Tag Archives: substandard

These Yorkshire MPs voted to cut the quality of your food. Did your MP join them?

While Covid-19 steals all the headlines, you may have missed the fact that Conservative MPs have voted to allow lower-quality food to be imported into the UK.

They deliberately set themselves against an amendment to a new Agricultural Bill, stating that no free trade deal should be signed that allows low-quality food into the country.

It’s not so much Marie Antoinette saying “Let them eat grass” as Boris Johnson saying “Let them eat chlorinated chicken”.

The website Yorkshire Bylines published a list of MPs in the county who voted to reduce the quality of the food we all eat (above).

You can see if your MP agreed with them by checking the Parliament website here.

To her shame, in a rural constituency, This Writer’s MP Fay Jones also voted to reduce food quality.

According to Yorkshire Bylines:

The amendment’s defeat was all the more shocking because the clause was merely an affirmation of what was in the Tory manifesto just six months ago which declared:

“We will defend British industries from dumping and other anti-competitive practices from overseas.” and “In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”

Conservative party manifesto 2019 – page 57

The amendment had the backing of the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association as well as the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs Select Committee.

The fact that the government did not support the amendment should concern us all.

The excuse given by Victoria Prentis, parliamentary under-secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs (HERE column 295), was that it could somehow affect the export of goods such as whisky and potatoes. She explained that an assessment of the standards of other countries with whom we are trying to negotiate continuity trade agreements, could not be done by December – a deadline that the government has imposed on itself.

The report stage of the Agriculture Bill was followed by a debate and third reading. It now goes to the House of Lords for consideration. The hopes of many farmers will be resting on peers to protect then from low priced and low quality imports in future.

Source: Revealed, the Yorkshire MPs happy to see your food quality reduced – Yorkshire Bylines

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Are wages too low, or is the cost of living too high? Or both?

130722sentamulivingwage

How pleasing it is to see the Archbishop of York agrees with the view, long-held by Vox Political, that British workers should be paid a living wage, and that the taxpayer should not be subsidising big business!

Archbishop John Sentamu is to chair a year-long commission investigating the need for a living wage. In The Observer, he wrote: “The holes in millions of paycheques are being plugged by in-work support to the tune of £4 billion a year. But why aren’t those who are profiting from their workers paying up? Why is government having to subsidise businesses who don’t pay their employees enough to live on? It is a question we need to answer and act on – fast. The cost of living is rising but wages are not. In the rush for profit, and for high pay at the top, too many companies have forgotten the basic moral imperative that employees be paid enough to live on.”

This is a sentiment that Vox Political wholly supports.

Needless to say, there are also detractors. A commenter known as ‘neilcon’ pointed out: “The high cost of running a small business in this country is one of the main reasons why the hourly rates are so low. If you employ someone at £8 you then have to pay a further 13 per cent to the government in employer’s National Insurance contributions for the privilege of employing someone; you have to supply that person with suitable equipment for their work.” The commenter reeled off a few other business-related expenses before going on to “the issue of the banks utterly refusing to lend to small businesses, the high cost of renting office premises, business rates on your office premises to the government, the high cost of VAT, together with clients trying to squeeze the final price as much as possible and the very late payments by bigger companies.

“The real cost to an employer of an £8 per hour wage is calculated at about £15 to the business.”

I can sympathise with this sentiment. It doesn’t let off the bosses of larger companies, who have huge salaries and no excuse (FT 350 companies, for example) but they might have a reasonable excuse for not raising pay, if smaller companies say they’ll go out of business if the higher cost is forced on them.

But the simple fact is that the cost of living is too high and – if they had to rely on wages alone – millions of working people, up and down the country, would be unable to pay their bills…

… leading us to a recent blog article by our old friend Michael Meacher MP. He points out that our privatised utility companies are forcing every one of us to pay – through the nose – for substandard services.

He wrote: “More than £100 a year of an average household [water] bill, that is about 30 per cent, goes on profit, compared with 9 per cent in the energy sector which is itself known for egregious profiteering.

“In the last 10 years, water bills have risen by a massive 64 per cent, compared with an increase of just 28 per cent in average earnings. In the last three years alone, average earnings have fallen by 7 per cent while water bills have continued to rise remorselessly. There is no competition in the water industry and the only potential constraint is the industry regulator, but he has chosen to succumb to corporate lobbying in allowing water bills to continue to shoot upwards to feed fancy executive bonuses and big dividend handouts.”

The last sentence tellingly brings us back to the huge profits taken by executives. It seems that a few things are going on:

1. The privatisation of the national utilities – water, electricity, gas (and, some would say, telecommunications) – has failed in its stated aims, which were to democratise capitalism by making it possible for everybody to be a shareholder, to keep bills low, and to end government subsidies for these organisations. Instead, shares have been drawn into the hands of a very few rich investors, bills have risen far beyond wages, and government subsidies have either increased massively (rail) or companies have used the tax system to avoid paying the amount due on their profits (Thames Water and its ‘super sewer’).

2. Company bosses, keen to drive up their share prices in order to create larger dividends for their shareholders and higher salaries for themselves, have successfully held wages down in order to achieve this. As ‘neilcon’ pointed out, lower wages mean less spending on National Insurance, meaning that keeping the employee payout down by pennies per person leads to many pounds in increased revenue.

3. The government is unwilling to do anything about this because it wants to keep wages depressed as much as possible. This is the reason it has cracked down so hard on benefit payments – not because of fraud (which is minimal) but in order to create an urgent need among the unemployed to find work, and terror in those who have jobs that they could be replaced if they complain about the increasingly meagre pittance on which they are being told to survive.

There are many subtle sub-consequences as well. You may wish to raise some of them in the ‘comments’ column.

What’s the answer?

This may come as a surprise, but the best place to start might be with the private utility companies. An ultimatum to put their houses in order and charge a reasonable amount, rather than extorting money out of a captive clientele, might produce results – especially if the alternative is re-nationalisation.

This might take the pressure off the smaller private companies by actually reducing the amount calculated as the living wage; with lower utility bills, the amount of money needed for a working person’s survival will also drop.

If the government and the utility companies got their sums right, this could mean the need to subsidise working people’s pay would be wiped out, meaning a large saving on the tax bill. Feed this through to working people in the form of a tax cut and, again, smaller private companies would benefit (along with everybody else, of course). An alternative of using the money to help pay off the deficit would be unhelpful – we need more, and healthier, businesses in this country, employing more people. Get that sorted and the deficit will come down in any case.

On a completely different tack, what about Landlord Subsidy (otherwise known as Housing Benefit)? Why not put a cap on rents, thereby ensuring that the government is not subsidising the rapidly-increasing pace of (some) landlords’ greed?

Unfortunately, this is not likely to happen under the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government – and it seems the Parliamentary Labour Party is to keen to become the Plastic Tory Party to take a stand; it will be up to its backbenchers and the party’s grassroots members to force a policy change.

At the end of the day, wages might still have to rise, due to matters unforeseen in this article.

But a plan that acknowledges the mistakes of the past and aims to redress the shocking way that the supply of money has overbalanced to favour a tiny minority – to the detriment of the vast majority – would constitute the first steps on the way to a nation that can not only provide Archbishop Sentamu’s living wage, but also help our struggling small businesses.

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Why does Gove want to sell school places to foreigners when there aren’t enough for British children?

The stupid boy sitting at the back: Michael Gove has just one aim for the education system - to make it profitable. If he succeeds, YOUR children will pay the price.

The stupid boy sitting at the back: Michael Gove has just one aim for the education system – to make it profitable. If he succeeds, YOUR children will pay the price.

The revelation that Michael Gove has a plan to sell places in academy schools to students who currently live overseas came less than a week after the BBC reported that a shortage of school places was likely to harm the quality of education here.

England needs to find 250,000 primary places – within two months – and this means that schools that perform poorly may expand to accommodate the need, even though the education they provide is substandard.

It is into this environment that Michael Gove apparently wants to introduce a paying market.

Academies are not allowed to make profits at the moment, but it seems likely that a Conservative government would change this requirement in order to allow paying pupils in – effectively accelerating towards the privatisation of the education system.

In an environment with too few school places for the British, parents need to realise that their children will be passed over in favour of paying foreign students. In essence, this is a plan to exclude poor people from education.

The evidence suggests that this has been the plan all along. A Guardian article yesterday noted that “Other milestones are already in place: performance-related pay for teachers is on its way. Around half the country’s secondaries are now academies, reluctant primaries are being forced down the same route and the 2011 Education Act decreed that if a new school is needed, it can only be a free school or an academy.

“Once schools are out of the maintained sector, only governed by a commercial contract with the secretary of state (the basis on which “independent” state schools are set up), it is only a short step to a new procurement process, which allows multinational for-profit chains to enter this market.

“And the point about schools run for profit is that they do what they say on the tin – seek to make a profit. So the first stop may be wealthy foreign pupils seeking access to selective, oversubscribed academies, but where would that stop? Co-payments? Fees for domestic families?”

The article continues: “Profit-making schools have a very mixed record in nearly every country where they have already been tried, notably Sweden, the US and Chile. Quality is often poor.

“If they fail they are swiftly closed down or reopened under new management – hardly a culture conducive to fostering sustained improvement.”

From here on, the article suggests, we should rename the British education system the “domestic market for education businesses”.

And your child’s education can go to hell. After all, the Tories educate their children privately, don’t they?

It is not only notable but sinister that Downing Street has declined to comment on the leaked letter that revealed the proposal.

Silence is not denial. In fact, with the current government, it might as well be an admission of guilt.

David Cameron has started to privatise the National Health Service; he has started to privatise the police. Now it seems he is ready to privatise education as well.

How long do the so-called ‘Working-Class Tories’ have to be exposed to this before they realise that their government is screwing them over?