Month: November 2014

UK politics

UK Politics


Is this the best UK democracy can do?


Cyber liability

On 3 Nov 2014 Robert Hannigan, the newly appointed director of GCHQ, accused social networks and other online services of becoming ‘the command and control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals.’

The Economist (Nov 8th edition, 2014, P67), commented on Hannigan’s statement being a reaction to technology firms, reinforcing their products and services with strong cryptography, to keep or attract privacy-conscious customers.

However, if treason includes aiding and abetting enemies of the state, then are the social media sites that allow themselves to be used by terrorist organisations as a recruitment device inside the destination country, effectively aiding and abetting enemies of the state?  And if so, shouldn’t social media networks like You Tube, Facebook, their shareholders (who aid and abet the social network) and their senior managers be worried about such prosecution by their country of registration?

Qu: How is this different from a munitions company who produces weapons that then get used by terrorists or criminals? Ans: Firstly, weapons makers have to control distribution of their outputs according to the laws of the country. And secondly, the weapons themselves can be used for good or harm. The users decides how to use the product (possession itself may or may not be a crime), but the producer doesn’t go to great lengths to anonymise the identity of the user.

UK Labour Market Blues

I recently read an interesting Infographic on the UK labour market, published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) – see web-link below.

It reported 60 people per job applied (in the last 12 months in the UK?) for low skilled or unskilled vacancies, up from 50 last year.

It also reported 20 people per job applied for high skilled (how defined?) vacancies, up from 10 people last year.

In addition, it reported only 40% of job applicants were (considered by employers/recruiters as) suitable for the roles advertised, whether low or high skilled roles.

A few observations:

1. If there is a ratio of 60:1 for low & unskilled applicants to jobs, clearly that’s a serious structural problem in the UK labour market (even ignoring any location mismatches). And it ignores the NEETs – those opting out of employment, education or training. Probably what voters need clarifying is whether that ratio is now so high because:

(a) such jobs are rapidly disappearing (e.g. blue, pink and white collar jobs becoming automated, offshored, or replaced by postgraduate research jobs instead),

(b) poorly-conceived and poorly-designed EU employment law changes are encouraging UK employers not to create more low-skilled jobs,

(c) there are rising numbers of low-skilled immigrants now applying for the low and unskilled jobs that are being bid down to minimum wage, due to the oversupply of such labour.

Or instead, it is some combination of all three things, creating a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions.  To the extent that (c) applies, what will the immigrants do if they cannot get work in the UK, where there is free NHS healthcare, free education, benign immigration status checks and a comparatively favourable welfare system?

2. With further expected funding cut-backs in secondary, further and higher education, the above three statistics are likely to worsen further.

3. If only 40% of recent job applicants really are suitable for the roles advertised, how can the UK education system provide better outputs, to raise this to say 80%? Are jobs being created at such a rate in new fields, that the education and training system simply cannot adjust its curriculum fast enough? Is the careers advisory service in schools and other educational institutions still fit for purpose?

And, if only 40% of applicants really are suitable, this implies that a serious number of job applicants either need to retrain, upskill, or change their attitudes and behaviours to improve their suitability. Do they realise this?


Science doesn’t unweave the rainbow.

It investigates the rainbow and then celebrates the beauty of it.

Locked and overloaded

At first thought, you’d think the UK prison population would reflect the gender balance of the country.

At the last national census in 2011, there were 32.153M females and 31.029M males making a total population of 63.182M. On this basis, the female population comprise 51% of the total population. If the2011 census population is then split into 3 groups, those aged under 15, those aged 15-64 and those aged 65 or more, the only age group where males outnumber females is the under 15’s group. Since the total number of children in prison aged 10-14 is 38 individuals, which is concerning in itself, we can ignore the group under 15 for wider analysis purposes.

The Howard League for Penal Reform is a small charity that amongst other things, monitors the weekly UK prison population. For the week ending 11 Nov 2014, they reported a total prison population, including young offenders of 85,903.

This includes a figure of 9,218 people above the certified normal accommodation (CNA) capacity level, with the five most overcrowded prisons (Wandsworth, Lincoln, Exeter, Swansea & Leicester in descending order of total overcrowding numbers) accounting for 16% of this total.

What is breath-taking is the number of males out of this total prison population. According to the Howard Leagues figures, this numbered 81,982 for the week ending 11 Nov 2014, or 95% or the total prison population.

When I read this figure, I had two thoughts. Either females commit a lot of crimes for which they are prosecuted, but don’t face prison time as a punishment. Or alternatively, there is something about the male gender that causes them to overwhelmingly commit the crimes for which people are sent to jail. Some prison offense crimes such as rape, serious assault, serial murder and armed robbery are likely to be carried out overwhelmingly by males. Others such as serious fraud and criminal negligence are probably more evenly balanced by gender.

If post-prison-release, re-offending rates are high and if prison time isn’t recognised as an effective deterrent to serious crime, then what can be done in the 21st Century to stop so many men committing crimes that result in prison time?

What part does aggression place in committing crimes that result in prison time? If aggression is understood to be a major contributor and testosterone levels found to significantly fuel aggression, then can we as a society change the levels of testosterone in our population, simply as a more humane preventative alternative to incarcerating males after major crime is committed?

Apart from aggression, poor self-esteem (powerlessness) of the offenders, manifest in crimes to assert power, may be a second major area to tackle. Such crimes likely include; rape, serious domestic violence, paedophilia, serious assault and armed robbery.

In addition to aggression and poor self-esteem, how much crime is committed because of poor risk evaluation by the offenders? There are at least two parts to this. The risk evaluation in the moment. And the risk evaluation leading up to the moment a crime is committed. An example of the later is when people choose to join a gang that engages in criminal activity such as drug dealing, inter-gang warfare and murder. Perhaps more can be done to teach kids in schools about how to evaluate life risks more objectively.

If kids and young adults are:

  • taught to make better risk assessments,
  • encouraged to channel aggression into positive outlets such as adventure activities, sport or physical exercise,
  • earn pride either on the sports field or in the classroom,

then if nothing else, we might expect to see the prison population by gender change dramatically.

A separate concern is the 11% level of over-crowding in UK prisons at present above certified normal accommodation. Like for the London housing price problem, the real problem may simply be a poor understanding of demand and supply changes.

If the UK Justice system working closely with UK city/town/village communities is achieving higher criminal conviction rates that in the past, while overall crime is also rising, then the supply of prison places available needs to reflect these changes.

The alternative is some form of crime prevention, including the kinds of measures outlined above. What UK government policy makers cannot ethically do is to pressure the Justice System into invoking:

  • shorter prison sentences for serious crime,
  • actual prison sentences that cover only a fraction of the announced 20 year or life sentence (instead of time off for good behaviour, the opposite could apply – an extension of prison time for bad behaviour),
  • community release,

simply to alleviate the prison capacity shortage, because naive government budget cuts don’t allow the prison capacity to rise to meet current and future needs.

By the same token, the Justice system has an ethical obligation to enforce health and safety rules within prisons, especially overcrowded ones. Two extreme examples of this are;

  • ensuring prisoners are not treated unfairly by staff,
  • ensuring that prisoners aren’t significantly mis-treated by fellow prisoners, for the duration of their sentence.

To be fair, the prison authorities need to constantly exercise power with responsibility. That means being both kind and tough. Kind in the sense of respecting each prisoner’s dignity, but tough in the sense of eradicating violence, intimidation and drugs within prisons.

Thought for the day…

First we described the World as flat and made modest progress.

Then we established hierarchy and made more rapid progress.

Now we return to a flat World, adding digital, lean and agile to the mix, to make the fastest progress.