INDEPENDENT 2024-03-05 04:34:06

Fifteen children die of malnutrition and dehydration in Gaza as Biden airdrops ‘not enough’

At least 15 children have died from malnutrition and dehydration in Gaza, reports over the weekend suggested, with Unicef saying they were entirely preventable.

The news came after the United States made its first airdrops of aid into Gaza at the start of the weekend and the White House called for a ceasefire to ease the situation.

Gaza’s health ministry said that it feared for other children who had been hospitalised because of malnutrition and dehydration.

UNICEF’s Regional Director in the Middle East, Adele Khodr, said on Sunday that ten deaths had happened in the past few days.

“There are likely more children fighting for their lives somewhere in one of Gaza’s few remaining hospitals, and likely even more children in the north unable to obtain care at all,” Ms Khodr said. “These tragic and horrific deaths are man-made, predictable and entirely preventable.”

The US has dropped some 38,000 meals into Gaza, as part of a “sustained effort” to increase aid making it into the embattled territory.

However, some have criticised the move, saying that the US has not done enough so far.

“Airdrops, we think, are a bit of theatre,” the head of Save the Children, Janti Soeripto, told Sky News.

“Essentially what we need is opening of crossings, more trucks of supplies coming in, we need a ceasefire, we need safe and unfettered access to the communities.”

That call for a ceasefire got a boost on Sunday when Vice President Kamala Harris said one needed to happen immediately.

“[G]iven the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire — for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table,” Ms Harris said during a speech in Selma, Alabama, on the anniversary of the civil rights march later known as “Bloody Sunday”.

Unicef believes that nearly 16 pe cent of children under two years old are “acutely malnourished” in the north of Gaza, while 5 per cent are around Rafah in the south.

“People are hungry, exhausted and traumatised. Many are clinging to life,” Ms Kohodr added.

She called for UNICEF and other humanitarian organisations to be allowed into Gaza without any impediment, to try and prevent a rapid rise in child deaths.

“The sense of helplessness and despair among parents and doctors in realising that life-saving aid, just a few kilometres away, is being kept out of reach, must be unbearable, but worse still are the anguished cries of those babies slowly perishing under the world’s gaze,” Ms Khodr continued. “The lives of thousands more babies and children depend on urgent action being taken now.”

Ms Harris promised on Sunday that more aid routes would be established.

“As President Joe Biden said on Friday, the United States is committed to urgently get more lifesaving assistance to innocent Palestinians in need,” she said.

As the Israel-Hamas War nears the six-month mark, following the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October, it’s reported that at least 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict.

Hunt for teenager after woman has chemical thrown in her face

Police are looking for a teenager after a woman in her thirties was the victim of a suspected chemical attack.

Officers were called at around 1.30pm on Sunday after reports a woman in her thirties had a substance, thought to be ammonia, thrown in her face at an address on Whinfield Road in Fleetwood.

The victim was taken to hospital but was not seriously injured and has since been discharged.

At this stage, the assault was an isolated and targeted attack with no wider threat to the public, police said.

Officers want to speak to 19-year-old Mickey Blundell in relation to the ongoing investigation. The teenager’s last known address is Radcliffe Road, Fleetwood.

Detective inspector Kirsty Wyatt said: “It is only a matter of luck that this victim did not receive more significant injuries and we are treating this extremely seriously.

“We are carrying out our own enquiries to trace the suspect, but we would also like to appeal for the public’s help to find him. If anyone sees Blundell or knows where he may be I would ask them not to approach him but to contact police as a matter of urgency.”

New womb cancer treatment gives hope for hundreds of women

A drug that could buy women with womb cancer more time with their loved ones before the disease progresses is to be made available on the NHS.

Dostarlimab, which is sold under the brand name Jemperli, is an immunotherapy that works by attracting specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells to help the immune system attack them.

The move is expected to benefit hundreds of patients each year and evidence suggests the drug extends life expectancy when used alongside chemotherapy.

It will be rolled out by NHS England from Tuesday after receiving the green light from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), with up to 200 patients expected to be eligible each year.

Professor Peter Clark, NHS England’s Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) lead, said: “The rollout of this drug as a first-line treatment on the NHS is great news for patients living with this type of womb cancer – this new immunotherapy could offer hundreds of women the hope of precious extra time to live well before their cancer progresses.”

According to Nice, there are two main types of womb cancer – endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma – with about 9,000 new cases every year in the UK.

The most common type is endometrial cancer, with about 23% of cases involving cells with a high number of mutations.

Jemperli is recommended for these subtypes where the cancer is advanced or has come back following previous treatment, Nice said.

Some 64% of patients using Jemperli and chemotherapy in clinical trials did not see their cancer progress after 12 months of treatment. The figure was more than twice the rate seen with chemotherapy alone (24%).

However, Nice said as data was only collected over a short period of time, long-term benefits of the drug are uncertain.

It will therefore be available on the NHS through the CDF while further studies are conducted.

Helen Knight, director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said: “Advanced or recurrent womb cancer has a devastating effect on quality of life and there are limited treatment options available.

“We are focused on delivering what matters most and getting care to those who need it fast, so I am delighted this treatment option will be made quickly available through the CDF, enabling people with this type of cancer to enjoy more precious time with their families and loved ones.”

Jemperli is administered using a 30-minute drip in hospital every three weeks alongside chemotherapy for six cycles.

Patients with cancers that have responded to the drug can have it every six weeks for up to three years.

One patient said the therapy has allowed her to live “without the brutal side effects” of cancer treatment.

Sue Woodburn, 65, from Kirkby Lonsdale, has recurring womb cancer. She added: “It’s hard to stay positive when you’re running out of options and living with cancer is taking its toll on your mental health.

“Dostarlimab has made a big difference for me. It has helped me to stay positive and hopeful that I will have a decent quality of life for a good few years yet.

“Dostarlimab allows me to have a treatment without the brutal side effects. It’s a treatment that doesn’t take over my life, that enables me to plan for the future.

“And it gives me belief that I might see my granddaughter start school. Now I’ve finished the chemo, I feel nearly back to normal. I’ve been able to travel – and have just come back from Rome. I am back biking, playing tennis and skiing – when I actually thought I would be dead by now.”

Inside the making of Supersex, Netflix’s most explicit show ever

Rocco Siffredi is an emblem, he’s an icon, he is the cock of the Western culture,” says Francesca Manieri, the filmmaker behind the Netflix drama Supersex, about one of history’s most prolific porn stars. “My goal was to put men in front of themselves. This is what we call the phallocentric system, the system in which the d*** is the centrum of the thought before everything. So what can you do right now, [in] 2024, to understand the relationship between men and women? And how can men put themselves in front of the image of their symbolic d*** and try to deconstruct all of this?”

These are the lofty aims of Supersex, a Netflix seven-parter inspired by Siffredi’s life. The star of more than 1,300 adult films, Siffredi retired from on-camera sex in 2004 – then returned to action five years later, then claimed to have once again stepped back from performing in 2022. In Supersex, Rocco Tano (played by Alessandro Borghi) is a boy growing up in the coastal Italian town of Ortona, who rises through the adult film industry like a rocket. Re-named Rocco Siffredi after the Alain Delon character in the 1970 gangster movie Borsalino, he stars in 1987 hit provocatively titled Sodopunition pour dépravées sexuelles and becomes a star.

I meet Siffredi in the ballroom of a Berlin hotel, and find a 59-year-old reflecting with some uncertainty the events of his life. “You have family, you have a wife, you have children and you never stop thinking, ‘Did I do the right thing or not?’” Tears begin to well in his eyes.

Among genre connoisseurs, Siffredi sits alongside John Holmes and Ron Jeremy as one of the top males in porn. But he suggests it came at a cost. “I was scared because I started in a business where everybody said, ‘What the f*** are you doing?’. They go to my family, ‘Why did you let him do this?’. I said, ‘I want to be this guy. I want to do this all my life. I will never change.’” The only person he didn’t want to hurt was his mother. “Because she already suffered too much herself. But when she said, ‘Don’t worry, do it’ – against everybody, even members of the family – I said, ‘I’m ready to f*** the world.’”

Siffredi certainly had a good go of it, with his partners numbering in the thousands (he did, for a time, experience sex addiction). The question is, post-#MeToo, can you even make a compelling, unironic drama about a real-life porn star? Supersex, at least, is the product of a woman – Manieri identifies as a feminist, and previously co-created the celebrated coming-of-age limited series We Are Who We Are with Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name). She argues that her plan was to “really deep dive [into] the core of masculinity”, as they unpacked the life of a skin flick legend.

Whether Supersex achieves this is debatable. The show comes across as a sleazy, European riposte to Paul Thomas Anderson’s porn industry classic Boogie Nights. The glitzy soundtrack brings us Eighties hits such as Visage’s “Fade to Grey” and Desireless’ “Voyage, Voyage”, laid across scenes of Rocco having intercourse in a Parisian sex club. It’s there he first catches the eye of his idol, Gabriel Pontello (Johann Dionnet), a French star and director of adult films, who introduces him to the wider world of X-rated entertainment.

As told in flashback, the young Rocco discovers eroticism via a softcore photo magazine called Supersex, which featured Pontello. Likewise, the show delves into Rocco’s relationship with his older brother Tommaso (Adriano Giannini) and with Tommaso’s partner Lucia (Jasmine Trinca), who becomes a sex worker on the streets of Pigalle in Paris. Maneri has cited as an influence Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, which features a notorious rape sequence – although surely placing your show next to that epic crime saga is wishful thinking.

Despite Supersex’s campier, melodramatic elements, it cut deep for Siffredi. “When I saw the series, seven hours, all at once… it was pretty difficult,” he says. “My mind was going so fast. So many memories. So much happiness but also much pain.” He said he had “friction” with Manieri when they were building the show, which is described in its opening credits as being “loosely” based on his life – he estimates 70 per cent of it is true. “She’s so deep. She wants to know what was inside [of] me… I was a little bit scared in the beginning.”

He wasn’t the only one. Borghi, 37, who shot to fame in the organised crime series Suburra, calls the show “absolutely the most complicated thing I’ve ever made in my life”. Not least because he was born in Rome, and Italy remains a strictly Roman Catholic country. “I was not really sure [about representing] that kind of complex issue, especially in my country,” he says. “You can talk about everything you want in Italy, but not about sex.” Supersex does at least allow us to reflect on the pervasive influence of pornography in the internet age. “I really grew up with porn,” Borghi says. “It was my sexual education. Nobody came to me telling me, ‘How does it work?’ on the internet. [Luckily], I had sex education from my parents, from my family. But maybe somebody [does] not have that kind of education.”

Siffredi, who has also directed and produced pornography, has given this a lot of thought. “We have [had] at least two different generations grow up with porn, [for] good and bad,” he says. “In some ways it is good, because people are less problematic than I was when I was young. Then [in] the other direction, porn becomes more and more, let’s say, colourful… any kind of porn [you could want] is there. And lots of children watch. And probably they don’t understand what they watch. Nobody [is] explaining to them… [but] I don’t consider this my responsibility, that’s for sure. We are entertainment for adults.”

As Manieri notes, porn is an unstoppable phenomenon in the digital age. “What we can do as a culture and industry is to ask questions about it and to reflect on the fact that porn in the Seventies was avant-garde, very futuristic,” she says. “At the beginning it was strictly connected with the power of sexuality.” Today it’s different, she argues. “In this series… we wanted to reflect not exactly on porn, but on what porn is hiding.”

Siffredi seems to think porn has changed for the better, arguing that the majority of adult movies are now directed by women. “When I started it was not like this,” he says. “If we used to call women ‘objects’, today I would call men objects because today porn is made by women.” Now, he believes women exert more control as they “choose to do porn”, or even manage their own careers via sites like OnlyFans.

He does, however, offer a warning to any prospective adult film stars out there. “Think three times, maybe four or five, before you choose to do something like this,” he says. “I [was] born to do this, but so many people think, ‘Oh, come on – I go, I make money, I become famous.’ It is not like this.”

‘Supersex’ streams on Netflix from 6 March

The truth about the £100k gender pension gap

It can be easy to bury your head in the sand when it comes to retirement, especially when it seems a long way off. But if you want to live comfortably when the time comes to stop working, planning ahead is vital. It’s even more important for women, who are on track to have significantly less money than men in later life.

Just as there’s a gender pay-gap, there’s also a discrepancy between how much income men and women have in retirement, too – and it’s even bigger. Research from Scottish Widows shows there is a massive 39% gender pension gap*. This gap grows wider over the course of an average woman’s working life – at 22, there is a £100 difference in pension savings between men and women. By 65, this has grown to a shocking £100,000 difference. For the average woman to level this out, she would have to pay an additional £96 every month over her working life.

Scottish Widows latest ‘Women and Retirement’ report shows that a third of women are not on track to achieve even a basic lifestyle in retirement, covering essential needs, with only a small amount left over for anything else. It means many women won’t have the money to live comfortably, let alone do the things they hope to in retirement, such as travel, socialise and pursue hobbies. The average woman is set to receive £12k per year of income in today’s money during retirement, after paying for any expected housing expenses, compared to £19k for the average man. This includes private pension, other long-term savings, inheritance and the state pension or pension credits.

This gender pension gap is largely driven by deep-seated structural issues. The gender pay/wage gap is a factor, as, naturally, when women earn less, they have less to save. Women are also more likely to work part-time and to take career breaks due to caring responsibilities and a lack of affordable childcare. “Childcare is a huge contributing factor for women, often resulting in them giving up work or reducing their working hours to look after their family,” says Jill Henderson, Scottish Widows’ Head of Business Development. “After women have children the gap between their pension and that of a typical man’s starts to widen. This is because women tend to take on the lion’s share of childcare and employment breaks or part time working – all of which are big drivers of the gender pension gap.” Research found 63% of mothers have either reduced the number of days they worked per week when returning from parental leave or have not yet returned, compared to just over 16% of men.

Some women bear the brunt more than others. “The inability to save has a devastating impact on women’s income and ability to thrive in later life,” says Henderson. “Those women who are in a relationship fare better, but those who are single, divorced or are single mothers are most vulnerable.”

Two-thirds of single women and 60% of divorced women aren’t on track for a minimum lifestyle in retirement, while for single mothers the figures are even starker, at 75%. Working part time, coupled with other financial pressures, makes it much more difficult for single mothers to save for retirement. To make things even more difficult, gaps in work for raising children can also affect eligibility for the state pension. It means that single mothers are almost twice as likely to live in poverty in retirement than the average UK woman.

The overall picture is worrying, but there is some room for optimism. Auto enrolment – where an employer must automatically enrol eligible employees into their pension programme – has nearly doubled the number of females saving into a workplace pension in the last decade. For most people, the state pension will not provide enough income to live comfortably in retirement, so it’s vital to invest in private pension pots.

Recent legislation is set to make two key changes to auto-enrolment; reducing the age requirement from 22 to 18, and removing the lower earnings limit (currently £6,240) which means helps people qualify for auto enrolment and get employer contributions and tax relief from the first ound they earn. “These changes will be most valuable to the young and lower paid, including those who work part-time, most of whom are women,” says Henderson.

The ideal amount to be putting away is 15% of your salary (a combination of what you and your employer pay in, plus any tax relief), but even if you can’t manage that, every little bit makes a difference, especially if you get started today. “People can only save what they can afford to, but we suggest people check in on their pension regularly especially if their situation changes,” says Henderson. Young women are now more likely to start saving earlier in life than men — and the sooner you start, the better the position you’ll be in when you retire.

When it comes to planning for retirement, knowledge is power. Scottish Widows have created a new Beat The Gap tool ( to help simplify how people engage with pensions, and make it easier for women (and men) to understand how things like working pattern, and childcare can affect their pension. By inputting some simple information, including gender, age and salary, it plots the user against the UK average pension across their lifetime. You can then see where the gap is most likely to emerge and get tailored tips on how to boost your pension and close the gap.

It’s part of a range of free educational support to help women plan for their retirement.

There’s a long way to go to close the gender pension gap, with many societal changes that need to happen. Until then, being aware of the factors that can affect their pension can help empower women to take the steps they need to ensure a more comfortable retirement, while they wait for the bigger picture to shift.

Find out more about the gender pension gap, plus expert tips and free tools to help you save for your retirement at

*2023 RR and 2023 W&R reports (based on the National Retirement Forecast)

Peers are right to challenge the Rwanda bill

Two years, three home secretaries and £370m later, the Rwanda plan launched by Priti Patel and Boris Johnson has successfully deported the grand total of zero refugees to Kigali.

That, in its way, is something to celebrate. It was always morally wrong and legally problematic to treat people in this way, and placing them at risk of being returned to their countries of origin to be tortured to death was always the wrong thing to do, even if it cost very little.

The fact is that it costs a great deal and for no great purpose. As the latest attempt to revive the scheme arrives in the House of Lords – a hostile environment, if ever there was one – it faces yet more obstacles.

Is Galloway really going to ‘shift the tectonic plates’ of politics?

The aftershocks of George Galloway’s earthquake victory in Rochdale continue to reverberate around the political landscape. As Galloway himself put it, with some hyperbole, he believes his win will “spark a movement, a landslide, a shifting of the tectonic plates in scores of parliamentary constituencies”.

As he took his seat in the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity, even the usual niceties stirred up some controversy. It had been suggested that Galloway would be walked into the chamber and formally introduced by Jeremy Corbyn, an old comrade from the 1980s, and David Davis, the sometimes quixotic former Tory Brexit secretary. After Davis dropped out, the task fell to the father of the House, Peter Bottomley, who’s been an independently minded Conservative MP since 1975.

Soon the House will be treated to Galloway’s “maiden” speech (not his first one), and no doubt some dramatic parliamentary moments. No wonder Rishi Sunak said his return is “beyond alarming”.