Bishops fight to save NHS chaplains
It is particularly at times of illness and death that religion is a great help to many people
Leading bishops led calls to defend hospital chaplains in the face of a campaign to exclude religious influence from the National Health Service. Secularist campaigners have demanded that the taxpayer should no longer fund chaplains at a time when the NHS is making cuts.
In an impassioned debate at the Church of England General Synod in London, bishops called for “every effort” to be made to preserve their position.
The Church faces a series of challenges to its official role. Today, the High Court will hand down judgment in what could prove to be a landmark case over the role religious worship plays in public places.
An atheist councillor from Bideford, Devon, launched a legal challenge over the practice of opening meetings with Christian prayers. The National Secular Society, which supported the challenge, believes religion should no longer have a privileged role in a society where church attendance is in decline.
But Christians say secularisation could undermine the foundations of society.
Last year, the National Secular Society published a report singling out hospital chaplains. It argued that they cost the NHS £29 million a year for “no clinical benefit”.
Speaking in the debate, the Rt Rev Mike Hill, Bishop of Bristol, said hospitals would be “poorer” places without chaplains and patients would be denied comprehensive care if their services were removed. “Their services are offered not only to patients, but also to their relatives and to other health care staff, enhancing greatly the healing environment,” he said.
“As with much in life, the true value of our chaplains might only be appreciated if they were no longer present. “Every effort ought to be made, and is being made, to resist secularist calls for chaplains to be excluded from the NHS.”
The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, said chaplains provided support and counselling at “crucial” moments in people’s lives. “The cost of chaplaincy is minute as a proportion of the overall NHS budget and the role of chaplains is widely recognised by other health care professionals as making a very valuable contribution to the process of healing,” he said.
A motion affirming “all who promote health and wholeness in body and spirit” in the NHS, including chaplains, was carried.
In a report last year, the National Secular Society said the NHS could afford 1,000 nursing assistants or a new community hospital every year if spending on chaplains was capped.
Data from 227 NHS trusts in England found that savings of £18.5 million a year could be made if each brought its spending into line with those with the lowest costs.
Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence say dying patients should have access to religious or spiritual leaders. They stipulate that doctors should draw up individual “death plans” to ensure patients die with dignity, including having religious support.
Workshy UK where hardly anyone lives in hardship… but we also have Europe’s highest rate of homes without jobs
Britain has Europe’s highest rate of people living in homes where no one has a job, it was revealed yesterday. But at the same time, the proportion of families who consider themselves to be ‘deprived’ is one of the lowest in the EU.
Analysts point to this contradiction as evidence that our welfare system is too generous to the workshy. Nearly one in eight children and working age adults in the UK live in a home where no one goes out to work. However fewer than one in 20 say they can’t afford to pay their bills, eat properly, go on holiday, run a car or have a colour TV or a mobile phone.
The picture of a country where large numbers of people do not work – yet can afford to live as if they earn good money – was put together by Eurostat, the EU’s statistics arm.
It comes as the Government faces opposition to its attempts to cap families to a maximum income from state handouts of £26,000 a year.
The figures show there is a higher proportion of people living in homes without work in the UK than in EU countries hit by the euro crisis.
In Britain, 13.1 per cent of the population aged under 59 lives in a home where no adult works for 20 per cent of their time. In Germany, the workless proportion of the population is 11.1 per cent, in France 9.8 per cent, and in Italy 10.2 per cent.
Britain’s closest rival in the workless league table is Belgium, where 12.6 per cent of people under 59 are in homes with very little work. However, in Britain only 4.8 per cent of people count as ‘materially deprived’, similar to levels in Germany which has 4.5 per cent.
This means that they cannot afford to pay for four out of nine ‘deprivation items’. The nine things that are considered to lift a family out of the deprived category are the ability to pay the rent or utility bills on time; to keep the house warm; to be able to pay an unexpected bill; to eat meat or fish every second day; to afford a week’s holiday; to run a car; to have a washing machine; to have a colour TV and to have a mobile phone.
In France, the ‘deprived’ make up 5.8 per cent of the population and in Italy 6.9 per cent.
Yesterday critics said the figures exposed flaws in the welfare system. Douglas Carswell, Tory MP for Clacton, said: ‘They show that the welfare system is not doing what it is supposed to do. It is meant to help people who need help because they have fallen on hard times, not people who have learned to play the system.
‘The welfare system has become a means of achieving lifestyle choices for people who do not want jobs, and who are reluctant to get up at six in the morning to go out to work.’
Economist Ruth Lea, of the Arbuthnot Banking Group, added: ‘One factor is that Britain has more single parent families than other countries in Europe. Families with two parents tend to be working families.’
BBC tells its staff: don’t call Qatada extremist
The BBC has told its journalists not to call Abu Qatada, the al-Qaeda preacher, an “extremist”. In order to avoid making a “value judgment”, the corporation’s managers have ruled that he can only be described as “radical”.
Journalists were also cautioned against using images suggesting the preacher is overweight.
A judge ruled this week that the Muslim preacher, once described as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe”, should be released from a British jail, angering ministers and MPs.
Adding to the row, Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, yesterday insisted that Qatada “has not committed any crime” and said his release has nothing to do with the European Court of Human Rights.
A British court has called Qatada a “truly dangerous individual” and even his defence team has suggested he poses a “grave risk” to national security.
Despite that background, BBC journalists were told they should not describe Qatada as an extremist. The guidance was issued at the BBC newsroom’s 9.00am editorial meeting yesterday, chaired by a senior manager, Andrew Roy.
According to notes of the meeting, seen by The Daily Telegraph, journalists were told: “Do not call him an extremist – we must call him a radical. Extremist implies a value judgment.”
The guidance was criticised by experts and MPs. Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam, a counter-extremist think tank, accused the BBC of “liberal paralysis” over Islamic extremism, saying journalists must be honest about Qatada’s record. He said: “A radical is someone who is different from the norm. An extremist is someone who promotes extreme views and actions, like killing innocents.”
James Clappison, a Conservative member of the Commons home affairs select committee, said the guidance was unjustifiable. He said: “Given the evidence about this man, it makes you wonder what you have to do for the BBC to call you an extremist.”
BBC staff were also cautioned against using library images suggesting the cleric is overweight, because he has “lost a lot of weight”.
A BBC spokesman said: “We think very carefully about the language we use. We do not ban words – the notes are a reflection of a live editorial discussion about how to report the latest developments on this story.”
Let little kids be kids
Britain requires that a demanding “curriculum” be taught to pre-schoolers but there are good reasons to condemn an obsession with early learning, depriving children of fun and formative skills
This is a tale of two sisters. The elder sister, who is now nine, went to nursery at six months (before she could even sit up unaided) and announced, thoughtfully, aged two years and two months: “I want to go to the Mosque and pray to Allah” – which came as a surprise to me, and an even bigger surprise to the parish priest.
As she was my first child, and hence the rather put-upon repository of all-my-hopes-and-dreams, I spent anguished, sleepless nights worrying about her progress and fretting over milestones. So I felt relieved and vindicated to see that, thanks to her early education, she has marvellous social skills, confidence and a lively, interested mind.
The other sister, who is three and a half, is pottering about the kitchen singing snatches of Les Misérables, blowing raspberries and demanding a biscuit as I type.
Flinty exponents of the “nappy curriculum” might observe that her penmanship isn’t quite up to the Lindisfarne Gospels yet, that she jumbles her colours (albeit deliberately, to tease me) and her childcare provision falls into the recklessly relaxed, “pillar-to-post” category.
As she was my second child, she has a much easier time of it as I am far too busy filling and emptying the washing machine to calibrate her fine motor skills on a daily basis.
So I am mightily relieved and vindicated to see that, thanks to her unstructured play, she possesses marvellous social skills, confidence and a lively, interested mind. Gosh. Who would have guessed? Well, for a start, the expert authors of an impassioned letter to The Daily Telegraph, urging a rethink on the “schoolification” of children’s early years.
Academics and authors ranging from Oxford neuroscientist Baroness Greenfield, writer Philip Pullman and childcare guru Penelope Leach have warned that controversial educational reforms are robbing young children of the opportunity and, more alarmingly still, the ability to play.
The compulsory nappy curriculum that all nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are supposed to follow places too much emphasis on formal learning and the three Rs, they claim, and they are going so far as to set up a new group, Early Childhood Action, to push for an alternative, less stifling curriculum.
“Every early-years teacher in the state and the independent sector has told me how much they wish the Government wouldn’t treat childhood as a race,” says Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood and a signatory to the letter.
“Schools have become sausage factories as it is, and putting little children into the grinder earlier and earlier doesn’t make it any better.”
It’s a disturbing image, but there’s a groundswell of opinion that the Government needs to be shocked into taking action. Although the Coalition is reducing the number of curricular targets, it hasn’t dispensed with them all.
“The first years of a child’s life are crucial in their development and the Audit Commission said just last week that the introduction of the ‘nappy curriculum’ hasn’t made any difference to children’s academic attainment by the age of seven.”
Quite so. My elder daughter, Lily, passed through nursery before the Labour government’s Early Years Foundation Stage became mandatory, in 2008. I’m very glad she missed it; as far as I could tell, there was quite enough structure in place already, without requirements to achieve multiple academic targets (69 to be precise) by the age of five.
Without wishing to sound like an old hippy, isn’t childhood supposed to be about fun? I mean, if you can’t smear paint in your hair and babble a load of old nonsense when you’re two years old, when can you?
I’m no educational consultant, but even I see no advantage to insisting children learn to read before they’re five. On the contrary, it’s downright harmful to force-feed them phonics when they ought to be balancing on walls, throwing balls and making weapons out of Stickle Bricks.
Some, of course, take to books early, like eager little ducklings to water, but you can always tell the ones who have been hot-housed by pushy parents as they tend (like forced rhubarb) to be pale and anaemic and not nearly as rosy and characterful as those reared, as nature intended, in the fresh air.
I share Palmer’s exasperation and frustration that the unhappy nappy curriculum appears to have been of no empirical benefit whatsoever. One in 10 boys leaves primary school with a reading age of that of a seven-year-old, or worse. Figures released last December revealed that four in 10 pupils seen as high fliers at the age of seven are struggling to reach their potential by the time they sit their end-of-school tests aged 11 – which amounts to 50,000 bright children effectively being failed by the education system.
Oh, and we continue to slip down the league of every international education table. I find it particularly vexing to note that all work and no play makes Jack plunge from 17th to 25th in reading ability. How is that supposed to tally with toddler targets? In the Scandinavian countries, formal education doesn’t begin until seven, and they still outstrip us.
Ironically, alongside the disproportionate importance placed on early academic targets, today’s battery-reared children are losing their independence.
Early-years educationalists report that the youngest pupils are unable to put their coats on, change for PE or go to the lavatory without assistance (62 per cent of teachers say they have seen a rise in toileting “accidents”). The blame for this has been placed firmly at the feet of “busy” parents who haven’t taught the most basic life skill of all to their offspring. How can any mother be that preoccupied, I wonder. And whatever happened to the social stigma of tweenagers in nappies?
Possibly more salient is that changes in legislation mean that headteachers can no longer stipulate children must be toilet-trained before starting school, so there’s less incentive to concentrate the minds of Britain’s more laissez-faire parents.
I wonder if Education Secretary Michael Gove ever bumps into England’s chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, in the corridors of Whitehall? Obviously, not recently, or she might have given him an earful about her guidance, published last July, that under-fives should exercise for at least three hours a day.
According to NHS figures, nearly a quarter of children aged four and five are overweight or obese. By 2050, that number could rise to 63 per cent. Our national preoccupation – and the middle classes are more guilty of this than most – with exam results and grades has led to the skewed situation whereby achievements (at least, the only achievements that matter) are all in the mind.
“Emotional and behavioural difficulties are on the rise, communication skills are suffering and children aren’t being physically challenged and interacting with each other, because nurseries are expected to sit them down and crack on with formal work,” says Palmer.
“As long as you talk to your children, sing songs, read books and let them run about outside, then you are laying the foundations for learning later in life.”
Sometimes it’s as if the education system is being run by paranoid first-time parents, excruciatingly fixated on measuring performance and obtaining early results (by any means necessary) rather than on bringing up healthy, happy, enthusiastic youngsters. I used to be a Newbie too, so I know whereof I speak. But now I have two children, and, accordingly, a sense of perspective. And let’s just say that the most magical moments of my early childhood weren’t spent at a desk.
Which is why I think it’s high time politicians took their shoes and socks off, wiggled their toes in the sandpit and asked: “What on earth are we playing at?”
Is ‘fire ice’ wonder fuel buried under the Scottish coast?
A new wonder fuel dubbed ‘fire ice’ could be buried under the Scottish coast, according to government ministers and experts.
They suspect that massive quantities of methane hydrates reserves are locked off the coast of western Shetland, and that there is possibly enough to last 300 years.
The sherbet-like substance, which consists of methane trapped in ice, has already been tipped by energy experts to be the next major energy resource. The wonder fuel was initially thought only to exist in the outer reaches of the solar system. But fire ice has been discovered under the permafrost in the Arctic Circle and on some seabeds.
UK Energy Minister Charles Hendry said the government believes it is ‘possible’ that the substance is buried in Scottish waters.
He said: ‘The presence of methane hydrates in deep waters west of Shetland is possible, but has not been established. In the absence of any commercial technology for exploiting such resources, no estimate of reserves can be made at the present time.’
Japanese experts are already carrying out test drilling off the south east coast of Japan and commercial production could start as soon as 2016. And global reserves of the substance could be more than the total for all other fossil fuels put together.
Professor Bahman Tohidi, director of the Centre for Gas Hydrate Research at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh said: ‘For methane hydrate you need water depths of more than 1,640ft. ‘The only place we have those water depths is west of Shetland. We haven’t seen any hydrates yet but there could be some there.
‘If there is a potential, it needs to be investigated. ‘I would say there are chances of it being in UK waters, but even if there is nothing in the UK we should be developing the technology.
‘It definitely will be a major industry. I always say it is far too big to be ignored – it’s like the elephant sitting outside your doorstep and we can’t ignore it. Sooner or later we will develop the technology.’
Despite fears that disrupting the seabed could release methane and accelerate climate change, scientists believe replacing the methane with oxygen could help tackle global warming.
A spokeswoman for industry body Oil and Gas UK said: ‘We’re not aware of anyone investigating it in the UK but the volume of methane trapped in hydrates is believed to be very large worldwide.’
Alex Kemp, renowned Aberdeen University professor of petroleum economics, said: ‘I haven’t heard of it being present in any significant amounts in the UK continental shelf. ‘In other countries, for example New Zealand, it is regarded as having a big potential. They think they have large amounts. There is the question of what technology to use to extract it. It’s all very futuristic.’
Methane hydrate has long been regarded by oil and gas companies as a nuisance, because it can block marine drilling rigs.
The substance is formed within marine sediments where the gas is generated by chemical reactions or by microbes breaking down organic matter. The gas then works its way up to the sea bed where sediments tend to be much cooler.
The cooling allows the methane molecules to form weak chemical bonds with the surrounding water molecules, producing solid methane hydrate. However, such bonds also require high pressure – so methane hydrate forms only in deep water.
Brown racist calls an Indian a “coconut”
I guess most readers here know it already but a “coconut” is brown on the outside and white on the inside. It is a condemnation of adopting mainstream (white) values.
“A leading force in football’s battle against racism has been criticised after he called an Asian supporter a ‘coconut’.
Piara Powar, who is the executive director of the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) organisation, has been a vocal figure in the game’s recent rows.
But an exchange on Twitter has left Mr Powar, who is also Asian, embroiled in a race controversy of his own making.
Liverpool fan Parmjit Singh, 34, tweeted @piarapower: ‘Interesting how u haven’t given your opinion on the news that a £mufc fan was arrested on Wednesday for alleged racial abuse.’
He received a staggering reply from Mr Powar, who used Twitter’s private messaging function to contact Mr Singh, which said: ‘Get lost Singh. Have no false consciousness. Don’t be a coconut.’
Mr Singh was referring to Manchester United fan Howard Hobson, 57, who was today fined £200 for chanting racist abuse at a black Stoke City player during a match on January 31.
Mr Powar had earlier condemned Liverpool FC and the way it handled the Luis Suarez affair – where the striker was banned for eight games after being found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra during a match against Manchester United in October.