Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Dispatches from the Kabul Cafe

Journalist Heidi Kingstone creates a number of sketches that when drawn together provide a fascinating insight into life in war torn Afghanistan. Living in the expat community between 2007 and 2011, Kingstone takes out her journalistic pen to create an overall picture of life illuminated by an array of characters.

The different incites take in mercenaries, soldiers, cleaners, NGO workers, fashionistas, activists and just people struggling to get by in a war torn country. It is not all blood and destruction though, with Kingstone able to convey a real love for Afghanistan and its people – something that is all too rare in accounts written about that country over the past few decades.
The author has an ability to adopt an objective detached position, whilst giving real insight to the individuals concerned. Remarkably, she even manages to achieve this feat regarding those with whom she has passing relationships. These accounts add a certain amount of spice and perspective to proceedings.
Kingstone lived for most of the period in Kabul, working for various publications, whilst trying to illuminate the story of womens rights. This theme comes through in the various different sketches from the revolutionary girl Hasina to Dunia, the cleaner who doesn’t like cleaning but loves to dance. What does come over strongly is the problem of westerners trying to impose their concept of rights - without ever really acquainting themselves as to what Afghani women are up against in a deeply chauvinistic society.

Dispatches from the Kabul Café offers a glimpse of life in Afghanistan, through real lives. At times the reader would like to know more and maybe have a stronger narrative thread between sketches but overall a comprehensive picture is presented. It gives a taste of life in a war torn country by blending together accounts of the people who live there and those coming into “help.”

The great strength of the book is that whilst it brings home scenes of poverty and death, there is never a move toward cloying pity. The Afghanis come out as a proud people, whose land has been abused but remains a fantastic place to be. There is much joy and excitement in daily life in Kabul. There is also that buzz of life as a reporter in a war zone, on the edge, with the constant threat of death.

A number of Kingstone’s friends die either during or after her time in Afghanistan. There is also something of an intrigue about Kingstone herself, the book offers  insights into her personality that draw the reader in to want to know more about subject and its scribe – a job well done.
- published by Advance Edition, price £10.99

Friday, 24 July 2015

Mother of murdered son tells Nationa Justice and Peace Network conference how she could not move on without forgiving his killer

The mother of a boy murdered on the streets of north London has revealed how the only way she could move on was to forgive her son’s killer.
Addressing the 37th annual conference of the National Justice and Peace Network in Swanwick, Derby, Lorraine Dinnegan, whose son Martin was stabbed to death in 2007, revealed how she felt if she did not forgive, “I’d just be left with misery and depression. I needed to just remember the nice and good things about Martin.”

Ms Dinnegan told how her parish church of St Melitus in Finsbury Park and the local police had helped her through “this terrible time.”

She recalled sitting in the Old Bailey a year later watching the trial of the boy who murdered her son. He killed him because he looked at him the wrong way.

One positive development has been the rolling out of a citizens safe havens scheme in north London. The Dinnegans learned about this scheme from the Mizens, who also lost their son Jimmy in similarly tragic circumstances in south London. “They’d set up a safe havens scheme, whereby those willing to help, like shops, put up a sticker in their window – they would then provide a safe haven,” said Ms Dinnegan.

St Melitus Church working with the police managed to set up havens in 45 shops. “The police were grateful that people in the community were standing  up for something good,” said Ms Dinnegan, who has spoken in schools about knife crime and done six workshops with the police. Ms Dinnegan won the London Citizens “leader of the year award” in 2013.

Sister of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit Maire Hayes told of how faith groups are working together in Luton to bring harmony in the local community.

Sister Maire is based in Luton, a town of 200,000 people that has been the focus of media attention over recent years. Sister Maire recalled the controversy when members of the Anglian regiment marched through the two and there were protests about the soldiers actions in Basra. The right wing English Defence League resulted from the protests. More recently the right wing group Britain First descended on the town in June, creating fear in the Muslim community.

Sister Maire told how despite these type of incursions Luton is a town where the people of different faiths pull together. She told of an annual peace walk and sporting events, when the different faiths came together. Also how the different faiths placed flowers in remembranceof the murdered soldier Lee Rigby.

In another action, after a rabbi was harassed, members of the Muslim community walked with him to the synagogue for 18 months.

Sister Maire pointed out that despite the tensions, often stoked by people coming from outside, there were no troubles in Luton at the time of the riots across the country in 2011. “We strive to build community cohesion, working to empower Luton’s faith and cultural communities,” said Sister Maire.

Fiona Mwashita, a Progressio regional manager in Zimbabwe, told of work to empower women, making sure they know their rights and get the support they need.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Professor Paul Rogers claims Jeremy Corbyn is the politician most likely to address challenges of climate change and neo-liberalism

A leading academic has claimed that Jeremy Corbyn is the politician whose policies are most in tune with what will be needed over the coming decade to counter the disruption likely to be caused by climate change.
Addressing the annual conference of the National Justice and Peace Network in Swanwick, Derbyshire, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University Paul Rogers claimed that “the one person in tune with what is going to happen over the next five years is Jeremy Corbyn.”
Professor Rogers declared that there was something very wrong with a world economy where the mass of wealth is accruing to a smaller and smaller number of people. “The neo-liberal economic system is not delivering justice,” said the peace professor, who highlighted how this division of wealth was being exaserpated by some of the effects of climate change. “There is a neo-liberal economic system that finds it difficult to deal with the climate change,” said Professor Rogers, who believes that this failure results in world government using military power in an attempt to keep control of what is happening, rather than address the root causes.
Professor Rogers pointed out that the speed of destruction is getting worse with for example typhoon Hyan, which hit the Philippines last year, running at speeds of 160 mph for 10 minutes. Some 6,300 people died as a result of the typhoon with untold damage done to the country.  
The professor believes though that it is big shocks that often cause world governments to act. He quoted the example of how the London smog in 1952, killed 4,000 people in four days. “This effected the power elites and brought the clean air act forward a decade,” said Professor Rogers. Similarly the threat posed by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the 1980s brought quick action from governments to halt the danger.
He claimed  that there are things going on, almost unnoticed to address the problems such as grid Photovoltaic panels being erected across sub suhara and Africa.
Professor Rogers believes the next 15 years will be crucial in moving strongly to address the threats posed by climate change to the peace and living environment. “The period between now and 2030 is crucial – we have to work to get the changes,” said Professor Rogers, who remains positive that this will be achieved. “We can have a peaceful, sustainable and just world in the 2070s if we make the right moves now up to 2045,” said Professor Rogers.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Veteran Parliamentarians honoured by Salvadorean ambassador for Nobel peace prize nomination of Archbishop Oscar Romero

Three veteran Parliamentarians received a diplomatic medal of honour from the Salvadorean ambassador for their actions 36 years ago in nominating Archbishop Oscar Romero for the Nobel Peace Prize.

MPs, lords, bishops, priests and representatives of charities were among those who gathered in the state rooms in Speakers House to witness the presentation of the medals by ambassador Werner Romero to former Labour MP Kevin McNamara, Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley and Lord Eric Avebury.

The three men helped to get 118 signatures of MPs,Peers and others on a letter to the Nobel Committee in Oslo nominating Archbishop Romero for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. The Archbishop did not receive the prize but the nomination helped raise the profile of what he was doing in El Salvador to confront the killing and human rights abuses. The archbishop was shot dead in March 1980, whilst saying mass.

Lord Avebury recalled going on a delegation in 1978 that included Bottomley to tell archbishop what was happening. He recalled how the murder of Father Rutillio Grande in March 1977 had set off the murder by death squads of priests across the country.

Julian Filochowski, chair of the Romero Trust, recalled how the Nobel Prize initiative, followed on a decision of the then Labour Government to cancel the sale of second hand armoured vehicles to the Salvadorean military. “The signatures were collected at the October 1978 party conferences thanks to the largely super-human efforts of Kevin McNamara at the Labour event in Blackpool, even managing to cajole trade union leaders, Jack Jones, Joe Gormley and Hugh Scanlon to sign up too, and of Peter Bottomley at the Conservative conference in Brighton,” said Filochowski

Among those present were Baroness Shirley Williams, Lord David Alton, Baroness Nuala O’Loan, Emeritus Bishop of Hallam, John Rawsthorne, former Labour MP Clare Short, and current Labour MPs Rob Flello and Angela Eagle.   

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Labour should do the right thing on Wanstead Hospital wards

What a disheartening experience it was to sit through the recent health scrutiny council committee meeting at Redbridge town hall. An ill lite chamber, populated by a number of councillors sitting, cut off, in horseshoe formation in the middle of the chamber.

The public were allowed to have their two minute say, which a number did. Problem was the councilors were not listening. Committee chair Labour councilor John Howard was scrupulous to ensure that no member of the public had more than two minutes but he failed to hear their pleas.

The impression from the whole proceedings was of councilors, especially the ruling Labour group, cut off from the public. The decision to do a U-turn on the closure of the Heronwood and Galleon wards at Wanstead hospital shows once again that this part of the borough is being treated as the poor relations when it comes to healthcare.

Labour councilors in particular need to realise that they are not there to uphold the gradual erosion of health services for the people of this borough. If they are so naïve as to believe the spin that cutting a service will provide a better quality of service then they have no right to be representing people in this area.

All that is being asked is that they refer the decision to close these wards to the Secretary of State. They have the evidence, they have the signatures of 5,000 people in this area who want this service to remain open. All that is being asked is that Labour councilors put aside their geographical differences and do the right thing by the people of the borough – is that so difficult?
- see: Ilford Recorder - 16/7/2015

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

CSAN report identifies a welfare system that seeks to punish rather than help the poor and vulnerable

 The government’s reforms of the welfare state mark a step back to Victorian times, with a system that was intended to provide a safety net of support being turned into a vicious punitive process that blames the individual for all that befalls them.


A report from Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), entitled the Impact of Welfare Changes,  claims that: “The culture of the existing support system has changed from one based on compassion and support to one focused on efficiency and process.”


Research conducted by CSAN has found that individuals and the staff of charities trying to support them have been brought to breaking point by the creation of an inefficient bureaucracy predicated on the need to punish the individual.


Take, the case of Katrin, a mother of three, who has her Jobseekers Allowance stopped because she had not applied for enough jobs. She has though, applied for the jobs but it turns out they had expired or been duplicated on the job centre’s own website.

The desire to punish claimants seems confirmed in a process that makes benefits staff less accessible. So in this age of myriad means of communication ,phone lines and paper trails are reduced. “The past ten years has seen the removal of phone lines, reduction of face-to-face interaction and minimising of paper trails of evidence. The distribution of knowledge and power is one-way and option for open dialogue is closed,” says the report.

Free numbers have been replaced by 0845 numbers making it expensive for claimants. “Call handlers are often inadequately trained and staff in job centres appear ill equipped, with little understanding of how to deal with the complex needs of people’s lives,” says the report.



This move to a punitive approach is no doubt costing society more in the long run with the damage being done to the physical and mental health of the individuals concerned. “In the 21st century when we should be mindful of people’s problems and supporting them emotionally, we are doing the reverse. In the long-run we are as a society paying for it one way or another, by increasing mental health problems. We are going, I would say, in the wrong direction, said Raj, a benefits advisor at the charity Brushstrokes in the West Midlands.

The mental health implications are a particular worry. “The impact of the benefit changes, less employment, less access to housing means people’s mental health is just falling apart,” said Sian, a key worker at Caritas Anchor House.


The changes are also having an impact on the staff of the charities concerned, forcing them to get involved in various bureaucratic morasses instead of dealing with the specific problems of the people they are trying to help.


“Over the last two years - and especially the last 12 months - there has been change in how we’re supporting our tenants. Things are just completely different,” said Rachel, a support worker at Nugent Care in Liverpool.


 The report sums up what is happening very clearly. “Appealing against incorrectly applied sanctions and medical assessments, as well as navigating the complex and changing rules issued by the DWP means that staff are spending copious hours on paperwork they deem to be ineffectual,” says the report. ”Time that is essential to deal with underlying issues – addiction, mental health, family breakdown or low skills – is often compromised through dealing with complex welfare system issues.”


The CSAN charities have shown great creativity in responding to the different challenges shown by the changes in the system. So at Nugent Care in Liverpool for instance, the cuts in local authority funding has led to a couple of staff picking up donations in the form of white goods. So they go around collecting these items, then testing them before allocating out to those in need. The testing process is another that the charity has had to take on because of the cuts.


The pressures though are causing some of the charities to change their functions to meet the needs. So for example, in the case of Brushstrokes, the organisation has had to widen its remit from simply supporting destitute asylum seekers. “Originally established as a centre for destitute asylum seekers, with no recourse to public funds, over the past 18 months the centre has experienced a 30% increase in people needing food aid - the vast majority of these British citizens from the local area as more and more people fall into the category of ‘most vulnerable’,” says the report.



The welfare changes are taking place against a mood music, fed by government and amplified in the media of skivers and scroungers. The misrepresentation sees the public increasingly believing these stereotypes, indeed, the report found that these beliefs were even being internalised by their clients.

CSAN recommend a number of changes that will help create “a more person-centred approach that respects human dignity.” These include softening the sanctions regime, being less keen to cut people off entirely and ensuring there are proper means of contact and support for the individuals concerned. 



The actions being taken in our names are not only morally wrong but in the government’s own terms of cutting costs seem unlikely to be meeting the stipulated goals. A whole new expensive level of bureaucracy has been created in the name of punishing the weak and vulnerable. It is not morally right or economically efficient.


This report should cause pause for thought in government and wider society about what is being done to the poorest and most vulnerable in the name of austerity. There is a dehumanisation going on amid a race back to the world of the Victorian workhouse with its ideas of deserving and undeserving poor. It is not the way in which a society should be operating in the 21st century.

* New report identifies welfare system that punishes rather than helps - Independent Catholic News - 14/7/2015

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

CSAN charities call for action to address a welfare system that has pushed the poor and vulnerable to the edge

A report from the Catholic charity Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) has found that both benefits claimants and those in charities trying to support them have been pushed to the edge by the welfare reforms of the past five years.
Launching the report in London, the Impact of Welfare Changes, several directors of CSAN charities suggested that some of the recent moves made in the budget will push more people over the edge.
Keith Fernett, the director of Caritas Anchor House, based in Newham, east London, outlined a process that has seen the state abrogating its responsibilities to the most vulnerable and dumping them on the charitable sector.
Fernett echoed the report when he told of how the removal of free phone lines for benefit claimants has made resolving matters so much more difficult.
The personal interface with the public has been removed leaving claimants to struggle with “decision makers” operating from call centres, using scripted procedures for response tools.
Peter Boylan of Nugent Care’s New Beginnings team in Liverpool, believes the move in the budget to remove support from those in the 18 to 25 age range – in the belief that this will make them stay with the family – will just exacerpate an already dire situaiton. He believes people will just move around more.
Teresa Clements, centre manager of the Brushstrokes Centre in Birmingham,  pointed out that young people are often leaving home because of overcrowding. “There can be family breakdown, domestic abuse all contributing to forcing people out,” said Clements.
Ms Clements call on faith leaders to speak out about what is happening across the country to the poor and vulnerable. “Human dignity is the key element here – the faith leaders should speak out,” said Mr Fernett.
The report calls for an end to the use of financial sanctions for people with mental health problems and for the introduction whereby claimants are given a chance to provide an explanation, rather than be sanctioned for a first “offence.”
It also calls for training for JobCentrePlus employees on how to help and assist vulnerable people with some joint working with charities at the rockface.

* Charities "the only safety net left" after benefit cuts - Morning Star - 15/7/2015                      

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Low pay is at root of food bank crisis

Foodbank manager and the co-founder of Eat or Heat Gary Nash is right to single out employers and politicians as being responsible for more than one million people going to foodbanks (Food bank manager to sell his home to finance the charity, July 2).
Lets not forget, this in one of the richest economies in the world, boasting more than 140 resident billionaires. 
The prime reasons for people going to foodbanks ar benefit problems and low pay. Take supermarkets, where we have the grotesque situation of some workers being paid so little that the food they stack on the shelves in the morning could be the same food that they go to pick up in the evening at the foodbank in order to keep their families afloat.
The foodbank economy reveals a side of welfare that is rarely discussed, namely the corporate variety - employers paying their workers so little that the tax payer has to make up the difference with tax credits. In UK plc today, this type of welfare for the rich is apparently perfectly acceptable.
If the number of people going to foodbanks is ever to reduce, then employers need to pay workers the living wage of £9.15 an hour in London and £7.85 outside.
Trade union representation needs to be strengthened so that better pay can be achieved via collective bargaining agreements.
Finally, the benefits debacle overseen by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith needs to be sorted out and rebalanced in favour of supporting rather than punishing the individual.

see: Wanstead and Woodford Guardian - 9/7/2015

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Papal encyclical emphasises need to reach out to each other living in community

The recently published Papal encyclical on the environment has much to teach about the way we treat the planet and each other. Pope Francis emphasises the importance of community and stewardship of the earth for future generations. The document has much relevance for  the community in which we live in Wanstead.

It is striking here that there seems to be a contrast between those interested in looking outward, embracing the environment and building community and those set on a more insular approach involving incessant building upward and outward whilst adopting a distinctly inward looking personae. The latter group do not seem concerned with anyone or anything beyond their own front doors.

So there are the environmental activists who grow their own food in gardens and allotments. They seek renewable energy sources like solar and PV panels to provide their energy. They encourage bees with the planting of flowers around tree basins. They support sustainable transport systems and enjoy our green heritage in the form of parks and gardens. There is an emphasis on the common good of the community as evidenced in activities like those of the Wanstead Playground Association with its effort to raise funds for the playground area on Christchurch green.

Then there are those seemingly totally devoted to a materialistic path that really has little concern for anyone else. These people pollute with incessant car journeys. They have no regard for the integrity of the built environment, seeing their own dwellings as at best a shelter from the outside world, at worst simply an investment opportunity. They build up and out or totally rebuild altogether, regardless of anyone else in the vicinity.

Yet in this area we have a great environmental balance with green spaces in the forms of parks and public greens, bordered by, for the most part, buildings that match the architectural heritage passed on by past generations. There is strong community. It is a great heritage with which our generation has been trusted. The duty now falls to us to be true guardians of that heritage, building an environmentally sustainable community that can be passed on to our children and children’s children. Let’s not squander that heritage in the name of short term material gain

* Wanstead &Woodford Guardian - 2/7/2015

* Ilford Recorder - 25/6/2015

Friday, 3 July 2015

Time to tell Redbridge Council to stop squabbling, defend Wanstead Hospital and our NHS

The ongoing struggle to save the Herongate and Galleon wards of Wanstead Hospital appears to have foundered in the bureaucratic morass that is Redbridge Council. Local residents remain implacably opposed to the closure of these excellent rehabilitation wards, as evidenced by a 5,000 strong petition handed in calling for their retention. This petition has been totally ignored.
Instead, there have been moves made first, to seek to move the work done by Herongate and Galleon wards to King Georges hospital in Ilford, now having found that this is not feasible they want to move the services even further away.
It is hard to believe that a democratically elected body like the council, upon seeing the strength of feeling on the ground has not done the right thing and referred the decision to shut the Wanstead Hospital wards to the Secretary of State. It would then be for him to decide what should happen next.
There is a growing belief that there are territorial battles going on in the council, with Wanstead once again being used as a political football by those who represent other parts of the borough. Local residents will not be so forgiving come the next election, if they believe elected representatives have been playing fast and lose with their healthcare.
* There is a meeting of the council's health scrutiny committee at 7.15pm on 6 July at Redbridge Town Hall in Ilford. Members of the public may speak if they register in advance. 

- published Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 2/7/2015

- published Ilford Recorder - 2/7/2015

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

David Cameron should not be using terrorist atrocity to justify taking liberties

Why is it that David Cameron believes a murderous attack on a Tunisian beach justifies giving more powers to the security services to spy on texts and emails at home? If we give up our liberties so easily does this not mean that the terrorists have won?
* Metro - 1/7/2015
* Evening Standard - 1/7/2015