Left Hand View, a political blog by Malcolm Tipper

Malcolm Tipper is the CLP Political Education Officer

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT – October 2019 Blog

In 2015 Tony Blair famously said he wanted to be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Well one out of two ain’t bad as based upon the Prison Reform Trust latest figures more people are being sent to prison in England and Wales each year than anywhere else in Western Europe. Four years on from we have a new Tory Prime Minister, resentful of being perceived as the party only second in its tough outlook on crime, announcing populist measures including £2.5billion to create an extra 10,000 prison places as well as £100million in tough new security measures in the prisons.

What will happen to these prisoners new and already caught up in the system?

In his 2018/19 Annual Report the Chief Inspector of Prisons has described the number of people killing themselves in prison as “a scandal”, in addition he referred to a 25% increase in reported incidents of self-harm. This was in despite of the 10 Prison project started in August 2018 which provided 10 of the most troubled prisons with extra staff and new security equipment as well as refurbished cells and communal areas. A spokesperson for the charity Inquest said of the project “the focus was on reducing violence and criminality with no consideration of the underlying issues which foster these behaviours in prison…… a vanity project (£10million) which resulted in an increased number of people dying.” Richard Burgon Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary said, “these measures fall woefully short of what is required to make our prisons safe. Faced with a prisons emergency caused by austerity, Boris Johnson is timidly tinkering at the edges.”

The situation in youth prisons is just as grim with a 63% rise in assaults in five years. A Prison Inspectors report on Feltham young offender’s institution published in May 2019 found self-harm, use of force and levels of violence had increased significantly since the last inspection. Frances Crook Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform said that the correct interpretation of the figures is that these children require skilled support, rather than being locked up behind a metal door for hours on end. Carolyne Willow director of the children’s right charity Article 39 said that high staff turnover and children being locked in their cells for up to 23 hours “inevitably led to behavior problems.”

Women’s prisons also share the general malaise with 7,745 women sent to prison in 2018.The most disturbing aspect of these numbers is the 71% increase since 2015 of the number of women recorded as homeless when they enter prison.

Richard Burgon said that “prison is all too often the very worst place for people who desperately need help in tackling the underlying problems, not just of homelessness but also poverty, mental ill-health and substance addiction that led to them being jailed in the first place. So, it would seem adult males, young offenders and women are all being failed by the prison system. The underlying reasons for them being in prison are not being tackled and have been exacerbated by successive Tory Governments with the support of at least initially the Liberal Democrats.

Another issue seemingly on the increase involves the practice of some offenders receiving multiple short prison sentences. Since 2017 339 offenders have received 20 or more short prison terms, one of whom received 200 jail terms of less than 6 months. Revolving Doors Chief Executive Christina Marriott said “to give people another short prison sentence, sometimes for the 50th or 100th time is evidently shortsighted………..being sent to prison damages the lives of both offenders and their children, they drive reoffending, creating more crimes and more victims.”

Labour in its 2017 manifesto still wants to be tough on crime but promised more preventive measures such as increased numbers of police. It would also reduce the prisoner/staff ratio by recruiting more prison staff. “Labour’s innovative models of youth justice successfully turned around the lives of many young people, steering them away from crime and towards more constructive ways. In government, we will again continue to innovate and incentivise local authorities, police forces and probation services to engage effectively with young people at risk of drifting into anti-social or criminal behaviours.”

This was written before the 2019 Labour party conference which I hope might look for innovative ways for helping prisoners who leave the prison system. This should include encouraging firms to be as pro-active as Timpson’s who have been recruiting ex-prisoners for the last 15 years (1200 to date) and are stepping up the programme to recruit 150 ex-offenders this year. Or the project in Avon and Somerset whereby young people dealing drugs are being offered the chance to access job training, driving lessons and even gym membership rather than being charged and taken to court. It is anticipated that if this pilot scheme is extended hundreds of youngsters could be saved from jail.

I’ll be looking carefully at any new proposals put forward by the Labour Party and making sure that when I need a key cut or shoes repaired, I’ll be heading straight for my local Timpson’s.

ABOUT PAY July 7th 2019

Three topics were generally considered unsuitable for friendly discussion, Sex, Politics and Religion! I can remember that pay also was also a topic people were reluctant to talk about!

Today every conceivable aspect of sex is discussed, televised and written about. Religion seems to divide more than it reconciles, and politics, it seems, has only had one topic for the last three years and the less we talk about that the better.

It is pay that has become more of a discussion topic recently. In particular, the disparity, not only between the sexes, but also between employee and manager (especially between Chief Executive Officers (CEO), and the shop floor, office or manual worker). It’s not only in the private sector where large differences occur.

The Teignmouth Post of June14th 2019, reports that two former employees of Teignbridge District Council – a husband and wife team – who left as part of a management reshuffle, went with a “golden handshake” of almost half a million pounds. This followed a former CEO of Teignbridge District Council, whose salary was £140,000. When she left, her redundancy deal was a worth £264,000.

In the private sector, shareholders at Annual General Meetings (AGM) are flexing their muscles with regard to CEO’s pay, and some CEO’s are reacting first. For example the CEO of Ladbrokes has taken a £150,000 pay cut. I wonder what the odds of that happening were? Don’t chip in to help him though, as his remuneration for 2018/19 was a staggering £19.1m! Morrison’s boss waived a £600k bonus but his annual pay is still £4.6m, the same as the CEO of Tesco!

Sainsbury’s, whose profits dropped 42% , still thought it fair to pay their CEO (“We’re in the money” Mike Coupe) a £251,000 pay increase – taking his overall annual remuneration up to £3.9m. Over the past decade the average pay of a FTSE Chief Executive has risen four times as fast as that of their employees. For those earning £4m a year, this is to 135 times the average UK salary of £29,600.

A recent House of Commons Select Committee on Business, chaired by Labour MP Rachel Reeves, produced a recent report. This found executives still received pay packages that were often “patently unjustified”, despite a promise by Theresa May to tackle corporate excess. I wonder if Boris as Prime Minister will act on his remark “F*** business”. Perhaps most disappointing of all is the pay received by the CEO’s of Utilities for basic services that the public cannot do without. The CEO of Centrica (owns British Gas), received a pay increase of 44% in 2018 making a total pay package of £2.4m. During the same year, bills were increased twice and thousands of job cuts were announced. The Head of Thames Water was sacked – allegedly due to his failure to reduce leakage – but is still in line to receive a £3.75m bonus for fixing leaks.

The Labour Party, when in power, is going to take action. Earnings in the lowest earning working households have barely risen since the mid 1990’s against the staggering rise of the CEO’s as referred to above. Labour is committed to rolling out maximum pay ratios of 20:1 in the public sector, and in companies bidding for public contracts. Labour will also legislate to reduce pay inequality, by introducing an Excessive Pay Levy, on companies with staff on very high pay. In addition, of course, to bringing back into Public ownership our Water, Electricity and Gas. Wouldn’t that be fairer?

IMMIGRATION June 22nd 2019

June 22nd was Windrush Day, to commemorate the arrival of the Empire Windrush and its 492 passengers from the Caribbean in June 1948. Further arrivals and their children and grandchildren could be excused for not celebrating too much.

Thousands of these migrants, who arrived legally in the 1950’s and 60’s, were recently categorized as illegal immigrants by the Home Office. This fiasco led to a £570m compensation scheme being set up, to aid those wrongly classified, who lost jobs and homes and were frightened to leave the country. Although it is not known if any payments have been made, the complex 45-page compensation document is certainly a deterrent.

Before the 20th century began, migration to Britain, was very loosely controlled.If any of you, like me, have undertaken one of those DNA tests, you might be surprised to discover the substantial contribution of non-UK origins to your DNA. My own result shows me as only 10% from Great Britain. Probably long-standing residents of Teignmouth and Shaldon might discover Canadian or Icelandic DNA.

Immigration control, in its modern sense, can be traced back to 1905, and the attempt to restrict, in particular, destitute Russian and Polish migrants. During the first world war, restrictions on entry were made on the grounds of national security. This led to the 1919 Immigration Act, which was renewed annually until 1971. Various crises, both domestic, such as mass unemployment in the 1920’s and 30’s, and international, such as the upheaval of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Nazism, led to concerns about the numbers entering Britain.

The second world war, and then membership of the European Union, again led to restrictions and changes to the law, about who could enter Britain legally. The 1971 Immigration Act came into force in January 1973 as Britain became a member of the EU. This effectively allowed free movement of all EU nationals, but placed restrictions on people from British colonies or former colonies.

Currently we are still seeing the so called “hostile environment”, introduced by the Theresa May, when she was Home Secretary. “The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants”.  The policy worked to deport first, appeal later, and went hand in hand with the infamous “Go Home” vans. The nasty party was in its element.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

Strict control of immigration unites many Labour and Conservative voters. Labour voters concerned about the impact on jobs and Conservative voters with the cost to the economy. The current Labour party policy would see an end to arbitrary figures for net migration, and the excessively complex quotas for particular types of workers. It would, instead, base immigration on what the economy needs. Should it go further and allow the free movement of Labour?

Most research concludes that migrants make little or no impact on average employment, or on unemployment in the UK. Migrants contribute more in taxes than they take in benefits. The real impact is felt amongst low skill, low education workers, who are the most vulnerable. The question here is – shouldn’t we raise higher labour standards for all, rather than restricting migration? The attempted control of unauthorised migrants only leads to fear and exploitation.

Windrush day was an opportunity to thank those migrants who travelled to Britain and helped to rebuild the country after the war. They continue to play a vital role in our economy. The day coincided with the anniversary of the killing of Labour M.P. Jo Cox, who in her maiden speech to Parliament said “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.