Tag Archives: flat rate

The great wage con is keeping you poor

minimum-wage-poverty

Is anyone else sick of employers bleating that the minimum wage is hindering their business?

They must think we’re all stupid.

A few of them were on the BBC’s Any Answers on Saturday, saying the minimum wage keeps pay down, and that people can’t afford to go to work – especially if they live in London – because their housing costs are paid by benefits. This is nonsense.

The minimum wage is exactly what it claims to be – a minimum. And if people aren’t getting up to work for it because benefits give them more, we can see that it is not enough.

But let’s take this further: We all know that Landlord Subsidy is being restricted – especially in London, where landlords charge more than in the rest of the country. This means that people on low incomes in rented homes will be unable to pay the bills and will be forced to move somewhere cheaper (if they can find it), as intended by our extreme right-wing government.

Where are all these minimum-wage employers going to find their minimum-wage workers then?

Even that isn’t the limit of it, though. We know from such sources as the summer’s excellent Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 that employers have found ways around the minimum wage.

  • They have taken people on as self-employed contractors who are paid a flat rate for a day’s work – no matter how long that work takes – and being self-employed, these people pay their own taxes and National Insurance, and get no time off for holidays or if they are ill.
  • They have taken on workers on part-time contracts, meaning reduced or non-existent holiday and sick pay entitlements – and then boosted up their hours to full-time levels with fake ‘overtime’ offers.
  • They have employed workers on zero-hours contracts, meaning they can demand an employee’s presence at any time and make them work for as long – or short – a period as required. Again, there are no tax administration obligations, NI, sickness or holiday benefits.

The result is very nice for a government of liars such as the current Westminster administration, because it seems they have managed to increase employment (in fact the last figures showed unemployment is greater than at the end of the Labour administration in 2010, but by such a small amount that it’s not worth mentioning).

Production, on the other hand, has remained flat. If more people are in work, it should have increased.

That is how we know we are looking at a con.

If more people are in work but production hasn’t gone up, we must question the incentive for this increased employment. It has already been mentioned: The lack of holiday and sick pay entitlement, National Insurance and tax admin obligations. The larger the employer, the larger the saving – but this doesn’t mean small firms aren’t feeling the benefit.

The minimum wage worker’s income is topped up by benefits – but the government is cutting these back. Landlord Subsidy in London won’t be enough for people on the kind of contracts described here to stay in their homes, and this means a consequent job loss if they have to move out of the area.

Tax credits are being removed; child benefit restricted. Universal Credit (if it ever works) will operate in real-time, adjusting benefits to ensure that low-paid workers remain in an income trap for as long as their wages remain below a certain level.

Employers reap the benefits. But even they are being conned, because this can’t last forever.

Imagine a Britain without in-work benefits but where the living wage has not been introduced nationwide (this will be a reality in a few years, under a Coalition or Conservative government). Workers on the self-employed, part-time or zero-hours contracts described here will not earn enough to survive.

Private debt will increase exponentially, leading to increased mental illness as the stress of trying to cope takes its toll on the workforce. Physical illness will increase as people cut back on heating in their homes and food in their fridges and larders. Result: malnourishment and disease.

What happens then? It’s hard to say. It may be that employers will take on increasing numbers of cheap foreign workers – but there is already resentment at the influx of immigrants from the European Union and this could lead to civil unrest.

It seems likely that the largest firms will leave these shores. If we compare them to huge parasites – and we can – then the host will have been drained almost dry and it will be time to move on and find another to treat the same way. These are the companies who have reaped huge rewards from tax avoidance, aided by the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – KPMG, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young – who have been writing – into British law – ways for them to get out of paying their share.

The smaller employers might keep going for a while or collapse; it depends how much their bosses save up for the inevitable crash. Deficit financing of their business will support them for a while but, if they don’t have any ideas, they’ll go under.

All because a few very greedy people just won’t pay a reasonable amount for a hard day’s work.

They get on the media, telling us they can’t afford higher wages. In that case, why are they even in business? If they need a workforce of a certain size, but cannot pay a living wage, then they simply should not bother. All they are doing, in the long run, is contributing to a monumental confidence trick that will cause immense harm to the economy and the nation’s health.

Of course, the UK did not always have in-work benefits. People used to be paid enough to make ends meet. We should be asking why that changed and who benefits. A return to that situation would benefit the country enormously – but it isn’t going to happen on the minimum wage, and it isn’t going to happen on zero-hours contracts.

It’s time to name these firms and ask bosses who employ on these terms why those contracts are necessary and why they feel justified in the damage they are causing.

And while we’re at it, it’s time to ask our MPs why they tolerate it, too.

The great pensions rip-off

Someone's raiding the pensions piggy-bank: Government changes mean the rich will be subsidised by the poor.

Someone’s raiding the pensions piggy-bank: Government changes mean the rich will be subsidised by the poor. [Picture: The Guardian]

We all know that pensioners have a charmed life under the current government – right? Pensions take up around half the £160 billion social security budget and there are other perks like the cold weather payment during the winter months, free bus passes and free TV licences – right?

They get a triple-lock inflation guarantee, under which the state pension rises according to the highest of CPI inflation, the rise in earnings or 2.5 per cent. They get Pension Credit (otherwise known as the Minimum Income Guarantee) to ensure they receive a weekly minimum of more than £140.

So no matter what happens to the rest of us, they’re in clover – right?

Not really.

Just taking those examples, Tory Liam Fox wants to cut the cold weather payment down to nothing, and the Liberal Democrat Vince Cable wants to means-test or tax pensions. The free TV licence will disappear if the rising clamour to privatise the BBC receives government blessing.

Then there’s the fact that the age at which we can start drawing our pensions is rising – from 65 (for men) and 60 (for women) in 2010 to 68 (for both) by 2046, which may seem a long way into the future but in fact affects people from 2016 onwards.

The government is bringing this in because people are living longer, and this may seem like a reasonable idea – until one takes into account the fact that life expectancy is hugely dependant not only on where you live but on your social class as well.

For example, in Kensington and Chelsea, average male life expectancy in 2010 was 85.1 years, and average female life expectancy was 89.8 years. In Glasgow at the same time, average male life expectancy was 71.6 years – 13.5 less than men in Kensington and Chelsea – and average female life expectancy was 78 years – 11.8 years lower than in Kensington and Chelsea.

Between 2004 and 2010 the gap in life expectancy between the two places increased by one year and 1.7 years for men and women respectively, indicating that health inequalities across the UK are increasing.

Social class also has a huge effect on life expectancy, with people in higher managerial and professional occupations likely to live 3.5 years longer than those in routine occupations.

But they all pay National Insurance contributions for the same period of time – 30 years – in order to qualify for the state pension. This means working class people living in social housing are likely to be paying towards the pensions of upper-middle class professionals in penthouses, as well as their own.

Now the government is introducing the flat-rate pension for people reaching the state pension age who have made 35 years’ National Insurance contributions. The payment will be £144 per week at today’s prices.

People who have built up large savings for their retirement will be considerably better-off because pensions will no longer be means-tested (Pension Credit will be phased out).

Existing pensioners will remain in the old system and are likely to be worse-off than those who qualify for the new pension.

People aged in their 20s at the moment may also be worse-off than under the current system (so, even with pensions, the Coalition government has found a way to attack the young).

And people who have not paid National Insurance for at least seven years in total will not qualify for the new single-tier state pension at all.

Workers who belong to contracted-out final salary schemes pay lower NI contributions at present, but these will rise after 2016. Public sector workers in such schemes will have to pay more.

The couple’s pension rate, which is lower than the individual rate, is being phased out. This means around 30,000 women due to retire in and around 2016 are expected to lose out, as they were relying on their husband’s NI record for a state pension income and will no longer be entitled to it.

We already knew all of that.

Now, the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners says the government is proposing changes to workplace pension schemes that will undermine benefits, increase pension poverty and widen the gap between the private sector and public sector schemes, according to Mature Times.

The proposed changes mean companies will be allowed to change their scheme rules to remove the inflation link for pensions, increase their pension age and get rid of other benefits such as pensions for spouses. This significant downgrade of pension provision means scheme members could reach retirement and then realise that the expected return from their pensions has been severely reduced.

Put it all together and the less wealthy are being subjected to another rip-off – this one delayed until retirement. Who knows how much energy bills will cost by then? How many of us will have rent to pay, or mortgage payments to complete? How much will the weekly groceries cost? Will the equivalent of £144 per week be enough, by then?

And – in the current cutthroat times – how many of us will survive to find out?

The future’s terrifying – if the future’s Tory

camspeech5What does the future have in store for the UK, if the Conservatives win the 2015 election?

It seems sensible to conclude my loose series on the current changes to social security benefits – see here, here, here, here and here – by taking a look at what we know they have planned, and what we can reasonably expect from them. Some of this comes from the document ‘2020 Vision’, which has been produced by a group of Conservative Parliamentarians; some is just pushing current activity to a logical conclusion.

It’s all horrifying. Let’s have a look:

1. Conservative ministers to be above the law. That’s right; they want their future governments to be answerable only to Parliament, not to judges. Apparently they think the possibility of judicial review when they make illegal decisions means that the system is too slow. Of course, being answerable to Parliament means being answerable to nobody because a Conservative majority means Parliament will rubber-stampe anything they do, no matter how hare-brained, harmful or tyrannical.

2. NHS to be fully privatised. Of course this is already well on its way now, with the collusion of the right-wing press in keeping some of the major changes quiet. Just take a look at some of the measures being brought in by Jeremy Hunt, right now, if you don’t believe me.

3. Benefits system to be privatised. There has been some discussion of this on the blog already. The idea is simply to switch the system from being nationwide and run by the state to a patchwork of private insurance, run by private companies, for profit. From what’s being said, the biggest player in this would be Unum, the disgraced American company which is already doing considerable damage in the Netherlands, from what one reader has been telling us.

4. Police to be privatised. This is being piloted in certain parts of the UK already. Of course, with private companies running a police service for profit, only the rich will be able to afford their services. In other words, its a wheeze to ensure the poor lose what little luxuries they currently have and are unable to turn to our law guardians for justice.

5. Regional pay for all employees. This is in order to accelerate the race to the bottom of the pay scale for the people who do the actual work. If pay for the same job varies between UK regions, then employers can happily turn to their workforce at any time and say, “They’re doing it for less over the border, so you can take less as well.” The government tried it with public sector pay but was told to think again. We know some of them want to do it with benefits. It’s only a matter of time before it happens.

6. UK to exit Europe. Not because the EU is anti-democratic, forcing unreasonable demands on the UK, but because its human rights laws are damned inconvenient for a political party that wants to crush anyone who isn’t in the top 10 per cent of earners (I may be exaggerating this; it could be that they’re only interested in the top one per cent).

7. Free movement to be discouraged. They already have plans for a two-tier road tax system.

8. Education to be fragmented so you only get the best if you pay for it. Obviously we’ve always had private education but the starvation of the state system to fund ‘free schools’ is softening the system up for worse to come. Can anyone say they honestly understand Michael Gove’s divisive and wasteful policies?

9. Flat-rate taxes. This is a Conservative dream, because flat-rate taxation – one percentage for everybody – provides an unfair advantage to those who have more money to start with. They recognise that there are people in the UK who understand how unfair it is, so they launch periodical campaigns to point us in the other direction. Hence the current push to get us to believe a 20 per cent rise in JSA, from £59.15 to £71 (a rise of just £11.85), is totally unfair when compared to a 12 per cent rise in average wages, from £420 to £468 (a rise of £48 – more than four times as much). How can it be unfair to keep the level of the former the same, as a proportion of the latter – especially when one considers the rocketing prices of groceries and utilities? Those of use who can remember the Community Charge should also remember that this was also a flat-rate tax. People took to the streets to put an end to it but clearly the Conservatives have not learned the lesson. ‘2020 Vision’ suggests that Income Tax could come down to 20 per cent for everybody. This means someone earning £25,000 a year would have £20,000 left after Income Tax. Someone paying themselves £1 million a year would have £800,000 left afterwards. And we wouldn’t have anything like the public sector services that we have, even today after nearly three years of Coalition rule – that level of taxation cannot sustain that level of spending.

10. Continuation of the high-level national deficit and debt. This is to justify the shrinking of the state. The changes that have been made so far, including those that are to come in this year, are not intended to boost the economy – quite the opposite. If this government wanted to boost the economy it would close tax loopholes (including those that have been created by the current Chancellor) that allow the richest in the UK to avoid paying more than £100 billion every year and ensure that any of them who wish to leave this country as a result pay their fair share before they leave. It would also borrow – yes, borrow; don’t you know that interest rates are fantastically low just now? – in order to invest in British jobs and industry, the new technologies that will power the world in the future. They’re not doing that, for specious reasons, and they know that the poorest in the UK will suffer as a result.

That’s what the UK will look like under a government of Tory tyrants.

No wonder so many Scots want to leave.

Bedroom tax will put people on streets while homes go empty

The National Housing Federation ran a campaign against the ‘bedroom tax’ while the legislation was going through Parliament – but the government was blind to the concerns of this expert organisation.

By now you should know that you’ll be in financial trouble from April next year, if you receive housing benefit and the government decides you’ve got one or two too many bedrooms.

This applies to people who are working but on low pay, who must therefore claim housing benefit in order to keep a roof over their heads. This means it applies to 93 per cent of people who have claimed housing benefit since the Coalition government came to power (only seven per cent of claimants were unemployed).

It applies to separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this. Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (who receives the extra benefit).

It applies to couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation.

It applies to foster carers, because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes (this is particularly evil, in my view).

It applies to parents whose children visit but are not part of the household -although housholds where there is a room kept for a student studying away from home will not be deemed to be under-occupying if the student is away for less than 52 weeks (under housing benefit) or six months (under Universal Credit). Students are exempt from non-dependant deductions, but full-time students will not be exempt from the Housing Cost Contribution (HCC) which replaces non-dependent deductions under Universal Credit (more on this elsewhere in the article). Students over 21 will face a contribution in the region of £15 per week.

It applies to families with disabled children; and

It applies to disabled people, including those living in adapted or specially designed properties (again, this is evil, as it could mean these people will be required to leave that home for another one, with the added expense of having to re-install all the special adaptations).

Pensioners will not be affected – unless they are part of a couple and the partner is below pension age, after Universal Credit is introduced.

The size criteria that will be applied means housing benefit wil be restricted to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household. However:

Children under 16, who are either both boys or both girls, will be expected to share. This will undoubtedly create many family feuds as puberty is not known for its calming effect on young people.

Children under 10 will be expected to share, regardless of gender. Again, this will create problems for families. It is not a normal situation and it seems bizarre for the government to suggest that it should be.

On the ‘plus’ side, a disabled tenant or partner who needs a non-resident overnight carer will be allowed an extra bedroom for that carer.   If you have a ‘spare’ bedroom under the new rules, you will lose 14 per cent of your housing benefit; for two or more extra bedrooms, you’ll lose a quarter of your benefit. According to the government’s impact assessment, this means 660,000 people will lose an average of £14 per week (£16 for housing association tenants).

Now for the complications.

After Universal Credit is brought in, if only one member of a couple is over pension age, the bedroom tax will apply to the household. If one is receiving Pension Credit, they will be unaffected.

There are currently six different rates of ‘non-dependent deductions’ – amounts removed from housing benefit according to the earnings of people aged over 18 who live in a household but are not dependent on the tenant for financial support. This will become one flat-rate ‘housing cost contribution’ that will be deducted from housing benefit. It will not apply to anyone aged under 21.

Under UC, each adult non-dependent will get their own room, but each must pay the full, flat-rate housing cost contribution – unless aged under 21 and therefore exempt.

Under UC, lodgers will not get a room allowance but any income is disregarded. They will not count as occupying a room under size criteria rules. Currently any income is taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit, apart from the first £20. As this income is completely disregarded under UC, my best guess is that the government expects this amount to cover any loss in both housing benefit and Universal Credit. I have a doubt about that. Taking in a lodger will also affect home contents insurance policies, potentially invalidating them or raising the premiums.

Bedroom tax will not apply in joint tenancy cases.

Until UC comes in, benefits will be protected for up to 52 weeks after death; afterwards the run-on will be three months.

And until UC comes in, tenants will receive 13 weeks’ protection where they could previously afford the rent and housing benefit has not been claimed in the previous year; afterwards, the size criteria will apply immediately.   Pre-1989 tenancies are not exempt from the bedroom tax.

Those are the facts relating to this particular benefit change. There are others which will also affect your ability to keep your home, but – concentrating on this for a moment – you’re probably already screaming “What does it MEAN?” in frustration at your screen.

If you’re on a low income, aged over 40 with children who have left home, or disabled, you could be not only slightly but severely and unfairly affected. It seems likely you will have to choose to either pay the extra amount, or move. It seems likely that I will be in this category, so be assured that I sympathise completely with everyone else in the same situation.

And there will be many, many people who are. Surveys say around a third of tenants will try to move, mainly to one-bedroom properties. This is far more than the government has anticipated in its planning.

Here’s where things get suspicious: There is a national shortage of one bedroom council and housing association homes, meaning many tenants will have no choice but to move into the more expensive private sector or stay put – even though they will not be able to afford the extra costs.

The majority will stay put, but nearly eight-tenths (80 per cent) of those are worried about going into debt, with two-fifths (40 per cent) fearing they will accumulate rent arrears.

The evidence shows that, whether you move or stay put, landlords will lose income, which in turn means evictions and homelessness will increase. This is my belief. We will see a lot of people going homeless at the same time as a lot of houses go empty.

In fact, homelessness is already on the rise – as it always is under a Conservative government. According to the National Housing Federation – the umbrella organisation for housing associations in England – there has been a leap of nearly 50 per cent in the number of families forced into B&Bs. Between January and March this year, they totalled 3,960, compared with 2,750 during the same period in 2011. That number will escalate under the new legislation.

Any fool can see that this is madness. The logical choice has to be that people, who would otherwise go homeless, should be housed in buildings that would otherwise go empty.

But we are under the heel of a government that has little to do with sanity. The sane choice – in order to keep housing benefit payments down – is to cap rents at a particular, affordable, level. This way, landlords receive a steady amount of money, tenants keep their homes, and housing benefit remains manageable. But the government cannot tolerate this as it is deemed to be unwarranted interference in the market. Never mind the fact that the market could collapse if enough homes go empty! The idea is that the steady drive to increase rents will attract people rich enough to afford them. Again, one wonders where these people are and how they will be able to pay. Also, every price bubble eventually pops, so sooner or later – again – we’ll have a lot of homeless people on the streets while buildings go empty and (eventually) derelict.

Am I painting a depressing picture? Let’s add to the misery by reminding you that housing benefit is being withdrawn for everybody aged under 25. The assumption is that they will return to the family home if they can’t afford their rent – but that is a big assumption. There may be reasons they cannot do so (I’m sure you can imagine some for yourself). what do they do then? Housing benefit itself is being capped. And then there is the Localism Act and its effect on Council Tax payments. From responses to my previous article about the so-called ‘Pickles Poll Tax’, you will be able to see that some councils will add as much as 30 per cent of the council tax bill to the costs of those tenants who currently receive full council tax benefit, regardless of whether they can afford to pay. And has anybody said anything recently about the plan to cap all benefits at £500-per-week-per-household?

If you want to call on the government to axe the bedroom tax, there is an e-petition against it: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/33438