Search This Blog

Monday, 18 November 2013

Fiddling with figures, while winter fuel burns

I’m getting a bit fed up with the EU-bashing, sneering-at-expat attitude of the Daily Mail. Doubtless the response of the readers of other UK newspapers will say, “What else do you expect?” Well, all UK papers have their good points, and their bad; several run laudable crusades, and several overstep the line, hence the pillorying they’ve endured from certain celebrities and MPs. I still side with the argument to maintain a free press, even if they do get it wrong from time to time. And the old adage about you can’t believe everything you read in a newspaper holds true – whether that’s the Mail or the Guardian or all those in between these two extremes. Particularly when they quote figures to back up their agenda.

In my blog of 5 October I suggested that certain UK sections, notably government ministers, would deliberately mess with ‘temperature tests’ in their bid to curtail expat British tax payers’ winter fuel payments. It hasn’t taken long: the Mail did it this Thursday, 14 November (second column).

And on Friday, 15 November the Mail published an amusing cartoon, based on one of the previous day’s news items.
This is my letter of complaint to the Mail, which wasn’t printed, of course.:

As a retired expat living in Spain, I take exception to Mac’s cartoon. I admire Mac’s skill, and yes, I can see the joke. But it panders to a mistaken image of retirees that borders on the offensive, as well as being misguided in fact. I doubt if any retirees would take a dip in a swimming pool during the winter months. And not all buy vino by the van-load. And we certainly wouldn’t be spending the winter fuel payment on wine, but on bottled gas to keep warm (see below).

Your sensational page 2 item (Thursday, November 14, ‘Cost of winter fuel perk for expats in sun soars by 70%’) perpetuates the myth.

Concerning the UK Winter fuel payments, ‘Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith yesterday said… huge increase in UK winter fuel payments equates to a near doubling in costs to the British taxpayer and that is wholly unacceptable… we are not prepared to sit back and allow hard-working taxpayers’ money to be used in this way.’

Clearly, Mr Smith has forgotten that many British expats still pay UK taxes, and I’m one of them. And we’ve been hard-working throughout our adult life, paying our taxes, before retiring. If the fuel payment is a ‘perk’ for all British taxpayers, then where they live shouldn’t matter.

Indeed, I take issue when dubious science in the form of ‘temperature tests’ is applied. Your article is a prime example of supplying favourable data to bolster the anti-expat argument. You state ‘… Spain, where temperatures in December and January can reach 63F (17C)…’ You’re being selective. A reality check online would show that for the Costa Blanca, where I and many expats live, the temperatures for December and January are very different: December (High=17, low=7), January (High= 16, low= 5) – that’s ten or more degrees lower than you cite. 

Anyone with a grain of geographical knowledge knows that while days in Spain may be pleasantly warm in winter, evenings are cold. It’s a little disingenuous to apply a ‘temperature test’ at midday, which is what you have quoted.

In winter, the houses in Spain still require heating. This heating is in the main supplied by bottled gas, whose prices have increased considerably over the last six years, thanks to green taxes. My bottled gas bill for the winter 2011-12 amounted to 1,160 euros (about £981).
Through their UK taxes, most British pensioners living in Spain and claiming the fuel payments, actually pay towards Mr Iain Duncan Smith’s and all civil servants’ wages. It seems that expats are considered a soft target. Yet these same pensioners paid into the system. Since the rules entitle them to a monetary benefit, why should Mr Smith see fit to penalise these same taxpayers? A cynic might consider that it’s political expediency with small risk at the next election.

In conclusion, I always have the option of no longer buying the expensive Daily Mail – that should go a long way to paying for my gas bottles.

Footnote to this blog: All of Europe is currently experiencing arctic blasts of cold weather. Ours in the Costa Blanca today was as low as 3 degrees. It's naïve of me to think so, but if figures are going to be used in an argument, then I'd expect them to be right!


No comments: