PAT'S PATCH: No need to reinvent the wheel

'Rip-off insurance costs is something that’s affecting far too many people in our society'

Pat's patch

Insurance premiums are a real live issue now as many businesses and families seek new cover for 2020

I can’t remember the guy’s name – it’s getting to the stage these days I’m having trouble remembering my own! –but he was a political scientist or pundit or something and he was on Sky News some time back and what he had to say really caught my attention.
In a matter of a few minutes he produced startling figures that proved benefit fraud in Britain was miniscule – about £1bn a year or 2% of the total Social Welfare budget - whilst corporate tax fraud was massive, something like £150bn.
There were, he explained as he trotted out a whole plethora of statistics, 3,000 inspectors working on social welfare fraud but less than 200 on tax fraud.
Asked what was the point he was making he said it proved beyond doubt the British government’s targeting of benefit fraud was disproportionate and was evidence of unfair focus on the weakest members of society, the disabled and the poor whilst the far more damaging crime being committed by the richest and most powerful section of society was not under focus at all.
It was a powerful piece of television in that he suggested this was no accident, that some in the media and their friends in high political and legal places used their influence to peddle ongoing propaganda of the dole cheat to deflect the legitimate anger of ordinary working people facing high charges and taxes on to members of their own community. And it has worked brilliantly. The recent election in Britain has proved that.
Have you ever listened to spokespeople for the Irish insurance industry? I have.
Last week there was guy on the radio claiming – for the nth time – that fraudulent claims are the reason that premiums here are so high. How are they being allowed to still get away with that?
Fraudulent claims are a smokescreen that’s being used to hide serious profiteering by both the insurance companies and the legal profession; it’s rarely mentioned solicitors make a lot of money out of claims. Like our political scientist friend pointed out on Sky back in the day I think too many of us have gone fishing for the minnows when it was the whale we really should have been looking out for....some guy getting a few grand for whiplash is not a role model in our society but he’s the monkey not the organ grinder in the great scheme of things. Too many metaphors there but you get the drift..
Insurance premiums are a real live issue now as many businesses and families seek new cover for 2020. Those premiums, according to the Central Bank, have risen by 42% over eight years while the actual claims over the same period have fallen by almost 3%. Somebody is making a lot of money, somewhere!
Earlier this year I was involved with a certain gent who was running for Europe in the last election. I suggested on a few occasions that the whole question of insurance was a major issue for most Irish people and it was something he might focus on but he had another agenda so we weren’t on the same page at all. In my humble opinion that was a huge mistake on his part.
Rip-off insurance costs is something that’s affecting far too many people in our society. On Friday on the Sean O’Rourke programme Fianna Fáil TD, Dara O’Brien gave two examples of where one group had its insurance costs go in one year from €795 to more than €3,000 while a crèche had its premium jump from €3,000 to more than €10,000.
Writing in the Irish Times on Friday too the consumer affairs expert, Conor Pope, warned that the new year could see the closure of hundreds of restaurants, cafes and coffee shops across the country as four insurance companies announced their intention to withdraw from the market. It seems the real reason they are opting out of the hospitality sector is that the profit margins here are very tight.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan is, however, having none of the crocodile tears being shed by the insurance lobby and its apologists. Speaking recently Flanagan said there was evidence of insurance companies ‘making substantial and handsome profits’. He too pointed out that the continued citing by the companies of huge numbers of fraudulent claims was not matched by their handing over of evidence of such fraud to the Gardaí, something they were obliged to do.
I have a suggestion. Isn’t it time we had a look at Canada where there is a government-owned and operated system of compulsory vehicle insurance. It is operated on a not for profit basis. Now isn’t that something different? Something worth investigating?

And surely if the Canadians can do this for the car business it must be able to be cut and pasted to provide terms and conditions that could be used by crèches and the hospitality sector etc.

Why aren’t our legislators and senior officials not out there looking at it to see if what they can do in Canada we can make fit for purpose here in a way the private sector is seemingly not willing or able to do? Or do they want to reinvent the wheel whilst ignoring a possible solution that's already out there?

Seeing red at the bottle bank

I met an irate woman last week who told me she went to a recycling plant close to her home and found that those huge tubs for disposing of glass bottles were full. All of them!
What, she wanted to know, are we paying our household charges for? Here we were, she fumed, in the mouth of Christmas and ‘they’ - whoever ‘they’ are - couldn’t be bothered helping those who were trying to help the planet by at least ensuring they had somewhere to put their disposable items. She had a point.
Having said that I was a bit embarrassed going to the bottle disposal place myself. There were that many bottles in the back of my old van you would have sworn I was a milk delivery truck such was the rattling of clinking glass. And let me assure you it wasn't milk bottles that were making the racket.

Happy Christmas everyone

It was somewhere around 2006/7 I started writing this column and it seems to me that I have hardly finished writing one Christmas message when hot on its heels another comes along. The years are flying by at a hectic pace.
My late father once told me it seemed to him life was like a stream that began high up in the mountains….it started with a few drops of water, then began to trickle, then gathered steam and, finally, was in flood as it rushed to the sea.
I always think of those families who have lost loved ones over the years and whose absence will be keenly felt during these dark December days. It can be a very difficult for them. Hopefully, those who are gone are with us in spirit.
I wish each and every one of you a happy and holy Christmas and good wishes of course for 2020.

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