Turning the tables on child abuse

  • 7 August 2015
  • From the section UK

A chance meeting between two men who realised they had both been abused in the same Surrey children's care home has led to a campaign that has seen hundreds of former residents alleging they were also victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Music producer Raymond Stevenson, physically abused during his time at the Shirley Oaks home in the 70s, met a childhood friend last year who revealed he'd been raped at the institution. Within a few months, the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (SOSA) was hundreds strong.

"At the very first meeting I can remember there was lots of hugging lots of crying - it was really we are together now, they can't harm us again," Stevenson recalls. "No lies can penetrate our lives because we feel we were going to reveal the truth."

The south London production office, from where Stevenson promoted music stars like Jessie J, now looks more like a police incident room. A map on the wall includes details of allegations from hundreds of former residents, suggesting physical, sexual and emotional abuse was routine at many of the houses on the 72-acre Shirley Oaks site.

"We have been in contact with over 300 people and the stories we are getting are just horrific," Stevenson says. "Every time we interview someone and hear about what happened to them, it brings tears to our eyes. Reliving some of the horrors they went through again hasn't been easy."

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How politicians learned the power of the gentle nudge

  • 22 July 2015
  • From the section Magazine
Baby elephant nudging its mother

Politicians spend a lot of their time trying to change the way we behave. They pass laws, ban stuff, use tax and benefits to encourage us to do what they want.

But for the last five years the British government has had another way. You may have had your behaviour changed without even realising. They've been nudging you.

Read full article How politicians learned the power of the gentle nudge

Review goes to the core of the BBC's existence

  • 16 July 2015
  • From the section UK
BBC broadcasting house

Those who hoped today's consultation on the BBC would see the government "going to war" with the corporation will be disappointed. The tone of the document is not hostile. At times it sounds almost affectionate.

But the questions being asked, the areas selected for debate, amount to the biggest challenge to the BBC and its place in public life since its creation in the 1920s.

Read full article Review goes to the core of the BBC's existence

Is welfare reform working?

  • 25 June 2015
  • From the section UK

The "experts" are scratching their heads. Today was the day, we were told, when we'd see a sharp rise in poverty as official figures included the full impact of welfare cuts for the first time.

But, instead, the numbers have remained broadly flat and the government is able to claim that "the proportion of individuals with low income is now at the lowest level since the mid-1980s".

Read full article Is welfare reform working?

Call to halt legal highs ban based on 'flawed' Irish system

  • 22 June 2015
  • From the section UK

The UK government is being urged to put off a ban on so-called legal highs after claims similar legislation in the Republic of Ireland is flawed.

Ministers are due to publish draft laws modelled on Irish legislation introduced in 2010, with prison sentences of up to seven years.

Read full article Call to halt legal highs ban based on 'flawed' Irish system

Drugs ban 'safety-valve' removed

  • 11 June 2015
  • From the section UK
Legal high

After my blog on Wednesday on tensions between drugs advisors and the Home Office, more details have emerged of how the expert panel on legal highs was split down the middle on whether to go for a total ban.

While ministers claim their Psychoactive Substances Bill reflects the findings of the experts, I am told that the hand-picked committee was divided on whether low-harm substances like amyl nitrate (poppers) and nitrous oxide (laughing gas) should be included.

Read full article Drugs ban 'safety-valve' removed

Is the Home Office attempting to 'body-swerve' official drugs advisers?

  • 10 June 2015
  • From the section UK
Theresa May

Home Secretary Theresa May and her statutory advisers on drug policy look to be heading for a showdown over government plans to deal with so-called "legal highs".

Some members of The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) are understood to be furious that they were not consulted on proposed legislation for a blanket ban on psychoactive substances.

Read full article Is the Home Office attempting to 'body-swerve' official drugs advisers?

A real 'devolution revolution'?

  • 5 June 2015
  • From the section UK
Manchester Town Hall clock tower and the Albert Memorial

"People must have more direct power over the areas in which they live," the prime minister declared in his introduction to the Queen's Speech. His chancellor is promising a "devolution revolution" for England, with the Cities Devolution Bill being debated for the first time in Parliament next week.

But how radical is the offer? England has been described as the most centralised state in the world (with the possible exception of North Korea). David Cameron insists transferring power away from Westminster is a vital part of his "one nation" political philosophy. But critics have dismissed the potential shift of power to city regions such as Greater Manchester as no more than "a fractional step".

Read full article A real 'devolution revolution'?

Greater Manchester's 'metro-mayor' welcomes NHS postcode lottery

  • 4 June 2015
  • From the section UK

The interim metro-mayor for the new Greater Manchester supercouncil says local control of £6bn in NHS and social care funds will not lead to a "breakaway health service". But Tony Lloyd would welcome a postcode lottery in the NHS where Greater Manchester provides better services for its residents than other parts of England.

His comments raise the prospect of a network of city-based power centres offering healthcare tailored for local needs. "We are not having the Whitehall mandarins, a long way away, making decisions about communities they don't understand," Mr Lloyd insists. "The North does need to raise its voice."

Read full article Greater Manchester's 'metro-mayor' welcomes NHS postcode lottery

The challenge of extremism

  • 15 May 2015
  • From the section UK
David Cameron and Theresa May

After my blog earlier this week and an appearance on the BBC News at Ten reporting on government plans to introduce extremist banning orders, it is upsetting to find myself accused of positively comparing the radical Islamist firebrand Anjem Choudary with civil rights hero Mahatma Gandhi.

I would understand people's shock and horror if I had - but I did not. Quite the reverse. Anjem Choudary is nothing like Mahatma Gandhi. Nor Nelson Mandela for that matter. Indeed, that was my point and I am saddened if it has been misconstrued.

Read full article The challenge of extremism