Displaying items by tag: United Kingdom
The UK Home Office has lost track of over 17,000 asylum seekers after their claims were discontinued, a concern raised during a discussion about Rishi Sunak's goal to clear the asylum backlog by year's end. The claims were withdrawn because the individuals failed to respond to interview requests or questionnaires. In 2021, 2,141 applications were refused or withdrawn, a significant decrease from 24,403 in 2004. When an application is withdrawn, the individual becomes illegal in the UK and is subject to removal. The Government, confident about meeting its target, has increased caseworker numbers. However, the significant rise in withdrawn claims raises concerns about conveniently meeting targets. The Home Office is also negotiating a treaty with Rwanda following the Supreme Court's ruling against their plan to send asylum seekers there, citing risks of violation of UK and international human rights laws. There is also uncertainty about the total amount paid to Rwanda, with more details expected in the summer, making it challenging to scrutinise the policy's costs effectively.
The UK has experienced 14 consecutive interest rate rises, affecting both mortgage holders and savers. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), in 2023 the gains from higher savings returns have surpassed the costs of rising mortgage rates, slightly increasing real household disposable income. However, this improvement is flanked by decreases in disposable income in 2022 and an expected drop in 2024. The impact of these rate hikes has been uneven, with many having minimal savings and large sums in non-interest-bearing accounts. The OBR warns of further financial strain in 2024 as fixed-rate mortgages expire, leading to higher debt interest payments and a decline in disposable income. This forecast remains significant even if the Bank of England does not increase rates beyond the current 5.25%. The situation is also impacting non-homeowners, contributing to rising rents. Overall, the OBR suggests tougher financial times ahead, even without additional rate hikes.
Nottingham City Council has effectively declared bankruptcy by issuing a Section 114 notice, indicating it cannot cover its expenses within the current financial year. The notice does not affect the council's ability to deliver statutory services such as waste collection and child safeguarding. Despite attempts to bridge a budget gap, which stood at £26 million in July and has since narrowed to around £23 million, the council's struggles persist. These financial woes have been attributed to significant central government funding cuts of more than 40% since 2010. Three Labour MPs representing Nottingham have criticised the Government for these cuts and urged it to provide adequate funding to support local services, especially given the rising demands for social care and homelessness services. They emphasised the need to shield residents from further cuts to local services amidst declining living standards. This news comes two months after Birmingham declared itself bankrupt: see
In England, working parents are being encouraged to apply for 15 hours of free childcare per week for their toddlers starting in the new year. This initiative is part of a broader reform by the Department for Education, which also includes a childminder start-up grant. Additionally, a £400 million funding increase for early years providers is planned for 2024-25. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's budget plans, announced in March, will extend this offer to families of children as young as nine months, providing thirty hours of free childcare every week. Starting in April 2024, this benefit will be available for parents of two-year-olds and will expand to include children over nine months from September next year. However, opposition critics, including the shadow education secretary and Liberal Democrat spokesperson, argue that the policy is not feasible due to a shortage of childcare providers and insufficient government funding. They warn of a potential crisis in childcare services.
A new strain of swine flu, influenza A(H1N2)v, has been detected in a human in the UK for the first time. The patient, who had not worked with pigs, visited their GP in North Yorkshire with breathing problems and has since fully recovered. The source of the infection remains unknown. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is closely monitoring the situation and enhancing surveillance in GP surgeries and hospitals. Globally, there have been fifty cases of this strain since 2005, but the UK case is genetically distinct. This strain is similar to those found in pigs but differs from recent human cases of H1N2 elsewhere. The incident has prompted a collaborative effort between the UKHSA and veterinary authorities to investigate and protect public health. Although this case does not immediately suggest a pandemic risk, it raises concerns as zoonotic diseases have historically led to pandemics. Authorities are tracing contacts and urging pig keepers to report any signs of swine flu.
A poll commissioned by Theos and conducted by YouGov reveals that less than half (47%) of the 2,569 respondents desire a funeral. The report highlights a significant shift in British grieving practices and warns of a potential pastoral gap due to the decline in formal funeral ceremonies. 24% of participants do not want a funeral, while 28% are undecided. Financial concerns are a factor, with 13% citing lack of funds. The main reasons for not wanting a funeral include preferring to spend money differently (67%), not seeing the point (55%), and not wanting a traditional service (43%). The survey also found that frequent worshippers are more likely to want a funeral. It also emphasises the importance of the Church in providing support and rethinking its approach to death and mourning in contemporary society, highlighting the role of church buildings as places of remembrance.
The ‘Elgin Marbles’ are ancient Greek sculptures taken from the Parthenon in Athens and currently housed in the British Museum. The British government argues that the marbles are a part of world heritage, while Greece has called for their return to their homeland. The argument has flared up with the visit of the Greek prime minister to the UK. When he raised the issue in a TV interview, Rishi Sunak cancelled their scheduled meeting, claiming that he had reneged on his promise not to campaign publicly about their return. The Greek foreign minister, at a NATO meeting, has said their claim is based on ‘history’ and ‘justice’. This issue highlights the broader question of repatriating cultural artefacts taken during colonial times.
On 21 November David Pytches, co-founder of New Wine, died after a sustained period of illness. David and his wife Mary started New Wine in 1989, seeking to help churches experience renewal in the power of the Spirit. Their ministry has touched many lives over the years. John and Anne Coles, who led New Wine for many years after David and Mary, have said: 'David entitled his memoirs “Living on the Edge”, and we thank God for the way in which he lived like that and showed us and countless others how to do so also. He humbly, lovingly, and courageously pioneered aspects of church life and mission in the power of the Spirit, which not only changed his own church and parish but also became models for hundreds of church leaders and churches around the world. This included his pioneering of New Wine as both a summer gathering inspiring thousands of church members and a network of church leaders for mutual encouragement in ministry. His love for Jesus and the Bible, his commitment to personal holiness, his persistence in prayer, his personal prophecies, and his willingness to give away everything with which God blessed him were an inspiration to us personally, and we will miss his role in our lives as a true “Father in God”.’ Read the full article in the link below.
In his Autumn Statement on 22 November, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a significant cut in National Insurance from January, from 12% to 10%. However, due to previous tax changes, many workers might not see substantial benefits. He also raised the state pension by 8.5% and universal credit by 6.7%. Hunt claimed the Government had stabilised the economy, allowing for tax cuts aimed at boosting growth ahead of the next year's general election. Labour criticised the NI cut as insufficient compared to previous tax increases by the Conservative government. Hunt also made a tax break for business investments in new equipment permanent, touted as the 'biggest business tax cut in modern history.' Despite these cuts, the overall tax burden is set to reach a 70-year high. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) revised growth forecasts downwards and projected a delay in the return to pre-pandemic living standards until 2027/28, citing prolonged inflation and higher interest rates. The NI reduction, seen as a significant move, led to speculation about an early general election.
On 22 November Jeremy Hunt unveiled a new Back to Work Plan, focusing on helping disabled individuals, those with long-term health conditions, and the long-term unemployed. The plan enhances four different support programmes, and also the WorkWell service, introduced in the 2023 Spring Budget, aims to assist nearly 60,000 long-term sick or disabled people. However, the plan includes stricter DWP sanctions for those able to work but not engaging with Jobcentre services or refusing work. Failure to engage could lead to the closure of their benefit claims. While the Chancellor highlights a balance of support and consequences, Disability Rights UK (DR UK) criticises the approach, arguing that employment barriers for disabled individuals lie in societal issues and lack of employer support. It stresses the absence of evidence supporting the effectiveness of sanctions and emphasises the need for support and adjustments for the employable while protecting those who cannot work from sanctions. DR UK advocates for investment in the benefits system, fairer structures, and prioritising the wellbeing of disabled and long-term sick individuals.