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Jailing Drill Musicians – justified, or a moral panic?

In January two ‘drill’ musicians from the Brixton group 410 were effectively jailed for playing a particular song: ‘Attempted 1.0’. Two artists from the group, Skengdo and AM, both received 9-month suspended sentences for performing this song.

Here it is with lyrics:

It’s still up as of 20th Feb…. I don’t how much longer it will remain up, but while it does it’ll give you a pretty good idea of what the authorities may have deemed to offensive: the strap-line for a start… ‘attempted… should’ve been a murder’ and then all the various references to guns and people getting knifed.

The problem is, by performing this song 410 weren’t technically engaged in an illegal act. The laws preventing inciting of violence only apply to specific acts, and this is not the case with this song.

The two artists were actually found guilty of breaking a criminal behaviour order (CB0) that had forbidden them from mentioning death, injury or rival drill crews in their songs. The nine-month suspended sentence is for breaking the CBO not inciting violence, which they weren’t technically doing by performing their song.

The authorities have criminalised this non-criminal act for these particular artists.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a good example of a ‘right realist’ policy in action – In fairness to the authorities, there has been a recent increase in knife crime, and this is all part of the response to that. I imagine most of the public would agree with this harsh treatment.

And it’s fair to say that some Drill songs which have been put up on YouTube do have specific references to gang’s ‘score cards’ and specific knife and gun and attacks. So there is a real basis for all of this it’s not just hyperreal. 

Moral Panic Drill.png

However, it also relates to the labelling theory of crime – here we have a legal act (performing a song) which is turned into an illegal act for this specific band by the actions of the authorities. Maybe this is an unnecessary moral panic about this form of artistic expression?

What ‘blaming Drill’ for the increase in knife crime fails to take account of is all of other underlying factors which result in inner city violence – such as funding cuts, relative deprivation, poverty, and structural inequalities which stretch back to the 1980s. 

This is also a new development in the censorship of particular cultural forms: using ASBOs to effectively restrict certain forms of freedom of speech. What’s next I wonder:

– Banning violent video games?
– Preventing campaigners discuss poverty and inequality?
– or climate change?

It’s highly unlikely that Criminal Behaviour Orders are going to be used to stop people spreading Fake News or Politicians lying to us.

Sources

The Guardian

Vice – A nice article on the moral panic over Drill. 

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Hungary’s tax break for breeders

Hungary’s Right Wing government recently announced a new social policy exempting women who have more than four children from income tax for life.

There are also other financial incentives designed to encourage families to have more children – such as loans of up to £27,000 which will be partially or fully written off if the couple go on to have two or three children.

The stated aim of the policy is to reverse the country’s population decline so that Hungary does not have to rely on migrant workers in the future.

The Prime Minister, Victor Orban stated that women having fewer and fewer children was a problem all over Western Europe, and that the solution tended to be to increasingly rely on immigrants in the future, to replace the ‘missing’ native children. Orban believes that Hungarians would rather have Hungarians working in the future rather than immigrants.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is an unusual example of a right wing (New Right) policy explicitly designed to encourage marriage and the more babies being born (it seems within nuclear families).

At the same time it is pro-nationalist and and anti-immigration, hence anti-globalisation.

I guess from a narrow minded ‘Hungary first’ Nationalist perspective if makes sense in a ‘defend our boarders’ sort of way.

Unfortunately in itself it’s going to do nothing to actually stem the flow of migrants to Europe from poorer non-European countries, and neither is it going to do anything to curb global population growth – surely from a globalist/ environmentalist perspective what we need is wealthier countries having fewer babies, and more migrants from areas where the birth rate is still high to fill jobs in developing countries in the future?

This is a great example of an unusual family policy, quite extreme in nature, and also a good example of how short-sited Nationalism is.

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Depression leads to more social media usage, not the other way around!

Recent longitudinal research from Brock University in Canada suggests that depression leads to people spending more time on social media, rather than those who spend more time of social media being more likely to develop depression.

Facebook depression.png

This study contradicts many of the ‘moral panic’ type headlines which suggests a link between heavy social media use and depression. Such headlines tend to be based on studies which look at correlations between indicators of depression and indicators of social media use at the same point in time, which cannot tell us which comes first: the depression or the heavy social media use.

This Canadian study followed a sample of teenagers from 2015 (and university students for 6 years) and surveyed them at intervals using a set of questions designed to measure depression levels and another set designed to measure social media usage and other aspects of screen time.

What they found was that teenage girls who showed signs of depression early on in the study were more likely to have higher rates of social media usage later on, leading to the theory that teenage girls who are depressed may well turn to social media to make themselves feel better.

The study found no relationship between boys or adults of both sexes and depression and social media.

This is an interesting research study which really goes to show the advantages of the longitudinal method (researching the same sample at intervals over time) in possibly busting a few myths about the harmful effects of social media!

 

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Tax evading millionaire footballers – nice evidence for the Marxist view of crime

Jose Mourinho, the ex-Manchester United manager, recently pleaded guilty to tax fraud in Spain, and accepted a 2 million Euro fine. He was also sentenced to 12 months in jail, but as part of a deal made with the prosecutors will not actually serve any time.

He had used offshore companies to disguise his earnings from image rights evading 3.3 million Euros in tax.

Elite tax evasion.png

Mourinho is not the only footballing celebrity to have face tax evasion charges:

In January, Cristiano Ronaldo was fined 18.8 million Euros in a similar case, again paying to keep himself out of jail.

Lionel Messi was fined just under 2 million Euros back in 2016, for tax evasion dating back to 2007-9.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a straight forward example which supports the Marxist view of crime… Marxists state that all classes commit crime (here the ‘celebrity class’, and they also state that there is not equality before the law… and here all three effectively buy themselves off a jail sentence.

Although TBH I’m not sure how courts in other countries would deal with poorer tax evaders, maybe this type of crime is always dealt with so softly.

What these case studies certainly do suggest is that the law in Europe offers no real deterrent to evading tax – Mourinho only had to pay back 60% of the amount he evaded, for example. It seems that if yer rich, the criminal justice system makes it rational for you to have a go at evading tax… you’ve literally nothing to lose if you get caught.

Maybe what the law around tax evasion needs a proper does of right realism… mandatory jail sentences? Or maybe the right realist tough on crime approach is only supposed to apply to the poor?

 

 

 

 

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The nationwide expansion of drug gangs

Drug gangs are expanding their operations from large city centres such as London, Birmingham and Manchester into smaller towns and rural areas. To do so they are using a new business model referred to as ‘county lines’ – dedicated mobile phone drug deal lines which local drug dealers in smaller towns can use to order drugs from the suppliers in the city centres. According to a recent report by the National Crime Agency, there are over 1000 established county line networks which are each capable of making profits of £800, 000 a year.

These lines are so profitable that gangs increasingly resort to violence to protect them, so this county line model of drug gang expansion probably goes a long way to explain the 50% increase in knife crime since 2015. In fact, a spike in knife crime in a small town or city is believed to be an indicator that a new drug line has been opened up.

How county lines work

Drug gangs in larger cities establish branded mobile phone lines using ‘burner phones’ which are disposable and anonymous, and these are then used to send out group messages to the local dealers around the country offering what drugs are for sale, which is mainly heroine and crack cocaine. Frequently there are special offers such as two for the price of one deals. The drugs are delivered by runners who also collect payment from the local dealers.

Children and drug lines

School-aged children, typically aged 15-17, but as young as 11, are usually used to deliver the drugs and collect payment. The charity Safer London estimates that 4000 children from London are involved. Sometimes these children might stay away in a drug-hub for an extended period, which is known as ‘going country’ or ‘going OT’ (out there).

county lines.png

The children recruited are usually vulnerable, having been excluded from school or from broken families, and many are drug users themselves. They are roped into the gangs by the lure of financial reward, or some might be debt bondage because of their drug habits. Once in, they are exposed to a violent lifestyle and effectively take all the risks for the upstream dealers.

NB – from a legal perspective, the use of children as drug mules now counts as child trafficking, so anyone caught being involved in this is likely to get a very lengthy spell in jail.

Cuckooing

A particularly insidious aspect of these drug networks is a process known as cuckooing…. Where a new local recruit’s house in a rural or coastal taken over by a drug dealer from one of the main centres and that house is turned into a local dealing hub, used to store and possibly manufacture drugs, and sell drugs.

One way this can escalate is that the local dealer is allowed to get into debt, and then has their house taken over as a means to repay this.

Such victims will often be drug addicts with mental health issues and are also likely to be in poverty.

Countering the problem of drug gangs and drug lines 

This is an enormous problem, and its growing fast: 75% of police forces believed new lines had been opened up in 2017 and it’s estimated that the 1000 lines in existence are worth £500 million a year. With that kind of coverage and that amount of money involved, tackling this isn’t going to be easy!

A new National County Lines Coordination Unit has recently been established so the 43 police forces in England and Wales can easily share information, and the police are using anti trafficking and anti-slavery laws to punish the dealers.

In a week of raids in January police arrested 600 people and referred 600 children and 400 adults to safeguarding authorities. More than £200 000 in cash and 140 weapons were also seized.

drug gangs.png

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is obviously highly relevant to the crime and deviance specification. Probably the most obvious links are to right and left realism, and to my mind it’s a great example that proves the limitations of the right realist approach – the nature of this crime is that it’s hidden, and so right realist crime control techniques will probably be ineffective in controlling it.

It seems to offer support for left realism – relative deprivation and marginalisation are the root causes, and maybe addressing these are the only way we’re going to see a reduction in drug related crime in the future?

Sources

NCA 2018 report on drug gangs

NCA county lines report 2017

The Week, 9th Feb 2019

 

 

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Screen Time and Children’s Well being

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers are now officially advising parents to ban their children from using phones and other electronic devices in their bedrooms and during meal times. These are two out of nine specific recommendations made in a recent official report entitled:

Screen-based activities and children and young people’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing: a systematic map of reviews.

research screen time effects.png

NB – for students of A-level sociology this is great example of an official government document, a form of secondary qualitative data!

It’s also a great example of an amazing ‘literature review’… they go through a stack of evidence on social media/ screen time/ internet use effects and ask lots of methods questions about each piece of research to determine whether or not those studies are high/ middle or low quality.

Interestingly the report said that there wasn’t enough available evidence to issue any guidelines on the total amount of time children should spend online or using screens in any one day or week, but that there was sufficient evidence to suggest limiting uses in specific contexts when using them can upset other beneficial activities.

Hence why the report recommends that parents limit their children’s use of phones at the following times:

  • At bedtimes
  • During mealtimes
  • While crossing the road.

The report also highlighted the fact that parents shouldn’t just assume that their children would be happy with them posting lots of pictures of them online and criticised some parents for ‘oversharing’.

Interestingly the report also highlighted the lack of high quality research into the impact of screen time, and stressed that more research was needed and they called on tech companies to share data to aid research.

Finally, the report also recommended that social media platforms and technology companies  sign up to a voluntary code of conduct to protect children online, and hinted at possibly introducing new laws to protect children online.

Relevance to A level sociology

Firstly, the report seems to suggest there is some evidence that increased screen time has made childhood more ‘toxic’, because using them is proven to disrupt beneficial activities such as sleep and conversation during meal times.

The report seems to be saying the government is powerless to do anything to prevent Corporations from carrying on with their deliberate attempts to get children to spend more time on screens, merely suggesting that they might sign up to a voluntary code of conduct. So this demonstrates the might of the tech TNCs and the weakness of the Nation State.

Instead, the report focuses on ‘lifeworld’ or ‘privatised solutions to public problems’ – in other words, it’s down to the individual parents to regulate their children’s use of screens.

The report also makes it clear that we cannot say ‘a certain amount of screen time is bad’ – there isn’t evidence to back up a particular figure. This isn’t surprising given that there are different ways we can use our screens, so the idea that ‘screen time’ in general is going to be good or bad is maybe a bit ridiculous!

Finally, this is a good example of a late modern response rather than a postmodern response to a social problem – the report doesn’t just say ‘we’re uncertain, do what you like’, it says ‘there is some evidence that specific uses of screens at particular times prevent beneficial activities taking place, thus you should do x/y/z… i.e. we still have valid knowledge and a clear path of action even in the midst of uncertainty!

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How many people are in poverty in the UK?

The easy answer is to say around 22% of the population, roughly 14 million people. The long answer starts with the sentence ‘it depends on how you define and measure poverty’, in which case you get various different statistics on the poverty rate.

Statistics on poverty in the UK

According to the Social Metrics Foundation, which seems to be endorsed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation….

  • 22% of the UK population are in poverty, equivalent to 14.2 million people: 8.4 million working-age adults; 4.5 million children; and 1.4 million pension age adults. Source: The Social Metrics Foundation, 2018.
  • 1% of the total UK population (7. 7 million people) live in persistent poverty. Source: The Social Metrics Foundation, 2018.

This definition of poverty is broader than any previous definition because:

  • It takes account of all material resources not just incomes. For instance, this means including an assessment of the available assets that families have; •
  • It takes into accounts the inescapable costs that some families face, which make them more likely than others to experience poverty, such as the extra costs of disability, and costs of childcare and rental and mortgage costs; •
  • It automatically defines anyone who is ‘sleeping rough’ as being in poverty.

However, it also sets the relative poverty line at 55% of median income rather than 60^ of median income (as the government has done for many years), seemingly because to keep it at 60% while making all of the other changes above would put too many people in poverty?!? See page 63 of the report for more details:

poverty rate UK 2018.png

 

According to the Government’s own data:

  • 16% of UK households were in relative low income households (before housing costs)
  • 22% of UK households were in relative low income households (after housing costs).

Relative low income households have an income of less than 60% of median household income (equivalised), which is equivalent to £296 per week (or approximately £1000 per month). Source: Households Below Average Income, published March 2018.

Households in poverty UK.png

7.3% of the UK population (4.6 million people) are in persistent poverty. This study defines ‘persistent poverty as being in a relative low income household (using the BHAI definition of this) consistently for 3 years. Source: Persistent Poverty in the UK and the EU: 2015.

Which of these is the most valid measurement of poverty?

You’ll notice that there’s some different between these figures, especially between the Social Metric Commissions’ persistent poverty rate and the ONS’ poverty rate – 12% compared to 7%, so it really matters which of these is the most valid!

Given that the Social Metrics Commission’s definition was agreed by a large panel of people, which included government representation, I’m going to say the SMC’s definition/ measurement is the most valid.

Whatever measurement you use, poverty statistics are a terrific example of how statistics are socially constructed.

 

 

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Fyre… the biggest festival that never happened

The Fyre Festival of 2017 is a great example of a ‘postmodern’ event…. an unfortunate coming together of consumerism, hyperreality, and hyper-individualised identity-obsessed millennials.

In case you missed the furore, you can get a feel for what happened just by watching this trailer on Netflix – which describes the event as a being billed as a luxury music festival on a paradise island, which went spectacularly wrong in the hands of a cocky entrepreneur..

Fyre festival.png

The organisers of the Fyre Festival spent a fortune publicising the campaign on social media. They basically hired ten of the world’s best-known super models and spent a weekend filming them hanging out sipping cocktails on luxury yachts moored off the island where the Festival was due to take place. They then paid social media ‘influencers’ a fortune to publicise the festival. Kendall Jenner was apparently paid $250 000 for making just one post about it, but she was only one influencer among many…

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The various posts soon went viral, and 10, 000 tickets (which cost a minimum of several thousand dollars each) sold out within 48 hours to wealthy millennials who thought they’d be getting three days of luxury jet-set partying in the Bahamas.

However, when the first wave of festival attendees arrived, they found that their accommodation wasn’t condos and super-yachts, it was repurposed emergency dome tents, usually used in disaster situations, and instead of gourmet food they ended up being served bread and cheese in plastic tubs, as this viral tweet told the world:

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In fact it was that exact tweet that convinced the organisers to admit they’d failed and then just cancel the festival: any remaining incoming flights were cancelled, and the unfortunates who had already arrived had to make their own way back to the mainland.

Relevance of this to Sociology

The Fyre Festival seems like the quintessential postmodern event: t’s basically consumerism meets hyperreality.

Effectively a bunch of rich millennials paid a fortune to attend an event on the basis of a fiction spread via social media, and then found out it was a fiction when they arrived in physical reality.

At root, it’s logic of good old conspicuous consumption which drives the event: the point of the millennials going wasn’t for them just to enjoy the bands and the vibe, the point was the show off the exclusivity – to demonstrate to their other friends that they’d made it, that they had enough money to burn on this luxury, pioneering island festival.

This even also illustrates hyperreality – the event was sold on the basis of a fiction created over one weekend, and the images created their lodged themselves in thousands of people’s heads: they thought they’d be getting a festival plus a luxury island vibe, but hardly any of them checked the reality: there was never enough space on the island to actually fit 10K people and the necessary infrastructure, and islands can also be pretty uncomfortable places – sand, humidity and mosquitos. But no, the hyperreal image is what stuck with the vast majority, rather than the thought of thinking about whether such an event was actually feasible in reality, which it obviously wasn’t!

The Fyre Festival is also a powerful reminder of the increasing power which advertisers and influencers have in our lives. Brands are set to pay influencers $6.5 billion in 2019…. Perhaps it’s time to regulate them a bit more?!?

I guess it’s also worth noting that the organiser, Billy McFarland, is now serving 6 years in jail for fraud, so this is one example against the ‘Marxist’ view of crime: here’s a member of the elite class (NOT the super-elite) getting served justice.

Oh, and analysis aside, it’s hugely entertaining, I mean: do I feel sorry for these rich kids, not in the least!

Find out more…

The Netflix documentary is well worth a watch, and it’d make a great end of year movie!

Sources 

The Week, 2nd February 2019

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The academy trusts failing their schools

The schools census information for October 2018 showed that more pupils now study in academies than in maintained LEA schools (50.1% to 49.9%). Academies were first introduced under New Labour and are something the Conservatives expanded massively in the last decade.

how many pupils academies.png Most of these schools are part of a ‘multi academy trust’, and once a school joins one of these trusts, then it no longer exists as a legal and financial entity in its own right – it is wholly ‘incorporated’ by the Trust.

In terms of standards and results, this is generally advantageous when a Trust is performing well, but when a chain performs badly, individual schools are now just stuck with that trust, with no way out, no means of lifting themselves out of the situation. There’s an interesting Observer article about this here.

There is some case study evidence that suggests some academy trusts are fraudulently claiming money from the government for school improvement works, and then spending considerably less. One example of this is the Bright Side Academy Trust which runs 10 schools in England: it claimed £556 000 to demolish and rebuild some unstable sports hall walls in one school, but then simply installed some steel supports to the existing walls at a cost of £60, 000.

NB – The Bright Tribe Trust also has the dubious honour of being the worst performing academy chain in England at key stage 4.

And what can the individual school in these trusts do about their dire situation? Absolutely nothing. They are basically ‘stuck suffering in the chain’.

This is a feature of the new education landscape I hadn’t really considered before: the possibility of there being ‘batches’ of schools in one trust that end up sinking to the bottom together in certain areas of the country.

Was it ever realistic to expect the academy model to improve failing schools anyway?

The flagship early academies, most notably Mossbourne Academy, was a huge success, getting excellent results with some of the most disadvantaged children in London: but that was 2010, that was the flagship that had £23 million spent on it, and there have been additional motivation from it being a role-model.

Now that academies are generalised, now that they’ve become the norm – it appears that there are good academy chains, and there are bad academy chains, surprise surprise!

in fact this shouldn’t be any surprise. Given that most of the main barriers to educational achievement are all external to the school (such as material deprivation), it was always unlikely that simply changing the structure of how schools are organised )from an LEA to an academies model) was going to make a difference in the long run.

I mean, new academies don’t get any more money than LEA schools, and while they might gain from economies of scale, this can’t make that much difference. It’s not as if they can afford to pay a 50% premium to address the shortage in science teachers for example, and it’s not enough to combat the radical hardships that the bottom 10% or so face at home.

 

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Amazon’s 0.05% U.K. Tax Rate

Amazon is in the news this morning, for paying only £67 million in tax on £7 billion revenue over 20 years. That £67 million is less than Marks and Spencer paid in tax last year alone, besides a much lower revenue

If you look at Amazon’s effective UK tax rate last year, it works out at 0.05%. It does this by basically basing its main sales operations in countries with a low tax rate… it basically ‘sells’ products to it’s UK subsidiary for next to (or probably 0) profit which then ‘sells these on’ for no profit to actual UK customers, hence very low tax.

Amazon is basically scamming the global tax system.

All of the big four global tech companies are notorious for avoiding tax, but Amazon is by far the worst…In terms of tax paid as a proportion of sales and profits,  Amazon is the worst offender of the ‘big four’ tech companies.

In fact, Google is the only company whose paid taxes you can actually see with the naked eye, when shown to scale against the sales of the three companies! (Link to Tableau doc here):

Amazon tax.png

Amazon paid even less tax than Facebook last year £4.5m on annual UK sales of £8.7bn and pre-tax profits of £72 million.

Google has the best tax record – it paid £49.3m in UK taxes last year, on UK sales of £5.7bn, on pre-tax profits £ 202.4 million.

I’m not going to comment on Apple here, because I think its figures might be distorted by its paying historical taxes in the last tax year which it failed to pay in recent years, following a recent HMRC investigation.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This example goes to prove the power of Transnational Corporations compared to Nation States. Where money is concerned, large global companies can easily avoid national taxes. This form of economic globalisation seems to suggest the decline of the nation . state!

Combatting this would take global co-operation, but it would require the vast majority of companies to agree… all it takes is .a handful of ‘rouge tax havens’ and any co-operation falls apart! It’s one of the many challenges in a global age!

Sources

The Guardian – Facebook’s UK tax bill rises to £15.8m – but it is still just 1% of sales

The Guardian – Amazon halved corporation tax bill despite UK profits tripling

BBC – Google’s tax bill rises to £50m