Sunday, April 20, 2008

'If anyone present knows a reason why these persons may not lawfully marry'

Antonia has already dissected the dreadful, self indulgent article in the Observer about the lifelong Labour voter who is getting married after more than thirty years of happy cohabitation to reduce the amount of inheritance tax that her children will have to pay. Apparently, an 'incalculable number of people' now have to pay this 'punitive' tax.

As a general principle, I'm actually in favour of more news coverage along the lines of 'rich people whine about having to pay tax, how it is all sooo unfair, and how they are being forced to go to very minor inconveniences in order to make sure that their children/pets/other chosen beneficiaries won't have to scrape by inheriting a mere £300,000+ tax free'.

The more money that gets raised through inheritance tax, the more it is easily possible to reduce tax bills of low paid workers, or improve the long term care for elderly people, or any number of good causes.

But if it is really the case that changes to inheritance tax rules have prompted a 'sudden influx of old people at registry offices all over the country', then there is a very simple and fun piece of public service and civic activism which could be performed. At any wedding where the sole purpose, as in this case, is for wealthy people to dodge inheritance tax, anyone can just turn up and raise an objection at the appropriate moment. Just a thought...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Good Old Boys #52

Time to count our blessings

It would do many of us good to consider how fortunate we are, compared with many of our parents.

My own poor mum died when she was not much over 40 and I was 11 in 1935.

There was no National Health Service then and unless you had real money, there was very little chance of you being taken into hospital and staying alive.

She died without even enjoying her grandchildren as my wife has.

Winston Churchill made a big contribution to us winning the last war, but many of us ex-servicemen and women and others decided that as good a war leader as he had been, we did not want his lot ruining our peace again.

So, overwhelmingly, we voted in a Labour Party which made sure our disabled did not have to scratch a living off the streets, selling matches etc, and gave them the chance of employment.

From that Government came our present NHS, which I am sure would have given my mother many more years of life to enjoy, rather than dying early from an illness that was never properly attended to.

But for the caring attention of the local doctors and staff, I doubt if I would be writing this letter today.

With free prescriptions at 60, the heating allowance, free TV licence at 75 etc, we have so much more to be grateful for than our parents ever enjoyed.

But many well-housed people only want to complain if there is any danger of more houses being built near them for our still many homeless. Let's count our blessings and appreciate the party that made so much of the above possible for us all.

DARBY SUTTON (War pensioner) Cromwell Close Old Marston Oxford"

Blame Parents

In reply to Michael Clarke (Oxford Mail, April 2), the Government should ban all forms of tobacco advertising.

It is a dirty, filthy habit and it costs the NHS millions of pounds to treat smoking-related illnesses.

My wife had a knee replacement eight weeks ago and I had a knee operation last year.

The treatment we had was excellent and we could not find fault with the NHS.

Mr Clarke also demands better deals for pensioners, but it was his Tory Government that took away the link between pay and pensions which is worth £30 today. It will be restored in 2012.

This Government has given the over-60s free bus passes, eye tests and prescriptions, and increased the heating allowance by £50 this year. Those over 80 now get £400.

Mr Clarke also mentions crime, but you cannot blame the Government for the number of crimes committed today.

Blame the parents who bring up their children.

My mother and father brought up five of us. We never got into any trouble and I brought up four children and they were never any trouble either - they were brought up right and proper.

So stop moaning, Mr Clarke - we still live in one of the best countries in this world.

G ROBERTS Green Road Eynsham

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Weekly Gripe

The revolutionary power of the internet will finish off old-fashioned, top down news providers, and replace them with non-hierarchial, modern organisations in which the people themselves get to choose the content and what is important, rather than some out of touch elitist editor.


I give you 'The Weekly Gripe'. The Weekly Gripe is 'an electronic publication created by private individuals for anyone who has ever felt the need to have a good old gripe about people, things or just society in general. The aim of this site is to provide a platform for discussion and to encourage others to express their feelings. It's good to get that gripe out into the open!'

In other words, the existence of the Weekly Gripe instantly obsoletes the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph. Why bother to pay journalists to write stories for people to grumble about, when they can do it for themselves? Why shell out on highly paid columnists when you can get the same content for free from your readers?

And for anyone wondering what the most popular gripes are, they can be found here. Top ten are:

1. 'Ban smoking in public places'
2. 'Asylum seekers on our doorstep'
3. 'Broadband - superhighway or dead end'
4. 'Men who leave their shirt unbuttoned'
5. 'Another speeding fine'
6. 'Horse manure on the road'
7. 'TalkTalk poor customer service'
8. 'Sky customer service a joke'
9. 'Smokers have rights too'
10. 'Parents with unruly children'

All of which just goes to show how out of touch politicians are. I can't even remember the last time that Gordon Brown gave a speech on men who leave their shirt unbuttoned or David Cameron attacked the government for their failure to deal with the problem of horse manure in the road.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

DIY Henry Porter

Sadie's Tavern has an excellent post for anyone suffering from withdrawal symptoms on account of the recent absence of Henry Porter's supremely intelligent, measured and characteristically modest articles in the Observer.

Behold, the DIY guide to writing a Henry Porter article.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Most low paid workers better off because of the budget

So how did the budget affect someone who, say, is 30 years old, working full time at the minimum wage, but is a single adult with no kids? Everyone's criticising Gordon Brown for raising taxes on people in low paid work, so they'd be worse off, right?


If you take the income tax, national insurance and working tax credit changes into account, they'll be £7.12/week better off.

The overall effect of the changes in the Budget, including the abolition of the 10p tax rate, the change in the threshold for paying national insurance and the increase in working tax credits, are that most low paid workers will be better off, not worse off.

The substantial increase in Working Tax Credit means that all those who earn from £8,612 (30 hours a week on the minimum wage) up to £13,000 (or up to £17,200 joint income if they are in a couple) are better off. Even if you don't have kids, you can claim working tax credit.

A large group of single childless people earning £225 to £245 a week are able to claim tax credits for the first time. This includes, for example, thousands of retail workers in Tesco, Sainsburys and M&S working a standard week for around £228 a week.

Some people have lost out. People who cannot claim Working Tax Credit because they work less than 30 hours a week or are under 25 years old and who do not have dependent children will be worse off from the abolition of the 10p band. A small group of single childless people who earn between £13,000 and £15,000 a year will lose out by a small amount – less than £1 a week.

The maximum loss for someone who works is £152.40 a year (£2.93 a week). This would be the case for someone working 26 hours a week on the minimum wage, earning £143 a week. But if they could work an extra 4 hours a week, they could (if eligible) claim tax credits of £32.31 a week on top of the extra wages.

Those on average earnings of £29,000 a year are £5 a week better off.


The above stats aren't about trying to make excuses for the scrapping of the 10p tax rate - younger low paid workers and the others living on low incomes who lose out shouldn't be having their tax bills increased, and there's no reason why the working tax credit increases had to be combined with removing the 10p starting rate. A tax system in which people on low incomes paid less and people on high incomes paid a lot more would be a lot fairer.

But the figures do highlight the amount of misinformation that there has been in the coverage of this issue, with claims that all low paid workers will be losing out when that is manifestly not the case.

It also shows how effective tax credits are in boosting the pay of low paid workers. Someone working 30 hours a week on the minimum wage will be paying an extra £2.43/week in tax, but receiving an extra £9.62/week in working tax credit. Abolishing tax credits
, as the Tories seem to be considering, would hammer low paid workers far more than the abolition of the 10p starting rate of tax ever did.

If people working 30 hours/week on the minimum wage had to pay no income tax or national insurance at all, they would be £18.94/week better off. Working tax credit alone is worth £32.31/week, even without considering child tax credits which help families. So scrapping tax credits and just raise the threshold at which people start paying tax would leave most workers on the minimum wage worse off.

Of course, these are theoretical figures, and rely on people claiming working tax credit. You can check if you are eligible by looking here or there is lots of good advice at USDAW's website here

Whatever you think about the budget, please do pass the message on to anyone you know who might be eligible for tax credits and who has found that they are paying more income tax this month that maybe they could be getting a bit more money than they thought they would.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Fairer taxes

When Gordon Brown delivered his last budget just over a year ago, he couldn't have expected that its long term legacy would have been to unite the Tories and Lib Dems, along with an increasing number of members of his own party, in opposition to tax rises for low paid workers without children.

The situation facing people who are living on low incomes, but who don't have kids, didn't feature as a major issue in the 2005 election, or the one before. No powerful lobby group speaks for them, and they aren't considered part of 'Middle England' (though thousands of them live in marginal constituencies around the UK - there are a lot more people earning less than £18,000 in Gillingham than earning £60,000+).

The changes in income tax, cutting the basic rate by 2% while abolishing the 10% starting rate, means that anyone earning between roughly £18,500 and £35,000 is better off, while workers earning enough to pay income tax but less than £18,500 are worse off, up to a maximum of £223 per year per person. In terms of the political Conventional Wisdom of the time, this was redistribution from those who don't vote to those who do, planned just in time for an election in 2008. As we know, it hasn't turned out that way.

Over in America, David Frum has written a book which in part aims to explain the decline in popularity of the Republican Party. Frum notes that “after almost three decades of tax-cutting, most Americans no longer pay very much income tax … By contrast, the top 1 percent of taxpayers pay well over one-third of all U.S. income taxes.” As a result, the appeal of tax cuts as opposed to greater public spending on, for example, healthcare has been radically diminished. On CentreRight, the reviewer of Frum's book concluded that "Tax cuts targeted at low earners is an idea that has resurfaced on many conservative blogs recently, but it is one that if implemented would make all future tax cuts much more difficult."

There are a number of lessons from all of this. One is that any attempts at tax simplification are always fraught with the danger that the people who lose out will be more vocal than those who gain. A second is that policies which take from less well off people to give to the middle classes aren't the vote-winners which some have argued. And a third is that when the Conservatives complain about tax rises for low paid people, the longer term aim is to cut them for the rich.

But above all, there is a golden opportunity here for Labour to rescue the situation. Put simply, it is now a matter of political consensus that people on low incomes pay more than their fair share of tax, and people who have a lot of money pay less than their fair share. So the fair and popular thing to do is to cut taxes for those on low incomes, and pay for it by raising them on the rich. And if, in future years, this helps to undermine support for the Conservative case for more and bigger tax cuts a la George Bush, then so much the better.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

If Adrian Mole had been a Tory...

...then the result would look something like the wonderfully entertaining 'Letters from a Tory' spoof blog.

The basic premise is that the hero is a Tory who writes letters to people who have been in the news. Here are his letters to:

Max Mosley

"Admittedly what you were found to be doing is abhorent to someone like me, but I still fail to see why it’s any of our business what you get up to."

The National Union of Teachers

"Your arrogance coupled with your failure to read a newspaper over the last few months leaves me with no sympathy for you whatsoever."

and Gordon Brown

"I nearly fell off my chair when you suggested that our “shared values” can be seen in “the popularity of our common institutions from the NHS [to] the BBC”, both of which in my opinion needs to be taken out of state control and handed over to independent providers to improve their quality and sustainability in the long term - talk about being out of touch!"

At Your Service, On Your Side

The Guardian reports: "Stephen Carter, the prime minister's strategy chief, who attended the meeting, yesterday briefed the cabinet on plans to win the next general election, saying Labour would fight on the themes of "On Your Side" and "At Your Service"."

Last week, I got a leaflet from my local councillor, with exactly this message at the top 'Councillor Elaine Allen - At Your Service - On Your Side'.

It was a Lib Dem Focus leaflet.

I know that it's going to take Mr Carter a bit of time to get up to speed with the world of political campaigning, and I'm sure most of his ideas are better than copying slogans off the Liverpool Liberal Democrats. But he'd better not follow this in his next briefing by bringing a massive barchart to the Cabinet and announcing that the government's key messages are 'Working for You All Year Round' and 'It's a Two Horse Race'.


On the train down to London today, I heard Liverpool fans discuss immigration policy in light of the headlines in the Daily Express.

Then they went, via a pub in central London, to the Emirates stadium, where Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy recently signed an agreement aimed at cutting immigration (the British government sharing their experience how to deport immigrants in exchange for nuclear power).

And once there, they cheered on Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano, Lucas Leivia and the rest of Rafa's Reds.