The UK government is to unveil new, harsher measures against FGM. Photo: Getty
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Cameron pledges tougher law on FGM

The Prime Minister, hosting the Girl Summit in London today, will announce new, stronger measures against female genital mutilation.

Today, the Prime Minister will announce harsher measures against female genital mutilation (FGM) at a global summit with Unicef in London, called the Girl Summit. The new rules he will announce include a change to the law so that parents are responsible for protecting their daughters from cutting and face prosecution if they fail to protect them, and will also grant victims lifelong anonymity.

David Cameron will also introduce a £1.4m prevention programme, which is intended to help stop the practice and to help the NHS care for victims. Additionally, he is expected to announce new guidance for police on how to handle cases of FGM.

Speaking before the summit, Cameron said

All girls have the right to live free from violence and coercion, without being forced into marriage, or the lifelong physical and psychological effects of female genital mutilation. Abhorrent practices like these, no matter how deeply rooted in societies, violate the rights of girls and women across the world, including here in the UK.

What is notable about these measures is that the PM is thinking about what Britain can do nationally to stamp out the practice here – where more than 137,000 women in England and Wales are living with the consequences of FGM, according to a recent study – rather than separating it as an international development issue.

Proper punishments for parents who subject their daughters to such treatment, or at least neglect to stop it happening, have been a long time coming. The last big change to legislation in this country regarding FGM was in 2003. This was when David Blunkett as Home Secretary backed a Bill that became the Female Genital Mutilation Act, which built on the provisions of the 1985 Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act, giving powers beyond the UK's borders (preventing people taking young girls abroad for them to be cut), and increasing the maximum penalty from five to 14 years' imprisonment.

However, the first person in Britain to be successfully charged using this legislation was a doctor in March this year.

The new laws Cameron will unveil are only just coming about, and progress on legislating on this subject has been relatively slow, because the government and authorities have hitherto feared being culturally insensitive or incendiary by concentrating on stopping FGM being carried out in this country. It seems they are now waking up to a practice that is brutal and unacceptable, and one that is all too prevalent in Britain, as well as globally.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired Battersea power station in 2012. Initially, it promised to build 636 affordable units. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers already having failed to develop the site, it was still enough for Wandsworth council to give planning consent. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls.

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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