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Steve's ITK: An unproductive week


Steve's ITK

December 17 · Issue #36 · View online
Steve's In The Know: Everything I published recently, commentary you won't find elsewhere, write-ups of events I attended or spoke at, and industry rumours.

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The U.K.’s finance minister Philip Hammond listening to the sound of his own voice
The U.K.’s finance minister Philip Hammond listening to the sound of his own voice
Opening thought: You lazy fucker
They say you’re not a proper journalist until you’ve put in a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request. After over a decade in the news business, I finally submitted my first FOI this week.
The subject was recent comments made by the UK’s finance minister Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which he appeared to make a link between the British economy’s low productivity problem and an increase in the number of disabled people entering the workforce.
This, perhaps understandably, caused uproar amongst disabled people, disability rights campaigners, disability charities, and some – though not all – politicians. It also led to one startup founder messaging me to ask what I made of it all. To him, the reaction (mine included) seemed a little overblown, especially since, he argued, productivity is measured in a crude way, regardless.
Before I share my response, let’s recap on what the UK Chancellor actually said. Speaking to the Commons’ Treasury Select Committee, Hammond was asked to comment on the pessimistic productivity growth forecasts within his recent Budget. He said:
“It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups, very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people - something we should be extremely proud of - we may have had an impact on the overall productivity measurement.”
To begin with, there is something about being referred to in government terms as a “marginal group” that doesn’t sit well with me, but putting that aside, I found Hammond’s comments to be disgraceful on multiple levels:
First, where is the data to back up the claim that an increase in people with disabilities moving into employment is a contributory factor to low productivity in the UK? In fact, there is actually some anecdotal evidence from employers to suggest the opposite can be the case, because disabled people desperately want to work and often bring extra problem solving skills and general can-do thinking.
Second, by suggesting in any way that disabled people make inefficient employees, he has played into the hands of employers who often don’t employ disabled people because of that very fear. (See ITK issues #3 and #4).
Third, it is really insulting to all of the hardworking people who have a disability (and sometimes quite major ones) who are able to find employment and/or are blatantly productive, either in purely economic terms or socially or both.
Fourth (and this one is more contentious), the government has promoted a political and media agenda of strivers vs skivers, which has pushed people – some of whom it shouldn’t have – off benefits and into work that isn’t always suited to them, and is now turning around and saying, ‘by the way, these new strivers we helped create (for whom we are taking credit) aren’t actually very productive after all.
Fifth, comments by a prominent government minister that appear to frame disabled people as a drain on society are in danger of fuelling hate crime against disabled people, which has increased dramatically in the last few years. See point four.
If that was all a bit tl;dr, perhaps Sophie Morgan, disabled person off the telly, summed it up best when she tweeted:
This lie is a huge set back. There is NO evidence to back up his claim whatsoever. Our struggle to work - and be VALUED in society - is real and this will only make it harder.
Hammond’s comments also led me to send a number of angry tweets, some I’ve since deleted (pro tip: don’t social media in anger). This prompted ex-government advisor Daniel Korski to helpfully suggest I put in an FOI request to see what evidence or data, if any, the Chancellor’s comments are based on. So I did exactly that.
I’ll publish the reply in a future ITK, if and when I get one.
(The chances of there being any evidence seem slim, based on the Prime Minister’s weak response when being challenged during last week’s PMQs.)
Things I wrote
Loot, the digital current account aimed at students and millennials, banks £2.2M Series A
Finiata, the finance platform for SMEs, freelancers and the self-employed, bags €18M funding
Paddle, the software sales platform founded by a Thiel Fellow, raises $12.5M
The price is right! Pace raises £2.5M to automate hotel room pricing based on demand
FreightHub, a European ‘digital freight forwarder’, scores $20M Series A
Germany’s Penta is a new digital bank account for startups and SMEs
Zyper thinks ‘micro influencers’ are the future of online advertising
MishiPay raises £1.6M led by Nauta Capital for its mobile self-checkout technology
Chattermill raises £600K to use ‘deep learning’ to help companies make sense of customer feedback
Viola FinTech is a new $100M Israel-based VC fund targeting fintech startups around the world
Rico-owned Henchman acquires Jinn’s app, will rebrand to ‘new on-demand concierge’ early next year
With your help, Code First: Girls wants to teach 20,000 young women to code by 2020
Closing thought: Crypto journalism
As readers of the last ITK will know (edition #36), I recently bought a very small amount of Bitcoin, primarily not as an investment but to force myself to follow and try to understand the cryptocurrency phenomenon in a bit more depth.
This has certainly been the case already – it’s amazing what a bit of skin in the game does to priorities – and I’ve since added a very small amount of Litecoin and Ether to my cryptofolio, too, mainly for fun and also to test out Revolut’s newly added support for cryptocurrencies.
However, in a cleverly written piece published by NiemanLab, Reuters blogger Felix Salmon raises the question: should journalists write about Bitcoin if they have invested in Bitcoin (and therefore have an interest in its price going up), while also calling for total disclosure. Here’s his acidic conclusion:
The job of journalism is to enlighten; no one should want to muddy the bitcoin waters even more than they are already. But the web of undisclosed conflicts in the bitcoin world is almost impossible to disentangle, especially since one of the celebrated features of cryptocurrencies is that they can be held secretly. We’ll see more disclosure in 2018 than we have until now. But it won’t be nearly enough.
Even though I don’t generally cover crypto currencies – bar one post on Coinfloor many years before I owned any, as far as I recall – and don’t plan to do so in the short term, I’ve updated my CrunchBase profile to disclose my tiny holding and will add full disclosure if I write about crypto currencies again.
More broadly, the conflict of interest issue is nothing new. Investing in tech stocks, for example, is a complete no for a journalist like me and is the reason why I’ve never participated in any of the equity crowdfunding platforms, even if, on the surface at least, it would seem I’m well placed to do so.
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