Monthly Archives: February 2007

Language lessons

Once again the government is mooting some anti-immigration measures, and as usual the full story is lost under the dance of racism – that action and reaction where the government panders to the racism it thinks the people hold, the media creates a scare story, and the population sees the policy as ‘too little, too late’ because they’ve been primed to think that civilization is about to collapse.

The Commission on Integration and Cohesion (http://www.integrationandcohesion.org.uk) notes that not speaking English is a barrier to integration. This is, of course, true. It’s hard to integrate into a community if you can’t communicate, and us Brits don’t have language skills and so wouldn’t be able to help a non-English speaker much.

However, the spin on this seems to have focused the story on the spouses coming from the Indian sub-continent. I heard one story about having Pakistani/Bangladeshi people having to learn English before they arrived. It’s picked up on these two statements:

 

“Language support offered to spouses from abroad is therefore of real interest to me – should we be asking whether they should speak English before they arrive?”  Darra Singh, the Commission’s Chair

‘Where UK residents who have limited English language skills (or only speak English outside the home) choose to marry non-English speaking spouses from abroad, there are real difficulties in breaking down the language barrier. Family units are formed from individuals who never get to the point of speaking English fluently and therefore have little opportunity to integrate. The commission is seeking views on how best to encourage spouses and other key groups to speak English.’ (CIC press release)

 

But how often does this happen nowadays? As far as I’m aware, the British citizens (of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin) who are marrying people from the sub-continent are largely my age (early 30s) and younger and speak English perfectly well. After all, they can’t be new here – if they were they’d have needed to be already married into a British family in order to be here in the first place.

Indeed, the argument can’t really be used in relation to anyone. The Europeans who come here to join European spouses have freedom of movement in the EU (and I can’t see a requirement for us to learn Spanish before we go and live in Spain). Those from elsewhere who come here to work legally are very likely to have learnt English so their spouses will not be joining a non-English speaking family unit. I doubt it will be used with the Thai brides bought for British men (who incidentally, can end up trapped in the home with no contact with society, just like the stereotypical Muslim female).

The only group of people this may be relevant to is refugees. They are the only group that haven’t got freedom of movement or a work permit and English skills. Are we really likely to say that when someone claims refuge from an oppressive state, that we’ll only let their family come too if they learn English? This doesn’t seem very civilised, so I can only assume that this idea, wherever it came from, is a dead duck.

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NatWest, Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds

Once again the profits of the banking sector are in the news. Some see the announcement of £7.1 billion profit at Barclays is taking the piss, when banks are also talking about imposing monthly charges on current accounts.

Now, it is true that most people can get their banking without fees, so getting a service for nothing (although, the bank is earning interest on your money) and perhaps a charge would make things more transparent. There is also some competition, so we are free to move our money to higher interest accounts with charges, or to no interest accounts without. This is all good, and to some degree the banks also subsidise some of the poorest people (with little money in the bank) in the hope that they’ll earn more in the future.

But don’t think for one minute that the banks are for the public good. The reason why they are thinking about regular charges is because they may lose income elsewhere (after being forced to reduce overdraft charges). What the banks are doing is reacting to moves to stop them profiteering. Companies want to make as much profit as possible, by charging as much as they think they can get away with.

What is worse, however, is the justification and excuses for huge profits that try to convince us that they are really working in our interest. John Varley, Barclays’ CEO tells us that we are lucky because ‘the UK is pretty much unique in the developed world for offering free banking’. But checking Bank of America, HSBC US, and Commerzbank in Germany find you free banking at all of them.

He also says that this profit is effectively takings for the British economy so good for us all. First, he tells us about their contribution to the state finances: ‘We pay a lot of tax… our tax charge will be about £2 billion.’ (Today programme 20 Feb 2007). However, I don’t know if this is the tax on profits or on the business as a whole (including employment taxes etc.). What we do know is that the group has been in court to defend its tax avoidance in the past (http://www.ifs.org.uk/budgets/gb2006/06chap10.pdf), and uses various means to avoid tax being paid by itself and its richer offshore customers.

Finally, he asked ‘Who owns Barclays?… the pension funds’, trying to assure us that the profits make a contribution to our personal finances. But, as always we need to follow the money. If it’s distributed as pension who gets it in the end? Given that the majority of people in the UK have little or no private pension provision, this money goes to the rich. And guess what, the richer someone is, the more they’ll get from this. Varley himself was earning £900,000 per year on 1 April 2006, so his pension will bring him £600,000 per year, somewhat higher than most.

The tax breaks the government has for pensions help the rich more than the poor. The banking sector helps the rich more than the poor. And so on.

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