Thursday, June 21, 2018

Stagnant Wages

British workers remained worse off last year than before the financial crisis and there is little hope of a decent pickup in living standards, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.  
Real median employee earnings in 2016-17 were as much as 3 percent below their 2007-08 level.

Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics Wednesday show the average annual income of the richest fifth of households was  £88,800 in 2016-17 -- 12 times greater than that of the poorest fifth. The ratio falls to less than four after accounting for benefits and taxes. 
The top 10%, the highest earning 1% fared the best, increasing their share of total income from 5.7% in 1990 to 7.8% in 2016–17.

The average household income per head, once taxes and benefits are taken into account, is only £12,232 in Nottingham, compared to £58,816 in Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham in west London.

The IFS said it was difficult to argue that the higher minimum wage had offset benefit cuts, saying it was “rather tenuous” when the policy had often raised the incomes of second earners from middle-income families and was therefore “not particularly well targeted at low-income households”.

The IFS said: “Overall, income inequality is substantially higher than it was in the 1960s, but roughly unchanged from the 1990s. If the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecasts are correct, inequality is likely to increase in the next few years.”

The IFS said that broadly stable income inequality since the 1990s was the result of two offsetting trends: “The top 1% have received an increasing share of total income, but inequality among the bottom 99% of the distribution has fallen somewhat – partly due to slow income growth towards the top since the recession.”

The report also highlighted the plight of people with longstanding mental health problems, who are twice as likely to be in poverty.
Finding that as many as 40% of adults across Britain with a mental health problem are in relative poverty, the IFS said this compares to 18% for the rest of the population.
About 1.3 million people said they had a longstanding problem with their mental health last year, up by about 250,000 from 2014.

Asylum-seekers are not a burden

Asylum seekers moving to Europe have raised their adopted nations' economic output, lowered unemployment and not placed a burden on public finances an analysis of economic and migration data for the last three decades has found. The findings come amid a rise of anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe.
Asylum seekers added to gross domestic products and boosted net tax revenues by as much as 1 percent, said a study published in Science Advances by French economists. Asylum seekers contributed most to a country's gross domestic product after three to seven years, the research found. They marginally lowered unemployment rates and had a near-zero impact of public finances, it said.
The research from 1985 to 2015 looked at asylum seekers - migrants who demonstrate a fear of persecution in their homeland in order to be resettled in a new country. The research analyzed data from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. 
"The cliché that international migration is associated with economic 'burden' can be dispelled," wrote the scientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research, the University of Clermont-Auvergne and Paris-Nanterre University.
Chad Sparber, an associate professor of economics at the U.S.-based Colgate University, said the study was a reminder there is no convincing economic case against humanitarian migration.

Hungary goes further right

Dubbed the "Stop Soros" laws after Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros, accused by the government of orchestrating migration to Europe Hungary's parliament adopted laws which will  punish up to a year in prison for anyone convicted of helping a person who entered Hungary illegally from outside the Schengen zone, and whose life wasn't in immediate danger.  The latest changes come in addition to a measure passed with a finance bill on Tuesday slapping a 25-percent tax on NGOs suspected of helping migrants.
it also approved a change to the constitution stipulating that no authority is allowed to affect "the make-up of the Hungarian population", a clause designed to prevent Hungary participating in any EU scheme for mandatory refugee resettlement and it included a constitutional obligation for all state institutions to "defend Christian culture".
And for good measure, it banned homeless people spending the night in public spaces.
Amnesty International, which could find itself targeted under the laws passed called them "a brazen attack on people seeking safe haven from persecution and those who carry out admirable work to help them. It is a new low point in an intensifying crackdown on civil society and it is something we will resist every step of the way." 
The UN children's agency UNICEF pointed out Hungary plays host to less than one percent of registered child asylum seekers in Europe and that hobbling NGOs that help them could lead to "further harm to children who have already been forced to leave their homes, often experiencing traumatic journeys, and will perpetuate dangerous misconceptions rooted in racism and discrimination".
But, of course, SOYMB notes the way Hungarians conveniently forget the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the Russians in 1956 and how the rest of the world aided and helped them to reach safe havens.

The Roma Prejudice

Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini vowed to turn “words into action” in his drive to root out and expel thousands of nomadic Roma from Italy. The Roma community has long been a target of Salvini, whose rise to prominence often involved press appearances at Roma camps, which he has frequently threatened to raze. Few minorities are treated with as much contempt in Italy as the Roma, who face prejudice and stereotypes that are deeply ingrained in the social consciousness.
Roma have Indian roots, and migrated slowly westwards over hundreds of years, appearing in historical records from Europe by the 14th century. Originally nomadic, though now settled in many areas, they were first targeted by European officials over 500 years ago.
“Roma were banned from the Holy Roman Empire in 1501 and, as of this date, could be caught and killed by any citizen,” the Council of Europe explains. In France less than two centuries later, Louis XIV ordered that all Gypsy men be condemned to forced labour for life without trial, women be sterilised and children be sent to poorhouses.
As the Enlightenment spread across Europe in the 18th century, Roma were among the many excluded.
Spain in 1749 launched an operation known as the “great Gypsy round-up”; Roma were enslaved in parts of what is now Romania until 1856. The Austro-Hungarian empire ran a fierce “assimilation” policy that involved separating children and parents, the Council of Europe explains.
Roma were among the targets of Nazi laws introduced in the 1930s, and Italy’s own fascist ethnic cleansing rules of the 1920s, and during the second world war hundreds of thousands were killed in massacres and at concentration camps. Although the exact death toll is not known, in some countries the killing wiped out up to 90% of the Roma population. In the immediate aftermath of the war, many Roma concentration camp survivors were refused help and compensation. In the decades that followed, stigmatisation and discrimination has continued across much of Europe.
As late as the 1970s, Switzerland was taking children from their parents, arguing that they couldn’t educate them to be good citizens. A recent study in Britain found a huge rise in Romany and Traveller families having their children taken away, a trend blamed on institutional prejudice. This decade alone they have been segregated in schools in Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Last year a Swedish appeals court ruled that police should pay compensation after setting up an illegal database of Roma family trees that included several thousand people, many of them children, or individuals without any criminal record.

Ching-Ching at the supermarket check-outs

Oxfam explains, 'The food industry currently rewards shareholder wealth over the work of millions.' Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, Aldi, and Lidl are among supermarkets that are “increasingly squeezing the price they pay their suppliers” leaving people trapped in poverty. 

The analysis found that across 12 common food products, including tea, orange juice and bananas UK supermarkets receive almost ten times more of the checkout price than the small-scale farmers and workers who produce them.  In a report, the charity says “millions” of people overseas producing food for sale on the UK market are therefore being trapped in poverty, with some facing “brutal” working conditions and others going hungry. The charity said it surveyed hundreds of small-scale farmers and workers in supermarket supply chains across five countries and found that many people were struggling to feed themselves and their families or to earn a “basic standard of living.” For example, grape workers in South Africa and seafood processors in Thailand it found over 90% said they hadn’t enough to eat. 

While the British supermarkets' share of what consumers pay rose to nearly 53 percent in 2015 from 41 percent in 1996, the percentage pocketed by workers in their supply chains fell by a quarter to 5.7 percent over the same period

 Oxfam claims that working conditions in prawn processing plants in Indonesia - which supply some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets -  were subject to forced pregnancy tests and strictly controlled bathroom and water breaks. It said in one instance, Melati, an Indonesian factory worker, had to peel 600 prawns an hour - one every six seconds. Oxfam claims that when she couldn’t hit that target, she faced verbal abuse. 

Matthew Spencer, Director of Policy for Oxfam GB said: “... the food industry currently rewards shareholder wealth over the work of millions of women and men with supermarkets ignoring the hidden suffering behind their food supply chains..."

Millions of farmers and factory workers worldwide who produce food for Britain's leading supermarkets are exploited and struggle to feed their families. "Low wages, poor conditions and discrimination against women are sadly all too common ... for many of those who toil to produce our food," Peter McAllister, executive director of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), said in a statement.

"The danger is that unless action is taken, millions of workers and farmers will be condemned to in-work poverty..."

Is the population exploding?

Today, Japan’s birth rate is 1.44 children per woman.
The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research found that if such trends continue, Japan’s population is expected to decrease from 126 million today to 88 million in 2065 and 51 million by 2115.
With fewer children and young adults, a vicious cycle is set in motion: a smaller labor force and spending decreases which weaken the economy and discourage families from having children, which then weakens the economy further. This means less revenues and higher expenditures for the government, and when the number of older persons grows faster than the working-age population, there are less funds for pensions and social security, thus creating an even weaker economy.
“Without the younger generation, this system will not be able to maintain,” Secretary-General of the Asian Population Development Association (APDA) Dr. Osamu Kusumoto told IPS.
In France, the percentage of older people grew from 7 percent to 20 percent in approximately 150 years. However, the same demographic shift was seen in Japan within just 40 years. The elderly now make up 27 percent of Japan’s population in comparison to 15 percent in the United States. Many Asian countries are expected to follow in Japan’s footsteps.
By 2030, Asia could be home to over 60 percent of the total population aged 65 years or older worldwide. According to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), East and Northeast Asian countries have the largest such population, accounting for 56 percent of all older persons in the Asia-Pacific region and 32 percent in the world.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Australian tax cuts stalled

The Australian Council of Trade Unions analysed data from 2003 to 2016 in 34 OECD countries and found weak or no association between company tax cuts and wage growth. In fact, seven countries experienced statistically significant slower wage growth despite lower taxes. Countries that experienced the largest decreases in annual wage growth despite corporate tax cuts included Norway, Canada and Finland.

“It is clear that the government’s claims on wage growth and corporate tax cuts does not match the international evidence,” the ACTU paper concluded.

The Australia Institute also released further an analysis of stage three of the personal income tax cuts plan showing high-income earners in the top 20% of taxpayers would get 95% of the benefit, while three-quarters of taxpayers got no benefit at all.

“Flattening income tax reduces the tax take from high-income earners, which ultimately means either less government services or high taxes on middle and low income earners.” Matt Grudnoff, senior economist at the Australia Institute, explained.

Australia's Shame

Much has been said about the lack of humanity in the American treatment of migrant children but at the other end of the spectrum Australia is also demonstrating a lack of compassion, too.

The Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians have both told the government that a dying Afghan refugee currently held in offshore processing on Nauru , who has lung cancer, should be moved to Australia to “be allowed dignity and respect at the end of his life”.

An open letter signed by more than 2,000 doctors calls for his transfer, explaining “His only chance of a good death is to come to Australia so that he can have both community and medical expertise. Our international reputation depends on it. Our humanity demands it.” 

Sources on Nauru and doctors familiar with his case say the palliative care he is receiving inside the Australian-run regional processing centre is “totally inadequate”. His prognosis is “dire” and he has only weeks or months to live.

The Australian Border Force has told Ali he can go to Taiwan to die – an option he has rejected because he does not know anybody there, is concerned there would be no translator from his language, Hazaraghi, and that there would be no one to perform the Shia Muslim rituals and ceremonies on his body when he died. The ABF has also offered to return him to Afghanistan, the country he fled after facing threats on his life. Ali is a member of the persecuted Hazara minority and has been formally recognised as a refugee – he faces a well-founded fear of persecution in Afghanistan and cannot be forcibly returned there. Australia is legally obliged to protect him.

High-profile or politically-sensitive medical cases are decided not by the ABF but by executive-level officials of the Department of Home Affairs: in some cases as high as the secretary of the department or the minister for home affairs.

World Refugee Day - World Solidarity - World Socialism

The media has on a number of occasions provoked panic among the public about refugees, often using metaphors such as “deluge” or “flood” which has considerably distorted the scale of the issue.  The media and the political mouthpieces of capitalist ideology have done their job well. Workers are being caught up by "patriotism". The patriotism of the capitalist class is better called national chauvinism. This "patriotism" equates loyalty to the nation with loyalty to the capitalist-controlled government and its policies. It seeks the acquiescence of workers in the crimes, aggressions, depredations and depravities of the ruling class and its agents.  It is intended to trick workers into sanctioning whatever is deemed in the interests of the business class. It's nationalistic baloney asserts that our interests as a “nation” are totally bound up with, if not identical , to those of our exploiters. It is all too easy to blame refugees for causing problems such as unemployment, bad housing or crime. 

The UK is not the  soft-touch for asylum seekers that politicians try to make out. The UK immigration system is extremely tough. Refugees aren't here to take advantage of the benefit system and steal our jobs. Refugees do not get large handouts from the state. As they await a decision on their asylum case they receive 30% less than those on Income Support (the minimum amount that a person can reasonably live on in UK according to the government themselves). Though many would love to refugees are not permitted to work. Statistics show there has been no refugee crime wave and that there's no established connection between asylum and increased crime rates. In fact, asylum seekers are more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators. There has been an increase in the number of violent attacks on asylum seekers as a result of their negative portrayal in the popular press.

What an extraordinary notion it is that the world's rulers possess the right to tell us which bit of land we should live on? Nationalist feelings arise because of the incessant propaganda of the ruling class in each country to persuade the working majority that they are in some way essentially different from and superior to everyone from other countries. The apologists for capitalism who try to foment ill-feeling towards "foreigners" landing here, whether they come to escape persecution, or to obtain slightly higher wages, never attack those many members of the upper class, including many newspaper proprietors and football club owners, who swan about the world as if there were no such thing as borders and visas. But then, in a capitalist society, you can't really expect the rulers and the ruled to be judged by the same standard, can you?

The wailing in our country about the "refugee invasion" has been long and loud.  Native-born workers feel imperilled because...they are imperilled. These are boom times for the employing class, but for all others are being squeezed. It's this economic vulnerability that anti-refugee forces play on. But pointing to refugees and blaming them for the economic pain local people are feeling is a lie. The truth is that even if there were no asylum seekers the misery that is felt would remain, for asylum seeker are not the ones who:
    Downsized and offshored jobs
    Stagnated wages and created zero-hour contracts
    Reclassified employees as "independent sub-contractors" in the gig economy (Uberisation) leaving them with no benefits or labour rights.
Powerless and vulnerble refugees didn't do these things. The rich did.

Unique amongst all political parties, left or right, the Socialist Party has no national axe to grind. We side with no particular state or government. We have no time for border controls. The world over, workers must do what they can individually and collectively to survive and resist capitalism. In many parts of the world that means escaping political tyranny or economic poverty. Workers should try and resist taking sides. We must not blame another worker for our poverty.

World Refugee Day

The number of people forced to flee their homes rose to a record high in 2017, with 16.2 million people newly displaced around the world. The figure includes people who have been displaced for the first time and those who have been forced from their homes multiple times.
The figure of 68.5 million displaced people – 3 million higher than the total population of the UK – includes 25.4 million refugees, 40 million internally displaced and 3.1 million asylum seekers. The increase came despite the return of more than 5 million displaced people to their countries of origins.
The annual figures, compiled by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, saw five countries accounting for two-thirds of all refugees (excluding those defined as long-term Palestinian refugees): Syria (6.3 million); Afghanistan (2.6 million); South Sudan (2.4 million); Myanmar (1.2 million) and Somalia (986,400)
 This means one in every 110 people in the world is currently displaced

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Senators of War - bought and paid for

The US domestic gun lobby has already spent over $12 million on lobbying and given at least $1.1 million to members of Congress in this election cycle, 98 percent of it to Republicans. The gun lobby also wields power over Democrats through lobbying and public relations, and the threat of targeting individual Democrats who take a public stand for gun control.

The U.S. arms makers spend far more money on lobbying and campaign contributions: $162 million on lobbying and tens of millions in direct funding for members of Congress so far in the 2017-18 election cycle to keep the guns firing, the missiles flying, the bombs falling and to keep the cash flowing to the military-industrial complex.

The armaments industry have traditionally contributed more to Republicans than Democrats  but Senate Democrat hawks play a critical role as swing votes to keep the country at war. Many  regularly vote for record military budgets that hand over the lion’s share of U.S. tax revenues to war profiteers.

Thirteen Senate Democrats have already raked in more than $200,000 each in contributions from the war industry in this election cycle: Durbin (IL); Reed (RI); Kaine (VA); Schumer (NY); Nelson (FL); Leahy (VT); Murray (WA); Shaheen (NH); Warner (VA); Blumenthal (CT); Schatz (HI); Donnelly (IN); and Heinrich (NM). (Only Leahy had the integrity to vote against final passage of the $700 billion FY2018 military budget.)

 49 Democrats and Independents in the U.S. Senate have raised $5 million dollars in direct campaign contributions from the war industry, plus an additional $2.3 million for their “Leadership PACs,” from which they distribute funds to other corporate politicians and candidates. That amounts to 44.5 percent of the war profits Lockheed Martin and other weapons makers have reinvested in the U.S. Senate in this election cycle, compared with $9.1 million, or 55.5 percent, to the 51 Republicans.

The Tax-Fiddlers

The corporate tax cut passed by Trump and fellow Republicans that was in part designed to help dissuade U.S. companies from moving profits overseas may instead make the practice a lot more rewarding. Many big U.S. companies consistently report large domestic revenues while also reporting losses or relatively small profits at home. Such companies are among the biggest winners from tax reform.

That is because companies which shifted profits linked to U.S. sales, research or production previously had to pay U.S. taxes on the money at the rate of 35 percent when they brought those profits home. The new tax bill cuts the overall corporate tax rate to 21 percent, and allows income from overseas to be taxed at about half that rate – to as low as 10 percent.

AbbVie Chief Executive Richard Gonzalez told investors earlier this year that because of the change to a territorial system, whereby only profits reported by domestic subsidiaries face U.S. tax, the U.S. drugmaker expects its tax rate to fall to 9 percent this year from around 22 percent in recent years. That ranks among the lowest of the companies in the S&P 500 that have announced estimates for their tax rate, which average around 22 percent, according to Credit Suisse. The company has historically reported its income in lower tax jurisdictions, which is possible in part because AbbVie parks the majority of the patents for its top-selling drug in Bermuda - a country that has a zero tax rate on corporate profits. Despite recording over half its $28.2 billion in 2017 sales in the United States and basing most of its research facilities there, the Chicago company has never reported a profit in its home country, its annual reports show. The main driver for AbbVie, a rheumatoid arthritis treatment called Humira, generated more than $12 billion in sales in 2017 from patients in the United States, where the most common dose has a list price of about $60,000 a year.

In 2017, AbbVie reported foreign earnings before income tax of $10.4 billion on international revenue of only $9.97 billion. Yet, between 2013 and 2016 AbbVie had to pay around $1 billion a year of taxes in the United States, when it took the profits reported by foreign subsidiaries home to help cover expenses from its U.S. operations. In the future, it will not have to pay such taxes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The principal anti-tax avoidance measures introduced still allow companies to benefit strongly from profit shifting.

“If the guardrails in the new territorial system were meant to prevent companies from avoiding all taxes, AbbVie’s tax rate is a pretty clear signal that these guardrails may not be effective,” said Matthew Gardner, senior fellow with the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy.

 Around two-thirds of those patents were assigned to the Bermuda subsidiary, AbbVie Biotechnology. Most of those patents were developed by teams of researchers entirely or somewhat based in the U.S., according to details in patent filings.

“This is the blueprint,” said Reuven Avi-Yonah, director of the International Tax at the University of Michigan Law School. “The illusion that you would see more patents kept in the U.S. under the new tax law is unreal as long as there are places you can keep them offshore where you pay 0.”

AbbVie is not the only U.S. company with big operations at home but which reports relatively few profits. Pfizer , Expedia, Boston Scientific Corp, Synopsys  and Microsoft  also do the same and are set to be big winners from the shift in territorial system, executives have said and earnings for the most recent quarter show.

Analysts and academics say corporate filings often show that drug companies frequently reduce their taxes by parking patents in a low-tax haven, as AbbVie does, and then have their affiliates - which manufacture or market the drug - pay the tax haven subsidiary royalty fees for the right to use the patent. This arrangement sees a drug sold into a target market, like the United States, at a high price, with the U.S. distribution arm getting a sales margin as low as 5 percent. Sometimes the U.S. distribution profit is not enough to cover group costs incurred in the United States. For example, many of AbbVie’s biggest costs - including $1 billion a year in interest charges and over $50 million in compensation for its top 5 executives - are covered by AbbVie’s U.S. entities, contributing to the U.S. loss, filings show. That is why AbbVie can forecast a tax rate below the 10.5 percent GILTI rate, which some commentators have described as a new minimum tax rate.

“There is an incentive to profit-shift,” said Daniel Shaviro, a Professor of tax law at New York University.

Neo-Fascists Target the Roma

Italy ’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has ordered a new census of the country’s Roma community, as he continues his drive to root out and expel “foreigners”.

The Roma community has long been a target of Salvini, whose rise to prominence often involved press appearances at Roma camps, which he has frequently threatened to raze. On Monday he ordered the census and the removal of all non-Italian Roma – which he called an “answer to the Roma question” – and said he wanted to know “who, and how many” there were.

“Unfortunately we will have to keep the Italian Roma because we can’t expel them,” Salvini said. Salvini is on record as having praised Benito Mussolini and his new policy has sparked comparisons to ethnic cleansing rules introduced in the 1930s that also targeted the Roma.
Up to 180,000 Roma live in Italy, about 43% of whom are Italian citizens. About 4,000 Roma live in state-sanctioned ghettos in Rome, according to a 2013 report by Amnesty International. These out-of-city ghettoes consist of pre-fabricated containers or mobile homes in fenced-off areas, often without adequate sanitation or clean drinking water. Inhabitants are excluded from other social housing despite many having lived in Italy for generations.

Hard Times Not Hard Luck

One in three teachers are providing pupils with basic hygiene products such as toothpaste and soap amid soaring child poverty rates, a new study shows.
Eight in ten primary school teachers have said they had seen a rise in the numbers of children coming to school unwashed or not looking presentable in the last five years and have found themselves intervening at an increasing rate. 
A survey carried out by UK charity In Kind Direct also revealed nearly one in five (18 per cent) of teachers say they have to resort to doing this every single week, with the problem starkest in London – where 50 per cent do this weekly – and in the North East, where the figure stands at 29 per cent.
Child poverty rates have surged in recent years, with one million more children in working households now growing up in poverty than did so in 2010, largely because of cuts to in-work benefits and public sector pay freezes.
Nicola Finney, head teacher at St Paul’s Primary School in Stoke on Trent, told The Independent around 18 per cent – or nearly one in five – of her pupils’ families were receiving products from the school, as growing numbers of households are “falling on hard times”. 
“I’ve worked in primary schools for 12 years and I’ve definitely seen an increase over the last five years. It can range from seeing a child wearing the same shirt for a few days, or noticing that they haven’t washed when they get changed for PE. We won’t stand by if we know people are in need,” she said. “It’s not always an impact on families that are on benefits – it can be self-employed families or those made redundant. More and more households are falling on hard times...I didn’t come into the profession to see children suffer. If we can help in any way that’s what we will do.”
Dr Richard Woolfson, a child psychologist, said: “Children’s self-esteem is greatly affected by the reaction of those around them – and if they are stigmatised, ridiculed or rejected by their peers because of poor basic hygiene, their sense of self-worth will quickly nose-dive. That’s why hygiene poverty has such a devastatingly negative effect on a child’s psychological development, not just on their health but also on their confidence, self-esteem, social relationships and class work.”
And, of course, it is not just school-kids who suffer.
A homeless person dies every two weeks in London, figures have revealed.  The charity St Mungo’s said 158 rough sleepers died in the capital between 2010 and 2017 – a figure campaigners have branded “nothing short of a national scandal”. 
Petra Salva, director of rough sleepers at St Mungo’s, told The Independent she believed the figures were an underestimation, with some being “missed altogether" because the government does not record homeless death statistics at a national level and local authorities are not required to record them.
Data shows a steep increase in the proportion of people dying who have mental health issues, which rose from 29 per cent in 2010 to 80 per cent in 2017. The outreach survey also shows 70 per cent said access to mental health services had become harder over the last five years.
Salva said, “We know that people with mental health needs – whether diagnosed or undiagnosed – are likely to end up sleeping rough for longer – and that’s mainly because the help isn’t fast enough. The truth is that there’s not enough help out there. We’ve definitely seen a correlation between cuts to mental health services and the rise in homeless deaths." A report published by the charity today shows 64 per cent of outreach services said access to emergency accommodation for people sleeping rough had got harder compared to five years ago.
Howard Sinclair, St Mungo’s chief executive, said: “This is nothing short of a national scandal. These deaths are premature and entirely preventable. We also know that there are things the government can do today to help stop this scandal, including reviews into deaths, removing the threat of funding reform for homeless hostels, and quicker decision-making around immigration for people stuck on the streets,” he added.
The number of people sleeping rough in England hit a record-high earlier this year – after a 73 per cent increase over the last three years. Official government data shows that on any given night in autumn last year, 4,751 people were recorded sleeping on the streets, a figure that has more than doubled since 2010.

America torturing children - Amnesty International

 Trump's  zero tolerance immigration policy has been been under mounting criticism since under attorney general Jeff Sessions, everybody apprehended illegally crossing the border has been criminally charged, even for those people seeking asylum.

Speaking at the Human Rights Council session, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said, “The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable.”
Amnesty International claimed the images that emerged over the weekend would “leave an indelible stain on the reputation of the US” and that it was, “a spectacularly cruel policy, where frightened children are being ripped from their parent’s arms and taken to overflowing detention centres, which are effectively cages. This is nothing short of torture,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director "The severe mental suffering that officials have intentionally inflicted on these families for coercive purposes means that these acts meet the definitions of torture under both US and international law.”

LETSBY AVENUE! (weekly poem)

(A Fuzzy Fantasy)

In some areas, because of Government cutbacks, the Police
have  given-up investigating burglaries and are asking the
victims to solve the crime. London's detection rate is 5.5%.

I live in Letsby Avenue,
(The old ones are the best!)
And after being burgled as,
No burglar had confessed,
I was asked to investigate,
And then make the arrest.

“ 'Allo, 'allo, wot 'ave we 'ere”,
To myself, I then said;
“The two of us, both me and I,
Must put this case to bed,
So victim and detective, (us!)
Can rest our weary head”.

So I interrogated me,
With the housebreaker's cosh,
The Constable had left behind,
So I made up some tosh,
As the insurance paid on crime,
Amounted to real dosh!

So after I had punched and kicked,
Myself quite black and blue,
I then admitted to myself,
That all of it was true,
That I had burgled my own house,
But hadn't left a clue.

I took myself to Scotland Yard,
Locked myself in a cell,
I then beat-up myself again,
It was a living hell;
But I'd removed a thug from my,
Own street for a long spell!

© Richard Layton

Guns R' Us

Figures compiled by Geneva's Graduate Institute said the global civilian firearms stockpile had swelled from 650 million to 857 million between 2006 and 2017, accounting for 85 percent of all stocks.
Military arsenals held 133 million (13 percent) and law enforcement agencies 23 million (2 percent), raising the total to slightly more than one billion. 
The US gun market had put 393 million firearms in the hands of Americans. who buy approximately 14 million new and imported guns every year
Americans own almost 40 percent of the global stockpile, although they make up only 4 percent of the world population, more than the combined 25 top-placed nations and territories.
Out of every 100 Americans there were on average 121 firearms. By comparison, Yemen had 53 per 100, and Montenegro and Serbia alike 39 firearms. Canada and Uruguay followed, each with 35 firearms per 100 residents. Japan and Indonesia ranked at the other end of the spectrum, with less than one firearm per 100 residents.
740,000 men, women, and children die each year as a result of armed violence. The majority of these deaths  — 490,000 — occur in countries not directly affected by armed conflicts.

Virgin Branson

It’s no surprise to see that the clearest winner in the Clydesdale/Yorkshire bank takeover of Virgin Money - Richard Branson.

He is the owner of the Virgin Money brand. Virgin Money was paying £8m annually for the licence, but the sum will now rise to £12m and then to £15m. He gets a fat cheque each year for simply owning the rights to the name and doing nothing else.

Trumpeting Fake Facts

Trump has claimed “Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!"

The latest official crime figures from Germany show that 5.76 million crimes were reported in 2017. As a percentage of the population, this means crime is now at its lowest level for 30 years. The number of crimes fell almost 10 percent in 2017 over the previous year. 

Crime by foreigners specifically is also down significantly – and even more sharply. The figure of crimes by non-German nationals fell by 23 per cent since last year, from 950,000 to just over 700,000. 

Separate studies suggest that Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Germany are less likely to commit crimes, as they don't want to spoil their chances of obtaining asylum.

Water - too little - too much

Currently, 844 million people – about one in nine of the planet’s population – lack access to clean, affordable water within half an hour of their homes, and every year nearly 300,000 children under five die of diarrhoea, linked to dirty water and poor sanitation. 

It would cost just 0.1% of global GDP, to provide water and hygiene to all those who need it.

Climate change is bringing droughts and heatwaves across the globe, as well as floods and sea level rises. Pollution is growing, both of freshwater supplies and underground aquifers. The depletion of those aquifers can also make the remaining water more saline. Fertilisers leaching nitrates into the supplies can also make water unsuitable for drinking or irrigation.

The poor are worst hit. Jonathan Farr, senior policy analyst at WaterAid, says: “Competing demands for water means that those who are poorer or marginalised find it more difficult to get water than the rich and powerful.” Many governments and privatised water companies concentrate their provision on wealthy districts, and prioritise agriculture and industry over poorer people, while turning a blind eye to polluters and those who over-extract water from underground sources.

Data from the Nasa Grace – Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment – satellites over a 14-year period discovered 19 hotspots around the world where water resources are being rapidly depleted, with potentially disastrous results. They include areas of California, north-western China, northern and eastern India, and the Middle East. Overall, as climate change scientists had predicted, areas of the world already prone to drought were found to be getting drier, and areas that were already wet getting wetter. According to James Famiglietti, co-author of the Nasa Grace study, some of the areas most vulnerable are “already past sustainability tipping points” as their major aquifers are being rapidly depleted, in particular the Arabian peninsula, the north China plain, the Ogallala aquifer under the great plains of the US, the Guarani aquifer in south America, the north-west Sahara aquifer system and others. “When those aquifers can no longer supply water – and some, like the southern half of the Ogallala, may run out by 2050 – where will we be producing our food and where will the water come from?” he asks.

There is no global management system for water. Water is managed at a local level, and often poorly managed. The technology needed to help us use water efficiently and equitably exists, but often is not implemented. “In many instances, proper management of known technology [such as pumps, rainwater collectors, storage cisterns and latrines] rather than new technological solutions is sufficient to ensure users receive adequate services,” says Jonathan Farr, senior policy analyst at WaterAid. “We have been solving the problem of getting access to water resources since civilisation began. We know how to do it. We just need to manage it.” He notes, in many remote parts of sub-Saharan Africa, “there may be sufficient supplies of groundwater but there has not been enough investment in service delivery and service management to ensure that people can access this water”.

Some of the most effective ways of managing water resources are also the simplest. Plugging leaks in pipes is a good example – ageing or poorly maintained infrastructure wastes vast quantities of water. A dripping tap can leak 300 litres a year. In the UK, the Environment Agency has warned of water shortages across the south-east of the country within a few years, if the 3bn litres a day wasted through leaks – enough for the needs of 20 million people – continues.

 Irrigation has enabled farmers even in arid regions to grow a wider variety of crops. Some methods of irrigation are highly inefficient – in hot countries, water sprayed on crops evaporates before it can reach the roots. An alternative is drip irrigation, a system of pipes that delivers water directly to the roots of each plant, but this is also prone to wastage. Marc Stutter, of the James Hutton Institute explains that in Rajasthan, in India, restoring traditional small dams called johads enabled the periodic rains to be held before they dissipated across the land. The johads led to “the miraculous revitalisation to a green landscape and the surface water returning”.

Advances in sensor technology offer a new way forward. Field sensors, available for as little as $2 a year, can monitor the moisture content in soil, letting farmers know whether irrigation is needed and allowing them to calibrate the irrigation more finely than has previously been possible.
Science is also being brought to bear on the crops themselves. Plant biologists are breeding varieties less prone to drought, through natural selection, and in some cases using genetic modification. But science and technology can only go so far. As with most water issues, the biggest problem is still that farmers will grow what they can to turn a profit, and many have little alternative than to use scarce groundwater resources. How do you fit 130 litres of water in a single cup? The answer: fill it with coffee. Growing coffee beans is a thirsty business, as is growing cotton – 10,000 litres of water in a pair of jeans – and 2,500 litres in the average T-shirt. Avocados, almonds – even bottles of water themselves, are all highly water-intensive enterprises. Agriculture uses about 70% of freshwater across the globe. Vincent Casey, senior manager at WaterAid. “It doesn’t make sense for Saudi Arabia to use vast quantities of limited water resources for agriculture when food grown elsewhere can be imported.”
Climate change will not only mean more droughts, but also more frequent floods. These can be devastating to agriculture and cities, especially coastal cities already under threat from rising sea levels and stronger storm surges. The World Bank estimates that the damage to cities from flooding will top $1 trillion by 2050 if strong action is not taken to equip cities to cope with the consequences. In tropical areas more than a fifth of the mangrove swamps that used to cling to the coastline have been destroyed, cut down to make way for agriculture and aquaculture. Restoring mangroves yields many benefits: they protect inland areas from sea level rises and storm flooding, and provide nurseries for fish, increasing fishing yields. Flood plains and water meadows also provide natural water storage, with land that acts like a sponge to soak up water, releasing it gradually over time. This can prove unpopular with farmers who want to grow crops on such land, but payments from the public purse can offset the cost to them. 
he planet’s biggest water resource, seawater, is in no danger of running out, making up 97% of Earth’s water. Why not harness it for drinking?
The most basic technology to do so has been in use for nearly as long as fire: distillation, the process of boiling water and catching the steam, condensing it into liquid. In small quantities, this can be done easily, and cleanses water of other impurities as well as salt. But at large scale, such as providing the drinking water needs for a city, the process is fuel-intensive, even using modern methods such as low-pressure vessels to lower the boiling point.
Alternative technologies use electrical currents, which when passed through the water can separate out salt and other minerals, and reverse osmosis, by which saline water is passed at high pressure through membranes that exclude salt and impurities. Both these methods also have high energy requirements, which makes them costly, and adds to global greenhouse gas emissions. Sucking in seawater can also suck in fish and damage coastal ecosystems. Waste from the plants is another issue: the salty residue is usually released back into the sea, but this must be carefully managed because at the concentrations produced it is toxic to marine life.
Energy costs have proved prohibitively high for most countries, so the main users of desalination to date have been among the fuel-rich and arid countries of the Middle East. However, the water crisis has gripped so hard in some areas of the world that some cities see little alternative. Cape Town’s first desalination plant has just started operating, after some severe budget woes. China, Pakistan and India are exploring new desalination plants. If renewable energy can be used to power the plants, this should reduce the impact on climate change.
Floating houses are another idea that is taking off, from the Netherlands to south-east Asia. The houses are built on floating platforms instead of foundations, but anchored to the sea or river bed, and a wide variety of modern designs are now available. Sea level rise driven by climate change is set to pose an existential crisis to many US coastal communities, with new research finding that as many as 311,000 homes face being flooded every two weeks within the next 30 years. Philip Stoddard, the mayor of South Miami. “People on the waterfront won’t be able to stay unless they are very wealthy. This isn’t a risk, it’s inevitable."