INDEPENDENT 2024-04-04 01:06:49


More time on social media ‘linked to smoking and vape use among teens’

Spending a lot of time on social media could increase the chances of teenagers taking up smoking or vaping, according to a study.

The findings advocate for the promotion of healthy online habits for young people, researchers said, rather than “blanket bans and over-protection”.

Academics from the University of Glasgow explored how social media use among 14-year-olds influenced nicotine use when they reached 17.

The team surveyed 8,987 teenagers for the study, which has been published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

Some 28.9% of those who responded were smokers, while 23.7% vaped. Some 8.2% of the teenagers polled used both.

Mental health, socio-economic status and past smoking behaviours were also factored in.

Researchers found that spending more than two hours a day on social media platforms increased the likelihood of a teenager smoking by two and a half times.

They were also more than three times more likely to vape when compared to their peers who used social media for one hour to less than 30 minutes a day.

Lead author Amrit Kaur Purba, said: “Our findings advocate for the regulation of risky content on social media and tailored guidance for teens on social media use so they can navigate the complex social media environment.

“Educators, health professionals, and care givers must enhance their social media literacy to prepare teens for the realities of the social media landscape.

“We need to model healthy online habits, instead of resorting to blanket bans and over-protection, to help young people navigate the digital world.”

The study was funded by Medical Research Council Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office and the Wellcome Trust.

It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to bring in laws that will essentially mean youngsters born on or after January 1, 2009 will never legally be able to buy cigarettes.

There will also be new powers to regulate the display, contents, flavours and packaging of vapes and nicotine products.

The bill was introduced to Commons last month.

The Scottish Government has consented to the UK-wide legislation and also intends to ban the sale of single-use vapes from April 1, 2025.

Moscow launching ‘big attack’ as Zelensky lowers conscription age

President Volodymyr Zelensky has lowered the minimum age for Ukraine’s military draft from 27 to 25 in a move that analysts said would provide a significant boost to recruitment.

“Lowering the mobilisation age is one of many measures that Ukraine has been considering in an ongoing effort to create a sustainable wartime force-generation apparatus,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said.

Ukraine will now need an injection of new weaponry and equipment to kit out its newly mobilised personnel, the experts added, pointing to the backdrop of delayed Western aid that could render the Zelensky administration’s move ineffective.

Meanwhile, high-ranking Ukrainian military officers have warned that Russia is preparing to launch a “big attack” this summer that could plummet Ukraine into crisis.

The officers who served under General Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s former commander-in-chief of armed forces, said Russia was gathering resources and was likely to “launch a big attack around August” but warned it could be sooner.

One of the sources told Politico: “There’s nothing that can help Ukraine now because there are no serious technologies able to compensate Ukraine for the large mass of troops Russia is likely to hurl at us.”

Sunak hints that UK could leave ECHR if Rwanda plan blocked

Controlling immigration is more important than “membership of a foreign court”, the Prime Minister has said in his strongest hint yet that he could back leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

In an interview on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak defended his approach to tackling small boats crossing the Channel, but indicated he would be willing to leave the ECHR if it blocked his Rwanda policy.

The Prime Minister told The Sun’s Never Mind The Ballots programme: “I believe that all plans are compliant with all of our international obligations including the ECHR, but I do believe that border security and making sure that we can control illegal migration is more important than membership of a foreign court because it’s fundamental to our sovereignty as a country.”

Right-wing Conservative MPs, including former home secretary Suella Braverman, have previously pushed for the UK to leave the ECHR, fearing its provisions could prevent asylum seekers being deported to Rwanda.

The Prime Minister has previously resisted such calls, but said he would be willing to defy orders from the European Court of Human Rights if necessary to implement his Rwanda plan.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill currently making its way through Parliament includes provisions that would allow ministers to ignore such orders.

But members of the more moderate One Nation Group of Tory MPs have warned against leaving the convention, while others have said such a move would breach the Good Friday Agreement which includes a requirement to incorporate the ECHR into Northern Irish law.

Labour’s shadow immigration minister, Stephen Kinnock, said: “Rishi Sunak must think we’re stupid to tell us his plan on small boats is working when we’ve just seen record high Channel crossings over the Easter Bank holiday weekend.

“Arrivals on small boats are up this year and the Tories are floundering around trying to find anyone to blame but themselves. When will they take responsibility and admit they are failing on a staggering scale?

“This is just another desperate attempt by the Prime Minister to appease factions in his own party and stave off an attack from right-wing Tory MPs.

“Yet again the interests of the country come second.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael described the Prime Minister’s comments as “nothing more than an empty threat to try to keep his mutinous MPs on side”.

He said: “It doesn’t matter how many times Rishi Sunak tries, the Rwanda scheme will remain a colossal waste of time and taxpayers’ money.”

In his interview on Wednesday, Mr Sunak insisted that the Government had “plans in place” to implement the Rwanda policy as soon as the Bill was able to overcome opposition in the House of Lords, denying reports that there was no airline willing to take asylum seekers to the Central African nation.

He also defended his broader approach to small boats, saying he had done “more than any other prime minister in history” to tackle the problem.

After a fall in crossings last year, more than 5,000 people made the journey in the first three months of this year, exceeding the previous record set in 2022.

Mr Sunak said: “Progress is still being made. What are we doing with Albania? They accounted for a third of the arrivals we had the year before last.

“I negotiated a new deal with Albania. Obviously it’s a safe country. If somebody comes here illegally we’ll be able to return them back.

“We’ve then returned thousands of people back to Albania and what happened? They stopped coming. Now we need to replicate that.”

Two-thirds of social workers say children in dangerously mouldy homes

Two-thirds of social workers have witnessed children living in dangerous conditions with excessive levels of mould as they fear choices are being made between eating, paying rent or heating homes.

In what the Social Workers Union (SWU) has called a “national scandal” amid a cost of living crisis that is far from over, 61 per cent of children’s social workers reported young people are living in these mouldy environments, according to the new research among the union’s members.

At a wider level, the 2024 survey found that almost three-quarters of adult, child and mental health social workers (71 per cent) saw the people they support stop turning on their heating to save money over the winter.

This led to 55 per cent of the 716 respondents saying that many of the people social workers support are living in cold, damp homes. Scottish social workers reported the highest level of people living in these conditions (69 per cent), followed by those in northeast England (67 per cent), where almost all (94 per cent) of social workers surveyed also reported people they support had been forced to stop using their heating to save money.

A social worker told the researchers: “There has become a choice between eating, paying rent, or heating their homes. We are supporting more with food and energy support than ever before.”

Another said: “Parents are having to choose between buying food for children and heating their homes. Energy bills are simply not affordable. Respiratory infections in children have increased due to living in cold, damp homes. Children’s sickness has impacted their school attendance.”

It comes after a coroner ruled that two-year-old Awaab Ishak’s death in December 2020 was caused by prolonged exposure to mould in the flat where he lived with his mother Aisha Amin and father Faisal Abdullah in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. His parents had complained to the provider about mould multiple times.

John McGowan, General Secretary of the SWU, said: “While politicians try to kid themselves that the cost of living crisis is over, the reports from our members show just how dangerous this winter has been.

“All too often social workers are reporting seeing people living in substandard and dangerous housing. This happens in all parts of the country, but we know that people living in the private rented sector can be among the worst affected.

“Children living in cold, damp, mouldy homes is a national scandal and we need to see drastic action being taken to fix Britain’s broken energy system.”

Dr Cath Lowther, General Secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, said young people living in damp and cold conditions are facing “adversity, plain and simple”, unable to thrive and develop.

She said: “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are known to have a long-term negative impact on all aspects of people’s lives. This involves significantly increased risk to physical health as well as further risks to mental health and achievement in school. Nobody can concentrate on schoolwork when all they can think about is trying to keep warm. And how confident will a child or young person feel about inviting their friends over to such a home?

“If the government is serious about improving the lives of our children and young people, starting with safe, adequate housing needs to be a priority.”

Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of social workers polled also reported that the people they work with who have a disability or health condition cannot afford to run medical equipment, while 15 per cent told of seeing disabled people whom they support unable to charge their mobility devices due to the high cost of energy.

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said: “The price households pay for their energy is still higher than in 2021 and levels of energy debt are soaring. Meanwhile, the wider cost of living crisis means people simply can’t afford to keep the heating on when it’s needed most.

“What we need to see is a much faster rollout of programmes to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and bring down the cost of energy. The reality is though that there will also need to be a structured programme of financial support announced well in advance to help people through next winter.”

Warm This Winter campaign spokesperson Fiona Waters said: “This is a heart-rending and all too familiar story where the most vulnerable are at risk because of our broken energy system and we need urgent change before even more children, the elderly and others become ill or worse.

“As a rich country, at the very least we should be giving our people warm, dry, healthy homes to live in. That’s why we need long term solutions such as expanding homegrown renewable energy and a mass programme of insulation to bring down bills once and for all so these appalling living conditions are banished to the past where they belong.”

The Independent has contacted the UK government for comment.

Savvy spending guide: 5 ways to shop more mindfully and save money

The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial advice. This information is from an independent third party, these are their own views and do not necessarily constitute the views of American Express.

Whether you’re trying to be more sustainable, save money or a bit of both, there’s no doubt that adopting a more mindful approach to shopping has real benefits for us and the planet we live in. So, whether you’re splashing out on a new wardrobe item or the latest piece of tech, how can you ensure you shop savvily, and don’t end up disappointed or having to throw good money after bad?

According to finance coach Ellie-Austin Williams, the founder of financial wellbeing community ‘This Girl Talks Money’ and author of Money Talks: A Lifestyle Guide for Financial Wellbeing, it’s all about having a strategy when it comes to spending.

“A lot of it is just about taking your time to make the decision and being confident that you have explored all the options,” she explains. “Work out what you actually need or want as well as why, do your research, and then buy smartly.” Here Ellie shares her advice for savvy spending, so you’ll never regret a splurge again…

Whether it’s a new tech item for work or one of your hobbies, a vital piece of homeware or a new pair of shoes – investment buying is about adopting a more thoughtful, mindful approach to spending, which will pay off in the long run.

“For me, investment purchases are where you have to spend a little bit more money up front but in the long term, you’ll save money because you’re buying something that will stand the test of time, that’s going to be better quality and is going to meet your needs for a longer period,” says Ellie.

When it comes to things that you use or wear everyday – whether a pair of noise-cancelling headphones or a new sofa – it’s worth making sure you’re buying something that will last. “Sometimes paying a bit more for higher quality materials will mean that something lasts several times longer as something that’s half the price so overall you end up spending less,” says Ellie.

It’s not about spending more money for the sake of it – the best buy won’t always be the priciest one. But when you are looking to drop some cash on something more significant than your small, everyday purchases, it can pay off to spend more upfront.

There’s nothing better than the feeling of buying the right thing, at the right time, for the right price. But too often we can end up feeling like we’ve made a mistake with our purchases. So how should you approach an investment buy?

“I think the key question to ask yourself is, why am I buying this?” says Ellie. “Is this something that I need or want? If it’s something that you want, that’s fine, but know why you want it. Is it something that actually is going to elevate or enhance your life in a valuable way or is it just part of a trend or fad?”

Be realistic with what you can afford, too. When it comes to any non-essential buys, Ellie always recommends prioritising essentials and long-term finances first. “So, figure out how much you want to put into your savings and then look at what’s leftover as disposable income.”

Work out your budget before you start browsing. “There will nearly always be higher end options, as well as cheaper ones, but be focused in your research and look for the best option within that budget,” says Ellie. “If you’re buying a washing machine and your budget is £600, don’t spend time looking at the £1000 machines that have great reviews but you can’t afford.”

Don’t rush it, either. One good strategy for buying bigger or more expensive items is to go home and think about it, or put it in your virtual basket and leave it there for a few days. “It’s good to sit on investment purchases for a little bit,” says Ellie. “A day or two – maybe longer if it’s a bigger purchase. Just to see if you feel the same about it once the initial buzz of the idea has worn off.”

An easy mistake to make with investment buying is assuming you should always go for the more expensive item where possible. The latest phone release might be getting all the headlines – but do you really need everything it offers, or would a lower range or slightly older model suit you just as well?

It’s all about working out what product best suits your needs, says Ellie. “For example, I don’t do a lot of heavy video editing or gaming so I don’t need a super high processing speed laptop and have saved money on that,” she says. “But I do a lot of filming on my phone for my social channels and the lowest level model doesn’t have the best quality camera. So it’s all going to be individual to your specific needs and usage.”

Especially when you’re buying out of your comfort zone, speaking to an online sales advisor or – even better – going into a store can be helpful in pinning down which specific product is going to be right for you. “If you’ve got the time to actually talk to someone with some expertise, that can be really helpful in finding an item that really suits your needs rather than just buying something that’s new and shiny and might require spending more money than you need to. You’ll get the chance to try it out, talk through the product and functions, and look at alternatives.”

Even if you intend to buy online eventually – if you have a specific online or app deal or discount code for example – it’s worth looking at things in person first.

While getting the advice of salespeople is useful, do your own research, too. When it’s a big purchase, make sure you look at independent consumer review websites like Which?, even if you have to pay a small fee to access them.

“Sometimes paying for a subscription to a site like this is worth it if you’re going to spend a lot of money on an item, to get a well-rounded assessment, see the pros and cons in one place and to see it compared to similar products,” says Ellie.

Search online for write-ups in national news titles or specialist magazines, and check out customer reviews on the big retailers’ sites. “I look at the negative reviews just to see if there are any specific complaints that consistently pop up,” says Ellie.

Seek advice closer to home, too. “Getting recommendations from friends and family is a great way to cut through the noise and overwhelm.” Social media can be a great place to ask for opinions and recommendations, including in any relevant social media groups you’re a member of, such as on Facebook or Reddit.

Once you’ve figured out what it is that you need (or want!), make sure that you’re shopping around and buying in the most cost-effective way.

“Google Shopping is a good starting point to compare prices, as it searches a wide range of retailers, including Amazon, Currys, John Lewis and Tesco, as well as less traditional sites such as eBay, Etsy and daily deals site Groupon,” says Ellie. “But use the filters to select retailers that you know and trust. If a price looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Look into price-tracking sites – these have browser extensions that scour the internet for coupons and promo deals and automatically apply them at online checkouts. There are also specific sites that track Amazon prices and show the pricing history so you can see if you’re buying at a good time.

Money Saving Expert have created a special tool to help you find bargain buys in Amazon Warehouse (where you can buy customer returned or slightly damaged products for low prices). Also explore fashion and sale aggregate sites – many of these have discount alert functions, allow you to create watchlists of items from different online retailers, and set target sales prices, so you can maximise your discounts.

“A lot of retailers offer discounts of 10 per cent on your first purchase if you sign up to mailing lists, so that can be worth doing, and you can always unsubscribe later,” says Ellie. If you’re already signed up with a retailer, it’s worth leaving something in your online basket without buying it – sometimes they’ll email you with an offer to tempt you to complete the purchase.

Be clever about when you buy, and hold out for seasonal discounts. “If you don’t need something urgently then it can be worth waiting for one of those calendar moments to see if you can get a discount. The obvious ones are Black Friday and after Christmas, but there can be deals throughout the year.”

And don’t rule out buying pre-loved options via sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace. “It’s a great way to get things that are high quality but that are usually out of your price range,” says Ellie, “and many items are sold unworn with tags.”

By making purchases on your credit card, you can take advantage of cashback offers and exclusive retail discounts, making your buy even savvier. “Also make sure that you’re checking the big cashback websites like TopCashback and Quidco before you make any purchases,” says Ellie. “Some retailers are on certain sites but not others so check them all. These are all little things that you can do to help you to save a bit extra.”

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Royal Mail to cull letter deliveries in plans putting jobs at risk

Second-class letters could be delivered just three times a week under new plans submitted by the Royal Mail, which could see 1,000 jobs put at risk.

The latest plans mean second class post would be reduced to every other weekday, while Saturday deliveries would be cancelled.

In its submission to Ofcom’s consultation on the future of the universal postal service, Royal Mail said its proposals would see all non first-class letter deliveries – including second class and bulk business mail – reduced to save it up to £300 million a year.

But it would keep a six-day-a-week service for first-class mail in a climbdown on previous calls for all Saturday letter deliveries to be scrapped.

Royal Mail revealed the proposals, if given the go-ahead, would lead to “fewer than 1,000” voluntary redundancies as the plans would mean daily delivery routes cut by between 7,000 to 9,000 within two years.

The group insisted it would not expect to make any compulsory redundancies and hopes the roles could be reduced through natural staff turnover on its 130,000 workforce.

It claimed the proposals would not need a change in legislation, given it would still be delivering first-class post six days a week and called for Ofcom to put the changes in place by April next year.

Royal Mail said: “The proposal is designed to create a more financially stable future for the business and its shareholders, protecting tens of thousands of jobs and the best terms and conditions in the industry.

“It closely aligns to changes successfully made in comparable countries – in Europe and around the world – over recent years, with limited changes for customers.”

Liberal Democrat business spokeswoman Sarah Olney branded the plans a “slap in the face for families being asked to pay more for less”.

“It risks creating a cost-of-postage crisis, as people feel forced to pay for first class stamps because second class delivery days are being slashed,” she added.

Martin Seidenberg, group chief executive of Royal Mail owner International Distributions Services (IDS), insisted the group had “worked hard to come up with a proposal that is good for our customers, good for our people and would allow Royal Mail to invest in products and services”.

He said: “If we want to save the universal service, we have to change the universal service.

Reform gives us a fighting chance and will help us on the path to sustainability.”

Ofcom has been consulting on the postal service reforms since January, with a deadline of April 3 set for responses.

A spokesman for the regulator said: “We’ll carefully consider all the feedback received, and provide an update in the summer.”

Under its universal service obligation (USO), Royal Mail must deliver letters six days a week to all 32 million addresses in the UK for the price of a stamp.

Royal Mail has long been urging the Government and Ofcom to review its obligations, arguing that it is no longer workable or cost effective, given the decline in addressed letter post.

In a long-awaited report in January, Ofcom revealed options for an overhaul of the universal postal service that could see Royal Mail’s letter delivery service slashed from six days to five, or even three, a week.

Another option mooted was to extend letter delivery times, with a more expensive next-day delivery service available when required.

The proposals sparked an outcry, with ministers quick to dismiss any suggestion that the Government would sanction the scrapping of Saturday deliveries.

The six-day-a-week service is part of the universal service requirement stipulated by law under the Postal Services Act 2011.

Royal Mail also said in its submission that it would change all standard bulk mail – such as bills and statements – to a second class service, meaning they arrive within three weekdays instead of two.

It added that it would like to add new reliability targets, as well as “revised, realistic” speed goals, and add tracking to universal service parcels.

Why are Tory MPs rebelling against the Criminal Justice Bill?

The government is facing yet another political embarrassment in the coming weeks, this time a sizeable rebellion on its latest “law and order” bill. And the current Criminal Justice Bill is a very silly bill indeed, according to its critics, at least as it pertains to the difficult issue of rough sleeping.

As has been picked up by the press, it will criminalise “nuisance” rough sleeping, and allow the police to arrest someone if an “excessive” smell is coming from them or their makeshift bedding, or even if they look like they are preparing to sleep rough. A fine of up to £2,500 may be imposed if they refuse to move on. “Insulting words” are also actionable, even though the world of the rough sleeper isn’t well suited to polite discourse about their predicament.

Such odd, if not grotesquely cruel, clauses in the bill have understandably attracted cross-party opposition. The bill has made good progress through the House of Commons so far, but amendments will be tabled when the House returns from recess after 15 April, at the “report” stage. The Lords, a revising chamber designed to improve badly drafted legislation, may also take a view.