This week's big questions: Could you live on £53 a week? How should the West deal with North Korea’s warmongering?

This week's questions are answered by the founder of Prospect magazine and director of Demos think tank, David Goodhart


Is Mick Philpott a “vile product of Welfare UK”, as one newspaper put it this week?

Claiming benefits doesn’t make people kill their kids. Philpott is clearly a very odd and unusual man. It is true that his particular way of life – having so many children, living with multiple women, refusing to work – would not have been possible without the welfare state, but making something possible and causing something are not the same thing.


Could you live on £53 a week?

Yes I could, but only because I have savings and friends and family who could help out. I also have a properly insulated house and a well-stocked freezer. As recent work on the multidimensional nature of poverty by Demos shows, it is not just about income, but also about assets and debt, the quality of housing and the state of one’s health. Those who do have to live on £53 a week over a long period (and there are probably not many of them) face a “heat or eat” crisis if the fridge or boiler breaks.


Is the National Health Service as we’ve known it since 1948 now a thing of the past?

Of course not. Receiving care free at the point of need remains unchanged, and that is what people most value about the NHS. My impression is that Labour left the NHS in a pretty decent state. But something so big and hungry for resources can always be better organised. The latest reforms are not that far from what Labour was doing, but were not urgently necessary. I think there is a failure of care, but that reflects wider social changes and is hard to reverse.


Is “Osbornomics” dead in the water?

There is no such thing. The Tory economic plan was that cutting the deficit would be balanced by loose monetary policy stimulating export-led private sector expansion. It hasn’t worked out like that, partly because of the effect of a deleveraging financial sector, but also because of the eurozone crisis and our inability to export in the volume required. Meanwhile, cutting the deficit has been postponed.


How should the West deal with North Korea’s warmongering?

The Mutually Assured Destruction logic of nuclear conflict was always based on the idea of rational actors, and we cannot be sure that the North Koreans are rational. As in the threat from any rogue state, we have to be ready to talk and try to coax them on to a different path while also keeping up our guard (which in this case may include preparing for the use of battlefield nuclear weapons). And what about all that talk of power shifting east and the new superpower China? Why has China not sorted out its client state?


Is Tony Hall right to be confident about the future of the BBC?

Yes, so long as he can account for his actions during the Jimmy Savile era. The BBC is an enormous part of our national culture, and we need it more, not less, as ways of life become more diverse. But much as I enjoy Family Guy and American Dad, do we need a whole BBC channel dedicated to showing repeats of those programmes with a bit of reality TV thrown in? Hall should focus more on what only the BBC can do.


Should Sunderland have appointed Paolo Di Canio?

Yes. His alleged fascism did not seem to be a problem at Swindon. Also, as a Chelsea supporter, the more internal ructions at a competitor Premier League club the better. It’s a shame Manchester United didn’t appoint him.


Is Theresa May right to promise to speed up visas for Chinese people wanting to come to Britain?

Yes. People overstaying visas is a big problem. It is estimated that about 20 per cent of the two million visas we issue every year are overstayed. But this is not a problem with the Chinese who want to come here and get to know Britain and bring in valuable income for the tourism and retail sectors. They are mainly rich and successful and patriotic; very few of them will turn into illegal immigrants.


In your new book about immigration, you argue for a political culture of integration. How do we achieve this?

Read my book! Integration is a very slippery idea and we tend to have conflicting intuitions about it: understanding, on the one hand, that people will often prefer to live and mix with people like themselves; on the other hand, we feel that a good society is one in which people feel at ease with their fellow citizens (of all kinds), which requires contact. My three priorities: language lessons for newcomers free at the point of use (plus a free DVD of Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony); a duty on public bodies to promote ethnic mixing wherever possible (rather than the vaguer social cohesion); leaning against the growing segregation in schools with clever use of catchment areas or even quotas. (Church of England schools often have a 25 per cent non-Christian quota; other schools could do something similar.)


Who’s going to win the Grand National?

Flying Lasagne.

David Goodhart’s ‘The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration’ is published by Atlantic Books, £20

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