27 May 2014

Socialism and the Cleare family

From the onset of socialism, it clearly reduced the opportunities of the most exceptional. This may be illustrated by its effects on the family of my Cleare grandfather (my mother’s father), which was always struggling to overcome the effects of its socially displaced position.

My great-grandfather had been relatively wealthy but had lost his money some time in the late 1800s. His son, my grandfather, had gone to a bad state school, as education was already compulsory up to the age of fourteen. However, at this early stage, it was possible to leave school completely if one had passed the school leaving exam. This my grandfather did at the age of 12. He became a shop boy and, by saving money, a shop owner. He worked very hard, and flourished since he could add up everyone’s bills in his head by mental arithmetic. He worked all hours, and would get up to sell something in the night if someone threw a stone against his bedroom window.

His rate of progress was slowed down when time limitations on shop opening hours were introduced in the early 1900s, so as to prevent people who wanted to from working longer hours in order to make more money.

Before the law was changed there had been demonstrations by shop assistants in favour of restricting opening hours. So people may argue that the introduction of time limitations on shop opening hours was in the interests of the shop assistants, and not done for the sake of reducing the opportunities of exceptional people such as my grandfather.

Whatever the ostensible motivation for the restrictions may have been, they did have a bad effect on my grandfather’s attempts to improve his position. (My mother, being philosophical about it, said that it was advantageous to her, as it meant he took her to the music halls every Sunday.)

It is likely that one effect of the restrictions was to damage my grandfather’s ability to pay for qualifications for his children. My mother went to teacher training college for two years, having said that she was not sufficiently interested in any subject to want him to pay for her to get a degree by spending three years at a university. My mother’s school (East Ham Grammar School) had thought she was so exceptional that she should go to university. In those days it would have been paid for by her father, and it was very rare for a girl to go to university.

My uncle Harry (one of my mother’s brothers), who was the captain of the Essex chess team, was not able to take a degree in spite of his father having announced, ‘Harry is going to be a lawyer.’

Uncle Harry later won a university scholarship in a national competition for local government employees, but did not take it up, out of a very realistic fear that he might lose his job as head of a local government department if he took leave of several years to take a degree. (In his case, the government would have paid his university fees.)

My grandfather gave my parents a small house when they married, and might have been able to do more to alleviate the pressures on my father, both before and after their marriage, if he had been better off, which he might well have been without the restrictions on shop opening hours.

Clearly several people with exceptional ability were involved. My grandfather himself, my mother, my father who was brought into the family circle by his association with my mother, my uncle Harry (my mother’s brother), and myself. The restrictions on shop opening hours and shop employees, and also the introduction of rent controls which gave tenants security of tenure at controlled rents, were very damaging for my grandfather’s attempts to rise to a position more comparable to that which his father had lost.

If his attempts to improve his position had been less hampered, he might well have been able to pay for degrees for some or all of my mother, my father and Uncle Harry. Then I might have gone to private schools, and been saved from exposure to the state educational system which ruined my life.

My unfunded independent university, which could be publishing analyses of the complex issues involved in the area of social policy, has been effectively censored and suppressed for decades. Meanwhile, misleading and tendentious material on the topic continues to pour out from socially recognised sources.

23 May 2014

Education against ability

copy of a letter to an academic

We never get a break, which is not surprising as modern society is geared against ability. There has been no response to our appeals and invitations for people to come and work here, and for financial and moral support of all kinds.

The idea of preventing people from taking exams ‘too’ young did not come in until after the Second World War. There was a time in the late 1800s when the statutory school leaving age was 14, but it was possible to leave earlier if you had passed the school leaving exam, as my grandfather did, leaving school at 12. At 14 everyone was free to leave, whether or not they had passed the school leaving exam.

Nowadays there is no ostensible minimum age for taking GCSEs (what used to be O-level exams), but they can normally only be taken under the auspices of an educational institution, which may well resist attempts to take exams at an ‘inappropriate’ age.

When I was 12, the majority of the school population left at age 14, without having taken the School Certificate exam, so that only a minority of the population had taken a qualifying exam, which was regarded then as much less important by future employers.

Nowadays nearly everyone has results of qualifying exams that have been taken within the school system, which are regarded as much more important than they used to be, although they are actually far less significant than when a smaller population was taking them.

When I was 14, a law came in restricting the sitting of the School Certificate exam to students of 16 and over. This was reported in newspaper articles, which also mentioned that anonymous ‘representations’ had been made against the change by a number of schools on behalf of their cleverest pupils. I noticed that one of the schools had mentioned a ‘girl of 14 who is awfully good at science’. At the time I thought this could not be me, as I was ‘awfully’ good at all academic subjects. In retrospect, I see that this could well have been me. I suppose it is more noteworthy for a girl to be ‘awfully good at science’ than at other academic subjects.

No concern was expressed by the articles about possible harm being done by holding anyone back, nor was there any suggestion that people at different levels of ability might need to do things at different ages. Instead, discussion revolved around the question of how people with nothing to do might fill in their time.

I took the School Certificate exam (later O levels), A levels and S level exams when I was 16, but this was really far too late for me.

We appeal for £5m as initial funding for a social science department in my unrecognised and unsupported independent university. This would enable it to publish preliminary analyses of areas in the history of education that are currently being ignored because they do not fit with the prevailing ideology.

Means-testing of pensions

I am reposting this piece from August 2010, in the light of the recent Daily Mail investigation by Tony Hazell that the government will not be paying the additional state pension to everyone, as claimed. The report also points out that an inflation increase, which certain former employees were guaranteed, will no longer be paid.
When Money Mail contacted the Department for Work and Pensions, it claimed it had never actually paid these inflation increases and the belief stems from ‘an over-simplification’. Yet we have obtained Government statements and leaflets published over many years which state time and time again that it does pay these inflation increases.
It looks as if the policy of cheating national insurance payers, where they think they can get away with it, is alive and well.

* * *

Of course the terrible financial crisis is taken as justification for yet more penalising of the more functional members of society in favour of the less functional (‘we must protect the poor’).

Both the means-testing of pensions, and the charging of those who have some capital assets for ‘care’ either in their homes or NHS prisons, are iniquitous. However the ‘care’ situation is complicated by treating as a ‘benefit’ (the same thing as a person might have paid for with his own money) what is really better described as an oppressive persecution. So I leave discussion of this complex question for the moment and confine myself to the rise of means-testing.

The state pension was initiated well before the rise of the Welfare State circa 1945, and for that reason was conceived as something which would be received as a right by those who had made the necessary number of qualifying payments - which were supposed, always fictitiously, to provide a fund which could be invested, and from the income of which the pensions would eventually be paid.

When I first went to the Society for Psychical Research after being thrown out of Oxford University in 1957, I thought that I must do everything possible to reduce the disadvantage at which I would be in comparison with, say, an Oxbridge professor of physics on reaching retirement age. At the time I did not find it credible that it would take me many years to get back into the right sort of academic position, but until I did, I would want the intervening years to drag down my pension income by as little as possible. Therefore I paid voluntary contributions for the unpaid student years, and went back to paying them each year as soon as I was no longer receiving a salary from the SPR.

As time passed, I became aware that the hostility to the idea of my working my way back into a suitable career was very great, and perhaps permanently insuperable. I continued every year, without fail, to pay voluntary pension contributions both for myself and for anyone who became associated with me and might be permanent. So I was paying four, and maybe five or six, contributions per annum out of what was usually a nugatory income. After forty years my own pension became payable, although I was still having to pay three voluntary contributions a year for other people. But the situation was turning around from being a drain on our pathetic resources to an annual income, although even when all the pensions became payable, the total income would still be very far short of what was needed to run the very smallest residential college cum research department.

Soon after my 40 years of efforts had been rewarded with the then basic state pension, I started to notice statements by officials to the effect that pensions would be allowed to ‘wither on the vine’, implying that no attempt would be made to keep them adjusted to inflation. After I had received my pension for some years the government decided that these pensions should be means-tested, so that help could be given to the ‘poorest’.

I felt (and always have done) pretty close to being the poorest of the poor myself, in being deprived of a salaried career, but I had built up capital over the years. This was because my only way of getting ahead in life had been to provide myself with capital, the gains on which could be used to finance my institutional environment, so that eventually I might be able to do something.

The means-testing was achieved surreptitiously. Annual increments became much smaller than they would previously have been, while an annual ‘Pension Credit’ (initially ‘Minimum Income Guarantee’) payable to those with very little in the way of savings began to increase.

Making the pensions means-tested was retrospective legislation, as everyone paying into them had been led to believe that they would not be means-tested.

Now I receive only the basic state pension, and not the supplement, which is paid to those who had made no attempt to increase their independence by saving money, such as the chronically unemployed who roam the streets of Oxford and draw disability allowances.

I believe it is the case that I would be receiving thirty-six percent more than I am receiving, if I were eligible for pension credit.

The question of ethics with regard to pension policy is one of the issues on which critical analyses could be being published by Oxford Forum if it were provided with adequate funding to do so. Meanwhile, the idea that it is ‘fair’ to penalise better-off pensioners is likely to receive further reinforcement from pseudo-research published by the universities.