Miserable teens, powerful wind and the benefits of in-bred monarchs

Top of the charts

Afternoon all,

Glad to be back. And dried out from Devon. It might not have been Dubai level sogginess but it wasn’t far off. I’m feeling better disposed towards Hampshire and Sussex which delivered three days of walking/camping along the South Downs Way last weekend without a single drop of rain – luckily, because I had the eight-year-old in tow, and he’d have been on strike quicker than a junior doctor if the weather had turned.

Sorry TOTC is a bit late today – needed some time to digest the PM’s speech on welfare this morning. Understandably it’s not getting loads of coverage given what else is happening in the world, but it’s on an important topic so shouldn’t be totally ignored. And it won’t be by us, as the first read this week. Then we’ve got some interesting takes on meaningful work and peaceful monarchies.

Have a good weekend everyone.


Debating disability. Here’s the speech. Try not to just focus on the fit note bit, which has had all the coverage – it’s neither the big deal, nor new. The promise of big reform to Personal Independence Payments (our non-means tested disability benefit for people in or out of work) is. The case for change is clear: DWP spending on working-age disability benefits was up 86 per cent in 2022-23 vs. 2010-11. A further 60 per cent rise is forecast by 2028-29. A sicker Britain = expensive. We don’t get the consultation on reform till next week, but on the basis of this speech what we’ve got is a problem statement, not a plan or a solution that navigates the (many) difficulties involved. For example, the PM’s case for change focused on the rising numbers claiming benefits because of mental ill health. But any major reform will impact those with physical disabilities too (many people have both and PIP is paid on basis of not being able to carry out specific activities NOT what the driver of that inability is i.e. what condition you have). Reinforcing the sense of no plan, a year ago DWP said it would scrap the Work Capability Assessment – the test within UC of whether you’re too sick to work – in favour of relying on the PIP assessment instead. Today that same PIP assessment is thrown up in the air. I should add that this is hard. If I’m honest the health/economics research world has done a bad job of understanding what is going on, and Labour doesn’t have a plan either. Whoever wins the next election is going to need one.

Worthwhile work. We focus on pay inequality when comparing jobs, but there is should be more to work than pay. A new paper draws on Swedish data to reveal that there are inequalities in who experiences ‘meaningful’ work too. In short, women get it more than men, with the gap doubling between 1991 and 2019. What’s driving it? Women are more likely to work in occupations which those doing them see as having a social benefit (including caring roles). They also get more ‘meaning’ from those jobs than men (which might explain why they are disproportionately doing them). Other findings? Older, more senior and more educated workers see their work as meaningful, which brings me to…

…miserable minors. This is a depressing one. We’ve previously talked about the evidence that happiness is u-shaped – we’re perkiest when young and old, with a long mid-life dip in between. Subjective ‘ill-being’ (ie people reporting not being happy) has traditionally shown the reverse pattern ie it’s hump-shaped. But that has now been derailed by the youth mental-health crisis. A new study shows the latter’s trend over the past decade have changed that traditional ‘ill-being’ hump – starting before the pandemic but accelerated by it in the UK at least. Now unhappiness spikes young, with a gradual decline throughout life. So the young are now feeling worse than the middle-aged. Which is saying something.

Kinship conflict. Okay, you deserve something a bit more fun. Everyone used to be very rude about the degree of in-breeding among European monarchies. But we shouldn’t be sniffy, because royal families hooking up with each other had a very beneficial side effect: fewer wars. So argues research examining the monarchies of Christian Europe between 1495 to 1918. During the roughly 400-year period, the percentage of European monarchs that had kinship ties increased threefold. The authors argue this contributed to the dramatic decrease in the number of wars. The claimed effect is big: the research suggests nearly 45 per cent of the 19th Century decline in war can be attributed to increasing kinship ties between rulers. Maybe this is our answer today. From a Treasury perspective the argument is clear. Yes, royal weddings cost a bit, but not half as much as making our military ready for action.

Vacillating voters. We’ve told you before about the young not voting, especially renters and non-graduates. What do we do about it, apart from copying the Aussies and just making it compulsory? Avoid older candidates turns out to be part of the answer. Some new work looks at 223 elections across 58 countries and finds that voters under 30 are up to four per cent less likely to vote if the candidate of their preferred party is aged 70 compared to age 40. This is a fairly recent phenomenon, starting in the mid-2000s. I think that’s about the same time the United States decided to informally make it illegal for anyone who wasn’t a baby boomer or a member of the silent generation to run for President.

Chart of the week

This is a nice chart, covering the history of electricity generation and the very big change coming: the absolute massive ramp up we need to deliver the net zero transition (those EVs and heat pumps need powering). Coal was king for most of the 20th century, before we got very gassy. I think we often forget quite how rapid our shift to green energy has been. As recently as 2010 only about a fifth of our electricity came from carbon free sources – now it’s over half. But so far we’ve been replacing dirty generation with clean rather than actually generating more, in part because of serious gains in energy efficiency this millennium, which cut electricity consumption by 16 per cent by 2020. That is about to change. The sheer scale of the increase as we electrify our transport/homes/industry means doubling how much we produce. This is one of the big reasons Britain, which has forgotten how to invest, is going to have to get back into the habit. How to do that while protecting lower income households? We’ve got a report on Monday answering exactly that (come along).