Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What a funny way to control immigration

A comment from Britain on the incoherent and kneejerk immigration policy of the British Labour Party government

A repentant sinner is one thing; a wilful bloody [For American readers: "Bloody" is a British expletive similar in force to "goddam"] amnesiac is quite another. It is into this latter category that the Government's new immigration minister, Phil Woolas, falls. He didn't take long to stick his head above the parapet after being appointed, did Mr W. A couple of days ago, he was telling us that he wanted to see strict limits on immigration. As a result of the economic downturn, he said: "The question of immigration becomes extremely thorny. it's been too easy to get into this country and it's going to get harder."

Oh, right. When migrants were granted citizenship or indefinite leave to remain, during the good times, was there no thought that things could, conceivably, one day, get worse? Funny basis on which to conduct a policy with lasting effects on people's lives. Anyway, Mr Woolas is emphatic that the population of Britain shouldn't exceed 70 million, as the present trajectory suggests it will.

It gets better. Mr Woolas, now well into his stride, says that employers shouldn't hire immigrants, in order to protect native Britons from unemployment. Employers who prefer to take on migrants because they are "ready, willing and able" to work need to hire the British jobless instead. Oh yes? I can tell Mr Woolas for free that, in the Knightsbridge hairdressing salon that I frequent, they're not going to be giving the lovely, hard-working Magda from Gdansk the push in order to bolster the Government's ability to service the social benefits bill for the unemployed.

And by way of showing how very fierce and tough he is, Mr Woolas is presiding over the closure of a programme that last year allowed 105,000 unskilled temporary workers to come to work here for up to a year. Employers will still be able to hire some migrants in the short term. But the effect of the Government's crackdown has been precisely to restrict the kind of migrants the country needs.

As those of us who get up early enough to listen to Farming Today, or who have friends in farming, can tell Mr Woolas, this crackdown on temporary migrants has actually cut the number of workers that the British economy really does need. Britons can't and won't do the hands-on seasonal work on farms that the Ukrainians can - and the reasons for that deserve scrutiny. But if there aren't the eastern Europeans, the fruit-picking and the rest of it doesn't get done.

However, it's the sheer, unvarnished nerve of Mr Woolas that stands out. The one unambiguous legacy of the 11 years since 2007 has been the increase in immigration and the liberal way in which citizenship, and indefinite leave to remain, have been granted. Some 2.3 million people have come here between 1991 and 2006; only 8 per cent from EU accession states. Well over a million of them have been granted citizenship. Those are the ones we know about.

If the population trajectory of Britain is heading for 70 million, it is not just because of some mass migration movement almost beyond our control, such as climate change or swallows moving south. It is because of the Government's conscious, wilful, light regulatory touch on immigration.

What's more, the realities of the immigration debate have been obscured by the fact that ministers talk about net immigration rather than the overall numbers coming here - in other words, the number of people arriving minus the number of Britons who are leaving. In one way, this makes sense. It's the people actually resident in the country who make calls on schools, benefits and the health service. In another way, it obscures the fact that the ethnic and religious make-up of London, in particular, has changed beyond recognition in a decade. And that has an effect on what is fashionably called social cohesion - in other words, how we all rub along together.

Much of this happened during David Blunkett's tenure as Home Secretary - yep, he who is waiting in the wings for a recall - when he declared that there was "no obvious upper limit" to the extent of immigration. Neither he nor his successors seemed to think that, one day, the sun might not shine, the economy might contract, and their policy of giving nearly everyone who comes here the indefinite right to remain, rather than just a work permit, might look a bit short-sighted.

If we were talking about historic errors that are now acknowledged, Mr Woolas's about-turn - curiously, one that has not been echoed by his boss, Jacqui Smith - would be welcome. But we're set to make things worse. One of Tony Blair's proudest achievements in office was that he bullied the EU into accepting Turkey's candidacy for membership. In this, he was supported by the Tories.

Yet Turkey is a country with only three per cent of its land mass in Europe and a population of more than 80 million and rising. Let me spell out the consequences. Any EU citizen has the automatic right to live and work in other member states. The upshot is that eventually, several million Turks will, if the Government gets its way, be perfectly entitled to come to Britain. Will anyone bet me they won't?


British health boss in U-turn over patients’ top-up care

After at least four deaths and a year of protests about top-up payments, Alan Johnson, the health secretary, is expected to declare that National Health Service rules allowed them all along. In an announcement which is due to be made to parliament at the beginning of November, Johnson is expected to “clarify” government policy, claiming that patients are already permitted to pay for private drugs while continuing to receive NHS care. He will state that the problem arose because of a misinterpretation by some NHS hospitals.

Although it represents a victory for the campaign, led by The Sunday Times, it will be heartbreaking for the families of cancer patients who died after their NHS care was withdrawn because they topped up their treatment. This weekend one family made public an emotional letter telling of the anguish and outrage caused by the NHS decision to withdraw care. The letter, written by Linda Linton, a mother of three who died from bowel cancer at the age of 57, tells how she asked to be discharged from hospital because she feared her rising treatment bills.

Linton had her routine treatment withdrawn by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust because she paid privately for the drug cetuxi-mab which was recommended by her NHS consultant. Linton, from Sittingbourne, Kent, wrote: “I wanted to go home because I was worried about the mounting costs of my treatment, room and food. I was told that if I discharged myself I was at risk of multiple organ failure.”

Linton, who wrote the letter four months before her death in October 2006, explained how the scandal was draining her energy: “It is six in the morning and I should be resting and trying to recover from my ordeal, but I am too upset and angry about what has happened to me . . . “I thought that I could pay for this drug and resume treatment but this is not the case. I have been forced to become a private patient and pay for everything. Could you please inform me who is responsible for the decision to force me out of the NHS?”

Linton was one of dozens of cancer patients who have been told by the NHS that if they top up their care with a private drug recommended by their consultant they will forfeit the rest of their health service care.

John Baron, constituency MP of Linda O’Boyle, who died in March aged 64 after her NHS care was withdrawn because she paid for the cetuxi-mab drug, said of Johnson’s expected announcement: “That will clearly be a U-turn by the government. This position will not fool anybody.” Patients who have been denied NHS care because they bought private drugs are suing for the treatment which has been withdrawn.

Although dozens of NHS trusts have told cancer patients that they cannot buy private drugs while simultaneously receiving NHS care, The Sunday Times revealed in July that numerous others have been allowing top-ups.

Johnson is expected to announce a solution that will avoid creating a two-tier NHS, with patients in the same ward receiving different standards of care according to their ability to pay. The University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust treats patients who supplement their NHS care by paying private hospitals or companies for extra drugs. Professor Nick James, a consultant oncologist at the trust, expects Johnson to endorse this approach nationally. “I don’t think they are going to like the spectacle of patients in adjacent beds getting different treatments and one of them getting better at the end of it. They will try to partition it off so that it is invisible to the NHS patients,” James said.

The Department of Health said: “We know there is variation in how individual trusts are applying the current guidance and that is why the secretary of state asked Professor Mike Richards, national clinical director for cancer, to lead a review.”


British heart attack victims face longer journey for surgery as only 54 hospitals can now operate

Unrealistic theory threatens lives

Thousands of heart-attack patients will be forced to travel further for emergency treatment because of a change in the techniques used to save their lives. The Department of Health will announce tomorrow that balloon angioplasty – administered to treat heart attacks caused by blocked arteries – will be made available to nearly every eligible patient. But the procedure is available at only 54 centres across England – about one in every four hospitals – which means instead of being taken to the nearest accident and emergency department, as now, about 25,000 patients will be taken straight to their nearest specialist angioplasty clinic, which could be many miles away.

One of the concerns is that, in practice, patients could still be taken to A&E before being transferred to a specialist unit, which may increase the time it takes to get lifesaving treatment. However, paramedics are to be given training to spot heart attacks that have been caused by blood clots so that patients can be taken directly to an angioplasty centre. Angioplasty is used to treat patients whose heart attacks have been caused by blocked arteries.

About 25,000 of the 60,000 heart attacks treated each year are of this type, and a quarter of those patients are, at present, given the procedure, in which a tiny balloon is inserted into the artery and inflated to clear the blockage. The Government says it aims to treat 97 per cent of eligible heart-attack patients by using angioplasty within three years.

But experts admitted that although the number of centres offering the specialist treatment had risen from 35 in 2006/07 to 54 this year, a further increase was not likely. Cardiologists have described the proposal as a ‘challenge’, as specialist angioplasty units will have to be staffed by an expert team 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For the treatment to be effective it should be given within two hours of the heart attack, meaning some hospital trusts may need to double their number of cardiology consultants.

The proposals are the latest stage in the centralisation of NHS care. The Government has long pushed for the creation of ‘superhospitals’ – vast regional centres with specialist clinics catering to population areas of up to two million. Maternity services also face being moved from local hospitals to larger regional units and GPs could move from local surgeries to multi-purpose health centres, or polyclinics.

But Katherine Murphy, spokeswoman for The Patients Association, said the Government had got it ‘completely wrong’. She added: ‘What the Government always fails to consider is the convenience of access for patients. They should be providing a service at local level because that is what patients want.’

At the moment, most patients whose heart attacks have been caused by a clot are treated using thrombolysis – an injection of drugs to dissolve blockages. Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said the NHS had to commit ‘sufficient resources’ to turn the proposals into reality, especially for people in rural areas. He added: ‘We must not replace a first-class thrombolysis service, which is proven to save lives, with a second-class angioplasty service, which might not.’

The Department of Health said: ‘It is preferable to travel further to achieve a better outcome. However, if the journey time is too long, then early thrombolytic treatment is given instead.’


Upset for Greenies in the diaper wars

And the British government tried to hide it!

A [British] government report that found old-fashioned reusable nappies [diapers] damage the environment more than disposables has been hushed up because ministers are embarrassed by its findings. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has instructed civil servants not to publicise the conclusions of the $100,000 nappy research project and to adopt a "defensive" stance towards its conclusions.

The report found that using washable nappies, hailed by councils throughout Britain as a key way of saving the planet, have a higher carbon footprint than their disposable equivalents unless parents adopt an extreme approach to laundering them. To reduce the impact of cloth nappies on climate change parents would have to hang wet nappies out to dry all year round, keep them for years for use on younger children, and make sure the water in their washing machines does not exceed 60C.

The conclusions will upset proponents of real nappies who have claimed they can help save the planet. Restricted Whitehall documents, seen by The Sunday Times, show that the government is so concerned by the "negative laundry options" outlined in the report, it has told its media managers not to give its conclusions any publicity.

The report found that while disposable nappies used over 2® years would have a global warming , impact of 550kg of CO2 reusable nappies produced 570kg of CO2 on average. But if parents used tumble dryers and washed the reusable nappies at 90C, the impact could spiral to . 993kg of CO2 A Defra spokesman said the government was shelving plans for future research on nappies.


Britain: Parents get the blame for naughty children

Loss of standards has wide-ranging effects

Poor parenting is to blame for a major deterioration in the behaviour of primary school pupils over the past five years, a study suggests today. Classroom disruption is a significant problem for teachers, according to researchers at Cambridge University. In interviews with teachers, Professors Maurice Galton and John Macbeath found that many blamed their pupils' unruly behaviour on the inability of parents to control children at home.

Many pupils lacked the social skills required to get on in class, said the researchers, commissioned the National Union of Teachers. "Teachers describe 'highly permissive' parents who admitted to indulging their children, often for the sake of peace or simply because they had run out of alternative incentives and sanctions," the authors added.

Examples included a mother who, after great effort, succeeded in getting her five-year-old to bed at 1am instead of 3am, and a boy of seven who smashed his Sony PlayStation in a tantrum, then would not behave for a week until his mother bought him a new one.

Professors Galton and Macbeath were also told of parents who would do anything to shut their children up "just to get some peace". Their report says schools face "formidable challenges" - particularly in poor areas where there has been "an increase in the incidence of confrontation and conflict".

The researchers, who visited schools they studied five years ago, added: "There appeared to have been a significant and inimical impact on school life from a rapidly changing social scene. "Motivating certain children, it was claimed, had become more difficult because by the time they came to school many of these children had become expert in manipulating adults."

According to Galton and Macbeath, the top five obstacles to teaching are poor pupil behaviour, lack of time for reflection, large class sizes, too many initiatives and an overloaded curriculum. "Children arrive at school knowing too much and not enough," they said.


Just one of glass of wine a day increases women's risk of breast cancer

Findings about alcohol derived from a campaign against it should be treated with a saltmine full of salt

Drinking just one large glass of wine a day increases the chances of developing breast cancer by a fifth, say experts. The amount of alcohol in measures regularly served in wine bars and pubs pushes up the risk of cancer by far more than most women realise, it is claimed. A large glass of wine is the equivalent of three units of alcohol at 12 per cent strength. Drinking two glasses raises the risk by more than a third and it doubles for women who consume nine units or three glasses a day compared with those who do not drink.

However, Government research reveals that four out of five women are ignorant of the breast cancer risk. The findings from the Know Your Limits campaign represent a total of more than four million women who are regularly putting their health in danger.

Doctors believe rising rates of breast cancer are being fuelled by soaring levels of drinking among women, as there has been a steady increase in breast cancer cases in the last ten years when rates should have been falling, or at least reached a plateau, because of mass screening.

Only obesity levels - which are also linked to breast cancer - have shown the same kind of upward trend over the last decade. Around 44,000 British women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and it claims 13,000 lives. Previous research suggests that binge drinking - five or more drinks on one occasion - can double the risk of breast cancer.

It is unclear how drinking alcohol promotes breast cancer but it may work by raising levels of the sex hormone oestrogen in the body. Drinking alcohol is one of the few identified risk factors for developing breast cancer, although the biggest risk factor is increasing age. Four out of five breast cancers diagnosed in the UK occur in women over 50.

Dr Sarah Cant, Policy Manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: 'Drinking moderate or high levels of any type of alcoholic drink has many health consequences, including an increased chance of breast cancer. 'Although many factors might affect our risk of getting breast cancer, limiting how much we drink is one thing we can do to try to reduce that risk.'

Public Health Minister-Dawn Primarolo said: 'It's shocking, even for me, to see the potential risks of drinking over recommended guidelines in black and white. 'One large glass of 12 per cent wine takes a woman to her recommended daily limit in just one drink. 'Knowing the potential health consequences enables women to make choices that can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.'

A separate survey published by Breakthrough Breast Cancer also shows women wrongly blame their genes for getting cancer. A strong genetic history of breast cancer is to blame in only 5 per cent of all breast cancer cases, but nearly two-thirds of women over the age of 50 believe the disease 'runs in the family'.


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