News Summary: January 2016

Bedroom Tax Abolished 

The bedroom tax has been declared unlawful by the court of appeal due to the fact that in two cases – those of a victim of extreme domestic violence and grandparents of a severely disabled teenager – the government’s policy amounted to unlawful discrimination.

The legal challenge came from a government welfare reform introduced in 2013, which reduced housing benefit for individuals if they lived in a property that was seen to have more bedrooms than necessary.

One of the cases was brought by a single parent who had suffered violence, rape and domestic abuse from a former partner. Her home had been specially adapted to include a secure panic room, but as a result of the welfare changes she had been deemed to be under-occupying her home and her housing benefit was to have been cut by 14 per cent.

The second case was brought forward by the grandparents and carers of Warren Todd, a teenager who suffers from mental and physical disability caused by a rare genetic disorder. His appeal centred on the spare room used by overnight carers, who stay at the three-bedroom home of his grandparents Susan and Paul Rutherford. They saw their housing benefits reduced by 14 per cent as a result of the welfare changes. The government rules make an exception for the overnight carers of a disabled adult but not for those of a disabled child.

The three judges ruled that in the case of the domestic abuse victim, the government should have considered the effect of the new housing rules on women in more detail and particularly those at risk of domestic violence.

They also said that it seemed “very difficult” to justify the differing treatment of carers for disabled children and disabled adults in the case of Warren Todd.

In this case, both parties argued they should fall into a defined class of people who are exempt from the rules. They claimed their omission from this category was unlawful discrimination under article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.


A mosquito-borne virus called Zika has seen a recent surge in cases across Latin America leading to  Brazil’s health minister warning that the country is “badly losing” the battle against the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects.

The virus is transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which also carries dengue fever, yellow fever and chikungunya. The virus grows in human blood and any other mosquito can then pick it up while biting and transmit it further.

The symptoms include fever, headache, conjunctivitis, rash, myalgia, and arthralgia. Zika, which often resembles a light case of the flu, is often so mild that people don’t realize that they have it.  Not all infected people develop symptoms either, roughly only one in five people develop the aforementioned symptoms. A short illness may last from several days to a week, but in some rare cases, Zika virus sufferers may have abdominal pain, diarrhoea or constipation and dizziness and it can ultimately result in death.

The “high rate” of patients with Zika have no symptoms at all is concerning to virologists, who believe that Zika could easily establish a foothold in the southern United States and other areas with tropical climates because people may not know they are infected.

It is now spreading locally in some 20 Latin American and Caribbean countries, as far north as Mexico but Brazil has been the hardest hit.

Health experts blame the chaotic growth of urban centers as well as the proliferation of plastic, which provides the mosquito with breeding grounds. However the rise in cases of the virus has also been linked to unusually wet weather, poor sanitation and a public health service weakened by economic crisis.

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women to avoid traveling to Brazil and several other countries in the Americas where Zika outbreaks have occurred. The warning comes months before the Olympic Games, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, and some are concerned that it could scare visitors away. However the local organizing committee stressed that because the games are during the southern hemisphere winter, Brazil’s dry season, the mosquito population will be smaller.

There is no overall figure for the number of cases detected however there have been cases in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Texas, Florida, Illinois as well as Britain and Israel.

Cecil Rhodes Statue Still Stands 

Oxford University’s Oriel College has said it will not remove the controversial statue of Cecil Rhodes despite a campaign by students who believe the British imperialist’s legacy should not be celebrated.

The Rhodes Must Fall movement said the statue of the man who was an ardent imperialist and left a sizeable sum to the college in his will, was representative of Britain’s “imperial blind spot” and should be taken down.

Student campaigners have condemned the college for deciding to keep its statue of Cecil Rhodes, stating that it has been influenced by a “dictatorship” of donors.

Rhodes attended Oriel College in the 1870s before returning to South Africa. It was there that he founded the De Beers diamond empire. He became one of the world’s wealthiest men and rose to be premier of the then Cape Colony in 1890.

He served as prime minister of the British Empire’s Cape Colony, including South Africa, in the early 1890s and has been linked to apartheid-style policies. Rhodes is now mainly remembered for beginning enforced racial segregation in South Africa and for his belief in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race.

Students called for a reckoning from the institution, and said their first demand was for Oxford to “acknowledge and confront its role in the ongoing physical and ideological violence of empire”.

Campaigners also called for a commitment to recontextualising iconography and said: “Murderous colonists and slaveholders belong in books and museums, not on the side of buildings.”

A college spokesman said: “The college’s governing body has announced its decision to keep the statue of Cecil Rhodes and put it in a clear historical context and it is implementing those decisions.”

The college confirmed that it had been warned of the possibility that it would lose about £100m in gifts should the statue be taken down. However, a spokesman insisted the financial implications were not the primary consideration.

Campaigners have described Oriel College’s decision as “outrageous, dishonest and cynical” and have vowed to fight it.

The college said the plaque would also be retained and its context made clear after a further consultation, which is expected to conclude in the autumn.

Rhodes left money to the college on his death in 1902. Scholarships in his name have so far been awarded to more than 8,000 overseas students.

Google Tax

There is widespread anger over Google’s “sweet heart” deal to pay a £130 million bill to cover tax owed for 2006 to 2011 in the UK continued in 2016  devoid of multi-billion pound profits.

Google’s £130 million tax deal was not a “glorious moment”, Sajid Javid has said as he claimed people were right to feel a “sense of unfairness” about how big companies behave.

The UK tax authorities’ agreement with Google has fuelled a “sense of injustice” that big businesses receive preferential treatment, he said.

His comments come a week after Chancellor George Osborne called the settlement a “major success” during a television appearance.

Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, also called the sum “derisory” and Anna Soubry, the business minister, said it was not “an awful lot of money” and Number 10 initially refused to repeat the phrase in briefings.

Google launched a defence of the deal on Sunday with Mr Barron appearing on television after the wave of criticism and it was in favour of reforms to make international tax clearer.

Cameron’s Comments on Muslim Women 

Muslim women who fail to improve their English face being refused permission to stay in the UK, David Cameron has announced.

Officials said from October those coming to Britain on a spouse visa will be expected to become more capable in English and achieve A2 level standard after two and half years. A failure to make improvement would be taken into account in any request to extend visas or apply for permanent residence.

Meanwhile a £20m initiative has been launched aimed at helping female members of the Muslim community with their language skills in an attempt to integrate them into the community and help tackle extremism. Cameron has urged an end to the “passive tolerance” of practices which he says leave many Muslim women facing discrimination and isolation.

Writing in The Times newspaper, the PM said he would not avoid telling the “hard truths” required to confront the minority of Muslim men whose “backward attitudes” led them to exert “damaging control” over women in their families.

The Government estimates that there are 190,000 Muslim women in England who speak little or no English. The new English language scheme will be aimed at reaching the most isolated women.

However, he has been accused of taking a “clumsy and simplistic” approach to the issue and of “dog-whistle” politics.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “This announcement is dog-whistle politics at its best.

“David Cameron cut the budget for English language classes in August last year by £45 million.

Now the Prime Minister is dressing up a massive cut as a £20 million funding commitment.

“Linking women in the Muslim community who struggle with the English language to home-grown extremism only serves to isolate the very people Cameron says he is trying to help.”

There was also a huge backlash to Cameron’s comments on social media using the hashtag #culturallysubmissive after Cameron used the term to define Muslim women.

Tens of thousands of tweets were sent with pictures of Muslim women engaged in activities as diverse as archery, martial arts, TV and radio presenting, or holding placards with a list of incredible achievements from multiple degrees and even to being teachers of English themselves.

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Naina Bhardwaj

Naina Bhardwaj

Naina Bhardwaj

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