Category Archives: Finance

Post-Brexit: moving from globalisation towards resilient self-reliance

A call for building strong productive local and regional communities and new trade systems that fulfil human lives without wasting resources and energy  

Today the Financial Times (paywall) reports that the number of foreign investment projects has dropped by 14% to 1,782 in the financial year ending March 2019, since the 2016 Brexit referendum. This is the lowest level in six years, according to a report published on Wednesday by the UK’s Department for International Trade.

As multinational profits continue to fly out of the country and taxes are evaded, we return to the valuable 2017 report by Victor Anderson and Rupert Read entitledBrexit and Trade Moving from Globalisation to Self-reliance’, published and launched by Green MEP Molly Scott Cato. 

Although it regrets leaving the EU and wishes we wouldn’t, the report is written as an alternative approach assuming we are outside the EU. Its Executive Summary states:

This report puts on to the political agenda an option for Brexit which goes with the grain of widespread worries about globalisation, and argues for greater local, regional, and national self-sufficiency, reducing international trade and boosting import substitution”.

Colin Hines comments: It details the need for an environmentally sustainable future involving constraints to trade and the rebuilding of local economies. On page 14, the report calls for ‘Progressive Protectionism’:

“Reducing dependence on international trade implies reducing both imports and exports. It is very different from the traditional protectionism of seeking to limit imports whilst expanding exports. It should therefore meet with less hostility from other countries, as it has a very different aim from simply improving the UK’s balance of payments. It could be described as ‘progressive protectionism’, or ‘green protectionism’“.

The report’s recommendations are summarised under three headings: the environment, globalisation and localisation (below):

  • Change trade agreements to allow governments to promote greater national, regional, and local resilience.
  • Shift taxes, subsidies, and public expenditure on infrastructure, away from unfairly favouring large and global companies, and redirect them to help build up local economies.
  • Link banking directly to local and regional economies rather than to the international financial system.
  • Boost the number of places for skills training in sectors where UK production can substitute for imports.
  • bring in short-term government subsidies to invest in and develop economic sectors where UK production can be expected to substitute for imports as part of the new strategy. These would not necessarily be ‘infant industries’: they might be old sectors being revived and renewed.
  • Introduce or increase tariffs on imports of goods and services, especially those where domestic production is a viable and environmentally sustainable option.
  • Democratise English sub-regional devolution arrangements and reform local government finance, so as to provide for effective decentralisation of power.

The globalisation of recent decades has been very one-sided. There have been enormous benefits for large business corporations, financial institutions, and the super-rich. As smaller companies have found it difficult to compete, the multinationals have used a worldwide network of tax havens to escape from taxation and regulation.

‘Brexit and Trade’ sets put a new option for Britain. Instead of removing protective regulations against environmental threats it advocates establishing high Green standards and practical localisation measures. It would address the very real social, economic and environmental problems of globalisation, serving present and future generations well.

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 22: 2014 tax law – lowest income households lose, bailiffs gain

 

Britain’s lowest-income households were exempt from council tax until 2014, when the law changed, bringing 1.4m households into the council tax net, with some jobseekers and the disabled required to pay bills amounting to 10% of their benefits income, according to the National Audit Office report, Financial sustainability of local authorities 2018, (Money Advice Trust note 67)

The Money Advice Trust charity points out that between 2011/12 and 2017/18, central government funding for local authorities fell by an estimated 49% in real terms – leaving councils increasingly reliant on council tax and business rates to fund local services, according to data obtained through its Freedom of Information requests. Its 2018 report A Decade in Debt gives detailed analysis of many kinds of private debt, with a chapter on council tax arrears.

Council tax collection privatised

With most councils lacking the staff to collect arrears the money themselves, more than 2.3m debts were referred to companies like Dukes bailiffs, a “provider of ethical and efficient enforcement services across the UK”, who sponsored the 2019 Local Authority Civil Enforcement Forum’s conference.

According to the Financial Times, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that almost a fifth of single parents who would formerly have paid no council tax are now in debt. No link was given and a search led to the IFS 2004 report which made seven references to the deot problenms of single parents.

Hansard, the official government record, in answering questions on ‘rogue bailiffs’ refers to a September 2018 YouGov poll which found that more than one in three people contacted by bailiffs in the last two years had been subject to harmful behaviour, such as threatening to break into homes.

Money UK gives information on debt collection

An article on the subject in the Mirror reports that the Commons Treasury Com­­mittee says bailiffs work­ing for nat­­ional and local government are “worst in class” for aggressive tactics.

Those with physical or mental health problems are less likely to engage with their local authority, according to research by the Money and Mental Health Institute last May. which found that people with poor mental health were three times more likely than the general public to be behind with their council tax payments. A visit from a bailiff can exacerbate psychological distress and cause stress, the MMHPI said, particularly when enforcement agents did not act with care.

Barrie Minney chair of the Local Authority Civil Enforcement Forum (LACEF), explained that bailiffs are sometimes wrongly sent out to people who are financially or mentally vulnerable because of a lack of data sharing between council departments.

Many bailiffs are paid on commission based on the repayments they recover; if they don’t collect, they don’t earn

One of the FT’s case studies is summarised here. When Charley Finlay was recovering from the death of her premature baby she missed her first council tax payment of the year and did not open reminder letters from the council. Because she missed her first payment she became liable for her entire annual tax bill of £300.

Enforcement agents are allowed to charge £75 for sending a letter and £235 for a home visit, further inflating people’s debts.

Her debt increased to over £1,000 once the costs of the bailiff’s letters and visits were added to her debt. She said that the bailiff was at her door constantly, shouting through her letterbox, ringing her all the time and telling her that her children would go into care as she would be imprisoned.

Various efforts are being made to improve practice. These include:

  • LACEF is working with debt charities to build models for early intervention and developing software to help flag up people’s potential vulnerabilities to revenue collection departments. “Otherwise, we can spend a lot of time and money chasing people who cannot afford to pay us,” Mr Minney said. “That is really not ideal.”
  • More than half of the councils are examining new methods of dealing with people on benefits who are in arrears, LACEF’s polling indicates.
  • Local government minister Rishi Sunak vowed in April to engage with charities and debt advice bodies to create a “fairer” collection system.
  • The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government highlighted the need to protect people against “aggressive debt enforcement”, announcing that reforms could include taking individual circumstances into account to give people the necessary time to pay off arrears, improving links between councils and the debt advice sector, and supporting fairer debt intervention
  • CIVEA – the principal trade association representing civil enforcement agencies – is hosting a one-day conference in September to present the industry’s take on the Ministry of Justice report following their recent call for evidence. This will include: the treatment of debtors, the complaints processes and whether further regulation is needed.

Comment from Peter Jennett (Private Eye letter, Jul/Aug 2018):

“Those in power not only tolerate but actively create conditions of increasing poverty, lack of access to education and life chances for large numbers of our population, then blame those affected for their own plight”.

 

 

 

 

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What is the truth about the state of England’s rivers?

 

Despite evidence from at least eight sources, the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency says “It’s wrong to suggest that the state of England’s rivers is poor”

The Financial Times recently reported that only 14% of rivers in England met the minimum “good status” standards as defined by the EU Water Framework directive according to an Environment Agency report in 2018. In 2009 almost 25% did so. Water quality has deteriorated since 2010 when the Environment Agency handed responsibility for pollution monitoring to the nine large water and sewage companies in England.

Evidence supporting their report comes from the World Wildlife Fund, Windrush rivers campaign, Fish Legal, Marine Conservancy, European Environment Agency, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Sewage Free Seas. It was quoted in England’s rivers: toxic cocktail of chemicals, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and untreated waste.

Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, replied in a letter to the FT, “It’s wrong to suggest that the state of England’s rivers is poor (“Blighted by pollution”, The Big Read, June 13)”. He continued:

Water quality is now better than at any time since the Industrial Revolution thanks to tougher regulation and years of hard work by the Environment Agency and others.

Rivers that were so polluted that they were severely biologically damaged two decades ago are now thriving with wildlife such as otters, dippers and mayflies returning.

Over the past 20 years EA teams have taken more than 50m samples to monitor water quality around the country. The EU’s water framework directive means that the failure of one test can prevent a river from achieving good ecological status overall but this often does not tell the whole story.

During the last round of testing, 76 per cent of the tests used to measure the health of rivers were rated as good, and last year 98 per cent of bathing waters at 420 locations passed tough quality standards, compared with less than a third in the 1990s.

The EA has also required water companies to install new monitoring systems on combined sewer overflows (CSOs). By March next year more than 11,500 CSOs will be monitored as the first phase of this work is completed

It is not true that the EA simply relies on the water companies to tell us what they are discharging into watercourses. We carry out our own monitoring of rivers to ensure we have independent evidence and we regularly inspect water treatment plants and sewage works. If companies are failing to abide by the law or the terms of their permits we will take action to ensure that they do, up to and including prosecution.

Since 1990, the water industry has invested almost £28bn in environmental improvement work, much of it to improve water quality. I agree that there are still too many serious pollution incidents and we have called for tougher penalties for water companies where they are shown to be at fault.

In the past three years we have brought 31 prosecutions against water companies, resulting in more than £30m in fines, and we will continue, alongside the other water regulators, to act to ensure that people, wildlife and the environment are protected.

The agencies quoted are unconvinced and the FT asked earlier this month: Can England’s water companies clean up its dirty rivers?

It noted that the concerns over river pollution come at a time when the water industry is under fire for paying executives and shareholders lucrative rewards while raising customer bills and failing to stem leakage and ended: “The failures mean that three decades after the regional state-run monopolies were handed to private companies free of debt, and with a £1.5bn grant to invest in environmental improvements, the Labour party is calling for renationalisation of the water companies that are now saddled with debt of £51bn”.


Since this article was written, Southern Water — supplier to Kent, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Sussex — has been required to pay what amounts to a £126m penalty over five years for letting untreated waste leak into rivers between 2010 and 2017, and trying to hide what happened.

 

 

 

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The first big climate-friendly decision: Wales opts for “a high quality, multi-modal, integrated and low carbon transport system”

The Financial Times reports that plans to build an M4 bypass to reduce congestion on the M4 which links London with South Wales, were rejected yesterday by Wales’ first minister, Mark Drakeford.

He attached great weight to the “substantial adverse impact” on the environment, in particular the Gwent Levels’ Sites of Special Scientific Interest, their network of ancient waterways, wet grassland, reedbeds, saltmarsh and saline lagoons with endangered and rare species of wildlife, managed by Gwent Wildlife Trust and ‘an army of volunteers’.

Ian Rappel, chief executive of the Gwent Wildlife Trust, commended the decision to reject the UK’s most ecologically damaging motorway scheme.

The business community in Wales and the UK government had backed the project, although some economists had argued that increased road access to South Wales would have sucked investment out of the region to the more prosperous west of England. However, Mr Drakeford said the cost to the Welsh government and the project’s impact on other capital investments were not acceptable.

A point not mentioned in this article is that several studies (1994-2017) – including one accepted by the UK government – have found that the relief offered by such a bypass will be temporary, due to the ‘induced traffic’ phenomenon. When a new road is built it generates extra traffic because of the presence of the new road, many new trips are made and longer distances are travelled.

Wales passed the 2015 Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act, which was hailed by the UN as a model piece of legislation for sustainable development.

The Welsh government, which also declared a “climate emergency” in April, is to set up a commission with a mandate to develop “a high quality, multi-modal, integrated and low carbon transport system” and recommend alternatives to the 23-km dual three-lane motorway bypass.

 

 

 

 

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Jeremy Corbyn: brutal Communist, European socialist or mainstream Scandinavian social democrat?

Corbyn smears escalate

Yesterday came a warning: “With a general election possibly afoot, we must all be alert to the orchestrated dirty tricks and the ferocity of the propaganda assault that will inevitably be launched against Jeremy Corbyn and Labour by the terrified establishment”. It was issued by Richard House, after replying to ‘absurd views’ in the Independent alleging that Jeremy Corbyn would usher in ‘a communist government’ of a brutal nature.

Articles in the Murdoch Times today bore these headlines

  • MPs launch angry revolt over leaders’ Brexit talks: Breakthrough hopes fade after May meets Corbyn
  • Brexit talks: Dark clouds gather as Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn work out what to do next
  • The PM, as we must still call her, was numb — perhaps past caring
  • Two-party cartel would regret an election now: The electorate is more volatile than ever and many will be looking for a home beyond the Conservatives and Labour. 

Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity with Europe’s socialist leaders was highlighted some time ago with a standing ovation noted in the Financial Times:

“UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was given a rapturous reception by his Socialist allies in Brussels on Thursday, as he warned that leaving the EU without a Brexit deal would be “catastrophic” for the UK economy. Mr Corbyn was met with a standing ovation by Europe’s centre-left parties as he addressed delegates at the Europe Together conference, just hours before prime minister Theresa May was scheduled to meet her EU counterparts at a European leaders’ summit”. We omit the description of Ms May’s very cool reception. 

Corbyn’s negotiating skills are appreciated by senior EU figures, including Michel Barnier.

 

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn walk prior to a meeting on July 13, 2017 in Brussels.  

Another perspective: Jeremy Corbyn is a mainstream [Scandinavian] social democrat 

That is the view of Jonas Fossli Gjersø, a Scandinavian who has spent more than a decade living in Britain (full text here), who opens:

“From his style to his policies Mr Corbyn would, in Norway, be an unremarkably mainstream, run-of-the-mill social-democrat. His policy-platform places him squarely in the Norwegian Labour Party from which the last leader is such a widely respected establishment figure that upon resignation he became the current Secretary-General of NATO.

“Yet, here in the United Kingdom a politician who makes similar policy-proposals, indeed those that form the very bedrock of the Nordic-model, is brandished as an extremist of the hard-left and a danger to society”.

British media’s portrayal of Corbyn, and by extent his policies are somewhat exaggerated and verging on the realm of character assassination rather than objective analysis and journalism.

Mr Corbyn’s policy-platform, particularly in regard to his domestic policies are largely identical with the Norwegian Labour Party manifesto. They enjoy near universal support among the Norwegian electorate and, in fact, they are so mainstream that not even the most right-wing of Norwegian political parties would challenge them. They include:

  • railway nationalisation,
  • partial or full state ownership of key companies or sectors,
  • universal healthcare provisions,
  • state-funded house-building,
  • no tuition fee education,
  • education grants and loans

Jonas (right) adds that such policies have been integral to the social-democratic post-war consensus in all the Nordic countries, which. enjoy some of the world’s highest living standards and presumably should be a model to be emulated rather than avoided, and continues:

The whole controversy surrounding Mr Corbyn probably betrays more about Britain’s class divisions and how far the UK’s political spectrum has shifted to the right since the early-1980s, than it does of the practicality of his policy-proposals.

Reflecting this is British media whose ownership is highly concentrated: 70% of national newspapers are owned by just three companies and a third are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK . . . the British media has focused its reporting on the personal characteristics of Mr Corbyn, usually in rather unflattering terms, and shown scant or shallow regard to his policy-agenda.

He notes that a direct comparison of Britain with other similar European states would reveal both the dire condition of British living-standards for populations, particularly outside London and how conventionally social-democratic are Mr Corbyn’s policies.

Jonas Fossli Gjersø ends: “You might agree or disagree with his political position, but it is still far too early to discount Mr Corbyn’s potential success at the next general election – particularly if he manages to mobilise support from the circa 40% of the electorate who regularly fail to cast their ballot in elections…

“(J)ust as few recognised the socio-economic and ideological structural changes which converged to underpin Margaret Thatcher’s meteoric rise in the early-1980s, we cannot exclude the possibility that we are witnessing the social-democratic mirror image of that process today, with a prevailing wind from the left rather than the right”.

 

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 21: our divided society

Aditya Chakrabortty focusses on the ‘vast disconnect between elite authority and lived experience, central to what’s broken in Britain today’ – the ‘gap’ which widened as independent working class self-help initiatives were replaced by the ‘hand of the state’ (Mount) creating ’a new feudalism’ and from two searing analyses of our divided society (Jones).

He asks:

  • “Why is a stalemate among 650 MPs a matter for such concern, yet the slow, grinding extinction of mining communities and light-industrial suburbsis passed over in silence?
  • “Why does May’s wretched career cover the first 16 pages of a Sunday paper while a Torbay woman told by her council that she can “manage being homeless”, and even sleeping rough, is granted a few inches downpage in a few of the worthies?”
  • Is “the death sentence handed to stretches of the country and the vindictive spending cuts imposed by the former chancellor George Osborne, a large part of why Britain voted for Brexit in the first place?”

He continues:

“We have economic policymakers who can’t grasp how the economy has changed, elected politicians who share hardly anything in common with their own voters . . . Over a decade from the banking crash, the failings of our economic policymaking need little elaboration. the basic language of economic policy makes less and less sense.

“Growth no longer brings prosperity; you can work your socks off and still not earn a living. Yet still councils and governments across the UK will spend billions on rail lines, and use taxpayers’ money to bribe passing billionaire investors, all in the name of growth and jobs.”

A University College London study published last year shows that  the parliamentary Labour party became more “careerist” under Tony Blair – and also grew increasingly fond of slashing welfare. Social security was not something that ‘professionalised MPs’ or their circle had ever had to rely on, so ‘why not attack scroungers and win a few swing voters?’

The trend continues: Channel 4 News found that over half of the MPs elected in 2017 had come from backgrounds in politics, law, or business and finance and more came from finance alone than from social work, the military, engineering and farming put together.

This narrowing has a direct influence on our law-making and political class and Chakrabortty comments: “We now have economic policymakers who can’t grasp how the economy has changed, elected politicians who share hardly anything in common with their own voters”.

He concludes that this is what a real democratic crisis looks like: failed policies forced down the throats of a public. Institution after institution failing to legislate, reflect or report on the very people who pay for them to exist. And until it is acknowledged, Britain will be stuck, seething with resentment, in a political quagmire.

 

 

 

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Farm Groups: No Deal Brexit reckless in the extreme

PRESS RELEASE, 6th March 2019 from Fairness for Farmers in Europe (FFE), an open door federation of farm organisations across GB, the Isle of Man, Ireland north and south.

After their recent meeting in England, the following FFE members supported this statement: Family Farmers Association, Farmers For Action, Irish Creamery & Milk Suppliers Association, Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers Association, Manx NFU, National Beef Association and Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association.

Pictured (l-r ) at Fairness for Farmers in Europe’s recent meeting at the Marriott Hotel in Gatwick– back row  is Andrew Cooper General Secretary Manx NFU, John Enright ICMSA General Secretary, Tim Johnston Manx NFU Vice-President, Sean McAuley NIAPA & FFA and Brian Brumby Manx NFU President.  Front row, Eddie Punch General Secretary ICSA, William Taylor FFA NI and FFE co-ordinator and Patrick Kent ICSA President.

Fairness for Farmers in Europe have delivered the following press release of their agreed statement on the strong possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal to Michael Gove MP, Andrea Leadsom MP, Theresa May PM, Neil Parish MP, Sir Vince Cable MP, Sir Keir Starmer MP and Anna Soubry MP with copies sent to the Irish Government, the Isle of Man Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, Council of Ministers President Donald Tusk and European Parliament President Antonio Tajani. FFE members are copying in their MEPs and politicians where appropriate.

The statement 

Fairness for Farmers in Europe (FFE) on behalf of all the family farmer members they represent across these islands, north, south, east and west, must make clear to the UK Government that it would be reckless in the extreme with the impact horrendous for agriculture and food if the UK were to crash out of the EU with no deal on 29th March.

The beef industry, to give one example across these islands is already being devastated due to uncertainty currently with price losses at the farm gate of 10%+, not to mention the add on costs to consumers from the 29th of March.  A no deal on 29th March would by way of UK and EU Customs and Excise administration costs, consequential transport waiting times and WTO tariffs where applicable on lamb, milk, milk products, chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, fruit and other at the UK Northern Irish border with the EU / Southern Ireland Border, UK Dover border point with Calais French EU border and all other food importing/exporting points around and in the UK.

For the sake of commonsense we ask you to draw back from the brink – ask for more time to achieve a successful outcome if a deal cannot be reached by 29th March. 

 

Contact: 56  Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, N Ireland, BT51 4NU

Tel. 07909744624  Email : taylor.w@btconnect.com

 

 

 

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Cash or cashless? Vested interests strive to win the argument

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Charles Randell, chair of the government’s Payment Systems Regulator asks a pertinent question:Should access to such a basic financial service be universal, or commercially driven?”

Cashless: “Digital payments are clearly the future”: a spokeswoman for digital payment company Square

One protagonist, Helen Prowse, a spokeswoman for digital payment company Square, spoke at a debate held by Monzo, a London-based fintech startup. “Digital payments are clearly the future.” She continued: “In the UK, plastic payment cards are the most popular way to buy things. Only about 30% of transactions use paper notes and coins, The ratio is already at 15% in Sweden, which will become effectively cashless in a few years’ time”. Quartz journalist John Detrixhe appears to agree. He gives several reasons for ‘getting rid’ of cash:

  • When shops switch over to digital money, their workers are less likely to be subject to violent robbery.
  • It can also be faster and cheaper to process than notes and coins.
  • Cash helps to enable the underground economy through tax evasion as well as illicit finance.

But G4S issued a report (April ’18) showing that cash circulation has increased

G4S which transports, process, recycle, securely store and manages cash published the World Cash Report in April 2018.  It surveyed 47 countries covering 75% of the global population and over 90% of the world’s GDP. The findings show that demand for cash continues to rise globally, despite the increase in electronic payment options in recent years; cash in circulation relative to GDP has increased to 9.6% across all continents, up from 8.1% in 2011.

The report highlights the variety of payment habits in different regions. In Europe 80% of point-of-sale transactions are conducted in cash, while in North America, where card payments are most regularly used, cash use still accounts for 31%. In Asia the rise of online purchases does not mean that cash is taken out of the equation, with more than 3 out of every 4 online purchases in a number of countries paid for by cash on delivery.

Access to Cash Review: cash is “an economic necessity” for around 25 million people in Britain

Natalie Ceeney (right), a successful civil servant who is now non-executive chair of Innovate Finance, chaired the independent Access to Cash Review, funded by Link, the UK’s biggest network of cash machines. She said “The issue is that digital does not yet work for everyone.”

The review indicated that physical notes and coins are “an economic necessity” for around 25 million people in Britain, and nearly half of people surveyed said a cashless society would be problematic for them. ATMs and bank branches are under particular pressure in rural communities, where broadband and mobile service is unreliable or unavailable. Next month, the review plans to publish its recommendations on how to deal with declining cash availability.

Nicky Morgan, chair of the UK’s Treasury Committee, said recently, “Whilst cash may no longer be king, it continues to play an important role in the lives of millions. So what we’ve heard today from the PSR should set alarm bells ringing. It’s clear that the whole way that people access their cash via ATMs is starting to fail. With the way that people access their cash seemingly on the precipice of collapsing, the government can’t just bury its head in the sand. . . .”

And what will happen in a cashless society when electronic systems malfunction – as machines do – when the mobile phone cannot get a signal, when cable sheaths fail or when someone accidentally damages a phone cable?

 

 

 

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Government faces a judicial review about short-changing 1950s women

In an earlier post Political Concern reported that 2.6 million women born in the 1950s will ‘lose out’ because of changes to pension law: “while corporations and the richest individuals receive tax breaks.

“Governments are balancing budgets on the backs of the poor”- (lawyer/novelist John Grisham)

Waspi, a UK-wide organisation with many local groups, is campaigning against the way in which the state pension age for men and women was equalised, whilst supporting the principle of equality.

One, the Chorley Supporters Group, is denouncing the government who arbitrarily told them to work for several extra years before they can claim their state pensions, causing them to lose income and peace of mind and obliging many to continue to work at a time of life when caring duties increase and energy levels start to fall. Read more in the Lancashire Evening Post.

Writing to the Financial Times they say: “It is about time the spotlight was turned on this government, which has effectively stolen the security net of millions of women by raising the state pension age far quicker than planned, with no personal notification”.

On the BBC’s World at One programme one of many testimonies was given:

Stella Taylor: “I was born in 1955, I had worked all of my life and, when I became unwell at just about the age of 58 I then discovered, quite accidentally, that my State Pension, which I was expecting to receive at 60, had been moved six whole years to sixty-six. And, like so many women in this movement, we were just aghast. We thought there must be a mistake. Had I received my pension at sixty, when I had expected to, I wouldn’t have been wealthy by anybody’s standards, but I wouldn’t have been in the depths of poverty that I now am. At the moment, because I am still unable to work due to ill health, I receive seventy three pounds and ten pence per week in Employment Support Allowance. Living, and paying all your household bills, out of that £73 a week is impossible. There are times when I have needed to use my local food bank because I haven’t been able to afford groceries.” More testimonies here. 

On February 10ththe BBC reported the warning of Amber Rudd, the pensions secretary, which should be extended to her own department:

”If you chronically mismanage a pension scheme . . . we’re coming for you.”

After pointing out that a freedom of information request has revealed recent research findings that the government reneged on their contributions to the national insurance fund over many years and redirected that money towards paying off the national debt, the Chorley Supporters Group asks:

“How government can expect other public or private institutions in this country to play fair with pension funds when it is not doing so itself”.

On February 11th, the government published a research briefing on the legislation increasing the State Pension age for women born in the 1950s. up

This unexpected rise in the state pension age will now “save” the Treasury an estimated £8bn by impoverishing 1950s women.

MP Grahame Morris pointed out that the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru, the DUP and 50 Conservative MPs support the Waspi campaign.

He added that Landman Economics’ report gives the figure of £8bn savings to government and suggests that this sum should be seen in the wider context of current or planned government finance. Some examples follow: (Ed: links added):

FT Adviser reports that SNP MP Mhairi Black earlier pointed out that the National Insurance Fund is projected to have a substantial surplus at the end of 2017 to 2018 and the HMRC’s report confirms that the National Insurance Fund balance at 31 March 2018 was £24.2 billion and is expected to increase in the following year.

Morris ends: “In this context, finding the money for Waspi women seems a sensible price to pay to give these women justice . . . We know and we can see that it isn’t equal, it isn’t fair and it isn’t justifiable – it’s driving down the incomes and the quality of life of countless women”.

Next June the government faces a judicial review in the High Court to determine whether these recent increases to women’s state pension age are lawful and the Chorley Supporters Group, Chrissie Fuller, Jane Morwood, Betty Ann Tucker, Riley Ann Rochester, Beverley Cordwell, Lea Butler and Lesley Kirkham end by warning that they will not rest until justice is done.

 

 

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MPs ask how ‘the other England’ can be strengthened so that fellow citizens are not “pushed into destitution”

A Bournville reader draws attention to an article about Heidi Allen, Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, and former Labour MP Frank Field, now a backbencher. They are touring the poorest areas of Leicester Newcastle, Glasgow, Morecambe and Cornwall. Frank Field said they want to know “how the soft underbelly of our society – ‘the other England’ – can be strengthened so that none of our fellow citizens are pushed into destitution”.

Robert Booth, Social Affairs correspondent for the Guardian, reports that their widely publicised inquiry began in London where testimonials from those with first-hand experience of food poverty exposed the barriers that people face in securing support from the government, when faced with extreme life hardships and personal difficulties.

“Unless we blow the lid off it, my lot are not going to listen”

He explains that Heidi Allen had asked Frank Field if he would join her on a tour of the UK to show the government the “other England” shaped by the austerity policies pioneered by Allen’s party. She added: “Unless we blow the lid off it, my lot are not going to listen.” This is not a new concern: in her 2015 maiden speech Heidi Allen gave a detailed criticism of proposed cuts to tax credits, saying, ‘today I can sit on my hands no longer’.

Evidence from Leicester which they will be presenting includes accounts of:

  • an illiterate man sanctioned so often under universal credit that he lives on £5 a week;
  • a man who had sold all but the clothes he was wearing;
  • someone told to walk 44 miles to attend a job interview, despite having had a stroke, to save the state the cost of a £15 bus ticket;
  • a surge in referrals to food banks from 5% since the introduction of universal credit in June, to 29%;
  • an elderly person – after her son, who had suffered a stroke, had been sanctioned 15 times – said, “The system needs more caring people. They are like little Hitlers”;
  • another was expecting the bailiffs to take back her two-bed council house because she was in arrears, including on bedroom tax. Her second bedroom is used by her granddaughter five nights a week, so her son can work, but that doesn’t count – only children qualify’

The bureaucratic struggle to claim benefits is a big problem, carefully and accurately portrayed in Ken Loach’s internationally acclaimed award-winning film, I Daniel Blake (snapshot and link to brief video below). 65% of the most vulnerable people who come to Leicester council for help have never used a computer and don’t have a smart phone or an email address, needed to fill out forms.

 A brief extract from the film – those who have seen it will remember that the computer session becomes far more stressful and eventually – as often happens – aborts for no fault of the ‘client’.

According to Feeding Britain, a charity set up by Field which now includes Allen among its trustees, after housing costs, 41% of children in Leicester – more than 34,000 – are living in poverty. The Leicester South parliamentary constituency was in the poorest 2% of constituencies in the UK in 2018. Over the last two summer holidays, in the most deprived parts of the city, over 15,000 meals were served to almost 1,650 children, using government funds.

In the Leicester Mercury, Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth said after reading the latest research findings: “These shocking statistics show high levels of child poverty in Leicester South. It is clear that the Government is failing working families, and cuts to Universal Credit will make child poverty even worse. It is appalling that since 2010 the number of children living in poverty has reached four million under this Government, and the Government is still maintaining the benefit freeze.”

 

 

 

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