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Monday, 21 January 2019

Save the over 75 TV licence

As you doubtless know, the government has passed the funding of TV licences for people aged over 75 to the BBC. It is iniquitous that what is in essence a form of universal benefit should be dumped on our national broadcaster. The reason is obvious: if the BBC decides it cannot afford to administer the concession, as seems likely, it will be blamed rather than the government that decided that a national concession introduced by one of its predecessors should now be paid for by a media corporation.

This is ministerial cowardice of the first order: deliberately ducking responsibility for one's own official actions.

The NPC is organising a demo in London on 7 March - details on the right.

They have also produced a petition (below).
  • Right-click on the petition.
  • On the menu that appears, click on 'Save image as...'
  • Click 'save' to download to your computer
  • You can then print it in the normal way.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Bus passes - unequal and at risk

A begrudged concession
There have in recent years been discontented mutterings in certain strands of the political classes who despise ordinary people receiving - as they see it - something for nothing. As most of us know, they now have TV licences for the over-75s in their sights, but some have been resentfully eyeing up concessionary bus passes as well.

National bus passes were introduced for everyone over 60 across the entire UK quite a few years ago now, though each is valid only within the UK nation in which you reside. For example, a Welsh pass is valid only in Wales.

What many people don't realise is that the attack on concessionary travel has already begun, but only for residents in England - not for those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In all of the UK, excepting England, you receive your national bus pass at 60. In England, you receive the national bus pass when you reach the female State Pension age, whether you're a man or a woman. For most people - and soon for all - this will be when they reach 66.

The inequality for the English doesn't end here. London residents get a pass for free travel on buses in London at 60, and Merseyside gives free travel on buses, trains and ferries within the county, also at 60. There may be other parts of England that make similar local offers, but I haven't heard of them.

An example of the cost of this discrepancy: if we take the standard bus fare in my area (£2.30), a person who catches the bus four times a week, perhaps for two return trips to the shops, will lose more than £2,800 through getting their pass at 66 instead of 60. Obviously, the more trips, the higher the cost.

An article on the NHS website in 2012 stated:
"Research [has] found that older people who had a free bus pass were more likely to take part in what the researchers describe as 'active travel'. The definition of active travel includes riding on a bus and activities such as walking and riding a bike. While not studied by the researchers, they did speculate that frequent active travel may have a positive effect on mood and mental health.
"This study comes at a time when the government is reportedly considering scrapping free travel for pensioners or making it means tested. It is useful to consider the contribution free bus passes may make to levels of physical activity among older people.
"Even a small amount of physical activity is known to reduce the risk of disability in older people. And, while the national free bus pass scheme is estimated to cost taxpayers around £1 billion a year, the annual health costs associated with disability and physical inactivity far outweigh that at an estimated £10.7 billion."
With the isolation of some elderly people being recognised as a growing social problem, especially with the decline of extended families, free travel is surely a significant part of any solution, and will help prevent people from declining into immobility, depression, or both, through being stuck in the house.

I despise the short-sighted, penny-pinching attitude of wealthy here-today-gone-tomorrow politicians with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement*. That attitude has already created a real threat to passes because of major cuts in council funding since 2010: the Local Government Association warned last year that maintaining the pass is becoming "almost impossible".

The difference among the nations of the UK will be explained away by saying that bus passes are 'a devolved matter', but that doesn't apply in England which has been denied devolution. I do wonder hypothetically whether a devolved assembly in England would have taken the high-handed action on concessionary passes that the British government chose to impose upon the English.

I'm a resident of Merseyside and received my Merseytravel pass at 60. I still own a car, but my car use has at least halved since I acquired free local travel, and I know others who have stopped running a car altogether. There are environmental gains in encouraging people to use public transport, not by the stick of making motoring more expensive, but by the carrot of affordable public transport. Public and private transport both being expensive will simply increase isolation with its multiple associated problems.

We live in a society where many of our wealthy rulers believe that poverty is a consequence of indolence or bad choices and see no reason why such irresponsible behaviour (as they view it) should be rewarded. We should oppose any attacks on concessionary travel with the same vigour, and for very similar reasons, that we apply to attacks on the benefits system, caring services and the NHS. All such attacks have a common cause, and therefore require a common response.

Neville Grundy

* The sense of entitlement I refer to allows MPs and peers to:
  • Eat and drink alcohol in taxpayer-subsidised bars and restaurants in Parliament.
  • Claim expenses for items that the rest of us would have to meet out of our own pockets, such as TV licences.
  • Claim the costs of mortgages on second homes in London - and then keep the home at the end of it all. Bought by us, thank you!
This list is by no means exhaustive!

Monday, 7 January 2019

Government pensions grab impoverishes miners

Then: fighting the government for their jobs.
Now:  fighting the government for their pensions.
This is a scandal that has largely slipped by unnoticed: the massive profits our government has made over decades by creaming huge sums of money from British miners' pension schemes.

Ministers took £617 million from the miners’ pension fund in 2018 to top up Treasury coffers, bringing the total removed to more than £4.4 billion in 24 years. The scandal has left retired pit workers receiving disgracefully low payouts averaging £84 a week, with at least 6,000 having had their pensions cut. Successive governments have mined the rich seam of funds since 1994. The Tories have pocketed two payments of £51 million in the last two years alone and have never put a penny back. Energy Minister Claire Perry recently revealed that the government will purloin another £427 million over the next three years.

Six months ago, Labour MP Dennis Skinner raised the matter in parliament at Prime Minister's Questions: "Is the minister aware that already his government have taken more than three and a half billion pounds out of the miners' pension? They're like Philip Green and Maxwell put together. Stop stealing the miners' pension."

Gloria De Piero, Labour MP for Ashfield, wrote in The Mirror last September: "It seems like daylight robbery to many. While many MPS [Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme] pensioners struggle to get by, the Government is profiting to the tune of billions of pounds from the investments of miners’ pension contributions. This is quite simply, grossly unfair, and it really is time the government did the decent thing and started talks to renegotiate the surplus sharing arrangement."

Considered alongside the WASPI scandal, it is clear that the government regards the pensions of ordinary people as a resource to be plundered at will without any concern for either the injustice of depriving people what they have worked for all their lives or the indignity of needless poverty in retirement.

Details of how the rip-off came about can be found at WalesOnLine, and an on-line petition has been set up to demand that this injustice be stopped. You can sign it here.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Happy Fat Cat Friday (for some)!

I picked up the Metro on the bus today and read on page 2 an article headlined, 'Fat Cat Friday'. A few minutes later, I saw the same headline on Sky News on TV in the pub. By 1.00 pm today (Friday 4 January), the UK's top chief executives will have been paid as much since the start of 2019 as an average worker is paid in a year.

According to a study by the High Pay Centre and the Chartered Institute of Personnel, the average FTSE-100 CEO is paid £133 for every £1 earned by their employees. Twenty years ago, the figure was £45 for every £1 earned by their staff. To put it another way, they receive more than £1,000 per hour, while the living wage is £7.83 per hour.

Such unjustifiable remunerations are based on the self-serving fantasy of uniquely irreplaceable top managers who are - it is preposterously alleged - worth every penny of their bloated pay packets. On the other hand, the wages of the workers who actually create the wealth is treated as a cost to be minimised.

According to the study, the median pay packet of top CEOs is £3.9 million, an increase of 11% in a year. Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, responded to the findings by calling for 'big reforms to bring fat cat pay down to earth.'

This article follows on from the post of 19 December which pointed out that for every £1 million squandered on excessive executive pay, 65 minimum wage or 35 average wage jobs could have been created. Which do you think is worth more to the economy?

Neville Grundy

Cost of rail privatisation

I seem to remember being told that privatisation would lead to competition which in turn would improve services and bring prices down. I had to travel by Northern Rail recently and asked the woman in the ticket office if the trains were running normally. "Normally for them," she replied.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Oppose privatisation of Food Standards inspections

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) now want to stop independent meat inspections by Meat Hygiene Inspectors and Official Vets and leave the slaughter houses to carry out their own inspections for hygiene and safety. For an organisation such as FSA to contemplate such a dangerous strategy in terms of public health is unbelievable.

The FSA was set up in 2000 after Mad Cow Disease to control bad practices within the food industry and claims to "put the consumer first". Whilst we appreciate they have excelled with regards to diet and nutrition, the same cannot be said for food-borne illnesses, mainly caused by contaminated meat.

New proposals mean that the meat industry will be able to regulate itself rather than have independent inspections - more details here. If our Meat Inspectors are not there to give us independent health and safety and hygiene advice in slaughter houses, we should be asking the question 'if the Food Standards Agency is really fit for its purpose?'

Please sign this petition to keep the Meat Hygiene Inspectors and inspections independent and send a clear message to the FSA to stop listening to the meat industry and pandering to their cost saving ideas at the expense of public health.

Friday, 28 December 2018

EU - who actually benefits?

The UK's richest 1% is on target to own two-thirds of all wealth by 2030. Foodbanks provide a lifeline to poor and working poor. The Tories continue to take a wrecking ball to the NHS and social provision. The EU's posted workers directive legitimises paying UK-based foreign workers slave wages.This horror has been a feature of life for the UK's working class since the crash 9 years ago while we have been full members of the neo-liberal EU.

Again the question is posed: Will those Remainers calling for a people's vote explain how the working class benefits from EU membership?

Tony Mulhearn

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

We're all in it together

From 1929 - predating Cameron's infamous
utterance on austerity by more than 80 years
Local newspapers everywhere publish letters by readers criticising waste by their local councils, and people often become angered if they believe that central government is squandering taxpayers' money. This is all quite reasonable and constitutes a form of accountability. This is not say I believe that every criticism is correct - for example, I profoundly disagree with those who would completely eliminate our foreign aid budget - but the principle of citizens scrutinising expenditure of taxpayers' money, i.e. our money, is sound.

A different attitude tends to prevail when we consider what large private corporations do with their money. Most of us are aware of the seven (or more) figure salaries that are paid to corporate functionaries in boardrooms. We are led to believe that these passengers on the gravy train are among the best and brightest available, and we are told that such talent isn't cheap. As a result, people are considerably less concerned about excessive boardroom pay than they are by, say, the salary paid to a chief executive of a local authority whose remuneration is a fraction by comparison. The difference is that the public sector boss is paid out of our income or council taxes, which we see as ours, but we are conned into accepting unthinkingly that top executives actually create the wealth that provides the salaries and bonuses they receive.

A quick word about bonuses: a long time ago I assumed that they were paid for success. I soon realised by the sight of failing companies that ensured executive bonuses were dished out prior to collapsing, after which jobs, pensions and, if on public sector contracts, a fortune in taxpayers' money would all be lost. Feathering your own nest in this way at others' expense should be illegal.

Successful business leaders do not 'make' money, they acquire it: the money is already there in the economy. The millions paid to business top brass come from all the ordinary, often poor, people who use their services, buy their products, shop in their stores, gamble, attend professional sporting events, so on. By paying excessive salaries, thousands of millions of pounds are removed from the economy and stashed away for whatever purposes the recipients may have in mind. That wealth didn't appear out of nowhere - it was acquired from ordinary people who should feel just as concerned about what happens to their money after they have spent it as they do about their taxes.

Here's an extreme example why it matters. We recently learnt that Denise Coates received a remuneration of £265 million last year from her on-line gambling business, Bet365. It is widely known that gambling is much more prevalent in poorer communities, and it is from them that Ms Coates derives a large proportion of her wealth. There is a moral argument here, but I'll concentrate on the financial.

If we took £264 million from Ms Coates and left her with a mere £1 million to struggle by on for the year, the money thus gained could:
  • Create 17,355 minimum wage jobs; or
  • Create 9295 average wage jobs.
All from one person's pay packet.
This is because for every £1 million squandered on excessive wages, 65 minimum wage or 35 average wage jobs could have been created. If you then total all the excessive boardroom wages in all the big companies across the entire economy, it quickly becomes clear why, despite being the 5th or 6th richest country in the world, we have
  • Rising levels of poverty; 
  • An increasingly outdated and crumbling infrastructure; 
  • Struggling health, education and social services; and
  • A major housing shortage.
Quite simply, the nation's wealth is being syphoned off at an accelerating rate for the benefit of a comparatively small number of individuals. We British people need to challenge the widely accepted myth of 'wealth creation' and scrutinise what happens to our money in the private sector with the same sense of ownership that we rightly have about our taxes.

To put it another way: what would benefit the ordinary people of this country more? One Denise Coates, or nearly ten thousand average wage jobs?

Neville Grundy

Sunday, 16 December 2018

EU: bosses' priorities offer nothing to ordinary people

Bob Crow
Bob's statement cuts through all the nationalistic, sanctimonious claptrap that remaining in the EU is 'essential' to 'our' prosperity. The UK has been part of the Bosses' club while experiencing the most appalling attacks on the working class for 200 years. To see some on the left who claim to support Jeremy Corbyn buying into this hysteria is to do a disservice to the poor and needy who have gained zero from EU membership, while the fat cats who are driving the Remain argument continue to pile up vast wealth. A united Socialist States of Europe should be our objective.

Tony Mulhearn

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

This deal will threaten UK workers’ rights

Letter from Frances O'Grady - 7 Dec 2018
Dear Member of Parliament,

Ever since the referendum, trade unions have said that leaving the EU must not put everyday protections at risk. These are not abstract regulations, but rights that really matter to working people. Like paid holidays, rights for part-time workers, time off for working mums and dads, equal pay for women and limits on working hours.

Theresa May promised to protect these rights after Brexit, and she’s insisted that her deal would protect and enhance rights at work. But I want to be clear that it doesn't even come close. This deal will threaten UK workers' rights – both during the transition period and afterwards.

Under the proposals, new EU rights that come into force after the transition won’t apply to UK workers. And after the transition, there is nothing to stop UK workers' rights falling far behind the rest of Europe. This deal even means that a future government could rip up the rights we have now.

The only employment rights commitments covering our future relationship with the EU are in the non-binding draft Political Declaration. In other words, they aren’t worth the paper they're written on. This is a bad deal for working people: bad for jobs and bad for rights.

Trade unions across Europe have long worked together to win a level playing field on rights at work. We won’t accept a deal that leaves UK workers worse off.

That is why trade unions can't support it – and we don't think you should either.

We need a deal that protects jobs and rights. And one way or another, the people must have a final say.

Frances O'Grady

General Secretary
Trades Union Congress

• See also: A Brexit that puts jobs and rights first