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Robert Halfon: Skills, social justice, standards, and support for teachers. A four-part manifesto for the new Prime Minister.

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Whether it is Boris Johnson’s £4.6 billion earmarked for schools, or his pledge to boost funding for apprenticeships, education has received vital oxygen during this leadership contest.

The Education Select Committee’s upcoming report on school funding, which we will publish later this week, supports the logic of these pledges – in particular, the need to support further education, which has for too long been considered the Cinderella sector.

But we must look beyond this. Education policy is an enormous montage of different worlds. In the months and years ahead, the new Prime Minister should collect these into one ambitious strategy. He can do this by focusing on the following four “S”s: skills, social justice, standards, and support for the profession.

First, skills.

Around nine million working aged adults in England have low literacy and/or numeracy skills. Many end up in low-skill, low-paid jobs – their life prospects dragged into the quicksand. And a third of England’s 16-19-year-olds have low basic skills.

We must urgently address this by building on the fine work of Damian Hinds and Anne Milton.

In particular, the new Conservative Government should build a world-class apprenticeship offer. It is vital to better understand what is driving the dramatic decline in Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships, and increasing FE funding is a necessity. We would be in a remarkable position if we were able to offer an apprenticeship to every single young person in our country who wanted one.

In terms of lifelong learning, we should build an adult community learning centre in every town, restructure existing employer tax reliefs so that they receive more generous relief when investing in low-skilled employees, and introduce a social justice tax credit, which would expand the number of employers who benefit from tax breaks when they invest in training for low-skilled workers in areas of skills needs.

The curriculum also needs reappraising to make sure our country is ready for the march of the robots. 28 per cent of jobs taken by 16-24-year-olds could be at risk of automation by the 2030s; many low-skilled jobs are at risk and even higher skilled jobs are not immune. Policy makers must consider what it means to develop the skills of the future, and how best to do this. There should be a Royal Commission, with the finest scientists, economists and academics in the land, looking at the effect that AI, automation, and robots will have on society, the economy and our education system, as well as how we should respond to these challenges.

Degree apprenticeships, the crown jewel in higher education, should be at the heart of our higher education offering. The Government must aim to have at least 50 per cent of students doing degree apprenticeships. They allow students to get good quality jobs and earn whilst they learn without a lead weight of £50,000 dragging from their feet.

It is time to reflect on what we consider to be an ‘elite university’. Do they just have good research rankings or are they institutions that deliver high graduate employment outcomes, meet our skills needs and address social disadvantage? We must better recognise the unsung heroes of higher education, like Portsmouth University which came top of The Economist’s “value-added” university rankings (this compares graduates’ wages with what they would have been expected to earn if they had not gone to that university), or Nottingham Trent which has exceptionally high numbers of disadvantaged students and incredibly high destination outcomes.

Second, social justice.

Currently, social injustice inhabits every part of our education system. Almost half of children eligible for free school meals are not ready for primary school. Disadvantaged children are 19 months behind by the time they do their GCSEs. Just 33 per cent of pupils on free school meals get five good GCSEs. And the most disadvantaged students are almost four times less likely to go to university than the most advantaged students.

Good schools are not just bastions of learning but also places of community. And yet schools in many deprived areas struggle to attract experienced teachers and leaders, who are so instrumental in driving up quality. Teachers in disadvantaged areas are also less likely to teach subjects in which they are qualified, and access to good initial teacher training varies by geography.

So how to dismantle these obstacles to learning? Social justice must be the beating heart of our education policy. A bold, assertive agenda that has compassion and aspiration right at its core.

The DfE should incentivise elite initial teacher training providers to set up shop in disadvantaged areas and support the subsequent development of local teachers. This might involve new funding, but they could also consider making use of existing funds – for example, we spend £72 million on opportunity areas, although we don’t really know exactly what impact they are having.

Disadvantaged pupils should also enjoy the benefits associated with our best private schools, including extensive social capital. I attended a private school and am a huge fan of their transformative potential. But, given the extensive charitable benefits that private schools get, they must do more to open their gates to acutely disadvantaged pupils. This could be done by better incentivising schools through the tax system.

Third, standards.

There is no doubt that education has improved in recent years. I have a great deal of admiration for the work the Government – and in particular, Nick Gibb – has done to improve standards.

The evidence is clear. The Government has furnished our children’s education with more rigour. The proportion of six year olds passing the phonics check increased from 58 per cent in 2012 to 82 per cent in 2018. We are stripping out qualifications that hold no real currency. Our Free Schools Programme continues to produce such gems as King’s College London Mathematics School. Since 2010, 1.8 million more pupils are in good or outstanding schools. And we have some of the finest universities in the world.

It is important to build on this and export rigour to every part of our education system and that includes technical education. The Government is starting to do this in its post-16 Skills Plan, which will produce a smaller number of T-Level qualifications that employers recognise and value. The next step is to make sure these new qualifications land safely.

The Free Schools Programme must emphasise community and not get subsumed into larger academies’ broader programmes. And we must apply the logic of high standards to non-mainstream alternative provision, where 1.1 per cent of pupils achieve five good GCSE passes and the supply of good schools is highly variable.

Finally, support for the profession.

It is vital that we support our teachers. We can build the best facilities in the world, but without their most precious element, they are just empty shells.

The education sector needs to continue to attract the brightest individuals. And the Government should support their professional development. We can learn lessons from countries that have a strong record in this area, such as Singapore, which gives classroom teachers more flexibility to hone their trade; places an unusually strong emphasis on peer support (around four fifths are either mentored or a mentor); and has a clearly defined ladder of career progression.

It is also important to make teachers’ lives easier. According to the OECD’s latest international survey, our teachers work more than they used to, and their working week is higher than average. Teachers also spend less time teaching than they did five years ago. Our next Prime Minister must free teachers from unnecessary bureaucracy, and give them more time to do what they do best: teach.

So to sum up.

Skills, social justice, standards, and support for the profession. These should be the four, interlocking foundations of the next Prime Minister’s education programme. Together, they allow those who cannot even see the ladder of opportunity to find it, and they give us all the chance to climb high and build prosperity.

Some of this can only be delivered with wisely targeted resources, but funding alone is not the answer. These four foundations are as much about ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness, as they are about hard cash.

We have a unique chance to address the broad restlessness that exists in society. By extending the ladder of opportunity to those who currently lack it, and by nurturing our raw talents more generally, we can ensure the next generation climbs that ladder and gets the jobs, security, and prosperity that they, and our country, need. It is well within our ability to make sure this happens.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Southerners, Facing Big Odds, Believe in a Path Out of Poverty

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A widening income gap and sagging social mobility have left dents in the American dream. But the belief that anyone with enough gumption and grit can clamber to the top remains central to the nation’s self-image.

And that could complicate Democratic efforts to frame the 2020 presidential election as a referendum on a broken economic system.

Americans, who tend to link rewards to individual effort, routinely overestimate the ease of moving up the income ranks, while Europeans — citing an unfair system, inherited wealth and sticky social classes — consistently underestimate it, surveys have found.

For moving from the bottom of the income ladder to the top, the South offers the worst odds in the United States. But it’s also the region where people are most optimistic about the prospects.

“Fifteen to 20 percent?” guessed Vicki Winters, a retired contract specialist at the Defense Department who lives with her husband, George, in a predominantly white Huntsville suburb.

The actual chances of making that climb in Alabama are a shade above 5 percent. Nationwide, they are less than 8 percent. And in Madison County, where the Winterses live, the odds that a child will escape poverty are among the lowest in the nation.

The county’s dismal ranking is in some ways surprising given Huntsville’s reputation as a dynamic and growing technology hub centered on NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Army Aviation and Missile Command. It has an unemployment rate below 3 percent, is close to a string of colleges and universities and has a business-friendly profile.

“There are a lot of jobs in Huntsville,” said Gregory G. Parker, who presides over the front desk at the Optimist Recreation Center, named for the service club that helped create it. On a recent morning, he was checking in the regular pickleball players. “People just have to have the drive to strive.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_156809799_8748183c-9e9b-4607-9d76-9903b9f0c2ba-articleLarge Southerners, Facing Big Odds, Believe in a Path Out of Poverty Southern States (US) Presidential Election of 2020 Poverty Polls and Public Opinion Income Inequality HUNTSVILLE, Ala. Economic Conditions and Trends Democratic Party

“There are a lot of jobs in Huntsville,” said Gregory G. Parker, who works at the Optimist Recreation Center. “People just have to have the drive to strive.”CreditAndrea Morales for The New York Times

Huntsville was one of the first racially integrated cities in the South as a result of civil rights sit-in campaigns in the early 1960s. But the legacy of Jim Crow and redlining persists in the city as it does elsewhere in the region, with concentrated pockets of poverty.

One of those can be found at the city’s office for social services and food stamps, a low-slung, blocklong building flanked by a pawnshop and a Salvation Army thrift store. On a steamy weekday, public-assistance recipients and applicants waited for a bus under a shady tree.

“You’ve got to work hard, but it can happen,” said Edward Stokes, adding that he had often found himself one paycheck away from homelessness. He had just come from signing up for a program at the city’s career center.

Why inequity and disadvantage produce such hopefulness is not as unusual as it might initially seem. In the most economically stricken areas, residents understand that “nobody is going to help you,” said Roland Bénabou, an economics and public affairs professor at Princeton University.

So the only way to retain hope and motivate your children is to “think that if you just work hard or study hard, you will make it,” he said. “Otherwise there is no hope and no incentive to work, and then for sure you’ll remain poor.”

Mr. Bénabou also noted that whether you believe people get what they deserve in terms of rewards and punishments often varies widely by country.

Westlake Legal Group make-your-own-mobility-animation-1521838318116-articleLarge-v6 Southerners, Facing Big Odds, Believe in a Path Out of Poverty Southern States (US) Presidential Election of 2020 Poverty Polls and Public Opinion Income Inequality HUNTSVILLE, Ala. Economic Conditions and Trends Democratic Party

Income Mobility Charts for Girls, Asian-Americans and Other Groups. Or Make Your Own.

Watch men and women of any race grow up in the United States.

Americans are strong believers in what psychologists call a “just world,” one where people get what they deserve and deserve what they get, he said. “If you’re poor, you must have not worked hard or are lazy, and if you are rich, it must be due to your own merits, efforts and talents,” he said. “Europeans think it’s much more due to luck.”

Those perceptions were confirmed by Harvard University researchers after conducting broad surveys in Europe and the United States, published last year. They asked people in five countries to estimate a child’s chances of moving from the bottom fifth of the income distribution to the top fifth.

Economic Mobility: Reality and Perception

Recent research by a Harvard University team found a disparity between the perceived and actual odds that a child born into the bottom fifth of the income ladder in the United States could move to the top fifth. Optimism about mobility is highest in states that, in reality, offer some of the worst prospects.

Westlake Legal Group 0627-biz-web-MOBILITY-Artboard_2 Southerners, Facing Big Odds, Believe in a Path Out of Poverty Southern States (US) Presidential Election of 2020 Poverty Polls and Public Opinion Income Inequality HUNTSVILLE, Ala. Economic Conditions and Trends Democratic Party

Actual intergenerational mobility

Percentage of children in each state who were born into families in the lowest fifth of the income ranks but moved into the top fifth by adulthood.*

Perceived intergenerational mobility

Estimation among those surveyed, by state, of the percentage of Americans born into the bottom fifth of the income ranks who will reach the top fifth in adulthood.

Westlake Legal Group 0627-biz-web-MOBILITY-Artboard_3 Southerners, Facing Big Odds, Believe in a Path Out of Poverty Southern States (US) Presidential Election of 2020 Poverty Polls and Public Opinion Income Inequality HUNTSVILLE, Ala. Economic Conditions and Trends Democratic Party

Actual intergenerational mobility

Percentage of children in each state who were born into families in the lowest fifth of the income ranks but moved into the top fifth by adulthood.*

Perceived intergenerational mobility

Estimation among those surveyed, by state, of the percentage of Americans born into the bottom fifth of the income ranks who will reach the top fifth in adulthood.

Westlake Legal Group 0627-biz-web-MOBILITY-Artboard_4 Southerners, Facing Big Odds, Believe in a Path Out of Poverty Southern States (US) Presidential Election of 2020 Poverty Polls and Public Opinion Income Inequality HUNTSVILLE, Ala. Economic Conditions and Trends Democratic Party

Perceived intergenerational mobility

Actual intergenerational mobility

Estimation among those surveyed, by state, of the percentage of Americans born into the bottom fifth of the income ranks who will reach the top fifth in adulthood.

Percentage of children in each state who were born into families in the lowest fifth of the income ranks but moved into the top fifth by adulthood.*

Westlake Legal Group 0627-biz-web-MOBILITY-Artboard_5 Southerners, Facing Big Odds, Believe in a Path Out of Poverty Southern States (US) Presidential Election of 2020 Poverty Polls and Public Opinion Income Inequality HUNTSVILLE, Ala. Economic Conditions and Trends Democratic Party

Actual intergenerational mobility

Percentage of children in each state who were born into families in the lowest fifth of the income ranks but moved into the top fifth by adulthood.*

Perceived intergenerational mobility

Estimation among those surveyed, by state, of the percentage of Americans born into the bottom fifth of the income ranks who will reach the top fifth in adulthood.

*The numbers for each state show the share of those born from 1980 to 1985 whose families were in the bottom fifth in pretax household income in 1996-2000, but who as adults were in the top fifth in 2011-12.

By The New York Times | Source: Harvard University

The kind of audacious hope they uncovered could hinder the Democratic case that fundamental changes are needed to enhance economic opportunity.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced her presidential campaign with an indictment of a “rigged system that props up the rich and powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else.” Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has rallied crowds with attacks on the “rigged economy.” And former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has talked of the “rigged labor market.”

They, and other Democratic contenders, have proposed ambitious programs for easing the upward trek confronting children from poor families, like free college, universal health care and childhood savings accounts or bonds.

Yet views about the government’s ability to even the playing field are tangled up with attitudes about the system’s fundamental fairness.

“If people think opportunity is equal, they will tolerate more unequal outcomes,” said Stefanie Stantcheva, an economics professor at Harvard who was part of the university’s research team.

Oddly, segregation does not dampen America’s unique brand of optimism, but augments it. “We find that perceptions are more optimistic when there is more racial segregation,” the Harvard researchers said.

George Winters, a retired public relations specialist, at a meeting for job seekers. Mr. Winters, a lifelong Democrat, said that the odds of poor people working their way up were slim, and that he considered that a sign the government needed to do more.CreditAndrea Morales for The New York Times

Whether people think opportunity is equally available, though, often depends on their political viewpoint.

Liberals are generally more pessimistic than conservatives about the ability of poorer Americans to hoist themselves up economically, and they are more inclined to support government programs meant to ease the route. Tell them that social mobility from one generation to the next is less than they thought, and their support for public assistance increases.

For conservatives, none of that is true. Learning that they have overestimated the odds does not increase their support for government intervention, but causes it to drop even further.

“We didn’t expect this very stark polarization,” Ms. Stantcheva said. It is not that conservatives do not consider flagging social mobility to be a serious issue, but rather that they think government will make the problem worse.

The political split may also help explain the South’s particular optimism. The region has leaned conservative for decades. Alabama, like most of its neighbors, has not voted for a Democrat in a presidential election since 1976.

Ms. Winters is one of those dedicated Republicans. Her husband described himself as a lifelong Democrat.

Mr. Winters figured the odds that poor people could work their way up were slim. For him, that is evidence that the government needs to do more.

For Ms. Winters, hearing that the odds of moving up the income ladder are actually much lower than she had guessed did not change her opinion that government assistance was wasteful.

“There are too many handouts to collect from the government,” Ms. Winters said, “instead of going out there and trying to work, and putting your money in a savings account.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

‘I Didn’t Want Them to Go’: Salvadoran Family Grieves for Father and Daughter Who Drowned

SAN MARTÍN, El Salvador — Rosa Ramírez pleaded with her son, urging him not to leave El Salvador and head north with his wife and young daughter. The risks were simply too high.

He saw no other choice. Their neighborhood was controlled by a gang that enriched itself through drug-dealing, extortion and violence. But most pressing of all, Ms. Ramírez said, they could barely make ends meet on their jobs at fast-food restaurants, and had pinned their hopes on making it to the United States.

They never did.

Last Sunday, after weeks on the road, Ms. Ramírez’s son, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, drowned while trying to cross from Mexico into Texas.

Their fate, captured in a searing photograph of father and daughter lying face down in the muddy waters of the Rio Grande, her arm limply wrapped around him, has quickly become a focal point in the debate over the stream of migrants pushing toward the American border — and President Trump’s determination to stop it.

Critics of the president have taken up the case of the Martínez family, with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York calling the president’s policies “a whirlwind of incompetence, leading to pictures like this.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_157007391_514ceb94-53f3-4ba2-8134-7e7a3178059a-articleLarge ‘I Didn’t Want Them to Go’: Salvadoran Family Grieves for Father and Daughter Who Drowned United States Poverty Mexico Martinez, Valeria (d 2019) Martinez Ramirez, Oscar Alberto (d 2019) Immigration and Emigration Illegal Immigration El Salvador Deaths (Fatalities) Central America Asylum, Right of

Last Sunday, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, drowned during the family’s attempt to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico to the United States.CreditJulia Le Duc/Associated Press

Mr. Trump and his supporters, in turn, have accused Democrats of an inaction that has worsened the crisis, with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky criticizing them as being “uncooperative and uninterested in anything except political posturing.”

But for many residents here in Mr. Martínez’s hometown, San Martín, the heated political battle in Washington has barely registered, and Mr. Trump’s repeated efforts to block migrants have had little impact on the decision to make the perilous journey.

“He can say what he wants — that he’s going to put up a wall of I-don’t-know-how-many meters,” said José Alemán, 48, a partner in a local car washing business. “But they keep going.”

The death of Mr. Martínez and his daughter has given an urgent and poignant face to a major driver of migration from Central America and elsewhere: economic duress.

Much attention in recent years has been given to the rampant violence that has compelled so many Salvadorans and residents of neighboring Guatemala and Honduras to head north.

A playground in the housing complex where the family lived. Like many others throughout the working class of El Salvador, they struggled to get by, living on the edge of poverty.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

But perhaps a bigger impetus, officials and residents here say, has been economics, especially poverty and the lack of good jobs.

The Martínez family made it as far as the northern Mexican border city of Matamoros last weekend, where, according to relatives, they hoped to cross into the United States and apply for asylum.

Told the bridge was closed, however, they decided to ford the Rio Grande on Sunday afternoon instead.

Mr. Martínez went ahead with the couple’s daughter, carrying her on his back, tucked under his T-shirt. His wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, followed behind, riding on the back of a family friend, she told Mexican officials.

As Mr. Martínez, carrying their daughter, approached the opposite bank, he was visibly tiring in the rough water, Ms. Ávalos told the authorities. Unnerved, she decided to swim back to the Mexican side, but she saw her husband and daughter, close to the American riverbank, sink into the water and get swept away.

Westlake Legal Group 0629-for-webSALVADORmap-300 ‘I Didn’t Want Them to Go’: Salvadoran Family Grieves for Father and Daughter Who Drowned United States Poverty Mexico Martinez, Valeria (d 2019) Martinez Ramirez, Oscar Alberto (d 2019) Immigration and Emigration Illegal Immigration El Salvador Deaths (Fatalities) Central America Asylum, Right of

Rio Grande

Gulf of Mexico

El SALVADOR

Pacific Ocean

SAN SALVADOR/

San Martín

By The New York Times

“I didn’t want them to go,” Ms. Ramírez, Mr. Martínez’s mother, said this week in an interview at the small, two-bedroom rowhouse that she shared with her son and his family. “But they didn’t take my advice.”

It remains unclear how the Martínez family intended to argue their case for asylum, or whether they even understood the legal basis for gaining such protection. Mr. Martínez’s wife, Ms. Ávalos, did not respond to requests for an interview.

But Ms. Ramírez repeatedly said that her son and his family were not fleeing persecution or the threat of it — requirements for gaining asylum in the United States.

They migrated “only because of the economic situation,” she said. “Lamentably, the salaries here are very little and they aren’t enough,” she added, speaking softly.

Mr. Trump has railed against what he calls rampant asylum fraud, and he has imposed restrictions on the system in an effort to curb abuse — measures that human rights and migrants’ advocates say have imperiled the lives of asylum-seekers who have legitimate claims.

A street in Altavista, San Martín. Residents and officials here say a gang dominates the neighborhood and has enriched itself through extortion and dealing drugs.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

Residents and officials here say a gang dominates the neighborhood, Altavista. But Ms. Ramírez and another relative said the immediate family had not been directly imperiled by the gang.

Instead, like so many others here and throughout the working class of El Salvador, the family was struggling to get by, living on the edge of poverty.

“There isn’t opportunity, there’s no work,” said Víctor Manuel Rivera, the mayor of San Martín. He estimated that about 50 percent of the municipality’s residents with a high school degree are unemployed.

“Every day I hear it: ‘I’m leaving for the United States,’” he said.

People here talk about “la situación” — the situation — shorthand for the economic struggle many face. The counterpoint is often simple: “The American dream.”

“It hasn’t occurred to me to leave for there,” said Salvador Humberto Andrade Torres, 59, a neighbor of the Martínez family, referring to the United States. “But it occurs to a lot of people.”

Tania Vanessa Ávalos, 21, attending a news conference in El Salvador about the death of her daughter and husband.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

Officials described the neighborhood — indeed, the entire municipality of San Martín — as a de facto “bedroom community,” with many residents commuting on average about two hours each way to work in the capital, San Salvador.

Mr. Martínez and Ms. Ávalos, however, worked relatively close to their home, family members said — she in a Chinese fast-food restaurant at a middle-class mall, and he at various branches of the pizza chain Papa John’s.

But the couple, even though they were sharing household expenses with Ms. Ramírez and her partner, were having a hard time on their salaries of about $300 a month. Last fall, they started talking about migrating to the United States.

Most of those who migrate are young, as has been the case for generations. But in recent years, the municipality has seen a sharp increase in the number of families migrating, too, part of a wave of family migration from Central America toward the United States.

Ms. Ramírez said she spoke with her son from time to time as the family made its northward trek, but he did not reveal many details.

A street in Altavista, where many people commute two hours to the capital, San Salvador, for work.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

“I would ask him and he said, ‘We’re fine, we’re fine,’” she recalled.

The farewell had been subdued. The family gathered for a simple, Sunday meal one afternoon last spring. Ms. Ramírez prepared beef stew — “they love that,” she said.

Several days later, as she headed to her night shift at the garment factory where she works, Ms. Ramírez said one last goodbye to her son and his family.

When she returned in the morning, they were gone.

Ms. Ramírez remembered her son as a loyal, doting father and “a responsible, friendly, respectful son.”

Her granddaughter, Angie Valeria, Ms. Ramírez recalled, was “happy, intelligent.” As she spoke, she sat on a worn sofa covered in a sheet decorated with the images of princesses from animated Disney films. A single bare light bulb illuminated the room, a few ceramic butterflies adorned the walls.

After the bodies were discovered on Monday, Ms. Ramírez found herself scrolling through the photos of her son and granddaughter on her phone. Her daughter eventually erased them to spare her the pain.

“I would feel bad when I looked at them,” Ms. Ramírez said.

It is an agony that she hopes others will never have to suffer.

“Don’t risk the lives of your children,” she said, hoping to warn others against setting off on the potentially dangerous journey to the American border. “Those who are thinking about this, don’t do it.”

“I’d prefer to live here, in poverty, than risk my life,” she added. “But we don’t all think the same way.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

‘I Didn’t Want Them to Go’: Salvadorans Grieve for Father and Daughter Who Drowned

SAN MARTÍN, El Salvador — Rosa Ramírez pleaded with her son, urging him not to leave El Salvador and head north with his wife and young daughter. The risks were simply too high.

He saw no other choice. Their neighborhood was controlled by a gang that enriched itself through drug-dealing, extortion and violence. But most pressing of all, Ms. Ramírez said, they could barely make ends meet on their jobs at fast-food restaurants, and had pinned their hopes on making it to the United States.

They never did.

Last Sunday, after weeks on the road, Ms. Ramírez’s son, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, drowned while trying to cross from Mexico into Texas.

Their fate, captured in a searing photograph of father and daughter lying face down in the muddy waters of the Rio Grande, her arm limply wrapped around him, has quickly become a focal point in the debate over the stream of migrants pushing toward the American border — and President Trump’s determination to stop it.

Critics of the president have taken up the case of the Martínez family, with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York calling the president’s policies “a whirlwind of incompetence, leading to pictures like this.”

Mr. Trump and his supporters, in turn, have accused Democrats of an inaction that has worsened the crisis, with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky criticizing them as being “uncooperative and uninterested in anything except political posturing.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_157007391_514ceb94-53f3-4ba2-8134-7e7a3178059a-articleLarge ‘I Didn’t Want Them to Go’: Salvadorans Grieve for Father and Daughter Who Drowned United States Poverty Mexico Martinez, Valeria (d 2019) Martinez Ramirez, Oscar Alberto (d 2019) Immigration and Emigration Illegal Immigration El Salvador Deaths (Fatalities) Central America Asylum, Right of

Last Sunday, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, drowned during the family’s attempt to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico to the United States.CreditJulia Le Duc/Associated Press

But for many residents here in Mr. Martínez’s hometown, San Martín, the heated political battle in Washington has barely registered, and Mr. Trump’s repeated efforts to block migrants have had little impact on the decision to make the perilous journey.

“He can say what he wants — that he’s going to put up a wall of I-don’t-know-how-many meters,” said José Alemán, 48, a partner in a local car washing business. “But they keep going.”

The death of Mr. Martínez and his daughter has given an urgent and poignant face to a major driver of migration from Central America and elsewhere: economic duress.

Much attention in recent years has been given to the rampant violence that has compelled so many Salvadorans and residents of neighboring Guatemala and Honduras to head north.

But perhaps a bigger impetus, officials and residents here say, has been economics, especially poverty and the lack of good jobs.

The Martínez family made it as far as the northern Mexican border city of Matamoros last weekend, where, according to relatives, they hoped to cross into the United States and apply for asylum.

A playground in the housing complex where the family lived. Like many others throughout the working class of El Salvador, they struggled to get by, living on the edge of poverty.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

Told the bridge was closed, however, they decided to ford the Rio Grande on Sunday afternoon instead.

Mr. Martínez went ahead with the couple’s daughter, carrying her on his back, tucked under his T-shirt. His wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, followed behind, riding on the back of a family friend, she told Mexican officials.

As Mr. Martínez, carrying their daughter, approached the opposite bank, he was visibly tiring in the rough water, Ms. Ávalos told the authorities. Unnerved, she decided to swim back to the Mexican side, but she saw her husband and daughter, close to the American riverbank, sink into the water and get swept away.

“I didn’t want them to go,” Ms. Ramírez, Mr. Martínez’s mother, said this week in an interview at the small, two-bedroom rowhouse that she shared with her son and his family. “But they didn’t take my advice.”

It remains unclear how the Martínez family intended to argue their case for asylum, or whether they even understood the legal basis for gaining such protection. Mr. Martínez’s wife, Ms. Ávalos, did not respond to requests for an interview.

But Ms. Ramírez repeatedly said that her son and his family were not fleeing persecution or the threat of it — requirements for gaining asylum in the United States.

A street in Altavista, San Martín. Residents and officials here say a gang dominates the neighborhood and has enriched itself through extortion and dealing drugs.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

They migrated “only because of the economic situation,” she said. “Lamentably, the salaries here are very little and they aren’t enough,” she added, speaking softly.

Mr. Trump has railed against what he calls rampant asylum fraud, and he has imposed restrictions on the system in an effort to curb abuse — measures that human rights and migrants’ advocates say have imperiled the lives of asylum-seekers who have legitimate claims.

Residents and officials here say a gang dominates the neighborhood, Altavista. But Ms. Ramírez and another relative said the immediately family had not been directly imperiled by the gang.

Instead, like so many others here and throughout the working class of El Salvador, the family was struggling to get by, living on the edge of poverty.

“There isn’t opportunity, there’s no work,” said Víctor Manuel Rivera, the mayor of San Martín. He estimated that about 50 percent of the municipality’s residents with a high school degree are unemployed.

“Every day I hear it: ‘I’m leaving for the United States,’” he said.

People here talk about “la situación” — the situation — shorthand for the economic struggle many face. The counterpoint is often simple: “The American dream.”

Tania Vanessa Ávalos, 21, attending a news conference in El Salvador about the death of her daughter and husband.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

“It hasn’t occurred to me to leave for there,” said Salvador Humberto Andrade Torres, 59, a neighbor of the Martínez family, referring to the United States. “But it occurs to a lot of people.”

Officials described the neighborhood — indeed, the entire municipality of San Martín — as a de facto “bedroom community,” with many residents commuting on average about two hours each way to work in the capital, San Salvador.

Mr. Martínez and Ms. Ávalos, however, worked relatively close to their home, family members said — she in a Chinese fast-food restaurant at a middle-class mall, and he at various branches of the pizza chain Papa John’s.

But the couple, even though they were sharing household expenses with Ms. Ramírez and her partner, were having a hard time on their salaries of about $300 a month. Last fall, they started talking about migrating to the United States.

Most of those who migrate are young, as has been the case for generations. But in recent years, the municipality has seen a sharp increase in the number of families migrating, too, part of a wave of family migration from Central America toward the United States.

Ms. Ramírez said she spoke with her son from time to time as the family made its northward trek, but he did not reveal many details.

A street in Altavista, where many people commute two hours to the capital, San Salvador, for work.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

“I would ask him and he said, ‘We’re fine, we’re fine,’” she recalled.

The farewell had been subdued. The family gathered for a simple, Sunday meal one afternoon last spring. Ms. Ramírez prepared beef stew — “they love that,” she said.

Several days later, as she headed to her night shift at the garment factory where she works, Ms. Ramírez said one last goodbye to her son and his family.

When she returned in the morning, they were gone.

Ms. Ramírez remembered her son as a loyal, doting father and “a responsible, friendly, respectful son.”

Her granddaughter, Angie Valeria, Ms. Ramírez recalled, was “happy, intelligent.” As she spoke, she sat on a worn sofa covered in a sheet decorated with the images of princesses from animated Disney films. A single bare light bulb illuminated the room, a few ceramic butterflies adorned the walls.

After the bodies were discovered on Monday, Ms. Ramírez found herself scrolling through the photos of her son and granddaughter on her phone. Her daughter eventually erased them to spare her the pain.

“I would feel bad when I looked at them,” Mr. Ramírez said.

It is an agony that she hopes others will never have to suffer.

“Don’t risk the lives of your children,” she said, hoping to warn others against setting off on the potentially dangerous journey to the American border. “Those who are thinking about this, don’t do it.”

“I’d prefer to live here, in poverty, than risk my life,” she added. “But we don’t all think the same way.”

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Robert Halfon: Under our new leader, we must prize social justice above social mobility

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Compassionate Conservatism courses through the veins of this Party. I know – I speak to colleagues and members every day. From educational attainment to lack of in-work progression. From family breakdown to fragile social care. From addiction to defunct housing. These concerns, and many more that disproportionately affect society’s most disadvantaged individuals, are deeply troubling for us all.

We are the Party of high school standards and aspiration. The Party that introduced the National Living Wage, the Modern Slavery Act, the Pupil Premium. Compassionate Conservatives believe in a strong safety net, but also in a dynamic welfare system that is ambitious for individuals, rather than one that writes them off.

Our Party is the champion of free trade and enterprise – the engine of prosperity for us all. But, we also recognise the state’s vital role in helping disadvantaged individuals overcome adversity so that they, too, can prosper.

All too often, however, our concerns about the most disadvantaged are not reaching the light of day. According to a recent poll by the Centre for Social Justice, just five per cent of low-income voters think the Conservative Party is “compassionate”. 72 per cent say the Party is not concerned about people on low incomes. 52 per cent believe that we “don’t understand what it is like to struggle”. And 57 per cent say Conservatives “only care about the rich”. These are damning statistics, and do not reflect my colleagues’ natural sentiments.

Meanwhile, the Left hoovers up recognition, despite the mirage of its self-declared monopoly on compassion. Take its proposals on welfare, which focus more on parking people on benefits than on encouraging aspiration. Or Corbyn’s plan to scrap tuition fees; an enormously wasteful and regressive measure that would suck precious resources out of the pot – resources that could instead be used to support the most disadvantaged. Or Labour’s misconceived notion that helping poorer individuals can only be achieved by taking down the rich.

It is time Conservatives claim compassion as one of our own. However, we cannot do so until we are clearer about what we mean by this.

Equality of opportunity should be right at the heart of our thinking. The problem, however, is that this has become synonymous with social mobility – a term that has become increasingly fashionable but loses sight of the bigger picture. At its core, social mobility implies the capability to move up the ladder of opportunity. But it is not enough just to focus on this. There are swathes of people who are not even at the foot of the ladder in the first place; people who are so far removed from the mainstream that the idea of progression and self-fulfilment is a distant fog.

If we are serious about creating opportunity for all, Conservatives also need to have an answer for these individuals and can only do so by thinking about social justice. This means addressing all the personal circumstances in somebody’s life that are shackling his or her ability to enjoy the opportunities that exist in society. In addition, we must tackle the things that cause people to crash into poverty, rather than the symptoms: educational failure, worklessness, family breakdown, unmanageable debt, addiction, disability, exposure to crime, poor housing.

If we fail to grasp this, we will fail the Conservative Party’s moral heritage. We will also, almost certainly, demolish our prospects of a working majority in the next general election.

The Centre for Social Justice has calculated that over 1.4 million poorer voters live in the 100 most marginal seats in the country. And in every single one of those seats, these individuals exceed the majority of the standing MP, in many cases by a considerable margin. Put simply, the Conservative Party cannot win the next general election without winning the hearts and minds of society’s most disadvantaged individuals.

The next leader must deliver Brexit, arguably, the most daunting task faced by a post-war Prime Minister. And he must do so swiftly and decisively. But this cannot define his premiership. Brexit was a symptom of a much broader restlessness in our society: the marginalisation of large numbers of people from prosperity. The answer to that is a bold, assertive domestic agenda that has social justice right at its core.

Whatever the outcome of the leadership contest, the victor must stitch together the ripped fabric of our society. He must reach out to those who are stuck on the side lines of prosperity. And he must reignite the compassionate instincts that lie at the heart of this great Party.

To make a start, our future Government should transform the current Social Mobility Commission into a Social Justice Commission, embedded in the heart of Downing Street. They must address all the concerns I have outlined, and more, to make sure Government brings every single person to the ladder of opportunity, not matter who they are, where they come from, or what difficulties they face.

The Commission should produce social justice impact assessments on domestic policy and legislative proposals. They should not only be a means by which negative effects are flagged but should be used to ensure that everything we Conservatives do is positively helping to improve the lives of those who need looking out for most.

As our Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has said, delivering Brexit is about more than just leaving the EU. “The hard bit is yet to come. Because we’ve got to reflect why so many people voted the way that they did in the biggest democratic exercise this country has ever seen.”

What comes next is equally important, if not more so, and delivering social justice to all corners of our nation must be a focal part of it.

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Immigrants Brought Riches to Urban Schools. Now They’re in the Shadows.

BALTIMORE — Mary Donnelly, the principal of John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle School, has watched with pride for 18 years as new languages proliferated in the hallways, different countries were added to her social studies work sheets and the student population nearly quadrupled.

The influx of poor immigrant families brought a flood of resources as the school’s official poverty rate rose above 90 percent: an after-school program, three interpreters and a steady infusion of federal funding.

But in recent years, as the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown began to reverberate through the nation’s public schools, the students who had been such a fiscal asset have turned into a budgetary liability.

Education leaders in Baltimore say White House policy proposals are prompting immigrant families to forgo services that they fear could land them on Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s radar or jeopardize their path to citizenship. And because the school district here uses families’ participation in government assistance programs to measure poverty rates, John Ruhrah, at least on paper, suddenly looks rich.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_155940447_9a185812-682a-4d4e-befa-c70b1905e8f7-articleLarge Immigrants Brought Riches to Urban Schools. Now They’re in the Shadows. United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Poverty Immigration and Emigration Illegal Immigration Education (K-12)

“We’re angry,” said Mary Donnelly, the principal of John Ruhrah. “But we’re going to make sure the kids don’t suffer.”CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

The southeast Baltimore school lost more than $240,000 for the next school year after it was dropped from a federal antipoverty program, called Title I, which doles out billions of dollars to the country’s poorest schools. That loss is a fraction of its $4.8 million budget for next year, but the money covered three staff positions and kept class sizes in the 30s. The Title I status also attracted teachers, who were eligible for tuition grants from the federal government for teaching poor children.

“We’re angry,” Ms. Donnelly said. “But we’re going to make sure the kids don’t suffer. Here, they count.”

In this cash-short school district here, official poverty rates in at least a dozen schools serving high populations of English-language learners have plummeted in the last four years, while the material well-being of many of those students has not really changed.

“We have families under duress, who now have to weigh the cost-benefit of being counted,” said Sonja B. Santelises, the chief executive of the Baltimore school system. “The distrust level rises now with every piece of paper, with anything official-sounding.”

Across the country, education leaders have warned that Trump administration immigration policies could send school budgets into tailspins.

Education leaders have warned that Trump administration immigration policies could send school budgets into tailspins.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

Under one proposal, the administration would broaden the range of public assistance programs — such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers — used to determine whether immigrants seeking to become legal residents would be “public charges” on the country. That would effectively expand the programs that some immigrants may seek to avoid as they erase themselves from government assistance. Administration officials said the change would “promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources.”

Another rule would evict undocumented immigrants and their families — even family members in the country legally — from public housing, including 55,000 children. And the administration’s decision to ask on the 2020 census whether respondents are citizens stands to skew official poverty rates, the single most important data point for federal education funding, by depressing the response of immigrants — documented and undocumented. The Supreme Court will rule this month on the legality of the census question.

Trump administration officials say these proposals will give policymakers a better sense of the country’s population while preserving scarce resources for people living here legally. But schools are in a squeeze: By Supreme Court decree, they have no choice but to educate children, regardless of their immigration status.

In a Supreme Court filing protesting the Census Bureau’s new citizenship question, the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of the nation’s largest urban school districts, noted: “It would be ironic indeed, if the bureau was not required to count noncitizen children when this court has held that public school districts, including council members, are constitutionally compelled to educate those same children.”

Michael Casserly, the executive director of the council, said the cumulative effect of the administration’s immigration policies would be extensive.

Ms. Donnelly said she was looking to salvage what she could of the resources under threat.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

“I can’t recall a time where the convergence of policy decisions has had such a broad impact on public education,” he said. “I think the folks who made these policies had no appreciation for the breadth and impact they would have on institutions that were never part of the conversation in the first place.”

Already, advocates point to “chilling effects” on immigrant families seeking services: a sharp decline in participation in the federal food stamp program among children with immigrant mothers and immigrant families pulling out of Medicaid.

As a result, schools are bracing for students who show up to their doors homeless, hungry and unhealthy.

AASA, the School Superintendents Association, which represents 13,000 school superintendents, said school systems have reported parents asking that their children be disenrolled from the school-based Medicaid programs and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP.

“While school administrators try to explain to parents that their children are entitled to Medicaid or CHIP and that they will not be sharing this information with immigration enforcement agencies, school administrators have not been successful in convincing families,” the group wrote.

Kindergarteners working on word puzzles at John Ruhrah. Schools use Title I to keep class sizes down and hire additional staff members.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

Educators are particularly worried about Title I, the largest K-12 antipoverty program that for 54 years has supported everything from early childhood programs to guidance counselors. The Education Department relies primarily on childhood poverty rates derived from the census to allocate the program’s annual budget of about $16 billion.

Using the Census Bureau’s own estimate of a 5.8 percent decline in response rates among noncitizens, the Council of Great City Schools said the undercounting of students from immigrant households would result in a $151.7 million national misallocation of Title I funds.

The Clark County School District in Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, would lose $1.1 million a year, most of which would come from its prekindergarten programs. Miami-Dade County schools in South Florida would see a $1.4 million cut and the loss of hundreds of staff positions. New York City, which uses its Title I funds to bolster academic support services, enrichment programs and before- and after-school programs, would lose $10.7 million.

“We’re going to do what we need to do to serve our kids, but it’s going to be a strain on local dollars,” said Jesus F. Jara, the superintendent of the Clark County School District.

The New York City schools chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, said that the loss would be “devastating” to the 87 percent of city schools that receive Title I funds.

A class project showing where students’ families are from. The influx of immigrant families that brought a flood of resources to John Ruhrah has become a budgetary liability under the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

“This goes to the heart of what we do to support our most fragile students,” he said. “Hope is not a strategy, but we’re really hoping the courts will do the right things here.”

Mr. Carranza, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, said the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown “has definitely sent a wave of fear into our communities.”

Ms. Donnelly — a 45-year veteran of the Baltimore school system, 25 as a principal — said she was looking to salvage what she could of the resources under threat. At John Ruhrah, where more than 80 percent of families identify English as a second language and more than 60 percent of students qualify for English-language services, she can’t afford not to.

Despite what the paperwork shows, the shelves of the school’s monthly food bank go empty in a day. Recently, the school’s employees took up a collection to help a family stave off eviction.

“The need is still here,” Ms. Donnelly said. “It’s just not documented.”

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Richard Ritchie: Christianity and politics at Easter. Do the Gospels present a manifesto?

Richard Ritchie is the author of The Progress Trust (Without Hindsight: A History of the Progress Trust 1943-2005). He is Enoch Powell’s archivist and is a former Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

Eastertide presents Christians with an obligation, as well as an excuse, to think about something other than Brexit. But it is probably no exaggeration to say that anyone interested in politics who professes also to be a Christian is bound to wonder whether the political beliefs he or she advocates meet with the approval of Jesus Christ.

This presents a problem – because while Christ has a great deal to say about morals and motivation, his words are not so easily transcribed into political practice. An obligation to feed the hungry and protect the poor, for example, is not necessarily achieved by the introduction of a wealth tax. But if a Conservative’s sole reason for opposing such a tax were the dislike of having to pay it oneself, he would be on shaky ground. And even then, it’s not simple. Can anyone be confident of the purity of one’s motives? And yet, if pressed too far, scrupulosity might easily lead towards political paralysis.

For socialists, it’s easier. Christians with left-wing views almost always tend to think that their politics are consistent with their faith, and one can see why. Literal readings of the parables all lean towards condemning the rich for having too much and for lacking compassion. Hence, the need, in the eyes of many on the Left, for redistribution – although a redistribution dictated by the state rather than freely offered by individuals which, it could be argued, is not at all what Christianity is about. It’s hard to see why simply paying taxes should help to get one into heaven. But it is not just politicians of the Left who make this mistake, and who seek to mould Christ’s teaching into a political philosophy. Margaret Thatcher, for example, used the parable of the talents to justify capitalism. But Doctors of the Church remind us that these talents represent God’s grace – not money in the bank.

This is why for a ‘literal’ reading of the parables, one might more accurately substitute ‘superficial’, because it is clear that they were never intended be interpreted from a single standpoint. Almost every parable has a deeper theological meaning, which is peculiar not only to Christian morality but also to the very nature of Christ’s Church. If anyone doubts that, they only have to read Harold Macmillan’s great friend, Monsignor Ronald Knox. His Mystery of the Kingdom interprets the parables as being primarily about Christ’s purpose in creating his Church and the characteristics which it will hold – including the presence of good and evil within it.

But this doesn’t mean that an avowedly Christian politician should expect to end up politically in the same place as, say, a Muslim or an atheist. One’s religion should make a difference – and then the question is whether a religious person has a duty to ensure that the law of the land reflects his religious values.

Most today would say not, but again it is not that simple. A recent essay by the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, has recently been published, in which he returns to his favourite theme of ‘absolute’ rather than ‘relative’ moral values. He challenges today’s central assumption that morality should be determined exclusively “by the purposes of human action that prevailed.” He concludes that the current approach to morality means there can “no longer be anything that constitutes an absolute good, any more than anything fundamentally evil.”

Any Christian whose conscience is in the same place as Pope Benedict would have found it necessary to oppose, in his words, “the unprecedented radicalism” of the 1960s. In particular, he singles out the proliferation of pornography as a serious source of evil which no Christian politician should have countenanced, however ‘libertarian’ his or her outlook. But he goes further in the following passage, which goes to the heart of the dilemma facing any Christian politician:

“After the upheaval of the Second World War, we in Germany had still expressly placed our Constitution under the responsibility to God as a guiding principle. Half a century later, it was no longer possible to include responsibility to God as a guiding principle in the European constitution. God is regarded as the party concern of a small group and can no longer stand as the guiding principle for the community as a whole. This decision reflects the situation in the West, where God has become the private affair of a minority.”

Most people today would say :“and a good thing too.” Religion should only be “the private affair of a minority.” But that is not what a Christian politician should think, whether of the ‘right’ or of the ‘left’. One doesn’t have to be a Roger Scruton to note, in Pope Benedict’s words, that “in the twenty years from 1960 to 1980, the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely.” Christian politicians are under an obligation to challenge a morality based entirely on private judgment and relativity, especially if they conclude that these normative standards are endangering the spiritual welfare of children.

It is because socialists in particular have liked to claim for themselves a monopoly of Christian morality – except, of course, when it comes to sexual morality – that the politics of this country has drifted into a religious ‘no man’s land’, where everyone is judged by the standards of the BBC and nobody asks difficult questions. But however important issues such as the distribution of wealth or child poverty should be to a Christian, it does not follow that the Gospels contain a political message or solution.

All we know is that ambition and material sufficiency can be barriers to holiness – and the more comfortable we are, the greater this danger. Such thoughts don’t write a manifesto: at best they only provide the moral foundations on which a manifesto is based. And Christ’s resurrection certainly doesn’t help us out on Brexit – unless it be to remind us of the Christian virtues of temperance and respect. Perhaps that should be the focus of our Easter meditation before political hostilities recommence.

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Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: If the PM is so lifeless in the House, how can she carry conviction in Brussels?

Craig Tracey, since 2015 Conservative MP for North Warwickshire, used the first question of the day to urge the Prime Minister to grasp an “opportunity” and “make a success of it”. Here is his question in full, delivered in a mild, almost apologetic tone of voice:

“I fully agree with the Prime Minister when she’s repeatedly said that we need to both honour the result of the referendum and our manifesto commitments, which mean leaving the customs union and single market, so does my Right Honourable Friend agree with me that if the best way to do that, rather than deliver a diluted deal which is unrecognisable to many of us who voted to leave, is to go under WTO rules, we should grasp that opportunity and believe in the ability of the British people and a Conservative Government to make a success of it.”

Theresa May responded: “I believe that a Conservative Government will make a success of whatever the situation is in relation to Brexit.”

Oh dear. The Prime Minister who has been dealing with the matter since July 2016 cannot tell us what the situation is in relation to Brexit. She added that she still believes it is best to leave in an orderly way with a deal.

A more underwhelming performance, lifeless, stilted, tired, impervious to the feelings of her listeners and unable to raise anyone’s spirits, would be hard to imagine. And this is the person who is travelling to Brussels to negotiate on our behalf.

If she cannot speak with conviction in the Commons, how can one imagine she will do so when she meets European leaders?

No wonder a considerable number of MPs on both sides of the House declined to attend PMQs. There was nothing to learn here, and it was painful to listen to this dutiful, uncommunicative, humiliated Prime Minister.

No Tory backbencher had a go at her in the way that half a dozen of them did last week. They will not kick her when she is just off to Brussels.

But the glum faces of her colleagues on the front bench reinforced the feeling that it is time to let someone else have a go at negotiating Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn complained that child poverty is worse in Swindon and Stoke-on-Trent than it is in Surrey. He is getting ready for a general election.

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Philip Booth: It’s time to remember that there’s more to politics than Brexit

Philip Booth is Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. He is also Senior Academic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

The old joke “Why did the chicken cross the road?” (“To get to the other side”) might have come out of some readers’ Christmas crackers. In fact, there is a serious point to that joke. The chicken can know of no higher purpose. There was no ultimate end: it just crossed the road to get to the other side. If the chicken were a person, getting to the other side would not have been a good enough reason for crossing the road in and of itself: there would have been some further, higher, end.

For those of us who have spent their lives not being very interested in the EU, these are not especially exciting times. We should remember that the Brexit debate is not an end in itself. The different protagonists in the debate within the Conservative Party have generally not taken that position. If you believe in limited government and free trade, perfectly rational positions can be and have been created to support an EEA position, free-trade deals, No Deal or Remain. I struggle to understand the rationale of the deal that the Prime Minister has brought back to us, but won’t get into that debate today.

Of course, the EU is not just about economics. But, when it comes to economics, those who believe in a free economy and free trade cannot allow the Brexit debate to act as an alternative for making the wider case for capitalism. We cannot put the making of the wider case for limited government on hold. Those who believe in a bigger state have certainly not stopped making their arguments.

On the whole, socialists like to try to take the moral high ground. They are effective in building narratives around people’s own problems or aspirations: Conservatives are not always good at this and the Brexit debate has certainly not helped. The recent visit to the UK by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston illustrates these points very well.

Those who believe in a free economy need to argue their case as if they really believe that free markets and sound institutions are matters of life and death for the poorest people in the world.

An excellent book by Rainer Zitelmann, The Power of Capitalism, makes some of these arguments forcefully. The opening chapter on China is shocking in its portrayal of the poverty of the Mao regime – 33 million people died in just four years to 1962. However imperfect and incomplete the move towards markets, the Chinese transition has ensured that most of the country’s people are now no longer one bad harvest away from starvation. The relationship between the institutions of capitalism and the poor being in a position where they can escape a life of drudgery or disease and famine is indisputable. It can be seen across countries and through time.

And yet the basic facts about the benefits of markets and the abject failure of socialism are more or less unknown here at home. Students, potential voters and those who frame the policy debates seem to have no clue about how globalisation has improved the lot of the poor. Indeed, they do not even understand that the lot of the poor has improved. In a recent Ipsos-Mori poll, 91 per cent of British respondents believed that the proportion of people living in absolute poverty had increased or remained about the same in recent decades. The reality is that the proportion has fallen more in the last three decades than in the whole of previous economic history put together.

Reports from Oxfam and many other organisations suggest that inequality is on the increase and this is the prevailing narrative (bizarrely echoed by people such as Mark Carney). I suspect that, if a poll were taken on whether people believed that global inequality was increasing or decreasing, the proportion believing it was decreasing would not get out of single figures – or perhaps it would be zero after rounding. Yet the last 20 years mark the first sustained period in over two centuries during which global inequality is falling.

Unless economic globalisation reverses or the institutional situation in poorer countries deteriorates, this trend will continue. The West has an awful demographic outlook which will lead to lower disposable incomes as a result of higher taxes, as well as other problems. Meanwhile, the possibility for catch-up growth fuelled by young populations with growing human capital should allow poorer countries to continue to grow rapidly.

We should take none of this for granted. It is essential that the public does not come to believe that those politicians who broadly support a free economy have become obsessed by Brexit. If you were to put the faces of publicly-known politicians before people in an opinion poll and ask the question: “which of these people support policies that will raise incomes for the very poorest and reduce global inequality?”, I suspect that not many would nominate those politicians whom we know support free markets. That needs to change. It is not as if the statistics or the messages are especially complicated. Brexit should not be like the chicken crossing the road. The broader purpose of government should never be forgotten. We cannot have a moratorium on making the case for limited government and free markets or a couple of years whilst we deal with Brexit.

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