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NIESR forecast 0.5 per cent shrinkage in 2012

Return to growth in 2013, but stagnation continues.

The National Institute for Economic and Social Research has released its quarterly economic forecast for Britain. It predicts the economy will contract by 0.5 per cent over 2012, and then return to a low level of growth in 2013, with GDP increasing by just 1.3 per cent over the year.

The forecasts also predict unemployment taking a second upward swing, peaking next year at 8.6 per cent, 0.4 percentage points up from where it is currently. The structural deficit, orignally planned to be eliminated by 2015, will take until 2016-17 to be reduced to nothing.

Inflation should drop under its 2 percent target this year, which is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, high inflation coupled with stagnating wages has made life harder for many, but the inflation target is usually seen as a symettrical one. If it drops too low (below one per cent) that's just as bad as it being too high. In addition, of course, there are questions as to whether targeting inflation is even the right thing to be doing in the circumstances. The sort of looser monetary policy which many believe could bring us out of depression would almost certainly lead to increased inflation, and that surely isn't a bad thing given the consequences.

NIESR agrees that the second quarter was abnormally hurt by the "jubilee effect", but points out that even without that, the trend is negative. The overall conclusion on growth figures, however, mirrors a case we made in April: technical recession on its own doesn't matter, when whichever side of the barrier we fall, Britain is firmly in stagnation.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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When will the government take action to tackle the plight of circus animals?

Britain is lagging behind the rest of the world - and innocent animals are paying the price. 

It has been more than a year since the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to passing legislation to impose a ban on the suffering of circus animals in England and Wales. How long does it take to get something done in Parliament?

I was an MP for more than two decades, so that’s a rhetorical question. I’m well aware that important issues like this one can drag on, but the continued lack of action to help stop the suffering of animals in circuses is indefensible.

Although the vast majority of the British public doesn’t want wild animals used in circuses (a public consultation on the issue found that more than 94 per cent of the public wanted to see a ban implemented and the Prime Minister promised to prohibit the practice by January 2015, no government bill on this issue was introduced during the last parliament.

A private member’s bill, introduced in 2013, was repeatedly blocked in the House of Commons by three MPs, so it needs a government bill to be laid if we are to have any hope of seeing this practice banned.

This colossal waste of time shames Britain, while all around the world, governments have been taking decisive action to stop the abuse of wild animals in circuses. Just last month, Catalonia’s Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban it. While our own lawmakers dragged their feet, the Netherlands approved a ban that comes into effect later this year, as did Malta and Mexico. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, North America’s longest-running circus, has pledged to retire all the elephants it uses by 2018. Even in Iran, a country with precious few animal-welfare laws, 14 states have banned this archaic form of entertainment. Are we really lagging behind Iran?

The writing has long been on the wall. Only two English circuses are still clinging to this antiquated tradition of using wild animals, so implementing a ban would have very little bearing on businesses operating in England and Wales. But it would have a very positive impact on the animals still being exploited.

Every day that this legislation is delayed is another one of misery for the large wild animals, including tigers, being hauled around the country in circus wagons. Existing in cramped cages and denied everything that gives their lives meaning, animals become lethargic and depressed. Their spirits broken, many develop neurotic and abnormal behaviour, such as biting the bars of their cages and constantly pacing. It’s little wonder that such tormented creatures die far short of their natural life spans.

Watching a tiger jump through a fiery hoop may be entertaining to some, but we should all be aware of what it entails for the animal. UK laws require that animals be provided with a good quality of life, but the cruelty inherent in confining big, wild animals, who would roam miles in the wild, to small, cramped spaces and forcing them to engage in unnatural and confusing spectacles makes that impossible in circuses.

Those who agree with me can join PETA’s campaign to urge government to listen to the public and give such animals a chance to live as nature intended.


The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe was an MP for 23 years and served as Shadow Home Secretary. She is a novelist, documentary maker and newspaper columnist.