Finland has found the answer to homelessness. It couldnt be simpler | Harry Quilter-Pinner

With the number of rough sleepers in Britain soaring, its time we got over our prejudices, writes Harry Quilter-Pinner, who works at the homelessness charity SCT

I was born in Liverpool and grew up on a council estate. I had a clean home, toys and nice meals as a kid. When I was nine years old, the sexual abuse started. My abusers made me feel special. They gave me gifts, moneys, cigarettes and sweets. When I was 13 I ran away from home and soon found myself in the murky world of prostitution on the streets. My life was out of control.

This is how it all started for Simon. I met him 23 years later at SCT, a local charity I help to run in east London that offers support to people who are homeless and face alcohol and drug addiction. He used to make me coffee every morning at the social enterprise cafe we run. In the intervening period he had spent years in and out of hostels and institutions, as well as long spells on the streets.

When I met him, Simon was sober and working for the first time in years. He said at the time that SCT offered me the opportunity to get my life back on track. Life is worth living now. Im looking forward to my future. Tragically, this future wasnt to be: soon afterwards he decided to return to the streets and died as a result.

I would like to be able to say that Simons story is an exception. But in reality it is all too familiar, as new statistics published by the Guardian showed on Wednesday. The number of homeless people dying on the streets or in temporary accommodation in the UK has more than doubled over the past five years to more than one per week. The average age of a rough sleeper when they die is 43, about half the UK life expectancy.

The tragedy is that its entirely within our power to do something about it: homelessness is not a choice made by the individual, it is a reality forced by government policy. As homelessness has rocketed in the UK up 134% since 2010 it has fallen by 35% in Finland over a similar period of time. The Finnish government is now aiming to abolish it altogether in the coming years.

I recently travelled to Finland to understand how it had done this. It turns out its solution is painfully simple and blindingly obvious: give homes to homeless people. As Juha Kaakinen, who has led much of the work on housing first in Finland, explained to me when I met him in Helsinki, this takes housing as a basic human right rather than being conditional on engaging in services for addictions or mental health.

This is fundamentally different to our model in the UK, where stable accommodation is only provided as a reward for engaging in treatment services. The problem with this is obvious if you stop and think about it: how do we expect people to address complex personal problems while exposed to the chaos of life on the streets?

Sceptics will argue that giving homes to homeless people is a recipe for disaster. Arent we just subsidising addiction? Wont we end up with huge bills when it all goes wrong? Dont people need an incentive to get their lives back on track and engage in services?

Actually, no. The evidence from Finland as well as numerous other pilot schemes across the world shows the opposite is true. When people are given homes, homelessness is radically reduced, engagement in support services goes up and recovery rates from addiction are comparable to a treatment first approach. Even more impressive is that there are overall savings for government, as peoples use of emergency health services and the criminal justice system is lessened.

At the last election, the government committed to pilot a housing first approach in the UK. This isnt good enough we dont need another pilot. During my time in Finland I didnt see one homeless person. Within a few hours of coming back to London I walked past more than 100 rough sleepers queuing for food in the rain, just a few minutes from parliament. What we need is action. Ending homelessness is eminently achievable if we have the moral capacity and will to take proper action. We must overcome our prejudices and our apathy. The status quo is simply not good enough.

Harry Quilter-Pinner is director of strategy at SCT, a homelessness and addictions charity in east London. He is also a research fellow at IPPR, the UKs progressive thinktank. He writes here in a personal capacity

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/12/finland-homelessness-rough-sleepers-britain

Finland is the happiest country in the world, says UN report

Nordic nations take top four places in happiness rankings, with annual study also charting the decline of the US

Finland has overtaken Norway to become the happiest nation on earth, according to a UN report.

The 2018 World Happiness Report also charts the steady decline of the US as the worlds largest economy grapples with a crisis of obesity, substance abuse and depression.

The study reveals the US has slipped to 18th place, five places down on 2016. The top four places are taken by Nordic nations, with Finland followed by Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

Burundi in east Africa, scarred by bouts of ethnic cleansing, civil wars and coup attempts, is the unhappiest place in the world. Strikingly, there are five other nations Rwanda, Yemen, Tanzania, South Sudan and the Central African Republic which report happiness levels below that of even Syria.

For the first time the UN also examined the happiness levels of immigrants in each country, and found Finland also scored highest.

Finland has vaulted from fifth place to the top of the rankings this year, said the reports authors, although they noted that the other three Nordic countries (plus Switzerland) have almost interchangeable scores.

The report, an annual publication from the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, said all the Nordic countries scored highly on income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. The rankings are based on Gallup polls of self-reported wellbeing, as well as perceptions of corruption, generosity and freedom.

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The UN placing is the latest accolade for Finland, a country of 5.5 million people that only 150 years ago suffered Europes last naturally caused famine. The country has been ranked the most stable, the safest and best governed country in the world. It is also among the least corrupt and the most socially progressive. Its police are the worlds most trusted and its banks the soundest.

That Finland is the top scorer is remarkable, said Meik Wiking of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark. GDP per capita in Finland is lower than its neighbouring Nordic countries and is much lower than that of the US. The Finns are good at converting wealth into wellbeing.

In the Nordic countries in general, we pay some of the highest taxes in the world, but there is wide public support for that because people see them as investments in quality of life for all. Free healthcare and university education goes a long way when it comes to happiness. In the Nordic countries, Bernie Sanders is not viewed as progressive he is just common sense, added Wiking, referring to the leftwing US politician who galvanised the Democrat primaries in the 2016 presidential election.

In Britain, figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest people have become happier in recent years. But the UN ranking places the UK in a lowly 19th place, the same as last year but behind Germany, Canada and Australia, although ahead of France and Spain.

The UN report devotes a special chapter to why the US, once towards the top of happiness table, has slipped down the league despite having among the highest income per capita.

Americas subjective wellbeing is being systematically undermined by three interrelated epidemic diseases, notably obesity, substance abuse (especially opioid addiction) and depression, said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University in New York, and one of the reports authors.

Despite African countries getting the worst happiness scores, one west African nation has bucked the trend. Togo came bottom in 2015 but was the biggest improver in the 2018 report, rising 18 places. Latvians and Bulgarians are also reporting higher levels of happiness.

Venezuela recorded the biggest fall in happiness, outstripping even Syria, although in absolute terms it remains a mid-ranking country. The report notes that Latin American countries generally scored more highly than their GDP per capita suggests, especially in contrast to fast-growing east Asian countries.

Latin America is renowned for corruption, high violence and crime rates, unequal distribution of income and widespread poverty, yet has consistently scored relatively highly in the happiness report. The authors attributed this to the abundance of family warmth and other supportive social relationships frequently sidelined in favour of an emphasis on income measures in the development discourse.

Meanwhile, the greatest human migration in history the hundreds of millions of people who have moved from the Chinese countryside into cities has not advanced happiness at all, the report found.

Even seven-and-a-half years after migrating to urban areas, migrants from rural areas are on average less happy than they might have been had they stayed at home, according to John Knight of the Oxford Chinese Economy Programme at the University of Oxford and one of the contributors to the UN report.

Top 10 happiest countries, 2018

(2017 ranking in brackets)

1. Finland (5)

2. Norway (1)

3. Denmark (2)

4. Iceland (3)

5. Switzerland (4)

6. Netherlands (6)

7. Canada (7)

8. New Zealand (8)

9. Sweden (10)

10. Australia (9)

The 10 unhappiest countries, 2018

(2017 ranking in brackets)

147. Malawi (136)

148. Haiti (145)

149. Liberia (148)

150. Syria (152)

151. Rwanda (151)

152. Yemen (146)

153. Tanzania (153)

154. South Sudan (147)

155. Central African Republic (155)

156. Burundi (154)

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/14/finland-happiest-country-world-un-report

DPD courier who was fined for day off to see doctor dies from diabetes

Don Lanes widow says he was afraid of getting fined if he did not ensure his round was covered

DPD courier who was fined for day off to see doctor dies from diabetes

Don Lanes widow says he was afraid of getting fined if he did not ensure his round was covered

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/feb/05/courier-who-was-fined-for-day-off-to-see-doctor-dies-from-diabetes

Mark E Smith, founder and lead singer with the Fall, dies aged 60

Famously fractious singer had been suffering from ill health throughout 2017

Mark E Smith, founder and lead singer with the Fall, dies aged 60

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jan/24/mark-e-smith-lead-singer-with-the-fall-dies-aged-60

NHS patients dying in hospital corridors, A&E doctors tell Theresa May

Doctors running 68 A&E departments tell PM patients are dying prematurely because staff are too busy to treat them

Patients are dying in hospital corridors during the ongoing winter crisis because the NHS is so underfunded and short-staffed that it cannot cope, senior doctors have warned Theresa May.

A&E units are under such intense strain that patients are at intolerable risk of being harmed by receiving poor care, specialists in emergency medicine from 68 hospitals have told the prime minister in a letter of unprecedented alarm.

In recent weeks some hospitals have become so overloaded that they have been looking after as many as 120 patients a day in corridors, with some dying prematurely as a result, the letter says.

The doctors, consultants who work in or run A&E units in England and Wales, have written to May to highlight the very serious concerns we have for the safety of our patients. This current level of safety compromise is at times intolerable, despite the best efforts of staff.

Conditions in many A&E units are so appalling that they could kill patients, claim the signatories, who work at both major teaching hospitals and smaller district general hospitals. They include Frimley health trust in Surrey, which May visited last week in an attempt to reassure the public that the NHS was coping well this winter.

As you will know a number of scientific publications have shown that crowded emergency departments are dangerous for patients. The longer that the patients stay in [the] emergency department after their treatment has been completed, the greater is their morbidity and associated morbidity, they write.

Their intervention came as new NHS figures showed that the percentage of patients being treated within four hours at hospital-based A&E units in England fell last month to its lowest-ever level 77.3%. The performance of all types of settings offering A&E-type care taken together, including walk-in centres and urgent care centres, was better but still the joint worst ever at 85.1% far below the politically important target of 95%.

Graph

Only three of the NHSs 137 acute trusts hit the 95% target, while 32 were at or below 70%. Blackpool teaching hospitals trust had by far the lowest performance, at 40.1%. The figures reinforced the warning to ministers on Thursday from NHS Providers that it would be impossible to deliver on their pledge that all hospitals would be achieving 95% by March.

Our emergency departments are not just under pressure, but in a state of emergency, said Dr Taj Hassan, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which represents A&E doctors.

The NHS undertook unprecedented planning to help services cope with the annual spike in demand in December and January. Despite that, hospitals had a record number of emergency admissions last month 520,163, a 4.5% rise on the numbers admitted in December 2016.

A drive to free up 2,000-3,000 beds by 1 September, to avoid hospitals becoming dangerously full, appears to have failed. Separate NHS figures for last week show that 19 trusts were on 99% or 100% bed occupancy between 1 and 7 January. Three were completely full.

Average bed occupancy shot up last week to 95%, far higher than the 85% that experts say, and the NHS accepts, hospitals need to maintain in order to stop patients getting hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA or Clostridium difficile, or experiencing poor care.

Bed occupancy as high as 95% is a danger to patient safety, with around 7,000 fewer beds open than in the same period last year, said Hassan.

Drawing on their own experiences in recent weeks ,the doctors who signed the letter painted a stark picture of conditions inside A&E units. Common situations include over 50 patients at a time waiting beds in the emergency department [and] patients sleeping in clinics as makeshift wards.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said in response to the letter: There has been a 68.7% increase in the number of A&E consultants since 2010, and the NHS was given top priority in the recent budget with an extra 2.8bn allocated over the next two years.

But we know there is a great deal of pressure in A&E departments, and we are grateful to all NHS staff for their incredible work in challenging circumstances. Thats why we recently announced the largest single increase in doctor training places in the history of the NHS a 25% expansion.

May stressed on Thursday that flu was a key factor in the intense strain that NHS services were facing. We have seen the extra pressures that the NHS has come under this year. One of the issues that determines the extent of that pressure is flu and we have seen in recent days an increase in the number of people presenting at A&E from flu, she said.

Q&A

Why is the NHS winter crisis so bad in 2017-18?

A combination of factors are at play. Hospitals have fewer beds than last year, so they are less able to deal with the recent, ongoing surge in illness. Last week, for example, the bed occupancy rate at 17 of Englands 153 acute hospital trusts was 98% or more, with the fullest Walsall healthcare trust 99.9% occupied.

NHS England admits that the service has been under sustained pressure [recently because of] high levels of respiratory illness, bed occupancy levels giving limited capacity to deal with demand surges, early indications of increasing flu prevalence and some reports suggesting a rise in the severity of illness among patients arriving at A&Es.

Many NHS bosses and senior doctors say that the pressure the NHS is under now is the heaviest it has ever been. We are seeing conditions that people have not experienced in their working lives, says Dr Taj Hassan, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.

The unprecedented nature of the measures that NHS bosses have told hospitals to take including cancelling tens of thousands of operations and outpatient appointments until at least the end of January underlines the seriousness of the situation facing NHS services, including ambulance crews and GP surgeries.

Read a full Q&A on the NHS winter crisis

Hours after she spoke, new figures from Public Health England confirmed that flu was putting a sharply increased burden on GP surgeries as well as hospitals.

Last week 758 peple around the UK were hospialised because of flu, up from 421 the week before. Of those, 240 were so sick they had to be admitted to an intensive care or a high dependency unit, up from 114. The number of people consulting a GP with flu-like symptoms almost doubled.

A further 27 people died of flu-related symptoms last week, three more than the week before, taking the toll of deaths this winter to 85.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/11/nhs-patients-dying-in-hospital-corridors-doctors-tell-theresa-may

Damian Green sacked as first secretary of state after porn allegations

Green admits he made misleading statements after pornography was found on Commons computer in 2008

Damian Green has been sacked as first secretary of state after admitting he lied about the presence of pornographic images on his House of Commons computer.

An investigation by the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, found that Greens vehement denials after a Sunday newspaper reported that porn had been found on his computer were inaccurate and misleading.

His departure is a personal blow for Theresa May, who brought him into Downing Street after her majority was wiped out in Junes general election to help shore up her authority.

He is the third cabinet minister to step aside since early November, following the departures of Michael Fallon and Priti Patel.

In a letter responding to his resignation, the prime minister said she was extremely sad about losing Green from government. May said it was with deep regret and enduring gratitude for the contribution you have made over many years that I asked you to resign from the government and have accepted your resignation.

In his resignation letter, Green continued to maintain that he did not download or view the pornography, but added that he should have been clear in my press statements, that his lawyers were informed about its presence in 2008 and that he discussed it with the police in 2013.

Heywood found Green had twice breached the ministerial code, because his misleading comments had fallen short of the seven principles of public life, one of which is honesty.

He was unable to reach a definitive conclusion on separate allegations, made by the Tory activist Kate Maltby, that Green had behaved improperly towards her.

The cabinet secretarys report found that Maltbys account of a disputed meeting was plausible, but with competing and contradictory accounts of what were private meetings, it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion.

Sir
The investigation was led by cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood. Photograph: Press Association

In his letter, Green said: I deeply regret the distress caused to Kate Maltby following her article and the reaction to it. I do not recognise the events she described in her article, but I clearly made her feel uncomfortable and I apologise.

Maltby did not comment publicly on Wednesday evening, but her parents, Colin and Victoria Maltby, released a statement: We are pleased that the Cabinet Office has concluded its inquiry into the conduct of Damian Green. We are not surprised to find that the inquiry found Mr Green to have been untruthful as a minister, nor that they found our daughter to be a plausible witness.

We have received many supportive messages from people near and far who appreciate Kates courage and the importance of speaking out about the abuse of authority. We join with them in admiring her fortitude and serenity throughout the length of the investigation and despite the attempted campaign in certain sections of the media to denigrate and intimidate her and other witnesses. We are proud of her.

In her letter to Green, May welcomed the fact that he had apologised to Maltby.

Speaking on Thursday morning, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, acknowledged that Green had been sacked for lying, adding: I think lots of people who understand the context would appreciate why that might have happened. But that doesnt make it any more acceptable.

He told BBC Radio 4s Today programme the episode showed that cabinet ministers were held to the very highest standard of conduct. But, he said: I think we should probably remember that those are standards that would probably not apply in other countries.

Labours Jess Phillips told the same programme the decision had taken too long and that the allegations made by Maltby were still hanging over Green.

The investigation said that Kate Maltby was credible and plausible and what they found that they couldnt prove was the sexual harassment charge.

However, Im not convinced by that. Ive seen all of the evidence thats in the public domain: text messages between Damian Green and Kate Maltby, text messages between Kate Maltby and her friends at the time, saying how uncomfortable shed felt, whether she felt she had to report it.

She said that, although it was not officially acknowledged, she believed those allegations had contributed to Mays decision to sack Green.

The prime minister also used her letter to criticise the conduct of police officers who carried out the raid on Greens parliamentary office in 2008, when the pornography was discovered, and revealed aspects of the case to the media in recent weeks.

I shared the concerns raised from across the political spectrum when your parliamentary office was raided in 2008 when you were a shadow minister holding the Labour government to account, she said. Greens office was raided as police investigated a series of leaks from inside the Home Office.

The allegations about porn being found on his computer were the latest chapter in a long-running feud between Green and Bob Quick, the former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, who oversaw the raid almost a decade ago.

Following a Sunday Times report last month claiming there was extreme pornography on his parliamentary computer, which quoted Quick, Green issued a hard-hitting late night statement branding him a tainted and untrustworthy source who had been trying for some time to cause him political damage.

He dismissed the porn allegations as false, disreputable political smears from a discredited police officer acting in flagrant breach of his duty and little more than an unscrupulous character assassination. Quick subsequently threatened to sue Green for libel.

May was handed Heywoods report on Monday, and subsequently sought a second opinion from Sir Alex Allan, the prime ministers independent adviser on ministers interests.

Quick guide

Damian Green’s comments on the porn allegations

What Damian Green said:

4 November

The police have never suggested to me that improper material was found on my parliamentary computer, nor did I have a private computer, as has been claimed.

“The allegations about the material and computer, now nine years old, are false, disreputable political smears from a discredited police officer acting in flagrant breach of his duty to keep the details of police investigations confidential, and amount to little more than an unscrupulous character assassination.”

11 November

“I reiterate that no allegations about the presence of improper material on my parliamentary computers have ever been put to me or to the parliamentary authorities by the police. I can only assume that they are being made now, nine years later, for ulterior motives.”

20 December

I accept that I should have been clear in my press statements that police lawyers talked to my lawyers in 2008 about the pornography on the computers, and that the police raised it with me in a subsequent phone call in 2013.

“I apologise that my statements were misleading on this point. The unfounded and deeply hurtful allegations that were being levelled at me were distressing both to me and my family and it is right that these are being investigated by the Metropolitan polices professional standards department.

Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP

A summary of the investigation, released by No 10 on Wednesday night, said: Mr Greens statements of 4 and 11 November, which suggested that he was not aware that indecent material was found on parliamentary computers in his office, were inaccurate and misleading, as the Metropolitan police service had previously informed him of the existence of this material.

As first secretary of state, Green effectively acted as deputy prime minister, standing in for May at prime ministers questions and sitting alongside her on the frontbench in the Commons.

Green was a friend of Mays from when the pair were at Oxford University together, and one of a handful of older ministers she brought back into government when she arrived in Downing Street in July last year and dispatched many of David Camerons allies to the backbenches.

May flies to Poland at the start of a two-day foreign trip on Thursday, and is not expected to appoint a replacement for Green until parliament returns from its Christmas recess in the new year.

She is then expected to carry out a wider reshuffle, bringing some of the new generation of Conservative MPs into the cabinet in order to refresh the government.

The allegations about Green emerged as women began to share their experiences of sexual misconduct in political life after the revelations of inappropriate behaviour by media mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Fallon stepped down as defence secretary after admitting he had not met the standards required of the armed forces of which he was in charge, after the journalist Jane Merrick said he had lunged at her after a lunch.

Several other investigations are continuing, including that into trade minister Mark Garnier, who admitted asking an assistant to buy sex toys.

Green has continued to carry out his ministerial duties since the investigation was announced, and colleagues including the Brexit secretary, David Davis supported him in the face of the allegations made by the police officers.

A retired Met detective, Neil Lewis, went public with claims that thousands of thumbnail images of legal pornography had been found.

Following Lewis and Quicks interventions, Cressida Dick, the Mets commissioner, said former officers who spoke out about investigations could face prosecution.

Labour said it was right that May had finally been forced to sack Green. A spokesperson said: The public deserve the highest standards from ministers, which begs questions around the prime ministers judgment and why she delayed this decision for so long. To lose her number two in government in such a way, and so soon after two other ministers, leaves her further weakened.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/dec/20/damian-green-resigns-as-first-secretary-of-state-after-porn-allegations

Universities deplore McCarthyism as MP demands list of tutors lecturing on Brexit

Tory whip writes to every vice-chancellor to ask for syllabus and any online material

Academics are accusing a Tory MP and government whip of McCarthyite behaviour, after he wrote to all universities asking them to declare what they are teaching their students about Brexit and to provide a list of teachers names.

Chris Heaton-Harris, Conservative MP for Daventry and a staunch Eurosceptic, wrote to vice-chancellors at the start of this month asking for the names of any professors involved in teaching European affairs with particular reference to Brexit. Neatly ignoring the long tradition of academic freedom that universities consider crucial to their success, his letter asks for a copy of each universitys syllabus and any online lectures on Brexit.

Prof David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University, felt a chill down his spine when he read the sinister request: This letter just asking for information appears so innocent but is really so, so dangerous, he says. Here is the first step to the thought police, the political censor and newspeak, naturally justified as the will of the British people, a phrase to be found on Mr Heaton-Harriss website. Green will be replying to the MP but not be providing the information requested.

MP's
Heaton-Harriss letter

Prof Kevin Featherstone, head of the European Institute at the LSE, is also outraged: The letter reflects a past of a McCarthyite nature. It smacks of asking: are you or have you ever been in favour of remain? There is clearly an implied threat that universities will somehow be challenged for their bias. Featherstone says LSE academics had already feared Brexit censorship after the Electoral Commission made inquiries during last years referendum campaign about academics debates and research, following a complaint by Bernard Jenkin, another Tory MP. Jenkin filed a complaint when the LSE hosted an event at which the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said there was no upside for the UK in Brexit. Jenkin, a board member of the Vote Leave campaign, also accused the LSEs Centre for Economic Performance of producing partisan research designed to convince the public to stay in the EU. The commission, whose job is to ensure fair campaigning, investigated and took no action against the university.

A spokesman for the LSE strenuously denies all allegations of political bias. The freedom for academics to study the major issues facing society, reach their own conclusions, and engage in public debate is essential for the health of our universities and the UKs world-leading research base, he says.

Featherstone says: I understand the LSE received calls from the Electoral Commission asking about speakers and the costs of events on an almost daily basis throughout the campaign period. He argues that both Heaton-Harriss letter and the Electoral Commissions investigation pose a threat to the role of universities as free intellectual spaces where academics can explore and question ideas without political interference. He says both developments risk plunging universities into dangerous new political waters.

The Electoral Commission says universities have nothing to fear from its inquiries. We produce guidance to help all non-party campaigners understand the rules on campaigning and we can advise universities in cases where they may be affected. These do not prevent campaigning or engagement in public debate, but provide the public with transparency about who is spending what in order to influence their vote.

Prof
Prof David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University: Here is the first step to the thought police, the political censor. Photograph: James Watkins

More than 80% of academics voted to remain, according to a YouGov survey [pdf] commissioned by the University and College Union in January. And within university departments focusing on European affairs, Brexiters are a rarity.

However, university experts on Brexit insist their personal views do not jaundice their teaching, and students are encouraged to question received assumptions and look at issues from all sides.

Julie Smith, director of the European Centre in the politics and international studies department at Cambridge University, says she told a lecture full of graduates about Heaton-Harriss letter last week. I told the students what my personal views were and emphasised that they were personal views. I voted to remain, but as an academic, my job is to impart knowledge, encourage debate and develop skills of analytical argument, not to impose doctrine.

Smith, who is also a Liberal Democrat peer, adds: If it is the case that a politician thinks he should interfere in the content of what universities are teaching and look at syllabi in order to see whether the correct line is being delivered, that is profoundly worrying.

Prof Piet Eeckhout, academic director of University College Londons European Institute, says it is unsurprising if most academics working on Europe are in favour of the EU. I have been teaching EU law for the last 25 years. The fact that I am sufficiently interested to spend all my days working on it obviously means I think EU law is a good thing.

Prof
Prof Kevin Featherstone, director of the European Institute at the LSE: The letter reflects a past of a McCarthyite nature

Pro-Brexit academics working in this area are also unhappy with the MPs behaviour. Lee Jones, reader in international politics at Queen Mary University of London, is one of the few openly pro-Brexit academics in his field. During the referendum campaign I said what I wanted and no one tried to shut me up, but I know colleagues elsewhere who have been blanked in the corridors because they voted to leave.

Yet Jones, too, is outraged by Heaton-Harriss investigation. It is really troubling that an MP thinks it is within his remit to start poking his nose into university teaching, he says. Universities are autonomous and politicians have no right to intimidate academics by scrutinising their courses. I have colleagues who are die-hard remainers. But I know what they teach and it is not propaganda.

Chris Bickerton, reader in modern European politics at Cambridge University, and a fellow leave voter agrees. He adds: In my institution there is strong support for academic freedom. I applied for promotion after the referendum and never did I worry that my views on Brexit would affect the results or my promotional prospects. Nor did I feel any institutional pressure to think one way or the other in the runup to the vote itself.

Heaton-Harris did not respond to requests for a comment.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/24/universities-mccarthyism-mp-demands-list-brexit-chris-heaton-harris

Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals

Exclusive: Tests show billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health.

Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.

The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agencys headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood.

We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that its having on wildlife, to be concerned, said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. If its impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that its not going to somehow impact us?

A
A magnified image of clothing microfibres from washing machine effluent. One study found that a fleece jacket can shed as many as 250,000 fibres per wash. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

A separate small study in the Republic of Ireland released in June also found microplastic contamination in a handful of tap water and well samples. We dont know what the [health] impact is and for that reason we should follow the precautionary principle and put enough effort into it now, immediately, so we can find out what the real risks are, said Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, who conducted the research.

Mahon said there were two principal concerns: very small plastic particles and the chemicals or pathogens that microplastics can harbour. If the fibres are there, it is possible that the nanoparticles are there too that we cant measure, she said. Once they are in the nanometre range they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be worrying. The Orb analyses caught particles of more than 2.5 microns in size, 2,500 times bigger than a nanometre.

Microplastics can attract bacteria found in sewage, Mahon said: Some studies have shown there are more harmful pathogens on microplastics downstream of wastewater treatment plants.

Plastic fibres found in tap water across the world

Microplastics are also known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals and research on wild animals shows they are released in the body. Prof Richard Thompson, at Plymouth University, UK, told Orb: It became clear very early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release. His research has shown microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the UK.

The scale of global microplastic contamination is only starting to become clear, with studies in Germany finding fibres and fragments in all of the 24 beer brands they tested, as well as in honey and sugar. In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits three to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, and that it was also present in the air in peoples homes.

This research led Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at Kings College London, to tell a UK parliamentary inquiry in 2016: If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation. Having seen the Orb data, Kelly told the Guardian that research is urgently needed to determine whether ingesting plastic particles is a health risk.

The new research tested 159 samples using a standard technique to eliminate contamination from other sources and was performed at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The samples came from across the world, including from Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia.

How microplastics end up in drinking water is for now a mystery, but the atmosphere is one obvious source, with fibres shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets. Tumble dryers are another potential source, with almost 80% of US households having dryers that usually vent to the open air.

We really think that the lakes [and other water bodies] can be contaminated by cumulative atmospheric inputs, said Johnny Gasperi, at the University Paris-Est Creteil, who did the Paris studies. What we observed in Paris tends to demonstrate that a huge amount of fibres are present in atmospheric fallout.

Plastic fibres may also be flushed into water systems, with a recent study finding that each cycle of a washing machine could release 700,000 fibres into the environment. Rains could also sweep up microplastic pollution, which could explain why the household wells used in Indonesia were found to be contaminated.

In Beirut, Lebanon, the water supply comes from natural springs but 94% of the samples were contaminated. This research only scratches the surface, but it seems to be a very itchy one, said Hussam Hawwa, at the environmental consultancy Difaf, which collected samples for Orb.

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This planktonic arrow worm, Sagitta setosa, has eaten a blue plastic fibre about 3mm long. Plankton support the entire marine food chain. Photograph: Richard Kirby/Courtesy of Orb Media

Current standard water treatment systems do not filter out all of the microplastics, Mahon said: There is nowhere really where you can say these are being trapped 100%. In terms of fibres, the diameter is 10 microns across and it would be very unusual to find that level of filtration in our drinking water systems.

Bottled water may not provide a microplastic-free alternative to tapwater, as the they were also found in a few samples of commercial bottled water tested in the US for Orb.

Almost 300m tonnes of plastic is produced each year and, with just 20% recycled or incinerated, much of it ends up littering the air, land and sea. A report in July found 8.3bn tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s, with the researchers warning that plastic waste has become ubiquitous in the environment.

We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late, said Prof Roland Geyer, from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who led the study.

Mahon said the new tap water analyses raise a red flag, but that more work is needed to replicate the results, find the sources of contamination and evaluate the possible health impacts.

She said plastics are very useful, but that management of the waste must be drastically improved: We need plastics in our lives, but it is us that is doing the damage by discarding them in very careless ways.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals

Terry Pratchett’s unfinished novels destroyed by steamroller

Unpublished works are lost for ever with crushing of computer hard drive as the late fantasy novelist had instructed

The unfinished books of Sir Terry Pratchett have been destroyed by a steamroller, following the late fantasy novelists wishes.

Pratchetts hard drive was crushed by a vintage John Fowler & Co steamroller named Lord Jericho at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, ahead of the opening of a new exhibition about the authors life and work.

Pratchett, famous for his colourful and satirical Discworld series, died in March 2015 after a long battle with Alzheimers disease.

After his death, fellow fantasy author Neil Gaiman, Pratchetts close friend and collaborator , told the Times that Pratchett had wanted whatever he was working on at the time of his death to be taken out along with his computers, to be put in the middle of a road and for a steamroller to steamroll over them all.

On Friday, Rob Wilkins, who manages the Pratchett estate, tweeted from an official Twitter account that he was about to fulfil my obligation to Terry along with a picture of an intact computer hard drive following up with a tweet that showed the hard drive in pieces.

The symbolism of the moment, which captured something of Pratchetts unique sense of humour, was not lost on fans, who responded on Twitter with a wry melancholy, though some people expressed surprise that the author who had previously discussed churning through computer hardware at a rapid rate would have stored his unfinished work on an apparently older model of hard drive.

The hard drive will go on display as part of a major exhibition about the authors life and work, Terry Pratchett: HisWorld, which opens at the Salisbury museum in September.

The author of over 70 novels, Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease in 2007.

He became an advocate for assisted dying, giving a moving lecture on the subject, Shaking Hands With Death, in 2010, and presenting a documentary for the BBC called Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die.

He continued to write and publish, increasingly with the assistance of others, until his death in 2015. Two novels were published posthumously: The Long Utopia (a collaboration with Stephen Baxter) and The Shepherds Crown, the final Discworld novel.

The Salisbury museum exhibition will run from 16 September until 13 January 2018.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/30/terry-pratchett-unfinished-novels-destroyed-streamroller

Teenage boys wear skirts to school to protest against ‘no shorts’ policy

Dozens of pupils at Isca academy in Exeter stage uniform protest after school insists they wear trousers despite heatwave

Some had borrowed from girlfriends, others from sisters. A few had gone the extra mile and shaved their legs. When the Isca academy in Devon opened on Thursday morning, an estimated 30 boys arrived for lessons, heads held high, in fetching tartan-patterned skirts. The hottest June days since 1976 had led to a bare-legged revolution at the secondary school in Exeter.

As the temperature soared past 30C earlier this week, the teenage boys had asked their teachers if they could swap their long trousers for shorts. They were told no shorts werent permitted under the schools uniform policy.

When they protested that the girls were allowed bare legs, the school no doubt joking said the boys were free to wear skirts too if they chose. So on Wednesday, a handful braved the giggles and did so. The scale of the rebellion increased on Thurday, when at least 30 boys opted for the attire.

Quite refreshing was how one of the boys described the experience, pointing out that if even Royal Ascot had allowed racegoers in the royal enclosure to remove their jackets, then the school ought to relax its dress code. Another said he rather enjoyed the nice breeze his skirt had afforded him.

A third, tall boy said he was told his short skirt exposed too much hairy leg. Some of the boys visited a shop on their way to Isca the name the Romans gave to Exeter to pick up razors to make sure they did not fall foul of any beauty police.

Ironically, the temperature had dropped in Exeter to a more manageable 20C, but some boys said they had enjoyed the freedom afforded by the skirts and that they might continue.

The school said it was prepared to think again in the long term. The headteacher, Aimee Mitchell, said: We recognise that the last few days have been exceptionally hot and we are doing our utmost to enable both students and staff to remain as comfortable as possible.

Shorts are not currently part of our uniform for boys, and I would not want to make any changes without consulting both students and their families. However, with hotter weather becoming more normal, I would be happy to consider a change for the future.

It was too late. The revolution was picked up by media organisations across the globe, and Devon county council was forced to help the school out with inquiries. A spokesperson said: About 30 boys arrived at school this morning wearing school skirts. None of the boys have been penalised no one was put in isolation or detention for wearing a skirt.

The mother of one of the boys who began the protest said she was proud of him. Claire Lambeth, 43, said her son Ryan, 15, had come home earlier in the week complaining about the heat. He said it was unbearable. I spoke to a teacher to ask about shorts and she said it was school policy [that they could not be worn]. I did say this was exceptional weather, but they were having none of it. If girls can wear skirts, why cant boys wear shorts?

Ryan came up with the idea of wearing a skirt, so that evening we borrowed one. He wore it the next day as did five other boys. Then this morning I didnt expect it to take off like that. The school is being silly really this is exceptional weather. I was very proud of Ryan. I think it was a great idea.

Another mother said: My 14-year-old son wanted to wear shorts. The headteacher told them: Well, you can wear a skirt if you like but I think she was being sarcastic. However, children tend to take you literally, and because she told them it was OK, there was nothing she could do as long as they were school skirts.

A third mother said: Children also dont like injustice. The boys see the female teachers in sandals and nice cool skirts and tops while they are wearing long trousers and shoes and the older boys have to wear blazers. They just think its unfair that they cant wear shorts in this heat.

There were signs that the revolution might be spreading. The Guardian has heard of at least one more school in Wiltshire where one boy turned up in a skirt, although it did not go down quite so well with his friends.

And schoolboys were not the only ones making controversial dress choices because of the heat. Michael Wood, who works as a porter at Watford general hospital, claimed he was facing disciplinary action from his employers Medirest for rolling his trousers up to try to cool down. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment on the case, but said: The health and safety of our colleagues is always our number one priority.

What happened to summer school uniforms? Matthew Easter, managing director of the schoolwear supplier Trutex, said they had become less popular for reasons of economy. Its really up to the individual school to decide, but the headteacher is in a difficult position. A decade or so ago, summer wear was more popular, but theres been a change recently to try to make uniforms as economical as possible. Summer uniforms are only worn for a matter of weeks.

If parents havent bought uniform shorts, then some children may feel disadvantaged, so perhaps the decision in this case is simply down to fairness.

It may be that the weather will solve the problem for the school. The Exeter-based Met Office situated up the road from the school predicts pleasant, but not searing, temperatures over the coming week.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jun/22/teenage-boys-wear-skirts-to-school-protest-no-shorts-uniform-policy