Friday, 28 December 2012


“Just get me out of here,” was Mum’s appeal after her latest six week stay in hospital. It’s been a bad year for Mum and hospitals. She spent seven weeks in hospital and rehabilitation between February and April. Now she’s back in again, the cause this time a chest infection but it has been lack of mobility that has delayed her return home.

We’re told that when she can get around better she’ll be let out. The hospital has a duty of care.

Mum has been on a steady physical decline over recent years. Dad died in 2008, after a number of years suffering with dementia. He spent the last 2.5 years of his life in homes, getting specialist care.

Mum’s experience is almost the opposite, mentally she is bright as a button, but physically it is as though everything is shutting down. It causes her incredible frustration, at times leading her to question why she is being punished in such a way.

A half empty rather than half full glass person, she does not celebrate her truly remarkable memory. A passionate historian, at the age of 87, she can still recall dates, places, battles and people from past centuries.

Instead, the physical demise has tended to dominate. She has lost most of her sight and hearing in recent years. Her legs are shot through with arthritis which makes movement ever more difficult. She suffers from incontinence which is another annoyance for a proud lady.

As Mum has physically deteriorated so her ability to do the most basic tasks has reduced. When a little while ago she could put herself to bed, make a cup of tea and some food, now she is reduced to getting out of her chair and going to and from the toilet – not a great quality of life. The need for support will increase as time goes by, moving to a time when she will need 24 hour care either at home or in a home.

The physical world seems to get smaller, closing in on her. So where 18 months ago, she was upstairs in her own bedroom, using the shower with a little help. Now, her bedroom has transferred downstairs to what used to be the dining room. She gets help with washing at the sink. She walked with a stick, now she has a frame and rising chair to help her mobilise.

All of these changes have meant buying in ever more care. The travails with the care services for Mum have been different to those for Dad. He was in the homes. The battle there was to ensure he was being treated properly, not drugged or exploited.

For Mum it has been about bringing care into the home. This began three years ago, with a carer coming in each morning to get her up. She helped Mum wash, fixed breakfast, did the washing and helped set up the day.

Mum established a good relationship with the carer. All went well for a couple of years. However, as Mum’s physical condition deteriorated, so more care was needed. When she came out after her first stay earlier this year the care visits were increased, so that a carer came in during the afternoon and at night to help her get to bed.

As the care requirement expanded so the care company seemed to provide ever less competent staff. I spoke to one new carer about what she did before. The answer: two weeks previously, she had been working as a PA. The training was to go out with one of the experienced carers a couple of times and then she was off on her own.

Care requirements ofcourse vary, from on the one hand getting the shopping for an elderly person to the whole personal care requirements of washing, feeding etc. The qualifications of many of the carers out there are lacking, the regulation, virtually non-existent.

A product of the market the job is done by people forced to take the minimum wage jobs that fit in with other family requirements like child care.

The whole experience has taught me that commerce and care simply cannot mix. It is almost possible to see the pound signs materializing in the care company managers eyes when the magic words self-funding are uttered in relation to a potential client.

I have spent more and more time looking after Mum. The role of carer for a parent is no small task. The responsibility means you virtually end up living two lives, your own and that of carer, Your own life tends to become more and more subsumed by the caring role.

Care cover has to be constantly planned out.

Around one million people in this country have given up careers in order to care for relatives. I haven’t reached that point yet, presently managing to keep all the different balls in the air.

Caring child is a strange place to be, as you almost come to share the same space of the person you are looking after. For Mum it just looks like a tunnel of life becoming worse and worse, more illnesses, more hospitals stays and eventually the end. For me, the recognition that Mum is right, she won’t suddenly get her mobility or eyesight back. Things will get worse, yet you don’t ever want the end to come, to reach that point where the person who brought you into the world is no longer there. Physically broken or not, she will always be my mum and I will always love her for being just who she is.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Cardboard Clergy

Cardboard Fabrications Ltd

Dear Sirs,

We are sure that you have came across our extremely successful products
already. Among our lines are cardboard police cars to discourage speeding,
and cardboard policemen to deter shoplifters, as well as other standard

Following an the success of these we are pleased to announce that we

can now supply cardboard clergy...

The cardboard Priest is invaluable to hard-pressed clergy who need a

holiday. It is life-sized and comes in progressive, middle-of-the-road and

the Tridentine models. It is especially effective when stood behind the

lectern. Field trials have shown that when a cardboard Priest was

installed without the congregation knowing, 40% of those later

questioned had noticed no difference, while 25% said there had been a

considerable improvement.

Soon we hope to have available a cardboard Bishop which can be placed in the
diocese while the real bishop is away in home. Trials models have been
installed for same time in the Bishops Conference without being detected.
One is even said to have made a short excellent speech, which was actually
related to its topic.

Our cardboard congregation is however now on the market and selling well.
Its response to homilies is indistinguishable from the real thing, and it
has the positive advantage that when volunteers are called for nobody makes
a dash for the door. In some churches there has even been a marked
improvement in the singing.

We recommend our quality products for your consideration and hope that you
will find that they are just what you have been looking for.

Yours faithfully,

C. Board,

Marketing Director

Friday, 14 December 2012

Let's not throw away press freedom amid Leveson inspired hysteria

The prank call by two Australian disc jockeys to the hospital where Kate Middleton was being treated for morning sickness has had tragic consequences.

The prank badly misfired, with the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha. The disc jockeys, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, are also said to be shattered by the news, However, this incident should not be used as another opportunity to bash journalism. Let’s remember the two pranksters were disc jockeys not journalists, simply because they were on radio does not change that fact.

Following on the report of Lord Justice Brian Leveson’s inquiry it does at times seem to have been open season on journalists. In an ironic twist, the way in which the media tends to conduct the public discourse seems in this instance to have come back to bite them. The polarization of the argument that sees everything reduced to black and white with no shades of grey has once again been seen in action.

So just as with previous scandals involving MPs expenses, bankers misbehavior and sex abusing priests there has been a move to label everyone in that particular sector as guilty, so it has proved with journalists.

Not all journalists are up to illegal phone hacking activities, in reality it is very few. Just as there are relatively few people involved in Parliament, the banks and the Church who have committed misdemeanors. Yet the broad brush focus is always adopted which simply does not strike any sort of balance or represent the truth.

Let’s remember, it was the Guardian that revealed the phone hacking scandal in the first place. The Telegraph brought us MPs expenses, the Daily Mail led the call for justice for Stephen Lawrence and the Times exposed celebrities cheating on their tax.

Lord Leveson came up with some fascinating findings but also questions have been raised. For example why did the police seem to get treated so mildly by the judge? They seemed in it up to their elbows, colluding with journalists and failing to prosecute in the first instance those who committed the offences. As Private Eye editor Ian Hislop has pointed out the crimes committed during the hacking scandal could all be dealt with under the present criminal law, there is no need for statutory press regulation to attain that goal.

There are real dangers that the Leveson report will not be taken in context, as different groups fight to get their way. The rush to legislate, led by the campaign group Hacked Off, and backed by the Labour Party could have far reaching consequences.

The concern of many is that once statutory regulation is in place it will be open to extension by future unscrupulous governments who fear press intervention in their affairs. Remembering the MPs expenses scandal, such a scenario raises the old question of who guards the guards?

The position taken by the Prime Minister against statutory regulation is the right one. Whether it is because he has a strong belief in press freedom or is scared of what some of the bigger beasts in the media jungle might do to him later is really irrelevant. He has handled the situation well, opposing statutory regulation but using the leverage gained by Leveson to force the press into creating a proper self-regulatory process to replace the present toothless Press Complaints Commission. All are agreed there needs to be change.

What finally comes out of the Leveson inquiry in terms of press regulation will be interesting to behold, not least as to whether it results from a well-reasoned wide ranging debate or one hinged on polarized positions born of self-interest.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Pat Finucane case proves lessons of history not learned

The reason that David Cameron uses the excuse of cost to resist the Finucane families call for an independent inquiry is because the De Silva report is about as far as the government thinks it can go.
Clearly the murder of Pat Finucane and others was sanctioned at a very high level of government. It is to establish at what just level that a full scale public inquiry is required.
What the De Silva report does provide is ample evidence of the need to keep the agencies and agents of the state under control. In Northern Ireland the whole security apparatus, including the legal system, became contaminated.
A similar thing is now happening in the remainder of the UK with proposals for secret courts and people being detained for years on end without trial. The hysteria aroused over Muslim clerics matches anything seen during the years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It is a sober reminder as to what happens when the lessons of history are not learned, namely that they simply get repeated leading to ever more innocent lives being wrecked.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Why are train passengers paying more?

Sitting on yet another delayed train while reading about a 17 pct rise in rail fares the question occurs - why? The service has not improved, most the people using the trains are earning less or the same as they did last year. Train operators are exploiting a captive audience. Another final question, why is it ok to cut fuel duty for motorists and subsidise air travel  but make train users pay  more for taking the environmentally sustainable form of transport?

Metro - 10/12/2012

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Time to tax the corporate rich

The call for big companies and wealthy individuals to pay more tax has gathered pace over recent months.

The latest public finance figures tell a story of two countries, where the public paid more and the corporations paid less. The corporation tax take was down 10 per cent for the year to October, whilst tax and VAT receipts were up 6.4 per cent.

Her Majestys Revenue and Customs (HMRC) believe that the tax gap – the amount that corporations ought to be paying versus what they are – is £4.1 billion. This amount would build 300 new schools, provide 430,000 nursery places or 153,000 nurses.

Overall, HMRC estimates that in 2010/11 it was deprived of £9.6 billion in VAT, with £3.3 billion in excise duties, and £14.4 billion in income tax revenues, national insurance contributions and capital gains tax. The HMRC say that the tax gap for the whole economy amounted to £32 billion in 2010/11 or a third of the deficit of £120 billion for 2012/13

Multinational corporations like Starbucks, Amazon, Vodafone and Google have been exposed over the lack of taxes that they pay in this country, despite using the facilities provided courtesy of the tax payer to make handsome profits.

The extent of the tax avoidance became clear at the hearings of the Public Accounts Committee, where the MPs view was that it maybe legal to avoid paying tax but it was not moral.

At the hearings, it was revealed Starbucks paid £8.6m in corporation tax over 14 years of trading in Britain, and none for the past three years, despite sales of £1.2bn in the UK. Starbucks pays a royalty to its parent company in the Netherlands, which offsets profits here.

Amazon reported turnover of £207m in 2011 for its UK operation, on which it paid tax of £1.8m. However, Amazon provided the PAC with information showing that for 2011, £3.35bn of its sales were from the UK, 25 per cent of all sales outside the United States. Its profits are booked in Luxembourg, where the tax is paid.

Google recorded revenues of £396m in 2011 in the UK and paid corporation tax of only £6m. However it is estimated that Google actually had £2.75bn of revenue from its operations in the UK with an estimated pre-tax profit of £836m. Google’s profits are registered in Ireland.

Not to be forgotten, Vodafone increased its underlying earnings in the UK before interest and tax from £1.2 billion to £1.3 billion to March 2011, yet paid no corporation tax.

The truth is that tax avoidance by both companies and highly paid individuals is huge in the UK.

On the individual front there have been the cases of celebrities like comedian Jimmy Carr using schemes to avoid tax. Carr though has since stopped using the much publicised offshore scheme.

Central to the debate at an individual and corporation level is a moral question about avoiding tax. It would seem at many levels it is legal to avoid paying taxes but to do so is also immoral because it amounts to stealing from the rest of us. Failure to pay tax means that there is less money for the NHS, health, education and welfare.

The need to get a grips with the multinational companies on tax points to a wider need to make them accountable across the board for their activities. The net worth of many of these companies now exceeds that of all but the biggest countries in the world.

The practice of only paying tax in the lowest charging country in which they operate is mirrored in other areas, such as labour rights and environmental law where the companies will move around to operate in the least regulated domain in order to maximise profits.

So in the longer term there needs to be international regulation in order that the huge multinationals do not just move their operations from country to country in order to maximise profit.

There are though encouraging signs of progress in the fight to at least make companies and individuals start paying their fair share of tax. The bad publicity that Starbucks received following the PFC inquiry, has led to negotations starting between the company and the UK government as to how it can pay more tax. Though the sting in the tail appears to being born by Starbucks workers, who the Guardian reports are having lunch break, sick pay and maternity benefits cut.

Consumer power to not purchase the products of companies like Starbucks, Vodafone and Amazon clearly has an impact. What such companies dread in the age of social media is having their brand damaged.

The same is true of individuals, with celebrities like Jimmy Carr quickly moving to change their accounting ways once the publicity came out about their tax avoidance methods.

Even the British government appears to be moving on the issue with Chancellor George Osborne providing another £150 million to HMRC to tackle tax avoidance and looking as to how the laws can be changed to stop multinationals avoiding tax.

Who knows if some of those missing taxes can be collected, then maybe the assault on public services can be halted?