Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Coventry MP urges circus animal ban

An MP who persuaded 89 colleagues to sign a Parliamentary motion urging the Government to deliver on its promise to ban wild animals in circuses has expressed his concern at new regulations that seem set to delay it. 

The animals, including lions, tigers and camels, have been covered under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which was followed by the establishment of a Circus Working Group to examine specific legislation to safeguard the animals’ welfare. The group was criticised by animal welfare organisations for not considering video evidence that they claimed showed animals being beaten during training and enduring long periods of isolation.

Early in 2010 the public made their views very clear on the issue when 94% of 10,500 consultation responses backed a ban on wild animals in travelling circuses. 

However when Conservative MP Mark Pritchard asked MPs last summer to support the public’s demand, he reported he “had a call from the prime minister’s office and was told that unless I withdrew this motion the prime minister would look upon it very dimly indeed.”  MP’s backed the motion, but were told by Environment Minister Jim Paice there was a “serious risk” of the UK facing a legal challenge similar to one that was then being mounted in Austria. However when this was dismissed in December 2011, Paice told MPs: “we are considering its relevance to the legal position here.” 

In January 2012 the Labour MP for Coventry South, Jim Cunningham drew cross-party support for his motion, which was backed by 89 other MPs calling on the government to ban wild animals in circuses from this summer. 

In response the government promised in March a ban in 2015. Animal welfare minister Lord Taylor said at the time: “There is no place in today’s society for wild animals being used for our entertainment in travelling circuses . Wild animals deserve our respect.”
He promised a tough new licensing scheme to improve conditions for animals while legislation for the ban was being developed. Failure to hold a licence to own circus animals or comply with licensing conditions could result in criminal prosecution.

The licensing scheme has now received parliamentary approval but Cunningham insists the government has not gone far enough.

“What is urgently needed is a complete ban and not simply regulation,” he said. 

“Furthermore, it is the expert’s view that there are no possible regulations sufficiently adequate to guarantee the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses. I hope these regulations do not mean the government is backtracking on its commitment to a full ban, which I will continue to press for in Parliament.” 

Last week a Northampton court was shown footage secretly filmed by Animal Defenders International of a circus staff member beating 58-year-old elephant Anne with a pitchfork at the Bobby Roberts Super Circus’s winter quarters. The elephant was also filmed chained to the ground.

Circus owner Bobby Roberts denied he condoned such actions. 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Ratepayers could be subsidising the country’s private schools by 250 million pounds a year

From the Big Issue in the North magazine. 

Ratepayers could be subsidising the country’s private schools by hundreds of millions of pounds, an investigation by The Big Issue in the North can reveal.

The country’s private schools enjoy charitable status, which means they do not have to pay corporation tax and enjoy an 80 per cent rebate on their rates.

State schools are charged full rates and often pay considerably more than fee-paying institutions that charge many thousands of pounds for a place.

Leeds Grammar School at Alwoodley Gates traces its heritage back to 1552 and is based on a 100-acre site at the outer edge of the city. Whereas state schools take in all pupils in their catchment area, Leeds Grammar draws its from a 25-mile radius. 

Annual fees at the school are £11,282 for a secondary school place. Class sizes of 18-20 are, at least, a third smaller than in a state secondary school. 

As charities, private institutions such as Leeds Grammar School are only required to pay 20 per cent of their non-domestic rates (NDR) bill, the funds from which help finance local services. Now The Big Issue in the North can reveal the extent of the savings private schools are making from that concession.

NDR is nationally set and was 43.3p in every £1 in 2011-12. Leeds Grammar School has a rateable value of £1.41 million. If it were a state school, it would have paid NDR of £534,978.50. Instead it paid £106,995.70.

Another private institution, Rishworth School in Sowerby Bridge, has a rateable value of £286,616 and would have paid NDR of £124,971.12 if it was a state school. It actually paid £24,994.22.

St Peter’s School in Clifton, York – where fees for boarders are £24,000 – has a rateable value of £610,000 and yet paid just £51,348 last year.

If all three Yorkshire schools were not classed as charities the taxpayer would have collected close to £863,000 in rates, rather than just £183,000.

It’s a similar story elsewhere in the country.

Benenden School in Tunbridge Wells, Kent enjoyed an NDR discount of £185,000. There are 14 independent schools in the Tunbridge Wells area and in 2011-12 they avoided paying more than £1.5 million in NDR.
King Edward’s School in Bath saved £145,000. 

In York the six largest private schools avoided paying a combined £360,000 and figures obtained from six local authorities – Leeds, Calderdale, York, Kirklees, Bath and Tunbridge Wells – revealed that many fee-paying schools obtain charitable discounts exceeding £100,000 a year. There are 2,500 independent schools in the country.  

State schools, by contrast, are charged full rates. Milthorpe School, a York comprehensive for 11-16 year olds just 1.6 miles from St Peter’s, has a rateable liability of £202,000. Last year it paid NDR of £87,400.52. 

According to the figures obtained from the six authorities listed above no state schools enjoyed exemptions from paying full rates. 

In comparison to the good facilities at private schools, basic spending on pupils at state schools was cut by 2.5 per cent last year. In the future construction costs for new state schools will be capped at £14 million – £7 million less than under the last government. As a result they will also be 15 per cent smaller. 

Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary and MP for Liverpool West Derby, said: “Independent schools need to do much more to earn their charitable status. Under a future Labour government we may need to review the current legislation.”

In Scotland the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator was asked in September to assess whether private schools such as Fettes in Edinburgh should retain their charitable status. OSCR chief executive David Robb said: “Schools will need to demonstrate the benefits they provide.” 

Neil Roskilly, chief executive of the Independent Schools Association, denied that the NDR reduction amounted to a subsidy to his members.
“There’s no cross-subsidy taking place as private schools give back to the economy far more than they may benefit from in relief,” he said. “Most private schools are small and do a great job locally in filling in the gaps in educational provision. 

“There are now over 5,000 children from disadvantaged backgrounds at private schools who are on 100 per cent free school places. Private schools, most of which are small, also engage in a huge range of local and national partnerships with state schools, charities and organisations.” 

Mark Metcalf

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


By Ian Cobain 

This book lifts the lid on the UK’s brutal involvement, at home and abroad, in torture since the Second World. By doing so it reveals that far from it being the work of a few rogue interrogators it has the backing of the British military establishment, intelligence agencies and governments of all political persuasions.  

Why did you write this book?

I have been investigating the UK's involvement in torture and “rendition” - or kidnap, to use its proper name for the Guardian. I came across a veiled reference to a wartime interrogation centre called the London Cage, and after making inquiries realised the British had a torture centre in the centre of the capital, and several more in Europe and the Middle East during the early days of the Cold War. I decided to see if I could join the dots, between WWII, colonial conflicts, Northern Ireland, and then the so-called War on Terror.

When did the British begin to practise torture?

My books starts in 1940, but I'm sure I could have gone much further back and found much the same story.

What are some of the techniques employed? 

The British military has favoured what are known formally as ‘five techniques’ in aid to interrogation: starvation, sleep deprivation, hooding, noise and the use of stress positions. They are used in combination and it's worth mentioning that there is a sixth, unspoken “technique” - anyone who refuses to adopt the stress position gets beaten.

But surely in war there are going to be excesses when people placed under extra-ordinary stresses react badly when they arrest enemy combatants? 

Yes of course. But there is a difference between heat-of-the-moment excesses, and the training of servicemen, in peace-time, in the use of torture techniques that have been honed over decades with the help of psychologists, and then instructing those servicemen to use them on prisoners – including civilians - taken during wartime, in breach of the Geneva Conventions. This is what happened in Iraq for several years following the 2003 invasion.

Why was the November 1971 report of Brigadier Richard Mansfield Bremner initially classified for at least 100 years? 

I think for two reasons: to conceal the way in which the British had developed specific torture techniques that were intended to leave no mark – and could thus be denied – and also to prevent wider knowledge of a sleight of hand performed by Ministry of Defence officials that allowed the government to publicly claim to have prohibited the five techniques, while secretly retaining them. There's reason to believe the trick that was used – involving “published” and “draft” directives running in parallel – has been used in government since. 

Does torture succeed in obtaining information that wins wars or does it fuel further resistance? 

It can contribute towards both. But it's not used simply to extract information. It's used to “turn” enemy agents, to intimidate whole communities and also to extract “confessions” that can be used in future judicial hearings. The British have used it for all these reasons, in relatively-recent times.  

You accuse Jack Straw of making ‘breathtaking statements’ in regard to the rendition of British citizens to face torture by the USA. Why? 

In December 2005, Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, said: “Unless we believe that the officials and me are all lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state in league with some dark forces in the United States, there is simply no truth to claims that the UK has been involved in rendition, full stop.” 

In July 2010 the high court ordered the disclosure of a telegram Straw sent to UK diplomatic missions in 2001 instructing that no objection should be raised to the transfer of British nationals from Afghanistan to Guantánamo, as this was “the best way to meet our counter-terrorism objectives”. He ordered these men be kept in Afghanistan just long enough for MI5 to interrogate them. They were eventually transferred to Guantánamo after ministers became aware that inmates there were being tortured.

Surely as a number of government’s have organised inquiries into torture that demonstrates they are keen to outlaw its practice? 

I'm not aware of any government, other than Canada, holding even a partly-public inquiry into its own involvement in rendition. David Cameron announced two months after entering Downing Street that an inquiry would be held in the UK, but it later emerged that it would be a largely-secret affair, with the intelligence agencies deciding what would and would not be made public. Almost every human rights group in the world announced a boycott.

Torture is already outlawed, of course, which is one reason why governments are never keen to see their involvement in it being investigated. Perhaps Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough shows us that the British state cannot be trusted to investigate itself until a generation or two has passed?

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Military injured always treated with contempt by British state

Written in 2002, nothing's changed since. 


Now the war is about to start, a whole bunch of people who said it was a bad idea will, bizarrely, move to support it in order to 'get behind the armed forces'. The logic of this is somewhat obtuse, but it opens up the question of who is really dropping the armed forces in it - the peace movement, which wants to get them out of harm's way, or the government, which wants to put them in it?

For a very long time, the British state has treated the men and women at the sharp end with utter contempt.

Here are some relevant facts:
1950s - UK uses soldiers as human guinea pigs in nuclear bomb tests, and then fought for decades to deny them compensation.
1982 - UK diddled Falkland's veterans out of full disability pensions by calling it an 'armed conflict' not a war.
1982 onwards - UK fails to support traumatised Falklands veterans. The number of UK ex-combatants who have killed themselves is now about equal to the number (225) who were killed in it.
1991 onwards - UK fights tooth and nail to deny the reality of 'Gulf War Syndrome'. Of 45,000 who were deployed to the Gulf, 2,000 are preparing to sue the MoD for compensation for chronic illness, disability and birth defects suffered since the war, probably caused by depleted uranium and/or experimental cocktails of anti-NBC drugs.
1995-2002. Four suspicious deaths at Deepcut Barracks bring another round of denials. Either there is a serial killer at work and the army are covering it up, or else the place has a higher suicide rate than many remand centres.
1997 Homeless charity, 'Shelter' counts people sleeping rough and discovers that 25% of them used to be in the forces.
2002 - A War Pensions Tribunal recognised Gulf War Syndrome as a war injury whose victims were entitled to support. Right now, the MoD is spending even more public funds in an attempt to appeal against this decision.
Ongoing - the UK is one of a handful of countries that refuses to fully implement the UN convention against employing child soldiers and sending them into battle.

NB - calling on troops to desert or disobey orders is horribly illegal under the Mutiny Act, so don't do it.

Was Peter Sutcliffe responsible for the murder of Carol Wilkinson in Bradford in 1977?

Historical piece from 2005 and since when Anthony Steele has died and no one has been caught for the murder of Carol Wilkinson.  

Was Peter Sutcliffe responsible for the murder of Carol Wilkinson in Bradford in 1977?

Nearly 30 years ago Bradford born Carol Wilkinson was brutally murdered on her way to work. Local man Anthony Steele was convicted of her murder and served nearly 25 years in prison before his conviction was overturned. Up until now no-body has been charged with Carol’s murder. Sensationally though residents on the estate on which Carol lived have now come forward to reveal that they saw Peter Sutcliffe [the so-called ‘Yorkshire Ripper’] on a number of occasions on their housing estate in the period before she was murdered.

In one case a local woman recalls him being in her parents house; a brother and sister chased after him because he was seen to be harassing local young women.

Peter Sutcliffe was to be convicted at the Old Bailey in May 1981 of having murdered 13 women and attempting to murder another seven.

Carol Wilkinson was only 20 years old when she was brutally attacked and left for dead at the back of the bakery where she worked in Bradford on the morning of October 10th 1977. Placed on a life support machine she died three days later after never recovering consciousness.

The murder shocked the tight knit community of the Ravenscliffe estate where she and her family lived. At the time she was engaged to be married and had a bright future in front of her.

Eighteen months later a local man Anthony Steele, aged 22 years, was charged and later found guilty of her murder. The case against him largely depended upon an alleged confession. Although he always maintained his innocence it was not until February 2003 before his conviction was quashed in the Court of Appeal and he was released.

Shortly after his release Anthony received a letter from the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police Colin Cramphorn offering him “my personal apology”. Sadly however this came after Anthony’s father, who always stood by him had died. “Anthony’s father had campaigned for over 20 years to see that letter,” said a family member.

Kay Lintern, who was 14 at the time of the murder and who lived directly opposite Carol Wilkinson’s family home said, “he came in the summer of 1976, it was a really hot summer. At the time we had a big deep freezer. It broke down and my step-dad wanted it fixed. Peter Sutcliffe came and fixed it”.

When he was later arrested and she saw his picture “I thought ‘oh my god’ that’s the man who was in our house. It sent a shiver down my spine”.

Kay also says that she saw Sutcliffe hanging around the estate. A brother and sister who have lived on Ravenscliffe for over 40 years confirm this. “He was definitely down on Langdale Road,” said the brother “he was hanging around the house where my sister lived with two other lasses”.

He knows that this would have been in February 1977 because another sister had just had a baby.

He claim’s “we did challenge him, we phoned the police and told them to come down or otherwise we were going to trash the car” and then “when I went over and started giving him some abuse he drove off”.

Kay Lintern claims that George Wilkinson, the father of the murdered Carol also chased Sutcliffe on a number of occasions. Mr Wilkinson does not want to talk to journalists about his daughter’s murder.

Asked about whether she had considered going to the police after Sutcliffe was arrested and charged in January 1981 about him having been on the estate Kay Lintern says that at the time she didn’t. “I didn’t think it was important, I didn’t think ‘oh he could have killed Carol and not Anthony Steele’ and by this time she had moved off the estate to live in Wales only returning after a 20 year absence at the beginning of this year.

However with Anthony Steele having had his conviction overturned she wants to ensure that “Carol can rest in peace knowing that the person who killed her has been caught”.

A view echoed by a member of the Anthony Steele’s family who said “we know he definitely didn’t commit the murder” and “now the police have got to carry on investigating and find the true murderer.”

On his release from prison Anthony Steele offered to support the West Yorkshire Police in any future enquiry which was “welcomed” by Colin Cramphorn in his ‘Without Prejudice’ letter to him that admits ‘errors were made’ and regretting the role ‘that former members’ of the force ‘took, which led to the injustice’.

Anthony Steele himself is on record as claiming that the murderer of Carol Wilkinson was someone who he knew whilst he was in prison and Peter Hill, from the 1980s ‘Rough Justice’ programme which examined the murder has discounted the possibility of Peter Sutcliffe being the killer.

One thing is for sure; whoever did kill Carol Wilkinson seems likely to remain undetected because whilst a West Yorkshire Police spokesperson said that the force “would welcome any new information” on the case they also said that “no individual officer is responsible for the case” and they “are not currently pursuing any active lines of enquiry.”

Meanwhile although the West Yorkshire Police web-site does have listed crimes committed more than 40 years ago under ‘Ongoing Crime Appeals’ at www.westyorkshire.police.uk/section.asp?sid=54
Carol Wilkinson does not appear.

October 1st 2005.

Ripper solicitors doubted he had done all the murders

Historical piece of mine written and published in the Big Issue in the South magazine of

March 5th 2004. 

Ripper solicitors were doubtful he'd done all the murders

A British born businessman living in Melbourne has reported comments made to him about the mass murderer Peter Sutcliffe, better known as ‘The Yorkshire Ripper’, by the senior partners from the solicitors company who represented him in May 1981.

Tony Holland alleges they told him that; “the Ripper wants to plead not guilty to 6 of the murders” because “he does not know about them.”

After Sutcliffe was charged with murder in January 1981 he was represented by the solicitors firm Lumb and Kenningham. Junior partner, Kerry Macgill, and John Lumb handled the case for the company. Macgill is now a circuit judge.

Kenningham, Lumb and Holland were friends when they all lived in Bradford in the 1970s.

They were also business partners and joint shareholders in a property company called Vilindra. Land registry records show that along with Gene Fagan they purchased a property at 7 Russell Street, Little Horton in Bradford on June 26th 1978.

As a result of their business dealings Holland claims to have been a regular visitor to the Lumb and Kenningham offices between 1977 and May 1981 when Sutcliffe was convicted.
Holland has stated that “when Lumb and Macgill got to see Sutcliffe he was unable to give full details on all the murders” and “when I asked Derek Kenningham about this he told me, they had nothing on 6 murders” and this was “not because Sutcliffe did not want to talk about the murders” as “he was very talkative” about the other murders but “because he does not know about them”.

The comments attributed to Lumb and Kenningham give some weight to a number of stories that Peter Sutcliffe may not have murdered all of the women he was convicted of.
In 1980 a major Sunday Times ‘Insight’ piece claimed that Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield, who took overall control of the chase for the Ripper after the murder of sixteen year old Jayne Macdonald in Leeds in June 1977 had said ‘Oldfield conceded to us – that there is not one Ripper, but – at least –two.’

Later in 1989 R.J.P. Warren, deputy chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Authority said “it was known in the top echelons of the police that two men were involved in the series of murders.” Brian Marriner, author of ‘A century of sex killers’ said “I don’t think now that Sutcliffe did all the killings he confessed to.”

Holland further alleges that a senior Detective told him he knew the man who became famous as ‘Wearside Jack’ after a tape was posted to the police taunting them for not catching the Ripper. The voice, which was distinctive and located as from the Sunderland area caused the police to concentrate their efforts on finding someone with a Wearside accent, this allowed Sutcliffe to escape arrest on the numerous occasions he was questioned.

On May 22nd 1981 Sutcliffe was found guilty of the murder of 13 women and seven attempted murders. He was jailed for life, with a recommendation that he should serve at least thirty years.

Holland has lived in Australia since 1982 and has courted controversy by his occasional willingness to talk about his work in the British security organisation, M16 in the 1970s.
Neither Lumb nor Kenningham have so far been willing to comment on Holland’s claims after letters were sent to them.

Tracking the deportees

A new project to track the experiences of failed asylum seekers after they are deported has been launched.

Anti-deportation campaigners fear many deportees are suffering persecution, imprisonment, torture, disappearance and even death. Organisers hope the evidence they collect can be used to change the government policies and they also intend trying to develop contact networks for those at greatest risk.

In 2010 Britain deported 39,030 people, whilst France last year deported 32,912.

The project will be co-ordinated by the Refugee Programme of the Fahamu Trust, which has offices in the UK, Kenya, South Africa and Senegal and describes itself as ‘a network for social justice.’ Pambazuka News, its weekly online newsletter, is distributed to 28,000 readers from 195 countries. Training is also provided in refugee law.

What happens to failed asylum seekers after they have been deported is largely unreported. However in 2009, Amnesty International examined the experiences of over 1,200 Eritreans, removed the previous year from countries across North Africa and Europe. They found people ‘were routinely subjected to human rights violations, including incommunicado detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment.’ Even the Office of the UN High Commissioner for refugees was denied access to those detained.

Justice First, a charity that works with people in the Tees Valley who are seeking asylum, last year published Unsafe Return to Congo, a booklet about nine former Congolese clients removed between 2006 and 2009 and who have suffered imprisonment, physical and sexual abuse, rape and torture by the state authorities on their return. In Uganda the Refugee Law Project has recorded returnees having been disappeared.

Sheffield City of Sanctuary, which welcomes refugees and has the support of the city council, is one of the first organisations to back the new project.

Co-ordinator Sarah Eldridge said: “We are concerned that many asylum seekers, who are returned because they haven't been able to break through what has been described as the 'culture of disbelief' at the Home Office, may face the life-threatening situations that led them to flee in the first place.

“It's hard to keep track of people we've supported once they 're sent back. The British Government does not monitor what happens to deportees and there are no mechanisms in place to do this. We also feel there is a pressing need to set up channels of support so asylum seekers have someone to turn to once they are deported.”

Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond of the Fahamu Refugee Programme admitted support networks in places such as Eritrea and the Congo might run the risk of putting supporters in danger of state persecution. A probable solution would be to work through foreign NGOs with private contacts in the country to which failed asylum seekers are being deported.

She added: “Where we are able to demonstrate that returnees are facing widespread persecution we hope to persuade governments that have deported people to stop doing so. “

Monday, 5 November 2012

Working or not, join the union.

Working or not, join the union. 

Now there is a union for everyone. Unite community membership gives anyone who is not in work a chance to join Britain’s biggest union and combine with their working colleagues in campaigning for an improved standard of living for all. 

With the coalition government spearheading attacks on the NHS, welfare benefits, educational grants, social housing, jobs and community facilities then this radical initiative is attracting recruits amongst students, the unemployed, carers and pensioners keen to collectively fight back.

Launched in December 2011, community membership costs just 50 pence a week and it’s intended says Len McCluskey, “to ensure Unite looks after people from cradle to grave.”

To ensure this is the case members get access to a variety of individual benefits and services, many branches have been established and six community co-ordinators have been appointed, including Hillsborough justice campaigner Sheila Coleman.

 Sheila will be based in Liverpool, where the CASA Community Branch has hundreds of members. Its activities include support for local people whose ongoing mental health problems have been exacerbated by the destruction caused by Government cuts of  facilities and services that once helped them.

Travelling east along the M62, the Leeds community branch is campaigning against the workfare programme under which benefit claimants are pressurised to work for nothing.

 Jobseekers allowance (JSA) rates are currently £71.00 for over 25s and £56.25 for 16-24 year olds. Surviving is the best anyone can hope to do. But with 2.6 million people unemployed, and around one million young people not in education, employment or training, finding work is difficult.

Rather than use public investment to revitalise the economy and create jobs, the Government’s solution is to force people to work for their benefits. Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) placements last four weeks. The Community Action Programme, for those on JSA for over three years, lasts six months and it is predicted that from 2013 to 2018 around one million people will be forced to work under this scheme. Attendance failures can result in benefit sanctions lasting from two weeks to six months, soon to be extended to three years.

This chimes with a much tougher sanctions regime being imposed on all claimants and there have been reports of claimants denied benefits after late running job interviews meant they missed a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) appointment.

The government claims its actions will combat poverty by helping people find work. But a DWP assessment in June confirmed MWA “had zero effect in helping people get a job.”  Hours later the then Employment Minister Chris Grayling announced he would be extending the schemes!

That’s good news for placement providers such as A4E who the Coalition has given more than £200 million of workfare contracts. Emma Harrison, A4E’s chairwoman and personal friend of David Cameron, paid herself an £8.6 million dividend in 2011 but resigned earlier this year following fraud allegations. A4E has a ‘success rate’ of just 3.5% when it comes to getting jobseekers into permanent employment.

Workfare is bad news for people in work, says 21-year old Leeds community member Jack Dillon, who, despite two A levels and numerous job applications, has been unemployed for a year.

“In Leicester the 2 Sisters Food Group has made hundreds redundant at their pizza factory but have meanwhile announced 100 pre-employment training jobs at their new Nottingham pizza toppings establishment. Without opposition, workfare will increasingly be used to replace paid jobs,” says Jack, who when he was interviewed was part of a branch team at Eastgate Job Centre in Leeds City Centre.

Hundreds of Unite leaflets were given to claimants and there was particular pleasure when one woman used the information to obtain a discount travel card that is available for those on JSA for six months. The branch has also taken the campaign direct to employers and held a picket of the local Argos where they informed customers about the retail giant’s exploitation of the unemployed through its workfare participation.

Callum Stanland is two years younger than Jack Dillon. A Leeds University student he joined Unite, “To show solidarity with working people and bring about positive change in the community.” Callum has been elected to the Unite regional youth committee and believes more young people who are opposed to government cuts will consider joining Unite once they discover they don’t have to be working to get involved.

Age itself is no barrier to joining the Unite community membership scheme. In Hull, Joe and Rosalie Kelly were active members of the RMT and NUPE when they were working. After retiring to Spain they returned to Rosalie’s hometown two years ago and they “welcomed” the chance to join Unite.

Their branch is supporting the campaign to defend the local NHS. Three hundred jobs are set to go and ten wards closed in order to save £99 million.  “We fear that, along with the shift in commissioning of NHS services towards GP practices, the heath service is being privatised,” says Rosalie.

The pair want to involve local unemployed young people. Hull has the UK’s highest unemployment rate and the Orchard Park Estate where they live has been badly hit by the recession. This has allowed the English Defence League to flourish and a Facebook page shows the far-right group has 38 supporters on the estate.

“Not all are active, but it’s a worrying sign of what can happen if there are no alternatives presented to the current crisis and the unemployed are left isolated. Unite can help by bringing people together and creating a sense of social solidarity”, says Joe.