Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Savings warning: 'First step' to reduce 'financial shock' risk during coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus outbreak has seen 2,626 cases being confirmed in the UK, as of 9am on March 18, Public Health England has said. In addition to the health aspects of the outbreak, the pandemic is affecting – or could affect – many when it comes to personal finances.

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For some, unfortunately, the pandemic could see some struggle to make ends meet.

Worryingly, research from Aldermore Bank, shared exclusively with Express.co.uk, has found that almost half of 55 to 64 year olds (43 percent) have no savings set aside for major life events – such as bereavement, illness, legal trouble, or periods of unemployment.

Earlier this week, Sara Willcocks, Head of Communications at Turn2us, spoke to Express.co.uk about options people may have if they’re struggling with the economic impact.

“There is financial support available to people struggling with money due to COVID-19,” Ms Willcocks said.

“People can claim benefits like Universal Credit or ESA from the government, or alternatively they could get Statutory Sick Pay from their employer.

“There are also millions of pounds available in grants from charities which you don’t have to pay back.

“Charitable funds exist to support people in the face of life changing events like this.

“We urge anyone who is affected financially by the coronavirus outbreak to visit the Turn2us website and find out what benefits they are entitled to and what grants they are eligible for.”

Elsewhere this week, Gordon Andrews, Quilter financial planning expert, has commented on the importance of cash savings.

Mr Andrews said: “Unfortunately, the impact of this virus is likely to have a lasting financial impact on households across the UK.

“It seems inevitable that some employers will come under pressure and job security may become a concern for people. And there will be worries for people about the financial impact if they or a family member were to contract the virus and suffer complications.”

So, is there a way in which people can prepare for an unprecedented financial setback?

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“Preparing for a financial shock like this is extremely difficult, particularly when combined with the obvious concerns about our own health and the consequences of this pandemic on wider society,” the financial planning expert explained.

“However, there are steps that can be taken and those that have some defences in place will at least have reassurance that from a financial perspective they’re braced for what could be a bumpy ride ahead.

“It is absolutely crucial to have a cash savings buffer in place.

“Without some cash readily available, families can be extremely vulnerable to a financial shock and will struggle severely if they were to lose their job, or confront an unexpected bill.

“Research from the UK’s national Money & Pensions Service shows that 71 percent of UK adults get an unexpected bill each year, and an estimated 11.5 million people have less than £100 in cash savings to fall back on.”

Mr Andrews went on to suggest actions which a person may be able to take in order to cope during this time.

“The first step is to calculate your monthly outgoings on essential items like bills, mortgage payments and food,” he said.

“Use those calculations to work out your costs for three to four months and try to keep that much in easily accessible cash savings at all times.

“If you don’t already have those savings in place, try to build on any cash reserves you do have.

“This can provide a crucial buffer against a financial shock, preventing the need to turn to short term borrowing, such as credit cards, to meet day to day expenses.”

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

State pension: What are different deferral rates for basic and new state pension?

State pension currently falls into two categories. There is the new state pension and the basic state pension. What kind a person falls into depends on when they reached state pension age. The main difference between the two is how much income they pay out.

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Basic state pension can be claimed if the person is a man born before 6 April, 1951 or a woman born before 6 April, 1953.

Under this state pension, the most a person can receive is £129.20 per week which requires 30 years of national insurance contributions.

The new state pension can be claimed by a man born on or after 6 April, 1951 or by women born on or after 6 April, 1953.

The payments available from the new state pension are higher but they require more national insurance contributions. The full amount that can be received here is £168.60 per week but this will require a minimum of 35 years of national insurance contributions.

While people receiving basic state pension will likely get less than people on the new system, they will have beneficial elements in other areas.

Some people on the basic state pension may be in the process of delaying their payments, which will increase their amounts.

If a person qualifies for full basic state pension and they defer their payments for 52 weeks they’ll get an extra £13.44 a week.

This is a boost of 10.4 percent which is nearly double the rate offered under the new state pension.

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The new state pension can also have payments deferred and raised but they will be at a lower rate.

Under the new system, state pension will increase by just under 5.8 percent for every 52 weeks of deferment.

With both systems, the person involved will usually not need to take any action to differ their payments.

State pension is not paid automatically, it has to be claimed.

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People will usually receive a letter from the state around two months before they reach state pension age.

This letter will detail what the persons options are and what they’ll need to do next.

If a person wishes to defer they will not have to do anything. State pension payments will automatically be deferred until they are claimed.

It should be noted that any extra payments from deferment could induce a tax charge.

Once a person is ready to receive income they will need to take action to claim a deferred pension.

If the person has deferred for less than a year, they will be able to claim their state pension online.

However, if a person has deferred for more than a year they will need to contact the pension service to claim.

It is possible in certain circumstances to inherit a state pension from a partner, however this can only be done if the person involved has reached state pension age.

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

RPT-Wall St Week Ahead-Investors hope Fed can help calm markets as big rate cut expected

NEW YORK, March 13 (Reuters) – Interest rate cuts won’t cure the coronavirus but investors are still hoping the Federal Reserve can take some actions to help soothe the roiled stock market.

Only days after a rare emergency rate cut, the Fed is expected at its regularly scheduled meeting next Wednesday to slash its target rate another 75 to 100 basis points to near zero, according to the CME FedWatch website.

The U.S. central bank also may announce measures to ensure sufficient liquidity and lending or to purchase assets by restarting the quantitative easing that the Fed employed during the financial crisis.

A move like that could offer some comfort to investors after Thursday’s bruising decline, in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average notched its biggest one-day drop since 1987.

“If the market feels the Fed is responding appropriately and is helping investors and consumers, and feel like somebody is in charge, maybe that can help settle things down,” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird in Milwaukee.

Indeed, stocks briefly pared losses on Thursday after the New York Fed said on it will introduce $1.5 trillion in new repo operations this week and start purchasing a range of maturities as part of its monthly Treasury purchases. But the rebound was short lived and the S&P 500 ended down 9.5% on the day.

Expectations for a more significant rate cut have increased this week as the market decline deepened over fears about the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis. As of Thursday, the S&P 500 had fallen more than 26% from its Feb. 19 record closing high, including a drop of more than 16% so far for the week.

Traders currently expect the Fed to cut its target rate from its current range of 1-1.25% to as low as 0-0.25%. Some market watchers wonder if the central bank could even eventually go into negative territory.

“Central banks must bolster confidence that they are willing to test the limits of where they view the effective bound on rates,” JPMorgan Chase economists said in a note this week.

Markets will respond “poorly” should the Fed fail to cut rates, said Nela Richardson, investment strategist at Edward Jones, but added that “the risk of aggressive action now is that you sacrifice valuable ammunition in the short term to boost short-term market sentiment.”

“You might need the ammunition further down the road if unemployment increases or deflation starts,” Richardson said.

Of course, rate cuts may not help equities. The S&P 500 ended up falling 2.8% on March 3 despite the Fed’s surprise half-percentage point cut, which boosted sentiment but also led investors to speculate on what other actions the Fed could take.

Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said last week that the central bank needed “to think broadly about what tools we would use” if the virus continues to weigh, and that it “could be important” to let the Fed buy assets other than U.S. Treasury and mortgage-backed securities.

Such asset purchases aimed at stimulating the economy, known as quantitative easing (QE), were a key tool used by the Fed to emerge from the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

“Should the Fed gauge that reducing rates is not providing for easier financial conditions, we expect it to quickly turn to quantitative easing,” Morgan Stanley economists said in a note.

Whatever actions the Fed takes, some investors said they are ultimately secondary to the responses of the world’s governments.

In the United States, partisan gridlock threatens to derail the government’s ability to contain the economic damage. Democrats in the House of Representatives have unveiled a plan that would expand programs including food assistance and unemployment aid. The Republican-led Senate will delay its recess to work next week on its own legislation.

“While we think central bank policy is important, we think the fiscal is much more important at this stage,” said Eric Freedman, chief investment officer at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. (Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing Ira Iosebashvili and Sonya Hepinstall)

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Nadine Dorries' fears for elderly mother after both diagnosed with coronavirus

Health Minister Nadine Dorries has spoken of her fears for her 84-year-old mother after both were diagnosed with coronavirus.

The Tory minister said confirmation she had contracted Covid-19 was like "iced water trickling down my spine".

Ms Dorries is self-isolating at home after testing positive for Covid-19 earlier this week and wrote in the Sunday Times of the news being a "game-changer" as she had not been abroad or come into contact with anyone who had.

The MP for Mid Bedfordshire also wrote of her fears for her 84-year-old mother who "is not in the best of health".

She wrote in the paper of her diagnosis: "I stopped listening for a second as the thought flew through my mind: my mum is going to get it and it's my fault. I had brought Covid-19 home from Westminster and had unwittingly passed it on to her.


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"It felt as though the clocks had stopped. I knew that everything was about to change and I wanted to hold time where it stood."

She said her symptoms included a persistent cough, achy muscles and intermittent night sweats.

Ms Dorries, best known by many for her stint on I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, advised people to think of everything as being contaminated.

She said: "Every lift button, shopping-trolley handle, wait-button on a zebra crossing – and every cup in a cafe. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Carry hand-sanitiser and use it over and over. Resist the urge to hug or shake hands with anyone."

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Wesfarmers to pay coronavirus leave for casual staff who miss shifts

Thousands of casual workers at Officeworks, Kmart and Target will be paid up to two weeks' wages for shifts missed if they are required to self-isolate or care for others due to the coronavirus, retail conglomerate Wesfarmers has said.

One day after supermarket giant Woolworths announced its 55,000 casual employees they would not be disadvantaged by absences caused by the fast-spreading outbreak, Wesfarmers notified its staff of similar updates to its leave arrangements on Friday.

Wesfarmers will pay casual retail staff who miss shifts due to coronavirus.Credit:

"If casual team members are required to be quarantined, or care for loved ones due to COVID-19, they will be paid for a maximum of up to 14 days based on their agreed and rostered hours for that period," an email to Officeworks staff said.

"This will be paid at the same rate as the rostered shifts, inclusive of penalty rates and loadings."

Wesfarmers, which owns some of Australia's largest biggest employers, said it was letting team members known that the group was committed to supporting both permanent and casual staff.

"They will not be disadvantaged because of their employment status if they are unable to work because of public health requirements related to coronavirus," Wesfarmers managing director Rob Scott said on Sunday.

Full-time and part-time workers would be eligible for a one-off basis to access to additional paid leave if they have exhausted or insufficient accrued personal leave.

Another Wesfarmers-owned retailer, Bunnings, said its casual team members had access to personal and carers' leave through their ordinary entitlements, which they would be able to access in the event of coronavirus-related absences.

Managing director Mike Schneider said Bunnings, unlike many other Australian retailers, employed the "significant majority" of its team members on a permanent basis.

"However, Bunnings' casual team members in Australian warehouses, smaller format stores and trade centres also accrue personal/carer's leave and will have access to this as needed," he said.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison hardened the government's coronavirus containment measures, announcing all international arrivals into Australia will have to self-isolate for 14 days from Monday.

Trade union officials on Sunday welcomed Wesfarmers' move, saying the group joined a list of other major employers including the Victorian government banks and tertiary institutions who had opted to "support staff in this manner".

The Australian Council of Trade Unions said Australia had one of the most casualised workforces in the world, and renewed calls for the Morrison government to underwrite two weeks of paid leave for all workers facing an economic impact of coronavirus.

"For many Australians, the COVID-19 pandemic is both a health emergency and a financial one, the ACTU said.

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

State pension age changes: The huge disadvantages WASPI women faced - are you affected?

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The changes are considered controversial, with many campaigning against the way in which they were introduced, and the impact the changes are having on the women born in the 1950s who were affected by the changes to the state pension age.

This includes the campaign group WASPI – which supports the principle of equalisation of the state pension age but does not agree with the way the changes were implemented.

Backto60 are also campaigning on the matter, with this group’s focus being full restitution, damages and compensation.

During an interview with Express.co.uk last year, Joananne Welch, Backto60 campaigns director, said: “50s women have suffered lifelong inequality, like the pension gap, the pay gap, the maternity gap. It’s like, ‘Mind the Gap’.

“You’d have to be a 50s woman to actually understand these gaps.

“Women weren’t even entitled to occupational pensions. It was seriously as bad as that.”

WASPI has also discussed the inequalities women born in the 1950s have faced.

A spokesperson for the campaign group told Express.co.uk: “WASPI women were at the forefront of the fight for equality in the workplace.

“We suffered from unequal pay and a lack of opportunities and battled sexism and discrimination head on.

“WASPI women are proud of the progress that has been made but we still have a long way to go.

“We never had equal pay in the workplace which makes the Government’s mismanagement of changes to the state pension age even more devastating.

“We are a generation of women who relied on getting our state pension at 60 and we were not given enough notice to put in place alternative measures.”

While gender inequality still exists in many forms today, life for 1950s women no doubt looked different to younger generations today.

So, what was their experience like? WASPI explains to Express.co.uk that many women of this generation left school at 16 to get jobs, and there were strong perceptions about a women’s role in the workplace and at home.

On top of that, WASPI explains women born in the 1950s frequently encountered sexism and discrimination in traditionally male dominated roles, resulting in unequal pay and opportunities.

In the past, many women were not allowed to join company private pension schemes, with many WASPI women working part time to balance family responsibilities but not permitted to join private pension schemes or access company beneifts – leaving many dependent on the state pension.

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This is a generation of women who were actively discriminated against in the workplace if they were perceived to be “at risk” of having a baby in the near future, WASPI says, adding that many women of this generation were denied jobs on this basis.

Expanding on this, the campaigners say they’ve heard many many examples of women being asked very personal questions in job interviews.

In the workplace, career progression could differ. One woman has recalled how men doing the same role as her were offered management training, but the opportunity wasn’t ever offered to women.

Traditionally, women have assumed caring responsibilities for elderly parents or dependents too, which affects their ability to have a full working life or private pension contributions.

Shockingly, the gender pay gap and the gender pension gap still exist in the modern day, and research by Chip has found that over a lifetime, men have £5,365 more disposable income to save than women.

Despite a record number of women being in employment (72.4 percent) – the highest since records began – the average annual private pension income for men aged 65 and over is £8,620 while for women it’s £3,920, research by PPI revealed by NOW: Pensions has shown.

This represents a gap of £4,700 or a 55 percent decrease.

Women typically taking on caring responsibilities is something which has been identified as a significant factor in the gender pension gap today.

According to the report, the gender pensions gap is because women are more likely to work part-time in their career while caring for children, or – further down the line – for elderly relatives.

The result can mean both interrupted pension contributions and limited earning opportunities, and consequently women, on average, face a pension pot £100,000 less than the average man’s, the Pensions Policy Institute has found.

Baroness Jeannie Drake, one of the architects of automatic enrolment, said: “Millions of savers miss out on workplace pension contributions when they are caring for children or elderly relatives.

“This is why I lodged an amendment in the Lords to the Pension Schemes Bill just last week, seeking a review by the Secretary of State of how auto-enrolment provisions could address the pension penalty in retirement that relevant carers experience.

“A ‘carer top-up’ for those who are missing out on workplace contributions would make a real contribution towards their pensions.

“This would help approximately three million women, in addition to 300,000 men, to top up their pension savings whilst taking time out of work to be carers.

“I sincerely hope that the Government is receptive to the amendment and recognises that we need to act to help more women save for their own futures and close the gender pensions gap.”

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Buffett’s Dinner Date Clashes With Devotees of Steemit Website

Controversial Chinese cryptocurrency entrepreneur Justin Sun, who paid $4.57 million for acharity dinner with Warren Buffett, is facing a revolt over a niche company he recently purchased.

In the past few weeks, the 29-year-old Sun has been called “a dictator” and worse on Twitter and in more than1,500 comments. A boycott of the blogging company Sun acquired is in full swing, and a number of its employees have resigned. Two of the world’s largest crypto exchanges are distancing themselves from Sun. That has the crypto sphere debating the growing role of exchanges, and whether some types of digital ledgers called blockchains are secure enough.

It all blew up after Sun bought Steemit Inc., one of the world’s most popular blockchain-based blogging sites. Since being launched four years ago, Steemit has held a large stake of Steem Power, a digital coin used in voting on issues such as software upgrades for the underlying blockchain called Steem. According to an informal agreement, Steemit was not to vote with its so-called ninja stake, Steem’s community claims. After Sun acquired Steemit, community-elected leaders in charge of the network temporarily froze the ninja stake via a software update to make sure Sun honors the provision.

In response, Sun embarked on an intervention not seen before in the crypto world. He contacted two of the world’s largest exchanges, Binance and Huobi (whose representatives attended his Buffett meeting in January), and told them that Steem was being attacked by hackers. On March 2, the exchanges, plus Poloniex, which is partly owned by Sun, used their customers’ Steem Power coins to help reverse the software change that froze up the ninja stake.

“I’m mixed on this,” said Ryan Selkis, chief executive officer of crypto researcher Messsari. “On the one hand, it’s unclear to me that the Steem community had the right to strip rights away from another token holder simply because they didn’t like the Tron-Steem transaction. On the other, it looks like Tron exercised the nuclear option” instead of talking with the community, he said.

Following an outcry from Steem Power owners, two of the exchanges quickly reversed their decisions anddistanced themselves from Sun, who they say misrepresented what was happening.

“We thought it was just another hard fork upgrade, and just went along with it,” Changpeng Zhao, CEO of Binance, said in an email. “Later, we found out the community was split behind it, we reversed our operation. We always respect the users.” Huobi soon followed suit.

“Huobi’s goal was not to interfere with the governance of a blockchain,” said Huobi spokesperson Mark Lee. Problem is, Steem Power functions in such a way, it could take months for the users that parked the coins on these exchanges to retrieve their funds.

The possibility of exchanges playing god is making many crypto enthusiasts cringe. Bitcoin took off because it’s not controlled by any central party. But as cryptocurrency users began parking their funds on exchanges, those entities turned into centralized superpowers.

A number of other blockchains including EOS, Aelf, Lisk, Wax, BitShares and Ark are built in a similar way to Steem, allowing someone with a large swath of coins to influence decision making. And they could also potentially be affected by exchanges in a similar way.

Sun continues negotiating with the Steem community.

“My idea here is deescalation and increased communication,” Sun said during a Steem town hall, which about 80 people dialed into on March 6.

Winning the Steem community back may prove tough, however. One key member, Luke Stokes, said in a recent podcast that he isn’t sure he’d want to play ball with Sun.

“We are having serious discussions within the community,” he said. “Do we want to create a brand new chain with a brand new token and then have it listed? As far as the Steam community, it’s never been more united.”

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The billionaire 'vaccine king' taking on the coronavirus

He may not be a household name but from his baronial-style boardroom overlooking his family's horse stud farm in western India, Cyrus Poonawalla oversees a global vaccine empire that touches the lives of billions of people.

With an estimated fortune of $US9.8 billion ($15.1 billion), Poonawalla, 78, is the founder and chairman of Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's biggest manufacturer of vaccines by number of doses produced, equivalent to about 1.5 billion shots per year.

Cyrus Poonawalla founded Serum Institute of India in 1966 at a time when the country was being forced to import vaccines, then in short supply, at high prices from Western drug makers in order to immunise the country’s children.Credit:Getty Images

Now, as the world scrambles to mount an effective response in the battle against coronavirus, Poonawalla hopes his company will play a critical role scaling up production once a vaccine has been developed and declared fit for human use.

It could turn out to be a lucrative opportunity.

Last month, Serum Institute signed a joint venture with Codagenix, a US biotech company backed by another billionaire, hedge fund tycoon Jim Simons, which is working on a vaccine using algorithms to analyse the genome of the coronavirus.

Codagenix claims its technology could allow development and production of an effective vaccine to be fast-tracked – with the entire process compressed into just a few months rather than the usual timeline of several years before it is ready to enter commercial use.

"Hopefully in six months we should be able to enter into human trials, that is our target," Poonawalla said in an emailed statement, adding that it would take a little longer to be approved by regulators.

J. Robert Coleman, chief executive of Codagenix, said: "With the Serum Institute's financial and technical support, we will be able to push a coronavirus vaccine into the clinic on an extremely rapid timeline… We are proud to be confronting this public health crisis head-on."

The son of a racehorse breeder, Poonawalla founded Serum Institute of India in 1966 at a time when the country was being forced to import vaccines, then in short supply, at high prices from Western drug makers in order to immunise the country's children. A flamboyant figure, known for his lavish lifestyle and huge collection of vintage cars dating back to the Thirties, Poonawalla built a highly successful business producing vaccines first for the domestic Indian market and later by winning big contracts with other governments as well as for the World Health Organisation to produce them for immunisation programmes in 170 other countries.

At its sprawling, state of the art vaccine manufacturing plant in Pune, near Mumbai, SII produces and sells vaccines in vast quantities for measles, polio, hepatitis, mumps and flu.

Serum Institute signed a joint venture with Codagenix, a US drug company backed by another billionaire, hedge fund tycoon Jim Simons, which is working on a vaccine using algorithms to analyse the genome of the coronavirus.Credit:Getty Images

About 65 per cent of the children in the world receive at least one vaccine manufactured by the company, whose chief executive is now Poonawalla's son, UK-educated Adar.

Drawn from India's tiny but highly influential community of Parsees, or Zoroastrians, who fled Iran and settled in India in the 10th century, the Poonawalla family is also extremely well connected. When the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited India in 2013, the family hosted a party for them at the Royal West India Turf Club, where Poonawalla is a prominent figure on the horse racing circuit.

In November, he received an award from Bill Gates for a lifetime achievement for his contribution to healthcare.

Parsees make up less than 0.005 per cent of India's population but three out of the country's top 10 billionaires.



Poonawalla continued: "It takes typically seven to eight years to develop a vaccine, for example our pneumonia vaccine, rotavirus vaccine, we have just launched these vaccines after working on it for seven to eight years.

"It takes that much time because of animal studies, human studies and also establishing when you make a strain that it does not revert to the wild type and it is safe to use in humans."

He added: "We have expertise in manufacturing multiple different types of vaccines and so we don't see this as a challenge. The real challenge is whether it really works and is efficacious in humans, and the challenge will be to prove it in a massive efficacy study and design a trial in a country where there are outbreaks, so most probably China."

Serum owns Dutch vaccine maker Bilthoven Biologicals and the Czech unit of US firm Nanotherapeutics.

In June 2019, Poonawalla was conferred the honorary degree of the Doctor of science by the University of Oxford.

Telegraph, London

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Budget pension changes: Are there any changes to pensions in Rishi Sunak’s budget?

Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered the Budget in Parliament this afternoon, introducing a raft of changes. Top of the agenda was the coronavirus outbreak, as hte Chancellor also pledged a £30 billion package to stimulate the economy to protect jobs and livelihoods against the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Sunak said his Budget’s measures to cope with COVID-19 “will make the UK one of the best placed economies in the world to manage the potential impact of the virus”, Downing Street said before his speech today.

The Chancellor acknowledged the British people were worried about the threat posed by the virus “but they are not daunted”.

Among the other changes announced were an end to the tampon tax, the National Insurance threshold was increased and he pledged a £3,000 cash grant to businesses eligible for small business rates relief.

He said: “I know how worried people are. Worried about their health, the health of their loved ones, their jobs, their income, their businesses, their financial security.

“And I know they get even more worried when they turn on their TVs and hear talk of markets collapsing and recessions coming. People want to know what’s happening, and what can be done to fix it.

“What everyone needs to know is that we are doing everything we can to keep this country, and our people, healthy and financially secure.”

READ MORE

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Are there any changes to pensions?

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the tapered allowance threshold for pensions tax relief will increase to £200,000.

This means individuals with income below this level will not be affected by the tapered annual allowance.

The annual allowance will only begin to taper down for individuals who also have an adjusted income of more than £240,000.

Svenja Keller, head of wealth planning at Killik & Co, said “The change to pension rules for doctors – with more clarity and support for their Annual Allowance conundrum – is great news and, at long last, should be a significant boost to frontline healthcare.

“That said, by trying to help NHS doctors the increase in allowance threshold is now applicable to everyone. Why not just abolish it? This would have brought far more simplicity and the threshold is now so high that it will take many out of the tapering regime regardless.”

Priort to today’s budget, the Chancellor told the Cabinet that despite coronavirus being “front and centre in our minds” the Budget also “delivers on the promises made to the British people – investing in public services and cutting taxes for millions of hardworking people – and that there could be no delay in laying the foundations for a decade of growth where opportunity was spread equally across the UK”.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The PM said that this Budget starts to tackle head-on the challenges facing our economy and country – addressing productivity and regional imbalances – and showing that the government is responding to the public’s desire for change.

“It will set the path for further action through the year.”

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Group Asks Congress To Investigate If Betsy DeVos Is Tied To Her Brother's Work

A progressive government watchdog nonprofit group is asking Congress to investigate whether Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had any involvement in her brother’s efforts to spy on a Michigan teachers union, HuffPost has learned.

Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that in 2017, DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, recruited an ex-spy to infiltrate a Michigan office of the American Federation of Teachers. He did this work through Project Veritas, a right-wing group that is known to infiltrate media organizations and liberal groups in an attempt to collect potentially damaging information. A spokesperson for DeVos told Politico that “Secretary DeVos has absolutely nothing to do with this.”

But on Tuesday, the group Accountable.US wrote to top officials on the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform asking them to take a closer look. 

“The involvement of DeVos’ brother in this scheme to spy on a labor organization in their shared home state of Michigan raises serious questions about what role the Education Secretary played in it, particularly in light of DeVos’ history of hostility with the same union,” the group wrote in the letter, a copy of which was shared with HuffPost.

DeVos has long had a hostile relationship with teachers unions. In 2018, she said unions are “not really focused on what is right for individual students” and have a “stranglehold on many of the politicians in this country.” Her family has donated to a number of anti-union groups, and she frequently spars with Randi Weingarten, the national leader of the American Federation of Teachers.

“It stretches the imagination to the breaking point to believe her brother never at least mentioned his intel operation to her,” the group continued in its letter. “At the end of the day, who would benefit more from this ill-gotten information than the Education Secretary at war with the union?”

Prince is famous for founding a mercenary firm called Blackwater whose employees were caught killing Iraqi civilians. Since that time, he has worked closely with the Trump administration, enmeshing himself in some of the administration’s biggest controversies. 

Before becoming education secretary, DeVos reportedly paid to “suppress Google search hits connecting her to her brother,” the Wall Street Journal reported in December. 

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Facebook Stories can now be posted straight to Instagram – as apps prepare to 'merge' messages

FACEBOOK and Instagram appear to be merging even closer as the social media giant trials cross-posting Facebook Stories to the photo sharing platform.

Instagram fans will already know that you can post Stories from the app to Facebook but you can't do that in reverse.

If the cross-posting feature is fully launched then it could actually improve the user experience.

This is because many people complain of seeing the same Stories they've just seen on Instagram on Facebook.

If the apps work together then there will hopefully be a way for software to detect which users have already seen certain Stories.

The move will probably come as more disappointing news for people who weren't happy about Facebook pasting an "Instagram – From Facebook" title over the app.


Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 but the two social media platforms remained pretty separate until recent years.

Instagram's co-founders ended up leaving the company in 2018 when they felt like they had less of a say in what was happening.

We have reached out to Facebook for comment on where the app is being tested.

Reverse engineering expert Jane Manchun Wong spotted the Facebook-to-Instagram sharing feature within the code for the Android Facebook app.

She then posted a screenshot of it to Twitter, which clearly shows the "Share Story to Instagram" feature.

Last year, Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status all had 500 million daily users.

Facebook is said to have plans to eventually merge all three of these apps and create one super app.

Instagram – the key facts

Here's what you need to know…

  • Instagram is a social network for sharing photos and videos
  • It was created back in October 2010 as an iPhone-exclusive app
  • A separate version for Android devices was released 18 months later
  • The app rose to popularity thanks to its filters system, which lets you quickly edit your photos with cool effects
  • When it first launched, users could only post square 1:1 ratio images, but that rule was changed in 2015
  • In 2012, Facebook bought Instagram for $1billion in cash and stock
  • In 2018, some analysts believe the app is worth closer to $100billion
  • In October 2015, Instagram confirmed that more than 40billion photos had been uploaded to the app
  • And in 2018, Instagram revealed that more than a billion people were using the app every month

In other news, coronavirus-inspired Instagram filters are causing controversy online.

TikTok bosses have quietly launched a Spotify rival.

And, iPhone apps can now spam you with ad notifications – but there’s a way to stop it.

How often do you use Stories? Let us know in the comments…

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Monday, March 9, 2020

ExxonMobil to formalise sale talks for Bass Strait assets

The Australian head of global energy giant ExxonMobil is planning to enter into negotiations with prospective buyers and open a data room this year for the sale of its stake in the Bass Strait oil and gas operations jointly owned with BHP.

Nearly six months after the US oil major surprised the energy market by announcing it would seek to offload its stake in the 50-year-old Gippsland Basin Joint Venture including the Longford gas plant and platforms off Victoria's coastline, ExxonMobil Australia chairman Nathan Fay said the company anticipated the process would move "into gear" shortly.

ExxonMobil’s local chairman Nathan Fay (right) and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association’s Andrew McConville on the Marlin platform in Bass Strait.Credit:Sharon Walker

"We communicated back in September that we were looking to start that process, but it's important to note that, much like in a lot of our business, time horizons are typically longer than people are used to dealing with," he said.

"As we move through the course of this year we will start really getting into gear with what people would view as a traditional sales process and entertaining commercial discussions."

In the meantime, Mr Fay said, ExxonMobil and BHP were forging ahead with multibillion-dollar investments in searching for potential new discoveries and were set to begin construction by mid-year on a project to tap one of the area's largest remaining undeveloped gas fields, known as West Barracouta.

"What's key to me is until you finally close a sale, we haven't got a sale, so we will continue to run this business with an ExxonMobil/Esso Australia flag on it, and that requires a significant amount of investment in the base business, continuing to work on attractive development projects to bring volumes into market … We aren't slowing down in terms of activity."

In December the joint venture gave the green light to the $550 million West Barracouta project, which, although it will not increase overall gas supply, is expected to help offset the decline in production from elsewhere. Operated in a joint venture with BHP, the offshore fields have traditionally supplied up to half of Australia's east-coast gas demand, but have recently been in rapid decline

Beyond West Barracouta, remaining gas reservoirs in the strait would be deeper, more difficult to produce and require more investment, compression and treatment, Mr Fay acknowledged. But he insisted there would be "plenty of development opportunity out there for whoever the operator of the business will be".

Private equity, ASX-listed Beach Energy and AGL Energy, Australia's biggest energy supplier, have been speculated as potentially interested purchasers of Exxon's stake in the joint venture.

BHP has confirmed it is weighing whether to sell out, as production from the Bass Strait continues to decline and the gradual global shift towards electric vehicles weighs on long-term petroleum demand. On a conference call last year, BHP's Geraldine Slattery said the miner was "considering all our options" in light of ExxonMobil's move.

The diminishing gas supply from offshore wells and the hunt for more reservoirs has become the subject of heightened attention as authorities warn of an impending supply shortage unless more is brought to market. The Morrison government has made increasing gas production a condition for states to receive energy funding deals, including pressuring Victoria to lift its onshore gas drilling ban to help offset the rapidly declining output from the Bass Strait offshore fields.

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, representing the oil and gas industry, is urging state and federal governments to do more to encourage exploration in new gas fields and establish policy and regulatory certainty to drive investment.

"With uncertainty comes risk and with risk comes cost," chief executive Andrew McConville said.

Potential customers have been deterred from locking themselves into long-term gas contracts in part due to the federal government powers to restrict gas exports, which could lower prices.

Although it has not yet been triggered, the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism, introduced by the Turnbull government in 2017, could force gas exporters to divert supplies to the domestic market if there was a shortage forecast for the following year.

The author's travel to the Bass Strait offshore platforms was paid for by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association.

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Sunday, March 8, 2020

Property: What are the top 10 cheapest boroughs in London to buy a house in?

When looking to buy or rent a property in London there are several factors to consider before making a commitment to owning a home. One of the biggest factors to consider when making a decision on where to settle down is the price. So, what are the cheapest boroughs to buy or rent a property in London?

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According to research, these are the top 10 cheapest areas to purchase a property in London.

10. Hillingdon & Harrow £483,298

Property prices in Hillingdon and Harrow average around £483,298 for a three to four-bedroom house, while the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom property is around £1,312.

Fun fact: Hillingdon offers over 20 square miles of beautiful countryside, canals, parks, and woodland.

9. Lewisham – £465,504

Average house prices for a three to a four-bedroom house in the London borough of Lewisham can be found to be around £465,504.

Renting in Lewisham, on the other hand, works out to be around £1,248 per month.

Fun fact: Famous people who were born in Lewisham include Gary Oldman, Alexander McQueen, Jessica Hynes, Maxi Priest, Louise Redknapp, Danny Baker, and Sid Vicious.

8. Enfield – £453,119

The average selling price of a house in Enfield is around £453,119. Renting in the Enfield area roughly equates to about £1,116 per month.

Fun fact: The Rose & Crown pub in Clay Hill, Enfield is known for its otherworldly activities. The property, which dates back to the 15th century, is said to be haunted by the ghost of the eighteenth-century highwayman Dick Turpin, who was best known for highway robberies upon his trusty horse Black Bess.

7. Redbridge – £429,252

Property prices in Redbridge average around £429,252 whilst renting is around £1,110.

Fun fact: Woolly mammoths, rhinos, and lions have roamed Redbridge in the past. Found fossils have proved that hundreds of thousands of years ago this borough was home to a host of amazing prehistoric creatures.

6. Sutton – £424,881

The average house price for a three to a four-bedroom house in the London borough of Sutton is around £424,881.

Renting a two-bedroom property in the borough of Sutton would be roughly £1,095 per month.

Fun fact: Looking for a good education? Sutton offers some of the best schools in the country, making it an increasingly popular place to raise a family.

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5. Havering – £420,571

According to Zoopla, the average selling price of a three to a four-bedroom house in Havering is around £420,571. Renting in the Havering area roughly equates to about £1,010 per month.

Fun fact: Romford Market started in 1247 when Henry III ordered the Sheriff of Essex to hold a market every Wednesday. It’s still as popular today, with over 150 stalls selling everything from fashion to food.

4. Hounslow – £391,439

The London borough of Hounslow has an average property price for a three to the four-bedroom house is £391,439.

Renting in Hounslow averages around £975 for a two-bedroom property.

Fun fact: Freddie Mercury, the late frontman of the world-famous group Queen lived at his family’s home located on Gladstone Avenue, Feltham.

The We Are The Champions singer was born in Zanzibar and moved to Hounslow when he was 17 years old, and studied at Isleworth Polytechnic in Isleworth (now West Thames College).

3. Croydon – £350,383

Croydon is one of the top three cheapest boroughs to buy a property in London.

Average house prices for a three to a four-bedroom house in Croydon can be found to be around £350,383.

Renting in Croydon, on the other hand, works out to be around £968 for a two-bedroom property, per month.

Fun fact: Croydon homes a whopping 84,000 people (approximately) under the age of 15, which is more than any other London borough.

2. Barking & Dagenham – £343,462

Barking & Dagenham is the second cheapest borough in London to buy a three to four-bedroom house in, as house prices are roughly around £343,462.

Renting in Barking & Dagenham is about £951 per month, for a two-bedroom property.

Fun fact: This east London borough is famed for its power station, which pumps out over a third of London’s energy!

1. Woolwich – £321,374

Woolwich, however, came on top as the average sold price of a property in the last 12 months averaged around £321,374 which is only £1,365 more than the average cost of a property across the UK, according to Zoopla.

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Saturday, March 7, 2020

Why did Yes Bank have to be bailed out?

How will the Reserve Bank of India plan impact depositors? What are the implications for the banking sector?

The story so far: On the advice of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the government imposed a moratorium on Yes Bank with effect from 6 p.m. on March 5 up to April 3. Subsequently, the RBI superseded the private sector lender’s board and appointed as an administrator, Prashant Kumar, who was serving as chief financial officer and deputy managing director at State Bank of India (SBI). Mr. Kumar resigned from the SBI to assume charge as the administrator of Yes Bank. Under the moratorium, deposit withdrawals have been capped at ₹50,000. Within 24 hours, the RBI proposed a reconstruction scheme under which SBI could take a maximum 49% stake in the restructured capital of the bank.

Why was the moratorium imposed?

The banking regulator, while recommending the moratorium, cited a steady decline in Yes Bank’s financial position mainly due to the lender’s inability to raise adequate capital to make provisions for potential non-performing assets. This failing resulted in downgrades by credit rating agencies, which in turn made capital raising even more difficult — a vicious cycle that further worsened its financials.

This apart there were serious lapses in corporate governance.

The RBI said, “The bank has also experienced serious governance issues and practices in the recent years which have led to steady decline of the bank,” adding that it had been in constant engagement with the bank’s management to find ways to strengthen its balance sheet and liquidity.

“Since a bank and market led revival is a preferred option over a regulatory restructuring, the Reserve Bank made all efforts to facilitate such a process and gave adequate opportunity to the bank’s management to draw up a credible revival plan, which did not materialise. In the meantime, the bank was facing regular outflow of liquidity,” the RBI explained on March 5, laying out the rationale for the moratorium.

Also read | TTD withdrew ₹1300 crore from YES Bank recently

When did it all start?

As on March 31, 2014, the bank’s loan book was ₹55,633 crore and deposits were ₹74,192 crore. Since then, over the next five-and-a-half years, the loan book expanded fourfold to ₹2,24,505 crore as on September 30, 2019, at the end of the second quarter of the current financial year, while deposit growth failed to keep pace and increased less than three times to ₹2,09,497 crore. The bank is yet to announce results for the third quarter.

Asset quality also worsened during the period with gross non-performing assets sharply rising from 0.31% as on March 31, 2014, to 7.39% at the end of September 2019.

The exponential growth at Yes Bank during that period also came under the regulator’s scanner. The lender has substantial exposure to several troubled borrowers including the Anil Ambani-led Reliance group, Dewan Housing Finance Corporation Ltd (DHFL) and IL&FS. This resulted in the RBI refusing to grant its then Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Rana Kapoor — also the bank’s co-founder — another three-year term after his tenure ended in August 2018. The RBI did not make public the reason for its decision to not extend Mr. Kapoor’s term. Finally he was given an extension till end-January 2019.

Also read | Mutual funds’ exposure to Yes Bank paper at ₹2,783 crore

The tipping point probably came earlier this year when one of the bank’s independent directors and chairman of the board’s audit committee, Uttam Prakash Agarwal, resigned from the board in January citing governance issues. The RBI, meanwhile, had been taking stock of the developments at the bank on a regular basis for the last few months.

What will be the likely impact on depositors?

While deposit withdrawals have been capped at ₹50,000, there are exceptions under which a higher amount can be withdrawn, with the permission of the RBI.

The RBI can allow a customer to withdraw more than ₹50,000 under the following conditions: (i) in connection with the medical treatment of the depositor or any person actually dependent on the depositor; (ii) towards the cost of higher education of the depositor or any person actually dependent on him for education in India or outside India; (iii) to pay obligatory expenses in connection with marriage or other ceremonies of the depositor or his/her children or of any other person actually dependent upon depositor; (iv) or any other unavoidable emergency.

The total withdrawal should, however, not exceed ₹5 lakh or the actual balance in the account, whichever is lower.

What about deposit insurance?

In case Yes Bank goes belly up for any reason, depositors will not lose all their money since deposits up to ₹5 lakh are covered under deposit insurance.

Also read | Saying ‘yes’ to troubled borrowers cost lender dear

While the deposit insurance cover was ₹1 lakh till recently, this was increased to ₹5 lakh in the aftermath of the crisis at the Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative (PMC) Bank Limited where caps too were set on deposit withdrawals. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the increase in deposit insurance in the Budget.

Will the developments at Yes Bank pose a systemic risk?

While the government and the regulator have asserted that the problem is solely related to this particular bank, ratings agency Fitch Ratings said the latest developments spotlight the governance risks in India’s banking sector.

It said, “There is a risk that the already poor operating environment for the banking sector could suffer further impairment if the government’s efforts to tackle problems in the bank fail to provide reassurance to depositors and investors,” while also assigning a negative outlook to India’s banking sector.

What is the way forward?

The RBI has come up with a draft reconstruction plan for Yes Bank which proposes that depositors’ funds would be protected. The employees would also have the same service conditions, including remuneration, at least for one year. However, in the case of key managerial personnel, the new board would be empowered to take a call.

The SBI, which has received board approval to invest in Yes Bank, will have to pick up to 49% stake, according to the scheme, at a price that is not less than ₹10 for each share having a face value of ₹2.

The investor bank (SBI) also cannot reduce its holding below 26% before the completion of three years from the date of infusion of the capital.

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Joe Biden Looks for His Own Joe Biden in Running Mate

In picking a running mate, Joe Biden has said he would want to recreate the dynamic he shared with Barack Obama — a working partner who shares his policy vision and also complements his skills and areas of expertise. But there’s so much more at stake in 2020.

If the front-running Biden wins the Democratic presidential nomination in Milwaukee in July, his choice of a running mate will surely be even under more scrutiny than other nominees, considering he would be the oldest person ever inaugurated if he became president.

Whoever is nominated, Democrats are intent on denying President Donald Trump a second term, and the wrong running mate could cost the ticket votes.

Add to that Biden’s age — he’s 77 — and that means voters will be looking at his running mate as someone who might have to step into the job unexpectedly. Also, he would be unlikely to seek a second term in his early 80s, making the vice presidential choice the presumptive front-runner for the 2024 nomination before Biden even holds his inauguration.

Choosing a running mate is the first presidential-level decision that a candidate makes, but it’s also a strategic one, with the potential to add geographic, racial, ideological or gender balance to the ticket, something that campaign managers and advisers believe can help win the race.

Biden has given a few clues on how he views the decision in recent weeks.

He said last July that the vice president should be someone the president can “completely trust, that they’re simpatico with, have the same approach, political approach and you can delegate significant authority to.”

In February, Biden said the person had to agree with him on key policy issues like Medicare for All. That would not only avoid a family feud when he works to expand the Affordable Care Act already in place with a public option. It would also mean the person wouldn’t change direction if he or she became president in 2025.

That would seem to rule out Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and possibly co-sponsors of Sanders’ bill, like Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Tammy Baldwin.

He’s also said that he would like to pick a woman as his running mate, saying he could think of eight or nine women who could do the job.

In November, he mentioned four by name: former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who dramatically resigned from the Justice Department in the first few months of the Trump administration, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and New Hampshire Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.

Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who can claim credit for single-handedly reviving Biden’s campaign with a well-timed and influential endorsement just before his state’s primary, has made it clear how he’d like to see the decision shape up.

”I doubt very seriously you’ll see a Democratic slate this year without a woman on it,” Clyburn said, adding, “I would love for it to be a person of color.”

That keeps Abrams in the mix and adds California Senator Kamala Harris. Harris dropped out of the 2020 race in December but remains well-respected in the party. Biden hasn’t said no when he’s been asked about her as a running mate, and she was good friends with his late son, Beau, when the two of them were state attorneys general.

But Biden already has strong ties to African-Americans, especially in the South, and liberal California will almost certainly vote for any Democrat on the November ballot over Trump. Where extra support is needed is among Latino voters, who so far have favored Sanders. A Hispanic woman could help Biden get votes and satisfy Clyburn’s not-so-subtle recommendation.

Among those possibilities are Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Grisham, however, has no Washington experience and the Biden campaign has suggested that they’re not looking for outsiders this year.

Ian Sams, a former spokesman for the Harris campaign, said he thinks the senator would be a strong pick because she’s been through the ringer in her own run for the presidency.

“She’s been vetted,” he said. “Her history and her record have gone through the press in a way that other candidates who are less known nationally have not.”

Here’s a look at some of the factors Biden will need to take into account.

‘Do No Harm’

He can learn from John McCain, running against Obama in 2008, chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, then an up-and-comer in the Republican Party and a relatively young woman. He hoped picking her would ease concerns about his age and war injuries and compare well to the Obamas, who were frequently referred to as the new Camelot.

But Palin was inexperienced and gaffe-prone with a turbulent family history. Oneresearch paper estimates that she ended up costing McCain just under 2 percentage points that November, or 2.1 million votes, although McCain campaign veterans dispute that and say that in some states she helped.

So Biden is looking for someone with extensive Washington experience or time as an executive, preferably someone who’s been vetted on the national stage.

Party Unity

Some argue Biden should pick someone from the progressive wing of the party to help bring together Democrats after a contentious race that exposed rifts in the party united only by the desire to beat Trump.

Ronald Reagan, the ex-movie star and California governor who was the darling of Christian conservatives, chose former primary rival George H.W. Bush in 1980. Bush served as a moderate counterweight to Reagan’s conservatism, especially on foreign policy. Biden seems averse to this approach.

Sanders probably wouldn’t work because he’s a year older than Biden. That could leave Warren, who has not yet endorsed a nominee.

Women Voters

Many Democratic women were feeling burned after Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, and seeing Warren, Harris and Amy Klobuchar drop from the race in 2020 only intensified those feelings.

Christopher Devine, a political science professor at the University of Dayton and author of the upcoming “Do Running Mates Matter?” says there’s “very little evidence” that Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 or Palin bolstered either Walter Mondale or McCain among women voters. But Pantsuit Nation, a women’s political advocacy group with 4 million members, hasa petition calling for Biden and Sanders to chose a woman as running mate, and Clyburn made clear his preference.

One advantage for Harris is that she would be likely be replaced in the Senate by another Democrat. That’s not the case for Warren, whose temporary replacement would be chosen by a Republican governor until a special election later that year.

Home State Advantage

Biden could also pick an elected official from one of the key swing states in November.

Boris Heersink, a professor of political science at Fordham University, has found that choosing a running mate from a swing state can boost the campaign by an average of 3 percentage points in that state, and up to 4 points if it’s an elected official with more than a decade in office.

“If you pick someone from a competitive state who has statewide experience, that would give you the biggest bang for your buck,” he said.

That means Biden could select a statewide elected official from Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, which Trump won by less than 1 percentage point, or possibly Arizona or Georgia, which are seen by Democrats as increasingly competitive.

Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin or Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer could fill those requirements. Baldwin is also openly gay, which could help ease disappointment over Pete Buttigieg’s withdrawal from the race.

Personal Chemistry

Biden speaks fondly of Obama and he could wind up picking someone because he likes that person.

The most recent example of this kind of choice is Mitt Romney’s choice of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate. Romney simply liked Ryan, famously going against the advice of his own pollster. Romney later said in a “60 Minutes” interview that he saw a lot of himself in Ryan, and he had often hired younger talent when he was in business.

Biden likes a lot of people. He spoke glowingly of Klobuchar and Buttigieg when they endorsed him, saying that running in a primary brings candidates together as friends. He had a rough moment in the primary with Harris when she criticized him for his position on busing to achieve school desegregation in the 1970s, but he remains fond of Harris because of her friendship with his son.

In a February appearance on NBC’s “The Today Show,” Biden said he wanted a vice president who he “didn’t have a single issue that they disagreed on.”

Asked if Harris fit that bill, he answered “Yes, I think so.”

(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, also sought the Democratic presidential nomination. He endorsed Joe Biden on March 4.)

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Universal Credit: Payments will rise next month and this is what you’ll receive

Universal Credit payments and other benefits have been flat for a number of years. In 2016, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne introduced a freeze which meant all benefit payments remained flat, regardless of changes to inflation. However, in November 2019, the government confirmed that this freeze will soon come to an end.

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From April 2020 working-age benefits, which includes Universal Credit and jobseekers allowance, will rise by 1.7 percent.

It is not just the new Universal Credit system that will benefit from this as “legacy benefits” will also be raised.

Legacy benefits are what was claimed before Universal Credit launched.

Universal Credit consolidated a lot of these benefits together but some people may still be claiming under the old system.

The legacy benefits include child tax credit, housing benefits, income-related employment and support allowance, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income support and working tax credit.

There are plans to completely roll these benefits into Universal Credit eventually but claimants can still receive income from them until that time.

Universal Credit payments are based on specific circumstances so it may be difficult to work out how the new rates will affect claimers.

It is possible to visualise how the rates could benefit claimants however by looking at the standard allowances.

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There is a monthly standard allowance in place that everyone will get as a minimum.

These allowances are split into four specific circumstances.

People who are single and under 25 will get £251.77 a month or if they’re over 25 it will be £317.82

Couples who are claiming and are both under 25 will receive £395.20 each and couples over 25 will get £498.89.

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With the 1.7 percent increase coming it is possible to see how the base rates will rise.

Single people will get either £255.97 or £323.22 a month Couples will receive £401.91 or £507.37.

It should be remembered that the base rates in place are the minimum that a Universal Credit claimant will receive.

It is likely that many people receiving benefits will get even more in income than this from April.

While the rates will be welcomed by many, some organisations have detailed that they don’t go far enough. Citizens Advice produced research detailing that despite the upcoming rises, many households will still end up in a negative budget.

It claims that the measure used to raise these rates, the consumer prices index (CPI), is not adequate and it should actually be two percent higher than the CPI rate to really make a difference.

While there have been no changes made to the official rise, many within the political world are pushing for change.

Following the research from Citizens Advice, the All Party Parliamentary Group pushed for the government to take heed of the findings and make a change to the Universal Credit system.

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