Lockdowns Leave Toddlers Unable to Speak and Play Properly

Toddlers’ speech and motor skills have dropped sharply in the wake of the pandemic, official data show. The Telegraph has the story.

Experts said that repeated lockdowns had left young children without the chance to play and learn how to communicate, setting back their development.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) raised fears that the gaps being witnessed now could widen in coming years, with increasing numbers of children struggling at school because basic skills were never learned.

Assessments show that one in five children are not meeting expected standards by the age of two-and-a-half, with thousands likely to need help such as speech and language therapy.

The figures came amid warnings from speech and language therapists that they are facing increasing demand, with one in three saying referrals have doubled since the pandemic.

Figures published by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities show that 79.6% of children who received a review last autumn met the expected level in all five areas of development measured.

Across the preceding three-and-a-half years covered by the data, the figure was 83.1%, the Health Service Journal reported…

Communication skills suffered one of the most significant falls in performance, according to data. Just 85.3% of children hit the expected standard, down from 88.1% over the previous 14 quarters.

Dr Doug Simkiss, the chairman of the British Association for Community Child Health, said: “The pandemic reduced the opportunities for children to play with other children and highlights the importance of nurseries and early years settings for language development.”

Worth reading in full.

Why Centre-Left Liberals Are Feeling Isolated

My former colleague at Quillette, Colin Wright, has written a good piece for his Substack newsletter about a cartoon he did in 2021 (see above) to describe his own political journey – or, rather, the fact that his political views haven’t changed, but those of his fellow liberals have, leaving him feeling isolated and under attack. Here is an extract.

I was out for a walk last Thursday when Elon Musk tweeted a political cartoon that I created in August 2021. It received hundreds of thousands of retweets and more than 1.5 million likes. The stick figure in the middle depicts me, a centre-left liberal in 2008, and how the ground had shifted under my feet by 2012 and 2021.

At the outset, I stand happily beside ‘my fellow liberal’, who is slightly to my left. In 2012 he sprints to the left, dragging out the left end of the political spectrum along and pulling the political ‘centre’ closer to me. By 2021 my fellow liberal is a ‘woke “progressive”‘, so far to the left that I’m now right of centre, even though I haven’t moved.

When my cartoon went viral, it resonated with many people – and caused dissonance in the left-wing media. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent called it a “silly chart” that has been “brutally debunked”. His colleague Philip Bump described it as “simply wrong” and an “obvious exaggeration”. Mr. Bump even provided a series of actual silly charts showing “the average ideological score (using a metric called DW-NOMINATE)” and “evaluations of ideology as measured in the biennial General Social Survey (GSS)”.

Debunking a cartoon with a chart is like answering a love poem with a syllogism. Politics and culture, like most of human reality, can’t be reduced to data and abstractions without losing much of their essence. And self-styled progressives, who love to talk about the importance of ‘lived experience’, are awfully disdainful of their critics.

Worth reading in full.

You can subscribe to Colin’s Substack newsletter here.

Exams in Chaos as Invigilators Refuse to Return Over “Fears of Catching Covid”

Schoolchildren face further disruption in their exams this summer because of a shortage of invigilators, which unions are blaming on a fear of catching Covid in ‘unsafe’ school environments. MailOnline has more.

A warning from the Association of School and College Leaders says the shortfalls are having to be covered by other staff as well as parents on some occasions.

The union thinks the lower number of invigilators is down to them finding alternative work coupled with concerns over contracting coronavirus in schools.

But despite the ASCL sounding the alarm, the Department for Education said it was confident schools could cope – insisting they would have “robust plans in place”.

ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton said invigilator shortages meant schools had to train their own staff to do it.

He added: “It is also clear that there are sufficient difficulties in recruiting enough invigilators. It would obviously reassure these staff if free Covid testing was available for exam students and we once again appeal to the government to make this simple and obvious provision.

“We also have to question whether it is right to continue to subject young people to such a huge number of high-stakes terminal exams at GCSE as is the case in the current system.

“Stress and anxiety were already problems pre-pandemic. It must surely be possible to slim down the exam system and make it more proportionate and humane.”

Usually every 30 students need to have one invigilator covering them, but the number has been increased to 40 due to the shortfall.

Rules forbidding teachers from supervising their own subjects have also been relaxed.

Somehow I suspect that the main reason is the general worker shortage, while the gripe about Covid safety is just the usual OTT health and safety moaning from the unions.

Worth reading in full.

NHS Bureaucracy DOUBLES During Pandemic – But Nurses Increase Just 7%

NHS bureaucracy has doubled since the start of the pandemic despite little change in the size of the frontline workforce, with nurses increasing just 7%, a new report reveals. The Telegraph has more.

The figures come as a record 6.4 million people – one in nine of the population – are on waiting lists, with record trolley waits in Accident & Emergency departments. 

And it follows concern that an extra £12 billion a year funding boost, funded by a 1.25% National Insurance hike, which came in last month, will be swallowed on management salaries, instead of clearing the backlogs. 

The new analysis shows that the number of officials working in the Department of Health and NHS England has more than doubled in two years, with even sharper rises seen at the most senior levels. Meanwhile the number of nurses rose by just 7%, thinktank the Policy Exchange found. Its experts said the trends showed an “astonishing” explosion in central bureaucracy, calling for an urgent review and action to slim down and streamline its workings. 

The findings come ahead of a review of leadership in the NHS by a former army general. Sir Gordon Messenger has been sent in by Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, amid concern over the quality of management in the NHS as the service faces the biggest backlogs in its history. The general has been asked to stamp out “waste and wokery” in the health service and ensure “every pound is well spent”.

The analysis shows that the total pay bill at the Government department and central body in charge of the NHS has doubled in the two years since February 2020, from £42 million to £83 million.

The workforce of the bodies rose from 7,883 to 14,515 over the period, with the number of senior officials rising by 125%. 

Even these figures exclude health agencies – such as the U.K. Health Security Agency – and its predecessor Public Health England, which expanded during the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, the nursing workforce rose by just 7% – from 298,632 to 319,808, despite desperate shortages of frontline staff. 

It comes as Boris Johnson orders a Civil Service cull, with 91,000 jobs due to go in order to cut costs by £3.5 billion…

The report shows some of the steepest rises in bureaucracy come at the top of the health bodies. The figures show a 130% increase in senior roles at NHS England in just two years, while the senior headcount at the Department of Health doubled.

Martin Kulldorff and Jay Bhattacharya Help Set Up New Scientific Academy to Allow “Free Exchange of Ideas”

A new academy to allow “the free exchange of ideas” has been set up by scientists who say they were “silenced, censored, and slandered” for questioning the handling of the pandemic. Lucy Johnston in the Express has more.

The Academy for Science and Freedom, at Washington’s Hillsdale College, is expected to be running within months, with the aim of combatting “the recent and widespread abuses of individual and academic freedom made in the name of science”.

Professors Martin Kulldorff and Jay Bhattacharya who are involved in the academy were two of the three creators of the Great Barrington Declaration, which called for a focussed protection approach to Covid rather than blanket restrictions.

Both men faced heavy criticism for the proposal, with trolls branding them ‘alt-right’ and even ‘climate change deniers’. Harvard’s Prof Kullfdorff suggested a ‘cartel system’ had seized control of scientific debate, resulting in scientists being too scared to speak against the then-accepted narrative.

“No scientists have a monopoly on the truth”, added Prof Bhattacharya, of Stanford University.

He said: “The level of suppression of freedom of discussion has been a shock to me during the pandemic. Big tech and the government have worked together to ensure voices were suppressed. Many scientists remain silent for fear of being smeared.”

Sir Jeremy Farrar – director of the Wellcome Trust and a senior Sage member – claimed in a recent book that government adviser Dominic Cummings “wanted to run an aggressive press campaign against those behind the Great Barrington Declaration and others opposed to blanket COVID-19 restrictions”.

Prof Bhattacharya said: “The goal was to create an illusion that the scientific community was united in its favour of lockdown policies and disagreement with this did not exist.”

“We want to create this academy of freedom of discussion in science and make sure that Science keeps its proper place in society.”

“No scientists have a monopoly on the truth and no scientist is omnipresent.”

Worth reading in full.

Data From Iceland and Australia Confirm: Vaccine Effectiveness Is Overstated

Back in March, I wrote a post noting that excess mortality data from Europe and Israel were hard to reconcile with claims of 95% vaccine effectiveness against death. However, I also noted that some countries data were consistent with very high vaccine effectiveness against death.

The two examples I gave were Australia and Iceland – both countries with very high vaccination rates. By the end of 2021, each country had double-vaccinated 77% of its population, compared to only 70% in the U.K. and only 63% in the U.S. (see below).

At the time I wrote the post, Iceland had only seen a minor uptick in excess mortality, while Australia had not seen any at all – despite both countries experiencing major outbreaks in the winter/spring of 2022. If countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Israel had seen deadly post-vaccination waves, why hadn’t Iceland and Australia? That was the puzzle.

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Woke Capitalism Meets Reality

Woke capitalism is fast going out of fashion as hard realities catch up – as they inevitably do – with progressive posturing. Matthew Lynn summarises the developments in the Telegraph.

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, has just announced that it won’t expect the companies it invests in to meet so many environmental goals. Sweden’s SEB said recently it would lift its blanket ban on defence companies. And Barclays has said – shock horror – that it is willing to back oil and gas exploration once again. One by one, major asset managers are revisiting their fashionable pursuit of ESG and climate change.

True, that is long overdue, and will make the capital markets work better. And yet the bigger lesson is that the fund managers should never have allowed themselves to become so politicised in the first place. It is not their job, and they are really, really bad at it. The sooner they get back to simply investing in well-run companies making decent products, the better.

In the capital markets, when BlackRock speaks everyone listens. The American giant is the largest single asset manager in the world controlling $10 trillion (£8 trillion) in equities and bonds. There is hardly a major business in the world where it is not a significant shareholder.

In January last year, its chief executive Larry Fink positioned the firm as a champion of ESG – which stands for environmental, social and governance investing – pledging to wield its votes in favour of motions that committed companies to ambitious targets for combating climate change. This week, in a significant turnaround, it said it would wind down its support for proposals that were “too prescriptive”…

It is not hard to understand why that is happening right now. In truth, many of the causes major investors have taken up with so much enthusiasm are looking remarkably idiotic right now.

With soaring energy prices, wholesale disinvestment in oil and gas was clearly very short-sighted, especially as greener alternatives are not yet ready to meet global demand. All it has done is stoke up inflation, and make the West dependent on Russian energy instead.

And following Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, refusing to invest in defence looks worryingly naïve, especially if you happen to be Swedish (Russia annexed chunks of the country’s territory in the Great Northern War of the 1720s, and, as we have discovered, Putin has a long memory). It may look good in an annual report, but it is not so great when the shooting starts… A major investment firm should be capable of working out that if you unilaterally disarm yourself – which was what it meant in practice – you were only encouraging aggressors such as Putin. It is just naïve and silly.

Worth reading in full.

The Pandemic’s WFH Legacy is a “Catastrophe for the British Economy” Driving an “Epidemic of Inefficiency”, Says Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur John Caudwell has condemned the pandemic-induced work-from-home culture as “a catastrophe for the British economy” and an “epidemic of inefficiency sweeping the country” as he demands in the Mail that civil servants get back to their desks.

Up and down the country, large parts of life are not functioning as they should, causing enormous frustration as we carry out our daily tasks.

From delays of as much of three months for renewing a passport or driving licence to finding it impossible to speak to a human to pay a bill or make a complaint, the pandemic has left a trail of destruction that Britain is still reeling from.

And I’m sorry to say, this situation seems to suits some people rather well.

Part of the problem is the continuing trend for working from home, which some see as an absolute windfall that allows them to walk the dog, have a long lunch, look after the children and still collect full pay.

But there is something else, too: a growing sense of entitlement on the part of workers who believe that jobs exist for their own convenience rather than to serve customers or the public.

And it is the civil service who particularly benefit from this privilege of convenience.

Whitehall workers enjoy job security and generous pensions – and all for hours that allow them to clock off at five o’clock.

But while customers can hold private companies to account for sloppy service by simply going elsewhere, they have no such option for the Government departments that run essential parts of their daily lives.

Worse, their taxes pay the wages of our enormous public sector workforce, leading to a growing sense of resentment when they are put on hold for the umpteenth time – or simply don’t get put through to a human on the phone at all.

The sheer scale of the epidemic of inefficiency sweeping the country means Boris Johnson’s plans to tackle the overstaffed public sector by taking a knife to more than 90,000 civil service jobs in line with pre-pandemic levels is hugely welcome.

European Commission Plans Gas Sharing and Rationing Measures if Russian Supplies are Interrupted

The European Commission is planning to approve a gas sharing plan if Russian supplies are interrupted, according to a document leaked to the Spanish newspaper El Pais. Under the plan, EU member states will have to share gas sourced from other suppliers between themselves, as well as ration energy in a way that doesn’t favour those member states with alternative suppliers. The article has been translated into English by the German blog Blackout News.

Russia has already suspended supplies to Poland and Bulgaria because those countries refuse to pay in roubles. Other European countries face similar threats. El Pais reports that the EU will use the Security of Supply Regulation, in place since 2017, to guarantee the supply of gas to priority customers, such as private households and social institutions, in all EU member states. It is already feared that some European industries could face severe rationing in the event of significant shortages. Countries with supply problems would be able to enforce the solidarity clause and force their neighbours with alternative suppliers to share some of their gas with them.

Priority will be given to gas-powered electricity stations. Sources in the European Commission have stressed that: “States are asking us to come up with a co-ordinated plan to decide jointly and uniformly which industries are affected by possible rationing and to avoid creating a competition problem between them.”