Posts Tagged ‘families’

Flowers to Yarls Wood – 2017

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

Four years ago on Saturday 18th November saw Movement for Justice’s 12th protest outside the immigration detention prison up a hill around 6 miles north of Bedford, calling for this and the other immigration detention centres to be shut down. On this occasion many took flowers to pin to the upper section of the fence where they could be seen by the women inside.

The whole system of immigration detention seems to have been designed as a deterrent to asylum seekers coming to the UK, though unsuccesful in doing so. People who had fled their countries because they were in fear of their lives and had often been subject to violent attacks and rapes were thrown into jail while there cases were being considered. Often their imprisonment made it very much harder for them to provide the evidence demanded by the Home Office of the danger they had been in and their suffering, and official reports and journalistic investigations, some by reporters who had taken jobs at the centres, both revealed the callous and often illegal treatment they received from the staff in these privately run centres, including sexual assaults and violence.

Mabel Gawanas who was held inside for a day under 3 years speaks to her friends still inside

The accomodation provided is poor and the food is of poor quality and often fails to meet the relgious ordietary needs of the detainees, and there have been numerous reported cases where necessary medical treatment has been either refused or excessively delayed. But the major problem is that immigration detention is of indeterminate length, with some detainees serving perhaps a few weeks and others up to three years. Unlike in a normal jail there is no known length to the time people serve and no way that they know when they may be released or deported. And there is no process for them to appeal their detention. The government like to pretend it isn’t a prison, and there are some differences in the routines, but those held inside cannot leave and are often restricted in their movements inside the buildings.

The windows only open a few inches

There are currently in 2021 seven ‘Immigration Removal Centres’ in the UK as well as a number of short-term holding facililites. All but one of the seven are run by private companies, Serco, Mitie, G4S, a Capita subsidiary and Geo, and they are run to make profits. The less they spend on food, staffing and facilities the more the companies make – and the more those detained suffer. In 2015 the Chief Inspector of Prisons labelled it ‘a place of national concern’.

Yarl’s Wood is in an isolated location, hidden away from roads on a former wartime airfield. As I found cycling from Bedford Station it is on the top of a hill and rather windswept. From where the protesters coaches and cars can park it takes aroud a mile walking along public footpaths to get to the field next to the prison where the protests take place. The prison is surrounded by a 20 ft high metal fence, the lower half with metal panels and the upper half with a thick wire grid material that allows the upper storeys of the building to be seen from the top of a rise in the field.

It’s difficult to take pictures through this screen, but not impossible. I’d taken with me a Nikon 70-300mm lens and was working with the D810 in DX mode which converts that into a 105-450mm equivalent and still provides a 16Mp file. Focussing was tricky as the autofocus was very good at focussing on the wire, leaving the building behind well out of focus, and although it would sometimes focus on a window frame, it was far easier to use manual focus.

I also took some pictures on a 28-200mm (equivalent to 42-300mm) which was better when I wanted to include any foreground detail, but the windows became rather small. Even at 450mm any one of the pair of windows only filled around a sixth of the frame, and some of the images have been cropped.

For photographing the protesters as well as that highly versatile 28-200mm used both as a X lens on the D810 body and a full-frame lens on the D750, I also had a 28-35mm lens for use on the D750.

Many of the exposures I made where not quite sharp. It was November and the light dropped off fairly dramatically towards the end of the protest and by 3pm I was having to work at 1/250s at the full aperture of F5.6, not really fast enough a shutter speed for a 450mm lens. So camera shake added to my focus problems. At 3.30pm the protest seemed to be nearing its end, I was getting too cold and decided it was time to get on my bike and return to Bedford Station. Fortunately except for a short steep slope it was more or less downhill all the way.

In August 2020 the Home Office announced it was ‘re-purposing’ Yarl’s Wood, which became a short-term holding facility for men arriving in the UK by boat. But by November 2020 it had also been brought back into its previous use with around ten women then being indefinitely detained there.

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 12


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Armistice Day – November 11th

Thursday, November 11th, 2021

Poppies in Trafalgar Square. 11 Nov 2006

When I was young everything still stopped for two minutes at 11am on Armistice Day although the main remembrance events had been moved to Remembrance Sunday in 1939 so as not to interfere with the war effort. But traffic still pulled into the side of the road here. In France the Armistice de la Première Guerre mondiale is still a national holiday.

Paris lle, 11 Nov 2008

I’m not a pacifist, but I am firmly opposed to most wars, both historic and current. The First World War was clearly a disaster that should not have happened, a family quarrel that should not have resulted in such incredible suffering and loss of life largely with people killing others who they had far more in common with than with those who sent them into battle.

Clearly US war in Vietnam (and earlier the French in Indochina) was wrong as was the invasion of Iraq. And equally clearly we as a nation should not be wasting money on pointless nuclear weapons and selling arms to promote wars around the world such as that in Yemen. And so on.

Remembering Animals Killed in War, Park Lane, 11 Nov 2006

But while it seems clear that America should not have been fighting in Vietnam, it seems clear that the Vietnamese had to fight against them, just as it seems clear that Cubans were justified in fighting against Batista and US imperialism – and the same applies to other struggles against colonialism and for national liberation.

School Students Against the War, Oxford St, 11 Nov 2006

I’ve recently re-read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and although Stalinists contest his view of events it remains powerful both as a personal account of the war in Spain and makes clear the main reasons why the democratically elected government was defeated by the fascists – and Stalinist Russia’s contribution along with fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to that defeat, which made a wider war inevitable. If you’ve not read it, this is a book I highly recommend – and there is an excellent article ‘Orwell and the Spanish Revolution‘ by John Newsinger in International Socialism Journal which explains Orwell’s position and deals with some of his detractors.

Staines, Nov 11 2007

I grew up in the years following the Second World War and had my share as a wolf cub and boy scout of standing in short trousers with the bitter November wind blowing up them at Remembrance Sunday parades at local war memorials. Of course we should remember those who died, but not in the kind of militaristic and often jingoistic fashion that most or all such events have in England. The best way to honour their sacrifice is surely to work for peace. In Germany they have a day as a peace celebration.

Families of Servicemen Killed in Iraq, Cenotaph, Whitehall. 11 Nov, 2006

After briefly photographing the event at the Mairie in the 11th arrondissement – I’d rushed out from a café when I saw the event happening – we strolled the short distance to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.

Père-Lachaise, Paris lle, 11 Nov 2008

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Universal Discredit

Monday, May 24th, 2021

T-shirts spell out StopUniversalCredit’ in Tate Modern Turbine Hall on the Unite Day of Action against Universal Credit, 24 May 2018

There were some positive ideas behind the introduction of Universal Credit, a new social security payment system first announced by the then Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, in 2010, claiming it would make the social security system fairer to claimants and taxpayers. It aimed to simplify the system by replacing six existing benefits for working-age people who have a low household income: income-based Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. It would also taper off gradually as people moved into employment, removing the ‘cliff edge’ of losing benefits when going back into work.

But both Duncan Smith and Welfare Reform Minister David Freud, had failed to grasp the complexity of the varied and often varying circumstances of those in low paid and often insecure employment, particularly those on zero hours contracts or other sporadic or seasonal work, or with fluid family arrangements. Nor did they make clear that the main driver behind their changes was to simply cut the cost of benefits. And it now seems likely it will end up being more expensive than the benefits it replaced.

Outside Parliament

Following the Welfare Reform Act 2012, UC roll-out began to selected claimants at pilot job centres in 2013, and problems rapidly became apparent. There were entirely predictable problems with the IT system and the implementation costs were six times the initial forecast at £12 billion. The roll-out was intended to be more or less complete by 2017, but is now expected to take until 2024. Cuts were made to the initial system by George Osborne in 2015, making the transition to work less generous and removing some of the payments for child support, though these were partly restored in 2018 by Philip Hammond. And in 2020 there was a temporary £20 increase as a response to Covid.

What is clear is that the introduction of UC has caused a great deal of hardship to claimants, some temporary, some permanent. It has led to many being unable to keep up rent payments with a great increase in evictions and homelessness. UC has been the main driver of the huge increase in the need for foodbanks. It has forced some women into prostitution and made some claimants turn to crime to keep alive – while some have starved to death.

UC has had a particularly hard effect on families with children, particularly those with more than two children since 2017, and also on self-employed claimants and others with fluctuating incomes. Overall there have been both winners and losers, with around half losing out and a little over a third gaining compared to the replaced benefits.

Marching to the DWP

One of the major problems for everyone has been the long wait before any UC is paid, partly because of the change from a weekly to a monthly benefit. Even where the process works smoothly, the delay between making the claim and receiving money is six weeks, and around a fifth of claimants have had to wait around 5 months or more. There are now emergency loans available – but these mean that when people do get their payments they are reduced to repay these advances. There are also many whose benefit has been cut or stopped for largely trivial reasons through a savage system of benefit sanctions imposed by job centres.

Many other problems have also been caused by UC – you can read a long list of criticisms in the Wikipedia article. As well as evictions and homelessness it has resulted in an increase in domestic violence and a steep rise in mental-health problems. And, as the National Audit Office reported, there is no evidence Universal Credit has met its aim of helping people into work and they say it is in many ways unwieldy and inefficient and is unlikely to provide value for money.

It is clear that UC is in need of a complete replacement, and that it’s monumental failure should have led to the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith in 2015 after the DWP admitted publishing fake testimonies of claimants enjoying their benefits cuts and statistics showed 2,380 people died in a 3-year period shortly after a work capability assessment declared them fit for work, but instead he was knighted in 2020. Under the present government we are unlikely to get more than very minor tinkering that will quite likely create more problems that it solves. One of the proposals under debate is that of a Universal Basic Income, along with targeted welfare payments (some of which are still in existence) to cover those with additional needs. Earlier this month the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford announced that this would be trialled in a pilot scheme in Wales.

Universal Credit rally & march
Universal Credit protest at Tate Modern


Shutdown Knife Crime

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

Operation Shutdown is a campaign to end the deaths from knife and gun crime on our streets, which have been rising over the last few years. Most of those in the campaign are people who have suffered the pain of losing a relative – brother, son, nephew, uncle – or friend to knife crime.

The great majority of the victims are young men, in their teens or twenties, and although many are black what they virtually all have in common is that they come from working class families mainly living in deprived areas.

Almost certainly the biggest driver behind the increase in deaths has been austerity, with the huge cuts this has forced councils to make in youth services and other vital support for families. Some of the violence on the streets is certainly gang-related, often concerned with drugs, but those killed are often people on the periphery or innocent bystanders.

It would be impossible not to empathise with the suffering of mothers, fathers and other relatives as they talk about their loss, but I don’t always feel that some of the measures they suggest would do anything to curb the growth of knife crime. I have very little faith in their idea that the government’s emergency committee COBRA considering the problem would have any real impact, and it could well worsen the situation.

Of course there are things that they call for that would help. Restoring the cuts in vital community services is an obvious need, and reversing the cuts in police numbers could help too, though perhaps only if this led to more sensitive and informed community policing.

We need also to look at ways to reduce the power and influence of gangs, which would almost certainly include an evidence-led reform of our laws about drugs, something which succesive governments have resisted.

After a rally opposive Downing St, Operation Shutdown marched to Westminster Bridge, where they presented wreaths to a police officer and hold a silence in memory of PC Keith Palmer, killed outside Parliament by terrorists before going on to block the bridge and hold a further rally.

More at Knife crime Operation Shutdown


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