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Archive for July, 2013

Obesity crisis: Logical solutions don’t solve emotional problems and responsible government would know better

download (27)Depending on the circumstances and your relationship with the people concerned, the chances are that obesity will fill you with a variety of feelings. Media stories of the cost of the obesity epidemic probably fill you with outrage. Seeing an obese person buying food or a coffee when you are out may set your judgement processes ablaze and your inner critic wild. On a dating site, chunky pictures jumping out from the screen might precipitate an immediate run for the bin or block button. But why do we have such reactions when it’s probably very rare that we even think about the physical condition or size of people who we know and probably like very much already?

Strange but true; very few people wake up one day and consciously decide that they want to become fat (Unless we are talking about exceptions such as the Japanese Sumo Wrestlers).

Even stranger for those who are or have experienced significant weight gain is the lack of any cognisance of the process at a conscious level whilst it takes place, or the presence of perhaps some innate resistance to accept its happening until they themselves have noticed the change.

By then of course, what others may  fail to realise is that the process which led to that condition may well itself have precipitated an addiction, with all the problems that addictions can themselves then bring – all before you even begin to even attempt to connect with the issues that took the person suffering there in the first place. Connecting with and addressing the cause of the problem must therefore be a much more affective way of dealing with it.

As a Nation, we have an already massive problem with obesity, over-eating and non-healthy eating. But Government is not coming anywhere even close to recognising the issues which have created this growing crisis, instead focusing upon remedies such as food labelling; crowd teasers such as the possibility of mandatory school meals, or relying upon awareness campaigns to make people think about how to eat consciously when they aren’t even consciously aware that they have a problem with how much they eat in the first place.

Food itself has of course changed dramatically in recent decades through the significantly elaborate ways that processing and refinement now takes place. This not only ensures the best value – and therefore profitability – for manufacturers; but has also taken giant leaps to improve the taste – and therefore attractiveness – of the food itself for those who will ultimately consume it.

Attractiveness or likeability has a lot more to do with all of this than we might realise, because of what you might call the ‘treat mentality’ that often accompanies the decision to eat or drink such products.

For some, the very act of providing themselves with too much food – and particularly tasty or attractive food – makes them feel good as they eat – in a way that any of us could relate to when we are experiencing receiving a treat. And when they are feeling unhappy deep down and unconsciously, tasty treats and more food than they need doesn’t just fill them up physically; it becomes an emotionally dangerous crutch too, and one that all too often becomes addictive for them.

Like any social issue, obesity is talked of in various terms and usually in ways which suit the speaker, rather than those who are suffering from the problems, which are likely to be as little to do with the food as electricity prices are to do with the cost of water. Nonetheless, one of the greatest fallacies created about weight gain itself is this idea that if you eat fat-free, you won’t get fat. Put simply, if you eat or drink too much of anything, it isn’t going to do you any good.

The simple reality is that many of the people who overeat in the UK today are just very unhappy – often for reasons that we may never understand. They look to food – particularly tasty food and the kinds that are almost certainly the worst – to fill them up and give them a temporary  ‘fix’ which has the side effect of leaving them cloaked and wearing a semi-permanent and expanding suit of negativity that gives the subconscious message to the outside world that they are not very happy within. And who likes people who don’t like themselves – unless of course you know them better?

In today’s news, the threat to those with weight problems of suffering the more commonly age-related Osteoporosis has been highlighted and no doubt added to the many other conditions which can make an avoidable problem very permanent indeed.

Whilst this may well be used by some as a scare tactic in an attempt to solicit the desired result, the point is again being missed that escapism is a problem of the moment and the ‘possible’ long term side effects of taking a step which will definitely make you feel better right now doesn’t even come into it. Addictions after all are something that will be much easier to deal with if left until tomorrow for those experiencing them.

But when a society reaches the stage that one unhappy generation destroying itself through the processes of finding comfort or distraction of any kind is then conditioning the next one into adopting the same bad habits without the causes being present; that is the time that Government should know that it really has a problem to address. With the growth in the number of school-aged children suffering obesity, the warning is there now and plain for all to see that we may have already reached and exceeded that stage.

It would be wrong just to dismiss all that has and is being done to attempt to address the problems that this Country has with increasing obesity. But the solutions suggested so far work at a logical level only and very few people who eat themselves to death or disease are employing any form of logic as they do so.

When Government and the respective health organisations recognise that obesity is not just about food itself but is about the problems – and lifestyles – that people face; then they can start tackling the problem at its root cause.

Sadly, like every other real problem facing normal people in this Country that has the potential to be solved by responsible government, the biggest one of all is getting Politicians to understand what those problems really are first.

image thanks to http://www.telegraph.co.uk

NHS and the predicted £30 Billion deficit: It’s time for change, but change is about much more than simply saving money

A NHS sign is seen in the grounds of St Thomas' Hospital in London

You can’t really help but admire the audacity of Sir David Nicholson, the outgoing head of the NHS, for his latest attempt to sidestep and cover the tracks of his questionable tenure by shining a light on what could become a £30 Billion deficit within the NHS.

His failure to fall on his sword over the Stafford Hospital outrage was beyond what many will agree as being in good taste and was compounded yet further by his indignant refusal to accept any form of responsibility, despite being the Executive Officer at the very top of the tree and arguably placed within the one position where there simply is nowhere to run or hide when it comes to carrying the can for mismanagement on what appears to have been an unprecedented scale.

The most regrettable facet of this latest twist is that the lack of respect which Nicholson holds with people now will surely deflect attention away from the cold reality of his message, which in a perhaps more capable set of hands would have not only been brought to public attention much sooner, but effectively acted upon too.

Many of us already realise and understand just how serious the problems throughout the NHS actually are. In local politics, where we closely scrutinize the real-world impact of ward and department closures; the centralisation of services, and the amalgamation of GP’s practices into so called ‘community hospitals’, there has been little doubt for us all of the real purpose of such changes for a considerable time.

Cost aside, the principles upon which the National Health Service were created and the application of universal care are still however very much valid even today.

But it is the continued compromise of those very principles at their heart which has led to the seemingly insurmountable financial and management problems that we face today.

These were principles that were intended to prioritise the care of the end-user; not the interests of managers, union leaders and politicians, who have all had something to gain at various points by moving those priorities elsewhere; often at everyone else’s cost.

Any commercially run business or ethical organisation is created and run to efficiently provide a particular product or service to its customers. It is not created or subsequently evolved to disable itself by prioritising the working conditions of its workforce and certainly not run for the benefit of harvesting statistics as part of some politically expedient mind warp which is simply designed to spread the message that things are running far better than they actually are.

Tragically, this is pretty much in a nutshell what the NHS represents today and evidence would suggest that people are dying needlessly as a result of it.

It’s not as if health professionals are oblivious to the realities of the situation either. Talking to a career nurse only a few weeks ago who freely admitted that she had been a lifelong socialist and Labour Voter, even I have to admit to my surprise when she clearly told me ‘Adam, I love the idea of socialism and what it stands for; but in my experience, it simply doesn’t work’.

Herein lies the greatest problem with the NHS; Its culture.

The culture within the NHS is the base issue which much be faced, understood and addressed if the Organisation as we have known it and the services that it provides are to be saved and our society is to be protected from the arrival of either tiered health provision across the board or UK-wide service which is only made available to those who can pay as they use.

Right now, we are all witnessing the preferred method of dealing – or I should say – avoiding reform throughout the NHS, NGO’s and the tiers of Government, which presents itself in the form of privatisation. Privatisation of any Government funded service has arguably become nothing more than avoidance of the need for reform at its worst because services are never the same when profit is the master. Furthermore, recreating public-run services once they are lost will be a whole lot harder than the reform which most Politicians already seem to see as impossible.

The only way we will keep and maintain the NHS as we have known and appreciated it in terms of what it offers the public will be the result of transformation and change which must begin with Government and work its way right the way through.

The NHS is strangled by the culture of workers’ rights, tiers of managers who barely understand what practical patient care is, Europe and the rise of the blame culture, where practitioners are increasingly forced to consider the bureaucratic pathways to treatment first, before addressing the urgencies and acuteness of clinical need. Ironically, such delays may of course be little hindrance to treatment for the people who will be looking for an opportunity to sue them either.

Government must act now to change and support the whole working culture of the NHS and put patient care back at the forefront of everything they do, rather than putting everyone else and the profit hungry ambulance chasers first.

It’s not an easy job by any means and most of us do appreciate that. But Governments get elected to take responsibility for big problems just like these; not so they can talk up the delivery of results when what they seem to be doing is looking for the easiest way out of problems they just aren’t responsible enough to face.

The patients of today and tomorrow don’t care about statistics or the money that providing treatment costs.

What they do care about is trusting that they can rely on getting medical help when they need it; where they need it and without worrying whether or not they qualify for it. Every day, the number of people who simply don’t have that trust are growing rapidly, and each new day is a sorrier one than the day before.

If Government keeps treating the problems in the NHS as if they all revolve around money, the cost of running the service will probably lead to its end.

It’s time for change throughout the NHS. But real change is about much more than simply saving money.

image thanks to http://www.channel4.com

Royal Mail Privatisation: The Coalition might be wise to reconsider reinventing the wheel before they help all those on our universal postal service to fall off…

July 10, 2013 1 comment

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News today that the Government is now set to sell-off Royal Mail has encouraged some good debate, but has also reminded us of the earth-sized polarity of thoughts that the idea of private ownership of public-wide services creates, even before considering that neither Government nor private ownership of such ‘businesses’ may ultimately be the right answer.

In the 80’s, sell offs of Nationally owned ‘businesses’ were commonplace and we are now in the unfortunate position of witnessing and indeed experiencing first hand what ultimately happens when companies providing public-wide services with a de facto monopoly change hands and end up in the control of owners or shareholders who have few scruples when it comes to making money.

Utility and Energy Companies alike are effectively awash with cash but go unhindered by Government or Regulators as they continually raise prices through the cash cow which is a virtually guaranteed substantial customer base.

In Royal Mail’s case, there is of course a slight difference in that there is a variation in the product or services offered, whereas with electricity, gas or water, even a vast array of contracts and customer discount packages would not change the basic product that everyone buys.

Nonetheless, examples such as BT’s reluctance to roll out broadband to very remote areas could perhaps set the clearest example of how unprofitable – and what are in effect subsidised forms of mail delivery, are likely to end up in private hands.

The terms of the sell off may well attempt to dictate the continuation of service to keep everyone happy right now. But anyone who thinks that an outside entity – in this case even government – with no significant shareholder relationship can even attempt to dictate the terms under which a stand-alone, profit-led business will operate alone in an otherwise highly competitive field, will have quite another thing coming once the directors, accountants, project managers and marketers have had their way.

The inherent risk in the privatisation of Royal Mail is that over time, clever pricing strategies and manipulation of the operational or service offering will effectively price-out deliveries to areas where Post Offices are already becoming comparatively scarce.

There is a real chance that resident groups and voluntary organisations will end up attempting to pick up the pieces from yet another Government plan that was ill-conceived and not thought-through and based on little more than what we could argue as being a fag-packet plan. This is completely avoidable and would be fundamentally wrong.

Whether we have a problem with National debt or not, selling off any public assets to balance the books is hardly the mark of innovation, and certainly not the modus operandi of Ministers who either listen carefully to the lessons learned from history or consider the impacts of their actions upon our tomorrows as they just worry about their todays’.

Like other public-wide services which were sold off before, Royal Mail is an organisation serving every household and business in the Country; responsibly placed in the care of a Government which has been Elected to consider and prioritise the needs of all those people and organisations located throughout our Country for a reason.

Perhaps it’s time this Government reconsiders reinventing the wheel before they help all those on our universal postal service to fall off…

image thanks to http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Press Regulation: Another exercise in smoke and mirrors as the underlying issue of the growing ethical drought in this Country goes untackled by thirsty Government yet again

Rupert Murdoch at LevesonI will not be alone in wondering just how wasteful the whole Leveson Inquiry and the blustering about press regulation will turn out to be when the dust has finally settled.

With news coverage alerting us to the invitation for Rupert Murdoch to return to face MP’s over the phone hacking scandal and Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson still months from their Trial, it’s a fair bet that this will all roll on for some time yet.

But with the cost at great risk of extending itself well beyond money and into the realms of press freedom and the free flow of information itself, it seems rather strange that nobody is talking about anything other than placing restrictions upon the media, when the issues at the heart of all this are far more universal and basically touch us all.

Phone hacking, listening to private messages or conversation, bribery and any other form of intrusive behaviour are not essential journalistic skills in either a professional or academic sense and it’s fairly certain that such behaviour is not restricted to the activities of a few over-eager hacks wishing to make their mark in the National press.

Like most industries today, newspaper companies exist with one purpose in mind and that is ultimately to make money. Whether that is through increased circulation of existing titles or through expansion, the purchase or launch of others, or the diversification into other income streams, it basically doesn’t matter.

Whether this makes comfortable reading or not, few businesses actually exist today to be the best at doing what they do. They don’t look at the long term benefit of best service, or consider the smiles on the faces of customers who feel they have been well looked after; they look at the bottom line and how to make it that much bigger.

Making money for any business relies on motivating staff and in a world which worships money as its master, financial incentives can very quickly push employees to blur the edges between what most would consider to be wrong and right if the end result is worth it. So the hacking scandal is unlikely to be anything other than consequence or the result of cause and effect in basic terms.

Love him or hate him, its extremely unlikely that Rupert Murdock would have ever consciously encouraged or even condoned the questionable behaviour of his staff and what they have allegedly done, however much some would like to imagine so.

However, a company culture that might be considered to indirectly, unintentionally or inadvertently encourage illegal behaviour on the part of individuals in the pursuit of bigger headlines or pay would however be a different thing. But even then, that would not in itself be a matter for Legal intervention or regulation, as it has nothing to do with journalism itself. It might however have everything to do with people and the decisions that they make when they have no respect for barriers.

The bigger picture here is that British society today is on a slippery slope when it comes to basic politeness, manners, doing the right thing or what some of us would agree as having ethics.

People of all kinds are now regularly failing to consider the simple consequences for others as a result of their actions, or in extreme cases ceasing to even register that consequences other than a big pay day might even exist. This is a problem which is beginning to affect us all.

Sadly, we are in the position where leadership at National level is woefully lacking when it comes to dealing with the question of ethics for us as members of the wider community which makes up our Nation. Whereas Rupert Murdoch has already demonstrated his propensity to be ruthlessly efficient in the application of change where it is needed in closing the News of the World, the people with the real ability to influence change in the way that we all think and look at the world we live in appear to have no such gumption.

Those guilty of phone hacking should receive their just deserts, much as we are right to expect with any breach of Criminal Law. But press regulation is little more than another exercise of smoke and mirrors covering the incompetence and inaction of Government in addressing the underlying issue of ethics which runs through so many of our problems and gagging the media will never be an answer.

image thanks to http://www.bbc.co.uk

Payday Loans: Profit from misery and the throw back to the age of the Debtors Prison – but this time without brick walls

July 1, 2013 1 comment

payday-loansDesperation, the emotion it brings and the knee-jerk response to any opportunities that might even just temporarily stop the cause of that pain, can lead those of us experiencing it to do what others may consider to be some pretty illogical things.

The prospect of escape at any level can certainly lead to the failure to consider detail that any one of us would normally think about. And when events feel like they have brought our lives to the edge of a precipice and no other answers are coming, would we really care anyway?

The point is being tragically missed in Government that disposable income is falling fast for everyone who is unable to obtain anything beyond standard ‘cost of living’ pay rises; that  ‘standing still’ or ‘treading water’ financially has become all but impossible for a great many people, and that this downward slide is hitting those with the smallest incomes hardest of all.

In some cases, cutting back on luxury items simply isn’t enough to counter the escalation of monthly, weekly and even daily costs which must be met just to survive. Prices on items like fuel for travel, car parking, travel tickets, basic food, clothing, utilities and communication escalate with what feels like jaw-dropping regularity and very few of us other than those charging the fees actually believe that such inflation is genuinely sustainable.

Even those with comparatively good household incomes have cut back and whilst some would argue that reducing the regularity of nights out, buying new clothes or downgrading the annual holiday will hardly make a difference, many of these same people are now using savings or high street credit cards to balance their household books in the hope that things will soon change. But for some of those with less, hope of that kind simply isn’t an option.

Living hand to mouth is a phrase that many will consider an anachronism and borne of a different era. But for many on the lowest incomes, the reality that money is gone as soon as it comes into their hands is very real indeed, so the prospect of ‘a couple of hundred quid to keep things tied over til the end of the month’ coming at you from the TV screen can for many seem a very easy, perhaps timely and almost certainly an attractive way out. But a quick yes followed by the receipt of cash within minutes can easily overshadow the realities of what may be sold as a ‘Payday Loan‘.

With interest charged at a rate of let’s say 1000% calculated as an APR against a loan for a year (per annum or P.A.) of for example £100, the charge without any repayment over one calendar month would be a fee of £83.33. And when you take a quick visit to the internet and see that ‘Representative APR’ or interest rates go up to nearly 6000%, you can see how easy it is to make a difficult situation one which will quickly become completely horrific.

With perhaps as many as one million UK households using Payday Loans each month, you would hope that the Coalition would be doing much more to address the financial issues which everyday people are facing generally. At the very least it would be more than reasonable to expect them to take real action to address what some would argue as being a sanitised form of loan sharking by casting a legislative net across this very dark and murky pool.

But with a Government which has gravely missed the point that real savings in the long term requires the pain of real and meaningful reforms in the short, they also appear to have very little idea how passively influential they are being in guiding ever more people towards the first steps of the negative debt spiral, that in today’s economic climate seems all but impossible for many to then escape. Put simply, no action is action all the same and this action is helping nobody but the loan companies themselves.

There is no simple or isolated solution which will solve this growing problem and protect many more people from the virtual enslavement which is experienced through being the victim of what is arguably a legalised form of crime. However, Government could:

  • Regulate the Payday Loan ‘product’ and enforce a ceiling on interest rates to a manageable level. The fact is that a £25 charge for £100 over a month would still equate to an APR of around 300%. Even at half that if you give generous consideration for what are probably very small administrative costs via the Internet, that still leaves a profit of £125 on every £1000 lent every month or £1500 over the course of a year. Pretty good money even then!
  • Take greater control of the credit assessment processes run by the finance industry which have disqualified many Payday Loan users from gaining mainstream credit and effectively pushed them into the hands of the unscrupulous.
  • Push for mainstream lenders to begin offering the Payday Loan ‘product’. If necessary develop a method to provide a level of guarantee through direct access to the users source of income and Legislate accordingly.
  • Create a Government owned ‘Peoples Bank’, run as a not-for-profit on commercial lines, which has an appropriate level of altruism in its approach to support those who really need it, whether they are domestic users or even small businesses who need the financial leg-up that nobody else seems willing to provide.

There are many more ways that Politicians could help the people in need who Elected them to Office if they really wanted to try.

The biggest step they could take would be to acknowledge that the power of any Government extends way beyond the services that it pays for and then act, knowing that this influence should and must be used to its fullest when the behaviour of any person, group or business is having a negative or detrimental effect on any part of our wider community for no other purpose than making unreasonable levels of profit.

The reality is however that increasing numbers of Taxpayers are now paying for a system which is failing to support them when they need it most, and then paying way beyond the odds for an alternative form of support which isn’t actually supporting any one of them at all.

Without the Coalition even talking about the need for Britain’s lowest wage earners and genuinely-benefit-dependent to be able to maintain a basic standard of living between payments, it is not only finance companies who should be branded for irresponsible practice.

Failing to deal with just this one of so many different problems facing this Country is simply storing up more trouble for yet another day and in all likelihood another Government. And whilst the absence of an overall majority may suit Politicians who don’t have the heart to do their job, everyone else is still suffering.

If you have found and read this blog because you are experiencing financial hardship in any way and are looking for help, please know that there are real people out here who care; who want to help; and that some of them might even be Politicians!

There are some really helpful Charities and Debt Advice Organisations who will do everything that they can to support and guide you through the issues you are facing, or possibly help you to find even more people who can.

A couple worth trying are the Citizens Advice Bureau who may have an office you can visit near your home and the Step Change Debt Charity (Formally the Consumer Credit Counselling Service or CCCS) who can also be called on 0800 138 1111.

If things already feel like they have gone too far to try and make sense of, there are also the Samaritans. Contact any of these Organisations and you will speak to real people who are genuinely there to try to help and are not there to judge you in any way.

image thanks to http://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk 

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