Tag Archives: This

Dirty air is killing our children. Why does the government let this happen? | George Monbiot

Deregulation, the government and many newspapers assure us, saves money and time and reduces frustration. That’s the theory. But, as I see every day, it doesn’t quite work like this.

My youngest daughter’s school has been trying to protect its children from the toxic cloud in which they work and play. The teachers know how much damage traffic pollution does to their lungs, hearts and brains. They know that it reduces their cognitive development, their ability to concentrate and their capacity for exercise. They know it’s a minor miracle that no one has yet been crushed by the cars jostling to get as close as possible to the school gates. But thanks to the government’s refusal to legislate, there is little they can do. Far from freeing us from effort, the absence of regulation wastes everybody’s time.

At my suggestion, the school invited the charity Living Streets to come in and enthuse the children about walking or cycling to school. I attended the first assembly, at which one of their organisers spoke. She was lively, funny and captivating. With the help of a giant puppet, and the promise of badges if they joined in, the children went wild for her and for the cause. The school, led by its committed headteacher, has done everything it can to support the scheme.


Without regulation, the most selfish and anti-social people dominate

For a few weeks, it worked. Everyone noticed the difference. No longer were cars mounting the pavement – and almost mounting each other – outside the gates. The children were using their legs, and families were talking to each other on the way. But the cars have crept back in, and now, though the clever and catchy programme continues, we’re almost back where we started: school begins and ends under a cloud.

Some of the drivers are the people who were elbowing in before; others occupy the space vacated by those who respect the scheme. Living Streets will keep returning. But now that the first flush of enthusiasm has abated, sustaining the programme will be harder.

Aside from the damage to our children’s health, it’s the redundancy of it all that gets to me. The government could solve much of this problem at a stroke by introducing a duty on councils to impose the kind of parking ban around schools at arrival and departure times that is in place in parts of Edinburgh and Solihull. Technologies such as number plate recognition cameras and rising bollards (both of which allow residents and drivers with a disability card to pass while excluding others) can make enforcement automatic.

Without this intervention, headteachers all over the country have to take on the issue one car at a time. Add up their efforts and you’re likely to find that this pointless replication runs into hundreds – perhaps thousands – of times the public labour that government action would require. If there is one group of people whose time is both stretched and socially valuable, it is headteachers.

Some schools have lobbied their councils for traffic restriction orders, generally without success. But why should we have to fight the same battle borough by borough for our children’s health? Why should their lung capacity be subject to a postcode lottery?

The lack of regulation also creates social tension. There have been altercations between parents on this issue at my daughter’s school, and I’ve been told of furious arguments in other catchments. Last month a lollipop lady employed by a school in Colchester to protect the children from traffic resigned because of the threats and abuse she received from a few parents. Despite her uniform, she could exercise only moral power, which simply bounces off some people. “Our children are now yet again at risk when crossing the road,” the headteacher remarked. Without regulation, the most selfish and antisocial people dominate.

I have begun to realise that getting as close to the school gates as possible is not just about minimising the need to walk. It’s also about being seen in your new car. The bigger it is, the greater the incentive to be seen. This could explain why some parents drive 100 metres to the school every morning. By the time they’ve found a place to park, they could have walked back and forth three times.

Self-regulation can work well in a commons – a resource controlled and managed by a community. But the streets are not a commons. They are a state asset that is treated as a free-for-all. When the state owns a resource but won’t control it, the community has neither the right nor the power to regulate its use. All that is left is voluntarism. The efforts of those who try to defend the common good are undermined by freeloaders.

The government’s efforts are pathetic. Its cycling and walking investment strategy, published among a blizzard of measures in April before ministers went into purdah for the distraction of the general election, is based on this rousing vision: “We want more people to have access to safe, attractive routes for cycling and walking by 2040.” Yes, 2040. They bailed out the banks in hours. But our children’s health can wait until they have children of their own. It intends to halve its feeble investment in cycling and walking between now and 2021.

When I have raised this issue on social media, I’ve been told: “Well, it’s your fault for living in a posh part of London.” But I don’t live in London, and the school has one of the poorest catchments in the county. Personal contract purchase for cars has helped to universalise this issue (as well as threatening another subprime crisis: growth in car loans has been driving the increase in unsecured consumer credit we’ve seen in recent years). Almost every school gate is now shrouded in pollution.

Air pollution disproportionately affects poorer communities, exposing their children to yet another disadvantage, as their lungs and brains are stunted. One study suggests that here in the UK 38 million people – 59% of the population – are immersed in pollution above the legal limit. Only those who can afford to live in villages and the leafy suburbs escape.

The state’s failure to regulate has not delivered freedom. It has delivered waste and inefficiency, helplessness and frustration, and a loss of trust in each other and of belief in our democratic power to improve our lives. Far from releasing us, it has snarled us up in traffic. And it leaves a massive public health issue unaddressed, the scale of which we can only begin to guess. Our children choke on the government’s refusal to govern.

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

Doctor’s diary This is Going to Hurt wins public vote for book of the year

A doctor’s irreverent and heartbreaking diaries, published as a rebuke to the government in the pay dispute with junior doctors, has been voted the nation’s favourite book of the year. Adam Kay’s This Is Going to Hurt came top in a poll of readers to win the Books Are My Bag readers’ choice award.

Voted for by 40,000 members of the public through bookshops, Kay’s book saw off competition from 2017 Man Booker prize winner George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo and Philip Pullman’s hotly anticipated La Belle Sauvage.

The diaries, written between 2005 and 2010 when Kay worked as a junior doctor specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology, show him tackling horrific injuries (a man with a “degloved penis” after sliding down a lamppost), elderly drinkers and life-threatening birth complications.

Kay decided to go public with them amid the war of words between health secretary Jeremy Hunt and junior doctors over pay and conditions. Initially, they formed the basis of a one-man show at the Edinburgh festival, but the medic-turned-screenwriter was then commissioned by Picador to turn them into a book.

“The government was promoting the message that the junior doctors were being greedy, which was a dagger to my heart, because they really weren’t – they were worried about working conditions and patient safety,” he told Psychologies magazine earlier this year, explaining why he went public.

Although the book revels in the dark comedy of hospital life, it builds up to a career-ending incident that left the author fearful of making decisions about patients’ treatment and ultimately forced him to ditch his chosen career.

In the interview with Psychologies, Kay said: “I won’t be able to change Jeremy Hunt’s mind … but I can reach members of the public, and the next time doctors come under attack, the public will think: ‘Yes, that’s nonsense, why would doctors be in it for the money? They’re in it to help people, to save lives.’”

Alan Staton, head of marketing and communications at the Booksellers Association, which runs the awards, said: “Last year’s readers’ choice was The Good Immigrant, which was very much the book of the moment, and Adam Kay’s is very much the same this year, igniting conversations [about the NHS], and so it is no surprise it has won.”

It was a double win for Kay, who also scooped the non-fiction category of the awards, which are in their second year and are supported by National Book Tokens.

Last year’s winner of the non-fiction award, Matt Haig, swapped categories this year to take the BAMB popular fiction award with his novel How to Stop Time, a film of which Benedict Cumberbatch is set to produce and star in.

Of the remaining five awards, the shortlists for which are chosen by booksellers, Kate Tempest was voted breakthrough author of the year for her debut novel The Bricks That Built the Houses, while Colson Whitehead scooped the novel award with The Underground Railroad.

Robert Macfarlane’s and Jackie Morris’s sumptuously illustrated guide to the fading vocabulary of childhood, The Lost Words, was chosen by booksellers as the most beautiful book of the year .

For the first time, children were allowed to vote for the young adult and middle-grade awards, which were taken respectively by Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and Emma Carroll’s Letters from the Lighthouse.

This isn’t the start of an NHS crisis – it’s far worse | Jan Filochowski

Saying the NHS was already in crisis, as I – and a few other Jeremiahs – did two years ago, meant going out on a limb. Today, hardly anyone says anything else, not least because virtually all our dire predictions have become realities. Even public officials responsible for running and inspecting the NHS, who couldn’t be seen for dust then (the heads of NHS England, NHS Improvement and the Care Quality Commission), are going public on the gravity of the situation and begging the chancellor to do something in this week’s budget.

Indeed, how could anyone say things are OK when, in response to an increase in the past seven years of at most 15% in A&E attendances and admissions, waits in A&E have gone up by 350% and waits for admission by 550%? Increasing waiting times are the canary in the mine.

However, the Department of Health, whenever challenged with a another example of increasingly poor performance, excessive waits or other pressures, retorts not that this is incorrect but (without irony) that other things in the NHS are fine.

In reality, all is not well. Once again, I am afraid, those who have just started to complain are saying too little and too late. The NHS isn’t getting into crisis, as they cautiously say. It is way beyond that and already failing, despite its internationally accepted efficiency.

The shortfalls between what is demanded and what can be supplied are chronic, widespread and large, and growing inexorably. They also harm that much-prized efficiency, because you can’t manage efficiently when you are constantly running out of capacity. As a result, we have largely undone the benefits of nearly 30 years of growth and improvement in the NHS.

I spent several years researching why failure happens while also working as an NHS chief executive, much of that time turning around failing NHS trusts. What I found was that if a crisis is unacknowledged, and therefore not dealt with, the organisation in question is unable to honestly confront and then tackle the difficult but treatable problems it faces, and instead minimises or even ignores or denies them. Because of this inaction, things get worse very fast and only bottom out when the true nature of the problems is accepted. Today, it is not individual hospitals or GP practices but the NHS as a whole that is in the incredibly dangerous descent phase. We should be not so much worried as massively alarmed.

Whether the chancellor will give the NHS any relief remains to be seen. What is virtually certain is that it won’t be enough, or as sustained as it needs to be. A small one-off increase will simply reduce the rate of decline and not be part of a coherent long-term plan to put things right.

To fix this failure of the whole “system” requires the equivalent of a Marshall plan for the NHS. That means a commitment at the outset to substantial funding increases year in and year out, in a planned, systematic way; it means increasing the NHS workforce as well as extending and renewing infrastructure so the NHS can deal with the demand already there and into the future. It won’t be cheap. But the alternative is to watch the NHS crumble around us, ultimately with a bill that will be a lot larger in terms of cash and, more importantly, of avoidable pain, suffering and mortality. Surely we don’t want that.

Jan Filochowski spent 20 years as an NHS chief executive, and is the author of Too Good To Fail?

This isn’t the start of an NHS crisis – it’s far worse | Jan Filochowski

Saying the NHS was already in crisis, as I – and a few other Jeremiahs – did two years ago, meant going out on a limb. Today, hardly anyone says anything else, not least because virtually all our dire predictions have become realities. Even public officials responsible for running and inspecting the NHS, who couldn’t be seen for dust then (the heads of NHS England, NHS Improvement and the Care Quality Commission), are going public on the gravity of the situation and begging the chancellor to do something in this week’s budget.

Indeed, how could anyone say things are OK when, in response to an increase in the past seven years of at most 15% in A&E attendances and admissions, waits in A&E have gone up by 350% and waits for admission by 550%? Increasing waiting times are the canary in the mine.

However, the Department of Health, whenever challenged with a another example of increasingly poor performance, excessive waits or other pressures, retorts not that this is incorrect but (without irony) that other things in the NHS are fine.

In reality, all is not well. Once again, I am afraid, those who have just started to complain are saying too little and too late. The NHS isn’t getting into crisis, as they cautiously say. It is way beyond that and already failing, despite its internationally accepted efficiency.

The shortfalls between what is demanded and what can be supplied are chronic, widespread and large, and growing inexorably. They also harm that much-prized efficiency, because you can’t manage efficiently when you are constantly running out of capacity. As a result, we have largely undone the benefits of nearly 30 years of growth and improvement in the NHS.

I spent several years researching why failure happens while also working as an NHS chief executive, much of that time turning around failing NHS trusts. What I found was that if a crisis is unacknowledged, and therefore not dealt with, the organisation in question is unable to honestly confront and then tackle the difficult but treatable problems it faces, and instead minimises or even ignores or denies them. Because of this inaction, things get worse very fast and only bottom out when the true nature of the problems is accepted. Today, it is not individual hospitals or GP practices but the NHS as a whole that is in the incredibly dangerous descent phase. We should be not so much worried as massively alarmed.

Whether the chancellor will give the NHS any relief remains to be seen. What is virtually certain is that it won’t be enough, or as sustained as it needs to be. A small one-off increase will simply reduce the rate of decline and not be part of a coherent long-term plan to put things right.

To fix this failure of the whole “system” requires the equivalent of a Marshall plan for the NHS. That means a commitment at the outset to substantial funding increases year in and year out, in a planned, systematic way; it means increasing the NHS workforce as well as extending and renewing infrastructure so the NHS can deal with the demand already there and into the future. It won’t be cheap. But the alternative is to watch the NHS crumble around us, ultimately with a bill that will be a lot larger in terms of cash and, more importantly, of avoidable pain, suffering and mortality. Surely we don’t want that.

Jan Filochowski spent 20 years as an NHS chief executive, and is the author of Too Good To Fail?

This isn’t the start of an NHS crisis – it’s far worse | Jan Filochowski

Saying the NHS was already in crisis, as I – and a few other Jeremiahs – did two years ago, meant going out on a limb. Today, hardly anyone says anything else, not least because virtually all our dire predictions have become realities. Even public officials responsible for running and inspecting the NHS, who couldn’t be seen for dust then (the heads of NHS England, NHS Improvement and the Care Quality Commission), are going public on the gravity of the situation and begging the chancellor to do something in this week’s budget.

Indeed, how could anyone say things are OK when, in response to an increase in the past seven years of at most 15% in A&E attendances and admissions, waits in A&E have gone up by 350% and waits for admission by 550%? Increasing waiting times are the canary in the mine.

However, the Department of Health, whenever challenged with a another example of increasingly poor performance, excessive waits or other pressures, retorts not that this is incorrect but (without irony) that other things in the NHS are fine.

In reality, all is not well. Once again, I am afraid, those who have just started to complain are saying too little and too late. The NHS isn’t getting into crisis, as they cautiously say. It is way beyond that and already failing, despite its internationally accepted efficiency.

The shortfalls between what is demanded and what can be supplied are chronic, widespread and large, and growing inexorably. They also harm that much-prized efficiency, because you can’t manage efficiently when you are constantly running out of capacity. As a result, we have largely undone the benefits of nearly 30 years of growth and improvement in the NHS.

I spent several years researching why failure happens while also working as an NHS chief executive, much of that time turning around failing NHS trusts. What I found was that if a crisis is unacknowledged, and therefore not dealt with, the organisation in question is unable to honestly confront and then tackle the difficult but treatable problems it faces, and instead minimises or even ignores or denies them. Because of this inaction, things get worse very fast and only bottom out when the true nature of the problems is accepted. Today, it is not individual hospitals or GP practices but the NHS as a whole that is in the incredibly dangerous descent phase. We should be not so much worried as massively alarmed.

Whether the chancellor will give the NHS any relief remains to be seen. What is virtually certain is that it won’t be enough, or as sustained as it needs to be. A small one-off increase will simply reduce the rate of decline and not be part of a coherent long-term plan to put things right.

To fix this failure of the whole “system” requires the equivalent of a Marshall plan for the NHS. That means a commitment at the outset to substantial funding increases year in and year out, in a planned, systematic way; it means increasing the NHS workforce as well as extending and renewing infrastructure so the NHS can deal with the demand already there and into the future. It won’t be cheap. But the alternative is to watch the NHS crumble around us, ultimately with a bill that will be a lot larger in terms of cash and, more importantly, of avoidable pain, suffering and mortality. Surely we don’t want that.

Jan Filochowski spent 20 years as an NHS chief executive, and is the author of Too Good To Fail?

Building houses and saving the NHS: how Lib Dems would tackle this budget | Vince Cable

There is a risk that this week’s budget will be drowned out by Brexit and ministerial mishaps. But it really matters because the economy is in a precarious position.

The chancellor’s task is not easy. He can’t depart too far from his deficit reduction targets without damaging his already tarnished brand beyond repair. He’s heartily loathed by many of his Tory colleagues as a remoaner and as George Osborne’s representative on Earth. He is faced with a slowing economy at the bottom of the G7 growth league, dragged down by poor productivity and weak revenue receipts.

Productivity won’t improve without business investment, which is hampered by uncertainty over Brexit. Brexit – if it happens – will, at the very least, lead to years of underperformance. At worst, without a deal, it will lead to a massive shock. Not easy.

In the hunt for money hidden down the back of the sofa, we are told that the government “found” £5bn a year in the form of housing association borrowing, which has been reclassified as “private” rather than “public”.


The current orthodoxy is to curb all borrowing – but the government must free up investment spending

This statistical privatisation is the mirror image of the statistical nationalisation of Network Rail in 2014. The consequences have been unfortunate; Network Rail’s economically important and beneficial investment programme has since been slashed by the Treasury.

This experience underlines a central failing in Hammond’s approach to fiscal policy: an inability or unwillingness to distinguish capital from day-to-day spending. Gordon Brown’s fiscal rules, rightly, separated the two, as did the coalition agreement.

But the ultra-conservative Treasury is always reluctant to accept that well-directed public investment can reduce government net debt by boosting growth and creating assets. The current orthodoxy is to curb all borrowing, whether for productive investment, benefits or civil service spending. The government must free up investment spending.

Network Rail should be free to get on with its capital programme, which is badly needed to improve connectivity in the north, south-west and Wales. The chancellor should also get behind plans for large-scale publicly-financed housebuilding, which even the free-market communities secretary has endorsed with reports he wants £50bn to invest in housing over five years – a sensible if cautious commitment.

If the construction of homes is to double from the 150,000-a-year average of the past three decades, as it must, the government has got to get housing supply moving by acting as a catalyst. This includes the need for more council housing, in addition to investment through new towns and development corporations.

It is absurd to spend billions on housing benefit and the misnamed help-to-buy scheme, which props up prices and demand without attacking the root of the problem – insufficient supply.

There are more difficult trade-offs involved in the understandable demands for more resources for public services and public sector pay. The NHS needs an immediate injection of cash as well as long-term reforms, such as integrating health and social care and prioritising preventive medicine.

And since there is no magic money tree, this spending has to be financed by taxation, confronting the public openly with the choice. That is why my party argues for a penny in the pound of income tax to raise £6bn a year for the NHS.

In the same spirit, cash is urgently needed to offset the harsh and counterproductive squeeze on benefits, notably universal credit. But this has to be paid for, which is why tax cuts over the past two years will have to be reversed.

The growing inequality between generations also has to be addressed. Cutting tuition fees might grab the headlines, but it would harm the funding of universities and do nothing to help young people since this would only benefit highly paid graduates.

What I want to see is all young people being given a proper start in life, through a lifelong learning endowment or account that they are free to draw upon to finance continuing education or reskilling. Better-off older people will, I’m sure, be willing to make a contribution to future generations through the modest taxation of assets that have grown massively in value in recent years.

To put some numbers to this theory, a substantial endowment of somewhere between £5,000 and £10,000 would cost under £10bn annually. This is a big sum, but less than 0.5% of UK personal and property (net) wealth. A progressive reform of capital gains tax, inheritance tax and property taxes could produce this amount.

Some progressive redistribution is easier to achieve if the tax system has some integrity. The corrosive cynicism of the ultra-rich revealed in the Paradise Papers undermines public confidence.

The scope for vast tax windfalls is, however, limited. The changes my colleagues and I introduced in government – the open register of beneficial ownership and the general anti-abuse rule – have reduced the gap between potential and actual tax yield to one of the world’s lowest. But no doubt, much more could be squeezed out of tax avoiders if HMRC were as well-staffed and aggressive as the operation targeting benefit cheats.

It would send a powerful signal if tax-abusing British territories faced an escalating scale of sanctions. If, for example, territories with secretive tax structures ignore requests to improve transparency, they should have the necessary legislation imposed upon them by the British government, or be added to a blacklist banning registered entities from doing business in the UK.

It would also be right to show some of the toughness of the European commission in dealing with large international companies, which currently decide for themselves where and how much tax they want to pay.

These are changes that will make society fairer, while also respecting financial discipline and not relying on magic to balance the books.

Vince Cable is the leader of the Liberal Democrats, and was business secretary from 2010-15

Building houses and saving the NHS: how Lib Dems would tackle this budget | Vince Cable

There is a risk that this week’s budget will be drowned out by Brexit and ministerial mishaps. But it really matters because the economy is in a precarious position.

The chancellor’s task is not easy. He can’t depart too far from his deficit reduction targets without damaging his already tarnished brand beyond repair. He’s heartily loathed by many of his Tory colleagues as a remoaner and as George Osborne’s representative on Earth. He is faced with a slowing economy at the bottom of the G7 growth league, dragged down by poor productivity and weak revenue receipts.

Productivity won’t improve without business investment, which is hampered by uncertainty over Brexit. Brexit – if it happens – will, at the very least, lead to years of underperformance. At worst, without a deal, it will lead to a massive shock. Not easy.

In the hunt for money hidden down the back of the sofa, we are told that the government “found” £5bn a year in the form of housing association borrowing, which has been reclassified as “private” rather than “public”.


The current orthodoxy is to curb all borrowing – but the government must free up investment spending

This statistical privatisation is the mirror image of the statistical nationalisation of Network Rail in 2014. The consequences have been unfortunate; Network Rail’s economically important and beneficial investment programme has since been slashed by the Treasury.

This experience underlines a central failing in Hammond’s approach to fiscal policy: an inability or unwillingness to distinguish capital from day-to-day spending. Gordon Brown’s fiscal rules, rightly, separated the two, as did the coalition agreement.

But the ultra-conservative Treasury is always reluctant to accept that well-directed public investment can reduce government net debt by boosting growth and creating assets. The current orthodoxy is to curb all borrowing, whether for productive investment, benefits or civil service spending. The government must free up investment spending.

Network Rail should be free to get on with its capital programme, which is badly needed to improve connectivity in the north, south-west and Wales. The chancellor should also get behind plans for large-scale publicly-financed housebuilding, which even the free-market communities secretary has endorsed with reports he wants £50bn to invest in housing over five years – a sensible if cautious commitment.

If the construction of homes is to double from the 150,000-a-year average of the past three decades, as it must, the government has got to get housing supply moving by acting as a catalyst. This includes the need for more council housing, in addition to investment through new towns and development corporations.

It is absurd to spend billions on housing benefit and the misnamed help-to-buy scheme, which props up prices and demand without attacking the root of the problem – insufficient supply.

There are more difficult trade-offs involved in the understandable demands for more resources for public services and public sector pay. The NHS needs an immediate injection of cash as well as long-term reforms, such as integrating health and social care and prioritising preventive medicine.

And since there is no magic money tree, this spending has to be financed by taxation, confronting the public openly with the choice. That is why my party argues for a penny in the pound of income tax to raise £6bn a year for the NHS.

In the same spirit, cash is urgently needed to offset the harsh and counterproductive squeeze on benefits, notably universal credit. But this has to be paid for, which is why tax cuts over the past two years will have to be reversed.

The growing inequality between generations also has to be addressed. Cutting tuition fees might grab the headlines, but it would harm the funding of universities and do nothing to help young people since this would only benefit highly paid graduates.

What I want to see is all young people being given a proper start in life, through a lifelong learning endowment or account that they are free to draw upon to finance continuing education or reskilling. Better-off older people will, I’m sure, be willing to make a contribution to future generations through the modest taxation of assets that have grown massively in value in recent years.

To put some numbers to this theory, a substantial endowment of somewhere between £5,000 and £10,000 would cost under £10bn annually. This is a big sum, but less than 0.5% of UK personal and property (net) wealth. A progressive reform of capital gains tax, inheritance tax and property taxes could produce this amount.

Some progressive redistribution is easier to achieve if the tax system has some integrity. The corrosive cynicism of the ultra-rich revealed in the Paradise Papers undermines public confidence.

The scope for vast tax windfalls is, however, limited. The changes my colleagues and I introduced in government – the open register of beneficial ownership and the general anti-abuse rule – have reduced the gap between potential and actual tax yield to one of the world’s lowest. But no doubt, much more could be squeezed out of tax avoiders if HMRC were as well-staffed and aggressive as the operation targeting benefit cheats.

It would send a powerful signal if tax-abusing British territories faced an escalating scale of sanctions. If, for example, territories with secretive tax structures ignore requests to improve transparency, they should have the necessary legislation imposed upon them by the British government, or be added to a blacklist banning registered entities from doing business in the UK.

It would also be right to show some of the toughness of the European commission in dealing with large international companies, which currently decide for themselves where and how much tax they want to pay.

These are changes that will make society fairer, while also respecting financial discipline and not relying on magic to balance the books.

Vince Cable is the leader of the Liberal Democrats, and was business secretary from 2010-15

Building houses and saving the NHS: how Lib Dems would tackle this budget | Vince Cable

There is a risk that this week’s budget will be drowned out by Brexit and ministerial mishaps. But it really matters because the economy is in a precarious position.

The chancellor’s task is not easy. He can’t depart too far from his deficit reduction targets without damaging his already tarnished brand beyond repair. He’s heartily loathed by many of his Tory colleagues as a remoaner and as George Osborne’s representative on Earth. He is faced with a slowing economy at the bottom of the G7 growth league, dragged down by poor productivity and weak revenue receipts.

Productivity won’t improve without business investment, which is hampered by uncertainty over Brexit. Brexit – if it happens – will, at the very least, lead to years of underperformance. At worst, without a deal, it will lead to a massive shock. Not easy.

In the hunt for money hidden down the back of the sofa, we are told that the government “found” £5bn a year in the form of housing association borrowing, which has been reclassified as “private” rather than “public”.


The current orthodoxy is to curb all borrowing – but the government must free up investment spending

This statistical privatisation is the mirror image of the statistical nationalisation of Network Rail in 2014. The consequences have been unfortunate; Network Rail’s economically important and beneficial investment programme has since been slashed by the Treasury.

This experience underlines a central failing in Hammond’s approach to fiscal policy: an inability or unwillingness to distinguish capital from day-to-day spending. Gordon Brown’s fiscal rules, rightly, separated the two, as did the coalition agreement.

But the ultra-conservative Treasury is always reluctant to accept that well-directed public investment can reduce government net debt by boosting growth and creating assets. The current orthodoxy is to curb all borrowing, whether for productive investment, benefits or civil service spending. The government must free up investment spending.

Network Rail should be free to get on with its capital programme, which is badly needed to improve connectivity in the north, south-west and Wales. The chancellor should also get behind plans for large-scale publicly-financed housebuilding, which even the free-market communities secretary has endorsed with reports he wants £50bn to invest in housing over five years – a sensible if cautious commitment.

If the construction of homes is to double from the 150,000-a-year average of the past three decades, as it must, the government has got to get housing supply moving by acting as a catalyst. This includes the need for more council housing, in addition to investment through new towns and development corporations.

It is absurd to spend billions on housing benefit and the misnamed help-to-buy scheme, which props up prices and demand without attacking the root of the problem – insufficient supply.

There are more difficult trade-offs involved in the understandable demands for more resources for public services and public sector pay. The NHS needs an immediate injection of cash as well as long-term reforms, such as integrating health and social care and prioritising preventive medicine.

And since there is no magic money tree, this spending has to be financed by taxation, confronting the public openly with the choice. That is why my party argues for a penny in the pound of income tax to raise £6bn a year for the NHS.

In the same spirit, cash is urgently needed to offset the harsh and counterproductive squeeze on benefits, notably universal credit. But this has to be paid for, which is why tax cuts over the past two years will have to be reversed.

The growing inequality between generations also has to be addressed. Cutting tuition fees might grab the headlines, but it would harm the funding of universities and do nothing to help young people since this would only benefit highly paid graduates.

What I want to see is all young people being given a proper start in life, through a lifelong learning endowment or account that they are free to draw upon to finance continuing education or reskilling. Better-off older people will, I’m sure, be willing to make a contribution to future generations through the modest taxation of assets that have grown massively in value in recent years.

To put some numbers to this theory, a substantial endowment of somewhere between £5,000 and £10,000 would cost under £10bn annually. This is a big sum, but less than 0.5% of UK personal and property (net) wealth. A progressive reform of capital gains tax, inheritance tax and property taxes could produce this amount.

Some progressive redistribution is easier to achieve if the tax system has some integrity. The corrosive cynicism of the ultra-rich revealed in the Paradise Papers undermines public confidence.

The scope for vast tax windfalls is, however, limited. The changes my colleagues and I introduced in government – the open register of beneficial ownership and the general anti-abuse rule – have reduced the gap between potential and actual tax yield to one of the world’s lowest. But no doubt, much more could be squeezed out of tax avoiders if HMRC were as well-staffed and aggressive as the operation targeting benefit cheats.

It would send a powerful signal if tax-abusing British territories faced an escalating scale of sanctions. If, for example, territories with secretive tax structures ignore requests to improve transparency, they should have the necessary legislation imposed upon them by the British government, or be added to a blacklist banning registered entities from doing business in the UK.

It would also be right to show some of the toughness of the European commission in dealing with large international companies, which currently decide for themselves where and how much tax they want to pay.

These are changes that will make society fairer, while also respecting financial discipline and not relying on magic to balance the books.

Vince Cable is the leader of the Liberal Democrats, and was business secretary from 2010-15

Building houses and saving the NHS: how Lib Dems would tackle this budget | Vince Cable

There is a risk that this week’s budget will be drowned out by Brexit and ministerial mishaps. But it really matters because the economy is in a precarious position.

The chancellor’s task is not easy. He can’t depart too far from his deficit reduction targets without damaging his already tarnished brand beyond repair. He’s heartily loathed by many of his Tory colleagues as a remoaner and as George Osborne’s representative on Earth. He is faced with a slowing economy at the bottom of the G7 growth league, dragged down by poor productivity and weak revenue receipts.

Productivity won’t improve without business investment, which is hampered by uncertainty over Brexit. Brexit – if it happens – will, at the very least, lead to years of underperformance. At worst, without a deal, it will lead to a massive shock. Not easy.

In the hunt for money hidden down the back of the sofa, we are told that the government “found” £5bn a year in the form of housing association borrowing, which has been reclassified as “private” rather than “public”.


The current orthodoxy is to curb all borrowing – but the government must free up investment spending

This statistical privatisation is the mirror image of the statistical nationalisation of Network Rail in 2014. The consequences have been unfortunate; Network Rail’s economically important and beneficial investment programme has since been slashed by the Treasury.

This experience underlines a central failing in Hammond’s approach to fiscal policy: an inability or unwillingness to distinguish capital from day-to-day spending. Gordon Brown’s fiscal rules, rightly, separated the two, as did the coalition agreement.

But the ultra-conservative Treasury is always reluctant to accept that well-directed public investment can reduce government net debt by boosting growth and creating assets. The current orthodoxy is to curb all borrowing, whether for productive investment, benefits or civil service spending. The government must free up investment spending.

Network Rail should be free to get on with its capital programme, which is badly needed to improve connectivity in the north, south-west and Wales. The chancellor should also get behind plans for large-scale publicly-financed housebuilding, which even the free-market communities secretary has endorsed with reports he wants £50bn to invest in housing over five years – a sensible if cautious commitment.

If the construction of homes is to double from the 150,000-a-year average of the past three decades, as it must, the government has got to get housing supply moving by acting as a catalyst. This includes the need for more council housing, in addition to investment through new towns and development corporations.

It is absurd to spend billions on housing benefit and the misnamed help-to-buy scheme, which props up prices and demand without attacking the root of the problem – insufficient supply.

There are more difficult trade-offs involved in the understandable demands for more resources for public services and public sector pay. The NHS needs an immediate injection of cash as well as long-term reforms, such as integrating health and social care and prioritising preventive medicine.

And since there is no magic money tree, this spending has to be financed by taxation, confronting the public openly with the choice. That is why my party argues for a penny in the pound of income tax to raise £6bn a year for the NHS.

In the same spirit, cash is urgently needed to offset the harsh and counterproductive squeeze on benefits, notably universal credit. But this has to be paid for, which is why tax cuts over the past two years will have to be reversed.

The growing inequality between generations also has to be addressed. Cutting tuition fees might grab the headlines, but it would harm the funding of universities and do nothing to help young people since this would only benefit highly paid graduates.

What I want to see is all young people being given a proper start in life, through a lifelong learning endowment or account that they are free to draw upon to finance continuing education or reskilling. Better-off older people will, I’m sure, be willing to make a contribution to future generations through the modest taxation of assets that have grown massively in value in recent years.

To put some numbers to this theory, a substantial endowment of somewhere between £5,000 and £10,000 would cost under £10bn annually. This is a big sum, but less than 0.5% of UK personal and property (net) wealth. A progressive reform of capital gains tax, inheritance tax and property taxes could produce this amount.

Some progressive redistribution is easier to achieve if the tax system has some integrity. The corrosive cynicism of the ultra-rich revealed in the Paradise Papers undermines public confidence.

The scope for vast tax windfalls is, however, limited. The changes my colleagues and I introduced in government – the open register of beneficial ownership and the general anti-abuse rule – have reduced the gap between potential and actual tax yield to one of the world’s lowest. But no doubt, much more could be squeezed out of tax avoiders if HMRC were as well-staffed and aggressive as the operation targeting benefit cheats.

It would send a powerful signal if tax-abusing British territories faced an escalating scale of sanctions. If, for example, territories with secretive tax structures ignore requests to improve transparency, they should have the necessary legislation imposed upon them by the British government, or be added to a blacklist banning registered entities from doing business in the UK.

It would also be right to show some of the toughness of the European commission in dealing with large international companies, which currently decide for themselves where and how much tax they want to pay.

These are changes that will make society fairer, while also respecting financial discipline and not relying on magic to balance the books.

Vince Cable is the leader of the Liberal Democrats, and was business secretary from 2010-15

Behind Belle Gibson’s cancer con: ‘Everything about this story is extreme’

More than two years after her very public exposure and disgrace, the spectre of Belle Gibson still strikes fear into her former associates, even those who once called her their friend.

Or so found the writers Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano when researching their new book about the wellness entrepreneur’s astonishing downfall, The Woman Who Fooled the World. The two journalists had done some of the earliest investigative reporting on Gibson, revealing in 2015 that the young Instagram star, who claimed to have healed her own brain cancer solely through diet, had raised substantial funds for charity with the help of her hundreds of thousands of followers – and then had not donated the money. The revelation led to increased scrutiny on the health claims that formed the foundation of Gibson’s wellness business, which included a cookbook and app named The Whole Pantry – claims that quickly began to fall apart.

Beau Donelly


Beau Donelly: ‘People thought she was lying. It only was believed when she was sending her story out online.’ Photograph: Chris Hopkins

But when Donelly and Toscano went hunting for the full facts from Gibson’s colleagues and friends, including those at Apple and Penguin who had lent Gibson their organisations’ huge commercial clout, they found the process was like pulling teeth.

“Her name was poison,” Toscano tells Guardian Australia. “I can’t think of another story I’ve covered that’s been so difficult to get people to speak to me.”

“We were shut down by dozens and dozens of people,” Donelly says. “We were threatened with lawsuits by others. It was incredibly difficult.”

Gibson herself declined to be interviewed and, though the authors secured some key on-the-record interviews – including talks with Gibson’s grandmother and estranged mother – many sources only agreed to speak to the authors anonymously and only after extensive negotiation, even those whose association with Gibson seemed innocuous.

The phenomenon that emerges in The Woman Who Fooled the World is deliriously complex and multifaceted: a combination of faults both individual and institutional, and of social trends both centuries old and very, very new. “There’s nothing new in cancer scamming,” Toscano points out. “There have always been snake-oil salespeople. There have always been people like [Gibson]. But where this story differs is her explosion to success, and her incredible reach was made possible by a number of intensely modern forces.”

Nick Toscano:


Nick Toscano: ‘It’s hard not to think that the shaming of Belle Gibson crossed a line.’ Photograph: Justin McManus

These forces include the rise of a wellness industry that, in its worst manifestations, has become dangerously untethered from best medical practice. This is coupled with the emergence of social media and online “influencers”, and seismic shifts in the media industry that have radically changed how the public consumes news.

“The way information flows has changed a lot,” Toscano says. “The Gibson story is a really good example, I think, in the sense that she flourished and developed 200,000 followers without ever having gone through the checks and balances that are provided by traditional media.”

At the time of The Whole Pantry’s public collapse, “fake news” was not yet the meme-ified concept it became in the wake of the 2016 US election, but it was evidently on Toscano and Donelly’s minds as they wrote their book. Gibson’s story does seem to reflect some essential quirk in online media that facilitates, if not encourages, the spread of misinformation and untruth.

“Pretty much everything Belle had said about her varying illnesses in the years before she took to Instagram to post about having terminal brain cancer wasn’t really believed,” Donelly says, and the authors draw on testimony from old friends and classmates that paint Gibson as a habitual fibber. “People called her out on it, people thought she was lying. It only was believed when she was sending her story out online. And her whole business grew online.”

Just as Gibson’s rise exemplified some of the worst habits of online media, so did her downfall. Donelly and Toscano draw on the British journalist Jon Ronson’s 2015 book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed to explore the violent outcry – including death threats and the circulation of her personal information – that accompanied Gibson’s fall from grace.


You don’t want someone googling your name and having it come up against Belle Gibson’s

Nick Toscano

“Her scam was so against the norms of society that it does deserve condemnation,” Toscano says. “But when you delve into the social media damnation that she bore the brunt of, it’s hard not to think that the shaming of Belle Gibson crossed a line.”

Donelly says: “Ten years ago her public shaming would not have happened to this extent. Everything about this story is extreme.”

The book captures the spread of the Gibson phenomenon but there’s still a sense that there are depths yet to be plumbed. The specifics of her personal pathology will probably never be publicly revealed, along with certain elements of her biography, and the involvement and culpability of her various friends and associates as The Whole Pantry scam took flight.

“Like any story, all the facts aren’t available,” Donelly says, “and we can really only run with what we can substantiate. I think there are so many unanswered questions.”

If parts of Gibson’s story are still murky, it’s because the same people who refused to ask questions of her as she rose to prominence now refuse to respond to questions about her in the aftermath of her disgrace.

Cover image for The Woman Who Fooled the World

“People don’t want their names anywhere near hers,” Toscano says. “Young people who are among Belle Gibson’s age bracket – her group of friends and business partners – are more aware of their online footprint now. You don’t want someone googling your name and having it come up against Belle Gibson’s. That digital footprint is very hard to erase.”

Many of her associates are still operating in social media and wellness industry circles today, a fact that lends a self-interested air to their refusal to account for Gibson’s meteoric rise. “There’s a hesitation from some of those people because any scrutiny on the industry that they belong to is bad for business, and bad for them personally,” Donelly says.

“I think a lot of these people have some things to answer for. A lot of them took her story hook, line and sinker, and they endorsed her, and they partnered with her, and they used her – and she used them.”

The Woman Who Fooled the World is out on 13 November through Scribe