Monday, March 9, 2009

Dear, you asked for my opinions...

... on your latest shenanigans, and I will gladly share them with you, but please don't expect them to always be polite. (I hope other people will answer with better grace than me!)

The consultation about Ending Child Poverty: making it happen, about which I blogged here closes in two days, so I'm devoting most of my blog session today to my answers to the questions, as follows:

1 a) Does the 2020 vision capture the key areas where action is required to ensure the greatest impact on reducing child poverty?

No. Thanks to Income Support, there currently is no real child poverty in this country - or technically shouldn't be - but you're phasing that out now, I understand, so there probably soon will be. The action required to prevent the problem would therefore be to reverse your plan to phase out Income Support. It is a bread line benefit which does its job very well and keeps people out of poverty, as it was always intended to.

1 b) Are the building blocks the right ones to make progress towards 2020, including for those groups at particular risk of poverty?

No. Depriving children of their mothers by coercing the mothers into the workplace and the children into Surestart centres isn't good for anyone except government and big business. It certainly isn't good for children and won't make families any better off, because most will end up working for low wages.

2 a) Should the measure of success be expanded beyond relative income, combined low income and material deprivation, and persistent low income to also include absolute low income?

Yes. It should *only* include absolute low income. Those other measures are just political devices which mean nothing to the rest of us. People should be free to make the choice to live with only the bare essentials, if they want to. The only reason to take this choice out of people's hands by threatening to remove their children is to put more money in the hands of the corporations and more power in the hands of government. Trying to force the whole population climb up the same greasy pole is not good government. It does not represent the people.

2 b) Will proposals to publish a strategy, informed by an expert child poverty commission, and proposals to monitor and report on progress, drive the action needed?

No, of course it won't. Instead you need to publish a strategy informed by ordinary people, most of whom would probably be happy with low taxes, less regulation and a basic breadline benefit for all who require it. The kinds of strategies you're planning make you look like psychopathic control freaks, and we're not fooled by your "It's for the kiddies" smokescreen. It's not for them at all, is it?

3 a) What are the main constraints to tackling child poverty at the local level?

The plan to phase out Income Support, which will cause no end of problems for families. But at least it will create more jobs for the boys, so who cares?

3 b) How can central Government support local authorities in overcoming these constraints?

By reversing the plan to phase out Income Support. It could also relax planning controls to bring down the price of property, and fit every house with solar panels and wind turbines to cut down on fuel bills. If it was serious about reducing poverty, it would do these things. But it isn't, so it doesn't.

4 Is the existing local performance framework sufficient to ensure that all local areas take the necessary action to tackle child poverty?

Yes. For goodness's sake, please don't make it any worse than it already is.

5 a) Should a duty on local authorities and delivery partners (options one and/or two in paras 2.24 and 2.25) be introduced, in addition to the existing local performance framework to incentivise more authorities to prioritise action to tackle child poverty?

No! Just do the things I've said above. You can leave local authorities out of it, although they used to do a better job of managing the social housing stock than the housing associations now do.

6 a) Should the Government consider requiring all local authorities to set a specific child poverty target or a target from a ‘basket of indicators’ (option three in para 2.26)?

No. It's ridiculous. You're planning to penalise families who have done nothing wrong and have enough troubles already, and to use local authorities as a stick to beat them with instead of doing the job directly yourselves doesn't make it any less reprehensible.

7 Are there other, more effective steps that could be taken, within or outside new legislation, to incentivise more local authorities to prioritise taking action on child poverty?

No, just make the money available for people in the form of Income Support, please. Or you could call it tax credits but take out the compulsion to work. We need a laissez-faire government and a fair sharing out of resources, not the precise opposite which is what we've currently got.

8 Please let us have your views on responding to this consultation (e.g. the number and type of questions, was it easy to find, understand, complete etc)

It was fine thanks. If you take my views into account, I'll be even more impressed. (But I won't hold my breath.)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Prudence is a criminal and will be suitably punished.

If you have children and you choose to live on less than 60% of the national average income - or even feel you have no choice - this now counts as 'child neglect'. You might have developed (or always known) an especially prudent way of living which means that you and your children are short of nothing. You might prefer to invest your time in your children rather than being out at work all hours, but none of that matters to the people who make our laws and nor will it to those who try to enforce them.

This [opens pdf] document announces the systematic roll-out of an 11-year legislative process which is designed to single out and intervene in all families falling below a certain income level.

The level is high by my standards: way too high. If you are a couple with two children under the age of 14, you will need to be earning £270 per week - after income tax, council tax and housing costs have been deducted, where housing costs include rents, mortgage interest (but not the repayment of principal), buildings insurance and water charges. So if you're paying the average mortgage cost of £132 per week, average council tax of £24 per week and water charges of another tenner or so, you will need to net about £436 per week. Add income tax onto that, and we're looking at, what? A gross salary of £29K. If your annual gross income exceeds that, you are safe from this programme - for now. (A single parent of two children under the age of 14 needs to be earning £189 per week, after income tax, council tax and housing costs have been deducted, where housing costs include rents, mortgage interest (but not the repayment of principal), buildings insurance and water charges.) - Source.

If your Child Tax Credits bring you up to that kind of income, I'm afraid you still won't be exempt. Any families in receipt of any kind of State benefit are included also.

The paper sets out the government's naked agenda:

The Government believes that every parent who could work, should do so.

Digging your vegetable plot doesn't count as work. Fixing your wind turbine doesn't count as work. Raising and teaching your children does not count as work.

The Government will provide all families with a clear route out of poverty. On the other side of this contract, we look to families to make a commitment to improve their situations where they can, to do the best for their children’s well-being and development, and to take advantage of the opportunities on offer. That is why the Government is increasing the expectations that we place on parents in receipt of state support.

I want to see the stick, please. What happens if we refuse to comply? There's only one thing they can do in persistent cases of 'child neglect' isn't there?

Remove the children.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Gordon Brown finally speaks the truth"

The things you find on Facebook!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Trading whilst insolvent

Didn't we once have a quaint little law about trading whilst insolvent?

If so, it doesn't seem to apply to the banks.

British banks are 'technically insolvent'
By Ben Russell and David Prosser

Britains biggest banks are "technically insolvent", Royal Bank of Scotland said yesterday, as the global banking industry was rocked by another day of turmoil, including the announcement of $23bn (£16bn) of new losses from Merrill Lynch and Citigroup, the giant US institutions.

Analysts working for RBS, one of several British banks to have received emergency funding from the UK Government last year, told the City that "the domestic UK banks are technically insolvent on a fully marked-to-market basis".

The warning does not mean British banks are about to go bust, because the assessment is purely theoretical, and RBS said the position was "not unusual at this stage in the economic cycle".

"..the assessment is purely theoretical.." Ah, that's ok then. It's just that when I was running businesses the figures on the balance sheet, as "theoretical" as they were, formed the basis for our decisions like: whether to continue trading or risk criminal procedings.

I guess bank managers don't have to worry about such trivialities.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Clarkson's got it sussed

Jeremy Clarkson is a distant cousin of ours - so distant that he's never heard of us and wouldn't be able to see us if he had high-powered binoculars (which I'm sure he does) and indeed I have struggled, in the past, to glimpse any sign of a family resemblance.

But in recent weeks he has been doing us proud, I'm glad to say, both in this video clip and the article section pasted below. Why does it take a journalist specialising in cars to tell us how it is re: the economy, though?

"Ireland is tiny. Its population is smaller than New Zealand’s, so how could the Irish ever have generated the cash for so many trips to the hairdressers, so many lobsters and so many Rollers? And how, now, as they become the first country in Europe to go officially into recession, can they not see the financial meteorite coming? Why are they not all at home, singing mournful songs?

It’s the same story on this side of the Irish Sea, of course. We’re all still plunging hither and thither, guzzling wine and wondering what preposterously expensive electronic toys the children will want to smash on Christmas morning this year. We can’t see the meteorite coming either.

I think mainly this is because the government is not telling us the truth. It’s painting Gordon Brown as a global economic messiah and fiddling about with Vat, pretending that the coming recession will be bad. But that it can deal with it.

I don’t think it can. I have spoken to a couple of pretty senior bankers in the past couple of weeks and their story is rather different. They don’t refer to the looming problems as being like 1992 or even 1929. They talk about a total financial meltdown. They talk about the End of Days.

Already we are seeing household names disappearing from the high street and with them will go the suppliers whose names have only ever been visible behind the grime on motorway vans. The job losses will mount. And mount. And mount. And as they climb, the bad debt will put even more pressure on the banks until every single one of them stutters and fails.

The European banks took one hell of a battering when things went wrong in America. Imagine, then, how life will be when the crisis arrives on this side of the Atlantic. Small wonder one City figure of my acquaintance ordered three safes for his London house just last week.

Of course, you may imagine the government will simply step in and nationalise everything, but to do that, it will have to borrow. And when every government is doing the same thing, there simply won’t be enough cash in the global pot. You can forget Iceland. From what I gather, Spain has had it. Along with Italy, Ireland and very possibly the UK.

It is impossible for someone who scored a U in his economics A-level to grapple with the consequences of all this but I’m told that in simple terms money will cease to function as a meaningful commodity. The binary dots and dashes that fuel the entire system will flicker and die. And without money there will be no business. No means of selling goods. No means of transporting them. No means of making them in the first place even. That’s why another friend of mine has recently sold his London house and bought somewhere in the country . . . with a kitchen garden.

These, as I see them, are the facts. Planet Earth thought it had £10. But it turns out we had only £2. Which means everyone must lose 80% of their wealth. And that’s going to be a problem if you were living on the breadline beforehand.

Eventually, of course, the system will reboot itself, but for a while there will be absolute chaos: riots, lynchings, starvation. It’ll be a world without power or fuel, and with no fuel there’s no way the modern agricultural system can be maintained. Which means there will be no food either. You might like to stop and think about that for a while.

I have, and as a result I can see the day when I will have to shoot some of my neighbours - maybe even David Cameron - as we fight for the last bar of Fry’s Turkish Delight in the smoking ruin that was Chipping Norton’s post office.

I believe the government knows this is a distinct possibility and that it might happen next year, and there is absolutely nothing it can do to stop Cameron getting both barrels from my Beretta. But instead of telling us straight, it calls the crisis the “credit crunch” to make it sound like a breakfast cereal and asks Alistair Darling to smile and big up Gordon when he’s being interviewed.

I can’t say I blame it, really. If an enormous meteorite was heading our way and the authorities knew it couldn’t be stopped or diverted, why bother telling anyone? Best to let us soldier on in the dark until it all goes dark for real." - Times Online

Monday, December 29, 2008


In my third and last post of the day here, I want to explain my routine financial checks, because I'm not sure if I have before - very remiss of me, if not! A regular checking system is vital to good financial health.

It takes me about 10-15 minutes to establish my current financial position, to reconcile transactions since my last check and to make reliable financial plans for the upcoming days and weeks. By doing this every few days, I can make sure there will be enough money in my account to pay bills (mostly by monthly Direct Debit), keep an eye on any overspending and check that my financial identity hasn't been compromised.

I use telephone banking to get my balance and recent transactions, noting all this info on a dated page in my A4 diary. Then I check the outgoing payments against the receipts in my purse and make notes of all spending. The direct debit payments and regular incomings are scheduled on a wall calendar that I keep specifically for the job, and I tick off planned payments on there as they come and go. Then it's a simple sum to subtract planned payments from the balance plus expected income: the remaining amount is what I know can safely spend when shopping. I usually divide this amount into weeks and keep the weekly figure in my mind to try to avoid overspending. If I do overspend one week, I know I must compensate the next week.

I've been able to lend money in emergencies to friends who were on ten times my income (with less than half the number of children!) in the past, by keeping track of my finances in this way. It's something that people on very low incomes have to do in order to make ends meet and I think this necessity is an advantage, because it's good to spend carefully and to know how much money you've got.

This kind of financial management isn't taught in schools, is it? But it should be - it's one of the most vital lessons a young person can learn, I think.


Making the decision to live prudently - even, shock horror, to not make the getting and spending of money my main priority in life - was a refreshingly easy one to make and it's been a gloriously relaxed and enjoyable way to live. I've had time for my children, to be here for them and to cherish their early years which, let's face it, is an experience that money can't buy. Stepping off the money-go-round isn't difficult but the thing that surprises me even now, many years later, is other people's reaction to such a decision.

I've never cared what passing strangers thought, and friends come and go. The only friendships worth having come about from connections far deeper than money, position and convenience anyway and I make more than enough of those to keep me happy. The only reactions that have caused me problems have been those of some extended family members and neighbours.

One (affluent) neighbour in particular suddenly started talking to us again when he thought we'd got a new car - and stopped when it turned out to be a courtesy car! My mother was so worried that we'd inevitably become a drain on her (much more ample) resources that our relationship was often extremely strained. There were some other reasons for that, but I think money was a main one. Even my old dad, who lives almost as happily in relative poverty as we do, keeps wishing that we'd "win the lottery" - a difficult feat, since we don't buy tickets!

In general, it's a bit like the elephant in the room. It seems to make people feel uncomfortable, though it's taken me many years to empathise with the other person's point of view and realise to some extent why my decision might have caused so much general discomfort. I think people might have felt primarily bewildered by our refusal to follow the herd, which is similar to the reaction we get to our our off-grid plans and home education. There's a kind of glazing over of the eyes, and you can see them trying not to think about it until they've had enough time to process it. (Another neighbour, who'd blanked me for five years after I deregistered the children, excitedly knocked on my door one day to inform me that she'd just heard about home ed on Radio 4, "So it must be ok!")

I think, unhappily, that we invoke feelings of guilt in some relatives though, and possibly shame in others. I'm sorry about that, but I can't help it. We don't go about pushing ourselves in their faces though, so if they want to forget about us then they can - with impunity, as far as I'm concerned. It's been many years since I stopped hoping or even wishing for anything else. I still want to be part of a big, mutually supporting tribe but I think my best hope for that will come from the younger generation now, and/or from those deeper connections that always withstand the test of time.