Inflammation and stories on United Kingdom

Child Poverty in the United Kingdom
While employment in the United Kingdom has seen steady growth over the past decade, ongoing poverty continues to threaten many of its citizens’ health and well-being. Recent reports have documented a growing trend in child poverty in the United Kingdom, specifically among families where at least one parent was employed, with many struggling to make ends meet as living costs continue to rise.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an organization focused on poverty reduction in the U.K., the proportion of individuals in working U.K. families living in poverty has grown by nearly 17% in the past 20 years. This rising phenomenon has made the need for innovations in poverty eradication in the U.K. more critical than ever, as increasing numbers of people struggle with food and housing insecurity. In recent months, the global COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the situation further, as many have faced cuts to their regular hours, pay, or have even become unemployed altogether.

Children and In-Work Poverty

In-work poverty is a problem that leaves families and especially children extremely vulnerable. A 2018 report by Shelter, a London-based organization that offers support to the homeless, found that nearly 55% of homeless families in the U.K. fell into the “in work” category. As rising housing costs continue to surpass working-class earnings, families must choose between food and Shelter. A 2019 report by the U.K. Parliament recognized food insecurity as a pervasive problem that has “…fallen between the cracks in government plans,” with an estimated 19% of children under 15 facing food and nutrition deficits. In response to this crisis, numerous organizations are campaigning for new strategies and innovations for poverty eradication in the U.K., addressing economic stress on working families struggling to stay afloat.

One of the numerous organizations combatting poverty among families is the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). Founded in 1965, CPAG has been fighting poverty in the U.K. for more than 50 years. In 2018 and 2019 alone, the organization made numerous strides in improving conditions for low-income families. This includes providing professional advising for thousands of families applying for public assistance in London, as well as leading a campaign that made school uniforms more accessible for low-income schoolchildren in Scotland. As part of its most recent efforts, the organization is focusing on three immediate reforms to reduce poverty among children.

Reforms to Reduce Child Poverty

  1. Adjusting the U.K.’s Universal Credit system to better assist families. In 2013, the U.K. introduced its Universal Credit system, a blanket credit for low-income or unemployed individuals. However, CPAG argues that the loan, as it currently exists, fails to fully acknowledge the needs of families as opposed to individuals. The organization estimates that even a modest re-investment into the Universal Credit children’s benefit could potentially lift 700,000 children out of poverty in the next few years alone.
  2. Removing the U.K.’s “two-child” limit on tax credits for families. CPAG’s All Kids Count campaign advocates for the removal of the rule, which limits tax credits to only the first two children in a family. This restriction puts larger families in situations of greater stress, specifically in the case of single parents or households in which only one parent works. CPAG estimates that the removal of this policy could lift nearly 300,000 children out of poverty.
  3. Removing the “benefit cap” for vulnerable families. In the U.K., individuals and families may be eligible to receive government benefits based upon their employment status. As of 2020, the maximum amount is £23,000 per year, but many still encounter significant difficulty making ends meet. For example, new challenges posed by COVID-19 in recent months have caused many families to exceed their allotted £442.31 per week. Thus, it has become clear that the benefits policy for families requires adjustment to meet the needs of U.K. residents.

The Road Ahead

These campaigns represent only a few examples of the issues CPAG engages on behalf of low-income families. In its search for solutions and innovations in poverty eradication in the U.K., the organization has already secured an estimated £5 million for families who are no longer affected by the two-child restriction due to its legal efforts. While currently this victory only applies to adoptive parents and kinship carers (non-parent relatives), the organization plans to continue pursuing the case until the court completely lifts the restriction.

It is clear that much work remains to be done when it comes to eradicating child poverty in the United Kingdom, as thousands of families continue to struggle with the challenge of meeting their basic needs. However, CPAG and other groups are making great strides in changing the lives of many U.K. citizens.

Matthew Otey
Photo: Pixabay

UK Poverty Reduction Efforts
In the last decade, the United Kingdom’s most influential international organization, known as the British Council, has made various cuts to British foreign aid in developing countries. The world recognizes the U.K. for generous foreign aid, but policymakers are beginning to push for “development assistance.” These budget cuts are occurring to fulfill more self-serving international interests. This bureaucratic debate has sparked increasing tension among council members over the value of U.K. poverty reduction efforts.

Imminent Change

In her December 2019 speech, Queen Elizabeth II announced that the U.K. government would restructure international policy in more integrated terms. Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently made the most drastic change to U.K. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.

On June 15, 2020, the tension over foreign aid led Johnson to merge two historically distinct departments: the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). This essentially terminated the DFID, which championed World Bank’s “poverty reduction strategies.” This change has not sparked an immediate consequence. British policy-makers and journalists alike are asking a fearful question: will this shift put ongoing U.K. poverty reduction efforts in danger?

A Threat to “Soft Power”

The merging of DFID and FCO will likely compromise a significant amount of funding for the Official Development Assistance (ODA), which provides poverty-reducing aid to developing countries. The projected 30% loss to the aid budget, equivalent to $2.5 billion, will force the government to cut a variety of aid programs.

While outstanding U.K. poverty reduction efforts remain vital to the ongoing development of countries, they also maintain the soft power on which Britain prides itself. The June 2020 interim report by the U.K. House of Commons International Development Committee argued for the DFID to remain independent. Independence would maintain Britain’s global reputation for aid and soft power. Soft power is Britain’s ability to shape another country’s decisions through collaboration rather than coercion. Nevertheless, the departments merged a week after the report’s publication.

As far back as a decade ago, foreign policy reports projected a collapse in Britain’s diplomatic capacity if the government made cuts to an already inexpensive foreign aid budget. In comparison, the U.K. spends significantly more on other foreign policy matters, such as defense. Britain gains diplomatic influence at both a bilateral and multilateral level by providing aid to impoverished countries; thus, cutting back on foreign aid reduces Britain’s voice and reputability in these meetings and relationships.

Active Solutions

There is much uneasiness around cutting vital aid to developing countries. Still, the restructuring of DFID and FCO may not undo years of U.K. poverty reduction efforts. If the government takes certain steps, the U.K. could remain a leader in international aid efforts. Namely, the newly combined department must adhere to the International Development Act of 2002, which allows the U.K. to allocate aid money to poverty reduction initiatives. Additionally, the government could appoint a cabinet minister for development. This role would ensure that poverty reduction efforts remain at the forefront of the U.K. aid strategy.

According to the International Development Committee member Sarah Champion, Britain is a country of humanitarians who value helping the world’s most vulnerable communities. As a result, it only makes sense to represent their values through policy and action. Ultimately, it is the duty of FCO to ensure that U.K. poverty reduction efforts remain a priority. Supporting the world’s poor is more imperative than ever in the midst of a global pandemic. With hope, British leadership will continue to aid communities suffering from systemic underdevelopment and poverty.

– Stella Grimaldi
Photo: Flickr

Buses Aid the Homeless
In London, a nonprofit called Buses4Homeless is making good use out of decommissioned double-decker buses by turning them into mobile homeless shelters. These innovative buses aid the homeless, working towards ending homelessness in London and protecting vulnerable communities.

The Harsh Reality: Homelessness in London

Following the economic crisis that the global COVID-19 outbreak caused, the number of homeless people in London may rise. Even before the outbreak, however, homelessness in London has been an ever-growing problem. Since 2010, the number of homeless people in the major U.K. city has grown by 141%.

A rising homeless population comes with a plethora of related social problems. For instance, “rough sleepers,” or people who sleep on the street, are more likely to be victims of violence and suffer from mental health issues. Though the city government has social programs that aim to end homelessness, only 13% of London residents think that these programs are sufficient. Consequently, a few Londoners including Dan Atkins, founder of Buses4Homeless, are taking matters into their own hands and creating innovative solutions to homelessness.

Turning an Idea Into Action

Dan Atkins came up with the idea for Buses4Homeless in 2018 after he found that a friend had spent a night rough sleeping in the luggage bay of a coach bus. His idea was simple: refurbish buses into mobile homes that can function as social housing. Since then, his idea has grown into a successful nonprofit that serves as “a low-cost, holistic solution to homelessness.”

The nonprofit’s method is simple and sustainable. Buses4Homeless buys decommissioned double-decker buses and upcycles them into four types of mobile homeless shelters that travel through London: buses for eating, sleeping, learning and relaxing. The troupe of buses aid the homeless by working in tandem as a three-month program to secure housing and employment for each member. Importantly, the nonprofit strongly believes in taking a rehabilitative approach to end homelessness; the nonprofit provides job training and mental health services to members of the program to prevent suffering from the long-term consequences of chronic homelessness.

A Mobile Approach to Ending Homelessness

Buses4Homeless is unique in its ability to travel. The buses aid the homeless by being where people need them and going to places to benefit members of the program. In an interview with Reuters, Jonathan Pfahl, a training leader and mentor for the nonprofit, stated that “the genius thing with a bus is that we can take it wherever it’s needed … so park it in front of a job center, for example.”

The nonprofit’s innovative approach to ending homelessness has already motivated other passionate U.K. citizens to follow suit. Helping Open People’s Eyes, known as HOPE, has been working to end homelessness in Wales for years, but Buses4Homeless recently gave them the idea to purchase and transform a bus into a mobile homeless shelter. Now HOPE is almost done refurbishing their bus and looking forward to getting it on the streets of Wales.

Nonprofits like Buses4Homeless and HOPE are reimagining solutions to homelessness by transforming unused buses into mobile homeless shelters and rehabilitation centers. Their mobility allows them to be more adaptable and able to reach more people in need. Buses4Homeless has only been operating for two years, but its impact has been immense. Founder Dan Atkins hopes that the nonprofit will grow to a national and possibly international level in the future.

Courtney Bergsieker
Photo: Unsplash

UK's Energy Efficiency Program
British politician Rishi Sunak recently announced the U.K.’s official energy efficiency plan. The £3 billion plan includes a £2 billion Green Homes Grant and £1 billion of funding to make public buildings more energy-efficient, among other initiatives. Each of these projects presents an important step toward sustainability, particularly the Green Homes Grant, and could even contribute to the reduction of poverty within the United Kingdom.

Green Homes Grant

The U.K. government hopes that the £2 billion Green Homes Grant will encourage homeowners and landlords to apply for vouchers, starting in September 2020, to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. The vouchers will cover at least two-thirds of the total cost, which is up to £5,000 for most households. For low-income households, the vouchers will cover the full cost of improvements, up to £10,000.

Effects of the Energy Efficiency Plan

The U.K.’s energy efficiency plan will create approximately 140,000 green jobs, improve the energy efficiency of over 650,000 homes, reduce carbon by more than half a megatonne a year and potentially shave £300 a year off of homeowner’s bills. These changes also have the potential to drastically alter the nation’s interaction with the environment for the better.

How will the UK’s Energy Efficiency Plan Help People in Poverty?

  1. Low-income households typically spend more on energy expenses. A 2010 study found that “low-income householders spend 10 percent or more of their income on energy expenses”, pointing out that as income goes up, expenses go down, since middle- and upper-income households tend to only spend 5% or less of their income on energy expenses. Therefore, the U.K.’s efforts to help low-income households become energy-efficient will allow them to have more disposable income.

  2. Low-income households have a more difficult time adapting to large fluctuations in natural gas prices, as they have less disposable income compared to middle and upper-income households. Due to market supply and demand, natural gas prices can experience fluctuations as large as 140%, as was seen in 2016. In March 2016 natural gas was $1.639/MMBtu, and by December of the same year, prices had risen to $3.93/MMBtu. The U.K.’s energy efficiency plan can help to alleviate low-income households’ concerns over the uncertainty of natural gas prices by making their homes less dependent on them.

  3. Low-income households are at greater risk of developing health problems. Many low-income households do not have enough income for necessary home improvements, meaning that these homes can often suffer from structural problems such as leaks, which can lead to the development of mold and infestations. Exposure to these issues can increase the chances of arthritis, respiratory disease, mental illness and heart disease. When homeowners make improvements to their homes to make them more energy-efficient under the Green Homes Grant, they will also lower their risk of experiencing these health issues.

The U.K.’s energy efficiency plan is taking the initiative that all developed countries should be to alleviate poverty in their country and increase the use of sustainable energy. By providing grants to homeowners and updating technology in public buildings, the U.K. is making great strides toward environmental stability.

Araceli Mercer
Photo: Flickr

BrexitJanuary 31, 2020, was a historic day for the European Union, for it marks the day the United Kingdom left the Union based on a public vote (referendum) held in June 2016. Seventeen point four million citizens opted for Brexit in 2016 and, after several negotiations and talks, the U.K. is now the first former member of the European Union. An important and large-scale decision such as this has the ability to distort economic stability greatly.

Trade

The EU is the world’s largest single market that allows free trade among all its members. It is also responsible for negotiating trade policies on behalf of its members, establishing a single, strong voice throughout various negotiations. Since Britain is no longer a member, it must create its own suitable trade policies with the countries it wishes to trade within the Union. Britain also needs to negotiate for its own demands. It was projected that the U.K. stood to lose $32 billion after Brexit, with no trade agreement in place between the U.K. and the EU. Losses incurred are more likely to increase as the EU accounts for nearly 46% of the U.K.’s exports. Researchers project that Ireland’s exports to Britain may drop by at least 10%. This creates a serious trade imbalance and hence contributes to the national deficit of the nation.

Food Poverty

British citizens consume a significant amount of imported food. Brexit could lead to a rise in food poverty, as about 30% of food is imported from the EU and 11% is from countries whose trade policies were negotiated by the EU. Since there is no trade policy in place, food insecurity is bound to rise. Food prices will likely rise 6% by June 2020, according to researchers. Overall, an increase in food poverty may be on the horizon.

Immigration

The U.K. had announced that post-Brexit only highly skilled immigrants will be able to secure jobs and the additional requirements have already created an impact on the economy. Immigrants mostly work low-skilled jobs and the implementation of this policy has already lead to shortages. At least one in 11 posts are vacant. Also, immigrants occupy nearly one-sixth (140,000) of the 840,000 care worker jobs. The new regulations will soon prompt vacancies and greatly affect people with disabilities and the elderly.

The Potential Solutions

Trade talks between the U.K. and the EU are taking place effectively. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed a “Canada-style free trade agreement” which the EU is prepared to accept, given the fact that the agreement would demand no tariffs or quotas from them. This shows that negotiations are productive and that the U.K. is trying to cause very little disturbance to the economy. Aware of its reliance on imports from the EU, the U.K. has opted for a mutually beneficial free trade agreement. As the cost of imports and exports are reduced, the trade imbalances are corrected. This in turn will influence food poverty as the general price levels will decrease and imported food will become affordable.

Additionally, there are multiple organizations and government schemes that help combat food poverty in the U.K. For example, The Trussell Trust and other independent foodbanks have distributed nearly 3 million food packages between 2018 and 2019. The organization Healthy Start allows the purchase of basic food necessities for pregnant women and mothers with infants.

What Are the Benefits of Brexit for the UK?

The U.K. is free to trade with other nations such as Japan, the U.S. and India without EU restrictions. This will stimulate growth in all nations involved in possible free trade and help tackle domestic issues, such as unemployment and hunger. Effective trading can lead to increased employment opportunities and better living standards.

The U.K. has given almost half a trillion pounds to the EU to be a member of the bloc. The amount the U.K. will save is significant enough to be directed at rising food insecurity, short-term deficit and unemployment. The U.K. is also able to craft specific policies to suit its needs instead of being subject to the ones crafted by the EU. The ability to do this helps the U.K. and other nations involved, as all policies will be tailored to be mutually beneficial and appropriate.

Overall, Brexit is a challenge. It is difficult to adjust to and likely poses serious threats to economic stability in the near future. However, this is only a short-term issue. Once the transition period is over, a structured agreement between the E.U. and the U.K. will help their economies regain stability.

 Mridula Divakar
Photo: Flickr

healthcare in the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom began its National Healthcare System (NHS) in 1948 with a mission to make healthcare available to all regardless of their ability to pay. Since its creation, the NHS has grown in its capacity to prevent illnesses and improve the mental and physical health of the population.

Numerous local and national organizations support the NHS such as clinical commissioning groups, charities and research institutes. These all compile to create the healthcare system. A general and payroll tax primarily fund the NHS, allowing patients in England to receive NHS services without charge. From emergency to non-urgent cases, healthcare in the U.K. seeks to put patients first by surveying the success of patients’ outcomes.

For those “ordinarily resident” in England or those with a European Health Insurance Card, coverage is universal. In fact, in most cases coverage is free. The NHS Constitution states that patients have rights to drugs and treatments when deemed necessary and approved by their physician. Through the NHS’s services, primary care, specialized care, longterm care, after-hours care and mental health care available.

What is the Role of the Government?

The Health Act (2006) requires that the Secretary of State has a legal duty to promote comprehensive healthcare services to the public free of charge. The NHS Constitution outlines the rights for those eligible for national healthcare, including access to care without discrimination and prompt hospital care. While the Department of Health supervises the overall health system, the day-to-day responsibilities rest with NHS England. In addition, the local government authorities hold the budgets for public health.

Ensuring Quality and Reducing Disparities

Research shows healthcare quality is worse for those living in poverty in England. The health gap between the rich and poor has widened over the past few years. The more economically deprived an area is, the more quality-deprived those same struggling areas are. Underfunded local services lead to poorer health of the most vulnerable.

Strategies to reduce inequality include monitoring statistics of access and outcomes, particularly for at-risk groups. The requirement to host “health and well-being boards” mitigates local government authorities’ relative autonomy in creating budgets for public health in their communities. These boards aim to improve the coordination of local services and reduce disparities.

What is the Impact of COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic makes health inequalities in the United Kingdom more visible. Those who live in the most deprived areas have a higher risk of contracting the virus. Fortunately, citizens have largely obeyed the government’s social distancing pleas, limiting the spread of the virus. However, this comes with social and economic consequences for those who were already suffering from inequality.

The weight of the pandemic does not fall evenly on society. Adjusting for age, those who live in poorer areas have faced more than double the deaths compared to those in richer areas. Additionally, research has found that minority ethnic communities have a higher risk of death from the virus. The reasons for this are complicated and research on these issues is advancing. However, discrimination and the resulting lack of socio-economic opportunities for these groups in education and employment can lead to their overall health being disproportionately impaired.

Solutions

To help healthcare in the United Kingdom obtain equal accessibility and quality, acting against the systemic barriers facing minority groups and encouraging overall economic development that will enable healthier living for all is necessary. Increased government support for the NHS and its relating voluntary and community sectors could mitigate the pandemic’s devastating effects.

Well Communities is an example of a nonprofit organization in the United Kingdom that empowers local communities to reduce inequalities. By working on the neighborhood level, Well Communities addresses specific concerns in improving local coordination through training and engagement around a themed project. Past projects have promoted healthy eating, exercise, mental health, employment, green spaces, culture and arts.

More than 18,700 individuals participated in Well Communities’ Well London activities, representing 35 percent of the population in that neighborhood. The outcome exceeded the targeted goals. Strikingly, 82 percent reported increases in physical activity and 54 percent reported an increase in mental wellbeing. Additionally, 60 percent reported increased levels of volunteering.

These statistically significant changes in the community indicate the value of organizations like Well Communities’ work. With more organizations implementing programs like these, there is hope to reconcile the increasing inequalities of healthcare in the United Kingdom.

COVID-19 and its lockdown will deepen inequalities unless the U.K. mounts a great effort. Through much-needed increased government support for the NHS and its relating voluntary and community sectors, the U.K. is working to abolish inequality in healthcare.

– Mia McKnight 
Photo: Flickr

facts about parliamentary democracy
There are many structures by which countries can run a government, ranging from democracy to totalitarianism. Parliamentary democracy is a specific form of democracy that originated with the parliament and has been evolving ever since. In order to better understand this form of government that is different than the one the United States possesses, here are seven facts about parliamentary democracy.

7 Facts About Parliamentary Democracy

  1. The structure differs from a presidential democracy. In a presidential democracy (such as the one the United States operates under), the chief executive (president) and legislature (congress) undergo separate elections. Conversely, in a parliamentary democracy, the elected legislature (parliament) chooses the chief executive (prime minister). The parliament can remove the prime minister at any time by a “vote of no confidence,” which is a less laborious task than removing a president.
  2. People refer to the British Parliament as the “Mother of Parliament.” This is because Britain developed the Westminster System of parliamentary democracy: a specific system founded on centuries of traditions. Other colonial states adopted the system, such as Australia, and many of them still operate under some variation of the Westminster System today.
  3. Fifty-one countries currently operate under a parliamentary system. Among these countries are Canada, India, Japan and Spain. Most of these countries function in combination with other systems, such as a constitutional monarchy, in which a monarch may share political power with the parliament.
  4. Prime ministers’ powers vary. There are variations in a lot of the parliamentary systems around the world. A prime minister’s power can change depending on the country and allocated duties in the constitutions. The strong prime minister model exists in the United Kingdom and most other countries that were once part of the British Empire. Some of the prime minister’s powers in these countries include the power to change the structure of ministries and the ability to call for elections at any time. Countries in which several political parties must work together to maintain a legislative majority, such as Australia, Italy and Belgium, usually possess weak prime ministers.
  5. There are a few semi-presidential systems. These are systems in which a president and prime minister rule together. The powers between the two seats can vary, with one having more power than the other or both having equal influence. Most countries that operate under this system do so to put checks in place to avoid presidential dictatorships. Examples of countries with this system include Ireland, Portugal and Russia.
  6. There is often less gridlock. Along with the facts about parliamentary democracy, there are some pros and cons. Because the parliament elects the prime minister, people often observe that these two branches function better together than in a presidential democracy in which the public elects the president. Oftentimes legislation passes with less resistance, whereas the United States has faced government shutdowns when legislation was at a standstill.
  7. There can be a quick overturning of leaders and inconsistency. While legislation can pass more efficiently, a negative consequence of the parliamentary structure is the rapidity with which things can change. Because the parliament can remove the prime minister anytime he or she falls out of favor, this can lead to a lot of restructuring and inconsistent leadership. This happened during the Brexit process, in which three separate prime ministers received the appointment to deal with the aftermath of the vote.
Many believe it is important to know about the different forms of government structures so that one can examine their own country and evaluate its relative effectiveness. Hopefully, these basic facts about parliamentary democracy have provided a foundation to understand the structure and some of the pros and cons of the system.

 – Lindsey Shinkle
Photo: Pixabay

 

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in Vietnam
Vietnam, one of the four remaining communist countries in the world, is making remarkable progress in reducing hunger and poverty. From one of the poorest nations in the world with most of the population living below the poverty line, the nation has developed into a middle-income country. The poverty rate decreased from over 70 percent of the population to below 6 percent in just over 30 years after economic reforms in 1986.

Despite this positive outlook of the economy and the remarkable progress, not everyone is able to enjoy this new-found wealth. It is still a challenge for the government to tackle poverty for the ethnic minorities living in remote mountainous areas or areas prone to natural disasters where poverty most concentrates. It is also this population that has the most vulnerable and desperate individuals that become the victims of human trafficking. These 10 facts about human trafficking in Vietnam illustrate the possible source of the problem, as well as the attempts and efforts to fight against it.

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in Vietnam

  1. A Source Country: Vietnam is a predominant source country of human trafficking and also a destination country, mainly for Cambodian migrants. The Vietnamese government identified about 7,500 victims of human trafficking between 2012 and 2017, with 80 percent of the victims coming from remote ethnic communities. The statistics available are likely an underestimate due to a lack of an accurate system of data collection, as well as the unwillingness to report the exploitation of many returning victims.
  2. Victims: Victims of human trafficking often come from a poor, vulnerable or broken family and lack education or awareness of human trafficking. Traffickers often exploit the fragility of these people and utilize the internet, using gaming sites and social media to approach potential victims. Men might also entice women and young girls into relationships to gain their trust. These men then persuade the victims to move abroad where they subject them to sex trafficking or forced labor.
  3. Industries: Men and women trafficked from Vietnam often work in logging, construction, mining, fishing, agriculture, mining and manufacturing sectors. The employers of these workers situate mainly in Japan, Angola, Laos, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates. There is also an increasing trend of human trafficking to countries further away in the Middle East and Europe. Recently, traffickers have sent an influx of people to the U.K. to work on cannabis farms.
  4. Children: Traffickers coerce children as young as 6 to work in garment factories under exploitative conditions. Within the country, they may force children to beg or hawk on the streets in urban areas. Reports also show an overall rise in the number of children trafficked and sexually exploited due to high demand in Vietnam.
  5. Child Sex Tourism: Vietnam is becoming a popular destination country for child sex tourism, attracting perpetrators from Japan, South Korea, the U.K., Europe and the U.S. This increasing demand has caused a rise in cases of child trafficking. A study has estimated that 5.6 percent of children in Vietnam have had experiences related to child trafficking. The Vietnamese government is putting in increased efforts to prevent sexual exploitation of children (SEC) by promoting and implementing children’s rights by devising new legislation, strengthening national children protection systems, as well as educating and raising awareness of the public on SEC-related issues.
  6. Prostitution and Domestic Servitude: A large percentage of Vietnamese women and children work in forced prostitution or domestic servitude through fraudulent job opportunities or brokered marriage. Traffickers often sell them at the border, and later on, transport them to China, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore for physical and sexual exploitations.
  7. Corruption: Corruption is pervasive in Vietnam. There is evidence showing officials and police taking bribes and colluding with organized criminals, traffickers included. A survey by Transparency International reported that 30 percent of people paid bribes to public services in Vietnam and that they believed the police to be the most corrupt institution in the country. This has tremendously complicated the efforts of tackling human trafficking.
  8. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The Vietnamese government is maintaining efforts in combating trafficking but has come across some issues due to lack of funding and inter-ministerial coordination. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized training courses and workshops to improve the capacity of officials to prevent human trafficking and assist the victims. The authority also organizes campaigns and distributes flyers to raise public awareness, targeting high-risk groups in border areas and vulnerable communities. The number of trafficking victims that authorities identified in 2018 was 490, a significant decrease from 670 in 2017 and 1,128 in 2016.
  9. Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation: Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, or Blue Dragon, is an NGO that addresses the human trafficking problem in Vietnam. It focusses on cases of forced child labor as well as trafficking for sexual exploitation of Vietnamese women and girls. The organization has rescued and assisted around 130 women and children annually from labor exploitation and sex trafficking. It also provides training for police, border guards and officials in child rights and combating trafficking.
  10. The Peace House: The Vietnamese Center for Women and Development manages the Peace House to provide support for victims of domestic abuse or human trafficking. It provides shelters, consultation, education and vocational training for women and children, as well as organizes campaigns to raise public awareness about gender equality and human trafficking. Since its opening, the Peace House has provided shelters for more than 1,200 victims and helped more than 1,100 re-integrate into society.

Many Vietnamese people’s desire for a better quality of life has driven them to the hands of human traffickers, subjecting them to physical and sexual exploitation abroad. These people are often initially the victims of poverty, vulnerable and desperate.

These 10 facts about human trafficking in Vietnam provide an overview of the problem and how Vietnam is handling it. Providing assistance and protection to victims of human trafficking as well as raising public awareness are all essential measures. A sustainable solution to combatting human trafficking is to get to the root of the problem: poverty. When good opportunities are available in local communities, there would be less demand to migrate elsewhere, thus decreasing the chance of falling victim to human trafficking.

– Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

Reasons for Elderly Poverty in the United Kingdom
Having worked for the past 40 to 50 years, most adults feel as though retirement will bring a new lifestyle. This includes feelings of excitement and joy as they think of ways to spend their newfound free time. However, the reality of retirement is far from this expectation in the United Kingdom. The U.K. has the worst poverty rate for the elderly population in Western Europe.

Defined as having an income of 40 percent less than the median average, a significant number of the elderly population in the U.K. faces poverty. A recent study by Professor Bernhard Ebbinghaus at the University of Oxford found that the U.K. is one of five countries that has experienced an increase in the number of people over the age of 65 that are experiencing poverty. The U.K.’s increase is by far the largest compared to other Western European countries. Mainly, there are three reasons for elderly poverty in the United Kingdom.

3 Reasons for Elderly Poverty in the United Kingdom

  1. The State Pension System: The state pension system is extremely strict as to who qualifies for the pension. In order to receive the state pension after reaching the retirement age of 65, one must have 10 qualifying years on their National Insurance record. This means that for 10 years, they must have paid their National Insurance tax while earning over £166 a week from one employer. Meanwhile, those who do not have a National Insurance record must have 35 qualifying years of employment. Because of such intense regulations, many do not qualify for the pension and end up in poverty.
  2. Low Basic Payments: The basic payment that comes with the state pension system is extremely low at £168.60. This only amounts to about 16 percent of average earnings. Because the pension is not enough to sufficiently cover one’s retired life, especially with regard to medical expenses, a portion of those who receive a pension will still find themselves living in poverty.
  3. Means-Tested Supplements: Every sixth pensioner in the United Kingdom received means-tested supplements as a way to bring themselves out of the poverty, expected from the low basic pensions. These supplements include private pensions taken out at most U.K. banks. This also includes workplace final salary pensions, the auto-enrolment scheme for employees and private pensions. Means-tested supplements are effective for some. They often provide an additional source of retirement income; however, they also result in a rise in financial inequality and exacerbate poverty. The government feels less of a need to increase the state pension because of the increase in privatization, meaning those who cannot afford private pensions remain stuck in poverty with no hope of change.

The pension age, set to rise to 66 between the years 2024 and 2026, occurred the last time the pension system changed in 2011. Since 2011, no other changes have taken place. Further, the labor government has refused to undertake any paradigmatic reform actions. This means the current problems of the pension system will likely persist in the future. Unless the government chooses to step in and make a difference, a portion of the elderly population in the U.K. will continue to suffer from poverty.

Living on a low income as an elderly person is extremely difficult. No future sources of income require budgeting every penny. Shopping lists are minimal and they save money for bills, meaning there are no luxuries. Retirement is the time to celebrate the end of work; however, for those living in the U.K., retirement is a burden in itself.

– Shvetali Thatte
Photo: Flickr

Eight Facts About Education in the United Kingdom
When thinking about education in the United Kingdom, it is almost impossible not to consider Oxford and Cambridge. These two-century-old bastions of higher education in England garner recognition throughout the world and lend themselves to an image of British superiority in education. Rightfully so, they sit atop the education system but facilitate the overlooking of the rest of it. When looking further down the hierarchy, imperfections emerge, bordering on a crisis. Despite its image of a wealthy, developed nation, 4.5 million children live below the poverty line, comprising 33 percent of the country’s demographic. With such a substantial proportion of students struggling to feed and clothe themselves, poverty takes a profound toll on British education. Here are eight facts about education in the United Kingdom that illustrate the crisis.

 8 Facts About Education in the United Kingdom

  1. Poverty and Education: As a testament to how staggeringly poverty affects the classroom, 87 percent of teachers and other staff claim that it has a significant impact on learning, according to a survey that the National Education Union and Child Poverty Action Group conducted. Six out of 10 respondents in this survey said that the situation had worsened since 2015. Surveys such as these demonstrate the shift in focus from children’s learning and development to their fundamental well being.
  2. Food Banks: To combat this growing issue, many schools in the U.K. host food banks to feed students and their families. About 8 percent of schools operate a food bank on-site, according to the National Governance Association’s survey. In addition to basic food services, many schools feel the need to provide general welfare as well, including emergency loans for parents.
  3. Teachers Provide Care: Teachers themselves bear much of this burden, often balancing their duty to educate with an instinct to care by providing foods such as cereal to students in the middle of lessons. Additionally, some go to the lengths of washing clothes for their pupils and ensuring they have food during holidays. The most compassionate educators dip into their own bank accounts to buy supplies and clothes for the kids that need it most. The CfBT Education Trust started in 1968 as the Center for British Teachers and became a charity in 1976. It generally researches and supports the education sector, often in service of teachers to alleviate these issues.
  4. Attempt to Garner Funding: With funding strapped already, schools worry about their ability to accommodate disadvantaged pupils. Seventy-eight percent of school governors reported a general failure to meet needs due to inadequate funds and 61 percent said that they could not extend support to disadvantaged students. Compelled to help these children, many lobby for additional funding that they doubt will come.
  5. Sure Start Centers: Record unemployment, stagnant wages and high inflation place low-income parents in a precarious situation, sometimes choosing between sending sick kids to school and losing a day’s pay to stay at home with them. In 2010, 3,500 Sure Start centers operated throughout the U.K. to mitigate some of the daycare and other early childhood necessities for parents who needed them. Since then, however, 1,000 have closed or have severely restricted services.
  6. Challenges for Students: While parents and teachers face hardships due to the poverty crisis, children ultimately suffer the most. Students ashamed of their lack of supplies or new clothes skip school more frequently out of fear of bullying. This exacerbates their already tired, hungry, angry and confused mindset. Their poverty affects their learning at home just as much as at school, where crowded, noisy homes make homework and regular sleep exceedingly difficult. On top of that, their lack of resources shows more dramatically than at school. Computers, textbooks and other supplies become inaccessible in families that do not work or work hard but can barely afford the basics.
  7. Children’s Mental Health: Due to all of this, low-income children often feel that they fall behind wealthy classmates, and may develop mental health issues as a result. In the short term, one in four feels anxious or worried about their family’s financial situation. In the long term, these children have more than two times the chance of developing more permanent mental health conditions. The Sutton Trust encourages social mobility through education by focusing on efforts to combat educational inequality.
  8. Charities: In addition to those aforementioned, numerous charities combat these conditions. The Nuffield Foundation strives to benefit social welfare through funding education, science and social science research projects. Nesta, formerly the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, originated in 1998 to promote innovation in the U.K. by running practical programs, conducting research and supporting partnerships. The Education Endowment Foundation champions a dedication to the insurance that children from all kinds of backgrounds have access to education, fulfilling their potentials and applying their talents. Lastly, the Wellcome Trust funds biomedical research as well as promoting the public understanding of science.

These eight facts about education in the United Kingdom do not cast a particularly optimistic light, although there are several efforts to improve circumstances. Though the U.K. faces an exceedingly uphill task to address poverty and education in Britain, the charities named in this article do excellent work to assist as many children as they can. While their work is important and provides desperately needed support, ultimately the government’s funding cuts impede systematic progress. The good news is that many candidates across the U.K. recognize the need for more education funding and have promised it ahead of the upcoming December 2019 election.

– Alex Myers
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