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Egyptian journalist disappears in state custody

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 08:03:09 +0000

The Committee to Protect Journalists has expressed its concern about the detention and subsequent disappearance of Egyptian journalist Moataz Wadnan, and has called on the country’s authorities to make public what they know about his whereabouts.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has expressed its concern about the detention and subsequent disappearance of Egyptian journalist Moataz Wadnan, and has called on the country’s authorities to make public what they know about his whereabouts.

Police arrested Wadnan, who works as a reporter for the Istanbul-based Huffington Post Arabi, and three of his relatives at a check point in the suburb of Mounib, outisde Cairo, on 26 February 2018, local media reported.  The Egyptian authorities released Wadnan’s relatives the same day, and transferred the journalist to the Fifth Settlement Police Station pending interrogation in front of State Security prosecutors, according to the same reports.

Police officials told Wadnan’s family that the journalist was transferred on 18 February to the State Security Prosecution office, which prosecutes national security and terrorism related crimes, yet prosecutors denied having him in custody, according to news reports.  

Prior to his arrest, Wadnan published an interview with Hisham Geneina, a senior member of the presidential campaign of Sami Anan, a political rival to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Geneina was arrested on 13 February pending investigation in a lawsuit filed by the Egyptian military, after he said in the interview that he has secret documents showing military leaders’ involvement in “post-January 25 violence” during the 2011 Egyptian revolution, according to news reports. Anan was arrested on 23 January, a few days after announcing his intention to run in the presidential elections, according to reports.

Ahead of presidential elections, the government has been keen to censor any critical reporting, CPJ research shows.

“The Egyptian authorities practices of arresting, hiding, and intimidating journalists undercuts the already slim chances of having free elections,” CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Programme Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington DC. “The authorities should immediately release Moataz Wadnan, and stop their absurd attempts to silence coverage that does not align with the official narrative.”

Wadnan’s family filed a complaint to the Egyptian Prosecutor General inquiring about the journalist’s whereabouts and asking for his immediate release, according to news reports.

The Egypt’s Interior Ministry, which oversees police operations and prisons, did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via email.

Authorities have used emergency measures, which were imposed in April 2017 after dozens were killed in an attack on two churches, to censor media outlets and publications, bring 'false news' charges against journalists who contradict official statements, refer civilians to military trial, and hold journalists in pretrial detention indefinitely.

* Committee to Protect Journalists


Northern Ireland 'makes no progress on poverty in a decade'

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 07:50:14 +0000

Little progress has been made on reducing poverty in Northern Ireland, with too many people locked out of the opportunity to secure a decent standard of living, says the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Little progress has been made on reducing poverty in Northern Ireland, with too many people locked out of the opportunity to secure a decent standard of living. The warning comes as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) launches its monitoring report, Poverty in Northern Ireland 2018, setting out poverty rates in Northern Ireland and the challenges facing low income families. Overall, 370,000 people live in poverty, around one in five of the population – made up of 110,000 children, 220,000 working-age adults and 40,000 pensioners. Poverty among pensioners has fallen considerably over the last decade. Families with children have seen steady or falling poverty rates, but working-age adults without children are now at higher risk of poverty than 10 years ago. Raising the employment rate could lead to significant falls in poverty. JRF is calling on the devolved and Westminster governments and businesses to work together to deliver an industrial strategy that creates more and better jobs. The report found: Northern Ireland has higher unemployemnt and lower employment than elsewhere and the proportion of people in poverty in jobless households in Northern Ireland has increased slightly over time, in contrast to the UK as a whole. Over the last 20 years, employment rates in Northern Ireland have been consistently below the rest of the UK, around 5-7 percentage points lower than in England. After reaching 70 per cent in 2016, the figure for the first quarter of 2017 indicated a slight reverse, falling to 68 per cent. Scotland and Wales have closed the gap on England considerably, but Northern Ireland has fallen behind both countries – suggesting that the employment rate continues to be a major factor affecting poverty rates in Northern Ireland, and that raising the employment rate could lead to poverty falling to a lower level than in the rest of the UK. Employment among disabled people is strikingly lower in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK. Only 35 per cent of working-age disabled people in Northern Ireland are employed, compared to 42 per cent in Scotland, 47 per cent in Wales and 50 per cent in England.  The skills of the existing and future workforce remain a concern: One in six adults in Northern Ireland have no qualifications (16 per cent), compared to less than one in ten working-age adults in England, Wales and Scotland. The gap in educational attainment among richer and poorer children has narrowed slightly but remains very large. Only 47 per cent of children eligible for free school meals achieved five good GCSEs in 2016, compared with 68 per cent of all children. Campbell Robb, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said, “Northern Ireland has not seen the same benefits from rising employment as the rest of Great Britain, meaning more families are locked out of opportunities to build a decent, secure life. “But we know action can be taken to create a prosperous, poverty-free Northern Ireland, built on the foundation of more and better jobs with decent wages. “This means using the industrial strategy to create these opportunities and drive up skills, alongside an education system that ensures people enter the workforce with the skills they need. “Getting there will require the efforts of devolved and Westminster government and businesses. With one in three working-age adults out of work, it’s crucial we make progress now.” Gillian McKee, Deputy Managing Director with Business in the Community, said: “Business has a vested interest and a responsibility to help reduce poverty in Northern Ireland. Given that businesses need a skilled and educated labour force and customers to buy their products and services, as well as a strong and heal[...]

Boost productivity with a new national investment bank, urges Civitas

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 07:40:22 +0000

Investment in the UK has fallen from about a quarter of GDP in 1990, to just over 16 per cent – well below that of most advanced economies. A state-backed investment bank should be set up to plug the shortfall in lending to small and medium-sized businesses and help tackle the challenge of poor productivity in the UK, a new Civitas report urges. Investment in the UK has fallen from about a quarter of GDP in 1990, when it was broadly in line with that of other developed economies, to just over 16 per cent – well below that of most advanced economies. This is in part driven by the market failure described as the patient capital or finance gap, which sees banks failing to invest in SMEs, even when there is demand from creditworthy businesses, due to access to easier returns from alternative investments. Loans to business by banks as a proportion of their domestic lending have declined from 31 per cent in 1988 to eight per cent in 2016. Lending to business accounts for only five per cent of UK banking assets compared with 14 per cent of eurozone banking assets. In Closing the Finance Gap, Civitas economist Justin Protts proposes the creation of a new investment bank to address the market failure that has led to this lack of patient capital for SMEs. The bank could be independently-financed at no on-going cost to the taxpayer while significantly boosting current low levels of investment and so help to raise productivity. Various countries, including the UK, have or have had national development and investment banks and agencies which have been set up to address these issues. The report draws on the experience of some of these, such as: The Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation, a UK institution founded in 1945 but which no longer exists as it was created. Germany’s KfW, which in 2016 had a financing volume of €81 billion of which €21.4 billion of financing was for the promotion of SMEs. The US Small Business Administration, which approved lending to small businesses of almost $29 billion in 2016. The European Investment Bank, which invested €6.9 billion in the UK in 2016. Protts shows how a new national investment bank could provide a sustainable source of patient capital and in doing so helping to tackle the UK’s underlying productivity and investment problems. "The UK economy is not operating as it should. The output of each worker is barely increasing and failure to increase our productivity since the financial crisis has been holding back growth", he writes. "There is no doubt that low investment, particularly in enterprise, is a cause of the UK’s current economic woes and a significant part of that problem is the failure of the banks to lend to SMEs, which make up 99 per cent of businesses in the UK. "The experiences of institutions elsewhere, particularly of Germany’s KfW and the US’s SBA, show that government-owned investment institutions can play an important role in providing the sort of business investment the UK is lacking and at no on-going cost to the taxpayer. "The current British Business Bank does incredibly little to support business when compared with development banks in Europe, and is not fit for purpose. "If the government is going to seriously tackle the challenges of low investment and productivity then they must go further and create a new UK investment bank which can be mandated to provide the longer-term finance needed by SMEs to invest, grow and increase the UK’s productivity." * Read Closing the Finance Gap How a national investment bank could support  enterprise and raise productivity here * Civitas [...]

Legal aid for prisoners to be reinstated following challenge by prison charitites

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 07:28:05 +0000

Legal aid is to be be reinstated for three key areas of prison law, after the cuts were successfully challenged in court by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service.

Legal aid is to be be reinstated for three key areas of prison law, after the cuts were successfully challenged in court by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service.

The two charities brought a judicial review more than four years ago following the decision of the then Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, to remove almost all areas of legal aid for prisoners. The cuts were ruled to be unlawful by the Court of Appeal in April last year.

The changes are to be implemented through a statutory instrument, effective from 21 February 2017. It is the first time that any areas of law have been brought back into the scope of legal aid since the cuts came into force in December 2013.

In the years since the cuts were introduced, violence and self-injury in prisons have risen to record levels, with more prisoners than ever before calling the Howard League and the Prisoners’ Advice Service to seek help.

Calls to the Howard League legal advice line have increased by 62 per cent since the cuts came into force. Calls to the Prisoners’ Advice Service increased from 14,000 to 25,000 in 2017.

The government initially applied to appeal the Court of Appeal’s ruling, but ministers withdrew the application in October last year.

Laura Janes, Legal Director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The cuts have coincided with record high prison numbers, self-injury and suicide rates. For those of us who visit prisons week in and week out, as I do, it has never been so grim, even for children.

“The government has paid heed to the judgment, and we hope that it will make a positive difference. Our concern is that during the years of drought, as with other areas of legal aid, many providers have given up or lost their expertise.

“The Howard League has tried its best to weather the storm, at great financial cost and creating a huge burden on our staff.”

Deborah Russo, Joint Managing Solicitor of the Prisoners’ Advice Service, said: “Successive governments have cut the legal aid budget to the bone and we are therefore extremely pleased to have won this reversal of a part of that cut. Many of our clients are in high security prisons and in desperate need of legal aid in order to make representations about decisions regarding their Category A status or placement in Close Supervision Centres. Even more so are lifers and indeterminate sentence prisoners who, since the last round of prison law legal aid cuts until now, have faced pre-tariff reviews of their sentence either unrepresented or having to pay lawyers to attend their hearings.

“This is clearly only part of the fight to re-establish a decent, fair and universal legal aid system; however it is a step in the right direction, which we are proud to have been able to take.”

* Prisoners' Advice Service

*The  Howard League for Penal Reform


Damian Hinds 'needs to consider the human cost of selection'

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 07:15:58 +0000

Comprehensive Future has written to the Secretary of State for Education inviting him to meet parents to discuss the problems of 11-plus selection. Comprehensive Future has sent Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds a letter inviting him to meet parents to discuss the problems of 11-plus selection. The letter asks Hinds to listen to, ‘the voices which are often overlooked in this debate: the many parents and children in selective areas who would prefer a comprehensive system.’ The letter talks about the human cost of selection, from the pressure and stress of intensive tutoring for the test, to poor school choice, and the social stigma of failing the 11-plus. Hinds was sent a pamphlet ‘Parents stories from selective areas in England’ which powerfully illustrates the problems faced by parents and children in grammar school areas. In the publication, a Trafford mother says this about the selective system, “No child should be put through this to get a good education, and no child should be labeled a failure at ten or eleven-years-old. I do not believe that the annual misery inflicted on the majority of the children who take the 11-plus is worth the advantage for the lucky few.” A Buckinghamshire parent describes the test leading to division and bullying, “One successful child said to another who had failed, ‘I’ll go to a better school and university and get a better job and drive a better car than you.’ And there were still eight months of year six to enjoy together.” A Kent father talks about the pressures of the test, “A few nights before the test I had looked at the search history on her internet tablet. The last search read, ‘How to cope when you’re panicking about something.’ She’s a ten-year-old!” Melissa Benn, chair of Comprehensive Future said, “There is overwhelming evidence that selective education fails to improve results, creates inequality in communities, and causes particular problems for disadvantaged pupils. We thought Damian Hinds should also be made aware that many parents simply hate the system! It leads to tears, stress, and money wasted on tutors. Why would anyone choose this instead of good local schools for all?” “Hinds should look at the success of comprehensive education in his own Hampshire constituency. We need high-quality schools for everyone, not division and an old-fashioned 11-plus. The secretary of state is on record as saying he doesn’t want a grammar school in his own town – so we hope he’ll listen to parents who want comprehensive education but are forced to live with grammar school and secondary modern education.” A comparison of education in comprehensive Hampshire and selective Buckinghamshire, as detailed in the Guardian, shows that results are no better in the selective county, and worse by many measures.  Comprehensivr Future says it believe that selection produces no better educational outcomes but means much poorer wellbeing for children. The letter in full: "Dear Secretary of State, We are delighted that that Government has made it clear that it has no plans to overturn the ban on new grammar schools. However, we were very concerned to read the view of the Grammar Schools Heads Association that 'there are a number of schools that are looking at annex development and it may well be that Hinds is more sympathetic to that type of expansion. I would hope he would be more sympathetic.' "As you will know, selection damages local schools and increases social segregation in our communities. No modern education system should sort our children out into winners or losers at such a young age; this system inevitably leaves poorer children far behind. "You will have seen the detailed submissions to the 2016 'Schools That Work For Everyone' consultation. These itemise the overwhelming evidence that selective education simp[...]

CSW calls for investigation into murders of priests in Mexico

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 07:10:32 +0000

Christian Solidarity Worldwide is calling for a full investigation into the murders of two young Roman Catholic priests in Mexico earlier this month. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is calling for a full investigation into the murders of two young Roman Catholic priests in Mexico earlier this month. Fr Iván Añorve Jaimes and Fr Germain Muñiz Garcia were both killed when armed men attacked the vehicle in which they were travelling in the early hours of 5 February in Guerrero State.The two priests were travelling on the Taxco-Iguala federal highway after participating in a religious festival in celebration of the Virgin of Candelaria in the town of Juliantla. They were accompanied by three others, who were also injured in the attack.On 7 February, the Bishop of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza, issued a strong condemnation of statements from the Guerrero State Prosecutor, which implied that one of the priests had links to illegal armed groups and that the victims bore some level of responsibility for the attack. In a public statement also signed by other high level Catholic Church officials, Bishop Rangel Mendoza said, "We confirm once again that Father Germain Muñiz Garcia was never linked to any criminal group. Because of the nature of his pastoral work he was aware of their operations in the area, as a priest and public figure he had to travel to areas where they are present to minister to the different communities there…If the State Prosecutor claims that Father Germain Muñiz Garcia was linked to some criminal group we urge them to say to which criminal group he belonged and not simply point fingers… In light of the damages to Father Germain Muñiz Garcia's reputation we demand that the General Prosecutor of the State of Guerrero carry out the necessary investigations and stop making declarations based on so called facts."The Mexican Bishops Conference also condemned the statements of the Guerrero state prosecutor and confirmed that neither priest had links to illegal criminal groups. In 2017, Mexico maintained its ranking as the most dangerous country in the world for Catholic priests, with four murdered in 2017. The state of Guerrero has seen some of the highest numbers of priests killed, with a total of six since 2009, including last week's murders. In December 2017, the Bishop of Altamirano was transferred to another part of the country because of a series of threats made against him. Bishop Rangel Mendoza has been publicly critical of the high levels of corruption and impunity in the state. CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, "We are deeply saddened to learn of the violent deaths of Father Muñiz Garcia and Father Añorve Jaimes last week. They would have been well aware of the risks of their pastoral work given the high number of priests killed in Guerrero, but continued to carry out their ministry even up to the night of their murder. Given the high levels of impunity in the state, we were disturbed but not surprised that the state prosecutor chose to give a public statement which essentially amounted to blaming the victims for their own murder. CSW joins the call of Bishop Rangel Mendoza in calling for a retraction of these statements, unless the prosecutor can provide hard evidence of his claims, and a serious investigation into the attack on these two priests, leading to the prosecution of those responsible." * Independent Catholic News * Christian Solidarity Worldwide [Ekk/6] [...]

Carillion directors 'refused to give an inch' to trustees over pension funding

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 06:50:18 +0000

Frank Field says correspondence between Carillion directors and pension fund trustees suggests directors were 'contemptuous of their pensions obligations'. The trustees of the main Carillion pension schemes wrote to The Pensions Regulator (TPR) in 2010 and again in 2013 requesting "formal intervention" to require the company to pay more in deficit recovery contributions. TPR opened a formal investigation into Carillion on 18 January 2018, three days after it went bust. Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said, "These letters suggest the Carillion directors were contemptuous of their pensions obligations. Over two successive 15 month negotiations they refused to give an inch to the pension schemes. "Their private pleading that the company could not afford more was in stark contrast to the rosy picture – and bumper dividends – being presented to the outside world. Richard Adam, the longstanding Finance Director, has particular questions to answer. "With characteristic alacrity, the Pensions Regulator started its arduous process of chasing money down from Carillion a few days after it was formally announced there was no money left. I can only assume – and hope – they are going after some of those very generous bonuses." Despite a recent "bullish results announcement" and a 12 per cent increase in dividends, the company maintained it could not afford to pay more than £23 million per year for the pension deficit. The trustees had advice that a minimum of £35 million was affordable. The company pushed for a 15 year recovery plan. Anything more than 10 years is considered exceptional. The company proposed "less prudent assumptions and methods" than had been used in previous scheme valuations. Negotiations got no further than £25 million per year, which the trustees considered "not acceptable" and "far less than … reasonable". The 2013 letter said that an "impasse" had been reached in negotiations between the trustees and the company. The trustees had proposed contributions of £65 million per year over 14 years to meet a deficit they estimated at £770 million. The company has made a "take it or leave it" offer of just £33.4 million per year over 15 years. The company pushed for more optimistic assumptions which resulted in lower estimates of the deficit. The trustees said the company had got weaker in recent years and wanted that reflected in calculations. This was rejected by the company. Carillion had "made no move from its original position throughout the whole negotiation process". The trustees wrote to the regulator after the statutory 15 month negotiation period had passed. The trustees said that the pension schemes were "falling behind relative to other Carillion stakeholders" and "taking a disproportionate amount of risk". TPR opened an anti-avoidance investigation into Carillion on 18 January 2018. The company went into insolvency on 15 January, with only £29 million of cash left and a pensions deficit liability of around £2.5 billion. TPR had "made it clear" they were "prepared" to use their powers to impose a schedule of pension contributions under section 231 of the Pensions Act 2004. They did not, however, use any formal powers regarding Carillion at any stage while the company was solvent. TPR revealed in October 2017 that they have used that power just once. * Work and Pensions Committee [Ekk/6] [...]

Private probation in the US 'punishes people for being poor'

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 06:33:23 +0000

The cost of private probation supervision in the US disproportionately harms the poor, often criminalising a person’s inability to pay their probation fees and court costs, Human Rights Watch says in a new report. The cost of private probation supervision disproportionately harms the poor, often criminalising a person’s inability to pay their probation fees and court costs, Human Rights Watch says in a new report. The 142-page report, ‘Set up to Fail’: The Impact of Offender-Funded Private Probation on the Poor, documents private probation company practices in Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. These states allow private companies to supervise probation for minor crimes, including misdemeanours and criminal traffic offences. Individuals pay their probation fees directly to the company. But many courts fail to recognise that when an individual is living in poverty, the fees force them to sacrifice basic needs, such as food, housing, and transportation, to pay the probation company. When an individual cannot afford payments, they can face arrest, extended probation, or even prison. “Lack of accountability in offender-funded private probation systems creates many opportunities for abuse,” said Komala Ramachandra, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “While probation fees and court costs may only be a slight inconvenience for a person who can afford those costs, they can be ruinous for a person living in poverty.” The report is based on more than 150 interviews with people who have been through the private probation system and their families, judges, lawyers, law enforcement and private probation company representatives. The research also draws on court records and documents obtained through open records requests. People interviewed for the report said they felt threatened by the potential consequences if they did not make regular payments for their probation supervision. Others faced similar consequences when they could not afford to pay for court-mandated conditions of probation, such as drug testing, document checks, courses, and treatment. “It’s frightening and draining, always worrying whether I have enough money, whether there’ll be any more fees, whether I’ll be able to pay my gas bill this month,” said a probationer in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. “And what happens if I don’t have the money to pay them? How much longer will they draw this out? Could they throw me in jail? It starts to spiral to a point that you can’t control.” When a person was not able to pay their fees, they were often cited for a probation violation, leading to court hearings and arrest warrants. Courts should not punish a probationer for failing to pay fines, fees, or other costs if that person genuinely lacks the ability to pay. But many courts do not engage in any serious analysis of the person’s financial situation. Instead, if a person was not able to pay, judges would extend probation periods or add probation conditions, each increasing the person’s overall criminal justice debt. In some cases, people who could not pay for their probation supervision or associated requirements were sent to jail. Human Rights Watch recommended specific measures to address abuses in the private probation system. They include imposing proportional fines and fees that take into account a person’s ability to pay, ensuring that there are no conflicts of interest between the courts and companies, and requiring better training for private probation officers. Human Rights Watch also recommended that state governments adopt more comprehensive legislative protections and oversight systems to end abuses associated with the private probation industry. While probation is primarily managed by state governments,[...]

Access to Work Cap goes to High Court

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 13:25:38 +0000

The High Court has ruled that a legal challenge of the Access to Work cap, which limits the amount of support that individuals can be awarded by the disability employment scheme, can go ahead. The High Court has ruled that a legal challenge of the Access to Work cap can go ahead. The restrictions were introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions to limit the amount of support that individuals can be awarded by the once flagship disability employment scheme. The launch of the challenge comes just a few months after the government published its disability employment strategy with the ambitious target of getting one million more Disabled people into work. It also follows publication in October 2017 of research commissioned by Inclusion London which found evidence of systemic problems with Access to Work. The cap, which will fully come into force in April 2018, disproportionately impacts on Deaf BSL users and Disabled people with high support needs, effectively removing employment support from those with the most complex needs and placing them at a disadvantage when trying to get into, stay in and get on in paid work. The case is being brought under the Equality Act 2010 with funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Claimant David Buxton said, “I am extremely pleased to learn that my case has been granted a hearing on the basis that I have an arguable case that the Government has acted unlawfully. The two key issues being heard relate to the public sector equality duty and indirect discrimination. “As a Chief Executive, it cannot be right that my career is impacted by limiting my language and communication needs because I am Deaf and use British Sign Language. There is some way to go yet but the support from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and my legal team are signs that this is a case which could challenge and change existing practices, decisions and future provision.” Solicitor Anne-Marie Jolly from law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn who are taking the case said, “As a result of this case, the government’s decision to cap Access to Work funding will finally be exposed to the scrutiny of the High Court. Government decision-making around Access to Work has historically been lacking in clarity and transparency. “In keeping with that history, the decision to cap the scheme was made with no formal consultation or adequate evidence base, despite its profound impact on those affected. Mr Buxton’s claim makes the case that the Access to Work cap discriminates against Deaf and disabled people and fails to take account of the impact on them of such a regressive move. “The cap perversely impacts on those with the most demanding jobs and highest support needs, the overwhelming majority of whom are Deaf BSL users, preventing them and their employers or businesses from reaching their fullest potential.” Campaigns and policy manager Ellen Clifford from Inclusion London, whose Disability Justice Project is supporting the legal challenge, said, “The cap is already having a serious negative impact on Deaf and Disabled people’s employment. “On the one hand the Government says they want to reduce the disability employment gap and get another million disabled people into work, yet here is a disability employment scheme with a track record of success where cuts to individual awards, delays, changes and continual administrative errors are combining to the point where it is no longer a viable form of support. “Deaf and Disabled people are frustrated and anxious at the risk of unemployment and benefit dependency, which will come at a much higher cost to the State than the support package they need to remain in work.” Geraldine O’Halloran, co-founder of #StopChanges2AtW said, “[...]

UN agency calls for fair labour migration governance

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 07:10:09 +0000

Many migrant workers end up trapped in low-pay, unsafe and unhealthy jobs, the head of the United Nations labour agency warned on 19 February 2018, calling for the adoption of fair labour migration governance frameworks at the global, regional and national levels. Many migrant workers end up trapped in low-pay, unsafe and unhealthy jobs, the head of the United Nations labour agency warned on 19 February 2018, calling for the adoption of fair labour migration governance frameworks at the global, regional and national levels. “Most migration today is linked, directly or indirectly, to the search for decent work opportunities”, said UN International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder in his message for World Day of Social Justice, which is annually observed on 20 February.  “But many migrant workers end up trapped in jobs with low pay and unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, often in the informal economy, without respect for their labour and other human rights. They often have to pay high recruitment fees to get a job, on average over a year’s wages – this makes them highly vulnerable to forced labour and child labour,” he added. Marked this year with the theme ‘Workers on the Move: the Quest for Social Justice,’ the Day focuses on the world’s 150 million migrant workers, many of whom face exploitation, discrimination and violence and lack even the most basic protections. “This is particularly true for women, who make up 44 per cent of migrant workers”, Guy Ryder said. Mr Guy stressed that migrant workers like all workers are entitled to fair treatment and fair treatment for migrant workers is also key to preserving the social fabric of societies and to sustainable development. If labour migration is well-governed, fair and effective, it can deliver benefits and opportunities for migrant workers, their families and their host communities.   Governance should be guided by international labour standards, in particular the fundamental principles and rights at work and the relevant ILO and UN conventions. The ILO’s Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration and the General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment offer further guidance. The ILO is encouraging the adoption of fair labour migration governance frameworks at all levels – global, regional and national, including a comprehensive, integrated and 'whole of government' approach that engages labour ministries together with business, and employers’ and workers’ organizations – those on the frontlines of labour markets.  “We can choose to make labour migration a win-win situation for migrants and host communities,” he said, noting that how the international community develops and helps Member States implement a global compact on migration – to be adopted later this year – will be instrumental in determining the future course of labour migration.  In 2007, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 20 February as World Day of Social Justice, inviting Member States to promote national activities in accordance with the objectives and goals of the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Ass * More on the World Day of Social Justice here * United Nations [Ekk/4] [...]

'Dangerous U-turn' condemned as May seems set to cut number of MPs

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 07:04:04 +0000

The Electoral Reform Society has condemned a ‘dangerous u-turn’ from the Prime Minister, with news emerging that she is set to cut the number of MPs. The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has condemned a ‘dangerous u-turn’ from the Prime Minister, with news emerging that she is set to cut the number of MPs.   Reports had initially suggested that Theresa May had dropped plans to force through the cut in MPs linked with the boundary review.However, she now appears to be rejecting calls to keep the number of MPs at 650 – despite the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee warning on 19 February 2018] that moves to cut numbers to 600 are unlikely to secure the backing of MPs.   The ERS warns that the cut in MPs actually represents a cut in backbenchers if there are no plans to cap or cut the size of the executive or ‘payroll vote’ correspondingly.   At the same time, voters will lose European representation while Parliament gains more powers after Brexit. Yet the Commons will have less capacity to scrutinise those powers. The ERS argue that this places a greater burden on our democracy while posing significant risks for policy making.   ERS research in 2016 showed that in a smaller, 600-seat Commons, nearly one in four (23 per cent) of MPs would be on the government payroll if the parties’ proportion of MPs – and the total number of ministers and whips – stayed the same – an all-time high, and up from the 21 per cent at present (figures as of November 2016) [4].   Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Without a corresponding cap on the ‘payroll vote’, this reduction in MPs represents an undemocratic cut in the power of backbenchers to hold government to account.   “This dangerous u-turn smacks of constitutional injustice. Cutting backbenchers at the same as bolstering the executive looks to many like a worrying power-grab. Parliament will have a whole raft of new powers after Brexit – yet less capacity to scrutinise those powers. That places a greater burden on our institutions, while posing significant risks for policy making.   “Meanwhile it’s just common sense that this cut cannot go ahead while the House of Lords remains the second largest chamber in the world with around 800 members. If the government are concerned about reducing the cost of politics, they would do well to stay with the over-sized second chamber. Voters need real representation in the Commons to provide the essential scrutiny and capacity we need: both for now and when we gain new power after Brexit. “Far from reducing political representation and weakening voters’ voices, the Prime Minister should cancel the proposed cut in MPs and move forward with fair boundaries based on a properly resourced Commons.” The Electoral Reform Society expresses five main concerns about the cut in number of MPs and the proposed boundary changes: There is a significant risk for scrutiny: If, as the government proposes, the number of MPs in Parliament is reduced without also reducing the number of ministers, the power of the executive is proportionally increase – making it more difficult to hold power to account. There must be a cap on the ‘payroll vote’ before a cut in MPs is even considered These will be highly incomplete as well as out of date – people who registered to vote for the EU referendum won’t be counted for the new boundaries The tight five per cent ‘difference threshold’ between size of constituencies risks awkwardly splitting up communities or grafting very different towns/counties onto each other Unregistered but eligible voters are not being consid[...]

UK 'stands out for lack of income progress and major decline in home ownership for millennials'

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 07:03:04 +0000

In international comparisons, the UK stands out for having experienced a ‘boom and bust’ cycle where strong income and housing gains for post-war generations have failed to materialise for millennials. The 20th century growth story that has seen each generation enjoy higher incomes than the one before them has ground to a halt in nearly all advanced economies in the 21st century. However, the UK stands out for having experienced a ‘boom and bust’ cycle where strong income and housing gains for post-war generations have failed to materialise for millennials. This is according to a major report published by the Resolution Foundation. Cross countries – the fifteenth report for the Foundation’s ongoing Intergenerational Commission – looks at household living standard changes for different generations across eight high-income countries. It finds that the global financial crisis has had a profound effect in halting generational income progress. On average, across the countries featured in the report, millennials in their early 30s have household incomes four per cent lower than members of Generation X at the same age. In comparison, the incomes of Generation X in their early 30s were 30 per cent higher than the baby boomer generation before them. However, while this overall story of stalled progress is common throughout advanced countries, the report also highlights a number of country-specific challenges. These include: Generational ‘boom and bust’ on living standards The UK stands out, along with Spain, as having previously enjoyed a long ‘boom’ in generation-on-generation progress on household incomes that has since gone ‘bust’ for millennials. When in their early 30s, generation X (born 1966-80) were 54 per cent better off than the baby boomers (1946-65) were at the same age, this pace of growth hasn’t materialised for millennials (1980-2000); the incomes of those in this generation who’ve already reached their early 30s are just six per cent higher than generation X’s at the same age. The UK also stands out for combining a sharp slowdown in income progress with a major generational reversal on housing. Home ownership rates, compared at ages 45-49, surged by 29 percentage points between the greatest generation (born 1911-25) and the baby boomers. This generation-on-generation progress has been all but wiped out for millennials whose home ownership rate in their late 20s, at 33 per cent, is half that for the baby boomers at the same age (60 per cent). Falling home ownership for young people in their late 20s is also found – albeit to a lesser extent – in Australia (a 12 percentage points fall from boomers to millennials) and the US (a 6 percentage point fall). Britain’s generational pay divide UK millennials have paid for the financial crisis through their pay packets, rather than with their jobs. The scale of the pay squeeze for those aged under 30 – a 13 per cent fall in real terms – is surpassed only by Greece, where earnings have fallen by 25 per cent. The UK pay squeeze for the under 30s was twice as big as the squeeze faced by those in their 50s – a bigger age divide than in any other country. Mediterranean jobs crisis Southern Europe has experienced a millennial jobs crisis, with the youth (15-30) unemployment rate more than doubling in Italy, Spain and Greece between the early 2000s and the years following the financial crisis and remaining above 25 per cent today. In contrast, youth unemployment in the UK (at nine per cent) is almost as low today as it was during the 2000s, though there has been a rise in atypical working, such as zero hours contracts and self-em[...]

Protest for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as Iranian minister set to visit UK

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 06:58:57 +0000

Campaigners will protest on behalf of the jailed UK-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe outside the Iranian Embassy in London on 21 February ahead of an expected visit to the UK of a senior Iranian minister.

Campaigners will stage a protest on behalf of the jailed UK-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe outside the Iranian Embassy in London on Wednesday 21 February 2018  at 9.30am ahead of an expected visit to the UK of a senior Iranian minister.

Abbas Araghchi, Deputy for Legal and International Affairs in Iran’s Foreign Ministry, is expected in the UK in coming days to meet UK officials.

Richard Ratcliffe, who has led a high-profile campaign on his wife’s behalf, is seeking a personal meeting with Mr Araghchi to discuss the plight of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker with the Thomson Reuters foundation, is serving a five-year jail sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison after being convicted in 2016 in an unfair trial by a Revolutionary Court on unspecified “national security charges”. Zaghari-Ratcliffe has suffered a serious decline in her physical and mental health since being jailed.

Mr Ratcliffe will be attending Wednesday’s protest and will attempt to hand in a letter to the embassy raising his wife’s case. He will also attempt to hand in a number of letters from individual Amnesty supporters which were sent to Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Evin Prison – letters which the prison authorities refused to accept.

Amnesty has designated Zaghari-Ratcliffe a prisoner of conscience and is calling for her immediate release. More than 100,000 people have lent their support to Amnesty’s campaign for Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Amnesty campaigners will be outside the embassy holding "Free Nazanin" and "Over 100,000 say ‘Free Nazanin’” placards.

Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said, “Abbas Araghchi should meet Mr Ratcliffe face-to-face and explain why it is that his wife is behind bars after an unfair trial.

“We’ve said over and over again that Nazanin shouldn’t be in jail at all, never mind for five years.

“Nazanin should be freed at the earliest possible opportunity and she should be allowed to return to Britain with her young daughter on the first available flight.”

* More information on the campaign to free Nazanin here

* Amnesty International


Welcoming a more humane approach to drug policy

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 17:05:40 +0000

Welcoming a more humane approach to drug policy

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Polish environment minister urged to save ancient forest

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 07:31:48 +0000

Poland’s new environment minister Henryk Kowalczyk has been urged to save Bialowieza Forest, which was threatened by his predecessor.

Poland’s new environment minister Henryk Kowalczyk has been urged to save Bialowieza Forest, which was threatened by his predecessor.

On 16 February 2018, ClientEarth and six other ecological organisations met with Kowalczyk who has replaced Jan Szyszko, who triggered a row with the European Commission over an illegal threefold increase in logging in Bialowieza, one of the most precious forests in Europe.

The groups presented the case for proper and lawful protection of the unique Bialowieza Forest. Agata Szafraniuk, ClientEarth lawyer said: “The Minister said he would listen to environmental NGOs and we are glad to hear that.

“However we are still waiting to see concrete actions and decisions to prove that Bialowieza Forest will be protected from excessive logging and that it will escape the threat that the former minister, Jan Szyszko, prepared for it”.

One of the demands made by the ecological groups was to grant the entire Bialowieza Forest national park status. If granted, this primeval forest would be protected from excessive logging for good. Everybody would benefit from this solution, except for a small but strong lobby, which wants to transform the most valuable Polish forest into a timber farm.

“We are looking forward to seeing how Minister Kowalczyk’s declarations will be put into practice”, added Szafraniuk.

The case regarding illegal logging in Bialowieza Forest is now before the EU Court of Justice. On 20 February, the Advocate General will publish his opinion in the case and the final ruling is expected in March.

* Client Earth works to protect the environment through advocacy, litigation and science