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29 January 2020

Them & Us

Bezos's billionaires' blow-out

Billionaires, chief executives, politicians and state officials gathered at Jeff Bezos's $23 million mansion for one hell of a shindig on Saturday 25 January. Bill Gates and Trump family figures were there as well.

It was the after-party for the annual dinner of the Alfalfa Club, composed of former presidents and big business bosses - who wear gold medals to show how special they are. The Earth's 2,153 billionaires control as much wealth as the poorest 60% of all humanity, reports Oxfam.

Still in the money

Multimillionaire chief exec Mike Coupe is retiring from Sainsbury's. Coupe is notorious after being caught on camera singing "We're in the Money" to himself ahead of an interview about a (failed) merger with Asda that threatened thousands of jobs.

Last year, Coupe cut Argos workers' Christmas bonuses in half, to just 5. He earned 3.9 million in pay and bonuses the year of the collapsed merger, and will go on collecting his 962,000 annual salary until May.

Rich get better NHS

Analysis of 23 quality indicators found worse care across the board in poor areas compared to rich ones, say the Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation. And just 64% of poorer patients reported a good experience booking into the GP, as to 72% of richer ones.

Grenfell advisor resigns

Engineer Benita Mehra has resigned from the Grenfell inquiry after anger that the professional association she once headed previously received 71,000 in funding from a charitable foundation run by Grenfell cladding manufacturer Arconic. The conflict of interest seemed clear, but it took campaigning by survivors and press exposure to resolve it.

Councils' climate incompetence

43% of the 214 councils who replied to a green energy survey don't even know how much carbon they produce, says the Electrical Contractors' Association.

78% claim they are planning for net-zero carbon by 2050, but 47% have no strategy for reducing emissions. Each year, council HQs in England generate as much carbon dioxide as 150,000 London to New York return flights - over 250,000 tonnes.

Debt rulings double

England and Wales issued a record 1.15 million county court judgments for debt repayment in 2019 - and rising. That's 3% more than 2018 - and more than double 2012, says the Registry Trust.

Poor air for poor

Children born in Liverpool since 2011 can expect to live five months less due to air pollution, reports the British Lung Foundation. The concentration of motor exhaust is worst in poor districts - which also have the lowest incidence of car ownership.

It's the same story in all cities. And even average UK pollution levels cause a 34% higher risk of severe nasal allergies, says the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Welsh NHS wait

The NHS in Wales set a new record for long A&E waits in December. Only 72.1% of patients were seen within four hours, reports the Welsh Government.

Dementia care down

Emergency dementia admissions in hospitals rose 35% to 379,000 in five years, says the Alzheimer's Society. The increase of 100,000 from 2012-13 to 2017-18 reflects the collapse of care services.

Kids' care crisis

In 2009-10, the care system was responsible for 64,460 children. In 2016-17, this had grown to 75,420, reports Tory peer Michael Farmer. Council applications to take kids into care rose over a fifth, and numbers on child protection plans by 38%. Around 78,000 are now in the system, including 4,500 seeking asylum.

Green jobs gone

The green energy workforce fell by over 11,000 in the four years from 2014, says the ONS. There were just 235,900 workers in the sector in 2018. The Tories slashed subsidies by 65% in 2015 - and scrapped them in 2019.

38.9% of UK energy came from renewables in September, a record high. But with domestic turbine manufacturing forced out of business, the Tories are now way off course for hitting their carbon reduction targets. To get there, the UK needs to create 120,000 green energy jobs by 2030 and 400,000 by 2050, says the National Grid.