Prince William warns of homeless crisis as thousands of youths face life on the street

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The second in line to the throne, who has followed in his mother Princess Diana’s footsteps by working as patron of the charity Centrepoint, cited research that showed  only 12 per cent of the 136,000 young people seeking support for … Continue reading

Anything Kids Company Did The Govt Could Do Better?

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‘There is no doubt that Kids Company has made a big difference to the lives of some very vulnerable children. But so have Barnardos, the Children’s Society, Trussell Trust foodbanks and many, many more low-profile children’s charities whose names are less … Continue reading

Rise in ‘funeral poverty’ means more than 100,000 in UK cannot afford to die

 

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(Facts culled from articles in ‘The Independent’ & ‘The Guardian’)

At 9.30am, seven family members gather in the south chapel at the City of London crematorium to celebrate the life of a mother and grandmother who has died at the age of 77. The minister reads through The Lord’s My Shepherd and a granddaughter struggles through tears to make a speech recalling a shared love of bingo. The minister remarks that this was a woman who was extremely honest and plain-speaking. “Sometimes her honesty was refreshing and sometimes it wasn’t welcome, but you knew where you stood,” he tells the family. Outside, there is the noise of vehicles reversing as the hearse draws away for its next appointment.

There is nothing remarkable about the service, except the time. The 9.30am slot is when public health or environmental funerals are held – once known as pauper’s funerals. These are services paid for by the local authority when someone has died without relatives or money, or when their relatives have been unable to fund the service.

Funeral poverty is an unexpectedly potent indicator of the combined impact of recession, austerity, low wages and the insecure job market. The insurance company Sun Life Direct says funeral poverty has risen by 125% since 2010 – a figure it calculates by assessing the shortfall between the cost of funerals and people’s ability to pay. Around one in seven people struggle to pay funeral costs – with the average cost of a basic funeral around £3,590, according to the company’s research.

Funeral charities and crematorium staff report a rise in demand for the state-funded funeral, and note that while it was designed for those who died alone, increasingly it is being used to bury people whose families are unable to meet the cost of arranging a ceremony. Meanwhile there has been a parallel rise in DIY funerals (where families buy the coffin online, and transport the body themselves to the crematorium in a van or an estate car) because of the rising cost of a high street funeral and the fall in the value of support offered by the state to those struggling to meet the costs.

Never mind the cost of living crisis – the rise of “funeral poverty” in Britain means more than 100,000 people will be unable to afford the cost of dying this year, researchers have said.

The average price of arranging a funeral, burial or cremation service with state administration now stands at £7,622, and has risen by 7.1 per cent in the past year alone.

Combined with the financial challenges faced by the poorest people in recession-hit Britain, it means the level of “funeral poverty” is up 50 per cent from three years ago.

According to a study from the University of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR), the hundreds of thousands of people who will struggle to afford to die in 2014 will also leave their families with an unnecessarily difficult challenge to apply for state support.

For families on low incomes, the Social Fund Funeral Payment, first introduced in 1988, is intended to take the financial pressure away from giving their loved-one a proper funeral.

But the IPR report called for a review of the Department for Work and Pensions-administered payment, describing it as “outdated”, “overly complex” and “insufficient” to meet the needs of the poorest in society.

In spite of the lowest-ever recorded mortality rates for England and Wales, the cost of dying has steadily increased over recent years.

The average cost of a funeral actually rose by 80 per cent between 2004 and 2013 and the costs of dying are expected to continue to increase over the next five years.

On average, the price of a typical funeral, including non-discretionary fees and a burial or cremation, is £3,456.

The average amount spent on extras such as a memorial, flowers and catering is £2,006 and discretionary estate administration costs have increased significantly to £2,160.

Perhaps those impoverished families facing the challenge of burying a loved one could have done with a little ‘budget allowance’ of their own eh chancellor?

Zahid Mubarek murder could happen again, warns chief inspector of prisons

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Even Despite Improvements

There is a serious danger that a murder like that of a young British Asian man, Zahid Mubarek, by his violent racist cellmate 14 years ago could happen again, the chief inspector of prisons has warned.

Nick Hardwick says that despite positive changes in prisons since the murder, the drive for reform has been weakened or forgotten.

Mubarek, 19, was murdered in Feltham young offenders’ institution in March 2000 by Robert Stewart, a known violent racist with mental health problems who had bragged about committing the first murder of the millennium.

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A judicial inquiry was only held into Mubarek’s death after the House of Lords ordered it following a four-year campaign by his family. The inquiry, chaired by Mr Justice Keith, identified 186 failings in the prison system, describing it as “institutionally racist”.

Hardwick’s assessment, published on Tuesday, says Mubarek’s death was preventable and there are now better systems in place to make it less likely that a violent racist could be placed in a cell with a vulnerable prisoner. A list of violent racists serving sentences in England and Wales is believed to have 75 names on it.

“However, it could happen again,” said Hardwick. “Risk assessment procedures are often delayed or poorly completed and information sharing is still a considerable weakness across the prison estate. Too many prisoners still share cells designed for one regardless of sentence status, age or other issues of compatibility. Prisoners from black and ethnic minority groups consistently report a worse experience than white prisoners.”

Hardwick added that while the national offender management service had said it fully implemented most of the inquiry’s recommendations, they were no longer being given enough priority when decisions were made about to use the prison service’s diminished resources.

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Mubarek’s uncle Imitiaz Amin said the new report showed the authorities had failed to make a long-term impact. He added that he hoped the report provided a catalyst for further action given that violence and deaths remained alarmingly high in prisons in England and Wales.

The latest figures show that more than 20,000 prisoners are “doubled up”. While inmate-on-inmate assaults have fallen for young offenders by 2,500 incidents a year, they are up by 1,500 a year for adult male prisoners.

Four prisoners were murdered inside jails in England and Wales last year but this was unusual. There were 26 murders in the decade before the introduction of a cell-sharing risk assessment in 2000, since when there has been 20 homicides in 13 years.

Amin, who is also chief executive of the Zahid Mubarek Trust, which works inside 10 prisons across London. Has stated that discrimination and equality work is no longer on the agenda; and that though short term targets have been achieved,the authorities have failed to address the areas of concern described by the Zahid Mubarek inquiry, in the long term.

_41826572_keith_pabody As If that were not bad enough

Prison officers are more than twice as likely to be reported for racism than prisoners, according to new government figures showing alleged racist incidents across the prison estate have risen by a quarter.

Ministry of Justice complaints data reveals a steady rise in alleged racist incidents at the 139 prisons in England and Wales. The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, are likely to add to concern over extremism in prisons. They come as prison staff express concern over growing sympathy for the British National party among colleagues.

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The figures show there have been 46,000 complaints by staff and p­risoners that were categorised as racist since 2006. By 2008 there were 14,191 co­mplaints about alleged racism in prisons, a 25% increase on 2006, when there were 11,389.

A spokesperson for the justice department said reported incidents had increased as a result of complaint forms becoming more accessible and confidential, and stressed that few of the reported incidents consisted of serious allegations. However, the improvement in availability in complaints forms began nine years ago, long before the recent surge in complaints.

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So, what I would like to ask the Chancellor George Osborne is this, what provisions did you place in Wednesday 18 March’s budget for improving the quality of race relations in Britain’s prisons? 

Prisons ‘struggling’ with increase in elderly inmates

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Prisons are struggling to cope with the increasing number of elderly, sick and disabled people behind bars, a Prison Reform Trust report says.

It reveals that those aged 60 and over are the fastest growing population in English and Welsh prisons, with an increase of 146% between 2002 and 2014.

Those aged 50-59 are the second fastest-growing group, says the report.

The government said it was “committed to providing suitable facilities”.

The report comes as Prisons Minister Andrew Selous is due to give evidence on older prisoners to the Commons justice select committee.

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‘Less safe and less decent’

Longer sentences mean more people are growing frail in prison, but high rates of social and support needs are unmet, says the trust.

Two in five prisoners over 50 now have a disability of some kind, the report added.

Trust director Juliet Lyon said: “In the last few years, prison has been reduced to a punitive holding operation for people growing older and sicker behind bars.

“Prisons are less safe and less decent than they were even a year ago when we published our last report.

“An incoming administration of government in May 2015 must not accept this deterioration in prison standards and conditions as the new normal.”

Although the prison population stands at around 84,500 in England and Wales – 20% higher than it was 12 years ago – the National Offender Management Service has had to make more than £700m in savings over the last three years and is expected to cut a further £149m in 2014-15.

The proportion of prisons whose performance is “of concern” or “of serious concern” according to the National Offender Management Service has risen from 13% in 2012-13, to 23% in 2013-14.

Prisons minister Andrew Selous, said: “We’re committed to providing suitable facilities and ensuring individual healthcare needs are met, as well as working alongside charities such as Age UK and Recoop to ensure older offenders are rehabilitated.

“From April 2015, local authorities (already hit hard by austerity budget cuts) will be responsible for care and support for prisoners meaning that, for the first time, we will have a social care service working alongside the healthcare already provided in prisons by the NHS.”

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My question to you, the electorate is, could not the reduction in the required economic surplus(from 23 billion to 7 billion in 2019-20) have been used by George Osborne to improve this state of affairs?

Neither Care Nor Proper Custody-The Grayling Way

Some Concerning Stats

10% of men and 30% of women have had a previous psychiatric admission before they entered prison. A more recent study found that 25% of women and 15% of men in prison reported symptoms indicative of psychosis. The rate among the general public is about 4%.

26% of women and 16% of men said they had received treatment for a mental health problem in the year before custody.

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Personality disorders are particularly prevalent among people in prison. 62% of male and 57% of female sentenced prisoners have a personality disorder. 49% of women and 23% of male prisoners in a Ministry of Justice study were assessed as suffering from anxiety and depression. 16% of the general UK population (12% of men and 19% of women) are estimated to be suffering from different types of anxiety and depression. 46% of women prisoners reported having attempted suicide at some point in their lives. This is more than twice the rate of male prisoners (21%) and higher than in the general UK population amongst whom around 6% report having ever attempted suicide.

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Some Reasons Why These Stats Are Concerning

A report written by the Prison Reform Trust, supported by the Bromley Trust, shows a system under significant strain with fewer staff, worsening safety, and fewer opportunities for rehabilitation.

Unprecedented cuts to the Ministry of Justice budget, due to total £2.4bn by 2015-16 , are creating a race to the bottom in prison conditions and the warehousing of people in super-sized jails, according to the Prison Reform Trust’s new report Prison: the facts.

Further measures are planned to drive down costs to levels claimed by the new much criticised private sector establishment HMP Oakwood, which is reported to cost around £15,500 per place and holds nearly 1,600 men.

Despite evidence suggesting smaller prisons are safer and more effective than larger establishments, holding people closer to home with a higher ratio of staff to prisoners and more emphasis on resettlement, the government plans to build a super-sized prison in Wrexham holding 2,000 prisoners.

Super Size Prisons

Over 40% of prisoners are now held in prisons of 1,000 places or more , and nearly two-thirds of prisons in England and Wales are overcrowded by to the prison service’s own definition, holding 2,687 more prisoners than they were designed to.

Strict controls on recruitment and high levels of staff sickness, the closure of 15 prisons, the transfer of a further two prisons to the private sector and a 23% reduction in the number of prison officers employed in publicly run prisons since March 2010 have created a system stretched to its limit. Reductions in staffing levels impact on safety and the amount of time prisoners are able to spend their time engaged in purposeful activity. Nearly half (46%) of adults are reconvicted within one year of release, rising to 58% for those sentenced to 12 months or less.

The number of occasions Prison Service Gold Command, the national group convened during serious incidents and disturbances, has been opened over the last three years has increased by 153% since 2011-12. In 2013-14 it opened on 81 occasions. There has also been a 14% rise in serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults between 2010 and 2013 , and the number of deaths in custody last year was the highest on record.

According to HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, both “the quantity and quality of purposeful activity in which prisoners are engaged [has] plummeted” in 2012-13, reporting the worst outcomes in six years. In over half of prisons results were judged to be not sufficiently good or poor. He also warned in 2012 “Resources are now stretched very thinly […] there is a pretty clear choice for politicians and policy makers – reduce prison populations or increase prison budgets.

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(Traveller Suicides)

This report comes only a month after the Prison Reform Trust found evidence that the new Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme, which includes a ban on prisoners receiving books and other basic items, is eliciting a strong sense of injustice in prisons and undermining opportunities for effective rehabilitation.

Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“These latest figures reveal a prison service having to cope with unprecedented strain. Ministers must heed the warning signs. Rising assault and suicide rates, fewer staff and less constructive activity, call into question the government’s commitment to safety and decency. Slashing prison budgets and introducing harsher regimes while warehousing ever greater numbers overseen by fewer staff is no way to transform rehabilitation.”

Now let me ask you, the electorate, a simple question. Where was financial provision for all these concerns in yesterday’s budget?

Ho Ho Ho!

Christmas is almost here, but before we sail through Christmas and into the New Year here are a few facts to mull over. Suicide and murder rate in prisons in England and Wales have reached their highest levels in years according to figures released by the Ministry of Justice. In 2013, there were four alleged homicides – the highest number since 1998 – and 70 apparently self-inflicted deaths, more than at any time since 2008. There were 199 deaths in prisons in England and Wales in total. Depressing reading eh?

Hardly the reality being related by the Daily Mail, who on 17 December had this to say, ‘Prisoners in a new ‘superjail’ will have a choice of Christmas dinners costing taxpayers more than the food given to patients at nearby hospitals, it has emerged. Inmates at the £150million HMP Grampian, in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, will be tucking into chicken Balmoral and chocolate gateau on Christmas Day at a cost of £2.47 per prisoner. Patients in NHS Grampian hospitals have just 89p spent on them for a two-course meal on average – although it does rise to £2.17 on December 25.’

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Bristling with indignation yet? Well, rest assured, Christmas isn’t always fun for the imprisoned, “It’s been the first Christmas away from my family…instead of my little brother and sister running in my room waking me up, it will be the guy in my cell just as pissed off as me being stuck inside at Christmas I guess. It’s my first Christmas inside so I don’t really know how things go…”

– Kano (Write To Freedom Writer)

– Caspar Walsh’s Article from ‘The Guardian’

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Now for a little bit more truth, more than 230 prison officers are being asked to work in other prisons in the run-up to Christmas as governors across England and Wales face a major staffing crisis. Official documents, drawn up in the autumn, which outline measures to tackle staff shortages in prisons during November and December. Struggling prisons due to receive additional officers under the plans include Elmley, where nine prisoners have died so far this year; High Down, the scene of a major disturbance last year; Feltham; Wormwood Scrubs; Nottingham; and Woodhill, which holds maximum-security prisoners. The plans require 239 officers to be moved to other prisons on detached duty during November and December.

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A specific document about staffing on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day indicates that about 56 officers will be asked to work in other prisons on these bank holidays. The document suggests that some officers will be required to work in prisons more than 60 miles away. The move comes after Howard League research revealed that the number of frontline officers in public-sector prisons has been cut by 41 per cent in less than four years. Almost all the prisons asked to provide additional officers in the run-up to Christmas are themselves having to contend with severe staff cuts, coinciding with a deepening prison overcrowding crisis and an alarming rise in the number of self-inflicted deaths in custody.

– Taken from ‘The Howard League For Penal Reform’ Website

Question: will Grayling be home for Christmas enjoying a hassle free roast? Or will he be chained to his desk pondering the difficulties of running the prison service on a rapidly shrinking shoe-string? Whilst we’re at it, how is the Labour party aiming to address the deterioration of conditions within the prison estate if they should gain power?