30 Dec 2013

Marketing Betty Crocker - 'just add an egg'

Betty Crocker cake mix was launched by General Mills in 1952 as a quick and easy product that still retained a home-made quality. When it didn’t sell the company called on business psychologists to help market it. The problem, they said, was eggs. They believed that powdered eggs, often used in cake mixes, should be left out, so women could add a few fresh eggs into the batter, giving them a sense of creative contribution. The requirement to add eggs at home was marketed as a benefit, conferring the quality of 'home-made' authenticity upon the box cake mix. Whether using fresh eggs instead of powdered eggs actually enhanced taste was beside the point. See also: "Betty Crocker - 'just add an egg'" http://cube1986.blogspot.com/2007/04/betty-crocker-just-add-egg.html

3 Oct 2013

wedding vows

Now you feel no rain, for each of you is shelter for the other, 
Now you feel no cold, for each of you is warmth to the other,
Now there is no more loneliness,
Now you are two persons with one life together,
Go now to your dwelling, to continue your life together,
And may your days be good and long upon the earth.

- Native American wedding vow

13 Aug 2013

Prayers and chants

God, a Celtic Christian meditation 

I am the wind that breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave on the ocean,
I am the murmur of leaves rustling,
I am the rays of the sun,
I am the beam of the moon and stars,
I am the power of trees growing,
I am the bud breaking into blossom,
I am the movement of the salmon swimming,
I am the courage of the wild boar fighting,
I am the speed of the stag running,
I am the strength of the ox pulling the plough,
I am the size of the mighty oak tree,
And I am the thoughts of all people
Who praise my beauty and grace.

5 Aug 2013

The cause of the 2008 financial crisis

Adair Turner, chairman of the UK’s Financial Services Authority, set out the fundamental cause of the financial crisis in a speech on Nov 2012:
“The financial crisis of 2007/08 occurred because we failed to constrain the private financial system’s creation of private credit and money.”

In Oct 2008, as reported in The Australian for example Alan Greenspan, the former US central banker from 1987 to 2006, famously said, 'I made a mistake'. Appearing before the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, he said he had found a flaw in the "critical functioning structure that defines how the world works. ... I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organisations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms." In other words, he conceded that the free market philosophy he championed for 40 years has fundamental flaws and he said they must be addressed by a new era of regulation.

1 Aug 2013

Bedroom tax should not apply in some rural areas say MPs

We agree with the Rural Services Network that the impact of the under-occupancy policy on rural areas needs careful monitoring. Rural areas may be disproportionately affected because the nature of the housing stock means spare rooms might be more common. The under-occupancy policy also risks disadvantaging rural communities further because they lack the range and quantity of social housing required to provide the flexible response the policy demands. It is difficult to see how the under-occupancy policy, which might cause key workers to leave areas where they perform a vital role, and force children to move schools, is of benefit to rural communities. Settlements of fewer than 3,000 people, the same threshold as the Right to Acquire scheme, should be excluded from the under-occupancy policy.

19 Jul 2013

Srebrenica 12 July 1995

12 July was the 18th anniversary of the massacre in Srebrenica and Foreign Secretary William Hague’s speech about it was in the news.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which is a United Nations court of law, has a brief history of the Bosnia and Herzegovina conflict of 1992-1995, which says:

The single worst atrocity of the war occurred in the summer of 1995 when the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, a UN-declared safe area, came under attack by forces lead by the Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić. During a few days in early July, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were executed by Serb forces in an act of genocide. The rest of the town’s women and children were driven out.

9 Jul 2013

Radio 4 Money Box

Click on this link to listen to me on Radio 4's  Money Box on Sat 8 June talking about Personal Independence Payment  My bit starts at 14:50 minutes in to the 30 minute programme and ends at 18:08. 

Click on this link to listen to me on Radio 4's  Money Box Live on Wed 19 Jun 2013 on Disability and Carers' Benefits - duration: 30 minutes:
Jean French, Head of Advice and Information. Carers UK
Derek Sinclair, Welfare Rights Advisor, Contact a Family
Robbie Spence, Advisor, Disability Rights UK
Presenter: Paul Lewis

Producer: Diane Richardson

And this is a link to the Disability Rights UK news page on the above.

24 Jun 2013

Negative income tax

In economics, a negative income tax (NIT) is a progressive income tax system where people earning below a certain amount receive an income supplement from the government instead of paying taxes to the government. It was advocated by United States economist Milton Friedman.

In a negative income tax system, people earning a certain income level would owe no taxes, those earning more than that would income tax and those below would receive an income payment.

Negative income tax is intended to create a single system that would pay for government and make sure that there was a minimum level of income for all. In theory NIT eliminates the need for a minimum wage, food stamps, social security and other government assistance, thus reducing administration costs as well as poverty traps, for example when a minimum wage worker earns a little more and has less income because he is newly ineligible for aid.

One model (based on Milton Friedman’s) is to set the individual income level at £6,000 a year and the tax rate at 40%. In this example, which is only for example’s sake, an individual’s earnings, tax and overall income would look like this:
£ earnings per year
tax at 40%
net earnings
universal benefit
total income
net tax rate
This looks fine for single individuals, but it all depends on where you set the poverty line and whether the £6000 a year in this case would apply to a family of four, which would be £24000 a year in all.

Friedman feared that high NIT rates would lessen the incentive to take employment. He opposed introducing the negative income tax as an addition to existing benefits as this would only worsen the problem of bureaucracy and waste. He preferred to have no income tax at all, but did not think it was politically feasible to eliminate it, so he suggested NIT as a less harmful income tax scheme.

Green Party Policy on Welfare and Pensions

  • living wage
  • citizen's income
  • unconditional citizen’s pension (linked to average earnings)

and to
  • increase carer’s allowance
  • link housing and disability support to earnings
  • double child benefit

The Green Party Manifesto 2010 on Welfare states: … fundamental reform is needed, where most of the complicated benefits, means tests and qualifying contributions are swept away, and all citizens receive as of right a basic income – a Citizen’s Income. The cost of this would be recovered through a more progressive income tax system. 
We recognise that with the public finances in their present state this is not the time to introduce such a scheme. However, we can make a start … with a decent Citizen’s Pension scheme and a major increase in Child Benefit. 
The Citizen’s Pension would be paid unconditionally to all pensioners in the UK (independent of contribution record) at the rate of the official poverty line (currently £170pw for someone living alone, and the rate would be £300pw for couples), and would be linked to average earnings. 
[On child poverty] Rather than add further to the complex and means tested Child Tax Credits system, we would simply more than double the existing and universal Child Benefit payment, by paying an extra £20pw, which would be taxable, for each child. This would cost a further £14bn per year, much of which would be recovered by increased taxation on the most wealthy. 
A more generous Carer’s Allowance, increased by 50% to £80pw. 
In terms of public expenditure … the overall increase in public expenditure … for 2013 is £80bn.

Here also is Haringey Green Party blogger mike.shaughnessy@btinternet.com on 9 July 2012
 As their economic policies continue to fail, the ConDem coalition governments demonising rhetoric against welfare claimants grows ever louder. Sanctions (removing Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)) are up sharply (almost doubled) when measured against the last Labour administration. Under Labour, it was far from the free for all as painted by the current government, with sanctions regularly applied to Jobseeker’s, and the harassment and transferral of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants to JSA commonplace.
 I worked as a Jobcentre adviser over the period covering the end of the Labour administration and beginning of the ConDem one, and I can tell you that all the tools we had to help people back into work were systematically removed (not that they were that great anyway), and replaced with only a negative approach of applying sanctions.
 The ConDem’s though have taken this to new level now, presumably encouraged by focus group feedback about ‘the something for nothing society’, it is probably the only popular policy they have introduced. The fact it is inhumane, unfair and doesn’t really save much money is no deterrent to this most odious of governments.
 The Green party takes a very different view of welfare matters, which is embodied in our policy of a Citizen’s Income (CI). It is a progressive policy whereby all adults in the UK would receive a non-means tested payment set at no less than the current JSA, although I would argue that it needs to set at a considerably higher level, because JSA currently at £71.00 per week is not enough to live on, and needs to be over £100.00 per week, at least.
 This would allow people to work part-time if they so wish, to supplement their income, with no reduction in CI, or do voluntary work with no hassle from the Jobcentre, have confidence to start up as self- employed or take up family caring responsibilities.

PS 5/8/13 - Here is motion CΩ12 on An alternative Citizens Income / Basic Income Scheme on page 40 of the Agenda for Autumn Conference 2013 of the Green Party of England and Wales

Synopsis: Guarantees every citizen a decent basic income, without means-testing and to pensioners and those unable to work without further condition. Workers guaranteed a wage rate (equivalent to national mean work-age income per hour worked), for enough hours to equal that payment. Option to complete these hours in decent Government-funded jobs.

Motion:  Delete existing EC730-EC733 and replace with: EC730 A Citizen's Income sufficient to cover an individual's basic needs will be introduced, which will replace tax-free allowances and most social security benefits (see EC711).

A Citizen's Income is an income payable to each individual as a right of citizenship. It will not be subject to means testing. The level for an adult should be set at about £175pw as at Nov 2012, equivalent to the average personal JSA+housing benefit+council tax benefit package. The only condition which a recipient citizen shall be required to meet is: that if they are of working age and capable to work, they shall be required to work for a total of 43 hours in a 4-week cycle
a . This can be for any legitimate employer, self-employment, or a socially or environmentally useful government guaranteed scheme
b  -or a mix of these
c . Those unable to work, in legitimate full-time education (term-time), or beyond retirement age, will receive CI without conditions. Those in prison would be eligible for CI but would be required to pay a proportion as ‘keep’ to the prison -at least as much as an average citizen did in basic rented housing. Workers would not be expected to do work that they had a moral objection to, although there should be plenty of non-controversial possibilities in the government-sponsored schemes. Those with a medical exemption would in no way be penalised for work they did manage to do (unless it was clearly impossible with the condition they'd declared)...and an exemption declaration should be able to specify 'this person may not be capable of reaching hours required for full CI, in which case they should be considered exempt from the time requirement' See d  for job-sharing.
a) This based on a wage-rate equivalent to that of the national mean income for a working person, currently ~£16.25ph. This is called the CI-wage rate (CIWR). The 43hrs/4-weeks are referred to as CI-time requirement (CITR). Where CIWR is greater than the contracted hourly rate, the difference is called the ‘top-up rate’, and is applicable for hours worked up to the CITR. Hours worked as self-employed would be assumed to be at minimum wage rate, and thus be eligible for the maximum top up rate.
b) Govt. provided jobs would include valuable social and environmental jobs that aren’t currently being done. They could be recommended and awarded via local councils or central Govt.*c. The Govt would pay CI to the citizen...this is to ensure everyone gets their CI, guaranteed and without delay. (exception: those fully self-employed would not make a CI contribution, but the Govt would only pay them the top-up part of CI.) Employers would pay the Govt for the employee’s contracted hourly rate up to the CITR –for a total up to the full CI.Employers would pay the employee direct for any hours worked above the CITR. E.g : You are contracted for £8ph for 30hrs/week with employer ‘X’. X pays the Govt £8x 10.75= £86 towards your CI. The Govt pays you £175 CI, effectively ‘topping you up’ by £89. You would receive a further £154 from your employer (as hours beyond your CITR, at your contracted £8ph). Total weekly income =£175(CI, non-taxable)+ £154(taxable). If you got a pay rise to £20ph, X would pay the Govt the full £175pw, which would be passed on to you as CI, with no Govt top-up. By offering higher weekly wages, however, they should be benefitting from attracting high-calibre employees.
d) For employers with only one employee (includes self-employment), that job is considered as an entire job. So if they only work 15hrs/week, a Govt ‘top-up’ would apply for all but 4.25hrs of that. For employers with more than one employee: There should be an incentive for employers to allow job-sharing, but not to splinter into uselessly small jobs in order to gain maximum govt subsidy. Thus an employer of more than one person (at below the CIWR) would have to contribute more than the contracted wage rate towards employees’ CI in certain circumstances: Taking a full-time job equivalent (FTJE) to be 40hrs/week...an employer providing 80 hours’ weekly work in total would be deemed to provide 2 FTJEs -so the Govt ‘top-up’ is allowed on 2 full CI
An employer employing extra persons in the same job (ie job-sharing) would have to pay half the CI ‘top-up’ for the second employee, and three-quarters of the top-up for 3rd or 4th employees on the same job-share.
EC731 The Citizens' Income will eliminate the unemployment and poverty traps, as well as acting as a safety net to enable people to choose their own types and patterns of work (See EC400). The Citizens' Income scheme will thus enable people to engage in personally satisfying and socially useful work.
EC732 When the Citizens' Income is introduced it is intended that very few will be in a position that they will receive less through the scheme than they were entitled to under the previous benefits system. Children will be entitled to a reduced amount which will be payable to a parent or legal guardian. People with disabilities or special needs which require special provisions will receive a supplement according to need in their special circumstance. Single parents will be eligible for subsidised child care whilst working.
EC733 Housing (and council tax) benefit payments will cease. A vigorously enforced system of fair renting and decent housing standards will ensure that excessive rents are not charged (say something like equivalent to 16hrs of minimum wage as a current baseline for decent basic provision for 1 adult, to include council tax). There will be period when this could make landlords letting in very ‘expensive’ areas have to cut rents significantly. Some transitional relief could be given to such landlords who can demonstrate where they have invested significantly in order to provide such properties.

14 Jun 2013

Welfare reform – heading towards the rocks?

Clive Betts MP blog- Wed, 12 June 2013 ...The Treasury has been consistently sceptical about IDS’s welfare reform programme.  ...
•DWP has already been forced to ditch three of the four proposed Universal Credit pathfinders because the IT systems – even for this limited application – are nowhere near ready.
•Insiders are now confirming that there is no chance of 1 million people receiving universal credit by April 2014, as IDS promised in November 2011.
•Applications for discretionary housing payments (DHP) in April, as a consequence of the bedroom tax, leapt from 5,700 last year to more than 25,000 this year and many more will claim when they find out about them. The budget for DHPs will shortly be exhausted, or so constrained that arrears will take a further leap.
•As the DHP budget runs out, there will be thousands of bad news stories about the impact on adults with disabilities and on children who are no longer able to stay with one parent, after relationship breakdown.
•The costs of collecting the bedroom tax, including managing arrears, could well take up most of the extra income.
•A housing association at the heart of the first direct payment pathfinder experienced a 29 per cent rise in people contacting its financial support team in the last year, and a 19% rise in the total amount of debt referred.
•Rent arrears in these pathfinders are already increasing dramatically. The reality is that ‘direct by default’ is already being carefully ditched. ...
Of course, if the government had really been serious about subsidising under-occupation, they would not have excluded pensioners from the scope of the bedroom tax. Not that I am advocating an expansion of the bedroom tax, rather the opposite.

Postscript 5/8/13 see also http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2013/08/everyone-including-dwp-staff-think-ids-universal-credit-is-a-disaster-heres-why/

8 Jun 2013

the asymmetrical war on terror

"Our" leaders call it asymmetrical warfare. One thing that is definitely asymmetrical is what "we" do to "them" compared to what "they" do to "us". A quick couple of examples. 

In March 2012 US soldier Robert Bales massacred 16 Afghan civilians including nine children during a night-time attack on two Kandahar province villages.

According to Jeremy Scahill's Dirty Wars, in February 2010 US special forces, acting on information about an alleged Taliban compound in Gardez in Afghanistan, raided the compound in the middle of the night, killing a number of men and two pregnant women. But they weren’t Taliban. In fact they were doing a most anti-Taliban thing, which was having a party with live music to celebrate the naming of a child. Furthermore the man of the house was a senior Afghan police commander who had been trained by the US forces. When the US commandos realised what they had done, they dug the bullets out of the women’s bodies, told their commanders that there had been a Taliban ambush and that they were essentially heroes that had gone in and saved everyone else. But then the family contacted reporters and Jerome Starkey of The Times reported that this was a botched Nato raid and that Nato had tried to cover it up. Nato first accused him of lying but, with media attention focused on the village and the family, they changed tack and admitted that their forces had killed these pregnant women and that the men were not Taliban commanders.

And has any of that been in the front-page news alongside the murder of Lee Rigby? 

7 Jun 2013

murder of drummer Lee Rigby - anyone remember Baha Mousa?

As Peter Cranie says, when someone is brutally murdered in the way that drummer Lee Rigby was, it’s important to think first and foremost of the family and friends and their grief and pain: the shock, the horror, the anger and sadness of bereavement.

Once people have dried their tears, it’s important to be clear-eyed about the way our media and discourse treats the killing of Black people as less important than the killing of White people and see events like this in their social and political context. My prediction is that the name of drummer Lee Rigby will go down in history along with others in a long-running discourse of White Martyrs Murdered by Crazy Black People: for example WPC Yvonne Fletcher, shot by Libyans outside their Embassy in London in 1984 and PC Keith Blakelock, hacked to death by a mainly Black mob in the Broadwater Farm riot in Tottenham, north London, in 1985.

How many people remember the name, Baha Mousa?  In September 2003 British soldiers arrested the Iraqi hotel receptionist in Basra and beat him to death and a year-long inquiry found the Ministry of Defence responsible. How many people remember the name, Cynthia Jarrett? It was her death in a police raid that triggered the Broadwater Farm riot. Or Mark Duggan? He was the unarmed black man shot by police, whose death triggered the riots of August 2012 (which also started in Tottenham).

There are many unpeople – unnamed and unremembered and unwhite –  like the wedding parties killed by drones, the boys gathering firewood on a hillside in Afghanistan shot and killed by US helicopter gunships, and the Reuters journalists and the carload of children seen in the wikileaks “collateral murder” video.

For every brutal murder of a white person in a western country there are, I'm sure, many more killings of people of colour in non-western countries dating back to the Vietnamese villagers massacred at My Lai in 1968 and beyond. 

PS. I also liked this By Tony Jaques at Othona
As I write this the media – and many people’s conversations – are full of the murder of drummer Lee Rigby and its repercussions. You may have heard about the mosque in York where the Muslim worshippers responded to an ugly demonstration by the English Defence League by inviting EDL members in for a cup of tea and a chat. What better way to show the revulsion of most Muslims at what happened in Woolwich? But elsewhere, of course, somebody persuaded the men who killed Lee that they were serving their religion. 

21 May 2013

Road tax was abolished 74 years ago

copied from http://ipayroadtax.com/
Road tax doesn't exist. It's car tax, a tax on cars and other vehicles, not a tax on roads or a fee to use them. Motorists do not pay directly for the roads. Roads are paid for via general and local taxation. In 1926, Winston Churchill started the process to abolish road tax. It was finally culled in 1937. The ironically-named iPayRoadTax.com helps spread this message on cycle jerseys. Car tax is based on amount of CO2 emitted so, if a fee had to be paid, cyclists - who are sometimes branded as 'tax dodgers' - would pay the same as 'tax-dodgers' such as disabled drivers, police cars, the Royal family, and band A motorists, ie £0. Most cyclists are also car-owners, too, so pay VED. Many of those who believe road tax exists, want cyclists off the roads or, at least registered, but bicycle licensing is an expensive folly.

11 May 2013

crap on the tracks at Liverpool Street Station

There has been a terrible ongoing smell at Liverpool Street Station platforms 11 to 17 due to the emptying out of “effluent” from the on-train toilets onto the tracks in between the platforms. Crazy but true. So I tried to find out who has environmental health responsibility for Liverpool Street Station. I was referred to City of London Corporation (no help), Hackney (helpful, but not them), TfL (no), London Overground (nothing to do with them).

Eventually I got a helpful response from Customer Relations, Network Rail South East, as follows: 

Historical situation - Network Rail manage the Rail infrastructure, rather like the Highways Authority do for roads. The Train Operators operate the trains and most stations. We act on their behalf to remove refuse and litter at stations via contractors, in the case of effluent we use a specialist contractor called ‘Railscape’.
Historically human waste has been deposited on track hence the labels saying do not flush the toilets in the station. As less trains deposit on the track (they have retention tanks) and with time more people appear to use the toilets in the station. Greater Anglia have one of the largest fleets without retention tanks with more than 500 toilets that flush on to the track. Generally Train Operators have been reducing the number of such trains or converting them during the life of their franchise. Greater Anglia have a very short franchise which really precludes any major investment by them at this time. Over time all will disappear as all new trains are fitted with retention tanks as standard.

Liverpool Street Station is a Network Rail Managed Station. Most stations are leased to Train Operating companies. So Network Rail ultimately have responsibility albeit in association with the Train Operator.
Network Rail contracts the cleaners at Liverpool street who do the track cleaning.In general enforcement is carried out by the Railway Inspectorate (part of the Office of the Rail Regulator) although other parties do have powers.

Actions taken and under consideration - The situation at Liverpool Street has been something of an on-going problem. Last Christmas plastic trays were fitted to catch the effluent as we were developing problems with removal of such. We asked the Train Operator to emphasise to passengers not to use the toilets in the station. The trays filled rather more quickly than expected, as it appears that there is large scale flushing on the station. The contractor has agreed to increase the number of cleans. Arrangements were made and at the end of April we started cleans nightly. We also authorised the purchase of a larger bowser so clear more effluent and more extensive use of disinfectant. 

Longer term:
  • Pay for retention tanks of the fleet. 
  • Partially pay for the fleet modifications, probably the Inter City fleet as these cause the mass majority of discharge (242 toilets) and stand longer in the station. Looks like a good option.
  • Lock the toilets while in the station. Not really feasible without a lot of additional staff and would result in delay
  • Automatically disable the toilets while the trains are stationary. High risk of blockage would result with more complaints
  • Automatically lock the toilet doors while the doors on the train are open (would have an auto release inside the cubicle). I have had this costed and we will meet with the Rolling Stock Leasing companies to discuss in 2 weeks time. This could be a good medium term solution and possibly linked with the partial fleet modifications
  • Use biodegradable mats that absorb the effluent, as at Paddington, but almost as bad as the trays
  • A full flushing stainless steel track system that automatically disinfects. Issues here with drainage and construction, almost as expensive as modifying the fleet with a high level of Maintenance
Just on the point that more people appear to use the on-train toilets in the station, I wonder if this would lessen if the charge (30p I think) for using the station's public toilets were reduced, and whether Network Rail any power to make this happen.  

8 May 2013

Universal Credit: Elephant Delivers Mouse

Traditionally, the rich and the Right argue that, to make the rich work harder, you need to pay them more while, to make the poor work harder, you need to pay them less.  In terms of income tax, this means that the parties of the rich, the Tories here and the Republicans in the US, always favour income tax cuts for the wealthy. The top rate of income tax in the UK today is 45% for incomes over £150,000, down from 55% last year. It has fallen massively over the decades since the Second World War and was at 90% up to the 1970s, when the standard joke in the Torygraph was of a business executive being asked, “Who do you work for?” and replying, “Well, actually, I work for the government.”

So we have a tax system where, traditionally, the rich get taxed less (to encourage them to work harder) and the poor get taxed more (to balance the books because the rich aren't paying enough). Sometimes this is taken to extremes, as in the Ancien Regime in France, where the ruling classes, the Noblesse and the Clergy, paid no tax, and the peasants and the rest, the Tiers Etat, paid all the tax. The result was the French Revolution of 1789.

Back to the present day and along comes Iain Duncan Smith with Dynamic Benefits, the 2009 report of his think tank, www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk. He has had the revelation that means-testing is income tax by another name and vice-versa. The term “marginal deduction rates” covers both ends of the spectrum.  He has realised that having a system of marginal deduction rates of 95% for the poorest is not giving them the incentive they need to work harder after all.  It would be different if we had no welfare state, of course, but given the largesse of the state handouts to skivers and shirkers that the poor man has been saddled with, he has had to come up with another idea. His brainwave is to tax the poor less as they work more by introducing a new benefit, Universal Credit, to replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits and to "make work pay".

Dynamic Benefits actually proposed a marginal deduction rate of 55% on earnings. Unfortunately, by the time the proposal got passed into law by the Welfare Reform Act of 2012, it had gone up to 65%.  Now, with the abolition of council tax benefit and its replacement by localised council tax reduction schemes, the marginal deduction rate has gone up another notch to 81%.  According to government guidance, Localising support forcouncil tax: Taking work incentives into account (paragraph 4.46),  "anyone finding work will have a total of 81 pence in the pound taken from earnings above universal credits limits, assuming a 20 pence in the pound taper applies where someone is claiming council tax support." (The 20% taper is the one in the government's default scheme.)  So, according to the government assumption, the poorest will be working for 19 pence in the pound. 

The new system is expected to cost £2 billion to set up, according to the DWP’s Universal Credit:  welfare that works, Chapter 7 at page 51. The sorry saga of moving from a bad old system with marginal deduction rates of 95% to a bright new one with marginal deduction rates of 81%, at a cost of £2 billion, is one of Elephant Delivers Mouse.

Note: I’m a welfare benefits adviser at Disability Rights UK (but writing here in personal capacity), where I teach courses about Universal Credit

6 May 2013

democracy and shopping

As co-ordinator of Colchester and District Green Party, I got an angry email this week after the Essex CC elections from someone saying that the Green party candidate hadn’t delivered leaflets or canvassed constituents in his area, so we didn’t deserve his vote and we deserved to come last.
It seems to me that some people think democracy is like shopping: at election time consumers go to the ballot and choose whichever shop has the best offers. Here are what I think some of those offers might sound like.
  • UKIP: Save £££s on Europe and … er, that’s it.
  • Tories: Get the poor to squabble over the crumbs from the rich man’s table so they don’t see how we’re robbing them blind.
  • Lib Dems: We could solve all our problems if only everyone just started being nice to each other.
  • New Labour: In times of austerity, we must have cuts, but we’ll only chop one of your legs off and we’ll do it slowly.
  • Green Party: By virtue of optimism of the will over pessimism of the intellect, we believe we can destroy the juggernaut of globalised capitalism before it destroys our planet.
  • Libertarian Anarchist: Everyone should be free – free to dine at the Ritz or sleep under the bridge and children can have sex and take heroin if they want to.
Anyway, I only included the phrase about how some people think democracy is like shopping and said:
The Green Party is a small party with a small number of dedicated members and it cannot mount election campaigns everywhere like the larger parties. Our strategy is to target those areas where we think we can win and to get a Green Party candidate on the ballot everywhere else.  Our strategy has paid off in that we have won our first two seats on Essex County Council (in Witham and Rochford).  Our strategy to get a Green Party candidate on the ballot everywhere else has meant that everyone everywhere has had the chance to vote Green if they want to. 
It seems to me that some people think democracy is like shopping: at election time consumers go to the ballot and choose whichever shop has the best offers. But I believe democracy depends on active participation by all citizens. In that regard, I thank you for writing as I’m sure there are many others thinking as you do who have not taken the trouble to raise their concerns.  I believe that, if you want change, the matter is in your hands and I wonder if you’d be willing to help us leaflet, knock on doors, etc, next time.  
I hope this explanation helps. If you want to keep in touch, please sign up for our emails at http://lists.greenparty.org.uk/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/lp-colchester

4 May 2013

Hello UKIP, goodbye BNP

Just saw this at http://action.hopenothate.org.uk/bye-bye-bnp and wonder if UKIP will go the way of the BNP. 

Under Nick Griffin’s leadership, the BNP made their first breakthrough in Burnley in 2002. Within a year they were the second largest party on the council. This week they lost their last seat there.

The BNP’s problems began with their heavy defeat in Barking and Dagenham in 2010. Since then they have been consumed with internal strife, huge debt and demoralised activists. In yesterday’s elections they only managed just over 100 candidates and only a handful managed to poll above 10%.

27 Apr 2013

Building Portable Kilns out of Ceramic Fibre

Here is an information sheet on building a DIY raku kiln, written by Steve Mills of Bath Potters Supplies and uploaded by ukpotters.com. The info sheet is no longer on Bath Potters Supplies website, but Steve told ukpotters.com it was OK to publish it, so here is my edited version. ukpotters.com  adds: if the kiln is not intended to last very long, you could just make large "staples" from Nichrome wire, or suitable "buttons" can be carved from scrap bits of HTI firebrick.

Building Portable Kilns out of Ceramic Fibre 
(based on information sheet by Steve Mills)
Simple ceramic fibre kilns can be built on any framework, eg chicken wire, because its lightness means it doesn't need a heavy supporting structure. The two types of kiln outlined here are updraft kilns. They are the easiest for the budding kiln builder to start with. 
Warning: Ceramic fibre blanket is composed of compressed fibres of alumina and silica. During the making of the kiln, the blanket will release dust WHICH CAN BE HARMFUL especially if you have respiratory problems and/or sensitive skin, so use a good quality respirator or anti-toxic-dust mask, well-covering clothing and rubber gloves at all stages of construction.
For firing these kilns, use propane gas and a good quality blow-torch. For a single-burner kiln, use a BULLFINCH model 1260 burner allied to a short extension tube No1112, the standard handle No1340 with on/off valve, 3 metres of high pressure hose and the No1051 tiny reg 2 variable regulator. This will deliver up to 25psi of gas, far more than most of us will need. This burner is obviously very powerful, but it can be turned down to a candle flame. This gives you the option of speed when needed. Outside of the UK, use any good plumber's burner that will deliver at least 19KW (67000 btu) and will handle up to 4 cubic feet gross capacity.
Make the burner port approximately 3" diameter, which is 0.5" bigger than the burner.  Make the flue 60% larger, ie 4.8" diameter.  In practice you can make the flue larger and start off with two bits of brick over part of the flue to restrict the exit. The above seems to work well for kilns from 0.8cu ft to 4cu ft.
Before building your kiln make buttons to hold the fibre to the walls and the roof:
#1 Disc cut out of scrap stoneware clay (well grogged) with a 1.5" diameter cutter. A pinch of clay applied to the back and a hole cut through. (You can make them like ordinary buttons but then the holes create a heat path through the fibre which is ultimately destructive and corrodes the wire holding it.)
#3 A short length of nichrome wire is looped through the hole in the button and taken out through the fibre and the kiln wall and bent over to hold it in place.
You won’t need a great number: eg 18 for the example below. Space them about 8" or 9" apart and stagger them. The bottom half of the kiln will only need them in a circle just below the rim. The lid will obviously need more support.

#1 Oil drum. If it has a separate lid drill at intervals around the rim and fix with self tapping screws or pop rivits. Cut a slice out of the drum so that the internal height is 2' (610mm) PLUS the thickness of the blanket you are going to put in the lid and base. Then subtract about 1.5" (37.5mm) to give you a compression joint between the lid and base. You should have a finished internal height of 27" before lining.
#2 Line the base first, then the sides, then put the base piece of shelf in and cut the burner hole just above the base of the shelf, drill the sides at intervals and secure the fibre to the walls with the buttons. Don’t pull them so tight it looks like a leather armchair as the blanket will tear on its initial shrinkage.
#2a Cut the hole for the burner then cut the blanket like a star and fold the ends out. You can either glue the ends down or wire them down as in the drawing. Tricky but easier to renew when worn. N.B put the wire loops in place before you cut the blanket. See the picture on the left.
#2b If you want something longer lasting for the burner and/or flue ports see "Flue and Burner block alternatives" later on in this leaflet.
#3 The lid is obviously assembled like the base. The flue hole is cut first and the loops put in place before any blanket is put in.
FINAL JOB: spray the inside with RIGIDISER (W) using a garden hand spray. This puts a hard skin about 2mm thick on the surface of the fibre, which although brittle, prevents the flame from the burner tearing up the kiln wall and reducing it to dust. So it's good for the kiln, your pots, and your lungs! Rigidiser (w) is coloured blue (which burns out) so that you can gauge how much you have put on.
#1 Make a former around which layers of blanket are wrapped,each later held in place with sellotape while the next layer is applied. Joints must be staggered, to prevent heat loss. Use the strongest metal mesh you can handle for the outside wall, and allow plenty of overlap as it makes pulling it up tight to the blanket a lot easier. Don't trim off "ends" you'll need them to hold it all together!
#2a You can put a double layer of kitchen foil between the blanket and the mesh as it protects the former and it`s reflective qualities help.#2 The base and top are made the same way except the hole for the flue which is cut and blanket folded out before final assembly.
#3 Complete the cylinder then cut to separate top from bottom. Buttons are then applied to the inside, handles, rim stiffeners etc. are fixed to the outside and the hole is cut for the burner. Finally rigidiser is sprayed over the inside and allowed to dry. The tall handles incorparate feet (diagram) to help protect fibre when kiln lid is dumped on the ground when unloading.

#4 For a top hat version the same process may be followed but obviously leave out the base. The firebox is best made separately out of brick.
#5 When all assembly is complete, spray the insides a deep blue with rigidiser, but leave 1"(25mm) either side of the lid/base join so that the fibre can compress and form a good seal.
When firing any of these kilns, always angle the burner as shown. The flame spirals up around the pots, and then reluctantly out of the flue vent. If you point the torch straight in, the fire more or less avoids everything in its hurry to get out, resulting in a very uneven firing.

Standard brick size soft firebrick can be shaped like this #1 using very simple tools i.e. old wood drills, hacksaw blades, and a woodworker's rasp, (cut the hole as near to a slot as you can,this seems to help to keep the heat in by acting as a sort of baffle.)
The brick fits into the kiln lid like so #2 and is held in place with nichrome wire through the holes shown.
Drilling soft firebrick does not require an electric drill, quite often the bit can be used just held in the fingers! I usually use an old bicycle spoke for small holes. Remember that soft firebrick will break easily so carry out all operations on it with great care, however once in place it resists abrasion better than fibre, and means you can alter the size of the vent easily and accurately without damage.
As can be seen from the drawing, the burner block is a more complex shape, but it can be done with care, and its benefits outweigh the fiddle involved in making it. As with the flue brick, it is fitted with the "flange" on the inside, and is held in place by stitching it with nichrome wire. Keep any offcuts of brick, as they will be useful for controlling the size of the flue opening during early stages of the firing (economy) and during reduction (if any).
Note 1: When pushing either of these bricks into place, use another brick or a piece of wood as a pusher to prevent breakage as they will be relatively frail once they have been cut to shape
Note 2: If the kiln is going to be used for high temperatures on a regular basis, it is worth cutting a shallow groove where the nichrome wire crosses the hot face, and burying the wire under a thin layer of fire cement to protect it.
Standard tools:
Small Angle Grinder-to cut the drum.
Electric Drill and bits -to drill holes in same.
small nosed Pliers.
Hacksaw blade.
Old Tenon Saw.
Wood Rasp.
Old but sharp Carving Knife-to cut blanket.
Small Garden Hand Spray.
One metre straight edge.

Non standard tools
Bicycle spoke drill.  
Tube borer: made from a shortish length of steel tube with teeth cut into one end. Makes the job of boring holes in brick for the flue or burner a bit simpler.
Ceramic button threader: For this you need a piece of metal rod about 8" long sharpened at one end, and a short length of plastic tube, the sort used to protect the ends of fine paint brushes. The rod is pushed from the outside of the kiln through the fibre to the inside, the piece of tube is then pushed over then end, the ceramic button with its piece of wire attached is offered up on the inside, the wire ends tucked into the tube, and the whole lot pulled back through to the outside. It saves a lot of time (and temper). The size of the piece of plastic tube will dictate the size of the holes you drill in the drum of the "outside in" kiln!
Tips & Wrinkles
For cutting the fibre to fit, measure the inside circumference, cut the fibre to length, then lay it out flat and cut it horizontally into the lengths for the top and bottom. It is a good idea if you are using a combination of blanket thickness' to sandwich the thinner material between the thicker for support.
When laying fibre inside a drum, I find it helps to use a rolling pin in a stroking rather than rolling fashion to compress the blanket against the wall
With the "inside out" Kiln, a good way of getting the mesh really tight round the outside is to use a length of strap pulley fashion (see drawing) and pull hard!
If you are building a kiln using a cut down drum, keep the bit you cut out of the middle of the drum; with the edges cleaned up, it makes an excellent cutter for the discs of fibre for the top and bottom.
If the inside of the kiln becomes damaged during use, repairs can be made by spraying the damaged bit with rigidiser, and while it's still wet pushing a scrap of fibre into the hole and spraying over it again.
When reducing, keep the length of flame at the flue vent pretty short (2"-3"), too much reduction can actually force the temperature down.
Keep a log of each firing , noting as much detail as you can,it will help in subsequent firings.

With your kiln built and the inside rigidised, you'll need a base shelf to go on the kiln floor, three props between 3" and 4" long, and the first shelf of your setting. As far as the latter is concerned I have found that contrary to what you might expect, round batts are the last thing you want in a kiln of this type, especially if you are proposing to use it for firings other than raku. Square batts, the corners of which miss the kiln wall by about 1/2" seem to be the most effective. The fire circulating round the kiln hits the corners and is deflected into the setting, rather than skating round the outside as would be the case with round batts.
Should you decide you need a spy hole, use a tubular prop, sticking as much out of the kiln as into it and plugged with a knob of fibre. By having it sticking out it means you can either secure it to the outside with wire and a bracket,or hold it with a gloved hand while you peer in! A spy hole may be unnecessary as you can usually see your cones through the flue vent.
Site the kiln in a well-ventilated area with no overhanging material within 5 feet of the flue vent.
Stand the kiln on three bricks to allow air to circulate beneath it.
Ensure the burner is down wind, as cool air blowing into the burner port can adversely affect the quality and controlability of the firing.
Important: Site the gas supply to one side and downwind of the kiln. Protect the hose with some sort of cover to prevent it being tripped over or trodden on.
Always increase gas pressure in very small amounts, the same applies to changing the size of the flue opening with your brick offcuts. These kilns are scaled down versions of large kilns, so a damper movement in the latter of 1" would scale down to approximately 1/16".
When reducing, keep the length of flame at the flue vent pretty short (2"-3"), too much reduction can actually force the temperature down.

Below are the materials used to line a cut-down 45 gallon drum to 2.5" thickness. This kiln was built primarily to fire to cone 8/9, but has also been used a lot for raku. If the latter only is intended, 1.5" to 2" thick lining would suffice.
Fiberfrax blanket, 8lb density, 1260o grade, 25mmX610mm 5.5m
Ditto--12.5mmX610mm 2.5m
Bisc. buttons (home made) 18, 10 top, 8 bottom
2 X 10' coils Nichrome wire,
2 X K23 or TC 25 Brick
Rigidiser (W) 500cc
Scrap 45 UK gallon drum
Plus assorted self tapping screws and 7' X 1/2"X 1/8" mild
steel strap which I had in the workshop.
The Self Reliant Potter by Andrew Holden (out of print)
The Kiln Book by Fredrick L Olsen (a bit of a "Bible")
The Energy Efficient Potter by Regis C  Brodie
Kilns, Design Construction and Operation by Daniel Rhodes (out of print)