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Fascism Doesn’t Begin with Gas Chambers

This article began as one of my longest (series of) Tweets, and I am very aware it raises some emotive issues. The purpose is to expand on a deeply important matter in a political context in the UK that is fast becoming farcical and out of my real fear for the direction of travel. Over the past few days I have seem some very awful responses to this issue and do not want to be responsive for perpetuating that

We live in very dangerous and difficult times. In the UK we probably have the most right-wing government for some considerable time. We are not alone; the rise of Trump, the election of Bolsonaro, Hungary, Turkey. The rise of right-wing populism is all around us.

As someone who is sympathetic to a Marxist interpretation of history, I believe it is important to learn the lessons of history. Populism is not a recent phenomenon nor a short lived one. The capacity of the human race for division and cruelty shows no signs of disappearing.

Of course, there are reasons why it persists. Some do very well by creating division; we are not all nice guys who want to be kind to everyone. Throughout recent history, the ruling class have used fascism wherever it suits their interests. Europe in the 30s is a case in point.

In a Tweet last week in an attempt to emphasise the lessons of history I pointed out that in the 30s fascism didn’t begin with gas chambers. It started slowly almost imperceptibly with apparently small steps. But as we all know it ended tragically with far reaching consequences.

Most people alive today have no personal experience of the Holocaust and I too struggle to grasp the absolute horror of those times. Truly inhumane. Yet for pointing this out, quite ironically, I came in for a lot of personal abuse.

I am “below the lowest of the low”, “Beyond disturbing and inappropriate“, “an antisemitic bellend”, “Appalling”. One person even asked “What the fuck is wrong with him?”. One of these even came from a history teacher. There were many other comments from questionable anonymous Twitter accounts.

However, I cannot claim originality for the words and the sentiment I expressed. They come in part from The Auschwitz Memorial.

Indeed, similar sentiments on a world-wide scale came from Antoniou Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations.

The comment I made took a similar stance, but made the further point about gradual slow normalisation of discourses, that people never realised where this would lead, step by small step toward an abyss.

Twitter does not help with its character limitation, and we too often see disputes and differences where upon elaboration none actually exists. So, this is my attempt at elaboration.

One of the disturbing discourses I faced was that somehow, I was (irrationally) saying that a head teacher who demanded silence in the corridors was just as bad as Adolf Hitler murdering 6 million Jews. Though of course that was not something I had said, nor something I believe. The leap from what I said to what people wanted me to be saying existed because there is an emotional desire to place me as something other than that which I was. In sociolinguistics this is called expurgation of the other (See John Thompsons Ideology and Modern Culture, pps 60-67)

This argument however does illustrate the way discourses can be constructed and manipulated. In this case through the exploitation of reasonable concerns over teachers’ working conditions. Education is always political; more so when that politicisation is hidden because we can then claim then that we need to keep politics out of education – a technique for obscuring the real role of the dominant class.

This is how populism works by exploiting people’s fears. In this case, real fears about children’s behaviour; particularly but not exclusively children who have suffered enormously from rising child poverty and austerity, even this week with the cut to Universal Credit uplift.

Many responses to the Auschwitz post came from the USA, referring to Trump. Something we in the UK have yet to experience. There is here another lesson from history. Trumpism didn’t start with the storming of the Capitol.

Consider for a moment this graphic from Twitter. Is this claiming Theresa May is just like Joseph Goebbels? Or rather, is it pointing to some similarities in dangerous discourses that start slow, appear rational, and become normalised leading us all to a far different place.

I will finish with two poems from two of my favourite writers and say this. Politics is a deeply personal and emotive issue. Some of us feel very deeply about equity and social justice, indeed it is the driving force of our lives. Let us learn the lessons of history.

Be careful what you wish for. At the end of the day, no children are born hating. Every child is special. Every child deserves to be loved and to be understood.

Socioeconomic Status, Mental Wellbeing and Transition to Secondary School

This is a brief summary of an open access research article published in the October 2020 issue of the British Educational Research Journal on “Socioeconomic status, mental wellbeing and transition to secondary school”. This seems to be an important issue particularly at a time we are concerned about young people’s wellbeing as a result of lockdown and school closures.

What the article highlights is that we live at a time of growing wealth inequality, which enhances a growth in health inequalities which will be experienced particularity by young people through a decline in wellbeing. Already there is evidence from the Office of National Statistics of a decline in young people’s mental wellbeing with a decline in young people’s satisfaction with their health in the UK, and feeling more disconnected from their communities. Whilst schools work to support struggling pupils, some schools appear to enhance inequality through their practices.

It is clear that poor pupils do less well at school, as a direct result of being poor, and current studies are turning to social and structural explanations rather than individually pathologizing the children. This encourages an understanding of the way that pupils are integrated into both the pedagogic and the regulatory strategies. For many pupils, schools are seen as not fair, and not theirs, which contributes to feelings of alienation, anxiety and disconnection, all leading to reductions in feelings of wellbeing. A key point of tension is at school transition, which poses a threat to young people especially those in poverty. Often the transition to secondary can be felt as a feeling of rejection by parents who might have experienced strong school relationships at Primary, but virtual side-lining at Secondary; such outcomes are organised along socioeconomic status lines. Schools can play a positive part in enhancing pupil wellbeing, but only by recognising the real existence of structural poverty and social exclusion and the role that schools play in this.

The focus of the research article is to explore the effect of the level of school affluence on children as they move from year 6 to 7 especially for those children living in relative poverty moving into a school representing a more diverse and affluent community.


Within the present structure of schooling in the UK one critical point in young people’s lives, is the transition stage from Primary to Secondary, occurring almost universally at the very vulnerable age of age 10-11, between years 6 and 7. Schools will take this stage seriously and implement various transition arrangements, though there are also tensions on either side of the transition. This article looks at the transition from the viewpoint of young people’s wellbeing.

Although this article appears in our foremost educational journal, this is an empirical study by researchers from Cardiff and Exeter universities all of whom are from the field of public health, with various areas of expertise, one of whom specialises in mental wellbeing. It is a good example therefore of the importance of multi-disciplinarity within education.

The study itself is an investigation into the effect of young people’s socio-economic background on their mental wellbeing as a result of the transition from primary to secondary school in Wales. They argue that the characteristics of the schools across the transition influences young people’s sense of self, and self-worth and the study looked specifically at moves between schools with various levels of affluence. This is an area which has not received a great deal of attention.

The study was part of the Welsh School Health Research Network (SHRN):

The School Health Research Network (SHRN) brings together secondary schools and academic researchers, policy-makers and practitioners from health, education and social care to improve young people’s health and wellbeing in the school setting. It is a partnership between Welsh Government, Public Health Wales (PHW), Cancer Research UK and the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods. It is led by the Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer) at Cardiff University. It aims to improve young people’s health and wellbeing by:

* Providing robust health and wellbeing data for school, regional and national stakeholders;

* Working with policy-makers and practitioners from health, education and social care to co-produce high quality, school-based health and wellbeing research for Wales;

* Helping schools, and those who support schools, to understand health research evidence and how it can be used in schools.

The Network, based in Cardiff, organised the recent 2017 Student Health and Wellbeing Survey which is supported and part funded by the Welsh Office. a report on the survey has been published and is publicly available.

The data for the study was based upon 45,000 responses from pupils in year 7 and 8 from all 212 state-maintained secondary school in Wales. It uses a now well-validated measure of young people’s mental wellbeing, and links this to objective sources of information on school characteristics. The method of analysis was a cross-classified linear mixed-effects model which they used to explore three research questions:

  • RQ1: What is the contribution of primary and secondary school contexts in explaining variance in young people’s mental wellbeing in early secondary school years?
  • RQ2: Is mental wellbeing following transition to secondary school associated with the relative socioeconomic composition of the young person’s primary and secondary school?
  • RQ3: Is the socioeconomic composition of the primary and secondary school attended by the young person independently associated with mental wellbeing?

The theoretical background to the study is built upon the following.

  • There is international evidence that adolescent health inequalities have recently widened in line with growing international economic inequality.
  • While some school-based actions reduce inequality, others increase it.
  • A substantial body of the literature demonstrates socioeconomic inequalities in educational attainment, with children from poorer backgrounds, and attending schools with more deprived socioeconomic compositions, achieving less positive educational outcomes overall.
  • Some research locates human functioning within social structure, by stark contrast to the dominant tendency for use of more individualistic psychological models in school health.
  • When students are alienated from the instructional order, the regulatory order, or both, they may become disconnected from the learning environment and the values of the school, diminishing opportunities to develop practical reasoning and affiliations.
  • Studies of the lived experience of poverty and its impacts on young people’s experiences of schooling SES, wellbeing and transition to secondary school concluded that their ‘narratives of school life were often infused with anxiety, uncertainty and a sense of unfairness’, leading to insecure social integration and work to ‘hide’ poverty from peers and school staff with schools therefore becoming a stressful environment for pupils from poorer backgrounds.
  • Studies on the impact of school transition on attainment have found the greatest drop in attainment through the transition amongst more socioeconomically deprived groups, but fewer studies have focused on how socioeconomic status impacts mental wellbeing on transition to secondary school.
  • Previous literature has emphasised the importance of young people’s engagement with the instructional and regulatory order of their school, with greater commitment to the school community associated with better wellbeing outcomes.
  • Previous analyses have shown that the FSM entitlement of a secondary school predicts the largest portion of variance in pupil attainment between schools

The perspective of their study is to look at the effect on pupil wellbeing on young people from deprived backgrounds (or “relative poverty”) moving to a secondary school that is relatively affluent.

  • A recent systematic review emphasises a convergence of findings around the importance of positive parent–school–child relationships in ensuring a successful transition to secondary school.
  • There is substantial evidence that these relationships vary by socioeconomic status; achieving high levels of parental engagement with schooling for example is commonly more challenging for schools in areas of deprivation.
  • For parents from poorer backgrounds whose children transition into a more affluent secondary school, relative social status within the more affluent networks of parents surrounding this new school may also impact on their own engagement with the norms of the school, exacerbating disconnections between school and family and contributing to inter-generational reproduction of inequalities.
  • School transition may provide an important intervention point during which socioeconomic inequalities in wellbeing might be reduced, or indeed amplified. There is therefore substantial need to understand the independent and combined roles of primary and secondary schools in reducing (or amplifying) socioeconomic inequalities in wellbeing during this period.


Clearly, schools are only one of many important influences on young people’s wellbeing and cannot fully compensate for structural inequalities and the unequal distribution of health outcomes. However, they have a role to play, and efforts to improve mental wellbeing through action within the education system need to understand the individual and combined influences of primary and secondary school contexts on pupils’ wellbeing.

  • Attending a poorer primary or secondary school predicted lowered mental wellbeing.
  • Family-level affluence remained a significant predictor of mental wellbeing throughout all models, consistent with a hypothesis of independent school and family socioeconomic effects on mental wellbeing.
  • The affluence of a pupil’s secondary school, relative to their primary school, was significantly inversely associated with mental wellbeing.
  • these finding position the transition to secondary school as a key point in the child’s school career, during which socioeconomic inequality in mental wellbeing is likely to widen.

The way in which this comes about for poor pupils moving school is understood to be through the change in school population resulting in a lowered social status within the school’s socioeconomic hierarchy. This is reinforced by school procedures and structures, e.g. punishment routines (as part of the regulatory order), attainment grouping (as part of the instructional order) and other elements of school culture, which are often seen by schools as essential, constructive and benign.

What schools may be unaware of is the impact their procedures are having upon the mental wellbeing of certain groups of young people.

The Authors close with the following suggestions for the future.

Consistent with the theory of human functioning and school organisation, the dynamics of school systems can positively or negatively influence wellbeing through their impact on pupils’ engagement with the instructional and regulatory order of the school. Previous research has highlighted the importance of comprehensive transition interventions that are multi-faceted and long term, including involvement of parents and the creation of a sense of community and belonging to address the disjuncture between familial and impersonal environments. It is, however, plausible that parents whose children move into a more affluent school may also be less well connected to the school, due to their position within the socioeconomic hierarchies surrounding the school.

However, back in 1970, Basil Bernstein said “education cannot compensate for society“, and we cannot with any justification expect schools to put right the evils caused by a divided society. Yet, schools do have a role to play, in first understanding, and secondly making positive changes where they can. For we all know there are possibilities for action when working with vulnerable and impressionable young people.

While schools have an important role to play in supporting young people’s wellbeing, poverty remains a structural issue requiring structural solutions, with schools one of many interconnected systems which impact young people’s wellbeing. Indeed, where schools do have a role in supporting wellbeing, making positive changes requires external support, including from higher policy levels within the education system. While in England, plans for education look likely to move towards harsher disciplinary structures which alienate many young people from school.

This alone surely behoves us as a profession to move away from those “harsher disciplinary structures which alienate many young people from school“. but this requires us to remove those isolation booths, silent corridors, officious dress codes and discriminatory grouping practices, and organise our schools along the lines of entrancing pupil wellbeing. That won’t be easy for some.

Why I am resigning from the Labour Party

Four years ago, at the height of optimism that the Labour Party could return to its socialist roots, I was targeted in a witch-hunt by a rather strange couple in Rushcliffe CLP. They colluded with anti-Corbyn officials at the East Midlands Region and officials in the Compliance Unit at Labour HQ. That couple have now moved to Scotland and appear to have joined the SNP, but not before their fabricated claims, falsified documents and fanciful allegations had been sent to Regional officials as “complaints” and caused serious damage to the local party. You can read all about it in detail at My Encounter with the Labour Party” where I have placed all documentation relating to the case. On that website is clear and irrefutable evidence of the mendacity behind the so called “complaints”. Bear in mind that I had been elected as CLP Secretary and Branch Secretary at that time.

This ultimately led to my suspension along with 9 others in Rushcliffe and, due to deliberate delays by one Sam Matthews, two years later to a kangaroo court that my solicitor (a Labour Party CLP Chair) described as a fiasco. The panel ignored all evidence I had provided, refused to listen to many witnesses and recommended my exclusion for two years. The “complainants” produced no substantiating evidence against me; there was none to produce. Merely here-say fabrications from a Walter Mitty fantasy world.

I continued to argue my case and provide information of the irregularities in the Labour Party procedures. This I feel is a basic right and duty and is something I feel strongly that a socialist Party should be championing.

I applied to rejoin the Party on 20 June 2020 and with my application included letters of support from: Rushcliffe CLP Chair, the Leader of the Labour Group on Rushcliffe Borough Council, Rushcliffe PPC in the 2017 and 2019 General Elections, a previous Chair of West Bridgford Branch, and a previous BAME coordinator. After a couple of weeks I received a letter welcoming me back to the Labour Party. However shortly after, I received an email from the Legal and Governance Unit informing me that because I had disagreed with the decision to exclude me, and continued to argue my innocence, I had “demonstrated a contemptuous non acceptance of the Labour Party’s constitution, rules and procedures.” Furthermore, in making people aware of the case by presenting evidence I had “damaged the Party“.

I have made the point countless times and demonstrated with extensive irrefutable evidence that all allegations made against me and others were deliberately false, vexatious and mendacious. Indeed they were bearing on the slanderous. Of that there has never been any doubt. I have been advised by many people to take legal action against the Party, but have repeatedly refused to do so. I would not want to be a member of a Party that I needed to sue for defamation. That Party would not be worthy of my support.

That the Party is prepared to accuse me of being “contemptuous” when I was merely demonstrating my innocence and when I had offered to return to support the Party and let us all move on, indicates to me that institutionally the Labour Party takes a cavalier attitude to justice, honesty and decency. The Party’s response is petty, small minded and fails to recognise who the real enemy of socialism is; the party does really do need to get a grip.

Yet it was worse than that. I had already likened the process of suspension and exclusion to Joseph K’s experience in The Trial; it was truly Kafkaesque. Now we see this shifting into Orwellian territory where demonstrating one’s innocence against Big Brothers fanciful fabrications is itself a crime.

As someone who has an international academic reputation for equity and social justice I felt I could no longer allow myself and my reputation to be tainted by association with an organisation so lacking in political awareness and with a dubious attachment to socialism and social justice. I suppose I ought to be a little honoured that those individuals with power in the Labour Party consider me to be such a threat. Personally I only ever thought I was one small component in the fight for a better world. I must admit to enjoying The Trial and 1984. But when fiction becomes truth, it is time to move on.

Consequently and sadly, I have reached the conclusion that I have no alternative but to withdraw my application for membership and effectively resign from the Labour Party forthwith. As someone who joined in 1994 (inspired at that time by Tony Blair), and who has dedicated very many hours to the Labour Party, I am sure everyone can understand how difficult that decision has been. I have made same every good friends in that time. I feel very humbled by all those people in the party locally and nationally who have supported me throughout the past four years in very many ways. They have shown the true meaning of socialism and solidarity, and have indicated they will continue to do so.

However, I have been treated with utter contempt by The Labour Party for four years, and now faced the allegation that by demonstrating my innocence I am contemptuous. That really is deep into Stalinist territory. I now really have no other option but to part company. I really will not accept being treated that way. Like most honest socialists, I consider that I am indeed doing the Labour Party a favour by signing up to it. They should be biting my hand off. I will however be prepared to reconsider that decision but would require a full and public apology from the Labour Party over the “contemptuous” way it has treated me over these past four years. That door is still open to the Labour Party.

I wish good luck to all those socialists who are staying inside the party; you will have my support. However, that is not something I am prepared to do. After 26 years I am leaving the Labour Party to spend more time getting involved in socialist politics. In some ways the Party is correct. I do respond with contempt – contempt for Keir Starmer’s decision to apologise and pay compensation to some of those very people who were prepared to countenance lies, distortions and fabrications in order to remove socialists from the Labour Party, and lose us the 2017 General Election.

Supporting disadvantaged families through free early education and childcare entitlements in England

(Originally posted to on 15th March 2020)

The National Audit Office has published (13/03/20) on their web site their research into the provision of early years education, and produced a report on the Government’s provision of free early education and childcare. Ther NAO are charged with looking at how the government achieve value for money. In this case they examined:

  • whether disadvantaged families are accessing the entitlements;
  • whether the supply of free early education and childcare is sufficient and high-quality in deprived areas; and
  • whether families and children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, are benefiting from the entitlements.

Where possible the NAO assessment focused on disadvantaged families specifically and compared their position with more advantaged families to assess variations in support.

What the NAO found, was not surprising,. The Conservative government’s strategy is not sufficiently targeting the most deprived and is likely to lead to a widening of the disadvantage gap.

Report Conclusions

Nearly all families in England with young children are getting some benefit from DfE’s entitlements to free early education and childcare. Since we last reported on this topic in 2016, take-up of the universal entitlement has remained high, the extended entitlement has become established, and the overall quality of provision has improved.

DfE has had less success in making sure disadvantaged families specifically are effectively supported through the provision of the entitlements, with lower take-up and poorer-quality provision in deprived areas. This creates a risk that the gap between the development of disadvantaged children and their peers will grow rather than narrow, with a detrimental impact on DfE’s ambitions to improve social mobility. DfE therefore needs to do more to secure value for money and ensure disadvantaged families benefit at least as much as others from the entitlements.


Deprivation, Childhood Obesity and Walking to School

(Originally posted to on 22nd January 2020)

Crisis? Just what Crisis is it?

It is no doubt still a shocking feature of our society that childhood obesity is one of the biggest health problems we face. “Nearly a quarter of children in England are obese or overweight by the time they start primary school aged five, and this rises to one third by the time they leave aged 11” (NHS Digital). “Our childhood obesity rates mean that the UK is now ranked among the worst in Western Europe” (OECD 2017). Indeed “childhood overweight/obesity rates have increased 10-fold in the past 40 years” (NCD-Ris).

The actual figures for obesity are reported by Rob Noonan (2020a, p. 3) as “32.4% among the most deprived neighbourhoods compared to 20.9% in the least deprived“. So even among the most well off, there is a significant level of childhood obesity. Surely we need to ask, what’s their excuse?

One might think that such a potential crisis would engender a non-partisan response from even a Conservative government widely recognised as one of the most right-wing for a generation. Of course, though, that is not to be. The Government’s response in their “Childhood Obesity Plan for Action, gives us four areas where they will focus their resources:

  • Sugar Reduction
  • Calorie Reduction
  • Advertising and Promotions
  • Schools

In particular:

We intend to ban price promotions, such as buy one get one free and multi-buy offers or unlimited refills of unhealthy foods and drinks in the retail and out of home sector through legislation, consulting before the end of 2018.

We intend to ban the promotion of unhealthy food and drink by location (at checkouts, the end of aisles and store entrances) in the retail and out of home sector through legislation, consulting before the end of 2018.

DHSC, p. 10

It is very easy, and effective to demonise the poor; it is a common and constant feature of our media. The narrative is the parents are to blame for feeding their children with sweet, fatty unhealthy foods. They either do not care what they feed their children in order to keep them quiet, or simply are ignorant and do not know about healthy food.

This is the standard ideological tactic of differentiation, and expurgation to create social fragmentation (Thompson, 1991, p. 60-67), and once you recognise this, you start to see it all over. The resulting policy and political response is to tell the poor how to live ( the middle classes). They need to buy different food. They need to exercise more. They need to be better parents. They need to stop driving their children to school and make them walk. But hang on a minute. Aren’t these the undeserving poor, most of whom do not even have a car, (though they could have if they stopped spending on fags and booze).

But surely, it costs nothing to go outside, get exercise, go to the park. Well even that isn’t that easy when you live in a neighbourhood that is one of

the least supportive social and built environments for physical activity. For example, research shows that the most deprived neighbourhoods are perceived by parents as unsafe and have the least access to parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities for physical activity (Noonan et al., 2016).

Noonan, 2020, p. 2

What this narrative refuses to recognise is, that the poor have very little influence or control over their income and those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods are not likely to have the financial resources to support a balanced healthy diet (Jones, Tong, & Monsivais, 2017). Furthermore they are unlikely to have the resources (time, transport etc), or even the social and cultural to participate in healthy physical activities (Hardy et al., 2010). The real culprits here are the employers paying low poverty wages meaning their employees cannot even afford to feed their children in a way even the Government agree is necessary. The supermarket chain Morrisons is well aware of the effect on the retail sector:

Today, research reveals that the UK’s lowest income homes are being forced to spend a disproportionate amount of their weekly expenditure on food shopping. The average household in the UK spends 11 per cent of its weekly expenditure on food. However, 20 percent of households (those on lower incomes) are actually forced to spend proportionately at least 30 per cent more of their current weekly food spend than the national average.

(Morrisons, 2012)

Oxfam, in collaboration with the Child Poverty Action Group, put it this way:

Whilst the level of food poverty is worrying enough, what is of greater concern is the exponential growth in the numbers of people across the UK who are experiencing real hunger and hardship. Perhaps the most extreme manifestation of food poverty is the rising number of people who depend on emergency food aid.

Cooper & Dumpleton, 2013

But of course, if your entire upbringing has been one of privilege, it is very easy to not have a clue what it is like living in poverty. You might never have met or interacted with really poor people, (and probably don’t want to, other than to knock on their door and ask for their vote every few years). You might even go to the ludicrous extent of suggesting obese working class and poor children should walk to school in order to get fit. You are unlikely to even know, that most already do.

Children living in the most deprived neighbourhoods in England were most likely to commute to and from school actively but were at greatest risk of overweight/obesity and all unhealthy behaviour indicators. Active school commuting alone is unlikely to be enough to prevent and reduce inequalities and prevalence of childhood overweight/obesity in deprived neighbourhoods.

Noonan, Rob, 2020a, p. 5

So the demonisation of the lazy, work-shy proletariat, needs resisting. Children are becoming obese because they are abused by a political and economic system because we have moved into a scenario where the poor are working but being paid low wages on insecure hours.

The number of people trapped in poverty in working families has risen by over one million in the three years to 2016/17. This means almost three million children are now locked in poverty despite living in a working family. The situation is set to worsen further in future. This is simply not right

Joseph Rowntree, 2018

The rest of us bail out the employers by topping up low wages, and our children face unhealthy futures with restricted life expectancy, simply because … they really are expendable.

Indeed, it is not right.


Cooper, Niall and Dumpleton, Sarah (2013). Walking the breadline. The scandal of food poverty in 21st century britain. Oxfam/Child Poverty Action Group.

Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) (2018) Childhood obesity: a plan for action, Chapter 2.

Hardy, Louise; Kelly, Bridget; Chapman, Karthy; King, Lesley and Farrell, Louise (2010) Parental perceptions of barriers to children’s participation in organised sport in Australia. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 46, 197–203.

Jivraj, Stephren (2020) Are self-reported health inequalities widening by income? An analysis of British pseudo birth cohorts born, 1920–1970. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. doi:doi:10.1136/jech-2019-213186

Jones, Nicholas; Tong, Tammy and Monsivais, Pablo (2017). Meeting UK dietary
recommendations is associated with higher estimated consumer food costs: An
analysis using the National Diet and Nutrition Survey and consumer expenditure
data, 2008–2012
. Public Health Nutrition, 21, 948–956.

Morrisons (2012). Poorest budgets eaten up by food. Retrieved from

NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (NCD-RisC). (2017) Worldwide trends in body-mass
index, underweight, overweight, and obesity from 1975 to 2016: A pooled analysis
of 2416 population-based measurement studies in 128⋅9 million children,
adolescents, and adults
. Lancet, 390, 2627–2642.

NHS Digital. (2017) National Child Measurement Programme 2016/17

Noonan, Rob; Boddy, Lynne; Knowles, Zoe and Fairclough, Stuart (2016). Cross-sectional associations between high-deprivation home and neighborhood environments, and health-related variables among Liverpool children. BMJ Open, 6, e008693.

Noonan, Rob (2018) Prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity in Liverpool
between 2006 and 2012: Evidence of widening socioeconomic inequalities
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15, 2612.

Noonan, Rob (2020a) To what extent do unhealthy behaviour indicators explain the neighbourhood deprivation gradient in overweight among 11-year-old English children? Population Health, 10(100541).

Noonan, Rob (2020b) Walking to school is not enough to prevent obesity, The Conversation.

Noonan, Rob and Fairclough, S. (2018). Is there a deprivation and maternal education
gradient to child obesity and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity? Findings from
the Millennium cohort study
. Pediatric Obesity, 13, 458–464.

OECD (2017) Health at a glance 2017: OECD Indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Joseph Rowntree (9018) Budget 2018: tackling the rising tide of in-work poverty.

Sullivan, Rory (2020) Poor Britons have worse health than generation born a century ago. The Independent, 22nd January 2020.

Thompson, John (1991) Ideology and Modern Culture. Critical Social Theory in the Era of Mass Communication. Stanford: Stamford University Press.

Poverty, Education Spending and Mental Health.

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Sometimes deeply significant issues get published in the press, but fail to gain traction. This article by Liz lightfoot in The Guardian on 17th December 2019, was one of those. It tells is of Sammy, who wakes up on Christmas morning with little hope of a visit from Santa:

He didn’t get a present last Christmas and it is unlikely he will get one this year, because his mother struggles just to put food on the table.

The Guardian

Sammy lives on one of the largest council estates in England. It is in the top 1% of deprivation and only 1 in 3 adults have jobs, making the official unemployment rate of 3.8% rather meaningless to Sammy’s family.

We hear so much of the inflated salaries and egos of Multi Academy Trust CEOs, that decent blokes such as Chris Dyson, the headteacher of Parklands School in Leeds. too often go unnoticed. Not for Chris are pronouncements on the importance of silent corridors or isolation booths as a defining aspect of a school culture.

“[Some children] see everyone making Santa lists and yet they don’t get anything they asked for, We have children here who don’t get a present at Christmas or on their birthdays. When I came here five years ago I found very few children had been to see Santa. It broke my heart. I wanted to give them a dream, a hope, and show how invested I am in them, even in holiday times.”

Chris Dyson, The Guardian

But Chris Dyson is not alone. Over in Blackpool, Stephen Tierney (@LeadingLearner) was executive head of a small three school academy trust based on St Marys.

“Heads in Blackpool will tell you stories of family after family who make it clear there is no money for Christmas presents this year and there were no presents last year. It is hard to comprehend the hopelessness these parents feel. That is where schools come in. Should we have to? No, but if we don’t, then who will? It’s heartbreaking for some of our families. Children are going back to homes with no carpets, no heating, no food in the fridge, the place is cold, it is not in great repair, and Christmas will be about surviving. We were thinking of providing the ingredients for a Christmas lunch – but then some homes won’t have enough money for fuel to cook it and some don’t even have an oven.”

Stephen Tierney, The Guardian

Life has got so difficult for some of St Mary’s families in Blackpool that staff were handing out food parcels to parents. These are not the traditional Christmas hamper, “they will have staples such as pasta and rice and tinned tomatoes, because Christmas is survival for these families, not a bonus“.

Stephen resigned at the end of December.

Neither Chris not Stephen are scaremongering. The Department for Work and Pensions has issued a detailed 70 page report titledHouseholds Below Average Income” which describes how 12% of children are living in low-income homes and suffering severe material deprivation. That is 1 in 8; or on average, four in each class of 30. The Guardian reports this “is based on a survey of whether households can afford things such as a warm winter coat, celebrations on special occasions, and separate bedrooms for children of different genders over the age of 10“. How many of you reading this have any idea what it must be like to have no warm winter coat?

Another head, Mark Anstiss, headteacher of Felpham Community College, near Bognor Regis, in West Sussex,told the Guardian that teachers “are coping with an increase in the number of children with mental health issues“, yet there is very little schools themselves can do on stretched budgets which, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, have decreased by 8% in real terms since the Conservative Party came into office in 2010. The IFS reports a spending fall from 2010 was the worst since the 1970s.

Furthermore as reported in The Guardian on 19th December 2019, a report titled “More Money, Fewer Problems” by Luke Heselwood (@LukeHeselwood) of the Independent think tank REFORM has identified that “almost 30% of English local authority secondary schools were in revenue deficit in 2018/19” and are “teetering on the edge“. The very capacity of schools and individual teachers to respond to the needs of pupils like Sammy become ever more impossible as the effect of poverty and disadvantage mean more to children than missing a coat and breakfast:

“We are a typical comprehensive school in terms of socio-economic profile and ability intake and we are seeing a big increase in challenging behaviour and students with emotional health issues coming up from primary school.”

Mark Anstiss, The Guardian

in September 2018, Mark Anstissput his money where his mouth is“, and joined the headteacher protest in Parliament square, because like all of the 1000 headteachers on that protest, he knew the devastating effects of poverty on young people, their families and communities.

It is well known that living in poverty results in ill health and mental health issues. See for example:

The final article by Jed Boardman, Nisha Dogra and Peter Hindley, all experts in child and adolescent psychiatry, points out a chilling and damning statistic. That 3.7 million children in the UK live in poverty. That is roughly the same as the entire population of Wales. However the purpose of their article is to stress that poverty is not merely about having warm clothes and enough to eat.

Back in Leeds, Chris Dyson tells The Guardian that he has concerns about what is happening in education more generally.

Particularly over discipline and the number of children other schools are excluding. When he arrived at Parklands, more than 150 children a year were being excluded; now it is down to one – and that is one too many for Dyson, is concerned about the current “warm-strict” approach to discipline coming from the Department for Education and its behaviour tsar.

The Guardian

Tom Bennett is the Conservative Party’s chillingly titled “Behaviour Tzar“, flagging up images of the Romanovs – and we know how that ended up. Bennett who has defended a “zero-tolerance” approach to behaviour and the creation of centralised detention systems and internal inclusion unit,has endorsed a detention regime that punishes pupils for rolling their eyes and questioning decisions” an approach thankfully rejected by headteachers such as Chris.

“That way of thinking is that the only way to sort out discipline is to exclude them, to put them in isolation, ban them and put them in boot camps. No! You can do it another way. ‘Warm-strict’ is having lots of rules but trying to put a warm spin on it by saying that as long as your discipline is strong and tough, you can afford to smile at children.”

Chris Dyson, The Guardian

Chris Dyson and his staff, seem to get by pretty well with flexibility, a smile, and, yes, a hug.

“We are a huggy school: if a child us upsert, we give them a hug.”

Chris Dyson, The Guardian

Maybe, Chris needs to give Tom Bennett a hug, and softly explain to him a thing or two about running a school where children’s needs come first.

[Parklands School] is a happy place where children are allowed to wear trainers and joggers, and are not told how to wear their hair. Travis, a pupil excluded from another primary school for violence, appears now to be a model student. “Don’t run in the corridor because you might knock over someone who is disabled,” he warns some younger students. “Open the door for visitors,” he tells a girl who pushes past. He then rushes off to comfort a boy in his class who has suddenly broken down in tears in the corridor.

The Guardian

Pass the Parcel

This post was originally posted to on 26tgh December 2019 and was updated on 27/12/19.

{Above image created by freepik –}

“I feel like a parcel getting moved around all the time, getting opened up and sent back and moved on to somewhere else.”

Teenage girl, in care over 100 miles from home

I am writing this on Boxing Day, 2019 at time of year we claim is for families to get together. We are confronted with pictures of happy families sitting around a dinner table or the TV, just enjoying each others’ company. Yet for many children, Christmas is not a time for family. The NSPCC report:

In 2016/17  there were approximately 96,000 looked after children in the UK. The total number of looked after children in the UK has increased every year since 2010. In the last five years the population of looked after children in the UK has increased by 5%.


These figures differ somewhat from the Office for National Statistics official figures, of 78,150, in 2018 – the majority of which (almost 75%) come from ethnically white backgrounds. What isn’t contested, is that this figure has been steadily rising. (I have not yet compared this rise against the rise in the age related population however).

A very rough calculation (as accurate figures are hard to come by) puts the percentage of children in care at around 6-8% of children under 18. A very crude averaging out would mean an average of 2 children per class of 30 children.

The election of the Conservatives in 2010 set off a stringent policy of austerity, where the disadvantaged were forced to pay for the excesses and recklessness of the financiers who caused the 2008 economic meltdown. in just eight years the Conservative administration shut down 1000 Surestart Children’s centres.

The Children’s Commissioner for England, has just (December 2019) published a report on the experiences of children in the care system, titled: “Pass the Parcel. Children posted around the care system“. in their report they argue:

There are over 30,000 looked after children living ‘out of area’ in England.This is 41% of all children in care and has risen by 13% since 2014. Over 11,000 of these children are more than 20 miles from what they would call home, with over 2,000 further than a hundred miles away.

Now 40% of 8% is about 3%. So on average there will be around one pupil per class in this situation, often placed miles from home “simply because there is nowhere suitable for them to live locally(Children’s Commissioner, p. 2). Why? because cash-strapped local authorities do not have enough places for children to live meaning many of them “end up going to live in children’s homes run by private companies, often operating in cheaper and less ‘desirable’ parts of the country“. The experience of a Conservative government turns out to be a nightmare for those very children who are rarely seen and never heard.

Children living far away are likely to have more complicated and fragmented histories. They are more likely to be older children, more likely to be living in children’s homes than children placed in their local areas, and more likely to have experienced multiple moves while in care. Being so far away from their hometowns can be another trauma for children who have already had difficult upbringings. More than half of children (52%) living out of their local area have special educational needs and a quarter (24%) have social, emotional and mental health identified as their primary need. These are therefore often children who struggle to process change and need routine and consistency to stay calm and content. They may take a long time to build trust with adults and feel settled, and yet this group are at risk of chronic instability at the hands of the care system.

Children’s Commissioner, p. 2

In the mainstream media, we get told of the difficulties these “wayward” and “deviant” children pose to services: the police, NHS and education services. In my world – the world of education – teachers struggle to respond adequately in a system that is under resourced and unconcerned. The Conservatives establish a right wing “Behaviour Czar” with all the, no doubt intended, imagery that language conjures up of the brutality of the Romanovs.

What the Children’s Commissioner report provides is a narrative of the experiences of the children going through this experience, in order to “shine a light on the experiences of these children as victims of a system that is letting them down, not as ‘problems’ for the system“. Further evidence of the systematic denial of the needs of these vulnerable children was reported in The Guardian also on Boxing Day, by Sarah Marsh and Pamela Duncan in article titled “Revealed: councils paid inadequate care homes £2.3m to house children“. They identified more evidence, if indeed any was needed, of the inhumanity behind the right wing strategy of marketisation of the care system pursued by the Conservative Government.

One result is local councils are sending children into care homes that simply “do not provide a good standard of care“, but of course that in itself is of little consequence, because these inadequate ohmes are earning millions of pounds for their abuse – because that is what it surely is – of many vulnerable young children.

 Ofsted report on children’s social care in England and identify 78 providers whose properties were listed as being inadequate or in need of improvement. Their framework for Social Care Common Inspection framework (SCCIF) – Children’s Homes describes the process of inspection and their Main Findings are online. The Guardian report:

Some 58 children were placed in such homes by at least 23 local authorities in the following three-month period, handing more than £2.3m to failing providers, according to freedom of information responses and analysis of councils’ published expenditure.The figures could be much higher as a substantial number of councils did not respond, some would not say how many children on the grounds of data protection, and some would not say how much money was spent on providers citing commercial sensitivity.

Sarah Marsh and Pamela Duncan, The Guardian, 26th December 2019

The needs of these children are secondary to the profit to be made by private companies – some of which are identified by the Guardian. For any teacher, it is essential Christmas reading. Start here, and be prepared to cry.

“I’d never heard of this area.” – Teenage boy in care, around 75 miles from home

“I feel isolated. I don’t even know where I am … you feel like you have no-one” – Teenage girl in care

“I don’t even know where I am on the map” – Teenage girl in care, around 80 miles from ‘home

“I never unpack cos I know I’ll be passed on somewhere else in a few weeks” – Teenage girl in care

Children’s Commissioner

Merry Christmas

The Real Politics of the Liberal Democrats

(Originally posted to on 29th October 2019)

The Liberal Democrats put a great deal of emphasis on their social justice credentials and on their environmentally friendly stance. However, just how much does this stand up to critical scrutiny? It does appear that much of the “liberal” nature of the party’s traditions have been ditched in favour of Jo Swinson’s obsessive opposition to Jeremy Corbyn at all costs. Even being prepared to accept a “No Deal” Brexit, rather than support The Leader of the Opposition as a short-term head of a government of national unity in order to ensure the UK didn’t crash out of the EU. So, who is Jo Swinson and how has she voted since being elected as an MP? The truth might surprise many.

Jo Swinson was first elected as an MP in 2005; she served in the 2010-2015 Conservative-Liberal Coalition as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Cleg and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. She lost her seat in the backlash against the Liberal Democrats in 2015, regaining it in the snap election in 2017. She was elected Leader in July 2019. All the following information comes from parliamentary voting records (see: They Work For You).

Education Policy

Jo Swinson’s record on education is completely in line with Conservative Party policy and in the key votes she has always supported the Conservatives. This includes support for measures to make further study more difficult for children from disadvantaged backgrounds by raising university tuition fees to £9000, raising the interest rate on student loans to market rates and supporting the abolition of Educational Maintenance Grants.

In addition, the Liberal Democrats supported changes to electoral registration which saw almost a million people, hundreds of thousands of them young people and students, removed from the electoral register. Lisa Nandy wrote in The New Statesman in 2015:

Those cities with the largest student numbers have seen some of the largest falls in registered electors. In Liverpool there are over 20,000 fewer people on the electoral roll. In Nottingham, 13,000 fewer people are registered. In Manchester and Brighton it’s over 12,000 fewer people. In Leeds the figure is over 3,000 and in Sheffield almost 5,000 people fewer people will be registered to vote. In dozens of towns and cities across the country – including in Nick Clegg’s backyard – students are denied the chance to hold this government to account at the ballot box.

Nandy, Lisa (2015)

In school policy, Jo Swinson, and the Liberal Democrat Party, fully supported the gradual privatisation of education by voting to increase the number of Free Schools and academies including voting against restricting new Academy Schools to areas in need of additional capacity.

Welfare Benefits

The Liberal Democrat support for the Conservative “Bedroom Tax” resulted in placing the disabled and disadvantaged right in the firing line of the coalition’s brutal austerity cuts. Liberal Democrats and Jo Swinson in particular not only supported this, but helped to implement it whilst sitting in government alongside the Conservatives.

Whilst in the coalition government, Jo Swinson supported the Conservative 1% cap on public sector pay rises, setting the rate of increase of certain benefits, payments and tax credits at 1% rather than in line with prices at 2.2% for 2014 and 2015. This meant that an average health worker suffered a real-terms pay cut of almost £2,000, while an ambulance worker had their real-term pay slashed by over £5,000. At the same time, she consistently supported reducing benefits and public services for the poor and disabled, capping any increase discretionary working age benefits and tax credits at 1% in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Before losing her seat in 2015, Jo Swinson voted in favour of reducing housing benefit for those deemed to have excess bedrooms – the so called “Bedroom Tax”. She voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices. At the same time, Jo Swinson opposed increasing income tax for those earning over £150,000, and opposed introducing a tax on banker’s bonuses and reducing the rate of corporation tax, protecting those who need it least at the cost of the most vulnerable in society.

Whilst Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats support the 365-day limit on receiving contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance, she opposed making an exception for those with a cancer diagnosis or undergoing cancer treatment. Jo Swinson voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability.

Social and Economic Issues

The 2010-2015 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came into government in the aftermath of the 2008 world financial crash. Rather than introduce measures to curb financial institutions and protect the vulnerable, Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats, stood firmly alongside the Conservatives in favouring those who caused the crash against those who suffered as a result. Whereas taxation could have been used to redress the balance, Jo Swinson voted to increase the rate of VAT, and reduce the rate of corporation tax meaning whilst large corporations paid less tax, those on low incomes paid proportionately more. She opposed increasing the tax rate applied to incomes over £150,000, opposed introducing a 10% rate of income tax paid for by a mansion tax and opposed a tax on bank bonuses to fund guaranteed jobs for young people out of work for over a year. Jo Swinson opposed proposals to reform the banking industry.

One way out of the economic crisis would have been by strengthening the economy through stimulating greater employment opportunities and so producing greater prospects for work especially for young people. All such measures were opposed by Jo Swinson who opposed calling on the government to get more people into work and voted against introducing a compulsory job guarantee for young people and the long term unemployed. The Liberal Democrats generally opposed measures to stimulate economic growth and job creation, in particular, opposing tax breaks for small firms taking on extra workers.

Jo Swinson’s failure to support working people stretched into opposing more progressive economic measures to stimulate the economy. She consistently opposed reducing excessive rail fares and soaring energy costs, failed to stand up for families in the private rented sector. This stretched into opposing placing curbs on payday lenders, an energy price freeze, long term reforms to the energy market, free childcare for working parents of three- and four-year olds, greater regulation of gambling, and if that was not enough, opposed action to boost housing supply. Finally, Jo Swinson supported restricting the scope of legal aid making it more difficult for those on low incomes to access legal support.

The 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto stated “Liberal Democrats will put thousands more police on the beat”. Jo Swinson supported cutting police numbers to their lowest level since September 2001.

Environmental Issues

Whilst the Liberal Democrats make great store of their environmental and green credentials, their voting record shows this appears to be little more than a sound bite. John Fergusson, writing in the Scottish Daily Record, reported that in 2014, Jo Swinson accepted £14,000 in donations from Mark Petterson, a director of Warwick Energy Ltd – a firm with fracking licences across England. Shortly after, in 2015, Jo Swinson voted against a moratorium on fracking permits and against a requirement for an environmental permit being granted for fracking. The Daily Record also showed that Jo Swinson opposed carrying out a review of the impact of fracking on climate change, the environment, the economy, and health and safety. In reality Jo Swinson generally voted against greater regulation of fracking, and against requiring permits for fracking.

More broadly, she voted for selling off state-owned forests and for cutting subsidies for renewable energy. Hardly an environmentally friendly position. Credit where it is due though. She did table a 2007 bill against excessive packaging of Easter Eggs. Admittedly the Liberal Democrats did introduce a 5p charge on plastic bags, but only by agreeing to Conservative proposals to tighten benefit sanctions against the vulnerable.

Whilst in Government, Jo Swinson voted in favour of cutting subsidies for electricity generated via renewable or low-carbon methods, and against targets for the amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases produced per unit of electricity generated. The Daily Record reported she voted against requiring the Green Investment Bank to support the target of reducing carbon emissions to 20% of 1990 levels by 2050. Jo Swinson also refused to support the completion of a cycle path in her constituency of Milngavie after complaints from motorists.

It is not just the Labour Party who can see through Jo Swinson, as indeed Tim Holmes in The Ecologist magazine argues “Jo Swinson has a chequered history in relation to the environment – which is somewhat eclipsed by her dire record on poverty and workers’ rights”.

Party Defections

In the 2017 General Election, the Liberal Democrats gained 12 MPs. Since then 7 more have defected from the Conservative and Change UK parties, meaning almost 40% of their MPs were not actually elected as Liberal Democrat MPs.

  • Heidi Allen (Conservative)
  • Luciana Berger (Change UK)
  • Sam Gyimah (Conservative)
  • Philip Lee (Conservative)
  • Angela Smith (Change UK)
  • Chukka Umunna (Change UK)
  • Sarah Wollaston (Conservative)

Their voting record makes it difficult to see how the Liberals Democrats deserve the name “Liberal”. By welcoming MPs who were not even elected as Liberal Democrats, and who refuse to stand in a by-election, makes it difficult to see how the Liberal Democrats deserve the name “Democrats”. Without being at all liberal and by refusing to be democrats, it is difficult to see what is left of the Liberal Democrats.


Fergusson, John (2019) “Jo Swinson branded a ‘hypocrite’ for taking fracker’s cash as Lib Dem leadership hopeful comes under fire”, The Daily Record, 9th June 2019.

Foster, Dawn (2019) “The Galling Hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats”, Jacobin, 17th July 2919.

Holmes, Tim (2019) “Jo Swinson, fracking and social justice”, The Ecologist, 29th July 2019.

Low, Jo (2019) “Jo Swinson criticised over donor links to fossil fuels and tax avoidance”, The Ferret, 30th July 2019. (Paywalled)

Mason, Rowena (2015) “How much of the Liberal Democrats’ 2010 election manifesto was implemented?” The Guardian, 15th April 2015.

McKinstry, Leo (2013) “Lib Dems are the party of arrogant leftist hypocrites”, Daily Express, 16th September 2013.

Nandy, Lisa (2015) “We won’t let the Lib Dems run away from their record“, New Statesman, 18th January 2015.

Stando, Olaf (2019) “Jo Swinson: here’s what you need to know about the new Lib Dem leader”, Scottish National Party, 22nd July 2019.

They Work for You (nd) Jo Swinson’s voting in Parliament.

Worrall Patrick (2015) “What have the Liberal democrats ever done for us?”, Channel 4, 23rd March 2015.