Sunday, 17 February 2013

Disabled face 'funding black hole'

Friday, 15 February 2013

Jeremy Hunt: gagging order for NHS whistleblower unacceptable

Jeremy Hunt has warned senior NHS executives there will be "consequences" if they have wrongly gagged a former manager from speaking out about concerns over patient safety.

Mr Walker yesterday broke his silence to allege that he was forced out of his job in 2010 because he put patient safety ahead of Whitehall targets. He has received a lawyer's letter threatening potentially financially crippling legal action for breaching the terms of the package - reported to be worth £500,000 - agreed in settlement of his unfair dismissal claim.

Mr Hunt said he is ready to order NHS bosses to reverse the gagging order if it is found to have breached NHS guidelines.

He has written to Paul Richardson, chairman of the trust, to tell him it is not an acceptable way to behave when an NHS manager raises concerns about patient safety.

"I don't think this is acceptable, I think it is the wrong thing to do," Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme.


NHS whistleblower faces ruin after speaking out about patient safety

An NHS whistleblower who claims he was paid £500,000 to keep quiet over patient safety last night said he feared he would "lose everything" by speaking out against the “culture of fear” in the health service.

But when he decided to reveal his concerns earlier this week he was threatened with legal action and told by the NHS he faced paying back the money and any extra legal costs.
The father-of-two went ahead anyway. "I stand to lose everything if they sue," he told the Daily Mail. "I only signed the order because my legal fees had reached £100,000 and I was about to lose my house"
“Now I risk having to repay even more than the settlement because I could beliable for the trust’s legal fees. I face ruin. But it has got to the stage where thousands and thousands of patients are dying needlessly in NHS hospitals and the government says no one’s to blame, someone needs to stand up and be counted.”


We'll never know how many ate horse

It is unlikely the exact number of people in the UK who have unwittingly eaten horse meat will ever be known, the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has conceded. Catherine Brown said that testing was the right way to address the issue, and said the focus would be on areas of higher risk.

But she admitted that how many people who had unknowingly eaten horse meat was likely to be impossible to ascertain. "I don't think that we ever will (know how many), because these tests are a snapshot, so even where we find things it is very hard to work out how long, what number of batches, so I think it is unlikely that we will ever know that. It is shocking," she told the BBC.


Shock at death of healthy 24-year-old black man in mental care

Date: Monday 11 February 2013

The tragic death of Jonathan Andel Malia who lost his life while in the care of mental health services, just three weeks into the New Year, has again raised concerns about the treatment of patients from the UK’s African Caribbean communities detained in this system.

The physically fit and healthy father-of-one was admitted as a voluntary patient to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Selly Oak Birmingham on the 4th of January this year. 
He was transferred to Meadow Croft Hospital in Winson Green the next day. When his girlfriend called to establish how he was doing staff informed her that he was ‘banging his head’ and ‘being aggressive’... ... ...

On 17th January staff at the Chamberlain Ward at Cygnet Hospital contacted Andel Malia’s partner to tell her that he had been transferred from the privately run hospital, where his had gone into cardiac arrest  to Lister Hospital to be resuscitated. Later that afternoon Andell-Malia’s partner was told that he suffered another heart attack and was pronounced dead at 3pm on Thursday 17th January 2013. When asked what had happened staff at Cygnet told his family that the 24-year-old ‘went to visit the bathroom and had ‘keeled over’. 

The death of yet another black man detained under the Mental Health Act just three weeks into the New Year has led to renewed calls for wholesale reform in the treatment of people from the UK’s African Caribbean communities who come in contact with the system. This case has also raises widespread concern about the welfare of those detained in this system.

For interviews call BMH UK News desk on: M: 07947 189 682

Monday, 4 April 2011

Manipulating morals: scientists target drugs that improve behaviour

Researchers say morality treatments could used instead of prison and might even help humanity tackle global issues 

Amelia Hill, guardian.co.uk,  

Existing drugs such as Prozac are already known to affect moral behaviour, but scientists predict that advances may allow more sophisticated manipulations

A pill to enhance moral behaviour, a treatment for racist thoughts, a therapy to increase your empathy for people in other countries - these may sound like the stuff of science fiction but with medicine getting closer to altering our moral state, society should be preparing for the consequences, according to a book that reviews scientific developments in the field. Drugs such as Prozac that alter a patient's mental state already have an impact on moral behaviour, but scientists predict that future medical advances may allow much more sophisticated manipulations.

The field is in its infancy, but "it's very far from being science fiction", said Dr Guy Kahane, deputy director of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and a Wellcome Trust biomedical ethics award winner. "Science has ignored the question of moral improvement so far, but it is now becoming a big debate," he said. "There is already a growing body of research you can describe in these terms. Studies show that certain drugs affect the ways people respond to moral dilemmas by increasing their sense of empathy, group affiliation and by reducing aggression."

Researchers have become very interested in developing biomedical technologies capable of intervening in the biological processes that affect moral behaviour and moral thinking, according to Dr Tom Douglas, a Wellcome Trust research fellow at Oxford University's Uehiro Centre. "It is a very hot area of scientific study right now."


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Ruling on expert witnesses worries child-abuse lawyers

By Emily Dugan, The Independent
Sunday, 3 April 2011

Vital expert witnesses may be too afraid to testify because of the "chilling effect" of a Supreme Court ruling that leaves them open to being sued, lawyers warned yesterday.

The ruling last week removed immunity for expert witnesses, reversing more than 300 years of legal protection. Lawyers predict the change will prompt many lawsuits against experts. The court ruled that expert witnesses had a "duty of care" to their clients in the same way as any other professional. However, Justice Lady Hale, who was one of two Supreme Court judges to vote against the ruling, said its likely impact was so worrying – she called it "chilling" – that Parliament should examine the issue.

Expert witnesses provide important evidence in thousands of cases every year, ranging from child abuse to medical negligence. It is feared that justice could be impaired if they are afraid to work and their numbers decline. Fewer experts would limit the numbers of cases that could be heard. Lawyers warn that child abuse cases, where expert testimony is already in short supply, is a particular worry.

James Badenoch QC, chairman of the Expert Witness Institute, said: "The worry is that expert witnesses will be frightened off by their concerns about being sued. Child protection cases give rise to the greatest concern. Children being maltreated crucially depend on doctors being willing to stand up and give evidence, and this will be another disincentive for those people to be willing to lend their learning." 

Friday, 18 March 2011

Young stalking victims are 'reluctant to tell police'

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

    Lives are at risk because not enough young victims of stalking are reporting it, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers.

    New figures show women under 25 are almost twice as likely to be harassed or stalked, but research shows they are significantly less likely to seek help.

    Victims and forces need to take the issue more seriously, says the officer in charge of the police's response.
    Campaigners say it is vital that young women ask for help as soon as possible.

    'Shame and loyalty'

    Some 1.4 million people were stalked or harassed in 2009-10, according to the latest crime surveys for England, Wales and Scotland.

    Women under the age of 25 were around twice as likely to be targeted as the rest of the population.

    Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, who is leading the police response on stalking and harassment, said: "Too often young victims say it's just someone they used to go out with and they'll give up eventually. The problem is that sometimes they don't and the consequences can be tragic."

    Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University analysed 5,000 incidents of stalking and harassment between 2008 and 2011. Some 48% of victims aged 19-25 went to the police for help, rising to 62% in older age groups.

    "Despite the seriousness of the crime there is a huge problem of under-reporting," said Dr Lorraine Sheridan, a forensic psychologist at Heriot-Watt. "Often victims do not want to make a fuss. They could be embarrassed or ashamed, or maybe they still feel some loyalty to the person."

    Three-quarters of young stalking victims who do report a crime wait for at least 120 incidents before contacting the police, says the research.
    . . . . . . . . . .

    Alexis Bowater, chief executive of the Network for Surviving Stalking, said getting help early on was key to tackling the problem. "The sooner people can recognise what is happening the better for them and for everybody else. What is really important is not to keep it to yourself ... If someone has plucked up the courage to say they need help then they should never just be dismissed."

    What is stalking?

    British Crime Survey defines stalking as multiple incidents of:
    • Unwanted calls, e-mails or texts
    • Loitering around home or workplace
    • Following or watching
    • Interfering with or damaging personal property
    Full story at http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/12679107 

    National Stalking Awareness Week 11th-15th April 2011

    NSS - Network for Surviving Stalking

    77% of stalking victims don’t report the crime until over 100 incidents have taken place. Network for Surviving Stalking has just launched a campaign to encourage people to take obsessive behaviour seriously. www.trustyourinstinct.org features short films and a Stalking Quiz to help people assess whether they’re being stalked and how seriously they should take a situation.  Please help us spread the word - tell your friends, family, workmates, neighbours – in fact everyone you know to visit www.trustyourinstinct.org  Follow the campaign at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Trust-Your-Instinct/204103859615005  and www.twitter.com/trustyrinstinct

    Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls, including stalking is a key priority for the Home Secretary.  The Home Office says, “Our action plan to end violence against women and girls sets out a range of initiatives to tackle this issue, including setting up a new national stalking group to improve the police response and ensure robust prosecutions. We continue to fund the National Stalking Helpline and provide improved support for victims as well as working with police to share data ensuring resources are targeted where they are most needed.”

    The National Stalking Helpline http://www.stalkinghelpline.org/ provides help and support to victims of stalking and their family and friends, the helpline number is 0300 636 0300

    A week’s activities to raise awareness about the crime of stalking will be launched on April 11th in London. ‘Out of the Shadows’ features victims speaking out about the effects of stalking and the charities involved – The National Stalking Helpline, Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Protection Against Stalking and Network for Surviving Stalking  will highlight what needs to change. Time: 0930-1230. Venue: CEOP, Conference Room, 34 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London. For more information visit www.protectionagainststalking.org 

    Friday, 11 March 2011

    Text - don't call! Government updates health advice for mobile phone users after admitting 'We don't know whether they are dangerous'

    Last updated at 10:38 AM on 11th March 2011

    Text don't talk: The Health Protection Agency said mobile users who were concerned about phone radiation should text or use hands-free kits

    Mobile phone users have been advised by the Government for the first time to text or use hands free kits rather than make calls. The Department of Health said this would reduce the user's exposure to reduce radiation emitted by the devices.

    In the first update to the UK Mobile Phones and Health leaflet since 2005, health officials added that further research is needed into the long-term effects of using mobile phones. It stated there had been no 'clear evidence of adverse health effects' from the use of mobiles or from phone masts. However, it added: 'As people have only been using mobile phones for relatively few years, the HPA advises that more research be carried out, especially to investigate whether there might be longer term effects.'

    The UK Chief Medical Officer restated previous advice that children under the age of 16 should only use mobile phones for 'essential purposes' and should 'keep calls short.' This was described as a 'precautionary' move as teenagers' bodies and nervous systems are still developing.

    The latest advice comes just weeks after a £15m Interphone study, that found radio waves from mobiles appear to boost activity in parts of the brain closest to the devices' antennas. U.S researchers found a 50-minute phone call led to seven per cent localised increase in brain activity. Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr Nora Volkow said: 'Although we cannot determine the clinical significance, our results give evidence that the human brain is sensitive to the effects of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields from acute cellphone exposures.'

    Leading NHS hospitals face Office of Fair Trading probe

    Leading NHS hospitals, family doctors and consultants face investigation over allegedly unfair practices by the Office of Fair Trading.

    The OFT probe could prove embarrassing to the Government as its health service reforms will see more hospitals encouraged to take on private patients, and family doctors given power to choose any provider for treatment. James Gubb, director of the health unit at the think-tank Civitas, said: “If they do uncover a cosy relationship between GPs and consultants, that does have implications for the role they are going to be taking in leading commissioning. If they operate like that, the market isn’t going to be very competitive and not the best deal for patients.”

    The private healthcare market in Britain is estimated to be worth at least £5.8billion a year as more people take out private medical insurance or pay for procedures themselves, particularly services such as infertility treatment that are rationed on the NHS. But over the past decade successful NHS hospitals known as Foundation Trusts have also been allowed to treat privately-paying patients, such as wealthy foreigners or those with insurance policies, in special Private Patient Units.

    Up until now there has been a cap on the proportion of their income - which must be ploughed back into health services - they can make from private patients but this is set to be removed. In addition, many leading consultants carry out private surgery when they are not on the rota at their state-run operating theatres. They can receive referrals from GPs, who under the controversial Health and Social Care Bill will be given control of £80billion of the NHS budget to purchase treatment from “any willing provider” including private firms as well as state-run hospitals.

    Last year a new private firm that is to take over an NHS hospital, Circle, complained to the OFT that the healthcare market was “anti-competitive” because it said leading insurance firms would only cover customers if they were treated by established firms.

    But on Thursday the OFT published a document setting out the final scope of its investigation, which confirmed that it would also look at the position of Private Patient Units in the NHS and the role of consultants. The document says that respondents to its consultation complained that: “Private Patient Units appear to enjoy several unfair competitive advantages including access to state funded pensions, corporation and VAT exemptions, no regulatory fees and access to facilities such as NHS intensive care units, and that the NHS is cross-subsidising Private Patient Units to create an unlevel playing field with private healthcare providers.”

    The OFT will also examine “the role of GPs, consultants and private medical insurance providers in advising consumers of their healthcare choices”, and whether or not patients “are given choices as to which consultants to use”.


    Friday, 4 March 2011

    Delete the rebate@hmrc.gov.uk phishing email

    By Andrew Penman on March 4, 2011 12:14 PM 
    Penman & Sommerlad Investigate, Daily Mirror

    At the risk of stating the obvious, if you get an email that looks like HM Revenue & Customs are offering you a tax rebate, it's a phishing scam, delete it. There's rash of them doing the rounds at the moment, apparently from the address rebate@hmrc.gov.uk and reading: "After the last annual calculation of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax rebate of: £ 244.79."

    Although not original, it's not badly done, as scams go. To lend credibility to the message, it includes the real HMRC web address, http://www.hmrc.gov.uk. But if you click on the highlighted link, you go to this site: http://www.courriel-quebec.com/hmrc/refund-reclaim.htm which, of course, is nothing to do with HMRC.

    Next you're asked to click on the logo of your bank - and here the fraudsters let themselves down with some poor English: "Receive refunds beeing a Lloyds TSB customer", "Receive refunds beeing a Halifax Plc customer", "Receive refunds beeing a Alliance Leicester customer" etc. If you click on one of the bank logos, you're put through to a page asking for your bank log-in details. Fill that in and you're make some criminals very happy.

    Chris Hopson, director of customer contact at HMRC, said last month: "As a matter of policy, HMRC will only ever contact customers who are due a tax refund in writing by post. If anyone receives an email offering a tax rebate claiming to be from HMRC, we recommend they send it to phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk before deleting it permanently."

    In the previous three months, HMRC had shut down 99 websites that were responsible for sending out the fake tax rebate emails.


    Sunday, 27 February 2011

    Churnalism or news? How PRs have taken over the media  

    As press releases and hoax stories flood newsrooms, the Media Standards Trust has found a way to sift fact from fluff

    Paul Lewis, guardian.co.uk,

    Wednesday, 23 February 2011

    New disability test 'is a complete mess', says the man who designed it

    Welfare reform expert Professor Paul Gregg says a rushed roll out of the work capability assessment will cause more anguish 

    Amelia Gentleman,  guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 22 February 2011 17.51 GMT
    One of the architects of the new sickness benefit system has warned it would be a mistake to start introducing it nationwide from the end of this month because of serious ongoing problems with the medical test designed to assess whether claimants are genuinely sick or disabled.

    "The test is badly malfunctioning. The current assessment is a complete mess," Professor Paul Gregg, an economist and welfare reform expert, said.

    During the preliminary roll-out of the test, people with terminal cancer, multiple sclerosis and serious mental illnesses have been found fit to work. Since early 2009, more than 240,000 cases contesting the result of the health tests have been accepted for tribunal hearings and, of the cases they hear, judges overturn about 40% of test findings.

    Over the next three years, 1.5 million people claiming incapacity benefit will undergo a work capability assessment (WCA) to determine whether they are eligible for a replacement benefit, employment support allowance (ESA). The new test is much tougher than the previous one and in pilots 30% fewer people have been found unfit for work and 70% fewer people have been found eligible for the full-rate, unconditional support benefit; in both cases claimants have been shifted to a lower benefit. The reform is expected to save the government £1bn over five years.

    The system has been in place for new claimants since 2008, but will be expanded to retest existing claimants from the end of this month. An independent review of the test in November last year found serious flaws in the way it was functioning and called for major improvements. Although the government has promised to implement these recommendations before people begin to be retested, at a rate of 11,000 a week, some politicians, charity workers and academics think the roll-out is going ahead too fast.

    Gregg, who helped design the new ESA, recommends a further trial before it is introduced nationally. "In the first trial, the system did not work. We need to trial the new, proposed, reformed system to check and prove that it works and avoids the serious stress and misclassification of people that we have already seen, before we start implementing it on a large and vulnerable population," he said. "The test so far has caused a huge amount of anguish to the people who have gone through it. We need to have something that is working accurately before we apply it nationally. We shouldn't roll this out until we have something that is working."


    Tuesday, 22 February 2011

    Europe's human rights laws can't be reformed, Tories are told 

    Mr Clarke, the Justice Secretary, said Britain would seek to kick-start reform of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Court on Human Rights when it takes up a key role in Europe later this year. But Lord Woolf signalled there is very little chance of anything changing because it would mean persuading 47 countries who are all signed up to the Convention.

    The warning is a blow to David Cameron and his ministers who are reeling from a series of high profile human rights rulings imposed on the UK, including giving prisoners the vote. The Prime Minister has announced a commission to examine the creation of a British Bill of Rights and the country’s relationship with the European court. But Lord Woolf, who was the country’s most senior judge between 2000 and 2005, said a Bill of Rights would also cause conflict between the two.

    It came as Lord McNally, the Justice Minister, likened the tensions between ministers and the judiciary to those between the State and the church in the 12th century that led to the assassination of Thomas Becket, the then Archbishop of Canterbury.

    Mr Clarke said on Sunday that Britain would look to reform the ECHR to rebalance its relations with national courts when the UK takes over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe in November.

    But Lord Woolf said: “We have got a stark option: either we accept the European Convention, or we don't accept it and decide to leave the Council of Europe. "It's very difficult to do what Mr Clarke indicated he would like to do when he's chairman of the relative body, because there are 47 signatories in Europe which are signatories to the European Convention as well as ourselves. To try and amend that is a virtually impossible task."

    He added that any possible Bill of Rights would also fail to solve the problem and would place judges in a difficult position trying to balance opposing rights. He said: “If you have a further convention – a British Convention – there's going to be a complication in the position, because you're going to have two conventions to which the courts are going to have a regard.”


    Wednesday, 9 February 2011

    Warning over Supreme Court independence

    By Wesley Johnson, PA

    Wednesday, 9 February 2011, The Independent

    The independence of the highest court in the land cannot be properly guaranteed because of the way it is funded, its president has said. Lord Phillips also warned there is a tendency on the part of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to try to gain the Supreme Court "as an outlying part of its empire".

    The way in which the court is dependent each year on what it can persuade the ministry to give it "by way of contribution" was "not a satisfactory situation", he said. The top judge also raised concerns over whether senior court staff owed their loyalty to him or to ministers. It is "critical" for the court's independence that its chief executive, Jenny Rowe, "owes her primary loyalty to me and not to the minister", he said, adding that Ms Rowe backed his view. But he warned of an impression that there are those within the ministry "who do not appreciate this".

    The Supreme Court, which replaced the Law Lords, was set up in 2009 to emphasise the separation of powers between Parliament and judges. But, in a speech at the launch of a research project on the politics of judicial independence at the University College London (UCL) constitution unit last night, Lord Phillips said that independence was threatened by the court's funding arrangements.

    "My conclusion is that our present funding arrangements do not satisfactorily guarantee our institutional independence," he said. "We are, in reality, dependent each year upon what we can persuade the Ministry of Justice of England and Wales to give us by way of 'contribution'. This is not a satisfactory situation for the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. It is already leading to a tendency on the part of the Ministry of Justice to try to gain the Supreme Court as an outlying part of its empire." 

    Wednesday, 2 February 2011

    High Court judge quashes cuts in services for London's most needy

    Kiran Randhawa, Health and Social Affairs Correspondent , London Evening Standard
    2 Feb 2011

    Devastating cuts to services helping the capital's poorest and most vulnerable people have been halted by the High Court. More than 400 projects, which serve tens of thousands of Londoners every year, were due to lose up to 86 per cent of their funding, leaving some with no choice but to close. But the decision by London Councils to make the cuts was ruled unlawful and the body was ordered to relaunch its consultation process on the issue.

    The £26.4million in grants, used to help victims - including children -of abuse, neglect or homelessness, was due to be slashed to £17.8million, with effect from June for some groups. But the judge, Mr Justice Calvert-Smith, said the decision had been reached without considering "equalities" obligations.

    Louise Whitfield, the claimants' solicitor, said: "Even in the current economic climate, it remains of paramount importance that public sector funding cuts decisions are properly assessed for their gender, disability and race equality impacts." Peter Lewis, chief of the London Voluntary Service Council, which represents many of the groups affected, said: "This is a victory for the small community organisations fighting on behalf of some of the most disadvantaged Londoners against a public authority not paying due regard to its equalities obligations."

    The grant scheme was reviewed with budgets squeezed and councils asking for "repatriation" of funds so they could spend the money locally. London Councils said: "The judge found against the claimants on most of their grounds of challenge but has asked us to do further work on equalities in the context of the agreed budget. We are in the process of assessing the best way of taking this forward."


    Sunday, 30 January 2011

    Charities say sickness benefit assessment reforms will cause further misery at taxpayer's expense

    Charities say sickness benefit assessment reforms will cause further misery at taxpayer's expense 

    Papworth Trust is leading a coalition of national charities concerned that government reforms to the Work Capability Assessment, which examines people's fitness for employment, will cause further misery to Britain's most vulnerable people.

    Charities are being overwhelmed by evidence showing the Assessment to be inaccurate. The government's independent review of the Assessment, published in November 2010, made recommendations for improvements which were widely commended by industry experts. However the government now plans to firstly implement recommendations from their October 2009 internal review, which charities believe will worsen the Assessment.

    The October 2009 review was far less comprehensive than the independent one which followed. It did not include evidence from the high percentage of successful appeals which show the common failings of the Assessment. Many of the internal recommendations, in particular around how to recognise mental health conditions and learning disabilities, have been contradicted by the later independent review.

    Matthew Lester, Work and Learning Director of Papworth Trust says that "The inaccuracy of the Assessment is already causing unnecessary expense because over a third of those found fit to work are appealing the decision. Implementing questionable reforms from the earlier review will waste further resources, diverting from those needed to implement the independent review. Worst of all, it means that vulnerable people will continue to be put through an inaccurate Assessment, causing unnecessary distress to highly vulnerable people."


    There are 42 organisations in the coalition including Mind, RNID, Crisis, Scope and Remploy. They submitted evidence to Professor Harrington's independent review and have now issued an open letter to the Minister for Employment Chris Grayling to share their concerns about the Assessment reform plan.

    Friday, 28 January 2011

    The coalition should steer clear of the Human Rights Act

    Thu Jan 27 12:08PM

    By Michael Wills

    The Liberals have always taken an honourable position, which I espouse as well, that the Human Rights Act is profoundly important in protecting the rights of every British citizen and their liberties. The Conservative party are split on this issue. Wise MPs such as Kenneth Clarke and Dominic Grieve understand the importance of this Act. They also understand that many of the issues that most concern Conservative backbenchers do not arise as a result of the Human Rights Act, but as a result of the European Convention on Human Rights.

    If those backbenchers want these issues tackled, therefore, it would mean the UK resiling from the European convention which in turn could lead to an exit from the European Union. Sadly, some people appear to have forgotten the recent history of our continent. The European Convention, largely drafted by British lawyers, came about because of the terrible history of 20th century Europe when states abused their power to murder, torture, and deprived individuals of the dignity and rights and liberties to which every human being should expect. The Human Rights Act brought those principles home to Britain so they could be enforced in British courts.

    But David Cameron continues to flirt with the idea of repealing the Human Rights Act. This pandering to ill-informed prejudice among his own grassroots would in practice mean significant damage to the rights and liberties of every British citizen. If the prime minister pursues this course it will pose an existential problem for the Liberals. They can either go along with the Conservatives to stay in power or they can honour the principles, which they have so long upheld. Sooner or later this is likely to be a defining question for this coalition.

    The process of legislation in government is often flawed, no matter how worthy the motives. Down the line, it often appears it could have been done better. But I've been struck, in all my years as the human rights minister, by the fact that never once did any lawyer, no matter what their party political allegiances, ever criticise the Human Rights Act from a legal perspective as flawed legislation.

    It has already proved its value to individual citizens in ways that the media hardly ever recount - enabling, for example, an elderly couple to live out their years together in dignity by stopping a local authority separating them. That's not to say that we should not constantly look to improve these protections. But I fear the Conservative MPs who pursue a crude populism on these issues have not foreseen the consequences of their actions, not least for the future of the coalition.

    Lord Wills was the human rights minister for four-and-a-half years under the Labour government. He represented Swindon North in the Commons from 1997 to 2010


    Thursday, 27 January 2011

    Citizens Advice services face closure

    Five Birmingham Citizens Advice offices to close and 900 debt advisers made redundant across the country, as council cuts start to hit charities 

    Amelia Gentleman, guardian.co.uk, Thursday 27 January 2011 17.56 GMT

    Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, says: "We have never been needed more than we are now".

    All five Citizens Advice drop-in offices will close in Birmingham next month because funding has been terminated by the city council, in what is set to be a foretaste of widespread reductions in the charity's services nationwide from April, as councils implement large cuts to their budgets. Redundancy notices were sent to 900 debt advice workers across the country last week because of a central government decision not to renew funding for a specialist debt advisory service, mostly provided by Citizens Advice, catering for people in the country's most deprived areas.

    The Birmingham announcement follows news that funding for the CAB has been discontinued by the City of London and is expected to be cut back by almost 70% in Nottingham. Further announcements of closures of Citizens Advice services are expected across the country over the next few weeks local authorities work out precisely where to make savings.

    "We have never been needed more than we are now," the charity's chief executive, Gillian Guy said. "There is a serious threat to the CAB, an organisation which has been going since the 1930s. It makes no sense because the demand for the support that CAB gives is increasing and will continue to increase because of all the financial and social changes that are happening."

    Last year Citizens Advice's services helped 2.1 million people deal with around 7.1m problems – an increase of 23% on the previous year. Its walk-in offices offer people help with benefits problems, employment rights, housing, consumer issues, redundancy, debt and legal problems. For most services, no appointment is needed.

    The charity says it has also seen a sharp rise in the number of people seeking debt advice since the financial crisis began in 2008. Last year advisers were consulted by 580,000 people with 2.4m debt-related problems. "By definition, these services are used by people with very low incomes and limited means," the charity says. "It is a false economy to cut these services. Early intervention saves money. If you get advice at an early stage you end up costing the state far less," Guy said. "We would like the government to be more aware of the impact of these cuts. It is always the vulnerable who suffer."

    The charity's offices are funded in different ways across the country, with a large contribution from local authority budgets, but with other chunks of money from central government and individual grants. About half of the country's local authorities and councils have already decided the level of their funding for CAB services; the rest should decide by the end of February when budgets are due to be decided. "We don't have a sense of what the decisions will be. That's what makes it so difficult. Bureaux are on tenterhooks," Guy said.

    All charities that receive local authority grants are experiencing similar uncertainty about whether their contracts will be renewed by councils for the next financial year, and whether they will receive enough money in grants to allow them to survive. The next few weeks will be decisive for thousands of charities across the country.


    Saturday, 22 January 2011

    Advice centres face closures as funding for debt advice cut

    Cuts will affect nearly 500 debt advisors who are already at risk from impending cuts to legal aid and local government grants

    Legal Action Group for the LAG news blog, part of the Guardian Legal Network 
    guardian.co.uk, Friday 21 January 2011 16.38 GMT

    Legal Action Group (LAG) has learned that the Financial Inclusion Fund (FIF) will be end in March. FIF pays for just under 500 debt advisors based in Citizens Advice Bureaux and other not for profit (NfP) advice centres. LAG believes this will be a devastating blow to many of the centres as they are also facing cuts in legal aid and local government grants.

    The FIF was established in 2004 by the last government. A total of £45m was allocated from the fund to pay for face to face advice services in the NfP advice sector to help people facing problems with debts. Around 100,000 people a year were assisted by the money advisors paid for by the fund. Most of these advisors now face being made redundant. News that the fund was to be discontinued was given by Mark Hoban MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in response to a written question in the House of Commons. Advice agencies though, are still waiting for official confirmation that the scheme will end from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills which administers the cash.

    It is difficult to exaggerate the impact of the ending of the FIF grants. Many in the NfP sector had feared that the fund would discontinue due to public spending cuts. Prior to the election Labour was making no promises over whether FIF would continue, but the coalition government is now also planning to discontinue funding for debt advice under the legal aid scheme, apart from if people are in immediate danger of losing their homes.

    LAG believes that the decision to cut the FIF and the government's threat to end legal aid funding for debt advice is remarkably short sighted. Early intervention in debt cases ensures people deal with their money problems before they spiral out of control. Often when mortgage and rent possession proceedings are imminent it is too late to keep families in their homes. Aside from the damage this causes to people's lives, the loss of a family home brings an enormous cost to the state. Shelter, the housing charity, recently calculated that each family forced out of their homes cost the state £50,000.

    Anyone can face money problems caused by the loss of a job or, when something else goes wrong in their lives.

    Around 100,000 people a year were assisted by the money advisors paid for by the Financial Inclusion Fund.


    About Legal Action Group


    The purpose of the Legal Action Group, a national, independent charity, is to promote equal access to justice for all members of society who are socially, economically or otherwise disadvantaged. To this end, it seeks to improve law and practice, the administration of justice and legal services.

    Legal Action Group
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    Blog at http://legalactiongroupnews.blogspot.com/

    Friday, 21 January 2011

    Charity boss has to complete 4,500 pages of forms just to put disabled people through £30 IT course

    By Daily Mail Reporter
    Last updated at 11:15 AM on 21st January 2011

    A charity boss has slammed 'barmy bureaucracy' after he filled out 4,500 pages of forms - to put disabled people through a £30 computer course.

    Richard Boyd from Disability Essex was delighted when his organisation won a Government contract to teach basic IT skills to 250 people. But the charity was forced to ditch the training scheme when they discovered a quarter of tutors' time was spent filling out an eye-watering 50 sides of paperwork for each student which took two hours.

    Mr Boyd said: 'It was ridiculous - they wanted 50 pages of information per student on everything we did, even to say that the computer had been switched on, and then there were forms on top of that. We are a charity. People donate money for us to help disabled adults, not for us to spend hours filling in paperwork. It was absolutely barmy.'

    Under the scheme each student was to receive eight hours IT training and the 60-year-old award winning charity would claim back the money from European funding through the Skills Funding Agency.

    The red tape exercise for the first 97 students generated a massive 4,500 sides of A4 paper - weighing in at 6lbs (2.7kg) and tutors would take the piles of paperwork home to fill it in rather than to eat into the students' training time.

    Mr Boyd said only an A4 piece of paper per student was needed for a previous training session the charity ran for computer software giants Microsoft. When he questioned the mountains of paperwork with the company contracted to oversee the Government scheme, the charity was threatened with legal action.

    He said: 'I was shocked when we received a letter saying "comply or we will take you to court", to which I said "bring it on" and surprise, surprise we did not hear back from them on that one.'

    Mr Boyd claimed when he threatened to take the case to Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, that the Birmingham-based company - Tribal Education - said it would no longer need all the paperwork for every student. The charity boss was so angry he decided to quit the scheme after the first third of learners completed it.

    'It was absolutely mad. I told them "You can stuff your contract". We could not continue with it if that was what was required. It was two hours of paper work per student and I said 'we are not in the business of taking charity money to provide work for you.'

    He added: 'I was in the aviation industry for 30 years - an industry where health and safety is vital - but we never had the amount of paperwork that charities are confronted with.'

    A spokeswoman for the Skills Funding Agency said that amount of paperwork should not have been asked for. She said: 'As guardians of public money the Skills Funding Agency ensures that publicly funded provision meets the needs of learners and employers.

    'Providers are required to supply certain information to prove that people are benefiting from their learning; however, with an ESF Community Grants project this would certainly not entail a provider submitting 26 pages of forms relating to eight hours of training - if anything, the reporting requirements would be reduced in recognition of the nature of the provision. The only circumstances where we would ask a provider to supply us with a written report was if we were funding a pilot or research project and need to see the impact of it.'

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1349191/Charity-boss-blasts-barmy-bureaucracy-completing-4-500-pages-forms-teach-250-people-basic-IT-skills.html#ixzz1BfSvf4CQ

    Wednesday, 19 January 2011

    Twitter sparks 'shooting' panic over 'Oxford Street gunman'

    Mark Prigg and Justin Davenport, London Evening Standard
    19 Jan 2011

    Twitter users sparked a major security alert today when false reports of a gunman in Oxford Street were posted on the site. Thousands feared a shoot-out was taking place after information from a police training email was leaked.

    Within minutes it was posted online and re-tweeted across the capital. Workers were forced to stay in their office as the hoax unfolded. Police had to issue an apology and were this evening investigating how it happened.

    A separate tweet about a photo-shoot in Oxford Street added to the confusion... Within minutes, workers in the area tweeted that they had been told to stay in their offices while the event supposedly unfolded.

    "Apparently theres a shooting at Oxford Circus, gunmen on the move. We've been told to stay in."

    It soon emerged it was a hoax. A Met spokesman said: "We can confirm that there has been no firearms incident in Oxford Street today. It would appear that some information about a routine police training exercise being held today has inadvertently got into the public domain. As part of that exercise, participants have been given a hypothetical written scenario which involved an armed incident on Oxford Street. We would like to reaffirm that this is a training exercise only." Experts said it highlighted the problems with social networking sites."

    "This shows one of the inherent dangers of Twitter," said Stuart Miles of technology website Pocket Lint. "People like to gossip and embellish - it's online Chinese whispers, but with the ability to go national very quickly. It's the same problem that causes regular celebrity death scares online."


    Monday, 17 January 2011

    Teachers blamed for record number of children being prescribed 'chemical cosh'

    By Kate Loveys, Mail Online
    Last updated at 10:33 AM on 21st January 2011

    The vast majority of the children on 'chemical cosh' were given the potent drug on the instruction of their teacher

    Teachers have been blamed for the record number of children prescribed ‘chemical cosh’ drugs such as Ritalin. There are now some 650,000 eight to 13-year-olds on the drug or its equivalents. This marks an astonishing rise, up from 92,700 in 1997 and just 9,000 in 1990, according to NHS figures. Yesterday it emerged the vast majority of the children were given the potent drug on the instruction of their teacher.

    Critics say staff are too quick to dish out drugs if their pupils get restless – in an effort to keep ­control of the classroom. And experts warned of the damage inflicted on ‘developing minds’. Amphetamine-like Ritalin is prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, by increasing alertness and improving aspects of ­concentration and memory.

    Tom Burkard, of the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank, said: ‘Due to health and safety regulations and unstimulating education techniques, kids are expected to sit still at a desk for six to eight hours
    a day. To think they will not fidget and get restless is completely unrealistic. Then the teachers, struggling to cope, get the children dosed up on drugs so they can control the classroom.’

    Russell Hobby, of head teachers’ union the NAHT, agreed it was an increasing problem but said issues in society as a whole, not teachers, were to blame. He added: ‘It’s an increasing issue in our society. We label children as having medical conditions when they just have minor behavioural problems.’

    The week four people vanished – and only one made the news

    Joanna Yeates disappeared one month ago today. But what of the similar cases at the time that the public never heard about?

    By Mark Hughes and Sarah Morrison
    Monday, 17 January 2011, The Independent

    When Joanna Yeates disappeared from her Bristol home on 17 December, her parents suffered the anguish of not knowing what had happened to her, but fearing the worst. This explains why they described the news of the discovery of Ms Yeates's body eight days later as "a relief".

    For the families of Nathan Tomlinson, Ciara Richards and Natalie Bailey, there is no such "relief". All three went missing on or around the date that Ms Yeates disappeared, exactly one month ago today. But, unlike Ms Yeates, their cases have attracted little or no publicity, and what has happened to them is still unknown.

    Mr Tomlinson, 21, was last seen in the Mitre Bar, Manchester, at around 10.15pm on 17 December – the same night Ms Yeates went missing. He was later filmed on CCTV walking towards Salford but has not been seen since. Ciara Richards is 14 and has run away from home five times before. She has not been seen since 11 December after leaving her home in Hounslow, Middlesex.

    Natalie Bailey, a 34-year-old paranoid schizophrenic from Jamaica, has been missing from Dartford in Kent since 13 December. She escaped from the care of a nurse while on day release from a mental health unit. The question of why the majority of missing persons cases fail to merit mention but that of Ms Yeates dominated the news became particularly pertinent earlier this month when celebrities used their Twitter accounts to highlight the case of Serena Beakhurst, a 14-year-old girl who had been missing since 15 December but attracted no media attention. Miss Beakhurst was later found.

    While cynics suggest that Ms Yeates's case has attracted publicity because she was a middle-class, photogenic young woman from a wealthy area of Bristol, there are several other reasons her case has received widespread coverage. Firstly, it is now a murder enquiry. But, even before her body was found on Christmas Day, Ms Yeates had been missing for eight days – which was widely reported.

    The police don't always alert the media to missing people. Detectives categorise missing people into three categories – low, medium and high risk, and only those in the high-risk category are generally selected for publicity.

    The Yeates case was immediately categorised as high risk because the police believed that Ms Yeates had come to harm because she had told nobody of having any plans that evening and had left her mobile phone and personal belongings at home. Assistant Chief Constable Philip Thompson, the spokesman on missing persons for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "We ask ourselves what the specific risks are around each individual. In the Joanna Yeates case, an investigator identified at a very early stage that it was an unusual disappearance. She was missing for the first time. That was a high-risk case. Someone would also be high risk if they had mental health issues or if they had a medical problem, or if they were particularly young or if they disappeared in an emotional state. Similarly, we look at other issues – has the person gone missing before? Where were they found? And sometimes people are reported missing when they are technically not missing."

    He continued: "If someone is staying in local authority care, for example, and they fail to return on time, the person responsible for their care has a duty to report them missing. We often have calls during which someone will say 'I know exactly where he is, but I have to report him missing.' That is obviously not going to be a high-risk case. That said, we have to take every call seriously. But we also need a ranking scale. We cannot treat everything as high risk because we would paralyse ourselves. Similarly, if everything was low risk we would be neglecting our responsibility."

    Approximately 200,000 people are reported missing every year in the UK. In the Metropolitan Police district 40,525 people were reported missing last year alone. In Ciara's case, this is the sixth time she has gone missing since last year. The last time she was not seen for eight weeks before returning. Her mother Kerry Richards said: "I can't describe how I feel. It is like I have been ripped apart. The police are so limited in what they can do because kids nowadays have so many rights. Some people know where Ciara is, but they don't have to tell me."

    Mr Tomlinson's brother, Paul, 26, said: "This is so out of character. Obviously we are worried and we have heard absolutely nothing. If he was somewhere now we would get a phone call, so we have got to think something has happened."

    Natalie Bailey has no family in the UK, which is hindering the search for her. Sergeant Joseph McDonald explained: "We have tried to contact the press quite a lot: local press, internet appeals, and we have distributed her poster to women's refugee centres, in hospitals and in council buildings. There has not been one recorded sighting."

    However, very few cases are publicised by the police, let alone appear in the pages of national newspapers or on television, and this lack of coverage is difficult for family members. Martin Houghton-Brown, chief executive of Missing People, said: "It is really challenging to provide coverage for every family of a missing person. Even if we wanted to, we cannot control what the media writes, which is why social media is becoming so important for us. We try to emphasise to families how they can harness the power of websites like Facebook and Twitter to search for their loved ones. But I know many families get frustrated by the lack of publicity and they ask us why there isn't more."

    Sometimes it is an operational decision by police to keep the media appeals small, as Mr Thompson explained: "If we take an appeal national, with the best will in the world someone in Aberdeen will swear blind that they have seen someone who went missing in London – and we know from experience that it is unlikely, because most people who go missing tend to be found in that same area."

    Some families simply do not want media coverage. Joe Apps, the manager of the National Policing Improvement Authority's Missing Persons Bureau, explained: "There are a number of families who think it is a private event or that the person will turn up. They might also worry about the potential embarrassment it brings for the family. People don't generally go missing for nothing. There is always a reason behind it. It depends how much they [families] want what happens in their family life to be pried into by the police and the media." 

    Missing Persons Bureau

    We support and improve the services provided to missing person investigations by working alongside the police and related organisations, helping them to improve both efficiency and effectiveness.

    Do you need to report someone missing?

    If someone you know is missing and you want to report their absence contact your local police station.  We do work with the police but are unable to receive reports of missing people directly from the public. Please be aware that you do not have to wait until someone has been missing for 24 hours before you can report them.

    Reporting a sighting

    If you have seen or have any information about a missing person, please call 'Missing People' confidentially on Freefone 0500 700 700 in the UK or +44 (0) 20 8392 4545 from outside the UK or follow the link.

    Missing People offers a lifeline for the 250,000 people who run away and go missing each year. For those left behind, we search and provide specialised support to end the heartache and confusion. Registered Charity No. 1020419.

    Ring our confidential Message Home service on Freefone 0800 700 740
    Or email on messagehome@missingpeople.org.uk. 

    Website www.missingpeople.org.uk

    Friday, 14 January 2011

    The Dispossessed: The homeless who slide down rubbish chute to their beds

    David Cohen, London Evening Standard
    17 Jan 2011

    For the last two months, father of three Pirthy Sandhu has been sleeping rough on the Havelock Estate in Southall, and at 10pm every night, he climbs through a hole in a wall below a sign that says "please put your rubbish into the chute" and slips down the chute into a giant wheelie bin full of garbage. He hauls himself out, rummages for his sleeping-bag hidden in the corner, spreads it out on the dank, concrete floor between the bins and, despite the overpowering stench, tries to grab a few hours sleep.

    But within minutes Mr Sandhu, 39, is interrupted as a second man, Gurpreet Singh, 23, arrives down the chute and clatters into the tomb-like basement. He, too, has recently become jobless and homeless and arranges his sleeping bag alongside Mr Sandhu's.

    By midnight, 10 young men in their twenties and thirties - including seven Sikhs, two Muslims and one white -have bedded down in the pungent bin room.

    "We get massive rats crawling over us at night and sometimes foxes jump into the bins and we have to chase them out," says Mr Sandhu, an unskilled labourer who came to London from the Punjab 16 years ago. "The place is disgusting but we have nowhere else to go and on freezing nights it's a roof over our heads to keep us dry before the caretaker throws us out at 6am."

    Locals call them "the bin men of Southall" and more than 50 of them occupy half a dozen of these appalling, rat-infested bin-rooms on the sprawling 21-hectare Havelock Estate - just a short walk from the Southall Gurdwara, the temple where they get three free meals a day.

    I witnessed their plight and before the night was out, I would also visit the so-called "bridge men", the rough sleepers bedding down in similarly horrendous conditions under the M4 overpass at Heston Bridge on the border of Southall and Hounslow. 

    How can this be happening in 2011? After spending a year interviewing the capital's most deprived people for our Dispossessed Campaign, I thought I was immune, but to witness the depraved sleeping arrangements of these bin and bridge men shocked me to the core.

    It is, of course, a manifestation of an alarming broader trend. Figures published by the Standard last month showed that London's rough sleepers have soared by almost a quarter, from 3,017 in 2007/8 to 3,673 in 2009/10.


    London's most vulnerable will suffer 64 per cent cut in grants

    Kiran Randhawa, Health and Social Affairs Correspondent, London Evening Standard
    17 Jan 2011

    Crucial services helping the capital's poorest and most vulnerable people will be forced to close because of drastic cutbacks.

    More than 400 projects, which serve tens of thousands of Londoners every year, will lose up to 86 per cent of their funding. They rely on £26.4million in grants to help the abused, the neglected and the homeless, including children in some cases.

    The funds will be slashed by 64 per cent to £9.8million under government-imposed cuts to councils. London Councils, which represents the capital's 33 local authorities and provides the funds, made the decision which will see many groups lose their grants as early as June. Some councils have asked for their money to be "repatriated" so they can spend it locally.

    Among projects affected are the New Horizon Youth Centre in King's Cross, which has been helping young homeless people for 42 years, and Galop in north London, which focuses on reducing hate crime. Peter Lewis, chief executive of the London Voluntary Service Council, which represents many of the organisations affected, said: "This is absolutely devastating for individuals who rely on the services. It will undo much of the hard work done by these organisations, which have vastly improved the lives of thousands of Londoners. For example, homelessness has been on the increase recently due to the current economic climate. When these organisations then lose the funding they rely on to help keep people off the streets, it will just exacerbate the problem."