Monday, 30 May 2016

Himmah - Some highlights from the last few years

Himmah, the Nottingham-based, grass-roots, social action organisation has been running for a few years now, so it seemed like a good time to review what the group has achieved and where it is going....

The Himmah Foodbank
One of the first projects set up by Himmah, the Foodbank initially took a while to find it's feet, but over time relationships were built up with referrers such as the Metropolitan Housing Association, British Red Cross, WAIS and the Notttingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum

Contents of a typical foodpack, costing around £5

A lady donated this entire trolley of food at a collection at ASDA. Humbling to see

Donation from East Nottingham

When Himmah buys food, it is often from stores such as Lidl,
who pay the living wage

Donations have come from a number of groups and individuals across the city.

More recently, Himmah has built up a strong relationship with Thomas Helwys Baptist Church, Lenton, who are supplied with 20-30 foodpacks every week as part of the "Tasty Tuesday" project run by the Dunkirk and Lenton partnership.For people in financial difficulties it offers a filling, nutritious, meal, food parcels, and signposting to support agencies and services. For people experiencing loneliness or social isolation it can provide company, the chance to make friends, and a weekly social event to look forward to, in a welcoming and relaxed environment."

Himmah Foodpacks at Tasty Tuesdays

Tasty Tuesday Christmas Dinner 2015

Himmah, recognises that it is important to tackle the CAUSES of destitution as well as providing AID to the people affected. To this end Himmah will soon be asking its supporters to challenge (via email or social media) local authorities and stakeholders to reduce the number of benefit delays and unfair sanctions that cause so much stress, upheaval and misery.

The SaSh project is run by Himmah and the Nottingham Liberal Synagogue, and based at the Bridge Centre in Hyson Green. It runs every Wednesday evening and aims to provid a safe place where members of the public who are struggling can go and obtain a free meal. The project recently celebrated its first birthday!

SaSh' is one year old!

Look out for the SaSh signs

The Big Supper
Since 2011 Himmah has been supporting the Anti-Destitution Group at The Refugee Forum in Nottingham, providing a hot meal at least 1 Saturday every month, often with the help of kind donations from people such as Al Majlis Restaurant owner Iftikhar Ahmed.

The Big Supper

Nottingham Citizens
Himmah is a founder member of Nottingham Citizens , a broad based alliance of Nottingham based community organisations. As such Himmah has been active in many of Nottingham Ciizens activities, such as the 2012 and 2016 PCC accountability assembly, European Election Hustings and the Hope And Homelessness Commission report - as well as actions that aimed to increase the number of people in council and other employers who were paid at least the minimum wage.

Some of the nearly 1000 citizens at the 2012 PCC Accountability Assembly
The launch of the Hope and Homlessness Commission Report
Dates in the Square
The summer of 2012 saw Himmah holding a series of Dates-in-the-Square "flash mob" style events at dusk in Nottingham's market square.

Great to see such a wide demographic at the events.
How can you help?
If you would like to make a donation to Himmah, or would like to volunteer to help Himmah in its activities, please visit

Sunday, 29 May 2016

The True Cost of Austerity (Part 2)

This post is part of a series :

The True Cost of Austerity - Part 1 (Advice Nottingham Report)
The True Cost of Austerity - Part 2 (Effect on Children)
The True Cost of Austerity - Part 3 - Accountability

Back in 2014, Advice Nottingham published a report titled "Children in an Age of Austerity" which looked at the effect that changes in welfare rules have had on families.

The findings of the report include that :

* Families deemed to be ‘under occupying’ their accommodation are experiencing financial hardship and face either increased costs or potentially moving home and losing social support networks.
* Children may have to change schools or travel further to get to school if their families are forced to move as a result of under-occupancy.
* Non-resident parents/carers face financial penalties for under-occupancy or losing the room their children use, potentially reducing parent-child contact.
* Parents subject to benefit sanctions are relying almost entirely on food banks to feed their children.

And recommendations include that :

* Non-resident parents who have a room designated for their children should not be subject to under-occupancy rules.
* Families rehoused as a result of domestic violence should not be penalised if they have ‘surplus’ rooms.
* Benefit sanctions should be applied more fairly.
* Help should be offered to all parents whose benefits have been sanctioned.
* DWP staff should aim to accommodate requests to expedite decisions for clients with dependent children.
* All families with children should be able to access hardship funds.

Foodpacks at Tasty Tuesdays

The report reports on feedback received from some of Nottinghams Foodbanks. The Bestwood and Bulwell food bank feeds on average, 300 people a month, with approximately a third of these being due to benefits sanctions. Grace Church reports providing some 450 food parcels between September 2012 and October 2013, including 77 referrals due to benefit sanctions, also commenting that almost as many referrals are due to benefit delays as benefit sanctions.

The report comments that "Increasingly food banks are at risk of becoming an arm of the welfare state, meeting the most basic needs that many families are now unable to meet themselves."

Case Studies
Some of the Nottingham case studies reported are harrowing and one can only imaging the stress they will have caused to families already struggling to keep their heads above water. For example :

Frank is a 54 year old man living in a three bedroom property. He lives alone but his granddaughter spends 1-2 weeks a month with him as her mother is often unwell due to mental health problems.Frank’s role as a carer is not taken into account when assessing his housing needs, despite his support helping to keep the family together. Frank has to pay the ‘bedroom tax’ every month and his rent arrears are increasing every month.
(Advice Nottingham helped Frank to negotiate repayments of his arrears. Frank says he is ‘managing to keep his head above water’.)

Arthur was living alone in a two bedroom Nottingham City Homes property. His rent was £70 per week. He moved to private rented accommodation to avoid the bedroom tax and is now receiving £88.85 per week housing benefit and still has a spare bedroom.
(Advice Nottingham comment that "...many tenants in social housing who move to the private rental sector to avoid paying ‘bedroom tax’ are likely to receive more housing benefit rather than less.... It is difficult to see what the policy will achieve other than to cause hardship, increased indebtedness and stress for many tenants.")

Caroline is a 28 year old woman and a lone parent. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) compliance department was investigating her as having an ‘undisclosed partner’ living at the same address. She had sent documentary evidence by recorded delivery to prove that this was not the case, but HMRC had lost the documents. This was the second time she had sent the documents and the second time that HMRC had lost them. Caroline had no income. She had to ask family to help her as much as they could and had to rely on a local food bank to feed her children. She didn't even have the bus fare to travel to CAB for advice. She was worried about her inability to properly care for her children and the fact that HMRC showed no concern about how she was managing financially.
(Advice Nottingham contacted HMRC regarding the loss of tax credits and arranged for food parcels from a local food bank. Caroline was also offered help to manage her debts, accumulated due to her reduced income. Once her tax credits recommenced she felt able to manage without any further support)

Suzanne is a single parent of two year old twins. She fled an abusive partner who would often beat her in front of her children. Her partner had previously controlled all claims – including child benefit and working tax credit. Suzanne submitted a claim for income support, which the DWP would not pay until the child benefit was transferred to her name. DWP informed Suzanne that new claims were currently taking 12 weeks to process. Despite her explaining her situation with regards to domestic violence, the DWP were not willing to speed up the process. In the meantime, Suzanne was struggling to support her two children and often had to leave them home alone for short periods when she worked.
(Advice Nottingham comment that they contacted DWP on Suzanne’s behalf and are awaiting a decision as to whether income support can be paid early before child benefit is transferred to her name)

Winston is a 24 year old single father who had a retrospective sanction imposed for four weeks after failing to attend a Work Programme meeting. Advice Nottingham understand that this was because Winston's two year old daughter was taken ill. He telephoned before the due appointment, but was told this would still have to be noted as 'did not attend'. Winston has diabetes and the four week sanction caused severe hardship for him. He was not told about hardship payments, how to appeal the sanction decision, or food banks, and during the time of the sanction suffered hunger, hardship and stress. He felt this may also have caused a worsening of his diabetes over this period.
(Advice Nottingham comments that Winston was referred to a local food bank for food parcels and helped to apply for charitable help with his housing arrears to avoid homelessness. He was referred for specialist housing advice. They add that "It is difficult to see how Winston could have avoided this situation. Schools, nurseries and child minders are reluctant to take sick children due to health and safety concerns for others. This leaves parents unable to go to work or, as in Winston’s case, unable to meet job seeking requirements. However, the inflexibility of the rules for job seekers does not allow for such situations.")

External Links
An Anthology of Modern Poverty
Austerity in Europe - A Cautionary Tale
ONS perspectives on home ownership in the UK
NTU Research into Nottingham's economy.
Foodbanks in Nottingham

Related Content
The Himmah Foodbank
Extracts from the Commons Fooodbank Debate
The Opportunity Costs of Bad Government

Image Sources
BFTF own and via Himmah

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Big Belly bins in Nottingham

Been reading up about the "Big Belly" bins that have been installed in Nottingham for a while now....

The bins have a capacity of over 500litres, but this is increased by a factor of ~6 by the built in, chain operated, solar powdered compaction mechanism. In addition, the bins sense when they are 85% full and send a wireless signal to a control station requesting that they be emptied.

This combination of compaction and "empty on demand" is claimed to reduce the number of waste collections by up to 80% and largely eliminate the problem of overflowing bins, especially by fast food outlets.

A Big Belly bin, yesterday

Nottingham is leasing 130 of the bins in a 5-yr contract. Ian Greatorex, strategic finance manager for the council, told the Nottingham Post that the savings from not having to empty the bins as often should cover the £98,748 annual cost of the agreement.

Big Belly bins have been installed in many cities in the US, UK and elsewhere.

In Philadelphia, USA, the city installed 500 general waste bins and 210 recycling units on a lease-to-buy model. The city found collection frequency was reduced from 17 times a week to 5 times a week, resulting in a 70% saving in operating cost.

The University of Georgia, USA, has given a blowing testimonial to the bins - "Bigbelly has replaced 189 open top waste stations with 30 compacting waste and recycling stations on our campus here at UGA. With its ability to compact and send alert messages, we’ve been able to go from spending 30 hours a week to spending less than three hours a week in collection..."

One downside of the bins that is often commented on is that disposal of waste requires a person to actually touch the bin (or, more specifically, the bin door handle). Understandably, many people don't want to do this (or can't easily if one hand contains the rubbish and the other hand is holding, say, some food) so waste may get left on top of the bins. The situation gets worse if the handle is visibly dirty.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Zac Goldsmiths 2016 London Mayoral Campaign

BFTF has been very disturbed by the way divisive "dog whistle" messages were used against Sadiq Khan by Zac Goldsmiths Conservative campaign for the London Mayoral elections. This kid of gutter politics damages community cohesion, prevents debate about the real issues, and discourages minorities from entering the political sphere...

An important issue - Jobs
(Heathrow Airport)

The Mail on Sunday Article
Back in 2005, the BNP used an image from the 7/7 attacks in a by-election campaign. The Leader of the Conservatives in London, Bob Neill said it was "disgraceful and contemptible an election tactic as I have ever seen in my life".

In 2016, Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith wrote an article for The Mail on Sunday asking "...are we really going to hand the world's greatest city to a Labour Party the thinks terrorists are its friends..". The articlewas illustrated with that same 7/7 image.

Zac Goldsmith says he didn't choose the image, which leaves BFTF wondering how the article submission process went. Did the Goldsmith media team submit the article and basically say - to the MAIL ON SUNDAY !!! - "use whatever image you want, I'm sure it'll be fine"?

And what's with the third paragraph :

"London’s £600billion economy would fall into the hands of a man who backed Ken Livingstone over his suspension in 2006 for anti-Semitic remarks to a Jewish reporter."
The implication is that Khan is also anti-semitic, which is ridiculous. Journalist Peter Osborne has written on Khans record thus :
"Khan is a mainstream Labour politician who has dedicated his career to advocating centrist views. He voted for same-sex marriage, thus estranging socially conservative elements in London’s Muslim communities. He loudly opposes a boycott of Israeli goods. He is a strong opponent of anti-Semitism. He has campaigned constantly against reactionary and so-called "extremist" forces within the Muslim communities."

An important issue - Community
(Surrey Street Market, Croydon)

Guilt by Brother-in-Law
The Sun ran a story "revealing" extremist links of Sadiq Khan.

The story was based on the fact that, from 1989 to 2011, Khan sister was married to a man, Makbool Javaid, who spoke at an anti-western rally in London in 2007. Khan had not had any contact with Javaid for over a decade. Javaid is now an employment laywer.

Here's the key part of the article:
"In 2007 Mr Khan admitted that he was related to four other men through evil Javaid who were members of Hizb ut-Tarir"
Read that again, it doesn't say that Khan knew the four men directly, or had any dealing with them - it was enough for this smear that he was related to them via his brother-in-law. Pure guilt by association, a textbook example of the genre in fact.

Sad that conservative MP Andrew Bridgen was happy to supply a quote that "Yet again, Khan is showing terrible judgement on who he associates with. He’s clearly experimented with the wrong company."

A very different view of the story can be read in this interview with Javaid in which Javaid points out that the footage of the rally has been on the Internet for several years and that both he and Khan knew it would become a story at some point. Javaid claims that Khan was so keen to put distance between them that he didn't attend the weddings of his [Khan's] nieces.

Owen Jones comments that:
"[Goldsmith] exploited and incited prejudice and hate. He undermined community cohesion. He indicated to young Muslims that there was no point engaging in the democratic process, because even the most progressive Muslim would be treated as aiding and abetting extremists...If Goldsmith does not suffer these consequences, politicians may wage these campaigns of fear over and over again."
On the other hand, George Osborne has defended the campaign, saying:
" Politics is a robust thing in a democracy and in elections there's a lot of rough and tumble...You are asked who are you, who do you associate with, what are your ideas. But if you can answer those questions, and clearly Sadiq Khan did answer those questions to the satisfaction of London voters, you get yourself elected."

An important issue - Housing
(Ampthill Square, Camden)

The Anti-IS IS Imam
David Cameron said, in the House of Commons, that "Suliman Gani - the honourable member for Tooting has appeared on a platform with him 9 times. This man supports IS."

According to a Daily Mirror article Goldsmith concurred "To share a platform nine times with Suliman Gani, one of the most repellent figures in this country, you don’t do it by accident."

Peter Osbourne, again in the Middle East Monitor, writes an open letter to Downing Street, which concludes:

"In the light of the prime minister’s intervention at PMQs I interviewed Mr Gani. He told me that he condemns IS and has campaigned against IS. He also showed me citations, press articles and other materials showing that he has worked alongside a local synagogue and with local churches. This is not the behavior of someone who supports IS.

To sum up, the prime minister has made a very serious charge against a British citizen – namely that that he supports IS, the most notorious terror group in the world. Neither he nor his spokespeople (ie you and your colleagues, Ms Allen) have been able to provide a scintilla of evidence to support this claim. Since he is unable to provide the evidence, I believe the prime minister must urgently withdraw his false and profoundly damaging assertion about Mr Gani.

Could I remind you of paragraph 1.2.c of the Ministerial Code. It states that: “It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation.” The prime minister will be familiar with the contents of the Ministerial Code, since he wrote a foreword to it..."

...It would be utterly discreditable – indeed damnable - if the prime minister’s slur against Mr Gani were to remain on the record. He must either substantiate it, which I am certain he cannot do - or withdraw it, with a full apology."

An important issue - Air Quality
(Low Emission Zone)

The brains behind the campaign
The media team behind the Goldsmith campaign is described in this article by Simon Hatterstone, in which he comment on how a meeting with Goldsmith finds the candidate accompanied by a media advisor who works for the company co-founded by campaign strategist Lynton Crosby. Another co-founder, Mark Fullbrook was in charge of the Goldsmith campaign but, according to Hatterstone, " don’t need Crosby at the helm for a campaign to bear all his hallmarks..."

Crosby is famed for use of the "wedge strategy" which aims to select and campaign on an issue that will cause dissent in the opposition party - focussing on simple messages that are sent out repeatedly.

Crosby's signature move is the “the dead cat”, which has been described by Boris Johnson thus :

"There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

What the campaign should have been about - Education
(Blizard Building, London School of Dentisty and Medicine, Tower Hamlets)

Completely unrelatedly
Simultaneous to the London Mayoral campaign there were council elections around the country. In the run up to these allegations of "anti-semitism" were levelled at some Labour councillors, evidenced with a Facebook image they had forwarded several years ago. The image suggested that Israel should be relocated to the US. Norman Finkelstein comments on these accusations here very comprehensively.

Sent email to local (Labour) MP asking for David Cameron to back up or retract his remarks regarding Mr Gani and that BFTF was shocked by the tactics used by the Conservative team, and for assurance that Labour would never do anything similar. Also pointing out that this will discourage Muslim from entering the public sphere.

Sent email to local Conservative party asking for David Cameron to back up or retract his remarks regarding Mr Gani and that BFTF was shocked by the tactics used by the Conservative team, and for assurance that this would never happen again. Also pointing out that this will discourage Muslim from entering the public sphere.

Sent emails to some local Imams pointing out that this week it was Mr Gani, but next week it could be them who is smeared and thrown to the wolves.

Image Sources
Russell Square, Heathrow, Low Emission Zone, Surrey Street Market, Blizard Building, Ampthill Square