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Poorest hit hardest by government policies, says EHRC

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 10:33:56 +0000

The poorest in society are being hit the hardest by changes to tax, social security and public spending reforms, and are set to lose 10 per cent of their income, a new report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission has revealed. The poorest in society are being hit the hardest by changes to tax, social security and public spending reforms, and are set to lose 10 per cent of their income, a new report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission has revealed. Ahead of next week’s budget, the Commission has published its independent report on the impact that changes to all tax, social security and public spending reforms from 2010 to 2017 will have on people by 2022. Whilst the poorest are set to lose nearly 10 per cent of their incomes, the richest will lose barely one per cent. Undertaken as a ‘cumulative impact assessment’, the report, which looks at the impact the reforms have had on various groups across society, suggests the decisions will also affect some groups more than others: black households will face a five per cent loss of income (more than double the loss for white households) families with a disabled adult will see a £2,500 reduction of income per year (this is £1,000 for non-disabled families) families with a disabled adult and a disabled child will face a £5,500 reduction of income per year (again, compared to £1,000 for non-disabled families) lone parents will struggle with a 15 per cent loss of income (the losses for all other family groups are between 0 and eight per cent) and women will suffer a £940 annual loss (more than double the loss for men) the biggest average losses by age group, across men and women, are experienced by the 65 to 74 age group (average losses of around £1,450 per year) and the 35 to 44 age group (average losses of around £1,250 per year) David Isaac, the Chair of the Commission, which is responsible for making recommendations to government on the compatibility of policy and legislation with equality and human rights standards, warned of a 'bleak future'. Mr Isaac said, "The Government can’t claim to be working for everyone if its policies actually make the most disadvantaged people in society financially worse off. We have encouraged the Government to carry out this work for some time, but sadly they have refused. We have shown that it is possible to carry out cumulative impact assessments and we call on them to do this ahead of the 2018 budget. "If we want a prosperous and, in line with the Prime Minister’s vision, a fair Britain that works for everyone, the Government must come clean and provide a full and cumulative impact analysis of all current and future tax and social security policies. It is not enough to look at the impact of individual policy changes. If this doesn’t happen those most in need will face an extremely bleak future." The Commission is now calling on the Government to: commit to undertaking cumulative impact assessments of all tax and social security policies ahead of the 2018 budget reconsider existing policies that are contributing to negative financial impacts for those who are most disadvantaged implement the socio-economic duty from the Equality Act 2010 so public authorities must consider how to reduce the impact of socio-economic disadvantage of people’s life chances The assessment undertaken by the Commission considered changes to income tax, national insurance contributions, indirect taxes (VAT and excise duties), means-tested and non-means-tested social security benefits, tax credits, universal credit, national minimum wage and national living wage. Read Impact of tax and welfare reforms between 2010 and 2017: interim report here * Equality and Human Rights Commission [Ekk/6] [...]

Credit card companies pushing credit to people who can't pay, says CAB

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 10:08:20 +0000

Credit card holders who are not  confident they can pay their current debts are more likely to have been given extra credit for which they they have not asked, Citizens Advice warns today. People who do not  think they can pay their debts are being given thousand of pounds of credit for which they have not  askedr, Citizens Advice warns today (17 November 2017) Fresh evidence from the charity suggests that six million people have had their credit limit increased in the last year without their consent – and 32 per cent of those showing signs of struggling financially were given a rise. On average, credit card holders were given rises of £1481 without being asked, with one in 10 people (12 per cent) receiving increases of £3000 or more. This is despite 85 per cent of people thinking that credit card companies should always ask permission before increasing someone’s limit. The figures show that credit card companies are not only lending too freely, but putting individuals and the wider economy at risk if people are unable to pay down their debts. Research carried out for Citizens Advice shows that in the last 12 months, 28 per cent of credit card holders (8.4 million people) received a credit limit increase. However, only one in four (23 per cent) credit card holders who were given a rise actually asked for it – the remaining three in four limit raises were initiated by credit card companies. Worryingly, credit card holders who are not confident they can pay their current debts are more likely to have been given extra credit –32 per cent of people who are not confident they can pay back their current debts were given a rise, in comparison to 23 per cent who were. One woman came to Citizens Advice after building up £3500 of credit card debt she was unable to pay back. Initially she had a limit of £500 which she used for unexpected bills, but when she reached the limit her credit was extended. This happened multiple times. Unable to work and reliant on ESA, she is now considering a Debt Relief Order. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has agreed with credit card providers that they will start asking new customers for their consent before raising limits, and give them the option to carry on receiving uninvited increases. Existing customers will be given the option to ask their lender to require their consent. With three quarters of credit limit increases initiated by credit card companies and low demand from customers, Citizens Advice is concerned that credit card companies are not being required to ask permission from their existing customers before raising limits. The charity is urging the Chancellor to use his Budget statement next week to announce that he will protect consumers by banning unsolicited increases altogether, so people are not  put at risk of building up debts they can not pay back. Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said, “It’s clear that credit card companies are contributing to the rise in consumer debt. “Rather than credit card holders seeking to take on more debts, lenders are actively pushing it on people without enough consideration as to who can afford to pay and who can’t. “Few consumers support unsolicited increases and our research shows that they make people’s debt problems worse. The Chancellor must step in to prevent credit card companies weighing people down with unwanted debt – particularly when they are already struggling to keep their heads above water.” * Citizens Advice Bureau [Ekk/6] [...]

First Minister of Scotland meets WCC delegation at COP23

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 07:33:37 +0000

An ecumenical delegation led by the WCC has met the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, in Bonn, to share concerns over rising sea levels and increasingly severe droughts and storms that are putting into question the very survival of people in the island of Tuvalu, an independent nation within the British Commonwealth.

An ecumenical delegation led by the World Council of Churches (WCC) met the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, in Bonn, Germany, to share concerns over rising sea levels and increasingly severe droughts and storms that are putting into question the very survival of people in the island of Tuvalu, an independent nation within the British Commonwealth,

Sturgeon met with Frances Namoumou from the Pacific Conference of Churches in Fiji, the Rev Tafue Lusama, General Secretary of the Congregational Christian Church in Tuvalu, the Rev Henrik Grape, coordinator of the WCC Working Group on Climate Change, and the Rev. Adrian Shaw, climate change officer of the Church of Scotland.

The meeting was facilitated by the Church of Scotland at the UN's Climate Conference on 15 November 2017.

They shared stories of hope and pain from Pacific islanders who are more vulnerable to migration and displacement due to the impact of climate change.

Namoumou explained how the churches in the region were working with communities relocating from exposed coastal sites to safer locations inland, stressing that women and children are the ones who suffer most in the face of climate change and must be involved in the planning relocation.

“This is a matter of survival”, she said. “Losing our land to the sea means losing our identity as a people”, added Namoumou.

Adrian Shaw highlighted how the conversation between the First Minister and the delegation included the issue of just transition. “When people have to leave their land, this is not just. It challenges us to think about what it means and how we can work together”, he said.

The 23rd Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change closes on 17 November.

* 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


Detailed assessment of Free Schools in England

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 07:26:15 +0000

The Education Policy Institute has undertaken an in-depth analysis of the Free Schools programme in England. The Education Policy Institute has undertaken an in-depth analysis of the Free Schools programme in England. Its report, Free Schools in England is the most detailed, independent, assessment yet of this new and much debated reform of the school system. The analysis uses the latest data on Free Schools to assess the impact of the programme on several measures, including pupil performance, inspection outcomes, popularity with parents, composition of pupils from different backgrounds and the extent to which the schools are addressing shortages of school capacity and high quality places. Summary of findings: In spite of the growth of the programme since 2011, two thirds of areas in England are not within a reasonable distance of either a primary or secondary free school. Free schools are helping to meet the need for new school places – and growth has been higher in areas of “basic need”. However, the programme has been ineffective in targeting areas of low school quality – indeed free school places are more likely to be found in areas of high performance (such as London) than in the areas of low school performance (such as the North East). Some of this is, however, explained by the need for new places in London to address population growth. Free schools are more likely to be located in areas of disadvantage, but disadvantaged pupils in these areas are less likely to be admitted than would be expected. In the most deprived areas, 24 per cent of reception aged pupils in free schools were eligible for free school meals versus 32 per cent in other schools. Free school pupils are much more likely to have a first language that is other than English than pupils in other state funded schools. In primary free schools just 33 per cent of pupils are white British, compared with 67.2 per cent of pupils nationally. Free schools appear to be less popular with parents than all other school types, measured by parental preference data. However, free schools appear to become more popular with parents the longer they are open. Free schools have not yet established themselves as the preferred local school for parents – where the nearest local school is a free school, just 22 per cent of pupils at primary and secondary level attend that school – the lowest of all school types. It is not yet possible to conclude whether free schools are more effective in improving pupil attainment than other schools. Free school Ofsted judgements are better at primary, similar to other schools at secondary, and considerably worse for special and alternative-provision schools. Attainment and progress at the end of primary school is so far poor, but this is based on data from a small number of schools that may not be representative of the programme as whole. At secondary, the average free school Progress 8 score was the joint highest of all school groups (matching converter academies), but this may reflect the higher progress of pupils who are over-represented in free schools (such as those with English as an additional language). This analysis has not considered issues of value for money of the programme nor the impact of post-16 study or destinations. Commenting on the report, Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said, “At least 200,000 more primary school places and 80,000 more secondary school places are needed in the next five years. The Local Government Association puts the cost of creating all the necessary places over the next decade at £12 billion. “The estimated cost of the free school programme so far is over £10 billion. By the end of the last academic year only 347 free schools had opened. Of course, many of these schools will be offering an outstanding teaching and learning experience for their students, but that’s no[...]

Church of Scotland welcomes ruling on minimum pricing for alcohol

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 07:21:51 +0000

The Church of Scotland has welcomed a UK Supreme Court decision that will allow the Scottish Government to press on with plans to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.

The Church of Scotland has welcomed a UK Supreme Court decision that will allow the Scottish Government to press on with plans to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.

The Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church and Society Council, said the policy would save lives and improve life for countless people in poor neighbourhoods.

In a unanimous decision, seven Supreme Court judges rejected a challenge from the Scotch Whisky Association which argued that the policy, passed by MSPs in 2012, breached European Union law. The judges ruled that the measure was a “appropriately targeted, lawful and proportionate” means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Scottish Government ministers said a 50p-per-unit minimum would help tackle Scotland's "unhealthy relationship with drink" by raising the price of cheap, high-strength alcohol.

Alcohol misuse costs Scotland £3.6 billion each year: £900 for every adult.

Under the plans, which could be refreshed following a consultation, a three litre bottle of strong cider would cost £11.25 and four 440ml cans of five per cent strength lager would cost at least £4.40.

The Scottish Government said annual alcohol deaths statistics published in August show there were 1,265 alcohol-related deaths in 2016, a 10 per cent increase on the previous year.

Dr Frazer said: “The Church of Scotland welcomes today’s decision of the Supreme Court. We know that alcohol addiction wrecks the lives of individuals and families.

“In my own work with the Grassmarket Community Project at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, walking alongside some of our most vulnerable citizens, we see all too often the devastating impact that excessive use of alcohol can have on the lives of individuals and their loved ones.

“Alcohol addiction, abuse and the negative impact on health and wellbeing can ravage some in our society. Its greatest harm is often experienced in the lives of many of our poorest citizens and in our economically poorest neighbourhoods.

“The introduction of minimum unit pricing will help to tackle this, saving lives and improving life for countless others.We hope that it will be enshrined in law as quickly as possible.”

Scotland’s Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “This is a historic and far-reaching judgment and a landmark moment in our ambition to turn around Scotland’s troubled relationship with alcohol.

“We will proceed with plans to introduce minimum unit pricing as quickly as possible.”

* Church of Scotland


Banning of Cambodian opposition party 'blatant act of political repression'

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 07:08:51 +0000

The Cambodian Supreme Court has dissolved the main opposition party, a decision which Amnesty International has described as "a blatant act of political repression".

The Cambodian Supreme Court yesterday (16 November 2017) made the decision to dissolve the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said, “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court to dissolve the CNRP is not only a blatant act of political repression that must be reversed immediately, but also a serious violation of the human rights to freedom of association and expression in Cambodia. The fact that the court also ruled to ban more than 100 senior CNRP officials from political activity for five years compounds this injustice.

“This is yet more evidence of how the judiciary in Cambodia is essentially used as an arm of the executive and as a political tool to silence dissent. The Supreme Court President Judge is known to have close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen and is a member of high-level committees of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“Sadly, this is just the culmination of several months of threats, rhetoric and outright repression. The authorities have launched a widespread assault on dissent, including by shutting down NGOs and media outlets, and by harassing and jailing human rights defenders. The international community cannot stand idly by – it must send a strong signal that this crackdown is unacceptable."

The dissolution of the CNRP stems from a complaint by the Ministry of Interior, which was filed under a recently amended law prohibiting political parties from “conspiring with criminals”. The CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested in early September this year on trumped up charges of “conspiracy with a foreign power.” He remains in detention.

More on this story from Ekklesia

* Amnesty International


IFAD invests $82 million in Pakistan’s National Poverty Graduation Programme

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 07:08:48 +0000

The International Fund for Agricultural Development and the Government of Pakistan have signed an agreement to improve livelihoods, living conditions and income-generating capacity for 320,000 poor rural households in Pakistan. The programme will be implemented nationwide.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Government of Pakistan have signed an agreement to improve livelihoods, living conditions and income-generating capacity for 320,000 poor rural households in Pakistan. The programme will be implemented nationwide.

The financial agreement for the National Poverty Graduation Programme was signed on 14 November 2017 by Michel Mordasini, Vice-President of IFAD, and Nadeem Riyaz, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to Italy.

The total cost of the programme is US$149.8 million of which IFAD is providing $82.6 million. The programme is aligned with Pakistan’s policies on poverty reduction and social protection, notably with the Government’s Vision 2025 – committing to halve poverty by 2025.

“The programme includes social mobilisation, livelihood development and financial inclusion components. It combines support for immediate needs with a longer-term plan, shifting households out of extreme poverty by providing access to a package of assets that include social services, vocational training and interest-free loans,” said Hubert Boirard, Country Programme Manager, IFAD.

Based on the Pakistani government’s national poverty scorecard, 30 per cent of the total population (59 million people) have been defined as poor and 61 per cent of the population lives in rural areas where income levels are low and employment opportunities are limited.

The new programme, covering 17 districts, will focus on the 'ultra-poor' segment of the population residing in rural areas. The programme will aim to provide a combination of safety nets and sustainable livelihood opportunities. Participants will receive support through skills development, business literacy training and access to credit. The programme will also help to promote economic empowerment by offering men and women equal access to participating in profitable economic activities.

A specialised United Nations agency and international financial institution, IFAD has financed 27 rural development programmes and projects in Pakistan since 1978, with a total IFAD investment of $730 million or $2.51 billion when co-funding from the Pakistan government and others are included. These projects have directly benefitted more than 2.4 million rural households (approximately 17 million people).

* Read Pakistan's National Poverty Graduation Programme here



Batwa tribesman imprisoned for hunting now released

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 08:17:47 +0000

A  Ugandan Batwa tribesman has been released from prison, after spending over seven months behind bars for killing a small antelope inside a protected area from which his people were illegally evicted.

A  Batwa tribesman has been released from prison, after spending over seven months behind bars for killing a small antelope inside a protected area from which his people were illegally evicted.

Kafukuzi Valence, who has no birth certificate but reports his age as 72, claims the animal strayed from Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park into a neighbouring field.

“They imprisoned me because I caught an animal from the forest and ate it,” Mr Kafukuzi told Survival International, the global movement for the rights of tribal people.

“I was so ill and helpless, and I had no medical care,” said Mr Kafukuzi, describing his time in prison. “I had such bad pain in my chest and my legs, and there were so many bedbugs biting me. Even now I am very weak. I have nothing to eat, I just sit here. That is my life now.”

Mr Kafukuzi alleges that rangers from the Uganda Wildife Authority also stole possessions from his house at the time of his arrest.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was established on the ancestral homelands of the Batwa hunter-gatherers in 1991, with the support of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and without the Batwa’s consent. Now the Batwa are accused of 'poaching' when they hunt to feed their families.

“The wildlife rangers announced in the region that everyone should leave the forest, but we stayed,” said Mr Kafukuzi. “They came to hunt us down and shoot at us.”

But targeting tribal hunters diverts action away from tackling the true poachers – criminals conspiring with corrupt officials. Last week it was reported that a Uganda Wildlife Authority ranger was caught trafficking hippo teeth, says Survival.

Survival is campaigning to stop the violation of tribal peoples’ rights in the name of conservation.

* Survival International


Tutu Foundation calls for reconsideration of treatment of young offenders

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 08:03:13 +0000

The Tutu Foundation has criticised comments made by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on the sentencing of teenage offenders. The comments reportedly made by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, about the need to consider ‘harsher and more effective’ prison sentences for teenage offenders in The Daily Telegraph, on 10 November 2017 are unhelpful and fly in the face of evidence which shows that young adults have the highest reconviction rates of any groups, with 75 per cent being reconvicted within two years of release from prison, says the Tutu Foundation UK (TFUK)Those serving community sentences have equally poor outcomes with the highest breach rate of adults serving community sentences, and the poorest outcomes are typically faced by young Black and Muslim men and care leavers, who are over-represented in the Criminal Justice System Not only do the Commissioner's comments fly in the face of the available evidence, it is also at odds with findings from the Harris and Lammy Reviews and the Justice Committee Inquiry into Young Adults in the Criminal Justice System. All of these reports agree that young adults in prison are vulnerable and that the experience of being in prison is particularly damaging to them as they are developing. As a civil society organisation, the TFUK works hard to empower conflict-ridden communities to tackle anti-social behaviour and violence. It says "Through our work, we recognise and agree with organisations like the Transition to Adulthood Alliance, convened by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, that what is needed are approaches which recognise that young adults are a distinct group with specific needs, and that any CJS interventions must acknowledge the fact that their maturity processes are still developing. "This is why our work, through the philosophy of *Ubuntu, has embedded the approach advocated by the Harris review. We recognise that young people are still developing and that they need to be nurtured and supported to navigate through the complexities of their lives into purposeful, mature adulthood. We do this by empowering them with the skills to listen to and talk with each other and the police about their experiences so we can contribute to reducing tension within communities and tackle gang violence and knife crime. We believe that this is the way forward and not harsher prison sentences."Safe boundaries and nurturing are essential for all young people growing up. Our Ubuntu Police Youth Roundtable Project is demonstrating that disaffected young people can engage effectively with their peers and authority figures in a safe environment. Supporting their development, self-worth and confidence are a vital part of the process. The potential is there but more resources are needed to ultimately make prison a much rarer end-game" *The South African concept of ‘UBUNTU’ encourages a recognition of common humanity, connectedness and interdependence. It emphasises what people have in common, rather than their differences * Read Cressida Dick's comments here * The Tutu Foundation [Ekk/4]   [...]

Government cuts mean councils 'can help only children in crisis'

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 07:48:36 +0000

Charities warn government cuts have left councils with no option but to close services designed to spot signs of neglect and abuse early. Council spending on early help services that are designed to spot signs of neglect and abuse early has fallen by 40 per cent between 2010/11 and 2015/16, while crisis support has risen by seven per cent to £6.1 billion, according to the Turning the Tide report from The Children’s Society, Action for Children and the National Children’s Bureau. In contrast to central government funding cuts, councils have cut their own spending on children’s services by slightly less, £1.6 billion over five years. At the same time, there has been a 108 per cent increase in child protection investigations, as demand for council help soars. The research also found that the most deprived councils in England have cut spending on children’s services by almost a quarter (23 per cent), six times as much as the least deprived councils. Reductions in central government grants since 2010 have resulted in greater cuts to deprived councils’ spending power, hitting children in the poorest communities hardest. Children’s and youth centres, teenage pregnancy support, short breaks for disabled children, information and advice for young people and family support are some of the services that are affected by the cuts to early intervention. Between 2010/11 and 2015/16, central government funding for early intervention services fell by £1.7 billion across England, the report reveals. Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said, “Central government cuts to children’s services budgets have been nothing short of devastating, and services that could intervene early to stop problems escalating have been the hardest hit. Whilst more and more children are reaching crisis point, local authorities have found themselves less and less able to respond. “All too often central government shrugs off responsibility for council spending decisions but the figures are stark and undeniable: councils are being denied the funding they need to provide safe, effective children’s services and spending on vital support is collapsing as a result. We are at a tipping point with more cuts yet to come. The government must step up and give councils the funds they need to protect our children.” Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive at Action for Children, said, “Crippling central government funding cuts have left local authorities with no option but to close early help services designed to spot signs of abuse and neglect and move to a ‘crisis’ fire-fighting model. “Leaving local authorities without the necessary resources to help children and families at an early stage has a devastating cost, both in social and financial terms. “With no long-term solution on the table, children’s services are on an unstable and dangerous footing. We’re calling on the government to prioritise the services children need before this crisis turns into a catastrophe for the next generation of children and families.” Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children's Bureau, adds, “There is a relentless squeeze on funding for children's services and councils are seeing their budgets dwindle at an alarming rate. Do we really want a system that can only help children and young people at immediate risk of harm, but can't step in to help families before problems deteriorate?  “We need urgent investment to alleviate the mounting pressure on children's services, and a commitment from Government that all children should get the right support at the right time.” Responding to the report, Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Yo[...]

Role of bishops in House of Lords criticised by MPs

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 07:29:20 +0000

The place of Church of England bishops in the House of Lords has once again been criticised by MPs debating proposals on the size of the House of Lords. 

The place of Church of England bishops in the House of Lords has once again been criticised by MPs during a debate yesterday (15 November 2017)in Westminster Hall. MPs were debating proposals set out in a report by the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House published last month. The proposals include a reduction in the number of peers from around 800 to 600 and the introduction of time-limited terms, but make no mention of reducing the number of reserved seats for Church of England bishops too. Humanists UK, which has written to the Committee about the omission, has welcomed the MPs’ remarks.

Leading the debate, Tommy Sheppard MP – Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group – criticised the report for failing to recommend any reforms regarding the Lords Spiritual, stating, ‘It is ridiculous in our multi-cultural, multi faith society that if any spiritual leaders are to be appointed anywhere in our legislature that that should be the preserve of just one faith and one church in this country. That is an affront to people of others faiths and of none and it is something which is urgently need of reform. And I say this knowing that many people within the church of England would agree with and seek that reform themselves.’

Following the publication of the report, Humanists UK, which does not believe that any religious representatives should be given a seat in Parliament by right, noted that the proposals would actually increase the voting power of the Church of England bishops, given that they will make up a larger proportion of a smaller chamber. Sheppard, too, made this point, adding that the report itself "admits that the influence of the Lords Spiritual in the upper chamber will increase under these proposals rather than reduce.".

This is despite opinion polls demonstrating that an overwhelming majority of the population – including a majority of Christians – believe that it is wrong for Church of England bishops to be given automatic seats in the House of Lords.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, "The UK is the only democratic sovereign state in the world that gives seats in its legislature to religious representatives as a right. This is undemocratic, fundamentally unsecular, and incredibly unpopular too. The Lord Speaker’s Committee ought to listen to both public and MPs and acknowledge that bishops have no place in the House of Lords."

* Humanists UK


Cambodian PM attempts to dissolve opposition party

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 07:25:18 +0000

Cambodia's Supreme Court will rule today on a case brought at the behest of the Prime Minister Hun Sen to dissolve the main opposition party. Cambodia’s Supreme Court should resist government pressure to rule on dissolving the country’s main opposition party, Human Rights Watch has said. Cambodia’s international donors and supporters should state clearly that dissolution of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) will delegitimise national elections scheduled for 2018. On November 16, 2017, the Supreme Court will rule on a case brought at the behest of Prime Minister Hun Sen in October to dissolve the CNRP. The Cambodian government has accused the CNRP of trying to stage a 'colour revolution' – a reference to popular uprisings around the globe – but has provided no evidence of illegality in its court filings. “Prime Minister Hun Sen seems afraid that he will lose elections scheduled for 2018, so he is using the nuclear option to destroy the opposition,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Although the Supreme Court is effectively an organ of the ruling party, it has a historic chance to show some independence and uphold the rule of law.” Hun Sen has announced that upon dissolution of the CNRP, its parliamentary seats will be redistributed to other political parties. He has pressured CNRP members who won seats in June commune elections to switch to the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), stating that any other seats won by the CNRP will be taken by the ruling CPP. The CNRP made significant electoral gains during both the 2013 national elections and the 2017 commune elections. Hun Sen, who has held office for more than three decades, Defence Minister Tea Banh, and other senior government and military officials have made numerous public threats to use force against any Cambodian who protests the dissolution of the CNRP. More than half of CNRP members of parliament have fled Cambodia in recent weeks, fearing arrest or violence. In calling for the court to dissolve the CNRP, the government has equated efforts and plans by the opposition to win the next election with treason. On 3 September 2017, authorities arbitrarily arrested CNRP President Kem Sokha at his home in Phnom Penh and took him to a remote prison near the Vietnam border, where he has been held without adequate access to his lawyers. Kem Sokha has been charged with treason for discussing the training on democracy and party-building his party received from United States government-funded organisations. These organisations have also long provided similar training to the CPP. Kem Sokha’s arrest followed multiple trumped-up criminal cases and convictions against the CNP’s founding president, Sam Rainsy. Sam Rainsy has been forced into exile to avoid long prison terms in cases that have been rubber-stamped by the Supreme Court. The planned dissolution of the CNRP is part of a massive, broader crackdown by Hun Sen and the CPP against all forms of peaceful dissent. In recent months, the government has forced the closure of the Cambodia Daily, independent local radio stations, and FM stations that re-broadcast Radio Free Asia and Voice of America’s Khmer language service. At least 20 of the approximately 36 opposition and civil society activists arbitrarily arrested since May 2015 remain imprisoned; many of them were prosecuted in summary trials that fell far short of international standards. “Hun Sen is in the process of destroying pluralism, free speech, and all other human rights gains since the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991,” Adams said. “Donors and diplomats have a choice: do nothing while the chances for democracy are exti[...]

Safety fears grow as UK's nuclear bases expand

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 07:11:25 +0000

The total cost of replacing Trident looks set to rise, with major new developments at nuclear bases, while fears are growing about safety.

The Ministry of Defence has begun spending £1.3 billion as part of plans for 14 major new developments at the Trident nuclear bases on the Clyde in Scotland. Details released under the  Freedom of Information act show MoD plans to complete a 'nuclear infrastructure' project at Faslane by 2027, and at Coulport by 2030.

The total cost of replacing Trident, estimated to be at least £205 billion including maintenance costs, looks set to rise, while fears are also growing about the safety of Trident.

The body which monitors nuclear safety – the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator – has recently been censored by the Ministry of Defence. For the past 10 years the regulator has published annual reports exploring issues including staff shortages at nuclear sites and nuclear accidents. However, reports for 2015 and 2016 have been blocked by the MoD.

Retired MoD nuclear expert, Fred Dawson, was quoted in the Sunday Herald saying, “The obvious conclusion to draw is that there is something to hide.”

Kate Hudson, CND General Secretary, said, "As the MoD spends vast amounts on Trident infrastructure, the enormously wasteful expense of Trident is laid bare. Each billion represents schools and hospitals that could have been built but won't because of the disastrous decision of the government to plough ahead with replacing an out-of-date nuclear weapons system that will not deliver real security.

"Earlier in the year, we learnt that the government covered-up a failed Trident missile test. This crucial information was held back while MPs were deciding on the future of Trident in a Parliamentary vote in 2016.

"The latest MoD decision to withhold information about safety, that is likely, on past experience, to include nuclear submarines, military nuclear sites and nuclear warhead convoys, shows that this unhealthy and dangerous culture of secrecy is worsening. How can politicians identify major safety issues if this information is not available and how will the public hold them to account?"

* Campaign for Nuclear DIsarmament


Nursing staff 'stretched to breaking point over pay'

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 07:01:19 +0000

Almost a quarter of nursing staff have had to take on another job simply to make ends meet.

Nursing staff are suffering such financial hardship that nearly three out of four say they feel worse off than they did five years ago, while almost a quarter have had to take on another job simply to make ends meet.

These are some of the findings from the RCN’s biennial employment survey.

The results come ahead of next week’s Budget, when the Chancellor is being urged to address the issue of public sector pay.

Of the members who responded to the survey, 70 per cent reported feeling financially worse off than they were five years ago, while 24 per cent say they are thinking of leaving their job because of money worries.

The percentage of respondents who say they are looking for a new job has also increased from 24 per cent ten years ago to 37 per cent today.

And 61 per cent say their job band or grade is inappropriate for the work they do, a significant increase on the last survey in 2015, when only 39 per cent said this was the case.

As a result of these severe financial and workload pressures, nursing staff are now less likely than at any point in the previous 10 years to say they would recommend nursing as a career to others – only 41 per cent said they would do so this year, compared with 51 per cent in 2007.

Commenting on the survey result, RCN Chief Executive Janet Davies said, “The shocking findings we’re highlighting today demonstrate just how severe the financial pressure on nursing staff has now become.

“It is ludicrous that the health service is losing valuable highly-trained staff simply because they can’t pay the bills at the end of the month.

“The Safe Staffing report we published in September laid bare the terrible impact nursing shortages are having on patients; today’s survey findings, in contrast, show how badly nurses themselves are suffering from the continued underfunding of the health service. 

“The Chancellor must therefore give a clear signal in the Budget next week that the Government will award an above-inflation pay rise to hard-pressed nursing staff in the NHS.”

* Royal College of Nursing


London Fire Brigade vehicles to be funded by charity

Wed, 15 Nov 2017 15:36:11 +0000

The Fire Brigades Union has raised serious concerns over a £2.5 million donation for the purchase of two extended height aerial vehicles. 

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has today (15 November 2017) raised serious concerns over a multi-million pound donation to the London Fire Brigade (LFB) by the London Freemasons.

The society will gift LFB £2.5 million for the purchase of two extended height aerial vehicles. London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton had asked for the specialist equipment as part of a review into the brigade’s resources that she was asked to undertake by London Mayor Sadiq Khan in July.

But now the vehicles will be provided for on a charitable basis. The FBU says it is extremely concerned that a life-saving public service is now relying on handouts rather than adequate funding from the government.

Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, said, “Whilst we appreciate the charity of anyone who wishes to support our firefighters, the idea that a professional, life-saving public service has to go around with a begging bowl to organisations with deep pockets is deeply alarming.

“If the equipment is needed to save lives, then the funding for it should be provided by government. This deal sets a pretty awful precedent that could allow the government to discharge its responsibilities in the future.

“We also have grave concerns that the donation in question has come from an organisation that disbars women from joining – a deeply offensive practice that needs to come to an end.”

* Fire Brigades Union