The Erosion Of Brit Social Capital

A recent survey shows Brits losing trust in each other, and our experiences during this visit tend to confirm that. Since prosperous societies are built on trust, that’s bad news for the Brits.

The survey:

People in Scotland, Wales and most parts of England are less happy than four years ago, a decline attributed to “flagging trust in the Government and other institutions”…

Dr Luisa Corrado, who led the research and is a fellow at the university’s faculty of economics, said: “People throughout the EU appear to be relatively happy and no area scored below five in terms of either happiness or life satisfaction. The survey shows that trust in society is very important.

The countries that scored high for happiness also reported the highest levels of trust in their governments, laws and each other.

“The UK shows falling trust in government, the police and other institutions and higher social distrust.”

These examples incline us to agree with this dire analysis.

Governmental and Institutional Dishonesty

We just had $300 of goods shipped to London from the US, paying FedEx $60 to do the shipping.

Fedex then billed us for an additional £62 – about $120 – for duty, VAT and their administration.

Here’s how this cost was built up:

  1. First the Brits slugged the exchange rate to convert $ to £. On the day the goods were imported, the interbank rate was 1.9888, but they used 1.96, a hidden charge of 1.5%.
  2. Next they charged import duty (12% in this case) not on the value of the goods, but on that value plus the shipping costs.
  3. They then billed VAT (of 17.5%) on the value of the goods, plus the shipping costs, plus the duty.
  4. And FedEx hid another charge in the VAT amount- £7.19 which they call a “fixed VAT fee”. It’s additional to their separately billed Administrative fee (£4.50 in this case).

These trickeries almost double the cost of importing to the UK from the US, and since they’re counter-intuitive and non- transparent, they reveal the Brit government and FedEx Europe to be dishonest.

Corporate Trickery

We encountered this while trying to order from a supermarket online (Ocado).

As a “new security feature” the retailer passed us to a Verified by Visa page claiming to be operated by Barclays Bank, one of the three big Brit banks. This smelled of Phish – the certificate wasn’t that of the bank, and the page asked for age, email address and home address.

This wasn’t just about (re) verifying one of our cards though – a link pointed the Barclays Privacy Policy.

Barclays displays this in a new window in the traditional unreadable fine print. Unfortunately, you can’t use the (also traditional) magnifying glass to read it – they use a very small window and disable window maximization and scrolling.

So if you increase font size (Ctrl/Scroll), the text gets bigger but mostly vanishes outside the viewing window!

The only way we could read it was to right click Select All, Copy, and Paste into Word – most Brits wouldn’t know how to do this. And that revealed this clause:

We and other companies in the Barclays Group will use your information to manage your account(s), give you statements and provide our services, for assessment and analysis (including credit and/or behaviour scoring, market and product analysis), and to develop and improve our services to you, for example by informing you about products and services (including those of others) which may be of interest to you…

In the UK, it’s an offense to send email unless the customer asks for it. So Barclays has hidden spam authorization inside its Verfied by Visa authentication.

Anyway, we passed on the supermarket. But it explains why all the Brits we know distrust their banks.

Personal Dishonesty

London’s excellent parks only allow cyclists on a small number of wide paths, on which they mark bike lanes. The other, narrow, paths are restricted to use by pedestrians.

Ten years ago, that worked fine. Not any more – cyclists blaze along the footpaths at will.

And nobody (other than me) complains.

This is small stuff, but it’s a sign of a slow collapse, and I’ll think carefully before basing another company in the UK.

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