MARK FRANKLAND

I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Monday, May 27, 2013

THE PRICE OF A LIGHT BULB SAYS IT ALL


 
Regular readers of this blog will by now be more than familiar with the dismal maths facing anyone unlucky enough to be unemployed in this seemingly endless recession. A person on the dole gets about sixty quid a week and most of their rent paid. In the cold snaps of the winter, very few are able to get their gas and electric costs much under £25. If they remain law abiding, they need to stump up £3 or so for a TV licence. And now the new Bedroom Tax takes a further £11. In almost every case people are left with about £20 to feed and clothe themselves.

As in £3 a day.

It seems that £3 a day is more than enough for Ian Duncan Smith to live in the style he is accustomed to, but most of us would find it all but impossible.

So what are the ‘can’t do without’ basics for people eking out a living on a cold island on the eastern edge of the Atlantic bowl?

Food. Obviously.

Water. Obviously.

Heating. In the winter at least.

Light? Of course we need light. Few of us would have the psychological strength to deal with twelve hours of darkness every day in the depths of winter.

But at least the light issue is dealt with in the £25 of power costs. Well, it is and it isn’t. Assuming you have bulbs screwed into the light sockets, then that assumption is indeed very much true. But what if those light sockets are as empty as your pockets? Well in that case you need to get out and buy a bulb.

A couple of days ago I was dispatched to buy a couple of light bulbs only to find myself standing in front of a Tesco shelf in a state of disbelief.

The cheapest bloody light bulb on offer was £3.50.

Three pounds sodding fifty for a lousy light bulb.

The last time I had bought one I got change out of 50p. Which goes to show how often I do that kind of shopping.

Quite often these days, I cannot help but relate the price of something to that dreaded £20 of disposable income that so many now have to get by on.

And £3.50 is pretty damn close to 20% of that figure.

I guess that most MP’s will be left with something like £1000 a week to live on once they have paid their taxes; say £900 a week once they have paid their utility bills. So when they go to Tesco to buy a light bulb, it represents 0.004% of their disposable income. And 0.004% really isn’t any kind of a big deal. If they were to pay the same rate for a new light bulb as someone on the dole, it would weigh in at £157.50.

Now if it cost a hundred and fifty quid to light up the bathroom, I think our heroic leaders would be making all kinds of a racket about it.

It is probably worth getting back to the reasons lying behind so many people having to try to dress, eat and light for £20 a week.

There has been a king size depression. Fair enough. Most of it was caused by bankers. Fair enough. With the best will in the world, there was not a great deal the politicians could have done about it. It is the price we all pay for living in a capitalist society for when capitalism crashes and burns, it crashes and burns big style.

So can the country afford to pay everyone £100 a week whilst they are unemployed instead of £60? Obviously it can’t. In truth we can’t really afford £60 a week.

Do the politicians carry some of the blame for £60 a week no longer being enough? Too bloody right they do, and here is where the light bulb thing becomes pretty cancerous.

Over the last ten years or so a bunch of scientists have come up with a theory that the world is warming up and it is all the fault of humankind. This played really well when the world was in a better place. For a while, we started acting like the Spanish Inquisition used to act. Back in the day anyone musing that the world was round instead of flat would get burned alive for their trouble. For a while anyone who dared suggest that the whole global warming thing was a load of unproved mumbo jumbo faced a similar fate. And not surprisingly the politicians cottoned on to this. They all leapt into it with alacrity and strove to out-Green each other. And they passed law after law accordingly in a frantic effort to ingratiate themselves with the much hankered after Green Vote.

So it was that many of us were presented with umpteen bins to clutter up our gardens and duly threatened with fines if we put an empty baked bean can in the paper bin. MP's all wanted to be seen as being responsible for filling the horizon with as many windmills as possible. This was a tad problematic as windmills are massively expensive to build and all but useless when it comes to generating power. They solved this ticklish problem by promising anyone who built a windmill a 30p a unit bonus for twenty five years on top of the going rate of 10p. How completely smashing. David Cameron flounced around on a sledge complete with huskies and touted for votes. Look at me! What a super duper chap I am! Vote for me and I will build you lots of windmills and our world will be all cuddly and Walt Disney.

I don’t seem to remember him saying anything about getting all the energy companies to collect a new Green Tax to pay for these spectacular white elephants.

I don’t seem to remember him saying anything about vote for me and I will jack up your leccy bill by an extra 10%

I don’t remember him saying it because he didn’t say it.

But how can we produce the power we need if not by lots of lovely windmills? Well I guess we could always open up the mines and create 50,000 new well paid jobs. After all, we still have about 300 years worth of coal waiting patiently beneath our green and pleasant land. But of course we couldn’t so much of think about doing such a wicked thing because it would jeopardise the treasured Green Vote. Much better to tax the buggery out of everyone, build lots of worthless windmills, and shell out for gas and oil from Vladimir Putin and the House of Saud – lovely chaps one and all.

So that accounts for £2.50 a week of the £25 a person on the dole has to stump up to get any semblance of heat into their bones.

When the bankers tipped the world on its head the politicians needed to find a way to keep the bills getting paid. Well there is always a simple answer to that one. If you haven’t got enough cash, then just print some more. The thing is that if you tell everyone that you are printing money, it doesn’t tend to go down very well. We are not that stupid believe it or not. We kind of know that the likes of Robert Mugabe like to print money when they are a bit hard up, and before you know it a loaf of bread costs the same as a Premier League striker. So instead they called it Quantative Easing and that sounded much better. Well, it sounded like complete goggledy gook, but what the hell.
 
Four years ago a pound got you about $1.80 and a litre of petrol cost 90p. Then they printed a bunch of money and devalued the currency by 20% and called it Quantitive Easing, and lo and behold we now get $1.50 to the pound. And fuel needs to be paid for in dollars. Which means we now pay £1.35 a litre and Putin and the House of Saud are laughing all the way to the bank.

Quantative Easing means that the guy eking out a living on the dole pays £5 a week more than he would have done had the money not been printed. But because it is called Quantitive Easing, nobody much has twigged.

So far it seems like £7.50 a week extra would have been possible without the tinkering of vote hungry politicians. Which inevitably leads us nicely to the Bedroom Tax. Oh but there is no other way they howl! We are borrowing £120 million a day! We simply cannot pay more than £500 a week in benefits! Well of course we can’t. So instead of levying a joke of a tax on the poorest in the land which is basically uncollectable, why not look elsewhere for a few savings? April was the first full month of Bedroom Tax and in Dumfries and Galloway and 80% didn’t pay it. Anyone with half a brain can see that it will cost more than it will raise and it will do absolutely nothing reduce the deficit. Instead it is shameful, tawdry ploy to curry favour with the Daily Mail and its vindictive readers who love to see the poor getting a proper bashing.
 
But that doesn’t alter the fact that we cannot afford £20 billion a year on Housing Benefit. Course we can’t. So why not set a maximum rent instead? Say £50 a week for a two bedroom flat. That would probably half the Housing Benefit bill and put an extra £11 a week in the pocket of the man on the dole.

Oh, I forgot. It would also crash house prices and piss off very rich people with lots of property and knock a hole in the balance sheets of our banks. So we couldn’t possibly do that could we?

And so finally we come to the light bulb issue. When Dave came home from his Arctic adventure, he needed to find lots of green things to do to win over all those vital environment loving voters. Just like every other politician in Westminster. So here’s one of the things they did to save the planet.

They checked out the electrical appliance that burns the least amount of power – light bulbs. Then they came up with a cock and bull story that new low energy light bulbs were a vital part of the strategy to save the planet from humankind.

So they took tried and trusted light bulbs that were cheap, lasted ages and lit a room at the flick of a switch and deemed them to be wicked and illegal.

In their place they demanded new low energy bulbs that look ridiculous, take forever to light up, last no longer than the old ones and cost £3.50 each.

And so we all pay through the nose for a few politicians to pander to the Green Vote.

This is what puts the Bedroom Tax, Windmills and stupid overpriced light bulbs in the same basket. It is how politicians think they will win Brownie points with the Daily Mail and the Guardian at the same time.

And we all pay the bill for their idiocy.

And the poorest pay most of all.   

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