Live: Scuffles break out as homeless evicted from The Ark camp in city centre – Manchester Evening News

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Scuffles broke out as rough sleepers were evicted from their camp under the Mancunian Way.

The homeless clashed with university security guards as they were being removed from a ‘self-serving community’ – known as The Ark – on Friday morning.

The Ark was created for people sleeping rough in the city but Manchester Metropolitan University own the site and their staff began removing the vagrants at around 7am.

Officers from Greater Manchester Police were also at the scene.

via Live: Scuffles break out as homeless evicted from The Ark camp in city centre – Manchester Evening News.

Again they try to brush the problem under the carpet rather than coming up with a solution. There are many alternative solutions to dealing with homelessness, its about time Manchester City Council started trying some of them.

This is the fourth eviction this year for homeless camps in Manchester. Albert Einstein is often attributed to saying this quote “the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.” It is time to end this insanity and come up with a solution to the increasing levels of homelessness within Manchester  and the UK.

MANCHESTER HOMELESS CAMP POSSESSION ORDER GRANTED WITH SIX DAY STAY OF EXECUTION – Salford Star – with attitude & love xxx

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HOMELESS SEE LEGAL AID APPEAL ADJOURNMENT REJECTED

Homeless people living in The Ark camp on Oxford Road were refused an adjournment to appeal for legal aid today, as a judge at Manchester Civil Justice Centre granted Manchester Metropolitan University and Manchester City Council a possession order over the occupied land.

The judge also refused an appeal against his decision but granted a six day stay of execution while an appeal application is made to a higher circuit judge. Later, top poet Lemn Sissay, Chancellor of Manchester University, visited the camp to show support.

via MANCHESTER HOMELESS CAMP POSSESSION ORDER GRANTED WITH SIX DAY STAY OF EXECUTION – Salford Star – with attitude & love xxx.

The Ark, Oxford Rd, under Mancunian Way

The Ark, Oxford Rd, under Mancunian Way

Homeless camp in court facing 4th eviction this year

The residents of the homeless camp once again appeared at the Civil Justice Courts on Monday facing eviction from the camps now situated on Oxford Road and King Street. The eviction order for the Oxford Rd site was sought by Manchester City Council (MCC) and Manchester Metropolitan University. Jen Wu a supporter of the camp in Oxford Rd, also called the Ark, spoke in defence of the homeless camp in court saying that “They have been refused the right to exist on private land or public highways, where does that leave them?”. She told the court that she believed the homeless people of Manchester were being denied their human rights.

The Ark has been established on unused land under the Mancunian Way on Oxford Rd by homeless people with public support. According to a change.org petition in support of the camp, that has achieved over 1800 signatures, the camp “provides a safe and caring refuge — protecting the city’s most vulnerable and unprotected from violence, danger and abuse“. Signs up at the Ark site say that the site is their to “provide homes and a shelter and that it is not a protest” to avoid falling foul of the recently authorised city wide injunction against homeless people demonstrating against MCCs homelessness policy in Manchester.

Due to the case being against “persons unknown” the supporters speaking in defence of the homeless did not have any legal aid, which led to a disorderly hearing and unfair one according to Wesley Hall who was speaking for the King St camp “ We have no legal representation, it is unfair. There are seven of them against two of us”. Both Hall and Wu said in court that they considered the two days notice given to them to prepare for the case was unfair. Passions flared and emotions overflowed in court leading to the Judge clearing the court till everyone had calmed down.

Its David and Goliath ain’t it? Its absolutely insane, there’s no justice there at all

During the break Liz, from Whalley Range, spoke of her support for the homeless people in the camp and the growing nature of the problem due to the sanctions and cuts enforced due to the austerity policies of government. Liz was not happy about the legal aid situation “The council have their barristers and everything, and then you have the people who are living on the streets, their lives are in chaos, you don’t know whether they have slept the night before, whether they have been attacked the night before, they are meant to represent themselves in court, how is that fair? Its David and Goliath ain’t it? Its absolutely insane, there’s no justice there at all.”

The Ark, Oxford Rd, under Mancunian Way

The Ark, Oxford Rd, under Mancunian Way

After the court reconvened the Judge adjourned the hearing till Thursday 10th June, and indicated that if one of the supporters of the camps added their name to the proceedings they could then apply for legal aid. The judge also recommended that any further documents in support of the homeless camps case should be submitted before 4pm on Wednesday. The brief for MCC objected to the case for both camps being adjourned, but the judge was adamant that the fate of both camps would be determined on Thursday.

Outside the court a drained and despondent Wu described how shocked she was by the lack of compassion shown by the court, and MCC, to the homeless people in the camp, and described the hearing as “completely unjust”. Wu had hoped to communicate her arguments to the court more effectively but felt thwarted by the Judge repeatedly brushing her arguments aside, “they wouldn’t even let me read my statement to refute the reasons for calling the possession order. I was crossing them all of the list [the judge said} ‘I don’t have time’ well you know lives are at stake here”

On the 30th September Wu is again in court accused of breaching the city wide injunction and could face a fine of up to five thousand pounds or a sentence of up to two years in prison. This is in spite of the fact that Wu told the authorities that the Ark camp was not a demonstration. Ben Taylor, the solicitor who represented the homeless (pro bono) in the injunction case, raised concerns about the limits of the injunction and asked whether the injunction would be used against other camps that were not involved with the homeless protest camps in St Ann’s Square and Castlefield. It appears that Manchester City Council have now answered that question.

Article originally published in Manchester Mule, Sept 9th, 2015

Conrad Bower

Punk journalism: can it challenge the mainstream media?

sidviciouscrop

Punk rock exploded into life in the 70s, firing the passions of a generation who were tired of jaded, distant and ostentatious mainstream rock groups. Punks emerged in local scenes all over the UK; the stripped-down instrumentation and simple style encouraged emergent punks to start up their own bands, in some cases self-producing their work and distributing it through alternative networks. The DIY principle was strong in punk, lyrics reflecting personal experiences and disillusionment with society, generally avoiding the love song mainstay of the mainstream. This resulted in a strong political streak to punk music, often rebellious and anti-establishment.

There is a new breed of journalism developing that shares much with the punk ethos. It is a journalism that has grown tired of the jaded and biased views of a mainstream media dominated by monopolies. It is a journalism emerging from local community DIY initiatives, in response to the barren local news landscape, occasionally crossed by the lightweight, directionless tumbleweed offerings of a mainstream press dedicated to serving itself, the affluent and the powerful rather than society as a whole. It is a journalism created by people passionate about bringing to light the important social justice and public accountability issues deemed unprofitable, unworthy or uncomfortable by the mainstream. It is punk journalism.

The Salford Star was born in 2005; its editor and founding member is Stephen Kingston, who has fond memories of being a punk back in the 70s. The Star burst into existence in response to Salford residents in Whit Lane being threatened with the demolition of their houses as part of a regeneration plan. “They were fighting like mad, I knew one of the people involved in that from other work, and he said what we need is to give people a voice.” Kingston was at the time working with a local paper called the Old Trafford News, which he decided to leave. “I said OK, we will do one for Salford. Trafford is about one square mile whereas Salford is a big city. So you need a big monster magazine for a big monster city, that was how it was born.”

Salford Star issue one

Kingston spent six months researching, talking to the community, holding public meetings to determine what the people of Salford wanted from a local paper. He also investigated the strong Chartist movement’s ties with Salford; there was a huge national meeting to promote social justice on Kersal Moor in 1838. The Chartist paper was called the Northern Star, hence one reason for naming the Salford Star, the other reason being that it had a tabloid ring to it that made it more accessible. It was a source of pride for Kingston that the paper had grown from the needs of the community and that the community members who helped found the paper were still on the board of directors.

Basically it inspired people like myself from that generation to say fuck ’em, we will do it ourselves.

Punk brought about significant change according to Kingston: “In terms of giving people self-confidence to do it themselves, it was the most influential movement probably ever. Because the people who got involved in punk suddenly got a sense that, yes they can take on authority.” He went on to describe how punks reacted to music, art and fashion they didn’t like by creating their own: “Basically that inspired people like myself from that generation to say fuck ’em, we will do it ourselves.”

The decline in local journalism in the UK has been rapid, with many commentators acknowledging that there is a deficit in the ability of the local press to hold people in power accountable. This decline is mainly attributed to the rise in online media sources, which has led to a drop in sales of local newspapers resulting in loss of revenues from the cover price and advertising. A report released last year by the Media Standards Trust summarised this decline in the UK:

  • Revenues of the four primary local newspaper companies in the UK, between 2005 and 2010, dropped by between 23% and 53%.
  • Media Wales staff fell from around 700 in 1999 to 136 in 2010.
  • Northcliffe Media employees fell from 4,200 to 2,200 between 2008 and 2012.
  • Media analyst Claire Enders calculated that 40% of jobs have gone in the course of five years in the UK regional press.
  • Between 2005 and 2012, a total of 242 local newspapers closed.
  • The total circulation of local/regional daily papers dropped from around 4.5m to around 2m between 2000 and 2013.

Co-founder of the Bristol Cable, Alon Aviram, is worried by the current state of the traditional press in the UK. Aviram spoke of his concerns over media conglomerates dominating the remaining local news scene and shaping the nature of the content (Lord Rothermere and Trinity Mirror are two major stakeholders in Bristol’s traditional local paper, The Bristol Post) and the media deserts caused by media consolidation and local papers closing down, “especially low-income communities where papers don’t necessarily operate because advertisers are not interested in reaching out to those communities. So there is a major issue where local media especially is just pretty boring and doesn’t fulfil its function of scrutinising the activities of those in power.”

Overturning old models

The Bristol Cable was established in 2013 by Aviram and Adam Cantwell-Corn with the idea of producing a good quality, sustainable, cooperatively produced media that could go beyond a niche market and appeal to a wide range of people. Aviram is also keen to overturn the old model of one-way direction of news from the media to the public. “We were interested in finding a way to have conversations and investigate established power, whether it was in the home or council or big business… in a way that was shaped differently from traditional organisations.”

The Bristol Cable’s name is symbolic of the philosophy underpinning the organisation: the strands of a cable making up a stronger entity as a whole, the circular cable logo symbolises an exchange of information that can go both ways and sustain itself. The cable also recalls Bristol’s industrial past.

The Manchester Mule was launched in 2008, its logo a bucking mule promising “news with a kick” and harking back to Manchester’s industrial heritage and its use of spinning mules. Its stated three core principles are to:

  • Provide an alternative to traditional local media
  • Use media as a tool for social change
  • Promote openness and inclusivity

As with many punk journalism titles, it has struggled to retain writers, with many contributors moving on to permanent paid positions and input to the online site becoming sporadic. The Mule recently provided a comprehensive local journalism course to encourage local writers to participate. One of the people to complete the course was Ben Beach, a history student at Manchester University planning on a career in journalism once he graduates. Beach thinks the Mule should “look at the Salford Star as something to aspire to … and report on stories, such as the homeless protest camps, that the Manchester Evening News [owned by Trinity Mirror] doesn’t really cover in any depth.”

mule_logo

The Sex Pistols gig at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1976 had a huge influence on Manchester according to Beach. He credits the gig with being the catalyst for some of his favourite bands, including Joy Division and New Order. Beach, who will soon be starting the third year of his degree, wants the Mule to offer an alternative viewpoint to the mainstream press and also spoke of the practical reasons for joining the Mule: “Getting work experience and internships is really difficult. While there are student newspapers and publications you can work on, the Mule offers a lot more scope. It covers all of Manchester and not just the student bubble, and it opens up opportunities.”

To become sustainable punk journalism organisations need to become not just a stepping stone to other opportunities, but a worthwhile destination in their own right. But who can afford to work for free (or very little) for any length of time? Very few people, and definitely not students who have likely built up a large student debt during their studies. How can punk journalism become sustainable?

At the Salford Star Kingston has struggled to keep the paper afloat and after 10 years he still doesn’t class it as a sustainable business. “We get loads and loads of donations, very small donations. We have sold 10 T-shirts this week, sold a mug to America, you know we make pounds on them. Advertising on the website, well everyone knows about that, you don’t get it, you get bits and pieces.” The problem with advertising in Salford, Kingston explained, is that the idea of a lot of independent shops has gone and the only businesses that can afford rent in places like MediaCityUK are “big multinationals”, which will not advertise in the Salford Star. He explained that other paid projects are undertaken, such as trade union magazines and teaching, to help keep the Star going.

We wouldn’t accept it [council funding] either because, even though we are going through tough times, we recognise that we need to remain independent.

Holding the powerful to account is also more likely to make you more powerful enemies than friends, which can affect advertising revenue. “Advertising for the actual printed magazine is very difficult, because people are scared of the council,” Kingston explains, saying any companies having contracts with the council, such as regeneration companies, will not advertise in the Salford Star in fear that their association with it would scupper any future deals with the council.

Bristol Cable has also made its fair share of enemies and is unlikely to get any funding from Bristol City Council because of its reporting on their activities. Aviram accepts this bad blood between the Cable and the council as inevitable: “We wouldn’t accept it [council funding] either because, even though we are going through tough times, we recognise that we need to remain independent.”

The Cable has so far been funded by grants, awards and a crowdfunding campaign that raised £3,300 and enabled it to put on 35 hours of free workshops across the city. Three hundred people attended events across the city in things like low-budget film-making, writing and using social media. The Cable also has a membership scheme costing as little as £1 a month; it has already gained over 400 members in the eight months the scheme has been running, who are on average paying £3 per month.

bristol cable

Aviram has high hopes for the membership scheme, hoping it can provide community members with a stake in the Cable and enable work on the paper being paid for rather than voluntary. “Our objective is to hopefully get thousands of people in the city to be members of the Bristol Cable, for a little as £1 a month, and in turn they can self-sustain the Bristol Cable – influence what sort of content they want to see in the paper, have a democratic say on key decisions and be more directly involved in the media as opposed to being just passive consumers of it.”

Michael Moore’s report Addressing the democratic deficit in local news through positive plurality’ compares the state of local media in the UK and US, and suggests the UK should adopt strategies used in the US to support local news. Contestable funding is brought forward as a way of funding local journalism titles and still allows them to maintain their independence, integrity and innovations. He makes three suggestions on how this funding pot can be achieved:

  • Google and/or other large internet companies to supply a one-off contribution. This has already been achieved in France, with Google giving €60m. Google has indicated it is willing to do a similar deal in the UK.
  • Companies collecting and using personal data for commercial benefit to pay an annual charge. Companies are currently doing this, but it is negligible in relation to the profits made.
  • A scheme where every adult in the UK would receive vouchers each year. These vouchers could then be donated to one or many non-profit news services, which can then redeem them for money. It would be funded by a combination of donations from digital intermediaries such as Google.

These excellent suggestions for funding local media need political pressure applying to bring them into play. The current government, while often stating the benefits of transparency, tends in its legislation to make things more opaque. It is possible that it sees a strong and independent local press as a threat to business, rather than a pillar of local democracy. if that is the case, these initiatives are going to need a serious amount of people-power to put them in place.

A flickering flame

Kingston said there were many stories in the Star that he was proud of. One in particular that stood out for him was the series of articles, relying on investigative journalism, the Star had done covering the regeneration of Salford., “They [Salford City Council]were saying, ‘oh, you’re going to get a new house, it’s going to be all lovely’. We knew exactly what they were doing. They were trying to socially cleanse the community. The community knew it, and we gave them a voice.”

At the Cable Aviram also listed reports relying on investigative journalism as the work he was most proud of. One of these reports was an investigation into pay conditions in the catering sector. The Cable carried out a research survey of more than 100 catering workers, resulting in a report presenting unique evidence of poor working conditions and large amounts of unpaid hours. The story got some national coverage with Aviram appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and You and Yours.

The punk journalism analogy is not perfect; very few analogies are. The punk movement of the 70s was an explosion that burned brightly, profoundly influencing people and society, but all too quickly died down to a burning ember, eventually being subsumed as just another current of mainstream music. The new journalism is more of a slow burn, an ember that needs coaxing into a conflagration, the flickering flame being kept alight by people’s passion for truth and justice. Punk was good at pointing out the inequities of society, but not strong on solutions to those problems. The new DIY journalism offers the opportunity of again effectively holding power to account and providing a platform for democratic debate, promoting the transition to a fairer society.

It is ironic that the revolution in information technology, which is proving so problematic to the traditional press, is providing the tools needed to ignite a burgeoning number of punk journalism titles. These flickering flames can only sporadically cast light into the dark reaches where power is abused. We must feed these flames with the oxygen of reliable funding to produce a blazing local media that can illuminate the abuse of power wherever it occurs.

First Published in the September 2015 edition of Contributoria.

Conrad Bower

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City wide injunction against Manchester homeless protest camps granted by judge

An unequal battle occurred in court on July 30th, resulting in a city wide injunction being ordered against homeless protest camps. Manchester City Council (MCC) were represented by their usual counsel, barrister Arron Walthall , the homeless protest camps were represented, without counsel, by solicitor Ben Taylor working pro bono as repeated appeals for legal aid had been turned down by the legal aid board. Due to the two named defendants in the case (Wesley Dove and Elizabeth Hodgkinson) being repeatedly denied legal aid Taylor planned to launch “a judicial review of the legal aid agency, and that is what I am going to be seeking to do if we adjourn this today”

The judgement of district judge Ranji Matheru is the culmination of a long running battle between MCC and the homeless protest camps (reported in the Manchester Mule here). The injunction bans the use of any tents or temporary and removable forms of accommodation within the defined limits of Manchester city centre (limits reported in the Mule here). The injunction initially sought by MCC was against “persons unknown” would apply to not only homeless protestors but to anyone using a temporary shelter; hence Taylor describing it in court as “an injunction against the whole world”. The criminal sanction of up to 2 years in jail is possible for anyone breaking the injunction. The judge ordered the terms of the injunction to be tightened up to aid clarity, possibly by a list of excluded structures and named defendants rather than persons unknown. The Injunction is to run for a set time limit, which could be up to two years, yet to be determined.

A solidarity sleep over protest was started on the previous day to the court case, with a small group of tents pitched in front of Manchester Civil Justice Courts. In the morning before the court case a number of people spoke to the gathered protestors in support of the homeless protest camps, including Rhetta Moran (RAPAR) and John Clegg (Unite Community Branch Grt Man.).

John Clegg (Unite Community Branch Grt. Man.) speaking at solidarity demo outside court.

John Clegg (Unite Community Branch Grt. Man.) speaking at solidarity demo outside court.

Scott Russell took part in the sleep over protest, and was a former member of the homeless protest camp, who was rehoused. He said he was there ‘supporting the homeless like I always have done, because it is so easy to slip into it, and its really hard to get out of it.’

the Exceptional Case Funding merit test is wholly unsatisfactory

Russell had also been part of the group (which included homeless people, activists and Unite Union members) in talks with the forward planning committee for homelessness of MCC. The aim of these fortnightly talks, which started on the 5 of June (reported here), was to come up with a new improved plan for the homelessness services of MCC. Scott said of the meetings “They ceased all talks with us last week and they were supposed to be making an appointment but they said ‘oh we’ve cancelled it’, they cancelled the meeting apparently three days before but no one told us about it.” A spokesperson from MCC said “It was felt that the Council needed to focus its efforts on direct discussion with homeless people, both those within the camp and also other rough sleepers who  wanted to share their experiences and views”

The “belt and braces” legal strategy adopted by MCCs counsel to acquire the city wide injunction, was to cite the Local Government act of 1972 section 222, trespass laws and planning laws. Walfall said, during the trial, that the injunction would not include “sleeping bags, benches or cardboard boxes”. He also informed the court that MCC had spent “in excess of £100k” in their dealings with the protest camps.

The defendants tents were their homes, they had no other.

Initially Taylor asked for another adjournment to the case for the reason that legal aid had been refused to the defendant by the legal aid board after repeated appeals to them; because they did not pass the merit tests for Exceptional Case Funding (ECF). Taylor cited a report a recent report by Lord Chancellor J. Collins, which stated that “the Exceptional Case Funding merit test is wholly unsatisfactory” and that it was “apparent the ECF fund is to complex”. Taylor wished to launch a judicial review on the ECF funding criteria. The judge refused the adjournment, stating the decision to go ahead with case whether funding was available or not in the last court appearance(reported in the Mule here).

Defending the homeless Taylor raised there Article 8 rights of the ECHR which states ‘Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence’. He told the court that “The defendants tents were their homes, they had no other.”

The judge ordered the eviction of the camps in Castlefield and St Ann’s square on the grounds of trespass. She granted the injunction sought by MCC under the Local Government act of 1972, section 222. Summing up her decision she said the Article 8 rights of the defendants were not engaged in this case and highlighted the costs already incurred and the prospect of further costs if the protest camps continue.

I mean how many people die on the streets, you know its so dangerous

Nicola Moore is a voluntary worker who helps the homeless people of Manchester. Moore has been a long time supporter of the protest camps and came today “because what Manchester Council is doing is absolutely criminal. I mean how many people die on the streets, you know its so dangerous. We have had people who have been gang raped on the streets.” After the decision of the court had been reached Moore was further outraged “ it was absolutely disgusting, I cant believe just how disgusting it was.” and added “They didn’t get legal aid after three attempts at it. He [Taylor] didn’t have counsel, there was no one to help him research.”

Nicola Moore outside court after case

Nicola Moore outside court after case

The courtroom was packed with supporters of the homeless protest camps when the Judge announced her decision, many supporters left the courtroom visibly and audibly upset and angry at the decision made. A sombre Taylor said after the case “I am disappointed with the outcome and will now consider whether there are any prospects on appeal”

Cllr Nigel Murphy, Executive Member for Neighbourhoods for Manchester City Council, on the 31st July said: “We are pleased that the courts have granted the exclusion order we asked for, which is specifically designed to prevent the recurrence of camps and not targeted at individual rough sleepers.” He went on to add “”We will now be working with Greater Manchester Police and court bailiffs to regain possession of the site as soon as possible. Our homeless team will also be visiting the camps … to offer support, guidance and accommodation to anyone who requires it.”

The finalised injunction order was reported on by RAPAR on the 5th of August. It was an ameliorated version of the injunction initially sought by MCC. No longer “an injunction against the whole world” instead it was only serviceable against people “erecting and/or occupying tents or other moveable temporary forms of accommodation for the purposes of or in connection with protests or similar events arising from or connected with the Claimant’s [Manchester City Council’s] homeless policy on land”. The order also provides a list of what is not considered temporary forms of accomodation:

a. Sleeping bags / blankets
b. Cardboard boxes
c. Benches
d. Doorways
e. Bus shelters
f. Hostel accommodation
g. Overnight charity accommodation

The injunction order issued is much weaker than the one MCC inititally sought, in the words of Taylor “It would be for the Claimant [MCC] to prove that the contemnor [person in contempt of injunction] is in breach, NOT for the individual to prove that he/she has not breached. This is a very high hurdle for Manchester City Council to get over. In particular, how could Manchester City Council prove that someone is protesting about its Homeless Policy short of the individual holding a placard stating as much?”

The homeless protest camps have not yet been served with orders for eviction from their current sites in St Ann’s Square and Castlefield. If they move to another site after being evicted MCC will find it very hard to serve the injunction on them and make it stick. Could this be a turning point leading to MCC changing their strategy? Maybe council officials are wondering if they could actually prevent homlessness occuring in the first place and improve homelessness services within the city, rather than chasing homeless people through the courts?

demo1

Solidarity demo protestors outside court before case

Boycott Workfare Manchester oppose state sanctioned “slave labour”

Shakespeare House was host to the Boycott Workfare meeting organised by the Whalley Range Green Party. Boycott workfare started in 2010 as a grass roots campaign to oppose forced unpaid work for those receiving welfare. Thomas Barlow, editor of Real Media and resident of Whalley Range, attended the meeting and said off Workfare “It is against our human rights to be forced to work, we have a law that bans slave labour in this country.”

Unemployed people are being demonised and I believe there is a war on the poor.

The Manchester branch of Boycott Workfare have a running campaign against B&M bargains in Whalley Range and Chorlton. A picket was recently held outside the Chorlton branch of B&M Bargains, which was covered by Manchester Mule here. The campaigners were determined to keep up the pressure on B&M Bargains with sustained flyer handout events outside the stores. During the meeting Barlow repeated that “public pressure works” saying that no firm likes the bad publicity associated with being in the workfare scheme.

Liverpool Workfare campaign had a recent victory where a large council contractor removal firm were pressured into exiting the workfare programme by demonstrations. The Boycott Workfare website also lists companies such as Sainsburys, Maplin, Burger King and Boots as companies that will no longer take part in workfare and say this as a sign that the tide is turning against workfare.

The Manchester branch of the Boycott Workfare campaign has been in existence for six months and one of its founding members Gwyn Morgan spoke at the meeting. Morgan an ex- teacher, who currently lives in Chorlton, had experienced claiming social security during an industrial dispute with his employers. He described how they treated him and processed him through the system as “very intimidating” with “increasing levels of intimidation” as the process continues.

Slave labour is a controversial term for workfare to some people, says Morgan, but he thinks it is accurate because “workfare is slave-labour because the means of survival are removed” their benefits are sanctioned if they refuse the work. This fits the International Labour organisations definition of forced labour (a.k.a. slavery) which states that someone who is under the menace of a penalty for the deprivation of food, shelter and other provisions can be identified as being in forced labour. The Oxford English dictionary definition of slave labour is “labour which is coerced and inadequately rewarded, or people that do it” also accurately describes people on workfare.

Barlow was concerned with the philosophy and spin, of the government and media, behind workfare; pointing out the negative image of welfare recipients portrayed on “poverty porn” titles such as Benefits Street and the Manchester based People Like Us. He reported communities in Moston and Moss side saying they felt the images portrayed in these programs were used to encourage punitive measures on welfare recipients. He believes that “unemployed people are being demonised and I believe there is a war on the poor. We are going back to a pre-Dickensian idea that poverty is somehow the individuals fault… not because of all the social and economic factors that we know make people poor.’

People on workfare don’t appear in the unemployment statistics.

During his presentation at the meeting Morgan pointed out that there is no evidence that workfare works in placing people in genuine paid jobs and that the only reason the unemployment figures are falling is that “people on workfare don’t appear in the unemployment statistics.” He also raised the nonsensical strategy of David Cameron who has stated 100% employment as an aim of the Tory government and the fact that the capitalist system relies on a pool of unemployed people to keep wages down.

The governments own figures show that workfare does not work, a Social Security Advisory Committee’s report in 2011 said there was no benefit to introducing mandatory work activity and that “This seems to us to signal that being mandated to mandatory work activity is regarded as a punishment…” . In 2012, Department for Work and Pensions research reported that mandatory work had “no impact on the likelihood of being employed compared to non-referrals.”

The only way Cameron can manage 100% employment is if he rolls out workfare on a bigger scale, and that is exactly the governments plan; which will further subsidise private industry with tax payers money.

I asked Gwyn what his hopes were for the campaign “The aim is to end workfare, unpaid labour. The employment strategy of the powers that be, is to roll it out to a massive degree. So there is a lot of work to do and a lot of scope for the campaign to move against this strategy.”

AllTrials victory in judicial review

The AllTrials campaign, mainly funded through charitable contributions, faced the possibility of a serious setback to their work when they faced up to a legal team funded by the war coffers of Richmond Pharmacology. Richmond Pharmacology (RP) had took it upon themselves to oppose the Health Research Authority (HRA) regulations that required all phase 1 clinical trials to be registered. The judges decision, announced on the 28th of July, that the HRA has a clear legal right to monitor researchers’ compliance with legal and ethical obligations to register clinical trials, and a remit to impose sanctions on researchers who breach those obligations.

Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Pharma and co founder of AllTrials said of the case “It is ridiculous that it has taken 5 months of intense legal argument and cost probably hundreds of thousands of pounds, to get this statement of the status quo.”

 What are the the solecisms of the Health Research Authority that you impeach them with

Prior to the case being heard the legal arguments of RP had changed on a number off occasions, as reported here. The case was heard in Manchester County Court on the 16th of July by The Hon. Mr Justice Jay. The arguments put forward by the counsel for Richmond Pharmacology in support of their judicial review were:

  • Reduction in UK phase one trials due to increased regulation
  • Confusing wording, lack of transparency, on HRA website page for sponsor declarations
  • Publishing of commercially sensitive data would be disadvantageous to pharma companies
  • The HRAs documents only set out good practice and not an absolute requirement for pharma companies and their sponsors to register; as their were no sanctions open to the HRA for non compliance

The presiding Hon. Mr Justice Jay was elevated to his position as a high court judge after acting as counsel for the Leveson enquiry. He dismissed the figures presented on the decline of phase one UK trials being due to regulation saying that it was as likely that “cheaper trials in India” was the cause. The judge appeared vexed by the primarily semantic driven arguments of “the lack of transparency” of the HRA web pages saying “What are the the solecisms of the Health Research Authority that you impeach them with”. The Judge also asked the counsel of RP “are you the only one complaining about this” to which the counsel replied by saying a Dr Ulrika Lorch (Medical Director at RP) had been elected on a body to debate phase one trials.

During the break for Lunch I spoke to Catherine a supporter of AllTrials who had travelled from Sheffield to attend the judicial review, she attended the trial ‘Because my son has been severely affected by the no disclosure of side effects in trials.” Catherine’s son had been taking an SSRI antidepressant, when his dose was doubled “He went completely physcotic, absolutely manic. He was taken in and diagnosed with schizophrenia.” Catherine’s hopes for the case were “That the HRA get what they want. That the phase ones are included [registered] so people don’t end up in a mess like my son.”

The Sense About Science team, representing AllTrials, became aware, during the break of an online report from the Ethical Medicines Clinical Group , which was critical of the judicial review instigated by RP. The report said “The judicial review brought by Richmond Pharmacology against the Health Research Authority – erroneous, a waste of public money and if left unchallenged by the biopharmaceutical industry, hugely damaging to it.”

I would hope that the ethical responsibility is seen as a legal responsibility

The counsel representing AllTrials was praised for his work for the trial by the judge saying “the defence has put up a powerful argument”. The main points of the defence argument were:

  • The HRA being subject to the Care Act 2014 and therefore having a duty to protect participants of research and promote safe and ethical working.
  • Duties of the HRA under the World Health Organisations Declaration of Helsinki.
  • HRA having a specific statutory duty to promote safety, ethicacy and transparency.
  • HRA made changes to web pages for sponsor declarations to make them clearer.

The Hon. Mr Justice Jay reserved his judgement on the case till the following week. Alice Fraser, who is about to embark on science degree at Manchester University, was present at the case as a supporter of AllTrials. Fraser had found the semantics heavy arguments of RP disappointing and was concerned about the ethics in the case “there was some dispute about ethical and legal responsibility and I would hope that the ethical responsibility is seen as a legal responsibility.”

Tracey Brown is a Director of Sense About Science, and a founding member of the AllTrials campaign, she was optimistic about the judgement to be made on the case “ The judge showed amazing insight into the issues and in challenging the version of events that was put forward… What became clear today is that there is a very strong ethical obligation, and the judge could not understand, and directly asked Richmond in fact, why you have a problem complying with the ethical obligations”. She was critical of RPs argument that increased regulation was responsible for the drop in clinical trials registered in the UK “because of the fact that the decline started well before any of the regulations mentioned.”

Organisations Supporting AllTrials

Organisations Supporting AllTrials

Brown went on to describe the long hard struggle for transparency by the AllTrials campaign “ Of all the challenges and barriers we have faced getting regulators involved, getting the other pharmaceutical companies engaged, of all the challenges this was the last thing we expected to happen. Because this concerns such fundamental ethical considerations”. She described her concerns when the judicial review was initiated “we realised that people could have thought ‘well that’s a strange little argument between one company and a regulator’, without realising that the potential for it, without any intervention to clarify what this is actually about; without that it could have ended up reversing not just what is going on in the UK, but could become something that would influence people world wide”. A summary of the case by Sense About Science can be found here.

The judgement of Mr Justice Jay mainly found for the defence saying that there were ethical and legal obligations for the HRA to register phase one trials, and that they could impose sanctions on anyone who did not comply. Ironically the judge accepted the claimants submissions that the relevant HRA website pages ‘failed the transparency test’, and these will probably need to be clarified once the Judge issues his order on the case.

Goldacre was disappointed that RP had ever pursued this case, but was happy with the judges decision “Today the judge did a very good service to every UK company working on clinical trials. They should celebrate and capitalise on this success, by telling the world that trials run in this jurisdiction produce reliable evidence, to the highest standards.”

Conrad Bower

Manchester homeless fight for justice

The homeless people of Manchester have formed a protest camp within the city centre and are demanding their right to housing. Manchester City Council is chasing them through the courts to destroy the protest. Who would you like to win?

The article is based on my personal experience of the homeless camp since its inception in Albert Square up till the day before the case for the city wide injunction. Read the full article in Contributoria