Contactless card payments, health screening and what happens to your taxes

10 March 2019

As a practising Luddite, I don’t like the idea of ‘contactless’ payment cards so I was greatly encouraged to read that Victoria Cleland, the Bank of England’s chief cashier who signs each English banknote (though possibly not personally), also refuses to use them because she too doesn’t trust the technology.

I do use a contactless Oystercard on the London underground but this is prepaid so, like the cash in my pocket, there’s a maximum I can lose while contactless machines can extract £30 from my bank every time my wallet passes one.  Actually, I’m so paranoid that I’ve never registered the Oystercard I’ve had for 15-20 years so nobody knows who travelled from A to B last Wednesday or where they live or what they had for breakfast.

In the middle of one night last week, I found myself wondering if, when the crown jewels are used for royal occasions like coronations and bingo nights at the Sandringham Empire, they remove the ones on show at the Tower of London so it’s less obvious that these are replicas while the real ones are locked in a vault somewhere.

Our house recently received a letter addressed to it (not to anybody by name) from Bluecrest Health Screening offering a “Special Discount” on a bunch of medical tests for “only” £129.  Since our house is 140 years old, it could probably do with a check-up but I would personally have gone to a chartered surveyor rather than “the largest screening network in the UK”.  I looked into Bluecrest and found a fascinating exposé by a GP, Dr Margaret McCartney, published last year in the BMJ (well worth reading if your house also got one of these letters – google BMJ 2018;360:k598 for the whole thing).

Amongst other things, she says “Bluecrest offers non-evidence based screening, advertises using false and misleading information, and implies that the NHS doesn’t offer screening at all.  It implies that not having the screening misses an opportunity to control your health, overlooking the fact that all patients can already see their own NHS professional for cardiovascular risk screening. Bluecrest can then put the work associated with false positives and anxiety back onto the NHS while walking away with the profit.”

I also checked up on Bluecrest Health Screening Ltd.  It’s a company with debts of £1.9m at the end of 2017 and, even if you exclude £1.5m owed to an associated company, it’s still got debts of £400,000 although the directors say they “monitor cash flow on a regular basis and believe that the company has sufficient resources for the foreseeable future.  Balances due to related parties, as disclosed in note 8,” (they mean note 11 but let it pass) “will not be recalled in the next 12 months unless there are sufficient funds available.  As a result, the going concern basis of accounting has been adopted.”  If that was a going concern at the end of 2017, my late Aunt Flossie is bicycling up Everest as we speak.

But yes, of course the NHS needs more money so it was depressing to read HMRC’s explanation of how the Government spends the tax we paid in 2017/18.  Here are some examples.  Out of every £100 tax we pay:

£24 goes on welfare (good, but not enough)

£20 on health (good, but not nearly enough)

£13 on state pensions and £12 on education (ditto)

£6 on national debt interest (the only thing George Osborne understood)

£5 on defence (so we can repel the next Viking invasion with Trident)

£3 on business and industry (so they can pay their directors more)

£1.20 on overseas aid (good but more needed from all the richer nations)

70p on the EU (cheap at the price)

The punchline is obvious but not mentioned:  in order to increase the contributions to welfare, health, pensions and education, everybody getting more than a basic figure should be paying more tax and those getting more than a higher figure should be paying a LOT more.  But taxes are set by people who get more money.

So it goes.

(Last summer, I spent a few hundred words worrying about my hang-up that people conflate antisemitism with anti-Zionism so I was pleased to see a closely-argued, double-page article in Thursday’s Guardian headed “Debunking the myth that anti-Zionism is antisemitic”;  and it was written by an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University in New York, not just a grumpy old man in East Devon.)

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