Category Archives: Government
David Collins, a Committee member of the Movement for the Abolition of War of Friends of Le Monde Diplomatique and of Veterans For Peace UK, has drawn attention to a video on VfP’s website, “Made in the Royal Navy”, published by Child Rights International Network (CRIN). The film charges the British army with intentionally targeting young people from deprived backgrounds for the most dangerous front-line jobs. It plays on the natural anxiety in boys and young men about how they are going to become a man and go out into the world. Its message is that the Navy will remake the raw youth into a heroic version of the inadequate boy that they once were.
The actual experience of most of these youngsters is set out in a report published in August 2019: Conscription by Poverty? Deprivation and army recruitment in the UK.
This is a long-standing concern of many on our mailing list. In 2011, Britain’s child soldiers – 2 reminded readers that, twelve years earlier, the BBC had reported the British Army was being urged by the United Nations to stop sending young soldiers into war.
Following Symon Hill’s work in The Friend, the Ekklesia website, and a Nato Watch article, an article by Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Secretary for Quakers in Britain, pointed out that “with the exception of Russia, and apprentices in Ireland, the British Army is unique in Europe in recruiting at the age of 16. Of 14,185 recruits into the army last year, 3,630 or over 25%, joined under the age of 18 . . . Deprivation and army recruitment in the UK . . . Those joining the army at the age of 16 often come from the poorest and least educated backgrounds. Some have reading ages of a child of half that age. They lack the confidence to seek a change in their career in the same way as those training for professions.”
Ian Davis, the Director of NatoWatch, sent a reference to the post by Symon Hill, now placed on its website. He added that the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, together with War Child, UNICEF UK, the Children’s Society, and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England are calling for the Armed Forces Bill to be amended to end the “outdated practice” of recruiting soldiers aged under 18, a call backed by Amnesty International UK and the United Nations Association.
Five years later Quakers in Scotland and ForcesWatch presented a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for greater scrutiny, guidance and consultation on the visits of armed forces to schools in Scotland. Over four-fifths of state secondary schools in Scotland were visited by the armed forces in a two-year period, according to a 2014 ForcesWatch report.
A 2016 report by public health charity Medact found that soldiers recruited aged 16 and 17 were twice as likely to be killed or injured when in combat compared to those enlisted when aged 18 or over. Medact also found that they were more likely to commit suicide, self-harm, abuse alcohol and develop post-traumatic stress disorder than older recruits
In May this year, the BMI Journal reviewed an article: Adverse health effects of recruiting child soldiers, published in February. It rejected the main justification resting on fears of a ‘recruitment shortfall’: saying that given the extensive harms described in its report, to put recruitment figures above the health and well-being of children and adolescents seems misguided and counterproductive for both the Ministry of Defence as a governmental body and wider society.The second justification alleging economic and occupational benefits to recruits, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds was also rejected:
“(W)e have seen that it is precisely child recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds who are at highest risk of adverse outcomes in the military. Furthermore, figures from 2017 show that those recruited under the age of 18 constituted 24% of those who voluntarily left the Armed Forces before completing their service—this also increases the likelihood of lower mental health outcomes”.
It supported the views of those of the fourteen organisations mentioned here, recommending that the UK end its practice of recruiting adolescents to the armed forces.
It was noted after the election that many will be dreading any further impact the money-takers will have on the lives of the vulnerable – and the first ‘welfare’ action taken by the Johnson government has not been reassuring.
On Monday 16th it was reported that the government’s Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) can now send letters to doctors telling them not to sign patients’ sick notes if they have been found “fit for work” by the work capability assessments.
Linda Burnip, who founded the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts, said that the change was what “disabled people were dreading before the election”.
She also added: “To some extent, doctors might as well not exist any more in relation to benefit claims because they are totally ignored . . . You have someone who has seven or eight years’ training and their opinion counts for nothing . . .”
Undermining the GP’s role
An article in the medical magazine Pulse, How the benefits clampdown is undermining the GP’s role, reports GPs’ accounts of their patients being refused welfare benefits, counter to the GPs’ opinion that they were unable to work. Later 68% of employment support allowance claimants assessed as fit for work later had the decision overturned on appeal.
Official figures relating to Personal Independence Payments, which slipped out hours after the election result on Friday, illustrate the record of the former Conservative government. They include findings that:
- 46% of all those who have moved from old system DLA to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) lost out financially.
- More than 650,000 people on disability benefits had their payments cut or stopped totally after moving to a new system.
Other figures were highlighted by journalist and campaigner Alex Tiffin
Alex is just one of an army of observers who are concerned about the deprivation and the repeated harassment of those least able to cope with added stress and loss of income.
John Pring on 5th December 2019 in Disability News Service reports official records have revealed that a company paid to assess disabled people’s fitness for work was put under “immense pressure” by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to find claimants ineligible for out-of-work disability benefits,
An ATOS doctor made it clear that DWP was partly to blame for the decision to find his patient ineligible for disability benefits
The claim was substantiated in a document unearthed by the family of Michael O’Sullivan, a disabled man who took his own life after being found unfairly fit for work. It was contained in evidence provided to the General Medical Council (GMC) nearly three years ago when it was investigating complaints about Dr Fathy Awad Sherif, the orthopaedic surgeon who carried out the face-to-face assessment of Michael O’Sullivan in March 2013
The doctor’s representatives told GMC investigators: “Following the conversion of Incapacity Benefit to ESA, the DWP put immense pressure on ATOS disability analysts to deem claimants fit for work when they previously would have qualified for benefits.”
A coroner who blamed failings in the notorious work capability assessment system for his death, wrote to DWP to request urgent changes to prevent further deaths. Those changes were never made, and further deaths have continued to be linked to the WCA – 80 named here.
The revolving door between government & big business
Yesterday’s headlines review of ONS report: 2008-2019, richest 10% enjoy biggest gains in household wealth
Two days is a long time in pre-election politics
On 28th November Francis Elliott’s triumphalist article in the Times heralded a seat-by-seat analysis based on polling by YouGov for The Times.
But two days later, a BMG poll which questioned 1,663 voters between 27 and 29 November showed that the Conservative lead had ‘narrowed sharply’ (Reuters) – halved when compared with last week’s poll.
Robert Struthers, BMG’s head of polling, said “If this trend continues, this election could be much closer than it looked just a matter of weeks ago.”
Rob Merrick (Independent) points out that the results come at the end of a week when Mr Johnson has faced further criticism on several counts, compounding earlier allegations, including:
- his appalling attitude to single mothers and working-class men
- his unwillingness to face Andrew Neil.
- the early release from prison of the London Bridge attacker and
- his relationship with Donald Trump, who will arrive for a NATO summit in London on Tuesday.
Robert Struthers said there was growing evidence Labour is “starting to build momentum” ahead of the election on 12 December. 73% of those who backed the party at the 2017 election now planning to do the same on 12 December – up from 67% a week ago.
The change in direction is shown above and BMG’s headline voting intention figures take the Conservative lead from a likely majority into possible hung parliament territory. Will this continue and take the Labour Party into the lead?
Media 104: pro-Corbyn text from major Israeli newspaper suppressed by BBC & MSM, ‘as it does not fit their agenda’
Prem Sikka sent the Haaretz link with the comment: “I doubt that BBC or any of the UK press would refer to it as it does not fit their agenda”.
In Haaretz, a major Israeli newspaper, two days ago: ‘The Jews and Israel’s true friends should hope that Corbyn is elected . . . Corbyn is not an anti-Semite. His real sin is to fight against injustice in the world, including the version Israel perpetrates’ – the words of Gideon Levy (right), award-winning journalist, in Haaretz. His article follows.
Opinion: The Contract on Corbyn
The Jewish establishment in Britain and the Israeli propaganda machine have taken out a contract on the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. The contract was taken out a long time ago, and it was clear that the closer Corbyn came to being elected prime minister, the harsher the conflict would get.
On Tuesday it reached its climax in an article by the chief rabbi of Britain, Ephraim Mirvis, in an article in The Times. Mirvis has decided that the anxiety of British Jews over Corbyn is justified and he is not fit to be prime minister. He called on Jews not to vote for Labour in the election on December 12.
Born in South Africa and a graduate of Har Etzion Yeshiva in the settlement of Alon Shvut, Mirvis is the voice of British Jewry. In Capetown, Johannesburg and Har Etzion, he should have learned what apartheid was and why one should fight it. His parents did so, but one doubts that he learned the moral lesson from the regions of disenfranchisement in which he lived in South Africa and the West Bank.
As opposed to the horrid Corbyn, Mirvis (below left) sees nothing wrong with the continued occupation; he does not identify with the struggle for Palestinian freedom, and he doesn’t sense the similarity between the South Africa of his childhood, Har Etzion of his youth and Israel of 2019. That is the real reason that he rejects Corbyn. The Jews of Britain also want a prime minister who supports Israel – that is, supports the occupation. A prime minister who is critical of Israel is to them an exemplar of the new anti-Semitism.
Corbyn’s real sin is his staunch position against injustice in the world, including the version Israel perpetrates.
Corbyn is not an anti-Semite. He never was. His real sin is his staunch position against injustice in the world, including the version Israel perpetrates. Today this is anti-Semitism. The Hungarian Viktor Orban, the Austrian Freedom Party and the extreme right in Europe are not the danger to Jews. Corbyn is the enemy. The new and efficient strategy of Israel and the Zionist establishment brands every seeker of justice as an anti-Semite, and any criticism of Israel as hatred of Jews. Corbyn is a victim of this strategy, which threatens to paralyze and silence Europe with regard to Israel.
British Jewry might not be faking its anxiety, but it is certainly magnifying the danger. There is anti-Semitism, though less that what is presented, certainly on the left. About half of British Jews are considering fleeing if Corbyn is elected. Let them flee. The survey that showed this could actually encourage anti-Semitism: Are the Jews of Britain conditionally British? To whom is their loyalty?
The future of all British Jews is much more secure than the future of any Palestinian living under the occupation
The future of all British Jews is much more secure than the future of any Palestinian living under the occupation, and even more secure than that of any Arab living in Israel. Jews are persecuted and are victims of discrimination and racism less so than the Palestinians in the Israel they hold dear.
Moreover, Islamophobia in Europe is more common than anti-Semitism, but people talk about it less.
Mirvis presents no evidence of Corbyn’s anti-Semitism. It sufficed for him to note the fact that Corbyn described as “friends” those who “endorse the murder of Jews” – a reference to Corbyn’s comments on Hezbollah and Hamas. Corbyn (left) is indeed a very harsh critic of the occupation, supports the boycott and compares the closure of Gaza with the siege of Stalingrad and Leningrad. These are anti-Israeli positions, but not necessarily anti-Semitic. The Jews of Britain are blurring this difference as are many Jews throughout the world, intentionally. One can (and should) be a harsh critic of Israel without being anti-Semitic.
If the Jews of Britain and their chief rabbi were more honest and courageous, they would ask themselves: Isn’t Israel’s brutal occupation policy the strongest motive for anti-Semitism today? There is anti-Semitism, it must be fought, but it must also be recognized that Israel supplies it with an abundance of excuses and motives.
The Jews and Israel’s true friends should hope that Corbyn is elected. He is a statesman who can change international discourse about the occupation and the struggle against it. He is a ray of hope for a different world and a different Israel – and what more could we want.
Labour guarantee: a guard on every train will attend to passengers and help the frail or disabled to board safely
If a Labour government is elected, years of struggle against the privatised railways’ attempts to remove guards and have driver only operated (DOO) trains will come to an end.
It is alleged that government has made the removal of guards a condition of private operators’ franchises and has also included a clause in them stating that taxpayers will underwrite any losses the operators incur by provoking strike action.
In 2016, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg derided this cause as making a ‘fuss’ and described the protesting unions as indulging in a power play; She explained the motivation for removing the guards: “One former senior minister tells me that “successive secretaries of state” in charge at Transport have wanted to “get rid of guards on trains”. The ambition is to bring down the cost of rail travel for the tax payer and the train passenger”. She forgot to mention
- the companies’ desire to avoid paying for these guards, swelling profits and payments to shareholders,
- incidents where guards have been needed to cope with disruptive passengers; as an RMT report said: “Only a fool would suggest that drivers can drive a train while sorting out drunken and/or antisocial behaviour in the carriages behind them”
- or ‘lifechanging’ incidents such as this: ITV reported that at West Wickham station south London, in April 2015, a passenger was dragged along the platform at West Wickham station, south London, when the 11am Southeastern service from London Cannon Street to Hayes (Kent) – driver-only operated – while her backpack strap was trapped in the doors of the train. As the train moved off, she fell onto the platform and then through the gap between the platform and train, suffering life-changing injuries.
As RAIL concludes: there remain (even in the eyes of the most ardent DOO supporters) security risks for the train’s passengers without another member of staff present, be they called guards, conductors or train managers.
A list of incidents given in a 2016 government dossier ended: When there is an emergency the guard can take charge especially if the train driver is incapacitated”. But this link, cited in 2017, no longer leads to the dossier.
Racheal Maskell, Labour’s Shadow Rail Minister, said:
“The railway should liberate people and enable everyone to play their full role in our society and economy, but the Conservative Party’s expansion of DOO has knowingly degraded the rights of older and disabled passengers in the face of protests from passenger and disabled people’s groups. It is remarkable that the Government and private train companies have pursued this discriminatory policy even when it provoked fierce industrial disputes resulting in significant strike action.
“Labour’s publicly owned railway will be for everyone, not just the able-bodied, which is why we will enable staff to deliver a safe and accessible railway for all.”
Earlier this month, West Midlands Trains workers staged a weekend stoppage in their continuing campaign against the removal of safety critical guards from trains. An RMT spokesman said:
“The safety and accessibility of the travelling public is this trade union’s priority and should take priority over the profits of the train operator and we believe that this is an important election issue for the people of the West Midlands. “We will not allow the drive for profit to override the core issue of safe and accessible services for all on West Midlands Trains and we stand fi rm on that very basic principle. We will never compromise on the issues of passenger safety and accessibility.”
The union remains available for talks with West Midlands Trains, which is a subsidiary of Dutch state-owned rail operator Abellio.
Will common humanity prevail: the record indicated that it will not unless a Labour government is elected.
2015: The appalling risks which can arise on a DOO train were outlined convincingly here: http://www.railmagazine.com/trains/current-trains/the-pros-and-cons-of-driver-only-operation/page/2
And many issues of Private Eye over the last four years have covered the issue and several DOO related accidents in detail .
Will Corbyn/Labour’s industrial strategy guarantee fair production costs for perishable food – or rely on the global market?
“It is simply not right that any worker should have to sell their product for less than it costs them to produce them, and this is acutely felt by dairy farmers.”
Countryfile, reviewing Jeremy Corbyn’s “Rural Renewal” report, continued to quote: “A combination of a small number of very large milk processers operating as suppliers to retailers, supermarkets operating a ‘price war’ forcing down the cost of milk, and milk co-ops losing their power has resulted in thousands of dairy farmers finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, let alone make a profit.”
Corbyn said “we will work with all parties to ensure that customers are offered a price they can afford for their milk, but not at the expense of farmers whose very livelihoods depend on it. This will include investigating regulating supermarkets to prevent below cost selling.”
Factories don’t sell their products at a loss, but those producing perishable food are often required to do so. It’s so easy to put pressure on those producing perishable food: fresh milk, fruit and vegetables, who have to sell quickly – in effect holding them to ransom.
Seven years ago Telegraph View pointed out that some supermarkets pay less for milk than it costs to produce. Nothing has changed! Prices sometimes drop to the 1990s level but all other costs have risen steeply.
Confidence in successive governments continues to fall as the country has become increasingly dependent on imported food – which now even includes tomatoes from Morocco and eggs and poultry from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
A Fairtrade Policy Director noted that ‘The unpleasant and aggressive tough love lobby’ which has cut social and healthcare, education and public transport doesn’t spare family farmers
Corbyn on a Cumbrian farm, pledging to do “everything necessary” to stop no-deal Brexit carnage for famrers
No thoughts of love – or natural justice – appeared in the Oxford Farming Conference address of Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who blamed the ‘difficult world market’ for low milk prices and focussed on farming’s ‘huge export potential’, rejoicing that ‘we now grow chillies which we export to Pakistan and Mexico’.
Barbara Crowther (right), by far the best Fairtrade Foundation Director of Policy & Public Affairs (2009-2017), said “There is a very unpleasant and aggressive tough love lobby out there who simply do not understand the importance of locally sourced food and the underlying food security issues which are only going to get worse as the global population grows”. She asked “Could we make our Mark work on milk?”. This link to that (now unwelcome?) reference has been removed.
It’s a fair question and is something that has been looked at, and discussed many times – not least as part of a ‘Local and Fair’ conference a few years ago, bringing Fairtrade and Cumbrian farmers groups together to discuss the issues they hold in common, co-ordinated by Joe Human (see Barbara in video at that conference).
MP Anne McIntosh (below, who chaired the parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, for several years, urged the Government to intervene, after it was reported that 60 dairy farmers went out of business in one month alone. EFRA wanted the Groceries Code which covers suppliers to the big supermarkets and retailers, to be extended to include dairy farmers – but soon afterwards, the estimable Ms McIntosh was deselected. Now in the Lords she is campaigning for the farming interests threatened by Brexit
The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers insists that all supermarkets could pay dairy farmers a price for milk that would meet the cost of production without increasing the price charged to the consumer: they would just need to accept a slightly lower profit on the milk they sell.
Placing the issue third after Angora goats and use of level crossings, the BBC, in a video link no longer working, gave priority to the destructive comments of the establishment economist, Sean Rickard.
Apparently unaware of economic interdependence – the knock-on effect to other industries and the rural economy – Sean Rickard tells farmers that if they can’t manage under these conditions, ‘they should give up making milk and live off the subsidy’.
In fact, as Clitheroe dairy farmer Kathleen Calvert often points out, the whole rural economy is affected as farmers lose income. Each working dairy farm returns a huge amount of money back into the wider economy, supporting many other regional businesses, and therefore helping to provide jobs for many. Each dairy farm that ceases to trade has a knock-on effect on the surrounding community and the economy, due to a loss of income to many other businesses. From press release, link no longer works. Instead see a briefer reference in Lancashire Life.
The key message “We are losing hold of a vital skills base at an alarming rate as dedicated dairy farming families are no longer financially able or prepared to work at a continual loss. We believe that many milk buyers gamble with the continuity and security of the UK milk supply by keeping much of the profit further up the market chain. Despite varying business structures and the importance of food production, most farm gate prices are now lower than production costs. This has a knock on effect on a wide range of other businesses and livelihoods of countless people involved, ultimately leading to pressure on incomes”.
Dairy farmers are compelled to pay a levy to DairyCo/AHDB, a body set up by government, which, consultant Ian Potter (above right) notes, has received – and spent – more than £1 million extra as a result of the increase in production. He asks: “But on what? Cynics say it spends the money on encouraging more production because that generates more levy money for it…and so on!” He continues: “In my opinion we now need a campaign to promote the buying of British dairy products using British milk . . . I have heard one Tesco farmer would prefer to give his levy to Tesco if he could to help it promote British milk. That makes sense to me if DairyCo won’t!”
Meanwhile food imports rise and government ministers advise hardworking farmers to place their ‘commodities’ on the global market so that unproductive internet bound speculators can ‘make a killing’ – nowadays more often crouched over their computer screens.
Andrew Pendleton (New Economics Foundation) reminds us that since Margaret Thatcher first stood on the steps of Number 10 in 1979, successive UK governments have chosen to withdraw all but the barest bones of support from Britain’s foundational industries, of which steel is one. He questions whether any owner of steel manufacturers in the UK could thrive in the hostile environment UK governments have created.
Failed by the current government’s blind faith in markets, Pendleton writes, the people of Scunthorpe and many other places have had no voice whatsoever in how the economy was run, until ‘the blunt instrument of the EU referendum’. The loss of this significant company will intensify the sense of loss that contributed to the Brexit vote
There are risks in selling to the Turkish Military Pension Fund or to the Chinese Jingye Group, about which very little is known, industrially, but the interest of foreign buyers suggests that British Steel is seen as a potentially viable asset.
Many tonnes of steel will be needed to build a cleaner economy – for wind turbines, electric vehicles and the rail lines made in Scunthorpe, critical to a decarbonised economy. As Pendleton points out, steel production is ‘problematic’ for climate change – but steel production in Scunthorpe can be ‘greened’ by investing to reduce its carbon emissions, eventually reaching zero as coal-free production (below) becomes the norm.
In Germany, Thyssenkrupp recently demonstrated running a steel blast furnace completely on hydrogen – opening up the prospect of zero-emissions steel production by using renewable hydrogen.
Hydrogen will become cheaper as current methods, which rely on creating hydrogen fuel from purified water, are superseded by less expensive technologies such as one being developed by Stanford researchers, who have been separating hydrogen and oxygen gas from seawater via electricity.
And millions of tonnes of carbon used in shipping will be saved by using steel close to where it is manufactured
Pendleton sees the current economic model, ‘now the default preference of our policy-makers’, as absurd; in Fife, steel fabrication firm BiFab is in mothballs (right) while energy giant EDF imports the casings for the turbines on its new offshore wind farm from Indonesia.
He points out that Indonesia and some of our European neighbours’ governments habitually intervene to ensure that ‘foundational industries’ have guaranteed supply chains and amply-filled order books.
British Steel owners Greybull, a private investment company which owns many other industries, are unlikely to be seriously affected, but the company’s workforce, its suppliers, Scunthorpe and the wider economy will. It will be a disaster, politically and economically. Andrew Pendleton ends:
“Nothing short of immediate nationalisation is needed; anything less will be a betrayal of a whole town and will send shockwaves through the UK’s industrial heartlands . . .
“It is not too late for the government to step in and take the company over, which would have the immediate effect of keeping people in work and the economy of a town afloat. This is absolutely government’s proper role. But it shouldn’t stop there. After nationalisation should come a three-pronged approach:
- focus on industrial strategy for British Steel in order to secure its supply chains
- fill up its order book with a proactive procurement policy.
- and create a worker owned company who could then benefit from an ownership dividend
“Given the UK’s need to invest and build green infrastructure, such as railways, steel is of national strategic importance”.
Read Andrew Pendleton’s article here.