Why do 3 million children go hungry over school holidays in the world's fifth richest country?


© Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

More and more households use food banks and struggle to make ends meet without free school meals, writes Paul Donovan.

Hunger does not seem to be a subject that has figured prominently in the present general election campaign, yet its growing occurrence is a national disgrace, particularly among children.

Two recent reports highlighted the growing scandal. The first from the Trussell Trust, which administers 427 foodbanks countrywide. It reported how the number of people receiving emergency three-day supplies of food rose by 73,000 over the past year to 1.182,954 people. The total included some 460,0000 children.

The primary causes of referral to foodbanks were low pay (26.45 per cent) and benefit delays (26.01 per cent)

The second report titled, Hungry Holidays, from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger (APPGH) told how up to three million children risk going hungry in the school holidays.

The ever growing number of people going to food banks is testimony to a society that grows more and more unequal with each passing month

‘This group comprises over a million children growing up in poverty who receive free school meals during term time, as well as an estimated two million who are disqualified from free school meals because their parents work for their poverty,’ says the report. The latter group are those so low paid that they receive working tax credits.

There are many children across the country who receive free school meals, as well as attending breakfast and supper clubs where they can be fed. However, during the 13 weeks of school holidays, these same children can fall down the cracks. The meals that were being provided suddenly disappear.

For those on low pay, the need to suddenly provide previously supplied meals adds to the pressure on already strained budgets.

The hunger is evidenced in a number of ways, with some children simply not eating, parents going without so that their children have something to eat, and others who provide cheap stodgy food which does not fill hungry stomachs and can bring about malnutrition.

The report describes some children vomiting or dropping out of physical activity session, as they had not eaten properly for days.

These conditions also stop the child actually being a child in the sense of being able to enjoy their holidays, going out to play and be with others.

Evidence received by the APPGH revealed how ‘those children who exist on an impoverished diet, while taking part in little or no activity, return to school malnourished, sluggish and dreary-some even lose “significant” amounts of weight, whilst others gain a lot of weight.’

This group are disadvantaged compared to their counterparts who have had happy, healthy holiday breaks. They are then likely to fall behind – the rich/poor divide thus being further increased.

The response to the sight of so many children suffering from hunger has come in the main from the schools, church and community based voluntary groups. They have set up holiday meal and fun ventures to meet the growing need. These have helped children and parents alike, not just with the provision of food but also with information on nutrition, budgetary and other skills.

The APPGH has called for government to impose a statutory duty on local authorities to ‘facilitate and co-ordinate the delivery of free meals and fun during school holidays.’ There should be flexibility in the delivery of these services, with the APPGH suggesting that the voluntary sector plays a leading role.

The APPGH asks for government backing after the general election for its Free School Meals (Provision in Holidays) Bill, which would impose the statutory duty on local authorities and provide the flexibility for those authorities to provide the services required in their areas.

The work should then be funded by £41.5 million from the sugary drinks levy to ‘abolish school holiday hunger’. There should also be training and minimum standard provisions.

Something certainly needs to be done to address the scandal of growing hunger amongst children and adults in what is the fifth richest country in the world. The ever growing number of people going to food banks, amid a country that boasts over 100 billionaires is testimony to a society that grows more and more unequal with each passing month. A country that likes to think it is progressing forward into the 21st century but in terms of much of the population seems only to be going backward to ever more Dickensian times for many people.

It must be hoped that the political parties pick up the challenges put down by these two reports to address the growing levels of poverty and inequality in our society. Failure to do so will lead only to ever more serious consequences in the future.

Visit Paul Donovan’s blog at: paulfdonovan.blogspot.com

Is PM Theresa May really as economically illiterate as her immigration based stance on Brexit suggests?


Theresa May, is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party. DonkeyHotey under a Creative Commons Licence

Can the Prime Minister be seriously contemplating cutting links with the single market – Britain’s largest trading area – because she really believes that 'securing the borders' is a more important priority?

The need to secure the borders, a hardly concealed code for keeping out migrants, is total nonsense. The borders are secure or if they aren’t a lot of public money is being expended on the Borders Agency and a myriad of private supporting companies charged with attaining that goal.

The whole Brexit vote, it seems, was increasingly prefaced on a number of lies. Foremost among these was the migrant myth, namely that migrants were all flocking in for benefits because Britain is an easy touch. Among the migrants were criminals and wrongdoers. Now to leave the la la land of Express and Daily Mail story telling, the reality is somewhat different.

Migrants come to the UK predominantly to work or study. It has been their contribution among other things that has led to the buoyancy of the UK economy. If the work were not here neither would the migrants be.

During the EU referendum debate the good news story on immigration rarely surfaced. If it had people would understand that migration was not the cause of growing levels of poverty across the land.

Some facts. 17 per cent of the workforce is made up of non-British born workers (that is 5.4 million of a 31.6 million workforce). This has increased from 8 per cent in 2000. Some 19 per cent of NHS workers are foreign born. The Institute For Public Policy has warned that the NHS would 'collapse' without its EU workers. Education is a major growing sector for the UK economy, with foreign students estimated to contribute £11.8 billion ($14.5 billion).

A study by University College London found that European migrants made a net contribution of £20 billion ($24.6 billion) to UK public finances between 2000 and 2011.

Many of the migrant workforce is made up of single people who work here for a while, but then go home. They pay taxes for which they do not receive the requisite public services in return. Net winner the British tax payer.

Migrant labour is also needed to meet skills shortages, that become particularly stark when the reducing ratio between the young (under 16s) and the old (over 65s) are taken into account.

If UK citizens want to retain their present level of public services then the revenue generated by migrant workers – as well as those workers themselves – are desperately needed.

The fact that there has been free movement over recent years is a major factor in the buoyancy of the British economy. Ironically, it has been the high level of migrants coming into the UK over recent years compared to other European countries that has contributed to the strength of the economy here compared to elsewhere.

Given, all of the aforesaid, how incredible to hear the Prime Minister welcoming the news that there are now fewer EU nationals coming to the UK, post Brexit. This PM seems to hang onto the ridiculous ideal of the former occupant of the office that it is a good thing to reduce net migration down to the tens of thousands. This is an economically illiterate position for any leader of a political party to adopt.

The one way to really reduce migration is to destroy the economic base. An economy in recession will not offer the jobs , so migrants will not be coming. This position in reality is the one the PM seems to be saying she wants above all else, when she puts controlling immigration above trade with our neighbours.

All of that said migration has not been handled well over the past couple of decades. Migrants have been allowed to come in and be used by unscrupulous employers – including private householders wanting work done on the cheap to their properties – to undercut the pay and terms and conditions of the indigenous workforce. This effective use of migration as an unofficial incomes policy has led to some of the grievances that helped to build the anti-migrant atmosphere.

These problems could have been addressed by having a higher minimum wage, that was stringently enforced. Also, no undercutting of terms and conditions, whilst ensuring the migrant labourers joined trade unions.

The problem with the EU referendum debate was that people were fed a pack of lies to the effect that all of their problems were due to migrants and the EU. The reality was most of their problems emanated from the banking crisis of 2008 and the austerity policies that followed.

The result has been large numbers of people across the country seeing their wages flatline or reduce. The banks have got away with ripping off the tax payer for huge amounts of money and continue to do so.

The direction of anger toward scapegoating migrants and the EU has largely resulted from a number of unscrupulous MPs lying to the electorate and the cacophony of xenophobic ill informed racist coverage of issues like immigration in the right wing media.

The great irony of the result of the Brexit referendum is that the mass of people who voted to leave the EU together with everyone else stand to become poorer. Wages will not rise, but prices will courtesy of the falling pound.

The attacks on migrants are making this country seem more like a hostile place, so less are coming. This will have huge implications for the economy as a whole and the education sector in particular. It is reported that the number of foreigners looking to attend further education institutions in the UK is plummeting. The net effect is less money for public services, like education, health, care and transport.

So is the PM really as daft as a number of her recent pronouncements on Brexit suggest? Or is it all window dressing for a new deal with the EU that can be to the benefit of all? We have to hope it is the latter.

But given the positive reaction to the news of reduced numbers of migrants coming to the UK, and the begging bowl approach of British ministers seemingly trotting round the world looking for whatever trade deals the US, Australia and New Zealand will offer, I would not bet on it.

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The Universal Basic Income is an idea the left must embrace


People cast their ballots during a vote on whether to give every adult citizen a basic guaranteed monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,560), in a school in Bern, Switzerland, June 5, 2016. © REUTERS/RUBEN SPRICH

This is an exciting idea whose time has come, writes Paul Donovan.

On Sunday, the call in a referendum in Switzerland for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) of $29,000 a year, regardless of work or wealth, was narrowly defeated.

The UBI is a radical idea that has historically drawn supporters on the left like John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman on the right. On the left, the idea is appealing on the grounds that redistribution of wealth is for the good of all, equality and egalitarianism. The appeal to the right is in cutting the power of the coercive state, reducing welfare and promoting freedom.

The driving forces for the idea now comes with the increasing levels of automation going on worldwide and the need to find solutions to welfare provision.

RELATED: 10 economic myths that we need to junk, New Internationalist magazine, December 2015, Issue 488

The idea resonates with the outlook in the 1970s, when it was predicted that in the future there would be shorter working weeks, more leisure time and earlier retirement ages. These predictions, remember, existed long before the internet came along.

Then came Margaret Thatcher with the neo-liberal model, which promptly saw the opposite indices come into play with longer working weeks, less pay and an ever more distant retirement age.

However, despite the damage caused over the past 30 years by the neo-liberal model the underlying motors of development foreseen in the 1970s have continued to grow.

Ironically, it has been some of the features of neo-liberalism that have helped accelerate the demand for the UBI today.

So the neo-liberal model has led to the 1 per cent, an economically polarized society, with fewer and fewer people coming to hold most of the wealth. The wealthy don’t spend money in the same way that the poor do, they often store it away or place it offshore – so demand in the economy falters.

This problem will be exacerbated in a world where there is a growing population but fewer jobs due to automation. In the future, many ask where will the money generate from to create that demand to keep the wheels of market capitalism turning?

In the Britain, the recognition of the crisis in capitalism has seen the tentative efforts to raise the minimum wage to a living level and extend personal tax allowances – taking many people out of tax.

Many questions remain of course, such as what would be the motivation for people to work if they were receiving UBI. The level of course is low so many would want to work anyway. On this point there are concerns from unions that UBI could be set too low, thereby cutting welfare, whilst not providing adequate compensation via payment. (This is also a concern that has surfaced over the living wage.)

UBI though is gaining support. The Finish government is experimenting with the idea, making tax free monthly payments of $440 to a random sample of 10,000 adults of working age, as part of a two year experiment. Some 20 municipalities in the Netherlands are conducting similar experiments.

Ironically, the advance of capitalism in its present form seems likely to make UBI inevitable in the medium-to-long term. There simply will not be the jobs and subsequently demand for products.

The dilemma can be easily viewed at supermarket checkouts, which increasingly push customers toward the automated systems. This will save on labour but in the end where will that former labour find the money to buy products sold by the supermarket?

Funding for the UBI is likely in the main to come from general taxation, with the sums no doubt taking some balancing. However, the idea is an exciting one, brought about in many ways by the ongoing contradictions of the capitalist market system model.

The Swiss may have rejected the idea this time but the referendum seems only the latest stage in the advance of an idea which, if handled properly by the left, could lead to a huge emancipation of society in terms of personal freedom and living life generally.

Paul Donovan blogs at: paulfdonovan.blogspot.co.uk

Three major hurdles that could make or break Jeremy Corbyn


Elected Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gives his acceptamce speach at party headquarters, 13 September, 2015. by New Internationalist screenshot of Labor Party acceptance speech video.

Britain’s new Labour Party leader has 3 challenges as he takes the reins, writes Paul Donovan.

The challenges for new Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn will come from within the Parliamentary Labour Party itself, from a hostile media and from Britain’s Conservative government.

Hurdle 1: the Parliamentary Labour Party

The opposition within the ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party is a real problem. There is the ‘party within a party’ known as the Progress Group, which seeks to keep burning brightly the flame of Blairism – named for former party leader and British prime minister Tony Blair and his policies to curtail civil liberties, engage in wars abroad and privatize Britain’s National Health Service. This group has taken a battering, with Liz Kendall, its representative in the leadership election, only attaining 4% of the vote. Members of the group have so far been prominent in the exodus of former shadow cabinet ministers to the back benches, having suddenly rediscovered the need to spend more time with their constituents. When they get over licking their wounds, Progress is likely to continue to represent the enemy within for Corbyn.

Among other members of parliament there will also be opposition, though this may be more easily dissipated. The MP is first and foremost a creature driven by the need for self-preservation. As such, many will be willing to give the Corbyn agenda a chance, just to see if in the long term it might profit their own personal position and ambitions. Some, no doubt, will make a miraculous conversion to leftwing politics almost overnight. Corbyn has already shown an aptitude for inclusivity, bringing the likes of Ed Miliband’s former chief of staff Lucy Powell in as shadow education secretary and former Tony Blair chum Lord Charles Falconer as shadow justice secretary.

Then there will be the Left of the party who have backed Corbyn. They are the ones taking up shadow cabinet positions, moving forward. The appointment of John McDonnell as shadow chancellor and Diane Abbott to shadow international development minister are the most significant sign of these so far.

Hurdle 2: the media

The second problem area will be the media. The hostility to anything other than mainstream neoliberal orthodoxy has been clear for all to see over the period of the leadership election. Even the Guardian, which many expected at least to operate a level playing field, has done its best to give a voice to Corbyn’s opponents. In the end, the newspaper – not a Labour-supporting publication over the years – felt the need to guide its readers by backing Yvette Cooper for the leadership. The Mirror backed Andy Burnham, while the Independent did not make a recommendation.

The position of the media may change, however, if the campaign for a leftwing party leader transitions to become a mass movement for an anti-austerity agenda. If the 600,000 eligible voters in the leadership election morph into a couple of million or more supporters, enthused further by what it sees from a Corbyn-led Labour Party, then some of the more liberal media will start to change its hostile position. The growth of Labour Party membership has continued, with 15,000 new members in the day after Corbyn’s victory.

Hurdle 3: the current government

Despite media prophesies, the Conservative Party may not be that happy about a Corbyn-led Labour Party. It is not difficult to imagine Prime Minister David Cameron being rather non-plussed by Corbyn during Prime Minister’s Questions (the weekly half-hour grilling by MPs); Corbyn does not rise to personal vitriol, but attacks from a position grounded in social justice and socialist principles.

The sort of dilemmas facing Corbyn could come together on the subject of the European Union (EU). So far he has declared that he will campaign to quit the EU if David Cameron's renegotiation of the terms of Britain’s membership is about ‘trading away workers’ rights, trading away environmental protection and trading away much of what is in the social chapter’.

The EU, as presently constituted, represents the embodiment of neoliberalism. If Corbyn wants to achieve many of his policies, such as renationalization of the rail networks and of the country’s utilities, then remaining in the EU probably won’t be an option. Britain would need to get back control over its own sovereignty.

But what if Corbyn were to set a steady anti-EU course, putting himself at the front of the ‘Out’ campaign come the referendum? It would cause consternation among the Conservatives who are already split on the issue. It might bring back to Labour core voters who deserted to the rightwing, anti-Europe United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Such a stand would not be popular with the Scottish National Party, but it would set Labour out as distinct from the Scottish nationalists and their version of anti-austerity politics. Corbyn’s stand could also cause splits within his own party, which is overwhelmingly pro-Europe.

Winning the leadership of the Labour Party is just the start of the challenges that Corbyn faces. But if his social-justice agenda continues to draw wide support across the generations, then dealing with all the issues will become a lot easier.

Time for one-day migrant strike


King's Cross railway station, London. CGP Grey under a Creative Commons Licence

What would make people realize the contributions that migrants make to society? asks Paul Donovan.

Migrants are getting tired of contributing to British society while at the same time being vilified for their very presence in the country.

When I talked recently to a migrant worker who has been in this country for 10 years, her growing sense of exasperation and anger quickly became apparent.

The 32-year-old Polish woman, Edith (not her real name), was first employed in care homes on the south coast of England. She worked long and hard, picking up other cleaning jobs to help make ends meet. Edith took English reading and writing classes in her own time. Throughout this period she was paying taxes while getting little in return.

She then moved to work as a cleaner at a hotel. A keen worker, she soon advanced to become a supervisor. At the moment she is also studying accountancy at college in her spare time. She hopes that one day she will qualify as an accountant.

‘We are here, we contribute, and we pay our taxes. I do not understand why there are these constant attacks on migrants,’ said Edith, who is fed up with the situation and believes there should be a migrant strike: ‘Then people would know exactly what we do.’

She is not wrong. Migrants have always played a key role in keeping the wheels of British society turning. Some 26% of doctors in the National Health Service (NHS) come from other countries. The NHS regularly poaches nurses from other countries, both within and outside the European Union.

Britain’s schools and colleges are packed with teachers from across the world. The transport system has been a ready employer of migrants since the 1950s, when London Transport went out to the West Indies to recruit new employees. The care sector would come to a halt if it weren’t for migrant workers. Then there is the catering industry: in many parts of the country, it is unusual not to be served by a migrant worker.

Individuals rail against migrants while at the same time employing Polish workers to put up their extension or loft conversion (the construction industry employs many migrants). The phrase ‘double standards’ was coined for this scenario.

Migration is good for the economy. The government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility figures show that net migration of 250,000 per year boosts the annual GDP by 0.5%. This growth means more jobs, higher tax revenues, more funding for schools and hospitals and a lower deficit.

A study by University College London in 2009 that looked at the fiscal impact of the recent migration of eastern European migrants found that they contributed 37% more in taxes than the cost of the public services they consumed.

Migrant numbers go up and down, generally according to the wellbeing of the economy. This is because, in the main, they come to work – not, as popular myth would have us believe, to collect benefits.

The population is ageing in Britain, with people living longer. At the same time fertility rates are falling. Not enough children are being born to replace the current population. Today there are 3 people of working age for every 1 over 65. By 2060 the ratio is expected to change to 1:1.

Academic David Blake estimates that for the state pension to remain viable, there needs to be 500,000 immigrant workers coming to Britain each year. These migrants are necessary if enough wealth is to be generated to sustain the present ageing population.

Yet despite all these positive elements about migration, the public discourse is dominated by politicians promising to cut the numbers. Indeed, the political discourse has become so distorted that the value and need for migration is rarely raised. The departure point of debate is always the need to cut immigration.

A migrant 1-day strike would make clear just how much those coming from overseas contribute to this country. If all the migrants withdrew their labour for a day, many of the services that people take for granted would grind to a halt. A migrant strike would be one way that this vilified group of people could make their point most powerfully.

The arguments for migration are many and varied. As well as the economic benefits, there is the rich diversity that different races bring to our country. But the way that migration to this country has been managed over the past couple of decades has helped to build many of the present resentments that migrant workers feel.

There need to be minimum standards of pay and conditions so that British workers’ pay is not undercut. There also needs to be proper public service provision, including house-building, merited by the taxes that migrants pay. Veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner makes a good point about how, after the Second World War, many migrants settled without problems in Britain from countries like Poland and the Ukraine. There were strong trade unions during those years, and incoming workers became members, so there was no question of them being used as a cheap labour force.

‘The key to improving community relations is to guarantee everybody is on a good wage and nobody is undercut,’ said Skinner. ‘If trade unions were stronger, the friction would be reduced and the gains enormous in terms of harmony between people from various countries.’

So there are many ways that migration can be better managed. This ageing country needs migrants to keep it going. Migrants also add to the diversity and culture of the country. Maybe people need a reminder of all these positive factors – a migrant strike would provide just such a wake-up call.

Paul Donovan is a freelance investigative journalist based in London. You can find his blog at: paulfdonovan.blogspot.com

Greenham Common's final act


Greenham Common in 1982, during a women's protest. geograph.co.uk/ceridwen under a Creative Commons Licence

In November, the Greenham Common Women’s Commemorative Peace Garden, created by the women peace activists, was handed over to the people of Newbury.

Sarah Hipperson, 87, recalls that the land had effectively been occupied by the military for many years, before the women peace protesters arrived in the 1980s.

It was as a result of legal proceedings brought by the women that it was finally established that the military had no right to be on the land, as it belonged to the people.

It was the final victory for the women who, in the 1980s, had so bravely fought against the US government stationing nuclear missiles on the Greenham Common site.

Hipperson had lived a relatively straightforward life up until the momentous day in 1983 when she decided to go down and join the women’s peace camp in Greenham.

A native of Glasgow, she became a nurse and mid-wife in her late teens, delivering babies in the Govern area. She then decided to emigrate to Canada, where she lived for 16 years, nursing, getting married and having five children. She returned to England in the 1970s, settling in Wanstead.

Life at this time involved being a member of the local justice and peace group at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, as well as sitting on the bench as a Justice of the Peace.

During the early 1980s, Sarah became increasingly frustrated trying to raise awareness of nuclear weapons in Wanstead.

She showed Helen Caldacott’s film Critical Mass about the dangers of nuclear weapons. ‘There would be a numbing effect but it went no further than that,’ she says; she became a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the 1970s and worked with Catholic Peace Action.

Moving to Greenham Common in 1983 proved to be a liberating experience. The catalogue of events that followed over the next couple of decades, with a series of peaceful actions, court cases and imprisonments, all formed part of the work.

‘The work is to achieve complete nuclear disarmament,’ says Hipperson. ‘We have all been involved in the crime that presents itself as nuclear deterrent. The bottom line is that we will use weapons that are 80 per cent more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, in the case of Trident, as part of the defence policy of this country. As a Christian I have never been able to live with that.’

Hipperson recalls a 10 week period in 1984, when a group of women were on the common, with virtually nothing but what they stood up in. ‘Then the police were called to go and police the miners strike. The tents could then come back onto the land.’

Over the years, Sarah was repeatedly arrested for peaceful direct actions, like blocking vehicles at Greenham Common and cutting fences. She served 22 sentences, the longest being 28 days in Holloway for criminal damage. ‘I never paid a fine,’ she says proudly.

Appearing in court gave the opportunity to openly question the legality of nuclear weapons. There have been successes, such as when the Law Lords declared that the bye-laws that the Ministry of Defence had been using to remove women from Greenham Common were invalid.

‘We had every right to be there, the military had no right to be on the common,’ said Hipperson. The women also saw the fence around the common declared illegal.

When the missiles were removed from Greenham Common in the early 1990s, Hipperson continued her protest against Trident. This involved actions at nearby Aldermaston.

The Greenham Common airbase is now long gone, but Sarah and some of the women established a garden there in 2002 to mark the action. ‘It was an undeveloped piece of land when we put tents on it; now it has sculptures, stones and special plants.’

Part of the garden has been dedicated to Helen Thomas, who was knocked down by a military vehicle and killed, aged only 22, during the protest.

The garden has been a continuation of Hipperson’s life’s work over the past 12 years. She has raised £78,000 ($122,000) for the garden, most of it coming from small donations made by hundreds of people.

Hipperson sees the handing over of the peace garden as her final act, completing the Greenham cycle. The land, handed back to the people. She recalls that at times, during the protest, the local people were far from friendly.

‘On one occasion, we were getting some shopping in Tesco’s and at the check out the assistant would not ring the sale through. She said there is disease at the camp,’ said Hipperson, who recalled how one quick thinking woman told everyone to ‘go round the shop and touch everything – especially the meat.’ The assistant then took the women’s money and they went on their way.

On another occasion, Hipperson got on a bus, after a court appearance, to go back to the Greenham Common site. The bus driver refused to move until she got off the bus. A stand-off ensued before he finally drove off. She recalled getting off short of the camp, because she knew the driver out of spite would not stop at the camp but go straight on and dump her in the country.

This type of events underlines how strong the feelings went on both sides, so the creation of the garden and now its return to the people of Newbury marks an act of reconciliation on all sides.

Recently, Hipperson was reunited with some comrades from her peace actions at the funeral of Jesuit Father Gerry Hughes. He was a friend for many years. At the funeral, Sarah was given a copy of his final book, published just a couple of weeks before he died. Father Hughes had been intending to give the book to Sarah in person but events intervened, so that was never possible.

Hipperson’s battle may be over, but the struggle against nuclear weapons goes on. There are the ongoing protests against Trident at Faslane and other parts of the country. Sarah believes that the legality of these destructive weapons needs to be tested in the international courts.

In a world that seems to get more violent with each passing decade, the struggle for peace goes on. Sarah Hipperson and the women of Greenham played their part in moving that struggle a little further forward.

Paul Donovan is a freelance investigative journalist, based in London. You can find him on Twitter and at paulfdonovan.blogspot.com.

Britain turns back the clock on migrant domestic workers

Campaigners say migrant domestic workers are now at more risk of abuse.

Todd Baker, under a CC License

The atmosphere surrounding the debate on immigration rarely takes into account those that fall victim to policies premised on the need to reduce migrant numbers. In 2012 this manifested itself in the decision of the British government to end the overseas domestic worker visa and open up the opportunity for bad employers to abuse migrant workers.

One year on and there is already evidence of the abuse that often results when the employer is given total power.

Former domestic worker and now co-ordinator of Justice For Domestic Workers (J4DW) Marissa Begonia tells how one domestic worker encountered an employer ‘who would press the lid of a hot pot filled with boiling water all over her body for every little mistake she made.’

Another worker was raped by her male employer. ‘He threatened to accuse her of harming the child that she was looking after if she reported him,’ said Begonia. ‘Some women domestic workers bear scars on their faces due to hot beverages thrown at them, and scars on their arms from flat irons.’

A regressive system

Domestic workers don’t like going to the police, for fear that it will be they who finish up being treated as criminals, with immigration status the prime focus of the authorities.

It was this situation of abuse that led to the domestic worker visa being introduced in 1998. This gave the domestic workers employment rights, enabling them to change employers and extend visas.

Statistics confirm the worsening situation – some 62 per cent are paid nothing at all, compared to 14 per cent under the previous system

However, this all ended on 6 April 2012 when the domestic worker visa was abandoned on the basis of the need to cut net migration. The new arrangements saw the ‘tied visa’ reintroduced; it has a maximum duration of six months and ties the worker to the employer who brought them to Britain.

The stories of Mira and Sara illustrate the problems caused by the visa change: Mira, who is from the Philippines, ran away from her employers’ house after working around 16 hours a day with no time off. She shared a room with the children of the family she was working for and had no private time or space for herself at all. She kept all her belongings in a small space under the washing machine. She ate only leftovers, but as the family often went out to eat in the evening she frequently went hungry. She was forbidden from cooking additional food for herself. She was repeatedly screamed at.

Three months into her time in Britain, Mira had received no pay and was desperately worried about how her family at home were surviving without her remittances. Her employers had always kept her passport and her ‘trigger’ for escape was finding it left out one day.

Domestic workers protest in London

Charles Hutchins, under a CC License

The passport was a ‘new’ tied overseas domestic worker visa, which meant while she was still within its six month validity period she was prohibited from changing employer and it was not renewable beyond this time. Therefore there was no option within the immigration rules for her to remain in Britain.

An Indian national, Sara was bought to Britain from Kuwait on a domestic worker visa. Living in London, Sara was treated appallingly by her employers. She was not allowed to contact her family, was often locked in the house, not allowed out to go to church and expected to be constantly on call, looking after a small baby 24 hours a day.

Sara had no contacts in Britain, no money and her passport had been taken by her employers. During the five months that she had been working in Britain she had received no pay.

Sara was on the original domestic worker visa, so entitled to change employers so long as she only worked as a domestic worker in a private household. However, her visa was soon to expire and if she was to be able to renew her visa it was vital that she was in full-time employment.

She managed to escape, with one week before her visa was due to expire, and secured a job. Sara was able to apply for a new visa and is currently working in Britain as a nanny for a family. She pays her taxes and sends money home to support her family.

Casualties of hysteria

Already, statistics gathered by campaigning group Kalayaan confirm the worsening situation under the tied visa system. Some 62 per cent are paid nothing at all, compared to 14 per cent under the previous system. All workers on the tied visa were paid less than £100 ($152) a week compared to 60 per cent on the original visa. Eighty-five per cent did not have their own room, so slept with the children or in the kitchen or lounge, compared to 31 per cent on the original visa.

There was no justification for withdrawing the visa. It was not abused, the Home Office knew exactly where every domestic worker lived and worked because they had to supply this information yearly when they renewed their visa.

It is difficult to make any sense of this latest policy. The alleged intention to help cut migration seems unlikely, given that the removal of protections makes it far more likely that desperate workers will leave abusive employment and join the ranks of undocumented workers. They will then be untrackable and the Exchequer will lose the tax and national insurance that the workers had paid when legitimately employed.

Common sense dictates that there should be a return to the previous visa, granting full employment rights. However, given the nature of the immigration debate in Britain, whereby lives often seem to become the casualties of populist hysteria, it could be a long fight for those seeking to get back these most basic of rights for migrant workers.

Devious devices

Since the signing of the Ottawa Treaty on landmines in December 1997, the big ‘G8’ countries and their arms-manufacturing companies have been seeking to circumvent it. Research published in a new report from the charity Landmine Action* has revealed the continued manufacture and use of anti-vehicle mines fitted with anti-handling devices or sensitive fuses. These modified weapons can be accidentally detonated by civilians and so act like powerful anti-personnel mines.

One example is the German AT-2, a scatterable anti-vehicle mine equipped with an anti-handling device and magnetic fusing. It is sensitive enough to be detonated by someone stumbling over it or even by their proximity. As a result, the Italian Government destroyed all its AT-2 mines in 1997. The British Ministry of Defence continues to hold an estimated 100,000 AT-2s in its stocks.

BAE Systems, Hunting Engineering, Marconi, GEC Avionics and Hughes Microelectronics are all part of a European consortium that developed the MLRS artillery launcher that can dispense AT-2 mines.

‘At the time the Ottawa Treaty was signed it was recognized that all landmines which could be set off by a person should be banned,’ says Richard Lloyd, director of Landmine Action.

‘But what has happened since is that more countries are producing anti-tank mines with sensitive fuses to replace anti-personnel mines. It is a devious way to circumvent the treaty.’ The Ottawa Treaty defines anti-personnel landmines by their design, not by their effect. This means that manufacturers can escape liability by arguing that a weapon was designed for another purpose – the fact that it has an anti-personnel effect then becomes immaterial. It is this loophole that is allowing companies to build bigger and more lethal landmines than ever before.

Research and development funds are also pouring into ever-more-lethal anti-personnel devices. The Taser Area Denial Device shoots electrical darts carrying up to 50,000 volts. Victims remain conscious but are unable to control their muscles. The Taser has already been identified as one of the US Army’s favoured alternatives to anti-personnel mines, says the Landmine Action report.

Other methods of ‘area denial’ under development include microwave devices which create fields with graduated layers of pain for the victims, and tranquillizing chemicals that can cause temporary blindness and extreme anxiety. Acoustic weapons vibrate inside the human body to stun, nauseate and – in the words of a Pentagon official – liquefy their bowels.

Rather than act in the spirit of the Ottawa Treaty to clear the world of anti-personnel landmines, governments and arms companies have busied themselves finding ways to profit from new, ever-more lethal technology. Effective campaigning evidently demands more than signatures on pieces of paper.

_Alternative anti-personnel mines: the next generation_, Landmine Action,

Landmine Action

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