Females win landmark equal pay victory

A landmark Supreme Court ruling means that equal-pay disputes can be heard in the civil courts, not just employment tribunals, for the first time. Over 170 women, who worked in low-paying jobs for Birmingham City Council, claim that they were paid less than their male colleagues and have won the right to have their cases heard in the courts. This could have implications for thousands of workers, and could mean that female employees at local authorities across the country could potentially receive payouts for pay discrimination.

Equal-pay disputes have generally been heard in employment tribunals, which only deal with cases brought within six months of leaving a place of work. However the ruling means that future disputes can be heard in civil courts which has a longer six-year time frame in which a case can be brought.

The dispute over equal pay at Birmingham City Council has been running for over three years. The female employees who brought the case to court were employed in roles such as cleaners, cooks, caterers and care staff, and claimed that they were excluded from bonuses that were given to male employees. Between 2007 and 2008, Birmingham City Council ended up paying thousands of pounds in compensation to women bringing the claim, but only those who did so within the six month period of leaving their jobs. Those left out of the original compensation took their case to the High Court.

The law firm Leigh Day & Co., who represents the women, declared the ruling as “historic.” In a statement, the firm said the judgement:

“…Effectively extends the time limit for equal-pay claims from six months to six years, the biggest change to equal pay legislation since it was introduced in 1970, with huge implications for thousands of workers”.

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Disability hate crimes soar to ‘record levels’, doubling since 2008 financial crisis

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the number of disability hate crimes has soared since the 2008 financial crisis, leading to concerns that the “anti-scrounger” rhetoric employed by the Coalition is leading to hostility and aggression against the most vulnerable members of society.

The Independent reports that disability hate crime has doubled since the start of the financial crisis in 2008, yet yespite the rise, the number of people convicted for the crime actually fell last year. A total of 1,942 disability hate crimes were recorded by police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2011 while only 523 people were found guilty of a disability hate crime – down 5 per cent from 2010.

I remember when the rhetoric from both government and the media was very much anti immigration and immigrants and asylum seekers seemed to be blamed for most of the issues that Britain was facing. Now the focus and blame has shifted towards other vulnerable members of society – those on benefits and those with disabilities. “Benefit scroungers”, as well as the welfare state itself, are being blamed for much of the economic crisis and the deficit. This rhetoric has allowed the Coalition to effectively attack and slowly attempt to dismantle sections of the welfare state and the public sector, all the while blaming “scroungers” and the most vulnerable members of society.

“There are historical parallels,” says Katharine Quarmby, the author of Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People, who has grown alarmed by the levels of “benefit scrounger” abuse aimed at disabled people. “If you have a group that is blamed for economic downturn, terrible things can happen to them.”

“Iain Duncan Smith [the Work and Pensions Secretary] is saying ‘We’re going to push through these benefit reforms’ and hinting strongly that lots of people on disability benefits are scroungers,” Quarmby says. “That kind of rhetoric leads to disability hate crime on the streets.”

  • Last year the Glasgow Media Trust found the public believed between 50 and 70 per cent of those on disability benefits were fraudulent. The actual number is likely to be between 1 and 2 per cent.
  • The same report found that there has been a tripling in the use of words such as “scrounger”, “cheat” and “skiver” in tabloid stories on disability in the past five years.
Charities are expressing concern at the rise in these reported incidents. Guy Parckar, head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability, said: “The impact of hate crime simply cannot be overestimated, and these figures suggest that police authorities and local and central government must all look again at what they are doing to tackle disability hate crime.”

Former government drugs advisor says that alcohol consumption would fall by 25% if Dutch-style “cannabis cafes” were allowed

Cannabis sativa plant

Former government advisor Professor David Nutt has told MPs that alcohol consumption would fall by up to 25% in Britain if Dutch-style cannabis “coffee shops” were introduced, the Guardian reports.

“A regulated market for illicit drugs would be the best way and we could reduce alcohol consumption by as much as 25% if we had the Dutch model of cannabis cafes,” said Nutt, who added that he believed the police would rather deal with people who were ‘stoned’ than drunk.

“The drugs trade is the second biggest international trade in the world, after oil, and it is completely unregulated … It is impossible to win the war on drugs.”

Prof David Nutt is a psychiatrist and  neuropsychopharmacologist who was a former government minister appointed as chairmen of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in 2008. However, he clashed with MPs due to his views on drug harm and classification. This came to a head in 2009 when Nutt published an editorial in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in which he stated that horse riding held more risk than taking ecstasy. He vocally stated his beliefs that illicit drugs should be classified according to actual evidence of harm rather than as a result of politics.

Prof David Nutt recently gave his views regarding the Dutch-style cannabis cafe model to the Commons home affairs select committee’s inquiry into drugs policy. Both Nutt and Prof Lesley King, a second former government drug advisor, were invited to give evidence. Nutt told the committee that he still stands by his claim that horse-riding is more dangerous than taking ecstasy, and offered his views regarding the introduction of “cannabis cafes”. As the Guardian reports:

“Nutt told MPs the cost of policing cannabis use was only £500m a year, mainly for issuing possession warning notices, compared with the £6bn a year bill for policing the use of alcohol, including dealing with people who were drunk and disorderly.”

Nutt instead of scientific evidence, politics had influenced drug policy in Britain over the 40 years since the Misuse of Drugs Act was passed in 1971. Only one drug – cannabis – had ever been downgraded and that was quickly reversed against the advice of the ACMD.

Nutt said the decision by the home secretary to classify magic mushrooms as a class A drug alongside heroin and crack cocaine was “the final nail in the rationality of the 1971 Drugs Act”.

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Plan B releases single – Ill Manors – centred on the London Riots

Plan B has released a new single entitled “Ill Manors,” focused on the UK London Riots last summer. In an interview with BBC 1Extra Ben Drew, from Plan B, explained why he felt the need to write the song:

“I’m not trying to condone what happened during the riots, it disgusted me, made me sick, but it saddened me more than anything. Because those kids that was rioting and looting, they’ve just made life ten times harder for themselves, they’ve just played into the hands of what certain sectors of middle England think about them. And we have a big issue and prejudice in this country from certain ignorant sectors of middle class people towards the younger class. An example of this is the word chav, which in the video I state stands for Council Housed and Violent.

“This is a derogatory term used again by certain sectors of middle England to define people from poor and unfortunate backgrounds that have less money than them, that haven’t had as good an education. And for me, that term is no different from similar terms used to be derogatory towards race and sex, the only difference being that the word chav is used very publicly in the press.”

Later in the interview, he added: “It’s been described as horrific by some people that have watched it. It’s supposed to be. It is because that’s life. Not life for everybody, but the world that I’m talking about, that’s life for these people. If you don’t live in that environment, you don’t have to address it, you can just get on with your own life and live happily. But I can’t do that, I can’t read a newspaper and read something negative that’s going on in the world and just forget it, turn over to page 3 and star looking at a girl’s pair of breasts.”

Listen to the interview on BBC Radio 1Extra with Ben Drew, explaining the song and his beliefs, here.

 

Self Reflection

I have found the blogging process useful in many ways. It provides an outlet for my writings, and encourages me to report on news stories and developments. It also encourages me to seek out news from across the internet.

I find social media to be a powerful, modern tool for communicating and sharing information. I would like to gain more ‘followers’ on Twitter, as I would like to engage more with people online. I often re-tweet and occasionally reply to people, however I have realised that I need to be more active in gaining followers. Twitter, alongside other social media platforms, allows people to communicate and engage on an unprecedented level. In my search for stories, I uncovered several articles that dealt with Twitter tips and hints, aiming to provide information for users to get the most out of Twitter. I found that Blogging often goes hand-in-hand with Twitter, and together the two can form a powerful mode of communication and sharing information and articles. I often use Twitter to gather news articles from across the internet, and have a newfound appreciation for Twitter ‘lists’.

While my blog has many views, I feel that I need to engage more with people. I do not often get comments or ratings on my blog, and feel that this in combination with my low follower-count on Twitter shows that I need to engage more and gain more followers. Hopefully, this will lead to greater engagement and feedback, which in turn will inspire me to blog more frequently. I have found it difficult to maintain my blog with my dissertation and other university assignments, however it is my hope that I begin blogging with more frequency.

I would also like to branch out with more topics and categories. For the moment, my blog is mainly focused on news stories although I would like to cover technology and science developments as well. The News and Journalism unit exercises has also inspired me to share more of my personal journalistic endeavours on my blog, which will hopefully inspire me to share more on my blog.

David “we’re all in this together” Cameron has missed an opportunity to win public support over RBS bonuses

 

 

You don’t hear the once frequently-touted line “we’re all in this together” much anymore. Vote for “change” was another phrase repeated by the Conservatives who promised to bring equality, justice and, above all, trust back into a government that had seemed to forget that it was elected by the people and for the people. Cringeworthy as it sounds coming from a Tory politician, the phrases were obviously perceived by many to be legitimate as they rushed to the polls to vote Conservative, forgetting for a moment that the very nature of the word “conservative” contrasts strongly with the word “change”.

 

Perhaps Cameron doesn’t dare spout the line “we’re all in this together” these days because he knows he’ll be laughed out of government, or perhaps he innately knows that now he’s in power, heartwarming phrases that don’t actually mean anything are no longer needed to garner votes. Still, there’s no doubting that the simple phrase was powerful coming after years of a Labour government that seemed unaccountable to the public. A party that had lost the trust in the people, prompting the Conservative party, of all parties, to act as if they were going to bring trust and accountability back into government.

 

Despite never really believing Cameron’s rhetoric of “we’re all in this together”, I was still stunned to find that Cameron didn’t act on that phrase and step in to ensure that Stephen Hester, the Royal Bank of Scotland’s chief executive, was blocked of his nearly £1m bonus. Cameron has also been stating for months now that he would be “tough” on executive pay, especially in light of growing public anger.

 

I was stunned because I believe Cameron missed a trick here. Actually living up to one’s rhetoric is, surprisingly, admired in a politician, and had Cameron followed through with his sentiments I believe he would have won back a lot of public support in both his leadership and the coalition itself. Here Cameron was offered a golden opportunity, yet he let his Tory sentiments get the better of him.

 

It also awarded Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, a chance to strike back at Cameron for failing to act on his rhetoric. Now, whilst I feel the Labour party has been a pretty rubbish opposition party (missing many chances to really strike back at the coalition and assert their own position and a counter deficit-reduction plan), this inaction on Cameron’s behalf was impossible for Miliband to ignore.

 

“It’s a disgraceful failure of leadership by the prime minister,” Miliband said, in a rare moment where he channeled the public’s anger. “He’s been promising, for months, action against excessive bonuses, executive pay – and now he’s nodded through a million-pound bonus.

 

“He’s also been lecturing shareholders about how they need to be more active in holding executives to account. He owns, through the British government, 83% of the Royal Bank of Scotland. He must now explain, not least to the British people, why he has allowed this to happen.”

 

You see, the RBS (now 83% owned by taxpayers) decided to award Stephen Hester a £963,000 bonus. Hester already earns a basic salary of £1.2m, and the move to award nearly £1m as a bonus has led to public outcry, and a missed opportunity by the coalition to actually act on behalf of the will of the electorate.

 

Even Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor of London, decried the decision, stating that RBS should be run “on public sector lines”. In an interview with the BBC, Johnson added: “The idea that this is not in the control of the government seems to me to be far-fetched. Stephen Hester is an able man, probably doing a difficult job, and his contract must have been drawn up, I guess, when he was appointed in 2008 under Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown.

 

“I do not know what they were thinking of when they drew it up that way, but it certainly seems to me to be right that the government should step in and sort it out. People will not understand how somebody can get a whacking great bonus like that when they are basically running a state-owned concern, and I am at a loss to justify it.”

 

David Cameron and Nick Clegg both pretended it was all the fault of the Labour government and, despite the fact that their government owns 83% of the bank, said there was nothing they could do.

 

Cameron said: “He was brought in to do this job, his contract was put into place by the last government – we are obviously constrained by that contract.”

 

Clegg also blamed everything on Labour and acted as if his hands were tied, stating: “The last government not only let the banks get away with blue murder – then they entered into contracts with them, which allowed them to continue to pay themselves large bonuses. Now whether you like it or not – and I don’t particularly like it – we are constrained by those contractual obligations.”

 

George Osborne also stated that he didn’t really care about any of this rubbish and doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. Speaking in Davos, the chancellor said: “I think it is difficult to justify levels of pay in the financial sector compared to other industries.”

 

The only problem with Clegg and Cameron’s rhetoric that it was all “Labour’s fault” and Hester’s bonus was “constrained” by a pre-existing contract is… well, it’s not exactly true.

 

Documents provided to The Independent revealed that their claims were misleading, if not entirely false. As the Independent reports:

 

“A copy of Mr Hester’s personal contract with RBS, updated in 2009 and seen by The Independent, reveals he has no contractual right to a bonus – and the Government could use its position as the bank’s largest shareholder to veto any remuneration it thought was excessive.

 

“In the section on bonuses, the contract states: “The executive [Mr Hester] may, at the discretion of the Remuneration Committee, be entitled to participate in any Bonus Scheme as approved by the Remuneration Committee, the terms of which may, at the sole discretion of the Remuneration Committee, require the Executive to defer a proportion of any bonus awarded to him.”

 

The Independent continues, stating that: “Sources at RBS confirmed that the Remuneration Committee’s recommendations had to be put to a full vote of shareholders at the annual general meeting, which the Government controls.”

 

Labour also denied such “contractual obligations” regarding the bonus were in place. Lord Myners, the Treasury minister responsible for the banks when Labour was in power, confirmed there was no contractual obligation for a guaranteed bonus in the contract.

 

So this is where I remain confused. Here was a golden opportunity for the coalition to utilise their power as shareholders and garner public support, though instead they used excuses which seem to be rather… fabricated.

 

 

 

 Meanwhile, RBS chairman Sir Philip Hampton has given up a £1.4m bonus he was due later this year, the bank has announced. Whether this is out of a real moral obligation or due to controversy surrounding Hester’s bonus, we do not know, but I feel the act itself is honourable. A spokesman said: “Sir Philip Hampton will not receive the 5.17m shares he was awarded in 2009 when he joined RBS.”

 

 

 

The Guardian reports that Hampton is thought to have told the bank’s remuneration committee it would not be appropriate for him to take the shares to which he is entitled. He was given the scheme when he was appointed at the 83% state-owned bank as part of a three-year long-term incentive deal.

 

 

 

The chairman’s decision to waive his bonus is likely to put further pressure on Hester and the coalition. The government’s inaction is also allowing Miliband to have a voice, as Labour hopefully begins to find its purpose in opposition. In a statement on Saturday, Miliband encouraged the government to vote against the bonus at the RBS annual general meeting in April.

 

“Freezing the pay of a nurse or hospital porter while allowing a publicly owned bank to pay million-pound bonuses, is the last nail in the coffin of this prime minister’s claim that we’re all in it together,” he said.

 

“Having spent weeks boasting he would block bonuses, David Cameron refuses to even publicly explain why he has changed his mind.”

 

The Guardian has helpfully produced a set of data that puts Hester’s near-£1m bonus into perspective, stating examples of things that £963,000 could buy.

 

All in all, I am left baffled by this government’s inaction and Clegg’s growing inability to detach or distance himself from Cameron. The missed opportunity to garner real public support seems pointless to me, and only serves to reinforce my belief that in no way are we “all in this together”, and further supports my view that this government would rather make the poor pay for the mistakes of the rich. Being tough on banker’s bonuses, particularly banks that are 83% owned by the public, would send an important message. Instead, the banking sector is still being allowed to get away with “blue murder” in Clegg’s words, while the public is being made to pay for the mistakes of the few.

 

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Occupy from the Inside

Following my coverage of the BCCA occupation, I tried to get my article into the Bournemouth University newspaper, ‘The Rock’. Unfortunately, before the paper was due to be printed, new developments meant that my article was pushed aside. Members of the Occupy movement had ‘occupied’ Bournemouth University’s pedestrian entrance. They wished to speak with the university’s Chancellor, who is also the President of the UK Supreme Court. Naturally, this development so close to the campus took precedence, and my article was not published.

The Occupy development gave me a window of opportunity, however. Continuing from the patch reporting, and the subsequent unpublished BCCA article, I was keen to gain more real journalistic experience. I felt more confident about tracking down and speaking to sources, and with finding ‘news-worthy’ events to report on, and despite my article remaining unpublished, I still felt keen to write for the newspaper. As such, when The Rock approached me to report on the occupancy of Bournemouth University, I agreed. I would be able to incorporate some of my previous reporting on the BCCA site, as well as report ‘from the inside’ of the university occupiers. I felt that this would give me valuable experience, and I was keen to learn more of the wider Occupy movement.

I spoke at length with the occupiers, finding out their aims and goals. My reporting led me to court, where the occupiers were on trial. Talbot Village Trust, the owners of the land that the occupiers are camping on, were seeking to evict the occupiers. In this, they were successful, with the judge issuing an “order of possession forthwith.” My first time in court was an unforgettable and valuable experience, and I was glad I was able to follow the Occupy members into court. Afterwards, I caught up with Gary, one of the representatives of the encampment, and we headed for a ‘debriefing’.

Overall, my journalistic reporting led me to new and valuable experiences. My article was eventually published in The Rock, and I feel that I gained useful experiences in journalism. I was also pleased that I managed to understand and gain insight into the Occupy movement first-hand, speaking to several members and understanding more about the group’s aims and goals.