Adios Agata? The Exodus of Au Pairs From Britain:

“When our current au pair leaves, I’ll be left without child-care and will probably have to stop working” There’s no way I can afford a live-in nanny”. That’s how a Devonshire-based consultant surgeon foresees his situation if the future immigration status of au pairs has not been resolved by the time the UK’s one-year Brexit transition period ends on 1st January 2021. What particularly infuriates him, he declared to Anna Cooban, a journalist with the South West Londoner weekly newspaper, is the perception of au pairs as “an option for the upper middle classes who want to neglect their children”. This is an image which, as Cooban observed in her article, has proved difficult to dispel.

Similarly, Cheryl Newbury, a single mother-of-two, a nurse and a deputy ward manager in Weston-Super-Mare, told the Sky News correspondent Dan Whitehead that it would be “disastrous” for her if this type of domestic help is no longer available, her career would suffer, she wouldn’t be able to work and could even lose her home.

Jamie Shackell, the chair of the British Au Pair Agencies Association (BAPAA) is acutely aware of such concerns and the reasons for them, pointing out to Cooban that there are thousands of families across the UK who are key workers (such as those employed on a “shift” basis), who rely on au pairs for the flexibility it provides and who would be “financially crippled without them”. In March, the Home Office confirmed to BAPAA that the Government’s new points-based employer-led immigration system does not recognise au pairs because they are not legally classified as “employees”.

This has resulted in the International Au Pair Association (IAPA) querying on October 29th whether it in practice signalled the end of the Au Pair Programme in the UK. Quoting BAPAA statistics, IAPA noted that the estimated numbers of au pairs coming to the UK from the European Union has declined by 75% since the Brexit referendum in 2016 and that unless the government agrees to the creation of a special visa category, they could virtually disappear from the British domestic scene.

The two associations acknowledge that this sector is quite small, since only around 7% of UK families with children say they hosted an au pair in 2019 – 2020. However, they emphasise that “although this may not sound a lot, it equates to 1.4 million households”. Research conducted by the “Surveygoo”market

consultants on behalf of BAPAA has shown that 75% of parents who rely on au pairs for childcare say the other options are too expensive for them, 41% say they would have to switch to part-time employment, 26% would have to stop working altogether and 79% think the UK should adopt an official Au Pair Visa programme.

Traditionally, 24% of au pairs come from France, 13% from Germany, 12% from Spain and 11% from Italy. After 1st January, they will no longer have freedom of movement to the UK. If they are already here and they wish to stay legally, they must apply for “pre-settlement status”, along with proof of identity and address, before 31st December 2020. The Evening Standard columnist, Ana Davis, reported on 9th November that the Home Office has suggested that the Youth Mobility Scheme” (YMS) which “currently applies to citizens from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan” provides a viable alternative.

BAPAA disagrees, considering this to be “a less than ideal route for European au pairs into Britain as YMS applicants must prove that they have at least £1,890 in personal savings – a difficult requirement for young people in their late teens and early twenties to meet”.

There are those, however, who will welcome the fact that the post-Brexit regulations will put a stop to what they regard as the exploitation of a vulnerable workforce. Rosie Cox, co-author of “As An Equal? Au Pairing In the 21st Century” and professor of geography at Birkbeck College, University of London, has pointed out in an article for the Guardian that “Since 2008, au pairs have been specifically excluded from the legal definition of “worker” or “employee”: they have no right to the national minimum wage, they are not covered by health and safety regulations, there are no limits to their working hours and they have no legal right to holidays or any time off”.

Together with Nicky Busch, a fellow-academic, Cox has analysed online ads and found that the average au pair is expected to work 38.7 hours per week (gov.uk recommends just 30 pw) and although the average “pocket money”offered is £108 pw, the duties often include not only help with childcare and housework, but also shopping,cleaning windows, caring for relatives’ children, waitressing or cooking for dinner parties, gardening, teaching a child a language, and more. “Childcare.co.uk” adds washing upholstery, carpets and the family car or doing the ironing and bed changing for parents to the heavier tasks that au pairs should not be asked to carry out.

In a Guardian feature captioned “Not Quite Mary Poppins” (the magical Disney nanny), Maggie Dyer, Director of the London Au Pair and Nanny Agency, admitted she is continually shocked by what some people believe they are entitled to demand of an au pair and agreed that it could sometimes be depicted as “the new slavery”.

The International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWFED) is adamant that “the first step in protecting au pairs is to recognise that they are workers so that their role is encompassed in employment laws and they can access fair pay and visa conditions appropriate to the work they do.”

Filed under: Immigration & Visas, Society | Posted on November 22nd, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Premier League Scores A Penalty Against Football Fans:

The beautiful game has been turned, by the people who run it, into the greedy game”. That was how the Sunday Times, in an outspoken editorial on 11th October, lambasted the decision by the Premier League, Sky Sports and BT Sport to charge £14.95 each time to watch matches that they had not originally scheduled for transmission. It then cited Henry Winter, the chief football writer for it’s sister newspaper,“The Times”, as fulminating that £5 would be acceptable but that the proposed amount was “disgraceful and disgusting”. Precisely while Premier League clubs have been spending £1.2bn on buying players (declared Winter) and have handed £200 million over to agents, many families have been struggling to survive: “This truly stinks”.

The Guardian correspondent, Paul MacInnes, the previous day depicted the announcement as a public relations debacle, particularly as many fans have not only already paid for standard subscriptions to these two broadcasters but also for season tickets for their seats in the stadia which have been suspended due to the pandemic.

The Sunday Times also admonished the Premier League for having (in its opinion) become “adept at squeezing money out of fans”, for example by changing strip designs every year, which dedicated supporters feel they have to acquire in order to keep up to date.

The new levy has provoked widespread disapproval from both opposition politicians and several well-known ex-players – including BBC TV’s “Match Of The Day” presenter, Gary Lineker and the former Manchester United right-back, now Sky Sports pundit, Gary Neville.

The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) has urged BT Sport and Sky Sports to reconsider the prices and for Gary Caffel, the utilities editor at MoneySavingExpert.com (reports MacInnes), it’s tantamount to treating fans as “cash cows”, since they either have to be prepared to fork out the extra amount or miss watching their club in action.

According to another the Sunday Times journalist, Dipesh Gadher, in a separate report on the controversy in the publication’s 11th October edition, the critics not only believe the charge is “too high” but that “it will encourage people to gather in households and pubs to watch the matches together”, hence spreading the virus.

The condemnation, however, has not been completely unanimous. The polemical contributor to the Spectator magazine and the Sunday Times, Rod Liddle, though acknowledging that, for him, the games have a feel of practice kick-arounds, an atmosphere of pointlessness and lack a communal experience, is mystified by the fury which has been aroused. He doesn’t consider the tariff to be unreasonable: “Someone has to pay for the football we’re all watching and I would prefer it to be the fans rather than the taxpayer”. The first “pay-per-view” games – Chelsea v Southampton (BT) and Newcastle v Manchester United (Sky) were shown on Saturday 17th October.

So why has the Premier League taken the risk of offending the fans? That’s because, John Purcell, the co-founder of the financial analysis firm Vysyble, explained to theathletic.co.uk website, many of the clubs are in a terrible economic state and their accounts are lamentable. They are in a precarious situation, just like any other sector that depends on people being able to go out, congregate and spend freely.

Kieran Maguire, a lecturer on football finance at the University of Liverpool and the author of “The Price Of Football” concurs, emphasising that Premier League clubs have higher fixed costs – mainly wages and transfer instalments – than the rest of the entertainment industry and that they rely on the broadcasters for 60% of their income. Hence, any reduction in this would have a significant adverse impact.

Indeed, sportspromedia.com has noted that the Premier League has already had to reimburse £330 million to its broadcast partners as a result of the delayed conclusion to the 2019/20 season, with some clubs deferring part of that refund in order to spread the cost. The global consultancy Deloitte , observes theathletic website, estimated prior to the onset of the current crisis that PL clubs would earn £5.25 billion during the 20/21 season, £2 billion more than the Bundesliga and La Liga combined, but that their salary commitments would be twice those of German clubs and 50% more than Spanish ones.

Among the highest-paid footballers in England now are Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur: £600,000 per week, 50% of which is being paid by Real Madrid); Mesul Osil (Arsenal: £350,000 pw); Raheem Sterling (Manchester City: £300,000 pw); Paul Pogba (Manchester Utd: £290,00 pw); N’Golo Kante (Chelsea: also £290,000 pw).

Deloitte statistics show that eleven PL clubs made pre-tax losses in 2018/2019, the worst being Chelsea (£101.8m) and Everton (£107m), yet Chelsea still spent over £200m on transfer fees this summer (funded by owner Roman Abramovich) and Everton 67.50m.

In an interview with theathletic.co.uk, Dr Stefan Szymanski, author of “Soccernomics” and a sports management lecturer at the University of Michigan, pointed out that “the Premier League has been giving people round the world what they want for nearly 30 years. But now, for reasons beyond its control, it cannot. And also because it has been perhaps a little too generous with its players and their representatives”. It’s likely that most fans these days will agree wholeheartedly with this last observation.

Filed under: Sports | Posted on October 20th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

London Fashion Week: Confounding The Pessimists:

The headlines were dire and the predictions gloomy. “London’s fashion businesses are on the brink and many brands are in crisis”, declared the London Evening Standard columnist, Kate Finnigan in the newspaper on 15th September, just two days before the start of LFW SS (Spring/Summer)21 (17-22 September). To highlight the point, she quoted the acknowledgement by the British Fashion Council (BFC) Chairman, Stephanie Phair, that the pandemic has had “a devastating economic impact” on the industry and that it’s growth could recede back to £26 billion from the £35 billion it currently contributes to the UK’s GDP.

The designer Henry Holland had been equally downbeat in the same newspaper the previous week. The biannual LFW event, in which he has participated on 26 occasions, is suddenly no longer “the epicentre of his universe”. The official BFC list of international guests and buyers had gone from the “usual 1,000 – 1500 to none at all”, which would clearly effect the commercial agreements frequently concluded following a catwalk. There’s a reason, he asserted, why online fashion shows have never really taken off: “The industry relies on an element of personal interaction and storytelling which is more difficult to convey through the screen”.

In the Guardian on 12th September, Jess Carter-Morley mused over whether the world even still cares about fashion: “Is escapism acceptable in a pandemic?”, she queried, “Do we even need new clothes for our restricted lifestyles? And if not, then what next for a global industry that is worth £1.1 trillion to the global economy and employs 430 million people worldwide?”

Nevertheless, far more positive aspects have emerged from LFW SS21 than the sceptics seem to have anticipated. The mere fact that it took place at all, stated the BFC, was a testimony to “the industry’s resilience, creativity and innovation in difficult times”. Included in the schedule were 80 designers featuring womenswear (40), menswear (20), twenty combining the two and 5 accessory brands.

There was a total of 50 digital only activations, 21 physical and digital and 7 physical only. This meant, msn.com pointed out, that any member of the public who wanted to see the SS21 collections could do so, since most of them were being live-streamed online.

As the Elle contributor, Daisy Murray, has noted, criticisms of fashion weeks have been mounting over the last few seasons, owing to their cost (which can range from £100,000 to £1 million or more), their carbon footprint and the sheer size of production. They’ve been accused of “promoting detrimental environmental practices and ineffective business models for fashion brands”, hence moving these events online (as the Shanghai Fashion Week had already done in March) could be the viable solution to these problems, irrespective of the pandemic.

Prior to LFW SS21, the Glamour UK correspondent, Alexandra Fullerton, urged prospective WFH (watching from home) viewers to take their seats on their sofas, dip in and out as they wished and thereby observe for themselves how the traditional catwalk shows were being replaced by fashion films, panel chats and live performances.

Indeed, according to the fashion and beauty website, philstar.com. the Elle UK editor-in-chief, Farrah Storr, informed the Daily Mail that she would be following it all from her kitchen while wearing her cashmere joggers: “In the front row,it will be just me and my two dogs looking at clothes that I hope people can wear in six months time”.

Kate Finnigan’s Evening Standard article was not entirely negative: The Northern-Irish co-founder of the Rixo label, Orlagh McCloskey, emphasised to her that their aim at LFW was to “virtually entertain, inspire and bring joy to as many people as possible”, the English designer, Anya Hindmarch couldn’t see why this year’s LFW would actually be so “weird” at all, and the Scottish designer, Christopher Kane, reflected that without the pressures of a traditional show, they’d had time to rethink the way they do things.

This last factor was evident from the outset of LFW – for example, at Burberry’s hybrid womenswear / menswear catwalk , hosted on the Twitch app and which took place on 17th September in an unidentified forest where models dressed in white had to climb down from beds mounted on plinths. Similarly, Turkish designer Bora Aksu’s socially-distanced outdoor catwalk in Covent Garden on 18th September was described by Jess Cartner-Morley the following day as having featured “ traditional nurses’ whites, complete with starched collars, nostalgic ruffle-edged aprons and face-masks worn with pillar-box red lipstick underneath”.

In her book “How To Break Up With Fast Fashion”, published in January 2020, the freelance journalist and digital editor, Lauren Bravo, contends that, if we’re ever going to trust big brands again, “we need answers”. Where were our clothes made? she asks. In which factories? How much were their workers paid and how much is lining millionaire pockets as a result? In her opinion, full transparency – not only style and appearance – is these days what should always be expected from the fashion industry.

Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on September 22nd, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

“Home Sweet Home” – But Not If It’s Rented Or Leased:

The property market is enjoying a summer boom. The worry is a winter bust”. This was the sombre assessment by the Guardian, in an editorial on 3rd September, of the “frenzy” in house buying which has taken place in Britain during the summer. This has been due, it noted, to a combination of a rebound in transactions after the months of lock-down, the suspension on 8th July by Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, of stamp duty on properties worth less than £500,000 and the Bank of England’s decision to release a “flood of ultra-cheap money” in response to the pandemic.

The Guardian also shared the view expressed by the Economist in its July 25th/31st edition, that this “fragile revival” is likely to be undermined by the forecast steep rise in unemployment (“3.5 million by Christmas”) following the phasing out of the furlough scheme in October, along with a possible “no-deal Brexit” and the rescinding of the “stamp duty holiday” on 31st March 2021.

One significant outcome of “the worst job crisis in decades”, warned the Guardian, will be that some households will struggle to keep up their mortgage instalments, hence the Chancellor should “negotiate with mortgage lenders to forestall mass repossessions” and also extend beyond September the ban on landlords evicting the many tenants around the country who are currently facing difficulties in paying their rent.

Everybody deserves to have a home that is supportive to their happiness, health and wealth”, the Irish Feng Shui expert and author of “The Happy Home”, Patricia Lohan, has declared.. Similarly, the American writer, Catherine Pulsifer, considers “Home is where we should feel safe and comfortable”. Although renters and leaseholders no doubt would agree wholeheartedly with such sentiments, that’s not at the moment the reality for a large proportion of them.

The Economist article, citing housing charity estimates, observed that around 200,000 private tenants in Britain have slipped into rent arrears over the past six months and a “host of issues”, such as repairs badly or tardily done and the frequent prohibition on keeping pets, has made it hard for them to treat their accommodation as a home. Furthermore, although the cost of buying with a mortgage is now less than renting, the rising deposit requirements mean that they are unable to get onto even the first rung of the “property ladder”.

According to the Sunday Times journalists, James Coney and Kate Palmer, on 13th September, the UK’s biggest building society, Nationwide, has placed a restriction on the use of money from parents or grandparents. Instead, an aspiring purchaser now needs to prove that 75% of the deposit has come from their own savings.

This could well exacerbate a situation whereby, as the Guardian’s economics correspondent, Richard Partington observed on 10th February, “one in three of the millennial generation, born between the mid-1980’s and the mid-1990’s, are expected to never own their own home”.

Data issued by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicates that in effect “home ownership has collapsed for adults in their prime working age”. In a press bulletin on 8th September, the “Generation Rent” (GR) organisation called for the Government to pass emergency legislation which will ensure renters who have been hit by the pandemic do not lose their homes this autumn.

The results of a survey GR conducted show that 68% of those questioned are having to reduce their spending, are getting into debt or using up their savings in order to meet their rent. Finding an alternative, affordable place to live is not always an option if their income has been cut and “letting agents automatically reject anyone on state benefits”

The circumstances appear to be no better for those who live in a leasehold property. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government calculates that there are 4.5 million of these in England – 69% of them flats and just 31% houses. Unlike a freeholder, a leaseholder only has the right to stay there for a specified period of time. As Ross Clark, a contributor to Spears Magazine, has scathingly pointed out, “this is an arrangement which is almost universal in apartment buildings in England yet hardly exists elsewhere on Earth”. It’s all too easy, he asserts, for freeholders to impose excessive, even ridiculous, service and repair charges.

The Spectator magazine’s assistant editor, Emma Byrne, in its 29th August edition, highlighted the huge financial burden which will fall on herself and the other 600,00 residents in 11,300 tower blocks around the UK where the inflammable cladding needs to be replaced following the Grenfell fire in 2017. Because she hasn’t yet received an External Wall Fire Review (EWSI) form, she can’t sell or remortgage her flat, which consequently renders it“technically worthless”.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) acknowledged in a statement published on 28th February that it had found “troubling evidence of potential mis-selling and unfair contract terms” and hence that it would be launching a probe into abuses within the industry. The National Leasehold Campaign (NLC) is advocating that the system, which “provides neither true home ownership nor real control”, should be completely abolished.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on September 16th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Under Pressure: The UK’s English Language Schools:

If you like the idea of owning a Language School, now’s your chance. The online business marketplace, Rightbiz, is advertising 13 of them for sale, 5 of them in London. However, the now retired International House Director, David Will, has forewarned in the IH Journal that if you want to make lots of money, then investing in property or the stock market might be a better option. Running a language school “can provide a nice living, but very few who do it can retire to the Bahamas at the age of 40 – so be sure that you are living and breathing the project before you start”.

At the moment, there’s unlikely to be long queues of clients competing to purchase any of the 13. On 29th July, Pie (Professionals in International Development) News highlighted the “shocking impact of Covid-19 on Britain’s English Language Teaching (ELT) industry and cited a report published by the market research and data specialists, Bonard, which showed student numbers down by 82% and a loss of half a million pounds to the sector.

The headlines of regional newspapers throughout the summer have corroborated the accuracy of these figures. The business editor for the Southern Daily Echo group, Darren Slade, on 7th July noted that “around 90% of staff in language schools across the country are said to be in furlough, while their representative association, English UK, has predicted that around 30% of language testing centres will cease trading altogether”.

Slade calculates that the absence of the 50,000 international students who head for the Bournemouth and Poole area each year could cost the local economy £300 million.

A similar crisis scenario has unfolded in Devon where, the local journalist, Paul Greaves, has observed, many language schools in the county, such as the family-run Globe English Centre, which has been operating in Exeter since 1978, “are fearing for their future”. Foreign students, Greaves points out, not only pay their course fees direct to the educational institution, they also contribute to the surrounding economy, spending a lot of money in cafes and bars. In addition, many host families rely on the income from them to cover their mortgages.

The main problem for the smaller ELT establishments is that they have far fewer financial resources than the large language chains and hence it will be much longer before they can re-open. The Isca School of English in Exeter, for example,will remain closed until 2021 because they are unable to run their courses, activities and excursions this year, the Worthing English Language School in March made the “emotional decision” to freeze the company for a few months (as reported by the Worthing Herald contributor, Isabella Cipirska) and the Suzanne Sparrow Language School in Plymouth closed on March 23rd “until further notice”.

By contrast, in London, St Giles International has resumed face-to-face teaching at their Highgate and West End locations, as has the Wimbledon School of English. The acknowledgement by the Chairman of the London School of English (LSE), Timothy Blake, when interviewed on 24th January by “Quality English” to mark his 50th anniversary with the organisation, that “totally uncontrollable events, such the exchange rate, worries about disease and safety concerns”, can have a significant effect must in hindsight now seem somewhat prescient. The pandemic arrived in the UK just a few weeks later.

The LSE will reopen for classes on 31st August, followed by (among many others), Bayswater College in Queensway W2 (7th September), the Central Language School, Cambridge (14th September) and the British Study Centre, Manchester (12th October).

English UK has estimated that 58% of its members hope to recommence the teaching of adults by 1st October, but 47% consider it’s improbable that by 1st January 2021 they will be able to cater for new junior students, who comprise more than 50% of those enrolling for English courses in Britain.

The repercussions for market confidence, declares English UK, have been catastrophic. Many of its members face financial ruin and won’t survive the summer. ELT, it emphasises, is a seasonal activity. For many centres, missing the important Easter and summer peaks will mean little or no income and 75% of them expect no more than 40%-60% market recovery in 2021.

English UK is especially aggrieved that the 12-month “business rates holiday” which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, in March granted to the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors in England did not include ELT. This, in the opinion of English UK, is grossly unfair as “ELT is clearly part of the tourism industry”. Consequently, only 17 local authorities (in London, just Ealing and Harrow) have deemed the English language centres in their areas to be eligible.

A petition organised by the English UK interim Chief Executive, Jodie Gray, for the relief to be extended to all English Language Schools has to date attracted 6,245 signatures. Once the figure gets to 10,000, the Government is obliged by law to respond.

Filed under: Society | Posted on August 24th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Britain Faces Up To The “New Normal”:

Everything has changed”. That’s how the BBC’s Health Editor, Hugh Pym views the impact of the pandemic both on Britain and the international community. Life will be very different from now on, for the high street, businesses, our work routine and and the way we meet friends, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on July 19th.

The Guardian commentator, Oliver Burkeman, on 19th June, by contrast, took a more philosophical stance, highlighting what he portrayed as “our tendency to swiftly adapt emotionally to positive or negative fluctuations in our circumstances”. After the attacks of 9/11/01, he argued, we were told nothing would be the same again, and it wasn’t, “yet throughout history, each time civilization has been disrupted by a huge event, people have simply got used to it”. He did nevertheless acknowledge that a world with less human contact, or more joblessness, is “objectively worse” if it becomes normality.

Most available data, news reports and public opinion polls suggest, however, that Hugh Pym’s assessment correlates rather more with the prevailing mood around the UK. The latest Office For National Statistics (ONS) survey, for example, indicates that 67% of adults in Britain are anxious about the effect that the coronavirus could have on their future.

Similarly, a diarist for the “Britain Thinks” Insight & Strategy organisation lamented all the signs that the situation isn’t really getting any better and that this is very different from how they felt back in March when they thought that “this episode would have a beginning, middle and an end”.

Any lingering hopes that the virus could soon just “disappear” (as President Trump has frequently contended) were abruptly banished by the Oxford University immunologist and geneticist, Professor Sir John Bell, when he told Parliament’s Health & Social Care Committee on 21st July that “Covid-19 is here forever and may never be eradicated”.

The vast majority of “Britain Thinks” diarists also confirmed that they are not considering going abroad during the remainder of 2020, due as much to their unease about the journey (particularly air travel) as about the possibility of contracting the virus in another country.

World Economic Forum (WEC) research into when (if ever) we’ll get back to the previous “status quo”, disclosed on 23rd June by its “visual capitalist”, Iman Ghosh, has revealed that it could be 3-12 months before 56% of those questioned will be prepared to eat at a dine-in restaurant, 54% to work in a shared office, 46% to attend even a small dinner party and 44% to travel by plane.

Moreover, 6% of the 500 US and Canadian epidemiologists who contributed to the WEC investigation “do not expect to ever hug or shake hands again at post-pandemic meetings and over 50% believe masks will be necessary for at least the next year”.

Indeed, the Spectator Magazine’s blog on 22nd July cited the recommendation by a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that, in Britain, handshakes should be abandoned and replaced by Japanese-style greetings to prevent future pandemics.

The Spectator also noted that the number of job vacancies in the UK dropped by 63% in the 2nd quarter of 2020 compared to last year while the application-to-job ratio rose by 84%. This is clearly of understandable concern to all those employees worried about whether they’ll be made redundant after the furlough scheme, whereby the Government is paying 80% of their wages up to £2,500 a month, ends on 31st October.

The Guardian’s economics columnist, Richard Partington, forewarned on 16th July that nearly a third of firms in Britain plan to cut jobs in the next three months. The Sunday Times journalist, Sabah Meddings, subsequently observed on 19th July, that this has resulted in a stampede for whatever work is available.The Alexandra pub in Wimbledon, for instance, has received 484 applications for a £9-an-hour bar job and a restaurant in Manchester was “inundated with 963 CVs” after advertising for a receptionist.

Amid all the gloom, there has been a glimmer of positive developments, for some at least. The Economist’s edition of July 18th pointed out that many companies are now considering a “hybrid model” whereby their staff can work partly from home and on other days go into the office, which means they will “spend a lot less time in traffic jams or on crowded buses and trains”.

Used car dealers are suddenly much busier with an influx of customers exploring alternatives to public transport and plastic-makers are having to cater for a major upturn in demand for protective perspex face shields and screens.

Similarly, according to the Sunday Times Health Editor, Andrew Gregory, on 19th July, cosmetic surgery clinics are experiencing a surge in the number of patients wanting treatment for (among others) face lifts, lip fillers, botox and nose jobs to improve their appearance on video conference apps such as Zoom.

Meanwhile, as the Guardian’s Wealth correspondent, Rupert Neate, reported on 22nd July, the fortune of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, rose in a single day by $10 billion to $189 billion.

Filed under: Healthcare, Media | Posted on July 27th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Myth Or Reality? : The Health Benefits Of Copper:

How many 1p and 2p coins did the UK’s “Royal Mint” produce last year? The answer; None at all. The reason for this, as the Daily Telegraph columnist, Reena Sewraz has observed, is that there’s currently a combined total of 16.8 billion of them in circulation around the country. HM Treasury concluded there was simply no need to add to the 240,990,600 1p’s and the 16,600,000 2p’s it had issued during the previous twelve months.

A proposal to get rid of them altogether, briefly considered by former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond was abandoned following concerns expressed by organisations such as the Small Charities Coalition, due to a considerable proportion of their members’ income being derived from the millions of pounds of “coppers” they collect from the public.

The Government’s decision was also welcomed by Mike Cherry, the national chairman of the Federation for Small Businesses, who emphasised to the BBC’s personal finance analyst, Kevin Peachey, that “The freedom to use pennies and to be able to charge prices that end in 99p is still important to a lot of firms”. Despite this, data provided by Gocompare.com and cited by the Daily Mirror’s Finance Editor James Andrew, has indicated that less than 32% of people in Britain actually use copper coins. The rest don’t carry or spend them but instead put them into jam jars and around 8% just throw them away.

The only alternative to donating one’s copper coins to deserving causes would therefore seem to be to melt them down for use as personal ornaments such as bracelets or sold for a profit. That, however, is prohibited by the UK Coinage Act 1971, though this law applies only to British coins and is not enforceable if the procedure is carried out abroad. In France, for example, affirms “leftovercurrency.com”, it’s not illegal to melt down coins, whether foreign or domestic – so the only question would be whether it would be financially worthwhile.

1p & 2p British coins made before 1992 (of which there are still plenty) are 97% copper, whereas modern day ones consist of copper-plated steel – hence prior to the melting process they’d need to be separated by the metal dealer, who’d also require a commission which, along with the travel costs, would further diminish the merits of doing it all in the first place.

The age-old debate about the healing powers of copper has become even more intense and polemical since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. In an article for “Organic Facts” on January 31st, the American publisher John Staughton acknowledged that although the folk medicine tradition of wearing a copper bracelet has been around for thousands of years in the belief that it may help relieve arthritis inflammation and pain, boost immunity and cure skin ailments, “research unfortunately has not substantiated this claim”.

Staughton maintained, nevertheless, that copper has “a long history of being used to sterilize wounds”, can kill 99% of bacteria within two hours of exposure and that its antioxidant properties are needed for the production of collagen, which “can help fight the signs of ageing, such as sagging skin and wrinkles”.

Dr Karrera Djoko, a biochemist and microbiologist at Durham University, concurs with Staughton that copper’s sanitizing abilities have been known since at least as far back as ancient Egypt: “Even before we had a concept of what a germ is”, he declared to the New York Times journalist Katherine J Wu on June 19th, “we were using copper to contain water and keep it safe to drink”.

An investigation carried out by the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences, however, has concluded that copper bracelets and magnetic straps are “useless” for relieving pain in people with arthritis. Any perceived benefit obtained from wearing them can be largely attributed to “psychological placebo effects”, the team leader, Stewart Richmond, told BBC News.

Irrespective of either Richmond’s judgement or the recommendation from Jane Tadman of the Arthritis Campaign that sufferers should “avoid spending a lot of money on products for which there is very little scientific evidence”, the market for these items is – as the BBC report also noted – “worth billions of dollars”. Amazon, for example, offers (for £23.99 and free delivery) a “Jeracol Copper Bracelet” which it claims “can help reduce pain, fatigue and muscle tension and improve your energy, blood circulation, balance and sleep”. The “Copper Care” company advertises, among many others, a “pure Copper Delta Bracelet with 6 Rare Earth Magnets” for £17.50.

Meanwhile, a study conducted by the New York based National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – whose Director, the now high-profile Dr Fauci, has been advising the Trump Administration on the coronavirus and the wearing of masks – has led to frenetic speculation as to whether, in the words of the “Research Arizona Edu” official Emily Litvak on 2nd April, “Copper Could Disable the Virus Behind Covid-19?” Published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 17th March, it indicated that that although the virus can survive on stainless steel for up to three days and on cardboard for 24 hours, on copper this is reduced to just four hours.

The result, in the opinion of Reuter News Agency’s Melanie Burton on May 8th, is that the metal has been given a major boost. Scientists, as Dr Djoko pointed out to Katherine Wu, were already well aware of its capacity to limit the spread of E.Coli,salmonella and influenza and that many microbes don’t like it at all. Apparently, when copper physically contacts a germ like coronavirus, it can release reactive ions that puncture the bug’s exterior”. There are many precedents for this, such as the French physician Victor Burq discovering back in 1852 that workers employed at a copper smelter in Paris had been unaffected by the cholera outbreak that had occurred that year, in 1832 and in 1849.

The firm view of William Keevil, a senior microbiologist at the University of Southampton – published initially by the Times and then reiterated by the Daily Mail Health Correspondent, Connor Boyd on 30th May – is that all door handles, shopping trolleys, handrails on public transport, screens in fast-food restaurants, cash machines and even gym equipment should be coated in the metal and that the UK lags behind other countries in using it in communal areas.

An aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties (VTIP) has queried whether copper-infused face coverings could curtail the chances of the virus getting into the eyes, nose or mouth. The main problem with this, contends Dr Djoko, could be durability, especially if the masks are repeatedly washed or disinfected, as this “could strip the copper ions off the surface”.

That hasn’t deterred the Florida entrepreneur Phyllis Kuhn, whose 25-dollar“All Copper Masks” and “All Copper Mesh Inserts” are (states uk.syle.yahoo.com) “flying off the shelf”. Similarly, Myant Inc in Toronto, Canada, is manufacturing textile face masks that contain copper and silver yarn “ known to maximize protection against bacterial and viral threats”, at a price (for a pack of two) of $30.

The top five global copper producers are: Chile (latest accessible statistics: 3,405,100 metric tons pa), China (1,600,000), Peru (1,197,560), Australia (914,000), Russian Federation (883,000). Could the coronavirus change opinions about copper? According to Peter Krove of cleveland.com on 20th March, the Copper Development Association is convinced that’s already happening.

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on June 22nd, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Fine Until 69: The New Generational Divide:

No-one should ever sit in the Oval Office if they are over 70 years old”. That was the view expressed by the former US President Dwight Eisenhower, who entered the White House on January 20th 1953 at the age of 62 and served eight years in the role. Despite this, as the New Yorker correspondent Isaac Chotiner pointed out on March 8th, both the current occupant and the person who hopes to replace him are septuagenarians. Donald Trump was 70 years and 220 days when he was inaugurated in 2017 and Joe Biden will be 78 on November 20th – older than Ronald Reagan was when he left the job.

There’s no shortage, of course, of other global leaders who are either in or approaching this age group. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, fór example, has been President of Uganda since 1986 and will be 76 on 15th September and Muhyiddin Yassin, who became Prime Minister of Malaysia on March 2nd, is 72. Neither the Chinese President Xi Jinping (67) nor his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin (68) have displayed any inclination for stepping down when they move into their next decade.

The Democratic Party’s Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, however, is not in a strong position to criticise this trend: She’s 80 – older than all of them – and has been accused herself, by the NBC reporter Luke Russert, of refusing to move out of the way for a younger politician. It’s a sentiment, the USA Today contributor Matt Sedensky has observed, that is “repeated in countless workplaces, where a younger person is awaiting a senior employee’s departure for their chance to ascend” – and one that seems certain, in the opinion of the Los Angeles journalist, Laura Newberry, on May 1st, to gain extra resonance in the wake of a pandemic which has left millions of people, in the US, the UK and around the world without employment and a secure source of income.

It’s now,  declares Newberry, “Open season for discrimination against older adults. Ageism has been amplified”, and cites a survey conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency during the George W. Bush administration which concluded that “people over 70 are worth just 67% of the lives of younger people”.

By contrast, a study commissioned by the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), alluded to by Chotiner, has indicated that companies have come to value older workers’ skill and acquired knowledge and they are seen as being “less resistant to change, less likely to leave the organisation, less likely to take time off, are innovative and able to keep up with technology”.

On the 15th April, the morning programme of RTE, Ireland’s National TV & Radio Broadcaster, highlighted what it described as the “now infamous” article written in March by Jeremy Warner, assistant editor of the Daily Telegraph. This apparently suggested that “from an entirely disinterested economic perspective, Covid-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents” – followed by the British social pundit Toby Young, in the online Australian magazine “Quillette”, allegedly downplaying the demise of potentially thousands of people as “acceptable collateral damage”.

The British Society of Gerontology (BSG), the presenters reported, subsequently released a statement calling on the UK Government “to reject the formulation and implementation of policy based on the simple application of chronological age. Not all people over the age of 70 are vulnerable, nor all those under 70 resilient”. The BSG acknowledged that helping and protecting those at risk in society is the right thing to do, but not to indiscriminately classify the over-70’s as a homogeneous group.

The British American artist, printmaker and author, Natalie d’Arbeloff (90) clearly agrees: In the Guardian’s G2 section on 3rd January, she queried as to “why should people who have accumulated a large quantity of years be perceived as having uniform characteristics. Individuality doesn’t drop off automatically, like old skin,when we reach a certain number”.

Likewise, the English actress Joan Collins (87), who in the 16th May edition of the Spectator magazine, expressed her indignation at “this patronising insult of isolation, well-intentioned as it may be” and insisted that neither her nor her friends would allow themselves to be “chucked onto the scrap heap of life” because of their age.

Nonetheless that’s exactly where, according to some media commentators, the over-70’s – and even more so the over-80’s – should be consigned. Again in the Guardian, on the 27th April 2019, the economics journalist Phillip Inman declared that “old people are an increasing burden, but (he asked) must our young be the ones to shoulder it?”

This stance has been criticised by Dr George W. Leeson, the Director of Oxford University’s Institute of Population Ageing, as tantamount to “demonizing the elderly”, though Inman has since then slightly modified his attitude. In his column for the Observer on 22nd December, he contended that “the old-fashioned left-wing view of a pensioner being someone who huddles over a two-bar electric fire and worries about having enough £1 coins to put in the meter applies now to  only a tiny minority of older people”.

A study conducted by “Independent Age” suggests otherwise, revealing that 36% of the 11.4 million over-65’s in the UK don’t heat their home adequately in the winter months because of concerns about their fuel bills and in effect have to choose between eating and heating. Inman’s comments, of course, were compiled before the onset of the pandemic and the emergence of what the Wired UK contributor, Sabrina Weiss, denounced on 7th May as “The real coronavirus scandal: The failing, debt-ridden care homes which were already teetering on the edge of collapse and are now at the front line of the crisis”.

The most recent statistics issued by AgeDiscrimination.info show there are 8,769,122 over-70’s in the UK, 17.52% of whom live in Wales, 15.40% in Scotland, 15.13% in England and 13.17% in Northern Ireland. As Jonathan de Mello, Head of Retail Consultancy at Harper Dennis Hobbs has emphasised on “realthinktank.co.uk”, this generation – which will constitute 27% of the total adult population in the UK by 2030 – has greater levels of disposable finances than the millennials and hence represents “the most considerable untapped opportunity for retailers”.

The “Grey Pound” could thus, on this assessment, prove to be a significant factor for all those businesses now hoping to resume trading, attract customers and survive in the aftermath of the lock-down.

Filed under: Healthcare, Politics | Posted on May 29th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Clearing The Clutter In Lock-Down Limbo:

Britain has gone deep-clean crazy”. That was how the Sunday Times columnist, Jon Ungoed-Thomas on 26th April described the sudden, soaring demand for carpet stain remover, washing machine powder and disinfectant products such as Domestos bleach. He cited as an example the members of the parenting site Mumset, who have been utilising the several weeks of confinement stipulated by the UK Government by tidying up around their homes, de-limescaling their bathrooms, wiping light-fittings, vacuuming behind and under sofas and beds and sponging down skirting boards. In particular, long-accumulated paperwork is being sorted,filed and binned.

However, deciding exactly what should and shouldn’t be thrown away and then how to dispose of all the ensuing piles of rubbish, has proved to be something of a challenge, not least because many council recycling and waste depots have been closed due to staff shortages caused by the virus and there have also been restrictions on driving to the ones which have remained open.

Barbara Hemphill, the American author of “Organizing Paper At Home”, has observed that, despite all our technology, this is still a huge problem for many households, where it can be found randomly littering the kitchen table or stuffed into drawers and cupboards. In her book, she offers advice as to what to keep and where, as well as, “most importantly, how to find what you need when you need it” The Saga magazine website likewise points out that the dilemma we all face is that relying completely on digital data can be risky as anything stored on a PC is vulnerable to being wiped out by malware, accidentally deleted, accessed without authorization or all three.

The “Mrs Clean” advisory section on “housecleaningcentral.com” notes that, precisely because computers crash and information can be irretrievably lost, a lot of us still resort to printing personal and financial documentation with the genuine intention of filing them for future reference. In practice however, much of it ends up mixed in with the“stacks of old junk ” cluttering our desks and overflowing onto the floor. She recommends that we should immediately get rid of all unsolicited periodicals, catalogues and publicity material without even looking at them” and then arrange any remaining valid correspondence, such as those relating to business or financial matters, into “appropriate classifications”.

The issue then becomes what exactly constitutes “essential information” and how long it should be retained. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) specifies that, as long as we complete our tax return on time each year (by 31st January), we only need to keep the records for the preceding 22 months. Saga advocates extending this to at least two years just in case the HMRC requires further details regarding, for instance, utility bills, payslips, pension income, bank statements and capital gains. However, anyone who’s self-employed should, in addition, hang on to items such as invoices, receipts, dividend vouchers and statements of interest earned with banks or building societies, for a minimum of six years

Both Saga’s website and others such as “yours.co.uk/life/money” provide lists of what they consider should never be destroyed – such as certificates relating to professional and academic qualifications, birth, marriage, adoption, national insurance, medication, immunisation, and passports, previous as well as current. Saga includes in this category manufacturers’ warranties for, say, a new TV, dishwasher or wardrobe as “even when it has run out, you may be able to get a refund or replacement if you can show the product was faulty on the date you bought it – and it will also be useful if you decide to sell it”.

Furthermore, if your home or car has undergone repairs – perhaps a new window installed or the kitchen renovated – a potential purchaser may want to see evidence of the work that has been done or proof of building regulation consent. Although most homes are entered with the Land Registry, “details of conveyancing procedures from many years ago may not feature in its electronic entries and so can only be accessed by means of old paper deeds”.

Anything else that’s expired (“collections of used airline tickets not excepted”) should, in the opinion of yours.co.uk/life/money and “The Happy Housie”, be ruthlessly “purged”, without sentiment or nostalgia. The consumer protection organisation “Which”, however, warns anyone about to embark on a major clear-out not to discard anything containing their name, address or financial details without first shredding it. A recent survey of 1,228 of its members has revealed that “an impressive 84% of them own a paper shredder” , mainly because this provides “the obvious first line of defence against identity fraud”.

We should all be acutely aware, declares “Mrs Clean”, that identity thieves frequently go through trash containers in residential areas looking for documents that contain our personal information. She suggests we should cut up our credit cards using scissors, so they can’t be pieced back together again in a recognisable fashion – though this could probably be achieved rather more effectively with the latest shredder models reviewed by the “Which” contributor Andrew Laughlin that can not only handle CDs and DVDs but also have special slots for demolishing credit cards.

Which“ acknowledges that even this apparently ideal method of protecting our personal security is not as simple as it seems: Many local councils won’t collect shredded waste because, they assert, the tiny pieces and paper fibres can clog the machinery at the recycling plants. Moreover, according to the former assistant director for environmental maintenance at Cheltenham Borough Council, Rob Bell, as quoted by the Daily Mail journalist Luke Salkeld, “shredded paper becomes windblown when hoisted into the collection vehicle and creates a litter problem in residential streets”.

HomeShredUK” offer what they portray as the perfect solution: During the lock-down they’ll continue to dispatch their 2, 5 and 10 packs of “Eco-Shred Sacks” ordered online by their domestic clients across the country, who should “fill them in their own time and at their own pace and have them ready for collection and security shredding when normal operations resume”.

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on April 30th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Speaking Out: Journalists On The Front Line:

The daily tide of troubling news reports can be overwhelming, even for folks like us who have to read it”. It was with these words that Robyn Curnow, a CNN “anchor”, concluded her International Newsroom programme on 3rd April, thanking her viewers for their understanding. It was a rare acknowledgement that even trained professionals like her can be personally affected when conveying distressing statistics to the public – which is precisely what so many of her counterparts on TV and radio stations around the world are also currently having to do.

As Lydia Morrish, a contributor to First Draft News, noted on 17th March, while the pandemic is anxiety-inducing for anyone, the reporters and researchers whose role it is to keep worried populations up-to-date must particularly be feeling the brunt of “information overload”. Morrish cited studies depicting journalists as a “resilient tribe”, However, it’s also clear that they are now having to balance the potential dangers to themselves and the restrictions under which they are working against what Ros Osborne, the national correspondent for ITV Wales, described to the Guardian columnist Hannah Mayo on 21st March as their “moral duty to explain the biggest story they will probably ever cover”.

On 20th March, the UK Foreign Press Association issued a bulletin confirming that the British Government would be classifying journalists and broadcasters, whether from this country or abroad, as “key workers” who would thereby be allowed to circulate freely even in the event of a “complete lock-down”, as long as they carried a valid press card.

Not everyone in this category has found this totally re-assuring. As one of them told the MSN commentator Holly Watt, on 23rd March; “To be honest, it’s not great being sent out again and again when we don’t know what’s going on and what the risks really are. But I can’t exactly say that to my news editor”.

Charles Pellegrin, France 24’s Beijing’s correspondent, has expressed to Watt his disquiet that, if by chance he’s an asymptomatic carrier, he could pass the virus onto his interviewees. Graham Keeley, a freelance reporter based in Madrid, has pointed out to her that, although he can go around with his passport and press card, that isn’t much help as almost everyone else is at home and the few people outside “don’t want to be anywhere near you”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has published a long list of safety recommendations, such as emphasising that interviews (reflecting Pellegrin’s concerns) should be conducted at a safe distance, which is why British TV reporters are now brandishing microphones at the end of long poles. The CPJ insists that all equipment, including mobile phones, tablets, leads plugs, laptops, cameras, press passes and lanyards as well as the microphones should be decontaminated “when returned to base”.

It also suggests that, in the absence of access to disinfectant, the equipment should be exposed to direct sunlight for several hours “as this will kill the viruses” (advice which appears to contradict World Health Organisation guidelines). Furthermore, if a vehicle has been used for the assignment, the interior should be thoroughly cleaned afterwards and special attention paid to the door handles, steering wheel, wing mirrors, head rests, seat belts, dashboard and window winders – all of which constitutes a time-consuming, extra burden when trying to keep to editorial deadlines.

The CPJ – along with civil liberties groups such as the Index On Censorship (IOC) and Transparency International – has expressed unease that the surveillance methods that governments and tech companies are currently employing to track COVID-19 will be switched to targeting specific individuals once the health crisis has passed. According to “Citizen Lab” (states the CPJ) this includes the NSO Group, an Israeli firm which created Pegasus, “a spyware that transforms a smartphone into a mobile surveillance station and has already been deployed against journalists in, among others, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and the US”.

The IOC has highlighted what it regards as a disturbing trend towards the diminution of free speech in Europe, notably in countries such as Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban now has the power to imprison those considered to have spread “false information” about coronavirus and likewise in the Republika Srpska (one of the two entities of Bosnia Herzegovina) where fines have been imposed on anyone in the mainstream press or social media publishing allegations that “cause panic and fear among citizens”.

In addition: President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus has urged his cabinet ministers and compatriots to go and work in the fields because “tractors heal everyone”, President Aleksander Vucic of Serbia claims he now has an extra drink every day as “coronavirus doesn’t grow where you put alcohol”,

Egypt has revoked the press credentials of a Guardian correspondent and censured the New York Times’ Cairo bureau chief for sharing “incorrect data” and the Chinese government has “cracked down” on journalists’ visas, expelling thirteen employees of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, over in the USA – as the “management guru” Jill Geisler, has observed in the Columbia Journalism Review – President Trump continues to “ play fast and loose with the truth, attacking reporters for fact-checking his falsehoods” and portraying them as being opposed to the national interests of their own country.

Filed under: Healthcare, Media | Posted on April 8th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

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