Section: UK

Human rights must be championed

Julie Ward

In February 2018 I received news that 34 year old Teodora del Carmen Vásquez’ was to be freed after serving 11 years of a 30 year sentence for aggravated murder following the birth of a stillborn baby. Teodora was one of 17 El Salvadoran women whose cases were at the centre of a campaign initiated […]

BREAKING

Sunderland residents protest over No Deal Brexit

Louise Brown

Nissan’s Chief Operating Officer, Ashwani Gupta, has repeatedly said that the plant in Sunderland would be unsustainable with a no deal Brexit. He also stated they need a Brexit deal with a sustainable business case for their UK commerce to be viable. Mr Gupta said that the EU was Sunderland factory’s biggest customer and warned that Nissan’s commitment could not be maintained if there was not tariff-free EU access.

Going out with a zoom

Bryan Vernon

As always at a retirement event, the people whom you have upset don’t come and you are offered an inflated sense of your own worth but basking in this illusion is pleasant. The more formal atmosphere enabled a much larger number of people to remind me in brief unscripted speeches of some episodes I had forgotten. I missed the opportunity for conversations with individuals. Asking people about their parent’s dementia, their child’s troubles, their bereavement, cancer, depression or divorce in front of an audience starved of entertainment by Covid-19 would probably be inappropriate, although I did not test this hypothesis.

Poetry Corner

ctrl-alt-del

Suzanne Fairless-Aitken

After centuries of conflict
weapons are finally downed.
The cruellest disease has silenced guns,
until a vaccine can be found.

All party parliamentary group and March for Change launch interim report on the coronavirus pandemic

Kate Bredin

Dr Whitford spoke about the more effective use of local public health teams by all the devolved nations. She expressed disappointment that after a lot of progress in Scotland over the summer with no deaths for six weeks of people who had tested positive for the virus, too much of a relaxation being signalled from Westminster had effectively undone the work. She expressed concern about the planned relaxation this Christmas potentially coming at a very high cost.

Boris Johnson’s blame game

Giuseppe Bignardi

Fishing is a sticking point in the Brexit negotiations. The UK has rejected an offer to reduce the EU states fishing quota by 15-18%. Fishing is of relatively little importance to the UK (0.1% of our GDP) but it has become a symbolic issue. Our government wants an exclusive right to set fishing policies as a demonstration of UK sovereignty.

Is religion dying out?

Stephen Lambert

The current position of religion is far more complex. Spiritual beliefs are alive and well and are still the motivating factors in some people’s lives, even if they’re not expressed through organised churches or denominations. This has become pronounced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Homelessness is blighting the north of England – a radical housing programme could alleviate it

Stephen Lambert

Although the number of rough sleepers in Newcastle is much lower than Manchester and other core cities, with up to 20 individuals sleeping out in the city centre on any given night, many thousands more make up the ‘hidden homeless’. Some sofa-surf in friends’ flats. Others sleep in cars or stay in charity-run hostels, grotty B&B hotels and other costly forms of temporary accommodation. According to the housing campaign group Shelter, a staggering 320,000 people are homeless in modern Britain.

W(h)ither women’s work

Sally Young

Although it’s been illegal in the UK to pay women less than men for fifty years, a 15.5% gender pay gap still exists. This year the Equal Pay Day in the UK was 20 November, the day women effectively start to work for free because, on average, they are paid less than men. Sadly there will be many redundancies after furlough and the perilous state of childcare means a disproportionate number of these are likely to fall on women.

International day for disabled people: the need for an inclusive approach

Julie Ward

In 1984 I found myself running an arts and disability agency for the north of England, and encountered the tail-end of the mass segregation programme that had resulted in millions of people with mild to severe physical and mental disabilities being locked away in large institutions, forced to do menial work for pocket money and with little say about any aspect of their lives. The arts activities that my organisation ran often opened up deep emotional scars from years of abandonment, disregard and abuse. Paintings, poems and performances were littered with powerful symbols of imprisonment and freedom.

For your entertainment!

Peter Lathan

The company – five actors and me – met up at 8am, shared themselves between the van and the one car (the producers would only pay expenses for one car) and off we went. By 9am we’re getting the set, costumes, sound system and everything else necessary into the venue, then we fit it all up and at 10am the show goes up. It comes down at 12 noon, when we take down, get out and drive to the next venue, which was Darlington. We get in, fit up, the show goes up at 2pm, comes down at 4pm, when we take down, get out and drive to the third venue, which just happened to be in Prudhoe.

Covid-19: a catastrophe for women

Ann Schofield

Women on low pay, are not just having to choose between the basics of eating and heating, as many families living in poverty prior to Covid-19 had to do. They must now choose between food, warmth and all the required expensive sanitizers and masks needed to keep their families safe. In ensuring their family’s survival, many women are going without essentials. This includes safe, hygienic sanitary products which they can no longer afford and aren’t freely available because of the closure of centres and schools that distribute them.

Dance ballerina dance!

Dr Jayne Hamilton

Miss Trew organized performances in community centres, and many were done to raise money for charity. To date, Miss Trew’s school has raised thousands upon thousands of pounds for charities.

Johnson, Patel and accountability: a personal account of bullying

Anne Greaves

I don’t know what marks someone out as a victim or what makes someone a bully, but bullying seems to be widespread. My older daughter Helen was bullied all through high school. She was just different, and that’s not allowed, apparently. She was difficult, wayward and demanding but she was also bright, funny, creative and loving. She was certainly not a girly girl, and that was a no-no back in the 90s when she was at school. I’m hoping things have improved since.

Private schools lie at the root of the UK’s inequality

Stephen Lambert

70,000 youngsters are now educated in private boarding schools. Till recently in decline, they’re going through a revival partly due to the popularity of Harry Potter films. As the author Alex Renton points out in ‘Stiff Upper Lip’, wealthy families from the Far East, Russia, Germany and Saudi are sending their boys and girls in huge numbers to these establishments to boost family status and to enable them to make the right connections and ”meet the right people”.

3p in my bank account: the story of Tony and Boris – both ‘just about managing’

Peter Benson

Tony is so proud he hates asking for help and always says there are so many others who are worse off than him. He volunteers at a charity in London; manning the library, sorting new books received, and handing them out. He loves it as he is on a rota and has a few buddies. There he is valued. He would never reveal just how badly-off he actually is as he doesn’t want people to know.

Forget fraud: it’s getting people to vote that counts

Stephen Lambert

Universal suffrage has been achieved for the majority of working people aged 18 and over. Yet some people still find it hard to vote in elections. For instance, people with physical disabilities sometimes face barriers, with 67% of polling stations not being accessible. Partially sighted or blind people experience obstacles to even make it onto the electoral registration system. In some councils, the forms aren’t easy to read or makes sense of.

How to put on a family nativity show: tea towels to the ready!

Caroline Hoile

Sad though it is that children, teachers, parents, grandparents, family and friends may well miss out on the inimitable traditional nativity, celebrated in the school hall, local church or community centre, all is not lost! The household tea towel drawer can rise to the occasion, and allow all those family members, who’ve ever wanted to don the occupants of its drawer, to do so – with a home-grown family production of a traditional school musical!

BREAKING

The government needs to do more to save the High Street: a response to the Arcadia group administration news

Yvonne Wancke

Jessie Joe Jacobs, candidate for Tees Valley Mayor said: “Our High Streets are the heart and soul of our communities, my family’s business Jacobs’ carpets began on Stockton High Street and I am committed to seeing new life breathed back into it. Today’s news about the Arcadia group is desperately sad but we won’t go down without a fight.”

Britain and Ireland: a shared history

Judi Sutherland

I don’t feel responsible for what happened long before I was born. At the time of the Great Hunger, my ancestors were living lives of rural poverty as farm labourers in Scotland and England. None of them would have been able to vote for the British government that despised the Catholic Irish and conspired to keep them in poverty. I don’t feel responsible, but as an Englishwoman in Ireland, I have to be sensitive to the difficult history of our two countries. As last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests indicated, we Brits have a lot to learn about our country’s history of colonial rule.

The pandemic of violence and what to do about it

Julie Ward

So what can we do to stem the tide of gender-based violence apart from the usual petitions and letters to MPs? We need a system change across society starting with sex and relationship education so teachers and school governors should work together to implement age appropriate lessons. We need to increase women’s visibility across all sectors at the highest level, which means empowering girls to study STEM subjects and encouraging women to stand for election at every opportunity; it is heartening that we already have women police and crime commissioners in the region with more women standing in the forthcoming elections.

Covid-19 spending lacks scrutiny and is often misdirected

Giuseppe Bignardi

The lateral flow test that the government intends for mass testing is potentially less sensitive than RT-PCR, especially when used by self-trained members of the public. Is there a point in using tests that miss half or more of the infection cases? The introduction of population screening, with awareness of the test results, is likely to inform behaviour, but misplaced ‘reassurance from missed cases could potentially increase [infection] transmission’.

Every ten seconds…

Peter Benson

But who is really looking out for the hungry in the UK? It seems to be down to all of us and businesses around the UK and an army of volunteers who so generously give their time energy and often money to volunteer in a charity food bank.

I miss panto

Peter Lathan

It was out of the Harlequinade that pantomime developed, with all the character types we know today – but no Dame! She came into panto from the English tradition of women not being allowed to appear on stage. Her first appearance was not in panto at all but in the Mystery Plays of the 15th and 16th centuries. I always think that the first panto Dame was Mrs Noah from the Noah and the Flood story of The Mysteries.