Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: George Osborne

Careless People Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on June 2, 2021.

https://ceylontoday.lk/category/print-edition/columns

“They were careless people … they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Indolent, Shambling Greed

I am not the only writer to have used the phrase “careless people” in relation to Tory politicians. The philosopher John Gray wrote a scathing article in the New Statesman in which he said that the Greensill scandal illuminates a larger truth about David Cameron’s character: “It is not so much the spectacle of indolent, shambling greed that is remarkable; it was only to be expected that a life of mere affluence would fail to satisfy Cameron’s mammoth sense of entitlement. Instead, it is the credulity he displayed.” New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, writes: “It was under Mr Cameron that the UK pursued destructive austerity, a doomed renegotiation with the EU, a botched reorganisation of the NHS, dysfunctional welfare reform, an unworkable net migration target and a delusionary ‘golden era’ with China. The bid to make Greensill Capital a virtual arm of the British state is but the latest fantasy that has unravelled.” Cameron was foolish enough to claim in a new foreword to the paperback edition of his memoirs that austerity left Britain better-prepared for the pandemic! As Cowley explains, “austerity enfeebled the state. Real-terms reserves for public health spending in England fell by 30 per cent from 2015 to 2019, while the prevalence of diabetes and obesity rose. Local authorities, which in less centralised countries were crucial to the pandemic response, lost an average of 60p in every pound of government grants from 2010 to 2020. Cuts to schools increased class sizes, making social distancing harder.”

Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian was also recently quoting the “careless people” passage from F Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby, but he was onto this theme eight years ago. “The top 1% of Britons were taking 15% of all income received in the country. This cash is then turned into houses, shares and other assets so that now the top 1% hold over 50% of all Britain’s marketable wealth. And so, inequality is passed down the generations. Today’s headlines offer endless examples. The average London house now costs over half a million, or more than 19 times what the average British worker makes in a year.” 

Cameron Family Money

Cameron’s grandfather Donald was a director at the stockbroking house Panmure Gordon. When he died in 1958, he left £57,000, which would be worth a million today. David Cameron’s father, Ian, also worked at Panmure Gordon and was reported to have trousered £2m when the company was sold to an American firm. He set up Blairmore Holdings Inc in 1982. In 2009, his personal fortune was estimated by the Sunday Times as £ ten million. There have been credible allegations that he had large amounts buried in tax havens.

Cameron is now pleading hard times. “There isn’t really a roadmap for an ex-prime minister…particularly a young one …”   

Bullingdon Bullies

 

In 2012, The Daily Telegraph identified a number of people as being part of a “Chipping Norton Set”. The set included the Camerons, Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband Matthew Freud, Rebekah Brooks, former CEO of Murdoch’s News International and her husband, old-Etonian racehorse trainer and thriller writer Charlie Brooks. Stephen Glover, columnist with the Daily Mail, first coined the term ‘Chipping Norton set’ to describe a privileged bunch of residents and their elite habits. The main protagonists quickly became synonymous with the public view of an out-of-touch ruling class, pandering to their own whims while the nation suffered austerity. Scott Fitzgerald would have found much material here.

Elizabeth Murdoch and former husband Matthew Freud

Rebekah Brooks and Rupert Murdoch

Private investigator Daniel Morgan was found dead in the car park of the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham in 1987 with an axe embedded in his head. His killing is thought to have been motivated by his knowledge of extensive and high-level corruption within the Metropolitan Police and dirty dealings by Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. Former prime minister Gordon Brown coined the term “criminal media nexus”.

When he was editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson hired Morgan’s business partner Jonathan Rees after he was released from a five-year prison sentence in 2005. He had been convicted of planting cocaine to incriminate an innocent woman. Rees was a suspect in the Morgan investigation.

Current home secretary Priti Patel is insisting that the independent panel, chaired by Baroness Nuala O’Loan, investigating the murder of Daniel Morgan, hand its report to her for vetting before publishing it.

 

Brexit Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 14 2016

Colman's Column3

 

650

Grievance Vote against the Elites

When Mrs Thatcher came to office in 1979, manufacturing accounted for almost 30% of Britain’s national income and employed 6.8 million people; by 2010, it accounted for 11% and employed 2.5 million. In no other major economy was industrial collapse so drastic, speedy and long-lasting. There used to be a working class; there used to be a working class culture. Ian Jack writes about the life of the manufacturing towns: “much of the country’s former character was also owed to them – non-conformist chapels, brass bands, giant vegetable championships, self-improvement, association football. Surely nothing as significant to the nation’s economy, culture or politics would ever emerge from them again? And then it did: grievance.”

British politicians in the past had a hinterland: Macmillan and Attlee served with honour and were wounded in the First World War. They saw the poverty in the land and tried to do something about. Today’s politicians go straight from university to think tanks or to work for politicians. They have little contact with the real world. Johnson and Gove were journalists who wrote op eds not well-researched investigations.  Politicians like Cameron, Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith see it as a noble mission to dismantle the welfare state that Attlee and Macmillan built and privatise public good for the profit of their cronies. In his 1991 book The Rise and Decline of the English Working Class 1918-1990, Eric Hopkins shows how the affluence of the Macmillan years became the bleakness of the Thatcher years. Manufacturing industry was replaced by the service and financial industries and the working class lost its sense of community with unemployment and the emasculation of the trade unions. There is an unpleasant view on YouTube of Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party haranguing fellow MEPs, telling them they do not know about real life and have never done a proper job in their lives. The man sitting behind him was a cardiac surgeon who was born in a Gulag. Farage was a commodities broker.

Sunderland was the first to declare a result in the referendum and it was overwhelmingly for leaving as were many other areas devastated by Thatcherism and its aftermath – areas kept alive by massive EU subsidies. Wales as a whole voted to leave. Michael Sheen, the Welsh-born actor (who played the role of Tony Blair) from Port Talbot, tweeted: “Wales votes to trust a new and more rightwing Tory leadership to invest as much money into its poorer areas as EU has been doing.” Many people voted Leave as a way out of seemingly hopeless circumstances. Cornwall, which voted solidly for Leave, has already demanded British government “protection”.

Economic Consequences

Standard & Poor’s stripped Britain of its triple-A credit rating. The Conservative Party set great store by London’s position as the world’s leading financial centre. Banks are preparing to shift jobs out of London amid the uncertainty about whether the UK can keep its “passporting” rights allowing them to operate across the EU. Ironically, although the UK was proud of keeping out of the euro, leaving the EU could mean the City will have rules imposed upon it by eurozone countries.

There is no doubt that some financial services jobs will be relocated to Dublin, Frankfurt, and Paris. US bank JP Morgan has warned 4,000 jobs will go from the UK and HSBC has said 1,000 City jobs will move to France. An Irish friend long resident in France tells me that Paris estate agents are being swamped with enquiries from large financial institutions in London looking for apartments for their personnel. “Whatever Osborne might say, that is the reality”. Rumours are sweeping the City that alternative trading sites are being set up in a number of other financial centres, including Luxembourg.

A survey by the Institute of Directors (IoD), found that nearly two-thirds of those polled said the outcome of the referendum was negative for their business. A quarter of those polled were putting hiring plans on hold, while 5% said they were about to make workers redundant. One in five respondents, out of a poll of more than 1,000 business leaders, were considering moving some of their operations outside of the UK.

There will be an immediate, and downward, impact upon GDP as uncertainty about the UK’s terms of trade with the rest of the world will deter even British firms from investing. If businesses stop investing there will be less employment in the UK economy. This will have a bad effect on consumer spending.

Immigration, Stupid!

Many in Ebbw Vale, the constituency of those left-wing icons Nye Bevan and Michael Foot, voted UKIP in the last general election – a town with almost no immigrants that voted to get the immigrants out. A recent survey showed that 77% of UK citizens are concerned about immigration above any other political/economic topic – and concern is strongest and most widespread in constituencies with virtually no recent immigration.

One can, without wanting to join a fascist party, empathise with those white working class people who feel in their gut that decisions that they were powerless to influence were made by people who were cushioned from the consequences of those decisions. One can understand their sense of insecurity as they see familiar areas changing because of immigration. I was shocked to find that the part of my hometown, Gloucester, which had been the birthplace of the poet and composer, Ivor Gurney, was full of Muslims and mosques. However, in the early 50s it had been full of West Indians.

The austere and donnish classicist, Enoch Powell, had dockers marching through the streets in his support. In the sixties, he became the unlikely spokesman for the beleaguered white working class, even winning the endorsement of Eric Clapton. Because he was a contrarian and mischief-maker, it is likely that Powell took delight in raising issues that both parties shrouded in complicit silence. His “rivers of blood” speech raised matters of real concern. In particular, he was right to suggest that areas like Wolverhampton were experiencing acute problems in adjusting to the concentration of recent immigrants.

Whether or not people voting Leave had legitimate concerns about immigration, there is no doubt that the referendum result seems to be giving licence to racists. Many MPs received reports from their constituencies and communities of migrants being intimidated or “told they need to go home”.  Many people, whose parents or grandparents were born in the UK, now say they feel less secure.

Boris Johnson tells us in his Daily Telegraph column (for which he gets paid 5,000 pounds a week) that he wants a “balanced and humane points-based” immigration system, but that’s for the extremely indeterminate future – and everyone can meanwhile look forward to ‘intense and intensifying’ co-operation with Europe, and opportunities to live, travel, work and study on the continent just as they please. The only pledge the Leavites could honour is a points-based immigration system, which the UK has had since 2008.

A likely scenario is that many elderly people living abroad will have to return to the UK, thereby placing a burden on the NHS (which will not be getting the extra funding promised by the Leavites), while young people currently working and paying taxes will leave the UK.

Conclusion

I respect anybody’s right to vote the way they choose. I am angry at the hypocrisy of those who are dismantling the welfare state and the NHS for the profit of their cronies but pretending to be saving the nation from Brussels bureaucracy.

Many who voted to leave the EU blamed immigrants for their reduced circumstances. There are real problems in the areas that voted to leave. Those problems were not caused by the EU or by immigration. They were caused by the deliberate policies of successive UK governments.

It is distressing to watch the rancour generated by this referendum. George Szirtes is a distinguished poet who found a welcome in England when his family was displaced by the Hungarian uprising in 1956. George sees a very different country today and finds it hard to forgive the Leavites: “You have changed not only my life but a great many people’s lives, both here and elsewhere, for the worse. I am not going to shake your hand for that.”

 

 

 

Elders Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday June 25 2015.

Colman's Column3

Elders Time Bomb

Over thirty years ago, I worked for Sir Arthur Armitage at the Social Security Advisory Committee in New Court, London. One major issue that SSAC was grappling with even then was the problem of an ageing population. Now that I am part of the problem rather than someone looking for a solution, the issue seems more acute to me. I was part of that cohort born after the Second World War known as baby boomers. The post-war surge was then followed by a fall in birth rates, which means there are not enough people of working age to support we oldies in our twilight years.

Population ageing arises from two demographic effects: increasing longevity and declining fertility. In all human history, the world has never seen as aged a population as currently exists today. This is the case for every country in the world except the 18 countries designated as “demographic outliers”.

Who Pays?

Today, for the first time in history, Britain’s over-65s now outnumber people under the age of 16. Many people in the UK labour under the misapprehension that they are paying for their own pensions through income tax and national insurance contributions. The number of contributions I made while working governed the amount of pension I receive. However, the pension I currently receive does not come out of a kind of savings account in my name. People working today pay my pension.  There are currently four people of working age supporting each pensioner in Britain; by 2035, this number is expected to fall to 2.5, and by 2050 to just two. The number of people of working age in relation to retirees is known as the ‘dependency ratio’. Future pensioners might not have anyone to pay them.

The current UK government seems to be protecting pensioners by making severe cuts in other public spending. They have made clear that they believe they need to make significant savings from working-age benefits. Chancellor George Osborne has said he will press ahead with hefty cuts to welfare despite tens of thousands engaging in protest marches against austerity.  Iain Duncan Smith said the Conservative government would go ahead with plans to cut welfare spending by 12 billion pounds, out of an annual budget of 220 billion pounds. Cuts under consideration included banning people aged under 25 from claiming housing benefit and restricting tax credits to a couple’s first two children.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka already has the highest proportion (13%) of old people in South Asia; this is expected to rise to 20% by 2031, 25% by 2041 50% by 2050. At the same time, the proportion of working age people will progressively decrease. Longer life expectancy and improvements in health care means that people are enjoying many more work free years after retirement than used to be the case. The down side of better life expectancy is that there are more very old people who need care because of dementia and general exhaustion of the soft machine that is the human body.

Business Opportunity

In the UK, many saw the ageing population as a business opportunity. That would be fine if a decent professional service were provided at a fair price- there is no ethical dilemma in  entrepreneurs making an honest profit by relieving  the state (or individual families) of the burden of providing care. Unfortunately, it did not always work out that way. Even as long ago as the early 1970s, many dodgy operators caught on to the potential of a captive market. Even today, one finds countless internet sites advising how to set up a business caring for elders. Here is one random example:

http://franchises.homeinstead.com/franchise-opportunity/Pages/Why-Home-Instead-Senior-Care.aspx

Abuse

Traditionally, elders were cared for within the family. This did not protect them from abuse and even today, many today suffer even when living at home at the hands of family members or professional carers. A study conducted by Agewell Foundation​revealed that 25-30% of older Indians are suffering abuse, mistreatment and even torture in old age. The study said only about only five per cent of those mistreated complained to the police or any other authorities.

Figures released to mark World Elder Abuse Day on June 15, show that in Ireland more than 13,000 cases of financial abuse were reported up to the end of 2013. Financial abuse is the second most common form of mistreatment and is most often perpetrated by a family member. The day also brought revelations from Age Concern New Zealand that abuse of old people in that country was an “epidemic”. They get an average of eight calls every working day about alleged elder abuse. Many more cases are reported to health providers, the police, lawyers, community support organisations and other prevention services.

Profit without Care

One  entrepreneur website says: “In-home care and assisted living is essential as we get older. If healthcare is your passion, consider owning your own senior care franchise business.” Too often, the passion was for making money rather than providing care. The UK government allowed care homes to directly receive the pensions of residents from the state.

There has to be a worry that businesses providing care for profit might put profit before care and that abuse might take place undetected. Care homes for adults in England are regulated by the Care Quality Commission, which has a remit to inspect each care home at least once every three years. This has not prevented many instances of abuse being reported in the press.

The charity Action on Elder Abuse (AEA) claims that over 500,000 elderly people in the UK suffer abuse and that women are particularly vulnerable. The five common types of abuse are physical, psychological, financial, sexual abuse and neglect. Often these abuses are also crimes. “it is important to think in advance about ways in which someone can reduce the possibility of abuse, by avoiding isolation or dependency, and by having more than one person keeping an eye on matters. Reliance on others does not mean having to be dependent on others. Thinking about self-protection is more about commonsense than about being distrustful.”

Old Deanery

In April 2014, the BBC Panorama programme secretly filmed a 98-year-old woman, in Oban House care home in Croydon, crying out for help 321 times over a whole hour. She died less than a month later. Two members of staff were convicted of common assault. Secret filming inside the Old Deanery home in Braintree, Essex showed a staff member slapping a partially paralysed woman who suffers from dementia.  A Panorama reporter worked undercover as a care assistant and saw “rough handling” of residents, calls for assistance repeatedly ignored, and elderly people goaded and left to sit or lie in their own mess.  Residents were ignored, call-bells were unplugged and one man in his 80s was repeatedly called a “bitch”. Inspectors gave the home a glowing reference around the same time. CQC CEO Andrea Sutcliffe said the treatment was “unacceptable” – but said inspectors could not be expected know “what goes on behind closed doors”.

The Granary

The Old Deanery home charges £700 a week. The Granary in Somerset charges £800 per week. A judge at Bristol Crown Court barred Daniel Baynes, Tomasz Gidaszewski and Janusz Salnikow, employees at The Granary, for life from working with vulnerable adults. Footage from a camera, secretly placed in her room by her son, showed an 87-year-old woman with dementia being pushed around on a number of occasions while she was subjected to a tirade of verbal abuse. Baynes admitted stealing food and was jailed for four months. Salnikow was  given a suspended jail sentence, while the others were given community orders. AEA had written to the attorney general’s office calling on him to review the sentences handed out to the three men. AEA  argued that what the men did was “appalling” and that the sentence “did not convey the seriousness with which the public view such abuse”, and “will not act as a deterrent”.

I was prompted to look into this subject following a recent trip to Colombo to rescue my wife’s Aunt from abuse. I will look into the issue of abuse of elders in Sri Lanka in next week’s column.

 

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