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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to for 100% free stock alerts Chase Bank has moved to limit cash withdrawals while banning business customers from sending...

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Richemont chairman Johann Rupert to take 'grey gap... Billionaire 62-year-old to take 12 months off from Cartier and Montblanc luxury goods groupRichemont's chairman and founder Johann Rupert is to take a year off from September, leaving management of the...

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Cambodia: aftermath of fatal shoe factory collapse... Workers clear rubble following the collapse of a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, on Thursday

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Spate of recent shock departures by 50-something CEOs While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicised, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted upOn approaching his 60th birthday...

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UK Uncut loses legal challenge over Goldman Sachs tax... While judge agreed the deal was 'not a glorious episode in the history of the Revenue', he ruled it was not unlawfulCampaign group UK Uncut Legal Action has lost its high court challenge over the legality...

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Poorest ‘face council tax rise’

Category : Business

More than two million of the poorest households in England will pay more council tax from next week, according to an anti-poverty think tank.

Excerpt from: Poorest ‘face council tax rise’

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Letters: The government should act to end child poverty now

Category : Business

In his speech on child poverty (Three-quarters of local authorities to put up council tax for poorest families, 30 January), the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, described addiction as “one important form of poverty”. This confuses one problem with another. While fewer than 5% of all adults are either problem drug or alcohol users (and we don’t know how many of these are poor, or parents), we do know that 27% of children are living in poverty. Child poverty is the result of many problems: low income being key.

The government has a legal duty to eradicate child poverty by 2020. Latest estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands more children will be living in poverty by that date, including 200,000 more as a result of the real terms cuts in the benefits uprating bill, that will reduce the income of disadvantaged families. The government is consulting on how best to measure child poverty. As End Child Poverty members, we believe it would do better to look harder at how it can actually reduce child poverty now. While helping those children who have parents who face addiction is a vital task, it is not synonymous with tackling child poverty. The government needs to recognise all of the elements that lie at the heart of what is actually making children in the UK poor and take immediate steps to end child poverty once and for all.
Enver Solomon Chair, End Child Poverty and director of evidence and impact, National Children’s Bureau
Gerri McAndrew Chief executive, Buttle UK
Matthew Reed Chief executive, Children’s Society
Srabani Sen Chief executive, Contact a Family
Alison Garnham Chief executive, CPAG
Anand Shukla Chief executive, Daycare Trust and Family and Parenting Institute
Helen Dent CBE Chief executive, Family Action
Fiona Weir Chief executive, Gingerbread
Faiza Khan Deputy chief executive, NCVYS
Richard Exell Senior policy officer, TUC
Alison Marshall Public affairs director, Unicef UK
Anne Longfield Chief executive, 4Children
Anne Marie Carrie Chief executive, Barnardo’s

• George Osborne’s ill thought-out austerity measures (opposed now by the IMF on purely economic grounds) are creating swaths of citizens who can no longer feed themselves or their families adequately. The number of food banks has risen six-fold since 2010. The remarks made by Downing Street (High benefits mean food banks should not be needed, 30 January) are astonishing comments made by a party intent upon making Britain work for the privileged few at the cost of the rest of us. “If people are desperate for food, then it is their fault for not making enough money” has become the mantra, while fast-rising rents, falling real wages and rising food prices have created the perfect storm for poverty. The devastating benefit cuts, affecting those in work, seeking work and unfit for work, are pulling the rug further out from the needy. Until there is a living wage for all, decent benefits to meet the real costs of living, an end to zero-hours contracts and casualised employment, sadly the need – the desperate, unavoidable need – for food banks is only going to increase.
Natalie Bennett
Leader, Green party of England and Wales

Green deal home insulation programme ‘unlikely to deliver promises’

Category : Business

Experts say promises to save money for poorer households and rescue many from fuel poverty cannot be guaranteed

The government’s flagship “green deal” home insulation programme provides no guarantee of saving money for cash-strapped households, and is unlikely to rescue many from fuel poverty, experts warned ahead of its formal launch on Monday.

There was also criticism of the interest rate to be offered for the green deal loans, which is set at just under 7%.

The sense of doubt and confusion surrounding the policy was reinforced by a warning from a surveyors’ trade body that taking out a green deal loan could cost more than other ways of making home energy efficiency improvements.

Green deal loans can be used by households to pay for improvements such as solid wall insulation. The loans are repaid over a period of years through additions to energy bills, and the responsibility for repayment is passed on with the house to anyone who buys it in the future.

The repayments are supposed to be outweighed by savings from lower energy use, but this is not guaranteed. Calculations are based on estimates of average use and future energy prices. There is also a penalty for early repayment, and consumers must pay up to £150 for their initial assessment and undergo a credit check. Suppliers may also decide to pass a further setup charge of £63 for the loan and annual operating charges of £20 on to customers.

Greg Barker, the minister in charge of the policy, has repeatedly said that consumers would be guaranteed net cost savings. In a letter seen by the Guardian he wrote: “There are a number of important consumer protections which will be embedded into the green deal: the savings will always be greater than the costs.”

A Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spokesman said the estimates of future savings would be made “on a very conservative basis” to make it more likely cost savings would be achieved.

But Alan Milstein, chairman of the Residential Property Surveyors Association, said: “For many consumers, taking on a green deal loan may not be the most cost-effective mechanism to fund any green improvements to their property. With early repayment penalties and the uncertainty surrounding how having a green deal loan attached to your property will impact on its future saleability, for many homeowners it may be advisable to look at alternative ways to fund energy efficiency measures.”

The government, however, is also offering cashback deals to attract consumers.

The 7% interest rate may also prove off-putting for poorer households, and fuel-poor consumers may be sidelined, according to Ed Matthew of the campaigning organisation Energy Bill Revolution. He said: “The government’s flagship energy efficiency policies will not stop fuel poverty rocketing in the face of high gas prices. The prime minister must get a grip on this growing crisis, and take a much more ambitious approach to tackling fuel poverty.”

Matthew claimed that the green deal and its counterpart, the energy company obligation – through which energy suppliers must spend £1.3bn a year subsidising insulation for poorer consumers – would not be enough to lift people out of fuel poverty. He said that even when these policies were taken into account, fuel poverty was likely to rise from 6m households to 9m by 2016 if gas prices rise by as much as the government forecasts. He said the government had cut financial assistance to the fuel poor by a quarter, and reduced spending on energy efficiency for fuel poor homes by 44%.

DECC said 1m lower income households were expected to benefit from subsidised or free insulation under the energy company obligation by 2015, and that the 7% interest rate was competitive. A spokesman added that many households had signed up for assessments already – reports that only five had registered were misleading because that is the number that have been verified on the government’s central register, but it can take several weeks between the assessment and registration.

John Oddi, the chief executive of Crystal Windows and Doors Ltd, a 400-strong firm in Essex, said small companies like his were being excluded from offering the green deal. That is because registered providers have to offer the full range of green deal services, including all types of insulation. This was preventing companies such as Crystal, which specialises in window and door replacements, from taking part.

DECC said the rule was made to simplify offerings for consumers, and that small companies could team up or affiliate to bigger companies to comply. Oddi said this was too complex to manage and could lead to small and medium-sized enterprises being squeezed by bigger partners. He said: “This is excluding SMEs from trading normally in their natural market.”

Frequently asked questions

What is it? The green deal is a scheme designed to cut the energy bills and carbon emissions of 14m homes.

How does it work? Householders take out 10 to 25-year loans to undertake energy efficiency measures, such as upgrading to new boilers and improving insulation, with the repayments theoretically offset by the bill savings under a so-called “golden rule”. Repayments are collected as a “green deal charge” via the household’s energy company, and in the case of the household switching to another utility, is passed on to the new company.

Why should I sign up? The first people to take up the scheme will be paid cashback by the government, with rates varying from £10 to £650 depending on the measures installed.

Why not just take a normal loan out? Uniquely, the loan attaches to the property rather than the individual. So repayment obligations pass to the new owner if the property is sold.

What’s the process?

1) Book an assessment for your home, typically at a cost of £80-150, though at least one company is offering them for free.

2) An assessor visits your home to see how the household lives and how energy efficient the home is.

3) They produce an energy performance certificate and advice report suggesting what measures might be appropriate.

4) You agree a green deal plan with a provider to undertake selected works off the back of the report.

5) Works are undertaken.

6) You get paid the cashback, and the loan commences.

There is a problem with welfare, but it’s not ‘shirkers’ | Seumas Milne

Category : Business

This economic model isn’t delivering jobs or decent wages. The real scroungers are greedy landlords and employers

The glee and class contempt with which Britain’s Tory leaders have set about this week’s onslaught on welfare has been an object lesson in the cynical venom at the heart of David Cameron’s coalition. To force through cuts in the living standards of the poorest people in the country, demonisation and division have been the order of the day.

The Conservatives back workers not shirkers, the prime minister declared, as

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End Extreme Poverty in 20 Years, Save the Children Urges UN Panel

Category : Stocks

TORONTO, ONTARIO–(Marketwire – Jan. 8, 2013) - A United Nations panel should use its influence by adopting a new plan to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, Save the Children says.

Originally posted here: End Extreme Poverty in 20 Years, Save the Children Urges UN Panel

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Ben Jennings on George Osborne’s Scroogelike benefits cap – cartoon

Category : Business

The chancellor has been warned by charities that poverty levels will rise because benefits will only increase by 1% a year

Follow this link: Ben Jennings on George Osborne’s Scroogelike benefits cap – cartoon

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UK needs more houses not higher benefits, thinktank says

Category : Business

Raising housing benefit is an expensive fix that fails to tackle the problem of high house prices and rents, says Institute of Economic Affairs

Anti-poverty campaigners should ditch their support for housing benefit in favour of proposals to bring down the cost of housing for low income families, according to a free market thinktank.

The £21bn cost of subsidising mortgages and rents to low incomes families could be almost halved when the government passes legislation to ease planning rules and allow more house building, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) said.

The number of people claiming housing benefit has increased by 780,000 since the beginning of 2009 to 5 million.

The IEA said that only when property developers and local communities have the freedom to build more homes will the cost of housing begin to fall.

The thinktank warned that lobbyists campaigning for increased government spending on housing benefit and tax credits wanted an expensive, taxpayer-funded fix that failed to tackle the long term problem of unaffordable house prices and escalating rents.

The report by the IEA will provide some momentum to the government’s attempts to reform the planning rules, which have already been watered down to appease protestors. Legislation is expected to return to the House of Commons in the new year where it

may meet with renewed protests from groups seeking to prevent building on green belt and other desirable plots of land around major cities.

The IEA argues that a mass building programme will not only benefit the economy by providing much needed jobs, but will also bring down housing costs by as much as 40%. Philip Booth, editorial director at the IEA, said: “The poverty lobby continually campaigns for increased housing benefit. However, this will only raise house prices further and exacerbate poverty traps. House prices have gone up 40 times since 1971 whereas prices in general have ‘only’ increased tenfold. Housing without subsidy is now out of reach of much of the workforce. If the UK is compared with other similarly densely populated countries, it is clear that the reason for this is quite simply, our planning system. This needs radical reform,” he said.

“It’s probably also worth nothing the impact of planning regulation on food prices due to its impact on the cost of retail spaces is also discussed in the chapter, I don’t think that’s something people have looked at much before,” he added.

The thinktank argues that “eliminating government interventions” in areas such as planning, energy markets and childcare means “living costs can be reduced dramatically, taxes could be cut, and the welfare state could be reformed to meaningfully address poverty in Britain”.

The chancellor George Osborne has made looser planning regulation a central plank of his growth strategy. In the autumn statement earlier this month he said Britain needed to build more homes to boost growth.

Charities have argued that route out of poverty for low income families is a rise in wages beyond the average 1.8% a year employers have paid over the last two years. The consumer prices measure of inflation topped 5% in 2011 and was 2.7% last month, still well above average wage rises.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has campaigned for employers to pay a “living wage” of £7.45 to boost incomes and make low income families less reliant on benefits.

Chief executive Julia Unwin said the £6.19 minimum wage was too low to sustain families without extensive state support.

“There is no doubt that working people will be hit by recent [austerity] measures. For the first time, more people in poverty are in working households than workless households, excluding pensioners. This is a scandal of our time. But it’s also true to say that this is not a static group. There is a vicious circle, which means people move in and out of work, remaining poor, remaining benefit dependent as they struggle to improve their lives. That is the reality of people’s experience,” she said.

“The fact that one in six people, almost five million, have claimed jobseeker’s allowance in the past two years is evidence of this reality. The insecurity and weakness of the labour market at the murky end means it doesn’t take much for a ‘striver’ to become a so-called ‘shirker’.”

Warning over growing fuel poverty

Category : Business, World News

Around 300,000 additional households could be forced into fuel poverty within weeks, according a lobby group.

Read the rest here: Warning over growing fuel poverty

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India’s clothing workers: ‘They slap us and call us dogs and monkeys’

Category : Business

Human rights tribunal hears allegations of abuse and low pay against clothing companies that supply high street stores

Workers making clothes that end up in the stores of the biggest names on the British high street have testified to a shocking regime of abuse, threats and poverty pay. Many workers in Indian factories earn so little that an entire month’s wages would not buy a single item they produce.

Physical and verbal abuse is rife, while female workers who fail to meet impossible targets say they are berated, called “dogs and donkeys”, and told to “go and die”. Many workers who toil long hours in an attempt to support their families on poverty wages claim they are cheated out of their dues by their employers.

The allegations, which will be of concern to household names including Gap, H&M, Next and Walmart, were made at a human rights tribunal in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru. The “national people’s tribunal for living wages and decent working conditions for garment workers” was convened to investigate widespread human rights abuses in the garment industry.

Sakamma, a 42-year-old mother-of-two working for Gap supplier Texport in Bengaluru, told the tribunal she earned just 22p an hour and that when she finished at the factory she had to work as a domestic help to top up her wages.

“It hurts us to be paid so little. I have to do this and they sell one piece of clothing for more than I get paid in a month,” she said. “We cannot eat nutritious food. We don’t have a good life, we live in pain for the rest of our life and die in pain.

“Low wages is the main reason. How much burden can a woman take? Husband, children, house and factory work – can we manage all these with such a meagre salary? So we are caught up in the debt trap. Is there no solution for our problem?”

Like many of the women giving evidence, she said workers faced abuse if they failed to meet quotas. “The targets are too high. They want 150 pieces an hour. When we can’t meet the targets, the abuse starts. There is too much pressure; it is like torture. We can’t take breaks or drink water or go to the toilet. The supervisors are on our backs all the time,” she said. “They call us donkey, owl [a creature associated with evil], dog and insult us … make us stand in front of everyone, tell us to go and die.”

According to Indian government figures, the national textile industry is worth £35bn a year and employs 35 million people. Garment exports are worth £21bn. But human rights campaigners accuse international brands of subcontracting to firms paying poverty wages to the people who make their clothes.

A spokesperson for Texport denied setting unachievable targets and said abuse of workers was not tolerated. Gap said: “These allegations describe conduct that violates our Code of Vendor Conduct. We are looking into this matter and will take appropriate action with our vendors, depending on our findings.”

The Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), which organised the tribunal, wants companies to pay a minimum living wage of 12,096 rupees (£138) a month, equivalent to 58p an hour. But the tribunal heard that a factory supplying Gap and Next paid as little as 26p an hour. The supplier – Pearl Global, based in Gurgaon, in Haryana state – admits it has underpaid workers for overtime and has required them to work illegally long hours, but said it had now repaid them. It insists it complies with the legal minimum wage, though evidence submitted to the tribunal by one worker indicated that he was paid below the legal rate.

Pearl Global was first exposed by the Observer for rights abuses in 2010 when it traded as House of Pearl, but it has continued to operate and supply the brands under its new name.

Many workers at the tribunal claimed that long hours and poor health and safety conditions made them ill. One worker said that a colleague was electrocuted by a bare wire last year in a factory supplying Gap. Ashok Kumar Singh, 29, who works for Gap supplier Modelama Exports in Gurgaon, gave evidence that he was paid just 5,097 rupees a month (24.6p an hour), although the legal minimum rate for his job was 5,300 rupees.

He said workers were taught to lie to auditors sent to check up on working conditions. “Before a visit they gather all the workers around and tell them what to say. If we don’t say what we are told, we are fired,” he said, adding that some workers had been dismissed after complaining to auditors about conditions.

Workers who failed to meet targets were verbally and physically abused, he said. “They call us motherfuckers and push us around and some people get slapped by supervisors and managers,” he said. “I feel the companies look at the workers like enemies.”

The tribunal, in front of an international jury, took evidence in person from workers and will consider written evidence compiled at regional hearings.

Gap and Next were accused of using suppliers that paid below the minimum legal wage, paid below the legal rate for overtime, and required workers to work excessive and illegal overtime. They also faced allegations, along with H&M and Walmart, of using suppliers that verbally abused staff, while there were allegations of physical abuse against a supplier for Gap, H&M and Walmart.

H&M sent representatives to the tribunal and insisted it was committed to improving working conditions. “The social and environmental responsibility that we take puts H&M’s sustainability work ahead of the field in the fashion industry worldwide,” said a spokeswoman. “We clearly see these issues as industry problems that need to be addressed at industry level by government, suppliers, trade unions, workers, buyers, etc.”

A spokesman for Next said: “Next identified that Pearl Global was falling well short of the group’s standard codes of practice in 2010. As a result, Next ceased using this supplier in 2011, after making a determined effort to bring about major change at Pearl Global. Next last reviewed the supplier in July, when the decision to remain disengaged from it was maintained. Next has no plans to recommence manufacturing at Pearl Global.” Anannya Bhattacharjee, international co-ordinator for the AFWA, told the tribunal that despite the recession the garment industry continued to bring in profits. She said workers continued to suffer “shocking, inhuman conditions” and were being paid poverty wages. “Nothing can be more important than a decent living wage for workers working day and night to clothe the world.”.

Letters: Food for thought on poor nutrition

Category : Business

Financial speculation in commodity markets is a significant factor in rising food prices, and a contributor to the three price spikes in the last five years (Britain in nutritional recession as rising prices take toll on diet, 19 November). Proposals for regulations to curb speculation on food are on the table at the EU and could, if strong enough, prevent prices repeatedly spiralling far beyond the levels dictated by supply and demand.

So far, the UK government has failed to back tough rules on speculation. George Osborne and his fellow EU finance ministers are due to vote on the proposals in the coming weeks. If the chancellor is not yet convinced of the need to protect food from finance, perhaps the stark evidence of rising food poverty in the UK will do the job?
Heidi Chow
Food campaigner, World Development Movement

• Please would you stop using the term “austerity Britain” to descibe the current plight of the poorest people in our country. Austerity was what was experienced during the second world war, and afterwards, and still has the resonance of “we are all in it together”. Many foods and other commodities were simply not available. Many which were available were rationed for everybody. I do not wish to paint a false, rose-coloured picture of our society at that time; there was a black market for many goods, there were looters, people with money could sometimes obtain goods others could not afford. But overall both rich and poor were equally affected by the food shortages of the time and, for example, by the power shortages in the immediate aftermath of the war.

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