Just browsing through the news stories this morning and the ones that catch my eye start with South Eastern trains cancelling all routes from the coast because of the bad weather. It’s hardly a surprise. A touch of frost is normally enough to interrupt the train service and one wonders how the Victorians coped, running a more efficient, cleaner, timely and often faster service.
Apparently the Green Belt is being built on faster than ever before, a 60 per cent increase in house building, leading Caroline Spelman, the Conservative local government spokesman, to comment: "Under John Prescott's watch, Green Belt protection has become worthless.”
Not helped of course by “Big John” with his own slip of the tongue: “'The Green Belt is a Labour policy and we intend to build on it". Very funny I’m sure!
Immigration is once again in the news and, 2004 saw the highest net migration on record, with an inflow of 223,000 - 72,000 more than the previous year, largely as a result of the EU's expansion.
The number of Britons alone leaving increased to 208,000 - the highest annual outflow on record. This year, 2005, net migration is forecast to be even higher at 255,000, before reducing to an annual rate of about 145,000 from 2008.
Government figures indicate that the population is projected to rise by more than seven million in the next 25 years and more than half of this will be the direct result of immigration, with another 30 per cent formed by the children of recent immigrants.
Concerns over social tensions, the low-skills base offered by immigration and the resulting strain on public services and the welfare state started to appear in 2005 but politicians generally concede that it’s now too late to do anything practical to the system to better suit the needs of the country and the demands of business.
Bad news for pension holders as leading companies saw their pensions black hole grow by £10 billion to £75 billion this year. A new report highlights the pensions crisis which has led to two large companies, Rentokil and Provident Financial, taking dramatic action over the past few weeks.
Rentokil has closed its final salary scheme to existing members; while Provident has said that existing members must double their contributions if they are to stay in the scheme.
The harsher message to everyone is that there’s not enough money in the pot to keep anyone now approaching fifty, comfortably in retirement and the government hasn’t the money either, without significantly raising taxes or forcing people to lay aside a significant portion of their salaries in a private pension scheme each month. It leaves on to wonder why one pays National Insurance in the first place?
Being elderly with a pension isn’t an option either as another report reveals than 2,500 care homes for the elderly are failing to meet minimum standards on meals and one in five has not met a target designed to maintain dignity and autonomy.
There must be a ray of sunshine out there somewhere?