Tuesday, February 24, 2009

British foster carers not told if babies are HIV positive 'to protect the child's human rights'

What about the human rights of others who suffer needless exposure to the virus?

Foster carers have been put at risk by not being told that the babies they are looking after could be HIV positive. Social workers decided that the human rights of a mother wanting to keep her child's status confidential were more important than protecting foster parents, it is claimed. In one case a foster mother, with three young children of her own, was given a new-born baby to look after and not told that he could have HIV. This exposed her, her husband and their children to risk of infection.

Baby J was born last November to a mother known to be HIV positive. During his birth doctors and nurses wore masks, goggles, boots, protective clothing and double sets of gloves to cut the risk of infection. His elder brother had already been taken into care, and social services did the same for Baby J when he was a few days old.

Midwife Tricia McDaid, who questioned social workers about the practice when she became aware of the case in Newham, East London, said: 'This is appalling. Both the babies, the foster carers and their families were put at risk as they were not told. 'The foster parents were asked to administer anti-viral drugs to combat the baby developing HIV but were not told what they were.' Mrs McDaid, 47, says that when she raised the issue with social services she was then moved from her job as a midwife in the community.

Although it is highly likely that babies who are born to HIV positive mothers will also be infected, it is not possible to know for sure until they are 18 months old. So as soon as he was born Baby J was given daily anti-viral drugs to boost his immunity. But crucially the foster family with whom he was placed were not told they were at risk of catching HIV. One of the three children was just two years old.

Mrs McDaid said: 'Newham takes the view that the foster parents don't need to know. 'This happens all the time and it's putting foster carers and their children at terrible risk. 'I was also told by the head of child protection at Newham Hospital that if the foster parents asked me what the drugs were for I would have to lie. 'In my opinion that is breaking the law and breaking the midwife and nursing code of conduct. It also puts the baby at risk as anyone administering drugs to a young baby needs to know exactly what they are and what dosage it should be. 'When I raised difficult questions with the council they ostracised me and tried to freeze me out as they didn't want this getting out.'

Mrs McDaid believes that the council is using Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights - the right to respect for one's private and family life - to protect the mother and child. She said: 'Putting the human right of the mother's confidentiality about her HIV status above the right of the foster carers to know is wrong. 'It's playing Russian roulette with people's lives.'

A Newham council spokesman said: 'Foster carers would normally be expected to be provided with full information, but we admit that this did not happen in this instance. 'The circumstances in this case are complex and we acknowledge that it could have been handled differently. 'Our procedures and protocols are now subject to revision. 'We are launching an investigation and we do not know if any other cases have occurred. 'The pan-London child protection procedures, which we are signed up to, contain guidelines that are primarily aimed at protecting children and ensuring children and their parents who may be HIV positive are not discriminated against.'


Open season on free speech in divided Britain

The right to speak your mind is under growing attack as society splits into ever more special-interest groups all too quick to take offence

It is becoming impossible to keep up with the number of groups and "communities" feeling offended nowadays. In the past week alone, Jews have been offended by Caryl Churchill's play Seven Jewish Children, and Irish and Muslims by Richard Bean's play England People Very Nice. The author Margaret Atwood has been offended by the Dubai literary festival's decision not to invite the obscure author of a novel about a gay sheikh, called The Gulf Between Us, and has pulled out of the event in protest.

As our society fragments into more and more special-interest groups - I'm sorry, I mean, as our society blossoms into an ever more vibrant and diverse "rainbow nation" - these competing groups find more and more reasons to feel offended, and to demand that the law protect them from feeling offended again. This is missing a fundamental point about a democratic state: the right to freedom of speech far outweighs the right not to feel offended. As George Orwell said, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

I criticised Seven Jewish Children last week in my review for this newspaper as a ludicrous, dishonest and grossly antiIsraeli rant. In response I have been accused of hating anything that "smells of Palestinians", of being "rabidly pro-Zionist", "lazy and stupid" and of having something called "a pan-European complex". The first two accusations are false, though I certainly have my moments of laziness and stupidity and am secretly rather proud of having a "pan-European complex".

So far, so good. Critics need to be fairly cheery and thick-skinned souls. As AA Gill put it, if you want to be loved, work with puppies. In one sense, though, Seven Jewish Children, with its outrageous portrait of modern Israel, along with all the criticism and counter-criticism surrounding it, has been quite heartening. Despite all the offence given and taken, nobody has suggested it should be banned. Even Howard Jacobson, who thought the play blatantly antisemitic, a "hate-fuelled little chamber piece" and "wantonly inflammatory", nevertheless remains strictly opposed to censorship.

Meanwhile Jacqui Smith, our dim housewife of a home secretary (is that allowed?), has been banning outspoken foreigners left, right and centre - although mostly right. First there was Geert Wilders, the unfathomably hypocritical Dutchman with the mad hairdo who insists on free speech and wants to ban the Koran.

And then last week, Smith banned Pastor Fred Phelps, the Kansas preacherman who was hoping to fly to England and picket The Laramie Project, a school play in Basingstoke. The play dramatises the true murder of, as Phelps puts it in his robust way, one of the "sodomite damned". In a rare outburst of theatre criticism, Phelps has dismissed the play as "a tawdry bit of banal fag melodrama". He hates Sweden, runs a website called God Hates Fags and believes that predatory homosexuals lurk behind every tree and bush. I suspect the pastor has unresolved issues.

What exactly is Smith trying to achieve by banning the nutter? Does she really think her own electorate are so stupid and easily led as to require protection from him? Does she really think that the good citizens of Basingstoke, if they should be exposed to Phelps in full rant, are suddenly going to think, "Golly, actually, you know, I think he might be right. Now he mentions it, I think God probably does hate fags"? There is no doubt that Phelps is full of hate, but that has never been a crime. And our tradition of freedom of speech exists precisely to allow such people to speak in public, so that we can make up our own minds.

Smith is wrong to ban Wilders and Phelps, just as Wilders in turn is wrong to want to ban the Koran. These busybodies have proven themselves enemies of free speech. Besides, there are so many better, more imaginative, more efficient and even more amusing ways of disarming the loonies than simply banning them. If Smith had thought about it for one minute, even she might have realised that the spectacle of Phelps shrieking, "God hates fags!" outside a school play in Basingstoke would not have constituted a serious threat to anyone, but on the contrary might have added considerably to the gaiety of the nation.

Our political leaders should toughen up a bit, and encourage some of the electorate to toughen up as well. There's nothing dumb about freedom of speech.


Foreign workers could be barred from entering UK

More tokenism. The British authorities are attacking a small number of unfortunate Indians because their treaty obligations mean that the large number of immigrants arriving from Europe (many of whom are not of European origin) must be ignored. Typical British bureaucratic logic: The unrest among the native British workforce has been about Portuguese and Italian workers -- so crack down on Indians!

New measures to bar tens of thousands of foreign workers from outside Europe coming to work in Britain as the recession bites deeper were outlined by the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, today. The package includes possible moves to prevent the families of skilled migrants working in Britain and restricting skilled migrants to taking jobs only in occupations with shortages. It represents a significant tightening of the new Australian-style points-based immigration system only four months after its introduction last November in the face of mounting "British jobs for British workers" protests and fears that the far-right British National Party, will win seats for the first time in June's European elections.

The government has already banned the legal movement of unskilled economic migrants from outside Europe to Britain and the package outlined by the home secretary represents the first move to cut the number skilled migrants coming to work. Smith signalled that raising the qualification levels for tier 1 - the most highly skilled migrant route - could cut the numbers from 26,000 to only 14,000 a year. The new criteria will require a master's rather than a bachelor's degree and a job offer with a minimum salary of 20,000 pounds rather than 17,000. Smith has also asked the government's migration advisory committee to assess the economic case to restrict skilled workers under tier 2 to shortage occupations only. This could cut the numbers from an estimated 80,000 to only 20,000 to 40,000 a year.

The migration advisory committee, chaired by LSE professor David Metcalf, has also been asked to assess the economic impact of banning the spouses and other dependants of foreign workers from taking jobs in Britain. This move could also affect tens of thousands of people who come to work each year mainly from India, Pakistan and parts of Africa. "These measures are not about narrow protectionism," Smith said. "Just as in a growth period we needed migrants to support growth, it is right in a downturn to be more selective about the skill levels of those migrants, and to do more to put British workers first."

The home secretary said the action she was taking "to be more selective" combined with the economic circumstances. As migration levels tend to fall during periods of recession she expected the number of migrants outside of Europe to fall during the next financial year.

The points-based immigration system does not cover the movement of workers from within the European Union to Britain but official immigration figures to be published on Tuesday are expected to confirm that the number of Poles and other eastern Europeans coming to work continues to fall, especially since the decline of the pound against the Euro. Other measures outlined today/yesterday include:

* Employers must advertise tier 2 skilled jobs in JobCentres before they can bring in a worker from outside Europe.

* Migration advisory committee to assess economic contribution made by dependants of those who come under the points-based immigration system and their role in the labour market.

* Each shortage occupation declared by the committee to trigger a skills review of the British labour force and how they can be developed to meet the shortage.

Damian Green, the Conservatives' immigration spokesman, said Smith was just "tinkering around the edges" of the system and said if she wanted to control migrant numbers she should introduce an annual limit.


Latest weapon in War on Fat — dancing classes in school

Sounds harmless and provides a useful social skill

Ballroom dancing is set to become the latest craze in classrooms across Britain, as part of an effort to harness the success of the television show Strictly Come Dancing to combat childhood obesity. In the scheme to be launched tomorrow, schoolchildren in both primary and secondary schools will take part in Strictly Come Dancing-style sessions in school hours. The scheme, which will be piloted in 26 schools across the country, aims at improving youngsters’ health and self-esteem as they learn a range of dance styles. If it proves successful, it will be offered to all schools nationwide from this summer, and slotted into the national curriculum as part of the PE syllabus. Two teachers at each participating school will themselves be given lessons in ballroom dancing techniques so they can lead the sessions. The youngsters will then be put through their paces as they attempt the cha-cha-cha, waltz, jive, salsa and quick step – and other styles of ballroom and Latin dancing.

It will be launched by two of the professional dancers who have partnered celebrities on the BBC show, Darren Bennett and Lilia Kopylova. Darren partnered the actress Jill Halfpenny when she won the competition in 2004, and Lilia danced with the rugby player Matt Dawson – who lost to cricketer Mark Ramprakash in the finals of the 2006 television series. Darren, who first learnt to dance when he was just six years old, said: “Not everyone who learns ballroom dancing is going to take it up as a profession and win trophies, but that’s not the point. “It’s about having fun, getting fit and mixing socially with your peers.” The scheme is being launched by the Aldridge Foundation – an educational foundation which is planning sponsorship of two of the Government’s flagship academies – and City Limits Education.

The chairman of the Aldridge Foundation, Rod Aldridge, said the scheme was “about inspiring the nation’s young people to get off their feet to enjoy the physical exercise and confidence you can gain from ballroom dancing. “Ballroom dancing used to be seen as something old-fashioned and inaccessible – but by making it part of the national curriculum we can break down those barriers and give young people from all backgrounds the chance to benefit.” Mr Aldridge, who founded the Capita Group outsourcing business in 1984, and set up the foundation to concentrate on charitable activities after quitting as the group’s chairman in 2006, spoke of how learning to dance had changed his life.

“I was not particularly good at school. I didn’t do very well,” he said. “I was good at sport, though, and my father and mother introduced me to dance. My confidence and self-esteem were massively high as a result of being able to do it. “Dance wasn’t something a young lad should be doing in those days because it was considered a bit out of character. I did it through a dance school that my mother introduced me to. “Hopefully, those days have changed, now that Strictly Come Dancing has become so popular. I danced competitively until my early twenties and then – sadly – gave it up,” he said.

However, as a special surprise for his 60th birthday party, he invited Darren and Lilia – and trained with Lilia so he could stun guests by putting on a dance show. “It was from there that this started,” Mr Aldridge said.

The introduction of the scheme in primary and secondary schools follows an exhortation from the Health Secretary Alan Johnson for adults to consider taking dance classes as a means to improve their health and fitness and crack down on obesity. The scheme, called “Essentially Dance”, also mirrors a project pioneered in New York public schools, which was featured in the film Take The Lead starring Antonio Banderas. Academic experts who evaluated that project found that engaging young people in the discipline of ballroom dance gave students who struggled academically an outlet of expression that boosted their self-esteem, confidence and improved classroom behaviour.

The UK project will be evaluated by researchers at Roehampton University. Some of the schools involved in the pilot scheme have already been putting pupils through their paces in preparation for tomorrow’s launch.


Irish jokes no longer funny

It had to come. British phone company BT is leading the way
"BT has suspended 30 of its call centre staff after they were caught forwarding an email joke poking fun at the Irish. Bosses at the telecoms firm did not see the funny side of the story, which involves four Irishmen, and an investigation is under way.

But the probe was today branded a waste of time and money, and a cynical ploy to axe staff during the recession. One worker said yesterday: 'Either BT have no sense of humour whatsoever or the bosses are deliberately trying to get shot of people without having to pay any redundancy money.

'The joke was sent around the office as a bit of fun. Everyone is worried about their jobs but we all try and cheer each other up.

The quip involves the death of three Irishmen. The first leaps with a budgie thinking he's budgie-jumping; the second kills a parrot thinking he's parrot-shooting and the third leaps off with a hen, believing he's hen-gliding.

Managers suspended every worker who had forwarded the joke to someone else and warned them they face disciplinary action.


One Brit has the right idea: "Plans to axe new laws that would increase costs for businesses, including enhanced maternity leave and tougher equality legislation, are threatening to blow open a Cabinet rift over how Labour should respond to the economic downturn, The Times has learnt. The proposals, outlined in the Queen's Speech just two months ago, and championed by Harriet Harman, the deputy Labour leader, are at risk after Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, and the Chancellor called for a moratorium on any measures that would add to the current financial pressure on businesses. Right-to-roam legislation and powers to allow councils to ban alcohol promotions are also under threat as the Government prepares to gut its legislative programme in the face of the recession. Lord Mandelson's attempt to purge antibusiness measures comes after a meeting of the Economic Development ministerial committee last week. In a confidential memo ministers have been asked to "advise on a moratorium on legislation and legislative announcements made but not yet implemented that will entail additional costs for businesses".

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