INDEPENDENT 2024-02-22 04:34:04


300,000 families in poverty despite parents working full-time

More than 300,000 families with children are living in poverty despite their parents being in full-time work, new analysis reveals.

Health and social care workers, shop assistants and construction workers are among those who are still in poverty despite being employed. Almost one in four low-income parents in full-time work are employed in health and social care, research from charity Action for Children has found.

The study found one in five of the 300,000 families in poverty live in London and nearly half – 46 per cent – are single parents. They are also disproportionately more likely to be from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds, compared to the wider population, and twice as likely to be self-employed.

The poverty line is classed as having a net household income of less than 60 per cent of the UK average, after housing costs.

Researchers calculated that these parents would have to work eight days a week if they wanted to earn enough in their current jobs to be able to escape poverty. Housing costs were one of the major expenses for low-income families, the research found.

It comes as analysis from housing campaign group Generation Rent found that renting in London would be impossibly expensive for a range of key workers, such as nurses and carers.

The median rent for a one-bedroom home in inner London was 106 per cent of a teaching assistant’s salary, they found. It was 97 per cent of a cleaner’s average income, and 82 per cent of a care workers’.

Dan Smith, 37, who lives in Kent with his fiancée Leanne Jones and their four-year-old daughter Beau, said they were having to eat into their savings despite both working.

Mr Smith is self-employed as a behaviour specialist working with neurodivergent children, which gives him time to support Beau – who has down’s syndrome.

Ms Jones works part-time, five mornings a week, as a senior administrator for an incineration waste disposal company. With expensive nursery fees for Beau, the couple worked out that they would be financially worse off if Ms Jones went back to work full-time.

Mr Smith said: “Before Beau was born and Leanne had to go part-time, we were a £60,000 a year household – but we’re now living hand to mouth. We’d worked really hard for many years to save £30,000 for a deposit for a house but when we looked into it, incredibly £30,000 wasn’t enough to make the repayments affordable on our incomes.

“The mortgage repayments would’ve been almost twice our rent at the time.” He added: “It’s just an awful thing to think I’m 37-years-old and the idea of owning my own home is now unimaginable. We both have good jobs, we’ve worked hard to be educated people, to do all the things we were told we should do. Now just through the way society has gone, we’re really struggling.”

They instead used their savings to rent a two-bed home but Mr Smith added: “It wasn’t long before we needed to bite into the savings more and more every month just to cover our day-to-day expenses as the cost of living went up and up.”

“I’ve never labelled myself as someone in poverty, others are far worse off of course – but I realise we’re slowly falling into that low-income group now unless things pick up.”

The family are bracing for their landlord to increase their rent to over £900 a month, to match the rents at her other properties. “Last night, we sat down and budgeted because we emptied our savings account yesterday and it all went into covering our rent for this month.

“The next step is looking at potential credit cards, the usual things that become a spiral and that we don’t want to do if we can help it.”

Paul Carberry, from Action for Children. said their research showed that the government needed to “confront the myth that work alone is a passport out of poverty”.

The charity called for more research on low-income earners, increase in benefits, and more support for families to find jobs or extra work.

Responding to the analysis, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, Alison Garnham, said: “The families behind these statistics are the people that make the country run – the healthcare workers and service staff we all rely on – but their budgets are running on empty.”

It comes after food bank charity the Trussell Trust revealed that more than half of people receiving universal credit were unable to afford enough food in the last month. Some 780,000 people on universal credit have turned to a food bank for emergency help in the past month, estimates from the charity showed.

Henry Parkes, principal economist at think tank Institute for Public Policy Research, said: “Universal credit was supposed to make work pay. However, the shambles of administration that has been overseen by nine DWP ministers in 14 years has led to a threadbare system that neither prevents poverty nor supports people into meaningful work.”

A government spokesperson said: “There are 1.7m fewer people living in absolute poverty compared to 2010, including 400,000 children, as we continue to support families with cost of living support worth on average £3,700 per household.

“Children are five times less likely to experience poverty living in a household where all adults work, compared to those in workless households, which is why this Government has reduced the number of workless households by almost 700,000 since 2010.”

They added that the national living wage is being increased to £11.44 from April and £2.5bn is being spent on back to work measures.

Desperate search for ‘cheeky’ toddler as parents speak out

A two-year-old boy reported to have fallen into the River Soar has been named by police as Xielo Maruziva.

Xielo has been missing since Sunday evening after he fell into the swollen river as his father was rushed to hospital after trying to save him.

His father said in a statement: “Xielo is a bundle of joy to us.

“He is a charming and creative little boy and has just started at nursery. He loves cuddles, playing with his toys and going to the park.”

His devastated mother said: “Xielo is a cheeky, funny, friendly, smart, caring and independent little boy. He never fails to make me laugh or smile and always loves a cuddle and some kisses.

“Xielo loves playing with his toys and watching cartoons including Bino and Fino.

“Me, his dad and the whole family are so heartbroken at what has happened. We thank everyone who has supported us and helped us during this time. We are extremely grateful for this.

Liz Truss tells US audience some UK civil servants are trans activists

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss is now placing blame for her meltdown after just 49 days in Number 10 Downing Street on Sir Tony Blair and a slew of government agencies who she says do not care about the lives of average Britons.

Speaking alongside ex-Brexit Party and Ukip leader Nigel Farage at an “international summit” on the eve of the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, Ms Truss told attendees her tenure as prime minister was marred by a “huge establishment backlash”.

She also said some people joining the civil service “who are essentially activists – they might be trans activists, they might be environmental extremists” were part of a “wholly new problem”.

Her comments about “trans activists” come after her successor as UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, caused a storm with a joke in the House of Commons about trans people on the day the mother of Brianna Ghey – a trans teenager whose brutal murder shocked Britain – was visiting Parliament.

Speaking in Washington DC on Wednesday, Ms Truss said: “What has happened in Britain over the past 30 years, is power that used to be in the hands of politicians has been moved to quangos and bureaucrats and lawyers. So what you find is you find a democratically elected government actually unable to enact policies,.”

Interrupted by moderator and former Trump deputy national security adviser KT McFarland, who asked about the meaning of “quangos,” Ms Truss replied that she meant “Quasi-Non Governmental Organisations“. Quangos are administrative bodies outside the civil service that receive funding from the government, such as the Forestry Commission and the British Council.

“In America, you call it the administrative state or the deep state, but we have more than 500 of these quangos in Britain, and they run everything. So we’ve got the Environment Agency, we’ve got the Office of Budget Responsibility. We’ve got the Bank of England, we’ve got the Judicial Appointments Commission,” she said before turning to criticism of Sir Tony, who she blamed for eliminating the Lord Chancellor’s traditional role as head of the judiciary and instituting a British Supreme Court in place of the Law Lords.

“He got rid of the traditional role of the Lord Chancellor, who sat in the cabinet and was the head of the judiciary he instead put control of appointments in the hands of a quango. So what you have is rather than democratically elected politicians being accountable for decisions, often those decisions are now in the hands of people who aren’t elected,” she said.

Ms Truss continued venting to the assembled crowd of conservative activists about a group she described as the “economic establishment” who “didn’t want things to change and … didn’t want their power taken away,” apparently blaming them for the catastrophic reaction to her 2022 mini-budget, which sent the pound into a nose dive and sparked a crash in the markets, leading to her eventual defenestration from Number 10.

“I think that’s the issue we now face as conservatives, is it’s not enough just to will conservative policies and say, we want to control our borders or we want to cut taxes, or we want to reform our welfare system, because we have a whole group of people now in Britain with a vested interest in the status quo, who actually have a lot of power and power has been taken away from democratically elected politicians. And it now sits in the hands of bureaucrats. And people don’t want to admit that no minister wants to admit that they can’t actually do things. And I think that has become a big problem in Britain,” she said, adding later that a future Conservative PM should be “prepared to be unpopular at London dinner parties” by taking on the civil service and people who “work in big corporates”.

“Unless you are prepared to be unpopular with those people, you will not succeed as a conservative in actually changing things,” she said.

The former PM also lashed out at civil servants and complained that the British government lacks sufficient political appointments to control the apparatus of government.

“We get 100 political appointees, and these political appointees aren’t heads of department. They are special advisers that sit alongside. So we have a major problem with our administrative bureaucracy not being responsible, responsive, and democratically accountable,” she said.

“Now people are joining the civil service who are essentially activists – they might be trans activists, they might be environmental extremists – but they are now having a voice within the civil service in a way I don’t think was true 30 or 40 years ago, so we just have a wholly new problem. And frankly, 100 political appointees, doesn’t even touch the sides in terms of dealing with that.”

Her comments about “trans activists” come after Mr Sunak challenged the opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer to “define a woman” during Prime Minister’s Questions. The jibe came on the day that Brianna Ghey’s mother Esther was at Parliament. Amid the uproar over the prime minister’s comments, Brianna’s father Peter Spooner said he was “disgusted” and called on Mr Sunak to apologise.

The prime minister refused to do so, saying his comments were “absolutely legitimate” because he was attacking Sir Keir’s indecisiveness and claiming it was “sad and wrong” that the Labour leader had linked his comments to Brianna.

Asked if he would apologise, he said: “If you look at what I said, I was very clear, talking about Keir Starmer’s proven track record of u-turns on major policies because he doesn’t have a plan.”

Out-of-control satellite falls to Earth – live

An out-of-control satellite has fallen to Earth, nearly three decades after it launched.

The ERS-2 satellite, which served as an observation platform after launching in 1995, landed in the Pacific Ocean between Alaska and Hawaii on Wednesday.

The European Space Agency (ESA) said the risks associated with the two-tonne satellite were “very low”, however there was still a chance that fragments could hit populated areas.

Mirko Albani from ESA’s Earth Observation Ground Segment Department said: “It’s worth highlighting that none of the elements that might re-enter the atmosphere (and reach the surface) are radioactive or toxic.”

The predicted time for the satellite entering the Earth’s atmosphere was originally 3.49pm GMT (10.49 EST) on Wednesday, however it remained orbiting the planet for up to an hour.

You can follow all the latest news, updates and developments of the ERS-2 satellite as it heads towards Earth in our live blog below.

Dune: Part Two is like no other blockbuster in existence

There are moments in Dune: Part Two that feel so audacious, they play out as if they were already etched onto the cinematic canon. A lone figure stands astride a mountainous worm as it pummels through the sand like Moses parting the Red Sea. A man is trapped by a psychic seduction, its effects splintering across the screen in what could only be described as an indoor thunderstorm. Gladiatorial combat takes place on a planet with an environment so inhospitable, its colours so drained, that it looks almost like a photographic negative.

Dune: Part Two, like its predecessor, is a work of total sensory and imaginative immersion. As precious as the spice of Arrakis itself, it’s the ultimate payoff to 2021’s great gamble, when filmmaker Denis Villeneuve chose to adapt half of Frank Herbert’s foundational sci-fi novel, with no guarantee a sequel would ever be made. Despite its release at the height of the pandemic, with a same-day launch on streaming services, Part One earned a hefty $400m (£317m) at the box office and 10 Oscar nominations.

If that film seeded foreboding into each frame, then Part Two is entirely consumed by it. Herbert’s work eviscerates the idea of heroic destiny by exposing it as a lie built by others for the purposes of colonisation and control. Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) arrives on the desert planet of Arrakis on his father’s orders – only to discover that he’s the product of generations of genetic manipulation by his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and her Bene Gesserit clan of space-witches. Their work has spread whispers of a prophet, the Lisan al-Gaib, who will lead the indigenous Fremen people towards freedom from their oppressors.

By Part Two, the House of Atreides has fallen, as Paul and Lady Jessica seek sanctuary and, eventually, acceptance with a Fremen tribe and their leader, Stilgar (Javier Bardem). Paul yearns for Chani (Zendaya), the Fremen warrior who’s walked right out of his dreams but has grown suspicious of claims that he is the tribe’s long-awaited saviour. Elsewhere, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), daughter of the Padishah Emperor (Christopher Walken), worries about her father’s inaction.

Herbert wrote the sequel, Dune Messiah, partly in response to those he believed had failed to grasp the complicated, sinister implications of Paul’s ascendancy. Villeneuve, in interviews, has already expressed his ambition to turn Messiah into a third film. But it, too, is no guarantee – and so he and co-writer Jon Spaihts have altered Herbert’s text in key places to make the second book’s thematic points here. And, my God, does the final third of Part Two emanate pure menace. It’s unlike any other blockbuster in existence.

Chalamet and Ferguson take all that was regal and dignified about their performances, and apply to them a poisoned tip. Chani is critical here, too, with a significantly expanded role as the film’s moral centre – Zendaya holds the film in her palm, with resolution and clarity. Granted, the traditional baddies are still here: Stellan Skarsgård’s Baron Harkonnen returns, still floating around in his evil little nightgown, and we’re finally introduced to his nephew and heir, Feyd-Rautha.

He’s played by Austin Butler without a trace of the Elvis drawl, but with such an uncanny Skarsgård impersonation that sons Alexander, Gustaf, Bill and Valter should be concerned they’re about to be replaced. Butler not only cleanses the mind of any memory of Sting in metal underpants (from David Lynch’s notorious 1984 take) but commits every cell of his body, from his bald head to ink-stained teeth, to snarling and slaying his way across the universe.

Anyone turned off by Dune: Part One’s portentousness won’t be converted here. But unlike, say, The Lord of the Rings, Herbert’s vision was always a funny, slightly disorienting clash of impenetrable lore and informal language (he named one of his characters “Duncan Idaho”, after all).

Villeneuve has honoured that tone, in his own way. Josh Brolin, as Paul’s mentor Gurney Halleck, performs a brief ditty about how his “stillsuit is full of piss”. And the film’s stacked with fiddly, HR Giger-inspired machines, like the desiccation pump that sucks vital water out of the Fremen dead. Part Two is as grand as it is intimate, and while Hans Zimmer’s score once again blasts your eardrums into submission, and the theatre seats rumble with every cresting sand worm, it’s the choice moments of silence that really leave their mark.

But, just as Herbert warned of hero worship, it’s critical not to treat Dune’s creative triumphs as a kind of blanket absolution. Part One was rightly criticised for its erasure of the book’s Middle Eastern and north African influences. Here, it appears someone may have listened. The Fremen’s Arabic-inspired language is now foregrounded, and onscreen representation is mildly improved – Souheila Yacoub, for example, an actor of Tunisian descent, plays Shishakli, Chani’s closest ally. On the other hand, it’s even harder now to watch Bardem pronounce Paul the prophesied Lisan al-Gaib, or use something not entirely unlike a prayer mat, and not interpret it as a form of whitewashing.

Yet, as Part Two makes clear, Villeneuve isn’t done with Dune, even if he’s already made his mark on sci-fi history. Now, the most compelling question is – what comes next?

Dir: Denis Villeneuve. Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh. 12A, 165 minutes.

‘Dune: Part Two’ is in cinemas from 1 March

How to help create a smokefree generation

“Some people can just stop and then never smoke again, but for most it’s hard,” says Tim Eves a 45-year-old father of three from West Sussex.

“It’s just getting through those initial tough few months. Once you do the benefits hugely outweigh the stress of giving it up.”

Tim was a smoker for around 12 years, but gave up with help from a local support group who introduced him to nicotine patches and gum.

“I won’t pretend it isn’t hard,” he adds. “The first few months, you have it in your head that you’d love to have just one cigarette. But now, if we happen to be in the pub it doesn’t even enter my head.”

Taking the first step to go smokefree may sound daunting, but quitting smoking offers significant health benefits – and can save you money.

Tobacco is the single most important entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in this country, responsible for 80,000 deaths in the UK each year.

It causes around 1-in-4 cancer deaths in the UK and is responsible for just over 70 per cent of all lung cancer cases.

Smoking also substantially increases the risk of many major health conditions throughout people’s lives, such as strokes, diabetes, heart disease, stillbirth, dementia and asthma.

Smoking increases the chance of stillbirth by almost half and makes children twice as likely to be hospitalised for asthma from second-hand smoking.

And a typical addicted smoker spends £2,400 a year.

Jo Howarth, 52, from St Helens, Merseyside, finally kicked her addiction after 20 years of on-and-off smoking.

“I was quite anti-smoking as a young teenager, but I started when I was 16 because I wanted to fit in with the cool crowd,” she says.

“I knew it was bad for me, but it was so hard to give up. I tried cold turkey, hypnotherapy and at one point I had a staple in my ear, but I never lasted more than about six months.

“After I got married, I wanted to conceive so I cut down to one a day but the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I stopped.

“As soon as the reason outweighed the addiction, I found a reason to stop and as a hypnotherapist I know that pinpointing why you’re addicted is the key to stopping.

“I used to think that smoking calmed me down, but now I realise that’s a myth – it was just the deep breaths I was taking while I did it. Without it I’m so much healthier and I’m determined to stay smokefree for my kids.”

Smokers lose an average of 10 years life expectancy – around one year for every four smoking years.

Smokers also need care on average 10 years earlier than they would otherwise have – often while still of working age.

‘’Smoking is based on addiction and most people wish they had never taken it up,” says Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer.

“They try to stop and they cannot. Their choice has been taken away. As a doctor I have seen many people in hospital desperate to stop smoking but they cannot.”

The government is now working on creating a smokefree generation.

The new proposals give citizens more freedom. Smoking is not a choice, it is an addiction, and the large majority of smokers and ex-smokers regret ever starting in the first place.

Creating a smokefree generation will be one of the most significant public health measures in a generation, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds for our NHS and the economy, and levelling up the UK by tackling one of the most important preventable drivers of inequality in health outcomes.

New laws will protect future generations from ever taking up smoking as well as tackling youth vaping by:

Alongside the Bill, there will be new funding to support current smokers to quit by doubling the funding of local ‘stop smoking services’ (to nearly £140 million) as well as £30m of new funding to crack down on illicit tobacco and underage sale of tobacco and vapes.

Now the war in Gaza is poisoning British politics

According to the motions presented by the political parties on Wednesday, during the latest Commons debate on the war in Gaza, their attitudes may be summarised as follows. The Scottish National Party wants “an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel”. The Labour Party is calling for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire”. The Conservative government’s policy is for “an immediate humanitarian pause”.

Some might wonder how such minor differences in phrase and meaning could eventually result in the Commons collapsing into total chaos. The fiasco over voting was both arcane and tragic.

The speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, broke with tradition and tried to have three votes on each party’s motion, thus allowing all sides to have their different says on a matter of national importance. It also meant, in some cases, members could vote in a way that matched their own view more closely, and protected them personally from outside pressure from constituents about their stance.

Does Britain still possess a credible nuclear deterrent?

The news that one of the UK’s proud arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles fell harmlessly into the Atlantic during testing comes as a further embarrassment to the Ministry of Defence.

In recent weeks, the British public, increasingly alarmed at the behaviour of Vladimir Putin, has learnt that the army stands at its lowest strength since the Napoleonic wars, that both of our otherwise magnificent aircraft carriers have trouble getting seaborne, that one of our warships crashed into another because of “faulty wiring”, and that Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw the US commitment to Nato.

Even the special forces, the finest of their kind in the world, are now being accused of war crimes in Afghanistan. It’s not inspiring confidence…