One of today’s main headlines in the mainstream press is that David Cameron is proposing a new law to jail ‘professionals’ who ignore evidence of child abuse. Under his proposals, social workers, teachers, local councillors, and others involved in children’s social care could face up to five years in prison.
In a statement to be made to Parliament today, Cameron will say“I’m sending an unequivocal message that professionals who fail to protect children will be held properly accountable and council bosses who preside over such catastrophic failure will not see rewards for that failure. Offenders must no longer be able to use the system to hide their despicable activities.”
Cameron’s proposal comes in the aftermath of the latest scandal concerning the abuse of young children by a gang in Oxfordshire where more than 300 boys and girls have been trafficked for sex in the last 15 years.
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A voting switch-over has hit university cities like Newcastle the hardest – with 18,500 people now missing from the electoral register in Tyneside.
Newcastle is among the worst-hit of the English core cities after a change in voter registration came into effect in the summer.
New figures show that thousands of people, including many students, failed to register when sent a letter in the post explaining that they now need to register individually, rather than through the traditional ‘head of the household’.
Plans for the change to Individual Voter Registration were brought in by the Labour government and taken up by the coalition Government.
Now city councillors are attempting to get voters back on the register, and are asking people to make sure they’ve signed up so they can play their part when the election comes round in May 2015.
Among the most affected wards are those popular with students, like the Ouseburn ward, which lost 4,673 voters. The Westgate and Wingrove wards also lost over 1000 voters each.
Stephen Powers, Ouseburn ward councillor and deputy cabinet member for Community Safety and Regulation, said:
“It’s had a massive impact on some of our cities in terms of the number of people that have gone from the old register.
“The way the system worked is that you would have had the head of the household and they could have filled out the form for everybody and now under the new system each person has to do it themselves and supply their national insurance number.
“The big group that we’ve lost is students in halls of residence as the university used to act as the head of the household.”
In some wards of university town Oxford, up to 60% of its previously registered student population has disappeared from the new list.
Coun. Powers said that Newcastle City Council has been given a fund to try and increase voter registration, but that councillors will have to work at full capacity to try and get the message across the university students.
He said: “It’s going to be an uphill battle to reach that many people.”
The council intend on sending a notification letter to all households in February next year.
This will give an early opportunity for anyone not registered to apply in time for the May elections. It is also simple to register to vote online. Go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 Dec 2014
Campaigners have pointed out that rail tickets near the Prime Minister’s own constituency are cheaper that those in the North-East.
Teesside passenger group Coastliners spoke out after David Cameron said the region’s decrepit Pacer trains would be replaced – but fares would have to rise to pay for the new rolling stock.
It was revealed on Friday that the Prime Minister had declared that “those trains are going” when asked about the unpopular Pacers, which run on Northern Rail lines across the North of England.
Mr Cameron rejected his own Government’s suggestion that the 30-year-old carriages could be modernised rather than replaced.
Instead, bidders for the Northern franchise will be asked to draw up plans to replace the trains.
But the Prime Minister said fares must rise to pay for the upgrades when the new contracts start in 2016.
However, research by Coastliners, which represents rail passengers on the Durham coast, suggests it is a myth that North-East fares are cheaper than those elsewhere in the country.
Coastliners’ Peter Walker said:
“Don’t forget that Campaign for Better Transport‘s London-based staff have admitted that we in the North pay as much as if not more than those living further South.”
“Oxford to Tackley, nearly in Mr Cameron’s constituency, is nine miles, and the day return is £3.50, or £3.40 single.
“If the fares level decides what type of rolling stock is provided, his argument implies that Pacers should serve Tackley and Class 166 diesels should be sent to our coast line forthwith.”
Mr Walker pointed out savings to users of the Oyster card meant that many London journeys of similar length similar to, or greater than, those on the coast line were far cheaper :
“London to East Croydon, some 13 miles, works out at £3 single for an Oyster-card holder.”
Mr Walker also questioned the Prime Minister’s claim that Northern Rail fares were the most heavily subsidised in the country.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Nov 2014
MP Debbie Abrahams has revealed that Oxford academics will report next month on what has happened to half a million jobseekers allowance (JSA) claimants who were sanctioned and subsequently disappeared from official employment statistics.
The Oxford University study led by Professor David Stuckler and Dr. Rachel Loopstra, is in the process of analysing what has happened to the 4.5 million people who have been sanctioned under the Coalition government’s sanctioning regime.
Their research will be published in full later this month for full peer review. According to Abrahams:
“Since the government’s regulations came into effect in October 2012 about half of all sanction decisions have led to people on JSA having their social security payments cut for a least 4 weeks, affecting over 2 million people.
“Of those sanctioned, one in four leave JSA, and their preliminary statistical analysis is revealing that most of those who leave do so for reasons other than employment.”
The research suggests more than 500,000 Job Seekers Allowance claimants have ‘disappeared’ since the sanctions regime was toughened in October 2012.
This could mean the claimant count – one of the ways of measuring unemployment – is actually 20,000 to 30,000 higher each month than government figures.
This suggests that, in August 2014, the claimant count could have hit one million instead of being at 970,000.
“Sanctions are being applied unfairly to job-seekers as well as the sick and disabled. And we shouldn’t forget that most people on social security are actually in work but are struggling to make ends meet.
“I’ve always maintained that the real reason the government is doing this is to get them off the JSA claimant figures, so it looks like there are fewer people who are unemployed.
It directly contradicts the government’s current claims about these people coming off JSA because they’ve gone into work.
“Iain Duncan Smith will try and say these statistics are unreliable but the fact is these are the DWP’s own statistics so they can’t wriggle out of it using that excuse!”
Stuckler and Loopstra, who have analysed data from 375 local authority areas have said they are ‘shocked’ by what they have found so far.
Talking about his research findings Professor Stuckler said: “The data clearly show that many people are not leaving JSA for work but appear to be being pushed off in unprecedented numbers in association with sanctions.”
> Well, it’s nice that academics and politicians are finally catching up with what the rest of us already knew… question now is, what are they going to do with their new-found knowledge ?
Source – Benefits & Work, 07 Nov 2014
Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman Mike McGrother wrote this to Love Productions.
As revealed yesterday, Love Productions is currently filming the second series of the controversial Channel Four show in Kingston Road on the Tilery Estate in Stockton.
Middlesbrough Evening Gazette published a detailed interview with the company in which one of its directors explained why Teesside had been chosen for the second series.
And that prompted proud Stocktonian Mike – who had previously contacted the Daily Mail over its coverage of the town – to write this open letter to Love Productions.
“I understand you have decided to come to our town and make a television series about it.
“As far as I can see, your justification comprises of:
“1. There are unemployed people there;
“2. You will be giving them ‘a voice’.
“I find your statement ‘In Stockton and the Kingston Road area there are a large number of people on benefits’ at best lazy and at worst, unscientific.
“If this is the level of research Love Productions proudly use to back up their choices, the academics of Oxford, Cambridge and the world must be quaking in their boots!
“I then note you want to ‘give a voice to a community that don’t really have a voice.’
“How wonderfully philanthropic and not in the least bit patronising of you.
“But you see, the thing is, we Stocktonians already have a timeless voice we are deeply proud of.
“It could be heard consistently during the summer through our massive carnival, in festivals, sunflower commemorations and in our schools, workplaces and community hubs.
“If you would like to truly give us a voice, then why did your production crews not film these and choose to work so secretively?
“Why have you not consulted properly with local support services and – if and when you did talk to them – ignore what they advised?
“Why do you preach fair representation but then exclude the majority of residents?
“Do you really doubt our integrity so much to think we believe that television editing can provide a fair, honest and truthfully representative platform from which people can be heard?
“And so while we can’t stop your ironically named ‘Love Productions’ team coming to Stockton, what I – and more people than you may wish to think about – can also not be stopped from is making our own ‘productions‘ whilst you try to film.
“If we disrupt your lives over the coming months, think about how you are disrupting ours.
“Don’t expect demonstrations, conflict or confrontation.
“But do expect to witness a community that already has an identity, a spirit and a very much bigger voice than you perhaps anticipated – to be heard, to be seen and to shine.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 27 Aug 2014
Every MP should go through a criminal check to ensure they are fit to work with children, the Commons has been told.
North East MP Helen Goodman called for MPs to go through the same sorts of checks as teachers or youth workers.
She was speaking as Home Secretary Theresa May announced two inquiries into historic claims of child abuse.
Mrs May said Government would set up an independent inquiry panel of experts in the law and child protection to consider whether public bodies have done enough to protect children from sexual abuse.
She said: “In recent years, we have seen appalling cases of organised and persistent child sex abuse. This includes abuse by celebrities like Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, as well as the systematic abuse of vulnerable girls in Derby, Rochdale, Oxford and other towns and cities. Some of these cases have exposed a failure by public bodies to take their duty of care seriously and some have shown that the organisations responsible for protecting children from abuse – including the police, social services and schools – have failed to work together properly.”
She added: “The Government will establish an independent inquiry panel of experts in the law and child protection to consider whether public bodies – and other non-state institutions – have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.”
The inquiry would be a non-statutory panel inquiry, similar to the Hillsbrough inquiry which reported back in 2012.
At the same time, Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, will lead a review into information provided to the Home Office about child abuse allegations.
It will look at claims that the Home Office failed to act on allegations of abuse provided to the department by the late Geoffrey Dickens, who was an MP from 1979 to 1995.
Speaking in the Commons, Mrs Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, said MPs often worked with children and should undergo Criminal Records Bureau checks, known as CRB or DBS checks, to ensure they are not a threat.
She said: “In the course of doing constituency case work, every member of this house will come across vulnerable adults and children. Does the Home Secretary agree with me that Members of Parliament and caseworkers should undergo CRB checks?
“We’ve legislated for this for everybody else in similar positions of responsibilty. Isn’t it time that we did so in this House too?”
Mrs May said this was an issue the inquiry could consider.
North West Durham MP Pat Glass asked for assurances that the inquiry would be able to look at files held by the police or security services.
The announcement in the House of Commons came after Prime Minister David Cameron promised to leave “no stone unturned” in seeking the truth about widespread allegations of a paedophile ring with links to the establishment in the 1980s.
A series of allegations have emerged that Rochdale Liberal MP Cyril Smith, who died in 2010, abused vulnerable children.
An inquiry last month reported horrific abuse by television celebrity Jimmy Savile at Leeds General Infirmary and London hospital Broadmoor.
The Government’s inquiry could be converted into a full public inquiry if its chairman feels it is necessary.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 07 July 2014
By Jenny Howarth
Her Majesty the Queen has delivered the final speech at the opening of parliament before next year’s general election. A speech that Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described as ‘bold’.
In a joint statement issued alongside the Queen’s speech, the prime minister and his deputy said: [The coalition was] “still taking bold steps” [to] “take Britain forward to a brighter future”, adding:
Among the measures announced in the speech were:
- A bill implementing reforms to annuities announced in March’s Budget. In future, people will not be required to buy an annuity with their pension savings and will be able to draw their retirement income in one go if they choose
- A separate bill to allow employees to pay into collective pension funds shared with other workers, a move it is hoped will cut costs and encourage saving
- A new state-funded childcare subsidy worth up to £2,000 a year, replacing the existing employer-funded scheme
- A Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism bill offering extra legal protection for people being sued for negligence or breach of duty if they acted heroically or in the public interest
- Curbs on “excessive redundancy payments” for highly-paid public servants
- Tougher penalties for employers who fail to pay the minimum wage and a crackdown on the abuse of zero hours contracts
- Plans for a 5p charge for plastic bags in England as announced at last year’s Lib Dem conference
- Reforms to speed up infrastructure projects, including new freedoms for the Highways Agency and allowing fracking firms to run shale gas pipelines on private land without getting prior permission
- New criminal sentences for those assisting organised crime syndicates, tougher sentence for cyber criminals and tougher powers to seize the assets of crime bosses – and making the possession of written paedophilia a criminal offence
- A modern-day slavery bill with tougher penalties for human trafficking
- Help for pub landlords including a statutory code and a body to adjudicate disputes
- Giving voters the power to trigger by-elections where MPs have committed serious wrong-doing
With polls showing a Labour Party average lead of 6.6%, the speech, written for the Queen by her government highlights how out of touch and removed from reality the coalition government is. With Labour sources for the BBC saying it was “staggering” that the NHS and immigration were not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech.
You would assume that David Cameron would have ensured that this final speech would have contained elements to woo voters. But sadly, it has failed, just as Cameron and his coalition government has failed the people of Britain and here is why:
National Health Service (NHS)
This week in a letter to The Guardian, top health officials including Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, and the chairs or chief executives of acute hospital trusts in London, Nottingham, Teeside, Kent, Sheffield, Oxford and elsewhere, warned that the NHS “is at the most challenged time of its existence.”
In a separate article, Rob Webster, speaking to The Telegraph, warned, that if “significant changes” were not made and the “decline” was to continue that:
- Hospital patients would be forced to pay for their meals, bed and even for patient transport.
- Swathes of the country would be left without a GP, because family doctors refuse to work in areas where they cannot keep up with demand.
- Accident & Emergency departments would be increasingly shutting their doors without warning, because they are unable to cope.
- Hospitals would go bust overnight because bills cannot be paid.
- There would be Longer waits for surgery, and increasing numbers of cancelled operations.
With the NHS so critical, it is something that should have been addressed in today’s speech but it would appear that Cameron and his Health Secretary are more determined than ever to place the NHS in private hands.
Work and Pension Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s (IDS) welfare reforms have been an unmitigated disaster.
His flagship Universal Credit Scheme has been beset with problems, with The Guardian reporting in May this year that The Major Projects Authority (MPA) – responsible for grading its implementation – has said that it has undergone so many fundamental changes that it is “reset” (gone back to drawing board).
In addition, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures, also released in May showed that over half a million ESA claimants are still waiting for the results of their assessment.
Then there is the hated Spare-room subsidy (bedroom tax). In a survey of 183 housing associations (HA), conducted by IPSOS Mori on behalf of the National Housing Federation in February this year, it was found that:
- One in seven of those hit by the bedroom tax has now had a notice of seeking possession issued to them.
- 66% of HA residents hit by the bedroom tax are in rent arrears
- More than a third (38%) reported to be in debt because they were unable to pay the bedroom tax
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation said:
“If these notices of seeking possession turn into evictions it will be the direct responsibility of those who introduced a measure which is economically incoherent, socially divisive, disruptive of family life and causing real damage to real people. It really can’t be allowed to go on.”
The failure to address welfare reform in today’s speech would indicate that if the Conservatives were to win next year’s election then it is likely it will go on, inflicting more misery to more families.
It is clear, that Cameron is not listening. The recent local and European elections proved that the people of Britain are not happy. Ed Miliband, picked up on this by saying ahead of today’s speech:
“The local and European elections show the depths of discontent with the direction of our country which people increasingly feel does not work for them.
“We need action, we need answers, we need a programme for government equal to the scale of the challenge our country faces.
“We would have a Queen’s Speech with legislation which would make work pay, reform our banks, freeze energy bills and build homes again in Britain. “A Queen’s Speech which signals a new direction for Britain, not one which offers more of the same.”
So what would be in Labour’s first Queen’s speech if they were to win next year?
Mark Ferguson, writing for Labour List, has put together what he thinks would be in it, based on Labours plans so far:
A first year priority, that would mean breaking up banks to create competition in the banking sector – and reforms intended to boost lending and support small businesses.
Make Work Pay bill
Mark Ferguson acknowledges that this one still needs some detail adding to it, which he believes we should get in the months ahead. In short, this bill would see Labour legislating for a higher minimum wage (maybe even a statutory living wage?) and legislating on zero-hours contracts.
Currently Labour is talking about building 200,000 homes a year by 2020. For Mark Ferguson, that’s a little slow, believing that Labour should be aiming to build a million homes over the next parliament with the expectation for Miliband to upgrade Labour’s offer on housing before the election.
However, it is already pretty substantial, and this bill would act on land banks, legislate for new garden cities, crack down on fees for private sector tenants and provide more stable and secure long-term rents for those in the private rented sector.
Nicknamed, the “taking back the high street” bill. This would give communities a say on payday lenders and betting shops on their high streets – thus reducing their volume and growth.
Angela Eagle has stated that Labour would legislate on immigration. Such a bill would seek to stop workers being undercut and ban recruitment agencies from only recruiting from overseas.
A new Scotland bill
This would enshrine the recommendations of Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission, introducing a form of “Devo-Max” – obviously this is in the event of a No vote in this year’s referendum.
Or perhaps more accurately, the energy prices bill. Labour’s big energy price freeze pledge would be enacted in the first Queen’s Speech
Outlawing discrimination against armed forces bill
This would put discrimination against members of the armed forces on the same footing as other forms of discrimination.
Mark Ferguson, goes onto state the other priorities for Labour in the first year of the next parliament that don’t necessarily need primary legislation, but which would be mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. These include:
- The jobs guarantee,
- The return of the 50p Tax rate
- The abolition of the Bedroom Tax.
Unlike Cameron and his Conservative Party, it is evident, although some may disagree, that Ed Miliband has thought through what the people of Britain need.
> More likely the thinks its the sort of thing people might vote for at this moment in time. Unfortunately, an increasing number of people believe that should Labour win the next election, it’d actually just be a case of neo-liberal policies as usual.
And In case you’re wondering where the NHS fits in, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has said today that it would be a “joyous moment, when next year, Her Majesty the Queen says: “My Government will repeal the Health & Social Care Act 2012″. Assuming of course that there will be a Labour victory.
With 336 days to go to the general election, the stakes have never been higher. David Cameron has to start listening to the people of Britain, has to axe the bedroom tax, has to curb welfare reform and stop privatizing the NHS. Failure to do so will mean he will be out of a job – not only as prime minister but also as leader of the Conservatives.
Source – Welfare News Service, 04 June 2014
A refreshing change seems to be sweeping through local news media here in the UK, with stories starting to appear about people who are fighting unjust behaviour by the government.
The rest of us should support this.
For example: Workington woman Jeanette Johnston, 29, had a job until recently but has been forced to give it up due to congenital health problems which mean she has already had a kidney removed and will need a heart and lung transplant in the future.
She had been receiving Disability Living Allowance but this was stopped last August after aids including bed ladders were fitted at her home, following recommendations from an occupational health expert.
DWP advisors told her that the benefits would stop until she was reassessed for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – and she has now spent half a year waiting for that appointment.
Jeanette’s tale raises several questions. Why does…
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It’s the sort of headline you could take in several contrary ways…
The Lost Generation: Conservatives say their plan is working
… but in this case its a mission statement from Rebecca Harris, the Conservative party vice chairman for young people’s issues, so we may suspect it’s not humour or irony….
Even before Labour’s great recession hit in 2008 things were tough for young people. During the 13 years of Labour Government half a million people lost their jobs and youth unemployment rose by 45%. It’s a longstanding problem.
This isn’t good enough.
> You noticed ?
Jobs really do matter. Giving people the feeling of a wage in their pocket every month is the best way to help people plan for a secure future.
> Really ?
That’s why we have a long term plan to get the economy of Britain, and the North East, working again.
> Long term = “we may get around to the North East eventually. Say, 2050 ? But you’ll have to vote Tory first, of course.”
We are creating more jobs by backing small business and enterprise with better infrastructure and lower jobs taxes. Already there are 13,000 more businesses in the North East than there were three years ago.
> Yeah ? But what are they ? One-person self-employed start-ups ? What’s more noticable is that are far more empty shops, offices and factory units than there were three years ago.
We’ve cut Labour’s jobs taxes to make it easier for those businesses to create jobs.
> And added a whole raft of new problems to make creating jobs look like too much hassle… and that’s before Universal Credit lurches onto the scene (if its wheels dont fall off first…)
That means more jobs for young people, as well as greater prosperity for the entire region.
> Why does it mean that ? Proof ?
Once young people find work they now get to keep more of their income as well. By raising the level at which people start to pay income tax we’ve taken 2.4m of the lowest earners out of tax altogether.
> No-ne is ever “out of tax” – there’s VAT for a start. And you’ve made them accountable for Council Tax and, in some cases, the Bedroom Tax too. Give with one hand, grab back with the other.
Ed Miliband used to claim that a million jobs would be lost under this Government – but in fact the private sector has created 1.6m new jobs. Our plan is working.
We’re also making reforms to schooling to increase young people’s skills. Under Labour, rampant grade inflation meant their GCSEs and A Levels did little to help them get a job.
> More GCSEs and A Levels do not equal an increase in skills. They don’t create jobs either.
We’re reforming exams so that young people gain an education that is actually worth something to employers.
> Er, dont you mean: “so that young people gain an education that is actually worth something to them“ ? No, you really dont, do you ?
At the same time we’ve created 1.5m new apprenticeships so that people can learn while they work.
By giving young people decent skills we can help them get jobs, and get jobs that pay well. It’s a long term plan for the future.
> A very, very long term plan. About 2050 ?
The signs are encouraging. There are 7,500 more young people off Job Seekers Allowance in the North East than a year ago. We’re committed to getting even more get off benefits and on to that important first step of adult life.
> Off JSA does not necesserily equal someone getting a job, as we all know too well.
The economic damage Labour did to the economy caused unforgivable harm to the life chances of young people. Even now they offer only short term gimmicks that would do more harm than good. Young people deserve better than that.
> Maybe if that old hag Thatcher hadn’t… oh, I see – you’re revising history here, it was Labour who killed off what was left of industry. Nothing to do with Thatcher at all.
Our long term economic plan is working and young people are working for a secure future once again. Let’s stick to the plan.
> I could suggest somewhere you might stick it…
Interestingly, the original article was illustrated with a photo of Smilin’ Dave Camoron getting down with a couple of apprentices in a factory… in, er, Oxford. Probably as far north as a Tory likes to go…
Source – Newcastle Journal 01 Feb 2014