The Meandering Social Worker

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Archive for the tag “culture”

Poor white kids fail to get the most out of school

There has been enough anecdotal evidence that children from certain ethnic minorities do better in our education system than poor white kids (and good for them too).  Now we have the evidence.  And it might be worse than we thought.

The Centre Forum opportunity think tank has published it’s first annual report, “Education in England Annual Report 2016” showing that poor white kids who start school above average and with good achievements still leave 11+ years later with below average attainments.  By comparison, pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) make significant progress during their school years.  Three groups do worse than white poor kids – they are White Irish travellers, White Roma and mixed-heritage Caribbean children.  Four groups do better: Black Caribbean, White Irish, Chinese and Indian children.  Two other features also leap out of the report: there is a north/south divide with pupils in the north generally achieving lower standards and pupils in coastal areas are also similarly disadvantaged.

But why?

Paul Mason, writing in the Guardian, makes some very relevant observations as he tries to make sense of the causes of this trend.  Referring back to the messages of the 1969 film Kes, about a working class boy learning to love and train a Kestrel, and the purpose that gave to his life, Paul Mason describes the annihilation of the ‘life story’ of the working classes in British society that started with Thatcherism and continues today.  Mason writes:

“It was not always the case that ethnic-minority children did better than white English ones, but the reason why some of them do now is pretty obvious: their problem – racism – is defined; their language skills tend to be well-developed; their culture is one of aspiration; they have social and religious institutions that promote cohesion.

By contrast, the problem of poor white kids cannot be properly defined: not in the language of freemarket capitalism, at least. It has nothing to do with being “overtaken” – still less with any reverse discrimination against them.

It is simply that a specific part of their culture has been destroyed. A culture based on work, rising wages, strict unspoken rules against disorder, obligatory collaboration and mutual aid. It all had to go, and the means of destroying it was the long-term unemployment millions of people had to suffer in the 1980s.

Thatcherite culture celebrated the chancers and the semi-crooks: people who had been shunned in the solidaristic working-class towns became the economic heroes of the new model – the security-firm operators, the contract-cleaning slave drivers; the outright hoodlums operating in plain sight as the cops concentrated on breaking strikes.”

As I look back over my memories of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and since, I recognise the changes Mason is describing.

But what is the answer?  If you agree with Mason then it’s not entirely in the education system.  The education system has been tinkered with in so many ways over the years, and the debate between selection and non-selection continues in some parts of the country.  Academisation (or privatisation) has been declared as the way forward, even though many academies continue to ‘fail’.  University education for all has been heralded as the answer, even though clearly that cannot be achievable.  The raising of school leaving ages to the point of legal adulthood is considered by some to merely infantalise our young people and delay emotional and experiential adulthood. Our children have been ‘tested’ beyond endurance over recent years, resulting in league tables and a different kind of segregation.  Our education system has had so much attention lavished on it, yet still the ‘problems’ are not going away.

Mason concludes his piece with these words:

“To put right the injustice revealed by the CentreForum report requires us to put aside racist fantasies about “preferential treatment” for ethnic minorities; if their kids are preferentially treated, it is by their parents and their communities – who arm them with narratives and skills for overcoming economic disadvantage.

If these metrics are right, the present school system is failing to boost social mobility among white working-class kids. But educational reforms alone will barely scratch the surface. We have to find a form of economics that – without nostalgia or racism – allows the working population to define, once again, its own values, its own aspirations, its own story.”

We can’t go back, and for plenty of reasons we wouldn’t want to.  We have to find a way forward that enables ALL our children to have a decent education and access to opportunities.  As Mason says, it’s not about league tables, as useful as they are as measures.  Having taken the time to travel in other cultures I can step back and see what our society has lost, and it’s not education.  Identity and narrative, through culture, work, family and community are what gives children the framework on which to build their lives.  It’s what social workers do for individuals they work with.  It’s what society now needs to do for itself.

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Why soundbites don’t work for society

I often see Facebook images and articles about social issues and share them on my own timelinepensions image, but I don’t think I can share this one.  It’s not that I don’t agree with the sentiment behind it.

Let me start by saying that I support people of retirement age getting an appropriate pension. It’s a part of human decency in supporting society. Not least as, after forty years of working myself, my own retirement is on the near horizon.

This image came with the comment that ‘inept governments who did not invest wisely over the years shouldn’t blame the olds’. But it’s not as simple as that. Firstly we elected those inept governments and then put our trust in them to act in our best interests. At one time we genuinely believed they did, now as a society we are much less sure (NatCen’s British Social Attitudes Survey highlights just how much our trust and belief in our governments have declined over the years).

But did our governments act ineptly in this matter? Surely governments over the years (1) could never invest the money because it was always paying out this year’s pension with this year’s Tax and National Insurance income and (2) why should they because in the early days of pensions they could reasonably assume that it would always be possible to work that way. Isn’t that how the majority of us budget our own weekly or monthly income?

They didn’t have a crystal ball any more than the rest of us to see how technology and globalisation would change the world. And so for all sorts of reasons that balancing of the budget between pension income and pension outgoings became harder and so in recent years we have seen the promotion of the private pension provision and the raising of the retirement age. That doesn’t take into account the fact that there are only so many jobs in the market place and if the old are working then the young aren’t – but that’s another debate.

In the meantime there are some things for which we should still be grateful – the UK state pension has only existed for 106 years and when it was introduced in 1909 it was as a non-contributory but means tested benefit claimable only over the age of 70 when only 25% of the population lived long enough to claim it. And, due to poor working conditions and health, many of those who did reach 70 years of age would have been among the better off and so not entitled to a means-tested benefit. Before 1909 you went to the workhouse or died if your family couldn’t keep you if you couldn’t work for any reason. (for more detail see History of State Pension Age)

When the new contributory pension was introduced in 1925 this was still an era when married women did not work. Men became entitled to pension payments at the age of 65 but had to wait until their wife retired, often 4-5 years later, to receive the full couple’s entitlement, forcing them either into poverty or the wife into the impossibility of entering the workplace, some for the first time in 40 years. Fortunately in those days employability depended less on employment record, although she would still have faced the barrier of married women not being seen as needing employment. This was no doubt harder on the women of the middle classes at the time as the women of the working classes were more likely to have had to supplement the family income through domestic work, taking in laundry, ironing and mending, and could continue to do so.

Women didn’t work outside the home because that was the social norm. A young woman might begin working when she left education but when she married she was often forced to resign her job to allow that opportunity to be passed on to another young person. My own mother was forced to resign her job in a local pharmacy when she married in the mid-1950’s as she was now perceived to be the ‘responsibility’ of her husband. But her husband was a manual labourer and on low income and not earning enough to keep the two of them. One day when my mother went into the pharmacy she was talking to her old boss and said how hard it was. He offered her her old job back – on the condition that she was called Miss, used her maiden name at work and took off her wedding ring at work: he feared the disapproval and that he would lose customers if they thought he was employing a married woman. As a carryover from that time, when I married in 1981 my new aunts (all in their 70’s) were shocked and disapproving that I intended to continue working once married.

In the meantime, in this same cultural environment, when the retirement age for women was reduced to 60 in 1940 it allowed couples to receive their pension entitlement at approximately the same time, based on the average age differences between husbands and wives, reducing pensioner poverty but with the happier side effect of allowing long term marrieds to retire and spend their last few years together, particularly as men were still likely to die of old age before their wives retired before that time.

Of course the second world war (1939-1945) did a lot to change the culture then, with married women making up the backbone of the domestic workforce while so many of the men were away fighting in the war. Expectations changed and with the end of the war things were never the same again.

The continued changing nature of society and relationships, powered by technological developments and globalisation, has changed our society almost beyond recognition to those times and things like the age differential has ceased to seem quite so defensible, allowing for legislative changes for men and women’s pensionable ages to be increased and brought on a par again.

Finally, with improved health care for everybody under the NHS, far more people have been living longer not only to reach pensionable age but also to be entitled to a pension income for half as long again as they worked and contributed for, thus increasing the burden on those still working and contributing. Back to my own mother’s story: thanks to the generosity of her employer she was able to work full time for around 8 years between leaving school and giving birth to me. Thanks to a local employer who specialised in exploiting young mums in need of an extra income she was able to work part time for a further 11 years. Then she worked a further 12 years full time until she retired at the age of 60. Had she not retired at 60 she would not have been able to work for much of the next five years as she underwent two hip replacement operations, one of which took much longer to heal than normal, due to infection. On a low income or working part time for 31 years, it is questionable whether she could ever have invested enough in her working life to have funded what is already over 23 years of retirement. Why should I consider a government capable of doing that (as suggested by the commentator I quoted at the beginning of this article)? For comparison, my own pension arrangements include two private company pensions now invested in private insurances that represent 10 years of working life and a combined anticipated income of £70 per month. If that is representative of the potential investment over 50 years I would have £350 per month to look forward to – less than the rent on a one bedroom flat. The rest of my private pension entitlement is better for having been with a local government pension scheme for a number of years but since halved due to divorce and a compulsory pension sharing agreement, just one of the newer challenges faced by today’s pension investors and not anticipated by the original pension planners 100 years ago, and still, in my case, not enough to pay the rent on a one bedroom flat. Admittedly I started late, having been born into the generation that was still being told our National Insurance contributions included an investment for our pensions. For all governmental intentions, private sector pensions are never going to fill the Welfare Benefits gap.

Like most people of her age, my mum could not work if she wanted to. She may have lived well beyond the life expectancy of a woman at the beginning of the 20th century, when pensions were introduced, but like so many of her friends, it has not been in the kind of health that would have enabled her to compete in the workplace.

The fact is, when life expectancy means that retirement is going to last for as much as half as many years again as we are able to work (more if you add a long university education in to the equation), governments need to budget for an aging population that is based on more than ‘investing wisely’ what is paid in National Insurance contributions.

Public spending on Benefits in the UKIn 2011-12 pensions and pension credits amounted to £82.33b, almost double what was spent on disability benefits combined (£24.58b) and almost a third of the total welfare benefits bill; although neither figure takes into account Housing and Council Tax Benefits, which will somewhat increase both these figures and their proportion of the overall benefits bill. These are not figures that can be easily changed. Age and disability cannot be ‘undone’. And ironically a capitalist society needs a pool of unemployed people to keep wages in check and provide incentives to workers to conform.

Some things might be changing. Concerns over the impact of the rising incidence of diet related health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart problems, and more, have raised the possibility of a lowering of the average lifespan. The very real issue of antibiotic resistance, compounded by use of antibiotics in intensive farming methods and reduced research into new antibiotics under the growth of privately funded medical research where antibiotic development is not profitable, will have the same impact.

While the mercenary view suggests this will reduce the pressure on pension provision in the future it will hardly help the wider financial picture as pressure is put on health providers and disability benefits, while reducing the pool of people available to work.

Emotive photos with captions that pensions are not a benefit but something that has been paid for over years is sound-bite propaganda. It’s not helpful in the wider debate. We are collectively a part of a wider community. Bunkering down into our own field of concern, whether it be pensions, disability benefits, child poverty, NHS, or education, will not help. The creeping privatisation of our National Health Service and Education system (through increasing academies) will not produce an answer. Just as communism fell because of the greed of a minority and the oppression of the majority, so too will capitalism eventually follow for the same reasons.

The whole system needs an overhaul. Society as a whole needs to recognise shared responsibility for the functioning of society. That includes the domination of our food industry by companies that put profit before community health (and global impact); the impact of the privatisation of research that means that essential but unprofitable research doesn’t get done; the privatisation of healthcare that will disadvantage the already disadvantaged (just look to the United States to see why the NHS should be saved); the privatisation of education and social care that means that costs and services have to meet the needs of shareholders often at the expense of service users, because that’s how capitalism works; governments that make policy decisions based on short term objectives, or what will get them voted in again next time, because that’s how democracy works, instead of on what society needs five generations into the future, as the old American Indians thought.

I have become a fan of Margaret Heffernan’s book Wilful Blindness (she’s also on TED Talks). Its human nature, it’s in the way our brains have been wired, to see only that which is easy to see. Facebook works that way: ever noticed how you always get more of what you believe, that’s because facebook works like your brain and ignores that which you will find intellectually uncomfortable. But we have to make the effort to see beyond the natural blindness, to see beyond the soundbites, if we ever want to be a part of a fully functioning society that cares for one another.

How poor is poverty?

In a world where poverty is measured in terms of material wealth, I have found myself asking myself this question again and again in recent years.

I think of the man living alone, in England, in a one bedroom flat with no more than a table, chair, bed and a few kitchen utensils to his name, yet with regular social gatherings with friends he can rely on he describes himself as completely content and wanting for nothing.

I think of the Andean mountain village community in Ecuador who struggle to raise the $2 per child charged by the school to provide their children with a bag of sweets and biscuits on the last day of term before Christmas, the only Christmas present those children will receive. The children make no complaint, they are no different from their peers. They live a life of daily adventure, exploring their environment, taking risks European parents would quail at, getting all the attention they need and want from their parents and extended families, with no shortage of food or clothing. Just no Christmas presents. To all intents and purposes theirs is a life of poverty, and even though they know they don’t have money to spare they only recognise themselves as poor when someone draws it to their attention.

I think too of the Mongolian nomadic people who could lose their whole livelihood when a harsh winter follows a dry summer, a combination that can kill off all their livestock. A harsh life that can be seen in their eyes, in a climate where the relatively rich (in livestock) can be brought into utter deprivation due to the circumstances of their climate. For this reason many have moved into the capital city where there is only a little evidence of wealth in a country that is innately poor.

One quartz miner's makeshift home.

One quartz miner’s makeshift home.

And then I see the home of a quartz miner in the mountainous deserts of Namibia: an old North American pick-up dragged high into the mountains, its wheels long gone, the interior seating beyond sagging; a mattress laid out in the flat bed of the rear of the truck, tent canvas spread out to cover the mattress and an area beyond that servers as a kitchen and eating area. A home has been constructed here. Inside it is clean and tidy. Nearby is a pit toilet, dug into the ground with three walls and a door for privacy, but no roof – a roof is hardly needed in a country where there is no rain. A huge water cistern stands on a trailer nearby. There is so much apparent hardship in this life, living conditions that some have described as appalling. The ground is barren, no food will grow here. When they have enough quartz to trade the miners drive into the nearby town, like the pioneers and gold diggers of the American West, their route worn as tracks through the rocky landscape, where they trade gemstones for money, food and water. How much choice do they have about their lifestyle? To me it seems hard and lonely – the miners are all men and most if not all seem to live alone in this barren land. It’s not a lifestyle I would choose but what would they say if we were able to ask them about living in poverty? Would they consider their lifestyles as deplorable as we might in the West?  They work hard and their basic needs for food and shelter are met.

As one of the last remaining traditional African tribes, the bare-breasted Himba women who live in the wilderness areas of Namibia’s Kaokoland trade posting for photos in exchange for basic foodstuffs such as sugar, salt and rice. Or at least those who live near the more well-used roads do. Those who live deeper into the wilderness know more the suffering of hunger, when the rivers rise and close the roads during the wet season, preventing the tourists, the people who pay for their photos with packets of food, from driving the flooded roads. The land is all but barren, crops are scarce. Some of the Himba have chosen to abandon their traditional lifestyle, moving instead into towns and villages, often selling the jewellery and crafts for which their people are known. Such transitioning is hard but that is no doubt better than experiencing the pain that can be seen in the eyes of the women when they look at their flaccid breasts that are not making enough milk to feed their babies as they beg you to take their photo so you will give them food.

How poor is poverty?  I make my own judgements on these situations, based on my own experience of living in a relatively wealthy country, although I am by no means relatively wealthy within that country.   What I see is that poverty and wealth come in many guises but, materially speaking, sometimes even the relatively poor can seem relatively rich, while sometimes the relatively rich are also insanely rich, in a world where material wealth often doesn’t bring emotional happiness or spiritual contentment but where severe poverty destroys lives and human potential.

Moralities: Discussing Abortion

Earlier this week BBC European news reported: “A controversial bill in Spain to end women’s right to abortion on demand is set to be passed after an opposition challenge was defeated in parliament.”  Abortion on demand was only introduced in Spain in 2010 in legislation passed by the Socialists.  Since then the ruling power has moved to the conservative Popular Party.  The new legislation will restrict abortion to cases of rape or where the mother can prove that having the child will pose a severe risk to their physical or mental health.

Discussing abortion (but not rights)

Abortion raises many conflicting opinions.  The reporting quotes ‘rights of the child’, protestors in particular talk of women’s rights.  The Catholic Church supports the new legislation.

For myself, I could wish abortion did not exist (other than mother nature’s will).  But wishing won’t make it go away.

I can only begin to imagine the mental and emotional anguish of having my body nurturing a new life created from a traumatic beginning and I could wish that no child was conceived because of rape.  I could wish that rape did not exist.  But wishing won’t change things.

I don’t believe any parent truly wants a child with disabilities* and I could wish that no child was born with severe disabilities.  But wishing won’t help them or their parents.

* This is not including societies where a disability, especially in a child, is seen as an advantage when it comes to begging.  If acute poverty did not exist and begging was not necessary then I still doubt that any parent would truly want a child with disabilities.

I could wish that all children were planned and conceived within a loving and stable relationship.  I could wish that no child was unwanted.  I could wish that no child was conceived from incest or sexual abuse.  I could wish a lot of things but wishing doesn’t change reality.

The “good old days”

There was a time of course when abortion was not legally or readily available, although to some extent it has always existed: the medicine woman who knows of a few herbs that will do the trick, the back street abortionist with her famed knitting needle.  Women desperate enough have always found ways to end an unwanted pregnancy, despite the risks to their own health in these practices.  And often, in their time, for very good reasons: it’s only a hundred years ago that in England a pregnancy outside of marriage  resulted in the woman being imprisoned (for life) in a mental health institution and her baby forcibly removed at birth.  Pregnant teenagers and young women might be lucky and sent to a maiden aunt somewhere in the country where they could give birth in secret and return, childless, to their family, the family reputation still intact, the ‘future’ of the girl restored.  Even as late as the mid 1970’s something like this happened to a 15 year old relative of mine, who was sent to a young mother’s unit for her pregnancy and birth.

Those were the not so good features of the ‘good old days’.  But there was one aspect of life 100 years ago that we have since lost: the value placed on family and community.  A young couple facing the birth of another child in an already overcrowded home might have the option of one or more of their children living with aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.  Such as when, in the early 1900’s, after the death of his father and with the family sinking deeper into poverty, my grandfather went to live with a childless aunt and uncle.  In many African, Caribbean and Latin American cultures today it is still possible to see communities where parenting is seen as the responsibility of the wider family group, where childcare is shared, where children are loved and absorbed into the community without stigma or concern.

Alternatives?

Are there alternatives to abortion?  Not many.

Pregnancy outside of marriage is no longer stigmatised.  It no longer carries the shame.  Illegitimacy is no longer stigmatised.  In fact the word illegitimate is increasingly falling out of use.  However, before the 1926 Legitimacy Act a child carried the stigma of illegitimacy until death regardless of whether or not their parents later married.  After 1926 legitimacy was granted providing the child had not been conceived while either parent was married to someone else, but it was not until the 1959 Legitimacy Act that children were legitimised regardless of whether either of their parents had been previously married or their marriage annulled for some reason.  That should have been great news for my father but to this day he still feels the acute shame of his generation, of having been ‘born out of wedlock’.

What this means is that there is a realistic option to abortion inasmuch as giving birth and caring for the child is an option today in a way it was not an option 100 years ago.  And certainly that has been an choice for many if the cries and criticisms of the likes of the Daily Mail castigating profligate ‘single mothers’ is anything to go by.  They can’t win can they.  Condemned by pro-lifers for opting for abortion, condemned by the government and press as scroungers and wasters if they don’t.

Which only leaves one other option: adoption.  And here I return to my ‘wish list’.  I could wish that society was more tolerant of women who choose to give birth and then willingly allow their child to be adopted.  It’s no easier a decision than abortion, in some ways it is more difficult.  Both result in emotional pain.  But abortion can be done in secret.  Adoption is very public.  We live in a society where it is automatically assumed that a pregnant woman will want to keep her child: after all, she would have had it aborted otherwise.  Standing up and say, ‘Yes, I’m pregnant but I’m choosing to have my child adopted because …..’ takes a special strength of character, and support from those closest to her.

The role of the Church and other religions

It’s all very well for the Catholic church to support the change in legislation in Spain, severely restricting the option of abortion.  It goes completely with religious beliefs that life is sacred, that abortion is murder, that only God can give or take life.  But focusing on topics like this is taking the easy option – and legislation doesn’t change human behaviour.  It’s also not real life for a significant proportion of society.  The church (and other religions against abortion) should be asking why women want abortions, why there is rape and incest, why families struggle and break down.  And then the really hard question: what can they do to support society so that the cause of what they perceive to be the ‘problem of abortion’ is tackled rather than the symptom.

In doing so, perhaps religions will also be helping young women to choose the open difficult path to adoption rather than the secret path to abortion.  Then at least young women will have three genuine choices when faced with an unwanted pregnancy rather than just two.

Scottish Independence, English identity and World reputations

UK GB diagram by CGP GreyShould Scotland vote to secure Independence from Great Britain and the United Kingdom in September 2014?

UK Prime Minister David Cameron thinks not. As reported by MSN news: In a speech at the Olympic Park in London, Mr Cameron will summon up the spirit of patriotism of the 2012 Games as he argues that the whole country will lose if Scotland votes to leave the UK ….. Independence would be bad for Scotland but would also leave the United Kingdom “deeply diminished” and would “rip the rug from under our own reputation” in the world, Mr Cameron will say … At a location carefully chosen to symbolise the successes of the whole United Kingdom working together as “Team GB”, Mr Cameron will say that the Olympic medals were won under the banner of a Union flag that was not only red and white but also blue. And he will say: “It’s Team GB I want to talk about today – our United Kingdom.” … He will stress that the decision on independence is “squarely and solely for those in Scotland to make”, saying: “It is their choice, their vote”. But he will add: “My argument today is that though only four million people can vote in this referendum, all 63 million of us are profoundly affected. “There are 63 million of us who could wake up on September 19 in a different country, with a different future ahead of it.”

The British Government has been strangely silent on the subject of the Scottish Independence vote. I’m glad Mr Cameron is at last speaking out and I agree largely with the sentiments he is expressing here.

But what has Scottish independence got to do with social work you might wonder?

In particular, picking up on the last part of the quote, the identity of 63 million individuals may be affected overnight. In fact, it may be even more that figure, as others from places within the Commonwealth Realm, Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories may also feel they have a legitimate opinion on the matter (see CGP Grey’s video graphic for more about the differences between the British Isles, Great Britain and the United Kingdom etc).

The English have long been poor at having their own identity, images of dancing Morris Men and maypoles not having quite the same lure as the deeply patriotic celebrations of the Irish and Scots, the English preferring instead to consider themselves ‘British’ first. But things are changing. Anyone interested in football and rugby at least will already have noticed some of these changes. The Union Jack, once the dominant flag at English football matches has been increasingly replaced by the flag of St George in recent years. And maybe that’s a good thing. (See below for a little more information and a link to the history of the Union Jack.)

I will be sad if Scotland votes for independence in September. As David Cameron states, it will affect the identity of 63 million people, although some may feel it more than others. For myself, with an English mother and a Welsh father, as a child growing up I always identified as British, and I was proud of my Celtic heritage. Over the years I became aware of anti English sentiments among some quarters in Wales, and being of ‘mixed heritage’ (part Welsh) doesn’t make me any more welcome. With the setting up of the Welsh Parliament, or National Assembly for Wales, I have found myself increasingly replying that I am English first, British second (and European third). My Celtic heritage is being denied. My identity is changing. It has felt like a loss.

Which brings me back to the relevance of social work. Our identities change throughout our lives: from child to teenager to young adult, middle aged and older adult; from single to in a relationship, partnership or married, to divorced or widowed; to become parents or not, or step-parents; moving through education, work and retirement. These are all identity changes that affect people from all cultures in some way or another, developing over time as we are aware of growing older, plan getting married or having children, move through being a pre-schooler to student to graduate to worker. Together they form a raft of changes, that make us a part of the society we live in, and they are happening also to the people around us. They are changes that are expected. Sometimes we face them with trepidation or excitement, such as the first day in a new school or at work, a wedding or the birth of a baby, others we barely notice with the passage of time, until suddenly we realise we are not as young or fit as we were.

We may know of people, including ourselves, who have changed their religious beliefs and identity. But, with the exception of a few people who emigrate and take on the citizenship and identity of another country, it’s not often we experience changes in our national, cultural or ethnic identity. British history is riddled with such changes, as we have ‘conquered’ and ‘granted independence’ to what seems like half the world in the last several hundred years (again covered in the video link below). But that is not so close to home as the Scottish Independence issue.

All the opportunities to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds, races or religions, to ourselves, all the training in understanding diversity, cannot give us the experience of what it feels like to struggle with your own ethnic identity. So, whether you consider yourself English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, British or European, even regardless of whether you are white or BME, now is a great time to ask the question: how does it feel to have someone else in control of my racial and ethnic identity? Four million Scottish people have that call over 63 million people in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Maybe answering that question will add a chink of understanding and empathy to the subject of diversity.

As an aside, the quotes from David Cameron indicate a confusion in the terms GB and UK – “It’s Team GB I want to talk about today – our United Kingdom.”

UK or GB who knows the difference?

Well one man does, thankfully. But perhaps not David Cameron. In trying to draw on solidarity from the Olympic Games, in his speech he will mix the terms: “It’s Team GB I want to talk about today – our United Kingdom.”

In his rapid-fire video graphic on YouTube CGP Grey explains the difference (apologies: all attempts to embed the video here failed, please follow the link to YouTube instead – the image at the top of this blog comes from this video).

The Union Jack

The “Union Jack” as it is commonly known.

The history of the Union Jack can be found on Wikipedia, however summarised it is the “Cross of Saint Andrew counterchanged with the Cross of Saint Patrick, over all the Cross of Saint George”, in other words, a composite of the flags of Scotland, England and Ireland. The origins of the flag date back to 1603, developing through various political changes into the version shown here that was adopted in 1801. As Wales was already part of England when the form of the flag began in 1603 the Welsh flag is not included. Discussions have begun in some quarters as to changing the Union Jack should Scotland vote for independence.

Other countries still sufficiently identify with their history linked to the United Kingdom to include the current Union Jack within their own flags: Australia, Hawaii, Niue, New Zealand, Tuvalu, Fiji, Cook Islands, Bermuda, British Columbia, British Indian Ocean Territory and various States within the US and provinces with Canada.

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