Ireland imposes strict new limits on spending of debtors

€247.04 a month for food.

Ireland is imposing punishing new requirements on people applying for debt write downs, according to the Financial Times:

A single person will be allowed just €247.04 a month for food, €57.31 for heating and €125.97 for “social inclusion and participation”, an expenses category that includes tickets for sporting events and the cinema.

The allowances rise for someone with children, or without access to public transport: according to the Irish Times, each child of primary school age adds another €204.88, while €131 is allowed for a car if there's no other alternative.

The move is the first attempt to quantify acceptable living standards in the country, following the spate of bankruptcies caused by the financial crisis. The guidelines are also expected to be used by banks as they begin restructuring home loans shortly – in Ireland, unlike the UK, mortgages are included in insolvency laws, in an effort to prevent banks from simply foreclosing on debtors.

English insolvency laws are less restrictive than Ireland's, requiring only that the bankrupt person be left enough cash for "reasonable" expenses. As the FT reports, past cases have found that holidays, mobile phones and video rentals are covered by that, but gym memberships, private healthcare, gambling, cigarettes and alcohol aren't.

The imposition of cash limits could be a step up for welfare, if recipients are free to ignore the categories which they're calculated for. One of the worst things about the sort of moralistic reasoning which the British laws embody – and which are mirrored in the arguments for food stamps – is that it prevents people from making their own decisions about what "necessities" are for them. If I'd rather spend £500 on gym memberships than £1000 on a mobile phone bill, then I'm better off if I'm allowed to do that, and so's the state.

Of course, the Irish limits aren't that flexible – and nor are they that high. So for the time being, you're probably better off bankrupt in Britain. Put that on the tourist posters…

Food stamps. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear