Trucking, toilets and wheelchairs (a World Toilet Day post)

Indigo Jo Blogs - 19 November, 2018 - 22:30

Three people standing in front of a washbasin in a communal toilet, holding certificates saying "Loo of the Year 2016"Earlier today I came across an article announcing some research that had been done about British workers and their access to toilet breaks, or lack thereof, published by the trade union Unite. Thousands of workers do not have access to basic toilet facilities in their workplace, it says, with evidence of staff at high-street banks having to urinate in buckets and construction sites failing to provide toilets for female staff, assuming there are none. Bus drivers were sometimes denied toilet breaks for up to five hours and call centre staff told to log out (which, it appears, means they will not get paid) if they get up to use the toilet. The worst practices, the report says, are in “bus and lorry driving, construction, warehousing, agriculture and the banking and finance sector”. This is an incredibly varied group of occupations; agriculture is rather to be expected as workers are often out in the country where there are few buildings; others are micro-managed menial work, but truck drivers are among the less well-supervised of those, so why is it on the list?

Well, I work as a truck driver, and if you spend most of your driving life on the road, you are less likely to be unable to find a toilet for very long; motorways all have multiple service stations (except for those that are very short, which usually have one) and main roads have filling stations which are often more frequent, though they have fewer cubicles than a toilet block in a big service station. An urban delivery driver usually drives a vehicle which can easily fit into the average petrol station, many of which have toilets (not all, and some have closed due to vandalism or because the owners decide they do not want the expense, or want the extra space for shop use). However, if you spend a lot of time at depots, the situation varies. The worst offenders are bonded warehouses which store goods which are due to be put on an aeroplane or are subject to duties (e.g. alcohol); many of these have only recently stopped allowing drivers to use the warehouse toilets because it is supposedly not secure to escort drivers to them. This is a somewhat unconvincing explanation; often they also have offices which could be made available to drivers. Apparently, recently the Health and Safety Executive has issued guidelines that these warehouses must, in fact, allow drivers the use of their toilets. Many airport cargo stations do not have toilets available either, despite having plenty of space.

In the last 10 years or so, trucks have increasingly been fitted with trackers so that bosses know where a driver is at any given time, which allows them to nag a driver who has stopped unexpectedly or too long. While I have avoided these sorts of jobs like the plague, I must say I have never seen a supermarket delivery van or a waste collection truck in a filling station forecourt, and these are the only places outside their depots that have parking and toilets. In one job I was asked why I had stopped for 10 minutes at a particular junction outside Woodford in Essex, and when I told the fifty-something lady the reason (and not in excessive detail, just “I was in the loo”), she told me I should not tell such a thing to a lady. On another occasion I was trunking for a major parcel company which had a policy that drivers should not stop en route, ostensibly for security reasons, which I did, as I was unaware of what the toilets and refreshment facilities were like at their depot (it turned out to be quite satisfactory); when working for the Royal Mail last December, I had a manager interrogate me as to why I had stopped at Warwick Services on the way back from a trip to Coventry, and the reason was that the drivers’ toilets at Coventry were crowded and, if I remember rightly, not very clean. I had to give this guy lengthy explanations as to why a loo break might take longer than expected (e.g. having to clean up the loo before using it).

In the work I’m doing now, the boss doesn’t mind if I stop as long as I get there on time, and if I’m not going to, I’m expected to call ahead. Toilets at depots vary; in some places there are two toilets for all the drivers, though we are not expected to stop for long, while at others (typically the older ones) there are plenty. They are usually well-kept and it’s not that common to find one that stinks or where the seat is covered in urine. The job itself is stressful, with two or three middle-men between me and the company I’m ultimately working for and jobs not coming in until two or three hours before it starts, but not having to worry too much about finding decent loos takes some of the stress out of it.

Some of my disabled friends have far worse stress about using the toilet, of course. Most people know what a “disabled toilet” is, but don’t know that only certain types of disabled people can use one — those with good upper body strength who can transfer out of a wheelchair onto the loo and back again. They have those red cords so that, if they fall when transferring, they can get help, so if you ever see one tied up so that it doesn’t reach the floor, you should untie it and tell the management. People with other impairments, such as muscular dystrophy, often don’t have the strength to transfer themselves and require a hoist to lift them, and most public places don’t have them. There is a network of special toilets with hoists and adult-size changing tables, known as Changing Places, but currently there are only 1,203 in the whole of the UK. The upshot is that some people, particularly women, are having surgery to fit catheters (often at some risk to their own health), despite not being incontinent, so that they can relieve themselves without requiring a hoist and not have to take such as dehydrating themselves so they will not have to use the toilet when they are out for a few hours.

One of the worst tendencies in the treatment of disabled people in this country right now is the withholding of the care necessary to get from their wheelchair to the toilet and back, expecting them to use nappies although, as with those having the medical unnecessary surgery to fit catheters, they are not incontinent. The best known case involved Elaine McDonald, a former ballerina who challenged Westminster City Council’s decision to withdraw her overnight care visit and issue incontinence pads instead, but more recently a woman I know, who is both a paraplegic and an amputee and was forced out of a care home a few weeks ago after criticising the care she was receiving in Facebook (a story in its own right: care home managements indulging in revenge evictions), was told that when she moves into a home of her own in a few weeks’ time, she also will not be supplied with a hoist she can use herself (which exist; she has done her research) nor sufficient care time, but be expected to use nappies. She is in her 20s.

This obviously is causing her some distress, but so far the law does not seem to be on her side despite the obvious disadvantages — it’s undignified, it’s unnatural to anyone who has learned to control themselves which is most people above age two, it brings the risk of skin inflammation and breakdown which is particularly hazardous to a full-time wheelchair user, there is the likelihood of leaks (especially as nappies and pads supplied by public bodies are rarely of the best quality and absorbency) which falls to the disabled person to clean up — not to mention the added damage to some people’s already fragile mental health. Really, the cost to the public purse of providing a care visit every few hours so that a severely disabled person can use the toilet cannot be that great. It’s a disgrace in a well-developed country to be penny-pinching at the expense of disabled people’s health and dignity.

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Brexit, ignorance and lies

Indigo Jo Blogs - 18 November, 2018 - 22:47

Nadine Dorries, a middle-aged white woman white grey and white hair wearing a light grey top under a light brown coloured jacket.Last week, a draft agreement for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) was published; it was some 500 pages long and, as could have been predicted, really pleased nobody. It prompted two Cabinet resignations, a few other junior government resignations and a few threats and talk of a back-bench no-confidence motion in Teresa May’s leadership of the Conservative Party but, so far, this has stopped of the 48 letters required to trigger a ballot. Jeremy Corbyn has finally shown a bit of backbone and has said he would not support the deal in Parliament as it does not meet his “six tests” but also has not committed himself to a second referendum on either the deal or on Brexit itself. The main sticking point has been the status of Northern Ireland, where the Irish government and many in Northern Ireland seek to avoid a return to a hard border on the island, while many Tories and hardline Unionists insist there not be a “sea border” between two parts of the UK, or a different relationship with the EU for Northern Ireland or the rest of the UK. What has stuck out for me has been the sheer ignorance and dishonesty displayed by Brexiteers both in the country and in Parliament.

Pro-Brexit intellectuals such as Matthew Goodwin, whose piece on populism and Brexit I responded to a month ago, are fond of lecturing us that, contrary to the ‘myth’ that people voted for Brexit because they hankered for the old days when “faces were white”, many young and prosperous people and many people from ethnic minority backgrounds voted for it. But the old 50s and empire nostalgists are a significant proportion. The other day Eddie Nestor, the BBC Drivetime presenter on their London station, interviewed people in Romford, part of the borough of Havering where some 70% of people voted to leave (London as a whole supported Remain). The people interviewed sounded old, and talked about how Britain never used to have to be a member of the EU and we got on fine then, and we were an empire once so why do we have to be part of the EU now?

The Empire nostalgists conveniently forget that it was not a British empire but a collection of other people’s countries, and we “did without the EU” because other countries had empires or their own (France, Portugal) or were vying for bits of other people’s countries so they could have one of their own (Germany, Austria, Italy). Part of the idea behind the founding of the EEC was to make sure that European nations traded with each other rather than preferring their respective empires at each other’s expense. By the time we joined the EEC, most of our empire had become independent (not only because native peoples wanted to rule themselves but also because maintaining it cost money) and Commonwealth countries often had more convenient local trading partners than us. Britain has not always stood on its own. That is a myth.

On the subject of lies, Teresa May proclaimed that the draft deal was a good one because it ended freedom of movement and gave us back control of our money and borders. Last I checked, we still had our own currency because successive Labour and Conservative governments refused to join the Euro. We still have control of our borders because successive Labour and Conservative governments refused to join the Schengen accord. True, people from anywhere in the EU can come and work in the UK but we can do the same in other countries as well, which is why there are no visa issues when we holiday in Greece, Spain or Portugal. The deal does not, of course, end “freedom of movement”; it ends it for us. EU citizens will still be allowed to live and work in the remaining 27 member states, none of which now retain the restrictions on eastern European nationals which they had in the few years following the 2004 accession. Those who are already here, and even those who arrive during the transition period, will be allowed to remain (and these, quite possibly, are whom a lot of people who voted to leave the EU wanted to see go).

In the last couple of weeks it has become apparent that not only were some prominent Brexiteers lying (that was obvious in 2016) and that the official campaigns were taking funding from overseas, but also that some of them did not know what leaving the EU would entail themselves. First we hear Dominic Raab, the MP for Esher (a wealthy constituency in the Surrey commuter land), telling us how he was just now discovering the importance of the Dover-Calais ferry connection to British trade with Europe, something that has been obvious to the rest of us for years (perhaps he only flies) and only today, the MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, Nadine Dorries, complained that the deal was worse than the present situation because we would have no MEPs or commissioners, which is exactly what leaving the EU always did mean, and even when the “Norway option” was discussed both before and after the referendum, this drawback was made quite clear.

I’ve always been a Remainer, and perhaps in 2016, just after the referendum when the first shocks were being felt as the Pound lost a chunk of its value, which it has not recovered, it was premature to say that there was no need to respect the result, although I was saying it then (and the impediments, such as the narrow result, the difficulties with the Northern Ireland border and the status of Scotland and Gibraltar, were well-known then as well). In 2018, when the politicians have shown that they never knew what they were talking about, when their incompetence and duplicity has been revealed time and again and when we are only on a draft proposal more than two years after the referendum and four months before we automatically leave, we know that leaving the EU with this lot in charge will be disastrous and most people have not much more faith in Jeremy Corbyn, who presides over an equally riven party, either. There needs to be a second referendum so this country can save itself from disaster next Spring.

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Holby City: the Gaskill saga’s denouement

Indigo Jo Blogs - 16 November, 2018 - 18:30

Still from Holby City of Jac Naylor, a middle-aged white woman wearing no make-up and with blonde hair tied behind her head, wearing a hospital gown, standing in a darkened laboratory in front of a table with a desk lamp shining down and some test tubes in a rack.I’ve been a fan of the BBC dramas Casualty and Holby City since the 1980s, although I only started watching them on a regular basis again more recently (Casualty was a fixture when I was a child, although it’s less watched now and always gets dropped whenever something ‘important’ needs the BBC1 slot, such as a sporting or remembrance event). The premise was that Casualty was set in Holby City hospital, and Holby was understood to be Bristol until BBC Wales took over the making of Casualty, though not Holby City, and Welsh accents and locations started to appear in it and Holby City characters, some of whom appeared in both, started appearing only occasionally despite the premise of them being set in the same hospital. Recently, Holby City has been dominated by a storyline involving a ‘brilliant’ consultant named John Gaskell who had developed a device allowing people who are paralysed to walk again. However, he was also an extremely manipulative individual and anyone who questioned his judgement (usually someone junior with ‘na&idia;ve’ ethical principles) was dropped from the project and often driven off the ward. It then turned out that patients were dying and that the device was supported by stem cells that were contaminated, and when more senior doctors started to raise concerns, he started killing them.

More recent episodes looked in depth at his early career and his period as a student, with the laconic Swedish consultant Henrik Hanssen and his partner Roxanna McMillen. McMillen remembered her mother who had become “locked in” and her ambition was to find a cure for this condition. After Gaskell realised that Macmillan was aware of the defects of his trial, he chased her through a car park resulting in her being run over by a member of staff; he then sabotages an operation on her brain, resulting in her becoming locked in, and when she starts to communicate with a nurse who holds a letter board in her hand, he ushers the nurse away and then poisons Macmillan. Meanwhile, another consultant in the hospital, Jac Naylor, who had suffered spinal injuries by being shot (by Hansen’s wayward son Fredrik, who had been carrying out unethical trials of his own) had demanded that she be fitted with the implant after her injuries had been causing her crippling pain; when she discovered that contaminated stem cells had been used on others fitted with it, resulting in them developing cancer, she demanded it be removed. Gaskell and Hansen did attempt to remove it, and removed some of the scar tissue that had developed, but could not get at the device itself; Gaskell also attempted to poison Jac, but it appears he failed, though Hansen also was exposed to the poison which Gaskell had developed.

At the end of last Tuesday’s episode, with his trial discredited, his kidnapping of a Portuguese patient (who had been kept in a coma for months) and subsequent attempts to operate on her himself revealed, he drowned himself in a lake where he had previously prevented Hansen from doing the same to himself. Hansen appeared to intend to try and rescue him, telling him he had to face the consequences, but kept collapsing from the effects of the poison. The rest of the staff had to attempt to save both Lana, the Portuguese patient (who died) and Jac Naylor after Gaskell had tried to poison her and then fled; she, it seems survived, although the impression I got — seeing her first open her eyes and then, finally, with her eyes closed and a blank expression and her colleagues standing around with sad expressions — was that she had died. I had been planning to write a retrospective on Naylor’s career and it was only from reading tweets and reviews that I worked out that she was in fact still alive (and her name is in the cast list for the next two episodes).

I found some aspects of this plot weak. One is that Jac would have been able to get this implant put into her on demand, and then get it removed as quickly as she did, also on demand. There are, of course, waiting lists for elective, non-emergency procedures in real NHS hospitals. Another was that she apparently trusted Gaskell to remove it himself. Although she did not know that he was a murderer, she was aware that he was negligent in sourcing the stem cells to support the device. A real consultant who suspected such things would, no doubt, have the money to have this done privately or at least get a private consultation with a neurologist who had no connections to or debt to Gaskell. Another weakness is that she attempted to get both Fletch (a nurse who had recently had a crush on her) and Sacha (a consultant) to look after Emma, her daughter, if she did not make it, saying that she did not trust “her father”. The father has a name, Jon Maconie, a nurse who was once a major character, who at one point Jac pretty much threw Emma at and of whom she previously said he was a good father and regretted having at one point cut him out of Emma’s life; he would have first priority if indeed Jac became unable to look after Emma. I also wonder how Gaskell could have kidnapped a comatose patient, on a hospital bed, from a hospital, let alone from one country to another.

Despite not being dead as she appeared at the end of Tuesday’s episode, she is not out of the woods and the synopsis mentions “when her condition worsens”. Whether she will still be able to work as a consultant cardio-thoracic surgeon with the effects of both her gunshot injury and Gaskell’s butchery and poisoning attempt remains to be seen. Like most watchers, I suspect, I have always found her remarkably dislikeable, right from when, as a registrar, she got a consultant’s job purely because another (female) applicant was tending to a patient when the interviews were held. Despite her competence, she was exceedingly arrogant, a bully to junior staff (who were somehow drawn to her all the same) and was obsessed with hierarchy; she had one relationship, with a male nurse (Maconie), resulting in Emma, whom she lived with for a while but he left, for reasons we never discovered, but Naylor subsequently said “me and a nurse? It was never going to work” and when Fletch showed his affections she shouted “you’re not good enough for me!”. However, for some reason male consultants did not find her attractive enough.

Occasionally, storylines featured Jac’s background as an explanation for why she behaved the way she did: her mother had abandoned her and she grew up in care, starved of affection — though others in the same home were abused, which she escaped, and one of those, Fran Reynolds, ended up working as a nurse at Holby and confronted Jac, revealing that Jac witnessed her abuse but said nothing. Her sister, whose mother had not abandoned her unlike with Jac, also came to work as a junior doctor at the hospital, but Jac froze her out; she ultimately died after being stabbed accidentally with a scalpel during a fight with Reynolds. Jac clearly was not particularly aggrieved at the loss of her sister.

Reading the gossip, it appears that some old faces, such as the much-loved Mo Effanga, are returning starting from the next episode. She’ll be a breath of fresh air as she has a passion for the job and has real human warmth rather than being a walking robot (like Hanssen, whose occasional displays of emotion don’t convince) or a scheming manipulator who rarely shows emotion other than anger (like Naylor) — I’d quite like to see a bit less of these two in particular. Many people on Twitter are complaining that the recent storyline is not typical, i.e. not what they want to see when they watch it; one person said “when I know the aliens are gone, I’ll be back” and another asked, “what happened to the hospital programme — this is like Frankenstein’s experimental castle FFS!!”. It may remind people of how Brookside, the Channel 4 soap of the 80s and 90s, declined from being entertaining, with the odd ‘issue’ based storyline (domestic violence, gambling addiction) to being obsessed with dramatic storylines such as the killer virus and a drug bust in Thailand. The Gaskell storyline may have some people gripped but it has put a lot of the old fans off and a few episodes of normal human beings getting on with each other and treating patients with varying degrees of success might win some of the old fans back.

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Will there ever be a London-Hull motorway?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 12 November, 2018 - 19:20

A map of the eastern UK showing a new motorway route running from the M11 in Essex to the north-east via HullThis morning on a truck drivers’ group on Facebook, I saw a link to a report on the Hull Daily Mail website (not linked to the national Daily Mail) which claimed that the proposal to extend the M11 from Cambridge to the Humber Bridge, thus linking London directly with Hull, will be decided on next year and that the Department for Transport had said last year that it was reviewing plans for that particular motorway project. This idea has been brought up every now and again since the 1980s but has never made it off the drawing board, partly because of pressure from farmers in Lincolnshire (although such objections never stopped any of the other motorways from being built; the government can make compulsory purchase orders) and partly because of the geography and population densities of the areas served.

Although Hull has a fast motorway link to the major northern cities via the M62 and the Midlands via the M18 and M1, there is no doubt that Hull is not well served with motorway links to the south; the most direct route is across the Humber Bridge, a toll bridge, to Scunthorpe, then along a single-carriageway road to Lincoln and then along mostly two-lane dual carriageways to London. The motorway route involves going westwards along the M62, then south-west to Doncaster, and then picking up the M1. This is quite a long detour and goes through a number of the most congested bits of motorway and through several sets of major roadworks; however, the M1 remains the recommended route for traffic from London to Yorkshire and the north-east rather than the more direct A1, which despite recent improvements is quite slow further south (the improvements stop at Huntingdon, where traffic heading for the Channel ports veers off onto the A14). Britain’s major population centres outside London are on the western side of the country and that has been where infrastructure investment has been focussed.

There is a map of a “preferred corridor” for an M11 extension (a low-quality version of which can be found on the HDM article) but it seems to avoid all the major population centres between Cambridge and Hull. Rather than extending from the current northern terminus of the M11 north-west of Cambridge, it would leave the M11 towards Newmarket (along the present A11, it appears) before turning north across east Cambridgeshire and central Lincolnshire to approach the present Humber Bridge approach, the A15, from the south. This would be quite convenient for trucks going to the agricultural centres in east Lincolnshire such as Boston, but misses both the major population centres in that part of the country, such as Peterborough and Lincoln, as well as the ports of Immingham and Grimsby. Beyond Hull, it would continue past York and pick up the current A19 towards Tyne and Wear. It would, effectively, be a new corridor to the north-east coastal areas.

The biggest flaw in this is where in London it goes: the north-eastern side. This is convenient enough if you are going to the Docklands or to the industrial areas around Beckton or the Blackwall Tunnel approach or indeed the south-eastern Channel ports, but not if you are going to the Heathrow area or round the south side and want to avoid paying a toll. If you are going to those places, you will want to head for the M1 or at least the A1. Even people going to Cambridge and Norwich often use the A505 and A1 rather than the M11 and M25, particularly when the M25 is heavily congested (which is often). It also involves building a hundred miles or so of new motorway across sparsely-populated but productive farming country which will result in a very pronounced environmentalist outcry; it will be seen as a lot of environmental damage for very limited economic benefit.

A far better idea, much cheaper and with much less environmental damage, is to upgrade the corridor via Lincoln: remove the Humber Bridge toll, widen the A15 to Lincoln and the A46 Lincoln by-pass to dual carriageway and upgrade the junctions with the M180 and the A1 (the A1/A46 junction at Newark needs upgrading as it is: the slip roads on the A1 are way too short and are a cause of danger as vehicles slow down rapidly to access the slip roads at sharp angles). People would then have the choice of taking the A1 straight to London or the A46 to Leicester, where the M69 takes over to Coventry and the West Midlands. It will also require upgrades to the few remaining roundabouts on the A1 south of Huntingdon, which are a major cause of congestion and have been left in place simply because the government prefers people to use the M1 instead, and to the Newark by-pass on the A46.

I suspect that this scheme will not be seriously considered by government, whichever party is in power. The main source of support for it is Hull itself; the idea that the government intends to give it serious consideration next year is a bit of wishful thinking from the Hull local press. There is already a direct route to the south which could be upgraded at much less financial and environmental cost and with greater benefits, in terms of the area of the country whose links with Hull would be improved, than with a brand new motorway across the east of England, which is the A15 and A46 via Lincoln. This should be improved to stop people having to make a huge detour via Doncaster; a whole new motorway would be a pointless expense and an unwarranted act of environmental vandalism.

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On aesthetics and housing policy

Indigo Jo Blogs - 10 November, 2018 - 17:51

The Whistling Witch, a tower on a corner in Poundbury with a brick portico at street level and a four-sided spire at the top.Recently social media has been abuzz with comment on the new government housing ‘tsar’, Roger Scruton, previously best known as a philosopher and commentator for various magazines including the Spectator and New Statesman. His position is the chair of a government commission on building ‘beautiful’ homes, which apparently explains why a professor of philosophy is appointed to a position that has anything to do with housing given that he is not known as a writer or authority on that subject. Buzzfeed and others have reminded us of all the very bigoted things he has written over the years, most recently his links to the authoritarian and anti-intellectual Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, and his comments about the Hungarian intelligentsia, namely that many of them were Jewish “and form part of the extensive networks around the Soros Empire”. As Zoe Williams puts it in today’s Guardian, “every time they chuck a job at one of their mates, the most casual scrawl through their Twitter feed reveals that a lack of any meaningful qualification or transparent application process for the role is the very least of their problems”.

When I questioned what exactly Scruton’s qualifications were, I was reminded of his writings on aesthetics and when I pointed out that there was more to housing policy than aesthetics, someone told me “Well look at those ugly blocks built in the 60s and 70s. Ugly buildings affect the people living in it”. This sounds a lot like prejudice or snobbery wrapped up in pseudo-science to me. I grew up in a town that had many of these buildings; nobody who didn’t grow up in a very small town is unfamiliar with them. While they were rundown by the 1980s when I was a child, in the 60s and 70s when they were built, they were places people were glad to move into after living in slums, prefabs and bedsits; people took pride in keeping the insides clean and tidy while the councils took care of the landings and grounds. At the time, these developments were considered prestigious and futuristic and people quite willingly moved into them, and if you live in a cosy flat in one of these externally unattractive buildings then seeing the exterior will not have a bad effect on you, because you know that they are full of cosy flats like your own, each decorated to reflect the tenant’s tastes.

It was only in the 1980s when Thatcher forced councils to sell council houses and flats off while imposing rate caps that prevented councils from maintaining them properly that they started to become rundown. In cities where high-rise buildings are common, they are often seen as perfectly desirable places to live, and in this country one notices that the ugly council block stereotype is only applied to blocks that poor people live in. Even Grenfell Tower was regarded as a great place to live before and after it had been fitted with the infamous flammable and toxic cladding so that it would be less of an eyesore to its wealthy neighbours. Nobody would suggest that the architecture of the Barbican has a negative effect on the people who live there.

Of course, it is an advantage for housing, public or private, to be attractive on the outside as well as the inside, but it is noticeable that the more attractive public housing that existed at the beginning of the 1980s, the houses that can be found in every town and village, are the ones that got sold off while the grey concrete buildings are more likely to be still in public hands or ended up in the hands of private landlords who now rent to people on housing benefit. But there is more to a ‘beautiful’ housing development than just pretty buildings. If we look at what makes a new development such as Poundbury in Dorset successful, we see that it was planned to include public services such as doctors’ surgeries and shops as well as some light industry (including, appropriately, an organic cereals factory) while a lot of new development, despite including only private properties often on sale for six-figure sums, often contains no amenities and requires residents to drive off site to find them. Poundbury is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall (i.e. Prince Charles’s estate) which is one of the few landlords in the district (if not the only one) to accept Housing Benefit tenants; many other new developments make no attempt at social diversity.

I don’t suggest that Prince Charles should have been chosen to chair this commission — there may well not be the time left before he becomes king and will have to put aside such commitments — but perhaps one of the architects or planners behind Poundbury could have been chosen, or someone who has actually studied planned developments such as Saltaire or Bourneville that were commissioned by philanthropic industrialists with both beauty and diversity in mind. I’m sure the government could have found someone whose Tory credentials were as impeccable as Scruton’s who would not have been exposed as a bigot with a simple Google search within 24 hours. We mostly agree that brutalism is, and should remain, a thing of the past in this country but mere aesthetics do not guarantee a healthy community.

Image source: Zonda Grattis, AKA Luridiformis, via Wikimedia. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence.

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This Christmas, beware evangelical Christians bearing gifts | Polly Toynbee

The Guardian World news: Islam - 8 November, 2018 - 12:06
The Samaritan’s Purse charity sends gift boxes to children in Muslim countries. They contain a pernicious, hidden agenda

All over the country, Operation Christmas Child is up and running again. The scheme urges people to pack up a shoebox with toys, pens, notebooks and treats for a poor child. Schools often join in because children love doing it: there is something romantic and mysterious about sending a secret collection of gifts to an unknown child in a faraway land.

Participating drop-off points include major companies, such as Caffè Nero, Shoe Zone, The Entertainer, Barratt Homes and some newspaper offices, such as Luton Today. The volunteer organisation Worcester Lions Club are packing shoeboxes inside Waitrose. Geoff Lewis of the club said: “It’s not known where the boxes will eventually end up at this time. But what is certain is that it will be with a child somewhere in the world that will not be receiving another Christmas present this year.” Maybe if people did know, they might hesitate.

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Pakistan blasphemy case: Asia Bibi remains in jail despite acquittal

The Guardian World news: Islam - 7 November, 2018 - 16:06

A week after conviction was overturned, sparking violent protests, Christian farm labourer is still in custody

Asia Bibi, the Christian farm labourer whose blasphemy case has triggered violent protests and assassinations in Pakistan, is still in prison a week after the country’s supreme court overturned her conviction.

Her husband and children are living at a secret address in Pakistan in fear of their lives, and have made repeated appeals to the international community to help secure the whole family’s safety.

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Shakespeare can help British Muslims feel less excluded | Remona Aly

The Guardian World news: Islam - 7 November, 2018 - 06:00

A new interpretation of Othello opens up portrayals of Islam that are absent from TV shows like Bodyguard

An Islamic prayer mat and a secret Muslim tragic-hero uttering “Ya Akbar” aren’t typically associated with Shakespeare, but Othello has been given a dramatic twist in a new touring production that illustrates the complexities of identity in modern Britain. A co-production involving English Touring Theatre, Oxford Playhouse and Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, the play is on tour across the UK including in some of its more deprived areas, such as Oldham and Huddersfield. At a time when fictional portrayals of Muslims often suffer from reductionist stereotypes – as in the BBC’s Bodyguard, which had a Muslim woman as a jihadi terrorist – this new interpretation offers a powerfully nuanced message of belonging, and takes account of the centuries-long history of relations between England and the Muslim world.

The Moor of Venice was first produced in 1604, a year after Elizabeth I’s reign ended. She had sought an alliance with the Ottoman empire against Catholic Spain – opening up diplomatic, political, economic and cultural exchange – with ambassadors from Morocco visiting the Elizabethan court. So the play’s timing could not have been pure coincidence. Professor Jerry Brotton, in his book This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World notes: “This story is part of the heritage of Christians, Muslims and any others who call themselves English.”

Related: Can BBC Informer finally subvert the Muslim stereotype problem on TV?

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Why birthright citizenship should be defended

Indigo Jo Blogs - 4 November, 2018 - 23:30

Black and white picture of Jacob M Howard, a middle-aged white man sitting in a wooden chair wearing two dark coloured jackets over a white suit with a bow tie at the neck.Last week it was announced that Donald Trump favoured ending the automatic American citizenship of anyone born in the USA, which a number of conservative politicians claimed was constitutional although it clearly violates the 14th Amendment which would likely be upheld even by a conservative Supreme Court, whether Trump attempted to do it through an executive order (which is what he has threatened) or through legislation, because its wording is absolutely clear and unambiguous. While the announcement was greeted with scorn by pretty much every progressive and mainstream voice and with scepticism by many conservative ones (Trump is not known for his knowledge of the Constitution; he has recently claimed that if Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams becomes governor of Georgia, “your Second Amendment is gone”), I saw African-American Muslim friends saying they agreed with this on Facebook, largely because they believe immigrants from Latin America and the Middle East are often preferred over African Americans and this contributes to Black Americans’ poverty. The right to citizenship by birth is something that existed in the UK until the early 1980s when it was removed. The upshot has, as you might expect, been hardship and injustice for many innocent people.

Trump was, of course, wrong (or lying) when he claimed the US was the only country in the world that gave citizenship by birth; many countries in the Western world do, including Canada. In the UK, the new law is that anyone born to a British parent (mother or father) in the UK or overseas or to parents settled in the UK (i.e. with leave to remain, not illegal entrants or tourists) is entitled to citizenship. Previously, anyone born in the UK was a citizen, but people born overseas to a British mother and a foreign father were not. The upshot is that there are many older people who were born overseas to a British mother and brought to this country when those relationships broke up and find years later that they are not citizens, as well as British-born people, usually of Caribbean parentage, whose parents migrated here in the late 70s or 80s whose older siblings are British citizens but they are not. The state has also attempted to deport people born here, with no family in their parents’ home country, back to those countries (again, usually in the Caribbean). In some countries in Europe, you have multiple generations of people born in the country who are not citizens because the government uses a “law of blood”, i.e. race, to determine citizenship (so, for example, an “ethnic German” from Russia or Romania has a right to German citizenship but someone of Turkish origin whose grandparents migrated to Germany might not). Some countries devolve decisions about citizenship to local councils which reflect local prejudices, and others use a questionnaire which may require a Muslim to denounce parts of Muslim religious law to prove that he “shares local culture”.

A common justification for removing birthright American citizenship is that it prevents families establishing themselves by the back door through “anchor babies”. In fact, the US does not give parents of such children citizenship or even a visa; the government has deported such parents, giving them the choice of leaving the child in the USA or taking them with them, and the child will have the choice to return as an adult but the parents will not be able to return. So, there is no conflict and there is no such thing in reality as an “anchor baby”. The number of children allowed citizenship by this method must be fairly small, but it is invaluable as, if a parent’s citizenship status later becomes regularised or they have other relatives who are already legal immigrants or citizens, the child is not penalised by being removed to a country they have never known. The details of this ‘policy’, whether it will apply to legal as well as illegal immigrants, have not been fleshed out but removing birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants alone will not make a huge amount of difference.

It will not be a great advantage to African-Americans if birthright citizenship is removed. To take the UK as an example again, the state has been removing people’s citizenship if they have been convicted of crimes or are deemed ‘undesirable’ due to alleged (not necessarily proven) involvement in terrorism and they have citizenship, or the right to it, elsewhere. The reactionary writer Douglas Murray has demanded that Muslims automatically be deported to the home country of a parent or grandparent if they support not only terrorism in this country any attack on western troops anywhere in the world. In the case of African Americans, they enjoy a right of abode in Ghana (and possibly other countries in Africa) and this may be used as an excuse to deport any African American convicted of a crime or otherwise deemed undesirable. Only last year the US deported an American citizen (American father, British mother) to the UK as a condition of his parole as he was also a British citizen; he had killed his girlfriend at age 16 and had spent 40 years in prison.

Nobody who is not in Trump’s core vote should trust his intentions or those of his conservative allies (some of whom were saying that removing birthright citizenship was unconstitutional a couple of years ago) on this. It is consistent with Republicans’ use of, say, a minority of fraudulent voters as an excuse to impose identity checks which make it more difficult for poorer voters to vote, because they are less likely to vote for them. It will not just be so-called anchor babies that suffer; it will be anyone they deem undesirable. It will be a stepping stone to making citizenship a kind of glorified visa rather than a confirmation that your home is your home, and it will be used as a vehicle to entrench voter suppression. No Muslim, certainly, should be cheering a proposal like this on; injustice to a group of people you resent will not mean justice for you, especially when perpetrated by a common enemy.

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Pittsburgh and anti-Semitism in context

Indigo Jo Blogs - 3 November, 2018 - 19:00

Three memorials to victims of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre, consisting of names (Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger) written on white hexagonal stars, with flowers, hearts and stars placed at the feet of the stars, with the word "hope" visible on one of them.Last Saturday, a racist gunman attacked a synagogue near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and killed 11 worshippers, including four Holocaust survivors, a married couple and two disabled brothers in their fifties; also killed was a doctor named Jerry Rabinowitz who was described by a former patient as the most effective AIDS doctor in Pittsburgh in the 1980s and early 90s who would treat patients with respect and without fear which a lot of doctors would not. This came at the end of a week in which two elderly Black people (one man, one woman) were murdered in a grocery store in Kentucky and pipe bombs were sent in the mail to a number of Democrat politicians including the Obama and Clinton families as well as some wealthy or celebrity democrats including the actor and director Robert De Niro and the financier at the centre of many far-right conspiracy theories, George Soros. I have nonetheless come across attempts on Twitter to take the event out of context, to emphasise that this was an anti-Semitic attack, to claim that the victims were Jews killed just because they were Jews rather than because there is a rising tide of hatred and of white-supremacist violence.

One example was a rabbi who quoted a tweet that called the attack an example of hatred and gun violence and said she would have ‘liked’ it but for the lack of any mention of anti-Semitism; another was a Facebook post by the Brighton-based writer David Bennun which started by asking “Why do people always kill Jews, for being Jews, wherever there are Jews?” and gave two possible answers (I have quoted sections from it rather than the entire post):

One: In every place that Jews live, but for their own homeland (and even there much of the outside world looks upon them as interlopers), as well as in places where they do not or can no longer live, they are the eternal Other. Perceived as in but not of that place (“despite having lived here all their lives”); not like Us; forever under suspicion. The poisoners of wells, the thieves of children’s blood. … This is the racist conspiracy theory known as anti-Semitism. It takes many forms, and there is no type of zealous political ideology, of the left or the right, in which it does not sooner or later flourish.

Two: Jews somehow bring it upon themselves. A view encapsulated in the words of beloved children’s author Roald Dahl: “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity . . . I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.” In this view, which is invariably held by people who, you understand, haven’t a racist bone in their body, it is always, of course, terribly regrettable that these awful things should be done to Jews by these awful people - but if only the Jews hadn’t provoked it through whatever it is that Jews do.

Except that in this case, the attacker gave his reason: because he blamed the organisation that ran the synagogue for bringing in ‘invaders’, i.e. immigrants. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered”, he also said, possibly referring to the caravan of refugees from Honduras making its way on foot northwards through Mexico (which had been alleged, without any evidence, by US Vice President Mike Pence to include people of Middle Eastern origin), or possibly referring to the “white genocide” trope common on the far right, that multiculturalism and mixed relationships dilutes the ‘purity’ of the “white race” and is thus effectively genocide. He also claimed that it was “filthy evil Jews bringing filfy (sic) evil Muslims into the country”. So, he was an anti-Semite, but his anti-Semitism was one of a number of other prejudices he had.

Then there was this tweet, by the Labour MP Jess Phillips:

So to her, this attack is representative of rising global anti-Semitism, not rising violent armed racism in the United States. Clearly this is to put the attack in the same context as the so-called anti-Semitism observed in the Labour party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, an allegation largely based not on violence against Jews or anyone advocating it but attacks on Israel in response to its oppressions of the native Palestinians. So, let’s be clear: this man was not inspired by Jeremy Corbyn; he belongs to the American Far Right, is a white supremacist, and did not act out of solidarity with Palestinians.

It has to be remembered that the United States is not Europe and has its own history of racism and any understanding of American racists, including neo-Nazis, is incomplete without that history. The United States used to be a legally white-supremacist country in which Blacks were first slaves and then, in much of the country after they were freed, subjected to a legally-enforced regime of discrimination. Violent racists linked to organisations such as the Ku Klux Klan occupied positions of power such as in the police, judiciary and the legislature. Although the remnants of the KKK and other white-supremacist organisations from that time have since merged with the neo-Nazi fringe, they were not always anti-Semitic; the Confederacy had a Jewish secretary of state, Judah P Benjamin (previously a US Senator from Louisiana). Although anti-Semitism became established among segregationists in the 20th century, their principal targets were African-Americans. They wanted to preserve, as much as possible, the “old order” in which the white aristocracy ruled and Blacks were powerless and did menial work for them. After they lost the Civil Rights battle, mainstream right-wing politicians began to appeal to racist white voters using coded terms for (particularly poor) Black people; references to welfare queens and appeals to “law and order”.

In the modern western world, there are two distinct strands of white supremacist thinking: the fringe, traditionalist one inspired by Hitler which remains anti-Semitic, and the mainstream one that defends the current white-dominated world order represented by Trump and the newly elected fascist president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, which numbers Jews among whites and is aggressively pro-Zionist. There are people, particularly on the political Right, who are not known for taking a strong stand against racism, particularly police racism and hostility to immigrants, who will sanctimoniously condemn anti-Semitism, especially alleged Left-wing anti-Semitism; also note how, when Iowa congressman Steve King was questioned about his connections to white supremacists in a public meeting, he angrily pointed to his lifelong support for Israel and demanded that the questioner be removed. In the UK, although their anti-Semitism was never a secret, the National Front of the 1970s exploited hostility towards immigrants from the Commonwealth; anti-Semitism was not emphasised as it was not a vote winner, and after Nick Griffin (a known Holocaust denier) became leader, open anti-Semites such as John Tyndall were manoeuvred out of the party as he realigned it to attack Muslims, and to a lesser extent non-white immigrants; Griffin attempted to court Jews, though he had little success as they knew his history. The BNP have dropped into obscurity but the fringe right represented by UKIP and the “football lads” element aggressively targets Muslims for hatred and is also pro-Israel.

If the Pittsburgh attack was against a backdrop of rising global anti-Semitism, then someone explain why the major anti-racist protest movement of the past few years was called Black Lives Matter, not Jewish Lives Matter. The reason is that Jewish Americans were not being shot or choked to death in the street by the police or, occasionally, white vigilantes (occasionally it was the learning disabled or mentally ill). Anti-Semitism exists, but there is no stereotype of Jews that would lend itself to justifying arbitrary police violence against an unarmed civilian, often a child. We know Donald Trump has friends who are anti-Semites and blamed the attack partly on poor synagogue security when places of worship the world over have their doors open, especially when they need to let worshippers in, but we also know he is supported by the mainstream, conservative Right which has strong memories of being allied to the Jewish Right during the Bush years, that he has Jewish close relatives and that he has taken a firmly pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian stance while in office. Any violence is not going to come from the State.

And frankly, there are some who give the impression that they think anti-Semitism is not morally equivalent to other prejudices and some who say so explicitly. For example, last May Melanie Phillips (who may be seen as a fringe voice within the Jewish community but is a regular fixture on British TV and radio), on a panel along with Dawn Foster on Sunday Politics, claimed that Islamophobia was a term which “covers legitimate criticism of the Muslim community; any criticism of the Muslim community is considered Islamophobic”. She then claimed that there was no comparison with anti-Semitism (which she also claimed was endemic on the Left, not only the Corbynite wing of the Labour Party but also the Liberal Democrats as well), which was not like other forms of racism and for which there was “never any excuse” and was “a unique derangement”, “based on lies and demonisation”. The implication is that other forms of racism can be rationalised as based on fears over jobs, crime or demographic change, and can or even should be accommodated, while anti-Semitism is a derangement and any rationalisation of it is anti-Semitic in itself.

And it is also gun violence. In the UK we also have violent racists, but the worst racist incident in recent times anyone can think of was the murder (by stabbing) of a single Black teenager (Stephen Lawrence) in 1993 by a gang of five white, racist youths. They used a knife because the average person has no access to anything more powerful (you need a legitimate purpose, e.g. hunting, grouse/pheasant shooting or pest control, to get a licence for firearms); if they had been able to obtain the automatic weapons anyone with an axe to grind can get hold of in the USA, they could have killed many more people and so could others. We have also seen family murders committed using firearms, but massacres are extremely rare here. Much as with any of the numerous school and workplace shootings that have taken place in the USA, it is a legitimate opportunity to talk about the need for gun control and, especially, the control of automatic and assault weapons (or anything that can be modified to serve that purpose). It’s not countries that do not have racism that do not have racist massacres; it’s countries with gun control.

Last Saturday’s massacre was horrific. Of course it was. The synagogue that was targeted was chosen not only because it was a synagogue but because it had a history of helping refugees. There may well be more racial violence in the USA in the coming years, as well as in Europe where racist ‘populists’ are on the march in many countries. But it’s pretty nauseating to hear people emphasise the anti-Semitic aspect of this, and demand that it not be “lumped in” with gun violence or hate, when it took place against a backdrop of rising violence against minorities in general rather than Jews in particular. I agree with the editor-in-chief of the Jewish magazine Forward, Jane Eisner, who wrote in last week’s email newsletter, in regard to the comment of an imam who said he was relieved when he discovered that the killer was not a Muslim:

Isn’t that what it’s like to be a targeted minority in America? How often have we as Jews had the same reaction — pride when one of us wins another Nobel Prize, finds a new cure, invents another amazing device? And then how often do we cringe in fear when one of us is found to be a crook, a murderer, a predator, a detriment to society?

America has been a violent place for African Americans since its inception, and for other minorities for centuries. Jews have been relatively immune — privileged by the fact that so many of us are white, educated, prosperous, unthreatening, willing to fit in.

America might be a less safe place for Jews now than it seemed two weeks ago. But it was never safe for many other visible minorities, and while I do not doubt that there will be more of the same and some of it directed at Jews, Jews will not be the major target of whatever racial violence may ensue over the next few years in both America and Europe. The major targets will be Blacks, Muslims, refugees and other non-white immigrants.

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Pakistan works to stop Asia Bibi leaving after blasphemy protests

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 November, 2018 - 19:41

Administration accused of signing Bibi’s ‘death warrant’ in deal with hardliners

Pakistan’s government has been accused of signing the “death warrant” of Asia Bibi after it said it would begin the process of preventing her leaving the country.

Bibi, a Christian farm labourer, was acquitted of blasphemy on Wednesday. She had spent eight years on death row after she drank from the same cup as a Muslim, prompting false allegations that she insulted the prophet Muhammad.

Related: The release of Asia Bibi is a small step towards a more open Pakistan | Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

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Israeli ad featuring model ripping off face veil draws criticism

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 November, 2018 - 16:01

Video shows model Bar Refaeli removing niqab as ‘freedom is basic’ slogan appears on screen

One of Israel’s most prominent models, Bar Refaeli, has been criticised for appearing in an advert in which she rips off a face veil to the slogan “freedom is basic”.

The Israeli clothing brand, Hoodies, posted the video online this week, which opens with a Hebrew caption reading: “Is Iran here?” while zoomed in on Refaeli’s face, which is covered in a black niqab.

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Asia Bibi: anti-blasphemy protests spread across Pakistan

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 November, 2018 - 16:31

Anti-blasphemy campaigners bring country to standstill in protest over acquittal of Bibi

Thousands of Islamist protesters have brought Pakistan to a standstill, burning rickshaws, cars and lorries to protest against the acquittal of a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row on false charges of blasphemy.

Related: The release of Asia Bibi is a small step towards a more open Pakistan | Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

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Republicans more likely to view Muslim Americans negatively, study finds

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 November, 2018 - 16:30

Thinktank New America found 71% of Republicans surveyed said they don’t believe Islam is compatible with US values

While most non-Muslims in the US are accepting of Muslim Americans, Republicans are far more likely to have potentially negative views about them, according to data released Thursday.

New America, a thinktank working with the American Muslim Institution, conducted 1,165 interviews in four metropolitan areas prior to the 6 November midterm elections.

Related: Anti-Muslim rhetoric 'widespread' among candidates in Trump era – report

Related: Republican attacks take aim at non-white congressional candidates

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The release of Asia Bibi is a small step towards a more open Pakistan | Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 November, 2018 - 11:30
Her acquittal could signal a relaxation of strict blasphemy laws and create a better country in the process

On Tuesday, Pakistan’s supreme court acquitted Asia Bibi in an historic verdict, overturning the death sentence meted out to her over charges of blasphemy.

The court established that Bibi, a Christian, was falsely accused by Muslim women picking fruit with her on 14 June, 2009. The allegation stemmed from a quarrel over the fact that she had taken a sip of water from a cup she had fetched for them, which in the eyes of her accusers she wasn’t allowed to touch.

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After Pittsburgh, the left must face down all forms of racism | Rachel Shabi

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 October, 2018 - 16:57

Words can be deadly. With 11 Jewish people killed at a synagogue, leftists had better ensure theirs don’t ring hollow

In the wake of the tragedy of Pittsburgh, the murder of 11 Jewish people at a synagogue in America’s most deadly act of antisemitism, we have heard a repeated cautionary refrain: that words have consequences. Donald Trump’s White House denies that the president’s rhetoric has any impact on reality. But others have noted that the “apparent spark” for the Pittsburgh murders was a “racist hoax” inflamed by the US president, who in the run-up to the US midterm elections has been scaremongering over a Honduran caravan of refugees fleeing violence and travelling to the US border to seek asylum, feeding antisemitic conspiracy theories that it has been funded by Jews.

That words have consequences is known viscerally to anyone whose identity is felt to be contested. Minorities, migrants and LGBT communities know all too well the terrible power of words to animate unconscious biases and rouse animosities; to poke at prejudices, stir hatreds and seed divisions. Words aren’t the only factor, but they create a context. Language is core to the architecture of antisemitism: words have, in recent memory, created the conditions for appalling violence and, ultimately, genocide.

Related: Trump, 'purveyor of hate speech', not welcome in Pittsburgh, says former synagogue leader

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UK confirms reports of Chinese mass internment camps for Uighur Muslims

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 October, 2018 - 11:56

Criticism is mounting over reports of mass camps in the western territory of Xinjiang

British diplomats who visited Xinjiang have confirmed that reports of mass internment camps for Uighur Muslims were “broadly true”, the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has told parliament.

Beijing faces mounting international criticism over its policies in Xinjiang, a far-western territory of China where researchers believe an estimated 1 million members of Muslim minorities have been detained in a network of camps.

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Stark east-west divide in attitudes towards minorities in Europe

The Guardian World news: Islam - 29 October, 2018 - 14:00

Report also flags gulf in attitudes on nationalism, abortion, gay rights and more

Europe is starkly divided between east and west on attitudes towards minorities and social issues such as gay rights and abortion, data shows.

Despite the fall of the iron curtain and the eastward expansion of the EU, the attitudes of people in central and eastern countries differ significantly from those in western Europe, according to surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center involving 56,000 adults.

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Social care costs money

Indigo Jo Blogs - 28 October, 2018 - 10:51

Picture of Beth, a young white girl with curly hair wearing a knitted white jumper and a pink skirt, kneeling in front of a rose bushToday the Mail on Sunday published two long articles ([1], [2]) by Ian Birrell, a former speechwriter to David Cameron who has a disabled daughter, on the scandal of autistic people and people with PDA (pathological demand avoidance syndrome) trapped in institutions in the UK. This follows the outcry started when BBC’s File on 4 broadcast an interview with the father of a young woman named Bethany who had been in seclusion at St Andrew’s hospital in Northampton where her father could only visit her by talking to her through a hatch in a doorway; this has now been ended as a result of the publicity, though not before the local authority tried to take out a court injunction to prevent him talking about his daughter’s situation. Birrell’s articles include a brief run-down of a few people’s stories, most of them well-known to the activist community already and most of which have been in the media before. Birrell also claims credit for getting Beth moved out of seclusion into a “three-room unit” within St Andrew’s by saying that it took place after his article was raised in parliament and read by the health secretary, but fails to mention the File on 4 piece which actually brought Beth’s case to public attention.

Not all the cruelties mentioned in these articles have anything to do with money; some of them are just downright cruelty or the product of a rule-ridden and risk-obsessed culture in British mental health care. It is, for example, standard practice not to allow parents or other visitors to see the room their child or friend/relative lives in, ostensibly to protect their privacy and those of other patients. When they visit, they have to do so in a visitor’s room (if they are not allowed out with them). There have been cases of families coming to visit and being told that one family member cannot enter because they are under 18, resulting in them having to sit in the car for the entire period. In other cases, visits have been refused after the family has travelled for several hours to visit them because they are “not calm” or have not been for two hours or some arbitrary period. Some institutions make no attempt at person-centred care and some treat their patients with no regard for their dignity. This has nothing to do with money. The fact that the mental health sector has, over many years, failed to educate itself on autism and PDA so that it can treat people with these conditions effectively and without abuse, cannot be blamed on money either.

But the reason people are trapped in these places for extended periods often can. It has become very common to complain about the cost to the public purse of keeping people in these units particularly given the atrocious and neglectful treatment they receive, and Ian Birrell’s articles are no exception. But local authorities would have to foot the bill if they were not under NHS care (either directly or through a contract with a private provider such as St Andrew’s or a company such as Priory or Cygnet) and they have been starved of funds over many decades simply because people hate paying taxes and would rather complain about poor services, be it social care or bin collection, than pay for them. In some areas, councils have carried out consultations asking local people what they would be willing to pay more council tax for and the reply usually comes back as “nothing”, leaving the council to sell off assets such as playing fields and staff car parks in schools to raise money.

We’ve all heard of, for example, care home companies hiring staff at minimum wage, often who don’t speak English properly and who do not have proper training. If you are in contact with disabled people for long enough you will hear of some of them losing good carers because they cannot afford to live independently on a carer’s wage, or because more money is offered elsewhere. In some places people with personal budgets are ‘encouraged’ to put their staff on zero-hours contracts because offering a proper employment contract with holiday pay and so on costs extra money. I have heard of numerous cases where autistic people were discharged from hospital into a bespoke housing and care arrangement which fell apart months later, resulting in them having to be re-admitted, often hours from home; these things would be less likely to happen if carers were well-trained and well-paid. In the case of St Andrew’s, we heard that evenings and weekends were being covered by agency staff (who in Beth’s case were forbidden to open the door of her room, hence the ‘visits’ through the hatch) rather than full-time staff, and this was only remedied as a result of publicity. The same charity was able to pay its chief executive nearly £1m over two years and has 72 other staff on six-figure salaries, but cannot afford specialised nursing care for its patients outside of business hours. Why? Because private contractors have to tailor their bids for public contracts to be “cost-effective” so as not to cost the taxpayer more money than they absolutely have to because ultimately, no political party can contest a general election with the promise to put up taxes, and ideally want to be able to promise to reduce them.

The Tory party, which Birrell supports, and its supportive press such as the Daily Mail, has driven this trend towards cutting taxes at the expense of public services since the 1980s and the cuts that characterised David Cameron’s time in office have made it all the more difficult for local authorities to provide the care that elderly and disabled people need. Of course institutions need to be exposed if they are subjecting people to cruelty but the ultimate reason people are trapped in them boils down to central government policy and a culture of meanness and penny-pinching that has built up over several decades and that is something we do not see the Tory press complain about. One of the parents featured in this article asked on Twitter this morning “When will our most vulnerable be treated with love and care?” and the answer is: when people are willing to pay for it, when they realise that these are things that don’t only happen to other people, and when the same newspapers which complain about poor care and blame staff get honest with the public about the real reasons social care has been cut to the bone.

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None of us should enjoy the right to have our beliefs shielded from abuse | Kenan Malik

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 October, 2018 - 08:00

We live in sorry times if hurt feelings have now become a matter for the lawmakers

Should it be illegal to call the prophet Muhammad a “paedophile”? That was the question in front of the European court of human rights (ECHR) last week.

In 2009, an Austrian woman, known as ES, held “seminars” on Islam in which she likened Muhammad’s marriage to six-year-old Aisha to paedophilia. She was convicted of “disparaging religion”. In keeping with a history of supporting blasphemy laws, the ECHR upheld the conviction. ES’s comments, it ruled, “aimed at demonstrating that Muhammad was not a worthy subject of worship”. Presenting objects of religious worship in a provocative way capable of hurting the feelings of believers, it added, “could be conceived as a malicious violation of the spirit of tolerance”.

We should no more support secular versions of blasphemy laws than the old religious variety

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