News Briefing and Comment

What does the budget tell us about the government's values?

What does the budget tell us about the government's values?

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TUC General Secretary calls for justice for working people in Vatican speech

The TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady will today deliver a speech at the Vatican as part of a two-day meeting of Catholic and labour movement leaders.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary Frances O’Grady will today (24 November 2017)) deliver a speech at the Vatican as part of a two-day meeting of Catholic and labour movement leaders.

Catholic teaching through papal encyclicals has commended trade unions, highlighting their importance as “a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people,” (Laborum Excercens, John Paul II).

The meeting will hear testimony on the injustices suffered by working people. It will consider the structural reforms needed to the global economy to put human dignity before markets and capital. And it will be an opportunity for trade unions and the Catholic Church to share ideas in order to achieve greater social justice for working people and their families.

Frances will warn of the harm done to UK workers by inequality and corporate power, including tax avoidance by new ‘titans of technology’ like Apple, Facebook and Google, and worker exploitation by firms like Uber and Amazon. And she will call on the Catholic Church and trade unions to continue their historic association to build an alliance for economic justice.

She will address the economic justice challenges the world faces, saying: “Inequality, conflict and climate change are threatening the peace and prosperity of the world. Technological change is concentrating wealth at the expense of working people. And our schools and hospitals suffer from rich corporations not paying a fair share of taxes.

“New global titans of technology now have wealth and power beyond our imagination. And many workers have become slaves to an app, with employers washing their hands of any notion of an employment relationship. We must offer hope that there is a better way.

“We must challenge the very values on which our economies run. The market should be our servant, not our master. Value cannot be measured in monetary terms alone. And individual greed must not triumph over the common good.”

She will encourage Catholic leaders to continue their history of supporting workers who take action to uphold their rights, saying: “The Catholic Church and trade unions have a shared history in Britain. In the 19th Century, Cardinal Manning supported striking dockers who demanded a pay rise, minimum hours and the right to a union voice. He called the refusal of employers to negotiate with their workers a ‘public evil’.

“This year I met the ‘McStrikers’ – young fast food workers at McDonald’s, stuck on low pay and zero-hours contracts. Their demands are the same as the dockers nearly 130 years ago. They want a fair wage, guaranteed hours and recognition of their trade union. They need a modern-day Cardinal Manning.”

She will ask Catholic leaders to work with trade unions, saying: “The Catholic Church and trade unions both understand that much more can be achieved together than alone. We share values of community, dignity and social solidarity, values that bind us together as workers, citizens and human beings.

“Together, we can improve working lives and put dignity for working people ahead of market forces and freedom of capital. We can build a popular alliance for economic justice, in Britain and around the world.

“So speak out and support the courageous workers who stand up against injustice. Call on your congregation to join a union. And encourage Catholic employers to do the right thing and recognise trade unions.”

* Read Laborum Excercens here

* TUC https://www.tuc.org.uk/

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Liam Fox fails British father on death row in Ethiopia

The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, has admitted he did not raise the case of a British father on death row in Ethiopia at an official meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minster earlier this month.

The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, has admitted he did not raise the case of a British father on death row in Ethiopia at an official meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minster earlier this month. 

Asked directly about the case of Andy Tsege by Liberal Democrat spokesman, Tom Brake, in the House of Commons on 23 November 2017, Dr Fox said only that his “official meeting with Ethiopian prime minister discussed the need for long term political as well as economic stability as well as the political space.” He did add that the Government had raised Andy Tsege's case in private.

During his visit to Ethiopia, Dr Fox pledged to double the financial support available for trade with the country, as part of efforts to increase long-term trade links.

Andy Tsege, a British citizen, has been imprisoned facing a death sentence since 2014, after he was kidnapped from an international airport, illegally flown to Ethiopia, tortured and paraded on state TV. He was convicted in his absence in 2009, while he was living with his partner and three children in London. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/24518)

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve, said: “Liam Fox should not be rewarding a country that imposed a death sentence on a British citizen while he was living at home in London, and then kidnapped and tortured him. The fact that he did not mention Andy’s name at his official meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minister shows that the Secretary of State is not serious about standing up for British values in his post-Brexit dash for trade deals. Dr Fox should make this British father’s return to his family a condition of any future trade incentives for the Ethiopian Government.”

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

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Children in custody: 'many feel unsafe and some groups are over-represented'

Disproportionate numbers of black and minority ethnic children, and children from Gypsy, Romany or Traveller communities are held in custody. Children with disabilities and mental and emotional health problems, and with backgrounds in local authority care are also held in high numbers.

Staffing problems meant far too many boys were locked up in cells nearly all day in young offender institutions (YOIs), according to an annual report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons on the experiences of detained children aged 12 to 18.

Though the numbers who had felt unsafe in YOIs had fallen from a record high level in 2015–16, surveys in 2016–17 still found almost 40 per cent had felt unsafe. Children in secure training centres (STCs), home to a larger number of under-16s, generally felt safer than those in YOIs, but a fifth said they had no-one to turn to if they had a problem.

And in 2016–17, across both types of custody, there were disproportionate numbers of black and minority ethnic children, and children from Gypsy, Romany or Traveller communities, compared to their representation in the general population.  Children with disabilities and mental and emotional health problems, and with backgrounds in local authority care, were also held in high numbers.

The report, Children in Custody 2016–17 summarised findings of surveys distributed in HMIP inspections in the year. A total of 720 children completed the surveys. In his foreword, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, recalled that in February 2017 he had warned ministers that none of the establishments holding children were judged in inspections to be safe and the speed of the decline in safety was “extraordinary”. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/24679)

In 2016–17, Mr Clarke added, “the impact of staffing constraints appears to have been more keenly felt by children this year. In YOIs…we have found far too many boys being locked in their cells for more than 22 hours each day, with staff struggling to manage the complexities of regimes where some boys can only be allowed out of their cells while others are locked up. Too often in STCs, we found that staff were being redeployed from their assigned unit to cover gaps elsewhere in the centre. More than a fifth of children in STCs said they had no one to turn to if they had a problem, meaning that many vulnerable children with complex needs were trying to manage their problems without support.”

Overall, the numbers of children in custody has fallen by 70 per cent since 2006–07 and the number of girls continues to fall – though Mr Clarke said it was important their specific needs were not overlooked.

Among key findings:

  • Nearly half (49 per cent) of children in STCs were from a black or other minority ethnic background. 12 per cent said they were Muslim and 10 per cent were from a Gypsy, Romany or Traveller background.
  • More than one in five children (22 per cent) reported feeling unsafe at some point since arriving at the STC.

In YOIs:

  • Nearly half (48 per cent) of boys identified themselves as being from a black or minority ethnic background. Around one-fifth (22 per cent) were Muslim and the proportion of boys who had experienced local authority care was 42 per cent. Almost one-fifth (19 per cent) of boys reported having a disability.
  • 39 per cent of boys said they had felt unsafe, a fall on last year’s figure of 46 per cent.
  • There was a significant fall in the proportion of boys who said they could have a shower every day (71 per cent compared with 88 per cent in 2015–16) and the proportion who could use the phone every day had fallen significantly from 80 per cent to 68 per cent.

Mr Clarke said, “Last year, I invited those with the responsibility to develop and improve policy to take our findings seriously. I trust that the realignment of responsibilities between the Youth Justice Board, the Ministry of Justice commissioners of services and the new Youth Custody Service within HM Prison and Probation Service will lead to improvement, and that the process of restructuring and reform will not detract from the urgent need for an effective operational response to the issues raised in this report. The need for this to be the case has actually increased, particularly when it comes to improving both the perceptions and the reality of safety. Until this is addressed, the broader objectives of delivering education, training and creating a rehabilitative environment will not be achieved.”

Read the report Children in Custody 2016–17 here

* HM Inspectorate of Prisons http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/

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Rise in Childline counselling sessions for disabled young people

The number of Childline counselling sessions given to disabled young people rose by 13 per cent in 2016/17, an average of 22 counselling sessions a day.

Childline delivered 8,253 counselling sessions last year to young people who either told or were identified by counsellors as d/Deaf, disabled, having special educational needs or a health condition.

The number of Childline counselling sessions given to disabled young people rose by 13 per cent in 2016/17, an average of 22 counselling sessions a day.

In six per cent of these counselling sessions, young people talked about abuse or neglect, but the number of disabled young people who could be facing abuse and neglect could be even higher.

Research has shown that disabled young people are three times more likely to be abused or neglected than non-disabled young people. They are also less likely to receive the protection and support they need when they have been abused.

John Cameron, NSPCC Head of Helplines, said, “It’s extremely concerning to see so many disabled children and teenagers contacting Childline but this could be only the tip of the iceberg.

“We know that disabled young people are particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect and we need to ensure that support and advice is available to all those who could find themselves in difficult or dangerous situations.

“Childline counsellors will continue to support as many disabled young people as possible to ensure that they have the ability to live without fear of prejudice.”

In 2016/17, disabled young people also sought help for a wide variety of other concerns, including:

  • mental and emotional health
  • issues relating to their own disability
  • educational need or health condition
  • bullying and cyberbullying
  • family relationships and friendship issues
  • being scared about their future/achieving their ambitions.

Disabilities or conditions most commonly recorded by Childline included autism, learning difficulties, physical disabilities or mobility issues and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD).

* NSPCC https://www.nspcc.org.uk/


Lives 'at risk' as authorities attempt to remove Manus Island refugees

Around 420 refugees remain in a detention centre after all services were withdrawn, including food, water, power and medical care on 31 October. 

Responding to news that the Papua New Guinea (PNG) authorities have sent immigration officials armed with sticks and knives into the Lombrum refugee detention centre on Manus Island, Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher, said: “The risk of serious injury if the authorities use force now is completely foreseeable. The government is knowingly placing the refugees at risk.

“There is no justification for this action. International law and standards demand that refugees enjoy international protection. The country where they sought refuge – Australia – has violated their rights at every turn. PNG has aided and enabled Australia’s policy of cruelty and degradation of the refugees. Now the PNG authorities are putting their lives at risk.”

The Iranian journalist and human rights activist Behrouz Boochani, who has exposed to the world the extent of abuse being experienced by those in the detention camp, was arrested and then released earlier this morning. This seems a deliberate attempt to isolate him from the wider group

Three other refugees are at risk of arrest on the same grounds. The three were previously arrested and detained in 2015 for peaceful protests at the refugee detention centre.

The refugees do not want to move from the new camp because they are being required to move to a location where they fear for their safety. Amnesty’s research confirms their fears are well-founded. Refugees have been attacked and seriously injured by some members of the local population, who have made clear they do not want the men on Manus Island at all. Refugees have little or no protection from these attacks except to live inside detention centres.

Amnesty has repeatedly called for humanitarian aid to be provided to the refugees while a safe and dignified solution is found, in consultation with them and in respect of their rights.

Kate Schuetze said, “The most obvious solution is for Australia to bring all of the men to Australia. They are clearly not safe in PNG."

Amnesty has long called for the camp on Manus Island to be closed and the refugees brought to safety in Australia.

Around 420 refugees remain at Lombrum centre after the provision of all services was withdrawn, including food, water, power and medical care on 31 October 2017. The men have been surviving on food they have smuggled into the camp and by drinking rainwater.

PNG authorities have tried to undermine efforts of refugees to survive at the camp by stopping food coming in, sabotaging water tanks and water storage created by refugees, and denying them the ability to purchase over-the-counter medications in the town of Lorengau.

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

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Age UK responds to dramatic jump in excess winter deaths

Age UK says a dramatic jump in excess winter deaths in England "is a terrible rebuke to anyone who thought it was 'job done' when it comes to keeping older people safe and sound through the winter."

New figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that over the winter of 2016-17 there were 31,800 excess winter deaths among the over 65s from cold-related illness such as heart attacks and strokes, compared to 20,800 the previous year. One third of all the excess winter deaths reported were caused by respiratory diseases.

Responding to the new figures, Age UK's Charity Director Caroline Abrahams, said, "This dramatic jump in excess winter deaths in England is a terrible rebuke to anyone who thought it was 'job done' when it comes to keeping older people safe and sound through the winter. Remember that every one of these deaths was, by definition, preventable.

"Without further research it is impossible to nail down cause and effect but it is notable that last winter was not especially severe and that the statistics remained stable in Wales. A less than fully effective flu vaccine is likely to be one culprit, but it is also true that many older people live in poorly insulated homes and worry about turning up the heating during the cold months, increasing their risk of ill health.

"In addition, we know the NHS and social care are under unprecedented strain and the net result is that poorly older people, often living alone, are not always getting the effective, timely help they need to nip emerging health problems in the bud.

"We cannot run the risk of these figures getting even worse next year so the Government must take urgent action to address the underlying causes."

Some key points:

  • In the 2016 to 2017 winter period, there were an estimated 34,300 excess winter deaths (EWDs) in England and Wales, which represents an excess winter mortality (EWM) index of 20.9 per cent.
  • All of the English regions observed significant increases in the excess winter mortality index between winter periods 2015 to 2016 and 2016 to 2017, whereas excess winter mortality for Wales remained stable.
  • Although there has been an increase in EWDs, the number of EWDs does not exceed the peak that was observed in the 2014 to 2015 winter period; however, it was the second highest over the last five winter periods.
  • Females and the elderly were most affected by excess winter mortality in the 2016 to 2017 winter period.
  • Over one-third of all excess winter deaths were caused by respiratory diseases in England and Wales in 2016 to 2017.

 

* Age UK is urging older people to ensure they are doing everything possible to protect themselves against the cold weather. Anyone who is concerned about staying warm and healthy this winter should call the Charity's advice line free of charge on 0800 169 6565 or check its website for a free copy of its annually updated guide Winter wrapped up.

* Age UK https://www.ageuk.org.uk/

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Faith leaders secretly travel to Manus detention camp, condemn government inaction

Two Australian Christian leaders have returned from Manus Island, where they met Manus church leaders and spent nearly 24 hours in the detention camp with the 340 men detained there. 

Australian Christian leaders Pastor Jarrod McKenna and Anglican parish priest Fr Dave Smith returned on 22 November 2017 from Manus Island, where they met Manus church leaders and spent nearly 24 hours in the detention camp with the 340 men detained there. 

They spent five days on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, and were smuggled into the camp by supportive locals. Fr Smith, priest of Holy Trinity in Dulwich Hill, spent seven hours in the camp, while McKenna, pastor of Perth’s Cornerstone Church, remained there for 25 hours after the navy disrupted his first attempt to leave. 

The pair heard why the men in the camp fear to leave it and filmed interviews with many refugees and asylum seekers. 

Speaking of his time in the camp, Pastor McKenna stated: “The kindness the men in the camp showed us, when our nation has been so cruel, was so overwhelming. They fed us, despite having so little food, they washed our feet when we fell in the mud, despite having so little water. As a Christian, it overwhelmed me. I wept with love.

“The news yesterday that police have forcibly removed people from the camp, and arrested journalist Behrouz Boochani, who we spent hours with in the camp, horrifies me.”

“The police have now destroyed all of the men’s possessions, food and water. It is even more obvious and urgent that the Australian government must evacuate these men immediately to safety in Australia,” Mr McKenna said. 

Fr Dave Smith, said: “I have enormous respect for the brave men we met in the camp. They find their strength in community, in supporting each other, and I would be proud to have them as neighbours.

“But the Australian government is attempting to break up their community, destroy their support structures, in order to force them to endure years more of indefinite detention. It is absolutely inexcusable.”

“Churches across Australia have been deeply concerned for a long time about what’s happening on Manus. But because of government secrecy and misinformation, they did not know the truth.”

“I went to Manus so I could show Christians in Australia what is really happening there. Now, I believe we will see a very strong and unified response. Churches will demand safety and justice for these people.”

Both men say the situation in the Manus camp is critical, and only the Australian Government has the capacity and responsibility to ensure the refugees and people seeking asylum are safe. All international and Australian observers agree that the only safe thing to do is evacuate these men to Australia. 

* Pastor Jarrod McKenna and Anglican parish priest Fr Dave Smith are available for interview in Sydney. Media inquiries: Zoe Edwards: 0400 144 794

* A small selection of vision of their trip is available here, further footage can be provided on request:  https://www.dropbox.com/…/q7yr3l…/AABzzEsOzWpmcHmENcqwLHD7a… 

* The trip was supported by GetUp members, who donated funds to cover travel, insurance, and associated costs for the delegation.

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One of the least green budgets ever, says Greenpeace

Responding to the budget, John Sauven, chief executive of Greenpeace, said, “Despite the Chancellor’s pride in the UK’s climate leadership, hidden away in the unannounced text of the budget, he quietly revealed this was one of the least green budgets ever, because there will be no new money for renewables until at least 2025."

Responding to the Budget, John Sauven, chief executive of Greenpeace, said, “Despite the Chancellor’s pride in the UK’s climate leadership, hidden away in the unannounced text of the budget, he quietly revealed this was one of the least green budgets ever, because there will be no new money for renewables until at least 2025. This is the death knell for new renewable energy like tidal, wave and geothermal technology despite the huge economic opportunities they could bring.

“Instead, his Budget focused on propping up dirty, incumbent industries of the past, from North Sea oil and gas, to polluting diesel cars. The Chancellor’s increase to Vehicle Excise Duty, while making the right noises, was far too weak to shift the market away from polluting diesel vehicles and reduce toxic air pollution that is harming our nation’s health.

“On the natural environment, the Chancellor has shown more support for tackling single use plastics that are harming our oceans. His call for evidence should be followed by swift action in the new year.”

In response to the Chancellor’s announcement on an increase in VED on new diesel cars, Paul Morozzo, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace said, “Tough action is needed to deter new diesel sales in order to protect public health. Increasing VED on new diesel cars is a good start, but increasing the cost by one band won’t make enough of a dent in diesel’s market share or the air pollution crisis plaguing our towns and cities. And questions remain about how clean new models that have been through the revised testing system actually are. All new diesel cars should be subject to an £800 increase in VED, which would not only fund a national network of clean air zones, but support a scrappage scheme for the most polluting vehicles.”

Responding to the Chancellor’s announcement on funding for electric vehicle infrastructure, Paul Morozzo said, “Consumers need help to switch to electric vehicles, so this is a welcome investment. Investing more now means the UK could secure a leading share in the burgeoning electric vehicle technology market, bringing the UK revenue and skilled jobs. But if the government wants its piece of the cake, it will need to work harder. That means more investment in electric and a much shorter time frame on phasing out diesel vehicle sales.

Commenting on the Chancellor’s confirmation of a call to evidence for single use plastics, Louise Edge, Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace, said, “It’s great that Philip Hammond recognises that the root of the problem here is the relentlessly increasing torrent of plastic products which are intended for a moment’s use but last for centuries. Accommodating this tidal wave of waste has huge costs, both economically and environmentally. We urgently need to innovate ourselves out of this mess with new approaches and materials, and the government’s role is to both deter unnecessary plastic production and incentivise the sustainable alternatives, some new and some tried and tested.”

In response to the Chancellor’s announcement to provide tax breaks for North Sea oil and gas developers, Hannah Martin, energy campaigner at Greenpeace, said, “Old North Sea oil and gas rigs have passed their sell by date and need to be decommissioned. Government tax breaks for decommissioning might sound like a solution, but in reality a huge amount of taxpayers’ money is at stake to extend the life of these rigs, possibly for only a few years. Instead of giving billions of pounds of tax breaks to oil and gas companies, clean renewable power like solar are clamouring for small tax changes that would open up private investment in the genuine clean long-term energy of the future. Instead of desperately trying to chase the old, Britain should be looking to a new energy system.”

* Greenpeace https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/

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UN hails conviction of Mladic as 'a momentous victory for justice'

The United Nations top human rights official has welcomed the conviction of former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic on multiple counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes by an international tribunal

Welcoming the conviction of former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic on multiple counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes by an international tribunal, the United Nations top human rights official said that the verdict is “a warning” to perpetrators of such crimes that they will be brought to justice.

“Mladic is the epitome of evil, and the prosecution of Mladic is the epitome of what international justice is all about,” underscored Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement on 22 November 2017.

“Today’s verdict is a warning to the perpetrators of such crimes that they will not escape justice, no matter how powerful they may be nor how long it may take. They will be held accountable”, he added.

Mladic presided over some of the most horrific crimes to occur in Europe since World War II, bringing terror, death and destruction to thousands of victims, and sorrow, tragedy and trauma to countless more.

In the statement, Mr Zeid also noted that Mladic’s conviction, by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), is “a testament to the courage and determination of those victims and witnesses who never gave up hope that they would see him brought to justice.”

He also expressed hope that while the conviction will not return loved ones to their families or erase the past, the verdict can help “counter the voices” of those who either deny these horrific crimes or glorify those who committed them.

Also in the statement, Mr Zeid said that the ICTY verdict reinforced the importance of the International Criminal Court. “All those who question the importance of the ICC should reflect on this case. All those who are committing serious international crimes in so many situations today across the world should fear this result”, he said

Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic – two of the main architects of some of the worst atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the genocide of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica – have now been convicted by the Tribunal and are facing lengthy jail sentences.

For his part, the President of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav LajcŠk, said: “This is proof that one can delay justice but not escape it […] the verdict sends a very important message to the mothers of Srebrenica and others who suffered at the hands of Mr. Mladic.”

Mr. LajcŠk served as the High Representative of the International Community and European Union Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2007 to 2009. In that capacity, he visited Srebrenica several times and met with the families of the victims.

“I have personally witnessed and felt the despair in Srebrenica. I hope this ruling will help lift the anguish and impart some sense of justice,” President Laj?Šk said.

In another statement, Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, said: “Today is an historic day. The verdict by the ICTY against Ratko Mladic sends a clear message that there is no space for impunity and that justice will prevail.”

Also paying homage to the victims, Mr Dieng said the verdict renders justice to those who suffered as a result of the atrocity crimes committed by Mr. Mladic. “Nothing can erase the horrors of the past, but they can now have the comfort of knowing that [he] will face punishment appropriate to the crimes he committed.”

At the same time, the Special Adviser stressed that criminal accountability is “not only about the past but also about the future.” Indeed, he said that accountability constitutes a critical component of prevention and also an important step on the path to reconciliation.

In a region witnessing denial of some of the most heinous crimes committed during the armed conflict and the glorification of war criminals, justice alone will not lead to reconciliation, but there can be no real reconciliation without justice. “I hope that this verdict, as well as past decisions by the ICTY, will encourage the region to think about what happened, learn the lessons of the past and chart a future that fully acknowledges those lessons,” the Special Adviser said.

In a separate statement, Serge Brammertz, the Prosecutor at the ICTY, said that in delivering its judgement, the Tribunal accepted the evidence presented that Mladic was a key participant in four joint criminal enterprises.

Mladic and other senior leaders intended to achieve their political and military aims by committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” said the Prosecutor.

The convictions against the former Bosnian Serb army commander included for commanding violent ethnic cleansing campaigns across Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995; for commanding a campaign of crimes during the Siege of Sarajevo; for the genocide in Srebrenica in 1995; and for using forces under his command to take UN peacekeepers as hostages.

Mr Brammertz emphasised that while some people would claim that this judgment is a verdict against the Serbian people, “[We] reject that claim in the strongest terms. Mladic’s guilt is his, and his alone […] he will be remembered by history for the many communities and lives he destroyed” he said.

“The true heroes are the victims and survivors who never gave up on their quest for justice [and] displayed real courage by coming to the Tribunal to tell the truth and confront the men who wronged them,” said the prosecutor.

* Read the High Commissioner's statement here

* Read the Prosecutor's statement here

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

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UK set for 'longest fall in living standards for over 60 years'
  • Britain is on course for the longest period of falling living standards since records began in the 1950s, with the current crunch forecast to last longer than the post-crisis income squeeze, the Resolution Foundation said today.

Britain is on course for the longest period of falling living standards since records began in the 1950s, with the current crunch forecast to last longer than the post-crisis income squeeze, the Resolution Foundation said following its overnight Budget analysis.

The report Freshly Squeezed highlights the unprecedented scale of the economic downgrade handed down to the Chancellor by the OBR, and how this impacts on the public and families’ finances.

The analysis finds that:

  • The OBR has handed the Chancellor the biggest downgrade to productivity forecasts since its creation in 2010.
  • On a ten-year rolling basis, productivity growth is set to fall to 0.1 per cent by the end of 2017, marking this as the worst decade for productivity growth since 1812 – when Napoleon was busy invading Russia.
  • As a result the economy is on course to be £42 billion smaller in 2022, compared to the March 2017 forecast.

Faced with these grim economic forecasts driving projections for an extra £30 billion of borrowing by 2021-22, the Chancellor has chosen to accept that public finance deterioration and increase it by a further £15 billion. In doing so, he has all but abandoned his main fiscal objective (and manifesto aim) of reaching an absolute surplus by the middle of the decade.

The Foundation notes that:

  • If the Chancellor did decide to meet the Conservative Manifesto aim it would require a doubling of the pace of deficit reduction in the three years running up to 2025-26.
  • A slight pause in cuts to day to day departmental spending (per person) is set to take place in 2018-19. However, budgets are still set to be 16 per cent lower in 2022-23 than in 2010-11. In contrast, capital spending per person is set to exceed pre-crisis levels by the start of the next decade.

Looking at how the revised economic forecasts affect household incomes, the analysis finds that:

  • The current income squeeze is set to be longer (though shallower) than the post-crash squeeze, with real household disposable incomes set to fall for an unprecedented 19 successive quarters between 2015 and 2020.
  • Despite welcome but relatively small shifts on Universal Credit, tax and benefit policies announced since Summer Budget 2015 are set to put downward pressure on living standards and upward pressure on inequality. The poorest third of households are set for an average loss of £715 a year by the end of the parliament, while the richest third gain an average of £185.
  • The Foundation’s analysis of the measures making up the Chancellor’s welcome focus on housing finds that:
  • Additional housing capital investment is set to take spending to levels greater than the 2000s (outside the fiscal stimulus peak of 2008 to 2010), driving progress towards building 300,000 homes a year.
  • The cumulative £3 billion cost of the abolition of stamp duty for many first time buyers could have supported the building of 40,000 social rented properties or around 140,000 homes through the government’s own Housing Infrastructure Fund.
  • The policy is set to cost £160,000 for every additional home owner created, sufficient for the Chancellor to have instead simply given people typically priced properties in over a quarter of local authorities in England and Wales.


Torsten Bell, Director of the Resolution Foundation, said, “Following years of incremental changes, yesterday the OBR handed down the mother of all economic downgrades pushing up borrowing for the Treasury.

“While Philip Hammond chose to take a relaxed approach to additional borrowing, families are unlikely to do so when it comes to the deeply troubling outlook for their living standards that the Budget numbers set out. Families are now projected to be in the early stages of the longest period of continuous falls in disposable incomes in over 60 years – longer even than that following the financial crisis.

“On the substance of the Budget the Chancellor has made the right call in boosting housing investment and focusing on this key issue of intergenerational concern. However, yesterday’s stamp duty rabbit is in reality a very poor way to boost home ownership. Its £3 billion cost could have been better spent building 140,000 new homes through the government’s own Housing Investment Fund.

“Faced with a grim economic backdrop the Chancellor will see this Budget as a political success. But that would be cold comfort for Britain’s families given the bleak outlook it paints for their living standards.

“Hopefully the OBR’s forecasts will prove to be wrong because, while the first sentence of the Budget document reads ‘the United Kingdom has a bright future’, the brutal truth is: not on these forecasts it doesn’t.”

* Read Freshly Squeezed here

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

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Howard League responds to HMIP's annual report on detained children

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ annual report on the experiences of detained children aged 12 to 18.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ annual report on the experiences of detained children aged 12 to 18, published on Wednesday  22 November 2017.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Once again, this annual report presents an appalling picture. Children are being harmed.

“The Howard League is representing children who have been held in solitary confinement for long periods of time. Boys hardly ever see daylight, have a very poor diet, get little or no help with their problems and even getting a shower is a challenge. If we treated animals like this, it would be a national scandal.

“The inspectorate is right to draw attention to the disproportionate numbers of black and minority ethnic children, and children who have been in care, in custody. It raises serious questions about the sentencing and remand decisions of the youth courts.”

* Read HMIP report here

* The Howard League http://howardleague.org/

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Committees publish Bill to end exploitation in the gig economy

The draft Bill aims to close the loopholes that allow companies to use bogus 'self-employment' status as a route to cheap labour and tax avoidance, saying the law must not allow willingness to exploit workers to be a competitive advantage.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee, and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committees have published a joint report and draft Bill to close the loopholes that allow companies to use bogus 'self-employment' status as a route to cheap labour and tax avoidance, saying the law must not allow willingness to exploit workers to be a competitive advantage.

Frank Field, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee said, "The two Committees are today presenting the Prime Minister with an opportunity to fulfil the promise she made on the steps of Downing Street on her first day in office, with a draft Bill that would end the mass exploitation of ordinary, hard-working people in the gig economy. The Bill would put good business on a level playing field, not being undercut by bad business. It is time to close the loopholes that allow irresponsible companies to underpay workers, avoid taxes and free ride on our welfare system." 

Rachel Reeves, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, said, "Uber, Deliveroo and others like to bang the drum for the benefits of flexibility for their workforce but currently all the burden of this flexibility is picked up by taxpayers and workers. This must change. We say that companies should pay higher wages when they are asking people to work extra hours or on zero-hours contracts.

"Recent cases demonstrate a need for greater clarity in the law to protect workers. Responsible businesses deserve a level-playing field to compete, not a system which rewards unscrupulous businesses. We need new laws but also much tougher enforcement, to weed out those businesses seeking to exploit complex labour laws, and workers, for their competitive advantage."

Employment status

  • The current situation puts an unacceptable burden on workers to address poor practice through an expensive and risky court case while the companies themselves operate with relative impunity.
  • Clarified legislation to protect the legitimately self-employed and a new presumption of "worker by default" would require companies to provide basic safety net standards of rights and benefits to their workers – or prove that their working practices are genuinely reflecting of self-employment.
  • An obligation on employment tribunals to consider the increased use of higher, punitive fines and costs orders if an employer has already lost a similar case, and enabling use of class actions in disputes over wages, status and working time, would reduce the chance and opportunity for employers to simply 'wait and see' whether individuals are willing to risk pursuing their rights.

Minimum wage   

  • A flexible labour force can benefit workers, consumers and businesses – but it is not acceptable that the gig economy burden workers and taxpayers with the risks of this flexibility.
  • Workers should not be faced with a choice between not working, or working for below minimum wage.
  • The Government should rule out introducing any legislation that would undermine the National Minimum Wage/National Living Wage.
  • The loophole that enables agency workers to be paid less than permanent employees doing the same job must be closed.
  • Companies should either guarantee hours that reflect the periods worked each week, or compensate workers for uncertainty.

Enforcement

  • Currently, employers need only fear an inspection of their labour practices "once every 500 years" – and receive only paltry fines if they are found to be breaking the law.
  • The enforcement bodies and the Director of Labour Market Enforcement urgently need more resources – paid for by a significant increase in fines for offending employers – to root out bad practice.
  • Companies that flout the law, and those that tolerate exploitation in their supply chains, should be 'named and shamed'. In the longer term, embargoing of goods from non-compliant businesses has potential as a "very strong incentive" for retailers to promote compliance in their supply chains
  • Enabling enforcement bodies to issue punitive fines for noncompliance would also help ensure that the risks of being caught outweigh the gains companies stand from illegal pay and practices.
  • Concentrated 'deep dives' in industry sectors and geographic areas, where there is evidence of abuse, by all the enforcing bodies should become a regular part of the armour to protect vulnerable low paid workers.

* House of Commons Select Committees http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/

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Asylum seekers 'stuck in tents on Greek islands'

Containment policy forces asylum seekers arriving on the Greek islands to remain in overcrowded, unsafe facilities, an urgent concern with winter approaching. 

The Greek government, with the support of EU member states, should act now to end Greece’s 'containment policy', 20 human rights and aid groups have said. The policy forces asylum seekers arriving on the Greek islands to remain in overcrowded, unsafe facilities, an urgent concern with winter approaching. 

Conditions on the Greek islands have continued to deteriorate in the month since 19 nongovernmental groups wrote an open letter to the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, calling on him to move asylum seekers to the mainland, where better conditions and services are available. 

“In an effort to make the EU-Turkey deal work, the Greek islands have been transformed into places of indefinite confinement for asylum seekers who have risked their lives in search of safety and a better life in Europe”, said Nicola Bay, head of mission for Oxfam in Greece. “The EU and the Greek government need to start putting people’s lives ahead of politics and uphold Europe’s commitment to human rights.”

“This remains a matter of life and death”, said Jana Frey, the International Rescue Committee’s country director in Greece. “There is absolutely no excuse for the conditions on the islands right now – thousands of people crammed into overcrowded and desperately under-resourced facilities. We are in a race against time. Lives will be lost – again – this winter – unless people are allowed to move, in an organised and voluntary fashion, to the mainland.” 

Members of the group recently asked to meet with Tsipras to discuss the most urgent needs on the islands and provide recommendations for addressing this increasingly dire situation. They have received no response.

Over the past month, the Greek government has transferred 2,000 people from Samos and Lesbos to the mainland as a one-time emergency measure. When the government announced this initiative in October, these islands were already 5,000 people over capacity. It was clear then that this measure, while helpful, would not suffice. 

“Nothing can justify trapping people in these terrible conditions on the islands for another winter,” said Eva Cosse, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Greece and other European Union member states should act urgently to remove the obstacles to people getting the care and assistance they need on the Greek mainland.”

As of 20 November 2017, the hotspots on Lesbos, Samos, and Chios are hosting 7,000 over capacity: 10,925 people are staying in facilities with a capacity of just 3,924. Thousands, including single women, female heads of households, and very young children, are being forced to live in summer tents, essentially sleeping on the ground, as the weather worsens. Some women are forced to share tents with unrelated men, putting their privacy and safety at risk. This will be the second winter asylum seekers have had to spend in unsuitable facilities on the islands since the EU-Turkey Deal went into effect. 

“The EU-Turkey Deal is condemning refugees and migrants to a second winter in squalor on the Greek islands. Instead of trying to maintain the deal at all cost, European countries and Greece should urgently work together and move asylum seekers off the islands”, said Gabriel Sakellaridis, director of Amnesty International in Greece. 

EU and Greek officials have cited the EU-Turkey Deal as a justification for the containment policy. However, forcing asylum seekers to remain in conditions that violate their rights and are harmful to their well-being, health, and dignity cannot be justified, the organisations said. As such, the groups have also written to EU member state ambassadors to Greece urging them to immediately call on the Greek government to suspend, the containment policy.

The groups urged Prime Minister Tsipras to protect the human rights of asylum seekers trapped on the islands by ending the containment policy, immediately transferring people to improved conditions on the mainland, and making a commitment to ensure that no one is forced to sleep in a tent.

Because the 'containment policy' is being implemented in response to the EU-Turkey deal, the organisations highlighted the responsibility of the European Commission and the EU member states to address the situation on the Greek islands and to press the Greek government to reverse the policy. EU member states should support the Greek government’s efforts to ensure the safety and dignity of asylum seekers in EU territory, including by expanding safe accommodation and access to services on the mainland.

* Oxfam International https://www.oxfam.org/en

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Inquiry into UK childhood food insecurity launched

A parliamentary inquiry has been launched into the issue of childhood food insecurity in the UK. UNICEF has estimated that 10 per cent of children in the UK are living in households affected by severe food insecurity.

A parliamentary inquiry has been launched to gather vital information on the issue of childhood food insecurity. In June this year UNICEF estimated that an alarming 10 per cent of children in the UK (1.17 million) are living in households affected by severe food insecurity. 

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child June 2016 report stated concerns about the lack of comprehensive data on child food insecurity in the UK as well as high prevalence of overweight and obesity.  Yet the true scale of the issue in the UK is still unknown. 

Last week, the Office for National Statistics released new data showing food prices up by 4.2 per cent on the previous 12 months, putting more pressure on families already struggling to put food on the table.  Children who benefit from free school meals during term time will become an extra mouth to feed in the Christmas holidays, sparking more concerns of holiday hunger.  Food banks this month have voiced concerns about meeting demand for emergency food supplies this Christmas, given the impact of the introduction of Universal Credit.

The Inquiry is being led by Sharon Hodgson MP, Chair of the School Food APG and has cross-party support from both the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The inquiry will build on the Feeding Britain report in 2014 to investigate child food security in depth. It will result in concrete policy recommendations generated from extensive consultation and witness hearings with children, adults and experts. This is the first inquiry of its kind in the UK.

Sharon Hodgson MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, said, “Food insecurity is growing problem here in the UK and it is important that we tackle it head on, instead of ignoring it and allowing it to continue on as it has for so long. This is especially important when it comes to those children who face food insecurity which has a knock-on effect on their development as they grow.

“That is why I am honoured to chair this cross-party, all-nation Children’s Future Food Inquiry, which will be the first of its kind to consult and listen to children and young people about food insecurity and what policies should be developed that will benefit them.

“Children’s and young people’s voices will be heard on this serious societal issue and brought to the very heart of Westminster. It is a big task to complete but one that is of utmost importance if we are to ensure the next generation of children are as healthy as possible.”

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London said “Even in a rich country like ours we know that vast numbers of people are food insecure. And that’s before we’ve begun to talk about the quality of food.  We’ve got to address the fundamental drivers of inequalities in our society in order to give every child the best start in life and nutrition is key.”

* Download the UNICEF report Prevalence and Correlates of Food Insecurity among Children across the Globe here

* The Food Foundation http://foodfoundation.org.uk/

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