News highlights: November 10-November 16

News highlights: November 10-November 16

Editor’s summary:

This week, another alarming study has indicated the extent of food poverty in the United Kingdom and its disproportionate impact on young people. YMCA England’s report clearly laid the blame on the government’s austerity measures: “Just under four in five (79%) of those YMCAs referring young people to foodbanks reported having to do so as a direct result of delays in receiving benefit payments and punitive sanctions.”

The editors of openDemocracy’s UK section (OurKingdom) provided a detailed breakdown of recent reports into voter engagement in Britain. They looked beyond technocratic “fixes” and discussed how to build a more inclusive and active political culture.

Nick Harvey from Doctors of the World wrote a powerful piece illustrating the human side of Britain and France’s squabbling over how to deal with migration flows through the port of Calais. Beyond the political arguments, Harvey paints a moving picture of the daily lives of those stranded in the Calais “purgatory.” This is definitely a must-read.


Criminal and Restorative Justice Highlights


EU justice measures backed by MPs despite anger over procedure – BBC News (10/11).

The political debate over the European Arrest Warrant descended into angry scenes at the House of Commons. See the video within this article.

Barrister sparked security scare by “claiming Nazis wanted to blow up the Queen at the 2012 Olympics” – The Telegraph (10/11).

Michael Shrimpton has been accused of making hoax calls in the lead-up to the London 2012 Olympics alleging a terror plot to kill the Queen. “The 57-year-old called the office of former defence secretary Philip Hammond to warn him of the plot in April 2012, just months before the games were due to begin” – what the motivations were, and what the consequences will be, remains to be seen.

Justice Secretary admits prison staff listened in on MPs phone calls – The Independent (11/11).

The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, was forced to apologise for prison staff listening and tapping over thirty calls between MPs and prisoners between 2006 and 2012. This is clearly a major breach of privacy, and Grayling has promised a full inquiry.

Defendants should never be tried anonymously, says lord chief justice – The Guardian (12/11).

Lord Thomas has voiced his opposition to the notion of anonymity for defendants being brought to trial in the UK: “We don’t want a situation where there are anonymous defendants and [where] the matter has to come to the court of appeal to resolve it. There needs to be much clearer guidelines … so that the prospect of an anonymous defendant is something we would never see again in the courts. I believe passionately in justice and if justice is not open it’s not justice.”

Police chief set to give evidence – The Belfast Telegraph (12/11).

Northern Ireland is very sparsely covered in the British press. The arrest of several alleged dissident republicans this week did not feature; nor did the ongoing inquest into the killing of a 76 year old woman by loyalists in 1994. The police chief is having to explain why the initial inquiry faced so many delays, and is likely to be faced with hostile questioning.

Frenchman sentenced to seven years for joining jihad in Syria – France24 (13/11).

France, like Britain, is attempting to crack down on its citizens who fight in Syria’s civil war. According to France’s interior minister, up to 930 French citizens may be “fighting jihad” in Syria.

Serb leader vows to defy war crimes court – Al-Jazeera English (13/11).

Vojislav Seselj, the Serbian far-right leader has been released from his detention at The Hague in order to receive medical treatment. However, upon return to Serbia, he has refused under any circumstances to return to The Hague to face charges. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has been criticised in the past for working slowly, and this is unlikely to help the court’s reputation.

MoJ vows to prosecute prisoners who seriously assault members of staff – The Guardian (16/11)

Perpetrators of serious assault against prison staff in the UK will likely face prosecution, as a result of a new joint protocol produced by the Prison Service, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Association of Chief Police Officers.

What’s the point of police and crime commissioners? – New Statesman (16/11).

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were first elected two years ago. As this article demonstrates, there has been limited engagement with this electoral process, with some turnout figures falling below 20%. Why are PCC elections attracting such little public interest, and how can this issue be resolved?


Youth Policy Highlights


Petition questions independence of children’s commissioner candidate – CYP Now (10/11).

The government’s preferred candidate for chidren’s commissioner has come under criticism from campaigner, Penny Webb. She stated :“there are concerns that the role of the children’s commissioner must be undertaken by a person who is independent of government, who will speak on behalf of children of all ages, and who has a track record of standing up for and protecting the rights of children.” Anne Longfield, the current front-runner for the job, is seen as being too close to the government.

Teaching neoliberalism: time to replace Ofsted – openDemocracy (11/11).

A retired primary school teacher and Green Party spokesperson argues that Ofsted is applying the logic of private business to the public good of education. As he writes, “Ofsted judgements are used by the Department for Education to force ‘failing schools’ to become academies thus involving Ofsted in the process of the privatisation of the education system.”

Boris Johnson gives backing to grammar schools – The Guardian (11/11).

The mayor of London, like many of his conservative counterparts, has affirmed his support for selective schools in the UK. He stated that grammar schools are “an important part of the educational mix … a great mobiliser and liberator for many people.”

North Carolina to charter school chain: administrator salaries cannot be kept secret – AlterNet (11/11).

In the United States, charter schools cause similar controversy to grammar schools and academies in the United Kingdom. Here, charter schools in North Carolina face allegations of using public money to invest in the for-profit companies of businessman Baker Mitchell.

Free childcare funding gap exceeds £200m – CYP Now (12/11).

The government’s promise of 15 hours state-funded childcare for all three- and four-year-olds and two-year-olds from particularly deprived families is facing a significant funding shortfall. Free childcare is often framed as an idealistic policy goal, but its practical benefits are significant – including the potential to include more women in the workforce and reduce the financial burden on young families. This area clearly deserves higher priority.

Young people increasingly reliant on food handouts – YMCA England (13/11).

YMCA England has published a report titled “Food for Thought” outlining the severity of food poverty in the United Kingdom. Across the country, YMCAs are increasingly having to send young people to food banks due to cuts in social spending. “Just under four in five (79%) of those YMCAs referring young people to foodbanks reported having to do so as a direct result of delays in receiving benefit payments and punitive sanctions”

Longfield confirmed as next children’s commissioner – CYP Now (13/11).

Despite the objections of some civil society groups, Anne Longfield has been appointed the next children’s commissioner, after receiving a vote of confidence from MPs.

Responses – the new report on improving voter engagement – openDemocracy (14/11).

This is an interesting article in which OurKingdom’s editors respond to a recent report into improving voter engagement in the UK. This is an important issue for young people – especially as major parties pass legislation that significantly impacts on them. As the writers argue, however, we must do more than simply amend or improve the process of voting, but instead try and increase the power of the voting system itself.


Refugee and Gender Highlights


(From last week) Second oral session of Parliamentary Inquiry on Detention – Detention Action (7/11).

The Parliamentary Inquiry into the use of immigration detention has proceeded through its second oral session. See the attached testimonies and stories of those who have suffered in these centres across the UK.

Does prostitution demean, degrade and dehumanise the buyers of sex? – The Irish Times (11/11).

Kate Holmquist provides a probing opinion piece on the debates surrounding the criminalisation of prostitution. Holmquist, in particular, looks at the psychology and cultural mindset of the buyers of sex – and asks how this reflects a broader crisis in gender relations.

Hunger amid tragedy for South Sudan’s refugees – Al-Jazeera English (11/11).

At least 11000 child soldiers are involved in South Sudan’s war, tens of thousands of people have been made refugees. “The biggest fear is that people come in massive numbers like in the first semester of 2014 and we have not found a site to put them,” said the head of the European Commission’s aid programme in Africa.

Pamela Mhlophe believes in the Catholic Church as well as supporting sex workers – Huffington Post UK (12/11).

Pamela Mhlophe is a devout Catholic who has reached out to sex workers in Britain. Mhlophe sees her morality in powerful terms: “In the Catholic faith they don’t encourage terminations of any sort, but where I am concerned, in terms of these women, my social work takes the lead. As much as I don’t personally believe in it, I want the women to make the right choice, and to know I will support their choice. I will never propagate faith to anybody.”

Don’t forget Iraq’s displaced – Human Rights Watch (12/11).

“IDP” – or “internally displaced person” – is a fairly cold term. Often placed in a separate category to refugees, there are millions of IDPs across Iraq and Syria as a result of the massive violence currently engulfing the region. As Erin Evers rightly points out in this piece, the violence is not only being perpetrated by the Islamic State, but also Shiite and Kurdish militias, whose political representatives sit in the “power-sharing” administration in Baghdad.
Has anti-immigration feeling peaked? – New Statesman (13/11).

Here is an interesting perspective on the rise of Ukip, incorporating polling data to indicate attitudes towards immigration across different age groups in Britain. The analysis suggests that anti-immigration sentiment may well be reaching its peak, as younger people, particularly graduates, are more likely to view immigrants positively.

Out of sight, out of mind: refugees in purgatory – New Internationalist (13/11).

2000 migrants are in a Calais “purgatory”, writes Nick Harvey of Doctors of the World. This is an extremely powerful piece, captured in Harvey’s description of “apocalyptic” living conditions: “Among the rubbish, debris and heavily graffitied walls were scattered tents and groups of men, mostly from Darfur, some from Syria and Afghanistan, huddled around fires playing cards, the smell of wood smoke clinging to everything.”

Julien Blanc: Ministers urged to ban US “dating guru” who “promotes choking women” from entering UK, as 86,000 sign protest petition – The Independent (13/11).

An online petition to prevent the “pick-up guru” from entering the United Kingdom has the support of 86000 people. Blanc has one date scheduled in London on 27 November and will return to the capital again in March and April 2015.

British failure to take Syrian refugees is “neglect of duty,” says shadow Home Secretary – The Independent (16/11).

“After committing to admit up to 500 refugees, the Government has officially confirmed that only 50 have been able to come to this country.” Compared to other developed European countries, this is a dismally low number. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said that the government should be “ashamed.”


Human Rights Highlights


Tony Blair’s insatiable greed exposed by his secret deal with Saudi Arabia – Stop the War Coalition (10/11).

The Stop the War Coalition has closely monitored Tony Blair’s political movements and business deals since he stood down as British prime minister. This latest revelation indicates Blair’s profiting from a secret contract with a Saudi oil company. Since leaving office, Blair has seemingly paid lip service to “human rights” while supporting repressive regimes, like Saudi Arabia and more recently, Egypt.

Q&A: How to tackle backlash against gay rights – Human Rights Watch (10/11).

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch is interviewed on how to respond to the global attacks against gay rights. With “almost 2.8 billion people are living in countries where identifying as gay could lead to imprisonment, corporal punishment or even death”, there are clearly significant improvements to be made.

Theresa May: Home Office could have covered up paedophile claims – The Telegraph (11/11).

As the government launches a new inquiry into child sexual abuse in the 1980s, the Home Secretary is having to admit that the extent of cover-ups may go to the Home Office itself. In order to properly assess these claims, however, the new review will have to be genuinely independent, and free of Westminster influence.

Met police anti-terrorism database holds more than 2000 records relating to journalists – Press Gazette (11/11).

After a Freedom of Information Act request, it has been revealed that the London Metropolitan Police’s anti-terrorism database (the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit) holds astonishing amounts of information on journalists. The Met is not providing a detailed explanation of these revelations, but is denying that journalists themselves are the targets of police surveillance.

After being taken to wrong hospital while unconscious, woman faces bankruptcy from medical bill – AlterNet (12/11).

Zaid Jilani blasts the failure of the American healthcare system to provide for the basic needs of its citizens. The high cost of healthcare is bluntly illustrated in the fact that medical bills account for close to two-thirds of bankruptcies in the United States. Stories like this are frequent – and should serve to emphasise the importance of universal health coverage. They should also harden our determination to preserve the National Health Service in Britain.

Pensions dispute: bullying tactics violate workers’ human rights – openDemocracy (13/11).

Here, two leading academics discuss the ways in which employers are able to punish striking employees by working around legal restrictions. The imposition of legal costs and the targeted of specific individuals rather than unions are among the methods that have been used. The focus in this article is on the dispute surrounding university staff pensions.

Qatar: the grim reality behind the World Cup 2022 – Amnesty UK (10/11).

The widespread abuse of migrant workers in Qatar has been increasingly exposed since the gulf state was awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup. In many ways, the lives of such workers in Qatar and countries like Saudi Arabia and Oman are similar to lives of slaves: with passports confiscated, workers are often left entirely at the whims of their frequently abusive employers. Britain, of course, has close diplomatic and economic ties with such countries – but rarely speaks out.

Red poppies and the arms trade – openDemocracy (12/11).

Paul Rogers’ column on “Open Security” provides a refreshing perspective on British foreign policy. In this article, he talks specifically about the role of the arms trade in the UK economy – reserving particular criticism for political leaders who attend solemn ceremonies commemorating the First World War, whilst presiding over arms sales to some of the world’s most repressive regimes.

New Era tenants fear eviction by Christmas after rent promise rescinded – The Guardian (16/11).

The New Era housing estate in Hoxton is owned by a consortium affiliated with Conservative Party MP, Richard Benyon. In an apparent victory for tenants, Benyon’s company was forced to sell its interests in the flats – but now, it appears as though evictions may be on the horizon.

Abandoning gypsy, traveller and Roma communities… the UK way – Institute for Race Relations (14/11).

Roma communities in Britain continue to face significant discrimination, according to the most recent independent assessments. An all party parliamentary report has aligned with views earlier expressed by EU monitors: Britain ranks extremely poorly, and government policies have failed to fully appreciate the needs of Roma people.

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