News Briefing and Comment

06/22/2018 07:23 AM
UN chief welcomes ‘positive steps’ towards peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia

The United Nations has announced its readiness to support Eritrea and Ethiopia following recent peace overtures between the two neighbouring States in the Horn of Africa.

The United Nations has announced its readiness to support Eritrea and Ethiopia following recent peace overtures between the two neighbouring States in the Horn of Africa.

Ethiopia this month (June 2018 )announced its readiness to accept and implement a 2002 border agreement that ended two years of bloody conflict, in which thousands died. Without a deal, skirmishes continued at the border, with Eritrea reportedly remaining on a war-footing.

In a speech delivered this week, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki announced plans to send a delegation to Addis Ababa "to gauge current developments directly and in depth, as well as to chart out a plan for continuous future action", according to media reports.

In a statement released by his Spokesperson on Thursday 21 June, the UN Secretary-General welcomed the "positive steps" taken to resolve outstanding issues regarding the normalisation of relations between the two countries.

António Guterres also commended efforts by their leaders "to achieve sustainable peace and good-neighbourly relations which, in turn, will have positive repercussions in the entire Horn of Africa region".

The UN chief also underlined his readiness to provide "all support that may contribute to advancing and consolidating" engagement between the two countries, the statement continued.

Tens of thousands of people were killed in the two years of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which began in 1998 over a border dispute.

The UN deployed a peacekeeping mission to the region, UNMEE, whose mandate included monitoring the cessation of hostilities, providing mine action assistance and coordinating humanitarian and human rights activities.

The operation was established in 2000 and was terminated by the Security Council eight years later following "obstructions" by Eritrea that undermined the mission's mandate.

* United Nations


06/22/2018 07:15 AM
Call for the introduction of national targets to reduce gender skills gap

A new report commissioned by the Young Women's Trust calls for national targets to help women into male dominated apprenticeships and boost the economy.

The Young Women’s Trust, a charity that supports young women on low or no pay, is calling for national targets to help women into male-dominated apprenticeships and boost the economy in a major report released on 21 June 2018. 

Women are shut out of sectors that face a shortage of workers, such as construction and engineering. Employers, however, are unclear about how to legally improve women’s representation, according to the Equality at Work? Positive action in gender segregated apprenticeships’report written by Professor Chantal Davies of the University of Chester, which sets out solutions ahead of ‘International Women in Engineering Day’ on Saturday. 

There are 50 men for every woman starting a construction apprenticeship in England and 25 men for every woman embarking on an engineering course. 

A YouGov poll for Young Women’s Trust found that three in five employers think that positive action – steps like encouraging more women to apply and actively choosing women over men where they are equally qualified – is needed to achieve workplace gender equality but just a quarter have taken steps to improve women’s representation. 

The Young Women’s Trust is calling on the Government to set time-limited national targets to boost the number of women apprentices in sectors where they are under-represented and says organisations should set their own targets, too – incentivised by linking chief executives’ bonuses to results. If targets are not met, Young Women’s Trust says the Government should consider imposing quotas. 

The charity is also calling for employers in sectors where women are under-represented to take positive action by: 

  • making use of the ‘tiebreak’ provision in law that allows them to shortlist and appoint a woman over a man where they are equally qualified
  • providing women-only work experience, taster events, training days and mentoring to encourage more women to apply
  • targeting job adverts at women. 

These measures are designed to redress disadvantage to put women on a more equal footing with men in the recruitment process – thereby helping to tackle women’s under-representation in many sectors. Many employers are unaware that they can legally use these measures. 

Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton, said:  “The growing skills shortage in sectors like construction and engineering will not be plugged unless employers help more young women into relevant apprenticeships. But Young Women’s Trust has found that young women across the country are shut out of these sectors due to gender stereotypes and a lack of support. 

"For every woman apprentice entering the construction sector in England there are 50 men and there are 25 men for every woman starting an engineering apprenticeship. Employers can take far more action within current legislation to create a more level playing field for women.” 

Professor Chantal Davies, Director of the University of Chester’s Forum for Research into Equality and Diversity and author of the report, said: “Positive action in theory is an effective measure to address under-representation, but our research found that there is confusion about whether and how it can be used – which also means that it is being under-utilised. The majority of employers who took part in our research were committed to measures to bring about gender equality. However, our participants felt that there was a lack of consistent adequate guidance and a code of practice, which meant that employers lack awareness and/ or confidence to implement effective positive action measures. This can be down to a fear of legal liability. 

“Through this report, and the work I’m carrying out with the Young Women’s Trust, we are seeking to address this knowledge (and confidence) deficit, in our aim to tackle the under-representation of women in this key skills area.” 

* Read Equality at Work? Positive action in gender segregated apprenticeships here

* Young Women's Trust


06/22/2018 07:12 AM
Public debate needed on future of drugs legislation, says Police Federation

Polce Federation lead on drugs policy says current legislation does not work. 

The lead on drugs policy for the Police Federation of England and Wales has called for a public debate on the future of drugs legislation.

A debate was sparked after former leader of the Conservative party, William Hague, urged Theresa May to legalise cannabis, saying the UK’s drug policy is “inappropriate” and “utterly out of date”.

Simon Kempton said: “It is clear that the current legislation which prohibits the possession, consumption and supply of substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 does not work. 

“The proliferation of drugs in this country is unchecked and the current situation is fuelling an illicit trade in not only drugs but weapons and the violence that comes with it.

“There is mounting empirical evidence of alternative approaches to the drugs problem around the world for us to explore which are more effective and bring far more benefits to society financially and with fewer people finding themselves in either medical or criminal justice systems.

“Although the police service will continue to uphold the laws passed by Parliament – a public debate is needed on the future of drugs legislation, incorporating health, education and enforcement programmes.

“Let me be clear – we are not supporting the legalisation of drugs or the de-criminalising of drugs we are simply saying that, 100 years after the introduction of prohibition in the UK, it is time to reflect on whether this is the most effective way of curtailing illicit drug use and the social problems that come with it.”

* Police Federation


06/22/2018 07:09 AM
Campaigners stand firm against Glasgow arms fair

Campaigners are calling on Glasgow City Council to withdraw its support for an upcoming arms fair.

Sustained pressure from campaigners has led Glasgow City Council to drop the logo ‘People Make Glasgow’ from an upcoming arms fair in Glasgow. People Make Glasgow had been listed as a supporter of the event until this week.

The council has dropped all mentions of the Underwater Defence Technology (UDT) exhibition being supported by ‘People Make Glasgow’ on the official UDT website and event programme.

The UDT arms fair will take place from June 26-28 2018 at the Scottish Exhibition Centre (SEC) venue which is 90 per cent owned by the city council.

However, the council has said it will continue to support the event in all other areas, telling CommonSpace that there had been “confusion” around what the brand was representing.

Campaigners have condemned the decision to continue supporting the UDT exhibition, claiming that the council is simply “hiding its interests and involvement”.

Revelations that Israeli military equipment used to blockade Gaza will be showcased drew criticism from Palestine solidarity groups across Scotland. Similarly, the discovery of talks relating to Trident renewal and a student recruitment session run by officials leading the renewal programme drew further opposition, but the council continued to insist that Trident renewal would not be featured.

Activists have picketed the council chambers and contacted MSPs and councillors to appeal directly. A small group visited Council Leader Susan Aitken’s surgery on 11 June 2018, to question her support for it.

Jay Sutherland of Scotland Against Militarism said: "The decision to use the logo was completely hypocritical to begin with, when most people in Glasgow who are aware of this arms fair oppose it.

"This shows that people power works and that the council realise they have got it completely wrong. They recognise that people have claimed the brand, but what they don’t realise is that people own the city too and we are not putting up with this.

"We won’t back down until they remove their full support for the event, nothing less. Otherwise they are simply hiding their interests and involvement."

Kate Nevens of Edinburgh Campaign Against the Arms Trade said: "Hosting a major arms fair is completely incompatible with a city like Glasgow, which is anti-nuclear and famous for its opposition to war.

"It is vital that the council put in place a policy and framework to ensure events like this never happen in Glasgow again. The council must instigate a public discussion on how this policy can work, and how best to end all council support for arms companies.

A spokesperson for Sink the Arms Fair said: "We are delighted that the logo 'People Make Glasgow' will not be plastered over this arms fair, but we are incredibly disappointed with the council's response.

"The only 'confusion' here is about where Glasgow City Council's loyalties lie. It is shocking that they refuse to even acknowledge the outrage felt by many across the city who would expect an anti-nuclear council to have no part in this event.

"The council has let itself and the people of Glasgow down massively here simply in order to stay in arms dealers' good books."

Campaigners are planning a series of protests against the arms fair. The main rally at the SEC will be held on the opening day of UDT at 10am on Tuesday 26 June, after a rally at the Buchanan Street steps the previous Saturday. Activists are planning to protest on all three days with a second day of action focusing on the arts on Wednesday 27 June.

The Sink the Arms Fair coalition includes Scottish CND, Campaign Against the Arms Trade Scotland, Scotland Against Militarism, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Dovetales, Food Not Bombs, Catholic Worker and the Scottish Peace Network.

* CommonSpace

* Campaign Against Arms Trade


06/22/2018 06:53 AM
Christian Aid calls on new President of Colombia to implement peace agreement

Christian Aid is concerned changes may be made to a peace agreement signed in 2016. 

Christian Aid has called on the newly-elected President of Colombia to implement the peace agreement signed in 2016, amid concerns that changes may be made. 

Colombia elected Ivan Duque from far-right wing party, Centro Democrático, as its new President, after going to the polls on Sunday, 17 June 2018. Mr Duque pledged to make substantial adjustments to the peace agreement between the government and the FARC, during his political campaign.

Thomas Mortensen, Christian Aid´s Country Manager in Colombia, said: “We encourage Ivan Duque to implement the peace agreement signed in 2016 and to use his power to put an end to the conflict and guarantee the rights of Colombia´s 8.4 million registered victims.

“Should the new President modify the peace agreement, there is a danger that the number of FARC dissidents could increase. The potential changes could also put at risk current peace negotiations being held between the government and another guerrilla group, the ELN.

“We are concerned that weakening the transitional justice system would make it practically impossible to break with the cycle of widespread impunity for state crimes and for crimes involving business people, who have collaborated with armed groups.”

Christian Aid has been working with local organisations in Colombia supporting communities to defend their rights to land and to live a life free from violence for more than twenty years. Since the beginning of the peace talks in 2012, the organisation has supported communities to pro-actively engage with the peace process.

* Christian Aid


06/22/2018 06:27 AM
Universal Credit forcing low-income families into 'childcare debt'

Save the Children says the way childcare support is paid under Universal Credit is unfair to lower paid families.

The switch to Universal Credit – the Government’s flagship welfare reform programme – is hitting parents with upfront childcare bills that have reached £1,000, new analysis from Save the Children reveals. The charity has warned that this will force families into ‘childcare debt’ or block them from going back to work unless the government makes urgent changes.

Childcare support under Universal Credit scraps the help low-income families currently claim in advance for childcare bills – forcing parents to pay sky-high fees upfront. They then face waiting at least a month to be reimbursed.

Half of low income families have no savings. These families will be forced hundreds of pounds into the red just to afford the childcare they need to start work. Today’s analysis reveals the scale of this hole in family finances in England, once they have bought household essential:

  • £780 – the overspend by a single mother with a one year old, starting a full time job on minimum wage
  • £460 – the overspend by a single mother with a one year old, starting a part time job on minimum wage
  • £580 – the overspend by a family with a one year old and a three year old, where one partner is already working full time on minimum wage, and the other partner is returning to full time work

Steven McIntosh, Save the Children Director of UK Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns said: “Parents are trapped between going into debt to afford childcare and turning down work because they can’t risk household direct debits bouncing. This defeats the point of Universal Credit.

“Childcare support should help parents find work and improve children’s chances in life. Instead of making it harder to get into work, the Government must switch to providing upfront help with childcare costs.”

Universal Credit brings together six means-tested benefits together into a single, monthly payment for low-income households. The Government’s roll out has so far reached around 10 per cent of the people who will eventually be eligible. Under the existing benefits system, parents can make a claim for help with childcare costs in advance of paying nursery bills. 

Save the Children says that the way childcare support is paid under Universal Credit is unfair to lower paid families. The Government’s tax-free childcare scheme pays higher income families £2 for every £8 they spend on childcare. Unlike the support in Universal Credit, this help with costs is provided upfront, reducing the pressure of childcare bills for these better-off parents.

Office worker Louise from Southport recently returned to work after maternity leave. She received her first Universal Credit payment after six weeks, but her second payment didn’t come through, without any warning or explanation. After paying upfront childcare costs she and her partner went over their overdraft and direct debits for mobile phone bills, water, and gas and electricity bounced. Fees for these reached £60 in one month. They have gone into council tax arrears and are on their final notice.

Louise said, “You end up paying out the most important things – rent and nursery. Then towards the end of the month there’s nothing left for anything else. We literally had nothing during this time and all our direct debits bounced which caused extra charges to us from our bank.”

Regional variations have also been revealed. The highest cost for a one-year old to start full time childcare is found in London, at £1,423. The lowest is in the North West, where the equivalent fee is £856.

These costs risks tipping working families over the financial precipice. A quarter of lowest income families already face problem debt. A third owe more than the value of their assets.

Save the Children is calling for parents on Universal Credit to get immediate help to pay upfront childcare costs – echoing how the Government supports better-off families through tax-free childcare.

The Government claims that ‘budgeting advances’ will help. But they are designed to cover ‘emergency and one-off expenses’. A family can only have one at a time and half of all families on Universal Credit already have one, leaving them with nowhere to turn. For the rest, taking out a budget advance means putting your family in debt in order to pay these costs, and then leaves you with no option if there is a genuine ‘one off’ or ‘emergency’.

McIntosh continued: “Childcare costs should never create an ‘emergency’ for family finances.

“It will strike many as deeply unfair that poorer families struggling to improve their earnings face bigger hurdles getting the support they’re entitled to than better off families.

“Eventually, 500,000 families across the UK will receive childcare support through Universal Credit. With 90 per cent of the Universal Credit roll out still to come, it’s vital the Government takes urgent steps now before the number of families in trouble starts to snowball.”

In March, the Treasury Select Committee inquiry into childcare called upfront costs a ‘fundamental design flaw’ in the childcare element of Universal Credit. In June, the National Audit Office found that one third of childcare support claimants under Universal Credit have not received their childcare payments on time.

* Save the Children


06/21/2018 01:50 PM
Churches urge end to ‘hostile environment’ policies

Churches say the government’s approach to illegal immigration is leading to destitution, discrimination and distrust.

A group of major Churches is launching a campaign to challenge the government’s approach to illegal immigration, which they say is leading to destitution, discrimination and distrust.

The Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church have joined forces to call on the government to review entirely the web of policies that have created the hostile environment. In a new report for church members, Destitution, Discrimination and Distrust: the web of the hostile environment, they set out how aspects of the policies run counter to Christian teaching.

The campaign follows recent revelations about how British citizens such as members of the ‘Windrush generation’ have lost their homes, jobs and access to NHS treatment because of the policies. But the report argues that the web of the hostile environment reaches much further.

Speaking on behalf of the denominations, the church leaders the Rev Lynn Green, General Secretary of the Baptist Union, the Rev Richard Frazer, convenor of the Church and Society Committee of the Church of Scotland, the Rev Loraine N Mellor, President of the Methodist Conference and the Rev Kevin Watson and Alan Yates, Moderators of the United Reformed Church, said:

"As a group of Church denominations, the injustices of the hostile environment alarm us. The impact of the hostile environment has gone well beyond immigrants who are in the country illegally. It is of deep concern that people who do not look or sound ‘British’ are now facing increased levels of discrimination in finding homes and employment.

"We believe it is inhumane to use the threat of destitution as a policy tool to encourage people to leave the country and we call for an immediate end to indefinite detention.

"This is not about who we do or do not allow into the UK, but about how we relate to one another inside our borders. Due process, justice and the proper implementation of immigration policies should not require us to live in suspicion of our neighbour. The hostile environment spins a web of distrust and encourages suspicion. As Christians we believe that God calls us to offer welcome to the stranger and care for the vulnerable, whoever they are.

"Many of our churches support those who have suffered hardship as a result of the hostile environment. Our churches include some of the very people who are at risk of destitution and discrimination. Our Christian faith moves us to pray and work for a society where people are truly hospitable to one another.

"We are therefore calling for a review of immigration policy and practice to examine the damaging effects that the hostile environment is having on the whole of society."

The campaign launches during Refugee Week and will run over four weeks with a report, stories, infographics and films of how a range of people have been affected by the hostile environment. On social media the hashtag #EndHostility will be used.

* Read the report Destitution, Discrimination and Distrust: the web of the hostile environment here

* The Methodist Church


06/21/2018 09:25 AM
Trump's executive order a betrayal of families fleeing persecution, says Amnesty

Amnesty International has responded to news that President Trump signed an executive order on 20 June 2018, mandating for children to stay with their parents in detention while their asylum claims are processed.

Amnesty International has responded to news that President Trump signed an executive order on 20 June 2018, mandating for children to stay with their parents in detention while their asylum claims are processed.

Denise Bell, Refugee and Migrant rights Researcher at Amnesty International USA, said: "Make no mistake, this executive order is a betrayal of families fleeing violence and persecution. Mothers, fathers, and children must not be held behind bars for prolonged periods for seeking safety. Not only does imprisoning children go against our country's shared values of dignity and equality, but it is also unlawful and threatens to permanently stain the US human rights record.

"Over the last few weeks, we have seen an outcry from people around the world denouncing the cruel and unnecessary separation of more than 2,000 babies and children from their parents. In response, the Trump administration has now found another way to punish parents and children for seeking protection. Detaining families is not the solution to ending family separation.

"People who are running for their lives have the right to seek protection. The United States cannot continue to treat vulnerable families fleeing horrific violence and persecution like criminals. We must do everything we can to ensure protection for people who have lost everything. It is time to end family detention once and for all."

The executive order seeks to modify the Flores Agreement, which states that children should not be held in detention for more than 20 days.

Amnesty International has campaigned to end the practice of family detention, urging the Department of Homeland Security to release families fleeing violence and persecution.

* Amnesty International


06/21/2018 07:25 AM
Debt charity research finds 'illness equals debt'

Debt charity says better safety nets are needed to prevent vulnerable people from suffering disproportionate difficulty.

In 2017, one in five of StepChange debt charity's clients had an additional vulnerability (such as illness), on top of their problem debt. New research shows that they tend to be in a notably worse financial position than other clients.

This underpins the importance of the financial sector’s current focus on vulnerability, and cements StepChange's view that better safety nets are needed to prevent vulnerable people from suffering disproportionate difficulty.

There are many reasons for vulnerability, according to the new analysis in Breaking the Link: a closer look at vulnerable people in debt. Among vulnerable clients, the overwhelmingly most common reason was mental health difficulty (43 per cent), followed by physical disability (4.7 per cent), cancer (4.6 per cent), and poor health (4.1 per cent).

Debt problems are closely associated with certain forms of vulnerability, especially illness. StepChange found that 77 per cent of clients with a terminal illness, and 68 per cent of clients with cancer, cited illness as the main cause of their debt problems. Among those with mental health issues, 40 per cent said illness was the main reason for their debt. Two in five vulnerable clients overall said that the main reason for them falling into debt was illness.

However, says StepChange, vulnerability can derive from situations, as well as personal characteristics – bereavement, relationship breakdown, poor treatment by firms and many other features could all make someone vulnerable at certain times, even if the vulnerability is temporary.

Vulnerable clients were significantly more likely than other clients to have a net household income of under £10,000, and significantly less likely to have a net household income over £20,000. 45 per cent of vulnerable clients had a deficit budget (with less money coming in than going out), even after budgeting advice, compared with 30 per cent of clients as a whole.

Over two thirds of vulnerable clients were receiving benefits, compared with half of those clients without a vulnerability. Yet their benefits were less likely to prevent them facing a budget shortfall, with 40 per cent facing a deficit budget compared with 37 per cent of clients without a vulnerability in receipt of benefits.

Vulnerable clients were more likely than other clients to be in arrears on household bills such as rent, utilities, or council tax. And they spent an average of 70 per cent of their income on essential household bills and food, compared with 65 per cent among other clients.

Commenting on the findings, StepChange Debt Charity chief executive Phil Andrew said: “Among our clients, those who are vulnerable typically show higher levels of financial distress – but that shouldn’t be inevitable. While there has been progress, it’s clear that the finance sector, regulators and the debt advice sector could all still do more to help break the link between being vulnerable and being significantly worse off.

"There are questions, too, for government. With mounting evidence that vulnerable people are not always being adequately supported in their times of need – including the DWP’s own recent survey on the impact on claimants of Universal Credit – it is only reasonable to ask whether changes to the welfare system are creating too many negative and stressful impacts on people who are least in a position to deal with them.”

* Read the report Breaking the Link: a closer look at vulnerable people in debt here

*StepChange Debt Charity


06/21/2018 07:05 AM
US withdrawal from UN Human Rights Council 'self-defeating'

The United States decision to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council will sideline the country from key global initiatives, says Human Rights Watch.

The United States government’s decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council will sideline the country from key global initiatives to protect human rights, says Human Rights Watch.

“The US has been threatening to walk away from the Human Rights Council ever since President Trump came into office, so this decision comes as no surprise”, said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Trump has decided that ‘America First’ means ignoring the suffering of civilians in Syria and ethnic minorities in Myanmar at the United Nations.”

The Human Rights Council was created by the UN General Assembly in 2006 as the UN’s top human rights body. While it has its shortcomings the council plays a vital role in addressing serious rights abuses around the world. It has initiated investigations into rights violations in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, and South Sudan, and addresses key topics such as migration, counterterrorism and protecting women, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and others from violence and discrimination.

The US has long criticised the Human Rights Council for its standing agenda item 7 on rights violations by all parties in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This item was included when the council’s agenda was drawn up at the conclusion of its initial year, in 2007, at a time when the US had decided not to participate in the council. The US has actively campaigned for removing agenda item 7, and has opposed resolutions dealing with the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even when not presented under this agenda item, such as a recent Special Session resolution creating an inquiry into violence in Gaza.

Negotiations about potential reform or consolidation of the council’s agenda and work programme are ongoing in Geneva. The United Kingdom, which largely agrees with the US position on item 7, has announced that it will vote against all resolutions brought under that agenda item unless reforms are carried out, but it has not threatened to leave the council.

By forfeiting its membership in the council with almost 18 months remaining on its term, the US will be removing itself from key issues that could affect allied governments. No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat. It is unclear which country would take the open seat left by the US. The UN resolution creating the council provides that any successor would be another country from the group that includes Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.

While the US government’s engagement with the council has been uneven, the US has helped shape some of the body’s decisions with the greatest impact, including to establish a commission of inquiry into grave human rights violations in North Korea. The US withdrawal risks emboldening countries like China, and other actors that regularly seek to undermine UN human rights mechanisms.

Since rejoining the Human Rights Council in 2010, the US has played a leading role on initiatives related to Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. Following its decision to withdraw, the US may continue to advance these priorities as a non-member, or may choose to disengage entirely. But quitting the council will not allow the US to shield itself from the scrutiny of the international community, Human Rights Watch said. The UN will continue to consider a broad range of rights issues and initiatives, and conduct its Universal Periodic Review, which applies to all UN member countries.

“The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy in which the US defends Israeli abuses from criticism above all else”, Roth said. “By walking away, the US is turning its back not just on the UN, but on victims of human rights abuses around the world, including in Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Myanmar. Now other governments will have to redouble their efforts to ensure that the council addresses the world’s most serious human rights problems.”

* Human Rights Watch


06/21/2018 06:45 AM
Top 15% of taxpayers should fill NHS funding gap, says NEF

By abolishing the Upper Earnings Limit on National Insurance Contributions, the top 15 per cent of taxpayers will pay their fair share for the NHS, says the New Economics Foundation.

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) proposes a radical, progressive tax change to contribute more than half of the £20 billion earmarked for the NHS by the Government by 2023.

Abolishing the Upper Earnings Limit of employee National Insurance Contributions (NICs) would raise £11.1bn per year by 2023/24, in today’s prices – more than half of the £20 billion the government has promised.

At present, earnings above £892 per week, equivalent to around £46,400 per year, are charged just two per cent in NICs. But the contribution is much higher proportionally for earnings above only £8,400 a year. Contracted employees pay 12 per cent and the self-employed pay nine per cent.

Abolishing the Upper Earnings Limit would make sure that the richest 15 per cent of taxpayers contribute just as much proportionally to the NHS as everybody else. It raises more compared with freezing the Income Tax Personal Allowance and freezing all thresholds in NICs – which are options reportedly being considered by the government – and is far more progressive.

Alfie Stirling, Head of Economics at the New Economics Foundation, said: “The Brexit dividend is a myth. Desperately needed funding for the NHS can only come from tax rises or borrowing. It’s fair to borrow for investment in the improved health of future generations as this spreads the cost evenly over time. But  the majority of extra NHS funding must come from tax rises.

“At the moment, high income taxpayers are contributing proportionally less than those who can least afford it. That is fundamentally unfair and needs to be addressed. By asking the top 15 per cent of taxpayers to pay their fair share, we can go a long way to closing the NHS funding gap.”

In addition to raising the £20 billion to meet NHS running costs, NEF is calling on government to take a holistic approach to health and social care. We cannot simply fund improvements in healthcare, it says; we need to invest in improving our health. That means funding preventative action, funding social care, and funding public health. Instead of relying only on the NHS finding internal efficiencies, the government should recognise the benefits of taking preventative measures which support a healthier society that puts less strain on the NHS. For instance, diseases closely associated with air pollution will cost the NHS at least £1.6 billion between 2017 and 2025 in England alone.

Sarah Bedford, Head of Social Policy at the New Economics Foundation, said: “The NHS desperately needs this cash, but the truth is it will not be enough to address the long-term crisis in our health system. By only filling the black hole in the NHS’s finances, all we will be doing is running to stand still.

“To secure a decent future for our health system we have to take a much more strategic approach to health in this country. We have to recognise that good health relies on everything from decent housing to clean air, not just on the quality of frontline healthcare. It’s time to put the NHS in its wider context and build a new, more caring economy.”

* New Economics Foundation


06/21/2018 06:29 AM
EU approves aid package for Lebanon to support refugees and local communities

The EU has approved new projects to support refugees and local communities in Lebanon and Jordan.

On World Refugee Day, (20 June 2018) the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis approved new projects to support refugees and local communities in Lebanon and Jordan.

The new projects include the public schooling of refugee children in Lebanon and social assistance for vulnerable refugees and local communities affected by the Syrian crisis in Lebanon and Jordan. The new aid package brings the overall value of projects under the Trust Fund to over €1.4 billion.

EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, said: "The EU is continuing to deliver on its pledge to help Lebanon and Jordan, which host the largest per capita refugee population in the world. The new projects will substantially boost social protection and access to education for both Syrian and Palestine refugees from Syria, as well as for local communities."

The new €167 million aid package includes the following actions:

  • €100 million to guarantee access to education for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon
  • €52 million to provide social protection and assistance to vulnerable refugees and host communities affected by the Syrian crisis in Lebanon
  • €13 million to strengthen the resilience of Palestine Refugees from Syria, in Lebanon
  • €2 million to strengthen the resilience of Palestine Refugees from Syria, in Jordan

The assistance package was adopted by the EU Trust Fund's Board, which brings together the European Commission, members of the European Parliament, EU Member States and representatives of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the World Bank. Additional aid packages are planned for Jordan and Iraq in the second half of 2018.

Since its establishment in December 2014, an increasing share of the EU's support to help Syrian refugees and support Syria's neighbouring countries to cope with the refugee crisis is being provided through the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis. The Trust Fund reinforces an integrated EU aid response to the crisis and primarily addresses longer-term resilience and early recovery needs of Syrian refugees, host communities and their administrations in neighbouring countries such as Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

The Trust Fund is a key instrument to deliver on the EU's pledges to help the refugee hosting countries made at the London conference on Syria in 2016 and the Brussels conferences on supporting the future of Syria and the region in April 2017 and April 2018. The Fund also underpins the EU Compacts agreed with Jordan and Lebanon to better assist them in the protracted refugee crisis. With the new package adopted today, the Fund has delivered a total of €522 million for Lebanon and €214 million for Jordan during three years of operations, much more than initially foreseen.

Overall, €1.4 billion has been mobilised and pledged from the EU budget and contributions of 22 EU Member States and Turkey. This entire amount has now been adopted by the Board and turned into concrete projects on the ground helping refugees and host countries alike.

The Trust Fund's programmes support basic education and child protection for refugees, training and higher education, better access to healthcare, improved water and waste-water infrastructure, as well as support for resilience, empowering women, fighting gender-based violence, and developing economic opportunities and social stability. The scope of the Fund also includes support for internally displaced persons in Iraq and the recovery of areas liberated from Da'esh, while also providing support in the Western Balkans to non-EU countries affected by the refugee crisis.

* European Commission


06/21/2018 06:26 AM
Open letter calls on UK Government to halt arms sales as Hodeidah battle rages

Campaigners have written to International Trade Secretary Liam Fox reiterating calls to suspend UK arms sales to the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition operating in Yemen.

Amid mounting concerns for the safety of the civilian population of the Yemeni city of Hodeidah, a group of arms control campaigners have written to International Trade Secretary Liam Fox reiterating longstanding calls to suspend UK arms sales to the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition operating in Yemen.

In an open letter, Amnesty International, Control Arms, Saferworld and the UN Association UK are urging Mr Fox to acknowledge his heightened responsibility to suspend arms sales in light of the “rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis” in Yemen. 

Since last week, the port city Hodeidah - home to an estimated 600,000 civilians and currently controlled by Huthi opposition forces – has been under a sustained military assault from Yemeni government forces and a Saudi-led military coalition. With Hodeidah’s port crucial for the 22 million people (80 per cent of the population) dependent on humanitarian assistance, humanitarian agencies have long warned of the dangers of a major attack on the city for both civilians living there and for Yemen as a whole.

Having previously issued numerous calls on the UK to halt arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the wider coalition because of the clear risk that they could lead to breaches of humanitarian law, the open letter points out that the Government’s apparent acceptance last year of the “finely balanced” nature of the case for continuing to arm Saudi Arabia must mean the case has now become unsupportable. 

Though emphasising that they do not accept that the legal case for continued arms sales is finely-balanced, the organisations’ letter questions the Government’s own stance, saying: “If the situation was judged by the Government as being finely balanced before the current military offensive in Hodeidah, then we have now surely passed the tipping point where the only legitimate course of action is to immediately stop arms transfers.”

Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK's Director, said: “With yet another humanitarian catastrophe looming in Hodeidah, the UK must finally turn off the flow of arms to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. 

“The Saudi coalition’s indiscriminate bombing of Yemeni homes, hospitals, funeral halls, schools and factories has already been utterly appalling – with thousands of Yemeni civilians killed and injured.

“Rather than respond responsibly to the dreadful reality of an out-of-control Saudi-led bombing campaign, ministers have repeated their manta about ‘robust controls’ and relied on a narrow and highly technical legal ruling over the lawfulness of its arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

“It’s time for ministers to finally do the right thing on Yemen – no further arms sales to Saudi Arabia while this Sword of Damocles hangs over the entire Yemeni people.”

Last year the High Court in London dismissed a legal challenge from Campaign Against Arms Trade which had argued that arms transfers to Saudi Arabia should be halted because of the clear risk that the weapons supplied would be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen’s armed conflict. Among other things, the ruling (paragraph 209) discussed the significance of the “finely-balanced” nature of the decision said to be confronting officials and ministers. 

The ruling – for which CAAT have been granted permission to appeal – was, however, narrowly focused on the rationality of the decision made and processes followed.

Since then, UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia have continued and civilian casualties in Yemen have continued to mount, with more than 6,000 civilians killed and 10,000 injured, more than half of these the result of the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition’s airstrikes.

On Friday 22 June, Amnesty will publish a new report – entitled Stranglehold – showing how the Saudi-led coalition has imposed excessive restrictions on the entry of essential goods and aid, while the Huthi authorities have obstructed aid movement within the country. These obstacles - compounded by a deadly Saudi-led military assault on the vital port city of Hodeidah - have exacerbated the already dire humanitarian situation in Yemen and violate international law.


The Rt Hon. Liam Fox
Secretary of State for International Trade
King Charles Street

cc: The Rt Hon. Theresa May MP
      The Rt Hon. Boris Johnson MP
      The Rt Hon. Gavin Williamson MP
      The Rt Hon. Greg Clark MP 

20 June 2018

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to express our alarm at the rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen and again urge you to immediately stop all arms and ammunition transfers to the Saudi-led coalition, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

Control Arms maintains that the threshold for halting transfers to the Saudi- and Emirati- led Coalition was met long ago. The latest offensive on Hodeidah has already led to many casualties with civilians trapped in the fighting and unable to access supplies of food and water under heavy bombing.  Thousands have been displaced.  Crops have been destroyed in the bombing and fighting; while airstrikes could cut off the port from the rest of Yemen’s population. All these factors increase the risk of a famine. If the situation was judged by the government as being finely balanced before the current military offensive in Hodeidah, then we have now surely passed the tipping point where the only legitimate course of action is to immediately stop arms transfers.

The UK has made its opposition to the offensive clear, however its attempts to dissuade the Coalition from proceeding have been seriously and directly undermined by the UK’s continuing supply of weapons to the Coalition, and its repeated defence of those supplies.  

We support the recent letter from a cross-party group of MPs (sponsored by Andrew Mitchell MP, Alison Thewliss MP and Keith Vaz MP) which urges the Prime Minister to “use all available means to end this catastrophic military assault on Hodeidah Port by the Saudi and Emirati led coalition … [including] removing material support from combatants”.  

We therefore call on you to immediately suspend existing arms transfers to any combatant party in Yemen; deny any further arms transfer licence applications until there is no longer a clear risk that arms might be used to commit serious violations or grave breaches of international human rights or humanitarian law; and act immediately to work with European allies and the US to make such a suspension universal, including through the imposition of an EU arms embargo.  

We also call on the UK Government to suspend the in-country support for UK-supplied weapons systems provided by the UK MOD and its contractors. We note that Article 37 of the 1986 Al Yamamah Memorandum of Understanding, and presumably similar clauses in other Saudi-UK bilateral agreements, specifically provides for such a suspension in times of armed conflict.  

All parties to the conflict have violated international law. The UK, as the Security Council ‘penholder’ on Yemen, a humanitarian leader, and State Party to the Arms Trade Treaty has a moral and legal obligation to prevent the supply of any weaponry which risks being used in Yemen as part of wider diplomatic efforts to help alleviate the catastrophic suffering of the Yemeni people.

Yours sincerely

Paul Murphy
Executive Director

Kate Allen
Amnesty International UK

Anna Macdonald
Control Arms 

Natalie Samarasinghe
Executive Director
United Nations Association – UK

* Amnesty International


06/21/2018 06:25 AM
Family speaks out as inquest finds police restraint death was accidental

Inquest into death of Rashan Charles concludes his death was ‘accidental’.

The inquest into the death of Rashan Charles has concluded with the jury finding his death was “accidental”, and that the officer employed “justified use of force”, but did not take appropriate action for medical emergency.  Rashan, a 20-year-old black man died following restraint by Metropolitan Police officers in Hackney, East London in the early hours of Saturday 22 July 2017. Rashan was a father to a young daughter and has been described as caring and generous by his family.

The coroner did not leave the option for the jury to come to a more critical conclusion, such as neglect or unlawful killing, saying she did not believe a “reasonable jury could see this”. The jury gave a conclusion of accidental death with a narrative which found:

  • Rashan demonstrated resistance during restraint, and police brought him to the ground to get better control of him through “justified use of force”
  • Officer BX47 did not follow prescribed police protocol for when someone is not breathing and suspected of swallowing drugs
  • The impact of the bystander who assisted in the restraint was not managed by the police officer
  • The officer failed to call an ambulance using the override button on his police radio
  • None of the actions taken by the police medic or paramedics contributed to Rashan’s death

The officer involved in the restraint of Rashan, who was given anonymity and referred to as BX47, was a Territorial Support Group officer. BX47 gave evidence explaining he went in pursuit of Rashan after he exited a vehicle which had been ‘acting strangely’. However, BX47 had no knowledge of or intelligence on Rashan, or the other men in the vehicle. CCTV footage shows the officer following Rashan into the shop and immediately attempting to restrain him. They struggle, then Rashan is swiftly taken to the floor by the officer. At this point a bystander, known as Witness 1, becomes involved in the restraint, assisting in handcuffing Rashan as he thrashes on the floor saying nothing. Body camera footage shows that at one point Rashan grasps toward his face, then his arm was taken back and handcuffed.

The officer then turned Rashan on his side, and begins to tell him to “spit it out”. Another witness who had been in the shop gave evidence saying, “When the cuffs had gone on I saw Rashan’s face and I thought – he’s in trouble.” Independent medical expert, Dr Jasmeet Soar believed it was at this point that purposeful movement from Rashan stopped. He was unable to determine when Rashan stopped breathing or started choking, and noted it was difficult to recognise this, even for experts. However, Dr Soar believed it would have been some time before Rashan was turned over, as deterioration in breathing is “gradual not sudden”.

Two witnesses, instructed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, gave evidence on police procedure. Both were former officers of the Metropolitan Police. One remains an employee, the other continues to work as an external trainer through his own company. They said officers are trained that if you suspect a person has swallowed drugs, treat it as a medical emergency; if you perceive drugs are still in the mouth you can attempt to remove; and if you suspect choking you should commence first aid such as abdominal thrusts.

The second witness on police restraint training, Martin Graves, also gave evidence explaining it was “nigh on impossible” to conduct a mouth search single handily, and officers are trained to do so in groups which include a safety officer to monitor breathing. Despite explaining differences between the training and practices seen in the videos, neither of these witnesses saw any breach of procedure in the actions of the officer.

Since Rashan’s death the Metropolitan Police have suspended the use of mouth searches, pending an ongoing review on the tactic. The Coroner will be making a Prevention of Future Deaths report, highlighting issues raised.

The family of Rashan Charles said: “Rashan Charles was a young father and an integral part of his family. He is greatly missed by all of us.

"We believe the IOPC investigation was flawed from the outset. We were left out of key decisions, evidence was excluded, police worn video missing and time frames manipulated. This felt to be a predetermined process by the IOPC, the Metropolitan police and the CPS.

"The submissions by the family barrister were overturned in court and evidence dismissed. However, it is important we afford due respect to the jury who had to make a decision based on the limited evidence and confines put upon them.

"The two expert witnesses on restraint had 75 years combined service in the Metropolitan police, and one [is]still serving. This appears to us neither objective, independent or impartial. The police projected a criminal caricature of Rashan even after his death. This successfully served to detract from the events of 22nd July 2017.

"We are not adversaries of the police. This is about the conduct of individual police officers. However, the absence of admission of any responsibility does not stall community relations by weeks or years, but sets it back generations.

"This part of the flawed system is over, our work to receive answers continues.”

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said: “It is difficult to reconcile the harrowing footage of Rashan’s death, and the outcome of this inquest. The Coroner and lawyers representing the police were keen to highlight the context of gangs, drugs and violence in Hackney, in order to deflect attention away from the conduct of the police. Yet Rashan was completely unknown to these officers. It is clear the officer lost sight of Rashan’s safety and humanity, and of the well-known dangers of restraint.

"This death occurred in the context of a systemic pattern of disproportionate use of force against young black men, along with over policing and criminalisation. This process has not delivered the accountability that this family and the public need.”

Kim Vernal, the solicitor representing Rashan’s family said: “This inquest into Rashan’s tragic death has revealed deficiencies in the training of police officers with regard to choking risks. In particular, in circumstances where an individual is suspected of putting an item in their mouth. It was apparent from the evidence that it is not always clear to officers when a person is choking and when breathing is abnormal. This must be addressed if another tragedy is to be avoided. Officers should be taught, if in doubt, to err on the side of caution and do not presume a person is resisting. It is also hoped that the Metropolitan Police will think twice about reinstating it is [sic] dangerous policy on mouth searches.”



06/21/2018 06:03 AM
Howard League responds to Woodhill prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Woodhill prison.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Woodhill prison, published on 19 June 2018. (

Nineteen men have lost their lives through suicide in Woodhill since 2011. Inspectors visited the prison in February and found that it was struggling to sustain improvement in its care for vulnerable prisoners.

Staff shortages meant that there had been a restricted daily routine for three years. From a staffing complement of 320 officers there were, at the time of the inspection, 55 vacancies. One in five officers had less than 12 months’ experience.

Woodhill remains overcrowded. Figures on the Howard League website show that, although the prison is designed to accommodate 539 men, but at the end of last month it was holding 608.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Woodhill is a relatively new, purpose-built prison that has failed to keep people safe, which gives the lie to the myth so often trotted out by ministers that Victorian buildings are to blame for the many problems in the system.

“Rather, the long list of tragedies in Woodhill and elsewhere is the direct result of a catastrophic policy to allow the prison population to grow unchecked while starving jails of vital resources.

“The government is recruiting more officers, but ultimately this is only one side of the supply-and-demand solution that is needed to fix the crisis. Ministers must also reduce the demand that is being placed on prisons.

“I welcome the recent reduction in the number of men and women in prison achieved through pressure to curtail short sentences and release people promptly, but at some point the government must grasp the nettle and deal with sentence inflation.

“Bold but sensible action to reduce further the number of people behind bars would save lives, protect staff and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence and despair.”

* FIgures for prison overcrowding can be found here

* Howard League for Penal Reform