Tag Archives: politics

Counting war stories, making remembrance meaningful.

Let’s not make remembrance futile by making the depth of a bow a measure of respect. Measuring deaths in war and war’s wider effects well, should get more emphasis to make a difference for better lives.

Neil Halloran’s data visualisation [1] on war since WWII is really worth a watch. Perhaps it will leave you both horrified and hopeful. He says; “If watching the news doesn’t make us feel hopeful about where we are heading, watching the numbers might.”

Hopeful despite how awful war is today, and how much we ignore, or are ignorant of, because we are in a time of relatively few in-war deaths*. Relative compared with WW1 for example.

The First World War claimed more than 10.5 million battle deaths.

In the size of those numbers, it is easy to lose sight of the individual in war. An exhibition I visited earlier this year in Brighton, managed to restore that, through thirteen intimate stories, at the exhibition: War Stories, Voices From The First World War.

In two low lit rooms visitors were invited to share in the wartime experiences of 13 men, women and children: to see through the eyes of an Indian soldier wounded on the Western Front and cared for in the Royal Pavilion hospital, a Brighton & Hove Albion footballer on the front line, or the gardener imprisoned for his pacifist belief. Echoes of haunting stories of people from the past, backed by Barber’s Adagio for Strings playing softly over the sound system.

Personal letters, diaries, art, photography, clothing, film and memorabilia evoked the love, fear, loss and longing that touched the lives of millions of people.

Lives and deaths that we most often today see simply as data, lost in numbers. The exhibition successfully rediscovered small individual stories from the big data.

“Names, names, forever only names. May you be remembered always, not just as soldiers, but as fragile human beings.”

Visitors could add their own story or message like this one, to the collective exhibition too, by creating a message written on a luggage tag, and tying it to an iron cut out tree.

The majority of messages were from children.

“For my dearest Grandad Private Frederick George Hughes, of the Staffordshire Regiment,” started one.

Some comments were critical and reminded me how personal sacrifice can be remembered down the generations, and how our remembering of the big picture is often selective, and politicised.

“In memory of my Indian ancestors who died in WW1 and WW2, I have not forgotten, like the English history books and politicians have.”

In the same way, what has been criticised today has been highly selective and politicised.

Today, some seem preoccupied with looking at Cameron’s photoshopped poppy or the angle of Corbyn’s bow, at the special Centotaph memorial service rather than  thinking about the reasons we stop to ‘remember’ at all.

We have too little broad public understanding of the ordinary, the now, and the continuing impact of war; or on fixing its effects on the living people in our communities, and those where others live.

We have too little broad public understanding  of the refugee crisis as a side effect of war. The poem ‘For the Fallen’ seems as appropriate for these civilian casualties as servicemen and women:

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.” [2]

One line even more fitting than most for those who drown on their route of hope: ‘They sleep beyond England’s foam.’

It can be hard to remember these people as individuals in the mass images we see on the media. We know of some better than others.

In the mass numbers in the refugee crisis it appears the media don’t always use accurate numbers. We cannot reliably know how many refugees are dying or are looking for somewhere, anywhere, safe to go. Measuring and reporting these people accurately [3] matters not only in providing the right services in the right places, but this organisation that admits its own numbers are wrong (double-counting the same people making multiple border crossings) [4] is being given huge amounts of money. We must understand how many people are really being helped though these funds, measure what is done, and what more they need.

We measure another side effect of war badly at home in the UK, those who are often forgotten, the ex-service men and women living on our streets. Homelessness is hard to measure and compare when the government basis of measurement keeps moving. “The bottom line is that we can no longer rely on these figures to show national trends.” [5]

We should be better at measuring these effects of war on society. If we measure situations well, it can help make policy and practical changes more effective, and the support offered, more useful.

We also need to be better at talking about war and its effects. Despite our world class systems in the UK, able to pick up details of all of our internet use, we seem unable to have a collective conversation of our role in wars elsewhere in the world in a transparent fashion. Or accurately measure the effects of action we take in other countries including those that may be unintentional.

Let’s make remembrance count for something. Real remembering means learning lessons. It means getting things done, for living people. It means not only remembering people that died, but why they died: to protect our homes, our loved ones and our freedoms.

*****

References:

[1] Neil Halloran’s data visualisation on war since WWII  http://www.fallen.io/ww2/  – note: *relative is discussed in his visualisation and how he uses in-war and civilian deaths is discussed in more detail.
[2] Laurence Binyon wrote ‘For the Fallen’ first printed in The Times on 21 September 1914
[3] UN refugee numbers http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php
[4] How the EU miscounts migrants http://theconversation.com/seeing-double-how-the-eu-miscounts-migrants-arriving-at-its-borders-49242
[5] http://www.crisis.org.uk/data/files/publications/Homelessness_Monitor_England_2015_final_web.pdf

image source: I walk Cornwall

 

Blue Sky Thinking – Civil Aviation Authority plans to cut medical services – public consultation appears to be tick-box

Updated March 2016: the world class services at the centre have been closed. Class 1 and 3 medical certificates are no longer provided via the aeromedical centre at Gatwick.

Updated December 31st 2015: the consultation documents published in 2015 appear to have been taken down or are very hard to find.
I publish them here:

The responses and feedback to consultation Oct-Dec 2014.
The CAA response to consultation feedback, spring 2015.
The most recent CAA update page is down, at Dec 31st 2015.
*****

Blog published October 28, 2015:

If government divests the state of our expertise along with our infrastructure, how will we ensure services continue to deliver universal public good?

The NHS is struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers, according to a report published in the Independent in April. Now consider an outsourced medical service where the safety and efficacy is reduced, for our commercial airline pilots. #Whatcouldpossiblygowrong?

If you looked very hard at the Civil Aviation Authority’s website over the last year you would be forgiven for missing the links to the consultation to outsource or divest from its medical services. [1]  This is the service organisation of 30 or so staff who ensure in a part state owned set up, that newly qualifying pilots for commercial airlines and air traffic controllers are fit for the job. And not only British pilots, but others come from outside the country, so great is its reputation. It is the last state-owned of 4 such centres, and based at Gatwick.

Pilots have unique needs and unique fitness-to-fly checks to pass, as documented by Aida Edemariam in last weekend’s Guardian: “The medicals especially, Bor says, mean facing “the risk of losing one’s job… as often as every six months”.”

The initial consultation, now a year ago, suggested outsourcing the service to the private sector. Today it seems the prefered path is complete divestment from the delivery of its services. The second part of the seemingly tick-box exercise closed today. [5]

Tick-box, because the plans are going ahead despite almost every response to the consultation voicing concerns or serious questions, including from major airlines. Balpa at the time hadn’t been able to adequately respond in the original Oct-Dec 2014 timeframe. Many other suggestions and ideas were raised, but from the CAA consultation response to criticisms it seemed blue-sky thinking, creative alternative solutions differing from the CAA plans, was not welcomed.

It seems that in a bid to become lean, akin to having less to pay for on the balance sheet, the government is selling off not only concrete assets but losing British state-led skills in services at which we excel. It is asking commercial companies to fill the gap and many question if there is sufficient expertise in the commercial market to deliver.

There are five key concerns here. The first, is that without the state to hold accountable for the service, airlines and pilots must foot the bill they can no longer control, in a near monopoly market. Elsewhere in health, spending on outsourcing these services has  reportedly rocketed.

The second, is quality control. How will quality of delivery be maintained for services which operate entirely for the benefit of the public good, but are now be required to turn a profit?

And the third is continuity of service. How will the universality of these services be maintained, offered fairly and to whom?

The fourth is whether the UK should sacrifice its unique leadership position of respected medical expertise in European and global flight safety?

And finally and most importantly, pilots, airlines, and healthcare professionals questioned in the last quarter of 2014 whether safety may be put at risk if the cost cutting move at the Civil Aviation Authority goes ahead.

Responding to plans outlined by the Civil Aviation Authority in a public consultation [1] last autumn, professionals overwhelmingly suggested service improvements could be made without outsourcing what one airline called “the priceless nerve centre of expertise in the CAA”.

Based at the CAA’s Gatwick headquarters, the aeromedical centre offers the initial medical examinations required for commercial airline pilot and air traffic controllers and periodic checks thereafter. It also undertakes assessments of the fitness of pilots to return to flying after illness.

“All pilots who hold a commercial licence undergo an annual Class 1 medical assessment with an Aeromedical Examiner, increasing to every six months from the age of 60, or 40 if they are undertaking single pilot operations. [source: whatdotheyknow.com ]
The CAA expects to reduce overall costs by outsourcing all of its aeromedical non-mandatory functions, outlined in consultation plans that were discussed with potential providers at meetings in mid April. [2] But unions suggested the CAA is putting commercial pressures before the public interest and denounced the plans.

Steve Jary, Prospect national officer for aviation, said:

“The CAA executive board needs to listen and put safety, not commercial interests at the heart of its decision making.”

In its follow up consultation response in early 2015, the CAA said it does not believe in putting a price on public safety and it realised that cost and value are sensitive issues.

The national value of excellent medical services to pilots in any business model on paper however, may be impossible to put a price on in practice. It was especially sensitive earlier this year as the plans for change coincided with the climate of raised passenger awareness following the Germanwings flight 9525 on March 24.

Long before this, in response to the October 2014 consultation, the Honourable Company of  Air Pilots, a professional guild, wrote:

“As long as human pilots are part of the aviation safety chain, it is essential that their fitness to operate is monitored and supported by an expert community without fear of or bias from commercial pressures.”

Lacking in detailed financial analysis it is hard to see from the consultation how alternative solutions measure up against private provision. Specifically there was no estimate in the document of the cost of the CAA meeting its statutory obligations. [3]

One of the three airlines that responded in consultation, suggested the CAA could be seen to be outsourcing the commercially viable part of the service:

“The Aeromedical centre only seems to account for £500k out of the £3 million …and could potentially be seen as the most profitable element.”

By contracting out to a commercial provider, and introducing the need to make a profit, some respondents are concerned it would further increase costs to industry or individuals, and the CAA acknowledged this. Fees could potentially rise in what will be effectively a monopoly market, as in April there were only three other approved providers for this service, across all of the UK. Two are already operated by the same public private partnership and although part owned by government, are essentially commercially run.

Free from Treasury control, the Civil Aviation Authority is self-funding but sits under the wing of the Department of Transport, accountable to the Secretary of State for Transport. [4] But Government support was questioned by a pilot in the consultation, who wrote:

“If the CAA and the Department for Transport cannot resolve this without destroying the CAA medical service then we might as well pack it all in.”

Pressure has reportedly come from EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency to follow regulatory best practices and separate the duties of the authority from the delivery of services.

However a group representing 15 CAA (UK) approved medical examiners, with a mean of 22 years experience, suggested this regulatory issue could be resolved in other ways, and said:

“Outsourcing any part of the medical department would remove essential functions, weakening the ability to respond to or promote future regulatory changes.

“Fragmentation will introduce inefficiency as work which should be integrated will be on at least two sites – never helpful.”

The medical service provided by the CAA is recognised as a market leader across Europe. It influences European and worldwide aeromedical policy and as one airline wrote in the consultation, has “rebuffed some of the more non evidence based demands of the European Aviation Safety Agency.”

Maintaining that globally respected expertise, say the CAA plans, is a third reason for redesigning a medical department fit for the future but many respondents believe that outsourcing will achieve the opposite.

The Honourable Company of  Air Pilots suggested the plans would have:

“an adverse impact on flight safety and diminish unacceptably the UK’s aviation medicine competency, research capability and global reputation for excellence and leadership.”

Headcount of currently over 30 full time equivalent staff could be reduced to eight if outsourcing plans go ahead and the service operates at its minimum regulatory duties.

Last year’s preparations for the outsourcing included an event in May open to providers through the NHS Partner’s Network of the NHS Confederation at which one was an NHS provider, but all others were private sector contracting organisations.

The Public and Commercial Services Union believes there is no provider which could fill the gap if the CAA stops providing its services in the current form. They said:

“We are requesting that this consultation be halted and consultation commences with the recognised trade unions on options within this paper to retain all existing services in-house.”

In April, the CAA said: “We are continuing to explore options for the future provision of medical services. Safety remains our number one priority and we will ensure that any changes that are made will be designed to enhance the UK’s excellent safety record. All medical requirements relating to pilots are set at international level and regulated nationally and will remain in force and unchanged regardless of any decisions relating to the provision of medical services in the future.”

Mr Haines,  explained at the April Board Meeting that “there would be a further discussion at the Board on the outcome of the CAA’s medical review consultation.” What that was is yet to be published. Transparency has not been the board’s strongest point in 2015.

Consultations are about allowing the public a chance to participate in democratic processes in order to play their part in determining the outcome. This consultation appears to have changed little of the plans.

There should be public debate around what we need our service institutions for, what value we place on a universal public good where cost and benefit cannot be personalised, and where change requires meaningful public consultation.  These changes are too important to be reserved for niche interested parties or for them to be a tick box exercise in which the planned outcome goes ahead regardless of the majority feedback. Public consultation in its present form, appears to offer little in the way of checks and balances in today’s democracy. Some are described as farcical.

Changes made in the public interest should be transparent, accountable, and robust to stand up to meaningful challenge.

As the Treasury seems set on its course, I wonder if they are using blue sky thinking to divest from our wealth of knowledge, staff and skills wisely, or plucking justification for ideology out of thin air?

###

References:

[1] Responses to consultation on the future structure of the CAA’s Medical Department: http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/CAP%201276%20Future%20structure%20of%20CAA%20Medical%20Department.pdf

[2] The prior information notice: http://ted.europa.eu/udl?uri=TED:NOTICE:99734-2015:TEXT:EN:HTML  (not yet a full tender notice)

[3] Financial detail limited: https://www.caa.co.uk/default.aspx?catid=1350&pagetype=90&pageid=16369

[4] CAA independent but accountable to Department of Transport http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2014-09-10/209031

[5] Autumn 2015 consultation part two

George and the Chinese Dragon. Public spending and the cost of dignity.

George Osborne has told departments to prepare plans for cuts of 25% and of 40% in non ring-fenced funding. What sacrifices will he ask society to make if public spending is to be further cut back?

The percentage of people wearing pristine white trainers was  unusually high in the international hotel chain’s breakfast room.

Most of the men fetching two adult breakfasts from the vast buffet wore cream coloured chinos, and button down shirts, and sported  standardised haircuts with hints of silver. Stylish women sat at  impeccable tables, cradling  babies in pink hats or spoon feeding small children.

On a busy street in downtown Guangzhou close to the Chinese embassy, the hotel was popular with American parents-to-be.

My  colleague explained that her sadness over thousands of Chinese daughters exported from a one-child policy nation in 2005 was countered by the hope that loving foreign families were found for them.

She repeated with dignity, party mantras and explanations drilled at school. She has good job, (but still she could not afford children). Too little land, too few schools, and healthcare too expensive. She sighed. Her eyes lit up as she looked at my bump and asked if I knew “girl or boy?” If it were a girl, she added, how beautiful she would be with large open eyes. We laughed about the contradictory artificial stereotypes of beauty, from East and West, each nation wanting what the other did not have.

Ten tears later in 2015, British Ministers have been drawing on China often recently, as a model for us to follow; in health, education and for the economy. Seeking something they think we do not have. Seeking to instill ‘discipline, hard-working, economy-first’ spin.

At the recent ResearchEd conference, Nick Gibb, [1] Minister of State at the Department for Education, talked about the BBC documentary “Are Our Kids Tough Enough” for several minutes and the positive values of the Chinese and its education system. It supposedly triggered ‘a global debate’ when British pupils experienced “the harsh discipline of a Chinese classroom”.

The Global Times praised the  First Minister Mr. Osborne as “the first Western official in recent years who focused on business potential rather than raising a magnifying glass to the ‘human rights issue” during his recent visit [2] when he put economic growth first.

Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, was quoted at the political party conference  saying that he saw tax cut changes necessary as a cultural shift.  He suggested we should adopt the ‘hardworking’ character of the Chinese.

An attribute that is as artificial as it is inane.

Collective efforts over the last year or more, to project ‘hard-working’ as a measure of contribution to UK society into politics has become more concentrated, especially around the election. People who are not working, are undermined by statements inferring the less productive for the nation, the less value someone has as a person. Comments are repeated in a sustained drip feed, from Lord Freud’s remarks a year ago that disabled workers were not worth the full wage, to Hancock’s recent revelation that the decision to not apply the new minimum wage to the under 25s from 2016 “was an active policy choice.”  Mr. Hunt spoke about dignity being self-earned, not dependent on richness per se, but being self-made.

“If that £16,500 is either a high proportion or entirely through the benefit system you are trapped. It matters if you are earning that yourself, because if you are earning it yourself you are independent and that is the first step towards self-respect.”

This choice to value some people’s work less than others and acceptance of spin, is concerning.

What values are Ministers suggesting we adopt in the relentless drive for economic growth? [3] When our Ministers ignore human rights and laud Chinese values in a bid to be seen as an accepting trading partner, I wonder at what cost to our international integrity?

Simple things we take for granted such as unimpeded internet  access are not available in China. In Chinese society, hard working is not seen as such a positive value. It is a tolerated norm, and sometimes an imposed one at that, where parents leave their child with grandparents in the countryside and visit twice a year on leave from their city-based jobs. Our Ministers’ version of hardworking Chinese is idyllic spin compared with reality.

China is about to launch a scheme to measure sincerity and how each citizen compares with others in terms of compliance and dissent. Using people’s social media data to determine their ‘worth’ is an ominous prospect.

Mark Kitto from 2012 on why you’ll never be Chinese is a great read. I agree, “there are hundreds of well-rounded, wise Chinese people with a modern world view, people who could, and would willingly, help their motherland face the issues that are growing into state-shaking problems .”

Despite such institutional issues, Mr. Osborne appears to have an open door for deals with the Chinese state. Few people missed the announcements he made in China that HS2 will likely be built by Chinese investors, despite home grown opposition. Ministers and EDF have reportedly agreed on a controversial £25bn development of Hinkley Point C, nuclear plant, with most of upfront costs provided by Chinese companies, although “we are the builders.” [4]

Large parts of utilities’ infrastructure is founded on Chinese sourced spending in the UK it’s hard to see who ‘we’ are meant to be. [5] And that infrastructure is a two-way trade. Just as Chinese money has bought many of our previously publicly owned utilities, we have sold a staggeringly long list of security related items to the Chinese state.

In July 2014 the four House of Commons Select Committees: “repeated their previous Recommendation that the Government should apply significantly more cautious judgements when considering arms export licence applications for goods to authoritarian regimes which might be used for internal repression.”  [6]

UK to China exports
Chris Patten, former Hong Kong Governor,  criticised Osborne’s lax attitude to human rights but individual and collective  criticism appear to go unheard.

This perhaps is one measure of British economic growth at all costs. Not only is Britain supplying equipment that might be used for internal repression but the Minister appears to have adopted a singularly authoritarian attitude and democratic legitimacy of the Committees has been ignored. That is concerning.

The packaging of how upcoming cuts will be presented is clear.  We will find out what “hard working families” means to the Treasury. We need to work harder, like the Chinese, and through this approach, we will earn our dignity. No doubt rebuilding Britain, on great British values. Welfare will continue to be labelled as benefits, and with it, a value judgement on economic productivity equated with human worth. Cutting welfare, will be packaged as helping those people to help themselves out of self inflicted ‘bad’ situations, in which they have lost their self worth or found an easy ‘lifestyle choice’.

As welfare spending is reduced, its percentage spend with big service providers has risen after reforms, and private companies profit where money was once recycled in the state system. There is a glaring gap in evidence for some of these decisions taken.

What is next? If for example, universal benefits such as Universal Infant Free School Meals are cut, it will take food literally from the mouths of babes, in families who cannot afford to lose hot school dinners, living in poverty but not qualifying for welfare. The policy may be flawed because Free School Meals based on pupil premium entitlement does not cater for all who need it, but catering for none of them is not an improvement.

Ministers focus the arguments of worth and value around the individual. Doctors have been told to work harder. Schools have been told to offer more childcare to enable parents to work harder. How much harder can we really expect people to work? Is the Treasury’s vision is for us all to work more to pay more taxes? It is flawed if by adopting the political aim, the vast majority of people take home little more pay and sacrifice spare time with our friends and loved ones, running our health into the ground as a result.

The Chinese have a proverb that shows a wisdom missing from Ministers’ recent comments: “Time is money, and it is difficult for one to use money to get time.”

I often remember the hotel breakfast room, and wonder how many mothers, in how many in cities in China miss their daughters, whom they could not afford to keep, through fear of the potential effect. How many young men live without women in their lives who would want to, but find the gender imbalance a barrier to meeting someone. How many are struggling to care for elderly parents.

Not all costs can be measured in money.

The grandmother I met on the station platform last Wednesday had looked after her grandchild for half the day and has him overnight weekdays, so that Mum can first sleep and then work a night shift stacking shelves. That’s her daughter’s second shift of the day. She hardly sees her son.  The husband works the shelf-stacking third shift to supplement his income as a mechanic.

That is a real British family.

Those parents can’t work any harder. Their family is already at breaking point. They take no state welfare.  They don’t qualify for any support.

Must we be so driven to become ‘hard working families’ that our children will barely know their parents? Are hungry pupils to make do as best they can at lunchtime? Are these side effects children must be prepared to pay if their parents work ever harder to earn enough to live and earn their ‘dignity’ as defined by the Secretary of State for health?

Dignity is surely inherent in being human. Not something you earn by what you do. At the heart of human rights is the belief that everybody should be treated equally and with dignity – no matter what their circumstances.

If we adopt the Ministers’ be-like-the-Chinese mantra, and accept human dignity is something that must be earned, we should ask now what price have they put on it?

MPs must slay the dragon of spin and demand transparency of the total welfare budget and government spend with its delivery providers. There is a high public cost of further public spending cuts. In order to justify them, it is not the public who must work harder, but the Treasury, in order to deliver a transparent business case what the further sacrifices of ‘hard working families’ will achieve.

 

###

[1] ResearchEd conference, Nick Gibb, Minister of State at the Department for Education

[2] New Statesman

[3] https://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/jen-persson/why-is-government-putting-health-watchdogs-on-leash-of-%E2%80%98promoting-economic-growth

[4] The Sun: George Osborne party conference speech with 25 mentions of builders: “We are the builders”, said Mr. Osborne.

[5] Arms exports to authoritarian regimes and countries of concern worldwide The Committees

[6] The Drum: Li Ka Shing and British investment

[image: Wassily Kandinsky ca 1911, George and the Dragon]

The Politics of Envy

This week the Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman MP caused some furore in the Mirror and wider media, for having said, “the politics of envy” in Parliament.

The paper reported that the Labour frontbencher Stella Creasy said she was shocked:

“Following the law isn’t the politics of envy, it’s the politics of justice.”

It was in a debate on the minimum wage, in response to questions from other MPs why so few firms had been prosecuted since 2010, for not paying the legal minimum wage requirements.

Nine firms had been charged for non-compliance since 2010:

He said: “Prosecutions may satisfy the politics of envy of the Opposition, but they are not the best mechanism to drive compliance.”

What a contrast with Mr Freeman’s remarks I saw first hand in prosecutions at the Magistrate’s Courts last week.

I saw a 32 year old man prosecuted and told to pay £178 in fines and costs, for stealing a £13.99 bottle of vodka from Aldi.

A young builder who would have the same, £178 in fines and costs, deducted weekly from his benefits, prosecuted for a 3am drunken lunge which the defendant can’t remember, and missed its mark.

A 15 year-old who without lawyer, parents or having read the paperwork on his charges, pleaded guilty in an adult court to stealing a bicycle wheel and then had to wait around on the off chance a juvenille trained magistrate could hear the whole thing again, to sentence him.

A homeless man pleaded guilty to handling a set of stolen hair straighteners. He needed healthcare, not prosecution.

EDF was in getting court orders for forced entry to homes which would be cut off for non-payment of energy bills.

If “prosecutions are not the best mechanism to drive compliance” for big firms who exploit their staff, why is prosecution the mechanism we use every single day to punish the weakest in society?

It was a sad procession of petty crimes driven, not by envy, but by desperation – homelessness, unemployment and alcoholism.

Some defendants were grumpy, most bashful, and quite clearly, none were happy. There was not one of them who showed any hope.

The teenager looked fed up with the system, and looking him in the eye, I saw someone the system has clearly already let down.

In society which is so imbalanced, and with MPs earning well, some having second jobs, you cannot blame some people for feeling that MPs don’t deserve our trust. Or that some appear to have little empathy for those who have rarely have a positive bank balance.

People sanctioned for reasons few understand, prosecuted when life  gets out of control. Neither helps the person who is punished.

What jobs are these people being offered – or are we asking those who cannot work to do so – when the number of those sanctioned for not ‘participating in work related activity’ has steadily increased?

sanctions

 

 

Wouldn’t it be nice if  we could find a smart solution to prosecutions, when I agree with George, “they are clearly not the best mechanism to drive compliance”? albeit, in a different context.

Can we stop punishing the poor by making them poorer?

While I am sure it’s a worthy small business to champion, Mr Freeman’s twitter feed says he was popping in to buy a jumper at the end of February – the only one shown on the shop website is the Merino and Alpaca Roll Neck priced at £189.00.

I’m not making a personal criticism or envious of being able to buy a luxury sweater without apparent much need to budget for it.  Mr Freeman’s business background and investments speak for themselves.

But it does illustrate the enormous gulf between the everyday of some elected representatives and electorate. His words underpin it.

The use of these soundbites by MPs, is common across the board, but it is harmful to debate and stops many issues being properly discussed. It avoids further discussion, by changing the subject.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen this turn of phrase. Looking back to last summer, Owen Jones wrote about it in the Guardian.

I find I have mixed reactions to Jones’ views, but on the politics of envy, he summed up rather well:

“The left, goes this narrative, is really driven by envy and spite towards those of pampered backgrounds.

“The “politics of envy” accusation attempts to shut down even the mildest attempts at social justice. It materialises when Labour suggests a 50% top rate of tax for all earnings above £150,000. The right screams “politics of envy” at a mansion tax – while championing the bedroom tax, which falls on the shoulders of disabled people and the poor.”

The convenient soundbite turned a debate on fair wages into yet another political counter, the defensive move became an attack.

But it’s an attack on the wrong things if we want a society which works, in all senses of the word.

Envy has nothing to do with social justice and fairness, and in this case, as Stella Creasy pointed out,  was about following the law.

The application of the law designed to protect workers from exploitation and to make sure it’s financially worth working at all.

It’s a safeguard which isn’t even aiming for best practices, but protecting the majority of workers from the worst.

It should be part of wider employment measures which also protect these kinds of extreme exploitation becoming more widespread.

Let’s face it, the minimum wage rates, aren’t decent living wages.

As we approach the General Election, I hope candidates will look in the mirror and ask themselves, why do you want to stand?

Who do you represent, serve and what kind of society do you want to live in? What society will your own and my children inherit?

The ‘politics of envy’ talk, only poisons the real subjects to debate by turning them into party political soundbites, when what we need are real solutions to real social issues.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this election campaign could address them with substance?

What would fair wages pay and how could we achieve them?

What would a truly just Justice System look like?

Now that, would be a leaders’ debate worth having.

 

The Deregulation Bill – Episode III : Regulate, what with?

Regulation, the use of regulatory powers and the authority to oversee them, are in flux in England.

Some will have lesser discussed, but long term, wide ranging effects such as the regulatory framework and requirement for profit in almost all public bodies.

A significant amendment [1] appears to have been proposed by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on 9th Jan, 2015 in the Deregulation Bill [2]. The next discussion date of which seems to be provisionally scheduled for February 3rd and 5th.

The amendment proposes the removal of ten regulatory functions in health and care, from the requirement to exercise the clause of considerable concern, renamed from clause 83 to clause 88: the statutory duty towards a desirability to promote economic growth.

My last post in November on this clause was after the debate in which Lord Tunnicliffe concluded:

”if our fears comes to pass, these three clauses could wreak havoc in a regulatory regime within this country.”

Later  he asked:

“are these new clauses a licence for regulators to approve regulations that kill people to save money?”

Clause 88: background on the clause to ‘promote economic growth.’

Almost a year ago, in February 2014, [3] MPs had discussed this same clause in its passage in the House of Commons.

MPs were asked to support a reasoned amendment tabled by Caroline Lucas, Jonathan Edwards, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn MPs.

They proposed the removal of the clause, requiring the desirability for economic growth, and they had concerns:

…”that this Bill represents a race to the bottom and an obsession with GDP growth at any cost which is not in the public interest.”

(my underlining):

[…]”the Health and Safety Executive, which is irresponsible and risks undermining their core roles; further considers that this Bill is another illustration of a Government which is embarking on a deregulatory path without due consideration of warnings, including from businesses, that effective regulation is essential to create jobs and innovation and that ripping up vital green legislation risks locking the UK into polluting industrial processes for decades to come, jeopardising future competitiveness, damaging the UK’s attractiveness for green investment, and undermining new industries.”

This clause must be reviewed thoroughly and transparently from scratch. If indeed these ten bodies are to be considered for exclusion from the clause there must be a detailed case of why. This leads automatically to ask for the benefits to justify the inclusion of others. If this has not been made transparent to the Lords debating the clause by now, then the bill should not pass as is without reasonable justification.

Is there an MP or Lord who will gladly take the responsibility to say:

“I agreed to a new law, the consequences of which I was not clear, but I did not ask the questions I should have done. I ignored that Lord Tunnicliffe asked: “are these new clauses a licence for regulators to approve regulations that kill people to save money?” And I did not examine why this might be for each and every function of regulation it affects.”

Based on what decision criteria and based on what measures or public interest test has this department area been selected for exclusion and others, such as the environment, been omitted?

Considering the reported opinion of the Bill’s proponent Oliver Letwin MP to the NHS it sould seem wise to ask, what kind of National Health Service do our MPs expect to see in future under this new model of statutory requirement to seek profit.

In conclusion:

Is the bill designed to future-proof regulatory common sense or set it up for widespread failure from the start?

In the words of Lord Tunnicliffe:

“The problem is the clauses themselves. Clause 83(2) states that:

‘the person must … consider the importance for the promotion of economic growth of exercising the regulatory function in a way which ensures that … regulatory action is taken only when it is needed, and … any action is proportionate”.

“Those words by themselves seem a pretty high test for a regulator. As I tried to illustrate, our lives are made acceptable and benign by regulators acting pretty well as they do at the moment to protect us. So are these new clauses a licence for regulators to approve regulations that kill people to save money?”

It should be made very transparent what bodies will be affected, why, how the decision making in each function will be carried out and what with? At national or local level ruling authority?

Clearly there is still work to be done to ensure that the implications in the public interest. That ethic seems to have been lost at the back of the vast cupboard of all that the deregulation bill has in store.

Alongside the changes to the sale of liqueur chocolates and weights and measures for knitting yarn we have lost something much greater in the Deregulation Bill.

However this amendment suggests there is new hope coming for the proposed change to regulatory powers and their profit making; that in fact, some significant bodies may be made exempt of this duty on a statutory footing.

Now the case should be made why any public bodies should not be.

Simply, the wider Public Interest must come first, above profit.

Perhaps when one hears calls to ignore criticism of these proposals of deregulation in this bill and in TTIP one would do well to ask why.

Anything else could be as disastrous for society, as the Poll Tax is now accepted to have been for Margaret Thatcher.

But perhaps, some would maintain, there is still no such thing?

*********

For those with more in depth interest:

Further detail; below I continue and review the amendment,  wider implications at local authority level, changes in the future landscape of health and social care and why it could be of significant negative impact on political and social trust.

This is my update on two previous posts; Part one: October 4th, Deregulation Bill Clause 47 and the back door access to journalist sources and Part two: the Deregulation Bill Clause 83 from 6th Nov with additional notes on Nov 21st.

It continues with Part four to follow: The Deregulation Bill: Part IV New Hope for Regulatory powers?

*****

The amendment

Here is what it looks like:

 Page 70, line 29, at end insert—“( )     This section does not apply to the following—
 

(a)   Care Quality Commission,

(b)   Human Tissue Authority,

(c)   Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency,

(d)   Professional Standards Authority,

(e)   General Medical Council,

(f)   Nursing and Midwifery Council,

(g)   Health and Care Professions Council,

(h)   General Chiropractic Council,

(i)   General Dental Council,

(j)   General Pharmaceutical Council,

(k)   Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and

(l)   any persons exercising a regulatory function with respect to health and care service that the Secretary of State specifies by order.

( )     An order under this section must be made by statutory instrument.

( )     A statutory instrument containing an order under this section may not be  made unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of,  each House of Parliament.”

What would the amendment change, if they become law?

These exceptions are specific to healthcare and, it remains to be seen if they will be adopted.

There is also some provision, to make further special cases for the health and care service more broadly, that the Secretary of State specifies by order.

This addresses some organisations in the regulation of health and care.

But it opens up the question more clearly why should other bodies be included? Where is the benefit – and where is the cost and risk analysis?

That would be a most welcome discussion in the public interest. Some professionals and professional bodies have already flagged their concern.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is one example, that was discussed in the last debate andthe ECHR response to it. [4]

Nov 21st update:  see Column GC229 < and whilst verbal assurances were made, it appears nothing changed in the Bill, and that the EHRC said in response:

“While we welcome this undertaking we understand that this doesn’t mean that we’ll be removed on the face of the Bill”.

The ECHR clearly sees it as detrimental and asks for change. Will the government ride roughshod over professional opinion without transparent and thorough justifications of the need for this?

If so, it seems an extraordinary dismissal of democracy.

Other bodies should take the lead from the EHRC and make their positions clear in the public domain now, or risk future backlash once the impacts become clear.

What wider impact will this amendment have?

At first the effect appears to be that a significant number of health related bodies could be freed from the duty to make a profit.

At national level this seems a welcome and sensible step.

To decide which bodies should and which bodies should not be exempt it must be very clear exactly what impact these changes will have.

 

For each body involved, an impact assessment table should be drawn up – what do they regulate, how, why and what would change under the deregulation bill and the effects of its clauses, especially 88. Risks and benefits.

 

That would help understand today’s position.

 

The next step is to understand the future implications. Identify which bodies will be deregulated by it in future, why and how they will be affected by other aspects of the bill.

However it’s not the whole story.

How these bodies perform their tasks at national level and how far down their powers reach will affect the organisations below them.

These lower branches of organisational structure also need to be understood for any regulatory implications. How that function is carried out under what powers needs to be clear at what point the removal of the requirement would have an effect.

These ten bodies are in health and social care. The future of health seems to be bound to social care and in Simon Stevens’ vision, with ever more physical, as well as financial mergers.

 

In an interview with the Financial Times: he predicted ‘a blurring of the [lines] that exist between different public services’.He said:

Basing my understanding on CCG meeting attendance, reading ADASS minutes and general media news. it appears pooled budgetary responsibility will call for a shift in more responsibility to local authorities.

 

Is it therefore logical to assume that will include the responsibility for regulatory functions?

 

Any changes therefore at national level in terms of organisational structure or regulatory responsibility will have an affect at lower levels.

 

So for an organisation of the amendment ten, taking the Care Quality Commission for example, it is not unthinkable that change is inevitable regardless whether they are in or out of this clause.

 

The CQC has come in for some criticism in recent months with media stories repeating failings. Mistakes were made, with significant media coverage, on the calculations of quality ratings of GP practices.

Questions were raised in November as to the extent of the reach of the CQC surveillance powers at practice level, reviewing individual patient medical records ‘to assess the quality of care provided by the practice’ without individual consent. Professionals on social media raised their electronic eyebrows and lamented the breach of confidentiality.

What deeper impact will this have?

What happens should the CQC powers be broken up at national level and carried out at local level instead needs to be examined.

The body having been made exempt at national level from this commercially driven clause, may find that the regulatory functions would be required to comply with it again at Local Authority level.

The reasons why the CQC should be made exempt, would therefore be lost in the transition, unless the special orders and special provision were made before any organisational restructure.

The timing therefore of new regulations would need to become integral to any departmental organisational change at any and every level of regulatory governance.

Instead of removing ‘red tape’ and bureaucracy in this bill, I foresee it adding a burden of analysis and requirement to assess and document responsibilities; determining whether or not the clause to promote economic growth should apply or not.

Its definition is so vague and its responsibility to be ‘proportionate’ so open, that in fact it is not assigned to anybody; which everybody knows,  means it ends up being done, by nobody.

Every time some any reorganisation is planned, the impact of this regulatory clause may need considered and not only in health and social care but in every aspect of regulatory function across government.

Every action a regulatory body takes, is by default ‘regulatory action.’ So any time the function should do its job, each and every time, every decision, every ruling, would need to consider the need for economic growth and if they need to act at all.

(a) regulatory action is taken only when it is needed,

and

(b) any action taken is proportionate.

Surely this is what they do already in every decision, and therefore why make it a statutory requirement at all – for any regulatory body?

If we don’t need it, why write it in. And if we do need it, what precisely is it intended to do, how and why?

I would encourage anyone who has not yet done so, to have a good look over the contents of the bill. It’s like an end of year sale and there is definitely something in there for everyone. The likelihood is high that some unforeseen damage will be done to the public interest in the rush to get it through in this term by government, akin to a Black Friday panic. The bills lined up to rush through the  last minute doors of parliament, seem to be queueing in droves.

For bodies which have regulatory functions today in health and social care at Local Authority level already, the hoped for reduction in harm through this amendment affecting their national level body, could fail to materialise.

The high-level  health and social care bodies may get “let off” the duty in explicit terms in the bill, but if the function is performed at another level, “on the ground”,  the requirement of the function will in effect still happen under-the-radar.
  
Here is at least a starting point to go deeper into who regulates what at local authority level. [6] Imagine each and every regulatory function trying to consider the importance for the promotion of economic growth of exercising  the regulatory function in a way which ensures that —

(a) regulatory action is taken only when it is needed,

and

(b) any action taken is proportionate.

How will as another example, the local government ombudsman make a profit but not put that before the people it serves?
In this case their role is managing complaints about councils and some other authorities and organisations, including education admissions appeal panels and adult social care providers. How does one justify exploiting that, for profit?

 

With purdah and the general election drawing near,  this may be a question with an unpredictable answer for many organisations if their future structural model is uncertain.

 

The backdrop

 

There are various other bills in progress to do with regulation, which involve communications and data, and by implication, potentially journalists’ sources. They are also affected by clause 47 in the deregulation bill which the NUJ protested in 2014. [more in my next post].
A press free from political control and undue regulation is something to be held dear, and indeed Guido Fawkes has experienced this week. attempts to control it, by the Electoral Commission:

 

“Guido has no intention of registering with the Electoral Commission or reporting a penny of spending or anything else to them. This authoritarian law is a nonsense. If you read the guidance it should apply to newspapers. We haven’t just rejected statutory control of the printed press by one regulator for political control of digital media by another.”

Here we arrive at the nub of the issue: what is to be deregulated and why and by whom are fundamental to understand what effects these changes will require, and the demands the duty for economic growth will create.

I question: “Can this dramatic change, really be a wise and throroughly thought out course of action, when the only certainty in the affected organisations’ governance duties is that in fewer than five months, it may all change?”
Had all the background and assessments been done already, one would think it could be understandable to press on and complete. But the fact that this significant amendment has been proposed now, surely shows that an adequate cost benefit and risk assessment does not exist. Does it not exist only for these ten, or for all?

 

All sorts of areas of public interest are affected, with questions being asked on private tenancy changes to the very Electoral Commission itself.

 

In the run up to the election, will it be asked to become a profit driven  entity? – instead of prioritising its key focus, the regulation of our democratic processes:

 

“These roles and responsibilities outline much of the work we do in order to meet our objectives of:

  • well-run elections, referendums and electoral registration
  • transparency in party and election finance, with high levels of compliance”

How will the Electoral Commission  maintain neutrality if profit must drive the function as the regulator of political funding and spending?

That decision could have almighty and lasting effect on public confidence and our trust in the wake of the MP expenses scandals.

Without a publicly available clear cost benefit analysis, the overwhelming drive for profit in every sector of UK regulatory reach remains at best unclear.  The intended benefits or whether they will even create any efficiencies, never mind public gain, lacking.

At worst, “are these new clauses a licence for regulators to approve regulations that kill people to save money?”

****

Key references:

[1] Proposed amendment by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath in the Deregulation bill.

[2] The Deregulation Bill

[3] Hansard, February 3 2014, MPs propose removal of clause

[4] Hansard, November 20th 2014, ECHR comments included in Lords’ debate

[5] Public Health functions under Local Authority

[6]  Local Authority regulatory functions

********

List of The National Regulators – the ten bodies  above are those explicitly mentioned in Lord Hunt of King’s Heath’s amendment:

Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA)

Animals in Science Regulation Unit

Architects Registration Board (ARB)

British Hallmarking Council (BHC)

Care Quality Commission (CQC)

Charity Commission for England and Wales

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)

Claims Management Regulation Unit

Coal Authority

Companies House

Competition Commission

Professional Standards for Health and Social Care (PSA)

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI)

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)

Driving Standards Agency (DSA)

Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EAS)

English Heritage (EH)

Environment Agency

Equality and Human Rights Commission

Financial Reporting Council (FRC)

Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI), Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)

Food and environment research agency (plant and bee health) and (Plant Variety and Seeds)

Food Standards Agency (FSA)

Forestry Commission

Gambling Commission

Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA)

General Medical Council

General Chiropractic Council

General Dental Council

General Pharmaceutical Council

Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)

Highways Agency (HA)

HM Revenue and Customs (Money Laundering Regulations and National Minimum Wage)

Homes & Communities Agency (HCA)

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association (HFEA)

Human Tissue Authority (HTA)

Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)

Insolvency Service including Insolvency Practitioner Unit

Intellectual Property Office (IPO)

Legal Services Board (LSB)

Marine Management Organisaton (MMO)

Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)

Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)

Monitor

National Measurement Office (NMO)

Natural England

Nursing and Midwifery Council

Office of Communications

Office for Fair Access (OFFA)

Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR)

Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED)

Office of Fair Trading

OFQUAL

Office of Rail Regulation (ORR)

Office of the Regulator of Community Interest Companies

OFGEM

Pensions Regulator

Rural Payments Agency (RPA)

Security Industry Authority (SIA)

Senior Traffic Commissioner

Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA)

Trinity House Lighthouse Service (THLS)

UK Anti-Doping (UKAD)

Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA)

Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA)

Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)

***

Please feel free to comment below or find me on twitter @TheABB

Non-human authors wanted. Drones, robots, and our relationship with technology.

“My relationship with the drone is like playing a video game: I feel out a composition and the drone will agree or challenge me. Eventually, though, the drone will develop a creative mind of its own.”  [KATSU, in interview with Mandi Keighran and N magazine, summer 2014].

KATSU, the New York City based artist/vandal/hacker depending on your point of view, raises the question in that interview for Norwegian Airlines’ magazine, of the relationship of “technology to graffiti,” or more broadly, of technology to art as a whole.

This, combined with another seemingly unrelated recent story, the David Salter macaque photo, made me wonder about drones, robots, and the role of the (non-)human author – our relationship with technology in art and beyond.

Ownership and Responsibility – Human or non-Human?

I wondered in both stories, how it may affect ownership and copyright. Rights, which led me to consider the boundaries of responsibility.

I should preface this by saying I know little about copyright and less about drones. But I’m thinking my lay thoughts, out loud.

In the first instance, if drones are used for creating something as in this story, is it as simple as ‘he who owns the drone owns or is responsible for the art it creates’? I wonder, because I don’t know, and while it may be clear today, I wonder if it is changing?

As regards the second story, when the monkey-selfie went around the world focus was sharper on copyright law, than it was in the majority of the photos the macaque had taken.  “Can a monkey own a picture?” asked many, including Metro at the time.

”Wikimedia, the non-profit organisation behind Wikipedia, has refused a photographer’s repeated requests to stop distributing his most famous shot for free – because a monkey pressed the shutter button and should own the copyright,” said the Telegraph.

But whilst most on social media and the press I read, focused on the outcome for this individual photographer, I wondered, what is the impact for the future of photography?

I’ve come to the conclusion, in this particular case I think it is more important we consider it less about the monkey having taken the photo, and more important that it was decided that a human, did not.

This decision was not (yet) decided by a UK court,  but was reached in Wikimedia’s own report.

Since then, the LA Times reported on August 21st, that:

“the public draft of the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition —was released this week[1], and, after final review, is to take effect in mid-December [2] — says the office will register only works that were created by human beings.”

This is the first major revision in over twenty years and is an internal manual, so it does not have the force of law.  But it’s still significant.

Copyright suitability is dependent on that the work “was created by a human being,” and only protects “…the fruits of intellectual labor” which are “founded in the creative powers of the mind.” Animal ownership is expressly excluded. (Section 306 – The Human Authorship Requirement). Pantomimes performed by a machine or robot are similarly, expressly non-copyrightable. (p.527) and continues:

“Similarly the Office will not register works produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly, or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author.” (p 55)

The Telegraph article {August 6th} by Matthew Sparkes, said:

‘In its report Wikimedia said that it “does not agree” that the photographer owns the copyright, but also that US law means that “non-human authors” do not have the right to automatic copyright of any photographs that they take.

“To claim copyright, the photographer would have had to make substantial contributions to the final image, and even then, they’d only have copyright for those alterations, not the underlying image. This means that there was no one on whom to bestow copyright, so the image falls into the public domain,” it said.’

One would think common sense would mean that without the work by British photographer David Slater, there would have been no photograph. That his travel, equipment preparations and interaction with the animals was ‘substantial contribution’.

I wonder, could this become a significant argument in the future of copyright and access to material in the public domain?  Because the argument came down NOT to whether a monkey can own copyright, but whether there was any human in which copyright was vested.

copyright

 

Photography is changing. Increasingly technology is being used to take pictures. If photographic copyright depends on human ownership, I wonder if the way is opened for claims to creative images produced by drone or other forms of AI? I don’t know, and copyright law, is best left to experts but I’d like to ask the questions I have. I’ve read UK and US legislation, around ownership, and around use of computers, but it could appear to an ordinary lay eye, that technology is evolving faster than the laws to govern it. Users and uses growing in hobby and commercial markets perhaps even more so.

In UK legislation:

“In this Part “author”, in relation to a work, means the person who creates it.”

“In the case of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work which is computer-generated, the author shall be taken to be the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work are undertaken.” [Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, Section 9]

It is easy to see how the macaque can slip through in UK law here, as it is not computer generated. And in the US non-human is clearly defined and excluded. But my question is  how do you define computer-generated? At what point does copyright depend on autonomy or on arrangements by human-intervention?

Remember, in the US, the Office will not register works produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly, or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author.” (p 55)

“Katsu pilots the drone remotely, but every movement is translated through the machine’s need to keep itself aloft and it adapts his directions.”

Where do you draw the line?

Why does it matter today at all?

It matters because copyright law is a gatekeeper and gateway. It makes it commercially viable for creators to produce and make work available to others. It defines responsibilities. One question I ask, is that if it’s no longer worth it, will we be worse off for not having the work they may have otherwise produced?

The market for work produced by or via drone,  is just becoming to hint at becoming mainstream.

The use of drones in photography, for example in hard to reach situations in useful functions like flood mapping will be of great service. Other uses in sports such as alpine skiing, canoeing, or extreme sports is only likely to increase by amateur, professional and commercial users. Stick a go-pro on the drone and it can get footage from places without the need for an accompanying person.

What questions might it raise for artists & creators today?

Specifically on art and copyright:  will this ruling affect what types of images are worth taking? Will it make some work non-commercially viable, or their value determined by the channels of distribution rather than creator? Will this Wikimedia ruling affect the balance of power between creator and  commercial channel providers, in terms of ownership and distribution? I believe it rather serves to highlight where the balance is already.

Have we lessons learned from the music and book industry that apply here? (Clue: they both start with vowels and control distribution.)

Will the decision now go to a UK court and become a clarified legal position?

David Slater reportedly faces an estimated £10,000 legal bill to take the matter to court, said the Telegraph. At very best, this situation  is disrespectful to him and leaves a bitter aftermath, in the question of the power between artist and distributor.

At worst, we could be on the cusp of being left behind in a brave new world of ownership and control of art and knowledge. A world in which actions may be taken through our technology, the product of which no human is deemed to have ownership.

So how does that affect responsibility?

If it has been legally defined, that there is no human copyright ownership for the product of the action by something non-human, where do you draw the line for human responsibility? Am I not responsible for the actions of anything non-human I own? If an animal I own, creates a road traffic accident, am I responsible for its actions? If so, then why not for artwork it creates? If there are differences, why are there differences, and where does the line of responsibility get defined and by whom?

Where are the boundaries of responsibility if we start to distinguish in law between ownership of the result of a task a human set up, but did not carry out? David Slater enabled everything for the photograph to be taken, but did not press the shutter.

I ask: “is the boundary of responsibility undermined by weakening the boundaries of ownership and definition of autonomy of action?”

I believe copyright, ownership, responsibility and non-human authorship is about more than this man vs macaque debate. Will we leave it at that and learn no more from this? If so, then the real monkey is definitely not the one in the picture.

What about considering wider impacts?

In broader context, I believe the public should be asking questions to stay ahead of the game in terms of all legal rulings, and consider carefully the idea of non-human creation and ownership. We should  ensure that both State and commercial uses of drone are not set in place, from which we need to play catch up later. We should be driving the thinking to help shape the society we want to see, and shape the expectations of commercial and State use of drone technology.

What of the drones we cannot see, never hear and yet seem to be supported by our Governments? State surveillance piggybacks commercial infrastructures and tools in other fields, such as communications and social media. We should stay ahead of how drones are increasingly used commercially (as in Amazon pilot news) and we should demand much greater transparency of the existing drone use in our name, in security, surveillance and weaponry. [ added 29 Aug 2014 > also see BT case in CW investigation].

Who controls government decisions and the ethics of drone or robot use? In all of these questions, it comes down to – who’s in a position of power? With power, comes responsibility.

The ethics in use in war zones and in other military action, seen and unseen, is also something we should be asking to understand. To date, much of the public dismisses drone use as something which happens somewhere else and nothing to do with us.

But these decisions do affect what is done in the name of our country and that does indirectly, reflect on us, as its citizens.  These decisions will shape the future commercial uses which will affect us as direct consumers, or as indirect recipients of their impacts on wider society.

There’s lots to think about, as drones develop into tools of art and applications in daily life. I know little of the legal aspects, what has been done already or is being considered today, or what will be in future. I just know, I have lots of questions as an everyday parent, considering what kind of society I hope my children, our future adult citizens, will inherit.  Where do I ask to find out?

My questions are not so much about the technology or law of it, at all. They come down to its ethics, fairness & how this will shape the future.  As a mother, that is the responsibility I bear for my children.

Will we see drones soon in ordinary life or in an everyday future?

In this Wired article, Karl VanHemert states part of Katsu’s aim with the drone is simply to raise questions about the transformative effect the machines might have on art. He plans for it to be Open Source soon. Some argue that tagging is not art, but vandalism. You can see it in action via Motherboard’s video on YouTube here. Suggesting property marking will become a blight on society, you can ask what purpose does it serve? Others suggest drones could be used precisely to paint over graffiti and be of practical uses.

In Scotland it is a well known joke,  that once the painters have finished repainting from one side of the Forth Road Bridge to the other, it’s time for them to start again. Perhaps, those days are over?

Will we see them soon in everyday occupations, and will it make a difference to the average citizen? In commercial service, the mundane estate agent [no offence to those who are, you may be 007 or M in your spare time I know] is reported to be one of the commercial market sectors looking at applications of the photographic potential. It could replace cameras on long poles.

“Unmanned drones can be used for a range of tasks including surveying repairs and capturing particularly good views from unusual angles. ” [Skip Walker, stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk]

These uses are regulated in the UK and must have permission from the CAA.

So far though, I wonder if anyone I’ve met flying a hobby drone with camera over our heads (veering wildly between tent pitches, and enthralling us all, watching it watching us) has requested permission as in point 2?

Regulation will no doubt become widely argued for and against in the public security and privacy debate, rightly or wrongly. With associated risks and benefits, they have the potential to be of public service, entertainment and have uses which we have not yet seen.  How far off is the jedi training remote game? How far off is the security training remote, which is not a game? How is it to be governed?

I have a niggling feeling that as long as State use of drones is less than fully transparent, the Government will not be in a rush to open the debate on the private and commercial uses.

Where does that leave my questions for my kids’ future?

Where is the future boundary in their use and who will set it?

The ethics of this ‘thinking’ technology in these everyday places must be considered today, because tomorrow you may walk into a retirement home and find a robot playing chess with your relative. How would you feel about the same robot, running their bath?

Have you met Bob – the G4S robot in Birmingham – yet?

“While ‘Bob’ carries out his duties, he will also be gathering information about his surroundings and learning about how the environment changes over time”

“A similar robot, called ‘Werner’, will be deployed in a care home environment in Austria.”

How about robots in the home, which can read and ‘learn’ from your emotions?

I think this seemingly silly monkey-selfie case, though clearly anything but for the livelihood of David Slater, should raise a whole raft of questions, that ordinary folk like me should be asking of our experts and politicians.  Perhaps I am wrong, and the non-human author as animal and non-human author as machine are clearly distinct and laid out already in legislation. But as the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices [open for comment see footnote 2] decision shows, at minimum the macaque-selfie shoot, is not yet done in its repercussions. It goes beyond authorship.

Who decides what is creative input and intervention vs automatic or autonomous action? Where do you draw the line at non-human? Does Bob – the G4S robot in Birmingham – count?

We may be far off yet, from AI that is legally considered ‘making its own decisions’, but when we get to the point where the owner of the equipment used has no influence, no intervention, of what, when or where an image is shot, will we be at the point where there is, no human author? Will we be at the point where there is no owner responsible for the action?

Especially, if in the words of Katsu,

“Eventually…the drone will develop a creative mind of its own.”

What may that mean for the responsibilities of drones & robots as security patrols, or as care workers? Is the boundary of responsibility undermined by weakening the boundaries of copyright, of ownership and autonomy of action?

If so, photographs being shot, without a legally responsible owner, is the least of my worries.

****

[1] Significant files ref: http://infojustice.org/archives/33164  Compendium of US Copyright Office practices – 3rd edition > full version: http://copyright.gov/comp3/docs/compendium-full.pdf

[2] Members of the public may provide feedback on the Compendium at any time before or after the Third Edition goes into effect. See www.copyright.gov/comp3/ for more information.

 

 

Launching genomics, lifeboats, & care.data [part 2]

“On Friday 1st August the media reported the next giant leap in the genomics programme in England, suggesting the 100K Genomics Project news was akin to Kennedy launching the Space Race. [1] [from 2:46.30].”

[Part one of this post is in this link, and includes thinking about care.data & genomics interaction].

Part two:

What is the expectation beyond 2017?

The investment to date may seem vast if, like me, you are unfamiliar with the amounts of money that are spent in research [in 2011 an £800M announcement, last summer £90M in Oxford as just two examples], and Friday revealed yet more money, a new £300M research package.  It is complex how it all adds up, and from mixed sourcing. But the stated aim of the investment is relatively simple: the whole genomes of 75,000 people [40K patients and 35K healthy relatives] are to be mapped by 2017.

Where the boundary lies between participation for clinical care and for research is less clear in the media presentation. If indeed participants’ results will be fed back into their NHS care pathway,  then both aims seem to be the intent of the current wave of participants.

It remains therefore perhaps unclear, how this new offering interacts with the existing NHS genetic services for direct clinical care, or the other research projects such as the UK Biobank for example, particularly when aims appear to overlap:.

“The ultimate aim is to make genomic testing a routine part of clinical practice – but only if patients and clinicians want it.” [Genomics England, how we work]

The infrastructure of equipment is enormous to have these sequences running 24/7 as was indicated in media TV coverage. I’m no maths whizz, but it appears to me they’re building Titantic at Genomics England and the numbers of actual people planned to take part (75K) would fit on the lifeboats. So with what, from whom, are they expecting to fill the sequencing labs after 2017?  At Genomics England events it has been stated that the infrastructure will then be embedded in the NHS. How is unclear, if commercial funding has been used to establish it. But at its most basic, there will be  no point building the infrastructure and finding no volunteers want to take part. You don’t build the ship and sail without passengers. What happens, if the English don’t volunteer in the desired numbers?

What research has been done to demonstrate the need or want for this new WGS project going forwards at scale, compared with a) present direct care or b) existing research facilities?

I cannot help but think of the line in the film, Field of Dreams. If you build it they will come. So who will come to be tested? Who will come to exploit the research uses for public good? Who will come in vast numbers in our aging population to exploit the resulting knowledge for their personal benefit vs companies who seek commercial profit? How will the commercial and charity investors, make it worth their while? Is the cost/benefit to society worth it?

All the various investors in addition to the taxpayer; Wellcome Trust, the MRC, Illumina, and others, will want to guarantee they are not left with an empty shell. There is huge existing and promised investment. Wellcome for example, has already “invested more than £1 billion in genomic research and has agreed to spend £27 million on a world class sequencing hub at its Genome Campus near Cambridge. This will house Genomics England’s operations alongside those of the internationally respected Sanger Institute.”

Whilst the commercial exploitation by third parties is explicit, there may also be another possibility to consider: would the Government want:

a) some cost participation by the participants? and

b) will want to sell the incidental findings’ results to the participants?

[ref: http://www.phgfoundation.org/file/10363 ref. #13]

“Regier et al. 345 have estimated the willingness-to-pay (WTP) for a diagnostic test to find the genetic cause of idiopathic developmental disability from families with an affected child. They used a discrete choice experiment to obtain WTP values and found that these families were willing to pay CDN$1118 (95% CI CDN$498-1788) for the expected benefit of twice as many diagnoses using aCGH and a reduction in waiting time of 1 week when compared to conventional cytogenetic analysis.”

“Moreover, it is advisable to minimise incidental findings where possible; health care professionals should not have an obligation to feedback findings that do not relate to the clinical question, except in cases where they are unavoidably discovered and have high predictive value. It follows that the NHS does not have an obligation to provide patients with their raw genome sequence data for further analysis outside of the NHS. We make no judgement here about whether the individual should be able to purchase and analyse their genome sequence independently; however, if this course of action is pursued, the NHS should provide follow-up advice and care only when additional findings are considered to be of significant clinical relevance in that individual…” [13]

How much is that cost, per person to be mapped? What is the expected return on the investment?

What are the questions which are not being asked of this huge state investment, particularly at a time when we are told he NHS is in such financial dire straits?

Are we measuring the costs and benefits?

Patient and medical staff support is fundamental to the programme, not an optional extra. It should not be forgotten that the NHS is a National Service owned by all of us. We should know how it runs. We should know what is spends. Ultimately, it is we who pay for it.

So let’s see on paper, what are the actual costs vs benefits? Where is the overall and long term cost benefit business case covering the multi-year investment, both of tangible and intangible benefits? In my personal research, I’m yet to find one. There is however, some discussion in this document:

“The problem for NGS is that very little ‘real’ information is available on the actual costs for NGS from the NHS perspective and the NHS Department of Health Reference Costs Database and PSSRU, where standard NHS costings are listed, are generally not helpful.” [13 – PHG, 2011]

Where are the questions being asked if this is really what we should be doing for the public good and for the future of the NHS?

Research under good ethics and bona fide transparent purposes is a public asset. This rollout, has potential to become a liability.

To me, yet again it seems, politics has the potential to wreck serious research aims and the public good.

Perhaps more importantly, the unrestrained media hype carries the very real risk of creating unfounded hope for an immediate diagnosis or treatment, for vulnerable individuals and families who in reality will see no personal benefit. This is not to undermine what may be possible in future. It is simply a plea to rein in hype to reality.

Politicians and civil servants in NHS England appear to use both research and the notion of the broad ‘public good’, broadly in speeches to appear to be doing ‘the right thing to do’, but without measurable substance. Without a clear cost-benefit analysis, I admit, I am skeptical. I would like to see more information in the public domain.

Has the documentation of the balance of patient/public good and  expected “major contribution to make to wealth creation and economic growth in this country” been examined?

Is society prepared for this?

I question whether the propositions of the initiative have been grasped by Parliament and society as a whole, although I understand this is not a ‘new’ subject as such. This execution however, does appear at least, massive in its practical implications, not least for GPs if it is to become so mainstream, as quickly as plans predict. It raises a huge number of ethical questions. Not least of which will be around incidental findings, as the Radio 4 interview raised.

The first I have is consideration of pre-natal testing plans:

“Aside from WGS of individuals, other applications using NGS could potentially be more successful in the DTC market. For example, the use of NGS for non-invasive prenatal testing would doubtless be very popular if it became available DTC prior to being offered by the NHS, particularly for relatively common conditions such as Down syndrome…” [

and then the whole question of consent, particularly from children:

“…it may be almost impossible to mitigate the risk that individuals may have their genome sequenced without their consent. Some genome scan companies (e.g. 23andMe) have argued that the risks of covert testing are reduced by their sample collection method, which requires 2ml of saliva; in addition, individuals are asked to sign to confirm that the sample belongs to them (or that they have gained consent from the individual to whom it belongs). However, neither of these methods will have any effect on the possibility of sequencing DNA from children, which is a particularly contentious issue within DTC genomics.” [13]

“two issues have emerged as being particularly pressing: first is the paradox that individuals cannot be asked to consent to the discovery of risks the importance of which is impossible to assess. Thus from a legal perspective, there is no ‘meeting of minds’ and contractually the contract between researcher and participant might be void. It is also unclear whether informed consent is sufficient to deal with the feedback of incidental findings which are not pertinent to the initial research or clinical question but that may have either clinical or personal significance…” [PHG page 94]

And thirdly, we should not forget the elderly. In February 2014 the Department of Health proposed that a patient’s economic value should be taken into account when deciding on healthcare. Sir Andrew Dillon, head of the National Institute for Healthcare and Excellence (NICE, who set national healthcare budgets and priorities), disagreed saying:
“What we don’t want to say is those 10 years you have between 70 and 80, although clearly you are not going to be working, are not going to be valuable to somebody.

Clearly they are. You might be doing all sorts of very useful things for your family or local society. That’s what we are worried about and that’s the problem with the Department of Health’s calculation.

There are lots of people who adopt the fair-innings approach; ‘you’ve had 70 years of life you’ve got to accept that society is going to bias its investments in younger people.”

[14 – see Channel 4] Yet our population is ageing and we need to find a balance of where roles, rules and expectations meet. And question, how do we measure human value, should we, and on what basis are we making cost-based care decisions?

The Department of Health proposed that a patient’s economic value should be taken into account when deciding on healthcare. What is their thinking on genomics for the care of the elderly?

Clinical environment changes make engagement and understanding harder to achieve

All this, is sitting on shifting, fundamental questions on how decision making and accountability will be set, in a world of ever fragmenting NHS structure:

“More problematic will be the use of specific genomic technologies such as NGS in patient pathways for inherited disorders that are delivered outside the clinical genetics services (such as services for FH, haemophilia and sickle cell disease) and NGS that is used for non-inherited disease conditions. These will be commissioned by GP consortia within established care pathways. Such commissioning of companion diagnostics would, in theory be evaluated first by NICE. However, it is not clear what capacity NICE will have across a broad range of uses. In practice it seems likely that GP consortia may make a variety of different decisions influenced by local experts and pressure, funding and different priorities. Particular questions for NGS will include: How will commissioners be provided with the necessary evidence for decision-making and can this be developed and coordinated at a national level? How will commissioners prioritise particularly when it may be necessary to invest early in order to achieve savings later? What (if any) influence may commissioners be able to exert over the configuration of test providers (for example the rationalisation of laboratories or the use of private testing companies)? [13]
Today (August 8th) the public row between Roche and the Government through NICE became apparant on cancer treatment. And again I found myself asking, what are we not funding, whilst we spend on genomics?  If you did not you hear Sir Andrew Dillon & the discussion, you can listen again on BBC Radio 2 iPlayer here. [It’s in the middle of the programme, and begins at 01:09.06.]

Questions, in search of an answer
Where has the population indicated that this is the direction of travel we wish our National Health Service to take? What preparation has been made for the significant changes in society it will bring? When was Parliament asked before this next step in policy and huge public spend were signed off and where is the periodic check against progress and public sign off, of the next step? Who is preparing the people and processes for this explosive change, announced with sparklers, at arms length and a long taper? Are the challenges being shared honestly between policy, politicians and scientists, being shared with patients and public: as discussed at the stakeholder meeting at St.Barts London, 3rd October 2013 (a key panel presentation: 45 minute video with slides)? When will that be shared with the public and NHS staff in full? Why does NHS England feel this is so fundamental to the future of the NHS? Must we abandon a scuppered and sinking NHS for personalised medicine on personal budgets and expectations of increased use of private health insurance?

Is genomics really the lifeboat to which the NHS is inextricably bound?

The Patients and Information Directorate nor wider NHS England Board does not discuss these questions in public.  At the July 3rd 2014 Board Meeting, in the discussion of the genomics programme I understood the discussion as starting to address the inevitable future loss of equity of access because of genomic stratification, dividing the population into risk pool classifications [10.42] . To my mind, that is the end of the free-to-all NHS as we know it. And IF it is so, through planned policy. More people paying for their own care under ‘personalisation;  is in line with ISCG expectations set out  earlier in 2014: “there will be increasing numbers of people funding their own care and caring for others.”

Not everyone may have understood it that way, but if not, I’d like to know what was meant.

I would like to understand what is meant when Genomics England spokespeople  say the future holds:

“Increasingly to select most appropriate treatment strategy. In the longer term, potential shift to prevention based on risk-based information.”
or
“Review the role of sequencing in antenatal and adult screening.”

I would welcome the opportunity to fully understand what was suggested at that Board meeting as a result of our shared risk pool, and readers should view it and make up their own mind. Even better, a frank public and/or press board meeting with Q&A could be rewarding.

The ethical questions that are thrown up by this seem yet to have little public media attention.

Not least, incidental findings: if by sequencing someone’s DNA, you establish there is something for their health that they ought to be doing soon, will you go to that patient and say look, you should be doing this…. these are incidental findings, and may be quite unexpected and separate from the original illness under investigation in say, a family member, and may also only suggest risk indicators, not clear facts.

If this is expected to be mainstream by 2018, what training plans are in place as indicated needed as a “requirement for professionals across the NHS to be trained in genetics and its implications”? [presentation by Mark Bale, DoH, July 2014]

When will we get answers to these questions, and more?

Because there is so much people like me don’t know, but should, if this is our future NHS under such fundamental change as is hyped.

Because even the most esteemed in our land can get things wrong. One of them at the St.Bart’s events quotes on of my favourite myths attributed wrongly to Goethe. It cannot be attributed to him, that he said, ” “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” You see, we just hear something which sounds plausible, from someone who seems to know what they are talking about. It isn’t always right.

Because patients of rare disease in search of clinical care answers should be entitled to have expectations set appropriately, and participants in research know to what they, and possibly family members indirectly, are committed.

Because if the NHS belongs to all of us, we should be able to ask questions and expect answers about its planning,  how we choose to spend its budget and how it will look in future.

These are all questions we should be asking as society

Fundamentally, in what kind of society will my children grow up?

With the questions of pre-natal intervention, how will we shape our attitudes towards our disabled and those who are sick, or vulnerable or elderly? Are we moving towards the research vision Mr.Hunt, Cameron and Freeman appear to share, only for good, or are we indeed to look further head to a Gattacan vision of perfection?

As we become the first country in the world to permit so called ‘three parent children’ how far will we go down the path of ‘fixing’ pre-natal genetic changes, here or in PGD?

How may this look in a society where ‘some cornflakes get to the top‘ and genetic advantage seen as a natural right over those without that ability? In a state where genetics could be considered as part of education planning? [16]

For those with lifelong conditions, how may genetic screening affect their life insurance when the Moratorium expires*  in 2017 (*any shift in date TBC pending discussion) ? How will it affect their health care, if the NHS England Board sees a potential effect on equity of access? How will it affect those of us who choose not to have screening – will we be penalised for that?

And whilst risk factors may include genomic factors, lifestyle factors some argue are even more important, but these change over time. How would those, who may have had past genetic screening be affected in future requirements?

After the August 1st announcement, [11] The Wellcome Trust‘s reporting was much more balanced and sensible than the political championing had been. It grasps the challenges ahead:

“Genomics England has ambitious plans to sequence 100,000 genomes from 75,000 people, some of whom will also have cancer cells sequenced. The sheer scale of the plans is pretty daunting. The genetic information arising from this project will be immense and a huge challenge for computational analysis as well as clinical interpretation. It will also raise a number of issues regarding privacy of patient data. Ensuring that these genetic data can be used maximally for patient benefit whilst protecting the rights of the individual participant must be at the heart of this project.

At the beginning of the Human Genome Project, scientists and funders like the Wellcome Trust knew they were on a journey that would be fraught with difficulties and challenges, but the long-term vision was clear. And so it is with the plans for Genomics England, it will most certainly not be easy…”

Managing change

Reality is that yet again, Change Management and Communications have been relegated to the bottom of the boarding priorities list.

This is not only a research technology or health programme. Bigger than all of that is the change it may bring. Not only in NHS practice, should the everyday vision of black boxes in GP surgeries become reality, but for the whole of society. For the shape of society, in age and diversity. Indeed if we are to be world leaders, we have potential to start to sling the world on a dangerous orbit if the edges of scope are ill defined. Discussing only with interested parties, those who have specific personal or business interests in genomic research and data sharing, whilst at Board meetings not clearly discussing the potential effects of risk stratification and personalisation on a free at the point of delivery health service is in my opinion, not transparent, and requires more public discussion.

After all, there are patients who are desperate for answers, who are part of the NHS and need our fair treatment and equity of access for rare disease. There is the majority who may not have those needs but knows someone who does. And we all fund and support the structure and staff in our world class service, we know and love. We want this to work well.

Future research participation depends on current experience and expectations. It is the latter I fear are being currently mishandled in public and the media.

Less than a month ago, at the NHS England Board Meeting on July 3rd,  Lord Adebowale very sensibly asked, “how do we lead people from where we are, and how we take the public with us? We need to be a world leader in engaging all the public”

Engagement is not rocket science. But don’t forget the ethics.

If this project is meant to be, according to MP George Freeman [George 2], akin to Kennedy launching the Space Race, then, by Fenyman [12], why can they not get their public involvement at big launches sorted out?

Is it because there are such large gaps and unknowns that questioning will not stand up to scrutiny? Is it because suggesting a programme will end the NHS as we know it, would be fatal for any politician or party who supports that programme in the coming year? Or do the leading organisations possibly paternalistically believe the public is too dim or uninterested or simply working to make ends meet to care [perhaps part of the 42% of the population who expected to struggle as a result of universal welfare changes,  one in three main claimants (34 per cent) said in 2012 they ‘run out of money before the end of the week/month always or most of the time’] ? But why bother will the big press splash, if it should not make waves?

In the words of Richard Feynman after the Challenger launch disaster in 1986:

“Let us make recommendations to ensure that NASA officials deal in a world of reality in understanding technological weaknesses and imperfections well enough to be actively trying to eliminate them. They must live in reality in comparing the costs and utility of the Shuttle to other methods of entering space. And they must be realistic in making contracts, in estimating costs, and the difficulty of the projects.

Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed, schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met.

If in this way the government would not support them, then so be it. NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources. For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations… [June 6th 1986. Six months after the disaster, the Report to the Presidential Commission (Appendix F)]

Just like the Rosetta spacecraft is getting ever closer to actually landing on the comet, its goal, [15 – BBC Newsround has an excellent little summary] after over ten years, so too is genomics close to the goal of many. It is within grasp that the long-planned mainstreaming of genomic intervention, will touch down in the NHS. My hope is that in its ever closer passes, we get hard factual evidence and understand exactly where we have come from, and where we intend going. What will who do with the information once collected?

The key is not the landing, it’s understanding why we launched in the first place.

Space may not be the most significant final frontier out there in the coming months that we should be looking at up close. Both in health and science.  Our focus in England must surely be to examine these plans with a microscope, and ask what frontiers have we reached in genomics, health data sharing and ethics in the NHS?

******  image source: ESA via Nature

[1] “It’s a hugely ambitious project, it’s on a par with the space race how Kennedy launched 40 years ago.” [from 2:46.30 BBC Radio 4 Int. Sarah Montague w/ George Freeman]

[2] Downing Street Press Release 1st August – genomics https://www.gov.uk/government/news/human-genome-uk-to-become-world-numb

[3] 6th December “Transcript of a speech given by Prime Minister at the FT Global Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Conference” [https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-speech-on-life-sciences-and-opening-up-the-nhs]

[4] 10th December 2012 DNA Database concerns Channel 4 http://www.channel4.com/news/dna-cancer-database-plan-prompts-major-concerns

[5] Wellcome Trust- comment by Jeremy Farrar http://news.sky.com/story/1311189/pm-hails-300m-project-to-unlock-power-of-dna

[6] Strategic Priorities in Rare Diseases June 2013 http://www.genomicsengland.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/GenomicsEngland_ScienceWorkingGroup_App2rarediseases.pdf

[7] NHS England Board paper presentation July 2013 http://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/180713-item16.pdf

[8] ICO and HSCIC on anonymous and pseudonymous data in Computing Magazine http://www.computing.co.uk/ctg/news/2337679/ico-says-anonymous-data-not-covered-by-data-protection-act-until-its-de-anonymised

[9] HSCIC Pseudonymisation Review August 2014 http://www.hscic.gov.uk/article/4896/Data-pseudonymisation-review

[10] November 2013 ISCG – political pressure on genomics schedule http://www.england.nhs.uk/iscg/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/01/ISCG-Paper-Ref-ISCG-009-001-ISCG-Meeting-Minutes-and-Actions-26-November-2013-v1.1.pdf

[11] Wellcome Trust August 1st 2014 The Genetic Building Blocks of Future Healthcare

[12] Fenyan – For successful technology reality must take precedence over PR http://jenpersson.com/successful-technology-reality-precedence-public-relations/

[13] Next Steps in the Sequence – the implications for whole genome sequencing in the UK – PHG Foundation, funded by the PHG Foundation, with additional financial support from Illumina. The second expert workshop for the project was supported by the University of Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) and the Wellcome Trust http://www.phgfoundation.org/file/10363

[14] Anti-elderly drugs proposals rejected by NICE: Channel 4 http://www.channel4.com/news/nice-assessment-elderly-health-drugs-rejected-contribution

[15] BBC Newsround: Rosetta spacecraft and the comet chasing

[16] Education committee, December 4th 2013 including Prof. Plomin From 11.09:30 education and social planning  http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=14379

*****

For avoidance of confusion [especially for foreign readership and considering one position is so new], there are two different Ministers mentioned here, both called George:

One. George Osborne [George 1] MP for Tatton, Cheshire and the Chancellor

Two. George Freeman [George 2] MP – The UK’s first-ever Minister for Life Sciences, appointed to this role July 15th 2014 [https://www.gov.uk/government/ministers/parliamentary-under-secretary-of-state–42]

 

*****

Launching genomics, lifeboats, & care.data

On Friday 1st August the media reported the next giant leap in the genomics programme in England, suggesting the 100K Genomics Project news was akin to Kennedy launching the Space Race. [1] [from 2:46.30].

“The UK is set to become the world leader in ground-breaking genetic research into cancer and rare diseases, which will transform how diseases are diagnosed and treated, thanks to a package of investment worth more than £300 million.” [DH press release, August 1 2014. [2] ]

Whilst Mr. Cameron & George Osborne visited the arson-damaged Eastbourne Pier, the lifeboat staff and firemen who attended, back in Downing Street, representatives led by George Freeman MP signed the £300M investment package, the next step in the genomic investment plan, with American Jay Flatley, CEO of Illumina.

Mr. Cameron first announced this research drive shared with commercial pharmaceutical companies on 6th December 2011 and famously said ‘every willing patient should be a research patient'[3] (video) and they would consult to change the NHS Constitution to enable it:

“…with their medical details “opened up” to private healthcare firms, says David Cameron.”

George Freeman_ 100K

This was the next step in the programme, hailed as an historic moment, a giant leap forward for genomics.

The photo call for the symbolic signing included Jay Flatley President, Chief Executive Officer and a member of the Board of Directors of Illumina, Inc, Sir John Chisholm Executive Chair of Genomics England & Chair of Nesta, together with Dame Sally Davies Chief Medical Officer and Mr. George Freeman [George 2] MP for mid-Norfolk, and the newly appointed Life Sciences Minister.

Fewer than twelve months before an election the Government has decided to commit commercially to a US based company, in a programme which Mr.Cameron himself said,  has had controversy. That c-word is one the Conservatives will want to avoid in the coming election campaign.

This Channel 4 [4] film from almost 2 years ago, (December 2012) raises many questions as valid today as then. At that time, in contrast with today’s approach, the programme suggests that consent for research and data use would be assumed for all.

The inestimable Jon Snow asked then, why is the Business Department announcing this [the launch of the pilot programme, when focused then first in rare cancers]? The public may understand that commercial pharma, charities and the State work hand-in-glove (as Mr.Cameron’s 2011 vision stated), but as Jon Snow asks, not yet understand how this commercial venture will benefit the NHS long term as well as individual patients and the public as a whole? Is it concrete on benefits to patients vs benefits to UK plc?

So what was the key press message which came over?

The coverage of the week since August 1st, expounded the belief that through Genomics England Ltd we will do away with  chemotherapy in the future. I believe this should be the source of a raging debate, but it passed by with little more than a few waves.

“We will look back in 20 years’ time and the blockbuster chemotherapy drugs that gave you all those nasty side effects will be a thing of the past,”said Jeremy Farrar Director of the Wellcome Trust, reported Sky. [5]

The original review given last summer to Genomics England including listing the rare diseases which may affect the 6% of the population, suggests one consideration, targeting those with very high likelihood of familial links and therefore success.[6] or Patients selected with a high probability of a single gene disorder. There are obviously great challenges in turnaround time for the genetic processing to be useful in clinical decision making. Considering whether or not it is timely or accurate enough to be of clinical benefit in acute cancer care clinical decision making will be vital. It is also what is being promised to patients who sign up, a faster, more efficient, improved offering on what is available already in the NHS genetic services today.

The interested population and profession would do well to get an independent medical update on the status of this, to understand it better if this is now established and its reliability, so what participants sign up for, is what they get on the tin:

“Results are provided for patients in a timely fashion (e.g. within 8 weeks) and with sufficient clinical accuracy (not yet established for WGS) [whole genome sequencing].” [page 3 of 8]

And what was the press result and public reaction to the news?

As one example, look at lunchtime on Friday August 1st, Radio 2 callers to the Jeremy Vine show. They included two undergoing chemo who felt they had to call  in, to tell others, chemo is not always as bad as it sounds and make sure you don’t give up on it, refuse treatment or wait for this new genetic solution.

The impression was given, there is a new wonder solution within grasp on the horizon. This seemed to me rather reckless and unfairly manipulative on the ill and vulnerable to give them a blanket hope, that their cancer treatment may become so much better, soon. These are real people’s lives, not guinea pigs with which one can feel free to trial hypothesis and hype. If anyone now refuses chemo as a result of the Friday fantasy projections, their health may have been directly impacted. I would like to have heard a DH or Genomics England press manager speaking, not allowing such public free rein, to ensure it was factually accurate. But I’m guessing that Genomics England as an ALB is not really ready for press yet [their public engagement and education programme isn’t ready yet they confirmed when asked in July in an FOI],  and the DH perhaps at arms length, thinks, it’s not their responsibility and outside their remit. Stuck in the middle, we have the commissioning body, NHS England.

How might this involve all of us, our NHS and cross into care.data?

In most recent memory, NHS England tried and so far failed in February 2014, to engage the public and clinicians in the extraction of our GP stored health records, in the care.data initiative. Care.data languishes in some sort of unknown black hole at the moment, with little public engagement and pilots promised ‘for autumn’. Both programmes are run under the auspices of Mr. Kelsey at NHS England Patients and Information Department, and arms length from the Department of Health. Last summer, Tim Kelsey and Sir Bruce Keogh presented a paper to the Board on Genomics and its interaction with NHS patient records. [7]

Given that the Genomics paper indicated that care.data and NHS held patient records were of paramount importance to NHS England I would like to have seen more transparency over this, including informed public and parliamentary debate:

“Issues of data ownership and transparency are of paramount importance to NHS England as set out in the Mandate and given the hugely positive developments in Care.Data. Geraint  Lewis is leading this work, and has begun work to consider how the sequencing data might be held, connected to patient records and subsequently be exploited. It will also look at the connections between this work and the establishment of care data in the NHS. The NHS England data and informatics team will retain oversight of the informatics and data work and discussions continue on how it can best inform and support the implementation of business plan of Genomics England Limited.”

NHS England Board paper, July 2013 [7]

There has been almost no public statement from NHS England on genomics and our data management in the same discussion, until now. George Freeman MP [2] said on BBC Radio 4 (Starting from 2:46.30 in interview with Sarah Montague:

“It’s absolutely not the care.data initiative discussed earlier in the year. This is 100K patients, all volunteering and all providing their consent. It’s completely anonymised data in the data set, the only person who would be able to come back to the patient and make a link with the genomics and the diagnosis, is their doctor. We’re creating a database so that NHS researchers and industry researchers, can look at the broad patterns. 90% of patients with that variation, get that disease, this drug works in 50% of patients…It’s completely anonymised, there is no basis on which you could make the link. The only person who can make the link is the NHS clinician.”

Whilst this is NOT the same initiative, it intends to use some of the same data for those people who actively consent to participate in the 100K Genome Project.

The data will be extracted from care.data [which ‘assumes consent’ or requires active opt OUT, depending how you view it] to include longitudinal, phenotype data across a person’s lifetime. I spoke to the Genomics England media team last autumn, 2013, which confirmed this intent at that time.

The trouble is for Mr. Freeman [2] and these statements, that the public knows ‘anonymous’ in care.data turned out to not be anonymous at all.  ICO and HSCIC [8] are still working this out. [HSCIC has just published its first review of pseudonymisation review 9] It was discovered that far from being released only to clinicians and researchers, our hospital data has been shared with all sort of unexpected third parties, without consent. [see the Partridge Review]. This surprised and shocked many, to public outcry and the resultant loss of trust [15] in the programme has yet to be rebuilt. So some listeners may well and understandably have had concerns that their data may be used for purposes to which they have not agreed.

Some say that genetic data by its very nature, despite stripping data identifiers, cannot be non-identifying, or stay that way:[16]

“It only takes one male,” said Yaniv Erlich, a Whitehead fellow, who led the research team. “With one male, we can find even distant relatives.” [Jan 2013]

“If they choose to share that’s a very admirable thing because by sharing freely, progress for everyone is accelerated, and if someone is not comfortable we should respect that too and find ways for them to still participate in research,” he said.

What are the next steps – or should we expect, one giant leap?

As regards care.data from all,  it is I believe reasonable,  that we should we ask: how we should expect our care.data to be used, and trust for what restricted purposes it will be extracted and stored for the future?  What mechanisms will separate consent for care.data commissioning from this kind of research? How will citizens trust this data sharing now as the Department for Patients and transformation care.data proposals seem still open ended in scope in particular for social care [17], and alongside other ever widening government data sharing? [18] How will the public know where the future boundaries of care.data scope creep lie?

If anything has been learned from care.data to date it must be this: We should  continue to ask for more public involvement in policy and planning,  not just the post-event PR if the state wishes to ensure success and prevent surprises. What happens next for this data programme, and for our national programme of genomics, 100K?

{Part two continues here}

******

[1] “It’s a hugely ambitious project, it’s on a par with the space race how Kennedy launched 40 years ago.” [from 2:46.30 BBC Radio 4 Int. Sarah Montague w/ George Freeman]

[2] Downing Street Press Release 1st August – genomics https://www.gov.uk/government/news/human-genome-uk-to-become-world-numb

[3] 6th December “Transcript of a speech given by Prime Minister at the FT Global Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Conference” [https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-speech-on-life-sciences-and-opening-up-the-nhs]

[4] 10th December 2012 DNA Database concerns Channel 4 http://www.channel4.com/news/dna-cancer-database-plan-prompts-major-concerns

[5] Wellcome Trust- comment by Jeremy Farrar http://news.sky.com/story/1311189/pm-hails-300m-project-to-unlock-power-of-dna

[6] Strategic Priorities in Rare Diseases June 2013 http://www.genomicsengland.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/GenomicsEngland_ScienceWorkingGroup_App2rarediseases.pdf

[7] NHS England Board paper presentation July 2013 http://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/180713-item16.pdf

[8] ICO and HSCIC on anonymous and pseudonymous data in Computing Magazine http://www.computing.co.uk/ctg/news/2337679/ico-says-anonymous-data-not-covered-by-data-protection-act-until-its-de-anonymised

[9] HSCIC Pseudonymisation Review August 2014 http://www.hscic.gov.uk/article/4896/Data-pseudonymisation-review

[10] November 2013 ISCG – political pressure on genomics schedule http://www.england.nhs.uk/iscg/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/01/ISCG-Paper-Ref-ISCG-009-001-ISCG-Meeting-Minutes-and-Actions-26-November-2013-v1.1.pdf

[11] Wellcome Trust August 1st 2014 The Genetic Building Blocks of Future Healthcare

[12] Fenyan – For successful technology reality must take precedence over PR http://jenpersson.com/successful-technology-reality-precedence-public-relations/

[13] Next Steps in the Sequence – the implications for whole genome sequencing in the UK – PHG Foundation, funded by the PHG Foundation, with additional financial support from Illumina. The second expert workshop for the project was supported by the University of Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) and the Wellcome Trust http://www.phgfoundation.org/file/10363

[14] Anti-elderly drugs proposals rejected by NICE: Channel 4 http://www.channel4.com/news/nice-assessment-elderly-health-drugs-rejected-contribution

[15] The Royal Statistical Society identifies a Trust Deficit

 [16] The Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass in the WSJ, Jan 2013: “”It only takes one male,” said Yaniv Erlich, a Whitehead fellow, who led the research team. “With one male, we can find even distant relatives.”
[17] Adult Social care ISCG,  2014 http://www.england.nhs.uk/iscg/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/01/ISCG-Paper-Ref-ISCG-009-002-Adult-Social-Care-Informatics.pdf  “Personalisation – citizens should increasingly be empowered to have choice and control over their care; and there will be increasing numbers of people funding their own care and caring for others”

*****

For avoidance of confusion [especially for foreign readership and considering one position is so new], there are two different Ministers mentioned here, both called George:

One. George Osborne [George 1] MP for Tatton, Cheshire and the Chancellor

Two. George Freeman [George 2] MP – The UK’s first-ever Minister for Life Sciences, appointed to this role July 15th 2014 [https://www.gov.uk/government/ministers/parliamentary-under-secretary-of-state–42]

*****

Deeds not Words – Women’s Political and Electoral Engagement

Suffragette
ca 1920 first US election to offer women the right to vote

“A hundred years on, would those suffragist women feel it was worth their collective effort and what it cost them as individuals?”

One hundred years ago today, protestors gathered outside Buckingham Palace under the banner of ‘Votes for Women‘. It was barely a year since the death of Emily Wilding-Davison at the Derby in June, 1913. Possibly the best known of the women who had campaigned in the suffragist movement (1), made famous after she died from her injuries after being trampled by the King’s horse Anmer at Tattenham Corner (2). There is still debate whether it was suicide or accidental.

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage (the NUWSS) had failed through peaceful means to reach their goal despite having the support of men and members’ bills in Parliament. The Sufragette group, the WSPU, were less patient.

Under the slogan ‘Deeds not Words’, the anniversary of Emily Wilding Davison’s death last summer triggered a spate of features. There was an excellent historical account delivered in Parliament, by Dr. Mari Takayanagi (4), which includes how the movement and ‘votes for women’ and first female MPs appeared to have made a difference in Parliament.

“There was a raft of legislation passed throughout the 1920s on issues that affected women’s lives and gender equality – including things like the Sex Disqualification Removal Act which allowed women to practice as lawyers, to enter professions like accountancy and become vets and so on for the first time. There were acts about things like pensions; there were acts allowing women to inherit property; there were acts about things like the age of consent and the sale of alcohol to young people. The list goes on and on.

And none of this kind of thing was passed before the First World War and you’ve got to think it’s because women are part of the electorate now and the male MPs had to sit up and take notice of their views as they hadn’t before.”

However, what has been done since the anniversary to address the importance and relevance of women’s votes today and to encourage electoral engagement before these European and local elections on May 22nd 2014?

A hundred years on, would those suffragist women feel it was worth their collective effort (3) and what it cost them as individuals?

In 2013 my local election saw the Conservative candidate win only 231 votes ahead of UKIP – both candidates attaining over 1000 votes, in a turnout of barely 32%. I spoke to her and others, after that vote, on the subjects of women in politics and the continued importance of women’s rights and activism.

Pat Arculus, is our Conservative County Councillor and an Adult Safeguarding Champion. She said,

“It’s a funny game politics, how can we change it? I’ve just been watching Question Time. They’re arguing about the Health Service. You watch it and think, how is this relevant? Why don’t they just get together and sort it out? I think that may be it, women just want to get things done. You run a family, you have a problem, you sort it out and get on. You don’t spend hours arguing about it. Perhaps that’s what puts women off politics.”

Women today in the UK get to participate in the democratic process thanks at least in part, to the efforts and commitment of those women, not so many generations ago  But do women today see the need for their active participation? According to Mrs. Arculus, her recent experience of electoral engagement is poor.

“There is a complete disaffection. It’s not even apathy. It’s “we don’t like politics”, “it doesn’t make any difference,” and “it doesn’t matter who we vote for.” If our young people hear that, then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I was delivering leaflets and teenagers in the garden, I don’t know if they were of voting age, said, “no no take it back, we don’t vote for them.” I was shocked. As a mother it’s not my place to tell them who to vote for. I’d say to young people, read everything, read them all and make your own mind up. If you go into schools and they run mock elections, they are more active than we give them credit for. They seem to lose it, when they get older and don’t see any point.”

But this comment from a year ago, is what we must encourage the major parties pay attention to now, for the 2015 General election:

“In the last election, my majority fell from 2,800 to 220 and that all went to UKIP. So the public are feeling angry, about something.”

Emily Davison, with a first class degree in English as a man, could have walked into many jobs. In her time, with the equivalent as a woman, she was unable to participate in various circles, and found work as a governess and then, as a result of her activism, was sacked.

The issues of equal employment rights, pay and the role of women in childcare and the home are as current today as they were then. We should not take women’s rights to vote here, or in non-UK locations for granted even in countries we may not expect it. Switzerland granted women the vote only in 1971, and it wasn’t until the 90s in some municipalities. And it is easy to forget that full Parliamentary equality in the UK was not achieved until the Peerages Act of 1963.

Women as MPs, mothers, as managers, all as ordinary citizens need to stay as alert as ever to the equality of rights we have come to expect as the norm, to preserve them and to pass on their worth and relevance to our children. Men need to as well, just as importantly.

Rosamund McNeil, Head of Education and Equality at the NUT told me,

“Sometimes it is taken for granted that women today can have public roles, a life outside the home and can speak for themselves. The suffragettes must be celebrated because it reminds us that change and progress is hard won, and that gains for women must be guarded and not reversed. By looking back, it can generate creativity about how to take forward the debate on women’s inequality. I think their stories can inspire young women today to take control of their lives, to make their voices heard and to defy the stereotypes that remain about what women should say, think and do.”

So are the voices of our young women being included and heard in the current election? The suffragist women campaigned with passion for enfranchisement, for the right to vote and to have woman’s voices heard. One may say today,  to become empowered.

There is a feeling about voting today, that it has lost its power.  Not just for women. As exemplified in Pat Arculus’s story, the feeling that whoever we vote for makes no difference, it’s all the same anyway. Talking to people on the street this week about the European Election on May 22nd, I heard the same things.

Worryingly for me, I’ve found there is an undercurrent of nervous excitement when someone mentions UKIP. In our exchanges in the street, whilst out campaigning to encourage voting participation (of any party) on the European Election, there was a spark in the conversation. People talk openly between each other, of a shake up, of change. Men I spoke with seem quite unconcerned with racism or policy, almost as if acknowledging that there’s a touch of racism and misogyny in all of us, just the ‘real politicians’ are too plastic to let it show. A few men brushed aside hard questions, with a hand flutter of bravado. You get the feeling, there’s almost a hint of ‘at least he’s himself, flaws and all.’

Our respected elder statesmen, have for the most part, left the House of Commons.  We hear staged soundbites and laugh at PR gaffes. But is this to the detriment of politics seeming real? Has spin created an image of politics so worried about what it looks like in the press (5), that to the people it looks like nothing we can connect with or trust? So afraid of making a mistake, that can be exploited by the other side, that the leaders have forgotton who they really are at heart and why we should trust in them?

I feel it is this, which women in England feel disaffected by, why politics seems like a man’s game. But both men and women appear to feel disenfranchised, that mainstream parties are too similar, and anyway, ‘they’re all politicians’. 72% of adults surveyed by Ipsos Mori last June felt in general MPs could not be trusted to tell the truth (10). We don’t trust most politicians, we can’t be bothered with all the game playing and word play behind ceremony and late night debates with party political point scoring. We’ve too much else to do with family, work, volunteering and caring, and everything else women take on and juggle. That’s the impression and sentiments I have been given listening on the street to the middle aged and younger voters.

The risk is, through lack of political involvement we disempower our voice. It is even harder to influence politics from outside. The broader risk is, we also see women falling away from the polling booths as was reflected in some of the women I spoke to this week, who either weren’t aware of the election or did not plan to vote on May 22nd. Political apathy leads to electoral apathy as well.

We also risk passing on that disinterest and lack of knowledge to our children.  As one 17 year old girl told me when I asked how they would feel about voting in the next General Election,

“I don’t know anything about it. I don’t think it matters what you vote for, so I don’t think I would. I thought Tony Blair was Prime Minister till someone told me last week he’d changed.”

Her friend added,

“It’s quite exciting though. Seeing as we would be allowed to (vote) for the first time.”

I’d like to think that spark of excitement, could be spread, and underpinned by some conscious thought, to make a difference in the future. But surrounded by friends or family who are apathetic, without encouragement, it is likely to be put out.

Women who choose not to vote run the risk that we will enable men with the hints of the Farage to become empowered through our inaction.  I’m not saying all men, and all women, revealed this split in  tendencies by any means. Or that support of any party is gender based. But it was a noticeable enough trend in a spread of white, middle class Sussex adults whom I spoke with this week.

As it appears manstream parties which have become ever closer together are not representing the views of many people and are not to be trusted, people are looking at the outer wings of the political spectrum, and looking to people who may be imperfect, but look and sound real.

Overall, people just want a decent life in which people get on, are safe, thrive and look out for one another. Most people, like society to be inclusive. That’s what I picked up in a the majority of opinions. But they don’t appear to believe that common sensed approach is well enough represented in politics. Because party politics skews it.

Just talking to people, it appears a common thread that when it feels that manifestos are meaningless especially in coalition (6), people fail to trust them and the parties who propose them. Unable to be convinced by policies, they are instead attracted to people they believe in. We need people with whom the disenchanted can connect in a sensible way without having to reach out to the extreme margins of politics. We need policies and politicians we can trust. We need genuine, passionate people we can believe in.

We need to see that there is value in our vote and see a need to use it wisely.

As the Rt Hon the Baroness D’Souza reiterated in a presentation (7) last autumn,

“political engagement is not a luxury which can be tacked on to society, once it is sufficiently developed. It is a basic human right which affects our lives and livelihoods.”

You could argue that where people’s priorities are simply subsistence and survival, political empowerment is low on their agenda. Standing up for political and electoral involvement should not be a luxury in the UK, where we might believe developmental barriers do not stand in our way to political engagement. But there are many families and individuals in this country for whom economic security or access to further education are not a given.  Government policies which undermine  either for any parts of society, risk not only harming parity of esteem, but risk undermining the opportunities for full & equal access to involvement in political engagement,  which undermines basic democracy.

The electoral commission, identified (8) that those suffering from social deprivation tend to also be the most politically excluded in society and political disengagement can itself be a form of social exclusion.

A basic lack of trust in our elected representatives, is a sad state of affairs. Combined with a lack of knowledge,  a cynicism about politics is shaping politics in ways which mainstream parties should be taking seriously and acting upon.

According to an Ipsos MORI poll in December 2013, 77% of adults asked agree that they know less about the issues in a European Parliamentary Election than at a General Election. (9)

Public cynicism with politics is nothing new, but it looks like it has become entrenched.  Disenchantment with politicians is shared across supporters of all parties – but is noticeably higher among UKIP voters, who seem most unhappy with the current political scene.” (Ipsos MORI 10)

It might not be sweet in reality to become actively, politically  involved, like Disney’s Mrs. Banks would have us believe of the suffragettes, but we need to remember their ‘Deeds not Words’ of the past. We need to remember why it is still necessary today. And we need to encourage our friends, family and daughters to remember Emily and all the ordinary women who made a difference, so that we may have the choice to vote as a right, one which they had to fight for.

No matter how disenchanted we feel, we are no longer  disenfranchised unless by choice. Women, get out and vote.  Get electorally involved at least. Remember what others sacrificed for us to be able to do so. Well done  sister suffragette!

If the majority of the population don’t vote, we shouldn’t be surprised if the collective majority opinion, is less represented than it should be. That allows the extreme views, over representation.

We need our collective engagement just as much today, as a hundred years ago.

____

Refs:

1. Votes for Women Open lecture slides by Dr. Mari Takayanagi

2. British Pathe – Emily Davison and the Derby

3. BBC bitesize history of the Suffrage movement

4. Dr. Mari Takayanagi full lecture notes

5. Rebranding ed Miliband – The Guardian April 2nd 2014,  Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Michael White, Lauren Cochrane, Lance Price and David Schneider

6. Defending the Coalition will cost the Lib Dems letter from Social Liberal Forum, August 2013

7. Towards Political engagement for women Rt Hon the Baroness D’Souza presentation Nov 2013, Parliament Week 2013

8. Social exclusion and political engagement Research report by the Electoral Commission – Nov 2005

9. Ipsos MORI December 2013 poll. Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,286 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain.

10. Ipsos MORI 2013 Trust in MPs poll, Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,023 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.