Will David Cameron’s National Citizen Service deliver results for poor disaffected ” hard to reach ” youth?

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David Cameron with some National Citizen Service students on a Teach First partnership. Pic Credit: Teach First

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One of David Cameron’s  legacies from his  ” Big Society ” initiative is the creation of a National Citizen Service for 15 to 17 year olds where they could go to summer camps.take part in adventurous sports like rock climbing and kayaking  and undertake community work and local projects for four weeks.

He bequeathed Theresa May with a bill setting up a national trust with a Royal Charter so it could be implemented nationwide. So enamoured was David Cameron with the idea  he has agreed to be chair of the patrons of the new trust.

But since Theresa May took office it has suffered two body blows. She has limited the money and dropped a commitment to a statutory requirement for schools and colleges to publicise it. None of this has had much publicity because of Trump and Brexit.

As a result it will have less money and less publicity.

Her action coincided with a damning National Audit Office report which questioned its ability to deliver and control the money it has already received.

The NAO warned : “The Trust has spent little time understanding costs and where savings could be made. The Trust has four strategic objectives: growth; quality; cost and sustainability. Its business plan includes a number of cost control initiatives at the early stages of implementation. “

“Based on a full unit cost, NCS risks being financially unsustainable in the future. Our analysis shows that in 2016, the estimated full unit cost exceeded the expected unit cost by 19%

“On this basis, it will cost government £560 million to provide 300,000 places in 2019-20, 32% more than the £424 million funding currently allocated. The unit cost will need to fall 29% from £1,863 in 2016 to £1,314 in 2019 to provide these places within the available spending envelope. “

Worse the report found that the trust had little ability to control costs.

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO added: “NCS is now at a critical stage…. The OCS (Office for Civil Society) and the Trust have shown that NCS can attract large numbers of participants, and participation has a positive effect on young people. These are no small achievements, but it remains unclear whether these effects are enduring and whether NCS can grow to become ‘a rite of passage’ available to all 16- to 17-year-olds.The OCS and the Trust now need to think radically about the aspects of the current programme that work and how best to achieve NCS’s aims at a more affordable cost to the taxpayer.”

The question is what is the NCS for? Will it just be another project high jacked by pushy parents who want their sons and daughters to have an attractive CV when they apply for a university place? Or will it serve as a genuine catalyst to give ” hard to reach ” young people an idea of community involvement.

One  working class area  where it is working is Barnsley.

The local MP,Dan Jarvis, Labour MP for Barnsley Central, is strongly behind it  and has promoted the scheme in his constituency.

“It obviously needs to be value for money but it is vitally important it gets to “ hard to reach “ kids as it can change lives.

“People sometimes think I am keen to promote it because of my army background and want to introduce it as a return to conscription. This is not the case – it is more than one needs the scheme to be put on a national basis.”

He says the success in Barnsley is helped by projects run by the town’s football club and also a recent exchange with the London borough of Newham which helped kids broaden their horizons.

At the moment the jury is out. Will it expand to benefit the working classes or just be another middle class ” rite of passage”. Who will win out- Barnsley or Eton?

I have also written about this for Tribune magazine.

Exclusive: How the equality watchdog sacked a disabled army veteran and IRA bomb survivor by email

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Rebecca Hilsenrath: chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and leading the programme of staff cuts Pic credit: Douglas-Scott co.uK

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Donald Trump : You’re fired. Credit Giphy

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Late last year this blog featured the case of  57 year old Markus Caruana,  who works in corporate communications at the Birmingham office of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.To recap

He is a former flute player in the Corps of Drums with the Grenadier Guards.

Markus Caruana was unfortunate enough to have been both at the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 and the Chelsea Barracks bombing in 1981 which seriously injured regimental bandsmen from the Irish Guards.

He escaped unscathed in both instances but saw three of his friends killed in an IRA attack in Crossmaglen in Northern Ireland.

He left the army in 1985 to become a landscape gardener and then took advantage of a Unison sponsored education scheme to learn to read and write.

He had been a school refuser after being bullied and could hardly read or write or read music but was able to play his  flute because he had a natural memory for tunes.

In 2002 he secured a job with the Disability Rights Commission which later became part of the EHRC.

Sadly he lost his 75 per cent of his hearing and got  an incurable muscle wasting disease called Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) which affects the nervous system that supports muscles, often weakening the legs and feet.

The EHRC had enabled him to have a support worker so he could do his job there – but she is also facing redundancy now he has failed to retain his job.

Yesterday he  and five other disabled people was sacked by email by the EHRC and given 24 hours notice to clear his desk. He was one of ten people made compulsorily redundant by emails from executives from the Commission.

The decision led to a furious reaction from one of the main union representing staff,the PCS.

EHRC says the staff will receive pay in lieu of notice (PILON), but workers did not agree to this because it closes off the opportunity to seek redeployment at the commission or elsewhere in the civil service.

In a letter back to EHRC, the union states: “By imposing PILON you are cutting off this option and effectively consigning BME, disabled, women and trade union members to unemployment. There should only be PILON in cases where the individual concerned has agreed to it.”

Commenting on the cases, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It’s absolutely reprehensible that dedicated staff have been sacked and told to clear their desks with a day’s notice.

“That this has happened at the government body charged with upholding human rights and fair treatment in our society is an absolute scandal and we will continue to fight it.”

My own take on it is this. It is quite clear that the head of the EHRC, Rebecca Hilsenrath, is a particularly vindictive person to take action like this – by making it difficult for these people to get other jobs in the civil service.

Her action reminds me a bit of the attitude taken by Donald Trump towards disabled people. I am sure she would make an excellent addition to his staff in Washington though I don’t know whether she would share his locker room talk or not.

I have also written an article for Tribune about the sackings and the future strikes.

Exclusive: Disabled army veteran and IRA bomb survivor targeted for the sack by human rights watchdog

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David Isaac, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and agreeing to sack disabled and black people who work for his organisation.

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Rebeacca Hilsenrath: chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and leading the programme of staff cuts Pic credit: Douglas-Scott co.uk

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This is a story of the human cost of the Government’s cruel policy of saving money at any cost that is being pursued by a watchdog that is supposed to champion human rights in Britain.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission – despite strong staff and union opposition- is pursuing a policy of slashing staff. Its own equality impact assessment reveals that the cuts are to fall on the very people it is supposed to defend. Some 75 per cent of black people and the majority of disabled  people are said to have “failed” an initial assessment to keep their jobs. Most of the winners are young, able bodied and white.

But it is not just about statistics, it is about people.

One of the people who seems certain for the chop is  57 year old Markus Caruana,  who works in corporate communications at their Birmingham office.

He is a former flute player in the Corps of Drums with the Grenadier Guards.

Markus Caruana was unfortunate enough to have been both at the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 and the Chelsea Barracks bombing in 1981 which seriously injured regimental bandsmen from the Irish Guards.

He escaped unscathed in both instances but saw three of his friends killed in an IRA attack in Crossmaglen in Northern Ireland.

He left the army in 1985 to become a landscape gardener and then took advantage of a Unison sponsored education scheme to learn to read and write.

He had been a school refuser after being bullied and could hardly read or write or read music but was able to play his  flute because he had a natural memory for tunes.

In 2002 he secured a job with the Disability Rights Commission which later became part of the EHRC.

Sadly he lost his 75 per cent of his hearing and got  an incurable muscle wasting disease called Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) which affects the nervous system that supports muscles, often weakening the legs and feet.

The EHRC had enabled him to have a support worker so he could do his job there – but she is also facing redundancy now he has failed to retain his job.

Lois Austin, a full time official for the PCS union, which is fighting the cuts, said: “The Equality and Human Rights Commission are targeting some of the most highly competent disabled and black people for this new round of cuts.

” He is just one of a number of disabled and black people, some with young families, who are losing their jobs.

” If this was a private company the EHRC should be prosecuting them for discrimination. Instead they are setting an example for other firms who want to dump the disabled to save costs and the bother of employing them.

The EHRC  take is this. A spokesperson said:

“Whilst we cannot discuss individual cases, we deeply regret having to reduce our headcount as a result of budget losses, but like every public sector organisation we have had cuts imposed on us. We have strongly resisted these cuts, but believe the changes we are making will ensure we can still deliver our ambitious programme.”

In my view the EHRC’s stance is a hostage to fortune. They tell and could even prosecute firms who discriminate  against disabled people. If I were an unscrupulous employer I could now tell them to get stuffed – saying they are only following what the EHRC do rather than

say – which is to dump expensive and bothersome people who need support workers – to save money and increase my profits.

Britain’s  human rights body should hang its head in shame for what it is doing to its own disabled staff.

 

The crisis at the heart of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission

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David Isaac: Chairing a fractured organisation with staff and management now at loggerheads.

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Rebeacca Hilsenrath: chief executive of the Equality and Human rights Commission Pic credit: Douglas-Scott co.uK

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Human rights – whether it is gay rights, racial discrimination, gender equality, equal pay or disability discrimination – is at the heart of many of the big issues facing modern Britain today.

It is therefore a tragedy that the organisation responsible for monitoring such issues is now a fractured body with management at loggerheads with staff and the main focus of a destructive policy of government cuts by people who appear to believe there is no such thing as society and these rights are not necessarily worth defending.

Today this body came within a hair’s breadth of facing strike action by a frustrated and alienated staff  and the action was only averted by talks at Acas. Contrary to the popular image civil servants do not take strike action lightly – it is only a measure of last resort. So when two unions, the Public and Commercial Services Union and Unite, decided to take such action, things have reached crisis point.

Its crisis is not surprising when a body like this has suffered cut after cut until it is a shadow of its former self and people – including the United Nations – are questioning whether it can have any meaningful role in defending people’s rights.

The  gaping divide can be seen between the  perceptions of management and staff over what is happening there at the moment – I did an article on the forthcoming strike for Tribune last Friday.(unfortunately not on line at the moment) and one on the great divide between management and worker’s salaries for Sunday Mirror earlier which is the subject of a dispute by the Commission ( also not on line at the moment).

The present cuts whereby nineteen of the first 26 posts due to be axed are held by staff in the three lowest paid grades, means the government body responsible for protecting vulnerable workers is itself disproportionately targeting older, ethnic minority and disabled staff. Another 50 are expected to follow.

The union and staff reaction to this is shown by a quote from Mark Serwotka, the genetal secretary of PCS, “The commission is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultants while getting rid of low paid staff who provide daily support to victims of discrimination.

“It is sickening that as division and hate are being fostered in our communities in the wake of the Brexit vote, this Tory government is cutting the staff whose job it is to combat this.”

The management view is the opposite.

A Commission spokesperson said:“It is disappointing that the union have decided to take this action. We have made every effort to work constructively with them on our proposals as we implement our new way of working. We have listened to them throughout the process and acted on a number of their suggestions.

“Like every public sector organisation we have had cuts to our budget.  We need to make savings and we need to change how we work to deliver our strategic plan.  We are confident that any action will not affect the important work we do in protecting and improving people’s rights.”

“We have a very diverse workforce when compared to the wider public and private sectors.  The operating model was consulted on exhaustively with all staff, transparently and with a focus on the most effective structure for the Commission rather than the individuals in the posts affected. In addition to this, there will be a stronger focus on new training and mentoring schemes to support more minority ethnic and disabled staff into leadership positions.”

Given human rights is a central issue in Britain I have decided to forensically examine what is exactly going on at the EHRC. Can the top management justify its large salaries at the taxpayers’ expense? Is running the EHRC just a career option for an elite group of officials and a millionaire lawyer ?  What issues are the EHRC  really taking up and are they effective in doing so? Who are the people they want to sack from their organisation? Is the EHRC  really value for money?:Do they practice what they preach to private industry and the public services?

Fortunately  I have seen a large volume of material from a wide variety of sources – far too much to put in one blog or article – that  allows me to look at such issues. Over the next few weeks I intend to examine this and put it to the EHRC and other scrutiny bodies, like Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, which is preparing to examine whether the EHRC is doing a proper job.

 

An 11 plus failure speaks out:Theresa May wants conformity over opportunity

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Theresa May, Prime Minister Pic Credit: conservatives.com

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Theresa May’s decision to turn the clock back five  decades by building a new generation of grammar schools makes me personally very angry. It is divisive, it will narrow opportunities for future generations and it will entrench the current Establishment by introducing a new ” gatekeeping ” role to ensure who succeeds and who fails.

Superficially it will allow a few hand picked intelligent  11 year olds from the poor to go to highly academic schools but the rest of the population can go hang.

I should know because I was one of those who would have been labelled a failure at 11. In 1958 I failed my 11 plus. Living in Streatham, South London and failing to get into Battersea Grammar meant I would be doomed to go to Dunraven Secondary Modern which then didn’t even teach enough O levels ( now GCSE’s) to get any professional job.
But I was lucky – educationalists in 1958 had this new fangled idea of  comprehensive education which was supported by Tories as well as Labour. A brand new school opened at the top of Brixton Hill called Tulse Hill – a   huge rough multi racial school that attracted idealist teachers across Britain.

Its first head came from Dulwich College, a prestigious public school (incidently where “anti establishment ” Nigel Farage later was a pupil) and teachers left cushy jobs at other elite schools to be part of the staff.

So instead of being consigned to the education scrapheap I was taught Latin by a teacher from Manchester Grammar, Spanish by a Republican fleeing Franco’s dictatorship, English by a guy who got plays on BBC radio and history by two brilliant teachers.

Even then though it took me to past 16 to really take off. As well failing my 11 plus I was a  “late developer”. I mucked  up some of my O levels but the flexibility at my school allowed me to retake some of them ( I was particularly bad at maths) while taking three A levels (one in 18 months). Even at 16 I was thought not to be university material but I was no longer thought to be a complete thickie.

I got much better A levels than people expected – though it did not surprise my history teachers- but had been rejected by every university. I used the ” clearing house” to re-apply to my first choice, Warwick University, backing it up by writing a letter.

In the meantime I was going to start my first job as a clerk with London Transport – but days before I suddenly got a place at Warwick on my chosen History and Politics course because someone dropped out. I gather the university chose me because they were heartened by my improvement at A level and thought I had more potential.

I have gone into such personal detail to illustrate why May is wrong – she may get some academically bright 11 year olds into grammars – but she will deprive thousands of other  ” late developers” like me who didn’t show their real potential until they were 16 of future opportunities available in a truly comprehensive system.

It is quite clear to me that without Tulse Hill and Warwick I would never have become a journalist. never have worked for The Times Higher Education Supplement and The Guardian. never been a lobby journalist and would not be sitting on a national independent  panel now. Neil Hamilton, Peter Mandelson. Tony Blair, Leon Brittan, Norman Fowler, Lord Ashcroft, Ed Lester and Brian Coleman to name a few, would never have been bothered by a pesky inquisitive journalist and could have slept more soundly.And talking of Tulse Hill, would Ken Livingstone, another pupil, ever had become mayor of London?

Since working at this level I have become aware of how much of a Club the Establishment is. It is dominated by public schools and old grammar school boys who share an ethos that is now miles apart from the working classes. By filtering people at 11 she will entrench this conformist view of society and help the Establishment- and that includes herself – to keep out oddballs like me – who can be a nuisance to so many people.

My view is that Theresa May’s real agenda is create a more conformist society and bolster the Establishment with a sprinkling of  academically clever working class boys and girls. Given her other main interest is pressing through a surveillance system that allows the state to keep records of every person’s digital footprint, the non conformists can easily be kept out of having a chance to shape society.

 

 

 

 

 

Why we need disability campaigners like Lord Rix now

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Lord Rix who died this week aged 92

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The sad death recently of Lord Rix highlighted how much progress a determined individual can make in a particular field.

As well as being famous for his slapstick comedy Lord Rix went on to have  a second career fighting for people with learning disabilities ending up as a vocal champion in the House of Lords

I knew Lord Rix in the 1980s when I was social services correspondent of The Guardian and he became secretary general of Mencap, the charity which campaigns for people with learning disabilities.

At the time there was enormous stigma attached to people who were then called mentally handicapped or even worse, Mongols, which was both derogatory and racist.

Most of them at the time were locked away in a network of hospitals for the mentally handicapped which people often confused with hospitals for the mentally ill.

Reports on the treatment and living conditions for people with learning disabilities  and people with mental illness  in these hospitals were then kept confidential. Believe it or not, not only confidential, but protected by the Official Secrets Act, opening a person to prosecution if they were published.

It was then that Lord Rix and myself decided that this should stop and the living conditions for these people should be revealed.

We set up about collecting as many official reports on conditions in these hospitals as possible – both for the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill- and then in one fell swoop the Guardian published a front page news story and a summary of each report.

The reaction to disclosure of official reports was to re-open with a vengeance why these people were being locked up and kept in very bad conditions – without much privacy in neglected hospitals tucked away in rural areas.

I even discovered some people who had been placed in a Lancashire hospital way back in the early twentieth century and diagnosed as  “mentally ill ” because they had illegitimate children – something that is complete anathema in the 21st century.  They were so institutionalised that the hospital was creating flats on its premises – in the hope that they could go back to live in the community. They had to learn how to boil a kettle.

To his credit the response of Kenneth Clarke, then the health secretary, was not to order an investigation into the leaks but to scrap the provisions of the Official Secrets Act that banned their publication. It also speeded up the movement of people with learning disabilities into the community.

Lord Rix who has rightly received many accolades was extremely brave in helping with this enterprise –  and changed the debate.

Today enormous progress has been made but I feel with need a new generation of campaigners to fight disability on a wide range of fronts. The disabled – not only with learning difficulties but with physical challenges- are still facing neglect by the NHS and social services. Government cuts in benefits  are designed by this pernicious government to penalise the disabled and limit mobility. The British tabloid media with an agenda that many disabled people are scroungers or frauds does not help. They will need to be particularly vigilant with Britain leaving the European Union – as many of the disabled friendly advances have been made on the back of EU legislation.

The new challenges are as big as the old.

 

Stop these nasty attacks on people living here now

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Racist abuse on a Manchester tram this week Pic credit:www.dazeddigital.com

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During both the first and second world wars my family came under  suspicion and attack from people because our family name Hencke is German. At one stage we even considered changing it or  Anglicising it  to something like Henkey.

The reason was that we were  at war with Germany and although our family left Germany via Holland in 1862 and we were virulently  anti Nazi ( my mother is Jewish after all) the hatred of the foreigner was very high at this time.

Since the Brexit campaign there has been an upsurge in nasty, vicious attacks on EU people staying and working here and racist attacks against ethnic minorities which we have not seen  for some time.

Frankly I blame  Nigel Farage, UKIP and both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove for giving respectability and legitimacy to people who have held these views privately to think they can now openly harass foreign workers in this country.

By promising to quit the European Union and ” take control ” people have been given the impression that we can stop immigration altogether and that perhaps their wish that people could be sent home will be granted.

They have been told that all their problems getting jobs, housing, places for their kids in school, hospital operations  and even traffic jams and waiting in queues are all the fault of immigrants. If they left everything would be wonderful.

This monstrous lie was perpetuated in split screen TV campaign broadcasts by the Brexit campaign. Any sane person would know that this is far more complicated.than that.

But what has been alarming is the reaction. People attacked on a Manchester tram, women abused in the street, someone quizzing people on their nationality  in a supermarket queue and telling  the till staff to serve British born people first. Others have been nastier including abusing Polish  kids at school, putting nasty messages through Polish people’s letterboxes and daubing German made cars (presumably bought by British people) with swastikas. And there was the nasty graffiti  on the Polish centre in Hammersmith, west London.

It is soon going to become very obvious that people are NOT going to get what they want from Boris Johnson. Immigration will not stop, they are not going to be miraculously rehoused and immigrant’s children are not going to be removed from school. All because  this depends on policies that have nothing to do with immigration – such as house building or providing enough places in schools.

So what should  be done. There should be a crackdown on people who do this to show it is unacceptable.

But there also should be action to explain to people that if they want to live in  dynamic, prosperous, modern society  it is going to be a multi racial and diverse and people of different beliefs, race and sexuality all have something to contribute. We are no longer a pale male and stale society and can’t turn the clock back  centuries. That is why I think London rejected the Brexit case.

The problem is that we are left with a nasty backlash from people who see they have been left behind and want to take it out on anybody who is different to them. That must be tackled or we slip into a nasty, divisive country that no one will want to stay in.