In solidarity with our favourite spinmeister, and in protest at his appalling treatment at the hands of the Beeb, Solidarity has given over this column to Comical Ali Campbell to give his spin on the latest News.
Majority of old people not in poverty
A national survey, conducted on behalf of the ESRC (the Economic and Social Research Council) by the University of Keele, highlighted a range of goods and services deemed necessary for comfortable daily living. People lacking two or more items because they could not afford them were judged to be in poverty. Overall, only 45% of the elderly people surveyed for the study fell into that category.
Three-quarters of older Somali people and two-thirds of older Pakistani people were deemed to be in poverty. While this is unfortunate, it gives the lie to the BNP claim that asylum seekers and ethnic minorities take a disproportionate share of our resources. Clearly the government’s policy on discouraging economic migration is working.
Fear of crime showed a similar optimistic picture, with only 44% of respondents saying they felt unsafe when out in their neighbourhoods, while a good 7% felt “very safe”.
Good news on prisons
The prison service's annual report published yesterday notes performance on a number of targets was “hugely impressive”, particularly in exceeding education and basic skills targets. Eight out of 15 targets were met by the service, which cost taxpayers £2bn during the year. Even more impressive, it recorded 11.7% positive drug tests versus a target of 10%. Suicides rose markedly, and purposeful activity was below target. The average staff sickness rate was nearly 6% above a 9% target. So more leisure time is being enjoyed by both prisoners and staff, and the real miseries are excluding themselves.
Which is just as well as cell-life is getting cosier — with 14,000 prisoners, 1 in 5 of the total, having to “double up” in cells designed for one. With prison numbers predicted to crash the 80,000 mark, it’s going to get cosier still.
The commissioner for corrections said that new forecasts for the prison population were being drawn up and, despite the recent surges, the jail numbers were actually rising about 1,000 below their previous official projection.
“We are just waiting for the new projections to be worked on at the moment. There is every sign that the population will reach in the region of 80,000 by about 2005-6. He said that the “operational capacity” of the system was due to rise to 81,000 by March 2006 but admitted that they included a built-in overcrowding factor. The uncrowded capacity of prisons in England and Wales would be just 70,000 by that date, he said.
Targets on completing sex offender treatment programmes and reducing assaults were narrowly missed, as was the cost per prisoner place - £10 below the target of £38,743 a year.
Great strides forward in Women’s prisons
In the last month alone, prison officers have resuscitated 26 women who would otherwise have successfully committed suicide, the PRT (the Prison Reform Trust) report says. This contrasts with a mere ten who have succeeded in killing themselves so far this year. Ten too many, but I think we can congratulate our prison staff that the number is not a lot higher. The PRT study suggests four out of every 10 female prisoners have attempted suicide.
Previous research by the Office for National Statistics has indicated two out of every three women in prison suffer from at least one mental disorder. There have been nearly 3,000 incidents of self-harm, but hey, they’re not dead.
Success in the war against terror
Police action at RAF Fairford, where American B-52 bombers were based during the recent Iraq conflict, successfully prevented terrorist actions.
The use of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 at the base has proved an outstanding success.
Officers were granted powers under the legislation to stop and search vehicles and pedestrians in the area near the base between 7 March and 27 April. None of the protesters who demonstrated at the airbase were charged with terrorism offences. Who knows what hideous carnage was prevented by the timely intervention of the Gloucestershire constabulary?
Of course, the bleeding heart Radio 4 listeners would have it that this is an infringement of civil liberties, but they are the same people who deny the existence of launch-ready Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Between 1 March and 30 April, 61 people were arrested at the base - of these 27 were charged with public order offences, according to Liberty. Not a single terrorist was detained, say the group. I for one sleep sounder in bed knowing we have a raft of anti-terrorist legislation to hand to deal with these threats to our liberty.