Friday, 18 March 2011

Home thoughts from home

I hope you'll forgive me if I bring my blog down to domestic matters while the tragedy of the Japanese earthquake aftermath continues to unravel. The immensity of the death and missing toll (17,000) and number who are homeless (over a million), the collapse of infrastructure, the sub-zero temperatures and the unfolding nuclear power station disaster - no wonder their Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, described it as the country's worst catastrophe after the 2nd World War and said that the whole nation would have to rebuild from scratch.

The home story that heated my sub-collar area most was the report that Westminster City Council have dreamed up a scheme to make it a criminal offence to give food or drink to homeless people and to fine people sitting on the streets £500. It's variously surmised that this is the first step to clearing up the streets of London before the 2012 Olympics, or preempting the expected increase in homelessness following changes in housing benefits. More charitable people wonder whether the council might have plans to provide shelter and food to the nearly 150 homeless in the area. Watching David Cameron giving his statement about Libya in the Commons today, I noticed sitting on the front bench next to Nick Noddy Clegg, Sir George Young, Leader of the House and Lord Privy Seal, who once famously, or infamously, defined 'the homeless' as "people you step over when you leave the opera". Words like "whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of water" came to mind and the reward, as far as I understood, wasn't a criminal charge. I'm not quite clear whether this is already a by-law or being considered. I sincerely hope it's the latter and will be dropped with the contempt it deserves.

Yesterday the BBC published research they'd commissioned from 'a leading firm of accountants' about the new rate of student loans. They concluded that if a student took out a loan over three years of £39,000 and had above-average pay-increases, he'd end up paying more than double what he borrowed. Apparently, according to the minister, this is half way between a credit card debt and income tax, and is "a good deal". It certainly is for the government. But I imagine loan sharks say the same!

I was pleased to see internecine strife amongst journalists when Panorama did a programme on the dark arts, in particular practised by The News of the World. This involved illegal phone tapping and computer hacking. A bit disturbing was the alleged obtaining of police information with money. Scotland Yard, we were told, had reopened the case. Hopefully they will be rigorous even in examining themselves.

And finally in the week when the BMA (the doctors' professional association) Council voted for a withdrawal and reshaping of the government's NHS Bill I was interested to learn that Richard Branson already owns a number of GP practices. I assume it's through Virgin Healthcare. I don't think my local practice could be improved, nor the services I receive, but I can believe that he might do a good job running services - though, come to think of it, I'm not sure that Virgin gives us a better service on our phones than the good old Post Office phone service used to. However the image isn't bad!

"Your surgery's either got it or it hasn't."


  1. Thought of the old Ralph McTell song while reading your post. I spent last year living in central London and was shocked at the number of people sleeping rough. Nearly all were mentally challenged who no doubt had slipped through the cracks. They weren't abusive; indeed, the vast majority were thoroughly polite and grateful for any help passers-by might give. Let's hope the Council, if it rounds them up, will provide adequately for their care.

  2. There's a good comment here:, which points out that people from anywhere are invited to participate in the consultation, and gives the relevant links.