UK austerity

In the current debate about UK austerity, what’s missing from the choice (not the fake choice between austerity and no austerity, but the hard choice between Social and Economic austerity) are two important other options (Productivity improvements and Philanthropy).

To elaborate, the current debate about austerity should be about the mix of four things:

(1) Social austerity – realisable tax rises for some or all current UK tax payers). Of course, history shows us that raising taxes encourages tax avoidance and discourages incentive to work harder.

(2) Economic austerity – alleviating current austerity through borrowing to burden future citizens with greater austerity.

(3) Productivity improvements – workers choosing (through a combination of after-hours study and after-hours volunteering?) to up-skill, to raise their productivity to ultimately alleviate austerity. When we change our expectations, build on small successes to boost our confidence and reframe current problems in a different way using personal flexibility, then there is every chance to better ourselves. If the future is about portfolio careers, and in the age of smart machines, ‘keeping our skin in the game’ through clever design, then up-skilling starts today. After all, process automation and machine learning won’t wait for us, but proceeds at its own pace. A final question about labour productivity at the national level. Which is better – fewer people employed but them generating higher average labour productivity (the French model, relative to the UK model) or, more people employed but with lower average labour productivity (the UK model, relative to the French model).

(4) Philanthropy – particularly high-net-worth individuals forming consortiums, to alleviate UK social deprivation through charitable foundation activity.

The best solution will probably come from a better combination of all four things.

One great opportunity with philanthropy is developing ‘hospital charities’ to build city hospitals that are entirely charity-funded and can take some ongoing pressure off the NHS, care homes and private hospitals. Such hospitals could offer a more selective range of treatments (target elective-surgeries with long waiting lists?), than the NHS.

Food for thought?


If people were smart…


We’d plan tax reform BEFORE income distribution undergoes the full onslaught of machine automation.

The UN would fund and deploy aerial nano-bots that fly around the World destroying unregistered guns.

Religious opinion leaders would MODERNISE religious doctrine to accommodate future technological change.

We’d REFORM things in society before the flat part of the (technology) exponential curve turns into the steep part of the exponential curve.

Government social services would MANAGE people’s expectations in a honest way upfront, not make excuses in a patronising way afterwards. Prevention is usually cheaper that cure.

We’d APPOINT lobby groups to represent the animal kingdom and not pretend that humans and corporates have all the votes and all the freedom to act.

We’d ENCOURAGE people to self-learn to cope with global changes in progress.

Pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap…

_MG_0978   _MG_9929  _MG_9940

Age creates a World full of contradictions,

That Youth can make no sense of,

And Age cannot explain.


We all want less deprivation, cleaner air,

Universal excitement and human dignity,

But aren’t smart enough to achieve it.


Like a vast discount supermarket, full of stock,

Where far too many goods, cover too few real needs,

And too many products jostling for attention,

Have long exceeded their useful shelf-life in the World.


As artificial night follows natural day,

Future value will attach to the digital services,

That no one understands how to create, only to consume,

And the synthetic biology of 3D printers,

Designed by self-organising software programmes,

Slowly replaces the handmade shop goods of yesteryear.

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.