Resettling Syrian refugees in the UK

The United Nations estimates that more than 191,000 people have been killed in Syria. More than 12 million Syrians need help in the country, 7.6 million of whom are internally displaced. Well over 3 million Syrians have fled abroad. Millions of children cannot go to school.

In June the UNHCR estimated that there would be 3.59 million refugees from Syria by the end of 2014, the largest refugee population in the world, with 1.14 million known to be in Lebanon (the total Lebanese population is about 4.5 million) and Jordan, Turkey and Iraq hosting huge numbers. The UNHCR has requested $6 billion for its 2014 regional response plan, to help support Syria’s neighbours in handling the refugee crisis. So far, $3.2 billion has been received. The target figure for 2015 is $8.4 billion.

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How much is a pint of milk? Food and drink consumption, expenditure and costs in the UK

This afternoon’s Opposition Day debate on food banks and the cost of living promises to sustain focus upon the cost of food and drink in the UK. The debate follows publication of the All-Party Parliamentary Enquiry’s Feeding Britain report which, co-chaired by Rt Hon Frank Field MP and the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, examined hunger and food poverty in the UK.

Contending that “over the last four years prices have risen faster than wages” and that “low pay and failings in the operation of the social security system continue to be the main triggers for food bank use”, the Opposition’s motion brings to mind that question much loved by breakfast-show interrogators: how much is a pint of milk?

This blog piece provides an overview of data available from the ONS’s annual Living Costs and Food Survey and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ Family Food Datasets in order to inform readers of the breadth of statistical information available for analysis. Particular attention is paid to the cost of food and drink, rates of consumption and changes to weekly levels of expenditure over time. Where possible, information is analysed according to personal income.

For the record: according to the Office for National Statistics the retail price of a pint of pasteurised milk was, on average, 46p as of 11 November 2014. Of 233 quotations studied 80% ranged between 45p and 79p.

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Public forest estate sell-off – what next?

Following the Government’s aborted plans to sell parts of the Public Forest Estate in 2010, it signalled its intention to establish, via primary legislation, a new public body to manage the forestry estate. No legislation has yet been forthcoming and environmental groups are concerned that this has left the nation’s forests unprotected.

The introduction of the Infrastructure Bill in the 2014 Queen’s Speech compounded these fears as concerns were raised that specific provisions could be used to sell off the public forest estate.

Despite repeated government assurances that the Bill would have no impact on public forests, campaign groups have continued to lobby the government to explicitly protect the public forest estate from sale. The Government has now added an amendment to the Bill which protects the public forest estate from being sold.

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EU migrants and benefits: frequently (and some less frequently) asked questions

Last Friday the Prime Minister delivered his long-awaited speech on immigration. He set out ambitious plans to secure agreement on changes to European law on free movement in order to allow the UK to, among other things, deny EU migrants in-work benefits for four years and prevent Child Benefit being paid for children living abroad. Proposals to restrict EU migrants’ access to benefits have also been put forward by Labour and by the Liberal Democrats.

EU immigration has been at the top of the political agenda in the UK almost continuously for the past twelve months. There has been intense, and not always well-informed, debate about what EU law requires Member States to do as regards migrants’ access to welfare, about what might be done to limit who gets what, and how it might be achieved. In this blog, I look at some of the more frequently asked questions about EU migrants’ access to benefits. I also touch upon a couple of areas that have not, as yet, received much attention.

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Is pressure on English A&E departments increasing?

There is a perception that pressure on accident and emergency departments has grown to unprecedented levels. Recent events at Colchester University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, where patients have been asked not to attend A&E except for serious and life-threatening conditions, have brought this issue into focus. Additionally, there are reports that all three major hospitals in Cambridgeshire were recently put on ‘black alert’, representing a hospital’s highest possible level of alert. Meanwhile, the government has released £700m in funds to alleviate a potential ‘winter crisis’ in the NHS. This post examines claims about increasing pressures on A&E in England as a whole in the light of published data.

Data for individual NHS providers going back to 2010 is available in our downloadable Excel tool.

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Prerogative Powers and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is a contentious and often criticised piece of legislation, although it does have its supporters. The government and the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee have argued it has created a stable environment for longer-term government planning.

The 2011 Act made provision for the next general election to be held on the first Thursday of May 2015 (and fixed the terms of future Parliaments to five years). Accordingly, it ostensibly removed the Prime Minister’s power to pick a date of his own choice. Prior to the 2011 Act, the prerogative power to dissolve Parliament before the maximum five-year period was exercised personally by Her Majesty, conventionally at the request of the Prime Minister. Continue reading

The UK’s EU surcharge

Debate over the UK’s EU budget surcharge of £1.63bn1 has raged since the end of October, culminating in an urgent question in the House on Monday (11th November). The Chancellor of the Exchequer claims to have, amongst other things, halved the surcharge – his opponents say that this is based on a rebate which was always due.

Why does the UK owe this money, what has been negotiated and what’s the rebate got to do with it? Continue reading

From cradle to grave – Civil Registration in the UK

On the 24–28 November, Ministers of Interior, Health and Home Affairs, Heads of National Statistical Offices and regional development partners from across Asia and the Pacific will be gathering in Bangkok to discuss a key emerging issue in the developing world; that of civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS). The concept of comprehensive civil registration may seem second nature to us – almost 180 years of registration of births and deaths has helped us internalize both our place in the state and the associated lifelong rights that this registration entitles us to. But where do our registration systems stand in a global sense and what are we doing to export the lessons of 180 years of CRVS in practice?
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The European Parliament’s ‘Political Groups’: Unlikely Alliances?

European Parliament rules provide for the formation of “political groups” – essentially alliances between political parties from different Member States. Belonging to a political group brings a number of advantages, chiefly access to additional funding.

The incentive to form political groups leads to the creation of a number of alliances which might initially appear surprising. One example of this is the European Conservatives and Reformists group, an alliance of Eurosceptic parties. Many of its member parties are relatively minor parties, but the group also includes the UK Conservative Party as a founder member. (The Conservatives left the Parliament’s main centre-right grouping – the European People’s Party – in 2009, seeing the grouping as too Europhile.) Another example is the Greens/European Free Alliance, a somewhat unlikely alliance of Green parties and regional secessionist parties. Three UK parties belong to this grouping: the Green Party of England and Wales, the SNP, and Plaid Cymru.

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