Posts Tagged ‘government’
Although it’s only January, all the political parties are upping their efforts with a view on the general election in a few short months’ time. Of course, part of the election campaign is to impress upon the electorate how much better any given party is than all the others, so what the coalition needs like a hole in the head is a national thinktank providing economic evidence of how much worse off the average UK household is as a result of the coalition’s changes to taxes and benefits. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, it’s a fairly sizeable £489 a year.
Of course, that is an average figure, and depending on your personal circumstances, you may have lost more than this, or ended up better off. However, the IFS has also identified broad groups who are likely to have been winners or losers under the coalition regime.
It may come as a surprise to a few, but low-income working-age households have been hit hardest, losing the most under the coalition as a percentage of their income. Also losing out are families with children, who fall within the lowest 10% of earners, who lost £1,223 on average. However, the richest 10% of households also lost £5,350 a year.
So where are the Tories and Lib Dems going to get their votes from? Middle and higher-income households of working age have escaped “remarkably unscathed” from the government’s austerity measures. Those falling into this bracket who don’t own children have actually gained financially from the changes, largely due to increases in the threshold for paying income tax, according to the IFS.
Overall, the poorest households lost around 4% of their incomes, followed closely behind by the next poorest tenth, losing around 3.5% of their income. The richest suffered a loss of 2.5%, a percentage that falls to zero for middle-income households.
Pensioners were “relatively unaffected” on average, as the “triple lock” on the state pension, whichmeant they have been relatively better protected against the economic downturn than those employed, was largely offset by a hike in VAT.
The hardest-hit region was greater London, where households lost an average £1,042, followed by south east England, the West Midlands and north west England.
James Browne, a senior research economist at IFS and co-author of the report said: “Whichever way you cut it, low-income households with children and the very richest households have lost out significantly from the changes as a percentage of their incomes.
“Increases in the tax-free personal allowance have played an important role in protecting middle-income working-age households meaning that those without children have actually gained overall.”
Over the next few months, places such as libraries, museums, civic centres, transport hubs, sporting complexes and other buildings around the UK will begin to offer free Wi-Fi.
Now you literally have no escape from the bad rays of modernity. Some have already started doing it, and the plan is to get all of them up and running by March 2015.
According to the official Government website: “Millions of citizens, business men and women and visitors will be able to take advantage of free connectivity across the UK, which in turn will support our cities in becoming even more attractive places to live, do business, visit and invest in”.
Which sounds like the sort of speech you hear just before the population’s brains are harvested by killer robot overlords. Sadly the government nonsense bingo card fails to find ‘hard working’ in that statement. Perhaps it was the first draft.
It’s all part of the Government’s £150m SuperConnected Cities programme aimed at transforming the digital capability of UK cities, ensuring our cities boast world-class connectivity and are equipped to deal with the increasing demands of the digital age.
Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey chipped in with: “The digital landscape of the UK is undergoing a period of tremendous improvement and is all part of the Government’s long term economic plan. For business, visitors and the UK public, accessing wifi in our cities is absolutely vital. These free hotspots will be instrumental in making UK cities even more appealing as places to not only do business, but to visit as well.”
Thanks to these sites, people have been paying extra for things like applying for a driving test or congestion charges. We’ve looked at these sites before, with tax returns and others, but these shady sites just won’t go away.
Seeing as the government can’t be arsed warning you about these impersonators, we might as well be the ones to do it.
The AA have told the Transport Select Committee about these snide-sites, and reports have been submitted looking at the work of the DVLA, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA).
What these sites do, is act as a needless middleman so they take some money off a duped driver to process something for a fee, when the motorist could’ve done it for free through an official government website. Transport for London have already asked the DVLA to send letters to drivers who have used these unofficial swines and are in talks about a proposal that won’t accept payments made from these third parties.
Of course, all the motoring bodies should be doing this, but they’re being very, very slow on the uptake and it seems no-one is addressing the issue.
One thing that clearly needs to happen is some action from the Government Digital Service (GDS), who liaise with Google and the like, and they can take action against “websites that add little or no value to existing online Government services”. The National Trading Standards Board needs to pull its finger out also – they’ve received additional funding to ‘clamp down on misleading websites’.
With the DVLA struggling to manage the new paperless car tax system, it is obvious that the government isn’t coping particularly well with drivers’ needs. As well as adapting to the changes, the government need to do more to warn drivers about these third party websites. And while they’re at it, the DVLA also needs to look at how they share personal data with companies that rinse drivers through costly parking enforcement.
There’s a lot that needs to be done, but remember this for now: if it doesn’t have .gov.uk in the URL, avoid it.
The sites have been posing as government channels for health insurance cards, passports and birth certificates, leaving consumers baffled, poor and riotous.
The websites – europeanhealthcard.org.uk, uk-officialservices.co.uk and ukpassportoffices.co.uk – duped users into thinking they were official providers of services they were offering, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said.
It also ruled that the websites must not appear again and any future versions must feature disclaimers that say “we’re not real”.
Although, putting a thing on a site saying it’s a fake, sort of defeats the purpose of being a moody front to steal your life.
The ASA said it received large numbers of consumer complaints about websites that offered access to online government services, but which were not official channels and typically charged a premium.
The ASA said the europeanhealthcard.org.uk website charged for an application verification service, while the EHIC was available for free when applied for via the official gov.uk website.
Only stick to the proper gov channels, and if in doubt, call ‘em up and waiting 45 minutes to get through to someone.
Many older people don’t bother with new pension schemes, thinking that they’re too old to get the benefits. But new pension reforms mean that they can up their contributions by 258% in just a few years and take out all their money without paying any tax. Woohoo!
Here’s how it works. In the last 2 years companies started automatically putting their employees on a pension scheme. Once you’re enrolled, your contributions are deducted from your payslip, your employer contributes something and you get tax relief from the government.
But people who were over 50 tended not to bother with it. WRONG.
If you do it, under the new reforms you can take all your wonga out of these schemes when you retire, rather than bothering with boring, stifling annuities.
Here’s the maths. (Theoretically.)
If you earn £24,000 a year this year, make an increase in contributions in 2018, and get a small pay rise every year – and there is a rate of 5 per cent annual growth – a 55-year-old could make £14,134 by the age of 65.
So get on it, silver foxes! That cruise ship buffet is waiting…
The mucky-minded of Britain were asked if they wanted the government to introduce porn filters to the internet. An overwhelming majority laughed in the face of such an idea, with a take-up for Sky, BT and Virgin Media all below 10%.
Ofcom have done a report on such a thing, and found that most people chose not to block porn from their internet connections, telling ISPs to stick their adult content filters up their holes. Yeah. Like that. Oh yeah. Einfach so, mein kleines Kaninchen.
This is bad news for the Govt because they shouted loudly about all this and made BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media all contact their customers to force them to turn the modesty filters on or off. It is a weird notion. Imagine a Government official popping their head around your door and saying “watching any dirty films any time soon?”
You’d throw a shoe at them.
Ofcom found that 5% of new BT customers turned the filters on, with 8% of Sky customers and a measly 4% of Virgin Media users. The fusty sorts at TalkTalk already have the Homesafe parental controls system. 36% of those guys wanted to get it turned on. Oooh yeah.
Now, all ISPs are required to ‘pre-tick’ the box that sees adult content filters switched to ‘on’, which means new customers have to actively say they want it switched off during the installation process.
Naturally, the whole thing has already been a farce, with non-bongo sites being blocked by these clunky modesty wrappers. People found that they were denied access to sites which offer help about domestic violence and sexual health.
Either way, it seems like Britain is all for a dirtier internet, which is to be applauded. So the chastity belt wearing simpletons at Westminster.
Sounds dodgy doesn’t it? How can a government do something like that? Well, Cameron & Co. have wheeled out the usual excuse of terrorism. See, if the government can snoop on everyone, that’ll stop someone from listening to God and blowing themselves up.
According to Cameron, these fast-tracked measures are absolutely necessary to defend our national security against the threat from Iraq and Syria. If we don’t, the consequences are “grave.” This move is a response to a ruling by the European Court of Justice which struck down regulations that allowed communications companies from storing data for police use for a year. Downing Street reckons that we’re all doomed if phone and internet companies start deleting these records.
“It is the first duty of government to protect our national security and to act quickly when that security is compromised,” David Cameron said. “As events in Iraq and Syria demonstrate, now is not the time to be scaling back on our ability to keep our people safe. The ability to access information about communications and intercept the communications of dangerous individuals is essential to fight the threat from criminals and terrorists targeting the UK. No government introduces fast track legislation lightly. But the consequences of not acting are grave.”
“I want to be very clear that we are not introducing new powers or capabilities – that is not for this Parliament. This is about restoring two vital measures ensuring that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies maintain the right tools to keep us all safe.”
Nick Clegg, a man hired to wander around Whitehall to say ‘does anything need doing? No? Okay. Fancy a pint after? You’re busy? Never mind then’, said these emergency laws “will not be used as an excuse for more powers, or for a ‘snooper’s charter’.”
“Liberty and security must go hand in hand. We can’t enjoy our freedom if we’re unable to keep ourselves safe.”
Tom Watson, meanwhile, isn’t impressed and said on the radio this morning that this is a “stitch up” that denies MPs the chance to be able to scrutinise the legislation: ”This is a secret deal between party leaders. There hasn’t been a bill published, we find out this morning when Parliament is on a one-line whip and MPs are in their constituencies that next week they will railroad through emergency legislation.”
“If you are an MP, you probably shouldn’t bother turning up for work next week because what you think doesn’t really matter. They are ramping up the rhetoric on it but no one in civic society has a chance to form a view on this or lobby their MP or talk to them about it. I understand that Labour’s shadow cabinet is seeing it this morning. They’ve not had a chance to think about it yet.”
Cue: If you’re not doing anything wrong, it doesn’t matter arguments.
Savvy web users might be able to spot a rubbish fake crown logo or a web address called ‘giveusyourdetails.gov.passport.’ But others are regularly being led down the garden path, according to research by the Advertising Standards Authority.
The ASA is so concerned about this that it’s launching a new awareness campaign, which will lead people to official government web pages and away from the dodgy ones.
It’s also considering tougher enforcement of fake sites and advertisers, pledging to work with Google and Bing to weed out the infiltrators.
Although 8 out of 10 people surveyed could spot the official passport application site, some of the other sites posing as government sites are quite convincing. Only half guessed that a site replacing Births, Deaths and Marriage certificates was actually a commercial website.
‘We’re focused on tackling any sites that continue to mislead, in support of other enforcement activity.’ Said Miles Lockwood from the ASA. ‘We’re also working with search engines and government to ensure the public are protected. In the meantime, always start at gov.uk to access a government service.’
This time, it’s the UK government online filters, which are a little bit ENTHUSIASTIC. They wrongly block one in five websites, creating the kind of internet censorship you might expect to find in China.
The Open Rights Group Project has been investigating the amount of websites that our overzealous filters are blocking, and it found that out of 101,008 sites, about 19% of websites are blocked by UK ISPs for no particular reason.
One of the blocked websites is the political blog Guido Fawkes’ Order Order. The editor Paul Staines said: ‘We would really appreciate it if TalkTalk would remove us from their block list. The only people who block us are them and the Chinese government.’
TalkTalk say they haven’t blocked them, no not at all, free speech is important etc. But the Open Rights Group ‘Blocked’ Project offers a free checking tool, which gives you information about which sites are blocked by UK filters.
After all, it’s a free country, innit?
OR IS IT?
Most people don’t pay by cheque any more, but even so, they often show up, as if BACS was never invented. And it’s a drag to go into branches to cash them.
Soon, though, you’ll be able to take a picture of your cheque on your smartphone and pay it in either via email or your mobile banking app. It’s called ‘cheque imaging’ and next week the government is expected to give the go-ahead for legislation allowing banks and building societies to use it.
It’s great news for us, because electronic cheques will speed up the interminable clearing process involved with all those bits of paper. At the moment you have to wait up to a week for a cheque to clear because it has to go from your bank to a clearing centre. But cheque imaging bypasses all that antiquated messing around, and it will only take 2 working days for your money to appear in your account.
However, it’s bad news for branches. Take away the need to cash a cheque, and you could see nothing but tumbleweed and unemployment. But, the hardy paper cheque might not be phased out entirely. Even if the legislation goes ahead, the Cheque and Credit Clearing Company says: ‘Customers wouldn’t have to do anything different if they don’t want to. They would still be able to pay cheques into their accounts at branches.’
But if it only takes 2 working days to clear a photo of your cheque, what’s the betting that we’ll all be doing it via email instead?
Health minister Jeremy C…Hunt is under pressure to introduce a 20% health tax on pop and biscuits, in a new (and probably hopelessly clumsy) strategy to reduce the nation’s dependency on lovely, life-giving sugar.
A report written by Public Health England, which includes advice from doctors, health experts and cardiologists (huh, what do THEY know?) has been leaked to The Grocer magazine.
It says that there are six possible ways to reduce the UK’s sugar intake, but fizzy drinks are the easiest target. They propose that a 20% tax would reduce obesity rates by 1.3%.
This report – which was commissioned by the government – is apparently the basis of another report which will be published on June 26th. The Department of Health, however, says it has no plans yet for a sugar tax.
Hmmm. You can tax fizzy drinks all you like, but you can’t take our BISCUUUUUUUUUUITS! Not if you don’t want a vicious Hob Nob black market on your hands.
This means war.
Public health experts have advised the government to pull their finger out over plain cigarette packaging, because they think that getting rid of branded packaging would have a positive effect on the nation’s health.
Public Health Minister Jane Ellison, who may or may not have been smoking a Marlboro Light at the time, said that she would bring forward draft regulations by the end of April, but two months have now passed and she’s done bugger all.
A letter to the British Medical Journal, signed by 600 doctors and health professionals, asked the government to confirm that the new regulations be published in the next two weeks.
Plain packaging on cigarettes doesn’t exactly mean that they’ll be sold in brown paper bags. Instead of nice curly fonts saying things like ‘Chesterfield’ and ‘Marlboro’, there will be a picture of a withered lung or an amputated stump, with the words ‘DON’T SMOKE OR YOU’LL DIE’ (or similar).
There has already been a public consultation on plain packaging, but things were delayed to gather evidence from Australia, which introduced packets with health warnings on them in 2012.
Labour says that the letter was ‘an extraordinary step for hundreds of concerned health professionals to take.’
Meanwhile, the Department of Health say they’re on it – they just need to do one more public consultation – and finish this lovely fag.
‘Best before’ labels on food were always a strange and nebulous idea. If you ate the food after that date, what would happen? Did it just mean that it wouldn’t be in the prime of life, or that it was covered in green fur and you should ask a pest control expert to get rid of it? And…couldn’t we decide whether it was ok just by trying it?
Well, the European Commission plan to scrap Best Before labels entirely, in a bid to halt the 100 million tons of food waste we generate every year.
‘Best before’ usually applies to store cupboard food with a long sell by date, like rice, flour, pasta and tea/coffee. Sharon Dijksma, the Dutch Agriculture secretary said, with a refreshing directness:
‘The labels have nothing to do with safety but with quality. We think citizens can make sure themselves if, for instance, rice is still usable.’
Because Best Before labels are advisory, the EU is happy to get rid of them and only have sell by dates on fresh foods that are more likely to kill you outright, like eggs and meat.
But the UK government aren’t backing it at the moment, despite saying they’re open to a dialogue. A spokesman said:
‘We believe the connection between these labels and food waste requires further investigation to ensure the removal of date marks doesn’t have the opposite effect to that intended.’
*eats slightly out of date Sarson’s vinegar. Nothing happens*
Despite the government saying that the retired can delay any decisions about their pension until after big changes are introduced next year, pension companies are still forcing people to buy annuities if they withdraw a lump sum.
At the moment, when you retire, you can withdraw a quarter of your pension tax free, so you can buy a caravan, or nipple clamps, or start a new life onboard a Saga cruise ship, wearing lemon coloured casual wear and goosing waiters at the buffet.
You used to be given a period of six months to figure out what to do with the rest of it, so you were either offered a choice of buying an annuity, or leaving the fund alone and drawing an income. The government has extended that period to 18 months, to make sure people can get the most of new rules which remove restrictions on pension funds.
But the big pension companies are giving retirees a hard time and persuading people to take on annuities when they withdraw their first quarter. And apparently this is because – although government rules have changed – it failed to actually consult the industry, who are struggling to play catch up.
Tom McPhail, head of pensions at Hargreaves Lansdown said: ‘Just because the chancellor tells investors that they can take their tax-free lump sum and defer doing anything with the rest of the money, it doesn’t necessarily mean that pension companies can actually accommodate such requests when investors ring up and ask to be able to do this.’
So if you’re about to retire – maybe don’t put a down payment on your Harley Davidson just yet.