Daniel Kawczynski: I was scared when I came out. The next generation must be set free of that fear.

Daniel Kawczynski is MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham.

One afternoon some years ago, I was on the train back home to my constituency of Shrewsbury and Atcham and I was sitting on some big news. It was news I was scared to tell, even to my closest supporters in the local Conservative Association, so much so that I was quietly praying the train would break down so I would not have to impart it. The news was that I was now in a same sex relationship.

Upon my arrival in Shrewsbury I addressed the Association, and at the end made my announcement. Full of apprehension, I looked up at the faces of the people I had spoken to, 50 of the most senior members of my local Party, and awaited their reaction. Almost immediately, a gentleman in the front row stood up and said, “I think that’s marvellous news, well done” and began clapping. He was soon followed by the rest of the room who afterwards came up to me with hugs, well-wishes, and offers of drinks at the bar.

The kindness and humanity of people on occasions like this restore your confidence in our society and the warmth I felt from my Association members that night will stay with me forever. As someone who came out in their 40s, I never want young people today to have any of the reservations, concerns or fears that I had. I want them to be proud and open with their families and friends about who they are. No child should feel that they are sinful or wrong for being gay.

Years later, I am holding a Westminster Hall debate on the topic of LGBT acceptance. This debate is so important because it will showcase both Parliament’s view and that of the wider country. It will demonstrate that we are staunch defenders of LGBT rights and will work diligently to create a Britain where telling someone you are LGBT is no more of a surprise than telling them you are left-handed.

I have considered holding a Westminster Hall Debate on this topic for some years. However, two recent events have spurred me to act. The first was the recent spate of protests against teaching children about LGBT people. The second was slightly closer to home. My researcher recently told me about how a close friend of his had come out to him, and had done so through tears. Whilst I was delighted to hear that my researcher had reacted in the way we’d all hope – by embracing his friend and not caring in the slightest – I was still saddened to hear that this young man felt so fearful and apprehensive about coming out, even to a close friend.

With regards to those who are protesting outside Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham, I would appeal to their humanity, and ask them to try to understand the importance of giving young people confidence, of making them feel accepted, and allowing people to be free to be who they are, regardless of their sexuality. Britain is a nation of tolerance, of respect, of freedom, and we must hold these values high as a beacon for the rest of the world to follow.

It is of huge importance that we do set this example, because while we are fortunate enough to live in Britain, there are many nations which do not share this view and do not share our values of liberty and tolerance. There are still 14 countries around the world enforcing a death penalty for homosexual acts, and many more handing down harsh prison sentences, for nothing more than the ‘crime’ of being in love. The only way we can combat this is to prove that there is another way, a better way, and having this education in our schools can only help us to promote this aim and to champion LGBT rights worldwide

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Travel firms all need a holiday from bad news of no-deal Brexit, weak pound and recession fears

As the summer holiday season reaches its climax, British travel firms find themselves facing a communications conundrum. Recognising that potential customers are pessimistic, they are tempted to take a bullish stance on promoting discount holidays, but are receiving contradictory messages from their own organisations.

The big tour operators such as Thomas Cook and TUI were reporting dreadful summer booking volumes until recently, as holidaymakers balked at foreign trips where the pound has been weakening against other currencies.

But after poor domestic weather in the first half of August, late bookings for overseas holidays recently received a boost as Britons yearned for some guaranteed sun before the end of summer.

The longer-term picture remains gloomy however, with advance bookings for this winter and next summer currently down year-on-year.

Triple whammy

Bournemouth beach was crowded for the bank holiday weekend (Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire)
Bournemouth beach was crowded for the bank holiday weekend (Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire)

While the British are generally robust travellers, holidaymakers now face a triple-whammy: a looming “no deal” Brexit, which could disrupt travel and immigration; a pound which, at the time of writing was sinking towards parity with the euro; and growing talk of a recession.

At the same time, and it’s not unrelated, the big firms have been issuing downbeat corporate news. In the middle of August Thomas Cook announced it was seeking a £150m bailout to survive the winter. The company had asked investors for £750m in May. It’s not great when the newspaper in which Thomas Cook advertises heavily runs the headline: “Thomas Shook … shares tumble … is your holiday safe?”

Even the non-establishment brand On the Beach, which has enjoyed meteoric growth for years, issued a profits warning earlier this month. It admitted it had not protected itself against currency fluctuations, meaning that hotel rooms booked in euros have become more expensive. Its share price dropped by 14 per cent.

Add to this the pilot strike facing British Airways – and easyJet’s clumsy handling of a customer who tweeted a picture of a seat without a back – and one could conclude that, despite their advertising prowess, travel firms could do with quickly changing an increasingly negative narrative. Ironically, their hard-working PR teams could really do with a break.

More travel

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Battle to ban junk food adverts before 9pm pits the health of our children against profits

The advertising industry is lobbying new Prime Minister Boris Johnson in an attempt to “halt” Government plans to fight childhood obesity by banning all junk food ads before 9pm.

The proposed watershed on advertising food and drink products that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) was put forward by Mr Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, early this year following a high-profile social media campaign, #AdEnough, led by the television chef Jamie Oliver.

But the ad industry and its clients in the food sector clearly scent an opportunity in Mr Johnson’s accession to Downing Street and have complained to him of the “plans for onerous new advertising restrictions”. In a letter to Number 10, Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association, writes: “We ask you to halt these plans.”

The sin tax

Much has happened since the consultation on an HFSS ad ban, for television and online, started on 18 March. Mrs May’s failure to deliver Brexit on 31 March opened the door to a new Prime Minister who, even before he was selected by Conservative members, promised to “look out how effective the so-called ‘sin taxes’ really are”. Mr Johnson is positioning himself as a free trade champion who will release business from the shackles of regulation and fight “the continuing creep of the nanny state”.

Jamie Oliver was overjoyed at the proposed ban, seeing it as a triumph for his #AdEnough campaign, which encouraged supporters to upload pictures of themselves with their hands over their eyes, in protest against HFSS advertising. “This is a once-in-a- generation chance to stop our kids being bombarded by these ads,” said the chef’s website.

Junk food advertising around children’s programmes is already banned. The proposed watershed would extend it to all content from 5.30am to 9pm, including family shows such as Britain’s Got Talent. London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan introduced a junk food ad ban on London transport this year. Oliver described that as a “massive step forward for child health”.

A closed-down Jamie's Italian restaurant in Glasgow (Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images0
A closed-down Jamie’s Italian restaurant in Glasgow (Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images0

The TV chef has had a turbulent few months. His restaurant empire collapsed in May with the loss of 1,000 jobs and closure of 22 outlets. But his strength as a campaigner for improved food standards was underpinned by his success as an entrepreneur and employer.

The ad and food industry might sense this formidable critic and influencer is weakened. In his letter to Mr Johnson, Mr Woodford makes the business case for advertising. “Every pound spent on advertising returns £6 to GDP,” he writes, claiming that total advertising spend delivers £142bn to UK GDP and supports one million jobs.

He might add advertising fuels our market economy, funds free news media and is core to the UK’s internationally admired creative industries. But it feels threatened, not least by Mr Johnson’s willingness to Brexit without a deal. “Having arrangements that allow free flow of services across borders is critical for the continued success of our world-beating advertising industry,” Mr Woodford tells the PM. A new Advertising Standards Authority clampdown on gender stereotyping has also led to bans on campaigns from Volkswagen and Philadelphia.

In a separate letter to Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan, Mr Woodford complains a junk food watershed would cost £1bn in lost GDP. He asks her to “reconsider”.

Childhood obesity battle

The ban has a purpose. Last summer the Government pledged to halve childhood obesity by 2030 and reduce the gap between children from the most and least deprived areas.

Barbara Crowther, of the Children’s Food Campaign, points to a YouGov poll in February showing that 72 per cent of people support a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts during family television shows. The last series of Britain’s Got Talent was “peppered with ads for chocolate, sweets, pizzas, snacks and fast food,” she notes. Such advertising, “constantly nudges” children towards “unhealthy food and drinks”.

In a phone call, Mr Woodford argues that such ads are not aimed at children and have negligible impact on children’s calorific intake. “The products are pleasures in people’s lives,” he says. “Consumed in moderation they are a perfectly rational part of a healthy diet.”

Yet last year a Cancer Research UK study called A Prime for Action made a link between junk food marketing and youth obesity.

Advertising can adapt. Great strides have been taken in reflecting Britain’s cultural diversity in ads, and Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has promoted a truer picture of women’s body shapes. Car ads celebrate cleaner, hybrid models and drinks brands showcase low-sugar variants.

But junk food adverts may yet be reprieved as a fixture of family television viewing. In which case it will be Mr Johnson, not Mr Oliver, influencing what ends up on the plates of British children.

https://inews.co.uk/author/ian-burrell/

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Gareth Lyon: Post-Boris. The Prime Minister is more Lyndon Johnson than his jokey former self.

Gareth Lyon is a councillor in Rushmoor and the Chairman of the Aldershot and North Hants Conservative Association.

“At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom.”

“Kennedy promised. Johnson delivered.”

It has been often remarked by those who hold grave doubts about the new Prime Minister that the Boris Johnson of 2019 is far removed from the Boris Johnson of 2012.

People who make this remark are drawing attention a certain loss of levity once held by the Mayor of London who was able to defy the gravity of mid-term Conservative unpopularity whilst suspended by a zip-wire.

Inevitably the seriousness of the offices he has held, and the acrimony of politics in recent years, have led to a more grounded and mundane take on the man. Just as in the time before he ascended to City Hall, there are those who doubt that stunts and flights of fine rhetoric alone can carry him to his desired destination.

Ironically, the most serious minded, long-term and conviction-driven decision of Johnson’s career, the decision to lead the Vote Leave campaign, is also responsible for many of the most vehement accusations of vacuity and vanity levelled against him.

Yet, the consequences of the Leave victory and the ensuing train-wreck of his leadership bid may also have been the making of the true Mr Johnson.

For we are now witnessing him in the post-Boris era, in which the whiff-whaff waffle and the loquacious Latin has been stripped away, and the inner Lyndon Johnson is what is left.

Just as it took required the sad and untimely end of an eloquent and widely liked politician for Lyndon Johnson to ascend to the office he had coveted for much of his life, so to it is with our new Prime Minister. The only oddity is that in our modern case both characters were in the same man.

If the leadership election, in both Parliamentary and member stages, were anything to go by, then Johnson is showing an almost cold and brutal adoption of machine politics in the manner of his namesake.

Lyndon Johnson’s focus on delivery was perhaps unlofty but it was effective.

The legislative achievements of his Presidency were great in number and transformative – in marked contrast to the energising but ultimately empty rhetoric of the vastly overrated Kennedy.

Whether good (civil rights, voting rights and immigration reform), bad (medicare, Medicaid, The Great Society) or good but badly executed (public service broadcasting and Vietnam) there is no denying that Johnson delivered.

The early signs are that Boris Johnson’s administration will be similarly focussed on delivery. The appointment of many of the most effective operatives from his time in City Hall and the Vote Leave campaign are mirrored in what now seems to be an almost revolutionary move in having a cabinet united in resolve and purpose.

Some of the most Lydonesque tendencies of new administration were also apparent in the treatment of those who made the wrong choice in the recent leadership election and paid a very public price. The signal this sends to those considering disloyalty in future will have been received by those it was intended for.

Similarly, it is notable that some of those who are loyal and competent and have proven to be so in the past have missed out on the elevation they felt they earned. This too sends a clear message – that these are necessary but not sufficient qualities for promotion and survival.

On a final note which may hold some promise as a precursor – Lyndon Johnson’s early nickname of “Bull***t Johnson” overtime gave way to the rather more complimentary “Landslide Johnson”, as he blew away the opposition party’s ideologically committed opponent in a general election.

Overall this metamorphosis should be seen as a positive one. Whilst we may look back with sadness at the loss of the preceding jovial Johnson, with the need to get Brexit done and get Britain’s politics moving again, we may find that we can “go all the way with LBJ…”

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Azeem Ibrahim: In praise of James Cleverly

Dr Azeem Ibrahim is a Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College and former expert advisor on the government’s Commission for Countering Extremism.

“Coca Cola never stops advertising; nor should we.” This summation of the challenge for the Conservative Party in the era of Boris Johnson comes from James Cleverly. He is right.

Once the current Johnson honeymoon dissipates, the Conservatives will have to face up to the underlying challenges their party faces: an ageing and dwindling party membership, a pool of potential voters increasingly susceptible to the appeal of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, a perception in the country that they are out of touch with modern Britain and the millennial generation, and a lack of fluency with social media and online campaigning. Or as I call it: campaigning. These issues threaten the future of the party.

The Party Chair must be able to deal with all of them. Cleverly is well suited to tick each of these boxes.

Like most Britons beyond the party membership, he sees ‘diversity’ not as a political box to be ticked, but as friends and family. How many other current candidates could talk to an audience fearful and indignant about the prospect of being stopped and searched about the time in his late teens when they were stopped and searched themselves? How many other candidates can say they understand what it is like to grow up in Britain as the son of a mixed-race couple?

Cleverly is a peacemaker within the party. He’s a Brexiteer who nonetheless defended Dominic Grieve after he lost a vote of no confidence in his constituency, on the eminently reasonable rationale that a party should always be home to a wide range of views.

He understands ordinary people. His mum worked as a midwife and his dad built a successful small business. Views of the Tory party are surprisingly sensitive to the privilege associated with its leader. Nobody can tell a man who started his own business he has not worked hard. Cleverly can undercut perceptions of the party as being just for the rich and those born with a silver spoon in their mouths.

He has also been an officer in the Territorial Army for the last 20 years. In 2004, he was called up to make sure that mobilised TA soldiers got their jobs back when they came home from Iraq. He understands the extent to which duty and patriotism are woven into the fabric of our forces and everything they do.

He also has experience with public services. In 2012, Boris appointed him chairman of the London Fire Authority in which he worked with senior officers to reform the fire brigade, saving money and improving performance in the process.

The truth is, though, that none of this matters unless he is able to demonstrate the political skills necessary for the job. Anyone without them will fast be found out.

One early test is Islamophobia. I will be blunt: the Conservative Party needs to be much more proactive in dealing with Islamophobia. When my Muslim friends ask me whether the Tory party is serious about recognising and stamping out Islamophobia within its ranks, I wish I could give them a detailed plan on what exactly the party intends to do.

Sajid Javid has already done a good job getting the topic onto the agenda within the party. Thanks to him, each leadership candidate in the most recent contest committed to commissioning an independent investigation into Islamophobia. Cleverly has a good record on this. He was part of the team at Conservative Central Office which made sure that a local candidate who tweeted Islamophobic sentiments was swiftly dealt with.

He also has a good track record when it comes to engaging on the issues around identity politics, which are so important to so many young people. Any Tory MP could respond to these issues by saying they don’t think identity politics is the way forward. But mounting a counterattack which appeals to head and heart takes skill, guts, and empathy. When Dawn Butler said Jamie Oliver’s jerk chicken recipe smacked of cultural appropriation, how many other Tory MPs would have been able to explain as articulately why borrowing the best food, music, and art from other cultures is not just enjoyable, it is British?

He is authentic, gives straight questions the straight answers they deserve, knows how to admit mistakes and move on elegantly when necessary, and get things done. James Cleverly remains the Conservative Party Chair the party needs.

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Julian Brazier: How Johnson should try to get the backstop dropped

Sir Julian Brazier is a former Defence Minister, and was MP for Canterbury from 1987-2017. He is Chairman of a security company.

Boris Johnson is right to ‘do or die’ for Brexit on October 31st. As the first crack starts to appear in the EU edifice, with Angela Merkel’s reference to 30 days, it is right that No Deal planning continues relentlessly, both to keep up the pressure and in case there is no agreement.

Many of the fears from the anti-No Deal camp will prove to be exaggerated or groundless; some must be – and are being – tackled as a priority. This article seeks to address the one really serious danger which could sour the whole process and make our departure a very different business from the government’s intent. We need to examine what happens to the Irish border under No Deal if the EU rejects our proposals for alternative arrangements.

I suspect I was not the only supporter of the Leave Campaign who campaigned hard to take back control, but harboured doubts on this one area. No sane politician of any ilk wants to see an upsurge in the paramilitary groups – a ghastly euphemism for terrorists and organised criminals.

Yet the mishandling of the withdrawal negotiations by the last Prime Minister has left us with a real danger that exactly this may happen. By agreeing to a Withdrawal Agreement entirely separate from a trade agreement supposed to follow it, she left the Irish border issue up in the air – allowing the EU free rein to wheel out the infamous backstop, an arrangement that no sovereign country should contemplate.

The problem for our government, as it bravely faces an intransigent EU, working hand in hand with some UK politicians, journalists, big business lobbies, academics and others, is that the Irish border issue cannot be brushed aside; terrorist movements, from Peru’s Shining Path to the Taliban, have thrived on racketeering and smuggling. If we were simply to move to WTO rules without enforcing the duties which we would be required by those rules to introduce, we would be making a present to the terrorist gangs. They continue to commit occasional murders in the province, and attempted another attack on the police last week. The new arrangement (or lack of arrangements) must not end up as the kind of boon which prohibition was to Chicago’s nascent gangs.

Resurgent terrorism should concern us greatly, but the problems would not stop there. Nancy Pelosi’s threats to block a trade deal with the US would crystallise fast were American TV screens filled once more with stories of terror in Ireland. Moderate opinion in Britain would shift, and the more extreme Remainers would have just what they need to launch a campaign to re-join.

So what should we do? It seems to me that this issue has to be approached at several levels, starting with dialogue with Ireland. The fact is that big players like Germany and France will not face the economic hammer blow which Ireland would suffer in the event of no deal, with so much of its trade either with the UK or via traffic across the UK.

Realisation of this is starting to dawn in the Republic, with growing concern among some journalists. Polls are showing increasingly divided views on Leo Varadkar’s policy, emphasised again in his recent much-publicised phone call with the Prime Minister. This shift should not give us the false hope, however, that Irish policy can be transformed by economic realities alone.

The Irish national narrative is rooted – with good reason – on past predations by the British, just as ours is still is framed by our lonely stand at the beginning of the Second World War. As Churchill put it “Cromwell in Ireland, disposing of overwhelming strength and using it with merciless wickedness, debased the standards of human conduct and sensibly darkened the journey of mankind”.

The horrors of the nineteenth century potato famines, the behaviour of absentee English landlords for centuries and the armed struggle for independence in the twentieth century are all still part of the Irish psyche. Without a game-changing approach from us, Varadkar can probably maintain his hard line by propagating the lie that our rejecting the so-called Irish Backstop is one more example of an over-mighty Britain bullying and marginalising Ireland.

Our new Prime Minister is a gifted communicator. He should speak to the Irish people over the heads of their Taoiseach and do so in terms which they can sympathise with. Either by means of a visit to Ireland or by getting Irish journalists into Downing Street, he should explain to the Irish exactly what the Northern Ireland backstop means for Britain. He should spell out the proposed indefinite subjection to diktat by Brussels with no say. To put it in language they would appreciate, he should ask the Irish people to consider whether those people who struggled for Irish independence in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would have agreed to such terms.

This gambit could work – it certainly has a better chance than assuming that Varadkar will act in Ireland’s best economic interests. If it does, and public opinion forces Varadkar to change course, then it is a much shorter step to persuading EU leaders, especially Angela Merkel, to drop the Northern Ireland backstop and deal with the border in the planned trade agreement.

If it doesn’t work, the solution will have to be more complicated. To start with, we should remember that WTO rules are just that. As we would become dependent on WTO rules for most of our trade, we would rightly want to be seen to support the institution. Nevertheless, while Britain has a long history of standing by its treaty obligations as a firm supporter of a rules-based world order, WTO rules do not apply directly in UK law. Furthermore, there is a long backlog of cases awaiting decision by the WTO Appellate Body.

So in the event of No Deal – and hence no agreed alternative arrangements – we should announce that we were putting on hold the implementation of certain WTO tariffs for Irish trade on those items most likely to offer opportunities to organised crime in Northern Ireland. Agricultural livestock and products would figure large in this plan and – unlike in mainland Britain – generous subsidy to protect farmers will not do the trick if large price differences across the border offer enhanced opportunities for smuggling.

Next, we need to introduce best practice from existing well-managed borders, like Switzerland. The key must be to use existing technology, based on satellites, cameras and perhaps drones, but networking it in an innovative fashion, bringing live feed together with tax databases and a range of other sources of information. I introduced one company with impressive experience in this field (not commercially linked to my own operation) to the informal but rigorous and well-grounded commission headed by Nicky Morgan and Greg Hands. I understand they found its input useful. It is likely that Ireland would co-operate with this approach once Brexit had occurred, but a great deal could be done on a unilateral basis.

Once workable systems were in place, we could tidy up the gaps in our WTO compliance and introduce whatever tariffs are required. If someone took us to the WTO tribunal in the meantime, our lawyers should be able to find small print around national security – or some other way of adding to the delays in that lengthy process – to give us time to get the new systems implemented and working.

Of course, No Deal would be followed by negotiations between Britain and the EU, and Irish arrangements would help to shape those negotiations, including exerting pressure on the EU to go light on tariffs affecting British-Irish trade. (That was, of course, the original reason why the EU insisted on dealing with the border before the trade agreement).

A great deal depends on Boris delivering Brexit on October 31st, including our national credibility, public support for our institutions and the very survival of the Conservative Party. But we have to get the Irish border issue right, whether we have negotiated a deal without the backstop or left with No Deal.

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Focusing on crime at Notting Hill Carnival misses the point of this special event

It’s the day before Notting Hill Carnival. In all corners of a large community hall, paraders are finishing a long list of tasks needed to get the show on the road for the big day. Final touches are being made to colourfully gemmed and feather-clad costumes, instruments are being fine-tuned and rehearsals of neat looking dance routines are getting tight. The activity at ‘base’ or ‘camp’, where groups get ready for the parade, can be calm or chaotic, but they always seem to hold an air of jubilant anticipation.

For those who have no interest in Carnival, the August Bank Holiday may just be a good excuse for an extended weekend off work. But for the people involved in the parade, these two days are when they reap the rewards of months of preparation. Planning for Notting Hill Carnival often begins months before the day itself and getting thousands of performers on the road requires the efforts of a large group of people.

It is said around 40,000 volunteers help put on Notting Hill Carnival. They do it because they enjoy the culture of creativity and freedom of expression that becomes the norm on Carnival day. With the efforts of so many people aligned to one goal, Carnival can host and ferment feelings of community, and be used as an opportunity for cultural exchange.

This is something I experience first hand when I parade with the Brazilian group Paraiso School of Samba. In preparation for Carnival, members attend weekly dance training, necessary to endure the 3.5 mile trail of the parade.  Attending a good deal of Caipirinha-filled warm up parties also means I experience Carnival more as a season, rather than just a two day event.

The focus on crime is overblown

Sometimes when we speak about Carnival, we fail to give it credit. Reports tend to focus on crime statistics, despite the crime rate being similar to or lower than the level at some other festivals which are treated as national treasures. The questioning of Notting Hill Carnival’s right to exist and its safety is a practice that stretches back decades. More recently, there were talks of cancelling it after the 2011 London Riots, and of moving it after a spate of stabbings in 2016.

But Carnival is a strong testimony to how far the richness of cultural diversity in this country has come. Its roots are an amalgamation of cultures, with the Caribbean islands at the forefront and West African, South American and other cultures also represented.

Notting Hill Carnival is a special force that brings 2 million people together – after Rio, it is the second biggest carnival in the world. As someone who has looked forward to it with a sort of ritualistic eagerness that feels necessary to my year, I wish that it could be used as an opportunity to commemorate and celebrate. At its very essence, this is what Carnival is about.

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Diane Morgan: Instead of having proms, teenagers should watch 26-part military history documentary ‘The World At War’

Is there anyone who actually enjoys school reunions? I never go. To me it’s just a reminder that people really do age at different speeds and the girl who everyone used to fancy now looks like a walking piece of bark. But how many people from school have you actually kept in touch with? Right. So why try to reconnect with them now? Unless you have kids, what do you talk about?

If you haven’t got kids (like me) you might not know that aged 16, British teenagers now have graduation proms. Yes, like it’s 1950s America. I’d never actually seen one in action until a few weeks ago when I was staying at a hotel where one was taking place. At first I thought I’d fallen through some sort of wormhole into 1980s Wall Street, with 16-year-olds turning up in limos dressed in black tie and ballgowns, sipping non-alcoholic champagne on the lawn like Liberace. It reminded me of those American beauty pageants where they dress babies up like women on a night out.
It’s a terrible start in life.

What did we have in my day? We just wrote on each other’s shirts in marker pens. Then a couple of months later, when you actually realised the insignificance of the day, and how little you actually cared about those morons, you binned the shirt. Some might have been lucky enough to have a school disco. This would consist of a man with a record player in an asbestos-filled sports hall playing Stock Aitken Waterman. I’m talking about ordinary comprehensives here, obviously – not Eton. I’m sure at Eton they were throwing their heads back and laughing like Emperor Nero at a banquet, while sucking the eyes out of a whole roast pig. Comprehensives are different. I saw some of my old school photos the other day and we looked like the cast of Porridge.

Can you imagine asking your dad to cough up for a limousine to take you to the school disco in Bolton in 1992? You’d get a clip round the ear. In 1950s Britain, they didn’t even sign each other’s shirts. You’d have a Gay Gordon, an eggnog, then bed.

I’m aware that I sound like a decrepit old crone jealously bemoaning these young people with their whole lives ahead of them. You might be thinking: “It’s a celebration of coming of age. The start of their adult life. Their exams are over, let them have some fun, for Christ’s sake.” In fact, I’ll let you into a secret here – your life as an adult never starts. Your 20s are completely wasted as you bob about in a deluded haze. Your 30s are spent kidding yourself you’re still practically in your 20s, and your 40s are spent waking up in the middle of the night thinking about death.

The World At War is perfect viewing for many situations

It’s not that school days are necessarily better now, they’re just different, with different problems – most of them caused by the internet of course. Luckily when I was at school we only had three computers. They were as big as Jodrell Bank and nobody knew how to use them. What would I make school leavers do instead of a prom? What would actually do them some good? I’ll tell you. Make them watch every single episode of the celebrated 26-part military history documentary The World At War. When I say “make them watch” I hope you’re not picturing those eye clamps they had in A Clockwork Orange? Because I don’t know where you buy those for a kick-off. Probably Argos.

A scene from the television series 'Chernobyl' (Photo: HBO/Liam Daniel)
A scene from the television series ‘Chernobyl’ (Photo: HBO/Liam Daniel)

But listen, it’s the perfect way to start your future. In fact, I recommend watching The World at War to anyone going through a break up, moving house or grieving. I recommended this series to my mate Al when he split up with his girlfriend and six episodes in, he’d completely forgotten about her and was thanking his lucky stars it wasn’t 1943. Seriously, your own worries will pale into insignificance when compared to the invasion of Okinawa. It’s a great way to spend Christmas too. Start watching on Christmas Eve and you can get to the bombing of Nagasaki before the Queen’s speech.

Graduation proms can only lead to disappointment. I can guarantee you this. The one kid who stayed home this year and watched the docu-drama Chernobyl instead of going to a prom, will be the only one who makes a real success of their life. Because they’ll be measuring their progress against a bleak reality rather than a 1950s fantasy, and that will make them feel a huge success in their lives when, and if, they avoid being entombed in a radioactive sarcophagus.

Twitter: @missdianemorgan

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Andrew Laird: The Prime Minister’s devolution drive will protect public services from Brexit chaos

Andrew Laird is a founder and Director of Mutual Ventures.

A couple of weeks ago, Boris Johnson’s first full policy speech as Prime Minister focused on English devolution. Manchester was a significant choice of venue as it is the area in England (outside of London) which has enjoyed the most devolution of powers.

As the former mayor of London, the new Prime Minister is clearly a big fan of devolving powers to cities and local areas. This is very good news indeed for local public services.

While ministers and Parliament focus on delivering Brexit, local services (e.g. adult social care, children’s services and even the NHS), are looking increasingly like unintended victims. These services need constant care and attention, both through legislative updates and serious policy research and discussion at a national level. But they haven’t been getting any of this.

Over the last couple of years there has been an increasing number of central government actions and decisions being delayed, which has made life more difficult for those delivering local services. This is largely due to ministers and MPs focusing on Brexit and thousands of civil servants being taken away from their normal jobs of supporting public services to work on exit planning.

Regardless of your view on Brexit, this was always going to be an inevitable consequence. The Brexit process has taken up policy-making and decision-making headspace usually spent on other things – things which are essential to smooth running of public services.

As an example, one of the biggest challenges facing the Government is the funding crisis in adult social care. Alongside devolution and infrastructure investment, Johnson has also identified social care as a key priority. The green paper on social care needs to set out a serious long term financial answer – but it has been continually delayed.

There are three Brexit-related issues causing this delay.

The first is creating the time for ministers and the Cabinet to agree to the plan – there hasn’t been much non-Brexit bandwidth at the top of government. This extends way back before the leadership election which itself caused additional ministerial stasis.

The second is that the planned cross-government spending review can’t really take place until our path through Brexit is confirmed. It’s impossible to set out a long term solution to social care without knowing the funding available.

The third is that any serious social care solution will involve tough decisions which will require media space to explain it to the public. Again, there isn’t much non-Brexit media time at the minute. So social care services have been left to struggle on without any long-term funding certainty.

This is already having a much wider impact across public services. Without setting out a long-term funding solution for social care, NHS reforms will struggle to take hold. The NHS and social care are inextricably linked, with service users often bouncing between the two in an unplanned way. So Johnson’s decision to focus on resolving the adult social care crisis is to be welcomed.

Turning back to devolution, distributing funding and decision making to cities and local areas is a big part of the immediate answer to challenges like social care – and also a mechanism to prevent the build-up of issues in the future.

Across the political spectrum, the Prime Minister is largely preaching to the choir on devolution. West Midlands Mayor Andy Street is already showing what can be achieved for a region with devolved authority and has set out his asks from the new Johnson administration on this site. We also have the beginnings of the “Northern Powerhouse”, based around the 11 northern Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Inspired by this, a recent report commissioned by Bristol, Cardiff, and Newport City Councils (‘A Powerhouse for the West‘) is calling for a similar arrangement along the M4 corridor, from Swindon across to Cardiff and Swansea, and from Gloucester and Cheltenham to Bath and Bristol. Grand partnership strategies like this, combined with more localised devolution to cities, councils, and combined authorities, are what is needed.

The drive for devolution has been knocked down the priority list. This was once a really positive agenda item for central government. Giving local areas additional powers was a big step towards empowering local communities, elected mayors, and councillors, and had the added benefit of insulating local services from the process of delivering Brexit.

Johnson has recognised this, and he should move quickly to encourage and support a new wave of devolution deals.

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Carol Vorderman: Ageism belongs in the last century – at 58 I feel free, work hard and party harder

Yes, I’m 58 and still alive, and no I’m not going to apologise for it or be bullied because of it. So for anyone thinking about making an ageist remark (I’m sure that’s not you, dear reader), please bore off.

Earlier this week, in a report commissioned by SunLife, a third of Brits admitted to having used ageist comments, while two-thirds of those on the receiving end of this nonsense felt “less valued”, “unhappy” and “alienated” because of it.

It’s called casual ageism and it belongs in the last century, along with homophobia, sexism and racism.

The research asked about specific and common phrases, all of which associated “not dying young” with something bad. Phrases used to describe people aged over 50 include “over-the-hill”, “grumpy old man”, “you drive like an old woman”, “old hag” or, my particular non-favourite: “you’re past it”. Past what? What is this thing I have gone past unwittingly? I must have missed my stop.

‘Casual ageism completely misrepresents many people’s experience of life after 50’

The implications and consequences have been sad to uncover, but as someone who always looks on the bright side of life, the results of this week have been amazing, with overwhelming support and a sense of ‘it’s time to call time on it’ overriding the bullies.

Support and common sense have come from all quarters, from those who felt undermined previously and who now feel they have a voice and are cracking on with being alive with more joy in their step, as well as from organisations whose work is centred on this subject and group.

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I’m 55 and ageism means people think my career should be winding down. But I’m just getting started

Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said: “Ageism must become as unacceptable as every other form of discrimination.” Louise Ansari, director of communications at the Centre for Ageing Better, added: “SunLife’s Ageist Britain report is an important wake-up call. It highlighted the shameful ageism in our society and how we often don’t realise that our words and attitudes could be harmful.”

But casual ageism is also factually wrong in the sense that it completely misrepresents many people’s experience of life after 50.

I’m 58 and my 50th was the best party of all time (I can’t tell you the details obviously or I’d have to kill you, but believe me, it was one to remember!). Since then, I’ve learned to fly a plane, I’ve been causing mischief at various rocket launches and air shows around the world, and I now have advanced pilot qualifications.

Carol Vorderman flying a plane in Santorini 

My working life is also is very busy, but I’m wiser about it now. I make better decisions. I have a BBC radio show, TV shows, and I’ve just launched a new range of books, including one on engineering. I’ve been able to dedicate time to my health and fitness and am often out in the Brecon Beacons, trekking without a care in the world.

At the same time, I’m also indulging my brain more than ever before and I’ve fallen in love – properly in love – with my country, Wales. Hell, I couldn’t be happier.

I party hard and I work less hard. Perfect.

I feel freer, I’ve got more life experience, I’m enjoying the best years of my life. I know from speaking to others and from the wealth of research out there that many feel the same way.

‘The only thing past its sell-by date is casual ageism and its misrepresentation of the fabulous experience that growing older can and should be’

When people pass 50, there is this assumption they will slow down and start taking things easy. Yet if you asked most people over 50, slowing down or taking things easy is the last thing on their minds.

We’re still so bombarded with ageist phrases and behaviours that we start to think life after 50 must be downhill all the way, despite the fact it’s clearly a load of nonsense.

It’s true life changes after 50 but, in so very many ways, that change is for the better.

My conclusion is this. The only thing past its sell-by date is casual ageism and its misrepresentation of the fabulous experience that growing older can and should be. Stuff ageism, and let’s celebrate life, whatever our age.

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How to best make use of your garden to help tackle climate change

Scientists have hit upon an unorthodox but highly effective way for households to tackle climate change – recreate a “pocket” wetland in your back garden.

The key word here is ‘recreate’, as only land located in natural wetland regions that have been drained for development is suitable, the researchers insist, otherwise it risks damaging the eco-system.

While many households will fall outside natural wetland areas – and many located within will baulk at the idea – there are potentially huge numbers of suitable properties where the owner might be tempted to give it a whirl. It doesn’t need to involve a major transformation of the garden landscape and it would make a massive contribution to tackling global warming, a new study suggests.

Other options

For the rest of us, there are two key soil-related measures we can take that would make a major contribution with – relatively speaking – little hassle, at least compared to giving up the car or stopping flying.

First, try to buy food that has been produced on small scale farms, which typically means its locally grown, according to one of the study authors, Professor Thomas Crowther, of ETH University in Zurich.

Read more:

How families can tackle climate change by giving up cars as it’s ‘three times as good as veganism’

Smaller producers typically preserve the soil better than the huge, monoculture farmers – and better preserved soil absorbs more carbon, he says.

Obviously ‘farmer’s market’ type produce typically costs more so isn’t for everybody but for those who can afford it, it’s a great way to curb climate change.

Closer to home, the greater the number and variety of flowers and plants you can grow in your garden the better the health and diversity of soil microbes – allowing the land to lock in huge amounts of extra carbon.

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Boris Johnson is asking EU for the impossible over Irish backstop

Which state is more free: Michigan, a federal state within the United States, or Canada, a nation outside of it? The answer of course is that they have different types of freedom. Canada’s own regulations and laws aren’t set directly in the United States Senate and House of Representatives, to which Michigan sends two Senators and 14 Congressmen, but they are heavily influenced by the decisions made in Washington, which the Canadian government can only shape indirectly.

But the people of Canada and its government both judge that they are better off outside of a larger federal super-state, influenced by it but with a greater degree of autonomy.
That in essence is the choice that the United Kingdom has made by voting to leave the European Union: to become a Canada rather than to retain its status as a Michigan. That freedom brings with it the theoretical power to do things differently than it did in the European Union, but it also brings with it new obligations that it cannot escape.

Extending it could be a way to solve the issue of agreeing on a Northern Ireland backstop (Getty Images)
Several amendments surround the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop (Getty Images)

Just as Michigan has an open and free border with the US states of Indiana and Ohio, but, like Indiana and Ohio is bound by a huge body of shared regulations and rules, while Canada has no equivalent corpus of shared rules but does have border checks and barriers to trade between it and Michigan, the United Kingdom is choosing to have a harder border between itself and the rest of the European Union than it does as an EU member.

But the added difficulty for the United Kingdom is that its land border with the EU on the island of Ireland was the location of a fiercely contested and violent struggle over nationhood in living memory. While the UK and Ireland’s shared regulatory and customs framework did not bring peace on their own, they were a vital prerequisite to allowing that peace to be reached. Both countries joined the European Union on the same day and they have always maintained a close regulatory alignment even before joining in order to keep the border as open as possible.

British Prime Minster Theresa May and President of European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker are seen at the European Commission on March 11, 2019. (Photo: Getty Images)

The border question was always going to be the part of the Brexit negotiations that were always going to be the trickiest: how to balance the British government’s desire to leave with its strategic objective to maintain an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Added to the complexity, Ireland, which remains a member, ultimately has a veto on the final EU-UK relationship.

There are in practice two solutions. One solution is for the United Kingdom to leave the political project of the European Union but to continue to follow the same rules and regulations, which would mean no border checks on the island of Ireland or in the sea border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. That’s the backstop arrangement as envisaged and negotiated by Theresa May.

The trouble with that plan is that it would be a lot like Michigan deciding to stay in the United States but give up its two Senators and its 14 members of the House of Representatives. The newly “independent” Michigan would have less freedom than Canada and less influence than Ohio or Indiana.

There is a part of the United States which has an arrangement like this: it is called Puerto Rico and it is agreed by essentially everyone that as a result is has less freedom, less autonomy and is worse-off than either Michigan or Canada. Many Brexiteers regard a “Puerto Rico Brexit” as a pointless exercise that is worse than staying in the EU – and Remainers agree.

A lorry passes a poster by calling for No Border between Ireland and Northern Ireland (Photo: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty)
A lorry passes a poster by calling for No Border between Ireland and Northern Ireland (Photo: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty)

Another option is for England, Scotland and Wales to leave the customs and regulatory orbit of the EU but for Northern Ireland to remain within it. That would allow a meaningful form of Brexit and maintain the British government’s strategic objectives as far as the Irish border are concerned. But the government can’t do this because it relies on the Democratic Unionist Party, which opposes any arrangement of that kind, to stay in office.

Instead, the proposal for Boris Johnson is essentially that he wants the United Kingdom to have the freedom to diverge enjoyed by Canada and the open border enjoyed by Michigan. No country in the world has that because it’s impossible – if you have different rules and regulations, you have checks on whether those rules are being followed at your border. It is a global truth.

So when Angela Merkel or Emmanuel Macron say that a solution to the backstop can be found, they aren’t, despite the way it is reported in some of the press, saying that they are willing to remove the backstop. What they are saying is that if the British government can reach a conclusion about whether or not it wants a regulatory border with the European Union in the Irish Sea or no border at all then the problem goes away.

They are, in essence, finding a polite way to tell Boris Johnson it is time to sh*t or get off the pot.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman

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How EU citizens could be affected by a no-deal Brexit

Less than a month after Boris Johnson officially became the UK’s prime minister, his government has announced changes to the status of EU citizens after the current deadline for UK withdrawal from the EU – October 31, 2019.

The new home secretary, Priti Patel, has said that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on that day, then free movement will end immediately for all EU citizens in the UK.

This has caused much anxiety and confusion among the almost 3.5m EU citizens in the UK – 2.5m of whom have not yet registered for settled status, having been given a deadline of 2020 to get it done.

The previous government, led by Theresa May, made very different promises to these people. They were told that the UK wanted to “guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain … as early as we can.”. It appears that the new government has gone back on this promise.

Priti Patel leaves Downing Street (Photo: Getty)

EU citizens are still welcome to visit the UK for short trips without a visa. However, anyone planning to stay long-term after October 31 will be subject to proposed new rules if the UK leaves without a deal. So what is being planned by the new government in case of a no-deal for EU citizens?

Ending free movement on October 31 means that there would be no grace period for anyone who arrived after this date. A previous transition period was set to last until December 31, 2020. During this time, EU citizens arriving after Brexit day would enjoy the same rights as those who were there before.

Now, EU citizens would be subject to the planned new immigration system immediately.

The Department of Health has also said that after October 31, 2019, without a deal, NHS trusts will have to start to charge EU citizens for previously free treatment. This would mean NHS trusts would need to check the immigration status of EU citizens seeking treatment. This proposal has already been criticised by the British Medical Association. It would add more work to an NHS already under great strain.

Aside from anything else, the plan has been criticised for being impractical. The previous government admitted in January 2019 there needed to be some time between the end of freedom of movement and a new immigration system coming into force. This is because it would be difficult for employers, universities, landlords and others to distinguish between pre-exit residents and post-withdrawal arrivals. In particular, businesses have said it will make it difficult for them to recruit workers.

What do EU citizens need to do now?

The advice from the Home Office to EU citizens wanting to stay in the UK beyond October 31 is to apply for settled or pre-settled status under its EU Settlement Scheme. This has been officially open since March 30, 2019. However, there are some concerns about this, too.

Just over 1m applicants have already been granted settlement under this scheme. That’s approximately 30% of the eligible population.

For those who have already applied or who are in the UK before October 31, there should be no problem. However, there will probably be disruption for those who arrive after November 1. They will not be eligible to apply for settlement.

There will also be disruption for those who do not apply for EU settlement in time (and there is not much time left) and want to change jobs or move house after Brexit. Employers and landlords would be required to check these individuals’ immigration statuses, and it could be difficult to distinguish if they arrived before or after withdrawal.

There are serious concerns around certain groups of vulnerable individuals who will have most difficulty applying successfully for EU settlement, such as children without a passportwomen in abusive relationships or those who simply cannot read English.

How this could affect people

Of the approximately 3.5m EU citizens in the UK, there are still 2.5 million who have yet to apply for EU Settlement. It is unclear how many of them are vulnerable. I have previously highlighted that if large numbers of individuals become illegally resident after a certain cut-off date (for example, if free movement ends on October 31) anyone who does not have settled status but is still in the UK then could be illegal, and expelled automatically.

Furthermore, this could affect British citizens in the EU. The current arrangement for this group of approximately 1.3m people is based on reciprocity. But ending free movement on October 31 would mean British citizens in the EU would also lose their rights to stay in the EU. In the rush to end free movement as soon as possible, rights of British citizens in the EU seem to have been forgotten.

leaked Home Office discussion document has already noted that it would be practically difficult to enforce an immediate end to free movement because of various complexities in establishing the system. In particular, it warned of a repeat of the Windrush scandal.

While the end to free movement will only become reality if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on the newest deadline of October 31, the deadlock between the EU and the UK suggests a growing likelihood of no-deal – especially under Boris Johnson’s new government. It is cold comfort for EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU that once again citizens appear to be the bargaining chips for negotiations between the EU and the UK.

is Lecturer at The City Law School, City, University of London. This article originally appeared on The Conversation 

The Conversation

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‘I was housed in a shipping container for two years – they aren’t fit for purpose’

“It’s better than being on the streets” is a refrain you’ll hear up and down the country today as desperate housing workers try to make their peace with whatever form of accommodation they are able to offer to those who need it. We face a housing crisis across the United Kingdom. 

Since 2011, rents have risen faster than wages in many parts of the country, the average house price is now eight times the average income of ordinary working families, we face a severe social housing shortage and all of this is pushing more people into homelessness. The number of families who are homeless but in work has gone up by 73 per cent since 2013, largely because of instability and evictions within the private rented sector which people who would once have lived in social housing now rely on. 

As a recent report from the Women’s Budget Group shows, women are hardest hit – right now, there is not a single place in the country deemed affordable for women, particularly if they’re single. 

The interior of accommodation in Marston Court on Bordars Walk in Hanwell, west London where converted shipping containers have been re-purposed for use as temporary accommodation (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Enter converted shipping container homes. Tucked behind a busy main road in West London between Hanwell and Ealing, you’ll find Marston Court at the end of Bordars Walk. At first, it looks like offices. Maybe a construction site. But, come closer and you’ll see that the steel boxes with their black metal walkways are actually homes. Clothes hang out to dry and, in some windows, there are net curtains. 

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I was ‘temporarily’ housed in a shipping container when I was pregnant and homeless. 18 months later, I’m still here

Farzana, who is now 25-years-old, grew up in foster care. Living with family was never an option for her. She was moved here when she was 23 and pregnant with her son back in 2017. She had been just made homeless when she was asked to leave the BnB she was staying in. 

It was only ever supposed to be temporary accommodation but, in the end, she and her son were here for almost two years. When her waters broke, she was living in a second-floor unit and had to climb up and down two flights of stairs. 

“These containers aren’t fit for purpose,” she told me when I visited her there in 2018. “In the summer, it’s like a sauna. The moment you come in, you’re sweating. But, in the winter it’s ice cold. They are loud, it doesn’t feel private and there is no space for my son to walk around.”

She said her “anxiety had gone through the roof” because the radiators and oven were so low down, she worried constantly about her son bashing into them. “The walls are so thin too,” she said, “at night I can hear anti-social behaviour and I can’t sleep with the windows open.”

This week, a new report titled Bleak Houses from the Children’s Commissioner for England has estimated that more than 210,000 children are currently homeless, with local authorities blaming a £159 million funding gap. 

The interior of accommodation in Marston Court on Bordars Walk in Hanwell, west London where converted shipping containers have been re-purposed for use as temporary accommodation (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

There are no figures for exactly how many shipping container homes exist in the UK. However, the report says other areas where this happens include Brighton, Cardiff and Bristol.

It’s easy to understand the appeal to cash-strapped local authorities. They are reasonably cheap to knock upa studio comes in at about £25,000 and a one bed at around £35,000. In Lewisham, a similar complex now houses 24 formerly homeless families. In Berlin, they have been used as student accommodation and trialled for housing refugees

When she was made homeless, Farzana was moved to Bordars Walk as a temporary emergency solution. She did not expect to give birth while living there, let alone live there with her son in the first years of his life. 

Farzana was finally moved out of her container in March this year, following a report by i. Today she is still in temporary accommodation, but at least now it’s in a proper house. 

“When I first moved into the container I thought ‘at least I had a roof over my head’,” she reflects. “I couldn’t have stayed there any longer. My son wouldn’t have been able to grow. It has affected me so much. When I was living there it would make me feel crazy because it was a box. Four walls, not much space.”

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We know that living in small spaces does affect people’s mental health. Farzana experienced mental health problems as the result of previous trauma before she was moved to Bordars Walk but feels that living there compounded everything. 

“I think there should be a time limit on how long they can house people in containers for,” Farzana says. “I wasn’t given a limit on how long I would live there. It was like torture. A container is no place to call home. I lived there for a year and 11 months and it felt like forever. I felt unsafe and anxious. I know my new place is temporary too but it’s a proper home with a garden. I don’t mind how long I’m here because it’s suitable for my son. I’m just happy to be out of there.”

Analysis in the Children’s Commissioner’s report confirms temporary accommodation is, so often, anything but. One in 20 – that’s about 6,000 children, had been there for at least a year. 

Shipping containers may provide a sticking plaster in true emergencies but, in the great race to find housing solutions to our growing crisis, we must not allow standards to slip any further. We need to think innovatively about how we create more homes and communities, not just shelter to keep people “off the streets”.

More from Vicky Spratt

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National Burger Day 2019: Why McDonald’s 99p cheeseburger is still the best burger in the UK

No burger in existence better marries salt, sugar and fat – the Holy Trinity of comfort food. None are so consistently deployed or so practical in their delivery.

The McDonald’s 99p cheeseburger remains the UK’s best burger, despite the gourmet frivolity of modern iterations. It may not be the highest quality beef, the bun might not be brioche, but these only serve to highlight its benefits.

Burgers were designed for efficiency and low cost. They were democratising: an easy, happy blend of meat and bread; dollops of supportive sauce, a few pockets of nutrients by way of gherkins and the like.

99p cheeseburger

McDonald's 99p cheeseburger
McDonald’s (Photo: Barry McGee)

McDonald’s nailed the winning formula early doors – not long after the simple cheeseburger’s conception in 1920s America, where – as early menus show – customers could pick up a hearty snack, lunch or dinner for just 25 cents. McDonald’s, for all its faults (most other things on the menu), has since continued to pay homage to simplicity and affordability.

When upmarket burgers took off some years ago, many trumpeted fancier fare. In Esquire, the story of how burgers started life “as a lower-class food with a bad reputation” is extensively explained. German immigrants developed cheap food with their meat grinders and made profit out of lesser cuts that wouldn’t sell on the butcher’s slab even then.

It’s ironic that as Britain’s dining renaissance continues and provenance becomes all-important, those who prize using up all of an animal’s unfavourable cuts would rather flip burgers made with top quality beef. Championing resourcefulness is a fine thing – but burgers were one of the first modern mainstream methods to actually do so. A burger’s very process is to use the whole cow.

Cheap meat

I still fail to understand why anyone would top a beefburger with Stilton anyway. It masks the flavour of the meat with its piquant salaciousness. Or why people feel it necessary to serve burgers covered in slices of avocado. Why are you doing that? Putting squelchy fruit on beef? Adding brioche in lieu of a standard bun only serves to detach from what lies within.

There is room for higher-end work. The likes of Meatliquor, Honest Burgers and Patty & Bun all serve excellent burgers only a fool (or a vegetarian) would turn down.

But the truest and most classic cheeseburger is found at McDonald’s. At every train station, on every high street, it is there: a tasteless bun – the mere vehicle – carrying something resembling beef under the most American of cheap and delicious cheese. All else that’s required is ketchup, onions, pickles and mustard. It all amounts to fewer calories than a Greggs sausage roll; less sugar than an Innocent smoothie.

The cheapest way to fill up on the hoof.

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Jonny Piper: Personal, unfiltered – and in your own voice. How politicians can use social media to speak to millions.

Jonny Piper was Head of Video at CCHQ between 2014-18, and most recently has been advising Jeremy Hunt on his leadership campaign.

As we touch down at Heathrow, my iPhone pings into life with hundreds of missed WhatsApp messages, reminding me I’ve not had signal for the past hour. After a quick scroll through Twitter, I pass my phone to the man sat next to me. Jeremy Hunt looks up after reading the tweets that I’d pulled out – ‘I’ll reply to those’ – and proceeds to start a Twitter conversation with Tim Montgomerie about his great aunt’s lemon drizzle cake.

Even after six years in digital communications working as part of the Conservative Party’s digital team, this was new. I’ve worked closely with Prime Ministers and senior Cabinet Ministers, yet I’d never seen such a refreshingly hands-on approach to social media, or its use in a relatable and personal way.

In Theresa May’s Number Ten, an op-ed in a newspaper meant hours of preparation, yet a tweet would always be an afterthought. I always found this bizarre – when a single tweet or Facebook post of pure and unfiltered messaging has the potential to reach millions of voters. At the end of his premiership, David Cameron’s Facebook page had over a million followers, with Facebook’s algorithm showing his posts not only to those who ‘liked’ his page, but to their friends and family too – meaning that a single post might reach millions of the UK electorate. In sheer numbers of people reached, there is simply no comparison to print.

There was one moment when I thought things had changed. Soon after the then Prime Minister stepped off stage in 2017 after coughing through her conference speech, I was called into her suite. I took a photo of her red ministerial box and the copy of her speech that she had been reading from moments ago, surrounded by cough sweets and throat medicine. Tweeting simply ‘*coughs*’, at the time it became her most liked tweet ,with over 30k likes and retweets, and was reported on by Sky and the BBC.

Finally, I thought, her team are starting to get it: they’re seeing the potential of showing some character through social media. But I was wrong. It would be one of the only instances in which her team allowed a glimmer of humour or personality to come through on her social account.

In politics, personality matters. We may wish that it’s purely policy or competence that makes one electable for high office but, to succeed in politics, people need to like who you are.

In the recent Conservative leadership campaign, one candidate was a political superstar, known for his newspaper columns and appearances on Have I Got News For You, a man who could find himself stuck on a zipwire but whose personality allowed him to weather any embarrassment. The other, a personality largely unknown by the electorate.

Yet I’d argue that in this campaign, free for the first time to talk policy and politics after nine years of collective responsibility, it was Hunt whose personality shone through. And it did so because he embraced a medium that allowed him to talk in his own voice – social media.

There is no other platform that is so direct. Speak to a newspaper, and a journalist can editorialise your quote. Speak to a broadcast camera, and the interviewer will press you on everything except your pre-planned lines.

But social media lets you have direct and complete ownership over your messaging and tone. You are in control. You can be funny, sassy, or start a debate or discussion. It’s the easiest platform on which to tell the world who you are, and in your own voice. To use it well, however, you have cut through the noise and talk to your audience, not at them. Sadly, too many politicians miss the mark by just regurgitating a press release into 280 characters.

Donald Trump has shown us that a single tweet has the power to make headlines, start debate and – if we’re not careful – international incidents. During the campaign, Jeremy pointed out to me that, for the first time in history, the entire United States wakes up knowing exactly what has kept the President awake that night. The US is perhaps more connected to a President than ever before.

In the private sector, such entrepreneurs as Elon Musk really get social media. Despite not owning a Tesla, I follow him because he keeps me educated, entertained and engaged. With each tweet, I learn what he’s thinking and feeling, and get a glimpse into the world of a billionaire. And if you ask him a question, he (or one of his team) responds.

And he’s not the only entrepreneur that gets it. Throughout the campaign, Jeremy would regularly tweet himself – a rarity at the upper echelons of politics, interacting with colleagues, members, journalists and the wider public.

An example of how effective this social strategy was was #BoJoNoShow. After Boris Johnson declined Sky’s invitation for a debate, Jeremy filled the void by hosting his own Twitter Q&A. Trending across the UK with over 34k tweets, Jeremy conveyed his style and humour while answering questions on Brexit, the Union and the mis-pronunciation of his surname. Despite the financial limitations of a leadership campaign budget (£150,000), this interaction and engagement meant we were leveraging organic social in the best possible way.

The effectiveness of a digital campaign is boosted immensely when the leadership is willing to engage. I was part of the CCHQ team that pioneered the use of highly-targeted digital advertising in politics all the way back in 2015. Every political campaign has since used the same techniques, but often without any direct input from senior leadership. But imagine how much richer our digital campaigns would be if they were enhanced by a leader who fully understood the power of social media, and used it to speak to the electorate directly.

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The Secret Teacher’s Kate Stewart: I left school at 15 without any GCSEs – I’m proof you can still succeed

My journey to success has been unconventional – I didn’t get my GCSEs, A-Levels or go to university at 18. Instead, I was expelled from my senior school in Liverpool for misbehaving.

To be honest, school bored me. I found lessons a drag and listening to the teacher droning on just wasn’t for me.

I’m the first to admit I was a challenging pupil. There was no doubt I was clever, but I just didn’t want to sit and concentrate as I’m a practical learner, and I think the same can be said for many others, too.

I was expelled at 15-years-old, became pregnant at 16 and gave birth to my daughter Caitlin (who is now almost 20), at 17. I felt my destiny was written for me and everyone believed I would end up on benefits, with more children, and that I wouldn’t achieve anything.

‘The real turning point for me was sitting in my house with my new baby and the electricity just went off’

The real turning point for me was sitting in my house with my new baby and the electricity just going off. At that time, you would top it up with tokens and I literally had no money. I thought: I need to change my life and make money for my daughter. I knew I had to give her the best possible life and so I got up off my backside and worked as a secretary full-time during the days, then in the evenings I went to night school and studied for my degree in business management, whilst being a single mother.

From there, I just had self-belief and the confidence to go into meetings and think that no-one is better than me. I wouldn’t take no for an answer and being persistent paid off. I ended up grinding the owner of Liverpool’s Heritage Market down so much that after begging and begging him to hire me, he eventually gave me a job.

At the time, the Heritage Market was only making money one day a week, so I put a strategy in place and pitched it out as a filming location. Before I knew it, Captain America and some of BBC’s most famous dramas were filming there. Determination has been key for me throughout my career and putting in the effort to achieve my goals.

After the Heritage Market, I embarked on a new challenge. That’s the thing with me – I’m not afraid to try my hand at something new.

Jamie Carragher at the opening of The Sandon Hotel with owner Kate Stewart and business development director John Connolly.

So now I run a portfolio of businesses, from property to Liverpool’s famous Sandon Pub, which I have recently transformed so that its hospitality suites are second to none, and we’re now an official hospitality provider for Liverpool Football Club. I also created an adjoining hotel for guests who travel to Liverpool. Taking The Sandon and investing into it to make it what it is today has been an incredible journey and I’m so proud of how far it’s come since I took it over in 2017.

I also own Vitality Homes, supported living accommodation for those who have experienced substance abuse. This is my way of giving back and helping people who are at the most vulnerable time in their lives. I really believe that we can change their lives for the better long-term and I am so passionate about that.

My episode of The Secret Teacher recently aired on Channel 4, and what an experience that was. I went undercover as a support worker in a Sheffield-based school which was facing challenges and suffering from budget cuts. I helped the Head Teacher and staff with Year 11 students and could see myself in some of them – it was like looking into a mirror!

Not everyone responds the same way to the education system. Some learn well that way and that’s incredible, but others don’t and unfortunately, one size doesn’t fit all. I identified two students, Zain and Molly, who both had ambitions but weren’t putting the effort into succeeding in their exams, but I saw potential in both and I made it my mission to help them.

Education is really important – there’s no doubt about that. You really do need credentials because I’ve had such a tough time trying to show what I’m capable of, having done it the hard way. But if you don’t do particularly well, or don’t get the grades you had hoped for, it isn’t the end of your world. You can still succeed, and I am living proof of that.

The Secret Teacher continues on Channel 4 at 9pm 

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Popularity of DNA testing kits means keeping quiet isn’t enough to protect family secrets

“You can’t tell me what to do, you ain’t my mother!” roared Zoe Slater at the woman she believed to be her older sister, in what remains one of the most famous and oft-quoted scenes in EastEnders’ history. “Yes I am,” her not-sister Kat fired back. This is the kind of bombshell that soap fans’ dreams are made of.

Gripping scenes in which a character’s true parentage, or at least, their biological origins, are dramatically exposed, crop up time and again in soaps, TV dramas and of course – as no Star Wars fan could ever forget – the big screen.

Yet such revelations are not confined to the world of fiction, and ordinary people are increasingly finding themselves grappling with this form of plot twist in their own lives.

At-home DNA testing kits have exploded in popularity, with thousands of Britons eager to piece together their family tree, make contact with relatives in other parts of the world who have uploaded their DNA profiles online or simply to find out their full ethnic make up.

 

Previously, someone who wished to keep to themselves the true identity of their child’s origins had a relatively good chance of taking their secret to the grave. Now, it’s not just a matter of keeping schtum – with some testing kits costing as little as £80, those of us with skeletons in our cupboards could be rumbled at any time.

Read More:

How DNA testing kits are increasingly exposing long-buried family secrets

The pain of discovering a secret that has been hidden from you for a lifetime can be searing, and the prospect of admitting the truth to a loved one can seem impossibly hard.

But, despite privacy concerns, data-breach fears and the possibility of receiving inaccurate results, at-home DNA testing kits aren’t going anywhere right now. It might be time to face reality and have that difficult conversation before it’s too late.

@kt_grant

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Britain hasn’t got one Trump-style leader, it’s got two- Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn

It’s August, with another Brexit cliff-edge looming, so the politicians are playing games. Specifically, Top Trumps. Earlier this week, Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech laying out Labour’s opposition to a no-deal Brexit, for which he rightly pointed out ‘this Government has no mandate’.

He then launched an attack line which we can expect to hear on repeat over the coming months, if we head into a general election campaign. Johnson, the Labour leader maintained, “is Britain’s Trump”. With April’s YouGov poll showing that only 21 per cent of Brits have a positive opinion of Trump, it’s hardly a positive association for most voters.

Conservative outriders hit back. Instead, it was Corbyn who embodied Trump’s worst excesses: his taste for conspiracy theories, his vanity, his willingness to believe the best of Putin’s Russia and the worst of liberal democracies. They were even both on their third wife. (A dangerous attack-line from friends of Johnson.) Corbyn’s posturing, they implied, was not just prolier than thou, but Trumpier than thou.

Jeremy Corbyn declined an invitation to a banquet with Donald Trump. (Photo credit: PAUL ELLIS,NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

The tragedy for the British people is that both political teams are right. And in choosing to point the populist finger exclusively at the other, both ignore their own profound responsibility for the Trumpification of British politics, a world in which politicians know no shame in continuing to peddle misinformation after they’ve been caught. (Let’s be clear – politicians have always lied when they thought they’d get away with it. Now, they know they’ll get away with it even when they won’t.)

To some, the parallels between Johnson and Trump are more apparent. Perhaps in keeping with their libertine lifestyles, they’ve both shifted from socially liberal policy positions to classic social chauvinism – nowadays, neither has encountered a culture war they haven’t known how to stoke. Like many writers, I have written elsewhere at length on the similarities between the men.

Yet to those of us who have followed Corbyn’s rise closely, the sight of him comparing any other politician to Donald Trump felt like an act of such shamelessness that it might only be matched by the Ponzi President himself. If there is a single line running through Trump’s politics, it is the practice of rule by conspiracy theory. Yet it is from those who believe that the existing democratic order is essentially a conspiracy that Corbyn also draws his base.

As researcher Peter Pomerantsev writes in his superb new book, ‘This Is Not Propaganda’, “we live in a world of mass persuasion run amok, where the means of manipulation have gone forth and multiplied”. The digital imprint of the Russian state has been particularly successful in undermining the confidence of voters in Western democracies in our own democratic norms and even our ability as voters to understand our political realities.

The analyst Ben Nimmo has summed up the Russian approach to disinformation, in par as “dismiss, distort, distract, dismay”. Hence, the birth of a whole new online culture populated by voters who don’t even share a basic epistemology with existing ‘elites’. Johnson and the Brexit campaign benefitted most clearly from this crisis of trust, but so does their fellow Eurosceptic, Jeremy Corbyn.

David Reinert holds up a large “Q” sign while waiting in line to see President Donald J. Trump at his rally on August 2, 2018. “Q” represents QAnon, a conspiracy theory group that has been seen at recent rallies. (Photo: Rick Loomis/Getty Images)

Track the pro-Corbyn and pro-Trump networks online, and you’ll find a commitment to anti-vax theories that tell you the Government wants to make your children ill. Johnson, to his anti-Trumpist credit, has just announced a campaign to counter this particular theory.

Both are surrounded by supporters who trade in conspiracy theories about Jews. While Corbyn’s party is under formal investigation for anti-semitism, only this week Trump was manically RTing the conspiracist anti-evangelical Wayne Allyn Root, who attacked Jewish Democrats for not supporting him.

But it is the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, for which neither Corbyn nor Trump have been fully prepared to hold Russia accountable, that showed us all the true online nexus between Trumpland and Corbynville.

.Yulia Skripal was poisoned with a nerve agent in Salisbury along with her father, Russian spy Sergei Skripal.  (Photo: Dylan Martinez – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

When Jeremy Corbyn stood up in the Commons in 2018 and cast doubt on Russia’s responsibility for the poisonings, he invoked the memory of the Iraq War to cast doubt on the truthfulness of our own intelligence services. To many British voters, that resonated deeply.

But those British voters would do well to remember another anti-interventionist politician who castigated his own party establishment for its role in pushing the Iraq War – and in doing so, gave full vent to the fears of that party’s voters that their political leadership had always lied and secretly despised them. That former joke candidate is now in complete control of his party’s machine, once controlled by the party elites he hated. His name is Donald Trump.

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Gwyneth Paltrow hiring someone to curate her library doesn’t mean she actually reads the books

Millennials’ living quarters are supposed to be overrun with houseplants. Mine are crammed with books instead. Regrettably, this is not because I’m some sort of literary whizz. Rather, it’s because I used to work at a culture magazine, where every postal delivery was a veritable avalanche of books.

Sensing that, as a journalist, I might never earn quite the sort of salary that buys a private library, I seized the opportunity to procure a free one – and carted home as many volumes as I could carry.

This has created an unlikely similarity between my domestic situation and that of Gwyneth Paltrow as she too lives surrounded by tomes. When the Goop sorceress remodelled her LA home a few years ago, she realised she needed a casual, er, five or six hundred more books to complete the shelves. To accomplish such a task, she employed the skills of a so-called “library curator” named, magnificently, Thatcher Wine.

circa 1934: Dorothy Lee the American leading lady of the 30’s . Dorothy is so absorbed in her book that she has not noticed that the fire has gone out. (Photo by Robert Coburn/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Wine is nothing if not an expert, wisely observing in an interview with Town & Country magazine: “The thing about books is that you can only really read one book at a time.” He goes on to point out that “home libraries … are not about constant use of reading. They are a reflection of where you’ve been and where you want to go.”

While it pains me to agree with someone who uses the phrase “use of reading”, he’s broadly right. For his comments roughly translate as “owning books isn’t the same as reading them”.
I’ve got through about 30 per cent of the volumes I dragged home. Yes, they look nice – but most of us pick up a book on a whim or because of a recommendation, not because they’re artistically displayed on a windowsill.

Buying books isn’t just about how your house looks – it’s about how you look, too. Lining shelves with impressive tomes is a symptom of feeling intellectually inferior in other parts of your life. (As someone who peddles vaginal steaming as a career, I’m guessing Gwyneth might be with me on this one.)

Unfortunately, such a tactic makes you look stupider as often as it makes you look cleverer. For you know what’s less sophisticated than not owning many books? Owning lots of them – and then having to admit to your visiting bookworm friend that you haven’t actually read any of the darn things.

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Solving the housing crisis isn’t as simple as building 300,000 homes, it’s the right mix of homes

The point of people that work for think-tanks is to create an argument to suit the view of the think-tank they work for. But, quite what point Ian Mulheirn, the chief economist at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, was trying to make about the reasons for high house prices is beyond me.

Mr Mulheirn has occupied a series of roles. He was an economic adviser to the Treasury during Mr Blair’s final years in power. He worked for economic think-tank the Social Market Foundation and as a director of consulting at global forecaster Oxford Economics.

At Mr Blair’s outfit he has continued his career theme of pronouncing on how the economy isn’t working, while having no first-hand experience of the private sector.

So, it is with little surprise that Mr Mulheirn has demonstrated his profound misunderstanding of the basics of housebuilding.

Lack of understanding

Centre for Cities is warning of a north-south wealth divide in housing equity (Photo: Getty)

His assertion that increases in house prices have more to do with low interest rates than a lack of supply shows a lack of understanding of the basics. It is bunkum.

He claims tight housing supply is not responsible for the 160 per cent growth in house prices since the days of Mr Blair’s government, or the fall in home ownership over the past 15 years. Bunkum that suits Mr Blair’s own failed policies in this area.

He says that even if the Government hit its housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes a year, this would not make a difference to prices or ownership levels. Once again, bunkum. Has he forgotten the basic rules of supply and demand?

The real issue with housing in the UK is that housebuilders fill their land banks with hundreds of thousands of plots and drip feed those plots on to the housing market to keep their margins high and their shareholders happy. The multi-millionaires running our housebuilders know that limiting supply keeps prices high, but Mr Mulheirn is yet to cotton on.

Top housebuilder control 330,000 plots

Take the top five listed UK housebuilders for example – Barratt Homes, Persimmon, Berkeley Group, Taylor Wimpey and Bellway. Between them they hold more than 330,000 plots. If they were so inclined they could solve the chronic shortage of new homes being built.

The bosses of these companies, with the exception of upmarket developer Berkeley, have enriched themselves thanks to the Government’s flawed help-to-buy scheme, which has artificially inflated prices for first-time buyers.

Read More:

No-deal Brexit house prices: How changing expectations are hitting the property market

Add to those 330,000 plots, which the top five are not building on, the land housing companies, supermarkets and local councils are keeping hold of, then there’s many more hundreds of thousands of plots available to build on. Mr Mulheirn also appears to miss another crucial point. It’s not just any old home that we should be concerned with building. It’s homes that ordinary people can actually afford. We don’t need help-to-buy or low interest rates to get young people on the property ladder. We need more affordable homes. Truly affordable.

The right mix of homes

Rather than fixating on the near irrelevance of low interest rates, Mr Mulheirn would have been better advised to look at the slow planning system, the methods by which large housing firms avoid building the correct proportion of affordable homes on any given development, the failure of the Government, including Mr Blair’s, to find a solution to our housing crisis, and the acute shortage of social housing.

It is not about building 300,000 homes a year, it’s about building the right mix of those homes. Do that, and more supply in each segment of the housing market will make homes more affordable, whatever kind of home people are looking for.

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The struggles of Waspi women show how devastating raising the pension age to 75 could be

We are disappointed to hear the proposals set out in the Centre for Social Justice’s report for the rise in the State Pension age to be accelerated to 70 by 2028 and 75 by 2035 for men and women. 

The think tank’s proposal is extremely worrying. It fails to consider the women who have already experienced the devastating effects of the mismanagement of increases to their State Pension age as a result of the 1995 and 2011 Pension Acts. These women received little or no personal notice of the changes and had no time to prepare for this, which shattered their retirement plans.

We are pleased to hear that Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has said the Government has no plans to implement this proposal. However, there is no getting around the fact that the Centre for Social Justice, which is founded by former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, first proposed Universal Credit and this is now Government policy. That is a fact that will no doubt be concerning for those who would suffer most under this proposal. In light of this, we urge the Government to stand by its commitment not to accelerate increases to the State Pension age.

Amber Rudd said the state pension age would move to 68
Amber Rudd  (Photo: Getty)

Waspi women have already been forced to work longer than expected and use their retirement savings as a result of the Government’s failure to properly manage State Pension age increases. On top of this, many of us have experienced first-hand the difficulties in trying to find work over 60, with many women being forced to accept zero hours, temporary and low paid contracts, which offer no financial security. We are concerned that this suggestion neglects the reality of the job market which is not suited for older people, especially older women.

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State pension age changes: ‘I’m an engineer who couldn’t get a job as a cleaner. I was feeling suicidal’

Further calls for the State Pension age to be increased would only negatively affect hard-working people, in particular, women who have saved and planned for their retirement.

It also contradicts the recommendations of numerous expert organisations and reviews looking at fair notice for changes in the State Pension age. In 2017, the independent Cridland Report recommended that 10 years notice should be given for forthcoming rises, and that the SPa should not increase more than one year in any ten-year period, whilst the Pensions Commissioner recommended at least 15 years notice. People need time to plan for their retirement, time that Waspi women were not afforded.

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Baroness Ros Altmann calls proposal to raise threshold to 75 ‘immoral’

The Centre for Social Justice’s proposals would see the first increase of four years to the State Pension age taking place in just nine years if they were enacted now. Whilst this is more notice than some Waspi women received, it is still insufficient for people to adequately plan for their retirement. The proposed rise is too rapid, and the worst effects would most likely be felt by a particular group of people. To enforce these proposals would be to force the same issues faced by Waspi women now onto a new cohort, with women suffering the most.

The issue of state pension inequality has been ignored by successive governments. Boris Johnson committed to revisit the issue, so we are calling on the Government to urgently redress the Waspi issue before any additional increases to the State Pension age are considered. We hope the Government has learned its lesson from the shocking impact of previous changes on women’s lives.

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How sex workers who are sexually assaulted are being failed by the justice system

In March, a man was given an extended jail sentence for raping a sex worker after removing his condom during sex. The woman had specifically stated that all her clients must use protection, and he ignored her pleas to stop after removing the condom. The case highlighted the legal concept of ‘conditional consent’. This is the understanding that consent for sex is usually based on conditions – in this case, the use of a condom – and that, if those conditions aren’t met, consent is negated.

When it comes to sex work, consent is based on conditions such as services offered, protection used and payment. In an industry that is partially criminalised and rife with exploitation, abuse happens. However, sex workers’ trust of the police is low and offences often go unreported. In 2018, sex worker alert service, National Ugly Mugs (NUM), received 820 reports, detailing 1,152 crimes against sex workers, including 102 reports of rape and attempted rape and 63 reports of sexual assault. Only 21 per cent of victims were willing to formally report to police.

England and Wales have seen a significant fall in rape prosecutions. In the 12 months to 2017-18, there was a 23 per cent drop in the number of rape cases taken on by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), despite a 16 per cent increase in reports. The CPS has been threatened with being taken to court by women’s organisations, who claim cases are being dropped without good reason. Sex workers are particularly vulnerable.

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Busting the myths around false rape allegations

What the CPS figures showing young men are less likely to be convicted of rape tell us

Angie*, a London-based sex worker, met Dan* on Seeking Arrangement. She tells i they arranged to meet outside a London train station but, at the last minute, he changed his mind and told her to come straight to his hotel.

“When I got there he sat me down and explained he would pay me after the meet via bank transfer,” Angie says. They began having sex. “It became too painful. I kept asking him to stop but he kept saying ‘in a bit’ so I gave up and decided to wait it out. I needed the money to pay my rent. When I left he texted me saying he was looking forward to the next meet. I was surprised that he reacted like that considering how I felt the meet went but I played along and sent him my details with hopes of at least getting paid.”

Angie says it wasn’t until later that she realised what had happened was rape. She made a report to NUM and went to the police. Angie describes her treatment by the police as “more traumatising than the actual rape”. She says communication was poor and infrequent and that she was accused of lying. Eventually, the Metropolitan Police told her they would be taking no further action on her case, claiming there was insufficient evidence.

With help from Women Against Rape (WAR) and the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), Angie put in a complaint to the Independent Office for Police Conduct and filed a request under the Victims’ Right to Review Scheme, which allows victims to ask for a review of a decision not to continue a criminal case. She also put in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

When the FOI results came back, Angie discovered her case had been dropped for a number of reasons, including the fact that she advertised ‘rough’ sex prior to the meeting. The FOI, which has been seen by i, also claimed: “non-payment may be deemed catalyst for allegation”.

“During this encounter the victim states that she has been raped […]” reads the FOI. “She did not want to carry on but she did not see any other way of paying her way through university. This again suggests that the victim is prostituting herself.”

The FOI includes a statement from an officer who expresses bafflement that Angie sought payment after the event and that her texts were, initially, friendly. “[Angie] explained the reason for her reply was because it was her job and she needed the money. [She] explained she wanted to ‘keep him sweet’.”

Angie says she was “furious, devastated and humiliated”. Not only did Dan refuse to stop when she asked him to, she says, “non-payment should be regarded as evidence of rape, as opposed to evidence to the contrary.”

‘Sadly, it’s often the most vulnerable groups – drug users, people with mental health issues, sex workers – whose cases are most complicated and end up being NFA’d (no further actioned) often because they’re deemed ‘unreliable witnesses’ – Katie Russell, Rape Crisis 

Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape told i: “The lack of justice for Angie typifies the obstacles encountered by most rape survivors, aggravated by prejudice against sex workers. Nobody is a perfect victim. Cases are closed at the first hurdle, predicting a jury will be biased and not believe her. Perpetrators can count on almost complete impunity.”

Katie Russell, spokesperson for Rape Crisis England and Wales, agrees, saying, “Sadly, it’s often the most vulnerable groups – drug users, people with mental health issues, sex workers – whose cases are most complicated and end up being NFA’d (no further actioned) often because they’re deemed ‘unreliable witnesses’.”

Emma*, a sex worker living on the south coast, was assaulted at work and her assailant left without paying her. When she went to the police, she said was told: “You went over there with the intention to have sex with him.” By email, she was told that, by nature of her occupation, consent had been implied.

In an email, the police told Emma: “You agreed to have sex with this male, you turned up to have sex with him and he tried to have sex with you. Whether a fee was agreed or not you still went there to engage in sexual activity.” The police took no further action.

The issue of payment remains a grey area

Recognition of the conditional nature of sex workers’ consent is growing and the conviction of the man who removed his condom in March was welcomed by campaigners. The issue of payment, however, remains a legal grey area. The last time the law was tested on non-payment of a sex worker was 1995. In R v Linekar, the Court of Appeal ruled that, although consent was based on payment, the man’s refusal to pay after he had sex with the sex worker was only fraud and not rape.

Laurie-Anne Power, a criminal barrister at 25 Bedford Row, London, told i: “Some sex workers are being let down by the law.” Power says the reasons given by the police for dropping Angie’s case should not, in and of themselves, have stood in the way of a prosecution. “Rape doesn’t require force. It’s about consent and freedom of choice. Consent comes in many forms. For sex workers, if consent is provided on the basis of any condition – type of sex, payment – and then that freedom is taken away, the condition is not met.”

‘Courts have offered a robust interpretation of consent protecting sexual autonomy in a broad range of circumstances including in cases of conditional consent. There’s no reason why such an interpretation can’t be extended for the protection of sex workers’ – Prabha Kotiswaran

Russell says understandings of consent are seriously lacking. “There is frequent misinterpretation and misrepresentation of consent both outside and within our criminal justice system,” she says. “Consent must be fully and freely given, can be withdrawn at any time and can be conditional, as it is for sex workers, whose consent is based on payment, among other conditions.”

Prabha Kotiswaran, professor of law and social justice at King’s College, London, says it’s time for a change in how the law is interpreted when it comes to sex work. The precedent under which non-payment is classed only as fraud, in particular, is out of date. Kotiswaran says: “The only case law on conditional consent relating to non-payment for sexual predates the Sexual Offences Act, 2003. Being more than 20 years old, it’s outdated. Courts have offered a robust interpretation of consent protecting sexual autonomy in a broad range of circumstances including in cases of conditional consent. There’s no reason why such an interpretation can’t be extended for the protection of sex workers.”

A spokesperson for the Met told i: “We continue to strive to reduce the violence experienced by sex workers and are committed to tackling rape and sexual offences, regardless of a victim’s profession. We understand the barriers, fears and reluctance that sex workers might face when they consider reporting abuse, but we take all allegations of this nature extremely seriously and will investigate them fully.”

Talking about decisions to take no further action on reported rapes, a spokesperson for the CPS said: “Guidance requires the police to consider the strengths or weaknesses of the evidence available including witness credibility and reliability and anything that would undermine the prosecution case.” The spokesperson added: “Acceptance of rape myths plays no part in a police investigation.”

Angie says she’d like to see a wider conversation about ending sexual violence. “There needs to be more options than just prison. I’d prefer some sort of restorative justice or rehabilitation programme. This would be more effective and would not require such an elaborate, painful investigation process with no outcome other than additional trauma.”

*Names have been changed.

Frankie Mullin is a journalist and sex worker activist

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I’m a cardiac surgeon, and women are being cheated when it comes to healthcare

‘Hysteria’ has its roots in ancient medicine. It was a diagnosis given to women, by ancient Greeks who believed the uterus (the hystera) wandered the body causing disease. In the late 1800’s, hysteria and the pesky uterus was thought to be the cause of mental illness and the treatment was a hysterectomy. It’s obvious now that this was never correct.

In modern medicine, the misconceptions of a woman’s body and diseases that afflict us persist. There are countless examples of women’s healthcare being stifled for the simple fact that she has biological, psychological and social needs that are not being met by the health care system. 

‘We need our doctors and nurses to be taught about how diseases affect women’

As a cardiac surgeon, I spend my days battling heart disease. In my speciality, mistreating women is killing them. Many women don’t know that heart disease is relevant to them, believing it’s a man’s problem and yet, women are twice as likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer.

Unlike men, women may show symptoms that aren’t like a ‘Hollywood’ heart attack; tiredness, breathlessness or pains elsewhere are more common and make it hard for a woman herself as well as health care workers to detect.

Women are being short-changed by medical care every day and its costing them dearly (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

If a man has a heart attack, he will be treated with a combination of some of the best treatments modern medicine has to offer. For a woman though, after a heart attack, she is less likely to receive lifesaving-treatments including opening blocked vessels, medications and cardiac rehabilitation.

She is less likely to be referred for specialised treatments like mechanical hearts or transplants. Even our best treatments may not work as well for women with medications, even transplants throwing up difficult side effects that aren’t seen in men.

In heart disease, women are beholden to biological differences, a lack of female-specific research, a lack of awareness amongst everyone, including healthcare workers and a lack of female researchers and doctors who will champion the cause with research showing that women may have better survival after a heart attack if she is treated by a female doctor. 

Heart disease isn’t alone in this though. A growing amount of medical research has shown disparities including in strokes or hip replacement. Even endometriosis, a disease that uniquely affects women can result in an average wait to diagnosis of 7 years. If a woman comes to hospital with pain, she is likely to be given anxiety medicine, not painkillers. 

Stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, arguably the greatest tragedienne of her day, in a scene from an unnamed theatre production. (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Women are being short-changed by medical care every day and its costing them dearly.

The reasons are vast, not least of which is bias that colours how we perceive women who are ill and how we as women, feel like we should act when we are sick. Hysteria has long since been disproven but its after-effects are still with us. 

The solution to this problem isn’t simple. However, in this perfect storm that’s hurting women, we need better and more research and treatments that are designed for women.

Most importantly though, we need education. We need our doctors and nurses to be taught about how diseases affect women. Mostly, I feel it is vital way to educate our women because empowered women will demand health care. They will demand the health care that they rightly need and deserve.

Dr Nikki Stamp is a heart surgeon and author.

@drnikkistamp

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The Government needs to find time for Britain’s poorest pensioners instead of Brexit

Support i‘s Pension Credit Injustice campaign by adding your name to this petition.

The Government’s decision that Pension Credit will, from now on, only be available to couples where both partners have reached pension age is a cynical move.

Under the changes, couples will receive Universal Credit instead. Under the previous system, only one partner had to be of retirement age in order to receive Pension Credit. 

The financial impacts are significant, with couples on Universal Credit receiving £114.81 a week, compared with £255.25 for a couple receiving Pension Credit. This amounts to a potential loss of £7,320 a year. 

Much has been done in recent years, led by the Liberal Democrats when they were in the coalition government, to address the issue of pensioner poverty with the introduction of the pensions triple-lock and pensions freedoms.

What is an Early Day Motion?

They are used by MPs to draw the attention of the House of Commons to a particular issue, event or campaign. MPs may show their support for an EDM by adding their own signature to it.

This is why I tabled an Early Day Motion (2083) before recess to urge the Government to reconsider. So far it has received broad cross-party support, albeit no Conservative MPs could bring themselves to back it. 

This begs the question of whether the Government and its backbenchers really are prepared to stick up for pensioners. I think not.

Upcoming Government changes to these benefits will also strip pensioners of their entitlements if they have a partner of working age. Claiming Pension Credit not only provides a much-needed income boost to those on a low income but also opens the door to other benefits which can make a big difference. This decision by the Government is set to cost pensioners dearly. 

A piggy bank on a pile of coins
Pensioners with younger partners could be worse off more than £7,000 a year (Photo: PA)

I would urge people to sign the Pension Credit Injustice petition on Change.org to help me put pressure on the Government. You can join me in signing by clicking on the link here.

I applaud the i for campaigning on this important issue. It’s a matter of basic fairness. 

Meanwhile, though Parliament is on recess at the minute, I will be writing to both the Work and Pensions Secretary of State Amber Rudd, asking she reverses her department’s decision, and Prime Minster Boris Johnson to demand they do the right thing for our poorer pensioners. 

Amid the sturm and drang of the Government’s chaotic no-deal Brexit campaigning, perhaps they can find time for Britain’s poorer pensioners. It would make a nice change.

Stephen Lloyd is the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne

Please sign our petition here

If you think you will be affected by the Pension Credit changes and would like to share your story, please contact: serina.sandhu@inews.co.uk

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Will Baldét: As well as combating terrorism, we must tackle the underlying ideology of Islamisim

Will Baldét is a  Regional Prevent Coordinator and a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right.

The threat from Islamist terrorism has evolved in both its complexity and application. Initially relying on spectacle to capture the attention of the world’s media, the degradation of Islamic State has led to a reliance on unsophisticated, self-starter attacks by individuals often inspired, rather than directed, by terrorist groups.

While the violent methodology is continually evolving, there is an underlying factor that remains largely unchanged: an extreme Islamist ideology redefines Islam though its own political prism. Just as the first victims of terrorism are often Muslims themselves, the predominant victims of Islamist extremism will be Muslim-majority countries and the religion of Islam.

Governments have united to push back the military threat from Islamic State, but amidst the carnage of a terrorist massacre it’s easy to forget that terrorism itself is merely a tactic, albeit one with horrific consequences.

Are we confident that enough is being done to tackle the ideology itself, or that Muslim-majority countries, without whom we cannot dispel the Islamist threat, are equally at the forefront of implementing Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) strategies to inoculate communities against the doctrines that underpin global terrorism? I have been involved in the UK’s CVE strategy, Prevent, for over a decade, and I have seen how vital it is to involve Muslim communities on the front line in the fight against Islamist extremism. Yet too often the approach to disengagement and de-radicalisation has been dominated by non-Muslim academics, policy-makers and practitioners.

However, last year I attended the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF) in Abu Dhabi and its host, the Hedayah Centre based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is arguably the first concerted effort by the global Muslim community to face up to the deeper risks posed by Islamism and recognise its distinction from terrorism.

Tackling an evolving threat requires an equally flexible and adaptable approach, and Hedayah has developed a multi-disciplinary programme that operates across different layers of society. While Islamist extremism is a global problem, it often exploits local grievances, both real and perceived. It is increasingly clear that an effective CVE strategy must be hyper-local; that is, rooted in the very communities at risk from exploitation.

Recognising that governments are not the best actors to operate at this level, Hedayah promotes engagement with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and communities themselves to bring young people, women, families, and local religious leaders together to include their perspectives in the application of CVE policy and equip them with the knowledge and the tools to counter Islamist narratives.

To complement this grass-roots approach to CVE, Hedayah works with governments to help them build an effective national framework, bringing together relevant sectors and ministries, within which NGOs can operate most effectively. This is crucially important for the ongoing challenge of repatriating returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs). Although this is not a new phenomenon, Islamic State fighters are more likely to return in a highly radicalised and indoctrinated state and require careful reintegration back into society once countries are assured they no longer pose a threat. Such efforts require close cooperation between national governments, local municipalities and local NGOs. Hedayah’s approach is to understand the original motivations of individual fighters and utilise this knowledge to develop safe integration strategies.

My own experience has shown me that it is vital to secure the support of Muslim communities in tackling Islamist extremism, and I cannot emphasise enough the existential threat now facing them. These communities are under siege not only from the industrial-scale recruitment efforts of terrorist organisations and the alacritous rise of neo-fascist groups who see Islam as a threat to their own way of life, but also the increasingly invisible and pernicious influence of non-violent Islamist groups.

While our attention must always stay focused on preventing the next terrorist attack, we must also recognise that the difference between the tactics of violent Islamist ideologues, whose aim is to establish a Caliphate and implement their own interpretation of Sharia, and their non-violent counterparts is often one of pragmatism. More initiatives like UAE’s Hedayah Centre, involving not only Muslim communities, but entire Muslim nations and cultures, is the most effective way the world can push back against Islamist extremism.

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Greg Hands: One might think that no-one in Brussels has read our Alternative Arrangements report

On the face of it, this week’s exchange of letters between Boris Johnson and Donald Tusk doesn’t offer a lot of encouragement for the great majority of us who do want to see a Brexit deal done between London and Brussels. Tusk’s response in particular, came across as rather intransigent, even absurdly claiming that the Prime Minister is seeking a return of a hard border in Ireland.

At times, the whole debate about the Northern Ireland Backstop is reminiscent of that between Pope Leo X and Martin Luther in the years after 1517. Brexit can appear like a debate between two rival sets of theologians. In 1517, the issue was transubstantiation or consubstantiation: did the communion wafer actually become the body of Christ, or was it merely representative of it?

This was a debate which would have been barely familiar to anyone just a few years before. And the sale of indulgences, and the basis of the scriptures and so on all formed part of it, too. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, the debate came to a head between the representatives of the papacy and Emperor Charles V on the one hand, and Luther and his followers on the other.

Four years on, however, what the theologians had missed was that the debate was no longer about narrow points of doctrine, but had come to involve much more fundamental principles like self-determination and popular consent, and a desire to find a solution that all sides could work with.

The current Brexit debate seems like that debate in 1521. Brussels has become entrenched. It is sticking hard and fast to the backstop, stubbornly ignoring the bigger picture. Practical politicians need to give this a fresh look. Unfortunately, the current Commission remains in place until November. A new set of eyes would understand that whatever the merits of the backstop, it simply isn’t going to pass through the Commons. And without the assent of the Commons, there is, by definition, never going to be a Brexit deal. That has been the case since early 2017 – whatever deal was negotiated would have to be agreed by the Commission and Council with the UK Government, and then ratified by the Commons and the European Parliament. All four hurdles need to be crossed. Three isn’t good enough.

So the backstop, like transubstantiation in 1521, might seem esoteric. But Johnson is also right when he describes it as anti-democratic, and therefore, like in 1521, emblematic of wider and more significant issues. He puts it succinctly in his letter to Tusk: “The backstop locks the UK, potentially indefinitely, into an international treaty which will bind us into a customs union and which applies large areas of single market legislation in Northern Ireland. It places a substantial regulatory border, rooted in that treaty, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The treaty provides no sovereign means of exiting unilaterally and affords the people of Northern Ireland no influence over the legislation which applies to them. That is why the backstop is anti-democratic.”

And that isn’t his only objection to the backstop. So, if the backstop isn’t going to pass the Commons, and doesn’t any longer have the agreement of the UK Government, it is self-evident that we need to urgently find something that does. This might seem an impossible task with just 72 days to go until Brexit date.

But much of the work has already been done. When Nicky Morgan and I agreed to co-chair the Prosperity UK Alternative Arrangements Commission in April, we knew we would be working with a superb team of technical experts from around the world – experts in borders, customs, logistics, transit and so on – and that we were giving ourselves around 10 weeks to produce a report on how it could all be done.

Fortunately, we knew that both sides wanted to see the work done. In their Strasbourg Declaration (actually, not that far from Worms) in March, both sides had committed themselves to finding alternative arrangements to the Backstop. When we published our 272 page report and draft protocols in July, we therefore thought we ought to be pushing at an open door. We went three times to Northern Ireland, twice to Dublin, and to Brussels, Berlin and The Hague to market the proposals to politicians, the media and other opinion-formers.

Both Johnson and Jeremy Hunt warmly welcomed our report during the recent Conservative leadership campaign. It should therefore not have a been a surprise to Messrs Tusk and Juncker that Alternative Arrangements would form the explicit or implicit basis of a refreshed UK approach on Brexit. The Prime Minister’s letter was, in my opinion, carefully crafted to be both realistic and conciliatory on what could be done, but one thing was clear, that the backstop could not form part of the deal, as it won’t pass the Commons. That is simply a statement of Realpolitik.

So Tusk’s response was disappointing. A Brussels spokesman quoted by the BBC claimed to not know much about Alternative Arrangements at all, asserting that the Prime Minister’s letter “does not set out what any alternative arrangements could be” and there was “no guarantee” they would be ready by the end of the transition period. It is almost as if nobody around Tusk had actually read our report.

Our Commission concluded clearly that Alternative Arrangements can and will work. But they won’t be up and running by October 31st. This is not a “No Deal” blueprint. Quite the opposite: our solution is the only one available which leads to a Brexit solution which will pass all four hurdles. And our proposals do need the (or at least a) transition period. Many of them can be brought in quite quickly. Some like the trusted trader scheme might take 12 – 15 months. We don’t believe anything will take longer than two to three years.

The Brexit solution lies in Alternative Arrangements. It just needs both sides to grasp it. Otherwise, I fear there could be a schism between London and Brussels which might take years, maybe decades to overcome.

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The strangest questions I’ve been asked while talking to students about my life as an author

Some years ago, on a book tour, I was invited to speak at a community college somewhere in the northern United States. The students at this college were a polite and attentive audience, as they usually are in the United States. At the end of the talk, though, they were invited to ask questions.

Silence ensued, as it often does in such circumstances. The talk had been about being an author and what was entailed in writing books. The class was an English one, and the students were encouraged to write. The topic was therefore relevant to their course and might reasonably be expected to inspire a question or two.

At last a hand went up at the back and a young man broke the silence. “Have you suffered?” he asked, giving the word suffered its full value.

The question took me by surprise and it was a moment or two before I was able to work out why he should have asked this. It had something to do, I thought, with the notion that books come from suffering, and that a relatively trouble-free life is no background for literary composition.

In a sense that is true – many books do come from authorial unhappiness. An equable temperament, accepting of whatever life brings, does not necessarily prompt one to write.

Students at a lecture theatre (ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)

The student’s question may, however, have come from somewhere quite different. He might have been so accustomed to the familiar tone of the misery memoir that he assumed that anybody who wrote a book would, by that very fact, be one who has suffered some calamitous misfortune.

He might be forgiven for that impression; there are numerous books today that chronicle unhappy or unresolved lives and the undoubted suffering such backgrounds involve. Perhaps this student thought that I had simply omitted to mention the suffering that I must have experienced in order to be a writer. As the American writer Gore Vidal said of the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, gore vidal, which apparently means in Russian, “He has seen grief”.

Exiled Russian writer and Nobel prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

As it happened, it proved rather difficult to answer the question. I could not claim the sort of suffering that fuels misery memoirs. Moreover, I belong to a generation that has never had to fight a war and has, by and large, in this country at least, had many advantages. So suffering in that sense was not something of which I could boast.

As to other forms of suffering – the sort of suffering that comes from existential angst – while some may experience that, I never had – not really. So eventually I said, “Frankly, no, I haven’t really suffered.”

He nodded, perhaps that was what he thought all along – that I had not suffered when I should have suffered. Perhaps he concluded that any advice I had given about writing was by that fact rendered nugatory – because who should pay any attention to an author who had not suffered?

The talk over, I was escorted to my car by the principal of the college. As we walked along the corridor, one of the students followed us from the lecture room. Coming abreast of us, she announced that she had had a question that she had not had the opportunity to ask in the lecture theatre. I assured her that I would be happy to answer it now.

Her question was every bit as surprising as the question about suffering, perhaps even more so. “Do you like eating wild mushrooms?” she asked.

“Magic mushrooms” which cause a hallucinogenic effect. (Evert-Jan Daniels/AFP/Getty Images)

I glanced at the principal, who remained inscrutable. I was on my own.

“It depends,” I said. “I’m a bit wary about wild mushrooms.”

That was a truthful answer. You have to be very careful with wild mushrooms.

The young woman smiled. It seemed that she was satisfied with this answer, and so she said goodbye and disappeared back down the corridor. I said nothing to the principal. I felt I had strayed into an absurdist play, something dreamed up by Ionesco or Beckett.

Irish playwright Samuel Beckett (1906 – 1989), winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

As I was driven away, I reflected on these two questions, but particularly on the second. What should have possessed that young woman, apparently rational and in a state of sobriety, to ask me, a complete stranger, whether I liked eating wild mushrooms? Was it simply genuine curiosity, or was there some unspoken agenda, perhaps a criticism?

It suddenly occurred to me that she might be talking about magic mushrooms, and I, in my naivety, had not tumbled to that. Was it therefore an invitation, an offer of a chemical experience? But then would such an invitation have been issued in the presence of the principal of the college who might be assumed to take a dim view of magic mushrooms being bandied about on the campus?

I think about that strange visit from time to time. In this life we are occasionally asked questions we cannot answer, or cannot answer in the way perhaps expected of us. Such questions remind us that people sometimes talk to one another in terms that one side of the conversation may not understand. Perhaps that is what afflicts us now.

That is what I think, but I also think I might be missing something about this encounter. But what? Complacency? Perhaps the answer was staring me in the face. Perhaps there was a line or two of Burns that could be the key. O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us!

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‘People wouldn’t sit next to me because they thought you could catch Parkinson’s disease’

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition which happens when levels of a chemical messenger in the brain called dopamine become too low.

Parkinson’s disease affects about 145,000 people in the UK, according to Parkinson’s UK. The NHS estimates one in 20 people with Parkinson’s will first experience symptoms before the age of 40. Parkinson’s UK told i it often hears from people who are diagnosed years after they first experienced symptoms because of the gradual way in which they begin.

There are more than 40 symptoms, the most common being tremors, as well as muscle stiffness, depression, anxiety, hallucinations, memory problems and dementia.

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What is Parkinson’s disease? Signs, symptoms and stages

Parkinson’s UK says people with the condition can also struggle with the impact on their mental health.

One such person is Hema Reilly, 54, a retired social care worker from Leicester. She experienced symptoms for more than a decade before her diagnosis.

After she was diagnosed in 2016, Hema found it very difficult to adjust, not just to the physical changes, but to how it affected her mental health. She found engaging with support groups hugely helpful and has even launched her own group to raise awareness of the disease, particularly in the South Asian community.

‘I had no idea how we were going to pay the mortgage’

Hema Reilly was diagnosed with Parkinson's after experiencing symptoms for 15 years
Hema Reilly was diagnosed with Parkinson’s more than a decade after she she first began experiencing symptoms

“I had just taken on a half a million-pound mortgage to buy a bungalow at the bottom of our garden for my mother to live in. She had been ill and I had a good job as a social worker and a decent salary.

But in a matter of months, I had to give up my job because I had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 51. With my husband retired, I had no idea how I was going to pay the mortgage, let alone wrap my head around a condition that would progressively get worse and affect every aspect of my life.

‘My symptoms affected me to the extent that I was struggling to write, but I brushed it off, and put it down to stress’

Even though I was only diagnosed in 2016, I started to develop symptoms nearly 15 years ago. It started with a slight tremor in my hand and my legs started shaking occasionally.

Things became significantly worse in 2005. I was in the process of adopting my son, who was 18 months at the time, and it was a really intense period. At one point we weren’t sure whether the adoption would go through. My symptoms affected me to the extent that I was struggling to write, but I brushed it off, and put it down to stress.

The symptoms eased off once the adoption went through and bringing up a baby meant it was a busy time. I noticed the odd twinge now and again, but it started to resurface with a vengeance in 2014.

In 2016, it was so bad, people at work were noticing how it was affecting me. I had tremors and I was unsteady on my feet. I struggled to write, my speech was slightly affected, and I dropped things. My managers were concerned for my wellbeing, but even though the symptoms were bad, I dealt with it by blanking it out. I just didn’t want to acknowledge it – I had a lot to lose. I was working on my career, and I loved it. It was very demanding and the job was physical – I was out in the field a lot.

But things came to a head when I fell at a foster family’s home and broke my hand. I went to the doctor because I was on sick leave and needed to get checked out for health and safety reasons to make sure I’d be okay going back into the field.

I told them everything else that had been going on with my symptoms. They sent me to see a neurologist and he diagnosed me with Parkinson’s straight away. He told me there was no cure but that they could give me Sinemet, a medication to control my tremors.

While he explained the diagnosis, I didn’t understand what it actually meant for my day-to-day life. Then I did the worst thing I could’ve done – I came home and Googled it.

I was given a contact number for the Parkinson’s nurse, and the nursing service was brilliant, but I didn’t see her until six months later.

‘I went from someone who had worked seven days a week to someone who now had a huge mortgage’

During that time, I had to figure out what to do about work. My workplace helped me for a few months with aids and adaptations. But I started going downhill very quickly. My tremor worsened and my right leg was really bad. I had several falls and injured my knee on my right side. I got a walking stick but it became unsafe for me to work.

It was clear I wouldn’t be able to continue. My manager secured an amazing retirement deal for me, but I went from someone who had worked seven days a week to someone who now had a huge mortgage.

However, I got a good settlement on my pension, and I still owned my old house which was being rented out. I sold that and together, paid off the mortgage completely.

For living costs, I still needed to go on benefits. I’ve been working since I was 17 and have never claimed a penny. Trying to navigate your way through the benefits system is tough. And if you have Parkinson’s, your hands are shaking, and they give you all these forms, and you think ‘how am I going to fill this in?’

‘In Asian families, Parkinson’s is hard to explain. My mother started sobbing and said it was like a curse – she thought it was a death sentence’

It was a nightmare, but Parkinsons UK sent someone out to help me understand the benefits system and provide moral support. I also had family. I told my nieces and nephews who are young adults, and they were incredibly loving and understanding. They helped me with the information about my medication, and the paperwork.

The hardest part

The hardest part was telling my mum, which I did a month after my diagnosis. In Asian families, Parkinson’s is hard to explain. My mum started sobbing and said it was like a curse – she thought it was a death sentence. I told her it wasn’t going to kill me and she came round after the rest of my family explained it to her.

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‘Disability in the South Asian community is still a taboo – I was told I would never marry or have kids’

Within the community, I got responses like ‘God will make it better’ and ‘just pray’. I tried really hard to explain there is no cure and it’s nothing to do with God. It got to the point where it used to depress me – people wouldn’t sit next to me because they thought you could catch it.

I stopped going to community events, which was a big deal for me, as I was the president of our community in Leicester. But after the initial shock, I thought no, I needed to educate these people. With the help of my therapist – without whom I’m sure I would’ve taken my own life – I realised I needed it to explain to them. ‘Go and see this priest’ wasn’t going to work for me.

My nephew took me to a Parkinson’s support group in Loughborough where you can talk to people and do some exercise. It helped so much I wanted to do something for my own community, so I decided to set up a support group called the Leicester Parkinson’s Café in June, with the help of Parkinson’s UK, which runs once a month. It’s right in the middle of the Golden Mile in Leicester where the South Asian community is mainly based, and I wanted it to work as a drop-in. It was here that I started to explain about Parkinson’s to the South Asian community at various events we would run.

Picture: John Birdsall
Picture: John Birdsall

Every meeting, we have someone who does a talk. Last month I took along forms for council tax benefits, then I took exercise balls to show them how to do exercises. They can talk about what’s on their mind and their medication. There is always plenty of food and Indian tea.

It has given me a new sense of purpose, and that’s incredibly important.”

Katie Goates, Professional Engagement Programme Manager for Parkinson’s UK says: “Diagnosis can take time as there is currently no definitive test for Parkinson’s. To improve diagnosis times, more people need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s.

“Last week, NHS England launched a new toolkit, developed in partnership with Parkinson’s UK and other charities, to help improve diagnosis and coordination of care for people with progressive neurological conditions. We are now urging health leaders to work with charities and implement the new toolkit, so they can make the changes in diagnosis times that people like Hema so desperately need.”

The Parkinson’s UK helpline is 0808 800 0303

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Celebrity defences of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry show media scrutiny has gone too far

When a celebrity marries another celebrity, they know the media circus that surrounded them as an individual is going to double, thanks to the union.

I’m sure both Meghan Markle, an American former actress, and Prince Harry, a prominent member of the British Royal Family, realised they would face a whole new level of attention when they got together.

But from the off, the scrutiny was unprecedented and quickly took a dark turn. Racist and xenophobic undertones became commonplace as the media and public repeatedly brought up the Duchess of Sussex’s biracial heritage and American roots. The impact her accession to the Royal Family would have on the monarchy was dissected in minute detail.

Read more:

This is why Meghan Markle can’t seem to get it right no matter what she does

Beyond the pale

It was objectionable then. Now it’s gone beyond the pale. In a remarkable turn of events, celebrities themselves are speaking up to condemn the treatment of the couple and seeking to protect them.

Harry and Meghan have been chastised for reportedly making four holiday journeys on private jets in 11 days rather than opting for commercial flights. Yet the part that has really riled people up is that they have spoken out on environmental issues and pledged to only have two children for the sake of the planet.

Environmental campaigners have called out their “hypocrisy”. Presenter Piers Morgan said: “Jeez… these two ‘eco-warriors’ are something else. Beyond parody.” He then went on to say criticism of the couple was not based on racism but hypocrisy.

But singer Sir Elton John, who said he provided the Sussexes and their son with a private jet to fly to his holiday home in Nice, France, hit back at what he called “these relentless and untrue assassinations on their character that are spuriously crafted on an almost daily basis”.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex speak with Elton John at the European Premiere of Disney's The Lion King
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex speak with Elton John at the European Premiere of Disney’s The Lion King (Photo: PA)

US chat show host Ellen DeGeneres also defended the couple. “Portia [DeGeneres’ wife] and I met Prince Harry and Meghan in England to talk about their work on wildlife conservation. They were the most down-to-earth, compassionate people. Imagine being attacked for everything you do, when all you’re trying to do is make the world better,” she posted on Instagram.

‘Public form of bullying’

But the most damning take down of the scrutiny came from singer Pink, who said the Duchess has been subjected to “the most public form of bullying I have seen in a while”.

“It’s out of control. Let’s all be a bit kinder, huh? Let’s show our children that it’s cool to be kind,” she tweeted.

Using private jets over commercial flights is a problem for the environment and individuals need to take responsibility over their own carbon footprint. But it is also the job of governments and policy-makers to put into action meaningful changes.

The Sussexes are no better or worse than their celebrity peers. And, despite their travels abroad, they are trying to raise awareness of important environmental issues in other ways. The impact of their message on the public should not be underestimated.

Of course, we are allowed to criticise, debate and point fingers at hypocrisy. But the negative coverage of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is so regular and often unfounded that it feels like the media and public is ganging up on them.

The pile on is so tangled and ferocious at this point that genuine and fair criticism cannot be distinguished from racism, vitriol, anti-royal attitudes or simply an unhealthy obsession with public figures.

The fact that people who are accustomed to extreme levels of scrutiny are uneasy with the treatment of the royal couple is proof of the bullying behaviour they are subjected to. The scrutiny has gone too far.

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