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Remembrance and truth-telling

Thu, 2014-11-06 14:39
Categories: News syndication

Bold rise in minimum wage needed for workers and economy, says TUC

Thu, 2014-11-06 10:05

The economy can support a significant increase in the National Minimum Wage and there is a growing consensus this will benefit long term growth and stability, says the TUC.

Not only can the economy support a significant increase in the National Minimum Wage (NMW) beyond £7, but there is a growing consensus that it will benefit long term growth and stability, the Trades UNion Congress (TUC) said today (6 November) in its submission to the Low Pay Commission (LPC).

While the NMW rose above inflation last month for the first time in four years, at £6.50 it is still well below the peak of its real value. Had it kept up with rising prices it would be over £7 today.

The TUC, which presents evidence to the LPC today on next year’s minimum wage rates, says that the government must increase the minimum wage by more than the rate of inflation to avoid putting even further financial strain on low-wage families. A higher minimum wage will also reduce inequality, which a study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows is associated with weaker growth.

Business leaders, the Treasury and leading politicians from all the main parties have joined the consensus for a faster real terms increase in the value of the NMW, while the Bank of England has also highlighted the need for wage growth.

Corporate profitability has increased during the past year, especially in the service sector where many minimum wage jobs are concentrated, so there is capacity for firms to pay a higher minimum wage.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Britain needs a pay rise and workers on the minimum wage should be first in line. A wages-led recovery is the best chance we have of sustaining economic growth and restoring living standards.

“Politicians from all parties and many business leaders now agree that the minimum wage should increase far more rapidly. The Low Pay Commission will be pushing at an open door if it makes a bold recommendation for a significant rise.”

* Read the TUC's submission to the Low Pay Commission here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/LOW-PAY-COMMISSION-TUC-RESPON...


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UN Security Council condemns outburst of violence in South Sudan

Thu, 2014-11-06 09:55

The UN Security Council has voiced alarm at the eruption of hostilities in South Sudan which has left many civilians dead and injured, adding to the country's humanitarian crisis

The United Nations Security Council has voiced alarm and outrage at the eruption of hostilities in South Sudan over the past week which left numerous civilians dead and injured and placed increasing pressure on the country’s already overwhelming humanitarian crisis.

In a statement to the press issued in New York, the Council “condemned in the strongest terms” a series of clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and Opposition forces in South Sudan’s Unity and Upper Nile states between 26 October and 2 November, adding that the deadly fighting had violated cessation of hostilities agreements and demonstrated “an absence of commitment by both sides to peace and the political process.”

The Council’s statement comes on the heels of the 4 November briefing by UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in South Sudan, Margrethe Løj, on the already tenuous situation in the young country.

South Sudan has experienced several bouts of violence over the past few months, including an incident in which the UN base in Bentiu came under fire resulting in the wounding of one child. Meanwhile, a prior attack caused hundreds of people to seek shelter at the nearest airport. Approximately 340 civilians took shelter with UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) troops, and then were escorted to safety.

Political in-fighting between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, started in mid-December 2013 and subsequently turned into a full-fledged conflict that has sent nearly 100,000 civilians fleeing to UNMISS bases around the country. The crisis has uprooted some 1.5 million people and placed more than 7 million at risk of hunger and disease.

In their statement, the 15-member Council voiced “grave concern” that the UN base near Bentiu – where 49,000 internally displaced persons are currently sheltering – had once again been within proximity of the hostilities and that the new fighting was “magnifying an already serious humanitarian crisis” in the country.

The members “strongly demanded an immediate end to all violence and reiterated their demand to end human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.” In addition, they called on both President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar to reach agreement through the ongoing IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) efforts to find a political solution to the conflict in South Sudan.

The Council also reiterated its “steadfast support” for UNMISS and its “vital mission” in the country while condemning the recent detentions of three UNMISS personnel and the kidnappings of two UN-affiliated personnel.

“The members of the Security Council demanded their immediate and safe release, and called upon the Government of South Sudan to swiftly investigate these incidents and to ensure that justice is served,” the statement added.


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The Royal British Legion and the victims of war

Wed, 2014-11-05 20:35

The Royal British Legion, who run the Poppy Appeal, have in recent years shown a tendency to misuse the message of remembrance to encourage a pro-war, jingoistic agenda. They have now taken things a step further by using an anti-war song in a fundraising film – after taking the anti-war lyrics out.

The Royal British Legion, who run the Poppy Appeal, have in recent years shown a tendency to misuse the message of remembrance to encourage a pro-war, jingoistic agenda. They have now taken things a step further by using an anti-war song in a fundraising film – after taking the anti-war lyrics out.

No Man’s Land (also known as Green Fields of France) is one of my favourite songs. Written by Eric Bogle in 1976, it concentrates on Willie McBride, a soldier whose grave Bogle finds as he walks through a first world war cemetery. The song is addressed to McBride himself:

“I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916.”

There are four verses in the song. The Royal British Legion have produced a fundraising video that includes the first two verses and misses out the last two. Thankfully, some references to the horror of war have been left in:

“Well, I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean,
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?”

However, by cutting out the last two verses, the Legion have clearly removed the song’s main point, which is about the futility of war:

“But here in this graveyard it’s still No Man’s Land.
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man,
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.”

Not long after World War One, the message on Remembrance Day was “Never Again”. This has now been forgotten, at least when mainstream politicians, the Royal British Legion and the right-wing media have anything to do with it. Now we are encouraged to “support our troops” rather to work for a day in which there are no troops, and no war.

Of course, the Royal British Legion (or anyone else) have every right to disagree with the song’s anti-war message. This is very different to using the song to promote a message contrary to its original meaning.

Some will argue that the Legion does good work supporting wounded soldiers and bereaved relatives. This is true to an extent, and I don’t blame anyone in need of help for turning to it.

However, we might ask why anyone who’s disabled or bereaved needs to rely on charity in the free and democratic country for which British troops have been told they are fighting. The initial cost of war – the weapons, the uniforms, the training – are paid for by taxpayers out of public funds. You never see anyone rattling a tin to fund a Eurofighter. But the longer-term costs of war – support for those who are physically and mentally harmed – is far less of a priority for the public purse, and groups such as the Legion and “Help for Heroes”, rather than objecting to this, go out into the streets with their collecting tins.

I know I am not the only taxpayer who would much rather pay taxes to support disabled people to live equal lives (whether or not their impairments have been caused by war) than to fund the UK’s war budget, which is the sixth highest military budget in the world.

However helpful the Legion’s charitable work may be to those who benefit from it, it is undermined by the Legion’s nationalistic and militaristic messages. The organisation is not neutral on the question of war. The clue’s in the name “Legion”, a term for a military unit (the words “Royal” and “British” also give it away, of course).

I’m sure that many people who wear the Legion’s red poppies wish to remember both civilian and military victims of war. Many might also wish to remember those who were not British. However, the Legion itself is quite clear that the purpose of the poppies is to remember British military dead. That is what the red poppy, according to those who design and sell it, is for. It is not to remember children killed in the bombing of Coventry, let alone in the bombing of Dresden.

The Royal British Legion state clearly on their website that the red poppy “is worn to commemorate the sacrifices of our Armed Forces and to show support to those still serving today and their loved ones”.

To suggest that a civilian is less worthy of remembrance than a soldier seems to me to be morally repugnant. To remember only the British dead and not the French, German, American, Austrian, Brazilian, Iraqi or Afghan dead is not only offensive. It is directly contrary to the internationalist attitudes that are necessary if we are to build peace instead of war.

I respect the intentions of many of those who wear red poppies, but I cannot wear one when those who produce it practise such an excluding, nationalistic form of remembrance. Nor can I “support those serving today”. I have nothing against people in the armed forces and I pray for their safety. But I do not support the British armed forces, or any other armed forces. I choose to wear a white poppy, to remember all victims of all wars and to honour the dead by calling for an end to war.

The best way to remember those killed in war is to tackle the causes of war and to refuse to participate in war. War is not inevitable. People created war and people can end it. Only by doing so can we ever hope to achieve the early Remembrance Day aim of “Never Again”. The alternative is an endless repetition of the situation described in the last verse of No Man’s Land, a verse you won’t hear on the Royal British Legion’s fundraising film:

“Did you really believe them when they told you the cause?
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well, the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing, the dying: it was all done in vain.
For Willie McBride, it all happened again.
And again, and again, and again, and again.”


(c) Symon Hill is a Christian pacifist writer and activist, and an associate of Ekklesia. He is teaching a course for the Workers' Educational Association about the peace campaigners of the first world war.

For links to more of Symon's work, please visit http://www.symonhill.wordpress.com.

To sign the petition about the Royal British Legion's misuse of the song, please go to https://www.change.org/p/royal-british-legion-please-apologise-for-cutti....

To support Ekklesia's work on remembrance, click the 'Donate' button at the top left hand side of this page.

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Secretive court to consider Government spying on legal communications

Wed, 2014-11-05 15:04

A normally secretive court is to consider whether the Government should be made to release more information regarding its surveillance of legally privileged communications.

A court which usually sits in secret will tomorrow (6 November) consider whether the Government should be forced to release more information regarding its surveillance of legally privileged communications between lawyers and their clients.

In a rare public hearing, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) – which is responsible for oversight of the intelligence services – will hear further argument in a complaint brought by two families who were subjected to ‘rendition’ and torture in a joint MI6-CIA-Libyan operation.

The al Saadi and Belhadj families are concerned that the Government may have given itself an unfair advantage in a separate High Court case concerning their mistreatment, by listening in to communications with their legal teams at the legal charity Reprieve and solicitors Leigh Day. Legal privilege – which protects confidential communications between lawyer and client – is a central principle in British law which helps ensure the right to a fair trial.

Last week, minutes before an IPT hearing, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ promised to release their secret policies regarding the interception and use of legally privileged communications. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20994).

Parts of those policies have now been received by the legal teams, but lawyers will argue tomorrow that the current disclosure is inadequate. Tomorrow’s hearing will also consider whether the Government should be required to disclose how many times it has breached legal privilege and used private lawyer-client information.

Commenting, Cori Crider, a Director at Reprieve and member of the families’ legal team said: “We are gravely concerned that information from the Libyan families' private calls with us has been taken and misused. For the government to eavesdrop on lawyer-client calls – and then to use the information to give itself an unfair advantage in a case about the kidnap and torture of pregnant women and children – sinks below 'not cricket'. It is illegal. If this has happened, it will have to be put right."


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UCL report exposes 'benefit tourism' migrant myths

Wed, 2014-11-05 08:11

UK immigrants who arrived since 2000 are less likely to receive benefits and less likely to live in social housing than UK natives, says UCL research.

UK immigrants who arrived since 2000 are less likely to receive benefits and less likely to live in social housing than UK natives.

What is more, over the decade from 2001 to 2011, they made a considerable positive net contribution to the UK’s fiscal system, and thus helped to relieve the fiscal burden on UK-born workers.

The positive contribution is particularly evident for UK immigrants from the European Economic Area (EEA – the European Union plus three small neighbours): they contributed about 34 per cent more in taxes than they received in benefits over the period 2001-11.

These are the central findings of a comprehensive analysis of the fiscal consequences of immigration to the UK, published today by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) at University College London.

The research report – written by Professor Christian Dustmann and Dr Tommaso Frattini from CReAM – provides an in-depth analysis of the net fiscal contribution of EEA immigrants in each fiscal year since 1995. Its main findings are that:

* Recent immigrants (those who arrived after 1999 and who constituted 33 per cent of the overall immigrant population in the UK in 2011) were 45 per cent less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits than UK natives over the period 2000-11. They were also three per cent less likely to live in social housing.

* Over the same period, recent EEA immigrants have on average contributed 34 per cent more in taxes than they have received as transfers. Recent immigrants from countries outside the EEA have contributed two per cent more in taxes than they have received as transfers.

* In contrast, over the same period, the total of UK natives’ tax payments were 11 per cent lower than the transfers they received.

* Recent immigrants are also far better educated than natives: in 2011, 32 per cent of recent EEA immigrants and 43 per cent of recent non-EEA immigrants had a university degree. The comparable figure for UK natives is 21 per cent.

* The estimated net fiscal contribution of immigrants increases even more if one considers that immigration helps in sharing the cost of fixed public expenditures (which account for over 20 per cent of total public expenditure) among a larger pool of people, thus reducing further the financial burden for UK natives.

The main reasons for the large net fiscal contribution of recent EEA immigrants are their higher average labour market participation (compared with natives) and their lower receipt of welfare benefits.

Professor Christian Dustmann, director of CReAM and co-author of the study, said: "Our research shows that in contrast with most other European countries, the UK attracts highly educated and skilled immigrants from within the EEA as well as from outside.

"What’s more, immigrants who arrived since 2000 have made a very sizeable net fiscal contribution and therefore helped to reduce the fiscal burden on UK-born workers.

"Our study also suggests that over the last decade or so, the UK has benefited fiscally from immigrants from EEA countries, who have put in considerably more in taxes and contributions than they received in benefits and transfers.

"Given this evidence, claims about 'benefit tourism' by EEA immigrants seem to be disconnected from reality."

* Read the full report here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): http://www.cream-migration.org/publ_uploads/CDP_22_13.pdf

* More on migration from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/migration


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Men twice as likely to earn over £50,000 a year as women

Tue, 2014-11-04 11:18

Men working full-time are twice as likely to earn over £50,000 a year as full-time women, according to new TUC analysis of official figures published to mark Equal Pay Day.

Men working full-time are twice as likely to earn over £50,000 a year as full-time women, according to new Trades Union Congress (TUC) analysis of official figures published to mark Equal Pay Day today (4 November).

The analysis shows that just one in fifteen women working full-time earns over £50,000 a year, compared to one in seven men.

Equal Pay Day marks the point at which women working full-time effectively stop earning as they are paid £5,200 (15.7 per cent) less per year, on average, than men working full-time. But in certain professions the gender pay gap is much wider, says the TUC.

According to the analysis, even in sectors where women are well-represented, such as education and law, they still earn far less than men.

Women working full-time as senior education professionals earn over £13,000 (22.3 per cent) a year less, on average, than their male peers despite dominating the profession.

And full-time female solicitors earn over £10,000 (20.2 per cent) a year less, on average, than their male counterparts, despite outnumbering them too.

The TUC believes the big disparity between men and women earning over £50,000 is clear evidence of a glass ceiling when it comes to well-paid jobs.

The TUC analysis also shows how full-time women are more likely to earn below the UK average salary of £32,300. Seven in ten women earn below this amount, compared to six in ten men.

In addition, women are more likely to be employed on poverty pay. One in four women working full-time earns less than the living wage, compared to one in six men.

Research published last week by the World Economic Forum revealed that the UK has fallen out of the top 20 most gender-equal countries in the world for the first time after women’s incomes fell by £2,700 over the past year.

The UK is now behind Nicaragua, Bulgaria and Burundi for women having an equal chance of a good education, career and health.

The UK’s gender pay gap is even bigger for women working part-time, who earn 34 per cent less per hour, on average, than men working full-time. Equal Pay Day for women working part-time was way back on 28 August.

With women accounting for almost three-quarters of Britain’s six-million strong part-time workforce, the lack of decently paid, part-time jobs affects women’s pay and their career prospects far more than it does men, says the TUC.

The TUC wants employers to be made to carry out regular gender pay audits, publish information on pay gaps and take action to close them.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It is small wonder that Britain is plummeting down the international league tables when it comes to gender equality.

“Four decades on from the Equal Pay Act women are still losing out on pay and career opportunities.

“It feels like the glass ceiling is getting stronger not weaker and we need a much tougher approach to stop future generations of women from suffering this pay penalty. Companies must be held more accountable for how they pay their staff and made to publish information.

“The government must also tackle the problem of poverty pay which is another reason for the gender pay gap. Ministers need to take a serious look at why so many jobs in Britain pay so little when employers can easily afford to pay staff more.”


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The way of wisdom in theological training

Mon, 2014-11-03 21:34

The Christian Gospel amplifies the prophet’s call to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” This summons is addressed to the whole church, all its members. It is of the essence of the Way of Wisdom and should be the basis of high quality and wide-ranging theological training, says Professor Deirdre Good, one of eight senior faculty members seeking reinstatement at General Theological Seminary in New York, after they took action to highlight abusive behaviour.

In January of 2014, the faculty of General Theological Seminary (GTS) in New York returned from a retreat in Florida with new ideas about theological education. We had engaged with each other for the inside of a week. We heard Tom Brackett of the Episcopal Church Center, who works in Church Planting and Ministry Redevelopment, via a Skype presentation.

The outcome of all this good work and serious deliberation was a statement called Way of Wisdom. We also identified broader issues – e.g. implications for our own residential and commuter community--on which to continue working in committees and in Faculty Colloquia lunches. Way of Wisdom itself first saw the public light of day in various faculty and decanal sermons, homilies and talks on 2 February 2014, Theological Education Sunday. We talked about it at our Board of Trustees meeting later that week and gave it a formal airing in the seminary at a community discussion on 1 April Since then it has been reported in Episcopal Cafe (http://www.episcopalcafe.com/), in seminary publications, and other places.

Here is a summary:

The Gospel amplifies the prophet’s call to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” This summons is addressed to the whole church, all its members. It is of the essence of the Way of Wisdom. It is a ministry for those who are in need, those who suffer, those who seek the wellbeing of their neighbor. It is not a way to serve ourselves or preserve any institution. The Way of Wisdom is the way of those who love justice and kindness, the Way of those who walk with God together with their fellow Christians.

* We call on all Christians to renew their commitment to the Way of Wisdom and their appreciation of the depths of Christian tradition, especially learning from those who are least among them.

* We call on seminaries and the wider Church to commit to supporting sustainable levels of high-quality theological education for all levels of the church (laity, priests, deacons, and bishops) and for all levels of study, from Catechesis through doctoral study.

* We call for greater cooperation between the seminaries in realising this goal of theological education for the whole Church.

* We invite the bishops of the church to re-commit themselves to their teaching role as listening theologians to work to revive and reform the catechumenate for our time, and for church-wide support of the formation of catechists and other church teachers.

* We call on all members of the Episcopal Church to more deeply appropriate the vision of the Church as a community of all the baptised, as found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

* We call on all clergy to more deeply appreciate the Wisdom found in the people in their congregations.

* We call on theologians and theological educators to make Wisdom their paramount priority and to seek to integrate all aspects of theological inquiry as a coherent whole.

* We as the faculty of the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church pledge to follow the Way of Wisdom more deeply in our own lives and to change our courses and our curricula to better enable our students to encourage and help others on the Way of Wisdom.

In all my years working at GTS, I find Way of Wisdom to be the most promising development of our seminary life. It’s about something we’re all doing, whether in seminaries or parishes or offices or soup kitchens--the re-ordering of our intellectual and spiritual selves toward God. It values the contributions of all. What’s distinctive about our input is that it comes out of our common deliberations on the integration of shared disciplines as they can be brought to bear on lived religious experiences in churches and other places of mission around us and so to deepen our life in Christ. It reorients us to older materials in Christian tradition: the Didache, for example, is not simply “Teaching” but a manual entitled “Training” of the Apostles and early followers of Jesus. I’ve longed for this since I came to GTS.

An example indicates earlier attitudes. Shortly after I arrived 27 years ago, Dean James Fenhagen, R.I.P, sought language to affirm my presence amongst the faculty. He said to me, “The Church needs the laity.”

GTS has since then undergone seismic changes that not only bring us to this point but also help us understand whence we come. Where formerly the lived experience of Christians in parishes and other places of ministry was discounted and objectified as mere practice, now these are celebrated as central places where our theological disciplines engage the faith of the baptised in Christ already living and working in the world. Where once ministry was something done in parishes and places of ministry to people perceived to be in need of the church's wares, now we seek to recognise and build on what Bishop Charleston identifies as the sharing and receiving of community. Where once the clergyperson was the epicentre for all parish activity, now we are working with others across the Church to empower clergy and lay leadership collaboration, which many already know to be the heart of congregational ministry and vitality.

We’ve begun to build an integrated curriculum across disciplines for every week of every semester for every year in every degree program. Then we will create a sequence in which each year will build on the next by emphasising and cultivating a developing sequence of Stages of Wisdom that Professor Davis identified with us in a recent Faculty Colloquy. Such an approach develops earlier Christian instruction: the Epistle to Diognetus 11, for example summarises materials for use in catechesis or liturgy:

Then respect for the law is sung,
And the grace of the prophets is recognised,
And the faith of the gospels is launched,
And the tradition of the apostles is maintained,
And the joy of the Church abounds.

Each step requires careful synthesis across disciplines. Each stage builds on the others. Here is an overview of what we are considering as the first and the final stages.

The first stage is attention to and awareness of God’s work and presence in our lives and in the world around us (e.g. Job 28.28). Here we might identify, amongst other things, a pattern of lived religion in our common life. This one includes the discipline of listening and observing. Professor Lamborn already teaches a class for incoming students encouraging reflection on what living in community means. They ask what the meaning and challenges are of integrating learning into Christian community. What are spiritual practices that will help achieve balance? How can we increase abilities to reflect theologically in many contexts, as well as allow new ideas, questions and experiences to emerge and inform faith and action? Attending to these questions is in part preparation for CPE and after CPE, Field Education placements that are part of a cohesive second year curriculum in which stages of Wisdom include Faith, Knowledge, and Courage.

In the final year we are planning an integrative seminar as the end of a cumulative process (Wisdom 6:17-20). In this seminar students will reflect on so as to live out fully every facet of parish life and other places of mission from liturgical training, planned meetings and classes, visits, to individual encounters. Stages of Wisdom in this year include Counsel, wherein judgments are based in reality, Understanding, wherein we work towards perceiving how life holds together in the truth, and Wisdom in which every aspect of our lives is ordered toward God. Participants besides the students (themselves peer learners) will include parish lay and clergy mentors plus seminary faculty and other practitioners offering particular skills essential to parish life. We could consider topics e.g. Scripture study and effective pedagogies; theories of leadership with an eye to the formation of effective clergy and lay leadership teams; particular theological questions, projects, or ways to foster and develop particular skills. Such an integrative seminar is a place of continuing focused reflection on e.g. teaching and leadership, liturgy, pastoral care, and the integration of these skills with public practice. It is a place for shared growth and development of new skills. It would include work with mentors themselves trained in particular mentoring skills and accountable to appropriate bodies. It could be a model for ongoing work in future ministries.

What we are trying to do is just beginning. It is both exhilarating and unnerving. Here’s why.

"Luther’s example and experience suggest that human institutions cannot truly be reformed, because we will always stand in the way of change. Some destruction is inevitable. The detractors of contemporary efforts at church reformation are only partly correct when they claim that our reforms are killing this institution. But the proponents of change are also only partly correct when they claim that their efforts bring new life. In truth, the institutional church (and a good many other human institutions) is dead. Such life as we see may not be evidence of reformation but of resurrection, for which only God may be thanked. If we are to survive these times, we must let go both of our fear of failure and of our zeal for success."

[Sam Portaro, Brightest & Best, p.48 (posted on Facebook 4/10/14 by Tom Brackett)]


© Deirdre Good is Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, New York, specialising in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. Her blog can be found here: http://notbeingasausage.blogspot.co.uk and her past contributions on Ekklesia here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/deirdregood

This article was written in April 2014 and is adapted with acknowledgements from Episcopal Cafe (http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/seminaries/way_of_wisdom_general_theo...). In October 2014, Professor Good and seven other faculty at GTS were dismissed after taking action to highlight allegations of inappropriate and abusive behaviour on the part of the President and Dean. They are still struggling for reinstatement, proper consideration of the issues they have raised, and reconciliation on the basis of justice. You can read more about the situation here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/GTS

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Pax Christi materials for Remembrance

Mon, 2014-11-03 14:35
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The 'Baby P' case and confession: tackling child protection failings

Mon, 2014-11-03 12:19

The death of 'Baby P' was followed by a damaing rush to judgement, says Savi Hensman. She considers the response of the Church of England and how it could be part of the wider task of countering violence and cooperating with other people of goodwill to build a more just and peaceful world.

A BBC documentary in late October 2014 revealed the damage resulting from a rush to judgement over the failure to protect ‘Baby P’. A kneejerk reaction to the Church of England’s child protection failings may also do more harm than good.

Anger is understandable over failures to safeguard children. However in the wake of the appalling death of a child, the furore whipped up by politicians and sections of the press made it even harder to recruit professionals to help keep children safe.

The Church of England must do more to counter abuse. But there is a risk of acting hastily in ending the ancient practice of confidential confession without evidence that it will make things better for children. Indeed it might put them at greater risk.

Meanwhile, in church and society, the focus can be diverted from examining why procedures were not properly followed, as well as the culture surrounding abuse.

Baby P: learning from what went wrong
‘Baby P: the untold story’ examined the reaction following the trial of the three people who battered and finally killed 17-month-old Peter Connelly in Haringey in 2007: his mother, her boyfriend and his brother.

Various services – the council, police and NHS – had previous concerns. But they had not fully pooled their information and acted decisively to take Peter into care.

Where abuse is suspected, the authorities must tread a tightrope. Abusers can be devious and sound very convincing. What is more, a child taken away unnecessarily may be emotionally scarred for life, along with his or her parents and siblings. And other parents needing support may be put off from seeking this for fear that their child may be removed.

But remaining at home may also be dangerous, even fatal. Life-changing decisions must be made on the basis of often scanty clues so that, for instance, if bruises are the result of a rare medical condition, the family is not torn apart.

After the killers were convicted in 2008, social services became the main target of media frenzy, stoked up by politicians’ point-scoring and cowardice. A young paediatrician was also pilloried for failing to detect that the toddler had a broken back, though this probably occurred after she had seen him.

Wild inaccuracies were allowed to go unchallenged as individuals became the target of a hate campaign. Frontline staff with hugely excessive workloads struggling to care for children in one of England’s poorest areas had their photos splashed across the Sun under the headline ‘Blood on their hands’, as if they were murderers themselves.

The newspaper ended up collecting one and a half million signatures on a petition calling for all the social workers involved to be sacked. Some were threatened.

While it is important to discipline staff appropriately if they fail in their duties, due process was not observed. Haringey director of children’s services Sharon Shoesmith ended up getting sizeable damages for unfair dismissal.

The Sun and several other newspapers later admitted that one of the social workers they had ferociously condemned for failing Baby P was, in fact, blameless. She had tried to prevent him from being sent home unless it could be established that he would be safe.

Some of those who became the focus of public hatred ended up jobless and contemplating suicide. And it became even harder to recruit and retain child protection professionals, in Haringey and beyond, leaving children at greater risk.

Serious failure
The day that the programme was broadcast, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spoke powerfully about the seriousness of the Church of England’s failings in dealing with allegations of child abuse, despite its devastating effects.

In recent decades, as in wider society, awareness has increased and procedures have been improved. But these have not always been fully implemented and past misdeeds by those entrusted with children’s welfare have not all been identified..

“Yes, many institutions failed catastrophically, including in the media, children’s homes, foster parents, all kinds of areas,” he said. “But the church is meant to hold itself to a far, far higher standard and we failed terribly.”

He said he was passionate about tackling the problem and “The rule is survivors come first, not our own interests and however important the person was, however distinguished, however well known, survivors come first.”

He explained that clergy files were being reviewed, going back for decades, in case evidence of abuse had been missed. In addition the church was reviewing whether what was revealed in confession should always stay confidential, “an incredibly radical move which challenges more than 1,800 years of church tradition.”

Earlier he had apologised to a mother who had written to him and his predecessor about her distress after her sons were abused by the head of a church school (who was then convicted), and received a nearly identical brush-off letter from officials.

The previous week, Archbishop of York John Sentamu apologised after an inquiry identified “systematic failures” under his predecessor, David Hope, in investigating allegations of abuse against Robert Waddington, former dean of Manchester Cathedral. Waddington (now dead) had been a serial sexual abuser. Hope has now resigned his ministry.

As in wider society, some of the scandals which have tainted the reputations of churches date back to times when the seriousness of abuse was often minimised. Deference to clergy, and a legalistic approach to sin focused on the breaking of rules supposedly set by God rather than harm caused, sometimes made matters worse.

The Manchester case involved a failure to follow church procedures in dealing with allegations against clergy, staff or volunteers undertaking church-related activities. However Sentamu urged an end to absolute confidentiality during confession, though I am unaware of any evidence this played a part in the Waddington or other scandals.

Fundamentally changing confession
Few Anglicans now go to confession, sometimes known as the sacrament of reconciliation, but some find it extremely valuable. It tends to be practised more often by Anglo-Catholics.

In it, someone confesses his or her sins to God in the presence of a priest. A course of action may be agreed on making restitution to anyone who has been wronged and, if the person seems truly penitent, the priest offers absolution, reassuring the person of God’s forgiveness.

The practice was widespread before the Reformation but some afterwards in reformed churches still found it helpful. “I will allow no man to take private confession away from me, and I would not give it up for all the treasures in the world, since I know what comfort and strength it has given me,” declared Martin Luther.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, confession was seen as a key aspect of pastoral ministry by several ‘slum priests’ who lived amongst, and served, the urban poor, by then largely alienated from the Church of England.

2003 guidelines for Church of England clergy advise that “There can be no disclosure of what is confessed to a priest.” However “Where abuse of children or vulnerable adults is admitted in the course of confession, the priest should urge the person to report his or her behaviour to the police or social services, and should also make this a condition of absolution, or withhold absolution until this evidence of repentance has been demonstrated.”

General synod in November will consider proposals to go far further, setting up a review of whether to abolish absolute confidentiality, hence radically altering the nature of confession.

The rationale is the “force of the argument that the legal framework of the Church should accordingly, in all respects, be such as to enable those who present a risk to children and vulnerable adults to be identified – both so that they can be held to account for past wrongs and be prevented from doing further harm.”

A Church of England spokesperson said, "The Australian model is one of a number of options which will be considered as part of the ongoing discussions." This removes confidentiality for a wide range of illegal acts, not just abuse. Individual dioceses can decide whether to adopt this, but it is expected that most will.

It covers child sexual abuse, domestic violence and any “serious offence”: a crime punishable by five years’ imprisonment or more. In UK law that would include crimes such as possessing cannabis or deserting from the army to avoid active service.

It also appears to cover breaking other countries’ laws if similar actions locally would count as serious offences, for instance trying to overthrow an overseas government. Such an approach uncomfortably conflates compliance with the state and obedience to God.

I do not question the sincerity of Church of England archbishops’ horror at what went wrong. But such a move might be good in terms of public relations, while diverting attention from the actual problem. This involves inconsistency in investigating promptly and thoroughly and making decisions when allegations are made or suspicions raised, and in providing pastoral care for survivors and their families.

Meanwhile it sends a signal that the church shares society’s horror at child abuse, and distances itself from abusers of children and adults (and possibly other lawbreakers), enhancing its respectability. However there is no evidence that this will benefit children and those abused overall, and it may actually make matters worse.

To begin with, the vast majority of abusers do not confess their crimes to a priest, and sometimes they do not even recognise that they have done wrong. Of the handful who do, in many cases there will already be evidence from other sources.

If confidentiality is removed, presumably even fewer would confess, since they would know that a priest might report them to the police or social services. If they were already willing to tell the authorities, they could do so directly.

However at present some people, as a first step towards repentance, might confess in a priest’s presence, knowing this would be confidential, and then be persuaded to admit their offence to social services or the police.

The removal of confidentiality from confession, even in limited circumstances, would have additional implications, including potentially deterring others from confessing, whatever their offences.

For instance let us suppose that a former addict who had just been through rehabilitation confessed that, when drugged, she had occasionally neglected her child. She was unwilling to tell the authorities for fear that her child would be taken into care (even if, in reality, that would be unlikely), so the priest informed on her.

This would hardly be likely to lead others in her community to open up to God about their deepest regrets, sorrows and fears. A measure intended to stop clergy, and workers in church schools and youth schemes, from misusing their power could get in the way of ministry among the most marginalised in society.

For some priests too, the very nature of confession would appear to have changed to something more akin to a counselling session than an encounter with Divine grace.

And any weakening of absolute confidentiality would set a precedent, even if additional offences were not, at first, included. People might demand to know why this was not extended to other heinous crimes.

Meanwhile other churches in the Anglican Communion would be more likely to remove confidentiality for confession of crimes regarded as especially serious in that culture. Because of the position of the Church of England, any such change would have a greater impact than the shift in Australia.

Tackling abuse effectively
The level of emotion evoked by the Baby P case may have arisen in part because many members of the public had experienced abuse of some kind, or knew that loved ones had; or were parents whose fear of harm to their children was triggered.

In addition the sense that people in authority were not taking the matter seriously enough understandably gave rise to resentment.

However there is also a tendency for people to feel that, if something has gone badly wrong, something drastic should be done – whether or not, on balance, it is the most effective approach. This sometimes happens after a healthcare error, for instance. But it does not prevent future tragedies.

There is also a deep ambivalence about child protection in the UK. If social services had taken Peter into care and his mother had complained to the press, portraying herself as a caring parent wronged by interfering social workers, many journalists and citizens would probably have believed her and called for those who took him from her to be sacked.

Child abusers are widely viewed as monsters, usually paedophiles preying on others’ innocent children. This makes it hard to recognise that seemingly ‘nice’, ‘normal’ people can do bad things to children, and indeed to adults at risk of abuse.

This is, of course, not an excuse for mistakes. Part of the job of social workers, paediatricians and paediatric nurses and also specialist police officers is seeing the things others would rather not see, and seeking to act in a child’s best interests even if this triggers the anger of caregivers, their communities, press or politicians. But the extent of denial further complicates the work of such professionals.

Much has been done in churches over the past decade-and-a-half to address shortcomings but there is still some room for improvement. It is important that they, like other organisations and networks, become better at safeguarding children taking part in activities they organise, or with whom staff and volunteers formally come into contact. This includes proper training, especially for senior personnel, and well-resourced, effective systems for child protection.

But the church is also meant to be a community of people who are flawed but nevertheless called to reflect God’s overwhelming love in their own dealings with others, and to help bring about the Divine commonwealth on earth as in heaven.

In this perspective, those who abuse children are not demonic figures but sinners like everyone else, albeit whose sins can cause huge harm to those mistreated and have a corrosive effect on communities, especially in the case of serial abusers.

And tackling abuse is not simply a matter of professionalism, but rather part of the wider task of countering violence and cooperating with other people of goodwill to build a more just and peaceful world.

If Christians are to be effective not simply in demonstrating our proper horror at abuse but also reducing its prevalence in the communities of which we are part, as well as supporting survivors, careful thought is needed, and a willingness to confront awkward truths.

For instance ‘the family’ is often idealised, sometimes idolised, in church circles. But families are not always happy, safe places. Likewise pious, apparently respectable people who sometimes do good things can also act badly, sometimes without even being aware of the damage they are doing.

The Church of England should indeed act, but in a considered manner. The Baby P case is a reminder that dramatic gestures can end up doing more harm than good.


© Savitri Hensman is a widely published Christian commentator on politics, welfare, religion and more. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the equalities and care sector.

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Quakers in Britain launch 'inspiring' worship and conference centre

Mon, 2014-11-03 11:29

Quakers in Britain will launch one of London’s newest auditoriums on 10 November, following a £4.5 million renovation.

Quakers in Britain will launch one of London’s newest auditoriums on 10 November, following a £4.5 million renovation.

The Light, to be launched on Monday 10 November, is the main hall in Friends House, a well-known venue for historic peace rallies where Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama have been significant visitors. Now Quakers in Britain are launching the refurbished space as a major London conference centre.

Traditionally the venue for Quakers’ Yearly Meeting which determines the work and witness of the movement, the 1,000 seat auditorium, opposite Euston Station, reflects Quakers’ ethos of fairness and sustainability. The new space is simple and fitting for worship, as well as being a destination venue for large conferences.

Quakers in Britain say the refurbishment makes Friends House a more versatile and sustainable building, accessible to all, a haven in the city and expressive of radical ideas.

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain said: “Quakers know the value of meeting together on equal terms, being able to listen and hear one another and see each other’s faces. In The Light we have a space which allows us and others to do just that. A space which speaks about Quakers to the world and yet is contemporary and exciting.”

Key heritage features have been retained while a stunning roof light in a vaulted roof have been installed. The 3.3 metre square roof light allows light in from above, not seen since the original clerestory windows of the award-winning 1926 Hubert Lidbetter design were hidden by the 1950s ceiling.

The Light will be fully accessible, including a flexi step to the stage and a new lift.

Recycle and re-use have been the watch words. Old wooden panelling has been crafted into benches for Friends House and for the new café at Quaker Swarthmoor Hall in Cumbria, while toilets have been recycled to a development project in Sierra Leone.

Already bookings are brisk – the Criminal Law Friendly Society, Grace Baptist Mission and Occupy London and students of Birkbeck College, University of London, are among the first customers.

The project architects are John McAslan + Partners. The building company Westco Partnership are working on both The Light and redeveloping Friends House garden, installing an electricity sub-station, an external lift and gently sloping paths to improve access for all.

A twentieth century listed building, designed by architect Hubert Lidbetter, Friends House includes offices for Quakers’ centrally employed staff, an historic library, award winning restaurant and the Quaker Centre with its worship space, bookshop and café.

* For The Light see www.thelightateuston.org.uk/

* Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends. Around 23,000 people attend 478 Quaker meetings in Britain. Their commitment to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenges them to seek positive social and legislative change.

* Friends House, a listed building, was designed by Hubert Lidbetter and won the 1927 RIBA bronze medal for best building erected in London.


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Call for Burkina Faso to stop excessive force against protesters

Mon, 2014-11-03 11:12

Amnesty International has called on Burkina Faso to rein in the security forces that have used excessive force to crack down on peaceful anti-government protests.

The authorities in Burkina Faso must rein in the security forces that have used excessive force to crack down on peaceful anti-government protests, Amnesty International says.

Amnesty found that at least three people have been killed in the protests and dozens of demonstrators have been injured by gunshot wounds since unrest erupted on 30 October.

Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher Gaëtan Mootoo, said: “The use of excessive force to crack down on peaceful protesters is unacceptable and the transition authorities must act urgently to rein in security forces.

“Any use of force in the policing of demonstrations must comply with international law. It appears from these reports of deaths and injuries that the security forces ignored these basic principles.

“It’s crucial that those responsible for the killings and beatings of protesters, journalists and other civilians are identified and held accountable. Officials at the highest level should publicly make it clear that excessive use of force will not be tolerated.”

People took to the streets of Ouagadougou and other cities yesterday to protest against an attempt by President Blaise Compaore – who has since resigned – to amend the constitution in order to extend his long stay in power.

Security forces fired tear gas at protesters who entered the National Assembly, which was among several government buildings ransacked and burnt.

In Burkina Faso’s second largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, protesters ransacked several buildings, including the town hall and the mayor’s house. One witness, who was in the Ouaga 2000 neighbourhood of the capital during the protests, told Amnesty that men wearing khaki uniforms had attacked protesters.

“They began beating them with cords, then they shot live bullets. I saw three protesters fall down in front of me. One protestor was shot dead. I was able to take a photo showing the bullets that killed him when he was shot in the chest,” he said.

One journalist told Amnesty that he was stopped at a roadblock in the capital by soldiers, who “took turns beating me with batons”.

The use of force by security forces is prohibited by international law except when strictly necessary and to the extent required for them to perform their duty.


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UK government backs Dubai police equipment fair despite UAE torture record

Sun, 2014-11-02 16:50

The UK Government has been criticised over its backing for an equipment fair hosted by police in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The British Government has been criticised over its backing for an equipment fair hosted by police in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), due to the frequent use of torture by UAE police to extract ‘confessions’ – including from several British citizens in recent years.

Questions were raised for UK Trade and Industry (UKTI) – a division of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – this week as the Emirates Security Exhibition & Conference (EmSEC) took place in Dubai. An advertisement on the UKTI website describes the two-day security industry event as designed “to support and encourage UK exports” to “law enforcement and security markets.”

The fair was organised by the Dubai Police and ADS Group, a UK arms trade body with close links to UKTI; on the eve of the event, UKTI and the UK embassy in Dubai hosted a reception for all participating UK firms and consultants.

Specific concerns have been raised by the legal charity Reprieve regarding the list of ‘required products and services’ released by Dubai Police ahead of the event, which includes the category “Public Order Equipment – Electronic.”

Over the last two years, Qatar has been identified by UKTI as a 'priority market'. for arms sales and during that time, the UK has licenced £14 million worth of weapons to the regime, £12 million of which were licenced in the last 12 months. This included assault rifles, gun mountings and machine gun components.

Police torture in the UAE is widespread and well-documented. A recent study conducted in Dubai by Reprieve found that 75 per cent of prisoners experienced some form of abuse following arrest. A British student, Ahmad Zeidan, whom Reprieve is assisting, was jailed earlier this year in Sharjah, near Dubai, narrowly avoiding a death sentence; his conviction rested on a bogus ‘confession’ he was forced to sign in Arabic – a language he cannot read – after he was subjected to torture including beatings, hooding and threats of rape. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20873)

Other British victims have previously described being subjected to electric shocks from batons or taser-like devices and have also been threatened with sexual assault.

David Cameron has told Reprieve that the Government takes Mr Zeidan’s reports of torture “extremely seriously”, but failed to intervene directly in his case ahead of an appeal hearing last month, at which the Emirati court upheld his conviction and refused to consider evidence of his torture and forced ‘confession.’

Clare Algar, Executive Director at Reprieve, said: “The UK government’s enthusiasm for this event is utterly shocking given what we know about the current epidemic of police torture in the UAE. It’s well-documented that the Emirati police regularly torture British citizens, among others, into signing bogus ‘confessions’ – and one of those Brits, Ahmad Zeidan, is still in prison, begging for help from his government. Instead of supporting the sale of torture tools to the UAE, the UK should be pushing for an end to police torture and calling for Ahmad’s release.”

Andrew Smith, from Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), said: "Qatar is an authoritarian state with an appalling human rights record.The UK government should not be supporting or promoting any arms sales to to the Emir or working hand in glove with arms companies that are looking to profit from the oppression taking place."


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Remembrance, conscience and conformity

Sat, 2014-11-01 10:13
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Christian Aid turns to biblical prophets for climate change hope

Fri, 2014-10-31 16:51

As tackling climate change increasingly becomes not just an economic and political issue, but also a moral one, a new paper from Christian Aid draws inspiration from the biblical prophets.

As the question of how we set about tackling climate change increasingly becomes not just an economic and political issue, but a moral one too, a new paper from Christian Aid draws inspiration from the biblical prophets.

Song of the Prophets: A global theology on climate change reflects the views of theologians from the global south where climate change is having its greatest impact.

The paper says that the manner in which a number of Biblical prophets confronted opposition in their own times, gives hope in a demoralised and demotivated world.

It coincides with latest synthesis report on the impact of global warming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is expected to warn that time for effective action against climate change is fast running out. The IPCC report comes out on Sunday, 2 November, six days before the anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan which devastated parts of the Philippines last year.

The paper’s author, the Rev Dr Susan Durber, said: “We all need those who will help us to see the truth from which we might be tempted to turn, to face things we can hardly bear, and to find a source of hope that is real. We have often called the people who can do this for us ‘prophets’. They help us to discern the truth and to act upon it.

“Prophets are sometimes unpopular, especially with those who have much to lose if things change. But they consistently, and without fear, speak out. Sometimes people think them mad. Sometimes they are indulged as though they are naïve. All this happened to the prophets in the Bible, and it happens still to truth-tellers in the world today.

“Prophetic voices, whether from the Scriptures, from climate science, or from people living in poverty today, sing a powerful song. We need to hear the challenging voices and the calls to repent and change, for the sake of those who are suffering now and for the sake of future generations.

"But we also need to imagine a redeemed and restored world, one marked by justice and hope and built on new foundations, for such a vision will overcome our fears and give us strength to change.

“It takes courage to listen to voices that go against our immediate and pressing self-interest, but if we shut down in the face of the challenge to ‘repent!’ we shall also shut down the possibility of receiving the gift of hope for a renewed earth. It is this gift that we need above all, a gift that faith can offer, in humility, to the world. Prophets are the ones who can reveal that ‘it doesn’t have to be like this.”

Over the weekend of October 18-19 hundreds of churches around the UK took part in a weekend of prayer and action urging MPs to tackle climate change, and praying for their sisters and brothers around the world.

As Christians around the world increasingly begin to grapple with the moral questions raised by climate change Christian Aid hopes that this paper may prove a useful tool in shaping a theology of climate change full of justice and hope.

* Read the paper Song of the Prophets here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/song-of-the-prophets-a-global-theo...


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Number of low-paid workers across Britain hits record high

Fri, 2014-10-31 08:19

The proportion of employees in low-paid work across Britain increased from 21 to 22 per cent last year, a Resolution Foundation report has revealed.

The proportion of employees in low-paid work across Britain increased from 21 to 22 per cent last year – to just over five million people – a Resolution Foundation report has revealed.

Low Pay Britain 2014, the Resolution Foundation’s annual audit of low pay across Britain, finds that the number of people earning less than two-thirds of median hourly pay, equivalent to £7.69 an hour, rose to 5.2 million, an increase of 250,000 on the previous year.

The increase in the absolute number in low pay in part reflects the rapid growth in the jobs market, with the number of employees rising by around 340,000 between April 2012 and April 2013.

But the research shows that the proportion of employees earning less than £7.69 an hour rose slightly, reversing a small improvement in the previous year.

With the economy recovering, the report will send a challenge to employers, government and all political parties to prevent people getting stuck in low pay and help them to move out of in-work poverty.

The report also highlights that:

* The ‘stickiness’ of low paid work is a serious problem. Almost one in four minimum wage employees who have been in work over the last five years have been stuck on the minimum rate for the entire time.

* Women are still far more likely to be low-paid than men. More than one-in-four (27 per cent) female employees earned less than £7.69 an hour last year, compared with 17 per cent of men. This gap has slowly but steadily narrowed over the last three decades. Back in 1983, one-in-three (33 per cent) women were low paid, compared with eight per cent of men. However, the steady decline in the proportion of women in low paid work halted last year (rising by one percentage point).

* The UK has among the highest proportion of full-time low-paid workers across the OECD. Although the proportion remains higher in the US, employees in Britain are likelier to be low paid than those in other broadly comparable economies like Germany or Australia; twice as likely to be low-paid as workers in Switzerland; and four times as likely as those in Belgium.

Matthew Whittaker, Chief Economist at the Resolution Foundation, commented: “While recent months have brought much welcome news on the number of people moving into employment, the squeeze on real earnings continues. While low pay is likely to be better than no pay at all, it’s troubling that the number of low-paid workers across Britain reached a record high last year.

“Being low paid – and getting stuck there for years on end – creates not only immediate financial pressures, but can permanently affect people’s career prospects. A growing rump of low-paid jobs also presents a financial headache for the government because it fails to boost the tax take and raises the benefits bill for working people.

“All political parties have expressed an ambition to tackle low pay. Yet the proportion of low-paid workers has barely moved in the last 20 years. A focus on raising the minimum wage can certainly help the very lowest paid workers in Britain, but we need a broader low pay strategy in order to lift larger numbers out of working poverty.

“Economic growth alone won’t solve our low pay problem. We need to look more closely at the kind of jobs being created, the industries that are growing and the ability of people to move from one job or sector to the other, if we’re really going to get to grips with low pay in Britain today,” concluded Dr Whittaker.

* Read the report: http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/low-pay-britain-2014/


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