Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

All cases of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) involving under 18’s must be reported, new legislation introduced for England and Wales will stipulate.

The law will state that health care professionals, teachers and other social care workers will have to report cases of FGM within a month of becoming aware of it. Failure to comply could result in internal disciplinary or being referred to their professional organisation which could result in them being barred from practice and sacked.

The law will apply in all cases of known FGM in under 18s, whether it is disclosed by the victim or noticed by the professional.

The hope is that it will increase the ability to find perpetrators and this will lead to an increase in the rate of prosecutions. The move follows a public consultation which asked for opinion from a range of stakeholders including health care professionals, survivors of the practice and community groups.

We have a duty of care to protect young girls from this practice. Identifying the pathways that lead to FGM is an important step. And equipping front line staff with the right tools to identify and support victims or potential victims is a significant step in the right direction.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights published a report last week which found that women who have endured violence in the home may have problems providing the evidence required to obtain a lawyer. And another report, published in the same week by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), found that cuts to legal aid exposed victims to a court room ordeal, some are even forced to endure cross examination by their abuser because they are increasingly forced to represent themselves in court due to legal aid cuts.

The CAB report, Victims of Abuse: Struggling for Support, found that victims give up on their fight for justice because regulations, “both in terms of evidence requirements and income or asset thresholds requiring financial contribution, leave large numbers of victims giving up on their rights to justice”.

It adds: “In some cases these restrictions expose victims to risk, leaving no alternative but to represent themselves in court facing their perpetrator.”

In other news, worrying statistics emerged last week as it was reported that young people are nearly three times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population. Almost half a million, 498,000 young people aged 16-24 are without a job and thee unemployment rate sits at 14.4% for thus demographic.

The Tories accused Labour of talking negatively of the unemployment figures, however there is no way to negatively spin these facts which are shameful.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said there could be “no doubt” that there was a genuine issue with youth unemployment that needed to be addressed.

Failing to invest in this group of people is short sighted and a disgrace.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

A very warm welcome to my first round-up of 2014. I hope everyone reading this had a peaceful festive period.

With the European Elections in May, this will be a year when Britain’s relationship with Europe goes under the microscope. The hysteria that was allowed to build before the predicted ‘influx’ of Romanian and Bulgarian workers after January 1st – and the thumping anti-climax when their arrival proved more a trickle than a tide – illustrates what a politicised issue Europe has become.

Rather than obsessing about migration we should look at the other challenges Britain and the EU face in 2014. The year began with a desperately sad Prince’s Trust report on youth unemployment. Their annual Youth Index showed that 40% of unemployed 16-25 year-olds now experience mental illness. It said 25% of those who were long-term unemployed tookor had taken anti-depressants – compared to 11% of those with jobs – and that nearly one in ten young people feel they have nothing to live for.

The figures led professionals to deem the problem a public health crisis. With around half of the 900,000 jobless young people in Britain long-term unemployed – and problems like self-harm and drug-use prevalent – The Royal Society for Public Health’s Shirley Cramer said it was “essential” that the issue moved up the agenda.

It is little wonder young people in Britain feel hopeless. As well as failing to address issues like low wages, unpaid internships and the cost of living, the Tory government have abolished EMA, trebled tuition fees and sought to remove benefits for under-25s. As David Cameron’s conference speech showed, their approach is to scapegoat rather than support youngsters.

Youth unemployment is not the result of idleness, but of too few opportunities. It is an area where we need more not less collaboration with Europe.

2013 saw the European Parliament vote through recommendations that member states prioritise the issue. And the European Commission’s Youth Guarantee Scheme called on domestic governments to provide jobs or further training for all young people within four months of leaving school. These measures are helping to create a Europe-wide consensus on youth unemployment, which looks to support member states and share good practice. They illustrate the value of cooperating with our neighbours rather than demonising them. Instead of being sidetracked by diversionary myths about EU migrants, we should focus on the real issues, and work with the rest of Europe to prevent a lost generation.

On a more positive note, it was good to see Japan this week announce a 2020 target of over 30% representation for women on boards. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set out the requirements on Thursday, calling women the country’s “most underused resource”. At present women hold just 1.6% of executive positions, and Japan ranks dismally compared to other developed countries. Some claim the economic boost created by having more women at the top could be as much as 15%.

Japan should be congratulated for setting such bold targets. Despite currently sitting a long way behind the UK for the number of women on boards, they are clearly intent on drawing level. Abe is no bleeding heart liberal, but he recognises the business case for diversity. Rather than being content with Lord Davies’ 30% target for 2020, the UK should be as ambitious for itself as Japan obviously is, and endorse Viviane Reding’s 40% target. I hope that by this time next year we will have done so.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Women are being hit hardest by the financial squeeze, more research has revealed. It isn’t a complete shock but it is very disheartening that the Government has failed to address the issue and continuing numbers of women feel the financial squeeze and more have suffered during the recession than men- something that we have all been aware of for some time.

The research was been published by Which? in its Quarterly Consumer Report and revealed that it is women who cut back on essentials and are struggling to save for the future.

Not only are they feeling the squeeze personally but they also are far less optimistic about their personal finance and the future of the wider economy, with just 15% of them expecting it to improve over the next year.

Women, it stated, estimate they spend some 11 hours per month worrying about their finances compared to just nine and a half by men.

The research also revealed that men are more likely to have saved the recommended amount as outlined by the Government to help protect against the occurrence of unexpected expenses or a sudden drop in income 42% to 27% of women.

I hope this important, yet hardly surprising survey has a greater impact on the Government and policy makers. They must spend time considering the longer term ramifications this will have on women including on their pensions as well as the affect it will have on other sources of income and or other areas of their lives. You can read more on it here.

Unemployment figures released last week showed that it has risen by 70,000 reports revealed. Specifically another 20,000 under 25’s are now registered as unemployed while pay rises reportedly slowed to 1%, the lowest figure since 2001 when records began. This is now the third consecutive increase and is the highest level since July. This puts greater pressure on Chancellor, George Osborne to act. Maybe now is the time for him to consider a different strategy? You can read a full report on the situation here.

It was undoubtedly a difficult week for London Marathon organisers following the terrible events at the Boston Marathon the previous week. Organisers doubled efforts and put huge work into ensuring the event went ahead smoothly. A respectful one minute silence was held at the start of the race, and it went ahead, with tighter security but smoothly nevertheless.

Record numbers, 700,000, of supporters turned out to cheer on, friends, loved ones or even those they didn’t know creating a wonderful atmosphere which London should be proud of. You can read more here on the eventful day.

David Cameron appears to be engaging with the EU in a good way

Labour Party

Even small-state, cut public expenditure David Cameron seemingly wants to help young people find jobs.

This is excellent news which I hope will be translated into concrete action in Britain to bring down youth unemployment which currently stands at a staggering 22% of those aged 16 to 24.

David Cameron is, moreover, discussing youth unemployment at an EU summit starting in Brussels today, according to the Observer. Cameron will apparently play a full part in the talks, a welcome change for our avowedly Eurosceptic Prime Minister. Let’s just hope he stays the course and doesn’t walk out as he did at the previous Brussels summit on 9 December last year.

The EU could, we understand, provide 22 billion euros from an underspend in the European social fund for measures to combat unemployment among young people. While youth unemployment stands at 22% in the UK, it is even higher in other EU member states – 51.4% in Spain, 46.6% in Greece and 30.7% in Greece.

The EU initiative is therefore very welcome. Having young people unable to find work constitutes a real tragedy, robbing them of the start in life they deserve, leading often to long-term defeatism and periods on the dole throughout their lives.

If the proposals are agreed, the European Commission will work with member states to draw up country specific programmes on how to address the problems and use the EU funds.

Unemployment is the scourge of our times. Even George Osborne is beginning to understand this as he teamed up with Ed Miliband joining leaders of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank urging action to create jobs amid warnings that youth unemployment was a time-bomb under the global economy.

However, Cameron and Osborne making all the right noises abroad is no substitute for action at home. The main reason unemployment is so high in Britain lies at the door of the Tory-led coalition’s fierce austerity measures. The cuts have been much too much, much too soon. Such policies could lead to a much longer recession than necessary, possibly even a double dip.

We, the British people, need a government that looks after all our interests not just those of a rich few. Everything possible should be done to bring down unemployment at home where it matters. International action is all very well, but the real solution is here, fairly and squarely with David Cameron and George Osborne.

Early School Leaving

Labour Party

My report on the problem of Early School Leaving (ESL) has been voted on by the European Parliament.  I’m happy to report that it was passed almost unanimously with 543 MEPs voting in support of it. Of course the 23 Tories present, including London MEPs Marina Yannakoudakis, Syed Kamall and Charles Tannock, voted against it.

I hope now that the report will help reach the EU 2020’s very ambitious target of reducing early school leaving by 10% by 2020. 

This report follows on from my work on Early Years Learning in the EU, where I highlighted the importance of Member States providing high-quality early years services for children aged 0-6.  It also follows the publication (in January 2011) of the Commission’s Communication on Tackling Early School Leaving.

Writing this report has taught me that ESL is a complex phenomenon and one of the hugest challenges facing Europe at present. Although rates vary across EU Member States, as well as between towns and regions, the European average in 2009 was 14.4%.

In my report I define early school leavers as individuals between the age of 18 and 24 who have left education and training with only lower secondary education or less.  Though for some not having this level of qualification may not be such a hindrance, but the fact is over 50% of people in this category are unemployed. 

My report also looked at the causes ESL, which are typically a process of disengagement, as a result of personal, social, economic, geographical, education or family-related reasons.  A significant part of the problem can also be attributed to lack of support or guidance, disengagement, and courses and modules that are too rigid.

The consequences are far reaching as well, contributing to social exclusion in later life and driving economic and social instability, with higher rates of antisocial behaviour, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse.

But there are solutions to this problem and in the report I recommend that a personalised and inclusive approach be adopted, with counselling service in schools, better career guidance for students and mentoring schemes.  I also believe that Member States should introduce a system of means-tested financial support for those who need it, like the educational maintenence allowance in the UK, which the Tories unthinkingly destroyed.  There are numerous studies that show that such support means that young people who would otherwise have to leave school at 16 to support their families or, more importantly, themselves can afford to continue their secondary education.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems is the provision of ‘Second-chance’ schools.  These should be able to reintegrate school leavers back into the education system without stigmatisation and with proper support.  The report even recommends that if someone is working, their employer should provide them with reasonable, but limited amount of time off to get their secondary qualifications.

The fact is that there are fewer and fewer jobs that do not require some level of qualification.  This is a problem that could lead to even higher levels of unemployment in the future if it is not addressed now.  What’s more, young people who have been let down by the education system will find themselves increasingly excluded and impoverished.

This report will now be sent to the Commission and the Council and I hope that it will inform a larger part of the discussion around these issues.