Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Welfare for the Wealthy (3)

According to Aditya Chakrabortty, the government pays out £85bn a year in tax breaks and subsidies to business.

Kevin Farnsworth, a senior lecturer in social policy at the University of York, has spent the best part of a decade studying corporate welfare – delving through Whitehall spreadsheets and others, and poring over Companies House filings. He’s just produced what is, as far as I know, the first ever comprehensive audit of the British corporate welfare state.

The figures, to be published in a forthcoming report, are astonishing. Farnsworth takes the financial year 2011-12 and tots up the subsidies and grants paid directly to businesses. They amount to over £14bn – that is, almost three times the £5bn paid out that year in income-based jobseeker’s allowance.

Add to that the corporate tax benefits, the value of the cheap credit made available to banks and other business, the insurance schemes run by the government to protect exporters, the marketing for British business laid on by Vince Cable’s ministry, the public procurement from the private sector … Farnsworth calculates that direct corporate welfare costs British taxpayers just shy of £85bn a year.

Nor does this figure include the cost of bailing out the banks or the millions in housing benefit that goes straight into the pockets of private landlords.

The bill for corporate welfare is huge – and largely hidden. We know a lot about the people who claim social welfare: we know how much each benefit costs the public, the government sets strict rules for eligibility – and we even have detailed estimates for how much cheating goes on. Between them, Whitehall, academia and NGOs have churned out enough surveys on social welfare claimants to fill a wing of the Bodleian library. But corporate welfare? The government has itself acknowledged: “There is no definitive source of data about spending on subsidies to businesses in the UK.” The numbers are scattered across government publications and there is not even any agreement on what counts as a corporate handout.

Whilst some of this is bribes to companies like Disney to spend money here rather than elsewhere and can be shown to actually be revenue-positive, much of it goes to recipients like the "defence" industry, a sector of commerce so heavily subsidised that we would actually be better off without it.

Mainly, however, it shows up the Tories' harrying of the poor for the cynical vote-chasing exercise it really is. If they were really interested in reducing public spending, this would be a good place to start.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (343)

Neither of these are new, particularly correct or even relevant to the debate, but it's nice to see two completely contradicatory KLN's being wheeled out in the same article in The Telegraph:

Many politicians are concerned that an influx of foreign investment is leaving the capital’s leafier streets less diverse, with more oligarchs and fewer British families. But a mansion tax would – by definition - make certain expensive neighbourhoods even more expensive.

Nick Paget-Brown, the leader of Kensington and Chelsea council which has the highest concentration of £2 million+ homes, said the levy would force long-term residents to move out “making way, no doubt, for some real billionaires”.


Levying a charge of £3,000 a year on homes worth £2-3 million will raise £140 million, according to Savills. That leaves Labour seeking to raise £1.08 billion from a remaining 57,000 properties worth over £3 million, paying an average of £19,000. It means that the bulk of the revenue is balanced on a relatively small number of mobile people.

Firstly, the tax would not make buying a home in these areas more expensive as the very modest tax comes off the price.

Secondly, can these Homeys make up their minds whether we'd end up with more oligarchs or fewer oligarchs? And then please explain which of these is more desirable and why?

I suspect we'd end up with more oligarchs in the expensive areas, but on balance that's a good thing; they're happily paying a bit more tax plus spending loads of money here, which is good for the UK's balance of payments.

If and when I'm retired, I'd rather live on a street with normal families than be surrounded by mansions which are vacant most of the time, so if normal families downsize to a normal area (with a million quid unearned, untaxed cash to spend), that must surely be A Good Thing.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (342)

MBK emailed in a splendid new variant of the "diagonal comparison" in The Times, it goes like this:

"If I am forced to pay LVT, then I will have less money to spend on [worthy cause]", in this case, charitable donations.

The author of the piece is so Home-Owner-Ist that he completely lacks any sort of perspective, he appears to think that he will garner sympathy with drivel like this:

I HAVE just been to the top floor of our house. I so rarely go there, it always comes as a surprise… I came downstairs, thinking, as I always do, where do all these rooms come from? Do I really own all this? Sorry, I mean we. My wife is joint owner. In fact for many years she was paid more than me…

We bought our house, in north London, in 1963 — three storeys, Victorian, for £5,000, after I negotiated down the price from £5,250. I tell locals this all the time — just to make them sick…

Our house today is technically a mansion, even though it has just two bedrooms. (We each have a writing room, plus two sitting rooms.) On paper it must be worth about £2.5m. That’s what one in our street has gone for…

I do know two widows who, like us, have been here for years, never knowing what would happen to our property prices, who will simply not be able to afford to pay a mansion tax every year. They could be forced to sell…

I will pay, and can afford to, but it could mean I will give less to charity. I was thinking of giving again to the Cumbria Community Fund, but won’t if I suddenly have to find £20,000 a year for the rest of my life.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From today's Evening Standard:

Samuel Thompson's claim (Fri) that the smoking ban has improved pubs and bars is only true if you think they should be dreary places no one would want to stay in for long.

Steve Lustig.

"Internet trolls face longer sentences"

From Revealed Tech:

Days after describing online abuse suffered by TV presenter Chloe Madeley as “crude and degrading”, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told the Mail on Sunday that he was determined to “take a stand against a baying cyber-mob” and would allow magistrates (who can currently impose jail terms of up six months on internet trolls) to pass serious cases up to crown courts, who in turn would be able to impose maximum sentences of two years.

Fun With Numbers: David Cameron

From The Daily Mail:

PM slashes the welfare cap to £23,000 a year: £300m in benefit savings 'will help fund millions of apprenticeships'

Woo hoo! I didn't realise that you could persuade employers to take on another apprentice for just £150 a year. [unfortunate decimal point now removed, h/t H in the comments]

That looks like very good value to me, why did nobody think of this before?
UPDATE: Bayard in the comments insists that "millions" can mean "any number larger than one million", rather than "any number larger than two million" which is my interpretation, in which case, please revise that £150 figure up to £300 Or indeed £299.

"Champagne tastes better from pint glasses, say scientists"

From The Daily Mail:

When toasting a special occasion with a bottle of bubbly, classy champagne flutes are the obvious choice for many. And while it may go against tradition, experts are urging drinkers to ditch their crystal flutes in favour of pint glasses.

This is because faffing about with a few thimbles of drink and having to go for a refill every few minutes makes it very difficult to carry on a normal conversation, according to wine connoisseurs.

Using pint glasses also enables you to lift the same glass to a long series of toasts, rather than sitting in awkward embarrassment in front of an empty glass wondering whether you should have waited before downing the few drops of golden liquid you were given half an hour ago.

Frederico Lleonart, a global wine ambassador for drinks company Pernod Ricard, says a pint glass full to the brim with champagne also emphasises the aroma and fizz in better and more complex champagnes.

"When the sparkling wine or champagne has complexity, depth and autolytic notes, such as the best cavas or champagnes, then your best option is to have enough to keep you going for an hour or so, rather than drinking it out of glorified thimbles," he told The Sunday Telegraph.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Job Lot

This is the best British sit-com since The Peter Principle.

In fact, it more or less is the Peter Principle, only it's set in a job centre, not a bank and the main character is female, not male.

It's on ITV2, Wednesday 10 o'clock.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Today I shall be mostly...

Friday, 17 October 2014

More interesting stuff re Alcohol Concern...

Posted in the comments by Adam Collyer:

From the Alcohol Concern website:

"The Alcohol Harm Map, produced by Alcohol Concern in partnership with the pharmaceutical company Lundbeck Ltd. The purpose of the map is to reveal the real harm and cost of alcohol at a local level, so that local authorities and local health providers can ensure that alcohol prevention and treatment services are available to those with drinking problems..."

From Lundbeck's website, one of their UK products is called Selincro (generic name nalmefene).

And from the website of NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (the government agency which recommends which products should be used by the NHS):

"NICE has been asked to appraise nalmefene for reducing alcohol consumption in people with alcohol dependence in a single technology appraisal. The expected date of publication of the appraisal is November 2014."

Perfect timing it seems...