I was driven out to protect the Great Ormond Street brand, says the whistleblowing paediatrician who could have saved Baby Peter
She turned whistleblower because she feared something terrible would happen to a child
When Kim Holt returns to her job as a senior community paediatrician on Tuesday after a four-year absence, she will be carrying a framed letter in her favourite battered Mulberry briefcase.
It is tangible evidence, should she need it, of the fierce battle she has fought with one of the most prestigious children’s hospitals in the country. Sent from executives at the world-famous Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, it is worth its weight in gold because it offers a grovelling apology for ‘the distress’ they have caused her over the past four years.
‘I will hang it on my wall to remind me, should I feel wobbly, that despite everything that I’ve endured, I was right to do what I did,’ she said.
Dr Holt, 52, was forced from her job as the designated doctor for children in care at St Ann’s Hospital in Haringey, North London, in 2007, after she and three other doctors wrote to management warning that staff shortages and poor record-keeping would lead to a tragedy.
Six months later, her worst fears became reality when an inexperienced doctor who had replaced her at the clinic failed to spot that Baby Peter was the victim of serious physical abuse. Dr Holt believes that had she or a more senior consultant been available to examine him, the 17-month-old boy would not have been sent home, where he died 48 hours later.
A tall, handsome woman, whose gentle, quiet manner masks a fierce determination to do the right thing, Dr Holt found herself caught in a firestorm after Great Ormond Street took over the community health service in Haringey. She became a whistleblower, she says, because she feared something terrible would happen to a child and was devastated when the warnings went unheeded.
In her first interview since learning two weeks ago that she would get her job back, Dr Holt maintains the quiet dignity that has sustained her over the past four years. ‘I don’t want to gloat or be smug about this, but it feels very good to know that I’ve been vindicated. I’ve never done anything wrong. All I ever wanted to do was protect my patients.
‘It’s a miracle that I’m able to return after all this time. The whole thing has been like a nightmare and caused a huge strain on my family. For a long while I struggled with depression – I was crying all the time, I couldn’t sleep and lost interest in all the things I used to enjoy. ‘My family also suffered – my husband had to watch helplessly as I changed, for the worse, before his eyes.
‘I was so consumed with work that I didn’t realise my youngest daughter was dyslexic and had not been coping at her secondary school. She was acting up and truanting, because she felt unable to burden me with her problems when I was going through my own hell. ‘Had I not been so diverted, I would have spotted that something was wrong much earlier. I’ve emerged from this stronger and more confident, but I’m also angry because it was all so unnecessary.
‘I’ll never get those lost years back. Four years of my family’s life disrupted, and my career threatened. They tried to push me out simply because I told the truth [Very British]. It was all about protecting the name and reputation of the Great Ormond Street brand. ‘I was called dishonest, but my first duty as a doctor is to my patients, not my employers.
‘I will now work at Bounds Green Clinic, not St Ann’s, because they’ve relocated part of the service to a new refurbished block, so it’s a new start for me. It also helps that many of the people I have had real difficulties with have moved on, otherwise I would have been terrified to go back.’
That would have been a serious loss to her profession. For in many ways, Dr Holt, who exudes genuine warmth and empathy, is ideally suited to her vocation. Colleagues say she is a committed, intuitive and skilled clinician. Indeed, 3,000 medical professionals and supporters up and down the country signed a petition calling for her reinstatement.
‘I always knew that paediatrics was my destination after I became a consultant in 1994,’ she says. Her first job was at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital in Salford. By then she had been married for three years to her high school sweetheart David, the son of an Air Force Group Captain. They had met when he boarded at a private boys’ school in Guernsey.
David, also 52, works as a senior manager for a finance company in the City. ‘He’s very reserved, but has been totally supportive and encouraged me to fight back and speak publicly about what has been going on,’ Dr Holt says.
Dr Holt was working in community service in Sheffield when she saw the position at St Ann’s advertised in the British Medical Journal in 2003.
‘I applied because it was connected to Great Ormond Street, which made me feel it would be of a very high standard.’ Her duties included acting as the medical doctor for the local authority, as well as giving advice to children up for adoption.
From the outset, she considered the service to be thinly staffed and chaotic. ‘I was shocked from day one by how badly and poorly organised the regime was,’ she says. ‘On the first day my colleague called in sick and I covered her clinic, only to discover there was no system of booking patients. ‘I had no idea what was going on. It was a complete mess – there were no notes for the children I saw.’
Because Great Ormond Street had recently taken over the clinic’s management, Dr Holt believed they were going to improve things. But instead, they were left to continue muddling through without any signs of improvement.
‘I suppose community child health is a Cinderella service compared with the glamour of Ormond Street’s complex life-saving operations and celebrity supporters,’ she says.
Indeed, to some, the partnership that began in 2003 seemed rather an odd one. The cash-rich and revered Great Ormond Street, with its Bloomsbury site in the heart of academic London, and where it is building a smart, shiny new medical unit, is the rock star of hospitals and, as it turns out, rather intolerant of dissent.
In contrast, the clinic at St Ann’s Hospital is a shabby Victorian edifice in Tottenham, one of the country’s most deprived areas and the flashpoint for the summer’s riots.
‘I worked 60 to 70 hours each week,’ says Dr Holt. ‘My typical day was from 7.30am to 5pm. ‘Administrative work such as writing reports had to be done at home. I was so tired all the time that I became irritable and withdrawn. I was barely sleeping. ‘I tried talking to my senior manager, who was dismissive and aggressive.’
The situation became critical in 2006 when budget cuts left Dr Holt and her staff feeling increasingly anxious. ‘We had just four consultants instead of the required six and my case load just kept growing. By the end of the year we were down to just two doctors. We didn’t have the capacity to follow up cases properly and I was worried that some might fall through the cracks.
‘My manager’s response was invariably aggressive. Rumours began to spread that I was a nuisance, and I was asked why I had to keep complaining when everyone else was ok? But that wasn’t why people didn’t speak out. They kept quiet because they were scared. It was a kind of passive aggressive bullying.’
Matters came to a head one night in February 2007, when she broke down sobbing in a restaurant. ‘My husband and I had just been to the cinema near our home in Muswell Hill to watch Borat. It was a comedy and I had enjoyed it, but suddenly I couldn’t stop crying.
‘David said: ‘‘You can’t go on this way. You’re burnt out.’’ I just felt so despondent. It was the worst feeling ever. I felt I was becoming a different person, that I was in danger of breaking down.’
Her doctor told her to take a month off. But, she says, Great Ormond Street refused to let her return to her post, citing the fact that she was stressed and could not handle the workload. ‘I did not see it coming. I went for a meeting about my return and was devastated when they said the situation still needed to be resolved.’
Dr Holt believes that she was being punished for whistleblowing. But when the Trust offered her £80,000 as compensation if she left quietly, she refused. ‘They said it was in my best interests, but I felt it was a bribe to buy my silence, because it included a gagging order preventing me from talking about the clinic, Haringey or the hospital,’ she says.
‘If I had taken the offer, all the public-interest issues I had highlighted about the way the clinic was running would have been hidden. I felt it was all wrong and against good clinical practices.’
After the death of Baby Peter the offer went up to £120,000 – but again, Dr Holt refused. Baby Peter Connelly had bruises on his face and back and a two-month-old lesion on his head when he was seen by Sabah Al-Zayyat, a locum consultant paediatrician, who was doing Dr Holt’s job at the child-development centre.
Baby Peter was sent home and a letter went to Great Ormond Street Hospital referring him for investigation for a possible metabolic disease. His mother, Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend and his brother were convicted in 2008 of causing or allowing his death.
Dr Holt says: ‘I believe that if our concerns as doctors had been taken seriously at the time we raised them, we could have prevented that terribly tragedy. “Several of the failings found by the inquiries into his death were 100 per cent the same as the failings we complained about the year before he died.’
In 2009 a report commissioned by NHS London exposed the background of ‘administrative chaos and personal hostility’ that contributed to the clinic’s failure. It supported Dr Holt’s complaint that financial cuts had ‘not been adequately considered’ by managers at St Ann’s and that excessive workload, failure to offer follow-up appointments and a lack of notes put patients at risk.
The hospital’s response was to advertise her post – later retracted after complaints from the British Medical Association (BMA).
‘One of the difficulties a whistleblower has is that you are left to negotiate with your employer after being exposed. There is no protection. You are just vulnerable – out in the cold,’ says Dr Holt.
‘The BMA has been brilliantly supportive. It is thanks largely to them that I not only got the grovelling letter of apology two months ago, but got my full pay throughout and have kept my job.’
Her victory, however, is bittersweet. ‘The disappointing thing is that I risked everything but very little has changed. Did it have an impact, and did people understand? I don’t really think so. ‘But I remain committed to looking after the health and welfare of children. After what I have been through I won’t back down now.’
Community health care in the borough was taken over by the Whittington Hospital in north London earlier this year.
Last night, a spokesman from Great Ormond Street said: ‘We have said repeatedly that Dr Holt was unable to return to work in Haringey because of a breakdown in relationships between her and her colleagues in the service at the time. ‘An NHS London report found that her concerns were taken seriously by the Trust.’
Fear and loathing in British classrooms: the girls think they are fat and the boys are carrying weapons
The girls think they are fat, the boys are carrying weapons, and children of both sexes are getting heavily drunk by the age of 12.
The grim picture of the modern classroom is revealed in a series of statistics issued by the Schools Health Education Unit. The figures disclose that by the age of 11, at least one in three girls wanted to lose weight, rising to two thirds by they got to the age of 15. By that age, a third had skipped breakfast on the day they were questioned, and of those, one quarter had missed lunch on the previous day.
Meanwhile, some children as young as 12 were found to be drinking the equivalent of 19 glasses of wine a week.
The study by the unit, based on data collected from more than 83,000 children aged between 10 and 15, found four per cent of children aged 12 or 13 had drunk 28 units or more of alcohol in the week before they were questioned – exceeding government limits for adult men, who can safely drink three to four units a day. Three units equates to two small (125ml) glasses of wine, or a pint of strong lager.
By the age of 15, a quarter said they had got drunk at least once in the previous week, with about 15 per cent saying they had done so twice. Most were drinking at home, or in the homes of friends or relations, rather than obtaining alcohol from pubs or shops.
Among boys, fear of violence was a prime concern. One in five boys said they sometimes carried weapons for protection.
The report by the unit – a research company which provides services to schools and health authorities – also showed concerns about bullying, with girls more likely than boys to express fears.
One third of girls aged 10 and 11 were frightened to go to school because of bullying, on some occasions, though they became less afraid as they got older.
Experts said the depressing findings confirmed many of their concerns. Simon Antrobus, chief executive of the charity Addaction, which helps people with drug and alcohol problems, said: “These new figures back up our own experiences.
“We know children who drink at younger ages are the ones who need help most. We also know that children whose parents misuse alcohol are more likely to develop their own problems later in life. “It is essential that these children, and their families, have access to specialist support at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Beer, larger and cider were the most popular choices with boys, while girls are opting for wine and spirits.
Alcohol Concern said involvement in “a drinking subculture” at a young age could easily cause consumption to escalate, leading to risky behaviour with sex and violence, and disruption to education and social development.
A spokesman warned that dependency was more likely when people started drinking at a young age.
Nutrition scientists said many young girls felt under a great deal of pressure to obtain an “ideal” body shape, and were easily influenced by the media.
Dr Laura Wyness, a senior nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, said young girls often employed unhealthy methods in an attempt to reduce their weight, with some taking up smoking, while others who cut back too drastically missed out on protein, iron and other vital nutrients.
She said research had found eating breakfast improved cognitive function and might protect against become overweight, though the case was not clear.
The study also found that many children were too tired to stay alert at school. While two thirds of children aged 12 and 13 said they were getting enough sleep for their studies, by the time they were 14 and 15 – the year before taking GSCE exams – almost half of girls and one third of boys said they were not.
The teenagers disclosed that they were spending more time in front of the television or computer than doing homework.
Almost one quarter of girls in school years eight (aged 12 and 13) and 10 (aged 14 to 15) said they spent more than two hours playing computer games the day before they were surveyed, while around 6.5 per cent of girls said the same. Just three per cent said they spent this much time on homework – with one in three saying they spent no time on homework at all.
Cathy Ranson, editor-in-chief of parenting website Netmums.com said: “In an age where many young people have access to a computer, TV or mobile phone in their bedroom these findings don’t come as a huge surprise. “Encouraging our offspring to switch off and go to sleep seems to be the key to helping them feel alert and able to function at school.”
“Without boarding school I’d be nobody”
Ben Fogle was miserable when his parents packed him off to school; yet he grew to prize the skills and values it gave him. But when the time comes, will he send his own children away?
People often raise their eyebrows when I mention that I went to a boarding school. Many believe it is a symptom of poor, or neglectful parenting; but in my case it was an act of selfless love. My parents had to work twice as hard to pay the debilitatingly high fees – just to give me the best chance they could.
I was a deeply shy, self-conscious little boy; embarrassed by my own reflection. Terrified around other people I can still remember hiding behind my father’s legs when we had visitors. Hopelessly unsporty, and worryingly unacademic, things didn’t look good for me – until I went to boarding school.
Boarding was never a tradition for the Fogles. My mother is the actress Julia Foster, and my father is the vet and author, Bruce Fogle; my two sisters and I grew up above a veterinary clinic in central London, with two golden retrievers and an African grey parrot called Humphrey. We had an exciting, colourful childhood filled with movie stars, dogs in Elizabethan collars and film crews. I loved my home life, but when I was 14 I found myself in an educational conundrum.
I had already had a colourful scholarly career. When I was five my parents sent me to the French Lycée in South Kensington in the hope that I would become fluent in French. It was a spectacular failure and I left after two years and went to a small independent all-boys school in Hampstead.
The school focused too much on academic issues. Buckling under the pressure, I failed my Common Entrance exams and ended up being one of only five pupils in a new London day school. It wasn’t a particularly inspiring environment and the teachers and my parents soon became worried about the detrimental effect it was having on me. Given that no other London independent school would have me, and my parents didn’t want to go down the state route, boarding school it was.
That said, my parents never put pressure on me to go away to school; it was a collective decision. We settled on Bryanston School in Dorset for a number of reasons: primarily, they would have me, but also because it was one of the more liberal boarding schools. It was fully mixed throughout and I wouldn’t have to wear a uniform.
I can still remember that summer of dread leading up to the new term. I loved my home. I loved my dogs and I loved my family. I couldn’t bear the thought of saying goodbye, but I knew the day would arrive.
I buried my head in the sand and pretended it wasn’t happening. My mother shopped for all my clothes without me and even packed my trunk and tuck box. It was as though I believed that if I ignored it enough, it might go away. But it didn’t and the endless summer raced by and soon we were on the M3 on our way to Dorset.
Bryanston is a beautiful school, surrounded by farms, and separated from the town of Blandford Forum by an impossibly long tree-lined drive.
My stomach turned in knots as we pulled up outside the main building. I will never forget that feeling. I stood helplessly in the drive way, my oversized jumper hanging to my knees and tears streaming down my face, as my parents’ car disappeared back down the drive. I didn’t stop crying for a year.
Now some of you may at this point question putting a child through that emotional trauma but I can assure you that I put my parents through far worse: the sobbing down the payphone every morning; the letter pleading them to take me home. But they were determined that I persevered and stuck by “our” decision.
The teachers were incredible, and I knew several of the other pupils from London, but none of that seemed to make a difference. I was a hopeless boarder; simply too much of a homeboy. A teacher once told me that homesickness was a symptom of a happy family life and that it’s more worrying if you never miss home, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I was determined to hate boarding.
Those teachers were some of the most patient people I have ever met. My housemaster, Mr Long, a former Olympic hockey player, and the headmaster at the time, Mr Weare, both went beyond the call of duty to help me through that emotional first year.
I don’t know how it happened, but one day I woke up and I was happy. Suddenly from heading home most weekends, I would go for a month without an exeat. The homesickness had gone and I began to love school. I made friends. Indeed my very best friends today are from Bryanston.
The school’s liberal ethos may have helped me, but it was the boarding itself that made the real difference to my character. Up until then I had always deferred decision making to my parents – a shrug of the shoulders and a monosyllabic grunt was all I had to offer – but suddenly I was forced to make decisions on my own. My confidence grew; I stood taller.
Some of you may still have a notion that boarding schools are for tough, battle-hardened kids. I’m living proof that this is not the case. So is my wife Marina, who also cried for a year when she started boarding but, like me, isn’t bitter, but grateful for the experience.
The traditional image of cold showers and iron beds couldn’t be further from the reality at most progressive boarding schools. And it may seem strange, but boarding school can strengthen the family unit rather than weaken it.
The time I spent with my parents during holidays and weekends was always positive, happy and uninterrupted. Marina believes boarding protected her relationship with her parents; all her teenage angst was directed at her teachers and matrons, rather than at them.
The irony is that the homesickness I battled with and won as a teenager has returned now that I have a family of my own. Marina and I are already debating whether we will send our two children Ludo, 23 months, and Iona, five months, away to school. Travelling overseas has become much harder for me since the children were born; there are tears on the doorstep when it’s time to say goodbye. Could I bear to send my two beautiful children away to school? I couldn’t possibly say for sure; it will depend on their individual characters and whether they want to board. But in theory, yes.
Boarding school changed my life. It made me the person I am. Perseverance, trust confidence are all assets I still use on a daily basis and if it can do the same for my children then it would be worth it. It may sound dramatic, but without boarding school, I would be nobody.
British government subsidy cut pulls plug on solar panels
Homeowners who decide to save money by generating their own renewable energy for the National Grid are to lose almost half their Government subsidy, prematurely published documents suggested yesterday.
Drastic cuts to the feed-in tariff (FIT) for solar power, the guaranteed income to anyone who installs working solar panels in their roof, are likely to be announced by the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, on Monday.
And the precise level of the cut – from 43.3p per kilowatt hour of solar electricity to just 21p – appeared to be made clear yesterday in a document inadvertently published on the website of the Energy Saving Trust, the public advice body, and quickly taken down.
Although the Department for Energy and Climate Change said later that the published document was “neither final nor accurate”, the swingeing 50 per cent cut in the subsidy it revealed was in linewith what observers have been expecting.
The feed-in tariff scheme, introduced 18 months ago, has been a huge success and has led to 100,000 households installing solar power.
This is because the levels on return on a typical £10,000 investment have been very generous, at about seven per cent per annum – far in excess of rates that can be found in the banks.
This has sparked a mini-solar boom, and from fewer than 500 companies employing about 3,000 people before the FIT was introduced, there are now 3,000 companies with a 25,000 workforce, which has been predicted to expand to 360,000 by 2020.
Yet the Government has become nervous of the subsidy’s cost, as it is paid not from the Treasury but by a levy on household electricity bills – an increasingly sensitive subject – and wants to limit it.
Although it has been expected that the FIT level would drop as the cost of solar installation itself drops – it has come down 30 per cent in the time of the subsidy – the likely high level of the cut to be announced on Monday is dismaying the solar professionals.
“Coming from a Government that said it would be the greenest ever, this is completely misguided and will be a devastating blow for the solar industry,” said Howard Johns of Solar Trade Association.
“Solar installation will be limited to a few rich people, and all the installation going on in solar housing will stop. Hundreds of companies will go bankrupt.”
Kellogg’s adds vitamin D to cereal to fight rickets
It is a tremendous condemnation of British public health precautions that this is happening. During WWII they started adding vitamin D to butter and margarine. What happened to that?
Kellogg’s is to add vitamin D to all its children’s cereals in a bid to fight the rise of rickets among young people. The breakfast cereal producer will add the ingredient to cereals including Coco Pops and Rice Krispies, as part of a healthy eating drive to “help avoid” the bone-softening condition among younsters.
A survey by Kellogg’s found that 82 per cent of paediatric dietitians have seen a rise in rickets among young people in the past five years, with nearly half of them treating cases in the past year.
The number of children under 10 admitted to hospital with rickets jumped by 140 per cent over the eight years between 2001 and 2008, it found.
The food giant will add vitamin D to most of its cereals, particularly those targeted at children, by the end of 2012. Corn Flakes and Ricicles already contain the vitamin, but it will be added to Rice Krispies by March next year and will be in Frosties by September.
Scientists have linked the causes of rickets, which can cause weak bones and bowed legs, to a lack of vitamin D.
The chemical is normally absorbed into the body through sunlight, but it can also be ingested through eggs, oily fish and fortified breakfast cereals. As more children spend time indoors watching television and playing computer games, their exposure to the sun is vastly reduced, meaning that they need an alternative source of the vitamin.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to illnesses including cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and multiple sclerosis.
Rickets was thought to have died out in the 1930s, but 20 per cent of young children still show symptoms of the condition, a study by researchers at Southampton University found.
Professor Nicholas Clarke, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the university, said Kellogg’s move to include vitamin D in its children’s cereals was “a good idea”.
Alyson Greenhalgh-Ball, European nutrition director at Kellogg’s, added: “Healthcare professionals would like to see the introduction of a recommended daily intake [of vitamin D], so we are clear on how much vitamin D children need to avoid these health issues.”
The cereal producer’s decision has also been praised by health experts, who said the move was “fantastic.” “We used to get enough vitamin D from sunlight but we are not getting as much,” Jacqui Lowdon, of the British Dietetic Association, told the Daily Mirror. “Children are not playing outdoors as much as they used to and also people are slapping on suncream a lot more. “So if we can get vitamin D into food children like to eat, that’s fantastic.”
British father-of-two beaten up and left for dead by Pakistani gang for being white
Probably Bangladeshi Muslims. They’re the most aggressive group
A father-of-two was subjected to a racist and brutal attack by a gang of Asian men who targeted him – simply for being white. Andrew Goodram, 31, suffered a punctured lung and two broken ribs after the gang of four thugs shouted: ‘white b*****d’ at him before subjecting him to a vicious assault.
During the assault Mr Goodram, a labourer, was repeatedly kicked in the head, face and body at Queens Park in Bolton, Greater Manchester. One of his attackers then stood over him and stamped on his chest causing what police described as ‘significant injuries’.
The beating only came to an end when one of the men decided the group should leave and they all ran off in different directions.
Mr Goodram, a father of two managed to stagger home after the assault but had to spend six days in hospital.
Greater Manchester Police yesterday confirmed that the attack, which took place at 7pm on October 19 was being treated as a racially motivated incident.
Mr Goodram who has two sons said: ‘I was in such terrible pain after the attack, I was yelping and my eyes were watering. ‘I’m scared now and when I see groups of Asian people. This attack has changed how I feel about going out. ‘When I’m walking around especially on my own I feel intimidated and worried I might get attacked again.
‘The fact is, I am not racist, I have got loads of Asian friends, and I’m really saddened that this has happened to me. ‘I do believe the attack was racially motivated because I am white but I don’t understand why. ‘I thought we are supposed to live together in peace’.
On the night of the attack, Mr Goodram was taking a shortcut through the park when he encountered four Asian men – who were with four friends. As he walked past, one said: ‘what did you say you white b*****d’?’ before launching the attack. Mr Goodram added: ‘I carried on walking and put my hood up and ignored them, but then they jumped me and I was pulled to the ground. ‘They were kicking me and hitting me and one of them twisted my arm behind my back. ‘One of them jumped on me and, when I winced in pain, they ran off.’
Police say the attackers were Asian and aged between 20 and 30. One of the men has been described as in his early 30s, 6 ft 2in, of heavy build, with a bald head and a thin ‘lined’ beard. He was wearing a dark hooded top with tracksuit bottoms and white NIKE trainers. Mr Goodram was unable to describe the other members of the group.
A spokesman from Greater Manchester Police said: ‘The victim was walking through the park at about 7pm when he was attacked by a group of Asian men. ‘The man was repeatedly kicked in the head, face and body, one of the men stood over him and stamped on his chest causing significant injuries. ‘Racist abuse was shouted at the man before the attack.
‘One man in the group shouted for them to leave and they all ran off in different directions. ‘A group of four men are wanted for the assault’.
British PM’s plans to fine criminals on benefits a third of their handouts
It’s unlikely that he will have the spine to actually do this
Convicted criminals on benefits could be stripped of more than a third of their handouts under radical plans announced yesterday. The maximum amount they will have to pay in fines will be raised from £5 a week to £25 in a bid to deter welfare claimants from a life of crime.
David Cameron approved the plans following public anger about the summer riots in London and other major cities. More than one in three of those convicted of looting and violence were living on taxpayer-funded state handouts. Around 200 of the rioters were on disability benefits. ‘Frankly they were taking the mickey,’ a senior Government source said.
The current £5 limit on contributions towards fines is widely seen as a derisory sum that is ignored by criminals on benefits and does little to deter them from breaking the law.
Ministers believe the new system will send a stronger signal that criminal behaviour will be met with meaningful economic sanctions.
A fine of £25 a week represents 37 per cent of the weekly £67.50 Jobseeker’s Allowance. It is nearly half the £53.45 paid to jobless claimants under the age of 25.
The amount taken away each week will still be decided by the courts, but the Prime Minister made clear that he expects them to use the new powers.
He said: ‘People need to understand that if they commit a crime they will face the consequences. ‘The system as it stands is far too soft and does not send the right signal. I am determined to see responsibility and fairness restored to the welfare system, and this policy does precisely that.’
The changes will be introduced in 2013 when the Government’s Universal Credit scheme, replacing most existing out of work and disability benefits, is up and running. The new rules on fines will apply across the board to claimants of all types.
The move is controversial since the Government has a legal obligation to provide a minimum level of support to those on welfare, but Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said it was important to take a stand.
He said: ‘I do not want to leave people without any means of supporting themselves. But equally, individuals must know that they cannot commit crimes that impact on the livelihoods and communities of hardworking people without consequences.
‘The summer riots showed that, for many people, the present system didn’t make them think twice about what they were doing.’
The majority of Brits now want out of this bloated EU dictatorship, we at least need a referendum
A tumultuous week for the European Union, and our relations with it, included the publication on Monday of a remarkable opinion poll. It showed a majority of the British respondents in favour of leaving the EU: 49 per cent, against 40 per cent who wished to stay in.
How times have changed. When the same polling organisation, ICM, asked that question ten years ago, only 19 per cent wanted to go, while 68 per cent wanted to stay.
The intervening decade has forcibly acquainted the British public with many of the unpleasant realities of rule from Brussels. It has reminded people that a developed, supposedly sovereign democracy like Britain ought to be able to make its own decisions about matters of fundamental importance.
Thanks to the EU, this is not always so. Europe can over-ride our justice system. It can over-ride our immigration policy.
It inflicts regulation on us that suppresses growth and prosperity. It costs taxpayers and businesses an extraordinary amount of money.
Above all, the EU’s inability to govern itself with probity and economic prudence has made it an object of our contempt. It is not just that fraud and corruption prevent its accounts being signed off year after year: it is also that its arrogant belief in a one-size-fits-all currency has gone horribly and predictably wrong, with serious consequences for all EU member states, in or out of the euro.
It has been clear for years that many feel our submission to Brussels has gone too far, and that there should be a renegotiation of our relationship to allow for key powers to be repatriated to Westminster.
The new ICM poll suggests that frustration at thus far being denied such a renegotiation has forced more people towards outright opposition to the EU.
The EU and its propagandists have always been effective at pressuring the citizens of member states into believing that any attempt to leave the warm embrace of Brussels would result in disaster, with the offending nation suffering isolation, penury and irrelevance.
However, a pamphlet published this week by David Campbell Bannerman, a Tory MEP, seeks to argue (against party policy) the contrary. Its title says it all: ‘The Ultimate Plan B: A Positive Vision Of An Independent Britain Outside The European Union.’
Coinciding as it does with the ICM poll findings, his thesis deserves to be studied carefully. Firstly we need to break out of the mindset that anyone who tries to make the case for Britain leaving the EU is mad — or, to judge from the contempt in which such a view is treated on certain BBC programmes, downright evil.
Mr Campbell Bannerman’s strongest argument is that there would be no economic downside to our departure. As the EU sells more to us than we do to it, it would be very much in its interests to enact a free trade agreement with us were we to leave. In 2009, our trade deficit — the excess of what we bought over what we sold — in manufactured goods with the EU was a shade under £35 billion.
Better than that — and here, at last, there is something to be said for the 2007 Lisbon Treaty — such a free trade agreement would not be a matter of conjecture. Article 50 of Lisbon requires the EU to make a trade arrangement with any nation deciding to leave it.
So the claim that there would be inevitable and large job losses is cast into doubt. He also argues that — with the ascent of China, India and Brazil — Britain would do well to leave a trading bloc whose share of world GDP is forecast to fall to 15 per cent in 2020, down from 36 per cent in 1980.
Just as the EU took no account of its role in a post-Soviet world, it seems incapable of understanding how to remain competitive in relation to rising powers such as China.
Britain also enjoys trading relationships elsewhere in the world that are not shared by other EU countries. We send 18 per cent of our exports to the U.S.: Germany sends only 7 per cent. And the biggest external investor in Britain is America.
Mr Campbell Bannerman rests much of his case for leaving the EU on the liberation it would bring from over-regulation of every aspect of our lives — one of the reasons for the EU’s poor competitiveness. He says that more than 100,000 regulations and directives have been imposed upon us since we joined the EU in 1973.
For example, the working-time directive — designed to limit the number of hours we can work, and which is estimated to cost £11.9 billion a year in lost productivity — would go if we left the EU. So, too, would a host of environmental orders such as the EU renewables directive, which insists we derive 20 per cent of our energy from renewables such as wind power, at an estimated £22 billion a year.
The Open Europe think tank reported last year that EU regulations had cost Britain £124 billion since 1998. This figure is not a partisan invention, but based on the Government’s assessments.
But the truth is the ‘bonfire of regulations’ that ministers talk about would be possible only if we left the EU or had a successful renegotiation to repatriate such powers.
This week, as desperation mounted among eurozone leaders, Angela Merkel has taken up Nicolas Sarkozy’s line that the peace of Europe is preserved only by the existence of the EU. In fact, as Mr Campbell Bannerman points out, the peace of Europe has long been preserved by Nato with its huge American involvement.
He also dismisses as a myth the idea that British influence in the world would disappear if we left Europe. Our membership of the G8 and G20, our seats on the UN Security Council, the World Trade Organisation and the IMF are not dependent on our being in the EU.
We remain one of the top ten manufacturing nations in the world. We have the sixth largest economy, and London (despite EU attempts to handicap it) remains the world’s financial centre.
Leaving the EU, Mr Campbell Bannerman says, would mean ‘Britain would take back control over its own destiny, defence, economy, foreign relations, environment, transport, fishing, farming and market controls’.
It would also avoid the proposed Financial Transactions tax that the EU proposes, and which our Prime Minister has called ‘an attack’ on the City of London.
Britain would save its net contribution to the EU of £6.7 billion a year. This equates to 44 new hospitals, 268 schools or 62 bypasses a year; or a penny off income tax or VAT.
Those who argue that withdrawal need not damage Britain have a right to put their case. Instead of dismissing them as ‘cranks, gadflies and extremists’, as Michael Howard did when leading the Conservative Party, it might be politic to debate the points that now even a Tory MEP makes.
If Mr Cameron believes what he says about the importance of the UK being in the EU, he will take the advice of this newspaper and call a referendum on whether or not the public would like him to renegotiate our terms of membership.
This might, at least, buy him some goodwill — by making the country feel not just that he’s aware of the depth of feeling on the issue, but also that he is prepared to do something about it.
He should see that a persistent refusal to do this is hardening sentiment in this country and in his own party against Europe, and against a political class that seems resolved to ignore public opinion.
And he should realise that the longer he leaves it before allowing us a say, the worse the outcome is likely to be for him.