Note: this is about right now. This is not to say that I applaud this government and its approach, not at all.
The UK government has lied a lot in the past ten years and also often sucks at communicating well. That is causing some problems now, I noticed on Twitter.
“There are 12,000 ventilators” followed by “8,000 within the NHS” does not by definition mean that the government is lying but may mean that its communication skills are not up to par.
It could mean:
4,000 on the way to the NHS;
4,000 within the Navy, Army, Air Force, private facilities and also some on the way to the NHS;
Something similar is going on with COVID-19 tests and reagents. It is very hard to find info in the UK as it is a low-transparency country. (I for example found detailed information about a local water treatment facility (Budd’s Farm) in the Netherlands some years ago, but was unable to find much about it in the UK.)
I looked into it, found some info on the CDC site, spotted the name Roche, and remembered something I had read in the Dutch news. The Netherlands is much more transparent than the UK, so I looked into that angle.
It may also be helpful to keep in mind that the Netherlands is a highly egalitarian country. A lot of the wheeling and dealing that goes on in the UK would not be permitted in the Netherlands. (I am not saying that none goes on there.)
Roche makes a lot of the equipment needed for the tests and that equipment requires certain chemicals to run. Roche also manufactures the required lysis buffer and was briefly not able to keep up with global demand.
It initially was not willing to share the secret “recipe” either. It did later release it after all, but it is actually not that easy to make so it cannot simply be made by anyone and has to involve certification of the labs who make the stuff. Roche currently is able to keep up with demand again, so I understand.
In addition, the Dutch health minister, too, mentioned shortages in other test-related materials on 27 March.
(The UK government specifically mentioned a shortage of swabs.)
I am assuming that the UK is using the same test as the Netherlands or a very similar test (which is also likely the same as the US is using). (I have a report – collection of international information – from a Belgian university in my pc that probably has details on that; I will see what it says and add that info later.)
Conclusion: The UK government for once appears to be NOT LYING.
The information given by the UK government appears to match the information available in the Netherlands.
(The – possibly inadvertent – spin in the UK currently appears to be coming from… Labour?, I say tentatively, on the basis of the tweets that I saw.)
(As I have posted some tweets from Tory MPs in the past, I should also do it with tweets from other MPs. I have no idea what was said during Newsnight)
From the “living paper” report in my pc (“Overview of information available to support the development of medical countermeasures and interventions against COVID-19” by Martine Denis, Valerie Vandeweerd, Diane Van der Vliet, version 23 March 2020):
A list of assays commercially available for diagnosis of COVID-19 is updated by FIND (https://www.finddx.org/covid-19/). Assays that are still in development stage are also presented.”
The report has a lot more information on testing, but does not state details on which country is using which tests and protocols. If you click on the above link, however, you’ll find a lot of information that indicates that Covid-19 testing requires rigid procedures to be able to work. In other words, ramping up capacity is likely not as simple as some MPs think it is.
(For comparison: You wouldn’t want a sloppy pregnancy test that is often wrong either.)
You can easily judge the character of a party by how it treats those who can do nothing for it.
That said, do I believe that tactical voting can make a difference? Yes, I do.
Tactical voting is not – as some Tories claim – committing voter fraud by for example voting in two towns. Tactical voting means that you vote for the non-Conservative candidate who stands the best chance of getting elected in your constituency. Because even a marginally better candidate can still help make a real difference.
The Victorian Parliament will consider a bill to legalise euthanasia in the second half of 2017. That follows the South Australian Parliament’s decision to knock back a voluntary euthanasia bill late last year, and the issue has also cropped up in the run-up to the March 11 Western Australian election.
With the issue back in the headlines, federal Labor’s justice spokesperson, Clare O’Neil, told Q&A that in countries where the practice is legal, “very, very small” numbers of people use the laws.
Whether or not you agree with O’Neil’s statement depends largely on your interpretation of the subjective term “very, very small”, but there is a growing body of data available on how many people are using euthanasia or assisted dying laws in places such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada and some US states.
Assisted dying, assisted suicide and euthanasia
Many people use the terms “assisted dying”, “assisted suicide” and “euthanasia” interchangeably. But, technically, these phrases can have different meanings.
Assisted dying (sometimes also assisted death) is where the patient himself or herself ultimately takes the medication. Euthanasia, by contrast, is usually where the doctor administers the medication to the patient.
Assisted suicide includes people who are not terminally ill, but who are being helped to commit suicide, whereas assisted dying refers to people who are already dying. Some reports do not, however, distinguish between assisted dying and assisted suicide, and I will not distinguish them here.
In some jurisdictions, the word “euthanasia” is used to refer to both assisted dying/suicide (where the patient himself or herself takes the medication) and to euthanasia (where the doctor administers the medication to the patient). So “euthanasia” can sometimes be used as a broad term to cover a range of actions.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide rates around the world
According to a peer-reviewed paper published last year in the respected journal JAMA:
Between 0.3% to 4.6% of all deaths are reported as euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide in jurisdictions where they are legal. The frequency of these deaths increased after legalization … Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are increasingly being legalized, remain relatively rare, and primarily involve patients with cancer. Existing data do not indicate widespread abuse of these practices.
The authors of that paper said that 35,598 people died in Oregon in 2015. Of these deaths, 132, or 0.39%, were reported as physician-assisted suicides. The same paper said that in Washington in 2015 there were 166 reported cases of physician-assisted suicide (equating to 0.32% of all deaths in Washington in that year).
Interestingly, the same paper noted that US data show that:
pain is not the main motivation for PAS (physician-assisted suicide)… The dominant motives are loss of autonomy and dignity and being less able to enjoy life’s activities.
The authors said that in officially reported Belgian cases, pain was the reason for euthanasia in about half of cases. Loss of dignity is mentioned as a reason for 61% of cases in the Netherlands and 52% in Belgium.
A 2016 Victorian parliamentary report has quoted from the UK Commission on Assisted Dying, which in turn referenced the work of John Griffiths, Heleen Weyers and Maurice Adams in their book Euthanasia and Law in Europe. The commission said:
There are no official data in Switzerland on the numbers of assisted suicides that take place each year, as the rate of assisted suicide is not collected centrally. Griffiths et al observe that there are approximately 62,000 deaths in Switzerland each year and academic studies suggest that between 0.3% and 0.4% of these are assisted suicides. This figure increases to 0.5% of all deaths if suicide tourism is included (assisted suicides that involve non‑Swiss nationals).
Around 3.7% of deaths in the Netherlands in 2015 were due to euthanasia. The Netherlands’ regional euthanasia review committees reported that there were 5,516 deaths due to euthanasia in 2015. That is out of a total of around 147,000 – 148,000 deaths in the Netherlands that year.
This figure represents an increase of 4% of deaths due to euthanasia compared to 2014.
A 2012 paper published in The Lancet reported on the results of nationwide surveys on euthanasia in the Netherlands in 1995, 2001, 2005 and 2010. The researchers said:
In 2002, the euthanasia act came into effect in the Netherlands, which was followed by a slight decrease in the euthanasia frequency … In 2010, of all deaths in the Netherlands, 2.8% were the result of euthanasia. This rate is higher than the 1.7% in 2005, but comparable with those in 2001 and 1995.
Another Netherlands-based study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine reported in 2015 that:
Certainly, not all requests are granted; studies conducted between 1990 and 2011 report rates of granting requests between 32% and 45%.
A 2015 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine about euthanasia rates in the Flanders region of Belgium (the northern half of the country) noted:
The rate of euthanasia increased significantly between 2007 and 2013, from 1.9% to 4.6% of deaths.
Filling in the bigger picture
It can be hard to put these rates in context, but what is clear is that euthanasia is by no means a leading cause of death in countries where it is legal. For example, Statistics Belgium said that for the year 2012, cardiovascular disease was the most common cause of death (28.8%), and cancer was the second most common cause of death (26%).
And in the Netherlands – where 5,516 of deaths were due to euthanasia in 2015 – more than 12,000 Dutch people died from the effects of dementia in 2014, approximately 10,000 Dutch people died from lung cancer and nearly 9,000 died from a heart attack. In 2013, 30% (about 42,000) of Dutch deaths were from cancer and 27% (about 38,000) of Dutch deaths were from cardiovascular disease.
If this article has raised issues for you or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 44.
Imagine for a moment you are wrongfully convicted of a crime. You get sent to prison, where you start to serve out your sentence – every minute of every day knowing you are innocent. Then the unthinkable happens and you are released. You are elated – this is the moment you’ve been waiting for.
But those feelings of elation and happiness quickly turn to fear and despair as you realise you have nowhere to go. Your old life as you knew it is gone, you have no way of supporting yourself, your relationships have broken down and you have nowhere to turn to for support.
Sadly, this is the reality many exonerees face when they are trying to put their lives back together. Many of these people – who have in some cases spent years behind bars – find upon release that their problems are only exacerbated. Wrongfully wrenched from their families, homes and communities, they struggle to reintegrate into society when they return.
“Rightfully convicted” individuals are provided with a plan for release from prison – often starting months in advance. This involves a range of activities, all of which are aimed at helping the person to resettle back into the community. But exonerees have none of these preparations – and often receive very little notice of their release.
Victor Nealon, for example, served 16 years in prison after he was falsely charged with rape. He received three hours’ notice of his release, and ended up in a bed and breakfast on his first night as a free man – he had nowhere else to go.
An unfamiliar world
The wrongfully convicted don’t receive any preparation for their release because of the way the prison system works. Prisoners have to show they are “tackling their offending behaviour” to gain parole. But if you haven’t committed the crime in the first place, this is not possible. The end result is that a person may spend longer in prison than if they had committed the offence and admitted it.
Upon release, the wrongfully convicted are thrust into a world they are unfamiliar with – and they have zero support or guidance. It’s common for exonerees to develop PTSD as a result of their wrongful conviction, alongside other mental and physical health problems requiring significant support.
This in part happens because as soon as the conviction is quashed, these people are no one’s responsibility. They are no longer a prisoner, or an ex-offender. There is no standard programme of support which is triggered at the point of release. And while probation would be well placed to support the wrongfully convicted, they cannot as they are not ex-offenders – ex-prisoners, yes, but not ex-offenders.
Say I’m innocent
There are only two specific organisations that provide support to exonerees. They are the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) based at the Royal Courts of Justice, and the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (MOJO). This was founded by Paddy Hill – one of the six men wrongly convicted of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings. He set it up in an attempt to provide the support to others that he was not given when released in 1991.
But both services are restricted by funding and staffing limitations, and while both organisations do superb work against a backdrop of austerity measures and extremely limited resources, both are at best a piecemeal response to what is, in reality, a government responsibility.
A recent BBC documentary called Fallout highlights these issues. The the director of the documentary Mark Mcloughlin has launched the “Say I’m Innocent” campaign, and is now fighting for all the services that are available to guilty prisoners on release to be made available to exonerees. The campaign is also calling for a public announcement of a person’s innocence upon their release. As well as other measure including a transition centre in both the UK and Ireland to allow them time and help to reintegrate into society.
This is important because the key issue here is responsibility. The state assumed responsibility for these individuals when they were wrongfully convicted. It is therefore only right that the state continues to take responsibility for them once exonerated.
The cost of energy in the UK is once again a hot topic. During the party conference season, Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, announced that the Scottish government will set up a publicly owned, not for profit energy company. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn restated his wish to nationalise utility companies to “stop the public being ripped off”. And the Conservative prime minister Theresa May promised to fix the “broken” energy market, in part by imposing a cap on some domestic energy prices.
The UK government swiftly followed this season of rhetoric with two supporting policy announcements. It has drawn up draft legislation to set an energy price cap, although this may take until the winter of 2018/19 to be enacted. Second, it has published a clean growth strategy, which promises “cleaner air, lower energy bills, greater economic security and a natural environment protected and enhanced for the future”.
It’s not easy to address the social, environmental and economic dimensions of domestic energy in one go, as these different goals interact with each other. For example, a price cap clearly makes energy more affordable, but it doesn’t reduce the amount of energy needed or used. While the sheer price of energy is problematic for many people, so too is inefficient housing which increases bills and associated greenhouse gas emissions.
The clean growth strategy addresses this by reconfirming a commitment to require large energy companies to install efficiency measures such as insulation and heating systems. This scheme, the energy company obligation (ECO), now has £3.6 billion in funding through to 2028. It aims to help 2.5m fuel-poor households. Alongside stricter regulations within the private rented sector, the ECO is intended to upgrade all fuel-poor homes to a decent standard by 2030.
But it’s worth putting the rhetoric and promises of these policy announcements into context. Help for people in fuel poverty has decreased since 2010, largely due to the coalition government abandoning publicly funded schemes in England in favour of privately funded energy supplier obligations like ECO. Though social and environmental policies do add to fuel bills, policymakers assume that this increase is more than offset by people using less energy thanks to efficiency savings.
In our research we are currently looking at whether ECO is an effective way to address affordability and energy efficiency in vulnerable people’s homes. England is the only one of the four UK nations that relies solely on this market-driven scheme, so it’s important to evaluate its impact. We recently highlighted a number of potential problems, and solutions. To begin with, only certain people are eligible. Proxies such as welfare benefits, demographics and postcodes are used, but they can arbitrarily exclude households on the margins of these measures who may indeed be vulnerable.
People also struggle to upgrade their homes if the work does not enable a certain amount of carbon savings at a certain price. In other words, private companies are likely to prioritise meeting their statutory obligations rather than findings and helping the most vulnerable households. Even for those that do secure funding, it’s at best a long and complicated process. Some upgrades are never completed because installers are not equipped to manage the needs of people with, for example, disabilities or mental health conditions.
What is clear from our comparative research of the UK nations is that state funded schemes, such as nest in Wales and home energy efficiency programmes in Scotland, are better able to target, and respond to the needs of, vulnerable households. Market driven schemes are different as they will, by definition, seek out the most cost effective work. But this ceases to be an asset once the low-hanging fruit has all been picked, and those with the greatest need (and potentially higher costs) are left subsidising other people’s housing upgrades.
An energy price cap will certainly provide some initial relief. But unless it is continually ratcheted down or extended to more customers it will not provide long-term savings or wider benefits. Increasing investment in energy efficiency ticks more social and environmental boxes, but the regressive approach to funding such a scheme in England means it will continue prioritising cost-effective carbon savings over helping those most in need.
The British government began a 12-week consultation period on Oct. 6 to sort out the details for a near-total ban on its domestic ivory trade.
Conservation groups have long worried that even a legal trade can mask the illicit movement of ivory and stimulate further demand for ivory from poached elephants.
The conservation groups WCS and Stop Ivory applauded the announcement and pledged to work with the government to put the ban in place.
The UK government has announced that it will shut down the legal ivory trade within its borders.
“The decline in the elephant population fueled by poaching for ivory shames our generation,” UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove said in a statement. “The need for radical and robust action to protect one of the world’s most iconic and treasured species is beyond dispute.”
Growing evidence has shown that even a legal trade in ivory can mask illegal sales and feed the demand that drives poaching. Laws in the UK currently allow pieces of worked ivory, such as carvings, made before March 3, 1947, to be sold. Pieces made after that date require a certificate to be traded legally.
On Oct. 6, the government began a 12-week consultation period to define a new set of restrictions, during which time conservation groups and art and antique curators will work together “to ensure there is no room for loopholes which continue to fuel the poaching of elephants,” according to the statement.
Under the plan, the government will make exceptions to allow the trade and sale of musical instruments made with ivory and pieces with small amounts of ivory. Trade in objects of “significant historic, artistic or cultural value” will also be allowed, as well as the movement of pieces to and between museums.
Gove’s office said that the goal will be to identify “narrowly defined and carefully targeted exemptions for items which do not contribute to the poaching of elephants and where a ban would be unwarranted.”
“Illegal ivory hides behind ‘legal’ ivory, and the UK still allows a significant domestic ‘legal’ ivory market,” said Wildlife Conservation Society CEO Cristián Samper in a statement from the organization. “The implementation of a strict ban without loopholes that traders can exploit is essential in the fight against the poaching of elephants and the trafficking in their ivory.”
In just the past 15 years, forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) numbers in Central Africa are down by 66 percent, Samper said. On the continent as a whole, 20,000 elephants die at the hands of poachers each year. Many scientists fear that savanna (Loxodonta africana) and forest elephants could face extinction in the next few decades if those trends continue.
“The only way to save elephants, in addition to strong field and enforcement work, is to ban ivory sales to prevent any opportunities for such laundering,” Samper said.
“The unprecedented crisis we face — with Africa’s natural heritage being destroyed and communities put at risk due to poaching by illegal armed gangs — will only stop when people stop buying ivory,” said John Stephenson, CEO of the NGO Stop Ivory, in the government’s statement. “Along with our partners, we congratulate the government on this important step and look forward to working with it and our colleagues to ensure the ban is implemented robustly and without delay.”
In October 2018, the UK will host an international conference on the illegal wildlife trade, which Gove’s office figures is worth 17 billion pounds ($22.4 billion).
Samper acknowledged the need for “strong field and enforcement work” to protect elephants where they live, but he said that leaders in those countries need help.
“We cannot save elephants if the trade in their ivory continues,” Samper said. “The majority of African elephant range countries … have called on the global community to put an end to the ivory trade.”
“Elephants need dramatic help now,” he added.
Banner image of an elephant in Tanzania by John C. Cannon.
I haven’t read the fifth one yet, but take for granted that it’s highly informative. The first one is pretty heavy reading, more suitable to browse and read when anything catches your eye about how the tea tradition came about for instance or that alcohol used to be seen as good sustenance for hard-working people. Do that often and you’ll learn a few things you didn’t know yet.
Apparently, someone – an aide to the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – threatened to have food banks shut down if they continued to raise awareness about their activities and about food poverty in the UK. This aide has the wrong idea.
Only a few years ago, in 2011, I noticed a major discrepancy in this area. The Trussell Trust – which runs the food banks in the UK – wasn’t accomplishing even 10% of what Dutch food banks were doing.
UK food banks handed out 40,000 parcels per year.
900,000 per year were handed out by Dutch food banks.
The population of England & Wales on 27 March 2011 was 56,075,912. The population of Scotland on that day was 5,295,000.
On 1 January 2011, the population of the Netherlands was around 16,700,000 persons. That’s almost 45 million people less!
So, while British food banks were handing out 0.00065 parcel per person per year, Dutch food banks handed out 0.054 parcel per person per year. Or did my calculator trip me up badly?
Around 83 times more food parcels were being handed out in a tiny country with much greater equality and almost none of the appallingly deep poverty of the UK!
That is not the Trussell Trust’s fault.
While the number of food parcels handed out in the UK has gone up substantially since then, it still is nowhere near enough. The Trussell Trust gave emergency food to 913,138 people in the UK in 2013-2014. Presumably, that means ‘once’.
According to the Trussell Trust, 13,000,000 people in the UK live below the poverty threshold. (That’s what it also said three years ago.)
Conquering poverty would also benefit the nation’s budget, as the estimated cost of child poverty alone in the UK is £25 billion per year in terms of costs to business, the police, courts and health and education services.
Inhabitants of the Netherlands rank among the happiest people on the planet, year after year after year. Dutch children consider themselves very happy children, regardless of their socioeconomic background. The same cannot be said for British children.
At the end of 2010, UNICEF research into child inequality in 24 developed countries showed that income poverty has the greatest impact on child inequality in the UK. The UK ranks alongside countries such as Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. There is little inequality in the Netherlands, however, and the lives of children from the richest families differ little from the lives of the poorest Dutch children.
‘We must not lose sight of the importance of family income to eradicating child poverty in this country. We must ensure that no family with children has to live on an income which cannot provide the warmth, shelter and food they need.’
We need to hand out many more food parcels. There is no shame in handing out food, and none in accepting it either. The embarrassment is in not handing it out.