Neets ‘Should Not Get Benefits’ Say MPs

(BBC) – YOUNG PEOPLE in England should not receive state benefits unless they are working, training or in education, a committee of MPs says.

MPs are suggesting adopting a system used in Holland to reduce the number of 16 to 25-year-olds not in education, employment or training – “Neets”.

They said the Dutch equivalent of jobseeker’s allowance was dependent on being in work, education or training.

At the end of 2009, nearly 15% of 16 to 24-year-olds were classed as Neets.

And 9.3% of Neets were aged 16 to 18. The government looks set to miss its target to reduce that figure of an average of 7.6% for 2010.

Indeed, little progress has been made in reducing the number of Neets over the years – in 1995, 9.2% of 16-to-18 year olds were in this category and at the end of 2008, 10.3% were classified as Neets.

Publishing a report on Neets, the cross-party Children, Schools and Families Committee said “radical change” was needed if the number of these young people was to be reduced.

The committee of MPs had visited the Netherlands to assess why it had consistently low rates of youth unemployment.

The MPs said a combination of support up to the age of 27 and a “holistic approach” to this age group, where young people had access to careers, health or housing advice in a “one-stop shop” format, was highly effective.

The report said: “It is crucial that young people, particularly those who are most disadvantaged, should not be deterred by the benefits system from accessing opportunities in education and training.

“We urge the government to give consideration to the approach taken in the Netherlands, in which relatively generous levels of benefits and other support are offered to young people in exchange for greater compulsion to take up education, training or work.”

Committee chair Barry Sheerman said: “It seems to me that the worst thing that can happen to any young person is to be on benefits, at home, doing nothing, festering at home with nothing to do.

“The best thing you can do is to try and ensure that they are doing something, whether it’s training, learning a language, a trade.”

Mr Sheerman said reducing the numbers of young people falling through the gap would be a key challenge for the next government.

“It is time to take a more radical approach and to look at the example of the Netherlands, where rates of youth unemployment are consistently low and where young people up to the age of 27 have a more unified support structure.”

The MPs also raised concerns about the term Neets, saying it was a negative term that risked “stigmatising the young people to whom it is applied”.

They said it was a “residual statistical category” that encompassed a wide range of young people with very different needs.

Simon Singh’s Resounding Victory Raises Hope Of Libel Reform

(Guardian) – A LEADING SCIENCE WRITER has won a “resounding victory” in the court of appeal over a libel battle which has become a catalyst for the reform of English libel laws, which critics claim stifle scientific debate. Today’s decision will strengthen the position of other science writers facing libel suits as the judges made clear that court was not the place to settle scientific controversies.

The landmark ruling, which cited Orwell and quoted passages from Milton in defence of free speech, will allow Simon Singh to rely on a “fair comment” defence of his statements about chiropractors, for which he is being sued. The court of appeal overturned an earlier ruling which would have meant that Singh would have had to prove in court that his comments about chiropractors were factually correct to avoid a libel judgment against him.

Singh was accused of libel by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) over an opinion piece he wrote in the Guardian in April 2008. In the article, he criticised the BCA for claiming its members could use spinal manipulation to treat children with colic, ear infections, asthma, sleeping and feeding conditions and prolonged crying. He described the treatments as “bogus” and based on insufficient evidence and criticised the BCA for “happily promoting” them. The BCA denies these criticisms.

Following today’s ruling, Singh’s comments are recognised by the court as a matter of opinion which did not imply that the BCA was being consciously dishonest.

On the steps of the court, Singh, who faces further court action, described the ruling as “brilliant” but added: “It is extraordinary this action has cost £200,000 to establish the meaning of a few words.”

Singh’s lawyer, Robert Dougans, said: “Scientists have been – rightly – concerned about the consequences they might face if opponents seek to counter their arguments with a libel claim rather than engage in debate and research. The court of appeal’s brave decision today gives hope that important research on scientific matters will be protected against libel threats and will hopefully make people think again before embarking on legal action hoping to shut down debate.

“It is clear from the judgment that the court of appeal is not satisfied with the current state of English libel laws and recognises the absurdities and injustices that can result from them as they currently stand.”

Mark Stephens, a media lawyer, said the judges should be “warmly applauded for avoiding turning court 13 into an Orwellian Ministry of Truth”. He said libel lawyers had tried to make litigation over what is an opinion “increasingly technical” and “increasingly expensive”. Since the ruling, he had already advised a client facing a libel suit that he was in a better position than before.

Allen Green, the writer of the 2010 Orwell Prize-longlisted blog Jack of Kent, said of Singh’s appeal: “His victory is cheering, but for him to have got here has been a complex, depressing, and obscenely expensive journey.

“This is not an example of the English libel laws working. Instead it is a horrifying example of how bad they really are. For him to have to struggle to win in this way signals the urgent need for libel reform.”

Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP who has led the cross-party parliamentary campaign for reform, welcomed the judgment but said it was no substitute for libel reform. He said: “The political parties must now all commit to reform of the law to free scientific speech and responsible journalism from the threat of penury.”

The ruling, by England’s two senior judges, the lord chief justice of England and the master of the rolls, together with Lord Justice Smedley, was scathing of the way the BCA began libel proceedings against Singh rather than taking up the Guardian’s offer of a right to reply. It acknowledged that the action had a “chilling effect on public debate” which it described as a “surprising consequence of laws designed to protect reputation”.

It said the BCA’s actions had created the “unhappy impression” that “it is an endeavour by the BCA to silence one of its critics”.

In a development which would strengthen the position of any science or health writer facing libel threats, the judges also made it clear that they believed court was not the place to settle scientific controversies. They wanted to avoid “an Orwellian ministry of truth” in which an author had to prove in court what he had asserted.

The case has led to a campaign to raise awareness of Britain’s libel laws, which many consider to be among the most anti-free speech in the world.

The BCA posted a statement on its website today saying it was not its intention to suppress free speech and it was simply seeking to clear its name. It was considering whether to seek permission to appeal to the supreme court in the light of what it described as a disappointing ruling.

Richard Brown, the group’s president, said: “This is not the end of the road.”

A Question For Parliament – Are You Listening, Bob?

BOB SPINK, our local MP, is keen to ask questions in parliament. Well, here is a pertinent question that needs to be asked on behalf of many of his married female constituents:-

Why are married women, who have elected to forgo any entitlement to unemployment benefits by choosing to pay the old ‘B’ Rate, Married Woman’s stamp, now being prevented by this government’s pension reforms from being able to purchase Class 3 contributions to top-up their state pension entitlement?

Prior to 1975, married women were given the opportunity of reducing their National Insurance contributions to assist their families in making ends meet – on the understanding that the reduced rate would not permit them to claim state benefits should they find themselves out of work.

Many responsible wives, on small, part-time incomes, took-up the offer reasoning that – in the absence of any other advice – their contribution would still entitle them to NHS treatment (true) and a full state pension when they retired (false). It now transpires that someone retiring next year, despite being employed full-time for over 40 years and never being in a position to claim state benefits, will be entitled to around just £20 per week.

On the other hand, a female who has enjoyed state benefits throughout their working lives, and never worked, will ‘retire’ on a full state pension.

The anomaly, which needs to be addressed immediately by this government, goes to the heart of what is fair in a modern society.

Currently, married women on the old ‘B’ Rate stamp, can claim against their husband’s contributions to ensure they receive a ‘60% Pension;’ but they can only do that when he retires.

Had the couple not married, spent their lives on benefits and never worked: both would receive a full state pension when they reached retirement age.

Cheque Guarantee Cards To Be Scrapped By Banks

(Daily Mail) – ONE OF THE BIGGEST BANKS has sounded the death knell for the cheque guarantee card, with rivals set to follow its lead.

Santander, owner of Abbey and Alliance & Leicester, said yesterday that all of its new debit cards will not carry the popular ‘guarantee’.

Rival banks will do the same in the coming months, leaving small businesses which rely on cheques exposed to fraud and financial loss.

At present, most debit cards include a ‘cheque guarantee’ logo on the back.

It features an image of William Shakespeare’s head and usually states it is guaranteed for about £100 or sometimes for up to £250.

This means that anybody from a milkman to a small hotel knows that the cheque is approved by the bank for this amount.

Latest figures from the Payments Council, an umbrella group for British banks and building societies, said four million people regularly use cards to guarantee their cheques.

But in a further sign of the decline of the payment method, months ago the council said that it is going to axe the cheque guarantee service from the end of June next year.

Yesterday Santander, which has around eight million current account customers, announced new debit cards will not include the cheque guarantee logo.

A spokesman for the Spanish firm said it has decided to start replacing all cards when they come up for renewal.

A card typically lasts for up to three years.

‘In light of the need to replace around five million debit cards which have a cheque guarantee logo, Santander is taking a phased approach to make this task more manageable,’ the spokesman added.

‘This approach should ensure that these debit cards are replaced in a measured and efficient way, so customers are not faced with a delay in replacing their card, which would be likely if this phasing didn’t take place.’

Santander said customers can still use cheques despite the scrapping of the guarantee.

When cards come up for renewal, customers will be sent a new one – without the familiar logo on the back.

A Payments Council spokesman said banks are doing what they can to make payment methods safer. The cheque guarantee is being increasingly ignored by people who prefer using a debit card, a credit card or cash, the group’s research suggested.

When people do write a cheque, the typical amount is £268 – above the standard cheque guarantee limit.

The council has said it wants to write off the cheque by October 2018.

The measure has dismayed the elderly, who have used cheques all their lives and are reluctant to switch.

Many are wary of using cash machines, and prefer to withdraw cash by writing themselves a cheque.

At the same time, tradesmen, small shops and builders rely on the cheque as a daily part of their operations.

Mr Ordinary Is The Perfect Role Model For Boys

(Daily Mail) – THEIR HUMDRUM LIVES may lack the glamour of a footballer or TV star. But teachers say ‘the ordinary working man’ should once again be held up as an example to young boys being led astray by today’s celebrity-obsessed culture.

They warned that traditional working-class virtues are being undermined by the trend to celebrate drunkenness and excessive spending.

Rather than badly behaved footballers and reality TV stars, it is hard-working and responsible fathers who are the ‘real superstars’, according to a teaching union.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers warned that a generation of white working-class boys was growing up believing life on an ordinary wage had little meaning or purpose.

Children are losing sight of old-fashioned values such as taking pride in a job, paying their own way and looking after a family. At its conference in Manchester, the union demanded a campaign to raise the profile of community role
models and ‘the ordinary working man’.

The call comes after research showed that white working-class boys do worse at school than any other group.

Teacher Ian Bonner, of ATL’s Cheshire branch, said: ‘It’s almost as if you are a nobody if you don’t earn millions.

‘If anything, the lives of the well-paid footballers demonstrate that vast wages and poor examples generally go together.’

He said celebrities were often hailed as role models even if they had committed crimes such as possessing drugs or hitting photographers.

‘The ordinary honest working man can be a good role model and is an essential member of a society that needs to function well,’ he said.

‘Getting up, going to work, doing a good job, looking after your family, if you have one, not being a drunkard, living within your means, not running up debts you can’t pay, looking after your house or flat, are all part of the role that needs to be presented as important.’

ATL members backed his call for the union to ‘publicise the contribution made to society by men who support and care for their families in a positive and responsible manner’.

Mr Bonner said: ‘It is hard work bringing up children to be responsible and well-behaved, caring and considerate, generous and just good.

‘These are the real superstars in our society and without them this society would go belly-up within months.’

These unsung heroes are ‘far more essential to the life of our nation than those who get paid millions for kicking a ball around or who have found instant stardom on a talent show’, he said.

Suitable role models needed to be promoted for white working-class boys so they can see that ‘life can have as much, if not more, meaning and purpose without lots of expensive possessions’.

‘They will see that raising children to be good members of society is harder than jetting around the world and being in the papers,’ he said.

Mr Bonner told the conference working-class boys were ‘not motivated to learn because they see the education provided for them as irrelevant’.

‘They do not see it as relevant because they do not see people in society who came from their background making the news in a positive manner,’ he added.

One In Ten Drug Offenders Is A Child

(Telegraph) – ONE IN TEN drug offenders are children, double the number when Labour first came to power, figures show.

More than 100 youngsters aged under 18 are convicted of drug offences every week, raising concerns of a new generation of criminals.

It comes as separate figures show the equivalent of 35 children a day need hospital treatment for substance abuse, including illegal drugs.

A total of 6,370 teenagers and other children were guilty of drug offences in 2008 compared with 2,749 in 1998.

It is the equivalent of around a tenth of the total 52,664 drug convictions for that year, figures obtained by the Conservatives show.

Almost 13,000 children aged under 16 were admitted to hospital last year for substance abuse, which includes illegal drugs as well as other substances such as glue.

That was a 25 per cent rise since 1998/99 and includes 1,172 aged under ten.

Chris Grayling, the shadow Home Secretary, said: “I just can’t understand how Gordon Brown can be so complacent about the social problems in Britain today.

“What clearer sign can there be of a broken society than thousands of children receiving hospital treatment for substance abuse. More and more children are also facing prosecution for drugs offences.”

A Home Office study yesterday found one in six hardened drug-abusing offenders go on to commit at least five more crimes a year.

One offender was responsible for 42 crimes, the statistics on drug misusing offenders showed.

Overall, 20,934 offenders known to take Class A drugs committed 54,462 offences in 2008/09.

Separate sentencing statistics from the Ministry of Justice found one in seven people caught with a knife or offensive weapons are let off with a caution.

In 2009, some 12,874 offenders were cautioned or sentenced for possession of a bladed article, but only 3,016 were sent to prison.

Some 1,873 were let off with a caution.

However, the figures overall showed a downward trend in the proportion being handed cautions.

Dominic Grieve, the shadow Justice Secretary, said: “Knife offenders should not escape justice with a mere slap on the wrist. Under a Conservative government, if you are caught with a knife you should expect to go to prison.”

Pupils Aged Five On ‘Hate Register’

(Daily Mail) – HEADS WILL BE FORCED to list children as young as five on school ‘hate registers’ over everyday playground insults.

Even minor incidents must be recorded as examples of serious bullying and details kept on a database until the pupil leaves secondary school.

Teachers are to be told that even if a primary school child uses homophobic or racist words without knowing their meaning, simply teaching them such words are hurtful and inappropriate is not enough.

Instead the incident has to be recorded and his or her behaviour monitored for future signs of ‘hate’ bullying.

The accusations will also be recorded in databases held by councils and made available to Whitehall and ministers to help them devise future anti-bullying campaigns.

The scale of the effort to stop children using homophobic or racist language was revealed after the parents of a ten-year-old primary school pupil in Somerset, Peter Drury, were told that his name would be put on a register and his behaviour monitored while he remained at school.

The boy was reported after he called a friend ‘gay boy’. His parents fear the record of homophobic bullying will count against him throughout his school career and even into adulthood.

In another incident last year a six-year-old girl, Sharona Gower, was reported for ‘racist bullying’ at her school near Tunbridge Wells in Kent.

Sharona was chased by two 11-year-old girls, one of whom taunted her that she had chocolate on her face.

The six-year-old responded to one of the girls, who was black: ‘Well, you’ve got chocolate on yours.’

Many schools nationwide have already followed advice that they should record incidents of alleged racist, homophobic or anti-disability bullying.

One report last year by the Manifesto Club civil liberties think-tank said that 40,000 children each year are having racist charges added to their school records.

But ministers aim to make reporting of supposed ‘hate taunting’ a legal requirement for every school, primary as well as secondary, and every local authority across the country from the beginning of the new school year in September.

Incidents considered serious will have to be reported to local authorities. Children’s Secretary Ed Balls is set to introduce rules that, officials said, ‘will mean that schools will have to record and report serious or recurring incidents of bullying to their local authority.

‘This will include incidents of bullying and racism between pupils and abuse or bullying of school staff.

The Government is clear that schools must take seriously any complaints made of abuse or bullying by pupils.’

Schools will be expected to monitor the behaviour of individual children. Local authority records will show incidents and their nature, but not names of pupils.

Head teachers were first advised to keep records of racist incidents eight years ago.

Then, in 2007, heads were told to include disability-related and homophobic bullying in their tallies.

Rules for heads say that using language such as ‘gay’  –  which has had near-universal usage among British schoolchildren in recent years to denote something as inferior  –  counts as homophobic bullying, even if pupils do not have any homophobic intention in mind when using the word.

Primary school pupils must be taught ‘the nature and consequences of homophobic bullying’, according to the rules.

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: ‘The majority of schools already record incidents of bullying.

‘However, we want to make sure that all schools have measures in place to prevent and tackle bullying and show they are taking it seriously.’

But concerns have been raised that the system turns everyday banter among children into incidents of racism or homophobia when none was meant.

Margaret Morrissey, founder of campaign group Parents Outloud, said: ‘This is totally appalling. The use of such language is part of the learning process. Children need to learn where the boundaries lie. And I very much doubt they understand what they are saying.

‘This does not mean that the behaviour shouldn’t be challenged. It must be explained that it is wrong. But to keep a register that will haunt them for years to come is going far too far and is against all rights.’

Michele Elliott of the charity Kidscape said: ‘Children are being criminalised and singled out here from a very early age when they don’t know what they’re doing.’

Tory MP Ann Widdecombe said: ‘Abuse in the playground has always happened and always will.

‘Children have to learn to take this as part of growing up and you can’t punish children for doing something they don’t understand while they are very young.’