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I.O.U

Speaking earlier this month, David Cameron launched this year’s election campaign with a speech about debt. He posed the following question “To every mother, father, grandparent, uncle, aunt – I would ask this question. When you look at the children you love, do you want to land them with a legacy of huge debts?” [No sense of irony was detected in the position of university students who are saddled with enormous debts as a direct and deliberate result of Government policy].
He was speaking about the public sector debt which continues to rise relentlessly and according to figures recently released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) now stands at 1.483 trillion pounds with the noughts that is £1,483,000,000,000. This is a huge amount of money and represents 81% of our annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
We all know that debt isn’t free that not only does it have to be repaid but interest and other charges are also added to the sum. Those costs currently stand at £36bn per year and like the debt are rising year on year and will continue to.
With numbers like these who can’t argue that reducing this debt has to be a priority for our public finances. How could we pass this onto future generations, after all they might not pay our pensions if we’ve spent all the money.
However public sector debt is not the only debt we have I this country. Each month I get a cheery little email from the daily cost of raising a child, rates of insolvency and bankruptcy and how many homes have been repossessed.
It also published figures on personal debt. When the credit crunch came debt actually rose dramatically by more than 10%. Then people did what they do in a recession, hunker down, cut spending and also reduce debt. People save a bit more because the rainy day seems closer but also they start to rest the credit card and are less likely to buy a new home. Peoples’ economic confidence can probably be measured just as effectively from their propensity to borrow (because borrowing reflects an expectation that there will be future income to pay for the borrowing) than any survey.
Tracking the emails from the Money Charity I started to notice that personal debt began to rise again in 2013. That personal debt now stands at £1.463tn only fractionally less than the public sector debt, almost £29,000 for every adult in the UK. So in answer to David Cameron’s question one could say “Yes we do.” However most of this debt is essential, 80% of it is mortgage debt to buy homes. Without the ability to raise debt very few people would be able to own a home. Some of the Government housing programmes are aimed at helping people to get into debt.
The private sector has around another £7tn of debt. Debt is the foundation of capitalism and banks are the mechanism to move inactive money (savings) into productive use by lending them to people and corporations who can make use of them and increase its value. Without debt there is no progress because investment is just another word for debt.
Of course debt is only productive if it can be repaid otherwise the economic system collapses under its own weight. This is what happened during the credit crunch as banks sold and resold and repackaged and resold debt to each other. The debt was over-valued and often uncollectable. We have learned from that and have put in measures to stop it happening again. I’m not so sure.
The Office for National Statistics has also shown (I spend a lot of time reading their reports) that national incomes have fallen and people have less money to spend. However personal debt is now almost £200bn higher than when the credit crunch hit. So we have higher debts and lower incomes. Private sector debts are also rising and this time if it all goes wrong the public sector is too weak to bail them out and whatever David Cameron may think we are all in hooked on debt and that is what we will be passing from generation to generation even if the public finances ever move into surplus.

Blog published by Bristol 247 on 29th December 2014

http://www.bristol247.com/channel/news-comment/comment/paul-smith/who-cares-about-the-low-paid-in-bristol

Taxing Times

Blog written for Bristol 247 published on 24th November

http://www.bristol247.com/channel/news-comment/comment/paul-smith/meagre-tax-cuts-could-cost-us-all-dear

Big Data Club

Blog published by Bristol 247 on 27 October 2014

http://www.bristol247.com/channel/news-comment/comment/paul-smith/every-little-bit-of-data-helps-to-a-point-1414412415

Blog written for Bristolo 247 – published Sept 2010

http://www.bristol247.com/channel/news-comment/comment/paul-smith/bristol-cant-keep-planning-for-the-1950s

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Its some time since I have had the inspiration to write a blog post, then I was hit by a thought wandering through our fair city. No Gromits or statues of any kind (well there is the stag beetle outside wildscreen with a condom on its horn, but lets ignore that for now). Last year the city was teaming with people clutching little maps indicating where the Aardman dogs could be found. Queues of people of all ages formed at the dogs waiting to have photos taken. This year zilcth. I realised its because no-one has thought of an idea to trump the Gromit. Ladies and Gentlemen I have. It is not too late to get this idea implemented for this summer.

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We stand at the brink of greatness as our Mayor has been nominated to be the best mayor, not in the south west, not even in England or Europe but the best in the whole world. If they had mayors on other planets he could be the best in the solar system or even the galaxy. What Bristol needs is 60 or so statues of George with, wait for it, different designs of trousers. My namesake would do stripey ones, others could be variously multi-coloured and we could have an original just in red at Paddington Station.

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How do I make this happen? Do I need to get up a petition or just find sponsors (Bristol Pounds only). At the end of the school holidays we could have an auction to raise money for charities employing or run by members the mayor’s family.

Careless Whisper

Recently a statistic caught my eye. This isn’t unusual because I spend a lot of time looking at research reports. This one really shocked me. It has had very little media attention.

I have often listened to public commentators, especially those on the BBC musing about the cuts in local government and how little of an effect they have had. The argument goes that bloated local government has just slimmed down and no-one has really been affected, the schools open, the bins are collected and little has changed. This supports a view that the Government is right to squeeze the public sector because it isn’t affecting anyone.

the truth is that it isn’t really affecting anyone who is in the social circle of public commentators, journalists and ‘opinion formers’. So now for the killer statistic. This is not from a think tank or a lobby group but from a government body set up to monitor trends in the health and social care sector. It is called the Health and Social Care Information Centre – you can check them out at this site http://www.hscic.gov.uk.

A report published on 10th July with the exciting title “Community Care Statistics, Social Services Activity:England 2012-13, Provisional Release” pulls together statistics on care provided by local authorities and this is the sentence which pulled me up:

“The total number of people receiving services in 2012-13 was 1.3m (down 9% from
2011-12 and down 25% from 2007-08).”

yes that’s down 25%, or in people 300,000.  300,000 people who needed care 5 years previously no longer need it now. Over this period the number of people over the age of 85 has been rising, we would expect not a drop in numbers but an increase.

The report explains that the reasons given are:

“Feedback from councils suggests that the fall this year is again due to a
number of reasons including an increase in the provision of reablement services
outside of a formal assessment process, raised eligibility criteria for services and
reduced funding/resources within Councils with Adult Social Services Responsibilities.”

So some may just be receiving services in a different way but I expect most are just told they no longer qualify.

Now these 300,000 are largely likely to be isolated vulnerable people who wouldn’t be likely to be found at middle class dinner parties talking about their plight. They are largely unseen, largely unheard, they are not organised, they don’t have political clout and slowly but surely they are being assessed out of services.

The truth is its easy to ignore those you never see or hear.

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