Saturday, May 20, 2017

What can we do for pensioners that won't cost a lot?

What can we do to cheer up our  oldies that won't cost a lot? Lots: but here's one that doesn't get enough thought:

There should be at least 1 hr a week regularly on BBC radio for old timers to speak about old times - their recollections, anecdotes and opinions.

Rightly or wrongly, being on the radio or telly is seen as being significant. Our elders need to feel valued - too often they are not. The regular slot would make them feel valued. They could write or phone in with "Yes, I remember that. And I'll tell you another thing..."

Living history. With added regional accents.

It is not enough for politicians declare how much they care about pensioners. Let's hear if from the oldies themselves.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Malnutrition in England: not a suitable topic for a General Election

The media-led "debate" in this current general election studiously avoids any topic that might reflect badly on the Tories. There will therefore not be any discussion of  climate change, or of things like malnutrition in England, which is a scandalous problem. The Green Party would bring up these topics, but will not be granted time and space to do so.  

Here is a short review of malnutrition in our country:



The central purpose of government is to protect its citizens. Recent British governments have been failing to do this because there is a significant and growing incidence of malnutrition affecting all age groups. This is especially shameful when we remember that Britain is the sixth largest economy in the world. This paper looks at the size of the problem in the UK, its trends in recent years, and suggests a few measures that might help to reduce the problem.

How big is the problem?

Accurate figures on malnutrition are difficult to find.
It is well known that food bank usage has been expanding in recent years but the statistics of food bank usage cannot by themselves be taken to reflect actual hunger, as the reasons that people go to food banks are not simple, apart from the fact that benefit sanctions is an important driver of food bank use. The Tories can and do obfuscate the food bank issue, so it is not a good discussion point.++
What is undeniable is that food prices are rising faster than wages.

Here are the trends for food price inflation:
Food price inflation between 2010 and 2013 varies between 2-6%.

Incidentally, food price inflation in the UK is part of a tendency for food prices to increase worldwide.

Wage growth over the same time period rarely exceeds 2.5%:

Consumer Price Index inflation exceeds wage growth nearly all the time in these graphs. Food price inflation is if anything at the top of CPI. It is to be expected therefore that those on lowest income will find it increasingly difficult to buy adequate food - especially those affected by the Conservatives' savage benefit cuts.

The British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition report that in the year 2011-12 the cost to the State presented by malnutrition in England alone (not the UK as a whole) was £19.6 billion, around 15% of health and social spending. Most of this cost fell on hospital care, as malnourished people take longer to recover from illness.
Of this £19.6 billion, 52% was for older adults, 42% was for younger adults, and 6% was for children. NHS expenditure on a malnourished individual is more than 3 times greater than on a well nourished individual.

Malnutrition of children costs us £1.176 billion a year. Malnutrition of children is of especial concern, since it has an impact on health throughout subsequent life. Malnourished children are prone to infections, are smaller, lack energy, suffer problems associated with brain development and motor control. 48% of teachers report that some of their children are under-fed, and many teachers state that they bring food into school to help hungry kids to concentrate.

Apart from the human suffering caused by malnutrition, there is a point to be made that there are significant financial savings to be made if we have an effective response to malnutrition.
Addressing the problem of child poverty is an excellent long-term investment.

The problem of obesity attracts attention at present. It should not be seen as the opposite of malnutrition, but as a form of malnutrition.

A growing problem?

The problem of malnutrition seems to be growing.

Here is a graph of statistics from NHS Digital :

The best source on malnutrition incidence is hospital admission data. Hospital Episode Statistics show that there was a 34% increase in malnutrition cases between 2011 and 2014.

Rickets cases were on a rising trend until 2011, which is pretty shocking considering that rickets is considered a problem of the Victorian era:

These graphs suggest a trend, but must be interpreted with caution. The tendency for children not to play outdoors in recent years is a factor, as well as poor diet.
Whatever the cause, vigorous identification and treatment (vitamin D supplements and assistance with diet and lifestyle) of rickets is needed.

Malnutrition in the UK is under-studied and under-recognised. NICE has guidelines about managing obesity, but none on malnutrition, and no guidelines are planned at present.

What needs to be done?

  1. Recognise that we as a nation do have a major problem
  2. Alert GPs, Health Visitors and schools to the problem so that cases are found earlier
  3. Stop and reverse the downward pressure on benefits
  4. Educate those on benefits on how to obtain and cook cheap yet nutritious meals, while avoiding expensive sugary drinks and food.
  5. Consider a well-designed food voucher system for those at risk (controversial: but objectors should be asked to provide an effective alternative)
  6. Put an end to food waste in supermarkets
  7. Ban advertising of processed foods on TV programmes targeted on children
  8. Encourage children to play outside more - to prevent rickets
  9. Encourage production of food in gardens and promote the “Incredible Edible Todmorden” model

Richard Lawson


Sunday, May 14, 2017

We need to think about Nuclear War

There is a good reminder of the unacceptability of nuclear war on Gris Anik's blog. He lists the more salient effects: Blast, EMP, radiation, Nuclear Winter, effects on the world's 440 nuclear power stations, and problems of basic survival. Actually using nuclear weapons (and vicar's daughter Gwendoline has promised to be the first to use our WMD) would be a major disaster that would put human civilisation to an end.

So the next question is: is nuclear war going to happen? Nuclear deterrence believers will respond to this post by saying "There. You see? War would be so bad it's unthinkable. No rational man would start a nuclear war". 

And there we have it. We have not one, but two irrational, nuclear armed leaders - Donald Trump and Kim Yong-Un. We also have survived  a long series of nuclear near-misses mainly involving technical errors. Combine the two aforesaid idiots, some geopolitical tension, and another technical glitch in the Defence IT department and - boom. Goodbye world.

We need to hammer home the message: nuclear deterrence is just deferred terrorism. Nuclear deterrence can make the transition to nuclear war. Nuclea rwar is unacceptable. Therefore the international community must put an end to nuclear deterrence.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Malnutrition in the UK. We have a problem.

Here is an expanded version of this paper.

A week or two ago the Radio 4 programme More or Less took a look at the stats of childhood malnutrition, because a Parliamentary Committee had said that a lot of children suffered under nutrition during school holidays on account of no access to free school meals.
More or Less concluded this was not quite the case. The whole thing was a bit vague.

I did some research when I noticed the story come out on Twitter, because Edwina Curry pooh-poohed the story in a Let-Them-Eat-Cake sort of way.

I found this report, and on page 2 para 9 it reveals that total public health expenditure in England on malnutrition  (not the whole UK, mind) was £19.6bn.

6% (i.e. £1.176 billion) of this was for children.

That is a significant number.

A quick search throws up lots of other interesting facts. Russia Today, concerned as ever for our well-being, notes that food prices in Britain  have risen by 12% in 7 years, while wages have gone down by 7.6% in the same period.

The Patients Association finds that of hospitalised children in the UK, 16% are stunted, 14% wasted, and 20% at risk of severe malnutrition.

And so on. It seems that we do indeed have a problem.

It would be good if the subject of malnutrition got a bit of an airing in this wonderful snap election. Unfortunately BBC Radio 4 is more or less unable to discuss topics that might embarrass the Tory Party.