Tag Archives: religion

No good reason

News that caught my eye this week included the rise in fines levied on people who take their children out of school. In the UK, a school can fine parents £50 (rising to £100 if not paid in 28 days), if their children are absent without good reason. The spin on this story is that some people are taking their children on foreign holidays in term-time because it’s out of season and so cheaper, and these people are damaging their children’s education.

However, it’s important to note that there are a number of reasons why a family can take a child out of school and will get permission. These include religious observance, weddings and so on. These absences can, of course, damage a child’s education, but the assumption is that these days can’t be changed, whereas a holiday can. Here is the official guidance.

This privileges certain kinds of events (religious festivals, taking part in ‘approved’ sport, wedddings) over others. It’s difficult to see why the state or headteachers should be able to make a value judgement as to which is worthwhile. Should a child be given an authorised absence for a political conference or a protest march? Who decides which religions count? What about looking after family members? One can see the puritanical hand of government here – work and education good, leisure bad – and also the audit culture: some absences count against the school’s attendance record and some don’t and schools don’t want bad statistics.

And when it comes to justice, it also raises the question, ‘what is freedom?’. Yes, theoretically all parents could choose to take holidays out of term time. But many can’t afford to. Perhaps there is greater harm in a child never having a holiday away from home than missing some school days. If the government really want to ensure people don’t take their kids out in term time, then perhaps they should force holiday companies to alter their pricing, subsidise poor people’s holidays, or, as a simpler solution, increase the minimum wage and benefit rates /introduce a citizens’ wage.


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Filed under government, News, Statistics and simplicity

Are there ghettos in the UK?

Recent news coverage leads me to ask ‘where are the UK ghettos?’. This is an oft asked question when discussing community relations / cohesion, racism, and more recently terrorism. The pessimistic tell us that we are becoming ever more segregated into ghettos, and others like to emphasise how integrated we are. Both seem to have statistics to back it up. However, one key problem that gets ignored is the choice of the unit of analysis.
As an example, the recent work by Nissa Finney and Ludi Simpson, when garbled by the journalists at least (http://www.guardian.co.uk/religion/Story/0,,1952282,00.html), says that terrorists are no more likely to come from ethnic or religious ghettos than places where people are integrated. The data quoted in the article, however, uses local authority areas as the unit of analysis. This is just crazy: you won’t find ghettos of this size (100,000 to 700,000 people). Ghettos are small places where lots of one kind of people are packed in and surrounded by another kind (by choice or force).
Indeed, if we were to choose the UK as the area of analysis, no-one could live in a ghetto. But if we were to choose a household, almost everyone would (4 white people only equals an all white ghetto, 2 black people equals an all black ghetto).
I point this out in a letter to the Guardian (will it be published?):

Ludi Simpson’s finding that those living in areas with a high number of Muslims are ‘no more likely to become involved in terrorism (Study rejects claim that Muslim areas harbour terrorists, November 20) is entirely expected and in no way refutes Trevor Phillips assertion that maximising integration minimises extremism.
By choosing areas as large as cities, some with populations nearing a million people (e.g. Leeds), he mistakes high numbers of Muslim people for ghettoes. Newham may have a large number of Muslims, but the sheer numbers mean they are spread out: the highest concentrations of Muslims will be surrounded by areas with reasonably high numbers of Muslims. Ghettoes are more likely to occur where there are low numbers of ethnic others, not vice versa, where they are concentrated into a small area, which is surrounded by white areas.
It is true that Beeston, where three of the London bombers lived, has a low number of Muslims (the ward has 6.5% not the 3% mentioned in the article). However, Beeston has neighbourhoods that are a third Muslim (and one small area where 54.5% of the population are Muslim), while others nearby have next to none. It is in these circumstances in which prejudice and intolerance are likely to breed, not highly diverse areas such as Newham, Hackney and Lambeth.

Given that people live their lives around a fairly small locality it makes sense to look at it at this scale. Cities like Leeds, and Stoke where I work, have small numbers of BME people, and they are concentrated in a few small neighbourhoods. It is unlikely that those living in Beeston will look for friends at the other end of the city. In Stoke, the people of the all white estates in the north of the city won’t have friends at the other end. So this local ghettoisation does create divides.
In a very diverse area like Newham (24% Muslim, 34% white, etc. etc.) you are never that far from someone who isn’t like yourself. Yes, there may be pockets of concentrated groups, but these are less out of place because the rest of the borough is mixed. Just by dint of spread, there are no all white areas. In the northern cities however, the rest of the borough is white all over.

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Filed under Statistics and simplicity