Saturday, July 05, 2008

Naughty blackface in Britain

The shrieks over blackface makeup never seem to end:
"A white actor "blacked-up" to play an African government official in a role-play exercise staged by the elite squad leading the fight against organised crime, The Times has learnt.

The incident, which has led to accusations of crass racism, occurred in a recruitment process for candidates applying to be overseas liaison officers for the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca).

A high-level internal investigation into the racism claims is under way. The allegation involving Soca - which boasts on its website that it "fully embraces the principles of diversity" - is the latest in a series of race rows threatening to engulf police and law enforcement agencies.


Why can a white man not pretend to be a black man if he wants to? Is blackness sacred? If so that sure sounds like racism.

NHS bosses grumpy about new EU rights

The Government interrupted its week-long celebration of the NHS yesterday to issue a sharp warning to anyone tempted to desert it. Rather than welcoming a new EU Directive that codifies the rights of patients to travel abroad for treatment, the Department of Health gruffly announced that "health tourism" would not be funded by the NHS. This assertion missed the point so spectacularly that one wonders if anybody was awake in Richmond Terrace, the DoH's headquarters. The new directive - the result of several years of negotiation in which the Government has been fully involved - does not confer any new rights on EU citizens to become health tourists. Nor does it impose any new costs on health systems.

It simply says what is already EU law, though now codified in a far more comprehensive fashion. People have the right to travel and to have treatment abroad. If they do so, they will be reimbursed by the exact amount that their treatment would have cost in their home country. Nobody stands to gain or lose. Suppose a British patient decides he wants his hip implant done in Spain. If the local cost exceeds the NHS price (5,587 pounds for a straightforward cemented implant) he will have to pay the difference. If the cost is less, then the operation will have cost the NHS less than if he had stayed in Britain for it, and he will have reduced the queue by one. What's to worry about?

Now let's imagine the reverse scenario. An EU national, attracted by the paeans lavished this week on the NHS, decides he would like to come here for the same operation. Unlikely, but bear with me. If the NHS cost is higher than the cost in his country of origin, he will have to fund the difference. If it is less, the NHS will be reimbursed its normal tariff cost. The NHS will have to find room for another patient, but it will have been fully reimbursed for treating him. EU officials expect just one in 300 European patients to take advantage of the rules. The great majority will live on the mainland with attractive hospitals just over the border.

With a Channel to cross, the odds are that an even lower proportion of British patients will choose to travel. Anybody hoping to take advantage of a few weeks in a German spa - generously provided by the German healthcare system - will be disappointed. The NHS does not do spas. So it is not obliged to pay for anyone travelling to one. In any case, there is an opt-out clause. Should the numbers of British patients wanting to travel abroad become so large that they threaten the future of a service or a hospital here, they can be required to obtain a "prior authorisation" that would not in those circumstances be granted.

The new directive, it should be made clear, is distinct from the case law established by Yvonne Watts, who won the right to be reimbursed for having a hip operation in France when waiting lists in Britain were long. The judges at the European Court ruled that she was entitled to reimbursement if she had suffered undue delay in treatment. Under the Watts ruling, full costs would be reimbursable, not just the NHS tariff cost. But now that maximum English waiting times for elective operations are down to six months, it is unlikely that anyone would qualify under the Watts criterion - and they would have to go to court to prove undue delay.

The directive seems unlikely to create a flood of patients in either direction. In any case, there is a safeguard. The department's anxiety appears misplaced.


Leading Jewish state school is cleared in race bias case

A leading Jewish state school was cleared yesterday of racially discriminating against the son of a convert in a ruling that shores up the whole faith school system. JFS, formerly the Jewish Free School, refused a place to an 11-year-old boy whose mother had converted to the faith. His father took legal action on the ground that the school's admissions code breached race laws, by favouring children with Jewish-born mothers over religiously observant families who had converted. A High Court judge decided, however, that the school had not discriminated on racial grounds and said that Jewish status could not be determined by secular courts.

Mr Justice Mumby recognised that, if the case had succeeded, it would probably have rendered unlawful "the admission arrangements in a very large number of faith schools, of many denominations". He said that members of a religion did not necessarily have to practise that faith. Judaism is passed on through the maternal line, or through conversion. Religious state schools are allowed to use faith-based criteria to decide which children to admit.

The father of the boy, known as M, was seeking a judicial review because he said that the school in northwest London used ethnic rather than religious reasons for refusing his son a place. Children from two other families who consider themselves Jewish have also been turned away from the school, which achieves high results and is very oversubscribed.

One was the daughter of the school's head of English, Kate Lightman, whose husband David is an Orthodox Jew. She converted more than 20 years ago under Israel's Chief Rabbi, but her daughter was not deemed to be Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi in Britain, which controls JFS's admissions.

Dinah Rose, QC, representing M, said that the school would accept a child of Jewish-born "committed atheists" but exclude others who are "Jewish by belief and practice" because of their mother's descent.

Rejecting the legal challenge, the judge said the admissions policy was "not materially different from that which gives preference in admission to a Muslim school to those who were born Muslim, or preference in admission to a Catholic school to those who have been baptised". He said such policies were a "proportionate and lawful means of achieving a legitimate end". The judge said the school had the right to give preference for those from a certain religion, even if they had fallen away from that faith. Russell Kett, chairman of governors at JFS, said: "The school abhors all forms of discrimination and welcomes the judge's express finding that JFS does not racially discriminate."

Simon Hochhauser, president of the United Synagogue, said: "We are pleased that JFS's admissions procedures and policies have been so fully endorsed. We acknowledge the judge's ruling that Jewish status can only be defined by Jewish law."

Philip Hunter, the chief schools adjudicator, ordered JFS last year to scrap admissions criteria designed to be used if it were ever undersubscribed.


Disgraceful British pennypinching: "Former Gurkha soldiers today lost their High Court battle over a pensions deal with the Ministry of Defence, which they say has left them struggling to live. Three retired members of the famous Brigade of Gurkhas failed in a legal challenge affecting thousands of others. Kamal Purja, Sabahdaur Gurung and Kumar Shrestha were demanding the same pension rights for Gurkhas as the rest of the British Army. The Government conceded some ground to the Gurkhas over pensions last year, but members of the celebrated regiment who retired before 1997 were not included in the new deal and there is a discrepancy in the way years of service are calculated. In today's test case, the High Court ruled that the dates and exceptions imposed by the MoD were reasonable."

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