How many British victims?

I keep reading that there were ten British victims on flight MH17, but also that two of them — Andrew Hoare and John Allen — had children who died with them.  Both men are described as married. So, unless the children were step-children (even though not described as such), they had British citizenship too, even if they had dual nationality through their mothers and were not travelling on British passports. 

Surely that means there were fifteen British victims, including Friso and Jasper Hoare and Christopher, Julian and Ian Allen?


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The perils of being a trailing spouse

When a couple emigrate it is usually because one of them has a job offer, or sees better career opportunities abroad.  It is rarer for both of them to be in that position. The other partner is called ‘the trailing spouse’ and it is in the nature of things that, even nowadays, the trailer is usually a woman.

My own eight year stint as a trailing spouse is about to come to an end, with no more harm done than a weight problem caused by lack of winter exercise and a loathing for snow that will probably last the rest of my life, but for many trailing spouses the risks are high.

They will often have to give up career opportunities at home in order to allow their partner to pursue his abroad.  In the host country, their qualifications and experience may not be easily translated into an equivalent job and career.  This can lead to isolation, loss of sense of identity and depression. Many get round the problem by taking a career break to have children, but this means they have even more difficulty getting back into the job market later on.

But, the difficulties they face assimilating may be as nothing compared with the obstacles if they decide to return home. If their partner refuses, then marital breakdown is on the cards. Alternatively, the marital breakdown occurs first and they then want to return home where they can resume their old lives and careers. Either way, they are likely to find that their financial security and custody of their children is dependent on the family laws of the host country.

There is a regular stream of women in this position who seek advice and support on the ex-pat forum that I contribute to. Thanks to the British press, most people are aware of the difficulties a woman may face getting custody of her children in a Middle-Eastern country where the law gives men most of the rights. But, it is less well known that most American states will be reluctant to allow a child to be removed from the USA, or in some cases from the state itself.

Canadian courts seem to be more sympathetic, but one member of the forum was recently advised by her lawyer that, if she returned to the UK, her support payments might be reduced or cut off, because the court would see her decision as a willful reduction in her employment prospects compared with a recommended move to Alberta.

A trailing spouse with children may find herself effectively trapped in the host country until her kids are of age, by which time her chances of career fulfillment and home ownership in her home country are permanently damaged.


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Why does the Coalition have it in for ‘Ex-Pats’?

The government seems to have it in for British citizens who get on the Tebbit bike (or in their case a plane) and go and seek their fortunes abroad.

Woe betide them if they decide to come home, because they won’t get a welcome and a pat on the back for their initiative.

Bad luck to the low earning ex-pat who wants to return with their non-British life partner. The new financial requirements for a spouse visa are being challenged in the courts, but currently the Briton who wishes to sponsor their non-British partner will need an income of £18,600, and to show that s/he has earned that amount for at least 6 months, or have savings of  £62,500.  It is one law for the rich and one for the poorer.

The Immigration Act 2014 imposes a NHS financial levy on migrants without indefinite leave to remain.  Someone applying for a spousal visa does not get ILR for five years, so if the NHS levy is going to be £200 p.a. then that’s another £1,000 on top of the existing fee of  £1,500.

And that is just for sponsoring a spouse.  If you also have step-children who are not British nationals, the income and savings requirements and the fees get higher.

If things don’t work out for the young Brit abroad and she arrives back in the UK without a penny to her name, well that’s her bad luck too, because the Coalition has decided to deny her any benefits for three months.  This is to discourage undesirables from entering the UK such as skint British nurses, plumbers and electricians who might take a few weeks to get a job.  And it doesn’t matter a damn how many years tax and national insurance they’d paid before they left.

These measures have been introduced by this government without altering the existing injustice of the frozen state pensions for British retirees in Commonwealth countries. This provides a strong incentive for brassic OAP ex-pats to return to the UK and not only get their pensions index linked, but avail themselves of the other supports of the NHS, free bus passes and means-tested benefits.

So to recap:  If you are young, economically active and have the drive and initiative to seek work abroad, you will be discouraged from returning.  On the other hand, if you are old, retired and poor, you are given a positive incentive to come home. Someone should make a poster to hang above Theresa May’s desk that reads “Remember — This is an Ageing Society”.

My own stint as an ‘ex-pat’ is about to come to an end. I’m not personally affected by the Coalition’s ‘reforms’, but I’m very aware of them as a result of taking part in ex-pat forums. Just today there was a query from a single mother in New Zealand who wants to return home, but wouldn’t have a penny to live on when she arrived until she found a job.  For someone like her, the three month rule is devastating.



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Using the word rape

I admit I’m completely baffled by the criticism of Austen Mitchell’s use of the word rape in a tweet.  

It was certainly hyperbole, but so what?  Is the use of the word unacceptable in any context other than sexual now?  Are rape metaphors out of bounds? 

The Tory women MPs who are offended must be very sensitive souls.  I’m surprised that they are in politics.


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Canadian Tax Returns

The Canadian tax year runs from 1st January to 31st December, but tax-payers have until 30th April to make their return.  I completed ours yesterday.  It is a complicated process, because separate calculations have to be made for the Federal and the Provincial taxes, and both give taxpayers allowances for all sorts of things that no Brit would expect to be tax deductible: union dues, a Canada employment allowance (that’s just for having a job), donations to political parties, owning oil wells — that one is called ‘royalties’ which gave me false hope that it had relevance for us, being married, being a priest, having children, doing house renovation, and so on and so on. There can be very few facets of life in Canada that haven’t had a Canadian politician wondering if he can buy votes by creating a tax allowance for it.  There are probably allowances for installing hot-tubs and wearing stetson hats, but I just haven’t identified them.

Completing the return involves filling in a main form — the T1, which then tells you to fill in another form, which at various points tells you to fill in various subsidiary forms.  Then you are told to copy or refer to figures from various of these forms and cross reference with the forms you may or may not have already filled in for your spouse.  Before long, I’m surrounded by bits of paper filled in in pencil  and feeling that beating myself over the head several times with a cricket bat would be more fun than I’m having.

Each of the previous seven years that I’ve been filling the forms in for both of us has followed a similar pattern.  I spend a day doing the return, followed by a stiff drink or several.  I post the forms off and then a few weeks later I get a nicely worded letter detailing the errors I have made telling me that we are liable for less tax than I thought and explaining why.

I wish my dealings with HMRC were so pleasant.  I won’t miss filling in Canadian tax returns, but I will have fond memories of the Canadian Revenue Agency.



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Simon Hughes on care of the elderly

My mum is 88 and she lives on her own in East Sussex.  I’m unhappy about her continuing to live on her own at such an advanced age, so now that I’m about to move to Devon, I’ve suggested that she comes to live near me.  The high property prices in the South East make it impossible for me to live near her.  But mum doesn’t want to move out of the area she has lived in for more than a quarter of a century, or to be so far away from my brother who lives in Kent.  So, she is planning to buy in more care at home as she gets frailer, and if there is no alternative, she will go into a care home near my brother.  This leaves me with the prospect of spending the next few years making very frequent, lengthy and expensive trips from Devon to Sussex or Kent to visit mum and check on her welfare.  Although my mum has a reasonable income, her care costs may eventually have to be paid by the state.

I think my family circumstances are fairly typical, other than that since I took very early retirement, I have more free time than most women.  Over the  eight years I’ve lived in Canada, I’ve visited my mother at least once a year, usually for several weeks and on one occasion when she was ill, for several months.  The cost to me has been considerable, both in terms of time and money, so I don’t need to be lectured about ‘sacrifice’. I did not move to Alberta in my fifties because I thought it would be fun to live somewhere with a worse climate than Moscow, but because the alternative for my husband was unemployment.  I’d love to retire to a large house in Brighton with a granny annexe, so that my mum could live with me and still see my brother,  but to do it I’d need around a quarter of a million pounds more than I have got.

Personally, I don’t see any evidence of a society where people ignore the needs of their elderly relatives, but one where women have to work, where property prices are high, and where someone who wants to stay in employment has to be prepared to move to where the work is.

So stuff your moralizing up your jumper Simon.



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Ten weeks to go

This year was probably my last White Good Friday, and I won’t be sorry if I never experience another White Christmas either.  My heart’s desire is never to see another snowflake for as long as I live.

Swapping continents involves keeping a lot of balls in the air at once, and between now and the end of June I will have constant anxiety about dropping one of them.

Planning our relocation, I’ve found the British Ex-Pat forums invaluable. With the help of the forum I’ve managed to keep the cost to under £10,000, which is remarkable given that we spend nearly £13,000 in ’06, though then we were spending a generous relocation allowance from Ian’s employer.

The biggest expense is for a 20′ container, which will transport our books and household goods. The cost of transporting our two cats is the next most expensive item, more than our own airfares; they travel on the same aircraft as us, but as cargo. The remainder of the expense is made up of car and van hire and a hotel for our last few days in Canada after our house has been emptied.

The whole of my time in Alberta has been overshadowed by the fact that our life here is subsidized by an industry, the tar sands, that I think should be closed down. There isn’t any way the industry can be made sustainable.  Being here has meant living a contradiction and it has made me unhappy.  It was a huge relief to me last year when the sale of our house meant that I no longer had a significant financial investment in the economy. But I’ve also made friends here, and how genuine can my friendship be when I wish their economy, and with it their careers and financial security, to blazes?

I think the outlook for Alberta is grim whatever the future holds. If the world is going to deal with climate change then Alberta is going to become known as the province of stranded assets.  If the world doesn’t deal with climate change then the outlook is grim for all of us including Alberta. While I’ve been here, I’ve been very disappointed by the British government’s backing for Canada on the EU Fuel Quality Directive. A true friend to Canada would not give it a helping hand on the path to perdition.


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