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Thursday, 20 November 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014 Posted by Jake No comments Labels:
Posted by Jake on Thursday, November 20, 2014 with No comments | Labels:

Tuition fees: Three quarters of students won’t be able to pay off their debt
Student debt is now so high compared to average salaries that many graduates in respectable public sector professions will be unable to repay their fees even by the end of the 30-year repayment period, the Higher Education Commission warns. This funding "black hole" is forcing the Government to indirectly subsidise higher education writing off billions of pounds in student debt - even though the point of £9,000 a year fees was to make universities less reliant on the taxpayer. The commission, an independent body set up to monitor higher education, concludes that the current university fees system offers the “"worst of both worlds" to students, universities and the Government - and warns that some institutions are now at risk of "failure". According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the average student debt will be £44, 015 - higher even than the US. "The Commission fundamentally questions any system that charges higher education at a rate where the average graduate will not be able to pay it back... We are deeply concerned that the Government may have created a loan repayment system where, for example, a teacher is unable to secure a mortgage at age 35 because of the high level of monthly loan repayment." INDEPENDENT

Government dismisses study linking use of food banks to benefit cuts
The study was commissioned by the Church Of England, the Trussell Trust food bank network, Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group. The study found that cuts and changes to Britain’s increasingly threadbare social security system are the most common triggers of the acute personal financial crises that drive people to use food banks. At least half of all food bank users are referred because they are waiting for benefits to be paid, because they have had benefits stopped for alleged breaches of jobcentre rules or because they have been hit by the bedroom tax or the removal of working tax credits, it finds. The study, the most extensive research of its kind yet carried out in the UK, directly challenges the government’s repeated insistence that there is no link between its welfare reforms and the huge increases in charity food aid. There are no official statistics on the use of food banks, but the Trussell Trust, which runs more than 400 food banks in the UK, says 913,138 people were given food parcels by its volunteers in 2013-14 – almost a threefold increase on the previous year, and likely to be a fraction of the total numbers of people experiencing food insecurity. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed the report, claiming the research was inconclusive. But the report was welcomed by Jeremy Lefroy, the Conservative MP for Stafford, who hosted its launch at the House of Commons on Wednesday. He said it was an important study that chimed with his experience as an MP in his surgery. GUARDIAN

US fast-food workers visit UK to show us how to protest against poverty wages
The US fast-food workers who protested in New York and 100 other US cities over the “poverty wages” paid by multinational burger chains are preparing their British counterparts to launch a similar direct action campaign in the UK. Two months after the wave of US strikes and demonstrations that saw hundreds of arrests, Flavia Cabral, a McDonald’s worker from New York City who earns $8 (£5.10) an hour, said she had come to the UK to “teach workers here how to rise up and fight”. Cabral is part of a band of US fast-food workers travelling to the UK, France, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Denmark and the Philippines as part of plans to form a global alliance of fast-food workers and organise a day of coordinated international protest in April to demand that workers get paid a living wage. “To take on global companies, the protest needs to be global. We need to take to the streets, unite together and stand up. If you ask for a raise, the management are going to say we haven’t got any money,” Cabral said at the rally. “We have to unite. We have to make it global, then it is not just you asking [for a pay rise], it is everyone around the world – and they will have to listen.” The protest plans come as McDonald’s marks 40 years since opening its first UK store in Powis Street, Woolwich, on 13 November 1974. There are now 1,249 McDonald’s outlets in the UK. The company recently announced it would hire an extra 8,000 people, mostly on zero-hours contracts – taking the UK workforce to more than 100,000 for the first time. The firm admitted last year that 90% of workers are on zero-hours contracts. McDonald’s pays under-18s a minimum starting rate of £4.35 an hour, rising to £5.15 for those aged 18-20 and £6.51 an hour for those aged 21 and over. The UK’s hourly national minimum wage rates are respectively £3.79, £5.13 and £6.50. GUARDIAN

Premier League TV rights to be probed by Ofcom
Under the current deal competition between BSkyB and BT Sport, a new entrant, pushed the overall value of its TV deals at home and overseas to a record £5.5bn over three years. It was £191m in 1992. Ofcom’s probe follows a complaint from Virgin Media, which said more matches should be available for live broadcast. Ofcom said: "Virgin Media argues that the proportion of matches made available for live television broadcast under the current Premier League rights deals - at 41% - is lower than some other leading European leagues, where more matches are available for live television broadcast." Virgin argues that by effectively limiting the supply of matches the Premier League has inflated the price that broadcasters have to pay and that cost is then passed on to consumers. Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media's chief executive, said: "The fact remains that fans in the UK pay the highest prices in Europe to watch the least amount of football on TV.” BBC NEWS GUARDIAN

Private firms on course to net £9bn of NHS contracts
Analysis by the NHS Support Federation, an independent campaign group, reveals that profit-driven companies such as Bupa, Virgin Care and Care UK have so far won a total of 131 contracts worth a combined £2.6bn to provide NHS services since the Health and Social Care Act came into force in April 2013. They have won two out of three of the 195 contracts awarded by NHS bodies in England in the 19 months since that legislation dramatically extended the enforced tendering of services in the NHS. Those 131 contracts represent about half the value of the 195 deals that have been agreed. Researchers say that if the private sector continues its 50% win rate by value, it will earn a potential £6.6bn more of the £13bn of other contracts which have been advertised but not yet awarded. That would result in private firms earning £9.2bn as a direct result of the changes ushered in by then health secretary Andrew Lansley’s restructuring of the NHS, which a cabinet minister recently described as the coalition’s biggest mistake. The £18.3bn of services tendered include more than £1bn worth of contracts for elective surgery, diagnostics (£1.2bn), community care services (£1.9bn), musculo-skeletal care (£785m), ambulance and patient transport services (£583m) and pharmacy (£558m). Dr Mark Porter, chair of council at the British Medical Association, said the deepening privatisation exposed by the figures proved that ministers had not told the truth when they denied that Lansley’s shakeup would produce more of it in the NHS. The new figures underlining the rapidly increasing scale of NHS privatisation come just after it emerged that G4S and the arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin have shown an interest in bidding for a £1bn, 10-year NHS England contract to provide support services to local GP-led clinical commissioning groups. GUARDIAN

RBS faces new row over share bonanza for ex-chief Hester
The Mail on Sunday reveals today that Stephen Hester was handed £1 million in RBS shares in March this year as part of a long-term incentive plan, but RBS will also consider offering him almost £2 million worth of shares early in the new year. Hester was entitled to the three potential pay-outs under a long-term incentive plan agreed when he left in June of last year. The second will have to be decided early in 2015 and could be worth a further £1.9 million. A third payment could also come in 2016 worth another £800,000 at today’s share price. The bank is set to reduce its investment bank’s bonus pool as a result of the foreign exchange rigging, and it will release an accountability review later this year detailing what action it is taking on traders responsible. But politicians are likely to demand the clawbacks go all the way to the top. A report on the rigging scandal, compiled by City watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority, slammed RBS’s management for its failure to police its traders and stop them from manipulating foreign exchange rates. The regulator’s settlement with the bank – which is 79 per cent owned by the Government – covered failings from 2008 until October 2013. Hester joined in November 2008 and left in June 2013. DAILY MAIL

Private rental costs set to nearly double by 2040 while wages rise just 40% sending millions into poverty
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said private rents could rise 89 per cent by 2040, but expected household income to rise by just 40 per cent. This could mean poverty rates among private renters in England rising from 43 per cent in 2008 to 53 per cent by 2040, according to the study. Focusing on the relationship between poverty and housing, the JRF said the UK’s housing system was changing, as private renting grew and social rents, at least in some parts of England, rose towards market levels. The report reads: ‘The ability of housing benefit to protect tenants from higher rents has already been reduced in response to rising cost pressures and this seems set to continue.” Real household income could rise on average to £45,500 a year by 2040 from 32,300 in 2008, according to the JRF. But the average price for renting a two-bedroom property could rise from £132 to £250 a week during the same period. DAILY MAIL

HSBC's private banking arm accused of tax fraud by Belgium
Belgian prosecutors allege that hundreds of clients - including diamond dealers in Antwerp - moved money to offshore tax havens with the help of the bank. They said it resulted in hundreds of millions of euros in lost tax revenue. In August, HSBC warned that the penalties in relation to such allegations "could be significant". In a statement, Belgian authorities accused HSBC of "having knowingly eased and promoted fiscal fraud by making offshore companies available to certain privileged clients". These companies, which are based in Panama and the Virgin Islands, exist for the sole purpose of tax evasion, they added. Over 1,000 taxpayers are alleged to have been involved in the fraud, which saw funds amounting to several billion dollars transferred out of Belgium since 2003. In October, Belgian police raided the homes of approximately 20 people with private bank accounts at HSBC's Swiss subsidiary, to gather evidence against the lender. Banks operating in Switzerland are bound by the European Union Savings Directive to counter cross-border tax evasion, by collecting information on the savings income foreign residents receive outside their resident state. BBC NEWS

MPs vote to end stiff rules that force their pub tenants to pay higher prices than non-tenants for their drinks
The amendment would affect the 20,800 of Britain's 48,000 pubs that are subject to beer "ties". Tenants of "tied" pubs pay lower rents than non-tied pubs, but higher prices for their beer and other drinks. Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) research found a pub company may charge £150 for an 11 gallon keg of Fosters, for example, compared with a wholesale price of £84. It welcomes the change. The Federation of Small Businesses said it was "a historic day for tied publicans" and would lead to a more open and competitive marketplace. But the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said the move was "hugely damaging" and spoiled a practice that had done well for 400 years. A spokesman said that the tie model was the most popular model and allowed tenants and owners - pub companies and brewers - to share the risk. The association said that the Government's own research found that 1,400 pubs would close and 7,000 jobs would be lost if the tie model was abandoned. There are a further 7,500 pubs that are managed by pub companies and brewers, and almost 20,000 independents, according to the BBPA. The number of pubs has fallen by almost 13,000 since 2000. BBC NEWS

Christmas suffers from diminishing returns as festive fare gets smaller
Seasonal treats ranging from boxes of chocolates to packets of cheese crackers and bags of salted nuts have all shrunk, according to research carried out for the Observer by the price comparison website mysupermarket.com. Across a basket of 10 seasonal goodies – including Cadbury’s Roses, KP Dry Roasted Peanuts and Asda’s chocolate coins – every single item weighed less than it did this time last year. Even the Advent calendar we compared had lost weight. Yet, of eight items, only two had been reduced in price; one cost the same; and five had actually gone up, despite being smaller. On cost per unit, which is a more accurate measure of value as it shows how much you pay for 100g, all the products cost more this year. Manufacturers don’t want shoppers to notice that they are getting less for their money, so they have become particularly crafty at concealing their shrinking products. While some brands simply reduce the external size of the product and hope no one will notice, many others retain the same packaging but reduce what is inside it – or change the shape of the product. “Manufacturers will do things like give their product a more round and curvey shape to cut off the edges of chocolate bars, for example, or they will use a more concave-shaped bottom for bottles,” said Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, a psychologist at University College London (UCL). “There are a number of regulations and guides regarding retailers’ price practices, but none regulating the content of the product. Reducing product size is a form of invisible price increase.” At the same time many brands are now producing a wider range of different-sized boxes to introduce “size complexity” to further baffle shoppers. GUARDIAN

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