Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/604/8438
THE SUPREME Court ruled last week that the UK's high street banks can continue to apply excessive charges on customers' unauthorised overdrafts. The judgement stops the Office of Fair Trading investigating the fairness of these charges and allows the banks to rake in £2.6 billion in annual profits.
It also means that the banks avoid making an estimated £1 billion in refunds to customers who have been overcharged. Typically a bank will charge £35 or more for a single bounced cheque even though the bank's administration cost could be as little as £2.50.
Millions of bank customers are outraged that banks like Lloyds/HBOS and RBS can rip off struggling customers with impunity, while helping themselves to billions of pounds in 'unauthorised overdrafts' (bailouts) provided by the public purse.
THE ONSET of winter is a worrying time for the 4.5 million people living in fuel poverty, who are trying to heat their homes. However, that hasn't stopped the big six UK energy giants ripping off these customers.
It has emerged that the energy suppliers have broken the Ofgem regulator's rules by overcharging six million customers for the cost of pre-payment meters. Ofgem set the maximum cost at £88 but the average charge is over £100 per customer, with Scottish Power charging £108 and British Gas £106 more than those on direct debit schemes.
Between 2006 and 2008, the energy companies overcharged pre-payment customers (typically people whose income is below £13,500 a year - half the national average) some £464 million in 'unjustified charges'.
This year Scottish and Southern Energy made £410.5 million in profits - up 36% on 2008. British Gas made £451 million - or £34 profit per customer - up 43% on 2008, in addition to its 45% rise in profits in 2008. Yet British Gas only cut its bills to customers by a paltry 10% this year.
Afghanistan troop surge
As widely anticipated, US president Barack Obama is sending an extra 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in an attempt to pacify an increasing Taliban insurgency. Britain's PM Gordon Brown is also sending an extra 500 troops to help prop up the discredited corrupt regime of Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai. Increased troop numbers will only deepen the 'Afghan quagmire', leaving the 'war on terror' likely to continue into the indefinite future.
But as Brown and Obama understand, intensifying military operations will not defeat the Taliban, so behind the scenes Nato is attempting at the same time to negotiate with the insurgents - the very forces that UK and US troops are being sent to fight against.
Meanwhile, the plight of most Afghans is becoming more desperate as they suffer from mass unemployment, poverty and lack of security.
Far from ending the crisis the ongoing occupation will further destabilise the region, and increase the threat of terrorism.
In The Socialist 2 December 2009:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Youth fight for jobs
War and occupation
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party election campaign
Marxist analysis: history