What will be the impact of the referendum in Ireland?

What will be the impact of the referendum in Ireland?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

Katie looks at the significance of the abortion referendum in the Republic of Ireland, and whether it is enough.

What will be the impact of the referendum in Ireland?

picture from Irish Mirror.

On the 25th of May a historic referendum on abortion laws took place in Ireland in which 66.4% of votes were made in favour of legalising abortion. This was a truly landmark decision for a nation in which four out of five people identify as Catholic, a region that stipulates that life begins at the moment of conception and therefore abortion is a kin to murder. The vote demonstrates that the tide has turned in the Republic of Ireland, more women than ever recognise their right to determine the fate of their body and more men than ever recognise the necessity for female choice. But what will this referendum really lead to, how will it impact the lives of Irish women for generations and will it change the nation for good?

To really understand the origins of the debate on abortion one must look back over two thousand years, to Jeremiah 1.5 in which it is revealed the Lord said “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”. This line from the Bible has been used by Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, people from all denominations of Christianity, to argue that we were mapped out by God before our conception, that any conception is a part of God’s plan and therefore to terminate any pregnancy is to go against the will of God. People have come to conclude that from conception, even from your conception in the eyes of God, one is a life and has the same value as all life outside the womb. It is on this fundamental point that those who have spent years campaigning for repealing of Ireland’s eighth amendment would disagree. Pro choice activists in Ireland and across the globe are not all, though some will be, claiming that the foetus is of no value but believe that the woman’s right to determine what happens to her body is of superior worth. This means that while one woman is free to decide that her life is such that she wants a baby and can take care of one, the woman standing next to her in a queue or at a pro choice rally can choose for herself what suits her, if she is too young, already has too many children, financially unstable or simply does not want to be a mother then she can make that choice, for her own body.

After the referendum women in Ireland are now promised they will have that choice. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has stated that new legislation will be introduced by the end of this year and will permit abortions up to the 12 week mark and up to 24 weeks in exceptional circumstances. While 12 weeks may seem an early stage in a pregnancy 79% of abortions in England and Wales take place in the first 10 weeks. As a result, statistically speaking, this change to Ireland’s laws will have a huge impact on Ireland’s women and now the vast majority seeking abortions will be able to do so within their own country’s health system. This will dramatically reduced the numbers of women, which often exceed 6,500 per year, secretly travelling to the UK to receive an abortion, completely alone and without support. These women will now be able to share their story more freely and seek support from those around them, so that women in the future will be less riddled by the shame and ignominy that has always come with abortion in Ireland. Women in Ireland are now not only free to make choices for their own bodies but free from the pain of stigma and judgment.

However, there are limits to the impact this law change will have. The most important is that women who have no idea they are pregnant, who may not realise until much later than 12 weeks, will not be able to access abortions unless there are mitigating circumstances. In England and Wales the law is different as abortion is allowed up until 24 weeks as this is recognised as the point of liability, after which the woman no longer has the power to make choices for the baby because it would be a viable life separate from her. As a result some women, when their pregnancy is between 12 and 24 weeks, may still travel to the UK to seek an abortion. However, given that only 10% of abortions take place after the 13 week stage far fewer woman will be forced to make this journey than currently are. In addition, we must remember that this it is not a ‘cure all’ result, women in Ireland will likely have to defend their right to choice for decades to come as the pendulum of politics will mean that one day this right may be threatened. However today, for the majority of women, the referendum result will have a transformative impact. Women’s issues are firmly on the political agenda in the Republic of Ireland and this result is a fantastic leap in the right direction. Next stop, change in the North!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fairer Fares for Manchester Metrolink?

Fairer Fares for Manchester Metrolink?

Articles, Opinion

Eloise sheds light on proposed changes to Manchester’s Metrolink and discusses how it could affect young people.

Fairer Fares for Manchester Metrolink?

Travel for Greater Manchester are proposing a new ‘four-zone’ based ticketing system, supposedly reducing the number of pricing options from over 8,500 to just 10 zone-based fares in order to create a “system that is simple, convenient and good value for money”. The change could potentially be introduced in early 2019, on approval from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

A public listening exercise is currently taking place, involving a questionnaire exploring public opinions of the proposed system. However, this survey, whilst asking for age during the completion does not mention the impact of this change on the young people of Greater Manchester – an issue which needs serious attention.

Currently, 16-18-year-olds of Manchester are faced with a series of confusing and nonsensical options regarding tram fares. For 16-year-olds, they are only counted within the 11-16 age bracket until the 31st August after they turn 16 – leaving many 16-year olds outside of this age bracket. From then on, 16 and 17-year-olds are no longer counted as ‘children’ despite the legality that disputes this. The introduction of the ‘Get me there’ card was meant to simplify this, with talks of concessionary rates for students. However, this has been entirely ineffective – there are no clear options to select a concessionary or ‘half-price’ option at the stations, and the whole concept has been both poorly advertised and poorly delivered.

16-18-year olds are then forced to paying the full adult fare – despite their compulsory attendance of full-time education severely limiting their income – if any at all. To add insult to injury, many young people use the Metrolink to travel to their place of education – often suddenly having to double this fee to continue making the same journey that had done since the age of 11 – a fare that seems incredibly unjust. This sense of injustice is only heightened when compared to the London system, with Andy Burnham acknowledging just how much further “ahead” they are.

London’s system for under 18s is clear and logical. 5-10-year-olds travel free on all Transport for London (TfL) and most National Rail services in London. 11-15-year-olds can travel free on buses and trams, with half-price on all other TfL services and most National Rail services in London. 16 and 17-year-olds can travel at half-price on all TfL services and most National Rail services in London. If they are residents of London they may also be eligible for free bus and tram travel – and all of these are linked by one card. This highlights the shambolically disjointed nature of Manchester’s trams, buses and rail (which is another issue entirely), as well as the inevitable strain of transport costs that are evidently avoidable.

It seems that once again, Manchester has drawn the short straw. Amongst the current northern rail crisis, it has become apparent that northern transport is not up to an appropriate standard – with young people bearing the brunt of this. A zonal system for trams would undoubtedly make an improvement – major cities all over the world follow this system – but we must not let young people be forgotten whilst making this change. I urge you to make your voice heard by highlighting the necessity of considering student tram pricing through the additional comments section of the following survey.

Feedback closes midnight Sunday 17th June 2018.
Metrolink zonal fares survey

By Eloise Hall

 

The House of Lords: Outdated Wreckers or Invaluable Checks?

The House of Lords: Outdated Wreckers or Invaluable Checks?

Articles, Opinion

Oliver defends the House of Lords following the criticism it has faced in recent months, particularly over Brexit.

The House of Lords: Outdated Wreckers or Invaluable Checks?

picture from Parliament UK.

In recent days, the House of Lords has come under significant fire for their amendments to the Draft Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union. These amendments, many of which have been tabled and passed, have gained cross-partisan support from Peers in the Lords as the Bill passes through its report stage of the Lords. Some of these amendments exist to prevent the Government from leaving the EU without any kind of exit deal in the event of soured negotiations. Therefore, I deem their criticism unfair.

There is a danger that one views the House of Lords in the wrong light. The House of Lords is not, in my opinion, a Chamber of any great power. The real power in the UK lies with the Commons. The Lords have very little power and, since the passing of the 1949 Parliament Act, they have little power beyond tabling their own Bills (which Commons can easily reject) or pushing back legislation for one year. Indeed, then it can be bypassed straight to Royal Ascent, and is then formed into a law. The House of Lords is unable to veto laws, and hence one would be wrong to state that they were a Chamber of any significant power. Surely this simply makes the Lords a check on Parliament?

Checks within politics are there to ensure that one area of the legislative/executive do not ‘run away’ with power. In other words, they are controlled and moderated so that they act in the best way for the people and the nation.

The House of Lords is the check on the Commons because those in the Commons are subjected to their Party Whip and hence can act on Party lines, not on those lines that would effectively work in the national interest. The Lords aren’t elected into office on any such manifestos and hence they are able to step away from the Party politics and consider options on their merit rather than simply obeying the Party Whip.

The Lords suffer great criticism since they go against governmental policy on Brexit, however one must remember that their actions in terms of amendments enable the Commons, whom we elect, to vote on areas of the Withdrawal Agreement. The Lords – the ‘unelected wreckers’ – are simply enabling those in Commons to have a vote on a Bill that will dictate the future of the UK, allowing them a say on the behalf of the people who voted for them. The whole purpose of acting as a check, as a moderator, is to challenge policy, to challenge views and decisions; to ensure that they have been properly examined and considered before they are rolled out. Therefore surely the Lords are just fulfilling their mandate…aren’t they?

By Oliver Bramley

The Case for Reform in UK General Elections

The Case for Reform in UK General Elections

Articles, Opinion

In this article, Jack explores the potential for electoral reform in the UK, citing the flaws in our electoral system and suggesting what it could be replaced with.

The Case for Reform in UK General Elections

picture from ITV

With the Brexit process, as well as international scandals involving Trump or Russia overwhelming British media in recent periods, this undoubtedly means that other issues must fall to the wayside. Personally, I believe that one of these such issues which has been unjustly overshadowed, is the need for reform of our First Past the Post (FPTP) system, used in general elections. Although the AV referendum was held on this issue in 2011, the debate over this issue still ought to continue for three key reasons. Firstly, the referendum had a ludicrously low turnout of only 42% thereby weakening its democratic legitimacy. Secondly, the public dissatisfaction with Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, following the controversial raising of tuition fees by the coalition to £9,000 a year, doomed the chances of AV by association with them. Finally, and most importantly, the FPTP system is still inherently unfair. As the Electoral Reform Society puts it, “The way we elect our MPs is bad for voters, bad for governance and bad for democracy.”

FPTP, as a majoritarian system, means that the candidate with the greatest number of votes in a constituency is elected as MP. This means that all the other votes which do not end up electing the MP are wasted and so huge amounts of people in a constituency are bound to feel, and indeed be, unrepresented. It is estimated that half of all votes cast in the 2015 election did not end up electing an MP and so did not matter. The person who epitomizes all the problems of the FPTP system has to be Alasdair McDonnell MP. This former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party holds the record for the lowest proportion of the vote help by a successful MP. Just 24.5% of his Belfast South constituency voted for him in 2015 yet he was still able to become the MP for that area, because he had more votes than any other candidate. Whilst this admittedly may be an extreme example, the fact that we have an electoral system that can produce a result that ignores more than 75% of the voters shows that something is deeply wrong. This problem of wasted votes is especially significant in safe seats as it means that just because of the postcode lottery, voters whose ideas do not line up with the majority of the people in their constituency may as well not be able to vote, as the result of that particular seat is never going to be close enough for their votes to matter.

Even though these problems are symptomatic of FPTP, many still argue that it is the best option for an electoral system since it gives a strong MP-constituency link and most of the time results in strong government with a majority of seats in parliament rather than coalitions, typical of proportional systems. The MP-constituency link is important since it allows people within any area to know they have someone elected by their local area whose job it is to represent the constituency in Westminster. Also, the typical strong majority is important as it allows the government to pass their manifesto pledges easily, since they have been voted for in general election. Clearly, these factors are significant and ought to be preserved through the electoral system used. However, the facts of the matter are, even though FPTP does achieve these goals it does not change the fact that it is intrinsically unfair. Also, it is a myth that these criteria cannot be achieved through use of a more proportional and fair system instead. The Additional Member System (AMS) is an electoral system which has one vote for constituency representatives and another vote for “additional members” to make parliament more proportional and is currently used in elections for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and London Assemblies. The AMS system works by having one vote for a local representative under FPTP as before which decides a fixed portion of all MPs i.e. enough for every constituency to have an MP linked to it. However, there is also a second vote for a party rather than a candidate. This vote is used on a national level to decide the remaining MPs from party lists via the D’Hondt method, to make parliament as close to proportional and representative as possible.

The reason why the introduction of a semi-proportional system like this in the UK would be an improvement is because it would give the benefits of both non-proportional and proportional systems. Namely, the strong constituency link would be unchanged and all the second votes would definitely factor in deciding some form of representative. This means that even if a voter feels like their first vote is redundant, such as in a safe constituency, they will still be able to have at least some say in the people that represent them overall through the second national vote. Furthermore, in recent history the trend of FPTP producing strong governments has undoubtedly waned, given that it has produced a succession of governments with either small or indeed non-existent majorities since Gordon Brown (who himself never won a general election). AMS would also avoid the problems of unstable coalitions as has been seen in countries like Italy, since the two major parties would most likely continue to dominate, meaning multi-party coalitions wouldn’t be necessary.

Therefore, as other political issues take the forefront, the FPTP system continues to do a disservice to the British people under the pretence of being a necessary evil, when AMS seems able to keep the benefits of FPTP while allowing every person who has the right to vote, the right to feel that their vote matters. A more proportional system is something that is unlikely to happen, given that the two major parties would never advocate for a system that could damage their own electoral success. Still, this does not justify the unrepresentative state of the House of Commons in terms of MPs from minor parties and differing viewpoints who are deeply needed, perhaps now more so than ever.

By Jack Walker

Pardoning the Suffragettes?

Pardoning the Suffragettes?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

The Fawcett society has recently called for the Suffragettes to be pardoned. Eloise debates whether this would be a fitting tribute or if instead it could serve to encourage politically motivated crime or even dismiss the great sacrifice they made.

Pardoning the Suffragettes?

picture from The Independent

Following recent pressure from the Fawcett Society, several leading politicians have been debating the possibility of pardoning the Suffragettes. Sam Smethers, chief executive of The Fawcett Society, argues that it would be a ‘fitting tribute’ as the Suffragettes made ‘such sacrifices’ during their campaign for equal franchise and ‘in any meaningful sense of the word, they are not criminals’. A criminal is simply defined by Oxford dictionaries as ‘a person who has committed a crime’. This therefore classes the Suffragettes as criminals, as the label and resultantly the law does not – however unjustly – take into consideration the necessity or reasoning of committing said crime.

On the one hand, it is undeniable that the Suffragettes committed a significant number of crimes during their campaign, totalling at over 1300 arrests for crimes such as arson and assault. A pardon has the potential to legitimise some of these extremities of violence – for instance the assault of Winston Churchill in 1909 despite his pro-suffrage vote, an example where it could be argued that the Suffragettes took the militancy of their movement too far, and perhaps encourage other modern day violent outbursts towards politicians. There is a general consensus that the political murder of MP Jo Cox was irrevocably wrong, and whilst the assault of Churchill undoubtedly pales in comparison to the atrocities that Cox faced, surely the physical attack of MPs (or any public figure) is something that should be discouraged across history – whatever the motive? This seems to be a sentiment shared by the Prime Minister – in her recent speech in Manchester she criticised the online abuse and intimidation that politicians today face, expressing her concern that ‘bitterness and aggression’ deters political engagement – or perhaps attracts the wrong form of engagement, and therefore excusing this behaviour allows the line of uncalled for attack and passionate protest to become blurred.

Despite this, pardoning the Suffragettes may be a simple way of honouring their memory for the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 that first allowed women to vote by acknowledging the part they played in the campaign for the enfranchisement of women and the resultant advancement of society. Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party argues this case, suggesting in the Telegraph that the question of pardoning the Suffragettes is synonymous with ‘righting that wrong’. Arguably, the Suffragettes were treated wrongly, with the government resorting to cruel and inhumane methods (such as force feeding) – but perhaps an apology may be more appropriate than a pardon. A pardon seems to attempt to white-wash history, creating a cheap cover up and an easy way for political parties to forge a feminist façade. It dismisses the reality that women at the time felt they had to break the law to be acknowledged by the men in power, and the necessity of the Suffragettes’ militancy in securing women’s right to vote. Krista Cowman, a professor of History at the University of Lincoln, suggested that the Suffragettes would be ‘spinning in their graves’ at the idea of being pardoned, implying that perhaps they too would be angry at the proposed dismissal of the lengths of their sacrifices – ultimately what use would a clean criminal record be to them now, other than eliminating the cold proof of their efforts?

Helen Pankhurst (great-granddaughter to Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter to Sylvia Pankhurst) dismisses the debate by suggesting its irrelevance as the Suffragettes have already been pardoned by society. The respect the Suffragettes command from modern day society is evident. A statue of Alice Hawkins went up in Market Square, Leicester earlier this month partially as a result of her five-time imprisonment in aid of the cause, proving that the Suffragette legacy remains untarnished by criminal records and perhaps is even enhanced through their defiance of the law.  Helen Pankhurst further encourages women to ‘continue their fight’ rather than ‘dwell’ on personal sacrifice. Perhaps modern-day feminists ought to be emboldened rather than burdened by the Suffragettes’ struggle in order to strive for further equalities within society.

By Eloise Hall

Are recent allegations of sexual misconduct the beginning of the end for the aid sector?

Are recent allegations of sexual misconduct the beginning of the end for the aid sector?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

Huge scandal regarding Oxfam’s sexual conduct has recently been the talk of the media, which has hugely damaged the image of the global charity. Katie discusses the potential consequence of these revelations on the aid sector.

Are recent allegations of sexual misconduct the beginning of the end for the aid sector?

picture from The TLS

In recent weeks the now highly published worldwide sexual misconduct scandal has infiltrated the aid sector. No longer is the public only hearing about how their government representatives, favourite film stars or powerful sports coaches have been perpetrators of some of the most violent sex crimes: our newspapers and televisions are now filled with reports of aid workers abusing their positions and exploiting the people they are supposed to be helping. The most high-profile of these accusations are those made against Oxfam, from allegations against international aid workers for hiring prostitutes to allegations of sexual harassment against both aid workers and charity shop workers. According to Oxfam GB’s chief executive Mark Goldring, in the last ten days twenty-six reports of sexual assault and harassment have been made, with sixteen of them reportedly against members of Oxfam’s international programme.

Glaring indiscretions and gross indecency by people working in the name of a well-respected and government supported charity such as Oxfam have sent shockwaves through the British public. It has resulted in many people raising the questions of whether we should ‘put our money where our mouths are’ and refrain from donating to Oxfam, or even more drastically whether this is the beginning of the end for global charities? In the last 11 days around 7,000 people have reportedly cancelled direct debits to Oxfam showing that for some members of the public the accusations against Oxfam workers and management, for their previous suppression and mishandling of allegations, have been too much for them to reconcile continuing donating to the charity. The motivations behind these 7,000 people rescinding promised money are clearly admirable and it is true that an effective way of forcing an organisation to improve their practise is by placing financial pressure on them. However, in this case, when the recipients of Oxfam’s ‘service’ are some of the most vulnerable men, women and children in the world withdrawing donations may cause more harm than good.

Whilst we must always remain aware of the terrible accusations against the charity, Oxfam is still doing some of the most commendable work of any leading aid organisation. They are currently operating four crisis appeals for the crises in Bangladesh, Syria, the Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo and for decades they have been working towards global empowerment of women and guaranteeing fair rights for workers. With this is mind and given that of every £1 donated to Oxfam 79p goes directly towards development and emergency work it cannot be denied that, at least in part, those who will suffer from reduced donations will be the people that Oxfam’s work aims to help.

Answering the question of whether this is a turning point for the charity sector is more difficult. There is definitely merit in the argument that for the last few years more people have been questioning the role of global charities as society has become increasingly aware of how the at times ‘white saviour’ nature of their agendas could be damaging to overall global development. This could mean that in the next few decades international charities such as Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières and UNICEF will become obsolete and make way for smaller, more ‘grass-roots’-based organisations. However, despite aid scepticism within certain sectors of the population, the majority of people’s opinions were not, until the last few weeks, against the mainstream charities. Following recent allegations of sexual misconduct this tide may change as people may begin to not only question the more subtle impacts of a western dominated aid sector but are now faced with the undeniable truths of, in places, a poorly controlled and morally corrupt industry.

The reality of the impact that recent allegations will have on both the power and popularity of the aid sector will only become clear as time wears on. However, the reports have undoubtedly led to a significant proportion of the country questioning their long-held faith in its integrity. If this is to be a watershed moment then the slow demise of the sector will, at least in the short term, have negative implications for the receivers of aid as millions of people’s lives and livelihoods depend on the work of international charities. In the long term this may be a revolutionary moment in which charities, and in fact all major organisations, are forced to either clean up their practise or face disintegration. No matter what the long-term consequences are, Vicky Browning, CEO of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, is most certainly right in saying ‘After Oxfam, charities are no longer untouchable’.

By Katie Wharton

Does the fall of Henry Bolton mean the fall of UKIP?

Does the fall of Henry Bolton mean the fall of UKIP?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

After his girlfriend’s racist messages about Meghan Markle went public, UKIP leader Henry Bolton was brought to trial by his own party earlier today, and lost the no confidence motion by 867 votes to 500.

Does the fall of Henry Bolton mean the fall of UKIP?

picture from The Times

Earlier today, UKIP members voted to sack yet another leader, this time Henry Bolton, after controversy over racist messages sent by his partner. He was elected in September following UKIP’s disastrous performance in last year’s general election, but his time in the role was short-lived. This has undoubtedly raised questions about the stability of the party, who are likely to see their sixth leader since the EU referendum less than two years ago.

The announcement that Prince Harry was to marry Meghan Markle was hugely popular, perhaps particularly popular amongst UKIP supporters who pride themselves on being patriotic. Thus, for a party that faces a constant struggle against accusations of racism, Jo Marney’s derogatory comments regarding Markle’s race were inflammatory to say the least. With UKIP being the face of Brexit and Brexiteers being demonised as racists, bigots and xenophobes amongst other titles, they have constantly fought to improve their image. Views such as those expressed by Marney were exactly the kind that the party sought to condemn, which led to calls for Bolton’s resignation, but the damage had already been done.

As more and more senior UKIP members came out against their leader following his girlfriend’s offensive comments, Bolton had struck back. “If the NEC (National Executive Committee) decides to go down the route of months of further infighting and further negative media scrutiny, by deciding to pass a vote of no confidence in me, then I think the reality is that the party is probably over” was his response. And yet infighting and negative media scrutiny was what he got. It seems difficult to make a case for Bolton remaining as leader of the party: perhaps his views were not reflected in the messages, but they had lost him a lot of trust amongst UKIP members and supporters. However, another leadership contest will be detrimental to the party, and there are concerns regarding who might replace him. Gerard Batten will take over as interim leader and there will be a leadership election within 90 days where we may see the return of the controversial Anne Marie Waters, founder of Shariah Watch UK, as a candidate.

Having thrived under Nigel Farage during their successful Brexit campaign, UKIP faces a battle for its very existence. Constantly criticised in the media and unable to produce a long-term leader, the party risks losing its credibility. For some, this is good news: many people view UKIP as genuinely racist and do not want them to have power, but this is not democratic. Having received over half a million votes in last year’s general election, the party’s policies clearly appeal to many people, and yet they will not vote for a party they believe to be unstable, or worse, racist. If this party disappears from mainstream politics, this restricts our democratic options as voters from some constituencies will face a choice of only Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour. That some people will no longer be able to find a party that appeals to them goes against the UK’s democratic values and could be the very negative impact of Henry Bolton’s downfall. Many within UKIP have called for the return of Nigel Farage. Will he come to the party’s rescue once again?

By Lucy Higginbotham

Homelessness: Every day of the year, not just at Christmas.

Homelessness: Every day of the year, not just at Christmas.

Articles, Opinion

Walking through any city, it is clear to see that homelessness is a large-scale issue, but Katie highlights that this nationwide crisis goes far beyond what we can see, calling for more support for some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Homelessness: Every day of the year, not just at Christmas.

picture from Manchester Evening News

As winter is drawing to a close you may find that your charitable pockets are closing up and you are missing a New Years’ resolution to give more, whether that be giving time, money or food to people in greater need than yourself. Over Christmas thousands of Brits give money to many different charities tackling issues from cancer research to domestic violence and the refugee crisis, and one of the most popular causes to give to is the plight of homeless people in the UK. However, homelessness is not just a crisis over Christmas and with an estimated 307,000 people sleeping rough or accommodated in temporary housing such as hostels and further thousands suffering with ‘hidden homelessness’ there is lots more to be done. Hidden homelessness is a term used when a person has nowhere to live but is not recorded as requiring housing assistance. This means that all statistics used in this article and any articles or discussions on homelessness are significant underestimates.

People living homeless are often struggling with other issues as well as their homelessness and a survey conducted by Homeless Link found that 73% of their respondents reported having physical health problems, 39% have or are recovering from a drug problem and 27% have or are recovering from an alcohol dependency. Shockingly, 80% reported suffering with some form of mental health problem. These physical and mental barriers make it very difficult for homeless people to break out of the cycle and mean that they need multifaceted support to help them reintegrate back into society, rather than simply a roof over their head. Charities such as Shelter and Crisis tackle addiction and mental and physical health problems as a part of their work, with some clients offered access to counselling and practical support. The UK’s leading mental health charity Mind also recognises the link between mental health and homelessness and they focus on how improved mental health services could help many people to overcome their homelessness or housing difficulties.

Although rough sleeping is often the face of homelessness, in Britain it actually accounts for a small proportion of the homelessness figures in the UK. Living in temporary accommodation is the most common predicament of those recorded as homeless with 281,000 people living in hostels, bed and breakfasts and other temporary accommodation last year. Of those people approximately 128,000 are children. Many of these children are homeless alongside their families, potentially consisting of older siblings, parents and even grandparents, but other children are homeless on their own. Often these children have ‘made themselves homeless’ as they have faced physical, emotional or sexual abuse at home and are no longer safe to remain living with their families. In such cases local authorities often refuse to rehouse the homeless young person, as they theoretically have a place they can live. However, given the circumstances at home, that could not be further from the truth. It is essential that social services have enough resources to enable them to support these children and more emergency and long-term foster placements are needed across the UK to provide loving homes for children of all ages for whom homelessness has become a terrible consequence of a challenging family life.

Combatting homelessness in this country is undoubtedly complex as the struggles facing those recorded homeless vary significantly. In Manchester the problems are no different and Mayor Andy Burnham sees tackling homelessness as the most urgent thing on his agenda – no surprise given that in the past year homelessness in Manchester has severely spiked with 1 in 154 people in Manchester currently homeless in comparison with 1 in 266 in 2016. Burnham aims to end rough sleeping in the city by 2020 and has some specific plans for how to do this, including pressuring the NHS to ensure GPs provide treatment to homeless people when they need it, and opening up vacant properties owned by housing providers or the public sector. Carrying out these policies would go part way to solving the homelessness problem, but more financial and resource support is needed from the government in Westminster to tackle homelessness nationwide. In addition, incredible charities such as Shelter, Crisis and Centrepoint are always in need of increased generosity from both private and public donors. Charitable giving, whatever the cause, should not be confined to the festive season as all-year-round hundreds of thousands of Brits are in need of urgent support.

By Katie Wharton

The Office for Students – Doomed to Fail?

The Office for Students – Doomed to Fail?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

The government is set to introduce its brand new Office for Students in April 2018 in an effort to improve young people’s education and increase their opportunities, but it’s already had a shaky start. This leads Alice to question whether it will actually succeed in helping young people or whether failure to meet its targets is inevitable.

The Office for Students – Doomed to Fail?

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Vickie Flores/LNP/REX (8971187y)
Toby Young, journalist arrives at BBC Broadcasting House
‘The Andrew Marr’ TV show, London, UK – 23 Jul 2017

Since the veritable disaster that was the appointment and subsequent resignation of Toby Young, the Department of Education’s new Office for Students (OfS) has faced considerable scrutiny over how well it will act on the issues that really matter to English students. While unsurprising, how legitimate are these concerns? Many stem from worries that the OfS will not address the financial hardship facing countless students, with issues ranging from the bureaucracy of the Student Loans Company being nearly impossible to navigate, to several cases of students not receiving student finance for a considerable length of time despite having already started their courses. It is not surprising that such problems with funding lead to students struggling to get by, let alone succeed in higher education.

Fortunately, chair of the OfS Sir Michael Barber seems prepared to tackle these issues, as is apparent in his piece outlining the priorities of the new body. Under the point entitled, ‘Engines of Opportunity’ Barber stresses the importance not just of getting more students from disadvantaged backgrounds attending university, but of enabling them to ‘succeed in higher education too’. Indeed, this would indicate a genuine dedication on Barber’s part to tackling the economic struggles facing students, as these are often of a particular detriment to students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Furthermore, Barber is a highly experienced educationist with considerable expertise in delivering system change and reform, which arguably makes him the ideal person to chair the OfS.

However, it is also true that he has been widely criticised for an over fixation with targets, and for failure to make well-grounded observations from statistics during his tenure as head of Tony Blair’s Prime Minister Delivery Unit. Barber was heavily involved in the formulation and implementation of New Labour’s education policy, and came under fire from critics for disregarding a substantial amount of collected data in order to confirm the ‘success’ of said policies.

While it is important to acknowledge these shortcomings, complications within Blairite education policy were by no means the sole fault of Barber, and if there were indeed failings, these were first and foremost the responsibility of Tony Blair himself. So where does this leave us on Barber, and the impact he will have as chair of the OfS? Whilst we have established that he is by no means perfect, it is also fair to say that Barber has had the opportunity to learn from mistakes made during the Blair government, and in addition has displayed a strong readiness to put the best interests of students at the heart of the OfS.

Despite Barber’s apparent commitment to the cause, some still question how serious the government really are about the new office; these doubts are chiefly due to the Toby Young debacle. Indeed, the appointment of someone so unsuitable for the role does seem a questionable move for an organisation supposedly meant to ‘champion the interests of students’. But was this blunder an honest miscalculation, or does it point to a greater problem in the running of the OfS? To answer this, we must consider the reason for Young’s appointment; although passed off by many as yet another example of ‘Tory Cronyism’, it is in fact far more likely that Toby Young simply (pardon the Love Island vernacular) ‘looked good on paper’.

On the surface, he seems a sensible enough candidate; he has some experience in the field of education, having co-founded a free school and subsequently secured a place as director of the ‘New Schools Network’. This coupled with a first in PPE from Oxford, it is understandable how Young may have seemed like a rational appointment. Of course, this was not in fact the case, with Young’s comments comparing working class students to ‘stains’ and disabled people to ‘troglodytes’ being only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of reasons why he is ill-suited for the OfS.

So what does this tell us? While the accusations of ‘Tory Cronyism’ in this case are perhaps unjustified, the appointment of Toby Young is indicative of a massive failure in due diligence – even a brief perusal of his social media, or a slightly deeper examination of his character would have immediately thrown up red flags about his suitability for the position. We thus begin to question the commitment of the government to making this new office work; they evidently didn’t take the time to sufficiently vet all their appointments to the board, which suggests a distressing lack of dedication to the very students the OfS is allegedly set up to protect.

However, ending on a more optimistic note, while the disappointing decision to appoint Young points to several issues within the OfS, the new body is by no means a lost cause. The Office for Students could still have a positive impact on the lives of English students, thanks to the appointment of Sir Michael Barber as chair, and other board members such as Ruth Carlson (civil engineering student), who have exhibited a genuine commitment to upholding the purpose of the board. Nevertheless, the true test of the OfS will come with its official launch on April 1st, after which we will soon be able to establish the extent to which it will truly ‘champion the interests of students’.

By Alice Kenny

Will the Conservatives’ ‘25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’ really lead to a green future?

Will the Conservatives’ ‘25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’ really lead to a green future?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

Last week the Conservative Party announced its new plan to tackle our environmental issues over the next 25 years. In this article, Katie assesses some of the strengths and weaknesses of these Tory policies and questions whether they are doing enough.

Will the Conservatives’ ‘25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’ really lead to a green future?

picture from CIWM Journal

Climate change and the environment are clearly incredibly important issues in the modern world, with temperatures globally breaking records, sea levels rising at their fastest rate in 2,000 years and glaciers melting at an unprecedented speed. This crisis is also contributing to other serious problems facing our world, as climate change related hazards have forcibly displaced over 21.5 million people since 2008. Due to many horrifying statistics like these coming to light people in Britain and across the globe are beginning to change their lifestyles. This is especially important in the UK as it has been proven that we, along with China, the United States, Germany and Japan, already consume twice the amount of resources than we provide. Clearly Britain is in need of drastic and transformative climate change policies. On January 11th the Conservative government introduced their plan entitled ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’. Will this be the game changer that we so desperately need or is it just a half-hearted and futile attempt?

Arguably the most significant policy in the plan is the introduction of the 5p plastic bag charge in all shops, including small shops that had initially been exempt from the charge. This change will impact 3.4 billion plastic bags meaning that hopefully billions less will be used in the next few years. This could be a fabulous step forward given the detrimental effect on the environment that plastic has been proven to have, including the use of fossil fuels in its production and plastic pollution in the air and ocean. The economic impact of this policy is also very significant. Over the next decade the scheme is predicted to raise over £780 million for the government, partly due to a £60 million saving on litter clean-up costs and a £13 million saving on carbon. Evidently, this policy will have a positive impact on both Britain’s economy and the environment.

In keeping with the theme of reducing plastic production and waste the government has also promised to encourage plastic free supermarket aisles, aisles in which all food is sold loose. They are promising that by 2042 there will be no avoidable plastic packaging in supermarkets. If achieved, this will be an important development in combatting climate change. However, they have not set out comprehensive guidelines for shops to achieve this and no incentive for them to do so. This illustrates that although in theory the government’s plans intend to do good, in practice they are too tentative and unspecific to create any real change. The government’s cautiousness is also shown in their promise to create more habitat for wildlife, reassuring people that ‘the environment department will investigate establishing 500,000 extra hectares of wildlife habitat’. Evidently this is an empty promise, committing to nothing concrete whilst suggesting that the government intends to make great strides, only just not yet. This shows that although on the surface the plan will make some positive impacts, it lacks the substance and specifics necessary to encourage businesses and the general public to get involved and therefore in the long run will certainly not transform the environment.

This is also clear when you analyse what is missing from the 25-year plan. Surprisingly, there is no mention of how the government intends to increase rates of recycling or mention of the introduction of a levy on disposable coffee cups. Recycling could have been a key focus of the plan, especially given that in 2015 recycling rates dropped for the first time in over a decade, and with the correct messaging and incentives the government could have used this plan to encourage more and more households to recycle. This would have had a very significant impact on improving our environment as recycling is one of the single best things that any individual can do to combat climate change. Recycling saves important natural resources, energy and helps decrease the amount of waste going into landfill sites. The absence of an aim to increase recycling rates in the UK demonstrates how this government plan is too bare to have real long-term effects. It is missing out a policy that will be sure to be at the forefront of any noteworthy future environment proposals.

This future proposal will also certainly contain a levy or even a ban on disposable coffee cups, as only 1 in 400 of these are recycled. Due to this statistic disposable coffee cups are a considerable contributor to landfill waste and given that a person could so easily make their own coffee at home or ask a barista to make the coffee in their own flask, it seems ridiculous that the government hasn’t tackled what could be a relatively easily solved problem. This shortcoming demonstrates that while the government are happy taking small steps in the right direction, any game changing policies, which may initially be negatively received by paying customers or big companies, will be a long time coming as they are not yet brave enough to take those more radical leaps. For any true environmentalist who feels that climate change is the greatest threat that our generation faces this ‘25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’ is not the answer to all their prayers. Sadly, we will just have to wait for when the inclination to protect and preserve the world for future generations outweighs our obsession with ease and consumption today.

By Katie Wharton