Young People

Mental And Physical Health of Young Children Damaged by Lockdown, Welsh Study Shows

A survey conducted in 2020 by Cardiff University has uncovered that primary school age children reported a substantial increase in ‘emotional difficulties’ compared with an identical survey conducted two years prior. In addition, those from disadvantaged backgrounds reported having emotional and behavioural problems at twice the rate of wealthier families, with the research also unveiling that, during this period, children were on unhealthier diets as well as getting less exercise. The Guardian has more.

A biennial survey conducted by investigators at Cardiff University found that primary school-age children reported a sharp increase in ‘elevated or clinically significant emotional difficulties’ in early 2021, compared with the same survey conducted in 2019.

The survey between April and June found that 27% of children in year six showed significant emotional difficulties, compared with just 17% in 2019, while reporting little change in behavioural difficulties. Children from poorer backgrounds were nearly twice as likely to report emotional and behavioural difficulties compared to those from affluent families.

Kelly Morgan, a Social Science Research Fellow at Cardiff, said the impact of the pandemic was likely to leave a “lifelong footprint” on the mental health of children as they grew older, based on evidence from previous international studies.

“From our findings, children and their families were extensively affected over the course of the pandemic”, Morgan said. “We know that it was illegal for children to meet others to play at some points, but also that children were deeply concerned about the health of their family and others”.

The survey highlighted the important role schools have played during and after the pandemic. Of the children surveyed, 90% said they felt cared for by their teachers and 80% said there was at least one adult in school they could talk to.

Professor Graham Moore, who led the study, which was funded by the Welsh Government and examined data from 1,863 children in 76 schools, said it showed that good relationships were maintained between teachers and their pupils. “These connections remained consistently strong among the children we surveyed, demonstrating the vital role education professionals have played for young people during the pandemic”.

“It’s plausible that if teachers and support staff hadn’t done such a good job of connecting with their pupils in this way, we would be dealing with an even greater mental health crisis among our children”, Moore said.

The study revealed that in terms of diet and exercise, the 10 and 11 year-olds surveyed were ‘consistently less healthy’ during the pandemic than in previous years. The proportion of children eating daily portions of vegetables dropped from 52% in 2019 to 41% in 2021, while those eating fruit every day dropped from 59% to 47%.

Worth reading in full.

Feudalism’s Revenge: Freudian Phantasies of the Near-Future

by Frederick Attenborough

The U.K. Government’s latest attempt to satiate Boris Johnson’s multiple, complex and apparently chronic penetrative insemination paraphilias will involve the private sector in bribing young people with discounted takeaway food and free taxi rides. Food delivery and taxi-hailing firms including Uber, Bolt, Deliveroo and Pizza Pilgrims have all been enrolled in this latest psychiatric intervention and are now offering incentives for young people to arouse the Prime Minister’s husband by receiving what he’s taken to referring to during Cabinet meetings as “the pharmaceutical boys’ ejaculate”. “How many disease vectors have the pharmaceutical boys ejaculated into this week?” he’ll ask excitedly, often several times a minute, the words oozing up and out of that capricious little slit in his head like smarmy treacle, mellifluous and full of privilege.

As you might imagine, the BBC got themselves pretty hot and horny about this, the policy’s underlying mix of messianic, full-throttle welfarism and Old Testament-style retributive psychopathy touching a sweet spot for the munificent totalitarians over at New Broadcasting House. Not that they were able to get off as many superlatives as they’d have liked. True, manipulation of the young is as essential to the BBC as it is to every other elite western institution currently waging war on that dangerous, socially harmful pathogen known as “cognitive diversity” – sorry, I mean “Covid misinformation”. But unlike, say, the Guardian, Independent SAGE or Emily Maitlis, the BBC’s efforts to save the povvy proles from wrongthink are forever getting ensnared in all sorts of tiresome, fuddy-duddy, neo-Victorian priggery: here, a Royal Charter blathering on about fairness and due impartiality; there, a Parliamentary Select Committee stuffed to the gills with white men all bloviating away about discredited colonial-era shibboleths like objectivity and truth, and everywhere you look hardworking reporters barely able to take a rhetorical step without some ghastly white supremacist popping out from behind a copy of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and demanding they stop acting like the public relations arm of the global pharmaceutical industry.

So what the BBC gave us instead was outsourced complicity. Subcontracted collusion. Not the direct and immediate backslapping, hip-hip hooraying support of a sycophantic apparatchik, but rather, the dry, Machiavellian inclusion of comparative statistics all too capable of proving the laggardly, anti-social deviance of the young vis-à-vis other jab-happy groups in society. “More than 68% of 18 to 29 year-olds have had a first jab,” Lord Reith’s proselytising neurotics declared, before immediately moving to morally shame those 18 to 29 year-olds with the revelation that: “More than 72% of U.K. adults have had two doses so far, while 88.5% have had one.” So really, when they write, “More than 68% of 18 to 29 year-olds…”, what they actually mean for you to hear is, “Only 68% of 18 to 29 year-olds…,” or perhaps, if you spent long enough rummaging around in your outraged adverbs box, “Disgustingly, only 68% of 18 to 29 year-olds…”. Can you see what they’re doing here? It’s called ‘othering’. Or, if you prefer, ‘seeding stigmatisation into a population’.

Still, if the BBC thinks a game of statistics top-trumps is the best way to nudge the country into accepting the need for specific political, economic and social responses to pressing public health issues, then I’m all for it. I’ve managed to dig up some interesting statistics of my own, you see; statistics pertaining to the economic costs and consequences of overweight and obesity to and for the U.K. Government. “Oh. That’s… good?” you hazard, no doubt hoping to humour me until the police can locate you. “But, uhm, what’s it got to do with the U.K. Government’s response to Covid?” “Plenty,” I respond, suddenly with real menace in my voice; and from somewhere up above, out there in the impenetrable darkness, you catch the unmistakeable sound of a hatch quietly being lowered.

This is, let’s not forget, a Government that’s apparently so desperate – so pitifullyfrantically, hyperventilatingly  desperate – to protect an already overstretched NHS from reaching some kind of ‘breaking point’, that it feels it has no choice but to begin bribing young people into visiting their local jabbatoir. And what do those bribes involve? The provision of discounted, fat-drenched, cholesterol stuffed, artery-clogging fast food with some free exercise cancelling taxi rides thrown in for good measure. Bribes, in other words, that could only ever reinforce bad dietary habits amongst the young, fuel the U.K.’s already alarming obesity epidemic and… yep, you’ve guessed it: push an already overstretched NHS closer towards some kind of ‘breaking point’.

Ah, the NHS. Do you remember those halcyon days back in early-2020 when the authorities actually bothered to articulate a semi-coherent rationale for why we were all being forced to destroy our lives, livelihoods and businesses? The NHS was in grave crisis. It couldn’t cope. Covid had broken the system. The future would be nothing but a faded song of wistful regret, and the time of our deaths would be felt as every fractured, dissociated moment of life, and the withering of withered flowers would not cease, and the wrinkles of our palms would whisper to clairvoyants of tragedy, and when we spoke, our voices, hollow and resigned, would be as rat’s feet over broken glass, and…

Unless…

Unless, that is, we obeyed. Unless we unquestioningly, unthinkingly, obeyed every order we were given. Unless we stayed home. Unless we saved lives. Unless we protected the NHS. If we did exactly as we were told, and if we continued indefinitely to do exactly as we were told, then maybe, just maybe, the authorities might be able to save our poor, ailing NHS from the threat of human sickness. And so it began…

Silence! Stand back! Look at the floor, epidemiological porridge! Declare your pathogens! Confess to your exposures! Did any of you DARE put the NHS at risk during your lunch hour this afternoon? Did you [sharp intake of breath!]… MINGLE?!? Have you [shudders!]… ‘TOUCHED’ one another?!? What’s that – “No,” you say?! Well, we’ll see about that, won’t we? Strip search their thoracic cavities, Sergeant, every hour on the hour. (Oh, and Sergeant? Make it hurt, will you). I said SILENCE! Breathe intermittently, you dogs, and even then only in a shallow manner! Excessive diaphragmatic movements are being monitored from above by drones! We won’t be taking any chances with the NHS’s health, do you hear me, filthy bollock cattle! Put a mask on! And another one! And another! Now put one over your genitalia for good measure! Then another one… over your face this time; over your face! Now put a bag over your head to protect your masks! Then another one! Nice and tight, come on; nice and tight! Now asphyxiate yourself with the plastic bags – reassure the receptionist at your local surgery that you aren’t an asymptomatic spreader! Stay home, protect your tumours! Vacuum your tongue! Pasteurise your carpets! Bleach your disinfectant! Now clap for the NHS, you scum; clap! Smile and gurn, do you hear me; SMILE AND GURN! Whoop and holler! Dribble and burp – like you mean it, parasites; LIKE YOU MEAN IT!! Now repeat after your local celebrity gauleiter, slowly and with an imbecilic smile playing about your lips, “Thank you, NHS; Thank you, N… LOUDER, MITOCHONDRIAL SLUT WHORES; LOUDER… Thank you, NHS; Thank you, NHS; Thank you, N…”

So that was the rationale: the Government asked us to protect ourselves and each other from Covid because to do so would also be to protect the NHS.

But hang on a minute… because if that’s the rationale, then what about overweight and obesity? Doesn’t the NHS need protection from those things too? Aren’t they also putting existential pressure on the NHS?

According to the most recent Health Survey for England in 2019 (published December 2020), 28% of adults in England are obese and a further 36.2% are overweight. Just stop and think about that for a minute. It’s incredible. 64.2% of the U.K. is either overweight or obese. Put another way – and in language that those who are currently having such a jolly time dehumanising the unvaccinated can hardly complain about – two out of every three people you’re likely to meet today will be fat bastards.

A recent Government guidance document, “Health Matters: Obesity and the Food Environment“, also makes clear that “younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese into adulthood”. These “younger generations” are, of course, the generations our Government is seeking to bribe with discounted fatty foods and free taxi rides to get them herded into the sheep dip, rinsed, ear-tagged and then corralled up the exit ramp and out into the pharma’s fields to await subsequent analysis and, as necessary, burial after what the media will no doubt euphemistically describe as “a short illness”. More specifically, we know that 24% of all 16-24 year-olds are “overweight” and 13% are classified as “obese”. That’s 37% of all 16-24 year-olds in the U.K. doing themselves a little too well on the starchy foodstuffs. Sadly, even more belts need letting out a notch or two in the 25-34 year-old category: 35% of this age range are “overweight” whilst another 23% have had to be winched into the “obese” category.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Ours is a culture with a rather romantic view of people at this stage of life. Young thrusters, we often say. The change-makers. Bright young things, dashing about hither and yon like extras trapped in a never-ending episode of Normal People: forming unnecessarily complicated relationships, agonising about how they’d probably rather be having unnecessarily complicated casual sex instead, breaking off unnecessarily complicated relationships in unnecessarily complicated ways, learning absolutely nothing in the process and then dashing off somewhere else to do the whole thing again. But what these stats reveal is that, far from dashing about anywhere, two thirds of them would probably struggle to climb a flight of stairs without pausing for a bit of a breather halfway up. If the world is their oyster, it’s an oyster that’s been topped with butter, spinach and parsley and served up in a Rockefeller sauce.

It’s not like you can even argue that successive Governments have managed to get a grip on the situation and that, as a result, obesity now constitutes less of a health challenge to the U.K. than it once did. Back in 1993, for instance, 53% of people in this country were overweight or obese. In and of itself, of course, that’s a terrible stat and unlikely to have any of us pointing with pride at the abstemiousness of previous generations. But as we’ve already seen, 1993’s “terrible” had gotten much worse by 2019, the percentage of people falling into one or other of these categories having reached 64% (i.e., a 21% increase on 1993). Scarily, the rate of increase in those classifiable as obese was even higher, virtually doubling over that same period, from 15% to 28%. What we also know is that fat is bound up with socio-economic issues like social class. Deprived children and young adults (i.e., precisely the people for whom bribes of free fast-food and discounted taxis might seem particularly appealing) are far more likely to be overweight or obese. That’s why obesity prevalence of the most deprived 10% of children is now approximately twice that of the least deprived 10%.

As this last little factoid suggests, the problem with fat is that it isn’t just a personal trouble. Much like Covid, it’s a complex social, economic, biomedical, psychological, cultural and public health-related issue too. According to Public Health England, for instance, the NHS spends around £6.1 billion every year on the direct consequences of obesity. This spending is “direct” in the sense that people who either are, or who’ve allowed themselves to become, overweight and obese need treatment for health problems caused directly by the excess weight they’re carrying: high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, stroke, asthma and so on. But these people also increase their risk of developing a whole host of other diseases. If you’re obese you’re more likely to develop liver and kidney disease; you’re three times more likely than those with a normal Body Mass Index to develop colon cancer; you’re two and a half times more likely to develop high blood pressure (a risk factor for heart disease, by the way); you’re five times more likely to develop type two diabetes; you’re at risk of gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia during pregnancy; you’re more likely to require psychological support from trained healthcare professionals; you’re… well, you get the idea. The list of secondary complications is enormous.

As is the bill.

So whilst the NHS does indeed spend £6.1 billion directly on obesity each year, the total cost of obesity to society has been calculated at a whopping £27 billion. You don’t have to be a right-wing economist to see that individual, lifestyle-related health problems that cost that much are going to have huge political, social and economic consequences in a society like the U.K. where a universal, free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare system is funded through general taxation.

That’s why the Royal Society for Public Health are suggesting that unless actions they describe as “urgent and radical” are taken to tackle the issue, we’re likely to see a 59% rise in the direct costs of obesity to the NHS by 2050. One imagines the “urgent and radical” actions they have in mind probably don’t involve the government in subsidizing young people’s bad dietary and exercise habits. By the way, if we were to see a similar percentage rise in the overall cost of obesity to society across that same period, annual spending would rise to around £46 billion (although, interestingly, Public Health England predict a slightly steeper rise in the overall cost of obesity to society, their estimate coming in at £49.9 billion). To put that into context, it’s more than the U.K. Government currently spends each year on personal social services (£35 billion), transport (£44 billion), public order and safety (£38 billion) and housing and environment (£30 billion), and it’s not that far behind what they spend on national defence either (£55 billion).

Perhaps the most puzzling thing about the Government’s decision to bribe vaccine-hesitant kids with fast-food and exercise-cancelling forms of mobility is that they surely must know the sorts of problems these inducements are likely to store up for the medium to long term. There’s a section of a Public Health England report from 2017 entitled, “Factors behind the rise in obesity levels“, in which the authors note that “more than a quarter of adults and one fifth of children eat food from out of home food outlets at least once a week”. They go on to describe that behaviour as “an important factor contributing to rising levels of obesity”, because the meals in question “tend to be associated with higher intakes of sugar, fat, and salt and portion sizes tend to be bigger”. Later, they declare that “we are not burning off enough of the calories that we consume”. But not to worry, everyone. Don’t panic. Public Health England have got a plan, you see. Well go on then, Public Health England, relate your no doubt facile and unnecessarily bureaucratic plan: “Public Health England’s plan to tackle obesity includes looking at behaviour change relating to healthier eating and increasing physical activity.”

So the same people Public Health England have been trying to wean off bad diets and low-exercise lifestyles for the last couple of years are now to be given incentives to eat takeaways and ride around with their feet up in the back of discounted taxis? Hmm.

It’s all pretty cynical, isn’t it? The Government didn’t set about improving vaccination rates amongst the young by offering free fresh fruit and vegetables because they knew full well that that wouldn’t work. Then they remembered:  “The nippers like fast food! It makes them feel good!!” So they set about knowingly exploiting a human weakness to bring about their desired political outcome. In fact, that’s not just cynical. It’s basic human conditioning. Two stimuli are being linked together to produce a new learned response: the actions of eating fast food and not exercising already create positive feelings for many young people [unconditioned stimulus]; Government policy then associates doing the right thing by society with eating fast food and not exercising [conditioned stimulus]; and finally, when the conditioned and unconditioned stimuli have successfully been associated, a new conditioned response is created such that eating fast food and not exercising comes to be associated with doing the right thing by society.

But is this [choke!]… deliberate? Would they [gasp!]… knowingly set out to achieve such a thing? Are they [gulp!]… intentionally fattening up the kids because they’ve got ambitious, non-negotiable net-zero targets to meet by 2035 and the bloke who changes the bins and mops the floors for Professor Ferguson’s team over at Imperial College reckons teenage visceral fat might release fewer harmful emissions than fossil fuels if it’s fed into an internal combustion engine, so Boris has decided to give the thing a whirl with phase one of a mass culling exercise set to commence as soon as the average BMI for 16-21 year-olds hits 25.2?! Or are we to assume that [splutter!]… where Ivan Pavlov spent the 1890s showing that animals could be trained to salivate at the sound of a bell being rung because the ringing of that bell had previously accompanied the arrival of their food, the Government is now actively planning to coax its own livestock into salivating at the thought of falling Covid case numbers because similar declines previously always accompanied them getting on the outside of a double cheeseburger?!?

Deliberate intent, preparedness, meticulous planning… and Boris Johnson? One smiles. An administration led by Carrie’s parliamentary envoy could no more design and implement a policy capable of achieving its stated objectives than the man himself could organise a bukkake party in a Turkish brothel notorious even amongst its local competitors for operating rather a lax moral code.

But just because this eccentric little homage to human conditioning is the accidental side-effect of a poorly designed initiative, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we should immediately dismiss it as meaningless or politically insignificant. Too often in life, we demarcate the deliberate from the accidental on the basis of intentionality. Deliberate acts, we say to ourselves, must mean something, must knowingly have been undertaken and must therefore reveal something of a person’s intentions. Accidents, on the other hand, we determine to be meaningless simply because they weren’t performed intentionally: “I’m sorry,” as the exculpatory saying so beloved of all recently exposed philanderers has it. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” But what if meaningful phenomena sometimes leaked out unknowingly when people caused accidents? What if slip-ups, stumbles, mispronunciations, repeated patterns of odd behaviour (etc.) could reveal someone’s intentions, motivations or desires without that person ever realising that that was the case?

Certainly that well-known white supremacist, Sigmund Freud, believed that these apparently trivial moments – what he referred to as ‘parapraxes’ but that we know simply as ‘Freudian slips’ – had the power to reveal the unconscious; those deepest, darkest, most powerful ideas that prey on a person’s mind, influencing their actions and their lives. Freud’s claim was that a person’s superego, normally so capable of repression, sometimes flickered momentarily, like a current switched off and on; and in those moments our actions would often betray us: grief still too raw to be processed after half a century, caught in the slip of a tongue; libidinal attachments to a particular prohibition, petrified in the repeated and apparently accidental mispronunciation of a word; or sadistic impulses embedded within a predictive computer model that consistently over-exaggerates epidemiological risk.

That’s not to say that all accidents constitute parapraxes. Naturally, there are events that are accidental in the original meaning of that word and are brought about by chance or fate. Where a government rarely if ever ends up salving one crisis by generating another, for instance, we may feel confident in describing those rare instances as “accidents”. But where that same government repeatedly responds to crises with initiatives that cannot help but generate other crises, we are perhaps entitled to consider whether something a little more parapraxis-like than chance might lie at the root of the problem…

…which is exactly the issue we need to consider here, because although the Government’s attempt to bribe kids into taking a jab today on the promise of flab tomorrow is indeed “accidental”, it can hardly be dismissed as a one-off. On the contrary, it provides further, highly suggestive empirical evidence that something akin to a Freudian “repetition compulsion” has recently taken hold across Government departments and the civil service more generally. Consider the highlights reel from this burgeoning dataset:

The Government bribes young people with fast-food and free taxi rides to coax them into taking a vaccine capable of reducing Covid-related pressure on the NHS… only to “accidentally” generate increased obesity-related pressure on the NHS; they mandate the wearing of single-use plastic masks in all public places to save the NHS from Covid-related pressure in the here-and-now… only to “accidentally” end up generating multiple and complex environmental and climate-related crises for the future; they force people to stay at home through lockdown policies designed to save the NHS from what they claim would otherwise have been unmanageable numbers of Covid-related hospitalisations in the here-and-now… only to “accidentally” end up generating unmanageable numbers of mental-health-related referrals and hospitalisations for the NHS in the future; they order the cancellation of many standard and pre-booked NHS appointments and operations to free up hospital beds during a global pandemic… only to “accidentally” generate a different type of health crisis as the NHS starts to come under pressure from conditions left untreated during lockdown, including cirrhosis, heart disease and diabetes; they order… and so it goes, policy after policy, month after month; a Government now so lost amidst the rubble of its own electoral mandate that it’s forgotten why or even when it started gambling away the country’s future in this giant, seemingly endless game of bureaucratic Whack-a-Mole.

Writing about the psychoanalytic import of parapraxes in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud likened them to “unnoticed openings which let a penetrating eye at once into a man’s soul”. I wonder. Could it be that the Government’s crisis-generative behaviour represents just such an unnoticed opening? Is what we’re seeing when we peer at these accidents with a “penetrating eye” not incompetence, but the very soul of power? Do these repeated Governmental slip-ups, in which crises proliferate rather than dwindle, mark the irruption into political life of power’s deepest, darkest unconscious desire; a desire to ‘take care of people’?

Now at this juncture, it’s likely that that part of us which still believes in the importance of welfarism to any civilised society might interject with a curt, “Yes; and what of it?” “True,” our better selves might concede: “It’s a little odd that bunglers like Johnson and Javid can’t seem to look at a crisis without about half a dozen others popping up all around them. But if these peculiar little fellows mean well; if their hearts are in the right place and all they’re trying to do is look out for us, then what’s the problem? It’s alright for the Toby Youngs and James Delingpoles of this world, isn’t it,” we’d continue. “Muscle-bound young Adonises that they are, roaming the countryside in unnecessarily tight-fitting loincloths, hunting wild boar with their bare hands and shagging all the birds in sight. They can take care of themselves, can’t they? But what about the rest of us, staggering from one hospital appointment to the next, hawking our irritable bowels, chronic gout and erectile dysfunction around what few clinicians remain who can still bear to look at our corpusculent bodies without retching involuntarily? Don’t we need a bit of support every now and then? Don’t we deserve a government that’s eager and willing to… take care of us?”

All true, no doubt. But the phrase, “to take care of someone” is peculiarly polysemic. It is of course easy to imagine it falling from the lips of a slightly plump, middle-aged adult care nurse named Bev, as she seeks to reassure a group of anxious parents that their sons and daughters are going to be just fine on their first-ever day-trip outside the confines of the institution. “Don’t worry,” one pictures this buxom Beveridgeian paternalist cooing, perhaps even lightly touching the elbow of the parent closest to her with her palm as she does so; “Don’t worry; I’ll take care of them.” But it’s just as easy to imagine the phrase cropping up in conversation between a gangland boss who feels he’s exhausted every means of mediation available to him during a protracted legal dispute with two entirely refractory business rivals, and a man known only as “Bang Bang Tony” whom he’s employed to break the impasse and bring negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion. “Don’t worry,” Bang Bang Tony murmurs, his voice echoing around a disused warehouse as they both stare dispassionately at two gagged, bound and badly beaten bodies in the boot of a car. “I’ll take care of them.”

Governments have been attempting to ‘take care of us’ (a la Bev), and at the same time ‘take care of us‘ (a la Bang Bang Tony) since the birth of modernity. Everywhere you look, you see the same benevolent illiberalism baked-into the very fabric of our social system, from the psychological sciences (“We want to know what makes citizens tick so that we might help them better adjust to social life [Bev]… and then manipulate them into doing what we want them to do” [Bang Bang Tony]), the spectre of vaccine mandates (“We want our citizens to be kept as safe as possible… which also means culling any undesirables who won’t allow us to force our vaccine into their bodies”) and the pension system (“We want our citizens to have the best quality of life possible in their old-age… which means that they’re going to have to do exactly as they’re told in the workplace until they reach the age of 67”), through to mortgages (“We’re committed to building a global, credit-based financial architecture capable of empowering all citizens to own their own home… which means they’ll have to behave like good little boys and girls, maintaining excellent credit scores throughout their lives and never, ever stepping out of paid employment and into those spaces of self-employment where we can’t so easily discipline them”), national curricula (“We want our young citizens to learn the skills necessary to succeed in a global, complex and increasingly interdependent world… so we’re going to indoctrinate them with all the globalist values and beliefs that we, and not you – their parents – believe to be the right – indeed the only – values and beliefs to hold in the 21st century”), and, well… just about every other structure, process or institution you care to think of, really.

The only thing that’s ever stood between this desire to ‘take care’ of people and the governmental colonisation of every aspect of everyday life has been a democratic system of government that, frankly, the British establishment has had buyer’s remorse about ever since Lord Grey, in a typically Whiggish moment of fat-headedness, signed them up to the blasted thing on an unbreakable, long-term leasehold contract. A nice sense of the proprieties of modern, egalitarian living prevents those who move within the rarefied upper echelons of our society from publicly endorsing the concept of feudalism, but one can’t help picturing them sighing a little wistfully whenever the topic of their forebears crops up over the breakfast table: Masters slaughtering Serfs, Serfs cowering in fear of Masters, and everything so arranged as to make for the best of all possible worlds.

It’s easy to celebrate democracy from below, isn’t it? Chartism, Peterloo, the Suffragettes – all that Ken Loach-y stuff where it never stops raining and everyone’s forever popping off home to die of consumption. Viewed from the perspective of those it dispossessed, however, it’s a total car crash. Not only does it render feudalism’s hitherto unbounded Masters into electorally ensnared Politicians, but then, as if that weren’t bad enough, it transforms their hitherto docile and unquestioningly obedient Serfs into ‘The Masses’, that is, a semi-literate, prematurely enfranchised rabble who’re always too busy rutting, boozing and fighting for you to ever properly be able to catch their attentions and persuade them that their interests would actually best be served by voting for you – as a Politician now, of course – and letting you ‘take care of them’, for the duration of a short Parliamentary term.

Can you even begin to imagine how maddening that must be for our contemporary elites, harbouring all the same urges as the Masters of old [You will be taken care of, scum, or you will die…”], but now forced to parade about like a lot of silly asses in the garb of a Politician [“Hello madam, we’re from the government… would it be possible, do you think, for us to talk with you abou… oh yes… yes; yes of course… no… no, no… only for a few minutes, of course… yes, you’re very busy… yes, I understand entirely … well I’ll try and keep this short, then… ahem… so what we were hoping to talk to you about today was how – only with your permission, you understand – we’d like to bring some proposals before Parliament that have the express aim of taking care of you…”]?

Think about it counterfactually for a moment. Picture yourself as the scion of an immensely wealthy, privileged and well-connected British family. You were educated at Eton and Oxford. True, you only graduated with a third in PPE, and, in all honesty, you’d probably struggle to pour piss out of a boot even if someone told you there were instructions printed on the sole. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that while you were there you spent a goodish chunk of time hanging out with other, similarly vapid scions from other similarly wealthy, privileged and well-connected families, all of whom were just as keen as you to develop answers to all the world’s most pressing problems…

… Vegan electricity! Organic quantitative easing! Compostable concrete! Recycled pilchards! Genetically modified haemorrhoids capturing and storing methane gas!…

Entering the labour market soon thereafter, you swerve any actual engagement with the actual world, leveraging your family’s connections to secure a string of well-paid advisory positions with various, high-ranking government ministers. Working behind the scenes in Whitehall, you connect with many other likeminded morons, all of whom are just as keen as you to develop answers to the world’s most pressing problems…

… Babies made out of falafel! Carbon credits for non-binary parrakeets! Digital runner beans! Eco homes built from quinoa and soy wax!…

Before long, Conservative Party H.Q. are paying for you to have your head varnished in media-friendly light teak waterproof gloss, an important rite of passage that can only mean one thing: the Prime Minister feels you’re ready to appear on TV as a government spokesperson, no doubt because he’s heard you’re as keen as he is to develop answers to the world’s most pressing problems…

… Meat that photosynthesises! Windmills threshing greenhouse gases into rye flour! Solar-powered gas boilers!…

You become a regular at Davos. Klaus Schwab looks upon you as one of his closest friends and allies. Whenever your respective people can make it work diary-wise, you wrestle with Tony Blair on a specially designed, massage oil resistant foam crash mat in his private gymnasium. Bono sometimes pops by, just to watch (although sometimes you play “winner stays on”). In a sure sign, you’re being groomed to take over a major ministerial portfolio, the Conservative Party select you as their Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for a safe Conservative seat (CON +16,547) in a part of England that, apparently, the locals refer to as “South Yorkshire” (“Look it up,” you tell your special advisor during an early general election campaign strategy meeting,. “It might be significant”).

At last, you say to yourself. A chance to persuade the great unwashed that you’re ready, willing and able to take care of them. You’re excited, rightly so, and you turn up to your first hustings event prepped and ready to deliver a two-hour PowerPoint presentation. It’s your hope – indeed, your expectation – that its contents will inspire The Masses to become as keen as you are to develop answers to the world’s most pressing problems…

… Farms repurposed as nature reserves! Sex factories harnessing renewable energy from the force of thousands of incarcerated testicles slapping against thousands of gap-year volunteering arse-cheeks!…

Oh yes. You’ve got all the answers haven’t you, smarty pants. But do The Masses care? Not one bit. Society, the climate… planet Earth: they’re all dying, right now, right this minute, and you’ve only got about four minutes and 23 seconds to save everyone from disaster. And what do The Masses plan on doing about it? Nothing, that’s what. It’s almost as if they aren’t actually bothered about developing answers to the world’s most pressing problems. Certainly, all they seem to want to heckle you about, slide after slide, are laughably inconsequential local issues like mass unemployment, rising levels of homelessness, hyperinflation, widespread food shortages, children starving to death on the streets, civil war and a state-sponsored pogrom against the unvaccinated; issues which, in any case, are more properly addressed to their respective parish councils, town clerks or the organisers of their local Neighbourhood Watch schemes. Spiritually bloodied yet intellectually unbowed, you continue to lecture them right through to your final PowerPoint slide – slide number 152, to be precise – not because the audience is captivated – they aren’t – but because you enjoy the sound of your own voice; it is, after all, the voice of the only person in the room who appears keen to develop answers to all the world’s most pressing problems…

… Wheelchair friendly political re-education camps! Sustainable snuff films planting a tree for every corpse they generate! Post-colonial cucumbers!…

“Oi, mate,” one of these provincial inadequates – white, of course – interrupts just as you’re discoursing on the environmental harm caused by salaried jobs and how the government intends to replace them by 2030 with a state-sponsored programme of stay-at-home knitting, sourdough bread making and online pottery classes; “Oi, mate,” he micro-aggresses, “I’ve got to be able to pay my bills; I’ve got to be able to survive, haven’t I?” Enraged at his impudence, you feel like pointing out that there are more important things in life than survival, particularly his, but thankfully, wiser counsels prevail.

And why must you be thankful?

Because as amazing as it would no doubt seem to your feudal ancestors, you depend on these people. Once every four years or so democracy requires that you, the scion of an immensely wealthy, privileged and well-connected British family who, lest we forget, is already in receipt of pretty much all of the answers to pretty much all of the world’s most pressing problems, must chase around after these ill-bred peasants and plead with them to lend you their votes so you might then take care of them properly.

…and it’s at that moment, just as you’re reflecting on the unfairness of it all, that you realise the truth: democracy’s nothing but a tawdry pantomime; a tawdry pantomime in which people with appalling names, like Karen – white, of course – from ghastly sounding places you’ve never heard of, like Doncaster, who claim to own things you don’t even believe exist, like Nail Bars, get the opportunity to stand up at hustings events and call people such as yourself names, like “shithouse”…

…and just as Karen’s unexpectedly standing up and calling you a shithouse, you realise that democracy also involves the local South Yorkshire media standing about, tittering away to themselves and filming the whole debacle for the nightly news…

…and as you’re stood there watching the media tittering away to themselves and filming the whole debacle for the nightly news, you realise that democracy also involves women like Karen doing other, similarly unexpected things, like climbing up onto stage, grabbing a microphone and then not asking the question a member of your campaign team had pre-prepared for her – “Why are you so amazingly, awe-inspiringly keen to develop answers to the world’s most pressing problems? P.S. You’re well hunky, can I have your autograph?” – but instead recounting a story that everyone in your campaign team had expressly warned her not to recount; a story about how her 92 year-old grandma – white, of course – died of hyperthermia last winter because the government – “your c*** of a f***ing government,” as she puts it – took away her gas boiler and replaced it with a giant hamster wheel, which the local council told her she’d have to start running around in if she wanted to keep warm; and besides, even if she didn’t want to keep warm, they added, the only way she’d be able to generate enough electricity to power that environmentally harmful toaster she seemed so fond of would be for her to run around in that hamster wheel all night for at least eight hours, they stipulated, at high-speed, they insisted, probably just as fast as Usain Bolt, they speculated, and if she managed to do all of that, they continued, she might be able to generate just enough electricity to lightly toast one side of a bagel come the morning, not that they were going to guarantee it, they hedged, certainly not in writing, they shrieked, are you mad, they asked, that was more than their jobs were worth, they laughed, and so it was left that they’d come back in a week or two to see if her corpse were ready to be composted and its carbon resources harvested to pay back all of that costly environmental debt she’d gotten herself into with the council on account of her having insisted on being able to use an environmentally harmful toaster whilst she were still alive, and apparently Karen had found her grandma only the next morning, and…

…and although you’re not really listening to her, because she’s called Karen, and she’s from Doncaster, and she owns something you don’t really believe exists called a Nail Bar, you suddenly realise that democracy also involves the scions of immensely wealthy, privileged and well-connected British families in thinking on their feet and spotting opportunities to slip media-friendly sound-bites into hustings events regarding the government’s “build back better” campaign; so you cut into her incessant, self-pitying babble just as she’s starting to cry for what seems like the umpteenth time, and you start off by giving her a bit of the old flannel about how hard it must’ve been to find her grandma dead in a giant hamster wheel like that, what with her half-frozen body still spinning around and around, almost as if, you add, in an attempt to lighten the mood and draw a laugh from the rest of the audience, her spirit had lingered in the room and was still hellbent on having that toasted bagel for breakfast, haha, but no, you go on, suddenly serious again; no Karen, if you were to be as honest as everyone here tonight would want their local constituency MP to be, you say, throwing a coquettish look out towards the audience as you do so, you’d have to say that it was actually quite selfish of her grandma to have been asking for luxuries like heating in the first place, particularly given how hard the government’s been working to [ever-so-slight pause for effect] … ‘Build Back Better’ ever since last year’s 11-month long climate change lockdown; but if it’s any consolation, you go on, the Environment Agency’s Chief Executive – a good friend of mine, you remark chattily; we often play squash together, you add – has been saying for years now that the delicate ecosystem of Shropshire’s great crested yellow newt is under threat from climate change, so surely, you go on, throwing that same coquettish look as before, only now towards the media, and thinking as you do so that if this next little soundbite doesn’t make the local evening news and seal the deal on Karen’s ballot paper then you’re not the politician you thought you were; surely, you say, the death of a selfish old grandma who insisted on running around in a giant hamster wheel all the time just to avoid spending a little bit of her citizen’s wage on an extra jumper or two is “a price worth paying” if it saves the life of even one Shropshire great crested yellow toad…

…and then you realise that democracy also means learning to cope when The Masses react in unexpected ways, because for some unfathomable reason, your little sliver of ad-libbed brilliance hasn’t calmed Karen down at all; quite the opposite, in fact, because now she’s calling you a c*** and a w***** as well as a shithouse; and then, just as you’re looking around the room a little nervously, unsure how to react because Karen’s shouting incoherently, you suddenly realise that she isn’t actually shouting incoherently at all, but in fact asking you a question, specifically, whether it would interest you to learn that that 11-month climate lockdown you seem to be so f***ing proud of cost her and her family – white, of course – their home, because thanks to t***s like you in your little b****** sucking c*** bubble down in Westminster, her husband – white, of course – and her were forcibly stopped from going out to work by the army, and all because the temperature of the f***ing country had apparently risen 0.3 Celsius above what those sanctimonious, salaried c***s in SAGE deemed to be safe for human existence – 0.37 Celsius, Karen, you try to interject with all the prim, iconoclastic righteousness of a BBC fact checker, but she’s not interested in the truth; sadly, you remind yourself, people like her never are – and now they’re having to live in their car, she says, and there’s not a night that goes by without her wishing she had the mental courage to f***ing hang herself…

…scarcely feasible in the make and type of car you’re likely to be able to afford, you find yourself thinking; and just as you’re about to put that point to her, you remember that democracy’s also about communication and dialogue and nudging people like Karen into understanding that our collective, democratic ability to find answers to the world’s most pressing problems is far more important than her footling little personal tragedies, so instead, you try to coax some tenderness into a voice that, frankly, has had just about enough of Karen for one lifetime, and you reach out to put a compassionate hand on her vulnerable arm, hoping that at least some of the media’s cameras caught the fleeting moment of attempted tenderness that ensued before Karen backed away, her face registering utter revulsion, and then you put your hand back down by your side and you quietly remind her that she’s only angry about losing her home because she owned one in the first place, and if she votes for you in the upcoming election, you promise that you’ll fight as hard as any local constituency MP the length and breadth of the country in order to ensure that people like her will never, ever have to worry about owning anything ever again, and what’s more, you add with a flourish, you can guarantee that she’ll be happier because of it…

…but then she starts crying again, and calling you a c*** again, and, frankly, you start to wonder whether she might not have a learning difficulty, but before you have a chance to pursue the implications of that thought and whether it might or might not help your media relations team to smear Karen as an anti-vaxxer, you suddenly realise that democracy doesn’t just involve the local media in standing at the back of a hustings event and tittering away to themselves, because apparently it also involves them in starting to cluster around you, invading your personal space with cameras, microphones, booms and all sorts of other recording devices and letting plain but sensible-looking female political correspondents, all of whom seem to be sporting unnecessarily low-cut tops, ask you all sorts of impertinent questions, like whether you’re planning to stand aside from the election contest what with having been so insensitive to a recently bereaved daughter, and, more generally, having made such a colossal ass of yourself…

…and then you realise that democracy is also about responding nimbly to unexpected questions whenever they’re put to you at hustings events by plain but sensible looking female political correspondents, all of whom seem to be sporting unnecessarily low-cut tops, so in less than ideal circumstances, what with Karen now standing just a few feet away from you, sobbing uncontrollably and, every so often, whimpering that you’re a *****, a **** and a *******, you respond as best you can, and you say, no, not at all, not at all, uhm, the thought has, er, never crossed your, ah, mind, haha, because [“…cold-hearted f***ing c***…”]… er, hmm… ahem, er, because, you see, you’re passionate about, uhm, South Yorkshire and it’s been a, er, long held ambition of yours to, ah, represent a run-down, ex-coal mining community like, um, Liverpool, and that, er, what impresses you most about Geordies, as they like to be known down at the rugger stadium, haha, is that they’re all so, uhm, authentically poor [“…psychopathic sh*t weasel…”] …er, yes, they’re all so authentically poor, uhm, and not just, you know, er, putting it on for a laugh, but, uhm, actually really passionate about being poor, haha, and, ah, you know, despite the many chances that your government has, er, given these people to succeed in life [“…shithouse w***er…”] …er, yes, as you were saying, to, uhm, succeed in life, and, ah, to better themselves, they’ve, uhm, always wanted to honour the memories of their fathers and their fathers before them, all of whom were, ah, desperately poor too [“…delusional f***ing d***head…”] …yes, quite… ahem, so they’ve, um, steadfastly remained in the gutter themselves, and you can, ah, absolutely, wholeheartedly respect that kind of personal [“…heartless b******…”] …uhm, as you were saying, you can absolutely, wholeheartedly respect that, er, kind of integrity, haha, even though you might not be able to understand it yourself, or, you know, haha, even condone it, really…

…and then you realise that democracy is also, in the end, about polling stations, and poll clerks welcoming voters to polling stations, and voters popping ballot papers into boxes, and tellers counting the ballot papers that have been popped into ballot boxes, and presiding officers whispering the likely results into candidates’ ears, and returning officials announcing the actual results… and then it’s also about your campaign team manager sidling up to you to confirm that, yes, the presiding officer was right and that, no, no noughts had been left off your count, and that, yes, you did receive only 367 votes – on a 72% swing away from the Conservative Party, he adds, but without being able to look you in the face at any point – and that, yes, as a result, you’ve lost your deposit. (“Forgive them father,” you plead with a grim-faced Tony Blair later via Zoom. “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do…”)

…and then, in the end, you realise that democracy also means ill-educated, appallingly common women with names like Karen, from ghastly sounding towns like Doncaster who own things that you still, even now, don’t really believe exist, like Nail Bars, being able to thwart the scions of immensely wealthy, privileged and well-connected British families as they attempt to gain democratic office and implement their answers to all of the world’s most pressing questions…

…and it’s only a few days later, as Tony Blair’s throwing you to the massage oil resistant foam crash mat in his private gymnasium and Bono’s rushing over to massage your inner thighs (“But it’s my back that hurts,” you protest), that you realise what should have been obvious to you all along: that democracy isn’t working; that it can’t help you to answer the world’s most pressing problems; that it doesn’t work in the best interests of The Masses; that it doesn’t keep The Masses safe from themselves; that it doesn’t help you to…

take care of them.

Perhaps now we understand why, in the deepest, darkest recesses of these peoples’ souls, there are leftover resides, remnants from a different age; feudal desires that have lingered in the half-light of the unconscious for many centuries, repressed but never forgotten; unconscious, id-like dreams in which democracy’s Masses appear altogether different; in which a succession of crises render them a little more Serf-like, a little more obedient, a little less impudent; a type of democracy in which the Karens of this world are all morbidly obese, vulnerable, bed-bound, diabetic, wheezing asthmatics who’d need a specialised team and a mechanical winch to get up before they could even think about attending hustings events; a type of democracy in which morbidly obese, bed-bound, diabetic, wheezing asthmatic Karens who’d need specialised teams and mechanised winches to get up would no longer call their Masters shithouses, but, on the contrary, would be grateful to them for taking care of their complex medical needs via a free at the point of use healthcare system; a type of democracy in which morbidly obese, bed-bound, diabetic, wheezing asthmatic yet oh-so-grateful Karens would unthinkingly trust their political Masters to take care of their complex medical needs via a free at the point of use healthcare system, and, as a result, would quickly learn to unthinkingly trust those same Masters to implement all of their other answers to all of the world’s other problems; a type of democracy, in fact, that would be almost entirely feudal in its outlook.

Serfs, not citizens. Noblesse oblige, not citizenship. Confession, not debate. Corvee not wages. Lineage, not meritocracy. Outlaws not intellectual dissenters. Dispensations and indulgences for the rich, not equality before the law. The Lord’s bailiffs, not the state’s police. Banalities, not rent. Tithes, not taxes. Forelock tugging, not freedom of assembly.

Sometimes, of course, the details of these Freudian phantasies vary: Karen losing her Nail Bar business during a lockdown crisis; Karen losing her home thanks to an inflation crisis; Karen’s Nail Bar business taxed out of existence due to a climate crisis; and so on and so forth. But however much they vary, these dreams always have the same ending: Karen getting finagled into a position where she can be taken care of by the state… and then taken care of by the state.

That’s why the Government’s recent policy of incentivising young people to take a vaccine by stuffing them full of discounted fast food is about more than just an ill-judged, poorly thought-through initiative. It’s indicative of a wider repetitive compulsion that’s taken hold across Government more generally, wherein the treatment of one crisis via government intervention will always – accidentally, of course – proliferate crises that, in their turn, will require further government intervention that will always – accidentally, of course – proliferate crises that, in their turn, will require government intervention that will always – accidentally, of course – proliferate crises that, in their turn, will require government intervention that will always – accidentally, of course – proliferate crises that, in their turn, will require government intervention that will always… and so on and so forth, the state slowly but surely abrogating to itself ever more of the interventionist powers it regards as necessary to take care of citizens during the course of multiple, unending crises. Thus do we find power’s unconscious desire to ‘take care of people’ slowly leaking into the social realm, each successive crisis taking away just that little bit more of a person’s individual autonomy, independence and self-reliance:

…Karen the Nail Bar owning victim of an obesity crisis, now too fat to move unaided and thus entirely dependent on, and oh-so-grateful for, healthcare that’s paid for by the state…

…Karen the morbidly obese Nail Bar owner, subsequently the victim of a financial crisis, now too indebted to continue running her own business and thus entirely dependent on, and oh-so- grateful for, the state’s largesse…

…Karen the morbidly obese, bankrupted, former Nail Bar owner, subsequently the victim of a climate crisis, now too poor to afford the ground source heat pump her mortgage company insists she must install before agreeing to re-mortgage her home and thus entirely dependent on, and oh-so-grateful for, the state’s sheltered housing programme…

…Karen the homeless, morbidly obese, bankrupted former Nail Bar owner, now so emotionally and psychologically damaged by successive crises that she struggles to get angry about anything and is just oh-so-very-very-grateful to the state for everything it’s done for her…

…“Thank you, NHS,” wheezes Karen, the multiple crisis survivor. “Thank you, Boris; thank you, SAGE; thank you, Professor Neil Ferguson; thank you, Sajid; thank you, Greta; thank you the Bank of England; thank you, AstraZeneca; thank you, the mob that stabbed and then mutilated my selfish, unvaccinated son; thank you, The Samaritans; thank you, Alcoholics Anonymous; thank you, my wonderful pawnbrokers; thank you, mental health crisis intervention teams; thank you, the outreach team that looks after my homeless daughter; thank you, Rishi; thank you… Sire… ☺️☺️☺️…”

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Feudalism of our near-future.

Perhaps you think I’m exaggerating. So let me finish by asking you this question: If you were an over-centralised governmental apparatus; and if you were sliding ever closer towards a form of benevolent authoritarianism in which Parliamentary democracy was regarded as some kind of luxury; and if you were quietly signing contracts with private tech companies so as to better develop a digital vaccine passport system that could one day segue into a Chinese style social credit system capable of rewarding the compliant and ruining the recalcitrant; and if you had a digital currency to develop so as to better keep tabs on everyone’s spending; and if you had computer automated vehicles to roll out so as to better understand where everyone’s driving, when they’re driving there and what they’re doing when they get there; and if you had a Green Agenda to push that won’t do a single thing to protect the environment but will cause irreparable harm to small and medium-sized homegrown businesses, pushing their bankrupt owners and redundant employees back into the normative disciplinary clutches of salaried jobs at large, bullshit globalist corporations; and if you had unpopular, post-colonial pedagogies to foist on children and students so as to better cultivate their hatred for their own heritage, their own identity, their own success in life; and if you had net-zero Carbon targets to chase so as to better win bragging rights amongst your G20 pals while simultaneously handing every last drop of geo-political power you ever thought you had over to the Chinese: if you were that type of government, then what type of citizen would you rather be dealing with 10-20 years from now: those who were self-reliant, resilient, rebellious, critical, sceptical, truculent, autonomous, individualistic and capable of taking care of themselves… or those who were morbidly obese, bankrupt, ill-educated, dispossessed, broken, ground down, indoctrinated, apathetic and generally incapable of doing anything other than letting the scions of immensely wealthy, privileged and well-connected British families take care of them?

Exactly.

Freddie Attenborough is a former lecturer in sociology. You can find his blog here.

Quarter of Young Adults in U.K. Not Vaccinated Against Covid

Young Brits aged 18 and up have been able to get their first dose of a Covid vaccine since late June. Since this time, there have been numerous ad campaigns telling the young they will “miss out on the good times” if they don’t get ‘jabbed’, constant offers of petty bribes, including free burgers (and some not-so-petty bribes, including a £5,000 cash prize) incentivising vaccination and the underlying threat of vaccine passport checks at nightclubs and other ‘large venues’.

All of this has been intended to “coax and cajole” the young into getting ‘jabbed’, but the latest figures show that one in four young adults in the U.K. still haven’t come forward. The Independent has the story.

In total, 2.76 million people aged between 18 and 29 years-old were yet to receive a first dose on Wednesday – down only slightly from an estimated 2.81 million the previous week, according to figures released by the U.K.’s four national health agencies.

Their latest estimates suggest that the percentages of people in this age group still unvaccinated range from 23.5% in Wales, 29.2% in Northern Ireland, 25.6% in Scotland and 27.7% in England. …

Following reports in late July that Boris Johnson was said to be “raging” about the low uptake among young people, the Government has launched a host of initiatives encouraging young people to get inoculated, ranging from publicity campaigns to pop-up vaccination centres. …

Despite these initiatives, the latest figures suggest there is still a significant portion of young adults reluctant to have the vaccine.

In Birmingham, more than half of the population in that age group have still not received a vaccine dose, according to analysis by the PA news agency – making it the local authority in England with the highest estimated percentage of unvaccinated 18 to 29 year-olds.

The next highest is Coventry at 49.8%, followed by Liverpool with 46.7%, and the London borough of Islington, where 46.4% of people in that age group are yet to receive a jab.

In total there are 54 local authority areas in England where at least one third of young adults have yet to receive a vaccine dose.

These include the big cities of Manchester, Leicester, Sheffield and Leeds.

Worth reading in full.

More Than Half a Million Young Adults Started Smoking to Help Cope With Stressful First Lockdown

Efforts to reduce the number of smoking Brits appear to have been partially undone last year as many young adults took to smoking – as well as to over-drinking alcohol – to help them cope with the stress and boredom of the first lockdown. The Sun has the story.

The number of 18 to 34 year-olds sparking up increased by 25% – an extra 652,000 people – a worrying study revealed.

And an extra 4.5 million people, mainly women, developed drink problems, researchers from University College London found.

The study showed a 40% rise in problem drinking across all age groups. Women were most affected, with a 55% increase.

Younger people, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, were most likely to start smoking.

Dr. Sarah Jackson, from UCL, said: “Lockdown was a period of great stress for many people and we saw rates of smoking and problem drinking increase among groups hardest hit by the pandemic.

“People mistakenly believe smoking relieves stress, so some may have used tobacco or alcohol as a means of coping with increased stress or boredom.” …

Last year, the Office for National Statistics found the number of people who smoked had fallen dramatically over the past decade – from nearly 20% in 2011 to just under 14%.

In particular, the habit had fallen out of fashion among 18 to 24 year-olds.

Worth reading in full.

More Petty Bribes Employed to Get Young ‘Jabbed’

In case free burgers and cash prizes aren’t enticing enough, a range of firms, including Asda, National Express Buses and Deliveroo, have announced new incentives to get young Britons vaccinated against Covid. The Telegraph has the story.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, announced that five companies will be offering incentives to persuade the young to get jabs.

Asda will offer £10 vouchers for its George clothing brand to 18 to 30 year-olds who spend more than £20. These will be offered at vaccine pop-up clinics in Old Kent Road, in south London, and Watford and Birmingham.

Lastminute.com will provide £30 gift cards towards holidays abroad to all young people getting vaccinated through its website, while Better leisure centres will give over-16s a £10 voucher to use on any of its membership deals and a free three-day pass at any of its 235 leisure facilities across the U.K.

FREE NOW will provide up to £1 million in free taxi rides each way for over-18s attending a vaccine appointment Sunday until the end of September.

National Express Buses (Midlands) will offer 1,000 people five-day unlimited travel saver tickets which can be used within 90 days. Tickets can be claimed by sharing vaccine booking references in the company’s app.

Deliveroo confirmed that it will offer thousands of £5 vouchers to those who get the vaccine, while Bolt said it would provide £10 vouchers for 10,000 rides in Birmingham and Leicester from next week. …

Teenagers within three months of turning 18 can also now book a vaccine appointment online through the National Booking Service or by calling 119. …

Mr Javid said: “It is fantastic to see more companies backing the phenomenal vaccine rollout and joining the public as they do everything they can to continue protecting their loved ones, themselves, their community and this country.

“This truly is a national effort and we would not be where we are today without the support of the NHS, volunteers, businesses and the people of the U.K. themselves as we continue to build the wall of defence through every jab given.”

Worth reading in full.

COVID-19 Vaccination and the Death of Informed Consent

by George Santayana

Informed consent is one of the cornerstones of modern medicine and the foundation of the patient/doctor relationship. The principle of informed consent is a core part of the Nuremberg Code on human research ethics and states that consent for any medical treatment must come from the patient themselves who needs to understand both the benefits and risks. Likewise, the opposite, which we might call “informed refusal”, is just as important and a patient can refuse treatment or withdraw consent at any time.

The “informed’ part of informed consent can occur in a number of ways such as provision of written materials (the piece of paper you throw away when you open a packet of headache tablets) or a discussion with your doctor. Regardless, the information given to a patient needs to be accurate, balanced and cover both the benefits and risks.

Consent must also be given freely and without undue influence or coercion. Of course, a clinician can express their opinion and offer advice as to what course of action a patient might take, but ultimately the decision to proceed (swallow the pill, take the test, have the operation) resides with the patient.

Informed consent places the individual patient at the heart of clinical practice and given that they are the person receiving the treatment and taking any associated risks that intrinsically feels like the right thing. And so it used to be for vaccinations, where it was up to the individual whether they wished to have a specific vaccination or not. Yes, there were some specific situations where vaccination was deemed necessary (e.g. travelling to certain regions of the world) but in these situations the focus was on protecting the individual themselves. But then COVID-19 came along and suddenly this patient-centred view of the world was replaced by governments and the mainstream media with one where a treatment benefit was not just to the individual receiving the treatment but also to society… a change, which as I will discuss here, inexorably leads to the destruction of informed consent.

To understand why, let’s start by considering the benefit of a vaccination to an individual.

One of the peculiar things about vaccines as treatments is that their benefit is not the same as their effectiveness. This is because a vaccine works by generating immune “memory” of a specific pathogen. The effectiveness of the vaccine is therefore dictated by how good the immune response is to the immunisation and what type of immune memory it creates. The effectiveness is also to some extent dictated by the pathogen itself. So, for a virus like smallpox, vaccination was highly effective not least because the pathogen proved unable to evolve to evade vaccine induced immunity. In contrast, the parasites that cause malaria or sleeping sickness have evolved mechanisms to evade the immune system and so vaccinations against these pathogens have proven to be highly elusive. SARS-CoV-2 sits somewhere in the middle in that it appears susceptible to immunity from vaccination but can mutate and evolve variants that might be able to overcome this immunity.

However, having immune memory is of no benefit to the patient per se. The benefit to the patient only comes if, subsequent to vaccination, they become infected with the pathogen. At this point, because of the immune memory created by the vaccination, they raise a more robust, rapid and effective immune response, meaning that they will either not become ill, or if they do become ill, it will be with a milder form of the disease. In other words, infection by the pathogen is a pre-requisite of gaining the benefit from the vaccination, a benefit that only occurs if, in the absence of the vaccination, they would have developed significant disease. Vaccination is therefore a lot like insurance; you gain no benefit from having the insurance policy documents sitting in your filing cabinet; they only become useful when the thing you are insuring against actually happens.

This benefit of vaccination is captured in the concept of “number needed to vaccinate” or NNTV (i.e., how many individuals need to receive a vaccination in order for one of them to avoid developing serious disease). NNTV is therefore driven by two things: the prevalence of the pathogen within a population and the severity of the disease caused if someone was to be infected by the pathogen. The NNTV is why we don’t routinely vaccinate individuals against diseases such as yellow fever that are not prevalent in the U.K. and why we focus flu vaccinations on vulnerable individuals for whom the disease carries significant risk.

For SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, the seriousness of the disease is largely age related, meaning that the NNTV is also age-related. As a result, we might only need to vaccinate a few hundred over-60s for one to avoid having a serious case of COVID-19 while we would need to vaccinate thousands (if not tens or hundreds of thousands) of the under-20s to achieve the same outcome.

Unlike the benefit, the safety risks associated with SARS-CoV-2 vaccinations are not age dependent and include rare, serious adverse events including death. So, the balance of benefit and risk for their use also varies with age and is vastly different for a diabetic man in his 60s compared to a healthy young woman in her 20s. From the perspective of the benefit to the individual, there is therefore no way we should be considering vaccinating healthy young people using these vaccines. The likelihood of serious adverse effects may be small but then so is the likelihood of avoiding serious COVID-19 and so there is a very real possibility that a mass vaccination campaign of young people will produce more harm than benefit. In fact, the original strategy was to focus COVID-19 vaccinations on the over-50s for precisely this benefit/risk reason.

But somewhere along the way, COVID-19 vaccinations stopped being solely about the benefit to the individual and started to be about the benefit to society (i.e., the goal of achieving herd immunity). A brief reminder: herd immunity occurs when a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to a given pathogen in such a way that the likelihood of encountering an infectious person drops, as does the likelihood of an infectious person being able to pass the infection on to another individual who also becomes infectious. As a result, herd immunity protects individuals who are naïve to an infection simply because they are unlikely to ever encounter an infectious person and at the same time it means that an infection can no longer spread effectively through the population and may even die out.

Vaccinations can produce herd immunity and in the case of smallpox were so effective that they led to the elimination of the disease itself. But from an informed consent perspective there is one huge difference between vaccination campaigns that have historically produced herd immunity and that being pursued for COVID-19 and that is that historically the diseases concerned were of significant risk to those receiving the vaccination. For example, measles is a significant risk for young children and so we vaccinate young children. But young children often grow up to be adults and carry their measles immunity with them and so, as a result, measles herd immunity emerges as a consequence of measles vaccination… it is absolutely not its aim.

Achieving herd immunity is also when vaccine effectiveness comes into play, and this is because the vaccine must not only reduce the individual’s likelihood of developing serious disease but also produce “neutralising” immunity in the sense that infected, immune individuals are not infectious to others. As a result, the inclusion of “benefit to society” as a consideration for vaccinations against SARS-CoV-2 raises the bar as to what an effective vaccine looks like and it is becoming clear that the current Covid vaccinations almost certainly don’t jump over that bar. However, important as they are, I don’t want to focus on these technical aspects but instead come back to what the “benefit to society” addendum to vaccine benefit means for informed consent.

As soon as we aim to achieve herd immunity through vaccination, then we need to ensure that a sufficient proportion of the entire population are vaccinated. As discussed above, this happens naturally as a consequence of some vaccinations against childhood diseases but for SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 the benefit is to the more elderly population and not children and young people. As a result, to achieve herd immunity we need to vaccinate individuals who will receive minimal benefit from the treatment itself. We could treat this as a form of medical altruism and say, “We know that you won’t benefit personally, but for the good of society please have this treatment.” If we were to use this as the point of persuasion for individuals to have the vaccination, then this would not necessarily be a problem; people give blood as an altruistic act for the medical benefit of others all the time and encouraging them to do so isn’t unethical. However, it becomes an issue in this case because you need lots of young people (and the population in general) to be vaccinated in order to cross the magic threshold for herd immunity and purely relying on a sense of community or selflessness may not be sufficient to achieve the levels of vaccination required to achieve this societal benefit. So, to tackle this problem, and to use a horrendous Americanism, the population need to be incentivised to be vaccinated.

Let’s be completely clear: whatever form these incentives take they are coercion, and so utterly contrary to the principle of informed consent. This would be bad enough if the vaccinations were completely safe, but the fact that they carry even the small possibility of serious and even life-threatening risks makes this coercion even more egregious. Effectively, the benefit to the patient is no longer confined to the treatment itself, but whether they might win a prize, or be able to travel, or go to a nightclub, or watch a football match. Informed consent has been lost in a haze of rewards for the vaccinated.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. This is because it is a relatively simple logical step to move from seeing unvaccinated refuseniks as individuals to be cajoled or bribed into being vaccinated to treating them as a threat to the herd-immunity-through-vaccination project. Once we’ve taken this step, then the unvaccinated become hazards to the vaccinated; immune dementors who could suck the immunity from the rest of the population… or more specifically, variant factories whose every breath carries the risk of a new mutant virus able to evade vaccine-induced immunity.

Once we classify unvaccinated individuals as hazards, we can then deploy versions of the ‘passive smoking argument’ to move beyond coercion and into compulsion. Essentially the argument runs like this: we know that you as an (unvaccinated) individual have rights, but your (in)actions are also a hazard to broader (vaccinated) society and so we need to balance your rights as an (unvaccinated) individual with the rights of your fellow (vaccinated) citizens and as a result we must, reluctantly, remove your rights in order to protect the broader rights of others. This argument creates the necessary backdrop for policies to compel vaccination because it legitimises the removal of individual consent as a necessary evil to protect the broader (vaccinated) population.

However, unlike smoking in public, being unvaccinated is not something that can be switched on or off and so the only way to ensure that the unvaccinated hazard is contained is to separate it from the vaccinated population, which naturally leads to concepts such as vaccine passports and ‘No Jab, No Job’ policies. Voluntary fun activities like going to the pub or having a meal out – normal day-to-day existence – become harder and harder for those not having the vaccine, leaving many people with no choice but to take the medicine regardless of how they feel about it. And without choice how can there be consent?

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and so I believe it is with the Government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy. What starts out as a noble ambition to use COVID-19 vaccination as a tool to achieve a broader benefit to the population, logically ends up in the destruction of informed consent and the creation of medical apartheid. This is the inevitable consequence of shifting the focus of a medical treatment from the individual to broader society. It is also the thin end of a very unpleasant wedge because once we allow the principle that the state can have a direct stake in what is in the best interest of an individual’s health then where do we stop? Arguments that “the others” are a medical hazard to “us” have been deployed to justify some of the worse abuses of modern times and although I am absolutely not saying that current policies amount to anything like this, the resonance here should make even the most ardent proponent of vaccine compulsion uncomfortable. History teaches us that when governments, rather than individuals, decide on what is the best medical treatment this almost always leads to dire consequences – often for some of the most vulnerable in society. But with vaccine passports and NHS apps, it certainly feels like we’ve already started down this road and regardless of your views on COVID-19 vaccinations we should all be very worried about where this journey might lead.

George Santayana is the pseudonym of a senior executive in a U.K. pharmaceutical company.

Close to A Third of English 18-30 Year-Olds Not Vaccinated Against Covid

The Government is employing all the tricks it can think of to “coax and cajole” young Britons into getting vaccinated against Covid, the threat of vaccine passport checks at nightclubs and other ‘large venues’ being the most notable among these. In its latest ad campaign, which is being shown on billboards, on television and on social media platforms, young people are told they will “miss out on the good times” if they don’t get ‘jabbed’. But the latest figures show that these efforts may not be having as big of an impact as officials had hoped, with almost a third of English adults under the age of 30 still not vaccinated. BBC News has the story.

Three in 10 adults under the age of 30 have not had a first dose of a Covid vaccine, according to NHS England estimates.

Uptake is around 81% for people in their 30s and 89% for those in their 40s. It is 90% in all other age groups.

The lower rate among younger adults persists despite concerted efforts to encourage uptake. Food delivery and ride-hailing firms including Uber, Bolt and Deliveroo have been offering incentives to get people vaccinated. …

Responding to the figures, the Prime Minister tweeted that it was “fantastic” that 70% of adults under 30 “have come forward to get vaccinated”.

But he added: “Please get your jab if you haven’t already. It is our best route to beating the virus and getting back to the things we love.”

Worth reading in full.

Covid Vaccine Hesitancy Rates Among Young Brits Continue to Fall, According to ONS Data

The percentage of young Brits aged 18 to 21 hesitant about getting vaccinated fell to 5% just before ‘Freedom Day’, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), no doubt at least in part due to constant pressuring from the Government and universities. Sky News has the story.

The ONS survey looked at attitudes during the period from June 23rd to July 18th – a day before most Covid restrictions were lifted in England.

For 16 and 17 year-olds – who are now able to get a jab following last week’s announcement to extend the roll-out to that age group – hesitancy has decreased from 14% to 11%.

Among those aged 18 to 21, hesitancy around jabs went down to 5% from 9%, and dropped slightly for 22 to 25 year-olds from 10% to 9%. …

For the ONS survey, vaccine hesitancy refers to adults who have chosen not to be vaccinated, report being very or fairly unlikely to have a vaccine if offered, responded “neither likely nor unlikely”, “don’t know” or “prefer not to say” when asked how likely they would be to get a jab if offered.

The ONS data involved 15,433 people aged 16 and above in England, Scotland and Wales.

Overall, more than nine in 10 adults (96%) reported positive sentiment towards coronavirus vaccines while 4% reported hesitancy – figures unchanged from the previous findings which covered May 26th to June 20th.

The rate of vaccine hesitancy has fallen in most areas of the U.K., the ONS said.

Worth reading in full.

Universities to Continue Holding Online Lectures and Will Tell Students to Wear Face Masks and to Follow Social Distancing

Many students hoping to begin a normal university term this autumn will be disappointed to find that, while the Covid figures give cause for restrictions to be abandoned, very little will actually change from last year.

Almost all of the leading Russel Group universities have indicated that a proportion of their teaching will continue to be held online while students will still be expected to wear face masks on campuses and to continue social distancing. Not to mention the impending introduction of vaccine passports. The Sunday Times has the story.

The universities’ decision coincides with a clear fall in Covid cases. Even normally cautious scientists, such as Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, said that lockdowns and other restrictive measures were unlikely to be needed again.

Of the leading 24 Russell Group universities, 20 said that a proportion of undergraduate teaching will continue to be held online.

Lord Baker of Dorking, the former Conservative Education Secretary, said the universities stance was “outrageous”, and that they must return to normal as a matter of urgency this autumn. “Pubs, cinemas, theatres and football matches have all opened without restrictions,” he said. “What’s different about universities?”

University College London, the London School of Economics, Imperial College, Cardiff and Leeds all said that lectures would continue to be held online.

Warwick, Nottingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh said they would offer “blended learning” – a mix of online and face-to-face teaching for classes, seminars and lectures – but were unable to guarantee how much in-person teaching students would receive. Nottingham said it hoped to restart full face-to-face teaching next year, “subject to the course of the pandemic”.

Demands that free masks and free PCR tests be handed out to students and used are being led by the Universities and Colleges Union, which is also demanding social distancing on campus and that students get double jabbed. …

Cambridge said most teaching would be in person, but that some would be online, with details to be confirmed. Oxford said it planned most learning in person “enhanced by online teaching” and said some exams would continue to be held online next year.

Students at Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool have already launched petitions calling for a full return to “normality in terms of teaching” and demanding fee refunds. At Manchester, where some of the strictest lockdowns took place, nearly 10,000 have signed. Many students are still waiting to hear details of how their degree courses are to be taught when term starts next month. …

The Department for Education said: “Education providers are able to shape their courses without restrictions on face-to-face provision.”

Worth reading in full.

University Attempts to Lure Young Into Getting ‘Jabbed’ With £5,000 Prize

The tactics being employed to persuade young Brits to get vaccinated against Covid are being ramped up, much to the joy of – and, at times, thanks to the work of – the Government. The latest effort comes from the University of Sussex, which is offering fully vaccinated students the chance to win a £5,000 prize. BBC News has the story.

All students are being entered into the draw, with 10 winners able to claim a £5,000 prize each, if they can prove they are double-jabbed or exempt. …

Professor Adam Tickell, the Vice-Chancellor at Sussex, said the prize raffle was worth it if the numbers being vaccinated could be boosted even slightly.

“We know take-up among young people is patchy,” he said. “We know they’re not against the vaccine, they’re just not getting round to it.”

He added the financial cost to the university of the scheme was small compared to the human and social cost of potential disruption to students. 

“We know transmission rates are lower with vaccination, and the risk of serious illness for our staff and students is much lower in people who’ve been vaccinated.”

Vaccination remains voluntary for students, and there has been growing concern about the relatively low take-up by young adults. …

The university says its scheme is designed to provide an incentive for students to have both doses. …

Professor Tickell got the idea after hearing on a BBC programme that universities in the U.S. were offering incentives for vaccination. …

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “Vaccines are the surest way to put Covid behind us and for students to reclaim the freedoms that enrich university life. 

“The department is encouraging universities to look at creative ways to boost uptake, and to discuss the possibility of pop-up centres with local health partners – making it quick and easy for students to grab a jab.” 

Worth reading in full.