Friday, October 29, 2010
Thursday, October 28, 2010
As usual I'm in the bottom left hand quadrant with Mandela and the Dalai Lama, although over the years I seem to have been drifting away from the former and towards the latter. It's a bit lonely down here. I think it would help pass the time if one of us played a musical instrument. The top right hand quadrant on the other hand seems to have a party going on, though you'd want the music turned up loud to avoid having to engage in conversation with Stephen Harper or George Bush.
My position is also a long way from the placing of the Liberal Democrats for the general election this year who were put in the rarely used bottom right hand quadrant. The Greens on the other hand are down in the secular saints' corner with me.
Cobblers. I'm not a socialist. It's a crap, biased quiz.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
There are things to like and dislike about Kelly. Despite a disability and 4 kids she has done a degree and is doing a further training course. She wants to work. She's made the most of what is available and she has four presentable children. She's probably a good mother. On the negative side one wonders why a woman with an inheritable illness has had four kids and also why she chooses to be a useful fool for the Daily Mail. One also wonders where the fathers are and why they aren't paying maintenance (or are they actually paying child support direct to the CSA, which the Daily Mail has forgotten to mention?).
The Daily Mail article doesn't itemise Kelly's benefits to explain how they add up to £37,000, so I tried to estimate them using the government calculator. Incidentally, playing with the calculator will make you an instant fan of IDS's proposed simplification of the benefits system. I hadn't realised quite how Byzantine it had become.
I assumed that Kelly is paying the average rent for a 4 bedroom house in Chorley, which, using Rightmove, I estimate at £800 a month, and I also assumed that she is getting the maximum in disability benefits. Even so, I only reached a total of £34,836.88, more than £2,000 below the £37,000 she says she gets. The extra £2,000 could be because she is paying an above average rent, or because the training course she is doing is government sponsored, or she is simply taking into account the value of the benefits in kind such as free school meals for Liam and Daniel and her travel costs to hospital for NHS treatment.
So how can money be saved? The most obvious way is less expensive housing. Until Aaron is older she could manage with a 3 bed house, but it must be borne in mind that any property she is in must be adapted for her disability. It is probably cheaper to adapt 4 bed accommodation for her now, than to do it now for a 3 bed and later for a 4 bed house. Anyway, let's assume that Kelly is paying an above average rent for her accommodation and could save £2,000 a year by moving. That leaves her with an income of £35,000, still £9,000 above the £26,000 cap on benefits that is going to be imposed.
Next, could Kelly manage on less for child support? I calculate this at £10,279.36 in child tax credits and £3,146 in child benefit. Note that Kelly's child tax credits are higher because she has a child under one year old and will be going down in 6 months time. Now the really interesting thing about these benefits is that Kelly would not lose them if she started working. She keeps the child benefit as long as she is not paying a higher rate of tax. She keeps the child tax credit in full if on a low wage and it would be withdrawn in stages as her income went up. In other words the system is already designed to ensure that someone who has children is never better off not working. The rates are also already graded to take into account the economies of scale that can be made with a large family.
The final part of Kelly's income is the amount she gets for her own maintenance. I've assumed that she gets the highest rates of incapacity benefit of £4,752.80, disabled living allowance of £3,712.80 and mobility allowance of £2,592.2.
The long-term rate of incapacity benefit is significantly higher than income support. If Kelly was on income support she would only be getting £3,403.40 p.a. Whether you think that is justified depends on whether you think someone on incapacity benefit is a disabled person deserving sympathy or a work-shy scrounger. For the sake of argument we will assume that you are a Daily Mail reader and reduce Kelly's benefit by the difference of £1,349.4. But that still leaves Kelly with £33,650. We've still got to find £7,650 to dock off Kelly's income.
So shall we scrap Kelly's disability living allowance and mobility allowance completely, saving £6,305? Despite the fact that these are benefits that would not be withdrawn if she was working? Despite the fact that without them she would probably find it impossible to even look for work? I know someone in a wheelchair who has to pay £44 for a taxi every time she wants to go shopping, so Kelly's mobility allowance probably covers one shopping trip a week.
As far as I can estimate, the figure of £60,000, that Kelly says she needs to make it worth her while working, does not take into account the benefits she would continue to receive if she got a job.
So, in answer to the questions I posed earlier:
- Kelly gets such high benefits chiefly because of an unusual combination of a large family and physical disability. All 50.000 of the families affected by the benefit cap probably fit this profile.
- Can her benefits be reduced without causing her and her children undue hardship? Yes, but not to anywhere near the £26,000 level.
- Is such a high level of benefit a disincentive to work? Apparently not in Kelly's case, and since many of the benefits she gets would be retained if she was at work, this is a question to which the answer is no. However, I wonder why we think it important to get a disabled woman with four children, two of whom are under three, into work at all.
- Are working parents on a median wage actually worse off than Kelly? Since they have access to many of the benefits she has, I'd say probably not.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Gosh -- that's appalling isn't it? The gall of the woman. A single mother with four children living a comfortable lifestyle. What can we do about that? I know. Let's make them pick oakum.
Monday, October 25, 2010
So it seems my voluntary contributions were not pointless after all.
The shout caps read "Through innovation we've achieved a huge reduction in fresh water use. More solutions are within reach".
One hopes he is right. Take a look at this article in The Economist. In March the Pembina Institute did a report on the steam assisted method of extracting oil from the deeper sands, which is touted as less environmentally damaging than open pit mining. "Projects were judged on general environmental management, land use, air emissions, water use and impact on climate change, and then given an overall score." Guess what, Canadian Natural's project at Primrose scored the lowest at 25%. And, they scored poorly on commitment to regional environmental initiatives.
Nobody from Canadian Natural was available to comment. Maybe they were hanging out at the lake.
But, I'm one of the thousands of people who have paid voluntary payments to make up for the gap in their National Insurance record. That option, by the way, is open to anyone not paying NI compulsorily, such as a full-time mother, and it can be done later, when she is back at work. Furthermore, a lot of the women pensioners, who are not receiving full pensions, voluntarily elected to pay the lower NI "married woman's rate" when they were working, knowing that it would deprive them of a pension.
That's not to say that the present system is fair to women who are full-time carers, but the fact is that it is possible to get a full pension even if you have gaps in your employment, and there will be a lot of people who took care to cover those gaps feeling they might as well not have bothered.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
On the other hand I can't work out whether I'll get any of the Equitable Life compensation. I've always been confused by this issue, and I've probably made the wrong decisions. I had a small fund with a guaranteed endowment rate which does not mature until I'm 60. I lost the guaranteed annuity as a result of the collapse. I've read that anyone like me who invested before 1992 hasn't lost anything, but I don't see how that is the case. However, I also invested after 1992, so maybe I get some compensation for that. Apparently I should also have taken my fund out of Equitable Life and invested it elsewhere, but at the time there was such a whopping penalty for transferring my fund that I thought it best to leave it where it was. I suppose I should have consulted an IFA, but by that point I'd been given some very bad investment advice by an IFA that lost me thousands, so I'd decided to make my own investment decisions from that point on.
The fact is that market investments are too much of a gamble for people who are on small or medium incomes, but some of us have no choice but make our own provision if we are not in employment with a pension scheme. If I had to do it all again I would not take out a private pension policy at all, and do all my saving in building society accounts, or National Savings. Alternatively I'd just put all my money into buying a property. Despite the recent dip in property prices and the further fall we will probably have, property has been the best investment in my lifetime.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Overall, I'm relieved that it is not as bad as I feared.
The measures for schools which show definite LD input are the most satisfactory. My two oldest friends are teachers in inner-city schools, who voted LD for the first time this year. I've been wondering if they are still speaking to me ever since, but I think they are going to be pleased by this.
However, I'm very unhappy about the prioritisation of universal benefits over welfare. I fear that British society is going to increasingly look like Canada, with an underclass who are homeless and/or dependent on charitable handouts. I don't find that remotely acceptable.
I predict that the rise in the age threshold for housing benefit will result in a flood of homeless young people sleeping on the streets as we had when Thatcher removed benefits for young people. Expect tent-cities in London parks. There will be a reduction in sex-trafficked migrants smuggled into the UK because the pimps will find plenty of recruits among our homeless young women.
The time-limited invalidity benefit together with the cap on benefits for large families is going to have a disastrous affect on the lives of many vulnerable people. It will result in broken marriages, children going into care and single parents and disabled people who would benefit from the support of a relationship being forced to struggle on alone.
Protecting non means-tested fuel allowance while slashing welfare benefits is breathtakingly cynical, and of course exactly the kind of thing Brown would have done.
I'm also very conscious that were Ian and I still in the UK, the spending review would be a disaster for us personally. We are in Canada because Ian's an historian who was made redundant by his university in 2004, but if he'd kept his job he'd be facing redundancy now, and I'd be losing my incapacity benefit, leaving us subsisting on very inadequate pensions. I used to be a legal-aid family lawyer, so even if I'd still been working, I would be hurting now. There are a lot of measures in the review that look a lot more bearable from 4,000 miles away.
Ian and I are going to be affected by the rise in state pension age. I think all people in their fifties would like the details as soon as possible so that we can amend our plans for our retirement. This is going to be a big blow for many women. However, it is also something I accept as a necessary and fair economy.
My mum is likely to be affected by the changes to social care. I'm pleased by the localisation, but if the NHS had not been ring-fenced, social care would not need this level of cuts. Should we expect a log-jam of elderly people to taking up much needed hospital beds because there are no care places for them?
What is very clear is the Liberal Democrat input into the review. That is a boost for us. I can't pretend to be happy with the coalition economic policy. I would have preferred the deficit to be reduced over 2 government terms, not one, and although some regressive measures are inevitable with cuts of this size, I think the most deprived are being hit too hard. However, the Conservatives on their own would be far worse.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
As I went down to Dymchurch Wall,
I heard the South sing o'er the land
I saw the yellow sunlight fall
On knolls where Norman churches stand.
And ringing shrilly, taut and lithe,
Within the wind a core of sound,
The wire from Romney town to Hythe
Along its airy journey wound.
A veil of purple vapour flowed
And trailed its fringe along the Straits;
The upper air like sapphire glowed:
And roses filled Heaven's central gates.
Masts in the offing wagged their tops;
The swinging waves pealed on the shore;
The saffron beach, all diamond drops
And beads of surge, prolonged the roar.
As I came up from Dymchurch Wall,
I saw above the Downs' low crest
The crimson brands of sunset fall,
Flicker and fade from out the West.
Night sank: like flakes of silver fire
The stars in one great shower came down;
Shrill blew the wind; and shrill the wire
Rang out from Hythe to Romney town.
The darkly shining salt sea drops
Streamed as the waves clashed on the shore;
The beach, with all its organ stops
Pealing again, prolonged the roar.
Davidson was a Scotsman who abandoned a career as a teacher to write. He committed suicide aged 52 in 1909, by drowning himself at sea. When I was a small child my family spent summers on Romney Marsh, and as a London child, I loved the open space and freedom to roam there. When I was given this poem to read for a drama exam, it was the first time I'd read anything that echoed my own experience. I liked the truthfulness of including the pervasive sound of the wind in the telegraph wire in a nature poem.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Monday, October 4, 2010
Sunday, October 3, 2010
On the plus side, I've discovered the cheap classics sold by Amazon and am building up a huge library just because I can. So far I have the complete works of Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy and Edith Wharton. I'm disappointed that I can't find a complete Proust.
Karl Pyrdum, of Got Medieval is delighted by the Kindle screensaver from the Lindisfarne Gospels and may augment it with another 24 medieval images. I hope he does.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
I scored 100%, which apparently makes me more knowledgeable about religion than 89% of Americans, and that's despite my shameful ignorance about Cardinal Newman.