Why is the UK suffering from a Labour Shortage?

There are over 1 million job vacancies in the UK in September 2021, but Brexit isn’t the only reason!

There are currently over a million job vacancies in the UK, which is the most since the Office for National Statistics started keeping records!

Vacancies are mainly concentrated in low-skilled, low paid sectors such as:

  • Fruit and Vegetable Harvesting 
  • Care work  
  • Hotel work – cleaning and making beds

The BBC (link above) provide a very handy overview here:

The consequences of Labour Shortages

The Today Programme (R4 Tuesday 14th September) interviewed Ali Capper, the owner of Stocks Farm in Suckley and chair of British Apples and Pears who stated that she had advertised locally for 70 apple and pear pickers, had only 9 applications, of which one had actually followed through by doing the job.

She pointed out that her industry relies mainly on Eastern European seasonal migrant workers from countries such as Poland and Romania, and there are fewer migrants coming to the UK to work – across the fruit picking industry farms are between 10-35% down on their usual labour force.

In some cases, labour shortages are so bad farmers are telling local consumers to come and help themselves, giving away their produce for free as the only other alternative is to let it rot in the fields.

The Today programme also interviewed a guy who runs a business collecting and cleaning laundry from 12 London hotels who says that labour shortages have forced him to reduce the scale of his business – he has had to turn some of his clients down because he can’t get the staff – despite increasing wages from £10 to £15 an hour.

Why are there so many vacancies in these sectors?

Some of the growers themselves blame the government’s immigration policy since Brexit, claiming it is ideological – they refuse to let more people from Eastern Europe and expect companies that traditionally rely on workers from these countries to adapt and recruit locally.  

Analysis from The London School of Economics however suggests that things are a bit more complex. They idenfity the following reasons:

  • Many migrant workers went home during the the Pandemic to be closer to family and now many of them are reluctant to come back, at least partly because of improved opportunities at home – this was a trend BEFORE the pandemic and Brexit!
  • Brexit has made it more difficult for new migrants to come to the UK and it’s reduced the number of people wanting to come here to work because it’s tainted the UK’s image.
  • These jobs are simply too low paid to attract sufficient people to do them!
  • There are still many people on Furlough, reducing the available labour pool though that is set to come to an end shortly.

On further question we might ask is how so many people in Britain can afford NOT to work – the unemployment rate may be historically low, but there are still 3% of the population unemployed, meaning there are sufficient people in the country to do the jobs, but who are presumably able to survive without working.

The New Right might suggest the government needs to make life more difficult for these people shirking work!

Relevance to A-level sociology

These labour shortages illustrate the problems that can happen when globalisation slows down as a result of international migration becoming more difficult (whatever the reasons) and remind us how crucial global flows of labour are for keeping our economy going.

This topic probably isn’t the most relevant to any of the main modules, but it does apply somewhat to the topics of globalisation and migration, the later being relevant to the family module.

It’s also quite a nice one to get students to apply sociological perspectives too, just to get them thinking!

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Not All Afghan Women Feel Oppressed by the Taliban…

If you want an alternative point of view on the Taliban’s take over of Afghanistan, you should try following @janeygak on twitter.

She is pro-Taliban, anti-American, anti-liberal, and very active on twitter – constantly putting out tweets and re-tweets, such as this, stating that she doesn’t care about inclusivity or diversity in the Taliban government…..

And this is her take on capital punishment, she supports it…

NB – the account is semi-anonymous, I’m going with this article from CNN as confirmation that this is a woman rather than a man.

Either way, whatever the gender, it’s a great source to see the perspective of the other – most definitely NOT the mainstream American liberal view of what’s happening in Afghanistan at the moment.

NB – I don’t endorse any of her views, or those she retweets, this is strictly in the interests of giving some exposure to, a voice to someone actually inside Afghanistan, and it should help bust a few myths about how the ‘oppression of women’ works in Afghanistan.

This particular woman certainly isn’t oppressed.

NB – she’s also a bit fan of Bitcoin, in fact she provides a link to her Bitcoin wallet in her profile, and the reason she supports this cryptocurrency is because it’s a means whereby countries such as Afghanistan can break their dependence on US Aid and the US dollar more generally.

There’s a lot of commentary on how the Western media misreport what’s going on in Afghanistan, this is kind of like the modern day version/ interpretation of Neo-Marxist views of the media, but coming from an Islamist perspective.

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Social Exclusion in British Tennis

So we’ve got a new Wimbledon Champion in waiting in the form of Emma Radacanu – but don’t get too excited, she doesn’t break the trend of the English Middle Class Norm. .

For a start, Radacanu grew up and started playing tennis in Canada, where social class is much less entrenched, and in any case her mother (Chinese) and farther (Romanian), neither of whom are from Britain originally, and both of whom work in Finance, are firmly part of the global middle class, who just happen to be resident in Britain ATM.

So she just carries on the middle-class tradition in British Tennis…. all the way back as far as I can remember until Tim Henman who was quintissentially middle class – home counties, dad a solicitor, privately educated, own tennis court in his back garden.

No, it seems that elite tennis just isn’t for the working classes.

There’s an interesting study from 2008 that explored why this is: Social Exclusion in British Tennis: A History of Privilege and Prejudice.

It explores the history using a literature review and ethnography in one local tennis club, and it’s the later I find the most interesting.

The author found that members of the club would enforce a set of social norms beyond playing the game that worked to exclude non established members – for example it was frowned upon to not have a drink after a game, but in the bar established members rarely spoke to newer members.

Appropriate etiquette was also a big deal, meaning appropriate middle class norms of behaviour.

It’s noted that the grass courts were kept open for any member and their children to be able to play on during the summer, but these were heavily policed by senior middle class women, and children had the lowest status in the club, they were hardly encouraged to play.

The ethnography doesn’t extend to professional tennis, which may well be class-neutral, but the point is, tennis clubs are one of the few means whereby people without their own tennis courts at home are going to be able to get into tennis, and this local tennis club blocked ordinary children from being able to do this.

The primary function of this club seemed to be for middle class women to exercise their power and status over others, through ignoring and excluding those they deemed to be inferior, which was pretty much anyone not like them.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is quite useful for illustrating aspects of cultural capital theory and yet another reminder of how social class permeates so many aspects of British life.

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An end to U.S. Nation Building, but what does that mean?

A criticism of ‘optimist’ views of globalisation

Along with the withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Afghanistan last week, President Biden also announced an end to ‘Nation Building’ as part of its foreign policy.

This topic should be of interest to anyone studying globalisation and global development, as this policy shift will have global implications.

What does and end to Nation Building Mean?

Broadly speaking and end to nation building means the U.S. will no longer be invading foreign countries and keeping troops and advisers stationed in those countries for the long term with the intention of establishing ‘liberal democratic’ (sceptics might say pro-American )governments.

This is what the U.S. tried to do with Iraq and Afghanistan following the September 11th 2021 bombings, but now it seems that the case of Afghanistan has firmly put paid to the idea that America can successfully intervene and help to engineer ‘regime change’. If can’t do so after 20 years, it seems unlikely staying around any longer would have made any difference, especially when the Taliban took power so swiftly following news of the U.S. withdrawal.

So what does this mean in terms of globalisation?

This is certainly evidence against so called ‘optimist’ views of globalisation – America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan suggests its power globally is in decline, and it has less capacity now than ever to ‘export Western models of democracy abroad’.

However global pessimists might remind us that this won’t necessarily mean an end to U.S. military involvement in the region, or elsewhere in the world – it could just mean a shift to more covert forms of drone strikes on militants, and more chaos abroad, meted out from a distance by the United States.

Just about the only thing that is certain is this makes the world an even more uncertain an unpredictable place than ever!

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The Economic and Social Costs of Crime

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This topic is an important part of the Victimology topic, which students of A-level sociology will study as part of the Crime and Deviance option in their second year of study.

The Economic and Social Costs of Crime in England and Wales

The Home Office produces an annual report on the Economic and Social Impacts of Crime, summarising the impacts of crime in England and Wales. The latest report was published in 2018, reflecting on the cost of crime in 2015-16.

The report notes the following costs:

  • The overall cost to individuals for 2015-16 was £50 billion.
  • The overall cost to businesses was £9 billion
  • Violent crime accounts for 75% of the total costs of crime to individuals, but only one third of crimes are violent crimes.
  • Homicide (murder) is the crime with the greatest overall cost, at just over £ 3 million per incident
  • Rape (to put it bluntly, but this is the words of the Home Office, has the highest ‘unit cost’ for non-fatal crimes – at just under £40 000 per incident.

TBH this is one of more bizarre tables I’ve seen…

How the Cost of Crime is Calculated

The Home Office includes all of the following when working out costs:

  • Value of property lost or damaged
  • Physical and emotional damage to the individual
  • Lost output as a result of being a victim
  • Health costs
  • Policing and Criminal Justice costs (which will include prison)
  • Costs of preventing crime (such as security measures).

So if we take into account all of the above, we can see why murder has such as high unit cost – all that lost output from the victim and the cost of keeping the murderer in jail for over a decade (most murders are caught).

Limitations with this data

There are limitations with measuring some of the costs of security – the Home Office uses the revenue of cyber security companies to calculate this for example, but I guess it doesn’t take into account specialists companies have to take on to install and maintain cyber security operations.

It might take into account emotional costs – but what about the costs of ‘fear of crime’ – which the media makes sure doesn’t correspond to the actual risks of crime, which could be creating more anxiety disorders which in turn is linked to a reduction in economic output?

Finally, some of this sounds a bit harsh, such as putting a financial figure on the cost of being a victim of rape, it somehow doesn’t quite get to the ‘real’ cost, maybe?!?

What is Global Britain?

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What will be Britain’s post-Brexit role in the world?

Does leaving the EU mean we are now free to forge more truly ‘global relationship’ with other countries and regions in other parts of the world?

This is an important question for students studying the A-level option in Global Development and should be of general interest to any student studying globalisation.

The Integrated Review

In March 2021 the UK Government published what has become known as the ‘Integrated Review‘ which considered what Britains’ post-Brexit role in the world might be in the future.

The full title was the natty: ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy’.

Boris Johnson and other pro-Brexit politicians are necessarily optimistic about the capacity of the Britain to still be influential in global politics, and take a leading role in the areas of climate change, science and technology and diplomacy, but how realistic are these goals?

World leaders in Science and Technology

The development of Covid-Vaccines has demonstrated that Britain is the world leader in genetic sequencing and the development of new vaccines, and we are world leaders in the life-sciences more generally.

However, ironically, a lot of our funding for scientific research has been cut now we have left the EU and the British government isn’t going to make up the short fall.

And besides life-sciences there is serious competition from other countries in most other fields of science and technology.

So while we have our ‘niche’ at the moment, this future role is far from guaranteed.

Climate Change

Britain is hosting COP26 in Glasgow in November, and the integrated review puts tackling climate change at the top of its priorities list.

Britain has a reasonably good track record on reducing emissions and could be well placed to bring other countries on board in more global efforts to deal with climate change.

International Aid

We are still one of the largest aid donors in the world, but the government recently announced it was cutting the aid budget from 0.7% of GPD to 0.5% of GPD, and this will have immediate consequences in the countries whose aid budgets are reduced.

It seems like a terrible time to have cut the aid budget if we wish to have a credible claim to this being one of our main roles in the world.

We have also recently forged a partnership with Indian companies who manufacture our vaccines in India

A world leader in diplomacy

The report points out that Britain is one of the best connected nations on earth – it has a seat in every global institution and strong diplomatic ties with many other countries.

There is scope for the UK to become a world leader in settling conflict and solving global problems.

Although this is maybe a bit vague?

Human Rights

Britain has long been a haven for those seeking refuge from oppressive regimes (at least ever since after colonialism when Britain was the oppressive regime) and IF we were to shun China and Russia we could take on a role as a defender of civil liberties, although the government’s draconian response to Covid-19 suggests we are a long way off being a model in this regard.

Foreign Policy as a response to China

Analysis has suggested that the whole of the Integrated Review is a response to China’s increasing power.

It seems that the general gist is to forge better relations with China and acknowledge they exist – hence the current 20 000 mile round trip being made by

HOWEVER, foreign policy in the future seems to be more about fostering relations with other powerful countries and leaving China (and Russia) on the other side of the equation.

We are actively pursing more commercial ties with India for example, and huge numbers of Indian students are increasingly coming to study in UK Universities, while decreasingly so from China.

We also invited India, South Korea and Australia to the G7 meeting we hosted in June 2021 and there is talk of expanding this to the G10.

Too little focus on Europe?

it’s worth noting that the report only has 10 lines devoted to Europe, and we’re probably going to have to spend a lot more effort than this dealing with our neighbours in the future!

Sign Posting

While this isn’t the most obvious topic for students of A-level sociology it’s worth considering as part of studying globalisation – probably most relevant to ‘political globalisation‘, and hopefully this post gives you few ideas of how Britain’s role is changing globally.

Sources

This post is mainly a summary of this analysis Podcast from BBC radio 4.

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What is the Cost of Cybercrime?

Cybercrime is one of the most harmful types in terms its economic costs to individuals and businesses.

This reason alone suggests that students of A-level sociology studying the crime and deviance module should pay special attention to to this type of crime.

What are the economic costs of cybercrime?

A recent McAFee report estimated the global cost of Cybercrime in 2019 to be over $1 Trillion.

Accenture does an annual survey on the costs of Cybercrime to business and that revealed that the average cost of malicious attacks is just over $1 million to a company, with several days of downtime as a result.

In the United Kingdom, this report estimates the costs of Cbyercrime to be £27 billion every year.

This compares to the following:

  • The overall size of the global economy in 2020 was around $84 trillion, meaning global cybercrime accounts for 1% of global economic output.
  • Tax dodging by mainly corporations but also wealthy individuals costs the global economy just over $400 billion annually. (Source: The Conversation)
  • In 2015/ 16 the UK government estimated the total cost of ALL crime to be around £50 billion – besides cybercrime, fraud and theft were very high cost crimes, both made much easier with the growth of online networks.

The projected costs of Cybercrime are much greater. according to Cyber Security Ventures the global cost of Cybercrime is set to reach $10.5 trillion dollars by 2025

Analysis/ Evaluation – what to make of these figures?

These statistics suggest that the costs of Cybercrime are growing rapidly, and if you believe the projections, then Cybercrime is by far the most damaging type of crime in terms of financial cost.

However, you need to question the validity of data published by Cybersecurity companies – it is in their interests to exaggerate the extent of cybercrime so they can sell more security software!

Having said that, official statistics themselves show a HUGE increase in the amount of cybercrime in the last five years, and so it’s likely that the costs of cybercrime would have increased too.

I haven’t here distinguished between cyber dependent crime and cyber-enabled crime – I think a lot of the increasing costs are due to old types of crime (fraud and especially theft) becoming more common online (as opposed to face to face) – I guess the internent just makes it easier to attempt to commit these types of crime, en masse (as through phishing) rather than the slower and more risky physical thefts.

The depressing thing is that I find none of this surprising – we live in more networked world, and one unfortunate consequence is that it’s now easier to attempt to commit fraud and theft against faraway victims online – it’s simple rational choice theory – computer networks make it more convenient to attempt crimes such as phishing and identity theft with less risk.

And while I’m sceptical about Cyber Security companies exaggerating the extent of online crime, I’m inclined to agree with them that this is on an uptrend as that’s what official statistics from all around the world suggest, not to mention the increasing amount of anecdotal evidence from people who have been scammed, and TBH I only need compare the amount of phishing emails in my inbox today compared to five years ago to realise the increase in attempted crimes against me, and presumably millions of other people receiving such mail in their Spam folders every day!

It seems it’s more important than ever to take your online security and safety very very seriously.

Changing Family Values in the UK

Attitudes to family life in the UK and Europe have become more liberal in the last decade

Attitudes towards family life have become more ‘postmodern’ and less conservative between 2006/07 and 2018/19.

According to the latest British Social Attitudes Survey which measures ‘family values’ by five questions about whether individuals approve or disapprove about different aspects of family life:

  • remaining childless (disapproval fell from 8% to 6% in the last ten years)
  • cohabitation (disapproval fell from 14 to 8%)
  • having children while cohabiting (out of marriage) (21 to 12%)
  • Being in full time work with children under three (20 to 11%)
  • Divorce with children under 12 (disapproval fell from 28% to 16%)

What this shows us is that individual values about family life have become more Post/ Late Modern over the last decade – many of these indicators suggest more individualisation, more support for freedom of choice and (surprisingly) divorcing even with children.

There is also a clear shift away from New Right views with increasing support for cohabitation (rather than marriage) being a suitable family arrangement for raising children.

Older generations dying explain this shift in values

The British social attitudes survey analyses their findings by comparing family values across five generations – split as follows:

  • Born 1901-1927 – the Greatest Generation
  • Born 1928-1945 – the Silent Generation
  • Born 1946-1964 – the Baby Boomers
  • Born 1965-1980 – Generation X
  • Born 1981-1996 – Millennials
  • Born 1997-2012 – Generation Z

Unfortunately this shift towards more liberal family values hasn’t occurred because of (older) people changing their minds and become more tolerant of family diversity, rather it’s because the older generations have died and their traditional family values have died with them.

This is best illustrated if we compare the family values of the oldest and youngest generations:

In the 2006/07 survey there were still large numbers of the ‘Great Generation’ alive (those born between 1901 and 1927) who had VERY conservative values about the family, however by the 2018/19 survey the youngest member of this generation would have been 91 and the oldest 117, resulting in insufficient numbers for a representative sample, hence this generation disappears from the survey results by 2018/19.

While for Generation Z who would have been too young to take part in the survey ten years ago, they now appear in the latest results, albeit in small numbers (because some would still be too young!) and these have much more liberal attitudes.

You can also clearly see the shift towards more liberal values more generally in the chart above.

One final thing to think about is the changing attitudes to working with young children – more people probably think this is OK because they know people increasingly HAVE to work to pay the bills, so it’s not as if this is a matter of choice for most parents with younger children!

Changing European Family Values

The report also compares changing attitudes to family life to changes in other countries in Europe:

Family values are getting more liberal in EVERY European country except Sweden (but that had VERY low disapproval ratings to start with!), suggesting this is a regional trend, although other countries started from a ‘higher base’ of more conservative family values.

Signposting and Related Posts

This post has primarily been written for students of A-level sociology and is relevant to the families and households module.

It seems to be valid evidence showing a shift towards postmodern values and away from new right views on the family and it is also relevant to marriage and divorce and family diversity topics as these trends help explain the decline in marriage and increase in divorce – they show that more people think it’s acceptable to not be married before starting a family and OK to divorce even if you have younger children.

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Sources/ Find out More

The full BSA report on the family is worth a read!

The problems of controlling global crime

Globalisation has resulted in more global crime in several ways:

  • Increased trafficking of goods across across international waters – illegal drugs is the most obvious, but there is also counterfeit clothes and electronics and the smuggling of alcohol and cigarettes to avoid taxes.
  • Increased human trafficking – for example women and girls being shipped into the sex-industry against their will, but also trafficking for forced-marriage, cheap ‘slave’ labour and the role of organised crime in helping to move migrants across borders to escape dismal situations in their home countries.
  • Various financial crimes – the use of tax havens by wealthy individuals and corporations to avoid tax.
  • Cybercrimes – these are very numerous and include everything from online frauds and scams to cyberwarfare between governments.
  • Environmental crimes – illegally dumping waste in one country can easily seep across borders, especially if toxic fumes become air born.

The above isn’t supposed to be an exhaustive list, it’s just to give you a reminder of the scale of global crimes.

Global Crimes: Very difficult to police!

Different countries have different norms and values and thus different legal systems – what is criminal in one country may not be criminal in another – for example dumping E waste is not illegal in Ghana, even when the toxins from that waste leach into the water and the sky (when people burn plastic to get the metal to sell for example). International Law isn’t well enough established to penalise countries for committing ‘environmental crimes’ and neither are individual nation states.

While there is an international court of justice at the Hague, but this only resides over those accused of the ‘worst crimes against humanity’ (for example genocide), it doesn’t deal with ‘lesser crimes’ such as ‘every day’ trafficking and cybercrime. There is no ‘international court’ for these crimes, it’s down to individual countries to put the criminals on trial, however governments may be unwilling to do this (See below).

Some people in those countries which supply illegal goods may actually see the activity of criminal networks as benefitting their country. A possible example of this is the Mafia in Bulgaria who ship a lot of heroine up into Europe – there will be tens of thousands of people in both Afghanistan and Bulgaria who see themselves as net winners out of the global drugs trades. There may well be a lot of victims (drug addicts) in the West but the British government has limited power to stop the supply of drugs coming from Afghanistan, all it can do is control the supply at its own borders, at customs.

In some cases the governments in those countries where global criminals are based will actually turn a blind eye to their criminal dealings because the net inflow of money benefits that country.

Cybercrimes are especially difficult to police because often the victims (of online fraud for example) don’t know who the criminals are – they remain hidden behind VPNs and so the origin of the fraud may not even be traceable.

Even if agreements can be reached between one or more countries, it takes a lot of resources to build a case against a criminal organisation operating in more than one country, so there are also practical barriers.

Finally, and possibly most simply, there is a lot space out there – both real and virtual, most governments don’t have the resources to put every inch of a border under 24/7 surveillance, let alone keep the huge areas of cyberspace under observation. There’s a lot of ‘dark space’ for crime to take place in our global real and virtual worlds!

How the Media Simplifies Crime

This should be a useful update for students studying both the Crime and Deviance and Media options as part of A-level sociology.

This 2019 blog post from the John Howard Society of Canada is useful here:

The media simplify the coverage of crime in the following ways:

  • Media coverage tends to focus on the individual criminals, and their psychological state, with very little focus on the social context which led to a crime being committed (so very little sociological analysis in the mainstream media!)
  • Crime stories quote the police and victims and their families, but rarely experts in the field – nice link to the news value of ‘personalisation’ here.
  • Coverage is usually ‘emotional’ and often ‘angry’ with little objective analysis of the actual risk of the wider public also falling a victim of the crime featured. As a result, the media spreads an unrealistic fear of crime.
  • Coverage of crime is often associated with only one policy option – harsher punishments for offenders – there is very little discussion of alternatives to punishment, despite the fact that a lot of evidence points to the fact that harsher punishments are not the most effective means of controlling crime.

You can find several examples of this simplification of the crime narrative in the BBC News and crime-focussed documentaries (even though the later are supposed to have more depth and breadth)

  • Documentaries typically take the side of the police – following them around, or having them in as experts in the studio – Crimewatch even encourages the public to phone in and help the police
  • The underlying causes of crime are rarely looked at in the news or crime documentaries – as we will see next term factors such as family breakdown, poverty, child abuse mean that many criminals are themselves victims of an unequal society and a harsh upbringing, but this is rarely considered.
  • You rarely hear from the criminals – they tend to be talked about by experts. One obvious example of this is the issue surrounding the war on terror – have you ever heard the Islamists point of view in the mainstream media? The west has been engaged in a ‘war against Al Queda’ for a decade now – wouldn’t it maybe help our understanding of this war if the BBC had made some attempt to let a radical Islamist at least explain why they think terrorism is legitimate? Maybe just once in the last decade?
  • Where political protest happens, the media tend to focus on the violence done by a fringe minority rather than the issues that are being protested about – focussing on violent clashes between police and demonstrators (if there are any) rather than on the issues and speeches that went on during those demonstrations.