Saturday 29 February 2020

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to an old actor with a golden voice called Jos Ackland

Page views : 238

Jos, who was born Sidney Edmond Jocelyn Ackland is, 92 years old  today. He is that old English actor who has appeared in many stage productions and played more than 130 film and television roles from as far back as 1949. That's over 70 years in which he has thrilled British audiences with his presence and captivated them with his voice

Jos reads 'The Highwayman' by Alfred Noyes (1906)

The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees, 
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor, 
And the highwayman came riding
Riding riding
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door. 

In 2015, when he was 87, he reprised his 'Romeo and Juliet' speech from 70 years before.

Thursday 27 February 2020

Britain is a country where Sir Michael Marmot knows where the 'poor' old men who lead shorter and shorter lives live

In his Report : 'Health Equity in England : The Marmot Review 10 Years On', Sir Michael Marmot states that a key reason why more and more 'poor' men and women are living, on average, shorter and shorter lives, is because they are more likely to suffer 'avoidable mortality', which means their deaths might have been avoided 'through timely and effective healthcare, or by public health interventions'. 

Sir Michael and his team found, shockingly, that 'overall, inequalities in avoidable deaths increased markedly between 2010 and 2017 in the most deprived areas in England, 
by 8% among females and 17% among males'. 

He said that the main causes of these avoidable deaths relate to respiratory and cardiovascular disease and injuries. 

However, he also found that 'another important cause of avoidable mortality is suicide and suicidal behaviour (self-harm), and this is also more common in more deprived communities than in wealthier areas, as well as more common for men than women.'

'Among men, the region with the highest suicide rate in 2018 was the North East (20.4 per 100,000); this suicide rate was significantly higher than in London and the South East, the areas with the lowest suicide rates for males. For females, the highest suicide rates in 2018 were in Yorkshire and the Humber and the South West (both 5.7 per 100,000) and the lowest rate was seen in London (4.1 per 100,000 for women).' 

Britain in 2020, a country where, according to Sir Michael :

'The risk of avoidable mortality is at least three times higher for women and men living in the most deprived local areas compared with those living in the least deprived areas.'

Tuesday 25 February 2020

Britain is a country where Sir Michael Marmot knows why more and more 'poor' old men live shorter and shorter lives in poorer and poorer health

Sir Michael Marmot, who is 75 years old and is Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, has led research groups on health inequalities for over 35 years. His Marmot Review published in 2010, 'Fair Society Healthy Lives', set out an analysis of the causes of health inequalities in England and what needed to be done to address them.

Nothing was done.

Now Sir Michael Marmot has published his report 'Health Equity in England : The Marmot Review 10 Years On' It makes sober reading and he doesn't pull any punches. In his introduction he says :

'England is faltering. From the beginning of the 20th century, England experienced continuous improvements in life expectancy but from 2011 these improvements slowed dramatically, almost grinding to a halt. For part of the decade 2010-2020, life expectancy actually fell in the most deprived communities outside London for women and, in some regions, for men. For men and women everywhere the time spent in poor health is increasing. This is shocking.'

He went On : 'In the United Kingdom, as in other countries, we are used to life expectancy and health improving year on year. It is what we have come to expect. The UK has been seen as a world leader in identifying and addressing health inequalities but something dramatic is happening. This report is concerned with England, but in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the damage to health and wellbeing is similarly nearly unprecedented. Put simply, if health has stopped improving it is a sign that society has stopped improving.' 

How does he explain this ?

'The fact that austerity was followed by failure of health to improve and widening health inequalities does not prove that the one caused the other. That said, the link is entirely plausible, given what has happened to the determinants of health.'

What does the future hold ?

'What we can envisage, and work towards, is a society that creates the conditions for everyone to be able to lead lives they have reason to value. That we do not have such a society at the moment is shown by the slowdown in life expectancy improvement, deteriorations in physical and mental health and widening health inequalities.' 

If Sir Michael is around to conduct another Review in 2030, when he will be 85 years old, will the answer for his plea that problems of inequality in health should, once again, be addressed, be  :

Nothing was done ?

“Poverty has a grip on our nation’s health – it limits the options families have available to live a healthy life. Government health policies that focus on individual behaviours are not effective. Something has gone badly wrong.”

Michael :

Thursday 20 February 2020

Brexit Britain is no country for old men in care homes and in need of care workers

With Britain leaving the European Union the Johnson Government plans to block the entry of low paid workers from the EU into Britain. Care workers can earn as little as £16,000, according to the National Association of Care and Support Workers (NACAS), well short of the £26,500 threshold under the immigration system the Government plans to introduce next year.

It is mostly, but not exclusively, the old men and women spending their last days in care homes who are the weakest and most vulnerable members of British society, who will suffer the most as a result of this Government-forced reduction in immigration numbers. It is doing this to satisfy the wishes of those members of the electorate who voted for it in the General Election and who saw this a a major part of 'getting Brexit done'.

Karolina Gerlich, the Chief Executive of  the National Association of Care & Support Workers (NACAS), said shutting out workers at this time was irresponsible : “There is going to be a human cost to this, people will die because people who need care workers won’t be able to get them and there won’t be enough of us to deliver that care.” At the moment the care sector employs around 1.6 million people and has a shortage of 110,000 staff, according to a 'Skills for Care' report published in October. Given the fact that around 8% of staff in the sector come from the EU and the proportion is higher in cities, the shortage is bound to increase.

Nadra Ahmed, the Executive Chair of the National Care Association, noted that care workers had been classed as 'low skilled' along with fruit pickers but the latter would get special treatment to keep supermarket shelves stocked. She said : “I feel really saddened that fruit workers come above that group. We are not low-skilled workers. We work in palliative care, with people with dementia and disabilities. In hospitals, nurses who are highly trained administer medicine. In care homes, trained care workers do that. How can you say that is unskilled? The NHS has outsourced social care and end-of-life care for years. When I started in 1981 you would not have taken anybody who was incontinent, doubly incontinent or with dementia. Now, this is what the care sector does. We are really a mini-hospital scenario.”

The Government has adopted recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee on allocating points to potential immigrants based on their skills, salary and English-language proficiency. Karolina said the the Committee’s report was unhelpful and showed a lack of understanding about care workers’ skills. “In terms of skills, we have three types: organisational skills; dealing with stakeholders; clinical skills; and soft skills of empathy and patience. They talked about getting British employers to automate. Well you can’t get a robot to do this.”

The Migration Advisory Committee Report that informed the Government’s immigration policy noted that the social care sector was 'struggling to recruit and retain workers' but cited a 'failure to offer competitive terms'. It said its view was that low pay was not an 'immigration issue' despite argument for special treatment for a sector that was perceived as 'lower paid but higher value'. In other words, the fact that care workers are paid low wages is not our problem.

Polly Toynbee's article in the Guardian today :

Brexit Britain : hard, bureaucratic, unloving and lacking compassion towards the old and weak

Monday 17 February 2020

Post-Brexit Britain is no country for very old Italian immigrant, Antonio Finelli, asked to prove he is a resident after living almost 70 years within its shores

Antonio Finelli, who is 95 years old and came to Britain 68 years ago in 1952, when he was 28 years old has now, in post-Brexit, been asked by the Home Office to give proof of his residency or face deportation. He came to Britain in answer an appeal for immigrant labour as part of the post- Second World War reconstruction effort and remembers that he was welcomed with one week’s advance wages and a sandwich when he arrived at Folkestone Harbour.

It is not as if Antonio has lived below the state radar : he has paid his taxes and has been drawing his state pension for 30 years. He has now been asked to prove that he had been in the country for five consecutive years when he applied for the 'EU Settlement Scheme' and the Home Office app said it could not find any record of him. He said : “It was a surprise because I have had the Aliens’ Certificate,” referring to the document given to immigrants who came to the country between 1918 and 1957.

This has necessitated him supplying 80 pages of bank statements. It perplexed him because “I’ve been receiving the pension and working all my life so I don’t understand why I have to provide these bank statements.” Antonio's case highlights concerns over stress and anxiety being caused to old and vulnerable men and women, many of whom do not understand why they are being asked for paperwork at this stage of their lives.

Dimitri Scarlato, a volunteer at Inca CGIL, an advice centre for Italian citizens in Islington, North London said : "He is a good fellow, a good citizen and came before freedom of movement, but still has the burden of providing proof of residence. He has been here all these years but the system treats him as if he doesn’t exist. Why?” Antonio himself said : “It is wrong.” Of his family, his wife and only son have died, but he is worried about the security of his grandchildren. “Will they be OK?” he asked the volunteer.

Dimitri said he has had more than 100 applications where records cannot be found. “I’ve processed around 500 applications and half of them are for elderly people. Half these people have not been found by the system and it asks them to prove their residency even though the Department for Work and Pension has been sending out pensions and have been here since the 1950s and 1960s. Imagine an elderly person who doesn’t have his name on any bill and has no proof of residence and they have been here all these years and they get to their 80s and 90s and are asked to prove they have been here for five years. Mr Finelli will be fine because he has come to the centre, but what if you are living alone and vulnerable or in the middle of nowhere and don’t know where to go?”

Antonio is not alone in facing this ordeal. Last week it emerged that a 101-year-old, Giovanni Palmiero, who coincidentally knew Finelli as a child in Italy, had been told to get his parents to apply on his behalf because the Home Office system thought he was a one-year-old.

Dimitri thinks the problem arises because DWP records are not digitised and said : "We have tried to raise this with the Home Office because we are seeing many elderly people come in whose records cannot be found.” He said he has had more than 100 applications where records cannot be found. “I’ve processed around 500 applications and half of them are for elderly people. Half these people have not been found by the system and it asks them to prove their residency even though the Department for Work and Pension has been sending out pensions and have been here since the 1950s and 1960s. Imagine an elderly person who doesn’t have his name on any bill and has no proof of residence and they have been here all these years and they get to their 80s and 90s and are asked to prove they have been here for five years. Mr Finelli will be fine because he has come to the centre, but what if you are living alone and vulnerable or in the middle of nowhere and don’t know where to go?” 

Alberto Costa, a Member of Parliament and longtime champion of EU citizens, said he had, in the past, repeatedly “raised with ministers the expected problem with digital records for vulnerable and elderly people who may need to prove their residence even though they have been here for 50 to 60 years”.

In response to and enquiry by the Guardian newspaper, a Home Office spokesperson said : "That the vast majority of applicants don’t have to provide additional evidence, but when it’s needed there is a vast range of evidence people can submit, including doctor’s notes, payslips and letters from charities.” By "vast majority", read 75%. Antonio is just one confused old man in the remaining 25%

Post-Brexit Britain : hard, bureaucratic and unloving.

Sunday 16 February 2020

Britain is no country for David Abel, quarantined, on board a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship called the Diamond Princess, off the coast of Japan

When 74 year old David Abel and his wife Sally boarded Diamond Princess in Yokohama, near Tokyo, on January 20, they are looking forward to a two-week dream cruise to China, Vietnam, Taiwan and back to Japan. The ship had been described as 'a treasure trove of exceptional delights waiting to be discovered' where guests were invited to 'dine on freshly prepared sashimi in Kai Sushi, watch street performers in the dazzling atrium, or take in a lavish production show in our state-of-the-art theatre and for a unique treat visit the Izumi Japanese Bath, the largest of its kind at sea.' The ship was to be truly, their 'home away from home'.

The first thing David and Sally knew something was untoward was when they, the ship and the other 2,664 guests and 1,045  crew, returned to Yokohama a day early, on February 3. Apparently, this had been prompted by the fact that an 80-year-old guest who had left the ship in Hong Kong on January 25, had tested positive for coronavirus on February

Day 1: Tuesday 4 February
The ship now remained stationary while Japanese health inspectors began to check all guests and crew and the 10 people, including a crewmember, who proved positive were taken ashore to hospital. David and Sally were told the ship had been put under quarantine for 14 days.

Day 2 : Wednesday 5th February
David went on Facebook at 11am local time to say he was an insulin dependent diabetic and hadn’t eaten since 7pm the previous night and risked going into a coma. The food eventually arrived 18 hours after his last meal, but he couldn't eat it because he is dairy intolerant. The crew later brought him bread rolls. Ten more guests tested positive and after being taken off and the ship headed out to sea so it could make more fresh water.

Day 3 : Thursday 6th February
There were 41 new cases, including the first Briton. David and Sally were given thermometers and told to monitor their temperatures and that the quarantine would end on February 19, unless there are “unforeseen developments”.
David told ITV news : “Everybody is confined to their cabins. There is a lot more anxiety. What's going to happen to us? We've got access to the balcony all the time, but there are passengers in inside cabins where they've got no natural light, no windows, no fresh air. They are being allowed out on deck for a period of time under the supervision of quarantine officers. They must stay one metre apart and not congregate in groups.”

Day 4 : Friday 7th February
Two more passengers tested positive for coronavirus.

Day 5 : Saturday 8th February
Six more cases were confirmed and David and Sally were given phone numbers to talk to counsellors for mental stress. Meanwhile, Jan Swartz, the President of Princess Cruises, said : “Our guests and crew on board Diamond Princess are the focus of our entire global organisation right now and all of our hearts are with each of them.”

Day 6 : Sunday 9th February
As if it was any consolation, David and Sally were told that they will get a full refund of the fare plus flights, hotel stays, gratuities and other costs and will also not be charged for any onboard expences. The ship returned to Yokohama after a choppy night at sea. David, who had been pining for Talisker whisky, was delivered a bottle to his room with a message from Jan Swartz saying : 'We want to thank you for helping keep spirits high on board and we hope you enjoy these spirits as a gesture of our appreciation.'

Day 7 : Monday 10th
Another 66 cases of coronavirus are confirmed on board, including one more Briton, bringing the total to 135.

Day 8 : Tuesday 11th February
At this point David said on Facebook that the whole experience “hasn’t put us off cruising”.

Day 9 : Wednesday 12th February
The Japanese Ministry of Health confirmed 39 new cases from Diamond Princess and a quarantine official, who was wearing a mask and gloves while collecting questionnaires from passengers, had also tested positive for the virus said Health Minister, Katsunobu Kato. Four patients in hospital from the ship were in a “severe” condition with two in intensive care and the others being given assistance to breathe.
In a live interview with Sky News, Sally Abel said they are being treated very well but the final week of quarantine “seems an eternity to go”. David reported that 55 doctors, 45 nurses and 30 pharmacists had been brought on board but the mood generally was more sombre, with one elderly woman keeping others awake crying for “a couple of hours” in her cabin during the night. David admitted : “Life isn’t as easy as it was last week. It’s a bit more challenging.”

Day 10 : Thursday 13th February
Another 44 people on the ship tested positive, including one crew member, bringing the total so far to 218. Most of the new cases are among passengers like David, aged 70 or over. In fact, four in five out of the holidaymakers who boarded were over 60, with 215 in their 80s and 11 in their 90s.

In an interview with 'Good Morning Britain' David and Sally said they were worried they would be separated by health officials if either of them tested positive for the virus - something which had already happened to others on board. He said : "It doesn't matter how long you've been married, couples have been separated. Elderly couples, one I understand in their eighties, have been split up. It's very, very worrying for those on board." Sally added : "We've been together 50 years and the thought of one of us being positive and one not and being split is very scary."

Day 11 : Friday 14th February
David said that although he was a  “staunch Tory” he had no confidence in Prime Minister Johnson helping them. "When he [Johnson] just says 'keep calm, don't panic' - I'd like to see you in this situation, mate. I really would." 

Instead he said : "So, Richard Branson, I want to ask you a question, Pal. If you and your family were in this situation, what would you do? And please don't say 'chill out, stay calm', that's not what we want to hear."I'm asking, what would it cost to hire one of your smaller planes, put all the Brits on board, no flight attendants, packaged food? Take us to Brize Norton, take us straight into the medical facility and let us do our quarantine there by people who can speak our language. I’m serious, Richard Branson, absolutely serious. I think he is the man, he’s not afraid to speak his mind. He’s the guy who could resolve this for the Brits. Whatever the cost, we will somehow find a way of paying for that plane. Don’t know how but we wouldn’t want you to be out of pocket on that. But this is just how damned desperate some of the passengers are becoming. We’ve had enough, we’ve really had enough.”

Day 12 : Saturday 15th February
The USA announced that it is to airlift out of Japan those among the 400 citizens on the ship
who are willing to leave and clearly does't believe the quarantine on the ship is working and that its citizens on board are in danger. Canada and Hong Kong have announced they are also sending planes to pick up their nationals.

In a video on Facebook, David said he had little hope of a similar rescue and said : “It’s wonderful how the Americans are going to come in two aeroplanes and take them home. I’ve now given up on anybody in the UK, quite frankly and realise all us Brits are going to have to do our own thing." Sally said : "Nobody's actually talking to us."  David added : "No message from the UK Foreign Office. They just don't give a damn."

Meanwhile the Foreign Office announced that it was "working around the clock" to ensure the welfare of Britons onboard and would, no doubt, make the point that David and Sally had refused the offer to be taken off the ship.

Day 13 : Sunday 16th February
It is reported there have now been 365 cases of the coronavirus on board making it the biggest cluster outside China. David pleaded : "It feels that we have been forgotten, that you don't really care about us and that you're actually not wanting us to come home. I am begging you to get us off ASAP. I've never felt less loved by my own country. Are you closing the borders to us ?"

Day 14 : Monday 15th February

David made a further plea to the Government :

Day 15 : Tuesday 16th February
The total number of cases on the ship has reached 450 and David Abel and Sally have today tested positive and are among that number and will now be taken into a further quarantine on the mainland just a day before their lockdown on board the ship was due to end. David said : 'We have been proved positive and leaving for hospital soon. Blessings all.'

The Foreign Office said that it was 'working to organise a flight back to the UK' for British passengers but it is unclear whether David and Sally will now be eligible.

David has now posted on Facebook that he was having doubts about whether the couple's test really was a positive one. "Frankly, I think this is a setup! We are NOT being taken to a hospital but a hostel. No phone, no wi-fi and no medical facilities. I really am smelling a very big rat here! Waiting for the transfer now."

Day 16 : Wednesday 17th February
David and Sally are still on board and have tested positive for the virus. David is no longer posting on Facebook and the couple will be taken to a hostel before being taken to a hospital.

Wednesday 12 February 2020

Britain is no country for a 'David' in the shape of Ron Ryall who has been floored by a 'Goliath' in the shape of a railway called HS2

Ron is 71 years old, but back in 2004, when he was 56, he and his wife Anne purchased his house at Dews Farm on Dews Lane in Harefield, near West Ruislip, an area in West London which is part of the London Borough of Hillingdon. He bought it from the Council when it was semi-derelict and spent 10 years, painstakingly restoring it to its former glory.

The core of the house was built between 1575 and 1600 and towards the end of her life, in 1602, Queen Elizabeth I visited it for a few weeks. In addition, the house was the birthplace of Cecil John Kinross in 1896, who emigrated with his family to Canada when he was 16. Having joined the Canadian Army, he was awarded a Victoria Cross for his battlefield bravery at Passchendaele in 1917 in the First World War.

In 2018 Ron was told that his house would be demolished when the planned route of the new High Speed 2 Railway, which will link London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Leeds and Manchester will cut through the living room. Under the terms of compulsory purchase, Ron and his family were told that they had to be out by that July. They refused.

Now, two years later, the link has received the go ahead from Prime Minister Johnson and his Government and Ron and his wife Anne have been ordered to leave their home next month. In response he told the BBC : "I'm finding it difficult that someone can just walk into your life and destroy it. My family has lived in this lane for 100 years. I was born here." Anne said : "It's awful. Absolutely awful. We feel like a fruit being squeezed out of its skin, closing in and closing in and it's just a horrible feeling."

Ron runs a garage, marked as 'Petitioner's property', up the lane from his home, a business he initially set up at the age of 15 in 1962, the day after he left school. It too will be removed. His son and his family live in a cottage in Dew Lane and his mother, lives next to Ron in a self-contained annex in what was formerly the servants’ quarters. In 2015 he said : “This isn’t a hard-luck story. I’ve got everything I could possibly want. I’ve worked all my bloody life for that – from a council house to a mansion. I’m quite proud of what I’ve done."

In 2018 Ron asked the question about the construction of HS2 : "Don't you think the services are more important than getting to Birmingham 10 minutes quicker ?" and was followed by his tearful daughter Crystal who made her own plea to stop the destruction of her father's property.

Ron has also said : Members of my family have lived round here since 1924 but we’ve got to be out by the summer. I have no idea where we’re going to go." He was referring to his grandparents who moved into a cottage in Dew Lane and "If I didn’t care about this place I would take HS2’s money and run. But I do care about it. All I want is to be able to keep my house and pass it on to my grandchildren."

HS2 first wrote to Ron in 2013 to tell him the rail link would affect his home. A spokesperson said : “We have been in ongoing negotiations with the owners of Dews Farm and following an assessment by a team of independent chartered surveyors, have made an initial offer. We know that every home is unique and appreciate that there will be different opinions about the true value of a property. However, we believe that this offer is accurate and that our proposal to pay for the costs incurred during moving adheres to the compensation code.”

Ron has been to Westminster to petition MPs about changing the route and exercised his right that anyone affected by HS2 can address concerns to a select committee of six MPs, who can ask HS2 Ltd, the Government-funded company that is developing the railway, to tweak its plans. In Ron's case there has been no tweaking. He was familiar with the British Constitution, but said : "We haven’t got one! And we should have. It’s all going wrong. This is wrong – what they are doing with ordinary people.”

Ron has said : "An Englishman's home is his castle, until HS2 want it" and :

“I love my country, but I fear my Government.” 

Tuesday 11 February 2020

Will Britain be a country for an old Joe Brindle in 2075 ?

I was the same age as Joe, who is 17, in 1964. That was one year after the 'Big Freeze' and the coldest winter in Britain in the twentieth century.

At that time there wasn't a single climate change cloud on the horizon. Now, in Joe's 17th year, the sky is thick with them. When I was 17, it was unimaginable that the climate of Britain would be any different in 2020 to what it was in 1964. At 17 today, Joe knows the climate of Britain, when he is my age, in 2075, will be very different to what it is today and like many young people, he is scared for the future because of the climate crisis.

Joe was “angry about the injustice that is allowing the most vulnerable people in the world to suffer from the actions of the richest and most powerful. He was clearly inspired by climate activist, Greta Thunberg who, in her forthright speech to the United Nations last September, said that as young people begin to understand adults’ betrayal of the planet, “the eyes of all future generations will be watching."

Taking a leaf out of Greta's book, Joe decided to do something and founded a campaign group, 'Teach the Future', which has spent the last few months formulating legislation entitled 'The Climate Emergency Education Bill'.
He was no fool when it came to taking on the Establishment and said : “We didn’t want our demands to be half met, so we thought we’d show them exactly what we want.” Hence, the hiring of  an experienced drafter in a  move to quash any notion that young people’s ideas are unworthy of serious consideration.

As part of their campaign, on 26 February, Joe and his fellow campaigners will gather in Parliament’s biggest Committee Room to launch their bill, sponsored by Nadia Whittome, Britain's youngest Member of Parliament.

As well as the proposed new act, 'Teach the Future' is calling for a Government review into how the education system is preparing students for the climate emergency and the ecological crisis. It wants teacher training to assess a minimum standard of knowledge about climate change and its impact, and a national fund to help young people’s voices be heard. It calls for all new state-funded educational buildings to have a zero-carbon footprint from 2022, with the entire education sector becoming net-zero by 2030 and a 'Youth Climate Endowment Fund' to support young people’s projects and ideas.

Joe's has called for a fundamental change and said : “Some people have been pushing a natural history GCSE as the solution to climate education, but I think this furthers us from the solution. Rather than pushing this aside so that only a handful of students learn about it, we should be making it a key aspect of all parts of education."
 “We don’t just want future ecologists to understand sustainability. We want bankers, builders and everyone else to consider it in everything they do.”

The auguries do not bode well for Joe and 'Teach the Future'. The Department for Education says it understands the importance of students learning about climate change and “relevant topics are included in the national curriculum for both primary and secondary schools”. However, when asked if there were plans for new guidance, a spokesperson could offer nothing specific.
 In addition, last week Prime Minister Johnson said Britain would lead the world in cutting carbon emissions, but was accused by Claire O’Neill, who he had sacked as Energy Minister, of a “huge lack of leadership and engagement”.