Sunday, 12th March, 2023

[Day 1091]

After a delayed breakfast, Meg and I watched the Lorna Kuennssberg show to glean the latest from the BBC/Lineker affair. It seems to us as though the BBC is moving rapidly to repair whatever damage has been caused and hopfully we shall see ‘normal service will be resumed as soon as possible’ which is always the message put about when the BBC had a break in transmission. Incidentally, it is interesting how rarely that takes place these days. We had a quick mobile call from our University of Birmingham friend to confirm our meeting in Waitrose just before 11.00pm. Altogether, we spent the best part of two hours in each other’s company which cannot be bad. There was quite a lot of going down memory lane, I am afraid, but our friend and ourselves tended to have similar experience and the resolution of issues when we were at work – which was 15½ years ago in my case. Then he asked me various details about this blog such as ‘Why do you do it?’ to which there was no definitive answer. I think that the short answer is that I started this blog at the very start of the pandemic lock-down (as I thought it might be an interesting social history) but when the pandemic ended, I just carried on. Anyway, after our pleasant bit of socialising, it was case of getting home and cooking the Sunday lunch which today was relatively straightforward as we used the other half of a cooked gammon joint which I had frozen about a month ago and just needed thawing, slicing and adding to some of my onion gravy.

This afternoon was rather taken up by watching the Ireland-Scotland 6-Nations rugby match. This match was surprising close and very hard fought in the first half with only one point separating the two sides at half time. But then as you might expect from the top team in the world at the moment, the Irish gradually extended their lead despite some injuries and forced substitutions but as a match it was entertaining and far from the foregone conclusion that you might have thought before the match started. We have a good evening of entertainment lined up for this evening and we always enjoy the Andrew Neil show which is normally on about 6.00ish as the level of questionning and analysis tends to exceed that on some of the political shows over the weekend. In this evening’s show, for example, I saw Andrew Neil comprehensively take apart Victoria Atkins who is a Tory Treasury Minister. Neil kept pressing his question why it was that the UK economy had failed to reach pre-pandemic levels and we were alone amongst the G7 economies in not being able to recover lost ground. When asked a series of more technical questions (e.g. debt to GDP rtio) she did not know the answer and had to confess to not knowing. Eventually in sheer desperation,she volunteered that we had the NHS to pay for and this was why the UK was doing so badly. Andrew Neil reminded her that Italy, too, had a national health service to which answer was there none. I should imagine that the politicos at Conservative Central Office must have been squirming in their seats at Atkin’s absysmal performance and I predict that she will never be allowed near a TV studio ever again this side of an election. As we have been so busy what with one thing or another this Sunday, I have scarcely got round to reading any of the Sunday Times but no doubt this will wait a little, unless overtaken by events.

This week we have the budget on Wednesday which does not have the level of interest that it used to do. It is interesting that two particular issues have crept up the political agenda about which ‘something needs to be done’ but it is not really a question of dispute between the political parties. The first of these is childcare costs in the UK which are the highest in Europe and twice the European average. These costs are now so enormous that childcare is completely unaffordable for many couples. The average cost of sending a child under two to a nursery for 25 hours per week (part-time) has risen to £7,729 per year (52 weeks) and this figure would wipe out the part-time earnings of many young women. The deterrent effect of this is hard to overstate and is acting as quite a drag on the UK economy. Another major factor is the fact that many older workers have disappeared from the labour force even though they are not yet of retirement age. It looks as though half a million workers, predominantly in their 50’s and early 60’s, have now left the labour force. Some of this is due to redundancy of older workers who then fail to find unemployment. But a major factor is a sharp increase in health-related conditions, some of them associated with the pandemic, as a result of which work is increasingly difficult. Budget watchers will no doubt see that the Chancellor may announce some measures to alleviate these two problems but they are very likely to be of the ‘sticking plaster’ solution rather than anything more fundamental.