Making school cool and the great garden divide

Top of the Charts 'Insights' round-up: May 2020

The latest from Resolution Foundation Chief Executive Torsten Bell’s weekly Observer column, Insights. Read more of the latest economics and policy research in our weekly reading email, Top of the Charts (sign up here).

Mortgage holidays are a breeze, but try taking a rent break

All recessions are bad, but in different ways. Different industries and types of workers are affected – the financial crisis was a bad time for bankers and it’s lower earners who are bearing the greatest economic and health risks this time.

But family finances are also about the money that goes out, not just what comes in. By far the biggest cost households face is housing, and here too we see this crisis playing out very differently.

New Resolution Foundation research has found that private renters are 50% more likely than mortgagers to have fallen behind on housing costs in the crisis, with 13% in that situation. This is partly because 20% of private, and a quarter of social, renters have lost their job or been furloughed, compared with 14% of mortgagers. But it’s also because it’s easier to flex mortgage costs than rent.

Around 13% of mortgagers have applied for a mortgage holiday. Almost all have been granted. In contrast, one in 10 private renters have tried to negotiate down their rent but just half have been successful.

For some younger renters, the answer has been moving home, with two thirds of those moving recently returning to the parental nest. But that can’t be the answer for most, so if we don’t want what is already a jobs disaster turning into a renters’ catastrophe, then our social security system needs to step up to help rents get paid.

Originally published in The Observer

In lockdown, violence soars behind closed doors

We are now a long two months into lockdown – a necessary step to help save lives but one that has brought with it huge costs. New data last week showed the number of employees falling by 450,000 in April as government borrowing hit a new record high of £62bn.

But while economic issues dominate the news, they are far from the only costs. Warnings of an increase in domestic violence have been issued, although with such a fast-moving picture it has been hard to understand the scale.

But a new study from the US has spelled it out in painful detail. Across 15 large US cities, the research found that social-distancing measures led to a 10.2% increase in domestic violence-related calls to the police – a high cost for asking people to spend a lot more time at home in a very stressful period. For some households that stress is amplified by intense financial pressures. We know from previous UK research that increases in female unemployment are associated with increases in domestic abuse.

The rise in calls isn’t triggered by any particular demographic group, and appears to be driven by households without a history of domestic violence. So while the government’s hidden harms summit last Thursday was welcome, all of society needs to face up to the tragedy of this widespread increase in violence.

Originally published in The Observer

In lockdown, gardens have become the new great social divide

The Leaver/Remainer gap was huge but in this pandemic what recently seemed like the Grand Canyon of divides now feels … oh so very last year. But new divisions have sprung up.

This year it’s all about those with gardens versus the rest, unsurprisingly, given that access to outdoor space makes a huge difference to experiences of lockdown. There’s a very good reason why use of parks is up 16%, according to Google – and that was before we lifted the mother of all lockdown restrictions and let people sunbathe.

The Office for National Statistics has done some interesting digging on this front from Ordnance Survey maps. The headline result is that one in eight of us does not have access to a private or shared garden.

Regionally, London has the dubious honour of having by far the most gardenless households: one in five. Second place goes to Scotland, where one in eight (13%) of households do without. The gaps between ethnic groups are staggering. Black people are nearly four times more likely to have to do without outside space.

The good news? Access to parks is higher in the more deprived areas of the UK. There is less good news for those living in Clapham: 46,000 Londoners have Clapham Common as their nearest park. Good luck with social distancing there this weekend.

Originally published in The Observer

Working with women makes the world a better place

Discrimination over jobs is bad. Bad for those discriminated against, and bad for society, as talent is wasted and divisions sown.

Women reaching senior leadership positions in organisations is generally a sign of success for gender equality – but it can also lead to increased equality elsewhere. That is the important finding from new research on the (not famously diverse) world of judges. The study looks at the hiring of law clerks by senior judges in the US.

Judges have almost total discretion on hiring aspiring lawyers for these prestigious posts, which makes it easy to investigate what might lead to different decisions.

It turns out that male judges who have worked alongside female judges are significantly more likely to hire a female law clerk – by four percentage points in the following year. Female judges who have worked alongside female peers are 1.6 percentage points more likely to hire a female law clerk. The authors say that male judges gain a more positive view of women’s “professional capabilities” from working alongside them – a realisation that is understandably a lot less ground-breaking for those same senior female judges… So for all those company leaders out there puzzling over how to diversify the people you hire, the answer is diversify yourselves.

Originally published in The Observer

Making school cool helps children do better in exams

Six weeks of home schooling has meant a lot of effort for parents of a conscientious nature. The British weather has also been putting some effort in, with an unseasonable amount of warm sunshine. That has improved the mood of young people, but it may actually be hindering their education. That’s the warning from impressively detailed research examining the impact of heat on education.

It’s very old news that children tend to see lower academic achievement in hotter countries. But that is often put down to broader explanations, such as disease. This paper takes a different approach, examining the test results of 10 million students in America combined with daily local weather data.

The results are clear: hot classrooms are not good places to be, education-wise. A hotter school year before a test saw worse results. The impact lasts, with higher temperatures four years prior also having an effect. Higher weekend or summer temperatures make little difference, so it’s the direct impact of heat on classroom learning that causes the problem, as students find it harder to focus and get tasks done. Extreme heat is particularly damaging.

This research gives a new angle to the argument that we have to tackle climate change for the kids. A 2C rise will knock 7% off an average year’s worth of learning. So even if you don’t care about the globe your descendants will inherit, think of their GCSEs.

Originally published in The Observer