Sunday, March 08, 2009

Britain loots the savings of the elderly to pay for the mistakes of the banks

The implicit message: Spend your money as soon as you get it and depend on the pittance provided by the government in your old age

In a mere 24 hours the size of the pension deficits facing some of Britain’s biggest companies has jumped by around 100 billion pounds to a record 390 billion - the equivalent of over 150,000 for every member of a final salary scheme. The increase is a direct result of the Bank’s announcement this week to create 150 billion and pour it directly into the financial system, experts said.

It sparked further criticism of the authorities for endangering the financial future of Britons’ savers in their efforts to bring the financial crisis to an end. The Government and Bank have already been accused of obliterating the incentive to save by slashing interest rates on savings accounts and visibly attempting to stoke up high inflation in the years to come.

The Bank was accused of hammering the final nail into the coffin for Britain’s final salary pension schemes, which have seen their deficits climb in recent years, partly as a result of Gordon Brown’s decision as Chancellor to levy a 6 billion tax raid on pension funds’ dividends. Some 2.5 million workers are currently signed up for these schemes which provide retirees with a guaranteed annual income when they reach the appropriate age. Having enjoyed a small surplus only a year ago, these funds have also been hit by the fall in the stock market over the past year.

However, the effect of the Bank’s scheme has been to increase the deficit between what is in the funds and what is needed to pay out future pensioners by an almost instant 100 billion. Although some expect the deficits to fall in the years ahead as the economy improves, insiders warned that this could be the final straw that persuades companies to shut down these schemes altogether and turn instead to far less generous defined contribution plans.

However, experts warned that even these more parsimonious schemes, which 8 million workers are subscribed to, will suffer as a direct result of the Bank’s actions. The amount these people receive from their pension depends not only on the size of pot they amass over their working life but on the rate of the so-called annuity which provides them an annual income from the moment of retirement. Over 600,000 people are due to retire onto these schemes over the next year. Should annuity rates fall a further percentage point, it will mean the annual pension of someone with a 100,000 pension pot may drop from around 7,000 to 6,000. Experts said anyone retiring in the coming years may face an instant decrease in what they could hope to expect from their pension.

Tom McPhail of Hargreaves Lansdowne said: “The sad truth is that pensions savings are going to be what pays the price for these efforts to bail out the economy in the short term. The apparent plan is to try to fix today’s problems at the expense of our children - by paying a shedload of money which will have to be paid back tomorrow. "It will hammer the final nail in the coffin of final salary schemes, as well as cutting the annuity rates for anyone with a defined contribution set to retire imminently.”

However, public sector workers, many of whom are on generous final salary schemes, will be unaffected by the increase in deficits, since their pensions are paid by taxpayers rather than cash-pressed companies.


British parents face court action for removing children from homosexual history lessons

Parents face possible court action for withdrawing their children from lessons on gay and lesbian history. More than 30 pupils were pulled out of a week of teaching at a primary school which included books about homosexual partnerships. The controversial content was worked into the curriculum at George Tomlinson School in Waltham Forest, East London.

The council has declared that children who missed the lessons will be viewed as truants. The ruling means some families could breach rules that children should not be absent for more than 19 days a year. Sanctions include spot fines, parenting contracts and ultimately court action.

The parents, who objected to the lessons on moral and religious grounds, said the content was more appropriate to secondary age pupils. Pervez Latif, whose children Saleh, ten, and Abdur-Rahim, nine, attend the school, said he knew of up to 30 withdrawals from the lessons. The 41-year-old accountant said Christian and Muslim parents had objected to the theme linked to Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender History Month. `We as parents did not receive any guidance that this was going to happen,' he added. `There was just a newsletter mentioning the week and that certain themes would be taught. `I didn't want my children to be learning about this. I wrote a letter to the chairman of the governors explaining that I would be taking my children out of school and he wrote back saying that there was no other option. `If I am faced with court action, then I will just explain that these are my views. It was also very difficult explaining to my nine- and ten-year-old boys why they were being removed from school. `I found it difficult to explain topics such as homosexual relationships at such a young age.'

One story covered in a lesson was King and King, a fairytale about a prince who turns down three princesses before falling in love with one of their brothers. Another book, And Tango Makes Three, features two male penguins, Roy and Silo, who fall in love at a New York zoo.

Sarah Saeed, 40, took her eight-year-old daughter out of school during the week. She said: `It is not an appropriate age for the children to be learning such matters. We have our own way of explaining things to them and they should not be subjected to this. `I was aware they were going to be learning about homosexual relationships through stories. `If the council takes action against me I will tell them that I told the school beforehand I would be taking my child away if they did not change their policy. `She has a 100 per cent attendance record otherwise. This is the only time and this is the only choice I had.'

Parents have a legal right to withdraw their children from religious education and sex education lessons - apart from science lessons which cover biological reproduction as part of the national curriculum. A spokesman for Waltham Forest Council said: `As part of the borough's policy of promoting tolerance in our schools, children are taught that everyone in our society is of equal value. `At George Tomlinson, parents were invited to meet with teachers and governors several weeks ago to discuss what work would be taking place throughout the national LGBT History Month and how this work would be delivered. `Regrettably, some parents chose to remove their children from school. `The council does not condone any unauthorised absence from school and action has been taken.'

Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, said: `It is a fundamental principle of education law that children must be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. 'It is outrageous for a school or local authority to think it can ride roughshod over parents and impose lessons upon children that arouse such widespread concerns. `The only action that needs to be taken is to offer an apology to the parents concerned.'

George Tomlinson is close to a school which launched a gay version of Romeo and Juliet called Romeo and Julian - also to mark the alternative history month.


British gym club banned from holding classes at girls school after Muslim parents complain about boy members

A gymnastics club was forced to stop holding classes at an independent girls school after Muslim parents complained about boy members of the group. Colin Perry, who runs the Shirley Gymnastics Club, said he was saddened by the decision which he said compromised the school's commitment to multiculturalism because of fears of offending a minority. He is now desperately searching for a new home for the club's 250 members - including 36 boys - which had held mixed-sex classes at the junior school site of Old Palace School, in Croydon, South London, since January last year.

'It's unbelievable,' Mr Perry said. 'There is a group of Muslim parents with Muslim children at the school and they are the ones putting pressure on the headteacher. 'It makes me sad to say that.'

He was told about the decision at a meeting with headteacher Judy Harris a few weeks ago. 'She said some of the parents have said their children go to an independent all girls school and unfortunately they're concerned because we have got boys in the club,' Mr Perry said. 'She said to us that the school has got far more Muslim children than last year, so effectively we have to interpret that in our own way.'

Dudley Mead, a Tory Councillor in Croydon and governor at Old Palace school, said he was aware of the parents' concerns. He said: 'That's the Muslim belief isn't it? They are very protective of their female children.' The school did offer a compromise, that the gym club could stay but start later at 6.30pm, rather than 5pm as at present, by which time pupils will be off the site. But Mr Perry says this would be impractical as some sessions wouldn't end until 9.30pm, which is way too late for many of the club's young members. The club, which caters for young gymnasts aged between five and 21, has until April 3 to find a new home.

Mrs Harris released a statement and refused to answer any further questions. In it she said: 'We were unable to accommodate the early starting time of the club as the school was still functioning. 'We had hoped that the club could be held at a later time but this was thought unworkable by the organisers. 'It has not been a decision taken lightly but we have to consider the needs of the school and the security of the site given the very young age of our juniors.'

On its website the school describes how it has a Christian Foundation and is devoted to unleashing creativity and innovation and 'celebrating multicultural understanding and respect.' Last year the school scrapped halal food from the menu after complaints from outraged parents.


Family's fury at lazy British prosecutors who left husband free to kill wife despite her warnings he would murder her

The family of a young mother stabbed to death by her abusive husband yesterday condemned the authorities for missing repeated opportunities to put him behind bars. Sabina Akhtar, 26, had told police that Malik Mannan had beaten her 25 times, and predicted he would kill her if he had the chance. However, prosecutors decided not to charge him, even though he had repeatedly breached bail conditions by pestering her and calling at her home. Taxi driver Mannan, 36, then taunted Miss Akhtar by text message, boasting: `I am a free man, since 1.30. Case file closed. Isn't it great.' Five days later he burst into the marital home and stabbed the mother-of-one to death with a kitchen knife.

Last night, after Mannan was jailed for life, his wife's family attacked the blunders by the Crown Prosecution Service. Her uncle, Reaz Talukder, said: `Sabina's parents blame the CPS for their wrong decision not to charge Malik Mannan at an earlier stage. 'This was simply negligence - if they had charged him she might not be dead.' He added: `Words seem inadequate to express the sadness we feel about the brutal killing of Sabina.'

CPS chiefs have admitted they got it wrong, and have promised to meet her family to apologise.

The couple had an arranged marriage in Bangladesh in 2003, and Miss Akhtar joined him in Britain two years later when she was pregnant with their son, Tahmid, now three. But she discovered he had a gambling habit and was having an affair with another woman, Suraiya Ali, by whom he had two children. He promised to end the affair, but not only continued to be unfaithful but also began beating his wife repeatedly. She suffered in silence for the sake of their son until two days of vicious abuse in July last year when he repeatedly lifted her by her throat before throwing her to the floor. Mannan warned: `One day I will kill you just like this. One day you will die in this way.'

She went to police, but no formal complaint was recorded. Early the following morning he attacked her again, telling her `This is your final hour', but left after she made a desperate call for help to his brother. He threatened to return with a knife and `slaughter' her.

Miss Akhtar went back to police who took a statement with the aid of an interpreter. In it, she warned: `I have become extremely concerned about my personal safety. `My husband is a man of an extreme violent nature. I genuinely believe if he gets the opportunity, he will not hesitate to kill me.' Mannan was arrested on suspicion of assault and making threats to kill before being released on bail. His bail conditions required him to stay away from his wife. But, soon afterwards, he turned up at their home in Longsight, Manchester, demanding over the next few days to be let in. He was arrested again, but this time the CPS advised that he should be released without charge, and his bail conditions were removed.

Five days later, Miss Akhtar contacted a community worker saying she feared for her safety and called relatives saying he was `stalking' her. That night Mannan burst in armed with a kitchen knife and stabbed her in the chest. He bought a plane ticket to Bangladesh, but he was arrested before he could flee. After a jury took just 20 minutes to convict him of murder, he was jailed for life at Manchester Crown Court and ordered to serve a minimum of 17 years.

Afterwards her uncle added: `Sabina was loved very dearly, she was a brave woman and was devoted to her only son who is now under foster carers. `We are now satisfied that justice has been done.'

A CPS spokesman said: `We have dealt with this through our disciplinary procedures.' The case has also been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.


Identical British twins go to schools 18 miles apart

Adam and Luke Bolton are identical twins who do everything together, but this week they were told that not only have they been allocated places in different secondary schools, but also that the schools are 18 miles apart. The news has come as a bombshell. The ten-year-old boys read the same books, play the same computer games and, although they have separate bedrooms, have sleepovers in each other's rooms every weekend. They have different hobbies - Luke plays piano and is a footballer, Adam prefers reading - but most of the time they stick together. To date their biggest anxiety has been being asked to sit at different tables in their class at Tewin Cowper Primary School, in Hertfordshire.

Their mother, Ann Connolly, said: "When we applied to secondary school we tried to prepare them for the fact that they might be put in different classes. That would be a huge step for them. So for them to find themselves in different schools is very distressing. "Twins are not like other children. They have a total reliance on each other to be their primary friend and they look to each in stressful situations."

Adam and Luke are a living example of a problem highlighted this week by Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary. Hertfordshire is one of 25 local authorities that use a lottery system to allocate places in oversubscribed schools. The aim of the lottery is to make school admissions fairer and prevent middle-class parents from playing the system by buying or renting homes close to the best schools.

Ms Connolly said that the thinking behind the system was muddled. "It makes it impossible to make a rational choice of school because you can have no idea in advance what will be your chances of getting in," Ms Connolly said. "I asked the local authority if they could allocate places to two children together via the lottery process but they said that would bias its random nature and so couldn't be allowed. It is ludicrous."

Mr Balls agrees and has asked the Schools Adjudicator to look at the issue of twins being split in lottery-based systems. "I am asking the Schools Adjudicator to look at how we can make crystal clear in guidance and in the [School Admissions] Code that splitting up twins when parents don't want them to be split is the wrong thing to do," Mr Balls said.

Luke was allocated a place at the twins' first choice, Richard Hale school in Hertford, which is a six-mile (9km) bus ride from the Bolton home, while Adam was given a place at their second choice, Verulam School in St Albans, which is 12 miles from the house in the opposite direction and an hour away by train and bus.

Ms Connolly, who works in the pharmaceutical industry, said: "All I can do is put Adam on the waiting list for Robert Hale and hope that a place becomes available, but it could be months before we hear and in the mean time we just have to sit and wait." What is particularly frustrating to her is that now that one twin has been allocated a place at the Robert Hale, the family can take advantage of the school's sibling rule to get the other one in. This effectively means that Adam will be higher up on the waiting list than he otherwise would be. Ms Connolly said that it was bizarre that the boys counted as siblings only after the first round of applications but not when they first applied. [Indeed. British bureaucracy at its best]


British decline: "The last surviving railway restaurant car service is to be scrapped and the space used to cram in more passengers, ending a 130-year tradition of fine dining on trains. Passengers will no longer be able to watch the countryside slip by at 125mph as a waiter serves them a four-course dinner at a neatly laid table. Instead, they will have to bring their own food or buy snacks from trolleys. National Express, the last train company to offer a frequent restaurant service, is closing its dining cars under a secret deal with the Government. Over the past two months it has axed all 22 daily restaurant cars on the Norwich to London Liverpool Street route and 81 on the East Coast Main Line from Edinburgh to London King's Cross. Now the company is considering withdrawing the remaining 15 daily restaurant cars on East Coast routes and converting the kitchens into seating."

In defence of tax havens: "Given that Britain's banking sector is currently lurching from one crisis to the next, and seemingly always on the verge of complete collapse, is the prime minister - who oversaw Britain's finances for 11 years - really in a position to lecture anyone about how their banks are regulated? And how on earth is outlawing 'shadow banking systems' going to protect people's savings? Even for a consummate liar like Gordon Brown, that one's a stinker. There is little doubt that the shadow banking systems Brown is referring to are considerably more secure and stable than those in Britain or the USA. That's why people put their money in them. As for tax havens, well, there Brown is being even more transparently dishonest. His dislike for tax havens has nothing whatsoever to do with the security of people's savings, and everything to do with the fact that high-spending governments like his detest international tax competition."

British government has `blood on its hands over unsafe vehicles': "A former senior SAS officer in Afghanistan has said that the Government has "blood on its hands" over the deaths of four soldiers killed by a roadside bomb. Major Sebastian Morley, who resigned last October from his post as the most senior reservist SAS officer in Afghanistan, said that army commanders and Whitehall officials ignored his warnings that "unsafe" vehicles would lead to the deaths of soldiers. Major Morley, 40, stood down after what he called the "unnecessary deaths" of four soldiers when their Snatch Land Rover hit an anti-tank mine in Helmand province in June last year. Among the dead was Corporal Sarah Bryant, the first servicewoman to be killed in Afghanistan. Major Morley accused Quentin Davies, the Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, of telling an "unacceptable lie" when he said after the deaths that commanders could choose which vehicles they used in combat."

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