Saturday, November 10, 2012

Universal Tribulation

One of my hobby-horses (see here, here, here, and here) is the apparent belief among our rulers that allowing mass immigration, from countries where corruption is endemic and a State job is an opportunity for self-enrichment, will have no effect on the culture of the UK.

That was always unlikely - and even more unlikely with a relatively generous welfare state and a default assumption of honesty in claimants. True in 1948 but not true now. The benefits system is open to looting on a grand scale, especially by those with access to forged ID - which means not many Brits but an awful lot of Londoners.

Another hobby-horse is that the law-abiding are penalised for the sins of the lawless. Some hapless electrician with a Stanley knife in his pocket is pulled in because of youths being stabbed on London streets, children can no longer (as I did in youth on a classmate's farm) use an air-rifle unsupervised, I can't buy sodium chlorate weedkiller any more because someone might use it to blow things up.

Which brings me, by a roundabout route, to Ian Duncan Smith's Universal Credit, slated for implementation next year, and replacing Child Tax Credit, Working Families Tax Credit (which people with an income of over 50K could get - thank you Gordon Brown for this last-ditch attempt to encourage welfare dependency) and a number of other benefits.

"When implemented, Universal Credit will drastically affect the low-paid self-employed as well as anyone who makes a tax loss. It is proposed that Universal Credits, like the current Working Tax Credits, will be "limited to those who exceed the 'floor of assumed income'" based on the National Minimum Wage."

What this means is that a host of small businesses - often the "single mum selling her handmade stationery" type, which might make no profit or small profits, will be assumed for benefit purposes to be doing a 40 hour week for £6 an hour - whether they are or not. If you recall, the number of self-employed has mushroomed during this recession .

“A rise in self-employment may, in itself, be a good thing, however previous analysis from the CIPD found that the recent rise was less a sign of a resurgent enterprise culture, and more evidence of a growing army of part-time ‘odd jobbers’ desperate to avoid unemployment.”

Alas, come next summer this is going to go into reverse as large numbers of self-employed close their business down and sign on again. So why is this entrepreneur-friendly (well, wealthy entrepreneurs, anyway) administration stamping on what could be the next Laura Ashley or Party Planners ?

"I think it will cut out a lot of fraud, i am a housing benefit processor and the amount of self employed taxi drivers working 40 hours a week and declare £50 a week earnings is beyond a joke, however i do feel for the genuine people who are struggling, who will be hit by this i think it is unfair. if your not earning this money then your claim should not be based on this amount."

My HMRC spies (aka the DWP website) are quite open about it. Reducing fraud, along with "making work pay" (but not low paid self employed work) is what it's all about. The good guys (and gals) are suffering for the sins of the bad guys.

"Universal Credit will make it much easier to catch fraudsters as it will calculate benefit levels using real-time information linked to the PAYE system. By picking up financial irregularities, such as earnings whilst claiming unemployment benefits, it will remove the main opportunities for fraud and error in the system."

Well, it might, if there weren't 83 million National Insurance numbers in the UK for a working population of 30-million odd. Fraudsters are very resourceful people.

So while I have small sympathy for this self-employed, low income person :

"I am a seriously talented artist but no-one wants to buy art at the moment"

You can't but feel for this couple :

"I am employed 25 hours i have asked my boss to increase my hours but there are no available hours?? we have 2 children under 16,
when my husband lost his job 4yrs ago down to the company going into liquidation etc,etc, he was forced into claiming benefits because after months of looking for work nothing was available, he signed on for jsa but didnt receive any money because of what i earn…. a job was going at a local bus firm term time only, which he applied and got and is still currently there… NOW this is the confusing bit…….. my husband is classed as Self-employed ?? He works for the local company and gets a weekly wage… BUT because the company dont deduct tax and insurance from this wage he is classed as Sub-Contracred-Self employed ... because his work is Term-time this means he only works for approximatly 38 weeks of the year, thus leaving our household with only my income for the other 14 weeks, we do rely on tax credit as a safety net during these 14 weeks, we have both and still are looking for more full-time work but its easier said than done and with 2 small dependant it is difficult….. so how is universal credits going to help my situation if we dont meet there criteria???"
I think the answer is - "it isn't going to help" - and that's a great pity.

It's Just Like The Crucible, Isn't It ?

The BBC (and Newsnight**) are in the doo-doo because of Jimmy Saville*.

It's getting out of control, everyone saying that everyone else should be investigated, so they turn round and point the finger elsewhere.

"If I'm bad, look at him!"

* FWIW, back in the 70s, a nurse at St James's in Leeds told me "all the nurses know not to let him get you alone in a stock cupboard". But there are a fair few blokes like that in the world.

** Were the BBC right to pull the Saville prog after all ? The magnificent Anna Raccoon rips the story open - better than anything you'll read in the press or see on TV. Turns out she was a resident at one of the children's homes where JS allegedly did dirty deeds. Seven posts - "Past Lives and Present Misgivings" - exhausting/riveting to read, what must they have been like to write? And I note that a 14 year old Anna was quite a character then, too.

Friday, November 09, 2012

"America Has Reaffirmed Its Faith In Barack Obama"

Thus the Radio Four news headline at 7 a.m. on Wednesday. I don't remember that quite being the headline in November 2004, but maybe memory fails me.

I've got to the stage where, as in the UK, I don't honestly think who wins makes a vast amount of difference. Obama's foreign policy has out-Bushed Bush, with drones clocking up a body-count several times higher than the Texan cowboy's, plenty of civilian "collateral damage", and an innnovation that would have sent the media apoplectic if a Republican was the incumbent - the assassination of US citizens.

On the other hand, Romney seemed gung-ho for an immediate attack on Iran. Long time readers may note my distinct lack of enthusiasm for yet another Middle East "adventure". Iraq was a reasonable concept with appalling execution, Aghanistan has morphed somehow from "butcher and bolt" to liberal nation-building, Libya has no redeeming features whatsoever. As Mr Keynes put it, "when the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do?".

On the domestic front, Obama will want to let millions more Mexicans into the US, which will mainly impact on the employment prospects of blacks (who voted around 95% Obama - no good deed goes unpunished) and poor whites (as well as bankrupting California, but that's by the by). Romney wanted to give a green card to anyone in the world with a science degree, which would mainly impact the incomes and employment prospects of educated whites.

There's a silver lining for the winner, in the unlikely shape of shale gas. Just look at these price differentials. Some predict a US manufacturing renaissance driven by cheap energy. Japan, who are closing their nukes, are dependent on imported LNG and oil, Germany, doing the same, are dependent on Vladimir Putin's goodwill, as he controls the gas supply. This could be a golden opportunity for the US to rebuild lost manufacturing capacity.

One other silver lining, albeit tarnished. Had Obama lost, there'd have been riots and deaths in all the old familiar places. America's been spared that.