How to help someone with depression

Depression is a horrible, solitary, debilitating, mental health condition. As a sufferer myself I found myself feeling alone, isolated, and deeply unmotivated. Many people suffer from depression and their friends and relatives clearly want to help. However, that help can sometimes be misguided and damaging.

This post explores the effect the wrong sort of help can have and, importantly, what might be the best way to help.

A few days ago I read a post on LinkedIn. It was a well-intentioned piece aimed at an audience of well-balanced self-starters. Let me be clear, I am not critical of the post itself – it works for the writer’s audience (even if it is a little simplistic, clickbaity, and shallow). The post exemplifies the type of advice that is generally bad for people with depression.

Here’s the post …

1 way to raise your SELF-CONFIDENCE:
1. Surround yourself with people who tell you:
“You CAN,”
“You SHALL,”
“You WILL.”
Naysayers are ten a penny. Be discerning about who you allow to participate in your journey.
Personally, I have always preferred to be alone…. Than in bad company! Any thoughts, please? Wishing you all a wonderful weekend with people who truly care about your future!

This post, especially those three ‘motivational’ phrases, typify the type of wrong and damaging kind of advice people with depression are often given.

Before I go further let me be clear. I am not a medical professional nor qualified in any way to provide anything more than my personal perspective. Your own experiences, as a friend or relative or someone with depression, may be radically different. If you think you may be suffering from depression then seek help from your family doctor or a mental health professional. If you know or suspect someone is suffering from depression then encourage them to do the same.

What is depression?

Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain or may have a more physical cause such as a damaged region of the brain. It’s important to understand this is a medical condition not someone choosing to be moody. There’s some debate about the root causes but the majority view is, currently, that a chemical called serotonin has a lower concentration in your brain than it ought. Depression, as with all mental health problems, is a complex disease with many nuances and this is a very simplified explanation of depression.

My experience of depression.

My own experience with depression was described as high functioning. I had a chronic (long-lasting) low-level depression. So, externally I seemed fine. Internally I was a stew of conflicting feelings, mainly negative and self-defeating. Depression would adversely affect me at the most inopportune moments.

An example. I loved my job as a scrum master working for a company building mobile apps. As the company grew and my boss got promoted there was an opportunity for promotion and I was told I was in the line-up. As I left the meeting I was elated. Bizarrely though, as I walked out of that meeting, my mind was saying “Don’t f**k this up. I’m going to f**k this up.” Sure enough, my mind did all it could to wrench this opportunity from my grasp. I failed, overslept, lacked motivation, and didn’t deliver what I should have. I never got promoted and in fact, I was finally subjected to disciplinary measures for poor performance. I was in a trough of depression.

But as a high functioning sufferer of depression, I soldiered on. One day though, it became too much. I arrived in London on the train and simply could not go on. I turned around and caught the next train home – telling my boss what had happened and admitting to depression.

I went to the doctor and started a long path of recovery. Medicines, counselling, and a supportive partner all helped drag me out of this flump.

I have since gone on to find the help of a therapist to get me through a difficult period in my life. The passing of my mum, separation from my partner and son, selling the family home, and loss of my job all happened in an eight-month timescale. In the past, without getting my depression treated and without someone to help talk through things, I would have struggled to cope.

The wrong words for people with depression.

Back to the article. In it, the author suggests, that to build self-confidence, you should be surrounding yourself with positive people. These people should utter phrases such as YOU CAN, YOU WILL, YOU SHALL and, sure, this works for someone in a normal state of mind. There usually follows a round of high-fives and rambunctious activity.

Unfortunately, statements of this type tend to have the opposite effect on someone with depression. We are told by friends, relatives, and colleagues to just get up and pull ourselves together. Good advice, right?

Wrong. Advice like this serves to amplify the feelings of hopelessness. Our minds compare our inability to get out of bed or that we’ve been sat in PJs for days with the simple prompt to get out and pull ourselves together.

It goes like this:

You will! – I bloody well can’t.
You shall! – I bloody well won’t.
You can! – Oh go away and leave me alone!

They feel slightly worse than when the advice started.

Positivity and depression don’t sit comfortably together and there is a considerable disconnect between the two mindsets. It may seem like good advice but the effects can be counterintuitive. Often dangerously so. The positive words of encouragement simply serve to reinforce the negative feelings a person with depression has.

How can you help someone with depression?

It’s not easy. It takes patience and time. One of the first things you need to ensure is you look after yourself. Make time for your own mental health especially if you are a close relative or partner of the person with depression. It can be a slippery slope of first experiencing empathy and then sympathy and starting to experience symptoms yourself.

As I’ve already discussed, a person with depression is unlikely to respond to motivational statements. What’s needed is quiet support, just sitting and listening, non-judgementally. Trying to understand their feelings can be hard but is vital. Just don’t get sucked down the slope towards your own experience of depression.

Encouraging your friend or relative to seek help is important. It’s likely your first port of call will be your friend or relative’s family doctor. Helping to make an appointment. Explaining to the receptionist the urgency of the appointment and then accompanying them to that appointment will all be invaluable steps. You may need to convince the family doctor to come and visit rather than trying to force your friend or relative to go to the clinic. Alternatively, a phone consultation might be more effective.

You should reassure your friend or relative that seeking help is OK. There is no need to be ashamed of having a mental health condition. It can be and should be treated – in just the same way you’d seek help for a broken bone or the flu.

The doctor will probably prescribe some medicine – in the UK this is likely to be a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor or SSRI. These are the most common type of medicines that are prescribed to people with depression. They may also suggest a type of talking therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This was my experience.

The role of medicine is to regulate the mood. To smooth out the troughs, and sometimes peaks, of someone’s feelings. This can take many weeks or months, so it’s important to maintain quiet support during this time. As the person with depression begins to recover the doctor will carefully monitor their progress. They’ll check to see that the medicine is working and if not try a different dose or different medicine.

They may also put you in touch with the local crisis team. These are a group of social workers and medical professionals who are on call should things become too much for the person with depression. They will help them through any crisis and try to help ensure they are safe from harm. They will be able to access your friend or relative to the appropriate services and this may include hospital-based care.

Antidepressant medicines are not intended for long term use. They are not a cure. Their role is to get someone with depression stable. To get their mind into a space where they can begin to consider the next steps .

When you see the person’s mood begin to stabilise then it can be time to try and get some semblance of normality back into your friend’s life. It is totally possible to get through depression and to experience remission from this condition. Your help, support, and understanding can be a key pillar of someone’s recovery.

The next steps will vary according to your friend or relative’s needs and mental state. It might simply be going for walks. Nature is an excellent antidepressant. Once they start to feel stronger then it may be time to suggest therapy of some sort and, again, your doctor will be able to recommend a suitable service.

The above is a simple path to recovery with you providing essential support. It will be very different for any person with depression and you should look for advice on how to help and how to make sure you preserve your own mental health. Resources are at the bottom of this article.

Depression and work

Employers should understand depression. Mental health conditions need to be treated and part of this is time off work to get medical and psychological help as well as take the time to rest and recover. My own employer was great. I got the time off I needed as sick leave, I was offered counselling and I was not pressured to return to work before I was ready.

Resources to get help for yourself or a friend suffering with depression

Helping someone with depression – MIND UK – Call 0300 123 3393
NHS Advice on Depression – NHS UK
Depression: Supporting a family member of friend – Mayo Clinic
The Samaritans – Dial 116 123 to talk
British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy

The earth is flat

Yes, the earth is flat and flat earthers have compelling proof of this.

I have a peculiar fascination with conspiracy theories. I have often wandered down the rabbit hole of YouTube watching videos about our reptilian overlords, aliens from dimension X, the New World Order, 9/11, and many more.

Conspiracies come in a number of flavours including:

  • Earthbound conspiracies. These are conspiracies relating to government, shadow government, the Illuminati, the Rothschilds, and 9/11 among many. They have a certain plausibility, they involve real people and organisations. A key element of these types of conspiracy is, in my mind, they’d all make a great Hollywood thriller. Another, interesting thing about these Earthbound conspiracies is that many have turned out to be true! Look up MKUltra, or Operation Northwoods as two of several ‘conspiracies’ later proven to be fact after a freedom of information request revealed the truth.
  • Reality denial conspiracies. This category is the flat earth theorist type. Flat earthers, in particular, are amazing to listen to. The way they twist facts and their willingness to ignore and discount vast volumes of evidence as simply fake is astonishing. They will concoct tales of the stars being lights in a glass dome and the Sun and Moon being powerful lamps suspended from the dome to support their fantasy.
  • Wild fantasy. The earth is hollow and has various civilisations living in hidden cities miles beneath the surface. These types of fantasy are similar to binge-watching Game of Thrones. As Game of Thrones develops more and more layers of Westeros lore are revealed. In the same way, this type of fantasist starts with a simple idea that the Earth is hollow. Then come underground cites, then reptilian or alien overlords living below and, of course, controlling events on the surface. Evidence is scant and mainly of the ‘I read on the internet’, ‘he said’, ‘I heard’ type that is generated by fevered minds living in clouds of psychoactive vapour.

The Flat Earth conspiracy

One of my favourite conspiracies is the Flat Earth conspiracy. I am not referring to the highly entertaining, brilliantly written Discworld series by Terry Pratchett but to a sincerely held belief by a small – but disturbingly growing and vociferous – group of flat earth believers. Their claim that the earth is a plane and not a globe is supported by their selective interpretation of science, the extrapolation of small scale observations into macro-scale conclusions, and the mass disposal of vast troves of evidence and scientific observation, that doesn’t fit their belief, as simply fake.

So, how did I get embroiled in the flat earth theory? Well, I was sat, sleepless in my little village, a few nights ago perusing a Facebook group focussing on the real issue of UFOs and reptilian overlords, I spotted a picture of a nighttime rocket launch claiming to show a rocket launch returning to the sea.

Flat earthers, Moon landing deniers, and assorted conspiracists posited that this photo proves that there’s no ‘space’ and that rockets launched by NASA and other space organisations are simply fired off into the ocean. From this, of course, it’s clear that the Moon landings didn’t happen. In the spirit of balance, quite a few people also argued for the reality of space, and moon landings and the like. Possibly people who, like me, find conspiracists fascinating.

A discussion started in which I and a few others pointed out that for a rocket, or its payload, to go into orbit it does need to fly parallel* to the surface at some point and that the reason this trail seems to be going back to the surface is that the earth is a ball and what you see is the rocket going around the ball.

*I know parallel is not the right term for flying in orbit. But I wanted to avoid saying orbit because that is the basis of the argument we are having.

Enter the flat earthers …

MeBasic maths. Also, even if the rocket went straight up the path would curve cos the Earth is rotating beneath it.
Flat eartherCan you prove that?
MeLet me qualify that. Relative to the moving surface of the earth, it would curve. Yes, I can prove it, but not to a flat earther without using a huge rocket.
Flat eartheroh so basically you can’t prove it lol
MeSo do you accept the evidence the earth is a sphere or are you wrong?
Flat eartherI can show that the surface of the earth is demonstrably flat. Yet you are unable to provide evidence of your claims
Flat eartherwhat is the empirical evidence that the earth rotates?
MePlease do (this is in response to his claim that he can show the earth is demonstrably flat)
Flat earther 2There IS no proof that it rotates or that it is a globe. Cannot be proven whatsoever. But you can prove there is no curve. It’s been done with lasers and the naked eye. How does water curve around a ball? I’ll wait….
  
  

It was at this point at the start of the conversation I had the first hint at the main problem when trying to argue with a flat earther. They simply deny all reality that doesn’t fit with their belief. They also will take a small piece of evidence and extrapolate that out to prove their point.

Any evidence a spherical earther, or globist, presents is simply dismissed as fake or illusionary.

So let’s look at a few points of ‘evidence’ from the fevered minds of the flat earthers.

Taking a small piece of evidence and extrapolating it out to prove the Flat Earth Theory

You cannot see any curvature of the Earth

Later in the conversation, the evidence that can be seen with the naked eye was rolled out. Cleary, they say, if you look at a body of water like a lake it looks flat and serene. Even the ocean looks flat. It’s an answer derived from limited reasoning and willingness to ignore reality. It’s kind of like looking at an elephant really close up and concluding it’s a snake because all you can see is its trunk!

They also state the fact, which is true, that when you look at the horizon you cannot see any curvature. Now there’s a good reason for this. What you are looking at, when you observe the horizon from sea level is a small section of a sphere, the edges of which are the point which the curvature slopes below what you can observe.

Please see my highly accurate sketch.

Imagine our little man is standing on a very small island in the middle of the Pacific. All he can see is the ocean. As he spins around on his little island his eye sees as far as it can before the curve of the Earth drops so far as to form the horizon. The edge, from his point of view, is perfectly straight and there is no curve. But as we see above, this is a perfectly normal thing to happen when on a globe.

The horizon at sea level is a mere 5km away (give or take a small allowance for your height) which means you can only observe a tiny 75 sq. kilometres of the earth’s 510,100,000 sq. kilometres. This is not going to look curved on the scale of a planet. To help, imagine a small coin glued to the surface of a 1km wide ball. Your point of view is from the middle of that coin, what do you think you will see?

Additionally, the earth is not uniformly round. Some parts will indeed be flat, some even concave – blame geology. But overall, the earth is a globe and any flat earth effects are merely due to scale.

An experiment to prove to yourself that the Earth is a sphere.

For us globists (for that is our derogatory name among flat earthers), there is an experiment that can be done to show the Earth is a sphere and that anyone with two equal-length sticks, a friend, two tape measures, and two cell phones (optional) can do.

Take one stick, one person, one tape measure, and one cell phone to somewhere like Lands End and send the other person, tape measure, stick and cell phone and travel to the east, somewhere like Dover. Pick your own local spots of course. There’s no need to do this in the southern counties of England.

At a predetermined time, or coordinated by cell phone, place the sticks vertically on the ground and simply measure the length of the shadows. If the Earth is flat then the shadows will be the same length*. If it is spherical then they will be different because of the different angles of the stick relative to the Sun.

* Of course, the flat earther will argue that the Sun is a point source of light below a crystal sphere a few thousand miles up and the shadows will differ due to the angle of the light hitting the sticks. A bit of basic trigonometry will show if the angle is due to the point source or the curvature of the Earth. I will place a bet on the results.

Gravity doesn’t exist

The other demonstrable ‘fact’ they quote is that water will not stick to a ball. I checked and sure enough, if you pour water onto a football (a British spherical football) it falls off and your feet get wet. One point to the flat earther?

Not really. What they ignore is the football is on a rather large object (the Earth) with a substantial gravitational force acting on the ball, water, and wet feet. The larger Earth does hold water to its surface due to gravity. The distortion of space-time caused by the mass of our planet which forces all the water on the Earth to ‘fall’ down the gravity well towards the Earth’s centre – stopped only by thousands of miles of rock and magma.

So, I have now confounded the flat earther?

No. Apparently I cannot prove gravity because there is no gravity – duhhh! Only something that feels like gravity. Their theory for why we feel something we ignorant globists call gravity is interesting and we’d definitely fail the water sticking to a ball test if this were true.

This, from the Wiki of the Flat Earth Society, should make things clear:

The earth is constantly accelerating up at a rate of 32 feet per second squared (or 9.8 meters per second squared*). This constant acceleration causes what you think of as gravity. Imagine sitting in a car that never stops speeding up. You will be forever pushed into your seat. The earth works much the same way. It is constantly accelerating upwards being pushed by a universal accelerator (UA) known as dark energy or aetheric wind.

Flat Earth Society WIKI

Clearly, if this were true, then only flat earth would be able to maintain water on its surface. On a globe it would slide right off into space, leaving a glistening trail of ice and frozen fish behind it.

Using Newton’s formula for calculating speed (V = U + AT) under constant acceleration we would find it would take just less than 1 year to exceed the speed of light. Impossible says Einstein and remarkably flat earthers agree. In fact, on this point, Einstein, flat earthers, and I are in accordance.

If you want, to look at their explanation of this using the Lorentz Transformation. It’s a real equation that demonstrates how an object cannot exceed the speed of light in a stationary frame of reference. So basically, if I understand their argument, the Earth is approaching the speed of light but will never reach it. It’s interesting how this sliver of science is accepted as gospel while Einstein’s related theory of gravity is dismissed out of hand.

*I should correct their notation. It is not 9.8 metres per second squared, it is in fact 9.8 metres per second per second – which is not the same. Science is not a strong point.

Why do flat earthers think NASA, ESA, science in general is hiding the ‘fact’ the Earth is Flat?

OK so actually the Flat Earth Society wiki states that there is, in fact, no conspiracy. NASA and those advised by NASA and, indeed, the world’s space agencies are not trying to hide the fact the Earth is flat or pretend it is a sphere. They are simply militaristic organisations hell-bent on the use of space (which apparently doesn’t exist) for world domination.

You can see their explanation here https://wiki.tfes.org/The_Conspiracy

Again we stumble across the selective use of ‘evidence’ to support their claims. In their explanation, the Flat Earth Society say that the US Army’s Ballistic Missile Arsenal was renamed as the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA). This is a falsehood both in the exclusion of other organisations that were merged into the newly formed NASA and in the scope in which the ballistic missile program was merged into NASA.

In fact, the following organisations or parts were merged to form NASA and the main constituent of NASA was actually the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics:

  • National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics which was totally adsorbed into NASA along with 8000 employees and its $100m budget
  • Langley Aeronautical Laboratory
  • Ames Aeronautical Laboratory
  • Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory
  • Elements of the Army Ballistic Missile Laboratory including the work from Werner von Braun (German and Nazi rocket scientist)
  • Elements of the United States Naval Research Laboratory
  • Research efforts from the US Airforce
  • Non-military research projects from the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA)
  • Slightly later NASA gained control of the Jet propulsion Laboratory (JPL) from the California Institute of Technology.

Looking at this list, surely it makes sense to incorporate research and technologies from agencies that know a bit about firing objects up into space – be it military or otherwise.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA#Creation

And no, I do not accept that Wikipedia is the font of all truth but this is an accurate account of the formation of NASA and shows the flat earther’s willingness to selectively present information to support their belief.

Why do flat earthers believe the Earth is flat and not a globe?

It seems to boil down to their desire to be special or rather that the Human race is special. They do not believe they are descended from Apes*. Nor do they accept the theory of evolution. They want to feel special, that a creator or higher power made mankind and has made a special place for us in the universe. I find it kind of sad that all the wonders we have discovered in the cosmos, the achievements of men and women as they fly into space or land on the Moon (YES THEY DID), the travels of the Voyager spacecraft as they leave the Solar System. All these amazing feats and wonders are dismissed and ignored as fake, as conspiracies and coverups by flat earthers so that they can feel special. So they can feel safe and secure in this little bubble of existence. What a limited outlook.

* We’re not descended from Apes, we’re related to Apes.

You can watch this documentary made by a flat earth sceptic for National Geographic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06bvdFK3vVU

Cynically, I also suspect that apart from feeling special a few of the flat earth leadership enjoy the adoration of their fans and the swelling of their bank account as they sell books, videos, tee shirts, speaking engagements, and models of the flat Earth to their followers.

Still, it’s nice to feel special, It’s great to have fans and who are we to judge them for their view of the universe or indeed making a few dollars from that view. I only hope that the current upsurge in flat earth campaigning doesn’t infect our or their children and sully their future outlook. I also hope this theory doesn’t get onto the school curriculum in states like Texas where it’s already compulsory to teach creationism as fact. (I can hear the knives being sharpened!)

Finally, I consider flat earth to be a theory put forward by lunatics. I am an atheist so talk of creationism, a creator, biblical texts, or science is fake just do not cut it for me. I am planning a range of articles to debunk the flat earth conspiracy and other mindless theories in the coming weeks.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Labour’s plan to eliminate public schools.

Party says it would ‘integrate’ independent schools into the state sector, while universities would be told to ensure that no more than seven per cent of their students were privately educated.

Independent newspaper

What does abolishing private schools mean in reality?

The Labour Party Conference has stated:

  • Private schools will be integrated into the state system
  • VAT exemption on school fees will be abolished
  • Private schools’ charitable status will be removed
  • Private schools’ land, buildings and other assets will be distributed into the state education system
  • Universities will have to cap the number of admissions from private schools at 7%

What does integration mean? Presumably, the transfer of private school’s into the state system. Will Eton become a council-funded academy with its teachers on the state pay scale?

Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn (privately educated), will nationalise the private education sector and we all know how well nationalisation has gone in the past.

A fairer education system

To their credit, the Labour Party want to make the UK’s education system fairer for all. This is a very laudable ambition and one I support in principle. I’d love for my son to be able to access the same high-quality education he is getting at a private school for free. Of course I would!

Labour’s point seems to be that no child should have the opportunity of a better education simply because their parents can afford it. And this is the meat of the matter. The state system is not a direct analogue for the private sector. Therefore it cannot just be fairer, state schools need to be as good as the best private schools. And perhaps private schools are, in part, good because they would not survive if they were mediocre.

The current state education system is not fair. The quality of education a child receives depends entirely on their postcode. Even then, your local school needs to have the capacity – they often do not. In these cases, parents are left with no choice but to place their children in state schools further from home. Every year we see the same school place lottery. 

All children and indeed adults should have the same access to an excellent education from cradle to grave. This is something every political party should aspire to and also engage in a little introspection about. After all, they have all overseen the demoralisation and underpayment of teachers, been guilty of constant tinkering, and all have underfunded education. This, in turn, has seen the state education system deteriorate. Politicians must get the state system working right for the children it currently serves before abolishing a generally excellent private sector. 

Until state education is consistently outstanding, no party should be looking to remove my option to provide a private education for my son.

Me

Can the state education system cope?

Our state education system is overstretched with large class sizes (30+), and teachers are in short supply. If nothing is done, right now, it is going to get worse. The Times Educational Supplement suggests an additional 47,000 teachers are needed to cope with an expected surge of 600,000 pupils currently being shoved into an already stretched state education system.

State education cannot deliver at a high quality, consistently, from school to school. Ofsted’s reports show that around 1 in 10 schools in England do not meet the standard of ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’. Rather they languish in the ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ category.

So the Labour party wants to take yet another 600,000 private pupils (additional to the 600,000 already about to surge through the system) and thrust these into that same state system. Presumably, that would mean the 47,000 extra teachers, even if they could be recruited, would still be inadequate. Well, there’s really no ‘presumably’ is there?

If the Labour party get their way we will see schools which are borderline begin to fail, more teachers leave the profession, exam scores fall, and overall education standards plummet. More schools will fail to reach the ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ level and more schools will be put into special measures. My opinion. 

Too much demand for too few good schools.

Is Corbyn’s nationalisation of private schooling the politics of envy? An act of class warfare? Maybe, whatever it is, it is ill-thought through. It’s a policy designed to appeal to socialist idealists. It’s a policy which currently insists that all children will have the same opportunity of education even if that quality is lower. 

Good schools in England face enormous pressure for places. It is a crime to falsify where you live in order to get your child into a good school. Parents relocate to be in a good school’s catchment area and even then, there may not be enough places for all the children in the area. Demand for good schools drives house prices. The difference in house prices between a good school’s area and a school that needs to improve can be around 12%.

The state education system simply cannot take in the number of extra pupils that will be ‘expelled’ from these schools. Even if the teachers, buildings, books, and assets are redistributed into the state system. I suspect a good deal of private teachers will up-sticks and move to another country or to jobs where they will be paid similar salaries.

The state system is underfunded. Private schools’ formerly excellent facilities will degrade over time. A computer per pupil will be reduced to a computer shared between multiple pupils. Sports fields will be sold off.

The pressure on good schools is already huge and unsustainable. The difference in the quality of state education is real and stark. These facts cannot be ignored.

My experience of state and private schooling.

My partner and I put our son into the village school in Berkshire. He was happy there, got homework mostly appropriate to his age and ability including reading at a level to stretch him. He was doing well within the confines of what the state provides. We had no major concerns about his education given we and the school were giving him what he needed.

Then we separated. My son went to a school in Devon, and it was terrible. Lack of homework, reading was at the level of the lowest common denominator and bullying appeared to be tolerated. So we looked around and decided to put him into a private school. So far he is thriving. He even sets his alarm clock (Darth Vader model) to make sure he gets up in time for the school run.

Now, we are by no means privileged, elite, nor born with a silver spoon. We are making sacrifices to pay for his schooling. In fact, a lot of parents who put their children into this school appear to be working men and women doing ordinary jobs and making similar sacrifices to put their children in a good school.

If private schools are abolished by Labour, who will it hurt?

And this is the crux. It might be easier to ask who this won’t hurt. This won’t hurt the children or pockets of the ‘elite’. The moguls, aristocracy, royals, leaders of industry nor anyone you may think of when you imagine the types that send their children to a private school. The wealthy. People like me and my son will be hurt, people who are already making sacrifices to put their children into private schools. For me, the rise in prices once VAT is imposed and charitable status is removed may well mean I have to withdraw the boy and put him back into the local school which served him so badly. Or he relocates.

The wealthy will soak up the price increase or move their children’s schooling to a country with a less rabid view of private education. Labour’s real Nemesis will be unaffected. The likes of me and the people striving to give their kids a decent education will be the ones who are affected most by this new scheme.

If Labour is elected to form a government, what next?

Well, here it is. Day one. Prime Minister Corbyn – I mentioned he was privately educated? – reaches out for his Bic Biro and signs the Nationalisation of Private Schools act.

Maybe a little presidential but you get the gist.

Private schools up and down the country sign all their assets over to the state.

No. They engage lawyers, lobbyists, public opinion, alumni, and more. They end up in court, rather quickly, and start to protest the seizing of their buildings, land, and more. They object to the imposition of VAT and smart, well-paid lawyers debate the charitable status of these schools in court. They embarrass the government by comparing private school results to state schools.

Private schools open their facilities to the local communities. In fact, a lot do already. They offer bursaries or scholarships, many do already.

In the end, Labour’s policy will, if they pursue it, take many years in court. Every school will appeal the seizure of its assets. 2,500 schools’ appeals flood the court system. The Independent Schools Council will appeal on behalf of all private schools. It will be expensive, wasteful, and pointless.

In the end, even if the court system agrees and private schools are taken into the state system, it will not work unless the state system is already excellent, well provisioned, and properly funded. If it is not up to standard it will be unfair to the kids who are moved from private to state education. 

In conclusion.

I support Labour’s desire to establish a fair education system, but the state system needs to be at the level of quality of the best schools (private or state) before abolishing any sort of private education provision.

The state education system needs the capacity to cope with absorbing any runoff from closing the private education sector. That means teachers, infrastructure, and funding.

We need at least 47,000 new teachers. 1 in 10 schools are inadequate. Focus on getting these factors right, then we can talk about abolishing private schools.

References

Times Educational Supplement Article 6th April 2018

The I Report on the Labour Party Conference

LSE Article on house prices

Starting a new business in the UK – Self Employment

This is the second post in a series on running your own business. It covers the advantages and disadvantages of running a business as a self-employed person.

Please, also see my previous post on setting up a business and a limited company

For a small, lifestyle business doing things like selling arts and crafts, up-cycling a few pieces of furniture, or buying and selling collectables then you might consider being self-employed to be the best option.

Advantages of self-employment

Self-employment is easy to start

All you need is an idea. You can start off trading by whatever means you want. A stall, a website, Etsy, eBay, Amazon, party plan, whatever. You can start right now. If you are going to earn over £1000 profit then you need to register with HMRC as a self-employed person. You’ll then be issued with a Unique Taxpayer Reference and have to complete a self-assessment every year.

Register as self-employed with HMRC

You’ll also have to pay Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance contributions.

Other than that, you’re good to go.

Getting a name is simple

Decide on your business name, for instance ‘Berkshire Gilded Horseshoes’ then your business name is Your Name trading as Berkshire Gilded Horseshoes. That’ll be on your business bank account, your letterhead, tax information and anything official. Things like shop signs or point of sale can just say Berkshire Gilded Horseshoes.

Of course, there are some rules that need to be followed when choosing a business name.

  • You cannot use anything offensive (there seems to be no definition of offensive so this might be down to whether someone complains)
  • You cannot use an existing trademark
  • Don’t use ‘limited’, ‘Ltd’, ‘limited liability partnership’, ‘LLP’, ‘public limited company’ or ‘plc’
  • Avoid any ‘sensitive’ words or implying an association with local or national government without permission

You can read all the business and company naming rules here

Self-employed banking is simple

Ideally, you would set up a separate business account in the name of Your Name trading as Berkshire Gilded Horseshoes quickly.

You could also use your own current account as money in the business is the same as your money. However, using your own account is not advisable. It’s best to have a separate account so you can track your business income and expenses separately to your day-to-day personal expenses.

There are many start-up challenger banks that run via an app where you can have an account set up and ready to go in a few hours. Avoid the big banks and their fees and inefficiency.

Low administration overhead

As a self-employed person, you have very little administrative burden. The only piece of paperwork you’ll have to complete each year is your HMRC Self Assessment.

You may have to register with other government entities like The Information Commissioner’s Office if you plan to keep records containing the personal information of any customers, staff or suppliers.

Costs of setting up a business

Starting a business as a self-employed person is essentially free. All you do is notify HMRC and open a business bank account. Simple.

Withdrawing money from a business

You can dip into your business’ account and take money from it at any time. These withdrawals are called ‘drawings’. You pay tax on this money via your self-assessment. Taking money doesn’t reduce the profits of the business so you will pay tax on the total annual profits regardless of what money you take out.

You can also register as an employer and pay yourself via PAYE. In this case, the wages or salary you pay yourself and any tax and National Insurance you pay to HMRC are counted against the business profits.

Disadvantages of self-employment.

You and your business are the same thing.

Unlike a company, your business is simply an extension of your own money and your tax and national insurance are calculated from any job you have, any interest you earn in any bank accounts in your name and your self-employment income. There may be other sources of income that HMRC will count towards your income.

Tax

You will pay income tax and national insurance on all the income you earn. This income can be from self-employment, your regular day job, bank interest and anything else HMRC decide is to be counted as income.

This can be a problem if, for instance, you have a job earning £50,000 for Big Corp PLC. This £50,000 will use your personal tax-free allowance of £12,500 plus eat up all of the basic rate income tax band of £37,500.

This means any profit you earn from your self-employment will be taxed at 40% that’s a lot of tax to pay and you need to reflect if the work you do is worth this sacrifice. If you think not then a limited company may be the way to go.

See the income tax bands for 2019-20 here.

Information correct as of 26th August 2019.

You are 100% liable for any money your business owes

Unlike a limited company, your self-employment business’ debts are your debts. If your business owes money then creditors such as HMRC, suppliers, customers or staff, anyone your business owes, can come after you personally. This means your personal assets could be at risk – you could lose your car, your TV, or even your house.

Again, if you want to guard against this possibility then form a limited company.

Professional needs

When you start dealing with customers and suppliers you may find that some or many of them will only deal with a limited company. They will refuse to deal with a sole-trader.

If you are selling crafts to friend and family this is not likely to be a problem. However, if your customers and suppliers are larger organisations they may well frown on dealing with a self-employed person running a business.

Only you know your marketplace and you should consider this when you make a decision on forming a company or running a business.

Your business’ name is not protected

Your business name has no protection other than under trademark law and that’s expensive to defend. If another gilder of horseshoes wants to set up a business called Their Name trading as Berkshire Horseshoe Gilders there’s nothing to stop them.

If they refuse to drop the name then your only recourse is through the courts.

Money and funding

As I have already mentioned, the money in your business is your money. It might just reside in a different bank account.

This makes it harder to attract funding, loans, investment as there’s no protection for the cash. Someone may decide to invest in your business send you some new money and then you run off on a holiday to Bermuda using the investment to pay for it. So investors, banks, business angels will be very wary of helping you to finance your business.

No shares

You cannot issue shares for a business. Is this a problem?

It’s not a problem if you only plan on running a business for your own benefit. When you stop or, heaven forbid, die then the business goes away.

If you want your business to survive your demise or you want to give all or part of it to someone else then you need to be a company and not a business. A company can issue shares, a business cannot.

Starting a new business in the UK – Limited Company

I’ve started and run a few companies. Some well, some not so well. It can be complicated so here’s a distillation of my experiences starting with forming your business. I hope you find it useful – please let me know in the comments.

When you decide to work for yourself there are a number of different ways you can set up your business.

For a very small, lifestyle business doing things like selling arts and crafts, up-cycling a few pieces of furniture, or buying and selling collectables then you might consider being self-employed to be the best option.

If you want to run a business selling to larger organisations, expect to be making more than about £20,000 per year or need to attract investment, then you consider forming a new company.

You can also start a partnership with another person. This is essentially the same as self-employed where you have joint and several liability and all the business profits are subject to income tax.

Finally, there is a limited liability partnership (LLP) which restricts the liability of the partners in certain circumstances.

I’ll only cover limited companies and sole-trader in this small set of pages. We won’t cover Public Limited Companies (PLC), or partnerships of either type.

Depending on your needs you will end up with one of the following titles.

Type of businessYour title
Limited companyDirector
PartnershipPartner
Sole traderProprietor or owner

How to decide what type of business you want?

There are some pros and cons to setting up and running a self-employed business or a limited company.

Advantages of a limited company

Distinct entity

A limited company is defined as a legal person. It is its own entity and has rights and privileges assigned to it in law. Its bank accounts, ownership of assets, involvement in tenders and contracts are all separate from the interests of the shareholders. The directors are there to make decisions on behalf of the company – they are its ears, voice, and brain.

Tax

The tax a company pays is dependent on its profits and has no effect on nor will they be influenced by any of your own income. A company can pay a number of different taxes but the one they all will pay, assuming they make a profit, is corporation tax.

The rates of corporation tax are similar to income tax however the higher basic limit is currently £300,000 so having your business wrapped up in a company means that you will pay less tax on profits if you earn more than the standard limit for income tax. Currently, the UK government is on a drive to reduce corporation tax. You can see the historic and current corporation tax rates here.

Limited liability

This is the limited part of having a limited company. It means that, unless there has been fraud or malpractice such as trading while insolvent, you are protected from any losses the company may make.

Negligence may also play a part in defining a director’s liability such as in the food industry.

Professional needs

When you start dealing with customers and suppliers you may find that some or many of them will only deal with a limited company. They will refuse to deal with a sole-trader.

For a customer, their reasons may vary depending on what type of entity they are. A large company will only deal with other companies – it’s a way of reducing or eliminating their liability if you do not pay proper taxes like VAT, PAYE and corporation tax. They also see a limited company as having greater longevity and stability than a sole trader. A sole trader can essentially up-sticks and cease trading when they want. It’s much harder for a company.

The smaller your customer is the less likely they are to be sensitive to your business’ status. Someone buying arts and crafts from you will be unlikely to worry if you are limited or a sole-trader. However, you should also bear in mind the tax advantages of running a limited company.

Your company’s name is protected

Once you have registered your company’s name it is protected by law. A sole trader would have to fight in the courts to protect a business name and there is no guarantee of success. That aside, anything that involves courts and lawyers is likely to be a cost you do not want to bear.

If you want to check your company’s new name is available you can search on the Companies House website. It will show you whether your intended name is available.

Companies House Name Checker

If you want to get on and set up your company but cannot decide on a name yet, then go ahead and get it formed with some generic name like “My Little Company”. You can change it at any time in the future.

Money and funding

As a limited company, it can be easier to get funding for your business. This can be by selling shares, getting loans or asking family or friends to inject some capital.

The reason for this is any money held is the responsibility of the company and is not part of the assets of the shareholders or directors. As a sole trader or partnership money in the business is considered to be the money of the owners or partners and is, therefore, less safe, from a lender’s point of view.

Shares

A company can issue many different types of share to enable it to raise money by selling shares to investors. These investors could be other companies, angel investors or friends and family.

If and when the company is sold these shareholders can recognise an increase in the value of their shares. On the counter-side of this profitable coin, though, they could lose their entire investment if the company fails.

Company succession is an important subject to think about. A limited company, via its shares, allow you to sell all or part of your company. You can also bequeath your shares to a new owner on your death. As a self-employed person, your business essentially dies with you. Grim eh?

Trading shares in your company is not allowed. That means you cannot actively promote sales of shares in your company unless you are registered and approved to do so. You will not be on the London Stock Exchange – not yet anyway.

Costs of a limited company

Forming a limited company can be done for £12 with Companies House. (Price correct August 2019) alternatively, you can use a company formation agent who will charge you more but offer various services such as the company documentation, bank account referrals, registered address, etc.

Company formation usually takes 24 hours and all the materials you’ll need will be delivered by email.

Other costs to consider are that of an accountant or bookkeeper. You’ll almost certainly want to engage one of these professionals to ensure your corporation tax submissions to HMRC are correct. The amount they charge will depend on what services you want from them and, of course, their own idea of their value to you.

Disadvantages of a limited company in the UK

Once you have decided on your reasons for forming a company – which might be your customers, need for investment, your expected profits, etc. Then you should be aware of a few restrictions and disadvantages.

Companies House registration

You must register your company with companies house. This will cost a small fee. There may be other costs such as getting your initial documentation set up.

Company administration

A company in the UK must keep and maintain various statutory documents. Some of these are mandatory and some are only to be used when the need arises. These statutory documents are:

  • Register of members (shareholders or guarantors).
  • Register of directors.
  • Register of directors’ usual residential addresses.
  • Register of secretaries.
  • Register of People with Significant Control (PSC).
  • Directors’ service contracts.
  • Register of charges and instruments creating charges (i.e. mortgages, secured loans).
  • Minutes of board meetings and shareholders’ meetings.
  • Copies of decisions and resolutions.
  • Record of directors’ indemnities, (security against liability claims or legal costs).
  • Record of debenture holders.
  • Record of the sale of company shares.

Do you need to do this if it’s only you running the company? Yes, absolutely. As a director and/or shareholder you are not the company and you are as responsible for keeping these records as is the company secretary of a multinational headquartered in the UK.

Bankruptcy and disqualification

You cannot be a director of a company if you are an undischarged bankrupt or you have been previously disqualified from being a director. There are no restrictions to being a shareholder though.

One trick previously employed by un-qualified want-to-be-a-director types was to own all the shares then employ someone as a proxy director. The law was changed to make the definition of a director to be anyone with control of the company as if they were a director. So, no sneaking around the back.

Your details are in the public domain

As a director, your details such as your address are part of the public record. There are ways to have a service address for directors so, if you want to stay really private then use one of these.

There’s quite a bit of paperwork

Every year you will need to fill in various documents for Companies House and HMRC.

Depending on the size of your company this may be just an annual confirmation for Companies House which you can do online plus submitting your annual accounts.

HMRC will require your corporation tax submission – as well as the payment if any is due – every year.

All this paperwork is submitted online and it pretty easy if you are comfortable doing things in apps or browsers. The downside to all this paperwork, other than the paperwork, is it generally means you need an accountant or bookkeeper.

Withdrawal of money

You cannot use a company bank account as your own. Down that path lies a sticky end. You can get money out in one of two ways.

You can pay yourself a salary subject to PAYE or you can declare a dividend to pay yourself a share of the profits. You must have a profit to do this though. You cannot pay a dividend if you are running a loss.

Apple Card

The grapevine is abuzz with rumours of Apple’s new credit card being launched to the world. What is Apple Card? Are the benefits worthwhile? Is it really any different to your current credit card?

Also, will people be getting an Apple Card simply for the kudos of having their gorgeous looking titanium card?

Apple Pay and Apple Card

First and foremost ‘Apple Card’ is a virtual credit card that you can use with Apple Pay. The physical card is an optional extra which is useful if you find yourself in a location which doesn’t accept Apple Pay on your mobile. In the UK that scenario is pretty much non-existent as you can use Apple Pay pretty much anywhere that takes contactless payments. I understand from colleagues in the USA this is not quite the case and Apple Pay, indeed contactless, is not universal. So a physical card is handy.

Goldman Sachs – God’s banker and now Apple’s

The financial giant behind Apple’s new credit card is Goldman Sachs. All your data about purchases, locations, stores visited, etc will, necessarily, be shared with Goldman Sachs. It is, after all, the regulated company responsible for the safety of your cash – or credit.

Additionally, according to the internet (so take this as you will) no one will be refused a card account. There will be a sliding scale of interest rates to cover all the risks from safe bets to high risks. It’s not clear if things like bankruptcy or CCJ (in the UK) will be a bar to getting the Apple Card. We can only wait and see.

What are the benefits of Apple Card?

Apple Card has cashback – yippee!

So, whenever you buy anything with Apple Pay or the Titanium Apple Card you get cashback.

3% Cashback Whenever you buy anything from Apple. Whether that’s in an Apple Store, apple.com, iTunes or the App Store. 3% Daily Cashback in your pocket – virtually in your Apple Cash card.
2% Cashback Purchase anything using Apple Pay and you get 2% cashback.
1% If you find a place that doesn’t take Apple Pay then you’ll get 1% back when you use your shiny new card.

There are better deals out there if cashback really floats your boat. Apple’s offering is kind of middle of the road in this respect.

Apple Wallet Integration

One of my big bugbears with my bank’s app is that it is not very easy to figure out where that odd charge a month ago took place.

Inside the Apple Wallet you’ll be given a plethora of data about your spending.

Apple Card maps integration

You’ll be able to see where and when you made a payment. Hopefully nothing too risqué!

Instant fraud alerts allow you to authorise or decline the payment before it is made. This is very useful. I have lost count of the number of transactions declined by my bank and my card suspended. Then having to phone the bank, wait, speak to someone about your transactions and finally get your card reinstated. The last time my visa card was suspended was for payments at the office canteen FFS!

Pay your card bill easily from Apple Wallet. Chose the amount and pay straight away or schedule a payment later in the month to suit your own cashflow.

No fees or charges with Apple Card!

OK, so this sounds like a stupendous benefit. Miss a payment and there are no punitive penalties. No fine, no increased interest.

BUT the interest rate on the card is variable and set when you apply. If you are a risky customer expect to be granted a card but with higher interest rates, You’ll continue to pay these rates all the time you are not paying down your debt.

Will I get Apple Card?

I originally asked if Apple Card’s benefits were worth it? Is it really different from any other credit card I hold? The Cashback is a small but handy feature and it’s certainly better than no cashback. There are better deals out there if you look around so if cashback is important you may go elsewhere.

For me, though, the integration with Apple Pay is a big plus. Being able to see my spending in real-time, to be able to track exactly where I spent money and to be able to manage it in a single app, the wallet, on my phone is a big plus. ~Not being stopped by a fraud flag on my card is also a big plus. At times this year, it has felt like my bank was flagging fraudulent payments just for fun. So fraud alerts in real-time are important.

Finally, though, I am a sucker for new shiny things and will be applying as soon as I get my invitation – nice eh? an invitation for a card. It makes me all fuzzy and warm inside.

Dark Sky Weather

Dark Sky Weather is an app that intrudes into my life infrequently. Yet, when it does it is often a lifesaver. Sometimes not. It bills itself as a hyperlocal weather forecasting app.

Why I love Dark Sky Weather

Dark Sky sits on my phone, quietly in the background watching the skies ready to warn me about a soaking.

Most often it will warn me of impending rain or other weather events in good time to grab an umbrella or nip into a pub for shelter. Occasionally though, it warns me as the first drops of rain hit my head. Not so useful.

Mostly Dark Sky Weather is a handy app to have running in the background if you want to avoid a soaking.

How does Dark Sky Weather work?

We’ve all seen the weather forecast showing clouds and rain sweeping across the country, like this:

Weather radar image of the UK
Weather Radar Picture from UK Met Office

Dark Sky uses this data, and your location to try and predict when the dark clouds, rain, snow, hail, etc is going to reach you. In the UK and Ireland, it gets data from the Met Office’s NIMROD system and in the USA it uses data from NOAA’s NEXRAD.

By looking at the movement of the clouds, over time, it can predict when they will reach you and what sort of foul weather you are going to experience. Smart eh?

It’s kind of like looking at the dark clouds gathering on your horizon and predicting rain.

How accurate is Dark Sky?

I have to say that I feel Dark Sky has got less accurate over the past few years. Either that or the weather is far less predictable – which is not so unlikely thanks to climate change. It seems a few years ago it’s warnings of rain in 20 minutes were pretty spot on. No pun intended. It feels less accurate now. Maybe a reflection of the type of unpredictable weather we get in the UK.

After extensive research on the ever-reliable internet it seems that Dark Sky is accurate 67% of the time. Compare that with AccuWeather at around 75%. I think it’s time to do a little study and see where Dark Sky sits for myself. Highly unscientific of course, but I need to know.

Where can I get Dark Sky Weather?

Get the Dark Sky Weather App on the Google Play store
Get the Dark Sky Weather app on the Apple App store
Lightning striking the ground at night
Photo by Michael Rogers on Unsplash