Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The True Cost of Austerity (Part 1)

Some notes from the "True Cost of Austerity" launch event organised by Advice Nottingham recently (full report available here)...

The launch was presented by a panel including Chris Dearden (author of the report) and Baroness Lister. There were some interesting comments from the panel and audience, some of which are shown below :

* The Sneinton Food bank is providing food to around 50 families a week who have ZERO income.
* Some jobseekers lack key skills required to navigate the jobseeking and social security system (e.g. have no email, difficulty filling forms etc)
* The language of welfare has been "Americanised" to be one of "them and us", in contrast to a language of "social security" that we all pay in to and all might use. Similarly, "austerity" implies a a warm coming-together in difficult times, such as in WW2, whereas a more accurate word might simply be "cuts".
* When lobbying the House of Lords, one can see who is interested in the debate by checking who participates in the second reading of the Bill.
* When the actual, practical effects of policy are pointed out to Treasury officals, they become very uncomfortable.

The Launch of the "True Cost of Austerity" report

The report states that Nottingham faces a number of social issues, including :

1) In May 2013 the unemployment rate was rate was 6.5%, compared to 3.6% in England as a whole)

[BFTF wasn't sure that comparing an urban area like Nottingham with the whole of England was fair, so looked up unemployment claimant figures for some comparable cities, data is for Apr 2013 and from here.

Leicester (pop 330k) : 5.4%, 6.2%, 6.9% (East, South and West Constituencies respectively)
Coventry (pop 316k) : 5.7%, 4.0%, 4.1% (NE, NW, S)
NOTTINGHAM (pop 305k): 7.4%, 8.4%, 4.0% (E, N, S)
Wakefield (pop 325k) : 5.2%
Newcastle (pop 280k) : 6.0%, 4.4%, 3.7% (C, E, N)]

2) Almost 30 per cent of all households in Nottingham claim housing benefit double the rate of the East Midlands (15%)

3) Home ownership is lower in Nottingham (45%) than in the East Mids (67%)

[According to this 2011 census data, the above is borne out when comparing Nottingham to similarly sized cities:

Leicester : 50%
Coventry : 61%
Wakefield : 64%
Newcastle : 69%]

4) Nottingham is ranked 17th out of 326 local authorities for income deprivation (with 1 being the most deprived), and 13th for employment deprivation (again 1 being highest unemployment levels).

The above appears to come from this data, and when compared to similarly sized cities looks like this:

Leicester : 11th and 14th (out of 326)
Coventry : 24th and 22nd (out of 326)
NOTTINGHAM : 17th and 13th (out of 326)
Wakefield : 37th and 17th (out of 326)
Newcastle : 29th and 20th (out of 326)

It seems that Nottingham fares similarly to other similarly sized cities. Also worth noting that all five cities are in the most deprived 10% of areas on both criteria.

Mansfield Road, urban Nottingham

Debt and Social Security Changes

Advice Nottingham comment that "While the overall amount of debts we have assisted clients with has decreased since the credit crunch and recession, going down from more than £33million in 2012-13 to £22 million in 2014-15, the proportion of the debt that is priority debt – debts that have the worst outcomes – has increased from 24 to 35 per cent in the same period."

[Perhaps worth noting that the above statement means that actual value (as opposed to percentage) of priority debt has actually stayed pretty steady at just below £8million.]

The event and report also highlighted the changes that have been made in the social security system by the coalition and current conservative government:

* Introduction of Universal Credit;
* Personal Independence Payments to replace Disability Living Allowance;
* Changes to Employment and Support Allowance;
* Abolition of Council Tax Benefit / Introduction of Council Tax Reduction schemes;
* Abolition of Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants, funding passed to LA's;
* Introduction of the Benefit Cap;
* Introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’; and
* Introduction of Mandatory Reconsideration of benefit decisions before appeals

Advice Nottingham have helped their clients obtain approximately £2 million per year of lump sum payments they were entitled to, and £8.6 and £10 million per year of ongoing social security payments. A 2015 survey of service users found that 98% would recommend the service to others.

Mandatory Reconsideration
This disturbing policy states claimants who disagrees with a social security payment decision (e.g. refusal for an ESA claim) must go through a mandatory reconsideration process prior to lodging an appeal. Critically, the benefit is not payed during this reconsideration period. This results in a Kafa-esque situation that the report describes thus:

"One of the major issues to affect Advice Nottingham clients who are dissatisfied with an ESA decision is that where they are found fit for work but request a Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) the ESA stops. This leaves them with the choice of claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or having no income. Many are reluctant to claim JSA as they feel deeply that they are not fit for work, and fear not meeting the job seeking requirements and being sanctioned. There is an inherent contradiction here and some clients who do attend Jobcentre Plus to register for JSA have been refused on the grounds that they are clearly unfit for work."

Sanctions and Foodbanks
The report describes how many clients are unaware that they have been sanctioned until their benefits fail to arrive, despite the fact that such information should be communicated to them. Although many of them succeed in having such decisions overturned at reconsideration, this is of little help during the period they have no income and people often ask for advice at the point of having no money, no food and feeling desperate. All Advice can do on an immediate practical level at this point is to offer a voucher for a food bank.

Reports by the Church Action on Poverty and others suggest that the rise in is due to a combination of effects including insufficient income, high housing, food and fuel costs, changes to social security and income crises. The Advice Nottingham report comments that:

"Whatever the underlying reason for people using food banks, such usage is a short-term emergency measure; food banks are unable and unwilling to feed people for longer periods of time. Their unwillingness is due to the general belief that there should be a social security safety net that protects people against hunger. By stepping in to meet immediate need, some feel that they are replacing statutory services which ought to protect vulnerable people."

Made up packs at the Himmah Food Bank, ready to be passed onto agencies working on the frontline.

2 Week Snapshot
The report looks in detail at a two week period in Sept2015 in which Advice Nottingham analysed the interactions with those clients who were "financially vulnerable" (i.e. were at risk of losing their home or having utilities cut off). The number of clients who fell into this category over the 2 week period was 1,017.

By far the most common issue was benefit applications, with 22% of clients requiring help in this area;
5% of clients were seeking assistance following a JSA or ESA sanction;
7% of clients needed help following a Mandatory Reconsideration.

Money Matters
"Money Matters" courses, run by Advice Nottingham offer people the chance to learn about the Social Security System, Budgeting, Banking, Lowering Fuel Costs etc.

Case Studies
The report describes a number of case studies illustrating the kinds of issues that clients faced, and how Advice Nottingham was (or sometimes was not) able to help them. Names were changed in all cases. Very brief summaries of a couple of these case studies are shown below:

Case study - Colin
Colin is a 40 year old man with long standing mental health problems including depression and anxiety. He lives alone in a socially rented flat. A WCA assessment in Sep 2014 found that he was fit for work and Colin's ESA benefit was stopped. In Oct 2014, Colin approached Advice Nottingham for help in challenging the decision. At this point he had no income, his Housing Benefit had stopped and he was fearful of losing his home and was reliant on his family for money and food.

Advice Nottingham , over a number of sessions were able to win an appeal at Tribunal and get Colin's ESA reinstated, but this took until May 2015. At one session it was found that Colin has not eaten for two days so he was provided with a Foodbank voucher. At the end of the advice process, Colin commented that without the help of Advice Nottingham, he "wouldn't be here now" and that he had felt suicidal throughout the whole period he had no income.

Case study - Sally
Sally is 38 and has multiple sclerosis. She had been in full-time employment until a relapse of her multiple sclerosis left her in pain and unable to work. She made a claim for Personal Independence Payment and was awarded the standard rate of mobility and daily living components. Sally uses crutches and can only walk 50m very slowly, making it difficult to use public transport. Sally came to Advice Nottingham to see if any further assistance was available.

Advice Nottingham were able to help Sally complete a Mandatory Reconsideration request which resulted in Sally being awarded the enhanced mobility component of ESA. Sally now has an adapted car and a blue badge and has regained her independence.

Other case studies
Many other examples of the kind of cases that Advice Nottingham has to deal with can be read in a separate An Anthology of Modern Poverty booklet.

The True Cost of Austerity Report

Update 28 Mar 2016 [1]
Recently read Mhairi Blacks maiden speech in the House of Commons. It belongs in this post and is shown below in its entirety:

On her constituency
Now, when I discovered it is tradition to speak about the history of your constituency in a maiden speech, I decided to do some research despite the fact I’ve lived there all my life. And as one of the tale end doing the maiden speech of my colleagues in the SNP I’ve noticed that my colleagues quite often mention Rabbie Burns a lot and they all try to form this intrinsic connection between him and their own constituency and own him for themselves. I however feel no need to do this for during my research I discovered a fact which trumps them all. William Wallace was born in my constituency.

On benefit sanctions
Now, my constituency has a fascinating history far beyond the Hollywood film and historical name. from the mills of Paisley, to the industries of Johnson, right to the weavers in Kilbarchan, it’s got a wonderful population with a cracking sense of humour and much to offer both the tourists and to those who reside there. But the truth is that within my constituency it’s not all fantastic. We’ve watched our town centres deteriorate. We’re watched our communities decline. Our unemployment level is higher than that of the UK average. One in five children in my constituency go to bed hungry every night. Paisley Job Centre has the third highest number of sanctions in the whole of Scotland.

Before I was elected I volunteered for a charitable organisation and there was a gentleman who I grew very fond of. He was one of these guys who has been battered by life in every way imaginable. You name it, he’s been through it. And he used to come in to get food from this charity, and it was the only food that he had access to and it was the only meal he would get. And I sat with him and he told me about his fear of going to the Job Centre. He said “I’ve heard the stories Mhairi, they try and trick you out, they’ll tell you you’re a liar. I’m not a liar Mhairi, I’m not.” And I told him “It’s OK, calm down. Go, be honest, it’ll be fine.”

I then didn’t see him for about two or three weeks. I did get very worried, and when he finally did come back in I said to him “how did you get on?”

And without saying a word he burst into tears. That grown man standing in front of a 20-year-old crying his eyes out, because what had happened to him was the money that he would normally use to pay for his travel to come to the charity to get his food he decided that in order to afford to get to the Job Centre he would save that money. Because of this, he didn’t eat for five days, he didn’t drink. When he was on the bus on the way to the Job Centre he fainted due to exhaustion and dehydration. He was 15 minutes later for the Job Centre and he was sanctioned for 13 weeks.

Now, when the Chancellor spoke in his budget about fixing the roof while the sun is shining, I would have to ask on who is the sun shining? When he spoke about benefits not supporting certain kinds of lifestyles, is that the kind of lifestyle that he was talking about?

On Food Banks
If we go back even further when the Minister for Employment was asked to consider if there was a correlation between the number of sanctions and the rise in food bank use she stated, and I quote, “food banks play an important role in local welfare provision.” Renfrewshire has the third highest use of food banks use and food bank use is going up and up.

Food banks are not part of the welfare state, they are symbol that the welfare state is failing.

On housing
Now, the Government quite rightly pays for me through tax payers money to be able to live in London whilst I serve my constituents. My housing is subsidised by the tax payer. Now, the Chancellor in his budget said it is not fair that families earning over £40,000 in London should have their rents paid for my other working people. But it is OK so long as you’re an MP? In this budget the Chancellor also abolished any housing benefit for anyone below the age of 21.

So we are now in the ridiculous situation whereby because I am an MP not only am I the youngest, but I am also the only 20-year-old in the whole of the UK that the Chancellor is prepared to help with housing.

We now have one of the most uncaring, uncompromising and out of touch governments that the UK has seen since Thatcher.

On Labour and opposition
It is here now that I must turn to those who I share a bench with. Now I have in this chamber for ten weeks, and I have very deliberately stayed quiet and have listened intently to everything that has been said. I have heard multiple speeches from Labour benches standing to talk about the worrying rise of nationalism in Scotland, when in actual fact all these speeches have served to do is to demonstrate how deep the lack of understanding about Scotland is within the Labour party.

I like many SNP members come from a traditional socialist Labour family and I have never been quiet in my assertion that I feel that it is the Labour party that left me, not the other way about. The SNP did not triumph on a wave of nationalism; in fact nationalism has nothing to do with what’s happened in Scotland.

We triumphed on a wave of hope, hope that there was something different, something better to the Thatcherite neo-liberal policies that are produced from this chamber. Hope that representatives genuinely could give a voice to those who don’t have one.

I don’t mention this in order to pour salt into wounds which I am sure are very open and very sore for many members on these benches, both politically and personally. Colleagues, possibly friends, have lost their seats. I mention it in order to hold a mirror to the face of a party that seems to have forgotten the very people they’re supposed to represent, the very things they’re supposed to fight for.

After hearing the Labour leader’s intentions to support the changes of tax credits that the Chancellor has put forward, I must make this plea to the words of one of your own and a personal hero of mine.

Tony Benn once said that in politics there are weathercocks and sign posts. Weathercocks will spin in whatever direction the wind of public opinion may blow them, no matter what principal they may have to compromise.

And then there are signposts, signposts which stand true, and tall, and principled. And they point in the direction and they say this is the way to a better society and it is my job to convince you why.

Tony Benn was right when he said the only people worth remembering in politics were signposts.

Now, yes we will have political differences, yes in other parliaments we may be opposing parties, but within this chamber we are not. No matter how much I may wish it, the SNP is not the sole opposition to this Government, but nor is the Labour party. It is together with all the parties on these benches that we must form an opposition, and in order to be affective we must oppose not abstain. So I reach out a genuine hand of friendship which I can only hope will be taken. Let us come together, let us be that opposition, let us be that signpost of a better society. Ultimately people are needing a voice, people are needing help, let’s give them it.

Update 10 Apr 2016
One can get an idea of how bad the DWP "fitness for work" decisions are by reading about how a group of student lawyers in Bristol looked at 200 cases of DWP demming a person to be "fit for work" and were able to get the decision overturned in 95% of cases. This is significantly higher than the national average of 59% and shows how important legal support is to a successful challenge.

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.")

To recap, some examples of people placed in great hardship by delays in providing welfare and other safety net payments:

Suzanne - a mother who was fleeing an abusive relationship and needed child benefit and welfare payments transferring to her name. The DWP said this would take 12 weeks.

Winston - a single father who told the DWP he could not attend an appointment because his daughter had been taken ill. He was given a 4 week sanction.

It seems to BFTF that the efforts of some Foodbanks and other charitable groups are focussed largely on providing immediate aid to people like Suzanne and Winston - while the responsible local authorities are not held accountable for their failure to provide timely services to those who rely on this help as their only safety net.

Which Foodbank is doing it right?

This, to BFTF, is not acceptable. One can imagine the architects of austerity thinking something like this :

"This is perfect, we cut services to the extent that people cannot afford food - and these soppy do-gooders pick up the pieces with their foodbanks! And best of all, they are so busy running around making sure they have enough tins of beans that they don't challenge any of the blatantly vindicitve and unfair decisions that are being made. G&T's all round!"

So, on 30th May, sent this email to one of Nottingham Councils Portfolio Holders:

"I've been very disturbed to read a report by Advice Nottingham which includes case studies of people how have been treated very badly by the DWP and had sanctions imposed unfairly or had benefit changes delayed excessively.I have two questions:

1) Who, in Nottingham, is responsible for ensuring that benefit sanctions are always fair and reasonable; and that delays in processing benefit claims are not excessive or handled incompetently.

2) How does the council collect data to ensure that benefit sanctions are always fair and reasonable; and that delays in processing benefit claims are not excessive or handled incompetently."

They said they would find out.

Dear Reader, if you think local officials should be held accountable for the welfare decisions made on their patch, you may wish to email your local councillors with questions like those above. You can get their contact details here:

Update 14 May:No response so chased up by email again
Update 20 May:No response so chased up by email again
Update 30 May:Chased up again, cllr said they'd get back to me.
Update 14 June:Chased up again
Update 21 June:Chased up again, cllr said they'd get back to me.
Update 25 June:Chased up again, cllr said was working on it.
Update 7th July :Chased up again

And then, finally...

Update 15th July : Received the following response (edited slightly for clarity) from :

Question 1
Who, in Nottingham, is responsible for ensuring that benefit sanctions are always fair and reasonable; and that delays in processing benefit claims are not excessive or handled incompetently.

Answer 1
Sanctions Protocol
In 2014, in response to concerns regarding inappropriate sanction decisions by the DWP, affecting claimants in Nottingham, the City Council set up a Sanctions Protocol with the DWP locally. Employment and skills are responsible for the protocol and have worked hard to ensure that it is understood by colleagues and partners – Activity listed below:

Organisations have been encouraged to engage with this process through a variety of networks: Employment and Skills Officer (ESO) involvement in communities and with lead organisations, including foodbanks and faith groups.

Advice Nottingham promoting to their members and ESO attended Advice Nottingham Manager meetings to encourage referrals and answer questions.

ESO presented at a training event for the voluntary sector hosted by NCC Welfare Reform project leads.

ESO promoted protocol to organisations engaged with the Quality and Commissioning led Financial Vulnerability Assistance and Advice event.

ESO met with Welfare Rights colleagues to promote the protocol and will be attending a team meeting later this summer to talk to the wider team and answer questions.

Working with Policy Welfare Reform leads to identify full picture of impact of sanctions and qualify some of the information we are receiving from community sources.

Question 1b
What is the Council doing to support ALL vulnerable citizens (including those subject to a sanction).

Answer 1b
Lobbying Government
Nottingham City Council passed a motion calling on Government to reverse welfare cuts which affect the most vulnerable citizens in the city.

Responding to consultations in partnership with the advice sector.

Highlighting concerns on Universal Credit and asking for clarity on Universal Credit implementation, process and timescales.

Helping to prepare our citizens
Investing in advice services.

Plus our own Welfare Rights service to provide benefits advice and support with budgeting/money management and debt.

Organising job fairs and advertising local job opportunities through

Helping with energy bills
The Council has launched Robin Hood Energy, a not for profit energy company aiming to provide low cost energy.

Working with partners
Including Nottingham City Homes (NCH), registered social landlords, advice agencies.

Including Credit Union - To improve access to bank accounts & affordable loans.

Including Advice Nottingham - who also offer a support scheme to help local people in fuel debt. The scheme offers money to eligible city residents to help relieve fuel debt.

Question 2
How does the council collect data to ensure that benefit sanctions are always fair and reasonable; and that delays in processing benefit claims are not excessive or handled incompetently?

Answer 2
The Council only has access to the limited data made available by the DWP and has no opportunity to assess the decision making process. The data released by DWP is largely management data relating to the number of decisions and appeals made. There is no data whatsoever on the number of people in the City who currently have financial sanctions applied against them. We have raised this on numerous occasions with the DWP and been told that they do not have the time or capacity to produce this data.

Update 19th July : Council further advised that they could not give a named contact at the local DWP and the the portfolio holder ultimately accountable (so far as the council had accountability) was Cllr Graham Chapman

Image Sources
BFTF own and via Himmah

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Muslim Soldiers fighting for Britain

Recently read a page on the Armed Forces Muslim Association website about the exploits of Muslims serving in British forces in past conflicts.

A typical example is that of Ali Haider (see also here) who, according to AFMA :

"...served as a Sepoy (Private) in the 13th Frontier Force Rifles. In 1944, his platoon was tasked with crossing the River Senio under heavy enemy fire. The crossing was part of the Allied spring offensive and much depended upon the assault. However, the banks of Senio had been built up three metres high, and whilst Haidar’s assault section travelled in vulnerable boats, the Germans were securely dug-in and heavily armed. The Rifles were cut to pieces by intense machine fire, and only Haidar and two fellow soldiers survived the crossing – the rest of his men laid injured or dead in the water.

Undaunted, Ali Haidar seized the initiative, and covered by his two colleagues, charged the nearest machinegun post. He threw a grenade but was met by another, thrown by the enemy. He sustained a severe wound to his back, but in spite of this, continued his attack, silencing the machine gun and taking four Germans prisoner. Not content, he charged onto the next machinegun nest, sustaining further injuries in the right leg and right arm. Weakened by the loss of blood, but utterly determined to continue the battle, Haidar crawled closer and lobbed in another grenade, destroying the enemy position.

Having subdued immediate opposition, the river was crossed and a vital bridgehead established. Haidar’s bravery and devotion to duty saved the rest of his company. Found lying on the ground next to the river, Ali Haidar was carried back to his regiment with serious wounds. He recovered sufficiently to receive his Victoria Cross from King George VI at Buckingham Palace in October 1945.

His Victoria Cross citation read: “The conspicuous gallantry, initiative and determination, combined with a complete disregard for his own life, shown by this very brave Sepoy in the face of heavy odds, were an example to the whole company. His heroism saved an ugly situation which would, but for his personal bravery, have caused the battalion serious casualties at a critical time and delayed the crossing of the river.”

He returned to Pakistan after the war, where he and his wife worked at a small farmstead. He died in 1999, at the age of 86, a short while after his wife’s death, leaving behind no children."

Ali Hairdar VC

BFTF looked up the 13th Frontier Force Rifles (formed from the 55th Coke's Rifles, 56th Punjabi Rifles, 57th Wilde's Rifles, 58th Vaughan's Rifles and the 59th Royal Scinde Rifles and others) and found this archived list of their battle honours:

WW1 : La Bassée 1914, Messines 1914, Armentières 1914, Festubert 1914 '15, Givenchy 1914, Neuve Chapelle, Ypres 1915, St. Julien, Aubers, Loos, France and Flanders 1914-15, Suez Canal, Egypt 1915-17, Gaza, El Mughar, Nebi Samwil, Jerusalem, Megiddo, Sharon, Palestine 1917-18, Tigris 1917, Kut al Amara 1917, Baghdad, Mesopotamia 1916-18, Persia 1918-19, Aden, E Africa 1916-18, NW Frontier India 1917, Baluchistan 1918, Afghanistan 1919

WW2 : Gash Delta, Barentu, Keren, Ad Teclesan, Amba Alagi, Abyssinia 1940-41, Deir ez Zor, Raqaa, Syria 1941, Gazala, Sidi Rezegh 1942, Gambut, Mersa Matruh, North Africa 1940-43, The Trigno, Tufillo, The Sangro, Impossible Bridge, Villa Grande, Cassino II, Gustav Line, Pignataro, Advance to Florence, Gothic Line, Monte Grande, The Senio, Bologna, Monte Sole, Italy 1943-45, North Malaya, Kota Bharu, Johore, Gemas, The Muar, Singapore Island, Malaya 1941-42, Pegu 1942, Taukkyan, Monywa 1942, Shwegyin, North Arakan, Point 551, Mayu Tunnels, Maungdaw, Ngakyedauk Pass, Imphal, Litan, Arakan Beaches, Myebon, Ramree, Mandalay, Myinmu, Meiktila, Nyaungu Bridgehead, Capture of Meiktila, Defence of Meiktila, Taungtha, Myingyan, The Irawaddy, Yenaungyaung 1945, Magwe, Rangoon Road, Pegu 1945, Sittang 1945, Burma 1942-45

It is worth noting that many of the units in the British Indian Army comprised soldiers from a variety of faiths

129th Baluchis near Holobeke (Battle of Messines)

Focussing on WW1, and so far as BFTF's limited research has been able to tentatively determine, here is some more information:

The Battle of La Bassée - 12th October - 2nd November 1914
British Forces : 2nd Cavalry Brigade; 3rd Division and 5th Division of II Corps; The Secunderabad Cavalry Brigade, and the Lahore and Meerut Divisions of the Indian Corps

The Long,Long,Trail website records despatches from Field Marshall French comment that :

"...On the 24th October the Lahore Division of the Indian Army Corps, under Major General Watkis, having arrived, I sent them to the neighbourhood of Locon to support the Second Corps. Very early on this morning the enemy commenced a heavy attack, but, owing to the skilful manner in which the artillery was handled and the targets presented by the enemy's infantry as it approached, they were unable to come to close quarters. ..

... The 8th (Jullundur) Infantry Brigade (which had come into line on the left of the Second Corps) was also heavily attacked, but the enemy was driven off....

... I have already referred to the excellent work performed by the battalions of this [Lahore] Division which were supporting the Cavalry. The remainder of the Division from the 25th October onwards were heavily engaged in assisting the 7th Brigade of the Second Corps in fighting round Neuve Chappelle...

...the line held by the Indian Corps has been subjected to constant bombardment by the enemy's heavy artillery, followed up by infantry attacks. On two occasions these attacks were severe...

...Since their arrival in this country, and their occupation of the line allotted to them, I have been much impressed by the initiative and resource displayed by the Indian troops. Some of the ruses they have employed to deceive the enemy have been attended with the best results, and have doubtless kept superior forces in front of them at bay. The Corps of Indian Sappers and Miners have long enjoyed a high reputation for skill and resource. Without going into detail, I can confidently assert that throughout their work in this campaign they have fully justified that reputation. The General Officer Commanding the Indian Army Corps describes the conduct and bearing of these troops in strange and new surroundings to have been highly satisfactory, and I am enabled, from my own observation, to fully corroborate his statement..."

The Defence of Givenchy - 20th - 21st December 1914
Indian Corps : Meerut Division, Lahore Division and 1st Division

Here despatches shown on the Long,Long Trail site state that:

"...The attack of the Meerut Division on the left was made on the morning of the 19th with energy and determination, and was at first attended with considerable success, the enemy’s advanced trenches being captured. Later on, however, a counter attack drove them back to their original position with considerable loss. The attack of the Lahore Division commenced at 4.30 a.m. It was carried out by two companies each of the 1st Highland Light Infantry and the 1st Battalion, 4th Gurkha Rifles, of the Sirhind Brigade, under Lieutenant-Colonel E. W. H. Ronaldson. This attack was completely successful..."

"...From daylight on the 20th December the enemy commenced a heavy fire from artillery and trench mortars on the whole front of the Indian Corps. This was followed by infantry attacks, which, were in especial force against Givenchy, and between that place and La Quinque Rue. At about 10 a.m. the enemy succeeded in driving back the Sirliind Brigade, and capturing a considerable part of Givenchy, but the 67th Rifles and 9th Bhopals, north of the canal, and the Connaught Rangers, south of it, stood firm. "

"...In my last despatch I had occasion to mention the prompt and ready help I received from the Lahore Division...The Indian troops have fought with the utmost steadfastness and gallantry whenever they have been called upon..."

"Indian reinforcements who fought at Givenchy in December 1914" by Unknown

Battle of Neuve Chapelle - 10th March 2015
Here the Long,Long Trail site comments that

"...Three infantry brigades were ordered to advance quickly as soon as the barrage lifted from the front line at 8.05am. The Gharwal Brigade of the Indian Corps advanced successfully, with the exception of the 1/39th Gharwal Rifles on the extreme right that went astray and plunged into defences untouched by the bombardment, suffering large losses..."

The Battle of Aubers Ridge, 9 May 1915
Listed on the Long,Long, Trail site

"5.30am:...In the area of the Indian Corps, the lead battalions of the Dehra Dun Brigade of the Meerut Division (2/2nd Ghurkas, 1/4th and 1st Seaforth Highlanders) were so badly hit by enemy fire that no men got beyond their own parapet and the front-line and communications trenches were soon filled with dead and wounded men."

"3.57pm:...Meerut Division orders Bareilly Brigade to advance, even though it is clear that conditions are unchanged: few men even reached a small ditch 20 yards in front of their own front line, and the Brigade suffered more than 1000 casualties within minutes."

The Meerut Division suffered 2,629 casualties, out a total of some 11,000 British casualties on that day. There is no memorial to this battle.

The Battle of Loos, 25 September - 19 October 1915
Despatches listed on the LongLongTrail site state that :

"...The Indian Corps atacked the Moulin du Pietre; while the 3rd Corps was directed against the trenches at Le Bridoux. These attacks started at daybreak and were at first successful all along the line. Later in the day the enemy brought up strong reserves, and after hard fighting and variable fortunes the troops engaged in this part of the line reoccupied their original trenches at nightfall. They succeeded admirably, however, in fulfilling the role allotted to them, and in holding large numbers of the enemy away from the main attack. The 8th Division of the 3rd Corps and the Meerut Division of the Indian Corps were principally engaged in this part of the line..."

Battles of Jerusalem (1917)
According to Wikipedia :

"...On 19 November the 75th Division infantry moved up this road; their 232nd Brigade had left Abu Shushe at 07:30 to occupy the deserted town of Amwas and by 11:00 the Indian 58th Vaughan's Rifles (Frontier Force) of 234th Brigade had fought their way up [against Ottoman forces] to reach the heights of Bab el Wad..."

"Capture of Jerusalem 1917d" by American Colony Photo Department (Jerusalem), photographer not named - Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-13291-00030

Battles of Megiddo and Sharon, Palestine(1918)

According to Wikipedia, "After forces of the Arab Revolt attacked the Ottoman lines of communication, distracting the Ottomans, British and Indian infantry divisions attacked and broke through the Ottoman defensive lines in the sector adjacent to the coast in the set-piece Battle of Sharon."

In the Battle of Sharon:

"...The 7th (Meerut) Division's 19th Brigade consisting of the 1st Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, 28th Punjabis, 92nd Punjabis and 125th Napier's Rifles, with the 1st Guides and 20th Punjabis (21st Brigade) and the 134th Machine Gun Company attached, were formed into two columns in front of the British wire, each column on a frontage one battalion wide. The initial attack by the 28th and the 92nd Punjabis, under cover of the creeping barrage, was completely successful..."

External links
Commonwealth Contribution
An Indian Sepoy in WW1
Short video on the Muslim contribution to Britain in WW1
Image Sources
Ali Haidar, 129th Baluchis, Givenchy, Jerusalem *****************************************

Nov 2011 : The Muslim contribution to the Allied war effort in WW2 is something that us particularly worth mentioning given the current fashion for anti-Muslim media stories. So it is great to see this important Emel article on the history of Muslims in the British armed forces.

Nov 2012 : Remembrance Sunday is perhaps a good time to mention the very significant contribution that Muslim sailors made to the British war effort in WW2.

A contribution that particularly needs to be told given the current fashion for anti-Muslim media stories.

If we look at just the ships sunk by U-boats in WW2, we see that over 3,300 Indian crewmembers died in these attacks, of which the overwhelming majority were Muslim. This compares to the 34,000 British Merchant Seamen who lost their lives to U-boat attacks.

For example, on 20th September 1941, the Cingalese Prince sunk by U-111 in the mid-Atlantic. Of the 77 crew, 57 died, around of these being Muslims - people like Ahmed Shah(43, greaser), Matab Bin Salam(39, quartermaster) or young Ab Manuf Ab Hamid, aged just 19.

While on 9 Jul, 1941, the Designer was torpedoed by U-98 and sank in just 6 minutes,near the Azores. In this case the crew comprised some 78 people, but 67 of these lost their lives in the attack, (the majority of those dying being Indian Muslims). Fortunately the survivors were picked up the next day. One wonders about the stories of people like Abbas Ali (25, Trimmer) or Ishaq Mian(43, Fireman)

The passenger ship City of Cairo, was sailing in the South Atlantic on 1st Nov 1942 when it was hit by a topedo from U-68. The ship was abandoned and only 6 of the 311 on board were lost during the evacuation. However, they were 1000 miles from the mainland. Estimating that they could reach the Island St Helena in 2-3 weeks they rationed their water to 110ml per day and and made their way towards the Island. During the trip, many boats were lost, while others were picked up by passing ships. Only a handful of people made it to landfall. 40% of those who died were Muslim, including seamen Sultan Baker (39) and Abdul Karim (20)

A Merchant Ship is sunk in a U-boat atack

2 Nov, 1943, was the last day afloat for the Baron Semple, as she was sunk by U-848 northwest of Ascension Island. The whole crew of 62 was lost, with nearly half being Muslim, including seamen Shams-ul-Haq (33) and Bashir Ali(27)

One of the most tragic incidents was that of the sinking of the City of Benares on 18th Sep 1940 by U-48 as she was sailing from the UK to Canada. It was tragic because the ship was carrying 90 evacuated children, of whom some 77 lost their lives. So amongst the casualty list, which includes the names of some 72 Muslim crew, such as fireman Abdullah Ibrahim and seaman Sheik Husein, there are also the hearbreaking names of the children, such as Alan John Capel (5) and Beryl Irene Carr (8)

BFTF could go on and on, describing how many Muslim crewmembers gave their lives during attacks on ships such as the Nurmahal, the Aymeric or Cap Padaram - but you can probably get the picture by now.

BFTF wonders what other little known roles British Indian Muslims played during WW2. . . . the water

Image Sources
Torpedoed Ship
Poppies by the Water

Feb 2012 : Despite there being a significant Muslim community in the UK, the stories of the many Muslims who saved Jewish lives during WW2 has remained largely untold. To try and redress this a little, the names below are some of the Muslims who, often at great personal risk, sheltered or otherwise helped Jews to escape capture by Nazi forces. Many of these can be found in a booklet by entitled "The Role of Righteous Muslims.” published by Faith Matters. The director of the organisation, Fiyaz Mughal, comments that “We’re looking for bridging points, and we thought this fits the perspective of mutual understanding and shared history.” and the he hopes it will demonstrate that “life is not black and white, straight and narrow.”

Abdol-Hossein Sardari,
Abdol-Hossein Sardari, a junior Iranian diplomat in Paris, 1940 helped some 2,000 Iranian Jews flee France. Mr Sardari neither sought nor received much recognition for his efforts in his lifetime and, sadly, died lonely in a bedsit in Croydon, south London, in 1981, having lost his ambassador's pension and Tehran properties in the Iranian revolution.

Khaled Abdul Wahab(see also here)

Shaykh Taieb el-Okbi

Si Ali Sakkat

The Arab Man

The Arab Neighbour

Hamza Abdul Jalil

Mustafa and Zejneba Hardaga, Izet and Bachriya Hardaga, Ahmed Sadik

Roza Sober-Dragoje and Zekira Besrević

Fatima Kanapatskaiya and her daughter Aysha (Anna) Trofimova-Kanapatskaiya

Selahattin Ulkumen

Borici Family

Hoti Family

Shatoka Alima

Kurtijeva Aishe

Kurtijev Adzhikadyr

Kurtijev Dzhafer

By 1943, some 600-1,800 Jews had found refuge in Muslim majority Albania, seeking sactuary from persecution in Germany or elsewher in Europe. Following German occupation in 1943, the government refused to turn over lists of Jews residing in the country to the Nazis - on the contrary, many government agencies provided Jewish families with fake documentation to allow to hide in the general population. These are some of their stories . . .

Nuro Hoxha

Ali Sheqer Pashkaj

Destan and Lime Balla

Besim and Aishe Kadiu

Brothers Hamid and Xhemal Veseli

Iamge Sources : Hungarian Jews


Oct 2012 : BFTF recently watched an utterly fascinating documentary from the BBC4 Timewatch Series on a Noor Inayat Khan, an SOE operative who worked behind enemy lines in France during World War II.

Noor Inayat Khan was the daughter of Hazrat Inayat Khan, great-grandson of Tipu Sultan, the famous 18th century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. Hazrat Khan lived in Europe as a musician and a teacher of Sufism and was married to Ora Meena Ray Baker.

After his death in 1927, Noor looked after the mother and younger siblings. She studied child psychology and music before starting a career writing poetry and children's stories and became a regular contributor to children's magazines and French radio.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, the family fled to England where, she and her brother Vilayat decided to help defeat Nazi tyranny. However, their Sufi pacifist beliefs meant that they did not want to actively kill anyone.

Noor-Khan photographed in WAAF uniform between 1940 and 1942

Noor joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and became a proficient wireless operator. However, her ability to speak fluent French resulted in her being recruited to the french section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) where she was trained to work as a spy behind enemy lines and adopted the name Nora Baker.

Although her supervisors were not entirely convinced of here suitability for the role, a shortage of agents meant that Noor was given the codename 'Madeleine' and sent to occupied France.

Joining the “Physician” network in Paris, she found that many of the other operators in the network were being arrested but Noor insisted on continuing to operate and transmit important messages back to the UK.

Eventually, in October 1943, Noor was betrayed and to the Germans, arrested and interrogated. Her stubborn resistance resulted in her being labelled as an “extremely dangerous prisoner”.

Although Inayat Khan did not talk about her activities under interrogation, the authorities found her notebooks which, against regulations, included copies of all her sent messages. This gave the Germans enough information to figure out how to send messages that superficially appeared to come from Noor. British failures to spot anomalies resulted in three agents being sent directly into German hands.

After a failed escape bid in November 1943, Noor was taken to Germany and kept handcuffed in solitary confinement for ten months.

In September 1944, she was sent to the notorious Dachau Concentration Camp where, early on 13 September 1944, Noor was executed by a shot to the head. She was 30 years old.

Memorial to Noor Inayat Khan in London

Image Sources :
Noor Inayat Khan
Memorial to Noor Inayat Khan

Peoples Stories at the BBC
BBC History

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Peace Makers Walk - Nottingham 28 Nov 2015

BFTF took part is a surprisingly interesting and uplifting "Peace Makers Walk" recently...

It was organised by the "Faiths in Action" team, which includes Churches, Mosques, Gurdwaras and other places of faith in the Hyson Green, Radford + New Basford area and took place on Saturday 28th Nov. Starting at the Forest Rec, the walk visited the Mansfield Road Baptist Church; Madni Masjid (Mosque); St Marys Catholic Church; St Stephens Church and finished at the Karimia Institute.

The walk was for people, of any or no faith, who were interested in building, and strengthening, bridges between communities in Nottingham. Here are a few pictures from the event....

Start at the Forest - we did not see dry weather again...
"Pace" is Italian for "Peace" btw

First stop was the Mansfield Road Baptist Church...

Not been in here before...

Beautiful window in the Baptist Church

Rev Andy Wilson said a few words

Next up was the Madni Masjid in Forest Fields...

"Peace Makers", just outside Madni Masjid

Representative of the Bishop speaking at Madni Masjid..

Imam Raza ul Haq spoke passionately about how we are affected by events across the world and an international effort is needed to bring peace to areas of conflict. He also commented that the British people were "the best in the world".

Imam Raza says a few words.... well, okay, quite a lot of words...

Madni Masjid really made the walkers feel at home, with samosas, pakoras, biscuits, pop and tea all on hand to help warm up and recharge.

Very generous hospitality at Madni Masjid

Mazher Hussein, one of the organising team,
going large with the Samosas

Imam Raza making sure that everyone gets fed!

Next stop was St Mary's Catholic Church in Hyson Green (interesting history here).

Outside St Marys Catholic Church

Inside St Marys Catholic Church

Father David Palmer spoke about the lessons we can learn from the late Rene Girard, who developed the "scapegoating" mechanism, which is held to work thus:
" is humankind, not God, who has need for various forms of atoning violence. Humans are driven by desire for that which another has or wants (mimetic desire). This causes a triangulation of desire and results in conflict between the desiring parties. This mimetic contagion increases to a point where society is at risk; it is at this point that the scapegoat mechanism[9] is triggered. This is the point where one person is singled out as the cause of the trouble and is expelled or killed by the group. This person is the scapegoat. Social order is restored as people are contented that they have solved the cause of their problems by removing the scapegoated individual, and the cycle begins again. The keyword here is "content". Scapegoating serves as a psychological relief for a group of people."

Father David Palmer says a few words....

Beautiful window in St Marys

In what was by now constant rain, the walkers moved on to St Stephens Church in Hyson Green (inevitably interesting history here).

Some of the organising team outside St Stephens

Inside St Stephens 

Rev Clive Burrows quoted some powerful phrases from Romans 12:17:

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[a] says the Lord.
On the contrary:“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Rev Clive Burrows quotes from Romans

Final stop on the walk was Bobbers Mill Community Centre, part of the Karimia Institute, a Muslim organisation.

Got a bit busy at Karimia

Hafiz Naveed talks about faith co-operation in local hospitals

To close out the event, Karimia laid on some tea, cake and biscuits!

If you want to find out more about Faiths in Action, please contact Mazher Hussain, email Tel: 07468 562560. This event was also covered by the Nottingham Post.

One last point worth mentioning is that other similar events, at larger and smaller scales, do regularly happen in Nottingham.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Martinmas Fair 2105 at Priory Church

BFTF went to the very interesting Martinmas Fair at the Priory Church of St Anthony, Lenton recently.

But before talking about the event itself, perhaps worth setting the scene with a little background...

The “original” Priory
Although little trace of it remains today, there was once a very large Priory on the site of the Priory Church in Lenton. The Priory was founded in 1109 and grew in size until, by around 1290 it had become one of the richest in the country, and held an annual 12 day long fair in which the monks levied tolls on many of the goods sold. You can read more about this at the site here, here and especially, here.

In the 16th century, the Priory, alongside many other establishments, was taken into state hands during the confiscated by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, with the monks being pensioned off (or executed!). With the monks gone, there was no little protection for the Priory and, over following decades, the Priory’s lead roof and stone walls were progressively removed for use in other building works.

Martinmas (or St. Martin's Day) is celebrated on November 11th, and is named after St. Martin of Tours who was a Roman soldier who was baptized as an adult and became a monk. Martinmas became associated with the end of autumn wheat seeding and the the annual slaughter of fattened cattle. In addition fairs were often held at which farm labourers would seek new posts. Interestingly, the term for a late spell of warm weather used to be "St. Martin's Summer", although this has now largely been replaced by the American term “Indian Summer”

Making woollen thread

Martinmas Fair 2015
So, with the background out of the way, a little about the event, which was “rebooted” in 2014 after an absence of several hundred years! The 2015 Martinmas fair featured falconry, medieval combat, food stalls, medieval music, and much else, all comprehensively listed here.

Harris Hawk on No3 Sons head. Surprisingly heavy apparently

Medieval musicians. No idea what instrument the lady is playing! 

One of the Falchion medieval re-enactment group, Nick Jackson, was kind enough to give a short interview about the era they were enacting, who he was playing and the weapons being used. He began by explaining that the group was enacting the era of the mid 14th century, when Edward III was king and when there was an emphasis on chivalry and on tournaments. Nick's character was Sir Nicholas de Cantelupe who was the Baron of Ilkeston and Lord of Greasley - and had built Beauvale Priory in outskirts of Eastwood.

Sir Nicholas de Cantelupe (courtesy of Falchion)
Regarding Sir Nicholas's troops, Nick commented that :

“Most of his troops would be farmers or foresters on his lands and they would mostly be skilled with bows although a lot of them would use tools....They owe [Sir Nicholas] 40days service a year. Now 40 days might mean they have to go up to Scotland. Now it takes 2 weeks to walk to Scotland and if they go more than 40 days he pays them more. He has to get about 20-40men normally. Some of them will be knights and armoured soldiers, , most will be bowmen, because Nottingham and Derby is very famous for its bowmen. He would then take them to the Earl of Derby, who would take them to the Earl of Lancaster [who] would take them to the king...They would have to go along reluctantly….fighting didn’t tend to happen this time of year because everyone was working on their crops and winter storage. The lords knew this and they didn’t want they people to starve over the winter so most fights happened from spring to late summer”
These are the instruments used to fix you up if you get wounded on the battlefield

Regarding weapons technology :

“In armour we were a little bit behind because Milan in north Italy and some of the forgers in Germany were producing the heights of armour technology. There was an arms race between weapons that could kill people and armour that could keep people alive. So as plate armour came in at around the mid 14th century the swords were just bouncing off [so] they changed the weapons. Arrows could pierce certain types of armour at close range. We started using spears and axes because you could chop through people, you could concuss people and then stab them on the ground. There’s not much chivalry when you start doing that but when someone is fully dressed up like a tank, you can’t really hurt them with a sharp piece of metal [sword]. So this was the height of armour until firearms came in, and bullets could go straight through this and ruined warfare as a chivalrous sport!”

A final comment :

"As someone who is a knight I would be very privileged..until 1348 when the Black Death comes and wipes out half the country”