, available primary and secondary school places may not match demand for specific schools in particular parts of the country, especially in urban areas. In some places, it is possible that simply not enough school places are available to cope with demand.

None of this is new, unusual or driven by EU immigration.

Since demand and supply vary across time and space, it is up to central and local government to meet that future demand (based on population projections), as well as current demand in hot spots. This is at the core of governance, which includes taking into account the fact that EU migration not only happens, but has been happening since even before the UK joined in 1973. Nothing new there, though the scale of EU immigration has increased since 2004.  That is nothing new either, so the responsible individuals have had more than enough time to factor it into their planning.

It is up to each local authority not only to ensure that there are sufficient school places, but also to promote parental choice, diversity and fair access.

If there are access hot spots in particular locations, would you blame the parents for choosing to live in those parts of the country or wanting to send their kids to be best possible schools? If there are particular areas with insufficient school places, would you blame people for still wanting and expecting their children to get a school place? If there are problems, I would point to central and local government for failing to act according to the population forecasts and patterns of demand. There is absolutely no rocket science and there are no sudden unexpected factors involved. The nationality of the children or parents involved is irrelevant, except if some choose to make a political issue out of it.

The Department for Education is tasked with making capital funding available to establish new schools and maintain existing ones. For their part, local authorities argue that they cannot cope with the funding pressures: in 2014, 3 out of 4 claimed that capital funding for new places was insufficient. The National Union of Teachers argues that where there is a school places crisis, it is caused by the curtailment of local authorities’ powers and the centralisation of decisions over where to build new schools.

I can see that a problem exists in the policy nexus between the Department of Education, local authorities and the National Union of Teachers. What I fail to see is how Ms Priti Patel can attribute blame to EU immigrants when she and her fellow Brexiteers, such as Mr Gove, have systematically failed to perform their day job. It is British politicians and ministers who are paid to assess, plan and fund school places (and housing and health services and infrastructure and all the rest of public goods that only government policy can deliver) according to changing patterns of national, regional, local and micro demand. This applies equally to all public services.

Surely Ms Patel and Mr Gove can understand this point and their own role in the future availability or otherwise of primary and secondary school places? But fear not, it is not too late. There are still a few years before the looming school place crisis hits the school system (see chart above), so they may as well just get on with building the necessary schools, rather than blaming all and sundry for national and local politicians’ own policy failings. It is not just a bit too convenient to push the blame for public policy failures to someone else?

Scapegoating immigrants is never a pretty sight and can be downright dangerous.

With her background, Ms Priti Patel should understand this point much better than most even if the EU referendum, so dear to her ideological heart, may be at stake. I acknowledge that for someone with an immigration background in theReferendum Party and now the Conservative Party, talking tough about EU immigration may be some sort of mark of distinction, but she has to be  fair and reasonable in apportioning blame for the problem. As far as I am concerned, that particular bar is set even higher for senior members of the British government with constant access to the media. With power should come at least a sense of proportion, if not responsibility. The longer the Brexit debate goes on and the more the polls shift slowly towards Remaining, the more shrill the Brexit case become. The same could be said about the Remain campaign to some extent, though the focus is different.

One is tenuous and based on the premise that EU immigrants are to blame for almost all the public policy problems (housing, education, health, etc.). The other talks principally about the economic consequences of leaving on taxes, wages, pensions, house prices, jobs, etc.  This claim and counter claims muddy the waters and confuse the public prior to what will undoubtedly be the most important vote for a generation. However, this decision cannot possibly be reduced to just the issue of EU immigration, no matter how emotive it may be. Apart from anything else, British people returning home to the UK, together with non-EU immigration, constitute a larger portion of annual net migration than does EU immigration.

Returning to the issues of school places, let us keep things simple: any way you choose to look at it, Brexit cannot possibly be a quick fix for the forthcoming crisis in school places at primary and secondary school level. The surge in school age children is coming because of fertility rates: that means first and foremost Britons, as well as non-EU immigrants and EU immigrants. Why single out the least important contributing factor that is dwarfed by the impact of Britons themselves? Leaving the EU will change little in this respect, not least because EU migrants are attracted by work, are younger, are better educated and are more mobile, all of which tend to reduce fertility levels compared to the UK average.

Neither will Brexit affect well-established and long-standing local patterns of demand for the better performing schools. That is, unless Brexit is to be combined with forcing non-native Britons back to the other EU-27 countries. This is something which has been ruled out by everyone, even UKIP, since it would prompt a retaliatory reverse flow of almost as many Britons back to the UK. Apart from unleashing unpredictable forces in Europe (there are enough of those around at the moment) for very little gain, it would be one heck of a mess to sort out.

Blaming is easy, solving is not

So if Brexit is not the answer to the coming surge in school age children, as well as the high local demand for certain schools in particular locations, what would improve matters? There no prizes for guessing the answers:

  • The UK government (Department of Education and Chancellor of the Exchequer) should take its responsibility seriously and allocate the capital funding today in order to create the necessary new school places tomorrow and relieve localised pressure for school places.
  • Local government should ensure that public funds result in schools being built in the right locations, especially in high demand urban areas, while also ensuring fair access in demand hot spots so as to avoid accentuating social segregation.
  • Ms Priti Patel and the rest of the Brexiteers, not least Mr Michael Gove, should acquire a bit of humility and refrain from pinning their and their fellow British politicians’ own long-standing public policy failings (e.g. housing provision, NHS funding, capital funding for school, etc.) on the EU and scapegoating EU immigrants at the same time.

Now that would be a nice start in actually trying to solve at least one of Britain´s public policy challenges.

Will it happen? Fat chance.

It is much easier and politically rewarding to keep pointing the finger at EU immigrants. In the past, that finger was pointed at any old immigrant. These days, in the lead-up to the EU referendum, it is no coincidence that it is EU immigrants that are singled out.

And what happens after the 23rd of June 2016, when it has become normal and acceptable to blame Britain´s long-standing public policy ills (e.g. access to housing, access to education, access to health, benefits abuse, etc.) on foreigners, rather than the Britons who are responsible for policy-making, planning and funding? Will Britons wake-up and find that those public services have miraculously improved? Scapegoating is far too easy; trying to understand the problems and then solving them is much, much harder.

“It’s too easy to criticize a man when he’s out of favour, and to make him shoulder the blame for everybody else’s mistakes.” ― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


Elitism in Britain: unequal opportunities = unequal outcomes

© Ricardo Pinto, 2015, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU

In my previous post, I showed that, on the basis of their educational background (i.e. whether they attended an independent school and one of the top two universities), the UK cabinet is very much part of the Establishment or the elite of the country. In stark contrast to the German cabinet, there is an extreme concentration of people with such a background: a staggering 42.8% of the British cabinet, are doubly privileged, David Cameron and George Osborne included.

If that was not amazing enough, I would like to report some of the results of an official analysis by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission called Elitist Britain (2014).

Secondary Education and Higher Education are the foundation for elitism

Whereas 89% of pupils attend comprehensive schools, 4% go to grammar schools and a further 7% to independent schools, the latter being independent in terms of finances as well as governance. The terms independent and private school are used synonymous in the UK and basically involve significant tuition charges which only the affluent can afford.

Whereas 62% of the UK adults do not attend university, 1 in 9 attend the so-called Russel Group Universities (the leading 24 higher education institutions in the UK, including Oxford and Cambridge or Oxbridge) but only 1 in 100 attend Oxbridge or 1% of the adult population, which is a classic definition of the elite.

Britain’s elite: formed on the playing fields of independent schools

To get a feel for the influence of the independent schools, consider the following statistics: 71% of senior judges, 62% of senior armed forces officers, 55% of Permanent Secretaries, 53% of senior diplomats, 50% of members of the House of Lords, 45% of public body chairs, 44% of the Sunday Times Rich List, 43% of newspaper columnists, 36% of the Cabinet, 35% of the national rugby team, 33% of MPs, 33% of the England cricket team, 26% of BBC executives and 22% of the Shadow Cabinet attended independent schools compared with 7% of the public as a whole. This means complete domination of the most powerful and influential positions in UK society by those that attend independent schools.

Britain’s elite: finished in Oxbridge

If that provides food for thought, than the influence of the top two universities in the UK is absolutely gobsmacking: 75% of senior judges, 59% of the Cabinet, 57% of Permanent Secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists, 44% of public body chairs, 38% of members of the House of Lords, 33% of BBC executives, 33% of the Shadow Cabinet, 24% of MPs and 12% of the Sunday Times Rich List attended Oxbridge, compared to less than 1% of the public as a whole. The influence of Oxford and Cambridge in respect to the top positions in Britain is extremely disproportionate, to put it mildly.

Oxford, R Pinto 2015

Oxford Trinity College, © R. Pinto, 2015

 

Sectors of entrenched elitism

The preceding analysis demonstrates the extent to which privilege is entrenched in Britain and this advantage tends to cumulate over time, since is generally passed-on from generation to generation. Since Britons generally take pride in living in a meritocratic society, it is worth delving a bit deeper into some sectors to illustrate what this form of elitism means in practice:

  • Parliament: the advantages are even more entrenched than suggested at first sight by the fact that 36% of the cabinet went to independent schools and 59% went to Oxbridge. Out of the 365 Members of Parliament (MPs) 33% went to independent schools (52% of Conservatives, 41% of Liberal Democrats and 10% of Labour) and 24% went to Oxbridge (32% of Conserves, 28% of Liberal Democrats and 17% of Labour). It should be noted that the MP data refer to 2014 and thus the previous Parliament, though there is no reason to assume this has changed dramatically in the current parliamentary intake. The situation is even more extreme in the case of the House of Lords or the Upper House. Half of the Lords attended independent schools (50%), which is seven times more than the UK population as a whole and over a third (38%) of the Lords attended Oxbridge.
  • Civil Service: over half (55%) of Whitehall permanent secretaries (the most senior civil servant charged with running government a department or ministry on a day-to-day basis) attended an independent school, as did 45% of Public body chairs and 34% of Public body CEOs. Public bodies are created to provide public services such as British Rail (BR) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Unsurprisingly, more than half of the same Whitehall permanent secretaries are Oxbridge educated (57%), as are 44% of the Public body chairs and 26% of Public body CEOs.
  • Law: 71% of judges attended an independent school and a further 23% of judges attended a grammar school, which take 4% of the pupils. Thus independent/grammar schools account for a staggering 94% of all judges in Britain. Not only that, but one in seven judges (14%) went to just five independent schools: Eton, Westminster, Radley, Charterhouse and St Paul’s Boys. 75% of judges went to Oxbridge. Our judiciary is a highly self-selective group, it seems.
  • Order: the concentration in the army is almost as extreme as for judges and civil servants. Senior armed forces officers were also largely educated in independent schools (62%) and fewer than 1 in 10 (7%) went to comprehensives. But the equivalent in the police services are less concentrated; a mere 22% attended independent schools and 6% went to Oxbridge.
  • Business: Excluding those educated abroad, 41% of British-educated FTSE350 CEOs and six out of 10 of those in the Sunday Times Rich List (60%) were educated privately. Almost half of FTSE350 CEOs (43%) and over a quarter of those on the Sunday Times Rich List attended Russell Group universities (28%), of which 18% and 12% respectively attended Oxbridge.
  • Media: in terms of the other key set of people setting the agenda for the rest of the population, 54% of the Top 100 media professionals (newspaper editors, columnists and broadcasters) are drawn from independent schools and 45% attended Oxbridge. More than two in five newspaper columnists (43%) in the British press attended an independent school; and 47% graduated from Oxbridge. The situation is even more extreme if we add the independent and grammar school categories together (or 11% of the public): 89% of the Top 100 media professionals are from such schools. Looking specifically at the tabloids (a newspaper having pages half the size of those of a standard newspaper, typically popular in style and dominated by headlines, photographs and sensational stories such as The Sun, The Mirror, etc.) 38% of the columnists attended independent schools and 25% attended Oxbridge (and 49% went to a Russell Group institution). 45% of the broadsheet columnists (a newspaper with a large format regarded as more serious and less sensationalist than tabloids such as The Telegraph, The Independent and The Guardian) went to independent schools and 57% to Oxbridge. The 1% seems to have cornered the media market too.

Self-selection and group think to the fore

As I was writing this piece, I was reflecting on my long-held belief that British society is meritocratic – where the people holding power are selected on the basis of their ability. I still believe this to be the case. I do not doubt that the elite comprising the 7% or 1% is extremely well-educated or that they hold their powerful, prestigious and well-remunerated positions on the basis of their ability. But they are greatly aided by attending the top schools and facilities that money can buy and abetted by a self-selecting and entrenched Oxbridge network of their ilk. To suggest that there is equality of opportunity in Britain, but not necessarily equality of outcome is not only misleading, it is also plain wrong.

This situation may be broadly meritocratic but it is hardly the same as being fair, right or healthy for a democracy; only a small subset of the population has the resources, contacts and know-how to buy the entry ticket to an independent school (7%) which the gateway to securing a pass to one of the top two universities in the country (1%), which in turn results in access to the most influential, powerful and lucrative professions in Britain. The opportunities and the outcomes are systematically cornered, generation after generation, by the same elites.

The very fact that the report Elitist Britain (2014) was released at all demonstrates that the British Establishment is not too concerned about such information being released. Given how little it has been reported or impacted on policy-making (since they also control most of the levers), I guess they are right.

In any case, this fascinating report makes two further points worth noting. The first is that a lack of diversity in the people who are running the country is a problem in and of itself since certain professions should be representative of the public for reasons of legitimacy. This includes politicians, the media and judiciary.

Secondly, a narrow elite implies serious limits on adult social mobility and the sheer scale of the dominance of certain backgrounds raises questions about the degree to which the composition of the elite really reflects merit, as opposed to know-how combined with know-who.

These are serious concerns but the point that really caught my attention concerns the risk of “group think”:

“Where institutions rely on too narrow a range of people from too narrow a range of backgrounds with too narrow a range of experiences they risk behaving in ways and focussing on issues that are of salience only to a minority but not the majority in society. Our research shows it is entirely possible for politicians to rely on advisors to advise, civil servants to devise policy solutions and journalists to report on their actions having all studied the same courses at the same universities, having read the same books, heard the same lectures and even being taught by the same tutors.

The penny drops. I finally understand the reason why so many British politicians and journalists are so consistently and systematically (with some exceptions) pro-leaving “Europe” by which they mean the European Union (EU). Their entrenched group think has blinded them to the benefits of being part of the EU and they systematically underestimate the disadvantages of going it alone, thereby risking the country becoming an increasingly isolated Little Britain.

 

 

 


Elitism in Britain and Germany

© Ricardo Pinto, 2015, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU

There has been a lot of discussion about elitism, the Establishment, the 1%, etc., partly driven by the seminal work on wealth and income inequality by the French economist Thomas Piketty (see Capital in the Twenty-First Century). This has been exacerbated recently by the on-going discussion about David Cameron and his Oxford days, including allegations about some of the initiation rituals involved (see #piggate). This post examines elitism in Britain and Germany by analysing the people who make-up the Cabinets in both governments, as a means of establishing the extent to which they form part of elite or not.

First it is important to be clear what we are referring to when we talk about the elite or the Establishment, as illustrated in the box below.

Elite

1. The choice or best of anything considered collectively, as of a group or class of persons.

2. Persons of the highest class: only the elite were there.

3. A group of persons exercising the major share of authority or influence within a larger group: the power elite of a major political party.

4. Representing the most choice or select; best: an elite group of authors.

(the) Establishment

1. The existing power structure in society; the dominant groups in society and their customs or institutions; institutional authority (usually preceded by the): the Establishment believes exploring outer space is worth any tax money spent.

2. The dominant group in a field of endeavour, organisation, etc.: the literary Establishment.

Source: Dictionary.com

 

The elite is thus a small group of people who control a disproportionate amount of wealth and/or power. It is not easy to ascertain people´s wealth but there are surrogates that can be used for privilege and power. The Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet are generally considered to be the single most powerful group of people in any nation. Therefore, in assessing the elites and the Establishment, it makes sense to begin with this particular group of people.

In assessing the issue of whether the people concerned are part of the elite / the Establishment / the 1%, I look at two indicators for which information is relatively objective and easily available:

  • Whether they were privately/independently educated in the form of a fee paying school education or not: Britain has a well-established tradition of independent, fee paying schools. Germany too has such schools though their origins and emphasis are different. In both countries the state school system is free but some choose to educate their children privately. Since these involve significant costs compared with state schools, it is generally the privileged that tend to attend such schools. In the case of the UK, 7% of the students go to such schools compared with 6% in Germany;
  • Whether they attended the elite (two top) universities in their respective country or not: in the case of Britain, this would be Oxford University and Cambridge University, often conflated as “Oxbridge.” In the case of Germany, only a couple of universities make it into the top 50 universities in the world, namely Heidelberg’s Ruprecht-Karls-University and Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians-University. The barriers to attending the elite universities are normally much higher than the rest but the rewards associated with graduating from the top two universities are also disproportionate (the subject of the next post).

It goes without saying that those lucky enough to have both attended a private school and graduated from the top two universities of their respective country are bound to be rewarded with disproportionately higher life-chances compared with their fellow citizen without the benefit of such privileges.

In this post, I explore the issue using official information provided by the respective governments, supplemented with research on cabinet members who are coy about their educational background. The results of the analysis for Britain and Germany are presented in the Table below.

Table 1. Educational Background of the Cabinet in the UK and Germany (2015)

Cabinet_table

Note: the private/independent schools are as easy to identify in Germany as in Britain. Furthermore, it is not always possible to match-up government ministries / departments in the two countries. Sources: www.gov.ukwww.bundesregierung.eu and Wikipedia

So what does the above table tell us about the UK and Germany, based on the educational background of their respective cabinets?

  • Independent school: 9/21 UK vs 1/16 Germany: 42.8% of the UK cabinet attended independent schools compared with only 6.2% in Germany. There is an incredibly high level of concentration in the UK, given that only 7% of the adult population attends independent schools. The German cabinet simply reflects the national trend of 6% of pupils attending such schools;
  • Top 2 universities: 13/21 UK vs 1/16 Germany: an even greater proportion (61.9%) of the UK cabinet attended Britain´s top two universities. To put this in context, only 1% of the adult population of Britain attended Oxbridge. This also contrasts with only 6.2% of the cabinet in Germany attending its top two universities. An astounding 38% of the British cabinet attended Oxford alone. If you think this is something new or specific to the Conservative party, you’d be wrong; it is merely a matter of degree. Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are all Oxbridge educated, as were 12 of Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet. Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour party, was educated in an independent school but did not complete his higher education;
  • Independent school and top 2 universities: 9/21 UK : 0/16 Germany: whereas none of the German cabinet were privately educated and went to the country’s top two universities, a staggering 42.8% of their British counterparts did, David Cameron and George Osborne included, thus being doubly privileged.

Based on the indicators of private / independent education and/or attending Oxbridge, as well as being a member of the Cabinet, the elite or the Establishment is very much alive and in rude health in Britain. Independently educated pupils, especially those from the elite schools, disproportionately go to Oxbridge (taking 44% of the places at Oxford and 38% at Cambridge) and end-up in the Cabinet. Coincidence is not the main factor at play; layer upon layer of privilege and entitlement piled upon each other is closer to the truth.

By contrast, the German cabinet is positively plebeian. I shall leave it to the reader to determine which they prefer and why.

The recent and totally unexpected election of Jeremy Corbyn as the Leader of the Labour Party (who has not exactly grown-up in the proverbial social housing estate or attended an inner city state school) appears to be partly a reaction to the “more of the same” politics by the ruling elites. No such trend is evident in Germany.


British Voters and EUroscepticsm: much ado about nothing?

A Historic Turning Point Coming Up?

British voters are weighing up their options, but a strong element of anti-EU sentiment can be detected. The General Election scheduled for 05 May 2015 may well be turn out to be historic. If the Conservative Party wins, it is committed to holding a straight in/out referendum in 2017 about whether Britain is to remain in the EU or not. Previous posts have discussed the role of the eurosceptic Conservative wing and the role played by the Ukip party in the hardening Conservative and Labour Party stance in relation to the EU and EU-related immigration. Previous posts have also discussed a growing anti-Euro and anti-Islam sentiment in Germany, though it is materially different and not as pervasive as in the UK. No obvious anti-EU sentiment can be detected, which is why this post focuses mainly on Britain.

A reading of opinion polls illustrates that the balance of British public opinion, which has never exactly been EUphoric since joining in 1973, appears to be turning stringently EUrosceptic. The common assumption among quite a few politicians and a large segment of the media seems to be that life would become instantly better if only Britain would jettison membership of the EU, regain “control over its borders”, thus stopping “uncontrolled” migration along with excessive “interference” from Brussels in British affairs. But is this really the case? How much would actually change overnight, as far as the voters’ priorities are concerned?

Voter Priorities (2010-2015)

With the British general election not so far away, it is worth asking: just how much would actually change in people’s lives if the UK were to leave EU in terms of immediately improving life in Britain, based on the issues that matter to voters? To address this thought experiment, I have used the latest Ipsos MORI poll which asks about the top concerns of British voters.

British voter priorities 2010-2015

In January 2015 four issues predominated in terms what is important to voters, namely healthcare (almost half), economy (one-third) followed by asylum and immigration (27%) and education/schools (20%). Europe/EU as an issue is on par with unemployment, which at present is a pretty low rate in the UK (less than 10% note it as being important). A further five issues are of some importance in terms of voting intentions (benefits, taxation, housing, foreign affairs and pensions).

Table 1 shows some change since 2010, but the top four priorities have been fairly consistent. What is noticeable, however, is that whereas economy and education have not changed, both health and immigration have risen significantly in importance to British voters since 2010. Perhaps surprisingly, housing is increasing in importance but remains a secondary priority for British voters.

Voter Priorities and UK vs. EU Responsibilities

On the basis of the voter’s priorities, it is worth asking the question: what exactly are the responsibilities of the British Government and what is affected by the EU? On the basis of this question, it is possible to assess what might change for Britons.

UK EU competencies

Below I discuss these issues briefly, focusing first on the top four voter priorities:

  • Health: The Department of Health is entirely responsible for the NHS in terms of budget, priorities, reforms, etc. The main EU influence is in enabling the citizens of the EU-28 to be fully covered when they go to other EU countries without the need for additional health insurance for work, holidays, study, etc. It also allows people to choose where they wish to be treated, if the services are better or waiting lists are shorter. Health Tourism is an issue concerning non-EU citizens, rather than for EU ones. Nothing dramatic would change tomorrow, if the UK were to leave the EU in terms of quality of care, waiting lists, response rates or any of the other key issues of concern to the British voter. If anything, choice is likely to be reduced and extra costs incurred when British citizens travel to the EU. In terms of EU residents living in the UK and their use of the health service, not much would change. If they are working, they are also paying for the NHS through their National Insurance contributions. Otherwise, they would have to insure themselves privately and still have access to health in Britain. The exception would be if the UK chooses to deport, something that is barely imaginable. Verdict: no change. There are no magical solutions to the problems of the health service in Britain. The trends are neither recent nor connected with membership of the EU.
  • Economy: the UK is entirely in charge of its macro- and micro-economic destiny, since it is not part of the euro and thus not affected by the eurozone rules. The UK can affect its interest rates and implement quantitative easing to its heart’s content. The Stability and Growth Pact does have requirements, such as no budget deficits greater than 3% of GDP, no public debt exceeding 60% of GDP without diminishing by 5% per year on average over 3 years. Verdict: nothing would change. The UK and many other countries have greatly exceeded these limits at a time of serious economic and financial concerns. Britain is 100% in charge of its destiny, unlike Greece, Spain, etc. The Chancellor has already set in train further drastic reductions in public expenditure in the next period of Government. There is nothing about the programme of austerity that the British Government can pin on the EU, which is probably why this has not been tried, unlike for example Greece.
  • Asylum/immigration: as I have previously discussed, there are three elements here. Firstly, the UK is entirely in charge of its asylum policy and can choose who to let in and who to keep out. The same applies to non-EU immigration, which Britain is entirely in charge of. These elements comprised over 68% of immigration (together with Britons returning to the UK). The EU cannot and does not interfere with this but the balance (32%) is EU migrants. Many international companies are based in Britain that require access to the global pool of human resources to maintain their standards and profitability. On balance, basing a decision to leave the EU because of the freedom of movement of people principle and perceptions of “uncontrolled immigration” in the last decade does not appear to be justified. The unemployment rate remains at 5.8% (compared with 6.5% in Germany and 11.4% in the EU), despite a long period of intense economic and financial crisis. A critical issue that affects voter sentiment is net wages, which is determined by the companies located in Britain, as well as the public employers. If Britain were to stop EU and any other form of immigration (it is doubtful that employers would welcome this) the perceived pressures on health, housing and social services would not change since most EU immigrants would presumably remain. The exception is if such a police were to be combined with (forced) repatriation, which is unimaginable at the present time. If so, in theory Britain would have to make allowance for the 1.3 million Britons in other EU countries to return from EU countries to the UK. Verdict: possible short-term gain but likely long-term loss. The change would affect 32% of Immigration (2012 data) at the very most, but asylum and immigration would not end. There would only be perceptible changes, if a policy of terminating EU immigration were to be combined with deportation. I cannot imagine the average British voter wanting this or the consequences of enforcing such a policy.
  • Education/schools: this is entirely the responsibility of the UK and the pressures have been decades in the making. The issue that the EU has concentrated on is harmonizing qualifications and certification to ensure greater scope for freedom of movement of workers. This is advantageous for Britons as well as for others. Verdict: no change. The children of EU migrants make-up a small percentage of all children in schools across the country. If their parents are working here, they are entitled to study in Britain unless the Government and the British electorate wishes to evoke the deportation route.

So in terms of the most important issues to UK voters, there is not a huge amount of immediate gain from Brexit, based on the top four voter priorities. I am not even going to discuss the possible losses which would be the consequence of gaining control over EU immigration. Britain is already in charge of two of the three key elements of immigration, which makes up the majority of immigration. It is an island, which gives it more protection than others in the era of globalisation. The fear that there is uncontrolled immigration from the EU is overdone. When the economic downturn started, many EU migrants simply left the UK of their own accord and the migratory pattern turned towards Germany instead, the only EU country experiencing strong economic growth. When the UK economy started growing again in mid-2014, the immigration trend started reversing (though probably influenced by the A2 countries,namely Romania and Bulgaria). In any case, if the unemployment rate is 5.8% and decreasing, it is worth asking the question: who is employing the EU migrants and benefiting from their contribution to the economy, to tax inflows and to company profits? Might the answer be Britons and Britain? If the real issue is decreasing net wages and benefits in Britain, the question is who is gaining from this development? Might the answer be certain segments of British society?

Below I address the remaining voter priorities:

  • Europe/EU: The issue which the EU insist on is that the freedom of movement of people (as well as goods, services, capital) be maintained, allowing all EU citizens to travel for tourism, study, work and retirement purposes. Many, if not most Britons, enjoy some or all of these freedoms in one way or another. 1.3 million Briton live in other EU countries, and a large number travel, work, study, invest (e.g. second homes and pension funds) or retire in EU countries. This is something which is currently taken for granted at present. I believe the loss will be felt much more rapidly and keenly than most British voters may realise.
  • Unemployment: leaving the EU might result in less European migrants, but it would not put an end to EU immigration or lead to zero unemployment. British-based enterprises compete globally for many skills essential to maintain productivity and innovation. I doubt that there would be a significant reduction in qualified labour coming from the EU.It is not certain that the agricultural, tourism, hospitality, etc. businesses would be able to satisfy their needs simply from UK-based sources. There might be a reduction in less qualified labour and thus in unemployment but this is unlikely to be more one or two percentage points and will lead to other pressures. Verdict: possible short term gain but likely long term loss.
  • Benefits: very few EU migrants claim benefits. Immigrants were 45% less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits than UK natives during 2000-2011. They are also less likely to live in social housing than the UK born population. EU migrants of working age who are not students, not in employment and receive some kind of state benefit, amount to 39,000 or less than 1% of all foreign nationals in the UK and 1% of all EU nationals in the UK.  Recent analysis of 23 out of 27 EU countries shows that there are at least 30,000 Britons claiming unemployment benefit in countries around the EU. In other words 2.5% of Britons in other EU countries are claiming unemployment benefits, roughly the same as EU nationals doing the same in Britain. The numbers are tiny: the political and media coverage of this issue is completely disproportionate. If this is the case, an even smaller sub-set of them are living in Britain for benefit tourism/abuse purposes. Verdict: no change (but one less emotive topic for certain parts of the media and politicians to bang their biased drum about).
  • Taxation: the UK is in entirely in charge of all its taxes, including Corporate Income Tax, Income Tax, Capital Gains Tax and VAT. Verdict: no change.
  • Housing: The UK is entirely in charge of its housing policy, construction, planning system, etc. There would be fewer EU immigrants, which might affect the housing situation in terms of rent levels and house prices. However, this would only be a marginal effect since the trend in housing supply, demand and pricing is a long term trend of over 30 years and any nationality is able to buy property in Britain. I have already referred to the fact that fewer recent immigrants claim benefits and live in social housing than the UK born population. Verdict: no change. I have written the first of my blog posts comparing the British and German housing systems to illustrate aspects of this point.
  • Foreign affairs: in terms of foreign affairs this role is, to some extent, coordinated with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for specific issues. In the main, each EU nation does its own thing and Britain is no different.
  • Pensions: the UK is entirely in charge of the retirement age, contributions, qualifying years, minimum state pension pensions, etc. The EU facilitates freedom of movement of people and capital, so develops rules to ensure that if people work in different countries, that their contributions are acknowledged and count towards their overall pension entitlement. Furthermore, it seeks to ensure, under the same two freedoms, that Britons and others can receive their state pension in any of the EU-28 countries without suffering from arbitrary reductions, cancellations, fees, etc. Since many Britons enjoy their retirement in the sun and have bought second homes in other EU countries (rather more than is the case in terms of EU nationals buying properties in the UK), it would appear that to be well worth remaining in the EU.

EUroscepticism: much ado about nothing?

Ultimately, it is up for each voter to assess their personal gain or loss from staying in or leaving the EU. Based on the analysis above, the anti-EU sentiment is much ado about nothing, as far as the most important issues to voters are concerned, except for the freedom of movement of people. The EU has helped to secure so many rights and opportunities across all 28 nations that it is hard to imagine life without them. It is not simply that not much would change overnight. A moment of reflection on what would be rolled back as a result of leaving the EU, should show just how much we perceive as being normal and do not even actively consider. The fact is that we usually do not miss that which we take for granted… until it is no longer there.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU

 

 

 

 

 

 


Launch of the AngloDeutsch™ Blog

New AngloDeutsch™ Blog Launched

Today, the AngloDeutsch™ Blog was launched. The main reason is that Britain and Germany are countries that are absolutely critical to the future of Europe and the European Union. Yet, there is currently a gap in terms of comparing and contrasting the two countries in terms of various dimensions, such as economics, housing, health, etc. within the overarching context of the EU.

It was not always so. In the same year that Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973, the Anglo German Foundation (AGF) was established in recognition of the fact that the Germany and Britain could learn a good deal from each other, not least to improve mutual knowledge between the two countries and deepen understanding of modern society and its problems. The AGF undertook policy-oriented comparative research on the Britain, Germany and what is now the European Union (EU). It was valuable to compare and contrast countries that were not only the two largest in the EU, which also exhibit rather different social, political and economic traditions. They are two of the largest EU trading and exporting nations, the people respect each other and, despite the differences, or perhaps because of them, they can learn from each other’s ways of doing things.

In 2009 the Trustees decided to abolish the AGF, the main argument being: “… other organisations at both national and European levels are now carrying this work forward, and the need for a specific institution for this purpose is no longer so compelling.” (Anglo-German Foundation for the Study of Industrial Society,p.3).

British and German Comparisons Growing in Importance

I disagree with this conclusion. Some 40 years on, the reality is that the need for comparative analysis and discussion in relation to Britain, Germany and EU is greater than ever before and it is far from obvious which other institutions are carrying this work forward. I believe that the last Trustees of the AGF would probably be astounded at how dramatically things have evolved since their decision to end the institution.

A number of momentous developments are affecting the socio-economic dynamic in Europe:

  • The recession that started in 2009 has morphed into full-blown global financial and economic crises. The sovereign debt and the commercial banking crisis drag on and the prospect of deflation still looms large in Europe and elsewhere.
  • The Euro and the significant political and financial reform efforts connected with ensuring that it is kept alive has resulted in enormous fissures arising between Britain, Germany and the EU countries. These tensions are, if anything, increasing over time.
  • The political strains of keeping the Euro (and thus the EU) together, not least through various forms of austerity, have taken a massive toll on the credibility of the EU as well as the level of cooperation and trust between nation states, not least the German-British-French axis. This applies doubly so to the so-called „PIIGS“ (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) and the north Europeans, especially Germany, Holland, Austria, Finland, etc.
  • The UK and DE play a critical role in the future of the EU. Germany has become the undisputed albeit reluctant European hegemon, though the jury is still out as to how long this status will last. The decisions and even ruminations of Europe’s preeminent politician, Angela Merkel, reverberate throughout the EU. The same cannot be said of David Cameron (and still less François Hollande) to the same extent. Still, the UK’s role in EU, influential though diminished, remains critical to the future of the EU (independent Sterling, monetary and fiscal policy, insistence on EU reform and devolving powers to the nation state, challenge to the freedom of movement principle, possible in/out referendum on whether to remain in the EU in 2017, etc.).

These stresses and strains are part and parcel of what has become a full-blown crisis of the legitimacy of the “European Project”, as understood since it was formed in 1951 by the Treaty of Rome. A process whose ambition was to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”  (The Shuman Declaration, 9 May 1950) was not and could never have anything short of an economic, social and political project, even if the discourse was principally economic.

This ambition was not merely a Franco-German idea. Immediately after WWII Sir Winston Churchill was one of the first to call for a “United States of Europe” (“We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living. ” 1946, p.1). The ambitions of the European Project have always been understood in its wider sense by its founder members, not least Germany, because of its particular historical specificities.  However, this ambition was and remains almost entirely an economic or trade issue in pragmatic Britain.

Longstanding concerns about the legitimacy of the EU, the steady erosion of the powers of the nation state (contrary to the principle of „subsidiarity“), the implications of principle of freedom of movement and indeed of the limits to the notion of „ever closer union“ in the EU have been forced to the foreground by the Euro crisis. These issues must be debated and tackled to maintain legitimacy with the people as well as the governments of all 28 EU nation states.

Britain and Germany at the leading edge of the EU

In this context, the British and German electorates have a critical role to play in the future of their respective countries, as well as that of the “European project”. They are at the nexus of the most important debates connected with the great issues confronting Europe, not least:

  • The future of the Euro and the EU (e.g. EU reform and in/out referendum in 2017).
  • The advent of anti-EU / Euro parties (e.g. the Ukip and AfD).
  • The solutions to the recession / depression, austerity and falling standards of living.
  • The debates on the future of housing, education, poverty, migration, health, ageing, etc.
  • But also the more fun things in life, such as sport and traditions such as Christmas.

Through the AngloDeutsch™ Blog, launched today, focuses mainly but not exclusively on Britain, Germany and the EU, it is hoped that a contribution can be made not only to better understanding in general but also to possible economic and social policy solutions and recommendations. This would be in keeping with the tradition of the now defunct AGF, even if the focus of a blog cannot be on rigorous academic research per se.

Focusing on the British and German perspectives has gained in salience. The target group of this blog is not the academic community, interest groups or indeed the politicians, though it is hoped that they too will get involved and/or be influenced by the AngloDeutsch™ Blog. The target group is anyone who has enough humility to be willing to learn about alternative ways of doing things, discuss different views and maybe implement some of the ideas, taking into consideration the uniqueness and specificity of every nation, region and locality. This aim is illustrated in the Box below.

The AngloDeutsch™ Blog aims to contribute to the policy process in Britain, Germany and the EU more generally by raising comparative economic, social and political issues and by stimulating an exchange of knowledge, views and experience between informed citizens in the two countries, as well as the EU.

 

To kick off the blog, the first few themes covered by the AngloDeutsch™ Blog will include the following:

  • The immigration debate.
  • Christmas traditions (since the blog is launched in December).
  • The housing crisis.
  • The future of the EU.

Other themes will follow as the blog evolves.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.anglodeutsch.eu