United Kingdom

Paul Flowers and the stigmatisation of drug users

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Last week, the former chairman of the Co-operative Bank, Paul Flowers, re-emerged in the media spotlight to speak out about the “hellish” few months he has experienced since his resignation and subsequent scandal. Flowers has been personally blamed for major economic failures at the Co-op Bank during his chairmanship, however, the media – particularly the tabloids – seem more concerned about his drug habits. Seemingly, if it is suggested that a prominent individual has used an illegal drug, it is instantly newsworthy, and it indicates that the alleged user is inherently immoral. Flowers’ mishandling of the Co-op Bank relates to his professional abilities, and is of course an important topic for discussion; quite separately, his personal ethics are being publicly brought into question due to his alleged drug use. This is nothing new (just ask Kate Moss or Nigella Lawson) and as long as terms like ‘drug user’ and ‘addict’ remain synonymous with ‘bad person’, it will continue.

 

If Flowers is found guilty of drug crimes, he will be among the 2.7million people in England and Wales who – according to a Home Office survey – used an illegal drug in 2012. He is no rarity – this statistic means that around 1 in 12 of us is legally considered to be a criminal, worthy of being locked in a cage at the taxpayers’ expense. Fortunately for most of these drug users, their personal choices or addictions probably won’t be gleefully plastered across the front page of the Daily Mail. Unfortunately for them, drug users and addicts continue to be the most common target of prosecution, while those who sell the substances make a fortune.

 

In the war on drugs, it is the powerful cartels and dominant dealers that prosper, while addicts and users suffer the most. Interestingly, this disparity can be easily seen among British bank bosses, as Paul Flowers’ coverage can be contrasted to that of Stephen Green, the former chairman of HSBC. Green has been personally blamed for allowing the operation of accounts with drug cartels during his chairmanship, despite having been warned that these activities were occurring. Following his ostensibly accidental role in allowing drug cartels to trade and invest billions of pounds, he was appointed as Minister of State for Trade and Investment by the coalition government, and became a life peer in the House of Lords. Essentially, Flowers bought a few hundred pounds of drugs, and is being publicly harangued and humiliated; Green allowed his bank to handle billions of pounds of cartel money, and was rewarded with a role in running the country.

 

The clear dichotomy between the treatments of these two individuals is indicative of a deeply ingrained stigmatisation of drug users – which is of no help to people who are struggling with addiction. It also demonstrates that – in the eyes of our government – wealth and status are perfectly acceptable excuses for incredibly destructive and illegal business dealings. The establishment is, evidently, keener to expose and punish people with personal and human problems, such as addiction, than high-ranking individuals whose malicious or ignorant choices cause real widespread suffering.

 

“I am in company with every other human being”, Flowers said, “for having my frailties and some fragility exposed”. By pushing the notion that drug users are inherently bad people, the government and media perpetuate public support for the laws that are routinely ignored by the powerful. The war on drugs is inherently oppressive, but we take this a step further by allowing the rhetoric to permeate society and influence the way that we treat one another.

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Rejecting the EU plan to regulate legal highs is yet another lost battle in the UK’s war on drugs

This article was first published by the Independent.

Earlier this week, the Home Office minister – Norman Baker – announced that the government would be opting out of the regulation and directive targeting ‘legal high’ drugs proposed by the European Commission (EC). Anti-EU sentiment is undoubtedly on the rise in Parliament, so it is no surprise that the government opposes a change that may reduce its authority over national drug laws. However, the implementation of this legislation could have reduced the income of illegal dealers, while simultaneously decreasing the health risks posed to consumers.

Legal highs – synthetic narcotics that are so new that legislation hasn’t banned them yet – would be treated significantly differently if the EC’s proposals had been endorsed. The advised method would allow a multi-tiered system for new drugs – where the most dangerous substances would be banned outright, substances posing a ‘moderate’ risk would be restricted for medical research, and those of a ‘low’ risk could avoid a ban altogether. If this legislation were implemented, it would encourage manufacturers to produce safer drugs to avoid the ban. It would also allow the product to be taxed, and more importantly, appropriately regulated outside the criminal market. Conversely, the government’s current method results in the eventual criminalisation of all legal highs, regardless of the danger posed. This process has played into the hands of manufacturers – who slightly alter the chemical composition and re-release it as a new substance, with little concern for the safety of consumers.

Between 2011 and 2013, around 120 new and legal substances were created – ranging from synthetic cannabis to strong psychedelics – and the government began to systematically criminalise them. During this time period, legal high use in the UK grew, and the number of British deaths resulting from such substances rose by 80 per cent. The drugs weren’t all bad though; following scientific research, the EU declared that around 20 per cent of known legal highs have a “legitimate use”. Norman Baker, however, claims to “strongly dispute” this evidence, and supports the continuation of the government’s failed approach that has made the UK home to the EU’s biggest legal high market.

The European Commission is not the first legislative body to propose a progressive stance toward legal highs. Last year, New Zealand’s parliament passed the Psychoactive Substances Act, which permits the legal sale and recreational use of certain drugs. Essentially, following scientific research into the safety of a new drug, the government is able to approve it for sale and consumption, while maintaining strict regulation. The country’s Ministry of Health put out a statement declaring that previous legislation – almost identical to the UK’s current laws – had proven “ineffective”, as new drugs “can be synthesised to be one step ahead of existing controls”.

Since drug prohibition began, the creation and distribution of illegal substances has been a highly lucrative industry – one that shows no signs of deceleration. Manufacturers are creating new drugs faster than the government can ban them; suppliers are brazenly and legally undercutting elected politicians, and financially benefitting from doing so. The increased threat to the livelihoods of users, and the humiliation of our legislative process, could be reduced if the EC’s scheme was implemented. The European Commission’s proposal was an opportunity to reduce the harm of both drug use and drug dealing. The rejection of the proposal was yet another lost battle in the government’s unremitting war on drugs.

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The War on Drugs is a tool of state oppression

This article was first published by the Independent.

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(Photo source: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/three-men-arrested-after-police-1470730)

Drug prohibition – the illegality of many psychoactive substances – is an accepted norm in the UK, although this hasn’t been the case for long.

In 1971, Parliament passed the Misuse of Drugs Act; the first major national prohibition legislation, and the cornerstone of the British war on drugs. A few amendments have been added since then, particularly in regards to ‘legal highs’, but overall, the essence of the law has remained the same for the past 42 years. It is no wonder that prohibition is so widely accepted; the majority of people in Britain were born after this Act was introduced, and many do not remember a time before it. For this reason, it is vital for people today to realise the relatively recent root of drug policy – as a tool of discriminatory state oppression in the United States.

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men”, said Harry Anslinger, the narcotics commissioner in the early 20th Century who was foremost responsible for the prohibition of cannabis in the US, “the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races”. Similar racist myths were delivered to the white American public at the time, and they became terrified that opium incites the “Chinamen’s wiles” and that, in the words of one US doctor, “the negro who has […] formed the cocaine habit seems absolutely beyond redemption”.

It was important for the US to introduce laws aimed at subjugating ethnic minorities, because as laws of racial segregation were wearing away, the government desired a legal and less overtly discriminatory way to criminalise sections of society and maintain the established social hierarchy. This is still evident in the US today, where statistics show that black and white Americans consume and sell drugs at similar rates, yet blacks are far more likely to be arrested and imprisoned for doing so. Since the beginning, drug policies have not truly been about controlling drugs, they have been about controlling people.

The US pushed for global prohibition of a number of substances, but without being able to intrude on the laws of sovereign states, it used the most effective available tool – the League of Nations. The League was the precursor to the United Nations, and formed at the end of World War I when the Treaty of Versailles was signed.

This peace treaty brought order and stability to warring nations, but what many may not know is that it heralded a beginning to international drug control. All states who ratified this treaty in 1919 agreed to a short and discreet note within Article 23: “[signatory nations] will entrust the League [of Nations] with the general supervision over […] illegal drugs”. After World War II, the League dissolved, and the United Nations took control of international law, and introduced the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which has defined prohibition ever since.

Today, in Britain, the oppressive legacy of the war on drugs lives on. Black Britons are six times more likely to be searched for drugs than their white counterparts, and are twice as likely to be criminally charged – rather than receive a warning – for possession. However, unlike the US, Britain does not have a long history of racism (at least on our own soil). The victims of the war on drugs in Britain are predominantly the working class – be they black, white or Asian. The manner in which the war on drugs is carried out protects the wealthy from prosecution; exemplified by the late Eva Rausing, from a billionaire family, who only received a caution in 2008 for the possession of 2.5g of heroin and 60g of cocaine. This sharply contrasts with the case of Daniel Richardson, a 23-year-old Morrison’s worker, who was jailed for four years in August after cocaine was found in his work bag.

Last week, Durham Chief Constable Mike Barton made headlines by claiming that drug prohibition in the UK has “comprehensively failed” and legislation to enforce it has “put billions into the hands of villains”. This week theInternational Centre for Science in Drug Policy put out a report calling for the consideration of drugs as an issue of public health issue rather than a matter for the criminal justice system. Drug addicts should be “treated and cared for, not criminalised”, the report stated.

However, regardless of scientific evidence and growingly progressive public opinion, countless Britons, who never harmed anyone in their lives, have been systematically jailed alongside murderers and rapists for 42 years. Just as racist American leaders once used prohibition to subjugate ethnic minorities, the current British government is using prohibition to keep the working class in their place. Prohibition is the penalisation of individuals because of their personal life choices; drug use is one of the only victimless crimes in British law. It is high time for Britain to withdraw from the UN Single Convention, and to repeal the outdated Misuse of Drugs Act.

Long before his country began criminalising lifestyle choices, Abraham Lincoln remarked on prohibition; “[it] goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control mans’ appetite through legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not even crimes”.

Courtesy of Canada: As the Bank of England gets a new boss from the land of the lumberjack, we take a look at other famous Canadians over here calling the shots

This piece was originally published by The Independent here:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/courtesy-of-canada-as-the-bank-of-england-gets-a-new-boss-from-the-land-of-the-lumberjack-we-take-a-look-at-other-famous-canadians-over-here-calling-the-shots-8679980.html

 

 

 

If you hear someone with a North American twang warning that the British economy is even more doomed than we thought, here’s how to get your own back: ask him which part of the United States he is from.

For you can bet your bottom Monopoly-money-looking dollar that the man in question won’t thank you for the misconception; even if he is too polite to make a fuss about the mistake.

That’s because Mark Carney, who starts tomorrow as the new Governor of the Bank of England, hails not from the US but from Canada: that vast expanse of icy nothingness more famous for lumberjacks and a fondness for red maple leaves than big City players. Or so the popular stereotypes would have you believe.

But there’s more going for The True North than back bacon and brawny hockey players. There are plenty more Canadians over here calling the shots than just Mr Carney – which could prove handy if he’s feeling homesick when he turns up for work on what is, after all, Canada’s national day (celebrating the foundation of the country by the British North America Act in 1867). Let The Independent on Sunday be your guide to Carney’s compatriots, and no, they’re not American. Didn’t you see the maple leaf tattooed on their skin?

Turning over a new leaf

Moya Greene

You do know our postage stamps are all about one woman, right? And no, I’m not talking the Queen. Want to know who to blame for the incessant first-class stamp price rises? Step forward Newfoundlander Moya Greene, Chief Executive of the Royal Mail.

David Furnish

He may not sing like our Elton, but David Furnish is still a star of the British art firmament, largely due to his civil partnership with the rock star. The Ontarian was co-host of the pair’s 15th annual White Tie and Tiara Ball last week to benefit the Elton John Aids Foundation. A highlight of the summer season, provided you can afford a ticket.

Bryan Adams

His might be a fleeting physical appearance on these shores, but who can forget the summer of “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”? Still, Mark Carney can always dial it up on Spotify should he feel the need, or I’m sure there are still tickets available for Bryan Adams’s 14 July gig at Stoke Park, in Guildford, Surrey.

Alannah Weston

There were cries of nepotism when the owner of Selfridges department store, Galen Weston, appointed his daughter as its creative director. But Alannah has proved herself more than capable of dictating our shopping desires, if not our needs. Still, someone’s got to keep us spending, for the sake of the economy, no?

Autumn Kelly

Given that our Queen has been their monarch for all these years, you could say that Autumn Kelly is getting her own back. The Quebecer married Princess Anne’s son Peter Phillips in 2008. Top fact: as daughters Savannah and Isla have dual nationality, they are the first Canadian citizens to be in line to the throne.

Greg Rusedski

Yes, we all liked to call him “our Greg”, but you do know that was a bit of a yarn? Born in Montreal, Quebec, Rusedski was a Canadian for two decades of his life before switching allegiance to the Union Jack, aged 22.

Margaret Atwood

OK, so Mr Carney might have to pick up one of the illustrious author’s books for a reminder of home, rather than chat in person, but that isn’t to lessen the impact Margaret Atwood has had on these shores. Five times shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, her novels are enduringly popular.

Michael Buble

The singer may not be a UK resident (he lives in British Columbia) but he’s always popping in. His last three albums topped the UK charts and Bublé marks Canada Day tonight by kicking off his latest tour at London’s O2 Arena.

This piece was co-written with Susie Mesure.

Government policy on legal highs is so much smoke and mirrors

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This piece was originally published by The Independent here: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/government-policy-on-legal-highs-is-so-much-smoke-and-mirrors-8680379.html

Earlier this month, while in front of his family, a 17-year-old Australian jumped from a balcony to his death while allegedly under the influence of a powerful hallucinogenic drug called ‘N-Bombs’. The psychoactive effects of N-Bombs have been likened to those of LSD. Simple possession of LSD can result in up to seven years imprisonment, while supplying may garner a life sentence. In stark contrast, until June 10 2013, N-Bombs were perfectly legal to manufacture, sell and possess. Therefore, before their ban, N-Bombs were a seemingly ideal alternative for individuals seeking a psychedelic experience without the risks of purchasing a Class A drug.

The prohibition of this substance, known in the scientific community as 25i-NBOMe, is the latest in a long line of government policies aimed at suppressing the trade and consumption of what have become known as ‘legal highs’. Legal highs are synthetic substances which bear resemblance to illegal drugs; however, manufacturers ensure that their chemical compositions are meticulously altered to ensure they are not encompassed by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. In recent years, numerous other legal highs have been manufactured to evade the government’s strict classifications of intoxicating substances. ‘Spice’, a synthetic form of marijuana, was outlawed in 2009. While mephedrone, a stimulant similar to MDMA and cocaine, was criminalised in 2010.

Companies selling these substances operate within the law, making the purchasing process for customers far safer and simpler than buying narcotics from a street dealer. However, while providing a safer transaction, these sellers also capitalise on the lack of regulation; unlike with the most popular legal drugs (alcohol and tobacco), legal highs require no age restrictions, health warnings or usage guidance.

There are no recorded deaths from simply consuming marijuana, LSD or MDMA, whereas certain ‘legal highs’ have, allegedly, contributed to a number of deaths. Preliminary research indicates that Spice, mephedrone and N-Bombs are more damaging than marijuana, MDMA and LSD, respectively. A prominent danger associated with these recently-legal drugs is that the known risks they pose are vague; little research has taken place into their effects, and users are often unaware of the safest dosages and methods of consumption.

There is a growing consensus in the scientific community that criminalising these substances may put users at further risk – buying a legal gram of mephedrone online was still safer than buying an illegal gram of a questionable white powder from a street dealer. Additionally, the inevitability of a new ‘legal high’ emerging shortly after one becomes illegal is indicative of the futility of continuously implementing prohibitionist legislation.

It is indisputable that the rise of legal highs is due to the continuous imposition of drug prohibition as a whole. The government – and much of the mainstream media – seem to be of the opinion that a death from a ‘legal high’ is the government’s fault, while a death from an illegal drug is the user’s fault. Therefore, simply outlawing a psychoactive substance ostensibly relinquishes the government of any responsibility for the consequences of that drug’s use. It is vital for this dangerous and self-interested approach to be replaced with a renewed focus on education and a prioritisation of individuals’ health to ensure that the dangers of drug use are minimised. Most importantly, as it was last week announced the UK has the largest legal high market in the EU, the government’s drug policy should be based on scientific research and evidence, rather than on knee-jerk reactions and winning votes.

Margaret Thatcher’s death: the slightly morbid afterparty

When I was born in London in early 1990, Margaret Thatcher was serving her final year as Prime Minister. Though I remember nothing of her time as PM, I eventually learned how much of a divisive figure she was.  Her strengthening of neoliberal economic policy in Britain caused much anguish, particularly among the working class. Also, as an international relations student, I grew to despise her when I learned of her relationship with Pinochet’s murderous dictatorship in Chile, and the Apartheid regime in South Africa. In fact, despite her ostensible opposition to racial segregation, her government allowed Britain to be the world’s primary financial investor in South Africa – essentially bankrolling the oppression of black South Africans. Regardless of the behaviour exhibited by her government in both domestic and foreign policy, I had never expected what I saw unfold in Brixton last night.

Yesterday, the 8th of April 2013, I woke up with the news that Thatcher had died of a stroke at the Ritz Hotel in Central London. I walked by the hotel on my way to university that afternoon to see what the atmosphere was like. A few police officers were on the road, and there were around forty people (including journalists) standing around, all watching the gates intently, as if something were about to happen. Though in general, there was nothing to see.

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When I arrived at university, I immediately went online to read people’s opinions, laugh at some distasteful (though occasionally very funny) jokes, and hearing about the international reaction. I was definitely quite curious when someone posted a link to a Facebook event with the title ‘Street party in Brixton – #nowThatchersdead’, intending to begin at 5.30 on the very same day.

After finishing work, I showed up in Windrush Square in Brixton. Brixton, by the way, was not a random choice of venue. Brixton, the site of two large riots (1981 and 1985) under Thatcher’s governance, was a traditionally working class area that felt the brunt of some of Thatcher’s socioeconomic policies. However, in recent years, there has been a significant influx of students and young professionals moving into the area, which has led to increasing property prices and changes in the cultural make-up of Brixton. Brixton market which was once full of cheap-and-cheerful flavours and vibes from the Caribbean and the Far East, is slowly becoming enveloped by posh French cafes, £8 burgers and hipsters.

Windrush Square was buzzing; around 400 to 500 revellers of all ages, playing music, chanting and cheering. I saw toddlers dancing with their parents, teens and young adults with beers and spliffs, and many people who appeared to be old enough to remember the entirety of Thatcher’s governance. It was a vibrant and exciting environment, as well as being peaceful and welcoming. Though it was difficult to feel comfortable knowing that we were celebrating someone’s death. Especially due to the lack of subtlety; a waving banner attached to a shop front exclaimed ‘THE BITCH IS DEAD’ and an alteration of the cinema’s redograph by revelers that read “MARGARET THATCHERS DEAD. LOL”.

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Though the “LOL” was eventually changed to “EQUALITY IS THE KEY”. I met a lot of interesting and friendly people at the event, and most I met shared my view – that Thatcher was not worth revering, though this celebration of her death was in poor taste.

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Eventually after the crowds had died down to around 200 people, I watched as many of them moved into the middle of a busy crossroads and began dancing and playing music in the street. As traffic came to a standstill, police vans came along and ensured that everyone returned to the pavement. However, soon after, the group returned to the street and began to march and dance their way down the long road. This is where things started to go wrong.

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Several individuals in the group, hooded and hiding their faces began vandalising Brixton high street. Some began emptying bins into the street, and using whatever they could find to block the road. I witnessed a few other throwing bottles at shops, seemingly indiscriminately, including one young man who smashed the glass window of charity shop Barnardo’s.

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From what I saw, the crowd was predominantly people partying, dancing and having fun (for questionable reasons), with a minority of violent hooligans. Though, unlike at certain other public demonstrations I have observed, the police did not seem to be provocative, and the majority of the crowd were accepting of their wishes for revelers to stay out of the road; despite a few unnecessarily destructive individuals, it was a peaceful event.

However, the crowd eventually came to a halt outside Brixton police station, where they continued their singing, dancing and playing of instruments , including some disparaging chants being directed at the police. As police presence increased, I left the scene.

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I won’t be forgetting April 8th 2013 for a while…

Caste discrimination in the UK: the hidden apartheid

Vijay and Amardeep Begraj at their employment tribunal

Vijay and Amardeep Begraj at their employment tribunal

Despite leaving the Indian subcontinent, many UK citizens from the South Asian diaspora continue to experience the effects of the caste system in their daily lives. Research has indicated that there is particular prevalence in the UK for those of ‘lower castes’ to experience discrimination, prejudice or abuse in employment, education and the provision of goods and services. The traditional caste system begins with Brahmins (priests, academics) at the top, and continues downwards to Kshatriyas (warriors, kings), Vaisyas (business community) and then a caste of servants and labourers. Beneath this hierarchy are those considered untouchable; self-described Dalits who are relegated to doing the most inhumane and dirty work as their purported classification doesn’t even deem them worthy of a place in the caste system.

Caste discrimination is still perfectly legal in the United Kingdom, but an ongoing employment tribunal in the Midlands town of Coventry may begin to challenge the current legislation. Vijay Begraj, 32, a Dalit, married his colleague Amardeep Begraj, a Sikh Jat – considered to be of high caste. Their Sikh employers, Heer Manak Solicitors did not take kindly to their romance –engaging in a campaign of harassment which resulted in Vijay’s dismissal and Amardeep’s resignation. The pair have lodged over a hundred instances of discrimination in the workplace, many of them on the basis of caste. This is the first British legal case where unfair and constructive dismissals have been claimed due to caste. Recently compiled data however indicates this is just one of many cases of caste discrimination in the UK.

In 2006, the first report into British caste discrimination entitled “No Escape: Caste Discrimination in the UK” was published by the Dalit Solidarity Network UK. This study revealed that 50% of Dalits found themselves to be identified by their caste, and 85% of all those questioned believed that Indians “actively practised and participated in the caste system”. A 2009 study commissioned by Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance researched attitudes and perceptions of caste discrimination among the South Asian community in Britain. Of the 300 people questioned, 71% identified themselves as Dalits, and a shocking 58% claimed to have experienced some form of caste discrimination. The manner by which people had experienced this prejudice varies; with around 45% having experienced negative treatment in the workplace (mostly from colleagues), and 16 percent facing verbal abuse in school when under the age of twelve. A disturbing statistic also indicated that 10% of the caste discrimination that under-12s had experienced allegedly came from school teachers.

Particular professions with a tendency to employ a large number of South Asians have indicated a far higher awareness of caste discrimination than other parts of society. For example, 25% of those questioned in the ACDA report about healthcare provisions revealed that their family doctor had inquired about their caste. In the YouGov survey, 95% of those with nursing qualifications identified a desire for companies and organisations to be more ethical to get rid of caste discrimination. Numerous reports of personal experience have shown that a ‘glass ceiling’ exists for Dalits throughout employment in Britain, and especially in the National Health Service.

One of the key problems with caste discrimination in the UK is that those affected by it have little idea about how to improve their situation. Around 4 in 5 of those surveyed described how they did not believe that the police would understand if they reported a caste-related discrimination incident. The fear of not being understood is valid, as a recent YouGov poll indicated that Dalits are only known to around 6% of Britons. Additionally, 85% of those polled accurately identified that there is no legislation to protect them from caste discrimination in the UK. Several other European nations indicated the prevalence of caste discrimination – though awareness was proven to be higher elsewhere. In the UK, just 54% of those polled were aware of caste discrimination, compared to 74% in Finland.

The Equality Act 2010 brought in by the Labour government was designed to harmonise all equality law to outlaw discriminatory practices throughout the UK. Despite ensuring the protection of people victimised due to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and disability, the Act has not protected those facing caste discrimination. Clause 9 (5) (a) of the Equality Act indicates an intention for “caste to be an aspect of race”, and therefore protected. However, due to the government’s supposed lack of evidence on the issue, this particular clause has not been activated – and is thus, not law. This is in spite of a government-commissioned research project by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) published by the Equalities Office in December 2010 that acknowledged the severe discrimination Dalits face in the UK. Conclusions indicated that legislation would send out a message that “caste discrimination and harassment are unacceptable”, and that police would “take caste-related crime seriously”.

In reality, this clause has yet to be activated due to political pressure from outside groups – including the Hindu Forum of Britain who declared in a 2008 report that caste discrimination is “not endemic in British society”. Caste, the HFB claimed, is not discrimination that affects “the provision of education, employment or goods and services in the UK”, but simply a factor that may, as HFB Secretary General at the time, Ramesh Kallidai, puts it, “play a role in social interactions and personal choices”. Extensive research, including the aforementioned surveys, indicates the findings of the HFB to be false. As part of his vehement opposition to the activation of Clause 9 (5) (a), Kallidai suggests implementation would be an attack on religious freedom; “it is not right for the UK Government to take a position on the rites, beliefs or practices of a particular religion”. Not only is this factually inaccurate, it is also out of step with the views of 21st Century Britain. Further details from the YouGov poll indicate that less than a quarter of people believe caste discrimination to be a religious issue; compared to the 46% who believe it is a form of apartheid, and over 50% who understand it to be a global human rights issue that stems from a problem with traditional mindsets. Traditional minds such as that of Kallidai – an orthodox Brahmin who ostensibly supports equality among the Indian diaspora.

In order to have this primitive and discriminatory practice abolished under our legislation, we need to continue to raise awareness of the issue on our own doorstep. The responsibility to outlaw caste discrimination lies with the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who has the Ministerial power to trigger the relevant clause, thus providing hundreds of thousands of Dalits here in the UK with recourse to justice. But, the Home Secretary along with the rest of the government continues to ignore the widespread discrimination exemplified with both statistical data and anecdotal evidence. The Begraj employment tribunal has, thus far, failed to push the issue of caste discrimination into mainstream media or create a wider sense of indignation amongst Britons. Victims of this hidden apartheid, like the Begraj’s. need protection in the eyes of the law. One victim of caste discrimination is one victim too many.

Why we need to fight against the ‘War on drugs’ in the UK

These are dire financial times; large public sector cuts, growing unemployment, and a national GDP around £600billion worse off than just four years ago. Economical problems have led to widespread social problems, including a soaring level of substance abuse. Drug deaths in the UK have recently reached three times higher than the EU average. Clearly prohibition is not working. We need a new drug policy – based on scientific research – especially one that can boost our ailing economy. I propose that the government decriminalises all drugs, and legalises the sale of several low-harm drugs.

Let’s look at a popular legal drug: tobacco. Each year, the British government spends around £3billion on NHS treatment for smokers. However, annual tax revenue from cigarette sales amounts to, on average, over £14billion. Now imagine if possessing and selling fags were to be criminalised worldwide, as most illegal drugs in the UK are, the NHS would still be required to provide healthcare to smokers, but they’d no longer be receiving the revenue provided by the people who had chosen to be in that situation. Instead of being regulated by the government, the tobacco trade is now monopolised by unscrupulous violent gangs who will use any means necessary to maintain their share of the market. Now that there are no official regulation or inspections taking place, the tobacco quality will drop, making smoking even more dangerous for consumers. Meanwhile, unmonitored gang-controlled tobacco farms spring up across China and Latin America, with forced labour and inhumane conditions. Lastly, the smokers, who were previously normal members of society, are now criminals – worthy of joining murderers and rapists in a jail cell.

Cigarettes and alcohol are the combined cause of around 110,000 deaths a year in the UK, while drugs scientifically proven to have no direct link to death, such as LSD and cannabis, remain at Class A and B respectively; possession punishable with up to 7 years in prison. In October 2009 Professor David Nutt, of the Labour government’s advisory committee on the misuse of drugs, concluded after research that the harm to a user, and society as a whole, is far higher with alcohol than “cannabis, LSD [or] ecstasy”. For making this plea for a drug policy based on facts, rather than politics, Professor Nutt was sacked.

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A graph illustrating Professor David Nutt’s analysis of the harm caused by various drugs

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This non-scientific, politicised approach to drug policy has been advocated by both Labour and Conservative governments continuously since the so-called ‘war on drugs’ began in the early 20th Century. Leaders on both sides choose to avoid discussing drug policy reform, in part, to appease some of our tragically widely-read media tabloids. When a story about a violent attack or some other horrible crime occurs, the Sun, or… ugh, the Mail, love to stick the blame on drugs, and then eventually onto blaming our government for not doing enough to stop people taking drugs. It’s so easy to blame problems in our society on drugs, and to ignore the deep-rooted anger and social inequality that usually leads to these scenarios. The classic Daily Mail headline “Cannabis downgrading blamed for psychotic killer gangs” sums it up really; Blair took a progressive step in 2004 by downgrading cannabis to Class C, though Brown’s government later returned the classification to B. This often used argument, that smoking weed makes people violent and aggressive, again ignores the reason. In a 2001 study, scientists concluded that young men who smoke cannabis are “five times [more] likely to be violent”, but pointed out that this was “not due to any effects of the drug… [but] because users are involved in the illegal drug market”.

The Lib Dems are the only popular party to openly support the decriminalisation of all drugs, and recently backed a motion calling for a scrap of possession penalties, an expansion of clinics for heavy heroin users, and the creation of a regulated cannabis market. The lack of support among Tories, especially the fusty old backbenchers, makes it very difficult for the Coalition to come to a positive consensus on the matter. Meanwhile, Labour follows a similar path. During his brief and tedious spell as prime minister, Gordon Brown made an appearance on GMTV, defending his decision upgrading the classification of marijuana. He stated as a fact that consumption of the plant can be ‘lethal’. That’s right, our prime minister went on TV and told the country that smoking weed can kill you. Interestingly, scientists disagree; “there is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality”. Instead of finding some kind of intelligent debate, progressive thinkers for drug policy change are met with patronising and demeaning remarks. The ex-drugs minister for Labour, Bob Ainsworth, explained that “the war on drugs creates the very conditions that perpetuates the illegal trade”, but he was immediately denounced as “extremely irresponsible” for saying this, and by none other than his own party leader Ed Miliband.

In 2001, Portugal decriminalised all drugs. The government decided drug users would no longer be treated as criminals, but rather as “sick people in need of medical help”. Conservative critics around Europe insisted the nation would endure higher drug deaths, become a substance haven, and would develop increased usage. While In fact, the number of deaths from drug overdoses have decreased dramatically, the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (from shared needles) has dropped, and the police are now able to focus on the powerful groups controlling the trade, rather than the users.

Legalising cannabis, the most popular illegal drug in the UK, has the potential to create a huge profit for the national economy while improving health. With around 1 in 10 regular users, there is already an immediate and significant consumer base if the government was willing to profit from legalisation and taxation. There are of course reports of psychological danger with the consumption of cannabis, the large amounts earned in tax revenue would help the government conduct further research, publicise the risks, provide therapy, and ensure the quality is safe. Additionally, regulation will diminish the power of criminal gangs as authorised sellers gain market prominence. Even better, jobs will be created as cultivators and distributors enter the trade. Police will be able to focus their attention on real, immoral and destructive crimes while the prison system will become free of non-violent users who are often turned into hardened criminals due to their company in jail.

To see how the legalisation of less-harmful drugs can be positive, financially and medicinally, we can look at the use of ‘medical marijuana’ in the United States. Though rarely given coverage in mainstream media, scientific research has proven that the drug’s derivatives are effective in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, leukaemia and breast cancer, while directly smoking can help multiple sclerosis and insomnia, as well as being vigorous in combatting the adverse effects of chemotherapy. Californian officials, who are currently under strain with a large amount of public service cuts, have considered legalising the outright commercial sale of the drug, with a projected revenue of $1.3billion,  “, but they are currently being constrained by federal law. It is simply common sense for a nation under economic strain to gain revenue from a popularly consumed and mostly harmless product.

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A US medical marijuana dispensary

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My ideal solution to the problems caused by drugs, and by the war on drugs, is this: possession of all drugs decriminalised, legalisation and taxation of cannabis (and potentially other low-harm drugs such as LSD or ‘magic mushrooms’). Laws on these newly legal drugs would be similar to the legislation on alcohol; strict age limit, appropriate health warnings, advice on use, and lastly, restrictions on driving and public intoxication. If caught with decriminalised, but not legal, harder drugs, attending rehabilitation and therapy is strictly enforced. This can involve using replacement drugs in government-controlled institutions; such as the use of methadone for heroin addicts.

Our country’s current drug policies are damaging. Ordinary members of society (recreational low-harm users), and some people who are mentally and physically ill (high-harm addicts) are turned into criminals. While the true criminals, the gangsters and drug-lords who oppress workers around the world, violently do away with competition, and cost the taxpayers countless pounds every year in policing, are rewarded with wealth and power – endowed upon them by an anarchic and unregulated system. US economist Milton Friedman hit the nail on the head, “if the purpose of drug policy is to make toxic substances available to anyone who wants them in a flourishing market economy controlled by murderous criminal gangs, the current arrangements are working well”.

Sources/references: http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/73013215?access_key=key-19zhi7s2k7d6rhp6his9