Article: Bailiff legislation – what a waste of time

I’ve had my experiences with bailiffs in the past and know how difficult it can be.  Upon hearing of new legislative changes though, I got frustrated at what I see as being “mask” conversations.  Bailiffs, gay marriage and our relationship with the EU are not the priority right now.  So I wrote this piece for the Huffington Post.  Enjoy:

4 January 2010 is a day I won’t forget any time soon. On the first working day of the year, I stepped out of my house at 6am and walked straight into an unmarked white van. The van was on my drive and the front of it no more than 3 steps from my door. The man sitting in the car seemed tiny, until his 6ft 5in, 300 million stone frame squeezed out and, almost Ray Winstone-like, snarled “Mr Patel. I’m here to collect £1,850 on behalf of (insert name of big bad bank here)”.

Flattered though I was at the generalisation that someone of my frame could possibly be a Mr Patel, it was a case of mistaken identity. “He doesn’t live here anymore”, I explained. “I bought the house from him 7 years ago”. The bailiff was convinced that I looked like a Mr Patel, so I should stop trying to pull the wool over his eyes, arrange immediate payment or he’ll be noting down the details of my car he intended to take as payment of this debt. Early morning commuters who had to walk around this van and my distressed mother in the house made for a somewhat difficult hour.

So it is welcome news that aggressive bailiff practices will be subject to legislative changes from next year. Among the changes, bailiffs will be prevented from using any physical contact, cannot enter homes where only children are present or set their own fees. Indeed, it is not their arms that have a crippling impact on debtors, it is their “visit charges”. The enforcement industry has called these changes a “small step forward”.

However, the changes being suggested, on the whole, aren’t really new at all. Enforcement law is notoriously complex, with powers differing on the debt in question and the types of creditors using enforcement officers. There is already some legislation in place that details what bailiffs are able to do. The proposed changes are still very light on what the industry itself is after – stronger regulation and a consistent complaints procedure. Although, limiting powers on fee charges is a very important and necessary step.

But critically, in the week Britain faced up to the prospect of a triple-dip recession, this announcement feels like a further admission that current economic policies are failing. Essentially reminding people of their rights when dealing with bailiffs, it is implicitly suggested that more people are expected to fall on hard times.

According to the Bank of England, over £3.4bn of lending to individuals was written off in the second quarter of 2010 – the highest since 2007 to date. With defaults lasting six years on credit files, consumer credit markets – and subsequently consumer consumption – is on a long and slow journey to recovery.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders reported an 18% fall in loans for house purchases and remortgages from August to September 2012 and a further 14% fall in first-time lending over the same period. Persistently difficult borrowing conditions coupled with increasing food, energy and travel prices are further putting the pinch on consumer wallets.

This depresses markets. Consumers need better education about the impact of the last few years on their credit files, managing their bills more effectively and making their money go further. Funding cuts to Citizens Advice Bureaux across the country don’t help. Increased financial prudence may be an unintended consequence for the short and medium-term economy, but with interest rates remaining low, consumers may be more willing to spend.

Personal finance experts, like Martin Lewis, the founder of whose financial education in schools petition gathered over 100,000 signatures and has led to its place in school curriculums from 2014, should join forces with banks and credit rating agencies to make a similar effort by entering communities and educating consumers.

It is in the consumer’s interest to know their rights when faced with bailiffs. It is in the national interest to ensure consumers can limit their exposure to bailiffs in the first place. I thought it was the national interest that brought this coalition together in the first place?


Article: Sikhs and Muslims should unite over Wisconsin

My second Huffington Post piece has now been published.

You can read the original article here.

The twenties has been an epiphanic decade for me and, generally, the epiphanies have been embarrassing. Just last year, I learnt that “awry” is pronounced aw-rye and not aw-ree. When in primary school, a Sikh friend convincingly told me that the “Kara” (a steel or iron bracelet that form part of the 5 “K’s” of Sikhism) could only be removed if it had drawn the blood of a Muslim. Not thinking about the logistics of this, I went on believing it to be true until I witnessed the tears of laughter from a Sikh friend at university.

As details emerge of the shootings in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, initial reports, as well as the opinions of my Sikh friends, are converging to one point – that these shootings are a case of mistaken identity. The killer reportedly believed Sikhs to be Muslims on account of their turbans and beards. The ignorance of the killer aside, this sets a worrying precedent for the already fractured relationship between Sikhs and Muslims.

In 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered at the gas station he owned just four days after 9/11 by Frank Silva Roque for being a “turbanhead”. Since then, there have been numerous instances, both at home and abroad, of Sikhs being mistakenly targeted as Muslims. In 2004, there were reports of a 16-year old Muslim boy being wounded by a ceremonial sword (the “Kirpan”, another one of the 5 “K’s” of Sikhism) at a Vaisakhi festival in Walsall. Two Sikh youths were subsequently attacked in an act of reprisal.

To appreciate the root of the differences between Sikhs and Muslims, we must turn to 17th century Mughal India. Sikhs opposed the forced conversion to Islam by Mughal emperors and, by the end of the century, had established their credentials as the “Warrior Caste” by being the first army in history to destroy the Mughal Empire and conquer Afghanistan. The Sikh Empire established by Ranjit Singh spread over Lahore, Kashmir, Peshawar and Multan in modern day Pakistan, and would rule for 50 years in the Punjab until its defeat by the British in 1849.

Indian and Pakstani independence in 1947 would further disrupt relationships between Sikhs and Muslims. The powerful Punjab region was split along religious lines (much like the rest of British India) and would see both Sikhs and Muslims displaced. Violence erupted along the borders of the newly formed Pakistan and India, leading to deaths on both sides. Today, many Muslims and Sikhs fondly remember their homes in Amritsar (India) and Lahore (Pakistan) respectively – now in opposing states – and despair at the loss of life.

It is this history that keeps Sikhs and Muslims largely independent of each other, even in the UK which has the largest Sikh population outside of India in the world. But there have also been instances of Sikhs and Muslims coming together; the dance group Signature is a Muslim-Sikh duo. Perhaps most notably, Sikhs and Muslims came together during last year’s riots when they joined forces to protect Southall from rioters.

It is this kind of unity that is needed now to prevent a backlash from the attacks in Wisconsin and the difficult history of their relationship. It takes one flashpoint — a misinformed argument or a revenge attack – to create a wave of mistrust and misunderstanding. Just like Sikhs are not Muslims, Muslims are not terrorists. If true, it is alarming that people are willing to go into a place of worship to attack Muslims who had nothing to do with 9/11, just as much as Sikhs didn’t.

Both groups have experience of being a vilified minority, both at the hands of each other and by others. I am proud of my Punjabi heritage (my dad is a Pakistani from the Punjab), have been known to teach Punjabi to my Sikh friends and dance to Bhangra music (who wouldn’t want to?). In this month of Ramadan, Muslims and Sikhs should unite in their condemnation at these attacks, which are not only against Sikhs but against humanity.


Article: Billy Elliot – Lessons for the UK Economy

I’ve decided to join the wonderful world of Huffington Post blogging.  It really is a blogging behemoth.

My first article has been posted and I hope to continue posting; I’d quite like to make it a more regular thing but time pressures of a full-time job that has nothing to do with mainstream politics can make this difficult!

The original post can be found by clicking here.

On Wednesday evening, I was at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London to watch Billy Elliot: The Musical. A magical evening was made more magical thanks to the appearance of Sir Elton John, whose music and lyrics have contributed to the show’s 7-year longevity and critical acclaim – including an Olivier and a Tony Award – to celebrate what was to be its 3,000th show.

For those not in the know, Billy Elliot is the story of an eleven year old motherless boy in County Durham who trades in his boxing gloves for ballet shoes, set against the backdrop of the 1984-85 coal miner’s strike in the UK. It was estimated that the strike cost the economy some £1.5 billion.

With the UK currently in double-dip recession, the struggles of Billy’s widower father and his coal-mining colleagues were a little too close for comfort; the sentiments on stage, representative of 1984, didn’t seem too different from the sentiments I read or hear about in 2012.

I already despair that we don’t seem to have learnt any lessons from the banking and subsequent economic crisis from 2008 – credit rating agencies are still able to influence market movements (just ask France and Greece in recent months) and bank bonuses are set to rise by between 5 and 15 per cent in 2012.

But in digging a little deeper as to what the UK was like in the year of my birth, the UK I know today doesn’t seem to be all that different to Billy’s.

In 1984, The European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of Surrey businessman, James Malone, who accused the police of illegally tapping his phone. Leveson take note.

The Labour Party started the year 3pc points ahead of the Conservatives in the polls, riding the wave of discontent over Thatcher’s economic policies. By the end of the year, Labour were 9pc points behind. Miliband Jr. take note.

Perhaps most enlightening is that UK unemployment today has reached the levels we would have seen in 1984. UK unemployment stood at a record 3.3 million, whilst youth unemployment reached a record 1.2 million. Today, unemployment stands at around 2.6 million, whilst 1.03 million young people are unemployed. Grayling take note.

In fact, some of the key events of that year – the expulsion of 30 Libyan diplomats following the death of PC Yvonne Fletcher, protests outside the Houses of Parliament, the wave of goodwill for the Royal family following the birth of Prince Harry and Everton winning the FA cup – would not look out of place in today’s papers. Except, perhaps, the Everton story.

But the point is this – we’ve been here before. The general malaise surrounding the UK (save for this week where Diamond Jubilee celebrations give us, and the papers, a chance to get away from Leveson it all) is something we’re accustomed to. But the key difference is that half way through this year, the UK doesn’t seem to be learning from some of the positive lessons of 1984. This last week has been more about sharp u-turns, rather than attempting to climb through the traffic on the mountain en route to that thing they call “economic growth”.

1984 saw the start of the FTSE 100 index; whatever you might feel about financial markets, you have to admit it showed bold ambition. It was perhaps this kind of ambition that attracted Nissan to open a car factory in the UK for the first time. The Queen was cutting ribbons at a new airport terminal in Birmingham and the very British Vauxhall car company doubled its market share with its European Car of the Year, the MK2 Astra. Britain was very much open for business.

I appreciate that I’ve glossed over the privatisations of British Telecom, the Trustee Savings Bank (Lloyds today) and the share sale of British Gas, but the point about generating economic growth by making the UK open for business is important.

The last few years should have taught us that big business can mean big failures and you can go too far. But given that “economic growth” seems to be the rallying call – even from non-tax paying heads of the IMF– Britain’s entrepreneurial spirit must be rekindled quickly. That might mean creating favourable conditions for businesses to thrive; revamping education to encourage innovation, creativity and enterprise (1984 was the year the GCSE was announced as the replacement for O-levels); and creating industrial hubs that create the scope for apprenticeships and new employment opportunities. Economic cycles are repetitive but present opportunities to take some positive lessons too.

The beginning of the second act in Billy Elliot starts with a not-so-complimentary performance of “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” and chants of “Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!”. Two years into his term, Cameron still has the opportunity to prevent a rewrite of that song.