Friday, 27 September 2013

Media should stop wasting time on climate skeptics, while the planet burns

It is extraordinary that as the planet burns, large parts of the British media can continue to conduct this naval gazing exercise about whether global warming is happening or not. The so called climate skeptics continue to get a disproportionate amount of air time and news print for their views. The reason that their views have traction with the public is because they are convenient, no one wants to change their lifestyle, stop flying, driving everywhere etc. But if people want a future for their children and children's children then radical action has to be taken to tackle climate change. If the media have to cover climate skepticism, then examine exactly who backs and funds this lobby, namely the very industries that have most to lose from addressing climate change. Time to move on and forget about this particular vested interest.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Suicide attempts up at Beachy Head

There has been an increase in the number of people attempting suicide at the East Sussex beauty spot Beachy Head over recent months. The Beachy Head Chaplaincy team (BHCT), which has saved more than 2,000 lives since it began operations in 2004, reported 604 searches on the cliff up to the end of August this year. Some 252 people were saved. This compares with 428 and 423 searches for the comparable period in 2012 and 2011. In May, there were 97 searches with 39 people saved. June saw the number of searches at 87 with 39 people saved and 76 searches in July with 32 people saved. There were 92 searches, with 41 despondent people save in August. There were 771 searches on cliffs by BHCT last year with 305 despondent people saved “At the current rate we are going to reach one rescue a day dealt with by us very soon,” said Mark Pybus, director of the chaplaincy team. Typical of the calls received by the BCHT was an incident that occurred recently. ”The team received a request by Sussex Police to assist in a search for a missing person, whose car had been found at Beachy Head. The person was located on the cliff edge by the team following a short search and was spoken to by BHCT chaplains and negotiators from Sussex Police. After approximately three hours the person was successfully escorted to safety from the cliff top,” said a spokesperson for BHCT. The chaplaincy conduct routine searches and are also tipped off by emergency services, coastguard, the local pub, cafe or members of the public as to a potential suicide attempts. Not all searches result in finding a person. The number of deaths is largely unrelated, given that these are likely to be cases where there has been no connection with support services. The trustees of BHCT are reluctant about giving too much detail as in the wrong hands it could enable people to avoid the chaplaincy teams and achieve their aim of committing suicide. Since 2004, when the BHCT was set up it has responded to 5,868 searches and incidents resulting in the rescue of 2,129 despondent people. The chaplaincy began with six volunteers. It now has around 20 people working for it, recently expanding due to the increasing calls on its work. Team members are trained in negotiation techniques similar to those used by law enforcement agencies around the world to try to establish connections with despondent people at the cliff top and try to diffuse high levels of stress. As well as talking to people who appear distressed and who look like they intend to jump, they also work with the coastguard and emergency services. Mr Pybus revealed that the chaplaincy team also undertake bereavement counselling. “I spent three hours with someone on Sunday whose partner jumped three years ago,” said Mr Pybus. “ We have rescued 252 people so far, so that is looking like another record year,” said Mr Pybus. "It is hard to say exactly why there has been such a rise but the recession has a part to play. Financial reasons usually have a part to play but it is usually a number of things coming together.” The chaplaincy team are concerned that insensitive media publicity surrounding deaths at Beachy Head also helps encourage people to come and attempt to take their lives. They point to the case of the Puttick family, who died on 1 June 2009. The case, where parents Neil and Kazumi, killed themselves at Beachy Head after five year old son Sam died of meningitis, drew international media attention. In the month that followed there was a surge in the number of people coming to the beauty spot seeking to end their lives. The week that followed the BHCT conducted 33 searches, saving 15 despondent people. Similar patterns have been noted with other high profile cases. It is difficult to know how this can be changed. The media will cover the story, simply not talking to them, may only ensure that the exposure is even more sensational. What is needed is greater understanding of what drives people to the point where they are prepared to take their lives. Depression and the underlying pressures of society no doubt play a part and a greater understanding is needed of these issues in the public at large. * see Tablet - "Back from the Brink" - 28/9/2013

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Government manipulation of economic agenda is lesson in manufacturing consent

The recent trumpeting of economic success has been easily achieved due to a backdrop of lowered expectations in the media. Chancellor George Osborne has failed even by his own criteria to revive the economy but due to the avalanche of rhetoric about austerity, he has been able to claim success. Thus the miniscule 0.6 per cent growth rise in the last quarter once set against the rhetoric of austerity can be claimed as success. It rings rather hollow ofcourse for those people struggling by with rising fuel and food bills, frozen wages and reduced benefits. It is these people that need their voices heard, amid a media manipulation that approaches a master class in manufacturing consent.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Untold story of child victims of crime

Children are finishing up innocent victims of crime, when their parents are imprisoned leaving them behind to be cared for by relatives or to be taken into care by social services The scandal of so many children being torn away from their parents with no concern for their well being was exposed at a Parliamentary meeting, chaired by Labour MP Andy Burnham and organised by Pact and Grandparents Plus. Grandmother Annie told of the shock when her daughter was sentenced, leaving her two daughters with nowhere to go. "It was a shock, no one believed she'd be sentenced. We thought she'd come home to the children so there was nothing prepared. We had to go home and tell the children that Mum was not coming back," said Annie. "There were tears and there still are tears, four years later. I don't think they will ever recover." Annie described her two grand daughters as "victims of a system that doesn't care." "It's not just the courts, there's social services - there is no one there to help," said Annie, who told how no one mentioned the children in court. "I phoned social services and they said they'd provide £50." "If I hadn't taken the role they would have been taken into care," said Annie. Cassie finished up looking after the three children of her sister. "There was no support on the criminal side. I don't think the court was aware of the children," said Cassie. "When we asked for support we never got it. The children's services failed to provide anything. "We were the family of the perpetrator not the victims, yet the kids had done nothing wrong," said Cassie. The case involving her sister received a lot of media coverage. "At one point we had to move two hundred miles to get away from the media. We were sworn at and spat at on the street. The kids were bullied in school. We couldn't deal with it on a daily basis. We preferred to go somewhere where we were not known and could make a fresh start," said Cassie, who also had to bring up her own two kids as well, who she describes as "caught in the cross fire." There are around 160,000 children with a parent in prison each year. More than 60% of women prisoners are mothers and 45% had children living with them at the time of imprisonment. 25% of men in young offenders institutions are or are shortly to become fathers. Andy Keen Downs, director of Pact, told how the organisation first came across the problem when running its First Night in Custody programme at Holloway Prison. "We found that when the mother was in prison, it was the grandparents, sisters and friends rather than partners caring for the children," said Mr Keen Downs. "Half the women who had children were not saying they did." Of those who did declare they had children, 34% were being cared for by grandparents, 27% by the father and 10% by social services. Mr Keen Downs declared that there are gaps in the system. "There is a lack of a joined up system to record whether there are children. There is no statutory duty on the courts to check if children or vulnerable adults are involved and if there are whether care needs to be provided," said Mr Keen Downs. Sarah Wellard from Grandparents Plus added: “All too often grandparents, aunts and other family members are left to pick up the pieces on their own. It is vital that children’s services treat these children as “in need” and help their carers to access support.” Alan Lowe, a magistrate in Wigan and Leigh, has been campaigning on this issue for nine years, after Archbishop of Liverpool Patrick Kelly asked him to look into the matter for him. Archbishop Kelly had noticed the children without parents at the school gates when making pastoral visits around the diocese. "On one occasion I recall being told your not a social worker, it's your job to sentence," said Mr Lowe, who told how recently a headteacher left at 10 at night with a child, trying to find out where the mother was. "Things have got to change. Health, education and local government have got to come together and co-operate," said Mr Lowe, who believes providing the support will prevent so many problems in the future that will come from the kids having screwed up lives. Richard Monkhouse, chair elect of the Magistrates Association, agreed that there has to be a statutory requirement brought in to ensure that children are dealt with. Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of Prisons, gave his support for a statutory provision being brought in that will force the authorities to take children into account when a parent is sent to prison. Mr Burnham highlighted how when a child goes through this process the odds are stacked against them. "Things will never be the same again. We could minimise the damage if we thought more holistically," said Mr Burnham, who referred to the likely mental health damage being done to children put into this position. "They are more likely to suffer mental health issues at the time or later in life," said Mr Burnham who agreed to take the matter forward on an all party basis. This would involve attempting to attain an amendment to the Anti-social behaviour crime and policing bill. This would involve a plan needing to be produced ahead of sentencing, addressing the issue of children and vulnerable adults. "We will explore the legislative opportunities to bring an amendment forward. A plan needs to be put in place for agreement of all the related bodies, so everyone knows where they stand. How can it be right that the children end up being the collateral damage?" said Mr Burnham.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

New prisons bishop questions role of private sector in prisons system

Newly appointed Prisons Bishop Richard Moth has called into question the growing role of the private sector in the criminal justice system. Addressing the launch of the Caritas Social Action Network Criminal Justice Forum, Bishop Moth questioned the morality of making money out of incarcerating human beings. The bishop accepted that the private sector had been part of the prisons system for some time but suggested that any private enterprise will need to have a financial return for shareholders. ”So there is a temptation to make money out of another’s crime- morally that has to be questionable,” said Bishop Moth, who expressed similar concerns over the privatisation of the probation service that see plans for the work to be handed over to a number of big companies. The bishop praised the role of the House of Lords in putting a hold on the latter process until further assessment. “The Church needs to maintain a voice as this debate goes forward,” said Bishop Moth, who urged that “the prison system must continue to offer the opportunity for reform and rehabilitation.” Bishop Moth said that there is more that can be done by parish communities to help with prisoners. “A welcoming community will do much to change the pattern of re-offending,” said Bishop Moth. The bishop highlighted overcrowding in prisons and the detrimental effect this has on efforts to educate and rehabilitate prisoners. “Staff to inmate ratios continue to be a difficulty,” said Bishop Moth, who told how overcrowding resulted in prisoners being locked for longer in their cells. “This is a backward step on the path to rehabilitation,” said Bishop Moth. Andy Keen Downs, chief executive of Pact, addressed the Coalition Government’s efforts to marketise rehabilitation by opening probation up to the private and voluntary sectors. A payment by results culture is being contemplated. Probation work is being split among 21 prime and subcontractors. These are likely to be large companies with the funding to undertake the work. Mr Keen Downs said the challenge for Church organisations working in the criminal justice system will be whether to engage or risk getting frozen out. “There is also the danger that ideas will get taken and used,” said Mr Keens Down, who named mentoring as one practice undertaken by the likes of Pact that the commercial companies could be interested in adopting. “There is also a reputational risk of working with these firms,” he said. Mr Keen Down said he had never seen morale as low in the prison system as it is now. He also expressed concerns over safety in prisons as staff numbers are increasingly reduced.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Surely arms embargoes and sanctions should be used on Syria, not more bombs and bullets

Why is the only response being discussed in relation to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons that of military aggression - violence begets violence is well worn and accurate summary of the likely outcome. Yet it seems to have been the mantra consistently adopted throughout this conflict - it was not long ago that Britain wanted to send more arms into the situation, again to allegedly bring about peace. How about adopting a proper sanctions policy and arms embargo on Syria or would that impact too much on certain business interests around the world, who profit from war?