INDEPENDENT 2024-04-03 16:03:49


£99 Private ambulance service opens amid hours-long NHS delays

A new private ambulance service will offer faster travel to A&E for those caught out by half-day waits for NHS ambulances, The Independent can reveal, in a sign of a growing “two-tier” health service.

MET Medical ambulance service will begin by charging £99 for a call-out, and could serve thousands of people a week, its chief executive Dave Hawkins has said.

Mr Hawkins, who is a paramedic himself, said he launched the service after seeing his elderly relatives wait too long for NHS ambulance services following falls.

It comes as waiting times for ambulance service reached a crisis point in the last year, with frail and vulnerable people waiting hours for an ambulance.

Ambulance response times hit record highs over 2022-23, with people who should have an ambulance within 20 minutes waiting an hour and 30 minutes in December 2023.

According to estimates from the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, 34,000 patients were likely to have suffered harm due to these delays – this hit a high of more than 60,000 in December 2022.

The latest data shows 940,000 NHS ambulance hours were also lost to crews being forced to wait outside busy A&Es for more than two hours to offload patients.

MET Medical will still have to wait to deliver patients if they are seen as a priority, but it said its patients are likely to be lower priority and can be dropped at A&E without waiting for a handover.

Mr Hawkins said vulnerable patients waiting for an ambulance can wait up to 12 hours.

“It’s that moment when you’re out of options, it’s really a horrible place to be, particularly if it’s a loved one … It is a shame, like we’ve seen from the stats and everything, that the health service is failing us.

“The problems we’re facing in the NHS have built up over a lot of time due to increased demand, ageing population, and a lot of staff that are working in those busy environments.

“Even though most are caring and committed and lovely, people are overworked and are saying, ‘you know what, I’ve had enough’. I don’t know what the solution is to that.

“All I do know, if my family member is ill and I can’t get an ambulance I want to have a backup,” Mr Hawkins said

The service will cover St Albans and Hertfordshire and has around 25 private ambulances, each of which will be led by paramedics. It has previously provided services directly to East of England Ambulance Service over the last 10 years.

Private ambulance services are often used by the NHS for non-emergency situations, such as attending care appointments.

However, MET Medical will be accessed directly by patients as a backup to NHS ambulance services if they face a long wait, and can take patients to private hospitals if they have insurance.

It will only be for those patients who don’t need life-threatening or critical care like heart trouble or a critical wound – these cases will be advised to call 999. But for elderly patients who have suffered a fall, it could cut hours from delays. The service is registered and regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

Mr Hawkins said his drive to set up the new service was after his mum and dad became ill and waited too long for NHS ambulance services.

Describing an incident when his daughter became unwell, the paramedic said it was quicker to get an Uber to hospital than a local ambulance.

He added: “We carried out several trials in the past and assisted with a variety of patients. In one case, a patient had fallen outside and been advised the ambulance service would be six hours … our paramedic ambulance arrived in around 20 minutes.

“The crew found the patient was actually having a stroke and were able to transfer them to a specialist hospital in time for treatment.”

Jacob Lant, chief executive of social care charity National Voices, said introducing privately funded ambulances to urgent calls would “absolutely create a two-tier system and goes against everything the public tell us they want to see. Repeated national surveys and engagement exercises by countless organisations show enormous and continuing support for a free at the point of use NHS. Nowhere is this more important than in urgent and emergency care.”

He said ambulance response times are still not being met consistently, especially when the service comes under pressure during winter. However, introducing a service which could fast-track care was not a “fair and equitable response”.

“The NHS needs properly resourcing so it can ensure an ambulance is available for everyone in their time of need,” Mr Lant said.

A spokesperson from MET Medical said in response: “We can see the concerns over that [a two-tier system] but actually, our service is just another option to help relieve pressure on the NHS. It’s not to replace the NHS or emergency services. Some people do already have private health care, so it’s an addition to that.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Under our urgent care recovery plan, we provided £200m in 2023-24 to expand ambulance capacity and improve response times, and will maintain that additional capacity this year to further improve performance.”

They added that there have already been “significant” improvements in response times, with category 2 calls – those who should have an ambulance within 20 minutes – 28 per cent faster in February 2024 compared to the year before.

Step inside Balmoral: King Charles to open residence to public with tour and afternoon tea starting at £100

The King’s Scottish residence will open for the first time this summer for members of the public to explore the royal rooms at Balmoral.

Experienced guides will take small groups around several rooms used by Charles and Queen Camilla, as part of his desire to make the royal residences more accessible to the public.

One source noted that Balmoral has not been built to accommodate large-scale tour guides, unlike other tourist attractions such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

The month-long summer programme is expected to be a trial period, with estate staff taking note of the impact increased footfall has on the historic building, which was bought by Queen Victoria in 1852.

The public will now be able to access the green drawing room where the late Queen Elizabeth II met Liz Truss, the family dining room, the library and the pages’ lobby.

During former tours, the guided areas were limited to just the ballroom, gardens and the wider grounds.

In a statement on their website, the Balmoral estate said:  “For the first time since the castle was completed in 1855, we have been granted permission to take you on a private tour with our experienced guides.

“They will take you on a historical journey through several of the beautiful rooms within Balmoral Castle.

“You will learn about the origins of the Castle and how it has been loved by generations of the Royal family.

“Travel through time from the purchase of the Balmoral by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, through to present day, where you can see how rooms within the Castle are used today by their Majesty’s the King and Queen and other members of the Royal family.

“You will see why Balmoral is such a special place – the much loved and celebrated Highland home of the Royal family.”

Tours will take place between 1 July and 4 August, with forty tickets a day available at a price of £100 or £150 if afternoon tea is included.

Located in Aberdeenshire, the castle was long considered the late Queen’s favourite residence and was the location of her death on 8 September 2022.

Since succeeding the throne, the King has made it clear he intends to improve accessibility to the royal residences, with St James’s Palace opening to the public for a limited period of time in 2022 and 2023.

Buckingham Palace has also been made more accessible, and held a number of festive-themed tours over last year’s winter months.

Moscow launching ‘big attack’ as Zelensky lowers conscription age

Russia is preparing to launch a “big attack” this summer that could plummet Ukraine into crisis, high-ranking Ukrainian military officers have warned.

The officers who served under General Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s former commander-in-chief of armed forces, said Russia is gathering resources and is likely to “launch a big attack around August” but warned it could be sooner.

One of the military sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told POLITICO: “There’s nothing that can help Ukraine now because there are no serious technologies able to compensate Ukraine for the large mass of troops Russia is likely to hurl at us.”

The warning comes as Volodymyr Zelensky lowered the minimum age for Ukraine’s military draft from 27 to 25 in a move that analysts said would provide a significant boost to recruitment.

“Lowering the mobilisation age is one of many measures that Ukraine has been considering in an ongoing effort to create a sustainable wartime force-generation apparatus,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said.

Ukraine will now need an injection of new weaponry and equipment to kit out its newly mobilised personnel, the ISW added, pointing to the backdrop of delayed Western aid that could render the Zelensky administration’s move ineffective.

Government U-turn over blocked HRT implants

The government has done a U-turn on blocking “life-changing” medicine for menopausal women but patients are still struggling to access the treatment.

Menopausal women are experiencing suicidal thoughts and debilitating physical symptoms due to the government stopping the distribution of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) implants which are used to alleviate menopause symptoms, The Independent has learned.

An estimated 13 million women are going through the menopause in the UK – a substantial proportion of whom will be experiencing debilitating symptoms including heart palpitations, hot flushes, headaches, vaginal pain, anxiety and depression.

Some menopausal women find other forms of HRT do not help their symptoms. The implants offer a more consistent delivery of medication.

Diane Danzebrink, who runs the Menopause Support, told The Independent she has been inundated with messages from “desperate” women in the last month struggling to get hold of their usual HRT implant.

“It is a life-saving essential treatment. Life without it is unimaginable,” said Ms Danzebrink, whose organisation supports tens of thousands of women going through the menopause.

Ms Danzebrink warned the situation had been “poorly” handled by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and patients had been left in the dark “running in all directions to try and find some information”.

Julian Beach, of the government agency, told The Independent they had “paused the import of Estra 25mg and 50mg pellets” into the UK after “some compliance issues” were flagged to them.

“A review of the available information so far has found no evidence of harm caused by these implants, which have been used for over 10 years in the UK,” the representative added.

“We are aware that these unlicensed medicines are critical for a specific group of patients and as suitable alternatives are currently unavailable, further imports of these medicines to the UK market will continue while we conclude a regulatory review. We will communicate our findings once this review has concluded.”

Ms Danzebrink said they had predominantly heard from young women going through surgical menopause who were struggling to get implants. These are often women who had their ovaries removed due to experiencing premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) or extreme endometriosis, she added.

She said an inability to get hold of HRT implants can cause increased anxiety, mood changes, decreased confidence, heart palpitations, hot flushes, night sweats, achy joints and struggles with memory.

Victoria Hardy, a menstrual health campaigner, told The Independent she was “devastated” after her appointment to get her implant replaced was rescheduled from this month to mid-May.

The 40-year-old said: “This is the only HRT that works for me. I have been in surgical menopause since I was 33. For me, HRT is not a choice. I am absolutely on the floor if I don’t have it. It is like having somebody reliant on antidepressants because they are severely mentally ill.”

She is already mentally struggling due to being at the end of her current implant, Ms Hardy added, saying she is experiencing brain fog and issues with memory.

Ms Hardy said: “If wait until May, I will feel very low and it is like I completely lose my lust for life, and I am anxious. That impacts my family.

“My ability to just function goes out the window, my brain gets scrambled. I get extreme fatigue because the implant is wearing off.

“Physically I’ll start to ache and my joints will become quite painful. Quite quickly, insomnia then kicks in. I get the most horrendous hot flushes and night sweats which are relentless. I get more prone to allegories – my eyes get dry and itchy and swell and my face swells.”

Kathy Mackin, who lives just outside of Edinburgh, said she forked out almost £3,000 on flights and a hotel to travel to London to get her HRT implant fitted recently – adding she was told by her doctor from the next day they would stop being available.

“I had a complete panic attack,” the 41-year-old said. “I cried. This is my complete lifeline.”

Although they have lifted the block on implants, there is uncertainty about how quickly the supplies will arrive and some women she knows are well overdue being able to access them, Ms Mackin added.

She said: “Without the implant, I have suicidal ideation, chronic depression and anxiety. I won’t leave the house and I have cognitive difficulties. You go from having a life to having that removed from you.

“The government did this quite sneakily. They wouldn’t enter into dialogue with the consultants. The consultants were in the dark so couldn’t tell any patients anything. It was appallingly handled.”

If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.

Arresting JK Rowling wouldn’t make her comments any less harmful

Arrest me,” wrote JK Rowling, at 11.45am on 1 April 2024. Despite the date, this was no April Fools’ prank. The Harry Potter author’s dare – aimed at the legal authorities in Scotland, where she lives – was entirely serious. It came at the end of an 11-tweet thread, 10 entries of which were dedicated to sharing names and photographs of different transgender women. Among these were several convicted sex criminals, as well as an athlete, the head of a rape crisis centre, and broadcaster India Willoughby. In one tweet, she details the crimes of a trans child rapist; in the next, she sarcastically praises Gaelic footballer Giulia Valentino for taking “some boring cis girl’s place” in a squad. Rowling wrote: “Obviously, the people mentioned in the above tweets aren’t women at all, but men, every last one of them.”

It is this rhetoric for which Rowling claimed to be inviting a police arrest; authorities announced the following day that they were taking no further action. Rowling’s comments came on the day that new hate crime legislation comes into effect in Scotland, which specifies protections for transgender identity, alongside disability, race (and related characteristics), religion, and sexual orientation. The bill, which was approved by Scottish parliament in 2021, also adds “stirring up hatred” as a criminal offence, something that has been a crime elsewhere in British law since the Public Order Act of 1986. Under the new act, the maximum penalty is a prison sentence of up to seven years. Women as a group are not protected by the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, an omission that has been criticised by Rowling and others. Per the BBC, the Scottish government is expected to introduce a separate misogyny law at a later date, following a consultation last year.

Rowling’s 1 April tweets have attracted criticism for the apparent conflation of trans sexual predators with the broader trans community – a neat microcosm of much of the broader transphobic rhetoric that pervades British discourse. But there’s little about her comments that is new. Rowling has wilfully misgendered trans women before; she has expressed a willingness to be arrested for breaking hate crime laws before; she has judged an entire minority group by the crimes of a few before. But Rowling’s tweets have grown bolder and more controversial in recent months. Last month, she was accused of holocaust denialism: replying to a commenter who made reference to the Nazi persecution of trans people and the burning of trans books, Rowling told them to “check [their] source for this, because it might’ve been a fever dream”. She was embroiled in a protracted public dispute with Willoughby, a trans woman, misgendering her and accusing her of “cosplaying a misogynistic male fantasy of what a woman is”. Willoughby wrote that she was “genuinely disgusted” by Rowling’s comments, which amounted, she wrote, to “grotesque transphobia”.

Go back even just a few years, and Rowling’s own tone was noticeably different. In 2018, after Rowling “liked” a transphobic tweet, the author’s spokesperson immediately distanced her from it. “I’m afraid JK Rowling had a clumsy and middle-aged moment and this is not the first time she has favourited by holding her phone incorrectly,” they said. She has denied being transphobic, writing on Twitter in 2020: “I know and love trans people[…] The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women – ie, to male violence – ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences is a nonsense.” As recently as 2023, she was arguing on The Witch Trials of JK Rowling podcast that her stance had been “profoundly misunderstood”.

Rowling’s contentions are essentially ones of free speech: that she holds certain beliefs about trans people that she should be free to express publicly, as she has been doing for several years. That these beliefs come from a position of feminism and a desire to protect the rights of cisgender women. It is, she writes, “impossible to accurately describe or tackle the reality of violence and sexual violence committed against women and girls, or address the current assault on women’s and girls’ rights, unless we are allowed to call a man a man”. She mentions single-sex spaces – public bathrooms and prisons being the most frequently set upon talking points, particularly as hotbeds of sexual violence.

It is estimated that trans people account for 262,000 members of the UK population; the 2021 census reported that 0.52 per cent of people who listed their sex as female identified as trans, and 0.56 per cent of men. As such, gaining any sort of reliable data is impossible. Asked last year about the violent crime rate for transgender people compared with the general population, the Office for National Statistics said it was “unable to publish prevalence estimates by gender identity because there were too few cases within those who identified as trans to produce reliable estimates”. The trans-exclusionary argument, such that it is, is forced to rely on anecdotal evidence, individual instances of crime perpetrated by trans people. This is no grounds for policy; plenty of cisgender women have also committed violent crimes, but it would of course be ludicrous to litigate around a presumed shared criminality.

What we do know of crime rates is this: data from 2022 suggests there were just 230 transgender prisoners out of a prison population of 78,058 in England and Wales – 168 of them trans women, and only six of whom were housed in female prisons. In Scotland, where Rowling resides, there were only 11 trans women (five in female prisons), out of a total of 284 female prisoners, and 7,220 men. Trans people are four times more likely to be the victims of violent crime than cis people. In the year ending March 2023, 4,732 hate crimes against transgender people were recorded – a rise of 11 per cent on the previous year – yet transgender and disability-based hate crimes were less likely to result in a charge than those based on other protected characteristics.

When it comes to the matter of women’s spaces, the issue with Rowling’s argument is partly one of practicality. With the tiresome “bathroom debate”, there is simply no way of implementing the kind of cis-only rules for which the anti-trans lobby advocates. The conversation, as it always does, completely elides the existence of trans men. If trans women are, as Rowling insists, men, then trans men are likewise women – and surely then entitled access to female-only spaces.

As Shon Faye writes in the 2021 book The Transgender Issue: “The logical endpoint of their ideology is that a person with a deep voice, full beard, masculine clothing, a typically male name and in some cases a penis will be permitted to enter a female space because he is a trans man or, in fact, just because he says he is (you cannot test for chromosomes in a public toilet).” The “false premise”, she continues, is that it is “always possible to detect a trans woman on sight” and deny her access to the women-only space. She adds: “This simply is not true in many instances, and could easily lead to a situation where masculine cis women and intersex women are challenged erroneously as ‘male’ based on their appearance.” Already, social media has seen cis women attesting to this experience.

Let’s get back to Rowling’s hypothetical arrest that wasn’t. Whether the author’s comments contravened the hate crime act was always a matter of some uncertainty. SNP minister Siobhian Brown had previously said that the act of misgendering – something Rowling has done many times – would not be classified as a hate crime. This week, she told Radio 4’s Today programme: “It could be reported and it could be investigated. Whether or not the police would think it was criminal is up to Police Scotland for that.”

In the wording of the bill, the ambiguity most stems from the issue of intent, and whether Rowling’s comments met the criteria for “stirring up hatred”. The first definition of the offence – which says it is a crime to behave “in a manner that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening, abusive or insulting” – has pretty clearly been met. Listing Willoughby and the other trans activists alongside convicted sex criminals is quite straightforwardly “insulting”, even if “abusive” or “threatening” are less clear cut. However, the definition also states that the person has to “intend to stir up hatred”, or that a “reasonable person would consider the behaviour or the communication of the material to be likely to result in hatred being stirred up”. This is where opinion muddies the waters.

For Rowling, it was a win-win. With Scottish authorities refusing to oblige her offer of an arrest, it is a vindication of sorts, proof that her opinions are not in fact hateful, as her detractors say. (How this freedom to misgender and offend would manifest in actual feminist advancement is unclear.) Were she to actually be arrested for her comments, on the other hand, it would have surely been read as an act of martyrdom – a woman being silenced for using her platform, an assault on free speech. “Bring on the court case, I say,” she wrote last year. “It’ll be more fun than I’ve ever had on a red carpet.” But plenty of people will struggle to find the fun in this debacle. Just because something isn’t a hate crime doesn’t mean it’s not harmful. Just because something’s legal doesn’t make it right.

Savvy spending guide: 5 ways to shop more mindfully and save money

The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial advice. This information is from an independent third party, these are their own views and do not necessarily constitute the views of American Express.

Whether you’re trying to be more sustainable, save money or a bit of both, there’s no doubt that adopting a more mindful approach to shopping has real benefits for us and the planet we live in. So, whether you’re splashing out on a new wardrobe item or the latest piece of tech, how can you ensure you shop savvily, and don’t end up disappointed or having to throw good money after bad?

According to finance coach Ellie-Austin Williams, the founder of financial wellbeing community ‘This Girl Talks Money’ and author of Money Talks: A Lifestyle Guide for Financial Wellbeing, it’s all about having a strategy when it comes to spending.

“A lot of it is just about taking your time to make the decision and being confident that you have explored all the options,” she explains. “Work out what you actually need or want as well as why, do your research, and then buy smartly.” Here Ellie shares her advice for savvy spending, so you’ll never regret a splurge again…

Whether it’s a new tech item for work or one of your hobbies, a vital piece of homeware or a new pair of shoes – investment buying is about adopting a more thoughtful, mindful approach to spending, which will pay off in the long run.

“For me, investment purchases are where you have to spend a little bit more money up front but in the long term, you’ll save money because you’re buying something that will stand the test of time, that’s going to be better quality and is going to meet your needs for a longer period,” says Ellie.

When it comes to things that you use or wear everyday – whether a pair of noise-cancelling headphones or a new sofa – it’s worth making sure you’re buying something that will last. “Sometimes paying a bit more for higher quality materials will mean that something lasts several times longer as something that’s half the price so overall you end up spending less,” says Ellie.

It’s not about spending more money for the sake of it – the best buy won’t always be the priciest one. But when you are looking to drop some cash on something more significant than your small, everyday purchases, it can pay off to spend more upfront.

There’s nothing better than the feeling of buying the right thing, at the right time, for the right price. But too often we can end up feeling like we’ve made a mistake with our purchases. So how should you approach an investment buy?

“I think the key question to ask yourself is, why am I buying this?” says Ellie. “Is this something that I need or want? If it’s something that you want, that’s fine, but know why you want it. Is it something that actually is going to elevate or enhance your life in a valuable way or is it just part of a trend or fad?”

Be realistic with what you can afford, too. When it comes to any non-essential buys, Ellie always recommends prioritising essentials and long-term finances first. “So, figure out how much you want to put into your savings and then look at what’s leftover as disposable income.”

Work out your budget before you start browsing. “There will nearly always be higher end options, as well as cheaper ones, but be focused in your research and look for the best option within that budget,” says Ellie. “If you’re buying a washing machine and your budget is £600, don’t spend time looking at the £1000 machines that have great reviews but you can’t afford.”

Don’t rush it, either. One good strategy for buying bigger or more expensive items is to go home and think about it, or put it in your virtual basket and leave it there for a few days. “It’s good to sit on investment purchases for a little bit,” says Ellie. “A day or two – maybe longer if it’s a bigger purchase. Just to see if you feel the same about it once the initial buzz of the idea has worn off.”

An easy mistake to make with investment buying is assuming you should always go for the more expensive item where possible. The latest phone release might be getting all the headlines – but do you really need everything it offers, or would a lower range or slightly older model suit you just as well?

It’s all about working out what product best suits your needs, says Ellie. “For example, I don’t do a lot of heavy video editing or gaming so I don’t need a super high processing speed laptop and have saved money on that,” she says. “But I do a lot of filming on my phone for my social channels and the lowest level model doesn’t have the best quality camera. So it’s all going to be individual to your specific needs and usage.”

Especially when you’re buying out of your comfort zone, speaking to an online sales advisor or – even better – going into a store can be helpful in pinning down which specific product is going to be right for you. “If you’ve got the time to actually talk to someone with some expertise, that can be really helpful in finding an item that really suits your needs rather than just buying something that’s new and shiny and might require spending more money than you need to. You’ll get the chance to try it out, talk through the product and functions, and look at alternatives.”

Even if you intend to buy online eventually – if you have a specific online or app deal or discount code for example – it’s worth looking at things in person first.

While getting the advice of salespeople is useful, do your own research, too. When it’s a big purchase, make sure you look at independent consumer review websites like Which?, even if you have to pay a small fee to access them.

“Sometimes paying for a subscription to a site like this is worth it if you’re going to spend a lot of money on an item, to get a well-rounded assessment, see the pros and cons in one place and to see it compared to similar products,” says Ellie.

Search online for write-ups in national news titles or specialist magazines, and check out customer reviews on the big retailers’ sites. “I look at the negative reviews just to see if there are any specific complaints that consistently pop up,” says Ellie.

Seek advice closer to home, too. “Getting recommendations from friends and family is a great way to cut through the noise and overwhelm.” Social media can be a great place to ask for opinions and recommendations, including in any relevant social media groups you’re a member of, such as on Facebook or Reddit.

Once you’ve figured out what it is that you need (or want!), make sure that you’re shopping around and buying in the most cost-effective way.

“Google Shopping is a good starting point to compare prices, as it searches a wide range of retailers, including Amazon, Currys, John Lewis and Tesco, as well as less traditional sites such as eBay, Etsy and daily deals site Groupon,” says Ellie. “But use the filters to select retailers that you know and trust. If a price looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Look into price-tracking sites – these have browser extensions that scour the internet for coupons and promo deals and automatically apply them at online checkouts. There are also specific sites that track Amazon prices and show the pricing history so you can see if you’re buying at a good time.

Money Saving Expert have created a special tool to help you find bargain buys in Amazon Warehouse (where you can buy customer returned or slightly damaged products for low prices). Also explore fashion and sale aggregate sites – many of these have discount alert functions, allow you to create watchlists of items from different online retailers, and set target sales prices, so you can maximise your discounts.

“A lot of retailers offer discounts of 10 per cent on your first purchase if you sign up to mailing lists, so that can be worth doing, and you can always unsubscribe later,” says Ellie. If you’re already signed up with a retailer, it’s worth leaving something in your online basket without buying it – sometimes they’ll email you with an offer to tempt you to complete the purchase.

Be clever about when you buy, and hold out for seasonal discounts. “If you don’t need something urgently then it can be worth waiting for one of those calendar moments to see if you can get a discount. The obvious ones are Black Friday and after Christmas, but there can be deals throughout the year.”

And don’t rule out buying pre-loved options via sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace. “It’s a great way to get things that are high quality but that are usually out of your price range,” says Ellie, “and many items are sold unworn with tags.”

By making purchases on your credit card, you can take advantage of cashback offers and exclusive retail discounts, making your buy even savvier. “Also make sure that you’re checking the big cashback websites like TopCashback and Quidco before you make any purchases,” says Ellie. “Some retailers are on certain sites but not others so check them all. These are all little things that you can do to help you to save a bit extra.”

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JK Rowling’s intervention on trans rights is unnecessarily provocative

It is not that often that an author invites the police to come and arrest them, and certainly not one as famous as JK Rowling. Yet Ms Rowling has felt so moved by the new Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act that she is inviting a form of media martyrdom.

In common with many others, albeit not with her profile and social media reach, Ms Rowling feels strongly that, in the words of her latest viral posting on X (formerly Twitter): “Scotland’s Hate Crime Act comes into effect today. Women gain no additional protections, of course, but well-known trans activist Beth Douglas, darling of prominent Scottish politicians, falls within a protected category. Phew!”

Ms Rowling then goes on to identify various high-profile cases of trans people who’ve committed crimes, mingling them with others who are simply prominent. Ms Rowling states that those she identifies are “men, every last one of them”, and that: “Scottish lawmakers seem to have placed higher value on the feelings of men performing their idea of femaleness, however misogynistically or opportunistically, than on the rights and freedoms of actual women and girls.”

Can the extended childcare scheme boost Tory fortunes?

This week marks the start of the rollout of the government’s much-vaunted expansion of childcare, costing some £4bn a year. According to the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, “by the end of our rollout, this will save working parents on average £6,900 a year, helping 60,000 more people back into work”.

The prime minister has been busily touring classrooms and telling news crews that it’s a “positive and exciting moment”. At the moment, for working parents of three- and four-year-olds, 30 hours of childcare funded by the government is already available, and the expansion of the cover is being rolled out in these phases: