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Caritas Social Action Network responds to the Summer Budget

Wed, 2015-07-08 22:22

Helen O’Brien, Chief Executive of Caritas Social Action Network, the the social action arm of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has responded to the Budget

Speaking today after the Chancellor's Summer Budget, Helen O’Brien, Chief Executive of Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), the the social action arm of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, made the following comments:

On the benefit cap

“The further capping of benefits will have severe consequences.

"The impact of the benefit cap has been felt hardest by households in London than elsewhere due to the cripplingly high cost of housing. The further lowering of the cap is only going to push families deeper into poverty or force them to move away from their family and their community.

"Families outside the capital are set to lose almost a quarter of their welfare support; it is inconceivable to think this will not lead to a further increase of people visiting foodbanks and relying on charities just to get by.”

On tax credits

“The number of working households in poverty has been rising over recent years, and for these people working tax credits have proved a vital lifeline. Therefore, whilst the announcement to increase the minimum wage is welcome, these changes to tax credits will mean people on low-incomes are still set to suffer.

"For many low-income working families, tax credits have been an important part in helping to shoulder the burden of the everyday costs of raising a family.

"Limiting child tax credits to two children means that larger families are going to feel a triple whammy from reduced tax credits, the freezing of working-age benefits for a further four years and the lowering of the benefit cap.”

On Employment Support Allowance (ESA)

“It is very disappointing that the support given to disabled people on Employment Support Allowance to find employment is to be scrapped.

"This move fails to recognise that many disabled people are on an active journey towards the workplace. Specific financial assistance and tailored support is extremely important in helping them into work, to provide for themselves and to build a sense of dignity and independence.

"In a labour market which has not proved the most accommodating, targeting this group will sadly only leave them further isolated and at risk of poverty."

On action from CSAN

“Next week, CSAN will launch our latest report on the impact of existing welfare reform on our member charities, their clients and staff.

"These new reforms further exacerbate the fears of CSAN and our member charities that the most vulnerable and poorest people are being put at greater risk.”

* Full 2015 budget coverage and commentary from Ekklesia at: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/budget2015

* CSAN http://www.csan.org.uk/

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Chancellor 'gives with one hand, takes with the other' says church group

Wed, 2015-07-08 21:23

Chancellor Osborne has been "giving with one hand, taking with the other" says ecumenical charity Church Action on Poverty following today's budget.

Chancellor Osborne has been "giving with one hand, taking with the other" says ecumenical charity Church Action on Poverty (CAP) following today's budget.

"Further cuts to tax credits and other benefits will cause real hardship for thousands of people," said CAP's Niall Cooper in a post-budget comment.

He continued: "These are the very people who have already shouldered the burden of austerity over the last five years, in the form of insecure work, stagnant pay, slashed benefits, and huge rises in the cost of everyday essentials – they can ill afford to see their incomes cut still further. George Osborne may claim to be “fixing the roof while the sun shines”, but there are a lot of people who haven’t seen any of that sunshine yet!"

Mr Cooper went on: "The increase in the National Minimum Wage is welcome, but George Osborne’s claim that he has introduced a Living Wage is not true. (A real Living Wage would be at least £7.85 an hour – and £9.15 in London). And the Chancellor claims he wants to 'put hard-working people first', but he is giving money with one hand and taking it away with the other, with swingeing cuts to Tax Credits. Families in work will be left still struggling to bring up children on poverty wages.

"Even worse, the Chancellor is simultaneously cutting inheritance tax (giving a tax handuot of £70,000 each to families wealthy enough to inherit £1 million) and corporation tax (a further 10 per cent cut, when UK corporation tax is already lower than every other country in the G20). This is a reverse Robin Hood budget, taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich," he concluded.

* Church Action on Poverty: http://church-poverty.org.uk/

* Full 2015 budget coverage and commentary from Ekklesia at: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/budget2015

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Scottish parties condemn budget impact on most vulnerable

Wed, 2015-07-08 21:04

The SNP, Labour and the Scottish Greens says that Chancellor Osborne’s Summer Budget is not good news for Scotland, especially hitting the most vulnerable.

The SNP, Labour and the Scottish Greens says that Chancellor Osborne’s Summer Budget is not good news for Scotland, especially hitting the most vulnerable.

Scottish National Party Depute Leader and Treasury spokesperson Stewart Hosie said: "Osborne’s budget will hit hard working families, the poorest and young people the hardest. He has continued with his harsh austerity agenda – particularly the savage cuts in tax credits. Any increase in the minimum wage is of course welcome, but the reality is that the good will be undone by the Tory cuts to the incomes of people who can least afford it. And the living wage in Scotland is currently £7.85 – George Osborne is proposing to see it effectively lowered to £7.20.

"This Budget was a sermon from the high priest of an austerity cult – taking from the poor and hard working people and giving to the richest. The Tories' cuts in the living standards of young people are particularly severe, including scrapping student grants. The SNP Government will continue to deliver grants for the poorest students in Scotland, demonstrating the benefits of having these powers in the Scottish Parliament, rather than in Tory hands at Westminster.

"There were measures which we welcome such as the freeze in fuel duty, but there was nothing in the Budget to encourage innovation or exports.

"The UK Government are imposing this austerity Budget on Scotland on the basis of having a single Tory MP north of the border – the electorate in Scotland overwhelmingly rejected austerity at the election by returning 56 SNP MPs, and the Tories secured their lowest share of the vote in Scotland since 1865.

"This Budget underlines the need to have economic and welfare powers in Scotland, so that we can build a more dynamic economy to boost tax revenues, and a fairer society where policies benefit the many, not deliver tax cuts for millionaires."

Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said: “The Tories came to office claiming that this Government would be on the side of working families. Before the Budget has even been published it is becoming clear that, once again, it is working people who will bear the brunt of this Government’s cuts.

“With their proposed cuts to tax credits, the Budget risks cutting the feet from under people who do the right thing, go out to work every day and try to do the best by their families.

“Nearly 300,000 families in Scotland, including half a million children, will be affected by George Osborne’s cuts to tax credits, at the same time as he refuses to rule out a further tax cut for millionaires.

“This Government needs to be tackling the root causes of the rising welfare bill – low pay and rising housing costs – to bring down the deficit in a sustainable way.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Green Party co-convenor Patrick Harvie declared: “This budget confirms the Conservative Party’s ruthless disregard for the wellbeing of the majority, as they recklessly pursue an unjust mission to decimate our welfare state and public services.

“The rise in the inheritance tax threshold will benefit just the wealthiest, at a time when we’re seeing swingeing cuts to welfare hit the most vulnerable in society hardest.

“The living wage commitment is still less than the Green election proposal of £10 per hour by 2020, and against the backdrop of the attack on welfare, it’s clear that Osborne is giving with one hand and taking away with the other. In the context of £4.5 billion cuts to tax credits this policy is clearly not a real Living Wage, it is a sleight of hand, to distract from the corporate tax cuts to the very businesses which have created so much working poverty.

“This Government’s ideological obsession with welfare cuts will plunge thousands more people into poverty, and I’m deeply concerned that we will now inevitably see a steep rise in the numbers facing needless hardship, while the services they rely upon also struggle from financial pressures and lack of support.

“We see yet more reckless, short-term policies that put the profits of multinational companies over the public interest, with more talk of ‘security’ purely in terms of a Cold War-era mind set.

“Food scarcity, insecure employment and climate change are among the threats that people in the UK and abroad face in their daily lives, and our priority must be to ensure the genuine security of those whom governments have a responsibility to protect.

“Today’s announcements can only send the UK further in completely the wrong direction, away from the more equal and sustainable society we need. The details make devastating reading when considering the pain already felt in communities across the UK, and the absolute lack of any action from this Government to finally face up to their climate change responsibilities.”

* Full 2015 budget coverage and commentary from Ekklesia at: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/budget2015

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Categories: News syndication

Summer Budget 'will increase wealth gap' in Wales

Wed, 2015-07-08 20:21

Plaid Cymru's treasury spokesperson has responded to the Chancellor's budget today by warning that tens of thousands of workers in Wales remain trapped in a low income economy.

Plaid Cymru's treasury spokesperson, Jonathan Edwards MP, has responded to the Chancellor's budget today by warning that tens of thousands of workers in Wales remain trapped in a low income economy.

The Labour Party in Wales has also criticised the Summer Budget policies presented by George Osborne.

Mr Edwards said that the cut to tax credits would hit around 120,000 Welsh families, driving them into 'in-work poverty' that will only be rectified by a genuine living wage.

Despite the Chancellor raising the minimum wage and renaming it a so called 'National Living Wage', low earners' incomes will still be hit by cuts to tax credits, says the Party of Wales.

Mr Edwards commented: "This Budget signals the latest chapter in the Tory party's efforts to rewrite the role of the State. The Chancellor announced £37 billion worth of cuts but only outlined £17 billion.

"The £12 billion of cuts announced to social protection will cost the Welsh economy over £500 million a year, with cuts to tax credits likely to punish thousands of working families.

"The only way to rectify this is to end the subsidising of low pay and legislate to ensure workers receive a genuine living wage - a key Plaid Cymru commitment, the party says.

"People will not be fooled by the spin," said Mr Edwards. "The new National Living Wage is only a higher minimum wage. It is a long way off a genuine living wage and does not offset the damage done by cuts to tax credits.

"The regional benefits cap also threatens a dangerous precedent which may lead to geographical benefits. This would see people in Wales paying in the same as everyone else but receiving less, creating ghettos of low pay, low employment and low opportunity."

As a result of the UK Government’s austerity programme, the Welsh Government’s Budget is £1.3 billion lower in real terms in 2015-16 than in 2010-11.

The Finance Minister, Labour MP Jane Hutt, said: "I called for investment in our infrastructure, backed by business in Wales to boost the economy and continue to invest in schools, health and housing. We haven’t seen that today.

“Despite today’s £4 million consequential, we are still £46 million down on the Final Budget we agreed last December. The Welsh Budget has been hit year on year since 2010, resulting in our Budget being lower by eight per cent in 2015-16 than in 2010-11.

"On top of this, only last month the Chancellor announced a further cut of £50 million to our in-year Budget. In advance of the Budget I wrote to the Chancellor to say that the in-year incremental cuts we’ve already had, including on capital, makes planning difficult – this is bad news for business and our public services.

“While we cautiously welcome the National Living Wage and have in fact already delivered it for NHS staff in Wales, it is unlikely to cover the cuts to tax credits for most families. Let’s be clear freezing working age benefits for four years will hit low income households hardest.

“Our initial estimates show that around 5,000 households in Wales will be affected by the lowering of household benefit cap to £20,000 A further 1,200 claimants in Wales could be affected by the changes to the entitlement of Housing benefit for 18-21 year olds.

“We welcome the commitment to the ‘funding floor’ to deliver fair funding for Wales and will expect immediate action to secure this as part of the Spending Review.”

* Full 2015 budget coverage and commentary from Ekklesia at: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/budget2015

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More action needed to tackle tax dodging after budget

Wed, 2015-07-08 19:53

Responding to the 2015 Summer Budget, development agency Oxfam gave a qualified welcome to action on tax abuse, but said that much more is needed.

Responding to the 2015 Summer Budget, development agency Oxfam, which has played a big part in the anti-tax dodging campaign, gave a qualified welcome to action from George Osborne, but said that much more is needed.

Nick Bryer, Oxfam's Head of UK Policy and Campaigns, said: "The Chancellor's pledges to end permanent non-dom status and increase HMRC's ability to catch tax dodgers are steps in the right direction.

"The promise of an extra £5 billion is welcome but still more needs to be done to ensure wealthy individuals and companies pay their fair share both here and in the world's poorest countries.

"Promises to consult on how to make large businesses' tax affairs more transparent should be followed by a commitment to full public country by country reporting of companies' key financial and tax information.

"At present, it is all too easy for multinational companies operating in developing countries to avoid paying tax – this is lost revenue that could help to provide schools and hospitals for some of the world's most vulnerable people.

He concluded: "To fund the fight against global poverty and rising inequality, the Chancellor must ensure that big companies contribute fairly, including by supporting rather than blocking crucial reforms to ensure that poorer countries have a say in how global tax rules are set at next week's UN conference in Addis Ababa."

Ekklesia was part of the pre-General Election Tax Dodging Bill coalition of NGOs and charities.

* More on the Tax Dodging Bill: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21385

* Full 2015 budget coverage and commentary from Ekklesia at: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/budget2015

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Osborne's measures 'likely to increase inequality', says NEF

Wed, 2015-07-08 19:36

The Chancellor’s measures spelled out in the 2015 Summer Budget "are likely to worsen levels of UK inequality", says the New Economics Foundation.

Chancellor Osborne’s measures spelled out in the 2015 Summer Budget "are likely to worsen levels of UK inequality", says a senior spokesperson for the New Economics Foundation (NEF).

In a budget response, NEF says: " Low earners will see a direct hit to their finances, but because many of those moving on to the 'National Living Wage' level will be second earners in a household, many of those at the top end of the income scale will actually stand to benefit."

The government’s forecasters, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), have modelled for this impact. They believe that “around half the cash gains in household income may accrue to the top half of the household income distribution.”

"It’s clear the bulk of the gain flows disproportionately to wealthy households," says NEF. "This wouldn’t matter too much if the tax and benefits system operated to redistribute in favour of the poorest. But Osborne’s changes to tax credits will most likely have the opposite impact, although it’s currently hard to know for certain – the Treasury’s usual 'distributional analysis' accompanying the Budget has undergone significant change from previous years. Further work will be needed."

NEF senior economist James Meadway continues: "Alongside cuts to benefits, Osborne has also introduced a further cut to Corporation Tax (CT). Already among the lowest headline rates in Europe, the cut from 20p to 18p over two years will mean only Estonia and Ireland rank lower.

"The US headline corporation tax rate is 40p. In Germany it is 33p. There seems to be no reasonable grounds for thinking the UK should be setting so far out of line with similar economies, and the result, overall, has been to weaken the tax base and therefore weaken the government’s spending capacity."

The overall decline in revenue from CT is a serious inhibitor to restoring the health of the public finances, says NEF.

Meadway continues: "The effort to restore those public finances to a stable position is given as the motivation for what will, assuming Osborne’s targets are achieved, be a full decade of continual austerity by 2020. Osborne has somewhat softened the pace of spending cuts for this budget, smoothing out what would otherwise have been a similar pattern of steep cuts to those seen over 2010-2012, and aiming for a budget surplus by 2019-2020, a year later than originally planned. Only half of the cuts have been presented in this Budget; the rest will have to wait for the spending review, due in autumn this year."

"Osborne didn’t achieve his deficit reduction target over 2010-2015, and there is no reason to suppose he will this time, either. Another recession would knock all spending plans off course; turmoil in the eurozone, or in China, could easily spill over here. And an important but often overlooked side-effect of Osborne’s spending cuts is the impact they are having on household debt."

OBR analysis suggests that household debt is expected rise even above the record levels seen prior to the crash of 2007/8.

"This rise in household debt is the direct effect of government spending cuts", declares the NEF economist. "As government spending is pulled back, some other part of the economy has to step its spending up to compensate, or else the whole economy would be pulled into recession. That response is predicted to come from households, who have shifted, in the aggregate, from repaying their debts to taking on more loans."

NEF also critiques the notion of surpluses while debt is so high.

"A government serious about its responsibilities would not, given this likely impact, be seeking to proceed with its austerity programme in the way this new government is. Far better to ease off on spending cuts and think more creatively about how government could use its powers than to work on the assumption that its spending, rather than its saving, was the main problem. Short of that, we are heading, slowly but surely, for a fresh round of debt crises", concludes James Meadway.

NEF is a leading think tank promoting social, economic and environmental justice. Its aim is to transform the economy "so that it works for people and the planet".

* New Economics Foundation (NEF): http://www.neweconomics.org/

* Full 2015 budget coverage and commentary from Ekklesia at: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/budget2015

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Serious questions posed about chancellor's 'Living Wage' pitch

Wed, 2015-07-08 17:12

In his Summer Budget Chancellor Osborne announced today that the government will introduce what he claims is a new National Living Wage.

In his Summer Budget Chancellor Osborne announced today that the government will introduce what he claims is a new National Living Wage.

The rate will be £7.20 per hour for workers aged 25 and above, to apply from April 2016 onwards.

This will take the form of an initial 50p supplement to the existing adult rate National Minimum Wage (NMW), which will be £6.70 from October 2015 and is expected to increase again in October 2016.

Analysts, commentators and wage campaigners welcomed the Chancellor's acknowledgement that wages need to rise in Britain, but posed serious questions about the gap between rhetoric and reality in this matter.

Rhys Moore, director, Living Wage Foundation said: “We are delighted that the announcement made in the Budget this lunchtime will see over 2.5 million workers receive a much needed pay rise. This is a massive victory for Citizens UK and those communities, workers and business leaders who have campaigned for a Living Wage since 2001. We agree with the Chancellor that work should be the surest way out of poverty. However, this announcement raises several important questions.

“Is this really a Living Wage? The Living Wage is calculated according to the cost of living whereas the Low Pay Commission calculates a rate according to what the market can bear. Without a change of remit for the Low Pay Commission this is effectively a higher National Minimum Wage and not a Living Wage.

“Secondly, what about London? We have been working with the Mayor of London for seven years and there’s a London Living Wage rate that recognises the higher costs in the capital, currently £9.15 per hour. These changes will not help the 586,000 people for whom even the 2020 rate announced today would not be enough to live on now.

“Thirdly, what about the 2 million under-25s who are not covered by this announcement? To make sure workers in London and those under 25 do not lose out, we call on employers to join the group of 1,600 organisations that have already chosen to become voluntary Living Wage employers.

“And, lastly, do the tax credit changes announced today mean that the Living Wage needs to be higher to make sure people have enough?

“The Living Wage Foundation, members of Citizens UK and the 1,600 accredited Living Wage employers look forward to an early meeting with the Chancellor to address these questions and help the millions of workers who deserve a pay rise.”

Condemning the overall impact of the budget on the poorest, Scottish National Party (SNP) depute leader at Westminster, Stewart Hosie, commented: "Any increase in the minimum wage is of course welcome, but the reality is that the good will be undone by the Tory cuts to the incomes of people who can least afford it.

"And the living wage in Scotland is currently £7.85 - George Osborne is proposing to see it effectively lowered to £7.20."

New Statesman political editor Stephen Bush wrote: "The rise in the minimum wage to £7.20 is 65p short of the living wage today. The minimum wage is forecast to rise to that level by 2020 in any case. In reality what is being offered is a rebranded minium wage, not a real living wage."

Simon Barrow, co-director of the beliefs and politics think-tank Ekklesia, said: "This rebranding of the minimum wage, together with confusing changes in the terms of reference of the Low Pay Commission seems designed to cause public confusion about the Living Wage and to take the wind out of the sails of the campaign for real increases. The £9 rate by 2020 will look quite small when huge extra costs of housing, education and other necessities are taken into account. it also needs to be considered in conjunction with the big hit on tax credits, the public sector pay cap, the plight of under-25s, differential rates in London and outside, and the change in the pay threshold for qualification for Universal Credit. There is a lot to absorb and work through here."

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, described the move as a “higher minimum wage” rather than a true living wage.

Paul Sellers, writing for the Trades Union Congress's Touchstone blog concluded: "Pragmatism demands that we look favourably on a measure that is likely to give a couple of million people a pay rise. Exactly how favourable our gaze will be depends on [whether] the outstanding questions yield fair answers."

* Full 2015 budget coverage and commentary from Ekklesia at: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/budget2015

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Nationwide protests on welfare and disability as budget looms

Wed, 2015-07-08 12:03

Demonstrations will take place across Britain today, as Chancellor Osborne prepares further swingeing cuts targeted on low income families and disabled people.

Disabled People Against the Cuts are helping to organise a 'die-in' at Downing Street, while the People's Assembly Against Austerity, trade unions and anti-cuts action groups are protesting at parliament.

There will be an anti-austerity rally in Edinburgh at 5.30pm this evening, as well as actions across England, Wales and Scotland. But the main focus is on Westminster.

Ramona McCartney, a spokesperson for the People’s Assembly, said: “We will all come together at this protest to say ‘end austerity now’. We are going to use the slogan ‘Oxi to Osborne’ – that will be the placard of choice.”

“We have had a lot of interest since the 'no' vote; our phones have been off the hook.”

Ms McCartney predicted that thousands of people would attend the rally outside parliament, inspired by the recent example of the Greek people in their referendum about austerity.

Protesters are demanding that the government publishes statistics showing how many people have died after having their benefits cut. The Work and Pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, initially denied such figures existed when challenged by Ekklesia co-director and politician Jonathan Bartley in an election debate.

Prime Minister David Cameron has since acknowledges their existence and promised to release the figures, but has chosen not to do so before imposing further cuts.

DPAC and the People's Assembly are being joined in their actions any Streets Kitchen, Black Dissidents, London Latinxs, Colombian Women in Action, Occupy, Brick Lane Debates, Winvisible, London Black Revs, Reclaim Hackney, Camden Resists, Never Again Ever and other campaigners.

* DPAC: http://dpac.uk.net

*People's Assembly: http://www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk

* Follow developments on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/1455266081436327/) and via the Twitter hashtag #Balls2TheBudget

* Live protest blog: http://www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/8th_of_july_national_day_of_protest...

* Full 2015 budget coverage and commentary from Ekklesia at: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/budget2015

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Financial toll of rapidly rising prison numbers revealed in budget week

Wed, 2015-07-08 09:14

A new report by the Prison Reform Trust says rapid expansion in the prison population is placing a growing burden on the taxpayer while reoffending rates remain high.

A rapid expansion in the prison population in England and Wales over the past twenty years is placing a growing burden on the taxpayer while reoffending rates out of prison have remained stubbornly high, according to a new report by the Prison Reform Trust.

Analysis published in Prison: The Facts estimates that in 2014, the cost of holding that increased population at today’s costs was an extra £1.22 billion compared with twenty years ago—a cost of over £40 per year for every UK taxpayer.

This extra funding of prison places is equivalent to employing an additional 56,000 newly qualified nurses.

On 3 July 2015, the prison population in England and Wales was 84,930. Between 1993 and 2014 the population increased by more than 40,000 people — a 91 per cent rise.

Simply returning to the incarceration rate of the mid 1990s would put £1.22 b illion back into the public purse — a fraction of that amount re-invested in constructive prison regimes could transform performance, reducing the number of future victims, says the Prison Reform Trust (PRT).

The Justice Committee, in its report on Justice Reinvestment, has said the prison population in England and Wales could be safely reduced by one third through the reinvestment of resources tied up in prisons in prevention, early intervention and effective community approaches.

England and Wales has the highest rate of imprisonment in Western Europe, locking up 149 people for every 100,000 of the population. Prison sentences are getting longer, and increasing numbers of people do not know if, or when, they might be released.

Prison has a poor record for reducing reoffending with nearly half of adults reconvicted within one year of release. At an average annual cost per prison place of £36,237 and with nearly three-quarters of people entering prison under sentence in 2014 there for non-violent offences, prison is an expensive and overused resource.

The National Offender Management Service saw its budget cut by nearly £900 million during the last government and prisons have borne the brunt of this. Prison: The facts shows cuts have coincided with a serious decline in safety and decency.

In 2014 there were 243 deaths in custody, the highest number on record. Over a third were self-inflicted. Serious assaults have risen by 35 per cent in the last year, along with a rise in assaults more generally.

At the end of March 2015, 70 of the 117 prisons in England and Wales were already overcrowded. Overcrowding is not only about two people spending most of every day in a confined space the Victorians thought was only suitable for one. It affects whether activities, staff and other resources are available to reduce risk of reoffending. At significant expense, prisoners are moved between prisons just to make space, regardless of whether it will keep them close to family, or help their eventual resettlement. Last month the Ministry of Justice admitted that published overcrowding figures had been undercounted for the past six years, an issue now resolved.

There are also fewer staff looking after more prisoners. The number of staff employed in the public prison estate has fallen by 29 per cent in the last four years.

Unsurprisingly, staff sickness has risen sharply, and many staff have had to work temporarily at prisons far from where they live. Recent recruitment by the Prison Service is welcome, but the workforce is significantly less experienced as a result, at a time when its skills are being sorely tested.

With a further £249 million cut to the Ministry of Justice’s budget announced for this year, it is inevitable that costs will have to reduce further, says the PRT. Without a reduction in the numbers of people in prison, that is likely to mean a more dangerous environment for prisoners and staff alike. Unless progress is made to reduce the unnecessary use of imprisonment the prospects for a genuinely rehabilitative prison experience can only recede.

Commenting, Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “It’s clear that Ministers cannot continue to slice the prisons budget and that there needs to be a fundamental rethink in how we use custody. Every pound we spend on prisons is one less to invest in hospitals or schools. Because we use prison too often and for too long, it soaks up money that is desperately needed elsewhere.

“Prisons have been placed under unprecedented strain during the last five years, making them more dangerous and less rehabilitative places. They have become even less able to solve the problems that might prevent people returning to them.

“In stark contrast to the mantra that ‘prison works’, successive governments have reduced the numbers of children in custody over the last seven years, and the number of crimes they commit has also fallen.

“Reducing prison numbers to an unavoidable minimum would free up resources and allow prison staff to focus on rehabilitating the serious and violent offenders for whom prison ought to be an important place of last resort.”

* Read the report Prison: The Facts here: http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Prison%20the%20f...

* the Prison Reform Trust http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/

* Full 2015 budget coverage and commentary from Ekklesia at: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/budget2015

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UN chief welcomes lessons from Millennium Development Goals

Tue, 2015-07-07 10:13

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has welcomed the final assessment of the Millenium Development Goals.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) galvanised the world to produce the most successful anti-poverty movement in history, helped lift more than one billion people out of extreme poverty, made inroads against hunger and enabled more girls to attend school than ever before. However, despite remarkable gains, it will take more to ensure the poorest and most vulnerable people are not left behind.

This is according to the final assessment of the MDGs, which range from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015.

“The report confirms that the global efforts to achieve the Goals have saved millions of lives and improved conditions for millions more around the world,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the launch of the report in Oslo, Norway.

“These successes should be celebrated throughout our global community. At the same time, we are keenly aware of where we have come up short”, he added.

Data and analysis prove that even the poorest countries can make dramatic and unprecedented progress with targeted interventions, sound strategies, adequate resources and political will, says the report, which reflects the global and regional progress of the eight MDGs over the past 15 years that has been monitored and analysed annually by data compiled by more than 28 UN and international agencies.

“The MDGs worked at all levels – global, national and local, rallying not just diplomats and technocrats in conference buildings but communities gathering in village squares,” said Mr Ban, who was joined at the launch by MDG Advocates Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, and Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda.

“The MDGs measured what mattered to people. As we look ahead, we must do more to reach those who are most vulnerable, are not counted and have not shared the improvements of the past 15 years.”

The report – whose launch coincides with the opening in New York of the high-level segment of the 2015 session of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the three-day Ministerial Meeting of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development – found that the 15-year effort to achieve the Goals was largely successful across the globe, while acknowledging shortfalls that remain.

“Enormous progress has been made towards achieving the MDGs. Global poverty continues to decline,” the report said. “More children than ever are attending primary school. Child deaths have dropped dramatically. Access to safe drinking water has been greatly expanded. Targeted investments in fighting malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis have saved millions.”

“The MDGs,” it added, “prove that goal setting can lift millions of people out of poverty, empower women and girls, improve health and well-being, and provide vast new opportunities for better lives.”

The report drew attention to climate change and environmental degradation that undermine progress achieved, and noted that conflicts remain the biggest threat to human development and the greatest obstacle to progress in achieving the MDGs.

The emerging post-2015 development agenda, including the set of sustainable development goals that will be adopted at a summit at UN Headquarters in September, strives to reflect these lessons, build on the successes and put all countries, together, firmly on track towards a more prosperous, sustainable and equitable world.

“As we reflect on the MDGs and set our sights on the next 15 years, I am confident that we can deliver on our shared responsibility to end poverty, leave no one behind and create a world of dignity for all,” Mr. Ban said at the launch.

Breaking down the progress made on each of the eight MDGs, the report found that:

On Goal 1 – eradicate extreme poverty and hunger – the world has seen the most successful anti-poverty movement in global history, which has contributed to a reduction in the absolute number of people living in extreme poverty by more than half in 2015 since 1990;

On Goal 2 – to achieve universal primary education – in sub-Saharan Africa, the implementation of the MDGs has helped increase the primary school net enrolment rate by 20 percentage points since 2000, compared to only eight percentage points between 1990 and 2000, and the MDGs achieved ground-breaking success in the number of out-of-school children of primary school age, from 100 million in 2000, to 57 million in 2015;

On Goal 3 – which sought to promote gender equality and empower women – women are now having significantly stronger representation both in parliaments around the world and as a workforce outside of the agricultural sector and substantial achievements have been made in gender equality in education. For instance in southern Asia, there are now even more girls than boys enrolled in primary school, as compared with 74 girls for every 100 boys in 1990;

On Goal 4 – to reduce child mortality – the MDGs were most successful in the reduction of child mortality. Between 1990 and 2015, the annual rate of reduction of under-five mortality has more than tripled globally;

On Goal 5 – to improve maternal health – with the help of the MDGs, more mothers can rely on the assistance and treatment they need during pregnancy and after, and the maternal mortality ratio has been reduced by nearly half worldwide. Nowadays three-quarters of births are assisted by skilled health personnel globally;

On Goal 6 – to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases – lower infection rates of HIV of 40 per cent, an immense increase in antiretroviral therapy, tremendous declines in malaria deaths and incidence rates as well as superior success in tuberculosis treatment prove that the MDGs work to defeat diseases;

On Goal 7 – to ensure environmental sustainability – the MDGs have significantly increased access to improved drinking water for more than 90 per cent of the global population, and since 1990, ozone protection efforts have virtually eliminated ozone depleting substances;

And Goal 8 – to cultivate a global partnership for development – official development assistance (ODA) from developed countries increased by 66 per cent in real terms between 2000 and 2014.

* United Nations http://www.un.org/en/index.html

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Poll shows almost 70% support for equal marriage in Northern Ireland

Tue, 2015-07-07 09:47

A new opinion poll which shows that almost 70 per cent of people in Northern Ireland want a change in the law to allow same-sex marriage in the region.

Amnesty International has welcomed the findings of a new opinion poll which shows that almost 70 per cent of people in Northern Ireland want a change in the law to allow same-sex marriage in the region.

The survey, carried out by Ipsos MORI, found that 68 per cent of adults in Northern Ireland believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, a figure even higher than the 62.1 per cent figure who voted Yes in the recent marriage equality referendum in the Republic of Ireland.

Following the Yes vote in May's Irish referendum, Northern Ireland will now be the only part of the UK or Ireland where the right to civil marriage is denied to gay couples.

Amnesty said the figures showed that Northern Ireland's politicians were badly out of step with ordinary people on the issue and called on the Northern Ireland Executive to bring forward marriage equality legislation without further delay.

The survey found that 82 per cent of the 16 to 34 age group support gay marriage, with 75 per cent support among 35 to 54-year-olds, and 47 per cent support among older respondents.

By political affiliation, support ranged from 80 per cent of Sinn Féin voters, to 79 per cent of Alliance voters, 61 per cent of SDLP voters, and 49 per cent of Ulster Unionist voters. Among voters for the DUP, whose MLAs have repeatedly blocked equal marriage in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the poll shows that just under half (49 per cent) back the party's stance, while 45 per cent support a change in the law to allow same-sex couples to wed.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director, said: “The people have spoken and it’s clear they don't want Northern Ireland to be left behind on marriage equality.

“This poll shows support in Northern Ireland for equal marriage is even higher than in Ireland’s landslide referendum.

“Northern Ireland's politicians are badly out of step with the people on marriage equality.

“Continuing resistance to bringing Northern Ireland in step with all our neighbours is unacceptable. It’s high time Northern Ireland said a big ‘we do too’ to equality. The Stormont Executive should bring forward marriage equality legislation without further delay.”

Last month, an estimated 20,000 people marched through Belfast demanding marriage equality, in a demonstration organised by Amnesty International, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Rainbow Project, the region's largest LGBTI group. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21786)

* Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,000 adults aged 16+ across Northern Ireland. Interviews were conducted face-to-face between May 20 and June 8 2015. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.

* Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org.uk/

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Court of Appeal to consider permission for challenge to prisoners' legal aid cuts

Mon, 2015-07-06 23:37

Two charities will go to court tomorrow (7 July) to appeal the High Court’s decision to bar a challenge to legal aid cuts for prisoners.

Two charities will go to court tomorrow (7 July) to appeal the High Court’s decision to bar a challenge to legal aid cuts for prisoners.

The cuts, which came into force 18 months ago, have coincided with an unprecedented deterioration of safety standards in English and Welsh prisons and a rise in suicides, compounded by staff shortages.

They have removed a huge range of issues from the scope of legal aid, resulting in both charities being inundated with requests for help.

In the year following the cuts, calls to the Howard League for Penal Reform’s advice line increased by 45 per cent. The legal team, which provides the only dedicated legal service for children and young people in prison in the country, is overwhelmed with requests from young people with nowhere else to turn.

Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) represents adults (over-21s) and receives thousands of letters and calls each year. The charity simply does not have the physical or financial resources to deal with the large amount of requests that it now receives for pro bono assistance and representation.

The charities commenced legal action as a last resort after the then Justice Secretary dismissed concerns that the cuts would undermine prisoners’ rights and rehabilitation and cost the taxpayer more.

The Court of Appeal will consider whether to overturn the High Court’s decision in March 2014 refusing to allow the case to proceed.

The challenge involves two separate but linked judicial reviews which will be considered at an oral hearing before Lord Justice Leveson, Lord Justice Tomlinson and Lady Justice Sharp.

Although the two cases concern different aspects of prison law, they both challenge restrictions to legal aid for prisoners imposed by the government in December 2013.

The first case argues that the removal of legal aid for a small number of important Parole Board cases is unlawful. The second argues that the removal of legal aid for a range of cases affecting prisoners’ progress through their sentence towards release is also unlawful.

The decision to cut legal aid for certain Parole Board cases was made without consultation. These cases affect prisoners on life sentences and IPPs (imprisonment for public protection) who can only progress to open conditions if the Parole Board advises that it would be safe for them to do so. This is important because, once in open conditions, prisoners can apply to do work and receive education in the community. This step is key for prisoners’ rehabilitation and public safety. Making prisoners go through this stage without legal advice and representation is counter-productive.

The second case to be considered by the court concerns the removal of legal aid for prisoners facing particular difficulties, such as mothers threatened with separation from their babies, children and disabled prisoners who need a support package so they can be released safely, and mentally ill prisoners held in isolation.

Managing people through long prison sentences is a skilful business which needs to be handled with extreme care so that they can resettle safely into the community.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Our legal team represents children and young people in prison. The removal of legal aid to help these children make a fresh start is contrary to the whole aim of the youth justice system which is to prevent reoffending."

Deborah Russo, Joint Managing Solicitor at the Prisoners’ Advice Service, said: “PAS provides legal advice to all adult prisoners in England and Wales. We run an advice line and receive thousands of letters and telephone calls from prisoners each year. PAS also represents prisoners by taking on legal cases where appropriate.

“The legal aid cuts to prison law have resulted in prisoners’ access to justice being severely curtailed. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, the Chief Inspectorate of Prisons and the Parole Board have all expressed grave concern at legal aid cuts for prisoners."

She concluded: “These cuts are further isolating an already very marginalised sector of our society.”

* The Justice Committee’s year-long inquiry into the impact of the Government’s programme of reforms and efficiency savings across the prison estate raised concerns about the deterioration in safety. The report was published in March 2015 and is available here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-sele...

* The Howard League http://www.howardleague.org/

* Prisoners' Advice Service http://www.prisonersadvice.org.uk/

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TUC report says regional inequalities have increased since the recession

Mon, 2015-07-06 10:30

New research from the TUC shows London is outperforming other parts of the UK in economic and jobs growth, while recovery is weakest in the North West and Northern Ireland.

Research published today (6 July) by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has found that London is outperforming other parts of the UK in economic and jobs growth, while the economic recovery is weakest in the North West and Northern Ireland.

Using the most up-to-date figures available, the research analyses regional and national contributions to the UK’s economic and jobs growth since 2010.

From 2010 to 2013, the London economy grew more than one and a half times as fast (163 per cent) as the rate of the UK economy as a whole. By comparison, growth was only around half the national rate in Northern Ireland (49 per cent) and the North West (51 per cent).

From 2010 to 2014, jobs growth in London (11.5 per cent) was twice as fast as the UK as a whole (5.1 per cent), three times as fast the West Midlands (3.7 per cent) and South West (3.6 per cent), four times as fast as the North East (2.9 per cent) and Wales (2.7 per cent), and six times as fast as the North West (1.8 per cent).

In 2013 economic activity in London accounted for 22 per cent of the value of the entire UK economy, up from 21 per cent in 2010 and 19 per cent in 1997. In 2014 London accounted for 14.2 per cent of all UK jobs, compared to 13.5 per cent in 2010 and 12.4 per cent in 1997.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:“We need a recovery that works for the whole of the UK, but cuts to infrastructure and services have hit places that are most in need of investment. We now have an unbalanced recovery that is too weak outside of London, too dependent on families getting into debt, and too focused on jobs in low-paid service industries.

“UK regions won’t become powerhouses of growth and job creation unless they are powered-up by investment in skills, infrastructure and decent public services – but the Chancellor’s extreme cuts will mean pulling the plug.

“We need a better economic plan that prioritises balanced growth across the UK by targeting investment to communities that are most in need of modern infrastructure and more decent jobs.”

The TUC adds that despite London’s relatively positive performance, it is important that very wide inequalities within the region are not overlooked. For example, several London boroughs remain amongst the worst in the UK for child poverty rates.

It points out that the analysis shows the need for stronger, broader growth across the whole of the UK, which in turn will further support performance in London because of its economic links to other regions.

* TUC https://www.tuc.org.uk/

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Justine Greening right to insist on 'going beyond aid', says Christian Aid

Mon, 2015-07-06 10:04

Christian Aid has welcomed a speech by Secretary of State of International Development, Justine Greening on 'going beyond aid' to tackle tax abuses, corruption and climate change.

Responding to a speech by the Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening, Christian Aid’s Director of Policy and Advocacy Christine Allen said there was a lot to welcome.

"It’s great to hear Justine Greening’s broad vision of how the UK can continue to help defeat poverty, while also going beyond aid", she said.

"Going beyond aid means tackling the fundamental forces that trap countless millions in poverty, such as unjust tax rules, climate change and corruption. Christian Aid firmly agrees that this is essential, if we are serious about helping people living in poverty to survive and flourish, sometimes against terrible odds.

"Ms Greening's recognition of the importance of the Government continuing its work towards tax justice is hugely welcome in this light, as is her acknowledgement of the UK's vital role at the Paris climate change summit later this year. It is vital the DFID works across government to ensure we do all we can to get a strong deal in Paris – one that will offer hope to the world's poor.

"Also especially welcome is the Secretary of State's clear desire to reach the women and girls who make up 51 per cent of the world's population but whose lives are often cruelly limited by deeply-rooted discrimination."

Justine Greening was speaking at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in Blackfriars, London on 2 July. She urged UK civil society to work to lobby other countries to play their part in international development, rather than campaigning on UK government policy.

Christine Allen added: "Christian Aid sees the desperate need for more countries to follow the UK lead on so many issues. Yet as UK organisations, we must also continue to hold our own government to account when it is failing. We owe that to people in poverty around the world."

* Christian Aid http://www.christianaid.org.uk/index.aspx

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