Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Two Different Worlds

 More than 1 million people, including rising numbers of low-paid workers, were forced to use food banks in the last 12 months. The latest figures from the Trussell Trust, which coordinates a network of food banks in the UK, show a 19% year-on-year increase in food bank users, demonstrating that hunger, debt and poverty are continuing to affect large numbers of low-income families and individuals.

Nearly 1.1 million people received at least three days of emergency food from the trust’s 445 food banks in 2014-15 – up from 913,000 the previous year. Back in 2009-10, before the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition took power, the then little-known charity fed 41,000 people from its 56 food banks.

The Trussell Trust figures show the biggest proportion, 44%, of food bank referrals last year – marginally lower than the previous year – were triggered by people pitched into crisis because their benefit payments had been delayed, or stopped altogether as a result of the strict jobcentre sanctions regime. More than a fifth, 22%, of food bank users were referred because of low income – meaning they were unable to afford food due to a relatively small financial crisis such as a boiler breaking down or having to buy a school uniform. This group includes people in low-paid, zero-hours or part-time work who were forced to turn to food banks.

Chris Mould, the Trussell Trust chairman, said the figures showed many people were experiencing “catastrophic” problems as a result of low incomes, despite signs of a wider economic recovery. He said: “These needs have not diminished in the last 12 months.”

Experts warned that the figures were the “tip of the iceberg” of food poverty in the UK. Experts said the Trussell Trust figures did not capture the scale of emergency food aid provided by hundreds of other charities, churches and community groups. Hannah Lambie-Mumford, a research fellow at the University of Sheffield and a food bank specialist, said the data was “an urgent call to policymakers to address the root cause of food poverty in the UK”.

Meanwhile doctors said the inability of families to buy enough food had become a public health issue. Dr John Middleton, the vice-president of the Faculty of Public Health, said: “Poverty is already creating massive health issues for people today, and if we do not tackle the root causes of food poverty now, we will see it affecting future generations too.”

Also revealed is that the NHS plans to dramatically increase rationing of patients’ access to care and treatment in an effort to balance its books, a new survey of health bosses reveals. Almost two in five of England’s 211 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are considering imposing new limits this year on eligibility for services such as IVF, foot-care and hip and knee replacements. Smokers and those who are obese will be among those denied surgery and other treatment, according to a survey of 80 CCG leaders conducted by the Health Service Journal, in an extension of the controversial policy of “lifestyle rationing”.

Jeremy Taylor, chief executive of National Voices, which represents 140 health charities, said the plans were very worrying and would threaten the NHS’s status as a service that treated patients based on their clinical need. “It’s very worrying to hear this because access to services that people need is a key aspect of what makes the NHS the NHS. It’s comprehensive, it’s national, it’s free at the point of use and it’s not based on ability to pay, so if you want to ramp up rationing then you call into question the extent to which it’s still a comprehensive service based on clinical need. This is worrying but not surprising, given the overall financial state of the NHS.” 

Comedian-turned-activist and outspoken critic of capitalism and Britain’s political system Russell Brand said he felt “angry all over again” after watching a special screening of his documentary criticising growing inequality between the rich and the poor in Britain. He attacks the behaviour of the banks, tax avoidance schemes and austerity measures in his film ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ “I think people want me to talk about the election but watching it again it just makes me think there’s no justice, it’s dead…. What I most support is people becoming activated.” 

Now let us compare the above with another current news item. At its heart, theoretically, stock exchanges are supposed to be there to help companies to grow by providing investment and funds, not to be glorified gambling casinos nor to enrich traders or marginalise all those who can't afford the latest technology. High-frequency trading is a process that simply does what it says on the tin. It uses computers and fast communications to buy and sell a variety of things, normally shares, at high speed. The speed for a trade to be done in the US is at 98% of the speed of light. And, just in case you've forgotten Einstein, the speed of light is as fast as anything can go.

Imagine a big institution wants to buy a million shares in a company, so one of its people presses a button on a computer to authorise that deal. Now slow down time. Imagine that the electrical signal to buy those shares, from all sorts of different places, is whizzing down a line. It knows that those shares are up for sale at all sorts of places, and they cost, say, £1 each. So you're expecting to spend £1m. Now freeze time. Your first purchase has just landed - let's say you've bought 10,000 shares for £1 each. You're about to buy the other 990,000. But hold on... because something very sneaky is about to happen. My computers have instantly worked out that you're buying these shares, and that you want to buy loads more of them. And because my computers are faster than yours (thanks to these ludicrously quick fibre-optic cables) - I'm going to buy them ahead of you. And then I'm going to sell them to you at a slightly inflated price. And what's more - you probably won't even know it's happening. So your remaining 990,000 shares might each cost you an average of a penny or two more. You might not even notice, but I've just made a £20,000 profit out of buying and selling shares within the same second. Now imagine that happening hundreds, thousands - tens of thousands - of times a day. And whoever has the fastest cable can make the most money.

"Back in 2004, the boss of a hedge fund complained to me that it was taking him 43 milliseconds to do a trade. I didn't know what he meant... a millisecond is only a thousandth of a second, and I thought 43 of those couldn't be very long. A blink of an eye is 300 milliseconds, right? But he moved his operation from Kansas to New York and cut that time from 43 milliseconds to 3.9. And in the first few days of trading after that, he told me he'd made $450,000 of additional profit." explained Ronan Ryan. 

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