Theresa May’s new government has signalled that there’s one political tradition it will abide by wholeheartedly: Take Out The Trash Day. The custom, where a government makes a raft of unpopular announcements immediately before it skips town for recess, has truly been honoured this summer with a vast array of damaging disclosures on 21 July.
And they perfectly illustrate exactly the type of ‘justice’ the UK can expect from its new prime minister.
1) Sod the children
Firstly, the government has essentially scrapped its pledge to end the detention of children in prison-like accommodation. The promise, that originated from a 2010 coalition commitment to end child detention completely, resulted in the construction of Cedars, an unthreatening pre-departure centre for families run by the charity Barnardo’s.
But the ironically named new immigration minister Robert Goodwill has announced the closure of Cedars on “value for money grounds”. Children, and their parents, who are waiting for removal from the UK will now be housed “in a discrete unit at Tinsley House immigration removal centre”.
Tinsley House is a prison-like detention centre run by the infamous security company G4S. Staff at a children’s jail run by the company are currently under investigation for allegations of abuse, excessive use of force, and misconduct in public office.
Judith Dennis, who is policy manager at the Refugee Council charity, commented:
The Government’s current practice of detaining children – the majority of who are later released – is harmful, largely ineffective and inexcusable.
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The transfer of children and their families from Cedars to Tinsley House, a place even less equipped to care for them adequately, is a troubling retrograde step.
2) Sod the nurses
Also among the ‘trash’ was an announcement by the health secretary that May’s government is scrapping the NHS bursary.
These bursaries, largely granted to nurses, midwives, and medical professionals such as therapists, fund the exhaustive training necessary to enter these professions. Typically, students training in these areas must study and work in clinical practice throughout their degree, leaving them with little time to earn elsewhere.
But the Conservative government claims it cannot afford to fund the £800m bursaries any longer, despite just approving funding for Trident nuclear warheads, which the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) suggests could cost around £200bn.
Under the government’s newly announced policy, the bursaries will be replaced with loans for new students from 2017/18 onwards, potentially saddling medical trainees with over £50,000 of debt.
Over 160,000 people have signed a petition against the proposal since it was first revealed in 2015. Many medical bodies, unions and professionals have also condemned the “reckless” plan. Christina McAnea, Unison’s head of health, criticised the government, saying:
They seem not to care that in a few years’ time the NHS will be seriously short of nurses and there will be too few new recruits coming through to fill the gaps…That’s because the prospect of graduating with more than £50,000 of debt will discourage many from entering the profession at a time when the NHS is struggling to fill vacancies.
3) Sod everyone, actually
One of May’s first acts as prime minister was to abolish the Department for Energy and Climate Change and hand over responsibility for the future of our planet to the new Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
In this latest round of changes, she’s taken a similar step and decided to abolish civil society. Or more specifically, she’s scrapped the Office for Civil Society (OCS), with its responsibilities being folded into the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
The OCS mandate was essentially to work “in support of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector and their important contribution to public services and the social economy”. Initially established under the previous Labour government as the Office of the Third Sector, its responsibilities included supporting youth policy, expanding the National Citizen Service, and promoting social investment.
Fundamentally, the role of the OCS was to encourage the ‘big society’ Cameron talked so passionately about when he first came to power. He largely failed in implementing this vision, and it now seems the new prime minister views society as not even ‘big’ enough to warrant its own department.
There was one mildly positive step, however. For those concerned about the potential war crimes being committed by Saudi Arabia in its current military offensive in Yemen, and the UK’s role in that, there was some cause for hope. The UK government announced a turnaround on its previous claims that Saudi Arabia is not guilty of war crimes, now saying it’s yet to make up its mind on the matter.
But for the large majority of people in the UK affected by these quiet notices, this ‘trash’ will not be welcomed. And while our elected representatives may be able to fly off to a distant land and avoid confronting the people affected by their actions, those caught up in these changes will be left to face them head on.
Write to your MP to express your views on these changes.
Write to Theresa May directly to share your thoughts on these policy changes.
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