America: jettison the Venezuelan vendetta and face the coronavirus!

As Steve Sweeney writes: Washington has come under fire (Ed: largely in the suffering regions’ media) for using the global health emergency to exert pressure on countries, including Venezuela and Iran, where it seeks regime change. Both have been targeted with increased sanctions and threats.

At least 3,003 people have died in the United States from Covid-19 and over 160,698 cases of coronavirus have been detected. CNN reports that hundreds of medical workers across the country have fallen sick and hospitals face dire shortages of protective gear: “We are slowly descending into chaos,” said a trauma physician at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital.

As infections and deaths escalate, what preoccupies the American government?

Last week the Trump administration indicted President Maduro as a drug trafficker, offering a $15m reward for his capture, despite the words of Pino Arlacchi, the former Vice Secretary of the United Nations and Former Executive Director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. Arlacchi is reported to have said that the world’s main producer and consumer are Colombia and the United States and Venezuela has always been outside these main cocaine trafficking circuits, adding:

“There is no illegal drug trade between Venezuela and the United States, except in the ill fantasy of Trump and his associates. I have been dealing with the issue of drugs for 40 years and I have never encountered Venezuela”.

Yesterday, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state (above), added further pressure on Venezuela, telling a press briefing in Washington about plans to invite President Nicolás Maduro to cede power to a new transitional government.

Speaking after this news, Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s foreign minister, responded: “Nicolás Maduro was elected in May 2018 for a period of six years. . . he would never betray the trust that the people have put in him twice already.”

Sweeney sees aggressive behaviour towards Venezuela, Cuba, China and Iran as attempts by Donald Trump to ‘cover his inadequacies’ fuelled by fears that Washington is losing its dominant influence on the world stage.

The Financial Times editorial has called for the US and its allies to change course and waive sanctions on Venezuela as US bid for regime change escalates. It argued that the desperate state of Venezuela merits special consideration: the spread of the coronavirus, coinciding with a crash in global oil prices, has deprived Caracas of most of its sole source of legal foreign exchange ending:

“Negotiate a humanitarian programme and focus on health as the coronavirus spreads apace in both countries”.

 

 

 

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Reuters correspondent, research scientist and environmental advisor: “There may be the seeds of some good things in this pandemic”

There are many references to the falls in levels of air pollution in the world’s cities; as Kate Abnett (left) European Climate and Energy Correspondent, writes in an article for Reuters:

“Air pollution has decreased in urban areas across Europe during lockdowns to combat the coronavirus, new satellite images showed on Monday. Air pollution can cause or exacerbate lung cancer, pulmonary disease and strokes. China also recorded a drop in nitrogen dioxide pollution in cities during February, when the government imposed draconian lockdown measures to contain the raging epidemic”.

Dr David Wilson (right) – geologist and earth scientist – points out in the Financial Times the effect on economic output of the changes brought about by coronavirus. “Some of us will be travelling less. Some might seek a different trade-off between work and leisure. Carmakers might cut their excess production capacity”. He continues:

“I cannot be the only one to think that less air travel, more leisure, and not quite so many cars on the roads might all be rather good things”.

Stimulus there must surely be, but a stimulus programme which is aimed principally at the total level of gross domestic product risks worsening all the social ills of the world before the pandemic

The trouble comes from economists and financial journalists who, despite their best intentions, find it impossible to abandon the idea that GDP is good in itself (and that more must be better). Dr Wilson says that this ‘axiom of so much modern policymaking’ must be abandoned. ’The point of government is not to ensure economic output of so much per head of population, it is to give citizens the chance of good lives bailouts of businesses and households must learn from the mistakes of 2008 and protect the small and vulnerable.

In a recent paper, Alan Simpson (below left) – in a recent paper – also notes the dramatic improvements in air quality which have come with the Covid crisis.

He comments: “If we’re to learn anything it is that ‘recovery planning’ should not begin by re-filling the streets with a problem our children’s lungs didn’t need in the first place. Putting clean before dirty must be at the heart of post-crisis planning. It would mark the end of neoliberalism’s Armageddon economics”. He later focusses on strategic ‘food supply’ issues.

“Internationally, buffer stocks of food are getting caught up in siege mentalities. Kazakhstan, one of the world’s biggest shippers of wheat flour, has banned its export. The same ban applies to carrots, sugar and potatoes. Serbia has stopped exporting sunflower oil and other food goods. Russia is weighing up whether to follow suit. It won’t stop there. Wild weather across Europe and beyond is causing mayhem with global food supply. Domestic needs will come before international trade . . .

“We may grow only half our own food needs but, right now, Britain requires some 70,000 seasonal workers to pick the fruit and veg sitting in farms across the country. Besides cutting the UK’s ‘food imports’ bill (£50bn/p.a) this is an essential part of feeding the public. If the government is looking to deploy the Army in the midst of the crisis, at least let them begin as a Land Army . . .

“Food security is not going to be delivered by any compact between government, the army and the big supermarkets. The alternative needs to be more local, accountable and inclusive. Huge numbers of small suppliers are currently left stranded by the closure of local cafes, hotels and restaurants. Huge numbers of vulnerable households can’t even get onto the telephone or internet queues for supermarket deliveries. This is the moment when Britain should give new powers to local authorities; to be the binding between local supply, local need and the networks of volunteers offering to bring the two together”.

Dr Wilson sums up: ‘There may be the seeds of some good things in this pandemic — a fairer society, with more time for family than for chasing money, a decline in environmental destruction — and any sweeping government intervention ought to try to nurture them”.

 

 

 

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Enforce British court ruling on arms exports as fears of the coronavirus spread in Yemen

WordPress error: photograph could not be uploaded; it was included in the mailing list alert.

WFP/Mohammed Awadh: Conflict-damaged homes on the edge of Aden, Yemen.

Britain has been providing arms with which its allies continue to bomb the people of Yemen for the fifth year, in contravention of a Court of Appeal ruling. This stated that it is unlawful to have licensed the sale of British-made arms to the Saudi regime without assessing whether their use in Yemen breaches international humanitarian law.

The United Nations has described the effect of this five-year air onslaught, leading to many thousands of Yemeni deaths, as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”.

Peter Lazenby reports the words of Andrew Smith (Campaign Against Arms Trade – CAAT): “It is a crisis that has been enabled by the political and military support that the UK and other arms-dealing governments have given the Saudi regime and its coalition partners”.

Yemen’s healthcare system is already in crisis, with many damaged and destroyed hospitals and a weak healthcare system, already struggling with cholera and malnutrition. The Red Cross reports that medical supplies, drinking water and sanitation are scarce.

Ahmed Aidarous, 36, a resident of the southwestern city of Taiz, who survived dengue fever, expresses the general fear to MiddleEastEye: “In Yemen, there are some diseases like dengue fever and cholera but we know their reasons and we can be treated for them. I heard from media that coronavirus spreads through the air and we cannot protect ourselves from it.”

Two days after his 23 March appeal to warring parties across the globe for an immediate ceasefire, UN Secretary-GeneraAntónio Guterres  called on those fighting in Yemen to end hostilities and ramp up efforts to counter a potential outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The FT reports that, in response on Wednesday, the Houthi movement and the exiled Saudi-supported government agreed to an immediate end to hostilities.

 

 

 

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Presenting today: cross-party UK Future Generations Act to transform hearts, minds and policy-making

Today, the FT reports that MP Caroline Lucas – a powerful, long-term advocate for reducing trade ‘swaps’, just defence, a Green New Deal and a healthy environment – will present a cross-party case for a UK Future Generations Act to transform how we think, plan and budget by embedding sustainability at the heart of policymaking.

This follows and complements Lord Bird’s Future Generations Bill, which offers “the UK’s opportunity to systematically address these issues”. It passed its second reading in the Lords on 13 March and now moves to the committee stage

SUMMARY: A Bill to make provision for requiring public bodies to act in pursuit of the environmental, social, economic and cultural well-being of the United Kingdom in a way that accords with the Future Generations principle; to require public bodies to establish and meet well-being objectives and report on these and their actions; to require public bodies to publish Future Generations impact assessments and account for preventative spending; to establish a Commissioner for Future Generations for the United Kingdom to advise, assist and oversee public bodies in doing things in accordance with this Act; to provide for the establishment of a Joint Parliamentary Committee on Future Generations; and for connected purposes

The FT also reproduces a letter written by the cross-bench peer, (below, the founder of the Big Issue) and signed by many others from all parties: The complete list may be read here.

The following text was reproduced in the FT and on the Big issue’s website.

Yuval Harari is right to ask us to plan for the long-term as we think about what kind of planet we will inhabit after COVID-19 (The world after coronavirus, Life & Arts, FT Weekend, 21 March). The pandemic requires immediate global action, and governments are now responding with emergency measures to cope during this escalating crisis.

Crucial though these measures are, we must not lose sight of addressing the longer-term risks – the climate emergency, unchecked technological change and future pandemics – which Toby Ord, in his new book The Precipice, tells us add up to a one in six chance that human life won’t see the century out.

Above: snapshot of the final paragraphs.

 

 

 

 

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The Great Unravelling: Part 2, Coronavirus: A Very British Cull

Read the article here.

Summary

Alan Simpson opens: “The nation is at war. Peacetime production has slumped, foreign travel collapsed, casualties rise. In every part of the country, people anxiously worry about how to avoid the enemy. This time, however, it is germs, not Germans, that we fear!”

What Britain needed was wartime mobilisation for peacetime survival. Instead handwashing and a mêlée of ‘unofficial’ messages have been offered that simply add to public confusion and anxiety.

He sees Boris Johnson’s preference for encouraging individual behaviour change (rather than more interventionist ‘test-and-trace’ and ‘social distancing’ policies) as likely to deliver a slower drift into a much deeper problem.

Most offensive of all is his claim that ‘herd immunity’ is what will save us is offensive, because “throughout history, herd immunity comes only after widespread infection and substantial death rates. Even the benefits are often short lived; with immunity not comprehensively passed on to succeeding generations of the herd”.

Johnson’s policy of turning his back on more interventionist measures, may result in ‘A Very British Cull’; ironically, one getting shut of large numbers of the voters who put him into power.

Simpson’s article predicts – according to the pattern revealed in Italy – that in less than three weeks – assuming the rate of increase remains constant – the total number of cases in Britain will have exceeded 16,000.

The World Health Organisation now says that China’s most effective strategy was the extensive testing, pro-active detection and immediate isolation of patients. This is what rapidly reduced infection rates. By choosing not to adopt vigorous ‘test-and-trace’ policies, Britain has opted not to know precise numbers. Simpson anticipates that by the end of three weeks, the capacity of the NHS to deal with the Coronavirus epidemic will be close to breaking point.

Due to the scale of NHS cuts since 2010 the UK has only 6.6 ‘critical care’ beds/100,000, whereas Italy has 12.5 ‘critical care’ beds/100,000 people. 14,000 EU nationals left the NHS during Britain’s Brexit debacle and there has been an 87% fall in NHS job applications that followed this.

His generation (the older generation) mustn’t miss the chance to face painful home truths. Coronavirus is to the elderly what climate is to the young. If population growth is a problem, it isn’t the kids. It’s those of us living longer. Coronavirus has grasped this in a way that prejudice doesn’t.

Far too often climate campaigners come across indifferent (older) voices saying “It’s population, not climate, you should worry about. So let’s look at the actual numbers. According to the UN, out of today’s global population of 7.6 billion there are about 2 billion children (under 15). By 2100, when the population may rise to 12 billion, the number of children is projected to be … 2 billion.

An economic implosion in 2020 is unavoidable 

No amount of Central Bank interest-rate reductions will avert this. Societies that are afraid to go outside, or share the air they breathe, and have lost faith in the safety nets they once took for granted, are only ever semi-functional. But it is around the silver linings of such a collapse that tomorrow’s New Jerusalem will have to be built.

The silver lining to a dire situation

In the absence of government leadership, whole communities have been quietly stepping up to the plate; providing the leadership the nation lacks. In Wuhan, an impromptu army of young volunteers, transporting food around on empty buses, has delivered the food and medicines that has kept others alive. It is what happens in a war. Dad’s Army, Mum’s Army and (increasingly) Kid’s Armies have stepped in, providing the emergency safety nets their society needs. One way or another, we are all following China’s lead. In the UK, the most visible sign of this came from those volunteering as emergency responders; providing non-medical support services to the NHS.

As self-isolation increases, it appears too in local support networks. We’re part of a neighbourhood ‘internet Group’ that offers shopping and support to anyone self-isolating. Go onto Twitter, WhatsApp or Facebook and you will find these in their thousands, all across the country.

Some reports suggest that up to 3 million UK volunteers are stepping in this space. Increasingly, as older/more vulnerable members self-isolate, it is younger people who underpin these safety nets. Slowly, we are rediscovering what previous generations did in wartime. They called it ‘social solidarity’.

Simpson forecasts that today’s crisis will see carbon emissions tumble, pollution levels plummet, and a generation of younger people emerge as social saviours. Around them a very different Green New Deal must then be written. Tomorrow’s security will require a more circular, cleaner, inclusive economics. It will have to put back to the planet more than it takes out, and turn its back on beliefs that we can just shop our way from one crisis to another. This won’t be before time.

 

 

 

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The Great Unravelling: a system in meltdown, Part 1

Part 1: economic ramifications, food security and pandemic bonds

Many of the points highlighted in this article are summarised below. It is published in full here.

Alan Simpson opened: “The delusions of neoliberalism stand at the edge of an implosion just waiting to happen. But, as with the emperor’s new clothes, global leaders are too fearful to say that their economic model has been stripped naked”.

The last week has seen that – following the wild weather – coronavirus and tumbling stock markets are ganging up to form an economic “perfect storm.” It will only get worse.

Initially, the industrial world had only a passing interest in the coronavirus outbreak in China: stupid Chinese, eating the wrong stuff it thought — good job that an authoritarian state could turn a city of millions into a quarantine zone.

Then markets began to panic and central banks are having to intervene

But now Italy has followed suit. In a dramatic, middle of the night statement, the Prime Minister announced the quarantining of a whole region of northern Italy, affecting 16 million people around Milan and Venice. Even this may be too late. The ramifications are massive. Start with China.

  • Its output accounts for around a quarter of global manufacturing,
  • huge quantities of which are currently stored up in containers that cannot get out of Chinese ports.
  • accounts for one quarter of global automotive production
  • provides 8% of global exports of automotive components for other manufacturers, many of whom rely on just-in-time assembly processes.
  • The same applies to steel and plastics, chemicals and high-tech telecoms.
  • Tankers arriving now set off before China went into lockdown. The real shortages will start to kick in this month.

The ripple effect of these logjams is running through the entire industrial economy, including a shortage of available containers themselves.

And when goods don’t flow, nor do payments associated with them. First-world firms struggle to work out how to pay bills (and workers) in the same way that China is having to pay workers to stay at home in quarantined areas.

Food security

The UK Treasury official who has just advised that agriculture is unimportant to the UK economy could barely have been more mistaken. Real alarm bells should be ringing all around Parliament about the amount of crops that will rot in the ground of waterlogged fields around the land. How are we to feed the public throughout the coronavirus crisis?

Weather related problems, including flood, drought and fire will throw food production systems crisis, with no globalised supply lines to step in as the safety net. But food security is an issue Parliament has barely touched on.

Why are political leaders reluctant to call what we are facing “a pandemic”?

(WHO) definition of a pandemic is relatively clear. It is “an epidemic or actively spreading disease that affects two or more regions worldwide.” This clearly describes today’s geographical spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus and its significant clusters of cases far from China; principally in Italy and Iran. Countries closer to China, like South Korea, have also experienced an explosion in novel coronavirus infections. And Europe and the US are rapidly catching up.

The World Bank has launched a $12bn fund to help developing nations deal with “the epidemic.” But this is where the politics turns ugly. Behind the scenes, casino spivs stand to lose lots of money if we call this a “pandemic” not an “epidemic.” It all goes back to

“Pandemic Bonds”

In June 2017, the World Bank announced the creation of “specialised bonds” that would fund the previously created Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEFF) in the event of an officially recognised (ie WHO-recognised) pandemic. The high-yield bonds were sold under the premise that those who invested would lose their money if any of six deadly pandemics (including coronavirus) occurred. If a pandemic did not occur before the bonds mature on July 15, 2020, investors would receive what they had originally paid for the bonds along with generous interest and premium payments.

This is why Trump has gone out of his way to pooh-pooh use of the word “pandemic.” If we don’t call it out until after July 15 speculators get paid and it’s the public who then pick up the bills.

The first “pandemic bond” raised $225 million, at an interest rate of around 7%. Payouts are suspended if there is an outbreak of new influenza viruses or coronaviridae (SARS, MERS). The second, riskier bond raised $95 million at an interest rate of more than 11%. This bond keeps investors’ money if there is an outbreak of filovirus, coronavirus, lassa fever, rift valley fever, and/or Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever. The World Bank also issued $105 million in swap derivatives that work in a similar way.

In 2017, $425 million of these “pandemic bonds” were issued, with sales reportedly 200% oversubscribed. For many, they looked more like “a structured derivative time bomb” — one that could upend financial markets if a pandemic was declared by the WHO.

He adds, “And that’s where we are now. Call it a crisis. Call it an emergency. But whatever you do, don’t use the word “pandemic” because it might kill the market”. Concluding that there is no way to magic this crisis away, he says we must manage our way through it as best we can, adding, “But calling a pandemic a pandemic would at least treat countries and communities as human entities, not just chips in casino capitalism”.

 

Alan Simpson

8 March 2020

 

 

 

 

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Corona virus 2: readers question the comparison with ‘scares of the past’ and stress the need for reassurance and compassion

Responses from Wimbledon, Stroud, Stourport, Dorset, Paganhill, Oxford, Balsall Heath, Bournville, Warrington and Solihull

AW: Thanks a lot for this one, I’ve just forwarded it, having corrected a couple of typos and send a link to a Ecohustler article on coronavirus that has gone viral and been read over 200,000 times – 5 ways coronavirus could help humanity survive the ecological crisis.

RC: I watched the Boris Johnson piece to camera a few days ago, live, (which I thought was a good intro) followed by 2 people (chief medic and chief scientist) who gave the details on a factual, knowledgeable and calm basis. I believe they gave their best advice, which may change as the disease unfolds . . .  NASA’s satellites show reduced air pollution over China and fewer planes are flying; it’s not all bad.

RH: Have always had huge respect for SJ – not on the left, but one of the few genuinely free, sanest thinkers we have left in public life. The extent of distress, fear and mental health issues being generated by this panic-mongering is criminal.

LD: Nice one!  Dorset seems to be pretty calm. no masks, no empty supermarket shelves, people just quietly getting on with life.  The way the politicians and media are acting, more people will die of fear and stress and will be far more vulnerable to any virus, including this one.

IF: Many, many thanks for this.

CF: Many thanks for this sensible and interesting clip. We have sent it on to lots of others.

PAThank you. This sums up more or less what I’d been thinking, apart from wondering if coronavirus is Nature’s Revenge for us messing up the planet.

JN: I read about Simon Jenkins who is a journalist. He does not seem to have any qualifications in public health, at all. I am unsure about all this. People need to reassure each other and be brave, but not to start or circulate conspiracy theories of any kind. Public health officials are sincere in what they are proposing around the world. We shall see. I just hugged a woman who works in the shop and she was very happy, since she mustn’t touch the customers for the foreseeable future, while she must wipe down everything they have touched and that is frightening. How to be reassuring without sounding complacent. It is all going to be a challenge.

BI: I don’t think this disease should be underestimated it’s your life and the life of others around you that matters and people of our age especially the ones with underlying conditions  are most at risk.

HM: This is the first time in my lifetime that a disease has been labelled a pandemic by the WHO.  It genuinely is something on a very different scale from the various other scares which, fortunately, were brought under control.  Our GP daughter-in-law would love this to peter out fast, but she is truly scared that it is on course to be a real pandemic

TR: Simon is right we need to be wary of hysteria but I think he is wrong to liken it to some of those scares of the past, by this time next year I’m afraid deaths in the UK from this will have surpassed all those put together. The good news is most young people should come through unscathed but for us (and especially those affected by OPs) these could be difficult times. Stay safe.

Ed: on returning home I heard that a young family nearby is confined to the house with the symptoms listed. Their neighbour had been trying to bring in basic food supplies but found only bare shelves in the shops. 

 

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Coronavirus 1: “hysteria is rife”- Sir Simon Jenkins leads the charge

Due to WordPress malfunction a smaller photo of SJ was rejected by its system

Already ‘taking the coronavirus hype with a pinch of salt’, Simon Jenkinsin his late seventies – is well fitted to do this. He writes: “For the moment, if you see a virus story containing “might” “could” “possibly” or “worst-case scenario”, stop reading. You are being fed war talk. Let them wash your hands, but not your brain”.

As usual he presents facts from a range of sources to support his argument, summarising: “We’ve been here before, and the direst predictions have not come to pass . . . we might try some history”:

  • In 1997 we were told that bird flu could kill millions worldwide. Thankfully, it did not.
  • In 1999 European Union scientists warned that BSE “could kill 500,000 people”. In total, 177 Britons died of vCJD.
  • The first Sars outbreak of 2003 was reported as having “a 25% chance of killing tens of millions” and being “worse than Aids”.
  • In 2006, another bout of bird flu was declared “the first pandemic of the 21st century”, the scares in 2003, 2004 and 2005 having failed to meet their body counts.
  • Then, in 2009, The BBC announced that swine flu “could really explode”. The chief medical officer, Liam Donaldson, declared that “65,000 could die”. He spent £560m on a Tamiflu and Relenza stockpile, which soon deteriorated. 

Should public life really be conducted on a worst-case basis? 

Jenkins points out that politicians and the media love playing to the gallery during every health scare and terrorist incident: “Front pages are outrageous. No BBC presenter seems able to avoid the subject. Wash hands to save the nation. The BBC must be sponsored by the soap industry”.

And more seriously: Never, ever, should a government use war as a metaphor in a time of peace

“War is the absolute last resort of a nation facing existential collapse. It implies extreme violence. Words such as battles, fights, enemies and threats to nations are clearly directed at accreting power and suspending liberty. They encourage xenophobia and attacks on supposed “enemy agents” – at present, Asian communities. To promote this under the cover of any “worst-case scenario” is inexcusable”.

“Last week the prime minister, Boris Johnson, leaped from two weeks of inertia to give his Churchill impersonation.

“He donned a costume to look like a health worker. He dived into Cobra, haunt of publicity-hungry prime ministers, and pushed aside his health secretary, Matt Hancock. Aides drew up a “battle plan” to confront forecasts of 80% of Britons who “might be” infected, and 500,000 who might be dead.

“Never, Johnson must have murmured, would so many owe so much … to oneself. He stood behind a crested lectern, flanked by two scientists like five-star generals. He declared a four-point emergency strategy, plus 27 pages of “sweeping new powers” to meet “a national challenge”. He would call up retired health workers and army units. It was his first dry run at war.

May be seen for 21 days here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000gfwk

Jenkins asks if the PM’s call for calm was genuine why was he there? The consequences of this appeal was that within hours, the stock market plunged, holiday bookings collapsed, hundreds of flights were cancelled, even to places untouched by the virus, workers were told to stay at home “Even James Bond was ordered to take fright and scurry home”.

Jenkins’ verdict: “Those who use such metaphors and exploit them to heighten panic and win obedience to authority should be dismissed from public office”.

He adds that every medical expert he has heard on the subject is reasonable and calm. the virus is highly contagious, but the “great majority” of those who develop symptoms will experience only a “mild-to-moderate but self-limiting illness”, ending:

“Of course, I could be wrong. I could get ill. Millions could die. But it is also possible that come the spring, this crisis will have passed. So for the moment, if you see a virus story containing “might” “could” “possibly” or “worst-case scenario”, stop reading. You are being fed war talk. Let them wash your hands, but not your brain”.

 

 

 

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Budget: a winner? Not for the environment or those on low incomes

WordPress malfunction is causing photographs to be removed.

Accountancy professor’s summary: “The government change of policy is welcome, but it is full of contradictions, weak gestures and does little to address poverty, inequalities or increase purchasing power of the masses”.

Picture of Rishi Sunak

Baroness Camilla Cavendish, former Director of Policy for Prime Minister David Cameron, enthuses in the FT: snapshot from her article 

Similar enthusiasm was expressed by Lauren Davidson, head of personal finance at the Telegraph: “In our Budget “winners and losers” list, we struggled to come up with many that fell into the latter category. The former, however, was bursting:

  • anyone who pays National Insurance,
  • workers who claim sick pay,
  • low earners on the minimum wage, (most) high earners affected by the pensions taper,
  • women who use sanitary products,
  • families who save into ISAs,
  • drivers,
  • readers who prefer e-books and digital journalism
  • and, of course, drinkers.

But the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR, official independent watchdog) and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS, independent microeconomic research institute) expressed reservations:

Ingram Pinn of the FT reminds us of the warning from the OBR of the economic cost of Brexit. It said that Britain had lost 2% of potential output since the 2016 Leave vote, with a further 3.2% to come, and that higher trade barriers would cause imports and exports to be about 15% lower after 10 years.

Picture: PM speaking about the Budget

IFS director Paul Johnson has been widely quoted. In Civil Service World, he says: “Average annual increases of 2.8% sound substantial; take account of the need to replace EU funding and factor in planned increases for health, schools, defence and overseas aid and there is relatively little here for other departments. If this spending envelope is stuck to, there are plenty of public services which will not be enjoying much in the way of spending increases over the next few years.”

The IFS statement added that the economic forecasts on which the Budget was based predated any significant effect of the coronavirus being taken into account, so were “therefore out of date at the moment of publication.” Overall spending per person for many public services will therefore be ‘well below’ 2010/11 levels by the middle of the next decade”.

A Moseley reader draws attention to an article by Simon Jenkins; his overview: “Local government’s share of the welfare state, social care and social services got nothing extra. There was no mention of old people or family support or youth clubs chief victims of the 30% cut in local council spending since 2010. Downward pressure will continue on libraries, day centres, sports fields, drug rehabilitation and facilities for young people”.

The strongest and most fact-filled critique comes from Professor Prem Sikka, who opens “The government has announced £30bn of spending, but it is far short of the £54bn annual expenditure needed to roll-back the damage inflicted since 2010”. Read more here. This follows a pre-Budget article in which he gives an alarming summary of the damage done by a decade of austerity, which he sees as being borne out of political dogma rather than any economic necessity.

Increasing public debt

“The chancellor did not make any mention of the need to reduce public debt, a favourite mantra of previous Conservative governments even though they borrowed to fund tax cuts for corporations and the rich. In April 2010, public debt was £960bn. The government expects it to hit £1,799bn for 2019/20 and rise to £2,031bn by 2024/25.

Sikka comments that little has been done for those on lowest incomes. Some examples given:

  • The increase in the minimum wage to £10.50 an hour by 2024 is too little to make much difference to inequalities, in-work poverty or queues for foodbanks.
  • The failure to increase personal allowances and tax thresholds in line with inflation will mean that many low-paid and middle earners will end up paying higher amount of income tax. Small print in the government announcement says that various measures in the budget will increase taxes by £1.4bn in 2020/21, rising to £12.5bn by 2024/2
  • The extension of statutory sick pay (SSP) is welcome, but the rate of £94.25 per week is far short of even the minimum wage rate. Many employers won’t pay more and vulnerable employees will suffer.
  • SSP would be available from the first day for up to 14 days for all those advised to self-isolate. Employers with fewer than 250 employees will have the full cost refunded. However, the SSP extension won’t help self-employed or people caught-up in the gig economy.
  • The government spin is that it has not increased income taxes but that isn’t so because of the removal of existing tax breaks and stealth taxes (more here) built into the prices of products. The government collects these at the point of sale and they do not depend on a taxpayer’s income level. 

But the government is still showering gifts on those with high incomes

The entrepreneur’s relief costing about £2.6bn a year has been abused and a former head of HMRC called for it to be scrapped. Nearly three-quarters of it went to just 5,000 individuals. It enabled them to pay capital gains tax at the rate of 10%, compared to standard rate of 20%, on gains of up to £10m from the sale of their business.

The government has committed to spending £27bn on English strategic roads between 2020 and 2025. It will also freeze fuel duty and there is no reference to the new green deal or government led investment in new high-tech industries 

Sikka points out that this omission sits uneasily with the government’s claims of reducing carbon emissions. A broader national infrastructure strategy with focus on integrated affordable public transport is needed but was not put forward by the chancellor.

 

 

 

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Wake up Britain! The EC sees inland waterway transport as a serious, sustainable alternative

Welcome news on ESO’s website

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The European Skippers Organisation (ESO) was set up to make the voices of the European Barge Union (EBU) and independent inland waterway transport (IWT) entrepreneurs clearly heard by the European Commission. Over the years, the organisation has occupied itself with various matters, including market regulation, fleet renewal, market observation, waterway bottlenecks, inland shipping promotion, crew regulation, training, accommodation, environmental problems and River Information Services.

2019: Brussels sees IWT as a serious and sustainable alternative 

ESO reports that in December, the European Commission presented its climate plans for the next decades. To reach the climate goals and reduce greenhouse gases the EC wants to give inland shipping a bigger role in transport in the EU, conveying more cargo, improving existing infrastructure and building new waterways. Never before has such a policy been made in favour of inland shipping which will move forward and do the utmost to fulfil the challenges ahead, for the benefit of people, planet and prosperity.

UK at Forefront of Transport Innovation (not)

Surprisingly there was no reference to the potential of water freight in a major report (UK at the Forefront of Transport Innovation) on how the UK can capitalise on opportunities offered by transport technologies and innovation to benefit the economy, society and the citizen. It was published on 31st January 2019 by the Government Office for Science.waterfreight

Waterborne Technology Platform, the European research and innovation platform for waterborne industries published their January 2019 report presenting vision, strategy, time-path and expected benefits of targeted research into inland waterway transport and ports.

The EU’s Green Transport Deal  

A Euractive Green Deal article reports that in October, climate chief Frans Timmermans told the European Parliament that he wants to establish ‘green ports’ around Europe, which offer clean refuelling infrastructure and reduced costs for less-polluting ships.

Boats, barges and ships will form a vital part of the new mobility plan in the EC proposal to shift a “substantial” part of the 75% of freight carried by road to inland waterways and rail.

 

 

 

 

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