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child benefit

Happy New Year – my top ten festive moans…..

It’s 2013 and welcome to my Christmas and New Year top ten pet hates about the festive and holiday season.

Everyone has to have a rant now and then –  me more than most. So this week it’s the things which irritate me about Christmas and the New Year. Do let me know if you agree or, even better, what your additional gripes might be….

1. Reduced rubbish collection – the one time of the year when you are bound to collect more rubbish is Christmas, especially when you have children. So why are collections reduced or erratic at this time? I don’t buy the argument that people have time off – I’ve often worked over Christmas and New Year, and the only time I ever got paid extra money was for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day – and I wouldn’t expect a collection on any of those days. Recycling in Swindon is great – but not great when the bins aren’t collected. So I predict that for the next few weeks, the local authority will see an increase in its general waste and landfill costs because of the distruption over this period.

The tree must come down, along with all of the decorations….

2. Too many repeats on television – I love television, I work on television programmes and I know when goes into making programming. But is it just me or was the majority of programming over the Christmas period repeats? While some are accepted eg. The Christmas Carol, Mary Poppins – I felt there was little to look forward to in terms of new material. Also programmes were repeated loads of times. It’s the one time to draw people in but there were few highlights. Maybe, Miranda,  Downton Abbey special (which was horribly predictable) and the soaps (none of which I watch). Africa was one highlight too. The rest was pretty dull.

3. Turkey – I don’t mind a small turkey on Christmas Day but however hard I try I always end up with far more than needed. It’s the one time of the year when I try to buy an organic bird. I ordered one (I won’t say from where as that wouldn’t be fair) and asked for the smallest. I saw the tick on the list for a 4kg turkey – or around that weight. When it came it was more than 5.5kg – when I queried it I was told that they didn’t have many smaller ones so were having to move them around – without actually informing the customer. I was given no warning and it cost me almost £20 more than I was expecting to pay.  I did comment that if I’d budgeted for the amount originally quoted and hadn’t been able to pay that extra money – what would they have done then? Next year, if we go for turkey again, I’ll buy frozen.

4. Crackers – why are crackers so c**p these days? One of the joys of crackers is the bang when they go off, so many now don’t bang at all – and their contents are awful. And there’s not much choice around. It’s either totally rubbish or slightly better contents for twice the price. Why bother?

5. Round-robin letters in Christmas cards – I didn’t have any of these this year but I usually get a couple each year. It’s like a newsletter to a friend about your family’s achievements. I can’t put my finger on why this irritates me, it may not be logical, because I get them all the time in my business life and I don’t mind. Maybe it’s because it takes the personality out of a Christmas card. If you want to tell me something, just write a couple of lines. It makes all the difference.

6. The length of school holidays – as a working parent, this is something which bugs me often. Many people went back to work on Jan 2 including me  – but children don’t go back to school until Jan 7 or 8. Why? Believe me, most children want to go back to school earlier, they get bored at home, no matter what they’ve got to entertain them and they miss their friends. When you are self-employed, or in certain professions, it’s difficult to take yet more days off so inevitably child care is needed. Which means an expensive time of year becomes even more expensive.

7. Awful present dilemma – what to do with those presents you dislike but, as they’ve come from someone reasonably close, you have to keep at least for a while. We have had several of these within our household this year – can’t give too much detail. Some we’ve changed for other things, some we’ve put up with, some have gone immediately to charity and some we’ve put into the ‘spare present drawer’ for those times when you’ve forgotten someone’s birthday. But for the latter just be careful you don’t give them back to the same person. I’ve burned my fingers with this more than once.

8. What to do with Christmas cards? – we’ve got loads of this year, it comes with having three children at home. I usually recycle but as our bins are overflowing through non-collection and we don’t have cardboard recycling nearby – I guess they’ll live with us longer than usual. And for those of you who want to suggest that I make my own cards next year – it’ s not my thing but you can have then if you want them.

9. The way prices rise the minute the new year comes in – it’s “Happy New Year and here’s what it will cost you” . On New Year’s Day it’s rail fares, the Second Severn Crossing toll – it’s as if certain companies can’t wait to announce that you will be paying more money. This is on top of the fact that many families will face the inevitable credit card bill, rising energy prices as announced by my provider (I’ve now switched) and some of us are losing our child benefit this month. So in January 2013, I am considerably less well off than January 2012. Thanks a lot.

10. Taking down the decorations and the tree – has to be done of course and it’s not really a rant, just an observation. It’s a joy to put them up and a chore to take them down. And where to put all of those new baubles that you sneakily popped on the overloaded tree and that you are now going to have to own up to….and for me this year, an extra sadness. When we put up our tree in early December we took loads of photographs of our lovely cat Chloe covered in tinsel. Sadly a week later, she died following a seizure. And now I have to take them down and look at that tinsel and….well, you get the picture….

Our family cat Chloe who was part of my life for 16 years….

Child benefit, Leveson – a 2012 rant from a Wiltshire mum

As journalists, we are not often able to express opinions about political things – and many of us just don’t want to – but today is different.

Today I feel the need to say what I think both as a journalist and as a mum – and it’s two gripes here:  the Leveson inquiry and child benefit.

LEVESON:

I’ve waited a few days to say what I think of the Leveson inquiry, sometimes it’s best to wait and take stock before opening one’s mouth.

My first point is that a small number of journalists, mainly working on national newspapers, have acted in a despicable and unacceptable manner to ordinary members of the public, and the families of celebrities. Neither of these do I condone.

I also don’t condone senior owners and managers in newspapers getting all cosy to politicians and senior police officers to create some comfortable ‘honey pot’ where deals are done. For this there is fault on all sides.

I have less sympathy with celebrities who court the newspaper press when they feel like it – and moan when they don’t like the type of coverage they get. However, no celebrity should have his/her phone hacked and family members harrassed in any way. Journalists who have used these methods are breaking the law.

People who break the law in any profession are unlikely to be stopped by introducing more laws. For some, the story will always be the goal whatever the means.

I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years and I’ve never hacked anyone’s phone, nor have I ever been asked to do so. I’ve never camped outside someone’s house because my employer is interested in writing about their private lives. I was asked to do this just once – I said no. I just didn’t feel it served any public interest at all.

Does this mean I would never write a story of that nature? No – I would and I have, but only when that part of someone’s life encroaches into their public life eg. in criminal cases, politicians who are caught out and action taken against them which comes into the public domain.

Do I think a law should be introduced to control the Press? No, I don’t . The past is paved with good intentions – but whatever the intent of such a law, it could mean that later it’s used to restrict the freedom of the Press even more – and we have a restricted press in this country as it is.

“What!” you may think – well, when I first moved from newspapers into television, I had such a shock when it came to what could and could not be done. In television, the guidelines laid down are far more stringent than in any newspaper and they are, in my personal experience, strictly adhered to.

Take secret filming for example. Due care and attention must be taken before secret filmig is ever approved. As a producer, you cannot just think or suspect that someone is doing something wrong, illegal or immoral – you have to have a strong case. That then has to be approved by the highest manager in the building at the time with a legal opinion. If you jump that hurdle and carry out secret filming, there is another process to decide if it can be used or not. I have been involved in such cases and that secret filming has never been aired.

When journalists break the law they should be prosecuted. I cannot support any restriction of freedom of the press beyond what exists already in the UK. There are thousands of journalists in this country working in towns, villages and cities who are doing a good job bringing stories to light, spreading information and allowing people to have a voice – and some of those stories save lives, bring people justice and raise awareness. This happens every single day.

If you are in any way considering that journalists’ rights should be restricted further. Look no further than revolts, uprisings all over the world where freedom of speech and expression is at risk. The Press in all its forms is one of the first things to be sacrificed or taken over in a time of conflict. It happened in WW2, the Falklands, still happens in China and lately, only last week, communications were cut off in Syria.

CHILD BENEFIT

Image of a five pound note

Money, money, money…..

As a family we’ve known for some time that we will probably lose our child benefit. Now it’s happening, and we are going to miss that extra bit of income each month. We are not a family on very low income, but neither are we a family where the child benefit goes into a savings account for our children’s future – it’s part of the budget for the month, as was always intended.

I do, however, accept that it’s going, I’ve long felt that it’s a benefit which should be means-tested. But this cutting of child benefit is not means tested. It’s a clumsy, discriminatory money-saving tactic which will do damage to this government in my view.

There are two things which have really angered me about this decision to cut child benefit. The first was illustrated when recently talking to some friends. We are two families where both parents work and each have three children. In my friend’s family, the husband is just earning below the higher rate tax level, the mother is also just earning under that higher rate as she has a middle management role and she works part-time. This keeps her earnings below the threshold. My husband is a higher rate tax payer, I’m self-employed and my earnings are not stable. I’ve been self-employed for almost four years and in only one year have I earned enough to match this other family’s household income. On average their family income is about £5k a year more than us – but they can keep their child benefit. How can that be right? In my view, we should both lose it.

The other thing that has really riled me is the letter to my husband where he could opt for me, his wife, to lose the benefit. The benefit is in my name but I’ve received no communication at all. As the higher rate tax payer, he has the letter allowing him to cut off that money on my behalf – which proves to me this is just done for ease of administration. This discriminates, mostly against women and particularly against women who stay at home and don’t go out to work.

Maybe this government thinks all of those families with healthy incomes, but where both partners are under the threshold, will volunteer to lose their child benefit out of a sense of moral duty. Will they b******s!. Would you?

I could have made the decision to keep the benefit with my hubby declaring it on his tax return next year, but then we’ll get hit with a big tax bill. I suppose the only benefit of that would be that I could keep the money, earn interest on it and then pay it back at the relevant time. A part of me wants to do that to be bloody-minded.

However, the plot thickens. You can opt out of child benefit online – where the higher rate tax payer signs in – but the partner – fills out the form. You then get a confirmation that you have ‘requested’ for that benefit to end. The whole wording suggests it’s a voluntary act, like you’ve made an altruistic decision to give up that money to help the nation. That kind of wording really worries me – could it be used against you at a later date if your circumstances changed and you needed to re-apply? Or if it was introduced again universally?

However, I’ve had to ‘volunteer’ to give up my child benefit because of my partner’s earnings. So I either have to bear that loss or I have to try to find extra work to make up the difference each month. Happy New Year!

 

The Budget – what do journalists think?

It’s Budget Day – a day when some journalists groan and yawn and others get all flustered with excitement.

If you are producing a programme, especially a debate about the Budget or an impending Budget, the hardest job is to find participants. And that should ring all sorts of bells for anyone in business. It’s a wonderful time to set yourself up as a commentator on a topical issue – if you’ve got the courage.

Today, I’ve only got to look at my Twitter feed to see who’s been commentating both locally and nationally. Have a look at your own Twitter feed and you’ll see. I’ve got MPs all saying what you would expect according to their political allegiances, individuals like Martin Lewis, voluntary sector groups like the CAB, campaigning groups like Gransnet, other journalists etc.

If you think you’ve not got the courage to contact your local media outlets eg. newspapers, television or radio and offer to be a commentator for your sector , then engage on Twitter or Facebook because then you’ll get into conversations with interesting people who may be interested in you in the future. Remember, whatever someone’s perspective, they are still human beings, often with families, or savings, or expenses, or debts and the Budget affects them as personally as you. Today is a perfect opportunity for some PR on a day when people want to talk. At the time of writing Granny Tax was trending on Twitter. And if that’s not enough, it’s a day when you can be ‘topical’ and relevant. Look at who’s talking and follow those people or groups who interest you – some will follow you back. Make the Budget work for you, even if it doesn’t work for you (you know what I mean).

Enough of the rant, this wasn’t at all what I wanted to blog about really. But I’ll save that for later – (another moan about the absurdities of our current health provision in Swindon.)

 

Better off? Or worried about extra costs?

What does the budget mean to me – as a working mum with three kids and a husband who is, luckily, working? Well, I won’t have to pay tax until I’ve earned a bit more, I don’t earn over £150,000 a year so the cut in top rate of tax will not affect me in fact barely anyone that I know. I’m not a pensioner but my mum and parents-in-law are – so I’m worried for them as they live on a very fixed income. It’s possible that we might keep child benefit which is great. I had accepted we would lose it but felt that we’d have to deal with that, but I did feel cross that some families with a greater household income would keep it. If that anomaly has been overcome, then for me child benefit should be reserved for those in most need.

My concerns relate to the more vulnerable in our society. People who are disabled, by physical or mental issues, those who have chronic illness, those who are carers, and so on. Also I’m not clear on how the Budget is going to stimulate economic growth – I don’t mind being put right, being contradicted, being corrected. But I just don’t buy the argument that those who earn what to me is mega money – will not fleece the system if the tax rate is lowered. They’ll do it any way if they can. Wouldn’t you?

Share your views? Go on…..

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