Author Archives: furtlefinch

Basic Income Scheme: How to Pay for it

Why it won’t ‘cost the country’ £280 bn.

The Telegraph started it. The BBC Sunday Politics repeated it. So did the Spectator, and numerous Tory-leaning publications. But where did they get this number?

If they just multiplied unemployment benefit/Jobseeker’s Allowance by the number of people in the UK (as I suspect), they have made a big assumption.

It is that with the introduction of Basic Income Scheme (BIS), everyone will immediately down tools, give up work, sit on the sofa and wait for those BIS cheques to roll in. That’s the only way it can possibly ‘cost the country’ the maximum amount the scheme might pay out. Not convinced? Here’s a very broad-brush explanation:

When you tick the box about your employment status, there are basically four categories you could be in, and Basic Income will affect each differently.

Unemployed people should be in receipt of JSA, which BIS would replace. There should be no net cost for them, except for those who have failed to qualify for JSA for one reason or another. These people who have ‘fallen through the cracks’ of the benefit system would undoubtedly be winners fron BIS. The cost is hard to quantify, but should we begrudge giving benefits to those in most need of them due to failures in the current system? In addition, the admin costs saved will be significant. No more ATOS for example.

Fully-employed people are already in receipt of a Basic Income-type payout, but few of them know it. It comes in the form of their personal tax allowance, which is rarely included as government expenditure, but is in effect no different. I reckon the tax allowance is the equivalent of about half Basic Income set at the JSA level. The rest of BIS would be clawed back in tax, so that for the fully employed, who use their full tax allowance, there would be no net cost. How you distribute the claw-back among taxpayers is a left/right political decision, and not relevant here. The main point is that it would be fiscally neutral.

Retired folk already get a Basic Income in the form of a state pension. So their BIS payment would be deemed to be part of this, and there would be no net cost, unless there were some who ‘fell through the cracks’ of the pension system, and weren’t getting their due.

Which leaves the big winners in a Basic Income Scheme: part-time employed people earning below the tax threshold (students can be included here). These are deemed not to deserve any unemployment benefit/JSA, nor their full tax allowance. So they lose/lose. If everyone’s employment status stayed the same, the cost would be quite easy to work out: it is the amount that their total tax payments (from which the claw-back comes) fall short of the total BIS paid to them. My guess is that it would be of the order of £10 bn, (but I could do with some help here!)

But here’s the thing. Given the option of part-time work below the tax threshold, supplemented by BIS, wouldn’t quite a lot of people go for it? Currently would-be part-timers are either in a ‘benefit trap’ (they can’t earn small amounts or they would lose most of it in benefit penalties), or a ‘tax allowance trap’ (they shouldn’t cut their earnings/hours or they would not gain the full benefit of tax allowances and some tax credits). Removing these obstacles to part-time work would probably produce a huge change in the nation’s work patterns.

It is the number of people that would opt for part-time work that is the big unknown. Formerly unemployed who worked part-time would actually save the country money by paying a little tax (their tax allowance is paid as BIS cash, remember). However, those who drop below the tax threshold would indeed cost more, and this would indeed have to come from an increased tax rate on those above the tax threshold. Again, how this extra cost is distributed is a left/right problem.

Basic Income is a classic Green idea, outside the normal left/right axis of politics. The level at which it is set, and the way that the extra cost is paid for are left/right questions, but the principle is Green.

A Basic Income Scheme could, at a stroke, remove the ‘Benefit Trap’, remove the stress of having to qualify for benefits, remove the pressure to work full time on those that have other pressures (like caring for family members), allow a better work/life balance, allow and underpin voluntary work and much more: all thoroughly Green objectives.

There are indeed plenty of problems that haven’t been worked out, and I don’t think will be unless one country actually tries it. But those problems do not include paying for it!

Jamie McMillan

Dorset

26 January 2015

PS I should now go and look at Green Party policy to see whether this bears any resemblance to it!

The depressing state of a wasting environment in oPt

Recycling in Palestine? Why not?

Dubbeldee Productions

2013-01-31 11.04.30

Solid waste. Who doesn’t like to hear those two words. A famous linguist once said that of all the phrases in the English language Solid Waste is the most beautiful…or was that cellar door…I digress. My point: not something that I thought I would get quite so passionate about.

Solid waste refers to household garbage, rubble, industry waste etc etc and it is a BIG problem in the Palestinian territories. Despite various attempts to improve the situation, from the 2010-2014 National Strategy for Solid Waste Management to a $12 million (2009) and $8.3 million (2013) grant by the World Bank to accommodate the problem in two southern provinces, the real source of the issue, in my opinion, lies in the mentality of the people. Waste is not seen by the average citizen as a priority. Cans, bottles, cardboard boxes and other objects are thrown away carelessly at roadsides and makeshift…

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Trust raises concern over badger cull pilots

Has the National Trust lost its soul? My comments (furtlefinch) below.

National Trust Press Office

We recognise that dealing with bovine TB is a complex problem, with strongly held views on all sides. The Trust is uniquely placed in this issue with a strong interest in both farming and nature conservation. We have always been clear that we support an evidence-based approach to this important issue.

With this in mind, we have recently raised our concerns over the Government’s pilot badger culls taking place in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

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A Refugee Camp through the eyes of a twenty-something

Dubbeldee Productions

“Everything in Duheishah is beautiful,” my landlord’s son, Abdullah, tells me as we wind our way through the maze of alleyways that make up the densely populated Ad-Duheishah Refugee Camp. “The girls are beautiful, the streets are beautiful, the houses are beautiful”. While I’m not sure I could describe the entire Camp as beautiful, it certainly has some charming parts and the feel of the place is gently reminiscent of a quaint Arabic ‘old city’, such as you would find in Jerusalem or Bethlehem proper.

Duheishah Camp is one of the biggest in Palestine (fourth largest in the West Bank), and it is still growing. My landlord’s son takes us to the peak of the hill on which the Camp is situated, once the border of this camp. Today, dwellings spill over this summit onto the West-facing side of the hill and almost into the neighbouring village of Artas. These…

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Badgers & TB: the statistics reloaded

Badgers & TB: the statistics reloaded

Much excitement last week at the predicted recalculation of the statistics previously published by Prof Christl Donnelly which purported to show that badgers ’caused’ 50% of bTB outbreaks. This figure was, and continues to be, widely quoted by badger cull supporters, despite it having been shown to have such wide a confidence interval as to be virtually meaningless. The analysis can be found in a previous post.

Prof Donnelly’s new paper is much more honest about the statistics, almost apologetic in some ways. Her conclusion states:

The confidence intervals obtained using bootstrap sampling were wider than the profile-likelihood based intervals previously reported” (in Donnelly & Hone (2010), link at end of post). In fact they show that the 50% figure ‘has considerable uncertainty’ (CI 9.1%-100%). So on this model the transmission of bTB from badgers could be as low as 9%! In my previous post I worked out the lower limit as 14%, so this is now even more uncertain.

The lower limit

However, there is a sting in the tail of the recent paper. Donnelly chooses her data carefully and states :

The largest reduction in confirmed cattle TB incidence achieved over the course of the RBCT was that within RBCT trial areas during the first 18-month time period post-trial (that is between 12 and 30 months after the final annual proactive cull in each of the 10 proactive trial areas). The estimated reduction over this period was 54% with an overdispersion-adjusted 95% confidence interval of 38% to 66%. Because badgers were never completely eliminated from any of the culling areas and farmers moved cattle in and out of the areas, the lower confidence bound of this estimate can provide a lower bound for the average overall contribution of badgers to confirmed cattle TB in the RBCT areas.”.

By the way note the contradiction: ‘over the course of the RBCT’ includes data taken after the RBCT had finished!

Anyway, the conclusion is therefore that badgers ‘contribute’ at least 38% of bTB, a nice take-home, quotable figure for DEFRA and ministers, and not too far off her original discredited 50%.

But, Prof Donnelly, you can’t do this. You can’t take figures from one analysis, designed to show one thing, and apply it to another figure, from a totally different model, designed to show something else. And you know how I know this? I am relying on none other than you, Prof Donnelly, yourself, as a member of the ISG, who, in their report on the RBCT stated as follows (para 2.4):

‘The ISG recognised that an objective to quantify ‘the badger contribution’ implicitly assumes that there is simply a one-way transfer of infection, from badgers to cattle; whereas in reality there is an interchange of infection between the two species with disease transfer in both directions, so the contribution of badgers is not independent of the feedback from cattle. It was therefore clear that the trial could not provide anything quite as precise as a quantitative estimate of “the contribution of badgers to the risk of TB in cattle” and could directly measure only the contribution that particular forms of culling could take.’

The 38%, then, if you accept figures taken after the RBCT had finished, is an indication of the contribution of culling. The 9.1% figure comes from a model of the contribution of transmission of the disease from badgers. As the ISG (and I think Lord Krebs in an earlier document) stated, the two are not the same. And yet, there you go again, even naming this most recent paper: “The Contribution of Badgers to confirmed Tuberculosis…’, exactly what the designers of the RBCT said that it could not provide!

Direct vs Indirect Transmission

But apart from the final paragraph, the rest of Prof Donnelly’s paper seems to add up. In particular, having to go back and rework the analysis, she has come up with something new: an estimate of the amount of direct transmission of TB from badgers to cattle.

As she states, this ‘dynamical’ model: ‘also suggested that only 5.7% (bootstrap 95% CI: 0.9-25%) of the transmission to cattle herds is badger-to-cattle with the remainder of the average overall contribution from badgers being in the form of onward cattle-to-cattle transmission.’

While I am doubtful about the word ‘onward’ (suggesting that badgers were the ultimate origin of the TB, which is not assessed by the transmission model), the conclusion is very clear: up to a quarter, at most, of bTB outbreaks are directly caused by badgers alone. The rest, by far the majority, are caused either by cattle alone, or by cattle and badgers both playing a role.

So, given limited budgets in farming, should we be concentrating on cattle or badgers to ‘get on top of this disease’ as Owen Paterson and the NFU frequently put it? As even Prof Donnelly puts it, these estimates should ‘inform debate’. But it looks as though the original ISG report was right: cattle measures alone could eliminate TB from Britain, both within cattle and badgers.

Do badgers get TB from cattle?

The answer to this seems obvious: yes. And the original Donnelly & Hone model ddn’t take it into account. The recent paper does address this problem by taking out data where this happened to an obvious degree: in three areas where Foot and Mouth delayed TB testing and removal of cattle. As well as causing a huge spike of bTB nationally (arguably the main cause of the extent of the current outbreak) this produced a large number of TB-infected badgers. As the model has not accounted for this source of TB (cattle-badger-cattle), the authors have taken out the three triplets involved. It makes the figures even less convincing:

This corresponds to an average overall contribution of badgers to confirmed cattle TB of 42% (bootstrap 95% CI: 0.0%-100%). The estimated average percentage of transmission to cattle herds that was badger-to-cattle was 3.7% (bootstrap 95% CI: 0.0-100%)”.

So now the model really does show nothing at all! Not surprising perhaps, as the RBCT was not set up to show this, as the ISG report stated.

The main point though is that the refinement actually lowers the main estimate of badgers being the direct source of bTB in cattle to a tiny 3.7%!

What is the betting that Owen Paterson and the NFU don’t exactly bust a gut to quote this figure in their press releases?

And finally…does the Donnelly & Hone model tell us anything about badger culling vs vaccination?

Donnelly & Hone’s 2010 paper (see below for link) in fact has no mention of the original 50% figure at all. This was first trotted out in Parliament following the announcement of the badger culls, and backed up by a letter from Donnelly to DEFRA explaining how she arrived at the figure. It was this letter which enabled my previous analysis to debunk the figure.

However, the 2010 paper does have one important conclusion that seems to have been overlooked:

‘the best fitting model included frequency-dependent transmission between cattle herds and badger-herd transmission proportional to the proportion of badgers infectious for Bovine TB’.

So it is the prevalence of Bovine TB amongst badgers rather than the density of badgers that seems ot be important. The paper goes to to state:

‘the results imply that reducing the prevalence of Bovine TB in badgers, such as by effective vaccination of badgers, may be important in reducing TB incidence in cattle herds’.

The authors go on to recommend an RBCT-style trial, but using vaccination instead of culling.

The reason that vaccination was suggested here was that the RBCT, far from reducing the prevalence of Bovine TB in badgers (as claimed by Owen Paterson and the NFU), actually increased it. So, by this model, culling would actually increase TB among cattle without any perturbation effects. Of course, as we know, culling did reduce cattle TB inside the cull zones, so there must be factors not taken into account in the model. The recent analysis points to what they could be: that badgers are very seldom the direct origin of TB in cattle, but in some way play an intermediary or facilitating role in cattle to cattle transmission.

In short, badgers may help spread bTB in some way, but it is cattle that mainly take the blame for new outbreaks.

Jamie McMillan

Briantspuddle

16 October 2013

Donnelly & Hone (2010): Association-between-Levels-of-TB-in-Cattle-Herds-and-Badgers

Link

Remembrance: Who exactly are we remembering?

Questioning the almost uniquely British Remembrance Sunday is tantamount to breaking a religious taboo in this country. But inspired by Jeremy Paxman’s critique of David Cameron’s plans for the centenary Remembrance Day, here is something that I find genuinely puzzling about the whole thing.

Who should we remember? For those, like me, that are confused about who we are remembering every November 11th (ie who constitutes ‘The Fallen’ as they are increasingly referred to nowadays), here is a DIY guide. You have to draw the line somewhere and decide who to include or exclude, but where on the list below would you draw it?

Lord Kitchener

British officers killed in action by the enemy since 1914

British troops killed in action by the enemy since 1914

British troops killed in action by friendly fire since 1914

British troops who died accidentally while at war since 1914

British troops who died accidentally at home since 1914

British troops who committed suicide during or after a war since 1914

British troops who were executed for desertion or ‘cowardice’ since 1914

All the above but including those who died in wars before:

1914

1814

1714

(……….insert your own date here)

All the above but also including foreign troops who are our allies

All the above but also including foreign troops who were our allies at the time

All the above but also including British civilians who helped during wartime

All the above but also including any British civilians who died during wartime

All the above but also including any British civilians who die helping society in some way

All the above but also including foreign civilians who actively helped the British during wartime

All the above but also including any foreign civilians in allied countries who died during wartime

All the above but also including any foreign civilians in neutral countries who died during wartime

All the above but also including any foreign civilians in enemy countries who died during wartime

All the above but also including foreign troops who were our enemies at the time

All the above but also including foreign troops who are our enemies now

All the above but also including foreign civilians who help terrorists

All the above but also including foreign civilians who are part of terrorist organisations

Suicide bombers

Terrorist leaders

Osama bin Laden

Well, who did you decide to include? Just the military? Just British? How about resistance fighters (one of my parents would qualify here)? Prison camp victims? Prison camp survivors who died shortly after the war from stress (my grandparents would qualify here)? And are not enemy servicemen just as much victims of war as those fighting on our side?

I am also confused why the UK, almost alone amongst nation-states that fought in WW1, is still commemorating it – but that is another argument for another day.

Jamie McMillan

Briantspuddle

8 October 2013

16% less bTB from badger cull? Make that 3% from DEFRA stats.

One of the most frequent statistics quoted by DEFRA in its defence of badger culling is that ‘science’ has estimated that it would reduce the incidence of Bovine TB by around 16%.

This figure appeared suddenly, in 2011, seemingly out of the blue, was loudly proclaimed both within parliament and outside to the media, and continues to be a major plank of the pro-cull argument. DEFRA’s other major statistic, that 50% of Bovine TB is caused by badgers, was thoroughly discredited in my previous post, and to date there has been no rebuttal from the statistician involved. I therefore wanted to turn my attention to this 16% claim, and see if it was similarly based on shaky ground.

It didn’t take long! The first appearance of 16% seems to have been in a DEFRA meeting of scientific experts on 4 Apr 2011 ( for the full text use link below this post). And the minutes show that since then it has been, in that well-worn political phrase, ‘taken out of context’. Here is the relevant minute:

5. Culling conducted in line with the minimum criteria could be expected to lead to a relative reduction of confirmed new incidents of bTB in cattle herds in the local area. Even though it is not possible to give a very precise estimate, it is likely that the confirmed incidence of bTB in cattle within the culled area would be reduced relative to unculled areas by between 20-34% (see footnote 2) after 9.5 years (4 years of culling plus 5.5 years post-culling). However when taking into account the 2km perimeter area, for an idealised 150km2 area the average net benefit over 9 years would be smaller, at about 3-22%, with a central figure of 12.4% (assuming the incidence of bTB in cattle is similar inside the culled area and the 2km ring) or about 8-24% with a central figure of 16% (assuming higher incidence inside the culled area than the 2km ring)  4. Benefits would accrue over time and would be relatively small (if any) in earlier years.

In order to have a significant impact on national disease incidence, culling would need to be conducted over a very large area (bTB is currently considered endemic in over 39,000km2 of England – the area under annual bTB testing). The associated impact of culling at this scale on the national badger population is unknown.

Note the text in black bold: statistically, this 16% figure actually turns into anywhere from 3-22%, or 8-24% (the 95% confidence intervals) depending on one assumption, that there are different initial rates of bTB within and just outside a randomly-chosen cull area. To me there doesn’t seem to be any reason for assuming this, but let’s take it at face value. The ACTUAL projection, given DEFRA’s assumptions, and keeping to this 150 sq km area (the RBCT areas were 100 sq km), is more accurately stated as being anywhere between 3% and 24% (with a 95% probability).

DEFRA’s main justification for the cull, then, has been based on the higher of two averages, with, yet again (see my recent 50% post), no mention of the vagueness of this estimate as shown by the wide confidence interval.

Let me repeat: culling 70% of badgers repeated for five years in an area could statistically produce a net benefit of as low as a 3% reduction in Bovine TB, based on DEFRA’s own assumptions.  

Has Owen Paterson thought to mention this 3% figure in parliament, or in media interviews? Was it even mentioned in DEFRA’s own Dec 2011 publication which was keen to emphasise the 16% figure?

Interestingly, 3% is very close to the net benefit estimated by the original ISG report based on the RBCT data. However, as yet and despite repeated requests to DEFRA, I have not been able to extract from them the statistical working which produced these projections in the first place. I have been told that are based on bTB rates noted after the RBCT had ended, and will have something to say about the way this data has been handled in due course. But meanwhile if anyone can produce a reference to the original 16% calculation I would be grateful.

bovinetb-scientificexperts-110404

DEFRA-bovinetb-policy-statement.dec11

Jamie McMillan

Briantspuddle, Dorset,

27 September 2013