British lender TSB is going to ban its customers from buying cryptocurrencies from accounts that it believes are vulnerable to fraud.
“We take our obligation to protect customers extremely seriously and continually review merchants and websites with excessively high fraud rates,” a TSB spokesperson said in an email to Insider on Monday. The bank said it had not yet put a deadline in place for any bans to take effect.
The bank’s decision follows after the UK regulator stopped crypto platform Binance from operating in Britain without written consent.
TSB, which is owned by Spain’s Banco Sabadell, said that between March 15th and April 15th, 849 of its clients lost money via Binance accounts.
The bank’s decision affects its more than 5 million customers, who it fears could fall prey to scammers that steal money from fake crypto wallets. It said it also found that it was too costly to replace any money that had been stolen in line with their pledge to customers to reimburse them if they are victims of fraud
In the UK, investment scams rose by 42% to £135.1 million ($188 million) between 2019 and 2020, according to research and policy advisory firm UK Finance.
Data from Chainanalysis , a blockchain data platform, suggests by 2020 there were $13 million worth of illicit crypto from 1,138,030 transactions around the world.
Customers from the likes of banks like online platform Monzo and UK banks HSBC, Barclays and Starling have been blocked from transferring money to Binance and SwissBorg, an investment app, according to a report last month in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper.
In the UK two weeks ago, the Queen’s speech laid out the British government’s plans for post-pandemic reform. Rather than deliver on long-awaited changes to social care, protection for women, or rent reform, the Conservative government announced the implementation of an electoral integrity bill.
The government insists that the bill, which will require voters to show photo ID at the polling booth, is being drafted in order to combat voter impersonation. But in a country with extraordinarily low rates of electoral fraud conviction, this brazen lie on the part of the leading Conservative Party is a mimicry of Republican-style voter suppression and an attack on free and fair voting rights.
This photo ID scheme will cost an estimated £20 million ($28.3 million) per general election. For the party, it is money well spent on changes that are a bolster to their rule, openly undermining the voting rights of groups less likely to support the right-leaning party in upcoming elections.
An electoral “reform” bill for Britain
Classed as electoral reform, new changes to the UK’s voting system are set to regress rather than progress the country’s politics. From 2023, the bill will not only require all voters to show photo ID on election day, but the government will also implement new laws allowing them to choose the date of upcoming elections without a vote in parliament.
Unlike the UK’s European neighbors, many citizens do not have personal IDs. Identification cards most often come in the form of driving licenses or passports, both of which holders must pay for, and which around one-quarter of voters in the country do not own. Around 3.5 million citizens have no access to photo ID at all, and despite this, the government plans to introduce measures that prevent those without ID from voting.
While a free form of photo ID will be made available to citizens who need it, trials of the scheme – where prospective voters had to miss work and caring responsibilities to travel to council offices to request their free ID – have highlighted the plan’s shortcomings. As the Electoral Reform society points out, “Those that can most easily take time off work to do this are usually the most likely to already have ID. This expensive plan simply makes it harder for some people to vote.”
The consequences of this change are clear. In small-scale trials, more than 800 people were turned away from voting. The opposition Labour Party called for trials to be “abandoned immediately”, describing them as an attempt to rig elections.
The changes are set to disproportionately harm those who are disabled, elderly, young, and those on low incomes, who are all less likely to have access to photo ID. Organizations protecting these groups, such as the Salvation Army, Age UK, Liberty, and Centrepoint all warn against the new bill. In 2018, they wrote a joint letter dubbing the scheme (which was then in trial) to be a barrier to democracy, writing: “mandatory ID will disproportionately impact the most marginalised groups in society.”
A coalition of organizations fighting for racial equality has also spoken out against how the announcement will hurt those from ethnic minority backgrounds. “If the government is truly committed to addressing racial inequality, it must heed warnings of the potentially damaging impact this proposed legislation would have on our communities,” reads a joint statement with signatories including Runnymede Trust, Operation Black Vote, Race Equality Foundation, and Trades Union Congress.
Their concern is not without good cause. A recent parliamentary report found that “38% of Asian people, nearly a third of people of mixed ethnicity (31%), and more than half of Black people (48%) do not [hold a driving license],” in the UK. The country’s already politically underserved Gypsy Roma Traveller population, of which there are up to 300,000, are also more likely to be deterred from voting.
Even the rights of more privileged voters may be swept up in the bureaucracy. How much time will be spent identifying faces from 10-year-old passports, matching maiden names to married names, and musing over the faces of voters with old, weathered ID card photos that don’t quite convince on the day?
This, all on the dubious grounds of fraudulent voting. But the all-too-familiar populist cry of “Voter Fraud!” witnessed in the US just last year is to Britain what the Macedonian army was to Ancient Athens – a ticking time bomb on democracy. As in the UK, attempts to disenfranchise voters in the US are dangerous and ongoing. Even since late March of this year, 361 bills with restrictive voting provisions were introduced across 47 states. This is despite negligible amounts of voter fraud actually taking place in the US. As in the UK, the electoral system is secure and claims of fraud are largely baseless.
Fixing an imaginary problem
“They try to say that they want to protect the integrity of the election, but the reality [is] that our elections have strong integrity,” says Sylvia Albert from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Commons Cause. Rather, voter integrity is undermined when the presiding government manipulates the electoral system in order to disenfranchise voters.
Despite UK elections being some of the most secure in the world, the government has claimed reform is necessary to restore faith. However, the Electoral Commission says the UK “has low levels of proven electoral fraud” and, frankly, the statistics speak for themselves – in 2019, there was just one conviction and one police caution.
With so few cases of real crime, the photo ID rule is clearly a charade. It simultaneously appeases right-leaning voters who might conflate voter fraud with the ethnic minority groups they wish to punish, and also makes it more difficult for those less likely to vote for the Conservative party to get their paper ballots in.
With nine million people still missing from the electoral roll, the country has much bigger challenges in ameliorating its voting system, as The Electoral Reform Society argues “There are glaring loopholes in our lobbying laws and online political adverts still don’t have to say who paid for them.”
Over the past 10 years, the UK has experienced countless welfare cuts, and blow upon blow has landed upon marginalized communities. In short, the country has a whole host of problems – but electoral fraud is not one of them.
With mandatory photo ID for voting, the Conservatives will dig their claws deeper into the British electorate and as such, their grip on power. It’s time for politicians to stop promenading the practically non-existent issue of voter fraud, and learn to center their country’s people instead of their own party.
The UK unemployment rate fell unexpectedly in the three months to the end of February, data showed on Tuesday, ahead of the country’s latest loosening of coronavirus restrictions.
But the number of employees on payrolls fell by 56,000 in March compared to February, painting a mixed picture about the UK jobs market.
Headline unemployment slipped to 4.9% from December to February from 5% in the previous quarter, the Office for National Statistics said.
It beat economists’ expectations of a rise to 5.1%, but analysts said the figure was flattered by a rise in people becoming economically inactive, meaning they had stopped looking for work.
Yet there were some signs of progress in hiring. The number of vacancies for jobs rose nearly 16% in March compared to February, according to experimental data.
The UK economy is gradually reopening from the tough restrictions that were in place from January to March. On April 12, pubs, non-essential stores and hairdressers were allowed to reopen as the vaccine drive picked up speed.
Britain’s government’s furlough scheme currently pays the wages of roughly one in five employees and has been a key reason that the country’s unemployment rate has stayed relatively low, rising only 0.9 percentage points in the year to February 2021.
“The slight fall in the unemployment rate… suggests that the government’s job furlough scheme is still insulating the labor market from the worst effects of the pandemic,” Thomas Pugh, UK economist at Capital Economics, said.
However, economists expect the UK unemployment rate to climb once the furlough scheme is wound down towards the end of the year.
James Smith, developed market economist at ING, said: “Like most economists, we expect the unemployment rate to rise this year.”
He added: “The end of the furlough scheme, and to a lesser extent, a potential increase in inbound UK migration later this year (partly reversing last year’s population fall) are both likely to trigger a temporary spike in the jobless rate to 6-6.5%.”
Controversy has arisen in the UK after a much anticipated report investigating race and ethnic disparities apparently found no evidence of institutional racism in the country; instead heralding Britain as a model for other white majority nations.
The United Kingdom, much like the rest of the world, is having a moment of reckoning about racial injustice, further complicated by its colonialist past. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 that followed the killing of George Floyd in America, the UK government established the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities to help address concerns about the racial inequalities that permeate British society even today. But the report’s failure to find evidence of systemic injustice should leave us all questioning its authors’ intention.
Due to the importance of such reports – which gain considerable media coverage and are often relied on by government officials, academics, and policy makers to inform their decision making – it is imperative that the members of the commission are impartial experts that have tremendous credibility. However, eyebrows were raised when this particular panel, which is meant to be independent, seemed to mostly consist of individuals whose ideology was in line with the Conservative government’s views and lacked expertise in many of the matters being investigated. Former Shadow Home Secretary and current Labour MP Diane Abbott – the first Black woman to be elected to Parliament – went as far as accusing the government of consciously packing it with people who did not believe in institutional racism. And others who took part in the report are now trying to distance themselves from its results.
Therefore, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, then, that this report went against the findings of several other major inquiries in the past 20 years that had found evidence of systemic racism – including the landmark 2017 Lammy Review that found significant racial bias in the UK justice system. It has become apparent now that instead of taking the opportunity to truly explore the issues of racial inequality and discrimination, the report appeared to be tailored to fit a pre-determined narrative that suited the government and reaffirmed its skepticism of institutional racism.
There is plenty of evidence regarding systemic racism – in 2021, one would have to be willfully ignorant to deny it. But in keeping the discussion stuck at debating the existence of a deeply entrenched discriminatory phenomenon that clearly affects a significant percentage of the population negatively, the government has ensured that no progress whatsoever is made in addressing the resulting racial disparities – which was what we were led to believe the commission was set up to do in the first place.
While the report does acknowledge that racial disparities still exist, its authors argue that “geography, family influence, socio-economic background, and culture and religion” play a significant role. Ethnic minorities opposed to the findings of the report seemingly get painted as perpetual moaners who’ve absorbed “a fatalistic narrative that says the deck is permanently stacked against them” and can’t bring themselves to appreciate the incredible progress Britain has made transforming itself into “a beacon to the rest of Europe and the world”.
Thus, the discussion has devolved into a farcical debate on patriotism, where those criticising this ‘positive’ news about Britain face accusations of just having an irrational hatred for the country instead of legitimate grievances. It feeds directly to the biases of much of the Conservative vote base, many who are vocal about how they believe people of colour, anti-racism campaigners and experts want to make everything about race, and how those complaining of racism have a victimhood complex.
The backlash and condemnation of the report has been swift and comprehensive. Several academics have criticised it as a sloppy piece of work and accused it of distorting and misrepresenting research. Many of the experts thanked for their help with the report have publicly come out and denied their involvement with its contents. And as I mentioned before, some of the commissioners have now come out and distanced themselves from the final report; with allegations that it was the government – and not the 12 commissioners – that produced many of the controversial sections of the finished product. The government has been urged to withdraw the report, with many rights campaigners fearing that its continued circulation will “take us back to the ‘colour bar’ of the 1960s.”
But whether a Prime Minister who has conducted an obvious attempt at whitewashing racism listens to such concerns remains to be seen. The hypocrisy of a government investigating itself by appointing ‘yes people’ to exonerate it and further its agenda – even allegedly rewriting their report to ensure the desired outcome – is galling.
The repercussions of this cynical act will continue to be felt, with the credibility of such ‘independent’ government commissions severely damaged. What is crystal clear, however, is that we cannot look to this administration for any meaningful action to address racial disparities. Our struggle for racial equality continues, it is just a shame that the government continues to actively make things worse for the marginalised communities it is also meant to serve.
Mohammad Zaheer is a journalist and political commentator.
The UK unemployment rate fell unexpectedly to 5% in the three months to January, data showed on Tuesday, in an encouraging sign given the country’s plans to gradually lift its coronavirus restrictions.
Britain’s headline unemployment rate fell to 5% from 5.1% in the three months to December, the Office for National Statistics said, beating economists’ expectations of an increase to 5.2%.
Separate figures showed 68,000 more people joined payrolls in February than in January, the third monthly increase, although 693,000 fewer people were on payrolls compared to a year earlier.
“After yet another monthly increase, there were almost 200,000 more employees on payroll in February than three months earlier,” Sam Beckett, head of economic statistics at the ONS, said.
Beckett said that of the almost 700,000 people who have fallen off payrolls, almost two-thirds have been under 25, over half worked in the hospitality sector, and almost a third have been in London.
But its unemployment rate has been held down by the furlough wage subsidy scheme. And the country has rapidly rolled out COVID-19 vaccines, allowing it to plot its way out of restrictions by the summer.
Non-essential stores may reopen as soon as April 12 if the government feels cases are under control, with hospitality venues such as pubs potentially allowed to resume business and serve people outside. All restrictions may then be lifted as early as June 21.
“The continued success of the vaccine rollout provides us with hope for the future, and through our plan for jobs, we will continue to support people throughout the months to come,” UK chancellor Rishi Sunak said.
UK markets showed little reaction to the data. London’s FTSE 100 index was down 0.43% in early trading, while the pound was off by 0.4% against the dollar at $1.3806.
In 2019, the government of Hong Kong proposed a bill that allowed the extradition of Hong Kong citizens to mainland China for trial. The bill set off months of protests, and eventually the Chinese government responded with a stricter measure that allowed for arrests of anyone in Hong Kong who voiced political dissent.
In doing so, the Hong Kong and Chinese governments effectively ended the ‘one country, two systems’ framework, and subjected Hong Kong’s residents to the dictatorial rule of the Chinese Communist Party.
The sweeping national security law paved the way for a fascistic crackdown, with several high-profile pro-democracy figures arrested. Now, with every week that passes, there is a new, tragic case of a brave soul speaking out against Beijing and finding themselves locked away.
One recent example is radio DJ Edmund Wan Yiu-sing. “Giggs”, as he is better known, is charged with four counts of “doing an act with a seditious intention”. In other words, the Chinese government believes that Wan used his media platform to stir hatred and contempt against the authorities – although it has not offered any details of what “seditious” things he is alleged to have said.
Wan’s case is notable for a troubling reason. He was not charged under the national security law, or any other hurried new legislation from the last couple of years designed to quash brewing unease among pro-democracy activists. Instead, he was charged under the Crimes Ordinance, which has not been amended since 1972, when Hong Kong was still under British colonial rule. For a first offence on this charge, Wan could end up with a fine of HK$5,000 and two years in jail.
Last year, a group of British members of Parliament – all members of the governing Conservative Party – formed the China Research Group to campaign on issues relating to Hong Kong, and other China-adjacent areas of foreign policy. While their efforts have been admirable in drawing attention to China’s atrocities and forcing the government’s hand on matters of diplomacy, there has so far been a lack of appreciation of the role Britain has played in laying the foundations in Hong Kong for the oppression we are seeing today.
The Wan case is not the first time colonial-era British laws have been used to malicious ends by the CCP-controlled Hong Kong government. For instance, in April of last year, in an extraordinary indication of the disdain the ruling regime feels for those who speak out against it, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam doubled down on a ban on face masks which had been introduced in October of the previous year.
Lam even went to court to defend her right to prevent dissenters from covering their faces, despite the raging coronavirus pandemic, thanks to another colonial-era British law. The law in question – the Emergency Regulations Ordinance – was introduced in 1922 to combat strikes by Chinese fishermen who were protesting against their pitiful wages. It was passed in a single day with minimal scrutiny, and it remains on the statute book, with appalling consequences a century later.
Unlike the CCP’s genocidal campaign against the Uighur ethnic minority in the country’s Xinjiang province, where Beijing claims nothing of note is taking place, the Chinese Communist Party likes to draw the world’s attention to its deeds in Hong Kong. It is as if the CCP is taunting Britain, the region’s former ruler. For instance, it released a statement via state propaganda channels last July urging the UK to ‘abandon the illusion of continuing its colonial influence’ there.
So while the Chinese government makes out as though it is rescuing Hongkongers from the grip of its British imperial overlords by oppressing them and reneging on its international commitments, it is in fact making use of the legacy of British rule in Hong Kong for its own dictatorial purposes. This fact ought to be acknowledged in the UK, and it should inform the UK’s response to China’s aggression in the region.
Last month, after the governments of China and Hong Kong said that they would no longer recognize British National Overseas (BNO) passports as valid travel documents, the British government implemented a new visa scheme, granting Hong Kong residents a path to UK citizenship. This is a good start, but in light of the above, it plainly does not go far enough.
Hongkongers, through no fault of their own, are caught in the middle of a deeply unpleasant diplomatic divorce between the UK and China. They are stuck under the thumb of an abusive parent and it is Britain’s duty to do everything in its power to help them upend and relocate their lives to the UK, even if that means embracing radical ideas. Half-measures will not suffice. Britain is Hongkongers’ only safe refuge now – they must be made to feel welcome.
Jason Reed is a policy analyst and political commentator. He is the UK liaison at Young Voices. Jason writes for the Times (of London), the Independent, the Telegraph, and many other outlets.
The UK economy shrank by 9.9% in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic battered the country, official Q4 GDP figures showed on Friday.
It was the worst contraction since records began and likely sharpest contraction overall in 300 years. It means the UK economy fared the worst out of the G7 group of rich democracies and among the worst overall.
The economy grew 1% in the final three months of the year, the country’s Office for National Statistics said, after dealing better than expected with a sharp tightening of restrictions in November. Britain’s gross domestic product had grown 16.1% in the third quarter.
But despite two consecutive quarters of growth, GDP remained 7.8% below its level in the fourth quarter of 2019.
Along with one of the worst economic downturns, the UK has one of the world’s highest coronavirus death rates, with more than 110,000 having so far died from COVID.
Yet the UK has been one of the fastest countries in the world at rolling out coronavirus vaccines, after rapidly approving jabs from AstraZeneca/Oxford, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
The Bank of England cut its growth forecast for the UK economy in 2021 to 5% on February 4, saying the lockdown put in place in January would delay the recovery. It also expects Brexit to weigh on growth in the first quarter.
However, the Bank said that the recovery will be “rapid” when it comes, thanks to vaccines allowing people to go out and spend again. The BoE said it expects the UK economy to regain its pre-COVID size at the start of 2022.
The UK’s 9.9% contraction in 2020 compares unfavorably with the rest of the G7. The US economy shrank 3.5%, while Canada’s economy is expected to have shrunk around 5%.
Germany shrank 5%, France contracted 8.3% and Italy’s economy finished the year 8.8% smaller. Japan’s GDP is expected to have contracted around 5.5%.