We asked for your prayers last week; it took another five days, 17 in all, before 41 construction workers were rescued from from a collapsed tunnel in Uttarakhand state. The tunnel, part of a $1.5 million pilgrimage project, collapsed on 12 November, trapping low-wage workers from various Indian states in a 4.5km underground space. The rescue faced many challenges, including machine breakdowns and the tunnel's precarious geological location, both matters for considerable criticism. The breakthrough came on 29 November when a team of 'rat miners' managed to reach the trapped men. This method, which involves creating narrow tunnels by hand, has been controversial due to its hazards, and was officially banned in 2014. The rescued workers, who were in good health, were greeted by Uttarakhand’s chief minister with traditional marigold garlands, and celebrations ensued with sweets and firecrackers.

A 15-year-old high school student, Madison Atkinson, saved her 3-year-old cousin, Maxine, by performing CPR after the toddler drowned in a pool during a Thanksgiving family gathering in California. The incident unfolded when Maxine, unnoticed by adults, wandered outside and fell into the pool. Her uncle, Damien, found her floating and pulled her out, attempting the Heimlich manoeuvre. Madison, realising CPR was needed, took charge and successfully revived Maxine. The family was deeply grateful for her life-saving skills, which she had learned in school. This heroic act highlighted the critical importance and effectiveness of CPR, even in the hands of a teenager, in saving lives. Watch the video:

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 The claims were withdrawn because the individuals failed to respond to interview requests or questionnaires. In 2021, 2,141 applications were refused or withdrawn, a significant decrease from 24,403 in 2004. When an application is withdrawn, the individual becomes illegal in the UK and is subject to removal.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 However, the significant rise in withdrawn claims raises concerns about conveniently meeting targets.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.

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