With the General Election just weeks away, editors are being hit by a snowstorm of press releases from eager candidates.
Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, UKIP, Green – you name it – they’re all falling over themselves for publicity.
Anyway, there I was, checking my emails over egg and chips on Sunday evening, when a message dropped into my in-box from Scott Wood, the Conservative candidate for Sedgefield.
It gives an illuminating insight into the way political parties work and shows how careful candidates have to be in this era of instantaneous new technology.
“Peter, May I get the attached published please,” said Mr Wood’s email. “Great news on investment on our school infrastructure. Sincerely, Scott Wood, Sedgefield Parliamentary Candidate.”
I clicked on the attachment and up popped an identikit Conservative Party template, carefully designed to help candidates personalise a press release and make voters think they’re on the ball. The press release – about schools which had received funding for building improvements – is interspersed with brackets, telling candidates in eye-catching red ink, where to insert their name and constituency.
Well, in Mr Wood’s case, he managed to send me the template without filling in any of the blanks (see the picture). I suspect he thought he’d filled in the blanks but failed to save the changes properly and ended up sending me the Conservative Party foolproof guide to writing a press release.
OK, these things happen and I have no doubt that all the parties send their candidates templated press releases to fill in and send to local papers. And before the accusations of political bias begin to fly, I’d have felt the need to make it public if the election game of Blankety Blank had been failed by a Labour or Lib Dem candidate.
Like me, you might think it exposes a rather cynical view of modern politics, where spin doctors dictate communications, rather than expecting local candidates to be able to think for themselves.
Source – Northern Echo, 30 Mar 2015
Oxfam Press Release: Big rise in UK food poverty sees 20m meals given out in last year
Food banks and food aid charities gave more than 20 million meals last year to people in the UK who could not afford to feed themselves – a 54 per cent increase on the previous 12 months, according to a report published today by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust.
Below the Breadline warns that there has been a rise in people turning to food banks in affluent areas. Cheltenham, Welwyn Garden City and North Lakes have seen numbers of users double and in some cases treble. The massive rise in meals handed out by food banks and food aid charities is a damning indictment of an increasingly unequal Britain where five families have the same wealth as the poorest 20 per cent of the population.
The report details how a perfect storm of changes to the social security system, benefit sanctions, low and stagnant wages, insecure and zero-hours contracts and rising food and energy prices are all contributing to the increasing numbers of meals handed out by food banks and other charities. Food prices have increased by 43.5 per cent in the past 8 years. During the same time the poorest 20 per cent have seen their disposable income fall by £936 a year.
Mark Goldring, Oxfam Chief Executive, said: “Food banks provide invaluable support for families on the breadline but the fact they are needed in 21st Century Britain is a stain on our national conscience. Why is the Government not looking into this?
“We truly are living through a tale of two Britains; while those at the top of the tree may be benefiting from the green shoots of economic recovery, life on the ground for the poorest is getting tougher.
“At a time when politicians tell us that the economy is recovering, poor people are struggling to cope with a perfect storm of stagnating wages, insecure work and rising food and fuel prices. The Government needs to do more to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable aren’t left behind by the economic recovery.”
Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty said: “Protecting its people from going hungry is one of the most fundamental duties of Government. Most of us assume that when we fall on hard times, the social security safety net will kick in, and prevent us falling into destitution and hunger. We want all political parties to commit to re-instating the safety net principle as a core purpose of the social security system, and draw up proposals to ensure that no one in the UK should go hungry.”
Chris Mould, Chairman of The Trussell Trust said: “Trussell Trust food banks alone gave three days’ food to over 300,000 children last year. Below the Breadline reminds us that Trussell Trust figures are just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty, which is a national disgrace.
“The troubling reality is that there are also thousands more people struggling with food poverty who have no access to food aid, or are too ashamed to seek help, as well as a large number of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.
“Trussell Trust food banks are seeing parents skipping meals to feed their children and significant repercussions of food poverty on physical and mental health. Unless there is determined policy action to ensure that the benefits of national economic recovery reach people on low-incomes we won’t see life get better for the poorest anytime soon.”
The report will feature on tonight’s Dispatches, to be broadcast at 7.30pm on Channel 4. The documentary, Breadline Kids, will follow three families in their daily lives as they struggle to feed themselves.
In total, Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty estimate that the three main food aid providers – Trussell Trust, Fareshare and Food Cycle – gave out over 20m meals in 2013-4, up from around 13m, a year earlier. The Trussell Trust, the only robust source of statistics showing how many people actually visit food banks, reported in April that 913,138 people were given three days’ emergency food between April 2013 and March 2014 – the equivalent of over 8 million meals.
Benefit sanctions is one of the major factors contributing to the increase in food bank usage. Since the new sanctions policy was implemented in October 2012, over 1 million sanctions have been applied.
A recent report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended that “DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by benefit sanctions (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmworpen/479/479.pdf; p.29)
Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust are calling on the Government to urgently draw up an action plan to reverse the rising tide of food poverty and to collect evidence to understand the scale and cause of the increases in food bank usage. The organisations are also calling on all political parties to re-instate the safety net principle as a core purpose of the social security system.
Source – Welfare News Service, 09 June 2014
Scottish National Party (SNP) Press Release:
The Scottish National Party has criticised the UK government for failing benefits claimants with mental health problems.
Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate today [7 May 2014] on Improving the Employment and Support Allowance application process for people with mental health problems, SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP will condemn the UK government’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for its shortcomings with regard to people with mental health conditions.
According to a Freedom of Information request, in 2013, 58% (6 out of 10) ESA claimants hit by sanctions were vulnerable people with a mental health condition or learning difficulty – an increase from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 – indicating that people with mental health problems are being inappropriately sanctioned.
Commenting, Dr Whiteford said:
“The UK government must do more to help some of society’s most vulnerable people.
“I have seen an increasing stream of people with quite serious mental illnesses over the last couple of years who are falling through our now very frayed social safety net because of Welfare Reforms. I’m sure it goes without saying that many people with a mental illness won’t ever need to depend on the benefits system. But some of those with more severe mental illnesses do require support, and some of them are extremely vulnerable.
“A key problem is that too often assessors and decision makers have little or no relevant background information about claimants’ complex medical histories, and too rarely seek input or opinions from claimants’ clinicians.
“A report recently published by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, SAMH, details findings on how the experiences of living in poverty affect peoples’ mental health, and how SAMH service users with mental health problems have been affected by UK government welfare reforms. A truly shocking finding was that 98% of respondents said that welfare reforms were impacting on their mental health, including increased stress and anxiety, while 79% were facing financial impacts such as reduced income.
“In six cases reported to the 2013 survey, SAMH staff had to carry out suicide interventions directly related to the welfare reforms.
“The information is there in black and white, and the UK government cannot continue to ignore it.”
> I’ll bet you anything that they can…
Source – Welfare News Service 08 May 2014
He is one of the most significant figures in British political history, with a monument in his honour in the centre of Newcastle and a number of stately homes linked to his life in Northumberland.
Yet the 250th anniversary of the birth of Earl Charles Grey is set to go almost unmarked in his home region with just a solitary event planned – and that marking the blend of tea which takes his name.
Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey, was born and bred in Northumberland, and a statue of him sits on top of the monument erected in his honour in the heart of Newcastle. Grey Street – once voted the finest street in the UK – is named after him, as is Grey College at Durham University.
During his four-year spell as Prime Minister, he was responsible for fundamental changes in British society, including the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and the Great Reform Act of 1832 which is credited as launching modern democracy in Britain.
And yet today, exactly 250 years on from his birth, the only event planned in the region to celebrate Earl Grey is a two-day event in June organised by EAT! NewcastleGateshead Initiative.
Last night, the current resident of Earl Grey’s birthplace, Fallodon Hall, near Alnwick, said she felt a sense of personal “guilt” that the milestone is being allowed to pass by and large unmarked.
Lucia Bridgeman said: “Who is the person who has got the resources and contributes the imagination to create something out of a historical moment?
“We have got the do-gooders in the villages doing magazines, we have got the county council that has got no money, we have got other people who are too busy doing their jobs.
“In a sense Northumberland owes the Greys a huge amount but there are not many Greys left, it is a family that has died out. That might be the reason his memory has faded locally, his family has faded with him.”
Mrs Bridgeman said Earl Grey was part of a “great political family” and argued his memory lives on regardless of a lack of fanfare.
She said: “I think just the Grey family have had a huge impact on Northumberland and the county which is acknowledged because of the statues and other physical memories of them. It is no disgrace to their name that this is not being acknowledged.”
The solitary event in commemoration of Earl Grey is inspired by the tea which was named after him.
Tea and Cake Planet, A Weekend Adventure in Brewing and Baking, runs at The Boiler Shop, Newcastle, on June 28 and 29.
Northumberland Tourism, the body responsible for attracting visitors to the country, did at least put out a press release flagging up the anniversary and encouraging people to visit the gardens and arboretum at Howick Hall near Alnwick, where Earl Grey lived and where the tea that bears his name was dreamt up.
In the release, the organisation’s Jude Leitch said: “Earl Grey is one of Northumberland’s favourite sons and his classic tea blend is enjoyed around the world.
“Many tea-lovers have already made the pilgrimage to his birthplace at the beautiful Howick Hall Gardens and we’re sure more will follow in 2014, the 250th anniversary of his birth.”
The Northumbrian who ended slavery
Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey, was born at Fallodon Hall, near Alnwick, on March 13, 1764, before moving to nearby Howick Hall.
Grey was elected to parliament for the then Northumberland constituency in 1786, aged just 22.
He became a part of the Whig Party, the origins of which lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute rule.
In 1806, Grey, by then Lord Howick, became leader of the Whigs. A year later, he entered the Lords, succeeding his father as Earl Grey. In 1830, the Whigs took power, with Grey as PM.
Under his leadership, the government passed the Reform Act 1832, which saw the reform of the House of Commons, and the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833.
In 1834 Grey’s spell as Prime Minister ended. He died in 1845 and was buried at Howick.
Earl Grey Tea is named after Charles. The tea was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for him, to suit the water from the well at Howick, using bergamot in particular to offset the taste of the lime in it. Twinings came to market the product and it is now sold worldwide.
Grey’s Monument in Newcastle was built in 1838 in recognition of his passing of the Reform Act. .
The Greys were a sprawling political dynasty. One descendant, Sir Edward Grey, was Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of the First World War. His role in attempting to head off the conflict was dramatised by the BBC earlier this month, witn Ian McDiarmid playing Grey.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 13 March 2014