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Thursday, 29 January 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Tax crackdown on the rich: HMRC Affluent Unit nets an extra £137m
HMRC's Affluent Unit covering UK residents on annual incomes over £150,000 - or wealth over £1m - raised £137.2m in tax, up from £85.7m in 2013. The Affluent Unit, set up in 2011, doubled in size in 2013 with the recruitment of an additional 100 tax inspectors. About 500,000 UK residents fall into its remit. Also, HMRC's ability to investigate people has been made easier by a computer system called Connect. Costing £45m, Connect was launched in the summer of 2010 and designed by the defence contractor BAE Systems. The computer system collects data on people from multiple sources, including banks, local councils, and even social media. However, tax expert Richard Murphy, from Tax Research, said: "HMRC is supposed to collect £167bn of income tax this year, of which at least a quarter will be from the top 1% of income earners... In that case, to collect just £127m as a result of investigations into this group when the official tax gap is £35bn suggests that much less attention is given to them than any other group." He added: "The investigation success rate is way below anything that could be expected given that we know tax avoidance is mainly undertaken by the wealthiest... If these statistics prove anything it is that HMRC need many more resources to collect tax from those most likely to owe it." BBC NEWS

Benefits cuts mean those with children in the lowest 10% of earners lose £1,223 a year on average
Coalition changes to taxes and benefits have cost the average UK household £489 a year. Some households have lost a lot more than this, but others have gained from the changes the coalition has introduced, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Low-income working-age households have been hit hardest, losing the most as a percentage of their income. Those with children in the lowest 10% of earners lost £1,223 on average. The richest 10% of households with children lost £5,350 a year. Middle-income working-age households without children have gained the most. Pensioners were "relatively unaffected" on average, as their gains from the "triple lock" on the state pension were largely offset by a hike in VAT. James Browne, a senior research economist at IFS and co-author of the report said: "Increases in the tax-free personal allowance have played an important role in protecting middle-income working-age households meaning that those without children have actually gained overall." By household alone, the poorest households lost around 4% of their incomes, compared with around 3.5% for the next poorest tenth, between 2.5% and zero for middle-income households and a loss of about 2.5% for the richest. The hardest-hit region was greater London, where households lost an average £1,042, followed by south east England, the West Midlands and north west England. BBC NEWS

Apple’s global tax dodging: it made sales of AUS$6 billion in Australia last year, paid just AUS$80.3 million in tax: a tax rate of 0.01%
Apple has been in the spotlight over its taxes in Australia, after an investigation by Fairfax Media last year showed it had shifted AUS$8.9 billion in untaxed profits from its Australian operations to Ireland in the past decade. Apple's Australian entity describes itself as a company that markets products and sells digital software and services.  It is controlled by Irish holding company Apple Operations International. While tax is calculated as a proportion of profit, not revenue, multinational companies including Apple have been criticised for booking revenue offshore, in low-taxing places like Ireland or Singapore, to minimise their reportable profit and therefore their taxes in places like Australia. The company's local revenue was down slightly from AUS$6.1 billion a year earlier, when it paid just AUS$36.4 million in tax. It is one of the companies expected to be hauled in front of a Senate inquiry into corporate tax avoidance, with hearings due to start as soon as March. It follows efforts by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to clamp down on profit shifting, as governments around the world become increasingly desperate to shore up revenue. This week Apple's fiscal first-quarter profit hit a record $US18 billion, on sales of $US74.6 billion. SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

€1.1 trillion Eurozone quantitative easing helps the rich only, warns Soros
Speaking at a dinner at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the 84-year-old billionaire investor George Soros, who was born in Hungary, voiced concerns that an "excessive reliance on monetary policy tends to enrich the owners of property and at the same time will not relieve the downward pressure on wages." But he emphasised that he expected the European Central Bank (ECB) policy to drive economic growth in the European Union. He also said there was another powerful way of boosting the Eurozone economy. "There is one large untapped source of triple-A credit, and that is the European Union itself - that has practically no debt, but it has taxing power," he said, urging the EU to spend more on financing infrastructure projects, such as energy pipelines, electricity networks and even roads. BBC NEWS

Monday, 26 January 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015 Posted by Hari 1 comment Labels: , , , , ,
We're told we'd need to find an extra £5bn every year to be able to afford an NHS that maintains standards, free at the point of delivery.

We're told it's only possible if we allow the private sector to take on more of our healthcare delivery.

We're told that other countries, including the progressive lefty ones, use a mix of public and private to be able to afford modern healthcare.

But a look at the data from other countries shows...
  • Our system is the most efficient and cost effective.
  • We’re spending less than almost everyone else – i.e. not enough.
  • If we spent more, it should be on the system that is the most efficient and cost effective. Ours.

First, here’s the graph from a report by NHS England, showing how funding is falling behind spending requirements.



Now take a look at the costs, per head, of all the OECD countries. You’ll see that every nation has a mix of public and private provision, to varying degrees. What it shows is that the UK spends less than almost any nation comparable to ours.

  
What else does it tell us? If we had almost any of the other comparable nations’ public-private mix, we’d be spending more than that £5bn extra already. 
  • Any other system we choose that costs approximately $125/head (=£83/head) more than ours, will end up costing us more than that £5bn the NHS needs.
  • 60m people in the UK
  • 60m X £83 = £5bn

Let’s now dig a little deeper into the performance of each country: quality, accessibility, efficiency, and results. The Commonwealth Fund, a healthcare think tank based in the US, ranks a range of comparable countries, by different criteria. The UK came top in most, and overall.

You’ll note that the UK comes almost bottom in one, very important criteria: Healthy Lives.

Compared to these other nations, our overall mortality rates, infant mortality, and life expectancy figures are indeed among the worst. But isn’t that because we’re spending less than the others, rather than because we don’t have enough private provision?

There is no doubt one big advocate for spending that extra £83 per head: the private healthcare companies and their friends in government, on condition none of it is spent on the NHS.

Looking forward, our healthcare system will need to find extra billions not just for one year, but for every year due to ageing populations and more expensive yet better treatments. But so will every other nation, whatever their mix of public-private delivery.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015 Posted by Jake No comments Labels: , , , , ,
Some newspapers claim to be able to swing their readers like bats beating carpets. Figures from Ipsos-Mori, the polling organisation, show a clear difference in the swing magnitude between the various papers' readerships.
While the Sun and the Daily Star have the greatest swings, they also have the lowest voter turnouts. 
The graphs below show Sun readers appear to have shifted from Labour to Tory. The Daily Star's swing seems to be less due to readers shifting from Labour to Tory than to readers shifting from Labour to any party other than Tory.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , ,
Fee and KJ pitch Chris with a brilliant idea it seems no one's thought about...

SOURCE GUARDIAN: NHS will need an extra £65bn by 2030, say analysts
The Health Foundation analysis identifies the sum as the extra amount of Treasury funding the NHS will need by then because it is unlikely to meet unrealistically optimistic productivity targets. It says the NHS will need its budget to rise by 2.9% a year above inflation each year between 2015-16 and 2030-31 if it is to maintain the standard of services and avoid having to ration access to treatment. That 2.9% is higher than the expected 2.3% annual rise over that period in gross domestic product, which means the government will have to boost NHS spending faster than the economy is growing. The £65bn will also be needed because the health service is likely to make only 1.5% annual gains in productivity and not the 2% and 3% envisaged in the Five Year Forward View, NHS England’s recent blueprint for securing the service’s uncertain future. The Health Foundation wants whoever forms the next government to make reaching “a public and political consensus” on the NHS’s long-term funding needs a priority, and also to give it further additional money from April as a “transformation fund”, so new ways of delivering healthcare can be created.


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Thursday, 22 January 2015

Thursday, January 22, 2015 Posted by Jake No comments Labels:
Firms benefiting from lower oil price should raise wages, says Cameron 
A glut in global oil supplies has caused Brent crude prices to more than halve in little more than six months. Britain's political parties are competing to try to show they can best help voters benefit from the fall, as a national election looms in May. "I want to see companies' success passed through in terms of wage increases," he was quoted as saying by the BBC on Saturday. "It has to be done in a way that's affordable, and in a way that companies can continue to grow. We need to see productivity increase." Cheaper oil has handed Cameron and his ruling Conservative Party a political gift ahead of the election by helping to lower prices for everything from petrol to food and thereby blunting rival Labour's attack over a "cost of living crisis". Sliding oil prices have driven down inflation, so that wages are finally rising faster than prices in the UK, but the main opposition Labour Party argues that, in real terms, workers are worse off now than they were five years ago. REUTERS

Jobcentre ‘hit squads’ are tricking claimants into failing tests and losing benefits, says former official
The written statement, by a former jobcentre official, John Longden, says frontline staff were ordered to “agitate and inconvenience” customers so they fell foul of the rules, enabling staff to stop their benefits payments. Longden claims that staff used several tricks to set up claimants. On several occasions jobcentre advisers purposefully booked job appointments without informing the claimant, ensuring they could be sanctioned when they failed to attend. Claimants would be set unreasonable job search targets, referred for jobs for which they were clearly unsuited, or ordered to sign on every day in the hope they would fail in a task, miss an appointment or be late. He added: “Customers were being deliberately treated inappropriately in order to achieve [staff] performance [targets] without regard for natural justice and their welfare.” Staff who failed to meet sanctions targets each month were threatened with disciplinary action. Longden claimed: “Staff were threatened by the cluster manager that their jobs would be taken by other people if they didn’t do what they were told.” Longden’s evidence covers events he says he witnessed at Salford and Rochdale jobcentres between 2011 and 2013. The PCS union, which represents jobcentre staff, said the evidence chimed with its own straw poll of members, which found almost two-thirds had experienced pressure to refer claimants for a sanction inappropriately, while more than a third had been placed on a formal performance improvement plan for not making enough referrals. A sanction involves the stopping of claimants’ benefit payments for at least four weeks – equivalent to almost £300 – as a penalty for breach of benefit rules and conditions, typically failure to look for work or attend jobcentre appointments. Ministers introduced tighter rules for claiming benefits in October 2012, saying sanctions were a “last resort” that would encourage claimants to “engage” with jobcentres. However, this evidence, being collected by the Commons work and pensions select committee, which is investigating benefit sanctions policy, seems to show that jobcentres are increasingly neglecting to help claimants find jobs and are instead focusing on finding ways to impose financial penalties on them. GUARDIAN

Amazon tax dodge clawback? European Commission investigates online retailer's special tax deal with Luxembourg
Brussels alleges that Amazon’s European hub was founded on favourable and selective tax treatment that amounts to an illicit state subsidy, which may need to be clawed back. The cap on income taxable in Luxembourg is less than 1 per cent — approximately €75m in 2013 on Amazon operating company turnover of around €13.6bn. The investigation has political significance because Amazon’s tax deal was negotiated in 2003 while Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission president, was serving as Luxembourg’s premier. It follows thousands of pages of leaks that have piled pressure on Mr Juncker by showing how other multinationals operating in the Grand Duchy pay negligible tax. Other deals under investigation include Ireland’s arrangements with Apple and Luxembourg’s clearance of structures used by Fiat, and Holland’s approval of Starbucks’ tax base. The commission is empowered to order countries to recoup any illegal aid stretching back up to 10 years. It is aiming to conclude some of its investigations in the Spring. FINANCIAL TIMES

Fine supermarkets if they have unfairly squeezed milk suppliers, say MPs
The environment and rural affairs select committee said ministers must bring forward measures before the general election to give more powers to Christine Tacon, the groceries code adjudicator, a position that was created after years of investigations into the big supermarkets using their muscle to squeeze farming suppliers. The MPs want the watchdog to be able to punish the big retailers if they are found to have misused their market muscle to overly depress prices to dairy farmers. This could be done quickly using parliamentary procedures and would not require new legislation. Large numbers of smaller dairy farmers in particular are unable to meet the costs of milk production after prices plummeted from nearly 34p a litre a year ago to as low as 20p a litre. Dairy farmers have been hurt by increasing volatility on the international markets for milk products, including fresh and frozen milk, cheese, dried milk, cultured milk and other products. This has been driven bumper production in key areas, such as New Zealand, flooding the market while prices have also taken a hit from the Russian trade ban and faltering demand in China as the rate of economic growth there has stuttered. GUARDIAN

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Sunday, January 18, 2015 Posted by Jake 1 comment Labels: , , , , , ,

In a bakery not far away there was a baker, who treated his customers extremely unequally. To some he gave plain buns, others spiced buns with candied fruit, and to others iced buns. He said the bankers worked harder than the nurses, and so deserved the icing. And the accountants were cleverer than the teachers but didn't work as hard as the bankers, so they deserved the candied fruit buns. Iced buns are much better than plain buns, inequality was very great.

One day the icing machine crashed, due to a leak in the water pipes leading it to flood. With no icing there were no iced buns. The bankers could only get the spiced variety. Now spiced buns are better than plain buns, but less so than iced buns. Inadvertently, inequality was reduced! At least until the icing machine got bailed out.

The Tories are claiming that inequality has reduced since 2010. They are correct. Since the banker induced crash that started in 2007/08 the incomes of the top 20%, as shown by this graph from the ONS, fell more sharply than everyone else. 

As the rewards of the boom years weren't shared with those on low income, like the icing on the buns, they didn't see so much downside on income when the economic machine broke. Thus the Tories can say 'inequality' has fallen.


The standard measure of inequality is the GINI Coefficient, which looks at income but not at wealth. So the Tories are correct: income inequality, GINI, did fall marginally in the years immediately after 2010.


On the other hand, since the banking crash and the policy of QE (Quantitive Easing) asset prices have grown strongly. The BBC provide a 1 minute explanation of what QE is:

 

Those left wing firebrands at the Financial Times provide another useful primer on the effect of QE:


The speaker, Professor John Kay of the London School of Economics, states among other things that the policy of Quantitative Easing is like:

  • “pouring water into a leaking pipe in the hope that some might dribble through"
  • “those who have assets [including home owners & shareholders] benefit in relation to those who don't"


According to a report by Credit Suisse, in 2013-14 household wealth has done extremely well, with a close to 20% increase:


A 20% increase in assets helps those with most assets the most, and those with no assets not at all. In relation to its £325 billion of QE, the Bank of England's report states:

"the total increase in household wealth stemming from the Bank’s £325 billion of asset purchases up to May 2012 of just over £600 billion... In practice, the benefits from these wealth effects will accrue to those households holding most financial assets."

The Office for National Statistics "Total Wealth In Great Britain, 2010-2012" report shows how all wealth (Financial; Property; Physical; Pension) is distributed. You will notice that the bottom 50% have virtually no Financial Assets:



A report by Ed Conway of SkyNews, estimates how much each decile (the '10th' in the graph below is the wealthiest 10% etc) benefited from QE by 2012:Source: Sky/Bank of England/Office for National Statistics

A billionaire hedge-fund manager in the USA, Stanley Druckenmiller, commented about the US policy of Quantitive Easing:

"This is the biggest redistribution of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the rich ever."

So, in answer to the question "has inequality reduced since the Conservative-LibDem government of 2010", the answer is:

Income: Yes, a little bit.  
Wealth: Hell no!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Lloyds braced for rage over boss' windfall: Horta-Osorio's £7m pay 'sticks in the throat'
The Portuguese chief executive is set to receive the shares bonanza in the coming weeks, placing the state-backed lender under intense scrutiny ahead of the General Election. Last night campaigners said the huge award would ‘stick in the throat’ for ordinary taxpayers while Labour reiterated its pledge to reintroduce its tax on bankers’ bonuses if it wins power in May. Lord Thurso, Liberal Democrat member of the Treasury Select Committee, perhaps spoke for many when he questioned why bankers’ pay is still so out of kilter with the rest of society. He said: ‘I fail to see why any banker is worth more than the Prime Minister, a top brain surgeon, or the chief of the defence staff running operations in Afghanistan or Iraq... Bankers are paid huge amounts to use other people’s money to make money for themselves.’ Horta-Osorio’s huge pay-out – which is almost 50 times David Cameron’s £142,500 annual salary – stems from a performance-related long term bonus awarded three years ago. Andy Silvester, campaign director at The Taxpayers’ Alliance urged the Government to take a ‘more active role’ in curbing pay at the lender. He said: ‘It will stick in the throat that the boss of a bank which has had many of its fines paid by taxpayers is walking off with a sizeable bonus.’ Mark Garnier, a Conservative member of the Treasury Select Committee, said the award for Horta-Osorio is ‘hard to justify’ despite putting Lloyds on a ‘more stable footing’. He added: ‘I am an enthusiast for free markets but even I am finding it hard to justify these enormous bonuses for people who take no risk with their own money but have everything to gain.’ DAILY MAIL

UK firms use scams to avoid paying minimum wage
Some firms have developed scams to avoid paying the national minimum wage, including charging for uniforms, clocking off cafe workers when there are no customers, and mis-using interns, according to a new report by the TUC. They found that apprentices were most likely to be underpaid, with suggestions that 120,000 were not receiving the proper rate. Other groups at risk of not being paid the proper rate include migrants, domestic workers, interns and temporary agency staff, said the report. Despite improvements to enforcing the statutory rate, new ways of cheating have emerged, said the union organisation. The research found a minority of employers were under-recording workers’ hours, not paying for travel between work sites, or “vanishing” to avoid paying fines, only to reappear under a different name. The adult minimum wage increased from £6.31 an hour to £6.50 last October and a new rate will come into force this October. But ministers are expected to decide before the general election what the new statutory minimum will be. Labour has already pledged to raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour over the course of the next parliament if it wins power in May, while Chancellor George Osborne has suggested it could increase to £7 this year as the economy improves. Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: “There are bucketloads of evidence that an uplift of at least 50p per hour would help the low-paid and start to stimulate the economy and that all the big firms, including the retailers, can afford it... There is no justification for the national minimum wage not keeping up with inflation. The Low Pay Commission should recommend a rate of at least £7 per hour from October 2014 to make up the ground lost since 2006.” GUARDIAN

Fall in life expectancy: are cuts and pressure on NHS to blame for earlier deaths?
Public Health England said it was scrutinising life expectancy trends following an alert from a council in the North-west of England warning it was “likely” that in many parts of the region “older people (over 85) are no longer living longer”. An email from Blackburn with Darwen Council’s director of public health, Dominic Harrison, sent to regional colleagues and to Public Health England, said the council had seen a “sustained reduction” in life expectancy at 85 in its area. Possible explanations for the decline include government cuts to councils’ social care budgets, a lack of capacity in the GP sector or pressure on hospitals, it adds. According to the Office for National Statistics, life expectancy at 85, which is calculated by analysing mortality rates over a three-year period, has fallen among women from 6.81 years in 2009-11 to 6.78 years in 2011-13 – a trend which reflects more dramatic declines in some areas. The number of people in the UK who receive state-funded care in the home or in their community has fallen from around 1.8 million in 2008-09 to 1.3 million in 2012-13, with further reductions of an estimated 5.8 per cent last year, according to figures and a recent survey from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. This follows government cuts to council budgets, which led to reductions of £3.5bn in their adult social care spending over the past four years. INDEPENDENT

Ofsted admit league-table school inspections are not reliable
The comment comes from Sean Harford, the watchdog's national director for schools, responding to a critical blog from a head teacher. Some inspectors use data as a "safety net" instead of making a professional judgement, Mr Harford wrote. Head teacher Tom Sherrington, of Highbury Grove School in north London,  had complained of "enormous flaws and absence of proper validity trials" in the current inspection system. In his response, Mr Harford admitted Ofsted does not currently ensure "directly that different inspectors in the school on the same day would give the same judgement". He also agreed "some inspectors and some schools focus too much on a narrow range of data". He said Ofsted trained its inspectors to use data as a "signpost", rather than making it a "pre-determined destination". "But the weakest ones have been guilty of using the published data as a safety net for not making fully-rounded, professional judgements." School leaders have described Mr Harford's comments as a definite shift in tone. Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, welcomed Mr Harford's comments but said he was a sceptical of Ofsted's ability to ensure reliability. He said under the current system, some inspectors had made up their minds before arriving at the school, based on league-table data. "That is a big waste of money and an insult to teachers." BBC NEWS

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , , , , ,

SOURCE GUARDIAN: More than a million working households in England are in fuel poverty 
A study by the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange looking at the 2.3m households in England in fuel poverty found that half of them, around 1.1m households, had someone in work. Fuel poverty has been made worse by rising energy bills and, despite improvements, the housing stock is still highly inefficient, it said. Households in the least energy-efficient properties would have to spend an extra £1,700 a year to heat their homes to a comfortable level. The thinktank said energy efficiency should be viewed as a national infrastructure priority, tapping into the government’s £100bn infrastructure budget over the next five years. Richard Howard, the report’s author, said: “Most people assume that it’s the elderly who are most at risk of not being able to heat their homes. But the facts paint a startling picture. There are over one million working households struggling to afford their energy bills and living in underheated homes... Fuel poverty can severely affect people’s health and also puts a strain on the NHS. It is absolutely critical that the government prioritises support to those households most at risk.”

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Saturday, January 10, 2015 Posted by Jake 1 comment Labels: , , , , , , , ,
The main political parties try desperately to seduce supporters away from UKIP and the SNP. Famous politicians cover up their extensive blemishes, prepare their little speeches, and go out to campaign with all the insincerity of teenage Lotharios collecting kisses. They chase the national flags relentlessly. But they leave undisturbed a far larger untapped reservoir of votes: all the people who don’t vote at all. Why is that?

In the 2010 UK General Election there were seven parties that took more than 250,000 votes. 


These seven were dwarfed by the number who didn't vote at all. The most successful party in 2010, the Conservatives, took just under 11 million votes. About twice this number, 22 million, didn’t vote, comprised of:

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Thursday, January 08, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
New consumer debt reaches seven-year high in UK 
Britons ran up their highest level of new debt in November for nearly seven years, with the month’s borrowing on credit cards, loans and overdrafts hitting more than £1.25bn. More than £980m was taken out in loans and overdrafts during the month, sharply up from the monthly average of £728m over the previous six months. Credit card lending fell to £269m, from £399m in October, but remained above the average for the previous six months. The Bank of England said over the course of three months unsecured lending had grown at its most rapid pace since October 2005, and in November was up 6.9% compared with November 2013. The figures show that at £168bn – more than £5,800 per household – the total outstanding unsecured debt remains some way below the peak reached in September 2008 when UK consumers collectively owed £208bn alongside their mortgages. However, there has been a marked change in behaviour as the economy has recovered: in nearly every month for the four years to September 2012 consumers paid off more than they borrowed, with banks reining in credit limits and restricting loans and overdrafts, but since then the trend has reversed with almost every month seeing increased borrowing. Banks and credit card companies have been jostling for business with offers to attract new customers: loan rates have plummeted while balance transfer deals on credit cards have become increasingly generous. The chief executive of the debt charity StepChange, Mike O’Connor, said the figures “point to a worrying rise in people’s reliance on credit”. He added: “The economy is growing and there is some wage growth but it is very marginal and millions are living on a financial precipice leaving them vulnerable to financial shocks and strains.” GUARDIAN

Fat Cat Tuesday: FTSE 100 bosses will make more by January 6th than most will earn in the whole of 2015
It has been dubbed 'Fat Cat Tuesday' by campaign group the High Pay Centre, which says the huge discrepancy 'highlights the problem of unfair pay in the UK'. The group calculated that the average FTSE 100 chief executive is paid the equivalent of nearly £1,200 an hour based on the average package for blue-chip bosses of £4.72million in 2013. The huge hourly rate even assumes that FTSE bosses work three out of four weekends, work 12 hour days and take less than ten days holiday a year. This compares with the average salary of £27,000 in the UK in 2013, which rose to £27,200 last year. Over the same period the average pay for a FTSE 100 company chief executive rose almost £500,000 to £4.72million, according to shareholder advisory service Manifest. Deborah Hargreaves, director of the High Pay Centre, said: 'For top bosses to rake in more in two days than their staff earn is a year is clearly unfair.' DAILY MAIL

Osborne: 'Let families benefit' from low oil prices
The price of a barrel of oil dropped to below $50, the first time since May 2009. Chancellor George Osborne raised the issue at Cabinet, and the Treasury said it was examining whether any action was needed. All four big UK supermarkets have announced further fuel price cuts, bringing petrol ever closer to £1 a litre. Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Asda have reduced prices by 2p a litre on both petrol and diesel. Mr Osborne tweeted that the price of oil was at its lowest in five years and added: "Vital this is passed on to families at petrol pumps, through utility bills and air fares." Last year, Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander wrote to all the main fuel suppliers and distributors, calling on them to pass on the benefit of falling prices as soon as possible. Mr Alexander told ITV News that falling oil prices are a "benefit to most of the UK economy" provided that the savings are passed on "at the pumps, in the cost of holidays and in the cost of heating homes". He also said more support was needed for the North Sea oil and gas sector which, as the biggest industrial investor in the UK, is "adversely affected" by falling prices. "So, that is why we are also putting in place a more beneficial tax environment," he added. BBC NEWS

Banks will be paying out on PPI 'for years to come' as 4,000 complaints pour into ombudsman every WEEK
The Financial Ombudsman Service said it still receives more than 4,000 PPI complaints every week, bringing the total number of cases received over the last few years to roughly 1.25million. In 2012, at the height of the PPI mis-selling scandal, the FOS was seeing 12,000 new cases reaching their desks each week. In recent months, around 55 per cent of PPI-related complaints have been upheld in consumers' favour, the FOS added. In recent years, the FOS has taken on over 2,000 new staff to deal with increasing numbers of disputes between financial companies and their customers. Over 87 per cent of the work currently undertaken by the FOS relates to PPI cases. Last year, the Financial Conduct Authority announced that the banking industry had paid out approximately £16billion in three years of the £22billion they had set aside to deal with the consumer scandal. DAILY MAIL

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