Monthly Archives: September 2009
I wanted to tell Labour supporters about a campaign I am promoting to ensure that goods bought online are freely available at a fair price. Currently, European rules do not adequately support online retailers & customers.
I am very pleased to be part of E-Bay’s drive for greater fairness in online selling. Having gained three quarters of a million signatures on their petition, E-Bay held a breakfast meeting with me as the main speaker yesterday morning to launch their campaign to reduce over-pricing by designer branded goods.
One of the reasons, albeit not the most important one, I am so keen to support E-Bay and on-line selling is my own personal experience. E-Bay saved my bacon when I needed a fancy hat for a wedding. Not being prepared to spend lots of money on an item I would more than likely only wear once, I turned to E-Bay where I found the very thing which was subsequently delivered the next day. In fact, I liked the hat so much that it’s now had more than the expected one outing.
The E-Bay campaign has only just begun. We now need to lobby the European Commission to change the rules. I will continue to blog as the story unfolds.
So it turns out that Baroness Scotland, the Attorney General, has been employing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper.
I’m fairly ambivalent on the Taxpayers’ Alliance. They do some good research, and when they stick to economics and respect the conclusions that it drives their views are fairly sound.
A scheme in which heroin is given to addicts in supervised clinics has led to big reductions in the use of street drugs and crime, the BBC has learned.
About three-quarters of those given heroin were said to have “substantially” reduced their use of street drugs.
The Randomised Injecting Opioid Treatment Trial (RIOTT) programme – which is funded by a number of agencies, including the Department of Health – began in 2005. It involved 127 chronic heroin addicts for whom conventional types of treatment had failed.
According to researchers, more than half of the heroin injecting group were said to be “largely abstinent” and one-in-five did not use street heroin at all. Before they began the programme, the addicts in the heroin injecting group were spending more than £300 a week on street drugs. After six months, this had reduced to an average of £50 a week. There was also a big drop in the number of offences addicts admitted committing to obtain money to feed their habit.
Susie Squire, Political Director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Many taxpayers will have a massive problem paying for addicts’ heroin, particularly at a time when the NHS is unable to provide them with doctor’s appointments or life-saving cancer drugs. This approach also reflects a poverty of ambition, with the Government merely accepting hard drug use and instead of trying to crack down and stamp it out, giving out lethal drugs for free.’
‘Most drug addicts want to give up, and addiction can be cured. We should be trying to help them back to a normal life. But this isn’t even trying to cure them, it’s just giving them their heroin for free. It is defeatism. What are we going to do to help alcoholics? Give them alcohol on prescription?’
This is a draft letter to use when writing to your MP regarding the Independent Safeguard Authority and it’s vetting and barring scheme.
I am writing to express my concern about the forthcoming implementation of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, and the “vetting and barring scheme” which the Independent Safeguard Authority (“ISA”) will administer.
The Government has recently sought to reassure the public about the effects of this Act, but I am not convinced by what I have heard and read. I believe that the implementation of the Act must be deferred until the vetting and barring scheme it will introduce has been properly considered and important questions about its efficacy and the role of the ISA answered.
The Act was introduced because of public outrage over the failures by the police and other public bodies to share information which might have prevented Ian Huntley from murdering Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002. At the time the Information Commissioner made it clear that this was the fault of the police forces involved, and did not reflect the fact that law had prevented them from sharing information. The new scheme will do nothing to solve this essential problem, because the ISA will still be reliant upon police forces and other bodies providing it with information, and as such a “Soham” could still happen under the new scheme.
I am also seriously concerned about the type of information that the Independent Safeguard Authority intends to use to to make its decisions. In addition to the information provided by the Criminal Records Bureau – which is already used to make checks on people working with children or vulnerable adults – the new scheme will expressly consider informal information about a wide range of behaviour that have been alleged to have occurred.
The ISA’s own guidance admits that it will use the civil standard – the balance of probabilities – when deciding whether it believe that something happened. Given the long history of false allegations being made against parents and teachers – including allegations made by social workers and medical professional which subsequently proved to be unjustified, or straightforwardly untrue – it is extremely worrying that decisions, which can deny an individual their livelihood or brand them with the stigma of being barred, should be made in this way.
Whilst the barring scheme includes a right of appeal, it places the burden of proof upon the person being barred, and they will have to prove they are not a danger to children or vulnerable adults. This will be difficult, if not impossible, given the low quality of evidence which the ISA may use, abnd the low standard of proof it will apply.
On top of these problems with the information itself, the ISA takes no responsibility for ensuring that the information it provides is correct for a particular person. It places responsibility for accuracy of criminal records on the Criminal Records Bureau, despite the fact that in the twelve months to March 2009 the CRB made more than 1,500 mistakes when matching individuals to their criminal records. This is bad enough when dealing with criminal records – which involve criminal standards of proof – but, when combined with the low standards of evidence and proof to be used by the ISA, this is an accident waiting to happen.
I strongly believe that the Government has failed to answer the questions which have been raised about the effect of the vetting and barring scheme upon the willingness of individual adults to volunteer to work with children. At a time when rising youth violence and crime makes it vital that children are offered the opportunity to take part in organised activities, this scheme will make many adults think twice about becoming involved. The Government has only looked at the financial implications – by waiving the fee for unpaid volunteers – and failed to properly address the way in which individuals will respond when confronted with the need to be vetted and monitored by the ISA, simply in order to volunteer their time.
Martin Narey, the Chief Executive of Barnardo’s said recently that he believed that if the scheme prevented “…just one one child ending up a victim of a paedophile then it will be worth it.” The price that Mr. Narey is apparently willing to pay is the potential loss of tens of thousands of willing adult volunteers, and the blighting of the lives of millions of children who will lose the opportunities that those volunteers would otherwise have supported. I believe a balance must be struck between the concern to protect children from the appalling, but thankfully rare, instances of child sex abuse, and the detrimental effects which this draconian legislation may have.
Finally, I believe that the Act is designed to artificially reassure the public, without actually offering a real safeguard for children or vulnerable adults. Most child victims of sexual abuse suffer at the hands of someone within their family, or a friend of the family. Despite this, the Act specifically excludes from its scope adults interacting with a child in the context of a family relationship or a friendship with the parent or guardian of the child involved.
The Government has gone even further, and created an exception to the provisions on fostering children, which would allow a local council to place a child in foster care with a member of their family who is barred from working with children. This exception in particular, and the general exception for family members and family friends, makes a mockery of the Government’s claim that this Act will protect children. At best, it will have only a very limited protective effect.
The intention behind the Act may well be to keep children and vulnerable adults safe from sexual or physical abuse, but I believe that it will both fail to achieve this and at the same time have serious unintended consequences which will adversely affect millions of children and adults in the UK.
I hope that you will read this letter, and choose to support the growing calls for a rethink of the vetting and barring scheme operated by the Independent Safeguard Authority. You could put questions about this matter to the minister responsible for this Act, Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, and I hope you will sign the Downing Street petition at [URL] and publicly support the campaign.
I blogged earlier about the report in today’s Observer that the Government is actively considering cutting universal benefits.
Labour still has a story to tell that it took measures that prevented a recession from turning into a depression and their opponents would have done the opposite. … The Conservatives remain outside the international consensus when they argue for immediate and deep cuts to public spending. … While David Cameron and George Osborne remain shy of detailing where their axe would fall, some of their fellow travellers have become emboldened to be harshly specific. The Institute of Directors and TaxPayers’ Alliance have just produced a shopping list of cuts for a Tory government, which include the abolition of all Sure Start centres, the end of child benefit and the withdrawal of free travel for pensioners.
MTPT: @KerryMP Agree or disagree with the proposals? I can’t support pensions freeze, but don’t see why gen. child benefit shouldn’t be removed.
KerryMP: @MTPT So you want to reduce household income of those on low-moderate pay struggling to bring up kids and make ends meet?
MTPT: @KerryMP Bluntly, yes; as an alternative to pensioners on far lower incomes or cutting education. Can’t please everyone – been tried, failed
Another senior government aide said while debate was only beginning, there were questions over some payments, particularly to the elderly: “I personally think we have got to look at universal benefits. It is unsustainable.”
“I think there are some things to be looked at hard,” said one former cabinet minister. “I’ve just been sent my claim form for a winter warmer fuel payment – do I really need that? A bus pass? No National Insurance contributions after 60 to 65 no matter what you are earning? Free TV licences?”
Asked whether that might trigger a rethink of universal benefits such as the “winter warmer” fuel payment worth up to £400 and free TV licences for the over-80s, the aide added: “That’s a good example. We have got to make a choice on that.
“When we are on 35% in the polls, we can go after southern England: our problem now is not the swath of people who have left us for the Tories, it’s the people going to the BNP and the Greens and the Liberals.”
“It’s superficially attractive thinking about means testing benefits that go to people who apparently don’t need them, but once you start introducing means testing you get perverse incentives.”
It’s being widely reported that the IAAF’s testing has concluded that South African athlete Caster Semenya is a hermaphrodite (to be precise, a male psuedohermaphrodite). Whilst the IAAF is urging caution (read: trying to put off dealing with it) there’s a more interesting question to be asked.