5 October 2015

Faced with low pay and employers unwilling or unable to pay a real living wage, the Labour government introduced tax credits, a means of topping up unlivable low pay with taxpayers’ money. A civilised and sensible approach, it seriously helps very many people, who also receive other financial benefits such as help with rent.

The Tory government now wishes to move away from state subsidy for low pay and dependency on benefits. It considers employers should pay their workers decent wages, hence Osborne’s compulsory “national living wage” of £7.20 an hour from next April for workers aged twenty five and over, and this, with other measures, the Tories say enables a reduction in tax credits to the low paid. The current real living wage is £7.85 an hour outside London and that rate applies to workers aged twenty one and over.

I heartily agree that all workers should be paid at least a real living wage: workers should have the proper recognition of their labour and the simple dignity of earning enough to live decently, even well, and provide good security and stability for their families. A proportionate reduction in state subsidy to low pay should then follow. The question is: have the Tories got the arithmetic right, does their simultaneous give-this-take-away-that of their July 29015 budget add up? The independent expert Institute for fiscal studies (IFS) says it doesn’t and that around 3 million low paid families will overall lose as much as £1300 a year from the Tory changes. I gather individuals will learn of their quantified losses in December, the month of Christmas. The IFS damagingly describes the budget as “regressive”.

Sensible proposals have been suggested, by Frank Field among others, to mitigate the presumably unintended losses but David Cameron has insisted there will be no loss of income for the poor and his government will not change anything in their plans.

Well, that confirms the Conservatives as the stupid party – and the nasty party. I think the stupidity will tell against them most.

The risks for the government are so big that I believe there will be mitigating changes. It will be interesting to see how Cameron explains that.


On 6 October in a platform speech at the Tory party conference Boris Johnson, mayor of London, and known to fret genuinely about those 3 million losing families, said of the government welfare changes: “we must ensure…we protect the hardest working and lowest paid: the retail staff, the cleaners…”

Today the minimum wage goes up by 20p to £6.70 an hour for those aged twenty one and over. That is well below the real living wage*, currently £7.85 an hour in Cornwall and elsewhere outside London, but nevertheless a welcome move in a progressive direction. The minimum wage was introduced by Labour in 1999 and has improved life for very many low paid workers. Next month a new real living wage rate will be announced.

Today’s rise comes shortly after Morrisons, the supermarket, announced it was to pay its workers a minimum of £8.20 an hour from March 2016, though with some loss of pay perks. Lidl had announced a rise to £8.20 an hour from this month.

This spring Cornwall Council began paying the living wage to its direct employees. Slowly, very slowly, we are becoming a real living wage county. I’ve noted the heroes in other posts and here note and praise Mother Ivey’s Bay and St Merryn holiday parks as living wage employers.

What is happening is that pioneers in various sectors – retail supermarkets, holiday businesses, care homes , local government, banks, insurance – are showing that paying decent wages is possible across the economy. There are still employers to persuade; there are still on-board companies with off-board contractors.

Oh, that asterisk * on the first line. By living wage I mean that determined after research by the Centre for research in social policy (CRSP) at Loughborough University and Living Wage Foundation, the real living wage. Not George Osborne’s “national living wage” which is currently less, will apply only to those aged twenty five and over, and is misleadingly named.


24 September 2015

Another judgement day for our Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust (RCHT) with three hospitals at Treliske Truro, St Michaels Hayle, and West Cornwall Penzance. The latest Care Quality Commission (CQC) report on the RCHT, published 23 September this year, is here. Incidentally, scroll down that page for the report on the inspection of January 2015, published 27 March 2015.

The trust was inspected on four days in June this year. Do read the report on that inspection and consider what you think. I believe it is a mixed picture though the grim and unsafe have been rightly emphasised by the media. It is a very great concern that the report says the safety of services is “Inadequate.”

A serious issue in the report is shortage at times of suitably qualified staff on duty. I should like to see the CQC well analyse the origins of the shortage at RCHT and other hospitals. Does it consider it is all due to administrative inadequacies by RCHT or are government policies part of the cause? The CQC should consider how far present issues are due to government decisions, especially about cut backs on nurses’ jobs and training places and harsh limits on public sector pay rises; both by the Tory/Libdem coalition. The present Tory government is continuing public sector pay restraint. Is the work load now so onerous that it is damaging nurses’ wellbeing and the NHS?

The RCHT will be inspected again. Let’s hope the managers can engender large improvements. Let’s hope the CQC takes a wider look.

The RCHT ended 2014/15 with a deficit of nearly £7 million. It plans a £5.5 million deficit for 2015/16: see report here.

Further reading
Head of Royal College of Nursing – Nurse shortages are life-threatening: Guardian 2 September 2015

Polly Toynbee on government spending cuts damaging the NHS: Guardian 22 September 2015

Deborah Hopkins, Labour candidate for St Austell and Newquay in May, has an interesting take on this issue on her facebook


22 September 2015

The Office for national statistics (ONS) has published the data for live births for 2014 for each local authority in the UK.

The data for Cornwall is in fact for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly unitary authorities combined; the very small numbers of mothers and children in the Scillies raise questions of confidentiality. The ONS data is in Table 1 here.

There were 5447 live births in Cornwall/Scillies in 2014. Never mind the bald figures: an analysis by ONS shows a significant change in our relationships.

More than half of all the live births in 2014 were to people neither married nor in a civil partnership; however, 51 percent of all the births were joint registrations by people neither married nor in a civil partnership. These are the figures:

(a) Total live births 5447

(b) Live births within marriage/civil partnership 2414, 44 percent

(c) Live births outside marriage/civil partnership 3033, 56 percent

Of the 3033 in (c), 2360 were joint registrations from the same address; 406 were joint registrations from different addresses; and only 267 were sole registrations.

What we see is people in committed relationships and neither married nor in a civil partnership; we see strong commitment happens outside a formalised, ceremonised relationship. It is bracing that only 267 live births outside marriage or civil relationship were registered by solely the mother.

The new Tory MP for Plymouth Moor View, Johnny Mercer, made a moving, passionate, and dynamic maiden speech in the Commons in June Hansard 1 June 2015 column 373, 6.54 pm).

He spoke excellently about the insufficiency of mental health provision in Britain and the duty of government, the state, to care for our armed forces veterans and their families. He said he would be actively engaged with these issues. I am onside for this: his argument is civilised and liberal (and, I think, socialist).

Two passages of his speech stand out:

“I want to speak briefly about my two main missions in this Parliament. First, mental health provision in this country remains poor. There are some extremely dogged and determined characters who fight night and day to improve the services offered to those who struggle with mental health problems. Often, those who struggle with mental health problems cannot shout for themselves and suffer in silence because of the ridiculous stigma placed on mental health. That stigma ends in this Parliament. It is not good enough to have sympathy, empathy even, or simply to understand these issues when they affect someone close to us. It is time to get this right and I look forward to starting this crusade in Plymouth.” (column 374)

“I am sorry to report, however, that there remains a great stain on this nation of ours when it comes to conflict. In 2012, we reached a very unwelcome threshold when, tragically, more soldiers and veterans killed themselves than were killed on operational service in defence of the realm. It goes without saying that there are some genuine heroes in our communities and charities up and down this land who work tirelessly night and day to look after and assist those who have found returning to a peaceful life the biggest challenge of all. A great many of these veterans are not only from Afghanistan.

My key point is this: there has been a fundamental misunderstanding by governments of all colours over the years that veterans’ care is a third sector responsibility and that the great British public, in all their wonderful generosity, support our troops well enough, and any new initiative is met with the response, “Well, there must be a charity for that.” That is fundamentally and unequivocally wrong, and I make no apologies for pointing it out to anyone of any rank or position who may be offended by my candour.

I am not a charity and neither were my men. We gave the best years of our lives in defending the privileges, traditions and freedoms that this House and all Members enjoy. It is therefore the duty of this House to look after them and, crucially, their families when they return.” (columns 374-5)

He goes on to talk baldly but movingly about the deaths of two of his soldiers, one from suicide, one in a terrible combat, lance-sergeant Dan Collins and lance-bombadier Mark Chandler. I urge you to read their stories told by Mercer in Hansard, and google them.

Mercer is right. Mental health provision in England, including Cornwall, is poor and must be improved. Mentally ill people in Cornwall, as elsewhere, can end up in a police cell because of poor provision of acute psychiatric beds in mental health places of safety for them. Indeed, my understanding is that such is the lack of suitable psychiatric beds here that some mentally ill people from Cornwall are sent to Manchester for treatment, away from their family and friends and familiar environment. In these circumstances the psychiatrist treating them has to visit them in Manchester. I am with Mercer all the way: “It is not good enough to have sympathy, empathy even, or simply to understand these issues when they affect someone close to us. It is time to get this right”.


29 August 2015

I shall set out here over several posts the issues that I think are important in housing in England and then explore my views on these.

Selling and reselling council and housing association homes

Right to buy was introduced by the Tories in 1980: council properties were sold to sitting tenants at a discount. The aim was to enable tenants to become home owners and to replace the sold properties with new affordable ones but replacement on a one-to-one basis has not happened. The discounts were raised in 2012 by the Tory Lib Dem government and the present Tory government proposes to extend the right-to-buy to around 1.3 million people in housing association properties.

What has happened is that about 40 percent of former council homes bought by tenants under right-to-buy are not now lived in by the original buyers; the strong indication is that most have been sold on.

Here are the accounts of the investigations in to the reselling of the homes from the Mirror and the GMB in 2013; and Inside Housing magazine this month, along with a supporting article by the Independent. Other newspapers covered the Inside Housing story.

Read this article in the in the Mirror 5 March 2013 by Nick Sommerlad: “Great Tory housing shame: Third of ex-council homes now owned by rich landlords. The son of a former Tory Housing Minister and Mrs Thatcher aide during the peak years of right-to-buy owns at least 40 ex-council property.”

The GMB investigated Wandsworth in south London “Landlords Own 40% Ex Council Houses” (5 March 2013).

Inside Housing magazine 14 August 2015 “Revealed: 40% of ex-council flats now rented privately” and “Right to Buy to Let”

And here’s the Independent 14 August 2015 reporting the Inside Housing investigation “Right to Buy: 40% of homes sold under Government scheme are being let out privately”

Two tables produced by the government offer interesting data about house building and sales in Cornwall.

Table 253 gives the house completion data for Cornwall for 2014/15: 1880 dwellings, private enterprise and local authority and housing association, were completed and of those 400 were for housing associations, none for the council.

Table 685 shows that between 1979/80 and 2013/14 in Cornwall there were 10 275 right-to-buy sales.


1 Is it desirable to extend home ownership through discounted sales of council/housing association homes to sitting tenants

2 Is it possible and practical to enforce a one-for-one policy, one home sold, one new one built

3 If it isn’t, are the consequences, a net loss of council/association/affordable housing stock, acceptable

4 There is evidence of reselling and subletting: does this matter and, if so, why

5 How could resellling and subletting be prevented if such prevention is considered desirable,

6 Should right-to-buy be abolished

6 What should or can be done about the right-to-buy houses already resold


22 August 2015

Two by-elections in Pendarves ward in Camborne on 20 August for the county and town councils. The Tories won both seats.

How did the self-styled Party for Cornwall do? How popular and relevant is Cornish political nationalism?

Mebyon Kernow (MK), the nationalist party here, got 85 votes cast in the county by-election and 185 in the town by-election; the MK candidates came 5th out of 7 candidates and 4th out of 4 in the respective elections.

How popular and relevant is MK nationalism to people in Cornwall? The Camborne by-elections suggest Not very. Look at it this way: council by-elections generally don’t inspire people to vote and only a third of electors voted in the Pendarves county and town by-elections; but the Party for Cornwall enthused only around 4 percent of th electors to turn out and vote for it. MK nationalism truly seems unimportant to most people in Cornwall.

You can find the 20 August 2015 by-election results here.

Some other mudhook posts about Mebyon Kernow and elections
Mebyon Kernow bites the dust 12 June 2015

The MK smidgeon 20 February 2015


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