News Briefing and Comment


04/27/2017 03:42 PM
IFS: impact of tax and benefit reforms on household incomes

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says planned benefit cuts will have a bigger impact on the poorest households than cuts made by the Coalition.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has today (27 April 2017) published a Briefing Note, analysing the impact of tax and benefit changes on household incomes. They look at changes implemented since 2015, and those planned by the current government.

Some key findings are:

The biggest changes to taxes or benefits so far this parliament have been the increases to the income tax personal allowance and the higher rate threshold. They will cost £5 billion per year.

Benefit cuts planned by the current government would significantly reduce the incomes of low-income working-age households, particularly those with children. If implemented, these planned cuts will have a bigger effect on the entitlements of the poorest families than the cuts made by the coalition.  If the cuts were fully in place now, the IFS says nearly 3 million working households with children on tax credits would be an average of £2,500 a year worse off. Larger families would lose more.

The IFS says these large losses for low-income households are largely due to three planned benefit cuts:

Cuts to the generosity of tax credits for families with children – limiting entitlement to two children and removing the ‘family element’. These cuts are expected to reduce government spending by around £5 billion a year in the long run.

The continuing roll-out of Universal Credit, also expected to reduce government spending by around £5 billion a year in the long run.

Maintaining the freeze on most working-age benefit rates until March 2020. Under current inflation forecasts the freeze will reduce the real value of these benefits by five per cent between now and 2020, and reduce government spending by over £3 billion a year.

The IFS stresses that many of the planned changes will not create immediate losses of benefit income, because of protections for existing claimants, but will significantly reduce the generosity of the system in the future.

The IFS will produce further analysis when party manifestos are published.

You can read the full Briefing Note here

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04/27/2017 10:36 AM
Human Rights Watch granted Israeli work permit

The Israeli authorities have granted a work visa to Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport.

The Israeli authorities have granted a work visa to Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch (HWR), upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, the organisation said yesterday (26 April 2017).

The approval of a one-year work visa reverses a 20 February Interior Ministry decision to deny a work permit to Human Rights Watch.

“We welcome this opportunity to work in Israel and Palestine alongside vigorous national human rights organisations,” said Iain Levine, executive deputy director for programme at Human Rights Watch. “Israeli authorities do not always agree with our findings, but, in facilitating the ability of our staff to carry out our research and documentation, they have taken an important step to safeguard the principle of transparency and demonstrate their openness to criticism.”

Human Rights Watch applied to the Israeli Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority on 14 July 2016, for a work permit on behalf of Shakir, a United States citizen who is a lawyer by training. The Interior Ministry initially denied the work permit, but allowed him to enter the country on tourist visa on 6 March 2017, for a 10-day visit.

In a 12 March letter, which Human Rights Watch received on 27 March, the Interior Ministry notified Human Rights Watch that it had granted it permission to employ a foreign expert in Israel. The Interior Ministry accepted the paperwork and payment for Shakir’s work visa under the organisation’s work permit on 20 April, and Shakir received the visa upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport on 26 April..

Human Rights Watch has had regular access to Israel and the West Bank for nearly three decades, with staff and offices in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Gaza for much of this period. HRW staff have regularly met and corresponded with Israeli government officials. Since 2008, Israel has refused HRW access to Gaza, except for one visit in 2016.

Human Rights Watch is an independent, international, nongovernmental organisation that promotes respect for human rights and international law. It monitors rights violations in more than 90 counties across the world. To carry out its work, the organisation relies on rigorous research from professional researchers on the ground and regular engagement with government officials, as well as others with first-hand information.

The Israeli authorities have in recent years limited the space for local and international human rights defenders operating in Israel and Palestine. A law passed by the Knesset in July requires Israeli nonprofit groups that receive more than half their funding, indirectly or directly, from foreign governments to note that information in communications with the public and with government officials. Data from the Population and Immigration Authority obtained by Haaretz via a Freedom of Information Law in February 2017 indicates a ninefold increase in the number of visitors to Israel denied entry over the past five years. In March, the Knesset passed a law barring entry to those who call for or support a boycott of Israel or Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“Having our country director based in Israel and Palestine will allow us to closely engage Israeli and Palestinian officials, partners, and those directly affected by human rights abuses,” Levine said. “We hope that this decision reflects a larger recommitment by the Israeli government to allow international and domestic rights groups to work freely and to improve access to and from Gaza, in particular for human rights workers.”

* Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/

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04/27/2017 10:12 AM
TUC warns on growth in insecure employment

Analysis from the TUC, forming part of a series showing what the British economy will look like in 2022 if current trends continue unchecked, finds that by the start of 2022, 3.5 million people could be in insecure work such as zero-hours contracts, temp or agency work, and low-paid self-employment.

Analysis from the Trades Union Congress (TUC), forming part of a series showing what the British economy will look like in 2022 if current trends continue unchecked, finds that by the start of 2022, 3.5 million people could be in insecure work such as zero-hours contracts, temp or agency work, and low-paid self-employment.

Previous TUC research found that workers on insecure zero-hours contracts earn a third less per hour than the average worker.

The TUC also found that insecure work costs the Treasury £4 billion a year in lost income tax and national insurance contributions, along with extra benefits and tax credits.

The TUC is calling for:

  • A ban on zero-hours contracts: people working regular hours should have a right to a guaranteed-hours contract.
  • People on variable-hours contracts to get overtime pay for hours outside of their contracts.
  • All workers to have a right to a written statement of terms, conditions and working hours, from day one.
  • Everyone at work to get the same rights as an employee, unless the employer can show that they are genuinely self-employed.
  • Agency workers should be entitled to the going rate for the job, on an equal basis with directly-employed workers.

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "MPs aren't the only ones feeling insecure in their jobs right now. If nothing changes, hundreds of thousands more Brits could be stuck in insecure work, being treated like disposable labour. That's the same as thirteen extra Sports Directs, or the entire working population of Sheffield.

"Paying rent and bills can be a nightmare when you don't know how much you've got coming in each month. And planning childcare is impossible when you're constantly at the beck and call of employers.

"The next government will need to tackle this problem head on. Every party manifesto must have real commitments to crack down on zero-hours contracts and bogus self-employment. And agency workers should always get the going rate for the job."

*The TUC’s definition of insecure work includes those on zero-hours contracts, insecure temporary work like agency and casual work, and low paid self-employment. The figures are based on OBR projections for the growth in the number of employees and self-employed people between 2016 and 2021, TUC calculations based on ONS data that 39 per centof the increase in employee numbers between 2011 and 2016 has come from insecure work, and data from the Social Market Foundation showing that 45 per cent of the self-employed are in low paid work.

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


04/27/2017 09:51 AM
PAC reports on GP access, social care, and ambulance services

Public Accounts Committee says Better Care Fund is "little more than a complicated ruse"

The cross-party Public Accounts Committee holds the government to account for its use of public money. Today (27 April 2017) it has published three reports, on access to GPs, ambulance services, and the Better Care Fund.

On the Better Care Fund the Committee says,

"Integration of health and social care services offers the prospect of improving both patient outcomes and value for money for the taxpayer. Two years ago, we expressed serious doubt that the government's latest integration initiative, the Better Care Fund (the Fund), would save money, reduce emergency admissions to hospitals and reduce the number of days people remain stuck in hospital unnecessarily.

Since then the Fund has failed to achieve any of these objectives and our witnesses displayed an appallingly casual attitude to the targets that had been set for reducing emergency admissions and delayed transfers of care, both of which have actually increased. In practice, the Fund was little more than a complicated ruse to transfer money from health to local government to paper over the funding pressures on adult social care. Integration must now be delivered in the context of the sustainability and transformation planning process. Place-based planning will be critical to the future of health and social care. However, to succeed, the NHS must find better ways to engage more genuinely with local government and local populations."

On ambulance services, the Committee says,

"Since this Committee last examined ambulance services in 2011: funding increases for the urgent and emergency services provided by ambulance trusts have not kept up with increasing demand; ambulance trusts increasingly struggle to meet response-time targets, despite focussing on these targets to the detriment of wider performance; and significant variations between trusts, in both operational and financial performance, persist or have got worse as insufficient work has been done to understand and reduce variation."

And on GP access the Committee says,

"The Department of Health (the Department) and NHS England have objectives to improve and extend access, and have made some effort to understand the demand for this extended access. But they are moving ahead in rolling out extended hours without really understanding the level of access currently being provided or how to get the best from existing resources.

Last year we also expressed concern that staffing in general practice was not keeping pace with growing demand. Despite the government's target to recruit 5,000 more GPs, the overall number of GPs has reduced in the last year, and problems with staff retention have continued. Health Education England has increased the number of trainee GPs recruited, but still did not manage to meet its recruitment target last year.

NHS England and Health Education England have several initiatives in place to boost recruitment further, to make better use of other staff groups, and to ease workload and encourage staff to stay. However, they are pursuing these discrete initiatives without a credible plan for how to develop a cost-effective, sustainable workforce."

* The full reports can be found here 

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04/27/2017 09:48 AM
Public Accounts Committee reports on GP access, social care, and ambulance services

Public Accounts Committee says Better Care Fund is "little more than a complicated ruse"

The cross-party Public Accounts Committee holds the government to account for its use of public money. Today (27 April) it has published three reports, on access to GPs, ambulance services, and the Better Care Fund.

On the Better Care Fund the Committee says,

"Integration of health and social care services offers the prospect of improving both patient outcomes and value for money for the taxpayer. Two years ago, we expressed serious doubt that the government's latest integration initiative, the Better Care Fund (the Fund), would save money, reduce emergency admissions to hospitals and reduce the number of days people remain stuck in hospital unnecessarily.

Since then the Fund has failed to achieve any of these objectives and our witnesses displayed an appallingly casual attitude to the targets that had been set for reducing emergency admissions and delayed transfers of care, both of which have actually increased. In practice, the Fund was little more than a complicated ruse to transfer money from health to local government to paper over the funding pressures on adult social care. Integration must now be delivered in the context of the sustainability and transformation planning process. Place-based planning will be critical to the future of health and social care. However, to succeed, the NHS must find better ways to engage more genuinely with local government and local populations."

On ambulance services, the Committee says,

"Since this Committee last examined ambulance services in 2011: funding increases for the urgent and emergency services provided by ambulance trusts have not kept up with increasing demand; ambulance trusts increasingly struggle to meet response-time targets, despite focussing on these targets to the detriment of wider performance; and significant variations between trusts, in both operational and financial performance, persist or have got worse as insufficient work has been done to understand and reduce variation."

And on GP access the Committee says,

"The Department of Health (the Department) and NHS England have objectives to improve and extend access, and have made some effort to understand the demand for this extended access. But they are moving ahead in rolling out extended hours without really understanding the level of access currently being provided or how to get the best from existing resources.

Last year we also expressed concern that staffing in general practice was not keeping pace with growing demand. Despite the government's target to recruit 5,000 more GPs, the overall number of GPs has reduced in the last year, and problems with staff retention have continued. Health Education England has increased the number of trainee GPs recruited, but still did not manage to meet its recruitment target last year.

NHS England and Health Education England have several initiatives in place to boost recruitment further, to make better use of other staff groups, and to ease workload and encourage staff to stay. However, they are pursuing these discrete initiatives without a credible plan for how to develop a cost-effective, sustainable workforce."

The full reports can be found here  http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-sele...


04/26/2017 10:23 PM
Bookings open for Methodist 3Generate youth event

Bookings have now opened for 3Generate. This year's children and youth assembly of the Methodist Church, taking place at a new, bigger, venue, with up to 1,000 young people and leaders expected to attend, is described by the church as " promising to be the biggest 3Generate yet".

Bookings have now opened for 3Generate. This year's children and youth assembly of the Methodist Church, taking place at a new, bigger, venue, with up to 1,000 young people and leaders expected to attend, is described by the church as " promising to be the biggest 3Generate yet".

Following massive growth and growing demand for places in recent years, this year's event will run from 24-26 November at Pontins, Southport, for children and young people aged 8-23.

This inspiring and fun weekend for children and young people across the Church encourages reflection, conversation and speaking out on the issues that are of concern to them and their faith.

The weekend is shaped and designed by local groups made up of leaders, children and young people. There are age-appropriate sessions and activities with some sessions that will be intergenerational.  'The Well' stream for leaders will again offer dedicated sessions. Leaders will be responsible for their groups throughout the event and will be in group accommodation.

In 2016, extra measures were introduced for young people with additional needs who wanted to attend and fully participate, something which the organisers intend to continue and build on this year.

All age groups get the chance to take part in a huge variety of activities, different styles of worship and themed, issue-based workshops, exploring topics raised by the children and young people.

The 19-23 age group is designed for young people who have left school. This group follow their own programme which will be integrated with the overall programme for the event and therefore there will enjoy times together as a group as well as times with others. The group will be accommodated in its own dedicated set of chalets. Those over the age of 18 who have already left school are welcome to join this group.

During the weekend the young people also elect their own Youth President to serve for a year and represent them to the wider Methodist Church from 2018-2019.

Tim Annan, Youth President 2016-2017 who was elected at 3Generate 2015, commented: "3Generate is a both fun and spiritual event that empowers young people to talk and pray about the issues that matter to them. Young people are the Church now and, with the world an increasingly complex place, the 3Generate weekend equips young Methodist people to respond to issues from a Christian perspective.

"This year, for the first time, youth and children's leaders are invited to accompany their groups. There will be a leaders' programme, as well as sessions together with the young people."

Those who wish to attend but whose church is not organising its own group may be able to join another group from their Circuit or District. Event organisers may be able to assist with this. There is a requirement for one leader per six children aged under 18 years of age.Tickets for delegates are £110 including food, accommodation and activities.Full details are available on the3Generate website

* Methodist Church in Britain http://www.methodist.org.uk/

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04/26/2017 10:12 AM
Indigenous peoples ‘moral compass of humanity’ UN told

Endorsement of the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not equal implementation, speakers told the UN General Assembly at a special meeting to celebrate the Declaration’s tenth anniversary

Endorsement of the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not equal implementation, speakers told the UN General Assembly at a special meeting to celebrate the Declaration’s tenth anniversary and renew commitment to its tenets as a vital solution towards attaining a just and sustainable world.

Since the Declaration’s adoption, global awareness of indigenous peoples had grown. However, progress had been inconsistent within countries and uneven around the world, Durga Prasad Bhattarai, Vice-President of the General Assembly told the High-level event marking the 10th anniversary of the landmark UN Declaration.

“To fulfil the commitments made under the Declaration,” he said, “stronger partnerships – built on a foundation of trust – must be forged between among Governments, indigenous peoples, the United Nations, civil society, the private sector and other key stakeholders.”

He invited the international community to renew its commitment to indigenous peoples, work collaboratively to achieve the Declaration’s aims and secure a world in which the rights of all indigenous peoples were promoted and protected.

Delivering the keynote address, Evo Morales Ayma, the President of Bolivia, described how the indigenous movement in his country had brought together other sectors of society, including transport workers and the middle class, to build a new Bolivia.

“There are no issues in which indigenous peoples could not or should not be involved”, he said, explaining that for centuries, they had resisted 'invaders' who sought to extinguish their identity. Indeed, indigenous people around the world shared the same history.

Describing war as the direct product of capitalism, he pointed out that, for the rich, there is no crisis as they continued to accumulate wealth on the backs of the poor. “Humanity is in danger”, but that is a challenge, not destiny. “Indigenous peoples have shown that we can resist. Brothers and sisters, we can and we must.”

And indeed, indigenous peoples can make their own future. What had been achieved in Bolivia – a country that had gone from a colonial State to a sovereign and plurinational one – demonstrates what could be done at a global level. “Indigenous peoples are the moral compass of humanity, with their own ways of organisation and production,” he said, adding that their responsibility is to organise a global fight “to save humanity and the world.”

Kyung-wha Kang, the UN Secretary-General’s Senior Adviser on Policy, said to ameliorate progress on the rights of Indigenous peoples, several tools should be used, including the three relevant United Nations mechanisms – the Permanent Forum, the Special Rapporteur and the Expert Mechanism. In addition, the UN system-wide action plan and ongoing consultations could also be used to help to amplify indigenous voices in the Organisation’s processes.

While hailing the progress made this far, Andrew Gilmour, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights said: “The struggle is far from over. Although the Declaration was approved 10 years ago, many of the obstacles that led to its enactment are still present today. Endorsement of its fine principles, alas, does not equal implementation.”

So once again, the indigenous movement – with its diverse voices, including those of indigenous women, youth, and persons with disabilities – is “rising to meet the challenge of making the Declaration a reality”, he said pointing, to the ‘water protectors’ in Standing Rock, South Dakota, in the United States, as well as those speaking up for their rights, from Nepal to Mexico, who are insisting that their informed consent must be sought.

Yet extractive industries continued to destroy their land, seeing the indigenous populations on them not as a vital element, but as an obstacle. Human rights defenders were being killed. The Office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has called for follow up on enforcing indigenous peoples’ rights.

* The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples can be dowloaded here

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

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04/26/2017 09:55 AM
Legal challenge to prolonged solitary confinement of child in prison

A judicial review, brought by the Howard League for Penal Reform on behalf of a boy who has been held in prolonged solitary confinement in a London prison, has been heard by the High Court.

A judicial review, brought by the Howard League for Penal Reform on behalf of a boy who has been held in prolonged solitary confinement in a London prison, was heard by the High Court on 25 April 2017.

For long periods of his time in Feltham prison, the boy, identified only as AB in court documents, has been locked alone in his cell for 23 and a half hours a day. He was denied any educational provision for months.

The boy is represented by the Howard League’s legal team. The charity applied to the High Court for a judicial review in February, arguing that the boy’s treatment was unlawful.

The government has since conceded that, for long spells of the boy’s time in custody, aspects of his treatment were unlawful – but it is still fighting the claim.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has been granted permission to intervene in the case, which raises serious issues about keeping children in prolonged solitary confinement not previously considered by courts in the UK.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is a widespread problem and it is getting worse. In just the last week, several more children, held in prisons across the country, have asked the Howard League for help because they are in almost total isolation.

“Some of the children we have represented have been in solitary confinement for up to nine months and have been subject to very similar regimes to the boy in this case. They have been allowed out of their cells for about 30 minutes a day, with little or no access to education, limited access to exercise or fresh air, and no association or meaningful intervention.”

The UK is out of step with a growing international consensus that children should never be placed in solitary confinement.

In the US, the District Court for New York granted an injunction requiring the immediate cessation of 23 hour solitary confinement of children. The court referred to expert evidence that “solitary confinement perpetuates, worsens, or even in some cases precipitates mental health concerns that can lead to long-term and often permanent changes in adolescent brain development”.

Only last week, a report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture stated how children in Cookham Wood prison, in Kent, were “regularly held in conditions akin to solitary confinement for periods of 30 days and some for as long as 60 days or even, on occasion, up to 80 days for reasons of discipline and good order”.

In a ruling delivered in 2015, the Supreme Court held that there are “well known” risks of solitary confinement and that prolonged solitary confinement – defined as being longer than 15 days – is particularly harmful.

The Supreme Court cited expert evidence that the prolonged solitary confinement of adults can have an “extremely damaging effect on … mental, somatic and social health” and “some of the harmful psychological effects of isolation can become irreversible”.

The impact can be even greater on children. In his annual report for 2014-15, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons reported that in Feltham “26 per cent of the population were being managed on units under a restricted regime that excluded them from activities and meant that they were unlocked for less than an hour a day – in effect, solitary confinement on their residential units”.

In the same year, a report by the National Preventive Mechanism, an independent body which monitors the treatment of prisoners, stated of young offender institutions: “In many cases isolation outside the formal care and separation unit lasted for more than 22 hours a day, and could last for several weeks”. The report drew attention to a “worrying number of instances where isolation was not subject to formal governance”.

The widespread use of solitary confinement of children in prisons in England was exposed in 2015 in a report by the Children’s Commissioner. It found that one-third of children in prison will spend time in isolation and that the practice is used disproportionately in respect of children from looked after and ethnic minority backgrounds.

The legal case for AB argues that his treatment is in breach of the United Nations’ Mandela Rules, which prohibit the use of solitary confinement for children.

* Read HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales Annual Report 2014-15, which raised concerns about solitary confinement in Feltham prison here and Monitoring Places of Detention: The Sixth Annual Report of the United Kingdom’s National Preventive Mechanism here

* Howard League for Penal Reform http://howardleague.org/

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04/26/2017 09:37 AM
Charity expresses concern at rise in ESA sanctions

A leading UK poverty charity, Turn2us, has raised concerns about an increase in the number of people receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who have been sanctioned.

A leading UK poverty charity, Turn2us, has raised concerns about an increase in the number of people receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who have been sanctioned. It says that 874 sanctions were applied in January 2016, which rose to 1,545 for September 2016, the most recently available figures. Turn2us says that sanctions can have devastating consequences for those who receive them, and that it is regularly contacted by people who have received an ESA sanction and who are needing help to pay for basic living costs.

Turn2us says that ‘failure to participate in Work Related Activity’ is consistently given as the reason for the sanction in a large majority of cases, and says that these activities such as skills training and community work placements are often difficult to undertake for many people with complex illnesses and disabilities. The charity points out that a large proportion of those who have received ESA sanctions have disabilities, 41,510 since December 2012, compared to 7,774 who did not during the same period.

Outlining the charity’s concerns, Alison Taylor, Director of Turn2us Operations, said: “Employment and Support Allowance is a key benefit that allows many people with an illness or disability to pay for their basic living costs. We know from those who seek our help the desperate situation people can be left in if these essential benefits are cut. A rise in these sanctions is therefore very concerning.”

Turn2us has also emphasised the importance of anyone struggling with accessing benefits to seek its help. It says that it can help people understand and access what they are entitled to.

* Turn2us https://www.turn2us.org.uk/

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04/25/2017 09:31 AM
Quakers call on Scottish government to ban fracking

Quakers in Britain are urging the Scottish Government to ban fracking and unconventional gas and oil extraction. In a response to the government's public consultation, Quakers are calling for bold steps to tackle climate change by supporting renewable, efficient energy instead.

Quakers in Britain are urging the Scottish Government to ban fracking and unconventional gas and oil extraction. In a response to the government's public consultation, Quakers are calling for bold steps to tackle climate change by supporting renewable, efficient energy instead.

Quakers are motivated by faith to cherish the earth and to speak out against climate injustice that causes huge inequalities across the world.

Responding to the consultation, Talking Fracking, Quakers in Britain say they consider that “an energy sector that works in harmony with a safe climate, that provides cost effective energy, and offers equitable economic opportunity and long-term jobs can only be achieved by banning unconventional gas and oil (UOG) and investing in renewable, efficient energy instead."

A recent representative meeting of Quakers said, “We have faith we can tackle climate change and build a more sustainable future, but we know this is only possible if fossil fuels remain in the ground."

“Fracked gas is not the low-carbon solution some suggest and is incompatible with tackling the climate crisis. It is destructive of the environment, land and communities."

John Fitzgerald of South East Scotland Quaker Area Meeting hopes the government puts an end to fracking because “it would pose an unacceptable risk to local communities and our environment. The economic claims in support of fracking are dubious – research shows it would only bring a small number of jobs over many decades.

He said a swift transition is needed “to a renewable energy system, along with more decentralised and community energy. These changes would help us tackle climate change and social injustice. Fracking is just a distraction that would make fat profits for gas companies at the expense of communities and the environment."

Quakers around the country have joined local resistance to proposed fracking developments from Sussex to North Yorkshire. On Saturday 6 May, Quakers will climb Pendle Hill in Lancashire, an area under threat from fracking, to protest against the industry. This is a significant place for Quakers. In 1652, George Fox climbed the hill and had a vision of creating a great movement of people.

* Respond to the consultation Talking Fracking here

* Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends. Around 23,000 people attend 478 Quaker meetings in Britain. Their commitment to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenges them to seek positive social and legislative change.

*Quakers in Britain http://www.quaker.org.uk/

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04/25/2017 09:13 AM
Arkansas executions 'heinous' and 'shameful' says Amnesty

The state of Arkansas executed two men, Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, late last night – the first double execution in the US for 17 years.

The state of Arkansas executed two men, Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, late last night (24 April 2017) – the first double execution in the US for 17 years.

The executions were the second and third of four prisoners scheduled to be executed before the state’s supply of lethal injections expires at the end of the month.(http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23892) Jones was sentenced to death despite the fact that the jury was not told of his serious mental disabilities.

James Clark, senior campaigner at Amnesty International USA, said: “Arkansas continues its shameful backslide against prevailing trends away from the death penalty.

“The sentences of Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are another heinous example of how the death penalty is applied to people with severe mental impairments and history of abuse. 

“This conveyer belt of death must stop immediately by commuting the remaining sentences, and abolishing the death penalty once and for all.”

A report released earlier this month by Amnesty International showed that for the first time since 2006, and only the second time since 1991, the US was not among the world's five biggest executioners. The number of executions (20) in 2016 reached the lowest level recorded in any year since 1991. The number of executions has fallen every year since 2009, (except 2012, when it stayed the same).

* Download the Amnesty report here

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

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04/25/2017 08:42 AM
Faith, politics and peace in an age of Trump

Faith, politics and peace in an age of Trump

read more


04/24/2017 10:35 AM
Leave.EU campaign group under investigation

The Electoral Commission is to investigate the Leave.EU group over its spending during the 2016 EU referendum campaign.

The Electoral Commission is to investigate the Leave.EU group over its spending during the 2016 EU referendum campaign.

The Leave.EU campaign was headed by Nigel Farage and the businessman Arron Banks. It is understood that the group worked with the data firm Cambridge Analytica which uses social media to influence voters.

Cambridge Analytica’s involvement was not declared to the election watchdog, which has concluded that Leave.EU has a case to answer. If the commission finds political spending laws to have been breached, it has the power to report the campaign group to the police.

An Electoral Commission spokesperson said: “The Electoral Commission has begun an investigation into Leave.EU’s EU Referendum spending return. This followed an assessment which concluded that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that potential offences under the law may have occurred.

“The investigation is focused on whether one or more donations – including of services – accepted by Leave.EU was impermissible; and whether Leave.EU’s spending return was complete.

“The time taken to complete an investigation varies on a case-by-case basis. Once the investigation is complete, the Commission will decide whether any breaches have occurred and, if so, what further action may be appropriate, in line with its Enforcement Policy.  The outcome of concluded cases can be seen on the Commission’s website."

Leave.EU was not the official Brexit campaign group, the Electoral comission choosing the Vote Leave organisation on the grounds that "it better demonstrated that it has the structures in place to ensure the views of other campaigners are represented in the delivery of its campaign.”

* Electoral Commission http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/

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04/24/2017 09:41 AM
Women’s mentoring focus of WCC gathering in Thailand

Eighteen women theologians from Africa and Asia began a journey of reflection and action around the theme 'Women’s Mentoring for Ecumenical Leadership' during a 20-22 April consultation convened by the WCC in Bangkok, Thailand.

Eighteen women theologians from Africa and Asia began a journey of reflection and action around the theme 'Women’s Mentoring for Ecumenical Leadership' during a 20-22 April consultation in Bangkok, Thailand. The meeting was convened by the World Council of Churches (WCC) department on Ecumenical Theological Education and supported by the Foundation for Theological Education in Southeast Asia.

The gathering was composed of younger and more tenured female theological educators from different countries in Africa and Asia, such as Kenya, Nigeria, Indonesia and China. They all stressed the importance of nurturing and supporting each other across the regions as they journey towards the full visibility of women’s gifts in church, academia and society. The participants of the meeting were united in their commitment to create space within their own institutions for more intentional mentoring programmes for the advancement of women in leadership positions.

In a powerful case study, Nafkot M. Dessalegn, a young Ethiopian woman studying theology at the Al Mowafaqa Ecumenical Institute of Theology in Rabat, Morocco, described how meaningful a personal and holistic accompaniment would be for her, because she feels sometimes that “being a woman is like a fish living outside the sea.” This resonated with the younger women theologians in attendance, who all valued the initiative of a women’s mentoring programme. The participants highlighted how encouraging the interaction between different generations of women theologians was, and how it can serve as a model for further encounters in other regions.

The Rev Prof Septemmy Lakawa of Jakarta Theological Seminary used the metaphoric image of a kite to describe how women theologise and thereby help to serve as role models and trailblazers for the recognition of women’s leadership in church, academia and society. The participants agreed that it will be crucial to continuously subvert the existing status quo, to push the boundaries that prevent women from exhibiting their full potential towards creating more space for women’s theological expressions in all domains and  particularly to support the younger generation of women theologians.

Theological institutions can play a key role by offering room for discussion on women’s  leadership, by implementing women’s mentoring programmes and by supporting research and teaching in the field.

The participants agreed on common strategies and decided to form an ecumenical women’s mentoring network and to open a digital platform for a continued exchange on building a database of potential mentors and their respective areas of specialisation, common research, teaching and publication projects. The new platform of exchange is open for other interested women and men in theological education and will be coordinated by the WCC department on Ecumenical Theological Education, led by Prof Amélé Ekué.

* More about the WCC's work on ecumenical theological education here

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

* World Council of Churches http://www.oikoumene.org/en

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04/24/2017 09:23 AM
TUC issues guide to gender differences in health and safety

The TUC has published a new guide for trade union representatives to help them take gender differences between men and women into account when identifying health and safety concerns at work.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has published a new guide for trade union representatives to help them take gender differences between men and women into account when identifying health and safety concerns at work.

Gender in occupational health and safety says that historically the health and safety needs of men in the workplace have been prioritised over women. Risk prevention has focused on visibly dangerous work – largely carried out by men – in industries like construction and mining, with an assumption that the kind of work that women do is safer.

However, the guidance argues that a gender-stereotyped or ‘one size fits all’ approach is now out-of-date. It has been issued in the run up to International Workers’ Memorial Day ( 28 April 2017), the theme of which this year is ‘good health and safety for all workers – whoever they are’.

Where the differences between men and women are taken into account when assessing risk and deciding suitable risk control solutions, there is a greater chance of ensuring that the health, safety and welfare of all workers is protected, says the TUC.

The new guide outlines some of the main health and safety risks women can face at work:

  • Back pain: Women tend to suffer more from pain in the upper back and limbs as a result of repetitive work in both manufacturing and offices, while men tend to suffer more from lower-back pain from exerting high force at work.
  • Violence and harassment: Women tend to work in lower-paid and low-status jobs where bullying and harassment are more common, while men predominate in better-paid, higher status jobs and supervisory positions.
  • Not having the right tools: Women working in male professions like construction, engineering and the emergency services are at risk from inappropriately designed tools.

The handbook also provides a checklist for trade union representatives to help them pursue issues around gender at work – including questions about whether sex and gender differences are taken into account in manual handling risk assessments, and in assessments of postural problems including prolonged standing or sitting.

The findings should help union reps encourage employers to take action on the issues that will make a real difference to the health, safety and welfare of women in their workplaces.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “People come in all shapes and sizes and when it comes to health and safety, the ‘one size fits all’ approach is old-fashioned and dangerous. Nowhere is that clearer then when looking at gender.

“Pressing for healthy, safe workplaces for everyone is part and parcel of the union rep’s role, and the TUC’s new gender checklist will help reps to pursue issues around gender in the workplace, and make sure that all workers have the best possible protection from illness or injury.

“Safety studies show that workers are twice as likely to be seriously injured in a non-unionised workplace. I would urge any man or woman worried about their health and safety at work to join a union, to make sure that their concerns are heard and that their interests are protected.”

* Gender in occupational health and safety can be downloaded here

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

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