Monday, 25 October 2010

Figures and facts?

Wow, there was a lot of money talk last week, wasn't there? The winner of the eurolottery jackpot claimed their record £113 million + jackpot and wished to remain anonymous - which of course did nothing to stop the press from trying to winkle them out. They'll become only the 589th richest person in the country. That must say something about the level of personal wealth in the UK. Remember the expression "two a penny" (old money, of course!)?

And then there was the Wayne Rooney story, which ended up with him being offered a contract of something like £250,000 A WEEK to stay at Manchester United for five years. I think that's a total of £65 million (Oops! Almost put billion. £65,000,000). That's just wages - add to that sponsorship deals, Wayne - My Secret Love Story, photos, ads, interviews etc and I imagine you can more than double it. No doubt a cut from that goes to his agent, accountant, bodyguards etc, but even so it sounds a lot of money to be kicking about.

Then Mr Nicholas Clegg assured students that a cap would be put on the tuition fees. Good news - until they heard that it would be £12,000 per annum which would mean a total of £36,000 for a normal three year undergraduate course, and if, like me, you did a PGCE teacher training year, £48,000. That of course is paying for your course. Meanwhile students, being human beings, need to live somewhere and eat something and perhaps wear some clothes. A modest outlay, I'm told, would be about £6,000 p.a.. which would leave you owing £54,000 after 3 years, and £72,000 after 4 years. I heard a government minister telling us that this wasn't technically a debt, as you wouldn't have to start paying back until you earned a living wage and if you didn't finish paying it off before you retired then they'd write it off. I thought that was sheer sophistry. He failed to mention the interest that would be quietly ticking up like a taxi-meter year by year.

Two things strike me about this: one is that a few months ago said Mr Clegg was all for abolishing fees, and now here he and Mr Cable are saddling students with frightening debts. OK, I know - that's politics. The second is more fundamental. We are being told how intolerable the national debt is; that our country can't afford to service it; that the debt culture has been the root of our problems - and yet part of the answer seems to be to compel the younger generation into crippling debt at the beginning of the career. The message seems to be that the government approves of personal debt and, in fact, indirectly is using it to service the national debt.

Close to home, someone I love showed me an article by the Times' Personal Finance Editor, Andrew Ellson. I think Newscorp (which owns the paper) supports the government; and so the headline was striking: "Osborne's chainsaw slays the vulnerable". He writes, "Victims of the massacre abound, but among the carnage, a couple of groups stand out for having been particularly cruelly treated. The first is the sick and the disabled. There is little doubt that many who are fit to work languish on disability allowance. Yet the changes announced this week were not an attack on the workshy. We already know that tougher medical examinations will force people off incapacity benefit and on to jobseekers' allowance. But this week Mr Osborne chose to limit the benefits of those who pass the test and are considered genuinely too ill to work. After one year, anyone who is sick or disabled, who has more than £16,000 in savings or whose partner earns more than £150 a week, risks losing the benefit.  Some people argue that that is fair enough. They suggest that the state can no longer afford to help those who can help themselves, even if they are disabled. Perhaps. But there is an equally credible argument to say that the £2 billion saving could more reasonably have been found somewhere other than the pockets of the disabled. After all, assets of only £16,000 when you can't work are nothing.... Despite the impression given by Mr Osborne during the speech, the other vulnerable group that could suffer is poorer pensioners. Indeed the decision to discontinue the supplement to the Winter Fuel Allowance next year could cost more lives tan the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined" (Times 23.10.10).

It left me wondering about people whose illness or disability has forced them into early retirement before state pension age. Disability Living Allowance may be just the income-boost they depend on. Is that to be taken away if they've got modest savings, tied up maybe in their home?


  1. When I went off to start my three year teacher training course my Dad's advice was very simple; 'Don't get into debt.' It sounded like good advice at the time and, forty years on, still does really. Presumably, if there are still folk with that view of life around, their children won't go on to higher education!

  2. I fear that will be the case - which seems simply counterproductive.