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NHS organisations facing court action over unlawful policies

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 07:09:33 +0000

NHS organisations are facing legal action over discriminatory Continuing Healthcare policies, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has warned.

NHS organisations are facing legal action over discriminatory Continuing Healthcare policies, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has warned.

The Commission has taken its first steps in judicial review proceeding by issuing legal letters to 13 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).This follows an initial warning issued by the Commission, which highlighted concerns about NHS Continuing Healthcare (NHS CHC) policies being unlawful and breaching the human rights of patients.

If the CCGs fail to provide evidence to demonstrate that their policies are lawful, or do not take steps to review them, they will be taken to court.

The Commission has raised significant concerns about blanket NHS CHC policies having arbitrary caps on funding and failing to consider the specific needs of individual patients, such as living location and family life.

This is a serious breach of the Human Rights Act, the Public Sector Equality Duty and the Department of Health and Social Care’s own NHS CHC framework.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said, "It is utterly unacceptable that anyone should be forced into residential care when they are healthy enough to live independently and with their families. And it doesn’t make sense for individuals or communities.

"A 'one-size fits all' approach will never properly address every single individual’s healthcare needs, and NHS CHC policies are no different. This is another example of individuals being disabled by society, and prevented from living as full and independent lives as possible, as is their right. We will use our powers to ensure that the NHS thinks about this again."

The Commission first aired concerns over discriminatory NHS CHC policies in October 2017, when it wrote to 43 CCGs demanding more information on their approach.

Following this warning, almost a quarter of those contacted are now reviewing their policies and the Commission will be writing to the others whose policies are of less concern.

It will use its formal legal powers to initiate judicial review proceedings against 13, who it determines have not considered their human rights and equality responsibilities in the way they operate their policies.

NHS CHC provide funding for care outside of hospital, either in a care home, nursing home, hospice or a person’s own home, funded by the NHS to meet physical, mental health and associated social care needs. 

The letters were sent on 19 March 2018, and the CCGs have 14 working days to respond, after which decisions about starting court proceedings will be made.

The Commission has written to the following 13 CCGs across England:

  • Brent
  • Coventry and Rugby
  • Dudley
  • East and North Hertfordshire
  • Eastern Cheshire
  • Harrow
  • Hillingdon
  • South Cheshire
  • Vale Royal
  • West Cheshire
  • Warwickshire North
  • Lincolnshire West
  • Redditch and Bromsgrove



Electoral Commission publishes general election spending returns for larger parties

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 07:03:24 +0000

Seven political parties and two non-party campaigners reported spending a total of just under £40 million at the 2017 UK Parliamentary general election, as shown in new figures published by the Electoral Commission. Seven political parties and two non-party campaigners reported spending a total of just under £40 million at the 2017 UK Parliamentary general election, as shown in new figures published on 19 March 2018 by the Electoral Commission. Political parties and non-party campaigners that spent over £250,000 during the regulated period for the general election – which ran from Thursday 9 June 2016 to polling day, Thursday 8 June 2017 – were required by law to submit audited spending returns to the Commission by 8 December 2017. The political parties in Great Britain that reported spending greater than £250,000: Conservative and Unionist Party (GB) £18,565,102 Labour Party £11,003,980 Liberal Democrats £6,788,316 Scottish National Party (SNP) £1,623,127 Green Party £299,352 Women’s Equality Party £285,662 UK Independence Party (UKIP) £273,104 The two non-party campaigners that reported spending greater than £250,000: UK-EU Open Policy Limited (Best for Britain) £353,118 Union of Teachers £326,306 While preparing the spending returns for publication, it was necessary for the Commission to liaise with a number of parties and non-party campaigners to obtain additional information, to ensure when published, their spending returns as far as possible complied with the legal requirements. It has become necessary for the Commission to open investigations in some instances to determine the extent of compliance with the requirements of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000 when the returns were initially submitted. These investigations will examine whether or not the rules in PPERA were broken, and if they were, appropriate sanctions will be imposed. Details of enforcement action relating to political parties The Conservative Party, Green Party and the Labour Party are under investigation for submitting spending returns that were missing invoices and for submitting potentially inaccurate statements of payments made. The Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats are under investigation for making multiple payments to suppliers where either the claim for payment was received past the 30 day deadline or it was paid after the 60 day deadline following the election. These deadlines are specified in law. The Women’s Equality Party is under investigation for submitting a spending return that was inconsistent with its donation reports covering the same period. Details of enforcement action relating to non-party campaigners Best for Britain is under investigation for submitting a spending return that was missing invoices. The campaigner is also under investigation for not returning a £25,000 donation from an impermissible donor within 30 days as required by PPERA. The National Union of Teachers is under investigation for submitting a spending return that was missing an invoice. Bob Posner, Director of Political Finance and Regulation and Legal Counsel at the Electoral Commission, said: “It is vital that voters are given an opportunity to see accurate and full reportable data on what parties and campaigners spent money on in order to influence them at last year’s general election. This provides transparency in the political finance system and is open for anyone to scrutinise. “We are investigating possible breaches of the rules. However, our on-going discussions with the major parties indicate to us that they may wish to consider the robustness of their internal governance and level of resourcing to ensure they can deliver what the law requires.” Taking into account the Commission’s November publication of political parties and non-party campaigners that spent £250,000 or less, the release of the information means there was a total reported s[...]

Call for EU action to better regulate palm oil, coffee and beef

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 06:50:27 +0000

Global Witness has welcomed a new study published by the European Commission, and urges it to now commit to taking ambitious action.

Global Witness has welcomed a new study published by the European Commission, which sets out options for the EU to step up action against deforestation, including the regulation of commodities that can be linked to deforestation, forest degradation or violations of community land rights. The NGO urges the European Commission to now commit to taking ambitious action.

Commenting on the Commission’s study, Jo Blackman, Campaign Leader at Global Witness, said, “This report has the potential to be an important first step in ensuring the EU is taking its responsibility to prevent deforestation, forest degradation and land rights violations.

"However, it is vital that the study is now not left on the shelf gathering dust. We need the EU to deliver an Action Plan that includes new binding legislation to ensure that the EU's demand for agricultural commodities does not fuel environmental destruction or human rights violations, and ensure companies are held accountable should they fail to guarantee better sustainability practices in their supply chains.

“EU countries are a major importer of commodities whose production is having a devastating impact on forests, the wildlife and those communities that rely on them. This includes palm oil, coffee and beef. At the moment, European consumers are buying products containing these commodities, without the knowledge they are contributing to environmental damage on a huge scale.

“The EU has signed up to a series of ambitious commitments under the Paris climate agreement and the sustainable development goals. If it is to deliver on them, it must now show some real leadership and step up its action against deforestation, forest degradation and land rights violations.”

* Read Feasibility study on options to step up EU action against deforestation here

* Global Witness


Household brands fail to act on dirty palm oil, says Greenpeace

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 06:25:25 +0000

Eight major household brands including PZ Cussons, Johnson & Johnson and Kellogg's have refused to take steps towards eliminating palm oil from Indonesian forest destruction from their supply chains, a new Greenpeace report reveals. Eight major household brands including PZ Cussons (makers of Carex soap), Johnson & Johnson (baby lotion) and Kellogg's (Pop Tarts) have refused to take steps towards eliminating palm oil from Indonesian forest destruction from their supply chains, a new Greenpeace report reveals. The news follows recent reports that over 100,000 orangutans have been lost in Indonesia in the last 16 years. As members of the powerful Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), these brands promised in 2010 to help protect forests and limit climate change by cleaning up global commodity supply chains by 2020. Yet with less than two years to go before the deadline, Greenpeace found some leading consumer brands unwilling to disclose even basic information needed to turn that pledge into reality. At the start of 2018, Greenpeace International challenged 16 leading members of the CGF to demonstrate progress towards a clean palm oil supply chain by disclosing the mills that produced their palm oil, and the names of the producer groups that controlled those mills. This would show whether brands had companies involved in forest destruction in their supply chains – a vital first real step towards eliminating it. The full details were published on 19 March 2018  in a new Greenpeace International report entitled Moment of Truth. The report reveals that, under pressure from Greenpeace and other NGOs, eight brands made steps towards transparency – General Mills, Mars, Mondel?z, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, Unilever and ColgatePalmolive. The other half has so far failed. They include Ferrero, Hershey, Kellogg's, Kraft Heinz, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, PZ Cussons and Smucker's. Transparency means it is easier to see and hold to account traders that supply brands with palm oil sourced from rainforest destruction. Kiki Taufik, Global Head of Indonesian forests at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said: "Brands have repeatedly promised to end deforestation for palm oil by 2020. With less than two years to go they are way off track. Some, such as Nestlé and Unilever, have at least come clean about that. Others, including PZ Cussons, Johnson & Johnson and Kraft Heinz, are still keeping customers in the dark." Greenpeace has also launched a campaign against Carex, demanding it comes clean about palm oil. Daniela Montalto, Greenpeace UK Forests Campaigner said: "It shouldn't be up to NGOs to force the industry to keep their promises but progress is woefully slow. By hiding where their palm oil comes from, brands like Carex are making their customers unwittingly complicit in rainforest destruction. If Carex wants to save its reputation and stick by its slogan as a brand that 'cleans, cares and protects', it has to come clean about palm oil. Following through on its commitments to protect people, wildlife and the planet is the only way." Deforestation to produce commodities including palm oil shows no sign of slowing down. Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) figures state that around 24 million hectares of Indonesia's rainforest was destroyed between 1990 and 2015 [5] – an area almost the size of the UK. The Indonesian Ministry of Forestry indicates 2.7 million hectares of deforestation between 2012 and 2015 – that's one football pitch every 25 seconds. Decades of deforestation for plantations have created the ideal conditions for raging forest and peatland fires – often deliberately set by companies clearing the land – and exploitation of workers remains endemic in the sector. In 2015, devastating forest fires spread a toxic haze across Southeast Asia, resulting in an estimated 100,000 premature deaths and conser[...]

MPs criticise secret lenders ahead of Mozambique debt talks in London

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 06:16:54 +0000

Today the Mozambique government will meet private creditors in London to discuss debt restructuring proposals on allegedly 'secret loans'. Today (20 March 2018) the Mozambique government will meet private creditors in London to discuss debt restructuring proposals. Mozambique began defaulting on the $2 billion debts in 2016, most of which were originally given in secret. The loans were issued to three state companies with no revenue, and at least $700 million of the loans have not been accounted for. The loans were given by two London based banks, Credit Suisse and VTB, and are owed under English law. One hundred UK MPs have signed a motion which “expresses concern about the alleged secret loans given by London-based banks in 2013 to Mozambican companies, with Mozambique Government guarantees, and without approval of the Mozambique parliament”. Sarah-Jayne Clifton, Director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said, “The lenders and government officials behind these outrageous deals need to be held to account for their actions. The people of Mozambique should not have to pay one cent on these secret debts. Any creditors who feel misled should seek recompense from the banks which arranged the secret loans, Credit Suisse and VTB, and from any individuals who may have profited from the deals.” The UK parliamentary motion signed by 100 MPs also “calls for measures to ensure that all loans under UK law given to governments or with government guarantees are disclosed publicly at the time they are made and comply with the law of the country concerned”. Roger Godsiff MP who tabled the motion said, “It is very concerning that loans were given without the proper parliamentary oversight in Mozambique. In the UK we need to recognise our role in this scandal. The Financial Conduct Authority must use all means at its disposal to hold the London-based banks to account. And we need new measures to ensure all loans to governments given by UK-based financial institutions, or loans given under UK law, are publicly disclosed.” The $2 billion of loans were issued in 2013, but two of the three loans did not come to light until 2016. The loans were given to three state owned companies in Mozambique. An audit into the deals last year found that: A condition of Credit Suisse to get the loans signed off by the Bank of Mozambique was dropped in order for the loans to be given. Credit Suisse and VTB gave or arranged loans to three companies which had no revenue, and without the contracts in place to suggest that they would generate revenue in the future. There is an unexplained difference of between $683 million and $714 million on what was paid for equipment bought by the loans, and its expected cost. The loans were guaranteed by then Mozambican Finance Minister Manuel Chang, but were not approved by the Mozambique parliament, despite this being a requirement of the Mozambique constitution. All three of the state-owned companies are in default on the loans, but no creditor has brought legal action against Mozambique and no creditor has made a claim against the government guarantee. Because the loans were issued under English law, if legal action was brought by creditors against Mozambique, the case would be heard in the UK. * Read Early Day Motion 158 here * Jubilee Debt Campaign [Ekk/6] [...]

Extending payday loan cap could stop thousands getting into spiral of debt, says CAB

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 06:03:32 +0000

Research from Citizens Advice shows that extending the same rules that cover payday loans to the doorstep lending market could prevent people getting into problem debt, and save up to £123 million in interest payments.  New research from Citizens Advice shows that extending the same rules which cover payday loans to the doorstep lending market could prevent their customers getting into problem debt, and save up to £123 million in interest payments on up to 540,000 loans each year. It is calling on the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to give consumers the same protections as payday loan customers by including home credit in its definition of high-cost short-term credit when it publishes its proposals for the high-cost credit market in the Spring. This would protect consumers by: Limiting the number of times each loan can be refinanced Ensuring they never repay more than twice what they borrowed. Home credit is the most common form of high-cost credit problem Citizens Advice deals with, with lenders charging interest rates of up to 1,557 per cent. Its new Doorway to Debt report reveals the people it helps with issues relating to these loans are more likely than its average debt clients to have a long-term health condition or be behind on essential household bills. Of the estimated 30,000 people Citizens Advice helped with home credit debts in the last year: Nearly half (48 per cent) have a long-term health condition or disability. This is higher than for all debt clients (40 per cent) and more than twice the rate amongst the general population (18 per cent). Only 32 per cent are in employment. While lower than for Citizens Advice debt clients generally (40 per cent), it is almost half that of the general population (62 per cent). Half of clients are in council tax arrears and 43 per cent are behind on water bills Clients with home credit debts have unsecured debt totalling nearly half (49 per cent) of their annual income One in 10 have more than £2,500 in home credit debt, and a third (34 per cent) had outstanding debt on two or more home credit loans. Citizens Advice is concerned that irresponsible lending and the increased cost of borrowing due to refinancing is pushing home credit users into a spiral of debt. Its modelling found consumers end up paying back more than twice what they borrowed on up to 490,000 home credit loans each year due to refinancing. More than 1.6 million people use home credit loans in the UK, making it one of the largest high-cost credit markets. By changing its definition of high-cost short-term credit to include home credit, the FCA would give these consumers the same protections as payday loan customers – a move which has seen a dramatic reduction in the number of people coming to Citizens Advice for help with payday loan problems. Citizens Advice evidence also suggests some lenders are failing to protect consumers when proper affordability checks are not carried out. It is also asking the FCA to introduce rules and give high-cost credit providers clarity about what these checks should include to prevent people from being lent money they cannot afford to repay. For example, one person with severe learning disabilities came to Citizens Advice with home credit debts of £3016, The lender offered their client further credit despite being advised by their social worker that an appropriate adult needed to be present for financial decisions. Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice said, “There’s no questioning the evidence – the FCA’s cap on payday lending has been a success. But it’s time now to address the problems consumers are facing in the home credit market. “Home credit customers need to be protected from getting into problem debt. They are susceptible to the high cost of these loans because of easy refinancing [...]

Foodbanks, homelessness, and the government's wilful ignorance

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 19:02:55 +0000

Foodbanks, homelessness, and the government's wilful ignorance

read more

Police Service of Northern Ireland’s performance ‘good’ despite political gridlock

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 07:40:28 +0000

The Police Service of Northern Ireland  continues to do a good job protecting the public and reducing crime despite political gridlock in the Northern Irish Assembly, according to two reports from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) continues to do a good job protecting the public and reducing crime despite political gridlock in the Northern Irish Assembly, according to two reports from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

The absence of an elected Assembly meant that the PSNI could only access 95 per cent of the previous year’s budget, which limited its opportunities to plan future investments. However, two inspections showed that the PSNI is coping well and understands well how it will meet future demand while also making cost efficiencies.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said: “We are encouraged to find that the PSNI continues to make good use of its resources in spite of continuing uncertainty around the political situation in Northern Ireland. Since our last inspection, it has developed a deeper understanding of its workforce’s skills and capability and is in a strong position to meet the demands of newer threats such as human trafficking and cyber-crime.

“That said, we did identify some areas for improvement. We found that uniformed officers often lacked the necessary support and supervision to effectively investigate volume crimes like burglary. We also found very little evidence that the PSNI systematically pursued people it issued with arrest warrants for minor crimes.

“While we recognise that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is a high-performing force, it should investigate all crimes to a consistently high standard, regardless of the seriousness of the offence.”

The report also sets out that the PSNI:

  • has been determined to be ‘good’ in how effectively and efficiently it keeps people safe and reduces crime;
  • has a comprehensive understanding of local organised crime and works well with partners to dismantle it;
  • could do more to ensure frontline officers apply problem-solving techniques consistently; and
  • should continue its efforts to reduce the backlog of digital devices waiting to be analysed.

The Department of Justice commissioned HMICFRS to carry out these inspections as part of annual assessments of police performance. HMICFRS will carry out further inspections in 2018/19.

* Read the report on efficiency here and the report on effectiveness here

* Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services


Council leaders call for more funding to reduce falls among elderly people

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 07:29:02 +0000

The number of hospital admissions due to an older person falling is set to rise to nearly 1,000 a day by the end of the decade, according to figures obtained by the Local Government Association. The number of hospital admissions due to an older person falling is set to rise to nearly 1,000 a day by the end of the decade, according to figures obtained by the Local Government Association (LGA). The worrying forecast has prompted renewed calls by council leaders for more funding for adult social care to invest in cost-effective prevention work to reduce falls, which can have devastating and life-threatening consequences on a person’s health and wellbeing. New research shows that falls prevention programmes run by councils reduce the number of falls requiring hospital admission by nearly a third (29 per cent) and produces a financial return on investment of more than £3 for every £1 spent. The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says that extra government funding for councils to scale up this prevention work to address a rising older population would help the NHS by reducing the need for people to be admitted to hospital after a fall and cut costs to the public purse. Falls are said to cost the NHS more than £2 billion a year – the amount needed to plug the annual funding gap that councils face in adult social care by 2020. Councils, many of which already offer comprehensive advice and guidance to help older people stay on their feet, want to invest more in prevention work but are being restricted due to government funding reductions. The LGA says many falls can be avoided and is calling for: Greater awareness raising among the public around fall prevention The Government to fully address the adult social care funding gap, which will reach more than £2 billion by 2020 For adult social care to be put on an equal footing to the NHS. Latest figures show that in England in 2016/17 there were 316,669 hospital admissions of people aged 65 and over due to falling, amounting to two thirds of all fall-related admissions. Around a fifth of these were as a result of slipping, tripping or stumbling. The number of fall-related hospital admissions among older people has increased by nine per cent over four years, and based on this trend, will continue to rise to around 350,000 by 2020/21, the equivalent of approximately 950 cases every day. In contrast, the number of admissions for those aged under 65 has remained constant. Falls have a significant impact on older people, as well as adult social care and health services. They can lead to considerable distress, pain, injury, loss of confidence, loss of independence and even death. The reasons for older people falling vary but can include poor eyesight; dizziness due to medication; poor physical health; long-term conditions, such as Parkinson’s Disease or stroke; badly fitted carpets; clutter in the home, and trying to hurry to answer the door or get to the toilet. A few simple changes to a person’s lifestyle and home can help to reduce the risk of tripping, such as making sure rugs are correctly fitted, stairs are well lit and have handrails, replacing worn-out slippers, keeping active, or talking to a GP about any dizziness caused by taking multiple medications. Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “It is deeply saddening that someone can fall over, including in their own home, and have to go to hospital as a result. Not only is this traumatic and upsetting for the individual concerned and their families, but this has a significant impact on health and social care as well, which are already overstretched as a result of unprecedented demand. “The fact these shocking figures are set to soar even hig[...]

UN agencies, NGOs and WCC join at UN to act on violence against children

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 07:21:15 +0000

Representatives of UN agencies such as the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Health Organisation have spoken of how religious communities and churches can play a key part in ending violence in early childhood. Representatives of UN agencies such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have spoken of how religious communities and churches can play a key part in ending violence in early childhood. They were part of a side event during the UN Human Rights Council on March 8, International Women's Day, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. At it, they explained the intersection of UN agencies and civil society, including churches, on dealing with this scourge against young people at an early age. The event was initiated by Arigatou International, co-sponsored by the EU permanent delegation to the UN in Geneva, and the diplomatic missions of Morocco, Mexico, Slovenia and Uruguay. The co-organisers were: Arigatou International, World Vision, UNICEF, WHO and the UN Special Representative on Violence against Children along with the World Council of Churches (WCC). Frederique Seidel, the WCC's special advisor on child rights, moderated the panel on "this urgent issue". "Over two years the WCC and UNICEF facilitated a broad consultative process about the question 'How can churches use their influence to improve children's lives?' It led to the 'Churches' Commitments to Children,' which are now supported by over 200 churches and partners worldwide," Seidel noted. Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative to the UN Secretary-General on Violence Against Children said the presentation made it clear of the urgent need for prevention of violence in early childhood. She said violence against children affects the whole of society. "Challenging cultural and social norms that justify violence in child upbringing is a very complex endeavour which requires the collaboration between us all. Religious communities are particularly well placed to support these efforts. Their commitment has been reiterated on so many occasions, including in the historic Kyoto Declaration adopted more than 10 years ago by a wide assembly of representation from all major faiths." Aaron Greenberg, Regional Child Protection Advisor for the UNICEF Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia also said that religions and churches can reach into communities to work for the good of children in a special way. "Thankfully, many churches are already implementing the 'Churches' Commitments to Children' in relation to Early Childhood Development," Archbishop Job of Telmessos, Permanent Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the WCC told the panel.He said, "The protection of children through Church communities should be the most natural commitment of Christians, since in the New Testament, Jesus Christ said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Mt 19:14). Maria Lucia Uribe, director of Arigatou International Geneva explained how her organization leads and supports a grassroots network of faith-based organizations and religious communities working exclusively for the well-being of children worldwide, called the Global Network of Religions for Children. "Working with religious communities to end violence in early childhood is surely an important imperative, but it has also challenges," she said. "Despite the existence of legislation in many countries that forbids corporal punishment of children, some religious communities contest these laws and support this practice." She said it crucial that religious communities create spaces to engage in self-examination of their religious traditions to challenge[...]

UK urged to prioritise safety of journalists during Commonwealth Chairmanship

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 07:17:44 +0000

Ahead of the UK assuming Chairmanship of the Commonwealth, Reporters Without Borders is urging the UK to prioritise the promotion of safety of journalists during its two-year mandate.

One month ahead of the UK assuming Chairmanship of the Commonwealth in April 2018, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Secretary General Christophe Deloire has written to Prime Minister Theresa May in a letter dated 16 March 2018 urging her to prioritise the promotion of safety of journalists during the UK’s two-year mandate.

Journalists, citizen journalists, and media workers around the world have faced growing threats to their safety in recent years, with more than 700 journalists killed over the past decade in connection with their work, far too often with impunity. This alarming trend is all too present throughout the Commonwealth states.

In the letter to May, RSF outlines recent cases of violence against journalists in Commonwealth states, including the murders in 2017 of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta; Gauri Lankesh, Navin Gupta, Shantanu Bhowmick, and Sudip Datta Bhaumik in India; and Abdul Hakim Shimul in Bangladesh. The letter also highlights the abductions of journalists Charles Etukuri in Uganda and Azori Gwanda in Tanzania, both of whom remain missing, and the attempted armed kidnapping of Taha Siddiqui in Pakistan, as well as a string of attacks in Trinidad and Tobago, including assaults on Guardian journalists Kristian De Silva and Sascha Wilson.

“Violent attacks against journalists are taking place with alarming frequency across the Commonwealth. We call on the UK to take leadership on this crucial issue during its Chairmanship, to reaffirm the Commonwealth’s Charter commitment to freedom of expression and provide much-needed protection to journalists reporting information in the public interest”, said RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent.

The Commonwealth of Nations is an intergovernmental organisation of 53 member states spanning Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe, and the Pacific, most of which are former territories of the British Empire. The Commonwealth’s commitment to freedom of expression is affirmed in its Charter, and has been declared as a focus of the forthcoming Commonwealth Summit agenda on promoting respect for the rule of law, good governance, and access to justice for all. The UK will take over Chairmanship at the Heads of Government Meeting starting 16 April 2018.

* Reporters Without Borders


Student nurses face hardship after loan payment error

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 07:07:59 +0000

Hundreds of student nurses from at least nine universities in England have been warned not to expect further loan payments this year due to administrative errors in the loans system which resulted in overpayments.

Hundreds of student nurses from at least nine universities in England have been warned not to expect further loan payments this year due to administrative errors in the loans system which resulted in overpayments.
This has left many concerned over rent and living costs with the largest overpayments made to the poorest students– recipients of means-tested grants, who are often mature students without parental support and with children or caring responsibilities.

It is understood that the payments, made to second and third-year students, had not been adjusted for the NHS bursary they still receive. Other students received grant funding despite unsuccessful applications.
RCN student member Emma Moss from the University of West London said, “This is the last thing I need in the final few months of my nursing degree. I’m worried sick about being left with barely enough money to pay the rent, buy food and travel to work and university.

“When I called the Student Loans Company (SLC) in September to question my payments, they told me that there was no error. Now they tell me that I owe almost £800 and will not be receiving my next instalment. If they take this money from me, I have no idea what I’m going to do.”

The RCN has sent the SLC a letter, urging the loans company to use existing overpayment policies to reach an agreement with the Education Secretary not to recover the figures.

In the letter RCN Chief Executive Janet Davies said, "Students budget according to loan forecast and a sudden withdrawal of payment can have disastrous results, such as inability to pay rent. This action comes at a critical time when students are studying for exams and projects. 

"I am very concerned about the considerable amount of distress and disruption this error and subsequent action is causing."

People affected can contact the RCN Welfare Service

* Royal College of Nursing


Accord Coalition responds to government's new integration strategy

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 06:54:59 +0000

The Accord Coalition has welcomed the Government’s new integration strategy, but urged it to recognise the damaging role being played by faith schools that are discriminatory and segregatory. The Accord Coalition has welcomed the Government’s new integration strategy, but urged it to recognise the damaging role being played by faith schools that are discriminatory and segregatory. The wide-ranging strategy has been published in the form of a Green Paper. The document sets out the Government’s ambitions to improve social mixing and boost opportunities for people living in areas heavily divided along ethnic lines. Part of the Government’s new approach is to trial various innovative policy initiatives in five local authority areas in England. In regards to education policy the Green Paper cites ‘school segregation’ as a major challenge to improved integration and proposes: working with local admission authorities in the five key local authority areas to help ensure the intake of local schools are more representative of the wider area to ‘strengthen expectations on integration for new free schools’ have Ofsted include the promotion of integration within its inspection criteria and to review the inspectorate’s powers in relation to unregistered schools, including strengthening its ability to collect evidence about those suspected of running illegal schools The Green Paper follows publication in December 2016 of the Government commissioned The Casey Review: a review into opportunity and integration. Among its main recommendations were that changes should be made to education policy to tackle segregation between schools. Ofsted and Hackney Council have recently complained about having a lack of power to deal with illegal schools, many of which are faith based. Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Rev Stephen Terry, said, "The Government’s focus on integration, including its recognition of the profound impact that schools can have, is to be welcomed. Ensuring young people meet and mix with those from different backgrounds in schools represents our best hope for laying solid foundations for cohesion and trust to grow in society. "The Government should persevere with its strategy and follow the rationale expressed within it. In so doing it should address the elephant in the room, which is the ethnic and social segregation being created by discriminatory faith school admission policies. "We must ensure schools, including faith schools, do not leave a legacy of fragmentation and division. Rather than scrapping the 50 per cent religious selection cap at faith free schools, as some in Government have proposed, the cap should be extended to all state funded faith schools as a matter of urgency." * Accord is a wide coalition of organisations which includes religious groups, humanists, teachers, trade unionists, educationalists and civil rights activists, working together for inclusive education. * Read The Casey Review here * Read the Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper here * Accord Coalition [Ekk/6] [...]

Decline in part-time students

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 06:51:46 +0000

New Sutton Trust research warns a decline in part-time study is closing many 'second chance' routes to social mobility. The 2012 increase in tuition fees in England has resulted in more than 40,000 ‘lost’ potential part-time students, according to research by the Sutton Trust. While the number of part-time undergraduate students has been declining over the past decade, the research shows that the funding reforms in 2012 caused the decline to increase. According to The Lost Part-timers, by Professor Claire Callender from Birkbeck, University of London and John Thompson, between 2010 and 2015, the number of part-time students in England declined by 51 per cent, from 216,000 in 2010 to 106,000 in 2015 (with the Open University experiencing an even bigger fall of 63 per cent which the OU says is because it offered many courses below degree level that are not eligible for loans). The biggest drop has been among students aged over 35, whose numbers have fallen from 95,000 in 2010 to 39,000 to 2015. Consequently, the part-time sector is not only smaller, it is different. The 2012 reforms have changed both the part-time undergraduate student body and the qualifications they study. The 2012 student funding changes – which saw fees increase and grants abolished, replaced by new tuition fee loans for part-timers – have resulted in average fees of £5,000 (per full-time equivalent) for degree students at universities, with many institutions charging up to the equivalent of the full-time cap of £9,250. Between 2011 and 2012 the Open University had to increase its fees 2.5 fold for students studying in England. While recent trends show that the number of part-time students would have declined even without these fee hikes, the report finds that if entrant numbers for those living in England had fallen by the same proportion as for those living in Wales – who were unaffected by the tuition fee increases – in 2015 there would have been 149,000 part-time students living in England instead of 106,000. This suggests that around 40 per cent of the decline in English part-time student numbers since 2010 has been caused by the increase in fees, and that there were over 40,000 fewer part-time students in 2015 than there would have been without the fee increases. The report warns that the dramatic decline of mature and part-time study has consequences for equity and social mobility. Mature entry provides a way into higher education for those who have not followed the traditional route from school. Part-time study provides an opportunity for those whose work or family responsibilities make full-time study impractical. The proportion of young people in part-time study from disadvantaged backgrounds is almost 50 per cent higher than for full-time courses. The findings show that the proportion of young disadvantaged part-timers has declined by 42 per cent since 2010, however the proportion of those from more advantaged backgrounds has fallen even faster at 59 per cent. To halt the decline in part-time and mature students and reduce barriers to entry, the Sutton Trust is calling for the costs of tuition to be tackled. The report recommends that students who are eligible for the new part-time maintenance loan could take out a tuition fee grant for the first two years of their course instead of having to take out a maintenance loan. Due to how the system is structured, this could be done at virtually no extra unit cost to the taxpayer. The Trust would like the Review of Post-18 Education to acknowledge there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to student finance, and recognise that the mat[...]

Select Committees call for a new Clean Air Act

Sun, 18 Mar 2018 07:38:00 +0000

Unprecedented inquiry by four Select Committees says air pollution is a national health emergency and calls for tough new measures to tackle it. Four of Parliament's Select Committees (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, and Transport Committees) have published a joint report on improving air quality. The unprecedented joint inquiry was launched amid concerns over the inadequacy of the Government's plan to improve air quality in the UK, as demonstrated by a series of successful judicial challenges in recent years. ( The report from an unprecedented four-way inquiry calls for a new Clean Air Act, a clean air fund financed by the transport industry, a national air quality support programme for councils, and for the Government to require manufacturers to end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars earlier than the current 2040 target.  Report conclusions Air pollution is a national health emergency resulting in an estimated 40,000 early deaths each year, costing the UK £20 billion annually. It is unacceptable that successive governments have failed to protect the public from poisonous air. Despite a series of court cases, the Government has still not produced a plan that adequately addresses the scale of the challenge. Nor has it demonstrated the national leadership needed to bring about a step change in how the problem of air quality is tackled. The Government’s approach is more concerned with box-ticking and demonstrating compliance than taking bold, affirmative action. Report recommendations Place the protection of public health and the environment, rather than technical compliance or political convenience, at the centre of air quality policy require the automobile industry to contribute to a new clean air fund, following the 'polluter pays' principle bring forward the date by which manufacturers must end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars, in line with more ambitious commitments from around the world introduce a Clean Air Act to improve existing legislation and enshrine the right to clean air in UK law initiate a national health campaign to highlight the dangers of air pollution, including the fact that air quality can be far worse inside a vehicle than on the street widen the 2017 plan “to offer direction, financial resources, and technical support to the 45 local authority areas which breach NO2 limit levels but are not included under the current action framework”; align climate change schemes, urban planning, public transport and fiscal incentives with air quality goals to prevent Government policy from working at cross-purposes take greater account of the costs of air pollution when establishing taxation and spending policy ensure that [electric] charging infrastructure addresses strategic needs and prioritises air quality hotspots. Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said, "The Government's latest plan does not present an effective response to the scale of the air quality catastrophe in the UK. We are concerned that the Government is treating air quality as a box-ticking exercise. Real change will require bold, meaningful action. We are calling on Government to develop a properly resourced support scheme available to all councils struggling with air quality, and to require manufacturers of polluting vehicles to pay their fair share by contributing to an industry-financed clean air fund". Andrew Selous MP, acting Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, said, "Poor air quality ha[...]