London Met crisis attacks all students

by Mary Robertson

The absurdity of the government’s xenophobic immigration policy was thrown into sharp relief yesterday as the UK Border Agency (UKBA) revoked London Metropolitan University’s right to authorise visas, effectively meaning that London Met can no longer accept international students. The announcement coincided with the release of figures showing immigration levels well above the government’s arbitrary and irrational 100,000 per year target. It is at best a desperate attempt to hit that target, irrespective of its pernicious consequences for higher education. At worst, it is a continuation of the government’s efforts that began in winter 2010 to systematically denigrate UK higher education.
The effects of UKBA’s decision will be most cruelly felt by those international students already half-way through their degree at London Met who, despite having already shelled out tens of thousands of pounds in tuition fees, are now unable to finish the courses they started. Not content with destroying the futures of young people in Britain, it would seem, the government is now applying itself to shattering those of young people from abroad. One student told the Guardian yesterday that his father in Nigeria had had a heart attack on hearing that his son will not be able to finish his degree.

The decision will also have more far-reaching but no less destructive consequences on other students. UK universities are increasingly dependent on overseas tuition fees (much higher than those for domestic students) to make ends meet. By sending a clear message to international students that they are not welcome here, UKBA’s decision is likely to deter future international students coming to the UK and put this important source of funding in jeopardy.

It is absurd that international students, who come to the UK temporarily - and are of great economic benefit to the British economy - are included in immigration figures. But as worrying is the fact that the effects of this absurd policy will not be equally felt.

Unlike Britain’s elite Russell group universities, whose visa-granting rights have not been put into question, London Met caters to local students from poorer and ethnic minority backgrounds. Two thirds of its students come from local communities, three fifths are non-white, and 96% come from the state sector. Last year overseas student fees accounted for 15% of London Met’s income and in interviews yesterday, the Chancellor of London Met was unable to rule out the possibility of closure as a result of UKBA’s decision.

The London Met decision therefore shows the government’s xenophobic and cynically opportunistic attempts to cut headline immigration figures dovetailing with its willingness (even wilfulness) to see non-elite higher education institutions fail. It is an attack both on international students and on students here whose life chances have been dramatically improved through the existence of institutions like London Met.

The tragic irony is that in the last year London Met has enthusiastically embraced the government’s vision for a marketised higher education system by outsourcing its services and slashing courses while cutting fees. That this compliance has only made London Met’s future more vulnerable is a stark reminder of why we need a properly funded education system - one that meets the needs of all young people, whether they are already here or are wishing to come from abroad.

Another squalid housing rip off

The ConDem government has released a report on the housing shortage in the UK today. The Montague report advocates the relaxing of planning restrictions and permission, allowing private investors to build on public land, the relaxation of affordable housing criteria and a voluntary code for what constitutes a reasonably constructed home. It represents a sick joke to the 2 million families that cannot find permanent accommodation in the UK at present.

There is a major housing crisis developing in Britain that is not being addressed by the ConDem government or the Labour Party in opposition. The end of the property boom and cheap mortgages has left the vast majority of people unable to afford to buy. Deposits alone are likely to cost £50,000 in most parts of the country. Private rents are soaring as a result with the average now being £722 per month, far too high for most families to even consider saving towards a deposit. The myth of the aspirant working class that can benefit from a ‘property owning democracy’ has been evicted.

Another whopper from the energy monopolies

The energy giant SSE has started another round of fuel prices rises in the UK. It claims that it cannot 'absorb' costs any more so must increase gas and electricity prices by 9% from 15 October. This is despite the wholesale price of gas and electricity power falling in the first half of 2012. In the US, the fall has been between 38-45% while it has been up to 13% in Europe.

Further, these rises are not the first that have come in well above the inflation rate. Gas prices were increased by SSE by 9.4% in December 2010; in September 2011, it increased electricity prices by 11% and gas by 18%. After being forced to cap its prices because of the public outcry, it has now returned to its profiteering pattern. 

The energy market is rigged by the big companies which are profiteering. SSE reported a 2% rise in profits to £1.33 billion yet pretends that it cannot absorb cost rises that do not exist. Ian Marchand, its Chief Executive, was paid £1.1 million in the last year.The regulator, Ofgem has been investigating alleged attempts by the energy companies (including SSE) to overload the national grid with electricity, switch off power plants and wind farms then claim compensation from the taxpayer totalling over £600 million in the last five years. A scam.

Meanwhile, working class people continue to struggle with pay failing to keep up with inflation. People's living standards are collapsing even before the capping of housing benefit. The astronomical increases in energy costs are creating fuel poverty across the country as people can no longer afford to put electricity or gas on for more than a few hours per day. It will lead directly to more illness and death among the elderly. It is callous profiteering that has to be stopped.

Richard Lloyd, of the consumers' association Which?, told the BBC that "we can't go through another winter with people worrying about their energy bills, the government and the regulator must reform our broken energy market."

There certainly needs to be reform and urgently. These thieves represent everything that is wrong with this society. We have reached the point where most people find their bills unsustainable due to private monopolies being allowed to fleece us. It is another example, alongside the railways and banks, of how the private sector is not good for us. Asil Nadir has been prosecuted for stealing from his companies 25 years ago yet the present day robber barons are being allowed to plunder the UK with impunity. We need to stop this and put them behind bars

Will benefit cuts help patients? No.

by Dr Kay Phillips, a GP in Manchester.
David Cameron's recent pronouncements about ending the ‘something for nothing' culture around welfare made me shudder in horror. He talked about working-age people being ‘encouraged to sit at home' on benefits, and the need to end this ‘culture of entitlement'.

This amounts to nothing more than scapegoating the poorest in our country and a strategy of stoking resentment between the poor and the very poor. I've always been proud of the welfare state and thought of it as being the bedrock of decent society in Britain.

When travelling around other parts of the world you appreciate the fact that we have a safety net, whereby the poorest and most vulnerable are looked after. We have a right to medical care, education and enough money to be able to eat and feed our families. None of us know whether one day we may fall on hard times and need the welfare state to be there for us.

Our NHS is our common wealth

The notion of madness is widely understood as a health condition that requires treatment. Market madness is not. If we are to save the National Health Service, there must be treatment for this appalling condition that now afflicts our hospitals and GP surgeries.

In South London, a hospital trust is collapsing due to its debts. Fifty more hospital trusts around the country are in a similar position. Why? Because both Labour and Conservative governments insisted on cooking the books to make it look like they were investing in our healthcare. They did this by giving private companies very lucrative contracts to build and maintain hospitals. These contracts allowed these companies to charges huge interest rates on loans that they gave to allow the NHS to build hospitals. Because these loans would need to be paid off over 25-30 years in most cases, the cost would be more than ten times the cost of direct government investment to build a hospital and would entail a very large amount of profit for the private financers. This policy was called the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). It is a disaster for the NHS and government finances.

The capital cost of rebuilding Calderdale Royal Hospital in Yorkshire is £64.6m but the scheme will end up costing Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust a total of £773.2m. Building the new Walsgrave district general hospital in Coventry will jump from an initial £379m to an eventual £4bn.

Current estimates of the final cost of the PFI programme in health and education are £301billion in repayments. These repayments do not come from the idiotic politicians obsessed with the notion that the private sector does things better (take a look at the mess in the banking system) who organized and negotiated these awful contracts. They do not come from the politicians and private financiers who cheerlead this private money making scheme at the expense of our health. It comes from the taxpayer who now has huge governmental debt built in for the next 30 years when all the investment could have come at less than a tenth of the cost.

The Labour government moved to creating an internal market in the NHS by launching the Foundation hospitals and trusts. The layer of managers and accountants that Margaret Thatcher brought into the NHS swelled in this internal market. Now the logic of a market has hit home as some will be wealthy while others collapse. The problem is that this means hospitals closing, poorer standards of care, less staff being paid lower wages and more selective healthcare with those most in need being turned away.

What is the solution of the ConDems? To increase the market in healthcare by getting GPs involved and letting private companies take over parts of the health service. When a cure doesn’t work, just do it more and more while looking the other way and hoping no one blames you. Since sliding into government, the ConDems have quietly added 39 new PFI contracts and £5.36billion to the debt. It has been quiet because both parties attacked Labour for going for PFI.

The National Health Service is one of the greatest prides of British social life. It is the most wonderful gain for working people in the last hundred years. It is now in real danger from the profit takers and the politicians who do their bidding. It must be stopped.

These contracts should be scrapped and replaced with direct government investment in health care. If effective taxes were levied against the financial sector and the private hospitals that make people pay for health care, the government could afford this investment. If the layer of managers and accountants were removed from the NHS, it would free significant resources for health. If the false market was removed, health care could be more organized and effective.

This country needs more nurses, more hospitals and clinics and less debt so why are the politicians helping the corporate looters to destroy our NHS. It is too important to lose and an alternative strategy is urgently needed.


Bradford West MP George Galloway met the Secretary of State Michael
Gove today (Thursday) to discuss the crisis in Bradford secondary education,
where the GCSE results are among the worst in the country.

'It was an extremely productive meeting,' said Galloway. 'Both of us
agreed that the London Challenge had raised standards in
London schools. I suggested a similar approach, a Bradford Challenge.'

The London Challenge school improvement programme was established in
2003 to improve outcomes in low-performing secondary schools in the
capital. The programme uses independent, experienced education
experts, known as London Challenge advisers, to identify need and
broker support for under-performing schools. The advisers are supported
by a small administrative team based in the Department for Education
(DfE). The cost of the support and the services brokered comes
directly from the DfE and is spent as the adviser directs. Many of
these advisers are also National or Local Leaders of Education.

The Secretary of State accepted Galloway’s invitation to come to
Bradford in the autumn, bringing with him educationalists who had been
at the heart of the London Challenge project. They will meet with,
discuss and have lunch with community groups and others on a
fact-finding visit. Following that visit, the Secretary of State and
George Galloway will look forward to receiving proposals for a pilot

Anatomy of a Tory U-turn

The government, after repeatedly pledging it wouldn't do, performed another spectacular U-turn after pressure from a powerful group of MPs including George Galloway.

Chancellor George Osborne announced today that the proposed 3p rise in fuel duty, trailed in the 'omnishambles' budget, was to be scrapped. 'He clearly realised that he couldn't win in the House in the debate next week and rather than face defeat, caved in. It's great news for motorists and the transport industry and another massive failure by his government which is now a total laughing stock,' George Galloway said.

George Galloway was a sponsor of an amendment which would have have been debated next week and, if carried, would have ruled out the increase. 'It was clear that the Cameron government would face a massive defeat in the Commons and that our amendment would have won the day. This is yet another reverse in policy by a befuddled and completely out of touch government. It's another fine mess George Osborne has got his boss into. How long can this incompetent remain in power before the men in grey suits visit him with the resignation letter to sign?'

Who feels 'entitled', posh boy? Cameron's welfare witch hunt

David Cameron spoke yesterday of wishing to end a ‘culture of entitlement’ on welfare benefits. He did so with a straight face just as he managed to claim that Jimmy Carr’s tax affairs were ‘morally wrong’ without a cheeky wink or raised eyebrow.

The utter hypocrisy of this Tory government (with a Liberal Democrat poodle yapping at its side) plumbs new depths every day. The Prime Minister’s family made its fortune from the use of tax havens. Over half of the Conservative Party’s donors operate offshore from the UK to avoid paying tax. They are the richest of the rich in this society yet do not wish to contribute to helping the society to function for the poor as well. As Gideon Osborne admitted ‘some of the very wealthiest people in the country have organised their tax affairs... so that they were regularly paying virtually no income tax.’ Cameron himself is worth over £30 million yet he claimed expenses from Parliament on his mortgage.

If there is a ‘culture of entitlement’ in Britain, it is evident among the richest. After all, how many large banks have trumpeted tax avoidance schemes yet ask for public bail outs when their gambling on the financial markets went wrong?