Letters FRFI 256 April/May 2017

Deaths in Scottish prisons

What place do prisons have in our society to punish or rehabilitate? This is understandably a contentious issue but it is usually agreed that death is not a suitable endpoint of imprisonment. The figures however seem to run counter to this idea; there have been 121 deaths since 2012 in Scottish prisons. In 60 of these cases, Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAIs) have still not been undertaken.

At the time of writing, 24 deaths in 2015 and 2016 are awaiting FAIs, with the cause of death established in only five of them; one being the suicide of a 35-year-old man on remand.

In the cases where an FAI has been carried out, 98 examined deaths since 2010, 32 were by suicide. The youngest deaths to be ruled suicide were those of Andrew Stone and Jordan Barron, both aged 19, in Polmont young offenders’ prison, and Ryan McNeil, also aged 19, in HMP Inverness.

Polmont appeared in the news again amid accumulating criticism with the deaths of two more teenagers in January 2017. Liam Kerr and Robert Wagstaff died under ‘no suspicious circumstances’. It seems odd that the deaths of two young men aged 18 and 19 could be deemed ‘not suspicious’ and it seems even more horrific that this is the usual description of cases where someone in prison takes their own life.

Why are deaths in prison becoming an increasing problem and why are the investigations into their causes taking so long? Many critics point to the drastic Prison Service cuts; in particular, the mental health services within prisons are struggling through lack of funding and time.

Young people should not be forced to take their own lives, especially when under the care of the state. It is barbaric when incarcerating people to leave them to waste away in such an oppressive and underfunded institution. And it begs the question if Liam Kerr and Robert Wagstaff had been the children of business owners, of the upper-class, would their deaths be considered ‘not suspicious’ and the investigations into them still pending?

Alyssa Plath

Pigs in muck

Since being sacked as Chancellor of the Exchequer in July 2016, George Osborne, heir to Osborne & Little, Conservative MP for Tatton and one of the ‘privileged few’ castigated by new Prime Minister May for being out of touch with the ‘ordinary folk’ of Britain, has been busy feathering his nest even more. For ‘working’ one day a week, asset-manager BlackRock is paying him £650,000 ($810,000). The McCain Institute, a think-tank based in Washington DC, has awarded him a one-year fellowship worth £120,000. He has earned £780,000 in speaking fees and is writing a book. One thing Osborne has not been busy doing is representing his constituents in Parliament for which he is paid a mere £74,962 a year plus ‘expenses’. Hardly worth turning up, he thinks. Since being sacked as a minister he has participated in only six debates in the Commons.

On 17 March Osborne announced that he will now also become editor of the London Evening Standard, at an undisclosed salary of many thousands. Osborne is not the only MP raking it in. 27 other MPs supplemented their income by at least £50,000. Many are part-time company directors and yet another ex-minister, Michael Gove, collects £150,000 a year for a weekly column in The Times.

Evgeny Lebedev, proprietor of the Standard, said: ‘Once he put himself forward for the position, he was the obvious choice. [His] political viewpoint – liberal on social issues and pragmatic on economic ones – closely matches those of many of our readers.’ Presumably that’s not including the many thousands of the poorest Londoners trying to survive on benefits slashed to the bone by Osborne and his ilk, or the many people forced to survive on zero-hour contracts at minimum wages. The ‘privileged few’ are expanding their privileges and Osborne is the scum of the earth.

Alice Mitchell
South London

Glasgow – fighting Zionist racism

On Saturday 18 March, FRFI supporters in Glasgow joined the Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) march. We were surprised to see a contingent of Confederation of Friends of Israel (CoFI) supporters waving Israeli flags. Supported by Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other friends of Palestine, we used our sound system to challenge their presence and demanded they be thrown off the march. SUTR march organisers refused to even ask them to leave. As the march ended in George Square we continued our chants of ‘Boycott Israel, free Palestine!’ and ‘Zionism, that’s racism!’, condemning the march organisers for allowing the participation of CoFI. We were approached aggressively by SUTR supporters who tried to silence us.

Three days later, a Glasgow FRFI supporter emailed organisers and supporters of the march to again condemn and question why CoFI were allowed to participate. SUTR responded: ‘Stand Up To Racism is a broad coalition comprising many civic organisations, refugee and migrant communities, as well as political organisations and individuals. The key criteria for us is opposition to racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and scapegoating refugees and migrants. Whilst united in our opposition to racism, of course there are different views on a whole range of other issues, including Palestine… The importance of building a large, vibrant and united anti-racist movement is greater than ever. This is what Stand Up To Racism is dedicated to building.’

This response deliberately avoids the point. Zionism is racism. Zionist organisations are racist. They are on the offensive, attacking pro-Palestine support and action as anti-Semitic. SUTR and the Socialist Workers Party, who are heavily represented in SUTR, helped these racists on 18 March by giving them an anti-racist cover to promote apartheid Israel. To support Palestine and to oppose apartheid Israel is the basic duty of all anti-racists and not an addition.

No to participation of Zionists on anti-racist protests! Boycott Israel!

Ruby and Dominic
Glasgow FRFI

Stop Labour’s Doncaster cuts

As a shop worker in Doncaster, I regularly see desperate people at the end of their tether. Be it people resorting to shoplifting, customers unable to afford to pay their gas and electric bills, or elderly people without the support they need. On the latter, there have been a number of occasions in which pensioners with mobility difficulties and mental disabilities have said that they no longer have the care they require and are left to fend for themselves. Many of these people have also said that they feel scared and vulnerable, not knowing if they will be able to get home safely or in many cases if they have even bought the right products.

This is the effect that the cuts are having in Doncaster. The Labour-run council intends to slash spending by £66.8m by 2021, £23.5m of which is to be cut in 2017/18, with an increase of 2% to local council tax rates. Over £2.5m is being cut from home and residential care budgets, meaning that situations like those I encounter on a daily basis will become more and more common.

In Doncaster, our MPs (Ed Miliband, former Labour leader, Rosie Winterton, Labour’s Chief Whip until October, and Caroline Flint, the Blairite ex-Minister of State for Housing and Planning) are the epitome of Labour representatives. If there is to be any hope of real resistance to the cuts that the Conservative party are pushing through, it will not come from these people. With £800,000 cut from independent residential placements, £1.4m from elderly residential care and £900,000 from working age residential care, we can no longer stand by and let the elderly and disabled within our community suffer as their care is taken away from them by Labour councils. At some point the people of Doncaster must start to question if voting Labour will ever truly better their situation or if, instead, they should take a stand and no longer allow Labour to ruthlessly push through the Tory cuts.

Jordan Bentliff

Social housing – paid for many times over

My house was originally built as a council house under Barnet’s local authority in north London, in 1950. It was sold under Right to Buy around 1988 for approximately £25,000, so rent had been collected for the property for approximately 38 years. Any costs of the building will have been paid in full to the taxpayer and a profit made on rents for the local authority during this time. The council received the profit from the sale (although it could not be reinvested in housing).

The original buyers defaulted and lost the house, which was purchased at auction in 1992 by my landlord, a housing association, for £40,000. There was a tenant before me for at least a year, generating a rent of £3,000. I took the tenancy in 1994.

I will have lived here for 24 years this August. My initial rent was £68 per week and has increased on average by £3.66 per week each year. The market value of the house at the time I moved in was approximately £80,000. It’s now worth £550,000, an increase of £510,000 over what was paid for it. Total rent paid on it equals £138,203.

That means profits – for a ‘non-profit’ housing association – of £648,203. If we take out the costs of the original purchase, £20,000 for associated costs of purchasing, a generous repair bill of £20,000 over the course of my tenancy and the market value when I moved in of £80,000, that is still a profit of £568,203.

What cannot be calculated is how much has been borrowed via private finance against the value of this property sitting on their books. The housing association has grown considerably and branched out into various schemes to provide housing for both social and private tenants.

Now, under the recommendations of the new White Paper on housing, the trust will have no choice but to build for private market sale or full market rent. The poor, who have supported social housing through thick and thin and lived in properties that have been under-invested in for decades, have not been funding new social housing stock, but rather are paying for private developers and private business to make huge profits.

How can people be evicted for rent arrears from social housing that is over 25 years old? There is no loss to the landlord. Even if tenants paid no rent the landlords still have the property as an asset on their books and do not have to do a thing to benefit from the huge increase in value.

North London

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 256 April/May 2017


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