Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Food Waste in the Farm

A new report has revealed the staggering levels of food waste coming from farms in the UK. The report describes food waste as an “ecological catastrophe of staggering proportion”. Research carried out by the food and environment charity Feedback has examined the role supermarkets play in driving the overproduction and subsequent waste of food on farms. As supermarkets have over 85 per cent of the market share of grocery stores, the report warned they have the power to burden farmers both with food waste and the associated costs. At the moment commitments to cut down on food waste do not include farms, meaning supermarkets are only held accountable for waste that occurs in their stores. 
Fruit and vegetable farmers reported they wasted up to 37,000 tonnes of produce every year – around 16 per cent of their crop. This quantity would be enough to provide 250,000 people with their recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day for a year. The overall quantity of wasted produce could keep cities the size of Birmingham or Manchester adequately supplied with fruit and vegetables.
 “Despite a government and industry focus on food waste occurring in homes, our pioneering research finds that waste on farms, often a result of supermarkets’ outsized power in the supply chain, is significant and pervasive,” said Carina Millstone, executive director of Feedback.
While some supermarkets have made public commitments to reducing food waste, the report concludes these measures have had little impact. In particular it notes that the inflexibility of supermarket contracts has “normalised overproduction and the resulting waste”. Over half the farmers surveyed agreed they were forced to overproduce because there is pressure to always meet buyer orders, or risk losing contracts. Produce being rejected for cosmetic reasons such as colour, shape and size was the major reason for food waste identified by farmers involved in the study. Nearly half those surveyed said retailers use cosmetic standards as an excuse to reject produce when they can get a lower price elsewhere, or else following a fall in demand.
While consumers can undoubtedly be fussy when choosing their food, the report suggests consumer fussiness is being driven by the supermarkets themselves. Moreover, the takeover of the market by major supermarkets appears to have left fewer outlets to sell “imperfect” produce.
“Farmers surveyed for our research reported an average 10-16 per cent food wastage in typical years, equal to around 22,000 to 37,000 tonnes: enough food to provide 150,000 to 250,000 people with five portions of fruit and vegetables a day for a whole year, about the same as the whole population of Wolverhampton,” said Mr Bowman. “Our surveyed farmers grew about 2.6 per cent of the fruit, vegetables and potatoes grown in the UK – based on rough and ready extrapolations from this small sample size, we estimate that 2-4 million people could be fed their 5 a day nationally on fruit and veg wasted on UK farms, equal to more than the population of Birmingham or Manchester.”

Flooded Cities

Major British towns and cities, including Glasgow, Wrexham, Aberdeen and Chester, could be much more severely affected by climate change than previously thought, according to new research by Newcastle University.
 Looking at the impact by the year 2050-2100, the team produced results for three possible outcomes – low, medium and high-impact scenarios. But even the most optimistic case showed 85% of UK cities with a river, including London, would face increased flooding.
In the high-impact scenario, some cities and towns in the UK and Ireland could see the amount of water per flood as much as double. The worst affected is Cork, which could see 115% more water per flooding, while Wrexham, Carlisle, Glasgow, and Chester could all see increases of more than 75%.
The team used projections from all available models associated with the high emission scenario RCP8.5, which implies a 2.6C to 4.8C increase in global temperature. They found the British Isles have some of the worst overall flood projections, with the high scenario predicting half of UK cities could see at least a 50% increase on peak river flows.

Doncaster public meeting (24/2)

Speaker:  Glenn Morris 

The Obesity Epidemic

The “obesity epidemic” deserves much more serious attention than it is getting. It is, after all, thought to be killing nearly 3m people a year worldwide. Obesity is invariably presented as a diet issue for nutritionists, whereas social inequality is deemed the domain of sociologists and economists. Put another way, even as the inequality gap becomes more and more obvious there’s been a medicalisation of a social problem. Yet obesity is not just a matter for nutritionists: rather, it is a product of social inequality and requires a collective social response.

This failure to face up to the underlying causes of obesity is all the more striking as issues of social inequality and justice are dominating the news agenda. Despite vast increases in total wealth in the world today, the health issue remains a marker for a general political problem about inequality in society, even in the most affluent societies. The tragedy is that obesity is usually treated as a problem and responsibility of individuals or families – not as a social problem like, say, low-educational achievement or delinquency. And so the solutions are pitched at that individual or family level. And yet the statistics point remorselessly towards obesity being a symptom with an underlying social cause. That should completely change the approach to dealing with it. But so far, it hasn’t.

Take the US. There, the most “obese” state, Arkansas, is also the fourth poorest state overall, whereas the poorest state, Mississippi, is also the third most overweight. Recent studies in England also illustrate this link between obesity and income. Of the ten worst areas in terms of overweight or obese children, half are also in the worst ten for child poverty. England’s most obese council, Brent, is also its ninth poorest, whereas England’s wealthiest council, Richmond, despite being a neighbouring council in London, is one of the sprightliest, with a relatively low rate of obesity. And England’s poorest council? Another London borough, Newham, is also the eighth most affected by childhood obesity.

In its way, these figures are as disgraceful an indictment of social priorities and inequality as the 19th-century mortality levels due to epidemics of rickets or typhoid. And the solutions needed are every bit as collective rather than individual. Imagine that the Victorians had tried to tackle typhoid by advising everyone to live in the countryside near clean wells, rather than by building sewers and water treatment plants. Today’s response to an epidemic that kills so many people around the world that it has become the fifth leading cause of early death, is just as unrealistic. Businesses fought against public sanitation proposals fearing increased costs – in much the same way that the food industry resists or subverts public health initiatives as the investigative journalist, Michael Moss, in particular, has detailed. And like today, the business interest was often backed by politicians. The hazards back then were not ambiguous things such as sugary soda drinks or ready meals, but rotting animal carcasses and mountains of refuse. Yet the opposition to change was similar – every improvement had to be fought for.

So what are the factors that push poorer people towards unhealthy eating? Food and health policy expert Martin Caraher has explained that food choices are massively influenced by factors such as income, knowledge and skills. Others have highlighted the fact that eating well invariably involves more food preparation time. Yet such explanations don’t fit many cases, indeed seem dangerously retrospective. What is sure is that you cannot deal with the obesity epidemic by taxing popular snacks, anymore than you could deal with rocketing suicide rates by taxing sales of rope.

The point is that we need to collectively tackle the stressed communities characterised by insecure and erratic employment, inadequate education, stress, depression and a lack of social cohesion.

Single-Parent Poverty

A quarter of families are headed by a single parent. Single parents are increasingly being pushed into precarious zero-hours contracts and unsuitable self-employment, putting more children at risk of living in poverty, the single parents’ charity Gingerbread said.
There had been a 58% increase in the number of self-employed single parents in the past 10 years, but warned that a significant number of parents reported being pushed into unsuitable self-employment by jobcentre advisers in an attempt to get them into work.
“Single parents are being pushed into self-employment, either by jobcentres or as a way to secure insecure work. We are seeing people increasingly self-employed as contractors in retail, catering, caring – this is not an entrepreneurial choice, it’s a last resort,” said Dalia Ben-Galim, Gingerbread’s head of policy.  “The impact is pretty obvious. It cannot be right that in 2018 almost half of children from single-parent families are living in poverty.” 
 Two-thirds of single parents are in work, but 47% of children in single parent households are living in relative poverty. The figure has been increasing for the past two years and will reach 63% by 2020. One in 10 parents were forced to resort to “last resort steps” such as using payday lenders, loan sharks and foodbanks.
“It’s not right that we still live in a society where children of single parents face twice the risk of poverty compared with those from couple families,” said Gingerbread’s chief executive, Rosie Ferguson. “We want to see single parents valued and given the same opportunities as any other family.” Ferguson said the unreliability of modern employment leaves single parents unsure about how much they should earn or how much childcare they need and affects their ability to access government childcare schemes that require recipients to work at least 16 hours a week at minimum wage. Some parents, particularly those with children under two, were spending more than half their income on childcare, she said.
Single parent households have been the worst hit by the welfare reforms of the 2010-2015 coalition government and will continue to be under 2017 changes, with single-parent families expected to lose 15% of their income (over £3,800 annually) by 2021-22, according to the report.
Until 2008 single parents were not required to work until their youngest child turned 16, but now must actively look for work or face penalties. The report cites the case of a widowed single father who gave up work to look after his three school-age children and has been unable to find a job that fits with his caring responsibilities – as a result of the benefit cap there is a shortfall in their rent of £70 each week. “It’s a pretty harsh punishment,” said Ben-Galim.

A Healthy Diet

The Price of the Planet

Astrophysicist Greg Laughlin came up with a figure of €3000 trillion ($3,000,000,000,000,000) for the worth of planet Earth, given its breathable atmosphere—a shield from cosmic radiation.

 A close estimate is by Greg Laughlinas as US$5000 trillion.

 By contrast, Mars is estimated as a modest $16,000 while Venus is dismissed at about a penny

Far from a joke, such estimates symbolize the religious worship of money and the confirmation that capitalists know the price of everything, but the value of nothing

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

TB and Poverty

India has the highest number of TB cases globally, according to the World Health Organization's 2017 report, and is also among the top five countries that report the highest multi drug resistant cases. Over the past year, there were more than 1 million TB cases reported across India, according to health ministry data. Campaigners argue that the numbers are even higher, as there are gaps in the detection and treatment of TB.
Adding to the health crisis is the increasing debt burden on patients as they try and stick with the treatment, say public health campaigners. Expenses such as transportation and the cost of food, combined with the loss of income, push families into debt and are disincentives to continuing treatment, they say.
A study presented at the European Respiratory Society's 2016 conference in London documented the "catastrophic costs" incurred by TB patients undergoing treatment at private hospitals. The study showed that patients were spending 235 percent of their income on the disease - meaning they had to borrow money to support their treatment.
"Not only is TB a disease of poverty, it also causes poverty," said Zarir F. Udwadia, a leading chest physician.
"It affects mainly poor and malnourished people," Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told parliament  - a rare official acknowledgement of the scale and impact of the disease.
Patients often stop taking their medicines due to the side effects and the financial strain, said Radha Garikapati, a counsellor at the Hospital of Infectious Disease.
"Adherence has always been our biggest challenge," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation between counselling sessions. "Almost all patients tell us about their debts and finances," she said. "We provide them with some nutritional support, but wages lost due to the illness is something we can't compensate."
"The disease has driven me to poverty and despair," said Tuberculosis patient Yerdodamma Peddeti . "I would rather be dead."

No rules of war in Ghouta

Syria's Eastern Ghouta has become a "death sentence" for children as heavy bombing is killing scores of young people trapped in the besieged enclave, aid agencies said. A surge in pro-government air strikes, rocket fire and shelling has killed more than 210 people - including 54 children in the rebel pocket near Damascus since Sunday.  Bashar al-Assad have been besieging almost 400,000 civilians - half of them children - trapped inside Eastern Ghouta for years, but the siege has tightened this year and attacks on the enclave have intensified.

"The longer the siege and bombing goes on, it is effectively a death sentence for many children," Alun McDonald, a spokesman for charity Save the Children, said "People are trapped and thousands of lives are at risk not being able to leave, without medical evacuations, and lack of food and medicine." McDonald said more than 100 children in Eastern Ghouta need evacuation for life-saving medical treatment that is not available for conditions including cancer and kidney disease.

Siege tactics and indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas contravene the internationally-agreed "rules of war". UNICEF estimates that about 12 percent of children under the age of five in Eastern Ghouta are acutely malnourished, the highest rate anywhere in Syria since the seven-year war began. UNICEF was able to deliver nutrition and health supplies last week to children in Eastern Ghouta after two months without access, but Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for the agency, said it was not enough. "We don't have the words anymore to describe our outrage at what is happening to children inside Syria," 

Wesam, a doctor in Eastern Ghouta "The situation in Eastern Ghouta is tragic ... if it is this bad psychologically for adults - it is worse for children," she said. "In the end, death is always finding its way. If not through medical problems, it is through war, it is through hunger. In the end death is the destiny for many people."

A Flooded Future

Global sea levels are set to rise dramatically, threatening the homes of some 100 million people, even if the strictest greenhouse gas emissions targets are met, according to a new study. The research, compiled by climate scientists from a number of international institutions, analysed the long-term impacts of different emission levels and concluded oceans will rise by over one metre even if the world sticks to the Paris agreementThe researchers estimated a global rise of between 0.7 and 1.2 metres – adding that if emissions are not curbed as soon as possible it will be even greater. As it stands, current efforts by nations to reduce emissions are not enough to avoid the more significant rises in sea levels predicted by the new analysis.

“For millions of people around the world living in coastal areas, every centimetre can make a huge difference – to limit sea-level rise risks, immediate CO2 reduction is key." said Dr Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

"Man-made climate change has already pre-programmed a certain amount of sea-level rise for the coming centuries, so for some it might seem that our present actions might not make such a big difference – but our study illustrates how wrong this perception is," said Dr Matthias Mengel.

"This is a great example of how delays to mitigation can make the costs of climate change add up,” said Professor Dave Frame, director of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute.

Associate Professor Pete Strutton, a biological oceanographer at the University of Tasmania, explained, “We need to realise that climate change is happening. Even if we stop emitting today, the effects of our past emissions will be felt for centuries to come and every year that we delay action has consequences for the future."

Save the Children

Unicef report says five newborn babies die every minute across the world or about 2.6 million every year, an ‘alarmingly high’ figure as 80% of these are preventable. Across the world, babies born into the poorest families are 40% more likely to die in the first month than those born into the richest.

The risk of dying as a newborn in the US is only slightly lower than the risk for babies in Sri Lanka and Ukraine. Babies born in Japan, Singapore and Iceland stand the best chance of survival, while those in Pakistan, Central African Republic and Afghanistan face the worst odds, according to the report. The risk of dying as a newborn, which is closely linked to income level of countries.

A million babies draw their last breath the same day they took their first. A further 2.6 million are stillborn worldwide, said the report. More than 80% of newborn deaths are due to prematurity, complications during birth, or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis. Such deaths can be prevented with access to trained midwives, clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact and good nutrition.

However, the report points out, while there are 218 doctors, nurses, and midwives in Norway per 10,000 people, that ratio falls to one per 10,000 in Somalia.


(A casein point to be caerphilly read)

Recent DNA tests have shown that some of the earliest
Britons were dark-skinned, blue-eyed and curly-haired.

Oh woe to racists everywhere,
There’s a gruyèresome smell;
That’s not just a brie(f) quandary,
In UKIP and the BNP,
But in the EDL.

Gorged on the news of their big cheese,
The Brown-skinned Cheddar Man;
His heirs are saying, “Whites go home,
Take your mutated Chromosome, (1)
And leave soon as you can”!

“Old Albion, a Rasta land,
Belongs to us, the Browns;
So White punk go and pack your trunk,
Take your crap Rap and Badger Skunk,
And leave our ghetto towns”.

“We know that all you Honkies won't,
Like our sarcastic jibe;
But catch the first banana-boat,
The 'SS Windrush' is afloat, (2)
To sail home to your tribe”.

“You come here pinching all our jobs,
And our dole money too;
Caucasians are a lower race,
Who shouldn't dare to show their face,
And should be in the Zoo”.

“So all you Whiteys, go back home,
And leave our precious land;
Get back to all your jungle huts,
Your palm-leaves and your coconuts--
Don't come back 'til you're tanned”! 

(1) A defective Chromosome may have given some brown
humans a fairer skin giving them an evolutionary advantage
to absorb Vitamin D from the weaker sunlight outside Africa.

(2) The ‘SS Windrush’ sailed from the West Indies to Britain in
1948 carrying one of the first large contingents of immigrants.

© Richard Layton

Monday, February 19, 2018

$15 Billion Stolen -Which side are you on?

With American workers already struggling against stagnant wages, declining union strength, and vicious attacks by the Trump administration, a new investigation by Politico published Sunday found that low-wage employees in the United States are also contending with wage theft on a massive scale.

According to Politico's Marianne Levine, who examined state minimum wage enforcement protocols over a period of nine months, "workers are so lightly protected that six states have no investigators to handle minimum-wage violations, while 26 additional states have fewer than 10 investigators."
"Given the widespread nature of wage theft and the dearth of resources to combat it, most cases go unreported," Levine adds. "Thus, an estimated $15 billion in desperately needed income for workers with lowest wages goes instead into the pockets of shady bosses."

Michael Hollander, staff attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, argued that the violations uncovered by Levine's investigation come as no surprise to labor advocates or low-wage workers themselves.
"Wage theft is the rule, not the exception, for low-wage workers," Hollander said.

Given that many low-wage American workers can barely afford rent, any amount of money taken from a worker's paycheck can have devastating consequences. 
Advocates for lowest-wage workers describe families facing eviction and experiencing hunger for lack of money that's owed them," Levine writes. "And, nationally, the failure to enforce wage laws exacerbates a level of income inequality that, by many measures, is higher than it's been for the past century."

When Donald Trump was running for the presidency, he promised that, if he was elected, “American workers will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.”  Today, though, safely ensconced in the White House, President Trump is waging a fierce campaign against American workers. His appointments to federal positions created to defend workers’ rights provide an indication of his priorities.  For Secretary of Labor, Trump nominated Andrew Puzder, the CEO of a major fast food chain.  When Puzder’s nomination was withdrawn amid allegations of labor law violations, Trump turned to Alexander Acosta, a figure with a long history of aligning with rightwing and corporate interests.  As the new Labor Secretary, Acosta served as one of the stars at the annual gathering of the militantly anti-labor American Legislative Exchange Council.  For Deputy Secretary of Labor, Trump chose Patrick Pizzella, a former employee of the rabidly anti-union National Right to Work Committee who had lobbied against raising sweatshop-level wages.   For Assistant Secretary of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Trump nominated David Zatezalo, a former CEO of a coal mining operation with serious mining violations.  The Trump administration also took control of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by appointing members with a record of opposing workers’ right to organize.  Furthermore, Trump helped ensure an unsympathetic hearing for American workers in the courts by appointing new federal judges known for their deeply-ingrained rightwing views.

Assisted by these and other pro-corporate officials, the administration quickly attacked worker health and safety provisions.  It repealed an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule requiring employers to keep accurate injury records, repealed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule ensuring that federal contractors follow safety and labor laws, withdrew an OSHA policy allowing workers in non-union workplaces to participate in OSHA inspections, and scrapped more than a dozen rules from the OSHA and MSHA regulatory agenda, including standards on combustible dust, styrene, 1-bromopropane, construction noise, update of permissible exposure limits, and MSHA penalties and refuge alternatives in coal mines.  In addition, the administration delayed the issuance of the new standard for cancer-causing beryllium and enforcement of the OSHA standard for deadly silica dust.

Although the Obama administration had updated and expanded overtime protections for 4.2 million American workers, implementation has been blocked in federal court while Trump’s Labor Department lays plans to narrow worker eligibility.  The Labor Department has also proposed a new rule making it legal for restaurant owners to keep the tips given to their waitstaffs, thereby depriving millions of low-paid workers (most of them women and people of color) of a substantial portion of their income.  Of course, increasing the federal minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for nearly nine years, would lift millions of workers out of poverty.  But Trump and Congressional Republicans staunchly oppose raising this pathetically low wage floor, arguing that there is no need for a federal minimum wage.

 It’s hardly surprising that the Trump administration has sought to weaken American unions.  For example, the Labor Department has proposed repealing the Obama administration’s rule that employers and their consultants must report how much money they spend on anti-union campaigns.  In December 2017 alone, the NLRB reversed a 2004 decision bolstering the right of workers to organize free from unlawful employer interference, reversed a 2016 decision safeguarding unionized workers’ rights to bargain over changes in terms of employment, and overturned a 2011 decision protecting the right of a group of employees within a larger non-union company to form a bargaining unit.  The NLRB also invited employers to withdraw from agreements to hold union representation elections, even in cases where the election had already been held.
One of last December’s NLRB actions―overturning a 2015 decision making employers responsible for bargaining with workers if they have direct or indirect control over these workers’ employment―has enormous consequences for millions of low-wage earners.  Fast food companies like McDonald’s license franchises for most of their restaurants, with the companies and franchise managements each avoiding responsibility for negotiating with their workers.  Thus, the Obama Labor Board’s decision provided fast food workers with a meaningful right to collective bargaining.  The Trump Labor Board took it away.

Perhaps the most serious threat to unions comes from the Trump administration’s support of so-called “right-to-work” laws, which eliminate the obligation of workers to pay for the union representation they receive.  Adopted in 28 states thanks to campaigns by big business and its rightwing allies, these laws have proven sure-fire methods for creating masses of “free riders” and, thus, crippling unions.  Naturally, then, House Republicans introduced the National Right to Work Act shortly after Trump’s inauguration and, within a few days, the Trump administration re-affirmed its support for “right-to-work” laws.  “The president believes in right to work,” declared White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.  “He wants to give workers and companies . . . flexibility.”  When the Canadian government proposed barring “right-to-work” lawsunder the provisions of a new NAFTA agreement, the Trump administration promptly rejected the idea. The Janus case now before the Supreme Court provides another component in the same battle.  Brought to the court by the National Right to Work Committee, it would make every state and local government worker in the United States a potential “free rider.”  Entering the case, Trump’s Justice Department filed an anti-union brief.  In addition, Trump’s appointment to the Supreme Court of Neil Gorsuch, a rightwing ideologue, makes it likely that the court will decide in favor of the National Right to Work Committee, with devastating consequences for America’s public sector unions.

What news?

Cologne-based media watchdog Initiative Nachrichtenaufklärung's (INA) published its annual "Top 10 Forgotten Stories," which found that German media failed to report. Students from multiple German universities analyze press coverage to check whether the suggestions are accurate. A jury made up of media academics and journalists finally decides which stories make the top ten.

  1. Exclusion of disabled people from the workplace and the high unemployment rate among disabled people
  2. Portugal's earlier-than-expected recovery from the financial crisis despite its refusal to enact austerity policies
  3. The lack of press coverage of the 2017 monsoon in South Asia compared to the extensive coverage of the hurricane in Texas
  4. Precarious work conditions on container ships
  5. High prices for life-saving drugs in developing countries when many pharmaceutical companies are posting large profits
  6. Inadequate civil protection bunkers in Germany in the event of a major nuclear disaster
  7. Health risks associated with shift work and the lack of regulation of shift work
  8. Increasing rate of violent incidents against health workers in German psychiatric institutions
  9. The Czech Republic's refusal to compensate Roma women who were forcibly sterilized until 2007
  10. Humanitarian crisis in Chad in central Africa

Israel and Egypt Trade Partners

Israel has struck a "historic" multi-billion dollar gas deal with neighboring Egypt.

Israeli drilling company Delek Drilling and its US partner Noble Drilling announced Egyptian firm Dolphinus would buy around 64 billion cubic meters (2.26 trillion cubic feet) of gas over a decade. The gas would come from Israel's Tamar and Leviathan offshore gas fields.
The $15 billion (12 billion) deal would "strengthen our security, economy and regional relations," Netanyahu said.
In 2016, Israel signed a $10 billion deal with Jordan to buy 8.5 million cubic meters of gas per day over 15 years.
Yossi Abu, chief executive of Delek Drilling, said the deal could turn Egypt into an export transit hub for Israeli gas.
"The export deals establish Egypt's status as a regional energy center which allows the supply of gas both to the Egyptian domestic market and for export, and allowing economic development of the Egyptian and the Israeli economies," he said.

The youth austerity policy

UK millennials have suffered the second-worst falls in their earnings of any of the dozen advanced economies surveyed by a think tank over the past decade.
In a new report, the Resolution Foundation calculates that average real hourly earnings for under-30s in Britain fell 13 per cent between 2007 and 2014.
 Only Greece, where real earnings slumped by 25 per cent over the same period as the eurozone country plunged into depression, saw a worst performance for this age group among the dozen advanced economies Resolution analysed in the latest research from its Intergenerational Commission. British millennials experienced bigger earnings falls than other crisis-hit southern eurozone states such as Portugal and Italy, where they fell 12 per cent and 6 per cent respectively. Average earnings for Spanish millennials fell by only around 2 per cent.
“The pay squeeze has been deeper in the UK than in most other places, and more focused on young people in particular,” said Resolution.
Another major finding from the study is that millennials in the UK, relative to younger people in other high-income countries, have experienced a pronounced “bust” in rising living standards, following a long “boom” of generation-on-generation advancement in previous decades.
“Only Spain echoes the UK experience of a ‘boom and bust’ income cycle where significant generation-on-generation gains for older generations have come to a stop for younger people,” said Daniel Tomlinson, a policy analyst at Resolution.

Italy drifts right

Italy’s far-right Northern League has promised to introduce mass deportations of asylum seekers to Africa. If elected, it would begin to force an estimated 400,000 migrants back to their countries of origin, including Nigeria, Tunisia and Morocco.

Guglielmo Picchi, a member of parliament who said he could serve as foreign minister or a senior foreign policy adviser in a Salvini government, said the party would use a mix of economic threats and incentives to speed up the deportation process.
“I don’t want to use the word sanctions but we have tools – economic tools – that we can use to put pressure on countries to accepts back migrants,” Picchi said

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Debt Threat

The Resolution Foundation said almost half of low-income families were in debt distress before the Bank of England said last week that it needed to increase the base rate at an accelerated pace over the next two years.
A study by the foundation showed the proportion of households in some form of debt distress rose to 45% among the poorest fifth of working age households, with more than a third experiencing difficulty in paying for accommodation and one in six in arrears on either their mortgage or consumer debts.
Households headed by someone aged 25-34 spent nearly £1 in every £5 of their pre-tax income on debt repayments in 2017, compared with 20p for households aged 65 and over.

Targetting the vulnerable

Disabled people receiving state benefits have been hit with a million sanctions in less than a decade, according to alarming new evidence that they are being discriminated against by the welfare system. A comprehensive analysis of the treatment of unemployed disabled claimants has revealed that they are up to 53% more likely to be docked money than claimant who are not disabled. This raises serious concerns about how they and their conditions are treated.
Sanctions – the cutting or withholding of benefits – are applied as a punishment when claimants infringe the conditions of their payments by, say, as missing appointments or failing to apply for enough jobs. While the sanctions regime has been championed by the government as a means of encouraging people to take a job or boosting their chances of finding one, most experts consulted as part of the Demos project concluded that conditionality has little or no effect on improving employment for disabled people. There was also widespread anecdotal evidence that the threat of sanctions can lead to anxiety and broader ill health.

The findings have caused alarm among charities, many of which have dealt with cases in which disabled people complained of poor treatment and a lack of understanding.

Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope, said: “Punitive sanctions can be extremely harmful to disabled people, who already face the financial penalty of higher living costs. There is no clear evidence that cutting disabled people’s benefits supports them to get into and stay in work. Sanctions are likely to cause unnecessary stress, pushing the very people that the government aims to support into work further away from the jobs market.”
Polly Mackenzie, director of Demos, said it was now clear that the benefits system isn’t working for disabled people: “Jobcentre advisers and capability assessors too often have a culture of disbelief about disability, especially mental illness, that leads them to sanction claimants who genuinely could not do the job they are being bullied into applying for.

The housing shortage

The shortfall of new affordable homes in England will soon be equivalent to a city the size of Leeds, a charity is warning.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says the supply has fallen short of demand by 30,000 every year since 2011.
This cumulative shortfall could reach 335,000 by the end of this parliament, trapping families in insecure housing as a result, the charity said.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Japan's Closed Door Refugee Policy

Japan accepted just 20 asylum seekers last year – despite a record 19,628 applications – drawing accusations that the country is unfairly closing its door on people in genuine need.

Since 2010, Japan has granted work permits to asylum seekers with valid visas to work while their refugee claims were reviewed. Recent changes indicate Japan is getting even tougher. In an attempt to reduce the number of applicants, the government last month started limiting the right to work only to those it regards as genuine asylum seekers. Repeat applicants, and those who fail initial screenings, risk being held in immigration detention centres after their permission to stay in Japan expires. Japan’s immigration detention centres have been criticised for their harsh treatment of detainees. At least 10 people have died in the centres since 2006, including four suicides. In 2016, more than 40 detainees went on hunger strike at a facility in Osaka to protest against their living conditions and poor standards of medical care.

Eri Ishikawa, head of the Japan Association for Refugees, said the new regulation was part of a wider crackdown on refugees under the conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe. “The door has been closed to people applying for asylum. That worries us because among them are genuine asylum seekers.”

“Conditions at the centres are harsh, and there is no limit on how long people can be detained,” Ishikawa said. “People are usually given provisional release after a year, but they are not allowed to work and they are not entitled to any social security benefits.”

Campaigners have contrasted his tough stance on asylum seekers with his recent visit to Lithuania, where he paid tribute to a wartime Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, who is credited with saving the lives of an estimated 6,000 Jewish people in 1940 by issuing them with Japanese visas.