Friday, 29 April 2016

Four Quick Things This Week: Racism, The Minimum Wage, Hillsborough & The Blame Culture

Thing Number 1 - Racism
Don’t know if you picked up on this yesterday, but after the furore surrounding Ken Livingstone’s inappropriate comments about an easily identifiable group, there was a similarly inappropriate comment by Andy Burnham on Question Time last night, where he told us his policy about foreigners. He said that he’d like to introduce a law that bans an easily identifiable group of foreigners from being able work in the UK purely on the grounds that they are foreign. Of course, he didn’t use those words, he said it the other way round – that he wanted a law to protect British wages so companies could not look to recruit labour at a more competitive rate from abroad. Apart from the different choice of wording, the statements made by both men should have made the headlines as being dodgy – but, alas, we live in a society in which that is highly unlikely to happen.

Thing Number 2 - The Minimum Wage
So, a chap I know called John told me today that having applied for the government’s cycle to work scheme in which he purchases a bike and accessories, and through the salary sacrifice initiative makes savings of 42% via reduced tax and National Insurance contributions, his application has been rejected because the monthly deductions on this (don’t forget voluntary and beneficial) purchase will take his earnings below the legal minimum wage, and makes him ineligible for the scheme. 

Great – another of the many minimum wage stories of lament – the consequence of which, in this case, is that staff in his firm on 20-100k per year could obtain the full 42% tax savings on a bike, but John who earns just above the minimum wage cannot. You don’t have to be that bright to see what’s wrong here. I phoned on his behalf and made what was to me the obvious suggestion that in order that minimum wage earners don’t miss out they could extend the 12 month payback duration to 18 months to keep them above the earnings threshold, but they couldn’t alter it as it’s driven by central government. Thanks central government! Thanks Chancellor!

Thing Number 3 - Hillsborough
Despite his ill-conceived comment on Question Time, Andy Burnham covered himself in glory this week with his part in the Hillsborough inquest. The recent Hillsborough ‘Justice for the 96’ outcome was the end result of a controversial process that has lasted 27 years, largely to do with the issue of blame. Initially the police blamed the fans, but given the falsity of this claim it was always likely that eventually, and with an impressive degree of tenacity and perseverance, the campaigners would see the truth exposed – that, in fact, the police were to blame, as were the Football club, and many others involved in the organisation the of this tragic FA Cup semi-final event. The outcome has been pleasing not just because it’s good when justice prevails, but also because it is a lovely demonstration of how honest people working together for a worthwhile cause can find justice in the end and see that the blame is apportioned to the right people, which, as they knew all along, wasn’t the fans.

Thing Number 4 - The Blame Culture
Alas, unlike the Hillsborough campaign, quite often blame does not go to the right people. In a society solidly riveted to the recourse of the blame culture, this often makes for frustrating reading, particularly in the political arena. I’m afraid to have to say that very often politicians and the media get this backwards – that is, they go about their business in a culture in which too many people get blamed for things that aren’t really their fault, and don’t get blamed for things that are their fault. A lot of the things politicians do that are their fault – like imputing price controls, over-regulating industries, and creating artificial shortages – elicit praise and support from large swathes of the population when really these things should be met with ignominy. On the other hand, a lot of the things politicians get blamed for, for which the fault ascribed to them is an exaggeration – like crime levels increasing under their time in office, increased inequality, and increased poverty – elicit reproach and hostility when really these things should be opined about with a more balanced and informed view.