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Labour’s coercive plan to fix the living wage is as real world as the Tories apparent belief that unemployment and poverty are the same thing….

March 16, 2015 1 comment

SNN0713XA---280_1419151aAt first glance, Ed Milliband’s promise to roll out a requirement for employers to pay the living wage sounds like it recognises the biggest issue facing so many families across the UK.

It could work. Or rather it could be seen to work temporarily, and that’s the most cynical part about it.

If our economy was on track, managed by politicians who considered the real impact of policy and performed as it could and arguably should, a working adult would be able to financially support them self on the most basic wage, without any need for support from the Government, or any third party organisation such as a food bank.

The political tomfoolery or short term opportunism which Labour are investing in their manifesto plans as part of their General Election Campaign doesn’t however recognise or consider the role that such policies play within the ecosystem that business and the economy around it actually is.

Like the Conservatives flawed idea that poverty evaporates the moment the unemployed are offered a job, fixing a basic wage for all gives absolutely no consideration for all the other factors that come in to play, nor the consequences which will almost immediately follow.

Whilst the suggestion of an apparent £1.50 an hour raise will give the lowest paid the feel-good factor that might win their vote, Labour’s sound-bite gives no thought for the fact that small businesses might have to reduce their workforce, just to pay the higher wages for fewer staff that the law would require.

This fag-packet plan gives no thought to the likelihood that the productivity of small companies could inevitably reduce because there would be less staff hours available to do the same amount of work.

It doesn’t consider the reality that profit margins may be so low for some small businesses that being required to pay the living wage to employees might actually force them out of business because they cant compete with bigger companies which have the economies of scale and significantly wider profit margins to help them out.

For big business, that might be seen as good news. Companies that thrive on the use of low-paid, low skilled workforces such as the supermarkets and branded coffee bar chains do after all have the ability to raise prices almost at will. They would certainly then be able to cover the rises that the living wage would require, as they inadvertently make the cost of living more expensive for the lowest paid workers, preserving the profitability of their business models.

Put in these terms, we can soon appreciate that the living wage as it is being presented by politicians is in fact just another one of those red herrings that they keep on spinning. It doesn’t accurately reflect what it costs to live. It certainly doesn’t reflect the manner in which the government continues to subsidise large company profits by providing the many welfare incentives for those on the lowest pay, such as tax credits and housing benefit – even if it keeps some small businesses afloat by doing so.

Many people would simply not be self-sufficient on Labour’s Living Wage, any more than they are on the Minimum now. Its coercive implementation would just begin a spiral of inflationary rises that would once again hurt the members of our society who need a basic level of income which genuinely reflects the cost of living the most.

In real terms, we would in effect very quickly be back exactly where we are again right now, with some politician promising yet another quick fix which isn’t actually going to ever solve the problem, just keep the wheels turning by moving the goalposts and them themselves in government (or knocking on the door of it) until another day.

We need the political establishment to begin taking the longer view. To consider the concept of cause and effect. To appreciate, recognise and work with the reality that all decisions they make, and that all policies they implement will have consequences that when made in isolation, often have the result of hurting the wrong people whilst benefiting those don’t actually need any kind of financial assistance at all.

Decision makers must become conscious of the fact that money may be the common thread which runs through almost all of the problems that we have in the UK, whilst money is not the problem in itself.

Westminster has to accept that fire hosing money into problems – and in this case, not even the government’s money – is not a solution. Unhinged spending only extends the magnitude of the problems that already exist, whilst increasing a mountain of debt that for any organisation other than the government would have long since have resulted in bankruptcy.

Whether it is wages, Welfare or the NHS, reform needs to take place on a wholesale basis and comprehensive scale; throughout and across the system of government and everything it touches or ultimately has responsibility for.

Real lives are not completely populated by one-off black and white decisions and even when they are, the ripple effect of consequences will go in all directions and often end up hitting completely different – and usually innocent things.

Above all, government must lead on the reassertion of ethical practices throughout business and government itself. This needs to travel from the top to the bottom of society and remove any suggestion of there being one rule for us; for you another.

The best place to begin would be for the Conservatives to stop behaving as if telling people they are no longer poor will make them believe otherwise when everything they are experiencing says not, and for Labour to stop pretending that barking an order will make a free-thinking business world sing happily without consequence to its nanny-state tune.

The real living wage – or point where the lowest paid can live self-sufficiently, can only come into being within an economic system which produces its own equilibrium.

Government must stop interfering where it shouldn’t, and do more where it should, preventing other forces from manipulating or skewing the balance which has already travelled so very far away from a point of being good.

Poverty, immigration, radicalisation, unemployment and many more serious issues which the UK is facing are all made worse and worse by the behaviour of short sighted and inconsiderate politicians. Its time that they all realised that life is not like a bedtime story book for those who live outside the Westminster bubble, and real life for real people doesn’t simply hinge on getting re-elected every five years.

image: http://www.thesun.co.uk

What the US row over the regulation of broadband provision can tell us about the privatisation of public services and why we must maintain the basic right to the same level of ‘public’ services for all…

November 11, 2014 Leave a comment

images-10We have so much news available to us now that it has become very easy to miss the stories which may fail to catch the public eye.

Away from the headlines today, some of our news sources have been covering the growing row between US President Barrack Obama and the Industry Leaders controlling the supply of Broadband Services in the United States.

Obama appears to be pushing for a system of regulation which will ensure the same level of supply across the Net to all customers, whilst the Industry itself is apparently looking for its own kind of controls which will allow differing levels of supply – and ultimately a ‘fast lane’ or optimum service for those to be made available for those who will pay for it.

On the face of it, this could immediately sound like something and nothing. We do after all have a whole range of choices when we buy or arrange our own internet packages and right now, it now seems pretty normal to pay for every little thing that we have.

However, whilst the speed of the roll-out of superfast broadband leaves many of us knowing only too well that different levels of service currently exist and seem to leave us with little choice, this is in itself just an evolutionary or developmental stage of provision. It is much like the experience of the switch from analogue to digital has been for those of us who used the Web from the beginning, and can still remember the rattle and hum of the tones as we hogged the phone line and dialed-in.

We may not like it and in an age where we have been conditioned to expect everything at the touch of a button, slow internet is beyond frustrating. But right now, we are accepting of it, as we are culturally acclimatised to accept that there is a direction of travel at work, which will only see services improve. (Yes, 4G apparently will at some point exist, even if you have already been paying for it for many months…).

But what would it mean to you if the next generations of technology were simply kept from you, when you knew that they existed and other people or businesses had ready access to them?

Your immediate thought might be that you are pretty happy with your iphone 6, or perhaps a Galaxy Smartphone, and that will do you just fine. But technology is moving apace, and if you were to work on the basis of Moore’s Law, which indicates that the speed and capacity of technology doubles approximately every 18 months to 2 years – which affects functionality as well as speed, you can soon begin to imagine what you might be missing out on by the time you are thinking about the phone you will be able to buy AND operate fully in the year 2020. Apply this to the services you receive through broadband too, and there is perhaps no need to say anymore.

The speed of communication through information technology mediums has been and remains a game changer which has impacts upon us all, usually in ways that leave us feeling completely untouched.

However, it is this very speed, and the capacity to move significant amounts of data from one location to another – perhaps even across the world, in timescales that as humans we at present still remain cognizant of, which have for example equipped money markets and traders to create industries within industries which literally create money from nothing as stocks and shares change hands with the potential to do so again and again over the course of a minute, whilst speculators also ‘bet’ on the transactions and the way their vales will go over the same period of time.

Speed – and therefore time, is increasingly becoming worth money where communication is concerned.

Whilst this may not be a thought that drags many of us away from our phones and iplayer-streamed episodes of The Big Bang Theory today, it will surely stand to reason that those who supply much faster internet services will see the opportunity in being able to charge a considerable premium for the product they supply tomorrow; whilst those who have the most to gain from the almost guaranteed technological leaps that are coming, will already possess and indeed have the most to gain financially from paying what will to them be trivial sums.

Not a problem for many of us today. But if the supply of service did really become as diverse as it could, there is no reason to believe that like in many other areas of contemporary life, cost will not quickly price large numbers of people out of the latest technology marketplace, with repercussions that could easily lead to the imposition of a whole tier of barriers to entry to services, apps and anything else which has then become entwined with the internet age.

Look at the behavior of the Industry in the States, and it will suddenly become very clear why our own providers could be so resistant to Government led regulation, and the imposition of a level playing field which will never have the potential for the same levels of profitability as that of the alternative.

Regulation that ensures a basic level of service for all and which is not itself qualified by a premium is essential. It can only be offered by an impartial third-party organisation – ideally good government – which has no financial interest in the services provided.

Government is today painted as the bad guy for any industry that provides either a public-wide service, or one which can ultimately have that same effect on the population and is not currently regulated – or guided with a robust ethical code that prioritises access and consideration of the consequences of profit-making actions upon us all.

This applies to the inappropriately named utility companies; companies such as the telecom providers, and also to the companies within the financial and banking sectors, where perhaps the most clear example of what happens when the fee-earners are left to regulate themselves was demonstrated by the financial crash of 2008.

The relevance of the US example should not be lost on us, just as the importance and argument that now definitely exists for greater Government intervention to regulate what are and remain public services.

The core reasoning of keeping essential services in the public domain was lost to decision makers of that time, through prolonged periods of low productivity and the high cost of running industry sized monoliths which were inherently resistant to change.

Regrettably, the long-term gift of what are effectively now monopolies to the money markets was not considered in terms of the requirements of ethical or regulatory practice, and the escalating costs of heating and electricity are just a symptom of what happens when a service is provided to a captive market by companies that are allowed to focus on nothing but the bottom line.

Sooner or later, Government will have to address these issues which face and surround all of the public services which are now in public hands.

Ed Millliband has to date probably been the most outspoken of the Political leaders in acknowledging the need to tackle the impact of unbridled energy price rises. But as with almost everything else, inflicting price changes, freezes or any kind of formula without regard to the real implications of doing so is akin to madness – and certainly so if the Industries themselves are not given adequate opportunity to reform before doing so.

Existing problems will be very complex to address. But for services such as the NHS it is not too late for politicians to do the big thing and tackle the problems that exist with meaningful reform. With Internet Services, it is in no way too late to ensure that the market continues to serve the best interests of everyone, and not just the few who will otherwise stand to make the most money from manipulating its harnessed profitability to their best advantage.

There is much for Government to do. But before anything there must be a change of mindset to one that genuinely considers the impact of polices on other polices and ultimately upon the consequences for us all.

The Internet will only come close to achieving all that it can for good if access to it is essentially the same for all.

Government will need to address this, just as it will soon have to accept that the parallel world which the Net has created will require its very own set of rules.

The distance which the Internet has created between us is already removing the humanity from relationships. We now need to ensure that our ability to pay is not the system of qualification for improving our lives that we should now be able to take for more than granted.

image: thevoltreport.com

Annuities: Has another election winning time-bomb been lit that will devastate the futures of normal people just so a Political Party can get back into power?

March 23, 2014 Leave a comment

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Read the latest opinion polls and it is easy to conclude that George Osborne’s 2014 Budget has had the result that he was looking for.

With both next year’s General Election and perhaps more importantly, this year’s European Elections firmly affixed in his mind, it was certain that polices would materialise which were likely to incentivise voters in the short term and once again take attention away from what will happen as a result in the long.

However, the steps to remove an obligation to invest at least some of a pension pay-outs on annuities may take this quick fix and opiate-like vote winner into an entirely different league when it comes to rolling over the problems facing the current Government in to the difficulties which will almost certainly be faced by normal and everyday people in the future.

Pensions are a hateful topic for most people simply because the funds within them are untouchable. To struggling wage earners, reading an annual statement from their provider and seeing how funds can be growing at a healthy rate, can certainly be a torment. It often gives that siren-esque gremlin on their shoulder the perfect opportunity to preach a tale of how much better that sum of money would serve them if it were in their own hands right now.

As many already know, the realities of long-term money management requires a lifetime without financial challenges at best, not to mention the most exquisite forms of discipline at a very personal level . This is why pensions – and until this week annuities, have been safely kept out of reach. Temptation and therefore all the basic requirements and influences that come with living a life today are or have been safely kept at bay, without any of those threats being responsible for the potential hells that may without them come from many of our own tomorrows.

Removing the obligation upon retirees to ‘buy’ an annuity will naturally – and very understandably – be perceived as a massive gain for many. The caricatures of OAPS in Ferraris may in practice turn out to be anything but unreal once the Policy comes into effect.

But when people have experienced a lifetime of financial prudence and responsibility, exchanging this and the future they have banked on for what is arguably little more than a lottery win situation could turn out to be very costly indeed.

Windfalls are by their very nature difficult for almost everyone to deal with in a reasoned way because they are naturally habit-breaking in the extreme. Having large ‘disposable’ sums of cash suddenly available can seriously skew a person’s view of the world on what might actually be a very temporary basis indeed and a study of the effects of sizable cash wins on real-world people may have served the people behind this plan very well.

This really doesn’t seem like a policy which has the best interests of the retirees in mind and especially so when you consider the state of the Country’s finances and the most recent comments suggesting that the State Retirement Age with have moved to 70 by the year 2040. Hardly comforting news if you have no annuity to top up an insufficient State Pension and therefore are left with the glaring possibility that you will have to continue working until you literally drop.

With life expectancy rates going up all the time, what sort of desperate circumstances are people reaching pensionable age from next year now going to have to face, long after the Coalition Government knows the result of the 2015 General Election or Mr Osborne’s tenure in No. 11 Downing Street has well and truly ended?

Annuities may indeed have become yet another product or service which serves the interests of those making profit before it ever will the customer. This however, doesn’t mean that an approach to savings and income of this kind still doesn’t have its place. In fact, you might argue that similar products have a much bigger role to play with the State’s ability to support even our existing OAP’s dwindling almost by the hour.

Hardly a prudent or considered form of policy making on behalf of those who are falling over themselves to look after their own elect-ability today at the expense of everyone else’s tomorrows, is it?

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

The Energy Rip-Off: Profit for most businesses is a benefit and neither a right nor the result of monopolistic guarantee. Energy Companies should be no different to other businesses and fixing prices or imposing a windfall tax is not the first step to help those where help is needed most

October 22, 2013 Leave a comment

images (42)John Major’s intervention on energy price rises certainly shows just how much of an issue the Political Parties now realise it is. But a windfall tax won’t help the people who really need that help the most and could in fact make things a whole lot worse if politicians don’t start to become a little more imaginative and thoughtful about what they now do.

N-Power were the latest of the Energy giants to announce their next jaw-dropping price hike yesterday and at 10.4%, it’s the biggest one of this season so far. But such price rises aren’t new and whilst its perfectly feasible that prices will now be loaded at every opportunity over the next 18 months to counter Ed Milliband’s very plausible threat of an anachronistic reemergence of socialist Government, the real problem is that the Energy giants collaboratively control a monopoly which politicians either fail to understand or otherwise have no desire to address.

These are after all Companies who have grown used to using excuses such as green levies, wholesale energy prices and the costs of infrastructure replacement to justify these continually upward and exponential rises, whilst their profits remain strangely, yet comfortably in tact – a situation that almost any business which offers a product which is bought only by choice could simply never hope to achieve as their market simply wouldn’t sustain it.

It really should come as no great surprise for politicians at any level that imposing a windfall tax will do little more than supply yet another opportunity for these unharnessed Companies to raise prices and inadvertently maintain profit levels in a situation that no privately owned company with this kind of responsibility to the public should ever be able or allowed to guarantee for private shareholders.

The lack of real-world understanding within the political classes is most evident when they repeatedly fail to address the lack of empathy and social responsibility that such parts of the corporate and financial worlds possess and which is increasingly manifesting itself through the price rises and blatant profiteering they undertake. Let’s make no mistake; it cries out for a level of intervention that Government seems strangely unwilling to take – or in Labour’s case, seems completely devoid of any reality when it comes to reigning in the activities of operational and service providing businesses.

Further taxation will not help people who are struggling to make ends meet in any way. People on increasingly squeezed incomes actually need prices to fall if wages are not going to go up and whilst a freeze in prices might sound good, these very same people really don’t need to experience the drop in temperature that will come if the energy supplies are turned off as a result of Red Ed seeing this quixotic plan through to fruition.

Before anything, the Energy companies need to be given the opportunity to change their approach and stop treating the UK Energy Market as a cash cow. It isn’t, and they will struggle to find anyone amongst us who believes that repetitive price rises of around 8-10% are both genuine and also peculiar to services which people simply must have when in today’s economic climate every other area of business basically has to justify each and every penny of a notable price rise.

If the Energy Companies won’t respond to such an opportunity, Government must then seek to regulate the profit margins which these Companies can achieve, whilst ensuring that every ‘hidden’ route to obtaining profit through re-routing costs and finance by such methods as creative accounting, overseas holdings and charges to ‘other businesses’ are stopped. It might take a lot of work, but this is what politicians have been elected to do on our behalf and what we have every right to expect of them.

There is of course an argument made by some for re-nationalisation of previously privatised industry too. But this also has to be put in context with an acceptance that the UK purse has already been stretched way beyond irresponsible terms and that the dream of a return to an age of unionised control and stagnation within vital services would be little more than the replacement of one small set of people benefitting from one form of misery for the masses with another.

Competition in its truest form is however another thing and with an emphasis on social enterprise as a way of tackling the Energy price problem, there is absolutely no reason why the Government or even the more Localised forms of it couldn’t set up, run or sponsor the development of non-profit making energy companies which are run on commercial lines and open up the market in a much more diverse and genuinely free-market-based way. The results could be quite surprising.

Whatever the politicians come up with it must work for the public and industry at large; not just for the Energy companies and shareholders, and certainly not just for the politicians themselves as they look for their next result in 2015.

We now need a new and gutsy kind of politics which addresses all the needs that we have by tackling them all head on and with proper regard of the implications for all along with all other areas of Policy.

It’s time that politicians started to think about changing the rules, rather than continually romanticising over possible poll results. Throwing sound bites at the media that will never really deliver for people who need help the most is not the place to start.

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

The Cost of Living crisis: – It’s those money men, stupid

August 15, 2013 Leave a comment

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Hypocrisy has become an artform for many of today’s Political class, and talking up politically expedient issues, spinning away inconvenient truths or criticising others for doing no more than they would do themselves has become the apparent norm.

After a media splurge targeting their inactivity in the sun whilst Cameron has been busy making hay under his, Labour have returned to the stage this week focussing their less than lacklustre performance on the ‘cost of living crisis’, giving every indication that this is the ‘issue’ that will steward their return to majority Government in 2015.

If tackling every issue were seen to be as simple as giving it its own branding or strap-line like this and waiting for it to go viral, we would have a marketing man in Number 10 already – which of course we actually do.

Sadly, the ‘cost of living crisis’ is probably the most dangerous issue that any of our Politicians could ‘play’ with, in the run up to the 2015 General Election, and we should perhaps all be concerned by its apparent adoption by the political left in order for it to be manipulated as a vote-winner. After all, the future of most of us is tied up with it, and its genesis reaches far deeper into the fabric of our society than any of our leading Politicians seem willing to contemplate or have the moral capacity and determination to deal with – even if they have apparently now acknowledged it for their own political ends.

The reality for most of us outside Westminster is that we don’t need posturing Politicians and media hype to remind us of the fact that wages are effectively standing still whilst the cost of paying our bills just seems to keep on going up and up, month after month, year after year without any sign that it will ever relent. Many hard working people simply struggle to keep themselves afloat even before they start to consider some of the luxuries that those very same politicians and newsmen probably take for granted.

Real people living in the real world already know firsthand what it is they are experiencing when the letters hit the mat; the e-mails arrive, the phone rings and when they go and shop. When the pay rises, tax breaks and bonuses that they desperately need aren’t coming to middle England and those hovering either above or below Britains poverty line– simply because the Government’s Pot is already exhausted and the Nation simply cannot afford it – these same people need politicians to drop talking up the effects of the problem and start tackling the cause head on.

This task is not one that will lend great comfort to any politician who values their place in history more than they do the lives of the people who elected them and this is problem enough with British Politics today in itself.

Facing the reality that the free market has surpassed its point of balance and therefore the good for which it was intended is not a thought that many in power will want even to contemplate. Therefore accepting that increasing freedom within the markets to pursue infinite profit, whilst that very same action is effectively enslaving great swathes of the normal population within fiscal misery is not a pill that many of today’s Politicians will swallow willingly. But it is there in front of all of them just the same.

Through the creation of the virtual monopolies which are the utility and energy companies; private businessmen, shareholders and pension funds have been given seemingly insurmountable power over the lives of everyone by being able to dictate their own paydays, whilst they go unhindered by Government and Regulators – who have nothing really but the interests of their Industry at heart.

Likewise, ever growing convoluted supply chains, often reaching the length and breadth of the Country or even across Continents allow many different traders, dealers and agents to add their cut to the margins which you would normally expect to see only from producers and retailers, then inflating prices way beyond what they should realistically be.

Further still, those businesses without control or a sizable share of their markets are also having their margins forcefully squeezed by the companies and organisations who do and many of these businesses are the same ones that cannot afford to recruit or pay more than negligible wage rises to the very same people who are now being affected financially from almost every angle you could imagine.

Whilst no reasonable person would argue that businesses exist to make a profit, it is simply beyond logic to add layer after layer of profit onto the most basic and essential of items or services and then expect end users to keep picking up and meeting these overinflated bills without any real additional income of their own to cover these exponential and wholly unrealistic rises.

Companies, traders, financiers and all manner of individuals and entities are in effect ‘vacuum profiteering’, making money ex nihilo or basically creating something from nothing in a manner which could be akin to having the midas touch, were it not for the misery that it is increasingly inflicting upon those who are wrongly being expected to pay for it.

Without those who hold this power over our economy taking steps to regulate and restrict the way that they make profit, they are through their very actions writing an agenda for Government over many years to come – whatever its Political make-up may be, that has the potential to create social and financial problems of a size and scale across our Nation that Government itself won’t be able to afford to put right – simply because the Taxpayer has no money left to fund it.

Such levels of responsibility over the health and wealth of a Nation should never have been placed in the hands of money men in the first place without sufficient safeguards in place to protect the many who could be affected by the unscrupulous profiteering of a few. But it has.

No Political Party should be seeking to take the moral or politically philosophical high ground on this issue as it is a problem which can only be tackled one way. That is by Government stepping back into the free market and taking an actively pro-market or even interventionist approach to regulating market behaviour – should it be so required. The UK needs to retain capitalism but it must also maintain it in a responsible and considerate way that doesn’t destroy the ability of consumers to consume in the process.

By taking just the key players such as the utility, energy and finance companies to task, Government could go a considerable way to putting safeguards in place that would ensure a basic standard of living can be maintained against the minimum wage, and that the minimum wage would then itself reflect a living wage and one that should keep many more people safe from harm and therefore from being a potential burden to the State.

Regrettably, action of this kind does not reflect the creed of contemporary Politicians and the point continues to be missed that wealth creation only works effectively when there are benefits – in whatever form they may be – for all.

Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour don’t want to embrace the answer and neither does UKIP, which is riding high on the tide of discontentment and disenfranchisement that the lack of connection with reality amongst the other Political monoliths has created within the Electorate itself.

It’s time for Politicians to wake up and smell our overpriced coffee before it’s all too late.

image thanks to http://www.telegraph.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 

Until Bankers and those within in the City regain some sense of what is right and wrong, Government must intervene so that the many in the world outside do not continue to suffer because of the profit hungry few left within

March 21, 2013 Leave a comment

images (52)The Banking Sector has become an object of hate for many. The accepted perception is that it equates to a world of greed; that it represents all of the bad things that we associate with money in its worst form and that the Sector is immune from the impact of its own actions; a fact demonstrated only too well when private Banks are bailed out with Public Money and bankers get bonuses even when the businesses under their control are failing.

Recent headlines and the role of bankers in the financial crisis and Libor scandal demonstrate a clear need for real and meaningful reform, even before the impact from the domino-effect of unethical practices is considered upon our lives elsewhere.

With Finance and the role that Banks play being so important within our lives, bankers can no longer consider banking services to be ‘products’, as it has never been a ‘product’ that they are providing.

Services are themselves measured by the direct and indirect impact of customer ‘experience’ and the physical risk to all others, and the Banks must now begin considering this in the same way that any other service industry is by its nature required to do so.

There is nothing truer than the phrase ‘money talks’. But the Banks and Financial Sector have failed to take a long view of their actions and now Government must legislate to provide a Regulatory Framework which allows profitability, but does not do so without consideration of unnecessary impacts and the unacknowledged consequences for businesses and individuals within the wider economy.

Here are a few thoughts:

RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland)

In response to the Banking Collapse, the Government at the time provided money to a number of the well-known Banks to prevent their closure, primarily because of the risk to the money that we all have invested in them.

One of the Banks which was ‘bailed out’ was RBS and this Bank is now effectively ‘public owned’.

Recent talk in the media suggests that the Government is now looking to sell off the Bank. However, with a significant need for a Bank which is not profit, but rather service-led, and can therefore take a more altruistic approach to lending and the provision of the banking services that it provides, Government should now take the opportunity it has to provide a ‘peoples bank’.

By doing so, they can provide the options for everyone that other Banks and Financiers are not prepared to provide such as ‘payday loans’ and higher risk start-up lending without unreasonable levels of interest or surety being required.

This will surely help the economy to progress forward by providing lending and support to small business in a way that other Government-backed schemes simply fail to provide.

A publicly-owned, people-centric bank would provide a cornerstone to people, to business and to Public Services alike when run only with the end-user and sustainability in mind. This is what Britain needs.

Credit Rating Agencies

In a recent blog, I talked about the unrealistic level of influence that Credit Rating Agencies now have upon us all.

Ironically, the UK had its Triple A Rating downgraded soon afterwards and Politicians really must now consider the influence that 3rd parties have in dictating the levels of interest that people pay to borrow from lenders, or indeed if they will be considered ‘credit worthy’ in the first place.

Government lending aside, nobody would sensibly deny that different levels of lending risk exist depending upon the financial history of an individual or business.

But it is often poorly managed lending which contributes to higher risks in the first place and improved regulation must therefore be used to restrict this process.

Through the Bank of England, the Government currently defers the setting of the base interest rate in a way which reflects needs in the wider market. All lending should reflect this rate; be realistic; be proportional and Government should drive Regulation to support this.

Pension Fund Management

Pension Funds are significant Shareholders of well known PLC’s across the Globe.

In the UK, their influence is felt by many of us each and every day through the profits we provide to Companies such as the big Supermarkets and Utility Companies, which is reflected in what few would disagree is a continual and disproportionate rise in the Cost of Living.

Businesses are of course created and managed for profit. But it is not normal for profit to be guaranteed within any business, and neither should the circumstances exist where any business can manipulate a market in order that it can be so.

It is therefore essential that Government Legislate to limit the influence of Pension Funds (owners) on the Management of Businesses which provide essential goods and/or services.

Prices of such goods and services should reflect their true value and not a level of profit that businesses of smaller size and with less influence through market share would not be able to reasonably sustain.

Futures

Buying, selling or speculating on products which do not exist would sound like madness to anyone but those who are actually doing it.

Gambling in its most basic form, futures offer a guaranteed level of income for producers, and the promise of significant profits for those who are prepared to invest in what is little more than thin air over a period of time.

However, they also extend the number of links in each ‘virtual’ supply chain along with the number of businesses or agents looking for a profit. Basic prices for commodities and food are inflated way beyond their true market value as a result and the end-using customer suffers most.

Government must legislate against the misuse of Futures in goods which are essential to daily life such as crops which have not even yet been grown, or energy which has yet even to be created.

Doing so will remove speculation of this type, which always has an adverse affect upon the end users who inevitably pay the most. It will also protect producers and the markets from unforeseen circumstances that nobody can control.

***

As with many other industries, the Finance and Banking Sector has simply lost its way. Growing distance from the customer leaves decision makers without any true master other than profit, and this situation can only get worse if it is left unchecked.

Bankers must ultimately be left to make their own decisions. But until they regain ethics; a sense of what is right and wrong and the responsibility not to abuse their position, Government must lead by example and intervene where necessary so that the many in the world outside Banking do not continue to suffer because of the profit hungry few within.

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

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