A Shambolic Study of Unpaid Work

Via Twitter I came across this report which attempts to tell us that women actually do more work than men:

Across all world regions, women spend more time on unpaid care work than men. On average, women spend between three and six hours on unpaid care work per day, while men spend between half an hour and two hours. If we consider the sum of paid and unpaid work, women tend to work more than men – on average, 2.6 extra hours per week across the OECD.

Women spend more time on unpaid care work than men. Okay, but what about other sorts of unpaid work? You know, stuff like mowing lawns, clearing gutters, painting sheds, unblocking drains, changing car batteries, assembling wardrobes, replacing loose slates, bleeding radiators? Or does the report only take into account care work when looking at unpaid work? Indeed it does. All that unpaid work done by men just gets ignored (incidentally, I raised this with the author on Twitter, and got no reply.)

It is therefore not surprising that the factors driving change in female labor supply – whether they are improvements in maternal health, reductions in the number of children, childcare provision, or gains in household technology – all affect unpaid care work. Because time allocation is gendered in this way, female participation in labor markets tends to increase when the time-cost of unpaid care work is reduced, shared equally with men, and/or made more compatible with market work.

So changes in technology, healthcare, and societal expectations have changed in ways that primarily benefit women, and they’ve used the spare time to go off and work. Yet somehow they’re still crushed under the patriarchal yoke.

With this said, an obvious question remains: why do women perform a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work in the first place?

Why do men spend a disproportionate amount of time doing unpaid maintenance work on the family home?

As we discuss below, although time-use should be a choice, evidence shows that social norms play a large part in determining gender roles and consequently, gendered time-use.

Men and women split the household tasks between them, each taking those they’re best at? Who knew?

In 1890, only 24% of US households had running water. In 1900, 98% of households in the US washed their clothes using a scrubboard and water heated on a wood or coal-burning stove. It is not hard to see then why in 1900, the average American household spent 58 hours per week on housework. By 1975, that figure had declined to 18. Progress in labor-saving consumer durables in the household has thus been another factor contributing to the rise in female labor force participation, especially in early-industrialized countries. Of course, this is feasible especially because women – both in 1900 and now – take on a disproportionate amount of unpaid domestic work.

Greenwood et al. (2005) present evidence for this by calibrating a quantitative economic model to show that the consumer goods revolution – which, as we can see in the chart below introduced washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and other time-saving products – can help explain the rise in married female labor force participation in the US.

So basically, women’s lives got one hell of a lot easier thanks to technological improvements. Rather than sitting back and enjoying their free time as any man would have done, they demanded to join men in the labour force. That’s fine, I have no problem with that: why shouldn’t women have careers? What I don’t understand is why they are now complaining about doing more work than men.

Some argue that there is a “natural” distribution of gender roles, with women being better suited to domestic and child-rearing responsibility and men to working outside of the home. Such assertions lack compelling evidence and more importantly, perpetuate a status quo that limits the choices available to both men and women.

Several thousand years of observing how household tasks are divvied up voluntarily between couples doesn’t constitute compelling evidence, I suppose. Or do these people think the man of the house orders his wife to feed the kid while he fixes the hole in the roof against against her will?

Instead, it is known that social norms and culture influence the way we see the world and our role in it. To this end, there is little doubt that the gender roles assigned to men and women are in no small part socially constructed.

Well, yes. Society being the result of humans interacting with each other over centuries or millenia, this is hardly surprising. A study of human behaviour which ignores societal norms and culture is of questionable value.

And while it is possible that socially-assigned gender roles emerged in the distant past, our recent and even current practices show that these roles persist with the help of institutional enforcement.

Presumably the millions of men and women in happy, cooperative partnerships are all under the influence of this “institutional enforcement”.

Social norms and culture are clearly important determinants of female labor force participation. So how can social norms be changed?

So western women, having suddenly found themselves with an abundance of free time, joined the labour force to work alongside men. If we take into account the unpaid care work women do at home, and ignore all the unpaid work men do, women work slightly more than men. Therefore we must change society.

In the context of ‘private’ family life, social norms across the world have long dictated that women should perform unpaid care work – taking care of children and elderly parents, making meals, doing laundry, maintaining family relations – while men engage in market work.

I’m beginning to see where the idiots who dreamed up this homework got their ideas from.

Rather, the hope is that with sustained social change, neither women nor men will be obliged to make decisions about time allocation on the basis of their sex.

Only when we have reshaped society will men and women be able to do the household tasks they want to.

If this is what passes for research at Oxford University these days, they might as well merge with the old poly.

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But he doesn’t look the type!

After reading my post about Lindsay Shepherd, my research assistant (the small one) said something to the effect of:

“Those guys look like complete weirdos! The one on the left looks like the sort of person who appears in your posts on polyamory!”

She is referring to Nathan Rambukkana, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University:

Let’s take a look at his biography:

My book, Fraught Intimacies: Non/Monogamy in the Public Sphere (UBC Press, 2015) explores the increased mediation of non-monogamies since the early nineties—in every medium from television, to film, to self-help books, to the Internet—and how such convergent mediation opens these discourses up to societal scrutiny, as well as transformation. By exploring the privileged logics that frame our conceptions of intimacy, I explore the political and cultural implications of how we frame non-monogamy broadly in sexual discourse, as well as how the public sphere presences of three major forms of non-monogamy (adultery, polygamy and polyamory) display a complex relationship with “intimate privilege,” an emergent state in which one’s intimacies are read as viable, ethical or even real.

Now there’s a surprise, eh? If the media wants us to buy the line that polyamory is now mainstream, we’re going to have to overlook the fact that most people involved with it are complete weirdos and many of them have serious issues which urgently need addressing.

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Hierarchical Bullies

A story doing the rounds over the last couple of days concerns Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. Briefly, Miss Shepherd showed her class a video clip of a televised public debate featuring Jordan Peterson, who is either a Nazi or a fairly normal chap depending on your point of view, in order to demonstrate that there are two sides to every debate. She was then hauled over the coals for several hours and reduced to tears by these two fuckwits:

David Thompson has the story covered and I recommend anyone interested pops over there and reads both the post and the comments. The case has caused outrage, mainly because Miss Shepherd was smart enough to record her bollocking and lay bare the Kafkaesque bullying she received at the hands of her supposed academic superiors. This article from the National Post gives a flavour, as does this one from the same place regarding one of the professor’s pathetic apology.

But it was this tweet which caught my attention, referring to those interrogating Shepherd:

It would be tempting to convince ourselves that such behaviour exists only in the clown-quarter that is western academia, but what Freek Groeneveld describes is widespread throughout many modern organisations, including corporations.

Firstly there is the relying on authority. I don’t know how many times I’ve been sat in front of someone who has dared speak to me in a certain way solely because he or she sat above me in the company hierarchy. Had the roles been reversed, they’d never have uttered a squeak; had the situation arisen outside of a work environment, they’d have been lucky to avoid getting a slap. In the brief periods I’ve been a manager I learned that if you are relying solely on your authority then you’re already in trouble. By all means use your position to make a decision, but if you rely on it to prevail in an argument it’s a sign you’ve already lost. If you rely on it to manage your people effectively, then you really shouldn’t be in the post. Nobody who has earned the respect of their subordinates should be relying on their position in the managerial hierarchy (technical hierarchy is somewhat different); that should be almost incidental if you’re managing people properly.

Secondly, there’s the “we all agreed” line. Too often I have heard the words “it was discussed” in relation to a subject that was briefly mentioned in passing, rapidly glossed over, or delivered in a monologue by a manager to a subordinate. It’s a deliberate ploy to lay the foundations for the next step in a process without the necessary bother of having to make a proper case, secure agreement, or listen to dissent.

The mistake Miss Shepherd made was to cooperate with what was obviously a kangaroo court. I can see why she did, but she’d have been better off understanding that the people she was dealing with were not acting in good faith. They were not seeking an explanation, they did not want to give her an opportunity to salvage her reputation, the whole process was set up so they could exercise their power over someone in a compromised position. The whole charade was a demonstration of their power, authority, and egos – and this is true for so much of what passes for management in modern organisations.

I know this is easy to say, but she ought to have flipped the script on them. You’ve seen how frustrating little shitlord kids are, the sort you see on police reality TV shows having been caught shoplifting. When questioned they interrupt, deliberately misunderstand the question, respond to a question with one of their own, ignore their interlocutors for periods, etc. and generally show utter, complete contempt towards the people in front of them. Miss Shepherd should have opted for a form of this. e.g. by laughing in the guy’s face when he uses some stupid term like “positionality” and say “What? What the hell does that mean? Did you just invent it?” She should have shaken her head confused and asked the guy to repeat himself, and then start looking out the window when he’s halfway through doing so. There are a million passive-aggressive tricks she could have pulled to signal her contempt for the whole process and the people conducting it.

The reason she didn’t do this is because, like thousands of Soviets who were hauled before similar tribunals, they believed they’d done nothing wrong and thought cooperating would make them leave her alone. She would have worried that if she didn’t cooperate they’d punish her, possibly by firing her. We all have bills to pay, and we all need a job. This is why so many people allow themselves to get bullied by those above them in the hierarchy: they think by cooperating with unreasonable people they’ll get treated less harshly. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I suspect she was finished from the moment they hauled her in, and the only way to save herself was by fighting back – hard. She – and anyone else in a similar position – needs to understand that the worst that can happen is you lose your job: you’re not going to get shot or sent to a Siberian camp, so grow some fucking balls. Secondly, she ought to have flipped the script in the way I described until one of them loses their cool and says something which could get them fired. Or something close to it. Then she needed to walk out and pen a letter to the head of the university describing her version of the meeting, shorn of all context and scattered liberally with terms that lawyers like to use in divorce hearings. In other words, assume the role of bully for herself and go on the warpath. It might not work, and she might get fired anyway, but it might also make them back the hell off, or at least get them on the defensive and having to explain their actions. And it’s better than grovelling in front of a star-chamber.

This is how anyone should deal with a bully in any organisation. Note that I mentioned her letter should be shorn of context. This is important. A mistake a lot of people make is to write thousands of words when lodging a complaint or defending themselves, whereas the whole idea is to give the other person the biggest headache possible. I remember once being asked to sign a document I didn’t want to. I thought about writing an explanation why, but in the end I simply wrote:

“I have no intention of signing this document.”

and left it at that. Let them come back to you to find out why you won’t sign it. If you’re going to be treated like shit, don’t make it easy for them. Simply resort to one sentence replies and make them run around trying to work out what you’re thinking. Here’s another I’ve used, in its entirety:

“Your email appears to contravene the corporate ethics policy.”

I never said how or why: let them figure out what you could possibly mean. Give them a sleepless night or two. Get the headache on their desk, and off yours.

I wish more people stood up to bullies, and to Lindsay Shepherd’s credit she gave it a damned good shot; by recording the meeting and making it go viral, she’s probably going to have the last laugh. But the way to stop this thing from happening in the first place is for people to grow a pair and not cooperate. If people could stand up and shout down Stalin’s show-trials, we ought to be able to stand up to wankers like those at Wilfrid Laurier University at the risk of getting a bad report.

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When Feminists Set Homework

The following picture was posted on Twitter yesterday by a British dad who said his kid’s school had handed it out as homework:

This surprised me a little because the narrative last week was that men were all-powerful sex-predators who use their patriarchal powers to force women into submission, which is why The Handmaid’s Tale documentary was so popular. But if denigrating and undermining men using any means to hand is the goal, the first casualty will be consistency.

To begin with, I should point out that I have come across men who’ve been utterly feckless, loafing around and going to parties while their women do all the chores as well as take care of him and the children. But they didn’t look much like the chap in the picture. None of them wore a v-neck sweater, for example. In fact, the men who look like the chap in the picture generally spend their days working their arses off to provide a home and secure future for their wives and kids.

But don’t you just love it? The husband is a shambling man-child while the wife is an all-powerful superwoman who does things like unblocks sinks and builds sheds on top of her womanly chores. Because yeah, every woman is just like that. Does anyone know of any woman who’s built a shed on her own? Or unblocked a sink when there was a man around who could have done it? Shortly after I left university I sort of moved myself into a house of five girls, four of whom hated me on sight. I won them ’round in short order by stopping the doors squeaking, bleeding the radiators so the place warmed up, and taking off the sink-trap to remove a lump of rotting hair the size of a golf ball with an ear bud through its centre. One of them was so impressed she even reads my blog almost twenty years later (*waves*).

Also, I have a close friend who was recently widowed, leaving her to raise a couple of kids alone. Among the long list of things she misses about her late husband is the moral support: when told of a problem he would make cool-headed, pragmatic suggestions which cut through the emotional nonsense surrounding it, allowing her to see the issue more clearly and in a different light. This had a valuable calming effect, which she badly misses. She’s mentioned missing this aspect of their relationship more times than she has anything to do with fixing stuff or carrying heavy items about. Do you think this ludicrous cartoon captures this contribution to a woman’s well-being which men so often provide?

Whoever came up with it obviously doesn’t know much about men or relationship dynamics, and it is fun to speculate on the relationship status of the women (for it was surely women) who are responsible. Do they belong to:

Group 1: Young women who complain incessantly that men don’t want a relationship, they just want an easy shag off Tinder. All of them will have Tinder accounts, and all will have provided said easy shag more than once in the past six months.

Group 2: Bitter older women who look forward to reading the cat-buying guides with each new issue of Modern Spinster magazine?

Group 3: Middle-aged women who were busy shagging shitlords in their twenties when they should have been securing themselves a decent partner, and chose to settle with some bumbling omega male nobody else wanted to avoid joining the women in Group 2 (look at the body-language of the woman in the picture). The divorce papers will be served on him once she’s in possession of her anniversary diamonds, and the Group 2 sisterhood will welcome her with open arms and one of these.

Whatever the case, you can be damned sure the brainchild behind this was not a woman enjoying a functioning relationship with a man she loves and respects. I’m not too worried about this because rather than driving a wedge between men and women as they hope, I think these deranged feminists are only succeeding in driving a wedge between them and ordinary, sane men and women. The comments beneath the original tweet are encouraging, suggesting men are wise to the game being played:

The best way to deal with this is to mock it mercilessly. Feminists like a fight, but they don’t like being laughed at. If I had a kid who was handed homework like this, I’d complete the assignment myself being sure to include sentences like “Mummy is brilliant, she does everything, including bringing Daddy a beer when he calls out for one”.

What desirable outcome feminists hope to achieve with stuff like this is anyone’s guess.

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Do British teachers work 70-hour weeks?

This sounds like bollocks to me, even though I’ve heard similar claims:

I knew a guy who worked mergers and acquisition in an investment bank where he was doing 80 hours per week regularly, occasionally pushing towards 90. He’d find himself going to the office bathroom at 2am and, sat on the toilet, wondering what the hell he was doing there. He said 80 hour weeks are a killer, and unless you’re pretty focused on the money and your career you’ll burn out pretty fast. He didn’t last long, and chose to do something else.

I normally work 40 hours per week, I know plenty of people who work 50 and occasionally some who work 60. I’ve known guys work 70 or 80 hours per week in bursts, when a deadline is looming or during an offshore hook-up campaign, shutdown, or similar. Do I believe British teachers – who are heavily unionised state-employees – are working 70 hour-weeks as standard? No, I don’t. I don’t even believe they are working 70 hours per week in any given week.

Let’s assume this chap’s wife works from home on Saturday and pulls a 10-hour shift from 8am to 6pm. Unlikely, but let’s be charitable here. That leaves her with five 10-hour days during the week. Standard British school hours are on average 9am to 4pm – 7 hours – so let’s assume she gets to work at 8am and leaves at 6pm. That gives her three hours each day for lessons preparations and marking, plus whatever admin needs doing. Three hours per day, every day, is a lot of time – plus the 10 hours each Saturday.

You often hear complaints about teachers having to come up with lesson plans, but this sounds mainly like a first-year problem and, unless I’m badly missing something, they can be carried over to the next year taking into account only the modifications. One thing I’ve noticed about people who work long hours in the office is their administration and organisational skills are usually poor. The reason they take ages to do stuff is because they can’t recognise repeatable tasks and generate templates, and spend half their time reinventing the wheel or searching for information they’ve already found two or three times previously. Do teachers get hired for their admin skills? Probably not. If any teacher is working 70 hours per week out of which only half is spent teaching, I suspect their administration skills are too poor for the profession.

But hey, maybe I’m wrong? Maybe British teachers really are forced to work hours more familiar to day-rate contractors and investment bankers? If true, then it’s the schools’ management who are incompetent: any normal organisation would not require ordinary employees to work 70-hour weeks as standard, they’d get in extra bodies.

But this doesn’t pass the smell-test. I suspect the claims are exaggerated, and those doing the complaining lack the necessary skills to effectively manage what is probably a fairly ordinary admin workload (dealing with kids in the class is another issue entirely). If things were as bad as this, teachers would not be staunchly defending the state-education model nor the unions who insist it must be maintained. Sorry, but it’s bullshit and I expect this guy knows it.

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Getting a Degree

Perry de Havilland, he of Samizdata and hippo worship, makes the following comment under my recent post on Oxbridge:

Frankly I think most people have no good reason to go to any university, unless they are in a STEM field, let alone go Oxbridge.

I’d probably agree with that. There is definitely an argument that the study of subjects with no commercial value, e.g. ancient Greek, archaeology, philosophy, etc. is worth doing simply for the betterment of humanity. I believe it is worth having scholars poring over the Dead Sea scrolls to try to figure out what they tell us about the world back then, just for the sake of knowing. I’d even go so far as to say such activities could be state-funded: hell, when you look at the utter shite we spend money on, genuine expanding human knowledge via genuine research looks at lot easier to stomach even if you’re against state-funding in principle.

However, these activities should be reserved for the absolute brightest people among us, those freak geniuses whose brainpower is needed to push the boundaries of knowledge and discovery further back, and who will stick to their task regardless of the sacrifices it asks of them (such as not having a life).

The problem comes when some idiot decides that anyone and everyone should be allowed to study subjects with no commercial value (or, indeed, any value) at taxpayer expense. The problem is equally bad if people are actively pressured to study garbage at their own expense, rather than doing something more useful. That’s how we end up with 25 year olds with degrees in Media Writing unable to find a job of any kind whatsoever. As Bloke on M4 says in response to Perry:

There’s a great video on YouTube of filmmakers like Terry Gilliam, Werner Herzog and John Carpenter telling people to just make films, not to go to film school.

I’d say that if you want to be a programmer, the best way to learn is install Visual Studio Community, Unity 3D, get a Pluralsight subscription ($30/month) and build a game or an app. Make something you want to make. Something you can try and fail at. Fill in gaps with Google, clubs, forums etc. The only reason to get a degree is to get your foot in the door.

The danger with this approach, although it is sensible, is that large organisations are obsessed with credentials – they’d rather employ someone in HR with no experience and a psychology degree than someone who’s managed people for 20 years but has no formal qualifications.

I’ve written before about how I think bright, young men will begin to shun big organisations and set up on their own, working in 2-5 person outfits, feeding off the bigger players. We might find they start avoiding university, too.

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Not every genius aspires to Oxbridge

Once again Oxford and Cambridge universities are being raked over the coals for not being inclusive enough, this time by race-baiting MP David Lammy.

One of the things which annoys me about these articles, and the fake outrage that underpins them, is the casual assumption that the pinnacle of everyone’s dreams is to go to Oxford or Cambridge. The idea that some extremely bright and talented people might not want to go to either isn’t entertained. As someone commented at Mr Worstall’s:

That’s the thing though isn’t it – people wanting to get in to a different university by choice. Where friends are going, where they liked on a visit, where a particular course is being run, where particular lecturers are based, where particular employers are based. Or simply not far from part of the family.

Back in December I wrote a post about my alma mater, Manchester, and mentioned a fellow engineering student:

She went by the name of Wendy and came from somewhere near Nottingham, and she was probably the cleverest person I’ve ever met anywhere, one of those extraordinarily gifted people who just turn up out of nowhere.  I think she completed her four year course with an average mark across all subjects of around 90%, and won every damned prize going in the engineering school such that even after her second year her name graced most of the plaques in the foyer.  I remember her sitting a 2-hour engineering maths exam and walking out at the earliest opportunity, which was 30 minutes.  She told me she’d finished after 20 minutes and that included checking.  She got 100%.  She was also a Grade 8 at piano and clarinet.

She was one of those freaks who could have waltzed into Oxford or Cambridge. Indeed, she even went to the open day at Cambridge so it’s not like she wasn’t aware of her options. But she came away not liking what she saw. She grew up in a rough town, raised by her mother (a nurse) after her father disowned her at birth. Posh she wasn’t, and she found the atmosphere at Cambridge not much to her liking. She was particularly unimpressed when someone started rabbiting on about house activities and how they could be restricted for poor behaviour (or something), and decided she’d rather study somewhere she could fit in better. That’s not to say she was critical of Cambridge, she just realised she’d be a lot happier in Manchester (where she slotted straight in). I don’t know how typical her case was, but she represented someone from a poor background who could have gone to Cambridge but simply chose not to. The idea that everyone should aspire to go to Oxford or Cambridge, and those who don’t make it are somehow missing out, is absolute bollocks.

I should add, there is no chip on my shoulder about Oxford or Cambridge either. Consider this nested comment, again from Mr Worstall’s:

“Oxbridge is hard. Really fucking hard. After a soft half-term to allow students with various A-levels to catch up, the pace of acceleration is breathtaking, and they never ever pause to allow students to catch up. You have to do it all on your own.”

A soft half-term? Are you joking? In weeks 1 and 2 we did the whole of A-level further maths! Something like 4 or 8 lectures and 2 tutorials to catch up 2 years for those who’d not done it! It was a rude awakening, I can tell you. Your feet didn’t touch the ground for 9 weeks upon arrival (the 8 week terms thing is a bit of a myth – there’s 0th and 9th weeks too, and if you’re unlucky, 10th week.).

I’d have lasted for about an hour in an environment like that. I found the maths at Manchester hard, and scraped my degree with a 2:1 thanks to a very strong industrial placement in my final year (being practical and goal-driven counts for a lot in a small company).

So yeah, Oxford and Cambridge are definitely for the brightest among us, but that doesn’t mean the brightest automatically aspire to either.

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Sex Pests in Schools

I met up with an old friend yesterday, the only person I’m in touch with since my schooldays. We went to a private school, the kind people send their kids to in order to provide them with the vital networking opportunities that will set them up for life. My friend works as a personal bodyguard for rich and famous people, and before that he was a mercenary.  If somebody is threatening you and you want them duffed up, he’s the man to call. A handy chap to know by all accounts, but possibly not the sort of contact the parents of Tarquin and Jeremy have in mind when they fork out £30k per year each. He was a good friend to me though, and still is.

As we were chatting about our time in school he mentioned one of the teachers had been jailed for child abuse. This didn’t surprise me in the least. Although he was convicted for crimes he committed in schools prior to joining ours, there were always rumours surrounding him and he exhibited odd behaviour. There was some substance to the rumours too, because just before I left he was swiftly but quietly removed from his post for inappropriate conduct with a boy, who complained to his parents. The only detail we got was that he locked himself in a room with the boy, what else happened I don’t know, but when I read the news reports of his conviction this locking of the door was mentioned as being a modus operandi of his.

About a year before this incident we were all surprised when he married the mother of a classmate of ours, who also had a younger brother at the school. We knew the mother because she was somewhat of a MILF, and us rabble of teenage boys would make lewd remarks when she came to pick up her sons at the end of term. I didn’t know the younger son, but the older one was in most of my classes. Like a lot of the boys there he seemed a bit lost and unsure of himself, but he was a good kid. We ribbed him mercilessly when this teacher, who everyone joked was a pervert, married his mother and moved in with them but I was just mature enough to wonder if this wasn’t a little sinister. I remember one of the sensible teachers remarking that this was not a good move and the older boy should get himself out of there ASAP. Yesterday my mate told me the news reports said he targetted boys who were blonde, slim, and athletic, which I confirmed when I read them myself. That easily fits the description of the two boys whom he stepfathered, aged around 14 and 17. A few years later I heard the older lad had gone straight off to university and seemed to be doing all right. I have no idea about the younger brother.

What I remember about the teacher’s dismissal was that he was “asked to leave” rather than sacked and reported. This was probably to protect the reputation of the school. Several years before there was an incident in a comprehensive school my brothers and sisters went to, where a male teacher formed a relationship with a girl around 13 or 14 years old. He too was shuffled off quietly, allowing him to take a post in another school a few hundred miles away. A family friend who’d been in teaching for years said this was common, because nobody wants to own up to having employed a sex pest and enabled them to prey on pupils under their watch. I don’t know if the teacher from my school got another job, but the news reports described him as a “former teacher”. The assaults took place in the late 1980s but the first victim only came forward in 2013. That’s a big gap.

Earlier this month I spent a week on holiday with a university friend, who currently works as a teacher. I asked her what would happen now if somebody was caught abusing children in their care. She said they’d be run out of town on a rail, their name added to the sex offenders register, and they’d never be allowed to work with children again. I hope that is true.

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Poverty as described by Australian students

This article on the appalling poverty suffered by Australian students found its way into my Twitter timeline:

Molly Willmott, 19, has been going to job interviews fruitlessly for a year and a half now.

Retail. Hospitality. Spends her time trawling employment websites. She went for one job as a telemarketer. Another as a warehouse assistant.

She’s in Melbourne. Most of these jobs are held by people whose names are hard to pronounce, brought in under policies favoured by Australian progressives.

“It’s rough,” says the politics and sociology major at the University of Melbourne.

Progressives like those studying politics and sociology, for example. But at least, in trawling employment websites for menial jobs, Molly is getting valuable experience on what she’ll be doing once she graduates.

“There’s that stereotype of a student surviving on two-minute noodles and it’s very true. I know a lot of people who’ve had to sacrifice food to be able to pay rent and bills. It’s more common than you think.

Property prices and rents in Melbourne are absolutely extortionate, mainly thanks to government policies favoured by the middle classes whose sons and daughters go to university.

Willmott, who lives with her mother and two siblings in a rented house in Melbourne’s south-east, acknowledges she is one of the lucky ones.

“I am in a very privileged position to be able to go home and have my family there just in case. I don’t like asking them for money but if push came to shove I can do that.”

The UK is somewhat unusual in that it is normal for people to go to another city to study; in a lot of countries people simply go to the university in their town. Because of this, there is usually plenty of cheap(ish) student accommodation in British university towns. I don’t know how things work in Australia, but it seems to me there is a scarcity of student accommodation in Melbourne.

But the luxury of living at home in the suburbs means it’s more than a three-hour round trip to trek to campus in inner-city Parkville, via three different modes of public transport.

“I take bus, train, tram and something’s always late. Travel alone takes a third of what money I have. It just drains away throughout the week.”

Rents are cheaper the further you go from a city centre, but you spend more on transport. This is not a trade-off unique to students.

She’s looking to move out within the next six months, partly because jobs have proven hard to come by where she lives, but she’s not sure how she’ll afford to move.

Jobs are hard to come by in a city where the minimum wage is around $15 per hour for a 19 year old part-timer with no experience. I can’t think why.

Her fortnightly budget has a lot of holes. There’s nothing allocated for clothing, and Centrelink loans for textbooks have been used to buy warm clothes for winter.

“Centrelink has an optional $1,300 loan to buy textbooks every semester. I’ve used that to buy clothes so I can be warm through winter and given rest to my mum. There’ve been times I haven’t been able to buy textbooks and readers.

Hang on. I’ve lived through a Melbourne winter and it’s not that bad. And she’s from Melbourne: it’s not like she’s moved down from Brisbane and had to buy a raincoat for the first time in her life. What was she wearing before she went to university? Do you really need to spend $1,300 on winter clothes in your hometown?

I’ve got so much anger about the treatment of students by the Government at the moment. The welfare system is incredibly underfunded and understaffed. When I got my Youth Allowance I needed to get it urgently. I needed to start uni and buy textbooks and it took four months for that to go through.

A 19 year old is living in one of the world’s most expensive cities and having to borrow money to buy politics and sociology textbooks. Somebody is being fleeced here all right, but unless she’s angry at the government over job-destroying labour laws, insane housing policies, and unnecessary credentialism I think she might have picked the wrong target. Go and ask your tutors why, in the age of electronic publishing and the internet, you need to spend a grand on politics textbooks.

The Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge, says waiting times will be cut by the 250 additional Centrelink call centre staff announced in the federal budget. He says massive investment in technology has halved wait times for Youth Allowance and Abstudy claims.

Government creates an unsatisfactory solution to address a problem largely of said government’s own making; affected persons nevertheless demand more government.

Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham, said his message to students was clear: “Taxpayers, including those who have never been to university, will continue to pay the majority of your fees for going to university.”

“And taxpayers will pay all of the cost of your student loan up front and not expect you to repay it until you’re actually firmly in the workforce, on track hopefully in your career. If we’re to preserve all of those opportunities for the future we need to ensure the higher education system is financially sustainable.”

Blimey! I didn’t expect that: well said, sir!

Three or four hours’ work a week at the local McDonald’s doesn’t help much.

“It really is borderline impossible to find a decent job. Most places want younger people. McDonald’s — even cafes and stuff — they want to pay junior wages. Or they hire lots of people but then they only give you one shift a week.

Minimum wage laws allow firms to pay 19 year olds less than 21 year olds, thus pricing 21 year olds out of the market. If only there were a branch of academia that could explain all this.

Or they hire lots of people but then they only give you one shift a week.

“It’s that whole underemployment figure. If you earn under a certain amount they don’t have to put in for your super.”

Employers look at the total cost of employing somebody and set shift patterns accordingly? Whoever would have thought?

Colee once had savings from a $9-an-hour traineeship at her local council during a gap year, but that’s gone.

She had a gap year? Why didn’t she get a full-time job?

Right now there is $23 in the bank. Her pay won’t deposit for another couple of days. Rent is due in three.

Here is a picture of her stood in her kitchen. Tell me, does this look like a student hovel to you?

Okay, I’ll not pretend I didn’t live in a very nice flat when I was a student, thanks to a generous father (cheers Dad!) and a flatmate who came from money. But that kitchen above is bigger and smarter than any I’ve seen in Paris and looks as though it belongs to a detached 2 or 3 bedroom house. There looks to be a stainless steel dishwasher in there, FFS! My guess is the “student” accommodation in Australian cities has been snapped up by people from China and the Indian sub-continent who are working full-time, and Australian students don’t even know such lodgings exist. I’m thinking back to the student kitchens I saw at university, and they didn’t look much like the one above. There are no slug trails across the surfaces, to start with.

There is no allowance in Colee’s budget for social activities.

“If I want to go to the pub, I’ll buy a pint of cider which is $9 and drink that all night.

So there’s no money for social activities except for drinking cider at $9 per pint. Back in 1996 I used to buy beer for a quid a pint; I know that was a long time ago and it was in Manchester, but where are all the cheapo student bars in Australia? Or has the nanny state banned them?

“It’s meant to be the best time of your life. You’re constantly told you should go to university while you’re young. You’re told at school it’s everything, that you can do this if you study hard. Then you get there and realise you have to basically buy your way into university because you can’t afford to live without help.

“It’s really hard to struggle in this sort of way and then be told by the Government that I chose this because I wanted to get an education.”

An education in International Studies.

[Welfare advisor Stuart Martin] says government policy on the issue was too often “hollow rhetoric from politicians who are not held accountable for their statements”.

“We have far too many people in Parliament who have sucked for free at the teat of the state and still trot out this mantra about self reliance.

Quite. When do the hangings take place, and do I bring my own knitting or will it be handed out free?

“Things are even harder if you happen to come from a disadvantaged background or have other struggles in your life.

“If you have a mental health condition or family obligations that make it difficult to keep a part-time job, then your grip on study is extremely shaky.

If you have mental health problems that prevent you holding down a part-time job, should you really be going to university?

“Education is seen as the thing that breaks the poverty barrier,” says the 21-year-old, who is studying history and sociology at La Trobe University’s Bendigo campus.

Another useful subject.

“You have parents making sacrifices to give their children an education, only for students to find once they enter the system it’s just gradual entrenchment of poverty.”

One would have thought there would be a lot more attention paid to what was being studied under such circumstances, but apparently not.

He makes sure to shop at a low budget supermarket, spending $10–20 once or twice a week.

Surplice is lucky enough to have a car. A second-hand Mazda he bought from his aunt. “It gets me from point A to B,” he says. “It’s got fuel in the tank.”

A poverty-stricken student with a car.

However, he’s sometimes had to go without insurance or rely on the charity of family to pay his registration.

Oh marvellous! So if he maims somebody or deprives them of their only vehicle when he’s driving about uninsured, that’s their tough shit!

“It’s everyday student culture for people to be saying, you know, ‘I’m so broke this week’. You’ll hear it from 10 different people in one walk through the student union.”

Have any of them been t-boned by an uninsured driver?

There’s a lot of time spent in his bedroom at home, or between different volunteer positions on and off campus. Active in the labour and union movements, every Monday is set aside for campaigning. There are also volunteer shifts as a tour guide at a Buddhist temple. The odd bit of cash-in-hand work.

A labour and union activist who engages in cash-in-hand work to supplement his own income. Principled.

“You have to put extra effort into extracurricular stuff to get noticed by employers. I’m the president of two university clubs, which means my ability to look for work is restricted to non-existent.”

Try studying a proper subject. And note there is enough time to be a labour and union activist, but not enough time to look for a job.

It’s not just the financial cost, Surplice says, but the psychological effect.

“I cannot envision my future. Don’t get me wrong — I’d like to one day be settled down in a house with a partner, but the actual practicality of even a simple existence like that? I have nothing but anxiety.”

I once worked with a guy who was sent to fight in Vietnam when he was 18. A lot of his friends didn’t come back. This chap is 21.

National Union of Students president Sophie Johnston says it’s time to “acknowledge the failures from successive governments that have left today’s young people far worse off than generations before us”.

“This generation will be the first priced out of the housing market, our penalty rates are being cut, underemployment is rife and we’ve seen drastically low wage growth for decades.

She is complaining that penalty rates – legally mandated pay levels – are being cut while complaining of unemployment in the same sentence. Hurray for university education!

“Today’s young people are not asking for a free ride, we are merely asking to be afforded the same opportunities as generations before us.”

Ask Grandad which university he went to, what his weekly wage was, and what his house was like.

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On those school cuts

Some outfit campaigning against cuts to expenditure on schools has found its way onto my Facebook feed. Let’s take a look:

The Government has cut school funding by £2.8 billion since 2015. Between now and 2022, it wants to cut £8.9 billion more. Head teachers are already speaking of the impossible job they have to balance the books and offer the best education for all children. Yet there is worse to come.

If you or I are told we must take a pay cut, it means we get a pay cut and take home less money. But when an organisation made up wholly of teachers’ unions claim school funding has been cut, what they mean is:

Recent research on the subject has shown that day-to-day or current spending per pupil in England was largely frozen in real terms between 2010 and 2011 and 2015 and 2016.

In other words, there have been no cuts as any normal person would understand them.

As she hit the campaign trail, Theresa May repeated a claim she has made several times before, including during Prime Minister’s Questions in April, that education spending is at its highest ever level.


A Department of Education blog on school funding also details how high school funding is “at its highest on record at more than £40 billion in 2016 to 2017 and is set to rise to £42 billion in 2019 to 2020, with increasing pupil numbers.”

So is it true?

When Theresa May made the claim, she was talking specifically about education in England, and she is referring to the “dedicated schools grant”. This is the whole block of money going to schools in England every year.

When Theresa May was talking about overall expenditure on education she was talking about overall expenditure on education. Boo! Theresa May, boo!

But while the £40 billion number is about accurate and it is true that this is higher than in previous years, it is not the whole story.
This is because in terms of education spending, it is the “per pupil expenditure” – literally the amount spent on each pupil – that is relevant and not the total amount of the “dedicated schools grant”.

Where to begin? Firstly, the overall expenditure is an important figure; even if per-pupil expenditure is important, that does not negate the importance of the overall expenditure level. Secondly, if the overall expenditure is at a record high but the per-pupil amount is unsatisfactory, that can only mean we have seen pupil numbers increase rather dramatically. Was there a sudden spike in births a few years back? Or is there another reason? The rent-seekers running this website don’t say.

And don’t forget that we were told:

Recent research on the subject has shown that day-to-day or current spending per pupil in England was largely frozen in real terms between 2010 and 2011 and 2015 and 2016.

So overall expenditure is at a record high, and per-pupil funding is holding firm. What’s the issue, again?

Moreover, from 2015 to 2016 onwards school spending has been frozen in cash terms, which is likely to translate into a real terms reduction of around 6.5% between 2010-11 and 2019-20.

I assume they’re talking about inflation. If this is the basis for the hysteria over savage cuts to the school budget, they’re in for a long campaign.

This would be the biggest real-term fall in school spending per pupil for 30 years.

As Wikipedia would say: citation needed.

The outlook for spending per student in further education (age 16-18) is much worse, with the same research forecasting that this is likely to fall by around 13% between 2010 and 2011 and 2019 and 2020.

So if it isn’t just down to inflation, it must be due to increased pupil numbers. Who are they?

Research has also shown that education plays an important role in generating improved productivity and growth and this is also acknowledged in the government’s own industrial strategy. It makes no sense then to actually disinvest in a “key pillar” of the industrial strategy.

Freezing overall expenditure at a record high is now disinvestment. I guess this is what happens when teachers are gifted final-salary pensions.

And as we learn later:

The author is correct to point out that per pupil spending is at least as important as the overall total. But the research mentioned above shows that even this was still at a historical high in 2015 and 2016 – the most recent complete school year. The same research shows that in real terms – allowing for inflation – per pupil spending has doubled since the 1997 to 1998 school year. It does predict that a freeze on total spending will lead to a real terms decrease in successive years, but this had not happened at time of writing.

Nor does it mean that the money is being spent wisely or in the most effective fashion by governments.

Even the fact page the unions link to doesn’t do much to support their cause.

And this video is telling: it says one school is due to see a reduction in funding of £2,350 per pupil. Either there is going to be a massive influx of pupils coming from somewhere (and I suspect we all know where), or it’s being lost to inflation meaning they are receiving funding which would make Eton blush.

So in summary: there are no cuts, and this is merely an attempt by teachers’ unions to snaffle yet more taxpayer monies for themselves.

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