Ron’s Rambles February

Best wishes Benefits
Amber Rudd’s decision to introduce changes to the Universal-Credits programme are to be welcomed, but they are long overdue. There is nothing wrong with the concept of Universal Credit, the aim to ensure that one is better off working than living on benefits appears to make sense, at least it would do if those who are working were receiving enough to provide shelter, food, heating and clothing for their family. Sadly for anyone working a forty hour week on the minimum wage, this is barely true, for those not working a forty hour week it almost certainly isn’t true. The situation has become more complex by the increasing use by employers of zero hours contracts such that they might get no work at all in some weeks. The government aim is to ensure that the level of benefit is such as to make one better off by working but fixing that level to ensure that it is fair is very difficult. With the introduction of UC the government decided that recipients would get paid once every five weeks, this, they claimed would be comparable with someone in work who is paid monthly. Bearing in mind that those applying for benefit are the poorest in society they were unlikely to have sufficient funds to meet their living expenses during that five weeks, many were able to call on family or friends to help them through that time but a significant minority were not. Understandably there were many protests, just what did the government expect these people to do? Crime or prostitution or go to loan sharks? I have seen people at the food bank with apparently no money, no source of money and three weeks before they can expect to get any. Those operating benefits do so in a ruthless manner, applying sanctions, in the form of withholding benefits, for any minor breach of rules. Belatedly a scheme of loans was introduced last year so that people could borrow some of their benefit in advance, but this money had to be repaid so ensuing payments would be reduced, which was not much help if the benefits were not enough in the first place. Another aspect of UC was the decision that, unlike the old Housing Benefit, all the benefit would be paid to the recipient and it would be their responsibility to pay the rent to the landlord, just as they would if they were employed. Makes sense, one could argue, saves the tax-payer lots of money spent in administration, but for reasons not clear to me, the government decided that those living in affordable accommodation would be treated differently and their rents would be paid to the council/housing association and deducted from the benefit going to the recipient. Those in private renting have to pay their rent. Almost by definition private accommodation is unaffordable for someone on benefit, the net result is that they are likely to fall behind with their rent leading to eventual eviction and becoming the responsibility of the local authority. Amber Rudd’s changes do address some of the problems, the proposal is that where it is necessary weekly payments of benefits can be arranged and private landlords will be able to apply to have the rent paid directly to them. Three cheers for Amber Rudd, she seems to have a much better understanding of the difficulties facing the poor than any of her predecessors in that Job.
As I said at the start there is nothing wrong with the concept of UC, the problem is that the government is trying to save money at the same time. In 2008 the conservative government announced an austerity programme that included a big reduction in welfare spending and they have been pursuing that aim. I believe that there remains further cuts to be made over the next three years amounting to a figure in excess of £12bn. Austerity is not over yet.
Our government has been in denial of the extent of poverty in this country and many of it’s actions have been deliberately aimed at helping the better off at the expense of the poor. Last year they did raise the minimum wage, an overdue act that has improved the situation a little for those on low wages, they also raised the personal allowance for income tax, whilst this may have helped the low to medium earners, it did nothing for the very poor who are not earning enough to pay any tax, but what it did do was to give the greatest benefit to those who had an income that resulted in a tax rate higher than the standard rate almost 50% of the reduction in tax take went to people in that category. This gift to the better-off came on top of the reduction in the higher tax rate.
I read recently that some of the top paid people in the country had earned in the first four days of this year as much as a worker on the minimum wage could expect to earn in the whole year. We are a rich nation but the wealth is becoming increasingly disproportionately distributed throughout society, a trend that has been happening over a number of years. The government’s failure to curb excessive salaries, act to end the housing crisis and stop the exploitation of the low and middle earners by property owners and to adequately protect the poorest in society are major factors that have led to this unjust and unfair society.
One can understand and applaud the aim to balance the nation’s budget, but to do that by constantly squeezing the people with low and middle incomes whilst leaving the better-off to make merry cannot be the best way.

Believe it or Not
For it’s size, Britain has more tornadoes than any other country in the world,
Concrete is stronger if carrots are added to it.
James IV of Scotland paid people to allow him to extract their teeth.
One of the pilgrims on the Mayflower had 139 pairs of shoes.
A fatal dose of coffee is 113 cups, but you would die first from water poisoning.
As a teenager Xi Jinping, president of China, lived in a cave.
All strawberries today derive from five plants brought to France in 1712.
Oscar Wilde tore off a corner of a page and ate it after he’d read it.
Painting eyes on cow’s bottoms stops lions attacking them.
Yellow tennis balls, which look better on colour TV, were he idea of David Attenborough when he was controller of BBC 2.
Donald Trump is the first US president in 168years not to have a pet in the White House.
During the second world war Foyle’s bookshop bomb-proofed itself by covering the roof with copies of Mein Kampf.
The first advert on Channel 5 was for Chanel No. 5.
Mosquitoes are responsible for half the deaths in human history.
Hedgehogs hunt and kill adders.
The first real murder on the Orient Express took place a year after Agatha Christie’s novel came out.
The lost property office at Dublin Airport has an unclaimed tombstone with the words “You will always be remembered, never forgotten.”
African wild dogs vote on whether to go hunting or not by sneezing.
The droplets from a single cough can contain 200 million virus particles.
In a film Twister the noise of a tornado was made using the moans of a camel.
All Jack Russells are descended from a dog called Trump.

The above ‘facts’ were extracted from an article in the i newspaper about the BBC researchers finding material for the Qi programme.

The Push
(Once again trespassing on Dr Nisbet’s ground, with apologies)
A man and his wife were in bed, just after midnight they were woken by a loud banging on their front door. The man got up slipped his dressing gown on and went down to investigate. Opening the door he found a man standing there who said, with a slightly slurred speech “Do you think you could give me a push?”. The man in his dressing gown decided that the other was a little drunk, and looked out at the dark and the light rain, “No I will not”, he said. He closed the door and went back to bed, his wife asked what it was all about and he told her what had happened. The wife said “That wasn’t very Christian of you, you were pleased enough when those two young lads gave you a push last year”. Her husband thought for a while “I suppose you are right” he said. He put some clothes on and a raincoat and went down to the door, he opened the door but all he could see was the dark and the rain, he called out “Are you still there?” and a voice replied “Yes”.
“Well where are you?”
“I’m over here on the swing”

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