15 February 2015
Good morning to you all and hope you all had a splendid and rewarding Valentine’s Day, if you take any notice of such things. I have to confess to being a little cheesed off with all the media hype and general expectations on such occasions but fortunately my valentine knows she is the girl of my dreams rendering excessive displays of affection and the purchase of chocolates and/or flowers utterly unnecessary (at least, I hope that’s the case!).
Lady Penelope and I went to see the film The Theory of Everything on Saturday night last week – no vouchers this time, we just fancied seeing it. If you’ve not seen it, by all means do so. It’s the story of the relationship between the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane and it’s a beautiful story brilliantly portrayed.
Fortunately, there is very little astro-physics in the film so nothing too baffling. Just a fascinating story about the woman who, knowing that Hawking had been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and had been given two years to live, still took on the enormous challenge of caring for him and who did so for years and years.
Eddie Redmayne is simply astonishingly good as Hawking – apparently, in an e-mail to director James Marsh about the portrayal by Eddie Redmayne, Stephen Hawking said there were certain points when he thought he was watching himself. His performance won the BAFTA for Best Actor this past week – if he doesn’t win the Oscar I can’t wait to see whoever gave a better performance.
The leaking of the HSBC documents highlighting the ways in which the bank has vigorously assisted those wishing to evade paying tax in the UK (and elsewhere) has dominated much of the news here this past week. I gather it’s also pretty big news in the US? Amongst lots of revealing articles, one in particular caught my eye – a comparison of the way in which the authorities treated a tax-dodging millionaire and a cleaner who was accused of benefit fraud to the tune of £25,000. The cleaner got seven months in jail; the tax-dodging millionaire paid a small penalty and walked away.
tax authority figures suggest tax evasion costs the UK £34bn a year, [other sources] suggest it is much more than than that, around £120bn. In comparison, figures from the Department of Work and Pensions suggest the total amount of money lost to fraud was around £2bn in 2011/12.
Ah, but the benefit fraudster hasn’t donated £50,000 to the Conservative Party.
And while I’m in a ranting-type mood, there was a terrific article in the Guardian this past weekend by Zoe Williams claiming that the current government has taken “evidence-free” government to new heights, something I’ve been banging on about for some time.
It’s a government of ideology rather than one which uses research and/or evidence to guide its policies and this is nowhere more true than in the area of “benefit” reform. The disabled, handicapped, homeless, jobless are amongst those who have been targeted most severely with little effect other than to make their lives ever more miserable.
All (almost all) the people whose benefits were cut will still exist, at the end of this parliament. Their children will still exist. Their health problems will still exist, doubtless having been worsened by malnutrition and desperation. All the conflict for which legal aid was sought will still exist. The pressures on the legal system still exist, worsened by a surge in litigants in person (there has been a 30% rise in cases at the family courts in which both parties have to represent themselves). If you are taking even a medium-term view, it makes no sense to change systems without evidence. Cut indiscriminately, costs are likely to bob up elsewhere, where they will cost more and last longer.
When government ministers are quizzed from time to time by the various select committees which exist to ensure the government is held accountable for its actions, the prevarication in place of answers is quite illuminating. For example, having asked the employment minister whether her department had done any research about the impact of the government’s benefit sanctions and received no straight answer, the chair of the select committee finally concluded, “I take it from your failure to answer the question that you did not do any research.”
Nope. No research needed here.
Finally, Penelope posted the following on my Facebook timeline and it certainly struck a chord. I reckon Molly must have read all of these and, in particular I think she must have been the author of “The Joys of Nocturnal Barking” – she is particularly gifted in that area.
Love to you all,