INDEPENDENT 2024-02-26 04:34:08


Poor literacy in children could cost economy £830m

Poor literacy levels in young children could cost the economy £830m, a think tank has said, as data reveals how children in disadvantaged areas are falling behind their peers.

Around 187,000 five-year-olds in England – or 30 per cent – are falling behind their expected reading levels, data from the year 2022/23 showed. This is compared to 27 per cent in 2018/19.

An increasing number of families have been unable to access the right early years support in the wake of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, experts said. Lockdowns also meant that families didn’t have access to education and care at key stages of their children’s development, the National Literacy Trust said.

Some 125,000 five-year-olds – 20 per cent of their cohort – are also behind on their communication and language skills. This is compared to 18 per cent in 2018/19.

Researchers found that poor literacy skills will end up costing the economy £830m over the lifetimes of each year group of five-year-olds, or £7,800 per child.

This adds up to a £5,300 loss in potential earnings per child over their lifetime, research from Pro Bono Economics has found. It will also cost an average of £2,500 per child in additional support from the government, the charity said.

Those in more deprived areas of the country are the worst affected, with 43,000 of the five-year-olds not meeting the right reading levels living in these regions.

In Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, more than a quarter of five-year-olds have low levels of literacy, researchers found.

In the year 2022-2023, the North West, North East, West Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber were among the regions with the highest rates of children struggling to meet the literacy standards.

Jonathan Douglas, chief executive of the National Literacy Trust, called on the government and local businesses to support their campaign of outreach to children in areas hit worst by the cost of living crisis.

He said: “We know that experiencing poverty has a huge effect on a child’s early communication, language and literacy skills, and that this will have consequences for their learning, their confidence, their wellbeing, and their ability to thrive for the rest of their lives.”

Matt Whittaker, CEO of Pro Bono Economics, said: “That so many young children are reaching reception so far behind in basic reading and communication skills should raise alarm bells everywhere.”

Rachel Hopcroft, head of corporate affairs at KPMG UK, who commissioned the research, said that “at age five, far too many children are needlessly falling short of the expected standard, before they’ve even been given a proper chance in life”.

She added that the research showed “this not only impacts our economy, but it curtails access to career opportunities and earnings potential later in life – especially among those from deprived backgrounds”.

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

Minister suggests Lee Anderson could return despite anti-Muslim rant

The deputy prime minister has refused to rule out Lee Anderson having the Tory whip restored despite a senior Conservative calling Mr Anderson’s remarks “repugnant”.

Oliver Dowden said on Sunday that he “certainly would not rule out” the possibility of Mr Anderson returning from his suspension, which was imposed in response to an anti-Muslim rant on GB News.

But Robert Buckland, the Tory former justice secretary, said Mr Anderson had “crossed a line” and that his comments were “repugnant”.

In an appearance on GB News, Mr Anderson said: “I don’t actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of [Sadiq] Khan and they’ve got control of London… He’s actually given our capital city away to his mates.”

A Conservative source initially backed Mr Anderson, but after intense media pressure and the controversial MP’s refusal to apologise, the party suspended him. He will now sit as an independent MP.

Rishi Sunak has so far failed to address Mr Anderson’s comments, made on Friday, or the surging Islamophobia across Britain, despite having spoken publicly about a rise in “prejudice and antisemitism”.

And on Sunday Mr Dowden said Mr Anderson, who was deputy Tory chair until last month, had simply “used the wrong words”.

“I don’t believe that Lee Anderson said those remarks intending to be Islamophobic,” Mr Dowden told the BBC.

Mr Buckland was among several senior Tories who were critical of Mr Anderson’s remarks, telling BBC Radio 4 on Sunday that they were “racist and repugnant”.

“This man has clearly crossed a line,” Mr Buckland added.

Labour said it was “concerned” about Mr Dowden’s suggestion that the Tories could give Mr Anderson the whip back.

Shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth has called on Mr Sunak to confirm that no “deal or undertakings” have been offered that would see Mr Anderson sit as a Tory MP again.

In a letter to the prime minister, Mr Ashworth said: “The removal of the Conservative whip from Lee Anderson was the correct decision after his disgusting racist and Islamophobic remarks aimed at the mayor of London.

“I was so concerned to see your deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden tell GB News this morning that he ‘certainly wouldn’t rule that out’ when asked if Mr Anderson could have the whip returned.

“This extraordinary suggestion comes less than 24 hours after his removal from the Conservative Party and with no apology or retraction having yet been offered. It will inevitably lead to concerns that the withdrawal of the whip was merely a temporary measure taken in response to media criticism, and that the possibility of Mr Anderson being allowed back into the Tory party is being kept on the table.”

He added: “Can you confirm that no deal or undertakings have been offered to Mr Anderson by you or anyone speaking on behalf of the Conservative Party that would see him have the Tory whip returned?”

In a statement on Saturday night, Mr Sunak highlighted “recent” events, including the pro-Palestinian protests that have been held across the country since the 7 October attacks.

“The events of recent weeks are but the latest in an emerging pattern which should not be tolerated,” Mr Sunak said. But Mr Sunak has not yet responded to Mr Anderson’s comments.

Sir Keir Starmer said it was right that Mr Anderson had been suspended from the party over his “appalling racist and Islamophobic outburst”. The Labour leader also challenged Mr Sunak on the wider matter of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

“What does it say about the prime minister’s judgement that he made Lee Anderson deputy chairman of his party?” Sir Keir asked.

He added: “Whether it is Liz Truss staying silent on Tommy Robinson or Suella Braverman’s extreme rhetoric, Rishi Sunak’s weakness means Tory MPs can act with impunity.

“This isn’t just embarrassing for the Conservative Party, it emboldens the worst forces in our politics. Rishi Sunak needs to get a grip and take on the extremists in his party.

“The Tories may be getting more and more desperate as the election approaches, but Rishi Sunak has a responsibility to stop this slide into ever more toxic rhetoric.”

It came as Mr Khan condemned the “moral rot” of anti-Muslim hatred in the Conservative Party. The London mayor said Mr Anderson’s “belated” suspension showed that “Muslims are fair game as far as the Conservative Party is concerned”.

On Sunday the Muslim Council of Britain wrote to the chair of the Conservative Party demanding an investigation into “structural Islamophobia” in the party.

In a letter to Richard Holden, the organisation said it welcomes the removal of the whip from Mr Anderson, but alleged that Islamophobia “persists” in the party.

Zara Mohammed, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “Our view is that the Islamophobia in the [Conservative] Party is institutional, tolerated by the leadership and seen as acceptable by great swathes of the party membership.”

The letter also criticised the Conservatives for removing the whip from Mr Anderson only after he had refused to apologise.

It said: “We note that he [Mr Anderson] was only censured for refusing to apologise, not for making the racist remarks in the first place. We also note that the whip was withdrawn only after there was widespread condemnation across the board, while the prime minister and the rest of the cabinet remained silent.”

Zelensky warns Ukraine faces tough few months awaiting military aid

Ukraine is bracing for a gruelling few months ahead as it awaits delivery of delayed Western military aid and prepares for an expected Russian counteroffensive in May, the Ukrainian president has warned.

Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine has only received a third of the shells promised by the European Union last year, and is still waiting for news of a stalled $61bn (£48bn) aid package.

In the meantime, said Mr Zelensky, Russia is firing seven times the quantity of munitions at Ukraine than its forces are able to fire back. Delaying the delivery of military aid “loses lives”, he said.

“It will be difficult for us in March and April in different ways. Russia will prepare counteroffensive operations in early summer, or at the end of May if they can,” he told a press conference to mark the second anniversary of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of his country.

He said the Ukrainian army was ready to take that on following a recent shakeup in Ukraine’s military leadership, and that Russia’s attempt to repel Ukrainian forces over the winter had so far amounted to “nothing”. “We, for our part, will prepare our plan and follow it,” he said.

But the issue is the growing disparity on the battlefield, as Russia has ramped up domestic production of weaponry and poured hundreds of billions of dollars into its defence budget.

“It’s a challenge to fight a hybrid war with Russia and its resources,” Mr Zelensky continued, adding that “Moscow is exerting a lot of pressure in the Kharkiv and Kupyansk direction” – an area in the north of Ukraine that Kyiv’s forces had liberated from Russian occupation last year.

“Frankly speaking, the intensity of the Russian artillery was 12 to one at the end of the year; now it is a rate of seven to one. If Ukraine can bring that ratio down, we can push them back,” he said.

Ukraine is fighting to hold a buckling 1,200km front line two years on from President Putin’s full-scale invasion, a battle Mr Zelensky described on Sunday as a “fight for global democracy”.

The impact of the war on Ukraine has been devastating: around 10 million people are displaced, a quarter of the country remains occupied by Russian forces, and Mr Zelensky said on Sunday that at least 31,000 soldiers have been killed in the line of duty.

The front lines have fallen into stalemate as the conflict has turned into a bloody war of attrition on the battlefield. Part of the problem has been dwindling supplies.

Ukraine announced last week that its troops had been forced to withdraw from the eastern town of Avdiivka, where they had been battling Russian forces for months.

Soldiers said the crippling rationing of artillery was to blame alongside Russia’s superior air power. Ukraine’s defence minister, Rustem Umerov, said on Sunday that as much as 50 per cent of the aid promised by the West was arriving late, resulting in the loss of “lives and territory”.

Mr Zelensky said that only a third of one million shells earmarked by the EU for Kyiv last year had been delivered, saying that production issues were to blame. He said he had received guarantees that the shells would be sent to Ukraine by the end of the year, but that in the interim, delays “mean more casualties”.

There are also concerns about domestic squabbling in the US over a $61bn aid package for Ukraine, approval of which is currently held up in Congress after stonewalling by the Republicans.

There are fears that the US is increasingly looking inwards as it careers towards what is likely to be a hotly contested presidential election in November. “I am sure [Congress] will make a positive decision about this, because otherwise it will leave me wondering what kind of world we are living in,” Mr Zelensky said on Sunday.

“Our request is to get this assistance in a month. When we talk about American aid, we must understand that this isn’t a question of financial reserves, it’s about weapons. We’ll just be weakened on the battlefield. I don’t have a reserve – we have the weapons that we have.”

Calling 2024 a potential “turning point in the war”, Mr Zelensky said he felt positive about a recent and important shift in attitudes within Europe. European leaders and MPs have talked about the need for the continent “to step up” and fill the shortfall left by growing US isolationism.

Countries have taken concrete steps to help Ukraine, including increasing the production of 155mm ammunition – which is vital on the battlefield.

Mr Zelensky said: “Especially during the last month, I see that Europe is shifting. They know this is dangerous for them. Putin is not only our enemy, he is the enemy of all of Europe. I think they understand that – he will continue this war. We are fighting for global democracy; this is a serious moment.”

Tory peer calls on Rishi Sunak to break silence on Islamophobia row

Tory peer Baroness Warsi is calling on Rishi Sunak to break his silence over an escalating Islamophobia row and to explicitly condemn anti-Muslim rhetoric within the party.

In comments described as “dangerous” by senior Tories, the party’s former deputy chair Lee Anderson claimed on Friday that “Islamists” have “got control” of London Mayor Sadiq Khan. He had the whip suspended the following day after he refused to apologise.

Baroness Warsi, who was a cabinet minister in David Cameron’s government, urged the prime minister to “find the language” to “call Islamophobia Islamophobia”.

She told the Guardian: “What is it about the prime minister that he can’t even call out anti-Muslim racism and anti-Muslim bigotry? Why can’t he just use those words?”

Asked if Mr Sunak should make a point of denouncing Mr Anderson’s comments as Islamophobia, Baroness Warsi said: “Of course he should. If you can’t call racism racism, if you can’t call antisemitism antisemitism, and if you can’t call Islamophobia Islamophobia, then how are we going to fix it?”

The prime minister has so far failed to address Mr Anderson’s comments or surging Islamophobia across Britain, despite speaking publicly about a rise in “prejudice and antisemitism”.

In a statement issued following Mr Anderson’s suspension, Mr Sunak highlighted events of recent weeks that “should not be tolerated”, including pro-Palestinian protests held across the country since the 7 October attacks, which have been “hijacked by extremists”.

Mr Khan described Mr Anderson’s anti-Muslim rant on GB News as “Islamophobic, racist” and pouring “fuel on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred”.

Mr Anderson, who was deputy Tory chairman until last month, said on Saturday: “Following a call with the Chief Whip, I understand the difficult position that I have put both he and the Prime Minister in with regard to my comments. I fully accept that they had no option but to suspend the whip in these circumstances.”

However, speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden refused to rule out the possibility of Mr Anderson returning from his suspension.

Remarks made by the former home secretary Suella Braverman as well as the former prime minister Liz Truss also drew criticism this week. Ms Braverman asserted that “Islamists are in charge” of Britain in a Daily Telegraph article on Thursday, while Ms Truss remained silent in an interview as Steve Bannon described the far-right’s Tommy Robinson as a “hero”.

Baroness Warsi said: “There will always be people who hide behind the word Zionist, people with a long history of antisemitism who use the term Zionist when they actually mean Jews. It’s a very disingenuous form of antisemitism. And there are always people with a long history of anti-Muslim racism who will hide behind the word Islamist when they actually mean Muslims.”

After what it called “a week of inflammatory statements and Islamophobia from senior figures in the party”, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) wrote to the Conservative Party on Sunday demanding an investigation into claims of “structural Islamophobia” within its ranks.

It comes as new figures show the number of Islamophobic incidents has skyrocketed since the 7 October attack on Israel by Hamas and the retaliatory Israeli bombardment of Palestine. London charity Islamophobia Response Unit (IRU) said there was a 365 per cent increase in reports of Islamophobia in October.

A report earlier this week from Tell Mama – another body that records anti-Muslim hate incidents – found there were 2,010 incidents between 7 October and 7 February, more than triple the 600 reported during the same period the year before.

Sir Keir Starmer said it was right that Mr Anderson was suspended from the party over the “appalling racist and Islamophobic outburst”. The Labour leader also challenged Mr Sunak over wider Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

“What does it say about the prime minister’s judgment that he made Lee Anderson deputy chairman of his party?” Sir Keir said.

He added: “Whether it is Liz Truss staying silent on Tommy Robinson or Suella Braverman’s extreme rhetoric, Rishi Sunak’s weakness means Tory MPs can act with impunity.”

Ian McShane on Deadwood, Twitter, and growing bored with American Gods

Ian McShane loves a monologue. It’s ironic, really, given the actor has mostly shunned the theatre for screen projects such as the cultish TV staple Lovejoy, HBO’s foul-mouthed western Deadwood, and the soulfully hyperviolent John Wick films. In the past, he’s even called for a 20-year moratorium on Hamlet. And yet here, today, he seems a bona fide thesp, delivering sinuous, almost Shakespearean soliloquies like the best of them.

“The one thing about getting older is that the memories well up more,” McShane, now 81, remarks. “Time catches up with you, life catches up with you, and the memories of what could have been, should have been or will be are stronger than they were, say, 10 years ago.”

The Blackburn-born actor seems in the mood for reminiscence as he talks to me over video from his London home. On his face rests a pair of thick-rimmed glasses; the first couple of shirt buttons are open, giving him the vaguely dishevelled vibe of a morning-after rocker. Ask him a question, and he’ll give you three answers. Maybe a wistful observation, too, about a film he once saw, or an actor with whom he once worked. (And, to be fair, he’s worked with them all – Richard Burton; Robert Mitchum; Keanu Reeves.) I put it down to a thespian knack for the oratory.

But there’s probably a more prosaic explanation for his meandering mindset: jetlag. McShane flew in from LA last night. He’s here to shoot a “caper movie” for Netflix, in which he plays a “crazy gangster” – not an unfamiliar mode for the actor, who’s schemed his way through the criminal underworld in everything from Sexy Beast to Miami Vice. He’s looking forward to the as-yet-unannounced project – with just a hint of caveat. “It’s a big time production,” he says, “so you’re involved with a lot of people. You make some compromises.”

More “satisfying”, he says, is the film he’s actually here to talk about: a poignant European indie called American Star. The film sees McShane play a long-in-the-tooth hitman, holidaying in the Canary Islands after a planned assassination fails to materialise. “The character is like an actor,” he says. “Like myself. You go in on a job, you do the job and leave and then you get on with it.”

American Star – named for a shipwrecked cruise ship that serves as the film’s central metaphor – is directed by Spanish filmmaker Gonzalo López-Gallego, who previously worked with McShane on the 2016 Western The Hollow Point. It was made in a tough period, shortly after the deaths of McShane’s mother and his mother-in-law. “I was on my own for five weeks, and my wife [the actor Gwen Humble] was dealing with stuff in the States,” he says. “You’re surrounded by people, but you’re alone playing a character. And some of that sadness and grief infiltrated into the film without knowing it.”

Filming on American Star was a “civilised” affair, and the small scale of the production made a huge difference. “There weren’t producers looking over your shoulder and telling you what to do because of their enormous investment,” he recalls. “When you make big movies like John Wick, it’s like you’re a small army that takes over town. Hopefully you leave it better than when you came in – sometimes you don’t.”

All of a sudden, he’s off explaining how he got his start in the industry, walking me through his “ordinary happy childhood” as the son of a Manchester United footballer. It was a particularly astute teacher who led him to acting; across the six decades of his professional life, McShane never did anything else.

“I’ve watched a lot of my friends drop off along the way the last few years,” he says, removing his glasses. “It’s emotional, when you suddenly read about people you grew up with in the business popping their clogs, as we say in Lancashire. But life goes on. Art goes on. Films keep being made. And I love movies. The whole process of talking to people, going on a film set. It can still be very exciting… or it can be a disaster.”

“Disaster” may be slightly too strong of a word to describe American Gods, another one of McShane’s best-known projects, but one wracked by reports of offscreen turmoil. The Prime Video series, adapted from a Neil Gaiman novel, saw McShane play Mr Wednesday, a deific con artist embroiled in a conflict between feuding gods. It received plenty of plaudits throughout its first season, but bouts of creative upheaval ultimately ended in the show’s cancellation in 2021. The experience, it seems, was a mixed one.

American Gods was a little – if I may say – overpraised at the time by social media,” McShane concedes. Between the first and second seasons, there was what he describes as a “legal standoff”, as original showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green “fell out with the show maker for budgetary reasons”. The show’s return was delayed. In the interim, McShane had been talked into signing on for another third season. “I was getting pretty bored with it,” he says. “The show never really recovered its momentum, which was a shame – because I think it could have gone on to something pretty good.”

Exacerbating matters, he says, was the fact that the show was “piled on” by the MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements. “There was a lot of controversy about remarks about race. I thought that it was too strongly angry. And it all got immersed in social media… I think that was part of the reason for the demise, and the sort of lack of interest in the show. People took sides. It diminished itself.”

The furore wasn’t the only time McShane’s been irked by the machinations of social media. He infamously antagonised fans of Game of Thrones – a series he fleetingly appeared in – by dismissing the series as being just “t**s and dragons”, and spoiling a major plot twist. Now, he brushes it off. “It was ridiculous. It was one remark!” he laughs. “The creators of the show loved it because it just gives it more publicity. I didn’t even think about it at the time because I’m not on social media. Everybody’s a critic now. Everybody thinks they know best because they can write anonymously on social media.”

American Gods wasn’t McShane’s first run-in with premature cancellation. For him and thousands of diehard fans, there’s no TV cancellation quite so stinging as that of Deadwood, which was spiked by HBO after just three seasons, despite rapturous reviews. It would later be revived for a gratifying 2019 film, but the original three-season run remains one of TV’s finest achievements, and McShane’s turn, as cutthroat pimp and saloon owner Al Swearingen, a performance on par with any.

It was, however, an experience marked by showrunner David Milch’s maverick working patterns, with dense, serpentine dialogue being written on the fly. McShane describes a moment during filming when Milch gave him and his and co-star Paula Malcolmson – playing Trixie, one of the saloon’s working girls – a particularly shocking piece of extemporaneous direction. “David said it in his inimitable way: ‘I think this scene is going well, but you should grab her by the c**t,’” he recalls. They had been filming together for just a day and a half.

“As I said to Dave at the time: it’s not the first instinct of an actor to say that! But Paula was like, ‘Absolutely. You should do that.’ I said, ‘Well, if you insist…’ It broke the ice.”

Of course, you couldn’t do that now. Or could you? “I’ve not worked with a… what do they call it? An intimacy coordinator? It’s a new invention of a job… I’m sure some people like it,” he says. “I mean, I’ve always tried to be as graceful as you can in intimate situations with actresses or actors. How long would [something like that scene in Deadwood] take nowadays, how much of a narrative would take place around that phrase?”

McShane springs off at a tangent again, reminiscing about Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie’s famous lovemaking scene in 1973’s Don’t Look Now – long (and probably falsely) rumoured to be unsimulated. (“It’s part of the mystique. You know, ‘Did they? Didn’t they?’”) He pauses, then adds: “In a roundabout way, I have no idea what an intimacy coordinator would do [with Deadwood]. In fact, I have no idea what they do now.”

Our time is up, and I’ve barely made a dent in the (admittedly over-ambitious) list of questions I’d prepared. For McShane, the cycle never stops: he’s got more promotion for American Star to get through, then the Netflix caper, then he’s heading over to Budapest for reshoots on the John Wick spin-off Ballerina.

Before he goes, I ask to quickly fact-check a piece of trivia that I’d read in a book recently: does he really have a photographic memory? “I don’t think so!” McShane responds. “I mean, I wish I had. I’ve got a pretty good memory. I always think, if you’re going to remember, remember everything… then you can sort out the good from the bad.”

He grins. “Wait. Who am I speaking to?”

‘American Star’ is out in UK Cinemas and digital download now

Uncovering the human cost of Russia’s war on Ukraine

Iryna’s body told her it was time to leave. “I started to have panic attacks,” she says. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, she remained in Kyiv for the first year of the war to support her family financially. But the terror of Russian bombs and air raid sirens pushed her to breaking point. “My mental health was struggling and my parents advised me to leave.”

During her journey to the UK, she was overwhelmed with feelings of fear and guilt. Her elderly parents were reliant on a small pension to survive and Iryna also left behind her friends and a successful career as an accountant. “Before the war, my life in Ukraine was really good, I had so many opportunities,” she says. She arrived at the doorstep of a host family in Petersfield, Hampshire, and knocked on the front door. It opened and her new life in England began.

Iryna’s story isn’t an isolated one. Europe is now home to six million refugees from Ukraine, who have fled their homes since Russia first annexed Crimea in 2014. Many may never return home. A survey by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a charity that helps people’s lives that have been shattered by conflict, revealed that 87% of respondents had to leave their homes at least once since 2014, with 20% experiencing displacement multiple times. Over 36% of people also reported having to forgo basic necessities due to financial difficulties; and, worst of all, 74% said they’d been separated from a close family member.

It’s a heartbreak Svitlana knows all too well. She was an English tutor in her hometown of Chernihiv, where she lived a happy life with her husband and their two children. That was until war broke out. Svitlana evacuated to a small village in western Ukraine, taking her children and 70-year-old mother with her. Eight months later, they moved to the UK to give their children the best chance of living a peaceful life.

Svitlana now lives with a host family in Preston. “It was one of the hardest decisions of my life,” she recalls. “We had to choose either to stay in the city which was shelled and bombed and hope that it would come to an end or to pack our essentials and take a risk of moving.” It’s a decision that she is now at peace with. “When we arrived at Preston, we gave a sigh of relief. Finally, we got to a place with no air raid alerts. It was great to fall asleep without fear for the lives of your kids.”

For Iryna and Svitlana, the help of the IRC has been vital as both have embarked on a new and difficult chapter in their lives. Shortly after arriving in Hampshire, Iryna took part in the IRC’s orientation for newcomers and leadership training. The programmes are designed to help refugees from various different countries to navigate local services in the UK such as healthcare and education, and to support them to find employment and gain the skills that will allow them to prosper in the UK.

Iryna’s mental health is gradually healing and the training provided by the IRC has helped to rebuild her confidence. She volunteers as an interpreter for the local council and various other organisations. She is also part of a Ukrainian female choir, where she helps to translate and works part-time for the New Theatre Royal as a duty manager. Iryna’s long-term goal is to become an English teacher. She is soon to finish her CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) course at Portsmouth City College.

Svitlana also enrolled on the same orientation course with the IRC. It was the perfect way to begin her assimilation to life in the UK and share her experiences with other Ukrainians. “I can’t express my grati Svitlana’s tude in words,” she says. “The sessions were online, but it gave me the chance to socialise with other Ukrainians and learn about healthcare, education, emergency cases, rights and opportunities in the UK.” It’s also helping her with her career. “It helped me to understand how to write a CV and cover letter and navigate interviews. Thanks to this guidance, I’ve gained employment and self-employment as well.”

Two years on from the start of full-scale war in Ukraine and the future looks brighter for Iryna and Svitlana. “Looking back I’ve come so far from my New Year’s wish last year, which was just to survive,” says Iryna. “Now I can desire weekends by the sea and find a full-time job to become fully independent and help my family.” Svitlana is also feeling positive: “We’ve been surprised by the hospitality of our sponsor and his family,” she says. “I knew that British people are polite, tolerant and supportive, but I couldn’t imagine to what degree.”

Follow the link to donate to the International Rescue Committee and find out more about the crucial work they’re doing in Ukraine

We must do more to halt the growing threat to our politicians’ safety

Rishi Sunak is right to argue that a “dangerous signal” that “intimidation works” was sent in parliament last week when Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, judged that Labour MPs could face physical threats unless the party’s amendment on a ceasefire in Gaza and Israel was put to a vote. The crossing of this line – a worrying development – was partially obscured by the Commons chaos and the controversy that followed, which left the speaker fighting to keep his job.

The justified concern expressed by Mr Sunak and his ministers has also been eclipsed by the Conservatives’ latest unforced error – the inflammatory assertion by Lee Anderson, the party’s former deputy chair, that Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, is under the control of “Islamists”.

The prime minister’s warning that our democracy “cannot bend to the threat of violence and intimidation or fall into polarised camps who hate each other” would carry more weight were his party as serious about eliminating Islamophobia as it is about antisemitism. Mr Sunak’s statement on Sunday referred to an “explosion in prejudice and antisemitism” since the 7 October attack on Israel, but, remarkably, did not mention the rise in attacks aimed at Muslims. As The Independent reports today, the number of Islamophobic incidents logged has reached a record high.

Has Labour’s Rochdale debacle gifted George Galloway an open goal?

Voters in Rochdale will head to the polls on Thursday for one of the most controversial by-elections in recent history. What was set to be a straightforward contest to replace the late Labour MP Tony Lloyd, who died of blood cancer in January aged 73, has been mired by a series of scandals, with residents left facing an invidious choice.

Rochdale was considered a safe Labour seat, having been won with a comfortable 10,000 majority in 2019, but it is now anything but. Labour no longer has a candidate in the contest, and the front runner to win, George Galloway, is one of the most divisive figures in British politics.

So, how did it come to this, and what should voters look out for on Thursday?