Fancy working until you are 73?

December 28, 2011 § Leave a comment


 (Richard Pohle)Those in their twenties now may have to work into their seventies

Anyone under 30 should brace themselves for working well into their seventies after the chancellor confirmed the state pension age would rise in line with life expectancy.

More immediately, George Osborne tore up the retirement plans of about 8m people aged between 44 and 51, saying they would not now receive a pension until 67. They will have to save £600 a year if they want to retire at the same age and make up the lost pension.

The state pension age had been due to rise to 67 between 2034 and 2036 under Labour government plans, but the coalition has brought this forward to between 2026 and 2028, saving about £60 billion in today’s prices between 2026–27 and 2035–36 according to Standard Life, the insurer.

The coalition had already announced a rise to 66 by 2020, instead of 2024 under the previous government. This will hit women particularly hard, as their retirement age was already due to rise from 60 to 65 between now and 2020 and they therefore face working not one but two extra years.

The government is also to consider basing future rises in the state pension age on demographic evidence — in other words, rising life expectancy.

There was good news for existing pensioners. Single people will get a £5.30 rise in the state pension next year, up to £107.45 a week, and married couples will be £8.20 better off, at £171.85.

I’m in my early fifties, what should I do?

The loss of every year’s basic state pension costs nearly £5,600 in today’s money. However, the second state pension, which is a top-up to the basic pension based on your earnings, is worth typically about £5,000 a year (double this for higher earners). This is also postponed and takes the loss to £11,000-£15,000.

This black hole faced by those in their late forties and early fifties could be filled by saving about £600 a year, increasing in line with inflation, until retirement. This should produce the equivalent of about £11,000 today, if it grows at a modest 2% above inflation.

I’m younger, what do the changes mean for me?

According to the Office for National Statistics, life expectancy is increasing by 1.5 to 2 years every decade. If this continues, by 2026 a man will live until 88, enjoying 21 years in retirement, with his wife living to 91.

As things stand, anyone starting work at 16 today will not receive a state pension until they are 72, according to Standard Life. Those between 37 and 44 will not retire until 68, with those in their twenties and thirties forced to wait until 70.

John Lawson, pensions director at Standard Life, said: “All this underlines the vital importance of starting to save at the youngest age you can, to make sure you have enough to live on when you want to retire.”

I’ve retired, what did the budget mean for me?

As well as the rise in the basic state pension, the poorest pensioners will also enjoy a £5.30 boost to the guaranteed minimum income top-up. This climbs 3.9% to £142.70 for single people and by £8.50 to £217.90 for couples.

However, pensioners with small savings may be hit by cuts to the savings credit. Currently, if you have a weekly income through state and private pensions of up to £188, you can qualify for an additional weekly savings credit of £20.50 designed to reward saving.

The starting point for calculating this credit will rise to £111, with the effect that the maximum payable will be cut to about £19.

The personal tax allowance for over-65s will rise in April to £10,500 for those up to 74, and to £10,660 for the over-75s. The income limit at which this higher allowance begins to be clawed back will also rise, from £24,000 to £25,400.


An interesting …

December 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

An interesting law case in California where an unhappy owner of a Honda Civic hybrid wants to sue the manufacturer. The problem is that the car’s battery starts to fail, meaning the car needs to use its petrol engine more, and so fuel economy drops from claimed 50mpg to more like 30mpg.

The conventional way to get compensation is a group claim trough a class action lawsuit. That’s about the only way you can get a law firm to tackle the time-consuming and expensive process of documenting all the claims and going through the court process (and fighting the expensive company lawyers).

Trouble with that is, of course, the lawyers make a bundle, but the actual victims get SFA. In one classic case a few years ago the victims got less than five dollars each. In the Honda case the proposed settlement would have given the owners $100 cash and a $500 discount off their next Honda. The lawyers were to get $8.5 million.

But one owner, a Californian woman named Heather Peters is trying a different tack. She’s taking Honda to the Small Claims court, where lawyers are not allowed, and is asking for the maximum $10,000. And, she is using the Internet to encourage others to do the same, using a template she has prepared to guide them through the process.

This how LAT commented

If she’s successful in getting others to follow her example, Peters could inspire a whole new litigation strategy in the auto industry and other businesses. Working together but filing lawsuits independently, consumers could force companies to go mano a mano with individual plaintiffs in far-flung courtrooms nationwide.

Call it a small-claims flash mob.

“This could create a lot of problems in the industry,” said Aaron Jacoby, the Los Angeles defense attorney who heads the automotive industry group at the Arent Fox law firm.

Attorneys said social networking and the Internet make it easier for groups of claimants to find one another and map out tactics such as the one Peters has devised.

Apartment dwellers for years have used a similar strategy, banding together to file individual cases against the same landlord in Small Claims Court.

“You might have 10 plaintiffs suing the same defendant, but with different claims, and requesting that all the cases be heard at the same time,” said Nicholas Aquino, Small Claims Court advisory program manager for the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs.

He said mass filings could become a trend.

“Governments are cutting back on everything, including consumer protection. The Small Claims Court is the forum of last resort for the everyday person,” Aquino said. “It gives a consumer an opportunity to have an issue addressed in court.”

LA Times story

December 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

LA Times story

William Flew On The Future of Democracy

December 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

If we have been granted a brief lull during this economic storm, perhaps it may seem curious timing to write about further depression. But we’re blessed with a pause: we can think more coolly.

And it’s the longer term to which I want to give some cool attention. Our world is not about to end. On this page in September I threw out the thought that in the West we will get 25 per cent poorer. I plucked that figure from the air; hopefully it’s overly pessimistic; but even a 25 per cent real-terms decline in average disposable income need not be free fall, but equilibrium at a lower level. A whole generation in Britain and Europe may look back to their youth as a more prosperous time.

What does this mean for democracy? Can it survive the orderly impoverishment of the people? Will people vote for a party that promises them no significant growth for the forseeable future?

Democracy, I believe, is soon to be stress-tested in peacetime as it has hardly been tested before. Pain today, jam tomorrow — we can all vote for that; democracy has no problem with deferred gratification. But how about cancelled gratification? Between “later” and “never” is a world of psychological distance.

George Osborne’s Autumn Statement this week made clear that his party will lead this Government towards an election that the Tories will enter without having wiped out (as they promised) Britain’s structural deficit, and without having done more than take our national debt down just a smidgin past its peak — and only with a fair wind even then.

If things go ill across the Channel even these depressing figures could be optimistic, as the Governor of the Bank of England said with emphasis this week. So far, every prediction of growth has had to be downgraded, and one feels no reason for confidence that these latest will prove exceptions. Although a solid supporter of this Conservative leadership, I don’t believe that when in three years we enter the winter of 2014 the Tories will plausibly be able to promise that good times are around the corner, let alone already here.

Read this: “We have been living as a very rich country. People are used to a very high level of public services and it takes time to them for to acknowledge the realisation that we now are a poor country . . .”

Thus spoke Miguel Arias, of the (now) governing right-wing Popular Party in Spain last month. But it was said after an election victory, not before; by a campaign co-ordinator, not an incoming minister; to a foreign interviewer, not a domestic audience; and by a party that had just ousted a deeply unpopular government rather than an incumbent government running for re-election. I’d add that Spain only recently — and quite suddenly — got rich and that the idea that it was all too good to be true and couldn’t last has lurked in many Spanish minds for some time. The same may be said of the Republic of Ireland. Neither are plagued by the infuriating British (or French) sense of entitlement.

Other indicators tell conflicting stories. The Greek electorate still seems to be in denial. German voters appear to want the advantages of the euro while refusing to fund the means to save it.

Argentina’s rather older story is more hopeful: since its collapse, democracy has not been overthrown and the country got to grips with its reduced circumstances; but only after free fall and humiliation, and only in the (plausible) belief that life is going to get better.

A tougher test may await us in Britain. The lesson from Argentina, Ireland and our own postwar austerity governments is that people will vote for impoverishment only after something like trauma: and even then the promise of “broad sunlit uplands” (the now clichéd phrase was Churchill’s) is needed.

But we Northern European nations may not be brought to our knees or have to contemplate chaos — but may face something subtly much bleaker: an economic winter that looks as if it will go on for ever; an English type of winter, survivable, drizzly, chilly and grey, rather than magnificently Arctic. Selling drizzle is almost the hardest thing a democratic politician can be asked to do. The rhetoric of blood, toil, tears and sweat is unavailable.

If in three years David Cameron and his colleagues cannot reasonably and persuasively claim that if only we hold on a bit longer, something big and good is in prospect, and if Ed Miliband cannot believably counterclaim that if only we borrowed a little more we’d soon be on the up again, I begin to wonder how solid and unshaken our trust in democracy — surely one of the most firmly based democracies in Europe or the world — will then feel.

We British don’t care for military coups but there are two other bad ways we could lurch. One is towards ideologues and extremists: the populist snake-oil salesmen peddling xenophobia, immigrant-bashing, protectionism.

The other is towards technocrats: the belief that the vote-seeking political class are incapable of rising to the moment or sticking to their guns. Many signs that we’re moving that way are already observable: this and the previous governments’ moves to write desiderata into statute — as if reducing child poverty or fuel poverty, or increasing overseas aid, needs to be kept safe from elected politicians, and must be made (impossibly) somehow automatic, like parts of the constitution. Or the setting-up of bodies before whose titles the word “independent” is placed: the “independent” Office for Budgetary Responsibility; the “independent” Office for National Statistics. Or the establishment of “agencies,” “commissions”, inquiries by judges, judicial review, European conventions, czars or ombudsmen: individuals or bodies whose worth is counted by their very lack of accountability.

All these are chippings away at confidence in democracy: signs, at worst, of an eroding belief in government by the people, and at best of a growing sense of the limitations of elected administration.

Populists or technocrats? It’s the equivalent of lurching between the unruly mess of populist government and military dictatorships, the attractions of the one always most apparent from the vantage point of the other: a malign oscillation that bedevilled Latin America for more than a century and may threaten now (in what we call the “Arab Spring”) the Middle East and North Africa.

In Britain we’ve had government on the basis of a full, equal, universal franchise only for about 80 years, a period that coincided with an already established, powerful, underlying (if fluctuating) upward trend in the enrichment of all classes. Democracy was lucky. Even in the 1930s it was the belief that good times would return — and then an impending war — that kept totalitarianism at bay.

But today we approach something new in my lifetime: a state of settled disbelief that the fat years will, or could, return under any of our political parties, and perhaps never will. Will we vote for this orderly impoverishment? It would be rash to assume that here and across the Channel democratic politics will survive in its current shape. It is too early to say.

William Flew and James Bond Films

December 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Syd Cain, film production designer, was born on April 16, 1918. He died on November 21, 2011, aged 93

It was Q who got the credit for supplying James Bond with an ingenious attaché case that saved his life in one of his earliest screen adventures. It looked like the sort of case any international businessman might carry but it contained a fold-up rifle, a hidden knife and a teargas canister disguised as a tin of talcum powder, and it saved 007’s life in From Russia With Love (1963).

It was the first of the gadgets that Q came up with for Bond. However, the real mastermind behind the case was Syd Cain, who also designed the shoes with the built-in flick knife for the villain Rosa Klebb in the same film.

Such gadgets may seem tame in today’s world of laser beams, miniature spycams and lethal remote-controlled drones, but they caught the imagination of the cinema-going public in the 1960s and became a vital ingredient in the success of the films.

Cain’s association with the Bond series stretched over more than 30 years from the first film Dr No in 1962 to GoldenEye, when Pierce Brosnan took over as 007, in 1995. He also worked with Alfred Hitchcock on Frenzy (1972) and on dozens of other films includingLolita (1962), Fahrenheit 451 (1966), Supergirl (1984) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

Born Sydney Basil Cain in Grantham, Lincolnshire, in 1918, he had had his own taste of danger in exotic places during the Second World War. He served in the Royal Engineers and subsequently as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. He was almost killed when his plane crash-landed. He broke his neck and suffered serious multiple injuries to back, ribs and legs.

Subsequently he worked as an instructor in Rhodesia, where his living quarters were struck by lightning and he was rescued from the burning building.

After being invalided out of the RAF, Cain entered the film business as a draughtsman, working his way up to assistant art director on the war film The Cockleshell Heroes (1955). It was made by Warwick Films, a company formed in the early 1950s by Irving Allen and Cubby Broccoli.

Cain had made several films for Warwick by the time Broccoli linked up with Harry Saltzman to found a new company, Eon Productions, to turn Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels into movies. On Dr NoCain served as No 2 in the art department to the production designer Ken Adam and designed the fire-breathing dragon.

Adam was unavailable for From Russia With Love, so Cain took charge. He was production designer on the George Lazenby outingOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and supervising art director on Roger Moore’s first outing Live and Let Die (1973).

One of his designs for Live and Let Die was a specially adapted Rolex watch that contained a buzz-saw. It sold for $37,000 at auction in 2001, and was recently put back on the market, selling for almost $250,000 at auction last month.

Cain was responsible for much more than the gadgets. “I would receive the script and I would turn the printed word into pictures,” he said. “I would then find any locations that I thought were suitable for the story and present them to the director, most times we would search areas together. I would design the sets and any special effects needed.”

He recalled that the rats in From Russia with Love and the crocodiles in Live and Let Die were real. The rats were white rats from a pet shop, darkened with cocoa powder, although the animals discovered a liking for cocoa, licked it off and turned back into white rats. The crocodiles were on a crocodile farm and had weights tied to their feet to keep them in place.

Cain reckoned Connery was the best Bond, and Moore the nicest actor, and he also worked with him on Gold (1974), Shout at the Devil (1976), The Wild Geese (1978) and The Sea Wolves (1980). Other projects around that time included The New Avengers (1976).

His final Bond film was GoldenEye, the first Bond for six years. He was in his mid-seventies by then and effectively came out of retirement to work as a storyboard artist on the film. His memoirsNot Forgetting James Bond were published in 2002.

He was married three times and is survived by eight children, several of whom work in the film industry.

William Flew and the Pill

December 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

while countless essays have been written about how the Pill changed women, much less has been said about how it changed men. Those who have examined the issue in depth, particularly from a women’s lib perspective, have invariably seen the Pill as a kick in the teeth for chaps.

The reason is simple: the battle of the sexes metaphor, so beloved of a certain type of feminist, invites us to think of gender as a zero sum game. If something is good for one warring faction, it must be bloody awful for the other. The Pill was marvellous for women; QED it was terrible for men.

This is, of course, nonsense. The Pill, far from being a catastrophe for men, has been one of the great male liberators and not just because it brought sex for the sheer pleasure of it more fully into our lives.

No, this was about challenging an outdated, backward, tired, subjugating attitude to women that not only damaged women, but demeaned men. It is astonishing that until the 1950s the female orgasm was widely considered apocryphal, and the very idea of “the wife” wanting sex for its own sake taboo. If nothing else, sex must have been pretty unimaginative back then.

The economics is also revealing. Many in the modern men’s movement (you know, those who think society has been skewed towards women) argue that women’s involvement in the workplace has damaged and emasculated men. A proper demolition of that argument is probably best left to Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations, but we should certainly note that greater female participation at work has boosted growth and productivity, benefiting everyone. Economics is a positive sum game.

But while the Pill has been a blessing to men and women alike, it has so much more to do. Making contraception — the Pill and condoms — available in poor nations would cost less than $4 billion (which is the amount the US is spending every fortnight in Afghanistan), but would prevent 50 million unwanted pregnancies per year. And, as the Gates Foundation has shown, a reduced birthrate is the single most effective way of alleviating poverty. The Pill also happens to be a great way of slashing medical expenditure on unplanned abortions.

William Flew and Gambling

December 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Pupils should learn that studying the form can improve their chances of winning a bet, an industry-funded body has advised

Children as young as 12 should be taught in school how to gamble, a government education review has been told.

Pupils should learn that studying the form of race horses, dogs and sports teams can improve chances of winning a bet, an industry-funded body has advised. They should also play the dice game craps, learn about fruit machines and how to calculate betting odds.

The proposals won immediate support from Labour, who said that children needed to “understand when the odds are stacked against them”.

Stephen Twigg, the Shadow Education Secretary, said: “This is something that shouldn’t be left to chance.

“With the rise of online gambling, there is clearly a need for children and young people to be given good advice. It is right that, just like drug and alcohol addiction, teenagers and children are given information to prepare them for the adult world. The Government should listen to concerns.”

Gamcare, which runs a problem-gambling helpline and receives about £3 million a year donated by the gambling sector, put forward the plan to a government review of personal, social and health education (PSHE). It said that children should be taught “responsible gambling” in secondary schools.

Detailed lesson plans have been prepared, some of which state as their objective “to enable students to increase their knowledge and understanding about gambling”.

One proposes a class discussion in which pupils are asked to identify “some of the more positive aspects of gambling” as well as negative points and to understand why people bet.

Education experts warned that the move risked creating a new generation of gamblers, and said schools should focus on their core purpose of learning.

Graham Stuart, a Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, said: “I am generally nervous of trying to make schools the cure-all for society’s ills. Their primary aim is to equip children with the basic skills of a decent education.”

Gamcare argues that many teenagers are already aware of gambling and that 2 per cent of young people aged 12-13 are classed as “problem gamblers”. It says that they should be taught how to approach gambling responsibly and wants secondary schools to use two sets of lesson plans designed by Tacade, a charity that develops life skills for young people.

One set, called You Bet!, is for use by teachers in schools and pupil referral units, with separate plans for 11 to 14-year-olds and for pupils aged 14-16. In one lesson plan children could toss coins and throw dice and work out the odds for the outcome. One says: “Ask the students ‘How much control over winning does the punter have in different types of gambling?’ The answer and fact is generally ‘very little,’ although this varies. For example, studying the form of horses, dogs and sports may have an influence.”

A second set, Just Another Game?, is intended for 14-19-year-olds in more informal educational settings, but Gamcare said it could also be used in schools. This includes a simplified version of the casino game craps in which students learn the link between gambling and arithmetic, lessons on fruit machines that help students to develop strategies for “safer gambling” and a game in which students begin by being told that they are the “lucky winners” of an island complete with a casino.

In its submission Gamcare admits that a previous initiative in Canada, the “It’s Your Lucky Day” project, was judged a failure that left students more aware of how gambling works but in most cases “not more likely to know about the signs of problem gambling”.

Gamcare does not use money from its central allocation of industry funding for educational projects, but the materials were developed using money from the Responsible Gambling Fund, which is industry-sponsored.

Alan Smithers, an educational expert at the University of Buckingham, said: “The Government is right to want the curriculum to focus on essential learning. I am sure that the motives of Gamcare are of the highest but I have a fear that the proposal may not only be a distraction from essential learning but might easily teach children how to gamble. What is forbidden or discouraged is often more attractive.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said: “There is a very fine line teachers would be reluctant to cross between raising awareness of the danger but not doing anything specifically likely to encourage gambling.”

A Gamcare spokesman said: “Gambling is becoming more mainstream. If there are going to be risky activities, young people should be informed about how to do this safely.”

A spokesman for Ladbrokes, the bookmaker, said: “Ladbrokes supports the principle of increasing awareness about problem gambling, and educating schoolchildren about risk may have a role.

“It would have to be carefully implemented with the advice of experts and in consultation with Government before the industry would commit to funding an initiative of this kind.”

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