“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 »

The New Heroes: How Smartphones Are Helping To Combat The Pandemic:

They could save the world in the war against the coronavirus”. This was the unlikely headline of a press bulletin published on March 20th by Kaiser Health News (KHN), a non-profit organisation based in San Francisco, California. Unlikely, because many recent assessments of smartphones appear to have focused as much on the perceived harm that these devices do to users’ well-being as on all the many benefits that they provide to society.

For example, the Metro contributor, Jeff Parsons, on 19th February, highlighted a new study conducted by a team of researchers at Heidelberg University in Germany which has suggested that what they portrayed as our addiction to unlimited scrolling and endless notifications could alter the shape of our brains. Now that smartphones have become an indispensable part of modern life, observed Parsons, it’s understandable that a debate has been raging about whether it’s all become a bit too much for us.

Likewise, Sean Coughlan, the BBC News family and education correspondent, on 29th November quoted the results of an investigation by BMC Psychiatry into young people’s “problematic smartphone usage”. This suggested that 23% of those questioned experience anxiety if they are unable to use their phone – a phenomenon known as “nomophobia” (the fear of being without your mobile) – and spend so much time on it that it has a detrimental effect on their other activities.

A report published by Ofcom, the communications regulator, confirms that the UK has become a “ smartphone nation” . It estimates that two-thirds of the country’s population owns one, using it for an average of 2 hours 28 minutes every day (twice as long as with laptops and PCs) to search the internet, access social media, manage their bank accounts and shop online. This rises to 3 hours 14 minutes a day among 18-24 year-olds. Consequently, 72% of adults say their smartphone is their most important device for accessing the internet, 71% say they never turn off their phone and 78% say they couldn’t live without it.

Ryan Whitwam, a commentator for the ComScore media measurement & analytics company, has noted that by far the most startling statistic from the data they’ve compiled on this issue is that one in five millennials don’t even use desktops any more: “Advances in hardware and software mean that there are fewer times you need to put the phone away and revert to a “real” computer to accomplish something” – thus a lot of casual browsing has migrated from the PCs to mobiles.

None of this bothers the Canadian journalist, Jesse Brown. In an article for “Toronto Life”, he accepted that “the pull of our glowing rectangles is hard to resist”, but considers that the challenge is not to resist them, but to reconcile constant digital connectivity with being human: “Technology is something we make and use, not something that is done to us”.

Professor Jon Crowcroft, Chair of the Programme Committee at the Alan Turing Institute, clearly agrees. On 18th March, he declared that scientists, the NHS (National Health Service) and their counterparts around the world should urgently enlist smartphones and their owners to collect invaluable data on the unfolding pandemic, which could provide crucial intelligence about how it’s evolving and help organise against the onslaught.

As KHN pointed out, officials from the World Health Organisation (WHO) have urged hospitals and clinics to expand their use of telehealth services (also known as “remote or virtual care”) by means of smartphones in order to treat the seriously ill and keep the “worried well” out of already crowded medical facilities.

Dan Hanfling and Tara O’Toole, specialist physicians with the American information technology firm In-Q-Tel, emphasised in the Washington Post on 13th March that digital health tools, including telemedicine and smartphone-based messaging applications can and should play an important role in fighting Covid-19. These would furthermore promote the “social distancing” (dissuading people from congregating) required to limit community proliferation of the disease – a key factor acknowledged by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on 20th March when he announced the closure of restaurants, pubs, bars,clubs, cinemas, gyms, theatres and other similar venues across the United Kingdom.

The Observer columnist, John Naughton, pointed out in the newspaper on 15th March that “one of the things that makes this epidemic different from it’s predecessors is the dominance of social media in today’s world”. This was followed up on 21st March by the Guardian’s media editor Jim Waterson in his assessment of WhatsApp’s attempts to shed its reputation as “a hub of virus disinformation”. He acknowledged that the service, despite its image as a source of unverified claims, has nonetheless “become vital for organising many community responses and turned into a platform for sharing humour in dark times”.

According to the Economist’s edition of 21st March, there could still be “hiccups” with the mobile networks, which – as Mark Jackson of the independent UK Internet Service Provider Ispreview.co.uk told the magazine – are generally adapted to a lower level of data traffic than fixed-line broadband. Hence, people who rely on mobile broadband may experience occasional delays and some apps could initially struggle due to the extra load on the system.

Filed under: Healthcare, Media | Posted on March 24th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Phlegmatism & Black Humour: The UK Faces Up To The Coronavirus:

Keep Calm And Carry On”: That’s been the gist of the advice emanating from the British Government as the epidemic has spread around the country. Coupled with this has been the recommendation, first by the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg and then by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, that we should all frequently and thoroughly wash our hands, accompanied by a rendering of either the National Anthem or “Happy Birthday” (twice). Most people in Britain seem inclined to follow these guidelines, except maybe for the singing part and moreover – the BBC’s Health Correspondent, Dominic Hughes, noted on the 10’Clock News on 6th March – are determined not to allow the virus to radically change their lives.

As an example, two ladies in Huddersfield, Sandra and Lynda, patently belonging to the older, reputedly “vulnerable generation”, when speaking to Hughes on the programme insisted that they were “keeping a sensible head” and were still going out and about as usual. This relatively relaxed attitude was of some concern to a group of foreign students interviewed by BBC London News outside Kings Cross Station: “We’re worried”, they remarked “but the public doesn’t seem to be”.

The “Independent” correspondent, Stefano Hatfield, contends that the British traditionally employ “stoicism when confronted with truly miserable conditions and black humour in the face of adversity”. Their instinctive phlegmatism, he believes, is “very much a unifying defining characteristic that will persist for generations”. The EF (Education First) language school blogger, Simon, agrees: The British, he points out, use humour to lighten even the most unfortunate moments: “There are few subjects we don’t joke about. It’s not used to shock and offend but rather because the British turn to laughter as a form of medicine when life knocks them and those around them down”.

That’s acceptable, the American author, Paul Lewis, has emphasised on www.wired.com. so long as it doesn’t have ethnic undertones or disseminate misinformation. In the 7th March edition of the Spectator magazine, its polemical columnist Rod Liddle jested that if the virus eliminates a large swathe of the elderly who voted for Brexit, the 48% of the population who wanted to remain in the European Union would demand a rerun of the Referendum. He also maintained that the prediction by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) of an imminent global economic collapse provides reasonable grounds for optimism in view of their previous (by implication, incorrect) prognostications.

In the same publication, Liddle’s colleague. Mary Killen, asserted that “it’s not all bad news” and that even a deadly pandemic has its positives, such as a reduction in carbon emissions because we’ll all be taking fewer planes. The best approach, in her opinion, is to assume that we’re all going to get it anyway, including if we hide in our houses and avoid the Tube and crowded gatherings. What about the things, she asks, that come through the post and in the hands of the delivery van drivers?

Yet another Spectator contributor, Ross Clark, on 29th February depicted the “Covid-19” hysteria” as the latest phenomenon to fulfil a weird and growing appetite for doom among the populations of developed countries: “We are living in the healthiest, most peaceful time in history, yet cannot seem to accept it”. He may have adjusted his judgement of the situation in view of developments since then.

At his coronavirus press conference on 3rd March, the Prime Minister was noticeably more jovial than the two advisers who flanked him at the podium – England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty and the UK’s Chief Scientific Officer, Sir Patrick Vallance. Whitty implied that “only 1%” of the UK populace, namely the over 70’s, would be seriously at risk from the virus, which probably won’t have reassured anyone in that apparently dispensable category. He slightly amended this assessment when he appeared before a specially convened House of Commons health committee on 5th March by declaring that the over-80’s shouldn’t assume that they would automatically be “goners” if they became infected.

A much gloomier appraisal was provided by Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, to Channel 4 News on 6th March. He depicted the coronavirus as the worst and most fearsome epidemic since the Spanish flu of 1918 and that “it could be with us in perpetuity”.

The proverb “A pessimist is a well-informed optimist”, attributed to the American author Mark Twain, could perhaps be applied to both Whitty and Hatchett. Their observations might also explain why UK supermarket customers have been emptying the shelves of staple products such as rice, pasta, couscous, bottled water, yoghurt, butter and long-life milk as well as bathroom items and the increased demand at the pharmacies for ibuprofen, paracetamol and immune-boosting tablets such as Berocca.

This hasn’t, however, (so far) been on the scale of the panic buying in (among many others) Japan, South Korea, Poland, New Zealand and Australia – in the latter two cases of which shoppers have been televised (and subsequently arrested) while battling each other for packs of toilet paper.

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on March 9th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

London Fashion Week Adapts To A New Era:

The message was clear from the start of the latest LFW (14th – 18th February). “Now is the time for drastic change in how we do things. We’re in a different world, a world of emergency”. That was the view expressed by Lynne Franks, consumer lifestyle campaigner and fashion week co-founder”, cited by the Guardian’s fashion editor, Hannah Marriott, on 15th February. The big dilemma, as Andreas Kronthaler, Vivienne Westwood’s co-designer and husband, declared to the same newspaper prior to the five day event, is how to blend environmental activism with the business of selling fashion, especially as “we already have enough clothes in the western world to last us for hundreds of years”.

The Observer columnist, James Tapper, on 9th February outlined “the huge challenges” facing the industry in its quest to become greener: “The UK throws away around 300,000 tonnes of clothes into landfills each year and some studies suggest global textile production creates 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide pa, more than airlines and shipping combined” – a situation which, his Evening Standard counterpart, Lizzie Edmonds, noted on 14th February, is putting increasing strain on the planet’s water resources and materials. That’s precisely why, Tapper pointed out, the search is on for alternative materials (such as mushroom leather and algae t-shirts) with smaller carbon footprints.

University of Westminster

University of Westminster

The British Fashion Council (BFC), in its LFW AW (Autumn/Winter) 20 press release, acknowledged that these are crucial issues which now have to be resolved. It thus highlighted not only the fact that there would be 60 catwalks and presentations, with 73 brands participating in the event, but also that the “Positive Fashion Exhibition” would be the main theme of the Designer Showrooms at the LFW HQ at 180 The Strand. Each exhibitor had been “carefully chosen to demonstrate the provenance and skilfulness of their designs, on the basis of the three strategic pillars of Positive Fashion – namely the environment, people and craftsmanship & community”.

University of Westminster

Erdem

Among the 36 organisations which had been allotted space in the Showrooms were “Fashion Our Future”, founded by Amy Powney, creative director of “Mother Of Pearl” whose aim is “to strike the balance between our love for fashion and protecting the planet”; “PAMA London”, which describes itself as “the ultimate in luxury fitness wear” and wants “to make women feel good, without harming our planet” and the French company “L’Occitane En Provence”, which professes to combine its beauty merchandise with respect for people and nature and to use eco-refill wrappings for its 25 different product lines”.

Ashish

The BFC emphasised that “more than ever, designers are taking sustainability to the heart of their collections, especially this season Johnstons of Elgin, Mulberry, Phoebe English, Richard Malone and Vivienne Westwood”. Advance information issued by many of the designers similarly focused on their commitment to the environment. “ToBeFrank & Molyneaux, for example, says it works with a recycling plant in Istanbul that “takes in 800 tonnes of unwanted fabric cuttings which would normally go into landfill” and that it melts down pellets from plastic bottles into polyester yarn, a “fibre which can be used for many types of fabrics”;

Ashish

Earth Logic”, which featured in the ON/OFF catwalk, states that its priority is “rooting fashion in creativity, community, curiosity and care, instead of profit”; Katie Ann McGuigan’s knitwear is comprised of “recycled yarns and screen prints which are sourced locally, so as to keep the production of her collection close to her studio in London”.

Ashley Williams

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saving the planet is not the only immediate concern for the UK fashion industry. Much of the country’s retail sector is struggling to recover from poor Christmas sales. The Evening Standard (ES) business correspondent, Alex Lawson, reported on 10th January that Superdry’s profits may crash to zero, due to “unprecedented” levels of discounting by rivals “coupled with subdued customer demand”.

University of Westminster

Two days later, the Sunday Times commentator, Sam Chambers, observed that clothing purchases at Marks & Spencer had continued their lengthy decline, down 1.7%, profit margins at such as Asos, Misguided and even Primark were being “squeezed”, but that Boohoo sales had “leapt” in the final four months of 2019.

The Mess, London UK.18th February 2020. Mark Fast shows his Autumn Winter 2020 designs during London Fashion Week. © Chris Yates

House of Fraser (now owned by Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley) and the Arcadia Group, run by Sir Philip Green and which owns Burton, Topshop, Miss Selfridges and Evans, among others, are both facing financial difficulties. Moreover, according to the writer John Arlidge in the ES magazine on 14th February, “coronavirus is the worst thing to happen to fashion since the financial crisis of 2008”.

The Mess, London UK.18th February 2020. Mark Fast shows his Autumn Winter 2020 designs during London Fashion Week. © Chris Yates

 

 

“Earth Logic” (ON/OFF)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burberry has been particularly badly affected: Chinese customers account for 40% of its revenues and it has had to close 64 of its stores in mainland China. Victoria Beckham also admitted to the Metro journalist, Andrei Harmsworth, on 18th February, that “her empire had been hit hard by the global health crisis” – not ideal news considering that her fashion label is rumoured to be making considerable losses and being kept afloat by loans from her husband David.

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 14: A model walks the runway at the TOBEFRANK x Amy Molyneaux show during London Fashion Week February 2020 on February 14, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Tim Whitby/BFC/Getty Images)

The Mess, London UK.18th February 2020. Mark Fast shows his Autumn Winter 2020 designs during London Fashion Week. © Chris Yates

Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on February 21st, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

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