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Retiring in the UK is a bleak prospect for many. Whilst fuel poverty blights and sometimes takes the lives of among the most vulnerable in society, a protected budget of £11 billion is committed to aiding poverty abroad. In the UK, the government’s charity does not begin at home.

It is no secret that the UK’s population is taking longer to shuffle off its mortal coil. A recent report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has indicated that Britain’s ageing population is growing at its fastest rate since the 19th century and is projected to hit 70 million by 2027, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).  The current 62 million UK population is rising at 0.8% a year and may increase by 4.9 million to 67.2 million by 2020 and to 73 million by 2035. The ONS also suggests that the oldest age groups are the fastest growing and the number of people over the age of 85 is expected to more than double from 1.4 million now to 3.5 million within 25 years. Centenarians are set to rise more from 13,000 in 2010 to 110,000 in 2035, with the median age rising from 39.7 years in 2010 to 39.9 in 2020 and to 42.2 by 2035 [1]. Of course, this does not include mass uncontrolled immigration into the UK’s porous – rather – non-existent border.

Yet, in the present day, there is good reason to fear old age. Hardly a week seems to pass without reports of the appalling physical and psychological abuses dispensed by manipulative  sadistic and criminal employees at ‘care’ homes. Such abuses include:

  • Not being given adequate support to eat or drink, in particular those with dementia
  • Home helps not carrying out vital tasks such as washing and dressing because of lack of time;
  • Financial abuse, such as money being systematically stolen;
  • Talking over older people (sometimes on mobile phones) or patronising them;
  • Physical abuse, such as rough handling or unnecessary force. [2]

Even those not occupying care homes face difficult times, especially during the winter months. In 2007-09, around 35% of single pensioners were living in fuel poverty (defined as when someone needs to spend 10 per cent or more on heating their home) with many cutting back on food to meet their energy bills; around 2 million elderly people are so desperately cold that they go to bed when they are not tired or else move into a single room, in an attempt to keep their energy bills down.

The UK government has every reason to feel embarrassed at this shameful state of affairs, especially since the ‘Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000’ is meant to eliminate fuel poverty by 2016 [3]. Worse still, a number of the UK’s main energy suppliers have decided Christmas will arrive early for them this year:

  • EDF announced they will raise prices for domestic gas and electricity by 10.8%, meaning its typical dual-fuel bill for a direct debit customer will rise by £122 to £1,251 a year.
  • SSE, which trades as Southern Electric, Swalec and Scottish Hydro, increased its tariffs by 9% on October 15, the same day as Scottish Power announced plans to hike bills by an average 7% from December 3.
  • British Gas will impose an average increase of 6% affecting 8.5 million customers from November 16, with Npower planning an average rise of 8.8% for gas and 9.1% for electricity from November 26.

The government previously estimated that the total number of deaths relating to fuel poverty in the UK at 2,700 a year, but according to Prof. Christine Liddell (University of Ulster), some 7,800 people die during winter because they cannot afford to heat their homes properly. This figure suggests that there are 65 such deaths a day [4].

In the mean time, the government has responded by suggesting consumers ‘Switch utility providers and use price comparison sites’ – hardly a possibility for the computer illiterate pensioners who make up those most in need.

At the present time the government has budgeted £7.3bn for elderly social care in 2012, whilst the budget for overseas aid in 2013 is projected to be £11bn, ring-fenced by the philanthropic Mr Cameron. Both sums are large, but why should Mr Cameron be prepared to spend more on foreign aid than combating poverty within the UK’s borders? It is not a question of one life being more important than another, it is about dutifully serving his fellow countrymen, or (if one wishes to put it clinically) assisting British taxpayers who have paid money to the state all their lives, trusting that when they need assistance in turn, their taxes may well help them.

It is not even remotely cynical to suggest that committing £11bn in foreign aid is much more glamorous to career politicians like Mr Cameron than it is committing the same amount to help the vulnerable at home.

Domestically, Mr Cameron and his cross-party kin preside over a flat-lining economy, a crumbling society, a decrepit rule of law, an increasingly undemocratic politics and a talent for populist policy (which never comes to fruition either).

On the international stage, however, Mr Cameron has a chance to radiate statesmanship and policy. Whether it is preaching democracy in other countries, demanding the cessation of conflict, insisting that important things are attended to, or patronising third world countries with the British taxpayer’s money, there is a chance to cast himself in the role of a world leader.

It is all sound and fury, signifying nothing, but what else might one expect from the likes of Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg, who have only ever seen their parliamentary careers as an apprenticeship to their entrance on the world stage. Whilst their future (like their past) will be comfortable and they will never know what it is to endure, elderly men and women will have to suffer  all manner of indignities and hardships because they are less efficient political capital.

© thepanopticonblog, 2012

Notes

Another day, another attempt by Labour to define its message. When it comes to salvaging the economy, let alone their credibility, they are utterly bankrupt.

To words and phrases such as ‘credit crunch’ and ‘quantative easing’, let us add ‘preditribution’ to the ongoing befuddlement that is the politio-economic lexicon. Or is that the ongoing befuddlement that is the Labour party’s latest response to stimulate the near-death pulse of the UK economy?

At his podium, Mr Miliband presented himself not unlike an evangelist preacher spreading The Word, an affectation that had a bearing on his lexical choices – on being quizzed about how he would feel working with the Lib Dems in a future coalition, the insipid Rev. Miliband replied ‘They made a tragic mistake, but I welcome all people who recant’. How benevolent. Ultimately, this Good Shepherd offered his political equivalent of turning water into wine through ‘predistribution’ (the old New Labour habits of buzz words and spin obviously die hard):

Our aim must be to transform our economy so it is a much higher skill, much higher wage economy. Think about somebody working in a call centre, a supermarket, or in an old peoples’ home. Redistribution offers a top-up to their wages. Predistribution seeks to go further – higher skills with higher wages. [1]

Rev. Miliband proposes that lower paid workers will, through a better skills index, be able to access higher wages previously unavailable to them. This is a radical message from Labour, effectively reversing a philosophy which has hitherto suggested that low paid workers would benefit from wealth distribution – that is, receiving hand outs from those with better opportunities – the cynical may even suggest that this implies they are living off the hard work of others. But like any evangelist, Rev. Milliband issued forth garbled false promises of salvation backed up by no evidence, let alone substance. One person on the BBC News website remarked:

Not sure I get it. Surely simple supply and demand economics means that you’re just down grading skilled workers jobs. The UK only needs a finite supply of electricians for example, say 20,000, if you training 40,000 to do the job your likely to get them cheaper and then have 20,000 people trained for jobs that don’t exist. That or companies will just wack up the prices to cover costs? [2]

Just so. Once again Rev. Miliband continues to deliver the sermon that time and again proves its own vacuity: politicians cannot create jobs. In the costly and unproductive public sector they can, but the private sector is not theirs to master. Indeed, Rev. Miliband has found another use for the bankers bonus tax; this time his populist panacea could be used to fund 25,000 new affordable homes. True to form, Labour have far exceeded the revenue such a tax would grant them with promise after promise about where and how the money would be spent. Listen carefully and one can hear the greasy fat hands of Friar Balls rubbing together with delight.

Rev. Miliband (who, as it transpires, has a hotline to St. Cable the Business Secretary) is a charlatan of the highest order. His promises of a better post-depression afterlife are the stuff of whimsy and outright fantasy, with ‘predistribution’ the latest gimmick to ensnare those members of the electorate who have not yet gone through political Enlightenment of their own. Rev. Miliband can promise idealism because it comes as cheap fodder to the uncritical mind. He may be willing to forgive the Lib Dems who recant the current economic policy under which this country endures, but anyone with sense, who uses their eyes, their ears and their mind will know never to forgive Labour for the ruinous state in which they left this country, nor to entrust them with responsibility for the economy ever gain [3].

Amen to that.

© thepanopticonblog, 2012

Notes

In which we see how Dr Evil can tell politicians a thing or two about how their economic strategies are perceived. 

In a joke repeated throughout the film spy-spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, the villainous Blofeld-like Dr Evil makes efforts to extort from the world’s superpowers the sum of one-million dollars. This figure is laughed at, since Dr Evil is still thinking in terms of the economics of the 1960s. Realising his error, he re-states his threat, this time demanding $100 billion, a sum which causes outrage among the United Nations [1].

Today, this latter sum is no less laughable than the former. Consider the EU, where in 2012, its budget was 129.1bn euros, a 1.9% increase on 2011, with the grubby money-ink-stained fat hands of neo-Maoist President of the EU Commission, Jose Manuel ‘Unelected-doesn’t-need-lessons-in-democracy’ Barosso urging a 6.8% tax rise for the commission’s 2013 budget from nations who are being urged to cut their own national spending [2]. Examine the negligible effect of quantitive easing (QE) in the UK, where at the time of writing, £325 billion has been ‘injected’ into the economy in an effort to kick-start growth. Yet just last week, the UK’s recession deepened with a 0.7% fall in GDP between April and June, after £50 billion worth of QE was paid into the economy in February [3].

The reasons for such economic malfunction are multiple and subject to a variety of individual causes, but one thing is for sure, the money is being spent and invested by those whose mismanagement was responsible for the economic crisis in the first instance. Big Government knows only how to spend the taxpayer’s money, not truly invest it. How many more billions will such governments try to impress the general public with, forgetting that this is the taxpayer’s money who would sooner see money well spent rather than just spent?

Whatever the currency, the theory that spending billions stimulates growth is a ruinous fallacy. The argument is lost both economically and politically. When politicians talk of billions of pounds of investment being undertaken, or billions of Euros being spent on an initiative, or billions of dollars being injected into the economy, the electorate are rightly cynical and unimpressed with this rhetoric.  The word ‘billion’ has lost its significance and its ability to impress, precisely because such sums have proven themselves worthless in salvaging the economy and show little return for the taxpayer.

In today’s world there is no need for Dr Evil and his trivial demands for billions. Discredited policy, politicians and economies are villains more reckless and immediate in destroying what remains of the way we live now.

© thepanopticonblog, 2012

Notes

Please spare us the diarrhoeal nonsense that the Olympics are a model of a-political unity, international co-operation and symbol of hope. Behind the rhetoric, a financially beleaguered nation is footing the £24 billion bill and missing a fine opportunity. ‘Clogged with excess, the body drags the mind down with it’ [1]

In the Olympics we have a travelling corporate circus organised by the sporting equivalent of EU bureaucrats and fronted by the athletic counterparts of the mindless heads of state who carry out the will of those in charge. Like the EU, the rhetoric is of international unity, but where sinister politics regulate and normalise whilst giving way to the vested interests of wealth and its accumulation.

When in 2005 London was chosen (a wording that gives the impression the IOC would like to convey, with its texture of divine omnipotence) as the venue for the games, the economic situation was sufficiently strong enough to bear the cost of this two-week sports day; or else the truth of the economic situation was sufficiently concealed by the despoiled Gordon Brown and his party of national saboteurs.

The newspapers estimate that the final bill for the UK hosting the Olympics is anywhere between £12 billion and £24 billion [2], a significant multiplication of the orignal ‘conservative’ estimate of £2.37 billion. One dare not even venture into sobering territory, where one may consider how such gross sums could be invested in long-term projects or in real needs.

Appealing to the emotions is usually a good way of masking the uncomfortable truth about money and costs. The slogan for the 2012 Olympics, ‘Inspire a generation’, might be a good example of such deflective efforts, were it not the most uninspiring slogan among a generation of equally low-grade hyperbole: Beijing’s choice was ‘One World, One Dream’, Athens 2004 had ‘In The True Spirit Of The Games’, while Sydney 2000’s slogan was ‘Share The Spirit’ [3]. The last two would be better used to advertise liqueurs.

In the Olympics, Britain has under its belt another costly and misguided vanity project. At a time when many nations (well, those in the EU) are claiming to undertake austerity measures, could not the London Olympics display what are often claimed as British virtues, of modesty and restraint instead of excess and surfeit? Might not these games be more inspirational to those in straightened economic times by casting off frippery and rhetoric and focusing on the healthy competition of sport? Could sponsorship not make a great effort to promote British wares to the world?

Like its political equivalent, the EU, notions of healthy competition, of financial reserve, of dismissing vested interests are alien ideological misnomers. And like the EU, by not exercising these positive virtues, it has the effect of alienating those it claims to inspire; once again, instead of Britain playing to its strengths, it rolls over and indulges in its weaknesses.

© thepanopticonblog, 2012

Notes