A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.

The New Chinese to Britain


Send them home?

Sticky: Police ‘smear’ campaign targeted Stephen Lawrence’s friends and family



  • Rob Evans and Paul Lewis
  • The Guardian, 

A police officer who spent four years living undercover in protest groups has revealed how he participated in an operation to spy on and attempt to “smear” the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, the friend who witnessed his fatal stabbing and campaigners angry at the failure to bring his killers to justice.

Peter Francis, a former undercover police officer turned whistleblower, said his superiors wanted him to find “dirt” that could be used against members of the Lawrence family, in the period shortly after Lawrence’s racist murder in April 1993.

He also said senior officers deliberately chose to withhold his role spying on the Lawrence campaign from Sir William Macpherson, who headed a public inquiry to examine the police investigation into the death.

Francis said he had come under “huge and constant pressure” from superiors to “hunt for disinformation” that might be used to undermine those arguing for a better investigation into the murder. He posed as an anti-racist activist in the mid-1990s in his search for intelligence.

“I had to get any information on what was happening in the Stephen Lawrence campaign,” Francis said. “They wanted the campaign to stop. It was felt it was going to turn into an elephant.

“Throughout my deployment there was almost constant pressure on me personally to find out anything I could that would discredit these campaigns.”

Francis also describes being involved in an ultimately failed effort to discredit Duwayne Brooks, a close friend of Lawrence who was with him on the night he was killed and the main witness to his murder. The former spy found evidence that led to Brooks being arrested and charged in October 1993, before the case was thrown out by a judge.

The disclosures, revealed in abook about undercover policing published this week, and in a joint investigation by the Guardian and Channel 4’s Dispatches being broadcast on Monday, will reignite the controversy over covert policing of activist groups.

Lawrence’s mother, Doreen, said the revelations were the most surprising thing she had learned about the long-running police investigation into her son’s murder: “Out of all the things I’ve found out over the years, this certainly has topped it.”

She added: “Nothing can justify the whole thing about trying to discredit the family and people around us.”

In a statement, the Metropolitan police said it recognised the seriousness of the allegations – and acknowledged their impact. A spokesman said the claims would “bring particular upset” to the Lawrence family and added: “We share their concerns.”

Jack Straw, the former home secretary who in 1997 ordered the inquiry that led to the 1999 Macpherson report, said: “I’m profoundly shocked by this and by what amounts to a misuse of police time and money and

entirely the wrong priorities.” Straw is considering personally referring the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Francis was a member of a controversial covert unit known as the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS). A two-year investigation by the Guardian has already revealed how undercover operatives routinely adopted the identities of dead children and formed long-term sexual relationships with people they were spying on.

The past practices of undercover police officers are the subject of what the Met described as “a thorough review and investigation” called Operation Herne, which is being overseen by Derbyshire’s chief constable, Mick Creedon.

A spokesman said: “Operation Herne is a live investigation, four strands of which are being supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and it would be inappropriate to pre-judge its findings.”

Francis has decided to reveal his true identity so he can openly call for a public inquiry into undercover policing of protest. “There are many things that I’ve seen that have been morally wrong, morally reprehensible,” he said. “Should we, as police officers, have the power to basically undermine political campaigns? I think that the clear answer to that is no.”

Francis has been co-operating with the Guardian as a confidential source since 2011, using his undercover alias Pete Black. He assumed the undercover persona between 1993 and 1997, infiltrating a group named Youth Against Racism in Europe. He said he was one of four undercover officers who were also required to feed back intelligence about the campaigns for justice over the death of Lawrence.

Francis said senior officers were afraid that anger at the failure to investigate the teenager’s racist killing would spiral into disorder on the streets, and had “visions of Rodney King”, whose beating at the hands of

police led to the 1992 LA riots.

Francis monitored a number of “black justice” campaigns, involving relatives of mostly black men who had died in suspicious circumstances in police custody.

However, he said that his supervising officers were most interested in whatever information he could gather about the large number of groups campaigning over the death of Lawrence.

Although Francis never met the Lawrence family, who distanced themselves from political groups, he said he passed back “hearsay” about them to his superiors. He said they wanted information that could be used to undermine the campaign.

One operation Francis participated in involved coming up with evidence purporting to show Brooks involved in violent disorder. Francis said he and another undercover police officer trawled through hours of footage from a May 1993 demonstration, searching for evidence that would incriminate Brooks.

Police succeeded in having Brooks arrested and charged with criminal damage, but the case was thrown out by a judge as an abuse of the legal process. Francis said the prosecution of Brooks was part of a wider drive to damage the growing movement around Lawrence’s death: “We were trying to stop the campaign in its tracks.”

Doreen Lawrencesaid that in 1993 she was always baffled about why family liaison officers were recording the identities of everyone entering and leaving their household. She said the family had always suspected police had been gathering evidence about her visitors to discredit the family.

We’ve talked about that several times but we never had any concrete [evidence],” she said.

There is no suggestion that the family liaison officers knew the purpose of the information they collected.

Francis claims that the purpose of monitoring people visiting the Lawrence family home was in order “to be able to formulate intelligence on who was going into the house with regards to which part of the political spectrum, if any, they were actually in”. The former policeman added: “It would determine maybe which way the campaign’s likely to go.”

In 1997, Francis argued that his undercover operation should be disclosed to Macpherson, who was overseeing the public inquiry into the Met’s handling of the murder. “I was convinced the SDS should come clean,” he said.

However his superiors decided not to pass the information on to the inquiry, he said. He said he was told there would be “battling on the streets” if the public ever found out about his undercover operation.

Straw said that neither he nor Macpherson were informed about the undercover operations. “I should have been told of anything that was current, post the election of Tony Blair’s government in early May 1997,” he said.

“But much more importantly, [the] Macpherson inquiry should have been told, and also should have been given access to the results of this long-running and rather expensive undercover operation.”




National police unit monitors 9,000 ‘domestic extremists’


  • Paul Lewis, Rob Evans and Vikram Dodd
  • The Guardian, 

A national police unit that uses undercover officers to spy on political groups is currently monitoring almost 9,000 people it has deemed “domestic extremists”.

The National Domestic Extremism Unit is using surveillance techniques to monitor campaigners who are listed on the secret database, details of which have been disclosed to the Guardian after a freedom of information request.

A total of 8,931 individuals “have their own record” on a database kept by the unit, for which the Metropolitan police is the lead force. It currently uses surveillance techniques, including undercover police, paid informants and intercepts, against political campaigners from across the spectrum.

Senior officers familiar with the workings of the unit have indicated to the Guardian that many of the campaigners listed on the database have no criminal record.

As as Scotland Yard was battling to contain the fallout over the activities of a former undercover police officer who was asked to dig for “dirt” that would undermine the Stephen Lawrence campaign, evidence emerged that the main witness to his murder was also targeted.

Sources indicated that the Met secretly bugged meetings with Duwayne Brooks and his solicitor. The surveillance operation was understood to have been authorised by a “senior officer” in around 1999 or 2000.

At least two meetings are believed to have been covertly recorded, one of them at the offices of Brooks’s solicitor, Jane Deighton. She told the BBC,which first reported the story, that if true the operation was “scandalous”.

Last night it emerged that Stephen Lawrence’s moth

er Doreen is to meet with the home secretary on Thursday morning.

The Met commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, is resisting calls for an independent inquiry into the latest revelations. His force said it recognised the “huge seriousness” of the fresh claims about the surveillance of Brooks, who is now a Lib Dem councillor in South London, and would investigate them internally.

Former undercover officer Peter Francis had previously revealed he was involved in an ultimately failed operation to discredit Brooks, seeking information that was used to bring an unsuccessful prosecution for criminal damage in 1993, a few months after Lawrence died. Francis’s full story is told in a book about several undercover operations, published this week.

Francis’s unit, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), was disbanded in 2008, but later replaced with the National Domestic Extremism Unit.

The extremism unit monitors the full range of activists: from far-right activists in the English Defence League through to animal rights protesters, anti-capitalists and anti-war demonstrators.

In recent years the unit is known to have focused its resources on spying on environmental campaigners, particularly those engaged in direct action and civil disobedience to protest against climate change.

A small number of activists have obtained excerpts from their file in the extremism unit’s database. They include an 88-year-old campaigner, John Catt, who won a landmark lawsuit against the Met three months ago. Three court-of-appeal judges ruled the Met had unlawfully retained details of the pensioner’s presence at more than 55 protests. Details were logged about slogans on his banner and whether he was clean-shaven.

Another activist, Guy Taylor, 46, who campaigns against capitalism, discovered that he was spied on while attending Glastonbury festival – which is known to have been frequented by a number of police spies in recent decades. Taylor has one conviction for spray-painting a slogan in 1991.

He and Catt are among the thousands of activists who have been categorised as domestic extremists on the unit’s files. The Met previously used the term “subversives” to describe citizens with radical political views whom it was spying on.

On Tuesday, Francis said in a Guardian webchat that those targeted by Special Branch in the past included the former home secretary, Jack Straw, once a student union activist.

“I read Mr Straw’s rather large file,” he said. “It will be a pink file with his individual ‘RF’ (Registry File) number. The same for [MPs] Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn – and Imran Khan, the lawyer for the Stephen Lawrence family. The human rights solicitor firm Bindmans also had its own dedicated file.”

Francis also said a low point of his deployment as an anti-racist campaigner in the 1990s came when he undermined the campaign of a family who wanted justice over the death of a boxing instructor who was struck on the head by a police baton.

He said he had infiltrated the family-led campaign for justice over the death ofBrian Douglas, a 33-year-old who died after he was hit on the head with a police baton in 1995 when he was stopped for driving erratically.

“The lowest point I reached morally was when I was standing outside Kennington police station for the Brian Douglas justice campaign in May 1995. It was a candlelit vigil and his relatives were all there,” he said.

“By me passing on all the campaign information – everything that the family was planning and organising through Youth Against Racism in Europe – I felt I was virtually reducing their chances of ever receiving any form of justice to zero. To this day, I personally feel that family has never had the justice they deserved.”

Francis said he had “no faith” in the two existing inquires that the home secretary, Theresa May, has said will look into his allegations. One is an inquiry by a barrister into previously-known allegations of corruption in the investigation in the Lawrence murder, while the second, Operation Herne, is an internal Met police review being led by the chief constable of Derbyshire police.

“Only a judicial-led or public inquiry – not just into the Stephen Lawrence allegations, but into the wider controversy – has any chance of ever establishing the truth,” he said.

Zephaniah on the multiculturalism debate

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah performs ‘Naked’ and reflects on his collection Too Black Too Strong. As Black History, he tackles the subjects of politics, multiculturalism, Stephen Lawrence and the police, and suggests the relationship between law enforcers and the black community is still charactoerised by a deep lack of trust



Devon Humanists welcome the end of Council Prayers

Devon Humanists today welcomed the High Court ruling that Council Prayers are unlawful, a decision that will affect many councils across the county.

The High Court today ruled that “The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a Council is not lawful under s111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue”. The judgement follows a Judicial Review initiated by the National Secular Society.


In passing judgement, the Head of the Administrative Court, Mr Justice Ouseley, directed: “I do not think the 1972 Act […] should be interpreted as permitting the religious views of one group of councillors, however sincere or large in number, to exclude, or even to a modest extent, to impose burdens on or even to mark out those who do not share their views and do not wish to participate in their expression of them. They are all equally elected councillors”.

Humanists across Devon have long campaigned against Prayers in the Council Chamber and contributed to the fund to take the issue to the High Court.

A spokesman for Devon Humanists said, “It is local people who believed that the insistence on prayers in the Council Chamber was a barrier to involvement in our democracy. Around half of Devon’s population are not Christians. We are a society of many faiths and – increasingly – of no religion at all. We all pay for the council, so we should all feel that the council represents us equally.”

“Indeed, some local Christians were uneasy about such a close relationship between councillors and the established Church.”

“We believed that anything that contributes to an impression that local government is centered on a particular gender, age, ethnicity, social class or faith should be challenged.”

“This isn’t about banning or rejecting Christianity, but in embracing all beliefs across our community. Understandably, there will be some who resent how Devon is changing. They may also react with hostility, hurt and bemusement when asked to give up a privilege they have held for many years. But times move on.”

“We are now moving towards a level playing field for all faiths and beliefs in our county. The High Court decision ending prayers in the Council Chamber should be welcomed by all those who embrace change and who wish to dismantle barriers to full involvement in our democratic process.”


In Macpherson’s footsteps: a journey through British racism

After Stephen Lawrence’s murder, a former High Court judge travelled round the country to produce the most significant report on racism in Britain for a generation. Ten years on, how much has changed?

Hugh Muir · guardian.co.uk


'The police are still institutionally racist. The local authority doesn't carry out the racial impact assessments that were envisaged. The thing had no teeth' - Maxie Hayles, community activist, Birmingham. Photograph: David Sillitoe

‘The police are still institutionally racist. The local authority doesn’t carry out the racial impact assessments that were envisaged. The thing had no teeth’ – Maxie Hayles, community activist, Birmingham.

Photograph: David Sillitoe

Sir William Macpherson was not an obvious choice to write the report into the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence. Educated at Wellington College and Oxford, the son of a brigadier and once a captain in the Scots Guards, he was accused by critics at the outset of insensitivity to race issues. Certainly he seemed too immersed in the establishment to lead a process that would shake it. And yet that was exactly what he did.

No one who attended Macpherson’s hearings in south-east London can forget the key events. Neville Lawrence collapsing as he heard how his son was killed; the five suspects snarling and lashing out as they ran the gauntlet of the crowd outside the hearing, where the most senior police officers in the land would admit their force was guilty of “institutional racism”.

The inquiry was more than a series of meetings in a characterless suite of offices at Elephant and Castle. For the second part of his investigation, the former high court judge journeyed around Britain by train, to six places he and his team – Dr Richard Stone, vicechair of the Runnymede Trust, John Sentamu, now the Archbishop of York, and former police officer Tom Cook – had chosen for their racial significance. They intended to discover whether London was typical of the country.

Sir William has since retired to a life away from the public gaze. But were he to retrace his steps and tour the racial landscape again, as I did this week, he would find a country more at ease with itself, but one that is still struggling with issues he encountered a decade ago.


Macpherson’s first stop had long been troubled by racial conflict. Historically, much of the attention focused on Southall but Macpherson set up his inquiry further north, at Greenford. As coordinator of the Stephen Lawrencecampaign, the grouping set up in the aftermath of the murder, Suresh Grover had been a regular at the Elephant and Castle hearings, but this, he recalls now, was a chance to give the local picture. “The local authority and the police were failing to protect black people and we told him so,” he says. “We had seen two racist murders and many people were suffering daily harassment.”

Initially, after the report came out, the black community felt progress wasbeing made, says Grover, but then things started to slide. His organisation, the Monitoring Group, has noticed a shift towards attacks on refugees. There has been a “terrible” official move away from anti-racism and towards community cohesion. “Groups like ours are in dire financial straits because race is well down the pecking order. We moved from Straw to Clarke to Blunkett – and Macpherson went out of the window.”

The Rev David Wise, the white English leader of the predominantly black Greenford Baptist church, was sharply critical of the police at the Macpherson hearings. But he has witnessed a substantial change in attitudes towards them. “The Met has made great efforts. What I don’t now get is people saying the police treated them badly because they are black. The police are not free of racism because they are human beings, but their structures appear to have made a difference. It’s the local authorities and other agencies that don’t treat people well.”


In the 1980s and 1990s, Britain’s second-largest city had its own problems with racial violence. In 1986, 13-year-old Ahmed Iqbal Ullah was murdered in a racist attack at Burnage high school. Nasrullah Khan Moghal, head of the Manchester Council for Community Relations, recalls the start to proceedings. “Richard Leese, the leader of the council, spoke first and he immediately said that the city council was institutionally racist. Then the chief constable, David Wilmot, said his police force was institutionally racist too. Bishop Sentamu was dumbfounded.” The organisers were keen not to replicate the atmosphere in London where “virtually every speaker blasted the police”, he says. “We were critical, but things were improving. We felt we had a good story to tell.”

He still does. The authorities, police, council, voluntary sector, are big on partnership working, so “if the police are failing these days, it means we are failing as well”. Racial attacks and incidents of harassment are down over the decade and people are “increasingly happy” about integration, says Moghal. But, like Grover, he has seen a evidence of a new wave of violence aimed at asylum seekers. “We are seeing migrant workers from eastern Europe being harassed. It is no longer black against white.” As in Ealing, the mantra is “community cohesion”, and in Manchester that must include the plight of white people. “Look at Wythenshawe and there is a problem with white unemployment. Many young people have gone into crime and drugs. Many don’t attend school.”

I head to Wythenshawe to see for myself. There are few non-white faces, and even less money. A Poundworld shop faces a Poundland across the street. By his florist hut, Terence Banks is preparing to close up after another slow day. “Look at these lads,” he says. “They’re always out here, school day or not. They don’t have anything to focus on so they get up to things. Sometimes you hear them say that if you’re a certain colour you get anything you want but if you’re white, you won’t. Some just use it as an excuse, but some believe it.”

Tower Hamlets

At his third stop, Macpherson set up camp in York Hall, one of Britain’s most famous boxing venues, in Tower Hamlets, east London. This one of the most diverse boroughs in the country, home to Brick Lane and Banglatown. Junaid Uddin, then 27 and a worker with the Campaign for Police Accountability, recalls: “The police had begun to make some moves towards the community but they were in denial. They certainly did not want to accept anything like institutional racism. Before the inquiry, when we gave our point of view, we were labelled black racists. Afterwards we were seen as specialists.”

Uddin, now a voluntary sector consultant, says the aftermath was beneficial: “The police were at the forefront of changing a whole range of organisations.” Then came September 11. Things have been sticky ever since. “There is something very dangerous going on. We have deep concerns here about Islamophobia and what is going on in the Middle East, but when we voice them we are painted as extremists.”

The Rev Vaughan Jones, who runs a support agency for refugees and asylum seekers, has seen a big change in race relations since he testified to Macpherson. “There are a lot more inter-racial relationships and a lot of learning,” he says. But he also sees a lot of suffering. “Irregular migrants face state harassment instead of community harassment,” he says. “The debate 10 years ago was about established communities, whether they were being treated equally. Now the issue is what defines us as a country: who is included and who is not. It is about exclusion not inclusion.”


On 21 October 1998, Macpherson and his team walked into the minefield that was Bradford, the scene of terrible riots three years earlier. Tension between communities and police was still high.

But he knew little, one suspects, of the manoeuvring to try to prevent certain people from talking to him. One person he was never supposed to encounter was Muhammed Taj, a bus driver and an official in the Transport and General Workers’ Union who sat on a council-commissioned investigation into the disturbances but broke away to publish his own report, complaining that the majority document report lacked focus. “I told Sir William there had been so many reports on problems in Bradford and they were just gathering dust,” he told me. “The fault lines were well known. We needed to do something.” What was done wasn’t enough: two years after the publication of the Macpherson report, Bradford was in flames again, provoked by the far-right into the most serious disorder in the UK for two decades. There has been nothing like that since and the authorities have poured millions into the poorest areas. Officers are wedded to community policing. But Taj says he is worried that the explosive elements are all still there.

In Shipley Ralph Berry, a Labour councillor preoccupied with education and community cohesion, seems positive, not least when he reflects that the BNP had four councillors in 2004 and now it is down to two. “If you ask people if they are voting BNP because they hate black people, they will say no. They just want someone to take them seriously. That’s what we are doing.”


In 1998, 100 people packed into the hotel function room Macpherson’s team had hired in Bristol. Then the outpouring began. Two men sat together at the inquiry to give evidence jointly. One was Paul Stephenson, who led a bus boycott campaign in Bristol in 1963 against a company that would not employ black people or Asians. The other man was Richard Stokes, the black British guardsman whose career was cut short by racial harassment.

Stephenson moved 25 years ago to a predominantly white suburb. He thought he would be a trailblazer. Instead, his is still the only black family on the street. “I bought this house thinking I was breaking down social barriers,” he says. “The man next door promptly sold his.” His hope has been for more integration and understanding. It still is and Macpherson and the police have helped, he says. “But for every step forward we have made two back.”

Stokes sees progress because “the range of people who will defend racism is decreasing” and “kids are definitely more accepting of different cultures”, but he fears Bristol is still racist. “You need only go two miles out of the city centre to see that attitudes are different. It is class and race. It’s a funny place.”

In the St Paul’s area on the eastern side of the city, where the faces are mainly black and brown, I see a shop filled with DVDs, CDs, trainers, caps and clothing, a shrine to black urban culture. Then I see the owner, who is white. Debbie Reeve’s late husband was Jamaican, she explains.


Macpherson’s final stop was Birmingham. Maxie Hayles, a veteran community activist, says he was responsible for getting the former judge to the city. Even now he is pleased. “We had a nightclub that would not admit black people and the death in custody of

Alton Manning. There were attacks and harassment – all this in Britain’s second city – and they weren’t going to come! It was a joke.” He began a campaign. Soon Macpherson was there.

The meeting itself was turbulent. “The council leader said they were not institutionally racist. The chief constable said the same. Then we spoke about the discrimination and the racial attacks. People knew we were right. We got a standing ovation.”

If there was elation that day, for Maxie and his Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit there has been deflation since. “The police still kick and scream about stop and search. They are still institutionally racist. The local authority doesn’t carry out the racial impact assessments that were envisaged. The thing had no teeth.”

Things aren’t better, they’re different. “Few will call you a black bastard but we all saw the list of BNP people,” he says. “It’s about attitude. We know it’s there.”

In a church hall in Handsworth, where black and Asian communities live side by side, Leroy McKoy, a youth worker, tells local teenagers about police hostility and racial conflict in the 1970s. But it is just a history lesson for the boys, for they say they have black friends, white friends, Asian friends, Somalian friends.

“That’s the way it is these days,” says Craig Taylor. His mates agree.

The statistics

Population 306,400 (2006) 59% white, 23% Asian, 8.6% black.
Jan-Oct 2008: 3,247 stop and searches; police say 53% were white, 27% “Asian appearance”, 8% “black appearance”.
2008 London mayoral elections BNP came fifth, behind Greens.

Tower Hamlets
Population 196,106 (2001) 51.4% white, 36.6% Asian, 6.5% black.
Jan-Oct 2008 10,236 stop and searches; police say 58% white, 26% “Asian”, 10% “black”

Population 687,406 (2001) 71% white, 20% Asian,
6% black, 3% mixed race.
School population 144,100 – 43.6% white, 35.5% Asian, 5.1% black.

Population 467,655 (2001) 78% white, 19% Asian,
1.5% mixed race, 0.92% black.
2008 local elections two BNP councillors elected.

Population 392,819 (2001)
81% white, 19% black and minority groups.
2007-8 stop and searches police say increase of 56.6% in people stopped from white groups, and 69.9% in Asian groups, in a year.
2007-8 22.4% of all murder victims were black and 14.3% Asian.

Minority ethnic population increased by 62% between 1991 and 2001 to 380,615.
Office for National Statistics gave it a “diversity index” of 0.22 (ie the
probability that two people chosen at random will be from two different
ethnic groups)



The Sikhs in Britain: 150 Years of Photographs


Black Matters – TUC quarterly e-bulletin

The Great Pension Robbery

Wednesday 30th November 2011 saw the largest set of co-ordinated industrial action by trade unions in a generation over the Government’s proposals to change public sector pension schemes on the basis that the public purse can no longer afford them.

In the past pensions have not been burning issues for members of black communities who have been struggling against racism. This has partly been because the number of black workers in the UK black community at pensionable age has been relatively small and for younger workers the need to plan financial security in their old age is not at the forefront of their minds. However a recent report by the Runnymede Trust demonstrated that this is rapidly changing and forecastedan increase in the number of Black people over 65 (in England and Wales) from 230,000 in 2001 to 2.7 million by 2051. More recently however debates at the TUC Black Workers’ Conference and increased involvement of black workers in the recent industrial action show that this is becoming an important issue.

This interest is not just because a larger proportion of the black population are getting older, but also because in the public sector where significant numbers of Black workers have gained employment the public sector pension schemes paid into over the length of their working lives are now under attack.

The current attack on pensions is nothing new. Back in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher’s Government, keen to help their friends in the city develop a financial services industry, went on a charm offensive to persuade public sector workers to move their pensions from secure final salary schemes to personal pension plans. What they didn’t say was that a personal pension plan costs lot more because of administration cost and that the value of your final pension would be dictated by how well the stock market was doing at the point of retirement. They also failed to warn those that left pension schemes that the sales patter fed them by banks and insurance agents that they would get a better pension on retirement was lies. Unsurprisingly by the end of the 1990s it was discovered that thousands of public sector employees had been mis-sold personal pension plans. Many firms that were involved in this scam went out of business to avoid having to pay compensation to the victims and it was left to the taxpayer in the form of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme to pick up the tab.

Attacks on private sector defined benefit (final salary or career average) schemes came in the 1990s when employers decided that they would prefer not just to take pension holidays by not paying the employer’s contribution into company pension schemes, but not have schemes at all and force workers, at least those that could afford it, to rely on personal pension plans bought from financial services companies, unless of course you were a top executive. This little trick was accomplished by asking financial actuaries in the city to change the way that they calculated the long term values of pension funds investments. The calculation was changed to calculate the risk of the funds over a much shorter period and based on investment values just after there had been stock market crash.

Not surprisingly the result was that what had been once financially viable pension funds were found to have large pension gaps as the assets in the schemes were drastically downgraded and liabilities increased. This of course provided employers with the excuse to either close pension final salary pension schemes to new employers or close them down completely thus devastating pension provision for ordinary workers in the private sector.

With pension provision in the private sector devastated the current Government has turned its attention to the public sector where workers are accused of having the benefit of gold plated pension schemes. This is despite the fact that roughly half of public service pensioners receive less than £5,600 a year. Recent changes to the public sector pension schemes since the coalition Government came into power mean that those in public services are already paying a 3% increase in their contributions and seeing the value of their pensions drop because index rating of pensions has been moved from the retail price index to the consumer price index, which will mean smaller annual pension rises.

This means that members in public services are already paying more for less, but the Government is not stopping there. Future proposals for changes to the schemes include:

  • Increased contributions – by 50% or more
  • Raised Retirement Age – to 66 for those over 42, 67 for those between 34 and 42 and to 68 for those under 34
  • Replacement of final salary schemes with career average – less money for our retirement

These changes are likely to make being in the pension scheme, if you work for public services, prohibitively expensive and result in many current workers opting out of their current pension schemes and future workers not joining the schemes.

Public sector unions are quite rightly vigorously campaigning against this outrageous robbery. Pensions are deferred payment for old age in terms of the workers’ contribution and the employer’s contribution. The fact that the Government believes like their friends in the private sector that they are entitled to renege on schemes that workers rely on for their retirement is outrageous.

For the Black community the context for the current attacks on public sector pensions is one in which many Black people endure pensioner poverty and where the number of older Black people is growing rapidly. Runnymede’s recent report, Ready for Retirement?, shows that people from all Black backgrounds are more likely to experience pensioner poverty than the wider population. Statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that half of older Pakistani and Bangladeshi people live in poverty, as do almost a third of Indians and African Caribbean’s, in comparison to one in six older people overall. Black people are also more likely to experience poverty before retirement. For example, 65 per cent of Bangladeshi people live in poverty, compared to 20 per cent of white people (DWP figures). There is, therefore, huge risk that many in the growing population of older Black people will have insufficient income to maintain a decent standard of living.

Many young black workers who work in the service industries such as finance, media, IT or the arts and don’t understand the importance of pensions do not have access to a decent occupational pension scheme. Many others who work for agencies, in call centres or doing temporary work are not covered by occupational pension schemes. For women, not having access to an occupational pension scheme to supplement their state pension is disastrous. They already suffer because of career breaks to raise children and make up an overwhelming proportion of those that work part time. Recent research revealed that women lose out both ways as they often fail to pay enough contributions to receive a full state old age pension. As a result 16% of newly retired women have a full basic state pension as against 78% men.

Luckily many black workers are relatively young compared to the population as a whole with 32.39 per cent in the 22-44 age group and 15.18 per cent in the 45-64 age group. This means that the spectre of mass pensioner poverty in black communities is some way off. However in 20 – 30 years there will be a tenfold increase in numbers of pensioners in the black communities and if we do not wake up to the realities of old age then our communities will be heading for a disaster. Those that believe that culturally we will be alright because younger relatives will look after us, or that they will go back home where it’s cheaper to live are deluding themselves. If we are to avoid the scenario of black pensioners dying because they haven’t got enough money to keep their houses warm or eat decent meals then action is needed now.

It is not an issue that can be left to others outside our community to campaign on. If we want to rectify the historic disadvantage that is faced by black pensioners, have access to decent occupational pensions and ensure that there is an adequate basic pension provision for our retirement then we have wake up to this issue now. We need to educate communities about pension issues, get involved in the union campaigns and industrial action to defend public sector pensions and fight to secure occupational pensions for all. This is not a choice, we can’t afford not to.

Apprenticeships For All

A major outcome of Thatcher’ introduction of neo-liberalism into the British economy in the early 1980’s was the sharp rise in unemployment especially among young people. In areas that saw the collapse of old industries such as mining, textiles, steel, car manufacture and ship building, the young people of the time saw their futures consigned to the dole. They represented a whole generation of young people that were never to work and who make up the core of today’s long term unemployed. In Black communities where gaining employment had always been a problem the unemployment rates for young people spiralled to over 50% and arguably laid the foundations for the uprisings across every major city in 1981.

The Government response at this time was to come up with training programmes to prepare young people to work. The most famous of these was the Youth Opportunities Programme (YOPS) which was run by the Manpower Service Commission. It was designed to offer 12 months training and aimed at school leavers, but was notorious as a cheap labour scheme where participants got little useful training and no chance of a permanent job at the end unless they were part of a trade union negotiated scheme.

Thirty years on the 2008-09 recessions saw unemployment rise to 2.5million, with far higher numbers finding themselves out of work. This exacerbated the situation in black communities where high levels of worklessness already existed and where for young people, gaining access to work was already a problem. A report published by the institute of Public Policy Research in January 2010 showed that almost half (48%) of Black people aged between16-24 were unemployed – compared to the rate of unemployment among white young people which stood at 20% and the recent rise in youth unemployment to over a million means that the situation for young black people is getting worse.

In February 2011 the Coalition Government Minister John Hayes announced that the Government would ‘increase the budget for Apprenticeships to over £1,400 million in 2011-12, helping to create a new generation of skilled workers to drive economic growth’. This increase is an extension to current Government apprenticeship schemes that are coordinated by the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) and the money is aimed at creating 100,000 extra apprenticeships by 2014.

However, the TUC have had a long standing concern about the difficulties young black workers face gaining access to both employment and decent quality government training schemes. As far back as 1984 in its report ‘Moving On’, the TUC highlighted concerns that the welfare to work New Deal Programme had poorer outcomes for young black workers. In 2005, through its ‘Workplace Training – a Race for Opportunity’ the TUC called on the Government to use public procurement as a lever to improve the employment of black workers and to boost training, apprenticeships and skills levels.

The previous government acknowledged the lack of involvement of young black workers in apprenticeships and put in place plans to commission a number of diversity pilots that would run over a period of four years designed to improve participation in apprenticeships. The current Government has put in place the diversity pilots but has only funded the programme for a year so far with the possibility of a further 12 months funding.

The TUC, in highlighting the need for urgent action to ensure black workers do not disproportionately continue to miss out on the benefits that apprenticeships can offer, are working to highlight three main issues which are:

  • The need for comprehensive monitoring systems to enable the National Apprenticeship Service and the Government to assess how their strategy on increasing diversity in apprenticeships is working;
  • The need to ensure that black workers gain access to good quality apprenticeships and that mechanisms are put in place to ensure that discrimination by employers is tackled so that they are able to obtain workplace placements;
  • The need to ensure that young black women are able to access the full range of apprenticeships and do not suffer labour market segmentation in relation to access to training on the basis of their gender; and
  • The need to focus on outcomes as well as apprenticeship starts to ensure that black apprentices graduate to full time jobs or higher learning.

In order to highlight these issues the TUC held a joint half day conference at Congress House on 6 September 2011 called ‘Apprenticeships for All’, which was organised as a joint event between the TUC, Versa Professional Services Ltd, Unionlearn and SERTUC. It was aimed at union activists and negotiators, learning reps, equality reps, black activists and employers

Without strong union intervention at workplace and public policy level it is likely that young black workers will not only miss out on the expansion in apprenticeships, but that where they do get apprenticeships find themselves just as many in their parents’ generation, engaged with schemes that are short term, low quality and that do not lead to training progression or to a decent job.

UK Government Dumps on Domestic Workers

The re-emergence of domestic work as a growing area of employment in Europe over the last few years reflects a general growth in the use of workers in a domestic setting and the blurring of the line between state provided social care in domestic settings and the private social care market. The consequence of this has been a growth in the amount of domestic workers, many of whom are women, recruited predominately from the Philippines, Africa and South America.

Many of these women work in conditions that can be described as a contemporary form of slavery where:

  • Domestic work is not recognised as proper work recognise domestic work as proper work,
  • There is inadequate legal protection for workers in private households, which is aggravated by the fact that private households as well as domestic workers are not easily accessible to trade unions; and
  • Domestic work is not recognised as an immigration category although large numbers of domestic workers are migrants.

The isolated, dependant and unregulated nature of working in private households, combined with gender-based and racial discrimination means that domestic workers are vulnerable to exploitative practices. They can face physical, psychological and sexual abuse, discrimination, low pay and long hours. Employers often use passport retention as a means of control.

In the UK Domestic workers have organised themselves through Kalayaan, a registered charity established in 1987 to provide advice, advocacy and support services in the UK for migrant domestic workers. Domestic workers have active in Kalayann have created a campaign called Justice 4 Domestic Workers which is supported by Unite to campaign for rights for domestic workers. They successfully campaigned for the introduction of protections in the migrant worker visa including crucially the right to change employer which as a result allowed domestic workers to leave abusive employers and not find themselves classed as undocumented workers.

In the last two years Justice 4 Domestic Workers (J4DW) has run a vigorous campaign against domestic slavery among diplomatic overseas staff. The campaign has been backed up by a report produced by Kalayaan which showed that based on its case studies, 64% of diplomatic domestic staff work a seven day week, 57% receives £50 per week or less, and 50% work 16 hour days. In addition, 65% have their passports taken away from them and held by their employer. 58% reported they had been bullied or psychologically abused. The campaign is calling on the Government to extend the protections of the migrant domestic worker visa, most vitally the right to change employer, to cover migrant domestic workers brought to the UK by diplomats. The previous immigration minister Phil Woolas made an ‘in principle’ agreement to change the system and admitted that ‘there is no question that we are putting those diplomatic relations above the interest of victims’.

The current Coalition Government however has shown a callous disregard for the vulnerability and lack of right and access to justice of domestic workers. In their headlong flight to reduce immigration by banning non EU migrants from Britain they are attempting to roll back the progress that has been made by domestic workers. On 9 June 2011 Damian Green, Immigration Minister announced a new three month consultation on employment-related settlement. In this consultation are proposals to remove fundamental safeguards designed to protect migrant domestic workers. If implemented these proposals would lead to a return to forced labour and slavery by abolishing the route for overseas domestic workers in private households altogether or for a maximum of 6 months as a visitor only, or 12 months where accompanying a Tier 1 or Tier 2 migrant, with no possibility of extension, no right to change employer, no ability to sponsor dependants, no rights for dependants to work in the UK, and no right to settlement. These changes if implemented would amount to a return to bonded labour. Abolishing or time limiting the domestic workers visa would not stop migrant domestic workers from being brought to Britain and encourage an increase in trafficking via illegal routes and unlawful working.

Shamefully moves by the coalition Government to roll back rights for domestic workers are not confined to the UK. J4DW and domestic Workers worldwide have been fighting for an International labour Organisation Convention to establish basic rights for domestic workers. The proposed convention was finally discussed and adopted at the International labour Congress annual conference in June 2011. The ILO’s 183 member states need to ratify and implement it. But it was a triumph nonetheless that governments, employers and unions from around the world managed over a fortnight last year and a further fortnight this year, plus all the discussions in between, to agree a text, voted for by 396 delegates, with only 16 against and 63 abstentions. Disgracefully delegates had to listen to two contrary voices – the representatives of the British government and of the Confederation of British Industry calling for abstention and opposition respectively. Such action exposes the hypocrisy of a government who claims they are committed to reaching the Millennium Development Goals, not it appears if it involves giving rights non-white women workers. Brendan Barber the TUC General Secretary said ‘I am appalled that the CBI voted against the convention and that the British government abstained. The votes show that employers and governments around the world disagreed with their lack of compassion – they are thoroughly isolated and should be ashamed of their position’.

The campaign for these workers continues and needs our help. The campaign for UK ratification of the ILO treaty on Domestic Work starts now. The TUC is setting up a campaign for ratification, in alliance with Justice 4 Domestic Workers, Anti-Slavery International, Christian Aid and Oxfam, and more will be welcome.


Muslims proud to be British? There’s something to learn from the surprise

Crowds in London with Union flags welcome the Queen on her jubilee tour in 2007. Illustration: Tim Graham/Getty Images.
  • Mark Greer
  • guardian.co.uk, 
Bemusement at the findings of Muslim pride in Britain stems from stereotyping about religious groups.

The finding in Demos’s report A Place for Pride that 83% of Muslims said they were proud to be a British citizen, compared with the national average of 79%, has been met with surprise in some parts of the press. Clearly many British citizens have both a strong religious identity and a strong national identity. Yet it also seems clear that many people see these identities as mutually exclusive. Why is this the case?

That 83% of Muslims are proud to be British does in fact make sense. Many British Muslims come from families that have sought the opportunity and refuge offered in this country. The Demos report suggests that “People who are religious are more likely to be patriotic than are those who self-define as atheists or nonbelievers”; 88% of Anglicans and Jews agreed that they were “proud to be a British citizen”. Many British Jews have a family history of refugee status and it follows that this leads to a sense of pride in their British identity. People with a strong religious identity are also often part of a strong community, and benefit from the co-operation and collective goodwill that can come with this. Patriotism, the report suggests, isn’t only concerned with Queen and flag, but also with community values.

There is a lot of misinformation about the British Muslim community. In 2009 the Gallup Coexist Index found that only 36% of the British public thought that British Muslims were “loyal to this country” as opposed to 82% of the British Muslim community. The surprise at the findings of Muslim pride in Britain is rooted in a prejudice that leads people to believe that it is paradoxical for someone to hold both their religious and national identities as important. Lazy caricatures of Islam as contradicting many of the rights and values that are seen as quintessentially British – particularly freedom and democracy – only exacerbate this problem.

So, how do we tackle the prejudice that leads to this view? We must start by challenging perceptions of faith groups that rely on broad stereotypes, and instead provide people with opportunities for meaningful engagement, where they can meet and learn about each other as individuals. The report quotes a student who participated in Three Faiths Forum’s Undergraduate ParliaMentors programme, which gives young people the opportunity to work with students of different faiths and non-religious beliefs on social action projects, and to be mentored by MPs and peers.

The “people I worked with, neither of them had even met a Jewish person before. I found it quite daunting but it was good and it helped me in a way to understand who I am as well as to know more about Islam and Christianity. In the end, the things we sometimes fell out about were what we were doing on the project – not God.”

Finding out that the difficulties that come with working with others are often simply the usual interpersonal challenges is an important part of seeing others as individuals, not just a Muslim, Jew, atheist etc.

What we need are more opportunities for this humanising process. If we can find these while people work together on a social cause then this is all to the good. One of the clear implications of the Demos research is that public pride is linked closely with “social engagement, interpersonal trust and volunteerism”. If we embrace opportunities to work with people of all faiths and beliefs then we can start to overcome the prejudice that leads to surprise that other people are also proud of Britain. We will, in turn, also give ourselves more reasons for civic pride.


Page 1 of 1212345...10...Last »