Tag Archives: tax

Why TV licences need to end

I note that many countries still have these – but that many have ceased them. In Britain, our license is decades behind what is on offer and how people view.

 

My issue is firstly that a compulsory legally backed fee was ever levied from the public. Although the British Broadcasting Corporation was created as independent, the fact that its licence was equated in law to tax – and thus has the same punishments of fees and ultimately imprisonment for non payment – shows that it is not independent from the establishment, and thus neither is the BBC. This shows how law and crimes are often relative and privately self serving, not public safe keeping.

 

That the decision for change has to come from parliament is also telling.

 

It is often commented on that the BBC is biased. Its news is very negative and feels created to gain a particular response. During the credit crunch and since Brexit, it repeats doomful ideas. Watching it alongside other news – and in the early evening, you can chain watch about 4 different channels – you see the particular tone of the BBC. In a couple of weeks, everyone appearing on BBC TV will wear a red poppy, which has connotations for beliefs about war. The BBC skips over other matters – such as the unpopularity of its licence and the widespread historic abuse in it uncovered around children’s presenter Jimmy Saville.

 

Although some proponents claim that the BBC is standard bearer in both television and radio, it is not to everyone’s tastes. Its programming is repetitive (thus across more channels we do not gain more content than before BBC 3 and 4 were created), and that its drama is outweighed by the reality and non narrative programmes. Peeking at the BBC’s website, I see that programmes about food, dancing, antiques and nature are high profile. We should not be paying for that website – one I don’t even really rate or find user friendly.

 

I personally now don’t see BBC as appealing or good quality, in any of its media.

 

There’s also a certain kind of Britishness associated with the BBC. The BBC creates and maintains a status quo. Many of the BBC’s popular programmes are older ones. I’ve not yet seen it be ahead of the curve, and truly radical.

 

It’s also pointed out that BBC does have many adverts – for itself – and thus isn’t really better than a commercial channel.

 

The BBC hasn’t been the nation’s only provider of television or radio for some decades. By the early 1980s, there were four TV channels and three providers; the other two – Independent television (ITV) and Channel 4 – having to fund themselves via advertising, thus introducing the commercial break that is so familiar in other countries. There were other radio stations, locally and nationally, and further, if you could find the frequency. At that time, home video had arrived, and we covered the cost of what we watched in the purchase or hire fee.

 

And many videos – now in a different format – are of films, and I wonder if there’s a trend that non TV owners are regular cinema goers. Or perhaps they prefer theatre, or music, or sport, or lectures, or they’re involved in churches or politics.

 

So my point is that yes there are still people who don’t have a television and aren’t interested, and find other ways to find out about the world and have culture in their lives.

 

But these non viewers can be disbelieved and harassed. No, we’re not all glued to the box.

 

But it’s not easy to prove that we’ve no such box and that other devices which can pick up pictures are not being used for the purposes that require licensing.

 

I have seen some websites put out incorrect facts regarding when you need a licence: owning a DVD/video player and TV do not require one, it’s watching new programmes, live or recorded, on any device. It has been the case for some time that viewing prerecorded media only does not require a licence – and rightly so.

 

And if we’re watching DVDs of cinema films, then why should the BBC expect to gain a share by enforcing a licence that almost solely benefits itself? Or what of television shows that don’t come to Britain, or aren’t British made, or are made by another channel? The BBC doesn’t have to prove its share or gain an audience to elicit its fees, unlike anyone else.

 

This is the point that many people have made, and it’s been valid since the introduction of the 3rd channel, but especially from the 1980s, which is now over 30 years ago. By 2000, satellite and cable had arrived for many, as had the net. Now of course we have much greater choice and diverse habits and the BBC is an ever smaller offering of our media diet.

 

The BBC makes most of us pay them a tax (or be prepared to prove why we are exempt) but it itself does not pay corporation tax, as it’s non-profit making. This is huge: that it takes tax but doesn’t expect to have to run like other companies. It has also been accused of avoiding other kinds of tax on a large scale, by using a not long closed loophole.

 

And then, the most pertinent point: the TV license funds bullying.

 

I read huge numbers of prosecutions, many of which are thrown out of court. I’ve heard above 180,000 a year, and that 1 in 10 UK prosecutions are to do with TV licensing.

 

The licensing company has a whole collections arm, which are thus paid for publicly. They employ bully boy tactics, including their fear inducing adverts, with vans cruising about watching for signals from unpaid watchers, and then swooping on whoever answers the door, often exaggerating their powers (which is an offense of both kinds). They say that non payment is unfair on those who do pay, and call non payers “evaders”, which is an emotive and negative word.

 

But fee abolition website SpiderBomb shows that the BBC’s revenue from licensing creates a huge budget and it’s much more than it needs. Large salaries are pointed out – why should we have to pay for those? SpiderBomb suggests a much more modest fee is viable.

 

Yes I’ve heard the Beeb themselves argue that the radio part of the licence is pence, that it’s like a pint of beer each week, but what if we don’t drink Beeb beer? The price of beer argument’s a weak one, for some people still struggle with the £147 annual license and certainly the £1000 fine. There’s been much about the economic imbalance that the fee is a flat tax, unrelated to income (or usage), and that the poor are disproportionately harassed and even end up in prison because of this matter.

 

This sounds so familiar in inequitable governing around the world and history. I believe that the BBC and its overseas branches often argued for are part of empire retention, and that the real issue is about the use of public broadcasting.

 

And what if we resent funding a salaried collections company who are paid bonuses and given quotas, such as Capita are?

 

Many of us would be keen to not fund organisations of abuse and oppression, but we’re being forced to do so directly, via British law and our own so called Aunt.

 

Auntie Beeb is not seen as our caring trustworthy source of news and stories, but a not so subtle controlling matriarch who seems exempt from critique and change.

 

The BBC is one of a large family now, and a relation we may not ever spend time with, especially due to her brutish behaviour – that she requires gifts for visiting not only herself but other aunts, and sends in her henchmen for those who don’t. Is this someone you want to have a relationship with, and feel should go unchecked?

 

Today, a debate is happening in Westminster about the TV tax. Let us ensure our views are listened to and that it’s not replaced (which it needs to be) with more draconian rules.

 

– We need a new system which doesn’t involve further watching the public, as I fear subscription and online based scenarios lend themselves to, and we know that digital television sets assist with

 

– Fines and especially prison and door to door bullying is an abuse and needs to stop

 

– TV licensing needs to come off people’s criminal records; it makes a mockery of what law and crime really is

 

– Look to New Zealand as an example of a country who stopped the licence through peaceful people power

 

– Find a solution which reflects people’s habits and what there is now

 

We’ve put off this conversation too many times: we need to listen to the public to create a decision, and make something for them, not against them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Pursuit of Happyness

My thoughts on the 2007 film

Will Smith is very engaging and sympathetic, but my critique is of the world he enters – and that it is never really critiqued by the film.

In passing, it does throw up that a homeless woman has more chance of getting a bed for the night, though I’d like to add that both men and women need shelter, whether or not they have a child with them.

I thought that the way the church he slept at handled the “we’re full” tonight was about as tactful as the end of Bugs Bunny cartoons – that’s all folks. No more, you need to leave. And yet the real Chris Gardner, whose story this is, is grateful and asked that the real pastor re-enact his role.

The US tax system is disgusting – that money can be taken without notice or discussion direct from your bank if they believe that you have underpaid. The IRS seem to have no thought for what money they leave you with. This was directly responsible for putting Chris and son on the streets.

The carparking fine system is likewise a disgrace, that holds you in prison overnight, jeopardising job and the safety of children. Is this person dangerous? Is this money so urgently and truly needed? And then to threaten social services on you for being a bad parent!!

The behaviour of landlords was also abyssal. I wish in the film that Chris had tried to explain his circs to his, rather than just fob off yet another rent request and keep walking. But twice he is without home and without notice: he finds a new lock and his things outside, not even a letter. That is illegal – you have to serve notice and go through the courts where I live. Their lack of compassion from landlords shows why so many face homelessness.

It also shows why you need to keep railway stations open at night, and how all night trains also serve a purpose. And it shows that all kinds of people can face homelessness, in case one has a stereotype and belief about who’s deserving of help (an attitude I reject).

It shows how some people make a living through selling unnecessary objects, and how that selling enough of something to live off can be very hard.

But then Chris graduates to more selling of unnecessary objects – financial packages. I was saddened that his impetus to join the world of stockbrokers was seeing a flash car. As a poor person, I could understand his thinking – what would it take to stop this struggle, and what do people who don’t struggle do for a job? But the car lure felt shallow, and stock brokerage not the aspiration that his partner assumes— “Why didn’t you just say astronaut?” she sneers when she hears.

I thought that the film would criticise the stock brokerage entry scheme – that a ‘lucky’ handful of hopefuls work 6 months unpaid, but only one gets a job at the end of it. They’re abused – being asked to lend to (and sometimes pay for) their overpaid superiors run, errands they daren’t say no to, work ridiculously stressful days, always trying to increase productivity and beat their colleagues. I did not admire Chris for saying that he worked out that not drinking water and hanging up the phone between calls gave him an advantage. All jobs need breaks – yes to the bathroom to, and to drink. It should never be an advantage to overwork, go without, to be pressed to maximum.

I really wanted Chris to be offered the position at the end, but I also really wanted him to say no. I wanted him to have learned that happyness is not found managing fiscal portfolios, nor in the harsh competitive and abusive world of glass towers. It’s not even just found in family bonds.

The title cards at the end disappointed me – for this was not my idea of reaching happyness, and I’d like to think, not the sort that Lincoln meant when he wrote the quote that the film’s title comes from.

I watched the extras to see if the real Chris had anything better to say. He did say that though the world presented this as a rags to riches tale, he saw it as one of parental love, but even that didn’t entirely endear and soften me. Making it in the financial world wasn’t my idea of achievement. Although I was glad to see that he uses his wealth to help others, I am unsure of the true worthiness of spreading capitalist ideas to new counties and generations.

It felt a little like the oft mentioned Rubik’s Cube (there’s a whole featurette on it) and those medical instruments Chris sells – not that useful, just an end in itself. And whereas those cube competitions don’t harm anyone, the economic markets do, and so does the unspoken message from the film that success in them is something to aspire to.

I would be more concerned about reforming the tax office, shelters, parking fees procedures, landlords, and the abuses of internships than linking this story to the American dream. I am all for coming through, overcoming odds, seeing determination rewarded, supporting love – all things I hoped for when I chose the film. But I want to see more Lincoln, less Lehman in the outcome.

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Plastic bag ban – a public tax in the name of ecology?

This has just come in in England and Wales, and some are welcoming this new law. Marks and Spencer’s already charge for disposable plastic shopping bags at their tills, as do Scotland, and some local towns have campaigned for it. Now it is nationally legislated – bag needers will be charged!

The official reason is an environmental one: that plastic is harmful to wildlife and its dumping in landfill produces not only ugly landscapes but the wrenching photos – to the viewer and the sufferer – of creatures fatally and painfully entwined with the toxic chemicals of our careless wastage.

We should be encouraged to recycle, and bring our own bags to the shops, say proponents of the ban. A small (5p) charge for each plastic bag will make customers think before asking for them, and the 5ps can go towards a good cause.

Let us stop there.

So customers know what size their shopping will be, and always have sufficient bags on them? Don’t shops want us to buy a little more than we planned?

Many of us have brought our own bag for ages, or walked out with our goods under our arms, unbagged. There used to be a fear that no bag will look like we’re stealing and earn us a grilling with the shops security guard.

I’ve seen a mother try to instil a sense of responsibility in her kids by asking for a bag each for them at the till, so that they can carry their own purchases. I could see the counter staff itching to say, how exactly is this responsibility, and wouldn’t saving on these thick, oil induced bags by putting the small items into one and YOU as adult carry it be a better responsibility lesson?

It means that staff packing for customers will slip, for if we bring our own bag, will anyone feel this service is needed? When I worked in retail, long before anti plastic bags was much of a movement, I asked, do you need a bag. And whoever didn’t still got a packing offer – for why should being organised and waste conscious deprive you of a basic shopping service? It’s flustering to have to gather up your own goods as they fly at you and there’s pressure to pay and leave before the next person starts being served. For the server, it’s no harder to run them through the til and place them down on the counter for the customer to pick up than into a bag, which is good service and means no stress for anyone.

I’m also concerned about this 5p to ‘good causes’. Not every group with the legal status of a charity is my idea of worthy. How will they assist those disabled children or people with mental health issues? Where exactly is my money being spent – is it going on admin and bosses’ salaries, or to the cause itself? I query those that claim to work to stamp out diseases (that’d take another post to explain) and those that support the military. How are offenders being ‘resocialised’? Is putting water supply in that third world village actually joining the pipeline to commodifying free resources and a welcome to capitalism and western control?

So far, the causes are not named and I do not trust these funds to be distributed to things I support in the best way. I’d rather just give to the charities I do support.

And once again, this is a tax on the people, not the shops, some of whom are huge chains, undercutting small shops and not paying their suppliers or staff on the ground properly.

Isn’t the real issue – if this is truly about ecological concerns about plastic – the need to find a biodegradable, non harmful substance to make bags with?

I have seen plastic carrier bags turn into little bits within a few months, so it’s not true that they last for decades.

But I’ve also seen councils stipulate corn starch liners for food waste collection bins – so there is something available – so why not use those instead as carrier bags?

And what of what we do put in our rubbish bins? Most councils will only collect if it’s in a plastic bag. I think many of us – when we’re not reusing our carrier bags anyway – use them for holding our waste. Thus it cuts down on what we purchase to put refuse in.

Like paying to offset carbon footprints, it feels that all we’re doing is not really cutting down on plastic or changing the issues that create harm for the environment, but in putting a price on it, using our greatest valued item – money – to dissuade but also appease any conscience we may have.

At 5p, it’s too little to put off seriously, so it’s an innocuous seeming new tax – think how many 5ps could be rung through the tills of supermarkets from now on – that’s a lot of cash for someone – but who? It recalls the plot in Superman III where Gus Gorman works out that taking a half cent off everyone’s wages makes him a rich man.

It feels both naively green and greedy, another nanny state act, under the auspices of that fashionably hot potato, the environment, but without really doing anything to change the bottom issues; and which meanwhile takes from the people and gives to the unknown whilst not seriously affecting the plastic industry’s supplies – or are we the public paying their compensation?!

And shop staff have been dreading this day and the arguments they’ll be getting into….

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