Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2103

System failed my friend

I have a friend who has been badly failed by New Labour’s draconian crime policies (» Latest draconian policy on crime, 17 May).

She is a functionally illiterate and innumerate schizophrenic who has, as I write, been in jail now for six weeks.

She had only been out of prison for one month when she was arrested for trying to beg her train fare after her Oyster travel card – which I had been charging up for her – ran out.

I have been her friend, and then designated carer, for nearly 15 years now. She has drug problems too, and is often seriously out of control.

She is incapable of managing money – she often loses her benefit payment, or is robbed, on the day she gets it.

It would be a long story to explain just how far the system has repeatedly failed her. She had an Asbo imposed on her less than two years ago – while she was already serving a custodial sentence.

The Asbo barred her from, among other things, asking for money anywhere in England and Wales – ever. She has been in prison most of the time since, apart from a month when she was released on probation, which she quickly breached.

She was released in March and had to live in a new area because she was barred from her usual haunts. She needed to get registered with a doctor in her new area in order to apply for disability benefits.

She had no ID, and because of inevitable communication mix-ups, a month went by in which she had had only one emergency payment of £100. Her hotel rent was paid, but I was basically keeping her.

In particular I was keeping her Oyster card charged because she was forced to live miles from anyone she knew and from her mental health team’s offices.

Then one day her Oyster card ran out – and that is how she ended up back in prison.

As things stand, under the terms of this Asbo, she is not likely to stay out of jail for more than a few weeks for the rest of her life. It’s not improbable that this will drive my friend to suicide. This is a medieval barbarism.

Jim, by email

A recent independent audit of youth justice services has shown just how badly Labour is failing young people.

The report by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies found that despite record spending, the government has not met its own targets to cut reoffending, reduce custody or meet the educational, substance abuse or mental health needs of young offenders.

It also points out that 64 percent of the Youth Justice Board’s 2007 budget was spent on custody and only 5 pecent on prevention.

It is an indictment of this government that it continues to oversee the locking up of record numbers of children.

Figures this month show the numbers locked up have risen by 10 percent in just three years.

Government “crackdowns” on youth crime may grab the headlines, but they are clearly not working.

There must be a radical rethink and a drastic move away from imprisoning young people.

Sabiha Ghani, Manchester

Burmese poll is a sham vote

You are right that Cyclone Nargis has left hundreds of thousands in Burma in urgent need of aid (» Burmese need aid, not invasion, 17 May).

In spite of this, the ruling military government – the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – has proceeded with a referendum on a draft constitution that it claims will usher in a new era of “discipline-flourishing genuine multi-party democracy”.

This is simply not true – the referendum reflects 46 years of brutal military rule and is instead designed to cement and perpetuate the junta’s control.

A referendum that reflected the wishes of the people would require access to information, free speech, and freedom of association and assembly – all of which are currently denied to the Burmese people.

In the places that the referendum has already been held the approval rate is apparently 93 percent with a turnout of 99 percent.

It is hard to see how this could be possible when the vast majority of the population will not have seen the draft constitution. It is only available from certain bookshops at a price beyond the reach of most.

The referendum is part of a “seven step roadmap to democracy” announced by the junta in 2003 in the wake of severe international condemnation of the military’s attacks on democracy activist Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s convoy.

To quash the burgeoning Burmese movement, the junta killed over 100 democracy supporters and then swiftly launched the roadmap.

There is a pattern here.Whenever the SPDC comes under pressure to carry out real reform, the generals reinvigorate their sham path to democracy in an attempt to head off the movement and lessen international pressure.

The referendum will enshrine the same abusive rule that Burma has endured for half a century. Clearly reform is not the solution.

Charlotte Bence, East London

Campaign halts cruel deportation plans

Campaigners in Sheffield last week prevented the deportation of Claude Ndeh and his family to Cameroon. Claude and his wife Majolie have both been imprisoned in Cameroon and Claude was tortured.

Claude and Majolie fled to Britain and their three children were born here. Two of the children suffer from sickle cell anaemia and are being treated at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

Immigration police seized the family at 6.30am on 11 May. They were not given the chance to pack medication or clothing. They were taken to Yarl’s Wood detention centre where they were given two single beds between five of them. The two children with sickle cell quickly became poorly.

 The campaign called a protest in Sheffield city centre – over 100 people turned up. Days of frantic campaigning followed as we desperately tried to stop the family’s deportation.

At the eleventh hour the family won the right to a judicial review and were allowed home to Sheffield.  

By this time the youngest child was ill and had to be admitted to hospital.

New Labour’s policies are leading to attempts to deport children to malarial zones and war zones.

We have to campaign to change government policy as well as supporting individual families.

Karen Mee, Sheffield

Victory against GP privatisation

Our ongoing battle to stop privatisation of health services in north London took a big step forward last week when the local primary care trust (PCT) announced it was backing down on plans to privatise the out-of-hours GP service.

Camden PCT had been insisting that it had to tender the service – run successfully for the past ten years by a non-profitmaking cooperative of GPs – in order to “test the market” to procure the “best possible services at the best value for money”.

We believe they really intended to hand the contract over to a private company, abdicating responsibility for the quality of the service while cutting costs.

We are also campaigning to reverse the trust’s decision earlier this year to award contracts for three GP surgeries in Camden to the British subsidiary of United Health, a US-based multinational medical insurance company with fraud convictions.

In addition we oppose the imposition of polyclinics. These will mean the closure of local GP practices.

They are a smokescreen for privatisation.

Caroline Price, North London

Brown’s not listening to me

I’m intrigued by Gordon Brown’s insistence that he will start listening to voters.

As one of his constituents I have been trying to see him.

He doesn’t have surgeries – you have to make an appointment.

It has been over four weeks since his assistant told me she would arrange one.

I wanted to talk to him before he attended last week’s international summit on cluster bombs.

Some 90 percent of victims of cluster bombs are civilians, a third of them children.

I say to Gordon Brown – the man who wants to be trusted – keep your word and ban all cluster bombs now.

Oh, and when will you be available to speak to your constituents?

Maureen Closs, Kirkcaldy, Fife

We must beat back fascism

Your articles on fascism are a fantastic riposte to the “liberal” thinking that is pervading much of the media, voters and politicians.

Socialists do believe in free speech – but this cannot be extended to fascists.

Fascism itself doesn’t afford freedom of thought or expression to those who do not share its bigoted ideals.

The liberal media and its politicians have clearly failed to grasp the gravity of the situation facing many communities in Britain and across Europe.

Here fascists are given a legitimate political platform upon which to spout their message of hatred and violence.

Fascism in all its forms must be confronted head on and defeated.

Dave Webber, Wolverhampton

Crisis and immigration

The economic situation is worsening and will continue to do so.

In such circumstances people look for answers. One reaction is to blame immigrants – we have seen this before.

We must clearly explain that it is capitalism that is using the immigrants for cheap labour, just as it uses us all.

In this way we can get people to fight for socialism and a humane future.

John Keeley, Folkestone, Kent

Challenge for left of Labour

Chris Bambery is right to point to the decline of working class organisation and the challenge this presents for the left (» Build the left for the battles that lie ahead, 10 May).

The decline has been going on since at least the 1970s.

The key difference between then and now is the collapse of working class loyalty to Labour.

Then most workers saw no alternative to trying to work through Labour.

Today millions have given up believing that Labour will ever represent their interests.

The left must continue to build an alternative to Labour.

Geoff Brown, Manchester

Don’t help supermarkets

Ideally, socialists would take control of big supermarkets, hand power to the workers, and implement systems of fair treatment for producers (» Democratising food, 3 May).

But in the absence of this, we must take daily action to slow – and eventually halt – the march of the supermarkets.

First, don’t go to them. Small retailers do not have the means to open all hours and stock many varieties.

So shop before you need something, and don’t be too upset if you can’t get exactly what you want.

If you have a garden, grow your own vegetables.

Write to your MP to ask them to oppose more big supermarkets.

If you know that a supermarket has applied for planning permission for a new store near you, oppose it.

Even if you do not succeed in stopping it, you can significantly slow it down.

Alex Hopkins, Liverpool

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Article information

Tue 27 May 2008, 18:52 BST
Issue No. 2103
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