Thursday, 4 April 2013

Sophie's legacy

In a perfect world we wouldn't need "hate crime" legislation, if a crime is committed then people should be punished for the crime almost irrespective of motive or who they victim is, otherwise wouldn't you be treating people differently under the law?  'Hate crimes' are usually of a violent nature, but surely most violent crimes derive from some form of hatred for the victim and some underlying prejudice against that person and hence be considered a hate crime?  This labelling could also be self fulfilling, when attributed too commonly it could lead to groups feeling persecuted even if there isn't an underlying bias against them.

However, we don't live in a perfect world.  The argument is that a 'hate crime' causes greater personal and social harm.  By attacking a person for who they are (rather than say using something that they've done as a motive) you are effectively attacking their identity and if such crimes become common place it can really lead to a feeling of disempowerment by that group.  Often, just the recognition that crimes towards a group are caused by underlying prejudices is the first step to showing that the group are being discriminated against.

If I were legislators I wouldn't be putting boundaries on what can or can't be described as a 'hate crime', as long as the motive was just some underlying prejudice there then the legislation should apply.  However boundaries have been put in place, in the UK these are membership (or assumed membership of):
  • A religious group,
  • A racial group, or:
  • Sexual orientation,
  • Disability.
Sophie (R.I.P)
There is a reason I am writing this blog now, Greater Manchester Police have started recording attacks on 'subcultures' as hate crimes.  I can't put into words how happy I am to see this.  I briefly alluded to this in my HMV post, this is the one area where I have been the victim of discrimination and in fact, one area where I have received abuse for nothing other than the way I look/dress etc.  

For those of you who are unaware this has probably stemmed as a result of campaigning by the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. This is a charity that was set up after Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend Robert Maltby were attacked whilst walking through a park in 2007 because they were wearing goth clothing.  Unfortunately Sophie ended up in a coma from which she never woke up, basically she was kicked to death because she looked different.

This issue isn't something that gets much attention at all, but it is very real, below are a few of the instances I've personally experienced:
  • When I was 16/17, walking home from college with a friend who had green hair (we were both probably dressed as moshers - baggy jeans and a band hoodie, that was our usual dress for college) a car slowed, wound down it's windows and threw an empty bottle in our direction whilst shouting abuse. 
  • When I was 17 I'd been on a night out with a few friends, 2 of us got the bus back together (same person as above actually) and as we got off the bus 2 other guys started following us and ended up chasing us, I seem to remember he took a punch before we got away (he was always the unlucky one).  I can't say that this was just due to how we looked but it felt that way.
  • When I was 18/19 and walking home from a night out (so the early hours of the morning) I was followed for about a mile by three guys about my own age (who stayed about 20 - 30 yards behind me) who kept shouting different derogatory comments about me being a goth.  (I was wearing a long leather coat and had long hair).  I assume they were trying to draw me into confrontation or just intimidate me.
  • When I was 19 I was sat on a bus with a friend who also had long hair and the 3 guys behind us kept pulling on his hair (I think they knew him), talking about how they were going to shave it off and were being generally intimidating, fortunately though they got off before us and not at the same time.
I know these aren't the worst examples of discrimination/intimidation in the world but they are the ones that spring to mind that I personally experienced.  In general in school and college, once I started dressing differently (wearing band hoodies etc) I lost count of the number of times people used to use it as a basis for derogatory terms.  (The style wasn't common amongst people in my area, there were very few of us). Some were much more vocal than others, and I did escape the worst of it but a few of my friends were quite badly bullied because of it.

Without a change in legislation all the force can do is record this as an element of the crime, but I think it is a huge starting point.  Hopefully this will help to illustrate that it is something that exists and by acknowledging it it will make a difference, make people feel safer and be the starting point into making it socially unacceptable.

One day maybe we will live in a world where people treat others with respect irrespective of how they look or what they believe in.  I can't see this ever happening but it doesn't mean we shouldn't try and shouldn't celebrate each improvement.  Hopefully Sophie's family's awesome work will have a lasting legacy.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Thoughts on 10p tax rate (I like) and mansion taxes (I don't)...

Okay, so Labour's announcement regarding some actual policies that I posted about earlier has made me want to analyse the actual policies, irrespective of party involvement (given half of the announcement was stealing a Lib Dem policy that I'm not overly sold on).  Anyway, here are my comments about each:

10p Tax Rate

The potential reintroduction of this depends on what your objectives are for a tax system.  If you are looking for a simple system that as many people as possible can understand then adding another band makes for added complications.  If you are looking to make it as progressive as possible then adding a lower band above the level of the personal allowance makes the system more progressive.

In a mutually exclusive case, increasing the personal allowance or introducing a new lower tax band, the former benefits lower earners more than the latter.  However, if you do both at the same time or if they are just being compared to sticking with the status quo then each change would be progressive.  This is one criticism that is being thrown at it, that it doesn't benefit people as much as a personal allowance increase would, however my personal opinion is that it doesn't go far enough.  My ideal tax system would have 10p, 20p, 30p, 40p and 50p rates.  

The thing with tax simplification is that tax bands don't really add too much additional complications, especially when most people are earning through the PAYE system.  The complications come in with all of the exemptions and special cases - it is there that governments should be looking to simplify the system, not with the rates.  In addition, they should scrap the other confusing complication - National Insurance contributions, rolling them into the income tax rates.  It is crazy that the basic rate "20%" tax payer effectively pays 32% tax whilst the higher rate "40%" tax payer effectively pays 42%, the money just goes into the same pot anyway.  I know not everyone or every transaction that is taxed includes NIC's, however this could be adjusted.  

The key of course is to make sure that nobody is paying more tax than they can afford to pay, whilst those who earn the most contribute the most.  

It was Gordon Brown who, in 2007, scrapped the 10p tax to help pay for the reduction in the basic rate from 22p to 20p per pound from April 2008.  This was regressive at the time and rightly he faced a backlash, however he corrected it in September 2008 for the 2008/09 tax year meaning that nobody actually lost out from this change.   This change did therefore simplify the system, but as discussed it probably wasn't the area that needed simplifying.  If this comes in, as long as it's not at the expense of increasing the personal allowance, then I'll be for it, if it doesn't correspond with a raise in the personal allowance as suggested by the Lib Dems, well it's a poorer alternative.

Mansion Tax

I've said a few times now that I'm yet to be convinced about a mansion tax.  I can see the potential desirability of a wealth tax, there is even worse equality with wealth than income in the country and it is desirable to strive for less inequality but I am not sure that this is a one size fits all, or even a good solution.  I have reasons...

Firstly, there is the practical aspect, how often will properties be reassessed?  The current Council Tax bandings are totally out of date where as this will be much more specific than that so much harder to keep up to date (Council Tax doesn't claim to be an exact science, this is an exact calculation).  Granted the complexity of implementation shouldn't be the major consideration but it should be taken into account.  Prices fluctuate, and you know any assessment will be open to debate and appeal - which will probably be lost.  Also, if a house is worth £2.1m without the tax, simply adding a tax to it will reduce it's value.  Also, every single house in the country will need to be revalued and this will have to happen regularly!

Secondly, and for me more importantly, houses are very illiquid assets.  There are many people who buy a house and expect to live it all of their lives.  Now I know we are talking about really high value houses so one assumes that the owners were well off enough to buy it, but that doesn't mean that they'll necessarily have the disposable cash/income to cover an increase in their annual tax bill just because their house's value has risen in such a way.  I've heard a lot of comments saying that if they don't have the cash then they could downsize, but how is that fair?  Forcing someone to leave the home that they purchased is hardly what I'd call a fairer tax.

I think the main reason I struggle with it is that it is effectively a double tax.  Basically any tax such as this is saying, we don't think we taxed you enough when you earned your money, so we are coming back for another crack at it.  I also don't like the way that the discussion is framed, it always seems to imply that those who live in expensive houses don't deserve to be there, they lucked into it and didn't work hard to get there. 

My final criticism is though that it only looks at one asset a person (or persons) owns.  If you want to target the wealthiest in society how does this help?  A rich person could own 10 houses all worth around £1.9million each and avoid the tax all together, where as if this was all tied up on one £19m property they'd be paying an annual tax of £170,000.  I feel that it penalises a person for a particular lifestyle choice/the way that they chose to use money that they had previously had left over from their income after already paying tax, for me the discussion in favour of this always seems to sound like it stems from jealousy.

I am fully aware that I am in the minority of my party (and probably now the Labour party) here when I say this, but the arguments for it just haven't sold me - after all, personally I'd replace council tax with a small local income tax and multiple property taxes, maybe in time though I'll come round to the idea.

So Labour finally have a policy...

I had a laugh to myself yesterday when on my Twitter feed someone had sent a tweet that mentioned that Ed Miliband has a "policy chief" - surely this must have been the easiest job in the world for the past 2 years?  (Incidentally, on further investigation the tweet was referring to Jon Cruddas, an MP, so one would assume he had other responsibilities). Yet amazingly today, Labour have announced a policy! Huzzah!  Now after all of this time to think I'm sure it's a very unique and revolutionary policy, so what is it?  Ah yes - fairer taxes... 

Well, I guess we should be happy that they too believe in Fair taxes, maybe they have a different definition of fair, or come up with a new system that they feel is fairer, lets analyse.  From the announcement this is in two parts:

1. A Mansion Tax

Now this sounds new, it's not like it's been in the news recently: here (August 2012)here (September 2012), here (November 2012), and here (February 2013).  It's not like this is a commonly acknowledge policy of another major party - that was even in a manifesto 3 years ago.
Page 14 Lib Dem Manifesto 2010.
Now personally, I'm not sold on 'Mansion taxes' (that's for another post some other time however), it would depend on how and when they are paid, but at least Labour are suggesting something unique [/sarcasm].

2. Introduction of 10p Tax Rate

Now I admit, it takes a big man to say he was wrong, at least Ed is just had to say the last guy was wrong, well, and himself as after Labour scrapped the 10p tax rate in 2008 to introduce a flat 20p tax he said:

This is a unique policy but is it necessarily the fairest option on the table?  Contrast this with the Liberal Democrats policy of increasing the Personal Allowance so that nobody on a standard set of hours on minimum wage would pay a penny in Income Tax you get two sets of results, both of which result in the lowest earners paying less tax.  

The comparison is hard to make as they haven't specified the end limit to the tax band (as it would depend on how much the mansion tax would raise) but what is clear is that those who earn between the current personal allowance threshold and the Liberal Democrat proposed threshold would be worse off as they would be paying an additional 10p per pound tax on their income earned in this band.

It's good to see Labour are finally getting some policies together, at least this way it can be pointed out that they offer no real new ideas of substance to contrast with their own politically motivated attacks on every single measure the coalition proposes.  As long as they can come up with a catchy label for it they will attack it (for instance "Bedroom Tax" sounds a lot worse than "Reduction in benefits that are deemed excessive to the persons needs").  

So yes, anyway, if you fancy supporting fairer taxes you can always sign up here, as you've been able to since the Liberal Democrats launched the site 3 months ago... a cynic would say that perhaps they only thought of the ideas after the Liberal Democrat's action day regarding this on Saturday.

-- Edit --

I've just seen the Lib Dem Voice article on the subject which has the nice graph to illustrate point 2:

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Brace yourself, I'm going to praise a Labour legacy...

I don't do this often, I'm going to praise a Labour legacy...

Today, there is going to be an historic vote in the House of Commons, which I'm certain will lead to an end to discrimination in marriage laws on the grounds of sexuality.  I am more than confident that this will pass and which will be a great achievement for equality campaigners everywhere. 

I've blogged previously about how ridiculous I think that there's even a debate about it.  It's worth remembering that same sex couples basically have the same legal rights under civil partnerships as they will under full marriage so why is there all the fuss about them being able to say that they are the same as everyone else?  For most of the opponents it's just one of those cases (which happens a lot more than you'd think, you do it, everyone does it), just because they don't see it as a problem, they don't realise how other people are negatively effected by it.  The best analogy I've read for this is the guy leaving the toilet seat up - he's perfectly happy with it like that so why isn't everyone else (thank you - who said comedy websites can't add to serious debate).  They don't realise that they were the ones with power and that they are suppressing the rights of other people.

Opponents often state that marriage is about raising a family, children, fostering the next generation etc, but then why have I never heard the word "children" mentioned in the vows I've heard in any of the ceremonies I've been to?  Also what if the hetro couple can't have/don't want children?  Tell you what I do remember hearing a lot about, love. I genuinely feel sorry for people who think that their own marriage will be less special because a gay couple have also been able to call their union a marriage, straight marriage will still be special as will same sex marriage - they will be equally special!  The continuing separation of different forms of union helps fuel discrimination, still indicating that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people are somehow still not the same.  Breaking down this separation will help reinforce the great progression that has been achieved.

Anyway, as I do so often I've digressed. I wanted to praise Labour.  They obviously could have introduced this in their 13 years in Government, which would have been nice, they didn't go this far but they did help frame the debate.  If it wasn't for the changes that they did make: 

  • Abolished Section 28, 
  • Made the age of consent 16 - equalising it with heterosexual sex,
  • Repealed the ban on homosexuals serving in the military, 
  • Outlawed discrimination in the workplace and in the provision of goods and services, 
  • Made it possible for people in same sex relationships to adopt,
  • The creation of civil partnerships,
then I don't think we'd be having this vote now, and so confident of it passing (if it doesn't I'll look foolish!) This is one area where they were liberal, and helped to stop discrimination which is allowing us to push for full equality - sometimes you need to take baby steps to reach your destination rather than risk a huge jump only to fall short of the ultimate aim.  I think Labour did a lot wrong in their 13 years, but in all of those aspects I think they can be proud.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

If you're good enough then that's all that should matter...

I was really pleased to read today that some women could appear in the Second XI of Sussex cricket club - particularly Sarah Taylor.  The article is under a title with a quote from Mark Lane, who coaches England's women's cricket team stating that they could one day play the county game.  My response is why not! I'm glad someone's finally saying this to start the discussion.  I've long thought that there should be no reason for team sports to force segregation, surely all teams want the best players - irrespective of age, race or gender, if you're good enough why should being born the wrong sex get in the way?

I guess the major objection would be that it would reduce the relevance of the female only game - at a time when it's improving massively (and in another team sport - football, England's women have secured a large - though in my opinion not sufficient, pay rise).  I don't think this should really be an issue, all that should matter is letting each person fulfil their potential and each team becoming the best they can be.  The only people who will lose out should Sarah, or another woman play in the county game would be the one man they replaced from the team - someone who presumably the selectors feel isn't as good as them so obviously needs to improve their own game.

I don't think it would be easy for a woman to make the step up.  You see the fastest female bowlers bowling in the high 70 miles per hour, where most male seam bowlers reach a minimum of 80, with the fastest getting into the 90s.  I know from personal experience that going from facing 70mph bowling to 80mph is almost a completely different game.  If she can do it though, there should be no problem, I for one am hoping that she does represent Sussex Second XI this year, then who knows.

Why I'm not sad about HMV...

I started this blog a while ago, but didn't finish it, I had the title of "Why I'll no longer be shopping at HMV" - so I've now rewritten it.

People who know me should be surprised by this, given just how much I'm an advocate of owning the physical version of things (i.e. CD's rather than downloading music).  I wrote a blog post on the issue back in 2011 when it was rumoured record companies would stop issuing CD's.  So the news that HMV has appointed an administrator should sadden me... however I haven't shopped there for a few months and had no plans to go back.

You see, as a white, heterosexual  middle class male, I don't face discrimination often... however I do in one issue, I admit it's no where near as extreme as other people face discrimination but it is discrimination none the less.  You see, I'm a metal head.  I like metal music and like many people who listen to metal music I like to fit with a particular image.  I'm not the most extreme, I can comfortably fit into most social scenarios and wear a suit to work, wear fairly trendy clothes when I'm out with certain people, but also baggy jeans and band shirts or even cyber goth attire for industrial nights out.  The main point though is, like many of my friends and social peers I have long hair.  Even though my job is a professional one I've had long hair for about 11 or 12 years and it's never been a problem - I just tie it back.  

How does this relate to HMV?  Well they banned it.  Very rock and roll.  The country's major music shop banning long hair and extreme tattoos and piercings.  In response to criticism a spokesperson said:

"It goes without saying that we want our work colleagues to feel valued as individuals who can express their personalities, but it's also important that we balance this against the needs and expectations of our customers, who, ultimately, have to be at the heart of everything we do."

Well, as a customer my expectation was that they would hire the best person for the job, which at HMV is the person who's most knowledgeable about their area (films, music, games etc) whilst being comfortable talking to the customer.  I don't know about anyone else, but if I see someone and it looks like they eats, sleeps and breathes music/a lifestyle similar to that then I'd be more likely to listen to their opinion on music in comparison with someone who was just a well turned out sales person.

To sell me music that I wasn't going to buy anyway you have to live music!
Anyway, I know it may sound petty and it's probably shooting myself in the foot but I wont be shedding a tear for HMV's problems, even if that means it'll be harder for me to buy music in person at least when I do see a shop selling music I wont be offended by the fact I'd know that they wouldn't employ me.