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A hole lot of piercing going on

THIS year's school-leavers might get away with it; but here's a warning for their younger counterparts. Employers will be registering with Experian, a credit reference agency, which will tell them if job applicants are fibbing about their qualifications. The database will hold details of all degrees awarded in British universities since 1995. But the company plans to add A-levels and GCSEs later.

The most common form of cheating was for people to award themselves the qualifications without having completed the course, said an Experian man.

Far from failing, the spoof "hip-hop" comedian Ali G - accused of racism this week - was revealed to be a serious scholar while an undergraduate at Cambridge, and the author of a thesis on the black civil rights movement in America. Celebrities are queuing up to be bombarded with wilfully ignorant questions delivered in rap patois.

At least Mr G doesn't sport a plethora of rings and studs through variousparts of his anatomy. The vogue for body-piercing is causing concern among health officials because of risk of injury and infection to young people using untrained practitioners. Ministers are to tighten up laws.

Teenagers are also at the mercy of pubs and breweries, claims the Institute of Alcohol Studies, which accuses the industry of aggressive marketing to win back thrill-seekers from the recreational drug scene. "Cynical tactics" such as naming products "Raver" or "Blastaway" seduce youngsters, who these days want immediate gratification, says the institute.

But pubs, clubs and body-piercers alike will soon be competing in an ever shrinking market. Fewer babies were born in Europe last year than at any time since the Second World War, and one in six British couples now experiences fertility problems. Eurostat, the European Union's statistical office, found that the annual increase in UK population has virtually ground to a halt.

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