Tuesday, 28 May 2013
Friday, 24 May 2013
The Howard League for Penal Reform has a long history of campaigning for the rights of those held in custody and for just responses to the causes and consequences of crime.
Scotland has one of the highest prison populations in Western Europe and our reoffending rates remain stubbornly high. The Scottish Government has accepted that our prisons are full of people many of whom are more troubled than troubling, and they have acknowledged that those held in Scottish prisons are some of the most disadvantaged individuals in our society. Research carried out by former prison governor Roger Houchin in 2005 confirmed that a quarter of all inmates in Scotland’s prisons hailed from just 53 council wards and some of our most deprived communities.
The anomalies that arise for those in prison on short-term sentences are particularly acute. For instance, in 2011-2, over 10% of custodial sentences handed down were for shoplifting. Are we really saying that these individuals shouldn’t have a say in the future of the country they live in? That they shouldn’t have a say in the future of communities they will return to? That they shouldn’t be encouraged to feel part of society rather than continuing to be excluded from it?
As our Parliament debates this issue, the words spoken by late trade union activist Jimmy Reid over four decades ago have lost none of their resonance:
It's the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision-making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.
John Scott QC
Thursday, 23 May 2013
Overall, the group believes that the Scottish and UK Governments should act to ensure:
- a well-resourced voter registration campaign, aimed at ensuring that those who traditionally don’t vote are able to do so at the referendum.
- the widespread availability of objective information on what will happen post-referendum, suitable for all voters to understand, so that all parts of Scottish society understand what a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote will mean for them in practical terms.
- concerted effort to reach ‘hard-to-reach’ groups by resourcing communities, schools, academia and relevant media to raise and debate the issues relating to the referendum, so that all parts of Scottish society feel informed and engaged.
Wednesday, 22 May 2013
There was a ‘wait and see’ moment on April 1st of this year following the formal introduction of the hated ‘bedroom tax’. Would the opposition subside following combination of last minute climb downs and the reality of the legislation passing?
The early indications are that this will not be the case. The Scottish media, particularly the Daily Record is reporting, almost daily, stories of individuals and families affected and accounts of heavy handed eviction notices (some no doubt as a consequence of bad bureaucracy rather than political intent).
This is the fuel which will ensure that the campaigning momentum continues. New local groups are being formed almost daily and there is a coming together of a whole number of campaigning organisations, trade unions and equality groups committed to continue the fight.
There is no single organisation which can or should claim to represent all the campaigning interests or to have a monopoly on ideas for the best tactics. The No2Bedroom Tax campaign has played a key role in circulating information and seeding local campaigns. It played a massive role in the March 30th Demo in Glasgow and has also been active in bringing together local groups across the UK in discussing future co-ordinated action. The Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation has brought together a number of local groups, particularly of the west coast, and some trade union branches to form a structure. Its founding statement can be found here and its public face heavily focuses on physical opposition to evictions - more of which later. Some of the biggest anti-bedroom tax meetings have been organised by the mainstream political parties Labour and SNP. Add to this the high profile campaigning activities of Govan Law Centre and of Shelter Scotland not to mention skilled political activists such as Citizen Smart (see his Youtube Bedroom Tax song here) and Mary Lockhart and the ingredients for a broad based campaign are obviously present.
There are of course differences of approach. These can be separated into four broad strands although many groups and individuals would support pursing more than one.
Defeating the Bedroom Tax at Westminster through repeal either during the current parliamentary term or post 2015.
Many things can happen over the next two years. The Coalition remains weak and Liberals are deeply uncomfortable about the tax and about their current electoral prospects. A continuing campaign across the UK and targeted at specific MPs is a must.
Scottish Parliament action to prevent evictions through Bedroom Tax and provide financial support.
Legislation could be introduced as proposed by Govan Law Centre to ensure that there would be no evictions for Bedroom Tax arrears. Of course this would not top debt mounting up or prevent local authorities and housing providers from pursuing debt through other means but it would mean no-one losing their house. It would be problematic for housing associations in particular with respect to their revenue streams. Shelter has proposed that any such action should also be supported with Scottish Government funding to obviate the impact on personal debt and housing provider funds. Alternatively, a probably most persuasively, the Scottish Government could supplement the Discretionary Housing Payment funding provided by Westminster to expand to all those hit with the Bedroom tax, the support they need to avoid arrears.
Council ‘No Evictions’ policies
The First Minister has announced that all SNP led councils will not evict during the first year and a number of other councils have said the same including Edinburgh. Others have more nuanced policies which imply that every other route and then some will be pursued before eviction is sought. The limits of these policies are partially in relation to time (what happens next year) and also are only of any use to council house tenants. For instance GHA residents in Scotland’s largest city are are helped not a jot by such policies.
Physical opposition to evictions
Although there should be a lively and fear free debate about what action should be taken if and when individual tenants face eviction, I believe that the concentration by some on this tactic is a mistake. Even in the worst case scenario, and not withstanding some of the ridiculous resort to threat of some housing providers, mass evictions are unlikely any time soon. Successfully opposing evictions through court action, winning policies at housing provider level or through civil disobedience will not remove debt. As indicated above, there are a whole range of campaigning aims to be pursued to avoid the crisis of evictions through Bedroom Tax.
What happens next?
On June 1st the Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation has called a demonstration in Glasgow. The latest information is that it will be a rally rather than a march and speakers have still to be announced.
On June 8th a demonstration has been organised outside Tory Party conference in Perth
On June 26th the Petitions Committee of the Scottish Petition will consider the Govan Law Centre petition. A lobby is expected.
And watch out for STUC campaigning activities on austerity in last week of June. This will include a major bedroom tax event – details soon ...
Tuesday, 14 May 2013
- The 2008-2013 mini depression has exacerbated long-standing regional inequalities. The report bravely concedes that progress towards the Scottish Government’s cohesion target has reversed: between 2011 and 2012, the gap in employment rates between the three local authorities with the highest employment rates and the three local authorities with the lowest employment rates increased by 2.8 percentage points from 16.3 to 19.1 percentage points. The poor performance of Glasgow (see below) had a relatively severe impact on the overall rate of the 3 worst areas due to its size.
- Some welcome progress on employment growth over the year was insufficient to compensate for the damage done over the past five years: just over half of local authority areas saw an increase in their employment rates over the year, while all but two local authorities (North and South Lanarkshire due to significant increases of 4.1% and 4.3% respectively in the saw female employment rate) reductions between 2008 and 2012.
- Glasgow saw the largest decrease in employment rate…down 4.1% to 59.7%, while its employment level decreased by 15,500…over the year Glasgow has seen a large shift out of employment into inactivity (with the level of inactive students aged 16-24 up around 11,000 over this period).
- Perhaps surprisingly, the male employment rate decreased from 75.1% to 74.6% while the female employment rate increased slightly from 66.5% to 66.8%.
- The youth employment rate (16-24 year olds) in Scotland decreased by 1.4% over the year, from 54.6% in 2011 to 53.2% in 2012. A total of 16 local authorities (including Glasgow and Edinburgh) saw an decrease in their youth employment rate, whilst over the same period the remaining 16 saw increases. The youth unemployment rate (16-24) in Scotland was 20.7%, 0.2 percentage points lower than the rate in the UK. The rate in Scotland has increased by 7.1 percentage points since 2008, higher than the increase of 5.9 percentage points in the UK over the same period. There is nothing in this report to support the Scottish Government's proposition that youth unemployment has fallen by a third over the past year.
- The number of people in full-time work continues to decline: in 2012 73.2% of people in employment were working full-time, compared to 73,6% in 2011 and 76.2% in 2008. Over the year the percentage of people in full time work has decreased in 17 local authorities and since 2008 has decreased in 28 local authorities.
- The increase in underemployment slowed in 2012: there were 243,000 workers underemployed (ie willing to work more hours), an increase of 2,600 over the year and 68,900 since the start of the recession in 2008. The underemployment rate (those underemployed as a proportion of all aged 16+ in employment) in 2012 was 10.0%, up 0.1% over the year and 3.0% since 2008. Underemployment levels are highest amongst part-time female and full-time male workers.
- At the start of the recession in 2008, 268,500 (10.6%) of the 16+ workforce were self employed. By 2012 the level of those self-employed had increased to 301,700 (12.2%), an increase of 33,200 with around 60% of the increase due to a rise in self-employed males. Those working part-time made up 85% of the total rise in self-employment in Scotland in 2012. The level of 16+ employees has decreased from 2,242,600 in 2008 to 2,145,700; a decrease of 96,900.
- The report provides no comfort to those looking for signs of rebalancing: since 2008, there have been statistically significant changes in the proportions employed within ‘manufacturing’ (down 1.6%), ‘construction’ (down 2.3%), and ‘banking, finance and insurance’ (up 2.2%).
- Private sector job growth between 2011-2012 (10,600) did not fully compensate for public sector job losses of 13,900 – the paper does not break these jobs down into FT/PT etc.
- In 2012 33,000 (13.3%) of 16-19 year olds were not in education, employment or training. The level of NEET had increased by 1,000 (0.9 percentage point) since 2011.
- Just under 48% (101,600) of all unemployed people in Scotland have been unemployed for less than 6 months, while just under 33% (70,100) have been unemployed for 12 months or more.
- The unemployed rate for disabled people (for those aged 16-64) in Scotland rose by 1.2% over the year to 12.6% with the level increasing by 4,000 to 50,500.
- In 2012, 25.4% of all people in Scotland aged 16-64 who were inactive wanted to work, compared to 24.6% in 2011.
What do we learn from the above? Things were grim in 2012 and unless the improvement reflected in the last couple of ONS monthly releases is maintained and built upon through the whole of this year, 2014's Local Area Labour Markets report is unlikely to be much of an improvement.
Friday, 10 May 2013
1 Key sector?
“At the retail end of financial services, despite the appearance given of a large number of providers, because of asymmetries of information and opacity in charging structures, most services are provided in a non-competitive way, again, with the result that the interests of the ultimate customer – the retail client – are not properly reflected through the system. Across much of the financial sector there is a tendency to regard retail customers as helpless victims, there to be exploited, rather than as business partners from the satisfaction of whose needs derives the justification for profit. More milchcow than market”.
Thursday, 9 May 2013
Guest Blog by Kevin Rowan, Head of the TUC's Organisation and Services Department
- £5 million for a Question Time-style show and £546,000 for a phone line announcing what debates are coming up in the country’s legislature.
- £21.2 million on a road maintenance project, later pulled due to “fiduciary irregularities” after it emerged that less than 10 per cent of the funding had been spent on roads.
- £22.7 million to bail out debt-laden state-owned businesses.
- £13.1 million on training 1,700 civil servants to “develop and deliver pro-poor policy and practice”.
Friday, 3 May 2013
However, there is a clue in the table and it’s use of the word ‘experimental’. ONS publishes the ‘unemployment by age’ data (table X02) separately from the headline statistics because although the estimates are ‘derived from the same data source as the headline figures [the Labour Force Survey or LFS]…due to the relatively small samples sizes and subsequent sampling variability, the figures should be used with caution and are designated as Experimental Statistics’.
- My only purpose in drawing attention to Scotland's very poor performance on 16 & 17 year olds on the experimental LFS data was to highlight the dubious nature of the series as a whole;
- it's not really a matter of 'the Scottish Government taking the credit when things go well etc' - it's about using statistics in a consistent fashion. If the experimental data are good enough to justify a claim that youth unemployment has fallen by a third, then we should be very worried about what they're telling us about 16 and 17 year olds. However, as should be clear to anyone who's read the blog, I think we should treat these data with extreme scepticism;
- I happily accept that the APS is a more reliable series. Again, one of my purposes in writing this blog was to make such a distinction between the experimental LFS data and the APS! What isn't credible is for the Scottish Government to use the experimental data to justify the one-third claim then argue that the sample size for 16 and 17 year olds is too small. Are we mean to accept that the sample size for 16-24 year olds yields a perfectly accurate result? That the experimental data are fine for 16-24s but we should turn to APS for the 16 and 17 year old cohort? Of course the LFS sample sizes are too small - this is why the data should not be used as the basis for such bold assertions.