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Issue:- 15 March  2012

Sex information on Merseyside - Part 1 of 3.

WE all know the new advert for Talk To Frank  about drugs that says:- "Who can you ask?" but who do you look to for sexual advice? You've probably heard lots of discouraging news about sexually transmitted diseases (STD or STI), but do you know the real facts? Oddly, sex is a very difficult subject on which to gain information and advice, and also most people in the UK are very shy about the topic. As one female friend said:- "You just canít be frank about sex." Perhaps the 'Ask Frank' adverts may not be the best, but they do get noticed. However, I would dread to think what you would get if you used that type of advert style for sex related issues! I remember once seeing a sex advert allegedly aimed at getting advice to children, but it was very poorly done and really better suited to older adolescents. The question that then came to my mind is do we need a major campaign for sex related issues and if so what sort? The Health Protection Agency at the end of 2010 revealed that some of the highest rates of STIs were found in the London boroughs, as well as in Brighton and Hove, Nottingham City, Manchester, Blackpool, Birmingham, Southampton and Liverpool, so a push is now on in these areas to fight the spread. Oddly, most people think about sex education and information is related just to their teenage years, and to what you read in magazines and see on often long winded TV programs.  Two editions back   we did a report about Sefton Shorts, a film competition that was done to engage young people with sexual health and relationship issues in an innovative and creative way. Local college students created a series of short films about safe sex, contraception and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This was a good example of ways to promote 'Safer Sex'. It probably comes as no surprise that most parents' information is often dated and in the case of fathers talking to their children about sex, you find it tends to be very limited where conversation concerns intimate issues. With mothers, research conducted by the NHS in recent years has found that they are more likely to talk about intimate, emotional and psychological aspects of sex than fathers. That is all well and good, but when it comes to STIs (Sexual Transmitted Infections) it often is just what they learn in educational establishments that they go on. Fortunately, many young people are now less embarrassed or put off going to ask GPís and teachers when they are unsure about things; unlike adults in their mid-20s and over. Other areas cited as sources of information for adults are posters and leaflets, media reports and agony aunt columns in newspapers, many of which can be effective, but how many people know somewhere reliable to ask for simple questions? Questions like, where can I get free testing for STIs? Even things like:- "Is it true that you cannot get an STD if you have sex during your period?" and say:- "If I douche right after sex, will this prevent pregnancy?" In these cases, if you did not know, like so many adults questioned in the last half of 2011 by several sex charities:- "Sex during your period may even make transmission of STDs easier as blood is involved." and as for douching, well:- "douching may actually increase your chances of contracting an STD and it will not prevent pregnancy!" SorryÖ. As for STI testing, please see our useful links page. Other excellent campaigns have been organised by many lesbian and gay charities, looking at STI and other sex related issues, aimed at the gay community, but for straight adults over 20, it there seems to be an odd void. It is no wonder why STIs in 50+ age bracket have doubled in the past 10 years. Times have changed and sex is no longer seen as belonging only to the younger generation. But sadly, the Royal College of Nursing warns STIs are a growing problem for the over 40s, and that the problem is still being ignored. One adult we spoke to said:- "There are so many excellent campaigns that are aimed at our nation's youth, alerting them to the dangers of unprotected sex, yet none are for our generation, who are over 45. The cartoon characters and street slang just don't speak to us and even some teenagers are put off." So how do we address this? We conducted a small experiment to see how many knew about testing for STIs; did they know where to go and would they actually go. We casually approached people in the 18 to 40 years age bracket and we were quite surprised by what we found. Unsurprisingly, they tended to be people we knew and most have connections to the health service in some form, which did slightly skew the findings somewhat... But what we did find was an eye opener. "It is just weird. I am just too uncomfortable about getting tested and it is personal. I donít like talking about it. I know my partners have all been clean as they have been tested, but the one I am currently with I have never asked. I have never asked as I know he is clean for other reasons as he gives blood!" One young lady in her early 20ís told us.

One of the few responses that did shock me was from a lady in her early 40ís who told us that:- "I do not see the point. It is just for people who go out and sleep around who need to be tested. I think young people need to be tested, but older people, even if they are single donít. Our generation is less likely to have any STIís." Unsurprisingly, the best informed ages we asked were the 18 to 20 group who did not have any heath related connections! The next step was to put a question on Facebook "Do you think people should get STI tests before entering a relationship that might involve sex?" Again unsurprisingly, we had only one responder, but it is early daysÖ

We are pleased to find that so far none of us had the response one of the health professionals we talked to got put to her. She told us that no so long back she was taken aback by a question from a female who was in her mid-30ís who asked:- "I will be ok if I just have oral sex wonít I? That I can have it and they will not need to use a condom as it will not get me pregnant?" Well we can say she was partly correct. Giving or receiving oral sex will not get you Ďpregnantí but sadly you can get an STI including HIV/AIDS! This shocking question highlighted a large gap in the understanding of sexual health education. Worse still was another healthcare worker who told us about a growing trend
in over 20ís to "double up." This is a growing myth that the use of 2 condoms better than 1, in protecting you from pregnancy and STIís. In fact 2 condoms offer LESS protection, due to friction when they are used. The friction makes the condoms more likely to tear.

Next week we are hoping to bring you a personal view of getting an STI check and explain what it feels like and what happens, should you have never had one before. We will also be asking the question, should people get STI checks before entering any sexual situation?

Please let us know your views on this topic. We will keep any emails you send confidential if you want us to. Just state that fact in the email at the start or at the end. Please note that we only want your views on this topic. Like for example, what you think about advertisement of STI testing in the UK etc. We cannot give any advice, but we will try and point you to a location that might help you find out, if you do email any other question. Our email address for this is as normal:-

Well donít have nightmares, these are a few useful sites that might help you find out more...

Cheshire & Merseyside Sexual Health Network.  LINK

Where can I get sexual health advice?  LINK

Talking About Sex NHS Advice Page.  LINK

Budget 2012 - "Make tax simple and proportionate" says Forum of Private Business

JUST over a week until the Chancellorís annual statement and the Forum of Private Business is highlighting research from its tax and budget member panel showing small businesses want a major re-think of taxation in the UK.  The Forum is calling for key measures on tax to help small firms drive job creation and economic growth; including changing the existing £5,000 National Insurance holiday for the first ten employees recruited by start-ups to apply to the first two new staff taken on by all firms, handing private lenders tax breaks to boost available finance and drastic improvements in HM Revenue and Customís (HMRCís) systems. According to the research, while 54% of business owners feel the current deficit reduction programme is 'about right', 44% called for wholesale changes to the structure of the UKís tax system, 24% want certain tax breaks removed to simplify the system and 15% would welcome a moratorium on tax changes.  A 3rd (32%) of tax and budget panel members believe that HMRC could improve service levels via more easily understandable communication methods, reducing bureaucracy in the process, a total of 29% said better support at key steps in the business lifecycle would help them and 23% wanted reminders about imminent payment deadlines.  In all, 53% of respondents believe HMRC is doing a poor job in supporting them. Further, 52% feel its tone of communication is poor, 45% that it is doing a poor job over targeting tax avoidance schemes, 33% criticised its lack of definitive answers to tax questions and 32% the lack of clarity in its communications.

Looking to the Budget, business owners prioritised reducing fuel taxes to ease costs, a VAT reduction for labour intensive industries and removing barriers to employment, such as cutting employersí National Insurance.  They also want less emphasis on measures devoted to short-term revenue-raising; including many of HMRCís activities and business rates increases; encouragement for business investment to stimulate demand and better red tape reform.  "The Budget is a real opportunity to remove the growth barriers for small firms created by the complexity of the tax system. It is clearly one that should not be missed. In particular, our members want a level playing field on tax, and the UKís tax system to be conducive to business growth and success rather than a hurdle that is a struggle to overcome. It is also time to see genuine tax incentives to boost employment and investment in small businesses; including more encouragement for private lenders to compete with banks and stimulate funding for all firms." said the Forumís Chief Executive, Phil Orford.

In its Budget submission the Forum is urging the Chancellor to announce progressive measures on tax to:-

Incentivise behaviour that encourages investment in UK businesses.

Reduce the tax on interest received during the lifetime of a loan to 0%, instead of the 50% top tax rate, providing the loan is still outstanding after 3 years.

Implement 20% income tax relief on loans (a loan of £100,000 would cost a lender paying top rate of tax £80,000).

Provide additional tax relief if a business fails before the loan is repaid; the lender could claw back up to 50% income tax relief (at the top rate) on money lost if the firm fails, in addition to tax saved when the loan was issued.

Consider a short term cut in VAT in the housing sector In order to stimulate the construction industry and help boost the industry and create jobs. The Government could cut VAT on home improvements.

Reward business success

Cut small firmsí corporation tax rate at similar levels to the welcome reductions in the main rate in order to reward successful small businesses.

Scrap the 50% income tax rate, balanced by raising the minimum earnings threshold for paying tax to £10,000, following mounting evidence that it is a barrier to entrepreneurship and inward investment, outstripping the Governmentís income from it.

Allow smaller companies to compete on a level playing field.

Thoroughly review the Business Records Check scheme given the considerable regulatory burden it can place on small businesses.

Place a 2% cap on business rates in April 2012. Presently, such rates are due to rise by 5.6%, despite inflation currently falling.

Build trust with HMRC

Implement a review of fines for late payment of PAYE amid concerns that the policy of accumulated fines was not adequately promoted to small businesses either before or during the last tax year.

Work more closely with business groups to improve HMRCís methods and address the perception that small firms are being seen as 'easy targets' for revenue-raising at the expense of longer-term economic sustainability.

Reduce the cost of employment

Change the existing scheme of offering a £5,000 NI holiday for a new firmís first 10 employees. Instead, the Government should offer the holiday for the first extra 2 employees taken on by all businesses. Widening the accessibility of the scheme while reducing the extent an individual business benefits could encourage much greater take up.

With Real Time Information and mandatory online VAT filing on the horizon, the Government should undertake a stock check of business capability for handling new online services. A simple, easy-to-use regime should be in place, coupled with proportionate and lenient HMRC monitoring of the schemes in their early years.

In the long term, the Forum recommends that the Governmentís commits to merging National Insurance and PAYE.

Rebalance the tax system

Build on the commitment to encouraging innovation by introducing R&D tax credits as well as a Patent Box. The measures announced in the 2011 Budget to extend the rate of relief for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were particularly welcome. This move, plus the decision to remove the NIC/PAYE cap and the current minimum spend amount of £10,000, will further encourage SMEs to innovate, particularly start-up firms.

Create a tax system which is simple enough for small businesses to understand. In order to achieve this, the tax system must be reviewed, and, as a medium to long term goal, completely overhauled.

Ahead of the Budget, which takes place on 21 March 2012, the Forum is lobbying to make tax simple and proportionate as part of its Get Britain Trading campaign.

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