Archives For June 2013

Demonstration against Legal Aid Cuts Image: The Times

Demonstration against Legal Aid Cuts Image: The Times

Tabloid press can’t shout enough about the fat cat lawyers and criminals making and taking money out of legal aid, with an aptly timed run of stories in support of cuts to the service. But this simplified version of events and the absence of column inches on the impact of the cuts for clients, fairness and justice is misleading.

The Sun recently published the earnings of the top ten legal aid lawyers, with Balbir Singh, a lawyer specialising in Human Rights, Terrorism and Immigration topping the bill with £493,022  “of public cash for defending criminals in 2011-12,” the Sun said.

The Daily Mail is following a similar route – finding the biggest figures from the biggest companies and presenting them in their usual sensationalist style. The paper also highlights cases such as Abu Qatada, where high-profile criminals are using legal aid – in a bid to convey that the service is there to defend and pump money into criminals alone.

The Daily Mail was also the paper to first reveal the costs of legal aid for two of Stephen Lawrence’s killers. Gary Dobson and David Norris, jailed for life in January last year, received a total of around £425,000 in legal aid. Other media also ran the story.

We should be allowed to access this information. There is no problem with this transparency. But, without some attention on how severe the cuts will be and what they will change, this media suggests money is only taken from the parts that can stand to lose it, by making the most of extreme cases and not providing the full picture.

They neglect to tell us about the impact on the client, how their trials will be treated or how fairness will be affected. And the tabloids carry a dangerous attitude towards those in the criminal system – they seem to ignore that anyone was ever found innocent.

Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racist attack in 1993 Image: The Mirror

Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racist attack in 1993 Image: The Mirror

The Stephen Lawrence case is the perfect example. The story stretches back over 20 years, is extremely high profile and is very complex. In fact, there are still huge parts of this case unfolding as we have seen in the last few days. Doreen Lawrence, Stephen’s mother, also used legal aid to fight the case for her murdered son. How would this case change if it happened after the legal aid cuts? According to the legal aid lawyer for Stephen Lawrence’s family, Imran Khan, the case wouldn’t be handled at all, particularly not by the kind of specialist needed:

Mr Khan said the changes would make it difficult to take on complex and costly cases, such as the Lawrence murder, which could produce changes that benefit all Londoners. He claimed the new system would lead to large law firms offering “bulk buying” prices that would force many ethnic minority solicitors out of business.”

Savings in legal aid from the current and proposed plans will come from price competitive tendering, whereby contracts to supply legal aid will be awarded to those bidding at a rate at least 17.5% lower than the current amount. These reductions are on top of a previous run of cuts introduced in April.

Further, the amount of contracts – and the amount of companies allowed to supply legal aid – will be lowered to around 25% of the current number – pushing some firms out of business.

To be able to supply work at this rate, the government is hoping to see bids from multinationals such as Tesco and Eddie Stobart – companies big enough to cope with the drastic cuts (which could see juniors paid £14 a day) because they are able to take contracts in a few geographical areas. Of course the motivation for these companies will be to make the most money, as quickly as possible. And it seems that is the aim of the government too, as they want to offer the work out to these huge companies with no legal background.

What this will change for something like the Stephen Lawrence case, is a freedom to seek specialist advice. There is no client choice under new proposals.

This removal of choice for specialist law, which in its entirety is a subject hugely complex and far-reaching, will surely drive down the quality of service.You could be allocated a lawyer from a multinational firm with no specialism and no interest except to turn your case over as quickly as possible.

The quickest way to do this is get your client to plead guilty. Many in the legal profession believe that there will be a huge increase in false ‘guilty’ pleas in order to move cases along quicker.

So while it may seem attractive in hindsight, to disallow Dobson and Norris the right to their own lawyer, Doreen Lawrence would be disallowed the same right.

Would the lawyer she would be allocated have become the ‘rock’ (as he is described) that Imran Khan did?

Doreen Lawrence and Imran Khan Image: The Telegraph

Doreen Lawrence and Imran Khan Image: The Telegraph

And while we can look unfavorably at Dobson and Norris now, they still required a fair trial before they were proven guilty.This is the most crucial aspect of the justice system. Yet, media such as The Sun and the Daily Mail often freely tarnish people as criminals before, during and after trials – based on how they look, what they do and most worryingly this opinion is projected onto the public.

In The Sun’s afore mentioned description of Babir Singh, he was said to have been ‘defending criminals.’ Just criminals. No mention of the people who he defended that may have been innocent? The people he saved from jail and punishment when they were wrongly accused?

Remember Christopher Jefferies? He was the landlord accused of the murder of 25 year old Joanna Yeates, and he received his unfortunate share of the media spotlight. Tabloids, including the Daily Mail – which ran the headline “Murder police quiz ‘nutty professor’,  seemed to make up their minds about him before his trial and a consensus of guilty for the ‘strange’ professor seeped from the pages into the public atmosphere.

Just one of the front tabloid pages devoted to Chris Jefferies when he was arrested

Just one of the front tabloid pages devoted to Chris Jefferies when he was arrested

After a few days of tabloid taunt, which Jefferies knew nothing about as he was held by the courts, another tenant of his was arrested, found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Jefferies was interviewed at the Leveson inqury and has not yet received an apology from any media for the ordeal.  

This is a worrying effect of media on trials and the lives of individuals. Yet it seems no lessons have been learned, as the press continues to villainise and bandy around the word ‘criminal’ as a term for anyone who comes into contact with the legal system.

There are thousands of people that need legal aid to protest a false claim. And it acts as an important protection against powerful authorities.

This mother required legal aid to defend her two sons, after were arrested at the student demonstrations. They were eventually acquitted from the charge of violent disorder. Because their chosen law firm Bindmans, specialised in protest law they were able to take good care of the family’s case. The firm had connections to local support groups, and through one of these groups, they found someone who had video footage from the protest that would clear the boys’ name. Despite 11 witness statements from police – making the case difficult, the boys were rightly cleared of the crime.

As Imran Khan highlighted, legal aid goes much further than defending the guilty:

The future is bleak. Legal aid is not simply about defending so-called criminals, it is also about protecting people’s rights and improving society for everyone… But now it is getting to the stage where lawyers are going to be turning away cases that might be the next Lawrence, the next Zahid Mubarek or the next Climbié.”

Find out more about legal aid cuts in this report from Radio 4.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Yesterday, Chancellor George Osborne announced the Spending Review for the year 2015. Osborne has already conceded that the coalition plans to cut the deficit are two years behind (i.e. not working), despite the harsh cutbacks already enforced to welfare, the NHS and the public sector. He blames this on ‘lower than expected’ growth. So now, the coalition answer to a failing austerity plan, is more cutbacks. Yes, you heard right. This time another £11.5bn.

George Osborne delivering the Spending Review Image: The Telegrapg

George Osborne delivering the Spending Review Image: The Telegrapg

So let’s see how welfare will be affected after George Osborne’s deja-vu performance:

1) Once someone loses a job, they must now wait 7 days before they can make a claim for Jobseeker’s allowance

An inspired idea from the chancellor, which seems to punish someone for losing their job (while he also announces a review that will cause more redundancies). An increase on the previous 3 day gap, jobseekers will now have to last longer without help. Many on Twitter added that this will be far more than 7 days, as Universal Credit is paid monthly so the time could be anything from 7 days to possibly 38.

Screen shot 2013-06-26 at 22.12.16

In a response to this particular point, the Chief Executive Child Poverty Action Group, Alison Garnham said:

“The decision to delay eligibility for Job Seekers Allowance to seven days is a ‘foodbanks first’ policy that will hurt families stuck in the low pay – no pay cycle, moving in and out of insecure, low-paid jobs, and will lengthen foodbank queues. We’re talking about parents doing the right thing but who have very little in the way of savings to tide them over if they lose their job. There should be no doubt this will leave more families and children cold and hungry and push more families towards doorstep lenders and foodbanks.”

2) Stricter rules for receiving out-of-work benefits

Whilst still hugging tightly to the disproven idea of cultures of ‘worklessness’, the Chancellor retreated a little by saying ‘Where is the fairness in condemning people to a life on benefits because the system won’t help them get back into work?’

And so, to help claimants, they will have to arrive at the Job Centre with a CV, be set-up and logged onto Job Search online, start looking for work and then they can receive their benefits.

Single parents can now receive free child-care for children ages 3 and 4, and so Osborne said that it is fair for those with children over the age of 3 to make efforts to look for work.

On top of this, job-seekers will now have to sign on every week, as opposed to every other week, and will be given more time with advisers.

Hopefully, this will be helpful, as it will also cost more money, to see advisers twice as much and for longer. One wonders, why the Chancellor cannot get large tax-evading companies to also see an adviser once a week to ensure they are up to date with all of what they owe to the tax-pile.

3) Those looking to claim benefits must speak English, and if they don’t, then they must be enrolled on a course. 

It’s very probable that someone with difficulty speaking English would appreciate a course to help them. Such a shame then, that this very government were the ones to cutback on the amount of English courses and places available, two years ago.

You would imagine that the government would also lead by example in their own English. So the misspelling of ‘Britain’ in the first line of the document about the spending review was probably really bad-timing:

'Britian' mistake

‘Britian’ mistake

At this point, it would be criminal not to mention yesterday’s Tweet of the Day, from Andrew Selous – Tory MP and advocate of people ‘leaning’ English:

Andrew Selous - Practice what you preach.

Andrew Selous – Practice what you preach.

3) Overall national welfare cap to be announced every four years

The national welfare budget will be decided at the Budget and set for the next four years, taking into account inflation to stop it from ‘ballooning’ as politicians like to say. Should the budget be breached, benefits will be squeezed and the government will have to report to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to explain why. State pensions and unemployment benefits will not be included in this cap. But tax credits, housing benefits, disability benefits and pensioner benefits will be included.

In response to this, Caroline Lucas commented:

“The way to address the deficit is not by further cuts to public services, including tightening the financial stranglehold on local authorities, or failing to get people into work and arbitrarily capping welfare spending regardless of need.

“It is to invest in jobs – borrowing money based on record low interest rates – mount a serious crackdown on tax evasion and avoidance, and bring forward green quantitative easing to deliver investment directly into the infrastructure we urgently need for a more resilient, stable economy.”

4) Winter fuel payments will be withdrawn from pensioners living in hot countries 

The winter fuel payment will not be paid to those who have migrated to ‘hot’ places. This will be decided via a ‘temperature test’ and can depend on where in a country you are. Not too much was said, but this will be an interesting one when rolled out.

Those were the main points in direct relation to welfare.

Other cuts were made across many areas, with only things like education (money for 180 free schools), intelligence (snooping on us more) and defence escaping with more cash than before.

Local councils will also see cuts to their funding. Public sector pay rises were capped at 1%, and Automatic Pay Progression was stopped. This is when you receive an automatic pay rise perhaps every year for your service. Osborne defended this by trying to divide workers in saying it wasn’t fair on those who didn’t receive it. However, there are already many companies and firms within the public sector that had already stopped paying this when the government announced a pay freeze.

Council tax will be frozen for two years to help with ‘living standards.’

To see a more detailed break-down of the Spending Review 2013 click here. But, here’s a handy infographic to see where money has being cut and spent since the coalition came to power (Thanks to the Resolution Foundation @Resfoundation):

Cuts and spending Image: resolution foundation

Cuts and spending Image: resolution foundation

The Chancellor of course added his usual rhetoric of how ‘tough’ this is, and decisions are ‘tough’ and kept referring to the analogy/motto of the month which is that Britain is out of ‘intensive care.’ However, there is already a prediction that this hospitalised nation will still have a slow and arduous recovery. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that taxes will increase after 2015 to deal with the deficit, because even these cuts are not enough to save us. The director of the think-tank, Paul Johnson predicts that austerity will continue to 2018.

Thank you, Osborne.


by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Media: The Spirit of 45

kamsandhu —  June 26, 2013 — 1 Comment

Some technical issues are stopping us from posting and updating properly today, so we thought we’d share this message from ‘The Spirit of 45’, a new film by Ken Loach that premiered on Film Four last night, reminding us what is possible.

An impassioned documentary about how the spirit of unity which buoyed Britain during the war years carried through to create a vision of a fairer, united society.

Find out more about the film here.


“The achievements of the ’45 Labour government have largely been written out of our history.  From near economic collapse we took leading industries into public ownership and established the Welfare State.  Generosity, mutual support and co-operation were the watch words of the age.  It is time to remember the determination of those who were intent on building a better world.”

Ken Loach – Director

Welfare To Work Words

The image above illustrates the large network of what policy academics call ‘active labour market policies’ (ALMPs); or what politicians refer to, in the increasingly Americanised language of social security, ‘welfare-to-work’.

ALMPs are big business.  They are in large part carried out by huge private sector providers, such as A4E and G4S, as well as a ‘supply chain’ that consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller organisations and companies. According to the BBC, the Work Programme alone is expected to cost up to £5bn.

But as well as being big business, ALMPs are an integral component of the social security ‘contract’ that exists between the state, the public and benefit claimants.  The contract, so it goes, is that unemployed people agree to a wide range of – often stringent – work-related conditions: this in return for (a) benefits and (b) the provision of back-to-work ALMPs.

The state then, like the unemployed, has rights and responsibilities: the right to expect benefit claimants to take certain steps to get back into the labour market, but also the responsibility to provide good services that enable a transition back to work.  So this raises an important question: how well do we actually provide for the unemployed in terms of labour market programmes?

A simple but effective way to answer this is to look at what other countries do.  The OECD is a useful resource here, as they collect statistics on how much countries spend on ALMPs.  The graph below shows how much other European countries spent in the most recent year of data collection, as a percentage of GDP.

Spending on ALMPs in the OECD (% GDP)


As is obvious, we don’t do very well: spending on ALMPs is just 0.38% of our national income.  In fact, the only countries that spend less than us on ALMPs are the former communist states of Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Estonia.  What’s far more normal for countries like us, in terms of GDP, is for over 1 per cent on all spending to go on welfare-to-work, such as in the Netherlands (1.2%), France (1.1%) and Belgium (1.5%).  Denmark, meanwhile, spends a whopping five times more than the UK does on back-to-work schemes.

Our poor record on ALMPs is reflected even more intensely in what the EU calls ‘the activation rate’.  This is the number of unemployed people, per 100, who are enrolled onto welfare-to-work programmes.  The image below shows the pitiful coverage of UK provision: for every hundred unemployed people, just over one person is participating in activating schemes.  This compares to rates of over a fifth in other major West European economies, such as Italy, Sweden, Spain and Belgium.

The ‘activation rate’ in EU countries

Activation Rate in EU

In fact, the UK is bottom of this league table across the entire EU.  This means there are a higher proportion of unemployed people on ALMPs in countries like Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania.  Even tiny Malta has a higher activation rate than the UK.

So, whilst the state asks a lot from the unemployed, it simultaneously fails to provide them with a relatively high standard of labour market programmes.  The key point here is not that it’s unfair to ask – or even compel – unemployed people to take steps back to work.  Rather, it’s unfair that we ask so much of the unemployed yet do so little, compared to other countries, to help them.

David Cameron and George Osborne like to talk about the ‘Global Race’ that the UK is in: a race where we must compete more effectively and efficiently against our economic competitors.  Yet if we really are in a ‘Global Race’, then surely a test of how where we stand is by how much our government invests in reskilling the unemployed.  And on this test, we are miserably failing.

Daniel Sage

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1) A third of Britons worry they will not be able to keep up with rising housing costs

Research from the Chartered Institute for Housing (CIH) and Ipsos Mori has found that 10.3 million Britons are worried about meeting mortgage payments and rent prices in 2014.

Over 11 million people said that the situation was causing them stress, and homeless charity Shelter reported a 40% increase in calls to its helpline from people worried about meeting rent or payments.

The LSL buy-to-let index shows that rent prices in England and Wales are increasing faster than the rate of inflation, with an average 3.5% increase in the last 12 months. These increased rents, cuts to benefits and reforms such as the bedroom tax, have pushed people into debt, with an increasing amount of social landlords reporting that tenants have gone into arrears.

However, there are more cuts to come – with the introduction of the benefit cap due to start later this year.

Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the CIH said: “The fact that one in three people are worried they won’t be able to pay their mortgage or rent next year – and almost a quarter are already concerned about their ability to pay at the moment – is extremely disturbing.

The number of people worried about their housing costs will continue to rise because we have failed to build enough new homes for decades. Recent government announcements have shown ministers understand the importance of fixing our housing system, but we need housing to be understood as a national priority if we are to have any chance of dealing with this deepening crisis.”

Read more about this story here.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

2) Call for national demo against NHS cuts at Tory conference

Britain’s biggest unions have united in support of a protest against NHS cuts and privatisation, to be held outside the Conservative Party conference in Manchester later this year.

Unite, Unison and GMB will join with campaign groups outside the conference on September 29th.

Campaigners hope to highlight and stop a dismantling of the NHS, with increased cuts, job losses and a fragmentation of the service which critics say will allow private sector companies to buy up parts of the health service.

Read more about this story here.

2) Judges asked to explain decisions on fit-to-work appeals

The government is asking judges making decisions on appeals from those found fit-to-work, to explain their decisions, in the hope that they can monitor and improve the process.

The controversial assessments carried out by ATOS, have been condemned by campaigners who say they are weak and often wrong, with many decisions being over-ruled at appeal.

Reports and feedback from judges will be analysed by the government this summer.

Read more about this story here.

3) Unison starts judicial review against ‘brutal’ charges for employment tribunals

The country’s biggest public sector union, Unison, has applied for a judicial review against new rules to charge workers £1,000 to take companies to tribunal.

The fees, which will affect workers seeking trial for unfair dismissal or discrimination, are due to be rolled out by the coalition next month.

However, there are concerns that the excessive fees will stop some employees from seeking help for genuine grievances, and will cover the backs of big business.

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary said, “They want to take away our employment rights with punitive charges to access justice” adding that Unison would pay the fee for any of it’s members upfront if needed.

Read more about this story here.

Unison General Secretary - Dave Prentis Image: The Mirror

Unison General Secretary – Dave Prentis Image: The Mirror

5) Over 4,000 turn-out for the People’s Assembly against Austerity

On Saturday, over 4,000 people joined in a movement against austerity at the Central Hall in Westminster. The day was filled with talks and debates from  a range of speakers including Union Leaders, councillors, journalists and campaigners from up and down the country.

As well as providing a space for people to unite and discuss the problems of government and cuts, the People’s Assembly hopes to now help unite and mobilise local groups to take action against the attack on welfare being carried out by the coalition. Several days of action have been announced, including a day of civil disobedience on November 5th. There was even talk of creating a new political party formation, in light of Labour’s lack of assurance to reverse the cuts.

Find out more about the People’s Assembly and read their first draft statement here.

One of the most inspiring talks was given by comedienne, writer and actor Francesca Martinez, who has also been a supporter of the WOW petition which calls for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform, and a fairer deal for sick and disabled people affected by the reforms.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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On Saturday thousands of people will join in a movement against austerity in the People’s Assembly. There is an alternative. Be there and find out more about the People’s Assembly here.

Following on from yesterday’s out-takes from the rally we hear some more from the remaining three speakers – Author and Columnist for The Independent Owen Jones, Natalie Bennett from the Green Party, and Helen Belcher from Trans Media Watch, who spoke about how the media coverage of the transgender community and its individuals has had a negative impact on the lives of many:

Helen Belcher at the Leveson inquiry Image: The Guardian

Helen Belcher at the Leveson inquiry Image: The Guardian

Poor media reporting has a direct impact on trans people’s lives. It can place us in danger. It creates incorrect stereotyping which can lead to loss of jobs, friends and family. My own father hasn’t spoken to me for ten years because of the media coverage of trans people and the impression it has given him. And the media coverage has been incessant.In February last year I gave evidence at the Leveson inquiry on trans media coverage. Robert Jay and Lord Justice Leveson kindly listened to me for an hour giving example after example of poor reporting and the impact it had. Most of the examples were from the preceding year, some from the preceding month, and one from the previous day. We included 10 case studies which we asked ot be kept completely confidential becaue the survivors of those events were terrified of being subjected to further ordeals.

Yet, just three weeks after the Leveson report the tabloids were at it again, and they outed Lucy Meadows who had the nerve to transition while being a primary school teacher. Despite the support of a vast majority of parents, teachers, pupils and governors, the press found one parent upon which they could pin outrage. The harassment by journalists and photographers went on for over two weeks, even though the articles were done within three days. Meadows took her own life….and the coroner at the inquest slammed the press and their coverage.

The tabloids leapt on the defence that Meadows made no explicit link between her suicide and the press coverage. But the evidence that surrounded her, including some that we as we as Trans Media Watch were able to provide to the coroner, indicated the press coverage had indeed, had a substantial effect upon her life and state of mind.

Her death has raised some serious questions for the press to answer. At the moment it’s not clear whether the press have decided to go quiet and play nice for a bit, or whether there is some serious soul searching going on…

Trans coverage is a microcosm of press behaviour. David Adam Green commented that it’s ‘how the corporate would exploit anyone if they could’.

We need effective regulation with teeth. And we need a change in culture in editorial offices. A culture that educates and informs rather than exploits for titilation. A culture that reports things in the public interest rather than the half baked notion of what the public might be interested in. A culture overall, of accuracy dignity and respect.

Helen Belcher, Trans Media Watch

Owen Jones Image: The Independent

Owen Jones Image: The Independent

We still see newspapers acting as outriders for the government, showing policies in a very critical light. And sidelining opponents of those policies. Now I can think of one too many senior journalists, who as well as having the roles as commentators, double-up as speechwriters for senior politicians. Just think it through, you have seen journalists who write articles talking about a government’s record and the policies they’re outlining, while at the same time preparing speeches in support of those policies. That, if anything just shows the incestuous relationship that exists between the political and the media elite.And also, as we’ve been discussing the attacks on entire groups of people in this country. We could go on all evening. We could talk about Muslims for example. How, there was one study in 2007, which just took one random sample – one week of newspapers, and it found, of the coverage of when Muslims appeared, 91% showed Muslim people in an entirely negative light. When they appear in the press it’s invariably as terrorists, extremists and it has consequences on public attitude.

Look at the polling, it’s pretty disturbing – 45% of people think there’s too many Muslims in this country. Imagine if 45% of people in a poll thought there were too many Jews in this country. If you look at the polling of people equating Muslims with extremists, it counts as millions of people across the country. That changes in generations. The younger you are, the less likely you are to believe it. Partly, because you’re more likely like myself, to grow up in schools where you’re likely to mix with fellow Muslims. But, if your only experience of people from that community is what you’ve been served up in the press, then no wonder those attitudes are so horrendous. And of course that has consequences for Muslims across the country. And we’ve seen a renewed wave of Islamophobia since the tragic death of Lee Rigby. You can see it as we’ve talked about it with benefit receipients.

Now since this government have come to power, we’ve seen a deliberate attempt to re-direct people’s anger away from those who caused this crisis – the people at the top, to people’s neighbours down the street. The working poor against the unemployed. Non disabled people against disabled people. Private sector workers against public sector workers. People living here against immigrants. And each time it’s the same argument: ‘You’ve been mugged, so your less deserving neighbour should be mugged as well.’ Now the media have facilitated that in the most overt way imaginable, by hunting the most extreme examples and passing them off as if they’re the tip of the iceberg. The scrounger living in a house made out of widescreen television sets with 50 feral kids running around. And of course the lowest point was two months ago, after a verdict about Philpott – a horrendous monster, a misogynist, who burned down his home and killed his six children, appeared on the front page of the Daily Mail as the ‘Vile Product of Welfare UK.’ As though this horrendous killer said anything about benefit recipients, in the way we can say Harold Shipman told us about GPs.

This is what we constantly see – the hunting down of these extreme stories and it has a political agenda. At the same time, they set the parameters of what we see as poltically possible, the neo-liberal idea of mass privatisation and deregulation seen as common sense, mainstream, moderate. While policies which are supported by a mass majority of the population are seen as wacky, out there, not to be discussed in any rational way. Re-nationalisation of railways, it’s even a third choice of conservative voters. There was a poll which was done a few months ago – yougov did it. It showed nearly 60% supported a 75% tax on people earning £1m or more, including 40% of tory voters. But these are policies which a journalist in the mainstream press would never give the time of day to. They’re seen as wacky, out there and extreme.

This is why a conscience clause is so important, to enable journalist to be able, without fear of dismissal, to stand up and not have to do reports or write pices which are false, or indeed got at through illegal means.

Owen Jones, Author – Chavs: The demonisation of the working class

Natalie Bennett Image:

Natalie Bennett Image:

Now maybe some of you professional readers, read the Daily Mail, unfortunately I have to for professional reasons, and you’ll be reading quite often about these families with 10 children or more on out-of-work benefits. What you might not know, I looked up the figures on this, is there is around 100 families in the whole of Britain that fit that criteria. And if you read the Daily Mail, you know practically all of them by name.

And lots of people reading the Daily Mail think that this is your typical benefit recipient. And that is one sign of the kind of damage the media we have now, does to our politics, and it’s unchallenged. And we have to challenge it.

We also have to encourage the good bits of our media.

Many of you might know about the group collectively known as the Barnet Bloggers who did a huge amount to expose the dreadful Brian Coleman, who’s just been expelled from the Tory party. And it was the bloggers, the independent media, the citizen’s journalists, who really created the situation that made that happen.

So what we need to do is not despair.

Of course, we need to tackle the ownership question. I was actually with some people in this room at a meeting in Bournemouth, and at that meeting I met a new word, it’s almost unpronounceable – the ‘berlusconi-lisation’ of the media in Europe. And that just sums it up perfectly for where we are now with ownership, and where we need to get away from.

I agree with Harriet Harman, that’s not something I say often, but a 15% ownership cap I think would be absolutely a brilliant place to start. And she’s preparing cross party talks on that.

We need to find a way to help fund a lot more of that kind of  [independent] journalism. I think the idea of some kind of tax, perhaps on online adverts, as a way of having a public service model or licence fee to fund independent journalism is an excellent idea.

Above all, what we absolutely must say is that good quality, independent journalism is absolutely essential for our democracy. I think looking at the turn-out in elections these days, you look at the state the public views their MPs, we have a big problem with our democracy, and one of the things we need to do is fix our media and our press to fix our democracy.

Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Six speakers took but ten minutes to say their piece at the Media Reform Rally on Monday 17th June. Despite the time restraint, each of the speakers delivered a strong, individual assault on the changes that need to happen to restore faith, democracy and integrity to the British Press and take it out of the hands of an elite handful. So much was said, we’ll have to do this over two posts. Here’s some of what we heard: 

Image: Media Reform Coalition

Up first was Murat Akser from Kadir Has University in Istanbul, who spoke about the absence of media independence in Turkey:

Murat Akser Image: MySpace

Murat Akser Image: MySpace

Why isn’t the mainstream media reporting these events? First of all, because of big business interests integrated with the media. All big corporations who own banks and have big interests own the media outlets in Turkey at the moment. It’s not even horizontal integration anymore, because the same corporation can own the same type of media outlet in Turkey, like 5 TV channels, 4 national newspapers, 20 radios owned by the same company. Sometimes they have the very same news in the same order.

Editorial [begins] at the very top level. Which means the owners of big corporations that can cost billions of dollars, personally read editorials and sign what is to be printed and what is to be broadcast.

We are dealing with a media autocracy where the state and the government controls the news, with complacent media owners.

It’s happening right now. Editorials are being controlled everyday.

Turkey now has the most number of reporters arrested in the world. Now why is that important? Because we are not talking about a dictatorship or a terror state.  We are dealing with a place that prides itself on being a democracy for the last 67 years.

But, what I am trying to say is that this is changing. There are new ways of reporting incidents from the field. All these young people who are out there resisting are actually fighting against this conglomerate pressure.

Because the first reaction those people did was walk in front of these building or big media monopolies and shout ‘free the news’. And now they are freeing the news. There are people out there, everyone with a cell phone, iphone or screens – now they cannot control the news. The media is going to be ours once again. This is the way of the future. And I’m hoping that this media autocracy will end because there are not now many reporters left to be arrested.

Lets get our media back to our own hands. Each of us are reporters. Each of us can go out there, actively, and report on anything we see fit, and if those media outlets cannot do it. We will do it.

Murat Akser, Kadir Has University, Istanbul

Michelle Stanistreet Image: The Guardian

Michelle Stanistreet Image: The Guardian

A free media is essential to a democracy. It just doesn’t work without it. People need to hear a range of arguments, they need equal access to information and opinion. Evidence shows repeatedly, that countries with a large number of news anchors and an independent media are less susceptible to corruption by politicians and business. That’s why the question of who owns the press is so vital.

The NUJ was a core participant at the Leveson inquiry, and this investigation into the culture and practices of the press really lifted the lid on how widespread unethical and illegal practices had been in the industry. It also demonstrated how the relations of politicians, the press and the police were corrupted by the instance of one man owning 37% of the newspaper market. And with that power comes arrogance amongst his own newspaper executives, who had really, genuinely seemed to believe they had become untouchable.

It was really interesting to see politicians turn up at Leveson and unburden themselves, and by their own admission have become too craven to take on the Murdoch press. They feared that they’d be pursued personally or that their party’s policies would be savaged. Prime Minister after Prime Minister felt they had to pay homage at the court of Rupert.

They meet up in Mayfair clubs with promises of being backed by the Murdoch press at the next election. One of them even became godfather to the press’s own daughter. Likewise with the police, particularly the Metropolitan police, an unhealthy relationship developed between them and News International.

And Rupert Murdoch has long maintained that he doesn’t dictate any editorial line in his newspapers. And I’d ask just one question, if that’s the case then why did all but one of his 175 newspapers around the world have the same pro war line on Iraq.

John Major was told by the media mogul that he’d withdraw his support in his newspapers unless government changed their policy on the UK’s membership of the EU. This is the kind of practical way in which the power of one man influenced the decisions of our press here in the UK.

Michelle Stanistreet, General Secretary, National Union of Journalists 

Justin Schlosberg Image:

Justin Schlosberg Image:

Today, 6 out of the 7 biggest national newspapers in this country by circulation peddle a conservative, neo-liberal right-wing agenda.  For two decades, progressive politics has had no choice and no voice.

But it’s not just Murdoch and it’s not just about the tabloids. The Russian billionaire owner of The Independent and the Evening Standard wrote the following tweet after giving testimony at the Leveson inquiry:

“Forgot to tell Leveson that it’s unreasonable to expect individuals to spend millions of pounds on newspapers and not have access to politicians.”

Fascinating use of the word unreasonable here. Maybe Mr. Lebedev hasn’t quite mastered the British way of not being completely upfront about corruption in politics.

In particular though, this tweet reveals two things. First, the financial struggles in which all newspapers are embroiled is no reason not to regulate ownership. If anything, they have opened the door to a new class of media moguls who are quite willing to use newspapers not for their commercial value but for their political clap. Make no mistake, despite dwindling profits, newspapers are more relevant today than ever. Most of the biggest titles are reaching more audiences than they ever have before, courtesy of their online editions, and they still play a mean role in the news agenda.

The second insight revealed by this tweet is that newspaper owners have simply come to expect that their investment in news ought to pay off in political input. This is the type of sleaze culture that is far more insidious and far reaching than Cash For Questions or any of the networks of corruption that have undermined British democracy and faith in the three key P’s; politicians, police and press.

If you change the dynamics for ownership you may just change the culture that draws red lines for journalists as much as it does for politicians. In particular, ownership reform could ensure that the most powerful owners of the media are kept at arms-length from the content of their allies. A journalism that is less direct is surely one that is more searching, more questioning more scrutinising. And if accompanied by a new and effective means of funding, it could provide meaningful support for real journalism – safe from the trappings and pressures of corporate media.

We need ownership reform now because trust in the integrity of our most sacred institutions is at an all time low. Because the existing plurality regime has proved entirely unfit for purpose. In our increasingly mobile, technologically dependent and work centred lifestyle, the media, and indeed the mainstream media, have become essential ways to convene and converse as citizens in a democracy. For too long we’ve allowed that space to be annexed by narrow corporate interests serving shareholders and moguls over citizens and public. We ought to reclaim that space, we need to reclaim it and we need to do it now.

Justin Schlosberg, Media Reform Coalition

Catch more of what we heard at the Media Reform Rally tomorrow.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

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The latest figures show that in the first year the coalition government came to power in 2010, an extra one million people were pushed in to absolute poverty in the UK.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

In the Department for Work and Pension’s annual report on households living below average income, it was revealed that for two successive years real incomes have dropped by 3 per cent annually, meaning economic progress that had been made in previous year’s by those on low incomes had effectively been wiped out.

The report showed that the median income of a family was at £427 a week between 2011-12. When adjusted for inflation, this was slightly below the £429 in 2001-02 and well down on the £454 peak in median income in 2009-10 – the year before the coalition came to power.

The definition of absolute poverty is characterised by “severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information”. Classification depends not only on income but also on access to services – which in many areas are seeing planned closures such as libraries and hospital wards due to government spending cuts.

The data from the Department for Work and Pensions showing that working household incomes are at their lowest levels since 2000, coupled with a recent report from the Trussell Trust revealing that there’s been a 465 per cent increase in the amount of people having to use food banks, will no doubt cause a sense of unease within the coalition who are already facing scrutiny over the impact of their welfare reforms.

Foob Bank usage has risen 465% says Trussell Trust Image:

Foob Bank usage has risen 465% says Trussell Trust Image:

Within that one million estimate, around 300,000 children have found themselves living in homes now being defined as living in poverty, bringing overall child poverty numbers in the UK to about 3.8 million.

Speaking to the BBC, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the government’s aim was to get children out of poverty by getting more people in to work: “While this government is committed to eradicating child poverty, we want to take a new approach by finding the source of the problem and tackling that.”

However, bringing further embarrassment to the coalition, a detailed analysis of the government’s figures by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that in fact, two-thirds of those 300,000 children who are living in absolute poverty are in households where their parents aren’t the ‘scroungers’ or jobless of our society, but the ‘strivers’, the workers, the ones with jobs – the ones David Cameron promised to support.

However, the support doesn’t seem to be there and Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, says we need to look to other causes of child poverty. Speaking to The Telegraph she said: “Today’s poverty figures expose comprehensively the myth that the main cause of poverty is people choosing not to work.

“The truth is that for a growing number of families, work isn’t working. The promise that work would be a route out of poverty has not been kept as wages stagnate and spending cuts have hurt low-income working families.”

When you consider that over the last 5 years household bills have risen by an average of 25 per cent, whilst average earnings have only increased by around 6 per cent, it can hardly be surprising that the result is an increase in absolute poverty figures. What is surprising however, are the absolute poverty projections that the IFS report are warning of, if changes aren’t made.

Researchers at the IFS predict that by 2015 we could see another 700,000 children living in absolute poverty and 800,000 working-age adults – bringing total numbers of households living in absolute poverty to 12.3 million.

In 2010 the coalition government made a pledge to end child poverty by 2020, however, these latest figures suggest that the government are a way off managing to fulfil this commitment.

Speaking to the BBC, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, MP Liam Byrne said: “The devastating verdict is in – in just one year this government has pushed a million people into absolute poverty and progress in tackling relative child poverty has completely stalled.” When numbers like this emerge, it is often easy for the government to point fingers and avoid the issue. However, this year the UK Government is hosting the G8, which has “addressing global hunger” on it’s agenda. Let’s hope that when the Prime Minister’s looking at ways to reduce global hunger, he bears in mind those that are going hungry in the UK too.

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1) 36 councils call on government to abolish the bedroom tax

36 councillors from around the country gathered at a summit in Manchester to unite and express their concern over the damaging under-occupancy policy.

Councillors said that the tax was counter productive and pushed people into debt cycles, forced them into private sector accommodation, broke down communities and would eventually only increase the benefits bill.

The meeting will result in a detailed report that will be forwarded to government in the coming weeks.

Bedroom Tax Demonstration in Manchester City Centre Image: MEN

Bedroom Tax Demonstration in Manchester City Centre Image: MEN

Read more about this story here.

2) Concerns over ATOS broken pledges that helped them secure contract of £184m

ATOS Healthcare has failed to meet the standards of pledges made to the government when gaining their contract to supply fit-to-work testing across the country.

In the agreement, ATOS said they had ‘contractually agreed’ 22 sub-contractors across the country to supply the 750 assessment centres/sites needed. It has since been revealed that they have agreements with only 8 sub-contractors.

This creates problems for those using the sites, who may have to travel further on longer journeys, breaking the maximum 60 minute journey ATOS had promised in negotiations.

ATOS refused to reveal how many of the 750 sites they actually have.

This news comes after the government issued an investigation in October, into misleading information supplied in the ATOS bid about their links with Disabled People’s Organisations.

Read more about this story here.

3) Slump in low wages has helped to hide the true condition of the jobs market. 

Institue for Fiscal Studies Image:

Institue for Fiscal Studies Image:

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has revealed that large rises and figures of unemployment have been avoided through pay cuts.

A third of those who had stayed in the same job throughout the recession had either seen a pay freeze or a pay cut.

The IFS discovery revealed this information just as David Cameron praised the work of new policy, in bringing unemployment and benefit support down. However, general secretary of the Trade Unions Congress, Frances O’Grady, said that recovery was only being felt by top bosses, where pay is rising “10 times faster than ordinary workers”.

Read more about this story here.

4) Young carers to get help, as government agrees new rights

10-16 June was also ‘Carers Week’ – represented by a UK-wide awareness campaign to provide support to carers, raise the profile of those caring and in need of help to care, and also celebrate the work of over 6.5 million people in Britain caring for a loved one.

With over 70,000 young carers looking after parents or siblings, the profession has also campaigned heavily to help get more support to those under 18 who previously, could not qualify for help or income support.

However, during a House of Commons debate last Tuesday, children’s minister Edward Timpson, committed to the changes and will be included in the new draft of the Care and Support Bill.

Read more about this story here.




by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

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