TCW summer reads: A double warning on our changing world

A BOOK on the impact of new ideologies on European culture and another on the impact of new ideologies on Africa should be relevant for quite a few holiday destinations.

These two that I have recently read have been hugely informative – and challenging. I would love many others to read them too, so I have reviewed both briefly in this one blog. The first book is a longer and more in-depth read, while the second is lighter and easier to read but no less challenging in subject matter.

The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the name of freedom by Gabriele Kuby (Lifesite 2015, pp 283) 

The increasingly pervasive influence on Western society today from gender ideology, LGBT demands and now the transgender movement is generating unprecedented threats to our freedom. Add to this the effects of pornography and much of current sex education, combined with attacks on freedom of speech and religion and the advent of identity politics, and we have the central part of the culture wars we are facing today.

Kuby contends that the core of the global cultural revolution is the deliberate confusion of, and assault on, sexual norms. In this excellent book she sets out the background to all this and makes the case for why all those concerned about the deliberate sexualisation of our children, and about protecting conscience rights, free speech and liberty, must stand up to protect our freedoms in these areas.

It is not a light read, and not an easy topic, but Kuby’s book is one of the most informative and eye-opening I have read on this issue and it is thoroughly referenced throughout. She ends on a more hopeful note, but not without challenges for the reader.

Target Africa: Ideological Neocolonialism in the twenty-first century by Obianuju Ekeocha (Ignatius Press 2018 219pp) 

Nigerian human rights activist Obianuju Ekeocha demonstrates in detail how Western governments (which most certainly include our own), billionaires and NGOs are systematically imposing a secular ‘morality’ on Africa that is completely alien to its culture of life and family values. She calls this a new ‘ideological colonialism’ of Africa by a cultural elite in the West.

Ekeocha sets out in detail how this new ‘colonialism’ is built on aid. While some donors have good intentions, others seek to impose an ideology of sexual ‘liberation’, abortion rights, population control, radical feminism and anti-family policies, by tying aid to these ideologies which are antithetical to the inherent morals and beliefs of most Africans. As well as conditioning various forms of aid, international legal situations are used to coerce countries into compliance.

Ekeocha provides plenty of references throughout, but if more were needed on the export of Western values to Africa via ‘aid’, in April this year the UK Government pledged £42million to the world’s two largest abortion providers, Marie Stopes International (MSI) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, to carry out abortions in developing countries. This is on top of the £163million the UK has already given to MSI over the last five years, which I wrote about here. 

This book is a relatively easy – albeit disturbing – read. Ekeocha has a driving passion to expose the new colonialism and her concern for her fellow Africans, perhaps most of all for unborn African children, shines through. For us Westerners, who believe our aid money is all being put to good use in Africa, this is a must read.

Summer is not over yet – so still time to read these two books!

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Runners and riders in the Westminster Donkey Derby

THIS year’s annual parliamentary pancake race between MPs, peers and political journalists in aid of charity was cancelled because of the level of bad feeling connected to Brexit. 

Perhaps an annual Donkey Derby would be a fitting alternative? Let’s face it, some potential parliamentary pancake tossers could learn a thing of two from these noble beasts of burden. Most importantly they are determined and stubborn. They have a unique way of communication by braying, more commonly known as the hee-haw, as anyone knows who has suffered watching and listening to any of the parliamentary ‘debates’ on Brexit presided over with impeccable impartiality by chief ‘brayer’, Speaker John Bercow.

Under starter’s orders, with Gina Miller holding the white flag, here he comes on ‘Pipsqueak’, positively revelling in his role as a controversial figure, preening and bobbing his head like one of those irritating nodding dogs in the back of cars. Seemingly he’s unconcerned that not only has he become embroiled in accusations of bullying (which he has always strenuously denied) and anti-Brexit bias, as earlier this year he attempted to frustrate the government’s attempts to pass Mrs May’s Brexit deal through the House of Commons by selecting only pro-Remain amendments to be voted on. Even Mrs May accused him of ‘making it up as he goes along’. During a recent speech in Edinburgh, he vowed to ‘fight with every breath in my body’ to stop any attempt by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to suspend Parliament. When an audience member asked if Parliament could stop Brexit he replied that it could. Despite this, prorogation of parliament is one of the few things that remains one of the Crown’s prerogatives, exercised by the government on behalf of the Queen. In any event, Mr Bercow is comfortable in the knowledge that there is no formal procedure to remove him during the course of a parliament, and the country waits with bated breath on whether he will be elevated to that higher place with a majority of Uriah Heeps when eventually the House of Commons is relieved of his services.

Meanwhile, Diane Abbott on ‘Abacus’ can’t work out what number she is. She was starting to worry about Labour’s Brexit strategy, until her party leader Jeremy Corbyn on ‘Hammer and Sickle’ extended an offer to other opposition parties to back him leading a caretaker government to ask the EU for an extension to the Brexit deadline of 31 October. His party remains riven so Mr Corbyn believes that the best way ahead is to delay our exit and create even more confusion about what the country might do, keeping him in Downing Street whilst his Marxist cronies busy themselves destroying the economy.

Joining them is the leader of the Lib Dems, Jo Swinson, and her charge ‘Opportunity Knocks’. Ms Swinson’s anxieties regarding equal power for the benefit of all were given in an interview with Liberal Democrat Voice in February 2018. She worried about the polarisation of society, presumably over the way the ignorant masses had voted the wrong way in the EU Referendum two years previously, but once she had read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book Why I’m No Longer talking to White People About Race, the leader of the party of Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George experienced a eureka moment: ‘Oh my goodness, have I been blind to injustice!’

She elaborated her views in her recent blockbuster Equal Power: Gender Equality and How to Achieve It, especially as the Lib Dems are determined to ‘build and safeguard a fair, free and open society’. Except not for 17.4million Leave voters. After initially dismissing Mr Corbyn’s offer as ‘nonsense’ she has backtracked and is considering meeting the great man to concoct a parliamentary coup to replace Mr Johnson. Kingmaker Ms Swinson and her fourteen MPs, combined with an assortment of anti-democrats from other opposition parties, will sanction either Harriet Harman or Ken Clarke to lead the country.

Dr Sarah Wollaston on ‘Chameleon’ trots on closely behind. Her latest defection to the Lib Dems from the ‘whatever their name is’ party can’t have come to much surprise to her constituents, 54 per cent of whom voted for a Conservative MP. She has settled for the orange colours for the time being, but may just have to change her mind again, depending on the preservation of her political career.

Other riders are milling around too, amongst them Anna Soubry on ‘A Bit Miffed’. As leader of the Independent Group of five MPs she has argued for a ‘genuine Government of National Unity led by someone who commands the respect and support not just in his or her own party’. Dear old Magic Grandpa forgot to send his missive to Ms Soubry, and anyway she doesn’t trust him, believing that he is a Brexiteer given his longstanding views; anyone would have thought Ms Soubry was a Tory in 2017.

Caroline Lucas on ‘Space Cadet’ is temporarily on earth and covering a lot of ground up and down the starting line, maintaining a good speed without having to cross it. She can sustain this for a long time to avoid any male donkeys and their riders. Ms Lucas believes that ‘democracy is a process and not a one-off event, and the public must have a vote on the Brexit deal, with the option to remain in the EU if they wish.’ Negative and painful experiences like losing the EU Referendum have affected her behaviour, as she chooses to ignore 17.4million voters but not those who conveniently put her into parliament.

Other runners and riders include Ian Blackford on ‘Little Scotlander’. His party’s ideas for Scottish independence are to cede it to Brussels and presumably build a hard border between Scotland and its nearest neighbour.

Bringing up the rear is a very grumpy donkey called ‘Bitter and Twisted’ ridden by Michael Heseltine. Ears back and baring his teeth, best approached from the side as he has a tendency to react strongly to the surprise presence of anybody with the temerity to disagree with him unless from the BBC.

These MPs voted for Article 50 and the Withdrawal Act, which provide for the no deal they are opposing. The donkey has large ears which have added sound-gathering advantage and can move them to locate the source of a sound: what a pity that these parliamentarians choose to be deaf to democracy. So off they go, clip-clopping into the sunset. Perhaps another donkey will come up on the inside rail – Boris Johnson on ‘Blond Bombshell’.

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Zap those Brexit mutineers, Boris

THE answer to the prejudice blighting the world has been staring us all in the visage, according to an Italian psychologist. Zapping the brain with electricity would wipe out bias in a flash, says Maddalena Marini. 

A post-doctoral researcher at the Italian Institute of Technology, Ms Marini claims that decades of trying to overcome bigotry via persuasion have had little effect.

So the next step is to introduce electric or magnetic currents into the transgressor’s napper. This, she says, would ‘modulate the mechanisms through which the brain regulates our behaviour’.

She adds: ‘Studies have allowed us to define a network of brain regions causally involved in these processes, showing that by increasing or decreasing the activity of some of these areas it is possible to reduce the strength of unconscious stereotypes, like the prejudice that leads to associating acts of terrorism with being of Arab origin.’

Ms Marini, who gave a lecture this year on getting rid of gender bias, produces no evidence of how frazzling the grey matter will make us better people, but we’ll forgive her for that because she is definitely a bit of a babe. 

So come on, Boris, what are you waiting for? Sign her up! Perhaps 240 volts between the ears might shake Dominic Grieve out of his treacherous antics. Followed by the rest of the turncoat Tories who refuse to do their electors’ bidding.

Maybe lighting up Jeremy Corbyn’s frontal lobes (if he’s got any) will make him less tolerant of anti-Semitism.

And then, if it doesn’t overload the National Grid, we can make a start on the biased BBC.

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We Rest on Thee

During the holiday period we are repeating some of my favourite Midweek Hymns. I think this is the most moving story I have told so far. I could not get it out of my mind. This article was originally published on March 6, 2019.

In the autumn of 1955, five men working as Christian missionaries in South America decided they would try to spread the word to a hitherto uncontacted tribe in Ecuador.

Known colloquially as the Aucas, meaning savages, the tribe members were widely feared for routinely killing members of other tribes, even members of other families within their tribe, and any strangers they came upon.

Throughout the next few months the missionaries flew regular sorties in a light plane over the tribe’s jungle lands from their base camp among the friendly Quichua people. They devised a way of letting down from the plane a rope to which gifts were attached – tools, machetes, clothing and foodstuffs (including salt, which was unobtainable for the tribe). After a while the Aucas started attaching gifts in return. One was a feathered headdress, another a tame parrot in a basket wrapped in sacking, complete with a half-nibbled banana.

The missionaries – Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming and Jim Elliot, all married and four of them with small children – selected a beach beside a river within reach of the Aucas’ homes where they could land and establish a camp of a tree house and various supplies. They called it Palm Beach. The plan was then to use their extremely rudimentary Auca words to invite ‘the neighbours’ to visit. The date of January 3, 1956, was chosen as their D-Day.

The morning dawned bright and clear. The men breakfasted and prayed together. Jim Elliot’s wife wrote later:

‘At the close of their prayers the five men sang one of their favourite hymns, We Rest on Thee to the stirring tune of Finlandia. Jim and Ed had sung this hymn since college days and knew the verses by heart.’

Here it is sung unaccompanied by a male choir.

The men then started making the many trips to Palm Beach that were necessary to take all their goods and supplies, the plane piloted by Nate Saint returning nightly to base camp to pick up more.

On Friday January 6, to the men’s delight, three Auca people came out of the jungle: a young man, a girl of about 16 and a woman of about 30. The young man was particularly interested in the plane so Saint took him for a ride. Above his home he waved and yelled at his no doubt bemused fellow villagers. In the evening he and the girl disappeared while the woman sat most of the night chatting with Youderian, apparently unaware that he could not understand her. She, too, had disappeared by morning.

On Sunday January 8 Nate Saint was ecstatic to spot from the air a party of ten or so Auca men heading for the Americans’ camp. As he touched down he shouted to the others: ‘This is it, guys! They’re on the way!’

He radioed his wife Marj: ‘Pray for us. This is the day! Will contact you next at four-thirty.’

No call came at four-thirty.

Over the next few days searchers found four bodies in the river. All had been speared to death. The fifth was on the beach, but it was washed away before it could be retrieved. The four were buried in a communal grave under their tree house as a tropical storm raged overhead.

The tragedy and publicity about it encouraged the missionary movement to press on with their efforts, and replacement air crews continued to drop gifts. Jim Elliot’s widow Elisabeth and Nate Saint’s sister Rachel stayed in Ecuador. Nearly two years later two Auca women came to the base camp, one of them the older woman who had visited Palm Beach. Seven other Aucas came later. In October 1958 Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint went by invitation to live among the Auca, now known by their own name Huaorani. This eventually led to the conversion of many, including some of those involved in the killings. They revealed that the attack had happened after the young man and the girl who had visited Palm Beach were encountered returning to their village unescorted. In an attempt to ward off anger, they claimed the foreigners had attacked them and that they had become separated from their chaperone. The return of the older woman and her account of the friendliness of the missionaries was not enough to dissuade them from revenge.

The words of We Rest on Thee were written by Edith Gilling Cherry, who was born in Plymouth in 1872. At the age of sixteen months she contracted polio, or infantile paralysis as it was then known. She used crutches for the rest of her life. When she was six her much-loved younger sister died. At 12 she suffered a stroke, which seemed to unlock a spring of creativity and she started to write poetry and hymns. Many of her best poems were written before she was 15.

In 1895, when she was 23, she wrote We Rest on Thee, based on 2 Chronicles 14, v11: ‘Help us, O Lord our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude’.

Two years later she had another stroke. She told her mother: ‘I think I am going, Mother, and I am so glad. I’ve been hungry to go for some while.’ A few hours later, speaking of the past, she said: ‘It all seems so small, all I have tried to do — so small to Him’. Her mother replied, ‘But there are your songs, dear, they will carry on your work.’ Edith said: ‘Ah, but they were not mine at all, they were just given to me all ready, and all I had to do was to write them down.’ Her last words were: ‘I’m all right, mama, I’m trusting in God, and He will undertake for me.’ She was 25 years old.

I haven’t been able to find out how Edith Cherry’s words were paired with Jean Sibelius’s Finlandia Hymn. This was originally a section of Finlandia, itself part of a suite composed for an event called the Press Celebrations of 1899, effectively a nationalistic call for Russia to keep its hands off Finland. Sibelius later reworked the section into a stand-alone piece. This hymn, with words written in 1941 by Veikko Antero Koskenniemi, is today regarded Finland’s unofficial national anthem and is often sung during the full-length Finlandia. Here it is performed in 2017 to mark the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under their Finnish chief conductor, Sakari Oramo.

Another hymn often sung to the melody is Be still, my soul written in German in 1752 by Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schegel (1697–1768) and translated into English in 1855 by Jane Laurie Borthwick (1813–1897).

Here it is performed by the choir of King’s College Cambridge, and you can find the words here.

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The real reason behind the measles outbreak

EVERYONE is blaming anti-vaxxers for the current measles outbreak and using it as yet another excuse to police social media and suppress free speech. 

But this article from Nursing in Practice explains that anti-vaxxer messages are not the main reason for the lack of uptake.

It says: ‘Given the extensive coverage of the scandal in the press and the prevalent position of anti-vaccination groups in the news and social media, you’d be forgiven for assuming that false messaging about vaccination is one of the main drivers behind the lack of measles vaccine uptake.

‘But north London GP Dr Ellie Cannon believes that access to vaccination services is a bigger issue for today’s general practices. “Although there’s an impression that anti-vaxxers or vaccine refusers are to blame, that’s not thought to be the main cause for the lack of uptake. It has more to do with ease of access [to services],” she says.

‘There are many groups of people who are vulnerable – certain ethnic groups, travelling families, people with chaotic lifestyles – who are not being vaccinated. It’s because of a lack of access to appointments: for example, if they have difficulty registering with a GP or getting to appointments at certain times. It’s not [always] what we think – logistics, organisation and access are barriers for these groups.’

You might have thought that the fact that London has almost double the non-uptake rate of the rest of the country (1 in 4 vs 1 in 7) would have been a sign that it may be ethnicity related, given that minorities make up a majority of Londoners.

The article says: ‘In a survey of around 2,600 UK parents, the report found that almost half of parents agreed that timing or availability of appointments were a barrier to access. Childcare duties were the next most popular reason for not accessing appointments, with just under a third of parents agreeing this was a barrier.’

It adds: ‘Public Health England (PHE) has also urged general practices to take steps to improve access for those at risk of not attending for routine immunisations. In an interview with the Pharmaceutical Journal earlier this year, Jamie Lopez Bernal, a consultant epidemiologist in the Immunisation and Countermeasures Division at PHE, said: “While vaccine hesitancy may be a factor for a small minority of parents, we know from our parental attitudinal surveys that confidence in the immunisation programme is high – the proportion of parents with concerns that would make them consider not having their child immunised has been at an all-time low for the past three years. Timing, availability and location of appointments have been identified as barriers to vaccination by parents and healthcare professionals.”’

It concludes: ‘Dr Cannon, however, believes that access should be the most important area of focus for those working on the front line. “There’s not much we can do to change the beliefs of anti-vaxxers,” she says. “It is part of the reason for the lack of uptake, but it’s the part we probably can’t change.”’

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A baby is a gift to be treasured, not a human right

NHS South East London’s leaked policy advice banning single women from accessing IVF has provoked a predictable barrage of criticism. Their statement of unpalatable truth – that ‘Single mothers are generally poorer . . . thereby placing a greater burden on society in general’ has been described as ‘shockingly outdated’ and ‘demeaning’.

Telegraph writer Celia Walden, while sympathising with those who cannot have children, as well as single mothers, has correctly observed that, ‘denial of fertility treatment’ has been read by dissenters as ‘denial of children’. She says the word ‘denial’ implies that it is every woman’s right to be a mother: single, married, gay, straight or identifying as any one of the orientations laid out in a sexual smorgasbord for us by the PC brigade. And that it is her right for that motherhood to be paid for by the state – at around £3,500 a cycle. 

This is not however the first time that the IVF entitlement culture has come up against an unusually defiant NHS and as something of a rude shock. The Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) decision to stop offering IVF treatment on the NHS a few years ago prompted a similar blast of negative responses. It turned out that they were far from the only CCG to disregard the NICE guidelines and to cut their IVF provision. In fact only 18 per cent of CCGs were found to offer three cycles. A survey by ‘Fertility Fairness’ also found that half of CCGs were providing just one cycle free to women. Others offered it only to women under 35, while in some areas women were having to wait longer than the recommended three years before IVF is given. I imagine little has changed.

NHS practitioners are possibly better aware than the public of the harsh IVF reality that even a woman who is under 35 years has only a one in three chance of having a baby using IVF. No wonder the significant costs to the NHS (the average cost of one cycle privately is £5,000) and the ‘success’ rate inevitably have to be weighed carefully against other NHS stewardship considerations and that realism triumphed.

Yet for all this clamour about the right to fertility what still passes unnoticed is that the very thing that has become so prized is also treated with remarkably little respect. The paradox of ‘going to all that trouble to have a child’ – the fabled ‘wanted child’ – is that it has shifted the child’s worth from being an intrinsic one to one that is secondary – an accessory dependent upon somebody else’s desires and demands. Thanks to reproductive technology and ‘liberal’ laws, a child can be both obtained and got rid of; with both acts are accorded equal value in this adult needs centred society.

Just a few years ago single motherhood was deplored; now, although the drawbacks for the child remain exactly the same, being able to have a baby has come to be regarded as a human right, regardless of age, health, circumstance or even gender. The right of the child to a father and a mother and stable and safe family life meanwhile has descends to a distant last in these human rights stakes.

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Poor children twice as likely to fail their Maths GCSE than those from richer areas

Pupils from the poorest areas are nearly twice as likely to fail their Maths GCSE compared to their peers from the richest areas, new figures show.

Two in five (38 per cent) of pupils from the poorest postcodes last year failed to get at least a grade 4 in the subject, which is considered by the government to be a “standard pass”.

For those from the richest postcodes, the figure was 20 per cent.

The research was carried out by the teacher training organisation, Teach First.

Attainment gap

The pattern of children from schools in the poorest areas lagging far behind those in the richest areas was repeated across all the GCSE subjects which Teach First looked at. In Geography 50 per cent of disadvantaged children failed to reach a grade 4, compared to 27 per cent of the richest pupils.

In Biology, 15 per cent of the poorest pupils did not reach a pass. This was three times the proportion of richer pupils (5 per cent) failing to get a pass.

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Disadvantaged students were also much less likely to get the top GCSE grades. In maths, just 13 per cent of the poorest pupils achieved the top three grades of 9, 8 and 7, compared to 26 per cent of the richest pupils.

Ahead of tomorrow’s GCSE results, the data throws into stark relief the gap in attainment between children from poor and rich families.

Russell Hobby, Teach First’s chief executive, said: “A child’s postcode should never determine how well they do at school, yet today we’ve found huge disparities based on just that.

Young people held back

“Low attainment at GCSE is a real cause for concern, as it can shut doors to future success and holds young people back from meeting their aspirations.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said that the government had narrowed the gap between poorer children and their peers since 2011.

They added: “The Prime Minister has committed to increasing school funding so we can level up all parts of the UK and close the opportunity gap.”

“We will continue to drive up school standards right across the country, and do more to continue to attract and retain talented individuals in our classrooms as well as giving teachers the powers they need to deal with bad behaviour and bullying.”

More From Education

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Thousands of homeless children forced to live in shipping containers and office blocks

Thousands of children are growing up in office blocks, B&Bs, and even shipping containers, a shocking new report from the Children’s Commissioner for England reveals.

More than 210,000 children in England are estimated to be homeless – 124,000 officially homeless and living in temporary accommodation, plus around 90,000 children living in “sofa-surfing’ families”, according to the report. Officials believe the total could be even higher due to a lack of data on the number of children placed in temporary accommodation by children’s services.

In the “Bleak Houses” report commissioner Anne Longfield warns changes to planning regulations mean thousands of children are being housed in temporary accommodation that is frequently not fit for them to live in, dangerous due to drug dealers and prostitutes living nearby, and often far away from family, friends and their school.

Her report warns that a further 375,000 children in England are in households that have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments, putting them at financial risk of becoming homeless in the future.

Unfit housing

The label “temporary” is sometimes anything but: the analysis suggests that in 2017 around two in five children in temporary accommodation – an estimated 51,000 children – had been there for at least six months. Furthermore, around 1 in 20 – an estimated 6,000 children – had been there for at least a year. Of the 2,420 families known to be living in B&Bs in December 2018, a third had been there for more than six weeks, despite this being unlawful.

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Ms Longfield said she is particularly concerned about the recent development which has seen the “repurposing” of shipping containers for use as temporary accommodation. Often they are located on “meanwhile sites” – land that is earmarked for future development but currently not in use.

The units are typically one or two-bedroom and small in size, meaning that overcrowding can be an issue. They can become really hot in summer and too cold in the winter. As with some office block conversions, antisocial behaviour has been a problem, leaving some parents worrying about letting their children play outside, forcing them to stay in cramped conditions inside instead.

‘They failed me in so many ways’

Lucy is in her early twenties. Her son Jake is 2. When she became homeless they were placed by her local authority in a converted office block far from home. Although this was considered an emergency placement, they were there for 11 months.

“They put me in a small room in an office block which had been converted into flats. It was in an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere. The cars and lorries would whizz round really fast. It was very noisy and it felt unsafe to walk to the shops,” Lucy said.

“There were a lot of people congregating at the entrance who didn’t live there and I felt unsafe. I was approached to buy drugs during the day on the way to the shops with my son.”

It took six months and a formal complaint before Lucy’s local authority completed its assessment and found that it had a duty to find the family a permanent home – but she was then placed on a waiting list. Lucy then had to submit yet another complaint in order to be moved back to her local area. This took a further three months.

Eventually Lucy was able to move back to her local area, where she was offered a self contained flat – up 3 flights of stairs with no lift. She still does not know when she and her son will be offered a permanent home, what it will be like or where it will be.

“They failed me in so many ways. The fact that they get away with it is so, so bad.”

Ms Longfield said: “Something has gone very wrong with our housing system when children are growing up in B&Bs, shipping containers and old office blocks. Children have told us of the disruptive and at times frightening impact this can have on their lives. It is a scandal that a country as prosperous as ours is leaving tens of thousands of families in temporary accommodation for long periods of time, or to sofa surf.

“It is essential that the Government invests properly in a major house-building programme and that it sets itself a formal target to reduce the number of children in temporary accommodation.”

‘Trapped by rents’

A person sleeping rough in a doorway (Photo: Yoi Mok/PA)

Simone Vibert, senior policy analyst at the Children’s Commissioner’s Office and author of the report, said: “Trapped by increasing rents and an unforgiving welfare system, there is very little many families can do to break the cycle of homelessness once it begins.

“Preventing homelessness from happening in the first place is crucial. Yet government statistics fail to capture the hundreds of thousands of children living in families who are behind on their rent and mortgage repayments.

“Frontline professionals working with children and families need greater training to spot the early signs of homelessness and councils urgently need to know what money will be available for them when current funds run out next year.”

A Government spokesperson said: “No child should ever be without a roof over their head and we are working to ensure all families have a safe place to stay. If anyone believes they have been placed in unsuitable accommodation, we urge them to exercise their right to request a review.

“We have invested £1.2bn to tackle all types of homelessness, including funding a team of specialist advisors which has, in two years, helped local authorities to reduce the number of families in B&B accommodation for more than six weeks by 28 per cent.”

More Health

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Nasa Jupiter mission: Europa Clipper given green light for final construction in bid to search for life on distant moon

The age-old question of whether we are alone in the universe may be about to be answered.

Scientists are on the threshold of beginning a new voyage which will investigate whether there is life beyond the Earth.

Decades of speculation have led them to focus on one distant celestial body.

And now they not only have it in their sights but are about to have it within monitoring distance.

Is there anybody out there?

The US agency for space exploration has been given the green light to complete the final design and construction of the spacecraft Europa Clipper
The US agency for space exploration has been given the green light to complete the final design and construction of the spacecraft Europa Clipper (Photo: Nasa)

This is exactly what Nasa will be trying to find out in its latest mission to explore Europa, an ice-encrusted moon of the planet Jupiter.

The US agency for space exploration has been given the green light to complete the final design and construction of the spacecraft Europa Clipper, which will search for life on this distant moon.

Why aim for a moon in the quest to find extraterrestrial life?

Scientists believe the icy ocean world of Europa could be the perfect target in the search for other life in the universe.

Beneath its crust, there is thought to be an ocean of liquid water “with conditions favourable for life”.

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“We are all excited about the decision that moves the Europa Clipper mission one key step closer to unlocking the mysteries of this ocean world,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator

for Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate.

“We are building upon the scientific insights received from the flagship Galileo and Cassini spacecraft and working to advance our understanding of our cosmic origin, and even life elsewhere.”

How do they hope to find out if we are alone in the universe or not?

The Europa Clipper will conduct up to 45 flybys of the moon coming as close as 16 miles from the surface in some instances.

On board will be nine scientific instruments including cameras, ice-penetrating radars and thermal instruments to gain a better insight into the composition of Europa’s surface and to find out if warmer water below has broken through the icy crust.

‘We are building upon the scientific insights received from the flagship Galileo and Cassini spacecraft and working to advance our understanding of our cosmic origin, and even life elsewhere’

Thomas Zurbuchen

When will the clipper be going to this moon and back?

Nasa tweeted: “One step closer to Europa! Our upcoming mission to Jupiter’s intriguing ocean moon is ready to move into the next phase.”

The agency is hoping to have the spacecraft complete and ready for launch as early as 2023 but at the latest it will be 2025 when it heads to Europa.

Why is Nasa over the moon about this latest phase for the spacecraft?

This is a mission which has taken decades to reach the point of construction. The idea to explore Europa was first put forward in the 1990s after data from the spacecraft Galileo revealed the possibility of an ocean below the ice.

Now it has finally got the chance to fly to this moon and in the words of the US Planetary Society “this is a big deal”.

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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry private jet: Greenpeace says Elton John’s carbon offsetting not enough

Sir Elton John’s carbon offsetting of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s private jet flight is “no solution” to aviation emissions, Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist has warned.

Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace’s policy director, said good works could be done through offsetting schemes, but it is not a “meaningful response”.

Sir Elton revealed that he provided the couple and their baby son Archie with a private flight to Nice to “maintain a high level of much-needed protection”.

He wrote on social media that he made sure the flight was carbon neutral by making the “appropriate contribution” to a carbon footprint fund.

Carbon offsetting

Duke of Sussex Prince Harry with Sir Elton John (Photo: PA)

But Dr Parr stressed on Twitter: “Carbon offsetting is not a meaningful response to aviation emissions.


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

“Good works CAN be done with cash out into offset schemes, but it is no solution.”

The Duke and Duchess reportedly took four private jet journeys in 11 days, including staying with Sir Elton in Nice.

The Duke highlighted the importance of protecting the environment last month, saying: “With nearly 7.7 billion people inhabiting this earth, every choice, every footprint, every action makes a difference.”

Distress at media criticism

The pop star Pink is the latest celebrity to join Sir Elton and the chat-show host Ellen DeGeneres in defending Prince Harry and Ms Markle after they faced criticism for using private jets despite their environmental campaigning.

Sir Elton told of his deep distress on Monday at the “distorted and malicious account in the press” of the couple’s stay in his home.

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex have been criticised for their use of private plans (Photo: Getty)

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He described how he felt the need to try to protect Prince Harry.

He wrote: “Prince Harry’s mother, Diana Princess of Wales, was one of my dearest friends.

“I feel a profound sense of obligation to protect Harry and his family from the unnecessary press intrusion that contributed to Diana’s untimely death.

“David and I wanted the young family to have a private holiday inside the safety and tranquillity of our home.”

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Brexit talks: Boris Johnson targets EU leaders directly with fresh deal and ignores diplomatic spat over Irish border

Boris Johnson ignored a growing diplomatic spat in Brussels over his Brexit demands by insisting he could broker a fresh deal directly with EU leaders ahead of crunch talks with Angela Merkel.

Mr Johnson is due to make his debut on the international stage as Prime Minister when he meets the German Chancellor to discuss the UK’s withdrawal from the EU over dinner on Wednesday.

But during a terse exchange of words on both sides of the Channel, Donald Tusk attacked Mr Johnson for being disingenuous over the Irish border.

The Prime Minister shrugged off the criticism by claiming a deal could be struck by appealing over the heads of the European Commission and directly to the heads of the EU member states.

‘Practical solutions’

Mrs Merkel suggested she was open to 'practical solutions' to the backstop
Mrs Merkel suggested she was open to ‘practical solutions’ to the backstop (Photo: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

It came as Mrs Merkel suggested she was open to “practical solutions” to the backstop, but insisted the withdrawal agreement would not be reopened. Speaking ahead of his meeting, Mr Johnson said that there needed to be a “total backstop-ectomy” if there is to be any chance of a Brexit deal.

Mr Johnson laid the blame over the impasse in the talks at the door of the EU, claiming its position on installing a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic was “paradoxical”.

“We’ve made it clear 1,000 times we don’t want to see any checks on the Northern Irish frontier at all, under no circumstances. Let me repeat again: Under no circumstances will the Government of the United Kingdom be putting checks on the Northern Irish frontier,” he told ITV.

And he added: “By contrast it is the EU who currently claim that the single market and the plurality of the single market requires them to have such checks – I don’t think that’s true.”

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Mr Johnson said he would be speaking to Mrs Merkel and French President Emanuel Macron tomorrow to push his case, stating he would approach the discussions “with a lot of oomph”.

“It may be that for now, they stick with the mantra, rien ne va plus, and they can’t change a jot or a tittle of the withdrawal agreement. Let’s see how long they stick to that, I think there are plenty of other creative solutions,” he added.

Brexit talks breakthrough

The President of the European Council Donald Tusk (Photo: Getty)

Any hopes of an early breakthrough in talks over the insurance policy, which is designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, appeared slim ahead of his Berlin meeting, dramatically raising the prospect of a no deal departure on 31 October.

Speaking during a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland, Mrs Merkel attempted to strike a conciliatory tone, stating: “The moment we have a practical arrangement on how to preserve the Good Friday agreement and at the same time define the borders of the (European Union’s) internal market, we would not need the backstop anymore.”

His comments suggest Mr Johnson believes Brussels will blink first in the Brexit standoff. He will meet Mr Macron over lunch in Paris on Thursday before heading to the G7 summit in Biarritz on Saturday.

Sterling wobbles — Merkel helps reverse fall

The value of the pound against the euro fell before recovering as the fate of sterling remained tied to news on Brexit negotiations.

After European Council President Donald Tusk gave short shrift to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s demand for the EU nations to drop the Northern Ireland backstop, the pound fell to 1.08.

The currency rallied when German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that a solution could yet be found.

“I have always said that when one has the will to find these solutions, one can do so in a short period of time,” she said. Her opinion that “the EU is ready to find a solution” helped sterling slightly rise, to 1.09.

Analysts believe that although a no-deal is still likely, as long as there is any prospect of a deal, currency speculation will remain limited, but the fluctation exposed how sensitive the pound remains to potential negotiations between the UK and EU.

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Campaigners warn that special needs children have been forced out of mainstream schools

The number of children with special needs in mainstream schools in England has fallen by almost a quarter in seven years – despite pupils with learning difficulties having a legal entitlement to a place in mainstream education wherever possible.

An analysis of official figures for i suggests that thousands of children who require additional help with learning are ending up in dedicated special schools rather than having their needs met while being taught among pupils of all abilities.

Campaigners have issued a strong warning that children with special educational needs (Sen) are increasingly being forced out of mainstream education despite a 2014 law which requires local authorities to ensure that these children are offered a mainstream place in nearly all cases.

There are some 1.2 million children in England identified as having special educational needs. But the number of those attending a mainstream primary or secondary in England fell by 24 per cent between 2012 and 2019, according to an analysis of Department for Education figures by the JPI Media Data Unit. At the same time, the number attending designated special schools rose by almost a third over the same period. In the case of one local authority – North East Lincolnshire – the number of Sen children in mainstream secondary schools fell by 63 per cent.

Scotland’s drive for inclusion

By contrast, Scotland has seen a sharp rise in the number of children with additional learning needs in mainstream schools after the Scottish government launched a drive for greater inclusion. In Wales and Northern Ireland, where education policy is also devolved, the number in mainstream schools has remained stable at about 22 per cent.

Parents of Sen children have spoken of an increasing struggle to ensure their offspring are provided for in a mainstream environment. Leading disability education charity, the Alliance for Inclusive Education (Allfie), accused the Government of effectively perpetuating the segregation of people with disabilities in England as schools struggle with budget cuts.

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The Department for Education said there was a requirement for all schools to be inclusive and that the vast majority – some 82 per cent – of all Sen pupils in England were in state-funded mainstream schools.

A spokesperson said: “Additionally, we have created new special schools in response to the increasing number of pupils with complex special educational needs and are committed to delivering even more provision to ensure every child is able to access the education they need.”

‘Hostile education system’

Lucy Bartley with son Samuel, 17, who was educated in mainstream schools
Lucy Bartley with son Samuel, 17, who was educated in mainstream schools

Lucy Bartley’s son Samuel, aged 17, has just finished year 11 and has an EHCP. Samuel was born with spina bifida, hydrocephalus and hemiplegia. He has both physical and learning disabilities and has attended both mainstream primary and secondary schools in south-west London. He has two sisters. Lucy is a special educational needs disability advocate.

Lucy said: “Instinctively when Samuel was born, I knew he shouldn’t be treated differently from his sisters. Why shouldn’t he go to the same nursery as his sisters? And their relationship has always been so important so why would I separate them almost intentionally?

“I’ve always had the strongly held belief that Samuel has as much right to experience things as our girls and he’s part of our family, not separated off.

Lucy said the family “had a battle” getting Samuel into the local primary school his older sister attended. They ended up fighting the matter at a tribunal, which they won.

Lucy said: “My only reservation about sending Samuel to a mainstream school was that he was the sole wheelchair user. which I think was a big thing in his school environment. It’s all or nothing. The alternative would have been for him to go to a special school where say 60% are wheelchair users. You’ve got this system which basically enshrines that segregation. I know from Samuel’s perspective he felt different and a bit lonely part of the time because there has been no one else and he’s been aware he has been the only wheelchair user.”

“Samuel’s secondary school has been very good at really facilitating both the curriculum and courses that he needed but also in supporting his physical and learning needs and implementing his education and health care plan (EHCP). That’s partially been down to building relationships. I always get to know staff in the schools and ensure there’s trust and goodwill between us.

“You’ve got to build relationships and you’ve got to know the school – particularly the head teacher so they can be confident they can meet your child’s needs and so they can see the benefit of your child going to that school in terms of their reputation. I can genuinely say we’ve had emails from some of Samuel’s teachers who have said it’s such a privilege to teach him and they’ve learnt so much from the experience.”

She said: “We have a fairly toxic and I would argue a hostile education system with the fact that the emphasis is all on results and attainment and schools’ reputations.”

She added: “What happened is the EHCP’s are being viewed as routes into special segregated provision and are incompatible with mainstream.”

Education system divide

It is at first glance, a contrasting tale of two education systems. While in England, the number of special needs pupils attending mainstream schools has plummeted, the trend in Scotland has headed sharply in the opposite direction.

Between 2011/12 and 2018/19, the proportion of children with Additional Support Needs (ASN) in Scottish mainstream schools nearly doubled from just under 17 per cent to nearly 30 per cent.

In the space of seven years, Scotland has gone from being the UK’s worst performer in this area to its best following the decision of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party government to pursue greater inclusion.

However, one frontline worker has told i that the reality can differ from the statistics with some ASN pupils only nominally in a mainstream school because they spend their days in a separate unit or building away from pupils with other abilities.

‘Major catch-up’

The number of children with special needs in mainstream schools in England has fallen by almost a quarter in seven years
The number of children with special needs in mainstream schools in England has fallen by almost a quarter in seven years (Photo: Shutterstock)

One Edinburgh-based pupil support assistant, who has asked i not to reveal his name, said that implementation of the policy was “still playing major catch-up”.

He said: “By sticking a kid in a mainstream school but in a segregated department, or even an outbuilding at times, all you are doing is displacing the issue. You’re not dealing with it and these children are not fully integrated.”

The number of children registered as ASN in Scottish schools has risen by nearly 70 per cent since 2012 to almost 200,000 last year. At the same time, the number of children attending dedicated special schools has fallen only modestly by 1.9 per cent over the same period.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “All children and young people should receive the support they need to reach their learning potential and all teachers provide support to pupils with additional support needs, not just ‘support for learning’ staff.”

‘Whole system needs to be reassessed’

Jack*, supply pupil support assistant in mainstream and special schools in Edinburgh.

Jack* said:“As someone who has worked one on one with someone with complex disabilities I wonder just how inclusive inclusive education is,” he said.

“The legislation has led but the actual logistics are still playing catch up. By sticking a kid in a mainstream school but in a segregated department or even an outbuilding at times all you are doing is displacing the issue, you’re not dealing with it and these children are not being fully integrated.

“As positive and as ethical as the drive for inclusion has been in recent years the needs of children in special schools has become increasingly diverse,” he said. “The drive for inclusion has had a two-fold effect. It means mainstream schools in Scotland are dealing with more children with ASN but it also means special schools are becoming increasingly specialised. Special schools are like a battleground just now.”

“For those that are on supply and effectively zero hours, day in and day out they are put in situations they can’t cope with.”

“All you need to work with a child with complex additional needs is to have the appropriate disclosures statements signed off,” he said. “You end up in a situation where a lack of qualified, contracted workers results in potentially under qualified, zero hours supply workers filling in the gaps. These more often than not provide short term relief for the school but at the expense of the children they work with.”

“It’s not the schools as such that are getting it wrong, it’s a governmental position and they’ve got their head in the sand. From the top down, the whole system needs to be reassessed.

“There seems to be an idealistic vision of schools being wholly inclusive and every individual child’s needs are being met. Of course ethically and morally that is great but the implementation of that is still paying major catch up which is to the detriment of the professionals that work there and the very child it’s meant to support.”

*Names have been changed as the case study still works in the sector.

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Children continue to shun cigarettes with number of young smokers dropping to record low

Young people are continuing to shun cigarettes, with the number of school pupils in England aged 11 to 15 who say they have ever smoked falling to its lowest rate on record last year, according to a major survey.

NHS Digital questioned more than 13,000 pupils aged 11 to 15 from nearly 200 schools in England about smoking, drinking and drug use for a biennial poll. In total 16 per cent of 11- to 15-year-olds said that they had smoked a cigarette in their lifetime, down from 19 per cent in 2016 and 49 per cent in 1996.

One quarter of pupils (25 per cent) said they had used e-cigarettes, the same as in 2016. Pupils who had smoked a cigarette were much more likely to also have vaped, than those who had not, the research found.

Rosanna O’Connor, director of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and justice at Public Health England said: “These results show again that e-cigarettes are not leading more young people to smoke. As you would expect, some young people experiment but regular vaping among those who have never smoked is very rare…Youth smoking rates are continuing to decline at an encouraging rate”.

Drug use

While cigarette use has continued to decline among young people, drug use has remained nearly as high as in 2016, with one quarter (23.7%) of 11- to 15-year-olds admitting they had taken drugs in their lifetime. In 2014 this figure stood at 14.6%, jumping to 24.3% two years later.

NHS Direct said this sharp rise could be attributed to respondents not answering questions on whether they had tried individual drugs but that “some level of genuine increase [was] evident”.

Nearly one in 10 (nine per cent) of 11 year olds and close to two fifths (38 per cent) of 15-year-olds said they had ever taken drugs.

Nine per cent of all pupils said that they had taken drugs in the past month.

Nearly half have had a drink

The proportion of young people who said they had ever had an alcoholic drink also remained the same as in 2016 at 44 per cent.

Relatively few 11-year-olds reported having a drink (14 per cent), but among 15-year-olds this number leapt to 70 per cent.

Respondents who said they had obtained alcohol in the last four weeks, were most likely to have been given it by their parents or guardians, the survey found.


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British man dies after contracting legionnaires’ disease on holiday in Bulgaria

The family of a British man who died after contracting legionnaires’ disease on holiday in Bulgaria is taking legal action against tour operator Jet2, claiming it has made no effort to help.

John Cowan, 43, from Hamilton in South Lanarkshire, died in June a week after falling ill at the Hotel Kalofer in the country’s Sunny Beach resort alongside several other holidaymakers.

The causes of death listed on his death certificate were septic shock and pneumonia caused by legionella bacteria, which can be inhaled in small droplets of water in the air.

At least one other Briton who was staying at the same hotel is also known to have died since returning home, with another person seriously ill, but neither have so far been named.

‘Short of breath’

Mr Cowan’s mother Marie Cowan, 63, said her son had been feeling unwell when he returned from his holiday and had stayed in bed for most of the following week.

“It wasn’t until he started getting short of breath that we went to the GP,” she added. “As soon as the doctor saw John he realised he needed urgent attention and phoned an ambulance.”

After running emergency tests, staff at University Hospital Wishaw put Mr Cowan on a ventilator after discovering he had pneumonia in one lung, but it later spread to the other one and his kidneys also stopped working.

Mr Cowan's family are taking legal action in an attempt to get answers from Jet2
Mr Cowan’s family are taking legal action in an attempt to get answers from Jet2

During an operation to help him breathe, Mr Cowan went into cardiac arrest and was unresponsive for half an hour, suffering what his mother described as “catastrophic brain damage”.

She added: “We gave permission to turn off the ventilator and give John a dignified passing.”

Legal action

The family has now decided to launch a civil action against Jet2 after being told that other holidaymakers were struck down with the same virus at the hotel.

Mr Cowan’s brother Barry, 41, said: “We are all devastated. We just want answers – to know why this happened, to know it will never happen to anyone else and to know why the tour operator and the hotel have done nothing to help.”

A Jet2 spokeswoman said the tour operator had instructed independent specialists to test water samples from the hotel, but they had come back negative for legionella bacteria.

“Sadly, we can confirm that two customers recently passed away shortly after returning to the UK from holiday in Bulgaria,” she added.

“We would like to offer our heartfelt condolences to their families at this very difficult time, and we have been in constant contact to offer all the assistance and support that we can.

“The health and safety of our customers is our absolute priority. We will continue to assist the local authorities in their investigations as required.”

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Online brain games allow 80-year olds to multitask like players in their 20s

Completing online brain exercises can help elderly people to multitask as effectively as people 50 years their junior, a study has found.

Researchers from the University of California found the majority of highly practiced players of brain training games in their seventies and eighties were able to match of exceed the performance of younger players with little to no experience of the games.

“The brain is not a muscle, but like our bodies, if we work out and train it, we can improve our mental performance,” said lead author Mark Steyvers, a UCI professor of cognitive sciences.

Mark Steyvers, cognitive scientist photo: Steve Zylius/UCI
“The brain is not a muscle, but like our bodies, if we work out and train it, we can improve our mental performance,” says the study’s lead author, Mark Steyvers, a UCI professor of cognitive sciences (Photo: Steve Zylius, UCI)

“We discovered that people in the upper age ranges who completed specific training tasks were able to beef up their brain’s ability to switch between tasks in the game at a level similar to untrained 20- and 30-year-olds.”

The researchers randomly sampled the performance of 1,000 players of a task-switching game called Ebb and Flow, which challenged players to interpret shapes and movement.

Players were selected from two categories: those aged between 21 and 80-years old who had completed fewer than 60 training sessions and adults aged between 71 and 80-years old who had logged a minimum of 80 sessions.

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Any lead the older players established over their younger counterparts swiftly diminished once the 21-30-year old players completed more than 10 practice sessions.

“Medical advances and improved lifestyles are allowing us to live longer,” Mr Steyvers said in the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s important to factor brain health into that equation. We show that with consistent upkeep, cognitive youth can be retained well into our golden years.”

Completing crossword puzzles and reading newspapers have also been credited with helping brains to stay sharp in older age.

Researchers calculate that people who engage in word puzzles have brain function equivalent to 10 years younger than their age, on tests of grammatical reasoning speed and short-term memory accuracy.

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Amazon criticised for introducing plastic packaging that cannot be recycled in the UK

Amazon has been accused of “reckless” behaviour by environmental campaigners for adding packaging to deliveries that cannot be recycled.

The company, which ships more than four billion packages a year around the world, has replaced cardboard packaging with plastic for its Prime service deliveries.

Amazon’s own recycling website, Second Chance, which explains how customers can be environmentally responsible, says that the packaging is “not widely recycled across the UK”.

The change comes as many retailers move to reduce plastic waste, with many supermarkets no longer delivering online orders in plastic bags.

Plastic pollution

Amazon Second Chance says the packaging cannot be recycled in the UK (Photo: Amazon)

One frustrated customer, Adrian Fletcher, told The Guardian: “My husband is disabled, and we rely a lot on Amazon and other home deliveries.

“Previously our small orders arrived in easily recyclable cardboard packaging, but a few months ago Amazon started using plastic envelopes. I diligently recycle all the packaging but can’t these.”

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He added that he has asked Amazon not to ship orders using plastic packaging, but they had declined.

Louise Edge, head of Greenpeace UK’s ocean plastics campaign, told i: “Amazon is such a huge company that when they take a reckless decision to actually increase their plastic footprint, the impact of that decision is huge.

Amazon has introduced the new plastic packaging (Photo: Getty)

“Over time it could result in the creation of billions more pieces of plastic packaging that end up in our oceans, being sent to landfill or burned.

“Even if Amazon don’t care about the environmental harm they’re causing, we’re surprised they don’t care how bad this looks for their business.

“Companies should be looking at options for reusable packaging and reducing plastic but Amazon are going against progress and against what customers want.”

Changing packaging

A spokesperson for Amazon said the company is trying to “improve packaging” for customers.

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“We value our customers’ feedback about our packaging, both the positive comments and the negative, as in this instance. We can also reassure customers that our packaging team reviews all feedback.

“At Amazon, our mission is to deliver the very best customer experience. We work with manufacturers worldwide to continuously improve packaging design and introduce new, sustainable packaging that delights customers, eliminates waste, and ensures products arrive intact and undamaged for our customers.”

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Toddler in ‘serious condition’ after falling from Blackpool hotel window

A toddler has been left seriously injured after falling from a second-storey hotel window in Blackpool.

Lancashire Police said the two-year old girl was rushed to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital by ambulance after sustaining a number of fractures.

Officers were called by paramedics shortly before 9am on Tuesday after the child fell from the window of Manor Royd Hotel on Albert Road.

Police confirmed the child, who has not been named, is in a “serious condition” and that enquiries are underway. No arrests have been made.

A spokesperson for Blackpool Council told i: “Council officers are currently on site investigating the incident.”

Getting help

Police confirmed the little girl was in a ‘serious condition’ (Photo: Getty)

Wendy and Kevin Twiss, who run a neighbouring hotel, reportedly drew attention to the girl after hearing the child fall from the back of the building.

Kevin Twiss said he looked out of his window while hearing a crying noise while cooking breakfast at around 8.40am.

He said: “I looked out of the side window and couldn’t see anything, and then I heard it again and when I looked outside that was when I saw the child on the floor. I wondered if I was seeing it right.”

After noticing the girl he immediately grabbed a ladder to climb over and find her.

“I ran outside and when the parents weren’t there I shouted up to them.

“From there I jumped over the wall and wasn’t sure what to do and I picked her up, and at that point the father started trying to kick the gate open to get to the child, so I passed her through a gap in the gate, and from there that was it.”

“He took the child and went back into the hotel and we phoned an ambulance.

“It was just so quick. I picked her up and her dad was there, so I passed her straight over.

‘In shock’

Wendy Twiss, 44, and Kevin Twiss, 35, who found the injured tot in Albert Road, Blackpool (Photo: Blackpool Gazette)

His wife Wendy, 44, said: “It must’ve been about 8.35am or 8.40am. We could hear a noise. It sounded awful.”

“We all looked out of the window but we couldn’t see anything. My husband didn’t think anything of it. Next thing you know he had a look out another window and said ‘Oh my God, its a baby’.

“All our guests ran downstairs into the back alley.

“My husband was shouting up to the window, ‘Get out, your baby’s on the floor’ and the next thing you know he picked the baby up and passed her to the dad at the back gate.

“I was in shock.”

Mr Twiss added: “It was a horrible thing and I’m just praying that we don’t hear any bad news. I just hope she’s alright.”

This story originally appeared on our sister publication, The Blackpool Gazette.

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Couple ‘disgusted’ after hotel waiter described them as ‘old people’ on their drinks bill

An elderly couple have been left “disgusted” after a hotel waiter described them as “old people” on their drinks bill.

Phyllis and Robert Hidden noticed the wording on their receipt after enjoying a lunchtime drink and a bite to eat at the Riverside Hotel in Kendal, Cumbria, last month.

Just above the £11.20 total, the words “Table: OLD PEOPLE” can be seen.

It’s thought the waiter, whose identity isn’t known, typed the words in an attempt to identify who the bill belonged to.

‘I was shaking’

The couple visited the hotel in Kendal on 4 July this year. (SWNS)

Mrs Hidden, 80, only realised what had happened a few days after her visit to the hotel on 4 July.

She said: “I thought nothing of it at first until my husband pointed it out to me and I was shaking with anger. I was incensed.”

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She added: “This is appalling behaviour. It’s a terrible thing to label people like that.

“It should be table numbers you should be making a note of, not labelling the customers. Age shouldn’t be what defines you.”

Mrs Hidden called the hotel to raise the issue but said she didn’t hear back for some time.

Hotel slow to apologise

The couple only realised what had happened a few days after her visit to The Riverside Hotel. (SWNS)

The pensioner demanded an apology but didn’t get one until a month after her call, which infuriated her further.

She said: “Had I received an apology in the first instance I would have let this go.”

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The couple have now received a letter of apology and the hotel’s general manager Jennifer Boow stressed the wording was not intentional.

Ms Boow said: “We would like to apologise. The issue has been raised and the member of staff concerned has been spoken to.

“They (member of staff) were extremely apologetic and didn’t mean to cause any harm by what happened and no disrespect was intended by the wording.”

The Riverside Hotel is a three star establishment within a a converted 17th-century tannery which describes itself as “great for families”.

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Graduates overpaying as much as £600 per person after student loans paid off

More than £28 million in unclaimed student loan over-payments is sitting in government coffers, it has been revealed.

Over a nine-year period, more than half a million former students in England overpaid on their loans, paying on average nearly £600 more than they owed, according to Student Loans Company (SLC) data.

The figures, obtained by Research Professional News, show that while much of the £308 million overpaid has been paid back to graduates, almost a tenth (£28.5 million) is yet to be returned.

The SLC said they pro-actively contact everyone who overpays to arrange refunds and that to improve its systems, it has started to receive payment information from HMRC.

Loan repayments

The data shows that between 2009-10 and 2017-18, a total of £307,821,092 was overpaid. Of this, £28,460,095 has not yet been refunded.

The figures also show that between these years, 513,134 people in total had overpaid, and the average repayment was £597.

Over-payments are made due to the way information is shared about loan repayments.

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SLC normally receives repayment information annually, at the end of the tax year in April.

But this means that if an individual repaid their loans during the tax year, for example in November, they will have been making over-payments for the rest of that tax year.

An SLC spokesman said: “We want all customers to repay the right amount and not to over-repay on their loan.”

He said that the company writes to those in the last two years of their repayments suggesting they can pay by direct debit rather than through their employer to help prevent over-repayments.

The spokesman added: “We pro-actively contact all customers that have over-repaid to make arrangements for a refund; customers who do not participate in the direct debit scheme can also claim a refund at any time by contacting us.

“We urge all customers to keep their contact details up-to-date so that we can contact them at the appropriate time about the direct debit scheme.”

‘Contact the SLC to seek a refund’

The spokesman also said that to improve its repayment system, the SLC has started to receive payment information from HMRC that will “help to prevent customers from over repaying and provide them with more up-to-date information about their loan repayment”.

A government spokesman said action had been taken to help prevent future over-payments.

“This included changing the law in April to allow weekly data sharing between HMRC and the Student Loans Company, which will help to prevent graduates repaying too much,” he said.

“If a borrower believes there has been an over repayment, they should contact the SLC to seek a refund.”

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EU plans to threaten sanctions on Iceland and Greenland as ‘mackerel war’ looms

The EU is preparing to threaten Iceland and Greenland with sanctions unless the countries reverse their decisions to increase their mackerel quota.

Chris Davies MEP, chair of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee, said he will meet members of the European Commission on 4 September to discuss “taking action” unless Iceland and Greenland “back down” over fishing rights.

Iceland has announced plans to increase its share of the mackerel catch from 107,817 to 140,240 tonnes, while Greenland has announced its unilateral intention to raise its share by 18 per cent, to 70,411 tonnes.

Mr Davies, the Liberal Democrat MEP for North West MEP, called both moves “despicable” and said he will fight on behalf of Scottish fishers and to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fish.

Sanctions on the agenda

Mackerel war
Mackerel fishing can be lucrative (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

He said to i: “I think it’s despicable. This isn’t the way partnerships work. The whole point is that stocks are shared fairly.

“I will meet the European Commission on 4 September to discuss taking action. We don’t want a repeat of the cod wars. We want to understand how to work together.

“But we will press ahead with sanctions to protect our interests if need be. It’s on the agenda.”

Mackerel is a profitable enterprise and much of the fish is found in EU waters. If Britain leaves the EU without a deal, a lot of mackerel will be, technically, in Scottish waters, and the UK will operate as an independent coastal state, as Iceland and Greenland do.

But Mr Davies said Britain will likely face “more challenges” after 31 October and wants to shore up mackerel fishing before the UK leaves, and while it still has the backing of the EU.

“We will have enough to worry about after 31 October,” he said.

“We’ll be on our own, and last time the cod wars with Iceland did not go well for us. We need to help Scottish fishermen hold on to what they’ve got.

“In the past, fishermen have said Iceland acts and we just talk. This time, we will act.”

Environmental concerns

Mackerel war
Iceland and Greenland want to land more mackerel (Photo: CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

Earlier this month, Mr Davies met with Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Brian Isbister to discuss the future of mackerel. There are fears fishers’ livelihoods may be under threat if fleets from elsewhere begin catching more fish, beyond manageable levels.

Mackerel was for some years caught sustainably by fishing boats from the EU, Norway, Iceland, and Greenland, which together have a deal in place to ensure a fair distribution.

Last year, scientists from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advised that stocks were being over-fished, and a 20 per cent reduction in catches was agreed.

Mr Davies said Iceland and Greenland now appear to have gone back on the original agreement. Both nations have been invited to the 4 September meeting.

i has contacted fisheries ministers for both Iceland and Greenland for comment.

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Labour announces plans for ‘total ban’ on keeping monkeys as pets

A Labour government would introduce a “total ban” on keeping or selling monkeys as pets, the party has announced.

There are an estimated 5,000 primates currently kept as pets in the UK, Labour said. The new plans would mean that having marmosets, capuchins, squirrel monkeys and lemurs as domestic animals would be made illegal.

The party claimed that primates kept as pets are often “denied proper lighting and nutrition, causing painful and debilitating diseases such as metabolic bone disease”.

These animals are also regularly being “taken away from their mothers at a young age and kept in isolation, becoming depressed and displaying behaviour such as self-mutilation, hair pulling and rocking back and forth”, the party said in a statement.

Labour manifesto

An estimated 5,000 primates were being kept as pets in the UK (Photo: Getty)

The proposed move, already in force in other European countries, forms part of Labour’s animal welfare manifesto due to be published later this month.

Read more:

A zookeeper caught the remarkable moment a baby monkey took its first steps

Shadow environment minister Luke Pollard said: “It is astonishing that it is still entirely legal to keep primates as pets, regardless of how endangered or dangerous the animal is. Anyone can browse the internet and buy a primate with little or no checks and inspections.

“We know that primates are very intelligent, social animals with complex needs that simply cannot be met in a home environment.

“Labour will ban people from keeping pet primates as part of our plans to bring Britain’s animal welfare laws into the 21st century.”

‘Unnecessary suffering’

‘Labour will ban people from keeping pet primates as part of our plans to bring Britain’s animal welfare laws into the 21st century,’ Shadow environment minister Luke Pollard said (Photo: Getty)

Existing legislation stating that animal owners must prevent “unnecessary suffering” is “difficult to enforce and a breach of its provisions is not an offence”, Labour said.

It added that the RSPCA said it received a call nearly every week relating to the welfare of pet primates and some calls referred to up to 30 animals.

Read more:

Monkey poo reveals the promiscuity of primates

Monkeys can actually be quite lonely

Environment minister Zac Goldsmith said: “Monkeys and other primates are wild animals with highly complex needs. Through the extraordinary work of Monkey World’s Dr Alison Cronin, I have seen first hand how keeping them as pets causes immense suffering. But it is perfectly legal to buy and sell them in the UK.

“The waiting list of unwanted primates at her rescue centre is longer than she can accommodate and so I have asked the department to look at the options for banning the trade altogether. We are a nation of animal lovers, and the Conservatives will always be the party of animal welfare.”

Additional reporting from Press Association.

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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigns with scathing attack on ‘irresponsible’ Matteo Salvini

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte is set to resign, as the League party led by interior minister Matteo Salvini – his right-wing coalition partner – has decided to withdraw support for the populist government.

Mr Conte told senators he is handing in his resignation, but will go later on Tuesday to officially inform President Sergio Mattarella of his decision.

In a scathing attack of his former coalition partner, he said that Mr Salvini had been “irresponsible” and that the minister had created national political turmoil for “personal and party interests”, BBC News reported.

As head of state, Mr Mattarella could ask Mr Conte to stay on and try to find an alternative majority in parliament, or accept his resignation and then look for another coalition with an alternative leader.

Failing that, the president could dissolve parliament, setting the stage for a new general election as early as October.

Mr Salvini said he could no longer work with his coalition partners Five Star, with whom the League formed a government with just 14 months ago.

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Vaping just a single e-cigarette can damage blood vessels, study suggests

Smoking a single electronic cigarette can damage blood vessels and reduce blood flow, a study has found.

E-cigarettes, often marketed as safe alternatives to smoking tobacco cigarettes, have increased in popularity in the UK over the past few years.

However, smoking – also known as vaping – even nicotine-free versions of the devices can affect the body’s vascular function, related to its veins and arteries.

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 10, 2018 photo, a high school principal displays vaping devices that were confiscated from students at the school in Massachusetts. On Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019, the Vapor Technology Association filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government to delay a review of electronic cigarettes. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
E-cigarettes come in a variety of shapes and sizes (Photo: AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine performed MRI exams on 31 healthy adults who did not smoke before and after vaping a nicotine-free e-cigarette.

Between 5.4 per cent and 6.2 per cent of the UK’s adult population is believed to vape – Gov figures

The MRI data returned reduced blood blood and impaired endothelial (cells lining the interior of blood and lymphatic vessels) function in the large femoral artery that supplies blood to the thigh and leg.

Once the endothelium interface is damaged, arteries thicken and may restrict blood blood to the heart and brain, heightening the risk of stroke or heart attack.

“While e-cigarette liquid may be relatively harmless, the vaporization process can transform the molecules – primarily propylene glycol and glycerol – into toxic substances,” said Felix W Wehrli, professor of Radiologic Science and Biophysics at the university.

“Beyond the harmful effects of nicotine, we’ve shown that vaping has a sudden, immediate effect on the body’s vascular function, and could potentially lead to long-term harmful consequences.

E-cigarettes ‘potentially much more hazardous than previously assumed’

While further research is required, Professor Wehrli predicts e-cigarettes are potentially much more hazardous than previously assumed.

The study, published in journal Radiology, required the participants to take 16 puffs, each lasting three seconds, from an e-cigarette containing propylene glycol and glycerol with tobacco flavoring, but no nicotine.

Vaping is 95 percent less harmful than smoking cigarettes (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Between 5.4 per cent and 6.2 per cent of the UK’s adult population is believed to vape (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The researchers applied a cuff to the participants’ thighs to constrict the blood vessels, measuring how quickly blood flowed following its release and using an MRI procedure to observe changes in vascular function.

How safe is vaping?

On average they observed a 34 per cent reduction in femoral artery dilation, and a 17.5 per cent reduction in peak bloody flow.

Venous oxygen reduced by 20 per cent, while blood acceleration also fell by 25.8 per cent after the cuff was released.

“I would warn young people to not even get started using e-cigarettes. The common belief is that the nicotine is what is toxic, but we have found that dangers exist, independent of nicotine,” Prof Wehrli said.

“Clearly if there is an effect after a single use of an e-cigarette, then you can imagine what kind of permanent damage could be caused after vaping regularly over years.”

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Apple sets aside $6bn to up stakes in TV streaming war with Netflix and Amazon

Apple has reportedly set aside $6bn (£4.96bn) to fund original programming for its forthcoming streaming service, amid intense competition from the likes of Netflix and Amazon.

The company announced Apple TV+ during a star-studded launch event in March, attended by Reese Witherspoon, Steve Carell and Jennifer Aniston, who will star in its flagship programme The Morning Show.

Having originally earmarked $1bn to get the platform off the ground, Apple is planning to invest an additional $5bn to meet increasing budgets, the Financial Times has reported.

CUPERTINO, CA - MARCH 25: Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook speaks during a company product launch event at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park on March 25, 2019 in Cupertino, California. Apple announced the launch of it's new video streaming service, unveiled a premium subscription tier to its News app, and announced it would release its own credit card, called Apple Card. (Photo by Michael Short/Getty Images)
Apple has announced new streaming service Apple TV+ (Photo: Michael Short/Getty Images)

The advertising-free service will only feature original programming and is reported to be launched in more than 100 countries worldwide by November, according to Bloomberg.

The first two seasons of The Morning Show will set Apple back more than $300m, it claimed, surpassing the final season of Game of Thrones as the most expensive ever.

Oprah Winfrey and Aquaman star Jason Momoa are also fronting high-profile series on the platform.

Prince Harry announced he was partnering with Ms Winfrey on a mental health and wellness documentary series in April, adding it will “[inspire] viewers to have an honest conversation about the challenges each of us faces, and how to equip ourselves with the tools to not simply survive, but to thrive”.

Apple takes on Hollywood

Rival Netflix is predicted to spend more than $14bn financing its original content, while fellow forthcoming TV streaming platform Disney+ will carry content from Disney, Pixar, MarvelStar Wars and National Geographic, and will own the exclusive US streaming rights to all 30 seasons of The Simpsons when it launches in the US in November.

Around 43 per cent of homes in the UK had a streaming video on demand subscription at the end of 2018, research from analyst Futurepoint suggeststed, predicting future US homes could have up to three active subscriptions at any one time, though this is likely to be lower in Europe.

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No-deal Brexit could mean minimum school food standards have to be scrapped, councils warn

Councils could be forced to scrap legal school meal nutrition standards due to food shortages and delays in the event of a no-deal Brexit, local authority planning papers have warned.

Minimum school food standards were introduced to ensure every child is given a healthy meal at lunchtime.

But town halls have raised concerns that an increase in food costs and potential shortages due to supply chains being hit could force them to lower the quality of food on offer if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Amend nutrition standards

The UK imports between a quarter and a third of its food from the EU, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables, but this could be significantly disrupted in a disorderly exit.

According to no-deal planning documents seen by the BBC, councils such as North Ayrshire are warning they “might need to amend school nutrition standards” to ensure children are given enough food.

In its own impact assessment, North Tyneside Council said “special dietary requirements may be difficult to meet”, adding that “if fresh produce is difficult to come by” schools should “increase use of tins and frozen goods”.

Hastings Council even raised the prospect of rationing food if the UK leaves the EU without a negotiated deal.

“There might be the need for rationing. The severity would depend on what was available and particularly the duration of any shortages,” its internal report states.

Experts have warned that the timing of the UK’s scheduled departure on 31 October would add further challenges as warehousing space is limited due to stores stocking for Christmas, while the UK is at its most reliant on the EU for fresh food.

Back to the 1700s

Bidfood, which is one of the country’s biggest catering suppliers to the public sector, such as schools, hospitals and prisons, said the UK would have to return to a menu “from the 1700s” if it was going to rely more heavily on domestic produce.

“The key areas that we’re looking at in terms of making sure we have surety of supply is around those key things that we import, like pasta, tuna, tinned tomatoes, olive oil, chips, french fries, rice. These are not exotic commodities, these are staples of everyday life, and we want to make sure that all of our customers can get those,” Andrew Selley, chief executive of Bidfood, told the BBC.

“Because of our changing tastes, unless we’re going to go back to a menu based on the 1700s, we are going to look at imported products and imported tastes and imported flavours,” he added.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was holding regular meetings with industry “to make sure we are prepared for all scenarios as we leave the EU.”

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Northern Rail is selling thousands of train tickets for 5p and 10p in flash sale

Northern Rail has put thousands of tickets to places across the north of England on sale for just 10p each.

More than 50 destinations are included in the flash sale, including routes to Manchester, York and Liverpool.

According to the company, over 80,000 tickets are currently being sold at a rate of 10p for adults and 5p for those under 15.

Selected journeys in September are available to book through the company’s website, but they are quickly being snapped up.

Tickets selling fast

Passengers can book tickets for just 10p through the Northern Rail website or app. (PA)
Passengers can book tickets for just 10p through the Northern Rail website or app. (PA)

Only a limited amount are available and will be handed out on a first come first served basis.

Tickets are not available to buy from stations and must be booked in advance through the Northern Rail website or the Northern app.

Manchester Airport is one of the most popular destinations on offer, but journeys to Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield are also being bought for 10p.

Read more:

New 16-17 railcard launches offering 50 per cent off train fares – here’s how much it costs and how to apply

David Brown, Northern’s Managing Director, said: “We had an exciting start to the summer with the launch of our first brand new trains. And we continued the great news for customers with the first Pacer retiring.

“Now, with better trains already on the network, we want to celebrate the end of summer with an offer that gives thousands of people outstanding value travel.”

Rising rail fares

The sale was announced just days after it was revealed rail commuters face an increase in season ticket costs next year of almost three per cent.

A 2.8 per cent rise in season ticket prices would lead to an increase of more than £100 in the annual cost of getting to work for many commuters.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he was “not delighted” about increasing rail fares.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been under fire over the recent rail fair rises. (Getty)

Research by passenger watchdog Transport Focus shows that fewer than a third (30 per cent) of rail commuters are satisfied with the value for money of their ticket.

Read more:

Rail fair increase: Train ticket prices to rise by 2.8% in January 2020

The organisation’s director, David Sidebottom, said: “Transport Focus believes it’s time for a fairer, clearer fares formula based on calculations that use the Consumer Prices Index, rather than the discredited Retail Price Index.

“After recent disruption and a lot of misery over last winter, rail operators still have a great deal to improve.”

Northern Rail has been under fire following a string of timetable disruptions and strikes last summer.

In August last year, former Prime Minister Theresa May was urged to intervene after the disruption reportedly drained the economy of £38 million.

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‘Pray for me’: Britain ‘extremely concerned’ as Hong Kong consulate official detained in mainland China

The Foreign Office has said it is “extremely concerned” about reports a Hong Kong consulate official has been detained in mainland China.

Simon Cheng Man-kit, 28, who works at the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong, went missing after crossing the border for a business trip 10 days ago, according to local media.

Mr Cheng, who works as a trade and investment officer in the Scottish Development International section of the consulate, is a Hong Kong permanent resident who had studied in Taiwan and the UK. It is not clear whether he held a diplomatic passport or what documents he used to enter China, the HKFP reported.

He was detained after travelling to a business event in south-eastern China in Shenzhen on 8 August but never returned, according to Hong Kong media reports.

“We are extremely concerned by reports that a member of our team has been detained returning to Hong Kong from Shenzhen. We are providing support to his family and seeking further information from authorities in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong,” a statement from the Foriegn and Commonwealth Office said.

‘Pray for me’

Skyscrapers in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, across the border from Hong Kong (Photo: FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Mr Cheng was last reportedly last heard from 10 days ago when he text his girlfriend while travelling on a high speed train to Hong Kong. The text message read: “Passing through. Pray for me,” according to news website hk01.

His Taiwanese girlfriend, identified only as Ms Lee, released messages to the Hong Kong based news website, telling the publication she attempted to call him two times after receiving the text message, but couldn’t get hold of her partner.

She said Mr Cheng had planned to return to Hong Kong on the same day he left.

The British embassy in Beijing confirmed the official had been detained in mainland China, The Telegraph reported.

China ‘not aware’ of case

The Scottish government said it was in contact with the Foreign Office about the case.

“We are aware of this incident and we are concerned for Mr. Cheng‘s welfare,” it said.

Asked about the case at a daily briefing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang responded: “I’m not aware of that.”

In response to questions about the case at a press briefing, Hong Kong police said officers were looking into it after receiving a missing persons report on 9 August but cannot disclose more details because of personal data protection rules.

Chief Superintendent Tse Chun-chung said Hong Kong police haven’t been notified about the case by mainland Chinese authorities under a mutual notification arrangement set up for such cases.

Hong Kong enters eleventh week of protests

Protesters are enveloped by tear gas on street during a demonstration in the area of Sheung Wan (Photo: Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)

The move proffers a challenge for Hong Kong’s protesters, who have entered their eleventh week of action against proposals for an extradition bill.

If Hong Kong executive Carrie Lam had agreed to pass The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill, Hong Kong citizens arrested for suspected criminal activity could be jailed and trialled in mainland China.

Although Ms Lam confirmed the bill will be suspended indefinitely, activists have been further incensed by her lack of apology over the proposed bill, as well as the use of tear gas against protesters.

Activists, who moved their action to Hong Kong’s International Airport last week, have dismissed Ms Lam’s claims for a “dialogue” between the government and protesters, claiming it is “a trap”.

China, who governs the province under a “one country, two systems policy,” has issued several firm crackdowns, with Yang Guang, the spokesperson for the Chinese Cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, blaming “irresponsible people” in the West for the protests.

The spokesperson said the western world has applied “strange logic” to the protests, prompting civilians to be sympathetic and tolerant to “violent crimes” while criticising the police force’s “due diligence”.

Facebook has also removed a number of accounts which posted images depicting protesters in Hong Kong as terrorists and cockroaches.

The social network said it removed the small number of accounts, which had around 15,500 followers, after they were found to be involved in “co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour”.

Facebook said it found the accounts were linked to individuals associated with the Chinese government.

It comes in the wake of Twitter announcing it had suspended more than 200,000 accounts which it believes were part of a Chinese government influence campaign targeting the protest movement in Hong Kong.

Additional reporting by agencies 

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The guy behind the fake viral Marmite rumour thinks the whole thing is ‘ridiculous’

On Sunday morning, a man called John shared on Twitter a photo of a pot of Marmite lying on its side with the caption, “It took me years to realise that near-empty Marmite jars should be kept on their side so you can [sic] the last of it out more easily. That’s why the jar is flat is the sides”.

By Sunday night, thousands of people had seen the post and become excited. Sideways Marmite pots was a viral phenomenon and cupboards were being tweaked.

BBC presenter Dan Walker was one of those to whom the prospect of more easily scooped up yeast extract appeared welcome. He called the revelation “game changing”. Radio 1 DJ Greg James said on Sunday: “Today is the day my life changed forever”.

Sandeep from Tesco called the idea “genius“.

Sideways pots

Marmite on its side
John joked about lying Marmite pots on their sides on Sunday (Photo: Twitter)

Then, about 24 hours and 5,000 retweets later, John, or @casioroee on Twitter, admitted he’d been messing about: “I made that thing up about the Marmite, by the way. I’ve no idea. I don’t keep it on its side, I’m not an animal.”

But while John pleaded for the internet to calm down about sideways Marmite pots, the company was capitalising on the free publicity. Marmite tweeted its #newprofilepic just minutes before sending i a statement confirming what John had said earlier.

“We know that our Marmite lovers will go to any length to enjoy every single drop, so while this was not the original intention of the jar’s flat sides, it’s great to see Marmite fans inventing new ways to spread the love,” said a spokeswoman.

Actually nonsense

Marmite on its side
Marmite saw an opportunity (Photo: Twitter)

John said he was becoming tired of the relentless condiment chat and said he didn’t want to become known as “Marmite man”.

“The whole thing is ridiculous,” he told i. “A tweet about Marmite is neither something about which I’m hugely proud, nor is it something I had put much thought into.

“However, if I’ve really changed the lives of Billy Bragg, Greg James and Dan Walker for the better then I guess that’s nice.

“I’m pleased (and appalled) to discover that putting a jar of Marmite on its side is considered newsworthy. I wish the future of the planet every success.

“Marmite haven’t said hi.”

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Retirement at 75: what you need to know about Iain Duncan Smith’s think tank proposal to raise the state pension age

The state pension age for men and women in the UK is in the process of increasing from 65 to 66, with further rises to be implemented over the coming decades.

It’s a controversial topic with many older people unhappy about having to work later than expected.

Making the subject even more contentious, a think tank has now recommended for the increases to be accelerated – with the state pension age moving to 75 in just over 15 years’ time.

What is the proposal?

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a centre-right, independent think tank founded by former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, has recommended the threshold for the state pension move to 70 by 2028 and then to 75 by 2035 for both men and women.

The CSJ’s recommendation in full:

“The SPA (state pension age) should better reflect the longer life expectancies that we now enjoy and be used to support the fiscal balance of the nation. The SPA in the UK is set to rise to 66 by 2020 (Pensions Act 2011), to 67 between 2026 and 2028 (State Pension Act 2014) and to 68 between 2044 and 2046 (State Pension Act 2007).

“We propose accelerating the SPA increase to 70 by 2028 and then 75 by 2035. This will ensure the OADR remains in the range of 20 to 25 for the next 20 years and would significantly improve the countries projected fiscal position.”

Why has the CSJ proposed this?

The CSJ argues it its Ageing Confidently – Supporting an ageing workforce report that raising the state pension age could be the solution to the “fiscal challenge” Britain faces because of its ageing population.

“The ageing population and the increasing Old Age Dependency Ratio (OADR) is raising serious concerns about long term fiscal sustainability in the UK. The state pension is an important benefit that provides security to those who have retired. If we expect this benefit to continue in the future along with the full functioning of public services, however, the UK’s fiscal balance must be corrected.”

The OADR is the ratio between the number of people aged 65 and over, who tend not to work, and the number of people aged between 15 and 64. It is currently stands at 28.2 (measured per 100 persons of working age) but is set to reach 48 by 2050.

The CSJ highlights that the first state pension schemes, with eligibility thresholds of 65 to 70 years, launched at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century when the life expectancy was about 50 years. Today the life expectancy is 81 and the current eligibility threshold is much the same. “The state pension scheme still operates within the age thresholds set for the pioneer pension schemes over 100 years ago, revealing a disconnect between contemporary life expectancies and the state pension age. This raises the question of whether the state pension age is fit for the 21st century,” the CSJ said.

Raising the state pension age to 75 could boost the UK economy, think thank says. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
The think thank says changing the state pension age is in response to higher life expectancies (Photo: PA)

Employing more older people would reduce the cost of benefits and boost the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to the report.

Chief executive Andy Cook said: “Right now, we are not doing enough to help older people stay in work and the state pension age doesn’t even closely reflect healthy working life expectancy.”

He added: “By increasing the state pension age, we can help people stay in gainful and life enhancing employment while also making a sound long-term financial decision.”

What has the reaction been?

Former pensions minister and Tory peer Baroness Ros Altmann said it was “chilling and immoral” to expect people to work until they are 75.

She said it could shorten their life expectancies and force some to claim benefits in their 70s.

But the CSJ told i it disagreed with Baroness Altmann’s criticism.

“The notion that we are asking for people to work until they drop is unfounded. When the state pension age of 65 was introduced in the forties, life expectancy was 66. Men and women can now expect to live into their 80s, we only ask that the state pension age reflects that longer life expectancy. There is nothing just and moral about being unable to fund a social security system,” said Patrick Spencer, head of work and welfare at the CSJ.

Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality), a campaign that claims women are facing financial hardship because of the state pension age changes for women, said it was disappointed by the CSJ’s proposals.

“There are 3.8 million Waspi women who have already experienced the devastating effects of increases to their SPA from changes as result of the 1995 and 2011 State Pension Acts. They received little or no notice of the changes and had no time to prepare which shattered their retirement plans.

“In 2017 the independent Cridland Report recommended that 10 years notice should be given for forthcoming rises, and that it should not increase more than one year in any ten year period. We hope that the Government has learned its lesson from the shocking impact of previous changes on WASPI women’s lives, and does not accept this proposal.”

Is this Government policy?

No. There have been misleading headlines about the CSJ report with some outlets linking it to Tory policy, possibly because Mr Duncan Smith, a Tory MP, is the chair of the think tank.

Iain Duncan Smith has been one pf the most vocal supporters of a hard Brexit.
Iain Duncan Smith is the founder of the CSJ (Photo: Getty)

But the Department for Work and Pensions has said it is not Government policy.

In a statement given to i, the DWP said: “Everyone’s state pension age is unique to them and in 2017 we raised the future retirement age to 68 so that it is sustainable now and for future generations. We’re creating opportunities for people of all generations with record employment.”

Moving the state pension age to 75 is very much still an idea and there is nothing to suggest the Government will take the CSJ’s recommendations on board.

However it is worth mentioning the think tank first proposed Universal Credit, the new benefits system which is currently being rolled out across the country.

What is the state pension age?

The state pension age is the earliest age at which you can start receiving your state pension.

You don’t need to stop working when you reach the state pension age – you can usually work for as long as you and your employer like.

How is the state pension age changing?

In November 2018, the state pension age for men and women equalised to 65. The state pension age for women was previously 60.

It is currently in the process of moving to 66 for both men and women so the exact age at which people will get their state pension depends on what month and year they were born in.

Incremental increases every three months will take place until October 2020, by which time everyone will receive their state pension at 66.

So people born between 6 August 1954 and 5 September 1954 will not get their pension when they turn 65 this month or next. Instead they will have to wait until 6 July 2020.

The people reaching their state pension age on 6 September 2019 will have been born in between March and April 1954, making them a few months older than 65.

The state pension age is set to increase to 67 by 2028 and to 68 between 2044 and 2046.

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Jeffrey Epstein ‘signed a will two days before his death’

Jeffrey Epstein signed a will just two days before he killed himself in a Manhattan federal jail, leaving behind a nearly $600m (£500m) fortune, according to US media reports.

Court documents filed last week in the US Virgin Islands list no details of beneficiaries but put his estate at more than $577m (£475m), including more than $56m (£46m) in cash, the Associated Press reported.

The New York Post first reported the existence of the will, which raises new questions about Epstein‘s final days inside the Metropolitan Correctional Centre where he was awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges, and opens a new legal front in what could be a years-long battle over the financier’s fortune.

His apparent signing of the document foreshadowed his 10 August suicide, a jailhouse death that has prompted multiple federal inquiries and cast a harsh light on staffing shortages at the Manhattan facility.

Epstein died of “suicide by hanging”, the New York medical examiner concluded. The former hedge fund manager was facing up to 45 years in prison under sex trafficking charges, which he denied, and was being held without bail.

‘Give his entire estate to his victims’

Epstein’s estate was put at more than £475 million (Photo: Getty)

On Monday, prosecutors moved to dismiss the indictment against Epstein but said they were considering whether to charge others with facilitating his alleged abuse of dozens of girls.

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The filing of the will, meanwhile, had been closely followed by lawyers representing women who claim they were sexually abused by Epstein years ago when they were teenagers and recruited into his residences to provide him massages.

Several lawyers vowed to go after his assets even if the will had named beneficiaries, as Epstein‘s death means there will be no trial on the criminal charges against him.

“Give his entire estate to his victims. It is the only justice they can get,” one of those lawyers, Lisa Bloom, wrote in an email. “And they deserve it. And on behalf of the Epstein victims I represent, I intend to fight for it.”

Long legal case

A protest group called 'Hot Mess' hold up signs of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the Federal courthouse in New York in July
A protest group called ‘Hot Mess’ hold up signs of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the Federal courthouse in New York in July (Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Former federal prosecutor David S Weinstein, who is now in private practice in Miami but not involved in the Epstein case, said states and US territories have certain time frames within which to make a claim against someone’s estate.

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“There are certainly going to be a lot of lawyers involved,” he said. “It’s not going to be over any time soon.”

A hedge fund manager who hobnobbed with the rich and famous, Epstein owned a Caribbean island, homes in Paris and New York City, a New Mexico ranch and a fleet of high-price cars.

He had more than $112m (£92m) worth of equities, according to the will, and nearly $200m (£165m) in “hedge funds and private equity investments”.

Among the properties that will be subject to appraisal and valuation is his collection of fine arts, antiques and other collectables.

Undisclosed settlements

The former hedge fund manager made undisclosed financial settlements with dozens of his victims (Photo: Getty)

As part of his 2008 plea deal to Florida state charges, Epstein made undisclosed financial settlements with dozens of his victims.

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It is unclear how those settlements might affect any new claims made on his estate.

William Blum, a lawyer for Epstein‘s estate, said in a statement to the Associated Press that any debts or claims against the estate will be “fairly administered”.

He said the document was Epstein‘s original last will.

Additional reporting from Press Association.

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