Archive for July, 2013

Another Angry Voice on Payday Loan Sharks: You’ve Been Wongad

July 27, 2013

The payday loan company, Wonga, was in the news yesterday when it was reported that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was furious that one of the companies in which the Church had invested its pension fund had put some of the money in Wonga. The Archbishop has severely criticised Wonga, and similar legal loan sharks, and stated that he wanted the church to ‘outcompete them’ through offering alternative sources of money in credit unions.

Way back in 2012, the superbly well-informed Yorkshireman at Another Angry Voice posted an excellent piece giving further details on the company. It describes its links and connections to the Tory party, and the fact that even in America, the home of free-trade capitalism, companies like Wonga are only allowed to offer interest rates of 36 per cent. Among other fascinating facts, the article states

Here’s some of the stuff that the majority of the mainstream media seem happy to remain silent about.

Did you know that the payday loan sector has been booming since the economic crisis and the resulting “credit crunch”? In 2011 Wonga handed out an astonishing 2.5 million super-high interest loans. The predatory loan sector is one of the very few sectors of the UK economy that seems to be booming through the turgid economic climate created by George Osborne’s ideologically driven, catastrophically miscalculated and economically destructive austerity agenda.

Did you know that these kinds of super-high interest loans are illegal in almost every other advanced western democracy? That other nations tend to protect their poor and vulnerable from this kind of brazen economic parasitism. Even the notoriously Ayn Rand inspired, free-trade preaching, banker friendly mob that run the United States have imposed a Federal maximum APR of 36% for loans to military personnel, which is less than one one hundredth of a typical Wonga APR. Predatory payday loans are illegal in 13 states and regulated in the other 37 states. In Canada these kinds of loan are prohibited by usury laws, with any loan exceeding 60% APR (including fees and brokerage) being considered criminal.

Did you know that some financial sector institutions use the receipt of a payday loan as evidence of credit-unworthiness? The fact that you can be credit blacklisted simply for taking out payday loans seriously damages the argument that these loans are just a “helping hand” and not predominantly marketed at the extremely poor, vulnerable and financially illiterate.

Did you know that these kinds of payday loan companies are so universally despised that even the Daily Mail readership are near unanimous in their condemnation (scroll down to the bottom of this article and click the “best rated” tab). Here’s what Bob, a Daily Mail reader from Bridport, had to say about them:

“These rip off organisations should be properly regulated. Their interest rates are appalling. Feeding on the vulnerable in society. The adverts are a disgrace to elderly people. Shut them down now along with all the other Payday loan sharks on TV.”‘

It says something about the firm’s extremely low moral standing when even the readers of the Daily Mail universally hate it.

The complete articles is at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/youve-been-wongad-tory.html. And it’s very well worth reading.

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The Coalition’s biggest hits, Volume 1.

July 27, 2013

I thought I’d reblog this piece from Kittysjones’ site, as it gives a very full list of the Coalition’s savage cuts to welfare and the NHS, penalising the poor, the sick and disabled, and the unemployed.

Politics and Insights

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1. Introduced unpaid, unlimited workfare for those deemed too sick or disabled to work by their doctor.
2. Scrapped crisis loans and community care grants for the most vulnerable.
3. Severely reduced Legal Aid so that equal, fair access to justice is no longer preserved.
4. Increased VAT ensuring the poorest pay proportionately more in tax. Cut top tax rate to 45% giving millionaires a £40000 pa tax windfall.
5. Legalised state surveillance of all personal internet traffic.
6. Planning to curtail human rights, guaranteed by membership of the EU. That is written in their Program for Government, and has been planned from the very start.
7. Introduced charges for Child Support Agency, so that vulnerable single parents have to pay to get maintanance from absent fathers, for their children.
8. Introduced the Council Tax Bill, with the same unfair principles as the Poll tax Bill, sneaked in via the…

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Private Eye on Private Equity’s Firms Mismanagement of Hinchingbrooke NHS Hospital

July 24, 2013

I found this article in the 22nd December-10 January 2013 issue of Private Eye. It reports and comments on the appalling mismanagement of Hinchingbrooke hospital in Cambridge. This was the first NHS hospital to be given to the private healthcare company, Circle Health, to run.

Circle Squared

The abrupt decision of the once irrepressible Ali Parsa to step down as chief executive of Circle Health has ben followed by an abrupt change of management style at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, the first NHS hospital to be run by a private company.

A film crew from Channel 4’s Cutting Edge programme who turned up recently at the Cambridgeshire hospital, expecting to continue work on a documentary Parsa had initiated, were abruptly escorted from the premises and told not to return.

Could the change in management style have anything to do with the fact that things had already been going seriously adrift at Hinchingbrooke, which Circle Holdings plc took over in February in a ten-year, £1bn deal?

Despite Parsa’a boasts about making huge savinigs, the hospital is already running a deficit of more than £4m, with no prospect of delivering profit for Circle’s private equity and hedge fund shareholders. If the Hinchingbrooke deficit hits £5m, the contract allows Circle to cut its losses and walk away.

Interim chief Steve Melton is no doubt exploring whether Circle can benefit from the PFI meltdown at Peterborough hospital, 24 miles up the A1. Hopes of any rescue for Peterborough City Hospital depend on it getting extra patients (and therefore funds) through its doors.

Circle has always been keen to close Hinchingbrooke’s small but costly A&E unit and would no doubt be happy for Peterborough to take over those urgent and complex cases, so that it could run the hospital more like one of its boutique private hospitals in Bath and Reading. But these services area also key to its financial viability’.

More proof, if any were needed, that private equity firms cannot and should not run NHS hospitals.

Private Eye on More Private Equity Firms in Government: Michael Gove Makes John Nash Minister

July 24, 2013

In my last post featuring an article from Private Eye, I discussed the Eye’s report that the then Tory health minister, Norman Lamb, appeared to be dimly aware that private equity firms actually weren’t very good at running hospitals and care homes. That didn’t seem set to stop them trying to increase such firms owning and running these services, and indeed it didn’t. Just a month later, in their issue for 25th January -7 February of this year, the Eye reported that Education secretary Michael Gove had appointed John Nash as minister. Nash is head of yet another private equity company. The Eye reported

Man in the Eye

John Nash

Education Secretary Michael Gove’s appointment of businessman John Nash as a minister suggests he wants private companies to be far more involved in running mainstream state schools.

Nash makes cash through his private equity firm, Sovereign Capital, which invests in higher education and training companies that receive millions for their poor performance on government contracts. Private firms are currently barred from investing in most state schools, but Nash’s new job might include opening up this market.

Given Sovereign’s record, this isn’t great news: it owns the private Greenwich School of Management, whose income from public funds has jumped to £22.6m – almost a quarter of the total going to private universities-since the coalition increased the number of private university courses funded by government-backed student loans (Eye 1330). Alas, when inspectors visited GSM in July student learning opportunities did “not meet UK expectations” and the college required “improvement to meet UK expectations”.

Meanwhile Sovereign’s website boasts of its backing for training firm ESG, which it bought in 2004. ESG training for the jobless was inspected five times by Ofsted between 2007 and 2009 and never received a single “good”. Inspection reports found “achievement and standards are inadequate”, a “low rate for job outcomes”, “slow progress in implementing quality assurance arrangements”, “insufficient resources in some centres” and “some poor learning resources”.

Despite this ESG won a £69m Work Programme contract from the Work and Pensions Department-and stumbled here too, failing to meet a 5.5 per cent minimum target for getting people into jobs. Sovereign says it sold ESG last July after it won the Work Programme contract, but documents at Companies House show Sovereign still owns about 20 per cent.

Press coverage of Nash’s appointment mentioned his investment in the Conservatives (he and his wife have given £300,000 to the party-and he now has a seat in the House of Lords and a government job!) but his Sovereign role wasn’t discussed because the Department for Education failed to mention it when announcing the appointment. The government did say Nash would step away “from all relevant business interests” while serving as minister. Sovereign Capital declined to comment.’

So the government is appointing yet another businessman from a private equity firm to oversee its privatisation of yet more state institutions. The private equity firm involved has an abysmal record in running those institutions it does possess. Its chairman is nevertheless rewarded for his persistent failure with a seat in the House of Lords, and position in government. It’s basically business as usual then, with the only difference being that this time it’s education that will suffer, rather than hospitals.

Vox Political: Conservative Minister Mark Hoban Making it More Difficult to Appeal against Atos

July 24, 2013

My brother, over at the excellent Vox Political blog, has this story about how Tory minister Mark Hoban has said he wants to improve the quality of the Atos assessments. As hopeful as this statement sounds, it really means that he wants to prevent more of Atos’ victims from successfully appealing against their poor assessments. The article’s entitled ‘Bad Government: Their Idea of ‘Wrong’ isn’t the Same as Yours’. Mike begins the article

‘ This is the last article in the quartet about private organisations carrying out public duties – and the government ministers who employ them – focusing on what happens when things go wrong.

(This was delayed from yesterday because yr obdt svnt developed a splitting headache. It seems that a trip to the gym and a three-hour drive, taking a sick neighbour to get help, isn’t conducive to writing four articles in a day!)

It should be noted that, in some cases, the error is clear and a logical solution is enacted. For example, when G4S completely failed to carry out its security responsibilities at the London Olympics last year, the government cancelled the company’s contract and called in the Army to sort out the mess. This wasn’t a perfect solution as it meant leave was cancelled for many squaddies and officers, but it did at least allow the Olympics to go ahead with a reasonable amount of security.

On the other hand, we have the current situation with the DWP, Atos and the work capability assessment.

“DWP is to bring in additional providers to carry out assessments,” yesterday’s press release announced under the headline Hoban – taking action to improve the Work Capability Assessment.

The possibility that the Work Capability Assessment may be improved might fill the casual reader with joy, but the problem – for those of us in the know – that that Mark Hoban’s name is attached to it. This is a man who has admitted that he does not understand the benefit system. Why is he still being allowed to meddle with it?

Read down the release and it turns out that the government does indeed want to change the WCA – but not in any way that is meaningful to us. It seems that the paperwork accompanying decisions isn’t sufficiently robust for the Department for Work and Pensions. It seems likely Mr Hoban’s problem is that this might make it possible for more people to succeed in appeals against decisions.’

It’s at http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/bad-government-their-idea-of-wrong-isnt-the-same-as-yours/

Private Eye: Has Norman Lamb Finally Recognised Private Equity Firms Should Not Run Healthcare

July 24, 2013

This is story from the 11th December-21st December 2012 issue of Private Eye, reporting that Norman Lamb appears to have cottoned on to the fact that private equity firms running hospitals and other healthcare facilities is recipe for disaster. It states

‘Private Equity

Not-so Super Model

Health minister Norman Lamb has finally recognised what the Eye has been saying for ages: that the tax-driven ownership structure behind companies providing some of the most sensitive public services, such as care for the vulnerable, puts them at huge risk.

Companies such as Castlebeck, behind the abusive Winterbourne View home (Eye 1290), the Rochdale children’s home that was supposed to be looking after girls sexually abused by gangs, all operated on the same financial model: highly-geared with expensive loans from funds (often offshore) that remove any profits the taxman might get his hands on but also leave the “businesses” themselves highly vulnerable to economic downturn.

The model increasingly extends now to other outsourced services – such as forensic science, for example, where offshore fund-owned LGC Forensics recently contributed to the wrongful five-month detention of a man on rape charges after cost-driven lapses at one of its labs. As Eye 1325 noted, the report by the Forensic Science Regulator on LGC was highly critical.

Then of course there are the scores of hospital PFI contracts now held at least partly by private equity funds (Eyes passim ad nauseam).

In a consultation on care home regulation, Lam has at last promised to “challenge business models that could compromise quality”. But lessons of the last decade have yet to be learned, it seems, as his consultation document promises there will be a “light touch”. Such was the approach to financial services regulation that led to Northern Rock and 2008 crash. Good one, Norm.’

In other words, Lamb and the Tories are aware that private equity firms running healthcare doesn’t work, or at least, not as well as they’d hoped. They don’t want to admit, and don’t want to do anything about it, except issue vague statements about quality when the scandals become too great to ignore.

So it’s pretty much business as usual then.

Lord Shaftesbury on the Need for an Indian Factory Act 1879

July 23, 2013

In my last post I discussed the forthcoming Channel 4 drama, The Mill, set amongst the child labourers of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. I mentioned that similar conditions still exist in the Third World today, and that it is the world to which the Tory writers of Britannia Unchained look back, a world of misery, starvation, overwork and exploitation. I also mentioned that due to longer working hours being introduced in Britain and other parts of the West, the working days of the Developing World was also lengthening to inhuman proportions.
I found this speech by Lord Shaftesbury to the House of Lords from 1879 advocating the introduction of an Indian Factory Act, like that he had campaigned for in England thirty years earlier. It makes clear the horrific working conditions in both England and her Indian colonies, and the way industrialisation in both nations had similarly affected their workers. Here it is.

‘On what principle, or what theory, is India to be exempted from the duties and obligations of civilised society? Creed and colour, latitude and longitude, make no difference in the essential nature of man. No climate can enable infants to do the work of adults, or turn suffering women into mere steam-engines … But what say you, my lords, to a continuity of toil, in a standing posture, in a poisonous atmosphere, during thirteen hours, with fifteen minutes to rest? Why, the stoutest man in England, were he made, in such a condition of things, to do nothing during the whole of that time but be erect on his feet and stick pins in a pincushion, would sink under the burden. What say you, then, of children – children of the tenderest years? Why, they become stunted, crippled, deformed, useless. I speak what I know; I state what I have seen …

In Bradford, in 1838, I asked for a collection of cripples and deformities. In a short time more than eighty were gathered in a large courtyard. They were mere samples of the entire mass. I assert without exaggeration that no power of language could describe the varieties, and I may say the cruelties, in all those degradations of the human form. They stood or squatted before me in the shapes of the letters of the alphabet. This was the effect of prolonged toil on the tender frames of children at early ages. When I visited Bradford under the limitation of hours, some years afterwards, I called for a similar exhibition of cripples; but, God be praised, there was not one to be found in that vast city …

Forty-six years ago I addressed the House of Commons in a kindred appeal and they heard me; I now turn to your Lordships and I implore you in the same spirit, for God’s sake and in His name, to have mercy on the children of India.’

The Act was passed, but never enforced.

Nevertheless, it shows the acute social consciousness and relative lack of racial prejudice, at least in this issue, of Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury himself was an aristocrat, and an evangelical Christian at the time when that branch of Christianity stood for progressive social reform. He believed in a static society, with the aristocracy holding their natural place at its top. He also believed that people have a Christian duty to ameliorate the conditions of others during the time on Earth, and would have to answer for their lack of charity before the Lord after their death. It was this deep religious faith that prompted his campaigns against long working days for women and children.

I thought the speech was worth repeating because, as I said, it is all too contemporary with Conservatives, particularly the authors of Britannia Unchained, recommending lengthening working hours here to match the Third World. Shaftesbury’s speech describes the world we left. It also describes the world the authors of Britannia Unchained would have us return.

Source

Peter Vansittart, Voices 1870-1914 (New York: Franklin Watts 1985)

Historical Drama: The Mill on Channel 4, Sundays 8.00 pm

July 23, 2013

Channel 4 begins another historical drama, The Mill, this Sunday at 8.00 in the evening. In contrast to the medieval chivalry and power politics of BBC’s The White Queen on an hour later, The Mill is set amongst the factory slaves of the northern cotton mills during the Industrial Revolution. It’s based on the real history of Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire in the 1830s. This was the period when the new factory masters bought children from the workhouses to work amongst the machines in the mills. The working day was 13 hours long with accidents common. The apprentices were unpaid, and could only look forward to a few shillings if they completed their apprenticeship when they turned 18. The Mill dramatizes the events and controversy of 1833 when the government of the time attempted to introduce the 10 Hours Act, limiting children’s working day to those hours.

The blurb for The Mill on page 62 of the Radio Times runs as follows

‘A glowering, brutal mill foreman yells at a clutch of young female workers, women he’s frequently pulled from the dusty, hellish cauldron of the factory floor to indecently assault in a privy: “You’re apprentices, orphans, bastards! No one’ll listen to you, so say nothing!’ New Tricks it ain’t.

But if you like your dramas bleak, visceral and raw, sticky with the blood of dead and injured workers in the scarred and cauterised landscape of Britain during the Industrial Revolution, then The Mill will be your weekly treat. John Fay’s script is sweatily powerful as misery is piled upon misery. Children are frequently badly injured by unsafe, unguarded machinery and everyone works long hours in hideous conditions. And they are powerless and without hope.’

Two of the female stars of The Mill were talking about their roles in the series on breakfast TV on BBC 1 yesterday. Unfortunately I missed most of it. They did, however, mention that they ended up working 13 hours days shooting the series, and talked about the heat, noise and the dangers of the machines on which they were filmed. As lurid as it sounds, the series appears to be historically accurate. The evidence gather by contemporary reformers, such as Lord Shaftesbury, religious campaigners such as George Muller in Bristol, presented to the government’s commissions of inquiry and published in works like Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, present a grim picture of appalling poverty, despair and degradation. In Britain and the rest of Europe, legislation was passed by successive governments first limiting their hours and then outlawing child labour. There are still concerns about child labour in Britain even now. Back in the 1990s the anti-slavery charity, Anti-Slavery International, published a pamphlet discussing violations of the child labour legislation in Britain. Even though it is carefully regulated in Britain, it is still used throughout the developing world, in conditions very similar to that of 19th century Britain.

This is the world the authors of Britannia Unchained are harking back to with their spurious complaints that Brits are too lazy and need to work longer hours. Greg Palast, the American radical journalist, attacked this claim in his book, Armed Madhouse. Palast found that rather than making the West more competitive, it encouraged Developing Nations to raise their working hours even more, until you reached the long hours and appalling conditions of Chinese forced labour camps.

Channel 4 as Radical, Alternative Broadcaster

I can’t say that I’ll watch The Mill. It’s going to be far too grim for me. I prefer television that’s much less visceral and more escapist. It is, however, important. Channel 4 has been criticised of late for broadcasting mass-market programming that could be shown on any channel in order to improve its ratings. The channel was originally set up to show material of minority interest, as a kind of alternative BBC 2. As a result it broadcast opera, foreign movies, and documentaries on left-wing or radical issues. Jeremy Isaacs, its first head, said he aimed to broadcast northern miners’ oral history, amongst other subjects. It also showed material aimed at racial minorities. This included All India Goldies, a series of Indian films, and a massive TV version of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. Much of its output was also fairly sexually explicit. It also included programmes on homosexuality, before this became more acceptable. AS a result the Daily Mail regularly attacked it, and hysterically dubbed Michael Grade, its director-general of the time, ‘Britain’s pornographer-in-chief’. More recently, Quentin Letts, the political sketch writer for the Mail and very definitely a man of the right, has attacked Channel 4 for not keeping to its original raison d’etre. He points out that its opera broadcasts introduced the art to a mass audience, attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers. It’s also supposed to have confounded the Leaderene’s husband. Denis Thatcher thought that by ‘alternative programming’, Channel 4 would be screening things like yachting. Well, it’s been several decades, but it looks like Channel 4 might be trying to reclaim its position as the channel of intelligent, radical broadcasting.

Reclaiming Our Futures: 7 Days Of Action From Disabled People Against Cuts

July 23, 2013

This comes from DPAC via Johnny Void. It’s the agenda for a week of action by Disabled People Against Cuts.

the void

atos-paralympic-protestfrom DPACOur rights are being stripped away day by day by the neo-liberal policies being imposed on us all by the Condems leaving us without any hope for our futures or our children’s futures.

DPAC say this is not fair, not acceptable and we must fight back against the continuing attacks. We will be having a week of actions nationally and virtually from August 29th and culminating on September 4th with  mass events and actions in London.

Thursday 29th August – launch on anniversary of coffin delivery to Atos, make Crossrail fully accessible protest, plus more….

Friday 30th August – local protests –go to local MPs, Atos offices, schools and colleges that are creating barriers to inclusion..plus more…

Saturday 31st August – disability, art and protest exhibition and gig.

Sunday 1st September –
The Social Model In The 21st Century –…

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David Cameron, Alan Clarke, the Conservatives and the Tobacco Lobby

July 23, 2013

David Cameron has been in the news the last few days for his attempts to block legislation requiring that cigarettes be sold in plain packages, as has been suggested in Australia. Central to this campaign is one of the Tories’ spin doctors, Lynton Crosby, who is part of the Crosby Textor Aussie lobbying firm that works for the tobacco industry.

Unfortunately, this is pretty much par for the course for the Conservatives, who have long running connections to the tobacco and alcohol industries. During Major’s administration his economics expert, Alan Clarke, took up a position with British American Tobacco. Private Eye, with their usual wit and bile, sent him up as BATMan, a parody of the superhero strip. This featured Clarke as BatMan, hurtling around in his BATmobile, shaped like a giant cigarette, combatting the evil forces of the anti-smoking lobby and forcing Third World children to take up smoking. He was rather like an overweight, middle-aged Nick O’tine, if you can remember that anti-smoking advert from all those years ago.

So, as with so many of the Tories’ policies, no change there then.