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".

Lobbyists and economic forecasters have been hurriedly rewriting their press releases. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), which checks the numbers for the government, had forecast a rise. Today they conceded the lack of an increase might "come as a surprise" and would be analysing the data.

"It's good news for people on low incomes that the benefits freeze has not yet pushed more people into poverty," the Joseph Rowntree Foundation conceded, while arguing that "thirteen million people in poverty is still too many in the world's seventh richest country".

The Child Poverty Action Group said the figures still made grim reading. "Make no mistake, we are facing a child poverty crisis in the years ahead," it said. But one cannot help but think their statement would have been rather different if the expected rise had come to pass.

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".

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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

Should we value extremism?

  • 13 May 2015
  • From the section UK
Nelson Mandela statue in Parliament Square

At the heart of our democracy is Parliament Square in Westminster, Around it, statues to honour great statesmen. But would the occupants of the plinths survive the government's proposed extremism test?

Nelson Mandela advocated the violent overthrow of the South African state - Margaret Thatcher described the ANC as "a typical terrorist organisation".

Read full article Should we value extremism?

Who would be a Member of Parliament?

  • 11 May 2015
  • From the section UK
David Cameron with new Conservative MPs, 11 May
New Conservative MPs pose with David Cameron

More than 180 new MPs arrive at the Houses of Parliament for the first time this week. What motivates them? Power? Glory? Pay and perks?

Or might it be the principle of public service?

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Election aftermath: A divided nation

  • 8 May 2015
  • From the section UK
David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon
David Cameron's greatest challenge is to prevent the union being torn apart by mutual resentment

The question uppermost in the prime minister's mind as he assembles his new government is how to keep the kingdom united.

"Above all I want to bring our country together," he revealed after the result, "to reclaim a mantle we should never have lost - the mantle of one nation, one United Kingdom".

Read full article Election aftermath: A divided nation