Paying reparations for slavery is possible – based on a study of federal compensation to farmers, fishermen, coal miners, radiation victims and 70 other groups

As Americans celebrate Juneteenth, legislation for a commission to study reparations for harms resulting from the enslavement of nearly 4 million people has languished in Congress for more than 30 years.

Though America has yet to begin compensating Black Americans for past and ongoing racial harms, our new research published in the Russell Sage Foundation Journal in June 2024, refutes one of the key arguments against making reparation payments – that they would be too difficult and expensive for the federal government to administer.

We discovered hundreds of cases and analyzed more than 70 programs in which the federal government pays what we term “reparatory compensation” to millions of Americans.

The long history of US compensation

Since the 1930s, the U.S. government has made payments for many types of nonracial harms, including personal injury, illness, disease, financial loss, natural disasters, market failures and social injustices.

In 1988, for example, the U.S. government paid reparations to Japanese Americans – and in some cases, their descendants – who were forced into internment camps during World War II.

With the authorization of the government, the U.S. military rounded up and incarcerated Japanese Americans shortly after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In another example, starting in the 1990s, Congress passed a series of laws to compensate people in 12 western states and the Marshall Islands who were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation from the government’s nuclear testing program that occurred in the 1940s and 1950s. Since 1990, these programs have compensated some 135,000 victims and paid out US$28 billion to these victims and to some of their heirs.

America has paid compensation to coal miners who have contracted lung diseases, farmers who have endured crop failures and fishermen facing depleted fish stocks.

The federal government has also paid compensation to victims of terrorism, wrongful convictions and natural disasters.

It also has paid partial restitution to thousands of descendants of Native American tribes, whose tribal land earnings were stolen or mismanaged dating back to the 1880s.

Indeed, the federal government has long attempted to compensate individuals – and in certain cases entire communities – through a combination of restitution, financial benefits and rehabilitation.

These programs cost billions of dollars annually and are funded in a variety of ways, including specific excise taxes, the use of government trust funds and subsidized insurance policies.

We have determined that the diversity, scale and complexity of federal programs and beneficiaries show that reparations are administratively feasible. While only a few of these programs address racial injustice, they all demonstrate the government’s capacity to administer large-scale programs of compensation for those directly and indirectly harmed.

The ongoing harms to Black Americans

The harms of slavery did not end on June 19, 1865, the day known as Juneteenth when enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned of their freedom – well after the Emancipation Proclamation enacted by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

The harms continued during the Jim Crow era of legalized segregation and can be seen in today’s disparate outcomes in health, wealth, housing, employment and education.

An advertisement details the auction sale of 25 enslaved Black people at Ryan’s Mart in Charleston, S.C., on Sept. 25, 1852.
Kean Collection/Archive Photos via Getty Images

Among the most uncompensated victims of racial harm are Black veterans.

After the Civil War, the federal government made a promise to all formerly enslaved people and, in particular, Black veterans: a military pension and reparations in the form of 40 acres and a mule.

The government then reneged on its promise of land, mules or any other restitution – even as it distributed millions of acres of western land to mostly white settlers for free, under the Homestead Act.

In this Sept. 5, 1944, photograph, Cpl. Charles H. Johnson of the 783rd Military Police Battalion waves on a Red Ball Express convoy near Alenon, France.
National Archives

Black men who fought in World War II and the Korean War suffered the same treatment. The 1944 GI Bill enabled millions of white veterans – including many working-class European immigrants – to buy homes and secure qualifications that led to higher-paying professional and trade jobs.

But nearly all Black veterans were denied those benefits.

Taken all together, the harms endured by Black people over several generations have produced a $14 trillion wealth gap between Black and white Americans.

Righting the wrongs of the past

Although a majority of Americans oppose paying reparations for the wrongs of slavery, a 2021 University of Massachusetts/Amherst poll show that 57% of all voters age 18 to 29, and 64% of Democrats, support reparations to the descendants of enslaved men and women.

Moreover, the poll found, a significant percent of those who are opposed to reparations say it’s because they lack confidence in the government’s ability to design a fair program.

Our research into existing compensation proves that the government has the skill and experience to do this.

The question in our view is whether the nation has the will to examine the long-enduring harms from slavery – and to begin to repair those wrongs. Läs mer…

Solstices brought Mayan communities together, using monuments shaped by science and religion – and kingly ambitions, too

K’ahk’ Uti’ Witz’ K’awiil knew his history.

For 11 generations, the Mayan ruler’s dynasty had ruled Copan, a city-state near today’s border between Honduras and Guatemala. From the fifth century C.E. into the seventh century, scribes painted his ancestors’ genealogies into manuscripts and carved them in stone monuments throughout the city.

Around 650, one particular piece of architectural history appears to have caught his eye.

Centuries before, village masons built special structures for public ceremonies to view the Sun – ceremonies that were temporally anchored to the solstices, like the one that will occur June 20, 2024. Building these types of architectural complexes, which archaeologists call “E-Groups,” had largely fallen out of fashion by K’ahk’ Uti’ Witz’ K’awiil’s time.

But aiming to realize his ambitious plans for his city, he seems to have found inspiration in these astronomical public spaces, as I’ve written about in my research on ancient Mayan hieroglyphically recorded astronomy.

A section of the ancient Maya ‘Madrid Codex,’ including information on astronomy.
Andrew Dalby/Wikimedia Commons

K’ahk’ Uti’ Witz’ K’awiil’s innovations are a reminder that science changes through discovery or invention – but also occasionally for personal or political purposes, particularly in the ancient world.

Viewing the horizon

E-Groups were first constructed in the Mayan region as early as 1000 B.C.E. The site of Ceibal, on the banks of the Pasión River in central Guatemala, is one such example. There, residents built a long, plastered platform bordering the eastern edge of a large plaza. Three structures were arranged along a north-south axis atop this platform, with roofs tall enough to rise above the rainforest floral canopy.

Within the center of the plaza, to the west of the platform, they built a radially symmetric pyramid. From there, observers could follow sunrise behind and between the structures on the platform over the course of the year.

At one level, the earliest E-Group complexes served very practical purposes. In Preclassic villages where these complexes have been found, like Ceibal, populations of several hundred to a few thousand lived on “milpa” or “slash-and-burn” farming techniques practices still maintained in pueblos throughout Mesoamerica today. Farmers chop down brush vegetation, then burn it to fertilize the soil. This requires careful attention to the rainy season, which was tracked in ancient times by following the position of the rising Sun at the horizon.

Most of the sites in the Classic Mayan heartland, however, are located in flat, forested landscapes with few notable features along the horizon. Only a green sea of the floral canopy meets the eye of an observer standing on a tall pyramid.

A small pyramid in the ancient Mayan city of Copan.
Wirestock/iStock via Getty Images Plus

By punctuating the horizon, the eastern structures of E-Group complexes could be used to mark the solar extremes. Sunrise behind the northernmost structure of the eastern platform would be observed on the summer solstice. Sunrise behind the southernmost structure marked the winter solstice. The equinoxes could be marked halfway between, when the Sun rose due east.

Scholars are still debating key factors of these complexes, but their religious significance is well attested. Caches of finely worked jade and ritual pottery reflect a cosmology oriented around the four cardinal directions, which may have coordinated with the E-Group’s division of the year.

Fading knowledge

K’ahk’ Uti’ Witz’ K’awiil’s citizenry, however, would have been less attuned to direct celestial observations than their ancestors.

By the seventh century, Mayan political organization had changed significantly. Copan had grown to as many as 25,000 residents, and agricultural technologies also changed to keep up. Cities of the Classic period practiced multiple forms of intensive agriculture that relied on sophisticated water management strategies, buffering the need to meticulously follow the horizon movement of the Sun.

E-Group complexes continued to be built into the Classic period, but they were no longer oriented to sunrise, and they served political or stylistic purposes rather than celestial views.

Such a development, I think, resonates today. People pay attention to the changing of the seasons, and they know when the summer solstice occurs thanks to a calendar app on their phones. But they probably don’t remember the science: how the tilt of the Earth and its path around the Sun make it appear as though the Sun itself travels north or south along the eastern horizon.

United through ritual

During the mid-seventh century, K’ahk’ Uti’ Witz’ K’awiil had developed ambitious plans for his city – and astronomy provided one opportunity to help achieve them.

He is known today for his extravagant burial chamber, exemplifying the success he eventually achieved. This tomb is located in the heart of a magnificent structure, fronted by the “Hieroglyphic Stairway”: a record of his dynasty’s history that is one of the largest single inscriptions in ancient history.

Stela M and the Hieroglyphic Stairway at the archeological site of Copan.
Peter Andersen/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Eying opportunities to transform Copan into a regional power, K’ahk’ Uti’ Witz’ K’awiil looked for alliances beyond his local nobility, and he reached out to nearby villages.

Over the past century, several scholars, including me, have investigated the astronomical component to his plan. It appears that K’ahk’ Uti’ Witz’ K’awiil commissioned a set of stone monuments or “stelae,” positioned within the city and in the foothills of the Copan Valley, which tracked the Sun along the horizon.

Like E-Group complexes, these monuments engaged the public in solar observations. Taken together, the stelae created a countdown to an important calendric event, orchestrated by the Sun.

Back in the 1920s, archaeologist Sylvanus Morley noted that from Stela 12, to the east of the city, one could witness the Sun set behind Stela 10, on a foothill to the west, twice each year. Half a century later, archaeoastronomer Anthony Aveni recognized that these two sunsets defined 20-day intervals relative to the equinoxes and the zenith passage of the Sun, when shadows of vertical objects disappear. Twenty days is an important interval in the Mayan calendar and corresponds to the length of a “month” in the solar year.

My own research showed that the dates on several stelae also commemorate some of these 20-day interval events. In addition, they all lead up to a once-every-20-year event called a “katun end.”

The altar from Quirigua, displayed in the San Diego Museum of Man.
Daderot/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

K’ahk’ Uti’ Witz’ K’awiil celebrated this katun end, setting his plans for regional hegemony in motion at Quirigua, a growing, influential city some 30 miles away. A round altar there carries an image of him, commemorating his arrival. The hieroglyphic text tells us that K’ahk’ Uti’ Witz’ K’awiil “danced” at Quirigua, cementing an alliance between the two cities.

In other words, K’ahk’ Uti’ Witz’ K’awiil’s “solar stelae” did more than track the Sun. The monuments brought communities together to witness astronomical events for shared cultural and religious experiences, reaching across generations.

Coming together to appreciate the natural cycles that make life on Earth possible is something that – I hope – will never fade with fashion. Läs mer…

Euro 2024: football is a magnet for online abuse – but it is also the ideal platform to challenge it

As Euro 2024 enjoys its first week of high-stakes football, thoughts will have returned to how the last one ended. One of the abiding memories of the Euro 2020 final was the vile racist abuse black English players received following the team’s penalty shootout loss against Italy.

Although the media had reported on online hate and abuse in sport before, this was the first time the issue really caught the public’s attention in terms of widespread condemnation, and was covered comprehensively by the press.

Now, the police, sporting and private organisations that are hired to block abusive content are using this summer’s Euros to highlight legislative and technological improvements that can be implemented to help protect the players this time around.

However, the reality is that the abuse received by players in a high-profile match is only the tip of the iceberg of a widespread culture of online abuse that permeates football at all levels, and has significant implications beyond the direct wellbeing of the footballers who receive the abuse.

I work with a group of researchers on the Tacking Online Hate in Football and United Against Online Abuse projects, which seek to explore the issue of online abuse more widely in football and, in the latter project, other sports too.

We have been looking at how hate speech has evolved in international football tournaments over several years, and have just finished analysing data from eight European championships (both men’s and women’s) since 2008.

Football has always had a problem with hate speech, long before the advent of social media. Social media has just made it easier to perpetrate, and more visible to the public and its victims.

The significance of the game both at the individual level, where we invest so much of our identities and emotions, and at the societal level, where the game is often used as a political tool to build a sense of national pride, is the perfect environment for breeding cultures of online abuse. International football tournaments in particular act as trigger points because this is where different countries (and cultures) clash in a hyper-competitive environment.

Fans often view their country’s performance in the tournament as symbolic of broader domestic issues, such as immigration. See, for example, the recent opinion poll in Germany concerning the ethnic diversity of the national team and the controversy it has created at a time when the German far-right is growing.

Challenging discrimination

We used machine learning to detect different instances of hate speech such as racism, homophobia, ableism and sexism across approximately 50 million tweets (around 22 million of which were in English) concerning the tournaments.

Our preliminary results suggest the overall percentage of tweets featuring some form of abusive or offensive language appears to be consistently at about 1% over the period. What is worrying, however, is that social media use, particularly in sports, has rocketed in the last decade. So that 1% now represents a massive volume of toxic content.

A mural celebrating Marcus Rashford in Withington, Manchester was defaced after he missed a penalty in the Euro 2020 final. Residents and fans later cleared it of racist graffiti.
Clare Waddingham / Alamy

Beyond the descriptive findings, our project has also carried out extensive interviews with players at all levels. Players are subject to a variety of online harms beyond online abuse including doxing (disclosing people’s addresses online), bribery, online stalking and so on.

Players who publicly challenge discrimination are particularly vulnerable to online abuse. As you would expect, it affects them at both a professional and personal level. However, it is striking to observe how normalised and accepted this has become. Players receive social media training, but this rarely extends to how to cope with abuse. Most clubs are under-resourced and club personnel lack specialist knowledge around online abuse, its effect, and how to respond.

It is important to understand that the problem goes well beyond the players. We also interviewed sporting administrators, journalists, officials, managers and social media employees – and have extensively surveyed fans on the matter.

Fans are often framed in the media and research as perpetrators. However, they are also the group that is most widely affected by online abuse. When Marcus Rashford is racially abused, every black fan who sees that tweet is also a victim of racism. Of the fans we surveyed, 83% have received online abuse directly.

Furthermore, our preliminary findings suggest that the frequency of experiencing abuse increases the likelihood that a fan will then became an abuser themselves. Football fandom becomes a vicious circle of tribalism and hate.

Beyond the cumulative impact on wellbeing that online abuse has on individuals, our research indicates that online abuse has wider and at times unexpected implications. For example, our interviews with football journalists indicate the culture of abuse leads to self-censoring of work. The toxic elements of fandom can be co-opted to silence journalists and other critics whose views are opposed.

There is no silver bullet, and it is unlikely this abuse will ever be completely eradicated. The private sector has capitalised on the problem, developing products that capture online abuse and protect the social media accounts of athletes. These services are increasingly used by professional clubs. This may protect the elite athletes, but it is merely masking the complexity of the problem.

Read more:
Football’s referee crisis: we asked thousands of refs about the abuse and violence that’s driving them out of the game

Legislation is needed that places the burden of responsibility on the social media platforms. Policies and laws are needed that will encourage
sporting and civil organisations to protect employees and members from online abuse.

Education is important here too. It is an easy word to use in these discussions, but more thought must be put into who to target with limited educational resources, and what these education resources should look like.

Football is a magnet for online abuse. However, because of the way it captures the public imagination, it also provides the perfect opportunity to articulate, educate and challenge the wider issue of online abuse. Läs mer…

Starmer and Sunak agree the UK needs more houses to ease the crisis – here’s how their plans compare

Aiming to reclaim his party’s role as the builders of “property-owning democracy”, Rishi Sunak used the Conservative manifesto launch to praise his predecessor Harold Macmillan. As Winston Churchill’s housing minister in the 1950s, Macmillan first set the target of completing more than 300,000 homes across the UK each year.

Now that same target, although ambitious, must be achieved to meet the UK’s demand for new housing, and to make homes more affordable.

After peaking at more than 400,000 in the late 1960s, new home delivery trended downwards, dipping below 200,000 in 1990 and recovering above that total only in 2004-7 and from 2019.

The number of new homes built in England dropped to 189,260 last year and averaged just 164,450 from 2019-23. So, the Conservative manifesto promise to “deliver 1.6 million homes in England in the next parliament” implies an immediate doubling of that completion rate, to 320,000 per year.

Labour’s plans are slightly less ambitious, pledging 1.5 million new homes in the next parliament – but that’s still 50% more than were completed during the last one. Recognising that councils were the driving force behind Macmillan’s building boom, Labour would reintroduce the mandatory targets for local authorities that were scrapped last year.

There is cross-party consensus that first-time buyers (FTBs) need more help to get on the property ladder, with the average home price in England having increased by 173% (253% in London) in real terms since 1997. At the same time, the average wage for 25- to 34-year-olds has risen by just 19%.

The Conservatives are offering a revival and expansion of “Help to Buy”, a scheme that loans FTBs up to 20% of the sale price and shares any capital gain (or loss) with the Treasury. The Tories would also extend FTBs’ exemption from stamp duty to purchases up to £425,000 (from £300,000 currently).

Labour plans to make it easier for FTBs to borrow commercially by launching a mortgage guarantee scheme, drawing on the US approach where government mortgage guarantees enable lower-income households to borrow affordably. Labour also aims to give local buyers priority by stopping foreign investors snapping up new developments, and by charging them additional stamp duty.

But FTB support schemes have been criticised for fuelling the demand for housing without ensuring additional supply. Recent analysis suggests the largest housebuilders have used price-setting power to boost their profits via Help to Buy and other planning relaxations.

Want more election coverage from The Conversation’s academic experts? Over the coming weeks, we’ll bring you informed analysis of developments in the campaign and we’ll fact check the claims being made.Sign up for our new, weekly election newsletter, delivered every Friday throughout the campaign and beyond.

All parties agree that meeting house-building targets requires planning reform, as highlighted in the Barker Review almost 20 years ago. This outlined ways to cut the time needed to implement local development plans to 18-24 months from three years or more, including streamlined regulation, better land-use incentives and clearer infrastructure plans.

Labour is promising metropolitan combined authorities new planning powers, and all local authorities more resources to process applications along with the right to buy land at lower prices. The Conservatives see more scope for relaxing environmental rules and density restrictions, and letting private enterprise take the lead in large developments.

Building at the proposed scale will mean creating new towns and neighbourhoods. Labour promises to create some more “new towns”, probably designed – like those in the 1946-1970 programme – to move homes and jobs out of congested areas.

The Conservatives cite their plans for Cambridge – envisaging 150,000 or more new homes by 2040 around the once-small university town, with central government coordination to overcome local resistance.

The Conservative leadership have said they’re committed to new building – but face resistance even from within the party.

But even if planning rules are relaxed, the UK’s ability to build homes is severely constrained on the supply side. The construction industry says it must recruit more than 50,000 workers each year to 2028 to keep up with demand.

Shortages of building materials since the COVID pandemic have not abated either. Complaints about the quality of new-builds suggests that even the current pace may be hard to maintain.

All of this means that keeping homes affordable has become more challenging. As such, both parties propose to refine and enlarge the Affordable Homes Programme, which commits £11.5 billion to building 180,000 homes – half for “affordable” purchase or rent – between 2021 and 2026.

And what about renters?

The post-2008 drop in owner-occupation reflected a mortgage squeeze after the global financial crisis, but was also consistent with Labour’s earlier efforts to revive “social renting”. Council housing at affordable rent was once a widely available alternative, and this formed a hefty chunk of Macmillan’s celebrated building spree.

Conservative policy changed radically under Margaret Thatcher’s administrations, which gave tenants the “right to buy” their council homes at a significant discount. The social housing stock shrank from 5.5 million in 1979 to 4.1 million by 2022, despite nonprofit housing associations trying to fill the gap.

More renters have therefore turned to private landlords, usually with higher rents and lower security of tenure. Although the Conservative government promised to strengthen tenants’ rights, legislation to stem the rising tide of “no fault” evictions ran out of time when parliament was dissolved.

Private rents have risen much faster than consumer prices or house prices in the past five years, with fewer homes being offered for long-term tenancy. This has helped private landlords resist calls to strengthen tenants’ rights, by warning they may quit the market if the rules get any tighter.

Despite election promises to boost affordability, UK governments ultimately prefer house prices to keep rising. This keeps the whole economy buoyant, as well as satisfying homeowners – still the majority of voters – who are keen to keep new developments away from their own back yards. Läs mer…

Is Keir Starmer a socialist?

“I would describe myself as a socialist. I describe myself as a progressive”. These were Labour leader Keir Starmer’s words in May 2024 in his first speech of the election campaign. Labour’s constitution defines it as a democratic socialist party. So, in theory, Starmer is a socialist.

But what is socialism? One concept of socialism characterises it as being about collective ownership in pursuit of the public good, over private ownership for profit.

Some see a commitment to economic equality as what distinguishes socialism from other ideologies. Others specify co-operation and community reigning over individualism as defining socialism. Or, socialism can be seen as a movement for, or of, the working class.

Whichever it is, democratic socialism is about building a society beyond capitalism.

The day after Starmer proclaimed himself a socialist, his shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves was asked about his statement and responded that she was a social democrat. Social democracy is about socialism, but within capitalism rather than beyond it.

Reeves’ definition of social democracy in terms of equal opportunities, good public services, and secure work that pays (very much in tune with Starmer’s platform) does not go as far as socialism within capitalism. Others across the political spectrum could agree with the values she outlined.

Starmer was active in socialist politics in his youth. But we should decide where he stands by what he says and does now. Labour’s purges of socialists in the party have led some to conclude that Starmer wants rid of those who might try to hold him to socialist principles.

What do Starmer’s statements of values and principles tell us? In 2020 he argued for “moral socialism”, so an approach that is based on values as much as structures.

He highlighted injustice especially, but also inequality. There’s a left-of-centre or even socialist tone to the moral socialism he advocated then. But was he just trying to win over Corbynite members for his party leadership bid?

In a 2021 pamphlet on his philosophy as leader Starmer shifted to values of security and opportunity, which he has since continued to put centre stage. He said class holds people back, stressed community over individualism, and active government over the free market.

You don’t have to be a socialist to believe in security and opportunity. However, class inequality, community, and active government have left-of-centre or socialist connotations.

From values to policies

But the proof of a philosophy is in the practice. Labour will set up Great British Energy, a publicly owned company to invest in renewables. Starmer says he will bring passenger train services in-house, and facilitate municipal insourcing and ownership, and more co-ops.

These are small steps to more collective ownership in the economy and public services. But social ownership could be much more widespread, especially given public support for it, including for the energy utilities, water supply and the Royal Mail.

Starmer talks about the tackling the “class ceiling” for working class people and about inequality, especially in policies (or intentions) on education and the new deal for working people. But the emphasis is on equal or minimum opportunities for all rather than a more economically equal society.

He will fund policies by clamping down on tax breaks for the privileged and a windfall tax on energy utilities. But significant redistributional changes to the tax structure, on income or wealth, aren’t proposed.

Starmer expresses sentiments of community and co-operation over individualism. But these tend to be used in relation to policies on security, devolution, localities, a more active state, or partnership with business, rather than institutions of a more specifically socialist sort.

Starmer with Labour’s 2024 election manifesto.

In fact, Starmer’s perspective on community has metamorphosed into advocacy of a “contribution society”. This is used to mean varying things, such as that people and business should contribute rather than being individualistic, and that their contribution should be rewarded decently. This is about responsibility and reward as much as community in a socialist sense.

What is modern socialism?

If socialism on the definitions I’ve outlined isn’t being proposed by Starmer, it could be that he’s redefining socialism for modern Britain. If this involves new means for pursuing socialism, he’s not propounding this.

If it’s redefining socialism as something beyond collective ownership, equality, and co-operation, that’s not rethinking socialism for a new era. It’s dropping what makes socialism distinctive.

If it involves a more intersectional socialism, Starmer is proposing measures on race equality and violence against women, but these match his self-description as “progressive” more than being “socialist”.

Starmer could be putting forward limited policies for the general election, only to then come out as more leftist in office. Active government could be extended to wider social ownership; opportunities for the working class expanded to a more equal structure to society, a foundation also for greater community. Starmer is not advocating such a route. But down it, he could just have a case for calling himself a socialist. Läs mer…

Knife crime has increased in England and Wales over the last decade – here’s how the next government can prevent it

Shocking news stories, such as the conviction of two 12-year-old boys for a fatal machete attack in Wolverhampton, have fuelled worries of an “epidemic” of knife crime in England and Wales. A new survey of 2,000 young people found that nearly half are worried about knife crime. In their campaigns for the forthcoming election, both Labour and the Conservatives have promised to take action on knife possession and violent crime.

Knife crime appears to buck the trend of an overall decline in crime in recent years. Although England and Wales are still among the safest countries in the world, knife crime has shown a clear increase since 2012.

Knife offences, homicides and hospital episodes, compared to 2010-11 levels:

Police recorded crime data via Office of National Statistics, and Hospital Admitted Patient Care Activity via NHS Digital.

Knife crime is more likely to be reported than less serious offences, and so recorded crime data provides a meaningful measure. It shows that there were around 50,000 knife-related crimes in the year to March 2023, 7% fewer than the pre-pandemic peak. That peak, however, represented a pronounced increase over the preceding seven years. Between 2012-13 and 2019-20, knife offences increased by around 85%.

We can also examine data on hospital admissions, which reflect the serious consequences of knife crime. These also increased from 2014-15 to 2018-19, though to a lesser degree than recorded crime.

More importantly, though, the number declined before the pandemic, and that fall has continued. This could suggest a reduction in the seriousness of individual incidents (more knife crimes but fewer hospital admissions) or changes in recording patterns (less serious incidents being counted as knife crime).

Homicides using a sharp instrument, England and Wales:

Data via Office for National Statistics, CC BY

In the five years to 2022, knife-related murders (homicides involving a knife or other sharp instrument) decreased 13% from the 2017 peak of 282. Homicide data is reliable because such incidents seldom go unreported.

There are more than twice as many male as female victims, and males account for most of the variation: the number of female victims has declined steadily for many years.

What’s behind the rise?

Some claim that the rise in knife crime is due to government policies of austerity, and others that it is a result of cuts to policing.

We are sceptical of both these explanations. There is no clear mechanism by which austerity would increase knife crime specifically, when most other types of violence and property crime have continued to decline.

And robust reviews of knife crime strategies have failed to find clear evidence of successful approaches. So it is not clear how additional resources would have an effect.

A more likely explanation is the illicit drugs market, which has become more competitive and more violent in the last decade. Increased global cocaine production and trafficking means that, while UK border forces are intercepting more than ever, more cocaine reached the street in the decade before the pandemic compared to preceding years.

This period also saw significant evolution in domestic drug markets, including the emergence of ‘county lines’, with strong links to gang violence and knife crime.

Cocaine consumption by 16- to 24-year-olds in England and Wales increased 90% between 2012 and 2019. The trend is similar to that in recorded knife crime.

Police-recorded knife crime and percent of young adults (aged 16-24) using cocaine in the last year:

Data via Office for National Statistics, CC BY

Additionally, the proportion of total murders where the victim was using or dealing drugs increased from 50% to 75% from 2016 to 2018 when knife murders surged.

Reducing knife crime opportunities

Efforts to prevent knife crime over the last 20 years have included a mixture of legal measures, like the Offensive Weapons Act, and law enforcement initiatives such as targeted operations to take knives off streets. More recent policies have focussed on a ‘public health’ approach, designed to tackle root causes: the most high-profile example is the creation of 18 Violence Reduction Units in England and Wales, at a cost of £35 million.

The Conservatives have promised in their manifesto to give police more powers to seize knives, and introduce tougher sentences for knife crime. Labour has also indicated it will act to prevent knife possession and violent crime.

But what is most needed are policies to make knives less easily available. If dangerous knives were unavailable, there is not a “next best” alternative weapon that does similar damage as easily.

A key cause of increased knife crime is almost certainly their easy access via online sales. Competitive online markets make knife purchase cheap and easy with little friction: buying in-person requires knowledge, travel time and effort to locate the shop.

Online retailers also need to take responsibility if their sales are causing violence and death. Since 2016 there has been a voluntary agreement among retailers, designed to restrict knife sales to over-18s and limit access to display knives.

But it is not enough and it masks variation. eBay, for example, does not sell any knives except cutlery but dangerous knives are widely available from many popular online shops.

The lesson to be learned from the long-term declines in other types of crime is that opportunity is central. Property crime declined as homes and vehicles became more secure. The same principle applies to knife crime – policy should focus on restricting access to knives, especially dangerous knives, as it has to guns.

The proroguing of parliament for the general election left the criminal justice bill unpassed. It would have banned the manufacture, sale, purchase and possession of “status knives” (like combat and zombie knives that give the carrier more social kudos) and machetes. These or similar measures should be introduced by the next government as these knives appear disproportionately in serious violence.

Yet kitchen knives still account for most knife murders. Kitchen knives with rounded tips should be promoted, and pointed knives restricted.

Other measures, including knife bins (to promote safe disposal) and knife arches (strategically-located detectors) could discourage and thwart knife-carrying more generally. We would expect knife-related crime to decline as the prevalence of knife carrying declined – and this could have beneficial knock-on effects including making illicit drug distribution less violent.

Most forms of violence have declined enormously over the last 30 years, which means we should not consider knife crime intractable. Läs mer…

Kevin Jonas has basal cell carcinoma – here’s what you should know about this form of skin cancer

Kevin Jonas has become the latest celebrity to share news of a skin cancer diagnosis. The 36-year-old singer and actor took to Instagram to reveal he’d recently been diagnosed basal cell carcinoma at his hairline – then documented the results of surgery he’d had to remove it. At the end of his video, Jonas urged fans to “get your moles checked”.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer, affecting millions of people worldwide each year. It’s a form of non-melanoma skin cancer. While melanomas arise from melanocyte cells that make the pigment in our skin, BCCs as well as squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) develop from keratinocytes. This is the main type of cell found in the outer layers of our skin.

Keratinocyte skin cancers are much less likely to spread (metastasise) around the body than melanoma. As it’s metastasis that typically leads a cancer to become fatal, BCC is considered to be a less serious form of skin cancer than melanoma.

What BCC does share in common with melanoma is its major risk factor: exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, either from the sun or tanning beds. In the case of BCC, the cause is usually cumulative exposure to the sun. For this reason, these cancers often appear on areas of the body that are constantly exposed to the sun, such as the face.

BCC and other skin cancers are more common in older people as they have had more time to accumulate sun damage to their skin cells. Almost half of all non-melanoma skin cancers in the UK are diagnosed in the over-75s. But as Jonas illustrates, they can occur in people of any age.

These cancers are also much more common in people with light-coloured skin, as the skin pigment melanin provides some protection against the damaging effects of UV radiation. However, does occur in people with darker skin tones.

Basal cell carcinoma can be bumpy, flat or crusty.
Dermatology11/ Shutterstock

BCC appears as an unusual growth or patch on the skin. They can be either bumpy or flat and sometimes crusty. Although some can appear pigmented (particularly in people with darker skin), they are not moles because they don’t arise from melanocytes. It’s important to be aware that most don’t look like a mole and are translucent, white, pink or the same colour as your skin.

Because there are many ways that a BCC can present, people are advised to visit a doctor if they notice an abnormal spot or sore patch on their skin that doesn’t get better within four weeks. It’s also a good idea to check your skin regularly so you know what’s normal for you.

Basal cell carcinomas are usually removed surgically, as Jonas’s has been. The removed tissue will then be tested to ensure that all the cancer has been removed. Depending on the surgical technique used, the removed tissue may even be tested while the patient is present in case more tissue needs to be removed in the same session.

Sometimes non-surgical methods are used to treat the cancer – for example, if the BCC hasn’t penetrated very deeply into the skin or if the patient isn’t well enough to undergo surgery. In these cases, topical chemotherapy drugs or photodynamic therapy may be used. In photodynamic therapy, the patient is given an inactive drug either as a tablet, an injection or directly applied to the skin. The tumour is then exposed to light of a particular wavelength, which activates the drug and kills the cancer cells.

For most patients, these treatments will be effective in treating the cancer. But research shows up to 60% of patients diagnosed with BCC or SCC will develop one or more new skin cancers in the following decade. This is why it’s important to have regular check-ups and take extra precautions when spending time in the sun.

By sharing his experience, Jonas will almost certainly have helped raise awareness of skin cancer. This has been dubbed the Hugh Jackman effect by a group of researchers. They found that Google searches for “basal cell carcinoma” increase whenever the Wolverine actor, who has been diagnosed with multiple BCCs, publicly discusses his most recent diagnosis or surgery.

As with any cancer, the earlier a basal cell carcinoma is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome. By encouraging people to be aware of the need to get unusual skin growths and patches checked out by a doctor and being open about his surgery, Jonas has started a conversation that will hopefully lead to more people being diagnosed and treated early.

Although BCC is very treatable, it’s better if people avoid developing BCC in the first place. Alongside checking your skin regularly for abnormal spots and sores, you should also try to avoid UV exposure as much as possible. This includes staying in the shade when the sun is at its most intense and covering up with clothing and using sunscreen when in the sun. Läs mer…

ABC chair Kim Williams calls for public broadcaster to be ‘national campfire’ and to understand its audiences better

New ABC chair Kim Williams has said the public broadcaster should become a reimagined “National Campfire”, fostering a stronger sense of community togetherness and conversation in a world increasingly fragmented by social media.

Williams also said the ABC must understand its audiences better and warned against “self-congratulation”.

In his first speech as chair outlining his vision and priorities for the national broadcaster, Williams said the digital world had brought “a fragmentation and dislocation of effort at the ABC that was failing to deliver what we need”.

“It has altered the personality, chemistry and character of our national debates in sometimes, indeed often, negative ways. It is time for refreshed purpose,” he said, delivering the Redmond Barry Address at the State Library in Melbourne. “Our community and nation deserve better, renewed performance horizons.”

Williams said the ABC could be “an important source of national community and togetherness in a world in which social media increasingly drives a sense of singularity, self-focus and isolation”.

The ABC as a “national campfire” would be “a place where we all come together to share our ideas, dreams, friendship and our sense of common purpose to enable our country to face much of the darkness beyond, with confidence and strength.

”In this way, I see the ABC representing a ‘true north’ about ‘Australia’ and what ‘being an Australian’ means into the future.”

The fragmentation and dislocation needed to be replaced “with a common sense of purpose and a coherent sense of what sort of organisation we want to be”. This should be a “strong, confident, and modern national media enterprise”.

It should have a “consistent, well curated message and direction that will inspire conviction, grow audiences and attract committed, improved investment”.

The ABC must have a greater understanding of its audiences’ wants and behaviour and make some “tough assessments” about whether it was meeting their needs, interests and aspirations as well as it should.

Williams listed some of the priorities that stood out for him.

He said the ABC would always be first judged on the quality, integrity and reliability of its news and current affairs. “We need to be on a never ending quest to ensure those services are always striving to improve and remain as a relevant, stable ‘first partner ’ for Australians when it comes to objective reporting and thoughtful analysis and commentary on Australia and the world.”

Radio National should be a renewed standard bearer for the ABC’s “ethos, purpose and intellectual ambition”.

An increase in serious TV documentaries on national and international subjects of relevance was crucial for the ABC’s intellectual credibility and for meeting elements of its charter.

Expanded drama and comedy production and more coverage and coherent programming for the arts, expanded children and educational programming and more Australian content on iview were other priorities.

He also emphasised the importance of a revitalised ABC as “a respected agent of soft power diplomacy and programming in our region”.

“The continuing work of the ABC’s International Services team across the Pacific, in Indonesia and in other major Asian nations, is something of which all Australians can be proud.”

Williams warned against an excess of self-congratulation, which could take the place of “robust assessment of underperformance”.

“Well-run organisations must be honest about their performance. And if we’re honest, there are important areas for improvement.

”Therefore, I and my board colleagues believe strongly that the ABC must have a strong accountability framework that requires it to do better. We need to be tough-minded to achieve our goals and we need to measure performance reliably.”

Williams stressed that achieving goals would also take more investment. “I am confident that we at the ABC can make the case for it. The budgetary outlook is tight, however the rationale is plain,” he said.

He said that in addition to investment “we will need […] the courage to stand up for the principles and values that any great media or public organisation must possess.

”Those who would destroy liberal democracy always start by smashing
through the gates of institutions like ours: the media, the universities, the publishers, the libraries and other sources of democratic strength. It happens in every revolution and putsch. The digital technology revolution is no different.” Läs mer…

Microplastics and nanoplastics have been found throughout the human body – how worried should we be?

The world is becoming clogged with plastic. Particles of plastic so tiny they cannot be seen with the naked eye have been found almost everywhere, from the oceans’ depths to the mountain tops. They are in the soil, in plants, in animals and they are inside us. The question is: what harm, if any, are they causing?

When plastic trash is dumped in a landfill or the sea, it breaks down, very slowly. Sunlight and waves cause the surface of the plastic to become brittle, and particles are shed into the environment. Collectively known as “small plastic particles”, they range in size from five millimetres or smaller (microplastics) to less than one-thousandth of a millimetre (nanoplastics). The smallest can only be detected with special scientific instruments.

It remains unclear how microplastics and nanoplastics get inside living things, but several entry points have been suggested. For example, they might pass through the gut from food or drink contaminated with small plastic particles. Or they may be breathed in, or absorbed through the skin.

Our research suggests that, for some animals at least, nanoplastics are bad news. We injected plastic nanoparticles into chicken embryos. We found that the particles travelled quickly in the blood to all tissues, especially the heart, liver and kidneys. They were also excreted by the embryonic kidneys.

We noticed, too, that plastic nanoparticles tend to stick to a certain type of stem cell in the embryo. These cells are essential for the normal development of the nervous system and other structures. Any damage to stem cells could put the development of the embryo in jeopardy.

We suspect that the chicken embryo stem cells have substances on their surface, called “cell-adhesion molecules”, which stick to the polystyrene nanoparticles that we used. We are following up this finding, because when nanoplastics stick to cells and get inside them, they can cause cell death and even serious birth defects in chickens and mice.

Similar studies cannot, of course, be carried out on people, so it is not yet possible to say what the implications of our animal research are for humans. What we do know is that nanoplastics are found in the blood of human beings, in other bodily fluids and several major organs and key body tissues.

In recent years, microplastics and nanoplastics have been found in the brains, hearts and lungs of humans. They have been discovered in the arteries of people with arterial disease, suggesting they may be a potential risk factor for cardiovascular disease. And they have been detected in breast milk, the placenta and, most recently, penises.

Nanoplastics have even been found in breastmilk.
Dzmitry Kliapitski / Alamy Stock Photo

Chinese researchers reported earlier this year that they had found microplastics in human and dog testes. More recently, another Chinese team found microplastics in all 40 samples of human semen they tested. This follows an Italian study that found microplastics in six out of ten samples of human semen.

Our fear is that microplastics and nanoplastics might act in a similar way to deadly asbestos fibres. Like asbestos, they are not broken down in the body and can be taken up into cells, killing them and then being released to damage yet more cells.

Reassuring, for now

But there is a need for caution here. There is no evidence that nanoplastics can cross the placenta and get into the human embryo.

Also, even if nanoplastics do cross the placenta, and in sufficient numbers to damage the embryo, we would expect to have seen a big increase in abnormal pregnancies in recent years. That is because the problem of plastic waste in the environment has been growing enormously over the years. But we are not aware of any evidence of a corresponding, large increase in birth defects or miscarriages.

That, for now, is reassuring.

It may be that microplastics and nanoplastics, if they do cause harm to our bodies, do so in a subtle way that we have not yet detected. Whatever the case, scientists are working hard to discover what the risks might be.

One promising avenue of research would involve the use of human placental tissue grown in the laboratory. Special artificial placenta tissues, called “trophoblast organoids”, have been developed for studying how harmful substances cross the placenta.

Researchers are also investigating potentially beneficial uses for nanoplastics. Although they are not yet licensed for clinical use, the idea is that they could be used to deliver drugs to specific body tissues that need them. Cancer cells could, in this way, be targeted for destruction without damaging other healthy tissue.

Whatever the outcome of nanoplastics research, we and many other scientists will continue trying to find out what nanoplastics are doing to ourselves and the environment. Läs mer…

Australia’s tax system is being weaponised against victims of domestic abuse. Here’s how

When women seeking financial help from the government-funded UNSW Tax and Business Advisory Clinic are asked whether they have ever been affected by family or domestic violence, most say they have.

In the past year this number has grown from 65% to over 80%.

And about 14% of the clinic’s clients say their tax debts are a result of intimate partner violence. These debts often arise from business debts, bankruptcy, corporate directorships and director penalty notices.

We know that economic abuse is a red flag for other forms of domestic violence. Economic abuse occurs in nearly all Australian domestic and family violence cases, affecting more than 2.4 million Australians and costing the economy an estimated A$10.9 billion a year.

Unfortunately, existing laws fall well short of protecting abuse victim-survivors from financial loss.

How violent partners weaponise tax

The perpetrators of violence can effectively weaponise the tax system by placing tax debts solely in the names of former partners, often because they have made them directors of companies or through family businesses operating through partnerships or trusts.

There is a policy assumption that family members benefit from family partnerships.

But this does not always hold in practice and can be problematic when there is economic abuse because Australian tax law requires victims report and pay tax on their “share” of the family partnership’s income.

The average tax debt at the tax clinic is about $90,000. This can result in debilitating financial burdens, exhausted savings, insecure housing and prolonged economic instability, well after abusive relationships end.

Change is needed

Australia has no specific strategy for relief of tax debts caused by financial abuse. There are “serious hardship” provisions in Australian taxation law, but these are outdated and in need of reform.

Abuse victims can end up being liable for massive tax debts.

Usually people do not have the funds up front so the only way the Australian Taxation Office can collect debts from the abused partner is through (generally two-year) payment plans, offsetting future tax refunds, engaging external debt collectors and initiating bankruptcy proceedings.

To that end, the decision announced in this year’s budget to give the Tax Commissioner discretion not to offset against tax returns debts previously placed “on hold” is welcome.

It will provide short-term relief by enabling abuse victims to get their refunds instead of having it used by the Tax Office to reduce their debt.

Colleagues Christine Speidel, Leslie Book and I want this power extended to all forms of tax debts not just for tax debts that have been placed “on hold” especially where the taxpayer is known to have experienced financial abuse.

But this wouldn’t go far enough – the victim-survivors would still have the perpetrator’s tax debt hanging over them.

Where this happens, financial instability can drive women back into abusive relationships.

The US shows what can be done

Legislative reform to shift tax liability from abuse survivors to perpetrators is the key to helping solve the problem.

The US offers injured spouse assistance.

The United States has offered some form of “innocent spouse relief” since 1971. In 2011 it widened eligibility and removed a two-year time limit for requesting relief.

It is important to understand the US provisions apply because the country offers jointly filed “married” tax returns. In Australia tax returns are filed by individuals.

Australia’s laws would need to change to ensure abused women do not find themselves jointly liable. Any changes should also include debts incurred in the name of partnerships and company directors.

The US is the first and only country to do this, largely because of the advocacy of US low-income tax clinics over decades. Australia now has such clinics, funded as part of the Tax Office National Tax Clinic Program.

Australia’s adoption of US-style rules could provide a model for other jurisdictions, increase tax debt collection (as perpetrators are likely to have better capacity to pay than victims) and foster greater confidence in the Tax Office.

Most importantly, it would acknowledge that victim-survivors with tax debts should not bear responsibility for debts incurred by perpetrators.

For information and advice about family and intimate partner violence contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, contact 000. The Men’s Referral Service (1300 766 491) offers advice and counselling to men looking to change their behaviour. Läs mer…