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SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesEnergy supplier E.On has said it is “incredibly sorry” for sending socks to customers in a bid to encourage them to turn the heating down.It is the second major supplier to admit to a marketing gaffe when customers are facing a cost of living squeeze driven by energy prices.Earlier in the week, Ovo’s founder said he was “really embarrassed” about energy saving advice including “doing a few star jumps” and cuddling pets.Energy bills are set to soar in April.A new price cap looks set to add about £600 to the annual gas and electricity bill of a household with typical energy usage.Energy boss blames bad day for ‘ridiculous’ adviceE.On compensates customers after Christmas blunderThe socks were sent out by E.On Next – an arm of the energy giant which sells and promotes renewable electricity.The footwear came with a message encouraging people to leave “lighter footprints” by turning heating down and lowering carbon emissions.However, some customers reacted with anger and perplexity – especially when they were sent to elderly relatives. Now, the company has apologised.Writing on Twitter, it said: “If you recently received a pair of socks from us, we would like to say we are incredibly sorry for how we have made some people feel. “In light of the seriousness of current challenges that many people are facing, this mailing should have been stopped and we are sorry.”Image source, Getty ImagesAs first reported in the Daily Mail, the company said it sent the socks to 30,000 customers who responded to an energy saving campaign last year.E.On is the UK’s second biggest energy supplier, after British Gas. Stephen Fitzpatrick, the founder of the third-largest, Ovo, said earlier in the week that “someone had a bad day” when a link was sent to customers directing them to a blog encouraging them to save energy by hugging pets.The latest gaffe comes on the day an alliance of charities called on the government for urgent action to tackle the energy bill crisis.The 25 charities, including Save the Children, Age UK, End Fuel Poverty Coalition, WWF, Green Alliance and Greenpeace, said emergency funding was needed to support the most vulnerable.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesUp to 44 million UK Facebook users could share £2.3bn in damages, according to a competition expert intending to sue parent company Meta.Dr Liza Lovdahl Gormsen alleges Meta “abused its market dominance” to set an “unfair price” for free use of Facebook – UK users’ personal data.She intends to bring the case to the Competition Appeal Tribunal.A Meta representative said users had “meaningful control” of what information they shared. ‘Excessive profits’Facebook “abused its market dominance to impose unfair terms and conditions on ordinary Britons, giving it the power to exploit their personal data”, Dr Lovdahl Gormsen says.And this data, harvested between 2015 and 2019, provided a highly detailed picture of their internet use, helping the company make “excessive profits”. Anyone living in the UK who used Facebook at least once during the period will be part of the claim unless they choose to opt out, she says.However, in November, the UK’s Supreme Court rejected an optout claim seeking billions of pounds in damages from Google over alleged illegal tracking of millions of iPhones – Google said the issue had been addressed a decade ago.Free servicesThe judge in that case said the claimant had failed to prove damage had been caused to each individual by the data collection.But he did not rule out the possibility of future mass-action cases if damages could be calculated.And Dr Lovdahl Gormsen told BBC News: “Optout cases are specifically permitted at the Competition Appeal Tribunal. “As a result, my case is able to claim damages on behalf of the 44 million British Facebook users affected.”Meta has rejected the allegations.People use its free services because they find them useful and have control over how their data us used, it says.’Deliver value’A representative told BBC News: “People access our service for free. “They choose our services because we deliver value for them and they have meaningful control of what information they share on Meta’s platforms and who with. “We have invested heavily to create tools that allow them to do so.”However, this latest case adds to the company’s legal battlesThe US Federal Trade Commission was recently given the go-ahead to take Meta to court over anti-trust rules.Meta said it was sure it would prevail in court.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesCurrys has said 2021 was “the year that virtual reality broke into the mainstream” as the electronics retailer reported strong festive sales.Chief executive Alex Baldock said Oculus Quest 2 and PS5 were “stars” as “consoles flew off the shelves” in what he described as a “gamers’ Christmas”.The retailer reported like-for-like sales in the UK and Ireland were up 4% year on year.However, the overall UK tech market was down 10% compared with Christmas 2020.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingThe UK economy surpassed pre-Covid levels for the first time in November after recording stronger-than-expected growth.The Office for National Statistics said gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 0.9% between October and November.That was higher than economists’ expectations and meant the economy was 0.7% larger than in February 2020.But there is concern growth slowed again after the spread of Omicron and the introduction of Plan B measures. “The economy grew strongly in the month before Omicron struck, with architects, retailers, couriers and accountants having a bumper month,” said ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner.”Construction also recovered from several weak months as many raw materials became easier to get hold of.” The Omicron variant emerged at the end of November and Plan B measures were introduced on 8 December.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesSouth Korea has increased its base rate of interest to where it was before the pandemic, as it tries to contain rising inflation and soaring household debt.The Bank of Korea’s (BOK) widely expected decision to raise the rate to 1.25% was its third hike in six months.Central banks around the world are trying to balance the impact of Covid-19 measures against inflationary risks.In August, the country became the first major Asian economy to raise rates since the start of the coronavirus era.Surging inflation has ramped up pressure on South Korea’s policy makers to take action, as consumer inflation for 2021 as a whole jumped to 2.5%.That was the fastest pace of price rises since 2011 and a sharper increase than projected by the BOK.Over the last two years, central banks, governments and international financial bodies have pumped trillions of dollars into the global economy to help cushion the impact of restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.Now, policy makers in countries around the world are starting to dismantle those emergency stimulus measures.South Korea has been at the forefront of the shift by the world’s central banks to wind down the huge amount of stimulus as they aim to curb rising consumer prices.The US Federal Reserve has signalled that it plans to increase its interest rate three times this year.That comes as prices in America are rising at their fastest rate in almost 40 years, with inflation up 7% year-on-year in December.In the UK, the Bank of England raised interest rates last month for the first time in more than three years, in response to calls to tackle surging price rises.That came after official figures showed the cost of living had surged by 5.1% in the 12 months to November, the highest level for a decade.You may also be interested in:This video can not be playedTo play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Tyler SmallWhen Cynthia Chapple was asked to help out with a photograph of a research professor and his staff, she assumed that she would be the one taking the photo. The image was going to be used by the professor for a grant application.Ms Chapple, then a chemistry researcher at a US university, didn’t work with his team directly and had minimal interactions with them personally. Yet, when she arrived to take the photo she was pulled in front of the camera, alongside the team. Confused, she smiled for the picture before an uncomfortable realisation dawned on her. She looked around her: the research team were all white men, and she was the only black woman in the photo. “This was an example of ‘Photoshop’ diversity, when black women are used for photo opportunities,” she tells the BBC, “I was being used to show he worked in an inclusive team and to secure him funding. I was embarrassed.”The 31-year-old grew up in an inner-city neighbourhood on the south side of Chicago. She grew up in a large family with seven siblings, her whole universe existed within a two-block radius. Her father worked as a security guard and her mother worked as a nursing assistant. Cynthia’s school, her extended family and all her friends were just five minutes away and evenings were spent exploring the neighbourhood.Image source, Black Girls do STEM”I would make lists of ways to improve the neighbourhood,” she says, “I would count the number of liquor [alcohol] stores, or unused lots in the area and write up proposals on what they could be replaced with, in order to improve the area. I was data gathering.” When she was aged nine years old, a particularly passionate teacher ignited in her a love of maths. “Mr Estes was a young black teacher who I wanted to impress. He was my entry to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).”Through him, she was introduced to science summer camps and extra-curricular clubs and she fell in love. “I was the only black girl in those clubs,” she recalls. “There weren’t really a lot of activities around STEM that you could do in my neighbourhood. So, I found myself sort of leaving my south side community and going elsewhere – to get exposure to certain activities.”But leaving the south side of Chicago didn’t mean she found more women interested in STEM. She still felt in a minority while studying for her bachelors degree in chemistry at Purdue University, Indianapolis. Things were no different when she went to another university to study for her masters.”I was one of two American-born Black students,” she says.When she graduated and became a research chemist she noticed another trend. That she couldn’t see women of colour, especially black women, rising to higher ranks in US academia – especially in STEM fields. Cynthia says she puts this situation down to the “intersectional leaky pipeline”; her spin on the so-called ‘leaky pipeline’, which is a metaphor for the progressive loss of competent women from senior positions in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Image source, Tyler SmallResearchers say that the ‘leaky pipeline’ refers to women, and particularly women of colour, facing many barriers and obstacles to advancing further in their fields, from childcare obligations to fewer promotion opportunities.Pew Research from 2021 says that black people made up only 9% of all STEM related workforce in the US and that is a number that has not changed since 2016. Similarly, according to the American Psychology Association, women of colour make up only 2.3% of tenured (permanent) university teaching staff in the US, whereas white women make up 23.4%. Cynthia had an idea whilst doing her masters in 2015, that she would create a club to pull more women like her in to the world of science. By 2018, Black Girls Do STEM became an after-school community in St Louis, Missouri – where she now lives.The aim of the club is to give middle and high school black girls, from inner-cities, the chance to emotionally engage with science and apply it to real life.”We design our classes around what they like, what they need, their interests,” she says, “We have classes showing the girls how to make lip balm as part of a cosmetic chemistry module, or it could be where we look at household products and test their pH.”The fortnightly classes used to be held in person but have moved online throughout the pandemic. “We want it to be an immersive experience,” she adds.Currently, around a hundred girls take part in Black Girls Do STEM. Ms Chapple has expanded the scheme to pull in more black women science mentors and introduced classes to teach the girls about resilience and establishing boundaries.Image source, Black Girls do STEM”As a young Black woman, you need a range of tools to succeed in the workplace and we want to equip the girls for more than academic success,” she says. More than 160 girls have expressed interest to take part in classes for 2022 and Cynthia hopes to scale this further throughout the country.”Inner city urban communities allow for creativity,” she says. “We have more noise, more pollution, more people, so we find creative solutions to problems. Our communities have created some of the best music and fashion. We may also have the greatest scientific minds, given the opportunity.”Ms Chapple also wants to change the inaccessible reputation of science.”We look at science as something very elite, which only a few people can learn. And that’s just not true,” she says, “You have to start early and give kids a foundation and kids live up or down to our expectations.”This story is part of the Generation Change series, a co-production by the BBC and Nobel Prize Outreach.You can hear Cynthia’s story and more from other young people innovating in the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics on Generation Change on The Documentary, BBC World Service.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, GtUsing a company to help you claim a tax rebate could end up costing you hundreds of pounds extra according to consumer group Which?Dozens of firms online offer to help customers claim back tax they’re owed by HM Revenue & Customs, for example, for the Marriage Allowance.But these third-party firms charge fees and take a percentage of the tax claim.Which? says most people are much better off going straight to HMRC themselves to avoid “unnecessary bills”.Tax rebates are free to claim via HMRC, and the process is “relatively simple”, but some firms are charging between a quarter and half of the final tax payment received in return for their services, Which? said.The consumer rights group has identified 208 firms with “tax reclaim”, “tax refund”, “tax claim” and “tax rebate” in their names. It found the term “tax rebate” gets more than 40,000 Google searches a month. Some of these third-party firms use similar branding and language to the HMRC, Which? said.Jenny Ross, Which? money editor, said their research showed huge numbers of people were coming into contact with firms hoping to persuade them to use their services to claim rebates, costing people “potentially hundreds of pounds”.”For most people with a rebate to claim, HMRC is the best port of call. Go to its website directly to ensure you aren’t left footing any unnecessary bills,” she said.HMRC waives fines again for late self-assessmentWarning benefits will not keep up with rising pricesOne of the most common tax claims is for Marriage Allowance, Which? said, which allows one spouse to transfer 10% of their tax-free personal allowance to their partner if their partner earns less than the current personal allowance, and it can be backdated up to a total of £1,220. While firms are permitted to charge a “reasonable amount” for such services, Which? said it found one firm, Tax Credits Ltd, was charging a service fee of 48%.Tax Credits said: ‘We spend a significant amount on marketing and providing access to this potential tax relief. In many cases it’s our advertising, not HMRC’s, that makes a person aware of it. “We then present the claimant with a simple mechanism to access the potential overpayment of tax. Our remuneration is contingent on a repayment being secured, and the amount we retain is reflective of this,” it added.Which? said customers who have been misled by websites into thinking they were dealing with the tax authority directly should make a complaint to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Politt PartnersGoogle is backing a return to the office with an investment that will expand its UK capacity by 50% and “reinvigorate” the work environment.The search giant is spending £730m ($1bn) and expects headcount to rise from 6,400 to 10,000.It is buying one of the London sites, Central Saint Giles, in which it is currently a tenant.Google’s UK boss Ronan Harris told the BBC the investment reflected the firm’s faith in the office as a place of work.”We want to reinvigorate the work environment. We’re making this commitment to rebuild. We’re buying these buildings and we’re keen to see everybody come back in and see a vibrant workspace again,” Mr Harris said. As well as purchasing the Central Saint Giles site, Google said it would be undertaking a multi-million pound refurbishment of its offices there to ensure they were on a par with those in its new King’s Cross development currently under construction.That will provide more space so offices can be less densely populated, and will include collaboration spaces and “inclusive meeting rooms for hybrid working” as well as covered outdoor workspaces, the firm said.Image source, Mikiko KikuyamaCurrent government guidance remains to work from home where possible, but that – along with other government restrictions – will be reviewed on 26 January.Eventually, Google wants the vast majority of its workforce to return to the office for three days a week. But employers are feeling their way as the country emerges from two years of pandemic-enforced changes, during which many people adapted to completely different ways of working.”I think the next two [years] will be an experiment where we try and figure out what hybrid and flexible actually mean,” said Mr Harris. “And I think it will differ from company to company and from role to role. I think it’ll be a lot of trial and error over the next two years.”Image source, Meg HonigmanChancellor Rishi Sunak welcomed Google’s investment, describing it as “a big vote of confidence in the UK as a world-leading tech hub”. The employers group the CBI said a return to the workplace was vital for economic recovery, particularly for the UK’s town and city centres. Google hit with US import ban over Sonos patentsGoogle ‘to fire’ employees who refuse vaccineWhat are the new working from home rules?Retail and hospitality businesses especially are eager for office staff to return to old habits, picking up coffees, sandwiches and shopping during the day and going out after work in the evening.However, many employees don’t want to return full time to the office and the number of days that employers require their staff to attend in person is emerging as a key point of difference in the recruitment process. Neil Carberry from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation told the BBC: “Pay used to be the main lever employers could use in negotiations. Office attendance is now a major conversation between firms and potential employees.”

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesThe US Supreme Court has blocked President Joe Biden’s rule requiring workers at large companies to be vaccinated or masked and tested weekly.The justices at the nation’s highest court said the mandate exceeded the Biden administration’s authority.Separately they ruled that a more limited vaccine mandate could stand for staff at government-funded healthcare facilities.The administration said the mandates would help fight the pandemicPresident Biden said he was disappointed by the decision “to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law”. “That does not stop me from using my voice as President to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy,” he said. “I call on business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up – including one third of Fortune 100 companies – and institute vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers, and communities.”The administration’s workplace vaccine mandate would have required workers to receive a Covid-19 shot, or be masked and tested weekly at their own expense.It would have applied to workplaces with at least 100 employees and affected some 84 million workers. It was designed to be enforced by employers. Opponents, including several Republican states and some business groups, said the administration was over-stepping its power with the requirements, which were introduced in November and immediately drew legal challenges.In a 6-3 decision, the justices agreed with that argument, saying that the workplace safety rule for large employers was too broad to fall under the authority of the Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration to regulate workplace safety. “This is no ‘everyday exercise of federal power,'” they wrote. “It is instead a significant encroachment on the lives – and health – of a vast number of employees.”The more limited rule concerning more than 10 million staff at healthcare facilities that receive government funding did not pose the same concern, they decided, by 5-4.That said imposing conditions on recipients of public money fit “neatly” into the authority of the Secretary of Health and Human Services.The rulings come as some parts of the policies were due to go into effect this week. The court heard arguments in the case on Friday. The rulings reflected the political make-up of the court, which now has a majority of justices appointed by Republican presidents. The court’s three liberal justices opposed blocking the vaccine mandate, saying such a decision “stymies the federal government’s ability to counter the unparalleled threat that Covid-19 poses to our nation’s workers.”Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, seen as moderates in the conservative majority, joined the liberals in allowing the healthcare rule to stand. The decision comes as the US experiences another wave of Covid-19 infections, with the Omicron variant spurring record cases and hospitalisation rates. The Biden administration had estimated that instituting a vaccine requirement at big employers would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospital admissions over six months.More than 60% of Americans are fully vaccinated already. Independent of the government’s regulations, some companies, including Google, Citibank and IBM, have started to move forward with their own requirements.But the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a lobby group that was one of the lead plaintiffs challenging the government’s workplace vaccine rule, had charged that it would burden small-business owners with new compliance costs, make it harder to fill positions and lead to lost profits and lost sales.”Today’s decision is welcome relief for America’s small businesses, who are still trying to get their business back on track since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Karen Harned, executive director of the group’s legal arm.A bridge too farIn the end, Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates stood or fell based on judicial interpretations of federal statute, not principles of individual liberty or appeals to the greater good.According to a majority of the Supreme Court, Mr Biden had the law on his side when ordering healthcare workers to get vaccinated, but using a 51-year-old workplace safety statute to implement a vaccine-or-test requirement on all large employers was a bridge too far.Once again, the current balance of the Supreme Court comes into sharp relief, with four reliably conservative justices, three reliable liberal ones and two – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh – at the ideological fulcrum.This mixed judicial bag is just the latest setback for a presidential Covid-response plan that frequently has seemed a step behind the latest twists in the pandemic. The administration was slow to encourage boosters and caught flat-footed by the Omicron-induced surge in demand for testing.Now Mr Biden will either have to convince Congress to act on mandates – an unlikely prospect given the brick wall the rest of his agenda keeps hitting in the Senate – or figure out new ways to shepherd the nation out of the pandemic gloom.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Indian Ministry of external affairsBritain and India have concluded their first day of talks about a potential free trade deal in New Delhi.The aim is to have an agreement signed by the end of the year that could boost trade by billions of pounds.Indian trade minister Piyush Goyal and his UK counterpart Anne-Marie Trevelyan said there could be a limited agreement in the next few months.The UK has made a post-Brexit deal with India one of its priorities as it looks to tap into fast-growing economies.”This is an opportunity that we must seize to steer our partnership along the track of mutual prosperity for the decades to come,” Ms Trevelyan said.Britain said the deal could almost double British exports to India, and boost total trade between the countries by £28bn per year by 2035. Total trade in 2019 was worth £23bn.Trade negotiations with India are not for the faint-hearted.But with no progress on a free trade deal with the US, and none expected in the foreseeable future, the formal start of talks with India, being announced in New Delhi on Thursday, is the biggest negotiation the UK government will launch this year.India is on course to become the third largest economy in the world by 2050, and the government hopes UK-India trade will double over the course of this decade.Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan calls the prospect of a free trade deal with India “a golden opportunity” and there are certainly huge commercial prizes up for grabs.But India, with so many vested and vulnerable interests to protect, has always been reluctant to liberalise.The EU has been trying for years to reach a meaningful deal with India, with little success. Australia too, has been working on a deal for a decade.Areas such as government procurement policy and the trade in services are particularly difficult.Read more here.India wants more opportunities for Indians to live and work in Britain, and any trade deal could involve negotiations on relaxing rules and lowering fees for Indian students and professionals going to the UK.However, Mr Goyal said both countries will not make such issues a necessary condition for a trade deal.”Nothing is necessarily a deal-breaker in this agreement,” Mr Goyal said. “And I will not think there is any way for anybody to worry about issues which are sensitive to any country, because both sides have agreed that sensitive issues are not our priority,” he added.UK government ministers want British firms to be able to sell more products such as whisky to India.They also want India to become a bigger buyer of UK green technology and British services.