Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Spare a thought today for Kate and Gerry McCann
Whatever you are doing today please stop for a few seconds and spare a thought for Kate and Gerry McCann.
Ten years ago to the day their three-year old daughter Madeleine disappeared in the Algarve holiday resort of Praia da Luz. You may have heard about it. No, you have DEFINITELY heard about it.
Numerous theories abound about what happened to little Madeleine. She was snatched to order for a wealthy but childless couple. She woke up disorientated and wandered off, having been left alone with her siblings while her parents had dinner with friends a few hundred metres away, and fell into the sea.
She was picked up off the street by an opportunist and sold into white slavery. She was killed by her parents, who then spent ten years covering it up.
Whichever camp of belief you live in, the only thing we know for certain is that a family has been stripped of a loved daughter.
I speak with a little experience of the case as on May 3, 2007 I was Publishing Director of a weekly English language newspaper based in the Algarve.
I worked from my home office in the UK, visiting the Algarve every six weeks or so.
I happened to be watching ITV’s breakfast programme the following morning when a relative of Gerry McCann made a desperate appeal for the missing youngster.
My journalistic instinct kicked in and, after booking a flight to Faro, I contacted the office in the Algarve to warn of the media storm that would be approaching and that we must always stick to facts when reporting the case.
This meant we missed out on many copy sales over the ensuing years – but it also meant that our newspaper never had a legal issue with the McCanns or their team.
Unlike some newspapers, in particular some of the UK red tops, which published anything and everything, true or not, simply to boost cover sales.
Do I know what happened to Madeleine? No. I have views but will keep them to myself.
Do I think Kate and Gerry McCann were involved in some way? Yes, but only because they left their children alone in an apartment while they had a meal with friends.
A decision they will regret for the rest of their lives.
So, spare that thought and just remember they are parents who have lost a child. No-one deserves that.

Monday, 1 May 2017

How the fakers are cashing in on the news
Fake news has been around for years but the problem is heightened today by young peoples’ preference for instant internet “news” whilst showing a careless disregard for whether something is true or not.
Many are clearly not bothered where their news comes from – just look at the amount of spurious rubbish that is re-tweeted or shared on social media sites.
In the good old days of, say, the 1970s or 80s we trusted our newspapers and our newsreaders.
(The exception was the now defunct Sunday Sport. I don’t think many of us really believed that a London bus had been found on the moon. But that’s because the Sport never set out to be a record of event and fact and the majority of its readers knew that – they just wanted a bit of light-hearted silliness and escapism from the drudgery of doom and gloom – as news often is.)
Now we have amazing, super-fast digital technology plus scores of internet companies (and once great newspapers) wanting hits and click-throughs to generate revenue. In essence, news just does not sell anymore.
Economist Tim Harford has tried to explain the fascination with fake news. “Several studies,” he wrote, “have shown that repeating a false claim, even in the context of debunking that claim, can make it stick.
“The myth-busting seems to work but then our memories fade and we remember only the myth. The myth, after all, was the thing that kept being repeated. In trying to dispel the falsehood, the endless rebuttals simply make the enchantment stronger.”
Now step forward Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, who wants “evidence-based journalism”. He is setting up Wikitribune, described as “a news platform that brings journalists and a community of volunteers together.
He said: “We want to make sure that you read fact-based articles that have a real impact in both local and global events. And that stories can be easily verified and improved.”
Sounds pretty revolutionary but to those of us properly trained as journalists in the olden days it’s old hat. We have been there, done that and got several tee-shirts.
Not only were we taught to check a fact or statement but to check it out with multiple sources whenever possible before going into print.
Nowadays anyone can say anything online and have that statement repeated over and over around the world – within seconds.
Let us all wish Mr Wales well. His latest venture is well-meaning but I’m afraid it is too late. The news and fact horses have bolted and the stable door is just getting bigger all the time.
Trust me, I’m a journalist.

SWMBO and I are back from a glorious trip down the Rhine. On a river cruise, I hasten to add, not in a canoe.
This will come as shock to my reader as I did not tell you before we left.
I also did not post photos on social media of us sipping pints of Crème de Menthe at Norwich Airport as we waited for our flight.
This lack of advance information is not personal. It’s just that I can’t be sure you have a relative or associate who likes to know when homes will be empty.
One small aspect of the trip I’d like to share with you was the “Welcome to” text I received from my mobile service provider as we went from country to country.
We started out in Switzerland and my provider advised me of the cost of data, calls and texts to and from that country – see below, left.
This was repeated as we wound our way through France, Germany and The Netherlands. See below, right (costs were the same in all three countries).
Quite remarkable the difference in cost - £5 a MB of data in Switzerland, 4.3p in the EU. Calls £1.65 a minute in Switzerland, 4.3p in the EU.
And people may wonder why I voted to remain.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Savers subsidise those who made no provision for old age

For those in the know, like our family, it came as no surprise when “news” broke this week that so called middle-class pensioners are being forced to pay higher care home fees to subsidise those who failed to save for their retirement.
It seems that MPs found that councils are telling private providers to increase costs for pensioners who have to pay the fees themselves, thereby subsidising cheaper, council-funded places for pensioners who don’t have savings.
All this mean that “middle-class” pensioners are being charged much more for the same room and level of service. The shock, horror news was revealed by the Commons communities and local government committee, which describes it as “unacceptable”.
The committee’s report quotes research suggesting that self-funders were paying an average of 43 per cent more than councils were paying for an identical care home place.
A study by Age UK last year said councils typically pay between £421 and £624 a week for each care home place, while self-funders are charged between £603 and £867.
That does not include specialist care, such as dementia, or nursing costs.
These extras, in our experience in Suffolk at least, pushed the weekly fees to between £1,000 and £1,450.
Currently, anyone who has assets of more than £23,250 in England must pay their own bills, and councils start to meet the costs only when the value of their assets falls below that threshold.
Mind you, that’s not strictly true. MIL’s assets, which I consider to be saleable items and cash, are well below that threshold but she is not eligible for any council or government help.
This is because she and FIL sold everything they had to buy annuities five years ago to put towards their care home fees. I say out towards because the annuities do not cover the total cost.
Anyway, back to committee’s report which revealed that “several care providers had been advised by councils that they should subsidise the council’s fees by charging higher rates for private clients”.
Whilst we were looking for a new dementia care home for MIL last year we discovered that Suffolk County Council had closed its 16 council-run homes and linked up with private care provider Care UK.
The council “backed” the building of half a dozen state-of-the-art Care UK homes across the county with the proviso that the residents from the 16 now closed homes be accommodated. Seems fair. But is it really?
The Council pays Care UK £650 a week per resident. MIL’s fees, as a private payer for exactly the same room, food, laundry services and care, ranged from £1,050 to £1,350 at the four Care UK homes we visited.
I’ll leave you to do the maths.

SWMBO and I are able to squirrel away a little cash each month from this blog for any future care needs we may face.
You may have noticed the advertisements on this page. I am delighted to reveal that your click-throughs have raised, to date, the princely sum of …… £3.61.
That’s 36 minutes of future residential care paid for. Thank you.