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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Inclusivity Award 2012

I am pleased to be invited to be one of the judges of the Inclusivity Award 2012 of the Accord Coalition. The details of the criteria and how to apply are set out on Accord Coalition's website as below. If you know of any school that is working to promote inclusive communities please encourage them to apply.

"The Accord Coalition’s Inclusivity Awards are open to all schools in England and Wales. At its core is the belief that schools thrive when they have an inclusive and tolerant ethos based on shared values. The awards will be judged by a distinguished panel of experts from a variety of different political, professional and religious backgrounds.

The judges are especially interested in the way that schools address issues of religion and belief, both inside the school and through relationships with local, national and international communities. While the approach to different religions and beliefs will be the focus for judges, it may also be helpful to mention how the school’s inclusive ethos guides its policies on ethnic, cultural and socio-economic differences, as well as gender, age, disability and sexual orientation.


Ofsted describes the features of a school with an outstanding contribution to community cohesion as:
“The school has made an important and beneficial contribution to promoting community cohesion in its wider region or even nationally. Its planned actions to promote community cohesion are underpinned by an effective analysis of the school’s context (including faith, ethnic and cultural, and socio-economic factors). The school’s evaluation of its actions shows a significant impact on its own community. Learners have a strong sense of common values, integrate actively with learners from other groups, and are respectful of others’ differences. Learners themselves make a strong contribution to the promotion of equalities and the elimination of prejudice and discrimination.”

Our two key criteria

We agree with Ofsted, but we go further in two important ways. Firstly, we believe that many schools promote inclusion, cohesion and equality as a core part of their school ethos, and it is those schools that we want to hear about. We want to recognise fact that shared values shape the way that the schools sees themselves, and the way that they are seen by the community.

We therefore would like to see evidence not only of individual projects but also the strategic vision and school ethos behind them. Furthermore, we want to celebrate schools that nurture active citizens who are confident in themselves, tolerant and respectful of others and keen to make a difference in society.

This leads to our second key difference. Because we are convinced that cohesion, inclusion and equality are concepts that must be rooted in the ethos of schools, we feel they cannot be in isolation from other policies that affect the school and the wider community. For that reason we ask for details of a broad range of activities (curriculum, admissions, assemblies, visits etc), not just about specific initiatives established to promote community cohesion.

The scope of the awards

Prizes will be awarded to the schools that have done the most to embody an ethos of inclusion. Other schools may also be commended for their work on inclusion, cohesion and equality either as a whole, or with reference to a particular outstanding feature. For this reason we suggest schools highlight a policy that they feel has been especially successful or innovative."

Campaign for Robin Hood Tax intensifies

I have given my support to the following letter to the Prime Minister from chief executives of a range of voluntary sector and other organisations who support the Robin Hood Campaign for a financial transactions tax

28 October 2011

Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London SW1A

Dear Prime Minister,

In February 2010 we launched the Robin Hood Tax campaign, calling for a tiny tax on financial transactions to tackle poverty at home and overseas, provide vaccines and life saving treatment for the world’s most vulnerable, and tackle the impacts of climate change. Eighteen months later we are just days away from a G20 summit where a financial transactions tax (FTT) will be debated. We have the support of over 115 organisations in the UK, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, 1000 international economists, hundreds of parliamentarians, campaigners in over 50 countries, world leaders such as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, and global figures such as Bill Gates.

But we don’t yet have the support of the UK Government.

We are calling on you to change this now, and work with other G20 countries to introduce a Financial Transactions Tax when you attend the G20 summit in Cannes. Your government has said that you are not opposed to an international financial transactions tax and that you will engage on this issue. But we fear that instead the UK Government is acting to block debate. This is despite the fact that the UK has one of the largest transaction taxes in the world, the stamp duty on shares, and is a world leader in showing how to design and implement such taxes without global agreement.

The UK is also leading the world with its commitment to reach 0.7% of GNI as ODA and is in a position of strength to champion development and climate finance. We therefore also call on you to argue that the revenues from an FTT are used in part to support international development efforts, and to provide the minimum $100bn pledged for climate finance.

A Robin Hood Tax would be the most popular tax in history. While you are at Cannes, please act for those hit hardest by the financial crisis. Act to protect essential public services in the UK, to tackle poverty at home and overseas, and to address climate change.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Chancellor urged to support Financial Transaction Tax at G20

Last week I gave my support to the following letter to George Osborne MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, from the chief executives of over a hundred organisations urging him to support a financial transactions tax at the meeting of the G20 nations:

"We write to you ahead of the forthcoming meeting of G20 Finance Ministers on the 14th October to urge you to support the efforts of the French G20 Presidency to implement a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT).

International momentum for a tax on financial transactions is growing rapidly. Alongside key figures such as Angela Merkel and Bill Gates are the voices of campaigners in over 50 countries.

The concrete proposals for a Europe-wide tax are a welcome development in that they demonstrate the feasibility of an FTT amongst a group of willing nations. However the Robin Hood Tax campaign is categorical that the revenues from such a tax should not be for the EC budget, but should be used to protect front line public services, to tackle poverty at home and overseas, providing vaccines and life saving treatment for the world’s most vulnerable, and to address climate change. We are joined in this argument by the French President but also Bill Gates who supports the implementation of an FTT to help finance development, citing the UK Stamp Duty as an example of its viability.

The UK has one of the largest transaction taxes in the world, the Stamp Duty, and is a world leader in showing how to design and implement such taxes to mitigate avoidance. Expanding the Stamp Duty to capture derivatives could raise billions in additional revenue for the UK. The UK is also leading the world with its commitment to reach 0.7% of GNI as ODA and is in a position of strength to champion development and climate finance. We would ask the UK government to support the efforts of European colleagues for an FTT as a key step towards finding wider agreement amongst a coalition of willing nations at the G20.

We represent just the leading members of the over 115 organisations in the UK who back this tax and who would warmly welcome your support for it. This would be the most popular tax in history. We ask the coalition government to seize this moment and support a Robin Hood Tax in the UK."

The General Assembly has given its support to the Robin Hood Campaign.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Perspective on the NHS - High Quality Health Care for All is the Sign of a Compassionate and Responsible Society

The latest report from the Care Quality Commission is a shocking indictment of standards of care for elderly people in parts of the National Health Service. As important is the revelation of how widespread the problems seem to be, affecting 55 of the 100 hospitals visited. Elderly people were found to be deprived of food, water and their dignity. No “ifs or buts” this is unacceptable. Having worked in an NHS body that suffered a similar breakdown in care and management I can well understand the impact on patients and their relatives and also on staff on wards or other services unaffected by the report’s findings.

This week has also seen debate in the House of Lords on the Health and Social Care Bill which was given a second reading. This seeks to implement a series of major changes to the way the NHS is run, offer patient choice, use competition between providers within a balanced regulatory system that promotes integrated care, transfers public health responsibility to local authorities and establishes Health and Wellbeing Boards. And this from a Secretary of State who said in opposition there would no top-down reforms of NHS structure.

What should be a Unitarian perspective on these changes to the NHS? As with any issue of faith and public issues it is best to see if the General Assembly has any stated position. If not, or if the position is out-dated, are there any general principles upon which we can draw? In this case we have the former.

In 1944 the General Assembly Annual Meetings approved a Resolution urging the Government to accept “without reservation” the principles embodied in the Beveridge Report on “Social Insurance and Allied Services” published in 1942. Beveridge identified the five “Giant Evils”; squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease, and went on to propose widespread reform to the system of social welfare to address these. Highly popular with the public, the report formed the basis for the post-war reforms, what became known as the Welfare State, which included the expansion of National Insurance and the creation of the National Health Service.

In 1989 an emergency Resolution was approved expressing concerns about changes to the Health Services arising from the Conservative Government’s NHS White paper “Working for Patients” without proper consultation or trials and urging the Government to reconsider the proposals which it was believed could lead to poorer quality of care and reduced choice for patients and be determined by cost rather than clinical need. The Government was urged to give priority to fully tax funded provision under the NHS of local hospitals and community health services which should be accessible to local residents, especially children and older people. The White paper was, however, implemented and laid the basis for the provider-purchaser split (in England but no longer in Scotland or Wales) and facilitated the introduction of non-NHS providers of services and greater “commercialisation”.

In 2000 the General Assembly “strongly” affirmed its commitment to the principle of a NHS free of charge to patients at the point of delivery and called upon the Government and the Scottish Executive to provide sufficient resources from general taxation to ensure the NHS was adequately funded to meet the health needs of modern society. The Budget Statement of March 2000 was welcomed.

A group of top doctors and health specialists has warned that the current reforms will do "irreparable harm" to the health service:

"The Bill will do irreparable harm to the NHS, to individual patients and to society as a whole. It ushers in a significantly heightened degree of commercialisation and marketisation that will fragment patient care; aggravate risks to individual patient safety; erode medical ethics and trust within the health system; widen health inequalities; waste much money on attempts to regulate and manage competition; and undermine the ability of the health system to respond effectively and efficiently to communicable disease outbreaks and other public health emergencies … It is our professional judgment that the Health and Social Care Bill will erode the NHS's ethical and co-operative foundations and that it will not deliver efficiency, quality, fairness or choice."

The letter includes signatories from across a wide spectrum of public health practice, including more than 40 directors of public health and some 100 leading public health academics.

The NHS Confederation’s Chief Executive, Mike Farrar said: "There is support for some of the principles in the Bill but at a practical level it has few enthusiasts and we need the Lords to help give the reforms a fighting chance of success. They still need to sort out some of the fundamentals - the accountability of all the key players in the system must be crystal clear, not least of the Secretary of State. And we also need peers to get beneath the surface of the legislation and give us the practical tools we need to tackle the major problems we face.”

In summary the position of the General Assembly has been to support the principle of a state funded and provided national health service provided free to patients. This undoubtedly reflects the Unitarian commitment to the inherent dignity of all individuals; including the needs for health, income and shelter, and an appreciation of our wider responsibility for community. Of course, no specific set of internal organisational arrangements for the NHS should be accorded “approval”; these must change as the environment changes. Indeed, involvement of community based and mutual organisations, such as co-operatives, could be seen as being closer to service users. As a former chair of a medium-sized community mental health organisation for young people I saw the value of being able to develop ground-breaking services that met real needs of marginal communities free from the pressures of the “standard” NHS body.

Today we face rising demand from a growing and ageing population, increased expectations from patients accompanied by increased costs of new drugs and technologies. However, the claims of solidarity that underpin a Unitarian perspective need to be safeguarded in any changes; protecting what is valued and ensuring that the poor performance exposed by the Care Quality Commission is addressed at every level of the NHS. High quality health care for all is a sign of a compassionate and responsible society.

Monday, 10 October 2011

New Book - An introduction to the Unitarian and Universalist traditions

As a minority faith with a small number of members finding material about Unitarianism can be difficult and I would therefore recommend a new book from the prestigious Cambridge University Press. By Andrea Greenwood and Mark W. Harris, “An introduction to the Unitarian and Universalist traditions” does what it says on the tin!

The book is an introduction over 250 pages to the Unitarian and Universalist movement. These traditions came together in 1961 to form the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations in the United States. But this is not a book about the origins of the Association. It describes the historical and global context for a worldwide liberal free faith.

The first half of the book is an historical journey from the beginnings of Unitarianism in the Reformation with a focus on Poland and Transylvania. Unitarianism was snuffed out on the former but still survives in the latter region of modern Romania.

British and Irish Unitarians will be interested in the short chapter on Great Britain. This is quick canter through key events in our history; all the key figures are there. The paragraph on Ireland is scant and inadequate not just in understanding of historical events (speaking as someone with an Ulster Presbyterian background) but also in describing the relationship between the British General Assembly and the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. The stream of Unitarian thinking which influenced America and then India is enlightening. A niggling error is to describe William Gaskell as ministering in Birmingham for over fifty years; particularly as five lines later Gaskell is described as remaining in Manchester.

The conclusion that institutionalized Unitarianism in Britain walked a precarious line of claiming legitimacy, yet fearing the constraints of any affiliation seems a fair assessment. The “dramatic” membership loss is starkly set out; 80% in 65 years yet it is wrong to say that buildings lost or damaged in World war Two were not replaced; the 1950s saw a stream of rebuilding that many hoped would auger well for the future. It was not to be and at least one of these multi-purpose buildings, Cross Street Chapel in Manchester, has since been replaced by a stunning worship space.

There follows a description of development in America and then of the global reach; India, Japan, Jamaica, Korea, Czechoslovakia and Canada. It ends with the efforts to establish the International Council of Unitarian and Universalists (ICUU).

What is most shocking is how liberal religion was harnessed to US colonial interests in the Philippines through the founding of the Philippines Independent Church led by Gregorio Aglipay. The group splintered after World War Two and independence. The Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines, a current member of the ICUU, owes its origins to Universalism not these developments. Surely an ironic lesson on how a religious institution, even a liberal one, can be manipulated by state authorities.

The second half of the book is topic based with chapters on congregational polity, worship, sources of faith, science and ecology and education and social justice. British Unitarians feature by name and the diversity of the movement is reflected.

It is fascinating to realise how developments in one country can, and don't, influence others. This is a theme of the concluding chapter. Technology will foster bonds by making outreach, support and connection easier. The need to keep people who are currently attending as well as attracting new ones is raised as a question. The conclusion is that Unitarian Universalism is a this-worldly faith which surely unites churches in all parts of the world.

Available from all online book stores and to order from your local bookshop at around £16. Prices will vary.