Category: General Interest

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Could over-40s pay more tax to solve the social care crisis?

The question of who should pay for social care is a pressing one; successive governments have grappled with the issue and none have found a concrete solution. At the moment, some people who don’t qualify for local council funded care have to sell their homes to cover the costs, which can exceed £1,500 a week. 

Last year, in his first speech as Prime Minister, Johnson outlined the need for a reform of the current system and back in March, the government launched a parliamentary inquiry into the shortage of care available on the NHS. Since then, the large number of coronavirus deaths in care homes across the country has kept the issue firmly in the spotlight.

Ministers in Boris Jonhnson’s health and social care taskforce are currently studying a scheme where everyone over 40 would start contributing towards the cost of care in later life. Over 40s would have to pay more in tax or national insurance, or be obliged to insure themselves against hefty care bills.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, is a keen advocate of the plan and is committed to coming up with a solution.

The system that ministers are considering draws on pre-existing models for funding social care in Japan and Germany. Both systems have drawn admiration as sustainable ways of solving the challenges that an ageing population brings.

Under the German system, everyone starts contributing to the scheme when they start working, and employers match their contributions, similar to workplace pension schemes in the UK. At the moment, 1.5% of each person’s salary, plus a 1.5% employer contribution, are ring fenced for social care in later life.

Elderly Germans can use this money to pay carers to help them at home or use them for care home fees. They can even give them to relatives and friends for helping to look after them. 

The Japanese scheme is similar, but people only start contributing when they are 40.

At the moment, nothing has been confirmed. Officials are still looking into the exact mechanism by which over 40s would pay. However, social care experts have cautioned that an insurance model would have to be compulsory to ensure people paid.

The scheme under consideration has found favour with campaigners. Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, said the scheme “may be rather a good deal, since that system offers a level of provision and reassurance that we can only dream of here at the moment.” She added that the scheme would “arguably [be] an appropriate act of national atonement after the catastrophic loss of life we’ve seen in care homes during the pandemic”.

It will be interesting to see how the government eventually decides to finance its scheme. Watch this space.

Sources
https://www.localgov.co.uk/Social-care-crisis-inquiry-launched/50147

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jul/26/uk-ministers-looking-at-plans-to-raise-taxes-for-over-40s-to-pay-for-social-care

Three of the best autumn holiday destinations in the UK

After quarantine measures were imposed during August for returnees from several European countries including France and Spain, many will be looking to stay closer to home for their autumn breaks. 

While the UK doesn’t offer the 30 degree October sunshine that you can find in the Algarve or Costa Blanca, there are plenty of stunning locations from which you can make the most of the crisp autumn weather and red and gold landscapes.

Here are some destinations that we recommend:

The Jurassic Coast, Dorset

Running from Swanage to Lyme Regis, the Jurassic Coast features some of England’s most stunning coastal landscape. 

The eastern part of the coast encompasses the dramatic cliffs and headlands of the Isle of Purbeck. It is incredibly thrilling to watch the large autumn swells crash against the cliffs below.

To the west, you can find Lyme Regis, a beautiful town that is prone to overcrowding during the peak summer months. By visiting in autumn you can experience the ‘Pearl of Dorset’ without having to navigate the busy summer crowds. While the weather might be too chilly for a swim, the beaches surrounding Lyme Regis are teaming with fossils. You can spot all sorts of prehistoric wonders by just looking carefully at the area’s dark grey cliffs.

The Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland

Just an hour’s drive from Belfast, this beautiful coastline is home to many outstanding natural features, including the world famous Giant’s Causeway. On a clear day, you can look over the Irish Sea and see the Scottish hills.

Those of you who have a head for heights can brave the hair-raising Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge that wobbles nearly 30m above the raging Atlantic below.

The area also features the ‘Dark Hedges’, a road lined with intricate trees which has gained popularity as a tourist destination after featuring in the TV series Game of Thrones. Expect warm hospitality and unreliable weather on this part of the Northern Irish coast in autumn.

South Cornwall

While North Cornwall might be the destination of choice for hardy surfers who want to brave the heavy autumn swells, South Cornwall perhaps offers something of a more leisurely holiday at this time of year. 

Here, bad weather doesn’t mean you can’t marvel at nature’s triumphs; the area is home to the famous Eden Project. Two large climate controlled biodomes host the world’s largest indoor rainforest and a Mediterranean paradise.

If you prefer your nature outdoors, you can venture further west to Trelissick Gardens, a beautiful country estate with parklands that fall down to the estuary. In the autumn, the estate’s trees turn a wondrous array of colours, with red and gold contrasting the green blue water of the Carrick Road estuary.

Autumn visitors will find South Cornwall’s stunning villages and coves remarkably quiet and peaceful in the absence of the summer crowds.

Sources
https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/uk/uk-best-family-friendly-destinations-holidays-staycations-a9669366.html

What does the stamp duty holiday mean for me?

In his 8 July summer statement, Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed that the stamp duty threshold will be immediately raised to £500,000 in England and Northern Ireland, in what some have dubbed the ‘stamp duty holiday’. The rise in threshold lasts until 31 March 2021 and will apply to both first-time buyers and previous owners.

Sunak said that the change will affect around 90% of buyers, saving each one an average of £4,500.

Stamp duty is a tax you have to pay if you buy a property or a piece of land in England or Northern Ireland. Buyers in Scotland pay Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) and in Wales Land Transaction Tax (LTT) instead of stamp duty. 

The property website Rightmove said traffic to its listings increased by 22% immediately after Sunak’s announcement, an indication that this could be the stimulus for many to come to a decision about moving home.

The move comes in response to the current economic crisis. Many are worried that the housing market will stagnate in the current economic climate. Lockdown measures put sales on hold and prevented work on construction sites. The number of transactions was down by 50% in May. 

Stamp duty will be collected at a rate of 5% on transactions over £500,000. For instance, if you bought a house for £575,000, you would pay 0% on the first £500,000 and 5% on the final £75,000. Overall, you would pay £3,750 in stamp duty.

What about buy-to-let and second homes?

The stamp duty cut will also apply to those buying second homes and buy-to-let properties, allowing investors to make savings. However, the 3% surcharge for buying additional properties will apply to the new stamp duty rates.

So, property investors spending less than £500,000 would only need to pay 3% on top of the purchase, as opposed to the previous 5%.  

The housing market has responded well to the rise in threshold. It frees up larger properties for families, which they previously may not have been able to afford, and it could help first-time buyers onto the property ladder.

It’s widely expected that the stamp duty holiday will have an immediate impact on the volume of sales agreed in the coming weeks. Please get in touch if you’d like to know more about how the ‘stamp duty holiday’ will affect you.

Sources
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jul/08/stamp-duty-holiday-revive-housing-market-summer-statement-property

https://www.financialreporter.co.uk/finance-news/government-raises-stamp-duty-threshold-to-500000.html

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/everything-you-need-to-know-about-stamp-dutyhttps://www.mortgagestrategy.co.uk/news/stamp-duty-cut-extended-to-second-homes-and-btl/

How do you pivot your business?

Pivot’s one of those words that we’re hearing a lot at the moment; a word usually associated with a ballet dancer, being able to turn nimbly on their ‘pointe’ shoes. But a word that‘s proving equally relevant to businesses as they seek to trade in the new world since COVID-19.                 

No doubt you had clear goals set in place for your business at the start of the year. You’d have pored over figures, spreadsheets and graphs. You‘d have done detailed analyses, made forecasts and drawn up plans. 

Yet when the context for those spreadsheets and plans is pulled right from under you by a global pandemic, those goals have to change. So how do you shift direction? What questions do you need to ask as you try to pivot your business?  

Assessing the situation

First of all, it’s important to step back and take stock. Consider what the purpose of your business is in a post-lockdown world.

Many business owners have found that being forced to take a step back has given them time to reflect and go in directions they would never have thought possible before. It’s allowed them to think creatively and consider new opportunities. 

The next step is to scan the business horizon: 

  • What does the new environment look like?
  • Where are your usual customers in this new world? 
  • What are they looking for that’s different? 
  • How have their behaviours changed?

Think about how the pandemic has affected your long-term performance and strategy. 

  • Are your products and services still relevant for your customers? 
  • How could you adapt them? 
  • Where might new customers be found?
  • What are the new risks to the business – from a health and safety point of view, of course, but also to cash flow and supply chain? 
  • How can you use technology to help you deliver your offering to customers?

Looking to the future

One thing is for sure – there won’t be any business as usual. But the secret about pivoting is that you stay fixed to your centre. You stay true to your core values but turn towards the new opportunities. So think about your product or service, what your clients value about it and adapt it as necessary to the new circumstances.   

That may mean offering something entirely different. It may mean being more flexible in your opening times or means of delivery. It may mean increasing your online presence. Figures by Statista showed that the use of social media increased globally by 21% during lockdown so consider how you can capitalise on using these channels.     

Think about those businesses that have successfully pivoted to meet demand. Pubs and restaurants quickly diversified to offer takeaways and deliveries. Brewing companies and gin distilleries started making hand sanitiser. Other companies used their machines to make visors and PPE. Gyms adapted their classes to go online. Live events companies pivoted to offer successful online experiences.         

Brands that have survived during lockdown are the ones that have been innovative and quick to  respond. It will be those that continue to be future-focused that will survive. 

So while pivoting may involve a re-thinking of your business model, it is possible with careful analysis of the various scenarios and will hopefully be a direction your customers will embrace.    

Sources
https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/community/blogs/zoe-whitman/what-to-do-when-you-have-to-change-direction
https://www.accountancyage.com/2020/06/15/three-ways-to -help-your-business-thrive-in-the-new-normal/
https://www.appearhere.co.uk/inspire/blog/11-brands-who-pivoted-successfully-and-what-you-can-learn-from-them

What’s your money personality?

We all have a different relationship with money. Recognising your money personality can help you better understand yours. Although no member of each group has exactly the same attitude towards their finances, researchers have identified four common attitudes towards money: Money Worship, Money Avoidance, Money Vigilance and Money Status. 

Psychologists think that our internal beliefs around money were formed by our childhood experiences, the community we grew up in and the spending habits of our family. Here is a description of the four money personalities:

Money Worship

If you’re a money worshipper, you might think that money could solve all your problems and that you can never reach a point when you’ll have enough. People who fit into this category are most likely to overspend on themselves or others and rack up credit card debts.  According to research by Creighton University, this is the most common money personality among Americans.

People who fit into this personality type might have to put some measures in place to control their spending habits. They could make a monthly budget and remind themselves to regularly check their bank balance to keep a tab on their spending.

Money Avoidance 

Money avoiders believe that they don’t deserve the money they have and try to avoid thinking about their finances. If you’re a money avoider, you might try to shift your money onto others, rather than take responsibility for making financial decisions. 

Money avoiders can benefit from setting up automatic contributions to savings accounts or speaking to a financial adviser to remove some of the responsibility around their finances.

Money Vigilance

If you’re extremely frugal and firmly believe saving for the future is the best use of money, chances are you’re money vigilant. People who fit in this category tend to derive more satisfaction from reading the interest rate on their bank statement than from buying something new. What’s more, they’re likely to prefer a conservative investment strategy and avoid financial risk.

If you fit into this personality type, you should be careful not to allow secrecy to stand in the way of better money habits. 

Money Status

People who fit into this personality type equate money with status. As a result, they may be driven to earn more money than their peers purely for the sake of earning more money. Although people who hold their net-worth in such high regard are likely to be high earners, they can be liable to make risky decisions and buy expensive things that reflect their wealth. 

If you tend to focus on “money status”, it’s a good idea to stop and think before making an expensive purchase as you could be at risk of buying things on impulse.

Sources

What will the new normal look like?

The Covid-19 outbreak has provoked a crisis of such enormous proportions that things will not just go back to the way they once were. When some semblance of normality emerges, things will be different. We are set for huge social, cultural and economic changes. It’s unlikely that we will suddenly wake up in a world where anxieties around the crisis have vanished into thin air. Rather, a new normality will gradually emerge from its ashes during a transitional period that could last for an extended amount of time. 

As lockdown restrictions are eased, it’s probable that we will enter a phase where life will hang between normality and lockdown. The government may again assert its need to tighten the rules depending on infection rates or the capacity of the health system. The operation of some businesses may be severely restricted and some social distancing rules may remain for some time. In short, we are not going to be able to draw a line in the sand behind coronavirus when the lockdown ends, as much as we may like to.

How the world will look after the outbreak is difficult to call. It depends on many factors, for instance whether or not countries are able to reduce infection rates around the world, and how long it takes scientists to formulate an effective vaccine.

However, there are a few changes that we can infer from what we have already seen during the crisis.

Working culture seems set to change for good. For many, social distancing has seen a complete shift to working from home. Technologies like Zoom and Slack have enabled many to move seamlessly into this way of working. If employees can maintain the same kind of productivity while working from home, there will probably be a large shift towards remote working in the long run. 

The impact of large scale remote working would be huge. London and Manchester would no longer see their daily deluge of commuters from the surrounding area. Experts have hinted that this could change the entire makeup of the country. Rural villages and suburbia could again become a centre of working life. Big city offices may only host a businesses’ core staff and be used occasionally for whole-company events. Flexible office spaces or co-working spaces could become a regular feature in suburbs, towns and villages.

The Covid-19 outbreak also looks set to accelerate the country’s shift to becoming a cashless society. People are being discouraged from using cash as it’s thought that cash can carry the virus, raising the risk of transmission. The crisis may mean that we are increasingly accustomed to using contactless to make transactions and this could continue even after a vaccine is found. 

Sources
https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/matthew-taylor-blog/2020/04/transition-covid-lockdown

https://www.stylist.co.uk/long-reads/life-after-coronavirus-predictions-uk-work-health-relationships-politics-climate-change/372608

Ways to promote your wellbeing

The general uncertainty in these current times heightens our stress and anxiety. Usually, we like to feel in control and make plans for the future but it’s impossible to plan when there are so many unknowns.  

We’ve never been in this situation before. We don’t know what the new ‘everyday’ will look like. And so we feel uneasy and worried.

Here are a few helpful pointers for maintaining a positive outlook.            

Adopt an attitude of mindfulness

Stay in the moment, if you can. You can’t control the future so don’t even try. Just focus on the  here and now. If you can improve your positivity, it will help boost your immune system, reduce stress and increase your energy levels. Changing the way you frame things can also help: for example, instead of viewing the situation as being ‘stuck indoors’ see it as an opportunity to finally tackle a long overdue project.               

There are some great apps that can help with your mental fitness. Sign up for a free trial with Calm or Headspace. These are full of useful tips and resources on how to reduce stress, improve sleep and live better. Check out the meditation and mindfulness techniques. If you’re a business owner, the business version is also useful to help reduce stress at work and build up resilience among your teams.  

Get a good night’s sleep – regularly

Lack of sleep is known to be a major factor in poor mental health. The body’s natural rhythm gets out of kilter if it is not being reset every day through a regular sleep-wake pattern. Perhaps not surprisingly,  many people have been struggling to sleep properly since the outbreak of the pandemic. This is partly because their routine has been disrupted and their day lacks structure.

So try and go to bed at your normal time and avoid naps during the day. If at all possible, try and ‘park’ your stress at bedtime. Reassure yourself that there’s nothing more you can do for now. Tomorrow will be a new day. It’s a good idea to limit the number of news bulletins you watch. Unfollow accounts on social media if you find them unhelpful. You can also mute certain words on Twitter if they trigger anxiety.   

Stay active (physically and mentally)  

Make sure you get outside for whatever exercise you can. This will help you sleep better as your eyes will get the vital exposure to outdoor light they need. Your body will then produce the correct levels of the hormone melatonin, at the right time, to regulate your sleep and wake pattern.

Keep yourself mentally sharp too. Now could be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for to learn a new skill. There are a wealth of online courses at Learn Direct or Udemy, from traditional work-related subjects to topics such as reflexology, meteorology or even moon gardening! Time to expand your horizons even if you are at home more.   

Sources
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-52311643
https://sport.leeds.ac.uk/5-ways-to-lockdown-your-wellbeing-boost-positivity/

How to reduce your monthly expenses

Many workers have lost their jobs, accepted part-time hours or been put on furlough as a result of the economic disruption caused by COVID-19. According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, British households will see a drop in their disposable income of £515 a month – that’s £14.2bn for the country overall.

So what steps can you take to bring down your monthly outgoings? 

Review your TV subscriptions

With all major sports fixtures having been cancelled, you’re not going to be getting much out of a BT Sports or Sky Sports subscription at the moment. Investigate what options are available with your provider, such as a month’s free credit, a donation to the NHS, a different package or a temporary suspension. If you’ve been binge-watching films, check out which package between Netflix or Sky suits you best – and which has the most free extras. Remember, if you’re over 75, the charge for the TV licence, due to be implemented in June, has now been postponed to August.                                      

Look into remortgaging

The largest household bill for many people is their mortgage so reducing this can have a major impact. Bear in mind, most of the best mortgage deals are for a limited period so if you’re coming to the end of yours, or your property has gone up in value, it’s worth investigating what else is available. Remortgaging could save you a hefty chunk off your monthly expenses, especially with interest rates being so low at the moment. You may also be able to borrow at a lower loan to value (LTV) rate now, because you may own more of your property than when you took out the mortgage originally. 

Make sure you’re not just moved to your lender’s standard variable rate at the end of your current deal. You can, in fact, agree to a new rate six months before the end of the fixed-term so if your existing deal ends this summer, start taking proactive steps now. 

You may also consider contacting your lender for a three month mortgage payment holiday.  

Switch suppliers

You may well have noticed your energy bills going up as you’re spending more time at home. So this is a key area to try and save some money. Consumer watchdog, Which?, state that a household that uses an average amount of energy would save £388 per year if they switched to the cheapest deal on the market from the one at the level of the price cap. So if you’ve never switched supplier or you’ve not changed supplier in the last couple of years, you’re probably paying too much. Take the opportunity now to try one of the price comparison sites. Bear in mind though, that it’s worth digging a bit deeper than the initial list they present. 

Talk to your broadband supplier too and try and negotiate a better deal or think about switching providers to benefit from some of  the cheap introductory prices on offer. Many phone providers have also been offering free allowances so check to see if you’re entitled to any free data or minutes. 

Think about car insurance

You won’t be making as many journeys in your car. As a first step, ask your insurer to change your policy from commuter use to social use which may reduce your premiums. But Admiral, the UK’s largest insurer, has already given their customers a £25 rebate. This has prompted MPs to call on the Government to get other providers to follow suit. So while you’re talking to your insurer, ask them what they are prepared to do in these very different times.      

Sources
https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/03/coronavirus-tips-to-cut-costs-on-subscriptions-shopping-and-household-bills/

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/20/british-households-face-disposable-income-fall-of-515-per-month

The art of armchair travelling

The Covid-19 outbreak has meant that it’s unlikely any of us will be travelling any time soon. However, virtual escapism remains on the cards for anyone with an internet connection. You can now see some of the world’s most amazing travel experiences from the comfort of your chair. Best of all, you don’t even have to bother with flying or crowds of tourists. Don’t let anyone tell you that the lockdown doesn’t have its positives!

Here are some of our favourite virtual tours:

The Louvre

The Louvre is the world’s largest art and antiques museum, and is definitely an essential visit for any culture aficionados. The museum closed its doors on 13 March as Paris went into lockdown but this doesn’t mean that you can’t see some of its world class exhibitions. From Egyptian antiquities to the Galerie d’Apollon, online visitors are blessed with a wealth of cultural gems. You aren’t able to marvel at the famous glass exterior, but you can find out about the history of the paintings and the gallery.

The northern lights

The northern lights are one of nature’s most incredible sights. Caused by electrically charged particles from the sun interacting with the earth’s magnetic field, the aurora borealis can be seen in the world’s most northerly and therefore coldest regions. Well, the virtual tours courtesy of Lights Over Lapland mean that you can see them without braving the biting arctic cold. The tour takes visitors on a five-minute journey through a series of high definition 360 degree videos.

Zh?ngji?jiè national forest park, China

This is a wonder of the world you might not have heard about before. The quartz-sandstone pillars of Zh?ngji?jiè (pronounced jaang-jyaa-jie) are simply breathtaking. These dramatic pinnacles rise out of the thick forest creating a landscape like no other, full of mystery and awe. The interactive video tour allows visitors to see the landscape from a high-definition 360 tour.

Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem is blessed with a rich history that dates back to 3000BC and is home to religious sites important to Muslims, Jews and Christians. Israel is currently promoting a series of virtual tours which let you visit many of the city’s religious sites with an informative voiceover that gives you an insight into the history of the city.   

Grand Canyon, Arizona

At 277 miles in length and 1,857 metres deep at its deepest point, it’s not hard to understand how the canyon got its reputation as one of the world’s most breathtaking places. This virtual reality archaeological tour lets you go a little deeper than most other tours. Click on geological features to learn about their formation.

Sources

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2020/apr/06/10-best-virtual-tours-of-worlds-natural-wonders-everest-patagonia-grand-canyon-yosemite

https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/virtual-travel-experiences-vr-museums-galleries-national-parks-coronavirus-lockdown-a9409776.html

How to spot fake news

Social media and online platforms are full of misinformation and fake news at the best of times so in the midst of a pandemic, the problem only escalates. Conspiracy theories, fake cures and scams abound – myths that 5G causes coronavirus, that COVID-19 is a biochemical weapon released by China, or that drinking bleach can cure infected patients start to circulate like crazy.        

The power of social media lies in its ability to spread rapidly so the minute we like, share, or retweet something fake, we’re just amplifying it. We’re also more likely to forward something without thinking when we’re scared or angry because we’re anxious to ‘inform’ or protect someone else. 

So now more than ever we need to watch out for fake news. But how to spot what is genuine? And how to stop something going viral? 

Check the source

It’s always good to start from a position of scepticism. Ask yourself, is this real? Look to see who is sharing the information and who has published it. Does the language sound heavily biased or sensationalist? Memes on social media should be viewed with caution. They can often look authentic, especially if they feature a public figure and a quote. But double check the facts – did they actually say that, was it even the right era?   

Look more closely 

Zoom in on a picture to check all the details and confirm whether the location is authentic. Look for shop fronts, billboards, placards, car registration numbers or street signs. Does the language  on the signs in the image tally with the location in the headline? Platforms like Google, Bing, TinEye or Yandex enable you to check when an image first appeared on the Internet so you can tell whether it has been taken recently or it is an old picture doing the rounds.        

Anything odd?

Only the tech companies can really identify a bot account but there are a few things that may ring alarm bells. None of these on their own will mean it’s an inauthentic account but a few  combined begin to look suspicious. So you may see a long string of weird letters and numbers as the handle or username, for example @thedolandld2klht for a fake Donald Trump account. This suggests it has been created by an algorithm. There may be no bio or it may be at odds with the rest of their activity. You can also click on their profile picture and search Google to see if it is genuine or is just a generic stock image. Check through their timeline. Do they post content of their own and engage with other people or do they just keep retweeting content from somewhere else? As a general rule, if you see someone posting 60x times a day on a regular basis, be suspicious.   

If in doubt, don’t share! 

Sources
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/stories-51974040/fake-news-and-how-to-spot-it