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Sunday, 27 December 2015

Sunday, December 27, 2015 Posted by Jake 6 comments Labels: , , , , , ,
"The profligacy of a man of fashion is looked upon with much less contempt and aversion, than that of a man of meaner condition. In the latter, a single transgression of the rules of temperance and propriety, is commonly more resented, than the constant and avowed contempt of them ever is in the former."   
Adam Smith (1723-1790), free market capitalist icon.

From financial scandals to tax evasion to child abuse we have seen how villains are dealt with according to their stations in life. 

Benefits cheats pinching welfare are publicly stamped on while bankers are treated with extreme lenience for £billions of frauds. Small traders cheating on their VAT returns make it onto HMRC's "most wanted" name and shame list, while the big tax dodgers get sweetheart deals over lunch.

Norman Tebbit, once a leading establishment figure, said of the cover-ups of child abuse by showbiz stars, priests and politicians: "at that time most people felt the establishment was to be protected".


"At that time"? It was thus for hundreds of years before "that time", and it continues to be thus.

Our guest author for this post is the late Adam Smith, capitalist icon, writing over 250 years ago. We start with selected quotes from Smith's essay, in purple for those in a hurry, and then present the full text in blue below:

  • This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition,..is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments. 
  • That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the complaint of moralists in all ages.
  • We frequently see the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous.
  • We see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty and weakness of the innocent.
  • The respect which we feel for wisdom and virtue is, no doubt, different from that which we conceive for wealth and greatness...but, in the general air of the countenance, they seem to be so very nearly the same, that inattentive observers are very apt to mistake the one for the other.
  • It is from our disposition to admire, and consequently to imitate, the rich and the great, that they are enabled to set, or to lead what is called the fashion....Even their vices and follies are fashionable; and the greater part of men are proud to imitate and resemble them in the very qualities which dishonour and degrade them. 
  • In many governments the candidates for the highest stations are above the law; and, if they can attain the object of their ambition, they have no fear of being called to account for the means by which they acquired it.  

Smith ends his essay stating the holders of ill-gotten greatness ultimately know what they are, and fear they will be ultimately caught out. Only they know whether this is true or not.


  • the remembrance of what he has done; that remembrance never fails to pursue him. He invokes in vain the dark and dismal powers of forgetfulness and oblivion. He remembers himself what he has done, and that remembrance tells him that other people must likewise remember it. Amidst all the gaudy pomp of the most ostentatious greatness; amidst the venal and vile adulation of the great and of the learned; amidst the more innocent, though more foolish, acclamations of the common people; amidst all the pride of conquest and the triumph of successful war, he is still secretly pursued by the avenging furies of shame and remorse; and, while glory seems to surround him on all sides, he himself, in his own imagination, sees black and foul infamy fast pursuing him, and every moment ready to overtake him from behind.


Full text of Adam Smith's essay:
"This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments. That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the complaint of moralists in all ages.

We desire both to be respectable and to be respected. We dread both to be contemptible and to be contemned. But, upon coming into the world, we soon find that wisdom and virtue are by no means the sole objects of respect; nor vice and folly, of contempt. We frequently see the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous. We see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty and weakness of the innocent. To deserve, to acquire, and to enjoy the respect and admiration of mankind, are the great objects of ambition and emulation. Two different roads are presented to us, equally leading to the attainment of this so much desired object; the one, by the study of wisdom and the practice of virtue; the other, by the acquisition of wealth and greatness. Two different characters are presented to our emulation; the one, of proud ambition and ostentatious avidity. the other, of humble modesty and equitable justice. Two different models, two different pictures, are held out to us, according to which we may fashion our own character and behaviour; the one more gaudy and glittering in its colouring; the other more correct and more exquisitely beautiful in its outline: the one forcing itself upon the notice of every wandering eye; the other, attracting the attention of scarce any body but the most studious and careful observer. They are the wise and the virtuous chiefly, a select, though, I am afraid, but a small party, who are the real and steady admirers of wisdom and virtue. The great mob of mankind are the admirers and worshippers, and, what may seem more extraordinary, most frequently the disinterested admirers and worshippers, of wealth and greatness.

The respect which we feel for wisdom and virtue is, no doubt, different from that which we conceive for wealth and greatness; and it requires no very nice discernment to distinguish the difference. But, notwithstanding this difference, those sentiments bear a very considerable resemblance to one another. In some particular features they are, no doubt, different, but, in the general air of the countenance, they seem to be so very nearly the same, that inattentive observers are very apt to mistake the one for the other.

In equal degrees of merit there is scarce any man who does not respect more the rich and the great, than the poor and the humble. With most men the presumption and vanity of the former are much more admired, than the real and solid merit of the latter. It is scarce agreeable to good morals, or even to good language, perhaps, to say, that mere wealth and greatness, abstracted from merit and virtue, deserve our respect. We must acknowledge, however, that they almost constantly obtain it; and that they may, therefore, be considered as, in some respects, the natural objects of it. Those exalted stations may, no doubt, be completely degraded by vice and folly. But the vice and folly must be very great, before they can operate this complete degradation. The profligacy of a man of fashion is looked upon with much less contempt and aversion, than that of a man of meaner condition. In the latter, a single transgression of the rules of temperance and propriety, is commonly more resented, than the constant and avowed contempt of them ever is in the former.

In the middling and inferior stations of life, the road to virtue and that to fortune, to such fortune, at least, as men in such stations can reasonably expect to acquire, are, happily in most cases, very nearly the same. In all the middling and inferior professions, real and solid professional abilities, joined to prudent, just, firm, and temperate conduct, can very seldom fail of success. Abilities will even sometimes prevail where the conduct is by no means correct. Either habitual imprudence, however, or injustice, or weakness, or profligacy, will always cloud, and sometimes depress altogether, the most splendid professional abilities. Men in the inferior and middling stations of life, besides, can never be great enough to be above the law, which must generally overawe them into some sort of respect for, at least, the more important rules of justice. The success of such people, too, almost always depends upon the favour and good opinion of their neighbours and equals; and without a tolerably regular conduct these can very seldom be obtained. The good old proverb, therefore, That honesty is the best policy, holds, in such situations, almost always perfectly true. In such situations, therefore, we may generally expect a considerable degree of virtue; and, fortunately for the good morals of society, these are the situations of by far the greater part of mankind.

In the superior stations of life the case is unhappily not always the same. In the courts of princes, in the drawing-rooms of the great, where success and preferment depend, not upon the esteem of intelligent and well-informed equals, but upon the fanciful and foolish favour of ignorant, presumptuous, and proud superiors; flattery and falsehood too often prevail over merit and abilities. In such societies the abilities to please, are more regarded than the abilities to serve. In quiet and peaceable times, when the storm is at a distance, the prince, or great man, wishes only to be amused, and is even apt to fancy that he has scarce any occasion for the service of any body, or that those who amuse him are sufficiently able to serve him. The external graces, the frivolous accomplishments of that impertinent and foolish thing called a man of fashion, are commonly more admired than the solid and masculine virtues of a warrior, a statesman, a philosopher, or a legislator. All the great and awful virtues, all the virtues which can fit, either for the council, the senate, or the field, are, by the insolent and insignificant flatterers, who commonly figure the most in such corrupted societies, held in the utmost contempt and derision. When the duke of Sully was called upon by Lewis the Thirteenth, to give his advice in some great emergency, he observed the favourites and courtiers whispering to one another, and smiling at his unfashionable appearance. 'Whenever your majesty's father,' said the old warrior and statesman, 'did me the honour to consult me, he ordered the buffoons of the court to retire into the antechamber.'

It is from our disposition to admire, and consequently to imitate, the rich and the great, that they are enabled to set, or to lead what is called the fashion. Their dress is the fashionable dress; the language of their conversation, the fashionable style; their air and deportment, the fashionable behaviour. Even their vices and follies are fashionable; and the greater part of men are proud to imitate and resemble them in the very qualities which dishonour and degrade them. Vain men often give themselves airs of a fashionable profligacy, which, in their hearts, they do not approve of, and of which, perhaps, they are really not guilty. They desire to be praised for what they themselves do not think praise-worthy, and are ashamed of unfashionable virtues which they sometimes practise in secret, and for which they have secretly some degree of real veneration. There are hypocrites of wealth and greatness, as well as of religion and virtue; and a vain man is as apt to pretend to be what he is not, in the one way, as a cunning man is in the other. He assumes the equipage and splendid way of living of his superiors, without considering that whatever may be praise-worthy in any of these, derives its whole merit and propriety from its suitableness to that situation and fortune which both require and can easily support the expence. Many a poor man places his glory in being thought rich, without considering that the duties (if one may call such follies by so very venerable a name) which that reputation imposes upon him, must soon reduce him to beggary, and render his situation still more unlike that of those whom he admires and imitates, than it had been originally.

To attain to this envied situation, the candidates for fortune too frequently abandon the paths of virtue; for unhappily, the road which leads to the one, and that which leads to the other, lie sometimes in very opposite directions. But the ambitious man flatters himself that, in the splendid situation to which he advances, he will have so many means of commanding the respect and admiration of mankind, and will be enabled to act with such superior propriety and grace, that the lustre of his future conduct will entirely cover, or efface, the foulness of the steps by which he arrived at that elevation. In many governments the candidates for the highest stations are above the law; and, if they can attain the object of their ambition, they have no fear of being called to account for the means by which they acquired it. They often endeavour, therefore, not only by fraud and falsehood, the ordinary and vulgar arts of intrigue and cabal; but sometimes by the perpetration of the most enormous crimes, by murder and assassination, by rebellion and civil war, to supplant and destroy those who oppose or stand in the way of their greatness. They more frequently miscarry than succeed; and commonly gain nothing but the disgraceful punishment which is due to their crimes. But, though they should be so lucky as to attain that wished-for greatness, they are always most miserably disappointed in the happiness which they expect to enjoy in it. It is not ease or pleasure, but always honour, of one kind or another, though frequently an honour very ill understood, that the ambitious man really pursues. But the honour of his exalted station appears, both in his own eyes and in those of other people, polluted and defiled by the baseness of the means through which he rose to it. Though by the profusion of every liberal expence; though by excessive indulgence in every profligate pleasure, the wretched, but usual, resource of ruined characters; though by the hurry of public business, or by the prouder and more dazzling tumult of war, he may endeavour to efface, both from his own memory and from that of other people, the remembrance of what he has done; that remembrance never fails to pursue him. He invokes in vain the dark and dismal powers of forgetfulness and oblivion. He remembers himself what he has done, and that remembrance tells him that other people must likewise remember it. Amidst all the gaudy pomp of the most ostentatious greatness; amidst the venal and vile adulation of the great and of the learned; amidst the more innocent, though more foolish, acclamations of the common people; amidst all the pride of conquest and the triumph of successful war, he is still secretly pursued by the avenging furies of shame and remorse; and, while glory seems to surround him on all sides, he himself, in his own imagination, sees black and foul infamy fast pursuing him, and every moment ready to overtake him from behind. Even the great Caesar, though he had the magnanimity to dismiss his guards, could not dismiss his suspicions. The remembrance of Pharsalia still haunted and pursued him. When, at the request of the senate, he had the generosity to pardon Marcellus, he told that assembly, that he was not unaware of the designs which were carrying on against his life; but that, as he had lived long enough both for nature and for glory, he was contented to die, and therefore despised all conspiracies. He had, perhaps, lived long enough for nature. But the man who felt himself the object of such deadly resentment, from those whose favour he wished to gain, and whom he still wished to consider as his friends, had certainly lived too long for real glory; or for all the happiness which he could ever hope to enjoy in the love and esteem of his equals."

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , ,

SOURCE DAILY MAIL: Families splashing out on credit cards drives household debt back to pre-crash high of £40BILLION
The shock figures, buried in the latest forecasts by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), reveal that families are set to spend £40 billion more than they earn this year. The OBR, which produces independent forecasts for the Treasury, suggests this figure will soar to almost £50 billion a year by 2020 as consumers carry on spending. After years of austerity, during which time many families cut their spending and paid down their debts, household debt level are now on course to return to record levels. The OBR forecasts that household debt will reach 163 per cent of incomes by 2020 – close to the 168.2 per cent recorded in the first quarter of 2008. Labour, which uncovered the figures, last night said ‘alarm bells should be ringing’. The new figures reveal how households tightened their belts in the wake of the financial crisis. In the depths of the crisis in 2009/10, families spent £67 billion less than they earned as they moved to cut their debts. As the recovery took hold, families gradually started spending again so that by 2013/4, spending exceeded borrowing by £12.4 billion, and has remained in the red ever since. The latest figures also show that interest payments on the debts racked up by families will rise by almost £6 billion a year by 2020 – raising fears about whether some will be able to make repayments.



Saturday, 19 December 2015

Saturday, December 19, 2015 Posted by Jake No comments Labels: , , , , ,

Between 29/10/2015 (9.30am) and 23/11/2015 (11.45pm) the UK Government ran a consultation that “Seeks views on the government’s proposals to set the new mandate to NHS England for this Parliament.”
The conclusions of the consultation were published on the 17th December, the day Parliament started its Christmas Holiday, presumably for avoidance of debate.

Complaints that this important public consultation was being carried out in secret were met by campaigns in particular via the 38 Degree organisation and by an article in the Guardian newspaper on 19th November, four days before the consultation closed. 


Even the Guardian seems to have been caught on the hop, its article stating:
"Jeremy Hunt has been uncharacteristically quiet about the invitation to all of us to comment on the proposed mandate. He made a written statement on the launch day but as far as I could tell, doesn’t seem to have said anything much about it since. I asked the Department of Health how many responses they’d had but they responded that they couldn’t possibly say. I asked NHS England what they think about the mandate and they said: “The mandate is a matter for the Department of Health and the public (via the consultation on it) – we wouldn’t have anything to say on it.” So far, so Kafka."

The result of this alert from 38 Degrees and the Guardian and others was a deluge of public responses. The government's response to the consultation stated that in the two previous consultations there had been a total of about 300 responses, while this time 127,400 responses were received. The government report stated:

“We have consulted publicly twice on the mandate in the past and on both occasions attracted around 300 responses, with slightly more than half originating from members of the public and the rest from institutions of the type described above. This year we attracted a similar number of responses from organisations. The public response, however, was significantly higher than in the past, with around 127,400 responses received by the close of the consultation.”



So what was the consultation about?
“The consultation contained five questions, with free text responses:
1. Do you agree with our aims for the mandate to NHS England?
2. Is there anything else we should be considering in producing the mandate to NHS England?
3. What views do you have on our overarching objective of improving outcomes and reducing health inequalities, including by using new measures of comparative quality for local CCG populations to complement the national outcomes measures in the NHS Outcomes Framework?
4. What views do you have on our priorities for the health and care system?
5. What views do you have on how we set objectives for NHS England to reflect its contribution to achieving our priorities?”

 

In its own response to the results of the consultation, the government admitted largely ignoring individuals who came as a result of campaigns such as 38 Degrees (they estimate 114,000 people), focussing on the 12,490 "unique" (i.e. not participating as a result of a campaign) contributions. 

However, even excluding these 'campaigners' the public response was overwhelmingly negative to government objectives:


The government report stated:
“The 12,490 'unique' responses not associated with any of the above campaigns consistently raised a number of closely related issues that cut across the consultation questions. The key issues related to funding, private sector involvement and staffing. These, along with our responses, are summarised below.

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.TOTL.ZS/countries/1W?display=default

1. Opposition to further private sector involvement in the NHS;
2. Concern that there is insufficient funding to achieve the aims of the mandate and the NHS’s Five Year Forward View;
3. Concern that the mandate does not mention staff, concern over safe staffing levels and a desire to improve pay and conditions;
4. Concern over seven-day services. Qualitative analysis suggested fewer than 3% of responses that mentioned
seven-day services were supportive;
5. Concern over lack of integration, with concerns over funding for public health and social care;
6. Concern that there is insufficient funding to reduce inequalities, and that NHS England does not hold CCGs to account;
7. Very strong support for improving mental health services but concern that there is not enough funding to do so;
8. Strong support for focus on prevention of ill-health, but concerns that public health, community and social care funding is insufficient to achieve aims;
9.Shortness of the consultation period, and lack of publicity.”
 


This startlingly negative response even from the 'non campaigners' provides food for thought. The Conservative mandate from their 'stunning' electoral victory this year is a smokescreen. The Conservatives won a stunning victory in the 2015 general election. Stunning not because of its magnitude but because it happened at all. The victory left the Tories with the smallest majority in decades. 


And was due not to their own merit but to the success of the SNP in Scotland, and the punishment of the Liberal Democrats everywhere.



If the Tories don't get the message that with an effective campaign, such as conducted by 38 Degrees and the Guardian, the public will turn out to protest at their ideological obsession cutting the public sector, lets hope the opposition parties do. 

And lets hope Great British Voters will exercise their power and turn out to vote come election time.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Thursday, December 17, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
A day at 'the gulag': what it's like to work at Sports Direct's warehouse
Warehouse staff at the group, the booming retail chain controlled by the billionaire Mike Ashley, are required to go through searches at the end of each shift, for which their time is unpaid, while they also suffer harsh deductions from their wage packets for clocking in for a shift just one minute late. The practices contribute to many staff being paid an effective rate of about £6.50 an hour against the statutory rate of £6.70 – potentially saving the FTSE 100 firm millions of pounds a year at the expense of some of the poorest workers in the UK. The discovery of the low pay being received by Sports Direct workers comes on top of a string of criticisms of the working conditions within the retailer’s warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, where more than 80% of staff are on zero hours contracts. Workers are also: Harangued by tannoy for not working fast enough; Warned they will be sacked if they receive six black marks – or “strikes” (see document below) – over a six-month period for offences including a period of reported sickness, “errors,” excessive/long toilet breaks, using a mobile phone in the warehouse, “time wasting” and “excessive chatting” and “horseplay”; Banned from wearing 802 separate clothing brands at work; The rigorous searches – down to the last layer of clothing, asked to roll up trouser legs and show top of underwear –typically takes 15 minutes, because management is so concerned about potential theft. Meanwhile, local primary schoolteachers have told the Guardian that pupils can remain in school while ill – and return home to empty houses – as parents working at Sports Direct are too frightened to take time off work. Union officers say the strict culture in the warehouse has resulted in workers being afraid to speak out over low pay and conditions as they fear immediately losing their jobs. The criticisms of Sports Direct – which have also included questions about whether its pricing policies are misleading, as well as the influence Ashley has on a company whose shares are held by many UK pension funds – come as the public company continues to dominate the UK sports retailing market and its trading performance flourishes. The retailer’s success story is almost entirely credited to the unconventional retailing nous of Ashley, a self-made man whose fortune amounts to £3.5bn. Zoe Lagadec, a solicitor at Mulberry’s Employment Law Solicitors, said that docking 15 minutes of pay for clocking in slightly late is “arguably a breach of the national minimum wage, which carries both criminal and civil sanctions”. GUARDIAN

That didn't last long! Britons could see pay stagnate AGAIN next year as salary increases slip away
Britain's workers could see their salaries stagnate once more next year as the rate of pay growth falls, a report warns. Annual pay growth could slump to 1 per cent next year if productivity levels fail to increase and inflation rises quicker than expected, the Resolution Foundation said. With inflation expected to pick up slightly from its recent level of around 0 per cent, this would see real wages stagnate again. If current levels of low productivity and prolonged low inflation continue, pay in the UK may not increase to pre-crash levels until the next decade, the report suggests. Laura Gardiner, senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: '2015 marked the long-awaited return of rising real pay, following a six-year squeeze, but the recent pay rebound owed much to ultra-low inflation, which we're unlikely to see again next year. Pay growth in 2016 will ultimately be determined by whether the recent upturn in productivity is enough to offset rising inflation. On the upside, strong output growth and prolonged low inflation could result in the highest level of real wage growth in over a decade. But equally, a failure to build on the early signs of a productivity recovery, combined with a swifter-than-expected return to target inflation, could send real wage growth tumbling to less than 1 per cent. Such a scenario could mean typical pay not returning to its pre-crash level until the next decade. There is plenty that businesses and government can do to drive productivity growth. The introduction of the new national living wage should help to focus minds on boosting output, particularly in low-paying sectors who are most affected by the new higher wage floor.' DAILY MAIL

Revealed: how Google enlisted members of US Congress it bankrolled to fight $6bn EU antitrust case
Google enlisted members of the US congress, whose election campaigns it had funded, to pressure the European Union to drop a €6bn antitrust case which threatens to decimate the US tech firm’s business in Europe. Google’s co-founder and CEO Larry Page met the then European commission chief privately in California in spring 2014 and raised the antitrust case despite being warned by EU officials that it would be inappropriate to do so. Google has employed several former EU officials as in-house lobbyists, and has funded European thinktanks and university research favourable to its position as part of its broader campaign. The US House judiciary committee wrote to MEPs concerning the antitrust case against Google. The committee’s chairman, Bob Goodlatte, said the committee was “troubled to learn” some MEPs were “encouraging antitrust enforcement efforts that appear to be motivated by politics” that would ultimately undermine free markets. Google has consistently donated to Goodlatte’s election campaigns, while members on the judiciary committee that he chairs collectively received more than $200,000 (£133,000) from the company during the 2014 election cycle. Google’s expansion of its lobbying activities in Brussels has come in response to a growing number of threats to its business in the EU, where it dominates about 90% of the search market. It argues that its rivals lobby just as hard against it, if not harder. In April, a long-running antitrust investigation came to a head when the newly installed EU competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, formally accused Google of abusing its market dominance by systematically favouring its shopping price-comparison service. Under pressure to defend itself, Google has opened its cheque book. Last year, the company spent more than twice as much on lobbying in Brussels than Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and Uber combined. Yet Google is still being outspent by Microsoft, which some in Brussels suspect is backing a vocal anti-Google lobby in Brussels. GUARDIAN

Bedroom tax: three in four affected have cut back on food, government research shows
The research found that 46% said they had cut back on heating, 33% on travel and 42% on leisure. Among a control group of tenants unaffected by the bedroom tax, far fewer – 56% – said they were cutting back on food because of benefit changes. The findings by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research and Ipsos Mori were slipped out by the government on the last day of parliament before the winter break, along with a deluge of more than 380 other documents. Its study found landlords were very concerned that some tenants were “in severe poverty and unable to pay the shortfall”. The report said 78% of claimants who were still affected by the bedroom tax after two years of the policy were regularly running out of money by the end of the week or month. They tended to pay the rent by using up savings, borrowing from family or friends or accruing debt. The report found that only one in nine claimants escaped the bedroom tax by moving to a different property, and the vast majority of those affected were still affected nine months later. Only 5% of those affected by the policy had been successful in finding extra work, of which half said they were then no longer affected by the bedroom tax. Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said:“The DWP’s own evaluation finds that the bedroom tax is not only pushing families into hardship but it’s also failing to free up more accommodation for families – the key argument ministers used to justify this controversial policy.” She also criticised the timing of the report’s publication. “This is a long and deep look at a hugely controversial policy – it really should not have been released just as MPs rise for Christmas,” she said. GUARDIAN

Homeless families in English B&B accommodation rises by 46%
As many as 3,000 families were housed in B&Bs in the three months to the end of September 2015, the figures show. That compares with 2,060 families in such accommodation a year previously, and is the highest total for 12 years. The government announced an extra £5m of help, and said it was committed to helping the most vulnerable in society. Housing charity Shelter blamed cuts in local authority budgets, which have left some councils struggling to cope. There was also a 20% rise in the number of households who were re-housed outside their local area. According to the figures, 18,600 households were re-located, the highest number ever. Almost all of them were in London. The number of children who were in temporary accommodation - and therefore classified as homeless - rose to 103,430 in the quarter, the highest number since 2008. "These figures are a heart-breaking reminder that thousands of families will wake up homeless this Christmas morning - many hidden away in a cramped and dingy B&B or hostel room, sometimes miles away from everyone and everything they know," said Campbell Robb, the chief executive of Shelter. BBC NEWS

Children are being priced out by ‘pay to play’ in public spaces
Until three years ago, south London parents could take their children to Battersea adventure playground to climb, dance and generally let off steam – without paying a penny. Not any more. Last week the treetop adventure company Go Ape opened for business on the site, offering climbing sessions for between £18 and £33 per child. The old adventure playground, which was full of constantly changing equipment painted by the children, has been bulldozed and replaced by an ordinary swings-and-slides park aimed at under-11s. Those using the play park will find themselves looking up at their peers whose parents have paid for them to swing in the treetops. It is likely that there will be more tensions over the use of public space as councils across the country eye up private partnerships. “We’re seeing a lot of parks looking at introducing facilities that generate income,” said Drew Bennellick, head of landscape and natural heritage at the Heritage Lottery Fund. “Whether it’s Go Ape, crazy golf sites, multi-use football facilities that are floodlit, or cafes – they’re all exploring ways to potentially generate income to offset the cost of running the sites.” A report by the fund last year estimated that 45% of local authorities are considering either selling parks and green spaces or transferring their management. GUARDIAN

Osborne gives political adviser 42% rise amid public-sector pay freeze
George Osborne has given the adviser responsible for his new image a promotion and a pay rise of more than 40%, employed an additional seven political aides while asking public-sector workers to accept a pay freeze. Thea Rogers, a close associate of Osborne, received the biggest rise among all the political special advisers across government, with a pay increase of 42%, giving her £98,000. She is now his chief of staff. A former BBC producer who once worked with the corporation’s former political editor Nick Robinson, she is said to have been responsible for Osborne’s Caesar-style haircut and for placing him on the 5:2 diet. James Chapman, the Daily Mail’s former political editor, has been employed this year by Osborne on £125,000, while another Osborne adviser, Sue Beeby, is being paid £73,000 to be part of his Treasury team. Osborne has three other people employed in his office whose pay levels are not registered. A footnote to the data shows that the chancellor has taken on three other politically employed advisers who sit on the council of economic advisers – Richard Davies, who is paid £98,000, Neil O’Brien, who is paid £93,450, and Jennifer Donne, whose pay is not registered. Another adviser to Osborne, Eleanor Wolfson, is currently on maternity leave, the footnote adds. The disclosure comes in data that shows the bill for special advisers (called “spads”) across government has risen to £9.2m in 2014-2015, up from £8.4m over the previous year. At the beginning of this year there were just over 100 spads.  In July, the chancellor told thousands of teachers, nurses, police, firefighters and civil servants that they would face another four-year pay freeze at 1% a year, as part of planned savings worth £17bn. Many more jobs are also set to be lost across the public sector. Under Gordon Brown in 2009-2010 the cost of special advisers was said to be £6.8m, and there were 71 advisers on the government payroll. GUARDIAN

Think tank floats 'basic income' idea for all citizens
The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) is recommending a basic universal income. In a new report, the author calls the approach the best alternative "to help people improve their own lives". The RSA estimates that its proposal would cost about an extra 1% of annual national income (GDP). The idea is in principle fairly straightforward: a standard payment is made to every citizen. The report illustrates how it might work using data for taxes and benefits in 2012-2013. The basic income for people aged between 25 and 65 would in this example be £3,692. There is a pension of about double that amount for those older than 65. Anthony Painter, its director of policy and strategy and author of the report, says: "The welfare state has become incredibly complex whilst locking those it seeks to help in a vicious circle of low pay, insecurity and an intrusive state." The potential advantages include simplicity of administration given that you only need to establish that the person receiving it is a citizen. One of the aims of the proposal is to reduce the disincentive to work - or to work more - that comes with the withdrawal of means-tested benefits. As a recipient's income rises, entitlement to most benefits declines and they can be left with only a very small amount of any additional income. It's known as the poverty trap or welfare trap. The RSA's plan picks up an idea that has gained popularity in recent years. Finland is undertaking a pilot scheme, although it will not report its results until 2019.Some cities in the Netherlands are also looking at the idea. There is also a debate in Switzerland about introducing a basic income. In the UK, this idea has been supported by the Green Party. It is also advocated by Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute, a think tank that is not party political but is vigorously pro-free market in its outlook. BBC NEWS

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 Posted by Hari 1 comment Labels: , , , , ,
KJ, Chris and Fee discuss the Sports Direct "gulag"...

SOURCE GUARDIAN: A day at 'the gulag' - what it's like to work at Sports Direct's warehouse
Warehouse staff at the group, the booming retail chain controlled by the billionaire Mike Ashley, are required to go through searches at the end of each shift, for which their time is unpaid, while they also suffer harsh deductions from their wage packets for clocking in for a shift just one minute late. The practices contribute to many staff being paid an effective rate of about £6.50 an hour against the statutory rate of £6.70 – potentially saving the FTSE 100 firm millions of pounds a year at the expense of some of the poorest workers in the UK. The discovery of the low pay being received by Sports Direct workers comes on top of a string of criticisms of the working conditions within the retailer’s warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, where more than 80% of staff are on zero hours contracts. Workers are also: Harangued by tannoy for not working fast enough; Warned they will be sacked if they receive six black marks – or “strikes” (see document below) – over a six-month period for offences including a period of reported sickness, “errors,” excessive/long toilet breaks, using a mobile phone in the warehouse, “time wasting” and “excessive chatting” and “horseplay”; Banned from wearing 802 separate clothing brands at work; The rigorous searches – down to the last layer of clothing, asked to roll up trouser legs and show top of underwear –typically takes 15 minutes, because management is so concerned about potential theft. Meanwhile, local primary schoolteachers have told the Guardian that pupils can remain in school while ill – and return home to empty houses – as parents working at Sports Direct are too frightened to take time off work. Union officers say the strict culture in the warehouse has resulted in workers being afraid to speak out over low pay and conditions as they fear immediately losing their jobs. The criticisms of Sports Direct – which have also included questions about whether its pricing policies are misleading, as well as the influence Ashley has on a company whose shares are held by many UK pension funds – come as the public company continues to dominate the UK sports retailing market and its trading performance flourishes. The retailer’s success story is almost entirely credited to the unconventional retailing nous of Ashley, a self-made man whose fortune amounts to £3.5bn. Zoe Lagadec, a solicitor at Mulberry’s Employment Law Solicitors, said that docking 15 minutes of pay for clocking in slightly late is “arguably a breach of the national minimum wage, which carries both criminal and civil sanctions”.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Tories scrap criminal courts charge 'that made innocent people plead guilty'
More than 50 magistrates quit in disgust after the scheme - which hits small-time criminals with flat fees of up to £1,000 - began in April. MPs on the justice select committee warned the fees were 'grossly disproportionate' because they were charged on top of other fines and not linked to the ability to pay. And fines could be five times higher if defendants said they were innocent but were found guilty - leading an expert to warn people would take the rap for crimes they didn't commit. Mr Gove announced today the fees will be scrapped from Christmas Eve and there will be a full review of all other charges in the court system. One woman aged 32 in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, had to pay £300 including a £150 criminal courts charge for stealing a 75p pack of Mars bars because she had 'not eaten in days' . A 26-year-old homeless man in South Shields, Tyne and Wear, was billed £150 for stealing a 99p can of Red Bull despite receiving a conditional discharge. Malcolm Richardson, National Chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, told the Mirror: "Since April our members have seen penniless defendants hit with charges they know they’ll never be able to pay, faced with the impossible choice between pleading guilty to get a lesser charge or not guilty and running the risk of a massive alternative. "That’s why magistrates are enormously relieved Mr Gove has listened to our concerns and axed the charge in the interests of justice.” MIRROR

Families 'dread Christmas' as they seek money to buy presents, warn teachers
The warning comes amid growing concerns that many children are turning up to school hungry and teachers are dipping into their own pockets to pay for food for their students. Meanwhile, "cohorts of children" are "disappearing" from schools across the country, having their education disrupted, as they move homes because of high rents and benefit cuts, teachers warned. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said that for some pupils in Britain, the free school meal they get for lunch may be their only hot meal of the day. "We have members who take food into schools every day so children are not too hungry to learn,” she said. Borrowing an approach from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has used the stories of ordinary people to articulate his questions in the new-look PMQs, Ms Blower, in a speech to the People's Assembly in London, told about a mother called Rebecca: "My husband and I are both in full time employment but we still struggle. Anyone bringing up children will know how heartbreaking it is to have to say no to something a child wants. I dread Christmas. I hate it when their trainers have got a hole in, or they bring another letter home from school saying they need money for a trip. Food seems to be the only expense we have immediate control over, so that budget gets squeezed. And our home isn't as warm as we would like it to be during the winter." DAILY MAIL

Record number of 'fit' patients stuck in hospital because local social care is inadequate
Such ‘fit’ patients, who cannot be safely discharged usually because local social care is inadequate, accounted for 160,094 bed days in October - the highest number since records began more than five years ago. That is the total number of bed days in effect lost to the NHS because hospital staff could not use them for another patient, which leads to hospitals getting overcrowded. In addition, hospitals are already struggling to treat and either admit or discharge A&E patients within the required four hours and to give patients key diagnostic tests quickly enough, ambulance services are missing key targets to respond to 999 calls, and growing numbers of cancer patients are not being treated within 62 days. The figures come after the Nuffield Trust, a leading health thinktank, and the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, warned that the NHS will struggle to cope this winter, particularly due to a small number of patients classed as “delayed transfers of care” taking up a small but disproportionate number of hospital beds. GUARDIAN

Former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling joins Morgan Stanley
Mr Darling, who served as the Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2007 to 2010, will take up the role in January. Mr Darling, 62, played a key role in addressing the global economic crisis. In 2014 members of Morgan Stanley's board of directors received $75,000 (£49,960) a year plus an additional $10,000 to $30,000 for leading or joining a committee within the board. Each board member also received $250,000 in stock awards. His move follows former Prime Minister Gordon Brown's appointment to an advisory panel at the global investment firm Pimco. The other panel members include former US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, and Jean-Claude Trichet, former president of the European Central Bank. A spokesman for Mr Brown said he was taking on "a minor advisory role" and would not financially benefit. The spokesman added: "Any money goes to the office of Gordon and Sarah Brown to support their charitable and public service work." BBC NEWS

Storm Desmond: Floods 'made worse after hundreds of flood defence schemes shelved'
Flooding which brought chaos to Britain and saw thousands of people evacuated from their homes may have been avoided if the Government had not cancelled hundreds of defence schemes. Hundreds of families are spending the night in Red Cross Shelters after Storm Desmond brought record levels of rainfall to the North of England and Scotland, causing already swollen rivers to burst their banks, deluging towns, flooding 2,000 properties and leaving 60,000 homes without power. In Cumbria water rose to first floor windows and the army was mobilised to rescue trapped householders as David Cameron convened Cobra to deal with the growing crisis. Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, whose constituency Westmoreland and Lonsdale was severely affected by flooding said that the situation had been made worse because nearly 300 flood defence schemes had been dubbed "low priority" and shelved in recent years. They included a plan for the River Kent in Kendal, where an elderly man is feared drowned. Unprecedented levels of rain has fallen on Britain over the weekend, with rivers across the North of England reaching record heights and Honister in Cumbria recording 13.4 inches of rain in 24 hours, the most rain to ever fall over a 24 hour period. The River Eden in Carlisle reached 20.3 feet, nearly five foot higher than previous records. TELEGRAPH

EU to investigate McDonald's tax deals with Luxembourg
McDonald's tax deals with Luxembourg enabled the U.S. fastfood chain to escape paying taxes on European franchise royalties from 2009. The EU competition enforcer said McDonald's had not paid any corporate taxes in Luxembourg or the United States on royalties paid by franchisees in Europe and Russia since 2009 as a result of two tax rulings by the Luxembourg authorities. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said: "The purpose of double taxation treaties between countries is to avoid double taxation - not to justify double non-taxation." Vestager's move against McDonald's came following critical media reports and evidence from trade unions. "For too long, McDonald's has stashed billions in tax havens and ducked contributing to state coffers ... and it’s time that the company be held accountable" Scott Courtney, organising director at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said in a statement. SEIU represents 2 million healthcare, public sector and property service workers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The action by the European Commission comes two months after it ordered Luxembourg to recover up to 30 million euros (£21.2 million) from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCHA.MI) and the Dutch to do the same for Starbucks (SBUX.O) because their tax deals were seen as unlawful aid, to attract corporates to their own countries. REUTERS

Cadbury owners pay NO corporation tax despite making £2BN in sales
Mondelez International , one of the world’s biggest food companies, legally dodged paying tens of millions of pounds which could have helped fund schools, police and hospitals. The firm was previously called Kraft Foods and bought iconic chocolate maker Cadbury in a bitter £11.5billion takeover in 2010. Cadbury UK made profits of £96.5million in the year to December 31, 2014, but paid no corporation tax. Its holding company, Cadbury Ltd, previously Cadbury plc, paid dividends of £1.3billion in the same year but also paid no corporation tax. Labour MP Margaret Hodge , chairwoman of the Commons all-party group on responsible tax, said: “Multinationals like this are deliberately exporting their profits with artificial company structures to avoid tax... The founders of Cadbury who set it up as an ethical company will be turning in their graves.” MIRROR

Thousands of new family homes could be built on green belt land in the biggest shake up of planning rules for three decades
The Department for Communities and Local Government is considering whether local communities should be able to allocate sites for small starter home developments in their green belt. In what would be the biggest shake-up to planning protections for more than three decades, the ribbon of green belt land around towns and cities which prevents urban sprawl - bar in exceptional circumstances - could be built on more freely. Chancellor George Osborne has declared numerous times in the past that the Conservative party are 'builders.' But experts warn that Britain should be building around a quarter of a million properties a year to keep up with demand. The consultation comes as Osborne outlined plans for 400,000 new homes before 2020 in his Autumn Statement last month. The consultation said: 'We consider that the current policy can hinder locally-led development and propose to amend national planning policy so that neighbourhood plans can allocate appropriate small-scale sites in the green belt specifically for start homes.' But Clive Betts, chairman of the Commons Communities and Local Government committee, criticised the move, saying: 'I have no problem with a proper review of the green belt to see whether it is all appropriate or whether more should be added in. But that is how it should be done, not as a bit of an opportunity to cherry pick the best sites by developers, which this sounds like it could develop into.' DAILY MAIL

Plight of the renters: Housing costs leap by 36% for tenants - while falling 3.2% for owners since the financial crisis
The disparity means it will be even harder for renters to save up towards a deposit so that they can take a step on to the first rung. The rental payment figures, from the Office for National Statistics, only refers to payments householders have to pay themselves, excluding any benefits or rebates, so the total rental cost could be considerably higher. And rising numbers of households are being forced to rent because they cannot afford to get on the property ladder. As many as 31 per cent of households now have mortgages, 35 per cent are renting and 31 per cent own outright. In 2006, 40 per cent held mortgages and 29 per cent rented. The estate agents Savills predicts the situation will worsen for Britain's tenants, with average rents rising by 16.5 per cent in the next five years and by 22.8 per cent in London. Richard Donnell, research director at Hometrack, said: 'The access to equity remains an issue. The Autumn Statement announced a big push to access home ownership with the new Help to Buy London scheme and Starter Homes. However, in reality this is only going to help about 6 per cent of renters access home ownership. DAILY MAIL

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Wednesday, December 09, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , ,

SOURCE TELEGRAPH: Storm Desmond Floods 'made worse after hundreds of flood defence schemes shelved'
Flooding which brought chaos to Britain and saw thousands of people evacuated from their homes may have been avoided if the Government had not cancelled hundreds of defence schemes. Hundreds of families are spending the night in Red Cross Shelters after Storm Desmond brought record levels of rainfall to the North of England and Scotland, causing already swollen rivers to burst their banks, deluging towns, flooding 2,000 properties and leaving 60,000 homes without power. In Cumbria water rose to first floor windows and the army was mobilised to rescue trapped householders as David Cameron convened Cobra to deal with the growing crisis. Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, whose constituency Westmoreland and Lonsdale was severely affected by flooding said that the situation had been made worse because nearly 300 flood defence schemes had been dubbed "low priority" and shelved in recent years. They included a plan for the River Kent in Kendal, where an elderly man is feared drowned. Unprecedented levels of rain has fallen on Britain over the weekend, with rivers across the North of England reaching record heights and Honister in Cumbria recording 13.4 inches of rain in 24 hours, the most rain to ever fall over a 24 hour period. The River Eden in Carlisle reached 20.3 feet, nearly five foot higher than previous records.

SOURCE EXPRESS: £500m and rising – that's the cost of Storm Desmond
The general insurance leader at PwC UK, Mohammad Khan, said: “Our current estimate of the damage caused by Storm Desmond is £400million to £500million with the insurance industry paying out between £250million and £325million. “This compares to an economic cost of £275million and insurer costs of £175million in the 2009 floods. “Clearly these are initial estimates as there is still uncertainty as to the number of properties and businesses affected. If the storm continues, the damage - and therefore the costs - could be significantly worse. Critics have claimed that the Government has cut spending on flood defences, with £810million spent last year compared to £695million last year. In response, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the higher spending last year reflected an emergency injection of cash to help cope with the aftermath of the 2013-14 floods. But Lancaster University professor Gail Whitman, a sustainability expert, said: “Liz Truss’ comment about how the flood defences in Cumbria were only breached because of extreme weather conditions is rather short sighted. Thanks to climate change, extreme weather is the new normal. And that is hugely problematic.”

Thursday, 3 December 2015


SOURCE GUARDIAN: Osborne reliant on rising immigration levels to achieve budget surplus
During last week’s autumn statement, Osborne boasted: “The OBR’s (Office for Budget Responsibility)... forecast today is that the economy will grow robustly every year, living standards will rise every year, and more than a million extra jobs will be created over the next five years.” The chancellor made no reference to immigration in his statement. But analysis of figures from the OBR, the government’s independent forecasting body, shows that Britain’s finances would not be forecast to hit a budget surplus by 2019-20 without recent upward revisions to net migration numbers. As a result of the extra jobs and tax incomes, and changes to the composition of the UK’s working-age population, generated by the influx, the OBR has revised up the level of potential economic output for the UK by 0.9%. Under the OBR’s calculations, if projected net migration had remained unchanged at 105,000 a year, the boost to output would have been negligible. Without the additional output generated by those changed migration forecasts, the projected budget surplus would drop to zero and the only feasible way to achieve one by 2020 would have been through additional spending cuts or tax rises. Furthermore, based on OBR data and the evidence available, it is highly likely that the government’s intention of reducing net migration to the “tens of thousands” is directly at odds with its fiscal target. The OBR’s latest fiscal sustainability report, published in June, stated that net inward migration in line with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) high migration scenario of 225,000 a year would reduce the primary budget deficit by 0.5% of GDP and net debt by 17% of GDP by 2064-65, relative to the OBR’s central projection. In the low migration scenario (105,000 a year), the primary budget deficit would increase by 0.5% of GDP and net debt by 20% of GDP by 2064-65. The OBR’s outlook also shows the 1.1m increase in employment cited by Osborne is mostly because of upward revisions to net migration, which is predominantly concentrated among people of working age: this boosts the employment rate, GDP, potential output and tax receipts. Figures released last week by the ONS show that annualised net migration to Britain hit a new high of 336,000 in June, indicating that further revisions to the OBR’s projections may be in store.

SOURCE FINANCIAL TIMES: Autumn Statement - Osborne accused of resorting to stealth taxes on big businesses, wealthy property owners and council taxpayers
The decision to raise £11.6bn from an apprenticeship levy on businesses came under immediate fire from some tax professionals, who suggested it was at odds with the government’s “triple lock” ban on increasing any of the three main taxes. The levy requires employers to pay an additional 0.5 per cent on their employment costs to fund apprenticeships, which makes it very similar to a rise in employers’ national insurance contributions. Other big increases related to council tax, fuel duty, stamp duty, capital gains tax, corporation tax and pensions tax relief. Council taxpayers will pay an extra £6.2bn by 2021 after the chancellor announced that some local authorities would be allowed to raise council tax faster than previously assumed to meet some of the costs of social care and policing. One of the biggest increases was £3.8bn of higher stamp duty on buy-to-let property and second homes. Another £1.2bn will be raised from property owners by bringing forward payments of capital gains tax on residential property to within 30 days of completion.
Thursday, December 03, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Osborne reliant on rising immigration levels to achieve budget surplus
During last week’s autumn statement, Osborne boasted: “The OBR’s (Office for Budget Responsibility)... forecast today is that the economy will grow robustly every year, living standards will rise every year, and more than a million extra jobs will be created over the next five years.” The chancellor made no reference to immigration in his statement. But analysis of figures from the OBR, the government’s independent forecasting body, shows that Britain’s finances would not be forecast to hit a budget surplus by 2019-20 without recent upward revisions to net migration numbers. As a result of the extra jobs and tax incomes, and changes to the composition of the UK’s working-age population, generated by the influx, the OBR has revised up the level of potential economic output for the UK by 0.9%. Under the OBR’s calculations, if projected net migration had remained unchanged at 105,000 a year, the boost to output would have been negligible. Without the additional output generated by those changed migration forecasts, the projected budget surplus would drop to zero and the only feasible way to achieve one by 2020 would have been through additional spending cuts or tax rises. Furthermore, based on OBR data and the evidence available, it is highly likely that the government’s intention of reducing net migration to the “tens of thousands” is directly at odds with its fiscal target. The OBR’s latest fiscal sustainability report, published in June, stated that net inward migration in line with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) high migration scenario of 225,000 a year would reduce the primary budget deficit by 0.5% of GDP and net debt by 17% of GDP by 2064-65, relative to the OBR’s central projection. In the low migration scenario (105,000 a year), the primary budget deficit would increase by 0.5% of GDP and net debt by 20% of GDP by 2064-65. The OBR’s outlook also shows the 1.1m increase in employment cited by Osborne is mostly because of upward revisions to net migration, which is predominantly concentrated among people of working age: this boosts the employment rate, GDP, potential output and tax receipts. Figures released last week by the ONS show that annualised net migration to Britain hit a new high of 336,000 in June, indicating that further revisions to the OBR’s projections may be in store. GUARDIAN

U-turn on Tax Credit cuts a mirage: Osborne’s review 'only delays squeeze on working poor', says IFS
Despite George Osborne’s headline-grabbing retreat on his controversial plans to slash cash payments to more than three million low-income working families from next year, he will still make millions of such families considerably worse off by the end of the decade through his post-election welfare cuts, both the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have stressed. Some 3.3 million working households had been on course to lose an average of £1,300 from next April thanks to George Osborne’s July Budget welfare cuts, prompting a historic revolt from the House of Lords. Mr Osborne was accused of hurting the very “strivers” he claimed to be trying to help and even many Conservative MPs were alarmed by the plan. The Chancellor had sought to make a virtue of his complete climbdown on tax credits in his Autumn Statement speech on Wednesday saying: “The simplest thing to do is not to phase these changes in, but to avoid them altogether”. That prompted many opponents of the cuts to proclaim victory. But the Resolution Foundation said that because tax credits are being phased out and replaced by a wholly new benefits system known as universal credit, poor working families will be just as hard hit by 2020 as they were before this week’s policy reversal. The IFS echoed the point: “The long-term generosity of the welfare system will be cut just as much as was ever intended as new claimants will receive significantly lower benefits than they would have done before the July [Budget] changes.” Research presented by the IFS showed that 2.6 million working families would be an average of £1,600 a year worse off than under the current system. The IFS also presented a chart showing that the impact of the post-election tax and benefit changes by Mr Osborne on families in the lower half of the income distribution in 2020 was virtually identical both before and after the Autumn Statement volte-face on tax credits – confirming that the scrapping of these credit cuts merely postpones the negative impact on the less well off of government welfare cuts. INDEPENDENT

Rise of the 'rabbit hutch' homes: Half of new-build three-bed properties are too small for families, architects warn - and Yorkshire has the pokiest
Between July and August the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) measured the size of 100 randomly selected developments currently under construction by some of Britain's biggest house-builders. Out of 10 housebuilders, RIBA singled out two of the worst offenders in terms of space in new-builds. The Persimmon homes surveyed were on average 10.8 square metres smaller than the optional minimum standard, while Barratt homes were on average 6.7 square metres smaller, RIBA claimed. On average, new-build three-bedroom homes outside London are four square metres - or the size of a family bathroom - smaller than they should be, said RIBA. New-builds in Yorkshire and the Humber are the smallest at an average of 84 square metres, while new three-bedroom homes built in London are 17 per cent larger at around 108.5 square metres. The architects trade body warned that half of the new homes being built today are not big enough to meet the needs of people who buy them, depriving thousands of families of the space needed to 'live comfortably and cohesively, to eat and socialise together, to accommodate a growing family or ageing relatives, or even to store possessions including everyday necessities such as a vacuum cleaner.' New rules introduced in October give local authorities the option to set minimum size standards for new-build homes. Under the optional standards, a three-bedroom, five person home would be a minimum of 93 square metres. But, at 84 square metres, the average new three-bedroom home in Yorkshire is smaller than one in London by the equivalent of a double bedroom and a family living room, RIBA said. In the North East, the average size of a three-bedroom new-build is 85.4 square meters, while in the West Midlands it is 85.7 square metres. In London, the South East and the East of England, where properties tend to command higher prices, the average size of a three-bedroom property tends to be bigger than the optional standard of 93 square metres. The conversion of office space into residential homes is not covered under any space standards, meaning the 20,000 conversions last year came with no safe-guards, according to RIBA. RIBA wants to see a national space standard automatically applied to all new-build homes. DAILY MAIL

British workers will have worst pensions of any major economy
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the typical British worker can look forward to a pension worth only 38% of their salary, once state and private pensions are combined. The Paris-based thinktank said on Tuesday that this compares with above 90% in the Netherlands and Austria and 80% in Spain and Italy. Only Mexico and Chile offer their workers a worse prospect after retirement, although Turkey is the surprise table topper, giving its retirees an average pension equal to 105% of average wages, according to the OECD report. Workers in the UK will also have to toil for longer than anywhere else before they qualify for a state pension. Over the next two decades, the state pension age will move up to 68 in the UK, matched only by Ireland and the Czech Republic. In the rest of the developed world, even by the 2050s, the average retirement age will have moved up to only 65.5. The French and the Belgians enjoy the earliest retirement. France is raising its state pension age from the current level of 62, but widespread early retirement means that, on average, French men and women stop work at 59.4 and 59.8 respectively, with the Belgians not far behind. In recent years, there have been frequent warnings about the “demographic timebomb” that will wreck the finances of ageing European nations. But the OECD said: “The combination of higher pension ages, fewer options for early retirement, changes in the way benefits are calculated and more people working and contributing longer has greatly improved the financial sustainability of pay-as-you-go pension systems.” It said that the burden of paying pensions would rise from the current level of 9% of GDP to just 10.1% by 2050, with some countries even seeing reductions in spending. Pensions expert Tom McPhail, of Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “This analysis makes embarrassing reading for the politicians who have been responsible for the UK’s pensions over the past 25 years.” GUARDIAN

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