Brexit Bombshell: All Northern Ireland people would be better off in a new united Ireland says new report

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Will this be the new prosperous Ireland? Pic credit: Istock

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It has received virtually no publicity in the mass media in the United Kingdom, But it is a question that was begging to be asked in the current impasse over whether there should be a soft or hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. And until now no one has weighed up the facts and figures of a united Ireland versus a divided Ireland. Indeed there was pressure from the Irish government to keep this report secret because of the Brexit negotiations.

But this week the the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement have published a highly controversial report ‘Brexit & the Future
of Ireland Uniting Ireland & its People in Peace & Prosperity’ which basically says the British taxpayer will be better off if it let Northern Ireland unite with the Republic and remain in the European Union.

The author is a German economist, Gunther Thumann who worked as a senior economist at the German desk of the International Monetary Fund at the time of German reunification.This provided him with the analytical understanding of the complex economic developments as they happened.

He is backed by Senator Mark Daly, Deputy Leader of the Fianna Fail Senate Group
Senate Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, the Irish Overseas and Diaspora, who yesterday lambasted officials at the Irish Dept of Foreign Affairs  after he was told officials  said that they did not want the research released until ‘after Brexit’. ‘
‘This is unacceptable interference by the department of Foreign Affairs in the work of the Dail and Senate. …The fact that officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs do not want this information released and the motivation behind it need to be answered’ “.

In one sense this is not surprising. Theresa May  only stays in power because the Democratic Unionist Party  backs her government and they want to stay in the UK. But the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU and this report’s findings are dynamite

And Theresa May has had to lavish gifts on the DUP increasing the bill for mainland taxpayers while depriving  the rest of the UK of money for other public services like free school meals.

The central point of this report is that Northern Ireland would no longer require any taxpayer’s subsidy and could have a balanced budget – saving over £9 billion a year. Big savings could be made in administration and the UK would be left with a £2.8 billion pension bill for pensions already accrued while Northern Ireland was part of the UK.

The findings in the report which you can download here are:

– Non-identifiable expenditure of £2.9billion includes Northern Ireland’s share of UK Defence Expenditure, UK Debt Interest, International service, UK contribution to the EU, British Royal family etc. These would not be a liability of a new agreed Ireland.
– Thumann in his research explains that not all the accounting adjustments figure attributed by Westminster to Northern Ireland of £1.1billion would be applicable in a reunification scenario either.
– Also the convergence of the public service numbers between the north and the south would bring a saving of £1.7billion per annum in the current budget expenditure of Northern Ireland.

“Taking the above adjustments and savings into account the cumulative figure is £8.5 billion. With the reported deficit for Northern Ireland is at £9.2 billion therefore the current income and expenditure figure for Northern Ireland Thumann & Daly concludes comes near a balanced budget in a reunification scenario.

This is of course, before taking into account the likely potential for growth in Northern Ireland following unification as happened in East Germany following its reunification. ”

The big problem adopting such a change is political not economic. Supporters of the DUP would resist the idea of Northern Ireland not being part of Britain’s armed forces and be furious that they would no longer financially support the Queen.

But the changing demographics mean eventually the Catholics not the Protestants will form the majority adding to pressure for a united Ireland. Tensions are already growing over proposed boundary changes for the Westminster Parliament which mean that Sinn Fein are likely to gain more seats at the expense of the DUP.

The report is one of the unforeseen consequences of Brexit. Whether  Theresa May and Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, like it or not Brexit will put a united Ireland on the agenda ,particularly if we crash out and there has to be a new border. No wonder the Irish republic’s Whitehall did not want this published.

There was a debate on the report on Newstalk Breakfast in the Republic. with one economist challenging the report because he said N Ireland would have to contribute more to the Republic’s finances.The link to the podcast is here .

 

Revealed: The £271 billion “rape” of the National Insurance Fund that deprived 50s women of their state pension

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Guy Opperman – the current pension minister who says it is too expensive to pay the 50s women.

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The fact that 50s women  were robbed of their pensions  by raising the pension age is undeniable. But the biggest argument against putting this right has been the cost – a fact perpetually used by the present pensions minister, Guy Oppenman, who quotes the £70 billion plus figure.

Recently I discovered that successive governments had taken a decision  NOT to top up the fund as originally proposed by William Beveridge when the welfare state was set up in 1948.

What I did not know was how much money was lost. Now thanks to an extraordinary paper prepared for the National Pensioners Convention by a social security expert Tony Lynes,and still on the web, I now know. And it is staggering. You can read it here.

The paper written 12 years ago by a man I personally knew as a fount of all knowledge on the benefit system  when I was social services correspondent on the Guardian. He sadly died, aged 85, in a car accident in 2014. There is an appreciation of him in The Guardian here.

His calculation from beyond the grave is that for every year that the government decided not to contribute to the fund it was deprived of £11.3 billion. As he says: “Restoring the supplement at its pre-1981 level would bring an extra £11.3 billion a year into the Fund, enough to meet the gross cost of a £109 per week basic pension.”

We now know that virtually no money was paid into the fund by the Treasury for around 24 years from 1990 to 2014. I calculate – and this will be a conservative estimate – because it doesn’t count the reduced contributions post 1981 – that an amazing £271 billion  yes billion  extra would have been in the fund.

This would pay  more than three times over the money due to the women – and even allowed higher  state pensions for everybody else now.

Why this didn’t happen is because politicians of all three major parties took a decision not to do this. They took the decision knowing that their Parliamentary and ministerial pension pot would mean they would be some of the wealthiest pensioners in the land when they came to retire. And the taxpayer would foot their bills.

They decided the pain should fall on the electorate instead. In 1995 they knew  all the arguments about people living longer and that money paid out in state pensions would go up.

They  could have changed the rules and informed the Government Actuary  Department that they would deliberately build up a surplus in the fund – so it could pay out as people lived longer without changing the pension age.

Instead they chose the cheapest  route – raise the pension age so they won’t have to subsidise the fund- but try and keep mum so the women wouldn’t realise what they were doing.

The villains are the late Lady Thatcher, John Moore, Kenneth Clarke, Sir John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Steve Webb and Guy Opperman. There are many others who stood by and did nothing. That is why 50s women have been left in this situation today.

 

 

Race equality groups seek big changes to the mental health act to end stereotyping and over-medication

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Sir Simon Wesseley, planning to report on reviewing the mental health act later this year

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While Theresa May is battling to hold her line on Brexit her almost unreported initiative to reform the mental health act is leading to demands for the government to introduce radical reforms for treatment and new rights for patients.

A submission from Race on the  Agenda and the Race Equality Foundation to the review  by Sir Simon Wesseley, set up by Theresa May to look into why so many black Afro Caribbean people were being detained in mental hospitals and the need for changes to the Act. It also comes against a disturbing background of deaths in police custody.

The submission has been backed by the Runnymede Trust;Patrick Vernon OBE, Chair of the Labour Party’s Race Equality Advisory Group, writer Amy Kenyon and Professor Rachel Tribe, of the School of Psychology at the University of East London among others.

NEED FOR BIG CHANGES

The Downing Street interim report  contained many warm words but not a lot of action. It stated: “Experience of people from black African and Caribbean heritage are particularly poor and they are detained more than any other group. Too often this can result in police becoming involved at time of crisis. The causes of this disparity are complex.” The  full report  and details of its members  and terms of reference is available here.

Now the submission to the inquiry proposes major changes to tackle the problem. The link to it is here. The main proposals are:

1. The Mental Health Act (the Act) should set out principles that define human rights, anti-discriminatory practice and a commitment to combat institutional racism.
2. The Act should be amended to include a clause that states explicitly that a diagnosis for a ‘mental disorder’ must take account of the patient’s social and cultural background. And the Act should allow for appeals against diagnoses via a Tribunal, with a panel that includes experts from BAME backgrounds.
3. Patients detained under the Act should be empowered to choose which carers or family members have a say in their care and can support them during an appeals process.
4. A new system of appeal whenever a new diagnosis is applied and/or continued, to a tribunal-like body, with the right of the patient concerned to have legal representation at the hearing.
5. All mental health service providers should be set targets to reduce the use of Community Treatment Orders and minimize racial inequalities in their use. This should be monitored by the Care Quality Commission  during inspections. Specific amendments in relation to supervised treatment in the community should be made to ensure this is statutory.
6. Statutory bodies should be regularly inspected by the CQC or other appropriate body to ensure that training of professionals working in mental health services addresses issues of racial bias and cultural competence.

The  submission  says: “:We were glad to see an emphasis on the urgent need to address the disproportionate number of people from black African and Caribbean backgrounds being detained under the Mental Health Act (MHA).

Equally, we were unsurprised that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) focus group participants highlighted a lack of cultural awareness in staff and a need for culturally appropriate care as paramount. We would express concerns about racism, stigma, stereotyping and overmedication. We hope that these findings will guide and underpin the recommendations made in the final report ”

It is to be hoped that Sir Simon and Theresa May do take action to remedy these many faults in the system. Otherwise it will be another case of political posturing  like help for the ” just about managing” which has so far amounted to warm words and little else.

There were concerns expressed at the recent conference organised by Rota at the University of East London that little would really be done to tackle this. If little happens it will only make matters worse and there is a need for strong campaign to make sure Downing Street does really listen.

50s women injustice doubles site hits

The appalling injustice 3.9 million  50s women have had in facing up to seven years in not getting a pension is reflected in the doubling of hits I have had on my small site.

So far this year I have had more hits on the site than the whole of last year with  the top ten blogs all on the campaign for justice for the 50s women. The most popular blog with now over 28,000 hits is how angry 50s women deprived of a pension can boot out their MP. And the link to the House of Commons library on the  constituency breakdown of where the  50s women are has had over 4,200 hits.

The second most popular blog is The Downing Street state pension robbery with over 12,000 – which shows how the national insurance fund was underfunded and raided by successive governments of all political hues.

The rest of the blogs vary between over 2,600 and 7,600.

Thank you for all this interest and it shows how angry you are about the way successive governments have treated you.

Other blogs which have attracted  a lot of interest include Whitehall investigations into universal credit, the national citizen service and the continuing saga over the treatment of child sex abuser survivor Esther Baker.

 

Whitehall’s shameful database of women’s pathetic state pensions

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Department for Work and Pensions – still misleading  the public on the huge gap between men and women pensioners

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In May this year  Which? Money published the  results of access the consumer organisation had  to the entire  Department for Work and Pension database on pensions. The headline result press released by Which ? Money here  was that women  are worse off now than men  by a staggering  £29,000 over a 20 year old period.

The disclosure led Harry Rose, Which? Money editor, to warn : “Our evidence shows how variable people’s state pension payments still are. Many pensioners will be shocked by the differences in average payouts to men and women and those qualifying under the old and new systems.”

The issue is worth raising because just last week the Department of Work and Pensions published its annual report ( more to come in a future blog) which despite Which? Money findings  from the DWP’s own database perpetuates the myth that some how today’s pensioners are living the high life with little or no housing costs and longer and longer life expectancy.

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The agenda is clear – paving the way in five years time for yet another rise in the pension age – and totally ignoring the present plight of 50s women denied pensions for up to six years . Add the fact that it could take decades now before men and women receive an equal pension. The average , despite the new state pension, is still 18 per cent, below a typical male pension.

The figures revealed by the Which? Money from the DWP are extremely  alarming if you are a woman. If you are a man you can be complacent – not only did you get a  good deal under the old system you are the main beneficiary of the new one.

The biggest  group of beneficiaries (8.4 million) – getting on average £142 a week- are today’s pensioners who have a long national insurance contributions and qualified for an earnings related pension. Of these 4,958,000 are men and  3,417,000 are women.

Above this on an average of  £174 a week are the spouses of these recipients who died. and they inherited their spouses NI contributions to top up their pension They are 1,454,040 women and 276,960 men – the only category where women  do better. Sadly  they have to lose a partner  to achieve it.

Much lower at £145 a week are those whose spouses died but they themselves did not have a pension  – again most are women –  679,995 to just 2045 men.

Those unfortunate enough not to be entitled to get a pension get just an average of £63 a week  based on their partner’s NI contributions – again there are 545,905 women to 1095 men.

The best off are the new state pensioners – after changes came into force in 2016  and they also had protected money to top up the new pension. They get £181 a week. But 79 per cent of these are men – 142,080 to 17,920 women. The reason for this is directly due to the plight of the 50s women who ceased to qualify for pensions at 60 and many are still waiting for one.

As anyone can see this is woefully unfair to women.  It suggests there is a long way to go to get equality  with men even when women eventually get their pension.

There is also a divide where the money is paid out – highest state pensions – between £153 and £154 a week – are paid out in East Hertfordshire, High Wycombe and Aberdeen. Lowest ( between £128 and £140 a week) – are paid in the London borough of Newham, Leicester, Manchester and Cornwall.

And there are huge differentials if you go abroad. Expatriats living now in Australia, Canada and New Zealand get frozen pensions averaging between £41 and £44 a week.

Those in Europe get pension increases every year  – bringing Spain to an average of £107.76 a week and France to £104.39 a week.

Curiously 10 UK nationals who retired  to Azerbaijan – part of the old Soviet bloc – get  an average of £127 a week.

Don’t ask me why but I did discover this website which tells you how to avoid pension  taxes by putting your money into an Azerbajiani off shore fund. According to the article 2400 British expats have done this and they don’t have to live there and participate in traditional Azerri sports such as ox wrestling or javelin throwing either. They can live in Malta and have the money paid into Azerbaijan to avoid tax. My guess is these must be high rollers who qualify for  a state pension.

Perhaps the government  should investigate this instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revealed: The next bill for the over 40s: Your social care tax

 

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pic credit: parliament.uk

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Without huge coverage MPs from two influential Parliamentary committees yesterday proposed a new tax system to pay for the burgeoning cost of social care.

The proposal could mean a new hike in national insurance contributions, some redistribution of money going to fund your local council, higher council, inheritance and income tax  and/or abolishing some of the existing universal pension benefits, like the heating allowance or cutting future state pension rises.

Significantly it includes making existing pensioners pay more tax particularly if they are still supplementing their pension by working.

This makes this the first serious policy proposal to deliberately tax people differently depending on their age – and exempting the millennials  at the expense of the elderly. In that it feeds into the current  and my view misconceived debate that millennials are being robbed by wealthy pensioners and the system must be changed to tax pensioners more.

The proposals may well prove to be attractive to the present government which has been trying to create an inter generational wedge between the young and old people – as a sop to the younger generation who have been burdened with huge student loan debts by government policy and can’t afford to buy a home.

No one can deny that the present system for social care is in a mess and is underfunded and it is estimated by the report  using  data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies that spending on  care needs to rise by 3.9 per cent a year just to keep the current severely means tested system which means many cannot get help. It will cost billions more if personal care like the NHS became free at the point of use.

At the moment many people are already paying for care through  local council tax. When people ask where is all the council tax  money  is going – anything from 25 pc to 57pc  is going on social care for the young and old. The average of 37.8 pc according to the report.

The government is also transferring a big tranche of business tax revenue from Whitehall  to the councils and at the same time abolishing grants – but not according to the MPs  earmarking any of this money for social care.

The MPs have done a lot of groundwork – suggesting an independent body should supervise the new earmarked tax-  and have used a citizens assembly to advise them of how they could do it-. The report can be read in full here.

MPs need to tread very carefully over their funding proposals because there is no doubt it could make matters worse for a lot of people.

For a start – and it is picked up by people they consulted – 40 year olds will probably have the expense of  large mortgages, or higher rents, the cost of bringing up children and  may find, if they have had successful careers that they are  paid enough to have to pay back student loans. So they may be even more squeezed.

They have completely ignored the plight of  3.9 million 50s women. – many being forced to work for up to six years – and would now have to pay extra insurance or tax just at the point when they find it difficult to get a highly paid job.

Also by extending national insurance contributions at a higher rate for those who still have a job after turning 65 could well hit people who have taken part time low paid jobs to make ends meet. The MPs also suggest the premium should apply to unearned income and investments held by pensioners – which amounts to a tax on pensioners savings.

The committee talks of  setting an income threshold to make sure some pensioners are exempt – but does not state what this threshold should be.

To my mind there are too many questions  that have not been answered or evaluated for the government to go ahead with this. People should remember that everybody who drew up this report was on an MPs salary of  £77,000 a year, way above many people’s incomes.

Yes we need a debate on how to fund social care – but it shouldn’t be used as part of way to drive a wedge between generations- and we shouldn’t rush into  yet another use for the National Insurance Fund when  they are so many women who have been robbed of a decent pension by the existing system.

 

 

 

 

 

Revealed: The £200,000 food bank warehouse in Amber Rudd’s Hastings constituency caused by the Universal Credit debacle

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Amber Rudd- former home secretary and MP for Hastings as the Universal Credit debacle rolls out in her constituency

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The  billion pound plus failure of the implementation of Universal Credit is rightly condemned by the National Audit Office in a report published today.

Aimed to save money, get everybody back to work, simplify a complex benefit system and to be easily implemented.  Instead it is going to cost more, is years behind schedule, discriminates against disabled and poorly educated people, and the government has plans to force the elderly not entitled to a pension to have to use it when it  changes entitlement to pension credit ( see my earlier blog here)

But it is also having appalling consequences for food banks, landlords, council and housing association tenants – as the example in Amber Rudd’s constituency ( details down below show).

In the meantime ministers today were patting themselves on the back today how successful it is while senior civil servants behind  it were awarded  bonuses worth up to £20,000 each for its botched introduction ( see an earlier blog  here and  an article in the Sunday Mirror).

The statistics are appalling. According to the NAO :

“In 2017, around one quarter (113,000) of new claims were not paid in full on time. Late payments were delayed on average by four weeks, but from January to October 2017, 40% of those affected by late payments waited in total around 11 weeks or more, and 20% waited almost five months. Despite improvements in payment timeliness, in March 2018 21% of new claimants did not receive their full entitlement on time with 13% receiving no payment on time.

The Department does not anticipate payment timeliness to improve significantly in 2018. On this basis, the NAO estimates that between 270,000 and 338,000 new claimants will not be paid in full at the end of their first assessment period throughout 2018. Those with more complex cases are more likely to be paid late.

The Department expected most claimants would have enough money to cope over the initial waiting period after their claim is submitted (previously six weeks, now five). In reality, nearly 60% of new claimants (around 56,000 a month) receive a Universal Credit advance to help them manage before receiving their first payment.But they have to pay it back which means deducting an average £43 a month from their benefit. 

But while the statistics are bad, the examples are worse.

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Hastings Foodbank

Appendix 5 of the report  reveals In  Amber Rudd’s Hastings  constituency for example, according to the NAO Hastings foodbank has increased its opening hours, needs around two tonnes of stock each week to meet demand, and is considering building more storage space, costing £200,000.”

Hastings Citizens Advice pays staff to deliver Universal Support delivered locally. It therefore needs to pay providers regardless of the number of people
that are referred for support. But its income from the Department is not guaranteed so it can’t plan

Hastings Citizens Advice is considering scaling back on what it does in order to cope with increased demand.

Similarly NHS Hastings and Rother Clinical Commissioning Group funds its local advisory services. But this takes time to identify and secure. This hampers the ability of organisations to employ high-quality advocates because of the uncertainty of future funding.

.Hastings and Rother Credit Union no longer accepts Universal Credit claimant because of the complications in dealing with the new benefit and the long time waiting for people to be paid it.

Other areas have also got problems.Landlords are carrying extra debt – Croydon’s rent
collection rate has fallen from 92% to 58%, and its bad debt provision has doubled to £8 million.
Sedgemoor Council  in County Durham reported an increasing unwillingness, even with social landlords, to take on low-income tenants or those claiming Universal Credit.

So the government has piled on misery upon misery for the claimants,. voluntary organisations, food banks, landlords, credit unions, local authorities and health services. Meanwhile ministers on excess of £100,000 a year go home to expensive houses, enjoy fine wines, expensive meals out and luxury holidays while boasting how they are helping the poor. Some sick joke. As Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today:

“The Department has pushed ahead with Universal Credit in the face of a number of problems, but has shown a lack of regard in failing to understand the hardship faced by some claimants.

“The benefits that it set out to achieve through Universal Credit, such as increased employment and lower administration costs, are unlikely to be achieved, yet the Department has little realistic alternative but to continue with the programme and hopefully learn from past mistakes.”