WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 18-24, 2010)

INTERNATIONAL

GENERAL

D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution.” By Nicholas D. Kristof. New York Times Magazine. October 20, 2010. Like so many highly trained young women these days, Elizabeth Scharpf has choices. She could be working in a Manhattan office tower with her Harvard Business School classmates, soaring through the ranks as a banker or business executive and aspiring to become a senator or a C.E.O. someday. After all, there’s no question that women around the world enjoy opportunities that simply didn’t exist a few decades ago. Yet the women exerting the greatest pressure for change often aren’t the presidents and tycoons but those toiling further down the pyramid, driven by a passion to create a better world. And in particular, a better world for women. And so Scharpf joined a revolution, so far unnamed because it is just beginning. It’s all about what might be called Do-It-Yourself Foreign Aid, because it starts with the proposition that it’s not only presidents and United Nations officials who chip away at global challenges. Passionate individuals with great ideas can do the same, especially in the age of the Internet and social media.

AFRICA

Celebs, big donors help fight Africa’s war on malaria; Life-saving mosquito nets combat one of world’s top killers.” By Donna Bryson and Lewis Mwanangombe. MSNBC.com. October 17, 2010. It had been a long and difficult journey, fully deserving of the marching band and choirs that greeted the convoy when it finally rolled into this village deep in the African bush. The shipment had traveled from a factory in India by sea to Kenya, then overland across much of southern Africa to the place where the paved road ended. The cargo was mosquito nets — weapons in a war against malaria, a disease that has long taken a back seat to AIDS in the world’s consciousness of Africa’s woes, even though it kills almost as many Africans a year as the HIV virus. In recent years, however, malaria’s profile has risen in the world of celebrities and high- spending philanthropists. Actress Sharon Stone gave the cause a spectacular boost in a 2005, and the shipment of 11,900 mosquito nets to the Zambian village of Sesheke was financed and accompanied by Neville Isdell, a former Coca-Cola CEO, and Chris Flowers, a billionaire American investor. It was organized by British-based Christian Aid, which works with local churches to distribute the nets free of charge.

AUSTRALIA

Labor to defy churches: ethics classes likely to start next year.” By Sean Nicholls. Sydney Morning Herald. October 20, 2010. Students in NSW will be offered ethics classes as an alternative to scripture classes by next year, under a proposal the government is expected to adopt. The Minister for Education, Verity Firth, will release today the findings of an independent report on a trial of ethics classes held in 10 schools over 10 weeks this year. The 102-page report, by Sue Knight and three colleagues at the University of South Australia, recommends the government adopts the ethics classes model used in the trial if it decides to establish the classes. Ms Firth said the report would be available for public comment before a decision was made. But the Premier, Kristina Keneally, said last month: ”If the trial returns with a recommendation that this can and should be implemented, we will do that.” It is understood the government intends to adopt most of the recommendations and to have classes running next year. The decision will anger church leaders, particularly the Anglican and Catholic archdioceses of Sydney, which have campaigned against the trial. They argue that holding the classes at the same time as scripture classes would disadvantage scripture students, who would be unable to attend.

Revered then reviled: gift sparks outrage.” By Heath Gilmore. Sydney Morning Herald. October 22, 2010. THE Sydney philanthropists, Brian and Gene Sherman, are discovering their largesse cannot buy everlasting love. In fact, their time basking in the afterglow didn’t even last a month. Four weeks ago, they were being widely lauded for their $2 million gift to the University of NSW College of Fine Arts to help establish a gallery, named after their murdered friend, Nick Waterlow. Today, they are the centre of a growing row between university management and staff and students, with an on-campus rally yesterday claiming the elite institution’s integrity was being sold out to the A-list couple. The row was sparked after the university decided that $500,000 of the donation should go to the new Waterlow Gallery to honour the curator who worked at the college. The remainder would establish a Sherman gallery inside the new COFA building. Further, the School of Art History and Art Education at COFA will now be prefaced with the Sherman name. It is the first time a university school will be named after an individual. An honorary position – adjunct professor – was also bestowed on Gene Sherman, who will curate exhibitions twice a year at the new college, with her foundation paying the full staging costs. ”Students are concerned by what this deal means for the integrity and reputation of a public institution like UNSW,” the Student Representative Council president, Osman Faruqi, said after the protest

CUBA

Q&A: Cuba’s Catholic Media Multiply, But Change Is Slow; Patricia Grogg interviews Gustavo Andujar, Cuban Catholic communicator.” Interpress Service (IPS). October 19, 2010. In the context of ongoing conciliation between the Cuban government and the Roman Catholic Church, the communications media of the latter are growing quickly on this Caribbean island where the press remains under strict state control. All told, there are dozens of small publications — some with regular editions, others sporadic — coming from parishes and different groups. Forty-six bulletins and magazines, 12 websites and seven e-mail newsletters currently reach more than a quarter million people, directly or indirectly, according to estimates by Catholic Church sources. “In this context, Havana is notable for its two magazines with highest circulation: Palabra Nueva (New Word), the official magazine of the Havana archdiocese, and Espacio Laical (Secular Space), of the Lay Council,” said Gustavo Andújar, vice-president of Signis, the World Catholic Association for Communication. Andújar spoke with IPS about the role of the religious media in Cuba.

GHANA

Where others fear to tread; The decision by a Chinese business school to set up in Africa highlights Western schools’ reluctance to engage with the continent.The Economist. October 18, 2010. For anyone seeking proof of the extent of China’s reach into Africa, this year’s graduation ceremony for executive MBA students at the partly state-run China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai would have been a good place to start. Alongside the predominantly Asian faces delightedly collecting their degrees were 30 Ghanaians and 12 Nigerians—the inaugural cohort on CEIBS’s Africa programme. The programme, which kicked off in Accra, the capital of Ghana, in early 2009, is one of the first offered by a renowned international school in sub-Saharan Africa. Alongside the executives from both local and international companies were a smattering of governmental types, including a Ghanaian MP and a high court judge. Virtually all had met the programme’s $30,000 cost from their own pockets. Although it currently only offers the part-time executive MBA in Ghana, which is taught mainly by Shanghai-based professors and uses rented premises, China’s largest business school has grand ambitions for Africa. It hopes to open a campus in Accra and to launch a full-time MBA. Pedro Nueno, CEIBS’s president and the Africa programme’s pioneer, calls Africa “the last big opportunity on the planet” for business schools. China’s relationship with Africa is burgeoning. What started as the post-colonial, revolutionary solidarity of the cold war era, is now being driven by China’s need for the continent’s bountiful resources. Yet the behaviour of some Chinese elements has led to accusations, occasionally justified, of neo-colonialism, resulting in little economic benefit for ordinary Africans, but high costs, including environmental degradation and human-rights abuses.

UK

Danny Alexander’s change to council funding threatens ‘Big Society’; Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will announce that he is abolishing the ring-fences for £7 billion of local government funding.” By Alex Ralph, Tom Baldwin, and Sam Coates. Times of London. October 18, 2010. Local authorities will today be given more freedom to cut grants to charities and third-sector organisations, amid fears that the Prime Minister’s Big Society project will be squeezed in the Comprehensive Spending Review. Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will announce that he is abolishing the ring-fences for £7 billion of local government funding, letting councils spend the money as they please. Specific grants for schools, the police and fire services will be protected. But the rules that forced councils to spend money on other areas such as travellers, homelessness and the disabled, often by commissioning voluntary groups, look likely to be relaxed. The number of protected grants will drop from 90 to 10. At the same time central government is preparing to squeeze many of its own grants to voluntary groups. Ministers have conceded that councils and the bodies they fund will be hit hard by the cuts. “Everyone is going to be affected by them,” one said. “Obviously local authorities are going to have to tighten belts.” Charity leaders have said that, far from being able to fill the gaps left by public spending cuts, they are budgeting for severe reductions in the services they can provide, putting David Cameron’s Big Vision vision at risk.
Related stories:
David Cameron faces uphill battle to build ‘big society’, New Yorker claims; US magazine finds little evidence that prime minister’s big idea is successfully taking root.” Guardian (UK). October 18, 2010.
All Together Now!” By Lauren Collins. The New Yorker. October 25, 2010.

Breakaway Church of England group to be launched at Pentecost; The Bishop of Fulham, the Right Rev John Broadhurst, is to resign early to join a group for Anglicans who want to convert while keeping some of their heritage.” By Ruth Gledhill. Times of London. October 18, 2010. The new Anglican Ordinariate for traditionalist Anglicans defecting over women bishops will be launched in Britain on the Feast of Pentecost next year, The Times had learnt. At least three serving Church of England bishops are to lead an exodus to the Roman Catholic Church in protest at women bishops. The bishops are expected to announce their resignations at Christmas. Pentecost, which falls nearly two months after Easter, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on to the disciples after the Resurrection. The exodus of hardline traditionalists from the Church of England is being led by the three “flying” bishops appointed to give pastoral care to those clergy and laity opposed to women priests and bishops.

Oxfam condemns Tory’s plan for military link to aid.” By Michael Savage. Independent (UK). October 18, 2010. A plan to focus more Government aid on failed states which threaten Britain’s security will put even more humanitarian workers at risk, the head of one of Britain’s biggest charities has warned. Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, has pledged to increase aid spending by 40 per cent in Afghanistan in his drive to make humanitarian work contribute more to Britain’s national interest. But Barbara Stocking, the head of Oxfam UK, said security risks were already becoming “worse and worse” for aid groups in Afghanistan, where the British aid worker Linda Norgrove was kidnapped and killed earlier this month. She said Oxfam already had to run projects in the most dangerous areas using local volunteers, rather than their own staff. “On the ground, it’s an enormous problem actually,” she said. “It’s not been widely reported because we don’t want to make a big deal of it, but we had three workers killed in Afghanistan ourselves about a month ago – two Afghan staff and one Afghan community volunteer in Badakhshan [in North East Afghanistan]. “That’s the kind of thing that is going on and it is getting worse. The way we’re going to have to go about this is, can you work out how to handle the work you’re doing remotely, using local workers and local partners?” She warned that the increased integration between aid, the military and the Foreign Office – currently being carried out through the Government’s new National Security Council – would cause more problems for workers.

Number of children dying in developing world ‘can be halved in 15 years’.” By Sam Lister and David Rose. Times of London. October 19, 2010. The number of children dying in developing countries can be almost halved within 15 years if funding is maintained in key areas such as vaccination, malaria bed nets and care for newborn babies, Bill Gates, the Microsoft billionaire, said last night. Mr Gates, one of the world’s leading philanthropists, said that at least four million lives could be saved by 2025 with the continued growth in distribution of interventions against infectious diseases and improved services for mothers. Launching a Gates Foundation initiative to acknowledge the achievements made from investments in overseas aid – a day before budget cuts are announced in the Government’s spending review – Mr Gates praised the UK’s leadership in life-saving health interventions for the world’s poorest. The Department for International Development has been told that its budget will be protected in the round of cuts announced tomorrow, prompting public scrutiny and claims of a need to focus money on public sector priorities closer to home. Mr Gates and his wife, Melinda, repeatedly praised UK commitments to overseas development in their “Living Proof” presentation at the Science Museum in London last night, which Mrs Gates described as having “a huge impact”. Acknowledging that there were some “really tough trade-offs” in terms of the Government’s spending commitments to be announced tomorrow, Mrs Gates added: “The timing is very interesting. Your decision to maintain this spending is really important.”

Spending review: questions over charities and the ‘big society’; Voluntary organisations offered bigger role in reforming public services, but fears remain over cuts to local government.” By Alison Benjamin. Guardian (UK). October 20, 2010. The spending review promised a bigger role for charities and voluntary organisations in reforming public services as it rolls back the state by “increasing diversity of provision” particularly in adult social care, early years, youth services and early interventions for the neediest families. Voluntary organisations will also be paid by results for “delivering reductions in reoffending”. To fund this transformation, about £470m will be spent over the next four years to help community groups build the “big society”, including a £100m fund to help charities, voluntary groups and social enterprises make the transition to harsher economic times. But will it be enough? Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo), estimated that charities could lose as much as £4.5bn of their funding from spending cuts, a continuing decline in levels of donations and next year’s increase in VAT. Alison Haskins, deputy director of Yorkshire & the Humber Forum for the voluntary and community sector, warned the spending cuts will produce a double whammy by increasing the demand for voluntary-run services while introducing 25% of cuts to the groups that deliver these vital services. “We have to seriously question how the big society will be delivered without a strong and stable voluntary sector,” she said The review said that many councils are already reviewing their roles and services, by “including delivery through the voluntary and community sector”. Yet, with local government being the main source of funding for many voluntary organisations, there is concern that the cuts hitting councils will lead to the axing of “discretionary” services delivered by charities, such as youth clubs and parenting projects.
Related story:
Cuts could cost billions for voluntary sector.” Independent (UK). October 24, 2010.
Axe on charities ‘risks wrecking big society’; Charity Commission head warns of greater costs in long run; £5bn loss in grant funding ‘difficult’ to plug.” Guardian (UK). October 24, 2010.

Poll: Should U.S. Charity Pay To Sterilize British Drug Addicts?” No by-line. Huffington Post. October 20, 2010. A plan to “bribe” addicts into not having children is getting a lot of attention across the pond. Barbara Harris is the founder and head of Project Prevention, which pays U.S. drug addicts $300 to be sterilized or treated for long-term birth control. Her charity, BBC reports, has recently expanded into Great Britain, where she is offering to pay £200 to drug addicts there to submit to the same services. The idea is to prevent drug users from having children while addicted, thus preventing the many medical and emotional complications of bearing a child addicted to drugs from birth. The program caused an ethical uproar in Britain Monday, when a 38-year-old heroin user from Leicester agreed to have a vasectomy for cash, becoming Project Prevention’s first British client.

Leading questions: Anne Roberts, Ronald McDonald House Charities; The charity’s head of operations on the support it gets from one of the world’s most prominent commercial brands.” By Jane Dudman. Guardian (UK). October 20, 2010. Anne Roberts Ronald McDonald House Charities runs accommodation for the families of seriously ill children in hospital, says Anne Roberts. What is RMHC? An independent charity, with a turnover of about £5m, of which over 60% comes from donations from the public through collection boxes in McDonald’s restaurants. We build and run accommodation for the families of seriously ill children receiving medical treatment. We have 400 bedrooms in 14 houses and 29 family rooms, all close to UK hospitals and available free of charge for families to stay as long as they need to. How long has the charity been running? This year, it is 20 years since our first UK house was built. What’s your job? I work around the country to identify the hospitals where the need is greatest. I work with the 35 staff who look after our houses and with the 12-strong corporate team who look after everything else. Is your association with a very prominent commercial brand helpful to your work? We are very proud of the support McDonald’s gives us. They help in lots of different ways; they support our administrative costs and they have very professional people we can turn to for advice.

Vulnerable ‘shut out of society’ by spending review welfare cuts; Increase in welfare cuts to £18bn condemned by charities and unions.” By Nicholas Watt and Phillip Inman. Guardian (UK). October 20, 2010. The government was accused today of shutting vulnerable people out of society after George Osborne announced a series of reforms that will create an extra £7bn in welfare cuts. Charities and trade unionists lined up to condemn the chancellor who announced he will increase the £11bn in welfare cuts identified in the June budget to £18bn. Osborne has identified the savings, aimed at keeping departmental spending cuts over the four years from 2011 to just under 20%, though changes to disability payments, housing benefits and child tax credits. The changes were condemned by charities. Sue Brown, head of policy at Sense, Britain’s charity for deafblind people, said: “The long-term implications of this are almost incomprehensible. We have worked so hard to ensure a society where we all participate. These cuts will shut vulnerable people out of society. The government is cutting the mobility component of the disability living allowance for people who live in residential care which will impose further isolation on vulnerable people, including those with deafblindness, and will effectively cut many disabled people off from their families and communities.”

VAT reprieve for churches.” By Ruth Gledhill. Times of London. October 21, 2010. Churches saved from crippling VAT costs on essential repairs to listed places of worship. Church leaders welcomed the reprieve on a scheme that gives VAT refunds on essential repairs to listed places of worship. Nine thousand people in Suffolk alone signed a petition against the scheme being dropped when it comes to an end next Easter. The Church of England alone saves £12 million a year on the scheme, an amount which will now increase when VAT rises to 20 per cent. The reprieve is a feather in the cap of the new Second Church Estates commissioner Tony Baldry MP, who negotiated with the Treasury and local government for the scheme to be retained. The Bishop of London Richard Chartres said: “Abandoning the scheme, which affects every part of the United Kingdom, would have been tantamount to a tax on fundraising; a great disincentive to the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who care for our churches and a blow to the credibility of the concept of the Big Society.”

Students face fees of at least £6,000 a year in two-tier cap; Universities will lose £2.9 billion from their teaching budget by 2014-15.” By Joanna Sugden and Greg Hurst. Times of London. October 21, 2010. Universities will be allowed to charge higher fees without penalty after vice-chancellors pushed the Government to reject unlimited fees with levies on amounts more than £6,000 a year. A two-tier cap on tuition fees is being considered after ministers bowed to pressure from top-flight institutions who said that a levy proposed by Lord Browne of Madingley would cost them too much. It would set lower and upper limits on the amount universities could charge with elite institutions kept within £7,000 and £10,000 a year boundaries. A minimum fee of about £6,000 would also be introduced, The Times understands. The plan tears up key parts of Lord Browne’s review of higher education funding, published last week, which recommended removing the fee cap and imposing a tapered levy on institutions charging more than £6,000.
Related story:
Willetts: unlimited university fees are ‘unsustainable’.” Independent (UK). October 22, 2010.

Third of applicants miss out on a university place.” By Joanna Sugden. Times of London. October 21, 2010. Almost one in three university applicants missed out on a place this year — the highest number ever rejected, according to official figures seen by The Times. The University and College Admissions Service (Ucas) warned that an even greater proportion would be disappointed next year because of an influx of sixth-formers trying to get places before the introduction of higher tuition fees. More than 200,000 were turned away this year because of a record number of applicants and a freeze on places. The rate of rejection increased by 5 per cent on last year, with more than 30 per cent of those wanting to start degrees this autumn failing to get places. The Ucas figures, which will be published later today, show that prospective student numbers increased by 8.6 per cent in 2009-10, with 688,310 students chasing 479,057 places. Universities were banned from taking on more students, and institutions exceeding their quotas for 2009 and 2010 entry incurred government fines of £3,700 for each additional student. The recession and a peak in the number of 18-year-olds caused a surge in applicants. The last time there was a similar rejection rate was in 1995, two years before Labour came to power pledging to get 50 per cent of young people into higher education.

Britain’s Austerity Overdose.” Editorial. New York Times. October 22, 2010. There is a time and a place for aggressive deficit reduction. Now is not the time, especially not in Britain. The deep spending cuts announced by Prime Minister David Cameron’s government will hobble public services, strain poor families’ budgets and weaken Britain’s influence abroad. They could suffocate a feeble recovery. Mr. Cameron and his team appear to be driven solely by Conservative Party articles of faith. They are gambling on the improbable theory that in a period of weak consumer demand, the private sector will generate enough business activity to replace the $130 billion the government will be withdrawing from the economy over the next four and half years. We are not sure why the Liberal Democrats, the coalition’s junior partners, are going along. On average, government departments will have to slash their spending by an average of nearly 20 percent. The National Health Service was shielded from cuts, and after a last-minute intervention by Mr. Cameron at Washington’s behest, the military budget will be cut by only 8 percent. Britain’s deficits did not spawn bond market panics. Interest rates remained low. That left room for a nuanced policy that relied on a reviving economy to boost tax receipts and deferred major spending cuts until a solid recovery was under way. Unfortunately, Britain’s leaders chose posture over sound economics.

Sex-abuse claim priests allowed to keep working.” By Ruth Gledhill. Times of London. October 22, 2010. The Church of England has appointed a high court judge to investigate how two of its clergy were allowed to continue working despite being accused of serious child abuse offences. Two priests were licensed to work at churches in the Chichester diocese in West Sussex even though serious sex abuse allegations had been made against them. Roy Cotton, who died in 2006, worked as a parish priest in Brede, near Rye, in the 1990s despite being convicted of a sexual offence against a boy in 1954. Collin Pritchard served as the vicar of St Barnabas, Bexhill, until 2007 after being arrested over sex abuse claims. He had been first reported to police for sex offences ten years earlier. He was suspended only when a new safeguarding officer at the diocese decided that he was a risk to children. The allegations emerged after an investigation by BBC South East after the acquittal of a former alter boy accused of murdering an elderly vicar.

Spending review cuts hit poor hardest, says Institute of Fiscal Studies; Respected thinktank says most secondary pupils will lose out as families with children take brunt of cuts.” By Larry Elliott. Guardian (UK). October 21, 2010. Britain’s leading tax and spending experts today flatly contradicted the key claims made by George Osborne and the coalition over the fairness of its £81bn austerity programme. In a move that forced the government on to the defensive, the highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies challenged the chancellor’s contention that his plans for four years of belt-tightening would be progressive, safeguard frontline school spending, and require smaller savings for departments than Alistair Darling would have demanded. The IFS said poor people would be hit harder than the rich, the four-year plan would see spending for most secondary school pupils cut, and Whitehall departments would face deeper cuts than under Labour’s plans. The IFS also said that the £2.5bn pupil premium would fail to compensate for rising school numbers and other cuts in the education budget, resulting in funding reductions for 60% of primary school pupils and 87% of secondary school children. Angela Eagle, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “George Osborne’s smoke and mirrors have well and truly unravelled. On any measure his plans hit the poorest hardest. And the IFS have all but called him a liar for his ridiculous claim that he is cutting less than Labour planned.”
Related story:
Rolling back the state; The cuts begin a new era of self-reliance. Can they work, and who will be worst hit by the detrimental effects of shrinking government budgets?Times of London. October 24, 2010.

Disorder in the House as Sir Ted’s legacy leads to row.” By Susie Mesure. Independent (UK). October 24, 2010. Campaigners fight-on to keep Arundells, the late prime minister’s listed home, open to the public. The fate of Sir Edward Heath’s legacy, his former home in the Close of Salisbury Cathedral and his personal artefacts, lies in the hands of the Charity Commission after a group of supporters challenged a decision to shut the house for good. Arundells, the Queen Anne-style property that the former PM left to the nation, will close to the public on Wednesday unless the Charity Commission intervenes in an increasingly ugly row that has split the trustees and dismayed the Sir Edward Heath Charitable foundation, which has run the house since Sir Edward’s death in July 2005. Two of the seven trustees have resigned, including Lord Black, the executive director of Telegraph Media Group. The trustees, headed by the former Cabinet Secretary Lord Armstrong, want to sell off the Grade II* listed building and its contents, which include paintings by John Singer Sargent and Sir Winston Churchill and precious ancient Chinese porcelain. They intend to use the proceeds to fund educational scholarships, another stipulation of Sir Edward’s will, who himself received financial help when a Balliol College, Oxford, organ scholar. A campaign to keep Arundells open and Sir Edward’s belongings intact could stymie those plans if the Charity Commission forces the trustees to reopen the museum to visitors.

Schools spared by Gove face 40% cuts; About 600 projects will have to reduce costs, with local authorities claiming they will have to abandon plans to build new schools.” By Isabel Oakeshott. Times of London. October 24, 2010. About 600 projects will have to reduce costs, with a number of local authorities claiming they will have to abandon plans to build new schools in favour of refurbishing existing buildings. Councils received telephone calls from the Department for Education on Friday night breaking the news. Gove insists he has always made it clear that all new school projects given the go-ahead would be expected to reduce their costs. Local authorities claim they were given no warning, however, and say their plans are in turmoil.

Councils plan for exodus of poor families from London; Benefit cuts force officials to book up B&B accommodation; More than 200,000 may leave capital in ‘social cleansing’.” By Toby Helm and Anushka Asthana. The Observer/ Guardian (UK). October 24, 2010. Ministers were accused last night of deliberately driving poor people out of wealthy inner cities as London councils revealed they were preparing a mass exodus of low-income families from the capital because of coalition benefit cuts. Representatives of London boroughs told a meeting of MPs last week that councils have already block-booked bed and breakfasts and other private accommodation outside the capital – from Hastings, on the south coast, to Reading to the west and Luton to the north – to house those who will be priced out of the London market. Councils in the capital are warning that 82,000 families – more than 200,000 people – face losing their homes because private landlords, enjoying a healthy rental market buoyed by young professionals who cannot afford to buy, will not cut their rents to the level of caps imposed by ministers. The controversy follows comment last week by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, who said the unemployed should “get on the bus” and look for work. Another unnamed minister said the benefit changes would usher in a phenomenon similar to the Highland Clearances in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when landlords evicted thousands of tenants from their homes in the north of Scotland. In a sign that housing benefit cuts are fast becoming the most sensitive political issue for the coalition, Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham, last night accused the government of deliberate social engineering. “It is an exercise in social and economic cleansing,” he said, claiming that families would be thrown into turmoil, with children having to move school and those in work having to travel long distances to their jobs. “It is tantamount to cleansing the poor out of rich areas – a brutal and shocking piece of social engineering,” Cruddas added.

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