Ways forward for Britain and Pakistan

Last month, the Association of British Muslims and the Next Century Foundation hosted a joint meeting discussing issues of importance to both Pakistan and the UK. The aim was to consider ways of improving relations, both between the two nations, as well as between Pakistan’s diaspora in the UK and the rest of the British population. The meeting included senior politicians, journalists and activists from both nations. The discussion highlighted differences including a variety of views ranging from positivity about the future to prickly comments on racial stereotypes – all of which bear further consideration. The meeting served to emphasise the lack of consensus over UK-Pakistan issues, accentuating the need for continued dialogue to bridge these divided opinions. Nonetheless, this preliminary meeting offered useful conclusions and outcomes.

The Education Issue

This meeting highlighted the importance of both proper mainstream education and religious education to act as a catalyst for positive social change in both the UK and Pakistan. There was a consensus view that both nations’ education systems need to become more tolerant and inclusive in order to overcome differences. The importance of this was highlighted as participants emphasised the way education systems in both countries have failed to foster inclusivity and tolerance, particularly in regard to the intra Muslim issue of the Sunni – Shia divide. Improving school education systems in order to encourage inclusivity is a priority for both both Pakistan and the UK.

Religious education was also highlighted as being important, with views that current religious education is distorted and represents the true teachings neither Islam nor Christianity. Achieving better standards of education is seen as a key step in bringing positive change. Improved religious education is not only important within schooling. Adults also need to learn what it is to be tolerant. This is where continued meetings or similar events are important. It is also important that authorities in both the UK and Pakistan continue to engage religious leaders to promote better standards of religious education and tolerance.

There is also the need for education to tackle generalisations about the Pakistan diaspora in the UK. This meeting raised concerns about large sections of the British population believing in dangerous stereotypes. These stereotypes related to both extremism and a lack of integration in regard to Islam, as well as to grooming scandals across England and a perceived lack of adequate education for Muslim communities relative to other diaspora communities. Having such stereotypes circulate unchallenged creates tension between those of Pakistan heritage and British communities native to the UK. Having educational outreach initiatives that tackle such generalisations is therefore important as it prevents dangerous views becoming embedded in sections of the population. It also prevents dangerous narratives in certain media sources being seen as legitimate. Education about the realities of the Pakistan diaspora in the UK can debunk the credibility of harmful views. For example highlighting the fact that white males are responsible for the vast majority of the abuse of underage girls in Britain. Education is vital to counter views expressed by both individuals and media outlets that generalise and stereotype large communities, which in turn breeds antipathy between different communities. If these views are allowed to circulate unchallenged then it can create animosity and tension between the Pakistan diaspora and the native British population, and so challenging these views through education is a crucial next step.

Honest and Open dialogue

The discussion stressed the need for honest and open dialogue to enhance processes of integration and understanding. Participants discussed how dialogue with Muslims has helped them counter misconceptions they had about Islam which had fuelled anger and animosity towards Islamic communities. It is important to have real, honest and respectful dialogue between the native British and Pakistan diaspora communities as this can be an incredibly useful way to educate people.

The need for interaction and dialogue relates to cosmopolitanism, a subject which the Next Century Foundation hopes to host a meeting on in early 2021. Cosmopolitanism is a political ideology that is powerful when discussing how different cultures and communities can live together. In contrast to the British multicultural approach and Pakistan’s integrationist approach, Cosmopolitanism emphasises the idea that for different cultures to live harmoniously and equally within a shared society, consistent dialogue and interactions between those with differences are needed. This is a sentiment that was echoed from the participants of this meeting. Moving forwards there needs to be a focus on ways in which honest dialogue and interactions can be achieved between members of the Pakistan diaspora and native British communities.

The meeting similarly highlighted the need to achieve such interactions between Pakistan diaspora and native British parliamentarians, a lack of which has resulted in detachment. People recognised there is a direct lack of access to mainstream politics in both countries, where it is important that dialogue occurs. Moving forward, parliamentarians on both sides need to become more accessible to facilitate greater dialogue and discussion. This was seen as important because many Britons of Pakistan heritage are more politically connected with Pakistan than with Britain. Bringing together politicians in both countries can help achieve solidarity and address issues such as the rise in sectarian division within Islamic communities.

Extremism

The complex issue of extremism was extensively discussed, particularly the issue of extremism being attributed to the Pakistan diaspora community and Islam more generally. It was recognised that extremism has given rise to global Islamaphobic narratives, but what emerged from the meeting was recognising that terrorism issues should focus on humanity not religion. The debate needs to shift understanding to an emphasis on the fact that human beings suffer whenever terrorist attacks occur, irrespective of race or religion. Both Islamic and Christian religious teachings are the antithesis of terrorism, focusing on peace and humanity. This again emphasises the need for proper religious education regarding the nature of Islam. A key outcome of this meeting was that after terrorist attacks the focus should be the humanitarian tragedy and not religious blame. 

It was also recognised that terrorist attacks are committed by individuals who choose to act this way, and are not the actions of religious communities. This meeting proposed moving forwards that there should be a focus on the root causes of terrorism, deliberating on why individuals become radicalised. The discussion needs to move towards understanding the social and political factors that facilitate conversion to extremism, especially related to the upbringing of individuals. One such issue that was raised was that of identity, that terrorist attacks committed previously by British Muslims had been to do with issues of their personal identity within Islam and wider society. Moving forward the discussion therefore needs to understand how and why individuals slip into extremist views. It is vital to focus on the individual and humanitarian crimes committed by the terrorist rather than seeing everything as a religious crime. Reframing debates about extremism through these lenses is useful.

Focusing on similarities

Progress can best be achieved if there is an honest and open recognition of the divisions that currently exist between the UK and Pakistan. This involves addressing stereotypes that might be prickly and racially sensitive, rather than ignoring them. There was a sense of a growing detachment between the UK and Pakistan on honest discussions about issues mentioned earlier such as radicalisation, and that although there exist contentious opinions about these issues, these opinions do represent portions of the British community and should therefore not be ignored. There is a need for an honest appreciation of the existing differences and detachments between native British and Pakistan diaspora people. Only then can truthful dialogue towards reconciliation begin to be achieved. Such divisions are beginning to permeate all other areas of the wider British society, especially since the Brexit vote. As as a consequence inclusivity is an issue throughout Britain, and not unique to the Pakistan diaspora. What is needed to address this is a direct engagement on differences. Further work in facilitating dialogue and discussion is important and needs to overcome the widening differences and divisions in British society.

But the meeting demonstrated that people from all walks of life were willing to engage in a non-partisan approach in order to build bridges. There is also a lot of cultural engagement between the Pakistan diaspora in the UK and the native British population. Individuals in the meeting also mentioned the wide range of their experiences in Pakistan or with Pakistanis, spanning the spectrum between open hospitality and friendliness. What this points to is that a focus on positives and similarities between each other is uplifting and beneficial. Whilst it is vital that discussions continue about how differences can be overcome, simultaneously there needs to be a recognition of the similarities already shared between different cultures and groups. By emphasising the similarities we can begin to recognise each other’s basic humanity and help curb animosities based on cultural differences. As a way forward it is therefore vital that while discussions recognise and consider differences, they simultaneously do not lose sight of the common human traits that are shared between individuals of different communities.

Prosperity 2020: Now you See it – Now you Don’t

The Legatum Institute’s 2020 Prosperity Index measures the prosperity over the last decade of 167 nations that together contain 99.4% of the global population.

Global prosperity reached its highest ever level in 2020. However, only 61% of the global population lived in countries experiencing prosperity in 2020, a substantial decline from 86% in just 2018. Falling prosperity rates pre-COVID raise serious concerns about the capacity of nations to recover from the crises brought about by the current pandemic. It is estimated that COVID could increase poverty rates by up to 10%, setting back reductions in this area by 20 years. This is a particularly grave threat to the Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA regions that have seen a deterioration in economic quality over the last decade. The fact that MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa have fallen further away from the average global prosperity increases have similarly demonstrated the critical need for development assistance today, particularly in these areas.

This kind of assistance is something that the British government has begun to disregard. The merger of the Department for International Development (DfID) into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) earlier this year signalled a lack of will within the British government to continue critical development work. This could impact the least prosperous nations heavily, with DfID having spent £280m over the last two years in South Sudan. Having a well-resourced and independent development department like DfID was largely unique among wealthier nations, and turned the UK into a vital development provider. Recently, chancellor Rishi Sunak has also outlined his intentions to breach a manifesto pledge by reducing the development and aid budget from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%, in the hopes of saving nearly £4bn.

This is a disastrous decision for a number of reasons. As outlined by Andrew Mitchell, a conservative MP and former international development secretary, this could have tragic impacts and could lead to: 1m fewer girls receiving an education; 3.8m left without access to clean water; 5.6m fewer vaccinations and 100,000 preventable deaths, mainly among children. The impact of reducing the UKs development commitments to the least prosperous nations will thus be devastating, particularly in the midst of a COVID crisis. Due to the pandemic the World Bank estimates that 2020 will bring the first increase in extreme poverty in two decades. This demonstrates that now more than ever development commitments from countries like the UK are needed, particularly to the least prosperous nations and regions. Although the government argues this cut has been forced due to the pandemic, a cut comprising 0.2% of GDP is going to have an extremely minimal impact on overall government finances. The UK government has also committed to a £16.5bn increase in defence spending over the next four years. Britain’s contemporary safety depends in part on the stability of places thousands of miles away, and particularly in regions such as MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa. This is where the Prosperity Index has indicated safety and security, particularly relating to terrorism, has been substantially declining. Reducing investment in these areas could therefore pose a security risk to the UK, and it would represent a much shrewder use of money to invest in the long term development of these areas, as opposed to an increase in the defence budget. Whilst there is a need to have a debate about the aid budget, in light of the COVID crisis and the findings of the Prosperity Index it is clear that many regions and nations are currently facing critical challenges in their development. The potential removal of capital and expertise from development in these regions by the UK government should be seen as a major concern.

Taking the problem apart

The Legatum Institute’s 2020 Prosperity Index works by grouping together almost 300 country-level indicators into 66 elements of prosperity. These elements have been further categorised into 12 ‘pillars’ of prosperity which divide evenly into three domains (illustrated in Figure 1 below).

Figure 1 – A visual summary of the elements, pillars and domains that constitute overall prosperity.

Each of the 66 elements of prosperity have been designed to be recognisable and discrete areas of domestic policy. The elements of prosperity are measured using a combination of publicly available and verifiable data sources, which enables a cross-country comparison of prosperity over the last decade. Within the last decade, all seven regions and 147 out of 167 countries saw an overall increase in prosperity, with global prosperity being at its highest ever level in 2020.

Figure 2 – A summary of the increases in global and regional prosperity between 2010 and 2020.

This near-universal increase in prosperity can be attributed to a multitude of factors. There have been significant improvements almost universally in healthcare, education and social capital. This has resulted in an improved lived experience and living conditions, in particular reducing poverty, improving digital connectedness and access to water and sanitation services. Key facts outlining these improvements are:

  • Health improved in all but 12 countries (including the United States) over the past decade.
  • 150 countries have improved their education over the last decade. Enrolment has increased globally in all levels of education, but particularly tertiary education in which global enrolment has risen from 31% in 2010 to 42% in 2020.
  • Global 2G, 3G and 4G coverage has risen to cover 89% of the global population in 2020, compared to 62% in 2010.
  • Half of the world’s population now use the internet in 2020, compared to 23% in 2010.
  • Since 2010, 152 countries have improved living conditions for their citizens. This has led to the global population on less than $3.20 a day falling from almost 50% in 2010 to less than 10% currently. The percentage of those who survive on less than $5.50 a day has been reduced from nearly 80% of the population in 2010 to less than 25% in 2020.

Despite these global improvements, 15 countries have seen a deterioration in their living conditions. In addition to this, stagnating governance and personal freedom around the world is preventing further improvements in prosperity. Political accountability and executive constraints have weakened in many countries, and particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Rather shockingly, more than 100 countries have seen a decline in Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly in the past decade. 87 countries now have weaker governance now than in 2010, and 74 have weaker personal freedoms. The focus of this article will be on the MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa regions, due to these areas being the primary concern of the Next Century Foundation (NCF). This is particularly poignant given that the least prosperous ten nations all fall within these regions. The NCF is also currently engaged in projects involving five out of the bottom ten nations which include: Afghanistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The fact that these nations rank so lowly in the prosperity index emphasises the importance of conducting work regarding these nations.

Figure 3 – The 10 least prosperous nations in 2020.

Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa

Figure 4 – Overall regional rankings of prosperity.

Figure 4 demonstrates that the MENA region is the sixth most prosperous global region, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa. This makes them the two least prosperous regions in the world, and they always rank within the bottom three regions for each pillar of prosperity. This indicates these regions fall behind the rest of the globe across a holistic range of factors that constitute prosperity, which points to the importance of work that aims to improve prosperity in these areas. Figure 5 highlights the regional changes in each pillar of prosperity and overall prosperity in the past decade. It highlights that although the overall prosperity for both MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa has increased over the last decade, the gap between their regional prosperity average and the global prosperity average has widened, making these regions relatively less prosperous. As the decade has progressed, these regions have fallen behind in achieving the benefits from global prosperity. It is critical that work is done to help bring these regions prosperity in line with global improvements, to prevent continued regional underdevelopment.

Figure 5 – Overall Prosperity and Prosperity Pillar performance of the MENA (left) and Sub-Saharan Africa (right) regions.

Figure 5 demonstrates a remarkably similar trend in performance over the last decade within each of the prosperity pillars. Within the ‘Empowered People’ domain, both regions have seen relatively large prosperity improvements in living conditions, health and education but with a slight decrease in their natural environments. Similarly, both regions have seen vast improvements in the ‘Open Economies’ domain, but within that have experienced deteriorations of their economic quality. Where both these regions have struggled the most over the last decade is within the ‘Inclusive Societies’ domain, particularly the MENA region. Although both regions have improved their social capital, there has been an alarming decline in governance and particularly in safety and security. Where these regions differ is there has been a small increase in personal freedoms within Sub-Saharan Africa, but a substantial decline within the MENA region. This points to the critical need for the continuation of work carried out by the NCF and similar organisations whose principal work is to find resolutions to conflict, security and governance issues that have deteriorated in these regions over the last decade.

The MENA region has performed slowly in prosperity due to sustained instability over the region, with protracted conflicts in countries such as Syria, Yemen and Libya continuing to destabilise the region. The number of deaths due to terrorism across the region has more than doubled since 2010, and the number from two-sided conflicts has increased ten-fold to 90 deaths per million people. This highlights the extent that safety and security has deteriorated for many nations in this region, emphasising the critical need for swift peace to bring stability and security. The MENA region has also experienced a considerable decline in the quality of its governance, with 13 out of 19 countries seeing a weaker performance than in 2010 as democracy and democratic values are being challenged across the region.

Although Sub-Saharan Africa is the third most improved region for prosperity since 2010, it remains the weakest overall. There have been big regional improvements in healthcare systems and telecommunications infrastructure. However Sub-Saharan Africa has seen, after the MENA region, the biggest regional decline in safety and security that can principally be attributed to terrorism. Economic quality has also deteriorated in the two least prosperous regions. It is important to recognise the advances in prosperity that these regions have made, but for organisations similar to the NCF that specialise in peacebuilding, the declines in economic quality, safety and security, personal Freedoms and governance are extremely alarming and merit greater focus. This is especially important considering these issues have caused both regions to fall behind the rate of global prosperity improvements.

Inclusive Societies 

Inclusive societies are essential for prosperity, a society can only prosper and attract investment in an environment of safety and security for all its citizens. Nations also benefit from higher levels of national income when citizens’ personal liberties are protected. The rule of law, strong institutions and regulatory quality also significantly contribute to economic growth. Particularly poorly performing countries in this domain overall include: Libya (rank 159), Sudan (163), Afghanistan (164), Yemen (165), South Sudan (166) and Syria (167). These nations are in particular need of resolutions to their conflict and governance issues within the MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa regions. Below is a break-down of the worst performing countries in these regions for pillars that have experienced decline and are relevant to the work of the NCF, to highlight the most pressing areas where resolutions are needed.

Safety and Security

Safety and Security is an integral component of prosperity. Nations can only prosper in an environment of safety and security for all their citizens. Measures within this pillar of prosperity include issues relating to crime, terrorism and war. Figure 6 demonstrates the alarming decrease in Safety and Security across the Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA region. It also highlights an alarming increase in terrorism that has caused declines in regional Safety and Security. The weakest 7 performing global countries for this pillar are contained within these regions: Sudan (161), Libya (162), Iraq (163), Yemen (164), Syria (165), Afghanistan (166), South Sudan (167). This highlights the critical need for conflict resolution strategies in these regions and nations in particular.

Figure 6 – Regional and Element changes in Safety and Security between 2010 and 2020.

Personal Freedom

The Personal Freedom pillar measures the extent to which the population of a country is free to determine the course of their lives. This includes freedom from coercion and discrimination, as well as freedoms of movement, speech and assembly. Although the Sub-Saharan Africa region overall saw a small increase in this pillar over the last decade, many nations within this region perform extremely poorly. The MENA region also saw a considerable decrease in Personal Freedom over the last decades. It is also important to recognise that there are big discrepancies within this pillar. There have been substantial improvements in social tolerance over the last decade, but the declines in Personal Freedom have been brought about by an alarming and significant deterioration in Freedom of Speech and Access to Information, as well as Freedom of Assembly and Association. This emphasises the urgent need for work that rebuilds individual freedoms, and states that allow these freedoms within nations that perform poorly in the Personal Freedom domain. Particularly this includes: Sudan (158), South Sudan (163), Yemen (164), Iran (165) and Syria (167) who find themselves within the bottom 10 nations for this domain.

Figure 7 – Regional and Element changes in Personal Freedom between 2010 and 2020.

Governance

The governance pillar measures the extent to which there are restraints on political and executive power, and whether states can operate effectively and without corruption. It also includes issues relating to political accountability, and the effectiveness of the rule of law and regulations. Good governance is important in driving a strong economy. Of the 80 nations seeing an improvement in their governance in the 2020 Prosperity Index, 77 also saw an improvement in the openness of their economy. The Sub-Saharan Africa region has seen small regional decline in governance, but there has been a large decline in the MENA region. This particularly concerns executive constraints, political accountability and the rule of law. This identifies the need for particular focus to be paid in this region to ways forward for governance that successfully delivers accountability and responsibility to both citizens and the law. Although Sub-Saharan Africa overall was not the worst performing region, within the bottom 10 nations there is Sudan (162) and South Sudan (165) showing certain countries in this region still require considerable governance improvements.

Figure 8 – Regional and Element changes in Governance between 2010 and 2020.

Economic Quality 

Both the Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA region also saw a decrease in prosperity regarding economic quality. This measures how robust an economy is, as well as how stable and sustainable these economies are. Economic quality is therefore an essential component in delivering prolonged prosperity. There has been a particular decline in the areas of fiscal sustainability and macroeconomic stability of national economies within both regions. This is particularly the case for South Sudan (164), Sudan (166) and Yemen (167) who rank as three of the bottom four nations for economic quality.

Figure 9 – Regional and Element  changes in Economic Quality between 2010 and 2020.

South Sudan

As the overall least prosperous nation, South Sudan is in an alarming situation. What is further damaging for the nation is that it is performing much below the regional average of Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the ‘Empowered People’ domain which includes key issues such as living conditions, health and education. This is important because national development entails far more than GDP growth, it requires the right socio-economic conditions that allow populations to flourish.

South Sudan is the weakest overall nation in the ‘Empowered People’ domain. It is the weakest global nation for education, the second weakest for living conditions and the third weakest for health. This is despite the Sub-Saharan Africa region seeing large increases in prosperity across all of these factors, particularly in regional health where it was the best performing region in the 2020 Index. This exemplifies that while regional trends in prosperity are useful indicators, there exists key national level anomalies within these regional trends. The example of South Sudan highlights the critical need for targeted assistance to be attentive to specific national contexts.

Why Boris Johnson should have cancelled HS2

Despite consistent opposition to the High Speed 2 (HS2) railway, the £106bn project was recently given the green-light with construction beginning at the start of September. HS2 represents a substantial investment which during the current COVID-19 crisis is irresponsible at best, and unbridled vanity at worst.

Since March, 9.6m UK workers have been furloughed with mounting uncertainty over the futures of jobs and industries. A new job support scheme is being introduced on the 31st October to support those in ‘viable’ jobs, eligible to employees working 1/3rd of their hours. This means the industries that are still unable to open, who have been hit hardest by the pandemic, will be the ones receiving no financial support on the turn of November. With the prospect of millions facing the crippling uncertainty of not knowing whether they will have a basic income by Christmas, it is counterintuitive that £106bn of public funds are being diverted into a project not expected to be completed until 2036. Instead this money should be protecting vital industries in dire need of support, which would be of greater benefit to the health of the economy.

As the current working climate has shifted rapidly towards online connectedness and video meetings, the need for physical connection between places for future business becomes increasingly unlikely. The aim of HS2 to connect the UK has therefore already become outdated, due to changes brought about by COVID-19. It is hard to escape from the idea that such a project is not needed now, and will not be needed in the future. As the pandemic threatens huge sectors of the UK economy, supporting affected industries and employees is the priority. Investment that contributes to this undoubtedly represents a shrewder use of the public funds which have instead been funnelled into HS2.

UN Oral Intervention: Britain’s treatment of Older Persons

The following has been prepared by Next Century Foundation Research Officers Lauretta Garrard and Lara Miriam Ibrahim for submission by the Next Century Foundation as a statement to the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council:

The Next Century Foundation is deeply concerned by the treatment of older persons during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The UK government has failed in their duty of care to prioritise the wellbeing of vulnerable older persons.

The lack of significant levels of COVID-19 testing in the initial stages of the outbreak, together with the inadequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment and the lack of coherent guidance for care home providers and staff has led to an unnecessarily high death toll for care home residents, who have made up 40% of all registered COVID-19 related deaths in the UK. The UK government has failed to make adequate provision to prevent the recurrence of such circumstances and has not taken concrete steps to hold care providers accountable who continue to fail to follow existing guidance.

This failure to protect the human rights of older people perpetuates a disturbing phenomenon of neglecting the health of older people in Britain. The UK government must look beyond rationing adequate treatment of older persons in order to meet financial constraints and should instead protect the human rights of those at greatest clinical risk.

We strongly urge member states of the United Nations to demonstrate their continued commitment to the promotion of the human rights of older persons. We hold the UK government accountable for both past and present human rights abuses in regard to its most vulnerable citizens. We urge them to adopt effective measures to monitor the treatment of older persons. Measures adopted should include providing sufficient Personal Protective Equipment and regular testing for care home staff and residents ahead of a likely second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak (something the UK government claims to do but in which it has failed to deliver).

UN Oral Intervention: Modern Slavery in the UK

The following has been prepared by Next Century Foundation Research Officer Naomi Buhmann for submission by the Next Century Foundation as a statement to the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council:

In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, thousands of trafficked adolescents are enslaved by criminal gangs on the county lines for drug distribution. The British government should encourage the police to prioritise cases of underage drug couriers and ensure they are covered by the National Referral Mechanism for trafficked people, and that they use more telecommunication restriction orders through the County Lines Taskforce.

Girls acting as couriers on the County Lines are particularly vulnerable. We urge support services to ensure as many victims as possible are introduced to the National Referral Mechanism.

Prostitutes are another vulnerable group about whom we are increasingly concerned since the advent of Covid-19 in the UK. As many of them continue to work, their safety is more at risk. Others are being abandoned by their traffickers and are in need of shelter.

There is insufficient support for those forced into prostitution. Emergency accommodation services do not know where the victims are located. The lack of funding for those that offer emergency accommodation to help prostitutes in need is an acute problem. Her Majesty’s Government has not yet provided sufficient help to support these services.

Since Covid-19, trafficking is more underground and new strategies are needed empowering institutions and structures that can strengthen exit pathways and break the cycle of exploitation.

We wish to see more funding for anti-trafficking support services and charities so they can adapt to new circumstances swiftly.

In order to identify more victims, help hotlines should be better staffed and widely promoted. They need to connect closely with the National Referral Mechanism and with law enforcement officers so all can remain alert in regard to the trafficking issue and the related problem of online sexual exploitation and grooming.

The crisis facing Black graduates in the UK

NCF Researcher Lauretta Garrard examines the lack of a level playing field for black graduates in the UK. The opening session of the forthcoming NCF Summer conference concentrates on the Black Lives Matter issue. If you wish to attend follow this link.

As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gain momentum, and growing numbers of employers have announced plans to cut jobs in the UK, we must think about the employment prospects of Black university students. This September an estimated two million will enter into a transformed labour market, yet it is Black graduates who may face the most disadvantage. Black and ethnic minority communities have in many ways been disproportionately harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and this iniquity is not likely to improve for Black students in their inclusion and experiences within occupations.

Figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that Black students in the UK are less likely to be in full time employment than their white peers (53% of Black graduates are in full time occupations compared to 62% of white graduates). There are also clear disparities in the makeup of professions in the UK, with Black employees underrepresented in senior roles. Only 1.5% of those in senior roles in the private sector are Black. Pay gaps between ethnic groups in the UK also remain wide. According to data from the Office for National Statistics, UK-born Black employees earn 7.7% less than white British workers. Poignantly, this is similar to the gender pay gap which stands at 8.9% and it is clear that employment discrimination continues to exist within the UK labour market. 

While action must be taken to tackle occupational disadvantages which remain stratified by ethnic origin, institutions play an important role in creating these conditions. Widening access to programmes at prestigious universities is likely to improve the prospects of graduates where many still have lower percentages of Black students. For example, in 2019 only 3.2% of students at The University of Oxford, and 3.4% of students at the University of Cambridge were Black. Black students within these institutions therefore remain unrepresented, where Black 18-24-year olds make up 4% of the population in England and Wales, according to the 2011 census (with data unavailable for the whole of the UK). These are some of the UK’s most prestigious institutions, yet they are failing to represent Black students more than most other universities in the country. Both universities in particular have been questioned about their lack of representation in its student and staff makeup, and despite their widening participation programmes, it is clear that more must be done. Identifying what enables existing occupational advantage is also important. This could involve research into the formal and informal ways in which non-black and minority ethnic graduates gain privilege over Black students. 

As students at The University of Oxford campaign to take down a statue of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes, we must urgently address how racism and specifically anti-Blackness continues to go unaddressed within institutions.  It is important that we account for a history of racial exploitation, colonialism and slavery while paying attention to and taking responsibility for the work that still has to be done. The combination of the pandemic and ongoing racial discrimination are likely to threaten the job prospects of Black students to a significant degree, and measures to mitigate this must be adopted quickly. In the words of Helen Barnard, acting director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who has recently commented on these occupational disadvantages “although we are all weathering the same storm, we are not all in the same boat”.

 

Healing the Nations – Book Now!

The Next Century Foundation’s 
Healing the Nations
Summer Conference

 

The Next Century Foundation is holding a ten-day online conference over the end of July and the first week of August.

Events will be taking place covering all of the Foundation’s key nations and areas.

 
CLICK HERE FOR FULL DETAILS

To book, contact ncfmepp@aol.com with details of which sessions you are planning to attend.
 
Sessions will run in the mode of the NCF’s successful weekly meetings, mixing input from knowledgeable speakers and key players with both breakout room and round table discussions.

This conference provides a unique opportunity to take stock of the geopolitical situation in the Middle East and beyond, and gain on-the-ground insights simply unavailable in mainstream reporting.

We would be honoured if you would join us in confronting the key issues in these countries and working towards peace and positive change through constructive discussions – just have as we have for the last three decades.
 

Conference Sessions
(London BST)
   

Thursday 30 July 
11.20 am US/UK 
3 pm Lebanon

Friday 31 July
3 pm Palestine 

Saturday 1 August
3 pm Libya

Sunday 2 August
3 pm China

Monday 3 August
11.30 am Afghanistan 
3 pm Iran 

Tuesday 4 August
11.30 am Iraq
3 pm Syria 

Wednesday 5 August
11.30 am Kashmir 
3 pm Yemen

Thursday 6 August
11.30 am Israel 
3 pm Sudan

Friday 7 August
3 pm Bahrain

Saturday 8 August
3 pm Conclusions
 
 

Image: Sunrise in San’a, Yemen taken by yeowatzup / CC BY

Lubov Chernukhin backs the Tories

Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Russian ex-finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin, recently became the biggest female donor to any political party in the United Kingdom. Her total contributions amount to over £1.9 million in the last six years.

Lubov herself is now a British citizen and has every right and entitlement to donate to a British political party. Russian state interference in the British political landscape, on the other hand, is understandably concerning. This concern was reflected by the UK government itself with a report conducted in 2019 into possible Russian interference. The failure of the British government to release this report, since its publication in October, has led many individuals both inside and outside the government to question the findings and the reason for its non-release. One can only presume that it confirms suspicions that Russia intervened in the UK referendum on Brexit and the government therefore wants to avoid its release, in case that the Brexit issue is brought back to centre stage.

Transparency is vital in politics, both in order to fully understand the possible influence and sway that money exerts on politicians and the political agenda, as well as acknowledge what possible external pressures have been placed on the electorate.  Britain has a greater degree of transparency regarding the source of donations to political parties than most countries. However, Britain lacks transparency with regard to outside interference in the political process. 

Lubov Chernukhin becoming Britain’s largest ever female political donor is quite an accolade. Attempting to research and understand Lubov Chernukhin’s past is difficult. Of Russian heritage, she attained British citizenship alongside her husband, Vladimir Chernukhin. Mr. Chernukhin held the role of deputy finance minister from 2000 to 2002, in which “he had ‘regular meetings’ with Putin“. During his career, Mr. Chernukhin became a close ally of Kremlin critic Mikhail Kasyanov, who was removed as prime minister in 2004 by Putin’s government.  After an alleged falling out, Putin stripped Mr. Chernukhin of his role, prompting Mr. Chernukin’s move to the UK to escape the possibility of arrest

Lubov Chernukhin’s career path is more difficult to explore. By profession, she is presumably a banker and consultant. She is currently the director of a property firm called Capital Construction And Development Ltd. Under her maiden name, Golubeva, she had previously acted in the role of director for five other companies, all of which have been dissolved.

The couple’s primary residence is an eight million pound mansion overlooking London’s Regent Park, reportedly owned by an offshore trust. During a court case in which Mr. Chernukhin was involved, Justice Teare commented that it was obvious “that Mr. Chernukhin had prospered in Russia after the collapse of the USSR”. 

As Ms. Chernukhin tends to avoid publicity and does not give interviews, it is challenging to determine her current stance on Russia. Her husband, Mr. Chernukhin was indeed removed by Putin, and fearing arrest has not returned since, prompting the belief that he might be Anti-Russia. Regardless, he remains influential in his home country.  Luke Harding, a Guardian journalist, tweeted that in a recent legal battle, when asked if Vladimir Chernukhin “still had relationships with ‘prominent members of [Russia’s] establishment’ who were still in favour with the Kremlin”, his wife, Lubov Chernukhin, replied, “‘Today he still does, yes”‘. The legal battle was between Mr. Chernukhin and Mr. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who has remained in Russia,  regarding a dispute over property in Russia. If Ms. Chernukhin were not so reluctant to step into the media spotlight, we might better understand her motives which, one can only speculate, may be to ensure that the UK remains independent of the influence of a mother country from which, presumably, herself and her husband are now exiles.

Lubov Chernukhin’s political donation history is also a windy road. She attempted to give her first donation of £10,000 to the United Kingdom Conservative Party in 2012 which was initially blocked as she was declared as “an impermissible donor” by the Electoral Commission. Presumably, the reason for this was because she was not yet on the electoral roll. As a British citizen, however, she now has every right and freedom to make donations to political parties.  The Conservative party took advice about her donation and ultimately determined that there was no reason not to accept it. Since then, she has donated over £1.9 million, in 54 different cash payments, making her the biggest ever female donor to any political party in the United Kingdom. These donations have often provided her with face time with Conservative party leadership. Such occasions have included £160,000 for a tennis match with Boris Johnson and David Cameron in 2014, £135,000 in February 2019 for dinner with female cabinet members including Theresa May, and £45,000 for a tennis match with Boris Johnson in February 2020. The donations are all public record, the contents of their conversation are obviously not. But arguably, Ms. Chernukhin has potentially become one of the most significantly influential figures in British politics merely because of her donations. In the first three months of 2020, Lubov Chernukhin has donated an additional £335,000 to the Conservative party.

Regarding the quite separate issue of Russian state interference in British politics, after it was revealed that the Kremlin had interfered with both the 2016 United States election and the EU referendum, an investigation was ordered to look into possible Russian interference in the United Kingdom. It was finalised in March 2019, before being sent to Downing Street in October 2019. Conducted by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, it examined alleged Russian activity, including espionage, interference, and subversion, in the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election, citing evidence from intelligence services such as MI5 and MI6. Despite having the report since October of last year, Downing Street claimed that it could not be released before the December election as it could not go through the proper processes before parliament returned after the general election. Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, confirmed that the report was cleared by early October and has not received a response despite “the longstanding agreement that the Prime Minister will endeavour to respond within ten days”, adding that in this case, there has been no response at all. It has still not been released as of June 2020. Calls are now being made by politicians for the release of the report and questioning the reason why it has not been published. Dominic Grieve has expressed concern that the results of the report would be pertinent to voters in the next election. 

The UK Freedom of Information Act of 2000 guarantees public access to any recorded information held by public authorities. Information that has been cleared and approved for the public eye should be readily available for those requesting it. No government can claim to be free from influence so it should be acknowledged and in order to be an open democracy, the responsibility for transparency falls on every member of the government. 

 

If Black Lives Matter – where do you stand?

Issues of the Week

We all have something to answer for – from God in his Heaven to you as you sit there in lockdown. What do you care when it comes down to it? To listen to William’s podcast click here.

HOWEVER MORE IMPORTANTLY: Everyone seems to be busy campaigning to tear down statues and blue plaques – alienating some in the process as well as obliterating part of our history. Instead why don’t they campaign to celebrate the greatest British warriors to end slavery?

William Wilberforce for instance. Where is his statue? Well there is one in his home city of Hull and there is a smaller one tucked away in Westminster Abbey. But there should be a proper one out of doors in Central London don’t you think?

You could argue that John Newton, the ex-slaver that became an abolitionist (and incidentally wrote the hymn Amazing Grace after he shifted over to the side of the great and the good) deserves a statue. After all he was the one that mentored William Wilberforce. But all he has is a large bronze bust somewhere in Ireland.

However this Cornish warrior against slavery nobody celebrates. Stick him on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square I reckon. He at least deserves a statue somewhere. Barrington Reynolds, the Cornishman who helped put an end to international slavery. Now there’s an unsung hero.  Looks a little strange but – What a guy. In fact forget the statue, they should make a movie about him:

BArrington-Reynolds

COVID-19 and learning gaps between children in the UK

COVID-19 has severely impacted the lives of disadvantaged pupils in the UK. Many are back at school this month, but plans for all primary schools to reopen before the summer have been scrapped. The UK’s high infection rate of COVID-19 means that schools must continue to operate with social distancing measures, and so most children continue to learn at home. While many expressed disappointment in the government’s initial plans to reopen schools, critics, such as the chief inspector of schools, Amanda Speilman, have pivoted to argue that they should not close at all over the summer. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of these two positions, it is obvious that there has been a disorganised decision making process, with plans failing to be discussed with unions, school leaders and teachers. A plan for schools moving forward that invests in economically disadvantaged children is necessary. 

The ability of schools to reduce disadvantage is particularly important for less affluent children, who show lower levels of school readiness and are less likely to benefit from enriching home environments. The longer schools are closed, the greater the risk of educational damage as responsibilities are transferred to parents. Like professional caregivers, parents should be involved in engaging children’s cognitive processes but there is a clear link between the resources parents have and the home environments they are able to provide.

The French sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdiau offers some insights here through his theory of ‘capitals’, i.e. the resources an individual has access to. While schools provide ‘cultural capital in advancing educational attainment, some children remain at an advantage where they are able to access other forms of capital at home: beneficial social networks (‘social capital’) and financial resources (‘economic capital’). Capitals are also mutually reinforcing, so a child with access to ‘economic capital’ at home, for example, will be more likely to adapt to the school environment when they return in September. Schools could also play another role in reproducing advantage: the introduction of a grading system based on teacher assessment will likely underestimate the academic potential of poorer pupils, particularly those who leave their revision until the last minute. Relying on institutional providers to challenge disadvantage alone therefore involves overlooking the resources available to some families.

There are children who have nowhere to work at home, or have little to no online access to allow virtual study and lessons. The Department for Education has been unable to deliver enough resources such as iPads and laptops to aid learning, and gaps of school readiness and performance between children can be expected to widen. The role of institutional arrangements have always been limited, as they are undermined by what happens within households, but this is now amplified by the fact that most children are learning at home. Material deprivation within families needs to be addressed, and quality provision directed to disadvantaged children when they return to school or educational disadvantages will prevail.

 

The horrors of human trafficking during COVID-19

During this COVID-19 crisis, many feel isolated, “locked in” due to restrictions on their daily life – understandably. But what would the forty million trafficking victims worldwide say about the same situation?

It is not so long since International Sex Workers’ Day (02/06), so perhaps this is a good moment to examine the pandemic’s impact on sexually exploited people and other victims of modern slavery.

Human trafficking is the trade of people, both across and within borders. When a person is affected by this, he/she gets forced into labour exploitation, debt bondage and other miserable circumstances plus often gets one of the “DDD” (dirty, dangerous, difficult) jobs: This is modern slavery.

Perhaps trafficking should stop under a nationwide lockdown and increased police presence on the streets. However, luring and recruiting victims is still possible, even in their own home neighbourhoods, where they are still obeying travel restrictions. Instances have been recorded of the use of drive-thru and delivery services for the sexual exploitation of children. Others have been satisfying demand for sexual services delivered online by webcam. Additionally, the county lines (criminal exploitation of children selling drugs on the UK’s streets), are still active everywhere. Brothels operate underground. As recently as 22 April, British police found trafficking victims at four different premises in Westminster, London.

So, the trafficking business has adapted to the current situation and flourishes. Academics have identified three pillars which are the foundation on which this has been happening:

  • Firstly, current victims of labour exploitation need to cope with a worsening of the situation they already find themselves in.

Due to the pandemic, many healthcare services and trafficking survivors’ assistance centres diverted resources to deal with the enormous pressure from COVID-19. This limits the authorities’ ability to expose trafficking activities, identify victims and offer support.

The trafficked persons’ movement restrictions are aggravated by travel disruptions and the governmental order to stay at home. This leaves many vulnerable people isolated and helpless in the hands of their abuser.

Even if they can leave their house, debt bondage forces them to remain with their trafficker, who can now easily force them to do even riskier activities. Moreover, recession leads to low-cost production everywhere, forcing victims into extremely exploitative jobs simply to avoid the danger of homelessness and severe poverty.

Another important aspect of the situation is the way in which increased stigmatization can damage the mental health of trafficked people. Now more than ever, many trafficked people are seen as outcasts due to their living and working conditions: sex workers could easily spread the virus due to their activities, construction workers living very close together in labour “camps” (e.g. in the Gulf) have low hygiene standards, and so on.

  • The second pillar is that of the increased pool of people that can be exploited since many more people worldwide have become vulnerable due to the Coronavirus crisis.

As usual during international emergencies, support structures change and break down. Since COVID-19 has exacerbated social inequalities and unemployment has risen, disadvantaged people are ideal victims a trafficker is looking for!

Let’s say you’re in desperate need of paying for your basic needs and someone proposes a cheap loan or an easy way to earn money – you might accept it, assuming that it’s only temporary. Even if you know that it’s far from a fair offer paying minimum wage, you’d take it since it can help you out of acute poverty!

So, the downward spiral begins, the victim becoming financially dependent on their respective trafficker and usually being threatened with violence.

Even in the absence of such external influences, really desperate people may take, for example, sex work into consideration. However, due to brothels being closed at the moment, prostitution is being pushed underground, making it more dangerous.

The next point is the increased risk of child exploitation – currently, children are mainly at home instead of attending school. This has three negative effects on their safety: they are more prone to online exploitation, abuse and grooming; they might be forced to search for money and food on the streets; and if the situation goes on for much longer, they could be at risk of child marriage in some countries.

This is very concerning, having the third pillar in mind:

  • Due to the pandemic, victim support services and law enforcement agencies are being disrupted in their usual work.

Recently, shelters for trafficked people have had to close due to financial pressure or high infection risk. Since donors turn away from them and governmental resources are being redirected towards the battle against COVID-19, some emergency networks had to issue requests for material support – not just for sanitizers or masks – but simply for food! This illustrates the severity of the situation.

Also, many governmental or NGO offices are closed leading to delays in legal proceedings. Immigrants who’d have to renew their documents might not be able to do so, but then, they cannot return to their country, either. This leaves them in a precarious situation.

To sum up, the remaining question is how can we tackle these problems? Researchers assume that if we invest to support victims adequately, we might still be able to stop a “trafficking epidemic”.

Most importantly, resources need to go directly to the most vulnerable in our society. This could consist of providing housing for victims, providing anti-trafficking workers with PPE and more generally, strictly enforcing minimum wage laws.

Clearly, it’s not easy for an individual to act against such a large-scale issue, but one way to help is to watch out for situations that seem suspicious and report them to police or suitable NGOs (e.g. unseen UK, hope for justice or the Red Cross) – they are grateful for every hint they receive! 

Image by sammisreachers from Pixabay

Black Lives Matter protests force Britain to take a look in the mirror

Last weekend thousands took to the streets of Britain to protest the killing of George Floyd and voice their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Critics have suggested that Brits joining arms with the American struggle is unfounded and merely stokes tensions that don’t exist in the UK. However, these protests have larger ambitions than simply to avenge the victim of one injustice. Many feel it is time Britain came to terms with it’s own dark history, both old and new.

Across the Atlantic, Floyd’s death has precipitated the burning of American cities and illuminated once again the archaic nature of American institutions. Meanwhile in the UK, there has been an establishment effort to distance ourselves from facing similar hostility. Government minister Kemi Badenoch sought to throw cold water on the issue, saying in the Commons: ‘This is one of the best countries in the world to be a black person.’

These comments follow hard on the heels of the news that black men and women are twice as likely as their white counterparts to die from coronavirus. Someone who falls under such a statistic is Belly Mujinga, who was spat at while on duty as a railway ticket officer, and later lost her life to Covid-19. The police have faced backlash for the premature closure of Ms. Mujinga’s case, but thanks to a vociferous campaign, this is to be reviewed by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The close proximity of Ms. Mujinga’s case to that of missing (now presumed murdered) Madeleine McCann has drawn stark contrast. While both cases are tragic in their own right, there is a notable chasm in effort and attention, paid by the police and media alike, to one over the other. McCann’s case has received police funding since she went missing thirteen years ago, while Mujinga’s was closed barely two months after her death.

Of course, this is not the first time the police have been accused of racial apathy. It is a little over twenty years since the Metropolitan Police were found to be ‘institutionally racist’ following the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Since then it is often suggested, as in Kemi Badenoch’s comments, that Britain has taken heed and is now a ‘post-racial’ society.

The numbers, however, tell a different story. Black people are nine times more likely than whites to be stopped and searched for drugs, despite using illegal substances at a lower rate. Black people are also far more likely to be victims of the use of force by the police. Around 12% of all instances of police force can be attributed to incidents involving Black people, despite their only constituting around 3% of the population of England and Wales.

The police, however, are just one institution – albeit a particularly powerful one – that seems to have a blinkered view of Britain’s racial history.

The current demonstrations have catalysed already substantial support for education reform in British schools. Proprietors of such ideas attest that schoolchildren are purposefully made unaware of the realities of colonialism and empire. A petition regarding this issue, directed toward the Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson, has 180,000 signatures at the time of writing.

Education reform is not without its brick-and-mortar relevance. In fact, following the Windrush scandal, an independent review recommended, among other things, that Home Office staff be educated on the country’s colonial past.

Such a past is one worthy of comparison with the United States, given that America was born from the thirteen British colonies. In many ways, American history is British history. BBC journalist Emily Maitlis, however, had this to say on the current protests: ‘Our police don’t have guns, [Britain’s] legacy of slavery is not the same … it’s not the same is it?’

While Maitlis was likely playing devil’s advocate, she was appeasing those who seek to whitewash history and paint the British empire without foibles and as an evergreen ‘good-guy’. Such language fails to consider that like America, Britain acquired it’s riches through resource extraction and large-scale exploitation. Until we have come to terms with this reality, cases such as Windrush – aided and abetted by top-down ‘hostile environment’ policies – are doomed to be repeated.

Those at Black Lives Matter protests in London, Manchester and Bristol have stood in solidarity with those facing oppression in places as far and foreign as Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington DC. This, however, is not the first time Britain and America have occupied common ground with regard to racial injustice.

The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 – where a state-owned bus company was held to account for racist hiring policy – marked a certain synchronicity with the struggles taking place in the U.S. That same year, American civil rights leaders began to make headway too; most notably the march on Washington, and an iconic Martin Luther King speech that scarcely needs mentioning.  It is a shame that the leader of the Bus Boycott, Paul Stephenson, is yet to be celebrated in the UK as King and Malcolm X are in the States.

The parallels in history and progress between the two nations are evident. Therefore to turn a blind eye could be considered a break with tradition – one of standing together against systemic racism, in spirit if not geography. Just as in ’63, the Black Lives Matter protests seek broadly to unravel our privileged conceptions of race and power.

Aside from solidarity with George Floyd, the British public should be aware that it has many ingrained racial injustices on its own doorstep. Moving forward, the momentum of the Black Lives Matter protests can and should be used incisively to uncover them. A diversion in efforts toward the governments new discriminatory immigration bill might be a good place to start.