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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Budget should be used to fix public sector pay

The Independent reports on the view of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt could afford to give public sector workers a bigger pay rise at next month’s Budget by scrapping plans for a fuel duty freeze.

The IFS say short-term savings from the energy support scheme are looking less costly than first feared, but the think tank believes that Hunt could dig deep into government pockets to help fund a one-off bonus for public sector workers in a bid to avert intensifying industrial action:

IFS director Paul Johnson said a pay rise averaging 5.5 per cent – which would add around £5bn to the cost of the next settlement – could be paid for by ditching the planned fuel duty freeze, worth around £6bn.

Mr Johnson said Mr Hunt had a “straight choice” between helping drivers with fuel costs or helping public sector workers during the cost of living crisis.

“There is a straight choice there, £6bn goes quite a long way, if you are spending that on public sector pay rather than cutting fuel duty,” the expert said.

The IFS chief also said the risk that adding another 2 per cent or 3 per cent to planned public sector pay rises would have an impact on inflation was “extremely small”.

The think tank’s pre-Budget assessment said Mr Hunt may look to extend the current energy support scheme, which would allow households to benefit from the current £2,500 cap for longer before it increases to £3,000 a year.

It calculated that extending the current level of energy support for households and businesses for another three months – as suggested by Labour – would cost the government around £2.7 billion.

Mr Johnson said the move would be a “very straightforward thing for them to do” and comes amid mounting calls for the government to scrap plans to make support less generous for households and businesses from April.

This is going to be the big test for the Chancellor. Will he pursue an austerity agenda or will he put in place practical measures to help with the cost of living while giving public sector pay workers a decent, and much deserved pay rise?

Monday, February 27, 2023

Those hidden public service cuts

The Guardian reports on claims by thinktank, the New Economics Foundation that Rishi Sunak’s government is hiding £28bn of “stealth cuts” to public services over the next five years.

They say that the report by the leftwing thinktank, shows that Hunt’s spending plans outlined at the autumn statement in November included cuts to public services worth £1,000 a household by 2027-28:

Hunt promised in the autumn statement to increase spending by 1% a year after inflation. However, this was underpinned by Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, which had assumed inflation would fall below zero.

The thinktank said this was unlikely to happen because the Bank of England would be expected to intervene to keep inflation close to its 2% target rate. NEF said that if inflation remained close to 2%, this would imply real-terms cuts – not growth – to spending worth £28bn.

Alfie Stirling, the chief economist and director of research at NEF, said the government was “exploiting a curious feature of the OBR’s forecast” to make its promise. “It allowed the chancellor to play smoke and mirrors with the future of public services last autumn,” he said.

“There is no serious or credible justification for the government’s current plans. Consecutive UK chancellors have already put the country through a decade of austerity, which means we know exactly how it ends: near-stagnant earnings growth, threadbare public safety nets and the first stall in life expectancy on modern record.”

If this is true the next budget will worth keeping an eye on.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Call for action on widespread misconduct within the police

The Observer reports that roughly one in 100 police officers in England and Wales faced criminal charges, including for sexual offences, last year alone.

The paper's figures are based on the fact that the Police Federation, the staff association for police officers, received 1,387 claims for legal support from members facing criminal charges in 2022. They add that the data also suggested that the number of officers facing criminal charges has skyrocketed by 590% since 2012. That year, just 235 claims were made for Police Federation legal support by its members:

The Police Federation of England and Wales represents around 140,000 former and serving police officers and spends millions of pounds a year in legal fees, which help defend those accused of severe misconduct or even criminality. The organisation is a statutory staff association, meaning all police officers become members by default when they join any force in England and Wales.

One campaign group said the federation was always ready to “defend the indefensible” and was a “major obstacle” to dealing with racism and misogyny in the police.

Last week, it was revealed that a former federation chairman, John Apter, would not face prosecution over two sexual assault allegations made against him. Apter was suspended by the Police Federation and by Hampshire Constabulary in December 2021.

The kind of criminal charges faced by police officers can range from misconduct in a public office and sending grossly offensive messages on a public network to more serious offences including assault, sexual offences and even murder.

The new data comes amid a growing number of cases of serious criminality by officers. Earlier this month, former Met officer David Carrick was jailed for life after he raped, assaulted and inflicted “irretrievable destruction” on at least 12 women.

In 2021, another serving police officer, Wayne Couzens, used his police ID and handcuffs to kidnap, rape and murder 33-year-old Sarah Everard. This month, it was revealed that the police missed clear chances to identify Couzens as a potential sex offender and a danger to women in the days, months and even years leading up to Everard’s murder.Last month, Metropolitan Police chief Sir Mark Rowley said it was “crazy” that he was unable as commissioner to sack “toxic” officers suspected of serious crimes after it was revealed 150 officers were under investigation for sexual misconduct or racism.

The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, has now written to the home secretary asking her to urgently push through new laws allowing police chiefs to sack rogue officers on the spot. Although the Home Office is currently reviewing policing’s dismissal processes following the failure to remove Carrick as a serving officer, Khan is frustrated that existing laws mean that the Met is still being forced to employ officers who have committed serious offences.

Last week, it was revealed that a Met officer caught publicly masturbating twice on a train was still serving after the force could only issue him another written warning.

The Met admitted last month it is investigating 1,000 sexual and domestic abuse claims involving about 800 of its officers. Khan wrote to Suella Braverman on Friday, stating “it is incomprehensible to the public that under current regulations the Met can be required to reinstate serving officers convicted of a criminal offence”. A Home Office source said Khan’s intervention was an attempt to “cover up for years of failure in which as commissioner responsible for the Met police he has done very little”. 
A review of the police’s disciplinary system has months left to run, but Khan warns “profound changes to police vetting, conduct and misconduct processes are urgently needed”.

Khan, responsible for setting the strategic direction and budget of the Met, writes: “This transformation must be supported by radical reform of the legislative framework to empower police chiefs and give them the tools they need to take fair and effective executive action to remove anyone falling short of the high standards expected by the police, community and the public.”

The Observer investigation also found a sharp rise in the number of misconduct and gross misconduct claims recorded by the Police Federation. The net total related to the two shot up from 418 in 2018 to 598 last year, a 43% rise.

Clearly, there is something wrong when the body that is tasked with enforcing the law has such a high percentage of officers being accused of misconduct and worse. Reform is needed urgently.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Time to clean up our watercourses

The Guardian reports that that high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known as forever chemicals, have been found at thousands of sites across the UK and Europe in a major mapping project.

They say that the map shows drinking water sources in the UK have been contaminated with PFAS. Water companies say the pollutants do not make it into the final tap water because they are blended with another source to dilute the chemicals, or they undergo a specialised treatment process to be removed.

But Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion, is quoted as saying: “A cocktail of toxic persistent chemicals is polluting our rivers and seas, infecting our food and water supply, and posing a severe threat to human health, marine and animal life. Yet the UK’s chemical pollution limits are nowhere near international standards, and water companies’ claims that blending chemicals with other sources to dilute the pollutants simply won’t wash.

“The government urgently needs to get a grip on this chemical crisis and adopt tougher regulations now”:

Data obtained from water companies and the Environment Agency by the Guardian and Watershed shows that since 2006 about 120 samples of drinking water sources have been found to contain concentrations of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), collectively known as PFAS, at above the 100ng/l level. This is the level at which the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) guidelines say water companies should take action to reduce the concentrations before supplying people’s homes. Until 2009, the DWI guideline limit was much higher, at 3,000ng/l. The guideline limits for PFAS in drinking water are much lower in the US.

Forever chemicals are one of the reasons no river in England passes biological and chemical pollution tests.

Philip Dunne, the Conservative chair of the environmental audit committee, led an inquiry into river water quality that concluded a chemical cocktail of pollutants was pouring into waterways. His committee has called on ministers to carry out a UK-wide survey to understand better the chemicals we are being exposed to in everyday life.

“The stark fact is that we are blind to the harmful pollutants coursing through our waterways because they are simply not being routinely monitored,” said Dunne. “Monitoring for these persistent pollutants absolutely must be improved if we have any hope in turning the tide: not a single river in England has received a clean bill of health for chemical contamination.”

He added: “It was disappointing the government did not accept the committee’s recommendations in the toxic chemicals report it made in 2019, and in the water quality in rivers report of 2022, that a UK-wide survey be undertaken to understand better the chemicals we are being exposed to in everyday life. I trust the government’s current work to address water quality will prioritise the systematic monitoring of forever chemicals.”

With sewage also being poured into our rivers by the water companies, the need for a proper survey and action is becoming more and more urgent.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Let them eat turnips

There were some tomatoes in my local supermarket yesterday, but very few florets of broccoli, no tagliatelle and quite a few empty shelves in other departments. The fact is that food supply has suffered in recent months. Not only is it getting more expensive, but some items are becoming more and more difficult to find.

The reasons for this are complex. Energy costs, bad weather caused by climate change, increases in transport costs combined with a shortage of drivers, and, of course, the very many problems caused by Brexit ranging from red tape on imports to farmers not being able to source labour from Europe as they have done in the past.

It would be refeshing if UK ministers at least acknowledged these issues and tried to do something about it, but instead we had the startling response from the Environment Secretary yesterday, effectively saying we should try eating turnips instead.

As the Guardian reports, Thérèse Coffey, caused a furore after she suggested people should “cherish” seasonal foods such as turnips as bad weather cleared supermarket shelves of tomatoes and other fresh produce:

“It’s important to make sure that we cherish the specialisms that we have in this country,” Coffey told parliament. “A lot of people would be eating turnips right now rather than thinking necessarily about aspects of lettuce and tomatoes and similar.”

With a love of turnips more commonly associated with the long-suffering manservant Baldrick in Blackadder, Coffey handed her critics the kind of material they could normally only dream of.

“Let them eat turnips!” suggested the Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, using the hashtag #TomatoShortages, as “turnips” started to trend on Twitter timelines for possibly the first time.

Coffey made her comments after being called to the Commons to answer an urgent question about supermarket rationing of salad ingredients, owing to shortages caused by bad weather in Spain and north Africa. She had been trying to make a point about eating seasonally.

“I’m conscious that consumers want a year-round choice and that is what our supermarkets, food producers and growers around the world try to satisfy,” she added.

This may be one of those moments when Coffey will be forever associated with turnips.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Hostile environment and bureaucracy

Evidence that the Tories are continuing to operate the hostile environment against asylum seekers is highlighted by this article in today's Guardian, which reports on plans to cut the backlog by sending questionnaires to refugees that will demand that claimants reply in English within 20 working days or risk refusal.

The paper says that the Home Office will begin sending out copies of the 11-page document today, to about 12,000 people from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria and Yemen as part of Rishi Sunak’s plans to cut the “legacy backlog” of 92,000 asylum claims. They say that the move is meant to speed up the process by which claims are processed so that people can be either given leave to remain in the UK or removed:

But the questionnaire, seen by the Guardian, asks more than 50 complicated questions that it says “must be completed in English” and suggests using “online translation tools” if necessary.

It goes on to say that a failure to return the document within 20 working days “may result in an individual’s asylum claim being withdrawn”.

The deadline has dismayed legal experts who say it places unreasonable demands on vulnerable people who will not be able to seek legal advice on time.

Questions that may have to be translated online into languages such as Pashto, or one of the nine official languages of Eritrea, by claimants include: “If you do fear officials in your country, is it possible to email or telephone family members or friends in your country of origin to request [identity documents] without placing yourself or them at risk?”

Another question asks: “Were you subject to human trafficking (the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit) or modern slavery (severe exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain) during your journey to or after you arrived in the UK?”

Colin Yeo, an immigration barrister and author, said claimants would not be able to seek specialist advice within the 20-day deadline, given cuts to legal aid and demands on the profession.

“There is no way that 20 days is enough time to complete that form,” he said. “Because of the backlog, there is no way that there are enough lawyers to meet the demand in such a short space of time. It is just not fair.”

Caitlin Boswell, the policy and campaigns manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “People fleeing desperate circumstances clearly need this government to make quicker and fairer asylum decisions, but this latest move from government is clumsy, unthinking and could put people’s safety at risk. No one’s right to refuge should be jeopardised because they weren’t able to fill in an unwieldy form in a language they don’t speak.”

No doubt this approach seemed like a good idea to some official sitting in an ivory tower in Westminister, but it shows that the originators of the scheme are out-of-touch with the cicumstances many asylum seekers find themselves in. This tone deaf approach is a further extension of the hostile environment policy being operated by this government against those fleeing war, famine and torture.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

UK Government cuts science research funding

The Independent reports that scientists have criticised the Treasury for taking back £1.6 billion it had allocated for research.

They say that the money, which had been set aside for UK involvement in the EU’s 100 billion euro (£88 billion) Horizon Europe research programme, was returned to the Treasury by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy after the stalemate with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol saw the UK’s association with the flagship research initiative blocked:

News that the funds had been returned was revealed on page 300 of a Treasury document entitled Central Government Supply Estimates 2022-23.

It says there has been a “surrender of unused funding for Horizon and Euratom association” to the tune of £1.6 billion.

In a statement, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine director Professor Liam Smeeth condemned the move.

He said: “The UK has a well-deserved reputation as a world leading powerhouse in health research, recently evidenced by the role we played in the Covid response globally.

“The benefits are huge in health improvement, economic investment and global prestige.

“The lack of agreement to allow the UK to continue to play a full role in the European Union Horizon funding programme severely threatens our success.

“Achieving full association with EU funding programmes must remain the primary aim but will take considerable political skill and determination.

“Until today, the UK Government did – as a constructive interim measure – appear to be committed to filling any shortfalls in science funding that occurred because of Brexit.

“This appears to no longer be the case and we face major cuts in investment in science and innovation as well as continued uncertainty over EU funding.

“The UK’s position as a global scientific leader is severely threatened.

“Once our position is lost, rebuilding the excellence of our science and education base in the face of fierce international competition may be an impossible task.”

So much for the Prime Minister’s assertions about the importance of science and innovation to the UK’s future, and the statement in the Commons by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt that it would be a “profound mistake” to “cut the research and development budget today”.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Voter suppression in action

The Guardian reports that huge numbers of older voters could be disenfranchised at local elections in May after official data has shown that only 505 people aged 75-plus have applied for free voter identification documents in the month since the scheme launched.

The paper adds that statistics for the numbers who have applied since the system opened on 16 January also showed that fewer than 6% of those seeking the document were aged under 25, another group seen as disproportionately likely to lack the necessary ID:

The data on applications for so-called voter authority certificates reinforces concerns that the first full rollout of the law obliging voters to show photographic identification at polling stations in England on 4 May could prove chaotic and lead to many people being turned away.

Angela Rayner said the statistics indicated the voter ID scheme would “lock people out of democracy”. The deputy Labour leader said: “This shocking data lifts the lid on the damaging impact the policy could have for marginalised voters.”

A running total on a government website showed that as of the end of Sunday, just under 21,000 applications had been submitted in total, only 1% of the estimated 2 million voters who do not possess the necessary documents already.

Just 2.4% of these were from voters aged 75 or older, 505 in total, despite this demographic being among the least likely to possess a passport or driving licence – although several older people’s travel cards will also be accepted.

Only 1,237 people aged under 25 had applied. Younger people are also less likely to have photo ID that can be used to vote, especially as the government has decided that student cards and young people’s travel passes are not valid.

The data only covers online applications to a central portal, which are then passed on to councils. People can also apply by post or in person, although one source said the total number of these was seemingly only in the hundreds.

The low take-up, averaging around 500 applications per day, comes despite the Electoral Commission running a major advertising campaign last month to inform people about the new rules.

The commission previously wrote to the government saying the timetable meant the local elections could not be conducted in a “fully secure, accessible and workable” manner.

Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, said the charity was concerned at the implementation of voter ID, and that more than 3 million over-65s had no access to the internet, so could not apply online.

She said: “There is little time before the May elections and it’s essential that local authorities widely advertise the certificate and make sure that offline guidance and support is available for those who don’t use the internet and want to make an application.”

Nobody should be surprised at this potential disenfranchisement of voters, after all this is what the system was designed to do. This is voter suppression in action, with the only beneficiaries being the Conservative Party.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Word of the day - Sitzpinkler

Word of the day comes from the Guardian, though there is no online version of the article at the time of writing, even though the paper has written on the subject before and even published an editorial back in 2010. 'Are you a sitzpinkler?' the paper asks, and with question we slip into a google rabbit hole of disturbing proportions.

The 2010 editorial explains. They say: lots of German men nowadays routinely sit down to pee. From quite early on, so it is claimed, German sons are taught that being a Sitzpinkler – translate it yourself – is the done thing and that being a Stehpinkler is simply antisocial. The purpose of this social revolution hardly needs detailed explanation. Stand-up men, let it simply be said, are messier than their seated brethren – and almost never bother to clean up. In some German homes, little notices are tacked to the underside of the toilet seat so that seat-raising males are reminded to consider their options. In others, a ghostly little gadget called a Spuk – a spook – similarly attached to the underside issues a verbal warning to prospective standers. When these gadgets first came on the market they were available in a variety of voices, including those of former chancellors Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder.

Niwadays the Spuk is being marketed as a WC-Geist and you can get one with the commanding voice of Angela Merkel. enough to make anybody lose their shit.

As interesting as this is one is not sure how it justifies two pages in the Guardian supplement nor the five previous articles Google reveals this paper has run on the subject in the past.

Meanwhile, for fans of Private Eye's Colmanballs column, it transpires that Bolton Football Club has laid a cunning trap for future commentators. They have renamed their stadium the Toughsheet Community Stadium.

No TV presenter is going to be saying that at any speed.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

No Brexit bonus

The Independent reports that a cabinet minister has admitted what most of us have worked out for ourselves, that Brexit has harmed investment in the UK by creating new barriers to doing business.

The paper says that Mel Stride’s comments come as a string of top business leaders have ditched the Tories for Labour, citing the government’s weak economic record and internal turmoil:

Speaking on Tuesday Mr Stride, the work and pensions secretary, said he accepted that new “frictions” between the UK and the EU “will have an impact”.

Asked if Brexit had hit business investment, Mr Stride told the BBC: “I think if you have a situation where you create frictions between yourself and your major trading partners, I think you have to accept that that will have an impact.”

His comments come after Paul Drechsler, former CBI president and ex-government skills tsar, told The Independent that Tory turmoil was damaging investment and Labour was now winning the argument among businesses.

Mr Drechsler, a former adviser to the former prime minister David Cameron, also blamed Brexit and the Tory chaos afterwards for reducing the willingness of firms to invest in Britain.

He slammed the government’s lawbreaking during Brexit talks, as well as the government’s plan to purge the statute books of British laws that originated in Brussels.

“If there’s one thing you could depend on in the UK for centuries it was adherence to the rule of law but over the past small number of years we’ve prorogued parliament, we’ve rejected international treaties we’ve just signed,” Mr Drechsler told BBC Radio’s World at One on Tuesday.

“We’ve talked about our judges as enemies of the people and now we’re about to bin thousands of EU laws without having any alternative for business to rely on. It’s self-evident that the trend lying up to 2016 has shifted significantly over the past six years.”

Some honesty from a government minister on Brexit at last.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

A looming food scandal?

I think that 'we told you so' is an appropriate response to this article in the Guardian, which quotes the leader of the UK’s biggest farming organisation warning that Britain is in danger of a “disastrous” food scandal, owing to lax post-Brexit border controls on agricultural imports.

Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers’ Union, accused ministers of a “dereliction of duty” in failing to ensure food and other agricultural imports were safe. She said the government had failed to learn the lessons of the horsemeat scandal of 2013.

“We are seeing little to no checks on imports that are coming in from the EU,” she said. “We have the massive risk of African swine fever in Europe, and to not be investing in our defences for keeping our biosecurity and animal and plant health safe, I think is just a dereliction of duty.”

After the horsemeat scandal, in which products such as burgers and lasagne purporting to contain 100% beef were found to show traces of horsemeat, stricter controls were put in place on many food systems.

But Batters said those controls were being eroded, with “so little checks” on imports, and pointed to recent findings that many lorries entering the UK contained fraudulent meat. “If there was a food scare from Europe, it would be very difficult to trace it right now,” she said.

“Many in [food] retail, processing and manufacturing would say that on the back of ‘horsegate’ we developed the safest, most secure food supply chain in the world. There was massive investment in safety and security and short supply chains,” she said.

“I think there’s a real risk 10 years on that we forget those lessons of the past, and there’s nothing that will bring this country to a standstill quicker than a food scare. That would be disastrous, and we want to do everything possible to avoid that. But unless the checks are put in place, and if we can’t trace everything, then of course we are at threat.”

The threat could grow much worse under trade deals with non-EU nations, she added. The vast majority of food imports are still from the EU, where controls on food are similar to those in the UK. But under trade deals with Australia and New Zealand that will soon come into force, and under potential future deals with countries such as India and Latin America, food could soon be arriving from regions with very different rules and standards.

Unfit food can pose a health threat to humans, which Batters said was “the biggest worry”, but farmers also face additional concerns about disease. The African swine fever virus has killed more than 100 million pigs globally since 2018, and is spreading in parts of Europe. “For the national pig herd, the threat of African swine fever coming here will be keeping them awake at night,” she said.

Avian influenza is also a growing fear, with some scientists warning of a likely spring outbreak among wild birds, and infections found in species from minks, otters and seals to foxes. Batters said the poultry sector was already in a weakened state, having shrunk by about 12%, mainly under the impact of inflationary pressures.

It is not a cheerful thought, in fact it is enough to make one go vegetarian, but at least in the EU we had some protections, much of which have now been abandoned in pursuit of Brexit purity and the need for trade deals to try and justify leaving the single market in the first place.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Why is the Welsh government so obsessed with introducing a nanny state?

Devolution is an opportunity to take control of our own communities, to allow people to have a government relevant to their own needs. It should not be a signal for a group of politicians to interfere in our daily lives, restrict our freedom of choice or force us to adopt a particular lifestyle. 

Of course all legislation has that effect, but there must be a reasonableness test that takes account of individual rights and prevents restrictions on our freedom to make decisions for ourselves without harming others.

In my view the latest idea from the Welsh Government does not pass that test. As the BBC reports, meal deals and multi-buy offers could be banned in a new Welsh government move to tackle obesity.

However, the Welsh Retail Consortium takes a different view. They have written to ministers to warn them this could damage food producers, reduce choice and increase food prices:

There have been suggestions in the proposal that meal deals should be exempt from the ban, but the Welsh government said no specific plans have yet been made following the consultation closure.

In the original consultation document, the bans being considered are:

* Temporary price reductions 
* Multi-buy offers where a discount is offered if a certain quantity is purchased 
* Volume and "meal deal" offers where products are cheaper when purchased together 
* Proposals for similar bans have been agreed in England.

Sara Jones, head of the consortium, told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast, said members could get behind some of the proposals, such as multi-buy bans.

"We do understand the real importance of the government trying to tackle obesity and support public health," she said.

But she said banning meal deals and seasonal promotions would have a "disproportionate" impact on producers in comparison to the health benefits.

"People like myself, a busy mum of two, I am looking for a quick lunch option.

"I'm not going to over-consume because of those purchasing decisions and by banning those it will just lead to restrictions in terms of availability and affordability in terms of the consumer," she said.

Promotions allow competition between retailers to attract customers, which helps keep prices down, she said.

"With inflation running at a 18-year high it would be regressive and irresponsible to put up costs in this manner with no evidence at this time that it would significantly improve public health."

Interfering with people's shopping choices, no matter how well-intentioned, is the ultimate nanny-state response to a non-problem. Having the ability to legislate should not permit politicians to run our lives for us, and in this case possibly add to the cost of our daily shop.

The Welsh Government have form on this. It's time they reined in their instinct to interfere in everything we do.

Thursday, February 16, 2023


The Guardian reports on the shocking news that the profits of the scandal-hit owner of British Gas have more than tripled to a record £3.3bn, boosted by soaring wholesale gas prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as many households in Britain struggle with the cost of living.

They say that Centrica’s “monster” profits immediately angered campaigners who are calling for tougher windfall taxes, lower bills and better treatment of vulnerable customers against the backdrop of the prepayment meter scandal. And quite rightly so.

The company’s profits for 2022 far outstrip the £948m made in 2021, aided by soaring profits in its North Sea oil and gas, and nuclear power divisions. They also surpass the company’s previous record profit of £2.7bn, in 2012.

Given that British Gas faced widespread criticism earlier this month when it emerged that debt agents working for Britain’s largest energy supplier had ignored customers’ vulnerabilities and forced them on to prepayment meters to recover debts, these record surpluses just add to the impression of an uncaring company determined to squeeze every last penny from its customers.

The big question is why is the government letting them get away with this. There needs to be a much tougher windfall tax and the scrapping of the investment allowance which cuts tax for oil and gas operators that spend money on increasing production.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

No credit given

Having gone on to mess up the economy, it is no surprise that Liz Truss also made her mark on the finances of the Foreign Office, and not in a good way.

The Guardian reports that the former Prime Minister oversaw a major jump in spending on government credit cards at the Foreign Office when she took over, with spending on restaurants, bars, leisure activities and hotels all rising sharply during her time in office.

The paper says that Truss is already under pressure to explain a number of items of spending which she approved, including meals at high-end restaurants, large social functions and the use of Heathrow’s VIP suite, but their analysis suggests that she oversaw a broader culture of high spending when she was in one of the most powerful jobs in government:

The Foreign Office is one of the heaviest users of the cards, often using them to pay for food, wine, events and furnishings for their offices and residences around the world.

A Foreign Office source said over the weekend that officials needed to spend on cards to be able to engage with dignitaries from other governments. But the information uncovered by Labour showed that they often spent heavily on events involving Truss even when no foreign dignitary was present. In November 2021, for example, she and her team enjoyed two meals in Jakarta during a trip to Indonesia at a cost of £1,443.

The Guardian’s analysis of the full figures show a marked increase in spending on GPCs under Truss, albeit during a period during which travel and entertainment became easier as lockdowns and travel bans eased.

In the 11 months from October 2021 to when she became prime minister in September 2022, the department spent just over £30m on the cards – 50% more than the last full 11 months of Raab’s tenure.

Labour has published more detailed data for 2021, which shows that during Raab’s nine months in office, officials spent £114,363 on “leisure activities”. In the three months of Truss’ tenure, this came to £158,304.

During Raab’s nine months, civil servants spent £134,016 on restaurants and bars, compared with £228,637 during Truss’ much shorter tenure.

And while Raab’s Foreign Office spent £640,660 on hotels in 2021, that increased to £668,378 when Truss was foreign secretary.

Nice work if you can get it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Time to start valuing our public sector workers

The BBC reports that official figures show that regular pay has grown at the fastest rate in more than 20 years, but is still failing to keep up with rising prices.

They say that pay, excluding bonuses, increased at an annual pace of 6.7% between October and December 2022, however, when adjusted for inflation, regular pay fell by 2.5%.

Importantly, the gap between private and public sector pay continued, with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) finding that private regular pay was up 7.3% annually between October and December, compared with a 4.2% rise in the public sector.

Both figures are being outstripped by the rising cost of living, with inflation - the rate at which prices are rising - running at 10.5%.

The way that public sector workers are treated is a disgrace. They no longer have inflation-linked final salary pensions, which was the justification for paying them less in the past. Instead they are asked to work in often poor working conditions for less than they can get in less skilled jobs in the private sector.

It is little wonder that there are recuitment issues, adding to the pressure on remaining employees, or that they would want to strike for a fairer deal.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Another PPE scandal

Here we go again. The Guardian reports that new documents suggest a lifestyle company won a £25.8m government contract for PPE through the so-called VIP lane after the new Conservative chair, Greg Hands, was approached by a local Tory activist.

They says that Luxe Lifestyle, a company trading in “specialised design activities”, had no published accounts at the time the contract was awarded, and did not appear to have a history of supplying PPE:

It is understood Hands, then a trade minister, made a referral to officials in early April 2020 after a Conservative activist, Mark Higton, approached him about a contact offering PPE and other items.

Leaked documents, obtained by the Good Law Project, later listed a PPE contract as “Minister Hands/Luxe Lifestyle” and the point of contact as “Mark Higton”, a former chair of a neighbouring constituency association.

A subsequent freedom of information request revealed that 9m items worth £20m provided by Luxe Lifestyle were labelled “do not supply” by the government, meaning they were not used.

It is understood that an internal government audit of the workings of the VIP Lane, prepared for the Cabinet Office in September 2020, noted that Luxe Lifestyle’s contract was processed through the VIP channel and it had been referred by an MP.

A spokesperson for Luxe Lifestyle said: “Luxe Lifestyle’s contract to supply PPE was negotiated on an arm length basis through MoD procurement officers, seconded to the DHSC [Department of Health and Social Care]. The company was awarded a single contract for two out of six products offered via a competitive process based on price and availability.

“No minister was ever directly contacted by the company and all products offered were uploaded on to the relevant DSHC PPE procurement website established by the government at the time of the pandemic for review and assessment alongside other PPE providers. No one at the company has ever contacted or spoken to Greg Hands.”

It is understood the company considered all its PPE was in usable condition, had a two-year shelf life and that it was not informed by the Department of Health and Social Care of any problems with the consignments. Higton could not be reached for comment.

A report by the National Audit Office has found that companies referred to the VIP lane had a 10 times greater success rate for being awarded contracts than those without access to it. 

The paper adds that the operation of a VIP lane for suppliers of personal protective equipment after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic was ruled unlawful by the high court after a legal challenge to the scheme by the Good Law Project and EveryDoctor.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Time to sell up

The BBC reports that a Labour Senedd Member has called on his own government to make good on their mistake in buying Gilestone Farm, near Talybont-on-Usk, Powys, for the Green Man festival, by selling the site.

The Labour Welsh government bought the farm for £4.25m to help Green Man before they submitted a full business plan:

Last week Auditor General for Wales, Adrian Crompton, said ministers acted with "avoidable haste" to buy the farm, and that officials "did not keep a record of matters discussed" with the company in meetings.

The Welsh government said the auditor's report made clear the acquisition followed "appropriate processes" and was "value for money".

Officials have been discussing leasing the site to the festival company.

While it is not expected that the main Green Man event itself would move to the site, officials have told councillors there are plans to hold three gatherings a year for as many as 3,000 people at the farm.

Meanwhile the Welsh government has disclosed a report that says the flood risk at the site is "moderate to high".

Ministers have repeatedly defended the project, saying it was necessary to secure the future of the festival in Wales.

It has caused a row with opposition politicians who questioned why the Welsh government bought it before Green Man had submitted a full business case.

The boss of the festival, Fiona Stewart, said the festival submitted an "extensive vision document" and said she would employ a local farmer to manage the land.

"We've got things we can do with that sort of money."

"I don't believe the Welsh government should be out there getting involved in funding tourism projects."

While he said the Urdd and National Eisteddfod, which receive Welsh government subsidies, were "slightly different," he asked: "How much do music festivals dotted around Britain get from local authorities or the Westminster government?

"These people run it - they make money and they run it as a commercial venture.

"I think it's about time some organisations decided whether they were commercial or not."

Mr Hedges said the Welsh government "should never have got into it in the first place".

I agree, This would not be my priority for this money either.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Government not taking housing seriously

There is nothing more controversial than housing policy. At least that is what should be the case, and yet the only time politicians appear to stir on the issue is when a community is up in arms about a plan to build more houses in an area they believe should be sacrosanct.

The fact remains that good quality housing is the key to good health, educational achievement and mental well-being. People who are without housing for one reason or another, or who live in poor quality homes, have shorter life expectancy, their children's education suffers and they are prone to more illnesses than those who are adequately housed. Housing is a also a key economoc driver.

It is for this reason that one of the main duties of government, at whatever level, should be to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of reasonable quality and affordable housing available to its citizens. The last minister to take this duty seriously at a UK level was Harold Macmillan.

The fact that the current UK Government is neglecting this basic human need is evident in the latest shuffling of ministerial chairs. As Inside Housing points out, the current housing minister for England, Lucy Frazer has been moved on after just 91 days in the role. She became the government’s 14th housing minister in 12 years when she replaced Lee Rowley in November 2022.

Her replacement who, at the time of writing, has yet to be announced, will be the sixth holder of the role within 12 months, a situation which the British Property Federation described as "hugely frustrating":

Melanie Leech CBE, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “We had begun a very constructive dialogue with Lucy Frazer and it’s hugely frustrating to see the rapid departure of yet another housing minister in the middle of both significant policy changes and uncertain market conditions. Above all, we need clarity and stability from government to help unlock the new homes the country so vitally needs.”

Other housing sector figures have previously criticised the frequency with which the housing minister is reshuffled.

“Housing is a long-term structural issue that needs long-term, structural solutions and to deliver that you would hope that we would have housing ministers in place for longer,” said Paul Hackett, then-chair of the G15 group of housing associations in 2018.

Since he made that comment, there have been seven housing ministers.

Given its importance, housing should not be the cinderella service it has been relegated to in England.

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Sunak scores own goal in cabinet shuffle

Having decided to spend about £100 million reorganising Whitehall as part of his cabinet shuffle, Rishi Sunak proceeded to hand the opposition an open goal with his choice for the new Deputy Chair of the Tory Party.

The Independent reports that the post has been handed to Lee Anderson, the outspoken Tory MP with a long history of controversial comments.

They say that the MP for Ashfield has become one of the best-known and most-criticised backbenchers at Westminster after he frequently questioned if poor people have a genuine need for food banks:

Tory MPs have expressed dismay at the appointment. One former minister told The Independent Mr Anderson would be a “walking embarrassment” in the job.

The deputy chair’s feelings on food banks first made headlines last May, when he claimed there’s not any “massive use for food banks in this country” – and insisted many poor people “cannot budget”.

Mr Anderson has continued to cast doubts over the necessity of food banks for many users – despite soaring demand – this year, insisting that striking nurses did not need handouts.

The Tory MP also raised eyebrows when he described a well known anti-Brexit protester as a “parasite” during a verbal altercation in Westminister.

Confronting activist Steve Bray – who branded him “30p Lee” in a nod to the MP’s claims about budgeting – Mr Anderson said: “You’re a scrounger. Why are you here dressed like a tramp?”

Before even entering the Commons in 2019, Mr Anderson sparked anger by posting a video on Facebook arguing that “nuisance tenants” should be forced to live in tents and pick potatoes.

“Let’s have them in the field picking potatoes or any current seasonal vegetables, back in the tent, cold shower, lights out, six o’clock, same again the next day. That would be my solution,” he said.

Rival parties compared the idea to “forced labour camps”, accusing Mr Anderson of “entrenching division”.

In another strange 2019 campaign moment, Mr Anderson forgot he was wearing a microphone as he got one of his friends to pose as an anti-Labour swing voter in a bid to impress a journalist.

“Make out you know who I am... you know I’m the candidate, but not a friend, alright?” Mr Anderson was recorded telling his friend minutes before bringing a journalist to his door.

At least politics is not going to be boring for the next 18 months.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

No Limits

The Guardian reports that Tory Ministers have quietly dropped restrictions on spending controls, allowing Whitehall departments to spend millions more on external consultants.

They say that the limits were introduced under David Cameron in 2011, requiring central authorisation if contracts with firms such as Deloitte or KPMG lasted more than nine months or exceeded £20,000. The value of the contracts has been rising – with the limit earlier this year set at £600,000. But now those spending limits have been cancelled altogether, paving the way for department to spend millions more of taxpayers’ money on external advice:

The Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin and the chief secretary to the Treasury, John Glen, wrote to departments this month ending restrictions on consultancy “effective 31 January 2023 in line with the agreed lifting of burdens [and] realignment of focus and impact of Cabinet Office spend controls”.

The update concluded that “following workshops during January on an operational level, the removal of the controls is welcomed”.

The move was not announced, but changed on the guidance page of the Cabinet Office website, which said the spending controls on “consultancy and professional services” had ceased as a requirement. All government contracts worth more than £20m still require authorisation centrally.

The Cabinet Office says management consultant advice will be “time limited” and likely to be “related to business change or transformation”, and that the individuals employed on a consultancy basis “will operate outside of the client organisation’s structure and staffing establishment”.

Spending on outside consultants has soared in recent years, although some additional spending was connected to Covid. The UK public sector awarded £2.8bn of consulting contracts in 2022, according to data from the contract analysts Tussell Ltd in the FT last week. That figure was up 75% on 2019.

Deloitte was awarded contracts worth £278m in 2022, more than any other consultancy, though spending was down on levels during the UK height of the pandemic.

Others in the “big four” accountancy firms were also awarded millions in contracts, including £152m for PwC and £101m for EY. KPMG had withdrawn from bidding for work because of a series of scandals reported last year, but was still awarded contracts worth £12m.

I agree with Pat McFadden MP that this change is indefensible during a cost of living crisis when government purse strings were being tightened in other areas of public spending. No wonder there is no money for health workers and teachers.

Monday, February 06, 2023

Tory MPs pushing to leave the European Convention on Human Rights

The Guardian reports that a number of Conservative MPs are pushing for a commitment to be included in their manifesto at the next General Election to leave Churchill's European Convention on Human Rights.

Not every Tory MP agrees however. Sir Bob Neill, Tory chair of the Commons justice committee, is reported as saying: “If Conservatives don’t believe in the rule of law, what do we believe in? Are we going to put ourselves in the same company as Russia and Belarus?” 

While others who would be likely to baulk at the idea of leaving the convention include the development minister, Andrew Mitchell, and the former justice secretary Robert Buckland.

This latest development is linked to legal action challenging the government's policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, a state that has had more than its fair share of human rights contraventions. But it has wider implications for the rest of us, especially in light of moves by the alleged bully, Dominic Raab to replace human rights legislation with a watered down bill of rights.

It is worth reproducing a Twitter thread by Martha Spurrier, the Director of Liberty, from last June on the implications of this particular legislation. She says that Raab's bill:

1. Enshrines the toxic idea of rights being conditional on good behaviour. Rights become gifts the state can take away if it deems you to be troublesome. This means impunity for rights abuses, particularly against people in prison, police custody, protestors.

2. Strips family life rights for migrants (Article 8). People who commit a crime will be deported unless it would cause their child/dependent "overwhelming, unavoidable harm". You could grow up here, have your whole family here, a life here, and still be put on a plane. This cruel, racist move despite the fact that only 7.8% of criminal deportation cases successfully rely on Article 8. Those few cases are a necessary judicial safety net to prevent extremely disproportionate removals.

3. Prevents courts from putting legal obligations on the state "to actively protect someone's human rights" (yep, that's a direct quote). Farewell to the only legal tools available to the Hillsborough families, survivors of Worboys attacks, patients at risk of suicide and many more.

4. Stops human rights claims being brought against military operations. Rights abuses committed in war (like torture of civilian Baha Mousa by UK troops) will go unpunished. Members of armed forces (like victims of Snatch Land Rover disaster) will be unprotected.

5. Creates a procedural barrier to justice - you have to get permission before you can bring a human rights case, demonstrating you've suffered "significant disadvantage". Supposedly to deal with "trivial human rights claims" which is of course a contradiction in terms.

6. Scraps Rule 39 meaning the European Court of Human Rights can't intervene on a temporary, exceptional, emergency basis to avert "a real risk of serious and irreversible harm" ie Gov to have license to put people at risk of serious and irreversible harm.

7. Commits to staying in the European Convention on Human Rights. But the Bill of Rights is a weaker, watered down imitation of the Convention, and Council of Europe may expel us for failing to protect rights. That would put us in the company of Russia.

That last point was made of course before Tory MPs decided that they prefer Putin's way of doing things.

Churchill worked with others to set up the convention on human rights to prevent Europe once more suffering millions of innocent people targetted, tortured, abused and murdered purely because of their religion, heritage and sexuality amongst many other stated reasons.

His succesors in the Tory Party don't appear to have an issue with abandoning that objective.

Sunday, February 05, 2023

UK Government to abandon consumers to more energy price hikes

The Guardian reports that the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt has rejected calls to prevent sharp rises in domestic energy bills for all households in his March budget – meaning millions of users will see costs soar by about 40% from April.

They say that instead, Hunt will emphasise the extra support he is giving to the poorest and most vulnerable households, including those on benefits, in what he will describe as a more fairly targeted system of support:

Demands for the Treasury to halt a planned rise in the energy price guarantee (EPG) – the discounted cost of gas and electricity to consumers – from £2,500 to £3,000 a year for the average household in the March budget have been growing in recent weeks, particularly as the wholesale cost of energy has been falling.

Because an additional £400 of extra government help with energy costs for all households, made in monthly payments since October, also ends in March, the effective rise for all but those on the lowest incomes will be about 40%.

Calls for Hunt to stop the rise in the EPG have been led by consumer champion Martin Lewis, founder of the website MoneySavingExpert.com, who has said the move would be an obvious “rabbit out of the hat” that the chancellor could afford to pull out of his red box in March.

The Labour party has also been calling for the rise in the EPG to be stopped, and for the extra costs to the government of doing so to be met through the proceeds of a more punitive windfall tax on the vast profits of energy companies.

But Treasury insiders have told the Observer that the move is not under consideration, partly because Treasury receipts from its own windfall tax on energy companies have been less than expected, and because of worries about exposing taxpayers to future market risk.

Ruling out the move, a Treasury source said: “While gas prices have fallen in recent months, they are still five times higher than the historical average, and can just as easily increase.

“If the gas price spikes, the government will need to borrow billions of pounds more. While the energy price guarantee will continue to insulate millions of households from even higher wholesale gas prices, we need to reduce the taxpayer exposure to market volatility. Insulating every household – and on an open-ended basis – could have major implications for the public finances.”

Officials said that at the time of the autumn statement last November, the Treasury’s own estimate for the proceeds of the windfall tax over five years was £55bn. But because of recent falls in energy prices, this total had fallen by £25bn, and was now anticipated to come in closer to £30bn.

However, as the paper points out, thius argument is a miscalculation and is based on poor economic management:

Analysts at Deutsche Bank say maintaining the £2,500 price cap from April would only cost the government an additional £4.5bn because gas prices are falling quickly and the subsidy is unlikely to be needed by energy firms from July onwards. Analysts also said that maintaining the household price cap at £2,500 would help lower inflation.

It is time for Jeremy Hunt to step up and rein these energy companies in.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Under siege

Having lost his party chair in a row over unpaid tax, Ruishi Sunak is in real danger of losing his Deputy Prime Minister as well.

The Independent reports on the latest scandal to engulf Dominic Raab, with Remain campaigner Gina Miller claiming she was “bullied and demeaned” by the deputy prime minister after he called her “stupid” and “naive” during an “aggressive” encounter at the BBC in 2016. The paper says that there are now fresh accusations of racial insensitivity towards a BBC comedian, who also backs Ms Miller’s version of events:

Asked to comment on Ms Miller’s shocking disclosure, first reported by The Independent, that he had called her “stupid” and “naive” during an “aggressive” encounter at the BBC, Mr Raab failed to deny explicitly that her account was accurate.

Instead, in a carefully worded statement, a spokesperson for the deputy prime minister said Mr Raab “rejects the description and characterisation” of him given by Ms Miller.

After Ms Miller also claimed that Mr Raab had “barked” at a BBC employee to “Go get me a f***ing car”, his spokesperson said the deputy prime minister “always treats people with the utmost respect and has never sworn at staff”.

But Mr Raab came under more pressure when, in a bizarre twist, comedian Nish Kumar joined the row, backing anti-Brexit campaigner Ms Miller.

Mr Kumar said he had witnessed an incident described by Ms Miller, in which Mr Raab confused her brother Gary Marlowe, a GP, with Mr Kumar.

“I have to say I felt no confidence that [Mr Raab] can differentiate between different Asians,” Mr Kumar told The Independent. “It left us both feeling a sense of disrespect and disregard for our identity.”

He added: “What annoyed me was that he had no contrition afterwards. He just went up to the first brown guy he saw, was immediately corrected, but did not even acknowledge that the infraction happened.”

Mr Marlowe said: “He came up to me and said ‘Hi, Nish’ – even though I don’t look anything like [Mr Kumar]. I thought ‘What an idiot.’ Just because we are both brown does not mean we’re interchangeable.

“I have a thick skin. I have been beaten up by National Front thugs, so this is small beer in comparison.”

Raab, is currently being investigated over multiple claims of bullying, and the likelihood that Rishi Sunak, who promised to put an end to Tory sleaze and misconduct, will have to fire him, is growing by the minute.

A number of former Tory Ministers have already called on Raab to step aside while the inquiry is ongoing. How much longer can Sunak keep him in post?

Friday, February 03, 2023

Will watchdog bare its teeth over Johnson?

The Mirror reports that the government's spending watchdog is looking into whether billing taxpayers £220,000 defending Boris Johnson over the Partygate scandal is money well spent.

They say that the National Audit Office has confirmed it was 'seeking further information' over the revelation that public money was being spent to fund Boris Johnson's defence against allegations he misled Parliament about Partygate:

It follows a request by campaign group Unlock Democracy to look at whether the spending is a "sensible and legitimate use of public money".

The Mirror previously revealed the estimated cost in defending the shamed former Prime Minister had soared by more than £90,000 since last summer.

Mr Johnson, now a backbench MP, faces a probe over his denials of lockdown-busting gatherings in No10, with hearings likely to begin next month.

He is being investigated by the House of Commons Privileges Committee, which will determine whether he committed contempt of Parliament - an allegation he denies.

Solicitors firm Peters and Peters were awarded a contract worth £129,700 to provide Mr Johnson with advice during the investigation.

Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm confirmed to MPs that the sum had risen dramatically, and could not guarantee it wouldn't go up even further.

An NAO spokesperson said: “The NAO received a query from a member of the public relating to our audit of Cabinet Office accounts.

"We are seeking further information in response to the correspondence and will be considering the matter as part of our audit.”

It has raised questions over whether Mr Johnson should be footing the bill himself, having raked in millions from speeches and an advance on his memoirs since leaving office.

Former Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, who heads Democracy Unlocked, told The Guardian: “In these circumstances, and with public finances under huge pressure, the taxpayer shouldn’t underwrite his open-ended defence legal costs.

"Fortunately for Johnson, thanks to his recent extra-parliamentary activities, he can afford to pay for them himself.”

The question of course is whether the NAO will actually do something about this complaint. We wait with bated breath.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Lib Dems secure significant victory in fight to clean up our waterways

The Guardian reports that taxpayer money may no longer be invested in water companies that fail to produce adequate plans to stop sewage discharges, after the government accepted a Liberal Democrat amendment.

The paper says that the change to the UK infrastructure bank bill means that once it becomes law, tax receipts will only be able to fund water companies if they produce a costed and timed plan for ending sewage spills into waterways.

The new post-Brexit UK Infrastructure Bank is a state-owned development bank designed to help the UK government reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Originally, it could have given cheap finance to any water companies that wanted to make improvements to infrastructure. It will have £12bn of startup capital, comprising £5bn of equity from the Treasury and £7bn of debt. It will also be able to provide up to a further £10bn of guarantees.

Richard Foord, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, tabled the bill and said the government had previously written a “blank cheque” of taxpayer money to water firms to invest in their infrastructure.

The Lib Dem MP said: “This is a victory for millions of people across the country who have voiced their outrage at water companies being allowed to get away with polluting rivers and coastlines.

“My amendment ensures water companies won’t receive a blank cheque with taxpayers’ money whilst they pollute our rivers and damage local wildlife.

“It would have been scandalous for taxpayers’ money to be thrown at firms who pay their execs multimillion pound bonuses, all whilst destroying our environment.”

Yet another sign that if you want to actually get something done to protect our environment then you need to turn to the Liberal Democrats.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Government rhetoric on small boat crossings debunked

The Refugee Council has published new research which shows that at least six out of ten (60%) of all those who made the dangerous Channel crossing to the UK in small boats last year will be recognised as refugees through the asylum process.

They say that the analysis, based on Home Office data, finds that 25,119 of the 45,746 men, women and children who made the journey in 2022 would be allowed to stay in the UK as refugees:

At the same time the numbers of people starting new lives in the UK under formal resettlement programmes such as family reunion have fallen dramatically – suggesting that more people seeking refugee status are taking the dangerous Channel journey.

The report reveals that most of those crossing the Channel are people fleeing war-torn or oppressive countries where no safe and formal routes such as refugee visas exist for making an asylum claim in the UK. This is in contrast to those escaping the war in Ukraine, where more than 200,000 visas have been issued under a UK refugee scheme.

The report shows that safe routes for the main nationalities crossing the channel have been drastically reduced – resettlement numbers are 75 per cent lower than in 2019 and the number of family reunion visas issued is 36 per cent below the pre-pandemic level. For example, thousands of Iranians crossed the channel but just nine were resettled to the UK between January and September 2022.

The report also shows that Government proposals to remove the right to claim asylum from those crossing on boats would lead to thousands of people living in limbo and potentially being locked up in detention at huge cost of hundreds of millions of pounds to the taxpayer.

Just as for those fleeing Ukraine, most of those in the boats are from countries where their safety is at risk. Ukraine does not feature in the main nationalities crossing the Channel on a small boat in 2022 due to the visa scheme in place.A staggering 40 per cent of those on the small boats in 2022 come from just five countries – all of which have major problems with conflict and oppression and have asylum grant rates over 80 or 90 per cent.

The analysis finds that 8,700 children were among those crossing the Channel, around one in five of the overall number.

Under the Refugee Convention, which the UK has signed up to, anyone fleeing war, persecution or conflict has the right to claim asylum on the soil of a signatory to the Convention. The removal of safe routes however, means that for many the only avenue by which refugees can make this claim is by crossing the channel in small boats, at great risk to themselves.

These are not illegal crossings, these are mostly legitimate refugees trying to claim the asylum they are entitled to under a convention the UK has committed to.

The reinstatement of safe routes, the expeditious processing of claims and initial vetting on the other side of the channel could make a big difference to our so-called refugee crisis, while saving many, many lives.

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