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Coronavirus: ONS says almost twice as many people have died as official statistics say

This is absolutely damning.

The Office For National Statistics, which last week reported that the government had been under-reporting coronavirus-related deaths by 23.5 per cent, has now suggested the difference has increased to 78 per cent.

The government’s official death tally on March 27 was 926 – but the ONS said NHS England alone reported 1,650 deaths related to the virus by that date.

It also means that the true death toll by today’s date is likely to be far higher than the government’s current figure of 5,373.

Let’s be honest – on these ONS figures, the death toll is likely to be 10,000 or more. And that’s just in England.

Source: New analysis points to hundreds more coronavirus deaths than official stats reveal | London Evening Standard

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Is this an attempt to scapegoat the London Fire Brigade for the Grenfell disaster?

Ruin: Firefighters risked their lives in Grenfell Tower – not just while the building was burning but afterwards, as they searched among the rubble for residents.

This seems extremely sinister.

We know that the Grenfell Tower disaster was caused by a faulty kitchen appliance.

It was then accelerated by the fact that the tower had no sprinkler system because landlords working for Kensington and Chelsea Council did not consider it necessary.

And of course the same landlords had installed “fire resistant” cladding that instead hugely worsened the blaze.

Right?

But no real action has been taken against either the landlord organisation or the council.

And now the fire brigade that handled the blaze has been interviewed under caution by police over potential health and safety breaches to do with the policy to tell people to stay in their flats while the fire raged outside.

But the “stay put” policy had been imposed by landlords the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) and was standard policy for a high-rise building in the United Kingdom. 

It relies on the assumption that construction standards such as concrete and fire-resistant doors will allow firefighters to contain a fire within one flat – which was impossible in Grenfell Tower, which was not built to a standard that made this possible.

It seems clear that firefighters followed nationwide guidelines that were understood to be the best course at the time, and changed their plans when they realised that these guidelines had proved ineffective.

Blame for this ineffectiveness must fall on builders who used substandard materials, the landlord who decided that the proper materials and safety methods were not necessary, the council that employed that landlord, and the Tory government that relaxed safety requirements – making it possible for actions that endangered residents to happen.

I remember the eyewitness accounts of firefighters coming out of that inferno. It was clear that not only had they done everything they could to get as many people as possible out of danger; they had put themselves in considerable danger to do so.

But now it seems attempts are being made to blame them.

Who ordered this investigation into the Fire Service? What was their motivation for doing so?

And shouldn’t they be made to feel ashamed?

London Fire Brigade officials have been interviewed under caution by police investigating the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Scotland Yard detectives questioned the body over its duty to protect the public and its own employees from health and safety risks.

Source: Grenfell Tower fire: London Fire Brigade officials interviewed under caution by police over disaster | The Independent

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Tory MP with links to private healthcare says ‘No health privatisation by stealth’. Liar!

Margot James responded to claims that the Conservatives were running down the health service in order to privatise it. The Question Time audience did not believe her and called her a liar.

No wonder the audience of the BBC’s Question Time became so furious at Margot James when she claimed the Conservatives fully support the National Health Service – she has historical links with private health companies.

Responding to a suggestion that the Conservatives are “ideologically underfunding the NHS so they can make the argument for privatisation,” Ms James – recently appointed as a Culture Minister, said, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Audience members retorted, “Liar!” Ms James, on the back foot, had to defend her claim: “No I am not a liar. I have spent time volunteering in the NHS over the last four or five years.” Doesn’t that mean the Tories have denied the service the money needed to employ trained staff?

“I am not a liar. I believe in the NHS and so does my government and we do put more money into it.” But not enough to cope with inflation and increased demand generated by the effect of punitive Conservative policies on UK citizens.

The question that sparked the row suggested that the NHS was “haemorrhaging” nurses, with one in 10 leaving the profession.

Audience member Rebecca Shirazi, a Labour Party council candidate and activist, had said: “What I don’t understand is that there’s so much public support to put more money into our NHS; to pay our nurses more; to support our nurses, and reinstall the bursary program. Because if you’re going to be a nurse, and you’re going to qualify earning less than £30,000 a year, but you ended up in so much debt with such high interest rates to pay, why would you do it? It doesn’t make any sense. And I wonder if the Conservative government that we have is ideologically… underfunding the NHS so they can then make the argument for privatisation.”

Here’s the moment:

Another audience member – herself an NHS nurse, said, “Nurses are leaving … because they can’t believe the conditions that they are working under.” She said: “We work with our hearts and our hands and our heads and we are not valued. We are losing money.” She added that she knew a nurse who was leaving the profession because she was earning £100 less than her 17-year-old son who has no qualifications and is an apprentice.

Panellist Dustin Lance Black said: “The nurses and the doctors are saying it’s so incredibly difficult and unbearable, the conditions they’ve been put under here. And let me tell you, you don’t want private medicine either. You don’t. What you need is a real investment in the infrastructure and an investment in the NHS… And that’s going to cost money.”

He added: “Who’s benefiting? It’s these corporations. It’s these businesses that are coming here and are reaping the rewards of all you beautiful healthy people. And I want an in-depth examination to make sure they’re paying their fair share for the rewards they’re reaping.”

Another audience member said attributing the loss of nurses to Brexit was “a cop-out.”

She added: “It’s due to a chronic lack of planning and foresight for our workforce… We have no nurses because we’ve taken away the bursary; we are not supporting people going into education; we are not planning for the future, making sure we’ve got GPs, doctors, nurses, physios. We are disregarding the NHS.”

Andy Burnham raised the issue of social care – responsibility for which was added to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s brief in the Cabinet reshuffle of January 8. He said: “Social care staff are in an even worse position. They do 15-minute slots, they don’t get the travel time between the 15-minutes, so they don’t even get paid the National Minimum Wage.

“Social care in this country is utterly broken. I tried to fix it as Health Secretary, since then there’s just been point-scoring about it… It is time for social care fully to come within the public National Health Service… Older people have seen services utterly slashed and there has been profiteering on the backs of these vulnerable people.”

Ms James’s protestations ring hollow when one realises that she was listed in a dossier compiled by the Unite Union linking MPs who had voted for the Conservative Health and Social Care Act 2012 – which introduced private, profit-driven health companies into the NHS – with the same companies that would profit from the change.

Ms James was listed as having “co-founded public relations company, Shire Health Group. The company was sold to business partner Ogilvy & Mather for £4 million in 2004, with the Conservative MP Margot James appointed Head of European Healthcare for marketing parent WPP Group. She stood down from WPP in 2008. WPP are a marketing giant with a massive list of healthcare clients. One of their companies, Grey Healthcare Group, boasts having 14 of the top 15 pharmaceutical companies as their clients.”

Ms James responded to the report at the time of publication: “I resent this smear… I have no links to private healthcare. I have previously been a director of an NHS trust and did not take a salary, despite being entitled to one.”

But nobody had suggested she had a current link to private healthcare, and her decision not to take payment for working as a mental health manager for Parkside NHS Trust merely reinforces the implication that the NHS doesn’t get enough funding.

Here’s a quick reminder of some more of Ms James’s decisions in Parliament:


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Tory underfunding of NHS is £3 billion higher than reported. Surprised?

The report says the target for NHS trusts to end the financial year with a deficit of just under £500m is a ‘next to impossible task’ [Image: Peter Byrne/PA].

This is a nightmare that could be erased overnight if the Conservatives would only stop underfunding the National Health Service in England.

Funding increases for the NHS have fallen from 3.6 per cent to 1.3 per cent this year.

But the service is being asked to absorb further increases in demand and costs, meet stretching savings targets, improve A&E performance and deliver new commitments for cancer and mental health provision – and balance the books.

Meanwhile, billions of pounds worth of efficiency savings have been absorbed by inflation and reductions in the tariff paid per patient, meaning they have achieved nothing.

Nuffield Trust says even with a further £1.8bn in sustainability funding, providers will have to make cost savings of £3.6 billion or 4.3 per cent of operating costs in 2017-18.

So shouldn’t the NHS funding increase be 5.6 per cent, if trusts are expected to break even? Or is This Writer missing something?

NHS trusts in England ended last year with an overspend almost £3bn more than previously reported after temporary funding boosts and one-off savings were stripped out, according to new analysis.

The Nuffield Trust found the actual overspend in 2016-17 was £3.7bn, compared with the £791m reported by NHS regulators, which was already above the £580m maximum sought by health service bosses.

In a report published on Thursday the thinktank also says the NHS faces a “next to impossible” task in hitting the target of ending the current financial year with a deficit of just under £500m.

Source: NHS trusts’ overspend is £3bn higher than reported, study claims | Society | The Guardian


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Childcare changes threatened by underfunding, charity says – BBC News

Who do you believe? The Conservatives – as reported here:

Childcare providers in England say the system is at “breaking point” due to underfunding and a plan to double free provision could lead to “meltdown”.

That warning – from industry body the Pre-School Learning Alliance – comes as ministers say trials of the new scheme are being brought forward to 2016.

The current allowance of 570 hours a year for three and four-year-olds will be doubled for working parents.

The government says it is committed to increasing funding.

Or this man:

150601 chomsky privatisation

Source: Childcare changes threatened by underfunding, charity says – BBC News

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Minimum wage: 37 firms shamed for failing to pay

[Image: The Guardian.]

It is now easier to report employers who fail to pay the minimum wage. [Image: The Guardian.]

Retail giant H&M and service station operator Welcome Break have been named and shamed for failing to pay the minimum wage – along with 35 other employers.

The firms were exposed after investigation by HM Revenue and Customs. They will be fined a total of £51,000 and must also pay affected staff the £177,000 they were underpaid.

This is not an example of extraordinary work by the Coalition Government, though. It is an example of HMRC actually managing to do its job properly, despite huge cuts to its staff and harm to its working conditions.

HMRC staff are to be applauded for their sterling work; managers less so.

The 37 “named and shamed” employers are as follows:
•Kings Group LLP, Hertfordshire, neglected to pay £53,808.91 to 53 workers
•Kings Group Lettings LLP, Hertfordshire, neglected to pay £26,893.43 to 49 workers
•Chi Yip Group Ltd, Middleton, neglected to pay £15,566.78 to 13 workers
•Kingsclere Nurseries Ltd trading as Abacus Day Nursery, Newbury, neglected to pay £12,904.19 to 8 workers.
•Ms Thap Thi Ly trading as Sweet N Sour, Fleetwood, neglected to pay £11,039.14 to 2 workers
•Michael Kearney trading as Electrical Estimates, Ceredigion, neglected to pay £5,557.91 to 4 workers
•ABC Early Learning and Childcare Centre UK Ltd, Wolverhampton, neglected to pay £5,329.25 to 68 workers
•C J Hartley Ltd trading as Headwork, Sheffield, neglected to pay £4,762.64 to 4 workers
•Mrs Kelly Jayne Lockley trading as Diva Hair Design, Walsall, neglected to pay £4,103.65 to a worker
•Browncow Tanning Ltd trading as Fake Bake Hair & Beauty Boutique, Glasgow, neglected to pay £3,406.66 to 2 workers
•J Wood Joiners & Builders Ltd, Edinburgh, neglected to pay £3,373.19 to 4 workers
•Louise Ross Trading as Luxe Salon, Leeds, neglected to pay £3,368.13 to a worker
•H&M Hennes & Mauritz UK Ltd, London, neglected to pay £2,604.87 to 540 workers
•Building Projects Ltd, Dundee, neglected to pay £2,345.85 to 3 workers
•David A Farrer Ltd, Morecambe, neglected to pay £2,261.00 to a worker
•Julian’s Hair Salon Ltd, Newbury, neglected to pay £2,131.35 to a worker
•Motorists Discount Store Ltd trading as TMS Autoparts, Manchester, neglected to pay £2,025.19 to a worker
•Ms Dawn Platts trading as Level 2 Hair Studio, Barnsley, neglected to pay £1,186.89 to a worker
•Myers and Family Ltd, Wakefield, neglected to pay £1.598.82 to a worker
•Welcome Break Holdings Ltd, Newport Pagnell, neglected to pay £1,318.70 to 19 workers
•Callum Austin Ltd trading as Jason Austin Hairdressers, Kettering, neglected to pay £1,899.66 to 2 workers
•Mrs Karen Riley Trading as Crave, Preston, neglected to pay £1,179.09 to 7 workers
•RPM Performance Rally World Ltd, Maldon, neglected to pay £998.71 to a worker
•Ego Hair & Beauty (Anglia) Ltd, Colchester, neglected to pay £985.55 to a worker
•Mr Jinit Shah trading as Crystal Financial Solutions, Middlesex, neglected to pay £941.65 to a worker
•Counted4 Community Interest Company, Sunderland, neglected to pay £930.73 to a worker
•HAE Automotive Services Ltd, Harrogate (ceased trading), neglected to pay £798.16 to a worker
•Vision on Digital Ltd, Ossett, neglected to pay £683.86 to a worker
•Ultimate Care UK Ltd, Ipswich, neglected to pay £613.79 to 7 workers
•Century Motors (Sheffield) Ltd, Sheffield, neglected to pay £571.72 to a worker
•Mr D Eastwell & Mr G Brinkler trading as The Salon, Letchworth Garden City, neglected to pay £409.85 to a worker
•Rumble (Bedworth) Ltd, Nuneaton, neglected to pay £404.41 to a worker
•Shannons Ltd, Worthing neglected to pay £313.76 to a worker
•Holmes Cleaning Company, Worksop neglected to pay £240.48 to a worker
•Learnplay Foundation Ltd, West Bromwich, neglected to pay £224.73 to a worker
•Adrien Mackenzie trading as Maverick Models, Manchester, neglected to pay £205.52 to a worker
•QW Security Ltd, Hartlepool, neglected to pay £126.20 to a worker

Workers had made complaints to the free and confidential ‘Pay and Work Rights’ Helpline.

The scheme was revised in October 2013 to make it simpler to report employers who do not comply with minimum wage rules.

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Do YOU want your national parks messed up by oil and gas prospectors?

Snouts in the trough: Martin Rowson's Guardian cartoon goes straight to the heart of the matter - GREED.

Snouts in the trough: Martin Rowson’s Guardian cartoon goes straight to the heart of the matter – fat cats and pigs fouling up the landscape in the name of GREED.

Britain’s treasured national parks could be spoiled by oil and gas companies using them as drilling sites, if our treacherous Coalition government has its way.

People are already angry because the Coalition intends to open up about half the country – presumably those parts not owned or inhabited by members of the Coalition – for fracking by oil and gas companies. The plan is to allow drilling even if it takes place under citizens’ houses.

With less than a year until a general election that they know they are likely to lose, it seems that David Cameron’s Conservatives are determined to strip the whole country to the bone in the name of naked greed.

Perhaps they consider this to be poetic justice after we stopped them selling off publicly-owned parks and common land, back in the early days of the current Parliament; the logic seems to be, “If we can’t sell them, we’ll ruin them so nobody can enjoy them anyway”.

The plan is being handled by business minister Matthew Hancock – who specialises in energy, it seems. What does Ed Davey do, then? Hancock came to the attention of this blog yesterday when it was revealed that he had complained to the UK Statistics Authority about figures that Labour leader Ed Miliband didn’t use in a speech on jobs.

That can only bode ill for his plan to speed up the process of licensing companies to drill, so they can start within six months of making an application. He’ll cut corners and he’ll make even more bad decisions.

He’ll ruin our national parks. These are our designated areas of natural beauty, intended to be there for us to enjoy in perpetuity. Once the drills go in, there will be no way to restore them.

Fracking is an especially destructive form of oil and gas drilling that uses pressurised water to break up rock to get to oil supplies. Ground water can be contaminated by the gases and toxic chemicals used in the fracking process, and it is understood that waste from the fracking process is commonly mishandled.

Not only will our areas of outstanding natural beauty become ugly industrial pits but our health will be put at risk, while the big oil companies take the profits.

The Coalition is defending its decision by saying that people living in or around national parks will be protected by tougher rules for fracking. Hancock was interviewed about this on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last week, and it should be no surprise whatsoever that he made a complete twit of himself. He claimed that there was broad support for fracking (in the name of “better energy security”) so the presenter asked him to name a village in the UK that supported fracking. He could not; instead, he changed the subject.

At the same time, the Coalition has removed the ability for millions of homeowners to stop companies from drilling directly under their properties.

The Coalition is touting the potential temporary benefits of a new oil or gas discovery. But is the potential permanent loss of our natural beauty really worth it?

Of course not – and you can tell the government to remove national parks from the list of areas open to fracking operations, simply by signing this petition.

An outright ban would protect our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty in Britain.

Send your message to the government: The oil and gas companies can frack off and mess up their own backyard.

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Why NHS charging is a zombie policy

http://youtu.be/e6ci9ROmTO8

Several political organisations (including, to Yr Obdt Srvt’s regret, Labour) have been talking up the possibility of imposing charges on the public for NHS services. Possibilities under discussion have included direct charging at the point of use or a new ‘NHS tax’. Nobody wants to mention that this means paying for the NHS twice (we already fund it with our taxes/NI contributions).

BBC Radio 4 recently ran a debate on NHS charging, on which one of the speakers was Dr Clive Peedell. This gentleman is a stalwart of the National Health Action Party, the political group founded to end the Coalition’s privatisation of healthcare by defeating the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at election time.

He made many solid points – information that the public needed to hear. We know this because the presenter tried to shout him down while he was in full flow, and in the Tory-dominated BBC this is always a sure sign that a speaker is on the right track.

The YouTube clip (above) whittles down the debate to cover only Dr Peedell’s words, in which he states that:

  • It is a myth that charges can reduce demand for healthcare; this is a zombie policy.
  • If people start paying they expect more from the service, so you get people with wants, rather than needs.
  • The NHS has been chronically under-funded for decades – by £267 billion over 25 years.
  • It is become a fantastically efficient system and all the evidence suggests that progressive taxation is the fairest way to pay for healthcare.
  • Even so, there are efficiencies that can be made – the market system costs £10 billion per year in administration costs, and 10 per cent of the budget pays off venture capitalists who invested in costly PFI schemes.
  • Austerity increases demand on the healthcare system and reduces supply.
  • And healthcare spending stimulates economic growth so we should increase healthcare expenditure with money reclaimed from tax avoiders.

The clip is well worth playing.

After all, it isn’t often you hear anybody talking sensibly about the health service for nearly six minutes!

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Thousands turn out for Bedroom Tax protests – but what happens next?

MPs Andy McDonald and Grahame Morris spoke against the bedroom tax at the Middlesbrough demonstration.

MPs Andy McDonald and Grahame Morris spoke against the bedroom tax at the Middlesbrough demonstration.

According to the Daily Mirror, 26,000 people across the country took part in the 50-odd protests against the Bedroom Tax, all staged earlier today (March 30) – so we can reasonably assume the real figure is much larger than that.

According to Charlie Kimber on Twitter, at least 10,000 were in Glasgow, and the photographic evidence seems likely to bear that out, so my guess is that, for once, the Mirror had taken a conservative (small ‘c’) stance.

The Mirror article had crowds gathering in Trafalgar Square, waving banners and posters with the message ‘Stop bedroom tax’, wearing T-shirts carrying “angry” messages for David Cameron, Gideon George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith. The nature of these messages was not revealed but I think we can make educated guesses of our own.

Whitehall was closed to traffic as, chanting “Can’t pay, won’t pay, axe the bedroom tax,” the protesters made their way to Downing Street.

In Liverpool, the paper said, demonstrators declared an “uprising” during their march.

The Glasgow anti-bedroom tax demonstration. How many people do YOU think attended?

The Glasgow anti-bedroom tax demonstration. How many people do YOU think attended?

A BBC Scotland report reckoned the Glasgow demo attracted two and a half thousand people, including Bill Scott from disability campaign group Inclusion Scotland (in fact he was in Edinburgh), who was quoted as saying two-thirds of UK households affected include a disabled person – rising to four-fifths in Scotland.

And “disability rights activist” Susan Archibald headed up the Edinburgh demonstration. On Twitter, afterwards, she said, “I was so proud to lead the bedroom tax protest in Edinburgh today. I stood up for all people who were either too poor or ill to attend.”

I particularly enjoyed the IBS – did I say IBS? I meant IDS – quote the BBC Scotland article used:

“Mr Duncan Smith defended the reforms during a visit to Edinburgh on Wednesday.

“He said: ‘It is unfair on taxpayers, it is unfair on those in over-crowded accommodation and it is unfair that one group of housing benefit tenants cannot have spare bedrooms and another group are subsidised.'”

From that last sentence alone, we can only guess what goes on in a mind that seems, clearly, deranged. But let’s just juxtapose his comments in unfairness with another state subsidy, discussed in this blog yesterday:

“The government thinks it is more fair to deprive people of the money to pay landlords for their homes than it is to cap rents.

“The government thinks it is fair to take money from people who cannot move into smaller accommodation, more appropriate to their needs, because it simply hasn’t been built.

“But then, the government thinks it is fair for MPs like James Clappison (Conservative, Hertsmere) to have 24 homes and yet still claim £100,000 in second-home expenses between 2001 and 2009. That’s £12,500 per year. People on Housing Benefit get less than £100 per week, meaning less than £5,200 per year.”

Together we can smash the tax: People in Swindon show their support for the protest.

Together we can smash the tax: People in Swindon show their support for the protest.

The protests constituted a nationwide display of disgust at the Coalition government’s attempt to find yet another way for the poor to pay for the mistakes of the rich.

But what happens now?

Historically, governments don’t pay much attention to rallies and protests. The only real way to hit this lot is in the wallet. Look at recent history for a good example: the Poll Tax.

Mass rallies were held, with attendances far greater than those today. The government didn’t bat an eyelid. But when people refused to pay up, and were prepared to face court action, fines and even imprisonment for their principles… I think we all know how it ended. The tax was replaced and the then-Prime Minister was removed.

The trouble is, as you’re probably thinking, this time the government isn’t expecting the people to pay; it’s simply deciding not to pay the people. So how can you fight that?

Okay, try this:

  • If you’re in a council house, you probably got it after being on a housing list. Your council put you there. It is reasonable, therefore, to argue that your presence is due to a decision by your council and not your own choice – therefore it is the council that should be paying for any ‘extra’ bedrooms as defined on the government’s hastily fudged-together list. Take your council to small-claims court over it, the instant you get a letter of denial.
  • If you’re in a house belonging to a social landlord, why not tell them you’re perfectly prepared to move, but for reasons of your own choice – maybe you’ve got a local job, for example – it must be to a place near your current location. What do they have? My guess is, not a lot. Be difficult about the kind of accommodation you’re willing to move into. When you decide they can’t give you what you need, take the government to small-claims court. Clearly, you are occupying this property because there is no appropriate social housing within a reasonable distance, and that is because the government has not allowed enough such accommodation to be built. You are not at fault; the government is.
  • If you are disabled, inquire of your landlord about the cost of removing any living aids you have from your current residence and installing them elsewhere. Do they have spare buildings with disabled access? What if you are a person who must rely on particular routines – moving house will disrupt those, and therefore seriously impact on your standard of living. Appeal against any change that could affect your lifestyle adversely.
  • Whoever you are, if you have made any improvements to your home, seek legal redress for the cost of those improvements, should you have to move. You might not actually be moving now, but you want the money because you don’t know when you might have a chance to move, and it will be harder to prove what you’ve done if someone else is in there, making their own changes.

None of these – and they’re just off the top of my head – are likely to win any court battles, but that’s not the point. The aim is to tie up the government, local government, social landlords and anybody else involved in this nightmarish policy, in ever-more-convoluted legal shenanigans. These things will cost them money. If enough of you get involved, they’ll cost a considerable amount, in fact. Then there’s the question of manpower that will have to be diverted from other work to deal with it. That will cost – as will employing more staff to take on the extra burden.

Government departments are already straining under the burden of appeals against other so-called benefit reforms. Ministers won’t have much tolerance for dealing with these matters because they think they have better things to do.

But you don’t.

What could be more important than fighting for your home?