Thursday, July 27, 2017

"War Prayer" by Mark Twain

“Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it —

For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimmage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

Yemen is a $$$$ war

People are dying overseas because of direct or indirect US/UK government actions. Apocalyptic warnings don’t move most people. Or, rather, they move most people away from the source of discomfort, so they simply tune out. But it’s also true that people feel a deep sense of unease when they are fed “solutions” that they instinctively know are false or insufficient.

In a joint statement released Wednesday, the United Nations' top relief agencies urged the international community to help provide humanitarian aid to Yemen, where a major cholera outbreak has been spreading rapidly since April.

As UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Food Program (WFP) reported following a trip to the war-ravaged country, nearly 1,900 people have died in the past three months, and 400,000 cases of suspected cholera have been recorded.

"The country is on the brink of famine," the groups report, "with over 60 per cent of the population not knowing where their next meal will come from. Nearly 2 milllion Yemeni children are acutely malnourished. Malnutrition makes them more susceptible to cholera; diseases create more malnutrition. A vicious combination."

According to an earlier statement by Oxfam, in just three months, "more people in Yemen have contracted cholera than any country has suffered in a single year since modern records began."

UNICEF, WHO, and WFP said the conflict has resulted in disastrous scenes in Yemen's cities. "We saw how vital infrastructure, such as health and water facilities, have been damaged or destroyed," read the statement. "Thousands are falling sick every day. Sustained efforts are required to stop the spread of disease. Nearly 80 percent of Yemen's children need immediate humanitarian assistance."

 The UN has requested $6.27 billion to prevent famine in Yemen as well as Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria, but has only been able to raise 43 percent of that in contributions from other countries. The U.S. has pledged nearly $2 billion to the effort, but Prashad notes that not only is this not enough to fight famine, it is a fraction of what the U.S. arms industry has been making by selling arms to Saudi Arabia, resupplying it as it bombs Yemen into famine. Most recently, when President Trump visited Saudi Arabia, the US sealed a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. This deal is in addition to a $350 billion arms sales agreement over 10 years. In other words, the United States is fueling a conflict that has resulted in war crimes and famine.

War is a business

Afghanistan is now ripe for the picking.

According to James Risen and Mark Landler of the New York Times, the Trump administration is "considering sending an envoy to Afghanistan to meet with mining officials" as the president is receiving encouragement from Stephen Feinberg, the billionaire head of DynCorp, and Michael Silver, the head of American Elements, a firm that specializes in "extracting rare-earth minerals."

"In 2010, American officials estimated that Afghanistan had untapped mineral deposits worth nearly $1 trillion," Risen and Landler note. This large figure reportedly "caught the attention of" the president, who has in the past argued that the biggest failure of the U.S. in Iraq was not"taking" the country's oil.

In 2006, the George W. Bush administration conducted aerial surveys of the country to map its mineral resources. Under President Barack Obama, the Pentagon set up a task force to try to build a mining industry in Afghanistan.

Eric Levitz of New York Magazine remarks "It's hard to win hearts and minds, when you're also trying to win minerals and mines."

Profits before cures

GlaxoSmithKline plans to cut nearly one in seven of the pharma group’s clinical drug development programmes as part of a shakeup of the business and offload 130 non-core brands, possibly selling off the unit that works on treatments for rare diseases.  GSK is following in the footsteps of its smaller British rival AstraZeneca, which has divested a large number of non-core drug projects recently. 

CEO Emma Walmsley said the company would focus more on backing the “real winners” – medicines that generate substantial returns.  She wants £1bn of annual cost savings by 2020, which will be used to fund the development and launch of new products and offset the impact of pressure on drug pricing. Research would focus on just four areas – respiratory, HIV and infectious diseases, cancer and immuno-inflammation conditions such as arthritis – and they would get 80% of the research spending. The company extended a commitment to pay its current 80 pence per share annual dividend through 2018.

Some 33 programmes were to be cancelled, sold or partnered. They included 13 in clinical development, including treatments for hepatitis C, psoriasis, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, and about 20 in preclinical development. It also plans to stop selling the diabetes drug Tanzeum and end a collaboration with Johnson & Johnson over experimental rheumatoid arthritis drug sirukumab.

Walmsley previously worked for L'Oreal.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Peru's slave labour

A warehouse fire in Lima, Peru last month killed four workers, including two who were trapped inside a padlocked container on the roof. Last month's blaze which tore through several warehouses in the city centre highlighted labour exploitation in the capital and prompted calls for better protection of workers' rights and more labour inspections. Across Peru, forced labour is more commonly linked to the illegal logging industry and illegal gold mines in the Amazon jungle. Girls are also trafficked to these areas for sex work.
The warehouse blaze showed forced labour is more widespread than many Peruvians believe.
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said the victims were "practically slave workers." An estimated 200,500 people are trapped in modern day slavery in Peru, according to rights group The Walk Free Foundation, the third highest number in Latin America after Mexico and Colombia. The International Labour Organization (ILO), which estimates there are 21 million people in forced labour worldwide. "The tragic fire was shocking. People were outraged," said Teresa Torres, coordinator of ILO's programme against forced labour in Peru. "What's important in this case is that there's justice, and as such those people responsible are punished," Torres said, adding those found guilty could face up to 25 years in prison. "This is more evidence to show that forced labour doesn't just happen in ... remote areas of the Amazon, but it could be happening right in the centre of the capital too," Torres said. "We have information that forced labour is also happening in the north of Peru, in other sectors such as the shrimp fishing industry." She said victims of forced labour were often hidden from view, working on fishing vessels, in small clandestine workshops, commercial agriculture or private homes.

Russia and the end of state-capitalism

 The Russian mortality crisis of the 1990s was mainly due to the shock economic reforms that led to mass, especially labour dislocations, much greater personal and family economic insecurity and sharp increases in inequalities.

During 1987-1994, the Russian mortality rate increased by more than half, from 1.0% to 1.6%, as life expectancy fell from 70 to 64 years! Economic output fell by almost half during 1989-1998 as wealth and income inequalities as well as crime, murder and suicide rates soared. The steep upsurge in mortality and sudden fall in life expectancy in Russia in the early 1990s were the highest ever registered anywhere in recorded human history in the absence of catastrophes, such as wars, plague or famine. The shock economic reforms in the former Soviet economies after 1991 precipitated this unprecedented increase in mortality, shortening life expectancy, especially among middle-aged males.

he dramatic increase in mortality – most pronounced for middle-aged men, mostly due to cardiovascular diseases – has been explained in terms of various factors like falling real incomes, poorer nutrition, environmental degradation, the collapse of Soviet health care, and surges in alcoholism and smoking. However, dietary changes – less meat and dairy products, yet more bread and potatoes – could not have quickly increased cardiovascular diseases. Deterioration of health care, smoking and changes in diet would require much more time to increase mortality by so much, while increased pollution is not an acceptable explanation due to the collapse of industrial output. While deterioration of the Russian diet, the collapse of its health care system as well as increased deaths due to accidents, murders and suicides undoubtedly contributed to increased mortality in Russia, they cannot explain the sudden magnitude of the increase. This leaves two major competing explanations for the mortality crisis – either increased alcohol consumption or heightened stress factors.

The major explanation popular in the West, as it absolves the West of responsibility, attributes the mortality spike to increased alcohol consumption in the late 1980s and early 1990s after Gorbachev’s anti-alcoholism campaign.
Deaths due to alcohol poisoning are generally considered a better indicator of actual alcohol consumption as some alcohol consumed is produced illegally or smuggled into the country. Such deaths per 100,000 inhabitants increased from 10 in 1990-1991 to nearly 40 in 1994, exceeding the number of deaths due to suicide and murders.
The increased intake of alcohol can, in turn, be attributed to the lower prices of spirits in the early 1990s. But this alcohol explanation does not stand up to critical scrutiny. After all, as with most other goods, demand for alcohol is inversely related to price and positively to personal income and spending capacity
First, during some periods, per capita alcohol consumption and death rates moved in opposite directions, e.g., alcohol consumption rose or remained stable during 2002-2009, while death rates – also due to external causes, accidents, murders, suicides and poisoning – fell. Second, per capita alcohol consumption levels in the 1990s were equal to or lower than in the early 1980s, whereas the total death rate increased by over half and deaths due to external causes doubled!
Although strongly correlated with the mortality rate, higher alcohol consumption was not an important independent cause, but also exacerbated by the same stress factors as the mortality rate itself.

The simultaneous increase in the total death rate, deaths due to external causes, and alcohol consumption were thus all driven by another factor, namely stress.  Stress factors due to the economic ‘shock therapy’ following the demise of the Soviet Union are associated with the rise in unemployment, labour mobility, migration, divorce, wealth, and income inequalities.A stress index incorporating these variables turns out to be a surprisingly good predictor of changes in life expectancy in post-communist economies, especially in the Russian Federation. The evidence shows that many men in their 40s and 50s – who had lost their jobs or had to move to another job and/or another region, or experienced increases in inequalities in their country/region, or had divorced their wives – were more likely to die prematurely in the 1990s.

Money-grabbing Land-owners

There are three main divisions within capitalist society which share the surplus-value which is socially extracted from the working class; the industrialist, the landlord and the banker.  Having been the but of popular resentment, the bankers have now recently been pushed of the radar by the land-owners. Builders are to be banned from selling houses as leasehold in England and ground rents on flats could be cut to zero following widespread outrage over exploitative contracts. The ban, while welcomed by campaigners, leaves the position of existing leasehold homeowners unclear.

 Traditionally, houses have been sold as freehold, and the buyer has complete control over their property. When a house is sold as leasehold, the buyer is effectively only a tenant with a very long term rental, with the ground the home is built on remaining in the hands of the freeholder. The home buyer has to pay an annual “ground rent” to the freeholder, and has to ask the freeholder for consent if they want to make any changes to the property, such as building a conservatory or changing the windows. In the past, leasehold property owners were generally charged just a “peppercorn” ground rent, sometimes as little as £1 a year, and many freeholders did not bother to collect it. But the picture changed earlier this century, when developers started to insert clauses into leasehold contracts where the ground rent was set at £200-£400 a year, doubling every ten years.

There were 4m residential leasehold dwellings in England in the private sector in 2014-15 and of these 1.2m were leasehold houses. In 1996, just 22% of new-builds in the UK were sold as leasehold, but this has doubled to 43% today. In London, nine out of 10 new-builds are now leasehold. Leasehold houses are an absolute racket: a means by which developers have managed to turn ordinary people’s homes into long-term investment vehicles for shadowy investors, often based offshore. In short, housebuilders have been systematically cheating their own customers, who must have known that creating this second lucrative income stream for developers would ultimately be at the cost of their customers. Although unsuspecting first-time buyers were frequently told that 999-year leases were “virtually freehold”, the clauses meant that the ground rent would soon spiral to absurd levels. The government quotes a family house where the ground rent is expected to hit £10,000 a year by 2060. A rent that doubles every ten years is effectively a return on investment of 7% a year. That’s a guaranteed, and legally enforceable income that is worth a phenomenal amount to financiers when Bank of England base rate is now just 0.25% a year. Aristocrats and tax-haven shell companies are among the freehold owners that have made millions from spiralling ground rents.

In Ireland, much-hated ground rents extracted by the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, and dating back to the Cromwellian era, were partly behind the rise of the Land League in the late 19th century, and the country’s fight for independence. Once a republic, Ireland legislated to give leaseholders the right to demand the freeholder sell up, at a relatively low price using an agreed formula. Legislation passed by the Scottish parliament, including the Abolition of Feudal Tenure (Scotland) Act 2000, and the Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004, effectively brought leasehold to an end in the country. More recently, the Long Leases (Scotland) Act 2012 automatically converted remaining long leases to outright ownership. Large parts of Australia were originally leased to farmers by the government, but the country rejected that form of tenure in the 1960s. However in New Zealand, 15% of residential apartments are believed to remain as leasehold, mostly towards the bottom of the market, with what are called “Glasgow” leases, again dating to the colonial period. In Auckland’s super-hot property market, issues similar to those in England about soaring ground rents have emerged. However, the sector is much smaller than in England because New Zealand banks are far less willing to lend against leasehold homes. Although the Glasgow leases date back to Scottish settlement in the Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island.

Paula Higgins, the chief executive of the HomeOwners Alliance, said: “Unscrupulous players within the industry have turned what has been a form of tenure for centuries into a money-grabbing scheme that has left thousands of buyers across the country trapped in properties that are now essentially unsaleable. Property speculators is an out-of-control sector that greedily exploits the desperate need for homes.

Tomatoes - the new gold

Madhya Pradesh in India actually had a bumper crop of the fruit this year, so much so that farmers were dumping tomatoes on roads about a month ago. But tomatoes are now off-season there and heavy rains have damaged crops in some key areas that are currently producing them. The price of tomatoes has risen so much in India that armed guards have been deployed to protect shipments of them.
The shortage this month has seen prices nearly double in various parts of the country to about 100 rupees ($1.55, £1.19) per kg, "severely pinching the pocket of the common man"
Tomatoes are a staple used in many Indian dishes.
To end the anarchy of capitalism contact:
The World Socialist Party (India): 257 Baghajatin ‘E’ Block (East), Kolkata – 700086,
Tel: 2425-0208,

Capitalism - the recurring crises

Debt problems seen in the run up to the financial crisis are "rearing their heads" again, the new head of the business select committee, Rachel Reeves, who worked at HBOS during the crisis, has warned. I do worry about the growth of some of those issues we saw in the mortgage market in 2008 now rearing their heads in unsecured lending and in car purchases," said Reeves.

Bank of England's Alex Brazier warned this week that personal loans had increased by 10% over the past year and were now at "dangerous" levels.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Failing India


India’s place in the Global Hunger Index compiled by IFPRI fell from 83 in 2000 to 97 in 2016, with India scoring even lower than its much poorer neighbours Bangladesh and Nepal.

What does a low ranking in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) indicate? It means firstly that too high a proportion of India’s people (around 15 percent) are under-nourished. It means that too many children under the age of five (15 percent) are wasting, reflected in low weights for their heights. And too many are stunted (a shameful 39 percent), meaning that their bodies are adjusting to chronic low nutrition by becoming shorter for their ages. And finally it means that too many children (4.8 percent) die before reaching the age of five years, because of the fatal cocktail of too little nutritious food and highly unhealthy environments.

It is important to remember that what for the scholar is ‘under-nutrition’ is for people who live with this condition the anguish of being unable to feed oneself or one’s loved ones, of reduced physical and mental capacities, and of succumbing to infections that they would have been able to fight if they were well-nourished. Stunting and wasting means that the bodies and minds of millions of our children are being starved into feebleness. Under-five mortality means the agony of millions of mothers and fathers who are helpless as they lose their children only because of their dirt-poverty.

A low GHI ranking divulges that compared to other countries, governments are simply doing too little to prevent this enormous and entirely preventable suffering of millions of impoverished citizens. And the silence of the government about these continued failings can only mean that it is not stirred or shamed by this report-card, that there is still little urgency to alter the destinies of India’s poorest majorities, rural, slum-based, informal workers, women, tribal, Dalit, minority, disabled groups, aged people, single women, and above all children from all these groups.

India’s failures to reduce and end hunger, poor health and early deaths, resulting in immense suffering of millions of its people, is even more unconscionable because all of this is preventable. India has the food production, the levels of growth, the economic resources and the state capacities that it requires if it resolves to make hunger history. Countries which have overtaken India often lack many of these advantages. India’s failures are not inevitable. They are the direct result of its public policy priorities and choices: its market fundamentalism and its refusal to invest adequately in the nutrition, education, social protection and health of its people.  India’s food producers constitute its largest ranks of the hungry and malnourished. For a sector that gives work to around 55 percent of the population, government invests less than 4 percent of public resources. Even within this small investment, the overwhelmingly large mass of the rain-fed small peasant are most neglected. India’s failure to ensure decent work to nearly nine of its ten workers trapped in informal work also explains India’s losing hunger battle. The historical inequities of gender, caste, tribe and religious minorities further aggravate those created by inequalities of wealth.
 India’s disgraceful hunger record include also its investment of just a little over 1 percent of GDP in public health, lower than most countries of the world; and its chronic miscarriages in securing sanitation and clean water to all its populations. Downstream we see continuing chronic under-resourcing and corrupt implementation of important food and nutrition programmes such as the ICDS and school meals, the public distribution system, pensions for older persons, single women and the disabled, and maternity benefits.
End world poverty by contact:
The World Socialist Party (India): 257 Baghajatin ‘E’ Block (East), Kolkata – 700086,
Tel: 2425-0208,

Tough times in the USA

Millions of families are living in perpetual financial insecurity. 
Low-income families are still unable to accrue enough savings to see themselves through a period of joblessness. Some 37% of those households are “liquid asset poor,” based on the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, meaning they don’t have enough money in their bank account or other assets to replace three months of income at the poverty level (that’s just $6,150 for a family of four).
This inability to save is partly due to irregular work, according to the “2017 Prosperity Now Scorecard,” an annual review of new research covering the state of finances of U.S. households by the Washington, D.C.-based Prosperity Now, formerly known as the Center for Enterprise Development, a non-profit think tank focused on expanding opportunities for low-income families.
 The “liquid asset poor” figure is supported by previous research of all income groups. (When asked if they had set aside a rainy day fund that would cover three months of expenses, only 47% said they did, a separate U.S. Federal Reserve study found.)
The financial situation was far worse for people of color, the Prosperity Now report found. Some 81% of Latino households and 57% of African-American households have virtually no savings, versus 28% of Caucasian households. These households are defined as “liquid asset poor.” The poverty rate fell to 13.8% for the first year since the recession, but the gap between white households in poverty (10.4%) and those of color (21.8%) was unchanged.
Nearly 20 million households (17%) have zero or negative net worth, meaning they owe more than they own. And disparities in net worth by race and income are the largest of any data measured by the latest report. “Households of color have 14 cents for every dollar of net worth of Caucasian households, including 7 cents for African-American households and 10 cents for Latinos.”
“This inability to save stems in part from the increasing number of jobs that don’t provide a reliable stream of income, leaving many working families vulnerable to jarring ups-and-downs in their take-home pay,” the report concluded. It also found that one-in-five households experienced “moderate to significant income volatility” from month-to-month during the past year due to irregular jobs.
The annual unemployment rate of 4.9% almost reached the 2006 to 2007 low of 4.6%, and yet 1 in 4 jobs are in low-wage occupations, a rate unchanged since 2012.

Big Pharma CEO Pay

Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010, the CEOs of 70 of the largest U.S. healthcare companies cumulatively have earned $9.8 billion far outstripping the wage growth of nearly all Americans.

 In 2015, when 70 healthcare CEOs collectively made $2 billion. That was an average of about $28.5 million per CEO and a median of about $17.3 million per CEO. The median household income in 2015 was $56,515, which the average healthcare CEO made in less than a day.

John Martin, former CEO of the pharma giant Gilead Sciences pulled in $863 million in the "ACA era."

Despite President Donald Trump's repeated insistence that Obamacare has been a "nightmare" and that the entire system is collapsing, The ACA has not hurt the healthcare industry. Stock prices have boomed, and CEOs took home nearly 11 percent more money on average every year since 2010.

 A gigantic portion of what CEOs make comes in the form of vested stock, and those incentives drive their decision-making. This means that CEOs are incentivized not to take actions that would benefit the healthcare system overall, but rather to inflate stock prices using methods such as repurchasing shares or issuing dividends to shareholders. Such moves lead to higher salaries for CEOs. Stock-heavy pay drives CEOs to do the exact opposite of their buzzword-laden goals of creating a 'patient-centered' health system that focuses on 'value.'

This says it all about the entire capitalist system.

The Looming Credit Crisis

Outstanding car loans, credit card balance transfers and personal loans have increased by 10% over the past year, the Bank's financial stability director Alex Brazier said. In contrast household incomes have risen by just 1.5%, he said.
Brazier, in a speech to the University of Liverpool's Institute for Risk and Uncertainty, added that this increase in debt was "dangerous to borrowers, lenders and, most importantly from our perspective, everyone else in the economy".
He warned that High Street banks were at risk of entering "a spiral of complacency" about mounting consumer debt levels.
"Lending standards can go from responsible to reckless very quickly. The sorry fact is that as lenders think the risks they face are falling, the risks they - and the wider economy face - are actually growing," Mr Brazier added.
Last month, the Bank of England told banks to beef up their finances against the risk of bad loans. They were told to set aside £11.4bn in the next 18 months in case future economic shocks meant some borrowers could not keep up their repayments.
In June, Bank of England governor Mark Carney said lenders appeared to have forgotten some of the lessons of the financial crisis.

FRANKENSTORM! (weekly poem)

 World leaders call a conference,
On average twice in each decade;
And promise (as per common sense)
To come to our Earth’s  climate aid.
But all their flatulence in lieu,
Of promised action everywhere;
Undoubtedly contributes to,
The atmosphere’s miasmic air!
But Global Warming will be stayed!
Pollution will be wholly cut;
Particulates from cars will fade,
Until there’s not one single smut!
 Vast sums are pledged with this in mind,
But most of these will come to nought;
Such promises tend to unwind,
However ‘green’ is the support.
Because reducing climate change,
Will only come at a vast cost;
And markets based upon exchange,
Resist their profits being lost.
 The system knows no other way,
It can’t react to human need;
Our planet’s atmosphere’s decay,
Is a grave portent it can’t heed.
So our Earth’s raped for what’s  the norm,
The lifestyle of the chosen few;
But in a doomsday Frankenstorm,
The privileged will join us too!
Thus our survival will depend,
Upon one final, fated choice;
Oblivion for foe and friend,
Unless we all act with one voice.
© Richard Layton

Monday, July 24, 2017

A change is needed

New Zealand top rich-lister Graeme Hart's wealth rose $500m to $7.5b, and again he is  at number one. 

The total value of the Rich List jumped 10 per cent since 2016, worth over $80 billion.

National Business Review editor, Duncan Bridgeman, said, "boom times" had continued for the rich. "The rich get richer and the rich are having a really successful period at the moment."

Top 10 New Zealand Rich 
Graeme Hart - $7.5 billion
Peter Thiel - $3.7 billion
Todd Family - $3.5 billion
Richard Chandler - $2 billion
Erceg family - $1.65 billion
Sir Michael Friedlander - $1.6 billion
Goodman family - $1.475 billion
Christopher Chandler - $1.4 billion 
Stephen Jennings - $1.1 billion
Sir Michael Fay - $920 million

The Alternative

The Squeeze

British households' financial situation has deteriorated at the fastest rate in three years this month. Financial data company IHS Markit said its monthly Household Finance Index dropped to 41.8 from June's 43.7, its lowest since July 2014, reflecting an ongoing squeeze on household incomes as inflation rises faster than wages.

"There are signs that squeezed household budgets and worries about earnings have started to spill over to consumer spending patterns," said Tim Moore, a senior economist at IHS Markit.

Pension losses

More than 7 million people will lose just under £10,000 each because of new government plans to increase the state pension age earlier than planned. Last week the government announced it would raise the state pension age to 68 for those now in their late 30s and early 40s. The change will affect Britons born between 1970 and 1978, who will now have to wait another year to receive their state pensions.

The House of Commons library found that each person affected by the change stood to lose around £9,800

Capitalism Kills

Almost 63,000 people in England will die over the next five years from liver problems linked to heavy drinking unless ministers tackle the scourge of cheap alcohol, doctors are warning. Senior members of the medical profession and health charities are urging the government to bring in minimum unit pricing of alcohol and a crackdown on drink advertising to avert what they claim is the “public health crisis” of liver disease deaths.

Sheffield University’s influential Alcohol Research Group predicts that 32,475 of the deaths – the equivalent of 35 a day – will be the result of liver cancer and another 22,519 from alcoholic liver disease. Liver disease is one of Britain’s biggest killers, claiming about 12,000 lives a year in England alone. The number of deaths associated with it has risen by 400% since 1970. 

Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, accused the government of not doing enough to limit alcohol-related harm. "Wwe have seen very little action to prevent liver disease, one of the top causes of avoidable deaths. It is tragic that, at a time when there is strong evidence for policies that will reduce avoidable deaths and hospital admissions, especially those related to alcohol, so many families will continue to suffer due to the ill-health or loss of a loved one,” she said.

The Sheffield academics have also produced new calculations showing that, if a 50p minimum unit price for alcohol were introduced in England, within five years it would mean 1,150 fewer deaths due to drink, 74,500 fewer admissions to hospital because of alcohol, a £326m saving to the NHS and a £711m drop in the value of crime caused by alcohol consumption. The new study comes as the supreme court, the UK’s highest court, on Monday and Tuesday holds the latest round in the long-running legal battle over the Scottish government’s determination to bring in a 50p minimum unit price for alcohol, as it has been trying to do since 2012. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and others are appealing against the Scottish court of session’s earlier ruling that the policy could be implemented.

Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), welcomed the Sheffield report’s clear and compelling new evidence ... on the effectiveness of minimum unit pricing [MUP]. "Given what we know about the effectiveness of MUP, a failure to act on the part of the government will mean that some of the most vulnerable in society will die unnecessarily,” Gilmore added.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Evicting the poor

The spiralling costs of renting a property and a long-running freeze to housing benefit are being blamed for the rising number of evictions among Britain’s tenants.

More than 100 tenants a day losing the roof over their head, according to an analysis of the nation’s housing crisis by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).  More than 40,000 tenants in England were evicted in 2015, according to a study.
 A mixture of rising costs and falling state support would lead to a rise in people being forced out of their homes. It will raise concerns that even those in work are struggling to pay their rent.  Changes in welfare benefits have combined to make rents unaffordable to claimants in many areas. Housing benefit was no longer covering the cost of renting in some cases, with average shortfalls ranging from £22 to £70 a month outside of London, and between £124 and £1,036 in inner London. Housing benefit has not risen in line with private rents since 2010, and a current freeze means the rates paid will not increase until 2020.
High numbers of “no-fault” evictions by private landlords is driving the increase. More than 80% of the extra evictions had occurred under a Section 21 notice, which gives a tenant two months to leave. The landlord does not have to give a reason and there does not need to be any wrongdoing on the part of the tenant. The problem is particularly acute in London and the south-east. Four out of every five repossessions using Section 21 orders are in London, the east of England and the south-east. Nearly two-thirds are in London. Within the city, Section 21 repossessions are concentrated in the boroughs of Newham, Enfield, Haringey, Brent and Croydon. Of the 40,000 evictions, there were 19,019 repossessions in the social housing sector, and 22,150 in the private rented sector.
Letting agency fees, the need for a guarantor and finding the cash for a deposit were all major barriers to securing a new home. Most tenants said they would prefer social housing, but were either ineligible or not a sufficient priority to be allocated a home.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of JRF, said: “The stark figures and harrowing stories show the struggle people on low incomes face in the private rented sector.” He called for the freeze on housing benefit to be lifted. “With higher rents, a benefits freeze and impossible choices about what bills to pay, evictions have reached record levels and put families under enormous strain,” he said. “Tenants told us about the misery and insecurity they face."
 Shelter warned last month that more than a million households living in private rented accommodation were at risk of becoming homeless by 2020 because of rising rents, benefit freezes and a lack of social housing. The charity has calculated that if the housing benefit freeze remains in place as planned – until 2020 – more than a million households, including 375,000 with at least one person in work, could be forced out of their homes.
Anne Baxendale, director of campaigns and policy at Shelter, said: “We are deeply concerned that the current freeze on housing benefit is piling a huge amount of pressure on to thousands of private renters who are already teetering on the brink of homelessness.”