The first recorded polio epidemic was in Sweden in the 1880s, though inscriptions in Egypt suggest the disease dates back to ancient times. In 1916 the virus devastated New York and swathes of the north-eastern United States, killing six thousand people, mostly children, and leaving thousands more paralysed. Unlike other deadly epidemic diseases, such as tuberculosis, polio appeared to have no correlation to poverty. ‘Once the terror stalks, mere wealth cannot buy immunity,’ as the Ladies Home Journal put it in 1935. ‘The well-fed babies of the boulevards are no safer than gamins from the gutter from the mysterious universality of the crippling midget, once it’s on the rampage.’
In a world where the 26 richest people own as much as the poorest 50 per cent, you might have expected to see massive protests outside the Kongresszentrum in Davos this week. Over the past ten years, however, the once thriving mobilisation against the World Economic Forum has lost steam. ‘We’ve witnessed a slump,’ Mélinda Tschanz told me. She belongs to the Swiss chapter of ATTAC, an ‘alter-globalisation’ organisation founded in 1998. ‘“What happened?” is a question we’ve been asking ourselves a lot lately.’
A couple of years ago, a state school teacher got in touch with me with concerns about the Cambridge Pre-U exam, an alternative to A-levels introduced in 2008. She was worried both that it gave yet another unfair advantage to privately educated children, and that it involved potential conflicts of interest, since many of the questions were set by teachers whose pupils would be taking the exams. In a piece for Independent School Parent (what you do mean, you don't subscribe?) in 2012, the headmaster of Winchester College explained why the school had dropped A-levels in favour of the Cambridge Pre-U.
In February, GenderAvenger began tracking how often current affairs programmes on US TV asked women to analyse the presidential election. In the week beginning 29 February, 48 male analysts and 46 women appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360º, but no other show managed a ratio better than 2:1. On CNN’s New Day there were 84 men and 34 women; on Fox & Friends there were 51 men and eight women; on The Kelly File, also on Fox, there were 24 men and four women; and on MSNBC’s Morning Joe there were 138 men and only 29 women.
Alan Milburn, the government's paradoxically named ‘social mobility tsar’, last week released the first annual report of his Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. The findings are not surprising: inequality is getting worse; the government will miss its child poverty targets by up to two million; 275,000 more children are now in absolute poverty, two-thirds of them in working households; youth unemployment is at a 20-year high. The report concludes: We see a danger that social mobility, having risen in the middle of the last century then flatlined in the end, could go into reverse in the first part of this century.
The National Foundation for Educational Research, analysing the data in a Tellus Survey carried out in autumn 2009, last month drew some conclusions about what makes it more or less likely that a child will be happy – or say that she’s happy, which isn’t quite the same thing. The government decided in June to stop running the national survey (it’s an unnecessary drain on local authorities’ resources, they say), but the NFER analysis may have made them think twice about that, as one of the apparent findings is that poverty does not affect happiness.
The NFER, admitting that this is surprising, explains that no significant association was found between poverty and happiness once other influences had been taken into account. It doesn’t say, however, if it considered the association between poverty and those other influences –
There's a study in the BMJ today looking at the relationship between socioeconomic inequality and mortality rates in Britain over the past ninety years. Here are some of the findings: by the year 2007 for every 100 people under the age of 65 dying in the best-off areas, 199 were dying in the poorest tenth of areas. This is the highest relative inequality recorded since at least 1921.