Rules of engagement

The latest hostage situation leaves many wondering how best to approach already complicated relation

The diplomatic stand off that began on March 23 between the Iranian and British governments finally came to an end on April 4, to the delight of everyone involved. Sunny Hundal had a view shared by many who did not believe the increasingly strong publicity rallying behind the British government. He said, “This is not to say Iran’s actions were justified or right but any call for war was just idiotic posturing that the Foreign Office was never going to take seriously.”

It remains to be seen whether or not we will ever find out the true version of events which led to this hostage crisis. Iain Dale said he had “conflicting emotions while watching the conversations between the Navy personnel and the Iranian President after his press conference. I’m sure many of us could say the same. Craig Murray said it was evidence that a "softly, softly" approach could prove effective with Iran.

It is nearly election time again for local councils in England, for the Welsh Assembly and for the Scottish Parliament. Mike Tansey pointed out how there are 16 independent candidates for the Sunderland local election who had submitted their nomination papers by the time nominations closed on Wednesday. And for anyone who missed the drunken antics of a young Lib-Dem candidate in Scotland, the Ridiculous Politics blog has the details.

The Spy blog questions the Government’s latest plans to introduce ‘shouting’ CCTV cameras. This blog hits the nail right on the head. It asks, “The immediate question which springs to mind is why the existing CCTV
surveillance cameras, linked as they must be to a live camera operator in a control room, they have not already eliminated such behaviour? That is the false promise on which hundreds of millions of pounds of Central Government and Local Government funds have been spent on such systems.”

And Ellee Seymour highlighted details of a woman who won an industrial tribunal this week against her employer which sacked her for blogging while at work. Under the pseudonym of La Petite Anglaise, Catherine Sanderson won a year’s salary, plus costs, after the tribunal agreed there was no evidence to prove she had brought disrepute to the company. She had often blogged from work at Dixon Wilson, where she worked as a secretary. She has also won a lucrative book deal in which she tells her story in full.

Adam Haigh studies on the postgraduate journalism diploma at Cardiff University. Last year he lived in Honduras and worked freelance for the newspaper, Honduras This Week.
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Universal Credit takes £3,700 from single working parents - it's time to call a halt

The shadow work and pensions secretary on the latest analysis of a controversial benefit. 

Labour is calling for the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) to be halted as new data shows that while wages are failing to keep up with inflation, cuts to in-work social security support have meant most net incomes have flat-lined in real terms and in some cases worsened, with women and people from ethnic minority communities most likely to be worst affected.

Analysis I commissioned from the House of Commons Library shows that real wages are stagnating and in-work support is contracting for both private and public sector workers. 

Private sector workers like Kellie, a cleaner at Manchester airport, who is married and has a four year old daughter. She told me how by going back to work after the birth of her daughter resulted in her losing in-work tax credits, which made her day-to-day living costs even more difficult to handle. 

Her child tax credits fail to even cover food or pack lunches for her daughter and as a result she has to survive on a very tight weekly budget just to ensure her daughter can eat properly. 

This is the everyday reality for too many people in communities across the UK. People like Kellie who have to make difficult and stressful choices that are having lasting implications on the whole family. 

Eventually Kellie will be transferred onto UC. She told me how she is dreading the transition onto UC, as she is barely managing to get by on tax credits. The stories she hears about having to wait up to 10 weeks before you receive payment and the failure of payments to match tax credits are causing her real concern.

UC is meant to streamline social security support,  and bring together payments for several benefits including tax credits and housing benefit. But it has been plagued by problems in the areas it has been trialled, not least because of the fact claimants must wait six weeks before the first payment. An increased use of food banks has been observed, along with debt, rent arrears, and even homelessness.

The latest evidence came from Citizens Advice in July. The charity surveyed 800 people who sought help with universal credit in pilot areas, and found that 39 per cent were waiting more than six weeks to receive their first payment and 57 per cent were having to borrow money to get by during that time.

Our analysis confirms Universal Credit is just not fit for purpose. It looks at different types of households and income groups, all working full time. It shows single parents with dependent children are hit particularly hard, receiving up to £3,100 a year less than they received with tax credits - a massive hit on any family budget.

A single teacher with two children working full time, for example, who is a new claimant to UC will, in real terms, be around £3,700 a year worse off in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12.

Or take a single parent of two who is working in the NHS on full-time average earnings for the public sector, and is a new tax credit claimant. They will be more than £2,000 a year worse off in real-terms in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12. 

Equality analysis published in response to a Freedom of Information request also revealed that predicted cuts to Universal Credit work allowances introduced in 2016 would fall most heavily on women and ethnic minorities. And yet the government still went ahead with them.

It is shocking that most people on low and middle incomes are no better off than they were five years ago, and in some cases they are worse off. The government’s cuts to in-work support of both tax credits and Universal Credit are having a dramatic, long lasting effect on people’s lives, on top of stagnating wages and rising prices. 

It’s no wonder we are seeing record levels of in-work poverty. This now stands at a shocking 7.4 million people.

Our analyses make clear that the government’s abject failure on living standards will get dramatically worse if UC is rolled out in its current form.

This exactly why I am calling for the roll out to be stopped while urgent reform and redesign of UC is undertaken. In its current form UC is not fit for purpose. We need to ensure that work always pays and that hardworking families are properly supported. 

Labour will transform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment, and creating a fair society for the many, not the few. 

Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.