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Does The Independent actually have editors?

Even when Cardinal Keith O’Brien is blessed with a megaphone to express his opinion that gay marriage is morally equivalent to slavery, while representatives of his organisation get automatic seats in parliament,

I assume not. If they did I assume one would point out to Louise McCudden that a Cardinal is, by definition, a Papist. And that it ain\’t the Papists who have automatic seats in Parliament.

Dear Lord above, can\’t The Guardian even copy a story properly?

A care home manager has been fined £1,118.62 after he settled an £804 debt to his accountant with five crates of mostly 1p and 2p coins. He had been to the bank especially, he said: be glad that you weren\’t behind him in the queue. So what did Robert Fitzpatrick, the care home manager, do wrong?

So they\’ve copied this from the Mail.

And they are correct that coins are only legal tender up to certain amounts, depends upon the coin (this is not true in the US, where the penny is legal tender in any amount).

But the bloke hasn\’t been fined that amount at all. For he\’s not done anything illegal in the slightest which, even these days, is a requirement for being fined. He\’s been told that his original £800 odd payment was not made in legal tender. Thus he must make the payment, plus legal costs I assume, properly.

He does get his £800 odd in pennies back though.

Churnalism is bad enough but being unable to copy a story properly is something else, eh?

There\’s an important point at the bottom of this. It is not necessary to settle a debt in legal tender. As long as everyone agrees you can settle a debt with pennies, a pint or a plate of barbecued puppies. However, it is sufficient to settle a debt with legal tender. If you offer such and it is rejected then you are deemed to have paid that debt.

Which is why the guy didn\’t get fined: he did nothing illegal in attempting to settle a debt not in legal tender. If the accountant had laughed and banked it then that would have been the end of the matter. What he has been told is that because the accountant did not accept the not legal tender then he must pay the bill in legal tender: or, if the accountant were to accept it, a plate of barbecued puppies.

A tontine not an accumulator

So, winning £1.5 million on a £2 bet, eh?

Mr Whiteley, a heating engineer who only goes to the races twice a year, put his money on the Tote Jackpot, which requires punters to pick every winning horse in six races.

Yesterday, 363,000 tickets picked the winner in the first leg, but just 9,076 tickets then repeated their success in the second. The field was slashed again after the third race, which saw 571 punters go through. Only seven people picked the fourth winner, and Mr Whitley was the only ticket left for both of the final races.

As each race takes place, those who did not pick the winner are eliminated and the field of gamblers rapidly thins. If no one picks all six winners, the winning pot rolls over to the following event.

That\’s a tontine, not an accumulator.

Last man in scoops the pot, rather than it being about the odds of the horses actually running (which I think were 368,640 to one).

More on that PETN bomb

The WaPo reports:

But preliminary conclusions indicate that he allegedly used 80 grams of PETN — almost twice as much of the highly explosive material as used by convicted shoe bomber Richard C. Reid.

I\’ve no idea….is that an amount large enough to do serious damage or not?

Oh dear Polly

This week figures showed that banks tripled the profit they made on mortgages in the last year: time to siphon some of that off.

That just doesn\’t sound all that sensible. We\’re all running around saying that the banks must have more capital to underwrite the risks of their businesses. So we actually want them to be making decent profits so that they have retained profits which then boost their capital bases.

However, the really grand error in today\’s column is where Polly manages to completely garble a statistic from the TUC. Now, admittedly, the TUC deliberately ran up the statistic so that it can be garbled but still, incumbent upon one of the nation\’s major commentators to ungarble such propaganda, no?

For example, Tory sabres rattle at public-sector pensions, but a TUC report based on Office for National Statistics figures shows that taxpayers contribute 10 times more in pension tax relief to the richest 1% of earners than the state pays to all retired public servants. If Labour made proper use of this killer fact, they would promise instead to abolish all higher-rate income tax pension subsidies, bringing in £6bn – far more than public pensions cost.

Now look at that will you? Seriously, who could possibly believe that public pensions cost less than £6 billion a year? If there are 8 million public sector workers (about rightish) then that\’s a cost of £750 a year per worker….and that\’s not even looking at the number of retired as opposed to those still in work. As a gross cost that is clearly nonsense.

Plus, of course, the TUC did not in fact say that pension relief to the top 1% is greater than the amount the state pays to all retired public servants. Even they wouldn\’t state something so ludicrous.

Here is what they actually do say:

Another way of looking at the cost of unfunded public sector pensions is the net
annual cost — the difference between pensions in payment and the income from
contributions. This is an affordable £4.1 billion or about 0.3 per cent of GDP for
the current year.

So, the £4 billion number is the nett (not gross!) payment from taxpayers to current public sector pensioners. So we have disproved the \”than the state pays to all retired public servants.\” bit.

There\’s more though:

Unfunded schemes have strict rules with employee and employer contributions
made as if the scheme was funded. They are valued using the same FRS17
approach as private sector schemes.

We are not including the State\’s (ie, taxpayers\’ money) contributions to those unfunded pension schemes. Whatever that number happens to be and I\’ve no intention of going looking for it. But it is indeed something: it\’ll be some percentage of wages. Employees pay in whatever: 5%, 10%, something, of their wages and then their employer, the State, pays in some other amount, 5%, 10%, whatever.

Whatever that State contribution is it is clearly a cost to the State of providing public sector pensions: just as pension contributions for a private company are a cost to that private company. Again, we disprove the contention.

And yes, there\’s even more.

The cost of providing tax relief on pension contributions each year is much
greater than the net cost of public sector pensions. In 2007/8 tax relief cost
£37.6 billion — almost ten times the net cost of unfunded public sector pensions.

Note, please \”net cost of unfunded public sector pensions\”. And further note please that this is *total* tax relief for all pensions saving.

But more!

This tax relief is heavily skewed towards the well off. 60 per cent goes to higher
rate tax payers and a quarter of tax relief — nearly £10 billion a year — goes to the
one per cent of the population who earn more than £150,000.

Ah…..the tax relief going to the top 1% is in fact £10 billion. So that\’s 2.5 times, not 10 times then.

Further little snippets:

simple sum tells us that the cost of pensions is only 6 per cent of council income,

Aren\’t we higher than £4 billion there already?

The tax system provides relief on contributions made during the savings stage of
building up a pension but charges tax on pensions in payment for those with
sufficient income.

And, of course, tax relief upon pensions contributions is not in fact a foregoing of tax. It is a deferment of tax. You get to put your money into a scheme free of tax but assuming your income from a pension goes over a certain limit (as it of course will for all those fat cats) you then pay tax on the income you draw out of your pension pot when you retire.

But the tax raised from pensions is around £10 billion a year,
leaving a net cost of £27 billion.

In fact, it would appear that the fat cats pay back, in time, the amount of tax relief they get. (This is assuming that it is indeed the fat cat pensions that get taxed which seems a reasonable assumption to make.) £10 billion in relief to fat cats, £10 billion in taxes from the biggest pensions….hey, works for me.

The only sensible way to compare pay in the public and private sector is to ask
whether someone doing the same job in the public sector gets more or less than
someone doing the same job in the private sector.
This is not an easy question to answer as jobs are rarely identical, and there are few
obvious statistics.

Well, doesn\’t that just kill the gender pay gap argument?

Worth noting that nowhere in the whole report do they say what are a) the total costs of public sector pensions nor b) what are employer\’s (ie, taxpayers\’) contributions to either the funded or unfunded pensions pots.

But let us go back to the original statement:

\”taxpayers contribute 10 times more in pension tax relief to the richest 1% of earners than the state pays to all retired public servants.\”

No, this is grossly untrue, so untrue as to be one of Dizzy\’s damned lies rather than a statistic.

\”Pension tax relief to the top 1% of earners is 2.5 times the nett cost to the taxpayer of unfunded public sector pension schemes\” would be a possibly allowable statement.

If we make the assumption that it is the fat cats who pay taxes on their pensions as they draw them (I\’m not sure how heroic an assumption that is but assume that it is true) then the correct statement is:

\”The nett subsidy to top 1% pensions is nothing while the nett subsidy to unfunded public sector pensions is £4 billion a year. What the total cost of public sector pensions is, what the total payments by taxpayers to public sector pensions is no one seems to want to tell us.\”

Polly\’s mangling of that TUC report is so glaringly untrue that I think it\’s necessary to ask for a correction, don\’t you?

The perils of relative poverty

The number of pensioners living in poverty in Britain is among the highest in Europe with the over-65s in poorer countries, including Romania and Poland faring better, official figures have shown.

Oh aye?

That is, of course, measured by relative poverty within the country.

No account is taken of the difference in living standards between the countries. Which is how you get pensioners in the UK are worse off than those in Romania.

I was a little surprised to see how high pensions were in Romania. 628 New Lei on average, or £129.

A couple of things need to be said about this. They\’ve doubled them in the past year or so which is of course nice for pensioners. It\’s also true that this is not just the state pension, this is also the occupational pension from the Communist years, so it doesn\’t translate quite directly to the UK\’s OAP.

And of course we also need to adjust (and I\’m not going to look up the figures) for purchasing power parity and so on, for the bald figures rather flatter the minimum pension guarantee here of £115 or whatever it is.

Oh, one other detail. The Romanian pension is per month, the UK per week.

Isn\’t the difference between relative income and absolute income fascinating?


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Well, yes, I mean it\’s possible for me to contact you right now. My computer is on, the email program is running. It\’s just that I\’m not sure I\’ve got anything to say to you right now.

Gambling Problems

So we\’re all revved up to worry about gambling addictions again then.

The money lost by British gamblers will exceed £10bn annually next year – a rise of 50% in nine years, and the biggest jump since the 1960s.

Looks terrible, doesn\’t it? Hmmm. Inflation (RPI) was 25% or so over that period. So that\’s some of the rise explained. Average earnings rose 45% over the period (OK, I\’m using 97 to 2006, because that\’s what the calculator allows, but it\’s illustrative) so in fact we could say that the rise is purely down to the fact that people have more money and that they are spending it. Doesn\’t actually look so bad now, does it? Gambling up 50%, incomes up 45%? As GDP has risen 59% in the period then we might actually say that gambling as a percentage of GDP has fallen, although I\’m not sure I\’d actually believe that.

Estimates produced for the Guardian by a leading government adviser show £650m a year is taken from punters by the terminals – a sum almost matching the conventional casino industry\’s entire takings.

Oooh, scary.

Leighton Vaughan Williams of Nottingham Business School said British punters lose £9.5bn a year across all gambling- a 36% rise on £7bn lost in 1999, the year online gambling emerged. Excluding the lottery – the "softest" form of gambling – the annual loss from hard gambling widened by 56% in eight years to £7bn.

So the lottery has losses of £2.5 billion. That is, the lottery is 3.8 times as bad as video roulette. So when do we ban that tax on stupidity then?