Monday, March 20, 2023

Stagnating Wages

 Fifteen years of wage stagnation has left British workers £11,000 worse off per year, ]  after 15 years of “almost completely unprecedented” wage stagnation.  The figures come from the Resolution Foundation think tank. 

The Resolution Foundation calculated that had wages continued to grow as they were before the financial crash of 2008, the average worker would make £11,000 more per year than they do now, taking rising prices into account.

It also found typical UK household incomes have fallen further behind those in Germany. In 2008, the gap was over £500 a year, now it is £4,000.

UK wages failing to keep up with costs - Resolution Foundation - BBC News

Up with this we will not put?

 Real wages in the UK will not return to their 2008 level until 2026 despite an easing of inflation, the Resolution Foundation, an independent think tank, reported this week in its analysis of the new budget.

According to the report, the country is on track for a “disastrous decade” of stagnant incomes and high taxes, with cuts to public services.

The publication highlighted that real wages fell at an annual rate of 3.9% in January, noting that the bigger picture for wages is “one of long-term pay stagnation.” 

The decrease in household disposable incomes this year and next are the worst in a century, the think tank stressed.

“Britain’s economy remains stuck in a deep funk – with people supported into work but getting poorer, and paying more tax but seeing public services cut,” it wrote.

The UK is forecast to have gone through “the biggest energy and inflation shock since the 1970s, while avoiding a recession, with unemployment peaking at just 4.4%,” Resolution Foundation added.

According to the study, taxes as a share of GDP are expected to hit 37.7% by the end of the forecast period, representing a 70-year-high and a 4.7% increase since 2019-2020.

The freeze on income tax thresholds since 2022-23 means that typical households will be worse off by £1,110 ($1,337) by 2027-28 when the freeze ends, it noted.

Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, stated that “Jeremy Hunt’s first budget was a much bigger affair than many expected, combining improvements to the dire economic and fiscal outlook with a significant policy package aimed at boosting longer-term growth in general, and the size of the workforce in particular.

“But stepping back, the UK’s underlying challenges remain largely unchanged. We are investing too little and growing too slowly. Our citizens’ living standards are stagnant. We ask them to pay higher taxes, while cutting public services,” he concluded.

RT 19/3/23

Dave C

Rising prices in Spain

 Spaniards are facing surging prices for tomatoes and pork amid burgeoning demand for the products from abroad and geopolitical tensions, the Financial Times reported this week, citing the billionaire owner of Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona.

According to the businessman, who is ranked as Spain’s fourth-richest person, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has heavily weighed on tomato prices as it resulted in sharp surge in prices for natural gas, forcing farmers to shut down production of vegetables in greenhouses in Northern Europe due to high heating costs.

As a result, buyers flocked to Spain’s solar-powered growers, pushing up prices from €1.39 per kilogram in January 2021 to €2.05 today.

“The cost has gone up by a whopping 66 cents. We’ve raised prices by 50%,” Roig said, as quoted by the newspaper.

“So we had two options: either buy tomatoes or leave customers without tomatoes. And we believed it was more important to have tomatoes at €2.05 than to not have tomatoes.”

According to Roig, the price of pork, vital for making Iberian ham, has skyrocketed due to soaring demand from China, for which Spain is a major supplier.

“There are one billion Chinese people,” the businessman said. “How much did they ask for?     don’t know. What I do know is that pork cost €1.05 [per kilogram in January 2021] and now it costs €1.96.”

Earlier this week, the country's national institute of statistics (INE) reported that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food stood at 16.6% in February, marking the highest level since 1994. This is despite the IVA (Spain's sales tax) reductions adopted during the previous month.

RT 19\3\23

Dave C.

The Indignity of Old Age

 Across the U.S., hundreds of thousands of nursing home residents are locked in a wretched bind: Driven into poverty, forced to hand over all income and left to live on a stipend as low as $30 a month. In a long-term care system that subjects some of society’s frailest to daily indignities, Medicaid’s personal needs allowance, as the stipend is called, is among the most ubiquitous, yet least known.

Nearly two-thirds of American nursing home residents have their care paid for by Medicaid and, in exchange, all Social Security, pension and other income they would receive is instead rerouted to go toward their bill. The personal needs allowance is meant to pay for anything not provided by the home, from a phone to clothes and shoes to a birthday present for a grandchild.  Congress hasn’t raised the allowance in decades. Medicaid was created in 1965 as part of the Great Society programs of Lyndon B. Johnson. A 1972 amendment established the personal needs allowance, set at a minimum of $25 monthly. Unlike other benefits like Social Security, cost-of-living increases were not built into personal needs allowance rules. Had it been linked to inflation, it would be about $180 today. But Congress has raised the minimum rate only once, to $30, in 1987. It has remained there ever since.

When Marla Carter visits her mother-in-law at a nursing home in Owensboro, Kentucky, the scene feels more 19th-century poorhouse than modern-day America. With just a $40 allowance, residents are dressed in ill-fitting hand-me-downs or hospital gowns that drape open. Some have no socks or shoes. Basic supplies run low. Many don’t even have a pen to write with.

“That’s what was so surprising to us,” Carter says, “the poverty.”

In nursing homes, impoverished live final days on pennies | AP News

The Real People Traffickers

 Private firms are making increased profits as the government pays millions of pounds a day to put up asylum seekers in the UK.

BBC News has been told 395 hotels are being used to house asylum seekers, as arrivals to the UK rose last year.

Three large firms have contracts to run the hotels.

One, Serco, provides some 109 hotels in England mostly in the Midlands, East and North West. Serco, which also provides other services on behalf of the government, references "growth" in its immigration work in its 2022 annual report.

Another firm, Mears Group is running 80 hotels in north-east England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, increased its annual revenue by 22% in 2021. The company's annual report said the increase was "largely driven" by its work finding hotel accommodation for asylum seekers.

Calder Conferences, received £20.6m in 2021 to book hotels. That figure increased to £97m in 2022. Calder's annual accounts for the year ending February 2022 shows turnover increased from £5.98m to £23.66m. The firm's pre-tax profits trebled, from £2.1m to £6.3m. Calder's director, Debbie Hoban, saw her annual remuneration increase from £230,000 to £2.2m.

Private firms profiting from asylum hotels, BBC learns - BBC News

Saturday, March 18, 2023

US mothers dying in childbirth

 The United States remains one of the most dangerous wealthy nations for a woman to give birth. Compared to other countries, the maternal mortality rate was twice as high in the US than in the UK, Germany and France; and three times higher than in Spain, Italy, Japan and several other countries,

Maternal mortality rose by 40% at the height of the pandemic, according to new data released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2021, 33 women died out of every 100,000 live births in the US, up from 23.8 in 2020. It has consistently increased in the US since at least 2000. Yet the average maternal mortality rate among the 37 other countries accounted for in the data has declined over the same time period. The high cost of healthcare, coupled with glaring disparities across racial and socio-economic backgrounds, have kept the mortality rate in the US stubbornly high for years,

That rate was more than double for black women, who were nearly three times more likely to die than white women. Black Americans are disproportionately at the axis of all three points - they have the highest rates of obesity or being overweight in the US, and have a 20% higher chance of having hypertension. Yet the rate of uninsured black Americans remains two-thirds higher than white Americans. Black Americans in particular are often employed in low-income jobs that offer little-to-no health insurance coverage and minimal time off for maternity leave.

 Joan Costa-i-Font, a professor of health economics at the London School of Economics, explained, the maternal mortality rate spike in the US in 2021 was the result of a "perfect storm" of events between a deadly pandemic, racial inequality, comparatively low health insurance coverage, and high health insurance costs.

"The insurance design is to be blamed for the excessive barriers that women [in the US] face when pregnant. It's basically a system that is not giving care to the ones most at need It provides great care to the wealthy but low income care is below standards...Lower income people in the US find themselves with higher needs, more disease, and less coverage," Costa-i-Font said.

Experts say the vast majority of maternal deaths happen shortly after giving birth, when many women are forced to return to work and are unable to continue with post-partum care.

Dr Rochanda Mitchell, a Howard University physician who specialises in maternal-foetal medicine and high-risk pregnancies, said, "During the pregnancy everybody is there, celebrating the pregnancy." 

She added.,"But if most of our mothers are dying after delivery - then we need help after delivery." Dr Mitchell explained that until there is a vast overhaul of how the health care system in the US functions, the situation is unlikely to improve.

But without the systems in place to support employees of low-income jobs, many mothers are forced to ignore early signs of health concerns.

Some mothers, even those with health insurance, can be discouraged from seeing a doctor post-partum because of the potentially high cost and may wait until the most dire circumstances, she said, which in many cases can be too late.

Why US mothers are more likely to die in childbirth - BBC News

Friday, March 17, 2023

Brits never had it so bad.

Britons are facing the biggest decline in living standards since records began in the 1950s, and the highest taxes since the World War II as the economy grinds to a halt this year, the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, real household disposable income, a measure of real living standards, will drop by 5.7% over the financial years 2022-23 and 2023-24.

“While this is 1.4 percentage points less than forecast in November, it would still be the largest two-year fall since records began in 1956-57,” the report said.

A surge in energy and consumer goods prices triggered inflation, which currently stands above nominal wages and has led to a historic fall in disposable incomes, the OBR noted, adding that “this means that real living standards are still 0.4% lower than their pre-pandemic levels.”

According to the forecast, living standards will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2028 and the tax burden remains on course to be the highest since the Second World War.

The UK “continues to see the tax burden reach a post-war high of 37.7% of GDP at the forecast horizon in 2027-28, including the highest ratio of corporation tax receipts to GDP since the tax was introduced in 1965,” the watchdog said.

The British economy is expected to shrink by 0.2% this year despite claims by the government that the country is set to avoid a recession.

RT 17/3/23

Dave C.

Venison on the Menu for the Poor

 There are now more food banks across the UK than there are McDonald’s outlets.

 While demand has soared, donations have plummeted – in some cases by up to 70%. Protein-rich foods donations in particular have become a scarcity.

"It’s crazy and indefensible,” says the MP Charles Walker. “Venison is a wonderful, sustainable resource but is seen as too posh to eat, ergo – very few people eat it and it ends up being made into dog food. It’s a contradiction of mind-bending proportions.”

Thanks to a two-year pause in culling during Covid, the deer population is at its highest level for 1,000 years: at about 2 million animals – 50 years ago, the population was at 450,000. These herds are growing exponentially: at the current rate, there will be almost 2.4 million deer in the UK by the end of the year.  At least 750,000 animals need to be culled this year just to stop this enormous population increasing further. Thanks to post-Brexit complications in exporting the meat, however, and the lack of a UK market for venison, only 350,000 animals are currently being culled each year.

At the same time, a growing number of families hit by the cost of living crisis need healthy food, particularly from protein-rich food groups including meat.

Forestry England, Farm Wilder and the Country Food Trust have created a pipeline funnelling protein-rich, low-fat, low-cholesterol venison meals to food banks, schools, hospitals, the armed forces and prisons across the country. By the end of the year, it is hoped 1 million visitors to food banks will have dined on wild venison ragu. And that’s just the pilot: the aim is to roll the scheme out nationally.

Forestry England will supply 5,000kg of wild venison from forests in Devon and Cornwall to Farm Wilder this year. It will process the venison into ragu and the Country Food Trust will distribute it. 

“These meals have literally been a lifesaver,” said Gill Bates, the manager of the Bexley food bank in Erith. “Demand from families is up by 150% but we often have no protein in stock at all. This is a problem because from a health point of view, proteins are the building blocks of life, far more so than the white carbohydrates we get donated in far greater bulk.”

‘Deer are destroying habitats’: push to get venison on to UK dinner plates | Food banks | The Guardian

It’s Socialism you should be after

 French President Emmanuel Macron bypassed parliament and enacted a controversial pension reform package on Thursday, triggering riots and arson on the streets of Paris. The move, which raises France’s retirement age to 64, had already caused months of strikes and protests.

Macron invoked a special constitutional power to pass the bill, immediately before a vote was set to take place. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced the decision in the National Assembly, as opposition lawmakers booed, jeered, and sang.

Under the power invoked by Macron and Borne, the bill is considered passed unless a majority of lawmakers file a motion of no confidence against the government in the next 24 hours. Right-wing leader Marine Le Pen said that her National Rally party would back such a motion, as did a number of leftist leaders.

Macron has argued for months that France’s pension system will go bankrupt unless citizens pump more money into the system. Raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 – which would still see French workers retire earlier than most of their European counterparts – would be a “just and responsible” way to achieve this, he said in January.

France’s trade unions – who have protested the reforms since last year – have argued that the system should instead be buoyed by increasing taxes on the wealthy.

Thousands of protesters gathered in Paris as Macron’s bill was passed. Near parliament buildings, police fired tear gas at the demonstrators and faced off against the crowd in lines.

Rioters set fires and blocked roads throughout the French capital, as groups of masked protesters clashed with riot police.Prior to the bill’s passage, almost half a million people protested in cities across France on Wednesday, according to figures from the Interior Ministry. Police have already made 73 arrests in the capital, Le Figaro reported, citing a police source.

RT 16/3/23

Dave C

How Bad Does It Have To Get?

 Food inflation has accelerated in the Netherlands with prices surging 18.4% year-on-year in February from a 17.6% January reading, data shared on Tuesday by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) shows.

Clothing was also considerably more expensive, surging 11.8% last month from 9.4% in January. Experts point out that these two items in particular contributed to inflation last month, which amounted to 8%.

An economist at the third-largest Dutch bank ABN Amro, Aggie van Huisseling, said that unusually high energy prices continued to fuel inflation in the country. The increase in food prices stems mainly from the soaring costs of fresh vegetables, as products like tomatoes currently come mainly from greenhouses that are heated with gas, Van Huisseling explained.

At the same time, fuel prices eased somewhat, declining 9.4% in February compared to the same period last year, figures from the CBS showed.

According to the European harmonized consumer price index (HICP), consumer goods and services in the Netherlands were 8.9% more expensive in February than the previous year and up from 8.4% in January.

Economists from ABN Amro expect inflation to cool this year and decline to 4%, but warn that a rise in energy prices will be passed on to the cost of other products.

Annual inflation in Poland accelerated in February to the highest level since 1996, data released by the national statistics service GUS showed on Wednesday.

Consumer prices rose 18.4% year-on-year in February, up from the 16.6% recorded in the previous month.

Economists are predicting that the latest surge will mark the peak of the current cycle, but Polish consumers say they are struggling to pay household bills and buy basic groceries, with price growth at its steepest in more than a quarter of a century.

The figures show that the February reading surpassed the previous high of 17.9% recorded in October 2022, with food prices, transport and energy costs rising fastest last month.

Prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages saw the most significant annual increase in February of up to 27%, compared to 26.6% in January. Housing-related rates jumped 22.7% while the cost of heating fuel, water and central heating increased, the report said.

The Polish economy slowed in 2022 amid soaring inflation and a plunge in consumer spending brought on by the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine and the impact of sanctions on Russia.

Food prices in Finland saw a historic jump of 16.3% last month in annual terms, according to official data released on Tuesday. The figure represents the highest price growth since 1964, the country’s statistics agency reported.

Data showed that the high cost of electricity, food, and increased loan interest rates were the main drivers of inflation on an annual basis.

According to the report, the core inflation rate, which excludes food and energy prices, continued to rise sharply and reached 6.6% in February.

Jukka Appelqvist, chief economist of Finland’s Central Chamber of Commerce, said that while prices may not continue to rise as rapidly as in February, the persistence of inflationary pressures is a major economic risk. The official noted that there were no signs of an uncontrollable spiral of prices and wages falling in the country. However, he warned that a stable and low inflation rate is unlikely to happen in the near future.

The prolonged tight monetary policy and rising interest rates could lead to a deeper recession than anticipated, Appelqvist suggested.

The EU nation sank into recession in the fourth quarter last year after GDP had shrunk more than expected from the previous three-month period. The decline was led by exports, investments and consumption, official data shows.

Economists have projected a mild recession for the Finnish economy this year before a rebound in 2024.

RT 17/3/23

Dave C.

Social Care to be Cut

 Ministers are poised to cut £250m from investment in the social care workforce in England, it has been reported, in a move that providers say could set back care “for years to come”.

With more than 165,000 care worker jobs vacant, and low pay driving staff to quit for better wages in retail and hospitality, care providers and councils have been clamouring for investment in recruitment and retention. Inadequate staffing levels are frequently noted as a cause of neglect and poor care by the Care Quality Commission.

However, the government is poised to water down a promise it made in the December 2021 social care white paper to dedicate £500m to “investment in knowledge, skills, health and wellbeing, and recruitment policies [that] will improve social care as a long-term career choice”. This amount could be cut to £250m.

A further £300m plan “to integrate housing into local health and care strategies with a focus on increasing the range of new supported housing options available” could also be axed, it was reported.

Skills for Care has predicted that the UK may need an extra 480,000 workers in social care by 2035 to keep pace with demand. Meanwhile, 430,000 carers could be lost in the next 10 years if those aged 55 and over decide to retire.

Government ‘to cut £250m from social care workforce funding’ in England | Care workers | The Guardian

The Silent Pandemic

 The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning of a "silent pandemic" of antimicrobial resistance. Five million deaths are associated every year due to antimicrobial resistance, according to the release.  2.8 million antimicrobial-resistant infections occur in the U.S. each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result,

"Antibiotic resistance is one of the major concerns in modern medicine today," Dr. Aaron Glatt, chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital on Long Island, New York, explained. "There is a dearth of safe, effective and inexpensive agents to use to treat many of these significant infections. It is critical that new and innovative products be investigated." Glatt added.

Pharmaceutical companies must invest in the research and development phase to find an antimicrobial agent that will combat drug resistant pathogens, experts say. Yet these drugs are as likely to fail during this process as drugs for other diseases that may yield a much better return on the investment, such as cancer and heart drugs. 

It's often simply cheaper to bring ‘me-too’ drugs to the market than try and completely redesign a new drug. Look at how many different statin drugs we have that are basically identical. How many SSRI [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor] depression drugs are available with minimal differences.

You only ever need an antibiotic ideally for a brief period of time, yet a cholesterol drug or an HIV antiviral is forever.

'Silent pandemic' warning from WHO: Bacteria killing too many people due to antimicrobial resistance | Fox News

Unpaid Overtime

 Research from the Trades Union Congress based on ONS data covering the third quarter of 2022 found that 16.7% of London workers did unpaid overtime work in 2022, more than any other region in the UK. 

£7.3 billion worth of unpaid overtime work, more than the next two regions - the South East and the East of England - combined.

These employees performing an average of 8.4 extra hours per week, also the highest in the UK, 

The average loss per employee was £10,796.

Unpaid overtime was more common in the public sector, where 14.8% of employees reported working extra hours without pay, compared to 11.7% in the private sector.

“Nobody minds putting in longer hours for time to time,” TUC Regional Secretary Sam Gurney said. “But some workers in London put in thousands of pounds worth of unpaid overtime last year. Unpaid hours should never be a regular habit – that’s just exploitation. With staff shortages in many industries, work intensity and pressure to work longer days is a big problem.”

Overtime pay: Londoners did £7.3 billion worth of unpaid work last year | Evening Standard


The Imminent Water Crisis

 The world is facing an imminent water crisis, with demand expected to outstrip the supply of fresh water by 40% by the end of this decade, experts have said, according to a landmark report on the economics of water. The report marks the first time the global water system has been scrutinised comprehensively and its value to countries – and the risks to their prosperity if water is neglected.

Johan Rockstrom, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a lead author of the report, told the Guardian the world’s current neglect of water resources was leading to disaster. 

“The scientific evidence is that we have a water crisis. We are misusing water, polluting water, and changing the whole global hydrological cycle, through what we are doing to the climate. It’s a triple crisis.” Water is fundamental to the climate crisis and the global food crisis. “There will be no agricultural revolution unless we fix water,” said Rockstrom.

Mariana Mazzucato, an economist and professor at University College London, also a lead author, added:

 “We need a much more proactive, and ambitious, common good approach. We have to put justice and equity at the centre of this, it’s not just a technological or finance problem.”

Many governments still do not realise how interdependent they are when it comes to water, according to Rockstrom. Most countries depend for about half of their water supply on the evaporation of water from neighbouring countries – known as “green” water because it is held in soils and delivered from transpiration in forests and other ecosystems, when plants take up water from the soil and release vapour into the air from their leaves.

Many of the ways in which water is used are inefficient and in need of change, with Rockstrom pointing to developed countries’ sewage systems.

 “It’s quite remarkable that we use safe, fresh water to carry excreta, urine, nitrogen, phosphorus – and then need to have inefficient wastewater treatment plants that leak 30% of all the nutrients into downstream aquatic ecosystems and destroy them and cause dead zones. We’re really cheating ourselves..."

 Global fresh water demand will outstrip supply by 40% by 2030, say experts | Water | The Guardian

Stagnating Incomes to Come

 The Resolution Foundation has said typical household disposable incomes were on course to be lower by the end of the forecast period in 2027-28 than they were before the pandemic, when inflation was taken into account.

Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, was unable to change the course of declining living standards, the foundation said.

“Britain’s economy remains stuck in a deep funk – with people supported into work but getting poorer, and paying more tax but seeing public services cut,” the report said.

Workers also face paying more to the Treasury because personal tax thresholds have been frozen instead of rising with inflation, meaning wage growth pushes more people into higher rate bands – a phenomenon known as “fiscal drag”.

Intense cost pressure on public services from stagnant budget allocations and rising inflation were “largely ignored” in the budget, the thinktank said, adding that Whitehall departments outside the protected areas of health, schools and defence faced 10% cuts in real terms to day-to-day spending per head by 2027-28. This loss of spending power across most government departments will rise to 14% “if the newly announced aspiration for defence spending to rise to 2.5% of GDP is met over the next parliament”.

Budget: UK on track for ‘disastrous decade’ of income stagnation | Budget 2023 | The Guardian

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Socialist Stanza No. 2

Statue of Limitation


Set high upon a lofty plinth

From flawless marble fashioned,

A great libertarian stands,

An advocate impassioned


By the ideal of tongues being free

To speak at will, unrestrained,

Brooking no dark despotic moves

Towards having words detained.


This patrician rhetorician

Raised in the free market place,

For all his lofty appearance,

He’s a second, hidden face


That looks in favour of free speech

And open democracy,

“Unless,” his cold eyes seem to say,

“You dare to contradict me!”


D. A.

Living In Retirement

 In South Africa, men spend on average only two years in retirement.

In Eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania, Latvia and Russia – as well as in Argentina, Mexico, and South Africa – men spend on average less than 10 years in retirement.

Iceland, Israel and Norway have the oldest retirement ages at 67. However, life expectancy is also about 81 – meaning on average men in these countries spend 14 years in retirement.

Where in the world can you have the longest retirement? | Interactive News | Al Jazeera

A Pampered Life?

 Asylum seekers and refugees who were already only barely surviving. In the UK, asylum seekers are generally barred from work until they have attained refugee status. If they do not receive an initial decision on their asylum claims within 12 months, they may apply for jobs only on a list determined by the Home Office to be in short supply in Britain, including nurses, social workers and engineers. 

Although the Home Office says asylum claims are usually processed in six months, the Refugee Council charity published a report in 2021 showing that the average wait time for even an initial decision is likely to be one to three years with some waiting up to five years. Advocacy groups estimate that this waiting time has not decreased since then.

Asylum seekers who report being destitute are provided with accommodation but cannot choose where they live. They are entitled to a £45 weekly allowance to buy essentials. 

It is an amount that works out to £2,340 a year. 

This is less than a tenth of the £25,500 that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the poverty alleviation charity, recommends as necessary for a minimum acceptable annual standard of living although this sum includes housing, which destitute asylum seekers do not need to pay for. Experts say that there are usually long delays for asylum seekers to receive this allowance. Many wait up to a year.

In the UK, once asylum seekers are given refugee status, there is a 28-day period before all their support comes to an end.

 A report by the British Red Cross and the UN Refugee Agency in August revealed that futile attempts to secure employment to pay the bills have driven asylum seekers and refugees into domestic servitude, labour exploitation and forced criminality.

“One month after asylum seekers get refugee status, they no longer get shelter or support. But just because you’re now a refugee, it doesn’t mean you speak the language or have a job.”

 The British charity Maternity Action reported that in 2021, its specialist support line helped 407 pregnant asylum seekers and refugees in the UK who had been erroneously charged for healthcare with fees beginning at around £7,000. Asylum seekers and refugees are legally exempt from healthcare fees charged to foreigners by the National Health Service (NHS).

Pip McKnight, a former community midwife specialising in immigrant maternal health and a teaching fellow at Coventry University, suggested that pregnant asylum seekers might not know how to navigate the healthcare system when they arrive.

“This could be because of difficulties with language or just anxiety over a healthcare system that looks quite different to the one in their home countries,” she said. “And the NHS doesn’t always understand these women’s needs or that they shouldn’t be charged.”

Asylum seekers in the UK are excluded from the state-run Healthy Start scheme, which offers vouchers for fruit and vegetables and milk for low-income pregnant women. That means they end up having to “spend what little allowance they have on these things, … and that obviously makes a huge dent,” McKnight said.

Asylum-seeking and refugee women are also being forced into making difficult sacrifices just to keep their families going, according to Sarah Taal, advocacy and policy director at the Baobab Women’s Project, a grassroots advocacy group in Birmingham, UK.

“Those with pre-existing [health] conditions feel shamed by their doctors for buying processed food instead of fresher options, which they simply can’t afford,” she said. “Mothers are also struggling to prepare nutritious meals or buy clothes for their growing children.”

“We’ve also heard about women starving in order to purchase items needed for their personal hygiene,” Taal said. “This can include shampoo, soap, menstruation products and so on.”

Özlem Ögtem-Young, who is head of research on poverty, precarity, savings and debt at the University of Birmingham in the UK, said charities that are themselves hit hard by the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have been struggling to support the increasing numbers of asylum seekers in need of food and clothing.

“There are reports of outbursts at food banks when people are turned away, causing anger, desperation and distress,” she explained. Many charities that have witnessed cuts in funding and resources have been forced to put their services on hold, Ögtem-Young said.

 Community organisers are increasingly concerned about asylum seekers losing safe spaces where they can find support and also socialise, seek out learning opportunities and gain a sense of belonging. Rising prices are likely to force desperate refugees into slavery or trafficking. 

 Lifting the existing ban on asylum seekers’ access to the labour market would save the economy more than £333 million a year. That would include about £249 million in tax contributions and the rest through savings on some subsistence support that could be reduced for those who find work.

 Ireland is a country showing a positive example. In 2022, Ireland launched a scheme to give the country’s 17,000 undocumented people legal access to its labour market without fearing deportation or arrest. Earlier, during the pandemic, it became the first EU country to offer hardship payments to undocumented non-citizens. Belgium, Luxembourg, Malta and Spain are also making moves towards giving undocumented people the legal right to work.

Instead of spending millions of pounds on detention camps and hotel accommodations for refugees and asylum seekers, the government, for instance, could subsidise regular housing for them,  helping asylum seekers and refugees integrate better into their new neighbourhoods.  

Can asylum seekers in Europe survive the cost-of-living crisis? | Refugees | Al Jazeera

Growing Inequality, Falling Life Expectancy

 Life expectancy in the UK has grown at a slower rate than comparable countries over the past seven decades, according to researchers, who say this is the result of widening inequality.

According to a new analysis of global life expectancy rankings published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine the UK lags behind all other countries in the group of G7 advanced economies except the USA.

While life expectancy has increased in absolute terms, similar countries have experienced larger increases. 

In the 1950s, the UK had one of the longest life expectancies in the world, ranking seventh globally behind countries such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but in 2021 the UK was ranked 29th. This was partly due to income inequality, which rose considerably in the UK during and after the 1980s.

Prof Martin McKee, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “That rise also saw an increase in the variation in life expectancy between different social groups. One reason why the overall increase in life expectancy has been so sluggish in the UK is that in recent years it has fallen for poorer groups. While politicians invoke global factors, especially the effects of the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine, the reality is that, as in the 1950s, the country suffers from major structural and institutional weaknesses.”

One of the co-authors, Dr Lucinda Hiam of Oxford University, explained, "A relative worsening of population health is evidence that all is not well. It has historically been an early sign of severe political and economic problems. This new analysis suggests that the problems the UK faces are deep-seated and raises serious questions about the path that this country is following.”

Dr Jonathan Filippon, senior lecturer in health systems at Queen Mary University of London, said social inequality had worsened in the UK and US because of the “predominant ideologies”.

“The major liberal approach to nation states inaugurated by the duo Thatcher and Reagan had disastrous consequences to their population’s levels of equality,” he said. “While markets can continue to thrive in countries – even during a crisis such as we’ve seen recently with the UK energy sector – they can also exacerbate inequalities as well.”

UK life expectancy growing at slower rate than rest of G7, research shows | Life expectancy | The Guardian

Money Goes to Money

 The drop in real household disposable income would represent "the largest two-year fall in living standards since records began in the 1950s," Richard Hughes, chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said.

"We think households are going to dip into some of their savings to help manage the squeeze on living standards and that supports growth in the near term," he added.

Meantime, Jeremy Hunt handed a huge pensions giveaway to the wealthiest 1%. Someone with a £2m pension pot will get a tax cut of £275,000 when they take their tax-free lump sum as a result of the change.

Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation think tank, said it means “rich people now have no overall limit on how much can be put into their pension pots tax-free”, and can pass this on to their heirs with “absolutely zero inheritance tax”.