John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for November, 2017

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‘It’s just mistake after mistake’ – stories from the universal credit catastrophe

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

It was introduced to simplify benefits and encourage people to work. Yet from a bungled rollout to Kafkaesque rules and the infamous six-week payment delay, universal credit has caused untold misery. John Harris meets people who have had their lives turned upside down. Photograph by Mark Pinder for the Guardian

Sue hit her lowest point at the end of 2016. Unable to buy food and behind with her rent, she phoned the finance company about the debt on her car. She and her family live in a town between Bristol and Bath, the kind of place where getting around with three children – not least to the nearest jobcentre, which is nine miles away – makes having your own transport essential. But she hadn’t met her repayments for three months.

“The lady on the line said, ‘You sound really down – are you OK?’” she recalls. “She could hear I was distressed. And I basically said: ‘No – I’m going to go upstairs and slit my wrists.’ She said: ‘Don’t do that – stay on the line. I’m going to put you through to someone you should talk to.’ It was a counsellor. And I spoke to them for nearly two hours.”

What is universal credit?

Related: Chancellor, keep a million children out of poverty. Fix universal credit | Debbie Abrahams

Related: Universal credit: the homeless charity that could lose a third of its income

Related: Food banks warn of struggle to cope this Christmas due to universal credit

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Don’t just teach kids to code – teach them to question Facebook and Google | John Harris

Monday, November 20th, 2017

It’s shameful that our children are still so computer illiterate. Let’s give them the skills to take on the tech giants, and create a more democratic internet

Three years ago, before the Brexit dreams of renewed imperial glory and Vimto for all took wing, England took an uncharacteristically bold step into the future. Michael Gove was in charge of the Department for Education, and he appeared to make good his promise to revolutionise the teaching of computing in schools. He damned the subject known as information and communication technology (or ICT), which its detractors – with a good deal of justification – said was too often reducible to showing kids how to use PowerPoint. “About as much use as teaching children to send a telex or travel in a zeppelin,” said Gove. The new thing, he enthused, was computer science, and a drive to ensure that schools would now show their pupils “not just how to work a computer; but how a computer works, and how to make it work for you”.

Related: Kids coding at school: ‘When you learn computing, you’re thinking about thinking’

Related: We can teach women to code, but that just creates another problem

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They voted for Brexit in a cry of pain – what happened to the left-behind? | John Harris

Monday, November 6th, 2017

May hasn’t delivered on her pledge to rebalance the country. In fact with austerity cuts, economic revival in leave-voting areas seems more unlikely than ever

It was not much more than a year ago. The result of the EU referendum was still being pored over, and the political moment seemed to be all about two things: a view of much of the leave vote as a cry of pain and resentment from parts of the country beyond London, and the urgent need to do something. Journalists were still being dispatched to the supposed Brexit heartlands; among politicians, the idea was that now that such places as south Wales, the east of England, the Midlands and the non-urban north had spoken so loudly that their deep problems were finally going to be addressed.

Related: What the Brexit impact papers may – or may not – reveal

The only rebalancing … will be London becoming a bit less rich thanks to the downsizing of the City

Related: How Putin could yet save Britain from Brexit | Mark Galeotti

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