News Briefing and Comment

Access to Work Cap goes to High Court

The High Court has ruled that a legal challenge of the Access to Work cap, which limits the amount of support that individuals can be awarded by the disability employment scheme, can go ahead.

The High Court has ruled that a legal challenge of the Access to Work cap can go ahead. The restrictions were introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions to limit the amount of support that individuals can be awarded by the once flagship disability employment scheme.

The launch of the challenge comes just a few months after the government published its disability employment strategy with the ambitious target of getting one million more Disabled people into work. It also follows publication in October 2017 of research commissioned by Inclusion London which found evidence of systemic problems with Access to Work.

The cap, which will fully come into force in April 2018, disproportionately impacts on Deaf BSL users and Disabled people with high support needs, effectively removing employment support from those with the most complex needs and placing them at a disadvantage when trying to get into, stay in and get on in paid work. The case is being brought under the Equality Act 2010 with funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Claimant David Buxton said, “I am extremely pleased to learn that my case has been granted a hearing on the basis that I have an arguable case that the Government has acted unlawfully. The two key issues being heard relate to the public sector equality duty and indirect discrimination.

“As a Chief Executive, it cannot be right that my career is impacted by limiting my language and communication needs because I am Deaf and use British Sign Language. There is some way to go yet but the support from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and my legal team are signs that this is a case which could challenge and change existing practices, decisions and future provision.”

Solicitor Anne-Marie Jolly from law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn who are taking the case said, “As a result of this case, the government’s decision to cap Access to Work funding will finally be exposed to the scrutiny of the High Court. Government decision-making around Access to Work has historically been lacking in clarity and transparency.

“In keeping with that history, the decision to cap the scheme was made with no formal consultation or adequate evidence base, despite its profound impact on those affected. Mr Buxton’s claim makes the case that the Access to Work cap discriminates against Deaf and disabled people and fails to take account of the impact on them of such a regressive move.

“The cap perversely impacts on those with the most demanding jobs and highest support needs, the overwhelming majority of whom are Deaf BSL users, preventing them and their employers or businesses from reaching their fullest potential.”

Campaigns and policy manager Ellen Clifford from Inclusion London, whose Disability Justice Project is supporting the legal challenge, said, “The cap is already having a serious negative impact on Deaf and Disabled people’s employment.

“On the one hand the Government says they want to reduce the disability employment gap and get another million disabled people into work, yet here is a disability employment scheme with a track record of success where cuts to individual awards, delays, changes and continual administrative errors are combining to the point where it is no longer a viable form of support.

“Deaf and Disabled people are frustrated and anxious at the risk of unemployment and benefit dependency, which will come at a much higher cost to the State than the support package they need to remain in work.”

Geraldine O’Halloran, co-founder of #StopChanges2AtW said, “The idea put forward by the government that employers will pay for the support that Deaf and Disabled people need in order to do their jobs on an equal basis with non-disabled people is nonsense.

“However much an employer values you, the majority of employers don’t have the spare money to effectively pay to take on Deaf or Disabled staff. Yet in the bigger picture it benefits the government to invest in disability employment support with research showing that the Treasury makes a surplus on investment for every pound invested in Access to Work and that’s before the wider benefits of savings to the NHS and social care are taken into consideration.”

The research which was carried out before the cap took effect found that almost half of respondents to a survey carried out by #StopChanges2AtW had experienced changes to their Access to Work package with “cuts” or “cost cutting” as the most frequently given reason.

The report also found evidence of rationing strategies being deployed at various levels including more frequent re-assessment, often leading to a reduced award, tighter eligibility criteria, and increased restrictions on the use and portability of support, especially for the self-employed.

More than half of respondents said they found Access to Work difficult to use, with one in four reporting severe difficulty. Many respondents said they effectively lost support because the processes for claiming Access to Work has become so complex and protracted with a dramatic rise in administrative problems so that the scheme was no longer a viable form of employment support.

Nearly all of those experiencing changes said they had impacted negatively on their work, reducing their standard of work or their productivity. In the worst cases people had lost their job, turned down work or reduced their income as a result of the changes. Many respondents reported a personal, as well as professional, impact from the changes: through stress, poorer health, and loss of self-esteem or confidence due to feeling “like a burden”.

* Inclusion London https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/

* Stop Changes to Access to Work https://stopchanges2atw.com/

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UN agency calls for fair labour migration governance

Many migrant workers end up trapped in low-pay, unsafe and unhealthy jobs, the head of the United Nations labour agency warned on 19 February 2018, calling for the adoption of fair labour migration governance frameworks at the global, regional and national levels.

Many migrant workers end up trapped in low-pay, unsafe and unhealthy jobs, the head of the United Nations labour agency warned on 19 February 2018, calling for the adoption of fair labour migration governance frameworks at the global, regional and national levels.

“Most migration today is linked, directly or indirectly, to the search for decent work opportunities”, said UN International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder in his message for World Day of Social Justice, which is annually observed on 20 February. 

“But many migrant workers end up trapped in jobs with low pay and unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, often in the informal economy, without respect for their labour and other human rights. They often have to pay high recruitment fees to get a job, on average over a year’s wages – this makes them highly vulnerable to forced labour and child labour,” he added.

Marked this year with the theme ‘Workers on the Move: the Quest for Social Justice,’ the Day focuses on the world’s 150 million migrant workers, many of whom face exploitation, discrimination and violence and lack even the most basic protections. “This is particularly true for women, who make up 44 per cent of migrant workers”, Guy Ryder said.

Mr Guy stressed that migrant workers like all workers are entitled to fair treatment and fair treatment for migrant workers is also key to preserving the social fabric of societies and to sustainable development.

If labour migration is well-governed, fair and effective, it can deliver benefits and opportunities for migrant workers, their families and their host communities.  

Governance should be guided by international labour standards, in particular the fundamental principles and rights at work and the relevant ILO and UN conventions. The ILO’s Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration and the General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment offer further guidance.

The ILO is encouraging the adoption of fair labour migration governance frameworks at all levels – global, regional and national, including a comprehensive, integrated and 'whole of government' approach that engages labour ministries together with business, and employers’ and workers’ organizations – those on the frontlines of labour markets. 

“We can choose to make labour migration a win-win situation for migrants and host communities,” he said, noting that how the international community develops and helps Member States implement a global compact on migration – to be adopted later this year – will be instrumental in determining the future course of labour migration. 

In 2007, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 20 February as World Day of Social Justice, inviting Member States to promote national activities in accordance with the objectives and goals of the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Ass

* More on the World Day of Social Justice here

* United Nations http://www.un.org/en/index.html

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

The Electoral Reform Society has condemned a ‘dangerous u-turn’ from the Prime Minister, with news emerging that she is set to cut the number of MPs.

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has condemned a ‘dangerous u-turn’ from the Prime Minister, with news emerging that she is set to cut the number of MPs.
 
Reports had initially suggested that Theresa May had dropped plans to force through the cut in MPs linked with the boundary review.
However, she now appears to be rejecting calls to keep the number of MPs at 650 – despite the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee warning on 19 February 2018] that moves to cut numbers to 600 are unlikely to secure the backing of MPs.
 
The ERS warns that the cut in MPs actually represents a cut in backbenchers if there are no plans to cap or cut the size of the executive or ‘payroll vote’ correspondingly.
 
At the same time, voters will lose European representation while Parliament gains more powers after Brexit. Yet the Commons will have less capacity to scrutinise those powers. The ERS argue that this places a greater burden on our democracy while posing significant risks for policy making.
 
ERS research in 2016 showed that in a smaller, 600-seat Commons, nearly one in four (23 per cent) of MPs would be on the government payroll if the parties’ proportion of MPs – and the total number of ministers and whips – stayed the same – an all-time high, and up from the 21 per cent at present (figures as of November 2016) [4].
 
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Without a corresponding cap on the ‘payroll vote’, this reduction in MPs represents an undemocratic cut in the power of backbenchers to hold government to account.
 
“This dangerous u-turn smacks of constitutional injustice. Cutting backbenchers at the same as bolstering the executive looks to many like a worrying power-grab. Parliament will have a whole raft of new powers after Brexit – yet less capacity to scrutinise those powers. That places a greater burden on our institutions, while posing significant risks for policy making.
 
“Meanwhile it’s just common sense that this cut cannot go ahead while the House of Lords remains the second largest chamber in the world with around 800 members. If the government are concerned about reducing the cost of politics, they would do well to stay with the over-sized second chamber. Voters need real representation in the Commons to provide the essential scrutiny and capacity we need: both for now and when we gain new power after Brexit.

“Far from reducing political representation and weakening voters’ voices, the Prime Minister should cancel the proposed cut in MPs and move forward with fair boundaries based on a properly resourced Commons.”

The Electoral Reform Society expresses five main concerns about the cut in number of MPs and the proposed boundary changes:

  1. There is a significant risk for scrutiny: If, as the government proposes, the number of MPs in Parliament is reduced without also reducing the number of ministers, the power of the executive is proportionally increase – making it more difficult to hold power to account. There must be a cap on the ‘payroll vote’ before a cut in MPs is even considered
  2. These will be highly incomplete as well as out of date – people who registered to vote for the EU referendum won’t be counted for the new boundaries
  3. The tight five per cent ‘difference threshold’ between size of constituencies risks awkwardly splitting up communities or grafting very different towns/counties onto each other
  4. Unregistered but eligible voters are not being considered when drawing up these constituency boundaries – even though they could register at any moment and still need support from their MP. This disadvantaged poorer constituencies – they end up with lower representation, often despite greater need
  5. This cut simply cannot go ahead while the House of Lords remains the second largest chamber in the world with around 800 members

* Read the ERS’ full views on the boundary changes here and on the number of MPs here

* Electoral Reform Society https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/

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

In international comparisons, the UK stands out for having experienced a ‘boom and bust’ cycle where strong income and housing gains for post-war generations have failed to materialise for millennials.

The 20th century growth story that has seen each generation enjoy higher incomes than the one before them has ground to a halt in nearly all advanced economies in the 21st century. However, the UK stands out for having experienced a ‘boom and bust’ cycle where strong income and housing gains for post-war generations have failed to materialise for millennials. This is according to a major report published by the Resolution Foundation.

Cross countries – the fifteenth report for the Foundation’s ongoing Intergenerational Commission – looks at household living standard changes for different generations across eight high-income countries. It finds that the global financial crisis has had a profound effect in halting generational income progress. On average, across the countries featured in the report, millennials in their early 30s have household incomes four per cent lower than members of Generation X at the same age. In comparison, the incomes of Generation X in their early 30s were 30 per cent higher than the baby boomer generation before them.

However, while this overall story of stalled progress is common throughout advanced countries, the report also highlights a number of country-specific challenges. These include:

Generational ‘boom and bust’ on living standards

The UK stands out, along with Spain, as having previously enjoyed a long ‘boom’ in generation-on-generation progress on household incomes that has since gone ‘bust’ for millennials. When in their early 30s, generation X (born 1966-80) were 54 per cent better off than the baby boomers (1946-65) were at the same age, this pace of growth hasn’t materialised for millennials (1980-2000); the incomes of those in this generation who’ve already reached their early 30s are just six per cent higher than generation X’s at the same age.

The UK also stands out for combining a sharp slowdown in income progress with a major generational reversal on housing. Home ownership rates, compared at ages 45-49, surged by 29 percentage points between the greatest generation (born 1911-25) and the baby boomers. This generation-on-generation progress has been all but wiped out for millennials whose home ownership rate in their late 20s, at 33 per cent, is half that for the baby boomers at the same age (60 per cent). Falling home ownership for young people in their late 20s is also found – albeit to a lesser extent – in Australia (a 12 percentage points fall from boomers to millennials) and the US (a 6 percentage point fall).

Britain’s generational pay divide

UK millennials have paid for the financial crisis through their pay packets, rather than with their jobs. The scale of the pay squeeze for those aged under 30 – a 13 per cent fall in real terms – is surpassed only by Greece, where earnings have fallen by 25 per cent. The UK pay squeeze for the under 30s was twice as big as the squeeze faced by those in their 50s – a bigger age divide than in any other country.

Mediterranean jobs crisis

Southern Europe has experienced a millennial jobs crisis, with the youth (15-30) unemployment rate more than doubling in Italy, Spain and Greece between the early 2000s and the years following the financial crisis and remaining above 25 per cent today. In contrast, youth unemployment in the UK (at nine per cent) is almost as low today as it was during the 2000s, though there has been a rise in atypical working, such as zero hours contracts and self-employment.

The enduring absence of generational progress

The US and Germany, two of the highest-income countries covered by the report, have seen minimal generation-on-generation gains in recent decades. The report finds that typical incomes in the US for those in their late 40s are no higher for those born in the late 1960s than they were for those born in the 1920s – a trend long preceding the financial crisis and being driven in part by sustained increases in inequality during this period.

A Scandi-paradise for millennials?

In Norway and Denmark, cohort-on-cohort earnings progress has continued unabated throughout the crisis years. While Norway avoided a deep recession, Denmark has achieved this progress despite experiencing a similar sized fall in GDP per capita as the UK during the crisis.

The Foundation says that there are plenty of lessons that countries can learn from each other about tackling the millennial living standards crisis. From building enough homes and better regulation of the housing market, to flexible labour markets, active labour market policies, and what unions can offer young people, learning from other economies can help with getting the story of generational progress on living standards back on track.

Daniel Tomlinson, Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said, “It’s no secret that the financial crisis hit the vast majority of advanced economies hard, holding back millennial income progress in counties around the world. But only Spain echoes the UK experience – a ‘boom and bust’ income cycle where significant generation-on-generation gains for older generations have come to a stop for younger people. The UK also stands out for combining this lack of income progress with major declines in home ownership for today’s millennials.

There have been big differences in how advanced economies have developed since the crash, and there are lessons for the UK to take from the winners and losers. Southern Europe’s jobs crisis has hit millennials hard. By contrast Norway and Denmark – despite the latter taking a harder hit to its GDP post-crisis than the UK – haven’t experienced any damage to generational earnings progress.

“From house-building to how we regulate our labour markets, there are a wide range of lessons for countries to learn and pitfalls to avoid from considering the experience of other nations. Britain may have avoided the shocking levels of youth unemployment seen in Southern Europe, but it’s still a long way off providing the progress for young families that they and their parents had come to expect.”

* Read the report  Cross countries: international comparisons of intergenerational trends here

* Resolution Foundation http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* More information on the campaign to free Nazanin here

* Amnesty International https://www.amnesty.org.uk/

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Welcoming a more humane approach to drug policy

Welcoming a more humane approach to drug policy

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Polish environment minister urged to save ancient forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Client Earth works to protect the environment through advocacy, litigation and science https://www.clientearth.org/

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Corruption Watch calls for vigilance in the wake of Zuma resignation

Corruption Watch has greeted President Jacob Zuma’s resignation with Joy and relief because a critical obstacle in the way of renewing South Africa’s democracy has been removed but with anger and resentment at the public resources which have been looted and the key institutions which have been crippled and must be rebuilt.

Corruption Watch has greeted President Jacob Zuma’s resignation with a mixture of joy and relief, and anger and resentment. Joy and relief because a critical obstacle in the way of renewing South Africa’s democracy has been removed; anger and resentment at the public resources which have been looted and the key institutions which have been crippled and  must be rebuilt.

“If we are to prevent this happening again, it is important that we understand how this monumental heist of a democratic society and a large complex economy happened,” said executive director, David Lewis. “Many of the answers will be complex but of this we can be sure:  the removal of Jacob Zuma is a victory of the people of South Africa, mobilised by civil society organisations, informed by the media and supported by the courts and the constitution. In the absence of these combined forces, South Africa would have been destroyed.”

The organisation reminds all South Africans that now is not the time for these forces to relax. It is important to remember that any government is only as good as its people are vigilant and demanding.

Corruption Watch expects the new president of the country to recognise this, encourage support for civil society, and endorse the independence of the courts and the media.

“Just as these forces removed Zuma, so too must they lead the process of reconstruction and the continuing battle for social justice,” said Lewis.

Kate Muwoki, Regional Advisor for Southern Africa at Transparency International, added: “There should be no amnesty or immunity for Zuma. Corruption has been allowed to flourish to the point of crippling state institutions and Zuma must still face the 783 criminal counts awaiting him before the courts.”

* Corruption Watch http://www.corruptionwatch.org.za/

* Transparency International https://www.transparency.org/

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Church of Scotland Moderator joins Pope Francis in call to prayer for peace

The Moderator of the Church of Scotland will join Pope Francis to call for a day of prayer for peace, on 23 February 2018, when Christians and people of all faith traditions will seek to end conflict in war torn parts of the world, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

The Moderator of the Church of Scotland will join Pope Francis to call for a day of prayer for peace, on Friday 23 February 2018, when Christians and people of all faith traditions will seek to end conflict in war torn parts of the world, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

The Right Rev Dr Derek Browning was invited to join the ecumenical day of prayer and fasting by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Anglican leaders and other Christian denominations around the world will also take part in the day of prayer.

Noting that 23 February comes during the first full week of Lent, the Moderator said: "In many parts of the world tension and strife are strongly present. When one part of the human family hurts, all parts of the family hurt.

“I am extending this invitation to all parts of the Church of Scotland to spend some time in quiet prayer and reflection for all people living through conflict at this time, and particularly those in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in South Sudan.

“We might pray for the gift of peace not only to be given but to be received, not only to be hoped for but to be worked towards and to be sustained – in these places, and everywhere.”

The Church of Scotland has been working closely with partners in South Sudan, to seek an end to the decades-long conflict.

On 5 March, the Church is welcoming peacebuilders from South Sudan, including Santino Odong, Principal of the Nile Theological College and Orozu Lokine Peace Desk secretary for Pibor Presbytery. During their two-week visit the group will take part in mediation training, trauma counselling and a retreat. They will also visit congregations in Edinburgh, Argyll, Hamilton, Forfar, Perth and Cupar.

The Right Rev Peter Gai, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, and chair of the South Sudan Council of Churches, will be joining the Church at the General Assembly in May.

The visit continues peacebuilding efforts started in 2014, when Peter Gai attended the CofS GA and invited The Very Rev Dr John Chalmers to visit South Sudan during his Moderatorial Year.

Dr Chalmers accepted and travelled to South Sudan in early 2015 where he delivered a workshop on peace and reconciliation within the church. Since then the Church has continued to support church leaders with training in mediation and peacebuilding.

Dr Chalmers said, "This has been a life changing experience for me and I sincerely believe that the seeds of hope that we are planting in the church leaders of South Sudan will one day contribute to the flourishing of peace in this new and fragile nation."

Despite some significant progress—300 child soldiers including 87 girls were released by armed groups last week, largely due to the efforts of religious leaders—the situation in South Sudan remains precarious.

In February 2017, the UN declared a famine, attributed to the war and a widespread drought. The crisis was eased by a ceasefire in May and by a tremendous humanitarian response. Nevertheless, the United Nations estimates that 4.8 million people in the country are still severely short of food.

* Church of Scotland http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/

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Government plans 'fall short of 600 extra low-cost rented homes a week needed'

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says nearly 600 additional low-cost rented homes need to be built every week in order to fix the broken housing market and help low incomes families escape poverty.

Plans announced by the Government will deliver less than 100 new low-cost rented homes a week, one-sixth of the extra supply needed – a level deemed to fall far short of the number required.

Unless the Government ramps up the supply of low-cost rented homes, England will see a shortfall of 355,000 affordable homes by the end of the Parliament, following successive years of undersupply between 2011 and 2022.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) is calling on the Government to use its forthcoming Social Housing Green paper to commit to building 78,000 affordable homes a year so more families can enjoy a decent and secure life.

Doing so would ease the pressure on families trapped in the expensive and insecure private rented sector.

Across the country, low earners face eye-watering private rents, in particular in London, the South East and Home Counties, where rents are eating up to 40 per cent of their earnings, more than twice the national average. Many are constituents in some of the country’s most marginal parliamentary seats, as well as in areas represented by Government Ministers and Shadow Cabinet.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), said, “The Prime Minister has recognised that the housing market is broken and it’s welcome that the Government wants to get the country building the homes we desperately need. But this must include homes that people on low incomes can afford. The Government’s existing plans risk falling far short of the numbers of affordable homes required to ease the strain on families facing eye-watering private rents.

“Voters across all wage brackets want to see action on housing and it is simply not right that so many people in our country are locked out of the opportunity to build a decent and secure life because of crippling housing costs.

“The forthcoming social housing green paper must commit to increasing the supply of low-cost rented homes. The Government can start by building 78,000 genuinely affordable homes a year. By fixing our broken housing market, we can help release people from the grip of poverty.”

The JRF analysis shows:

  • 78,000 low-cost rented homes are required in England every year to meet demand, or 1,500 every week. But on average 47,520 affordable homes have been built in England each year since 2011, leading to a cumulative shortfall of 182,880 homes over the last six years. It means 577 new affordable homes are needed every week to make up the average 30,000 shortfall.
  • If this rate continues, the shortfall will reach 335,000 by 2021/22 and will result in more people struggling to make ends meet because of their housing costs. The Government has made some steps in the right direction. For example, the announcement of an additional £2 billion of investment in 2017. However, it is only expected to deliver around 5,000 additional social rented homes each year – less than 100 a week.
  • Private rents are unaffordable for low earners in over half (53 per cent) of the country. The analysis shows that in 171 out of 323 English Local Authorities even the cheapest rents are unaffordable for residents in the bottom 25 per cent of local earnings. In these areas, the cheapest 25 per cent of rents would cost people on low wages more than a third of their earnings every month, a common measure of housing affordability.
  • The London Borough of Westminster has the most unaffordable rents, at 79 per cent of the pay packet of a low-paid resident, followed by Kensington and Chelsea (77 per cent). Monthly rent-to-earnings ratios run at over 40 per cent in much of the South.
  • 20 areas are held by Cabinet members, junior ministers and whips among the Conservatives – including the Prime Minister Theresa May and Boris Johnson. Eight members of the Labour Shadow Cabinet, including Jeremy Corbyn, represent areas where rents are unaffordable for people on low wages.
  • There are 19 seats targeted by Labour where low earners are paying more than a third of their earnings on rent. For the Conservatives, there are 11 seats on their target list where low-earners are facing high housing costs.

* Read the full analysis here 

* Joseph Rowntree Foundation https://www.jrf.org.uk/

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Half of children referred to councils experience domestic violence, says LGA

Half of children who are assessed as 'in need of extra help' by council child protection teams have experienced or witnessed domestic violence, says the LGA.

Half of children who are assessed as “in need of extra help” by council child protection teams have experienced or witnessed domestic violence, the Locsl Government Association (LGA) has reported.

The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, said the Government’s comprehensive package of reform around domestic violence announced in the Queen’s Speech must be centred on a shift from dealing with the aftermath of abuse to focusing on early intervention and preventing it occurring in the first place.

Children’s services are facing unprecedented demand. The LGA has warned that a child is being referred to council children’s services every 49 seconds on a daily basis and councils started more than 500 child protection investigations every day last year – up from 200 a decade ago.

This means councils are increasingly being forced to prioritise spending for children at immediate risk of harm, rather than on earlier support services that can help families to address harmful behaviours, and support children and young people to recover from earlier experiences.

With children’s services facing a £2 billion funding gap by 2020, the LGA said councils need the resources in order to cope with the challenges of domestic abuse on a local level. Initiatives that allow victims to remain in their own homes as long as it is safe to do so, focus on early interventions to prevent perpetrators re-offending, and educate young people about healthy relationships are required to tackle domestic abuse and give our children a future free of harm.

Domestic abuse has a devastating impact on children, whatever their age. Evidence shows that children exposed to domestic violence are at greater risk of being involved in youth crime, or to experience behavioural problems in later in life. Thirty-four per cent of adults who witnessed domestic abuse in their home as a child have experienced abuse by a partner in later life, compared with 11 per cent of those who did not.

The LGA is calling for the Government to:

  • Adequately fund children’s services so councils are able to support children who are in the highest level of need and invest in early intervention initiatives that provide support for children experiencing domestic violence.
  • Increase the number of Independent Domestic Violence Advisers in hospital settings, as charities such as Safe Lives have advocated - currently, only around 10 per cent of hospitals have access to these practitioners who can spot abuse early, track behavioural red warning flags, and help victims get the support they need.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said, “Domestic abuse is a horrendous crime which takes place behind the curtains in our communities, and can be psychological, physical, emotional and sometimes even life-threatening. It’s awful to imagine the pain and hurt that perpetrators inflict on victims and to think of children witnessing or even being victims of abuse.

“With almost two million victims of domestic abuse in the last year alone, we need the Government to include early intervention and preventative measures in its comprehensive package of reforms to address domestic abuse as the best way to tackle this issue.

“The Government needs to close the funding gap facing children’s services, which will reach at least £2 billion by 2020. An urgent injection of funding is also needed to protect the services that families rely on to tackle problems or recover from previous abuse.

"All children deserve the chance of a bright future and we have a moral duty to do more than just pick up the pieces when things go wrong. Failure to invest in these services will have long term consequences for our country’s children and families and create crises which are much more expensive to solve in the long run."

* LGA https://www.local.gov.uk/

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UN urges Iran to stop violating international law by executing juvenile offenders

During the first month of 2018, three people – two male and one female –have been executed in Iran for crimes they committed when they were 15 or 16 years old.

Noting a surge in the number of juvenile offenders being executed in Iran, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has urged Iran “to abide by international law and immediately halt all executions of people sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were under eighteen.”

Already, during the first month of 2018, three people – two male and one female –have been executed for crimes they committed when they were 15 or 16 years old. This compares to the execution of a total of five juvenile offenders during the whole of 2017. A fourth juvenile offender, who was believed to be on the point of being executed on Wednesday 14 February, has reportedly received a temporary reprieve of two months. A number of other juvenile offenders are also believed to be in danger of imminent execution in Iran, with a total of some 80 such individuals reported to be currently on death row, after being sentenced to death for crimes they committed when they were under eighteen.

“The execution of juvenile offenders is unequivocally prohibited under international law, regardless of the circumstances and nature of the crime committed”, said Zeid. “The imposition of the death penalty on people who committed crimes when they were under 18 is in clear violation of Iran’s obligations under two international treaties that is has ratified and is obliged to uphold – namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

“I am sad to say that Iran violates this absolute prohibition under international human rights law far more often than any other State,” he said. “No other State comes even remotely close to the total number of juveniles who have been executed in Iran over the past couple of decades.”

The UN Human Rights Chief also noted that Iran ascribes criminal responsibility to girls as young as nine years old, whereas boys are not considered criminally responsible until they reach the age of 15.  He described the discrepancy between the two genders as “wholly unjustifiable on every level,” and the application of the death penalty to any person, female or male, under 18 as “illegal and unacceptable.”

The three juvenile offenders subjected to the death penalty in January were:

  • Mahboubeh Mofidi, who was 16 years old when, with the help of her brother-in-law, she allegedly killed her husband, who had married her when she was just 13 years old. She was 20 at the time of her execution on 30 January.
  • 18-year-old Amir Hussein Pourjafar who allegedly raped and murdered a young Afghan girl when he was 16
  • 22-year-old Ali Kazemi who was just 15 when he allegedly committed murder.

The UN Human Rights Office is particularly concerned about the fate of Abolfazl Chezani Sharahi, whose planned execution in Qom on 17 January was postponed  for unknown reasons (he is believed to have been scheduled for execution at least four times in all for a crime allegedly committed when he was 15); and Hamid Hamadi, whose trial is widely considered to have been grossly unfair, is also believed to be at risk of execution at any moment for a crime allegedly committed when he was 17. He is believed to have been scheduled for execution at least five times.

Omid Rostami, whose scheduled execution along with 12 other people on 15 January in Karaj was postponed after the family of his alleged victim agreed to pardon him in exchange for diyah or ‘blood money,’ is still at risk if his family fails to raise the required funds within two months.

The High Commissioner noted that there had been some partial improvements in relation to other aspects of the application of the death penalty in Iran, most notably a bill amending the drug-trafficking law that was approved by the Guardian Council in October 2017. As a result of this amendment, some drug offences that were previously punishable by the death penalty are now subject to a prison term, although the mandatory death sentence is retained for a wide range of drug-related offences.

The amendment provides for retroactive applicability, which means that all people currently on death row for drug-related offences which are no longer punishable by the death penalty, should see their sentence commuted. The Deputy Head of the Justice Committee of the Parliament has stated that about 5,300 inmates were on death row for drug crimes, and the High Commissioner calls for the swift establishment of modalities for the review of all cases of individuals sentenced to death under the drug-trafficking law, and that the review should follow the principles of transparency, due process and ensure effective legal representation of all those sentenced to death.

Successive High Commissioners for Human Rights have urged Iran to stop all violations of international law relating to the death penalty, in particular the absolute prohibition of the application of the death penalty for juvenile offenders, and impose a moratorium on all executions with a view to ending the use of the death penalty altogether.

The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Iran is nine lunar years for girls and 15 lunar years for boys, and the amended Islamic Penal Code retains the death penalty for boys and girls who have attained these ages.

* Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Pages/Home.aspx

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Legal challenge brought on behalf of 11 men detained indefinitely in Guantánamo Bay

The Trump administration has filed a response to a major legal challenge brought on behalf of 11 men detained indefinitely in Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial.

The Trump administration filed a response on 16 February 2018 to a major legal challenge brought on behalf of 11 men detained indefinitely in Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial. The human rights organisation Reprieve assists four of the men involved in the legal action.

The administration’s response asserts that detention at Guantánamo is not arbitrary because the Periodic Review Board (PRB) process gives detainees the chance to be cleared for release. This is despite the fact no detainees have been cleared since President Trump took office in January 2017. At the same time, the response argues that the Government can continue to detain those men previously cleared by six federal agencies through an administrative process.

The administration’s lawyers go on to claim that detention at Guantánamo is not ‘indefinite’ but ‘indeterminate’.

Responding, Katie Taylor, Deputy Director of Reprieve, said: “The Trump administration’s position is typical of the logical and legal vacuum of Guantánamo. On one hand Trump’s lawyers argue the Periodic Review Board is an adequate protection from arbitrary detention, though not a single person has been cleared by the PRB since he took office. On the other hand, they argue the five men, including Abdul Latif Nasser and Towfiq Bihani, previously cleared for release by six federal agencies can continue to be detained forever. And in the latest example of Guantánamo nonsense, we are now told that detention at Guantánamo is not indefinite, but rather ‘indeterminate’, as if that somehow makes all the difference to the 31 men who remain locked up without charge or trial.”

* Reprieve https://reprieve.org.uk/

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Oxfam announces comprehensive action plan to stamp out abuse

Oxfam has announced a comprehensive plan of action to strengthen safeguarding systems across the organisation and stamp out abuse, including asking leading women's rights experts to lead an urgent independent review of its culture and practices.

Oxfam has announced a comprehensive plan of action to strengthen safeguarding systems across the organisation and stamp out abuse, including asking leading women's rights experts to lead an urgent independent review of its culture and practices.

 The plan was agreed on 15 February 2018 by Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima in partnership with Oxfam GB Chief Executive Mark Goldring and directors across the international confederation. The wide-ranging package of measures includes:

  • The immediate creation of a new global database of accredited referees - designed to end the use of forged, dishonest or unreliable references by past or current Oxfam staff. Oxfam will not be issuing any references until this is in place.
  • An immediate injection of money and resources into Oxfam's safeguarding processes, with the number of people working in safeguarding more than doubling over the coming weeks and annual funding more than tripled to £720,000.
  • A commitment to improve the culture within Oxfam to ensure that no one faces sexism, discrimination or abuse, that everyone, especially women, feels safe to speak out, and everyone is clear on what behaviour is acceptable or not.

Oxfam is also committing to publish its 2011 internal investigation into staff involved in sexual and other misconduct in Haiti as soon as possible, after taking steps necessary to prevent witnesses being identified. The names of the men involved have already been shared with the authorities in Haiti.tion. The wide-ranging package of measures includes:

a new independent High-Level Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change, comprised of leading women's rights experts, which will be able to access Oxfam records and interview staff, partners and communities it supports around the world. 

Winnie Byanyima said: "What happened in Haiti and afterwards is a stain on Oxfam that will shame us for years, and rightly so. In my language: "Okuruga ahamutima gwangye, mutusaasire." It means "From the bottom of my heart I am asking for forgiveness."

"Of course words are not enough. I've agreed a plan of action with Mark Goldring and Oxfam's board of international directors. Right now I have two utmost priorities for Oxfam: continuing to provide support to the millions of vulnerable people we work with around the world, and learning vital lessons from our past mistakes to make sure such abuse and exploitation does not happen again. Mark is absolutely the right person to implement these changes in the UK."

Mark Goldring said: "People put their trust in Oxfam and we betrayed that trust. What happened was a disgrace and we are absolutely committed to rooting out abuse across the organisation. We are doubling the number of people who work on safeguarding to make sure we are living up to our responsibility to protect staff, volunteers and the communities we support around the world. An independent commission is being established which will review our entire operations and tell us what we need to change about our culture and practices.

"It's vital that we act to prevent those guilty of gross misconduct from simply moving onto another organisation and potentially harming other vulnerable people. Within Oxfam, we're are urgently setting up a new database of people authorised to give references with an immediate freeze on references until that is in place.

"These problems cannot all be solved by Oxfam alone, and we will work with the government, Charity Commission, women's rights organisations and others in the sector to implement urgent reforms."

The High-Level Commission will operate at arms-length from Oxfam and shape its own approach. Names will be announced within a few days. Oxfam will provide the resources it needs to do its job effectively, across the confederation, including full access to records, staff as well as partners and communities supported by the organisation. As part of the Commission's work, it will create an historical record about cases of sexual misconduct and abuse of power that is as complete as possible, which will be made publicly available.

* Read a summary of the action plan here

* Oxfam https://www.oxfam.org.uk/

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Study finds GP funding in England has unfair London bias

New research led by University of Manchester data scientists reveals that primary care funding in England is not distributed according to local health needs.

New research led by University of Manchester data scientists reveals that primary care funding in England is not distributed according to local health needs.

THey say that GP practices in London where the population is relatively young, receive disproportionately more funding, despite dealing with the lowest level of health needs in the country.

London, they calculate, has a median of 0.38 health conditions per patient based, on a measure of 19 well-recorded chronic conditions.

In contrast, the North East and North West of England have 0.59 conditions per patient and 0.55 conditions per patient, the highest and second highest health needs in England respectively.

The median for England is 0.51 health conditions per patient.

Both regions receive considerably lower funding per patient than they should, especially the North West, according to the research team from The Universities of Manchester, York, Keele, Michigan and Dundee. This is particularly relevant for Greater Manchester and its devolved health and health social care spending, which is estimated to be £2 billion in deficit by 2020, on current trends.

The team also reveal that when health care needs, deprivation and age are taken into account, rural areas receive £36 more compared to urban areas, per patient each year.

The £36 figure is more than a quarter of the median annual primary care spend per patient in England, which was £134 in 2015-16, excluding the cost of prescriptions and drug dispensing.

Practices in rural England tend to look after an older but relatively healthier, more affluent and smaller population, while enjoying similar levels of staffing, when compared to the more hard-pressed practices in urban areas.

The study, led by Manchester’s Professor Evangelos Kontopantelis, is the first to evaluate if primary care funding in 2015-16 matched health care needs at geographical areas with an average of 1500 people.

The team examined data from 7,779 GP practices in England, covering 56,924,424 people, over 99 per cent of the population registered with primary care, and publish their findings in the journal BMC Medicine on 17 February 2018.

To measure health needs, the team created a chronic morbidity index (CMI), calculated as the sum of 19 chronic condition registers in the Government’s 2014-15 Quality and Outcomes Framework, divided by the total practice population.

By linking funding per person with the overall health needs for the 19 conditions, the researchers say the current funding arrangement for GP practices – known as the global sum allocation or Carr-Hill formula – is unreliable and out of date.

The formula, they argue, may excessively favour practices in rural areas, while patient need - one of the factors on which payment adjustments are made – is based on a single dimension of morbidity – Long-Standing Illness – from the 1998-2000 Health Survey for England.

Numerous calls have been made over the last decade for the formula to be reviewed, and it is expected to be reviewed by the Government this year.

Professor Kontopantelis said, “If as a society we want a healthcare system which is fair, then we must fund it according to need, and ideally account for the impact of deprivation. This study shows that the current allocation of resources to primary care does not do that.

“The strength of the study lies in the quality of the databases and their sizes. We investigated the whole of England: that’s over 55 million people served by a universal health system.”

Tim Doran, Professor of Health Policy at The University of York, said, “The present funding formula does not provide an equitable distribution of resources across the NHS. It is especially unfair to the North West and North East of England.

“The Carr-Hill formula, which is used to allocate NHS funding, is based on a range of data, some of which are inaccurate, unrepresentative or out of date. As a result, the formula does not accurately reflect the health care needs of local populations.

“New data sources could provide a fairer allocation of resources.”

* Read Chronic morbidity, deprivation and primary medical care spending in England in 2015-16: a cross-sectional spatial analysis  here

* The University of Manchester http://www.manchester.ac.uk/

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