Children on Free School Meals earn less as adults

New research from the Office for National Statistics suggests more support for the long term impact of material deprivation on the educational outcomes and future earnings potential of poorer students compared to richer students.

Analysis of long term data trends by the ONS shows that students who have been in receipt of free school meals are less likely to go onto university and less likely to go onto higher paid graduate jobs as a result, compared to students who have not been in receipt of free school meals.

The researchers compared the earnings of people who were aged 30 between April 2016 and April 2019 (but not published until August 2022), and found that the median income of independently schooled children was twice that of Free School Meals children in state schools…

  • Free School Meals (FSM) pupils had a median income of £17 000
  • Non FSM (State school) pupils had a median income of around £20 000
  • Independently schooled pupils (where there are no Free School Meals) had a median income of around £35 000.

They also looked at what the top 1% of earners were earning….

  • The top 1% of non FSM pupils earned £63 000
  • The top 1% of non FSM pupils earned £85 000
  • The top 1% of independently schooled children earned £180 000.

So ‘class differences’ in earnings are large in the middle (median) and get larger when you get towards the top of income earners, at least at age 30.

This is a useful update for A-level sociology students studying the education module, typically as part of their first year.

You can find details of the full research, analysis and data sets here: ONS: Why Free School Meal Recipients Earn Less Than Their Peers.

Why do Free School Meal Students earn less than Independently Schooled Students?

This longitudinal analysis was able to look at several factors together to try to explain why FSM students earn less at age 30 that non-FSM and independently school students and concluded that the two main factors were:

  • FSM students were much less likely to go to university than their non FSM and independently schooled peers.
  • FSM students had accrued less labour market experience by age 30 than their peers.
  • 5% of the differences in earnings at age 30 remained unexplained.
  • NB the study also noted that it didn’t have the data to explore the role which social and cultural capital and direct class discrimination may have played in the above.

Selected Data from the Study….

IMO this data belongs firmly in the ‘punishingly depressing’ category. For starters FSM kids are around 3 times less likely to go to university than their independently schooled peers…

Only 16.2% of FSM kids go onto university compared to 57.2% of privately educated kids. The differences get larger when we go up to Masters and PhD level…

Possibly even more depressing is the data below….

Graduates from independent schools at age 30 earn twice as much as graduates who had been in receipt of free school meals.

However the differences are smaller once we get beyond degree level…

Limitations of this research study

The primary limitation is that this study uses historical data from 2016-2019 and thus may not be relevant to our current post-16 educational landscape.

The introduction of tuition fees for University and the rapid increase in Apprenticeships over the last five years could mean this situation is already changing.

And as the researchers say they are limited to a relatively narrow set of quantitative data – there is no ‘rich data’ that enables us to measure factors such as the role of cultural or social capital.

But despite these limitations this is another important, if punishingly depressing reminder that by age 30 average independent school pupils are earning as much as bright FSM pupils, so maybe this is yet more support for the continued relevance of the Marxist perspective on education…?

Why has Competition for the Top University Places Increased…?

According to The Guardian, over 10 000 A-level students who are predicted to get three Bs in their A-levels this summer haven’t got a firm offer at any university – they will be relying on clearing.

This is because competition for those top places has increased this year, and there are two main reasons for this it seems…

In the short term, universities were forced to take on more students in the last two years because of grade inflation from Teacher Predicted Grades so they are chock-full already.

Universities have responded to this by increasing their required grades this year, because they don’t want to risk being over-subscribed for a third year in a row. They are simply being more cautious!

In the longer term there are also more 17-18 year olds applying to university now because of the (small) baby-boom in the mid 2000s – those babies are now coming to the age where they are applying for university…

The sad news for today’s younger teenagers is that the competition for places is going to be fierce for a few more years yet because this year’s university application cohort were born in 2005, and that ‘mini boom’ doesn’t peak until 2011….

Of course if the Pandemic doesn’t come back and get responded to with another chosen lock-down then Universities might be able to gradually increase capacity over the next few years to meet the increasing numbers of applicants, it’s not a severe spike after all, just a combination of factors causing a squeeze for this year.

In the meantime if you’re not getting your first choice It might be an idea to take a year or two out, you can always do a degree later on in life, and it’s becoming increasingly questionable whether they are worth doing anyway!

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How has Covid-19 Changed our Work and Home Lives?

During the Pandemic our ordinary lives and norms were suspended because of government mandated rules enforcing Lockdowns and other protective measures agains the spread of the virus.

And it is precisely when our ordinary daily lives are disrupted or suspended that social norms are illuminated, and the Pandemic highlighted some of these, such as our reliance on technology (digital platforms) and gender relations within the household.

Furthermore, the social polices developed in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic reproduced already existing inequalities and power relations.

All of this is according to Will Davis, Professor of Political Economy at GoldSmith’s University, who featured in a recent Thinking Allowed Podcast

Davis argues that the Pandemic shows us the power of the Nation State – what it can achieve when there is political will to spend money (and neoliberalism as usual is suspended!) – as evidenced in the ‘Covid Secure Housing’ scheme – all of a sudden, homelessness was almost eradicated, because it was deemed necessary to get people off the streets.

However for the most part the government’s policy approach during the Pandemic was one of ‘rentier nationalism’ – further blurring the boundaries between the public and private sector by giving generous contracts to companies in managing the Pandemic.

One such example was awarding SERCO the track and trace contract, and there are many more.

This policy, according to Davis was a continuation of several decades of post-neoliberal policies in which the role of the State is to ensure that those with assets can make a profit out of them – this is true for people with houses and for companies too.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t neoliberalism which is more global and free-market, it is the State having more of a role – and in fact this was the case with the political response to the Pandemic which was less global and more national according to Davis – as evidenced in ‘Vaccine nationalism’.

Inequality in the experience of Covid-19

Davis suggests we went through a ‘crisis of space’ during Lockdown with the home the chief weapon in combatting the spread of the virus.

He notes that for those with larger homes and spare rooms, Lockdown was relatively easy, and the wealthy were more able to spend money on technology to transition to home working, for example.

Property prices even increase during the Pandemic, further benefitting the rich!

Meanwhile the poor had a much worse time, and in extreme circumstances where there was overcrowding in multifamily households with share bathrooms, it was even impossible to isolate in family bubbles, meaning higher rates of infections.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a useful update of some very contemporary sociology illustrating how inequalities are relevant to understanding our responses to Covid-19.

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Surviving the Cost of Living Crisis: Case Studies

Qualitative case studies of how real people are managing the Cost of Living Crisis is a useful way to provide insight into the reality of poverty in the UK in 2022, adding some necessary depth to poverty statistics which can be rather inhuman.

A very useful contemporary resource which does just this is a recent documentary from Panorama which aired in April 2022 and is called simply ‘Surviving the Cost of Living Crisis‘.

The documentary follows three working families – two two parent families and one single mum. All the individuals in the documentary have decent jobs and some even bring in the median income in the UK but all are living in relative poverty and having to make difficult decisions around how to spend their money.

One family earns £2000 a month, but after the mortgage, bills and food they are left with £63 a month to spend – which would just about cover a meal out for the family. The father of this family has a 75 mile round trip to work every day and they have found rising fuel prices recently have taken up a lot of their spare cash.

Another of the case studies is a single mum who works part time as a nurse – she can’t work more than three days because she can’t afford the cost of child care – and besides being employed she is dependent on food banks and hand-outs from friends. After her mortgage she is left with £80 a week fork food and everything else for her and her three children.

The documentary shows the dilemma of ‘heating or eating’ with some families having to stretch a few pounds on an electric or gas metre out for several days – expensive key metres don’t help here.

The adults of these families are going without food – one husband eats only one meal a day for example. And this causes stress to older children – who are aware that their parents are going without food and possibly say they are not hungry when they really are in order to make sure their parents eat more.

The documentary does a good job of showing how much stress being in poverty causes is also clearly a good deal of anxiety around future price rises and how they are going to cope.

The Video is available on YouTube here, at time of writing, but I don’t know how much longer it will stay up!

Find our More/ Related Posts

Wealth and Income Inequalities in the UK 

What is Poverty? 

The Extent of Material Deprivation in the UK 

The Effect of Poverty on Life Chances

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Resources for Wealth, Poverty, Income Inequality and Social Class

good resources for teaching wealth, poverty, income inequality and social class. Useful further reading for students studying A-level sociology!

Here you will find links to some contemporary sources for further reading organised into the following categories

  • Annually published statistics and reports
  • News articles from the last five years (often based on the above)
  • Videos and Documentary resources
  • Committed organisations dedicated to studying this specific topic.

I will endeavour to update this list at least every three years, but with so much material already on ReviseSociology.com this might be a challenge!

These resources are intended for students studying an introduction to A-level Sociology – for the main blog posts introducing the topic of social class and inequalities please see the relevant links on the introduction to sociology page.

Annual research studies on income and wealth inequalities in the UK

ONS – Household wealth in the UK (published biannually in January)

ONS – Household Income Inequality (published March every year).

Allianz World Wealth Report (Published October every year).

Social Class and Inequality In the News in 2022

The Heat or Eat Diaries from The Guardian – a varied series written from a mixture of people living in poverty, academics and journalists.

Working class people feel like they ‘don’t’ fit in’ to middle class working cultures – An excellent article from The Conversation based on research into how middle class cultural capital makes working class people feel like they don’t belong in middle class jobs – because of cultural differences rather than their ability.

Covid-19 increased social inequality in the UK – A Revise Blog Post outlining some of the ways in which the Pandemic made society more unequal.

In the news in 2021 and before

Videos and Documentaries on Social Class and Inequality…

Made in Britain

The Made in Britain Series from The Guardian gives video cameras to those who are themselves living with the cost of living crises and supports them to make videos of their own lives. I’m not sure what research method you could call this – video diaries I guess, with technological assistance from professional film editors?!?

Panorama – Surviving the Cost of Living Crisis (2022)

Why are so many people living in Poverty? News Night (2021)

Selected Contemporary Research Studies

How many people are in poverty in the UK? – A nuanced attempt to try and estimate the number of people in relative poverty

How does student debt affect life-chances?Links to education and social class inequalities – and yes, as you may have thought, being in debt because of having to pay fees does have a detrimental affect on your future life-chances.

Poverty is the main cause of violent crime in LondonAnother way in which poverty has a negative influence on life changes, links to the crime topic.

Organisations  

Mainly focussing on UK poverty, for more on Global Poverty see Globalisation and Global Development!

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) – A committed organisation working to solve UK poverty through research and advocacy

Nuffield Foundation – works to improve equality of educational opportunity

The Equality Trust – focussing on research on the harmful effects of social inequality on societies and individuals

The Social Mobility Commission – a government funded (but ‘independent’) organisation which monitors social progress (or lack of it) towards (or away from) social mobility.

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Sociology Applied to #GentleMinions

Shock Horror – groups of older children have been ‘descending’ on cinemas recently to ‘disruptively watch’ the latest Despicable Me Movie – Minions: The Rise of Gru.

These children have been meeting up at cinemas in groups as large as 50, dressed in suits and calling themselves ‘Gentleminions’ and filming themselves getting up to various antics such as walking in slow motion through cinema lobbies with hands held in a particular ‘pointy finger’ despicable me pose and being rowdy during viewings of the movie – doing things such as cheering when Gru appears on screen…

Some of these children filmed these antics and uploaded them to TikTok where some videos received hundreds of thousands of views, some into the millions.

Cinema staff and management weren’t so amused by the actions of the ‘gentleminions’ with some cinemas banning groups of older children in suits from buying tickets for the movie, and with some parents of younger children saying they were scared by these antics.

These acts of minor deviance by young people should be of interest to anybody studying the Crime and Deviance aspect of sociology – as such disruptive and rowdy behaviour is clearly deviant in the context of a cinema where the social norms are that viewers keep themselves to themselves in the lobby are and are quiet during screenings.

But there’s a lot more Sociology we can apply to this contemporary event!

Sociology Applied to the #GentleMinions

First off – I call them older children because I can’t quite bring myself to call them young men, which in terms of their biological age at least some of them are. (At least I think most of them are 16-20 judging by their physical appearance, it’s hard to tell – the older I get the younger the young seem to be!).

So the first sociological concept this event reminds me of is the ‘social construction of childhood‘ – it reminds me that childhood is something flexible, and in this case we have young adults actively choosing to regress into a state of childhood for an evening.

Think about it – these people would have grown up with the ‘Despicable Me’ Franchise, being actual biological children when most of the movies were screened – and now, once the five year wait is over for the next instalment they want to regress back into that time that was probably more comforting for most of them!

So this is an illustration of the blurring of the boundaries between adulthood and childhood and in this case of adults choosing to act like children for a short while.

A Thoroughly Postmodern Event!

Obviously (hopefully) Despicable Me and the Minions are not real, they are a media construction, a cartoon.

This event couldn’t have happened without the media – and probably wouldn’t have happened without TikTok.

These kind of stunts are much more appealing to get involved in if your going to feature in a video that gets hundreds of thousands of views, after all!

An attempt at Belonging…?

Becoming a #GentleMinion, engaging in minor disruptive stunts in the cinema, filming them and uploading to TikTok is a pretty accessible way of feeling like you’re part of of something larger.

Think about it – the Minions ‘belong’ – they are like a very large community that work together, for the most part, for shared purpose, something that it is somewhat lacking in our real world postmodern society that is increasingly divisive and fractured.

But just by wearing a suit and pranking in the cinema for an evening and being part of a TikTok upload you get to be part of a global ‘movement’ that for a fleeting moment share their love of this movie.

It may be a fleeting and desperate attempt at belonging, but I kind of get it – and it’s harmless enough.

A minor moral panic….?

They’re hardly the mods and rockers but these cinema antics were/ are deviant and they did upset people and this did cause a response from the cinema-authorities, who banned some youths in suits from watching the Despicable Me movie…

So we have present three aspects of Stan Cohen’s classic moral panic theory….

However, in terms of degree of deviance these events are clearly not that harmful, and more interestingly it’s the youths themselves sharing their antics on TikTok – not the mainstream media exaggerating how deviant or disruptive they were.

#GentleMinions – Final Thoughts…

Personally I see this as relatively harmless youthful antics, not great for young kinds watching the movie with their parents, but in the grand scheme of things this is on the low end of social harm!

And this is hardly a challenge to the social order – if anything it reinforces it – it’s young people saying how much they like to consume mainstream media – I mean if any of these people were a threat to existing power structures they’d be out campaigning with a real social movement and probably wouldn’t spend so much time identifying with a cartoon!

How has increased choice in personal life affected family structures in the UK today?

This question recently came up on the June 2022 A-level sociology exam paper two, the families and household topic.

It was one of the 10 mark questions which linked to an item, as follows:

‘People have more choice today than in the past over who they can be in a personal relationship with. They also have more choice when a relationship ends.

This increased choice in personal life has affected family structures in the UK today’.

Then the question: Applying material from Item C, analyse two effects the increased choice in personal life has had on family structures in the UK today.

How to answer this question

It should be quite easy to spot the two hooks in the item:

  • choice over WHO one can be in a relationship with.
  • choice over when the relationship ends.

So these are going to form the basis of your two points and the fact that the question refers to ‘family structures’ in the plural gives you plenty of options to develop each point.

Although be careful not to repeat yourself too much!

AND REMEMBER – THERE ARE NO MARKS FOR EVALUATION IN THESE 10 MARK WITH THE ITEM QUESTIONS!

Suggested answer

The answer below should get 10/10.

The fact that there is more personal choice over WHO one can be in a relationship with (as it says in the item) means there is more diversity in partnerships today.

In the 1950s the vast majority of couples were heterosexual leading to the norm of the cereal packet family, one man, one women and their children.

With the increasing acceptance that sexuality is a matter of personal choice, however, there are now a higher proportion of openly gay couples, however despite the law changing so that adoption agencies cannot discriminate against non-heterosexual couples, gay couples are still much less likely to have children than heterosexual couples, which is a change in family structure.

It’s not just sexuality over which people have more choice – people are more free today to get involved intimately with people from other ethnic backgrounds, meaning there are more ethnically mixed families today.

And people can also choose more long distant relationships with people in other countries, meaning families are more stretched globally.

It’s not just about partners either, people have more choice over whether or when to have children, meaning there are more childless families.

A second way people have more choice in relationships is ‘when to end them’ as it says in item C. This ties into Ulrich Beck’s concept of the negotiated family – because relationships are now a choice, people have to spend more time negotiating the rules of family life, such as whether they should get married and what ‘structure’ that family might take (how many kids to have, or whether to have them at all, for example, which has resulted in more diversity of family structures with increasing amounts of co-habitation, and childless families for example, but also still many families having children.

It also ties into Giddens concept of the pure relationship – people are in a relationship for the sake of the relationship, not because of tradition or a sense of duty – this means, because being in a relationship is now a choice, that they can end if just one person isn’t happy.

This in turn can lead to more relationship breakdowns and there are more step-families today and complex relationships such as the Divorce Extended Family identified by Judith Stacey – where it is mainly women who make the effort to keep in touch which ex-partners and children.

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How has Increased Life Expectancy Affected the Experience of Childhood…?

Life expectancy in England and Wales has risen dramatically over the last 100 years, increasing from around 55 in 1920 to 80 today for men and from 60 to 83 today for women. …

This means that children who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s would, on average, not have had the experience of being around many people over the age 60, whereas today, on average, children will experience the company of people aged 60-85 as ‘the norm’.

I am talking here of course just about ‘averages’ – experiences will vary from family to family.

For those parents who have children at a younger age, say in their 20s, their children stand much more chance of experiencing a four generation family, something which would have been almost unheard of in the 1920s.

However, three generation families would still have been common 100 years ago because people typically had babies much earlier, meaning children would still have experienced grandparents, but those grandparents would have been younger, in their 50s rather than in their 70s which would be the case in the typical three generation family today.

I think with the increase in family diversity, the increase in life expectancy would mean different experiences with grandparents for children depending on the type of family… for those parents who have children young then children are far more likely to experience grandparents in good health for their entire childhood and maybe only have to deal with their death as older teenagers, whereas experiencing the death of a grandparent during childhood would have been much more common 100 years ago.

HOWEVER, for those parents who have children later, in their 40s, probably dealing with the death of a grandparent would be more likely.

A possible negative affect of the ageing population on the experience of childhood is that parents who have to care for their ageing parents may not have as much time for their children, especially if end of life care is dragged out for several months or years as can be the case with degenerative diseases which are more common in old age.

The experience of childhood may also have been indirectly affected by wider social changes brought about by the ageing population – as society has refocussed its resources towards caring for the old (some might even say pandering to the old) there are relatively fewer resources left for children, so funding in education suffers as does Higher Education with students now having to pay for it themselves.

So as children get older they may start to feel like society is set up for the old and they get very little back in return – other than facing a life of working for 50 years as young adults in order to pay for the ever increasing ratio of old to young (the ‘dependency ratio’).

We kind of saw this with the Covid-19 pandemic – society was focused on protecting the very old while schools just closed – the children suffered for the sake of the old – the experience of childhood here was one of blocked opportunities and increased fear and uncertainty caused, effectively by the government’s choice to put the over 70s first – had the Pandemic happened in the 1920s when there were hardly any over 60s alive anyway society wouldn’t have had to shut down to protect them, because the risk of dying from covid for the under 60s was significantly lower.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This question cam up in the June 2022 families and households paper two exam.

This is a response I free wrote in around 15 minutes to give students some ideas about how they might have answered it. NB it’s not formatted like an answer to a 10 mark question should be, but there is enough information in here to top band I would have thought – there are certainly TWO ways fleshed out!

Sociological Perspectives on the Cost of Living Crisis in the UK

Inflation in the UK hit 9% in April 2022, mainly due to the rising cost of energy prices and food prices, the main cause of which was supply-line shocks caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, but also because of the longer term disruption to business caused by two years of the Covid-19 pandemic….

At least that’s the ‘official analysis’ of the causes of the cost of living crisis by the government in this recent report: ‘Rising Cost of Living in the UK‘ but while it’s hard to deny the fact that prices of basic goods and services are rising, some sociological perspectives may well go a little deeper than this in their analysis of the causes of this crisis, while others fail to explain its existence altogether…

Globalisation… and the declining relevance of Nation States…

EVEN if we look deeper at the cost of living crisis than official lines of analysis, it is still the case that global events are affecting Britain here.

Britain has very little control over the global forces that are influencing rising prices.

Moreover the British Government seems incapable of doing anything to help people. This of course is because we have a neoliberal government in power who believe in helping people as little as possible, especially the poor but even if we had a more left wing government in power it wouldn’t be able to do very much to soften the blows of the increasing cost of living other than taking on more debt by bailing people out.

This seems to be a case of Nation States being too small to deal with global problems as Anthony Giddens has pointed out in the past.

Marxism applied to the rising cost of living….

As with many ‘applications’ of ‘Marxism’ I’m applying some Marxist concepts here in a broad sense!

Most obviously Marxists would remind us that this cost of living crisis is affecting the poorest MORE than the richest – the top 10% will feel the effects of the crisis much less than the bottom 10%.

And for the bottom 10% of households by income a 10% immediate increase in the cost of living (NB it’s not just energy and food, rents have also gone up) really is a matter of choosing between ‘eating or heating’.

And Marxists would go deeper than this – reminding us that a crisis such as this was only a matter of time because Capitalism is ultimately doomed to failure. Even without the Pandemic and the War in Ukraine this rising cost of living affecting the poor more than the rich would have happened eventually, or Capitalism would have had some other ind of crisis which resulted in recession and more inequality.

In a world of finite resources and increasing population, with more developing countries developing large middle classes (such as India) this simply pushes the prices of everything up – labour, goods, resources, everything is more expensive – eventually the exploitation of the poor that cheap consumer items and food and energy are based on must come to an end.

At some point we have to start thinking about how we live in a post-capitalist world according to Marxists.

‘Micro Perspectives’ applied to the Cost of Living Crisis

This is an interesting article from the Conversation which argues that the government needs to measure poverty depth more accurately in order to effectively tackle the cost of living crisis.

It points out that not all people living in poverty face the same challenges – for example life tends to be harder for people with children rather than single people.

It also points out that government help needs to be more targeted on those that need it most – so far only 1 in 3 pounds of relief money has gone to the poorest 50% of households.

Perspectives which might struggle here..

Functionalism would struggle here, this is just dysfunctional! And clearly people aren’t all in this together!

And PostModernism – there’s nothing hyperreal about this, it’s very REAL, about energy and food prices costing enough and people going cold and hungry.

Although maybe IF people are living in hypereality this could help get them through – maybe the government jus needs to subsidise people’s Netflix subscriptions…?

Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This topic is most likely to be useful in the Theory part of the theory and methods exam – it is a contemporary event that can be used to illustrate understanding of sociological concepts and perspectives.

Decades of Racist Immigration Policy

A recent report produced by the Home Office (by an unnamed historian) has found that the Windrush Scandal was caused by decades of racist immigration policies.

In case you don’t remember it, the Windrush Scandal first came to public attention in 2018 when it came to light that 83 ethnic minority immigrants to the UK had been wrongly deported, with some of them having been living in the UK (legally) for several decades.

A larger, and still unknown number of victims were subjected to Home Office interrogation over their legal immigration status in the UK and had their lives seriously disrupted as a result, some of them losing their jobs.

Previous analysis of the causes of the scandal have pointed to the ‘hostile environment’ towards immigrants which existed under the Home Office when Theresa May was in charge, but the report goes further and suggests a ‘deeper cause’ of decades of institutionalised Racism at the Home Office.

This article in the Guardian outlines the history of some of the racist immigration policies, some of which included quotas for Black and Asian people but not white people (so overt restrictions on the numbers of immigrants from the Caribbean but NOT from the USA or Europe, for example)….

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This update is a useful addition to the migration topic within the family. It shows how government policies influence the type of people that are allowed to move freely between different countries.

It might also help to explain (if you believe the stats) the higher levels of poverty, educational failure, expulsion and crime among Black Caribbean children – the analysis above points out that the experience of black migrants to the UK (and their children) has been very different (for the worse) than that of white people, resulting possibly in blocked opportunities.

This is also of more general application to any question about inequalities in British Society.

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