Government withdraws bill that would help clampdown on tax avoidance over fears of backlash

The Government has withdrawn their plans for a new Financial Services Bill on transparency after local council leaders from Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man warned of backlash should the deal be passed in Parliament.

The Bill was originally designed to protect financial services in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but a new amendment tabled by both members of the Labour Party and Conservative Party included added transparency laws directed towards British Overseas Territories to avoid money laundering and tax avoidance.

The proposed amendment would call for British overseas territories and dependencies to publish all registered company owners by the end of 2020, which the UK itself has already established.

The bill has been aimed at forcing areas under UK jurisdiction to be more open about assets held there out of fears that British Overseas Territories could become tax havens for European businesses after Brexit.

However, local leaders in the Islands surrounding the UK have warned that they will travel to Westminster before the vote to personally warn Parliament on the ramifications should the Bill be passed with its current amendments.

The amendment to the bill was considered to be vital should the UK leave the European Union in late March without a deal, as it was believed that overseas territories would lead to financial deregulation which would be facilitated by more lax financial transparency laws.

The Labour Party has criticised the Government for withdrawing the plans, and the Labour Party’s Junior Finance Spokesman has stated that Labour had planned to support the bill if it reached a vote in Parliament.

The amendment to the Financial Services Bill was tabled by Labour MP Margaret Hodge, and was a cross-party motion. Hodge has called the withdrawal of the Bill as “outrageous” and has mentioned that she will continue to campaign for publicised corporate registers in all UK territories.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has stated that the withdrawal is “evidence” that the May’s government is “incapable of getting its business through parliament” and accused the government of being “a friend to tax avoiders for too long.”

The requirement for British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to produce a register of all company owners operating within their jurisdiction is now due to be published by 2023.

May’s additional funds to entice MPs to support Brexit could breach Bribery Laws

Theresa May has announced plans to use £1.6 billion to boost economic growth in communities and appears to target communities who’s MPs support her new withdrawal deal.

The announcement was part of the ‘Stronger Towns Fund’, which is believed to be directed towards MPs in current Labour strongholds in under-funded Northern cities and urban centres.

The plans will also see the new funding only being allocated to English communities, and there are currently no plans for similar initiatives in other UK regions.

Recently, it was found that new changes to government local council funding will reroute funds from predominantly Labour-supporting metropolitan centres to rural communities after relative poverty was taken out of the equation used to allocate funding to councils.

Secretary of State for Communities, James Brokenshire, however, has stated that the money is not linked to the outcome of the withdrawal agreement vote scheduled for the 12th of March, and that the funding will be allocated to Brexit-backing communities regardless of which deal is passed through parliament in the coming weeks.

The Labour Party Chancellor, John McDonnell, has called the plans “bribery” and Lord Thomas QC, the representative for Gresford in the house of Lords, has mentioned that the Prime Minister’s plans could be in conflict with the law.

Lord Thomas currently serves as a member or the Queen’s Counsel, the highest honour given to a law practitioner in the United Kingdom.

The plans may be in breach of section 1 of the Bribery Act 2010, which posits that any Minister who attempts to use a political or financial advantage to an MP in order to disrupt their ability to give a fair and impartial vote in Parliament.

Any MP who accepts May’s deal may also potentially be committing a crime, as Section 2 of the Bribery Act 2010 states that receiving this advantage, and intending to act on it, breaches the law.

The funding will be scheduled to last until 2026, equating to around £320 million a year, with the money being divided by region.

New stats show increasing homelessness deaths

Data released by the Office for National Statistics have shown that the number of homeless deaths in the UK have been increasing since 2013, and the highest number of homeless deaths in 2017 were in Northern and Midlands urban areas.

Every year the Office for National Statistics releases statistics on the number of recorded deaths of homeless people in the UK.

In 2017, there were an estimated 597 deaths in England and Wales of individuals identified as being homeless from registration records, with 574 of these deaths being situated in metropolitan areas such as the inner areas of UK cities.

Deaths were identified in 156 local authorities in England and Wales, just under half of the total number of authorities in the country. However, the highest density of homeless deaths were situated in densely populated urban areas, especially in traditionally deprived areas of the English Northwest and Midlands.

Not all homeless deaths can be officially recognised. This is often because identifying documents cannot be retrieved from an individual after death, or the individual cannot be formally identified as they have no immediate family members who can be contacted.

The city with the highest reported number of homeless deaths was Manchester, with an estimated 21 deaths. This was followed by Birmingham and Bristol, with 18 and 17 deaths respectively.

The number of estimated, and formally identified, deaths of homeless people have been increasing since 2013, when the Office for National Statistics first began publishing data on the subject. In 2013 there were an estimated 482 deaths, and only 392 formally identified homeless deaths. In 2017 the number of formally identified deaths has risen to 491, with the vast majority of these deaths being situated in England as opposed to Wales.

In recent months, the Conservative Government has been criticised for it’s austerity-focused policies that may have directly led to a rapid increase in homeless populations in the United Kingdom in recent years. It is possible that this increase has also led to an increase in homeless deaths as well as the general homeless population.

Labor will reportedly back 2nd referendum vote this week

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has announced that the Labour Party will back a new move to prevent a hard exit from the European Union.

Speaking to the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Corbyn announced that he would support a Commons amendment to allow for a second public referendum on the final deal to leave the European Union.

The Labour Party will now back a second referendum Commons vote if the Party’s own alternative Brexit plan fails to get a majority vote on Wednesday, leaving the only other option for Brexit being a “damaging Tory Brexit”. However, the Party leader hasn’t included a possibility of a second referendum on the amendment to the Tory Brexit bill due to be released on Wednesday.

The announcement comes exactly a week after 8 centrist Labour MPs rebelled from the party to create the newly formed Independent group, who cited the Labour Party’s pro-Brexit stance amongst their reasons for leaving the Party.

Corbyn has also confirmed that the party will support a cross-party amendment focused on ruling out the possibility of the United kingdom leaving the European Union under a no-deal scenario.

David Lammy, prolific supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said in response to the Party’s move that it is “welcome news” that the Party will now “accept the principle of giving the public the final say on Brexit”.

However, an estimated 70 Labour MPs have stated that they would vote to stop a second referendum, highlighting the deep divides in the Party on the issue currently, leading many to speculate that the Labour Leader doesn’t intend to follow through with the promise, and is instead hoping that the amended deal is accepted by Parliament on Wednesday.

Bercow ‘seriously reflecting’ staying on as Speaker until 2022 following alleged ‘bias’ over Brexit

It has been reported that John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, is ‘seriously reflecting’ as staying on as Speaker until 2022 – in defiance of his original plans to step-down in the summer of 2019.

This change of heart has allegedly been caused by the threat of being denied a peerage – an honour given to those following their service as Speaker.

Ministers have accused Mr. Bercow of ‘bias’ over Brexit – believing that his thoughts and sentiments have led him to violate the impartiality of his position. These claims have been strenuously denied.

He was recently criticised for allegedly driving a vehicle with a sticker in the window stating: ‘Bollocks to Brexit’. But, Mr. Bercow pointed out that the vehicle was his wife’s and she is fully entitled to her opinions – also that it would not be proper for a man to control the thoughts of his wife, as she is not property.

Government sources alleged that Mr. Bercow was accused of ‘cheating centuries of procedure’ and as such should not be elevated to the House of Lords. He has been viewed as being sympathetic to the Labour Party as well as those supporting Remain.

One senior Member of Parliament stated: ‘The Speaker will play a critical role in the coming days, selecting amendments and determining parliamentary business. If ministers thought it was a good idea to put his back up they may regret it.’

It was believed that the Speaker would step-down in the summer of 2019 – following the conclusion of the withdrawal from the European Union. He was also caught up in allegations regarding a culture of ‘bullying’ in the House of Commons.

Analysis from Thomas Howard, Editor at TPN:

These accusations levied by some ministers have a poor foundation, hence at present there is nothing which can be done. They believe that the only retribution achievable would be to deny Mr. Bercow elevation to the House of Lords – a tradition which has lasted decades. It seems that the divisions of Brexit are continuing to threaten the foundations of democracy in the United Kingdom.

In response, Mr. Bercow is fully entitled to maintain his position until 2022 – unless formally challenged by the House of Commons. It appears that he will not cave in to the attempt to ensure that he follows the direction of the Government.

Corbyn Plans to Call Vote of No Confidence in Government

The Labour Party has begun rallying MP’s ahead of the ‘Meaningful Vote’ on Tuesday. Messages have been sent to all parliamentary members to remind them to be present for the ‘Meaningful Vote’.

Members have also been told to remain present on Wednesday – as it is believed that the Labour Leader will be tabling a Vote of No Confidence.

One Senior Shadow Cabinet Minister said: ‘There is now recognition that we cannot wait any longer. If May goes down to defeat and she does not resign and call an election, this is the moment we have to act.’

If the Labour Leader fails to obtain the support of the Commons, then he will be under increased pressure to support calls for a ‘People’s Vote’.

It is believed that if the Labour Leader refuses to call a vote of no confidence, then others will. Angela Smith, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, said: ‘The time for prevarication is over. If May’s deal fails we have to test the will of the house and if we fail, we must consider all options including campaigning for a second referendum as this is party policy.’

Even senior members within the Conservative Party have expressed their belief that the ‘Meaningful Vote’ will go against May’s Deal. One claimed that Theresa May could not win ‘in any circumstances’ and that a victory would be being defeated by less than 100 members of the Commons.

Mrs. May, writing in the Sunday Express, called for the cross-party support of her deal. She noted: ‘My message to Parliament this weekend is simple: It is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country.’

Defeat would only give her party two weeks to attempt to form a new government. If it cannot form a government, then there will be a General Election.

Comment from Thomas Howard, Editor at TPN:

Theresa May has suffered several defeats in recent weeks and is set to suffer her biggest to date on Tuesday.

Even if a vote of no confidence fails, she will not necessarily be victorious. It is essential that she maintains the unilateral support of the DUP and Conservative Party.

Timing is crucial and it is clear to see that the Labour Leader has been playing a clever game and has the Prime Minister in a vulnerable position. Even if her deal passes, she will face defeat – as it is clear that she would not retain the support of the DUP

Universal Credit: ‘The Truth’. An Anonymous Account

This individual wished to remain anonymous, but really wanted to share their experiences of Universal Credit:

I started claiming for Universal Credit in November 2018. I was reluctant to claim, as I did not want to be viewed as a ‘scrounger’.

I could not continue without support, as I had reached destitution – I required urgent assistance.

I contemplated suicide a few times, to avoid becoming a societal burden but primarily due to the issues which led to my destitution in November 2018.

I applied for state assistance at the beginning of November, but was informed I could not receive a full payment until mid-December 2018.

I was reluctant to apply for an ‘advanced payment’ as I was informed that it was a loan. I could not afford to accumulate more debt. But, I eventually applied as I was desperate and could not afford the necessities for living. I applied for one-hundred pounds, to help me survive until I received my payment – but the amount I borrowed was set to be deducted from my payment in December 2018.

My payment eventually arrived and I was immediately short on funds again. I was loaned money from friends and family in small amounts. I struggled to repay everyone.

It is even more difficult to find a job due to my autism and I was initially expected to attend group sessions and places I struggled mentally to cope with, but I am now given a bit more leniency. I raised the issue of my autism at the outset, but so many fail to understand my thoughts and feelings.

I wanted to live with my partner, but if I did this (to minimise costs) I would lose the majority of my support, as the state will judge me based upon the income of my partner of almost two years.

I was forced into this situation abruptly due to issues with my studies and this was all unexpected and unprecedented. I feel that I require emotional support, but cannot access it and I also feel awful for becoming a societal burden.

I am struggling to find a job due to my situation and this is exacerbated by the emotional state I was left in – in November 2018. It takes so long for benefit applications to be reviewed and I often cannot afford to wait for these outcomes – as I have also applied for Personal Independence Payments.

My autism leaves me worrying and struggling to engage in daily activities. I am not sure about anything anymore – I just hope I can have someone to assist me with these difficulties. I cannot keep placing the burden on my partner and loved ones – I hope I can get assistance from the NHS.

It is even more problematic that I have to sign a tenancy agreement before I am informed about any possible entitlement for rent support – a system which could leave me in severe debt or homeless.

Money is tight and my thoughts are low. I want help and support. I wish that mental health services would be well funded and supported – I hope I can access counselling and/or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Vote on Universal Credit Delayed Amid Fears of Tory Rebellion

The House of Commons was set to vote on the transfer of 3 million benefit claimants to the new system – Universal Credit. However, Amber Rudd, Work and Pensions Secretary, has been forced to delay proceedings amid fears of a rebellion within the Conservative Party.

One Whitehall source claimed that Rudd wanted ‘universal credit to receive a fresh parliamentary mandate and be personally sure the system is working in the interests of every claimant’.

Universal Credit has been a flagship programme of the Conservative Party. However, numerous concerns have been raised by individuals across the political spectrum. It has been feared that the system increases poverty and homelessness – thus causing more issues.

It is now believed that a vote will be held for transferring 10,000 to Universal Credit – these individuals will act as a sample and will influence future decisions made by the Government.

Ministers have maintained their commitment for the universal roll out of Universal Credit by 2023.

Universal Credit replaces six of the traditional benefits and attempts to merge them into one – which is paid in monthly instalments to claimants.

However, individuals have suffered due to initial delays and difficulties in requesting an advanced payment – which acts as a loan from the state.

Current claimants of the benefit claim that they have been left with little food, whilst some have allegedly resorted to prostitution.

It is estimated that 3.2 million households have been left worse off across the United Kingdom.

Frank Field, Chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, stated: ‘The government seems finally to have woken up to the human catastrophe that was waiting to happen under its ill-formed plans for moving people on to universal credit.’

More to follow..

How Serious are Food Allergies?

It’s a simple question, but it must be addressed:

Our society has a tendency to frown upon inconvenience and often fails to cater for the needs of marginalised groups, including those suffering from food intolerances and allergies. This begs the question, are they serious or can we just ignore them?

The attitudes taken by some catering outlets suggests that food allergies are an inconvenience and that there is no need to manage operations in a way to ensure that allergen information is highlighted. Recent stories reiterate the problems facing those suffering with dietary requirements including intolerances and allergies. It is estimated that around two million people are living with a diagnosed food allergy in the United Kingdom.

However, this estimate does not include the number of individuals with food intolerances or coeliac disease, hence the actual figure of those requiring specific labelling is far higher than this figure suggests. It seems that the actual figure of those with requirements is often undermined and these figures offer no indication of those without a formal diagnosis. It is often a difficult process to be formally diagnosed, with individuals in the East of England often having to travel to Cambridge to be assessed by specialists at Addenbrookes Hospital.

Fresh produce is often the main issue for those suffering with allergies and intolerances, as there is often limited information regarding ingredients. For example, Tesco offers a diverse range of freshly baked pastries in-store but fail to provide an easily accessible list of ingredients. Other supermarkets commit the same form of neglect and often by-pass criticism by having a sign notifying customers that allergy information can be accessed upon request – which is easy, right? Sadly not, as it is often difficult to find a member of staff in the relevant department to provide this information to customers. It seems that these signs often serve the purpose of avoiding liability – in a similar way to some ‘may contain’ notices on food packaging.

Campaigns for greater awareness and for legislative action are often ignored, as there is a fundamental lack of education surrounding the requirements of those with intolerances and allergies. It often takes a tragedy to inspire real legislative change which is a condemnation of our society. These issues have been ongoing for decades and are not recent – as has suggested by media coverage of recent issues with British Airways and Pret following the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse.

My own experience from last year:

I have personally been misled by packaging at an outlet at my former university in the East of England. It stated the ingredients, but to my surprise the actual content did not match the listed content. I was initially treated in a way that suggested it was not a big issue and that changing the labels in future would fully resolve the situation. It seems that staff lacked an insight into the consequence of food allergies. One bite could have led to an allergic reaction, although unlikely to be fatal it would have been uncomfortable and would have required urgent medical attention. I urged staff to withdraw all contaminated produce and examine the root causes of this issue. It seemed that, after campaigning and a near fatal incident with another individual, staff were open to a thorough review of fresh items.

So, what is it like to have an allergic reaction?

Well, the severity of a reaction varies from person to person with some only experiencing mild symptoms that require little attention. However, others can be subjected to excruciating pain which requires medicinal relief or a trip to a local A&E. It is not a pleasant experience and the truth of the matter is that allergic reactions are avoidable. If someone is suffering from a reaction, then it is always best to dial 999. Complications can only be avoided if all those in the supply chain fulfil their moral obligations. Is it hard to list all ingredients and to notify consumers of potential dangers? I feel that this issue has been neglected for too long and that there is a simple solution to all these cases – I hope that real legislative changes occur, and that justice is served to all those victims of neglect and institutional oversight.