Thursday 26 February 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Legal aid cuts are forcing domestic abuse victims to be cross-examined by their attackers
The justice system’s treatment of victims of domestic violence has become a politically charged issue. The Ministry of Justice says all victims are entitled to legal aid to help them “break free from abusive relationships”. But according to research by Citizens Advice, victims of domestic abuse increasingly face being cross-examined by their attackers because legal aid cuts make it difficult to qualify for courtroom representation. The report says: “In some cases these restrictions expose victims to risk, leaving no alternative but to represent themselves in court facing their perpetrator.” A fifth of Citizens Advice advisers reported that they could no longer help as many domestic abuse clients as before. A similar proportion found that most domestic abuse clients were unable to afford the required contributions when offered legal aid. One major flaw in the system is that many women cannot access money needed to pay for their contribution, because they have fled their home and their assets are part-owned by their abuser. It quotes one victim as saying: “I’ve had to face my violent ex-partner in court twice now, and will have to continue to do so as I simply cannot afford costs.” Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Domestic abuse victims must not be a test case for downsizing justice... The government’s assurance that it will protect access to legal aid for domestic abuse victims is not standing up”. GUARDIAN

Almost 700,000 people in UK have zero-hours contract as main job
The rise - 100,000 on a year ago - is likely to trigger renewed debate over the widespread use of contracts that offer no guarantee of hours and only those benefits guaranteed by law, such as holiday pay. It represents 2.3% of all people in employment. Overall, because workers often have more than one job official figures showed the number of individual employment contracts offering no minimum hours jumped from 1.4m in 2013, to 1.8m last year. The ONS said the 28% increase was not so much the result of a surge in the number of zero-hours jobs last year, but due more to staff realising that they were on these contracts, due to the increased publicity about employment terms. Some of Britain’s largest employers offer zero-hours contracts to employees. High street giants such as JD Wetherspoon, Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Sports Direct and McDonald’s all use the deals. Buckingham Palace has offered the contracts to staff working in the summer when the Queen’s main residence is open to the public. The ONS said over half of businesses in the hotel and catering sectors used the contracts and a quarter of businesses in education made some use of no-guaranteed-hours contracts in August 2014. Universities and colleges have become large-scale users of zero-hours contracts, while an estimated 160,000 care staff are also on similar deals. A report in the Daily Mail earlier this month found that scores of MPs from all major parties were found to be offering zero-hours contracts to researchers and other temporary staff. Based on a series of freedom of information requests, the newspaper also found several Labour-run councils offering zero-hours contracts. Around a third of people on them want more hours, the ONS added, saying people on zero-hours deals are more likely to be women, students in full-time education or working part-time. They are also more likely to be aged under 25, or 65 and over. GUARDIAN

Number of new homes built last year was less than half the figure needed to keep pace with demand
Official figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government showed that 118,760 homes were completed during the year, an increase of 8% on the previous year but far below the 250,000 most experts say are needed to begin to tackle the country’s housing crisis. Quarterly figures showed the number of new houses started was down by 39% on the peak hit in March 2007, while completions were down by 26% on the same period. Experts warned that the failure to build more homes would be “felt for generations to come” and push house prices further out of reach of aspiring homeowners. Even before the credit crunch building was failing to keep up with growing demand, but since then the gap has become bigger. Henry Gregg of the National Housing Federation said: “With building numbers below half what is needed, we’re creating a housing shortage that will be felt for generations to come. Every year the country fails to build enough homes is another year that aspiring homeowners are priced out, young people are trapped in childhood bedrooms and families struggle with high rents.” Campbell Robb, chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said it was shocking how few homes were being built. “What’s even more worrying is that the number of new affordable homes started has fallen dramatically in the last three months,” he said. “Piecemeal schemes like Help-to-buy are only papering over the cracks. With the general election around the corner and housing one of voters’ top concerns, it’s time for politicians to stop just talking about the issue and finally commit to building the affordable homes we so desperately need.” GUARDIAN

People in need at risk of losing tax credits after being wrongly accused of cheating
Thousands of people on low incomes are being sent letters by an American outsourcing company accusing them of cheating on their tax credits and warning them that they may have their benefits stopped. Concentrix, part of a multi-billion pound US business services company, has been accused of going on a vast “fishing expedition” as part of a controversial contract with HM Revenue and Customs to outsource its fraud and error detection. Staff working at Concentrix have told The Independent that they are under pressure to open between 40 and 50 new tax-credit investigations every day and often don’t have time to check whether the allegations they are making stack up. Meanwhile, worried claimants have been taking to internet message forums to ask for advice for dealing with the false allegations being made against them. Many said they believed the letters to be hoaxes as they asked for personal financial information such as bank and mortgage statements to be sent to the company within 30 days. Those who ignore the letters risk having their tax credits halted. Staff at Concentrix’s office in Belfast, where the contract is based, have told The Independent that they haven’t been given enough training to differentiate between genuine claims for tax credits and fraudulent ones. They also say they are being encouraged to hit a target of making 20 decisions a day, or about three an hour, on whether to stop, amend or leave a tax claim unchanged. One worker on Concentrix’s tax-credit contract, who asked not to be named, said that in his own estimate about six in 10 investigations into people suspected of not declaring that they’re living with a partner are opened in error. INDEPENDENT

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 Posted by Hari 1 comment Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

SOURCE DAILY MAIL: MPs' salary of £67,000 is not enough for the standard of living I'm ENTITLED to, says Tory Sir Malcolm Rifkind as he defends his second jobs after 'cash for access' sting
Labour’s Jack Straw and the Tories’ Sir Malcolm Rifkind were secretly filmed discussing how they could use their contacts to benefit a private Chinese company and both boasted about charging at least £5,000-a-day. In the conversation with the undercover reporters Sir Malcolm was filmed discussing that his usual fee was 'somewhere in the region of £5,000 to £8,000' for half a day's work. Straw told undercover reporters he would expect £5,000 per day. MPs earn £67,060-a-year, but Sir Malcolm claimed this was not enough for someone of his professional background. Challenged about why he does not do voluntary work to provide experience of the world outside politics, Sir Malcolm told BBC Two's Daily Politics: 'I have two objectives, I have to have that broader hinterland as you so nicely describe it, but I do also want to have the standard of living that my professional background would normally entitle me to have.' Defending his position, Sir Malcolm said there were 'about 200' MPs who had business interests and insisted many members of the public did not want 'full-time politicians'. He said that 'many ex-ministers, former chancellors, home secretaries, prime ministers, as well as other people, have served on advisory boards' and insisted it was 'entirely proper'. Jack Straw, the Blackburn MP, told how he had used his influence to change EU rules on behalf of a private company he already works for and declares an interest in. He also claimed to have used 'charm and menace' to persuade the Ukrainian prime minister to change laws on behalf of the commodity firm, which pays him £60,000 a year. Mr Straw, 68, said he would not take on the role while he remained an MP, but could be more helpful if he were to become a peer in the House of Lords after the election.

Sunday 22 February 2015

Sunday, February 22, 2015 Posted by Jake No comments Labels: , , , , ,
Some of our readers complain that we at Ripped-off Britons are always being negative. It's not true! We once wrote a piece explaining why we should love estate agents. And we ran another piece urging people not to be beastly to bankers

This time we speak positively of Church of England bishops and their letter for the General Election 2015.

Taking a sideways glance at data can be revealing. A report from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) provides a key insight into us Brits, apart from all the stuff about food standards. It's one of our most endearing and most infuriating characteristics: if we aren't reminded that we are annoyed, we forget to be. 

This is a good thing in general, but not in a general election.

Henry V, according to Shakespeare, knew it. To get his army to defeat the French at the siege of Harfleur in 1415, Henry knew it wasn't enough to simply point out the city walls. Henry had to work his soldiers up into a froth: 

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English."

It takes quite a bit of stirring before we Britons will stiffen the sinews and give someone a hard stare. We need a heavy hint even to complain about our food: The Food Standards Agency's study asked a set of questions twice:
  • First time: Spontaneous, unprompted, "Is there anything you are concerned about?"
  • Second time: Prompted, "What are you concerned about from this list of issues? Food prices; Food waste; Sugar; Salt; etc."
For example, food prices:
  • First time: Asked what food issues in general were of concern, only 14% of responders spontaneously said they were worried about food prices.
  • Second time: Asked specifically whether they were worried about food prices, 50% of responders said they were worried.

As you can see from the above graph, people weren't spontaneously particularly worried about sugar, salt, fat, or animal welfare. But when asked specifically about sugar, salt, fat, or animal welfare between 40% and 50% were indeed worried. Unprompted over half the people questioned had no concerns at all, falling to only 14% completely unconcerned when asked about specific issues.

Specific blasts of irritation tend to blow in our ears at the wrong time when there isn't anything we can do about it. There's no point you flaring your nostrils when the receptionist at your GP says there aren't any appointments left. You know he can't see your nasal gesturing over the phone. Why bother raging at the self-service ticket machine when you discover an off-peak one day London travelcard went up 34%, from £8.90 to £12 in January 2015? I can tell you, the machine didn't care.

By the time you actually can do something at an election, the rage is less than a distant memory. The urge to complain has faded.

The Church of England Bishops hoped to remind us of some issues with their letter, following the well trodden Pauline (and Caroline) path of writing epistles to influence policy (St Paul's were much snappier, as we hope were Prince Charles'). The Bishops' 56 page(!) letter in February 2015 , followed by an 11 page explanation of the 56 pages, raises a medley of things for us to get exercised by one way or the other:
  • Our political culture, parties and democracy
  • The role of the state
  • The role of intermediary institutions
  • The role of the family
  • The economy
  • Poverty & inequality
  • Unemployment
  • Welfare reform
  • Health
  • Immigration
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Constitutional Reform
  • Britain’s global role
  • Europe
  • Defence and war
  • International development
  • Threat from extremism and religiously-inspired conflict

The bishops explain their intentions for this letter:

“This letter from the Church of England’s House of Bishops is addressed to all members of the church... we hope that others, who may not profess church allegiance, will nevertheless join in the conversation and engage with the ideas we are sharing here”

“This letter is intended to help church members and others consider the question: how can we negotiate these dangerous times to build the kind of society which many people say they want but which is not yet being expressed in the vision of any of the parties?”

The Bishop of Leicester stated:
"We do not claim to offer a “God’s eye view” nor to endorse any particular political prospectus, but rather to encourage a renewed political culture in which the lessons for today can be learned.  It is our hope that this letter will serve that purpose."

The bishops say it more gently than we at Ripped-off Britons would. Or Henry V would. 

We dare not compete with Shakespeare. So, back to Henry V, and the General Election:

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for...' write an X next to your preferred candidate 'and St George!'

For the general election put aside your mild manner, put your dog on its lead, cry havoc and go to your polling station!

Thursday 19 February 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Cameron wants young people to work 30 hours a week for benefits in new Tory plan
The proposals would put young adults who have been out of work, education or training for six months (“neets”) into compulsory community work such as making meals for the elderly or joining local charities. Under the scheme, Jobseekers’ Allowance would be abolished for 18 to 21-year-olds and replaced with the already announced “Youth Allowance” of the same amount: £57.35 a week, or £1.91 per hour of work, well below the £5.13 legal minimum wage for that age group. After six months on the Youth Allowance, claimants would be required to undertake an apprenticeship or community work for their benefits. It is understood that the new plans will not apply to young people who have completed independent work experience in the six months before their benefits claim or the small number of university graduates who could be drawn into the scheme. The Community Work Programme policy would apply to the roughly 50,000 new 18 to 21-year-old claimants a year who have been “neet” for six months - around 10 per cent of claims. But a Liberal Democrat spokesperson criticised the Tory proposals as “all stick, no carrot”, saying they were designed to “punish” rather than to help people into work, the BBC reported. Under Labour plans, young people who have been unemployed for a year would be offered a six-month job, paid for by a tax on bankers’ bonuses. The "Compulsory Jobs Guarantee" would also apply to adults aged 25 or over claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for two years or more. Ed Miliband has also warned that young unemployed people who refuse to comply with the scheme could lose benefits under a Labour government. INDEPENDENT

Daily Telegraph's chief political commentator resigns over his paper’s HSBC Swiss tax scam coverage
Peter Oborne, the paper’s chief political commentator, claimed the paper did not give due prominence to the HSBC story because of commercial interests. Newspapers had a "constitutional duty" to tell readers the truth, he said. In a statement, Mr Oborne said he had already resigned from the paper "as a matter of conscience" because a number of its editorial decisions. He said he had intended to "leave quietly" until he saw the paper's coverage of HSBC and its Swiss banking arm. In comparison to the coverage of the story in other national newspapers, "you needed a microscope to find the Telegraph coverage", Mr Oborne said. He said he had been told HSBC was an "extremely valuable" advertiser by what he called a "well-informed insider". Mr Oborne later told Channel 4 News he believed he spoke "for the vast majority of Telegraph staff" in saying he had no confidence in Murdoch McLennan, the paper's chief executive, and the Barclay brothers who own the paper. A Telegraph spokesman said the "distinction between advertising and our award-winning editorial operation has always been fundamental to our business". They added: "We utterly refute any allegation to the contrary”. BBC NEWS

House of Bishops' letter: Call for "humane economy" irks Tories
A pastoral letter to be sent by the House of Bishops to every parish calls for a "fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be." But Tory backbenchers accused the bishops of offering a policy prescription with a "very definite left-wing leaning", while Prime Minister David Cameron urged the Church to recognise the value of work in creating a better society and the dangers of a welfare system that pays people to stay idle. Asked about accusations that the letter resembled a list of SNP or Green Party policies, he told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "I don't believe that, I think it's much more even-handed than that. The only manifesto the Church is signed up to is the teaching of Jesus." The letter said that increasing numbers of people "feel detached" from politics, and warned of "worrying and unfamiliar trends" which have seen "a growing appetite to exploit grievances, find scapegoats and create barriers between people and nations". It argued that there was a "deep contradiction" between Britain's avowed commitment to equality and the way in which the poor and vulnerable are sometimes treated as "unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed". It was "counter-productive" to "denigrate" welfare claimants as people who are "undeserving, dependent and ought to be self-sufficient", the letter said. And it supported the idea of a "humane economy" and the Living Wage, noting the "burgeoning" of in-work poverty. The bishops warned that "an ugly undercurrent of racism" had been introduced into the debate over immigration by language which treats particular ethnic communities as "the problem". The bishops state that the time has come to move beyond "retail politics", adding: "Instead of treating politics as an extension of consumerism, we should focus on the common good, the participation of more people in developing a political vision and constructive ways to talk about communities and how they relate to one another." DAILY MAIL

HSBC: Swiss prosecutors search bank as money-laundering inquiry is launched
Pressure on HSBC has mounted after prosecutors in Switzerland raided the offices of the bank’s Geneva operations following revelations that it helped wealthy customers avoid taxes. The search was being led by the prosecutor-general, Olivier Jornot, and comes after the Belgian and French authorities began to scrutinise the tax affairs of Europe’s biggest bank. The UK is not embarking on a criminal investigation and has faced criticism for prosecuting just one out of the 1,000 individuals whose details were contained in the cache of documents obtained by Hervé Falciani, a former employee of the bank. Those files were the basis of last week’s reports by the Guardian and a collaboration of news outlets around the world about the scale of the tax avoidance operation being run by the bank’s Swiss subsidiary. Swiss prosecutors said the investigation followed those revelations, which showed how HSBC’s Swiss arm allowed clients to withdraw “bricks” of cash and helped clients conceal their accounts from domestic tax authorities. The prosecutors in Switzerland said they were investigating suspected aggravated money laundering and currently focusing on the bank - HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) - although this could be extended to people suspected of committing or participating in money laundering. A petition calling for the UK to investigate the affair is two-thirds of the way to towards its target of attracting 1m signatures. GUARDIAN

Sunday 15 February 2015

Sunday, February 15, 2015 Posted by Jake No comments Labels: , , , , , , ,
Just as you can judge a person by the company he keeps, you can judge an enforcement agency by the villains it confronts.

America's FBI chases the most murderous crooks of their times: Al Capone; Bonnie & Clyde; John Dilinger; the Unabomber.

Comic book heroes pursue the vilest vicious verminous villains violently.

[Image: The Multi Powers]
HMRC, on the other hand, included in its top 8 "Most Wanted" miscreants in February 2015:

  • three VAT fraudsters; 
  • two cigarette smugglers;
  • one individual pocketing stamp duties; 
  • one individual running a tax-credit racket; 
  • and an individual who was smuggling non-EU garlic disguised as ginger!

These were, incredibly, HMRC's eight "Most Wanted"! They were more wanted than anybody else HMRC could think of. The garlic smuggler was "More Wanted" than the HSBC and the Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC) executives who were accused by MPs of running tax dodging scams on an "industrial scale". 

Perhaps HMRC doesn't include the pin-stripe villains in their "Most Wanted" because they know where they are, i.e. they are not 'on the run'. Though perhaps the suits aren't 'on the run' because they know there isn't anybody chasing them?

If it is true that the 'most wanted' only include 'on the runs', then take a look at
HMRC's "Crime Map". This shows geographically where HMRC is getting its convictions, and what jail time is being inflicted. The map should show the captured pin-stripe crooks who are not 'on the run'. 

Lots of blue balloons on the map suggest HMRC has been busy. Zoom in and you will find clusters of convictions around Manchester, Birmingham and London. Click on the balloons (not our image, but the real thing) and you find examples of crimes and prison sentences:
  • £13k duty evasion: 56 days prison
  • £16k duty evasion: 5 months prison
  • £30k duty evasion: 10 months prison
  • £98k VAT fraud: 2 years prison
  • £3.2million duty evasion: 7 years and 1 month prison

According to the BBC Panorama programme, HSBC's Swiss arm took care of US$21.7 billion of assets for clients from the UK, representing hundreds of millions in dodged taxes. I will leave the mathematicians among you to do the extrapolations to determine jail terms proportionate to the sentences given to the VAT and duty dodgers' listed above.

Search for convictions in Britain's "industrial scale" centres of tax dodging services: zoom in on the Crime Map to the two key financial industry hubs in London:

1) The City: there were no blue balloons at all.

2) Canary Wharf: Also a blue-balloon-free-zone.

In Parliament's Public Accounts Committee meeting on 31st January 2013 tax chiefs of the Big Four (the world's four largest accountancy firms Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG and PwC accused of running 'industrial scale' tax dodging services) were asked what they were paid:

Q146 Chair: Are you all on seven-figure sums? Taking salary and bonuses-are they seven-figure sums? Yes.

Bill Dodwell [Head of Tax Policy, Deloitte LLP] : I’m not, no.

Kevin Nicholson [Head of Tax, PwC]: Yes.
Chair: Jane?

Jane McCormick [UK Head of Tax, KPMG]: Six.
Chair: Are you seven or six?

John Dixon [Head of Tax Policy, Ernst and Young]: Seven.

Bill Dodwell: Six.

Bragging rights went to Kevin Nicholson of PwC and John Dixon of Ernst&Young. Mr.Dodwell and Miss McCormick took as consolation prize the ammunition to get a pay-rise at their next appraisals. All for helping people dodge tax. Doubtless the bosses in charge of HSBC Suisse were no less remunerated.

History has showed for millenia that if you offer enough, people are prepared to do anything. Napolean did it with ribbons and medals. Our financiers prefer hard cash. 

Is that the reason certain salaries in the City are so high? They are not paid for their talent, but for their consciences? Top bankers and accountants aren't prepared to sell their souls at any price: only for a high price.

Friday 13 February 2015

Friday, February 13, 2015 Posted by Hari 1 comment Labels: , , , ,
KJ needs it all explained to him by Fee...

SOURCE DAILY MAIL: HSBC arm 'helped clients evade taxes' as thousands of clients including celebrities and sports stars hold secret Swiss accountsThe Swiss arm of HSBC, Britain's biggest bank helped wealthy clients such as sports stars, celebrities and politicians evade huge amounts of tax, according to an investigation by journalists. The Guardian newspaper and the BBC's Panorama programme analysed details of 30,000 thousand accounts holding nearly £78billion worth of assets and say they found evidence of secret Swiss accounts being used to help clients deliberately conceal assets from tax authorities. Holding a secret bank account is not itself illegal, using such accounts to deliberately conceal assets in order to evade tax is against the law. The leaked documents have already prompted a series of criminal probes in several counties. In the UK, HM Revenue & Customs, which received the data in 2010, has clawed back £135million from over 3,600 Britons. But it has faced complaints from MPs over the pace of progress and the fact that only one evader has been prosecuted.

Thursday 12 February 2015

Thursday, February 12, 2015 Posted by Hari 2 comments Labels:
Supermarket watchdog investigates Tesco’s dodgy fees that cripple its suppliers
Christine Tacon, the groceries code adjudicator, said she had a reasonable suspicion that Tesco had breached the code. Likely violations, involving many suppliers and large sums of money, include:
  • penalties imposed when Tesco claimed items were missing from deliveries
  • charging more than an item cost when a customer returned it to Tesco
  • delays in refunding suppliers when Tesco incorrectly issued duplicate invoices
  • charges for in-store promotions that were either incorrect or not agreed.

Urging suppliers to come forward if they had evidence of breaches by supermarkets, Tacon said she could widen her inquiry if she had reasonable grounds for suspicion that others had also breached the code. The adjudicator, who can force companies to give evidence, said she would protect the anonymity of anyone providing information. Tesco is now facing three formal inquiries, all prompted by the company’s revelation last September that it had overstated expected profit by £250m. The financial hole, since revised to £263m, was caused by incorrect accounting for charges on suppliers stretching back at least two years. It is now being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Reporting Council. GUARDIAN

160,000 care workers 'miss out on minimum wage', costing them over £800/year
More than a tenth of UK care workers are being paid less than the national minimum wage of £6.50 an hour, a study suggests. The Resolution Foundation think tank says its research indicates that about 160,000 people are losing out on an average of £815 each a year. It said some firms wrongly did not pay staff when they travelled between clients, on training or when "on call". Ministers said they were taking action against employers who broke the law. The national minimum wage is paid to adults aged 21 and over and there are lower rates for younger workers and apprentices. The minimum wage regulations say working time includes travelling in connection with work, and training or travelling to training during normal working hours. The Resolution Foundation said the total amount that care staff were missing out on was estimated to be about £130m a year, but it could be higher. This is because the study did not take account of illegal deductions to pay which it said was "the most common reason for non-compliance" with the minimum wage regulations. The care industry sector, which employs about 1.4 million people in the UK, has long been associated with low pay, while funding cuts and an ageing population is creating an additional strain on wages, it added. BBC NEWS

Taxpayer hands £26.7bn to private landlords through housing benefit, tax breaks, says campaign group
Private landlords are benefiting from subsidies worth the equivalent of £1,000 for every household in the UK, the campaign group Generation Rent has claimed, with tax breaks and housing benefit bolstering their gains from house price increases. The £26.7bn pocketed by private landlords is made up of £9.3bn of housing benefit paid on behalf of low-income tenants, £1.69bn through the “wear-and-tear” tax relief landlords can claim on their properties, £6.63bn of tax that landlords do not have to pay on mortgage interest payments and £9.06bn of tax landlords do not pay on their annual average capital gains. The buy-to-let industry has boomed in recent years as the rising rents and house prices have made property an increasingly attractive investment for those with enough money to raise a deposit. HM Revenue & Customs showed the total number of buy-to-let investors in the UK had increased by 120,000 in 2014, to 1.6 million. New pension freedoms set to come into force in April are expected to lead to even more landlords entering the market. The campaign is calling for an additional landlord levy of 22% on rental income, which it said would recoup the £9.3bn housing benefit bill and should be used to fund 90,000 new council houses. In the post-war period the number of new homes peaked at 352,000 in 1968, while the number of new social homes reached its highest level of 207,730 in 1954. In 2013, 22,510 social homes were built, out of a total of 109,640 newbuilds. House of Commons library research showed that the housing benefit budget had risen in real terms by 220% since 1985, while investment in housebuilding had fallen by 41%. GUARDIAN

Extra £5bn for pensioner bonds: Osborne gives wealthy older voters a pre-election boost
George Osborne has announced that hundreds of thousands more over-65s will benefit from the government's flagship pensioner bonds scheme in the run up to the General Election. The Chancellor said that an additional £5billion worth of bonds will be made available over the next three months because the government wants to "back savers [and] support people who do the right thing". More than 610,000 over-65s have bought pensioner bonds worth £7.5billion since they were launched last month in an unprededented stampede which caused websites to crash. The government initially made £10billion worth of bonds available, but Mr Osborne said that figure is likely to be extended to £15billion. Mr Osborne said the policy was to compensate pensioners who have suffered from the governments "deliberate" policy of keeping interest rates low. The bonds, which pay an interest rate of 2.8% for one year or 4% for a three year investment, offer significantly better rates than existing products. However Mark Littlewood, of the Institute for Economic Affairs, criticised the move. He said: "This announcement well and truly proves that we are not all in it together. Borrowing more expensively than the government needs to is effectively a direct subsidy to wealthy pensioners from the working-age population...Pensioner bonds have never been anything other than a gimmick that will benefit pensioners at the expense of the taxpayer, and it beggars belief that the government is prolonging such a foolish policy. It’s high time our politicians stopped buying votes with subsidies for the old and rich.” TELEGRAPH

Sunday 8 February 2015

Sunday, February 08, 2015 Posted by Jake 7 comments Labels: , , , , , , ,
Electoral law requires rejected ballots to be counted and reported, constituency by constituency. These spoiled ballots do not affect the final election result, and nor should they. Countries with no elected governments show the usual alternative to a well functioning democracy is brute force. 

The real problem is not that you can't vote for 'nobody', because you can. The problem is news organisations rarely report the 'vote for nobody', thereby failing to expose how much of a mandate the winning party actually has. 

Those who campaign for "None Of The Above" should direct their hashtags at news outlets, not at politicians:
a) You don't need to convince politicians: "None Of The Above" is already effectively being counted.
b) You have a much better chance of success: most politicians aren't in the business of exposing when politics gets foolish, while plenty of journalists are.

Thursday 5 February 2015

Thursday, February 05, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Sports Direct faces multimillion-pound claim from zero-hours contract workers 
Nearly 300 workers were excluded from the retailer’s generous bonus scheme because they were on zero-hours contracts. The bonus scheme paid out about £160m worth of shares to 2,000 “permanent” workers in 2013. Lawyers acting for the part-time staff sent letters to Sports Direct’s legal team on Friday claiming a total of just over £1m in compensation for missed bonuses for a first batch of 30 workers. The individual claims average about £36,000 each but the highest is worth more than £100,000. All of the first 30 seeking compensation, with help from the legal firm Leigh Day, have a minimum of five and a half years in continuous employment with Sports Direct, including the period covered by the bonus. Some of the staff involved, whose claims were gathered in partnership with workers rights group Pay Justice, have worked for the company for considerably longer, despite being employed on insecure contracts. Letters relating to the remaining 268 workers will be gradually filed over the next six months or so. Some of the workers making claims for the missed bonuses still work for Sports Direct, and Leigh Day has called on the company to confirm they will not be penalised or dismissed for making the claims. The law firm says that to do so would be unlawful under regulations that protect part-time workers. Sports Direct, which is controlled by the billionaire Newcastle United football club owner Mike Ashley, has been widely criticised for employing nearly 90% of its staff on zero-hours contracts. GUARDIAN

Almost one in five shops in England's northern towns and cities are empty, compared with just one in 10 in the south
The Local Data Company (LDC) revealed that the rate of shop vacancies across the country stood at 13.3% at the end of last year, down from a February 2012 peak of 14.6%. The worst regional area is the North East, with a shop vacancy rate of 18.8% in the second half of 2014, a fall of 0.3% on a year ago. The best region is London, with a vacancy rate of 8.7% after a fall of 0.4%. The report also found that 20% of all shops it tracked had been vacant for more than three years, which amounts to almost 10,000 outlets. Local Data Company director Matthew Hopkinson said: "This is the equivalent of five Manchesters lying empty." The top 10 worst town centres for vacant retail and leisure space contain five in the West Midlands, four in the North West and one in the North East. The top three are Burslem in Staffordshire with a vacancy rate of 29.4%, Stoke-on-Trent with a vacancy of 27.7% and Hartlepool, with a vacancy rate of 27.3%. The top 10 best town centres have six in Greater London and the South East. DAILY MAIL

Barack Obama plans to close a tax loophole that allows US firms to avoid paying taxes on overseas profits
His 2016 budget would impose a one-off 14% tax on US profits stashed overseas, as well as a 19% tax on any future profits as they are earned. The $238bn (£158bn) raised would be used to fund road projects in the US. Research firm Audit Analytics calculated last April that US firms in total had $2.1tn-worth of profits stashed abroad. It found US conglomerate General Electric had the most profit stored overseas at $110bn. Tech giants Microsoft and Apple and drugs companies Pfizer and Merck all featured in the top five. No tax is currently due on foreign profits as long as they are not brought into the US. As a result some companies put their earnings in low tax jurisdictions and simply leave them there. Mr Obama told broadcaster NBC that despite several years of economic improvement, wages and incomes for middle class families were "just now ticking up". "They haven't been keeping pace over the last 30 years compared to corporate profits and what's happening to folks in the very top," he said. But analysts say it is unlikely the Republican-controlled Congress will approve the proposals. BBC NEWS

Property developers allowed to reduce affordable housing commitments, worth hundreds of millions of pounds
Housing developers in the UK could gain hundreds of millions of pounds in windfall profits under a new policy that lets them reduce contributions to building affordable housing or even avoid paying altogether, a council has claimed. Since December, the government has exempted anyone who turns an empty building into private housing from paying for further affordable units, even if they could do so and still make healthy profits. Among the first super-rich investors to have benefited from the change are the redevelopers of a luxury Mayfair apartment block in central London bought in 2013 by Abu Dhabi’s investment fund. Planners fear Qatar’s ruling family could be next to gain if their agents seek a multimillion-pound cut in the affordable housing bill on a £3bn redevelopment of Chelsea barracks. John Walker, director of planning at Westminster city council, a Conservative-led borough, has described the government’s new vacant building credit as insane and estimated it could lose as much as £1bn in housing payments, deepening the accommodation crisis afflicting the poorest people. GUARDIAN

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Tuesday, February 03, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , ,

SOURCE DAILY MAIL: Education spending to be cut in real terms after the election. Cameron admits 'difficult decision' will be hard for schools
David Cameron came under attack yesterday over his promise to protect funding for schools after it emerged his plans would see spending per pupil fall in real terms. Speaking at a school in Enfield, North London, yesterday, Mr Cameron made his pledge not to cut the funding per child because good schools ‘need money’. But his pledge that the amount of funding per pupil would be ring-fenced in the next Parliament started to unravel as he admitted spending would not increase in line with inflation. By the end of the next Parliament, this would mean a cut in real terms of around 7 per cent to the schools budget for children aged between five and 16, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Mr Cameron said the Government ‘won’t tolerate failure’ and would raise achievement in 3,500 schools rated ‘requires improvement’ by the watchdog Ofsted. He said every secondary school in this category would be expected to become an academy. Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, attacked the proposals as ‘ill informed’ and a decision to ‘declare war on schools’.

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