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Ecumenical Patriarch addresses Arctic Circle Assembly

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 07:16:48 +0000

In a keynote speech during the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík, Iceland, Ecumenical Patriarch  Bartholomew I termed their purpose “a fresh deliberation on the fate of the earth.”

In a keynote speech during the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík, Iceland, Ecumenical Patriarch  Bartholomew I termed their purpose “a fresh deliberation on the fate of the earth.”

The assembly, which drew more than 2,000 participants from 50 countries, joined religious leaders with scientists, government officials, advocates, and indigenous people on October 13-15 2017 for the largest annual international gathering focused on the future of the Arctic.

In his address, the Ecumenical Patriarch recalled a time when religious people were relatively indifferent, and sometimes even hostile, to science. “Today, however,” he said, “as some of those connections have become more perceptible and tangible, there is hardly a religious leader in the world who is not in one way or another concerned about the challenges posed by pollution and climate change.”

More and more people recognise that religious consciousness and environmental science are both concerned with the ultimate questions – with the way that we are shaping the destiny of humankind, the planet, and the whole of creation, reflected Bartholomew. “For that reason alone, then, spiritual leaders and ecologists cannot avoid engaging in a profound dialogue with one another”, he said. “Climate change is a matter of livelihood, food, and individual and cultural survival.”

For the indigenous people of the Arctic, climate change is not just a theory but a stark and dangerous reality, said Bartholomew. “It is – above and beyond all else – a vital human issue. “For scientists, the Arctic is the barometer of the globe's environmental health.”

The ecological misdeeds committed in other regions – including chemical contamination and nuclear radiation – are clearly evident in the Arctic environment, said the Ecumenical Patriarch. “When we visit this pristine part of the planet, we cannot hide our eyes, either from the beauty of God’s creation or from the changes which human folly has generated”, he said. “Nor can we avoid pondering the terrible consequences for the remainder – and the future – of the world, if glaciers continue to melt and sea-levels continue to rise.”

Creation is an intricate web of life, he concluded. “If the environment of the Arctic Circle is now changing at a frightening pace, it is because of economic activities and energy choices in the industrialised world in the south, west and east”, he said.

* Read the full text of the Ecumenical Patriarch's address here

* The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, by the end of 2012 the WCC had 345 member churches representing more than 500 million Christians from Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other traditions in over 110 countries. The WCC works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.

* World Council of Churches


UK falls in European child mortality rankings

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 06:54:22 +0000

The UK has fallen significantly in the European Union rankings of neonatal mortality and under-five mortality.

The UK has dropped several ranks in the European Union rankings of child mortality since 1990, recent analysis of World Health Organisation and Office for National Statistics data has found.

The drop in rankings occurred in the two UN Sustainable Development Goal indicators for child mortality – which cover neonatal mortality, and under-five mortality. The goal is that by 2030, all countries should reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births, and under-five mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births.

The data for both indicators show that although the UK met the global target some 40 years ago, the rate of improvement has slowed compared with other EU countries, which are making faster progress. 

The neonatal mortality rate indicates the probability of dying in the first 28 days of life. In 1990, the UK was seventh in the European Union with a neonatal mortality rate of 4.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. Germany, Sweden, France, Finland, Luxembourg and Denmark were ahead of the UK with lower neonatal mortality rates. The worst performing countries were Romania, Hungary and Estonia, which had neonatal mortality rates of 13.5, 13.6 and 13.8 respectively.

Yet by 2015, Estonia had managed to overtake the UK, coming in at fifth place with a rate of 1.5, while the UK was pushed back to 19th with a slightly higher rate of 2.7. Other countries with a similar neonatal mortality rate to the UK include Croatia (2.6) , Lithuania and Denmark (both at 2.5), and Spain (2.8).

Out of all 28 European Union countries, the UK made less progress in these 25 years than all of them, apart from Germany and France.

The under-five mortality rate is the probability of dying between birth and five years of age per 1,000 live births. In 1990, the UK was ninth out of all European Union countries, with an under-five mortality rate of 9.3. Other countries ahead of the UK included Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands. The countries with the highest rates were Romania (37.7), Bulgaria (22.1) and Latvia (20.4).

As of 2015, the UK is 20th with a rate of 4.5. In this time, Estonia had again risen in the rankings compared with the UK, reducing its under-five mortality rate from 20.2 to 2.9. It also outpaced the Netherlands and Sweden, which in 2015 had rates of 3.8 and 3.0 respectively.

Countries with a similar under-five mortality rate to the UK in 2015 include Greece (4.6) and France and Croatia, which (both 4.3).

Out of all 28 European Union countries, the UK made less progress in under-five mortality than all other countries, apart from Malta.

Full ONS statistics can be downloaded here

Office for National Statistics


School leaders take 'unprecedented' step on school funding

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 06:33:19 +0000

The School Leaders’ union has written to every Westminster MP to urge them to take the education funding crisis more seriously.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has taken the unprecedented step of writing to every Westminster MP to urge them to take the education funding crisis more seriously. In a two-page briefing, NAHT sets out the four main reasons why school budgets are at breaking point.

  • National Insurance and Pensions: Increases in the cost of employers’ contributions of over 5.5 per cent in April 2015 have had a big impact on schools.
  • £600 million of cuts to the Education Services Grant: The ESG was used by local authorities and academies to fund school services, such as HR and facilities management. These services are still needed so the cost has been shifted to individual schools and academies, putting further pressure on school budgets.
  • Pay: The cost of annual pay awards for teaching and support staff, however minimal, has been unfunded in school budgets.
  • The Apprenticeship Levy: The levy came into effect in April 2017. Only one per cent of employers have to pay this but nearly all maintained schools and most academies will have to pay an extra 0.5 per cent on their payroll costs.

In the letter to MPs, Paul Whiteman, NAHT’s General Secretary writes, “£2.8 billion has been cut from school budgets since 2015. Seven out of ten of our 29,000 members expect their budgets to be untenable by 2019.”

Mr Whiteman continues, “I’d be very surprised indeed if you hadn’t heard from a head teacher or a parent expressing concerns about school funding over the last few months.”

And yet there is concern amongst school leaders, that despite the hundreds of letters written, and the thousands of parents, families and governors who have become campaigners, many MPs have failed to grasp the severity of the issue.

Mr Whiteman has also written in the MPs’ own magazine, The House to say: “The importance of giving all young people a high-quality education is a mission that unites teachers and politicians. We hope that you will listen to what your constituents are telling you about school funding. Above all, we’d like to see Parliament alive with debate about school funding between now and the Budget.”

NAHT’s #TellTheChancellor campaign is gathering pace, with a lobby of Parliament on 24 October, where parents and school leaders will be working together to raise awareness with MPs and encourage them to write to the Treasury to ask the Chancellor to announce more money for schools in the Autumn Budget.

Jo Yurky, the organiser of the parent-led Fair Fund All Schools campaign, said, “We can see the impact of the funding squeeze in our schools and we know what it means for our children’s futures. We are letting MPs and Ministers know that cuts to education are not acceptable. We will continue our campaign into this new school year and won’t stop until this government comes up with the increased investment that our schools need.”

* National Association of Head Teachers


Shell executives charged with alleged role in vast Nigerian bribery scheme

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 06:04:28 +0000

Senior Royal Dutch Shell executives have been charged in Italy for their alleged role in a vast bribery scheme that deprived the Nigerian people of over a billion dollars. Senior Royal Dutch Shell executives have been charged in Italy for their alleged role in a vast bribery scheme that deprived the Nigerian people of over a billion dollars, the Milan Public Prosecutor’s Office has confirmed. Those facing trial include Malcolm Brinded CBE, the second most powerful person in the company when the deal was struck. Shell itself is also facing bribery charges alongside the four named individuals. This historic decision follows a dramatic U-turn in which it admitted that it knew its billion dollar payment would go to convicted money-launderer and former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete, in exchange for Nigerian oil block OPL 245 in 2011. “This could be the biggest corporate bribery trial in history, and a watershed moment for the oil industry. The top brass of the UK’s largest company is in the dock after it finally admitted dealing with a convicted money launderer. There can be no clearer sign that wholesale change is needed. Shell must first apologise to the Nigerian people, then take clear steps to reassure investors and the broader public that this won’t happen again”, said Barnaby Pace of Global Witness.    In April, Global Witness and Finance Uncovered revealed that Shell executives knew that $1.1 billion they paid for OPL 245 would go to Dan Etete and was likely to be used in a vast bribery scheme. For years, Shell has claimed that it only paid the Nigerian Government. But after investigations Shell shifted this position and acknowledged it had dealt with Etete, via his front company Malabu. Dan Etete was convicted of money laundering in France in 2007. Etete had awarded his own company the OPL 245 oil block while oil minister during the rule of former dictator Sani Abacha.  In December, the Milan Public Prosecutor alleged that $520 million from the deal was converted into cash and was intended to be paid to the then Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, members of the government and other Nigerian government officials. The  Italian authorities have now brought bribery charges against Malcolm Brinded, then Head of Upstream, alongside three others. According to the Shell Foundation, Brinded has stepped down from his role as Chairman of the Board of Trustees due to the legal action in Italy. Brinded remains a trustee of the Foundation as well as retained positions as Chair of Engineering UK and President of the Energy Institute. In September 2017, BHP Billiton announced that Malcolm Brinded will not return to the BHP Billiton board due to judicial inquiries over the OPL 245 deal. In 2002, Brinded was awarded the CBE for services to the UK. Oil and Gas Industry. These individual charges are in addition to existing charges brought against Shell, Italian oil major Eni, Eni’s CEO, former CEO and Chief Operations Officer, middlemen and several Nigerian officials. Global Witness said: “Shell’s current CEO Ben van Beurden has described the emails we leaked as 'pub talk', but most pub chats don’t end up in criminal proceedings. Mr van Beurden has had four years as CEO to address a scandal that now threatens to engulf his company, but has done next to nothing. He should draw a line under the case by admitting the company’s guilt, removing Mr Brinded from his position, and setting out his plan for overhauling the company’s anti-bribery efforts for the future,” said Pace.       “These charges are a clear signal that it is no longer business as usual for oil companies in Nigeria. It’s now time for the Dutch and British authorities to follow Italy’s lead and hold their biggest company to account,” said Olanrewaju Suraju, of Human and Environmental Development Agenda of [...]

Select Committee issues scathing statement on Universal Credit

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 16:16:13 +0000

The Work and Pensions Select Committe is highly critical of the DWP's failure to supply requested data, and says Universal Credit appears to be 'very bad news'. The Work and Pensions Select Committee will take evidence from Secretary of State David Gauke, and Neil Couling, Director of Universal Credit, on Wednesday 18 October. Ahead of that meeting they have today (16 October 2017) issued the following statement: "The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has failed to respond to the Committee's call for written evidence, or any of the four letters requesting statistics and clarifications of policy sent to the Secretary of State over the past six weeks. "The Department was asked to respond to the questions by last Thursday, so that the Committee could go into the session with a full understanding of the current picture of the rollout and the protections in place for vulnerable claimants. Despite all this, the DWP has failed to provide any new information to the inquiry.  "There are very few statistics in the public domain on Universal Credit. DWP itself has never published data on the length of waits over the statutory, in-built  six weeks: news of delays of 10, 12 weeks or longer in receiving payments was heard in evidence to the Committee. "In seeking to get an up-to-date impression of the rollout and its effects at local level, the Committee has written to the 54 MPs whose constituents will be subject to Universal Credit full service for the first time in October, asking them to report back information. "103 organisations and individuals managed to send written evidence to the Committee by last Friday’s deadline. A further 52 individuals have contributed to the online forum. That is in addition to the 180 organisations and individuals who contributed written evidence to the inquiry before the election was called." Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said, "For claimants not to receive money from Universal Credit is usually a disaster. For the Secretary of State not to answer letters shows either a huge discourtesy to Parliament or a sign that the Government knows the game is nearly up in trying to present this mega-reform as a success. "I don't know if the DWP is deliberately concealing information about Universal Credit or is simply incompetent. Either way, it is not good enough. This has obvious echoes in the far greater failure of not paying hungry claimants on time. "One letter simply asked if the conference announcement on advance payments was, despite appearances, simply a restatement of existing policy. You’d think they could at least answer that one. "We expect another announcement on Wednesday about helping councils left short by Universal Credit’s failure to account for the cost of emergency temporary accommodation, by “rolling-in” some claimants back onto Housing Benefit. "This is overdue, but does nothing to address the fundamental problem of people being left for weeks without anything to live on. "Given everything we have heard, I was surprised that David Gauke opted to proceed with the accelerated rollout. I strongly suspect his decision, together with the failure to tell us anything, reflects a culture at the DWP of those most invested in Universal Credit not telling anyone, including their Ministers, bad news. "The overwhelming picture we are getting is that Universal Credit as currently configured is very bad news. We have heard nothing, to the contrary or otherwise, from those running it." The Committee will be putting some of the many individual cases and scenarios it has heard to the Minister on Wednesday morning. Later in the day in the House of Commons there will be an Opposition Day debate on Universal Credit. * Work and Pensions Select Committee [...]

White poppy sales rise as British Legion criticised over exclusion of civilians

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 08:54:25 +0000

The Royal British Legion is facing renewed criticism over its refusal to commemorate civilian victims of war on Remembrance Day. Launching this year's white poppy campaign, the Peace Pledge Union said that high white poppy sales in recent years were in part due to growing unease with the Legion’s approach.

The Royal British Legion is facing renewed criticism over its refusal to commemorate civilian victims of war on Remembrance Day. Launching this year's white poppy campaign, the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) said that high white poppy sales in recent years were in part due to growing unease with the Legion’s approach.

The PPU is receiving messages from people ordering white poppies for the first time, who say they have been put off red poppies by the British Legion's increasingly nationalistic tone and sidelining of civilian casualties.

White poppy sales have reached 100,000 per year in the last three years, a higher figure than at any time since white poppies were first worn in 1933.

White poppies represent remembrance all victims of war, both civilians and members of armed forces, of all nationalities. They also represent a commitment to peace and a rejection of attempts to glorify war.

In contrast, the British Legion, who produce red poppies, insist that they honour only members of British and allied armed forces. The Legion also states that the red poppy signifies “support” for the current UK armed forces as an institution.

The PPU points out that the British Legion thus excludes the estimated 60,000 British civilians killed in World War Two, as well as millions of others of other nationalities. It excludes the vast majority of women and children killed and injured in war.

On Remembrance Sunday, the PPU will hold an Alternative Remembrance Ceremony at Tavistock Square in London, laying a wreath of white poppies to remember all victims of war, and renewing their commitment to work for peace.

This year's white poppy campaign includes a number of new initiatives, such as a new White Poppies for Schools pack and greater use of social media and online films.

The PPU's new online white poppy video, includes several people explaining why they wear white poppies. One of them, ex-soldier Michael Pike, says: “The white poppy is to remember all human beings who have suffered in war, regardless of race, colour, creed, sex or age. We need to commemorate all the victims of war.”

Another person interviewed in the video, Jess Amy Dixon from Leicestershire, says: “One reason I wear a white poppy is that I'm a feminist. Women and children are often the unseen victims of war and of conflict, yet they are victims just as much.”

Symon Hill, Co-ordinator of the Peace Pledge Union, said: “The Royal British Legion imply that their way is the only way of doing remembrance. But if our remembrance is to be meaningful, we must recognise the reality of war and learn from it, and that means campaigning for peace.”

* Watch the PPU's white poppy video here

* Peace Pledge Union


Church of England statement on mediation with survivor of clerical sexual abuse

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 07:16:04 +0000

The Church of England has issued a statement on a mediated meeting with a survivor of clerical sexual abuse. The Church of England has issued a statement on a mediated meeting with a survivor of clerical sexual abuse. "The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler and the Bishop at Lambeth (previously Bishop of Truro), Tim Thornton, met a survivor Gilo recently for a mediated meeting.  "It was not an easy process, having taken 18 months to organise from the end of the Elliott Review. It was a helpful and productive process for all concerned. The survivor was supported by the Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson and Phil Johnson of MACSAS (Ministry and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors). Professional mediators had helped set up the meeting and were present throughout.  "As a result of the day-long meeting an agreement and action plan was drawn up and signed by all. Although that agreement was confidential, with the full agreement of the survivor who has helped in the preparation of this statement we are releasing the following: "1. The process was helpful to all concerned. All agreed that they had listened carefully to each other and found it was useful to spend the time both reviewing what had happened and working on how matters could be better treated in the future. "2. The three Bishops made the decision to write to EIG (Ecclesiastical Insurance Group)  and raise a range of issues with them and ask for a meeting to discuss the ways in which survivors are treated and to discover if there can be further revisions to the processes EIG have in place. The letter has now been sent in which reference was made to the Guiding Principles that have helpfully been drawn up by the EIG. The Bishops also drew attention to various specific matters relating to the case of Gilo. The hope is that this will set up a constructive dialogue with EIG on other cases both past and current and EIG have agreed to a meeting. The Bishops will work with the Lead Bishop for Safeguarding in seeking the House of Bishops to discuss an action plan for change. (The timing will be dependent on other developments below.) "3. It was agreed that Archbishop Welby should be approached to write a letter to Gilo apologising for the ways in which he had been treated by the church, and by Lambeth Palace in particular, in the past. This letter has now been written and sent. "4. Bishop Paul and Bishop Tim apologised for failures that have occurred in the response to his case, both by them and other senior figures in the church. Both continue to be deeply committed to working hard to improve relations with survivors and are also both more than willing to place on record their desire to work as hard as they can to make the Church of England a safer and more honest place for all. They recognise that the church continues to face serious challenges through its response to survivors. They are convinced that these matters need to be faced honestly and squarely. "5. The Bishops were very grateful for the way in which everyone handled this process and all present, including Gilo, hope further mediations with other survivors may prove a constructive way forward for many similar situations. We are grateful to the mediators and all present committed themselves to working on the various aspects of the agreement and ensuring positive steps were taken as a result. "6. We are releasing the letter sent to EIG, at the survivor's request (with his surname redacted). We hope that this will signal our clear intention that these difficult issues are addressed, both within the church and by our insurer. We are aware that much work needs to happen to make significant changes to our structure. We hope that the release of this letter signals that change is being taken seriously. We are aware that by so doing we are laying things on the [...]

Patients flee hospitals in Cameroon to avoid crackdown

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 06:58:48 +0000

More than 500 people have been detained in overcrowded prisons following mass arrests in English-speaking regions of Cameroon, whilst eye-witnesses have told Amnesty International that wounded protestors are abandoning hospital treatment to avoid capture. More than 500 people have been detained in overcrowded prisons following mass arrests in English-speaking regions of Cameroon, whilst eye-witnesses have told Amnesty International that wounded protestors are abandoning hospital treatment to avoid capture. Mass arrests are continuing in the regions, following protests in dozens of towns in Northwest and Southwest Cameroon on 1 October 2017, where more than 20 people were unlawfully shot dead by security forces. In a facility run by a mobile police unit in Buea, the capital of the Southwest region, detainees have been described as being "packed like sardines". Amnesty has been told by medics that dozens of wounded protestors have fled hospitals, despite the risk they will die from their injuries, for fear of arrest. Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International's Lake Chad researcher, said: "The climate of fear in the Anglophone regions could lead to even more people dying of their wounds, too scared to seek the medical treatment they so desperately need. "The security forces should put an end to the arbitrary arrest of protestors and permit that those injured are able to seek treatment without fear. "This mass arrest of protestors, most of whom were acting peacefully, is not only a violation of human rights, but is also likely to be counter-productive. The Cameroonian authorities should release anyone detained only for exercising their right to peaceful protest." Amnesty has evidence that in at least nine hospitals, people with serious injuries fled before their treatment had finished fearing arrest. A young man who was left with multiple fractures after being shot in both legs by the armed forces was taken home before he could be stabilised. According to the doctor who treated him: "He had lost more than a litre of blood. I do not know whether he is still alive, he may likely die". A medic told Amnesty that "some of our patients run away from hospital even before getting stabilised, out of fear that the police would come to arrest them", whilst another described how security forces did not allow him and other medical staff to examine the corpses to clinically confirm that they had been shot. In one case, a young man was killed just outside a hospital, shot in the back of the head by security forces whilst running away. Bullets hit the walls of the hospital and penetrated a room where a doctor and nurses were operating. Eyewitnesses have described prison overcrowding following the wave of arrests. In Buea, the prison population has soared from about 1,000 detainees before 22 September to around 1,500 today. Some of those arrested have been charged with secession, while others have been charged with not possessing identity papers, destruction of public property or failure to respect order of the governor. Some have already been brought before the courts, while others were released following the payment of bribes, with families in Buea reporting to have paid police approximately £45 per family member. The arrests have taken place in towns across the regions. Since the 1 October protests, at least 200 people have been arrested in Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest region, and the majority have been transferred to a prison in Bafoussam. In Buea, at least 300 people have been arrested, including a series of mass arbitrary arrests between 6 and 8 October. On Sunday 8 October, police arrested up to 100 people walking to a church in Buea, including church staff. Some have now been released. Security forces, including the army, have used unnec[...]

New charity aims to reduce school exclusions

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 06:09:58 +0000

A programme  has been proposed with the aim of providing excluded pupils with a high quality education and halting the rise in the number of exclusions.  As mental ill health in young people rises, and more children are subject to interaction with social care services each year, more children are being educated in the alternative provision sector for excluded pupils. A new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR )outlines a solution to reduce exclusions in England and to improve teachers’ specialism in working with the most vulnerable. The new programme proposed by IPPR would deliver the best education to these most vulnerable pupils, and feed this expertise back into the system to create transformative education for those who need it most. The programme, The Difference, is being founded to develop new expertise in the teaching profession in supporting success for the most vulnerable learners.  IPPR’s new analysis comes as the Education Secretary, Justine Greening, pledges to focus on improving standards in Alternative Provision for excluded pupils.  Edward Timpson, former Children’s Minister 2012-2017, has announced his support of the new workforce development programme proposed in The Difference. The new report finds: Each day 35 children are told to leave their school permanently.  Each of these children goes on to cost around £370,000 over their lifetime, due to poorer outcomes. The excluded children in any cohort therefore cost around £2.1 billion. The scale of the problem: It is the most vulnerable children who are likely to be excluded.  One in two has a recognised mental health need. They are four times more likely to be from the poorest families, three times more likely to be interacting with social services and ten times more likely to have a mental health problem. Only one per cent of excluded children get the five good GCSEs needed to access post-16 training and apprenticeships. Failing these children has a profound personal and social cost. The majority of the prison population is made up of children excluded when at school.  Is the problem worsening? Permanent exclusions have increased by 40 per cent in the last three years.  The majority of these students are close to sitting their GCSE exams. Children are increasingly pushed out of schools in more informal ways not captured in official statistics. The total number of pupils taught in schools for excluded children is five times higher than the number of reported exclusions. One in every 200 children is taught each year in alternative provision for excluded pupils.  Pupils in alternative provision are twice as likely to be taught by supply teachers.  The demand for leaders in the sector has doubled as the population in the sector expands. Can the situation be improved? One in three teachers have said they would consider joining a new programme committed to working with the most vulnerable and reducing exclusion in England.   The Difference is a new charity aiming to help them – by recruiting talented teachers to work in alternative provision for two years, giving them master’s level specialist training, and finding them leadership positions back in the mainstream afterwards to stem the flow of exclusion. The Difference will provide a new career pathway that will connect exceptional teachers to schools for excluded children, provide training in supporting pupils with complex needs, and create a generation of leaders equipped to drive change throughout England’s education system. By combining teaching skills with[...]

White House immigration proposals 'would cause severe harm'

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 06:06:47 +0000

Proposed changes to the US immigration system would make a broken system even worse, says Human Rights Watch, decreasing protection for child migrants and refugees.  The Trump administration’s proposals to fix the United States immigration system would make the broken system even worse, severely damaging the US capacity to offer refuge to people who desperately need protection, says Human Rights Watch.The proposed Immigration Principles and Priorities were released by the White House on 9 October 2017. The administration’s proposals would exacerbate existing failures to protect basic human rights within the US immigration system by decreasing protection for child migrants and refugees. They would also significantly increase funding for immigration agents and immigration detention, which already receive lavish levels of funding with few meaningful measures to limit serious abuses. The Human Rights Watch analysis of the administration’s immigration proposals is based on decades of research into the US immigration system. “Attorney General Sessions’ statements are demonstrably wrong and risk stoking hatred and fear against desperate people fleeing deadly dange,”, said Clara Long, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch. The Trump administration claims it needs to eliminate “loopholes” in the asylum system and to expand detention of asylum-seekers. But the fact is that border agents regularly violate US and international law by turning away people who have genuine and legitimate claims that they will be persecuted or killed if forced back to their home countries. Existing procedures for fast-track deportations, called 'expedited removal',have returned to harm people who deserve protection. Even after they reach the US, asylum seekers face an incredible array of barriers, including severe backlogs in the courts, lack of legal representation, prolonged detention in many cases, and widely inconsistent rates of granting asylum across the country. The White House’s claims about threats to public safety disregard the fact that existing law regarding immigrants with criminal convictions of any kind is incredibly harsh and overly broad, Human Rights Watch said. The reality is that the existing system routinely bars people with immediate US citizen family from gaining legal status or from returning to US family, for offences that are minor, old, or even have been expunged. Immigration courts certainly need more resources to ensure fair and unbiased resolution of immigration cases. But the White House proposal to increase the number of immigration agents and detention capacity would exacerbate ongoing abuses, including dangerously substandard detention conditions and would only increase the deportation of people without consideration of their family and other ties to the US. “The ‘fixes’ proposed by the administration would only aggravate serious deficiencies in US asylum procedures and increase the cruelty of a system that already returns asylum applicants to harm and disregards the right to family unity,” Long said. “The administration’s immigration proposals should be soundly rejected.” *Read Human Rights Watch question-and-answer analysis of the Immigration Principles and Priorities here * Human Rights Watch [Ekk/6] [...]

Letter from Children's Commissioner on children's mental health services

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 06:56:08 +0000

The Children's Commissioner says NHS Chief Executive has sought to "denigrate research, undermine evidence, and ignore the reality of children’s experiences". On 12 October 2017, Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner for England, wrote the following letter to Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England. It was subsequently published on the Commissioner's website. "Over the last year, the issue most often raised with me has been children’s mental health, and it was the top of the list in my consultation with children about my priorities for this year. Many told me about their desperate attempts, sometimes lasting years, to access support, and even primary school children raised concerns about anxiety. I also hear from parents, teachers and carers about their repeated frustrations when trying to get help for children who need it. We also know that most adult mental health problems start in childhood and that without treatment children’s problems are likely to get worse. "On the eve of World Mental Health Day this week, I sent a briefing to MPs on the provision of treatment of children with mental health issues in England. The briefing was prepared using the NHS’s own data.  My conclusion on reading, checking and rechecking was that the service that exists at the moment is worryingly poor, a conclusion I stand by. "I was very disappointed that NHS England’s response to our report, and your own personal response in front of the Commons Health Select Committee was to attempt to denigrate the research. Not once did you address the central issues raised. Instead, you and your team sought to undermine the important evidence that we are putting forward and strangely ignore the reality of children’s experiences of the service and the frustrations of their parents. "You and your Communications team have claimed the briefing contained 'basic errors and omissions', and suggested we had not 'bothered to check' our report and said that NHSE had not seen the briefing prior to publication. None of these statements are true. We strongly dispute both the language, the implications contained, and further, I think it was an inappropriate response in respect of the children on whose behalf we issued the briefing. "In fact, as your staff will confirm, before writing our briefing we exchanged numerous emails with NHSE and NHS Digital. We also held a meeting with a very senior NHS official prior to publication, where these issues were raised. NHSE were given a draft copy on Friday, 72 hours ahead of publication. We even made changes to our final briefing following emails from NHSE over the weekend, so there were not in fact, any omissions. Since all three suggestions: that we hadn’t checked, that NHSE hadn’t seen the briefing prior to publication, and that it contained errors and omissions were repeated by you to MPs in the Health Select Committee on Tuesday this letter is being sent to the members of that Committee. My office is entitled to carry out its own independent research independent of Government and answerable to Parliament and I am under no duty or obligation to share my work in advance, yet we did so, out of courtesy. "In response to your comments, we included points your policy team raised about the treatment of eating disorders and that 21,000 more children were being treated overall. Whilst welcome, these developments do not at all annul our wider concerns. We also quickly and prior to publication corrected a typographical mistake in a section heading in the draft sent to your team, who then claimed it demonstrated we had confused the funding model and by implication that there was a fundamental misunderstanding on our part of th[...]

Hundreds of thousands of civilians who fled Mosul still vulnerable, says UN

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 18:54:58 +0000

One year since the start of the military campaign to retake Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) terrorist group, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator said hundreds of thousands of people are vulnerable and in need of assistance.. One year since the start of the military campaign to retake Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) terrorist group, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator said hundreds of thousands of people are vulnerable and in need of assistance. “The number of people who fled exceeded even our worst-case projections,” Lise Grande, Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq said.. “We feared that as many as 700,000 civilians might flee. The actual number was far, far higher.” Iraqi Security Forces evacuated one million civilians in one of the largest managed evacuations in recent history, she explained. During the nine-month battle, 673,000 Muslawis are still displaced from their homes; 274,000 are living in 18 camps and emergency sites surrounding the city; and 400,000 are staying with family, friends or in rented accommodation, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). “Ensuring that people can return voluntarily and safely to their homes is a collective responsibility,” said Ms Grande. Of the one million civilians who fled the city, 327,000 have returned to their homes; 184,000 to eastern Mosul and 143,000 to western Mosul. “Eastern and western Mosul couldn't be more different,” Ms Grande continued. "Ninety-seven per cent of the population has returned to their homes in eastern Mosul. People are rebuilding their lives there. Children are in school, services are being re-established and businesses are open,” she said. “Conditions in western Mosul are very difficult. Large parts of the city are destroyed and have not yet been green-lighted for returns. Families are worried about booby-traps, security and services”, added the humanitarian coordinator. Government ministries and departments have worked for months to provide direct assistance to families fleeing the city. Humanitarian partners have reached two million civilians, including thousands of families who stayed in their homes. More than 3.3 million emergency boxes with food, water and hygiene items have been distributed by partners and a quarter of a million highly traumatised women, girls, boys and men have received psycho-social support. Additionally, two million people have benefitted from water and sanitation services; over 1.5 million have received health care; and 20,000 people with trauma injuries have been stabilised at or near the frontline before being transferred to nearby hospitals for emergency treatment. “Even now, three months after the fighting has stopped, humanitarians are providing assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people who are still displaced and to the hundreds of thousands who stayed in their homes or who have gone back to them”, Ms. Grande explained. Meanwhile, the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan is only 57 per cent funded. “We want the emergency to be over, but as long as highly vulnerable people need our help, we will be here,” concluded Ms Grande. * United Nations [Ekk/4] [...]

Proposal for Universal Basic Services

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 06:49:48 +0000

Universal Basic Services, including free housing, bus travel and IT, are proposed as a more affordable alternative to a Citizens Income. The UK should provide citizens with free housing, food, transport and IT to counter the threat  of worsening inequality and job insecurity posed by technological advances, a report launched by the Insitute for Global Prosperity recommends. The proposal for ‘Universal Basic Services’ represents an affordable alternative to a so-called ‘citizens’ income’ advocated by some economists, according to the expert authors working for UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity. Building on the ethos that saw the establishment of the NHS and public education – that essential services should be free at the point of need – the plan would 'raise the floor' of basic services all citizens can expect, providing better protection for workers in the face of rapid advances in technology and automation. Outlining the research, Professor Henrietta Moore, Director of the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity, said: “If we are to increase cohesion, the sense that we are ‘all in it together’, we must act where we can have the greatest impact and that is on the cost of basic living.” The recommendations include a massive expansion of social housing, free bus travel, meal provision for those most at risk of food insecurity and basic phone and internet access. The total cost of £42 billion – representing just 2.3 per cent of UK GDP – could be fully funded through changes to the Personal Allowance, making the proposal fiscally neutral. The services themselves might be provided publicly, by private companies, or by the voluntary sector and would need to be democratically accountable locally to prevent state monopolies. Those in the lowest income decile would benefit the most – saving the equivalent of £126 per week in costs as a 'social wage' if they accessed all the Basic Services. A 'social wage' is the value of a public service to an individual citizen, expressed as replacement for financial income. Critically, the report demonstrates clearly that UBS would be a far more affordable response to the changing nature of the labour market than a ‘citizens’ income’, also known as Universal Basic Income (UBI). A UBI paid to all UK citizens at the current modest Jobseekers Allowance level of £73.10 per week would cost just under £250 billion per year – around 13 per cent of total GDP, or 31 per cent of all current UK public spending. By contrast, the transformative effects of UBS are accessible with relatively minor changes to the fiscal structure of the UK economy: additional UBS spending represents only five per cent of existing budgets. Most plans for basic income include keeping the existing public services in place, and distributing cash in addition to the cost of services. Focusing on more comprehensive provision of services rather than giving cash handouts also means there remains a strong incentive on citizens to work. Professor Moore and the report’s co-authors – Professor Jonathan Portes of King’s College London, Andrew Percy of the IGP and Howard Reed, director of the economic research consultancy Landman Economics – add that an important aspect of UBS would be the opportunity it could give to rejuvenate local democracy and local involvement in the design, financing and delivery of local services. And they also suggest that UBS could be complementary to a modest basic income. One recent report by McKinsey estimated that almost half (49 per cent) of the activities people are paid almost $16 trillion in wages to do in the global economy ha[...]

Low-income households increasingly exposed to rent increases, says IFS

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 06:28:44 +0000

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says reforms in the pipeline mean that if rents continue to rise, support for housing costs will fall further and further behind the cost of housing. The rented sector is growing. The proportion of people in Great Britain living in private rented accommodation has more than doubled, from eight per cent in the mid 1990s to 19 per cent in the mid 2010s, while among 25- to 34-year-olds, this proportion has trebled from 12 per cent to 37 per cent. Over the same period, average private rents have risen by 33 per cent in real terms. In recent years, low-income tenants have also been affected by substantial cuts to housing benefit (HB), which are currently saving the exchequer around £3 billion per year. The net result is that paying rent now uses up an average of 28 per cent of the (non-HB) income of low-income private renters (defined as those in the bottom 40 per cent of the income distribution in their region). This is up from 21 per cent in the mid 1990s. Reforms in the pipeline mean that, if rents continue to rise, support for housing costs will fall further and further behind the cost of housing. These are among the conclusions from new analysis published today by IFS and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Other key findings on the cost of renting include: Renters are paying considerably more for their homes than 20 years ago. In real terms, the median private rent paid in London was 53 per cent higher in the mid 2010s than in the mid 1990s, while in the rest of the country it was 29 per cent higher. Those rises mainly occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s (in London) or the early and mid 2000s (elsewhere). Meanwhile, social housing rents have been consistently growing in real terms since the mid 1990s. London renters spend more of their income on rent than those elsewhere and this differential has increased recently. In 2013?2015, the average share of net household income spent on rent among private renters was 40 per cent in London and 28 per cent in the rest of Great Britain. This represented a 5ppt increase in London since 2006?2008, but no change elsewhere. This is because the incomes of private renters in London fell sharply during the recession while flatlining in other parts of the country. Tenants on lower incomes tend to spend greater fractions of their income on rent, even after accounting for the support they receive through HB. For example, the lowest-income fifth spend an average of 35 per cent of their (non-HB) income to pay the part of rent not covered by HB, compared with 19 per cent for the highest-income fifth. Around 1.9 million privately renting households (containing 4.8 million people) are entitled to less HB than they would have been without reforms introduced since 2011, by an average of £24 per household per week. Reforms have also cut the entitlements of 600,000 social-renting households (containing 1.3 million people) by an average of £19 per household per week. The reforms have so far: Cut the HB entitlement of two-thirds of low-income private renters and one-sixth of low-income social renters. Increased the number of low-income renters facing a shortfall between rent and HB entitlement by 200,000 households in the private sector (containing 600,000 people, or 12 per cent of low-income private renters) and by 300,000 households in social housing (containing 700,000 people, or 10 per cent of low-income social renters). HB entitlements are forecast to fall further behind rents in the coming years. For private tenants, this is because the locally varying caps on HB awards are no longer updated acc[...]

Nobel Peace Laureate condemns President Trump's Iran decision

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 18:32:18 +0000

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has condemned President Trump's announcement on the Iran nuclear deal.

The 2017 Nobel Peace Laureate, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has released the following statement:

"Today, US President Donald Trump announced his intention to withhold certification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

"As the 2017 Nobel Peace Laureate, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons strongly criticises this decision.

"The JCPOA is a demonstration of how well diplomacy can work. It is an example of the power of multilateral approaches to nuclear weapons that, by necessity involve a range of actors, including those who do not have nuclear weapons.

"The JCPOA, like the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, reflects the urgent global imperative to eliminate nuclear weapons and the grave threat they pose. President Trump’s attempt to disrupt the Iran deal, despite the fact that the IAEA has repeatedly certified that Iran is complying with its terms, is a jarring reminder of the immense nuclear danger now facing the world and the urgent need to eliminate these weapons.

"The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons offers a pathway towards eliminating this existential threat to humanity.  It is supported by more than two-thirds of all UN Member States. The treaty is a response to the ever-deepening concern of the international community that any use of nuclear weapons would inflict catastrophic, widespread and long-lasting harm on people and our living planet.

"The treaty strengthens nuclear nonproliferation by establishing an explicit norm, based on international humanitarian law, that nuclear weapons are an illegitimate means for seeking security, regardless of who possesses them. It recognises that there are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ nuclear weapons; in the words of Ban Ki-moon there are no right hands for the wrong weapons. President Trump’s rejection of the JCPOA is an incitement to proliferation, makes achieving further agreements to rein in the nuclear threat more difficult,and increases global risk.

"This is a time of great global tension, when fiery rhetoric could all too easily lead us, inexorably, to unspeakable horror. The spectre of nuclear conflict looms large once more. If ever there were a moment for nations to declare their unequivocal opposition to nuclear weapons, that moment is now. All states should sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a responsible action that supports nuclear disarmament and strengthens nuclear non proliferation."