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Roman Catholic-WCC group focuses on peace-building, migration

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 07:14:17 +0000

Meeting on 12-15 September 2017  in Lisbon, Portugal, the Joint Working Group of the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church focused its work on peace-building and the concerns of migrants. Meeting on 12-15 September 2017  in Lisbon, Portugal, the Joint Working Group (JWG) of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Roman Catholic Church focused its work on peace-building and the concerns of migrants. The 20-member group issued a communique at the close of the meeting after exploring together the role of culture, religion, and dialogue in peace-building and the challenges and opportunities for ecumenical cooperation concerning migrants and refugees. To enhance the depth and breadth of thought, two theme groups were formed to work both between and during plenary meetings to address the issues before them, identify possibilities for greater partnership and make practical recommendations for collaboration. “The goal of the peace-building group is to identify the positive contributions churches can make together to the resolution of conflicts and prevention of violence,” reads the communique. “The group recognises the fact that culture, religion and even dialogue can be misused to spark violence and conflict.” The JWG acknowledged that there is a growing awareness among faith communities that peace-building needs the constructive involvement of the churches. “It is important to build on already existing successful examples of ecumenical cooperation and to identify new possible ways in which the churches can witness to just peace,” states the communique. Regarding the concerns of migrants, the JWG acknowledged that the current situation of migrants and refugees is a significant “sign of the times” and requires a common response by all churches and their cooperation with others working in the field. “Churches are called to strengthen their collaboration in welcoming, protecting, integrating and empowering refugees and migrants,” reads the communique. “While migration has always been part of human history, the current reality of forced migration, the rejection of refugees and racist attitudes in many places are of growing concern for churches.” The JWG, which was established in 1965 to monitor and strengthen cooperation, will present pastoral recommendations from this most recent meeting for the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC on both issues. During the current mandate (2014 – 2021), the 20-member JWG is chaired by the two co-moderators Metropolitan Nifon of Targoviste from the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, Diarmuid Martin. “The aim of these recommendations is to bring the churches to greater unity in addressing areas of vital concern”, the communique concluded. * Read the Joint Working Group communique here * The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, by the end of 2012 the WCC had 345 member churches representing more than 500 million Christians from Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other traditions in over 110 countries. The WCC works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. * World Council of Churches http://www.oikoumene.org/en [Ekk/4] [...]



£1.3m claimed by peers who never speak in the Lords

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 07:02:52 +0000

Peers who haven’t spoken in the Lords for an entire year have claimed nearly £1.3 million in expenses and allowances, research from the Electoral Reform Society has revealed. Peers who haven’t spoken in the Lords for an entire year have claimed nearly £1.3 million in expenses and allowances, research from the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has revealed.115 Lords – one in seven of the total – failed to speak at all in the 2016/17 session, despite claiming an average of £11,091 each, while 18 peers failed to vote but still claimed £93,162.It comes amid an ‘expenses free-for-all’ in the Lords, with expenses claims soaring by 20 per cent in just two years – at a time when public services have been under strain.The findings show that most peers (58 per cent of those attending the whole 2016/17 session) now claim more than the average full-time Briton’s take-home pay – for what is essentially a part-time role.The research also finds: £4,086,764 has been claimed by the 36 per cent of peers who spoke five times or fewer in the past year, many of whom simply turn up to vote 167 peers made 10 or fewer spoken contributions – yet claimed more than the average take-home salary  Peers who voted ten times or fewer claimed £1,032,653 in 2016/17  £7.3m claimed by peers who spoke ten times or fewer this past year, while 131 peers spoke and voted ten times or fewer – claiming £658,314 in 2016/17 10 peers – 1.16 per cent of the total – account for over a fifth of spoken contributions, while the top 50 speakers account for 51 per cent of total speeches Despite being the second largest chamber in the world, most of the Lords’ huge costs come from those who contribute the least: the most active 300 peers claim only half the expenses – showing the size of the Lords can be cut without significantly limiting its work  The research follows calls in the past week from Commons Speaker John Bercow to cut the size of the upper chamber – and ahead of the publication of a key Lords inquiry on reducing the number of peers.Peers do not have to offer proof they have contributed in order to claim up to £300 tax-free per day, plus expenses.The findings come ahead of a full ERS audit on the state of the House of Lords next month, which will be published to coincide with the launch of the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the Upper House’s report.Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “These figures are a damning indictment of the state of the House of Lords. There appears to be a growing ‘something for nothing’ culture in our upper house, with tidy sums being claimed by those who barely contribute. And there are a worrying number of couch-potato peers and lobby-fodder Lords at a time when there is plenty to scrutinise – ostensibly the upper chamber’s role.“The fact that over £4 million is being claimed by those who speak only a handful of times a year shows just how dire this undemocratic situation has become. It’s completely unacceptable that peers can claim thousands without even speaking or voting in the House – and it highlights the reality that there is no accountability for peers.“With a 20 per cent surge in expenses claims in the past two years, this is a House that is spiralling out of control. Rather than spending immense sums on peers who fail to even speak up in Parliament, we need a fairly-elected upper House – with a much smaller number of salaried peers – ending the rolling expenses scandal the chamber has become.“Huge amounts of money are going to the people who contribute the least. This is an outrageous situation. We need to move to a much smaller upper chamber – one that is properly accountable – so that the Lords is no longer seen as a retirement home for party donors but something fit for the Mother of all Parliaments.“However, piecemeal changes like imposing a retirement age will do l[...]



UN Iraq resolution 'missed opportunity for comprehensive justice'

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 06:56:34 +0000

A United Nations Security Council resolution allows for the investigation of crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq, but fails to include within its mandate abuses by anti-ISIS forces. The United Nations Security Council has missed a key opportunity to address war crimes and rights abuses by all sides to the conflict in Iraq, Human Rights Watch has said. The council unanimously adopted a resolution on 21 September  2017, that establishes an investigative team to collect and preserve evidence of serious crimes allegedly committed by the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) – which is needed – but fails to include within its mandate abuses by anti-ISIS forces. “No one denies the importance of tackling the widespread atrocities by ISIS in Iraq, but ignoring abuses by Iraqi and international forces is not only flawed, it’s shortsighted,” said Balkees Jarrah, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The pursuit of justice is essential to all victims who saw their loved ones tortured and killed, or houses burned and bombed, regardless of who is responsible.” The resolution mandates the UN Secretary-General to establish an investigative team headed by a special adviser to collect and preserve evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide by ISIS members in Iraq, for anticipated use in future criminal proceedings in Iraq or possibly in other national courts. It stipulates that “any other uses” of the evidence collected by the team is to be “determined in agreement with the Government of Iraq on a case by case basis.” However, the team can and should play a positive role in advocating for federal Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities to bring charges against ISIS suspects for the full range of crimes they have committed, improve respect for due process rights of suspects and detainees, and to take a more victim-centred approach to national accountability efforts. It can and should seek to convince the Iraqi government to allow it to broaden the investigations to include abuses by all sides in the conflict. An initiative aimed at documenting serious crimes by ISIS is a positive first step to support accountability efforts in Iraq, Human Rights Watch said. ISIS forces in Iraq have carried out human rights abuses, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and what the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Syria found to be genocide. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for international support for efforts to bring ISIS members to justice. But beyond ISIS atrocities, Iraq urgently needs investigations of serious crimes by all sides to the conflict. The United Kingdom submitted the resolution after working closely with the Iraqi government to establish an investigative body for ISIS crimes in Iraq through the Security Council. Their discussions began in September 2016 after the United Kingdom, together with Iraq and Belgium, began a global campaign at the UN General Assembly to bring ISIS to justice. The UK decided to formally move forward with the draft resolution in August after receiving Iraq’s consent through a letter to the Security Council. Iraq made clear that it was working with the UK on a resolution “in line with Iraq’s national sovereignty and jurisdiction at both the negotiation and implementation stages.” Iraqi authorities face a complex task to bring to justice ISIS suspects. Iraq is prosecuting thousands of detainees under counterterrorism legislation, for crimes tied to their affiliation with ISIS. However, Human Rights Watch research has found that abuse is rampant in the detention of ISIS suspects and that serious due process violations are undermining the judicial proceedings. Iraqi authorities are not charging any suspects for serious international crimes such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide, which are not criminal offences under Iraqi law, [...]



Credit used to cover everyday living expenses, says debt charity

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 06:40:38 +0000

The debt charity StepChange says demand for debt advice is at record levels, with people increasingly struggling to meet their essential household bills.   Rising debts levels and the continued struggle to meet essential household bills are among the key findings from the latest statistical research released by StepChange Debt Charity. The 2017 Statistics Mid-Yearbook, which examines the latest trends from the charity’s client data, highlights how increasing numbers of the under-40s, lone parents and people in rented accommodation are seeking the charity’s help. The proportion of the charity’s clients who are struggling to cover their essential household bills – e.g. rent/mortgage, council tax, electricity - continues to rise and has exceeded 40 per cent for the first time. Lone parents now make up 21.5 per cent of the charity’s clients, despite representing only seven per cent of the national population. The proportion of lone parents among the charity’s clients has been rising rapidly in recent years and stood at 15.3 per cent in 2011. Lone parents often face particularly difficult circumstances, are more likely to live in rented accommodation, are the most likely to be employed part time and the least likely to work full time. There has been a major shift in the housing status of the charity’s clients in recent years, a trend which continued into the first half of 2017. In 2011, people living in rented accommodation made up 55.4 per cent of the charity’s clients. In the first half of 2017 that figure had risen to 80.1 per cent. The report shows that the charity’s clients continue to get younger. Almost two thirds (63 per cent) of all clients advised in the first six months of 2017 were under 40. In 2011 that figure stood at 51 per cent. The under-25s seeking the charity’s help are struggling with rapidly growing debt levels; in the first half of 2017 the average debt of clients under 25 was £6,637, a figure which had risen 29 per cent since 2015, when it stood at £5,151. Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive of StepChange Debt Charity said, “Demand for debt advice is at record levels. The people we help are increasingly struggling just to meet their essential household bills and debt levels are now once again on the rise after an eight year decline. Personal debt must now become a priority for Government. “Nearly 9 million people in the UK are using credit just to cover their everyday living expenses. Many are in irregular or insecure work, those who have borne the brunt of cuts to welfare, or those who are particularly vulnerable. In a time when households increasingly lack financial resilience, it takes very little to push someone from position of just about managing into long-term financial difficulty. “While debt has the capacity to affect anyone, the rapidly rising debt levels of younger people, the huge over-representation among single parents and increasing numbers of those under-40 and those in rented accommodation highlight where some of the most acute and emerging problems lie.  As credit markets have loosened and outstanding personal borrowing in the UK surges towards its 2008 peak, the concern is that there will be more people in serious financial difficulty in the not-too-distant future. “People need better support to manage their debt problems. The Government has committed to the creation of a “breathing space” scheme to provide better protections for those people struggling with debt problems. This is a policy with cross-party support that can make a significant difference to the lives of people struggling with debt, and we urge the Government to act now.” The StepChange Mid-Yearbook can be downloaded here * StepChange Debt Charity https://www.stepchange.org/ [Ekk/   [...]



New support for young carers in Scotland

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 06:12:06 +0000

The Scottish government has announced a new package of support for young carers who do not qualify for Carer's Allowance.

A new Young Carer Grant – worth £300 a year – will be part of a new package of support for  young carers, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced on a visit to the Edinburgh Young Carers Project.

The grant will be awarded to young carers aged 16 to 18 who do at least 16 hours of caring a week, but do not qualify for Carer’s Allowance. It will help to improve young carers’ quality of life, assisting them to take part in employment, social or leisure opportunities.

The full package of support will be delivered throughout the course of this parliament. It will also include adding more entitlements and rewards for 11-18-year-old young carers to the Young Scot National Entitlement Card – which gives non-cash benefits to young people. Young Scot will work with young carers groups to develop the scheme.

At a later date, everyone receiving the Young Carer Grant will also be given a pass for free bus travel. This is in response to concerns that some young carers feel isolated by their caring responsibilities, and can find it difficult to meet transport costs.

The First Minister said, “This government has always been strongly committed to enhancing carers’ rights and providing them with the right support at the right time.

“The package of support I am announcing today, including the Young Carer Grant, will give valuable extra help to this group of people. It comes in addition to a range of other measures, including the support contained in the Carers Act, which enshrines carers’ rights in law for the first time.

“Young carers make an invaluable contribution to society. The additional grant and free bus travel, along with new legislation and our ambitious changes to the social security system, will help ensure they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Meg Wright, Director of Carers Trust Scotland said, “We are delighted that the Scottish Government recognises the important contribution that young carers make across Scotland. Many young carers have difficulty participating in the normal activities their peers can enjoy. The Young Carer Grant will help young carers to pursue more of their aspirations and reduce social  isolation through having the means to travel more widely.”

The Carers Act 2016 will take effect on 1 April 2018 and includes more support for young carers. This includes the right to a young carer statement from the local authority – a document setting out the young carer’s circumstances and support needs.

* Scottish Government http://www.gov.scot/#slide/1

[Ekk/6]




Fresh inquest will examine evidence of bullying at Deepcut barracks

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 06:04:20 +0000

A coroner has ruled that a fresh inquest into the death of Private Sean Benton in 1995 will examine wider allegations of bullying and abuse at Deepcut barracks. A coroner has ruled that the fresh inquest into the death of Private Sean Benton in 1995 will examine wider allegations of bullying and abuse at Deepcut barracks. His Honour Judge Peter Rook QC announced at a pre-inquest review at Woking Coroner’s Court that evidence relating to the alleged bullying of other recruits will be heard as part of the investigation into whether Sean himself suffered abuse in the months before his death. Many people have stated publicly and to Sean’s family that they believe he endured vicious and prolonged physical and psychological bullying at the barracks. The Coroner ruled at a previous pre-inquest hearing that the case engages Article Two of the Human Rights Act – meaning there will be a full investigation into Sean’s death and the wider environment in which he lived at Deepcut. Sean, 20, was found with five bullet wounds to his chest on 9 June 1995 – shortly after he had been told he was to be discharged from the Army. He was the first of four young soldiers to die of gunshot wounds at the Surrey barracks between 1995 and 2002.  His death was followed by an internal Army investigation which his family fear was rushed and inadequate. His family estimate the initial inquest – which took place a month later – lasted less than two hours. It heard evidence from just six people. Sean’s medical and mental health records were not obtained and no evidence was sought or given about his experiences at Deepcut. The Coroner recorded a verdict of suicide. Sean's family went on to spend more than 20 years fighting for the thorough inquest they and their son deserved, says the human rights and civil liberties organisation Liberty. Sean’s sister Tracy Lewis and his twin brother Tony Benton, represented by Liberty, applied for a second inquest in July 2015. This was granted in October 2016. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23506) The application was made possible only after Sean’s late mother Linda Benton used the Human Rights Act to access vast amounts of evidence held by Surrey Police about his death. Linda died in May 2015, having never discovered the truth about her son’s death. Sean’s sister, Tracy Lewis, said, “It won’t be easy to listen to people give evidence about bullying and abuse – but it’s so important to us to learn the truth about the toxic environment we fear Sean lived in. It’s what our mum fought for 20 years for. “We’re grateful that the Coroner has decided to allow a wider range of allegations to be heard than just those affecting Sean directly, and are hopeful we will find answers to the questions we’ve been asking for so long.” Emma Norton, Liberty’s Head of Casework and solicitor to the family, said, “The Coroner’s decision is very welcome and we hope it will enable us to get a clearer picture of the reality of life at Deepcut camp. “It's enormously important for the family, the public and the British Army that all these matters are properly and independently investigated.” A further pre-inquest hearing will be held on 17 November 2017 at Surrey Coroner’s Court, Woking. Sean's inquest is due to begin on 24 January 2018 and is expected to last until Easter. A fresh inquest last year into the death of Private Cheryl James, who also died at Deepcut in 1995, uncovered an appalling culture at the barracks – and led the Ministry of Defence to admit a series of failings. It revealed there was a lack of supervision for trainee soldiers, unsupervised access to alcohol, including for under 18s, a lack of formal welfare policy, no support for young people and a highly sexualised environment. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23131) Private Sean B[...]



Is the religious right on the rise in Britain? An important new book

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 18:11:29 +0000

Is the religious right on the rise in Britain? An important new book

read more




Spanish Government accused of 'anti-democratic repression' in Catalonia

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 14:30:57 +0000

The Spanish government faces condemnation from human rights groups, progressive politicians and activists across the world in the wake of arrests of Catalan officials backing a regional independence vote on 1 October 2017.  The Spanish government faces condemnation from human rights groups, progressive politicians and activists across the world in the wake of arrests of Catalan officials backing a regional independence vote on 1 October 2017.  Spanish Guardia Civil officers raided a dozen Catalan government offices and arrested 14 senior officials on Wednesday 20 September. Polling station signs and documents for electoral officers were also seized during a raid on a warehouse in a town outside Barcelona. The Catalan government has confirmed that Josep Maria Jové, Secretary General of economic affairs and an aide to the Catalan vice-president, and Lluis Salvado, the secretary of taxation, were among those arrested. Some 10 million voting slips have also been seized, 1.5 million posters and campaign material destroyed, threatening warrants issued to 700 mayors and newspaper offices raided by police in a crackdown authorised by the Spanish government, which says that the referendum is illegal because Spain's constitution says that nothing can be allowed to violate the unity of the state. Those who back the referendum to settle the hotly contested issue dispute this, citing the mandate the Catalan government has,  the principle of self-determination in international law, and "anti-democratic violations of civil rights" including freedom of expression, assembly and political organisation. Overnight, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Barcelona and other Spanish cities both inside and outside the region to protest against the actions authorised by right-wing Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy, who they accuse of using tactics similar to that of the Franco dictatorship. Meanwhile, arrests, raids and the seizing of election material continue.  British Parliamentarians have expressed deep concerns over the situation in Catalonia through a letter sent in the name of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Catalonia at Westminster.  Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has called for dialogue between the Catalan and Spanish governments to try to resolve the standoff. She added: "It is of course entirely legitimate for Spain to oppose independence for Catalonia, but what I think is of concern anywhere is for a state to deny the right of a people to democratically express their will. "The right of self-determination is an important international principle and I hope very much it will be respected in Catalonia and everywhere else," declared Ms Sturgeon. In Ireland, a request to have the situation in Catalonia debated in the Dáil has been accepted by the Ceann Comhairle. It will take place at around 17.10 on Thursday 21 September. Carles Puigdemont, who heads Catalonia’s pro-sovereignty government, has described the raids as a “a co-ordinated police assault” which show that Madrid “has de facto suspended self-government and applied a de facto state of emergency”. The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, has condemned the raids as “a democratic scandal”. Simon Barrow, director of the beliefs and ethics thinktank Ekklesia, commented: "Whatever your view on an independent Catalonia, Spain's attempt to crush a vote with arrests of politicians and officials, raids on newspaper offices, destruction of ballot papers, financial sanctions and intimidation of elected mayors is not acceptable behaviour from a modern, democratic European nation." [Ekk/3] [...]



Pressure mounts on Church of England to divest from Exxon

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 13:48:25 +0000

Christian campaigners are calling on the Church of England to disinvest from US oil giant ExxonMobil, on the basis of new evidence that the company intentionally misled the public on climate change.

Christian campaigners are calling on the Church of England to disinvest from US oil giant ExxonMobil, on the basis of new evidence that the company intentionally misled the public on climate change.

Last night (20 September 2017), supporters of Operation Noah and Christian Climate Action held a vigil outside Church House in London, the home of Church of England investors, to pray that they would cut financial ties with Exxon.

A recent peer-reviewed study published by Harvard academics shows that ExxonMobil knew about climate change in the 1970s, yet its public communications intentionally cast doubt over whether climate change was real and caused by human activity. ExxonMobil is currently under investigation by the Attorneys General of New York and Massachusetts, as well as the FBI, over whether the company misled the public about the risks of climate change.

Ruth Jarman of Christian Climate Action said: ‘As tragic extreme weather events across the world highlight the consequences of inaction on climate change, we wanted to shine a spotlight on a company which we now know is responsible for at least some of this inaction. It cannot be right for a church, which should be providing moral leadership, to ignore Exxon’s gross corporate social irresponsibility.’

James Buchanan of Operation Noah said: ‘We believe that the Church of England should immediately divest from ExxonMobil. The ethical grounds for divestment are now overwhelming. The possibility that, following recent extreme weather events in the US, oil companies may face climate lawsuits also means that investors should divest now or face the risk of significant financial losses.’

Revd. Dr. Darrell Hannah, rector of All Saints’, Ascot Heath, said: ‘It is now clear that ExxonMobil engineered a thirty year campaign to mislead the public on the scientific evidence for climate change. Their current business plan for the coming decades, while acknowledging that climate change is real and dangerous, proceeds with a business-as-usual approach. The Church of England, by continuing to invest in ExxonMobil, participates in their reckless exploitation of God’s world. It is time for the Church to take its money elsewhere. Anything less would mean failing to live up to our prophetic calling.’

* Read the Harvard study here

* Operation Noah http://operationnoah.org/

* Christian Climate Action https://christianclimateaction.wordpress.com/

[Ekk/4]




Treaty banning nuclear weapons opens for signature at UN

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 06:53:23 +0000

The world’s first legally-binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons opened for signature yesterday at UN Headquarters in New York.

“The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the product of increasing concerns over the risk posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons, including the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of their use”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the ceremony, held on the margins of the General Assembly’s high-level debate.

“The Treaty is an important step towards the universally-held goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. It is my hope that it will reinvigorate global efforts to achieve it,” he added, acknowledging the contributions made by civil society and the hibakusha – the atomic bomb survivors of Japan.

At the same time, Mr. Guterres, highlighted the difficult road ahead by recalling that there remain some 15,000 nuclear weapons in existence. “We cannot allow these doomsday weapons to endanger our world and our children’s future”, he said.

The Treaty – adopted on 7 July this year at a UN conference in New York by a vote of 122 in favour to one against (Netherlands), with one abstention (Singapore) – prohibits a full range of nuclear-weapon-related activities, such as undertaking to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons.

However, nuclear-armed States and most of their allies stayed out of the negotiations. Immediately following its adoption, the United States, the United Kingdom and France issued a joint press statement saying that they “have not taken part in the negotiation of the treaty… and do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”

The Treaty will enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 50 countries.

At the ceremony, chaired by UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu, 42 countries signed the Treaty, with more expected later in the day. The Holy See and Thailand not only signed but also ratified it.

The President of the General Assembly, Miroslav Lajcák, noted at the ceremony that the Treaty demonstrates the will of Member States to bring about change.

“It will raise public awareness about the risks of nuclear weapons. It will keep us on track for achieving our goal of a world in which nuclear weapons exist only in movies or books. But we need to do more to get the whole way there.”

* United Nations http://www.un.org/en/index.html

[Ekk/4]




TUC publishes new guidance on fire safety following Grenfell

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 06:31:18 +0000

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has published new fire safety advice for trade union representatives following the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has published new fire safety advice for trade union representatives following the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June. There are between 15,000 and 20,000 fires in non-residential buildings every year in the UK. Last year 2,000 of these fires were in industrial premises, more than 5,000 were in shops or similar commercial sites, while almost 2,000 were in schools or hospitals. Union health reps have a key role to play in fire safety, says the TUC, and should challenge employers to take all aspects of fire safety, including prevention, as more than just a ‘tick-box exercise’. The new guidance published today sets out the law around fire safety, explains what is required from a thorough fire safety assessment, and looks at how to implement fire safety policies that will prevent and protect workers. There is also a useful checklist for reps on what to look out for in terms of fire safety when they carry out their workplace inspections. The TUC believes workers in high-risk office blocks will have particular concerns about fire safety following the Grenfell Tower fire. If not managed properly, high-rise buildings pose additional risks in terms of their construction and escape routes. The guide argues that fire procedures must be reviewed to reflect this. Union reps can check bosses are receiving professional advice on their fire policies. And if the building has any form of cladding, reps can press employers to ensure that both the materials, and also the way they are installed, are independently tested and checked. The TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We must never see a repeat of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The government needs to act now and ensure that all high-rise buildings are safe, including those used as workplaces. “Millions of people across the UK work in high-rise buildings, many of which could have cladding and insulation similar to that used in Grenfell Tower. Those workers need urgent reassurances about their safety, and if there is any risk to them, there must be immediate action. “Union reps have a key role to play in pressing employers to make sure that their buildings are safe. This guide will help familiarise reps with the latest law on fire safety, help them carry out better workplace inspections, and work with bosses to devise policies that will genuinely prevent and protect workers from fires.” The Grenfell Tower tragedy was debated at the TUC conference in Brighton last week. Congress resolved to campaign to: ensure the public inquiry addresses the concerns of residents, survivors and workers who responded to the fire highlight the impact of privatisation, casualisation and deregulation on public safety end and reverse the cuts to fire and rescue services and to local government, and build a movement of tenants in the public and private sector and of owner occupiers for the provision of decent and safe housing for all. * Read the report here * TUC https://www.tuc.org.uk/ [Ekk/4] [...]



Housing costs 'a growing drag' on living standards for young people

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 06:30:57 +0000

The share of income that Britain’s families spend on housing has trebled over the last 50 years, with young people having to make do with longer commutes and smaller, insecure rented accommodation. The average share of income that Britain’s families spend on housing has trebled over the last 50 years, with young people having to make do with longer commutes and smaller, insecure rented accommodation, according to a new report published by the Resolution Foundation. As Labour and the Conservatives head to their party conferences looking to learn the lessons from the shock election result in June and the highest turnout amongst young people since 1992, the report starkly illustrates why the question of generational fairness and housing has become a totemic concern about living standards in Britain today. The report, Home Affront, shows that each generation since the war has had to spend more of their income on housing. The pre-war ‘silent generation’ (1926-1945) spent just seven per cent of their income on housing at the age of 30. This figure more than doubled for the baby boomers (1946-1965), who spent 17 per cent of their income on housing at that age. And it has reached a record high for millennials today (1981-2000) who currently spend almost a quarter of their income on housing (23 per cent) at age 30. While housing costs have escalated, the baby boomer generation has been the biggest beneficiary of improvements in the security and quality of housing that have taken place over this time as home ownership spread. Those born in the late 1940s have enjoyed the highest ownership rates over the course of their lives, with each five-year cohort after them doing worse than their predecessors. Home ownership rates among young families born in the early 1980s are now around half that of those born 30 years earlier at the same age. The Foundation notes that while housing has been a growing drag on living standards for everyone, increased home ownership has boosted the wealth of older generations, as well as their income in later life as a record proportion now own their homes outright. In contrast, younger generations are being rewarded for the record amount they have to spend on housing with lower home ownership, greater insecurity and smaller homes that are further from where they work. The report shows that there are now as many young families (aged 25-34) living in the private rented sector (PRS) as owning a home or living in the social rented sector combined (36 per cent). It also finds that average floor space has fallen by four per cent since 1996 years for people aged under 45, while it has increased by two per cent for those aged 45 and over. Young people today are also compromising on location, with millennials set to spend an extra 64 hours a year commuting to work by the age of 40 compared to baby boomers. Home Affront warns that while the passing of the financial crisis means some young households will be able to become home owners, the outlook for younger generations is on course to continue deteriorating. Even in an optimistic scenario in which home ownership for young people ‘catches up’ with the generation before them, the age at which most families will own their own home could be delayed until their 40s – a decade later than when most baby boomers got onto the housing ladder. Such a delay would mean many more first-time parents living in private rented accommodation, where two-month eviction notice periods are the norm, and facing the daunting prospect of having to save for a deposit while facing childcare costs. The Foundation is calling on all political parties to make addressing Britain’s housin[...]



MoD promises new support to Saudi security bodies despite imminent juvenile executions

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 14:55:04 +0000

The Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has signed a security agreement with Saudi Arabia that appears to promise further training for Saudi police – despite their use of torture and the death penalty.

The Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has signed a security agreement with Saudi Arabia that appears to promise further training for Saudi police – despite their use of torture and the death penalty.

The move comes despite Saudi Arabia’s recent resumption of executions for protest-related offences, following unfair trials in the Kingdom’s special anti-terrorism court (the Specialised Criminal Court, or SCC). Several juveniles face imminent execution for attending protests, including Abdulkarim al-Hawaj, Mujtaba al-Sweikat, Salman al-Quraish, Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher. A disabled young man, Munir al-Adam, also faces execution. 

All seven were convicted in the Specialised Criminal Court on the basis of forced, false confessions extracted through torture by Saudi security forces. The charges against the seven include the chanting of slogans, and the use of social media and messaging services like Whatsapp.  

Michael Fallon signed the agreement yesterday with the Saudi Crown Prince, saying the security agreement would “further cement… the UK’s long standing relationship” with the Kingdom and “allow Saudi Arabia to better protect her national security, including counter-terrorism, intelligence, training and education”. 

The human rights organisation Reprieve has previously raised concerns that existing UK security cooperation with Saudi Arabia – including cybersecurity cooperation, and the training of Saudi police in investigation techniques – could contribute to the use of torture and the death penalty against peaceful protesters, including juveniles. In 2016, documents from the UK College of Policing, obtained by Reprieve, revealed the UK was training Saudi police in digital forensics skills that the College feared could be “used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured”.(http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23146) The training was carried out without safeguards, it later emerged. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23452)

,Bella Sankey,  a Deputy Director of Reprieve, said: “Michael Fallon is offering yet more support to a Saudi security apparatus that is currently stepping up its use of the death penalty against protesters. There are already grounds to believe UK training could have helped Saudi police identify protesters who were later tortured, and increasing numbers of juvenile protesters now face imminent execution. British ministers should be using their meetings with the Crown Prince to urge a halt to executions – not offering to prop up the Kingdom’s abusive security bodies.”

* Reprieve https://www.reprieve.org.uk/

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Justice For Grenfell responds to Metropolitan Police

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 09:29:52 +0000

Justice4Grenfell, a community coalition formed to obtain justice for all affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, has responded to the Metropolitan Police's announcement of the possibility of manslaughter charges arising from their investigation. Justice4Grenfell (J4G) is a community-led organisation, focused on obtaining justice for bereaved families, survivors, evacuated residents and the wider local community, in partnership with representative organisations. J4G will be engaging with the Public Inquiry on behalf of its membership. It has made a statement in response to the announcements made yesterday (19 September 2017) by the Metropolitan Police. Justice4Grenfell  broadly welcomes the news that the Metropolitan Police have announced that individual manslaughter charges arising from the Grenfell Fire are a possibility. The survivors, bereaved families, evacuated residents and the wider community have all been calling for such charges to be brought, for individuals to be held personally accountable under the law. The prospect of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council being charged with Corporate Manslaughter, and subsequently paying any fine arising with Council Tax Payers' money is completely unacceptable, a travesty of justice, so this updated position is definitely a step in the right direction. However, there is still a long way to go before anyone can be certain that individuals will be held accountable. The Police can of course recommend individual charges but the final decision rests with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). There is no guarantee that the CPS will consider there is sufficient evidence to successfully bring such charges. It remains a waiting game. J4G is concerned that, following the announcement that individual manslaughter charges are possible, the Police have also said that only 59 people have been identified as victims of the fire, and that the overall death toll is likely to be less than the already announced 80. This is bizarre, how can it be so? From 14 June itself, the on-going narrative from the relevant authorities continues to try and reduce the scale of the disaster, to minimise the number of fatalities. The local Community has never accepted the previous 'official' death toll of 80, believing it to be a gross under-estimate of the true number. How do survivors and the wider community reconcile the considerable number of people still reported as “missing” with that revised estimate, are those listed as missing included in the now reduced overall figure? In order to achieve any kind of closure, all impacted by the Grenfell fire need clarity, something that has been missing from day one. The continuing attempts to apparently downsize the scale of the disaster only serve to compound the distress and trauma felt by those who have experienced unbelievable horrors. It certainly does not aid recovery. Justice4Grenfell understands and accepts the need for a thorough criminal investigation, we recognise that this will take time. We would far rather wait for that investigation to be concluded so that ALL the evidence can be presented to the CPS in support of the recommendation for individual manslaughter charges, than for it to be rushed. Rushing the investigation may result in the bringing of lesser, Corporate Manslaughter charges, and completely fail to satisfy the need for justice to be done and seen to be done. The announcement from the Metropolitan Police can be read here * Justice4Grenfell https://justice4grenfell.org/ [Ekk/6] [...]



End in sight for India's notorious 'human safaris'

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 07:05:23 +0000

Notorious 'human safaris' in India’s Andaman Islands may soon stop, after the authorities announced that a new sea route around the islands will soon open.

Notorious 'human safaris' in India’s Andaman Islands may soon stop, after the authorities announced that a new sea route around the islands will soon open.

The new route will keep tourists off the infamous Andaman Trunk Road, which was built illegally through the forests of the isolated Jarawa tribe.

The road brings a daily invasion of hundreds of tourists into the heart of the Jarawa reserve, who treat the Jarawa like animals in a safari park. One tourist described his trip: “The journey through tribal reserve was like a safari ride as we were going amidst dense tropical rainforest and looking for wild animals, Jarawa tribals to be specific."

The Jarawa, like all recently contacted peoples, face catastrophe unless their land is protected, says Survival International, the global moevement for the rights of tribal people. The human safaris are also dangerous – one Jarawa boy lost his arm after tourists threw food at him from a moving vehicle.

In 2002 India’s Supreme Court ordered the road closed, but it has remained open.

Survival International led a global campaign against the human safaris, calling for a boycott of the Andaman tourist industry until they came to an end. Nearly 17,000 people from around the world pledged not to holiday in the islands in protest.(http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18347)

The boycott will be called off as soon as the Andaman government agrees to ensure that tourists are no longer able to use the road.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said: “Treating the Jarawa as a tourist spectacle was a disgusting practice – it also put their lives in danger. It’s more than time for the human safaris to end. If this sea route can do that, then we welcome it. If not, we’ll carry on campaigning until the Jarawa’s right to determine their own futures and stop being harassed by tourists is secure.”

* Survival International https://www.survivalinternational.org/

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