Wednesday, October 15, 2008

British legislators demand non-party vote on spanking ban

A new attempt to ban smacking will be launched tomorrow by a cross-party group of MPs, as more than 100 Labour backbenchers demand a free vote on the issue. MPs, led by Kevin Barron, the Labour chairman of the all-party Commons Health Committee, are attempting to stop parents from smacking their children as a "reasonable punishment". They will table amendments to the Children and Young Persons Bill, due to be debated by the Commons tomorrow, to give children the same protection against assault as adults.

Campaigners said that 111 Labour MPs had signed a private letter demanding a free vote on smacking, with some backbenchers warning they are prepared to defy Government whips if ministers do not back down.

The last attempt to impose a full ban on smacking was defeated in 2004 when a compromise was agreed, tightening the law by outlawing punishment which left physical marks or caused mental harm. But campaigners say they want action to give children protection against all physical punishment.

Mr Barron said: "We must act now to end the legal approval of hitting children. It is the responsibility of Parliament to ensure that the physical integrity and human dignity of every person is respected. The current law allowing so-called 'reasonable punishment' of children is unjust, unsafe and unclear, and must be abolished once and for all."



Open Europe has produced the first independent estimate of the cost and wider effects of the EU's new package of climate change measures, currently under negotiation. The outcome of the package is of particular concern at a time when Europe stands on the brink of an economic slowdown, and in some member states, recession.

The plan is the most ambitious EU programme since the launch of the euro. The package, which sets a 20% target for overall emissions reduction by 2020, includes binding targets for 20% of energy to be sourced from renewables and for 10% of transport fuels to come from biofuels. For the UK, the proposals would mean sourcing around 40% of electricity from renewable sources (up from under 5% today), a massive overhaul in Britain's entire energy infrastructure. The package will also make a number of important changes to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, raising concerns over the continuing viability of certain heavy industries in Europe.

Huge economic costs: We estimate that the cost of the package as a whole will be more than 73 billion euro per year by 2020 for the EU 25, and œ9bn per year for the UK.

Higher costs mean more fuel poverty: The package would add 130 - 200 pounds a year to the annual domestic energy bill for a family of four in Britain. This has the potential to push one million extra people into fuel poverty. In terms of its overall economic burden, the package will cost the equivalent of 150 pounds per person per year, or 600 per family of four per year in the UK. This would rise to almost 730 per year if renewable energy technology remains at current levels.

Unnecessarily high costs: Importantly, the study concludes that the EU's proposals are an overpriced solution to climate change. We estimate that the cost of carbon abatement under the package will be 80 - 105 euro/tonne CO2. This is more than double the UK Government's benchmark shadow cost of carbon (42 euro/tonne in 2020), and the estimate of consultants McKinsey of 40 euro/tonne for bringing emissions down to safe levels.

Cost-effectiveness of green policies is now more important than ever: At a time of financial crisis, rising energy costs and the likelihood of economic downturn in Europe, it is essential that climate change policy is cost-effective and reduces carbon emissions with the lowest possible economic impact.

Tough negotiations lie ahead over the next two months: Key elements of the plan were approved by the European Parliament's Environment Committee on Tuesday 7 October. However, the bulk of the negotiations lie ahead. EU heads of state and government will discuss the package at the European Summit next week (15 - 16 October), and it will come before EU Environment Ministers during the EU Environment Council meeting on the 20 - 22 October. The French Presidency of the EU wants to complete the entire process by the end of this year, but faces opposition from some member states such as Poland.

Hugo Robinson, Open Europe Research Director and author of the report said: "At a time of rising energy bills and worries over the economy, the EU's climate change package is the last thing that hard-pressed consumers need.

Now more than ever, it should be obvious that we need to reduce carbon emissions as efficiently and cheaply as possible - but the EU proposals are extremely bad value for money. This means we will pay far more than necessary in fighting climate change; or put another way, we could spend the same amount of money and reduce emissions by a lot more.

It is legitimate for the EU to set targets for absolute carbon emissions reductions, which should be our ultimate priority. However, it is wrong for Brussels to micromanage national energy planning by setting binding targets for renewables and biofuels. This will artificially drive investment towards very high-cost methods of cutting carbon.

The politicians who sign up to this deal will be out of office in ten years time - but pensioners and the poor who will be left with the biggest bills."

To view the full report, "The EU Climate Action and Renewable Energy Package - Are we about to be locked into the wrong policy?", click here (PDF).


NHS dentists accused of unnecessary check-ups

Dentists are calling patients back for routine appointments far sooner than they need to, in an effort to maximise profits, according to the Government's chief dental officer. NHS dentists earn significantly more since new contracts were introduced in England two years ago but officials believe this could be because some are “playing the system”.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) suggests that most healthy patients do not need a check-up more than once every two years. But Barry Cockcroft, the Chief Dental Officer, believes that many patients are being called back for unnecessary appointments as often as every six months, or paying extra for repeat visits for fillings, crowns or other treatments that could be given in one go. Evidence compiled by the Department of Health suggests that as many as 800,000 appointments - one in ten - could be freed up for more needy patients.

NHS dentists saw 27 million patients in England during the past two years - 1.1 million fewer than than in the two years before the new contracts. In the first year of the new system dentists' average annual income rose from 87,000 to 96,000 pounds. For dentists who own their practice, earnings jumped 35 per cent to an average of 172,000.

Treatment costs are now divided into three bands: 16.20 for a check-up or minor treatment; 44.60 for fillings, root canal work or if your dentist needs to take out one or more of your teeth; and 198 for crowns, dentures or bridges. Children and some adults are exempt from the charges and patients should have to pay only once, even if they need several appointments during one course of treatment. But dentists could abuse this by postponing additional treatments until after a subsequent check-up.

Recently, officials have compared NHS returns by dentists, which give each individual patient a code, to see how many people are attending repeat appointments. Mr Cockcroft is now discussing with local health authorities how to amend the contract so that patients are not overcharged.

A Department of Health source said: “Many patients have been seeing their dentist at six-month intervals for years, but there is no evidence to support this as clinically necessary.” Abuse of the system is believed to be more prevalent in the South, where access to NHS dentists is more difficult. “These dentists are seeing the same healthy patients a lot. Instead of recalling them every year or two years they are coming back every three or four months.”

There were no plans to prosecute dentists, the source said. “We don't want to get into trying to court martial people. We just want to stop it.” Peter Ward, chief executive of the British Dental Association, which represents dentists, said it had noted no evidence that patients were being seen more regularly than they had to be.

The Department of Health said: “Dentists are required by law to provide the best possible healthcare to their patients. If a patient has reason to believe that this has not happened then they can report them to their local primary care trust.”


Fat people get worse treatment than drunks and junkies

Fat people are treated worse than alcoholics or drug addicts by society, according to the television presenter Anne Diamond. The former breakfast TV host, who once underwent radical surgery in her battle to lose weight, claimed obesity in Britain has reached crisis levels so quickly that the public do not understand it and stigmatise the seriously overweight. She said the cost of treating illnesses linked to obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease, will bankrupt the National Health Service unless action is taken to help people lose weight. But she added that she feared a likely Conservative government will only blame fat people for their size and not help tackle the problems of poor diet and lack of exercise that lie behind it.

Miss Diamond, 54, who made her name presenting TV-AM in the 1980s, returned to television in 2002 on Celebrity Big Brother having put on 5 stones. She weighed almost 15st when she appeared on ITV's Celebrity Fit Club in 2006, but during filming admitted she had undergone surgery to help her lose weight, having a gastric band fitted to reduce the amount of food she could eat. Miss Diamond is now writing a book about the global obesity epidemic and chaired a discussion at the National Obesity Forum's annual conference in London on Tuesday.

New research suggests three quarters of British adults are already overweight or obese, 10 per cent more than previously feared, with the NHS spending o4.2bn on treating diseases linked to weight last year. Miss Diamond said: "Obesity is one of those things that is hugely stigmatised in society, but the more we talk about it, the more we get it into the open. "We are much more sympathetic to credit card addicts, alcoholics and drug addicts than the obese.

"I think it's because obesity is fairly new - there have always been fat people but they stand out and it's easy to bully them. It's happened so suddenly, in the past 20 to 30 years for adults and in the past five for children. "Most people hate being fat, and just because they fail to lose weight doesn't mean they are lazy - it just means it's difficult."

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