Tag Archives: social Darwinism

Right-wing clichés (#5) “Our ‘generous’ benefits system”

As if telling us there’s no poverty in Britain wasn’t enough (or, alternatively, poverty is a ‘left-wing conspiracy’), the right never tire of telling us how ‘generous’ the benefits system is. Of course it isn’t generous at all and if you compare Britain’s out of  work benefits to those in the rest of Europe, you will see that people in France, Germany or even Ireland (where you get a Christmas bonus) get enough money to live on, while in Britain it is impossible to sustain oneself and pay bills on a paltry £74 a week.

Of course, the worst part of this narrative is the way the right seeks to justify its disdain for EU immigrants and others, by telling us there is something called ‘benefit tourism’, where hordes of Bulgarians, Romanians and Albanians pour into the UK to live on less than a subsistence wage.  You’d have to be really stupid to think Britain is the place to come to claim benefits – but that’s the right for you. Like a dog returning to its own vomit, the right returns to the same lies and myths again and again and again.

Hysterical and delusional the right is incapable of grasping the fact that not a single jobless person can survive long on benefits without getting into serious debt. Worse still, is the right’s constant message of “making work pay”, when wages have been stagnating for the better part of 15 years.  Then there’s the “work lifts people out of poverty” myth. Low paid work actually keeps people in poverty. As thinking goes, the right’s thinking is full of gaps. I’d be surprised if these people could tie their own shoelaces without nanny or a servant to do it for them.

Here’s the choice for most workers: live on payday loans or go hungry and cold. Either way, you’re fucked. The payday loans companies, owned mainly by hedge funds, appear to have a compact with the Tories. They want wages to stay low so that they and their bloodsucking pals in the credit card companies can keep people economically enslaved. Friedrich von  Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom made the bold claim that a socialist economy would lead to serfdom, it seems he was talking out of his arse. The system that he so loved is the one that’s returning people to the days of feudalism.

It’s time to agitate for a Citizen’s Income.  Now who’s with me?

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Life on Hannan World (Part 9)

The occasion of Milton Friedman’s 101st birthday…no, he’s still dead, I just checked… has moved the Lyin’ King to pen this gushing tribute to the man whose economic theories have quite literally turned the world into a toilet. Dan opines:

Today would have been Milton Friedman’s hundred-and-first birthday. The Chicago economist, who died in 2006, is already acquiring that almost Homeric status that normally comes only decades after a man’s life.  Perhaps social media have speeded up the process, or perhaps it’s the fact that Friedman’s strongest enthusiasts are often students with no direct memory of their hero.

Friedman, darling of neoliberals everywhere and supporter of Pinochet’s Chile, where his theories were rammed down people’s throats, is given the airbrush treatment… well, that’s not quite true. Friedman’s supporters refuse to see any flaws in the man. In their eyes, he was the very model of economic perfection. So no need for the airbrush.

Yet for someone who talked so movingly about ‘freedom’, Friedman was capable of turning a blind eye to political repression. For him, all that mattered was the functioning of the free market with its insistence that social relations be reduced to financial transactions between actors. Friedman was also fervently against any form of regulation, so in a pure Friedmanite dystopia, surgeons can practice without proper qualifications and driving licenses would be banned. Can you see the dangers? Yes? Well, Dan can’t.

Here, Hannan tells us:

Friedman did not limit himself to academic theories; he had a keen sense of how to translate ideas into action. He understood politics very well, and used to say that his aim was not to get the right people elected, but to create a climate where even the wrong people would do the right thing. Every year I spend in politics I find that insight more brilliant.

Yes, Friedman understood politics so well that in his perfect world, certain kinds of political activity would have been outlawed because they didn’t fit into his perfect model of a rampant capitalist society.

Here we get to the core of the blog:

What mattered to him most of all? Oddly enough, it was nothing to do with monetary policy, or indeed with economics at all. He believed that the single measure that would do most to ameliorate society was school vouchers.

School vouchers, loved by Pinochet’s Chicago Boys and loathed by those who have had to put up with a substandard education, have become a sort of gold standard in the eyes of the Right.  Higher education, too, has moved backwards. For the last few years, students have been protesting over the inequalities of the education system. Dan simply ignores this.

He had first suggested the idea as early as 1955 – in an intellectual climate so unfriendly that he might as well have been proposing that children be cooked and eaten.

You can see where this is heading and predictably enough, Dan tells us:

But the climate shifted, not least through Friedman’s own interventions and, by the end of his life, a few places were prepared to give his idea a go. Chile had led the way in the 1980s, followed by Sweden in the early 1990s. Milwaukee became the first city in the US to adopt vouchers 23 years ago, and around a quarter of a million American pupils are now benefiting.

“Chile had led the way in the 1980s” he says. No mention of the oppressive weight of the Chilean ‘small state’ crushing those below. No mention of the thousands rounded up, tortured and executed. No mention of the oligarchical free-for-all ushered in by Pinochet’s ‘hands off’ approach to the economy and its disastrous consequences for ordinary Chileans. He continues:

Though Britain has stopped short of full-blown vouchers, Michael Gove has plainly embraced the idea that governments can fund schools without running them, and the free schools programme is one of the greatest of the Coalition’s achievements.

The truth of the matter is that the Tories have been historically opposed to the state school system and have spent the better part of 60 years talking it down when they’re out of power and running it into the ground when they’re in government.  The unspoken dictum here is “some state schools are bad, therefore the state education system is bad”.

The Cat believes that the Tories would prefer it if everyone paid for their schooling and if you can’t find the money, that’s tough. You will die illiterate and ignorant. Why? Because it’s God’s will. That’s why.

Finally Dan tells us:

With his wife, he established the Milton Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which has helped thousands of students, especially poor students, to get a decent education.

“Choice” has been used as a battering ram since the 1980s. But choice is neither here nor there. You can only have what is available. The Tories believe that if you don’t live in the catchment area of a school that you’ve fetishised, then you should be able to bypass the rules and send your kid there anyway. Better still, set up your own free school where you can be free to inculcate children in any superstitious tosh that occupies your thoughts.

While 75% of free schools were found to be “good” or “outstanding” by OFSTED inspectors, 25% were not. This article from The Guardian says:

One of the first free schools to open has been placed on special measures and given an inadequate rating by Ofsted inspectors, in an untimely blow to the government’s flagship education policy.

Adding:

Inspectors were severe on the primary school’s leadership, saying its governors failed to grasp the school’s “serious shortcomings”, while school leaders “believe the school is far better than it is”.

The inspection team gave the school the lowest grade, of “inadequate”, in three of four categories, for pupil achievement, quality of teaching, leadership and management. “Too many pupils are in danger of leaving the school without being able to read and write properly,” inspectors concluded. “Unless this is put right quickly, pupils are unlikely to flourish in their secondary schools and future lives.”

To borrow from the Tories’ lexicon of smears, I could say that “some free schools are poor, therefore all free schools are poor”. But unlike Dan,  I’m not that petty.

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Life on Hannan World (part 6)

Ed Miliband’s speech was such a roaring success with Tory hacks that even the Lyin’ King has pitched in.  But remember, this is Hannan were talking about, so he has to get in a swipe at what he believes to be socialism even if it isn’t socialism. It’s in his nature. So it comes as no surprise when we find that, like an incontinent, he can’t stop himself from repeating his  claim that Labour (and by implication the Left, generally) has a monopoly on “hate”. He dribbles,

Britain has historically been fortunate in the temper of its Left-wing party. You don’t have to look far to find socialist movements rooted in envy, authoritarianism and bloodthirstiness.

Here, Hannan’s understanding of Britain’s Left-wing parties is woeful. Like so many Tories he can only see one party, the Labour Party.  He also repeats the by now familiar canard that the Left’s politics are “rooted in envy” (Number 1 on my list of the Right’s clichés) . Unfortunately for the Lyin’ King, I can always find legion examples of Right-wing authoritarianism and bloodthirstiness. Hitler? Pinochet? Salazar? Franco? I could name more if you would like me to.  Then there’s the iconic figure of Churchill, who sent troops into Tonypandy and warships to the Mersey and Humber. His enthusiasm for gassing Kurds and Arabs in Mesopotamia is well documented. But Hannan’s pathological dishonesty leads him to the false conclusion that his side – the Right – is free from any taint of authoritarianism.  Labour’s alleged Left-wing position is entirely relative but for the Lyin’ King, that’s proof enough of their culpability. It’s been said many times that Tories are thick and here’s further evidence of their join-the-dots mentality.

The paragraph below treads some familiar ground.

[…] While there has always been a hate-filled element in Labour, it has been balanced by a different tendency: one that sought to improve the lot of the poor, not by tearing down the system, but by extending opportunities.

The Cat knows Dan is projecting. I’ve seen it before.The real hatred resides in the Tory Party and its policies, which are designed to attack those who are poor, disabled, low-waged or claim benefits. What’s more is that we have plentiful evidence.

Ed Miliband nodded at that ambition in his speech yesterday. By invoking Disraeli, he echoed the Fabians, who used to cite Dizzy as an exemplar of ‘Tory socialism’. The old egomaniac can be slotted, without much difficulty, into the tradition of Blake and Morris and Cobbett and Chesterton and Ruskin (another Tory socialist) – a tradition Labour once valued.

What is this “Tory socialism”? There is no such thing. Notice how he labels Chesterton (we can presume it’s GK Chesterton that he’s talking about) a “socialist”. He was no such thing. He was a Distributist. There’s a big difference between Distributism and socialism. Briefly, Distributism was the Catholic Church’s response to socialism. The Vatican loathed socialism and sought to find a way to attract those Catholics who were tempted to embrace it. Indeed, Chesterton was briefly interested in socialism but only briefly. He was also an anti-Semite. Remember, anything that doesn’t look like laissez-faire capitalism is socialism (sic) on Hannan World. He cannot tell the difference to save his life. He also believes that Strasserism is socialism and takes any opportunity to tell us that the Nazis were socialists and how all on the Left are, in fact, closet fascists. It would be amusing if it wasn’t so pitiably stupid.

Hannan saves up his bile for the end of the blog, which I have highlighted in bold.

A glance at his neighbours, though, tells us that Frank Field is in the minority. The party of Keir Hardie is now mainly the voice of the white collar public sector, less interested in raising the working man than in expanding the legions of administrators and liaison officers, outreach workers and racism awareness counsellors, regulators and inspectors, licensors and clerks who make up Labour’s electoral base and supply most of its MPs.

Laughable. If Frank Field is left-wing and a socialist, then I’m the King of Tonga. Field was originally a Tory, which explains why the Tories like him so much. It’s also revealing that Hannan doesn’t like the idea of anti-racism initiatives. This is generally the position of those who call themselves “classical liberals” (sic), most, if not all, of whom accept Galton’s social Darwinism as scientific fact. This is why Hayek is so appealing to Hannan and his brethren: his theories provide an economic justification for social Darwinism. His word is unassailable truth in the mind of the free-marketeer.

Hannan’s article exists to reassure his fellow Tories that they have nothing to fear; they can carry on smashing what’s left of Britain’s trade unions and rewarding the rich with more generous tax cuts, while the poor take the hit. That is what passes for fairness in the socially Darwinian mind of the Right. This is the topsy-turvy Randian logic of Hannan. No wonder this country is in such a mess.

Finally, if my criticism and analysis is an example of “hate”, then tough. I can hate for Europe in that case. Now go home and get your shine boxes.

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Criminalizing homelessness will not solve the housing crisis

Grant ‘Ratboy’ Shapps, friend of the landlord and enemy of the homeless

There has been a housing shortage in Britain since the end of WWII. In the immediate aftermath of the war, the shortage was so acute, that ex-servicemen and their families took to occupying empty buildings. In 1969, the London Street Commune occupied a mansion at 144 Piccadilly to draw attention to the housing shortage.  But the idea of squatting has a much older history, that goes back to the Peasants Revolt in 1381. The Diggers, who were a proto-socialists/anarchists active between 1649 and 1650, also occupied and cultivated waste and common land and encouraged others to pull down the enclosures. But they found themselves persecuted by landowners and many were imprisoned. In the aftermath, the enclosure of common land was accelerated by the passage of further Inclosure Acts, which, by the late 18th Century, had effectively wiped out most of the common land in the country, thus forcing people off the land and into the cities.

British property laws are some of the most arcane in the world and tend to favour the landowner and other moneyed interests. In short, they are a relic of feudalism and, to my knowledge, these property laws have never once been modified. Where else in the world would you find the archaic notion of a leasehold property? We now have shared-ownership schemes which seem to be an extension of the leasehold property but with one difference: you continue to pay rent to a landlord, thus meaning that you will never own the property even if you manage to pay off the mortgage.

This government, like those before it, rather than deal with the housing crisis, prefers to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut and in the process they make people suffer. The new law against squatting criminalizes those who do not have a roof over their head. The Tories, particularly, see squatters purely as criminals. Never mind that rents in the private sector have soared, with landlords raking in massive amounts of money while ignoring the condition of the buildings that  they’re letting out. Council waiting lists are huge and Housing Associations won’t take you unless you’ve been through a local authority first. In short, housing provision in Britain is limited to those who have large salaries and if you don’t have one of those, you’re stuck.

Housing Minister, Grant Shapps,  a man not blessed with a great deal of intellectual talent (like the rest of his party) said on the BBC Website,

For too long, hardworking people have faced long legal battles to get their homes back from squatters, and repair bills reaching into the thousands when they finally leave.

No longer will there be so-called ‘squatters’ rights’. Instead, from next week, we’re tipping the scales of justice back in favour of the homeowner and making the law crystal clear: entering a property with the intention of squatting will be a criminal offence.

Shapps falls back on the well-worn phrase “hardworking people”. It’s as if to suggest that those who squat are not “hardworking”. He uses the word like a magical incantation. In many cases, squatters have actually improved the buildings that they have occupied. But never let the facts get in the way of the narrative, eh Ratboy? Better to fill up our prisons with those whose only crime is to be homeless and then slap them with a £5000 fine, thereby forcing them deeper into penury.

The government continues to lie about the scale of the housing problem. Justice Minister, Crispin Blunt (another rhyming slang) said,

Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said homelessness was at the lowest level for 28 years and the government was spending £400m a year on homelessness and £164m on bringing about 10,000 empty homes back into use.

I’d be interested to know who Blunt arrived at this figure. Furthermore, I have seen no evidence that this government is bringing empty properties “back into use”. I used to know of such a property in Hubert Grove in Clapham North in London. Out of curiosity I decided to track down the landlord, who I discovered was living in Tooting and owned several properties, all of which were in a derelict state. Landlords such as these are the real criminals.

Property in this country has always been subject to civil law. Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act comes into force at midnight, making it an offence to break into a property with the intention of squatting. Nowhere Towers wonders what other civil laws the government wants to convert to criminal laws.

There’s a sympathetic article here by Robert Elms, who was once a squatter. Indeed, I too, have been a squatter and let me tell you, it’s no fun being homeless.

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Council Tax Benefit cuts spell further hardship for the low-waged, poor and vulnerable

Are we about to see a repeat of this?

Just when you think this venal government couldn’t get any crueller, I read today that the Con Dems are to scrap Council Tax Benefit (CTB) and leave it to local councils to make their own arrangements. This is what they describe as “localism”, which in an earlier blog, I described as a “marketing gimmick to sell council cuts”. It would appear that my initial fears have been proven correct. The definition of the word, “empowerment” in the Tory lexicon, is to grant local authorities the power to screw the poor.

This article from today’s Guardian tells us that Lord Snooty faces a rebellion in his own constituency over this issue.

David Cameron is facing a revolt in his own Oxfordshire “backyard” as local Tories join a national outcry over council tax reforms that they say will cost people on low earnings more than £420 a year from next April.

Tory-run West Oxfordshire district council, which covers the prime minister’s Witney constituency, has decided to go it alone and keep the existing system throughout next year, effectively snubbing Cameron’s government.

Council Tax, like the hated Poll tax before it, is not based on an individual’s ability to pay but on local property prices, which are themselves, inaccurate. In some areas, Council Tax is high and in other areas, it is lower. Often, in those areas where Council Tax is low, services have been slashed. Take Hammersmith and Fulham, for example, a council controlled for the last 6 years by the Tories, who have cut local services and forced out community groups out of Palingswick House to make way for Toby Young’s free school. This is evidence enough of how H&F council views those who are not materially wealthy. Here the Council Tax is apparently low but only because of the cuts and the stealth taxes imposed on the local population. These stealth taxes include, ramping up parking charges and charging to cart away bulky items of rubbish, a service that was once offered for free. The borough discount leisure card was scrapped almost as soon as they took power.

The last leader of the council, Stephen ‘Dear Leader’ Greenhalgh made it clear that he wanted more rich people to move into the borough. When in power, he approved the sale of council homes and he has leant on Housing Associations to sell any properties that become void. Property prices have increased dramatically  over the last 5 to 6 years with some properties in the borough selling for as much as £1m. It is unlikely that a council, like Hammersmith and Fulham, which is wholly committed to making life easier for their rich chums, would have its own version of CTB because it despises anyone who is poor or on a low income. Instead, those on low incomes will be forced to move out of the borough.

Polly Toynbee tells us that,

300 councils must each devise their own criteria. Each becomes a mini DWP, establishing its own means test without having access to people’s earnings. Each must divide its benefit pot between varying numbers of claimants each year. Miserly authorities can keep much of it for other purposes. Each decides who is “vulnerable” or whether to include disability living allowance, child benefit or personal savings in declaring who is eligible for how much.

Hammersmith and Fulham is one of those “miserly authorities” and I can expect someone like Foghorn Phibbs or Peter Graham to trot out social Darwinian clichés in defence of the council’s niggardly attitude to those who are on low or no incomes.

I found this interesting site that was set up by the students on the MA Investigative Journalism course at City University.

Hammersmith and Fulham is the fourth most expensive borough in the country, both to rent and to buy property. New developments will not include any more council housing, but will instead provide a large number of properties for rent at the 80 per cent level. That offers little opportunity for current residents on lower incomes to afford to live in the borough independently. Coupled with the Government’s benefit cap, large numbers of people may be forced out of the area.

The scrapping of CTB is the latest in a long line of poorly-conceived ideas to have come from this government, which in spite of its protestations, remains firmly committed to supporting and extending the powers of the rich at the expense of those who can least afford it.

The Worksop Guardian reports that 5,000 families could be at risk in Bassetlaw.

The Salford Star tells us that the mayor could be forced to implement cuts that may affect 20,000 people.

Before the Liberal Democrats accepted the poison chalice of governmental power, they told us that they wanted to scrap Council Tax and replace it with a fairer system of local income taxation. This idea was quietly dropped when Nick Clegg walked through the door of 10 Downing Street.

This government’s justification for CTB cuts is best illustrated by the intellectually-challenged Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, who claims that the cuts will “make work pay and promote local enterprise”. With wages stagnant,  prices increasing week on week, banks reluctant to lend businesses money and living standards falling, how does he see this happening?

This latest wheeze from the government will force even more people into poverty and debt and may even force people out onto the streets. Indeed, this could be another Poll Tax moment for the Tories with people taking to the streets to protest and much else besides.

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How Britain lets down its postgraduate students

As any postgraduate student knows, it’s tough trying to study and keep your life together in the face of economic hardship. While many of the UK’s postgraduate students struggle to make ends meet, the little funding that exists is being ruthlessly cut and some universities are using their postgraduates as little more than free labour. By contrast, postgraduates in other countries are well supported. Even in the US, the home of hyper-capitalism, there is generous support for postgraduates. The stereotypical image of the student that has been fixed in the public mind is based on a fictionalized representation of an undergraduate who is a binge-drinking, drug-taking, all-shagging, soap-dodging layabout who prefers to watch The Jeremy Kyle Show or Countdown in his/her semi-darkened hovel rather than go to lectures or seminars.

The attitude of the hacks at the Torygraph and the Daily Fail is one of, “Haven’t you had enough education” and”Why should my taxes pay for you to study? Why can’t you get a job and stop sponging off society”? These sentiments are often echoed by “the man on street” whose position has been at once mediated for him by the press and influenced by his lack of understanding as to what the pursuit of postgraduate study entails, as well as its long-term societal benefits. “Well, what good is a PhD in English Literature? Can you get a job with it”? With this, the vox-pop interviewee falls into the trap of believing that education, like training, should always end with a ‘proper’ job that is directly related to the field of study.  The production of knowledge is omitted from the reply because the speaker does not have an understanding of how knowledge is produced and may possibly believe that it appeared of its own accord or that it has simply always ‘existed’.

But that is not all.

There is a worrying trend towards a kind of anti-intellectualism among the political mainstream.  The idea that academic study can exist for its own sake is despised and dismissed as whimsy.  Witness the lack of creative thinking that emanates from the small minds of the government and opposition frontbench with their preponderance of Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) graduates. Witness the contempt in which certain academic disciplines  like Media Studies and Sociology are held. The knowledge that is produced in these fields and others is deemed “worthless” by the Conservatives and their allies in the press. It is in these disciplines and others in the arts and humanities where we will find those postgraduates who are most likely to be self-funded. The sciences will always attract funding, much of it from central government schemes, wealthy benefactors and pharmaceutical companies. The Russell Group universities will also have no trouble attracting funding. Indeed, many of its students will have oodles of daddy’s money at their disposal. The same cannot be said of someone from a modest background, who is working on a PhD in Cultural Studies at a post-1992 university, which is not a member of any university grouping.  Does that mean that the knowledge that is produced in such an institution serves no use to society? That is absurd.

As a consequence of cuts in Higher Education, disciplines that involve critical thinking are being effectively limited to those who can afford to study them. Higher tuition fees and the rising cost of living combine to have the effect of excluding working class candidates, adults who are returning to study and the low-waged from certain forms of knowledge. For a Conservative Party that is preoccupied with a nostalgic vision of the Victorian Age,  this is ideal  because it allows them to control the flow of knowledge; to filter it, to stifle it and to keep the people in their place. Since the 1980s, the provisions contained in the 1944 Education Act have been effectively torn up before our very eyes. Nu Labour did nothing to stop it.

If the government continues on its present course with regards to education generally, we will slip back to the 14th century in terms of our knowledge base. We already have a massively de-skilled workforce as a result of the systematic shrinkage of our industrial base, now we risk a major knowledge deficit to go with our other deficits. Universities rely on postgraduate students; they attract funding and they produce new ideas.

Currently there is no serious form of support for postgraduates. Academic funding bodies like the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) have changed the way they distribute their funding. Now, money is placed into a pool between a group of universities, which then dole out the money to those applicants whom it deems to be worthy of funded study. The rest can pretty much go to hell.

This Guardian article from April paints a bleak picture. This one asks “Why is postgraduate study missing from the social mobility debate”?

Postgraduate students need access to the kind of funding that allows them to live without the threat of financial ruin if they should fall ill or lose their job through redundancy or injury. The work of postgraduates of all disciplines needs to be recognised as an investment rather than a ruse to avoid doing a ‘proper job’. Higher Education should also be returned to The Department of Education (Gove should be removed as Secretary of State but that’s another blog).

The Postgraduate Workers Association (PGWA) has been set up to fight for the rights of postgraduates who are working as hourly paid lecturers and researchers. It has the support of the University and College Union (UCU). The PGWA has a blog here and a Facebook page here.

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“We’re all living longer”? No, “we” aren’t.

This government is fond of telling us that “we are all living longer”. It’s a handy justification for the raising of the retirement age. Even people who ought to know better will accept this statement without criticism and will repeat it as though it was holy writ. But it’s a lie.

The truth is that “we” are not living longer and people die at all ages. Tell the parents of a child who has just died of leukemia or the family who has just lost their 25-year-old son  in a roadside bomb attack  in Afghanistan that “we are all living longer” and see how far you get. The newspapers are full of stories of people who have died well before the state retirement age.  None of this has registered with the Social Darwinists in government, who all continue to repeat the same lie.

I lost my mother to multiple myeloma in 1994. She was only 62 years old.  That’s hardly a ripe old age.  So, no, “we” are not living longer. It’s only government ministers who make this claim. What they should say is “life expectancy has increased because of medical science” but it is by no means a universal that everyone is living longer, nor is it a justification to force people to continue working in physically demanding jobs till they drop. I mean, can you see Andrew Lansley or Jacob Rees-Mogg carrying bricks around a building site till they’re 90? No? Neither can I.

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