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%.