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More help needed for early service leaders

A veterans charity chief says systems meant to help soldiers return to civilian life are “fundamentally unfair”.

Retired Major Jim Panton told BBC’s Inside Out West Midlands soldiers who have seen active tours could still find themselves without adequate support.

This is because all soldiers must serve for at least four years before they are entitled to resettlement support.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said they recognise more needs to be done.

‘Fundamentally unfair’
Under current rules, soldiers who have served four years or more can receive grants towards retraining and a gradual return to civilian life.

But those who have not served the entire four years, known as early service leavers, are pointed in the direction of the Job Centre Plus.

Major Panton said: “You may have served three operational tours in places like Afghanistan, and Iraq before that, and only qualify for the same support as someone who’s been in training for three or four weeks and decided that the army wasn’t for them.

“I think that is fundamentally unfair. In the list of things that aren’t quite right this is at the top,” added Major Panton, who is chief executive of charity Erskine.

Some 30% of early service leavers are still out of work six months after leaving the army, compared with 20% of the equivalent civilian population.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has opened a consultation into benefits for early service leavers, but any changes will not take effect before 2015.

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Inadequate training may have contributed to death of boy in cell

An unlawful use of force contributed to the decision of a 14-year-old boy to take his own life at a youth custody centre, an inquest jury has concluded. This report is from the BBC.

Adam Rickwood, from Burnley in Lancashire, was found hanged in his cell at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in County Durham in August 2004.

Hours before he died he was struck on the nose, using the Nose Distraction Technique, and carried to his cell.

He was the youngest person to die in UK custody in the modern era.

The inquest in Easington, County Durham, heard he was an “extremely troubled and vulnerable young man” with a history of cannabis abuse when he was sent to the centre near Medomsley, 150 miles from his home town.

He was on remand after he had been charged with wounding another youth.

‘Swept under carpet’
On the day he died, Adam had rowed with a female member of staff in the association area and was lifted by four care officers and placed face-down in his room.

The inquest was told that on the way, care officer Steve Hodgson used the Nose Distraction Technique – a sharp painful blow to the nose – to stop the boy trying to bite him.

His nose bled afterwards and he was left alone in his room to calm down.

Adam spoke to members of staff and he did not seem too despondent afterwards, but six hours later he was found dead in his room.

The jury concluded there had been a serious system failure at the centre which led to an unlawful regime.

They found that staff at Hassockfield were not properly trained in High Risk Assessment Team (HRAT) procedures designed to safeguard trainees who might self-harm, nor in suicide awareness skills and behaviour management.

Mistake made
They also found that staff had not been adequately trained by the Prison Service in the use of Physical Control in Care (PCC) techniques.

The inquest found that at the time of Adam’s death, the Youth Justice Board should have been aware the PCC was being used unlawfully, which was a “serious system failure” at the secure training centre (STC).

It found Adam should have been assigned a replacement key worker when his own went off sick and that Hassockfield had failed to effectively implement an HRAT programme to safeguard him.

It also concluded a mistake had been made in “closing the book” on Adam with regard to HRAT care in July 2004.

It found neither Hassockfield nor the Lancashire Youth Offending Team had dealt appropriately with the teenager’s request to be moved to an STC closer to his family home.

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Wrongly accused teachers face a losing battle

Teachers who are cleared of alleged offences against pupils often have to suffer indignation and embarrassment while the case is investigated, and may find their job prospects irreparably damaged despite being innocent. Here are some examples as reported by the Telegraph.

Robert King

The 45-year-old was suspended from Handsworth Grange Community Sports College in Sheffield in May 2004 after four girls falsely claimed he had groped them.

He was cleared of the allegations in a criminal trial and claimed he had been the victim of a “witch hunt” by friends of a boy whom he had played a key role in expelling.

But despite being found innocent, he was dismissed in May 2006 and lost an unfair dismissal case at an employment tribunal, with Sheffield City Council claiming there had been a “breakdown in trust and confidence” as well as other issues.

Hannah McIntyre

Miss McIntyre, a trainee teacher, said her career came “crashing to an end” despite being cleared of having sex with a 16-year-old pupil.

The 25-year-old had been accused of seducing the boy by giving him cider, but the jury ruled she was the victim as a group of boys barged into her home and intimidated her because they were “bored” and saw her as an “easy target”.

The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, made the allegations shortly after being suspended for a third time in six months for disrespectful behaviour towards female teachers and violence against other pupils.

Rebecca Poole

The 26-year-old was accused of molesting a teenage pupil after his parents found footage on his mobile phone that showed her performing a sex act on him.

But Mrs Poole was cleared of all charges after telling the jury the 15-year-old had cornered her and forced her into the act while holding a screwdriver to her head.

Mrs Poole said the boy had threatened her not to report him, and that she was too scarred by the “embarrassing, humiliating and shocking” incident ever to return to teaching.

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Inflation rising, but pay stays the same

From early this morning, some of the shop-floor staff at the huge Perkins engine factory in Stafford will stage their fifth one-day strike, in an attempt to break the second year of a pay freeze, reports the BBC.

Their factory stayed very profitable through the recession and, as some of them told me as they started an early morning shift, they are fed up with prices rising as their pay stays the same.

“It’s just everything,” said one man, who like his colleagues did not wish to be named.

“You go to the shops and a loaf of bread is £1.25 then the next week it is £1.35 – everybody’s just had enough.”

I asked his colleague if he had really noticed everyday prices rising.

“Oh yeah – petrol, everything is going up,” he replied.

Another Perkins employee pointed the finger at energy companies.

“Prices are rising constantly – utilities and everything else,” he said.

Strikes
As the inflation rate has continued to shoot up, the past couple of months have seen a number of other industrial disputes over attempts to impose pay freezes, or keep them in place.

One has involved staff at the GlaxoSmithKline Ribena factory in Coleford in Gloucestershire.

Another has involved journalists employed by regional newspapers such as the Southern daily Echo, owned by the Newsquest/Gannet group.

Colin Griffiths, a full time official for the GMB trade union in Stafford, says other workers he represents may soon be in the same situation.

“In 2011, 2012, I think we will see unrest,” he warns.

“I have just balloted for industrial action at Adams Foods in Leek – they have offered just 1% on pay.

“People are tired of the constant pressure on wages, pensions and conditions,” he adds.

Pay freezes over?
Perkins Engines, part of the Caterpillar group, says the economic circumstances remain “challenging.”

Instead of abandoning its two-year pay freeze, it has announced a £2,000 bonus payable in March, and has brought forward its annual pay award from September to June, with a 4% rise on the table.

That is not enough to satisfy the striking staff at Perkins Engines.

They complain that the second year of their pay freeze was imposed on them just as inflation began to take off, leaving them out of pocket before the 2011 pay deal comes around.

Elsewhere in the private sector there are signs that now that the economy is picking up, and under pressure from workers feeling the pinch, pay freezes in the private sector are coming to an end.

According to Incomes Data Services (IDS), a firm that provides authoritative research on pay settlements, one third of private sector pay deals in 2009 involved a freeze.

That percentage fell steadily through 2010 and hardly any private sector pay deals starting this year now feature a freeze.

“Average earnings in the private sector are now rising at an annual rate of 4%,” says Alastair Hatchett at IDS.

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National Grid incur a work-to-rule threat

More than 600 workers at National Grid will try to slow down operations by working to rule and refusing to do over-time, after voting for industrial action over their pay packages, reports the Telegraph.

Members of the Unite union stopped short of going on strike in protest at the utility giant’s offer of two years of below inflation pay rises at 2.5pc this year and then 2.25pc next year.

However, they plan to work only the minimum amount specified in their contracts, which can slow down operations.

Michael Tuff, Unite regional officer, said: “This is the second year in succession we have had to serve notice of industrial action to a very profitable company.

“The company has made it clear to the staff that no extra money is available, however it has just boasted half-yearly figures showing a 31pc increase in profits.

“Industrial action is not our preferred route – we want a negotiated settlement, but the company’s position of ‘no further money available’ has forced our members to go down this route.”

Those taking part in the industrial action make up around 13pc of the National Grid’s UK workforce. Around 1,200 workers are affected in total.

Steve Holliday, the chief executive of National Grid, saw his pay package rise by £67,000 to £2.3m this year.
A spokesman said: “National Grid is disappointed the unions have rejected the company’s revised pay offer on behalf of their members. But we are keen to resolve this issue and National Grid is always open to further talks with all three unions involved.

“We believe the revised offer – now a two-year deal rather than the original three-year deal – is a reasonable offer, given the current economic climate and the overall background of pay levels and pay awards at the moment.

“As you’d expect, the company is of course taking steps to ensure that any possible industrial action does not have any impact on gas and electricity supplies to consumers or on the safe operation of its networks.”

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Sky Sports commentators criticised for sexist comments

Sky Sports has said off-air remarks made by two football presenters about female assistant referee Sian Massey were “not acceptable,” reports the BBC.

Host Richard Keys and pundit Andy Gray commented on Ms Massey’s appointment for the game between Wolves and Liverpool on Saturday.

Believing their microphones were off, the pair agreed female officials “don’t know the offside rule”.

In a statement, Sky said the two men had apologised for the comments.

The Football Association has given its support to Ms Massey, 25, who made a correct borderline call in the build-up to Liverpool’s first goal at the Molineux stadium in Wolverhampton.

Speaking ahead of the match, Mr Keys said “somebody better get down there and explain offside to her” and Mr Gray remarked “women don’t know the offside rule”.

Mr Keys then said “of course they don’t”, before adding: “I can guarantee you there’ll be a big one today. [Liverpool manager] Kenny [Dalglish] will go potty.”

He then went on to remark on comments made by West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady in the Sun newspaper on Saturday morning about the level of sexism in football.

“See charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yeah. Do me a favour, love,” he said.

Sky said: “The comments are not acceptable. They were not made on air but we have spoken to Richard and Andy and told them our views and they have apologised and expressed their regret.”

An FA statement said it had made “real strides in encouraging both male and female match officials to enter the game at every level, and will continue to offer every encouragement to all officials within the football family to progress to the highest levels possible”.

“We are proud to have some of the world’s best match officials, both male and female.

“Overall the number of female referees in England (Levels 1-8) stands at 853 and climbing, and all of our female match officials act as fantastic ambassadors for the game.

“They have our wholehearted and continuing support,” it said.

Referees body Professional Game Match Officials issued a statement from their general manager Mike Riley.

It said: “All PGMO referees and assistant referees are appointed on merit and ability. They are assessed on their performances only.”

Former executive deputy chairman of Millwall Football Club Heather Rabbatts told BBC Radio 5 live the game needed more female officials.

“But when they’re appointed, sadly, they’ll get the same abuse as their male colleagues.”

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Benefit mistakes cost the UK millions

According to a report, little progress has been made in reducing losses caused by benefit recipients making errors in their claims. The BBC posted the following article.

Some £800m was not paid to people in 2009-10 who were entitled to the money because of errors on forms, the National Audit Office (NAO) said.

Another £1.1bn was lost to the taxpayer owing to overpayments of benefits.

The NAO report found “no discernable decrease” in losses after three years of a five-year plan to cut errors.

The spending watchdog said that overpayments caused substantial unrecovered losses to the taxpayer, and underpayments could cause hardship for individuals.

It said that there was a “clear imperative for improvement” on the issue by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Mistakes
Errors often occurred because claimants’ circumstances changed, and they did not realise this could affect their benefit payments so they failed to inform the DWP. This was a smaller proportion than the amount lost through fraudulent claims.

The report accepted that mistakes were difficult to “detect, correct and prevent”, with the highest amount coming through housing benefit claims.

It said that the DWP had been working to reduce its own administrative errors, but not enough attention had been paid to errors made by claimants.

There had been little difference in overpayments and underpayments caused by claimant errors in 2009-10 compared with 2006-7 when a five-year strategy to tackle the problem was launched.

The DWP had also drawn few conclusions on how to target the problem, owing to a lack of information.

“The benefits system is complicated and it is inevitable that mistakes occur,” said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office.

“The Department for Work and Pensions, therefore, faces a significant challenge in tackling error by claimants.”

Simplification
The DWP said it was making changes to simplify the system, such as double-checking details with claimants and making letters and information leaflets easier to understand.

It also said that people needed to make fewer calls when registering official events such as births and, from this year, would be able to update details online.

“We are absolutely committed to reducing customer error and our welfare reforms will simplify the benefits system making it easier to understand and less open to mistakes,” a spokesman for the department said.

“Our new fraud and error strategy focuses on preventing error in the first place, as well as detecting and correcting mistakes when they do happen.”

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No tweeting from the House of Commons, please.

MPs have been told they should not use Twitter while sitting in the House of Commons, reports the BBC.

Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said they ought not to “be tweeting from the chamber to let the outside world know what is going on”.

The warning followed a complaint made by Labour’s Kevin Brennan about Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert.

More than 100 MPs use Twitter to communicate with their constituents and other followers.

Mr Hoyle’s Commons intervention came after Mr Brennan demanded to know why Mr Huppert had tweeted that shadow education secretary Andy Burnham had refused to meet education access advocate Simon Hughes, a Lib Dem.

‘Opportunity to rebut’
The Deputy Speaker replied: “What I can say is that it is for me to keep order in the chamber.

“I am glad you have brought it to my attention. I am sure no honourable member will be tweeting from the chamber to let the outside world know what is going on.”

Mr Brennan, who represents Cardiff West, raised the point of order during a debate on the government’s abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance for teenagers in England.

The Labour MP, who has his own Twitter account, said: “The honourable member for Cambridge is tweeting from chamber right now that the shadow secretary of state has refused to meet the honourable member for the Liberal Democrats on the front bench when in fact the shadow secretary of state has already met him and is prepared to meet him at any time.

“Is it in order during the course of a debate for a member to seek to make points about participants in that debate without doing it here so everybody can hear the points that they are making and have the opportunity to rebut them?”

Mr Huppert’s tweet read: “Ah, Andy Burnham’s real agenda leaks out. Simon Hughes, in charge of developing a better replacement, offers to work with him. He refuses.”

In a separate tweet, the Cambridge MP added: “Very disappointing; labour want a fight, not a solution. I realise this is opposition, but I’d hoped for a more constructive approach!”

Labour’s Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, responded to Mr Huppert’s comments using her own Twitter account, saying: “You claim Andy (Burnham) has refused to work with Simon Hughes when (the) opposite is true. Using p’mentary privilege to spin perhaps?”

She added: “Think you’ll find they’ve (Burnham and Hughes) already met – or is Hughes going rogue and not telling his party about negotiations?”

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Swiss Bank UBS rethinks 44-page dress code

Swiss bank UBS is revising its dress code after being widely mocked for its style guide, which suggests female employees wear skin-coloured underwear and advises men on how to knot a tie – Report from the BBC.

“We’re reviewing what is important to us,” UBS spokesman Andreas Kern said.

The existing 44-page dress code also tells women how to apply make-up, what kind of perfume to wear and advises them to avoid black nail varnish.

Men are told to get their hair cut every month and to avoid unruly beards.

All staff are advised to avoid garlic or onion breath.

The code only applies to client-facing staff, and UBS has previously said it had been “misunderstood”.

The guide is thought to have been developed by top executives as part of UBS’s attempts to improve its image.

Other pieces of advice in the document include: “You can extend the life of your knee socks and stockings by keeping your toenails trimmed and filed.”

Another says: “Glasses should always be kept clean. On the one hand this gives you optimal vision, and on the other hand dirty glasses create an appearance of negligence.”

Mr Kern told the BBC the mandatory dress code for men of a dark suit, black shoes, white shirt and red tie would remain, but said the bank was reviewing other things in the guide which were only meant as recommendations.

He said the size of the guide would probably be reduced from the current 44 pages, but could not say by how much.

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Work/life balance for parents is an issue

Inflexible and stressful jobs are leaving parents racked with guilt and increasingly distant from their children, according to a Demos report.Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who has promised to do more for hard-pressed working families, will launch the think tank’s study on Monday, reports the BBC.

It wants the government to do more to encourage flexible working practices.

And it says more action is needed at a community level to give struggling and isolated parents greater support.

Long hours
Demos polled 1,017 parents for the Home Front report. It found:

a third of fathers in the UK work more than 48 hours a week, compared with a quarter of men without children
one-in-eight fathers work more than 60 hours a week, and typically, fathers increase their hours after their youngest child reaches the age of six

the number of working mothers has gone up from one in six in 1951 to two in three now, with 6% working more than 48 hours and 3% more than 60

Many parents surveyed said they felt guilty about working so much, a feeling that got worse as children got older, and felt they were less effective parents to their second or third child than their first.

Demos said its study showed those negative feelings were felt equally by parents in well-paid, but stressful middle-class jobs and those in lower-paid, lower-skill occupations.

Author Jen Lexmond said: “The right kind of work that is flexible and stimulating can improve parenting, but these kinds of jobs often come hand-in-hand with high levels of stress and emotional exhaustion which can be a toxic mix for parental confidence.

“What’s clear is that our jobs make it difficult to share parenting responsibilities – the result too often being a double shift for mothers and a lack of engagement from fathers.”

The report also said parenting was becoming “a more isolated and anxious task” because traditional extended families and strong local communities were increasingly rare.

As a result, parents were forced to rely more and more on friends for help.

Read the full article from the BBC.
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