Observations on the labour market

Given the preponderance of chatter about zero-hours contracts and other labour market issues in the media, I thought I’d catch up with some statistics free, anecdote and bias heavy commentary.

Recently in my ahem “professional capacity”, I’ve been doing a lot of recruiting.

I’ve read hundreds of cvs, covering all levels from school leavers to established directors. I’ve then met and interviewed around 40 different candidates. I realise that doesn’t make me an expert on anything, but there are definite patterns of corporate and individual behaviour that stand out, and I just want to take a few minutes to document them. Like I say, it’s a selectively biased sample (people out of work or looking for something better), but if exit-interviews are worthwhile, then this fulfils the same purpose.

First up – the jargon.

The labour market is just a collection of folk. The candidates were folk. The interviewers were folk. The ultimate reason that this blog is called “Folk Sermons” is absolutely because I figure half the problems we have stem from forgetting that we’re all just folk. 96% chimp, a relatively young species just working out how to get along. Economic and political and governmental systems are just frameworks, shaped by folk, and inhabited at every level by folk.

So let me tell you some observations about the folk I read about and met.

What have they been doing?

NHS – I reckon I came across 15-20 CVs from professional types (HR, Finance) who we’ve been working within what used to be the NHS. All of them were drifting from one 12/18 mth contract after another, between one CCG/PCT to another. Now, firstly, based on their CVs, not one of them would have got an interview to work with me. Lots of people can get the qualifications and letters after their name, but only a few are genuinely really good at their jobs. The HR ones were the best – how many re-organisations they’d achieved, how many contracts they’d re-negotiated etc. (Not one of them mentioned how they’d developed and trained people, or improved services or anything worthwhile).

Now, this ain’t the way to run anything successfully. A good organisation needs specialists like accountants and HR managers; a great organisation takes the best, develops them, and uses their skills to drive the organisation forward. This takes time. Short term contracts will only secure the functional aspects of these roles, hiring and firing, cost reporting etc; but the truly strategic improvements take much longer. In short, it depressed me how poor these organisations must be if they’re taking all these folk on to just get through the next year, and then doing the same again, or swapping them with the neighbouring PCT. I have some sympathies with the people in charge here – govt and top-down restructuring have created this short-termist, functional behaviour. Short term contracts mean fewer payoffs when the next re-organisation comes along. But I just wanted to point out how dumb it all is.

Care homes – I was genuinely surprised by the number of people who had been working in care homes that were desperate to get ANY other job. Feedback was, the hours were erratic, poorly paid, with no prospect of improving, and the job was rewarding but becoming more difficult / stressful. These people aren’t there to put bottles in boxes, or enter data onto systems, they are there to look after folk – the most vulnerable, confused, bored, folk in our communities, and the people who’re being paid to do it can’t survive themselves on the pay. Just totally dumb. And have you seen the fees these places charge!!?!?

Other industrial sectors.

The formerly successful local manufacturer (supplier to major UK retailer), who now just import stuff China, Vietnam etc and half the staff are looking for a way out.

Bookmakers – at least 8 applicants working at local bookmakers, all of whom hate their clientele.

Publicans – a lot of applications from ex-publicans. Makes sense I guess – running a successful pub seems like very hard work, with fewer punters and brewery control making it hard to make an enjoyable lifestyle out of it.

Ex-pats – a surprising no. of people who followed the rush to run their own small business in Spain or wherever, and end up returning and trying to get some income coming in from anywhere.

Other retail – loads of talented, capable, massively qualified people who can’t get the hours they need to establish a family, pay the bills etc, on minimum wage, zero-hour contracts. And yet about half end up being interim managers, regional trouble-shooters etc.

Debt management firms – which seem to follow a cycle of rapid growth, lost contracts, rapid shrinkage, and start again.

I’m avoiding touching on the sheer desperation of those who will work for free, apply for roles even though they live hundreds of miles away etc – I’m assuming they have to prove they are applying for things. It’s just a stupendous waste of my time, their time, and their job centre advisors time.

Comments

There’s a lot of work around that needs doing. There’s a lot of capable, dedicated folk happy to do that work. But many of those folk are being let down. Public and private sector organisations alike are generally really poor at providing work that sustains, supports and enables people to have a happy life. You can send me all the GDP graphs you like, and talk about output gaps, labour market flexibility etc, but those are just huge collections of numbers. I know that for every job we advertise, we’ll get 200 applicants – either unhappy, underpaid, or underworked. I know that short-termist corporate stupidity means that hugely capable, smart folk that understand what the organisation should do are left forgotten, underpaid and unvalued, in deference to a powerpoint slide demonstrating something to a venture capitalist, a minister, a banker.

If you ever watch “Undercover Boss”, you’ll know that they (short-termist corporate managers) know it too. How they’re touched by the human stories of their staff, which were unknown to them before. And they go back to the boardroom and the nodding heads, and thoughtful squints, and tell everyone they need to make it better. But giving Bert an extra week off, or giving Margaret and her disabled daughter skydiving lessons ain’t the answer.

The answer is folk need to stand up to their responsibilities individually and collectively. It would help if there were some visionary, long-term thinking in politics, business, the civil service etc. But that might take a while / never happen. But those folk are just folk like you and me, and if enough folk start to acknowledge the deficiencies of all organisations, and do what they can, when they can, to correct the problems and demand answers we might have a start.

Expectations of Youth

Aaargh, go on then.

The wonderful @julijuxtaposed told me to write a blog piece (about something else); but it got me thinking. You may have gathered from previous blogs that my pieces tend to be quickly drafted comment pieces rather than being particularly detailed and carefully written.

That’s because someone else does those, and I have a demanding full time job, a family life, and blogging is kind of a release valve.

Anyway, since I was provoked, a few unrelated tweets / articles crossed my path recently and I thought I’d briefly like to link them together.

The latest TNS-BMRB poll shows 18-24yr olds give Labour a lead of 23%, with Greens at 14%.

http://www.tns-bmrb.co.uk/assets-uploaded/documents/voting-intentions-data-tables-03-jun-2013_1370361190.pdf

I’d hope that a small number of the people in that age bracket are reading the work of Charles Hugh Smith, here…

http://www.oftwominds.com/blogmay13/politicizing-GenY5-13.html

It’s a US story, but the same thing applies over here.

Then you have the situations in Sweden & Turkey. And the increasingly warm weather. Traditionally, young people tend to be more politically noticeable in the summer, when school’s out. So what’s the situation for young people in the UK, and why might that make them more politicized?

Well, they’ve been schooled to pass tests, and they know how important this is to make them more employable. They’ve been conditioned to expect to have to go to University, in order to learn stuff they’ll never use and to further demonstrate their employability. They’re prepared to fight (against each other) to be recognised by their elders and get the jobs.

That’s their part of the bargain – they’re wholly indoctrinated into the idea of personal responsibility for their employment.

And in return they get:

Massive debts for accepting the bargain and going to university, (on the basis that the older generations don’t want to pay for it anymore). These debts are only likely to increase as our academic institutions follow the US model of charging more for less.

A load of qualifications that make them no more useful in a workplace than anyone else.

A “career” of occasional steady work, mixed with spells of unemployment, temping, contract working and freelancing, which pays for their time, but expects them to commit 60 hours for every 40 contracted. All this in a climate where public investment is deliberately limited, and there’s a permanantly high level of unemployment.

Zero chance of purchasing any property of their own until they’re in their 30’s and they’ve paired up with a similarly hard working partner. (On the basis that the older generations refused to support any policies that would stem the growth in house prices).

And they can’t start a family of their own because they’re paying high rents (to the older generations, natch) and working 60 hours a week in order not to endure another spell on the temp register.

And they can’t afford to invest in a pension like they feel they should, and when they do try, their job inevitably gets rationalised, in order to please the “markets”, even though they don’t know anyone who has anything invested in the markets, and the very senior management keep getting massive pay awards.

And they can’t even think of how they’ll cope when they’re older, other than to keep doing the same things, and hoping they win the lottery, or maybe they can just afford a house, or maybe granny leaves them something in her will. And they feel bad for even thinking that.

So maybe, they realise this is a path to unhappiness. Yes they can enjoy themselves, and try and do great things, but they start to see the false bargain they were forced to make, and realise that re-negotiating that is the great thing they can do.

Or maybe, they haven’t worked out that great sweep of events, but they feel the flow and the pull of tides, and see what they’ll never have, and bond together.

I hope they find the way out. I hope we can help them to do so.

How the Neo-liberal crisis hasn’t yet begun

The neo-liberal response to the post war settlement took it’s time to take shape amongst the masses. Thatcherism  brought the power of individualism, privatisation, and the knee-capping of the unions. Following on the pressure has been for governments to do away with regulation, and let markets “decide freely”; firstly in terms of corporations against each other, and then in terms of corporations vs the employee and the consumer. As a result, the nature of employment has shifted considerably,  with the jobs for life of 30 years ago replaced with short term contracts,  zero-hours deals, temping, uncertainty, assisted by the increase in under-employment.

Most of the coverage of this relates, rightly, to the impact on our living standards, in the here and now, and the impact on corporate efficiency. But it’s only part of the big lifetime picture.
Almost unremarked in this context at the same time there has been a shift in the nature of savings for the post-working age period of life. From the old staple – an employer provided defined benefit pension scheme,  where the employer took on all the risks,  to the modern approach of defined contribution schemes and stakeholder pensions.

Oh, and in the same period, the level of corporation tax has fallen from 52% to 23%.

So, in the 70’s your employer would (in many cases) provide a permanent, life long job, with a very good pension, and at the same time was paying a decent whack to the state to cover your other costs, and those for your family, and the infrastructure of society. When you retire, you’d also get your state pension, which should mean you could actually still function in society. Effectively the employer was saying – we buy your contribution for 45 years, and spread the pay over your whole life.

And now – if you’re under 50 the picture is somewhat different – well your job isn’t quite so permanent, your wages have dropped 15% in real terms in 5 years, and your defined contribution pension will be lucky to payout £4-£8k a year. At the same time, the state “hasn’t got the money” to pay you and everyone else a decent pension.

Meanwhile, small employers have (relatively) disappeared, increasingly replaced by large mega-corporations, who have dramatically increased the rewards to (very) senior managers; and at the same time taken umbrage at the corporation tax rules and channelled all their profits through complex relationships with Luxembourg and Ireland and Malta, leaving the amount even liable to the paltry 23% corporation tax to be much lower. So there’s less going into your own pension pot, and the promise isn’t there to pay any extra once you’ve done your last shift; and at the same time they’re saying, you know, we don’t owe you & the nation at large anything to cover the rest of your life.

Wow – stand back and consider that shift in thinking for a bit. That’s a huge change. What’s the impact? What’s the government planning? Because the effects will only be starting to trickle in now.

So far we’ve already seen that inequality is increasing. We’ve seen that infrastructure hasn’t been improved significantly – we’re still reliant on coal burning power stations, Victorian sewers, roads are full of pot-holes. There’s a dearth of affordable housing, causing increased poverty and uncertainty for the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society. In short, we’ve relied upon the forward planning of our predecessors, and done very little of our own. In terms of the new challenges we’ve faced – increasing populations, ageing populations, CLIMATE CHANGE, we’ve not really done anything big, societal, and forward thinking.

And let’s fast forward 10-15 years, when the generation who missed out on decent employer pensions (in the private sector) get too old to work, and then 10 years more to when the public sector staff who’ll miss out on decent employer pensions get too old to work – what’s it going to look like? They won’t actually be able to afford to fully retire. They’ll have to keep taking contracts, and trying to squirrel as much away as possible. Will the government tell them it’s their fault, and that they’re scroungers? I don’t know to what degree we’ll be hardened as a society by then to even look at the problem as a societal one. But the life choices for those individuals (Me! Me!) will be greatly reduced – they won’t have what their parents had in terms of regular income, unless things change fast.

I genuinely don’t think there’s nearly enough worrying about this going on. It’s going to hit, and hit large.

Now, I’m not necessarily saying that everything should be as it was – lots of people don’t mind not having a job for life, and defined benefit pension schemes only work if the organisation paying them never shrinks over time – many companies have hit the wall just from trying to keep paying  the people who retired 25 years ago – so it’s not right for everyone. But we do need solutions. And our governments don’t seem to know what a real long-term solution looks like.

That’s perhaps because the analysis of everything in economics and politics is so stupidly short-sighted. A successful economic system should be able to prove itself from birth to death and over again, many times. But the “winning post” for neo-liberal capitalism was set at the equivalent of about 5 years, measured enthusiastically every quarter. That’s not how to measure something as bloody important as the system that defines our opportunities, our lifestyles, and shapes what we do between the really important stuff. That’s madness.

Things we need to change

Ok – just a quick post I hope, which is boiled down from a series of half-written drafts and uncoordinated thinking, so please bear with me.

Any sane person ought to be aware by now that the model of capitalism / governance in the Western world is a bit broken. (You can read elsewhere for examples – I’m trying to be quick, but essentially we’re talking about tax avoidance, money-laundering, bribery, policy buying, …).

So what needs fixing? (This is UK based, but probably applies everywhere).

1) The beneficial structure of the Company is a privilege that is being abused. So many shell companies that have no employees and no trade exist, and have become the conduit for tax avoidance, money-laundering and other activities that serve no honest purpose. So let’s change that – a Company must have a defined purpose, real actual activity, and real people, residing in the UK as it’s Directors, who are legally responsible for their organisation.

2) The accountancy profession has sat on it’s hands since the onset of the financial crisis, and through sensible, prudent, lazy, incompetence, they have left us with a muddier picture of rules. We need to separate the predatory “advice” side from the regulatory audit side. This mostly refers to the Big 4 as they are known. Auditors can then be free to provide the service to the public that they were set up for. The accounting bodies then need to review and make fit for purpose the various standard setting bodies, who need to actually set some standards. (Follow @secret_ledger on twitter for some of the fun of that fair). Oh, and the auditors need to be properly policed and reviewed – all of the banking scandals of recent times should have been spotted by an auditor – so why weren’t they?

3) Banks / Money – essentially we need banks that serve the people, not serve themselves. My personal preference is to go down the route of removing from banks the ability to create money.

(see http://www.positivemoney.org/

Their proposed reforms in 6 steps:

1. Remove the banks’ power to create money
2. Return that power to a transparent and democratically accountable process
3. Create money free of debt
4. Create money in line with a democratically mandated target (such as a flexible inflation target, as is the case today)
5. Make sure that new money enters first into the real economy instead of through financial markets
6. Give individuals control and transparency over how their money is invested )

What’s left of the banking system after that should be lots of useful, regional service providers, just doing transactional stuff. They might then be able to get their IT up-to-date, instead of spending their brass on their croupiers.

4) Property – let’s restrict the “ownership” of property to UK resident individuals.

5) Politics – with a heavy heart I have to say that we must end the funding of political parties via donations from individuals and companies. Essentially, this system will always favour the wealthy. So the state will have to contribute. This contribution will be based on a £ per member basis; with a weighting – ie £10,000 max for start-ups. I don’t really like party politics, so I see this fix as purely temporary.

6) Governance – we need strictly enforced conflict-of-interest rules. It’s wrong that private sector organisations can write policies which will benefit themselves – but this is a bloody tricky one to enforce. Let’s start with “think-tanks” which must display their funding sources on all documents, and before all media appearances (in a racing-driver style). The rules regarding public and private interests for public officials are inadequate, so let’s put a bar on people voting on policies for which they have a vested financial interest.

Oh, and let’s scrap the House of Lords, and have an upper house based in part on the jury system (terms up to 13 weeks); with a small and restricted number of appointees by each political party (of any size), who will serve 2 year terms; and the remainder being regional representatives selected on a vote. Can’t be any worse than what we have already.

Ok there’s your starter – yes I realise it’s an imperfect list, but I can’t do it all on my own. Not in one go anyway. Please let me know what you think. What I’ve tried to do is go back to base principles, and say, hey, what we need is more folk taking responsibility for stuff. The rest of it – neo-liberalism vs socialism ; red vs blue; left vs right – it’s just window dressing – if we don’t fix the basic structures, we’re doomed to carry on this nonsense.

Fear Factor – Obstacles to full employment

Rick over at Flip Chart Fairy Tales did a piece this week, and it chimed in with a bit of thinking that I’d been doing and a few articles I’d read, and in a wakeful hour at 5am I came up with some ideas.

Economists like to think of employment in charts and statistics, which can tell you so much. Since I studied Economics at Uni (a few years back now), I’ve been busy working in a variety of businesses and seen a lot of cycles, trends etc.

How anyone can judge whether we’re are at full employment I don’t know. Jobs are created not by organisations but by people. Managers have to assess their staff, their workload, their budgets, and then make calls on recruitment.

But most managers are pretty rubbish at it. They are usually technical specialists with some people and management skills, promoted to management and doing their best. But the pressure is on. Organisations of all types must work to their budget. (That’s not always true, but that’s the line they’re fed). The budget is based on history and what they’ve been paying before. Very few managers understand how it fits into the organisation’s goals, how it is calculated, or even who did the workings. The manager’s boss is being judged on performance vs budget, and is sufficiently removed from the day-to-day that they don’t care about the details. If the manager is to ensure his medium-term survival in the organisation, they have to work to the budget, they have to save more than their predecessor, they have to demonstrate that they’re more aware of the financials than the manager of Dept B. They get swept up in meetings, presentations, and still have to do bits of the technical work in which they excelled. So they work extra hours – it’s expected, it’s the norm. And subordinates C,D,E follow suit. Everyone pulls together to get things done, everyone wants to look like they’re trying just as hard as everyone else. Everyone in the whole team is now working from a perspective of FEAR – and this travels vertically up and down the organisation.

What I’m saying is, most organisations get by with their current headcount because they’re cutting corners for financial ends, and deriving lots of free work from their staff. And this works because it’s the same in almost every work environment, and the fear of losing work is much greater than the perceived loss of an hour with the kids, or a walk round the park with the dog, cooking a nice meal, or taking Spanish lessons.

But every hour spent working is an hour lost to the rest of society. Someone, somewhere is having to cope with that loss – a partner getting stressed at the kids, the kids who don’t get a story and a cuddle, or a local school short of governors, an evening course teacher with no work as there are no pupils, a local butcher with unsold stock because you’re getting ready meals from the co-op on the way home.

Putting it another way, a heck of a lot of people are working extra hours for free, and this is keeping other people out of work. And this is a significant obstacle to full employment.

You might argue that this is key to keeping costs down, thus keeping prices down, it’s somehow efficient. It’s a global race, and we must remain competitive.

But competitiveness comes not from cheap labour alone. At the margins, perhaps, but all competitors are all doing the same things. There’s a dead simple Game theory modelling of this you could do, but the current situation is sub-optimal for all. Every organisation employing people would surely prefer to have more employees (more brains), working fewer hours – it’s surely more likely to deliver long-term success.

True organisational success comes from delivering really bloody well, or developing great products, it’s not achieved through fear and overwork.

Which comes back to one of the recurring themes of this blog – most of the faults with our economy and our society is this obsession with short-termism. Banks covering short-term losses with risky derivatives, business leaders pillaging massive bonuses on dangerous bets still on the table, politicians trying to save ten-bob now at the cost of developing smart, happy, well-adjusted kids, regulators capsizing themselves for a swizzy city-job, voters with nothing more in mind than todays papers. When short-termist thinking persists over long periods the result is a rudderless society, with idiots at the helm, and a small few selfish individuals who are happy at capturing god-like treasure booty, oblivious to the puddles forming around their feet.

Link to Rick’s piece https://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/life-after-peak-employment/

UK Budget 2013

With the budget set for tomorrow, I just wanted to take a couple of minutes to get my twopenneth in.

George Osborne will deliver his budget tomorrow, and the analysts, journalists and pub pundits will be looking to see if he’s been a success or failure. Before you all fall in line and look at the detailed figures, who wins who loses, let me make one thing absolutely clear.

George Osborne cares about George Osborne, and his friends. Everything about his tenancy at the heart of govt policy and No 11 tells us that he doesn’t give a damn about the impact on the average folk in the UK.

His objectives are to rip up the post-war agreement, privatise as much as possible on favourable deals for his cronies, and keep the banks happy. His objectives do not include growth, happiness, and making Marjorie in Margate happy. His only constraint is that he must be seen to be not doing those things, and give the perception that he’s not done a terrible job.

He’s a politician of the most ruthless and unpleasant kind, driven by the approval of his peers, and the prospects of his own success. And based on the goals outlined above, he is indeed a success. He will be able to leave the coalface of politics at the next election and mop up the directorships and goodwill from his favoured corporations. Job done. Without a mandate and against the will of the switched on members of the public he will have completed the project set in motion in 1979. Civilisation, equality, fairness and opportunity for all have all been eroded, and it will be a long ugly road to get them back, as we will have to fight not one government, but many governments, many plutocrats, many legal systems, trade agreements amid media indifference.

So when you’re looking at the details of tax breaks here, and tweaks there, take a step back, look at what has been done, not what has been spun, and resolve to start putting it right in whatever way you can.

Jumping Through Hoops – Corporate Efficiency

Remember this and every other government talking about cutting red-tape to business? We need to get business moving, remove the petty barriers. Agreed.

That’s my day job – doing stuff, getting things moving. I’m pretty lucky to finally be working for a company that tries to be good at that.

But the red-tape and barriers to doing business don’t just come from meddling councillors and stupid govt initiatives (plenty do), but more and more they come from momumentally stoopid large corporates, who while saying they want to be business partners, act like the worst kind of narky-parky from comics of yore.

Examples – we need a telephone line setting up for new premises, the order is done, the engineer goes to site, but the paperwork shows a wrong postcode. He can still do the job, he’s taken an hour to drive there, but checks with head office, who say he can’t do the job, he just needs to sit on his hands for a couple of hours. We get a call to tell us it has to be re-scheduled, but will take 4 weeks. Grraaahhh!!! The premises needs to be operational before that, but what can they do?!?!

Or the Utilities company who insist on copies of their own f**king bills to accept your application to go somewhere else for the electricity.

Or the IT company who provide a terrible service which is failing the terms of their contract, but choose to not improve on the basis that the legal costs of demonstrating it, and the time consumed, will put you off going legal.

Or the Water company who want to charge you £3000 a year for providing water to 2 flushing loos and a couple of sinks, 9-5.

And these are the big corporates stoking up the fees to retail customers, with the massive pay awards to Chief Execs, funding our politicians to support their every idea and pet project.

Don’t believe everything you hear from “business leaders”, cos’ half of those businesses are just as useless and intransigent as any local council officer.

 

Ahem. Thanks. [goes back to sorting things out].

The fundamental flaw of the conservative ethos

What ever did happen to Mrs Thatcher’s dream of home ownership for all?

The dream stretches back to the 1920’s, but became core Conservative policy in the 80’s.

Ok, maybe a part of that was to weaken the power of local councils, but when many people got the opportunity to buy their own council home, it seemed possible then that the dream would come true. Everyone could be a home owner, and have the security and status that went with it. It matched the conservative concepts of individual responsibility; getting on in life and providing the best you can for the next generation.

But home ownership is falling again, and as quickly as these things can, with only the wealthy or parental-backed young getting on the ladder.

The cause of this is the other conservative philosophy of “free-markets”; neo-liberal capitalism. Where worker power is subsumed to the power of the corporation; where jobs are flexible, vulnerable and under-paid; where the tax regime works in favour of corporate profits vs incomes; these policies work to promote corporate home ownership and a short term letting system, all the time eroding the freedoms espoused in the individualism philosophy.

It comes in other ways too, with the corporatist side of the modern Conservative party looking to take away human rights, in order to remove the voices of those who may protest about corporatist conflicts in foreign lands.

The same conflict is at the heart of the ridiculous strivers and skivers conflict – it’s the liberal employment rights and worship at the doormat of the massive oligopolistic companies, desperate to kick their own workforce, that means last weeks strivers are next weeks skivers.

And so you can’t have it all ways.

So whilst David Cameron tries to plough the furrow up the middle, keeping the individualistic voters and the corporatist donors happy, he’d do well to remember that the policies each side want are mutually incompatible, and he ought to decide which side he’s on.

 

(Inspired by this http://www.guerillapolicy.org/housing/2013/03/12/the-rise-of-the-property-owning-plutocracy/ )

Dangerous Subsidies

Call me daft, but I’d imagine most people think that holding a full-time job in a developed western society should enable someone to feed, clothe and house themselves without additional help.

But that doesn’t happen – we need additional tax credits, housing benefit, winter fuel allowance etc just to survive. So why is that? The main answer is dangerous subsidies.

The logic of a minimum wage was that people working decent hours should be paid enough to meet their basic needs. The campaign for a living wage is attempting to tackle this. Low wages enhance corporate profits, and govt subsidies to low wage individuals work as subsidies to corporate profits. High corporate profits then get eaten up in excessive executive remuneration, with a little left for dividends. The dividends mostly go to corporate investors and pension schemes. But the pension scheme providers are charging more in fees than the schemes are earning, in order to cover excessive executive remuneration!

The winter fuel allowance is necessary for many of our most vulnerable pensioners. This covers their bills, which are paid to the energy cos. But the energy companies, and the fossil fuel wholesalers are massively subsidised by Govts across the world, either in direct subsidies, or via tax breaks.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2013/feb/08/fossil-fuel-subsidies-tax-breaks

So we subsidise the production and supply of essential fuels, (for companies who make super-massive profits). Then we tax the user massively at the pump (for vehicles), and at the same time provide price support via Winter fuel allowances. The net beneficiaries are the extremely well remunerated executives at BigEnergy Inc, and once again, the executives running your pension scheme.

Oh, yes, and my personal favourite, housing.

2/3 of recipients of housing benefit are in social housing, the rest in the private market. But 40% of the spend (£17bn a year) goes to private landlords. That’s £7bn a year. Housing a million people. If we invested £7bn building houses we could house a 200,000 people a year. So lets look at the beneficiaries of this subsidy – firstly it’s the private landlords, people with enough wealth to be able to afford a house they don’t live in. Secondly, the beneficiaries are other property owners – this subsidy makes private renting a worthwhile “job”, and keeps the price of properties high (the poor can’t buy them; the landlords don’t need to sell them). Expensive properties are particularly loved by the wealthy, as with zero effort, their capital grows by the day. And lastly, the other happy beneficiaries of the subsidy are the banksters, insurance co’s etc. Because the bank’s investments can be held at the balance sheet valuations, meaning no losses incurred, PLUS they can then gamble many multiples of it.

So what on the face of it is a means of giving extra income to the poorest, is actually a subsidy to the wealthiest in our ranks, and ultimately to the detriment of the direct recipient. That’s a subsidy so nasty that most people would struggle to follow the money!

And, then there’s agriculture. The EU Common Agriculture Policy was set up post WWII to stabilise food production. The single payment scheme pays directly to landowners, who by happy coincidence already happen to be among the richest people in Europe. The more land you own, the more you get, paid for by the taxes of ordinary Europeans. The richest landowners have been using this money to increase their land, taking an even bigger cut of the subsidy. In Britain, 2/3rds of its 60m acres are, rather amazingly, owned by only 0.26% of the population. Of that, the vast majority is owned by the even more astonishingly small number of just 1200 individuals. Other major recipients are British Sugar plc, Unilever, Nestle, banks, distillers. That’s where the majority of the £3.3bn a year in CAP payments go in the UK. Now there are arguments to be had around food, self-sufficiency etc, but paying the richest to keep fields “ready” for agriculture, when demand and populations continue to rise is madness.

(see this piece by George Monbiot http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/26/europe-bung-landowners-farm-subsidies) and this http://www.tlio.org.uk/reformCAP

Summing up, that’s a lot of billions of money being siphoned away from the average folk, and into the arms of the wealthiest landowners – so tell me again this isn’t a feudalist society. It’s definitely not free-market capitalism, or whatever our governors and talking heads claim it to be. So when you’re in the queue at the Post Office, or in the pub and someone mentions the problems with the welfare state, please do remember to tell them that the biggest claimaints and indirect recipients are the Queen, the banks, and the richest landowners in the country. And don’t feel bad for claiming for that extra bit of benefit or tax credit, it’s what the “most successful” people in the country do all the time.

A Childlike Awe

We know there’s something odd about the people who want to be politicians. Many of our political elite are professional politicians, it’s been the path they chose from school onwards. That’s sort of fine, except without extensive experience of other jobs, other folk, real life, many of their “beliefs” may be only based on what they’re told.

Our politicians are in awe of the people who appear to be successful, self-made individuals.

Lord Sugar, Stephen Green, John Nash are all individuals brought from other areas of success to help confused government ministers after a few meetings in exclusive bars assist and advise. Michael Gove’s mission to privatise schools seems to stem from Rupert Murdoch’s desire to have some.

Why are these individuals so revered?

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